AN END OF DARKNESS

Chapter 11

The next day came, and after the Morning Prayers Aiel and the Way-Sharers waited in the High Priest’s house for the promised arrival of the Dancers. After some time had passed, in which they discussed Zarel’s Way, and how soon the end of it might come, Aiel felt a tug at his Perception, and followed it, then announced to his Lady and friends “The Dancers are here. They await us outside.” He realised that the towering Dancers could not enter the low-ceilinged house. The four of them stepped outside the door, carrying their travelling packs, and found the glowing light-beings waiting for them, hovering on the green of the Temple grounds in which the house stood. The Dancers’ thought reached out to all of them. ‘Are you ready to depart?’ and Aiel answered, for all of them, “We are.” As the four Dancers drew near, one for each traveller, all of them instinctively closed their eyes. Aiel remembered what Tor-Harat had told him, years ago. “I have travelled with the Dancers many times, and I could never yet bear to keep my eyes open!” They could not know when the Dancers enfolded them, or feel any movement as the light-beings ‘travelled’in their mysterious way, but it was the briefest of times possible before Aiel felt their thought again. “We are at the Gatehouse.” As the Dancers moved back from them and they opened their eyes, they found themselves standing in the courtyard of the Gatehouse, the solid building in front of them, and their families, with Rujel the Gatekeeper, waiting for them. Once they had been welcomed and embraced by their families, Aiel turned to Rujel. “It is good to see you again after so long, Rujel, old friend. I hear you have been very busy making ready for our new arrivals.” Rujel laughed. “It has been a great task indeed, Aiel. We were very thankful for Janir and the Westerners, who have helped us greatly – your families too, since they arrived here.”

They followed Rujel into the Gatehouse Hall, where Janna turned to Aiel and asked “Grandfather, since you are here now, is the Way over?” Aiel, Perceiving that she was still anxious for her beloved Karlin, said gently. “Not quite, Janna, child, but very soon, I promise you.” Moondancer, standing nearby with Aren, said “I hope it will be soon! I long to welcome my father and Whitestar into the freedom of Li’is.” Arentha smiled. “My dears, you will both be reunited with your loved ones soon. Trust Light.” Aiel observed Aren’s hand tighten on Moondancer’s, as if in comfort, but his Perception sensed the new affection between them. He turned his thoughts elsewhere, lest he should Trespass. “You had a good journey here?” he asked Mellin. “We did” the Swordsman answered. Aila added “And we met Lady Saditha, Father! She is very elderly now, but still lives. Her son Tavis keeps the Second Faring House, and we met her there. She remembers you all, and sent her love and prayers to you.” “Lady Saditha?” Lin exclaimed “We four have never forgotten her help and kindness, when we were in such distress after what happened in the Dark Ruins.” “She was a blessing to us then.” Krystha commented, and Arentha said “She was indeed. I am glad you have met her, Aila. Was it well with her?” “As well as may be, at such a great age.” Aila said. “Only that she tires easily. But she was very interested in Moondancer, and the new Way.” “I found her a true Lightfriend.” Moondancer added. Arentha had been looking round her at the Gatehouse. ” I can see that you have made many changes here.” “Only temporary ones, to house the incomers from Ma’al, and accommodate our Brothers-in-Light and the Healers who have come to help them.” Rujel said. “You must come and see what we have done, Aiel, and meet my family.” So Aiel, Arentha, Lin and Krystha followed him to inspect the arrangements for the refugees, while the others went on with the work they had been doing to help.

In Ma’al, Zarel, despite the threat of more barriers to overcome, was feeling hopeful. He could definitely see a distant range of mountains now, surely where the Meeting Place would be. The dale they had been riding in had widened into a plain again, but no longer featureless. Ranges of hills on either side rose steadily up towards the distant mountains. Karis and Karlin had been concerned that there might be more danger lurking in the hills, since the attack on Zarel, but the Lightstone-Bearer had assured them that he did not Perceive any Darkness there. The sight, finally, of the place they had been aiming for helped to hearten the travellers, and as night drew on with no danger or disturbance, they felt safe enough to stop for the small rations they now had, and a night’s rest, though they still drew into a defensive huddle with guards posted. Next morning the skies were unusually clear for Ma’al, and their goal , more clearly visible now, seemed closer than ever. The column set off again in a more confident mood than for several days, and Zarel could Perceive a lightening of the tension among them. He still kept his Perception extended for any Darkness ahead, though, for he felt sure that as they grew closer to the Meeting Place, forbidden to all of Ma’al by the Dark Lords, there must surely be more attacks. Karis and Karlin too were on guard, and as the column of refugees continued through the plain and there were no signs of danger they grew more, not less, uneasy, sure that the hiatus meant that their enemies were planning some major confrontation that was taking time to organise. Zarel, seeing Karis glance back towards the tail of the column from time to time, said “Karis, the Lightfriends will warn us if they Perceive Darkness. I Perceive none, as yet, though it will surely come.” “That is what I fear” Karis answered. “I am concerned that this pause means some major attack is being planned.” “No doubt it does” Zarel replied, “but we will be ready, and we are protected by the Lightstone. Trust Light, Karis.” “I do trust Light, Zarel” the Swordsman replied. “But I will be glad when we reach the Meeting Place. I think perhaps another day or so will bring us there.” “I think so too” the Lightstone-Bearer told him.

The travellers had gone further still before Zarel felt a tension in his Perception, and said to the Swordsmen “Ah, now I sense something, Karis, Karlin . It begins.” There was no signal from the Lightfriends, but Zarel was sure that he felt Darkness near. It must lie ahead of them. He withdrew his Perception long enough to send the Thought-without-Words back through the Lightfriends in the column, to prepare them for danger, then extended it again, seeking to understand what it was he Perceived. It did not feel to him like the sorcery he had battled before, nor the delusion they had banished. The clear sky ahead was dimming and darkening, seeming to thicken too. As it grew darker, they could see flashes of red . Karis asked ” Is it a sorcery, Zarel? Have the Dark Ones called up a storm?” “It does not feel like a sorcery, to my Perception.” Zarel answered. He had a sense of something alive within the dark clouds, which seemed to be drawing nearer. Then the darkness ahead began to separate and coalesce, and he knew what it was that confronted them. Three shapes appeared, flame-shaped like Dancers, but sooty black, shot with red sparks. He had never seen them before, nor had the Swordsmen, but all three knew what they were. “Night Lords!” exclaimed Karis. The corrupted Dancers of Ma’al, under the control of the Dark Lords, the deadliest of enemies, faced them now. Zarel hesitated, unsure what to do, but as he did, he felt Mihel’s thought touch his Perception. Suddenly, incongruously it seemed to Zarel, his memory flew back to the very beginning of his Way, to that night in the Temple, standing with Aiel by Arnath’s bier, and the appearance of the Dancers. He recalled himself and his twin listening to the Dancers’ Song, that only they and their mother, of all Li’is, could hear. And then he knew what to do. He stepped forward confidently, hearing Karis, behind him, give a cry of alarm. “Zarel! Take care!”, but knowing he was protected and Light would be with him.

The others watched anxiously as Zarel stepped out, alone, to face the Night Lords. He looked so vulnerable. The Lightstone was glowing on his breast, and then, to their relief, the light poured out of it and surrounded Zarel, enclosing him in a Light-Shield. In the midst of the light they saw him raise his arms, as if in worship, and then, to their astonishment, the Lightstone-Bearer began to sing. The notes seemed to echo off the surrounding hills and the music was strange, but very beautiful. The whole column was still, held not by fear, but by the power of the music. The Night Lords, however, ranged in opposition to the Lightstone-Bearer, were now beginning to twist and contort, as though the sound were very painful to them. Then, shimmering down around Zarel, came more flame-shapes, but these were bright, sparkling blue-green, with glowing hearts, and they surrounded the Night Lords, pressing in on them. “Dancers! ” Karlin gasped, finally understanding. “Zarel is singing the Dancers’ Song!” The Night Lords, under attack from Zarel and the Dancers, could not sustain their menacing presence, but wavered and shot upwards into the sky of Ma’al, disappearing with a thought-scream of rage that echoed in their minds. Zarel’s singing had ceased, and the Light-Shield withdrew as the Dancers surrounded him. He felt their thought in his Perception. “Lightstone-Bearer, the Night Lords will not return. But you will be pursued even more strenuously, now that the Dark Lords know that Dancers have been seen in Ma’al. We will await you on the Meeting Place.” Zarel replied “Thank you for your help, Dancers. Is it far to the Meeting Place now?” “A day’s journey” the light-beings replied, before blinking out of their vision. Zarel returned to the head of the column. He could Perceive a sense of awe, and was uneasy. He did not want the others to give him the honour that belonged to Light. Karis said “Zarel, you saved us from the Night Lords!” “Not I , but Light” the Lightstone-Bearer answered. “It was Light alone that told me what to do, Karis. I could not have done it in my own strength.” “You sang the Dancers’ Song” Whitestar said. “Karlin said so.” “Yes” Zarel replied. He did not elaborate,but his Perception reached for Mihel’s thought with his gratitude to the Shining One, knowing that it was Mihel who had shown him what to do.

He was still uneasy that the others seemed to be in awe of what he had done, but perhaps, he thought, it could be turned to good, in that the refugees might have more confidence in his leadership. He said “I am thankful for the help of the Dancers, but they have warned that the Dark Lords will make greater efforts to pursue us , now that they will know that Dancers have been seen in Ma’al. ” Not wanting to cause them too much concern, he added “The Dancers have told me that it is only a day’s journey to the Meeting Place now, and they will await us there. Even if the pursuit is close, we will reach the Meeting Place before they can catch us, I believe.” “We will.” Mihel stated confidently, and the certainty he showed encouraged them all. Once more they moved on, heading for the mountains now clearly to be seen ahead of them. Despite Zarel’s triumph over the Night Lords, everyone was alert for danger, knowing the Dark Lords of Ma’al would not let them reach the Meeting Place unimpeded. Karis wished that they could have gone faster, so as to reach their goal more quickly, but knew that was not possible. “A day’s journey” the Dancers had told Zarel, but this day was already part gone, and they would need to allow the refugees to rest by night. It would not be till next mid-morning at the earliest that they could reach the Meeting Place.

The Gatehouse was prepared, and awaited the arrival of one more, with his retinue, to join those waiting to greet the newcomers from Ma’al. Such an important event , they had decided, demanded the attendance of the full Council-at-Need of Li’is, and the Lord of the East had set sail, after the run of the Two-Moon-Tides, not to the City Harbour, but the Merchant Town, as nearer to the Gatehouse, accompanied by a group of the Priests of the Eastern Temple, who also wished to greet their Brothers-and-Sisters-in-Light from Ma’al. They had almost reached the Gatehouse, and then the tally of the Council would be complete; the Lord of the East would join the High Priest, the Lords of the Harbour, the Mountain Fortress and the Western Fortress, the Kets, and the Gatekeeper. Aiel wondered whether they would now add another member to the Council, to represent the people of Ma’al who escaped to Li’is, but such deliberations would wait for another time. Much would depend on the state of the refugees, too, for any formal welcome must wait till needs had been met. They had set up way stations near the foot of the Dancers’ Mountain to assess any physical needs, and to list the names of the newcomers and assign them to the places where they could eat and sleep. The Healing Place of the Gatehouse could take any who needed more than basic care, but from his communication with Zarel, Aren had learned that most of the refugees would have only minor hurts from the journey; the principal concerns were the pregnant women, especially Corhan’s sister Daria. The Healers had made up preparations of blueroot, in case of imminent births, and were well stocked with other healing herbs. As much had been done as could be, and now they were eagerly waiting for the signal that the Dancers’ Gate would open and Zarel and the others pass through into Li’is.

Zarel had decreed that the refugees should stop and try to rest for a while as soon as night fell, for he knew pursuit would soon be near and it was unlikely that they would have long to sleep. He himself slept only fitfully, and around the middle of the night he came fully awake with his Perception stirring. He sat up and drew out the Lightstone. Karlin, who was taking his turn to guard the Lightstone-Bearer, saw this and said quietly “What is it, Zarel? Are they coming?” Zarel said “One moment, Karlin.” and bent his gaze to the Lightstone, using it to augment his Perception as he searched for the source of his disquiet. He found, as he had expected, a great cloud of darkness, at a distance behind them but growing nearer. The Dark Lords’ mercenaries were again on their trail. He withdrew his Perception and looked up at the concerned face of the Swordsman. “Yes, Karlin, they are coming. Distant yet, but we must rouse the others and move on, even though it is still night.” Karlin turned to waken Karis, while Zarel roused Dorvai and Whitestar, and they sent their Perceptions through the other Lightfriends. Karis and Karlin went to call the other Swordsmen and the Malani to their defensive positions round the perimeter of the column as the Lightfriends woke the others and they formed up again in travelling order. Zarel was thankful that they were travelling over comparatively smooth terrain, as it was night, and neither of the two moons of Ma’al was full, so there was not that much light. They could not light torches, as those would betray their position to their pursuers. He was glad to see the sky begin to lighten after some hours of travelling. The mountains were much nearer now, but he could see something else – the last obstacle of which Mihel had warned him. The whole plain of the wide dale was blocked by a solid barrier, a high stone wall. From this distance it looked unbroken, but Mihel had said there was a way through, though narrow, and Zarel relied on the Shining One’s promise as he led the refugees towards it. He felt a check, though, in his Perception, and sent it out again, finding their pursuers, much closer now – they must have ridden fast. “The Dark Ones’ forces are near!” he said. “We must get through the barrier.”

He could sense the fear among the refugees as the barrier loomed ahead, and again sent the Thought-without-Words through the Lightfriends, telling them to assure the people that they would be able to pass it. They reached the wall and found the exit, a narrow, slanted, high-walled passage, designed to look, from the approach, as though there was no way through. Now they had to unload the carts, unharness the horses, and funnel everyone through the narrow passage. As they began, Karis looked back and gasped. The pursuit was closing on them. A great cloud of reddish dust marked the progress of the hordes of Darkness, and in the sky above them and to the fore hung a cloud of bright dots, growing steadily larger and closer – the Hawks! Karlin, hearing his exclamation, looked too, and said urgently “Light grant we get through before they reach us!” “We will” said Mihel, with calm confidence. His words reassured them, though not knowing who and what he was, they did not know why, only that he always seemed to speak peace into them. Some of the crowd, though, had also seen their pursuers, and there were exclamations of fear. Zarel paused in helping the refugees through, turning to face the rest, and suddenly the Lightstone was blazing like a sun on his chest. “See, Light is with us, and we move at Light’s bidding” he called to the crowd. “Light will not forsake us, and the weakest of Light is stronger than the strongest of Darkness!” They increased their pace through the passage as much as possible, but there were those who could not hurry now that they had abandoned the carts and horses. Some of the Malani and others dragged the carts across the entrance to the passageway behind them, piling them up as far as possible, to slow their pursuers. Now they were facing the mountains, and Zarel led them forwards again. They had seen the mountain in front of them, and many of them had, in various ways, thought to avoid it – swing away from it, or skirt round it. When Zarel led them to the very foot of the mountain, and pointed out the narrow, twisting, treacherous-looking path that was the only way up its flank, there were some cries of protest. “Do not fear, Children of Light” Zarel said, with quiet confidence. “Their lies our path.” Even Corhan , however, challenged “How will we get this crowd up there, with the Hawks ready to snatch them off? And where will we go then, if you do succeed?” Mihel answered. “You will go to the Meeting Place, and through the Dancers’ Gate into Li’is.” Such was the authority in his voice that the Lord of the Malani did not doubt what he said, but still asked , “How do you know this, Mihel?” “I know because I learned it of Light.” Mihel answered.

Zarel ordered them, “Karis, Karlin, and you other Swordsmen, stay back until all the people have climbed the path, and help them. I will be safe, and the mercenaries will not reach us before we are on the Meeting Place, but it will reassure the people if they see you ready to defend them. ” “Zarel”, Karis protested, “Our task was to guard you!” “And you have done it well” the Lightstone-Bearer assured them. “But now I am where I should be, and Light will guard me. You must do as I say, Karis.” Despite the few protests, the crowd had now quieted and was moving up the path, slowly, picking their way by ones and twos. Corhan had sent his Malani to assist the less able, and now he and Saban, Karis, Karlin, Mihel and the other Swordsmen dropped back to confer and to guard the rear of the column as Zarel had ordered. “Zarel is right, the foot of the path must be guarded.” Corhan said. “If they come up with us before all the people reach the place where Zarel is heading, we will need to hold them off. And I still do not understand. The place where Zarel is heading – he called it the Meeting Place, and said there would be a gateway there, but I see only a great ledge, halfway up the mountain, and no gateway. Where we will go from there I do not know. If Zarel were not the Lightstone-Bearer, I would think he was mad!” Mihel said “Corhan, that ledge connects to the Meeting Place in Li’is. Zarel and the Dancers will make the Gate, and through it you will go into Li’is.” “That is good” Corhan said, not questioning how he knew. “Still, it seems some of us must still stay behind, to guard the path.” “Corhan!” Saban said, concern in his voice “You cannot stay! You are Lord of our people. And what of your dream? You must lead our people into this new world. I will stay.” “And leave Daria, and the new babe?” Corhan asked. Mihel said “Peace, Swordsmen of Li’is and Ma’al. None of you will stay. You must all go through the Dancers’ Gate. It is the Will of Light. You are already numbered among the redeemed of Ma’al, Corhan, Saban. You will pass into Li’is.” He spoke with such authority that they all stared at him, hardly daring to question what he said, and then they were all distracted by a sudden great blaze of light from up ahead of them, where Zarel stood with Whitestar on the Meeting Place, with more and more people scrambling up to join him every minute. As the Meeting Place filled, the light was pouring, flooding, out of the Lightstone, and forming a rippling curtain of light against the sheer, solid rock wall that backed the Meeting Place. And then the Dancers began to appear, shimmering into being around Zarel, dozens on dozens of them. The crowd was silent now, awed and hushed. The Swordsmen had been silent and staring too, standing watching with their backs to Mihel and the fast-approaching hosts of their enemies. Now Mihel’s voice came from behind them, gentle yet commanding. “See, the Dancers’ Gate is opening. You must go. I will keep the path.” Karis swung round, a protest on his lips, “No, Mihel! You cannot stand alone! You will be…” His words died as he faced Mihel, and the others, hearing him stunned to silence, turned too, and were at once as awed and silent as their Sword-Brother. The very ordinary-looking young Swordsman was gone. The figure before them now, golden-eyed, white-robed, beautiful, blazing with glory, surrounded by an air of purity and power, though he was like nothing they had ever seen, woke some dormant ancestral memory that had them all on their knees. “No!” he said, and it was somehow still Mihel’s voice and Mihel’s smile. “Do not kneel to me! It is not permitted. Worship only Light.” When they rose, albeit reluctantly, still staring in wonder, the powerful figure said, “You see, I thank you for your concern, Karis, my brother in Light, but I will not be killed. What is not mortal cannot die. I will keep the path for you, and if Light permits it , I will see you again in Li’is. “But you are a Spirit-in-Light!” Karlin exclaimed. “But still your friend and brother in Light” Mihel told them. “Go up the path now. You may look back at me when you reach the Meeting Place – but only then!”

In Li’is that morning had brought Dancers to the Gatehouse, with a message. The time had come. Aren, Moondancer, and Aiel were to climb to the Meeting Place and the others to gather at the foot of the Dancers’ Mountain, Priests, Healers, and helpers, to welcome and tend the Children of Light and the Lightfriends of Ma’al, entering their new home in Li’is. Aiel felt excitement building in him. It would be a new day, a new beginning, for all of Li’is, not just the refugees from Ma’al. As High Priest, he called everyone together for the Morning Prayers, and then assigned them to their tasks. It would be easy to overwhelm the newcomers with too much attention, however kindly meant, so some of the Priests and Healers remained at the Gatehouse, ready to follow the others if called. Arentha, Lin and Krystha, as the original Way-Sharers, must come to the Dancers’ Mountain to see the end of the Way, and Zarel,Karis and Karlin’s families to welcome their return. Aiel, knowing how overcome Janna would be at Karlin’s safe return, told Mellin “Take Janna with you. We will not expect her to take on Healer’s duties at this time, nor Marla and Mella if they do not wish it. They must be allowed to welcome Karis and Karlin home, and there are Healers here to spare” “Thank you, Aiel.” Mellin said . “I trust Light, but I too will be greatly relieved to have them back safely – as you and Arenel and Aren will Zarel.” Those who were going to the Dancers’ Mountain and the Meeting Place set out, along with the Priests and Healers who had been assigned. Some of the Priesthood had been asked to stay at the way stations and gather details of the incomers, with Healers at hand to help if needed. The others accompanied Aiel and the families of Zarel, Karis and Karlin, to the metal gates at the foot of the Mountain, now opened wide in welcome. Aiel, Aren and Moondancer ascended the narrow path. Aiel could Perceive the echoes of the younger pair’s excitement and relief at the end of Zarel’s Way. They reached the Meeting Place, and waited. After a few moments a large group of Dancers appeared, and ‘said’ “Aren, Moondancer, it is time to make the link with Zarel and Whitestar, so that we can build the Gateway. When you hear us begin to sing, Aren, then reach for Zarel’s Perception.” Aren simply bowed his head a moment in acknowledgement of the Dancers’ instructions, and turned to Moondancer. Aiel saw their eyes meet and their Perceptions meld, waiting for the Dancers’ signal. He waited in eager anticipation for the opening of the Dancers’ Gate.

The Swordsmen were constrained to go, under Mihel’s orders, with Karis and Karlin, Corhan and Saban the last of all to ascend the difficult path. They were still too full of awe and wonder to speak as they scrambled up, and because they were so silent, Karis suddenly became aware of the fact that Corhan’s breathing seemed somewhat strained, and that from time to time he grunted with effort as he mounted the path. Till now the dark Swordsman had always been fit and strong, and Karis, concerned that his Sword-Brother might now be unwell, was about to ask Corhan what ailed him. Before he could speak, though, Corhan seemed to stumble on something and fell awkwardly against the rocky wall of the pathway, automatically putting out his arm to steady himself. As his hand jolted against the rock he gave a sharp yelp of pain and dropped to his knees, bent over, groaning, while his three friends leaned anxiously over him. For a moment they thought he had broken a bone, but Karis remembered that Corhan had already seemed rather weak on the way up the path. The Healer’s son felt gently, as he had watched his mother do, along the suspect arm, with no response until he reached nearly to the shoulder. Then Corhan flinched, and under the cloak his sleeve gave under Karis’ fingers to reveal the ridge of something beneath, and, further up, a stiffness of the fabric that caused him to throw back the cloak. This revealed the ripped sleeve over a hastily-improvised bandage, both of them clotted and stiff with dark, dried blood. But still the centre of the patch was damp and sticky where Corhan still bled, or else the jolt had started the bleeding again. Saban cried “Corhan!” and Karis, knowing how anxious he must be for his friend and Lord, said “He will mend with Healing, Saban. But he has not helped matters by telling no one and trying to tend it himself.” To Corhan he said quietly, “When was this wound got , Corhan? At that last skirmish?” Corhan looked up at them, nodded, and smiled weakly. “It will be well with me” , he said. Karlin, who had been uncharacteristically silent till now, said “If you do not take the Wound Fever! That has been two days untended – why did you not go to Dorvai?” “He had enough to do, and I did not wish to slow us down” Corhan answered. “When our task is accomplished, I will have the wound tended – surely there are Healers in Li’is?” They helped him to his feet and up to the Meeting Place, where Zarel stood with Whitestar and the Dancers by the Dancers’ Gate and the crowd silent before it. Dorvai was waiting near the top of the path, and as they reached the Meeting Place, he said “There, you are the last! But where is Mihel?” At this, the four Swordsmen turned almost as one to look back down the mountain, to the bottom of the path where they had left the Spirit-in-Light. He was not there, but out on the plain, beyond the wall that stood in front of the mountains, the hordes of Darkness stood silent, still, as if paralysed, and before them, facing them, towered an amazing, awesome figure. They knew in their spirits that it was the Shining One, Mihel, but he was changed out of all recognition. His gleaming feet touched the earth of Ma’al, his head seemed to brush the sky, his hair flowing out like mist on the wind. He looked as tall as the mountain, glowing like white fire, robed in lightning. He spread out great, over-arching, six-fold wings whose pinions seemed to be not feathers, but shining blades of silver, and to reach from East to West. His arms were stretched out and up, as if in worship of Light; his right hand held a sword of living flame and lightning danced and flowed and leapt from the fingers of his left hand. The armies of the Dark Lords were helpless before him; the plain was one silent unmoving mass of Dark mercenaries, with here and there little crumpled, brightly-coloured heaps showing where the Hawks had plummeted from the skies in the same paralysis of awful terror that gripped their companions on the ground.

Karis broke the silence. “There is Mihel” he said, and pointed. The others turned, and looked, and gave a cry of wonder, and slowly the crowd and Lightfriends of Ma’al, who had been too wonder-struck by the miraculous forming of the Gate to realise that another miracle was happening behind them, began to turn, and point, and stare, and exclaim. Dorvai said, in a hushed voice, “Then – all this time we have been walking with a Shining One, a Spirit-in-Light, without knowing it?” “I knew” came Zarel’s voice. He had come up behind them with Whitestar, and took her hand, continuing, “And because I knew it, Whitestar knew, and Aren and Moondancer. But he bade us tell no other in Ma’al. He told me he is the guardian of the Lightstone and the Lightstone-Bearer.” “He said he will come to us again in Li’is, if Light permits it” Karis told Zarel, “Because he is still our friend and brother in Light, though he is a Shining One!” “And the sooner we go into Li’is, the sooner his task here will be ended ” Zarel answered. He turned back towards the wall of the Meeting Place and the rippling veil of light, saying “Come, Whitestar.” As the two of them reached the light, Karis noticed that the Lightstone on Zarel’s breast was quiet now, the faintest spark only lighting it, as if all its power was being poured into forming the Dancers’ Gate. Zarel and Whitestar stood facing each other, their Perceptions joining, linking with Aren and Moondancer in Li’is. There were some moments of silence, then Zarel raised one hand, as if he signalled to the Dancers. The living flames of blue-green light responded, forming into two lines on either side of the veil of light, then slipping through it by two and two. After the last pair had gone through, there was a moment’s pause, then the light-veil too seemed to melt into the rock wall, leaving a great archway in the rock. For a moment they were looking into the thickest, blackest darkness they had ever seen, a darkness that seemed almost tangible, while in Li’is Aren and Moondancer and Aiel too had seen the Dancers form lines and disappear, followed by a blaze of light , and then the archway appear, and the thick blackness beyond it. For those in Ma’al, the darkness was gone after that moment, though their eyes almost ached from the intensity of it, and through the rock archway they could see another landscape that seemed the mirror-image of the place where they stood. It was so close that two people, one on either side, might have reached through and joined hands, yet they knew that in truth it was so far away that the thought of the distance involved would have made them dizzy. On the other side of the archway – the Dancers’ Gate – lay the Meeting Place in Li’is.

Zarel, still holding Whitestar’s hand, moved towards the Dancers’ Gate. “We must go first” he told her, and she nodded. The crowd around fell silent as they stepped towards the Gate – towards Li’is. And as they did so, there on the other side of it appeared Aren and Moondancer. It was like facing their own reflections. As they moved through the Gate there was no flicker, no feeling, to indicate on either side the vast, strange times and distances they were traversing. Zarel and Whitestar simply walked through the Gate and into the embrace of their twins. Karis had been looking round for Sharamine. When he found her, he called her to him, wanting her to enter Li’is hand-in-hand with him. It would be symbolic of their future. But he was concerned, too, about Corhan. There was no doubt now that the Swordsman’s wound had been reopened by his fall against the mountainside, and it was bleeding badly, his sleeve soaked again with fresh blood. Dorvai and the other Lightfriends were now ushering the people through the Gate, group by group. They had tried to keep the pregnant women and children separate and send them through to safety first, but none of them would be parted from their menfolk. Only the unattached went first. Corhan’s Malani, though, insisted on waiting for their Lord, until he raised his voice in command, telling his sister , “Daria, take the women and children through! And then you men – I will not leave this place until I know all my people are safe in our new world.” “Corhan”, Karlin said urgently, “Sword-Brother – you need a Healer’s care!” But Corhan obstinately would not stir until he was sure that all the Malani had passed safely through the Gate that Zarel and the Dancers had made between Ma’al and Li’is, and though they upbraided him for it, his Sword-Brethren respected his choice. Even then he insisted that Karis take Sharamine through the Gate, and only after that did he allow his iron will to falter, leaning, with a weary sigh, on Karlin and Saban, and permitting them at last to help him through the Gate.

As soon as the last of the refugees were through, they, Aiel, Aren and Moondancer heard a tremendous shout from the other side of the Gate. Everyone, whether of Ma’al or Li’is, was constrained to look towards the Gate, and saw the Spirit-in-Light, Mihel. It was as though the focus of the Gate had altered from the Meeting Place on Ma’al to the plain below, where Mihel stood. Mihel gave another triumphant shout. Lightning leapt from his upraised hands to the far horizon and the heavy skies of Ma’al, and fire flashed from his sword to the red earth. There was a terrifying, rushing, roaring sound. A dreadful wind, stronger than the strongest hurricane, swirled up around the tall figure. It snatched the dark hordes of Ma’al up from the plain and sent them hurtling into the sky, and after them every other living thing, then the trees and plants, the rocks, the very soil and water of the Dark World. All that lived on or gave life to Ma’al boiled off on that cosmic wind into the dark between the stars, leaving nothing but the bare bones of the planet. Its veil of cloud gone, its air snatched away, the sky of Ma’al turned midnight blue. And then Ma’al itself was tossed away from them, its red rock crumbling to dust with the force of its flight, with its dulled and shrunken moons still circling it, till it settled in a new orbit, gleaming like a baleful red eye. There was total silence. The sight of the utter destruction of Ma’al, on top of all else that they had endured, left the refugees shocked and dumb.The Shining One reappeared on the other side of the Gate, once more as the Swordsmen had first seen him, white-robed and peaceful. Some of the people flinched in fear, but Mihel said gently “Have no fear, Children of Light! You have seen Light’s judgement on the Dark World, but first Light has brought you out, so you should not share the Dark Ones’ fate. Rest now, and find your place in your new world. Light is with you.” That was all. Suddenly the bright being was gone, and the Dancers’ Gate blinked out of existence, and they were staring only at the rock wall of the Meeting Place. Zarel glanced at Aiel, who indicated that he should take the lead again. Aren, Whitestar, Moondancer, Aiel and Dorvai joined him, and the crowd followed them down the path to the foot of the mountain and the Gatehouse Gardens.

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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