They spent the rest of that day, and the one following, resting from their journey, and enjoying time with their hosts, now that Marla’s Way had ended. Lin and Mellin, though, were still eager to return to the Mountain Fortress and Krystha, as the time for her to give birth grew ever nearer, and to see for themselves that all was well with her. So it was decided that they should soon set off to return to the City. Aila also wanted to be back with her mother and aunt, but was torn between that wish and her sadness at the prospect of parting from Janir. He too was sad at the thought of Aila leaving, even though the parting would not be long, and when she returned, it would be for their wedding. Everyone else understood how they felt, and made room for them to be together as much as possible. On the evening before their departure, Janir took Aila out into the courtyard, saying he wanted to show her something. She paused as they crossed the courtyard, and looked up at the wall. “What are you thinking, my love?” Janir asked. “I was remembering how you came to comfort me, when I was missing Arenel” Aila answered, “and how you offered yourself as a ‘brother’. I never dreamed then that you would become my betrothed.” “Ah, nor did I!” he responded. “I only thought that if I could never be your love, at least I could be your friend.” “But what did you want to show me?” Aila queried. “Come with me” he said, taking her hand. He led her round the wall of the Fortress to one of its towers, and pointed up at it. “This will be our home, when we are married” he told her. “The suite of rooms in this tower are set aside for me, though I only use one chamber to sleep for now, but they will be prepared for us.” Aila looked up at the tower. As Janir had rightly guessed, showing her their future home made the prospect of their marriage closer and more real, and comforted her over their parting. “Janir, it will seem so long till I see you again” she said. “I know, my heart. I feel the same. But it will not really be so long. It is sad to part, but when you return, we will be married, and then we shall be together always.”
The next morning, as they prepared to set off, despite the partings, there was also some sense of relief that they were returning to their everyday lives. When Janir appeared that morning, he had been back in his Watchward’s livery, the dark blue and golden yellow of the Western Fortress, and Mellin had laughed, and teased his cousin, “So, back to your duties, Sword-Brother!” Aila, though, had thought that the next time she saw him in those colours, it would be for their wedding. She, Mira and Marla had visited the fabric stores and, with Liara’s help, selected the materials for their gowns and their bridemaidens’. Since the needlewomen had their measure, and Zohra’s, already, from Shala’s wedding, there was no more to be done. So now that the time had come to part from her betrothed, she was ready, realising the truth of the fact that it would not really be long, though it might seem so, till their wedding. They still clung together, though, in a farewell embrace, before all the goodbyes and blessings were said, and she and Aiel, Lin, Mellin and Marla, mounted and turned towards the gated of the Western Fortress. Looking back as they left, she saw Janir standing by the gates, watching her out of sight, and waved him farewell once more.
They were all longing to reach home now, but it was more than a day’s journey, and they spent that night in the village inn where they had stayed before. Next morning they set out again, riding up through the trees that were more stunted by the cold winds that sometimes swept this side of the Mountains. It was a steep climb, and a slow passage through the narrow Spearcleft Pass, but at last they were through it and riding down through the Forest above the Fortress, crossing once over a tributary of the White River, following the old hunting trail down past the hunting shelter, through the thinning trees to the Fortress Level. To Aiel and Aila it was as much of a homecoming as to Lin and Mellin, for Arentha was here. Lin made them known to the Swordsmen at the Fortress gates, in their rust-coloured livery, and was greeted gladly. They passed through the gates and dismounted in the courtyard, where their horses were led away, then hurried into the Great Hall. They had sent no word of their arrival, so were not surprised to be greeted only by a steward, who quickly took word to the Lord of the Mountains and his Lady and daughters, while they were provided with refreshing drinks after their journey.
It was not long before Arentha and Krystha came to find them. There was much hugging and kissing, though Krystha laughingly scolded her husband and son for being circumspect in their embraces because of her now advanced pregnancy. “I will not break!” she told them. Then Arentha, noting her son’s absence, anxiously asked Aiel “Aiel – where is Arenel? Is it well with him?” “Very well” her husband assured her. “We have much news to tell, my heart!” At that point Merhaun and Alira arrived, and there were more greetings. Krystha, turning to Marla, realised that her colouring and her eyes had changed, and exclaimed “Marla, you look so different! Is that because you have attained Light! Praise Light!” Marla smiled, and said “Yes, I have attained Light, thanks to the Lightstone-Bearer and the Spirit-in-Light. And I am Changed too , through the Dancers, and the Mercy of Light, and my good friends.” “A Spirit-in-Light?” the Healer gasped, “You have seen a Spirit-in-Light?” Aiel said “We shall tell you all about it, Krystha. But how is it with you?” “Very well” she smiled. “I have had no problems, and the babe is strong within me. And Arentha has taken good care of me”, with an affectionate glance at her sister. They all settled round the table in the centre of the Great Hall, and Lin said “It is hard to know where to begin”. Krystha, seated beside him, demanded “Begin with Marla, and the Spirit-in-Light!” So Aiel told them all the events of that momentous night and morning; the casting out of the Darkness in Marla, with the aid of the Spirit-in-Light, who had strengthened Aiel’s Perception and stood against the Dark Lord which had tried to claim Marla. Then the way in which the Dancers had sung to Marla, Changing her body to alignment with Li’is, and the amazing discovery of Zohra’s ability to hear the Dancers’ Song, and help Marla with the Changing.
It seemed the listeners had been collectively holding their breath during the telling, for there was a great sigh from all of them as Aiel finished. Krystha said, with a glint of tears in her eyes, “Oh Marla, you have endured so much! But I am so glad that you have attained Light!” Alira, who knew the terrors of Darkness and what Marla had escaped, echoed her daughter. Mellin glanced across at Lin questioningly and received a smile and a nod in return. He said “Mother…” Krystha looked at him and asked “What is it, Mellin?” He said quickly “Marla and I have fallen in love, and we are betrothed. Say you are happy for us!” Krystha’s eyes widened in surprise, but then she gave a broad smile, and exclaimed “Very happy, Mellin!” She reached across the table and took Marla’s hand, saying, “I will be glad to have you as a daughter, Marla” then, to her son, “but I own I am surprised, when you were so against her, to begin with. But the Secret Word said that hate would turn to love, and it is true of you!” Mellin flushed a little, still uncomfortable when reminded of his early animosity towards the maiden he now loved, but Marla gave him a loving look which eased his discomfort. Arentha said “But what of Arenel, Aiel? Where is he? Has he gone to the Temple?” Aiel told her “You will have to wait a while to see our son, my heart. He has stayed in the Ket’s camp.” “But why?” Arentha asked, puzzled, and Aila, sorry for her mother, though she knew Aiel was only gently teasing her, said “Mother, he and Zohra are also in love. They have been betrothed by the Ket, and he is staying there for a while to learn their ways. It will be hard for her to leave the West, even to wed him, and he wants to make it easier for her by understanding the customs of her people.”
Arentha gasped “Arenel and Zohra? I never would have thought it!”, then continued “But I am very happy for them. You are right, though, she will find the move to the City hard. We must do all we can to make her welcome.” Now Aila knew it was her turn to make her plans known. She flashed her Perception to her father for help in doing so, and he smiled at her, and said “Arentha, our son is not the only one. Aila…” Before he could finish, Arentha grasped his meaning, and cried “Aila – you and Janir are betrothed too?” Aila laughingly confirmed the fact, and Arentha said “So, I must lose both my children!”, but she was smiling, and went on “I am glad. Janir is a good man, and will make you happy.” Aila told her mother “It seems he has loved me for some years, and would not say, because he believed the affection Mellin and I have for each other was more than that of cousins. But all is resolved now, and I love him dearly.” Aiel added “Besides which, he saved Aila’s life…” and went on to tell them of the attempt on the maidens by the Children of Night. Arentha said “I am thankful that we knew nothing of this! Light be praised that you were all saved!” Krystha said, with a little shudder, “It was the Mercy of Light indeed! What could have happened otherwise…” she broke off, and Lin knew she was remembering the girl in the Dark Ruins, and hugged her, saying “But all is well, my heart!” Turning to happier things, Arentha asked “You will be married at the Western Fortress, then?” “Yes, and I think our wedding must be the first” Aila answered, “for Mellin and Marla will, of course, be married here, and that will have to wait for your babe to be born, Aunt Krystha. And Arenel and Zohra will wed in the Temple. Marla and Zohra and I, we shall be each other’s bridemaidens or bridewomen too, and the fabric for Zohra’s gown must be woven. There is much to plan.” Krystha said, a little sadly, “If you are to wed before I give birth, Aila, it seems I will have to miss your wedding, for I will not be able to travel to the Western Fortress.” Then she brightened, and said “But I shall have Mellin and Marla’s wedding to prepare for, and that will be a joy.”
Aiel smiled at her, and said “Not only has Marla attained Light, she has destroyed the Bloodstone which the Children of Night intended her to wield. She has been Light’s blessing on Li’is.” Krystha said “I knew from the beginning that you were brave and determined, Marla. Light has worked through you. I am glad that you have Mellin’s heart.” Marla seemed moved by Krystha’s words, and thanked her warmly, then said, hesitantly, “But there is one thing…” “What is it, my heart?” Mellin asked her, a little anxiously, and she said quickly “Oh, nothing is wrong, Mellin. But I would like to go to the City and the Temple, even if just once. To be able to enter the Temple as a Child of Light, and give thanks there, would mean so much to me!” Aila could tell that her cousin was torn between wanting to give Marla her wish, and his fear that there might be danger for her in the City, where Si-Mara was. At length he said “Then I will come with you, and you will have my protection, and that of Aiel and the Lightstone..” he looked enquiringly at Aiel, who said “Of course!” So it was agreed that when Aiel, Arentha and Aila left for the City, Mellin and Marla would go too. Lin asked if Mellin wanted him to join them,as extra protection, but his son said “Father, it will be well with us. You have been away from Mother so long, and she needs you here now.” Lin was content with that, for he longed for time with his Lady now, after their time apart. Aiel said, to allay the discomfort he still felt in Mellin at Marla’s venturing to the City, “Aila and I will send the Thought-without-Words to my father, Arnath. The Priesthood will be alert for any Darkness.” In return he received a relieved smile and thanks from his nephew. They separated then, Aiel and Aila to the Prayer Room, Krystha, Alira and Arentha, taking Marla with them, to make arrangements for their returning family and friends, and Lin and Mellin to the stables, to check that all was well with the horses and they would be fresh enough, after all their journeying, for the ride to the City. In the Prayer Room Aiel and Aila made the link of the Thought-without-Words with Arnath in the Temple, telling him the outcome of Marla’s Way far faster than spoken words could. When he learned how Marla had attained Light and destroyed the Bloodstone, he was full of praise to Light, but also for Marla. ‘She is truly a Child of Light, and Light has used her mightily!’ his thought told them. ‘Tell her she will be welcome in the Temple, and that we are thankful to her for her courage in defeating Darkness.’ They assured him that they would pass on his message, and broke the link.
Mellin had just left the stables when he noticed Marla crossing the courtyard. She spoke briefly to the Watchward at the gate, who smiled, nodded, and said something in reply. Marla returned his smile, then turned and climbed the stone staircase that led to the walkway which ran around the top of the wall behind the crenellations and small turrets. She rested her elbows on a flat part of the Fortress wall and looked out over the Forest and the Falls towards the City. Mellin followed her up the stairs and joined her,calling her name as he did, so as not to startle her, and she turned her head to smile at him, then returned to the panorama before her. Mellin said “There is a good view from here.” “Yes” she answered, and pointed across to the City, rising up its hill from the Harbour to the Temple of Light. “There is the City, and it looks so far from here, and yet…Mellin, I am trying to recall.” “What?” he asked. “The start of my Way, of my journey to Light” Marla replied. “I remember that I crept from the house and tried to speak to Aiel at the Temple, but I was afraid. I thought I would wait a little, till I felt stronger. But then Si-Mara summoned me, to tell me about the Bloodstone, and the ceremonies…” her voice shook for a moment, and Mellin took her hand in his, as she went on “and I knew I had no more time. Oh, I was as cunning as Si-Mara that night, for somehow I again escaped her spies and her house. And I thought of Aila. I saw her notice me at the Harbour, and somehow I felt that she was concerned for me even then.” “She was” Mellin confirmed. “Both she and Arenel Perceived that you were lonely, and sorrowful. But when I asked the Harbour Watch, they knew only that you had come from the East and been seasick, so we had to let it rest.” “I knew who Aila was, by then ” Marla continued ” and I felt that I must find her. When I knew that she had gone to the Fortress, I followed. I did not even think to try to speak to Aiel again, it was as though something drew me to Aila – maybe it was Light.” “Surely it was Light!” Mellin exclaimed.
“But that is what I cannot recall, Mellin. Look at the distance from the City. How did I come here , to the Fortress? Did I run, walk, crawl? I do not know. I only know that I fled in terror from Si-Mara, and found myself here, exhausted. And Aila Perceived me, and came to find me.” “She said she saw you step out of the Forest and raise your arms, as if to show her where you were. But then you stepped back into the trees again, and she and Arenel had to use their Perceptions, so we could find where you were. But you were so exhausted and overwrought that you could tell us only the bare facts before you fainted.” Now she turned to smile at him again, and say “And Aila told me how, though you feared and distrusted me then, still you carried me to safety in the Fortress.” Mellin felt uncomfortable at that, and murmured “But I did not know you then.” “Oh Mellin, all that is past. And perhaps I should not be stirring up dark shadows. But I am curious to know how I made that journey. I truly believe now that I had the aid of Light.” He pondered for a moment, and said “Light meant you to find Aila, and Aiel through her, and your Way to Light. It was all written in the Secret Word before any of it came to be. It was what Light ordained for you – for us, Marla, for our love has come out of your Way, and that is Light’s gift also.”
“And I thank Light for it all” she told him seriously. “That is why I long to go to the Temple and give thanks, Mellin. Do you understand that?” “I do, my love” he replied. “I too will rejoice to see you stand in the Temple as a Child of Light.” “The Ladies of the Fortess have been so kind to me also” Marla said ” and made me so welcome. I thank Light for that, for I did wonder if your mother would truly welcome me as your betrothed, but she has shown me such love…” she paused for a moment, with a glimmer of tears in her eyes, then went on “She told me I had never had a real mother, but now that we were to wed, she would be my mother.” Mellin said “And she means it, my heart. She can sometimes be prickly, but her heart is tender.” “And she said that if I wish, she could train me to be a Healer. I would like that, Mellin. They tried to raise me to do harm, but now I can learn to do good.” “You have already done that, Marla! Did you not refuse to be the Bloodstone-wielder, and destroy the Bloodstone? Trust me, my heart, you have done good to all Li’is! Yet it is true that a Healer’s is a worthy craft.” He was glad that his beloved seemed to be growing in confidence, with the love and care she had been shown on her Way, and now on her return. When they all gathered, later, for the evening meal, and Aiel relayed Arnath’s message to her, though, it seemed to have a special significance for her. She seemed very glad of it, and Aiel wondered if she recalled her rejection by the Priest of the Eastern Temple, and if Arnath’s welcome had erased the pain of that memory.
The next morning began a little overcast, but nothing could dampen Marla’s joy. The sky soon brightened, though, and they made their farewells and rode out through the Fortress gates, waving to Lin and Krystha, who stood watching them go. Aila could Perceive Marla’s happiness and excitement at being able to go to the Temple, as no doubt Aiel could also . Mellin too was calm, reassured by the presence of the Lightstone, and as they rode down through the Forest they chatted happily. When they reached the Plain of Blossoms, with its carpet of wild flowers, Marla exclaimed at the beauty of it, and Aila thought, with a pang,that it was probably the first time that Marla had had the freedom from fear that would allow her to enjoy such simple pleasures. Soon they were through the City gates and riding up towards the Temple. Marla did glance once, a little fearfully, at the avenue that led off towards Si-Mara’s house, and Mellin gave her an anxious look, but she turned her head away from that path and gazed resolutely up at the Temple as they rode towards it. Aiel and Arentha led them, first, to their home in the Temple grounds, to dispose of their baggage and put the horses in the care of the Temple stables. Once that was done, the five of them walked through the Priests’ entrance to the Temple, Mellin and Marla hand in hand. Marla’s face was alight with joyful anticipation. Arnath had Perceived their arrival, and was waiting for them by the Crucible. There were others in the Temple, Priests, visitors, those making their way to the Hall of Records, but none of them could know the significance of this moment.
As they approached the High Priest, he turned to Marla with a smile. “I am glad to meet you at last!” he greeted her. “Welcome, Marla of Li’is, Child of Light, Destroyer of the Bloodstone. You have done a great service to Light and to Li’is, and we honour you.” Marla had obviously not expected such a welcome, for she seemed overcome for a moment, then quickly answered “Friend of Light, it was only done by the Mercy of Light and the help of the Lightstone-Bearer and my good friends. I deserve no praise.” “Ah, but you do, child!” Arnath replied. “For you have been constant to Light in the worst of circumstances.” “I have come to give thanks” she told him “that Light has been so good to me, and I have attained Light.” “Come, then” he said, and led her to the Crucible. They all watched quietly as Marla raised her arms in silent praise. What she said in her heart to Light none of them knew, not even those with Perception, for that would have been Trespass. Tears flowed down her cheeks, but they were tears of joy. She was unaware of her companions, even Mellin, of the activity in the Temple. Light, and Light alone, was the focus of her attention. At length she lowered her arms agian, and turned to them. There were still tears on her cheeks, but she was smiling a tender smile. She sighed, and said “Oh, I think I could stay here all day, there is so much in my heart!” Now Aiel signed to her to come to him, and when she did, he drew out the Lightstone and laid it to her brow. The light poured out of the Stone and gently embraced her. “Receive Light’s blessing, Marla” Aiel said, gladly. And when the light withdrew, Marla’s eyes were glowing as she thanked him.
They showed her the rest of the Temple then, all the area surrounding the Crucible, the great stone columns. the quiet Prayer room, the Hall of Records, and she was full of excitement and questions, almost like a child. Aila thought that, in a way, that was what her friend was, a new-born Child of Light, and she was happy for Marla. When Marla had seen all there was to see, they made their way back to Aiel and Arentha’s home. Mellin and Marla would stay overnight, as Mellin could use Arenel’s room, and Marla share with Aila, so Aiel told Marla they could attend the Evening Prayers at the Temple and, depending on the time they would leave, perhaps the Morning Prayers as well, which made her happy. Mellin, wanting to please her, said “Certainly we can wait for the Morning Prayers, my heart.” Arentha, watching Marla chatting happily with her daughter, thought that she was settling more and more into her new life, and felt glad for her. Like Aila, she had been drawn to Marla from the first by compassion, and was happy that everything had been resolved so well for the girl. She noticed, too, the tenderness and patience that Mellin displayed towards his betrothed, and thought to herself that he too had been changed by Marla’s Way. He had matured into a gentler, calmer person, and that was good. As promised, that evening, before the evening meal, they took Marla and Mellin back to the Temple for the Evening Prayers. This time they were among the crowd who had gathered, and Aila wondered if her friend might feel overwhelmed by the others, but she was too taken up in the prayers and music, and with Mellin at her side to help her if she stumbled in the unfamiliar responses, seemed only happy to be taking part. Next day, after they had again gone to the Temple for the Morning Prayers, Mellin and Marla said their goodbyes. Aila hugged her friend and her cousin before they mounted. Aiel and she had both cast out their Perceptions and found no Darkness near, so could reassure Mellin, and the two set off for the Fortress with light hearts. When they had watched them out of sight, Aila and her parents went back indoors. It seemed strange to be back, to be going about their everyday tasks, after Aiel’s and Aila’s involvement with Marla’s Way and Arentha’s stay at the Fortress. Arenel’s continued absence, though, was a reminder that all was not as it was, and changes were coming.
To Aila, the time of preparation for her wedding, though joyful, seemed long. She knew that much was being done at the Western Fortress, where the needlewomen, under Liara’s oversight, were busy with the gowns for the three weddings, including the weaving of the special Western bridal fabric for Zohra. Still, she felt keenly the separation from her beloved Janir, who was at the Western Fortress making ready to receive his bride, and her brother Arenel, who was in the camp of the Westerners with Zohra. Arranging the weddings had taken much thought, especially as Krystha’s pregnancy was now far advanced. Aila and Arentha had made a few visits to the Fortress to visit and confer with Mellin and Marla about the weddings, and to see how Krystha fared. Krystha would not be able to ride to the Western Fortress for Aila’s wedding, which saddened Aila, but it was necessary that hers be the first wedding, since the others would have to return to the City with her and Janir for the other two. Mellin and Marla would wed in the Fortress, and Arenel and Zohra in the Temple. At last the time came to ride West, but first the party stopped at the Fortress, to collect Lin, Mellin and Marla. Aila spent some time with her aunt, receiving advice and blessing, and when it was time to go, hugged Krystha and said, wistfully, “I wish you could be there,” “I will be there” Krystha assured her. “My spirit will be with you – and Janir. And I will see you soon.”
Aiel and Arentha, Lin, Mellin and Marla were accompanying Aila. The weather was good and they came over the Spearcleft Pass and down to the edge of the Great Moor with no difficulties. Now they turned Westwards across the Moor. That night they rested in one of the villages that edged the Moor, and in the morning set off again, passing from the green grazing land around the villages to the golden fields of the Western Farmlands. They could see the distant rise of the Western Mountains and the Westerners’ Plateau to their right, and ahead of them, though still tiny and far off, the Western Fortress on its rise by the Snake River, like an island among the sea of grain. As they came nearer, they could see the silvery glint of the River. Aila, impatient to see her love and her brother, found the going slow, and reached out her Perception, seeking Arenel. His Perception must have been extended too, for she found him almost instantly. ‘Arenel – how is it with you? And Zohra? And how is Janir?’ His thought answered hers ‘It is well with us both. And Janir…’ there was a bubble of laughter in his thought… ‘is sick with impatience to see you, but otherwise it is well with him, too.’ ‘Arenel, tell him I will be with him soon. Tell him that I love him!’ ‘That I think he knows! But I will tell him. Light be with you till we meet, Aila.’ ‘And with you, Arenel’ she answered, and broke the contact.
It was not really so long before they passed through the fields below and were at the gate of the Western Fortress. Lin spoke the word of entry to the Watchwards, and the gate opened, and the party passed through. Outside the entrance to the Great hall stood Barengian and Mira, Janir, Arenel and Zohra. All of them were smiling, but Janir’s face seemed alight with joy. Before Aila could dismount, he had run to lift her from the saddle and hold her tightly to him, forgetting all the others. Aila twined her arms round his neck and lifted her face for his kiss, her Perception gathering a background of affectionate amusement from her father and brother. When Janir released her and turned, apologetically and belatedly, to greet her father and mother, hug Marla, and give Lin and Mellin the Swordsmen’s handclasp, Aila turned to her brother. As he held out his arms to embrace her, she saw the gleam of a gold, open-ended bracelet on his wrist, and teased him, “So, you are a Westerner now!” “Of course” Zohra said, quite seriously. “We were betrothed in the manner of the Westerners, as you saw, and Arenel is of my people, now. He is brother to all of the West.” Aiel, coming up behind Aila, said thoughtfully “Light is making new links, new alliances and brotherhoods. I wonder what is to come of this? For there is still a part of the Secret Word unfulfilled.” He smiled, then, and said “We must leave all to the Will of Light.”
Two mornings later, Aila stood in Mira’s own bedchamber, with Mira and Arentha helping her dress for her wedding. Marla and Zohra, her bridemaidens, were there too, though Zohra would leave them for a while to greet her brother and Shala, the Ket, and the rest of her family, who would be arriving soon. Aila’s gown was a deep rose colour, and threw a warm glow on her face. Zohra and Marla wore gowns of a soft green that suited Marla’s honey coloured hair and green eyes as well as it did Zohra’s dark hair and eyes and golden skin. A tap at the door brought the message that Zohra’s kin had arrived, and she slipped away to greet them, while Mira hung eardrops and a necklace of gold set with white and golden sea-jewels on Aila, and Arentha brushed out her daughter’s long dark hair in a shining veil. “I never thought to see another bride in this place so soon” Mira said, smiling at Aila, “nor did I know how long and secretly my son had been in love with you, Aila. But you will make him happy, I know, and he you.” “I will try my best” Aila answered. “I do love him, Mira…” and to her own surprise her eyes suddenly flooded with tears, though not of sorrow. Zohra reappeared, carrying a large covered basket. It was full of flowers, laid carefully on sacking that was wet and cold, because it had been wrapped round snow from the peaks of the mountains where the flowers had been gathered early that morning. There were mountain lilies, white and waxy, for her own hair and Marla’s, but for Aila there were blossoms the deep rose of her gown, with whorls of perfumed petals. The three friends, standing together looked, as Mira said, like one great flower, Aila at the centre in the warm colours of her gown and flowers, Marla and Zohra like leaves of cool green and white. Arentha said “Oh Aila, you look so beautiful!” and took her daughter in a loving embrace. Then, looking at the other girls, she added “And your bridemaidens too.” Another tap on the door heralded the arrival of Aiel, come to see that all was well with his daughter. When they let him in, he gazed at Aila in wonder, not just because she was so lovely, but because she was so like Arentha on their own wedding day.” “Aila…” he began, and could not speak. Instead his eyes caught hers, and his Perception flashed to hers all the love and pride and blessings he could find no words for. Then he smiled, and said “You are almost as beautiful as your mother was on our wedding day”, and took Arentha’s hand, and kissed it.
To Aila there was a dream-like quality about this day, though she was surrounded by love and joy. When she came down to the Prayer Room, with Mira and Arentha leading her to her bridegroom, her bridemaidens following, it seemed to her as if the whole room, the people in it, the flowers and lamps, were somewhat unreal. Only the tall flame of the Crucible, and Janir beside it, waiting for her, the focus of her attention, seemed fully real and solid. Even Arentha and Mira and Marla and Zohra, standing behind her, seemed strangely distant. Janir turned to smile at her, and she thought that he too looked as though he felt the same. Aila was glad that it was her father and brother who were conducting the wedding ceremonies; a strange Priest would have made it seem even more like a dream. At the end, though, when the ceremonies were completed, there was one moment of piercing clarity, when her father declared them one, and Janir bent to kiss her, and then say, softly but with a fierce pride, “Aila, my Lady!” and she knew that now and forever, nothing could part them. Then there was Zohra’s beautiful music, and feasting, and gifts, and blessings, but all of it was a warm sea of affection in which she drifted. She said the right things to the right people, and smiled, and embraced, and was embraced, but again, it was only Janir, at her side – as he always would be, now, she knew- who seemed wholly real. Night came, and Arentha and Mira took her to the suite of rooms she was to share with Janir, and, as they had dressed her in the morning, now undressed and tended her. Arentha asked her daughter lovingly “Is it well with you, Aila? You are not afraid?” “Of Janir?” Aila exclaimed, in amazement “Oh, never!But..” she paused, then tried to explain to her mother and Janir’s how she had been feeling that day. To her relief they laughed and reassured them that each of them, to some extent, had felt the same on their own wedding days. “And like enough” said Mira gently “it is the same with Janir.” Aila remembered the strange look on Janir’s face, her feeling that for him too the day had seemed slightly unreal. “Then we will understand each other” she said.
Still, she found she did feel a little nervous, after all, when Arentha and Mira, having helped her dress in her nightgown, and embraced her, and blessed her, left her alone in the bridal chamber. She went to the window and looked out. It was the time of the Shield’s full moon, and bright moonlight poured through the window and across the placid landscape outside. Its serene beauty calmed her, and when she heard a movement in the room behind her, and knew that Janir had come to her, she turned to him with a tender smile. She stood between lamplight and moonlight, not knowing how lovely she looked, with the golden lamplight casting a glow on her face and lighting her vivid blue eyes, and the moonlight spilling a silver gloss on her dark hair. Janir was staring at her as if some enchantment held him. Was it the moonlight, or did he seem pale? There was strangeness, too, in his eyes, as if something hurt him. She spoke his name, gently, but it was a question too. Janir took a deep breath, and said “Aila – you are so beautiful!” He placed a clenched fist over his heart in an unconscious gesture, as he went on “It stabs me like a knife! I did not know that joy could bite as deep as pain.” Then, softly, “And I have loved and longed for you so much that I am almost afraid I may waken and find this is only a dream.” She moved closer to him and said, “I have sometimes felt the same, today. But it is no dream.” Putting her arms round his neck, she twined her fingers in the curls of his hair and tugged, half-laughing, half reassuring him still. “See, I am real, I am here. I am Aila, your Lady. And you are Janir, my husband.” As she said it, she realised that in all this long wedding day, it was the first time she had called him that. Suddenly, his arms tightened on her with fierce possessiveness, and he bent his head to kiss her until she could scarcely breathe. When his head lifted again, he said, with joyous triumph, “Yes, I am your husband. And you are my Lady, and my dear love.”