SINGING SPOILERS. PLEASE, IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE SINGING, DO NOT READ THIS FIC!
Okay, so hello again everyone! It's Jennistar1 back from the dead. I am so, so sorry for my absence, but now I am back and better than ever! This fic is basically a continuation of Maerad and Cadvan's adventures from the end of the Singing. I wrote this chapter a long time ago, so my writing has not changed very much here, but later chapters will be very different. I hope I still have whatever it is you all love!
This is a T fic for the moment, but please bear in mind that it might change for later chapters.
I do not own Pellinor, nor any of the characters, much to my everlasting woe.
So, without further ado…let's begin…
Chapter One – Unexpected Progress
The summer storm ravaged Innail Fesse with brutal delight, shattering the night's peace with effortless torrents of rain and howls of wind. The sky boiled and twisted in joy, and the innkeeper Harl and his temporary tenants sat and watched the spectacle out of the kitchen window of the popular inn 'The Shining Sword', muttering about the drama of it all and delighting in their cups of mulled wine, reputed as the best in all of the Fesse.
Harl was in a good mood – the inn was almost fully booked for the whole week, the weather – until now – had been full and bright, and had broken in perfect time to assist his crops, and his wife had announced yesterday that she was pregnant for the fourth time. A Bardic Healer from the School of Innail had even visited earlier today and had confirmed that all was well, and that there was a high chance that it was boy, the heir of the inn whom Harl had so been longing for.
Yes, Harl decided, glancing over to the table where his tenants sat, exchanging news and cracking jokes in the cosy candlelight of the kitchen whilst he cleared up the remains of supper. All was well in the world, even with this bitter storm. Especially now that business with the Dark was ended, whatever it had been about anyway. Harl wasn't sure of the details, only that some Bard had unravelled the Nameless One's immortality with help from the Elidhu. There were rumours that this Bard was a young girl, but Harl thought this unlikely. It was probably some old age, famous Bard from Norloch instead, and this girl had been an assistant or helper. Surely if she had done all that was said she had done, more of a fuss would have been made about her? A huge festival in honour of her or something. The Light knew Bards seized any opportunity to have a celebration. But no. This girl – if there had been one in the first place – had simply melted away into obscurity.
The bell for the door rang out suddenly and broke Harl out of his musings. He frowned slightly, not expecting the interruption, then put down the plate he was drying and went to the front door. It opened out onto a small, open courtyard, on the other side of which were stables for traveller's horses and Harl's treasured crop fields. It was so dark and storm ravaged that when Harl first opened the door, he couldn't see a thing. Then his vision adjusted slightly to the wild darkness, and he realised that there were two travellers, decked in hoods and cloaks and soaking wet, approaching the open doorway on horses. It was only when they stepped into the light of the inside that Harl noticed what fine horses they were and judged they must be Bards.
"Greetings," he called out in his rough countryman's voice, speaking loudly so that he could be heard over the wailing wind. "Mighty hard night to be riding in."
One of the travellers slipped off the larger dark horse and approached Harl, hand outstretched.
"Indeed it is," said a male, warm voice. He clasped Harl's hand in greeting and pushed back his hood to show a stern-faced man of perhaps thirty-five years, with strange scars curling around his left cheek and dark, long hair now wet and plastered to his head.
"That's why," he continued brightly, "We thought we might inquire if you have any vacancies for the night."
Before Harl could answer, the second rider dismounted their smaller horse and took their place next to the man, also pulling back their hood. Harl came face to face with a young, pretty woman, with a thin face, grave mouth and deep shadows of exhaustion under her clear blue eyes. She gave him an absent smile, pushing her rain-soaked black hair out of her face with pale hands. Harl noticed she was missing some fingers on her left hand and tried not to stare.
He pulled himself together – Bards meant money.
"We're almost full tonight, m'lord," he answered, bowing. "But we have space in the stables for the horses and one room vacant – just a double bed though, sire."
Harl had been an innkeeper for nigh-on twenty years – he knew how to read faces. And so he did not miss the sudden, fleeting uncertainty and indecision that flickered across both faces, brief though it was. He had been automatically assuming the two were together, but this reaction confused him – perhaps the young lady was only the man's student. Or perhaps he was an uncle, a relative…
He was thrown even further into the oceans of puzzlement, then, when the woman said suddenly,
The man gave the woman a sharp look, which she either didn't notice or ignored. Harl kept his face carefully blank and merely bowed again, an image of the perfect innkeeper.
"Of course it is, mistress. I shall prepare the room immediately. The stables are just on the other side of the courtyard – you should find all you need for the horses in there."
The two nodded and gave him brief smiles of thanks, then took the reins of the horses and proceeded back across the darkened, storm-ravaged courtyard to the stables beyond.
Harl had good hearing also, tempered by much listening at doors for decent gossip, so just caught the brief conversation between the two as they retreated.
"Maerad, are you sure that's all right?"
"Cadvan. I'm cold. I'm wet. I'm tired. It's all right!"
Maerad. Harl mused upon the name as he retreated back into the warmth. Maerad. He was sure that name was familiar.
The 'room' turned out to be a suite, with a living area, the one bedroom and even a door to the communal baths, much to Maerad's delight. After they drank the mulled wine sent up by Harl, she made a beeline for the baths and spent a happy hour relaxing in the warm water whilst listening to the patter of the rain outside and experimenting with the various scented oils she had found in a cupboard.
She returned into the living room, hair wet, skin soft, swathed in a blue silk robe, to find Cadvan on his knees before the couch, tucking blankets around it and whistling under his breath distractedly.
She paused in the doorway to the bathroom, taking in the candlelit room, the crackling fire in the grate, the dark latticed windows, the comforting smell of woodsmoke and mulled wine hanging in the amber air.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
Cadvan glanced up, noticing her for the first time, and she caught that strange, swift emotion which seemed to always flicker in his eyes when he caught sight of her these days.
"You look nice," he commented.
Maerad remembered suddenly that she was only wearing a robe, and a rather figure-hugging one at that, and blushed a little – but thankfully Cadvan had gone back to his tidying of the blankets and didn't notice.
"So what are you doing?" she asked again when he showed no signs of answering her first attempt.
He glanced up at her again, a half smile on his face.
"Making my bed of course!"
So he hadn't expected to share the bed with her. Maerad felt both relieved and disappointed at this, and was reminded of the time when they had shared a room with only one bed before and Cadvan had offered to sleep on the couch then, when he had seen her nervousness of the situation.
Did he really think nothing had changed since then?
Maerad glanced through the other doorway at the bedroom and the illuminated double bed.
"I don't know why you're bothering," she said, keeping her voice light. "There's enough room for two."
Cadvan looked up again, and this time there was a sharpness in his gaze which hadn't been there before. He glanced into the bedroom, then at her. There was a long silence before he spoke.
"Are you sure?"
There was a concern and compassion in his voice that made Maerad's heart flutter warmly – if she had had any lingering doubts before he spoke, she didn't now. She grinned.
"I'm sure. As long as you don't snore!"
Her jest was ignored; Cadvan was still looking at her sombrely from his position on the floor, examining her face for any nervousness or doubt. Maerad sobered up and met his eyes, keeping her expression clear.
"Really, Cadvan. It's fine. Sleeping together can just mean sleeping, you know."
Cadvan surveyed her for a moment more, then, evidently realising she was truly settled about it, broke into one of his radiant smiles and nodded.
"All right then."
Maerad smiled back, then broke off eye contact before she could get too lost in his gaze and collapsed into the couch nearest the fire, shaking out her wet hair before it to dry it. Cadvan cleared the other couch free of blankets, then took his place next to her. For a while they sat in silence, both gazing at the popping fire, Maerad absentmindedly combing through her hair with her fingers. The storm howled outside, safe behind walls and windows.
After a bit, Cadvan reached forward and silently assisted Maerad with her hair, combing through the wet tangles, though he seemed more preoccupied with its softness and ended up just vaguely stroking the drier parts of her hair instead. Maerad relaxed into the peaceful caressing of his fingers, leaning into him and half closing her eyes.
"Lirigon next, then," she murmured after a peaceful moment.
"Mmhmm." Cadvan's hands never stopped their soft massaging. "We can stay with a relative while we're there."
"A relative?" Maerad opened one eye and glanced up at him. Cadvan smiled wryly.
"A great grand-niece, one of the descendants of my sister. She already looks older than me. Such is the curse of a Bard's long life."
"She isn't a Bard?"
"No, she's a shoe-maker. Just like my father was. Carries on the fine tradition!"
"She will be overjoyed to meet you."
"Oh?" Maerad opened both eyes properly and turned her head to look at Cadvan, interrupting his dreamy disentanglement of her hair.
He grinned mischievously.
"Yes, she's been waiting for me to bring a woman to introduce to her for ages. I think she was starting to wonder if my desires ran in other channels!"
Maerad stuttered, a bit flustered at what this great grand-niece might assume.
"But we're not – I mean we are, but – "
"You're the one that invited me to bed." Cadvan's slightly flirty smile grew even more mischievous, but Maerad was now too alarmed to notice.
"Oh no, but that was – I didn't – I – "
"Maerad." The jokey grin vanished at her sudden panic, warm hands encased her own and a steady pair of eyes held hers. "I was jesting with you. I know we are not – Well. We are whatever you want us to be. I have no qualms."
The agitation in Maerad's eyes softened and she relaxed, and gave him a small, almost child-like smile.
Automatically, almost instinctively now, she leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips. Instead of drawing away, though, like he had expected her to, Cadvan felt the kiss intensify; her mouth clamped onto his, her teeth grazed his bottom lip slightly, making him moan, her arms moved up his chest to twine around his neck. He responded in kind, tightening his grip around her waist, drawing her closer, tilting his head slightly so that he could deepen the kiss even further. He could hear the storm outside, but it was nothing compared to the rush of blood pumping in his ears and the sound of Maerad's erratic breathing so close to him. He waited until it got too pleasurable to bear, then drew slowly away before he could be tempted to go any further. Maerad looked slightly put out at his withdrawal, but said nothing and instead settled herself back into the crook of his arm – she had almost moved into his lap during the embrace.
They sat, listening to the storm while away for a moment more, and it was only when Cadvan noticed Maerad was dropping off to sleep on his shoulder that he roused her – and himself.
"Come on. Bed. We have to rise early tomorrow."
"Mrumph," Maerad commented grumpily, but allowed herself to be picked up and walked to the bedroom and the dubious double bed.
Cadvan put her down between the cool sheets, then slipped under the covers himself after extinguishing the lights and the fire, intending to stay a respectable distance away, but evidently the sleepy Maerad had other ideas. She immediately shifted closer to him as soon as he was in the bed properly and squirmed down inside the sheets so that she could rest her head on his chest and twine her arms around his waist.
"Maerad," he protested, but didn't move away. Instead he wrapped his own arms around her slender frame and rested his chin lightly on her still faintly damp hair. Her scent – sharp as pine – infused his senses, intoxicating him. He sighed expansively, enjoying the warmth of the frail body next to him and the sound of her regular breathing filling the room. He thought she was asleep, but then she took in a large breath, yawned and mumbled drowsily,
"You smell nice."
He stroked her hair and kissed the top of her forehead automatically.
"Sleep," he mock-ordered quietly. He felt her smile against his chest, then her breathing fell regular again and he knew she was properly asleep.
He intended to stay awake for a while, to enjoy the peace of the moment, the feel of Maerad so close to him, the diminishing storm outside, but he himself was asleep within seconds of Maerad.
They slept long and deeply, in each others arms, as the storm blew itself out and moved on, leaving a bright, new day celebrating in its wake.
Thank you for reading! Please review, the more reviews I get, the quicker the next chapter goes up! Yes, I still blackmail my readers heartlessly ^^,