FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 7

The days of waiting, though necessary, were difficult for Brann and Tamorine and their men. They had set out from the Mountain Fortress determined to face the Dark Lord as soon as might be, and with their minds and hearts focussed on the coming battle, and now they were constrained to bide their time. It was not that they were inactive, for there were sword drills to be carried out, and plans to be made, and the welding of their forces with the Ketai and the Students who would fight with them, into one combined army. Then there were the times with Rafel and the other Lightfriends, the morning and evening prayer times, and the other times when they were given more instruction in the Way of Light.

On one such occasion, Brann asked suddenly, wondering why he had never thought of it before, “Rafel, if you and the Ketai came here from Ma’al, and it is another world, how is it that you use the common speech of Li’is?” The Lightstone-Bearer replied “Because it is also the common speech of Ma’al.” “But how can that be, if our worlds are separated by such a great gulf as you say?” Brann persisted. “Others have entered Li’is from Ma’al before the Dark Lord came” Rafel told him, astonishing him. “But – we have used the common speech for so long! The Old Tongue has all but died out…” “That is so” Tamorine agreed. “Only the nobles and the wise men of Li’is continued to use it. And how could any of the Dark One’s people have come into Li’is without being seen by someone, somewhere?” Rafel said ” The Dark Lords had been planning the conquest of Li’is for a very long time, longer than you could imagine, since they are deathless. It was part of their strategy to turn the language of Li’is to that of Ma’al. ” “Then when the Dark Lord is defeated, we will turn it back to our own tongue!” Tarn exclaimed. Brann said ” I do not see how we could do that, Tarn. It is the common speech of Li’is now, and has been for so long. And very few now know the Old Tongue. ” ” If the common speech was the language of Ma’al, it must have been so before Ma’al went down into Darkness, surely?” asked Tamorine, and Rafel said ” It was, Tamorine. It was not created by the Dark Lords, simply used by them. It is not evil of itself, Tarn.” “But if the Dark Lords brought it here…” Tarn began again, and Rafel interrupted him, “Those who brought it here were men of Ma’al, in the pay of the Dark Lords,but not hosting them. They posed as traders, and to trade it is necessary to know the language of those with whom you deal. So they taught their language, and it spread. A simple plan, but efficient. And after so many years, as Brann says, it has become the common speech of Li’is, and we cannot change that ,nor is there need to. More than that” he added, “though the Dark Lords believed they were making a step forward in their plan of conquest, they were being used themselves. For Light meant always to send the Lightstone into Li’is to save it from the Dark Lords, and it was necessary that the Lightfriends should be understood. We have learned the use of the Old Tongue now, but our task is easier since all of Li’is speaks the common tongue. The Dark Lords were serving Light’s purposes, unknown to them!”

Meanwhile, the Ketai were cautiously continuing their exploration of the tunnels in the old quarry, always with a guard set in case of discovery, but it seemed that the place, as they had said, was either unknown to or ignored by the inhabitants of the Dark City. As the Two-Moon Tide passed and they began their preparations for the attack on the Dark City, the Ket brought news from his people at the quarry. “They have finished clearing the tunnel they were working on” he reported. “The main tunnel ends blind, but there is a smaller side tunnel. ” “And does that lead anywhere?” Brann asked. Ket-Jal said ” It does. It seems to have been used in the past as some kind of refuse or drainage channel, but is clear and dry now. There is a pit in the floor of the tunnel with a metal grille covering it, and the tunnel ends in a kind of door with another metal grille in the bottom. Of course, they could use only the dimmest of lamps to see by, but there is a space beyond the grille, and it seems unused. Dust is thick on the ground, and they could see no sign of footprints in the dust.” “Even if we enter that space, though, there is nothing to say that it will give access to the Dark City” Gamlin pointed out. “It might well have been sealed and forgotten long since.” Brann considered, and said ” I think it is likely that it led once to the first or second ring of the City, before it fell to the Dark Lord. If it was a refuse or drainage channel, as the Ketai suppose, it would most probably have been connected to a shop or an inn.” “That makes sense” Tamorine commented. The Ket said ” My people are working to see if they can get through the door, but it is old and stiff and hard to move, and they cannot make much noise.” “No, indeed!” Tarn said. “If Brann is right about the disposition of the Dark Lord’s men, and they are billeted nearby, we cannot risk them hearing the Ketai at work.” “We will hear further before it is time to set out” Ket-Jal added, “and must await their report.”

Tamorine said “Even if we can enter the Dark City from the tunnels, I wonder if we should not also attack the gates? It would draw the attention of the mercenaries away from the tunnels.” ” Any of our force making a frontal attack would be in much more danger, though” said Tarn. “Yet I see some merit in such a plan. If we can keep the mercenaries distracted while the rest of our force enters the Dark City – if that is possible – it would take them time to regroup when they realised the incursion. We could make progress in that time.” “If our forces can enter through the tunnels, Rafel and his guard must go with them ” Brann added, “for that will bring him and the Lightstone closer to the Dark Lord. ” “The larger force should go that way, if possible” said the Ket, ” and a smaller force make an attack on the gates. Once the mercenaries have been drawn to defend the gates, our forces can make a feint of retreat, as if defeated, and make to the quarry to join the others.” “Will the mercenaries not pursue them, though, if they think they are in retreat?” Gamlin asked. “I think they would not risk opening the gates, thinking that there might be others in hiding waiting to enter. And they would need to open the gates to pursue us.” Ket-Jal said. “They will believe they have repelled the attack and concentrate on reinforcing the guard on the gates.”

“And which of us is to command this frontal attack?” Tamorine asked. There was a hint of challenge in her question and when Brann said “Not you” there was anger in her face and scorn in her voice as she asked “Because I am a woman?” “No” Brann replied, “because you are all that Tamor has left. ” ” He speaks reason” Gamlin said, ” for our Lord has lost much. If he were to lose you too it would perhaps be a blow from which he would not recover.” “Brann is the True Sword” Tamorine argued ” and surely he should be at Rafel’s side.” “We cannot risk our commanders at such an early stage of the attack.” Tarn contributed. “Gamlin and I can lead the attack on the gates.” “While I hide in the tunnels?” Brann asked, almost as angry as Tamorine now. “You will not be hiding, you will be fighting!” The Ket intervened in the dispute. “And perhaps in more danger than those at the gates. We do not yet know where the tunnel leads, and how many enemies may be at the end.” “It is a battle” Tarn said, ” and whether outside or inside the Dark City, we are in peril, but we must get the Lightstone-Bearer to the Dark Lord’s lair, so that he can use the Stone against the Dark One and defeat him. If any fall, it is worth the cost to free Li’is from his dominion.” Tamorine was calmer now, and said, “Tarn speaks the truth, and I am sorry I was angry. We should not quarrel among ourselves, and divide our forces, for we swore to meld Mountain and Forest into one force, one people.” “I feel as you do, Tamorine”, Brann agreed. “We should not think of pride or prowess, and I was wrong. Only the defeat of the Dark Lord matters. But I would not have you feel I think less of you as a Sword-Brother because you are a maiden. I had hoped I had proved that it was not so.” “You have” she answered , “and I was being over sensitive.” She sighed. “It took me long enough to establish myself as a suitable heir to my grandfather and leader of my people, and it has led me to sometimes see slights that are not there. Forgive me, Brann.” “Willingly” he replied, smiling at her, and she smiled back.

“Then Gamlin and Tarn will lead the assault on the gates while the rest of us enter secretly by the tunnel – assuming that is possible.” Brann said. “Perhaps a hundred to attack the gates – too large a force and the mercenaries will not believe it is defeated when it retreats, too small and they will not be concerned enough to fight.” “I would counsel that any Ketai who go with you stay concealed as far as possible” Rafel said.” We cannot have the mercenaries carrying tales of strange Swordsmen to the Dark Lord, that he will recognise as a people out of Ma’al. He must know as little of our presence as possible until the last minute. The Ketai are formidable bowmen, and can hit a target on the City Wall from a good distance. ” Brann sighed “It is well enough to make plans, but until we know whether we can use the tunnels to enter the Dark City, we cannot confirm them.” “We will know soon” the Ket told him, “certainly before it is time to move out.” “We can select the force to attack the gates, at least.” Tarn said. “You will need bowmen, since the defenders will be on the walls, your own as well as the Ketai” Ket-Jal advised. “They will not come down to fight unless you actually breach the gates.” “Should we try to do so?” Gamlin queried. “That will depend on whether we can use the tunnels” Brann said, “for if not, our whole force must attack the gates. As the Ket says, we must wait for his men’s report.”

It was not until the day before the planned attack that they received the facts they needed from the Ketai who had been exploring the tunnels. They were once more in conference, and Ket-Jal said ” There is news, at last. The Ketai managed to get through the old door. Beyond it they found an unused undercroft of sorts, low-roofed, but with a few steps leading up to another room. They could see a trap door but were not sure if it could be opened, or who might be above. As all was quiet, they risked an attempt on the door. That one too was stiff, but eventually they opened it enough to see through, and found a room filled with discarded and broken weapons and other metal objects. They believe it must be an annexe to a smithy, and the things in it either awaiting repair, or to be melted down. But it is at ground level, and we can get through.” “They have left no trace?” Gamlin asked. The Ket smiled “They are the Ketai! They left all as they found it, even to brushing out their footprints in the dust.” “It is good” Rafel said. “Light has made a way for us.” Brann leaned over the map of the City again and said “There is a smithy marked here, on the first ring, by the side of one of the cross streets. I see no others.” “It is the most likely place for it” commented Tarn, ” near to where the defenders would have been, and with access from the streets for loads of metal.” “So we can enter the Dark City that way” said Tamorine. “We can, but must be cautious, since it is near where the the Dark Lord’s defenders are no doubt still billeted.” Gamlin replied. “We attack at night” the Ket said, ” and have the other attack on the gates to distract them. The mercenaries in the dormitories will need time to waken and come to the aid of the others. They will not expect an attack, having been untroubled for so long, and may have grown careless.”

Since the direct attack on the gates would be the most perilous, they had asked for volunteers rather than order any of their men to make it. One of the first to volunteer had been the Healer, Forin. Brann said “We are asking for fighters, Forin, Swordsmen and bowmen. I do not doubt your valour, but you are trained in neither.” “I am a Healer” Forin said, “and if any are wounded in the attack, I will be needed. The other Healers are Lightfriends, and they cannot be seen by the Dark Lord’s forces, or they will report it to him and our advantage of surprise will be lost.” “The Healer speaks truth” Tamorine said, and Brann replied ” Very well. You may go , Forin, but stay back. You will help no one if you are injured yourself.” Brann’s cousins Jamin and Javan and Javan’s cousin Tavan also volunteered, with many others of their force. Kerrin, of course, was insistent on going with Tarn too, as were some of the Masked Ones and other Swordsmen among the students, and then there were the Ketai. In the end there were more than enough volunteers, and some had to be refused. The larger force, attacking through the tunnels, took more organising. They would have to descend, first, into the abandoned quarry, and the Ketai had been busy adding to the number of rope-ladders they had made for this purpose. The presence of the Lightfriends, necessary to communication, was an added complication, as some of the Ketai would be needed to protect them. Rafel, the Lightstone-Bearer, must be shielded, whatever happened, until he could face the Dark Lord himself. Rafel was unshaken in his belief in Light, and his strong assertion that he would achieve his aim. “And if I die in doing it, I will touch Light” he assured them.” I am not afraid.” Nevertheless, he must be guarded well until they reached the Dark Lord, and the Ket himself, and several of his most experienced fighters, took that task upon themselves. Gamlin had spoken quietly to Brann, when they found themselves alone for a moment. “I swore to my Sword-Brother Tamran to protect his sister, Lady Tamorine, till he returned. But I will not be with her in the tunnels. You are her Sword-Brother too, so I entrust her to you.” “I will do what I may” Brann reassured him, then smiled wryly, and added, “but you know I will risk her wrath if I guard her too closely.” Gamlin smiled too. “I know. She is as valiant as her brother.”

So the night came, and found them as well prepared as they could be. There was little moonlight, but the Ketai knew the way to the Dark City and the quarry well. Rafel had concealed the Lightstone in a soft leather pouch, lest its glow betray them. It seemed, though, that the guardians of the Dark City were lax about observing its surroundings, never expecting anyone to approach it, and they reached the forest and crept through it to the edge of the quarry without incident. Here they divided, Tarn and Gamlin and their men waiting until the rope ladders had been unrolled and the others had descended to the floor of the quarry. Some of the Ketai would remain at the top to help Tarn and Gamlin’s force to descend when they returned. As soon as Brann, Tamorine, the LIghtfriend with his guard, and all the others had entered the tunnel, Tarn and Gamlin, led by the Ketai who knew the way through the forest, headed towards the gates of the Dark City, to make their attack. Forin remained in the rear, as instructed, but moved as silently as any. They paused to station the best of the Ketai bowmen where they had a clear view of the walls, to back them up, and then the rest of the force flung themselves forward with a rush and a roar, to attack the gates. It seemed that for a few seconds the mercenaries guarding the walls were taken by surprise, for at first there was no response to the attack. Then they heard shouts and the blowing of some kind of horn, and men swarmed to the walls. The Ketai bowmen sent off a flight of arrows, some of which found targets on the walls, but it was not long before an answering rain of arrows, along with spears, flew at them from the walls of the Dark City. One arrow rebounded from Gamlin’s leather breastplate and Tarn turned to him anxiously. “Gamlin…” “No harm” the other grunted, ” but how long can we keep this up without loss, Tarn?” “We need to give the others the time they need” Tarn said, ” and we cannot withdraw too soon. The mercenaries must think they have defeated us.” “At least we seem to have drawn them to the walls.” Gamlin commented. That was true, for the number of mercenaries on the walls had increased significantly. Tarn and Gamlin’s forces were battering at the gates, knowing they would not pass them, but giving the impression of an army desperate to break through. Orders were shouted above them and some of the mercenaries disappeared, presumably to strengthen those defending the gates. The hail of arrows from the Ketai continued, but so did that raining down on them from the walls. Their strong leather armour turned aside the arrows, but spears were another matter, and the two commanders did not want to lose men if possible. As it was they had seen two men fall, one of theirs and one of the Students, and be dragged away by their comrades. Tarn hoped that they were only wounded, and Forin was tending them. At last Tarn and Gamlin felt they had bought enough time for the others and ordered their men to retreat through the forest and edge round to the quarry. Behind them they heard the triumphant shouts of the mercenaries, and a few stray arrows followed them but found no target. At the brink of the quarry they regrouped. Forin told them “Two wounded, one lightly and one severely. And one dead, one of Rafel’s students. The spear pierced him through, I could do nothing for him.” “The others?” Gamlin asked. ” In the care of the Ketai” the Healer answered. “Some of them will stay here to guard the way in and out of the quarry. I have told them what to do for the wounded.” “You can stay with them” Tarn said, but Forin’s eyes narrowed and he said ” They will do well with the Ketai. I come with you!” His tone was such that they did not feel inclined to argue, and he joined the descent into the quarry and followed them into the tunnel.

Meanwhile Brann, Tamorine, Rafel and the others had been making their way through the old tunnels. The walls were rough and smelled of rock dust and the floor was a little uneven, but the Ketai had cleared away all obstacles and they made good progress. In the interim between the discovery of the door at the end of the smaller tunnel and their moving out to attack the dark City, the Ketai had greased the hinges of the door and the trap-door in the space above, so that they now moved easily and quietly. They were moving with the dimmest of lights, partly so they would not be seen, and partly so that when they came out into the night again it would not take long for their eyes to adjust. The Ketai warned them to take care crossing the grid in the floor of the smaller tunnel, since they did not know its strength and it might collapse under the burden if too many crossed at once. So they were, of necessity, spread out in the tunnels, and Brann was anxious to get everyone through as soon as possible. He and Tamorine were at the head of their force, just behind the Ketai who led the way, with Rafel and his guard behind them. He gave a sigh of relief when they reached the door with its corresponding grille and the Ketai eased it open. They crowded into the undercroft, and Brann looked round for the exit. He saw the steps and asked one of the Ketai who had been leading them “There is no danger of toppling any of the metals stored above? The noise would betray us.” He had spoken in a whisper, and the Ketai whispered back “No, we were wary of that, but everything is neatly stacked.” “Strange, then, that they had not noticed the trap door” Tamorine said, as quietly. “It is one with the floor, of wooden planks.” said the Ketai. “They may even know it is there, but have no use for it. But we have observed, and no one has come near it.” “Very well, we will move on” Brann said. The Ketai went first, as they knew the operation of the trap door and the surroundings of the building above. Once they had climbed the stairs they could hear distant shouting and pounding and the bee-hum of arrows and knew their diversion was well under way.

Peering through the gloom they could see an open door leading into another building. There was a glow of firelight, and Tamorine whispered ” That must be the smithy.” They crept forward and paused at the open door, seeing a figure bent over an anvil, hammering at a piece of red-hot metal. The sound of the distant battle had masked the sound of his hammering so that they had not realised his presence.”The smith!” Brann breathed. He had thought, like all of them, that the forge would be empty. They hesitated, then he whispered “Wait here”. ” Be careful, Brann!” Tamorine murmured, as he stepped forward. He was in the dim light and the smith had the light of the forge in his eyes. Perhaps he would be mistaken for a mercenary long enough to deal with the man. The smith must have heard him, however, though he moved quietly, for the man looked up, and snarled “I am working as fast as I can, but it takes time! You can whip me as much as you wish, it will not make the work go faster.” Brann was momentarily confused. Then he saw that there was a rough bed pallet in the corner of the forge, and leg irons and chains on the man himself. The Ketai had believed that there were slaves in the Dark City, kept to work for the Dark Lord. A skilled smith would be of use to him, and would have been enslaved. He moved quietly forward and suddenly, before the smith could react, seized his arm and put a hand over his mouth.

The man tried to jerk away, obviously afraid of punishment, but then his eyes took in Brann’s appearance and widened in astonishment. Brann whispered ” Do not speak. Are you a slave of the Dark Lord?” The man’s head signalled yes, and Brann went on “We are not the Dark Lord’s men. We are here to destroy him. Do you hear the sound of battle?” The smith nodded again, and Brann said ” That is others of our army, distracting the mercenaries while we make a secret entrance to the Dark City. They will join us soon. Are you with us?” The man nodded for a third time, and Brann said “I will let you speak now. But if you try to cry out or betray us, your life is forfeit.” He did not intend to harm the man if it could be avoided, but he was taking a risk, and wanted the man frightened enough to obey him. He slowly took his hand from the man’s mouth, and said “What is your name?” “Rull” said the smith, quietly, obviously understanding the need to keep his voice low. ” I was a smith in the Harbour Town on the East coast. When the mercenaries came raiding they captured me and brought me here to work as a slave for them.” The others of Brann’s party had begun to enter the smithy now, seeing that all was under control. Erris and Yarris, the two brothers, were among them, and Yarris asked ” You are manacled, but if you are a smith, could you not have removed your shackles?” “I could, if they were metal of Li’is” Rull answered, “but these are made of the metal of Ma’al, and my skills do not avail against them. Do not think I have not tried! But even if I escaped my bonds, where could I go? The gates are well guarded.” “Then we cannot set you free?” asked Tamorine. He stared at her, obviously surprised to find a woman among their army, but answered her. “Only a blade of the same metal can cut through these”, and indicated the chains. The metal of Ma’al, Brann thought, and drew the True Sword. Rull gasped ” Do not kill me! I will not betray you!” Brann said ” Not kill you, Rull, but free you, I hope. There are those with us who have come out of Ma’al but are the enemies of the Dark Lord. And they gave me this sword, forged in Ma’al. Let me try it on your chains.” Rull relaxed, and pointed out where the weakest point of his shackles would be, and Brann raised the True Sword and brought it down. There was a clash of metal, and they held their breaths, afraid that it might bring the mercenaries down on them. But the chain had split asunder. Rull still had shackles on his ankles, but they pulled the chain out of them, and he was free to move. Brann said ” Can you walk like that, Rull? I do not wish to try my blade on your other shackles, for I might cut off a foot!” “I can” the smith assured them. Erris said ” Did the mercenaries hear you cut the metal, though, Brann?” Rull answered “They would take no notice, Swordsman. This is a smithy, and they force me to work late. A sound of hammering metal from here would not be out of the ordinary.”

Brann asked “Are there other slaves in the City? Men, women, children?” Rull replied, “Yes, the men and youths they take. The children…” he paused, and did not elaborate, but Brann thought of Marvis’ young son, cut down by the mercenaries, and understood his meaning. Rull went on ” As for the women they capture – the mercenaries use them, and slay them. They do not bring women here.” He paused again, then said ” When they came on our town – it was the first time I was glad that my wife was dead. And our daughter married away from the town.” Brann distinctly saw Tamorine give a shudder, but her voice was steady as she asked “Do you know where the slaves are kept? Are others chained as you were?” “No” Rull answered. “They kept me here to keep me at work. The others are not skilled, just labourers. They are all kept in one building, but it is next to the place where the mercenaries are quartered.” “On this ring of the City?” Brann asked. ” No, the next” Rull told them. “Only those who are next on duty at the gates are quartered on this ring.” “And the Dark Lord?” Brann asked. “In the main building, at the centre of the City. The approaches are well -guarded, Swordsman.” By now the Ket and Rafel had come through to the smithy, followed by others of the Ketai and more of Brann and Tamorine’s men. With them were some of the hooded Masked Ones, and Rull looked frightened. “Who are these?” he asked. “You have some strange companions, Swordsman. A maiden, these hooded men, strange warriors, and that one…” he pointed at Rafel. “His eyes … you have deceived me! He is kin to the Dark Lord.” Rafel answered for himself. “No, Rull. I am no kin or friend to the Dark Lord. As he is on the side of Darkness, I stand on the side of Light. I am the Lightstone-Bearer, and his destruction, with Light’s aid.” The Ket spoke now “We are the Ketai. Brann told you of those who came out of Ma’al to fight against the Dark Lord. We and the Lightfriends are those people. The hooded ones are those who have vowed to go masked until the Dark Lord is defeated,men of Li’is who, like you, have suffered at the hands of his mercenaries. ” Brann added “There is nothing to fear, Rull. The Power of Light has come into Li’is, and the Darkness will be defeated.”

“I do not know this Power of Light” said Rull, “but if it is against the Dark Lord and his mercenaries, I am on the side of Light.” “You shall know it, Rull” Rafel told him, “but now is not the time. Our diversion has bought us time, but we must hurry.” “If we can free the slaves, they might help us” said Yarris. “Or hinder us” said the Ket. “You heard what Rull said. They are not Swordsmen.” “But once we begin the attack, the mercenaries may slay them” Tamorine replied, “to prevent them joining us. I am for freeing them.” ” I can tell you the place” Rull said, “and there is only one guard. But you will need to overcome him, for he holds the keys to their prison.” You said the mercenaries are quartered in the next building, though” Erris objected, but Brann said ” Surely they will have been called to the gates when Tarn and Gamlin attacked. Most of them, at least. we can deal with the others. But we should not all go” Brann decided, “for our main objective is the Dark Lord’s dwelling. ” ” Some of the Lightfriends should be among those who go.” said Rafel. “Their Perception will be of use in locating prisoners, and they can warn us by the Thought-without-Words if there is danger to them or to us.” “But if they and the Ketai are seen, the Dark Lord will be forewarned.” said Tamorine, but Brann replied , grimly, “Only if any mercenaries escape to tell him!”

He was ready to go to the aid of the slaves, but Rafel said “You are the True Sword, Brann. You must stay near to me.” “And you and Tamorine are our commanders.” Erris added. “If anything should befall either of you, the other must still command.” Both Brann and Tamorine would have gone, but saw the sense of Rafel’s and Erris’ words and reluctantly let some of the others go, two of the Lightfriends, well-guarded by Ketai, with them. While they waited for news, Brann questioned Rull further. “If we free the slaves, they will be on our side? None would side with the mercenaries, from fear?” “Our hatred of the mercenaries, for what they have done to our friends and kin, is far greater than any fear of them.” Rull answered, bitterly. “Better to die free than live as their slaves!” Rafel lifted his head, blue eyes glowing. “They have reached the place and overcome the guard” he reported. ” They have the keys to free the slaves, and no sign yet of any mercenaries. Gamlin and Tarn have withdrawn their force, but the mercenaries are wary of another attack, it seems, and are staying close to the gates.” Rull, ready to be fearful again, demanded “How can he know that? It is sorcery!” “Not sorcery”, Brann assured him, “The Lightfriends have a special way of communicating, that is all.” He turned to Rafel and said “If they can free the slaves, best if they bring them here. Any who wish to fight with us can stay, and if any are fearful they can be conducted through the tunnels to the Ketai, who will help them escape.” Rafel said “They will do so, Brann. And other Lightfriends report that the rest of your force are now entering the tunnels.” Brann gave a sigh of relief at the news. Rafel continued “The slaves are being brought here, but they must hurry. The order has been given to stand down the mercenaries at the gates and they will be returning to their quarters.” “Then Light grant that they are not seen” said Tamorine, “or our hand will be shown too soon.”

They waited anxiously for any noise of battle from either direction, but heard nothing until a quick, quiet scuffle of feet showed the approach of the contingent with the escaped slaves, who had obviously been warned to keep silence. Yarris, who had led the attempt to free them, was first through the door of the smithy, with the report .”All is well, Brann, though we barely escaped being seen as the mercenaries returned. We have the enslaved ones, and their guard will tell no tales. We locked the doors again and brought the keys away, so it will take them time to discover that their slaves have gone. No losses to us.” Brann asked “You slew the guard?” “The Ketai did, they are fast and silent, and took him by surprise. And we could not let him live to tell what happened.” By now the freed slaves were entering the smithy, followed by their rescuers, still keeping quiet. With Tarn, Gamlin, and their force ready to enter too, the place was growing far too crowded, and Brann stepped forward and said, “Men of Li’is, listen! We are here to end the rule of the Dark Lord, with the aid of Light and the friends who have joined us. If any of you can fight and will do so, you are welcome to join us. Those who do not wish to fight, and the young ones, will be escorted safely away from here and set free.” He nodded to the Ket, who joined him, and said, “We are the Ketai, and stand against the Dark Lord. We will show you how to get away.” Rull spoke up next. “I see some of you I know, from my own town. I can assure you that these men speak truth. They have freed me, and you, and mean us no harm. You can trust them.” One of the freed men, a middle-aged man with his arm protectively round the shoulders of a youth whom they guessed to be his son, said “I know you, Rull the smith. You always were an honest man, and we have nothing left to fear, after what we have suffered at the hands of the Dark Lord’s men. I will trust your friends.” Several others signalled agreement, and Rull said “There are weapons here, for any who will fight. Repaired and awaiting collection, but we will turn them against the mercenaries who owned them!” Seeing that some of the freed men were hesitating, Brann said “No shame to any who do not wish to stay and fight. You have suffered enough, and we have no right to ask that you risk your lives in battle. That is the task we have taken on ourselves.” Rull said ” I will stay”, and Brann replied “But we could not free you of your shackles, except for the chain. You will be hampered by those.” “I have learned to walk in them well enough, these last years” Rull answered. “I can fight, Brann.” One of the other men stepped forward and said “We wish you well, Swordsmen. But some of us have sons here with us, and families dispersed when we were attacked. We need to find our loved ones.” “I understand” Brann said. “Go in Light, and may you find them unharmed.”

When the Ketai had led away those who wished to leave, Brann found that Rull and five others remained. These were men who had seen family and friends destroyed by the Dark Lord’s mercenaries, and wanted to avenge them. Rull found swords for himself and four of the others. The fifth man, though, asked if he had a bow, since he was a hunter and had seldom used a sword. There was no bow in the smithy, but the Ketai found him one of theirs. Once the men had been led out through the tunnels there was room for Tarn, Gamlin, and the rest of their force to come through, and Tarn and Gamlin reported to their leaders. “We lost one man – one of your Students, Rafel, I am sorry” Tarn said. “And two wounded, one badly, but the Healer has tended them and left them with the Ketai for safety” Gamlin added. Brann was relieved that Tarn, Gamlin, his cousins and their cousin Tavan, as well as most of their force, were unharmed. He introduced Rull and the five freed slaves who would be fighting with them, and asked Rull if he had any more information about the disposition of the mercenaries in the City. Rull answered “There are not so many guards in the outer circles. They patrol in small groups, and when not patrolling they wait at the junctions of the circles and the side roads. I was taken once to repair some metalwork on a door in the fourth circle and noted that that is where those who serve the Dark Lord live, in some luxury. The approaches to the inner circles of the City, and the Dark Lord’s stronghold, are well guarded, though. ” “And do you know if there are guards within the stronghold?” Tamorine asked. “I do not know, Lady” the smith replied, “but I believe there must be.” One of the freed men said “It is said that the Dark Lord weaves sorceries to defend himself, as well as being guarded by his mercenaries. You will not find it easy to broach his stronghold.” Brann replied “The Lightfriend Rafel carries that which will stand against his sorceries. And his mercenaries are only men. Light is with us, and we will defat him.” He looked round at them with a fierce intensity of purpose and added ” It is time to begin the assault.”

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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