AN END OF DARKNESS

Chapter 14

A few days passed, and life at the Gatehouse began to take on a rhythm. The Council-at-Need had called together the refugees from Ma’al and officially welcomed them to Li’is, calming the fears of some who had been unsure if they would be welcome in their new world. Prayer times and meal times had fallen back into their accustomed slots. Fed, clothed, and reassured, the refugees began to make new friends and reconnect with old ones, and to make tentative plans for the future. Aiel, with the agreement of the Council and the Lightfriends of Ma’al, had sent the Thought-without-Words through the Priesthood, telling them to now pass on the story of the Way and the rescue from Ma’al, emphasising that it was the Children of Light who had been brought into Li’is. That way, the people of Li’is would be prepared for the newcomers to their communities. Karis and Karlin had been delighted when Talar and Lorin had decided to join the Fortress Watch, along with an older Swordsman, Tabet, his son, still undergoing Sword-Training, wife, and young daughter. Since the Malani had asked for news of their Lord, Saban had come to visit Corhan in the Healing Place, bringing his baby son. “What will you name him?” Rentha had asked. “Darhan” Saban had answered, and Corhan said “That was our father’s name, too – mine and Daria’s.” Saban had reassured Corhan that all was well with the Malani, and there was no need for him to return to the camp until Rentha said he was strong enough. There was to be another important appointment for Corhan, Aiel told his granddaughter when she was eating her evening meal with her family. “The Council have decided that since the Malani are a new people to Li’is, they should be represented on the Council, even though it rarely meets. So we will invite the Lord of the Malani to become a member of the Council. Say nothing to him yet, though, Rentha, for the invitation must come from the Council.” Rentha promised, glad for Corhan and the Malani. It would prove to them that they would be valued by the Lords of Li’is.

Corhan’s fitness and stamina had stood him in good stead. Rentha had been able to unpin the small wound, since it was healing well, and, as she had expected, the few days’ rest and good food and drink had restored his strength. When Karis came to see how Corhan fared, he found him up and dressed, and Rentha said, “It is well enough with him now, Karis. You can return to your camp, Corhan, and I will only need to check the wound in a day or so, to see how the healing goes.” Corhan smiled broadly, and said, “Ah, that is good news! I miss my people. ” “They miss you too”, Rentha said, “though Saban and Daria have done well in your place. ” Karis also smiled, saying, “I am glad you have recovered, Sword-Brother, and can rejoin your people.” Rentha said, “I will come with you to the camp, Corhan, if I may. I would like to make sure all is well with those I tended, and there is no other need.” And, she thought, maybe among his own people he would feel able to speak to her about his vision-dream and her place in it, as he had not so far. “Of course, you will be welcome ,Rentha.” he replied. They made their way through the Gardens, encountering some of the Lightfriends on the way, who were glad to see their protector fit and well again. “It is a very special relationship you have with the Lightfriends.”Rentha commented. “And an ancient one” Corhan replied. “I hope it will not change too much, now that we are in Li’is and they have less need of protection.” ” Once the Priesthood were established in Li’is, in the First Days, they had less need of the protection of the Ketai.” Rentha answered, “But still, there is friendship and respect between the Priesthood and the Westerners. The Lightfriends will not forget you.” Corhan was looking round him at the Gardens now. “This is surely a place of repose and healing”, he said. Rentha smiled. “I had forgotten you had not seen the Gardens. I think you will enjoy the wildflower meadow, where. the Malani are camping.” Sure enough, when they reached the little gate and walked through into the meadow, Corhan exclaimed “You are right, Rentha! This place is perfect.” He looked across at the tents and said “These are the tents your people have provided? They are larger than I imagined.” “The travelling tents are intended for groups of herders, sometimes up to ten”, she explained, ” so they need to be spacious. Saban has set one aside for your return.”

They went first to Saban and Daria’s tent, where Corhan was received rapturously, and Rentha assured herself that all was well with Daria and the babe. She did not miss, though, the quick, questioning glance that Saban cast at Corhan, and the slight shake of Corhan’s head, and guessed that Saban was anxious to know if Corhan had yet broached the subject of his dream with her. Word of their Lord’s return had quickly gone round the camp, and when they stepped outside the tent, the Malani were gathering to welcome him. He assured them that all was well with him now, and added, “See, here with me is the Healer who helped me. If you or your families have need of her aid, she is here to offer it.” There were a few who came forward at that, mostly those concerned for children or older members of their families, and Rentha was glad to be of help. She found no serious problems, and was able to deal quickly with the few she did find, with the contents of her Healer’s sack. As she moved around the camp, with Corhan at her side, Rentha could not but be aware of the glances that came her way. How much, she wondered, did Corhan’s people, other than the Elders, know of his dream? Karis had told her that because of it, Corhan had broken with the tradition of betrothal at manhood for the Lords of the Malani. That, surely, must have demanded an explanation. Yet perhaps Corhan’s people would not, after all, have asked one of him, since it was obvious that he was greatly loved and respected by them. Rentha glanced up at Corhan, thinking how tall he was. She herself was not considered small, but she barely reached to Corhan’s shoulder. As if he felt her glance, he looked down at her and smiled, and she felt a warmth in her cheeks. ‘Light chose well for me’, she thought, no longer doubting that Corhan’s dream had been Light-sent, and that she was the maiden he had seen so long ago. At last he said, “Rentha, you have done enough for today. Do not weary yourself.” “But if there are other needs…” she began, but he said, “I think you have seen to all who asked.” He paused, then said, “I will come back to the Gatehouse with you.” They walked in silence for a while, back towards the little gate, and then Corhan said “It is good of you to take my people on your heart so, Rentha.” How was she to reply without revealing what she knew of his dream? She answered, truthfully, “It seems Light has laid your people on my heart, Corhan.” “Does it?” he said, opening the gate of the Gardens for her.

When he had followed her through, he said suddenly, urgently, “Rentha, do you have time to walk with me here for a while? I must talk to you.” Realising that her words had given him the opening he had needed, to tell her about his dream, she answered, “Of course, Corhan. What is it?” “Do you believe that Light may speak to the Children of Light?” “Why, yes, Corhan! I am a daughter of the Priesthood, remember. Light may speak to us in many ways.” “Years ago, in Ma’al, when I was very young, Light spoke to me, Rentha -” he had got so far, but now he hesitated. They had reached one of the arbour-seats that were scattered throughout the Gatehouse Gardens, and Rentha sat down, and said, “Let us sit here and talk, Corhan. Perhaps you can gather your thoughts better if you are still.” He sat beside her, turning his hands palm up on his knees in a gesture of helplessness. “I do not know how to say this to you, Rentha! yet it is vital that I do.” Rentha took pity on him and knew that it was time to help him, by telling him what she already knew. She reached out her hand and laid it in Corhan’s. The palms of his hands were much paler than the dark skin of their backs, almost the colour of her own hand, so that they seemed to meld together. Corhan looked across at her in surprise. “Corhan”, she said, “I – I know about your dream – Karis told me. Oh, do not be angry with him!”, she rushed on, afraid that her confession might spoil the Swordsmen’s friendship. “It was because he saw that I was concerned that – that I was beginning to feel myself drawn to you.” “I am not angry”, Corhan said, and his hand closed on hers. “I did not know how to tell you about it, Rentha; I was afraid you might disbelieve me. It seems Karis has done me another service. But why did it concern you, that you were drawn to me?” Rentha looked into his black eyes and told him, honestly and openly, “Because I did not understand why, Corhan. All I knew of you was what my brother and cousins had told me – enough to make me respect and honour you, yes, but not to account for – for any other feelings.” She felt herself blush again, but went doggedly on, “I had hardly even spoken to you, then – oh yes, I tended you, but you were unconscious at first, then asleep much of the time. I did not know you, Corhan, so how could I – care – for you? I thought that, like a foolish child, I was falling under the spell of their tales of your bravery, and of your strangeness and your – your beauty -” “My beauty?” he exclaimed, with a laugh. “Why yes, I found you beautiful” Rentha answered, surprised to find that she was growing quite calm and unflurried now that she had actually embarked on the telling. “And I was glad when Karis told me about your dream. I began to understand, then, that it was Light that had turned my heart to you, and to your people, and not some fancy of my own. But I was a little concerned that Karis should have told me what was yours to tell. I challenged him, and he said he had thought about it carefully, and not only for my sake, he said, but yours, he had told me, because you had been through so much and might find it yet another ordeal, to try to explain your dream to me.” “And you believe in my dream, Rentha? You do believe that you are the one Light meant for me?” Corhan asked, anxiously still. “Yes, I do” Rentha assured him. “It explains everything, Corhan.”

He took her other hand in his and said softly “It has been such a long time, Rentha, that I almost began to doubt it myself. And never, never did I imagine that I would have to come into another world to find you!” Rentha had seen another side to Corhan now, a gentler, more vulnerable side, and it woke a well of tenderness in her, so that she said, gently but decisively, “Dear Corhan, it is your world too, now. All Children of Light are children of Li’is too – no matter if they were born of Ma’al.” He smiled at her, and, still softly, spoke her name and leaned closer towards her. They kissed tentatively, shyly, as if each tested the other’s response. But it felt so right that they kissed again, and this time it was an affirmation, as though with the kiss they made a silent vow to each other. Corhan said, with wonder in his voice, “From my early youth I have been in love with the maiden in my dream, but now I have found the reality and it is better, far better, than the vision told me, Rentha, sweet!” Rentha, echoing her earlier thoughts, told him “Light chose well for me, Corhan! For surely Light knew my heart better than I, and that I would love you, even before I knew you.” “We must be betrothed”, he said, simply. “What is the way of it in your world, Rentha? I do not know – oh, there is so much I do not know!” “Then I will teach you”, she said. “It is the custom that you should ask my father, Arenel, if we may be betrothed.” “Oh!” , he half-groaned. “But why should he say yes, Rentha? I have nothing to offer you. We are without place or possessions, my people and I.” “There will be a place for you – for us” Rentha corrected herself, and was rewarded by Corhan’s flashing smile. ” It is custom only, Corhan. My father, Arenel, could not prevent us. But you know that he is of the Priesthood, and will not withstand the Will of Light in this, understanding that I will be happy with you.” “Is your father here? I do not know him.” Corhan asked. “He is here – my mother too. I will take you to meet them.” He nodded, but she saw that he was frowning slightly. “Corhan, something still worries you?” “Karis and Karlin and Zarel had never seen a Malani before. There are no people like us in Li’is?” “No. Does it matter to you?” “To me, no. But will your father and mother accept me as your betrothed if I am – different?” “Oh, Corhan, of course! You are a Child of Light. It is your inner spirit that matters, not your outward appearance. You are loyal to Light. That is all my father will ask of you, Corhan.” “And that is all I need to do? To ask your father?” “And me!” she laughed. ” Oh – Rentha, I am sorry! I should not have taken it for granted…” “Corhan, my heart, I was teasing you!” she broke in, smiling. “Of course I will be your Lady, that is settled. But what of your people? I was wondering, this morning in the camp – what do they know of your dream?” “All of them know a little. The Elders, and the most trusted, like Saban, know everything. But you have been seen with me among them. Those who know have guessed the truth, I think, and the others wonder. That is why I wish us to be betrothed quickly, to end their uncertainty. And there is a betrothal ceremony among the Malani – if you are willing -?” “Certainly, since the Malani will be my people too”, she answered, then, “Come, Corhan, let us go and find my father.”

They went quietly, hand in hand, back through the Gardens to the Gatehouse. In the Hall of the Gatehouse they found the two sets of twins, with Zohra. She and her sons had been tuning their harps, and as Rentha and Corhan came into the Hall, they were beginning to play. The music was beautiful, but new to Rentha, and she guessed it was Zohra’s new composition. Corhan whispered to her, “I have never heard music like this – so beautiful! It stirs my heart.” “My mother makes wonderful music, it is her Gifting of Light” she whispered back. “And my brothers, too, are accomplished musicians.” “That Lady is your mother?” Corhan asked. “Yes. Her name is Zohra, and she is a daughter of the Ketai.” Whitestar and Moondancer too were listening to the music, entranced, and Rentha and Corhan stood listening with them, until the music ended. Zohra smiled at her sons and said, “Good. You played well. You have not forgotten your skills, Zarel!” They smiled back, and Zarel looked across at his sister and said. “What do you think of our mother’s new music, Rentha – and Corhan? She has made it to celebrate the end of the Way and the arrival of the Children of Light of Ma’al.” Rentha too smiled, and responded that her mother’s music was as beautiful as ever, but Corhan was full of praise. “I did not know that such music as yours existed, Lady! It is wonderful, I felt it enter my spirit.” Zohra said “Ah, I fear there was no opportunity for Light’s music in Ma’al – but you are in Li’is now, Corhan. And you are the Lord of the Malani? It seems your people were the Sword-Brethren of mine – the Ketai – in the time before the First Days. My father and uncle are anxious to meet you – as was I.” “And I am glad to meet you, Lady Zohra.” Corhan replied. Rentha asked “Where is Father? We have something to ask him.” Zohra said, “I am not sure, since everywhere is so busy, but your brothers can call him by their Perception.” Zarel said, “I will call him, Mother”, for, Perceiving why the couple wished to speak to Arenel, he wanted to forewarn his father. Thus prepared, Arenel quickly arrived in the Hall, smiling in anticipation of Corhan’s request. When he reached them, Corhan stepped forward. “You are Rentha’s father?” “I am, Corhan. I am happy to meet you. I have heard much about you.” Corhan said, “I have something to tell you – ask you…” He stopped, unsure how to go on, and Arenel, remembering his own nervousness when asking for the Ket’s approval of his betrothal to Zohra, felt sorry for him. Laying one hand on the Swordsman’s shoulder, he said, “No need to struggle for words, Corhan. If it concerns Rentha, Zarel has told us about your vision-dream, and that she is the maiden Light intended for you. And Light has turned her heart to you too. It is good.” Corhan looked relieved at this assurance, but went on determinedly, “Still, I need to ask your agreement to a betrothal, and your blessing, Lord Priest Arenel, Lady Zohra. And you may have questions.” Rentha came to Corhan’s side, taking his hand, and smiled at her father. “Corhan, I told you my father would not resist the Will of Light.” “No indeed!” Arenel said. “But you need not think that I agree reluctantly, Corhan. I said that I had heard much about you, and all that I have heard is good. You are a true Child of Light, and Light has given you and Rentha this love for each other. Zohra and I are very happy for you, and gladly agree to a betrothal.” “Then I praise Light, and thank you both”, Corhan told them, then added, “There is a betrothal ceremony among the Malani, and I would wish us to be betrothed in the way of my people – if you have no objection?” Arenel put one arm around Zohra, and said, with a smile, “When I took my bride from among the Ketai, Corhan, we were betrothed in their way, handfasted by the Ket. It is proper that you and Rentha should be betrothed in the way of the Malani.” He could Perceive the relief and joy in Corhan, and added “Surely the ways of Light are wonderful! This Way has fulfilled so many things.”

Aiel, meanwhile, Perceiving the presence of Corhan in the Hall, had called together the Council, in the Prayer Room, and now sent the Thought-without-Words to Arenel, who acknowledged the message silently, then said aloud to the Lord of the Malani, “Corhan, Aiel requests that you go to the Prayer Room, for there is something he wishes you to do.” Corhan looked a little startled, and Arenel told him “There is nothing to fear.” Corhan glanced at Rentha, but she, forewarned by her grandfather, told him, “I cannot come with you, my heart, but as my father says, there is nothing to fear.” “I will show you the Prayer Room”, Zarel offered, and Corhan followed him, somewhat reluctantly, it seemed to those watching. In the Prayer Room they were all waiting; Aiel, Lin, Mellin, Janir, Rujel, the Lord of the East and the twin Kets. When Corhan entered, he looked around questioningly, wondering what these Lords of Li’is could want with him, and took refuge in formality, saying “You summoned me, Lord High Priest?” Aiel smiled. “We did, Corhan. We have a request for you.” “I do not know what I can do for you, but I will do it gladly.” Corhan replied, relaxing a little. Aiel explained, “Corhan, we are the Council-at-Need of Li’is. The Council meets very rarely, except at times of great peril, or great joy. Nevertheless, we represent all the peoples of Li’is. ” Corhan nodded, to show he understood, and Aiel continued, “Now that the people of Ma’al have come into Li’is, we will represent them too. But there were no Malani in Li’is before Light brought you here, and your people must be represented . So we invite the Lord of the Malani to become a member of the Council.” Corhan gasped. “But I am new to Li’is – I do not know your ways. Are you sure?” “We are sure. You will learn the ways of Li’is, and the Malani will become a people of Li’is.” “As the Ketai did, in the First Days.” Ket-Kai added. Corhan replied “It is a great honour . If you are certain – then I accept, for myself and my people.” “Good”, Aiel said. “Membership of the Council , like Lordship, is hereditary, Corhan, so your heirs will become members in the future, as we have succeeded our fathers. This decision will be recorded later, in the House of Records of the Temple,but for now we are glad to welcome you.” Now that the formalities were over, they came in turn to welcome and congratulate the new member of the Council, the Kets especially eager to greet him and learn more about the Malani. As they spoke, Corhan glanced round him at the Prayer Room, and when things were a little quieter, he asked Aiel, “Lord High Priest, I know this is a Place of Prayer. But what is that?” He was pointing to the Crucible, and Aiel said, “Ah, I had not remembered that you have not been to the Prayer Room yet, Corhan.” He explained the Crucible to the Lord of the Malani.” It is to draw our thoughts to Light – not a representation of Light, for that is impossible, but to remind us of the One Light, and set our hearts towards Light when we pray.” Corhan said, ” I see. It is an aid to prayer, then.” “And also a place of focus for important events, such as Festivals…” Aiel paused, then smiled at Corhan, and went on ” and weddings.” Corhan cast him a quizzical glance, and Aiel said, ” I have learned of your betrothal to my granddaughter, Corhan. I am very glad for you both.” Corhan returned his smile, and said, ” You knew of my vision-dream, then, Lord?” “I did. And since you will be my grandson-by-marriage, you must call me Aiel.”

When Corhan left the Prayer Room, Rentha was waiting for him outside. She smiled at him, and said, “You see, I told you there was nothing to fear.” “No, indeed!” he replied. “The Lords of Li’is do me great honour, to invite me to join the Council.” “But you are a Lord of Li’is now, too.” she replied. ” I will return to the camp”, Corhan said, “and tell the Elders about this, and about our betrothal. We must make preparation for the betrothal ceremony. I think Daria will have it in hand.” “Daria?” Rentha asked. He smiled. “It involves my nearest female relative, and since I have no mother, that is Daria. I think she has been preparing for this for many years, to be ready when I found you, my heart.” Since they were alone, he bent and swiftly kissed her, then said, “When all is ready, I will send word for you to come to the camp with your family and kin. It will not be long.” “And then the Malani will know.” Rentha said. “I am glad, Corhan – but a little nervous. I hope that your people will accept me as your betrothed.” “They will”, he answered, decisively. She left him at the door of the Gatehouse, to go back to the Malani camp, and herself turned back inside, wondering what the betrothal ceremony would entail. She knew of her parents’ betrothal in the camp of the Westerners, and wondered if this would be similar. Returning to the Hall, she looked around for her mother, and found her with Aila and Marla. All of them smiled at her as she approached, and guessing the subject of their conversation, she scolded them, but in fun, laughing, “Are you talking about me?” Aila, her Perception sensing Rentha’s happiness, answered her. “What else should we be discussing, Rentha, dear? When Light has done something so amazing in your Life, and Corhan’s, how could we not?” “I am so glad for you, Rentha”,added Marla. “Corhan is a fine man, and a courageous one.” Zohra hugged her daughter, and said, “Now we must wait for the summons to the Malani’s betrothal ceremony. I wonder if it will be anything like that of the Westerners?” “I was wondering that, too.” Rentha said, and laughed again. “Corhan is keeping it a secret, he has told me nothing, except that it will involve his sister Daria, as his nearest female relative.” At that, they naturally fell to discussing the possibilities of the betrothal ceremony, while agreeing that they would have to wait and see.

They did not have long to wait, for next morning one of the Malani women came to the Gatehouse, with the message that Rentha and her family and kinfolk should come to the Malani camp at midday, for the betrothal ceremony. Rentha felt happy, excited, and just a little nervous. It took some time to gather all who were invited to attend, since they were about various tasks in the Gatehouse, but at last they were ready, and at the appointed time the party set off for the wildflower meadow and the Malani camp. They came into the meadow through the little gate, to see that the Elders of the Malani were gathered in a crescent, with Saban and Daria at the centre. Daria had something folded over her arm, looking like a garment, seeming very old and somewhat faded, though clean. The rest of the Malani had gathered behind them, quiet, but with expressions of joyful expectation. Corhan was standing in front of Saban and Daria, and as Rentha came towards them, followed by her parents, brothers, grandparents and other kin, he turned to greet her. “Come” was all he said, as he took her hand, and brought her to stand with him, turning to face her. Her family stood watching as the betrothal ceremony commenced. Saban spoke first. “People of the Malani, Corhan son of Darhan, Lord of the Malani, declares his intention to be betrothed to Rentha, daughter of Arenel of the Priesthood.” Then Daria spoke for Rentha. “Family of Arenel, Rentha, daughter of Arenel of the Priesthood declares her intention to be betrothed to Corhan son of Darhan, Lord of the Malani.” Saban said, “Corhan, that is your intent?” “It is.” Corhan replied. Daria asked Rentha, “Rentha, that is your intent?” “It is”, she replied, following Corhan’s lead. Daria shook out the garment she was holding. It looked like a long, deep shawl, and she took it and wrapped it around both Corhan and Rentha, binding them together. Rentha could feel the warmth and softness of it round her shoulders. Daria spoke again. “We bind you in the betrothal cloth of our family, Corhan and Rentha, to seal your betrothal. We bind you in the protection of our family, Rentha, until you may wed Corhan. We bind you both in the protection of Light.” Cocooned in the cloth, Corhan leaned to kiss Rentha, not on the lips, but on the forehead, and Daria said, “Now you are betrothed.” The Malani behind the elders began to sing, a soft, chorus that grew gradually into a shout of joy, intriguing Zohra’s musician’s ear. When the sound ceased, Daria unwrapped the betrothal cloth from Rentha and Corhan, and folded it carefully. Now the ceremony was over, Rentha’s family came to mingle with the Malani and share congratulations. Corhan explained the ceremony to them. “Life in Ma’al was dangerous, even for the Malani. When a maiden is betrothed, though she still belongs to her own family until she weds, she is also bound into the family of her betrothed. That is because, in Ma’al, some Darkness might overtake her family, and then she would be assured of the protection of her betrothed’s family. Or if something happened to him or his family, her family would take care of those who remained.”

The Malani around them had been voluble in their congratulations, and welcome to Rentha’s family, but suddenly all the noise was hushed, as a shimmering in the air betokened the appearance of a Dancer . The light-being blinked into existence before them all, drawing little gasps of awe from the Malani, unused as yet to the existence of the Dancers. Its thought, though, was extended only to Aiel and Zarel. ‘Aiel, High Priest of Light, and Zarel, Lightstone-Bearer. There is more to be done.’ Aiel’s and Zarel’s Perceptions meshed briefly in wordless query , then the Dancer continued. ‘You must gather the Council and their families, together with Dorvai and his daughters, at tomorrow’s dawn, at the foot of the Dancer’s Mountain. The Spirit-in-Light, Mihel, will come to show you.’ That was all, and the bright being disappeared. Zarel whispered to Aiel “But the Way is over!” “Not quite, it seems”, his grandfather replied. Since none of the others had heard the Dancer’s message, the Malani , not knowing the ways of the Dancers,assumed that it had appeared briefly in celebration of their Lord’s betrothal, and Aiel and Zarel did not say anything to disabuse them. Rentha’s family, though, knowing that a Dancer’s appearance was of great significance, wondered what it might mean. It was not until they were all on the way back to the Gatehouse, though, that they began to discuss it, and Aiel told them of the Dancer’s message, since they would all be involved. Corhan was with them, as custom dictated that he should accompany his betrothed safely back with her family, and Aiel told him, “You are of the Council now, Corhan, so you must bring your family too.” “There is only Daria, and Saban and the babe.” he answered. “Then bring your sister and her man” Aiel answered. “There will be someone to care for the babe for a while?” “Yes.” Corhan said, and, practicalities resolved, they began to ponder what it might all mean, and why they should be visited by the Shining One. Once back at the Gatehouse, Corhan left them, to return to the Malani camp and prepare Daria and Saban for the morning’s doings, while Aiel and the others went in and told the others of the Council. Mellin asked “Is the Way not over? Is there more peril?” “Not with Mihel.” Zarel said, firmly, having learned to put so much trust in his Light-sent protector. The Lord of the East was the only one who could not comply fully with the Dancer’s request, since his family had not accompanied him, and the Kets too had left some of their family on the Plateau, but Aiel reasoned that since all was known to Light, that would not affect whatever was to be shown them by Mihel.

They might have thought that such an early start would be difficult, but in truth most of them were so nervously eager to discover what was to happen that all of them were up and ready before the dawn hour. The Council gathered their families and followed Aiel through the Gatehouse Gardens, collecting Corhan, Daria and Saban from the Malani camp on the way. They came up to the great wrought metal gate at the foot of the Dancer’s Mountain, tallest among the range of mountains that formed the barrier at the end of men’s lands in the Western Continent of Li’is. Here they stopped, and waited silently. The sun was rising, but suddenly a brighter light filled their sight, until they were forced to shut them. A gentle voice spoke. “Children of Light, open your eyes.” When they did, the bright light had faded, and a figure stood in front of the gate. Though they all knew Mihel to be a Spirit-in-Light, he had come to them now in the guise he had worn in Ma’al, an ordinary Swordsman, perhaps to reassure them. “You must come with me”, he said. “What happens now will change Li’is forever, but only for good.” “The Secret Word” Lin murmured,and Mihel smiled, “Yes.” They followed Mihel through the gate at the foot of the mountain, and when they were through it, he stopped, turning to them, and said, “Zarel, Lightstone-Bearer, come with me. The rest of you, stay here.” Zarel followed Mihel to the very base of the mountain, where the Shining One indicated a crack in the rock face to one side of the main peak. “Lightstone-Bearer, touch the Lightstone there,” he said. Curious, but obedient, Zarel stepped forward and laid the stone to the rock, as if to someone’s brow. Immediately there was a great blaze, as there had been on the Meeting Place in Ma’al, and Zarel wondered if another Gate was about to open. The others, watching from a distance, wondered the same. No Dancers appeared, though, and Zarel looked enquiringly at Mihel, who said only, “Wait.” They began to hear sounds, a low rumble, a creaking groan, as though the very rock spoke. Aren, concerned for Zarel, stared at the scene before them, and asked, suddenly, “Did the rocks move then?” That caught all their attention, and they too stared, trying to see through the veil of bright light.

By the rock face, Zarel realised that the crack was widening, spreading out and up. He felt a moment’s fear, but then thought to himself that Mihel would not have led him into danger. “What is happening?” he asked. “Li’is is changing, as I told you”, Mihel replied. “Light is working.” Fascinated but unafraid, Zarel watched as the blaze of light emanating from the Lightstone seemed to drive a wedge through the crack in the rock face, and it continued to widen slowly outwards and upwards. The alteration in the rock was visible to the others too, now, and Aiel, watching intently, said suddenly, “Lin -does not that look much like the Spearcleft Pass?” Lin looked, and answered,” Yes! Is Light creating a pass through the Dancers’ Mountains? And if so – what is on the other side?” That question was in all their minds as the new pass through the mountains opened slowly, inexorably, until it was wide enough for several people to walk through. Zarel had half expected a rock fall or some other sign of the new rift in the mountains, but it had opened miraculously at the Will of Light. Gently and almost quietly the whole rock face had split in half to make the new pass, and now Mihel raised his hand and the light withdrew again into the Lightstone. The Shining One turned to the others and called them to come near, and they crossed to the place, gazing in astonishment at the opening which they had just seen created. Now Mihel turned to face the new pass, and told them, “Come and see.”They looked at each other, nervous as to where they might be going, but obeyed, and followed him through the rift in the rock. Its sides were high and it was cool in their shade. The passage they traversed was quite long, but the pass did not twist like the Spearcleft Pass, and they could see daylight ahead.

When they reached the other side, there were gasps and exclamations as they came out into the early morning sunlight and found themselves standing at the top of a gentle slope, looking out over a whole new landscape. They were in a belt of trees, tall, slender trees with narrow grey-green leaves which gave off a refreshing fragrance instantly familiar to some of them. “Those trees!” Krystha exclaimed, and Aiel said, “Yes, I remember.” Mihel smiled at them, and said, “Barriers to men do not stop birds. Over many years the birds have carried the seeds of those trees across the mountains, and the seeds found a place where they were content, and formed the forest you remember.” They looked down the slope, past the trees. There was an area of rough ground and wild plants, some of which the Healers among them recognised as useful herbs. Then more, different trees and bushes. At the bottom of the slope was a wide valley and they could catch the gleam of a river. On the other side of the valley the land rose again, then levelled out, reaching to the limits of their vision. Mihel said “Light kept this land apart, till now. While Ma’al existed and the Dancers’ Gate needed protection from the Lords of Darkness.” “And now?” asked Rujel, the Gatekeeper. “Now it is given to the people of Li’is. And when people come to settle here, Gatekeeper, they will be part of your Soul-Watch. In time there will be others of the Priesthood,as the people grow in number, but for now it falls to you, and those who follow you.”

Corhan said, slowly, “It is a good land. I think perhaps…” he hesitated, and Aiel encouraged him, “Go on, Corhan, what do you wish to say?” The Lord of the Malani said, “My people and I are newcomers here. I do not know the right thing to do or ask. But we would want to stay together as a people, and it seems to me that, if it were allowed, we could settle in this place.” He glanced at Daria and Saban as he spoke, and they both signalled agreement. Corhan went on “I know there are no others of the Malani in Li’is. A new people for a new place seems good to me. But you may have objections to that?” Zohra said, “When my people, the Ketai, came into Li’is with the first Lightfriends, they too wished to remain together as a people, and they settled the Western Plateau. We are the Westerners, now, Corhan. If you settle here , the Malani will become the Northerners. It is good.” Aiel answered him, “Why should anyone object, Corhan? Light has given this land, and Light brought you out of Ma’al to live in Li’is. It will be your choice, and the Malani’s, where in Li’is you live, as it will be the choice of all the Children of Light who have come out of Ma’al. It would not be Light’s Will that any should be forced to live where they are unhappy.” “The Malani are a brave, strong people”, Karis said. “We know, we have fought alongside them. They are well able to settle this land.” Corhan smiled, then looked at Rentha, and said, “But you will be far from your home and family here with me, Rentha.” “Did not your vision-dream tell you I would be here with you and the Malani, to support and help you – ‘at a time of great turmoil’?” she asked him. “It is the Will of Light that I go where you go, Corhan, my heart. You and your – our-“, she corrected herself, “people. Yes, I will miss my family, but I will see them again, sometimes.” Arenel said, “I know I can trust my daughter to you, Corhan. As she has said, it is Light’s Will.” Lin said, “It is amazing – that these lands have been here for so long, and nobody knew, not even the Gatekeeper.” Mihel answered “They have been seen, from time to time, from the oceans – by ships caught in the Two-Moon Tides.” “The lands where the seacats go!” Janir exclaimed. “That is so. But they were guarded, and could never be found. Now, though, all people of Li’is have the freedom of them.” “And this is the new beginning of which the Secret Word tells us?”, Aiel asked. “No” came the surprising answer. “This is a new beginning, but not the fulfilment of the Secret Word.” “There is more to be done?” asked Zarel. As Lightstone-Bearer, he was wondering what else Light might require of him. “There is” Mihel answered, “but not by you. Come with me, and you will see.”

Obediently they followed him again, back through the pass, and he said, “We must climb to the Meeting Place.” In wondering silence they made their way up to the rock shelf, and gathered together there. Now Mihel shed his disguise; hidden for a few moments in a bright blaze of light, he reappeared, neither as a Swordsman, nor the towering, avenging figure they had seen on the plains of Ma’al, but as they recognised him, gleaming, white-robed, golden-eyed, with an aura of peace, power, love and joy. Around him Dancers began to appear, and ‘said’ to the onlookers, ‘You have come to see the fulfilment of the Secret Word’. Aiel said, “It spoke of an end – and a beginning. We have seen the end of Ma’al. Will you show us the ‘beginning’ now?” Mihel said, “I will show you the beginning. First you must all link through the Perception-gifted, for Light wills that you all hear the Song of this beginning, and only Zohra, Aren and Zarel can hear it.” So Aiel and the Priests and Lightfriends made the Thought-without-Words, and set their Perceptions on the others, so that all were joined in the link. Then they waited. Mihel swept his arm in an arc, and, as though he drew back a curtain, the Dancers’ Gate opened, and another view was before them. They were gazing out on a dark expanse, and then they recognised it as the sight they had looked on after the destruction of Ma’al, the Dark World and its moons shrunken and diminished, empty of life, banished to a distance, its former place in this cosmos empty and dark. Then they heard the Dancers begin to sing. Their Song seemed to flow like a river out into the darkness of those other skies, and it was full of the Presence of Light, of power, and love, and joy. Yet there was also pain in the Song, an intense pain, and a sorrow that seemed at odds with its other elements, and yet they were in perfect harmony. As they listened, awed and entranced, gazing into the blackness beyond them, they heard Mihel’s voice again.” Behold! Light’s new beginning!”

Into their sight suddenly swam a globe, much like Li’is as Aiel had seen it, when the Dancers carried him to one of its moons, mostly blue, but patched with colour, veiled with white cloud. It was accompanied by a single glowing moon, and it settled into the place left by the banishment of Ma’al, as the Dancers sang triumphantly. Mihel said quietly, “It is done.” He swept his arm across their view again, the Gate closed, and the strange new world was lost to their view. The Dancers were no longer on the Meeting Place, and Aiel wondered if they were still out there in that other space, singing to the new world. Zarel said, breathlessly, “Oh, so beautiful! But why was there so much pain and sorrow in the Dancers’; Song?” Mihel answered, “Because they sang of what will happen in that world. There too the Darkness will fight against Light, and because of that, it is in that world that the Sacrifice of Light must be made. As it is in Li’is, all there who accept the Sacrifice of Light will become Children of Light – but that Sacrifice will cost Light everything.”Aiel said “They will have a Priesthood?” “A different Priesthood. Aiel, with different ways, but true to Light. And there will be no more connection between Li’is and there. Ma’al is gone, the Dancers’ Gate has closed for the last time. You will know nothing of what happens on the other side of Light and Time from Li’is from now on. Light has permitted you to see this much, but no more.” Children of Light, all of them, they accepted this, but Zarel, the Lightstone-Bearer, asked hesitantly, “Mihel – does Light permit that we may at least know the name of this new world, so that we may pray for it, and its people?” And Mihel smiled, and answered,”You may. Its people will call it Earth.”

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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