Please be advised that while most of the characters and situation have come from my own imagination, the universe in which they are set and any characters that are mentioned in passing referance are the intellectual property of Mercedes Lackey. I claim no rights to her property, this story is a celebration for the love of a beautiful universe and nothing more.

This chapter is a kind of catch-up to orient the reader to a new point of view and retells some of the story line from Maelith's Inn. Thanks for being patient! I'm kinda new to the chapter system as my last stoy was a lump download. Please feel free to tell me what you think!

Kardæn the Journeyman

Kardæn watched her storm out of the house... at least she was feeling better! He stepped up to the door frame just in time to see her assault Master Corsi with waves of pure rage.

Master Corsi picked himself up, brushed himself off and quirked an eyebrow in Kardæn's direction. Maelith turned and screamed at the scared boys on the well then took herself off to the cemetery. That seemed to be her favorite place to seek refuge.

He went to the stew pot and looked in then threw in some random vegetation, water and another couple rabbits that had been cleaned while he had been talking with Master Corsi. He stoked the fire and set the pot so that it would come to a boil.

He checked on the soldiers who were rebuilding the well and found them just finishing up. He offered them more of the stew and they gratefully accepted. He left them to it while he brought a bowl to Mae.

He felt her sorrow before he heard her sobs and knew what that pain was. It resonated with every painful memory he could recall... Loss. Hollow, soul-swallowing, breathtaking loss. He stood next to her watching her body shudder with silent sobs for a few moments until he was certain she knew he was there then placed the stew on the cold stones of the fence and squatted in front of her.

She picked her head up to look at him, her face was red and her eyes swollen from crying. "Kardæn," She projected her feelings of confusion and loss as well as spoke her weirdly beautiful language, "Ay'm sore'ee... Ay jus - Ay jus doht noh..."

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. No longer able to deny his hunger for the taste of her mouth, tightly locking away his fear of everything she represented and just allowing himself to love her. He knew Master Corsi would come for him in the morning and he couldn't bear the thought of leaving her without knowing for sure...

He explained life-bonding to her with his thoughts and his thoughts and emotions as he held her and felt her soften in his arms then kiss him back more soundly. She shared with him her people's tradition of soul mates and her relief that he didn't think her to be a fool. He broke off their kiss then to throw his head back and laugh in a couple short, loud bursts of emotional release. His fears faded in the sound of his joy. He tilted his head back down to look in her deep blue eyes then touched their brows together. He shifted his grip on her, wrapping his arms around her firmly keeping her body pressed to his and rocking her like a beloved child.

They made love that night. Not the spectacularly perfect lovemaking a bard will tell of but all the more special for their lack of familiarity with each other. He drifted to sleep with her tucked into the cup of his shoulder, the combined comfort of her body molding perfectly with his and sleeping on an actual bed instead of the straw-filled mat on the floor made for the deepest sleep he'd had since he left for Shonar so many weeks ago.

Early the next morning he packed his knapsack while she watched him from her bed. Her eyes followed him around the room but she made no other move to stop or help him. She knew he had to leave, and why, but she was not going to hurry him out the door.

He finally could find nothing more he needed to take with him so he set about making something to eat. Mae sat up on the bed and wrapped the quilt around her scarred torso and continued to watch him. She watched him as he made flat breads, she watched him make porridge, she watched him cut off chunks of ham and fry them in her mother's iron skillet.

She finally seemed to break away from her miasma enough to shrug into a worn tunic of his that she had adopted as a nightshirt and pad across the floor to him. She took the pot of boiled beans out of his hands, kissed him on the cheek and started to smash them into a paste with a few of her dried herbs.

Kardæn boiled water and made Mae's favorite tea of pole mint and spice bark while she mashed the beans into a spicy paste that would last almost forever. She finished mashing the beans, potted them then wrapped up a huge portion of flat breads in linen and placed them both on top of his sack.

She straightened up and he pulled her to him, folded her into his embrace and held her there for a long moment.

::I was alone for a long time before I met you,:: Her thought drifted into his mind ::I'll be alone after you've gone... but there's nothing that can make me like it.::

He kissed the top of her head ::I know, beloved...:: It was then that they heard the approach of many people from the direction of the new town. ::It's time.:: Maelith nodded into his chest then pulled away. She pulled out a rough square of cloth he had given her a few weeks ago, dabbed her eyes with it, then handed it to him. She had hemmed it and stitched her name into it in her own language and his.

::Bring it back to me.:: her thoughts were laced with disparity held tightly back by the iron will that he so admired about her. She was so sad, but she knew that this was not the time to mourn. She would most likely wait until he was out of perception before breaking down into a sodden heap. Now, however, she simply packed the food into the top of the bag and handed it to him.

He opened the door, let her through it, and walked with her out to the road. Master Corsi bowed 'good morning' to Mae, which she returned with a curt nod as many of the young soldiers looked on, white-eyed, in awe.

Kardæn hefted his pack onto his shoulders, gave her a long kiss of parting and left without another word.