AN END OF DARKNESS

Chapter 8

The next morning, after they had made the Morning Prayers, Zarel walked to the perimeter of the abandoned farm, marked by a broken and rotting fence, and looked out across the landscape of Ma’al. Karis had allowed him to Perceive the route he had taken in his search for Sharamine, so the Lightstone-Bearer could gather some information on the terrain ahead of them. Apart from the cliff and deep hollow where the thing their rescuer had called the Naqad had lurked, the land had seemed largely rough and featureless, with a few hillocks here and there. Behind the farm the way led to the Seacoast Town, but ahead there seemed to be no towns or villages, at least for a while. Karis had not travelled very far, though, and neither the Lightfriends nor the Malani knew much of what lay beyond this, the last of the Lightfriends’ safe havens. Zarel knew that the Lightstone had guided Aiel on his way to the Gatehouse on the Lightstone Way, and he had seen how it had carried his and Whitestar’s Perceptions out over the Darkness of Ma’al to show them where the Children of Light were. Surely he could rely on its guidance now, to help him lead those he had gathered to the place where the Dancers would, with the Lightstone’s aid, make the Gateway that would take them safely into Li’is? He leaned on a still-standing piece of fence and pondered this. “Zarel, Lightstone-Bearer” a quiet male voice addressed him. Zarel turned quickly, startled, and aware that neither Karis nor Karlin were within earshot. “Have no fear” the other said. “I have not come to harm you, but to help you on your Way. I am Mihel.”

So this was Karis’ and Sharamine’s mysterious rescuer. The speaker was a Swordsman, a little above average height, with light brown hair and eyes, a pleasant but unremarkable face, a medium build – there was nothing out of the ordinary about him at all, but that very fact made Zarel suspicious. For somehow, in his Perception, he had a sense that the man’s very ordinariness was a disguise to let him pass unnoticed. In addition, he Perceived some latent power in the Swordsman. Could he be an enemy after all – perhaps even a Lord of Darkness, a Shape-Changer? And yet, Zarel had no Perception of Darkness about the man at all, and Karis had trusted him. Warily, he drew out the Lightstone and let it lie on his breast, in full view of the man, but the stranger showed no fear or anger. No, he was not a Child of Night then – that was the truth. No Darkness, however skilled at dissembling, could withstand the Lightstone. Zarel challenged him. “Who are you? You are more than Swordsman – I Perceive it. Yet I Perceive no Darkness in you.” The Swordsman smiled, and suddenly his light brown eyes were glowing warm like gold, as if he too had Perception. “More than Swordsman, yes, but still your friend and your brother in Light, Zarel. Do not fear me. There is no need.” Zarel felt his Perception drawn to the Swordsman’s gaze. Puzzled, but unafraid, he stepped closer and set his Perception on the man. Instead of his Perception entering into the Swordsman’s thought, though, the golden gaze swept into Zarel’s mind, his Perception, pouring into him a strength and joy in Light and a sense of worship far above anything he had ever felt, even with the Lightstone. Nor was that all. Through the channel of his Perception, love and grace and compassion poured into him, as from the very Heart of Light.

Overwhelmed, dazzled, weeping for joy, Zarel dropped to his knees and looked up at the ‘Swordsman’. For a moment, the other’s face blazed with a glory almost unbearable, but which, his gentle thought told the awed young Priest, was still only the very faintest reflection of the glory of Light, carried with him from the Joyous Place. Then the ‘Swordsman’ was the most ordinary of men again, leaning, in comradely fashion, to help Zarel to his feet. The Lightstone-Bearer, still stunned with revelation, gasped “But…but – you are…” “Yes, I am” answered the Shining One, as Zarel still stared at him, unable to complete his sentence. “But in Ma’al, only you and Whitestar must know it, Zarel. I am sent by Light to aid you, and strengthen you, and fight with you against the Darkness, as I did with your grandfather Aiel before you. I am the guardian of the Lightstone and the Lightstone-Bearer.” “Light honours me almost beyond bearing!” Zarel exclaimed. “Zarel, remember this; I too am a created being and a servant of Light, as you are. I am your brother in Light, not your Lord. Do not forget that, for that is the lie that the Lords of Darkness told the Dancers and the men of Ma’al, to enslave them. Do not give me the honour which belongs to Light alone. And remember too that the others must not know who I am. As far as they will know, I am a Swordsman who has joined you, simply another Child of Light. You may call me by the name I gave to Karis – Mihel.” “Mihel” Zarel repeated. “Very well, I will do as you say.” Mihel smiled “Do not show me deference before them, either. I am here to serve you, Zarel, and to help you fulfill Light’s purpose.” “I am glad” Zarel said. “For though I am the Lightstone-Bearer, I feel the reponsibility for these people very keenly. I can do nothing without the aid of Light.” “You were thinking of the way ahead” said Mihel. “That is why I have come now, to guide you.” “Yes. It seems neither the Lightfriends nor the Malani have much knowledge of what lies beyond this place.” Zarel answered. Somehow, though in his Perception the knowledge of Mihel’s true identity still amazed him, he had fallen quite naturally into conversation with the Shining One, as with the Swordsman he professed to be.

“Karis and Sharamine strayed into more danger than they knew” Mihel went on. “The Naqad? We did not imagine that such a thing could exist” Zarel responded. “The Naqad was a guardian. The thing was not a natural being, but created by the Dark Ones from much smaller, harmless creatures. It was placed there deliberately to trap any who ventured that way.” “But why? What is there that needs such a guardian? Karis saw nothing.” “There is very little to see. Just, further on, a large circle of open land, with its border marked out with stakes. It looks like a pen for beasts. But it is the gathering place for the Night Lords, and where they receive instruction from the Dark Ones.” The Night Lords, Zarel thought, the corrupted Dancers of Ma’al, brought down into Darkness by the Dark Lords. If Karis and Sharamine had been in such proximity to them, they had indeed been in great danger. “That is so” Mihel said, as if Zarel had spoken his thoughts aloud. “The Dancers which are loyal to Light keep the Night Lords at bay. They are bound to Ma’al, unless some Child of Night in Li’is invites them, as did Lak and Si-Mara.” “When Marla destroyed the Bloodstone that Si-Mara intended her to wield, there was a Night Lord trapped inside it” Zarel said. “Is it so with the stones the Dark Ones’ servants bear here?” “It is, but they are not trapped. The Night Lords give themselves willingly to power the Bloodstones, feeding on the evil that is done to give them that power.” “But we will not need to go near the place?” “No, our way lies in a different direction. But there are still dangers. Along the sea coast there is a garrison of the Dark Ones’ mercenaries, ready to defend the place of the Night Lords, and other places important to the Dark Lords. They are the most ruthless of their kind, hand-picked for their evil and callousness. There are a few small towns too, but the inhabitants are in terror of the mercenaries and would not hesitate to betray any they believe to be on the side of Light.” “And the Meeting Place?” asked Zarel. “The Meeting Place is much as it is in Li’is, in the mountains, though the range is not as long. There is no Gatehouse, nor Gatehouse Gardens, of course. We will need to cross the open plain, and that will be the most dangerous part of the journey. But I will defend the Children of Light.” Zarel was momentarily reminded, by this statement, of to whom it was he was talking , but before he could reply, he heard Karlin’s voice calling him, and turned to see the two Swordsmen hurrying towards him. Before they reached them, Mihel warned quickly “Remember that I am just a Swordsman, Zarel!” and Zarel nodded.

Karis and Karlin came up to them, and Karis glanced quickly at Zarel’s companion, while Karlin reprimanded the Lightstone-Bearer. “Zarel, you should not go off alone! We were worried. And who is this with you?” Zarel smiled, and said “Karis knows.” , and Karis said, “It is Mihel! Karlin, this is the Swordsman who brought me and Sharamine back to safety.” “I said I would return” said Mihel. “You did not tell them who you are”, Karlin challenged, though seeing Zarel at ease with him, he realised that Mihel was a Child of Light. “I am a Swordsman, as you see” Mihel answered. “I have some knowledge of the land that lies further on, and my Lord has sent me to help you on your Way.” “And who is your Lord?” asked Karis. “I may not say. But my Lord will be with us on the Way” Mihel answered. Zarel thought that this evasive answer might not satisfy the kinsmen, but they, Swordsmen themselves, recognised that, after service to Light, loyalty to one’s Lord was preeminent, and did not question Mihel further. “Mihel has told me that you were in a place of danger when he found you, for the Naqad was created by the Dark Ones to guard the way to a place where they meet with the Night Lords”, Zarel told Karis. Karis looked startled at this, then turned to Mihel and said, “Then we owe you much, Sharamine and I, Mihel.” He extended his hand towards Mihel, and the other took it, hand to forearm in the Swordsmen’s handclasp. This was so natural to Karis and Karlin that they did not stop to consider that there were no Swordsmen in Ma’al who shared the handclasp, but Zarel noted it. “We had best go back” Karis now said. “The others were concerned that you had disappeared, Zarel.” They made their way back to the farm buildings, and Zarel cast his Perception quickly towards Mihel. It seemed impertinent to be advising a Shining One, but still, that handclasp might betray him. He quickly caught, in his Perception, that Mihel had already noted his thought and thanked him for his observation. It seemed that even the Shining One was not aware of the subtler differences between Ma’al and Li’is. After all, though Mihel was a Spirit-in-Light, he still did not have the omniscience of Light, thought Zarel.

Once back in the refuge, Mihel was introduced to the others as another Child of Light, a Swordsman trained by a Lord loyal to Light, who had joined them. Zarel had wondered if any of the Lightfriends would Perceive that there was something different about Mihel, but it seemed that none did. The Lightstone-Bearer knew that he would have to tell Whitestar the truth, because her Perception was so bound with his, and with her twin’s and Aren’s in Li’is, and also he felt he had to pass on the news of Mihel’s appearance to those in Li’is who were following their progress in Ma’al with concern. Accordingly, when everyone had shared in the breakfast that had been prepared and people were disappearing about their various tasks in preparation for the arrival of any more refugees and considerations for the next part of the journey, Zarel called to Whitestar to come with him to the Prayer Place, and included Mihel in the invitation. If others noticed, he reasoned, they would assume it was because he wanted to find out what Mihel knew about the way ahead of them. When they were alone in the Prayer Place, Zarel turned to Whitestar. “Whitestar, we have something to tell you about Mihel – something no other must know, not even Dorvai, nor Karis and Karlin.” The girl-Priest looked at him, her face puzzled, and asked “Is it something bad then, Zarel?” It seemed this was the only explanation she could imagine for such secrecy. “Oh no!” Zarel laughed, “It is very far from being something bad, Whitestar!” He looked to Mihel for a clue as to how to tell Whitestar who the Shining One actually was, and Mihel said quietly , as if in answer, “Maybe I should just show you, Whitestar.” She gazed at him, still bewildered, as he stepped forward, his golden eyes glowing, and now Zarel saw what his Perception had been too overawed for him to see before, as the young Swordsman briefly metamorphosed into a shining, white-robed, golden-eyed being, awesome yet gentle, breathing peace and purity and pouring love, joy, strengthening and worship into Whitestar’s enraptured Perception.

The girl gasped, and trembled, and Zarel came close and caught hold of her, in case she should fall. Mihel reached out a hand and touched her brow, and said “Peace, Lightfriend, beloved of Light. It is well.” And in an instant he was the young Swordsman again. Whitestar stood awestruck, weeping for joy, as Zarel had at his first encounter with Mihel, while the Lightstone-Bearer held her steady. When she could speak again, she whispered, as if she could still scarcely believe it, “You are a Spirit-in-Light, a Shining One!” “I am, but in this dark world only you and Zarel may know it. I have told him who I am – the guardian of the Lightstone and the Lightstone-Bearer.” Whitestar, knowing he referred to the dark powers that ruled Ma’al, asked, “How is it, then, that you can be here, Lord Mihel, and the Dark Ones not sense your presence?” “Whitestar, do not call me Lord! I am a servant of Light, as you are. I am simply Mihel. As to the Dark Ones – when the Great Rebel and the Dark Lords betrayed Light and were banished from the Joyous Place, they forfeited the Presence of Light and all connection to or knowledge of the Will of Light. The powers of Light are darkness to them, Light’s ways invisible, unknowable. They cannot search out Light’s purposed, for all their sorceries. So they are not aware that the Lightstone is in Ma’al, nor that I am here to guard it and its Bearer.” “We must tell Aren and Moondancer” Zarel said, half-expecting a prohibition, but Mihel said “That is so; since your Perceptions are linked they must know, and the Priesthood of Li’is will be glad to hear you are protected.” Whitestar asked, “But if you are here – could not other Shining Ones have come, and taken us into Li’is, without the Lightstone, and the Dancers, and the danger?” “That was not the Will of Light” Mihel answered. “Whitestar, you cannot outthink Light. What you see as a simple answer, Light sees as the wrong answer. There are laws made and tasks set for Spirits-in-Light, and for Dancers, and for mankind, and all are different. What you may see as fear and pain and danger, Light sees as tests that make you grow in faith, and trust , and in dependence on Light. The Lightstone Way is a way of growth.”

“And when it ends, and we are back in Li’is, and Light’s judgement falls on Ma’al – we will be safe then? The Dark Lords and the Night Lords will be destroyed, and there will be no more Darkness?” Whitestar continued her questioning. “Li’is will be safe” Mihel said. “The Gate will close for the last time. But the Dark Lords will not be destroyed. They once were Spirits-in-Light too, and, like us, are deathless. They will return to the place where the Great Rebel lurks and spins his plots against Light. In time they too will be judged, and imprisoned, but not yet.” “And the Night Lords?” asked Zarel. “The Night Lords? They were once the Dancers of Ma’al. You know that the Dancers are beings of light and energy and their Dance takes them among the stars and worlds. What they are is what sustains them. They can gather their energy from the heart of a sun or the power of a tide. All energy is their sustenance. They are not deathless, but they live as long as a star, so seem so to men. In the end, when all their energy is used up, they will cease to be. The Night Lords, though – they have allowed themselves to be corrupted by the Dark Lords, and now they can only feed on darkness and evil. They will not live long.” He paused, then said, “I have given you much to consider. I will leave you to make the link with Aren and Moondancer and tell them of my presence here. But remember that only you two here in Li’is must know it.” They agreed, and watched as Mihel quietly left the Prayer Place. When he had gone, Whitestar turned to Zarel and exclaimed “I can still hardly believe it, Zarel! We have been talking with a Shining One!” “I know, I felt the same at first. Yet somehow I have come to accept his presence, and see him as just a companion on the Way. And that is how it must be, Whitestar. I do not know why none of the others can know who he is, but that is how Light wills it.” “But he said we can tell Aren and Moondancer”, she reminded him, and he smiled at her. “Yes!”

The travellers in Li’is had been enjoying the welcome of Zohra’s family, for Ket-Tal and Shala and their sons, left to stand in for the Kets who had travelled to the gatehouse with Janir, had been determined to keep up the Westerners’ reputation for hospitality. Now, as they relaxed, Aren was the first to feel the tug at his Perception which meant that Zarel was seeking him. Quickly he drew Moondancer into the Thought-without-Words, connecting with his twin and hers. Aila and Arenel, engaged in conversation with their hosts, did not join the link, this time, but waited with the others to hear the news from Ma’al. When the link had broken, both Aren and Moondancer seemed almost shocked, staring at each other, and the others tensed, prepared for bad news. But then Aren’s face broke into a joyful smile, and he said “Zarel has wonderful news!” Moondancer nodded agreement, but Janna, frowning a little, asked “What can there be in Ma’al that is wonderful?” Aren answered her, with awe in his voice, “They have been joined by a Spirit-in-Light, a Shining One – though only Zarel and Whitestar, in Ma’al, are allowed to know who he really is, since he has taken human form!” “A Shining One?” Mellin asked, in amazement. “Yes. He told Zarel that he is the guardian of the Lightstone and the Lightstone-Bearer. That he has stood with Aiel before against the Darkness, when he was the Lightstone-Bearer, and now he is there with Zarel, to guard him and the others.” “Oh!” Marla exclaimed. “Then he is my Shining One, Mellin – the one who made it possible for Aiel to free me from the Darkness within me!” For a moment her eyes misted with tears at the memory, and Mellin put an arm round her and hugged her. The news made them all joyful, knowing that their loved ones had such protection against the Darkness of Ma’al, and Janna wept a little, from relief at the lessening of the danger to Karlin. Ket-Tal and Shala too exclaimed in wonder at the news. “Then they are no longer in peril?” asked Shala who, though distant from the happenings, had still been concerned for her kinsmen in Ma’al. “There is still peril, but they are protected.” Aren answered. “It seems to me that Light rewards Zarel’s trust. He stepped onto this Way at Light’s bidding, unprepared save for his faith in Light and the Lightstone, and as he has travelled it, Light has provided for his needs. First the Malani, and now this Mihel.” “Mihel?” Arenel asked, and his son told him “That is the name that the Shining One has given them, to call him by.” Moondancer added “The lands they must travel through to reach the place where the Dancers’ Gate will be are unknown to us, for none of the Lightfriends has been further than the safe haven near the Seacoast Town. Mihel has told them that he has knowledge of those lands and will guide them.” “Then we should praise Light for provision and guidance for them” Arenel told them, and none of them was unwilling to join in a prayer of thanksgiving.

Mihel had told Zarel to call together Dorvai, Naton and Whitestar, Karis, Karlin, Corhan and Saban, and meet him in one of the outbuildings. The Lightstone-Bearer did as he was bidden, and the small group gathered, curious as to why they were thus summoned. Only Zarel and Whitestar, knowing Mihel’s true identity, guessed that he had something important to tell them. When they had all arrived, Mihel looked round at them and said “I have called you because I need to tell you what I know of the way we must take from here. I told you I knew something of the lands beyond, but it is more than that. My Lord is opposed to the Dark Lords and seeks to undermine their stratagems. He knows the lands between here and the mountains which correspond to the Dancers’ Mountains in Li’is, and those lands are not unguarded. The Dark Ones have set barriers and traps, and once we pass those we will certainly be pursued.” “Traps? Another Naqad?” queried Karis. “No, praise Light!” Mihel answered. “There was only one Naqad. Light ensured that it could not be replicated.” This cryptic statement passed by all of them but Zarel, since they were more concerned with knowing what ‘traps’ might await them, but Zarel wondered if Mihel himself might have had a hand in the failure of any plan of the Night Lords to create another Naqad. Corhan said “You are sure we can pass these barriers and traps?” “They are set to keep out the curious. They cannot withstand the Lightstone. But the Dark Ones will know that we have passed.” Karlin asked, with some puzzlement, “But are those lands not empty, with no towns or villages? What is there that the Dark Lords guard so fiercely?” “The way to the Meeting Place” Mihel answered, and Karlin said “But the Meeting Place is in Li’is.” Mihel smiled. His eyes seemed to have a golden glow and his voice a richer timbre as he answered “Yes, the Meeting Place is in Li’is, but it also has its parallel in Ma’al. And the Dancers’ Gate joins them. Think, Karlin – do you really believe that the Gatehouse, and the Gatekeeper, and the Meeting Place, and the centuries of care to keep the Darkness from them, was all to protect only the Dancers? The Dancers too are Gatekeepers – not of the Dancers’ Gate on Li’is, a man-made piece of metal, but of the Gate that brought you here, and crosses space and time.” They did not doubt what he said, such was the authority in his voice, but Karis asked “How do you know all this, Mihel?”

“I know because I learned it from my Lord, who learned it of Light”, Mihel replied. He went on “The Meeting Place is the Dark Lords’ target, always. It takes much of their power and sorcery to move anything – or anyone – into Li’is. They need to have contact with Children of Night who will invite the Night Lords into Li’is, since the Night Lords still have the freedom of movement that they had as Dancers. They have a link with Li’is through the ruins of their Dark City there, but the Dancers guard that path. So they expend their efforts in trying to find a way to break through from Ma’al into Li’is from what would be the Meeting Place here, if the Dancers of Ma’al had not submitted to the Dark Lords and become the Night Lords.” “And the land between here and there…?” Karis began, but Mihel said “Is where they carry out their sorceries and the Night Lords make their attacks against the Meeting Place. They do not wish to be observed.” “Your Lord must have great courage, then, to keep watch on their doings” observed Corhan, and Mihel said, with a kind of wonder in his voice, “My Lord will give everything for the Children of Light.” “And he will join us on the Way?” “He will be with us.” Mihel answered. Zarel was considering what Mihel had said. The Shining One had referred to his Lord, and could not have meant a human Lord. He had also said that his Lord ‘will be with us’ on the Way, and this puzzled Zarel. He could only conclude that there were higher echelons of Shining Ones and one of these was Mihel’s ‘Lord’, and would be watching over them from the Joyous Place. Since Mihel had said that his Lord had learned of Light what he told Mihel, the Shining One could not be referring to Light. Yet Mihel had also said that his Lord would ‘give everything for the Children of Light’ – could that be connected to the great mystery of the Sacrifice of Light? The Lightstone-Bearer knew he could not question Mihel about any of this, and if the Shining One knew what Zarel was pondering, he said nothing further on the subject, but still Zarel was full of curiosity. “But what are these traps that the Dark Ones have set?” asked Dorvai. “Are they sorceries?” “Some are”, said Mihel. “Black enchantments to frighten those approaching them, dark visions of evil creatures and fierce warriors. Others are physical barriers. But we can pass them, with the Lightstone’s power.” Zarel commented “The Silver Witch, Si-Mara, tried to overcome my grandfather Aiel with an enchantment at the Spearcleft Pass, but he defeated it with the Lightstone. And later Lak too tried to deter Aiel with his false visions, but again the Lightstone dispelled them. So I know it can overcome such sorceries.”

“You said that the Dark Lords will know that we have passed their barriers” Corhan commented. “So no doubt there will be pursuit?” “There will” Mihel confirmed. “I have told Zarel that there is a garrison of the Dark Lords’ mercenaries beyond the Seacoast Town, along the coast, and they are the most ruthless and evil of their kind. Once past the barriers we must prepare for battle. But”, he added, “they will not expect large numbers, nor any resistance, thinking some inquisitive person has passed through.” “The Dark Ones will not know how many have passed, then?” asked Karis. “They will sense only that the barriers have been passed” Mihel answered, “since they are blind to the Will of Light.” “It is well that you have prepared us” said Corhan,” for it is good to know the enemy’s plans when entering a battle.” “We fight on the side of Light”, Mihel answered, “and Light is with us.” He looked round at them, and said, “We have some surcease for now, though. The Lightstone will call again, and we must wait for those it calls to join us. There is time to rest, and gather strength for the last part of the Way.” It was apparent that the meeting was at an end now, and they began to disperse, but Karis noticed Karlin looking concerned, and asked him quietly ” Does something trouble you, Karlin? I know my Sword-Brother does not fear battle.” Karlin answered, as quietly, “I do not fear battle, but I fear for Janna. She was so desperate at my going, Karis, though she tried to hide it from me. If I should fall in battle, what will become of her? She would be distraught!” Though they had spoken softly, it seemed Mihel had overheard them, for he came to them now and said, gently, “Karlin, Light watches over you and you will not fall in battle. You will return to Li’is and to Janna”. He smiled at Karlin and went on “You will have a long and happy life together, and see your children’s children prosper. Do not fear.” It was only the kind of thing a friend might say in hopes of reassuring their doubts, but somehow the Swordsmen felt that he spoke truly, and were comforted. As they watched Mihel walk away, Karis said, “Strange! It was almost as though he prophecied for you, Karlin!” Karlin replied “Maybe his Lord is a Lightfriend, and has told him more of our Way than he has revealed. But he serves Light, and we can trust him. Did he not rescue you and Sharamine?” “Aye, and from peril greater than we knew!” Karis agreed.

When they returned to the main building, Zarel went to the Prayer Place with Whitestar and, as Mihel had said, the Lightstone began to pulse in his hands, sending out its call to the Children of Light. When the pulsing stopped, Zarel said ” That is the last time, then, that the Lightstone will call. Once the last Children of Light have been gathered, we will be on our way to the Meeting Place, Whitestar!” She smiled at him briefly, but then her face took on a pensive expression. He said “It is a dangerous journey, it is true, but Light leads us on it, Whitestar, and we have the Lightstone, and Mihel. We are protected. The Way will not fail, and we will all be safe in Li’is soon. Are you afraid?” She sighed, and said “It is for you I fear, Zarel. If the Dark Ones learn, once we pass their barriers, that the Lightstone is here, and that you are the Bearer, you above all will be their target.” “I am not afraid” he told her, “and nor should you be. Trust in Light.” “I do” she replied, “but my heart is human, and I – care for you, Zarel. My spirit trusts, but my heart fears for you.” Her words did not surprise him, for as their Perceptions had become more closely connected over the course of the Way, he had been aware of a growing closeness between them that was more than the Thought-without-Words, and it had seemed so natural and inevitable that he had known she must feel it too. So he answered her now, “I know, Whitestar. I care for you too, and I think Light meant it to be so. When we are in Li’is, we will still belong together – and I think that will be true for Aren and Moondancer, also. But for now, my heart, only the Way is important and we must put all else aside. Do you understand that?” “Yes.” she said. “Zarel, I am glad…” she fell silent then, and he leaned and gently kissed her, then said “Soon, Whitestar, all will come right, praise Light!” ” I hope it will be soon” she replied, “for I think this Way, though it leads to a happy end, weighs heavy on all of us.” “If the distance is similar to that on Li’is, it is not so many days’ journey, Whitestar, though we travel more slowly on foot.” Zarel replied. “Still, we must wait here for the last of the Children of Light to join us. And, as Mihel said, we have some respite while we wait. It gives time to recover from the journey so far, so we are fresh when we set out again, and to make sure of the plans for our defence, with the Malani and Swordsmen.” He took her hand, then, and said, “We will go and tell the others that the Lightstone has called. We must watch for those coming to join us.”

Once he was happy that Karlin’s mind was at ease, Karis had gone to seek Sharamine. They had had no time to themselves since their return on the previous day, and he felt that they needed to talk. When he found her and took her aside, she welcomed him with a smile. He felt that the sense he had had, that even after she had accepted his assurances she had been on guard around him, had gone. Maybe, he thought, it had not been he himself after all, but her growing awareness of her feelings for him, that had caused her wariness. He said “Sharamine, my heart, I need to speak with you.” “What is it, Karis? You – you have not changed your mind about your feelings for me? For mine are unchanged.” “Oh, never!” he exclaimed. “I wanted to discuss our future. I know we were wed by the laws of Ma’al, but that is not a real marriage, not to me, and I think not to you. So I wished to ask you – will you be my Lady, Sharamine? When we are safe in Li’is we can be married in a proper way – by the Priesthood, in the Temple, in the sight of Light. Till then, we will count ourselves as simply betrothed.” “Karis!” she exclaimed, smiling, but with a glint of tears in her eyes. “Yes, of course! But…” she paused, and he asked “But what, my love?” “Karis, will your family accept me? Zarel said you were heir to a Lord of Li’is. Would he not wish you to wed someone higher born? Someone born of Li’is?” ” Oh, Sharamine! I do not know how it is in Ma’al, but such things are of no concern in Li’is. And my brother Mellin’s Lady, Marla – Karlin’s mother – was born of Ma’al, though she was born in Li’is. If you are my love, and a Child of Light, they will accept you.” “Then I am content” she said, then ” But – if Mellin’s Lady’s parents were from Ma’al, how were they in Li’is?” Karlin smiled again. “It is a story of the Mercy of Light” he began, and went on to tell her, as briefly as he could, the story of Marla’s Way and her attainment of Light and marriage to Mellin. When the tale had been told, Sharamine exclaimed “How wonderful! I would love to meet Marla, Karis. She was so brave, and so faithful to Light despite her dark inheritance!” “You will meet her, when we return to Li’is” Karis assured her. “And when we are wed, you will be sisters.”

In Li’is the travellers, greatly reassured by the news of Mihel’s arrival to guard Zarel and the others in Ma’al, spent a pleasant and relaxed afternoon with Shala and her family. Her sons, Ket-Shal and Ket-Tai, had enjoyed spending time with their cousins Rentha, Aren, Lira and Janna,and also Mella, whom they rarely saw. Ket-Tal was curious to hear about the Malani, and Aren told as much as he had learned from Zarel, while Moondancer filled in the history of the warrior race that guarded the Lightfriends of Ma’al. “So there is an ancient connection between the Ketai and the Malani”, Ket-Tal asked, “since both we and they were guardians of the Lightfriends once, in Ma’al, but we followed the Lightfriends into Ma’al, and they stayed to guard those that remained?” “That is so” Moondancer said. It was growing near to nightfall, now, and Zohra, remembering her conversation with Moondancer, said ” It will soon be dark, Moondancer, then we will show you our Western skies.” When it was fully dark, they went out on to the Plateau, and told Moondancer to look up. In the clear air, against the velvety darkness of the night sky, the moons, both almost full, glowed, and the icy brilliance of the stars shone clear. Moondancer exclaimed at the beauty of it. “We seldom see the moons and stars in Ma’al” she said. “I would have thought it would be safer for you to be about at night” Mellin said, and she replied “It is, but not when there is moonlight. The skies of Ma’al are often overcast, and on those nights it is safer to go out in the open.” She looked up again at the night sky, and said “It seems to me that the moons here are the same, but the stars are different.” “It would be so” Arenel agreed, “since Ma’al lies far away from Li’is. ” “Yet the Dancers can overcome those distances”, Rentha commented “and will bring the Children of Light safely here.” She felt a little concerned that her father’s words might have caused Moondancer to feel some anxiety about the distance between the two worlds, but Moondancer did not seem to feel any fear. The other girl’s faith in Light was very strong, Rentha thought. When they returned to Ket-Tal and Shala’s family tent, Ket-Tal said “We cannot leave here, but Ket-Shal and Ket-Tai will escort you to the Kets’ Pillars when you leave – though I think Arenel should know the way”. He smiled at his brother by marriage, who said “Ah, it is a long time since I travelled that way, Ket-Tal. I think I will need the guidance of our nephews!” Ket-Shal, the elder of the two brothers, said “We shall be glad to show you all the way, and spend more time with you.” Ket-Tai, quieter than his brother, agreed, then added “We have been honoured to have you with us, Lightfriend of Ma’al. It will be a happy day when all of you are brought safely into Li’is.” Moondancer smiled at him, and Ket-Tal said. “I should be glad to meet some of your Malani, sometime, Moondancer, when you are all settled in Li’is. They and the Ketai must have fought the same battles in ancient times, in Ma’al.”

It was near time for the Evening Prayers, and Arenel, knowing that the Priesthood all over Li’is would be gathering to make them, called Aren, Whitestar and Aila to him to make the Thought-without-Words and send the news of Mihel’s appearance to those who had been praying for the Way. In the City, Aiel and the Priesthood of the Temple received the communication, and when the link was broken, gave thankful praise. Aiel was remembering the time, so long ago on the Lightstone Way, when his Perception, trapped in the dark thoughts of the Black Piper, Lak, had been torn free of that imprisonment by a Spirit-in-Light – that same Mihel, he now realised. The same Shining One that had guarded Arentha’s spirit on the Meeting Place, and later, on Marla’s Way, been the key to Marla’s Changing, and her attainment of Light. And now he was greatly comforted by the thought that Mihel was guarding Zarel, the new Lightstone-Bearer, in the perils of Ma’al. Lin and Krystha were present at the Evening Prayers, as well as Arentha, all the original Way-Sharers. When the Prayers were over, Aiel collected his Lady and his friends together, and told them the news. ” Zarel and the others have been joined by a Shining One, to guard them on the Way” he told them. “The Spirit-in-Light has told them that he is the guardian of the Lightstone and the Lightstone-Bearer – the same one who saved me from Lak, and guarded Arentha, and enabled Marla’s changing. His name is Mihel.” Lin was astonished. “A Shining One? Praise Light!” Krystha said ” The peril is still great, but we can be sure that Light guards them all in Ma’al. Praise Light indeed!” Arentha too was full of praise, thankful that her beloved grandson and Krystha’s son and grandson were thus protected. “They are near to the Seacoast Town in Ma’al, which is where the Merchant Town would be here.” Aiel continued. “Zarel needs to wait for the final gathering of the Children of Light, but then they will be on their way to the Meeting Place. ” “A few days’ journey” commented Lin, “but the most dangerous part of the Way, I think. We must continue to hold them in prayer. ” Aiel agreed, and said “We shall know when they are nearly there, for then the Dancers will come to carry us to the Gatehouse. ” “And when the Children of Light who were left in Ma’al have been brought into Li’is, Light’s judgement will fall on the Darkness of Ma’al?” Krystha asked. “Yes” Aiel replied. Arentha, always tender-hearted, sighed ” It is sad that Ma’al and its people will be destroyed. But Light is just, and they have spurned Light.” “And that will be the last fulfillment of the Secret Word” , Lin said. “The Way that we first set foot on so many years ago will finally end.”

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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