FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 12

It was a tiring few days of steady uphill marching and camping before they reached the level plateau of the tableland. They made better time on the flat grasslands and the weather was in their favour. Brann thought that while the tableland might be benevolent in good weather, it might be a different tale if the weather turned. Sandwiched as it was between the Western Mountains and the tail of the Seacoast Mountains, with the Great Bay of open ocean beyond the Seacoast Mountains, storms and winds would surely sweep across it with some force. The Ketai, though, seemed to find the grasslands to be the kind of territory they enjoyed, and to feel quite at home here. After a day’s march and a night’s rest in the travelling tents, they set off again, keeping a lookout as they went for any enemies who might be about. Ket-Jal, marching at the head of the column with Brann, Tamorine, Rafel, and the other leaders, suddenly paused, and held up his hand. They came to a halt, and he pointed ahead of them. His keener eyes had seen a huddled shape lying on the grasslands ahead. Perhaps an enemy, asleep? In any case it was only one man, and they outnumbered him. “If we capture him, he may give us information about the mercenaries”, the Ket said. They approached cautiously, so as not to wake the sleeper, but when they drew near they saw that he was beyond waking. It was a dead man who lay there. Brann glanced round. Had the man been killed by mercenaries for his goods? For he was obviously not a mercenary. The body was that of an elderly man, richly dressed, well-fleshed and with signs that his face, now pale and yellowish in death, had been florid in life. His expression showed no peace in his last sleep, rather a sulky peevishness. They could see no signs of violence on the body, though a pack that lay beside him was disturbed and the contents strewn about. Brann called Forin, the Healer, and asked him “He was not slain with weapons. Do you see any sign that he was strangled?” Forin knelt to examine the body, then lifted the man’s hand and examined it. He looked up at Brann. “Over-fed and pampered”, he said, “and certainly not used to such travelling. Like enough he took a seizure of the heart which killed him, and others chanced on his body and stripped it of valuables. See…” he lifted the hand he had been examining, and went on “he had been wearing rings, and they have been removed, but not by force. It is only the marks the rings left from wearing that show they were there.”

Rafel had drawn out the Lightstone and was gazing into it, casting out his Perception. When he lowered the Stone again, he said ” I perceive Children of Night, but at a far distance. We need not fear any attack here.” There was nothing they could do with the body but to shroud it in its own cloak, and they moved on across the grasslands. After some time it began to draw near to dusk, and Ket-Jal said “We are nearing a spring and a few trees that I remember from our journey before. We should make camp where we have water.” They all agreed, and the Ketai led them to the place. When they arrived they saw that others had been there before them, for there were signs of a campfire, but it was long cold and dead, and with Rafel’s previous reassurance, they had no concerns. The Ketai set up their tents, using the sparse shelter of the trees, and they settled to a quick meal. As it grew darker the air cooled, and Brann thought that they would be glad of the shelter of the tents. When they had finished their meal, Rafel called them to the Evening Prayers, and when he had their attention, he commanded “Children of Light, look up, and behold the workmanship of Light.” Curious at this, they did as he said. Night had fallen, and above them, in the clear air of the high tableland, the stars and moons shone clearer and brighter than any of them had ever seen. The larger of the moons of Li’is, the Shield , was high and almost full, throwing silvery light down on them. The smaller, swifter moon, the Hound, was low on the horizon and in the lower lands would have been barely visible, though it was waxing. Up here, though , it seemed much nearer and larger. The stars were brilliant, scattered on the background of dark sky in glittering bands and constellations. Tamorine exclaimed “Oh, how beautiful!” Brann felt a sense of awe enfold him, and all of them gazed in wonder. When Rafel began the Evening Prayers, it seemed to Brann that there was a depth of praiseful response greater than he had known before, and afterwards, all of them were silent for a while, as if each communed privately with Light. Later, Brann said quietly to Rafel “I feel that we grew in Light tonight, Rafel. ” The Lightstone-Bearer smiled, and said, “It is always Light’s Way, that we grow in Light, Brann.”

From custom they posted guards, though it seemed unlikely any danger could come upon them without Rafel and the Lightfriends Perceiving it. All was well in the night, though, and they slept well. Their routine of prayers, meals, and setting up or dismantling camp were now well established, and with the guidance of the Ketai, who had been quick to memorise the landscape of Li’is in their journeyings, and the Perception of the Lightfriends to guard against unseen dangers, they made an undisturbed crossing of the tableland in a couple of days, and stood on the edge of it, looking down a gentle slope that led to farmland, some of it unkempt and deserted where its occupants had fled, but other parts still showing signs of habitation and cultivation. Beyond the farmlands the road led on towards the Seacoast Town, which they could see dimly in the distance. To the East the Great Bay swept round in a huge curve, a few fishing villages dotted along it, though they could not see whether the villages were inhabited, or the boats pulled up on the shore were seaworthy and in use. Brann, looking across to the distant Seacoast Town, said “The men of the Town have told us what they could, but I think we should not rely on what they said. The mercenaries in the Town will have been reinforced by any who fled the Dark City, and if there are those with them who wielded some authority under the Dark Lord, they will likely take command of the mercenaries and not permit them to be as lax in their duties as before.” “Certainly we should take nothing for granted” , Tamorine agreed, “but prepare for fierce opposition.” “Is it likely that the guards on the harbour will have been increased?”, Tamran asked. “They must know no help can reach them from the East, and will surely concentrate their forces on defending the Town.” “If news has reached the Town of the Dark Lord’s defeat, it might hearten those enslaved to rise up against their oppressors” , Gamlin answered his Sword-Brother. “If I had charge, I would guard them more strictly, or keep them, for now, held prisoner in the Town.” “Their supplies, though, are in the harbour stores, by what the men of the Town said.” commented Brann. “They must have them brought into the Town.” “And if their number has been increased by those who fled the Dark City, they will need more supplies.”, added Tamorine.

After further discussion, it was decided that when they neared the Seacoast Town Tamran and Gamlin, with some of their men and the best of the Ketai bowmen, should approach the harbour, while the others attacked the Town. They would take with them two of the Lightfriends, so that the two groups of fighters could be kept in touch through the Thought-without-Words. Brann was a little concerned about the farmlands between their present position and the Town, wondering if those farms still under cultivation might harbour those in league with the mercenaries, or under their guard. He did not think there would be enough opposition there to do them any harm, but it might delay them and give the mercenaries in the Town more time to prepare a defence. Certainly they could not approach the Town unobserved, and any there who had fled from the Dark City would surely recognise them as those who had attacked and defeated it. Brann called Rull forward and asked about the inhabited farms. Rull said “They are forced to work the land and produce food for the mercenaries and feed for their horses. The mercenaries hold members of their families hostage in the Town to ensure that they do as they are ordered. They will not betray us if they realise that we are moving against the mercenaries, for they hate them.” “That is good”, said Tamran, ” for they will give no warning of our approach. The closer we can get without being recognised, the better.” They had called for the Townsman who had given them information about the harbour to go with Tamran’s force, to guide them, and as they neared the Town Tamran and Gamlin and those allocated to them peeled off from the main force and followed their guide round the outside of the stockade to the road that led to the harbour. Brann, Tamorine, Rafel and Ket-Jal led the rest of their fighters towards the Town gate.

As they had been told, the Seacoast Town was not as strongly defended as the Dark City. The stockade around the town was not high and there were no bowmen to fire down on them as before. The stockade and gates were of timber, not stone, and Ket-Jal said, “If need be, we could use fire arrows to burn the stockade, but I would not do that unless forced to. We do not know what buildings may be close to the stockade, and who is in them. I do not wish to risk innocent lives in destroying the Children of Night.” They all agreed with that. Their approach had been seen, and as they neared the gates they saw mercenaries hurrying to close and bar them. A hail of arrows from the Ketai cut some down and slowed their progress, and before the gates could be fully shut, Brann and Tamorine’s forces were upon them and fighting to stop them closing. Resistance was fierce, but they forced their way through, fighting hard all the way. As they fought with the mercenaries, Brann observed a man standing behind their ranks, shouting orders. He was not a mercenary, though he wore a breastplate over a long robe of fine wine-coloured cloth. Evidently some follower of the Dark Lord, Brann thought, who had escaped the Dark City and taken charge here. Ket-Jal had observed him too, and called back to his bowmen, who loosed their arrows and took the man down, along with more of the mercenaries. On seeing this, some of the mercenaries deserted their comrades and fled back into the Town, while others stood their ground. The fighting was desperate, but with depleted forces the mercenaries could not hold out long against the determined onslaught, and those not killed were soon taken captive and disarmed. They were herded into a nearby building and bound. The Healers, true to their vows of impartiality and service to Light, tended their wounded, guarded by the Ketai. After that, all the mercenaries were locked in and guarded. Meanwhile Brann, Tamorine, and their forces moved on, sweeping through the Town for other mercenaries and Children of Night. The people of the Town, realising what was happening, now turned on their captors, revealing their hiding places to their pursuers. Some of the Townspeople formed a group armed with makeshift weapons, and herded some of the Children of Night towards Brann and Tamorine and the others. Meanwhile the Swordsmen and those Ketai not guarding the Lightfriends sought out and captured the last of the mercenaries. More buildings were pressed into service as prisons, until the captives could be dealt with. Rafel, gazing into the Lightstone, reached out to the Lightfriends by the harbour in the Thought-without-Words. When he raised his head again, he told them “Tamran and the others have taken the harbour, freed the slaves of the Dark Ones, and imprisoned those mercenaries not slain. We have control of the Town.”

Brann said “What now, Rafel? What are we to do with the mercenaries and Children of Night? To slay an enemy in battle is one thing, but we cannot kill them in cold blood, and we cannot set them free. Must we keep them prisoner till they die? That would be a burdensome task.” Rafel replied. “We will deal with them according to the Will of Light, and I must search out that Will with the power of the Lightstone. They are safe enough for now, and cannot harm any.” The people of the Town had begun crowding round with ecstatic thanks and questions, and though their intentions were good, confusion was setting in. Brann raised his voice and shouted “People of the Town, hear me!” Slowly the hubbub stilled, and Brann said, more quietly ” We will explain all to you later, when we have had time to confer. Rull the Smith is a man some of you know, and can tell you part of what has happened. For now, be content to know that you and your Town are safe, and you can begin to rebuild your lives. ” Someone in the crowd called “But the Dark Lord is defeated, so we heard?” “Defeated, and sent back to his own dark world.” Brann answered. He turned to Rull, and said softly, “Rull, you and your friends from the Town who were with us must be our voice for now. ” Rull nodded, and said “We will explain what we can.” Rafel told him “We will call the people together later, and tell them of Light, but for now they must settle down and go back to their homes.” Rull smiled, and turned to speak himself to the murmuring crowd. “Friends, we have our Town again”, he called. “Let us retake our homes and our businesses. In due time we may again be a Town of merchants and artisans, instead of slaves. For myself, I go to my old forge.” He stepped into the crowd amid murmured agreement. Some of them followed him, evidently asking questions, others began to move away in other directions to do as he had said. Brann gave a sigh of relief, and said “Let us find a place to gather, and tend the wounded, and make our plans.” “There is a Town Building” Rafel said. “I Perceived it in the thought of some. Shut up and used by the mercenaries, but we can take it over now.”

They followed Rafel as he went unerringly towards the Town Building, guided by his Perception. The doors were open and the building showed signs of the mercenaries’ hasty exit to fight against them, but they quickly set some rooms to rights. Leaving the Healers to tend to those who had been wounded, fortunately none seriously, in one of the larger rooms, and the Ketai and their other troops to relax and recover from their efforts in another, the leaders found a third room to rest themselves and discuss what to do next. They found chairs in the room and seated themselves in a semi-circle. Tamorine spoke first. “The Dark City and the Seacoast Town are dealt with, so if our Lords have succeeded in recapturing the Harbour, we will have destroyed all the nests of Dark Ones here. But there is still the Eastern Continent.” Rafel answered “We must consolidate our hold here before we think of the Eastern Continent. And the people must learn of Light before they can stand against Darkness – as you and your forces did.” Brann said “The Dark Lord has gone. What can they do in the East but hold it? They can expect no help from here, now, and they will not sail here either.” “There may be subordinates of the Dark Lord there, though”, Tarn suggested, “maybe even those who came out of Ma’al too.” “There are no more people of Ma’al there”, Rafel assured him. “It is not easy for the Dark Ones to make a passage between Ma’al and Li’is. It requires much power and sorcery, and their power, unlike Light’s, is not limitless. They could not send an army, or they would. They can only send one powerful being to subvert and corrupt the people of Li’is and bend them to his will – the Dark Lord.” “Then should we send the prisoners we hold to the East, until we can deal with all of them there?” Gamlin asked.” Then at least the Western continent would be free of them.” “By no means!” Brann exclaimed. “We should not reinforce their numbers!” Rafel bent his gaze to the Lightstone again, and they waited in silence until he lifted his head again, and said “I have told Tamran, through the Lightfriends there, to bring his prisoners to be put with ours, so that he and the others can have some rest here too. The Townspeople have returned to their homes. And I have sought Light’s answer to the problem of the prisoners. The answer has not yet come, but I am assured it will.”

They relaxed in silence for a while, considering the next steps to be taken. After a while Brann said, “Rafel, will the Thought-without-Words reach to the Harbour? Then we would know if my father and Lord Tamor have succeeded.” Rafel replied ” Sadly, no, Brann. I could reach to our haven, with the aid of the Lightstone, but the Lightfriends there could not reach those at the Harbour.” Tamorine sighed. “I wish we could know for certain!” A shadow appeared in the doorway just then, and Tamran came in. “Know what, Tamorine?” , he asked. Brann explained as Tamran pulled a chair into the half-circle and sat down, stretching his arms above his head as if weary. Tamran said ” Light is with them, as with us. Surely they will succeed. And the moons are full”, he added , in reference to the Two-Moon Tide, “so the waves will be high and there will be no escape from the Harbour.” Silence settled again, for they were all weary, though all of them spoke silently, inwardly, in gratitude to Light for their victories. Brann was about to suggest that they should adjourn their deliberations and get some food and rest, when Rafel lifted his head as he did when he Perceived something. “What is it, Rafel?” asked Ket-Jal, but before the Lightstone-Bearer could reply, there was a sudden thickening of the air, and a Dancer shimmered into being , appearing in front of their half-circle of seats. Most of them were still unused to the beauty and power of the light-beings and gazed in wonder. The Dancer’s thought extended to them, as it ‘said’ “You wish for news of the Harbour. The Lords of the Mountains and the Harbour have retaken it, and the Dark Ones are vanquished.” “That is wonderful news!”, Brann exclaimed. “Thank you for bringing it, Dancer.” “Prisoners?” Gamlin enquired, his practical mind still concerned with that problem. The Dancer ‘said’ “There are none. The Children of Night who held the Harbour and its town in subjection, when they saw their mercenaries were defeated, and they would be captured, took a ship by force. They made those mercenaries left alive go with them, and set sail for the East.” “But it is the Two-Moon Tide!” Brann said. The Dancer’s answer came .”They took no thought for that, in their panic. They thought they could reach safety in the East, and return to retake the Harbour.” “Then they will die.” Brann said.” If they were near the coast they might be shipwrecked and escape, but a ship out on the open ocean in the Two-Moon Tide is doomed for certain.”

The Dancer continued “The Lightstone-Bearer has sought Light’s Will as to the prisoners you hold, and what your next steps should be. I am sent to tell you that your answer will come tomorrow. Meanwhile you should eat and rest to restore your strength.” Before they could question further, the light-being blinked out of their sight. There was a moment’s pause, then Rafel said, “Praise Light, we know now that all our plans have succeeded, though I did not doubt Light’s victory.” Brann said “The Dancer said you would receive Light’s answer tomorrow. Perhaps the Dancer will return then. ” “Perhaps”, Rafel agreed, “but for now let us take the Dancer’s advice. It has been a long and wearisome day. Whatever else happens tomorrow, we will need to begin the education of the Townspeople in the Way of Light.” None of them demurred, for all of them were feeling the effects of the day’s events, coming on top of the long march from the Dark City. Brann and Tamorine first went, though, to see how their wounded fared, but finding no cause for concern, they accepted the Healers’ reassurances and went to make a rough meal and seek out places to sleep. Next morning, Brann’s first thought was of the Dancer’s promise, and he wondered what instructions would come to Rafel, and how. When he spoke to the Lightstone-Bearer after the Morning Prayers , however, Rafel admitted that, as yet, he had had no news. He had sent out some of the Lightfriends to help the Townspeople and explain who the Lightfriends were, and why they had come to Li’is. He hoped the people would warm to the Lightfriends, and they would then be able to begin teaching about Light. Brann asked “Did the Ketai go with them?” “The Ketai are watching over them, but from a distance.” Rafel replied. “The Townspeople have never seen Lightfriends, and our eyes, which show our Perception, will be strange to them and must be explained. The presence of the Ketai would be another strangeness, and it is better that they do not have too much to understand at once.” “They saw the Ketai with us yesterday, fighting against the Dark Ones.” Brann commented, but Rafel said “In all the turmoil they had no time to notice their difference, but now things are quieter, they will begin to question. That is why we Lightfriends must explain ourselves, and show that we are not on the side of Darkness.”

Brann went to seek out Tamorine. They had had little enough time together, and he wanted to be with her for a while. He found her with her brother , but Tamran, sensitive to them, made an excuse and left them alone together. Brann smiled at her, and said “Your brother is very understanding, my heart.” She smiled back, and said, “Light has blessed me, Brann. There were two I loved and thought lost to me – you, and my brother. And Light has restored both to me.” “Praise Light!” he exclaimed, and took her in an embrace. After a while, she said , “Things go well, Brann, and Light is with us. We must wait for Light’s word to come to Rafel now, and there will be more to do before all is well in Li’is, but I have great hope.” “As I do”, he replied, “and what I hope for most is that it will not be too long a wait before I can take you as my Lady, before Light.” She smiled at that, and reached to kiss his cheek. Brann said, “Let us go to the room where we took counsel yesterday, and see if Rafel is there and if he has any news now.” They had all decided on the previous day to keep that room for the leaders to make their plans, so Brann and Tamorine were surprised to see , when they entered the room, a Swordsman standing by the half-circle of chairs, as if waiting for someone. Not a Swordsman of his, Brann knew, and since Tamorine showed no sign of recognition either, he challenged the young man. “Who are you, Swordsman? What do you want here?” The man looked at them, and said “I am Mihel, Lord Brann of the Forest. I am waiting for Rafel, the Lightstone-Bearer. I have a message for him.” Brann looked closely at the Swordsman. He was quite unremarkable, average of height and build, with light brown hair and eyes, and a face pleasant enough but easily forgettable, with no distinguishing features. That did not reassure Brann, for someone of such ordinary appearance would be an ideal agent of Darkness, able to mingle with a crowd and disappear without being noticed. Brann could not shake off the feeling that the man was not as ordinary as he looked. Could he even be a Shape-Changer? But they were Lords of Darkness, powerful, and the Dancer had said there were no more such in Li’is. He was about to question the man further when Rafel came into the room. Brann said, “Rafel, this Swordsman, Mihel, says he has come with a message for you. Do you know him?” Rafel looked at the man, and said, “I do not know him. But I Perceive no Darkness about him.” He asked Mihel “Who do you come from? Who sent me a message.” And the Swordsman answered, “Lightstone-Bearer, I come to you from Light.”

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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