FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 16

Despite all the assurances, nerves were still tight-strung as the flotilla of ships approached the Eastern Harbour, until Rafel sent out his Lightstone-augmented Perception, and told them that there were few mercenaries on the quayside, and he Perceived no curiosity among them about the approaching vessels. “They have no reason to think we come from anyone but the Dark Lord”, the Lightstone-Bearer said, “believing that no one else would have access to the Harbour and its ships.” Preparations had been made for the disembarkation of the troops from the various ships, using the Lightfriends’ Thought-without-Words to carry orders, and they withdrew below decks to allow the Shipfathers and their crews space to negotiate the entrance to the Eastern Harbour and tie up alongside the quays. The workers on the quays showed no interest other than to complete the work of helping the ships moor up and prepare to disembark their passengers. The Shipfather of the ‘Lightbringer’ had told them that these workers were also enslaved, and would not resist any attack on the mercenaries.

Eventually the time came for their forces to leave the ships, while the Lightfriends, except for Rafel, and the Ketai stayed aboard for a while to avoid suspicion. The Eastern Harbour was very similar to Brann’s own Harbour, and so looked familiar to him, but a town lay beyond its barred gates, and he was not so sure of what they would find there. The mercenaries in charge of the Harbour were scattered about, supervising the workers and guarding the gates, with one man, who seemed to be a commander, shouting occasional orders. They took no notice of the newcomers at first, but as more and more of Brann and Tamorine’s troops landed, with their mounts, the commanding mercenary took notice, and strolled across with two of his subordinates. As the man did not hurry, Brann hoped that he suspected nothing, but he was still ready for action, his hand poised over the hilt of the True Sword, and he saw that Tamran and Tamorine were equally alert. The man reached them, and sent a quick, raking glance across the assembling troops. Then he grinned, and said, “You have brought us many reinforcements! Does the Dark Lord intend finally to seek out and destroy the rebels in the mountains?” Brann was about to make a noncommittal reply when Rafel stepped forward, the Lightstone blazing on his breast, and said, in an authoritative tone, ” The Dark Lord has been vanquished, and is dead. We come in the Name of Light!”

The mercenary leader stared at the Lightstone-Bearer and sneered, “Who is this lunatic?” “No lunatic”, Rafel replied, “but the Lightstone-Bearer and bringer of the Way of Light into Li’is. Your Dark Lord , I say again, is dead, and Li’is is free of his rule.” The man frowned, and half-turned as if to give an order. Brann, convinced now that Rafel was acting under the prompting of Light, said, sharply, to those with him, “Seize them!” In an instant the leader and the two men with him were held captive, but other mercenaries, seeing this, ran towards them, while some of their number hurried to unbar the Harbour gates and sound the alarm. Brann, Tamran, Tamorine and their forces were prepared, and fought back as they were attacked, while the mercenary leader and his two companions were bound by Tarn and Gamlin and forced aboard the leading ship, where they were locked in a secure cabin .Now that concealment was over, the Ketai swarmed off the ships to join the battle, and the Lightfriends came too, ready to send orders by the Thought-without-Words if necessary. There had been few mercenaries in the actual Harbour complex, but as they sounded the horn that alerted their fellows, more and more came pouring down on the battle, and Brann began to wonder how great their numbers actually were. Suddenly he found that Mihel was beside them, and the Shining One said, “Do not fear, Brann. Look to the skies.”

Brann became aware that above the tumult and noise of the battle there was an eerie darkening of the sky, and, as he followed Mihel’s orders and looked up, he saw the dark flame shapes, sooty black shot with red sparks, that he had seen once before, in the Dark Lord’s lair. Night Lords! At first he did not know why the Shining One thought that the sight would reassure him, but then remembered that Mihel had said that it would dishearten their foes. Rafel , guarded by the Ketai, pointed upwards, and shouted, “There are your Lords, Children of Night – the Night Lords, doing the evil works of the Dark Lord and others like him. That is who you serve!” Some of the mercenaries looked up, and Brann saw that they were cowed by the sight, though others seemed hopeful that these dark beings would help them. The Night Lords, however, had their own battle to fight, for now the Dancers came shimmering into being around them, and the strange aerial battle began. Brann’s own forces, knowing the power of the Lightstone and the Dancers, fought on against the mercenaries, ignoring what was happening overhead, as the bright living flames of the Dancers forced back the Night Lords, who struggled to defend and maintain the illicit passage between Ma’al and Li’is, created by the sorcery of the Dark Lords and maintained by the powers of the Night Lords. Rafel said “The Night Lords cannot win. The weakest of Light is stronger than the strongest of Darkness.”

It seemed that some of the mercenaries agreed with him, or else were cowed by the sight of the eerie aerial battle, or frightened by discovering the true nature of the Night Lords, as they began to surrender, and were disarmed and taken prisoner. Many of their companions, though, still resisted and fought fiercely. It was a strange battle, Brann thought, as he parried sword thrusts and thrust at enemies in his turn, the Children of Light and the Children of Night fighting here on the ground, while above them the silent, deadly conflict between the Dancers and the Night Lords wove through the skies like some strange but lethal dance. The Dancers were prevailing, though, and the Night Lords , pressed and hemmed in by their Light-sent foes, began to waver. Though all had been still, now there was impressed on the minds of all present the thought-scream of rage and fear emanating from the dark flame-shapes, as they were forced out of the skies of Li’is and back into Ma’al by the onslaught of the Dancers. The Night Lords, one by one, peeled off from the conflict and disappeared, and the sound in their minds dissipated, leaving all quiet again. The Dancers still hovered above the battleground. The sight of them was heartening to Brann’s troops, but the mercenaries, confused by the appearance of both the Night Lords and the Dancers, and the ensuing events, were beginning to waver. Brann, Tamorine and Tamran, seeing this, urged their own troops onward, and the mercenaries began to retreat towards the gates of the Eastern Harbour. Brann glanced round. The battle had spread over the whole of the Harbour site, with knots of fighters in some places, dead, wounded, or prisoners in others. The Lightfriends who were Healers, guarded by the Ketai, were tending impartially to the wounded of both sides, while the prisoners had been bound and were being herded into one of the Harbour buildings, where they could be guarded. Brann could not see if any of the dead were his own, as he forced the attack forward. He was unsure if the gates could be barred from the other side, and wanted to prevent it, if so. He had no wish to be penned in.

Above the noise of battle he called to their lieutenants, “Tarn, Gamlin! Take some men and secure the gates!” As they split off with a small force to obey his orders, he had to fend off a fresh attack from one of the mercenaries. It was a fierce fight, and when his opponent was down, he saw others fighting their way towards him, Tamran and Tamorine. He realised that their enemies had singled them out, as the commanders, and hoped to bring them down and discourage their troops. He fought his way towards brother and sister, who were a little way away from him, and shouted a warning. Tamorine glanced up. She had just dealt with another of the mercenaries, but one of his fellows leapt towards her. Instinctively he and Tamran joined her, back to back and shoulder to shoulder, forming a triangle of fighters, so that none of them was fully exposed, and they stood their ground. Brann’s cousin Jamin, with Tavan and some of the others, saw what was happening and hurried to join the protective huddle, and the mercenaries, faced now with a solid square of fighters, began to back down and retreat.

Meanwhile Tarn and Gamlin and their men had secured the gates of the Harbour, as instructed, and most of the mercenaries who had rushed to defend it were now dead, wounded, or captured. The remainder, seeing they were now outnumbered, and fearful of the Dancers still hovering overhead, now surrendered, and even the hard core who had been fighting most fiercely had to sullenly admit defeat. As Brann neared the gates, Tarn shouted, “Some of them broke through and escaped into the town. They may have fellows there to join them.” Brann turned to Rafel, and asked, “Is it so, Rafel?” The Lightstone-Bearer lifted the Lightstone and gazed into it, augmenting his Perception, then let it fall on its chain, and answered, ” There are some mercenaries still in the town, yes. They have gone to their masters, the rulers of the town, to tell them of our attack. We must be prepared for more fighting, Brann.” Tarn said, “The ones who fled did not seem in much of a fighting mood, Rafel.” Rafel replied, “No, but the lord of the town will force them to defend it. They will be caught between our forces and his retribution if they do not obey.” Tamorine asked, “Do these rulers of the town and their lord have any Dark powers, Rafel?” “They do not”, he assured her, “but the mercenaries fear them because in the past they have had the protection of the Dark Lord. The lord of the town will not yet know that the Dark Lord is gone and they are now vulnerable. We will defeat them.” “Who is this lord of the town?” asked Tamran. “He is the one who bears the usurped title of Lord of the East”, Rafel said, “but he has no right to it. “

Brann ordered the rest of their prisoners bound and secured in some of the Harbour buildings, and some of the fighters and the Ketai took charge of the defeated mercenaries, and followed Brann’s orders, standing guard outside the locked doors. More of the Ketai guarded the wounded of both sides and the Healers who were ministering to them, in another of the buildings. Nothing could be done about the dead yet, and they left that task until they had entered the town and dealt with the enemies there. Most of the Dancers now disappeared, but two of them continued to hover over Brann’s troops as they cautiously went through the gates into the town. Rafel’s Perception was extended, to guard against surprise attack, and he guided them through the streets. No one was out in the streets nearest the Harbour and Brann thought they were either too frightened to be seen, or had left their homes while the battle at the Harbour was going on to move further away from the conflict. As they neared the heart of the town , though, they were bombarded with missiles thrown from the houses, tools, pottery, or anything else that the people inside could lay hands on. Though this was distracting, it was not enough to cause injury to their troops in their strong leather gear, and they pressed on. Brann guessed that the people were attacking them under orders from the lord of the town, hoping to deflect them from attacking his stronghold. As they moved further, they were attacked by mercenaries, who came at them from side streets and other places of concealment, in small bands, intent on harrying them, but Brann and Tamorine’s forces fought back with determination, and their attackers were killed, wounded, or forced to retreat, though some of Brann’s men were wounded too. Still they advanced steadily through the town, Rafel’s Perception guiding them to where the self-titled Lord of the East was holding out with some of the remaining mercenaries.

As they approached they saw a large building ahead of them. Evidently , like the Dark Lord, this man had taken over the town building as his stronghold and headquarters, and now stood at the top of the steps, surrounded by the defending mercenaries. The man had found some mismatched battle harness to protect himself, quickly donned over his other clothing, and glared at the approaching troops. He was not overly tall, and his physique, though not particularly fleshy, lacked the muscular strength and flexibility of a Swordsman. As Brann and the others came nearer, he shouted, “Who are you that dare defy the servants of the Lord of Li’is?” Rafel, with Ket-Jal at his side for protection, stepped forward, and called back, “We are the Children of Light. Light has defeated and destroyed the Dark Lord, and has the rule of Li’is now. Surrender yourselves, for to fight is useless.” Some of the mercenaries looked troubled at his words, and at the sight of the two Dancers, which were now hovering closely above Rafel. The lord of the town, though, indicated the Dancers and cried mockingly “Are these your illusions, your Light?” “No”, Rafel replied, “they are servants of Light who will conduct those who fight against Light back to the dark world where they belong.” Brann whispered to the Lightstone-Bearer, “Rafel, he spoke of illusions, and does not seem to fear the Dancers. He must have been privy to the sorceries of the Dark Lord!” “It does not matter if he has seen the Dark Lord’s sorceries, he cannot replicate them”, Rafel told him. “He has no dark powers of his own.” The man now shouted “You have no proof of what you say. I do not believe that you have defeated my Lord. You are trying to trick us into surrendering. You are those rebels who have been hiding in the mountains and have somehow managed to steal ships and sail here.”

Brann stepped forward to stand alongside Rafel, and answered the man “You are wrong, Child of Night! I am Brann, heir of the Harbour and the Forest of the Western continent. We have sailed here from the Harbour. We have fought against the Dark Lord and prevailed, thanks to the Lightstone-Bearer. I have seen his dead body.” Tamorine came forward too, with Tamran, and added “We are Tamran and Tamorine of the Mountains, and we too have seen the dark spirit that empowered the Dark Lord thrust back into Ma’al, and his mortal body lie dead.” “Enough of talking!”, the man cried, and , to his mercenaries, “Attack them!” The mercenaries obeyed and pressed forward, though some seemed reluctant. Brann and Tamorine’s forces, though, were superior in numbers and their will to fight was greater than that of the mercenaries, who were fighting only from fear of their master. Though the man cursed them, and urged them on, they were defeated, and the man himself taken prisoner with his fighters, and brought before Rafel. The Lightstone-Bearer faced him, the Lightstone again blazing on his breast, and asked , “Are you ready now to abjure the Darkness you serve?” The man, though, stood sullen and silent and made no reply. Rafel sighed. “Have them bound and taken to join the other prisoners”, he told Brann. “Mihel will help me to offer them the Choice of Light, in time.”

After that was done, they turned to the building before them. The door was ajar, and they entered cautiously. They found no more mercenaries, but in a large room a group of people were gathered, who by their clothing and attitude seemed to be the elite of the town, taking cover from the attack under the protection of the lord of the town. Rafel stepped forward and addressed them. “You have nothing to fear. We are Children of Light, and we bring you the Choice of Light. Turn from the Darkness you serve, and live at peace with Light. Or refuse, and be sent to the home of those you serve. The choice is yours.” “You will kill us!”, cried a richly-dressed woman. “No”, Brann said, “We are Swordsmen of Li’is and Children of Light. We do not slay except in rightful battle. We would not kill you.” “The Dark Lord has been defeated”, Tamorine said,” and cannot harm you – or protect you. If you served him out of fear, you can be free now.” A man standing near her said, “We know no other Lord and no other Way.” “But you can know another Way, the Way of Light”, Rafel offered. “The Dark Lord brought us riches and power”, said yet another man, older than the first, “and servants to do our bidding. Why should we leave such a way of life?” “That way of life is already lost to you”, Brann said, “for we bring Light and freedom to all. Those you have enslaved will serve you no longer, and what you have stolen will be taken back. ” “That is so”, said Rafel. “We will find the true heir to the Lords of the East, and the rule of the East will be restored to him. Light has promised it.” “Meanwhile”, Brann continued, “you are our prisoners. You will not be harmed, that is our word. You will, though, be held until the Lightstone-Bearer can tell you of Light and offer you the Choice of Light.” “And if we do not wish to take this Choice?” asked the man who had spoken first. “Then the Dancers will return you to the world of the Dark Lords, since you wish to continue to serve them”, Rafel replied. “You will be sent to Ma’al.” At this their prisoners exchanged glances, seeming to wonder what that might entail. Rafel said, “You will have time to think about your choice. Brann, have them taken to join the other prisoners.” Brann gave the order, and they were taken away. Other of their forces were sent to search the town and transfer any they found to the places where the prisoners were being held. Brann asked, “What now, Rafel?”

Rafel replied ” Those held as slaves to serve the lord of the town and his allies must be freed. Some are held in the basement of this building. Then we must go to the other buildings where the young of the town are held to be trained as mercenaries or servants. The most beautiful of the girls will have been taken to be forced into becoming courtesans to pleasure the rich men of the town, and all this must be brought to an end. ” Tamorine said, ” Those poor girls!” and Brann guessed she was thinking of what she had suffered at the hands of the Dark Lord’s mercenaries. Tamran said, “I hope that the young ones will be more willing to take the Choice of Light, Rafel.” “Light is merciful”, Rafel answered, “and young minds and hearts are not as firmly fixed as those of their elders. But they have been raised under the Dark Lord’s rule, and must now learn new ways.” They went through the building, down to the basement areas, where the slaves of the household were locked into squalid sleeping areas. Frightened faces greeted them as the doors were unlocked, for these people had heard the sounds of battle in the streets above, and did not know what to expect. Rafel entered the first room and spoke gently to the people there. “Do not fear us. We have not come to harm you, but to set you free.” An older woman, her arm protectively round a young girl beside her, said, “What do you mean? Who are you? Who has sent you?” “Light has sent us”, Rafel told her. “I am the Lightstone-Bearer, and I and my friends have come into Li’is to defeat the Dark Lord and bring the Way of Light to the people of Li’is.” The woman looked confused. Brann came into the room, with Tamorine and Tamran, and confirmed Rafel’s words. “We are the Swordsmen of the Western Continent, and we set out to free ourselves of the Dark Lord’s rule, though we did not know how we might overcome him. Though we did not know it at first, we were doing the Will of Light, and Light brought us to the Lightstone-Bearer, who showed us the Way of Light. We became Children of Light, and we attacked the Dark Lord’s city. Though he was strong in dark sorceries, Rafel the Lightstone-Bearer overcame him. He is dead, and now we have sailed here to free you too.”

Now a man of about Brann’s age stood up and said, “Do you intend to rule us now?” “No”, Brann said. “We have heard that there are those in the mountains here who do not follow the Lord of Darkness, and that an heir to the Lord of the East may still live among them. If we can find the heir, we will restore the Lordship of the East, under the Rule of Light.” “How can we know we can trust you?” the man asked. “The lord of the town may be testing us, and if we go against him, we will be killed.” “And not only us”, cried another man, “but our children who have been taken to become mercenaries or slaves!” “We hold captive those who have enslaved you”, Tamorine said, speaking for the first time, “and we will set your children free. We mean you no harm, we only wish you to live free and in Light.” The man stared at her and said “A Swordsmaiden? Then you are not the Dark Lord’s mercenaries. His followers have few uses for maidens, and all of them evil.” “I know it”, Tamorine answered him, “and do not wish them to suffer such a fate.” Seemingly reassured, the men and women began leaving the rooms where they had been held, and Brann asked, “where will we find the young ones, so that we may free them too?” The young girl who had been comforted by the older woman spoke up. “I can show you where the maidens are kept, for I have only recently left the place.” She glanced at Tamorine, and added, “If you send Swordsmen, send the Lady with them. She will not frighten my friends as much as the others.” “I will come”, Tamorine assured her. A man said “I will take you to the place where the lads are, my sons are held there.” “Good”, Rafel said, ” and our fighters are going through the town to free the enslaved and capture those who hold them. Light will restore all to you.” Accordingly, they fanned out from the town building, Tamran going with Tamorine and some of their men to free the girls, while Brann, Tarn and Gamlin , with a few others, followed the man to where the boys were held.

When they reassembled, both Brann and Tamorine were angry about the conditions of the youngsters’ captivity. Brann said, “They have set babes to sword-training! Barely old enough to hold a weapon, and some of them wounded because of their ineptitude, and their hurts hardly tended. ” Varil, the Sword-Trainer, who had gone with him, agreed. “I would not take such young ones for training. The Children of Night must condition them to kill from an early age. We must undo their work.” Tamorine said, “And the maidens, Brann! No thought to make them anything but slaves to tend the homes of the rich and sew and cook for them. No chance to do anything but such tasks, whatever their aptitude for other things. They could have been Healers, or taken up other skills. And those kept for the pleasure of those evil men – praise Light they are yet untouched, but they were being trained in all kinds of perversity. I think the Lightfriends will have much work here.” Rafel said, “Have no fear, Tamorine. We are pledged to undo the works of Darkness. The people of this town will have all the care we can give.” The two Dancers which had hovered above the town had now disappeared, perhaps to avoid causing fear to those set free, but Mihel was with Rafel, and now said, “It is time to tell them of Light, Rafel.” Rafel inclined his head, as if in homage to Light’s command, and said, “Brann, we must gather them all together – the prisoners too, under guard – so that I can speak to them.”

While Brann and the others carried out Rafel’s orders, they noticed that the Lightfriends gathered to Rafel, evidently called by the Thought-without-Words, and all of them stood, heads bowed, as their Perceptions met in silent communication and prayer. Brann thought it wise to keep the prisoners bound, so that those who had been forced to do their will could see that they were powerless to harm or punish them for escaping. At last they were all gathered in the large square which lay outside the town building. The prisoners were under guard on one side of the square, the rest of the people on the other, with their children, now restored to them. Rafel and the Lightfriends stood at the top of the steps of the town building, where Brann, Tamorine and Tamran joined them, with Gamlin, Tarn , and Mihel. Brann noted that The Lightstone Rafel bore was glowing gently. Rafel raised his voice. “People of the East! As we have told you, the Dark Lord has been defeated. The West is free of his rule, and is now following the Way of Light. So we set sail here to free you too and offer you the Choice of Light.” He went on to explain more fully the Way of Light, and how it was possible for even those who had followed and obeyed the Dark Lord to become Children of Light, because of the promised Sacrifice of Light. Brann had thought that some of the prisoners might jeer or shout abuse, but all was surprisingly silent. He glanced at Mihel, wondering if the disguised Spirit-in-Light was holding the crowd under some power. Mihel, sensing his thought, said to him quietly, “It is the Will of Light that keeps them listening so, Brann. It is none of my doing.” Now Rafel told the people about the Lightfriends, and their power of Perception. “We can help and guide you in many ways”, he said, “but we have taken a Vow of Trespass and our Perception will never go where it is unwanted, or into places that are private or sensitive. We go nowhere uninvited. Still, if you have hurts or grief that need easing, or are troubled in other ways, and seek our help, we will give it willingly. Our first service is to Light, and through that to those who have need of us among the Children of Light.” A voice came from the crowd. “What if we are not Children of Light?” “We can teach you to become Children of Light”, Rafel answered, “but if you are not Children of Light, but need help, then I am the Lightstone-Bearer and can still help you, with its aid. If I do that, though, you must be prepared for Light to show you what you truly are, and that may be painful to you – not physically, but in your heart.” Now there was a low murmuring among the crowd, and after a moment, a few moved forward. The same voice spoke- a youngish, burly man near the front of the group. “How, then, may we become Children of Light? We have suffered long enough under the rule of Darkness.”

Rafel said, “The Lightfriends will set their Perception on you and help you make your peace with Light, if you are willing. Some of them will stay here in the East, and teach you further.” The man who had spoken turned to the crowd around them, and said, “Friends, you may choose for yourselves, but I am willing to follow this Light, which has rescued us from the power of the Dark Lord.” He turned back, and said to Rafel, “I am ready.” The Lightstone-Bearer signalled to the Lightfriend nearest to the man, who went to him and spoke to him quietly, before gently cupping his face and setting his Perception on the man. A silence fell on the crowd as they watched, unsure what to expect. There was little enough to see, though Brann and the other trained Swordsmen were aware of a shift in the man’s posture that spoke of a relaxation and release of tension. Rafel was standing with head a little bowed, as though in prayer. At last the Lightfriend disengaged his Perception and the new Light-follower smiled, though with tears in his eyes, and said softly, “Thank you, Lightfriend. Praise Light!” Now that he had set an example and the others had seen that there was nothing to fear, others were willing to come forward and offer themselves as followers of Light. The Lightfriends were busy among the crowd, and Brann turned to Rafel and said, “Light is working, Rafel! But I fear the prisoners may be more recalcitrant.” Rafel nodded, and said, “And they will be my task, Brann – with Mihel’s aid. All must have the Choice of Light, that is Light’s will. Those who wish to follow the Dark Lords still will be sent to Ma’al by the Dancers, but I pray they will be few. I do not send any to the dark world gladly!” Brann asked, “Will this place fall like the Dark City when the Dancers send them through?” “No”, Rafel answered. “The Dark City fell because the portal to Ma’al was within its walls. The other portal here is outside the town, far enough away not to affect it, in a desert place near the edge of the mountains.” He looked round, and said, “It will go well here now, but I must begin to Perceive the prisoners. It will take some time, and after that we must seek for the Lord of the East. Light assures me he lives, and we must reinstate his rightful rule here.”

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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