The Harbour Market was very busy. It was not long after the first of the Spring Two-Moon Tides, and the cargo and passenger ships which had been delayed by that natural phenomenon had now reached the City Harbour and unloaded their goods and passengers. Traders and merchants were restocked, trade was brisk, and the market was milling with crowds . Three young people were moving among the merchants’ booths and produce stalls, chatting, laughing, and occasionally arguing good naturedly as they made their purchases. There were two young men, a dark-haired Priest and a red-headed Swordsman, and a girl. The maiden drew many glances, not because she was beautiful, though she was, but because she was that rarity, a daughter of the Priesthood born with Perception, and the clear, piercingly vivid blue eyes that showed it. Facial resemblance and the same dark hair, apart from the Priestly eyes, showed that she and the Priest were brother and sister. The Swordsman, though not resembling either of them, was their cousin, their mothers being sisters. He was Mellin, son of Lin and Krystha of the Fortress, and grandson to the Lords of the Mountains and the Harbour. The brother and sister , Arenel and Aila, were the children of Aiel, the Lightstone-Bearer and son of Arnath, the High Priest, and his Lady, Arentha.
Mellin, who had been in the City visiting his family, had a list of commissions from Krystha, and now they were making their way towards the place where they could buy the next items on the list. It was near to the Harbour Gates, and by those gates a man in black and silver livery was waiting with two other men in similar garb carrying a black-curtained litter. As they watched, a slight, black-cloaked figure, escorted by a bulky woman, emerged from the Harbour Gates and, seemingly weak from the voyage, was helped into the litter. It swung its way past the three watchers, and Aila saw, for a moment, a pale face and a pair of the strangest eyes – green streaked with silver grey -looking out at her. She felt, too, the atmosphere that surrounded the litter – it belonged to Si-Mara, the Silver Witch, Priestess of the Night Temple and consort of her father’s old enemy, Lak, the Black Piper of Ma’al. It was not evil that she felt emanating from the litter, though, but loneliness and despair. Turning to her brother, Aila demanded, “Arenel, did you Perceive that?” “I Perceived a great unhappiness.” her brother answered. “Aila, do you think that was a willing passenger?” “What is it?” Mellin asked, his open face and clear grey eyes, so like Lin’s, now clouded with incomprehension of his cousins’ conversation. When Aila and Arenel explained, he said, “Let us ask the Watchwards.”
At the Harbour Gates stood two Swordsmen in the green-and-gold livery of the Harbour Watch, both well known to Mellin. He went across and spoke to them, while his cousins waited, and returned to them, shaking his head. “They know very little” he informed Aila and Arenel. “The passenger is a Lady, a maiden from the East. She travelled with a companion, but suffered sea-sickness, and kept to her cabin. But if she were a prisoner, there would have been several opportunities for her to say so, and she has not.” “And yet” Arenel said “I would not say that she went willingly to Si-Mara.” “I do not think she was afraid,” Aila answered “just lonely, and sad. But I do not think that she was evil either. She did not feel like a Child of Night.” Mellin sighed, “I wish I had Perception! I might understand better what you meant. If I thought the maiden had been taken against her will, I might ask Linnad my grandfather to rouse the Harbour Watch. But there is no proof.” So they had perforce to abandon the matter, and go on with their business in the market. However, their light-hearted mood was broken, and the strange incident lingered in their minds.
Later, Aila and Arenel, having said their farewells to Mellin and left him at his grandfather’s house by the Harbour, made their way back towards their own home along the wide avenue that led up to the Temple of the One Light which crowned the City Hill. There they lived with their parents in one of the Priests’ houses which stood in the Temple grounds. As they went, they discussed the afternoon’s events, Si-Mara’s black litter and the strange girl from the East, but came no nearer to resolving the matter. When they reached home, they were later than they had intended to be. They could hear their mother’s beautiful voice singing as she went about her household tasks, and called out to her as they came in. Arentha was still as lovely as she had been those many years before when Aiel had met and fallen in love with her on the Lightstone Way. Perhaps there were little lines drawn by laughter, and a few tears, at the corners of her eyes and mouth, and her figure was a little more rounded from child-bearing, but her face was as beautiful, her brown eyes as lustrous, her dark hair still untouched by grey. She and her daughter, so like her, might have passed for sisters. “Arenel, my love!” she exclaimed, pressing her son’s harp-case into his hands “You will be late for the music practice. You must have been enjoying yourselves with Mellin! Aila, Kerith’s little one has a slight fever. I said you would go to him when you returned.” Arenel kissed his mother quickly, took his harp and went out again, heading for the Temple to join the musicians at practice. His father, Aiel, would already be there. Aila, gathering up her Healer’s sack, told her mother, while she prepared the herbs she would need, about the litter and the strange maiden. “Nothing that Si-Mara does means good to anyone.” Arenth said, thoughtfully. “Perhaps you should tell your father, Aila. He may be able to Perceive more, with the Lightstone.” “I will” Aila said, putting the phials of powdered herbs into her sack. “But first I must see what ails the babe.”
As it happened, though, Aiel was called away that evening to attend to some urgent matters on behalf of his father Arnath, the High Priest, and during the next day neither his son nor his daughter had a chance to speak to him about the girl, being occupied, one with his Priest’s, and the other with her Healer’s duties. It was not until the evening that they had time to speak to Aiel, and by that time he had had an encounter of his own with the strange Easterner. He had been leaving the Temple after the evening gathering. It was dusk, and a soft dimness was closing in on the Temple grounds. Turning towards his home, Aiel had seen a slim figure in a hooded black cloak approaching him, and had stopped to wait. The figure did not come very close, but stood looking at him. In the shadow of the hood, he had seen a pale, obviously feminine face – and those strange eyes, green with silver streaks radiating from the pupils. In a way they reminded Aiel of the eyes of Lak, the Black Piper, but there was no evil, no menace, in these eyes. Rather, he Perceived a wave of distress – a mixture of fear, loneliness and sorrow – emanating from the girl. Gently, Aiel asked “What is it, maiden? Do you seek my help?” For a moment the girl seemed about to speak, even lifting one hand as though to reach out to him. Yet then she stopped, and shook her head, and backed away a couple of steps before turning and moving hurriedly away. Aiel, greatly puzzled, went on his way home.
When the family gathered round the table for their evening meal, and Aiel had spoken the Meal-Blessing, Aila began to tell her father about the girl from the Harbour. She and Arenel told of their impressions, and when Aila described the girl, with her unusual green-and-silver eyes, Aiel exclaimed “Why, I have seen her – tonight! And just as you did, I Perceived loneliness, sorrow – and fear, too. Yet though she was alone and could have asked my help, she did not, though I offered it.” “How strange it is!” Arentha commented. “Perhaps” said Aila “she is Si-Mara’s prisoner, and held by the Silver Witch’s powers, though free to leave her house. Maybe that is why she was afraid, or even unable, to speak to you, Father.” “Even so, Si-Mara would not permit her to come to the Temple, where her enemy, the Lightstone-Bearer, is.” Arenel argued. The more they discussed the whole matter, the stranger it seemed. Even with the Lightstone aiding them, joining their Perceptions in the Thought-without-Words, they could not find out more than they already knew. At last Aiel said “Then we can only commit the poor maiden to Light, and pray that she will seek our help, if there is need.” So this they did.
The next day, Mellin came for his cousins, who were to return to the Fortress with him. Evidently his thoughts too had been on the strange girl, for as they rode he asked if they had heard any more of her. Arenel and Aila told him of Aiel’s encounter with her at the Temple, and of their inconclusive discussions. Mellin said “Then perhaps she is a spy of Si-Mara’s. Maybe even out of Ma’al – you said she was pale, as the people of that world are. “Oh, Mellin!” Aila laughed “She had been sea-sick. And Arenel and I Perceived no evil, no Darkness in her, only loneliness and sadness. My father said the same, but he felt fear in her too. The Lightstone would surely have revealed it to him, if the girl were a Child of Night.” “I would trust nothing that came out of the Silver Witch’s house!” Mellin said, firmly. “You are too trusting, Aila.” Arenel said, mildly, “Do not be too quick to judge, Mellin. In any case, it is unlikely that we shall see the girl again.”
Once they reached the Fortress, they forgot about the strange girl. There were greetings and messages to be given to Lin and Krystha from Aiel and Arentha, and work to do. Aila, already a competent Healer under Krystha’s instruction, had returned to her aunt to learn some of the lesser used, but still important, Healing skills. Arenel, though not officially sent to do so, knew he would spend part of his visit assisting Trenn, the Fortress’ own Priest, giving him the chance of a rare break from his duties. There would be time for leisure, too. Both brother and sister liked to walk in the Forest surrounding the Fortress, by the Falls of Vandar and the White River. Not only was the Forest a pleasant place, but it was also dear to them because of their memories of happy times spent there in childhood. They had often played there with Mellin and the other Fortress children, and sometimes Mellin’s other cousins, Janir and Shala. Their father, Barengian, Lord of the Western Fortress, was married to Lin’s sister, Mira, who would sometimes make the journey to visit her parents in the City, and Lin and Krystha at the Fortress, bringing her children with her.
On the third evening of their stay in the Fortress, Aila was up on the wall looking down over the Forest and thinking of those childhood days. From her vantage point she could see Mellin and Arenel, who were standing near the edge of the Fortress Level by the great Falls of Vandar. Swinging her gaze in the other direction, towards the Forest edges, Aila caught a slight movement, and instinctively sent out her Perception. Immediately she knew who was there; once more she felt the mingled sorrow, loneliness and fear of the strange girl from the East. There was worse than fear in her now, though, for terror and exhaustion echoed in her mind. Then Aila saw the black-cloaked figure at the very edge of the trees, tiny against the vast backdrop of Forest and Mountains. As if she felt Aila’s Perception, the girl lifted her pale face, just a blur at that distance, lifted both arms as if in silent appeal, then stepped back into the trees. Aila’s Perception scanned the thick Forest; she still Perceived that haunting presence there. Silently she reached out to Arenel, down by the Falls with Mellin. After a moment her brother’s thought answered hers; he too had reached out and Perceived the stranger. Aware that it would soon be dark, for she had been watching a magnificent sunset burning overhead, Aila hurried down from the parapet, waited impatiently while the Watchward opened the small side gate for her, and ran across the soft turf of the Fortress Level to join her brother and cousin at the head of the Falls.
In her father’s day Tamran’s Stairway, the path down from the Fortress carved into the rock beside the Falls, had been extremely steep and difficult. Now that there was more traffic between the City and the Fortress, the way had been made easier with more steps carved into the rock, though it was still the hard way to reach the Fortress, and most travellers, certainly those on horseback, would use the track that wound up the flank of the mountain. Tamran’s Stairway, though broader now, was still not so broad that one man might not defend it if need be, and Mellin. hand on sword-hilt, looked ready to do so. He demanded, as Aila came up to them, “Where is this girl, then?” Arenel had told Mellin, while they waited for Aila, what he and his sister had Perceived, and now their cousin waited while they combined their Perceptions to pinpoint the girl’s position and agreed that she was below them on their left. Carefully descending the Stairway, they discussed what they felt. “There is a Darkness about her.” said Arenel. “But not in her.” Aila said, firmly, and her brother agreed. “It is like nothing I have ever Perceived.” the young Priest said. “It is … as if she had a double nature, and partook of both Darkness and Light!” Mellin snorted “That is impossible! Light has no dealings with Darkness. She must be a Child of Night. Are there others with her?” A moment’s silence, then “She is alone” brother and sister said, almost in unison. Neither Aila nor Arenel could understand what they Perceived of the girl. Fear and hope, a reaching forward and a drawing back, and, yes, both a sense of Darkness and a touch of Light. It was like twin souls, Light and Dark, in a single body.
They found her huddled in the shelter of a large bush, crouched close to the earth like a hunted animal. When she heard them, she started to her feet, and Mellin challenged her “Why are you hiding? What do you want here, on Fortress Ground?” Arenel asked, more gently, “Do you need our help? We will give it if we can. Do not be afraid.” Aila , as gently, offered “Tell us your need, and we will aid you, maiden. We will not harm you. You can see we serve Light.” Mellin, still challengingly, said, “What should she know of Light? I tell you she is a Child of Night!”
The girl had kept silent till now. When she finally spoke, there was a hopelessness in her soft, Eastern-accented voice. “Yes, I am – a Child of Night. Yet I had hoped to seek the aid of Light. But if I am unwelcome here…” “No!” Aila cried, impulsively, “You are not unwelcome. We can give you the Choice of Light, and Light will welcome you.” Then she felt, unmistakably, a wave of sorrow from the girl. “Aila – oh yes, I know you, daughter of Aiel – if only it were that easy for me! But it is your father’s help I need, and I do not know that he will give me aid as readily as you. Yet” she added, half to herself, “it is by the Lightstone-Bearer’s hand that I am – what I am, and I think only he can help me.” Mellin stepped forward, saying impatiently “You speak in riddles, maiden – if maiden you are! And you lie! Aiel has never sent any into Darkness.” “Mellin!” Aila exclaimed, indignant at her cousin’s harshness towards the girl. Arenel said, in his gentle way, “Peace, Mellin! Maiden, you are tired and frightened, and maybe you find it hard to tell your tale. If you wish, I will set my Perception on you…” “No!” the girl broke in sharply. Arenel could perceive her fear, but to his amazement, he knew it was for him she feared, and not herself. “Son of Aiel” she continued “do not try your Perception on me, for it would harm you. There is that in me that might destroy any save the Lightstone-Bearer.”
Lifting one arm, she drew back her hood. Aila cried out, and the two young men stared. In the fading light, the girl stood out like a white stone carving, pale as a dead thing. Her face was beautiful, but so very cold, with scarcely a breath of colour except for those green-and-silver eyes. Her lips were barely touched with the palest rose imaginable, her cheeks colourless. Her shining fall of long straight hair was silver-blonde, pouring like milk over her slim, black-clad shoulders. Mellin said, in a voice shaken with loathing, “She must be of Ma’al. And kin to Si-Mara!” “Aye” the girl said, and her voice was slow and bitter now. “I am born of Ma’al, though I was born in Li’is – in your own City. And it is true that I am – kin to Si-Mara. She it was who bore me, by Lak, the Black Piper of Ma’al. I am not just a Child of Night, Lord Mellin of the Fortress. I am the Child of Night – Marla, heir to the Bloodstone!”
There was revulsion in Mellin’s face as he asked “And what then do you want with the Lightstone-Bearer, child of evil? Is it revenge you seek for your father and mother?” For the first time Marla’s face showed emotion, twisting as if in unbearable pain – a pain that echoed in Aila’s and Arenel’s Perceptions, though Mellin seemed unaware how his cruel words had hurt the girl. “I have no father or mother!” Marla cried. “He got me, and she bore me, but I was nothing to her! Father, mother, kin or friends, those I have never had…” she broke off and suddenly was sobbing, hopelessly and bitterly. Aila reached out to comfort her, shooting a reproachful look at Mellin. He stood seemingly amazed at the effect of his words, having expected Marla to rage back at him.
Arenel, sensible and practical as ever, said. “We cannot deal with this ourselves. Let us seek Aiel our father. He will tell us what to do for Marla.” Aila linked Perceptions with him, while he reached for Aiel’s Perception, and once contact was made, withdrew to tend Marla. The Healer could tell how exhausted, overwrought and near to hysteria Marla was, and was intent on calming her, anxious to draw her back. When she had succeeded in quieting the other girl somewhat, she asked “What is it that you would have the Lightstone-Bearer do for you? Do not be afraid, Marla. I am sure he will help you if he can.” “I want him to help me attain Light!” Marla exclaimed. “The Choice of Light will not suffice for me, Aila. The Darkness that was born in me must be burned out, and I believe only he can do that. If I cannot attain Light, there is no hope for me. They will take me back and kill the seed in me. They will give me to the Darkness forever!”
“The seed in you? Are you bearing a child?” Aila asked, trying to make sense of Marla’s words. “No!” the other girl exclaimed, with a mirthless laugh.”If that were all my problem, it would be small indeed. But Child of Night or no, I am as virgin as you – for now!” she shuddered at some inner thought, then went on “It is that when the Lightstone-Bearer met Si-Mara and swept her with the Lightstone’s power, I was already conceived in her. I too was touched by Light, and Light, in mercy, though I was conceived in Darkness, planted in me a seed of Light. I think Light knew that otherwise there would be no hope for me. That seed has kept me through my childhood, though they tried to raise me in Darkness. I have kept my seed of Light, but now I am grown, it is mine to nurture or destroy, that is my choice. I choose Light! I was waiting my time to escape, to be free to come and seek Light, though I did not know how. But now I have no time left! They have forged a new Bloodstone in Ma’al, and the Children of Night intend me to wield it. At the next Two-Moon Tide they will make me undergo dark ceremonies that will defile me, and make my body the dwelling of a Dark Lord. I shall be like Lak, a curse on this world! And all hope of Light in me will be destroyed. I shall be one with the Darkness forever-forever!” When Marla had begun speaking, her voice had been comparatively calm, but she had grown visibly more distressed as she spoke, until her voice rose hysterically on the last words, and she tottered and swayed against Aila.
Meanwhile Arenel, his Perception linked with his father’s, had been watching and listening so that Aiel could Perceive what was happening. Having heard Marla’s words, and seen her obvious distress, Aiel ordered “Take Marla to the Fortress and ask Lin to have her guarded well. Tell her I will come as soon as I can.” Aila, who had Perceived her father’s thought also, relayed his words to Marla, while Arenel told Mellin what Aiel had ordered. The other girl, supported by Aila’s arm, asked, in a dazed way, ” Then – the Lightstone-Bearer will help me? I have hope?” “Of course!” Aila encouraged her. “My father is coming and yes, he will help you, Marla.” Marla said, in a voice that sounded high and surprised, and made Aila look at her sharply, “But I have walked so far. I do not think I can reach the Fortress…” Aila was ready to catch her as she slumped into a faint, but it was Mellin who, despite his hostility to Marla, lifted her out of Aila’s arms and said “I will carry her to the Fortress. But we must use the road, I cannot take her up the Stairway.” First, though, Arenel and Aila sent out their Perceptions, seeking any sign that Marla had been pursued, but found none.
They pushed through the trees to the roadway and up again to the Fortress, Mellin carrying his slight burden easily. Aila had drawn the other girl’s hood up again so that her pallor did not betray her to the Watchwards, and Mellin told the guard only that they had found a maiden sick in the Forest and were bringing her to his mother for Healing. That was accepted, and they passsed back into the Fortress. “Arenel, fetch my father” Mellin requested, as he carried the girl across the courtyard to the Healing Place. Aila held open the door for him, and saw, with relief, that Krystha was in the Healing Place, crushing dried herbs with oil into a salve. She looked up in surprise as her son and niece entered. “You have found someone hurt in the Forest?” she asked, coming towards them as Mellin laid the girl down on one of the couches. Before they could reply, Arenel appeared with Lin, who asked, “Where is she, this Marla?” “Here” Aila answered, indicating the couch. Quickly she told Krystha about Marla, seeing how her aunt leaned over the girl even as she spoke, removing the black cloak, beginning to search for hurts. Lin watched and listened intently as Aila and Arenel explained Marla’s predicament.
Mellin, though, stood aside, his expression showing distrust, contributing nothing. Krystha, whose gentle hands were carefully examining the unconscious girl, looked at her sullen son, and said quietly “Mellin, we give aid here to all who need it. You know that.” He answered, almost defiantly, “I know it. Did I not obey Aiel’s wish and carry her here? But still I mistrust her. It may be some trick of Si-Mara’s.” Lin said “If Aiel wants her here, she stays here. He is the Lightstone-Bearer.” Krystha turned the girl’s head, lifting aside the soft fall of silver-blonde hair, and said “She has certainly fallen foul of Si-Mara – or someone. Look.” The others obeyed, and saw a dark streak of bruising running across the line of Marla’s cheekbone, like a stain on her pale skin. “Poor Marla!” Aila exclaimed angrily. “You said she had trouble walking, Aila?” Krystha asked. “Let us see what is wrong.” Going to the end of the couch, the Healer lifted one of the girl’s small feet. On it was a light, jewelled sandal, unsuitable footwear for walking even on the comparatively smooth stone streets of the City. On the rough ground between the City and the Fortress, the flimsy shoes had been worse than useless. The slender thongs had cut and chafed, the thin soles given no protection. Marla’s feet were blistered, bruised and bleeding. “You see?” Aila said challengingly to Mellin, but her cousin did not reply.
Lin said “Everything so far supports her story. She has been beaten, she has walked her feet raw to reach here, and she is so overwrought and exhausted that she fainted. Yet if she needs Aiel’s help and it was her he met in the Temple grounds, why did she not speak to him then?” “My father will be here as soon as he can.” Arenel said”Certainly by tomorrow. Is it not best to leave the questions to him, and let the Healers tend the maiden and let her rest till then?” “Aye – under guard!” Mellin commented, then “As Aiel himself asked” he reminded them, hastily. Lin said, “Yes, Arenel, that would be best. And you also are right, Mellin. A guard is necessary, whether for her sake or ours. I will arrange it.” The Swordsman left the room, and Krystha said, “Arenel, Mellin, leave us too. I wish to look more closely at Marla.” When her son hesitated, she added “Mellin, she is unconscious. And if she were to wake, and prove a danger to us, we can call you by Aila’s Perception.”
When the young men had gone, and Krystha had locked the door to ensure Marla’s privacy, she and Aila gently undressed the girl. “What are you looking for?” Aila asked her aunt. “Injuries- and proof.” Krystha answered, briefly. There were several more bruises showing dark on the pale skin of Marla’s arms, and across and down one shoulder and breast were deep scratches, like the claw marks of an animal. “I would guess those to be the marks of Si-Mara’s nails.” Krystha said, soberly. She moved down the couch to make a more intimate examination of the girl, then straightened and said, “And she is virgin. That is the truth too.” She smiled at Aila. “I think you were right to take her part, my dear. Poor child! If her story is true – and it seems to be- she does indeed have much to fear.” She sighed, then said, briskly, “Come now, let us make her comfortable.” Between them they salved Marla’s bruises and scratches, and washed and tended her damaged feet. Krystha found her a nightgown, and said “Tomorrow we will find her another gown – that thin black clothing is gloomy as well as unsuitable for a young maiden.”
Aila looked down at the other girl. Now that those startling eyes were closed and she was wearing the white nightgown, Marla looked more than ever like a statue carved of white stone. Aila wondered how old she was. She must be older than Aila herself, older than Arenel or Mellin, for she was the result of Lak’s union with Si-Mara, and Aiel had defeated and destroyed Lak months before he and Arentha, Lin and Krystha, had been married. Marla must be three or four years older than she herself, Aila thought. Yet perhaps because she was so small and pale and seemingly vulnerable, she seemed much younger. “Aunt Krystha, do you think Aiel my father will be able to help Marla?” Aila asked. Krystha answered “I hope so. remember that your father is the Lightstone-Bearer, and Marla has her seed of Light from his encounter with Si-Mara. I think it will be the Lightstone that Marla needs again to aid her, for I do not think the Choice of Light will be enough for her. As she said, it will not be that simple. She is born of Ma’al, for all she was born in Li’is.”
The older Healer tucked a coverlet around Marla with an unconsciously motherly gesture, and as she did so, the girl moaned, and stirred, and came to sudden consciousness again, looking round her with wide, frightened eyes. Before either of them could reassure her, she began to tug frantically at the white cloth of the nightgown which, inexplicably, seemed to fill her with dread, and screamed out “No! No! I will not!” She fought against the coverlet wrapped around her, too, as if it were some bond that trapped her. Aila cried “Marla! You are safe in the Fortress. Do not be afraid. You fainted, and we brought you here. Si-Mara cannot reach you.” Marla looked up at Aila with dazed, fearful eyes that slowly brightened with recognition. “Oh!” she gasped, “I thought – I saw the white robe and I thought they had caught and drugged me and carried me back to the Night Temple for their evil ceremonies.” Krystha asked, very gently, “And part of it would be to robe you in white?” “Yes” Marla answered, bitterly, “A white robe – but it would be white and pure no longer by the end of the ceremonies.” Then she added, very low, so that they hardly heard her “And nor would I.” Aila said, firmly, “Marla, there will be no dark ceremonies for you. Aiel my father is coming to your aid.” Krystha said “You must rest, child. But first you must eat a little. You can have had nothing for a day or two, and you need strengthening.” Marla said, seeming amazed “You are so kind, all of you! And I your enemy!” “Not our enemy” Krystha reassured her “You cannot help your parentage, Marla. And if you renounce Darkness and seek Light, you are one of our own.”
At length the two Healers were able to leave Marla, settled and sleeping. She had eaten a little bread and fruit, and drunk some wine-and-water, and been persuaded to acept a draught to help her sleep, though at first she had been wary of it, even though it was Aila who prepared and offered it to her. “Little wonder” commented Krystha, as they left the sleeping girl. She locked the door of the Healing Place behind them, slipped the key into a pouch on her Healer’s belt, and paused for a word with the stalwart young man in the rust-coloured Fortress livery who stood guard outside the door at Lin’s behest. Then, as she and Aila walked towards the Great Hall, she went on “Knowing the uses the Dark Ones make of drugs and potions to numb the will and bend others to their purposes, it is not surprising that Marla would not accept the draught easily.”
They joined the rest of the family at table in the Hall, able at last to take their interrupted evening meal. Arenel spoke the Meal-Blessing for them, and again they began to discuss Marla. Aila championed her fiercely, Mellin was as fiercely her opponent, and when Aila had to admit that, in truth, Marla had not given direct answers to some of the things she had asked, and Mellin pounced triumphantly on the admission, it seemed as though the two cousins would fall out. Lin, interrupting, forbade further discussion, and changed the subject, but Marla was in the forefront of all their minds. Her enigmatic presence was unsettling, if not threatening, and Lin thought to himself that he would be very glad when Aiel arrived to search out the truth of it.