FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 15

When Brann returned to the Harbour, bearing messages and greetings from the Fortress, he found work going on apace. His father, after hearing his news and the expectation of the return of those left at the Lightfriends’ haven, said, “We have called a meeting with the Shipfathers and the Lightfriends. You know we are not well acquainted with the Eastern Continent, since none of us have sailed there before. The Shipfathers will have information, and Rafel informs us that the Dancers will also give us guidance.” Brann said, “It will be wise to know as much as we can. We know of the Eastern Harbour, but little of other towns or havens for ships. It was, I think, never deemed necessary to know more than the places to trade , in the past.” “We know, at least, that it will be a long voyage”, his father replied, “taking many weeks.” Brann answered, “Let us hope, then, that our troops will be good sailors.” “They will have adjusted to being on board ship after a few days”, Baran said. He added “There is a strange Swordsman who has joined us, though Tarn and Gamlin say he is known to them. His name is Mihel.” Brann felt a moment of relief at this news, knowing Mihel’s true identity, but gave nothing away to his father, saying only, “Yes, we know him. Rafel trusts him and he was a great help to us in the battle at the Seacoast Town.” “That is a good recommendation”, Baran answered. Returning to the question of the Eastern Continent, he continued, “We know that the seasons are different in the East, and it is a land divided by a great mountain range. Only the side facing the Eastern Sea is good land for farming, as it receives most of the rain. On the far side of the mountains the land is much drier, partly desert, but it is a good source of metals, and of stone for building.” “So the people of the East live mainly on the near side of the continent?” Brann asked. “That is so, according to the Shipfathers and their crews. Only the miners for metals and the stoneworkers live on the far side, though there is a small harbour there. It is easier to sail their metals and stone round to the main harbour for use there or for shipping here, than to attempt to bring them through the mountains, though there are some roads and passes. Those are not much used, except to bring in supplies.” “Then it is likely that most, if not all, of the mercenaries will be around the main harbour”, Brann said, “though no doubt the metal and stone workers will be held in servitude too, so there must be some to guard them.” He paused for a moment, then added, “It may be that some of the people of the East were able to escape the Dark Lord’s forces, as we did here. The mountains could have provided a place of refuge. It may even be that the Lord of the East and his Heirs evaded capture.” “We shall see if any of the Shipfathers know anything, at the meeting”, his father commented.

Brann accompanied his father to the meeting that had been arranged, greeting his friends when they entered. He gave the same friendly, casual greeting to Mihel, so as not to distinguish the disguised Spirit-in-Light in any way. Rafel was there too, with some of the Lightfriends. The Shipfathers who had brought his and Tamorine’s forces from the Seacoast Town were present, along with some others, and some of their crewmen. All were happy to share what knowledge they had of the Eastern Continent. Brann asked the question that had been on his mind. “Shipfathers, is it possible that some of the people of the East were not enslaved, but could have escaped into hiding? Do you know if the Lord of the East was captured?” One of the Shipfathers who had brought them from the Harbour answered him. “The fall of the East happened in my grandfather’s time. I mind him telling me the tale. It was a time of great dread and cruelty. He said that the Lord of the East was captured and slain, but he had managed to get his two sons safely away. If either or both survived and had families, there is still an heir to the Lordship of the East. It is certain that some of the people did escape, but where they went is not known.” Another Shipfather said, ” It is known that some of the bands of the mercenaries have been sent into the mountains from time to time. There can be no purpose other than to hunt there, and it is rumoured that it is not only game that they are hunting.” One of the crewmen spoke up next. “I have kin among the metal workers. Their work of necessity takes them out of sight of their guards for some of the time, and the guards have grown casual, knowing, as they think, that there is no place for the workers to escape to. But the metal workers and miners did not take their captivity lightly and from the very first have been in secret revolt against the Dark Lord’s rule. Not all their tunnels are for the purposes of mining. They are, of course, very careful in what they say, but from some hints my kin have given me, I believe there are those hidden in the mountains who have never acknowledged the Dark Lord, and stay loyal to the line of the Lord of the East. The miners, metal workers, and stonecutters have ways of helping them.”

Brann was encouraged by the man’s statement. “That is useful news, friend. Thank you” , he commented. Gamlin said, “We will attack the main harbour, that is certain, but once we have secured that, some of us should sail to the other harbour, to free the workers there and find out what they know. If there is still a Lord of the East and his followers, we will need to find him and reinstate him.” “The mercenaries in the East cannot know yet that the Dark Lord has been vanquished”, Tarn said, “since none of those who tried to escape to the East reached there, being lost in the Two-Moon Tide. They are likely to fight fiercely, believing they have his protection.” Rafel said, “The people of Li’is will not be the only ones in battle, this time. There are Night Lords in the East, the corrupted Dancers of Ma’al, who protect the passage from Li’is which the Dark Lords made. The Dancers will wage war on them, to secure and close that passage. The mercenaries have been kept in ignorance of the true nature of the Dark Lords and the presence of the Night Lords. When they see the Night Lords and the Dancers in battle, it will bring fear upon them and dishearten them.” Brann, noting the authority with which Rafel spoke, guessed that the Lightstone-Bearer had been told what to say by Mihel, but one of the Shipfathers asked, in worried tones, “Dark Lords? There are more of them in Li’is?” “No, not in Li’is”, Rafel reassured him. “Their place is in the world of Ma’al, and it takes much of their power and sorcery to send even one of their number here, fighting against the Will of Light. The Dark Lords themselves are under the sway of the Great Deceiver, and have no part in Light, so in all they do they go against the very nature of life itself, and it is hard for them.”

“We will need provisions for the voyage”, Gamlin said, “for us, and for any horses we can take with us. ” “That is all in hand”, one of the Shipfathers assured him, “but there will not be room on the ships for many of your mounts. You will find more in the East, if you can capture them from the mercenaries.” “The two new ships will soon be finished, and the ones that needed repair have been readied”, said another man, who Brann presumed to be one of the shipwrights. “Lord Tamor has said that they will soon bring back those we left at the Lightfriends’ haven”, Brann told them, “and when they have rested, they can return here. The Fortress is being strengthened and more fortifications built, so that they can guard the Spearcleft Pass and the Harbour in case there are still followers of the Dark Lord who might attempt an attack.” Gamlin said, “Aye, Tamran had that in mind. If we are to take our forces across the Eastern Sea, we will need to leave those we leave behind to defend our homes in a strong position.” “Then all seems ready”, Baran said, “and we await only the gathering of our forces and the word from Rafel to set out.” Rafel told them, “I will seek the guidance of Light and the Lightstone to tell us when to set sail. All must be done according to the Will of Light.” One of the shipwrights replied, “Since we go in the Name of Light, we have named one of the new ships ‘Lightbringer’. The other we named ‘Freedom’, since we hope to bring freedom to Li’is once and for all.” “Those are good names”, Brann said, “and speak truly of our mission.” “Light is with us”, Baran agreed, “and will bring us to a successful conclusion.”

It was only a couple more weeks before all was complete. The new ships, sent out for trials, had sailed along the coast and looked for signs of the mercenaries and others who had forced a passage towards the East despite the Two-Moon Tide. Some wreckage was found, and bodies, so their fate was evident, though it had been almost impossible that any could survive the Tide. There was no sign of any survivors having escaped to shore. Baran still urged caution, though, and set a watch on the areas near to the wreckage. Rafel had set the date for them to sail, and messages had been sent to the Fortress. In response, the forces from the Fortress arrived at the Harbour, led by Tamran and Tamorine, and bringing the men they had left wounded at the Lightfriends’ haven, now recovered, though some, including Brann’s cousin Javan, were still not fit enough to fight. Javan’s brother Jamin and cousin Tavan, as well as Brann himself, were glad to see him, but concerned at his pallor and loss of weight. It was evident, too, that he still felt some pain. Brann said, “No battles for you this time, cousin! You must rest and grow strong again, to help us rebuild Li’is once the Darkness in the East is defeated.” He greeted Tamorine and Tamran warmly, but though Tamorine was his betrothed, he would not embrace her openly before their troops. She was back in battle harness, his warrior maiden again, and ready to fight with them. It was not until the three of them, with Rafel, Tarn and Gamlin, had returned to Baran’s house by the Harbour, that he and Tamorine shared the embrace he had been waiting for.

“So now it begins”, said Tamran. “We are ready to sail?” “Yes, the new ships have been tested and the others refurbished. We are ready.” Brann answered. “And the plan is to attack the mercenaries at the main Eastern Harbour?” Tamran went on. “It is. Rafel says that there will be another battle, one between the Dancers and the Night Lords, and that will distract and dishearten the mercenaries”, Brann told him. Tamorine said “The mercenaries will not know that the Dark Lord has been defeated?” Tarn answered, “We sent the new ships along the coast on their trials, and they reported signs that the ships the mercenaries here forced to sail for the East were all wrecked in the Two-Moon Tide. None can have escaped to carry news to the East.” Brann then told them “Some of the crewmen of the ships have told us that it is believed the Heir of the Lord of the East, and some others, escaped to the Mountains of the East, and that there are still those in the Mountains who resisted the Dark Lord’s rule. One of the men has kin among the workers in the mines and quarries on the other side of the mountains, and says they have helped those in the Mountains. ” “We hope that once the mercenaries are defeated”, Gamlin continued, “we can sail to the smaller harbour where the metalworkers and miners are and they will help us find the Heir to the Lordship of the East, and restore him to his rightful place.” Rafel said, ” Some of the Lightfriends come with us. They will teach those of the East the Way of Light, once the mercenaries are defeated and the people of the East freed and its Lord restored. They are ready to stay there and establish a Place of Prayer.”

The day came to sail, and farewells were said. Rafel and the Lightfriends held a time of prayer, committing them all to the care of Light. Horses, gear and provisions had already been loaded, and the troops and their leaders embarked. Brann, Tamorine and Tamran, with Rafel and Mihel, boarded the leading ship, the newly built ‘Lightbringer’, with Jamin, Tavin, and others of their men. It had been decided that Tarn and Gamlin should follow in the second ship, with other Lightfriends, so that there was still a chain of command should the flotilla be separated for any reason. They stood on deck, watching the Harbour fall away behind them, and the widening view of the coastline eventually disappear. Tamorine, looking down at the water foaming past the ship’s side, suddenly pointed and said, “Look, what was that in the water? A large fish?” They all looked, but the creature had momentarily disappeared. They continued looking into the water, and then there was a flash of blue-grey, and a curving, sinuous shape cut through the water. It was not a fish, for a round head appeared, with large, dark, almost human eyes, before the creature gave a snort and disappeared again below the water. “It is a sea-cat”, Brann said, “they live along the coast and hunt out to sea.” “It is beautiful!”Tamorine said. Brann sighed. “I fear their beauty is their downfall, Tamorine. Their fur has been much prized by the mercenaries, for the rich among the Children of Night pay well for it. They have hunted the poor creatures and now the sea-cats are wary of the Harbour.” “Then let us hope that the sea-cats too are now free of the tyranny of Darkness”, she replied.

Life on board ship soon fell into a rhythm, once they were accustomed to being on board. There were tasks to be carried out, not least tending to the horses and maintaining their weaponry in good order, and plans to be made for when they reached the East. Brann had instructed their troops that while at sea their commander was the Shipfather, and they should obey him, since only he and his crew knew the ways of the sea. So they were careful not to interfere with the running of the ship. There were, however, parts of the decks where sword-practice and other exercises could be taken , to keep them in fighting fitness, and, after the evening meal and Prayers, to walk and watch the stars and moons. The prospect of the battle ahead was always there, but the voyage gave them some rest beforehand. On one such evening, Brann had strolled along the deck alone, since Tamorine had been occupied elsewhere, and found himself in company with his cousin Jamin and Jamin’s cousin Tavan. They commented on the smoothness of the sea and the brightness of the stars, and then their conversation turned, naturally, to the coming battle. Jamin said, ” The mercenaries there will not be expecting so many ships. Surely they will be suspicious?” “We do not know what they may be expecting”, Brann argued, “since we have little knowledge of the commerce between the two continents under the Dark Lord’s reign. They do not know, remember, that the Dark Lord has been defeated, and may well think we come under his orders.” “As long as we can disembark without suspicion”, said Tavan, “and they take us for an intake of mercenaries returning to the East.” “And as soon as we have landed, we can attack”, added Brann. “We will take them by surprise.” Jamin said, “And Tamorine will be fighting with us?” “She will”, Brann replied, surprised at the question.” She is my co-commander and one of our most experienced fighters. Why do you ask?” “I wondered if she might step aside, since Tamran has returned”, Jamin said. Brann laughed, and said, “Not she! She wants to see the end of Darkness in Li’is as much as any.” Tavan said, “Not one of us would doubt Tamorine’s courage, or her sword-skill, having fought alongside her. Yet she is your betrothed, Brann. Do you not fear for her in battle? Would you not prefer it if she did not fight?” Brann answered, “She is my betrothed, but also my Sword-Brother. I would be doubly fearful for her in battle, that is true. But to wish that she did not fight – no! That would be to deny who she is, and who she is, is what I love. I would not make her less than herself.” “A fair point”, Jamin replied, and after a few minutes’ more conversation, the cousins left Brann on deck and returned to their quarters. As soon as they had left him, a figure emerged from the shadows, and proved to be Tamorine. Surprised, Brann asked ” How long have you been here, my heart? I looked for you before I came on deck, but was told you were busy elsewhere “. “I was”, she replied,” but then I came to find you . I heard you speaking with Jamin and Tavan. Thank you, Brann.” “What for?” he asked, puzzled. “For your reply to Tavan – that you would not wish to make me less than I am.” “I spoke only the truth”, he said. She smiled at him, and said, “Yet still, it pleases me to hear it.”

She looked up at the billowing sails, and said, “Light favours our voyage, Brann. We have had fair winds since we left the Harbour.” He nodded. “That is good. I know the ships can be rowed at great need, but that would be wearying for all. I am sure Light will take us where we need to go. ” “I hope that the crewmen were right, and there are still survivors in the mountains of the East who can help to rebuild there once the Dark Lord’s last forces are defeated”, Tamorine commented. “If there is still a Lord of the East in hiding there, it will make the task of rebuilding easier, with him to take charge”, Brann agreed. He followed her gaze, past the sails and up at the stars and the moons, and said “I still find it difficult to understand all Rafel has told us about Ma’al – this ‘Otherworld’ – and its links to Li’is, when he says it is so far away in time and space that we could not reckon the distance. Oh, I do not doubt his word, and Mihel, the Spirit-in-Light, confirms it. But it is hard to comprehend. ” Tamorine smiled. “Maybe”, she said, “there are things we are not meant to understand, Brann, just to trust and believe. I think the coming of Light has taught us that.” “Light’s purposes are all for our good, I know that”, Brann replied, “even if we may not understand them all. Rafel and the other Lightfriends have brought us the truth, and now we understand that the old gods were false, maybe even a delusion of the Dark Lords to prepare the way for their possession of Li’is. But Light would not let that happen in Li’is as it did in Ma’al. ” “Why was it, I wonder, that Ma’al went down into Darkness?” Tamorine said. “Why did Light not prevent it?” “Mihel said that the Dancers of Ma’al were corrupted, and in turn corrupted its people” Brann reminded her, “and that Light will not force the Choice of Light on any, desiring that all seek Light willingly, not as slaves. If Ma’al rejects Light, they will be allowed to do so.” “That must be very painful to Light”, Tamorine mused, “it is hard to offer love and be rejected.” “Yet Mihel also said that Light prepared a Great Sacrifice, so that we could accept Light despite what divided us from Light”, Brann went on. “It is a mystery, my heart, and we can only be thankful for it.”

The voyage to the East continued without incident; the winds stayed in their favour and Rafel and the Lightfriends continued to instruct them in the Way of Light. Mihel was often present, and Brann wondered if the Spirit-in-Light was guiding Rafel in what he said. On one occasion, after the time of discussion and prayer had finished, Mihel took Brann aside and spoke to him directly. “Brann, I must warn you that when all is accomplished, you will be tempted. The people of Li’is will honour you and Tamorine, rightly, but you must not let that make you proud. You must rely on Light, and not let your popularity sway you. To speak plainly, some will wish to make you a king, and that you must resist.” Brann bowed his head, and said, “Then I pray Light will grant me the strength to resist, Mihel. For I vow that now and forever, in Li’is we shall have no king but Light.” Mihel smiled at him then, and said, “Well answered, Brann, True Sword of the Lightstone. Light will be with you.” Later, Brann told Tamorine what had been said, and she commented “There has never yet been a king in Li’is, and I agree with you, Brann, that no man should take that place, which belongs only to Light.” He smiled at her, and said, jestingly, “Then you have no wish to be a queen, my heart?” “Never!” she laughed, then added, “Unless it is queen of your heart.” “Ah, that you already are!” he told her.

The Lightfriends on the different vessels were able to keep in contact through the use of their Perceptions, sending the Thought-without-Words between themselves as necessary, and reassuring the commanders on the lead ship that all was well with their flotilla. Rafel told Brann, Tamorine and Tamran that when they neared the Eastern Harbour he would be able to use his Perception, augmented by the Lightstone, to determine the strength of the garrison there, and warn them of any dangers. As they drew nearer to the East and the first faint outlines of the continent came into view, the crews of the ships began to prepare for mooring at the Eastern Harbour, and the forces on board to prepare for battle. Messages passed back and forth between the various vessels, relayed by the Lightfriends, and Brann, Tamorine and Tamran conferred with Rafel about the best course of action. Tamran was surprised when Mihel joined them one morning. Knowing the Shining One only as a Swordsman, though one trusted by Rafel, Brann and Tamorine, he looked questioningly at the Lightstone-Bearer. Rafel said, gently, “Tamran, as you are now a commander alongside your sister and Brann, we have decided that you should know the truth about Mihel, already known to Brann and Tamorine.” Tamran , obviously startled, glanced from one face to another, and then demanded, “And what is there to know?” Rafel said, “You see him as a man, Tamran, but Mihel is not human. He is a Spirit-in-Light, a Shining One.” Tamran relaxed at the Lightstone-Bearer’s words, and smiled. “Ah, now I see why Rafel puts such trust in you, Lord Mihel”, he said. Mihel smiled too, and answered ” Not ‘Lord’, Tamran. While I am with you I am simply the Swordsman Mihel.” “You do not seem surprised”, Tamorine challenged her brother, “but when we learned that he was a Spirit-in-Light, we were amazed.” Tamran said, “You forget, dear sister, that I have spent some years with the Lightfriends, and have studied the Way of Light with them. I knew of the existence of the Spirits-in-Light, though I never thought to have the honour of meeting one.” He looked again at Mihel, and asked, “Do you fight with us?” Mihel replied, “Only in the sense that I am the guardian of the Lightstone and the Lightstone-Bearer. My task is to protect him so that he may complete the task Light has laid on him. I may help him in certain other ways. But to fight your battles – no. That is not permitted. That is the task Light ordained for the people of Li’is, to reject and cast out for themselves the Dark Lord and his works.” “I see”, Tamran said, accepting Mihel’s explanation.

Tamorine asked, “Mihel, do you know what will happen when we reach the East? Will we find the Lord of the East?” Mihel replied, “I do not have the foreknowledge of Light, Tamorine. Like the Lightfriends and the Dancers, I know only what Light reveals to me. I know only what I need to know to obey Light.” She asked again, “So only Light knows all?” “Of course”, the Shining One replied ,”for even in the Presence of Light, we cannot know all that Light knows, or we ourselves would be as Light, and that is impossible.” Tamorine considered this, then said, “So when you are not in Li’is, you stand in the Presence of Light? You must miss that so much, being here with us.” Mihel said, “I do miss it, but I stand in Light’s Presence ready to do Light’s bidding. If that means I must leave the Presence for a while, I am glad to obey.” Brann and Tamran had been silent while Tamorine conversed with Mihel, and Rafel had bowed his head at the mention of the Presence of Light. Now, though, Brann asked “Has Light told you what will happen when we arrive at the Eastern Harbour, Mihel?” “That I do know”, the Shining One replied, “for the mercenaries there will not suspect an invasion, so you will be able to land without problems. And, as I told you, once the battle begins, the Night Lords will appear, to defend the Dark Lords’ gateway into Li’is, and the Dancers will also appear, to drive them out, and that will cause fear to the mercenaries and give you an advantage in battle. Beyond that, though, I have not been told.” “Then we start with an advantage”, Brann said. Rafel answered, “We do, and that is good. We are nearing the coast now, and it will soon be time to land. We must pray, and prepare. ” “And then comes the battle for the East.” said Tamorine.

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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