All three of them stared at the stranger. Rafel was the first to speak. “You come from Light ?” He paused , then said, “But, yes, I Perceive something…” Before he finished speaking, there was a sudden blaze of light, so bright that they were forced to shield their eyes. At first Brann thought it was the Lightstone, but then the brightness faded, and their dazzled eyes gazed in wonder at the figure before them. Instead of the Swordsman Mihel, they saw an awesome being, with glowing face and golden eyes, robed in white, and emitting a sense of latent power. Yet somehow they did not feel fear, because mingled with the power they felt peace, and joy, and a reassuring sense of the Presence of Light emanating from the being. Rafel gave a long, deep sigh, but it was Tamorine who asked “What has happened? Where is Mihel?” Rafel spoke then “Tamorine, this is Mihel. He came to us disguised as a Swordsman, but…” he paused, looking to the figure as if for approval, then went on ” he is a Spirit-in-Light, a Shining One, sent to us from Light.” “That is so” said the one they had known as Mihel. His voice had a richer timbre, but it was the same voice. Brann said “I do not understand, Rafel. What is a Spirit-in-Light?” Tamorine said “You spoke of them once before. You said you believed it was a Spirit-in-Light that brought you the Lightstone.” Rafel said, “The Shining Ones are spirits, created beings as we are, but not of flesh and blood. They serve Light, and the Children of Light.” “Then they are kin to the Dancers?” asked Brann, trying to understand. “No, Brann”, said the Shining One. “The Dancers are a different creation. But we both serve Light in our own way, as Light ordained it.” While they considered this, Mihel said “Rafel was right. It was I who brought him Light’s plans for the True Sword, and the Lightstone setting, and the Harp Not Yet Played. And I brought the Lightstone to him. I am appointed by Light to watch over the Lightstone, and the Lightstone-Bearer.” Rafel asked “And you bring the answer the Dancer told us to expect?” “I do, and other tasks that Light asks of you – all of you”, he added, looking round at them. Brann said “We will obey”, but Mihel said, “That is your choice, and the Lightstone-Bearer’s. Light does not command, but asks. Light, unlike the Dark Ones, seeks children, not slaves.” “We are Children of Light, now”, said Tamorine. “We will do as Light wills.”
“Then it is good”, the Shining One responded. “Light knows your prisoners, and which are beyond help. ” “What help do they need?” Rafel asked. “There are those among them, though few, who can be turned from Darkness to Light. You must search the prisoners with the Lightstone, and find them.” Rafel said ” It is a difficult thing, to set my Perception on one who is not willing, Shining One. It goes against all my training. Yet if it is Light’s Will, it will be done.” “But what of those who will not abandon the service of Darkness?” Brann asked. “They must go back to Darkness”, was Mihel’s answer. Tamorine exclaimed “Surely Light would not have us execute them? We sought Light’s will because we felt it was one thing to slay an enemy in battle, but another to do it in cold blood.” “You will not be asked to kill them”, Mihel reassured her, “but to send them to Ma’al, to their Dark masters.” “Are you taking the Lightfriends from us?” Tamorine asked, anxiously. “Oh, no, it is Light’s Will that they stay in Li’is and teach its people the Way of Light. The Dancers’ Gate from Ma’al will not open again, until… but that does not concern you, though it will your descendants. There is a way from the Dark City, a link that the Dark Ones made from Ma’al. The Dancers have sealed it and guard it. The prisoners must be taken there and the Dancers will open the link long enough to send them to Ma’al.” “That is a long march!” Brann commented. “You need not go on foot. There are ships in the harbour, manned by those who were enslaved by the mercenaries and their masters to carry goods for them. They will be glad enough to help you. You can sail.” “But there was no harbour at the Dark City.” Brann objected. “But there are places nearby, along the Great Bay, where a ship may anchor, and bring others to land in the smaller boats they carry. And once your task in the Dark City is finished, you can sail on to the Harbour, now it is in the hands of your forces.”
“How can we use the Dark Lords’ way into Ma’al?” Rafel asked. “We are Children of Light, and have no dealings with Darkness.” “With my aid, and that of the Dancers”, Mihel replied, “and once the Children of Night have been returned to Ma’al, the Dancers will again seal up that passage of the Dark Lords, so that they cannot enter Li’is that way. The same must be done in the East, when the Children of Night are defeated there.” “And if we sail afterwards to the Harbour, what will happen to those still at the Lightfriends’ haven? Our wounded are there.” Tamorine asked. “They will be safe, until you can send for them”, the Shining One answered. “There is much still to be done, but Light’s Will shall be accomplished in Li’is.” “I am Heir to the Harbour, but I have never set foot on a ship”, Brann said, “Since all my lifetime the Dark Ones have held the Harbour.” “The Shipfathers and their men on the ships are experienced, you need not fear.” Mihel assured him. “They too have been held in bondage, and will be glad enough to help you and sail free.” “If it is Light’s Will, Light will watch over us.” Rafel declared. Mihel said, “That is so. I will be with you, but in the guise I took to come here. None but you must know that I am a Spirit-in-Light. The people of Li’is do not yet know all the ways of Light, and might fear me.” “I must begin Light’s work with the prisoners, then”, Rafel said. The Spirit-in-Light Mihel told him “I will come with you, in the guise of the Swordsman Mihel. You will need my protection, for the prisoners are steeped in Darkness, and it will be like no Perception you have known. You will need to step into that Darkness to offer them Light.” Rafel answered, “We knew Darkness in Ma’al, but we never entered into the thought of the Dark Ones. It was always a presence there, the Darkness, that we had to push to the back of our Perception and hold there. Will this be the same?” Mihel said, gently, “It will be worse than that, Rafel. You will need to share their thoughts and experience the Darkness they have taken part in. You will need my support to withstand that.”
Brann, anxious for Rafel, asked, “But can you not tell which of the Children of Night can be turned to Light, so that Rafel need not experience the Darkness in all of them?” “Brann, only Light knows the secrets of every human heart, and which will accept the Choice of Light”, the Shining One answered him. “We are Spirits-in-Light. We are not Light. Only Light’s knowledge is true and sure.” “Do not fear for me, Brann”, Rafel comforted the Swordsman, Perceiving his unease. ” I am doing Light’s bidding, and I have the Lightstone, and the protection of Mihel. It will be well with me.” “And Rafel need not do all at once”, Tamorine said, “we must set the Town to rights, and the Lightfriends must do their work. We cannot sail till the Two-Moon Tides are over, and we know already that the Dark Lord is defeated and the Harbour is in the hands of our forces. There is no need to hurry.” “The reclamation of Li’is is well underway,” Mihel agreed, then added, ” still, there will be more to do in the years ahead, and all of you will have your parts to play.” “There is the Eastern Continent to be freed from Darkness”, Brann mused, “and for that we will need ships to be built, and men to sail them. And all the time we shall need to keep guard on the Harbour, in case those from the East should decide to attack.” “You will be guided of Light in all that needs to be done”, Mihel reassured him. “You will do Light’s work, and it will succeed.”
When Rafel and Mihel had left them, to begin dealing with the prisoners, Tamorine said ” A Spirit-in-Light! And we cannot even tell Tamran, Tarn and Gamlin.” “There is good reason, though”, Brann answered, “for Mihel in his true form is an awesome sight, and he was right to say that the people, not knowing Light, and even those of us who are new to Light’s ways, might fear him, or even believe he is an emissary of the Dark Lord.” “He had such an aura of peace and love”, Tamorine replied, “that I find it hard to believe that anyone could think he was evil.” “But maybe those who do not yet belong to Light might not feel Mihel’s aura”, Brann said. “And we are to sail to the Dark City, and then the Harbour”, said Tamorine, changing the subject. ” I am not sure how well I will fare on a ship, since I have never boarded one. I hope the sea will be calm.” “It is usually calm, once the Two-Moon Tides have subsided”, Brann assured her. “I will feel strange, sailing into the Harbour and knowing it is back in our hands. My ancestors were Lords of the Harbour before the Dark Lord came, and it is still our holding, though it was stolen from us and we were forced to take to the Forest.” “Our people did better, having the Fortress”, Tamorine said, “for we could block the road to the Fortress; the only ways then were the Stairway by the Falls of Vandar and the Spearcleft Pass, and both were easy to defend.” “I think that even after all is done, we will still need to defend Li’is from Darkness” Brann commented. “However hard we search, there will surely be some who escape us, who served Darkness, and would be glad to see the Dark Lord – or another Dark Lord- return to rule Li’is again.” “The Children of Night” Tamorine said. “And Mihel said that our descendants would see the Dancers’ Gate from Ma’al open again, though he did not speak as if it would be a bad thing. That is strange. ” “But it was not the Dancers who let the Darkness into Li’is”, Brann replied,” for that was the work of the Dark Ones. The Dancers brought the Lightfriends and the Ketai here, to help us.” “We must tell the others that we will use the ships”, Tamorine said, returning to practicalities. “We cannot say who Mihel truly is, but perhaps we can say that he brought us a message that the ships ‘crews would be happy to take us where we need to go.”
Having agreed on that, they went to join the others, finding Tamran, Gamlin and Tarn first. They seemed troubled, and Brann asked, “Is something wrong?” “We are concerned for the Lightstone-Bearer”,Tamran answered, ” for he left this place with a strange Swordsman, and did not even take Ket-Jal with him, though we begged him not to go unguarded.” Brann and Tamorine glanced at each other, but she left it to him to answer. “It will be well with Rafel”, he said. “We were with him when the stranger came – his name is Mihel. He brought a message for the Lightstone-Bearer about the Dancers, and the prisoners.” “He gave Rafel convincing proof of his loyalty to Light”, Tamorine added, “and Rafel Perceived no Darkness in him.” The other three relaxed at this reassurance. “Then what is to be done with the prisoners?” asked Gamlin. “Some of them – though very few – will take the Choice of Light. So Rafel must offer it to them all. That is where he has gone, to begin the offer of Light’s forgiveness, though it will take some days to deal with them all. He cannot exhaust himself,” Brann told them. “But what of those who will not accept?” queried Tamran. “They must be taken back to the Dark City”, Tamorine said, ” where you remember that there was a way the Dark Ones made from Ma’al into Li’is by sorcery, after the City was captured. The Dancers have sealed and guard it. They will send the prisoners through it, back to their Dark masters, and then seal up the way so it cannot be used again.” “We need not march them back to the Dark City”, Brann continued the telling, ” as the crews of the ships in the Town Harbour , Mihel said, will be willing to sail there. And after the prisoners are dealt with, we are to sail on to our own Harbour.” There was a pause while the other three absorbed this news. Tamran said ” With the Dark Lord gone and his followers banished, and the Lightfriends to teach the Way of Light, Li’is will be a happier place.”
Tarn said ” With the Harbour back in our hands, and friendship between the Forest and the Mountain folk, we can rebuild.” “But not the Dark City”, Tamorine said, “for if there is a connection there to Ma’al, which the Dancers must guard, the place is tainted.” Brann said, “Generations ago, before the Dark Lord came, there was talk of enlarging the Harbour Town by building up the hill above it. At that time it was too large an undertaking, for the marsh would need to be drained by digging ditches, so that it would no longer give rise to the Swamp Fever, and the trees on the hill would need to be felled. But now we will need to build more ships to sail to the East and attack the Children of Night there, so that all of Li’is is free of Darkness. We will need trees for shipbuilding, and if Forest and Mountain work together, we can in time build a new City on the hill, and raise a Temple to Light there too.” “That is a good plan”, Gamlin responded, “for the Fortress could still guard the Spearcleft Pass and access to the new City.” “And the Lord of the Mountains would be a Lord of the City also, with the Lord of the Harbour”, Brann said. “That would be a sign of our unity.”
It was quite late when Rafel returned, and he was alone. The others assumed that Mihel had gone elsewhere, but Brann and Tamorine were curious. Rafel seemed tired, but triumphant. “It was hard for me”, he began “even with…” he paused, realising that in his weariness he had almost revealed the secret of Mihel, and said quickly, ” …my Perception. But though most of the Children of Night are obdurate, still there were those, praise Light, who accepted the Choice of Light. Only two, a maiden and a young Swordsman, brother and sister. But still reason to rejoice.” “And you are sure that they have truly accepted Light?” asked Gamlin. “I am certain”, Rafel replied. Tamorine said “I wonder if it will be the younger among the Children of Night who will be most willing to accept the Choice of Light? They will not have been schooled in Darkness as long as their elders.” Brann, remembering what Rafel had said to him when they first met, said, “I always felt in my heart there must be a force of Light to set against the Darkness, and when we met, Rafel, you told me that I sought Light, unknowing. Perhaps there are some even among the Children of Night who also long for Light without knowing it.” “That is true”, replied the Lightstone-Bearer, ” and Light knows who they are. I will find them.” Tarn said ” Brann said we will sail to the Dark City, and then on to our own Harbour. You said that the rest of your people, your families, and the Ketai’s , were still in the North. Are you not concerned that you will be going further away from them?” Ket-Jal, who had joined them by now, said ” They are settled, and protected. The Dancers watch over them, and though we left our younger warriors behind, they are well able to defend themselves and the Lightfriends against any intruders. There were no mercenary garrisons near.” “And the Lightfriends have Perception, even if not fully trained”, Tamorine said. “Surely they will sense if any danger is near.” “That is so”, Rafel replied, “for some of the younger Lightfriends are near the end of their training, and though it is rare for a daughter of the Lightfriends to be born with Perception, my wife is one such. With her, and a few of the older Lightfriends who were not strong enough in body to accompany us, though their minds and Perceptions are clear, their training has continued and they will be able to use their Perception. But we do not expect any danger to come near them, or we would have been warned by Light. And when everything is accomplished that Light wills, and the Darkness driven out of Li’is, they will be able to join us.”
It took several days for Rafel, with Mihel’s aid, to set his Perception on all the captives, and there were few enough who were ready to accept the Choice of Light, and those were mostly, as Tamorine had said, the younger ones, though a couple of older women and one man had also accepted. In the end, of all the Children of Night they had captured, from the Dark City and the Seacoast Town, only twenty-three were willing to become Children of Light, but even so, Rafel rejoiced. The remainder of the prisoners had sneered at him, and the Darkness he had seen in them had horrified him, but with Mihel’s help he had withstood it. “And it may be”, he said to Brann and Tamorine, the only others who knew Mihel’s secret, ” that Light will use what I have learned of Darkness. I am the Lightstone-Bearer, and may need to face Darkness again. It is well to know one’s enemy.” They agreed, for that made sense from a Swordsman’s perspective too. It was time to think of undertaking the voyage to the ruined Dark City, to carry out the transfer of the unrelenting prisoners to Ma’al, as Mihel had told them. It had been decided that a few of the Lightfriends, with Ketai to guard them, would remain in the Seacoast town to continue teaching its people the Way of Light. Rull the Smith had become a leader in the community, and with some other of its citizens had formed a council which was helping to get the Town back to a normal footing. He had promised to help the Lightfriends, and a large unoccupied house had been found to house them, where they could set up a Place of Prayer.
The Shipfathers and their crews in the harbour had been instructed in the route that Rafel and the others were to take, and were glad to be of help in dealing with the Children of Night. So a day was set, and the sullen prisoners were herded to the harbour. Some of them, still defiant, demanded to know their fate, and if they were to be executed. Brann, standing in front of them with Tamorine, Tamran, Ket-Jal and Rafel, answered, “We do not intend to kill you. You will be sent where you will be welcome, since you are not welcome in Li’is. You will be sent to your Dark Lords in Ma’al.” There was some complaining and arguing, but the Children of Night soon realised that their destiny was set and no amount of shouting would change it. One man, belligerent and arrogant, shouted above the others, “Let it be so, then! No doubt our masters in Ma’al will reward us for our loyalty.” Rafel said quietly to the others, “I fear they will be disappointed in that! The Dark Lords have no such feelings. Oh, if they serve the Dark Ones well they may be rewarded in time, but only after long servitude. I wish it was not so, but they have made their choice.” Once the prisoners were stowed aboard the ships, and well guarded, Rafel, with the leaders of their forces and the Ketai, boarded the first ship. The rest of the forces, Lightfriends and Ketai, were dispersed between the two ships, and they set sail. Tamorine stood on the deck with Brann, still a little unsure, and holding tightly to his hand at first, but as the voyage continued quickly and smoothly, with calm seas, she lifted her face to the wind that filled the sails, and exclaimed, “Oh, Brann, this is wonderful! It feels like flying!” “I am glad you enjoy it, my heart”, he laughed, “since when we wed, you will be Lady to the Heir of the Harbour. We shall have much to do with ships then.”
It did not take long before the ships arrived off the coast near the Dark City ruins, and the prisoners, well-guarded, were loaded into smaller boats and ferried to the shore. Rafel and the others followed, Mihel with them, in his guise as a Swordsman. The prisoners were marched to the ruins, and all of them waited to see what would happen. Rafel had the Lightstone in his hands and was gazing into it. Brann and Tamorine guessed that his Perception was being guided and enhanced by the Lightstone, and the guardianship of Mihel. Then the Dancers began to arrive, shimmering into being out of the empty air. The prisoners were afraid, and protested, but Rafel calmed them with the assurance that, as promised, they would not be harmed. When there were dozens of the light-beings there, they formed into two lines around a certain area of the City ruins, and Rafel moved forward and stood in the midst of them. A blaze of light poured out of the Lightstone, momentarily dazzling them all, and when it died down they saw that a door stood open in the wall of a half-ruined house. When they looked through it, though, they did not see the interior of the house, but a strange landscape. They were looking out on grassland, under a heavy sky, and in the distance they could see buildings. Rafel said ” There is Ma’al. Loose the prisoners and send them through.” As the prisoners were being set free, he turned to them, and said, “Go through the doorway and you will be in Ma’al. Ahead of you lies the city of your masters. Go there and make yourselves known.” He spoke with authority, and none of the prisoners dared question or object. One by one they went through the doorway and gathered in a group on the other side. Tamorine whispered to Brann, “What if they decide to come back through the door and attack us, now they are free?” Rafel heard her and answered, “They cannot, Tamorine. The door goes in one direction only. They are in Ma’al, and in Ma’al they will stay.” At last all the prisoners had been sent through the doorway, and the Lightstone blazed again. When the light faded, the door still stood open, but now all that was to be seen through it was the tumbled stones of the broken walls. The Dancers too began to disappear. Mihel said, “The Dancers will seal the passageway to Ma’al, and guard it, so that the Dark Lords cannot use it to break through into Li’is again. These ruins, though, and the forest around them, will be tainted forever by what has happened here. The people of Li’is will never dwell here again.” Rafel asked “Forever? Will this place never be cleansed?” “Only if Ma’al is destroyed”, Mihel answered, ” and that is in the Will of Light. I do not know.”
Rafel turned to all of them and said “Light’s Will has been carried out and the Children of Night sent to Ma’al. Now that the Dark Lord has been vanquished and life in Li’is begins to return to normal, it is time for the Lightfriends to bring them the Word of Light.” “You will not leave us, Rafel?” Tamorine asked anxiously. “Not yet, Tamorine”, the Lightstone-Bearer replied. “There is work still to be done. Our next step must be to sail on to the Harbour. First, though, I will make the Thought-without-Words and tell our friends at the haven what is happening.” He gathered the rest of the Lightfriends around him and gazed into the Lightstone, augmenting their link with the Lightfriends they had left at the haven to tend the wounded from the first battle at the Dark City. All of the Lightfriends were silent, their eyes glowing, and the rest of the company kept silence too, not wishing to disturb their concentration. At last Rafel let the Lightstone fall back on his breast and turned to smile at them. “All is well at the haven. The wounded are recovering, and none of them, praise Light, has taken the Wound Fever.” Brann asked “Do you know how my cousin Javan fares? He was badly wounded.” “He is recovering well, though still in pain”, Rafel replied, ” and, like some others, cannot yet be moved. Our Brothers-in-Light are content to remain at the haven and continue their care of the wounded, until they can all join us again.” “They know where we are going?” asked Tamorine. “We have told them”, was the reply.
Now they returned to the small boats, and were carried back to the ships. Brann gave the Shipfathers the command to sail on to the Harbour, and they were soon underway. Rafel said, “When we are nearer to the Harbour, we will make the Thought-without-Words again and tell the Lightfriends at the Harbour to inform the Lords Baran and Tamor that we are coming. If they see the ships arriving without warning, they may think we come to attack.” “That is so”, Brann said, ” it is a good thought, Rafel.” The commanders and their lieutenants, with Tamran and Ket-Jal, were standing together on the deck of the first ship, and Brann said, “We are going home!” “Home”, mused Tamran, “I have wondered whether I should ever see home again.” Tamorine turned to him, her face bright. “But now we return together, dear brother. Our grandfather will be so happy to see you!” “I have not asked about our mother”, Tamran continued. “I think I was afraid some evil might have befallen her too.” “No, she is safe in hiding with her sister, praise Light”, Tamorine told him. “And you can take your place as Heir of the Mountains again.” Tamran looked concerned. “But you have held that place so long, Tamorine. I would not usurp my brave sister’s title.” “Nonsense!”, she laughed. “I held the place for you, always hoping you would return to us. And besides”, she added, looking lovingly at Brann, “I shall have a new title, as Brann’s Lady.” Brann smiled at her. He remembered standing with her at the place on the Fortress Level that marked the resting place of her father and uncle, and her fierce determination to avenge or recover her brother. Now she had Tamran back, and he was glad for her. Glad too for the Lord of the Mountains, who had lost so much. “It is good to return to our Lords with so much good news”, he said. “The Dark Lord is defeated and Li’is free of his domination, you too are free and we are betrothed, Tamran has returned, but above all we have learned the Way of Light.”