Prophecy Story Index || The Sentinel Fan Fan Fiction

Silent Song
by Becky
March 1998

Set a few months after Jydan's installation as Guard Captain .....


Kell sat sideways on the couch at the foot of her bed as she ran a polishing cloth up and down the blade of the large broadsword in her lap. As she moved, her hair, loose around her neck, fell forward, blocking her vision. Annoyed, she swatted it back, muttering under her breath about its inconvenience. A small chuckle from across the room got her attention, but she didn't look up as she snapped out. "I don't know why you find that so amusing, minstrel."

Dorien, sprawled in a large, padded chair, smiled, blue eyes twinkling. "Probably because it is amusing. You could just braid your hair out of the way, you know. Or chop it off."

"Don't think chopping it off hasn't occurred to me, but I don't think my mother would be terribly thrilled with the idea. And as for braiding, I only know how to braid it tightly. There's some ... event or some such thing that I have to be at tonight. Mother wants to be able to do something nice with it when she works on it. And if I braid it, then it gets too ... unmanageable ... for her to do much with it."

Dorien raised an eyebrow. "Your mother is still doing your hair? Don't you think you should consider getting a lady-in-waiting or something like that?"

Kell looked up, her hands pausing. "You're joking, right?" She gestured around the room with one hand, then lifted her sword with the other. "And just how would I explain all this to a 'lady-in-waiting'? If I'm to keep my dual lives a secret and separate from each other, I can't risk having a lady-in-waiting around. She might find the hidden entrance or Lachiellian or hear or see something. Servants gossip. That's a fact of life. And gossip moves faster and further than facts. Once anyone outside our trusted circle even gets a hint of wrongness, people in Eirena will know by the end of a week."

"I think you might be exaggerating just a bit there, Kell. Give them two weeks to be fair."

She threw the polishing cloth at him, snorting. "Oh, excuse me, two weeks. What difference will that make in the long run?"

Snatching the cloth from his head, he rose to his feet and walked over to her. Dorien sat next to her, laying a hand on her trouser-clad leg, "I still think you need someone other than Queen Raven to help you. Granted, Jydan has taken over training the guards and soldiers and we have a little less to worry about because of that. But sooner or later, someone will notice that Princess Linet doesn't have any servants and begin to comment on it. And that will lead to more questions and more speculation."

"Dorien ..."

He lifted a hand. "No, let me finish. I have an idea, okay? Let me talk to Camella. She knows more of what goes on in the city than anyone else. She'll know if there's someone we can trust. Maybe not a 'pure-bred' lady-in-waiting, but maybe someone that can be trained as such, someone that we could let in on your little secret."

Kell's face was still, her eyes glittering. Finally she nodded once, sharply. "Okay. Talk to Camella. See what you can find out. I don't promise to like this though. I don't like the idea of letting anyone else in on this. It feels dangerous to me."

Dorien smiled softly, hesitantly raising his hand to cup Kell's cheek. She leaned into his palm slightly, returning his smile as he more confidently threaded his fingers through her hair and tilted her face up to his. "I know. But Camella is trustworthy ... and suspicious. She'll know if it's safe. You trust her, don't you?"

"Yes, I trust her." She paused, then raised her free hand to cover his, pressing it harder to her cheek. "But I trust you more, my minstrel."

Smile softening, Dorien leaned down to touch her lips briefly with his. "I think I like that."

"What? That I trust you?"

Pulling back slightly, he petted her hair away from her face. "Hmm. That too. But I was referring to calling me your minstrel. It has a nice ring to it."

Kell grinned, sliding a hand around his neck to pull his face back to hers. "Come here, my minstrel, I'm not ready to let you leave just yet."

"I certainly hope not."

*******************************

That evening, in his newly-built office, Dorien scribbled another note on a piece of parchment, humming slightly under his breath as he did so, absorbed in his work. Someone cleared their throat at his office doorway and he looked up. "Yes?"

Camella, long hair pulled back into her ever-present ponytail, a cheeky grin on her face, stood leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed. "You needed to see me, squirt?"

Chuckling at the name she'd used for him years before, Dorien gestured for her to come in. The years of war and occupation hadn't changed Camella at all. Her spirit was still bright, her mind sharp, and her wit sharp, sometimes too much so. And she still called him 'squirt', no matter that he was the Royal Bard. Titles never meant much to Camella, though she would give proper deference to Stefan and Raven. And that had taken Tulan years to convince Camella to understand.

Dorien settled back into his chair as Camella got comfortable. "Yes, I did need to see you. I have a favor to ask you. Or rather, Linet and I do."

She raised an eyebrow in inquiry. "I see. And?"

"Linet needs a lady-in-waiting. She's concerned about finding one within the palace, worried that her secret will get out and find its way to the wrong people. And I thought maybe you might know someone who could be trusted, someone that could serve as a lady-in-waiting as well as keep secrets."

Camella was quiet for a few long moments, her eyes lost in thought as she tapped one finger against her lips. Then a thoughtful expression appeared on her face. "I may be able to help. There's a young woman, around 20, I believe, that has lived in Mazara House since sometime during the occupation by Seth. Her name is Melaani. She's Shionanian, a former slave to one of Seth's high-ranking soldiers. She escaped from him five years before we retook Brightstar, coming to us for help. We've sheltered her, kept her safe, since that time. I would have to ask her, see if she's willing, but I think she might be. She's never been totally happy living in Mazara House. And she loves music. I think she would be excited to live so close to the Academy."

Dorien leaned forward. "Can she be trusted?"

"Yes, absolutely. She worked with me and others during the last few years of the occupation and during the retaking. I know her very well and I know she can be trusted."

He nodded. "Okay. Before we decide anything, I think that Linet ought to meet her. She's very on edge about this idea, a little unnerved about revealing her secrets to anyone else."

"Understandable. I'll bring her here tomorrow morning."

*******************************

Linet stood at the window overlooking the inner garden area of the Academy, hands folder behind her back. Her blonde hair hung in a loose braid down her back, tendrils escaping to curl around her face. The silver ribbons woven within the braid were accented by the long dark green skirt and plain, long-sleeved, white blouse she wore.

From his desk, ostensibly working on a piece of music, Dorien watched her quietly, once again wondering what good things he must have down to have won her affections and her love. Even with reassurances from Jydan that they were merely good friends, he still thought at times that Jydan and Kell would make a better match than he and Kell ever could.

Dorien shook his head, smiling wryly to himself. But then, we're not discussing Kell, are we? We have to think about Linet. Linet, the heir to the Rillandan throne is whom I would be marrying, not Kellessan the swordswoman. He frowned slightly. If we ever get to that point. And sometimes I wonder. She's so reluctant to discuss it.

Linet's soft voice interrupted his thoughts. "I don't remember Tulan having this view in his office."

Dorien stood and stepped around the desk to stand next to her. "No, he didn't. When we planned the design for the Academy, I asked that they build the Royal Bard's office with a window to the new inner garden area. I wanted to be able to breathe fresh air and see what it looked like outside every now and again." He chuckled. "Too many years on the road. I don't like the feeling of being enclosed for very long. Makes me nervous."

She nodded, still staring out at the trees which dropped their leaves in lazy windblown arcs to the ground. Loose petals of yellow tiraris and purple shonis drifted with the light breeze across the garden to land on small ponds and the benches scattered among the trees and other greenery.

Dorien touched her arm. "You look so serious. What are you thinking about, Lin?"

Linet frowned a little. "Lin? You've never called me that before."

He nodded. "I know, but I thought maybe something a little different than 'Linet' would help you adjust. 'Lin' was the only thing I could think of. But if you don't like it, then ..."

She shook her head, smiling softly. "No, it's not that. Terel used to call me Lin."

"Oh. Do you want me not to use it? I won't, if you ask me not to."

Taking a deep breath, she turned to look at him, reaching for his hand and squeezing it. "I think, I think that I would like you to use it, Dorien."

Dorien smiled at her, raising her hand to kiss her fingers. "Okay, if you say it's all right."

She smiled back at him, then looked back out the window. "You asked what I was thinking about." She paused, tilting her head. "Nothing and everything, I guess. Life. The future. Where do we go from here? My whole life was devoted to getting rid of Seth. I guess I'm still trying to accept the fact that Kellessan, swordswoman and mercenary, is no longer needed, no longer necessary. That all I am now is Linet."

Nothing and everything is right. He tugged on her hand, still firmly held in his, pulling her around to look at him. He said softly, intently staring into her eyes. "Kellessan will always be needed. She is more than just someone to run off bandits. She is a symbol, someone that represents freedom to Rillanda. She will never truly be gone or unneeded. And you are not just Linet."

He hesitated, then raised his hand to press his palm just above her heart, waiting to see if she would let him continue. She smiled and nodded at him to go on. "Kellessan is in here." He brought their clasped hands up to his chest and pressed her hand against his heart. "And she is in here. She is part of you and she is part of me. You were never just Kellessan and you are not now just Linet. Kellessan is who you had to become to survive in the past. Linet is who you must be now to continue to keep Rillanda surviving. Though they seem like two separate people, they're not. They are both you, just different facets of the same. And in the future, you will need to pull from both to rule this country, Lin. You are both."

Linet stared at him for a long moment, then blurted out heedlessly, "I'll need you too, Dorien."

Dorien smiled. "You'll always have me."

She shook her head. "No, that's not ... that's not what I meant. I ..."

Camella's voice came from outside the closed door. "Dorien? Linet? You two in there?"

Dorien's eyes flickered to the door in some annoyance at Camella's timing, then he looked back to Linet. "We'll talk more about this later, Lin." He kissed her fingers again, then released her to go to the door. "Yes, we're both here, Camella." He pulled open the door and stepped aside, letting Camella and a young woman enter. "Please, come inside."

*******************************

As Dorien left her side, Linet looked out the window again, staring at the falling leaves as she smoothed her features over with practiced ease. I can talk with Dorien later. He's not going anywhere and neither am I. Then, turning, she focused her attention on their guests. She nodded once at Camella in greeting, then shifted her attention to the other woman. Young, long reddish-blonde hair secured with a clip at the base of her neck, intelligent bright green eyes, shorter than her by several inches, dressed in tan trousers and a loose white tucked-in wide-necked tunic. The woman caught her eyes and then curtsied gracefully, much more gracefully than Linet could ever have done.

Linet inclined her head in response, smiling softly. "Thank you for coming. Camella tells me that perhaps you could be of help to me. Your name is Melaani, correct?"

A nod and a small smile were her only replies.

Linet raised an eyebrow and looked at Camella who had the grace to look sheepish for maybe a quarter of a second. "There's one little thing I forgot to mention."

Linet queried dryly. "And that would be what?"

"Melaani doesn't speak. At least she never has in the time she's been with us."

Dorien and Linet exchanged glances, then Dorien looked back at Melaani. "Trauma? From being a slave?"

Camella shook her head, running a gentle hand down Melaani's hair. "May I tell them, Melaani?" A quick nod. Camella went on. "No. You know that she is a former slave. From what she's told us, or written down, at least, one of her ... owners didn't like her voice and so he hurt her in some fashion to keep her from speaking again. Or singing." Camella raised her eyes to meet Dorien's. "She told me once that she used to sing all the time. And that, originally, it was her voice that got her taken as a slave in the first place."

Dorien pursed his lips, shaking his head. "That's a terrible thing to do to a singer. Taking away her voice. Can you play anything? Or was it only singing for you?"

Melaani shook her head and drew forth a small wooden flute from a skirt pocket. She blew a quick few notes into it, then looked over at Dorien. He smiled. "You play. Good. Would you like to learn more?" She nodded, face brightening, a pleading question in her eyes. Dorien went on. "Well, then, I know just the person to introduce you to. Ryana will be thrilled to have a student who already knows the basics. She's been itching to teach that song of hers to someone."

Camella raised an eyebrow. "By 'that song' do you mean Gwyna's Lament?"

Melaani's eyes widened as she clutched her flute closer to herself, her mouth forming into a small, awed 'oh'.

Dorien chuckled. "Yes, that song. She's been wanting to find someone who could learn all the intricacies and nuances. Maybe Melaani here is the right choice, hm?"

Linet finally spoke up again, her voice quiet as she looked at Melaani. "I don't mean to be unkind or anything, but how do you communicate more complicated things?"

Melaani looked at Camella to answer, who grinned. "Well, we've established a basic way communication through hand signs, but nothing that detailed. And after a while, you sorta develop a short-hand, certain gestures or expressions come to mean certain things. She does read and write extremely well. That's how I know she's from Shionan. But she's a private person and I respect that."

Linet's eyes didn't leave Melaani's as she asked, "But you trust her. Completely." Melaani stared back at her, those green eyes just as piercing as Linet's own blue eyes were.

"Yes."

Linet took a step forward and held out her hand, smiling. "Well, then, Melaani, welcome to the Crystal Palace."

Melaani's eyes lit up like emeralds accentuated by the smile that crinkled her features. She held out her own hand and grasped Linet's, holding it tightly for a moment. Linet then motioned for Camella to close the door. After it was secured, Linet focused on the young woman. "Melaani, what I'm about to tell you, what we're about to tell you, is something that you need to keep a secret. Camella has put a great deal of trust in you. And now I will be doing the same. I need you to understand that I am risking everything by telling you, that you must be willing to accept my trust in you."

Melaani nodded, her green eyes curious and just a little apprehensive. Linet continued. "Do you know who Kellessan is?" Another nod, an exuberant one, combined with rapid hand movements in the air. "Okay, I'll take that as a yes." She turned and went to Dorien's desk, stepping around behind it and pulling something long and heavy from the floor next to his chair. Linet came back and stood before Melaani, slowly unsheathing Lachiellian. "Do you recognize this?"

Green eyes widened even more as they took in the light shining off the gleaming blade, making the red gemstones in the handle sparkle and snap with fire. Melaani swallowed hard and reached out a hand to the sword, stopping her fingers just before they touched the blade, just hovering there. Her eyes, filling with sudden understanding and knowledge, moved to Linet's face and her lips formed a word. A name.

'Kellessan.'

Linet smiled. "Yes, I am Kellessan as well as Linet. Can we trust you to keep this secret from those who do not know?"

Melaani nodded once, her face gone serious. She rested her hand hesitantly on Linet's, the one holding the sword. Her mouth formed another word. A short and simple answer.

'Yes.'

*******************************

Humming softly under his breath, Blaen strolled into the large outer workplace of Dorien's office area. Empty bookcases lined the walls. Several long tables and many chairs filled the floor space. Crates of books and papers were stacked on the floor nearest the book cases and on the tables, all waiting to be unpacked and sorted accordingly. He stopped at one crate and lifted out a book, squinting at the title.

History of Instrument-making.

He chuckled and laid the book back into the crate. Now that sounds like really interesting reading. He chose another book at random, a smaller one, a thin green volume. No title on the cover, just a gold rose. He opened the slim volume and found himself reading assorted poems, some heartbreaking, other joyous, but all written to go along with Gwyna's Lament. He knew the song itself didn't have actual words. He'd been privileged to hear Ryana play it once and it had left him in tears. Even Jydan had been moved, even if it hadn't been too obvious to many outside of Blaen and maybe Kell. Linet, Linet, Linet. I have to call her Linet. Not Kell.

Blaen shook his head and dropped the book back into the crate, moving away, heading slowly for the back office that Dorien used. He had promised a few days ago to drop by and help Dorien for a couple hours in sorting the crates of books. Blaen had thought briefly -- very briefly -- about trying to rope Jydan into helping as well, but discarded the notion almost immediately. No way would Jydan put up with going through books, papers, and music for too long. Especially when he didn't understand most of what he would be looking at. It wasn't that Jydan was uneducated, just not as much as Blaen.

And sometimes, Blaen knew that Jydan felt that lack, even next to Kell -- Linet -- who had the advantage of a royal upbringing and education, however short that may have been. Jydan never really admitted to feeling inferior to his friends, knowledge-wise, but Blaen knew him well enough to see it in his eyes when Dorien or Linet or even himself would start talking about old legends and barely-remembered stories and tales.

Probably the glaze that tips me off. He chuckled wryly to himself, then became serious again. Whatever Jydan lacks in classroom-based knowledge, he more than makes up for in life knowledge. He knows more about normal, everyday things than anyone else I've ever known. Well, maybe except for Camella. She seems to know everything about everyone in Brightstar.

Lost in his thoughts and absently picking up his pace, he didn't hear the murmuring voices and footsteps approaching him from around the corner until it was too late. As it was, he bumped into someone, nearly knocking them over, and almost making himself lose his own balance.

"Whoa!" Blaen jerked to attention and then reached out, grasping the shoulders of the young woman he'd run into. "I am so sorry. Please forgive me. I wasn't looking where I was going."

A wry voice answered him, but not from the young woman whose shoulders he was holding. "So we noticed."

He looked over and saw Linet watching him with a small smile on her face. He grinned at her, blushing lightly. "Oh, hi, Linet." He looked back at the other woman, finally remembering to release her. "Are you okay?"

She nodded once, smiling at him, but not saying anything. Blaen raised an eyebrow in curiosity. Linet placed a hand on the woman's shoulder. "Blaen, this is Melaani. She is going to be my, uh, lady-in-waiting. Melaani, this is Blaen. You'll probably be seeing him around a lot. He seems to be everywhere at once sometimes."

Blaen chuckled, holding out his hand. "That's what Jydan tells me, too. Nice to meet you, Melaani. And welcome." Again, silence answered him, though it was accompanied by a soft handshake, a wide grin, and laughing green eyes.

Linet went on after another moment. "Melaani cannot speak. Her voice was damaged many years ago after she was taken from her home in Shionan during a slave raid."

Blaen couldn't hold back the instinctive stiffening that the idea of slave raids seemed to provoke in him. He focused his attention more closely on Melaani. Blonde hair, more or less, light eyes, fair skin. Yes, she would be Shionan. And a slave raid? I only know of one who did that to Shionan towns. He swallowed and dropped his voice. "Eight years ago, there was a slaver who raided the bordertowns of Shionan for slaves, children slaves mostly. Is that, is that what happened to you?"

Melaani stepped back a little, curling her arms around her torso, her green eyes briefly shadowed before she raised her chin in stubborn defiance. She nodded quickly even as Linet narrowed her eyes in worry. Blaen asked gently, "Was it Rik?"

Another nod, quicker this time, those green eyes snapping with long held back anger. Linet muttered once under her breath, then laid a hand on Melaani's shoulder, drawing her back to them. "Melaani, Rik is dead." The young woman looked up at Linet, her mouth dropping open as she blinked, her eyes clearing. She made a motion with one hand. Linet frowned. "I don't ... Are you asking me if it's true?" Melaani nodded, face intense. Linet squeezed her shoulder, glancing over at Blaen momentarily, then back. "Yes, it's true. I killed him. He is very dead."

Blaen stared in shock. Did she ...? I thought ... He shook his head, voicing his thoughts instead of trying to figure things out. "Uh, Linet, does, uh, does Melaani know about, well, does she know?"

Linet chuckled, nodding. "Yes, she knows. Dorien asked Camella about finding someone we could trust with my secret to be a lady-in-waiting for me. Well, she did. And she told me that she completely trusts Melaani. And if Camella trusts her, well ..."

Blaen grinned, knowing Camella's reputation and suspicious nature all too well. "Then she must be worthy of that trust. I know."

Melaani stepped toward Blaen, reaching out a hand to him, palm facing him. He frowned, but didn't move as she rested her hand against his chest. Her green eyes stared into his blue ones for a long moment, then she tilted her head, mouthing the word 'How?'.

"How? How what?"

She mouthed the word 'Rik'.

He blinked, then replied, "Oh, Rik." He hesitated for a moment, trying to decide how much to try and explain. Finally he sighed and shook his head slightly. "It's a long story, but let's just say he had an over abiding interest in me. I have a talent that he wanted, that he craved more than anything else he might have raided from anywhere else." He stopped and rotated his left shoulder in memory. Memory. Ha. It's still there. No need to rely on memory.

Melaani caught his movement, then pulled back her hand to push away the top of her tunic where it covered her left shoulder. There, below her collarbone where it connected to her shoulder joint, was a mark. A mark that was familiar to him. Way too familiar. A small double-headed axe, one of Rik's favorite weapons to use during his raids.

Linet looked at the black marking, then glanced over to Blaen. "What's that?"

Blaen sighed, replying, "Rik's mark. He liked to put it on the slaves he found were special for a variety of reasons. Sort of how you like you brand animals. A mark to the buyer to let them know that the slave has been marked by Rik as approved and unique."

Linet blinked in shock, then muttered in a sharp, low tone. "That's barbaric!" She paused, then narrowed her eyes a little. "Do you ...?" She couldn't finish the sentence.

Blaen inclined his head in acknowledgment. "Yes, I have one too. In the same place and the same thing. And, yes, Jydan knows about it. And, no, it can't be removed, not without a lot of pain. We've tried more than once. No good. Once it bothered me, but now, instead of a mark of ownership, I think of it more as a mark of survival. That Rik had me, but I got away and am free. Free and living life with great pleasure." He grinned. "If Rik were still alive, he'd be more upset at that than anything else I could've ever done to him.

Melaani smiled widely, pulling her tunic back in place, obviously agreeing with his statement.

Linet nodded in approval. "Good. He's dead. He shouldn't have any control over anyone." That settled, Linet finally asked, "So, what are you doing down this way anyway, Blaen?"

Blaen sighed, gesturing back toward the piles of crates in the work room. "Promised Dorien I'd give him some help with the books and stuff. Didn't think I could con Jydan into it, so here I am."

Linet chuckled. "Have fun. If you see Jydan before I do, tell him about Melaani, that she knows our little secret."

Blaen saluted. "Will do, Your Highness." He ignored Linet rolling her eyes and took Melaani's hand in his, pressing a kiss on the back of her fingers. "And it was very good to meet you, Lady Melaani. Don't let her get out of line or anything."

Blushing at the noble form of address, Melaani's eyes sparkled with laughter as Blaen ducked and danced away from Linet's hand as she tried to swat him. He swept into a bow, then disappeared quickly down the hallway to Dorien's office, calling as he did so. "Hey, Dorien, let's get this work started."

Linet muttered something under her breath, then chuckled. "Irrepressible. That's what he is." Turning to Melaani, she gestured to the door. "Well, then, 'Lady Melaani', let's get going before Blaen comes back out to harass me more."

*******************************

Much later, Blaen jogged up the wooden stairs set into the hill that led to the large flat he and Jydan shared near the soldiers' barracks. They had been offered separate quarters, but after trying that for a week or so, Blaen had moved from the Academy quarters to join Jydan in his guard captain quarters. He and Jydan had traveled together too long and stayed either in the same room, next door to each other, or across a campfire ever since they joined up. Neither had really been comfortable with the new arrangements, so back to the old way they went.

Blaen also noted privately to Jydan that there were too many people in the Academy for him to feel at ease. Even with practice and routine, the barriers he put up between himself and the rest of the world took energy and effort. And at the end of a day of teaching and talking, expending more energy to keep up those barriers was the last thing he wanted to do. Being a dironan had its advantages and disadvantages. Picking up on everything around him when he was especially tired was definitely a disadvantage

He chuckled to himself as he continued up the steps. Of course once I told Jydan how living at the Academy was wearing on me, he immediately went into protection overdrive and moved me here within the hour. He smiled, remembering how Jydan had found him curled up on top of his bed that mid-afternoon. He hadn't got any sleep the night before and was planning to meet Jydan at his quarters to pick out potential guides within the guard recruit ranks. He had been looking around Jydan's new quarters, got to the bedroom, sat on the bed to rest a moment. The next thing he knew Jydan was waking him up a half-hour later, apologizing for being late. When Jydan had asked why he looked so tired, Blaen had to tell him. He'd never been able to lie to Jydan very well.

Then what did he do but tell me to go back to sleep, even covering me with an extra blanket. I wake up later and find myself moved into the second bedroom. He shook his head, still laughing slightly. One look at his very satisfied -- and very stubborn -- face and I knew then that arguing wouldn't help me. And it wasn't like he doesn't have the extra space.

Jydan's quarters were actually more of a house, something Blaen didn't think he'd lived in since his family had been killed. Even when he and Jydan were in Fariedel, they'd stayed at the inn. The house had two spacious sleeping rooms, a small bathing room, a large front room, plus a smaller cooking area adjacent to the front room. There were at least three exits, something Jydan had immediately scouted out. It was built on a small slope, raised a little from the barracks below it. The forest rose up behind the house, but Jydan had cut back the trees, wanting it to be clear, so that no one could sneak up on him. The sides and front of the house faced the rest of the barracks and Jydan could easily see what was going on outside by simply stepping out onto the porch.

As he was doing now.

Blaen came to a halt on the last step before the porch and grinned up at Jydan, who was standing in the doorway, leaning against the doorjamb, a lazy smile on his face. Grinning, Blaen said, "Hey there, thought you'd be out beating up on the troops or something."

Jydan shook his head. "Nah. They got tired of me, or maybe just tired. Just got done washing up. Where've you been? Haven't seen you since this morning."

Blaen hopped up onto the porch and walked inside, Jydan following him, but leaving the front door ajar. He replied as dropped down on a pile of down-filled pillows. "Yeah, I know. I've been helping Dorien sort some books and stuff for his office and outer workroom. We got to talking and lost track of time."

Jydan raised an eyebrow as he sat down backwards on a wooden chair across from Blaen. "Hmm. I see. Do I want to know what exactly you two were talking about? Or was it too, uh, esoteric?"

Blaen laughed. "No, man, we were just talking. He wanted to know how things were going and all that. You know how busy things can get around here. We did talk about a few of the more interesting books we unearthed from the crates, mostly stuff of Tulan's that I think I'd like to read sometime. When I get the chance." He stretched his arms up over his head, loosening the slightly stiff muscles.

"Tulan? Wasn't he the Royal Bard before Dorien?"

"Yeah, him. A major historian. Kept incredible and meticulous records. Dorien told me that Tulan chose him as a personal student at age 10, then became his handpicked successor just after the invasion of Brightstar."

"A personal student. That would be ...?"

Blaen gestured with one hand, "A personal student is like a protégé, someone chosen specifically for certain talents. For Tulan to choose Dorien at that age was a great complement, nearly saying at that point that Dorien was to follow Tulan in the place of Royal Bard." Blaen paused, then added quietly, "Tulan had only one other personal student -- Terel, the prince."

Jydan blinked. "The prince? Linet's brother?"

Blaen nodded. "Yeah. Seems he was outstripping his teachers when he was 8. Tulan drew him aside to teach him personally." He sat up straighter, his voice rising as his words came out faster. "He was one of the ones who helped decipher some really important prophecy that led to Bornath's downfall. I read his journal. The kid was amazing! Way intelligent. He knew what was gonna happen. He ..."

Jydan held up a hand. "Whoa. Too much. Prophecies are not my thing. You know that."

Blaen grinned cheekily. "Sorry."

"You don't look sorry."

"Can I help that I look innocent?"

Jydan snatched a nearby pillow and threw it at him. "Innocent, my foot!"

Blaen caught the pillow just before it smacked him in the face, then yanked it down to hold in his lap, sticking his tongue out. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, you're just jealous."

Jydan rolled his eyes. "And you're deluded."

Blaen laughed, then pushed himself up in the pillows again, shoving his hair back. "Oh, I'm supposed to tell you about Linet's new lady-in-waiting."

"She finally get one?"

"Yeah, a young woman named Melaani."

"Melaani? Isn't that a Shionanian name?"

Blaen nodded. "Yup. And she's definitely Shionanian. Reddish-blonde hair, green eyes, fair skin. And pretty young."

Jydan bit his tongue against saying anything about the admiring sound of his younger friend's voice, instead asking, "So, when's Linet gonna tell her about her little secret?"

"Already has, man."

Jydan stood up abruptly. "What?!?"

Blaen held up both hands. "Hey, just cool it. Camella picked her. And you know Camella. Well, you sorta know Camella. I don't think anyone really knows Camella except maybe Dorien, Linet, and Camella herself. Man, she is like the most suspicious person around. I don't think she trusts anyone aside of Linet and Dorien. And I know she doesn't trust us. She disappeared as soon as she saw me coming, probably thought I was there to steal royal secrets or something." He stopped and shook his head, then went on. "Anyway, if Camella says she trusts Melaani, then you know she's gotta be okay."

Jydan grumbled and sat back down. "I hope so." He got comfortable again, continuing, "So, tell me more about this Melaani. How'd she end up in Rillanda?"

"She was a slave to one of Seth's men during the occupation. She escaped and got to Camella, who hid and protected her until the end of the war. Apparently during the time Seth was at the palace, she helped Camella quite a lot in bothering Seth and his men, basically wreaking havoc on them." He stopped to laugh, then grew serious and went on. "She was one of the children Rik got when he raided the border towns before we stopped him."

Jydan closed his eyes and looked away for a moment, remembering the burned and blackened border towns he saw back then all too well now. He looked back at the younger man as he continued.

"Rik took her for her voice. One of her later owners didn't like it though and hurt her somehow. Now she can't even talk, much less sing. She, uh, she has the same marking as I do. She showed it to me."

Jydan watched Blaen for a moment, but he didn't seem to be upset, other than for Melaani. Blaen had told him years ago that he had outgrown Rik, but he still worried at times. It was just in his nature. He asked quietly, "How does she act? And just how does Linet expect to communicate with her if she can't talk?"

"To answer your first question, she seemed very happy. Even if she couldn't laugh out loud, you could see it in her eyes and in her face. And when I mentioned Rik to her, she stepped back for a moment, but then just stood there, stubborn. I bet she fought him all the way. Probably why he didn't keep her. As for how Linet and she are going to communicate," he shrugged, "I don't really know. Dorien said something about some kind of hand signal language and that Melaani is very intelligent. I'm sure she and Linet will figure out something. Probably be some kind of secret code only the two of them understand."

Jydan snorted. "I'll bet."

Blaen just grinned at Jydan's comment, then let his eyes drift away, staring at the far wall. Jydan watched him for several longs moments, then said softly, "Something's bothering you."

"Hmm? What? Bothering me? No, no, nothing's bothering me." He ran a hand through his hair, shoving it back behind his ear again.

"Don't give me that. What is it? You're thinking about something. Give."

"Yeah, all right. Don't get all worked up in a tizzy about it."

Jydan growled out, hefting another handy pillow. "Blaen."

Blaen raised a hand in defense. "Okay, I said I'd tell you. It's nothing, though. I was thinking about her name."

Jydan frowned. "Her name? You mean Melaani? What about it?"

Blaen shifted forward, letting his hands speak for him as much as his words. "Well, you see, in Shionanian culture, children are sometimes given different names when it is discovered that they have special talents. Dorien told me what Camella had told him about Melaani. She was an orphan, raised by the adults in her village. She began singing at a young age, maybe only 6 or 7. It would have been then that she got a new name, one to indicate what her special talent was." He stopped, eyes glazing over slightly.

Jydan prompted softly. "And that would that have been 'Melaani', right?"

"No, no, it wouldn't. I'm guessing her name then would have been simply 'Laan', which means 'song'."

"Well, what does 'Melaani' mean then?"

Blaen met Jydan's eyes, melancholy and regret written vividly across his features and in his expressive eyes. "It means 'silent song'. I think she chose the name herself when she realized she could no longer speak. When she could no longer sing."

*******************************

"I want a guard posted at each entrance. And a few scattered around the room. Just stay low key, keep an eye on things. It is extremely important to Their Majesties that everything go well tonight." Jydan paused, meeting the eyes of his sub-captains intently. "I cannot emphasize how important it is. With Regent Opella and her son Balaeric here, we must be very careful about security. If anything, anything at all, were to happen to either of them ..." He let his voice trail off and the other four men nodded slowly, understanding what he wasn't saying. Jydan nodded once. "Good. Then get your men together and make sure they remember their assignments, remind them to stay alert. That will be all."

The four men dispersed and Jydan looked around the large ballroom, noting with a practiced eye where guards should go. He wanted to see if the men he chose to be sub-captains would pick those places as well. He had chosen the best four men among the recruits. Old enough to listen to him, but not so old to be set in their ways. And young enough to learn quickly. Jydan hoped his choices had been wise. Tonight will tell.

Sometime later, a hand touched his elbow and he turned to see Blaen grinning up at him, apologetic embarrassment in his eyes. "I am so, so sorry, Jydan. I meant to get here on time. I was reading and just lost track of how late it was."

Jydan crossed his arms, attempting to look stern. "And just what were you reading?"

"More from Tulan's histories. I have the hardest time not reading it. It's just so intriguing. I feel almost like I'm there, with him, with the people he wrote about, when I'm reading it. I got pulled in and when I next looked up, I realized more time had passed than I thought. I am so sorry for being so late."

Jydan chuckled at Blaen's enthusiasm, then reached out and tugged on his ponytail. "Don't worry about it, Blaen. Everything's going fine. All the guards are in place. Food's here. Early guests are arriving as we speak." He turned toward the inside entrance and smiled. "And there would be Their Majesties and Princess Linet. Right on time."

Both stepped back and out of the way as Stefan, Raven, and Linet went to greet their guests. Linet shot a quick questioning look at Jydan as she passed him. Jydan nodded at her, an easy smile on his lips, letting her know everything was okay. Jydan waited until she had gone by before commenting quietly, "Melaani must be doing her job. She looks very good tonight. Still not terribly pleased about doing this, but better. Melaani must calm her down as well or something." Blaen only smiled, nodding silently in response.

Jydan pondered his own statements for a few moments. It had been three weeks since Camella had brought Melaani to Linet. Jydan had only met her once when he had gone looking for Blaen in the Library and found the two of them together. Blaen had been laughing and Jydan had easily seen that Melaani would have been laughing as well had she a voice to laugh with. As it was, her eyes had sparkled and a grin was on her face as she listened to Blaen tell some wild story he'd heard while traveling.

Blaen spoke up from his side quietly. "Oh, hey, there's Dorien. I think he must've been running a bit late this evening too." Both watched with semi-amused grins as Dorien walked quickly passed them, joining the royal family as they made their greetings. Dorien, as well as being the Royal Bard, was still Rillanda's unofficial ambassador. For both reasons, he needed to be in the receiving line.

More guests arrived and Jydan watched carefully from his spot leaning against the wall. His sub-captains did their job well, placing guards where he would want them, even a few placed in spots he had considered secondary locations. Good, good. Very well done. I'll have to remember to tell them that tomorrow.

Blaen tugged at his sleeve and Jydan looked down to meet his eyes again, asking, "What is it?" Blaen motioned toward the open inner palace doors where he saw a young woman with reddish-blonde hair peering around the edges of the doorway, eyes wide with wonder. He raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that Melaani?"

Blaen nodded. "Yeah, wonder what she's doing here?"

Jydan watched Melaani quietly, eyes narrowed slightly. Yes, indeed, what is she doing here? He hesitated a moment, then nudged at Blaen. "Go over and see what she wants."

Blaen shot him a glance. "But I thought you wanted me to help you tonight."

Jydan placed hand on Blaen's shoulder. "It's okay. I did. But things are going pretty good right now. I'll be fine. Go on, I know you want to talk to her." And I know from looking at those stress lines around your eyes that you must be tired from keeping up your barriers all day. You don't need to be in here with all these people, Blaen. You'll only get a headache. Dealing with one person is better than dealing with everyone.

After another moment, the younger man nodded, smiling. "Okay. Thanks. I'll talk to you later then." Jydan smiled back and dropped his hand back to his side as Blaen walked off, heading toward the doorway. Jydan watched as Blaen approached Melaani and talked to her a moment. The girl smiled brightly, nodding in response to whatever Blaen was saying. Then Blaen pointed to the inner doors that led to the courtyard, most likely asking if Melaani would like to go out there. For a moment, Jydan thought she might bolt, considering she didn't seem to like the idea of walking through the crowd of people. Obviously, Blaen thought that as well since he laid a hand on Melaani's arm and leaned closer to talk to her. Finally she seemed to agree and they headed through the crowds to those doors.

Jydan rubbed a hand across his forehead as Blaen and Melaani disappeared outside. He knew Blaen was one of the best judges of character around. And he knew that Blaen honestly liked Melaani. From listening to him talk, Jydan knew that the two of them were fast becoming friends. But he still couldn't shake the feeling that Melaani was somehow dangerous. He didn't know why or how, he just knew. He shook his head, focusing his attention back on the people around him. I'm beginning to sound like Blaen -- feelings, premonitions, and just 'knowing'. Enough. He shot one last glance back to the doors leading to the courtyard, then resolutely turned away.

*******************************

Blaen nodded to the female guard at the doorway as they passed her and continued into the courtyard garden. The sun had set in the distance and the receding natural light mixed in with the torches that were lit on the sides of the pathway. As soon as they were far enough away from the palace itself, Blaen relaxed his internal barriers with a silent sigh of relief. It was sometimes still difficult to keep them up for so long a time.

Normally at this point in the day, he would either be at home or with just a few close friends, usually in Dorien's work room. During those times, he could usually keep things lower and not be bombarded by too much at once. He could trust his friends, at least the ones that knew about him being a dironan, not to deliberately try to overwhelm him with intense feelings. That and he could usually pick up on the outward physical signs when one of his close friends was getting upset.

Pushing aside those thoughts, he looked over at his walking companion, her arm threaded through his. Wonder how long she was standing outside those doors before she decided to look inside. Linet must have been very rushed to have her come down all this way with her. Melaani's eyes were moving rapidly, gazing at the trees and flowers in the courtyard. Blaen spoke quietly in the night air, "Dorien told me once that a lot of this was destroyed by Seth or his men during the occupation. The King and Queen have done their best to rebuild the courtyard, both drawing from memory on what it looked like before they had to leave."

A feeling of peace and love of beauty flooded through Blaen even as Melaani raised her free hand to flash a elegant sign at him. He smiled, nodding. "Yes, it is beautiful, isn't it? I think I like it most of all in evening, just after sunset. The last lingering glows of yellows and blues and pinks and oranges, plus the flickering the torches, it's just so ..." He paused, then shrugged. "I'm not sure how to describe it. Restful maybe. But more than that."

She tilted her head and met his eyes, understanding written on her face and in her gentle smile. He smiled back at her, then gestured ahead of them. "Here, you'll like this."

In front of them was a large fountain, water flowing down to splash quietly into a pool of water. A marble bench was on either side of the front area of the pool. Lush, green, flowering bushes enclosed the small spot into a privacy all its own. Melaani dashed forward, heading for the fountain, staring up at it. She reached out a hand and drew it through the water, yanking it back when she realized the water was so cold.

Blaen laughed softly at her expression as she tucked her hand into the folds of her long skirt. "Sorry, I should've warned you that the water is pretty cold."

Grinning, she waved that away and sat down on one of the benches, folding her legs beneath her and draping her skirt over them. Blaen sat beside her, watching as she closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sky, breathing in deeply. Blaen closed his eyes as well, breathing out to release tension. In the distance he could hear soft strains of music from Dorien's musicians as they entertained the guests. With a subtle shift of thought, Blaen directed his attention to the link between himself and Jydan, curious how his friend was doing inside. The silver cords vibrated with life and a little stress, but were otherwise calm. Things must be going well. Good.

Pulling quietly away from his link with Jydan, lest the other man notice him, not that he ever has, but it never hurts to be cautious, he opened his eyes to find Melaani watching him, her eyes curious and intent. He asked, "What is it?"

She frowned for a moment, then raised her hands, signing quickly. 'What were you doing?'

"What was I doing? I was just thinking."

She shook her head. Blaen could feel the curiosity and disbelief of that simple statement rolling off of her. He sighed, looking away for a moment, then meeting her eyes again. It wasn't that he was trying to hide the fact that he was a dironan. He just was careful who he told. At the moment the only people he was sure knew were Jydan, Kell, and Dorien and maybe the King and Queen. And probably Camella as well. There isn't much she doesn't know. After another moment of thought and decision, he decided to explain some of it, but not all, not the thing with Jydan, that's between us.

"You've asked before why Rik wanted me. I told you that I had a talent he craved." She nodded for him to continue. "When I was younger, Rik killed my entire family, thinking he could get me. And after I partnered up with Jydan, Rik nearly killed Jydan several times as well. You knew Rik, he got what he wanted and no one or nothing stood in his way. Jydan, however, did stand in his way, saving me several times from being retaken by that man."

Blaen paused, looking out into the dark skies. The torches and the diffused light from the ballroom windows were the only lights to be seen. He felt Melaani's hand on his arm for a moment as she squeezed it in sympathy. Taking a deep breath, he continued, raising one hand to touch the marking under his tunic. "The last time Rik got his hands on me, he put the marking on my shoulder so that I would 'remember who I belonged to'. Jydan still came for me and we got away again. That was when we met Kellessan and joined her to help rid Rillanda of Seth.

"Anyway, all this wasn't what you wanted to know. The reason Rik wanted me was because I am a dironan. I don't know if you know what that means, but it has to do with being a guide and a seer. I pick up emotions a lot and ..."

His voice came to a halt when Melaani jerked to her feet and stumbled away from him in jerky steps. She backed up to stand against the low rock wall around the pool below the fountain. Blaen stood, walking toward her. "Melaani, what is it? What's wrong?"

Her eyes were wide, her features pale, her mouth worked silently as she stared at him. Blaen reached for her, dropping his barriers just a little more, hoping to understand what had frightened her so badly. She tried to scramble away from his hand and lost her balance, falling backward. Blaen grabbed her arms and pulled her upright. "Melaani, what's --"

Terror shrieked across his soul. Horror flattened any walls he had left between him and the world around him. Anger burned brightly, blackening everything in sight.

Gasping in shock, Blaen stumbled backwards, away from Melaani, his hands moving out wildly as if to defend himself, his eyes wide and disoriented and unseeing. His legs hit the front of one of the marble benches and he tripped and fell to the ground in a jumbled heap of uncoordinated limbs. Emotions, from Melaani, from the guard in the courtyard, from the people inside the ballroom, from within himself, continued to wash over him in heavy waves. He curled his legs up to his chest and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block it all out.

And failed miserably.

Everything he knew, every person he'd ever met, all the knowledge he'd read and learned, everything vanished as the pain of so many feelings and emotions bombarded and overwhelmed him. Only one name, one thought, remained. And with his final coherent thought, he cried out to the only person he knew could help him, the only person who could protect him from the wave crashing on him, threatening to sweep him away.

Jydan!

*******************************

Melaani stood unmoving as Blaen started to rock slightly, not saying anything, not making much noise at all other than the low, barely heard pants coming from between his tightly closed lips. She stared at him. He's a dironan! I can't ... Another moment passed and she watched as Blaen curled into himself tighter, a low murmur of pain slipping from his lips.

She chastised herself for just watching. Blaen is a friend, Melaani, do something. Don't just leave him there like that. He's hurting.

But he's a dironan!

He's a friend! He wouldn't do anything bad to you.

Shaking herself into action, she dashed past him, running to the doors of the ballroom where they had passed the female guard on the way outside. She was still there, standing at attention, her eyes alert. Melaani saw her become even more alert as she came near. Jerking to a stop, Melaani motioned frantically back to the fountain area, wishing once again she could speak. The guard, however, was quick to understand, her eyes snapping with intelligence.

"Blaen? Is he hurt?"

Melaani nodded quickly, relieved that the guard had recognized who she was with. The guard swore once, then said, "Go back, stay with him. I'll find Jydan. You were at the fountain, correct?"

She nodded again and the guard disappeared inside the building without another word. Melaani turned and hurried back to Blaen, hoping he was still okay, wishing she knew exactly what had happened.

*******************************

Jydan sipped at the cool beverage one of the servers had given him. Non-alcoholic, of course. He was on duty. He continued to scan the large room as he walked slowly around, talking to his men as he passed them, nodding in recognition to others. All his nerves felt on edge, as if something was going to happen. But everything is fine. Nothing is out of place. No one is here that shouldn't be. Even Kell is relaxed. She would surely know if something was wrong, probably even before I would.

But still . . . .

He shoved aside the uneasy feeling that insisted on dragging his attention away from his current surroundings.

A hand grabbed his arm and he turned his head to see the guard who had been stationed at the courtyard doors. She looked worried and concerned. Something inside him immediately knew what was going on, even if he didn't voice it.

The guard spoke in quick, quiet phrases. "Blaen is hurt, sir. He's outside, near the fountain."

Jydan set his goblet on the nearest server's tray, asking as he did. "Is Melaani still with him?"

"The princess' lady-in-waiting? Yes, sir, she is. They were alone."

Jydan and strode toward the courtyard doors, his jaw clenched as he wove his way in and out of people standing between him and his tayaerra. He quickly outpaced the guard and hurried outside, intent only on getting to Blaen. He didn't see Linet and Dorien stop the guard and question her. Nor did he notice them following him outside in a rush, asking the guard to stand at the doors to the courtyard and not to let anyone else exit.

*******************************

Jydan halted before Blaen and Melaani, staring in shock as Blaen rocked back and forth, his arms curled around his drawn-up legs, his eyes shut tightly. He rested a hand on Blaen's shoulder, squeezing. "Blaen? It's okay. It's me, Jydan."

Blaen whimpered and pulled away. Jydan's shock turned rapidly to anger and Blaen whimpered again in response to that anger, tucking his head down. Jydan looked over at Melaani who was standing several feet away, arms wrapped around herself, eyes wide with worry, not doing anything but watching. Some sane voice in the back of his head tried to remind him that Melaani couldn't really help Blaen much since she couldn't speak and that was the only way Blaen could be reached at the moment. But he wasn't paying too much attention to the saner parts of his mind at the moment. He strode forward and yanked Melaani to him, shaking her by the arms.

"What did you do to him!?! Tell me!" Melaani gasped out silently and struggled to get away. He shook her again, demanding an answer. "You hurt him somehow. What did you do?!"

Linet suddenly appeared next to him and grabbed his arm. "Let her go, Jydan! She can't answer you. Come on. Let her go. Now!"

Jydan finally growled and released Melaani, sending her stumbling back a few feet, Linet's hand steadying her. Jydan's blue eyes shifted to Linet while he pointed an accusing finger at Melaani. "I knew she was trouble. She did something to Blaen."

Linet shook her head, "You don't know that, Jydan. You ..."

Melaani's hands flew in quick motions and Linet paled as she read what Melaani was saying. Jydan asked, "What? What is she saying?" I wish I was as good as Blaen at picking up languages. I know he's already fluent in this one.

Linet swallowed. "She said she did do something. But that she didn't mean to. She didn't understand, didn't know, that Blaen would do this." Jydan took another step toward Melaani and Linet put out a hand to stop him. "Jydan, this is not the right time for this. Blaen needs you!"

Dorien's voice added to that from behind. "Yes, he does. He won't respond to me."

Jydan whirled and took the few steps back to his tayaerra, falling to the ground gracelessly and folding his legs underneath him. Dorien stepped away, going to join Linet and Melaani on the opposite marble bench. Jydan un-self-consciously pulled the resisting, rocking, stiff Blaen into his lap, and began whispering into his ear.

"Sh, sh, it's me, it's Jydan. It's okay now, Blaen. I know you're hurting. It's okay. Just listen to me. Focus on me. Push everything else away. You're okay. You're safe."

After another minute of quiet soothing, Blaen took a deep, quavering breath, shuddering under Jydan's hands. Jydan released him slightly to look down into his face. "You okay?"

Blaen nodded, slowly opening his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I'm okay, for now at least."

"What happened?"

"Can we get up first? The ground is a little too cold for my taste."

Jydan stood, then held out a hand to Blaen and pulled him to his feet as well. Blaen wavered for a few moments, one hand to his head, the other gripping Jydan's arm for balance. Jydan settled him back onto the bench, sitting beside him. Blaen took another breath, then looked around. "Is Melaani ...? Oh, there you are. Are you okay, Melaani?"

Melaani nodded even as Jydan burst out, "Is she okay? What about you? What happened?"

Blaen sighed, shoving back loose strands of hair. "I told her I was a dironan. She, uh, well, she reacted badly to it. I'm not quite sure, but I think she must have had a bad time with one at some time in her life."

Melaani nodded, swallowing hard, moving her hands in several rapid signs.

Jydan asked sharply, "What did she say?"

Linet put an arm around Melaani's shoulders. "She said one of the people that 'owned' her was a dironan. An evil one. She never knew any other kind existed. When Blaen told her what he was, she --"

Blaen interrupted gently. "She reacted like anyone would. Terrified and angry. Normally I wouldn't have been affected that badly, but I had dropped all my barriers so that I could understand her better, relying on her feelings as much as her hands." He directed his next words to Melaani, "I'm sorry I scared you like that. I just wasn't prepared to deal with all your feelings towards that man."

Melaani nodded, signing something as well. Blaen smiled. "It's okay, you couldn't have known." She signed the same thing again, more emphatically. Blaen said, "Very well. Apology accepted. Are we even now?" She nodded, a smile on her face again.

Yawning, Blaen rubbed at his face as he leaned wearily into Jydan who looked down at him, more concern darkening his eyes. "Are you sure you're okay, Blaen?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. Just a little tired." A burst of noise from the ballroom made him pull closer to Jydan. "And definitely not wanting to go back inside there. I don't think I'd be able to handle it. Everything's a little thin at the moment. I'd be down not three steps past the doorway."

Jydan nodded, agreeing. "No doubt. You want to head back home and go to bed?"

"That would probably be best. But you can't leave, can you?"

Before Jydan could answer, Linet did for him. "No, he can't. He's the Captain of the Guard and is expected to stay."

Jydan started to protest, but Linet just glared at him. Dorien looked from one to the other, then cleared his throat. "I could go with him."

Linet shook her head. "No, you'd be missed even more than Jydan. And I can't go either. So that leaves ..."

Jydan followed Linet's eyes to Melaani, seated between she and Dorien. He stiffened. "No."

Linet's eyes narrowed. "Are you willing to let Blaen walk back by himself in this condition?"

"No, but ..."

"But nothing. Melaani can take him back and stay with him until you can get there."

Jydan rose to his feet, stepping over to Linet who stood as well. "Melaani is the one responsible for this in the first place! How do I know that she won't hurt him again?!?"

Dorien finally interrupted, snapping out in a low tone of voice. "Will you two please stop arguing about this? It's only making things worse." He gestured to Blaen who was rubbing at his forehead with a trembling hand and attempting to stand, rather shakily. Jydan snapped his mouth shut and stepped over to Blaen, pulling him closer and wrapping an arm around his waist for support.

Linet apologized for them both. "Sorry, Blaen."

Blaen painted a smile on his face, then turned to Melaani. "I think Melaani and I will be fine on our own."

Jydan growled softly, "Blaen ..."

Sighing, Blaen said quietly, "Look, Jydan, if Melaani really wanted to hurt me, she could've just left me, not told anyone what had happened. A few more minutes and it wouldn't have mattered anymore. Or she could have just killed me where I sat. I'm sure she's got at least one knife with her somewhere. Camella would have made sure she knew how to protect herself. But she didn't do either -- she went for help. She knew something had happened that shouldn't have. So just give it a rest. Okay? I'll be fine. We'll be fine."

Jydan stared down at his tayaerra, then looked over at Melaani. Finally, he nodded. "Very well. Just take it easy and go slow."

"Trust me, slow is all I'll be doing for awhile."

*******************************

Blaen watched idly as Melaani walked around his bedroom, looking at the books he had stacked on the shelves, the few knick-knacks on top of his bureau, the colorful throw pillows heaped onto the floor next to the bed. After another minutes of watching her, Blaen finally said, "It's not your fault, you know."

Melaani froze in the act of running a finger down the spine of a book. Slowly she turned to look at him. Blaen could see the guilt and sadness still in her eyes as she moved one hand up in a lazy sign.

Blaen again shook his head. "No, it's not. Please, come here. Sit down. I want to talk to you."

Hesitantly she went to the bed and sat on the edge of it. Blaen pushed himself up against the pillows, shoving away the small headache threatening to become something larger if he didn't rest. I can rest later. This is too important. I have to make her understand.

He reached out and placed a hand on hers, tightening his grip when she tried to pull away. "No, it's okay. You won't hurt me again. Just listen to me. When I told you what I was, you reacted according to what you knew. You couldn't know that I had all my barriers down or that what you were feeling would affect me so greatly. I'm not mad. And neither is Jydan."

Melaani raised a disbelieving eyebrow and Blaen temporized. "Well, maybe he is, but he'll get over it. I think he was more worried about me than anything else and it just came out as anger. He gets a little protective of me sometimes. He's not as bad as he used to be, trust me. But it's still there." Blaen paused, then asked softly, "Can you tell me about the one who hurt you? The other dironan?"

She stiffened, jerking her hand away from him. Standing, she walked over his window that looked out over the forested areas beyond them. Blaen watched her silently, waiting for her to return. He didn't want to pressure her, didn't want to make her do anything she didn't want to.

He said as much after it didn't appear she was coming back. "If you don't want to, I understand. I just thought maybe it would help, talking about it, to someone who has come close to being a slave several times." He listened as she took a deep, shuddering breath, hugging her arms around her. Finally she turned and went back to sit on the side of the bed.

And then, slowly, she began to sign. Blaen released just the tiniest bit of his barriers so that he could listen to her heart as well as read the hands that sketched in the air between them.

'I was 12 when Rik took me, 13 when Rik sold me. He got bored of me quickly. The man who bought me at first was kind to me, asking me to sing for him. He made sure I had nice things to wear, good things to eat, that I had enough to do. But after two months he grew weary of my voice, of the songs I would sing. He demanded different talents, pushing me to learn different things. At first, I did as he told me. I was scared of him. But then, then I started to get angry at him. I refused to sing sometimes. Other times I would not sing what he wanted me to. When I did sing, I sometimes sang with anger and hate. And he returned that to me, locking me away in some dark place in his keep. I escaped once or twice, but he always brought me back.

'Then he started to force me to sing. With his dironan talents. I don't know how he did it, but he did. Used my own emotion against me. Persuading my voice to sing even when I didn't want to. Putting words into my mouth. Twisting my own words into something different.'

Blaen interjected quietly. "Do you know what level he was?" She frowned, confused. Blaen explained, pushing back his hair behind his left ear. "The earrings. I have two because I'm second-level. It's one of the ways you can tell."

'I don't think I ever saw earrings. Can you do what he did?' She waited, trepidation and worry again on her face.

He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. And I wouldn't ever force someone to do something they didn't want to. That's what Rik tried to do to me. No way I would do that to someone else. Please, go on with your story. I didn't mean to interrupt.

She nodded, then slowly began again. 'I learned to resist some of what he did. The more he would push me, the harder I would push back. He became stronger and meaner every day. Finally I got to the point where I could just totally refuse to sing. At all. It angered him into cursing me into silence.'

One of her hands went to her throat momentarily, then she continued. 'He knocked me down and told me that the next word I spoke would be my last and the next note I sung would be my final song. I didn't believe him. I spat at him and called him a rather questionable name.

'And that was the last time I spoke. I realized then he told me the truth with his curse. The next day he sold me to a mercenary who was heading north toward Rillanda to join up with Seth's soldiers who were holding Brightstar.'

Blaen reached out for her again, leaning forward. "And your final song? The next note you sang?"

She shook her head. 'I haven't sung it yet. I am saving it.'

"For whom?"

'For the one to whom I give my heart and my soul and my life. That will be my gift to him.'

Blaen squeezed her hand. "He will be a most fortunate man, Melaani."

She blushed and lowered her green eyes in momentary embarrassment before looking back up at him. 'You should be resting. You look tired.'

"I am tired, but I just can't seem to relax. The last time something like this happened, Jydan stayed with me until I could sleep. I'm all nerves right now and he's about the only one who can get me to calm down. But I knew he couldn't leave tonight, not this early at least. He's needed there."

Melaani tapped a finger against her lips, then started to smile as she reached into a deep pocket in her skirt with one hand, signing with the other. 'Although I cannot sing, I do play.' She showed him a small wooden flute. 'I've just started learning how to play more things. From Ryana, my new teacher.'

Blaen grinned, chuckling. "Ryana. Watch out for her science classes, Melaani. She may be an excellent flute teacher and player, but her science classes can blow you away. Literally. I visited once and she exploded this huge balloon. I looked like I'd been playing in a fireplace after that."

Melaani laughed silently, eyes sparkling. She lifted the flute, her eyes going soft. 'Would you like me to play for you? Maybe I could help you relax.'

Blaen smiled, leaning back further into the pillows. "I would love it."

Melaani slowly began to play soft melodies that echoed and drifted lazily around the room, slipping seamlessly from one song to another without a pause. Blaen's eyes fell shut and his breathing quieted and slowed. She watched as his head grew heavy and lolled sideways on the pillows. When she was sure he was asleep, she stopped playing. She reached down and pulled the heavy blankets up to his shoulders.

That done, Melaani pulled over several pillows and settled herself on the floor next to the bed, resting her head against the mattress, watching Blaen sleep. Blaen said Jydan would stay with him. I will do the same.

*******************************

Jydan watched a moment longer to make sure Dorien and the half-asleep Melaani made it down the long flight of stairs safely, then closed the house door quietly, locking it. He leaned against the door, rubbing one hand over his face while with the other he unlaced the formal overvest. What a night. Laces free, he yanked off his boots and dropped them softly to the floor. Then he padded slowly back to the bedrooms, picking up the lone covered candle as he did so. He entered Blaen's room and looked down at his young friend slumped in a half-sitting position against the pillows. He could still see the stress lines around his eyes and mouth from that evening's emotional shock. That kind of shock happened only very rarely, but when it did, it really hurt him.

He sat on the edge of the bed and carefully readjusted Blaen so that he was lying flat on the bed. Blaen stirred as Jydan fixed the blankets. His eyes opened his eyes blearily, blinking, not able to properly focus. "Jydan?"

Jydan smoothed away loose curls from Blaen's face. "Yeah, it's me. Go back to sleep, Blaen."

"Okay. 'Night, Jydan."

Rising to his feet, Jydan chuckled softly as Blaen snuggled deeper into the warm blankets, sighing out in pleasure as he drifted back into a heavy sleep. "Good night, Blaen."

*******************************

Melaani sat in the window seat of her room and stared out at the late night sky. By time she and Dorien had arrived at her room adjacent to Linet's, she was fully awake again. And she wasn't quite ready to try and sleep. So she'd changed into her nightclothes, then sat in the window seat, knees pulled up to her chin, arms wrapped around her legs, pondering the evening and what she'd learned.

I have a new home, a safe place to be, new friends. She glanced at the adjoining door to Linet's suite of rooms. A purpose in life again, someone I can help. She grinned. And does she ever need it. Maybe things aren't so bad after all. There's no reason for me to go back to Shionan. No one there anymore that I know -- I'd be alone. And I'm not alone here.

She picked up her wooden flute from beside her, fingering it absently. And though I cannot speak and dare not sing, I can still live. And I still have music. It still comes from my soul. I have the one true note of music left inside, waiting to be given in love.

Taking a deep breath, Melaani breathed out slowly, smiling peacefully as she looked out at the dark skies again where a falling star streaked across the heavens in a silent display of beauty.

And until my last note is given, I shall remain what I have become -- silent song.

- The End -


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