Please be advised that while the characters and situation have come from my own imagination, the universe in which they are set is the intellectual property of Mercedes Lackey.

Maelith's Inn

Maelith's ice blue eyes surveyed the abused land around her dwelling. She was sitting on a low stone fence working at viewing things with her "normal" vision then with her nature-tuned "Mage-Sight" This place was perfect for that since the dwelling and cemetery were now cleansed & shielded but the surrounding hadn't been yet. A lot of things were unfinished; it had been a hard couple of years.

From what she could tell this place had been a large-ish farm, but long before she got here it had been abandoned. She and Kardæn had rebuilt the house on the old foundation with help from people in town, the regular militia patrol, and the occasional passers-by. The stone fences had, mostly, been standing when she got here, badly overgrown but still visible and the cobbles in the courtyard and barn floor could still be felt under her small boots as she walked about. She thought cobbles were a bit rich for a farm; but maybe this had been an inn at that time as well? There was certainly nobody about who could tell her what business had transpired here in the days when there was business.

Mae had first come here in an attempt to escape the town and what she now knew was her Earth Sense's response to it's abrupt awakening and her new surroundings.

She walked down the road out of town and across the sharp separation of land that had been brought with them as her people had been violently ripped from their realm and deposited, unceremoniously, into this freakish land. The frustration headache that had driven her to pack a quick lunch and escape the city on her hasty constitutional had grown to a full blown migraine as the sickly vegetation seemed to reach out to her in waves of vermilion and chartreuse nausea. It sapped her strength and left her sweat-soaked and breathless.

She was finding it harder and harder to focus her eyes when she had spied this place. Most of the five buildings had been stripped of wood, most right down to the foundations. There was a young graveyard with about twenty graves all about the same age. Best of all the graveyard and the stone fence around it had no trace of the energy-draining waves of putrid color. It was a blessing in her time of need so she added her own blessing to the consecrated ground as she crawled over the fence to lean, in a somewhat crumpled heap against the lee side.

Pressing her damp cheek to the cool masonry, she took a few deep, unlabored breaths with her eyes closed to soothe her throbbing skull.

She must have fallen asleep for suddenly she was being startled awake by a warm, dry hand against her clammy cheek. Her heart jumped and stuttered in her chest bringing the nausea swarming back. She sat up too quickly which caused the little lights to swim in amoebic patterns under her eyelids. The lights brought vertigo to the party and her gorge started to rise. A quick turn to the side kept her from loosing her lunch over the shoes of whoever it was standing there.

A man's voice burbled soothingly in an oddly melodic, bubbly language that Mae couldn't understand at all. His hands were steady as he held her curly, chocolate & brandy colored hair back and gently kneaded the back of her neck.

When she could finally sit back and open her eyes she found that this mysterious man was expectantly holding out a tin cup of water for her. Mae took the proffered cup and rinsed her mouth with a tentative sip before taking a more generous swig. The cool water sang a sweet and soothing song all the way down her raw throat to quiet her riotous stomach.

He was a brown type of man. His brown hair had been neatly cut but was growing out again so that it fell into his face over his brown eyes. What she could see of his skin was sun-browned but his long sleeved, knee-length brown tunic covered him pretty well. His breeches looked like they had been a natural, tan color but walking down the rain softened road had turned them a gray-brown.

"Thank you, Sir..." She started but stopped at the slightly alarmed look of confusion he gave her. Of course she had forgotten that he couldn't understand anything she said.

"Mahm... Ishter Ziekt?" His liquid brown eyes, deepened with concern, made his youth all the more apparent; but, hey she wasn't that old. Then again, twenty nine may be "Old Maid" in his culture.

Mae's strength was slowly returning and the nausea had faded to a dim uneasiness.

"I'll be fine." she smiled and patted his hand encouragingly, "I just need to rest a little." With that she pantomimed resting her head on her flattened hands then scrubbed at her face a bit, trying to relieve her fatigue.

"En'deir?" The man asked in an incredulous tone and gestured about them, his manner making it clear that he didn't think the living should rest with the dead.

"I'm afraid that if I leave this place too soon I'll get sick again." She replied, trying to clarify with her hands what she was speaking to him.

Slowly a strange light of understanding came to his eyes. As she watched, his eyes seemed to change from a warm liquid brown to a molten brandy shot through with emerald and gold flecks. As he looked about again with his new-found insight the air about his being seemed to shimmer like heat waves and buzz with unseen electricity. He looked around the sad little cemetery, then out at the muddy road, then back at her with those beautiful eyes and her heart leaped.

She barely heard the words he actually spoke as feelings, images and ideas gently planted themselves in her being.

:No wonder you were ill, sister. It is well you found this cleansed place. How is it that you came to be so far into the wilderness when your reaction to this sick land is so strong?:

In the clarity of his communication, Mae sensed snatches of ideas, reasons for her illness and explanations of his words. All of it was a bit too ethereal, but all undeniably the truth.

He was in training to become an Earth Mage/Priest of this broken land. One of the few who had heeded the call of Hardorn after the previous ruler had tried to drain all the life from people, animals and finally the very soil to heed his terrible lust for power.

Ideas flicked into her consciousness that weren't her own. Ideas that she was like him; that he could help her control the sensing of the land that was making her sick; that he really didn't want to leave her alone while she was still sick; that she was incredibly beautiful... That last thought whipped away as if it were the last cookie on the table at a poor orphanage. However, she could still sense his metaphysical presence in her mind like a comforting blanket of patience.

The only thing she could think to do is talk to him and hope that he could take the meanings from her as easily as he had placed his there.

"I walked here from the town I live in." She pointed back the way she had come, "We aren't too far up the road. I would, so, love your help! I don't like being in town with so many people but if I pass our borders I get ill."

He was looking confused again and she thought that maybe he couldn't tell what she was thinking when his answer warmed her mind. :There is no settlement, that I know of, near here. But I know that you relay the truth. How did your people get here?: Curiosity cast shadows across his brow and made his eyes dance.

As memories of the singularly most terrifying experience of her life welled up into her mind she shuddered. "I don't know..." Even to her own ears her voice sounded pitiful and scared, weak.

Suddenly his arms were around her, protecting her for an all-too-brief moment, just long enough for her to take comfort, then he let her go. Faintly she felt ripples of longing/regret/need/joy saturate her being as he released her. It was then that she realized that he may not be aware that she could sense some of what she had.

"I don't know how we got here." She tried again, "There was a storm and an earthquake. Then it was so dark I couldn't even see myself. I got disoriented, cold and dizzy. Then I fainted because suddenly I was waking up and we were here; people, town and ground." She tried to clearly call up what she could remember of the transition. Maybe he could help with the answer.

Tears streamed down her face as calling up that horrible event brought with it all the frustrations of the past few days. Her inability to take solace from the forest or walk by the river to ease her frayed nerves. Her resolve to walk down the road until she became used to the sensations of this new land; her final realization that she was probably going to die and her relief at finding this oasis. Her impressions of him. It all came tumbling out like a waterfall. Turbulent, cacophonous and wet.

Mae swiped at the tears on her face trying to regain some of her composure.

"I'm sorry," she apologized, embarrassed that she had broken down in front of a complete stranger, "I'm sure you didn't expect to be comforting a strange, crazy woman this morning when you started your walk."

The palpable emotions around him changed slightly and she could feel a twinge of surprise then a rich wave of compassion laced with bewildered acceptance. He handed her a scrap of homespun cloth to wipe her face with. :No... I expected monsters. You are a beautiful surprise.:

His emotions, while still filled with compassion and acceptance took on an slightly odd quality. Like it's flavor had been salted with longing regret and some sort of shy sorrow had been used as a stock for his quiet strength. She could feel his resolve solidify as he made the decision to help her protect herself and bring her home to her family.

"I haven't got a family..." She replied absently.

She was almost rocked off her feet again by the wave of shock/awe/betrayal/invasion/mistrust that he threw at her. He thought she'd gone digging in his personal thoughts. Then there was nothing. Complete silence that hurt. She was alone again with her own fears clawing at the inside of her chest, strangling her until she could barely breath.

She gasped for air hearing her own strangled sob, pitiful and thick with the loss of him. Only with him drawn back into himself did she realize how complete he had made her feel.

"I'm sorry..." She whispered as she handed back his cup and rag, "I didn't mean to hurt you." She tried to will him to understand but this time she got no feedback, no recognition in his eyes who's liquid brown had turned hard like perfect glass.

He somberly reclaimed his belongings and tucked them into a pack that was sitting on the stone wall.

She glanced about wanting to know if there was anything else she had missed while she was completely absorbed by his aura. She noticed that the consecrated ground grew grass that was truly greener than the land outside but the outside land was not as sickly as she had first thought. In fact it had the air of a person recovering from a long sickness, weak and hungry.

She noticed that the light was waning. Great... A long walk home in the dark was all she needed right now.

Mae turned back to the stranger, "I'm going home now. Thank you for your help."

His eyes flicked at her but there was no light of understanding. She could feel his concentration focus on something beyond the reach of her understanding, like a prayer or thought-talking to someone else. She couldn't quite figure it out and she wasn't being included so she decided it was a good time to leave. She took a good long look at his face once more; the hansom little half-smile looked so right there.

She placed her hands on the cold stone of the hip-high fence, hoisted herself up and tucked her knees under her. From there she pivoted on her hip to swing her legs out in front of her. She shoved off the fence and landed firmly on the road with a faint crunch from her boots in the dirt.

Mae could already feel the draining of her energy, like an ache, in her bones and muscles but as long as it was just an ache she could make it home.

As she set out down the road she felt a flare of warmth at her back. She glanced over her shoulder but saw nothing in the failing light but the man sitting where she had left him. She could no longer see his face but wasn't going to stop to take a better look. Night was quickly closing in and she was already going to explain her late return to the nosy guards.

Maelith was preparing her excuses and explanations when she sensed something odd... something wrong. With her mind occupied she hadn't realized how tired she had become or how sick her was beginning to feel again. Now, as she looked for whatever it was that was creating the feeling of wrongness she felt the nausea return to grip her gut with a fierce, evil intent.

Mae buckled to the ground to wretch the water and bile that remained in her stomach onto the dirty pebbles of the road. When she was able to look up again she was gazing directly into the lizard-like eyes of an ugly, warped dog-thing. It was way too close for her not to have heard it approach but here it was, just the same. Here and hungry; drooling; snarling, but making no noise. She gasped in shock when she when she realized what it was and the monster pounced. It gripped the arm she flung up to protect her face and neck with a hundred sharp teeth in a long, powerful jaw and she screamed.

Maelith screamed her pain, her fear and a strange, sorrowful rage that this thing would kill her now. She wanted to hurt it back so she lashed out with everything she had. She ripped one of it's ears from it's deformed head and started punching the nub with her free arm.

The lizard-dog yanked on her arm until she was off balance then knocked her back. It raked her abdomen with it's razor sharp claws. From her left shoulder to her right hip was shredded into tatters of bloody flesh. Searing pain blossomed in the wound and she screamed again, pleading with anyone who might hear to help her.

She heard a dull, wet crack and the weight of the creature was gone then the pain abated.

:I'm dead...: She thought, with certainty.

:Not yet, my Lady. I'm bringing you back.: His thoughts came to her in a wave of concern as she felt his strong arms lift her to his broad chest. She remembered his smell; not overly strong but she clung to the sent, warm earth, crushed grass and nutmeg. She held to it as if it were her lifeline.

The warmth of his body suffused her as he carried her on and she drifted away on the warm, green, nutmeg breeze.

She felt a woman's strong presence helping her, :Who are you?: The melodic voice was imbued with warmth, compassion and an understanding of eons alive, caring for her children.

:Maelith... I am Maelith, daughter of Jorah. Who are you? What's happening? Am I dieing?:

A flood of love and mirth washed over her, cooling, relieving. :Not yet. Not soon if Kardæn has anything to say about it. He heals you even now. He deserves you. You will help him.:

:Help him? I don't know how! But I will help him however I can, with whatever I know...:

Warm acceptance surrounded her like a blanket. The warmth grew and sprouted light. The light grew to implant Mae with knowledge and understanding of herself and her abilities.

Suddenly she was awake and in pain. A lot of pain. Gasping, she opened her eyes to see Kardæn bending over her. His eyes were closed in concentration, beads of sweat forming on his brow and trickling down his cheeks. There was a blue-green light coalesced about his hand that she somehow knew was his energy, Healing her wounds.

Before she could think about it, she was "acting". She gathered to herself any energy she could hold; the loving energy of the soil, water and air trying to feed it to him. The light around him grew stronger but he was faltering, already exhausting himself to Heal her. She knew she couldn't Heal herself and that her wounds were still too great for her to survive. She could feel herself dying even as she felt him closing her wounds, stopping her blood from running onto the ground, sealing her guts back into her body.

She forced her lungs to expand through the pain and willed her heart to keep beating. She even tried thinking at her bones to make more blood.

"Kardæn..." She whispered. She felt his consciousness acknowledge her with a tentative connection that she grasped hold of and opened herself completely to. She gave him every reserve she possessed, holding back only the energy she needed to keep her body working. Every emotion, memory, sensation she ever remembered feeling. All of her learning and training, right down to the most recent out-of-body experience with it's rush of information from the goddess. It was all there for him to transmute into healing energy. She knew he would drain himself to death trying to save her.

She felt him test the waters of her pool of energy, as if he were testing the temperature of a bath. Suddenly it felt to her like a circuit had been completed. She felt light and whole and strong. She was Man and Woman; together. Kardæn and Maelith; separated only by will. One soul made of two, complete.

She remembered his childhood. The taunts and teasing, his mother's loving ministrations; the fights and stolen lovers of his adolescence, long talks with his father. His parents fearful flight, secreting away one moonless night and their frantic journey to another country where they were hunted by agents of Hardorn's sadistic King. his last view of his mother's tear-filled face as she kissed him and tucked him away into a hiding spot. The memories went on forever, rushing by in seconds.

She could feel her own memories sliding through his soul even as she experienced his painful life culminating in his recent acceptance into Hardorn's new religious order to be trained as a cleric/Mage.

Finally she opened her eyes feeling... whole. Her body was tender and weak but she was alive. She was going to stay alive. His warm body was pressed against her back, a blanket over them both and his hand clutching her arm as if even in exhausted sleep he would keep her from dying.

She moved the light blanket off her face to look around in the early morning half-light. He had set his tin cup next to her filled with water. She drank the water down to the last drop and looked around for the water skin to get more. Her motions roused Kardæn but the only motion he made was to reach around, behind himself and bring forth the water. He offered it to her but noticed her hands were shaking so he held the bung to her lips so she could drink her fill. He then took a healthy swig and returned the skin to his pack.

His movements released more of that delicious grassy nutmeg smell. The smell of his soap. The soap his mother had taught him how to make along with other "Women-craft" because he was the only child she had borne. She would tell him that she loved him enough for the ten children she had wanted. His teen aged self had thought 'Love' was her word for 'give more chores to' but now he saw that she was just trying to prepare him. Sisters cared for their wifeless brothers, but he had no wife or sisters.

The smell of his soap Maelith found soothing...

When she next woke Kardæn was gone but he had left her simple food in the place where he had slept. She smiled at his thoughtfulness. When she tested her ability to move her smile turned into a wincing grimace as her tender stomach and chest complained about the abuse.

It wasn't until she managed to sit up that she noticed two things: One- She was back in the cemetery and; Two- She was wearing a light weight, off white linen man's tunic. 'But of course!' Her inner-self chided, 'If you were ripped from collar to hip then your shirt is toast!'

The tin cup beside her food was filled with an odd colored liquid. She sniffed the familiar bitter sweet scent of willow bark tea with fruity under tones. She looked in and saw not only willow bark, but what looked like cherry bark and rose hips as well. That made sense... and probably tasted better.

The tea being cold made it easier to drink and she was able to gulp down a few mouthfuls before her stomach started cramping. She nibbled at the bread in hopes of quieting her rebellious organs. She leaned back against stone fence, exhausted.

'I've really got to stop doing that.' she thought at herself when she next woke. Her arms and legs were stiff, her head filled with clay. Her eyes felt sandy when she opened them.

She reached for the tea at her side but nearly dropped it when her fingers refused to work properly.

"Con d'leida?" she heard Kardæn's voice ask from over her head. She looked up to see him peering down at her over the wall.

She smiled up at him. "I'm here," she said then raised the cup a bit, "Thank you." She tipped her head back down to sip the cold, bitter brew.

"Glah l'eel, Mælith." The sound of her name, accented by his lips, made her heart twitter. She decided that she liked the sound and the feeling.

"Kardæn?" He grunted reply. "I need help... ah... getting up..." She sent him a feeling of her need and he quickly hopped the fence to help her over it.

She had taken just one step, using the fence to steady herself, when she saw the monster at the side of the road. She gasped, feeling her face go cold with fear. Kardæn placed his hand between her shoulder blades and a comforting warmth washed the fear away.

"Nie'dirth." he said softly, drawing his thumb across his throat in the universal sign for 'killed'. Then, to make sure she understood, he used the toe of his boot to tip the thing's head to one side. It's head had been almost completely caved in.

"What was it?" she asked in awe.

"Kyree; mal zifd." he responded. His reply was undertoned with sorrowful respect. These things were respected?

Mae waved her hand at the whole mess as if to shoo it away from her then continued her walk.

The next few days floated by as Mae napped or watched Kardæn begin to rebuild the main house. He cleansed and shielded then inspected what was standing. To their mutual surprise the foundation had been shored up and solid stone steps lead into the basement. The house, itself, looked as if someone had fixed it up as a shelter for a large group against the winter past.

People from town came down the road looking for supplies or new homesteads of their own. Most passed by without a word but a few stopped to help in exchange for information or food. A friend came to look for her with information about the goings-on in town then returned the next day with a small cart baring Mae's belongings.

She didn't have much, since she had been renting a single room after her parents passed. She had sold almost all of their stuff and their huge house, keeping just a few small things that she most treasured and a few pieces of furniture.

Kardæn refused to let her help with anything strenuous so she took to foraging in the forest for things she knew were healthful. After a week she had herbs hanging from almost every rafter, small bowls of barks lined up along the side of the cellar steps, wild onions and tubers in a small burlap sack and a basket of apples in one corner of the kitchen.

During the second week a small troop of foot soldiers escorting important looking people came along the road toward town from the direction of what Kardæn explained was the capitol city of Shonar. The next day her friend returned with a basket of fresh bread and news. The people were a group of surveyors and a liaison from King Tremmain. They were going to survey the town, tally the populous and report back to Shonar.

They stayed about a week camped between the town and Maelith's place. Since the town's people were civilized there wasn't much for the soldiers to do so they took to patrolling the road and surrounding countryside.

Maelith was in the woods, on one of her forays to gather herbs, when she heard a terrible racket. Thinking someone might be hurt she pulled her herb knife out of her belt and went to investigate. She nearly fell over a couple of very young soldiers flushing small game out of the bushes in droves.

The poor kids couldn't have been more than sixteen and looked so scared that she was pretty sure that they had been ordered not to hunt.

Mae put on her 'angry face', bustled up to them, cut a fat rabbit from the long string of game and flung her hand up, one finger pointing toward their camp. She had never seen teenagers move so fast in her life!

She was still grinning to herself when she handed the rabbit to a bemused Kardæn. "Din'r?" He asked with a twinkle in his eyes. He liked trying out the new words she had taught him.

The next morning she tossed the leftover rabbit into the cauldron for stew when she heard a group of people walking on the road. Kardæn was speaking with the senior officer of a small foot patrol and an older gentleman in a brown getup similar to what Kardæn was wearing. He was speaking low and insistent, gesturing toward the house. The soldiers were just standing there looking uncomfortable.

She stopped to stand next to Kardæn. :?: She thought at him.

:The soldiers are to help you today. They were caught poaching game on your land yesterday.: When they were alone they liked to speak, learning each other's language but they had agreed that no one should know just how much Hardornan she knew.

:OK... The well needs a new crank housing, please?:

When all was settled and orders were given, one of the men stopped to thrust a sack in front of her. She looked him in the face then took the bag. It was one of the boys she had caught yesterday, looking miserable with a heavy sack of small game furs.

Mae smiled, raised the bag a touch and bowed her thanks. She turned and went back to her stew to add more vegetables and water.

The work crew was surprisingly efficient. By the time they broke for the midday meal the well had been cleared out and shored up. Wood had been pulled from the forest for the housing frame and shingling.

Mae surprised the crew with the rabbit stew from her pot. After she made it plain that she didn't think ration bread was enough, they each dipped their cups in the pot, bowing and smiling their thanks.

Kardæn had been in deep conversation with the older priest for most of the morning sometimes quite loudly and with wild gesturing.

After the meal Kardæn and the older priest waved Mae over to the house to speak with them. The old priest wanted to see Mae's wounds. He grasped her arm at the wrist and elbow turning it first this way, then that way next. He had her flex her hand in a complex pattern of movements to gauge her range of movement. He took a jaundiced look at the ragged wound on her abdomen.

He then placed one hand on her shoulder, his other on her hip and closed his eyes in concentration. He seemed to call tiny globes of green and gold light from the air about them. The globes of light surrounded her wounds, warming her abdomen, but not uncomfortably so. She felt something shift and the dull aching she had been enduring as 'part of the healing process' subsided. The priest took her arm again, orienting the glowing globes on her wounds there.

Mae watched, mesmerized, as the fragile pink tissue of the multiple small tears thickened and drew the edges in, to grow smaller. The lights then flew apart to hover like dust motes in a sun beam for a moment, then drifted lazily up, down, or outside; presumably to where they had originated.

After this healing she felt winded, but good. Not at all like the last time when she felt as if she had been wrung out, rolled flat and left to re-inflate herself. She gently ran her fingers over the smooth scars on her arm, marveling at how such a minute change could make such a great difference.

Kardæn handed her a cup of tea, that was mostly warm water. It smelled faintly of roses and berries. She smiled up at him in thanks as she took the cup. It had become a joke between them that he was trying to fill her like a water skin but she was a leaky one.

She sipped from the cup as she listened to the men continue their conversation. She couldn't understand what they were saying but she could plainly feel their emotions.

Kardæn asked a question, insistently expectant.

The older priest answered with pained acquiescence.

Kardæn asked something else with similar insistence but threaded through with a sort of desperate sorrow, gesturing out toward the road and beyond.

His elder replied short and firm with an air of finality. His eyes flicked to her and with a sigh, his face changed subtly. Waves of knowing compassion hued with pity rolled off him as he said something more in a softer tone. He stood, clasped Kardæn's shoulder, then walked from the house.

:What's going on?: She demanded.

:I need to return to finish my training. He wanted me to leave now, but I can't just leave you. The house is sound now and he has finished your Healing so he gave me leave to stay until the surveyors are done with the town.:

Shock stiffened her body and mind, holding her rooted in place, unable to understand what he had just told her for long enough that Kardæn took her elbow and gave her a little shake.

"Mælith?" He spoke her name as if he were begging her to forgive him.

Angrily she jerked her arm from him and stormed from the house after the other priest.

He was standing on the path to the road, watching the soldiers shingle the roof of the well's crank housing. He looked at her, said something and started projecting waves of soothing and comfort at her with his hands up at his chin.

She rounded on him with the tsunami of emotion she felt. "YOU!" She roared and he blanched. The almost physical weight of her pain shoving him to the ground before she even reached him. She could see the mystical shields he hastily erected so she pushed at them with everything she was feeling.

"Get..." Push, "Off..." Push, "MY..." Push, "PROPERTY!" She pushed him to scramble backward onto the road and pointed toward the town, "GO!" The soldiers had stopped working when they heard her yelling and now were gawking, open mouthed.

She turned to the gape-mouthed soldiers and bellowed at them, "WORK!" She pointed at the mostly finished well then turned on her heel and stomped off.

Somehow she ended up in the cemetery with her back braced against the stone fence. Her knees were drawn up to her chest, her arms were folded together on them and soaked with her tears. She didn't know exactly why she was crying. She hadn't known him long enough for the profound sense of loss that had consumed her to make sense. And HELLS! They didn't even know the same languages. But somehow the thought of living apart from him was painful. She couldn't even think of it without breaking down into more spasmodic sobs.

She was still curled up there, crying, when Kardæn came with a bowl of stew for her dinner. He stood there a few moments, shifting from foot to foot before placing her bowl on the fence above her and squatting in front of her.

She picked her head up to look at him. "Kardæn," She projected her thoughts as well as spoke, "I'm sorry... I just- I just don't know..."

He tucked his hands gently around her upper arms and lifted her with him as he stood. He kissed her then, for the first time. Soundly, hungrily.

:My people speak of life-bonding.: he explained as he held her to him, :An inexplicable sense of completion when your life-bonded is with you. Even strangers, as we are.:

:We call them soul-mates...: she replied not wanting to give up his mouth, :I'm so relieved that you don't think I'm crazy.:

He broke off their kiss then to throw his head back and laugh. His laugh was as strong as he, driven from his belly in short, loud bursts. He sobered almost immediately tilting his head back down to look in her eyes. He studied her cobalt gaze for a moment before dropping his head to touch their brows together. He shifted his grip on her, wrapping his arms around her in a firm but gentle hug.

:No, beloved... I thought your customs would differ. That you would think me bold or possessive. I was afraid to tell you how I felt for fear that I would drive you away.: He rocked her from side to side, ever-so-slightly as if dancing with her to some unheard tune.

:But...: And she looked up into those expressive brown eyes, :You've been telling me from the first moment we met.:

That was over two years ago, now.

He left a day later with the infantry unit. The older priest bowed 'good morning' to her, which she returned with a curt nod as many of the young soldiers looked on, white-eyed, in awe.

Twenty of those same soldiers returned two months later with carts of building materials, supplies and paperwork. They were to make her place a proper Inn so people traveling the road to Valdemar would have a safe place to rest. A certificate from the King relieved her of any taxes and repayment for the refitting if she would provide travelers, bearing official papers, free shelter.

They raised a small barn in three days, shored up her house then added a second story in another two. None of them knew where Kardæn had gone, but they pledged to send her care if they met with him.

Every day she returned to sit on this fence for her morning meditation.

People came and went. At first, just a few friends from town and the occasional traveler. During the deep of winter two parties of travelers with official papers stopped, bedding their strange, white horses in the barn. White, with blue eyes that winked at her wonder.

The official visitors were always kind and polite. Even though she refused payment, she always was left with more than she had when they got to her Inn.

Still she returned, daily, to the cemetery fence.

It was again mid-Autumn.

The kitchen maid, an orphan who showed up half-starved about six months ago, was preparing breakfast while Mae sat on the fence. She had no pictures of him but every morning she remembered his smell, the feeling of his aura melding with hers, the feel of his body under her hands, the sound of his voice...

"Mælith...?" She jumped and nearly fell off the fence. She had heard the footsteps on the road but didn't expect anyone to bother her during her alone time. They all knew to go to the house and Tarley would settle them.

But that voice...

She turned in stunned disbelief to Kardæn, hopped off the fence and tackled him to the ground.

"Don't kill me!" He said in Hardornan, projecting telepathically as well.

"Alright," She said in her heavily accented version of Hardornan, "but only if you stay!" She was straddling his chest, poking her finger into his forehead. He gave one of his belly laughs and snatched her finger away from his head.

"As long as I can, beloved." She let him off the ground. He got to his feet then wrapped his arms around her and kissed her soundly. :If Forever is long enough...: