Chapter 14

The newly-weds spent a blissful few days at the Western Fortress, surrounded by friends and family, but then it was time to move on, with so much still to happen. Zohra would be returning to the Westerners’ Plateau with her parents, for a while, to join them later at the Fortress, bringing the finished garments for Marla’s and her own weddings . Arenel was sad to part from her, but was also glad to be setting out on his way home, since he had been away so long. Mellin, Marla and Lin were naturally eager to return to Krystha, and Arentha, Aila and Janir were to accompany them, since it was not long before she was due to give birth. Aiel and Arenel would go back to the Temple for a while, before rejoining the others at the Fortress. Aila, knowing that once the other weddings were over she would be returning to the Western Fortress to take up her new life with Janir, was happy to spend some time in the City and the Fortress before she finally moved to her new home.

The morning of their departure arrived, and they said their farewells. Arenel embraced Zohra and told her “It will not be long till our wedding, my heart.” Janir’s parents, and Zohra’s family, would of course be attending the other weddings, so they would all see each other soon. As they trotted out of the gates, Aila thought that she would soon know the way between the two Fortresses as well as Janir did. She remembered how he had told her that he had often volunteered to carry messages between the two, so that he could visit the City in the hope of seeing her. The memory moved her, and she cast a loving glance at her new husband, who smiled back. She glanced, too, at Arenel, wondering if he was feeling Zohra’s absence. He caught the touch of her Perception, and silently reassured her that all was well with him. The journey home was uneventful, with one overnight stay in the village as before, and they were glad to arrive back at the Fortress. Alira came to greet them, and in answer to Lin and Mellin’s somewhat anxious enquiries, told them that Krystha was very well, but resting. It was not long, though, before Krystha appeared, happy to see them all, and congratulating Aila and Janir on their marriage.

“It will be your turn soon” she told her son and Marla, and they smiled. “Once the babe has joined us!” Mellin replied, laughing, since they had agreed that the wedding should wait until after Krystha had given birth. “Oh, that will not be too long” Krystha told them. Arenel, who had not seen her for a long time, asked “Is it well with you, Aunt Krystha?” “It is well with me, indeed” she told him. “And how did you enjoy your time with the Westerners, Arenel? I see they have made you a brother.” For she too had noted the Westerners’ gold bracelet on his wrist. “It was interesting, for I learned much of their ways, and the Ket and Zohra’s family were very welcoming to me. And I was with Zohra.” He paused, then said “I hope I have learned enough to understand her, if she finds the ways of the City strange. Light has blessed me, that she should love me enough to give up her people and her place for me.” Arentha answered “We will make her welcome, and I will help her. It was strange to me too, at first, to leave the Fortress and live in the City, to be a Priest’s Lady, but it was worth it to me for your father’s love, and so it will be with you and Zohra.” She knew that when her husband and son left them tomorrow for a few days in the City, as well as their Temple duties they would be making arrangements for Arenel and Zohra to move after their wedding into one of the Priests’ houses in the Temple grounds, and felt happy that the couple would be so close, since she was losing Aila to her new life at the Western Fortress.

The travellers were glad enough to relax for a day or so before settling into the life of the Fortress. Since Krystha’s pregnancy was now so advanced, Arentha helped by taking over some of her household duties. When Aiel and Arenel left them, they carried with them a list of items to be obtained from the Harbour Market, in preparation for the birth and the weddings, which she had given them. Aila, meanwhile, was taking on her aunt’s role as Healer. Having learned of Krystha’s offer to train Marla as a healer too, and Marla’s delighted acceptance, she began her friend’s training by teaching her the Healers’ List, the details of the healing herbs, roots, and other plants that could be gathered at various times of the year. Some of those she could show Marla, as they grew in the Herb Garden of the Healing Place. Others, though, were wild plants, and she had only the dried specimens in the Healing Place to show, which often looked very different from their living state. In time, Krystha would be able to take Marla out into the Forest and show her the plants and where to gather them. She had also, as a Healer and a wife, taken on the task of discussing with Marla her friend’s expectations of married life, since her aunt, as prospective mother-in-law, might be a little too close to Marla for her to feel comfortable. Aila wondered, though, how she could reconcile her friend’s physical innocence with the things she had been forced to witness in the East and in Si-Mara’s house, and the way in which the Children of Night had tried to train her. Marla, though, told her “What those women did – that was all about controlling men, and turning them to Darkness, and the men acted only for lustful pleasure. It had nothing to do with love, and that is what Mellin and I have. I would not let such memories taint that, Aila.” And Aila smiled, and said “I am glad, Marla. You and Mellin will be happy, I know.”

Then there was the matter of preparing the Fortress for the wedding guests, for most of the guests for both weddings would arrive there first. The Fortress was large, with many buildings, and there would be room for all, but some of the outlying buildings would need refurbishment, and Arentha and Aila were on hand to help Alira and Krystha with the arrangements and the allotting of tasks to their household staff. The menfolk too were busy helping with various tasks about the Fortress, while Aiel and Arenel, once they returned, were able to share the duties of the Fortress Prayer Room with Trenn, giving him some extra leisure time. The young Swordsmen took their turns on watch, Janir happy to exchange the blue and golden yellow livery of the Western Fortress for the rust-red of the Mountain Fortress, for a while. He and Aila would often climb to the top of the Fortress Wall in the evenings, when daily duties were done, to look out over the vista before them and chat happily of the day’s doings, and Mellin and Marla would sometimes join them. So time passed peacefully enough while they waited, a lull in the excitement before the nearing birth of Lin and Krystha’s babe, and the weddings of Mellin and Marla, Arenel and Zohra.

Aila was in the Healing Place with her aunt, making ready the preparation of blueroot that would be needed for Krystha’s birthing, and chatting happily about her new life with Janir. Krystha smiled at her, and said “I have never seen Janir so content, Aila! But if, as you say, he had loved you in secret for so long, and never believed you could be his Lady, his joy now must be great indeed.” “He was so loyal to Mellin,thinking that we loved each other, that he would not say one word to betray his love to me!” Aila laughed. “And I had not thought how my sisterly affection for Mellin might seem, to another. But still, I honoured him for that loyalty when he told me, and it made me love him even more. I am certain I chose my husband wisely -with Light’s aid – and I am so glad to make him happy, Aunt Krystha.” “And anyone can see that you do that” Krystha replied. She began to heave herself off the bench on which she sat, but suddenly gasped and winced. Aila, fearful that her aunt, in the clumsiness of late pregnancy, had hurt herself, hurried to her. “What is it, dear? Have you wrenched your back?” But Krystha beamed at her “No- but I think you prepared the blueroot only just in time, Aila.” Aila too smiled joyously. “Now?” “Soon” Krystha said. “That was just a warning- but I must make ready.” Swiftly the two Healers prepared for the birth, getting Krystha bathed and into a nightgown, preparing the couch she would use, making up the draught of blueroot for later, when the birth pains grew stronger. There had only been a few more by the time all was prepared, and Aila asked “Shall I tell my father now?” For rather than leave Krystha, it had been agreed that she would use her Perception to ask Aiel to summon Arentha, who would be helping at the birth. Krystha paused as another pang ran its course, then said, “Aye, call Arentha – but tell Aiel to say nothing to Lin, yet. The babe will not be here before night, and I would not have him fretting all that time. And he would fret, Aila.” “I know” Aila said, and they shared a smile, as Krystha went on “We will call him in time to see his child born, when there will be more to occupy him than worrying over me!” Aila wondered, suddenly, when it would be her turn, and how Janir would feel when her time came to bear him a child. Her husband, she guessed, would be proud but concerned for her, just as Lin was with Krystha.

Concentrating, she sent out her Perception to alert her father, warning him not to tell Lin, yet. Her father answered that, fortunately, Lin was busy with some of the Westerners who had arrived that morning to bring some horses for the Fortress stock, and Mellin and Janir were with him. A little later Arentha arrived in the Healing Place, excited but a little apprehensive, bringing the tiny clothes and soft wraps for the new babe. It was some time before Krystha needed to go to her couch, time they spent happily discussing the new babe, and the forthcoming marriages. At length, though, Krystha’s pains grew deeper, closer, stronger, and Aila again reached for her father’s Perception and told him to call Lin, while Arentha gave Krystha the draught of blueroot to numb the sharp edge of her pains. It was not long before there was a tap at the door, and Lin entered, bringing Mellin too, who came in briefly to see Krystha. He looked distressed at her pain and effort, but between the pains she smiled at him and said “Mellin, it is well with me! But this is hard work – and my battle to fight, with your father’s help. So go now, and leave me to my task.” Thus dismissed, Mellin left, though unhappily, pausing at the door to look pleadingly at Aila, who went to reassure him as much as she could. She knew he would wait in the corridor outside, and was glad that Krystha was not the kind of woman who would shriek and scream. Krystha was a Healer, understood what was happening, knew her own body. Her deep groans were of effort, not of pain or fear.

Lin too, now that the birthing was in progress, had overcome his anxiety and was a stalwart comfort to his Lady, kissing her brow, rubbing her back, allowing her to grip his hands tightly as she rode out the birth pains. The night wore on, and all went well, and at last Aila leaned to look in her aunt’s tired eyes and tell her “Soon now, very soon!” “I know!” Krystha gasped, and took a deep breath, and gave a firm, strong push, and suddenly the babe’s head and shoulders appeared. One more effort and the child was born, still and silent for a moment as though astonished, then raising a strong cry and waving tiny purple fists as if enraged. “A boy!” Lin exclaimed, just as Aila too said “A fine son, Aunt Krystha, Lin!” Lin bent to embrace Krystha, while Arentha attended to the babe and Aila saw her aunt through the final stages of her birthing. “Oh, my love!” he whispered, “I am so happy that it is well with you- and we have another son.” As soon as the cord was tied and cut Arentha had cleaned and wrapped the damp, blood-smeared child. Holding him, she turned towards Krystha, who indicated that she should first give the child to Lin. Lin took the babe very carefully, as if afraid to drop him, and smiled down at him, then gently placed him in his mother’s arms. Krystha gazed blissfully down at her new-born son. “Aila, tell Mellin!” she whispered, guessing too that her now elder son would be outside the Healing Place.

Aila nodded, and went to the door. When she opened it, Mellin was sitting on a bench outside, and she saw that Marla had come to join him. When they saw her, Marla smiled, and Mellin leapt to his feet. “I heard the babe cry – is it well with my mother – and the child?” “It is well” she said, happily. “You were right, Mellin, it is a boy-child – a young brother for you. And Aunt Krystha is very well, and happy. Come and see!” They needed no second bidding. In a moment Mellin was at his mother’s bedside, bending to kiss her damp brow before gazing at his new little brother. “He is a fine child!” he pronounced, and Lin said proudly “He is beautiful, Mellin, and so is your mother!” Marla in turn admired the babe, and gently asked after Krystha. Then she said “Is it not a miracle, a new life? A gift of Light indeed!” Krystha smiled at her. “You are right, Marla!” then, looking at her family around her she said “How shall we name him, Lin? Who shall we call him for?” They had named Mellin together, for his father and grandfathers, but this time Krystha had given Lin the choice. Lin smiled, and with a glance at his elder son. answered “Mellin and I have chosen his name together. Since he was so sure of a brother, he suggested – and I agreed- that we name him Karis – for you, Krystha.” Krystha smiled at the compliment, and nodded agreement, and Arentha said “It is a good name.” The others agreed. Then Aila said “We should make you and the babe comfortable now, Aunt Krystha, and let you rest.”

Thus tactfully didmissed, Lin, Mellin and Marla bade affectionate farewells to mother and babe, and left the Healing Place. Arentha and Aila made sure that Krystha and the newly-named Karis were clean and comfortable, and Arentha said that, though both seemed in the best of health, she would sleep in the Healing Place in case of any need. Aila would gladly have taken this duty on herself, but her mother laughingly said that she should not desert her husband so soon after their marriage, and she could be sent for if needed. So Aila went on her way, turning aside first to the Great Hall for a cup of water. To her surprise she found Janir sitting there. “Not sleeping, my love?” she asked. “I waited with Mellin, till Marla came to him” he explained, “and then I did not wish to sleep, since all were awake, and my Lady” ,smiling at her, “was hard at work! Is it well with Aunt Krystha? The babe has come?” “It is very well” she smiled in return. “She is tired, but very happy. And the babe is a fine boy-child.” “It is good news!” Janir said. “Mellin was so impatient, and so sure of a boy-child- but also, I think, still a little fearful for his mother.” “And you kept vigil with your Sword-Brother?” “I did, till Marla came and said she would wait with him. I think he would have had her rest, but she insisted.” “No doubt you will see the babe too, tomorrow” she told him. “Lin and Mellin have chosen a name for him, with Aunt Krystha’s approval. He will be Karis, after his mother.” “A good name” he said, then stretched his long frame and yawned, which made her yawn too. “You are tired” he said, with a touch of concern. “It has been a long night” she answered, ” but a happy one. And we are both tired, my heart. It is time to thank Light for new joys, and to rest.”

Next morning they all slept late, and when Aila went to see that all was well with Krystha and Karis she took Janir with her, leaving him outside the Healing Place while she went in. Krystha was sitting up, with Karis cradled in her arms, and Arentha beside her. She assured Aila that all was well and the babe had fed, and smiled assent when Aila asked if Janir might now come and see his new cousin. When she admitted him, Janir went to kiss his aunt and examine the babe. “He has a look of Lin and Mellin” he commented. Offered the chance to hold Karis, he was a little anxious, but took his tiny cousin in his arms and smiled down at him. “It is good to meet you, little Sword-Brother!” he laughed, and said to his aunt “Mellin is so pleased to have a brother.” “And now we can proceed with his wedding!” Krystha answered. “I shall not lie here much longer. There is much to be done.” “We could send the Thought-without-Words to the Western Fortress” Aila suggested. “It will be quicker than any messenger, and Barengian can send word to Zohra.” All agreed on this idea, so when Aila and Janir left the Healing Place they went to the Prayer Room to find Aiel and Arenel. Trenn, the Fortress’ own Priest, was with them, and Aila joined them in sending the Thought-without-Words, first to Arnath and the Priests of the Temple, and on till it reached the Western Fortress. There was a pause while the Priest of the Western Fortress relayed the message to Barengian, then the response came back. Love and congratulations to Krystha, Lin and baby Karis, and the news that Zohra was in fact already at the Western Fortress, overseeing the final touches to the wedding garments, and they would be ready to leave in a day or so, with the Ket and his family following on. Other Westerners would join them in the City for Zohra’s own wedding. Arenel was glad to hear that Zohra would soon be with them and he would be reunited with her.

Aila, once the link was broken, said she would go to tell Arentha and Krystha, while Janir said he would find Merhaun, Lin and Mellin. Krystha was already wanting to be included in the wedding preparations and said that yes, she would rest, but not in bed, and certainly not in the Healing Place. “I am not sick” she told them. “I have given birth, and it is well with me and the babe. No need to keep to my couch. I would take sick then – from having nothing to do!” She reluctantly allowed Aila to accompany her to the Bathing Place,in case she needed her help. and Arentha to wait while she dressed, but soon she was seated in a comfortable chair in the Great Hall, with her babe in a crib at her side. Various members of the household found their way to the Great Hall on one pretext or another, to greet Krystha and admire the new babe, and it was not long before Alira and Merhaun arrived, beaming, to lay claim to their grandson.

Though Merhaun was Lord of the Mountains and the Fortress, and Alira his Lady, they had been happy enough, once Lin and Krystha were married, to hand on many of their duties to the younger couple and spend time together. Alira’s long exile in Darkness, ended by the mercy of Light through Aiel and the Lightstone, had left her unwilling, for a while, to take up the reins of the Fortress household again, and Krystha had been her deputy, as Arentha, who had had charge of most household duties before, had wed Aiel and moved to the City. Since their reconciliation, Merhaun had wanted to be with his Lady, to help her overcome her guilt and shame at what had happebed to her, reassuring her constantly that she was forgiven by Light and by him, and restored. Krystha and Lin, understanding this, had been glad to help by taking on the duties of the older couple, giving them time to resolve these matters. And it had been successful, for eventually Alira had accepted that she was forgiven and restored and could live as a Child of Light and Merhaun’s Lady again. In the end, it had come to be that the two couples worked in tandem for the good of the Fortress, and it had been good for all. Alira’s experiences, though, had led to her understanding of and admiration for Marla, who had fought so hard against the Darkness to attain Light, and she was glad that the girl was to be Mellin’s Lady. Now, as she embraced Karis, she said to Krystha “It will be strange, to have one grandson about to wed, and one new-born. But I am very happy!” Aila had relayed the message from the Western Fortress, and Krystha told her mother “Zohra will be here in a few days, with the wedding garments, and the other guests not far behind. All is prepared, and it will not be long to the wedding.” And indeed, all of them now were eagerly looking forward to Mellin and Marla’s imminent wedding.

That evening, while they waited for the evening meal, Aila and Janir, as they often did, had climbed the steps to the top of the Fortress wall and stood there hand in hand, looking out over the Forest. Looking towards the City, they saw a sudden brightness. At first Aila thought that the northern Temple doors facing towards the Fortress had been opened, and they were seeing the Crucible flame, though she could not think why, since it was not a Festival day. Janir, though, said “No, it is not the Temple, Aila. It is further down the Temple Hill. There must be a fire somewhere. ” That was unusual, for since the City was stone-built, fires rarely broke out. Aila looked again, her Perception stirring, and said “I think I Perceive some Darkness there, and something strange – something in the air, Janir.” Instinctively she sent out her Perception to call her father, and he soon arrived, bringing Arenel with him. Janir pointed out the strange fire, and Aiel, staring across at the City, Perceived what Aila had, a deeper darkness in the drifting smoke, here and there a red flash that was not a spark. Aiel drew out the Lightstone and focussed his Perception on it. As the Stone glowed, it enhanced his Perception so that he could easily reach to the City and the Temple. He found all well in the Temple, but elsewhere he Perceived great Darkness, and swiftly withdrew. “There are Night Lords in the City!” he exclaimed. “The Temple?” Janir asked, anxiously. “No, they are not near the Temple” Aiel answered, “but we must warn the Priesthood.”

He bent his attention again to the Lightstone and reached for the Perception of his father Arnath, the High Priest. Once that warning was given, he called Aila and Arenel to join him in the Thought-without-Words, and they sent out their Perceptions, this time towards the North. By the link he relayed his message through his brother Priests, until it reached the Gatekeeper. Then he broke the link, and lifted his gaze from the Lightstone, waiting. Arenel asked “Can they mean harm to Marla, still?” “No” Aiel said. “She is beyond their reach forever now. The Changing has made her useless to the Dark Ones. But what this may mean…” he broke off as the air beside him began to shimmer and the blue-green brightness of a Dancer appeared. Its thought extended to all of them, as it ‘said’ “We have come at your summons, Lightstone-Bearer. We will drive the Dark Ones away.” “But how could they come to the City?” Janir wondered. “They were invited” the Dancer replied, and Aiel asked “The Night Temple?” “It must be so” was the answer, then “Have no fear, Children of Light. We will deal with them, and I will return to tell you when they are gone.” The Dancer shimmered out of their vision again, and Arenel said “Is Si-Mara still trying to bring the Darkness into Li’is? But there is no Bloodstone, and no Bloodstone-wielder. What could she accomplish?” “And what is the fire?” Janir added. “Are they burning some evil sacrifice?” “As long as Marla is safe!” Aila whispered, and Janir tightened his hold on her hand and whispered back “Aiel has said so.”

By now the Watchwards had told Lin and Mellin of the anxious group on the wall and the sudden appearance of a Dancer, and the two Swordsmen joined the others. Aiel pointed out the fire across in the City and explained the situation, quickly adding that there was no threat to Marla, as he sensed Mellin’s concern for her. “But best she knows nothing of this, till the Dancer returns and explains what has happened” Aiel said, ” or she may yet be fearful.” Fortunately, though, Marla was occupied with Krystha and Arentha and baby Karis, and had not realised that anything unusual was happening. They looked across again at the City and the strange fire that had broken out. They did not see the Dancers or the Night Lords, since they were hidden in thick smoke, but those with Perception could sense a struggle taking place. Then suddenly they saw the smoke flatten strangely, followed by the dark, red-shot shapes that were neither smoke nor sparks shooting upwards into the darkening sky. After that the flames began to die down. The Dancer shimmered into being beside them again. “The Dark Ones are gone” it reported. ” The Priesthood have raised the alarm and men of the City and the Harbour Watch are dousing the flames. When that is done, the Priesthood must go there and cleanse the place of its last Darkness, Aiel.” “I will tell my father” Aiel said. “Our thanks to you and your brethren, Dancer, for your aid. There is no more danger from the Dark Ones?” “Not from them, no. They will not return to Li’is. There are still those among the people of Li’is who profess to belong to Darkness, but they are powerless now.” With this reassurance the Dancer left them, and Aiel used the Lightstone once more to relay its instructions to Arnath, who said he would go at once, with some brother Priests, to make the Cleansing Prayers.

“No more we can do, now” Aiel said. “We will learn more later, but for the present we know that all is well in the City.” He smiled at Mellin, then, and said “And there are still weddings to prepare for.” He led them down from the wall, Lin pausing to tell the Watchwards that the situation had been dealt with. It was strange to return to everyday things after the events they had witnessed, but they were mindful of not alarming Marla, and when those who had not been present asked what had happened, Aiel said only that there had been a fire in the City, but it seemed now to be under control. They relaxed over the evening meal and the discussion of wedding plans. Marla, still learning her place in Light, had been talking over the ceremony with Krystha and Arentha, anxious not to make any mistakes. Mellin said “I am glad we waited for Karis to be here.” “I am glad too!” Krystha exclaimed. “I was, I admit, a little unsure of the dates. It is very good that I need not waddle around at your wedding, or worry that the birthing might begin in the middle of it!” They all laughed at that, and Marla asked “When will Zohra arrive?” “Soon” Arenel said. “She was waiting for her wedding garment to be finished, since the fabric was specially woven.It has been complicated for the needlewomen with all our weddings so close together.” “You will be glad to see her” commented Arentha, “and so shall we.” Krystha left them, then, to feed and tend Karis, and Aiel and Arenel to go to the Prayer Room for the Evening Prayers. Arentha, left with her parents and the younger ones, looked round contentedly, and mused aloud “How true it is that Light is love, and the bringer of love. This Way of the Secret Word, though it brought so many fears and dangers and challenges, has also brought love and joy, first for us, the first Way-Sharers, and now for you. I wonder what will come of it next?” “Is the Way not finished, now?” Janir asked. “I do not know that” Arentha answered. “The Secret Word speaks of other things to come, and the Way may yet continue.” “Still, for now we may rejoice in what Light has wrought for us” said Aila. “Marla has attained Light and is Changed from Darkness forever, and as my mother says, we all have our loves, our Gifts-of-Light indeed. let that suffice.”

In the Prayer Room, once the Evening Prayers were finished, Aiel and Arenel stayed behind, knowing that in the Temple too the Prayer time would be over. Aiel drew out the Lightstone again, and he and Arenel linked Perceptions and sought out Arnath’s. The High Priest, they discovered, was still in the Temple and, seemingly a little unsettled by events, was glad enough to link Perceptions with them and tell what had happened. As the Dancer had instructed, he had taken some of the Temple Priests and gone to the site of the fire. It was, they had discovered, Si-Mara’s house, and they had finally found proof of the Night Temple, a great, hidden hall, with its fire-destroyed hangings and couches and dark altar. Though the buildings were stone, the roof and other parts were wood, and had burned fiercely. They had found no one alive in the buildings, but there had been one death. Lying by the Black Altar they had found the body of Si-Mara. The fire had not killed her, though, Arnath told them, nor was there any mark on her body. But her face… and the High Priest opened his Perception to them and showed them what he had seen; the Silver Witch, sprawled on her back, her dead body seemingly untouched, but her eyes, those strange silver eyes, wide and staring, and her white face twisted into a mask of terror. Aiel and Arenel gasped in unison at that vision, and as it faded, Aiel’s Perception spoke to his father and son. “The Night Lords were there, the Dancers said they had been ‘invited’. Si-Mara must have called them to her. I think they came with revenge in mind because she had failed them in the matter of Marla and the Bloodstone. They have taken her spirit into Darkness with them.” “Aye” Arnath answered “That was my thought too. What is to be done now, though? You are the Lightstone-Bearer, my son.” “The house and the Night Temple must be pulled down and the place cleared and cleansed again. The Silver Witch cannot be buried in the Temple grounds. I am not sure how to dispose of her body. Even as a Child of Night, she must be decently interred, yet she would defile anywhere she is laid.” “Except the Dark Ruins” Arenel interjected. “She could be taken there , since the place is already cursed.” “Yes, that could be arranged” the High Priest responded, and Aiel concurred that it was a possibility, so they agreed on that, and broke the link of the Thought-without-Words,

As they returned to the others, Aiel and Arenel talked over on the way whether they should tell them what had happened. Arenel thought that it might be best to say nothing, but Aiel said quietly “I agree that we should not say too much, but I think the news of Si-Mara’s death might ease the way for Mellin and Marla. I know he is still anxious lest Si-Mara could harm her in some way.” So when they reached the Hall and sat down, and Janir asked if they had any news, guessing that they would have been in contact with Aranth, Aiel said “Yes”. As all eyes fastened on him, he went on “It seems the fire was in Si-Mara’s house. the Night Temple was uncovered, and they found Si-Mara dead by the Black Altar.” At the mention of Si-Mara, both Marla and Mellin gasped, and the Swordsman half-began to speak, but stopped. Janir, knowing that there was more to this than had been said, cast a quizzical look at Aiel, but also said nothing. It was Krystha, who had returned from tending her babe, who said “So, the Silver Witch is no more”. She glanced at Marla, who said softly “Should I feel sad? I never had any feelings for her.” “Nor she for you!” Mellin answered her, fiercely. “Why should you mourn for her?” “She was a Child of Darkness, and cursed by it” Krystha went on. “Aiel once offered her the Choice of Light, but she mocked him.” “And yet that gave me my seed of Light” Marla said. “But it was none of Si-Mara’s doing”, Mellin reminded her. “We have agreed that she cannot be placed in the Temple grounds or any other holy place, since she was so wholly given to Darkness and had refused Light many times” Aiel carried on speaking. “Arenel said, and we agreed, that the only place to bury her that she could not defile was the Dark Ruins, so she will be taken there.” Krystha shuddered. Even after so long, the things that they, the original Way-Sharers, had experienced in the Dark Ruins, had power to chill her. Lin, seeing it, reached out and laid a hand on her arm. Arentha said, resolutely, “No more talk of dark things, please! We are meant to be preparing for happy times!” The others agreed, and the talk turned back to wedding plans.

Later, though, as they were leaving the Hall to make their way to their various bedchambers, Mellin dropped back to say quietly to Aiel “Is it wrong, Aiel, to feel relief at Si-Mara’s death? Before Light, I would not rejoice at the death of an enemy, even one that meant Marla such great harm, when I know that her spirit has gone into Darkness. But I cannot help but feel that a great shadow has passed from Marla, and so from me.” “I think that is understandable, Mellin”, Aiel told him, ” and there is no evil intent in what you feel, as you say, so you have done no wrong.” Mellin sighed with relief, and said “Thank you, Aiel. Oh, I know that the Darkness that wanted to take Marla was defeated, and since her Changing she is unavailable to the Darkness for any purpose. But still I was afraid that since her plans had been defeated, Si-Mara might try to take some revenge on her – maybe even to kill her!” He gave a weak smile, then, and said “And now that fear is past, Aiel, and I cannot explain how that feels.” Aiel returned the smile, and said “I do not need my Perception to understand that, Mellin.” Then, laying his hand on the Swordsman’s shoulder, he said gently “Go now and sleep, and Light bless your rest.”

In the days leading up to their wedding, it did indeed seem that a shadow had lifted from the young couple with the death of Si-Mara, and the assurance that the Night Lords would not return to Li’is. Mellin was almost his old self again, though he could not be unchanged by all they had experienced. The change in him, though, was all to the good. He had matured, and his love for Marla had made him gentler. Marla herself, after her Changing, had gradually lost the hesitancy and timid nature which had sprung from the Dark heritage which made her unwelcome everywhere. The friendship of her companions, Mellin’s love, but above all the love of Light which had rescued her from the dark plans of Si-Mara and the Children of Night, had brought her to realise her own worth and the value Light placed on her. She had truly become, as Aiel had proclaimed her after the Changing, “Marla of Li’is,Child of Light”. So the wedding day came, and with Alira and Krystha treating Marla with motherly care, and Aila as bridewoman and Zohra as bridemaiden attending her, Marla was made ready. She was a bright vision in her gold-coloured gown, her honey-blonde hair loose and crowned with creamy blossoms. The others stood back to admire their handiwork, and Krystha smiled, and said “You look like a child of Light in truth, Marla!” Marla smiled back, and suddenly clasped her hands over her heart, as if it would burst, and exclaimed “Oh, I am so happy! I never thought I could ever be so happy!” This moved them all, and there were many hugs before bride and attendants straightened themselves and moved out towards the Prayer Room.

Mellin was waiting by the Crucible in his formal wedding garments in the rust colour of the Fortress, his Lordly circlet, and the chain bearing his family badges. Once they had escorted Marla to his side and Mellin had turned to take her hands in his, Aila and Zohra had retired to their places among the guests, Aila to sit with Janir and his family, Zohra with her own family, since Arenel was assisting Aiel with the wedding ceremony. Everyone gathered there now knew of Marla’s Way and its happy conclusion, and there were tears as the ceremony concluded and Aiel declared Mellin and Marla to be wed in the sight of Light. The joy on their faces was so great, and the end of Marla’s story so moving, that nobody could be left untouched. After the ceremony the guests assembled in the Great Hall for the wedding meal, music and dancing. It was becoming expected, now, for Zohra to present one of her own compositions as a wedding gift, so she stood, and took up the harp Arenel had given her, and began to play and sing. Her music, as always, was beautiful, but it seemed that this time she had excelled herself. A deep silence settled over the room, unbroken except for her music, as her audience listened with rapt attention. Something in Zohra’s music touched the deepest of chords in all of them, and only Arenel, who had shared it with her, recognised echoes of some of the themes of the Dancers’ Song of Li’is. When Zohra’s music ended, the rapt silence still held for some moments, and then there was an explosion of applause and congratulations. When she returned to his side, Arenel said “So beautiful, Zohra! You put the Dancers’ Song into your music.” “Yes” she answered, and smiled. “I am so glad you shared the Song with me, Arenel. The Dancers were right when they told me I would be lonely if only I in all Li’is heard it.” “I am glad too” he said. “Not only because it was so beautiful, but because if we had not shared the song I would never have known that you returned my love.” “Nor I that you loved me!” “And the Dancers were right, too, to say that in searching for the beauty of their Song, you would make music such as had never been heard in Li’is.”

Aila had been watching Zohra and Arenel, and Janir, coming back to her after greeting some friends, followed her gaze and said, with a smile, “And those two are next. Never has the City seen such a wedding – a Priest and a Westerner! Nor imagined it.” Aila said “Janir, you know the Westerners so well. How hard will it be for Zohra to leave the West, and all she knows?” He considered, and said “I think it will not be easy for her. But Arenel was wise, to stay among the Westerners and learn their ways, to understand her better. And she must count his love higher than all she knows, or she would not have agreed to be his Lady. It is a new alliance, Aila, and Light must have a meaning in it.” “That is true” she answered, then laughed a little, and said “Does it not seem as though Zohra and I exchange places? She will come to live among the Priesthood in the City, and I will go with you to the Western Fortress, and live among the Westerners in winter time.” “And what of you and Arenel, my heart?” he asked. “I remember how sad you were when he left us on Marla’s Way for a while, and you could not reach his Perception. And now you will lose that bond which you have had all your lives. I am sorry for that.” Aila looked lovingly at Janir, thinking how typical of him that kind thought was, and answered ” We all grow and change, my love, and sister and brother give way to husband and Lady. Arenel has Zohra, and I have you, and though we still love each other as brother and sister, other loves come first now.” Then she smiled, and said, “Pen and ink, too, can say as much, though more slowly. And, at need, there is always the Thought-without-Words.”

A few days more and it was indeed the turn of Arenel and Zohra to wed, and Janir had been right, for there was much interest in the City. The Westerners rarely came to the City, but suddenly it was full of them, coming for the wedding of their Lord’s granddaughter. After initial curiosity, though, the good people of the City were welcoming to their guests, and the Westerners returned their courtesy. When the day came, Arenel was waiting, a little nervously, by the Crucible in the Temple, his father and grandfather waiting too, ready to perform the ceremony. The benches of the Temple were filled with wedding guests, Arenel’s family, friends and fellow Priests and dignitaries from the City on one side, and the Westerners on the other, led by the Ket and his twin sons with their families. The Westerners, most of whom had never seen the Temple, were gazing round in awe. A sudden stir at the Temple door told Arenel that Zohra and her bridewomen Aila and Marla had arrived. He turned to see his bride, gowned in the crimson and gold wedding fabric of the Ket’s family, crowned with flame-flowers, coming towards him, smiling. Aila and Marla accompanied her to Arenel’s side, then went to sit with their own husbands – but not before Aila’s Perception had flashed a happy blessing to her brother’s. Arenel smiled at her, and turned to take Zohra’s hands in his, and Aiel began the wedding ceremony.

When the wedding ceremony was over, and Arenel and Zohra married, while Westerners, Priests and others mingled before moving on to the wedding celebrations, Lin turned to Aiel, and asked “The Secret Word, Aiel – could these marriages be its ending? For it speaks of two and two out of place, and an end of Darkness, and new beginnings. Surely Darkness is ended, and a new life begun, for Marla and Mellin. And” he continued, unknowingly reflecting Aila’s words to Janir, “Zohra leaves her place in the West and comes to the City with Arenel, while Aila goes, as it were, the other way, to the Western Fortress, with Janir.” Aiel looked thoughtful, then answered “I understand your reasoning, Lin. But I do not think the Way of the Secret Word has ended. Yes, Marla is free of Darkness, but though that was a powerful move of Light, I do not believe it has affected all of Ma’al – the Dark World. And yes, ‘two and two’, but what of ‘times and Time’, Lin ? No, I do not think it is finished, yet.” Lin gave a wry smile. “There was time enough between the Lightstone Way and Marla’s Way, Aiel. If there is to be a third Way – we grow no younger, my friend!” Aiel smiled too. “Who knows, Lin? The Lightstone Way was our Way, but our children played a large part in Marla’s Way. Though the Secret Word says I will see its final fulfillment before my days end, perhaps any third Way will fall to our children’s children.” Lin looked curiously at his friend and asked “is that a prophecy, Aiel?”
But the Lightstone-Bearer only answered “Maybe”.

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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