AN END OF DARKNESS

Chapter 3

The night of the second Two-Moon Tide came, the time of departure. Since all the Priesthood now knew what was to happen, the Temple was locked and the Elders and the Priests of the Temple gathered round the Crucible, for though they had already made the Prayer Vigil for Zarel, Karis and Karlin, they still wanted to remain there in prayer for them while the transfer took place. Aiel and the other Waysharers and their families had gathered in the Prayer Room. Aiel was aware, though, of the Lightstone Room below, where all of this had started for him, many years before, when he had received the Lightstone. Now Zarel was the Lightstone-Bearer and Aiel the High Priest, and now Aiel realised just how Arnath had felt, sending him out into the perils of the Way. He had given as much advice as possible to Zarel – and Aren, since the two were inseparable – about the Lightstone’s powers. “But in the end” he had told Zarel ” each one’s experience must be unique, since you will attune to the Lightstone, and it to you, and it will use your own giftings from Light.”

The gifts for the Lightfriends of Ma’al were piled up ready for the Dancers to transport, and Karis and Karlin had their own packs. They and Zarel seemed ready now for their journey to Ma’al, though all were, naturally, apprehensive. Aiel hugged his grandson, and their Perceptions flowed together. Already, Aiel felt, Zarel’s Perception was enhanced by the Lightstone. He poured blessing, encouragement, love into the younger Priest’s Perception, then released him and stepped back. Arenel and Zohra, and Rentha, in turn embraced their son and brother, and lastly Aren. Aiel saw the twins’ gaze meet, their Perceptions meld and hold. Whatever messages they had to give passed in that moment. Then Aren released his twin and said softly “Go in Light, my brother!” The two Swordsmen were also hugged and blessed and bidden farewell. Most poignant of all was the parting of Karlin and Janna. She was ghost-pale, hurting to the heart and not wanting him to see it, and he was stricken both by the parting and his beloved’s agony. They clung together in a farewell embrace until a phalanx of Dancers shimmered into the room. Some enfolded and carried away the gathered supplies, while three approached the Priest and Swordsmen. It was time to go. Janna watched wide-eyed and still as stone as Karlin, Karis and Zarel were also enfolded in the sparkling substance of the Dancers. Then, as the light-beings blinked out of sight, carrying the young men with them, the girl stretched out one arm with a sobbing cry of “Karlin!”, and fell back, half-fainting, against Mellin, who had seen her distress and moved discreetly near enough to catch her. Only now would Janna release the pent-up tears she would not let Karlin see, and Mellin gently gave her into Aila’s arms. Her mother, knowing what might happen, had a draught prepared to calm the distraught girl, and she, Lira and Marla soothed and comforted Janna until her storm of weeping was past. Aren had not wept, but he was very quiet and still, and Aiel asked gently, “Is it well with you, Aren?” The blue eyes lifted to his and the young Priest said “As well as it may be, Grandfather, with the half of me gone! But he is still in my Perception.”

They were diverted from their concerns over the departure of Zarel, Karis and Karlin by the reappearance of one of the Dancers, which comforted them with the news that the three were safe, had been carried without incident to Ma’al, and were now well hidden in the secret retreat of Dorvai, leader of the Lightfriends of Ma’al. And soon, the Dancer continued, they would receive their visitor from Ma’al, the other twin who would cross into Li’is. Aiel thought again of the Secret Word “two and two”. It was only a few seconds before another Dancer shimmered into being in the room, a huddled, cloaked figure wrapped within it. Aiel knew how terrifying it was to travel with the Dancers for the first time, and how hard it must have been for this Lightfriend of Ma’al to entrust himself to a Dancer, having known only the Night Lords, the corrupted Dancers of Ma’al. The High Priest stepped forward, ready to welcome and reassure the newcomer. The Dancer shimmered back, leaving the Lightfriend of Ma’al standing in the midst of them. Aiel guessed that his eyes, hidden by the hood of his cloak, were still tightly closed, and said, very gently and reassuringly, “Child of Light, it is well with you. You are safe in Li’is, and we welcome you, in the Name of Light.” The figure moved. Vivid blue eyes opened and stared out at him from under the hood. For a moment their Perceptions met and he felt a mixture of emotions ; fear, hope, loss, excitement. Then the Lightfriend’s hand lifted to toss back the hood, revealing a delicately-featured face and a tumbling mass of soft brown hair. The Lightfriend, despite the male clothing, was definitely a girl. And after all, Aiel thought, there was no strangeness in that. In a world where the Friends of Light were few, all those born with Perception, sons or daughters, must serve Light, and in a world where men were cruel and untrustworthy, a girl who was also Perception-gifted would go more safely if disguised as a boy.

“Welcome, Lightfriend” Aiel said again. “I am Aiel the – the High Priest of Light’s Temple, here in the City.” He had so nearly said “the Lightstone-Bearer”, but that title was Zarel’s now. The girl smiled, but her smile was tired, her face, though young and quite pretty, pale and thin, chin and cheekbones showing too stark and sharp. When she spoke, she used the common tongue, but with a strange accent and inflection. “I am Moondancer” she told them, “sister of Whitestar, daughter of Dorvai.” She seemed to sway slightly as she spoke, and the Healers glanced at her with concern. Aren came forward and said “I am Aren. Is Whitestar your twin? It is my twin, Zarel, who has gone into Ma’al.” “Yes” the girl answered. “Oh, it is hard, and frightening, to be parted, to go into another world without her!” “I know” Aren said, almost unconsciously reaching out to take her hand comfortingly. “I feel it too.” They looked at each other, strangers to each other, shy, yet each knowing what the other was feeling, and Aiel saw that for a moment their Perceptions met and joined, and each drew comfort from the other. Then the girl sighed, and put her hand to her head and, this time, most definitely swayed. Aren quickly helped her to a bench and turned his eyes in appeal to his aunt. Aila came swiftly to Moondancer’s side. Mellin asked his cousin “Has the journey harmed her?” “Not with the Dancers” Aila replied. “But she is very tired – and very hungry! When did you eat last, child?” “I think – two days ago, except for a few wild berries” the girl answered, shocking them all. “The Hawks were near the place where our food was hidden, and we could not reach it” she added, but the explanation confused them even more. They understood more clearly, though, why the Dancers had said it was necessary for the three young men to take provisions with them.

The Temple was empty now, the Priesthood having finished their prayers and gone their separate ways, and it was decided that they should all return to Aiel’s house, where the stranger could be tended. When they came out of the Prayer Room into the now quiet main Temple, though, Moondancer begged to go and stand for a moment before the Crucible. They went with her, and she stood at the foot of the dais steps, arms raised in prayer, tears running down her cheeks. Afterwards, she turned to them all and said “Oh, this is how it should be!” and for the moment it seemed all her weariness and hunger were forgotten. They returned to the High Priest’s house, and when the girl had been given food and drink – and Mellin thought he had never seen anyone eat so eagerly, though she was obviously trying to control her hunger – and seemed to feel better, they began to gently question her. “Moondancer is an unusual name – though pretty” Aila said “and your sister is Whitestar? Is this the style of names in Ma’al?” “No” the girl-Priest said. “But there was a prophecy spoken for us when we were born. One of the Lightfriends was told of Light that one of us would be danced beyond the moons, and one of us would walk with a white star in Ma’al. That is why we were named so.” “The Dancer carried you here, beyond the moons of your world and ours” Aren said ” and Zarel has taken the Lightstone into Ma’al – that is the white star your sister walks with. Here in Li’is there is a prophecy about you – about us – too. Grandfather?” “Aye” Aiel said, smiling at the girl. “The Secret Word says this ‘Two and two and times and Time out of their place, but all for good'”.

“I still do not understand why I am here” Moondancer said “Except that I know it is the Will of Light.” She looked round at them all. “And the – the Dancers, they are called?” “Yes” Aiel told her. “They said more would be explained here. That my sister and I are halves of a whole. Is that what your prophecy means?” It was Aren who answered. “It is because you and Whitestar and Zarel and I are twins, and the link between our Perceptions, as twins, is so strong and close. Zarel and I can hear the Dancers’ Song too, as only we and our mother can. That means that with the help of the Dancers, we four can make a link between Li’is and Ma’al through our Perceptions, so the Thought-without-Words can run between our worlds, and those who are in Ma’al can access the help of the Priesthood here in Li’is for this Way.” As she absorbed this, Aiel went on “It will also mean that we here can know how the Way goes in Ma’al. The Lightstone-Bearer is called to lead the followers of Light to a certain place in Ma’al that corresponds to a place here in Li’is that we call the Meeting Place. That is where your Perceptions, the Lightstone, and the powers of the Dancers will make the Gate that will bring them into Li’is. We here in Li’is must also travel to the Meeting Place, you and Aren to do your part, and others to receive and tend to the Lightfriends of Ma’al.” Moondancer said “It will be a perilous journey for them. The Dark Lords of Ma’al are always watching for any who follow Light, especially the Lightfriends themselves. Their underlings will obey any order they give, and their mercenaries are ruthless. And there are the Hawks.”

It was the second time she had mentioned the mysterious ‘Hawks’, and Mellin asked “What are these Hawks?” The girl-Priest seemed to be wondering how to explain, then said “They are women who fly. The Dark Ones have given them wings – no, not like a bird. They are made of some fabric, built on a frame and strapped to their bodies. I think women are used because they are lighter to carry on the wings. I do not understand the mechanism. But they glide over Ma’al, and spy for the Dark Ones.” “Ingenious” murmured Lin, who had an interest in new inventions, “but, as you say, a danger.” Moondancer, seeming to Perceive that her words might alarm some of them, went on “However, we have places that are safe, and those who aid us in secret. It is travelling between those places that will be the most dangerous, but we have protectors, and the Lightstone is with them. Once in the havens, they will be safe.” Marla asked “Aiel, I have just thought – when I was Changed, the Dancers had to Sing me into tune with Li’is, with Zohra’s help”. She smiled at the Westerner, and went on “Will it be so for those who come from Ma’al?”

He thought about it, and said “Of that I am not sure, Marla. Those of Ma’al who belonged to Darkness were in Li’is on sufferance, as it were. Everything in Li’is was at odds with them, because they were of Darkness and Li’is is ruled by Light. It may be that in Ma’al it is so with the Children of Light, and they will not need to be – ‘retuned’, if you wish to put it so – to Li’is, because they belong to Light. Or it may be that the Dancers will Sing to them as they pass through the Gate. It has happened before, when the first Lightfriends and the Ketai came into Li’is, and we do not know what happened to them when they came. But Light knows, and it will be done as Light wills.” Moondancer, listening to this exchange, asked Marla “Are you from Ma’al, then?” Marla replied, “I was born in Li’is, but I was born of Ma’al – of Darkness! But Light was merciful to me, and I was made a Child of Light, though it meant another Way, and the use of the Lightstone. I will tell you the full tale, someday.” “And the Ketai? It is true, then, that there was another people that helped the Lightfriends escape Ma’al? Are they still in Li’is?” Zohra stepped forward, and put an arm round Aren’s shoulders. Smiling at Moondancer, she said “Yes, they are still in Li’is, Moondancer. I am of the Ketai, and Zarel and Aren are my sons. My daughter Rentha is here too. You are speaking with them.” The girl-Priest smiled back at Zohra, and said “It is all so strange! I feel as if all the old legends were coming to life!” “That is because the old legends have truth in them – Light’s truth” Aiel said. “And that may be necessary, to give us hope when we need it.”

It was clear that Moondancer had many more questions, but she was also tired, and still somewhat weak from hunger, though she had eaten. Krystha said “Aiel, I think all we Healers would agree that the maiden should rest now. And all of us have had an emotional and tiring day.” She glanced at Janna as she spoke, and her silent look told the High Priest that she was thinking of Karlin’s betrothed especially. “Perhaps it would be best to leave our deliberations for now, and continue tomorrow.” Aiel concurred. He knew that Zarel and the Swordsmen would need time to establish themselves in Ma’al before the Way there could begin, so there was time for more discussion and to prepare for the journey to the Meeting Place. So they arranged a time to meet the next day and parted. Mellin, Marla and Mella went with Lin and Krystha, Arenel and Zohra took Moondancer back with them and Aren and Rentha, and Aila and her daughters stayed with Aiel and Arentha, since Janir was still away in the West arranging with the Kets for tents to be made and taken to the Meeting Place when needed as shelter for the refugees from Ma’al.

Zarel, Karis and Karlin, carried into Ma’al by the Dancers, found themselves in the mouth of a cave looking out on a gloomy mountainside, honeycombed with clefts and more caves. The sky above, though light, was not clear, and they could not see the sun of Ma’al through the hazy cloud. The air was warm, but not pleasantly so; it felt sticky and oppressive. As the Dancers moved away from them and faded back into invisibility, leaving them surrounded by the barrels and sacks of provisions the light-beings had carried, a man appeared. By his eyes they could tell he was a Lightfriend – not a Priest, Zarel thought, for there could be no Priesthood in Ma’al. The Lightstone-Bearer guessed the stranger to be about his father’s age. “Quickly, come!” the Lightfriend told them, and they followed his swift retreat into the cave, realising that his curtness and lack of greeting were due to urgency rather than discourtesy. The man led them across the small entrance cave, then through a confusing maze of rocky tunnels into a large, central cave where there were torches and a fire and a small group of people. There were three other Lightfriends, one a girl, though dressed like a boy – Whitestar, though they did not then know it – two Swordsmen, a young woman with a little boy of three or four, and an older woman. The Lightfriend who had led them through the caves now turned and said “Welcome, welcome in the name of Light, men of Li’is. Light be praised that you are sent to help us!” He smiled at them, and continued, “I am Dorvai, leader of the Lightfriends of Ma’al, few as we are. These others are Yarin and Hant, and this is Whitestar, my daughter, twin to Moondancer, who has gone into your world.”

Whitestar stepped forward, smiling. Zarel returned her smile and said “I am Zarel, and I ” – he hesitated, still unused to saying it – “I am now the Lightstone-Bearer, after Aiel my grandfather. This is Karis, and this Karlin. They are Heirs to the Mountains and the Harbour, and they are, in some sort, my cousins.” For the relationships between the three of them were too complicated to explain now. “Ah, you are brothers” Dorvai said, misled, like many before, by their age and resemblance. Karis glanced at Karlin and said, lightly, “No, Karlin is my brother’s son, my nephew.” The Lightfriend looked at him closely, and Karis said “I am not jesting, sir. I was born late to my parents, and Mellin my brother is older than me by twenty-one years. Karlin is his son, only two years younger than I.” Dorvai smiled at him. “And no doubt you are both weary of explaining it!” Whitestar asked Zarel “You are the other twin – it is to your brother that Moondancer has gone?” “Yes” Zarel answered. “Moondancer is with Aren – and with Arenel my father and Aiel my grandfather, and all the Priesthood of the City in the Temple of the One Light.” While she considered this, Dorvai continued his introductions. “The young Swordsmen are Children of Light also – but they come and go, and it is better that you do not know their names until you know more of Ma’al, and its dangers and spies. In all innocence you might betray them.” Zarel nodded, but he was finding it hard to concentrate on Dorvai’s words. He felt a dizzying pressure on his Perception from the Darkness of Ma’al, an oppression he had felt building ever since he had entered the Dark World. Dorvai went on, indicating the older woman, then the younger. “My sister Varine, and her daughter, Kira. Kira’s man was killed by the Hawks when the boy was only a few months old. He does not remember his father, but he is named for him. he is Kilmo.”

Zarel was not taking in Dorvai’s words. He felt as if his head would burst. Whitestar was looking at him with obvious concern, and Karis and Karlin, following her gaze, saw a strange, tense expression on the Priest’s face. Whitestar said quickly “Father!” and indicated Zarel, and Dorvai stepped forward to face him and said gently “Zarel, you are not used to Ma’al, to the Darkness and oppression here. It is a shadow on our Perception, always, but we are used to it. But you, Zarel, must fight it now, and overcome it, and push it to the background of your Perception and hold it there, as we must always do.” Zarel looked at Dorvai, and nodded. He drew out the Lightstone and gazed into it. He reached out through the Stone, out towards Light, but also out and back to Li’is, to Aren, who was surely there, waiting for him to call at need. And Aren was there,and not just Aren, but Aiel, and Arenel, and Moondancer, linked in the Thought-without-Words, and through Moondancer the link came back again to Ma’al, to Whitestar and Dorvai and Zarel, closing the circle so that the Thought-without-Words, amplified by the Dancers, spanned space and time and joined the two worlds, Li’is and its dark twin, Ma’al. Dorvai drew the two other Lightfriends, Yarin and Hant, into the chain, and at the heart of it Zarel stood gazing into the Lightstone, which was glowing like a miniature sun, and felt the Darkness that had so oppressed him since he entered Ma’al retreat in the face of Light. He raised his voice in the Quieting Prayers, and heard Dorvai, Whitestar and the other Lightfriends of Ma’al speaking them with him. Now Zarel was calm again, strengthened in Light, and in the love of his family and friends. He let the Lightststone fall, sent his thanks along the chain of the Thought-without-Words, and gently let it break. He smiled reassuringly at the Lightfriends, but now it was they who were subdued. He asked anxiously “What is it? Is anything wrong?”Dorvai smiled softly and said “Wrong? No, not wrong, Zarel. It is only that we are moved. None of us in Ma’al have experienced such communication before.” “You do not use the Thought-without-Words?” Zarel asked, astonished. “Oh yes, we use it” Dorvai answered, ” but not with such – such freedom and joy – oh, how free you are in Li’is, Zarel! And it is not often that so many Lightfriends are linked together. And then there was the Lightstone too…but you feel better now, Zarel?” “Yes” Zarel affirmed. He did not question Dorvai or the others further, Perceiving that that would be a kind of Trespass. They needed, first, to understand for themselves what they had experienced.

Little Kilmo was whimpering softly, and Karis asked “What ails the youngling? Do we frighten him?” The young mother smiled wearily. “No, he is hungry. Some of our food is hidden where the Hawks are, and we cannot reach it yet. ” The Swordsman remembered the Dancers’ instructions, and the packs they had brought with them as well as the other provisions. They had laid their own down on a flat stone as they entered the main cave, so as to be unencumbered. Now Karis smiled too. he had insisted that his mother include certain items in his pack, for he had guessed – or had Light told him? – that there might be children among the Lightfriends. And Karis had a heart for children. He retrieved his pack and reached inside for what he wanted – a large flat chunk of honey-cake, neatly wrapped, and a small flask of fresh milk. Yes, there they were! He pulled them out and went to Kira, unwrapping the package. “Ho, little one!” he said, smiling, to Kilmo. “Try this!” He broke off a child-sized piece of the cake and put it in the outstretched little hand. the child was so hungry he would have eaten anything, even stale bread, but when he tasted the firm sweet cake, his eyes widened into great astonished circles, and he gulped the food so quickly he almost choked. “Easy, easy, little one!” Karis admonished, unstopping the flask of milk and tipping it to the child’s mouth. Kilmo took a great swallow of milk, grinned an enormous grin, and held out his hand for more honeycake. They all laughed, and his mother thanked Karis with such emotion that he felt embarrassed. Karlin also fetched his pack, containing Healers’ supplies which Aila and Krystha had prepared, and asked Whitestar “Is there a Healer in your group?” “Dorvai my father is our Healer” she told him. Karlin held out his pack and said “These are sent for the Healer. Herbs and salves, draughts and cups and measures. The other supplies we brought, the Dancers carried, and have left where you found us. They are gifts from your Brothers-in-Light in Li’is, and others who wished to help.” Dorvai gladly took the pack of Healers’ supplies, and the two anonymous Swordsmen and the other Lightfriends went with Karis and Karlin to fetch what the Dancers had brought. As they carried in the goods and they mounted up, Kira exclaimed “You brought all this for us?”

“The Dancers told us that the Lightfriends of Ma’al needed provisions, as much as we could bring.” Zarel told her. “My grandfather Aiel is the High Priest of the Temple of Light. He told the Temple Elders and the Priesthood, and they agreed to send you gifts from the Harvest stores.” “Do your Priesthood grow their own food, then?” asked the Lightfriend called Harn. “No” Zarel smiled. “We buy our food in the market,as others do. But at the First and Second Harvest Horns, those who grow crops and fruit and vegetables, or have stores to spare, bring an offering to the Temple. We preserve and store what they bring, so that any who are poor or hungry can come to the Temple and ask for provisions.” “And all in Li’is follow the Rule of Light?” Dorvai asked, as they unpacked the supplies and began to prepare a meal for the hungry group. “There are a few who are Children of Night, who would seek to establish the Dark Lords as rulers of Li’is, as they rule in Ma’al. But their attempts have always been defeated, and since the Night Temple and its Priestess and her consort were destroyed, they have no real focus for their evil deeds.” “Then Li’is is truly the opposite of Ma’al.” Dorvai told him, “for here it is we Lightfriends who are few, and opposed by all.” “But you here are not the only Lightfriends?” Karis asked. “No, there are others. We have places like this, where we are safe. We keep to the mountains or hills, or abandoned farms where the soil has grown too poor for good crops.” “And the Children of Light?” Zarel questioned. “For I am to gather them all, and I was told that the Lightstone would draw them to me, yet I am not sure how that will be.” “We keep in touch, as far as we are able, with those who follow Light. We cannot enter the towns, for we would be recognised and captured. But we teach in secret places, and some of those we have taught have been courageous and brought others to know Light, though the risk to them is great. If Light is in their hearts, it may be that that is how they will feel the presence of the Lightstone.”

“You have not told us yet what Light intends in Ma’al, and why you have brought the Lightstone here” said the Lightfriend Yarin. Zarel was astonished. “Light has not told you? I thought you would know…” he paused, then continued, “The Dancers brought us word in Li’is that it is time for Light’s judgement on Ma’al. The Dark Ones and their followers have no more time to repent of their spurning of Light. I have been sent to gather the Lightfriends and Children of Light of Ma’al so that they may escape Light’s judgement on this world. We will travel to a place that in Li’is we call the Meeting Place, where the power of the Lightstone and the Dancers will make a gateway into Li’s. We shall pass into Li’is, and then Light’s judgement will fall on the Dark World. ” He thought to himself that, put like that, it sounded so simple – no doubt it was simple, to Light. But for him, and the others, it meant a task that he did not know how to accomplish, as yet, and a perilous journey through Ma’al. The Lightfriends seemed saddened by his words, and Whitestar said “That is a hard thing to hear, for it means that there is no hope for Ma’al.” Her father agreed, but added “Light is merciful, but just. Ma’al has rejected Light, and Light has given time for repentance, but it has not happened. And Light will not destroy the innocent with the guilty, that is why the Lightstone-Bearer is here.” “Light is love” Zarel said, “and takes no joy in the judgement of Ma’al. But the Dark Lords are enemies of Light, and Ma’al has rejected Light and the Sacrifice of Light. They must be judged, or Light is not just. All who accept Light will be taken into Li’is, though, before that judgement falls. That is also the justice of Light. As Dorvai said, the innocent will not perish with the guilty.”

The meal had been prepared, and Dorvai spoke the Meal-Blessing before they ate. Zarel, Karis and Karlin could see that it was the first good meal that the others had eaten in a while, and were quietly glad that they had been able to supply the need, though they said nothing. As they ate, Zarel asked “Are there maps of Ma’al? Do you have any?” “We have some charts, yes” Dorvai answered. “Those drawn up by ourselves, and others before us. The official maps are held in the towns, and we have no access to them, for we cannot go there, as I told you. We mark places of peril, and of safety, and routes that are safe to travel. But do you need maps? We will guide you.” “I know” Zarel replied . “But I need to see – to compare the terrain of Ma’al with that of Li’is, for the Dancers told us that while some places in Ma’al correspond to those in Li’is, others are totally different. I need to see where the Meeting Place lies, and how we can get there.” “How strange it is”, remarked Whitestar, ” that our worlds should be so like, and yet so unlike.” Karis said “When the Dark Lords ruled briefly in Li’is, before they were defeated by the Lightfriend Rafel and Brann and Tamorine, with the Lightstone and their armies, they had a City. It was not where our City is today, and it was destroyed, but the Ruins remain there. The land and forest around those Ruins are tainted by their presence still. I wonder if the Dark Ones’ city here is in the same place?” “The Dark City is inland and well guarded” Dorvai told him. “Then it may well correspond to the Ruins in Li’is” Zarel said. “For our City and Temple are on the hill above the Harbour, by the sea coast.” “There is a harbour on the seacoast here” one of the Swordsmen of Ma’al answered “but there is no city there, just a trading town.” They had finished their meal now, and Dorvai said “I will fetch the charts, and you can see for yourselves.”

From what he had said, the three Way-Sharers had expected the charts to be roughly drawn and sketchy, but they proved to be meticulous and neat. The Lightfriends of Ma’al had evidently taken great care over them. Bending over them by the light of a lamp, they tried to puzzle out the similarities to, and more importantly the differences from, the terrain of Li’is. There was, indeed, a harbour marked where theirs stood, and a small town round it, and a river running down which would correspond to the White River, but all around was forest, marshes and mountains. No sign of any building where the Mountain Fortress stood in Li’is, and both Karis and Karlin felt strangely uncomfortable at its absence. Along the edges of what would have been the Great Moor on Li’is stood a chain of small towns, and a symbol was marked on some of them. When Zarel queried what it meant, Dorvai said “Those are towns where the Dark Ones’ mercenaries are quartered.” The land outside those towns was marked off into fields for grazing herd-beasts to supply the towns, and of course there were no Faring Houses for travellers such as the Priesthood kept in Li’is. Zarel looked for the Westerners’ Plateau, but it was not there. That was the first strangeness. The use of the Moor for grazing was not such a change, but that a feature as dominant in their own landscape, and as important, should be missing from that of Ma’al, reinforced the fact that they were no longer in their own world. Karis looked for the Dark City, in the place where the Dark Ruins lay in Li’is, and sure enough, he found it. So, he thought to himself, those two Cities must have been linked together, in the First Days, before the Dark City on Li’is was destroyed.

The mountains of Ma’al closely resembled those of Li’is, but the chain of the Eastern mountains was longer, and curved strangely. They glanced at the land to the West, with its mountains and river, which did not look so different, though seeming largely uninhabited, but they did not linger over it, for they would not be travelling that way, so it did not concern them overmuch. A great deal of the chart, though, did look unfamiliar, with strange features, but they were concentrating on what they could recognise, to help them on their journey. Karlin looked for the Great Bay and found a similar but smaller feature, with a harbour and town, which he pointed out to Zarel. Once that was found, they could trace a path to the North, and found a range of mountains, which must be where the Meeting Place would be if there were such a thing in Ma’al. Karis, though, looked anxiously at what seemed to be a great open plain on the approach to the mountains. “How can we bring a great company through there without being seen and pursued?” he asked. Dorvai admitted that not much of what lay between the bay and the mountains had been mapped in detail, since the Lightfriends did not venture that far North, so what lay there might be unknown. Zarel, unmoved, said “If it is Light’s Will, Light will provide a way.”

Karlin asked, suddenly, “What of the Eastern Continent, Zarel? If it exists here, how shall we gather the Children of Light from there? They would need to cross the Eastern Sea!” He saw Whitestar give a little shudder at his words, and Dorvai said gravely “The Eastern lands exist here, yes, but you would find no Child of Light there. They are the stronghold of the Dark Lords, and forbidden to all. It is where they work their sorceries and train their underlings, and where their evil amulets are forged.” “Amulets?” queried Zarel, and Dorvai said “Those they have tested and trust in high positions are given a certain ring which marks them out, and demands obedience.” “The Bloodstone!” Karis exclaimed. “That is not what we call it, but yes, the stone is red, and it is fed by evil. Bloodstone is an apt name. How do you know of it?” “Because the Black Piper bore a Bloodstone, when he came into Li’is in an attempt to regain control of our world for the Dark Lords” Karlin answered. “And my mother, born in Li’is, but born of Ma’al – it is a long story – was intended to wield another Bloodstone, but refused it, and turned to Light, with Aiel’s help, though it was a long struggle for them both.” Dorvai looked thoughtful, and said “Then maybe you know more of Darkness than I thought. It is well that you are not unprepared.” It was not easy poring over the charts by lamplight, and their eyes began to grow weary, but by now they had seen enough to begin to understand where their Way would take them. The charts were rolled up and taken away by Dorvai, and Karis, thinking to turn their talk to lighter things, asked Whitestar “How is it that you and your sister have such unusual names?” So Whitestar told them of the prophecy that had been made for them, and how they came to be named so. Then she pointed to the Lightstone, gleaming on Zarel’s chest, and said “And there is my white star!”

Kira had excused herself from the group and taken little Kilmo away to settle him to sleep, and now Dorvai returned and said “We must share what you have brought us, Zarel. Our Swordsmen will take some supplies to others of our people, and tell them they must join us on this Way.” So they busied themselves making smaller packages of provisions for the Swordsmen to stow in their saddlebags, and bade them “Go in Light!” as they left on their errand. Now that immediate needs had been dealt with, Dorvai, Whitestar and the other Lightfriends showed them around their hiding place. The small entrance cave and winding passage behind gave the impression, from outside, that there was no substantial space beyond, but that was far from the truth. The larger cavern they were in had other passages and caves leading off, some used as stores for some of what few provisions they had, now resupplied by what the Way-Sharers had brought. Dorvai explained that there were caches nearby where their helpers could leave them supplies, so as not to betray the hiding places. It was one of these that was in an area that had unfortunately recently been overflown by the Hawks, so that the supplies could not be retrieved. Other small caves were set apart as sleeping places, made as comfortable as possible with limited resources, and one separated by a curtain, was their Prayer Place. There was, of course, no Crucible, but Zarel could Perceive the sense of Light’s Presence there. He felt an immense respect for these Lightfriends of Ma’al, staying true to Light in the midst of Darkness, braving so much to turn any they could to Light. He remembered that the Dancers had told them that, in the First Days, when the First Lightfriends came into Li’is from Ma’al, certain of their number had chosen, voluntarily, to stay in Ma’al and keep the service and Name of Light alive there. Those must have been the ancestors of Dorvai and the others, he thought, and their descendants were heirs to their courageous spirit.

In Li’is, where the time of the Evening Prayers had brought Zarel’s urgent appeal through the Thought-without-Words, all those with Perception, apart from Moondancer, had felt shaken at first by their sensing of the oppression he was under, but had cast that feeling aside to strengthen and reassure him. Once the link was broken, Aiel said “It is hard for you in Ma’al, Moondancer. I was glad of the Thought-without-Words, not just for Zarel’s sake, but to link with my Brothers-in-Light there.” Aren, glancing at Moondancer, said “It is good that we can Perceive them. I did not realise what it must be like, to live in such a world of Darkness.” Moondancer replied “We have to grow used to it, to push the oppression always to the back of our Perceptions, and hold it there.” “But here you need not.” Arenel told her. “It seems almost strange to me” the girl replied, “though wonderful. I think I will need time to grow accustomed to such freedom.” “Soon, I hope, you will all be free of the Darkness” Aiel told her. He remembered how the Darkness had fought him on the Lightstone Way, how he had struggled all of one day, fighting back the oppression that beset him – and that had been only one day. What it must be like to live constantly like that he could scarcely imagine, and he cast a quick prayer to Light for Zarel, in that atmosphere of Darkness.

When they returned home and had taken their evening meal, a bed had been moved from the twins’ room to Rentha’s, and prepared for Moondancer. Aren, feeling very strange, alone in the room he had shared with his twin from their birth, hoped that having Rentha with her would help Moondancer, since he was certain she must be feeling the same, away from her own twin. Rentha had taken charge of Moondancer, and in her room she looked at the other girl and said “Yes, we are much of a size. I can give you a nightgown, and a gown to wear tomorrow.” “I have seldom worn a gown” the girl-Priest said, smiling at Rentha’s friendliness. “If you would rather, I am sure we could find you some other clothes” Rentha answered, then, laughing, “though all of the men in this family wear Priests’ robes!” “No, I am content with the gown” Moondancer said. “It is just that in Ma’al it is safer for my sister and I if we are dressed as lads.” Rentha gave her the nightgown and took her to bathe, and when they had returned to Rentha’s room, Moondancer asked “The Lady Aila – she is your aunt?” “Yes, my father’s sister.” “She has Perception, yet she does not serve in the Temple?” “No, she is a Healer.”

As Moondancer seemed to be considering this, Rentha told her “It is very rare here for a daughter of the Priesthood to be born with Perception, and there are always sons to carry on the Priesthood. I do not think that the daughters are deliberately excluded, just that there has never been the need for them to serve, as in Ma’al. If a daughter is born with Perception, she is of course given instruction in its use and powers, just as her brothers are, but not expected to become a Priest. Usually those with Perception become Healers, like Aunt Aila, because they can use their Perception to help those who are sick at heart, as well as those who have bodily ills. I have only ever known of two women with Perception, and both were Healers.” “Your aunt is one, who then is the other?” “On the first Way, the Lightstone Way, my grandfather and his Way-Sharers encountered great evil in the Ruins of the Dark City. The Healer of the Second Faring House, Lady Saditha, was Perception-gifted and helped them overcome their feelings of grief and guilt. But that was many years ago, and it may be that she has touched Light by now.” “I see I have much to learn of Li’is” Moondancer said, then, “Rentha, I am glad you are here. It feels so strange not to be with Whitestar. And no doubt your brother feels the same, without Zarel.” Rentha smiled at her, and said “I know that Light has linked you to Aren, as Whitestar to Zarel, because you are two sets of twins and have that bond between your Perceptions, and also because Aren and Zarel, like our mother, can hear the Dancers’ Song, as no others can. You four have a Light-given purpose. But still, if you are lonely for a sister, come and talk to me.” “Thank you, Rentha!” Moondancer exclaimed “You are very kind!” “And you must be very tired” Rentha replied. “Let us sleep now.”

Published by afaithbasedfantasytrilogy

I'm first and foremost a Christian. I'm also a widow, mother of 5, grandmother of 9, and a retired school librarian.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: