AN END OF DARKNESS

Chapter 5

Now Dorvai said “Zarel, you need to learn the disciplines we use to hold the Darkness at the back of our Perception. Whitestar will show you.” Whitestar led Zarel to the Prayer Place and, as Dorvai had instructed, they linked Perceptions so she could share the disciplines with him. It was difficult for Zarel at first, but Whitestar patiently showed him what to do, how to build the mind-barrier that kept the Darkness at bay, until he understood. Then she withdrew her Perception and let him try. It still cost him a little struggle, but eventually he succeeded. Whitestar told him “You will need to do that whenever you feel the Darkness threatening to overwhelm you.” “Thank you, Whitestar” he said, then “Will you make the Thought-without-Words with me, so that we can contact Aren and Moondancer? I would like to tell them about the Malani. I know Karlin’s betrothed, Janna, fears for him, and it might ease her mind to know there are others to protect us.” “Oh, yes!” she exclaimed “And I would like to know how Moondancer fares in your world.” They joined their Perceptions again and reached out to Aren and Moondancer. The two were with the others at the house by the Harbour, sharing a meal, but stopped suddenly and looked at each other as they felt the touch of their twins’ Perceptions. Aiel, Arenel and Aila too felt the pull of the Thought-without-Words, and joined the link.

The rest of them waited while the Perception-gifted communicated. When the link was broken, the others left it to Aren and Moondancer to pass on what Zarel and Whitestar had to say. “It is well with them” Aren told them. “Whitestar has taught Zarel how to overcome the pressure of the Darkness in Ma’al. And they have met a new people, the Malani. Their Lord told Zarel that they are all Children of Light, and their Swordsmen are the protectors of the Lightfriends, from ancient times. He said there were two peoples who guarded the Lightfriends then, but the Ketai – our people, Mother! – came into Li’is with the First Lightfriends, while the Malani stayed to guard the Lightfriends who volunteered to stay in Ma’al and keep the service of Light alive there. So another old legend is true.” Janna exclaimed “Oh, praise Light! Karlin and Karis will not have to defend Zarel alone!” Surprised, Moondancer said “You did not know of the Malani? I thought since you knew the Ketai … oh, I am sorry! If I had known, I could have told you they were our defenders, and perhaps you would have been less anxious for Zarel and the Swordsmen.” Janna smiled at her “You could not have known, Moondancer. This world is as strange to you as Ma’al is to them. No doubt Whitestar has concerns for you too.” She sighed. “I do have faith in my spirit, that Light will keep them safe, but my heart is human, and I cannot help but be anxious for Karlin – and the others, of course – until he is safely back with me.”

In the Prayer Place, Whitestar said “I am glad that it is well with Moondancer. It is still all so strange to her, but she is in the world of Light, and everyone has been so kind to her.” Zarel said “Aren will look after her”. “I know” she smiled. He was still holding the Lightstone in his hands, for they had used it to augment their link with the others. Now he felt his gaze drawn to it, and called Whitestar to make the link again, feeling something was about to happen. As she linked Perceptions with him and he gazed into the Lightstone, suddenly it was as if their joined Perceptions soared out over the lands around them. He heard her gasp, as it seemed the world of Ma’al grew misty black before their gaze. Everything was shrouded in Darkness, but then they began to see, here and there, pinpricks of light, some singly, some in groups. Zarel realised that they were seeing the world of Ma’al as Light saw it, a world of Darkness but with some seeds of Light. The tiny lights they could see must be the Lightfriends and Children of Light of Ma’al. And though they were only a very small part of the people of Ma’al, still there were more than Zarel had thought.

Then they were back in the Prayer Place, the link broken. But Zarel still held the Lightstone in his hands, and now it was not drawing him, but quietly pulsing, from soft to bright and back again. He had never seen the Stone behave like this, and wondered what was happening. Whitestar said softly “It is true that all Light’s Children are known to Light. That is what we saw!” Her words stirred an idea in his mind, and he replied “Look at the Lightstone, Whitestar. It is not calling me, but I was told that it would draw the Children of Light. I have never seen it do this before. Maybe that is what it is doing, calling to the Children of Light in Ma’al.” They both watched the Stone, until at last the light faded back to a small spark again. Zarel asked “If the Children of Light are called, will they come here? Do they know the way?” Whitestar answered “All Light’s followers in Ma’al know where they can find refuge, at need. If the Lightstone is calling them, they will go to those places, here, or in other places where the Lightfriends are.” “Then we must tell the other Lightfriends” Zarel said. “I have not had time yet to make plans for this journey, Whitestar. I had not thought to contact them. “Naton should be back by this evening” she told him. “We can all join together at Evening Prayers and make the Thought-without-Words. We often do that, so that we can share our prayer needs.” “Is Naton a Lightfriend too, then?” Zarel asked, since Dorvai had said only that Naton was Varine’s husband. “Oh yes. My father is our leader – like your High Priest, I suppose. But Naton is next – he would take charge if anything should happen to my father.” She shivered a little as she said it, and he said “Do not fear, Whitestar, we shall bring your father safely into Li’is, by the mercy of Light.” She smiled at him for that, and said “We should tell him what we saw, I think.” “Yes, I would like him to know” Zarel replied, feeling that Dorvai too would be blessed by the revelation.

At the house by the Harbour the meal had finished, and discussions resumed. Although they knew that Zarel and the others would not be setting out yet, Aiel and Lin thought it best that those who would be travelling to the Meeting Place in Li’is should leave as soon as they were ready. Only the Priesthood and the Council-at-Need, for now, knew of the purpose of their journey, and since those people of Li’is who actually believed in its existence associated Ma’al, rightly, with Darkness, they did not intend to make that knowledge public, as yet. Once the refugees from Ma’al had been safely transferred to Li’is, their story could be told. Meanwhile it would be as well for those who would receive them to be ready at the Gatehouse, waiting. Others of the Priesthood, and their helpers, would make their own way there, and Janir and the Kets would lead the Westerners. The Way-Sharers’ party would be large but not, perhaps, unusual-seeming. A Priestly family travelling with two other families,especially since most of the party would be female, could easily be taken for a group setting out to a wedding or other family celebration, and cause no suspicion that anything out of the ordinary was happening. “The Dancers said Healers would be needed there too, so we will be of use” Mella remarked. Moondancer queried “Are you all Healers? Is that your family’s craft?” Krystha laughed. “It all began with me, Moondancer! I trained Aila and Marla, and they have trained their daughters and Rentha in turn. It is always a useful craft to have.”

“And there will be safe places to stay, on this journey?” the girl asked, anxiously. “Of course!” Aren told her. “We can stay at the Faring Houses, or in the villages. But even if we need to camp in the open, you will be safe, Moondancer. You are in Li’is now.” She sighed “I forgot!” Looking round at them, she continued “Forgive me if I am fearful, I am not used to being in a world that is safe. All our lives Whitestar and I have had to hide from danger, and from childhood we were taught where the safe places were and that we should never go outside them. Only once were we caught in a place of danger – and that one time cost our mother’s life!” They exclaimed in horror and sympathy, and she went on ” We were small, and the Hawks came on us suddenly outside . She hid us, but because she stopped to hide us, she could not escape herself, and the Hawks took her.” She shuddered, and there were tears in her eyes, but then she said “But still, it was better that the Hawks took her than that she fell into the hands of the Dark Lords’ mercenaries. The Hawks would kill her quickly, but the mercenaries…” She stopped speaking for a moment and covered her eyes. Rentha came quickly and hugged her, saying “Oh, Moondancer, I am so sorry!” The other girl said “I know she has touched Light, and we shall meet again in the Joyous Place, but sometimes it is hard, remembering. Aiel said, gently, “I know something of what you feel, Moondancer. I too lost my mother when I was young, though not to an enemy – she died in childbirth. But still, I understand.”

As Rentha released Moondancer from her comforting embrace, Aren reached out and took the girl’s hand. His Perception flashed his sympathy and sorrow to hers, and he felt her grateful response. But he was thinking – though he kept the thought well-guarded from her Perception – what kind of life the Lightfriends of Ma’al must live, when the choice could come down to which manner of death was kinder. Arenel said “You have suffered a great deal in Ma’al. Moondancer. You need not fear any more, though, for you will never return there.” Moondancer looked at him as if she did not understand, and Aren said, encouragingly, “My father speaks truly, Moondancer. Li’is is your world now. And Whitestar and your father and all the Lightfriends and Children of Light who remain in Ma’al will join you here, when Zarel’s Way is completed. None of you will have to dread the Darkness again.” She looked almost fearful as she exclaimed “I had not thought that I would not return, when Whitestar and my father are still there.” “But not for long” Aiel told her. “They will come to you here. Trust Light and the Lightstone. I was Lightstone-Bearer for many years, before it passed to Zarel, and I know its power to defeat Darkness. Aren is right, you need not fear for them.” “You are right also, Aiel, I must trust them to Light” she answered. They returned to the subject of their journey, and Mellin asked if Moondancer was used to riding. “I have ridden, but not much” she answered. “We do not have many horses, and they are kept for times when it is necessary to travel further to meet with those who serve Light. We do not make many journeys.” “We will find you a suitable mount” Mellin said. “And since we can take our time over the journey, you will grow used to it.”

Zarel and Whitestar had found Dorvai and told him what the Lightstone had shown them, and how Zarel believed it had called to the Children of Light. He agreed that it was necessary to make the Thought-without-Words to inform the other Lightfriends of Ma’al, since they did not know, yet, about the Lightstone Way, and their part in it. “There will be much for them to understand” he said. They had returned to the main cave to join the others, to find Karis playing with little Kilmo, who had taken a liking to him, no doubt in part because of the honeycake. Karis was happy enough to amuse the little one for a while and give the tired young mother some space for herself. Karlin was watching, relaxed, but ready for action if necessary. Whitestar said “I will go and see how it is with Sharamine” , and left them. Karlin, hearing a movement nearby, swung round with his hand ready to draw his sword, but relaxed again as he saw the eyes of the man who entered and recognised him for a Lightfriend. The man, too, seemed wary for a moment, but then, seeing Dorvai with them, was reassured. Varine, who had also been watching Karis and Kilmo, turned and hurried to the newcomer with a glad cry of “Naton! Praise Light!” Naton embraced his wife, then said “All is well, Dorvai, though I have had a strange message on my way back. The Children of Light have sent word that they feel called of Light to join us here. I do not understand.””Zarel, here, will explain” Dorvai answered, and Naton looked at the Lightstone-Bearer, and asked “A new Lightfriend? Where have you come from, brother? And what have you to tell me?”

Zarel stepped forward and replied “Naton, I am the Lightstone-Bearer – see, here is the Lightstone.” He paused to lift the Lightstone on its chain and show it to Naton, then continued “I have come out of Li’is with these two Swordsmen, Karis and Karlin, who are my kin, at the bidding of Light…” As he went on to tell of the coming judgement of Ma’al, and how Light had sent him to find the Children of Light left in Ma’al and bring them to safety in Li’is, Naton listened intently. Zarel could Perceive that the Lightfriend was astonished, but believed what he said, and trusted in Light. Zarel concluded by telling Naton of how he had been promised that the Lightstone would draw the Children of Light to him, and of what he and Whitstar had witnessed in the Prayer Place. “Your friends have felt the call of the Lightstone” he added, “and that is why they are coming here.” Naton said slowly “That is a great deal to understand, Zarel, Lightstone-Bearer! So much I thought just legend is true – the Lightstone, the World of Light – and now you say we are to be taken to your Li’is?” “So Light wills it” Zarel said. “For Light is just, and will not let the innocent perish with the guilty. All Children of Light are welcome in Li’is. Your Brothers-in-Light of the Priesthood will be glad to have the Lightfriends of Ma’al among them.” “And you are a Priest?” Naton asked. “I am. We are descended from the first Lightfriends who came into Li’is in the First Days. My grandfather, Aiel, who was Lightstone-Bearer before me, is High Priest of the Temple of Light in our City, and many of us serve there, but the Priesthood serve Light all over Li’is, also. Some keep the Faring Houses and all have a Soul-Watch. And the Gatekeeper keeps the Dancers’ Gate, the way to the Meeting Place, where we shall be taken out of Ma’al.” “The Li’is is a very different world to Ma’al!” Naton exclaimed. “It will be your world, soon” Zarel assured him.

Dorvai had stood by while Zarel explained everything to Naton, but now he said “After the Evening Prayers, we must send the Thought-without-Words to the Lightfriends, to explain all this. For the Children of Light will be drawn to the places of refuge, and all must join us on this Way, to reach the place to which Zarel leads us. We have access to the Priesthood of Li’is, also, through the link which Zarel and Whitestar have with Moondancer and Zarel’s twin. They will help us in this, at need.” Naton nodded agreement, looking thoughtful. It seemed he was still pondering what he had been told. Whitestar returned, to tell them that Sharamine was sleeping peacefully. Zarel was surprised that the girl could sleep, when her back was so wounded by the beating she had received. “It will not feel so sore, though, with the salves and draught Dorvai gave her” said Karlin. Karis added “And she looked exhausted when we met her. No doubt she had a long journey here, and in fear all the time, and in pain…she must have been so tired. Now she is safe, the tiredness has probably overtaken her.” Karlin said “I fear many of the Children of Light will have a long journey, also, to reach us. I do believe that the Lightstone calls them, Zarel, but I pray Light will keep them safe. This is a perilous world for those who serve Light!” Naton told him “We are well used to the perils of Ma’al, Swordsman. The Children of Light know the places of refuge, and the secret paths to find them. And if any should be lost, they will touch Light. We will not be afraid, knowing we are doing as Light wills.” “We have the Malani, too” added Dorvai. “They are faithful in guarding us, as they have the Lightfriends of Ma’al all through the centuries. Though all the Malani will need to join us, not just the Swordsmen. The women of the Malani will fight too, at need, but there are still the elderly, the children, and those who are infirm or will find it difficult to travel. Corhan’s sister, Daria, is expecting a child, and I do not think she is the only one.” “Light has not told me that there is any need of speed” Zarel said “since Light is patient, and knows all things. We will arrive at the Meeting Place at the right time. You said that you have places of refuge along the way?” “We have, but only as far as the Seacoast Town. Beyond that it is open country, and you say we must travel through it to find this Meeting Place. That is where the most danger will lie.”

In the City, discussions concluded, Aiel and his family, with Moondancer, walked back through the streets to the Temple. Moondancer still seemed nervous, though those with Perception could sense her fear diminishing. Aren thought to himself that a lifetime of having to hide from danger, even for a Lightfriend with faith in Light, must leave some mark on the spirit, and then there was what she had told them of the loss of her mother. He felt a great compassion for the girl, and her sister, who was still facing the dangers of Ma’al. That fact must be a strain for Moondancer, for he also felt very concerned for his twin Zarel in that dark world, though he was the Lightstone-Bearer. It had been decided that all of them who were travelling to the Gatehouse would meet at the Temple the next day and make their way up to the Fortress. Moondancer asked now, having evidently not wished to question Mellin directly, “We are going to the Fortress – are there mercenaries there?” It was Aiel who answered her. “There are no mercenaries in Li’is, Moondancer. Swordsmen, yes, but our Swordsmen are loyal to Light, and their Lord. They do not sell their swords.” Remembering what the Dancers had told Zarel, Aren, and especially Karis and Karlin, of the mercenaries of Ma’al, he could understand her concern. He added, wishing to be honest with her “There are the Children of Night, those few who remain now that the Night Temple is destroyed, but with no leader they should not be a danger.” The girl-Priest said “Thank you, Aiel. Lightfriends I trust, but with others trust does not come easily to me, even in Li’is.” Aren said “We understand that, Moondancer. As you told us, all your life you have been in danger from the people of Ma’al. It is not a thing you can readily overcome.” Rentha added “I think you are like a bird that has been shut up in a cage, Moondancer. Now that the cage door is opened, you still cannot quite believe that you can fly free.” Moondancer smiled at the Healer, and said “You put it well, Rentha. I think that is just how it is with me.” “You will learn to find your wings” Aren told her. “Light will teach you.”

When they left the next day, Moondancer did seem less wary and more interested in her surroundings. Aiel, Arentha, Lin and Krystha stood on the Temple steps, having given their blessings, watching the new Way-Sharers set off, and Aiel said quietly “I am thankful that they, at least, have no Darkness to face. It is enough that Zarel, Karis and Karlin must travel through Ma’al.” Lin remarked “How long ago it was, Aiel my brother, that we sat on these steps and Shipfather Renn came to ask for prayer. And we did not know then that that was the start of the Way that has led now to this. The ways of Light are beyond our understanding.” The riders heading for the Fortress passed through the Northern Gate of the City and were soon crossing the Plain of Blossoms, starred with the earliest of the Spring flowers. Moondancer remarked on how beautiful it was. “There is little enough in Ma’al that is beautiful” she added. “There are no flowers?” asked Aila, surprised. “Some wild blossoms, in the rough places” the girl-Priest answered, “but the Dark Ones take no delight in gardens. Good land, to them, is for crops, or beasts, for profit. What beauty there was in Ma’al has long ago been cut down or ploughed up or built over.” They rode into the Forest and followed the White River to the Axehead Rock. Mellin told Moondancer “That rock marks our boundary, though City and Mountain are one in heart and faith since the time of Brann and Tamorine.” As they went on, they began to hear the rushing thunder of the Falls of Vandar, and Moondancer, ready to be frightened again, asked what was that noise. “It is the Falls of Vandar” Aren told her. “Nothing to fear.” Soon enough they came to the Falls, and Moondancer could see the tumbling waters for herself. She was awed by the sight, then pointed to the rough-hewn steps of Tamran’s Stairway, at the side of the Falls. “What is that?” Mellin laughed “That is the difficult way to reach the Fortress, but it is a useful means of getting there unobserved. It need not concern you, though, we shall keep to the road.” This they did, and soon came to the Fortress Level. Moondancer seemed surprised at the size of the Fortress, so familiar to the others.

“I thought it would be just a stronghold” she said. “It is a stronghold” Marla told her. “It has grown over centuries and now is more like a small town. But still its main purpose has always been to keep the Spearcleft Pass, and protect the Mountains and the City and the Temple from any enemies that might come that way.” Aren told her “When we are settled in the Fortress, I will show you the view from its walls. You can see to the City and the Harbour, and all around, It is a good vantage point.” They passed through the gates of the Fortress, past the Watchwards, and Moondancer looked around in wonder at the Fortress, its many outbuildings, and busy courtyard. “It is like a town, as you said!” she told Marla. Inside the Great Hall they seated themselves round the main table while refreshments were brought, and Marla went to see to sleeping arrangements for them all. Trenn, the Priest of the Fortress, apprised, as all the Priesthood had been, of the new Way, came to meet Moondancer and welcome her to Li’is. Aren and Arenel knew him well, and were happy to introduce him to Moondancer. She, still learning the ways of the Priesthood of Li’is, asked “The Fortress has its own Lightfriend?” “Yes” Trenn answered, “and Prayer Room.” Naturally, she asked to see the Prayer Room, so the three Priests took her there. She took in the room, with its benches and miniature of the Temple Crucible, and bowed her head for a while. The others were silent, respecting her time of prayer. When she looked up again, she asked “Are there other places like this in Li’is?” “Wherever there are Priests – Lightfriends” Aren explained, “and the Priesthood serves throughout Li’is.” “We have so few Places of Prayer in Ma’al, and they must be carefully concealed” Moondancer said. Trenn commented “The Lightfriends of Ma’al have much to bear, yet you stay faithful to Light and still try to turn the people of Ma’al to Light. And it has been so since the first Lightfriends came to us here in Li’is. I praise Light for your steadfastness and admire your strength.” “It is Light that gives us strength and courage” Moondancer replied. “We could do nothing in our own strength.”

In Ma’al the new day had brought the arrival of the Children of Light known to Naton, escorted by the Malani. It was a group of around twenty people, not counting young children. There was an older couple who seemed to be leaders and explained to Naton how, after he had left them, they had all of them felt a call from Light that they should travel to the hiding place and so, obeying thought they did not know why they were called, they had left in ones and twos and family groups so as not to arouse suspicion, gathering together when they were at a safe distance and knew that the Malani would be near to help them. “The call of Light was strong” explained the man, whose name was Lamak, “and since Naton, when he was with us, had said nothing, we felt there must be some sudden danger.” Beria, his wife, added “We were concerned that we might have been betrayed. Is there peril?” Dorvai told them “There is peril for the Dark Ones, not for the Children of Light.” He indicated Zarel, standing beside him with Whitestar, and told them “This is Zarel, the Lightstone-Bearer. He will explain.” Thus called on, Zarel stepped forward and told the group all that had happened since the Dancers had come to him, Aren and Aiel in the Temple, and he had become the Lightstone-Bearer. He explained the Secret Word and the part played by Whitestar and Moondancer, and he told them of how the Lightstone had called them to the journey they must take, and how they would pass through the Dancers’ Gate into Li’is to escape the destruction of Ma’al. He knew it was a tale he would have to tell many times, as more Children of Light joined them. When he had finished the telling, he looked round at their faces, registering many different emotions. He knew there would be questions, but first, to reassure them, he drew out the Lightstone and showed them, then called each of them in turn to receive the Lightstone’s touch, even the little children. The Lightstone, he knew, would enable them to face the task ahead.

Lamak and the others were awed by the Lightstone but, Zarel saw gladly, blessed and strengthened by its touch, as he had expected. Lamak said “You say it was the Lightstone itself that called us here?” “Yes” Zarel answered “I did not know myself, when Light appointed me to this Way, how I might gather the Children of Light from Ma’al, but the Dancers told me that Light would draw you to me. I was concerned that some might be missed, but now I am assured that all will be called.” He introduced them to Karis and Karlin, who had stood quietly by while the Lightstone-Bearer explained everything to the Children of Light, and Sharamine, who had recovered some strength after her rest, and come to join the others. “We will need to move on from here to the next place of refuge” Dorvai said “now that you have all joined us.” Karis asked “There are no more to come?” “No, not from our area” Lamak said. “The followers of Light are few, Swordsman.” Beria asked “How will we find food for everyone? We could not bring much with us, so as not to arouse suspicion, and there is little enough to forage for at this time of year.” Dorvai said “That is no problem, praise Light! We are well-supplied. The Lightstone-Bearer and these Swordsmen have brought us gifts sent by our Brothers-in-Light in Li’is. We were even able to send some on ahead with our friends. Light has prepared for every need. We will prepare today, and set out tomorrow.” “But how will we move so many, if there is danger of being observed?” asked Karlin. “We will go with our friends, the Malani” Dorvai said. “Like the Ketai of whom you told us, they too travel around and camp in various places. They are a good cover for us, and the other people of Ma’al do not concern themselves much with the Malani.” Zarel, curious, asked “How do the Malani move camp, then? My mother’s people, the Ketai, have special carts to move their travelling tents and possessions.” Dorvai told him “The Malani have established their ways over many centuries. Their tents are light but strong, and can be drawn by their horses on frames woven of thin branches. They keep to the high ground and forests, where carts would be a hindrance. When they reach one of their camping places they know where to find other materials to make their camp more secure. And because they keep to the wild places the people, and more importantly the Lords, of Ma’al take little interest in them. They are considered a wild, strange people, and they encourage that belief, for it ensures that they are undisturbed.” “And able to render us their service as our guardians, without suspicion” added Naton.

The Malani who had escorted the travellers, three young Swordsmen, had been standing by, and one of them now laughed, and said “That is true! We are not considered important enough to trouble the Dark Lords, praise Light!” The second Malani said “Our Lord Corhan has all underway. We are packing up camp and will be ready to move by tomorrow. It will not do for this place to be known, so we will come to escort you to join us.” “We will be ready” Dorvai said, and Zarel told them “Take our thanks to Corhan, for his help.” “We will tell him” said the third Malani . “But it is our pleasure to serve Light – and you, Lightstone-Bearer.” When the Malani had left, Dorvai and Zarel gathered all of them together to plan their preparations for the journey. They could take nothing that was not essential, but as the newcomers had brought no possessions with them, that was not an issue. Most of them could make the journey on foot, leaving the few horses they had to carry the children and the supplies they would need as they travelled. Sharamine, though, was concerned. “I am afraid that that man may send his mercenaries after me” she said “and then I would endanger you all. Perhaps I should not go with you.” “You are a Child of Light” Zarel told her. “Light would not have you go back to be possessed by the Dark Ones!” “We will be safe with the Malani” Dorvai said. “You need not fear, child.” “But he was so determined to have me!” Sharamine exclaimed. Dorvai, looking thoughtful, said “There is one sure way to protect Sharamine.” “Which is?” Karis asked. “If she were married, he could not claim her” answered Dorvai. The girl looked up, her dark eyes scared. “What do you mean, Lightfriend? How could I be married? I will not be tied to any that serve Darkness!” “One of our young men?” asked Whitestar. “They are outlaw. They dare not enter the towns. But these Swordsmen might.” “I could not ask that” Sharamine said. “It would not be a true marriage” Dorvai explained. “When we are far enough away and you are safe it could be broken again. It would only be for your protection.” He looked questioningly at Karis and Karlin. Karis said “Karlin is betrothed. I will do it.” And scarcely knew why, except his admiration of Sharamine’s courage and his anger at the way she had been treated.

“Is it safe?” asked Whitestar. “He does not look so much like a man of Ma’al.” “It will not matter” Dorvai said. “So long as the Hawks do not scent him as an outlaw, they will not care.” “But where will we find wedding clothes for the maiden?” Karlin asked. He was thinking of his lovely Janna and their future wedding day, and was shocked when Sharamine laughed harshly and exclaimed “Wedding clothes? No, drag me to the Town-Master as I am – ripped gown, whip-weals and all – and he will be more likely to believe in this ‘marriage’!” “Sharamine is right” Dorvai said. “Let her appear an unwilling bride. The Town-Master will be more convinced.” So it was decided that they would travel with the Malani and when they reached the next suitable town, Karis should take Sharamine before the Town-Master, and they would be – by the law of Ma’al – married. This settled, they went to make the Evening Prayers, and after, sat by the low-burning fire and ate their meal. Later, when all the preparations had been made for the next day’s departure, the fire had been dampened down and they were making their way towards the sleeping places, Karis found his way blocked by Sharamine. “Why will you do this thing for me, Karis?” she demanded. “I am a Swordsman of Li’is” he answered her. “I do what I feel Light and my honour would have me do. I abhor the way you have been treated, and wish to keep you safe.” She looked at him, wide-eyed and serious. “Your Li’is must be a wonderful world” she said, and turned back towards her sleeping place without further comment.

Next morning they were all ready when Saban and others of the Malani arrived to take them along the trail Karis and Karlin had followed when they met Sharamine, and further on to the place where Corhan’s people had been camping. Corhan was waiting to greet them, and a woman was standing there too, the first Malani woman they had seen. She was obviously pregnant, but still moved with a stately grace, and she was so like Corhan that they guessed her identity before he introduced her. “My sister, Daria, Saban’s wife.” The Malani were ready to move, their tents, as Dorvai had said, on the sprung frames drawn by horses, other horses carrying belongs, and the people interested and excited by what they had been told about their journey. Zarel took out the Lightstone and showed them all, drawing exclamations of wonder, before imparting its blessing to the gathered people. There were many Malani, and a good number of them were Swordsmen, giving the travellers a sense of security. Once Zarel had used the Lightstone, Corhan ordered them all into a column, hiding the Children of light and the Lightfriends in the middle. Dorvai, Zarel and Whitestar, though, he kept at the head of the column alongside him and Saban, with Karis and Karlin there also, to guard Zarel. Other Swordsmen of the Malani took charge of the rear and flanks of the column, and they set off.

Dorvai and Corhan had said that the Malani kept to the wild places, and that was true. In places their path was difficult indeed, and Zarel, Karis and Karlin could see why the Malani used the light, strong frames instead of carts to carry their tents. They went at a steady pace, not slow, but not too fast for the least able, though all the Malani, even the oldest and youngest, seemed well used to walking. After a morning’s trek they stopped for a meal, seating themselves in orderly groups, then continued until at last they reached the top of a forested rise. The place was evidently well known to tha Malani, and Corhan led the travellers in deep among the trees until they reached a glade, with a stream, and signs that it had been used as a camp site before. Here they stopped and quickly the tents were unloaded and set up, water fetched from the stream, fires built, and in what seemed like very little time at all, the camp was ready. Zarel was reminded of the camps of the wandering herders on the Plateau of the Westerners, also set up with quick efficiency. It was not until they had reached this place of refuge that it was deemed safe to proceed with their plan for Sharamine. There was a town within reach, across the farmlands below the hill, large enough to be under the control of a Town-Master, but not so large that there was any danger of mercenaries being quartered there, or the presence of anyone of high rank in Darkness.

Dorvai explained to Karis what he must do to make his sham marriage with Sharamine. Karlin could accompany him, as Zarel would be safe with the Malani, and Corhan and Saban would go too, as guides.”And you are sure you are not known as the Lightfriends’ protectors?” Karis asked. Corhan laughed. “No! Or we would not venture near the towns. As we told you, by the other people of Ma’al we are seen only a a strange, uncouth people who live in the wild and only visit their towns to trade – and we encourage them to think so. But it would not seem unlikely to them that you could have enlisted our help in obtaining an unwilling bride, for they have a very low opinion of us.” Zarel, thinking of the ordered ways of the House of Records in Li’is, asked “Will not Karis be asked for some identification?” Dorvai replied “He need only give a name, and a town, for himself and Sharamine – let him name Sharamine’s town for himself also, then it will seem more likely that he has carried her off from there.” “That is all?” Karis asked, amazed at the laxity of it all. “Do they not need Sharamine’s consent?” “She is there with you to be married. That is her consent.” Dorvai answered, a little sadly, Karis felt.

Still, it was with much trepidation, and a sense of relief that Corhan and Saban were there to guide them through it all, that Karis and Karlin set off with Sharamine the next morning, on horses provided by the Malani. It was not too far to the town, and Corhan, enquiring the location of the Town-Master from one of its inhabitants, received surly but accurate directions. Karis’ heart was in his mouth as, having tethered their mounts, the five of them went up the steps of the Town Building to appear before the Town-Master, though Corhan had coached him to ‘seem confident – even arrogant!” Karlin wisely kept silent, leaving all to the Malani. The Town-Master, a fleshy and rather bored seeming individual, seemed quite unsurprised by their request for a marriage without prior warning. He took the payment with which Dorvai had provided Karis, turned to a closet, and produced a large record book and the marriage bracelet of which Dorvai and Sharamine had spoken. Karis could hardly believe the brevity of his ‘marriage’ to Sharamine. A few quick questions, as Dorvai had said, regarding names and towns, the answers to which were scribbled in the book in a desultory way, then Sharamine was asked to step forward. The bracelet was sealed on her left wrist and the Town-Master shut his book and said to Karis “The woman is yours”. No word to Sharamine, no congratulations. Karis had to bite back the retort that rose to his lips, to hear Sharamine spoken of thus, as if she were a thing he had bought. Instead, he inclined his head to the Town-Master, who nodded, replaced the book in the closet, and turned and left the room without another look or word. Still burning inwardly, Karis followed the two Malani with Sharamine and Karis back to their horses. Not till they had left the town behind did he feel able to vent his anger.

“That was dreadful!” he exclaimed. “That man spoke as if Sharamine was not even there, as if she were some – some piece of meat I had bought, less than a horse or a hound!” and Karlin agreed. Sharamine looked across at them and gave a strange smile. “Now you begin to understand the ways of Ma’al, Swordsmen of Li’is.” she said, and they continued on their way back to safety. Karis had expected Sharamine to show some relief that she was now out of the reach of her unwanted suitor, but she seemed strangely subdued on the ride back to the Malani’s camp. Perhaps, though, he thought, she was thinking of what would have happened to her if it had been that man who had taken her before the Town-Master. They were all glad to get back to the others and report that all had gone well, though Karis was still furious at the contempt with which Sharamine had been treated, and had to go to Zarel and ask him for help to deal with his emotions. Zarel set his Perception on the Swordsman, and when they had worked the thing through, said “Your anger was understandable, Karis, but even righteous anger may come between you and Light. You are wise to make your peace with Light.” Karis nodded, and said “There is enough Darkness in this world, Zarel”, then, “I thought Sharamine would be glad to be free of the danger of a forced marriage, but she seemed in poor spirits on the way back here. The Lightstone – Bearer said “Karis, you know I cannot tell you anything I Perceive of her. That would be Trespass. You must speak to her yourself.” “I will” Karis said. “And thank you for your help, Zarel.”

It was not until the next mealtime that Karis found an opportunity to speak to Sharamine alone. He noticed she had taken her food and withdrawn into a shadowy corner of the tent, where she sat as if deep in thought, her meal barely touched. He went over and seated himself beside her, thinking she might smile at him, but the look she gave him was questioning and guarded. More sure than ever now that something was troubling her, he said “Sharamine, what is wrong? I thought you would be relieved that you are safe from that man.” She lowered her eyes and did not answer, so he tried again. “What is worrying you? Is it this?” He touched the bracelet on her left wrist, and was surprised to feel her give a little start – no, more, almost a shudder. He looked at her,puzzled, and slowly an idea began to form in his mind. Sharamine had gladly accepted the sham marriage as a means of escape from the man she dreaded, but maybe now that it was done, she was wondering if she had done the right thing. For, after all, she was now bound to Karis by the law of Ma’al, was, as the Town-Master had made clear, his property. She had trusted him as a Child of Light, as the Lightstone-Bearer’s companion and protector, but she did not really know him. Perhaps now she was regretting what she had done, was fearful of what he might do to her. He called her name “Sharamine!” She looked up at him, startled, and he continued, more quietly “You do not fear me, because of this?” He gestured to the bracelet, but did not touch it again. “I promise you, Sharamine, though all of Ma’al considers you my property now, I do not! Do you think I would take advantage of you, abuse you, because of this sham marriage? Oh, I can understand why you might feel so, living in Ma’al, among men like those who desired you. But I would not dishonour you so. I swear to you, as a Child of Light, that I have no evil intent towards you. I would not harm you. What I have done, I have done only to protect you.” She was really looking at him now, and though she was smiling at him, there were tears in her eyes. “Karis – yes, I was afraid, I admit it. I could not believe that you were as honourable as you seemed – as you are! Forgive me.” “Sharamine – if you wish. Though there is little to forgive. I understand your fears. But now, be reassured. And”, he added, ” eat your meal. We have a long journey ahead and need to keep up our strength.”

Later, out of her earshot, he said to Dorvai “I am not sure I understand this matter of marriage in Ma’al. Since the Dark Lords have rule here, I thought they would not wish people to be married. Do they not rejoice in all that is dark? Surely they would prefer licence and promiscuity?” “Only among those highest in their ranks” Dorvai answered. “They are free to do as they wish, men or women. The Hawks, for example, may give their favours to whom they will. But the ordinary people – it is a means of control, of holding women, especially, in subjection.” “Yet Sharamine said the man who wanted her was high in their ranks. If that is how it is with them, could he have just taken her, if he willed it?” “No, praise Light!” Dorvai said, “Or he would have. But the Dark Lords have made rules and laws for their own benefit, not that of the people. A free people might be a rebellious people, and the Dark Lords want subjects, slaves. Even those who think they are privileged and free because they hold high rank are cunningly managed. There is no freedom from the Dark Lords in Ma’al, except for us who are true to Light. Even what looks like liberty is a means of control.” “Yet you said those of high rank are given Bloodstones. Those stones hold power!” Dorvai replied “The stones are powerful, yet even those are not under the control of those who wear them, but of the Dark Lords. They would not let that power pass into the hands of their underlings. Those who hold the stones may think they wield power, but whatever they do with those stones is only what the Dark Lords wish. They can do nothing for their own pleasure or profit, unless it suits their masters.”

The Malani had set aside one tent for use as a Place of Prayer, and after all of them had finished their meal, Zarel said “We should make the Thought-without-Words with Aren and Whitestar, and tell them that we have begun our journey.” So the Lightfriends gathered in the Place of Prayer to contact those in Li’is. They too had been on the move, travelling down over the Mountains from the Fortress , and, deciding against camping out, had turned aside to take lodgings at an inn in a small town on the edge of the Great Moor. They were sitting discussing the next part of the journey, when first Aren and Whitestar, then Aila and Arenel, felt the call of the Thought-without-Words, and opened their Perceptions to it. It was good to share with the other twins and the Lightfriends of Ma’al, and to be assured that, travelling under the protection of the Malani, they should escape the notice of the Dark Lords and their underlings. They were surprised to be told what Zarel had seen of the Lightstone’s way of calling the Children of Light, but all knew that nothing was beyond the power of Light. Zarel did not, though, even to Aren and Moondancer, tell of Karis and Sharamine’s ‘marriage’, feeling it would cause concern. Aren and Moondancer, in turn, were able to tell their twins that things were stirring in Li’is too,as the Priesthood and their helpers, and Healers, began to make their way to the Meeting Place, to welcome and help the refugees. When the contact had been broken, the Perception-gifted relayed to the others what they had been told, and knew that they too were relieved to hear of the Malani’s guarding of the travellers in Ma’al. Zohra said thoughtfully “These Malani – I feel a brotherhood with my people there.” Aren answered. “They were Sword-Brethren to the Ketai, before the First Days of Li’is. Surely they are still, Mother. It will be good to meet them.” Janna repeated her earlier remarks “Oh, I am glad that Karlin – and Karis – have Sword-Brethren there! I did not think that there would be Swordsmen to help them.” “Light still has a remnant in Ma’al,” Arenel commented, “and they will be protected by Light until they reach us here.”

The next morning the group continued their journey across the Great Moor, heading for the First Faring House. Aren noticed that even though Moondancer was growing gradually more used to being out in the open, still she instinctively looked up from time to time, as though anticipating the appearance of one of the deadly Hawks. It was a long ride to the Faring House but the air was growing milder and the sun was shining, so they were not uncomfortable. They paused for a quick meal on the way, and Moondancer was curious about the Faring Houses, so they enlightened her. “The Priesthood set up the Faring Houses many years ago” said Arenel “for travellers to rest, in places where there were no villages or towns suitable to stay in. There are Healers at the Houses too, where people may come for help in sickness, or if injured. Of course there are Priests and Healers in the towns, but where there are smaller villages, they are the Soul-Watch of the Priest-in-Charge of the Faring Houses.” “The only exception is the Third Faring House, which is in the Merchant Town” Aila added. “There are certainly other places there for people to stay, but many would rather stay at a Faring House, and it has a separate Eating House for those who want only a meal.” Having said this, she suddenly thought that perhaps she had woken unhappy memories of their ordeal at the Third Faring House for Marla and Zohra, and glanced quickly at her friends, but sensed no perturbation in them.

“The Gatehouse, too, is unique” Aren said “because it keeps the Dancers’ Gate. Most of those who travel there wish to go to the Dancers, and need special permission from the Priesthood, so their guests are few. Even then, they will only have access to the Dancers if the Dancers themselves wish it.” Mellin replied “It seems the Gatehouse will have a larger number of guests, this time, than it has ever expected!” and laughed. They resumed their ride. The sun sank and as the day darkened to twilight the air grew cooler. They were glad now of their travelling cloaks, and the knowledge that the Faring House was near. Aren had thought that Moondancer might grow more fearful as night came on, but she actually seemed more relaxed. Perhaps, he thought, night time was safer than day in Ma’al, with less chance of being observed. They crested the rise above the Faring House and saw it below them, set in its tree-garth, windows glowing with lamplight. Arenel extended his Perception to the Priest-in-Charge as they rode down into the courtyard, and the man came out to greet them as they dismounted. “Welcome, welcome! We had word of your coming.” He looked round at them, and Arenel sensed his curiosity, before he asked “And which is the Lightfriend from Ma’al?” He was surprised when Aren brought Moondancer forward, and said, “This is Moondancer. In Ma’al all those born with Perception serve, and she is a Lightfriend.” The Priest smiled warmly, and said, “Then welcome again, my Sister-in-Light. I am Sarn. It is good to have you safe in Li’is.” The girl smiled back, and thanked him. He led the way into the Faring House, saying “We have a few other guests, but they need not concern you. Farmers and merchants, staying overnight on their way elsewhere.” When he had shown them the rooms where they would sleep and taken them to the Hall of the Faring House for their meal, he looked round at them and said “Ah, the Lady Aila is Perception-gifted too? It is not often we see two daughters of the Priesthood with Perception.” “I have a twin, still in Ma’al, who also has Perception” Moondancer told him. “Then your parents were doubly blessed” Sarn said. Aila hoped he would not expand on the subject, not wanting Moondancer to be reminded again of the death of her mother, but he did not, turning instead to the seating arrangements for the meal. They were joined,as he had said, by the other guests, who greeted them civilly but were not inclined to make conversation, and they were glad enough, when the meal was done, to say their goodnights and go to rest after their journey.

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: