When Brann woke next morning, it was still early and no one was yet stirring. He had been allocated a place in one of the sleeping chambers, with Tarn, Gamlin, Kerrin, his cousins, and others of his men. For Tamorine, being the only female member of their force, a bed had been made up in the Lightfriend’s curtained Quiet Place. The rest of their men had been distributed among the various other caverns set aside for sleeping. Brann, feeling secure both in his surroundings and in his new relationship with Light, had slept well. Now he lay still and collected his thoughts, going over the happenings of the previous day. He was still aware of the sense of peace and joy and – yes – completeness from his surrender to Light. He also felt relief that they had found friends and allies, not least that same power of Light, to aid them in their battle against the Dark Lord. He glanced round at his sleeping friends, wondering how their encounter with Light had affected them. Of all of them, the one who had surprised him most was Tarn, the sceptic and unbeliever. That Tarn should have accepted the Choice of Light seemed strange, and yet perhaps it was just that it was the first time Tarn had found anything in which he could truly have faith. Brann knew that Tarn would not have made that choice lightly, and that now it was made, his friend would be loyal to it, whatever it cost. He wondered, now, about his own determined decision to fight against the Dark Lord, which it seemed had been known to Light even before he made it – or perhaps it was Light which had prompted the decision, unknown to him. The Lightfriend had been right, he thought, to say they had much to learn about Light. And, he asked himself, what of Tamorine? What had the Choice of Light meant to her? He remembered that strange , deep sigh she had given, and his own conviction that it had meant some kind of release for her – not the release they had all surely felt in accepting Light, but something deeper, something which the Lightfriend had seemed to know before ever he set his Perception on her.
He wondered too about the Lightfriends, with their power of Perception. Surely, if misused, that power could be a terrible weapon, and yet the Lightfriends were dedicated to using it only for the good of others, and the service of Light. It must have been a challenge for them, however dark their own world had become, to obey the command of Light and let themselves be carried into Li’is, with their families. Perhaps even harder for the Ketai, since they had no special powers, but their loyalty to Light and to their guardianship of the Lightfriends had inspired them to make the journey. That brought the Dancers to his mind, the most mysterious of all. ‘Beings of light and energy’, Rafel had called them, and the Dancer itself had said that they Danced among the stars. Brann wondered if they drew their sustenance from those stars, for surely they did not feed as humans did. The Dancer had said, too, that the Dancers of Ma’al – the ones having responsibility for the rhythms of that world – had been corrupted and turned against Light, so they were not perfect beings. They were capable of evil if not loyal to Light. So much to learn, as Rafel had also said!
His musings were interrupted by a sound of movement nearby, and he turned a little to see Tarn, who had been sleeping nearby, wake and stretch and give a mighty yawn. He saw Brann looking at him, and said quietly, “Is it early still? Here in the caverns with only these dim lamps it is impossible to tell day from night!” “I think it is early” Brann replied, “since no one else seems to be awake. I was thinking about yesterday. It was the strangest of days, Tarn, and yet somehow the best. ” “It was a blessing” Tarn answered.”I never held faith in much, Brann, as you know. Yet Light…” He paused, then said, echoing Brann’s thoughts, though he did not know it, “I feel complete.” “I was wondering” Brann went on, “if it was Light called us to this battle. I thought it was my own idea, but if Light knew, as Rafel said, if I was chosen to be the True Sword, I think it must be so, Tarn.” “It was long prophesied, so he said” Tarn mused, “and must have been known to Light. I believe you are right, Brann. This is not our battle alone, but Light’s. That is a good thought. We are not alone in this.” “How long prophesied, I wonder?” Brann responded. “Was it known in this – “Otherworld” the Lightfriends left? We do not know how long they have been in Li’is. We are meeting wonders, Tarn!” Tarn agreed. “There is much to understand, and Rafel said he still had more to teach us. But I have more hope now. When we first set out on this journey I knew we must do something to try to end the Dark Lord’s rule, yet I was not sure that any attempt we made would succeed. Now I feel more sure of victory.” Brann nodded. “So I feel. If the power of Light is with us, we shall succeed. And if the corrupted Dancers of Ma’al attack us,our own Dancers, true to Light, will protect us from them.”
They could hear others beginning to stir around them now, and their conversation was interrupted as a robed figure, one of those Rafel had called students, came into their sleeping place. “It will soon be time for the morning meal and Morning Prayers” he announced. “Prepare yourselves, Swordsmen of Li’is.” They obeyed his instructions, and went out into the largest cave, where they were joined by the rest of their men, and Tamorine. The cave was well furnished with rough benches, and the Lightfriends and their students and some of the Ketai were already there.. Brann glanced at the girl and thought he could see a difference in her expression. She still looked determined, but not as defiant and wary as before. He did not look long, though, in case she thought he was observing her too closely. They were served their food, and before they ate Rafel spoke a blessing on their meal. When they had finished, he drew back the curtain to the Place of Prayer to reveal the Crucible. Why was it called that?, Brann wondered. The other Lightfriends gathered round him, and the Morning Prayers began. Brann, Tamorine and the others were new to the worship of Light, but the beauty of the prayers and the responses of the other Lightfriends and students moved them, and they felt drawn closer to Light. When the time of prayer ended, Rafel blessed them all in the Name of Light, then called Brann and Tamorine and their lieutenants Tarn and Gamlin to him. “We will meet in my Quiet Place in a while, with the Ket, to discuss our plans. I will send someone to call you when I am ready. Meanwhile the students will show you where you may refresh yourselves. “
They found themselves conducted to a set of rough steps descending into the cave that led down to the water table, a large underground lake, where they could wash. They should not attempt to enter the water, though, the student told them, as it was cold and there were undercurrents. Separate arrangements had been made for Tamorine, in a side cavern. The rest of their men followed in relays, and eventually all had bathed and been refreshed, for they had had only limited facilities on their journey here. Returning to the main cavern, they mingled and chatted, their leaders waiting for Rafel’s summons. Varil the Sword-Trainer was talking animatedly with some of the Ketai, obviously interested in their warrior way of life. Some of their men were sitting on the benches, seemingly talking over their experiences so far. Looking round, Brann noticed his cousin Javan standing with Javan’s other cousin, Tavan, and sighed. The two, though close kinsmen, were not always the best of friends, and he hoped there was no disagreement brewing between them. They seemed, though, to be talking together quietly, and he wondered what they were discussing. He was about to look away when he saw them smile at each other, and then join hands in the newly-learned Swordsmen’s handclasp. Intrigued, he went across to them. Javan heard him approach and half-turned, and Brann asked, “Is it well between you, Javan, Tavan?” Javan answered “It is well – now and henceforth. We have realised that we cannot follow Light and disagree with each other.” Tavan added “We have talked out old grudges and forgiven each other, for we see that is Light’s Way. We have never been Sword-Brethren, though we are kin, but now we will swear Sword-Brotherhood.” “Ah, that is good!” Brann exclaimed, relieved. “Do it, then”. He drew out the sword he had been given, and said, “Swear it on the True Sword, for blessing!” So the no longer warring cousins took their vow of Sword-Brotherhood on the hilt of the True Sword, and shared the Swordsmen’s handclasp again. “Praise Light!” Brann said, when it was done, and thought to himself that Light was changing hearts.
He went back to join Tarn, who had seen him talking to the cousins, and said, “Did I see those two swear Sword-Brotherhood? What has happened? They were always so at odds with each other!” “It is Light’s doing” Brann explained, and told him what Javan and Tavan had said. Tarn said “It is true that when the Lightfriend set his Perception on me, I saw things in myself that made me ashamed, things I surrendered to Light. It must be the same with all of us, I believe. Light has cleansed us.” “Yes, it was so with me, Tarn. It is a good feeling.” “It can only help our cause, if any such feelings are dealt with. There can be no arguments or divisions among us, when the time comes to march against the Dark Lord.” Tarn commented. Brann saw Tamorine and Gamlin coming to join them, and said “Here are the others. I wonder what the Lightfriend has to tell us?” Hearing this, Tamorine said ” If the Lightfriends and the Ketai have been here for some time, they have likely spied out the Dark City and its defences. They will have useful knowledge.” “We will know soon” said Gamlin, for they could see one of the brown-robed students approaching them, and sure enough he bade them now join the Lightfriend and the Ket in the Lightfriend’s Quiet Place . They followed him to the curtained cavern, where he drew back the curtain to admit them, and let it fall again behind them. The Lightfriend and the Ket were seated at the table, and Rafel looked up as they entered and said, “Welcome, Children of Light. Be seated.” The four of them joined the other two at the table, and looked expectantly at Rafel, who said. “I Perceive you have many questions – though I do not need Perception to know that. Ask what you will, and we will try to answer you.” Brann said “We were wondering how long the Lightfriends and the Ketai had been in Li’is, and what knowledge you have of the Dark Lord and the Dark City.” “We have been here some years” Rafel answered, “but only recently has Light told us it was time to move against the Dark Lord.” “We have been waiting for the men of Li’is to rise, and the True Sword to be found.” Ket-Jal, the Lord of the Ketai, said.Rafel went on “We came first, as we said, to the North, to the Meeting Place, with the Dancers. We had first to establish a camp there for our families and those of the Ketai who stayed to guard them there. Only then could we move South to await your coming.””Do you have family there?” Tamorine asked him. “Yes. My Lady, and our daughter and son.” He smiled, and added, “My son was desperate to come with us, but he has not yet completed his training. There were other young sons of the Priesthood who felt the same, but none was ready.” “Ah, it was the same with our Warrior Children” the Ket said. “All of them eager to fight against the Dark Lord – but a half-trained Swordsman is a danger to himself and his companions. So they too were left behind, including my younger son, though his brother is with us.”
“Can it be the same Dark Lord, though?” Tamorine asked, voicing her earlier thoughts. “If so, he must be very old.” “That is true” Brann commented, “for it was in my grandfather’s time that he came out of the East and attacked our Harbour Town and drove us out and took it for himself. And others of his forces took the East Coast Harbour and attacked the City and took that too, making it his stronghold. All of that took time. Surely this is his heir, not the first Dark Lord?” Rafel said “It is the same Dark Lord who first came out of the East. What you say would be true, if he were merely man. But he is more than man – or less than man.” “Is he some kind of monster, then?” Tarn demanded. “Even so, we shall not fear him!” “He is a man – a man of Ma’al” Rafel replied. “One high in the ranks of Darkness, who has willingly given himself as host to a Lord of Darkness – a fallen spirit. The spirit gives his body powers. His normal needs are slowed, as is his ageing, though he still must eat and drink and sleep to sustain his flesh. He is also a Shape-Changer, and can appear in different form. He wears a ring, with a certain red stone, and in that stone is the power of a Night Lord, the treacherous Dancers of Ma’al, which empowers his sorceries.” “Light called me a True Sword” Brann said. “Is it I who must stand against this spirit-man?” “No”, Rafel said. “That is not your task, Brann.” “Then whose task is it?” Tamorine said, sharply. “All of us would be glad to stand against the Dark Lord, even if we died in destroying him!” “I know” Rafel agreed, “but not even the True Sword can stand against him, Tamorine. It is I, the Lightstone-Bearer, who must face him, because only the Lightstone and the Power of Light can overcome him. Brann’s task – and yours, and the Ketai’s – is to clear my path to reach him.”
Brann exclaimed , “But you said your vows forbid you weapons, Rafel! How can you fight him, unarmed?” “I have the Lightstone” Rafel replied, “and that is the only weapon I need.” Gamlin asked “The Dark Lord has lived long, you say, but his mercenaries – are they the same, empowered by spirits of Darkness?” Rafel said ” No. They are men. There are Children of Darkness, as well as Children of Light. Those who will accept and follow the rule of Darkness for what they can gain.” Ket-Jal told them “The Dark Lord came first to the Eastern Continent of Li’is, for in Ma’al the East is the seat of all evil and sorcery, and by their sorceries the Lords of Darkness wove a thread between the East of Ma’al and the East of Li’is. They overthrew the Lord of the East and took control of the whole continent. They sent the Dark Lord and his mercenaries into Li’is with the help of the Night Lords, before the Dancers of Li’is were aware of the danger.” Rafel took up the tale again.”When the Spirits-in-Light carried Light’s warning to the Dancers, they drove out the Night Lords. But by then the Dark Lord and his armies were established in the East, and had enslaved its people. Those who would join him were promised power and riches, the others were slain to feed the evil stone he carries, for it is powered by pain and evil deeds. Those of the East who became Children of Night, joining the Dark Lord, are the source of his mercenaries now, trained by those he brought with him at the first. After a couple of generations, it has become normal to them to obey his orders and carry out the foul deeds he commands.” “Then the mercenaries are men of Li’is?” Tarn asked, horrified. “They are men of Li’is who have been corrupted by Darkness.” Rafel said, sadly. “As I told you before, Light gives each created being free choice, and they have chosen to serve Darkness rather than Light.”
“So all of the East is captive to the Dark Lord?” Tamorine asked. “It is” Ket-Jal replied, “and will not be freed until he is overcome, and his sorceries there are broken.” “But if all there are Children of Darkness, mercenaries of the Dark Lord, they will still be a danger to us here.” Tarn said. Rafel acknowledged this, and went on “The defeat of the Dark Lord will only be the beginning. The people of Li’is will need to take back what was taken from them, to rebuild, but above all to accept the Choice of Light.” He smiled at Brann, then, and added, “And in all this Light’s True Sword will be a leader.” Brann said, “If that is Light’s Will – but only with your help, Lightstone-Bearer, and that of my comrades.” Tamorine glanced at him approvingly. Gamlin enquired “What can you tell us about the Dark City and its defences? Tarn thought that perhaps it was not as well-guarded as we thought, since the Dark Lord might feel secure there and become complacent.” Ket-Jal answered him. “The Ketai have made several expeditions to the Dark City to look over its defences, though we had to be careful. It would not have done for any of us to be captured and taken before the Dark Lord, for he would know we had followed him from Ma’al, and be forewarned. Its outer defences are not extensive, but we have learned that there are more guards inside the City than outside.” “To protect the Dark Lord?” Tamorine asked.”Then perhaps he is more vulnerable than you believed.” “Not to protect him” Rafel replied, “His sorceries and the Bloodstone are his protection. That is why only the Lightstone can overcome him. The guards are for his prisoners – the people of Li’is he has taken captive and forced to be his slaves.” “Then perhaps, if we get inside his stronghold, his slaves will rise up and help us.” Gamlin said. Ket-Jal went on “We found an old quarry not far from the Dark City. It was where the stone was quarried to build the City when it was first raised. There are some tunnels from the quarry to the Dark City, made to take the stone there. The quarry and tunnels are disused now, and the tunnels were blocked, but can be cleared with care. It is possible that some may actually lead into the City itself, but if not, at least they could bring us close enough to the City to make a surprise attack.”
“But would it be safe to clear the tunnels?” Tarn queried. “To work so close to the Dark City – would we not be heard and discovered?” “The Ketai have tested that” Rafel told him, “and managed to remove some of the rubble without incident. Though as we near the Dark City, it will become more dangerous and if it seems likely that we will be detected we will stop.” “Then the Dark Lord does not know about this quarry?” asked Tamorine. “It is probable that he knows of its existence, but it has not been used for many, many years, since its only purpose was the building of the City. It is overgrown, and the Ketai have been very careful to leave no sign of their being there. He has no reason to think any person would venture there, an uninviting place and so close to the Dark City. His guards look elsewhere.” Rafel paused, and went on, “In the beginning, when he first took the Dark City, some men of Li’is rose up against him to try to recapture it, using the woods for cover. So it is from that direction that they would expect any attack to come, though since none has dared attempt such a thing for so long, he has grown, as you said, somewhat complacent.”
Gamlin said “But you say he uses dark powers, and sorceries. Will he not detect us by those?” “We are protected from those by the Lightstone” Rafel told him, “since those in Darkness cannot know the Will of Light. The Dark Lords may try any sorcery they choose, but it will not reveal Light’s purposes to them.” “If we can use the tunnels from the quarry, well enough” Brann commented, ” but if we have to approach from the forest, we will need to take care. Any guards are bound to see us, but the longer we can delay that, the better.” “We brought a smaller force so that we were less likely to be observed” Tamorine remarked. “If we are joined by the Lightfriends and their students, and the Ketai, we will have more fighters but will also be more likely to be seen.” “We can make our way to the old quarry, with caution” Ket-Jal told her. “We have established a safe route. If the tunnels prove impenetrable, or if we need to make an additional frontal attack, we can spread out from there.” Gamlin asked the Lightfriend “You say the Lightstone will protect us, and we have all felt its power. But how did you come by it?” Rafel said “We were visited by a man, sent of Light, who brought us designs for the Lightstone pendant, and the True Sword, and the Harp Not Yet Played, to be made by craftsmen true to Light, of the metal of Ma’al. Once they were complete, he said, he would return. We asked how we could tell him they were made, and he said he would know. So we did as we were bidden, and sure enough, when the three things were finished, he did return. With him he brought the Lightstone, and he put it in its setting, and told me that I was ordained Lightstone-Bearer.” He paused, as if remembering, then went on “We still did not understand the meaning of all this. We thought that Light meant to overthrow the Darkness of Ma’al. But then the man told us about Li’is. He said that Ma’al had descended too far into Darkness to be saved, since our world refused to repent of its evil. But in Li’is, he said, though its people did not know Light yet, the Darkness had not gained full control and there were still those who strove against the Dark Lord, and Li’is could be turned to Light, and saved from Darkness. Then he told us about the Dancers’ Gate, and what we were to do.” He paused again , and there was awe in his voice as he said “He came to us as a man, but we believe he was a Spirit-in-Light, a Shining One.”
Tarn said “You mentioned these Spirits-in-Light before, but what are they?” Rafel replied “The created spirits that stayed true to Light when others rebelled. They serve Light and men, bringing us Light’s Word and Will. They are often near us, though we rarely see them. They communicate with the Dancers, also.” Tamorine instinctively glanced round, as if she might see some shining presence near, but Rafel smiled at her, and said, “If you were in the presence of a Shining One you would know it, Tamorine.” “And they will fight for us?” Brann asked. Rafel said “They will do Light’s Will. The task of overcoming the Dark Lord is for the men of Li’is and the Lightfriends – and the Lightstone-Bearer most of all. We need not concern ourselves with anything beyond that. ” “Yet we are new to Light” Tarn said, “and how can we know Light’s Will? ” “You will be guided of Light, do not fear” Rafel, replied, “and remember this, Tarn, always – that the weakest of Light is stronger than the strongest of Darkness.” Gamlin, returning to the question of the Dark Lord’s defences, asked “The Dark Lord’s mercenaries – how are they armed? What are their skills?” “His perimeter guards carry sword and spear” the Ket replied, “and probably knives for close contact. There are a few lookouts on the City Walls, and they are bowmen. Our bows, though, are more powerful than theirs.” “We have bowmen with us also” Brann said, “and hunters, skilful at moving unobserved. Swordsmen too, but none skilled with spears.” “The Ketai are trained with sword, bow and spear” Rafel said, “we will not lack spear-skill.” Tarn said “We must be prepared for any wounded. We have a Healer with us.” Rafel said “Some of the Lightfriends are Healers too. It will be as well if your Healer could instruct them in the use of the healing herbs of Li’is, since some may not be the same as we used in Ma’al.” “I will send Forin to you, then” Brann told him. Gamlin asked the Ket ” You said if he saw you, the Dark Lord would know you had followed him from Ma’al. Are you known, then, as protectors of the Lightfriends?” The Ket said, “No. We were herders of cattle and horses, travellers over our grazing grounds. Our warriors were trained for our own defence. But when Ma’al went down into Darkness, our lands and cattle and horses were taken from us, for even the Ketai could not withstand the Dark Ones’ sorceries. We were cast out, for the Dark Ones work by dividing the hearts of peoples. It was the same with the Malani. The other people of Ma’al were told that we, and they, were different, rootless and lesser peoples, wild dwellers in the woods and mountains. But we stayed true to Light, and found the Lightfriends, and the Ketai and the Malani swore Sword-Brotherhood and the defence of the Lightfriends, as peoples.” “In Light all are equal” Rafel said, “for all are created of Light. In Darkness, as Ket-Jal said, the Dark Lords sow division between peoples, for unity is a threat to them.” “Then Light has called us together” Tamorine said, ” since once we of the Mountains and the people of the Forest and Harbour were enemies, but since the Dark Lord came we have had a common enemy, and now we have come together against him.” “That is so” Rafel affirmed.