AN END OF DARKNESS

Chapter 4

The three travellers in Ma’al had also slept, in one of the caves that had had sleeping places built into it. Though assured of their safety by Dorvai, who told them that there would be guards, it had taken them all some time to fall asleep. The strangeness of their situation, the fact of actually being in Ma’al after all the preparation, and uncertainty about what would happen next, left them all wakeful until their tireedness finally overtook them. In the morning Dorvai took them much deeper into the cave system, to a place where there was water. A spring bubbled up and fed an underground stream, which in tun ran into a dark tarn. He told them they could wash in the stream while he collected water from the spring for their morning meal. Karis, used to the Bathing Places of home, wondered if they could not have bathed in the tarn, but Dorvai told them “No, it is too deep and too cold – very cold. If you went into that water it would snatch away your breath and overcome your body with its coldness, and you would drown.” Once they had washed and refreshed themselves, they helped Dorvai carry the water back, but Karis was thinking how many dangers seemed to lurk in Ma’al, where even a simple thing like a tarn had power to kill.

They ate with Dorvai and his family and the other Lightfriends. Afterwards Zarel, feeling again a little of the oppression caused by the atmosphere of Ma’al, felt somewhat shut in by the cavern, safe though it was, and said “I must go outside for a little, for air, and to be alone with Light.” “Not alone” Karis warned him. “Karlin and I will come with you – oh, we will not interfere, Zarel, but we must guard you.” Zarel acquiesced, and the three of them went through the tunnels and stepped outside the cave entrance. Nearby was an alcove in the rock face, shadowed and, the Swordsmen decided, relatively safe. So Zarel stood in the alcove and took out the Lightstone, gazing into it, while Karis and Karlin took their stand, one each side of him, far enough away to give him privacy, but close enough should danger threaten. It was quiet enough, but both Swordsmen kept their guard up, and it seemed they had been wise to accompany Zarel, for suddenly Karis called softly “Karlin!” Karlin turned, to see his young uncle standing poised for action, his hand on the hilt of the True Sword. “Someone is coming” he said, and Karlin quietly joined him. Two men appeared round the turn in the path, and stopped short. Karis’ eyes widened, and his mouth dropped open in astonishment. Karlin followed his gaze, and exclaimed, but softly,”Sweet Light!”

The strangers who faced them, seeming ready to challenge them, were dressed ordinarily enough, and were, by the weapons at their sides, Swordsmen. Their appearance, though, was another matter. Karis and Karlin had never seen men like these. Both were of athletic build, though one was a little stockier. One was taller than the other – very tall, for though Karis was tall, the stranger topped him by half a head. The strangest thing about the men though, to the Swordsmen of Li’is, was their colouring. Their skin was dark brown, with a slight sheen to it, like the rind of the sweet-nuts Karis had gathered in the Forest as a child, their hair black, their eyes also black, the clear whites of them in startling contrast, their faces sculpted, with strong bones and aquiline noses. Karis guessed both men to be close to his own age. “Children of Night indeed!” Karlin exclaimed. The Swordsmen had all but forgotten Zarel, in their surprise, but now the young Priest’s voice came quietly from behind them. “No, I Perceive no Darkness in them. Not all that is dark is of Darkness, Karlin, nor is all that is pale of Light.” The tall man smiled, his teeth very white in his dark face. “That is true” he said. “We are no friends of Darkness. We are the Malani.” “What are the Malani?” asked Zarel. The man stared at him. “Your eyes say you are a Lightfriend, and those eyes do not lie. Yet you do not know of the Malani? And who are these who protect you?” “My kin” Zarel said briefly, since Karis and Karlin were, indeed, his relatives. “The Malani” the man said “are the protectors of the Lightfriends, from ancient times. There are few who dare stand against the Darkness, but we are loyal to Light. How is it that you do not know this?”

Zarel hesitated, unsure whether to trust these strangers. Yet, as he had said, he Perceived no Darkness in them. “We know little of Ma’al” he said, watching for their reaction. The taller man frowned. “I do not understand.” “Zarel, wait” Karis warned. “Let us know more about these visitors first. If they are what they say they are, they will not mind our caution.” “Indeed” agreed the taller man, who seemed to be the leader, for the other man, though vigilant, had not yet spoken. “Why are you here?” Karis asked. “We are seeking Dorvai, the Lightfriend” the other replied. “We have a message for him.” “What are your names?” Karlin queried. “I am Corhan, and this is my sister’s man, Saban. And who are you?” “This – Lightfriend ” – almost Karis had said ‘Priest’ – is Zarel, and I am Karis.” “And your brother’s name?” asked Saban, speaking for the first time, and making the same mistake as many before him. Karlin said “My name is Karlin, but Karis is not my brother. He is my father’s brother, my uncle.” Corhan’s elegant eyebrows arched as if he did not quite know whether to believe Karlin or not. Karis said quickly “He speaks the truth, Corhan. Karlin really is my nephew. And Zarel is the son of my cousin.” “I still do not understand how you know ‘little of Ma’al’ and nothing of the Malani” Corhan challenged. Zarel took a deep breath, made his decision, and answered “Because we are not of Ma’al.” Corhan, not yet understanding, said “Yes, you are Lightfriends and do not take part in the Darkiness of Ma’al, but -” “No” Zarel cut in. “That is not what I mean, Corhan. What do you know of the Lightstone?” “The Lightstone? An old legend. The tale goes that it was given to the ancient Lightfriends to take them from Ma’al to another place, when the Darkness fell, and a people called the Ketai, who were also protectors of the Lightfriends, went with them. But that is all it is, an old tale.”

Zarel moved forward. He had been standing in the shadow of the rock face, but as he came towards them the hazy sunlight of Ma’al fell full on his face, lighting his vivid blue eyes even more against the golden tones of his skin. They heard a gasp from Corhan, and looked to see if anything were wrong. The dark-skinned Swordsman was staring at Zarel, staring and staring, as if Zarel held the answer to some deep longing of his. Surprised, the Priest listened to his Perception. Was it his mention of the Lightstone? No, Zarel was sure, that was not the reason. Puzzled now, Zarel swung his blue eyes to meet Corhan’s dark ones, and the Swordsman did not resist his Perception. Yet Zarel felt only a strange perturbation. He withdrew his Perception and asked “Corhan, what is it? Is something wrong?” “No, you are not of Ma’al! I had not seen before…” Corhan’s rich voice answered. “Lightfriend, where are you from? Where is your land?” “Why do you ask?” interposed Karlin, cautious lest these two strangers should be spies after all. Corhan replied “You know nothing of the Malani, you were surprised at our appearance, yet you are followers of Light. So you must be strangers here. But, Lightfriend…” he gazed again at Zarel, “you could not have been as surprised at my skin as I was at yours!” “Mine?” Zarel asked, mystified. “We are dark, and so are our people. And others are light, like the Swordsmen here. But you are neither. Your skin is golden. And you are not born half of the dark people and half of the light. I would know. Zarel, Lightfriend ” – his voice was pleading now – “I promise you that it is very important to me that I know this thing. Who are you, and where do you come from?”

Zarel looked again into Corhan’s face and the Swordsman let him look, surrendering to his Perception. This time Zarel probed deeper, and Karis and Karlin watched, quietly alert. If Zarel accepted Corhan’s right to question him, all would be well. At length Zarel withdrew his Perception, and smiled at Corhan. “Yes, you are truly Light’s man, and one to be trusted, Corhan. I will answer your question, but first you and Saban must swear to me – before Light, and on your honour as Children of Light – not to speak carelessly of this.” “I will swear that” Corhan answered. Saban agreed, and when they had made the solemn vow, Zarel said “I asked you what you knew of the Lightstone. It is not just an ancient tale, Corhan. The first Lightfriends did take the Lightstone out of Ma’al to another place. They took it to a world called Li’is, to save it from the Darkness from Ma’al which had gained a foothold there. The Lightfriends and the people of Li’is defeated the Darkness with the Lightstone’s aid. All these centuries it has been in Li’is, but now….” he took another deep breath, “it has returned to Ma’al.” Corhan and Saban were staring at him now, as he went on “Many years ago my grandfather, Aiel, became the Lightstone-Bearer when the Darkness again threatened Li’is. Now I have become the Lightstone-Bearer after him, and Light has bidden me bring the Stone back into Ma’al. It is Light’s Will that we gather the Lightfriends and Children of Light that remain in Ma’al, and take them to a place from where they can be carried into Li’is. Then, when only Darkness is left in Ma’al, Light will judge the Dark World.” He reached inside his clothing, where he had concealed the Lightstone, and brought it out. It lay on his breast, softly gleaming, and he said “Here is the Lightstone.”

The two Malani gazed at the Stone in awed astonishment. It seemed too much for them to take in. At last Corhan managed to gasp out “You – you are from another world?” “Yes, I am from Li’is, as are Karis and Karlin. The Dancers of Li’is carried us here, at the Word of Light. Though my world lies on the other side of Light and time from Ma’al, it is in some sense its twin, but in Li’is Light rules. So in my world there is a Temple of Light and a Priesthood, and I am a Priest of the Temple, and my grandfather, once the Lightstone-Bearer, is now the High Priest. I have a brother, my twin, who remains in Li’is, and one of Dorvai’s twin daughters was carried there to join him, so that we have a link between the worlds. There is much more to tell than that. But you asked about my people?” Corhan nodded, dumbly, obviously still trying to grasp what Zarel had told him. “I am a Priest of Light, as I said, and we are descendants of the first Lightfriends, but my mother comes from the people of the West, who are descended from those you know as the Ketai. My other grandfather is also a twin, and he and his brother are joint Kets – Lords – of their people.” “The Ketai!” Saban exclaimed, but Corhan, still seemingly dazed by it all, asked again “Another world?” but this time almost to himself, almost as though he had not heard what Zarel had said. “I thought maybe another land – I could have sought an unknown land. But from a different world – how shall I search a whole new world?” “Corhan, what is it?” Karis asked, concerned by the strangeness of the other Swordsman’s words. But it was Saban who answered for him.

“Corhan is Lord of the Malani” Saban explained. “By the tradition of our people he would have been betrothed when he reached manhood, to ensure that he had a wife to bear him an heir when they married later. But before that time, he dreamed a dream that was more than a dream, it was a vision from Light. Light spoke to him, and showed him the maiden he was to wed, and she was not of our people or the light people. She had black hair and dark eyes, but her skin was golden – like yours, Friend of Light. She was brave and strong and kind, as well as beautiful, and Corhan knew it was more than a dream, for he felt Light tell him that the maiden would be there at a time of great turmoil for our people. She would be his Lady, the mother of our people, and Corhan knew, he said, that from the dream he would know her when he met her, so vivid was the vision. His father took him at his word, and did not proceed with a betrothal. Yet Corhan’s father went to be with Light, and Corhan became our Lord, and still, till now, we have had no proof that such a maiden might exist – except our faith in Light.” “How many prophecies are to be fulfilled by this way!” Zarel breathed in wonderment. “There is the Secret Word, and Whitestar and Moondancer’s prophecy, and now Corhan’s vision-dream.” He smiled at the Lord of the Malani, who still seemed stunned by their news. “Corhan” he encouraged, ” you will not need to search a whole world! The Westerners – the Ketai – live on a high Plateau in summer, herding and rearing herd-beasts and horses. And in winter they move to the Western Fortress and its surrounding towns, and weave fine fabrics for sale in the towns and the City. They are very easy to find, my friend. And , as I said, my kinsmen are their Lords. We shall find your bride for you, Corhan, when we return to Li’is. How many of your people are Children of Light?” Corhan, reassured by Zarel’s words, said proudly “All! There are no friends of Darkness in my camp.” “Then you and your people will need to join us on our journey” Zarel told him. “For we must gather all the Children of Light in Ma’al, by the Lightstone’s power. They must be saved from Ma’al’s destruction.”

Karis said “Corhan had a message for Dorvai. Is it not best to go back to him? More explanations can wait. It is not wise to be too long in the open here!” Corhan nodded. “So you have learned that much of Ma’al! You are right, we should leave here. We will come with you to Dorvai.” The five of them went back into the cave complex. The Malani seemed to know the way well, which showed they were frequent visitors here. When they reached the central cave they found Dorvai and Whitestar there, and as Zarel appeared Dorvai asked quickly “Is it well with you, Zarel?” “Yes, praise Light” the young Priest answered. “We have brought you some visitors, Dorvai.” The Lightfriend had not noticed the others in his concern for Zarel, but now he exclaimed “Corhan, my friend! And Saban. It is good to see you. Do you have news?” “We do” Corhan told him. “We bring you a message. Naton is safe and is returning, but he takes a roundabout route, to be sure there is no danger to you here. Two of our Swordsmen have gone to accompany him.” “Ah, that is good. Varine will be relieved!” Dorvai replied, then, remembering that this would mean nothing to his visitors from Li’is, explained “Naton is my sister Varine’s husband. He has been away to meet with some of the followers of Light.” He smiled, then, and said “I told you we are guarded here, and now you have met our guards.” “The Malani” Zarel said. “We knew nothing of them, Dorvai.” “How should you, since you are not of Ma’al?” Whitestar asked. Corhan said “That is what we did not understand, till Zarel explained to us. But Dorvai, Whitestar, he has also brought me the answer I have sought for so long.” Whitestar exclaimed “Do you mean your vision, Corhan? That is wonderful!” Corhan said “Maybe you had not noticed his colouring, but when I saw – it is so like my dream-maiden’s! And he tells me that though he is a Lightfriend, he is also descended from the people who went with the Lightfriends when they left Ma’al – the Ketai. That is where I must seek my bride – in his world, among his mother’s people.” His companion, Saban, added “It is wonderful indeed – that at last Light has brought us the answer.”


When Rentha woke, Moondancer was still sleeping. Rentha looked across at the other girl. She looked better for the sleep, but Rentha’s Healer’s instincts were still concerned at her thin face and frame. No doubt, though, she thought, here in Li’is where she would be well tended and fed, Moondancer would soon become stronger. Perhaps the girl-Priest Perceived Rentha’s concern, even in her sleep, for now she stirred, and woke, and yawned, sat up and looked round as if startled for a moment to find herself here. Rentha smiled at her, and said, to reassure her, “Does it feel strange to you, Moondancer? You are safe in Li’is.” “Oh yes, I did feel strange for a moment! Almost I forgot … to be here, without Whitestar, away from all I know – it is wonderful and frightening at once!” Kind Rentha went across and put a comforting arm round the other girl’s shoulders. “It must be very strange to you. I wish I had Perception too, so I could help you better. But Aren will understand, I know.” She was right in that, for when they had dressed and joined the others at breakfast, she saw Aren’s gaze catch Moondancer’s and saw that their Perceptions met, and whatever Aren imparted to the girl made her relax and quietly join in the meal. Afterwards, Arenel said “It is time for the Morning Prayers, Moondancer. Come with us to the Temple.” They walked across to the Temple, where Aiel was leading the Morning Prayers, and Moondancer was full of excitement and joy at being able to worship openly, without fear of persecution. As they entered the building, she looked round, taking in all that she had not seen on her brief visit the previous night. Aren and Arenel could Perceive her sense of awe and wonder before she spoke. “It is so beautiful – a fitting place to worship Light.” As the worshippers filled the Temple, and the music and prayers echoed through the building, she seemed quiet, as though absorbing everything, though she joined gladly in the prayers. When all was done, and the Temple was emptying, Aiel came over to them, smiling at Moondancer. “It was good to see you here, Moondancer, where you belong.” “It made my spirit sing, Aiel! Yet it was overwhelming, too. So many Children of Light, such joy, such freedom!”

They had agreed, the previous evening, to meet at Lin and Krystha’s home by the Harbour, to resume their deliberations. Aiel still had some duties to complete at the Temple, as did Arenel, so they suggested that Rentha and Aren should take Moondancer on ahead, to show her the City. The three young people walked down through the broad avenue that led to the Harbour, Moondancer admiring and exclaiming over the buildings and gardens around them. Now dressed in one of Rentha’s gowns, blue in colour, she was not noticeably out of place, though she attracted a few glances because of her Perception-gifted eyes. This scared her momentarily, until Aren, Perceiving her fear, explained that it was only because she was unusual in being a maiden with Perception, and there was no malice in the glances. Once thus assured, she relaxed and enjoyed her surroundings. As they approached the Harbour gates, though, she again turned questioningly to Aren, seeing the Watchwards at the gates in their green-and-gold livery. Quietly he explained their presence, but thought how hard it must be to live as a Child of Light in Ma’al, where nothing and nobody was to be trusted. Around the gates, the market was much quieter than usual, and some merchants absent. They walked down to the Harbour walls. The waves were crashing up against the stonework, still driven by the Two-Moon Tide, and no ships were tied up at the docks. Moondancer was awed by the sight of the fierce breakers, and confessed that she had seldom seen the sea. Rentha told her “Usually there would be many ships here, and the market would be busy. But the ships from the East cannot sail until the Two-Moon Tides are over.” “The East?” Moondancer sounded frightened again. “In Ma’al the Eastern lands are the place of greatest Darkness, a stronghold of the Dark Lords, and a seat of evil sorcery!” “But not in Li’is!” Aren comforted her.

They walked back from the Harbour to the house of the Lord of the Harbour, where Lin and Krystha welcomed them. As there had been little time for social niceties on the previous day, Rentha introduced Moondancer more fully to Mella, her cousin, friend, and fellow Healer. When Marla appeared, though, Moondancer asked, though with deference, if there was time, now, for the story of Marla’s Way to be told. The little she had heard had obviously intrigued her.. Marla smiled at the girl-Priest and said “The story of my Way? It really begins with the story of the Lightstone Way, the first Way…” and went on to tell how she had, though yet unborn, been touched by the power of the Lightstone, and how, because of that, Light had set a ‘seed of Light’ in her, though her heritage was all of Darkness. Moondancer listened, amazed and entranced, as Marla’s story unfolded, culminating in her being set free from the Darkness in her by the combined powers of the Lightstone, a Spirit-in-Light, and the Dancers. “And Light not only brought me out of Darkness, but brought me my love, and my family” Marla ended, smiling fondly at Mellin, who had entered the room while she was speaking. He came over to them, returning her smile, and told Moondancer “All of us found our loves on that Way, Marla and I, Aila and Janir, Arenel and Zohra. Our loves were the gift of Light, but also in the Will of Light, for we are the generations of the Way-Sharers, and now the Way is carried on again by our children.” Moondancer answered “Truly, Light is love, and brings love, and will take any out of Darkness that will take the Choice of Light.” Then she sighed, and told them “There are few enough will take that Choice, in Ma’al. It means danger, and maybe death. I wish there were more, that Light’s judgement need not fall, but the Dark Lords and the Night Lords hold my poor world in sway.”

Safe in the Lightfriends’ caverns, there was more time to talk, and Zarel explained more fully to the Malani the story of the Lightstone Way, from Aiel’s Way to his, and how the Dancers had brought him Light’s summons to come into Ma’al. The Swordsmen were wary at his mention of the Dancers, until he explained that they were the enemies of the Night Lords, the Dancers of Ma’al who had been corrupted by the Lords of Darkness, and were fully on the side of Light. “It is they who help us keep the link open, between myself and Whitestar here and Aren my brother and Moondancer in Li’is” he explained. It is because, as twins, our Perceptions are already more strongly linked than others’, and also because we have inherited our mother’s gift, to hear the Dancers’ Song. Only we three, of all Li’is, can hear it.” “They sing?” asked Saban. Zarel smiled “Oh yes, they sing! They are the Singers of the worlds, Saban – all save Ma’al, where the dark melodies of the Night Lords rule. Light made them to Dance among the worlds and set the rhythms of each one by their Song.” “There is much to learn and understand” remarked Corhan. “We must return to our people and prepare them for this Way that you take us on, Zarel. But I think you have more to teach us yet, about your world.”

He turned to Karis and Karlin and said “Swordsmen of Li’is, come a little way with us and we will show you where our guards will be, should you have need of them before we return. Zarel will be safe here.” Karis and Karlin followed Corhan and Saban to the cave entrance, and the Malani led them along the path on which the Swordsmen had first seen them. Once they rounded the curve, there was quite a growth of bushes and wild plants along the trail. They came to a place where there was another small hollow in the rock face, hardly large enough to be called a cave at all, partly concealed by the bushes, and Corhan stopped and said “Usually we send one of our men here to guard the approach to the Lightfriends’ place of refuge, more if we believe there is danger. While Zarel is there we will set extra guards.” “Thank you, Corhan” Karis said, speaking for them both. He was sure that Karlin felt, as he did, some relief that part of the responsibility for Zarel’s safety had been lifted from their shoulders, though they would not, because of that, relax their guard. They wished the Malani “Go in Light” as they turned away, and watched them till they turned another bend in the path. Turning back themselves towards Dorvai’s refuge, they were silent for a little, then Karlin said “It will be good to have Corhan and his Malani with us.” “That was my thought” Karis said. “For though we are sworn to protect Zarel, they will know the dangers here, and we do not.”

Karlin was about to reply when Karis suddenly made a sign to him to be silent. He thought he had seen a movement in the bushes ahead, and there was no wind to cause it. He signed again to Karlin, and the two Swordsmen quietly approached the bushes. Karis made a sudden dive into the undergrowth, and Karlin heard a cry, in what sounded like a female voice. Hurrying to help, he found Karis holding the wrist of a struggling figure, and caught her other wrist. Between them they got her out of the bushes, and found themselves with a frightened captive who begged them not to hurt her. The fact that the listener they had pulled from hiding was a girl, though, did not lessen the Swordsmen’s distrust. Dorvai had warned them of the deadly Hawks, riding the skies of Ma’al on their silent sail-wings. The girl was still pleading piteously, and Karis said “We will not harm you, maiden, but you must tell us why you were hiding there.” “Who are you, and what do you want?” challenged Karlin. The girl looked at them with frightened eyes. “I mean no harm. I thought you were pursuing me. I am – ” she hesitated, as if unsure whether to trust them, then said “I am seeking Lightfriends. My name is Sharamine.” “Are you a Child of Light?” Karlin asked, but she seemed afraid to reply. Karis said “Bring her to Zarel. He will know.” “Come” Karlin ordered the girl. She still looked scared, and her glance took in the sword at his side, but she followed them obediently. She was very quiet, and Karis, glancing sideways at her, thought that she looked unwell. She had a sweet, heart-shaped face, but it was thin and pale, not with a natural pallor, but with a yellowish tinge, as of fatigue or sickness. Her eyes too looked tired, smudged beneath with purple shadows, and her long, dark hair was dull, with no sheen to it. Perhaps, he thought, she was seeking the help of a Healer.

Zarel was awaiting them in the outer part of the cavern, standing alone, and turned at the sound of their approach. Karis still found himself sometimes looking round for Aren, for the twins were so much a single unit in his thought. He quickly explained the problem of Sharamine to Zarel, while Karlin kept her to one side. When Zarel approached her she looked at him, wonderingly. “What is wrong?” he asked her. “Nothing!” she said hastily. “But I have never seen one of the Lightfriends before. I had not seen the Eyes of Light.” To Karis, Karlin, and even Zarel himself, it was surprising that to the girl the Priest’s vivid blue eyes, the outward sign of his Perception, should be so strange and awesome. “How then do you know the way of Light, if you have never met a Lightfriend?” Zarel asked her. “It was told to me by a friend. We followed it together. But one day the Hawks took her. It has been lonely since.” Sharamine answered. Zarel took out the Lightstone, and the girl drew back. Karis thought how instinctive it was, in this world, for the Children of Light to see everything as a potential danger. Zarel said “This is the Lightstone. If you are a Child of Light, you need not fear it.” “The only stones I know of are those the Dark Ones bear” she answered. “You may not be a Lightfriend at all, but one of the Shape-Changers!” “Karlin, show her” Zarel said, and the Swordsman came to Zarel and stood quietly as the Lightstone was touched to his brow. The soft light flowed forth from the Stone and spilled over Karlin, and he smiled gently at the tender, reassuring peace that enfolded him. When the light withdrew, the joyous glow still lingered in his eyes as he turned and smiled at the girl. “You see, there is nothing to fear.”

Hesitantly still, she stepped forward to stand before Zarel, and he lifted the Lightstone again, and touched her brow. Again the light flowed out of the Stone, seeming to embrace the girl. As they watched, she bowed her head within the light, but she smiled softly too. When the light withdrew she looked at Zarel with awe. “Welcome, Child of Light” Zarel said. “Light finds you worthy.” It was evident that Sharamine could not yet speak. Her experience of Light had been too overwhelming. “Come with us” Zarel said, and they led her back along the twisting paths and through the caves and tunnels, to Dorvai and Whitestar. It was a tortuous path, by design, and by the time they reached the main cavern, it was obvious that the girl was flagging. Zarel said to the older Lightfriend “Dorvai, this maiden seeks our aid. The Lightstone says she is a Child of Light.” “What is your name, child?” Dorvai asked. “And what is your need?” “My name is Sharamine” the girl told him, and went on to explain that she had run away because her parents wished to sell her into an unwanted marriage with a man high in the ranks of Darkness, a man evil, cruel, perverted, who had happened to conceive a lust for her. Zarel, Karis and Karlin listened in disgust, but to Dorvai and Whitestar it seemed nothing unusual. Seeing their perturbation at Sharamine’s story, Dorvai explained the way of things in Ma’al. “Only we who belong to Light are wed as you would understand it, in the sight of Light, and our marriages, if known, would not be recognised by the authorities. It is nothing unusual for a girl to be sold by her parents to the highest bidder. Marriage for many is like a slavery; it can be broken at any time, but only by the man. Though it would not be true that every marriage is unhappy, yet many are.”

“But if not by Priests, how then are the people here married?” Karis asked. “By the Town-Master. A bracelet is sealed on the woman’s wrist, and can only be removed by another Town-Master, if the marriage is broken.” “It is a badge of ownership!” the girl Sharamine said bitterly. Her eyes were very bright now; a nervous brightness, or a feverish one, it seemed to Karis. “We will shelter you” said Whitestar. “Yes” said Dorvai. “And we must find means to keep you safe from pursuit. I know of the man you mean, and he is not lightly crossed. He will search for you.” “We have the Lightstone to protect us” Whitestar said. “And Sharamine must join us on this Way.” “Still, I will send word to Corhan for his people to be on the lookout for his mercenaries” Dorvai said. “Come” said Whitestar to Sharamine “I will show you a place where you may rest. You look so tired.” She put one arm gently round the other girl’s shoulders, and to their surprise Sharamine cried out, as if Whitestar’s arm had been red-hot, and collapsed. Fortunately, Karis was standing in front of her and was able to catch her. As he did so, his hand touched her back, under her cloak, and he was shocked to feel bare flesh and a sticky wetness. Karlin helped him lower the girl gently, and when he looked at his hand, he found to his horror that it was covered with blood. Whitestar took off the concealing cloak, and they saw that the back of Sharamine’s gown had been ripped open, and the flesh was criss-crossed with the bloody weals of a harsh beating. Karis was outraged. “What animal has done this?” he demanded. Dorvai looked at him sadly. “Her father, probably, because she rebelled at the marriage he planned for her.” “Her father?” Karis said, unbelieving. He could not conceive it. Could his cousin, Janir, have beaten Lira or Janna so, or his brother Mellin thus abused Mella? It was unthinkable. Whitestar said “The ways of Ma’al are ways of Darkness, Karis. You come from a world of Light. How can you understand?” “You are right, I do not understand!” Karis said, angrily. “I had heard of Darkness, but this world … ah, no wonder Light judges it!” “Be careful, Karis” Dorvai warned. “Yes, Ma’al is under judgement – but Light is the judge, not you.” Karis seemed about to speak again, but stopped, and bowed his head in acknowledgement of the truth of Dorvai’s words. “The maiden should be tended” Zarel reminded them, and Dorvai agreed, adding “Swordsmen, bring her to my Healing Place.” Karis and Karlin, between them, gently lifted the fainting girl and, careful not to touch her damaged back, carried her after the Lightfriend.

Zarel almost turned to speak to Aren before he remembered that his twin was not there. His eyes met Whitestar’s, and he knew she Perceived what he was feeling. “You too?” she asked, and sighed “I am so lonely for Moondancer.” “And I for Aren. It is as one half of me is gone.” “I know” the girl answered. “Oh Zarel, I am glad you are here. No one but you would understand so well.” She glanced at the Lightstone, reached out and touched its silvery chain. “And this is our only link with them.” Zarel glanced down at the softly glowing Stone , and quoted from the Secret Word “Two and two and times and time, out of their place, but all for good.” “Is that your prophecy?” asked Whitestar. “The Secret Word, it is called” he told her. “That is part of it, yours and mine, Moondancer’s and Aren’s.” “Two and two?” she asked again. “That is us?” “Yes” he answered. There was time, now, for sharing, and he recited the whole of the Secret Word to her, then explained it. “The first part, about the Lightstone – that was the word for Aiel my grandfather and his friend Lin. Lak, the Black Piper, was a Shape-Changer and host to a Lord of Darkness, who brought a Bloodstone into Li’is fro Ma’al. He deceived Aiel into giving him a pass to the Dancers’ Gate…” he went on to tell the tale of the Lightstone Way, the part played by the ‘treasures of the mountains’ Arentha and Krystha, of the successful conclusion of the Way and the marriages of Aiel and Arentha, Lin and Krystha. “And the soul divided?” Whitestar questioned further. “Whose Way was that?” “Si-Mara, the Silver Witch, Priestess of the Night Temple, bore a child by Lak, because she was also out of Ma’al. The child was a daughter, Marla. She was sent away to the East, to be reared among the Children of Darkness. But because Aiel had encountered Si-Mara while she was pregnant, and searched her with the Lightstone, Light in mercy planted a seed of Light in the unborn babe. When she was grown, Si-Mara brought her back to the City to serve Darkness, to become another Bloodstone-wielder. But Marla chose Light. She ran away from Si-Mara, seeking Aiel’s help. That was the second Way, for the Choice of Light was not enough for her. She had to be taken safely to the Dancers, to be Changed.”

“How, Changed?” asked Whitestar, fascinated with the story. Zarel replied “Aiel, Aila my aunt, who is Perception-gifted, and Arenel my father met at the Gatehouse with a Spirit-in-Light summoned by the Dancers. Only with the Shining One sharing his Perception could Aiel help Marla to reject every Darkness within her, and free her of her Dark heritage. And even after that, they had to take her to the Dancers on the Meeting Place, so that the Dancers could sing to her. My mother said that Marla’s body had to be sung out of tune with the Darkness of Ma’al and into tune with Li’is and Light.” “Was your mother there too, then?” “Yes, she helped the Dancers, because she was the only one in all Li’is who could hear their Song, and sing it to Marla so that she heard it too. Now, though, Aren and I can also hear it, for we have inherited her gift. That is why this is our Way, since we need to hear the Dancers to make the Gate that will lead us out of Ma’al and into Li’is.” “But did Marla’s Way succeed?” Whitestar queried, a little anxiously. “Oh yes! By the mercy of Light, she was freed of all Darkness and became a Child of Light, and a daughter of Li’is. She destroyed the Bloodstone she was intended to wield. And she married Mellin, Lin’s son. She is Karlin’s mother.” Whitestar gave a sigh of contentment. “Oh, that is a beautiful story! I am glad it ended happily for Marla, Zarel.”

Meanwhile Karis and Karlin had carried the unconscious girl to the Healing Place and laid her, on Dorvai’s instructions, on a makeshift couch made on a rocky shelf, so that the Lightfriend could tend her wounded back. Karlin held the lamp that Dorvai gave him to light his work. Karis surprised Dorvai by deftly supplying him with a bowl of water, soft cloths, and the appropriate herbs from the Healer’s bench. “Our mothers are Healers, mine and Karlin’s” he said, in answer to Dorvai’s questioning look. Dorvai stirred the dried herbs into the water, giving them time to infuse, then soaked cloths in the liquid and began to gently cleanse away the blood from Sharamine’s wounds. After a while he said “This is not her first beating. Look.” The Swordsmen leaned forward and saw that beneath the raw, bruised whipmarks were other wounds, half-healed, and underlying even those, the thin, white, fading scars of other beatings. Karlin said sadly “This maiden must be about of an age with my Janna. How could anyone, least of all her father, so misuse such an innocent?” Dorvai answered “She has been cruelly treated, it is true. But it may have been done as much out of fear as anger.” “Fear?” Karis queried. “As I said, I know of the man she spoke of, the man who wanted her. He is powerful in the ranks of Darkness, and ruthless in obtaining anything he wants. It may well be that he has threatened Sharamine’s father, her family, to force her to wed him. And since she refused, no doubt they fear the consequences, and have tried to beat her into submission.” The subject of their conversation was stirring now, and Dorvai bent to whisper to her reassuringly, and help her to sit up. She grimaced with pain as he applied a salve to her wounds, but made no sound of complaint. Afterwards he gave her a draught to ease her pain, and told her “Rest now, and recover your strength. You are safe here, with the Lightstone and these Swordsmen to protect you.” Sharamine gave them a weak smile and thanked them. Leaving her in the Healing Place, they made their way back to the main cavern. By now Varine, Kira, and little Kilmo had rejoined them, and Dorvai gave Varine the news of her husband’s impending return, drawing a glad little exclamation from her. “When Naton has returned and Corhan has spoken to the Malani, we must begin to plan how to move on from here. But first we must gather the followers of Light” Dorvai said. “Zarel, you said the Dancers told you the Lightstone would draw them to you?” “Yes, though I am not sure how, for now. Yet maybe ” the Lightstone-Bearer said, suddenly thoughtful, ” this maiden, Sharamine, was the first to be called.”

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.

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