A thoughtful silence followed, which Brann broke by voicing the question which had been in his mind that morning. “Rafel, the Crucible- why is it named so?” Rafel looked round at them and replied with another question. “When you accepted the Choice of Light, and the Lightfriends’ Perception, how did you feel?” They considered this, then Brann said “I felt as though some things were cleared from my – my spirit.” He hesitated, because he was not sure what word to use. Tarn repeated what he had said earlier to Brann. “I saw things in myself of which I was ashamed. But I felt that Light cleansed me of them.” Tamorine said nothing, but nodded agreement, and Gamlin said “As Tarn said, I felt cleaner.” Rafel smiled, and said “Light is pure, and will drive out what is not pure in you – but only with your agreement, and when you have taken the Choice of Light. And all cannot be dealt with at once. That is why our reminder of the Power of Light is called the Crucible. If one meets with Light there, and opens oneself to Light, Light will burn out impurities, as precious metal is refined in a crucible.” Brann said “I see”, but thought that now the name made sense to him. Tamorine now asked “If the Lightfriends cannot bear weapons, why need they come into battle with us? Will they not be in great danger?” The Ket said “We will protect the Lightfriends. It is our sworn duty. And it is necessary that they come – or at least some of them” “Why?” Tamorine persisted. Rafel said “You will need our Perceptions. We can Perceive the presence of Darkness, and sorceries. And we can convey warnings, through the Thought-without-Words.” “What is that?” Tarn asked. “We can link Perceptions, at need, to pass a message or give a warning” the Lightfriend answered. “It is silent, so no enemy would hear.”
“You said some of your students would join us also” Tarn continued. “Are they Swordsmen?” “Those who are Swordsmen will join us” the Ket replied. “Some of them are not trained to fight, and understand that though they would be glad to join us in the battle, they would likely hinder us. But they will help in other ways.” “There is no one here who would not be glad to help in the overthrow of the Dark Lord in whatever way they can” Rafel added. “So now we need to consider how to make best use of our forces…” Brann was beginning, when Rafel lifted his head and held up a hand for silence. His vivid blue eyes were glowing, and after a few moments he said ” My Brothers-in-Light send a message from your guards, Ket-Jal. There is a small group of the Dark Lord’s mercenaries heading this way.” Brann realised that they had just seen the Thought-without-Words in operation, and that the Ketai must have guards around the apparently uninhabited farmhouse. They must be very skilful at concealing themselves, since his own scouts had not seen them when they approached the place. He asked “Will the Ketai attack them?” Ket-Jal said ” No. We will not betray ourselves, unless there is a real danger to the Lightfriends. Our guards will keep watch. It may be they are in hope of plunder and will turn away when they see that the farm is broken down and untenanted.” “And if not?” asked Tamorine. “That will depend” Rafel replied. “It may be that they will enter the building to make sure there is nothing to be had. Or it could be that they wish only to water their horses and rest for a while. If they are no threat to us we shall not move against them.” “But they are our enemies!” exclaimed Gamlin. Rafel said ” Light bids us do no harm that can be avoided to any, even an enemy, for some may come in time to take the Choice of Light. If it is necessary to slay, it is necessary, but then they will go into Darkness forever, and that is not a thing to be wished for any, even an enemy.””And if they come into the building, and find the stone, and come down here?” persisted Gamlin. “Then we will be waiting for them” said the Ket.
Tamorine said slowly “I think the Lightfriend is right, Gamlin.” Her lieutenant looked at her as if startled, and she went on “We knew nothing of Light until we met the Lightfriend, and we were never on the Dark Lord’s side. Rafel said that these mercenaries have been born and raised under his sway and know no other way. I have reason enough to hate the Dark Lord’s mercenaries, Gamlin, as you know, but I understand what Rafel means. However evil a man may seem, he should at least have the chance to take the Choice of Light. If he spurns it, that is his choice, but he should have the chance.” Rafel smiled at her, and said, “You begin to think like a Child of Light, Tamorine.” Brann said nothing, but felt that in his heart he agreed with what Tamorine had said. Now Rafel lifted the Lightstone on its chain and gazed into it. The stone, which had been quiescent, began to glow, its light reflected in the Lightfriend’s vivid blue eyes. Rafel did not speak, but Brann felt that he was seeing further than this place. All of them felt constrained to silence while Rafel engaged with the Lightstone, and after a while he let it slide from his hand again and lifted his eyes to look at them. The light of the Stone had faded back to a spark , and Rafel said “The mercenaries are in the courtyard, looking round and watering their horses from the well. Only one has entered this building, to see if there is any plunder. I think they will not stay here long.” Tarn, curious, asked “How do you know, Rafel? Did the Lightstone tell you?” Rafel said “The Lightstone augments my Perception, Tarn. As I said, the range of our Perception is limited by distance, but with the Lightstone I can see further. If Light wills to reveal something to the Lightstone-Bearer, it will be revealed.”
Brann wondered about the mysteries of Perception, and of the Lightstone, and how they would help in their coming attack on the Dark City, but felt curiously reluctant to question Rafel further. Gamlin said “If there are mercenaries about, we shall not be able to move out yet. We must keep surprise on our side.” “No doubt they will be bound back to the Dark City after a foraging expedition” the Ket replied. Brann thought of the desolation of Marvis’ small farm and the murder of its inhabitants, and scowled. Tamorine had a pinched whiteness about her face which he did not like; it seemed to indicate that she had also suffered at the hands of the mercenaries and suffered more, if that were possible, than the loss of her kin. If that were so, he thought, then her acceptance of Rafel’s statement that even they should have the chance of the Choice of Light was noble indeed. He wondered again how she had come by that scar along her cheek. The Ket continued “Our guards will watch them. If they go directly to the Dark City and there are no others nearby, we will be able to move out. But not until after the Two-Moon Tide.” Brann agreed “Certainly we cannot go while the moons are together.” For though the peril of the Two-Moon Tides were mainly at the coasts of Li’is, where the seas would be high and perilous, the bright double moonlight of the conjunction of the two moons of Li’is would make the night too bright for them to pass unseen, if any were watching. Go by night they must, certainly. It had been perilous enough for Brann and Tamorine’s small force to travel by day with the chance of being seen, even on foot and with camouflage cloaks, but augmented by the Ketai, the Lightfriends, and those of the Students who would be fighting on their side, their army would be much larger and more visible.
Ket-Jal said “No ships can sail on the Two-Moon Tide and when they are past it takes time to cross the ocean from the Eastern Continent. If we attack as soon as the Tides are over, there is no chance of the Dark Lord augmenting his mercenaries.” “The first Tide will be in two days’ time.” Rafel said. “After that it will be safe to travel to the Dark City. The mercenaries should have returned there by then. They need no cover of darkness and the light of the moons will serve them on their journey.” He stopped speaking and seemed to be concentrating for a few minutes, while the others too kept silent, fearing that he might have heard the mercenaries attempting to enter the caverns. Then, however, he smiled at them, and said “The mercenary has joined the others, and they are leaving. It may be they sought water here, and that was all they wanted.” Tamorine asked ” Then they know this place? I thought you said it was unknown to them.” “They do not know it.” Rafel replied. “No mercenaries have been here before.” “Likely enough” Ket-Jal said, “they were in need of water, and even an abandoned farm has a well, which might not be empty.” “But now they will tell others, and they will come here”, Gamlin answered him. “It is not likely that any will come here before we are ready to leave” Brann said. “And if any should come, the Ketai will be watching them” Tarn added.
“It is the first part of the way to the Dark City that is the most exposed” said the Ket, returning to the planning of their manoeuvres against the Dark Lord. “It is mostly scrubland, and uninhabited, but with little cover. Once we reach the Forest by the Dark City there will be cover, but also the likelihood of mercenaries on guard. But they will be watching the direct approach to the Dark City.” “We will not make a direct approach, though” said Brann, “for you said we would try the tunnels from the old quarry first.” The Ket nodded agreement. “We will approach the quarry by the edges of the Forest, in that direction. A thicket has grown up around the quarry where trees and bushes from the Forest have spread outwards. ” “How shall we pass, then, without leaving a trail?” asked Tamorine. Rafel replied “The Ketai have already been back and forth to the quarry, and made trails, but they have been careful to make trails that look like those of large animals – it is a skill they learned in Ma’al, to disguise their tracks. We can use those.” Ket-Jal went on “We have means to descend into the quarry without disturbing any other vegetation, and the quarry floor is earth and rock. We made few marks there, and were careful to clear them away.” “And the rocks you said you had cleared from the tunnels?They will not betray us?” asked Gamlin. “A few more broken rocks on the quarry floor”, the Ket replied. “Well scattered. No, they will not betray us.” “And we will have our Perceptions extended” Rafel said, “and be ready to warn of danger.” “The Lightfriends will be placed throughout our forces, ready to Perceive any enemy and warn us by the Thought-without-Words” Ket-Jal agreed. Now Brann asked, “How many are your forces, Lord Ket? We number a hundred, since we thought a smaller force had more chance of passing unseen and surprising the Dark City.” Ket-Jal replied “We brought with us all our men of fighting age, those skilled with sword or bow or spear. Two hundred and sixty-one in all.” “And you said some of your Students would fight, Lightfriend?” Gamlin asked. Rafel nodded. “Certainly the Masked Ones will wish to fight, and others may join them.” “Who are these Masked Ones?” queried Tamorine, not quite liking the sound of them. Rafel, perhaps sensing her uneasiness, answered “You need have no fear of their loyalty, Tamorine.” He sighed, then, and went on “All of them have suffered loss at the hands of the Dark Lord’s mercenaries. But what pains them – and shames them, they say, though there is no blame in them and Light does not condemn them – is that through one reason or another, each of them was absent when the evil befell. They have returned to find homes, towns or villages destroyed, friends and kin killed or maltreated, and feel that as Swordsmen they should have been there to fight for them. So, since they found sanctuary with us and came to know Light, and our intention of carrying out Light’s judgement on the Dark Lord, they have joined together and taken an oath. They will war with us against the Dark Lord, but have vowed that to cover what they see as their shame, they will go masked until our battle succeeds and they see vengeance on the Dark Lord and his creatures for what was done to those they loved.”
“Ah, I can understand that” Tamorine said, and there was a depth of feeling in her voice that made Brann wonder if she was thinking of her own lost kin. “So” Tarn commented, ” we shall number about four hundred. With surprise on our side, that should be enough. What is known about the Dark City, Rafel? Are there charts?” “There are some old charts of how it was laid out when built” the Lightfriend replied. “But it may not be the same now. The Dark Lord has no doubt altered it and strengthened parts of the wall. ” “It is said that there was a great building at the heart of the City when it was built” Brann said. “My father remembers tales of it from some who had travelled there. It was used for the wise men of the City to meet and make laws for the City, and to deal with those who broke those laws. If I had taken that City I would set up my base there. If that building still exists, it may be that we would find the Dark Lord there.” “Like some great spider at the heart of its evil web!” said Tamorine, and Tarn said “You are right, Brann, it would be the most likely place.” “Then to reach him we will have to fight our way through the streets of the Dark City” said Gamlin. “Four hundred is a good number” Tamorine said, “and enough to deal with any mercenaries we might meet on the way to the Dark City. With numbers and the Lightfriends’ Perceptions we shall certainly reach it. We will need to study any charts there are, for even if some of the layout of the Dark City has been changed, surely the main structures remain, or its fabric would be weakened.” “Do you think it likely that any of the quarry tunnels do lead into the City itself?” Brann asked the Ket. “It is possible” Ket-Jal replied, “since they were used to carry the stone inside the City when it was being built, and may have been put to other uses afterwards.”
Rafel must have used the Thought-without-Words again, for one of the Lightfriends, a younger man, came in with the charts of the City which they needed, and left again, wordlessly. They leaned over the charts and saw that the City had originally been laid out on a circular pattern, its streets concentric rings connected by smaller cross-streets, with the building Brann had mentioned at the centre. It did, indeed, look like a spider’s web, as Tamorine had said. The only entrance seemed to be the gates at the front, with towers on either side, and the first street was marked, in the Old Tongue, as housing the defenders of the towers nearby, along with various artisan workshops. The second street was given over to shops, inns, and a market place, and the others were where the citizens lived. The last street, inmost to the central building, was reserved for the wise men of the City and the administrators. It had once been an orderly and peaceful place, as shown by the charts, but, Brann thought, its people had grown too used to peace and safety, and been unaware of the threat of the Dark Lord until he had come suddenly upon them and taken their City from them. He said “That outer ring, I think, is where the defending mercenaries will be housed, and no doubt the wall has been reinforced.” “Then are you sure they have not used the quarry?” Gamlin asked Ket-Jal. “They would need to get material from somewhere to reinforce the walls.”
“The quarry has not been used for many years, long before the Dark Lord came”, the Ket replied. “There is no sign of recent use.” “They have likely pulled down buildings inside the City” Tarn said. “Many of the inhabitants were killed, or managed to escape, and the rest were made slaves. They would be housed in some kind of barracks then, not allowed to live at ease in their own homes.” “If the Dark Lord dwells in the central building” Tamorine said, “he would try to block access to it. I doubt if all those connecting streets are still open. He would need to leave some for his mercenaries to come to him for his orders, but if I were making my base there, I would block some of the streets, certainly those at my back.” “You are right, Tamorine” Brann replied, ” I would do so too.”
“Then let us hope in Light that the tunnels from the quarry do indeed penetrate into the Dark City” Tarn said, “for otherwise we will have to make a frontal attack on the gates, which will be well defended, and fight our way through the streets, which will give the Dark Lord more warning of our coming. We cannot let him escape!” Rafel said”The Dark Lord will not escape. He will be destroyed by the Lightstone – unless he flees back into Ma’al, by sorcery. In either case, Li’is will be free of him.” “You are very sure of the power of the Lightstone”, Gamlin said. “and of yourself as its Bearer.” “I am not sure of myself”, Rafel answered, “since I am nothing but a vessel. But I am sure of Light and the Power of Light.” “But still, as you said, we must clear your way to the Dark Lord, to enable you to use the Lightstone against him”, Brann said. “And if the Lightstone-Bearer and the Lightstone are the key to the Dark Lord’s defeat, we will need to keep Rafel securely guarded, in the midst of our troops.” Tarn added. Ket-Jal answered “That will be the duty of the Ketai. As I told you, we have sworn to guard the Lightfriends.” He took a piece of the charred wood stick that Rafel used to write with and marked a long box on the table. “If this is our army” he said, “then here” – he marked a circle at the heart of the box – we will keep Rafel, with a guard of Ketai.” He then marked more dots throughout the box shape and went on “Each of these marks a Lightfriend. They will be scattered through the army, each with a Ketai to guard them, to pass on any warning, through their Perception. We will still have enough Ketai warriors to fight, but the Lightfriends must be guarded, for once the Dark Lord is defeated, they will be vital to the rebuilding of Li’is, and teaching its people the Way of Light.” “That is your duty, to guard the Lightfriends,as you said” Tamorine commented, “and your plan seems good to me.” She looked enquiringly at Brann, Gamlin and Tarn, who all agreed.
Brann said “You have sworn your vow, Ket-Jal. We began our plan to attack the Dark Lord knowing nothing of Light, and set out without Light’s blessing – though I truly believe, now, that we were guided by Light, though we did not know it. Now we are all Children of Light, it is in my heart that we should make our own vow to Light, to fight against the Dark Lord not in our own strength, but in the Name of Light.” Rafel smiled. “Indeed you shall, Brann. It is Light’s Will that this army should go out under a vow, and a blessing.” “Before we march” said the Ket, “we will all make our vows to Light.” “Two days until the Two-Moon Tide” Gamlin said. “How soon after can we make our move?” “When the Shield is waning, and the Hound is high and waning too.” answered the Ket. Brann considered this, and said, “Then about the fifth night after the Two-Moon Tide? That is a long time to wait!” “We have waited longer” the Ket told him. “Years have passed since we came into Li’is. But Light knows the perfect time, and we move in the Will of Light.” “It must have been hard for you” said Tamorine, “to live in tents in a land you did not know, and then to move to these caverns.” “The Ketai are tent-dwellers” Rafel replied, “and we have shared their hospitality often enough. As for the caverns, we Lightfriends are used to living in such places. Since Ma’al went down into Darkness, the caverns and wild places are our only safe havens.” Brann said “When, with Light’s aid, we have defeated the Dark Lord and regained our towns, we will make a safe place for the Lightfriends. We will need you to teach the people of Li’is the Way of Light. And the Ketai will be welcome too.” The Ket smiled, and said “You are generous, Brann of the Forest and the Harbour. But the Ketai are not people of towns and cities.” “Then we will give you a land of your own” Brann replied. “Perhaps in the West, where there is land but few people other than farmers.” Tarn said ” These are good thoughts, Brann my friend, but let us win the battle before we distribute the spoils!”
Brann, acknowledging the truth of Tarn’s words, said “You are right, Tarn. Well, since we must wait to make our attack, we have more time to plan, and to learn to fight together.” He turned to Rafel, and said, “May we meet these Masked Ones and find out what sword-skill they have? You said they are Swordsmen, but how well trained?” “We do not question too closely those who come to us for sanctuary” Rafel replied.”They tell us as much as they wish to, and we do not disclose what they tell us. One or two are from noble families, but all are equal in Light. If you will abide by our rules and not ask of them what they do not wish to reveal, you may talk with them.” “If you are sure of their loyalty to Li’is and to Light, we will not question further.” Brann told him. “Then I will ask the Lightfriends to gather them together, and tell them we wish to discuss the attack with them.” Rafel said. He bowed his head and his eyes glowed as he sent out the Thought-without-Words again. The Ket said ” We will not waste the waiting days, Brann. The Ketai have ways to go back and forth without being seen. We will continue to work on the quarry tunnels. In one at least the clearing is far advanced, and we should be able to see if it enters the Dark City before we move out.” “That will help us greatly, if you are sure your men will not be detected” said Tarn. “By now we have a well-established plan of getting to and from the quarry” Ket-Jal replied, “and the Ketai are sharp of eye and ear, Tarn. The mercenaries, unlike the Dark Lord, would not know us as a people of Ma’al even if any of us were seen, but we will not be seen.”
Rafel had raised his head again, and now said “The Masked Ones are waiting.” He led them out of his Quiet Place through the main cavern to one of the dormitory places, where a group of the Students had gathered. More than Brann had thought, about thirty, all in the Students’ brown robes over their everyday clothing, but each with a hood of thin black fabric over his head, only their eyes showing through a narrow slit. It was an eerie sight, but not threatening, since Rafel had explained the reason for the hoods. Rafel said ” These are the Masked Ones, and they will fight alongside you.” No word, yet, from the Masked Ones, though Brann was aware of their eyes on him, and one of them glanced quickly at Tamorine, as if surprised to find a girl-warrior among them. Brann said “We shall be glad of your help. And all of you are Swordsmen trained?” “We are” one of the men said, “and there are other Swordsmen among the Students who will fight with us too.” “Also” said another, “those who are not Swordsmen but skilled artisans, useful at making and mending tools and weapons.” “All of us” a third man volunteered, ” have been trained by Sword-Trainers, and to the highest standard. More than that we will not say, nor our names, till the Dark Lord is defeated, but you will find us loyal to Light, and able in battle.” “Very well” Brann said, and looked across at Tamorine, who said ” We understand and will respect your wishes. Each of us has our own reason to fight against the Dark Lord.” “How many of the Students will join the battle?” Gamlin asked. “With the others we will number around fifty.” the first speaker answered. “You know of the plan of attack?” Brann enquired. ” We have been informed. If possible we will use the quarry tunnels.” “Good” Brann said. “We will have to delay the attack for a few more days, since we cannot move out at the Two-Moon Tide when both moons are full. But the Ketai will be working on the tunnels in the meantime.” “Do you have a leader?” Tarn asked. The man who had spoken second said “We are all equals before Light. We will follow your commands, and the Ket’s, but above all those of the Lightstone-Bearer.” “Then that is settled” Brann said, ” since we too will obey the Lightstone-Bearer above all. We are of one mind, and Sword-Brethren in this enterprise.” “We will speak more in the days to come” Rafel said, “but now that you have met, we will leave you to your duties.” The Masked Ones said nothing, but bowed their hooded heads in a signal of obedience, and Rafel took the Ket and the others back out into the main cavern.