Much Was Said….
Maerad rode with Cadvan on the back of Darsor. She rested her cheek on his back and her arms held firmly around his waist. Hem, Hekibel and Saliman traveled alongside through the Hutmoors on their way to Innail, after the Singing of the Treesong. As fast as they could fly on the horses, the journeymen planned to make it through into the Innail Fesse in two weeks time. Being well past exhausted but eager for the welcoming hospitality of the Bards at the School of Innail, they pushed on by sheer will alone.
Maerad's body quelled with exhaustion but still she felt as light as the summer breeze, elated and relieved. "I am glad it's finally over."
Cadvan reach his hand to hers at his waist. "As am I."
The burden of her long months of endless peril finally lifted. Last evening she'd accomplished her task and fulfilled her promise as the Fated One made long ago, and now her sole desire was for the comfort and fellowship of Innail as quickly as possible.
Though she had lost all of her powers in the Singing of the Treesong, some residue of the song's virtue remained within her, but that wasn't all. That wasn't nearly all. Cadvan loved her! In the moment after the Singing, she finally felt from him the passion that Hekibel had recognized. Apparently neither Hem nor Saliman were surprised by their embrace either. In fact, was she the only one in all of Annar and the Seven Kingdoms who hadn't known?
Maerad squeezed him tightly as they rode. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
She drummed her fingers on his belt and waited stubbornly for him to respond.
Finally giving in to her question, Cadvan took a deep breath. "I realized even if you felt something for me, of which I had my doubts, your fear would paralyze you and keep you from me. I decided, for your protection as well as my own, it was better to deny those feelings."
Remembering that evening leaving the Isle of Thorold, she nodded. The expression of emotion on his face had caused a dissonant fear to grip her heart. He was right, as usual. She'd been terrified, and Cadvan had his own wound which denied him the freedom to love. This was the primary reason he never lingered anywhere for long. Maerad sighed. Since the tragic death of Ceredin by his own hand, his life had been one long journey of solitude.
"Only when I lost you at the Gwalhain Pass did I realize what ill folly it had been to deny my own heart. I consider it the chief reason that the Darkness grew between us. You cannot know how I grieved and how long I searched for you. It was then I decided that if ever I were to find you again I would not withhold my heart from you. Although my desire was still to protect you, I was no longer concerned with protecting myself."
He had been different since reuniting with her in Pellinor, but she hadn't understood the true meaning of that transformation until now. Shaking her head, she still marveled at how she could miss such a thing.
"I was afraid….and I didn't realize the possibility of how you felt, at least not until Hekibel told me she thought….that your feelings for me might be more than friendship." Her cheeks heated with color. In the moments after the Singing as they embraced and kissed, a freedom from embarrassment liberated her, but now her exposure and inexperience gave rise to self-doubt although she wasn't afraid anymore.
"Hekibel is a very intuitive woman."
After that they were, deep in their own thoughts.
The five friends traveled on, mostly in silence, for the next several days. The magnitude of their adventure had worn heavily on their bodies; however, their spirits soared even if they were utterly spent. As they stopped each night to rest, they spoke of their gratitude for just being alive and in the company of one another. Irc had returned with excellent news and Cadvan, as promised, gave the boastful bird a new title, Savior of Lirigon. Even the desolation of the Hutmoors couldn't dampen their resolve and on they drove with a solidarity of purpose.
In the recent nights, Maerad had slept deeply in Cadvan's arms, rising early each morning ready to mount Darsor for the day's itinerary. It was clear in his eyes and gentle exchanges of affection that things between them had changed, and not only for them but for Saliman and Hekibel, as well.
On the evening of the tenth day after the Singing, Maerad grasped Cadvan's arm as she dismounted Darsor. They made it as far as the Weywood Forest, and the next day planned to travel all the way through to the Let and into the Fesse of Innail. Being so close to their destination, the group had reluctantly stopped for the night to rest the horses eager for a comfortable bed and a decent meal. They had met no trouble thus far in their journey, and, in fact, had seen little more than the occasional bird or rabbit.
After searching a short while, Cadvan found the Bardhouse he and Maerad had sheltered in some months before. There the travelers built a fire and unsaddled the horses to graze on the new growth of grass nearby.
The summer evening filled her lungs and she breathed in the scent of pine. The loneliness of the Hutmoors faded as they entered the Weywood, and strength returned to her weakened form. The forest gifted her with a residual energy as she remembered the first time she journeyed there.
The travelers took turns washing in the nearby stream and ate a filling, if not savory, meal. Afterwards, Hem and Irc curled up in the far corner of the cave and slept mumbling that they were glad to be away from all of the kissing. Saliman and Hekibel sat at the mouth of the inlet quietly conversing near the fire.
With little need to keep watch in the protection of the trees, Cadvan sat down in the grass, using a tree for support and stretched out his legs. Maerad sat down beside him and leaned her back against him. Gazing up to the stars, she sought once again her friend, Ilion, in the evening sky. How often had she looked to the star for comfort? Too many times to name.
She asked a very quiet Cadvan, "What are you thinking on?"
Easily pulling Maerad in his lap so he could see her face, Cadvan gazed intensely into her eyes. There she saw again that familiar emotion, but did not flinch. Her heart fluttered and her cheeks flushed with heat, but she held his gaze.
He reached up and pushed a strand of hair from her face. "How I have longed to love again. After what I had done, I thought I could not redeem myself to the place of deserving love…..but love found me, nonetheless, in a cow byre of all places, and make no mistake, I love you, Maerad."
His words struck a chord in her heart like the beginning of a new song, and she barely found her breath. In that moment, Cadvan once again allowed his defenses to fall before her fearless and unashamed. It reminded her of the time she had been allowed to enter his mind after learning of his dealings with the Dark. However, this time in his eyes, the truth of who he was past the pain and regret filled her mind. She saw the depths of his wisdom and will, the might of his magery and the intensity of his love.
Besieged by the scale of his intimacy, Maerad looked up into the night sky, afraid her voice would fail her. "Cadvan, I have often wondered why I at once trusted you when we first met. I trusted no one, but I trusted you."
Over the past few weeks Maerad had thought long on the subject of her feelings for him; however, at last, she realized the depth of her love. With the weight of the emotions that filling her, she stared into his eyes. "You were the first light into my darkness. You came to me with a promise of a new life. I have loved you from the first moment I saw you…how could I help but love you, Aëlorgalen?"
Stunned as she said his Truename – even as he revealed it to her – she gasped as a memory surfaced. Long ago in the shadow of the mountains of Osidh Annova, Cadvan had shown her the small blue star-shaped flower during their escape from the Landrost. As if willing her to recognize something, he had told her its name – Dawnflower – and that it only grew in the far northern regions. The flower had, as she now understood, been named after her own Ilion, star of dawn.
Was there any doubt? Surely Cadvan was the first flowering of dawn in a shadowy land, with shades of blue the color of his eyes and in the shape of a star, the symbol of Lirigon. A starflower that grew in the dark places of the world and withstood the harshest of conditions with the promise of life and Light. It was his true self that he hid behind the guise of his black hooded cloak and wandering ways. The truth he masked with the solitary silence of his own suffering, but he could not hide from her, for it was this truth she saw in him that first Springturn morn, and it was the truth she loved in him now.
With deliberate ease and nothing more to be said, Cadvan, cradling Maerad in his arms, leaned in and passionately kissed her. Linking their lips, in a harmony of graceful exchange, together they created a divine melody of music that played the strings of her heart like a lyre – a simple song, most lovely, nothing like the awe-inspiring Treesong, but all her very own.
When they finally returned to themselves and their kiss was sated, Maerad gazed into the night sky as Ilion shone down on her, but this time she also knew he held her in his arms.