When morning came, it found the forces buoyant, as they had by now fully taken in the reality of the victory over the Dark Lord. Of course there was sorrow for those they had lost, and concern for the wounded, but the overall mood was excited and joyous, and when Rafel called them all together for the Morning Prayers their gratitude to Light was clear to see. Rafel gave extra praises for the aid of Light in overcoming their enemy, which were echoed with great feeling. He had asked Brann, Tamorine and Tamran to stand beside him while he made the prayers, and while those taking part understood why their commanders stood with the Lightstone-Bearer, there was some curiosity as to the presence of the Masked One – for Tamran still wore his mask-hood. They were even more curious since the other Masked Ones, having carried out their vows, had dispensed with theirs. At last, when the prayers were over, Tamorine stepped forward and said ” Men of the Mountains, we have something to tell to you especially – though we hope our friends will share our happiness.” Thus alerted, all of them looked up expectantly. She signalled to Tamran, who stepped forward, and removed his hood. Tamorine said “See – my brother, Tamran, Heir of the Mountains, lives! He has suffered much and almost lost his life, but once recovered he has completed his task and is free to lead you again. He fought with us yesterday, though disguised. I will fight at his side with you still, but he is once more the Heir and your leader. Light has restored him to us.” There was a long moment’s silence, as the Mountain men took in the news, and then a sudden outburst of voices. Shouts of praise, exclamations of joy, and questions all mingled in an incomprehensible cacophony, until Tamran signalled them all to silence. “My brothers of the Mountains, and our noble allies”, he said. “I am glad to be with you again, but it is thanks to the Lightfriends and their guardians the Ketai that I am alive and was able to complete my task and free my sister Tamorine from the law of the Mountains. I am proud of her, and the way she has taken on the leadership of our forces during my absence, and I hope that you will not forget her courage and determination. ” He looked across at Brann, and smiled. “I give thanks also for Brann, her joint commander, and the people of the Forest, who proposed this alliance which has finally overcome the Dark Lord. Their courage too is beyond dispute. But above all I praise Light, that the Lightstone-Bearer and his companions were sent into Li’is at Light’s command, to save us from the Darkness and show us the Way of Light.”
Rafel gave a blessing and ended the prayer time, but it took some time for the people to disperse, since many of the Mountain men naturally crowded round Tamran to welcome, question, and embrace him, and the joy at his return spread to the Forest men also, who were glad for the sake of their comrades. At length, though, Tamran excused himself with the need to confer further with Brann, Tamorine, Rafel and Ket-Jal about their future plans, and they were able to make their way to Rafel’s Quiet Place. Gamlin and Tarn, his arm now salved and dressed, joined them there, and discussions began. “First, we must send messengers back to the Lords of the Mountains and the Forest.” Brann said. “They must know of our victory – and your grandfather of Tamran’s return, Tamorine.” “We have the horses the Ketai captured” she said, “so messengers can go quickly.” “We need to march on the Seacoast Town, though” Ket-Jal advised. “There are mercenaries lodged there, and no doubt any who escaped the Dark City will join them. We should drive them out while they are still dismayed at the Dark Lord’s fall, before they can form a new force of Darkness.” “Rull could help us there” Tarn commented, “for it was his town. He will know the best approach.” Brann agreed, then said “It is best if we advise Tamor and my father to join forces , using the Swordsmen and other fighters left at the Fortress and in the Forest, and make an attack on the mercenaries’ garrison at the Harbour also. If they secure that they can deal with any more of the Dark Lord’s forces who may be on the way from the East, not knowing he has been defeated.” “Then we must advise my grandfather to clear the road between the Mountains and the Forest now. He can double the guard on the Spearcleft Pass, but we will need easier access than the Stairway between us. It should not take too long to move the stones”,Tamran commented. “We will write letters”, Tamorine suggested, “setting out all that has happened, and what needs to be done. Better than trusting to word of mouth, and we can seal the letters to confirm they come from us. I bear my family badge – though I should return it to you, now, Tamran!” she laughed, looking lovingly at her brother. “And I have mine” Brann said. “You are right, Tamorine, our seals will confirm what we say.” “Who shall we send as messengers?” Tamran asked. Brann frowned thoughtfully. “If Javan my cousin were not wounded, I would send him. I will have to persuade his brother Jamin or his cousin Tavan to leave him, and go. And Roth, I think. He left his betrothed to fight with us, and they are due to be wed soon. He has played his part valiantly, and deserves to return to his happiness.” Tamorine smiled at him, saying “A good thought, Brann.” Tamran said, “Gamlin is the one I trust most, but I do not wish to part with my Sword-Brother so soon after we have been reunited.” “Send Marvis”, Tarn suggested. “Marvis? I thought he had left the Mountains.” Tamran said. ” You did not notice him among our forces?” Brann asked. “In a way, all this began because of him.” “How so?” Tamran asked, intrigued. So Brann told of how he had found Marvis’ homestead plundered and his family killed, of the encounter with Marvis, the death of his wife and the Healer’s saving of her unborn child, and all that had ensued. When he had finished, Tamran said “Ah, Marvis has suffered much at the mercenaries’ hands, but he is avenged now. Yes, you are right, Tarn, I will send him. He is kin to us, though distant, and my grandfather will accept his word. It will be difficult, I think, for my grandfather to believe I am alive, after all this time.”
Brann said “It will be difficult also, though, to explain about the Lightfriends and the Lightstone, and how they and the Ketai came here from Ma’al. I think, Rafel, if you are willing, we should send some of the Lightfriends and the Ketai with our messengers. They can tell their story, and begin to teach our people the Way of Light. If we write about them to our Lords, and they travel under our seals, the Lightfriends will be accepted, and the Ketai can guard them on the way.” Rafel replied “A good plan, and yes, we need to begin teaching the Way of Light among the people of Li’is, if you are able to spare your warriors, Ket-Jal.” Ket-Jal said ” Willingly! I would go myself, but I think I will be needed when we attack the forces of the Seacoast Town. I will send my son, Ket-Shai. He is my oldest son and my Heir, and will carry my authority.” “I am hopeful”, Brann said, “that once the news of the Dark Lord’s defeat has spread, the people of Li’is will be reassured and begin to return to a normal life.”
Tamran commented “There may be other mercenaries abroad , still, singly or in small groups. The people of Li’is will have need of our guarding.” ” We need to recapture the Seacoast Town and the Harbour, that is of the first importance”, said Tamorine. “The Dark City is destroyed, but we must not allow the Children of Night a base in Li’is to attack us again. It was not only mercenaries who fled the City, remember. There were those housed there who were in the confidence and employ of the Dark Lord, and lived in luxury because of it. I do not think they will be ready to give up that life so easily. No doubt they will try to gather the mercenaries together and fight back against us.” Tamran looked at his sister with admiration. “You are a true commander, Tamorine, and what you say is sensible. Let us send out our messengers and then make immediate plans to march on the Seacoast Town.” Ket-Jal said “I will find Ket-Shai, if you send for your messengers, and we can tell them their task.” “Tarn, find Roth, Jamin and Tavan, and bring them here”, Brann asked. “And Gamlin, bring Marvis also.” Tamorine said. Brann noticed that Tamran, though involved in the planning, was for now leaving most of the commanding to his sister, as if he did not wish to usurp the position she had held for so long. Rafel said “I will need to consider which of the Lightfriends to send with your messengers, but I will not delay long. There are writing materials here for you to use.” When Ket-Jal and the others had left on their errands, Brann, Tamorine and Tamran drew benches up to the table while Rafel brought the writing materials from his shelves. When he joined them, Brann said, ” Should we first introduce the Lightfriends and Ketai, or begin with the news of the Dark Lord’s defeat?” “Good news first, I think, and then introductions” Tamran said. Tamorine glanced at her brother, and said, “We should write this together, Tamran. Our grandfather will know your hand.” He agreed, and they began to plan their messages before they wrote them down. Eventually Brann was satisfied. He had decided, with Tamran’s agreement, to tell his father also that the long-lost Heir of the Mountains had been found alive and well and had joined them in battle. Once the letters were written, signed, and sealed with their family badges, they were ready to give their messengers instructions. Brann had seen what Tamorine meant in asking her brother to share in the writing, for the contrast between her more flowing hand and her brother’s plainer script was obvious.
Ket-Jal had returned with his son while they were busy with the messages, and had waited quietly till they were done. Now he brought the young man forward and introduced him to Brann, Tamorine and Tamran. Ket-Shai was a sturdy young man, a younger version of his father, with a warrior’s stance even at rest. Gamlin soon returned too, with Marvis, who greeted them all, but especially Tamran, who expressed his sorrow at what Brann had told him of Marvis’ bereavements. Marvis said ” It is only thanks to Brann and Tarn, and their Healer, that I have any family left, Tamran. I am very grateful to them, and to Light.” Tamran nodded, and said, “Brann told me, Marvis. I am glad the babe survived. And the people of the Forest are as our own people now. It is good.” Tarn arrived then, with Roth, Jamin, and Tavan. “Javan is adamant that he is in safe hands and his brother and cousin need not stay to watch over him!” he declared. “So either is willing to take your message, Brann.” “I think, though” , said Tavan, ” that it may be better if Jamin carries word back to the Forest, since he is closer kin to our Lord than I.” “That may bear more weight” Brann agreed, “though a letter in my hand should be proof enough. We intend to send some of the Lightfriends and Ketai back with you, to begin teaching the Way of Light. We have written about that, but again, if close kin will vouch for them too, all the better.” Jamin answered, “If it will help matters that I am the messenger, I am willing to go.” Brann turned to Roth. “Roth, I know what you left to fight with us, and now that the Dark Lord is defeated, I wish you to return to your betrothed.” Seeing the Swordsman was about to protest, he said “There will be plenty to do at home, for we intend to ask the Lords of Mountain and Harbour to make an attack on those who hold the Harbour, and free it of the Dark Lord’s mercenaries. But there will be time to set her heart at rest that you are safe, and to prepare for a wedding.” Seeing Brann’s mind was made up, Roth agreed to go, not, Brann thought, unwillingly. So their choice of messengers was made. Rafel went out to speak with the Lightfriends, and Ket-Jal and Ket-Shai with the Ketai, about who should accompany them, and Brann, relieved that that step was set in motion, turned his thoughts to the attack to be made on the garrison in the Seacoast Town. Tamorine was speaking to the messengers. “We have horses now, since the Ketai captured those which fled from the Dark City, so you need not return on foot. The journey will not be long. Best go and prepare what you will need. ” Brann looked up, and said, “Tavan, stay for a moment.” When Roth, Jamin and Marvis had left the room, he asked his cousin’s cousin , “How is it with Javan now?” “The wound was bad.” Tavan replied ” He is in pain, but well cared for. The Healers are hopeful for him. But…” he hesitated, then said, “That is why I urged Jamin to carry your message, rather than I. It seems that things go well with Javan, but if – and Light prevent it – any evil should befall him, their father will have one son still. I think any battle for the Harbour will not be as fierce as any other we might undertake.” Brann looked at him questioningly, and Tavan said ” We are Swordsmen, Brann, and understand the situation. The Dark Lord’s people and mercenaries that were not killed have fled the Dark City and will look for allies and a new base, and we will need to prevent them. Mercenaries already hold the Seacoast Town, as Rull told us, so where more likely?” “You are right, Tavan”, Brann answered. “We will be marching on the Seacoast Town.”
When Tavan had left them, Brann said “I have never been to the Seacoast Town. Do either of you have any knowledge of it?” But Tamorine and Tamran had never visited the place. Tamran said ” I believe the Lightstone-Bearer and his companions and the Ketai must have passed by it, at least, since they came down from the North, and it lies Northwards beyond the Seacoast Mountains. ” Tamorine agreed, and said “As Tarn said, Rull the smith would be our best guide, and if any others from the Seacoast Town stayed to fight with us, them too. It is their place, and they know its ways.” “Shall I find Rull, and bring him here?” asked Tarn. “Yes, and see if any of his fellows from the Town are here.” Brann answered. As Tarn left, Ket-Jal and Rafel returned. “I have assigned the Lightfriends to their task, eight in all.” Rafel said. “Four to the Mountains and four to the Forest. And Ket-Jal and Ket-Shai have chosen their escort from among the Ketai. They are ready to leave with your messengers.” “It is as well we have the horses to carry them”, Ket-Jal said, “so that the Lords of the Mountain and Forest are informed quickly and can take action against the garrison at the Harbour. It will be a long trek for the rest of us to the Seacoast Town.” “Will we need to cross the tableland?” Tamorine asked. “The tableland?” Brann queried. “That is an open, desolate place.” Ket-Jal replied ” It did not seem so to the Ketai. Fine grassland for herding, and several springs of water. Though it is true that there are few trees and little shelter.” “Then how did you fare, crossing it on your way here?” Tamran asked. “We are people of the open lands – or were, until the Dark Ones stole our lands in Ma’al.” Ket-Jal said. “We are used to moving around, and have travelling tents we take with us. Though we had no horses to transport them from the North, we managed, and had their shelter.” “There will be a few horses left from those the Ketai captured, after we have mounted those we are sending back to the Mountains and Forest.” Rafel added. “They can carry the tents and anything else we need, and, as Ket-Jal said, there are springs of water up there.” Tamran was looking thoughtful. “We shall be able to see any enemies there, since it is open land – but they will also be able to see us. And the first part of our journey will take us back past the Dark City. There may be enemies lurking there still. We shall need to be well on guard!”
When Rull arrived with Tarn they brought two others, men Rull did not know well, but who had also been captured from the Seacoast Town. Brann said ” We shall be marching to attack the garrison in your Town, and free it. We believe that any who escaped the Dark City will make their way there, and we must root out any nest of the Dark Ones before they can build up their strength again. We need your help to study the layout of the Seacoast Town, since none of us have been there.” Rull and his compatriots were glad to help in the freeing of their Town, and with the use of the writing materials on the table they began to make a rough map of the place. “The Town itself lies a little away from its harbour.” Rull said. “They are connected by a roadway, but part of it passes through some copses of trees, so there would be danger of ambush there. The mercenaries hold the harbour as well as the Town.” “The Seacoast Town is not like the Dark City” one of the others volunteered.” It grew up piecemeal and is not laid out in regular streets or guarded by a wall, though those who hold it built a wooden palisade around it after it was captured.” “Men of our Town were forced to labour in the harbour, bringing in supplies for the mercenaries” said the third man. “Those who came in from the East to your Harbour, Lord Brann, would then send smaller vessels on to ours with men and supplies. Our harbour cannot take the large vessels that moor at yours, so they could not sail to us direct. If you can attack our harbour and free the forced labourers, they will join the fight.” “Good”, Brann replied. “That means we will need to attack the Town and its harbour at the same time, so that neither group of mercenaries can assist the other. Are there many mercenaries at the harbour?” ” Normally about eight” their informant answered. “The men of our town outnumber them there, but two of them are armed with bows and would shoot down any who tried to escape or attack them.” “And in the Town?” Tamorine queried. “Close on forty” Rull said. “Some guard the gate and the palisade.” “But those not on guard are usually to be found scattered around the Town, drinking in various places”, the second man said. “Inns and shops are forced to supply anything they demand, and they indulge themselves. They are undisciplined, and have grown so used to power they grow careless. They know the people of the Town fear them and would not defy them, and they have no fear of attack from outside. Sometimes they ride out in parties to raid or forage, but they live a disorderly life when not on duty.” “That is to the good” Tamran commented. “They will not expect attack, provided we can come on them unobserved, and we may catch them in disarray.” Ket-Jal said now ” Our bowmen are more skilled than the mercenaries, we proved that at the Dark City. I think, Brann, you should use them to deal with the bowmen at the harbour. Once they are eliminated, the men of the Town will rise up against the mercenaries, with our encouragement.” “But the mercenaries will still be armed, and their captives will not.” Brann said. “I do not wish to endanger their lives.” “No, we will not do that.” the Ket replied. “But I would rather capture the mercenaries so that we can question them about the disposition of their forces, and if the men of the Town back us up, they will surrender. I know how these mercenaries behave, Brann, from Ma’al. Those here may be men of Li’is, but they were corrupted and trained by mercenaries of Ma’al in the beginning, and will act by their values – or rather, lack of them. They feared the Dark Lord, and were loyal to him only from fear. Now he is gone, they have no loyalty higher than the saving of their own skin. If they think they are outnumbered and outfought, they will offer no resistance.”
Rafel said “It is not the way of the Lightfriends, to force our Perception on any, but with the aid of the Lightstone I can search the minds of any you capture and find out their strengths and their plans. And if any are wiling to turn from serving Darkness, I can offer them the Choice of Light.” “But might they not agree to serve Light only, as Ket-Jal says, to save their own skins?” Tamorine asked. Rafel answered “Light knows those who are Light’s true servants, Tamorine. We will not be deceived by false loyalty.” “So when do we set out for the Seacoast Town?” Brann asked. “By what you say, it will be several days’ journey.” “As soon as our messengers have left for the Fortress and the Forest and we can get the rest of the horses loaded with provisions and the Ketai’s tents for shelter for our journey. ” Rafel said. “We should send our messengers in the morning”, said Tamorine. “If they set out early and ride hard, they should reach the Mountains and the Spearcleft Pass by nightfall. Better they do not cross the Moor by night, as there may be danger. If mercenaries escaped from the Dark City are about, they will be likely to attack for the horses. I know the Ketai ride with them, but the Lightfriends would still be in danger, since they cannot bear arms themselves.” “And it would not do to have our message go astray”, Brann agreed. “We will do as you say, Tamorine, and then prepare to set out ourselves. Will it take long to prepare your travelling tents and provisions, Ket-Jal?” “No”, the Ket replied, “It is a task we are well-used to. We will be ready.”
The morning found everyone up early, and after the Morning Prayers and meal, the contingent bearing messages to the Lords of Mountain and Forest set out, the Lightfriends secure in their midst, with Swordsmen and the Ketai surrounding them to protect them. The Ketai had packed their travelling tents and gear and strapped them to the backs of the horses that remained, and Brann, Tamorine, and Tamran prepared their forces for the march. This time a few of the Lightfriends would stay behind to look after the wounded from the battle for the Dark City, and some of the Ketai to guard them, but Rafel and some of the Lightfriends , with Ket-Jal and a good number of the Ketai, were travelling with them. They set off in the direction of the Dark City, as their road went that way, but intending to stay as far from the ruins as possible, in case of ambush from the remnants of the Dark Lord’s garrison. As they neared the forest surrounding the remains of the Dark City, Tamorine exclaimed “What is wrong with the trees?” They followed her gaze, and saw that the trees of the forest had changed colour. Their healthy green had been replaced by a pale sickly green, and as they rode further in, they saw that those trees nearer to the Dark City had turned a dull red, not as trees did in autumn, but as if they had been scorched and withered. The stream flowing through the trees was altered too, its waters dull and murky, and small dead fish floating on the surface. “The dust from the City must have polluted the trees and the water”, said Tamran. “No doubt they will recover in time. We cannot use the water, though. It is as well we have supplies with us.” “There are springs further along the way”, Ket-Jal informed them, “and a river among the foothills of the tableland. We shall not lack water.”
As they continued along the road past the forest and City ruins and out into the rough countryside beyond, they began to see signs of flight from the City. Footprints, hoofprints, and here and there an abandoned bundle of belongings, showed that others had passed this way. This caused them to increase their vigilance, but there was no sign of danger. It seemed that those who had passed this way were in no mood to stop until they reached a place where they felt secure. Tamorine , though, suddenly asked “Rafel – that Priestess in the Dark Lord’s temple. What if she was his consort? There could have been a child, to be raised as his heir and continue his reign!” “No”, the Lightstone-Bearer answered. “She was pale-skinned, but she was a woman of Li’is. They could not have bred.” “Then the people of Ma’al and the people of Li’is cannot intermarry?” Brann asked. Rafel said ” The people of Ma’al who are Children of Night and serve Darkness, who enter Li’is by sorcery and forbidden ways, cannot adapt to Li’is. Those of us who serve Light, who have entered Li’is in Light’s way, by the Dancers’ Gate – we are different. Remember that I told you that the Dancers set the rhythms of the worlds, following Light’s pattern. As we came into Li’is, the Dancers sang our flesh into rhythm with our new world. We can live in Li’is as if born here. But the Dark Ones – they still move to the rhythm of Ma’al, and while they are in Li’is they will always be at odds with this world.” They moved on along the road, marching at a steady pace, neither too fast nor too slow. They paused to rest and eat, and moved on again. The road was long and straight, and they could see the far distant bulk of the tableland, a few day’s journey ahead of them yet. Ket-Jal said “We can camp near the springs further on. There are the remains of some buildings there, some walls still stand and will shelter us.” “This is poor land for farming”, Tamran said, looking round at the rough landscape. “Maybe that is why the buildings were abandoned – unless the mercenaries attacked them.” “It may have been an inn or hostel for travellers, many years ago, before the Dark Lord’s reign”, Rafel said. “When it was safe still to travel from place to place. This is a long road, and it is a long journey to the Seacoast Town.” It was a long road indeed, and they were glad when they reached the resting place of which Ket-Jal had told them. The Ketai unpacked and raised their travelling tents with practised efficiency, guards were posted and food prepared, and the tired travellers settled down for their night’s rest.