FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 15

When Brann returned to the Harbour, bearing messages and greetings from the Fortress, he found work going on apace. His father, after hearing his news and the expectation of the return of those left at the Lightfriends’ haven, said, “We have called a meeting with the Shipfathers and the Lightfriends. You know we are not well acquainted with the Eastern Continent, since none of us have sailed there before. The Shipfathers will have information, and Rafel informs us that the Dancers will also give us guidance.” Brann said, “It will be wise to know as much as we can. We know of the Eastern Harbour, but little of other towns or havens for ships. It was, I think, never deemed necessary to know more than the places to trade , in the past.” “We know, at least, that it will be a long voyage”, his father replied, “taking many weeks.” Brann answered, “Let us hope, then, that our troops will be good sailors.” “They will have adjusted to being on board ship after a few days”, Baran said. He added “There is a strange Swordsman who has joined us, though Tarn and Gamlin say he is known to them. His name is Mihel.” Brann felt a moment of relief at this news, knowing Mihel’s true identity, but gave nothing away to his father, saying only, “Yes, we know him. Rafel trusts him and he was a great help to us in the battle at the Seacoast Town.” “That is a good recommendation”, Baran answered. Returning to the question of the Eastern Continent, he continued, “We know that the seasons are different in the East, and it is a land divided by a great mountain range. Only the side facing the Eastern Sea is good land for farming, as it receives most of the rain. On the far side of the mountains the land is much drier, partly desert, but it is a good source of metals, and of stone for building.” “So the people of the East live mainly on the near side of the continent?” Brann asked. “That is so, according to the Shipfathers and their crews. Only the miners for metals and the stoneworkers live on the far side, though there is a small harbour there. It is easier to sail their metals and stone round to the main harbour for use there or for shipping here, than to attempt to bring them through the mountains, though there are some roads and passes. Those are not much used, except to bring in supplies.” “Then it is likely that most, if not all, of the mercenaries will be around the main harbour”, Brann said, “though no doubt the metal and stone workers will be held in servitude too, so there must be some to guard them.” He paused for a moment, then added, “It may be that some of the people of the East were able to escape the Dark Lord’s forces, as we did here. The mountains could have provided a place of refuge. It may even be that the Lord of the East and his Heirs evaded capture.” “We shall see if any of the Shipfathers know anything, at the meeting”, his father commented.

Brann accompanied his father to the meeting that had been arranged, greeting his friends when they entered. He gave the same friendly, casual greeting to Mihel, so as not to distinguish the disguised Spirit-in-Light in any way. Rafel was there too, with some of the Lightfriends. The Shipfathers who had brought his and Tamorine’s forces from the Seacoast Town were present, along with some others, and some of their crewmen. All were happy to share what knowledge they had of the Eastern Continent. Brann asked the question that had been on his mind. “Shipfathers, is it possible that some of the people of the East were not enslaved, but could have escaped into hiding? Do you know if the Lord of the East was captured?” One of the Shipfathers who had brought them from the Harbour answered him. “The fall of the East happened in my grandfather’s time. I mind him telling me the tale. It was a time of great dread and cruelty. He said that the Lord of the East was captured and slain, but he had managed to get his two sons safely away. If either or both survived and had families, there is still an heir to the Lordship of the East. It is certain that some of the people did escape, but where they went is not known.” Another Shipfather said, ” It is known that some of the bands of the mercenaries have been sent into the mountains from time to time. There can be no purpose other than to hunt there, and it is rumoured that it is not only game that they are hunting.” One of the crewmen spoke up next. “I have kin among the metal workers. Their work of necessity takes them out of sight of their guards for some of the time, and the guards have grown casual, knowing, as they think, that there is no place for the workers to escape to. But the metal workers and miners did not take their captivity lightly and from the very first have been in secret revolt against the Dark Lord’s rule. Not all their tunnels are for the purposes of mining. They are, of course, very careful in what they say, but from some hints my kin have given me, I believe there are those hidden in the mountains who have never acknowledged the Dark Lord, and stay loyal to the line of the Lord of the East. The miners, metal workers, and stonecutters have ways of helping them.”

Brann was encouraged by the man’s statement. “That is useful news, friend. Thank you” , he commented. Gamlin said, “We will attack the main harbour, that is certain, but once we have secured that, some of us should sail to the other harbour, to free the workers there and find out what they know. If there is still a Lord of the East and his followers, we will need to find him and reinstate him.” “The mercenaries in the East cannot know yet that the Dark Lord has been vanquished”, Tarn said, “since none of those who tried to escape to the East reached there, being lost in the Two-Moon Tide. They are likely to fight fiercely, believing they have his protection.” Rafel said, “The people of Li’is will not be the only ones in battle, this time. There are Night Lords in the East, the corrupted Dancers of Ma’al, who protect the passage from Li’is which the Dark Lords made. The Dancers will wage war on them, to secure and close that passage. The mercenaries have been kept in ignorance of the true nature of the Dark Lords and the presence of the Night Lords. When they see the Night Lords and the Dancers in battle, it will bring fear upon them and dishearten them.” Brann, noting the authority with which Rafel spoke, guessed that the Lightstone-Bearer had been told what to say by Mihel, but one of the Shipfathers asked, in worried tones, “Dark Lords? There are more of them in Li’is?” “No, not in Li’is”, Rafel reassured him. “Their place is in the world of Ma’al, and it takes much of their power and sorcery to send even one of their number here, fighting against the Will of Light. The Dark Lords themselves are under the sway of the Great Deceiver, and have no part in Light, so in all they do they go against the very nature of life itself, and it is hard for them.”

“We will need provisions for the voyage”, Gamlin said, “for us, and for any horses we can take with us. ” “That is all in hand”, one of the Shipfathers assured him, “but there will not be room on the ships for many of your mounts. You will find more in the East, if you can capture them from the mercenaries.” “The two new ships will soon be finished, and the ones that needed repair have been readied”, said another man, who Brann presumed to be one of the shipwrights. “Lord Tamor has said that they will soon bring back those we left at the Lightfriends’ haven”, Brann told them, “and when they have rested, they can return here. The Fortress is being strengthened and more fortifications built, so that they can guard the Spearcleft Pass and the Harbour in case there are still followers of the Dark Lord who might attempt an attack.” Gamlin said, “Aye, Tamran had that in mind. If we are to take our forces across the Eastern Sea, we will need to leave those we leave behind to defend our homes in a strong position.” “Then all seems ready”, Baran said, “and we await only the gathering of our forces and the word from Rafel to set out.” Rafel told them, “I will seek the guidance of Light and the Lightstone to tell us when to set sail. All must be done according to the Will of Light.” One of the shipwrights replied, “Since we go in the Name of Light, we have named one of the new ships ‘Lightbringer’. The other we named ‘Freedom’, since we hope to bring freedom to Li’is once and for all.” “Those are good names”, Brann said, “and speak truly of our mission.” “Light is with us”, Baran agreed, “and will bring us to a successful conclusion.”

It was only a couple more weeks before all was complete. The new ships, sent out for trials, had sailed along the coast and looked for signs of the mercenaries and others who had forced a passage towards the East despite the Two-Moon Tide. Some wreckage was found, and bodies, so their fate was evident, though it had been almost impossible that any could survive the Tide. There was no sign of any survivors having escaped to shore. Baran still urged caution, though, and set a watch on the areas near to the wreckage. Rafel had set the date for them to sail, and messages had been sent to the Fortress. In response, the forces from the Fortress arrived at the Harbour, led by Tamran and Tamorine, and bringing the men they had left wounded at the Lightfriends’ haven, now recovered, though some, including Brann’s cousin Javan, were still not fit enough to fight. Javan’s brother Jamin and cousin Tavan, as well as Brann himself, were glad to see him, but concerned at his pallor and loss of weight. It was evident, too, that he still felt some pain. Brann said, “No battles for you this time, cousin! You must rest and grow strong again, to help us rebuild Li’is once the Darkness in the East is defeated.” He greeted Tamorine and Tamran warmly, but though Tamorine was his betrothed, he would not embrace her openly before their troops. She was back in battle harness, his warrior maiden again, and ready to fight with them. It was not until the three of them, with Rafel, Tarn and Gamlin, had returned to Baran’s house by the Harbour, that he and Tamorine shared the embrace he had been waiting for.

“So now it begins”, said Tamran. “We are ready to sail?” “Yes, the new ships have been tested and the others refurbished. We are ready.” Brann answered. “And the plan is to attack the mercenaries at the main Eastern Harbour?” Tamran went on. “It is. Rafel says that there will be another battle, one between the Dancers and the Night Lords, and that will distract and dishearten the mercenaries”, Brann told him. Tamorine said “The mercenaries will not know that the Dark Lord has been defeated?” Tarn answered, “We sent the new ships along the coast on their trials, and they reported signs that the ships the mercenaries here forced to sail for the East were all wrecked in the Two-Moon Tide. None can have escaped to carry news to the East.” Brann then told them “Some of the crewmen of the ships have told us that it is believed the Heir of the Lord of the East, and some others, escaped to the Mountains of the East, and that there are still those in the Mountains who resisted the Dark Lord’s rule. One of the men has kin among the workers in the mines and quarries on the other side of the mountains, and says they have helped those in the Mountains. ” “We hope that once the mercenaries are defeated”, Gamlin continued, “we can sail to the smaller harbour where the metalworkers and miners are and they will help us find the Heir to the Lordship of the East, and restore him to his rightful place.” Rafel said, ” Some of the Lightfriends come with us. They will teach those of the East the Way of Light, once the mercenaries are defeated and the people of the East freed and its Lord restored. They are ready to stay there and establish a Place of Prayer.”

The day came to sail, and farewells were said. Rafel and the Lightfriends held a time of prayer, committing them all to the care of Light. Horses, gear and provisions had already been loaded, and the troops and their leaders embarked. Brann, Tamorine and Tamran, with Rafel and Mihel, boarded the leading ship, the newly built ‘Lightbringer’, with Jamin, Tavin, and others of their men. It had been decided that Tarn and Gamlin should follow in the second ship, with other Lightfriends, so that there was still a chain of command should the flotilla be separated for any reason. They stood on deck, watching the Harbour fall away behind them, and the widening view of the coastline eventually disappear. Tamorine, looking down at the water foaming past the ship’s side, suddenly pointed and said, “Look, what was that in the water? A large fish?” They all looked, but the creature had momentarily disappeared. They continued looking into the water, and then there was a flash of blue-grey, and a curving, sinuous shape cut through the water. It was not a fish, for a round head appeared, with large, dark, almost human eyes, before the creature gave a snort and disappeared again below the water. “It is a sea-cat”, Brann said, “they live along the coast and hunt out to sea.” “It is beautiful!”Tamorine said. Brann sighed. “I fear their beauty is their downfall, Tamorine. Their fur has been much prized by the mercenaries, for the rich among the Children of Night pay well for it. They have hunted the poor creatures and now the sea-cats are wary of the Harbour.” “Then let us hope that the sea-cats too are now free of the tyranny of Darkness”, she replied.

Life on board ship soon fell into a rhythm, once they were accustomed to being on board. There were tasks to be carried out, not least tending to the horses and maintaining their weaponry in good order, and plans to be made for when they reached the East. Brann had instructed their troops that while at sea their commander was the Shipfather, and they should obey him, since only he and his crew knew the ways of the sea. So they were careful not to interfere with the running of the ship. There were, however, parts of the decks where sword-practice and other exercises could be taken , to keep them in fighting fitness, and, after the evening meal and Prayers, to walk and watch the stars and moons. The prospect of the battle ahead was always there, but the voyage gave them some rest beforehand. On one such evening, Brann had strolled along the deck alone, since Tamorine had been occupied elsewhere, and found himself in company with his cousin Jamin and Jamin’s cousin Tavan. They commented on the smoothness of the sea and the brightness of the stars, and then their conversation turned, naturally, to the coming battle. Jamin said, ” The mercenaries there will not be expecting so many ships. Surely they will be suspicious?” “We do not know what they may be expecting”, Brann argued, “since we have little knowledge of the commerce between the two continents under the Dark Lord’s reign. They do not know, remember, that the Dark Lord has been defeated, and may well think we come under his orders.” “As long as we can disembark without suspicion”, said Tavan, “and they take us for an intake of mercenaries returning to the East.” “And as soon as we have landed, we can attack”, added Brann. “We will take them by surprise.” Jamin said, “And Tamorine will be fighting with us?” “She will”, Brann replied, surprised at the question.” She is my co-commander and one of our most experienced fighters. Why do you ask?” “I wondered if she might step aside, since Tamran has returned”, Jamin said. Brann laughed, and said, “Not she! She wants to see the end of Darkness in Li’is as much as any.” Tavan said, “Not one of us would doubt Tamorine’s courage, or her sword-skill, having fought alongside her. Yet she is your betrothed, Brann. Do you not fear for her in battle? Would you not prefer it if she did not fight?” Brann answered, “She is my betrothed, but also my Sword-Brother. I would be doubly fearful for her in battle, that is true. But to wish that she did not fight – no! That would be to deny who she is, and who she is, is what I love. I would not make her less than herself.” “A fair point”, Jamin replied, and after a few minutes’ more conversation, the cousins left Brann on deck and returned to their quarters. As soon as they had left him, a figure emerged from the shadows, and proved to be Tamorine. Surprised, Brann asked ” How long have you been here, my heart? I looked for you before I came on deck, but was told you were busy elsewhere “. “I was”, she replied,” but then I came to find you . I heard you speaking with Jamin and Tavan. Thank you, Brann.” “What for?” he asked, puzzled. “For your reply to Tavan – that you would not wish to make me less than I am.” “I spoke only the truth”, he said. She smiled at him, and said, “Yet still, it pleases me to hear it.”

She looked up at the billowing sails, and said, “Light favours our voyage, Brann. We have had fair winds since we left the Harbour.” He nodded. “That is good. I know the ships can be rowed at great need, but that would be wearying for all. I am sure Light will take us where we need to go. ” “I hope that the crewmen were right, and there are still survivors in the mountains of the East who can help to rebuild there once the Dark Lord’s last forces are defeated”, Tamorine commented. “If there is still a Lord of the East in hiding there, it will make the task of rebuilding easier, with him to take charge”, Brann agreed. He followed her gaze, past the sails and up at the stars and the moons, and said “I still find it difficult to understand all Rafel has told us about Ma’al – this ‘Otherworld’ – and its links to Li’is, when he says it is so far away in time and space that we could not reckon the distance. Oh, I do not doubt his word, and Mihel, the Spirit-in-Light, confirms it. But it is hard to comprehend. ” Tamorine smiled. “Maybe”, she said, “there are things we are not meant to understand, Brann, just to trust and believe. I think the coming of Light has taught us that.” “Light’s purposes are all for our good, I know that”, Brann replied, “even if we may not understand them all. Rafel and the other Lightfriends have brought us the truth, and now we understand that the old gods were false, maybe even a delusion of the Dark Lords to prepare the way for their possession of Li’is. But Light would not let that happen in Li’is as it did in Ma’al. ” “Why was it, I wonder, that Ma’al went down into Darkness?” Tamorine said. “Why did Light not prevent it?” “Mihel said that the Dancers of Ma’al were corrupted, and in turn corrupted its people” Brann reminded her, “and that Light will not force the Choice of Light on any, desiring that all seek Light willingly, not as slaves. If Ma’al rejects Light, they will be allowed to do so.” “That must be very painful to Light”, Tamorine mused, “it is hard to offer love and be rejected.” “Yet Mihel also said that Light prepared a Great Sacrifice, so that we could accept Light despite what divided us from Light”, Brann went on. “It is a mystery, my heart, and we can only be thankful for it.”

The voyage to the East continued without incident; the winds stayed in their favour and Rafel and the Lightfriends continued to instruct them in the Way of Light. Mihel was often present, and Brann wondered if the Spirit-in-Light was guiding Rafel in what he said. On one occasion, after the time of discussion and prayer had finished, Mihel took Brann aside and spoke to him directly. “Brann, I must warn you that when all is accomplished, you will be tempted. The people of Li’is will honour you and Tamorine, rightly, but you must not let that make you proud. You must rely on Light, and not let your popularity sway you. To speak plainly, some will wish to make you a king, and that you must resist.” Brann bowed his head, and said, “Then I pray Light will grant me the strength to resist, Mihel. For I vow that now and forever, in Li’is we shall have no king but Light.” Mihel smiled at him then, and said, “Well answered, Brann, True Sword of the Lightstone. Light will be with you.” Later, Brann told Tamorine what had been said, and she commented “There has never yet been a king in Li’is, and I agree with you, Brann, that no man should take that place, which belongs only to Light.” He smiled at her, and said, jestingly, “Then you have no wish to be a queen, my heart?” “Never!” she laughed, then added, “Unless it is queen of your heart.” “Ah, that you already are!” he told her.

The Lightfriends on the different vessels were able to keep in contact through the use of their Perceptions, sending the Thought-without-Words between themselves as necessary, and reassuring the commanders on the lead ship that all was well with their flotilla. Rafel told Brann, Tamorine and Tamran that when they neared the Eastern Harbour he would be able to use his Perception, augmented by the Lightstone, to determine the strength of the garrison there, and warn them of any dangers. As they drew nearer to the East and the first faint outlines of the continent came into view, the crews of the ships began to prepare for mooring at the Eastern Harbour, and the forces on board to prepare for battle. Messages passed back and forth between the various vessels, relayed by the Lightfriends, and Brann, Tamorine and Tamran conferred with Rafel about the best course of action. Tamran was surprised when Mihel joined them one morning. Knowing the Shining One only as a Swordsman, though one trusted by Rafel, Brann and Tamorine, he looked questioningly at the Lightstone-Bearer. Rafel said, gently, “Tamran, as you are now a commander alongside your sister and Brann, we have decided that you should know the truth about Mihel, already known to Brann and Tamorine.” Tamran , obviously startled, glanced from one face to another, and then demanded, “And what is there to know?” Rafel said, “You see him as a man, Tamran, but Mihel is not human. He is a Spirit-in-Light, a Shining One.” Tamran relaxed at the Lightstone-Bearer’s words, and smiled. “Ah, now I see why Rafel puts such trust in you, Lord Mihel”, he said. Mihel smiled too, and answered ” Not ‘Lord’, Tamran. While I am with you I am simply the Swordsman Mihel.” “You do not seem surprised”, Tamorine challenged her brother, “but when we learned that he was a Spirit-in-Light, we were amazed.” Tamran said, “You forget, dear sister, that I have spent some years with the Lightfriends, and have studied the Way of Light with them. I knew of the existence of the Spirits-in-Light, though I never thought to have the honour of meeting one.” He looked again at Mihel, and asked, “Do you fight with us?” Mihel replied, “Only in the sense that I am the guardian of the Lightstone and the Lightstone-Bearer. My task is to protect him so that he may complete the task Light has laid on him. I may help him in certain other ways. But to fight your battles – no. That is not permitted. That is the task Light ordained for the people of Li’is, to reject and cast out for themselves the Dark Lord and his works.” “I see”, Tamran said, accepting Mihel’s explanation.

Tamorine asked, “Mihel, do you know what will happen when we reach the East? Will we find the Lord of the East?” Mihel replied, “I do not have the foreknowledge of Light, Tamorine. Like the Lightfriends and the Dancers, I know only what Light reveals to me. I know only what I need to know to obey Light.” She asked again, “So only Light knows all?” “Of course”, the Shining One replied ,”for even in the Presence of Light, we cannot know all that Light knows, or we ourselves would be as Light, and that is impossible.” Tamorine considered this, then said, “So when you are not in Li’is, you stand in the Presence of Light? You must miss that so much, being here with us.” Mihel said, “I do miss it, but I stand in Light’s Presence ready to do Light’s bidding. If that means I must leave the Presence for a while, I am glad to obey.” Brann and Tamran had been silent while Tamorine conversed with Mihel, and Rafel had bowed his head at the mention of the Presence of Light. Now, though, Brann asked “Has Light told you what will happen when we arrive at the Eastern Harbour, Mihel?” “That I do know”, the Shining One replied, “for the mercenaries there will not suspect an invasion, so you will be able to land without problems. And, as I told you, once the battle begins, the Night Lords will appear, to defend the Dark Lords’ gateway into Li’is, and the Dancers will also appear, to drive them out, and that will cause fear to the mercenaries and give you an advantage in battle. Beyond that, though, I have not been told.” “Then we start with an advantage”, Brann said. Rafel answered, “We do, and that is good. We are nearing the coast now, and it will soon be time to land. We must pray, and prepare. ” “And then comes the battle for the East.” said Tamorine.

FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 14

They sailed along with the sharp-toothed Seacoast Mountains beside them, heading for the Harbour. When they were near enough, Rafel and the other Lightfriends sent out the Thought-without-Words again, to inform the Lords of Mountain and Harbour that they were returning to the Harbour. The Lightfriends at the Harbour returned the communication, assuring them of the safety of the Harbour, and that a warm welcome awaited them. Impatient as they were to return, it seemed a long time before they rounded the headland and sailed along the gentler coast that led to the Harbour, but at last they reached it. Brann gazed intently as they neared the great stone piers where their ships would tie up. The house of the Lord of the Harbour, long occupied by the Dark Lord’s garrison but now freed, lay to the side of the large paved area where ships would disembark their passengers and cargo, and long, low wooden buildings for work on ships or the storage of goods surrounded its two other sides, the last side open to the sea. The piers and sea wall were sturdily built , to withstand the crashing waves of the Two-Moon Tides, and Brann could see figures waiting there. Foremost among them he recognised his father and Lord Tamor, and with them were some of the Lightfriends and Ketai, and men of Forest and Mountain. He thought, though he was not sure, that he caught a glimpse of a woman among them. Perhaps the Healer Marama, he thought, come to see that all was well with them.

As they drew nearer, though, he heard Tamorine give a gasp of recognition, as she turned to Tamran and exclaimed ” Tamran- it is our mother!” And why should their mother not come to greet them, Brann thought. The Dark Lord’s mercenaries had been dealt with, and it was safe enough for her to return from hiding now. Having heard that her son, whom she had long thought dead, was alive and returning, could any mother have resisted coming to welcome him back? He smiled at brother and sister and said, “That will be a happy reunion , indeed!” “I am so glad”, Tamorine said, “that our mother has come and can see for herself that all is well with you, Tamran.”

They neared the stone piers and the Shipfather began to shout orders to his mariners. Their ship, and the other, steered safely into their moorings and tied up. They waited impatiently while all the work of mooring was done and everything arranged for disembarkation, and at last they were able to leave the ship, with grateful thanks and farewells to the Shipfather and his men, and head towards their waiting reception. Knowing the importance of this moment to Tamorine’s family, Brann held back a little to allow Tamorine and Tamran to reach them first. Lord Tamor and their mother came forward quickly to meet them, and the woman flung her arms around Tamran, crying “Tamran! Tamran, my son!” He returned her embrace warmly. Brann could see the tears on her cheeks, as she said ” So many years I had thought you lost to me! And now you have returned. Praise Light!” So Tamorine’s family had accepted Light, Brann thought. Tamran said, “I am sorry you have had so much pain on my account, dearest Mother. But I had a task to fulfil, as you know, and it is done. Tamorine is free of the law of the Mountains. But if not for Rafel and the Lightfriends, I doubt I would have lived to succeed.” “I know, I have heard the story from the Lightfriends”, she replied. Releasing her son, she turned to her daughter. “My valiant Tamorine!” she said, “I am proud of you, and your part in this defeat of the Dark Lord, and happy that Tamran has finished his task and set you free. You are a worthy Heir to your grandfather, and your father would have been proud of you too.” Tamorine smiled at her mother, “I am glad to have played my part”, she replied, “but now my brother has returned, he can take his place as the Heir again.” Tamor spoke now. “That is proper – but what of you, my Tamorine? I do not think my warrior maiden will settle to a life of women’s tasks!” Tamorine looked at Brann, who came forward and told the Lord of the Mountains, “Lord Tamor, since Tamorine is free now, we have become betrothed, with Tamran’s blessing. She will be my Lady, and help with all that there is still left to do to rebuild Li’is and deal with the last of our enemies. I would not expect her to be content with less.” Tamor smiled. “Certainly you two brave warriors are destined to be together! My blessings to you both.” Baran, Brann’s father, who had also waited for the happy reunion of Tamorine’s family, now said, “That is excellent news, Brann, my son. I shall be honoured to welcome such a daughter into our family.” Tamorine’s mother said, “Ah, I never thought I would be able to prepare for my daughter’s wedding! Praise Light that all is resolved so well.” “I am afraid I do not even know your name, Lady”, Brann confessed, and was answered with a warm smile. “My name is Ranella”, she replied, “and I am very glad to meet you, Brann.”

Tamorine said, “There are still many tasks to be done before we can think of a wedding, Mother.” Baran nodded, and said, “We have made a start. Trees have been felled and are being prepared for ship-building.” At his words, Brann looked up towards the hill that overlooked the Harbour. The Harbour Town rose up its lower slope, and in the forest above it there were signs of work , gaps where trees had been felled and tracks where they had been dragged down to the Harbour workshops. Baran continued, ” Our people have been able to move back into the Town, and those at risk to come down from the caves. We have turned the largest cave into a Place of Prayer for the Lightfriends.” Rafel spoke now. “We have not yet met, Lord Baran, Lord Tamor. I am Rafel, the Lightstone-Bearer.” “We have not met”, Tamor answered, ” but we have heard of you from the Lightfriends, and your coming to help us drive the Darkness from Li’is. We are grateful – to you and to Light.” “We had not known of Light before”, Baran added, ” but now the Lightfriends have shown us the Way of Light, and we have accepted it. It is the only Way for the people of Li’is.” “Baran and I have discussed our plans for the future, when the Darkness has been driven out of the East also”, Tamor went on. “We have revived the plan for an extension of the Harbour Town, since we will need a new City to replace the one that the Dark Lord occupied. The Lightfriends have told us that it will remain uninhabitable because of the curse of Darkness upon it.” “That is so”, Rafel assented. “The Lightfriends have told you of the Dancers? They will keep the Dark City ruins sealed against the Dark Lords, but no one can dwell there.” “We have heard of the Dancers”, Baran said. “I would like one day to see them. But for now we are happy to know that they guard our world.” “We of the Mountains will work with our brothers of the Forest – or the Harbour, now that you have regained it – to fell the trees and drain the marshes to create the City”, Tamor said. “But that is for the future, when the last of our enemies are dealt with.” “Tamran and I had discussed such a plan”, Brann said. “I am glad that we are of like mind.” “We have cleared the road to the Fortress, now that the Harbour has been secured”, Tamor said. “No need to ascend by the Stairway now, and we can move freely between the Harbour and the Fortress.”

Now that the leaders of their forces had led the way, the rest of them came forward to greet friends and kin and mingle together to tell their story. Baran said, “We have prepared a welcome and a homecoming meal at my house, to which all are invited. We must do honour to our returning forces, and to the Lightstone-Bearer, who have defeated the Dark Lord and also freed the Seacoast Town of the Children of Night who remained.” Brann said, “We heard that those who fled the defeat here in the Harbour Town took ship for the East despite the Two-Moon Tide. Is anything known of them?” His father replied, “It is presumed that the ships were overwhelmed by the Tide, since some wreckage was washed up in the Harbour. I suppose it is possible that some may have survived and been cast up on the Western shores. We will send your ships to search, if the Shipfathers are willing, and make sure.” “The Children of Night we took prisoner have been sent to their Dark masters in Ma’al, by the power of the Lightstone and the Dancers”, Tamran told them. “When we have reached the Eastern Continent, we must overcome their garrisons there. The Dancers say there is another way there from Ma’al, which the Dark Lords made by their sorcery, their first entrance into Li’is. The Children of Night who survive our attack will also be sent into Ma’al , and that doorway too sealed by the Dancers. ” “There was a Lord of the East”, Baran replied, “before the Dark Lord came, and the East was overwhelmed. If any of his Heirs are still living, the Lordship of the East can be restored.” “Some of the Lightfriends will come with us when we sail East”, Rafel said, “and I will ask for volunteers to remain in the East and teach the Way of Light there too.”

They crossed to the house of the Lord of the Harbour, now restored to Baran’s ownership, where , as he had said, tables and benches had been set out in the spacious grounds, for though the house was not small, it did not have room for all the returning forces, Ketai, and Lightfriends to sit and eat. Before the meal, however, they gathered, closely packed, in the main Hall of the house, to hear thanks and congratulations from the Lords and people of Harbour and Fortress. Then Rafel led them in a time of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to Light, and spoke a Meal-blessing, before they ate. Brann, seeing Roth among those gathered, asked, “Is it well with you, Roth? How go the wedding plans?” “All is prepared”, Roth replied, with a smile, “but we were waiting for our friends to return safely and join us in the celebration.” He paused, then added, “I think we will be the first in Li’is to be wed under the Rule of Light – unless you and your betrothed wed first!” “We will leave that honour to you and your bride”, Brann laughed, “since we still have work to do. I do not think Tamorine and I will be wed till after the East has been regained.” Roth looked thoughtful. “In all the history of Li’is”, he said, “there never was a maiden like Tamorine, such a valiant warrior. It seems Light meant her for this time – and for you, Brann. I wonder what you two will accomplish together, with Light’s aid?” “As long as it is in the Will of Light”, Brann answered him, “we will do what needs to be done. Light and the Lightstone-Bearer will guide us.” Brann’s cousin Jamin joined them, with Tavan in tow, enquiring after Javan. “Tavan said he was mending”, Jamin said, “when last the Lightstone-Bearer asked his Brothers-in-Light for news of the wounded.” “He is”, Brann reassured him. “No danger of the Wound-Fever, and he is healing well, but slowly, and still in some pain. He cannot be moved yet.” Jamin sighed. “As long as he lives, and returns home when he can, I am content.”

Brann excused himself and returned to Tamorine and Tamran, who were with Baran and Tamor. Tamor smiled at him. “We were discussing the wounded at the Lightfriends’ haven “, he said. Brann replied “Ah, Jamin was just asking me for news of his brother.” “When we return to the Fortress we will prepare for when they may be moved”, Tamor told him. “We can reach the haven easily from the Fortress, and bring them back there.” “They can rest at the Fortress”, Tamorine said, “and when your men are fit for more travel, they can return to the Harbour.” “Some of our Mountain folk will stay here at the Harbour”, Tamran added, “to help with the tree felling for the ships. Baran told us there are still shipwrights and ship-building sheds here, since the mercenaries forced them to work on their ships. The skills have been passed down, along with their resentment against the Dark ones. ” Baran laughed. “From what I have been told”, he said, “I do not think some of the enforced repairs were made as carefully as they might have been. I believe some of the ships’ crews were forewarned, and made their escape secretly in the small boats during the night, leaving the ships to founder, with the supplies meant for their captors , and some mercenaries, lost. Li’is has fought back in small ways, until you defeated the Dark Lord. Now we we shall take the fight to their last outpost and be rid of them.” Tamor said, “When we return to the Fortress we will send out messengers to the villages along the edge of the Great Moor, and the villages and towns of the Western Farmlands, to tell of his defeat. They may have heard rumours of it, but we must ensure they know the truth.” Brann wondered, “Might there still be mercenary raiding parties out and about, though, not knowing what has happened to the Dark City and its Lord?” “It is a possibility”, Tamor answered, “But we will be careful. We will not send lone messengers.” “We will need experienced mariners, if we are to sail to the East”, Tamorine said now. “Will we have enough?” “We will”, Baran assured her. “Like others, they have been held in bondage, forced to work for the Dark Lord and his mercenaries, and the skills they passed down the generations used only for the benefit of their captors. They too are eager to take the fight to the East and be rid of the mercenaries there.” “Then as soon as the ships are ready and our forces gathered, we can sail for the East”, Brann said.

Tamor went on “We will not be idle at the Fortress, either. We intend to build onto it, to make it a proper garrison for our people and a place of refuge, and a stronghold to guard the Spearcleft Pass against any further invasion. It is our thinking, too, that perhaps when our fight against the Dark ones is done, we should join together and establish another Fortress in the West, to guard those shores and their farmlands and communities.” “That would certainly be useful”, Brann commented. Rafel, who had been talking to some of the Lightfriends and Ketai, now joined them, with Ket-Jal, in time to hear Tamor’s last remarks. He said, “Ah, the West. We wished to speak with you about that.” The Lords of Harbour and Mountains looked at him with curiosity, and he went on,” Now that we are safe in Li’is and the Lightfriends can teach the Way of Light without danger, and establish homes here, the Ketai will be free of their vow to protect us, and can return to their old way of life, though we shall never forget the service they have done us.” Ket-Jal spoke now. ” If the Ketai are to live as herders and horse-breeders, as before, we will need lands. We have seen that the Plateau of the West is not much regarded by the people of Li’is, but it is perfectly suited for our needs. If we were granted those uplands, we could live there and also protect the Western Farmlands until the new Fortress is built, and guard the way across the Plateau to the Seacoast Town and its villages.” Baran looked at Tamor, and said, “I see no objection to that, if you agree, Lord Tamor. Those lands are unpeopled and we would not be displacing anyone in giving them to the Ketai.” “I agree”, Tamor said. “The Ketai have been faithful allies in the battle against the Dark Lord, and we should show them our gratitude. Ket-Jal is prepared to keep watch over the Western lands too. It is an arrangement which benefits everyone.” Brann said, “I would be very willing to give your people the uplands, Ket-Jal, but would they not be very cold in winter? You say you live in tents, and they would not provide much protection from bad weather. ” Ket-Jal smiled, “Oh, our tents are perhaps sturdier than you think, Brann. But if it is too cold, we might seek shelter among the Western towns. Our women are fine weavers, and could continue with their craft and sell their fabrics in the towns.” “And once the Western Fortress is built”, Tamorine contributed, “the Ketai could overwinter there, and be part of the Watch.” “We have means”, Ket-Jal said, “to buy cattle and horses once we are settled, and can breed and sell them to support ourselves. we need not be a burden on the people of Li’is.” Everyone was satisfied, with the arrangement, and so it was agreed.

The feasting and celebrations came to an end, with Rafel and the Lightfriends leading them all in a prayer of thanksgiving. Now it was time for partings. Gamlin and Kerrin had agreed to stay at the Harbour with some of the Mountain forces, to help with the work there, but Tamor, Tamran and Tamorine, with the rest of the forces, must return to the Fortress. Tamor explained, ” When Tamran did not return, we held a ceremony where Tamorine was accepted by all the Forest people as my Heir. Now that Tamran has returned, we must hold another ceremony, to show that she freely relinquishes the place of Heir to her brother, and to honour her for her time and work as Heir.” Brann said, “I am sorry to be parted from you, Tamorine, my heart. But I am Heir to the Harbour, and this is where I must be, to work with my father and our people and our brothers of the Mountains as we prepare for the attack on the East.” “I know”, she answered him, “and when the time comes to sail, I will be back to fight alongside you, with Tamran.” Tamor gathered his forces and family ready to depart. Brann noticed that Ranella, Tamorine and Tamran’s mother, mounted the horse which had been brought for her as easily as the others. Now that the road from the Fortress had been reopened, they could ride between there and the Harbour. Brann took Tamorine in a tender farewell embrace before she mounted, and watched the party as they rode off, followed by the Mountain Swordsmen. He felt very strange, not only because Tamorine was his love, but because she was also his Sword-Brother and comrade. He felt he was losing a part of himself. Then he chided himself for his emotion. She had not gone forever, they were betrothed and she was within easy riding distance. But each of them had plenty to do still in the fight against Darkness.

A busy time ensued for all. In the Harbour it was discovered that though the fleeing mercenaries had taken all the ships tied up at the Harbour in their vain attempt to escape, there were two vessels moored at the jetty by the repair sheds awaiting repair, and little needed to be done to make them seaworthy. They had the two ships that had carried Brann and Tamorine and the others from the Seacoast Town, so the shipwrights would not have so much work to do after all, making new ships. Two more would suffice. The Shipfathers and their mariners had been augmented by other crews which had escaped the mercenaries before they sailed, and all of them were angered by the loss of the sailors who had been forced to sail into the deadly Two-Moon Tide and lost their lives. They wanted to avenge them by doing their part in attacking the mercenaries of the East. Tree felling was still going on and the timbers sawn to provide materials for the new ships, metalworkers were doing their part, and sailworkers preparing the sails. Work had begun too on the draining of the swampy ground near the site of the proposed new City, since it was not the season for the Swamp Fever and they wanted to get as many drainage ditches dug as possible before it was too dangerous to continue. The LIghtfriends were teaching the Way of Light and helping those who needed the aid of their Perception, Rafel leading them in that, and in the establishment of the Place of Prayer in the cavern that had been a refuge for the vulnerable and which it was hoped would one day form the focus of a Temple of Light, when the City came to be built. Brann was occupied with all of this, along with his Sword-Brethren of Harbour and Fortress, and though he missed Tamorine’s presence, he did not have much time to be alone with his thoughts of her. He hoped she was just as busy at the Fortress and happy with her family, and that she knew he would be thinking of her. It was not until several weeks had passed that he had an opportunity to see her. Baran had a message to be taken to Tamor, about the progress with the ships, and had suggested that Gamlin should carry it, but Gamlin smiled, and said, “I think, Lord Baran, that you have a messenger who would be more welcome than I, if you can spare Brann. My Lady Tamorine would be delighted to see him. ” Baran laughed, and agreed, and so it was Brann who set off riding up the reopened road that rose up the flank of the mountain to the Fortress.

He was joyful at the thought of seeing Tamorine again, and glad when he heard the thunder of the Falls of Vandar that told him he was nearing the Fortress. He recalled the climb up the Stairway beside the Falls, and was glad that he did not have to go that way today. Though the air had been mild, it was growing chillier, and he was glad of his cloak as he came out on the Fortress Level under the shadow of the mountain. After riding across the Fortress Level to the gates of the Fortress, Brann answered the challenge of the guards and was admitted. Enquiring the whereabouts of the Lord of the Mountains, he was directed to the Great Hall. As he entered, he brushed past a woman in a hooded cloak, who was leaving the building. “Oh, your pardon, Lady…” he began, but was stopped by a burst of laughter. She threw back her hood, and exclaimed, “Oh, Brann, do you not recognise your betrothed?” He stared, then laughed too. Used to her in male attire and battle harness, he had indeed not recognised Tamorine, at first. Now he gazed at her in admiration. She wore a gown of a deep forest green embroidered with gold thread, and her cloak was in a thicker, plain fabric of the same green, held with a gold pin. The colour made her eyes seem more green than hazel. Her honey-coloured hair was loose, held with a golden circlet round her brow. She laughed again at his surprised gaze, and teased him, “What, my love, have you never seen a woman before?” “Not this one!”, he laughed, “Where is my Sword-Brother?” Suddenly serious, she answered, “I am and always will be your Sword-Brother, my heart”. “I know”, he said, and took her in his arms. “But do not think I do not admire this new Tamorine. My Lady of the Mountains…” He bent and kissed her, and felt her warm response. “Where were you going?”, he asked her, “Do I interrupt an errand?” “No, I was coming to meet you. The guards sent word that you were coming here.” “I bring a message from my father to Lord Tamor”, he told her, “and of course I wished to see you, my love.” She smiled at him, and said, “I have missed you. But it is good to know that all is going well.” “My father wished to tell Lord Tamor that we are progressing well. We shall have our fleet soon, and then we must deal with the renegades in the East.” We make progress here too”, Tamorine answered. ” Tamran is reinstated as Heir, our people were so glad to see him return. He has undertaken to make some changes to the Stairway, so it is less dangerous to climb if we need to use that way at any time. It can be easily defended if need be. And my grandfather is obtaining stone and other building materials to reinforce the Fortress. The Lightfriends have been teaching the Way of Light, and we are hopeful that in a few days we can bring back those who were at the haven and return them to the families. Some of the Lightfriends intend to stay there, and make it their base to reach out to the villagers round about, since we sent out messengers to tell them that the Dark Lord was defeated and they could return safely to their homes.”

They went into the Great Hall and found Lord Tamor and Tamran there. They were pleased to see Brann, and to hear his report. “We are moving on well”, Tamran commented. Brann said “Tamorine tells me you intend to bring home those from the haven.” “Yes”, Tamran replied. “The Lightfriends here have been in contact with those at the haven and all are well enough to be moved now, even those who were most seriously wounded. Your cousin Javan is among them, and has made a good recovery.” “Ah, that is good”, Brann said, ” his brother Jamin will be relieved, and Tavan his other cousin too.” “Li’is is changing for the better already”, Tamran said. “The people are accepting the Way of Light and are grateful to the Lightfriends for their part in the defeat of the Dark Lord.” “Have they been told that the Lightstone-Bearer and the Lightfriends, and the Ketai, have come from Ma’al?” Brann asked. “I wondered how we could explain that without causing fear.” “No”, Tamor explained, “we thought it best to say only that they had come from the North to teach the Way of Light and fight against the Darkness. That is true, as far as it goes, and will not cause alarm.” “Then I will tell my father to say the same to any who enquire”, Brann agreed, “though for now there is such relief at the Dark Lord’s downfall and such need to restore life to normal, that such questions, I think, are far from the minds of the people. Is Marvis here?” Brann asked then, thinking to renew acquaintance with the man who had begun all this for him, but Tamorine answered, “Not at the moment. He has gone to visit his son at his foster mother’s.” “How does the babe fare?” Brann enquired. “He is thriving”, Tamor replied, “and a source of great joy to Marvis, something to live for since the rest of his family were destroyed. You did well by him, Brann.”

Having delivered his message and spent some time in discussion with Tamor and Tamran, Brann was free to spend some time with Tamorine before he returned to the Harbour. They went out of the Fortress gates and across the Fortress Level to the head of the Falls of Vandar. The White River’s tributaries, rising as broad streams from underground springs by the rocky wall of the Fortress Cave, gathered together here and hurled themselves over the Falls in a rush of white water. Tamorine pointed out the beginning of Tamran’s work on the Stairway beside it. The rough foot and hand holds were being deepened and new ones cut out. “It will still be the difficult way to reach us here”, she said, “but easier for a friend to climb in time of danger, and one man could still defend the head of the Stairway.” She looked back over her shoulder at the memorial stone she had shown Brann when they had first met, and added “I am glad that it will be the Stairway that is Tamran’s memorial, not that stone.” Brann asked, “How has it been with you here, now that Tamran has returned? I know you were glad to have him restored as Heir, but it must have felt strange to you to step down from the place you have held for so long.” “I am so glad to have my brother back, that nothing else here mattered”, she replied, ” but Tamran has been insistent that I share in decisions as before. And if he had not accomplished his task and returned to us, you and I could not have been betrothed. I owe him so much.” “Then so do I”, Brann said. He took her hand, and went on, “When we have regained the Eastern lands – and with Light’s aid we will – then we can think of our own future, my heart.” Tamorine smiled. “One more battle together, Brann, and Li’is will be free. Then we can wed.”

FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 13

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 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.”


FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 12

It was a tiring few days of steady uphill marching and camping before they reached the level plateau of the tableland. They made better time on the flat grasslands and the weather was in their favour. Brann thought that while the tableland might be benevolent in good weather, it might be a different tale if the weather turned. Sandwiched as it was between the Western Mountains and the tail of the Seacoast Mountains, with the Great Bay of open ocean beyond the Seacoast Mountains, storms and winds would surely sweep across it with some force. The Ketai, though, seemed to find the grasslands to be the kind of territory they enjoyed, and to feel quite at home here. After a day’s march and a night’s rest in the travelling tents, they set off again, keeping a lookout as they went for any enemies who might be about. Ket-Jal, marching at the head of the column with Brann, Tamorine, Rafel, and the other leaders, suddenly paused, and held up his hand. They came to a halt, and he pointed ahead of them. His keener eyes had seen a huddled shape lying on the grasslands ahead. Perhaps an enemy, asleep? In any case it was only one man, and they outnumbered him. “If we capture him, he may give us information about the mercenaries”, the Ket said. They approached cautiously, so as not to wake the sleeper, but when they drew near they saw that he was beyond waking. It was a dead man who lay there. Brann glanced round. Had the man been killed by mercenaries for his goods? For he was obviously not a mercenary. The body was that of an elderly man, richly dressed, well-fleshed and with signs that his face, now pale and yellowish in death, had been florid in life. His expression showed no peace in his last sleep, rather a sulky peevishness. They could see no signs of violence on the body, though a pack that lay beside him was disturbed and the contents strewn about. Brann called Forin, the Healer, and asked him “He was not slain with weapons. Do you see any sign that he was strangled?” Forin knelt to examine the body, then lifted the man’s hand and examined it. He looked up at Brann. “Over-fed and pampered”, he said, “and certainly not used to such travelling. Like enough he took a seizure of the heart which killed him, and others chanced on his body and stripped it of valuables. See…” he lifted the hand he had been examining, and went on “he had been wearing rings, and they have been removed, but not by force. It is only the marks the rings left from wearing that show they were there.”

Rafel had drawn out the Lightstone and was gazing into it, casting out his Perception. When he lowered the Stone again, he said ” I perceive Children of Night, but at a far distance. We need not fear any attack here.” There was nothing they could do with the body but to shroud it in its own cloak, and they moved on across the grasslands. After some time it began to draw near to dusk, and Ket-Jal said “We are nearing a spring and a few trees that I remember from our journey before. We should make camp where we have water.” They all agreed, and the Ketai led them to the place. When they arrived they saw that others had been there before them, for there were signs of a campfire, but it was long cold and dead, and with Rafel’s previous reassurance, they had no concerns. The Ketai set up their tents, using the sparse shelter of the trees, and they settled to a quick meal. As it grew darker the air cooled, and Brann thought that they would be glad of the shelter of the tents. When they had finished their meal, Rafel called them to the Evening Prayers, and when he had their attention, he commanded “Children of Light, look up, and behold the workmanship of Light.” Curious at this, they did as he said. Night had fallen, and above them, in the clear air of the high tableland, the stars and moons shone clearer and brighter than any of them had ever seen. The larger of the moons of Li’is, the Shield , was high and almost full, throwing silvery light down on them. The smaller, swifter moon, the Hound, was low on the horizon and in the lower lands would have been barely visible, though it was waxing. Up here, though , it seemed much nearer and larger. The stars were brilliant, scattered on the background of dark sky in glittering bands and constellations. Tamorine exclaimed “Oh, how beautiful!” Brann felt a sense of awe enfold him, and all of them gazed in wonder. When Rafel began the Evening Prayers, it seemed to Brann that there was a depth of praiseful response greater than he had known before, and afterwards, all of them were silent for a while, as if each communed privately with Light. Later, Brann said quietly to Rafel “I feel that we grew in Light tonight, Rafel. ” The Lightstone-Bearer smiled, and said, “It is always Light’s Way, that we grow in Light, Brann.”

From custom they posted guards, though it seemed unlikely any danger could come upon them without Rafel and the Lightfriends Perceiving it. All was well in the night, though, and they slept well. Their routine of prayers, meals, and setting up or dismantling camp were now well established, and with the guidance of the Ketai, who had been quick to memorise the landscape of Li’is in their journeyings, and the Perception of the Lightfriends to guard against unseen dangers, they made an undisturbed crossing of the tableland in a couple of days, and stood on the edge of it, looking down a gentle slope that led to farmland, some of it unkempt and deserted where its occupants had fled, but other parts still showing signs of habitation and cultivation. Beyond the farmlands the road led on towards the Seacoast Town, which they could see dimly in the distance. To the East the Great Bay swept round in a huge curve, a few fishing villages dotted along it, though they could not see whether the villages were inhabited, or the boats pulled up on the shore were seaworthy and in use. Brann, looking across to the distant Seacoast Town, said “The men of the Town have told us what they could, but I think we should not rely on what they said. The mercenaries in the Town will have been reinforced by any who fled the Dark City, and if there are those with them who wielded some authority under the Dark Lord, they will likely take command of the mercenaries and not permit them to be as lax in their duties as before.” “Certainly we should take nothing for granted” , Tamorine agreed, “but prepare for fierce opposition.” “Is it likely that the guards on the harbour will have been increased?”, Tamran asked. “They must know no help can reach them from the East, and will surely concentrate their forces on defending the Town.” “If news has reached the Town of the Dark Lord’s defeat, it might hearten those enslaved to rise up against their oppressors” , Gamlin answered his Sword-Brother. “If I had charge, I would guard them more strictly, or keep them, for now, held prisoner in the Town.” “Their supplies, though, are in the harbour stores, by what the men of the Town said.” commented Brann. “They must have them brought into the Town.” “And if their number has been increased by those who fled the Dark City, they will need more supplies.”, added Tamorine.

After further discussion, it was decided that when they neared the Seacoast Town Tamran and Gamlin, with some of their men and the best of the Ketai bowmen, should approach the harbour, while the others attacked the Town. They would take with them two of the Lightfriends, so that the two groups of fighters could be kept in touch through the Thought-without-Words. Brann was a little concerned about the farmlands between their present position and the Town, wondering if those farms still under cultivation might harbour those in league with the mercenaries, or under their guard. He did not think there would be enough opposition there to do them any harm, but it might delay them and give the mercenaries in the Town more time to prepare a defence. Certainly they could not approach the Town unobserved, and any there who had fled from the Dark City would surely recognise them as those who had attacked and defeated it. Brann called Rull forward and asked about the inhabited farms. Rull said “They are forced to work the land and produce food for the mercenaries and feed for their horses. The mercenaries hold members of their families hostage in the Town to ensure that they do as they are ordered. They will not betray us if they realise that we are moving against the mercenaries, for they hate them.” “That is good”, said Tamran, ” for they will give no warning of our approach. The closer we can get without being recognised, the better.” They had called for the Townsman who had given them information about the harbour to go with Tamran’s force, to guide them, and as they neared the Town Tamran and Gamlin and those allocated to them peeled off from the main force and followed their guide round the outside of the stockade to the road that led to the harbour. Brann, Tamorine, Rafel and Ket-Jal led the rest of their fighters towards the Town gate.

As they had been told, the Seacoast Town was not as strongly defended as the Dark City. The stockade around the town was not high and there were no bowmen to fire down on them as before. The stockade and gates were of timber, not stone, and Ket-Jal said, “If need be, we could use fire arrows to burn the stockade, but I would not do that unless forced to. We do not know what buildings may be close to the stockade, and who is in them. I do not wish to risk innocent lives in destroying the Children of Night.” They all agreed with that. Their approach had been seen, and as they neared the gates they saw mercenaries hurrying to close and bar them. A hail of arrows from the Ketai cut some down and slowed their progress, and before the gates could be fully shut, Brann and Tamorine’s forces were upon them and fighting to stop them closing. Resistance was fierce, but they forced their way through, fighting hard all the way. As they fought with the mercenaries, Brann observed a man standing behind their ranks, shouting orders. He was not a mercenary, though he wore a breastplate over a long robe of fine wine-coloured cloth. Evidently some follower of the Dark Lord, Brann thought, who had escaped the Dark City and taken charge here. Ket-Jal had observed him too, and called back to his bowmen, who loosed their arrows and took the man down, along with more of the mercenaries. On seeing this, some of the mercenaries deserted their comrades and fled back into the Town, while others stood their ground. The fighting was desperate, but with depleted forces the mercenaries could not hold out long against the determined onslaught, and those not killed were soon taken captive and disarmed. They were herded into a nearby building and bound. The Healers, true to their vows of impartiality and service to Light, tended their wounded, guarded by the Ketai. After that, all the mercenaries were locked in and guarded. Meanwhile Brann, Tamorine, and their forces moved on, sweeping through the Town for other mercenaries and Children of Night. The people of the Town, realising what was happening, now turned on their captors, revealing their hiding places to their pursuers. Some of the Townspeople formed a group armed with makeshift weapons, and herded some of the Children of Night towards Brann and Tamorine and the others. Meanwhile the Swordsmen and those Ketai not guarding the Lightfriends sought out and captured the last of the mercenaries. More buildings were pressed into service as prisons, until the captives could be dealt with. Rafel, gazing into the Lightstone, reached out to the Lightfriends by the harbour in the Thought-without-Words. When he raised his head again, he told them “Tamran and the others have taken the harbour, freed the slaves of the Dark Ones, and imprisoned those mercenaries not slain. We have control of the Town.”

Brann said “What now, Rafel? What are we to do with the mercenaries and Children of Night? To slay an enemy in battle is one thing, but we cannot kill them in cold blood, and we cannot set them free. Must we keep them prisoner till they die? That would be a burdensome task.” Rafel replied. “We will deal with them according to the Will of Light, and I must search out that Will with the power of the Lightstone. They are safe enough for now, and cannot harm any.” The people of the Town had begun crowding round with ecstatic thanks and questions, and though their intentions were good, confusion was setting in. Brann raised his voice and shouted “People of the Town, hear me!” Slowly the hubbub stilled, and Brann said, more quietly ” We will explain all to you later, when we have had time to confer. Rull the Smith is a man some of you know, and can tell you part of what has happened. For now, be content to know that you and your Town are safe, and you can begin to rebuild your lives. ” Someone in the crowd called “But the Dark Lord is defeated, so we heard?” “Defeated, and sent back to his own dark world.” Brann answered. He turned to Rull, and said softly, “Rull, you and your friends from the Town who were with us must be our voice for now. ” Rull nodded, and said “We will explain what we can.” Rafel told him “We will call the people together later, and tell them of Light, but for now they must settle down and go back to their homes.” Rull smiled, and turned to speak himself to the murmuring crowd. “Friends, we have our Town again”, he called. “Let us retake our homes and our businesses. In due time we may again be a Town of merchants and artisans, instead of slaves. For myself, I go to my old forge.” He stepped into the crowd amid murmured agreement. Some of them followed him, evidently asking questions, others began to move away in other directions to do as he had said. Brann gave a sigh of relief, and said “Let us find a place to gather, and tend the wounded, and make our plans.” “There is a Town Building” Rafel said. “I Perceived it in the thought of some. Shut up and used by the mercenaries, but we can take it over now.”

They followed Rafel as he went unerringly towards the Town Building, guided by his Perception. The doors were open and the building showed signs of the mercenaries’ hasty exit to fight against them, but they quickly set some rooms to rights. Leaving the Healers to tend to those who had been wounded, fortunately none seriously, in one of the larger rooms, and the Ketai and their other troops to relax and recover from their efforts in another, the leaders found a third room to rest themselves and discuss what to do next. They found chairs in the room and seated themselves in a semi-circle. Tamorine spoke first. “The Dark City and the Seacoast Town are dealt with, so if our Lords have succeeded in recapturing the Harbour, we will have destroyed all the nests of Dark Ones here. But there is still the Eastern Continent.” Rafel answered “We must consolidate our hold here before we think of the Eastern Continent. And the people must learn of Light before they can stand against Darkness – as you and your forces did.” Brann said “The Dark Lord has gone. What can they do in the East but hold it? They can expect no help from here, now, and they will not sail here either.” “There may be subordinates of the Dark Lord there, though”, Tarn suggested, “maybe even those who came out of Ma’al too.” “There are no more people of Ma’al there”, Rafel assured him. “It is not easy for the Dark Ones to make a passage between Ma’al and Li’is. It requires much power and sorcery, and their power, unlike Light’s, is not limitless. They could not send an army, or they would. They can only send one powerful being to subvert and corrupt the people of Li’is and bend them to his will – the Dark Lord.” “Then should we send the prisoners we hold to the East, until we can deal with all of them there?” Gamlin asked.” Then at least the Western continent would be free of them.” “By no means!” Brann exclaimed. “We should not reinforce their numbers!” Rafel bent his gaze to the Lightstone again, and they waited in silence until he lifted his head again, and said “I have told Tamran, through the Lightfriends there, to bring his prisoners to be put with ours, so that he and the others can have some rest here too. The Townspeople have returned to their homes. And I have sought Light’s answer to the problem of the prisoners. The answer has not yet come, but I am assured it will.”

They relaxed in silence for a while, considering the next steps to be taken. After a while Brann said, “Rafel, will the Thought-without-Words reach to the Harbour? Then we would know if my father and Lord Tamor have succeeded.” Rafel replied ” Sadly, no, Brann. I could reach to our haven, with the aid of the Lightstone, but the Lightfriends there could not reach those at the Harbour.” Tamorine sighed. “I wish we could know for certain!” A shadow appeared in the doorway just then, and Tamran came in. “Know what, Tamorine?” , he asked. Brann explained as Tamran pulled a chair into the half-circle and sat down, stretching his arms above his head as if weary. Tamran said ” Light is with them, as with us. Surely they will succeed. And the moons are full”, he added , in reference to the Two-Moon Tide, “so the waves will be high and there will be no escape from the Harbour.” Silence settled again, for they were all weary, though all of them spoke silently, inwardly, in gratitude to Light for their victories. Brann was about to suggest that they should adjourn their deliberations and get some food and rest, when Rafel lifted his head as he did when he Perceived something. “What is it, Rafel?” asked Ket-Jal, but before the Lightstone-Bearer could reply, there was a sudden thickening of the air, and a Dancer shimmered into being , appearing in front of their half-circle of seats. Most of them were still unused to the beauty and power of the light-beings and gazed in wonder. The Dancer’s thought extended to them, as it ‘said’ “You wish for news of the Harbour. The Lords of the Mountains and the Harbour have retaken it, and the Dark Ones are vanquished.” “That is wonderful news!”, Brann exclaimed. “Thank you for bringing it, Dancer.” “Prisoners?” Gamlin enquired, his practical mind still concerned with that problem. The Dancer ‘said’ “There are none. The Children of Night who held the Harbour and its town in subjection, when they saw their mercenaries were defeated, and they would be captured, took a ship by force. They made those mercenaries left alive go with them, and set sail for the East.” “But it is the Two-Moon Tide!” Brann said. The Dancer’s answer came .”They took no thought for that, in their panic. They thought they could reach safety in the East, and return to retake the Harbour.” “Then they will die.” Brann said.” If they were near the coast they might be shipwrecked and escape, but a ship out on the open ocean in the Two-Moon Tide is doomed for certain.”

The Dancer continued “The Lightstone-Bearer has sought Light’s Will as to the prisoners you hold, and what your next steps should be. I am sent to tell you that your answer will come tomorrow. Meanwhile you should eat and rest to restore your strength.” Before they could question further, the light-being blinked out of their sight. There was a moment’s pause, then Rafel said, “Praise Light, we know now that all our plans have succeeded, though I did not doubt Light’s victory.” Brann said “The Dancer said you would receive Light’s answer tomorrow. Perhaps the Dancer will return then. ” “Perhaps”, Rafel agreed, “but for now let us take the Dancer’s advice. It has been a long and wearisome day. Whatever else happens tomorrow, we will need to begin the education of the Townspeople in the Way of Light.” None of them demurred, for all of them were feeling the effects of the day’s events, coming on top of the long march from the Dark City. Brann and Tamorine first went, though, to see how their wounded fared, but finding no cause for concern, they accepted the Healers’ reassurances and went to make a rough meal and seek out places to sleep. Next morning, Brann’s first thought was of the Dancer’s promise, and he wondered what instructions would come to Rafel, and how. When he spoke to the Lightstone-Bearer after the Morning Prayers , however, Rafel admitted that, as yet, he had had no news. He had sent out some of the Lightfriends to help the Townspeople and explain who the Lightfriends were, and why they had come to Li’is. He hoped the people would warm to the Lightfriends, and they would then be able to begin teaching about Light. Brann asked “Did the Ketai go with them?” “The Ketai are watching over them, but from a distance.” Rafel replied. “The Townspeople have never seen Lightfriends, and our eyes, which show our Perception, will be strange to them and must be explained. The presence of the Ketai would be another strangeness, and it is better that they do not have too much to understand at once.” “They saw the Ketai with us yesterday, fighting against the Dark Ones.” Brann commented, but Rafel said “In all the turmoil they had no time to notice their difference, but now things are quieter, they will begin to question. That is why we Lightfriends must explain ourselves, and show that we are not on the side of Darkness.”

Brann went to seek out Tamorine. They had had little enough time together, and he wanted to be with her for a while. He found her with her brother , but Tamran, sensitive to them, made an excuse and left them alone together. Brann smiled at her, and said “Your brother is very understanding, my heart.” She smiled back, and said, “Light has blessed me, Brann. There were two I loved and thought lost to me – you, and my brother. And Light has restored both to me.” “Praise Light!” he exclaimed, and took her in an embrace. After a while, she said , “Things go well, Brann, and Light is with us. We must wait for Light’s word to come to Rafel now, and there will be more to do before all is well in Li’is, but I have great hope.” “As I do”, he replied, “and what I hope for most is that it will not be too long a wait before I can take you as my Lady, before Light.” She smiled at that, and reached to kiss his cheek. Brann said, “Let us go to the room where we took counsel yesterday, and see if Rafel is there and if he has any news now.” They had all decided on the previous day to keep that room for the leaders to make their plans, so Brann and Tamorine were surprised to see , when they entered the room, a Swordsman standing by the half-circle of chairs, as if waiting for someone. Not a Swordsman of his, Brann knew, and since Tamorine showed no sign of recognition either, he challenged the young man. “Who are you, Swordsman? What do you want here?” The man looked at them, and said “I am Mihel, Lord Brann of the Forest. I am waiting for Rafel, the Lightstone-Bearer. I have a message for him.” Brann looked closely at the Swordsman. He was quite unremarkable, average of height and build, with light brown hair and eyes, and a face pleasant enough but easily forgettable, with no distinguishing features. That did not reassure Brann, for someone of such ordinary appearance would be an ideal agent of Darkness, able to mingle with a crowd and disappear without being noticed. Brann could not shake off the feeling that the man was not as ordinary as he looked. Could he even be a Shape-Changer? But they were Lords of Darkness, powerful, and the Dancer had said there were no more such in Li’is. He was about to question the man further when Rafel came into the room. Brann said, “Rafel, this Swordsman, Mihel, says he has come with a message for you. Do you know him?” Rafel looked at the man, and said, “I do not know him. But I Perceive no Darkness about him.” He asked Mihel “Who do you come from? Who sent me a message.” And the Swordsman answered, “Lightstone-Bearer, I come to you from Light.”

FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 11

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.

FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 10

Brann had all but forgotten the cut on his face, but now Rafel said “Brann, best have that wound cleaned and salved”. Brann said “But it is nothing, Rafel. There are others much worse.” “But you are a commander” the Lightstone-Bearer said “and if the dirt should turn the wound bad, you will be incapacitated.” “Rafel is right, Brann” Tamorine told him, so he nodded , and went to join the less seriously wounded waiting for the Healers’ attention, where he sat with Tarn and Kerrin, talking over the day’s events, until one of the Healers took them to be cared for. Another Healer came to Brann, who felt constrained to apologise for taking his time from others. He explained what Rafel had said,and the Healer smiled, and said “The Lightstone-Bearer speaks truly, Brann. A few moments’ care now will save problems in future, and it will not take much of my time.” The Healer was quick and deft, and Brann’s cut was soon well cleansed, and salved, leaving him free to go his way. He found that the main cavern was much quieter. Some of the Lightfriends and Students had gone to find food for the tired forces, the wounded were in the Healing Place that the Healers had set up, and those left in the place were resting or talking quietly, some cleaning weapons or freeing themselves of the remaining dust from the collapse of the Dark City. Now that the initial confusion of their return had died down, the wounded were settled, and plans left to be made after all had rested, Brann felt he had time to breathe at last. He was hungry and bone-weary, but he could not rest till he had found Tamorine and opened his heart to her. She might reject him, but it would be better than not knowing.

He had not seen her in the Healing Place, nor was she among those waiting in the main cavern for food. In fact, she was nowhere to be seen, and no one he asked had seen her recently. Brann thought that perhaps she was with the Lightstone-Bearer, and so he made his way to Rafel’s Quiet Place, next to the Place of Prayer. The heavy curtain was drawn across the entrance to the Place of Prayer, but Rafel’s Quiet Place was open. Tamorine was not there, but the Lightstone-Bearer was seated in one of the carved chairs, a scroll in his lap. He was not reading it, though, but gazing thoughtfully as if into the distance. Brann was unwilling to break into his meditations, but Rafel, Perceiving Brann’s presence, turned his blue gaze to the Swordsman and asked “Brann? Do you need me?” “I cannot find Tamorine, and I need to speak with her”, Brann answered. “Have you seen her?” “Yes, she is in the Place of Prayer.” “Oh!” Brann exclaimed. “Then I will not disturb her.” But the Lightstone-Bearer’s eyes fixed on his, seeming to Bran to be touched with an inscrutable expression, as he said “I believe you should, Brann.” Brann frowned at this odd comment, but, trusting Rafel, he nodded, and said “Very well”, then turned towards the Place of Prayer. He pulled aside the heavy curtain and went in, letting it swing down behind him again. He felt a shock when he saw Tamorine. She was kneeling before the Crucible, but there was something frighteningly strange in her attitude. She was bowed over so that she was curled almost into a ball, her arms wrapped around herself, her honey-gold hair, unusually unbound, spilling down over her knees. She was rocking a little, as if in pain. Her whole body, Brann realised, spoke agony. He ran to her, in terror that she had some undisclosed wound from the battle, or that some sudden, deadly sickness had overtaken her. Dropping to his knees beside her, he exclaimed “Tamorine, what is it – what is wrong?” When she did not answer, he gently drew back her long hair and lifted her head. He had been very much afraid that he might see blood, but there was none. She had no bodily wounds, but something was hurting her grievously. Her face was wet, running with tears, and there was blood after all, a single bright bead of it on the poor, crushed lip that she had all but bitten through in her efforts to hold back any sound of her grief. Brann, made even more vulnerable to her pain by his love for her, cried out in mingled love and pity “Oh, my heart! What ails you?”

The girl’s mouth opened, as if to answer him, but the only sound that emerged was a painful sob. Brann could not bear her sorrow. He pulled her against him, holding her tight and trying to comfort her. It seemed to Brann that Tamorine relaxed a little in his embrace, and he lifted her face and wiped away her tears. His gaze fixed on her trembling, wounded mouth and he leaned towards her, murmuring her name. Her eyes seemed strangely frightened and she whispered “Brann, no!” But when he gently kissed her, her lips clung sweetly to his, and when the kiss ended and he told her “Tamorine, I love you!” she murmured dreamily, her eyes closed, “Oh Brann, my love!” Brann felt a surge of joy, but it was short-lived. Suddenly Tamorine’s eyes flew open, she stiffened in his arms, pushing him away, and cried “Brann, no! I should not have -” Her voice broke off, and she was crying again, bitterly. Brann, confused and unhappy, asked again “But, Tamorine, what is wrong?” She did not answer his question, but sobbed “Why did you say it? I could have borne it if only you had not said that you – you love me!” “Aye, I love you. And you called me your love -did you not?” A sudden doubt assailed him – yet she had returned his kiss so warmly. “Oh, Brann, I do love you – but I must not love you!” His head was spinning. “What can you mean, Tamorine? If you love me, I want you with me always. I want you for my Lady.” “Brann -no! I cannot – must not – love you. I can never marry you. Oh, I should not have let you love me!” “How could you stop me?” he demanded. “Is it that you are promised – betrothed to another?” “No, Brann. I cannot marry – you, or any.” “But why?” he insisted. “Is it because you are the Heir of the Mountains?” “No!” she cried desperately. “Brann -please do not ask me. Do not do this thing to me!” He was bewildered and angry now, and almost shouted at her, “Tamorine, I will have an answer! I love you, and you say you love me. Yet without any reason, you tell me you must not marry me. What is it that you will not tell me?” “Oh, Brann”, she answered him, sadly, understanding his anger. “Not will not – I cannot tell you. I beg you not to ask me – I cannot expose my shame, and my family’s.” She was weeping again, softly, and her gentle sorrow shamed him. “Tamorine, my love, forgive me! I should not have spoken to you so. But nothing could shame you in my eyes, when I have lived and worked and fought alongside you, and I know there is nothing in you that is ignoble.” But not all his loving or pleading words could persuade her, and in the end, knowing he was only hurting her by his insistence, he fell silent. He hugged her against him to comfort her, and despite her denial of him, she clung to him. Brann felt helpless, defeated, as he never had before any enemy. What was he to do?

After a while, Brann heard the curtain move, and the sound of quiet footsteps, and looked up to see Rafel standing there, gazing down at them. The Lightstone-Bearer’s expression was gentle and compassionate, yet somewhere behind it there was something else – a kind of hidden gladness, Brann thought. Somehow this encouraged the Swordsman, so that he exclaimed impulsively “Rafel, can you not help us? I have told Tamorine that I love her, and she says she loves me too. Yet she says she must not marry me, and cannot tell me why. In the Name of Light, give us aid if you can!” The Lightstone-Bearer answered, steadily, “Perhaps I can. If she permits it, I can tell you why, though Tamorine cannot.” The girl looked up at him, startled. “How should you know, Rafel?” “I do know, Tamorine. Shall I tell him for you?” Her hazel-green eyes widened, and then she nodded slowly, and said, “If you do know – oh, make him understand, Rafel!” Brann and Tamorine were still kneeling, clinging to each other. Now Brann slid into a sitting position, taking Tamorine with him, so that she was more comfortable, but still held close to him. Somehow, he was afraid to let her go. The Lightstone-Bearer began Tamorine’s story. “It was some years ago that this happened, Brann. Tamorine’s brother, Tamran, with Gamlin and some of his other friends were hunting higher up in the Mountains, and she was sent up to them with a message…” Brann watched Tamorine’s face as Rafel spoke. At first she seemed simply astonished that Rafel should know her story, but then, as he continued, the memories of fear and pain and shame twisted her face until she hid it in Brann’s shoulder. The Swordsman listened, appalled ,as Rafel told what had befallen Tamorine. Told how, coming upon four men seated round a campfire, she had thought them, from a distance, to be her brother and his friends. The men, though, had in fact been some of the Dark Lord’s garrison. They had seized Tamorine as, realising her mistake, she had turned to flee. Seized her, and raped her, and eventually beaten her savagely, and left her for dead. And even as Brann struggled to cope with the enormity of his love’s sufferings, Rafel added, sadly, “She was scarcely more than fourteen years old, Brann.”

The pain Brann felt for Tamorine was indescribable. He could utter only a deep, deep groan, as though his soul were ripped apart. Tamorine cried, despairingly, “Oh, Brann, now you see my shame! I could not tell you I was unclean…” “No!” he protested. “Not you! Oh, my poor, innocent love, it is the brutes who did this to you who were unclean, not you…””Tamorine speaks of a law of the Mountains” Rafel cut in. “By the law of her people, a maid or woman in such a case is unclean until her attacker has paid for the deed. Her nearest kinsman must find him and either cause him to come back and wed his victim, or slay him to avenge the attack.” “That is barbaric!” Brann exclaimed. “Why shame the victim so, or force her into such a marriage?” “It is not always a forced marriage” Rafel commented. “It has been known for a couple to arrange matters so if their parents refused a betrothal. But the law is ancient, and perhaps past its time.” He looked at Tamorine who said, almost defiantly ” But it is the way of my people, and a matter of honour.” “Tamorine’s brother left her care and tending to his Sword-Brother Gamlin and the others.” Rafel continued. “He knew he could trust them to carry her to safety, while he went after her attackers. He has never returned.” “And so” Tamorine said, taking up the tale now that the part she had dreaded Brann hearing was told, “knowing that he was lost, and I could never marry or be as other maidens, my grandfather decreed that I should be Heir of the Mountains in my brother’s place.” Brann groaned again. “And I mocked you for it! Oh, Tamorine, if I had known…” “Hush, you have more than made up for it! You have treated me most honourably and kindly, as your equal. That is why…” and she stopped suddenly, but Brann knew she would have said “That is why I love you.” “It is not the law of my people, that you are ‘unclean'”, he said, seeing hope. “By our laws, you may marry me.” “But not by the law of my people”, she answered, then “No, Brann, hear me! It is not pride! Our peoples have been enemies in the past, and were suspicious of each other still. Only this threat of the Dark Lord has united them. Our Swordsmen have learned to trust each other, have become Sword-Brethren and good comrades, and will carry that liking back to the rest of our two peoples. If we defy my people’s law, we may break that new bond, and all hope of unity. Do you not see it? Oh, Brann, Brann, I love you dearly, but not even our love and happiness is worth such a cost!” He looked at her with respect and admiration, but sorrow too. “Oh, you are right, Tamorine. But if there is no way for us, I swear I shall take no other Lady. If I cannot have you, I shall have none.” “Brann, do not make a vow you will regret! You will want sons, heirs…” “Not as much as I want you.” he said, firmly.

The Lightstone-Bearer said “Light is merciful. You asked me for hope, and for my aid, and I will give you what I can.” He smiled gently at them, and held out his hand. “Rise up now, and wait. I shall not be long.” Tamorine took the proferred hand and stood, and Brann too rose to his feet and stood beside her. When Rafel had gone, the Swordsman asked “What can he mean?” “Brann, do you think he can help us?” Brann looked into Tamorine’s eyes. The lids were still heavy from her prolonged weeping. He thought of all she had been through and love and pity and longing for her coalesced into an almost unbearable weight on his heart. He exclaimed fiercely “There must be hope for us! I love you so!” He could not forbear to hold and kiss her then, and she, despite her protests, held tightly to him, returning his kiss. They broke apart as they heard footsteps outside, and the Lightstone-Bearer reappeared, followed by one of the Masked Ones. The man silently removed his hood, and Brann was surprised to see that the man was younger than he had expected. Rafel said, “I want you to meet a friend of mine, who may be able to bring you some good news.” Brann stared at the man, guessing him to be a few years older than himself, though a bushy, dark-blond beard made it hard to judge. His unruly waves of hair were the same colour. Streaks bleached into it by the sun, and the man’s sun-browned face, declared him to be much out of doors, and the poise and movement of his body was that of a Swordsman, unquestionably. Yet he had been one of Rafel’s Students, one of those who had escaped the ravages of the Dark Lord’s mercenaries. The man’s smile, showing a flash of white teeth in the tangle of beard, was open, warm and friendly, as were his grey eyes. Brann knew instantly that the Masked One was to be trusted. He knew, too, though he had never seen the man’s face before, that there was something vaguely familiar about it, something he could not quite place. Then, suddenly, Tamorine screamed. Her hands flew up to her face and she cried “Tamran!” and crumpled, almost fainting, against Brann. For a few moments he was too concerned with her to think of anything else, and then he realised that the other young man had come quickly to their side, and was helping him support Tamorine, gazing down at her with an anxious expression. Looking from one to the other, Brann knew then what it was that was familiar in the man’s face, seeing the resemblance to Tamorine. “You are her brother!” he exclaimed. “Yes, Brann, I am Tamran”, the Masked One answered, bending over his sister. He called to her, gently, “Tamorine, sweet! Little one, hear me. It is Tamran!” Tamorine’s eyes slowly opened , and, as she stared at her brother, filled again with tears. “Oh, Tamran! Dear brother, you have been gone so long. We all thought you were dead!” Brann released her to her brother’s embrace and they hugged joyously. Then Tamran said, sombrely, “Tamorine, I am sorry I have been so long about my task. But one by one I tracked them and found them – and I promise you their ends were not easy, little one, for what they did to you. And today I slew the last of them in battle. At last you are cleansed – free! It is over, sweet sister!” Brann’s heart gave a great leap. Tamorine cried “Tamran – they are dead?” And at his affirmation she gasped, and turned towards Brann. “Oh, then – Brann…” He swept her into his arms and demanded of Tamran, over the honey-golden head, “Tamran – is she free now to marry me?” “Aye!” Tamran smiled. “Rafel has told me what is in your hearts for each other, and I will be happy for Tamorine to be your Lady. I have fought alongside you today and know you are a brave and honourable Swordsman. I am glad she has chosen so well. And I hope we shall be Sword-Brethren, when you know me better.” “Gladly!” Brann answered. Then, softly, to Tamorine, “Well, my heart -now there is nothing to stand in our way, and your brother consents – will you be my Lady?” She lifted a glowing face to answer him “Oh, yes, Brann, yes!” “Light bless you both” Rafel said, smiling.

With all so happily settled, Brann and Tamorine were now eager to hear what had happened to Tamran in the years of his absence, and the four of them returned to Rafel’s Quiet Place . They settled in the chairs to listen, as Tamran began “I left Tamorine with Gamlin, I knew I could trust her to my Sword-Brother. I soon found the track of the mercenaries, but I could not tackle them one to four. I am no coward, but I knew if I were to go against all of them I would likely be killed, and Tamorine would never be free. ” He paused to smile at his sister, and went on. “At last they parted ways, two and two. I tracked one pair and surprised one of them. Despite what he had done, I offered him fair combat, telling him who I was, but he laughed and – he mocked you, Tamorine. He called for his fellow, but I was very angry, and I slew him before the other reached him, then I fought with him too. He was skilful, but I overcame him and he died – but not before I told him why!” He paused, as if, for a moment, reliving that fight, then continued. ” It had taken me some weeks, Tamorine, but two of your attackers were dead. I thought it would not be long before I could deal with the others, and return to tell you you were free. But Light meant it otherwise.” “What happened? ” Tamorine asked.” Why were you gone so long?” “First, I came upon a lonely house, which had been attacked by mercenaries. The man of the house and his wife were dead, but I found two children, boy and girl, who had hidden themselves away. Brave lad, he came at me with an axe, thinking I was another enemy. But I convinced them I meant them no harm, and helped them bury their parents. I could not leave them there, defenceless, and they told me of a village where they had kin, so I took them there. It took me a long distance out of my way, but what else could I do?” “As a Swordsman of Li’is, you did what any Swordsman would.” Brann told him. “I would have done the same.” His mind went back to the attack on Marvis’ farmstead, which had led him to this whole undertaking. Tamran said ” I am glad you agree, Brann. But the detour took time, and I lost the trail of the mercenaries. I had followed them, and listened to them talking, so I knew their names, but not where I might find them. I could not ride up to bands of mercenaries and ask for this or that one! I had to cast about to try to find them, not knowing if they were from the garrison in the Harbour Town, or the Dark City, whether they had somehow got up the Mountain from the Harbour or they had managed to come through the Spearcleft Pass. Either would have required much cunning, so I knew they would be expert at concealing their tracks, if they so wished. And while I searched, I had also to forage for food, for myself and my mount. In the end, I had to turn him free to fend for himself, for it was taking too much of my time to search out feed for him. So then I had to travel on foot, taking even longer.” “But even so, so many years have passed.” Tamorine commented. “Were you searching all that time, Tamran?” “No” her brother answered. “After many months, I found the third of them. He was with another, and I thought my search was over, but the second man was not the other I sought. I fought with them both, and killed my quarry, but the other mercenary wounded me badly, with a treacherous blow, and left me for dead. I was afraid then, for I thought I would bleed to death there, and you would never be free, little one!” “Oh, Tamran!” she exclaimed. Rafel said “Light did not mean Tamran to die, or you to live unavenged, Tamorine.” Their attention turned to the Lightstone-Bearer, who explained .”This is where Tamran’s story joins with ours. Some of the Ketai found him, and brought him to us in the caverns, for our Healers to tend. It was a long road he had back to health, for he took the Wound Fever, and more than once we feared for his life .And when he came through the Fever, he was weak and tired . He had fought a great battle, and won, but it cost him dear, and took him many months to recover fully.” Tamran took up the tale again. “When I had recovered from the Fever, and knew myself again, I despaired, Tamorine. For I had lost the track of the last man, and how was I to find it again? I could not return with my task unfinished, yet I did not see how I could accomplish it. And, as Rafel said, I was not fit enough to fight, even could I have found him. So I stayed with the Lightfriends and the Ketai to recover, and became one of Rafel’s Students, and learned the Way of Light.”

Rafel said ” When I understood why Tamran was so unhappy, I wanted to help him. The task of the Lightstone-Bearer is to undo, as far as possible, the works of Darkness, and I saw that it was the Darkness which ruled those who attacked Tamorine, and Darkness that kept her in the situation she was in because of the attack. So, with his permission, I set my Perception on Tamran, and the Lightstone enabled me to gather more information about his enemy from his thoughts than he knew he had. Then I spoke with Ket-Jal, and he told his Ketai to watch out for the man when they were out on guard.” Tamran nodded, and continued the telling. “The Ketai were faithful to their Lord’s commands, and to me. Always they watched and listened for news of the man, and eventually they brought news. He was part of the garrison of the Dark City. But how was I to reach him there? It may be that he had learned that I had slain his companions to avenge my sister, and was unwilling to risk facing me, for he never seemed to leave the Dark City, and I could not enter it.” Rafel took over the story again. “It was then that I told Tamran of the prophecy that the men of Li’is would rise up against the Dark Lord, and Light would lead them to us here. I told him we were awaiting your arrival, and then we would move against the Dark Lord in his City. But Tamran knew he would have to wait until that happened before he could finish his task and free you from the law of the Mountains, Tamorine.” “It was a long and weary wait” Tamran said ” and sometimes I doubted. But then the Ketai sighted your force. You did not see them, for they are skilful at concealing themselves, but they kept watch on you until you reached us safely. If you had been in danger, they would have warned you.” He smiled at them, and went on “Oh, I was so glad when the Ketai reported that the Swordsmen of Li’is were on the move against the Dark Lord. I knew I could go into battle with you, and finish my task. There were a group of us who all had family or friends to avenge, who had sworn to join the battle.” “The Masked Ones” Brann said. “Yes” Tamran said. “And when you joined us, I was thankful that I wore the mask. When I saw that one of your commanders was Tamorine – my little sister Tamorine, who I had left in Gamlin’s care, not knowing if she would live, while I pursued her attackers – then I wept behind my mask! I knew she had not only lived, but overcome what had happened to become a strong and valiant woman, and a leader my people respected. And I saw my Sword-Brother Gamlin, too, faithful to the task I had laid on him. I was so moved!”

Tamorine said, reproachfully, “But you did not reveal yourself to us!” “I could not, little one”, her brother replied. “First, because I had not finished what I had set out to do, and I feared you would beg me to leave things as they were, and not go on with it. And second, would it not have thrown your force into disarray if I had suddenly appeared? No, I would fight alongside you, and stay as near as I might, but I had to find and make an end of our enemy, before I could tell you who I was.” Brann exclaimed “Ah- I saw it, Tamran! I took note that there was one Masked One who fought with us, and singled out one particular mercenary as we fought through the streets. And was that you who warned us to leave as the buildings collapsed?” “It was”, Tamran admitted. “I disguised my voice, lest Tamorine recognise it. I had to make sure all were safely back here before I revealed myself to her.” “Gamlin!” Tamorine exclaimed suddenly. “Tamran, he has been a true Sword-Brother to you and to me, and he has mourned you as lost these past years. Should we not tell him?” Tamran looked thoughtful. “I had not meant to show myself to our people until tomorrow, to give them time to recover from the battle before I give them another shock! But Gamlin- yes, it would be good to see my Sword-Brother, and tell him I am alive.” Rafel smiled. “I will go myself, and fetch him. ” “But do not tell him why, not in the hearing of the others.” Tamran warned. “Of course not!” Rafel responded. He rose from his chair and went to find Gamlin. Tamran said “Brann, it is good that our two peoples have joined against the Dark Lord. For too long Li’is has been divided, each small enclave against its neighbour. Now that we know the Way of Light, once Li’is has been cleared of the remnants of the Dark Lord’s mercenaries and the Children of Night, we can work to unite all the people of Li’is as Children of Light.” “I hope that you are right, Tamran”, Brann replied. “There will be much to do, though, before we can achieve such unity.” Tamorine looked from one to the other, and said, firmly. “Do not think, either of you, that I will not have a part in such work. You may take back your place as Heir of the Mountains, brother, but I am still a commander of our people and a Sword-Brother to many. I will not be sent back to the Fortress !” “Of course you shall not be sent back!” Tamran said. “You are a Swordsman of the Fortress, and you have proved yourself in battle.” Brann agreed “Who would deny you a part in rebuilding L’is, when you have fought to free it?” “Good!” Tamorine said. “I am glad that is understood.”

Rafel returned, bringing Gamlin with him. The Swordsman looked perplexed, wondering what this summons could mean. When he entered the Quiet Place, he scarcely glanced at Tamran. His attention was on his commanders, as he asked “Brann, Tamorine, do you have something for me to do?” Tamorine laughed “We do, Gamlin. Turn and look behind you.” Gamlin looked even more bemused at this odd request, but turned. Now he was facing Tamran, who asked “Well, Gamlin- do you not recognise me, Sword-Brother? It has been long…” Gamlin stared at this stranger, who seemed to know him, then a sudden comprehension swept over his face, and he gasped “Tamran? Is it you?” “It is!” Tamran confirmed. Gamilin still stared, seeming between laughter and tears, until Tamran extended his hand and said “It is good to see you, Sword-Brother – and to thank you for your loyalty, to me and to Tamorine.” Gamlin’s hand reached out to take Tamran’s in the Swordsmen’s handclasp, hand to forearm, and then he threw his arm around Tamran’s shoulders , and exclaimed “Tamran- Sword-Brother! I have mourned you these many years, and here you are before me, alive and well! Praise Light!” “Praise Light indeed!” Tamran responded. “For it is only by the mercy of Light and the care of the Lightfriends that I am alive.” “And – your task is finished?” Gamlin asked. “It is all done now, and Tamorine is free.” Tamran answered. “She has been like my own sister, since you left her in my care.” Gamlin commented. “And I am proud of her, as you must be.” “I am proud of her indeed! And I am happy that she is free, for she and Brann wish to marry.” If Brann had had any slight doubt about the nature of Gamlin’s brotherly affection for Tamorine, it was dispelled by the joy with which Tamran’s Sword-Brother greeted this announcement. “Ah, that is good! Brann will respect and honour her as she deserves.”

Tamran said ” Gamlin, say nothing to our Mountain forces yet. I will reveal myself to them tomorrow, but for tonight all need to rest and recover from the battle.” “I will not”, Gamlin declared. Rafel said “You will find food ready, now. Go and eat and then go to rest. Tomorrow we shall make plans. ” Tamran had his hood-mask in his hand and now said “I shall go masked this last night, so as not to be recognised.” “Then let me give you one kiss, before you don the mask!” Tamorine laughed, and went over to kiss his cheek. She smiled at him and said, “Tamran, you have made me so happy! Just to see you alive is enough, but to know you have freed me to wed Brann -how shall I thank you for all you have risked for me, dear brother?” “Live happy and in Light, little one, and that is all I would ask.” Tamran replied. He pulled on the hood again, quickly, and Brann suspected that it was because he had tears in his eyes at Tamorine’s words. He and Gamlin left the Quiet Place together, talking quietly but animatedly, and Rafel looked questioningly at Brann and Tamorine. Brann said “We will go and eat and rest, Rafel – but first I think we should give our thanks to Light.” Rafel smiled and nodded, and Brann took Tamorine’s hand and led her into the Place of Prayer. “Tamorine, my heart” he said, “It is time to thank Light for Light’s mercy to us.” “Oh, Brann, Light is merciful indeed!” she replied. “I thought I was bereft of all I loved – you, and Tamran. And Light has given you both back to me!” He took her in a quick embrace, and then they knelt hand-in-hand before the Crucible, giving heartfelt thanks and praise for the joy that had come to them out of what had seemed to be disaster.

FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 9

The Dancers began to disappear, and Gamlin asked again “How shall we find the way to the Dark Lord?” Rafel answered “I Perceive him, Gamlin. Such great Darkness… but I know how to find him.” He led them unerringly across the black-hung hall, past the huge slab of black stone. Brann glanced at the stone in passing and saw a hollow in the top, with a crust of ominous dark smears. He thought it must be some kind of altar, and wondered, with an inner shudder, what kind of sacrifices that evil Priestess had made there. The Lightstone-Bearer, though, ignored the monolith and headed for the wall behind it. The wall-hanging here seemed thicker than the others, woven rather than embroidered. Rafel pulled it aside and revealed a single door. It was shut, but a large, ornate key was in the lock. Evidently the Priestess had been trusted with access here. Brann whispered to Rafel “Is he behind this door?” Rafel answered, quietly ” Not this door. He is further in. I Perceive no guards beyond the door, though.” He turned and said to the others, still softly, but clearly, “We are very near now. Remember that your weapons cannot protect you against the Dark Lord, for he wields the Dark Stone. Only the Lightstone can prevail against that.”

Rafel turned back and unlocked the door. The key turned easily, and the door opened smoothly, with no sound to give them away. As they looked through the opening, though, they were horrified to see that just beyond the door, where it led into a kind of antechamber, two poles were set in the stone floor , and on top of each was a grinning human skull. Tamorine gave a little gasp, and Brann murmured “A last warning, before we approach the Dark Lord!” They moved slowly past the poles, careful not to jostle them in case the skulls should be poised to fall and warn of anyone passing them. Their force was small in number now, as they had left men behind at various places to fight the mercenaries and keep back any interference with their mission. They passed the narrow entrance and found that it opened out into a square room, without furniture or adornment, except for one large wooden, metal-bound chest. They did not stop to investigate its contents, but crossed the room to a pair of doors. Rafel whispered “Here! These lead to his lair!” Brann felt his heart leap in his chest, with a mixture of fear and exultation. Here at last was the goal they had sought. Now, if Rafel could overcome the Dark Lord as he had promised, the freedom of Li’is would begin. The Lightstone-Bearer drew out the Lightstone and gazed into it, and they watched silently as the light flowed out of the Stone and bathed Rafel in its radiance, then withdrew again. Rafel lifted his head and said softly “Light has strengthened me. I am ready now.” Cautiously they pushed against the doors, expecting them to be locked, but they opened quietly inwards, and they found themselves looking into a room that was as sumptuously furnished as the anteroom had been bare. Fine hangings covered the walls, the floor was a mosaic of polished stone, strange statues stood in niches round the walls, and the seating was opulent and well padded. Across the room in a high-backed chair, with a flask of wine and goblet within reach on a carved table at his side, sat the man they must overcome. The Dark Lord! Brann stared, taking in the man’s appearance. Like the Priestess Tamorine had slain, he was very pale, his skin almost white. Despite what Rafel had told them about his great age, his hair was black, with no grey in it, though it seemed dull and sooty. His eyes, though, were bright, glowing a malignant green. His clothing , like the Priestess’, was all black, and on the hand that dangled nonchalantly over one arm of the chair was a heavy gold ring, with a large dark red stone that seemed to burn with its own fire.

As they entered the room the Dark Lord glanced up , no doubt expecting to see the Priestess. When he saw them advance, though, he came swiftly to his feet, but with no sign of alarm. Rather, his expression was of haughty displeasure. “Who dares enter here?” he demanded. His eyes swept across them, and he gave a hiss. “So” he said sneeringly, pointing at Rafel, “the renegades of Ma’al have somehow crossed into Li’is? And you have dragged the savages of Ma’al with you” he went on , looking at Ket-Jal and his Ketai, who stood alongside the Lightstone-Bearer. “Well, that is to the good. The Lords of Ma’al will not have to weary themselves finding and disposing of you. And you have persuaded some Swordsmen of Li’is to help you. I suppose you have cajoled them with your mind tricks. ” Rafel said, in a firm voice. “The Dark Lords are usurpers. Light gives them time to repent in Ma’al, but will not suffer Li’is to fall to them too.” The Dark Lord seemed to Brann to flinch a little as Rafel named the Power of Light, but he did not seem to grow less confident. “I suppose you have managed between you to pass my guards and enchantments. But my Priestess has failed me. She shall be punished.” Brann spoke then. “The Priestess is dead.” If he had hoped that his statement would cause the Dark Lord any concern, he was mistaken. The man shrugged a little, and said calmly “She can be replaced. Did you think I would mourn her, Swordsman?” He looked round at them again, and said “What do you think you can accomplish here? ” Rafel took a step forward, and said “Your downfall, Lord of Darkness.” The man laughed harshly at that. “You think so? I have been in Li’is more years than you and your fathers have lived, and many have tried to kill me, but I am still here. You are not the first to try, and like them, you will be defeated.”

Brann thought that the Dark Lord seemed actually to be enjoying the confrontation, in some odd way. No doubt in his arrogance, thinking he was unassailable, he was toying with them. Now he looked again at Rafel, and said, “I know your mind powers, renegade. But even if you have managed to use them to bring you into Li’is, your journey ends here. You will die, and your companions will be enslaved. Whatever powers you possess are useless against me.” Rafel gazed steadily back at him and said, “I do not rely on my own powers, Dark One, but on the Power of Light!” Again Brann sensed, rather than saw, a flinch of unease from the Dark Lord at the Name. Still, the man laughed his unpleasant laugh, and said “Do you think you will frighten me, renegade? I serve another master, one that shall be yours too, all of you.” As he spoke, he turned the ring on his hand, and Brann tensed, wondering if he was about to use it. Rafel said “You put your faith in the powers of Darkness that you carry with you. But I am the Lightstone-Bearer, Dark One, and I carry the Power of Light!” Rafel drew out the Lightstone and it lay on his breast, blazing with white fire. The Dark Lord, startled out of his apparent insouciance, stared at its brightness. Then he gave a shout of rage and raised the hand that bore the deadly stone, but before he could use it the Lightstone had extended a glowing shield of light in front of them all, protecting them. The stone of the Dark Lord’s ring flashed darts of red fire at them, but they could not penetrate the light-shield. Snarling, he raised both arms and began to intone strange words, but Rafel said “It is useless to summon your allies, Dark One. The Dancers of Li’is have driven the Night Lords back to Ma’al.” The Dark Lord lowered his arms and glared at Rafel, as if he considered what to do next. Rafel moved forward, still surrounded by the light-shield, and the Dark Lord was forced to retreat before him. Rafel spoke again. “Even for you, it is not too late. You can take the Choice of Light and abjure the Darkness. Because of your great age, when the Lord of Darkness leaves you, you will die, but you will touch Light.” The Dark Lord, though, only sneered and cursed at him. The Lightstone-Bearer said “Very well. I had to give you the Choice, but you have refused it. Now there is only one end for you.” He in turn raised his arms and began to speak, but none of them understood what he said. His tone was deep and the words rolled from his tongue like thunder, strange and awesome. Though he did not understand what Rafel said, Brann felt that they were full of holy rebuke against the Darkness.

The Dark Lord looked, now, as though he were in agony, his body bent and twisted. Somehow, though, he managed to straighten and aim the bolts from the Dark Stone at Rafel, but without effect. Rafel stopped speaking and lowered his arms, then declared in a loud voice “By the Power and the Will of Light, Dark One, I order you to return to the Darkness from which you came.” The Lightstone blazed, and something like a great bolt of lightning shot from it and struck the Dark Lord. The ring on his hand shattered, and a dark shadow rose from it – A Night Lord. It quickly disappeared, but another change was taking place. A dark shadow was spilling out around the body of the Dark Lord, as if it emanated from every pore of his flesh. It gathered to a large, amorphous cloud, and vanished. The Dark Lord still stood there, trembling, but as they watched, he gave a shriek and fell to the floor. The light-shield withdrew into the Lightstone, and Brann cried “Rafel!” , concerned that the Lightstone-Bearer was now unprotected. Rafel turned, smiled a weary smile, and said, “There is nothing to fear, Brann. It is over.” He turned back, and indicated the still form on the floor. “Look.” They crowded closer, some still maintaining a distance, but Brann, Tamorine and Ket-Jal came closer than the others and stared down at the Dark Lord – or rather, at what remained of him. The figure lying there was clearly dead, but what chilled them was the appearance of the body. It was no longer the tall, arrogant form they had seen, but a shrunken, bent figure, the face wizened and drawn in on the bones, eyes sunken, mouth slack, head completely hairless. Every visible part look drained of moisture, skin drawn taut over the bones as if mummified. Tamorine gasped “What has happened? Did the Lightstone do this?” “In a sense” Rafel said. “The Lightstone cast out the Night Lord that powered the Dark Stone and the Lord of Darkness that powered the man, sent them back to their places in Ma’al. What remained was the human body that housed them. And, as he told you, he was very, very old. He had lived several times his normal span, because the Lord of Darkness inhabited him. When that Dark spirit left him, the weight of the years came upon him, and he died.”

As they gazed down at the dead man, there was a small, sudden tremor that startled them, and when they looked again, the body had vanished. They gazed at each other, wondering what had just happened, but before they could question Rafel, a Dancer shimmered into being in the room. “You must go, Children of Light!” its thought echoed in all their minds. “The Dancers are closing the portal between this place and Ma’al that the Dark Ones made by their sorcery. Their works here will be destroyed, and the Dark City will fall. You must gather your forces and leave, but do not use the tunnels. Lightstone-Bearer, warn those in the City and the quarry to leave.” The light-being blinked out again, and Rafel, obeying its orders, bowed his head to look into the Lightstone and send the Thought-without-Words out to the Lightfriends scattered among the forces in the City and the quarry. “The Lightfriends will pass on the Dancers’ warning” he said, “and we must leave.” Brann, now realising the enormity of what had happened, as he scarcely had while experiencing it, said “Rafel – you have defeated the Dark Lord and freed Li’is from his rule!” “Not I, but Light” was the Lightstone-Bearer’s humble answer, but Ket-Jal said ” That is true, Rafel, but nonetheless, if you had not been a willing vessel, it would not have been accomplished.” They paused as another tremor shook the room, so strong this time that the flask standing on the carved table toppled over and spilled wine across the floor like blood. “We must hurry!” Tamorine cried, “Or our men will be trapped when the City falls.” They turned back towards the doors as the room continued to shake around them, the disquieting statues toppling from their niches and the wall-hangings billowing. As they hurried through the anteroom the poles swayed and the impaled skulls rocked. Brann was glad that they had passed through before the skulls crashed down behind them. They crossed the empty square room and came out into the black-hung hall. There was no sign of the dead Priestess, and as they crossed the room there was a loud cracking sound. Looking back they saw that the great black stone had split into three pieces. Swiftly they retraced their steps, weapons ready to repel any attack by the Dark Lord’s mercenaries, but saw no man, dead or alive, but their own. They gathered their forces who were inside the building and explained the need of haste. Reinforced now, their group hurried out of the building and down the steps. Of their men who had stayed to fight there, only a couple had stayed, to tell their leaders that the rest had received the relayed warning and were making for the gates of the City. They had begun to cross the street when a thunderous sound behind them made them turn to stare. The building that had housed the Dark Lord was falling, great blocks of stone tumbling down and splitting. Tamorine watched, transfixed, as a large pillar fell towards her, and Brann, seeing that she was in its path, cried “Tamorine!” and dashed forward to grasp her wrist and jerk her clear. “Thank you, Brann” she gasped. “Come” he told them all, and they moved on, meeting more of their men at the junction of the next circle. Among them were a Lightfriend with his Ketai guards, one of the Masked Ones, and Rull, the smith.

As they entered the next street Rull suddenly stumbled, and gave an exclamation. Brann turned. “Rull?” The smith stared downwards, and said “My shackles, Swordsman – they have disappeared!” Rafel said ” The Power of Light is moving here, Rull, and destroying the works of Darkness. You are free.” “Then I thank Light.” Rull said. Used as he was to compensating for the weight of the leg-irons, it took him a few steps before he could regain a normal stride. Behind them they could hear the crashing, tearing sounds of the Dark City’s collapse. It seemed that the destruction was spreading out from the central point of the Dark Lord’s erstwhile habitation, and they were still in danger. Great gusts of dust-laden wind roared past them, making them cough and gasp for breath, as they stayed barely ahead of the collapsing buildings. Brann had tried to urge Tamorine to go ahead to safety, but, true commander that she was, she had refused. “We are joint commanders, Brann” she said ” and I will not leave this place till all our men – those not killed in battle- are accounted for.” Rafel sent out the Thought-without-Words again and told them that the gates of the City were now open and unguarded, their defenders, defeated, either slain, imprisoned, or fleeing from the City’s destruction. Those they had left in the quarry had followed orders and got out of the dangerous area. Some of their force were already at the gates. As they hurried onwards they gathered more of their men, who had received the warning but refused to escape until they knew their commanders were safe. Brann reprimanded them, but Varil, the Sword-Trainer, who was one of them, said ” We could not leave without you, Brann, Lady Tamorine.” The Masked One who was with them spoke, his voice strange, a rough whisper, but it might have been affected by the dust emanating from the rubble of the falling buildings.” We must go quickly! The Dark City falls everywhere, and we are still in its midst. We must reach the gates.” They agreed and hurried after him, their haste made more urgent by a new roaring behind them. Brann glanced back and saw that the buildings along the street were falling close behind them, collapsing with a slow movement like a wave running along their length. It seemed that in a few seconds they would be overwhelmed. ” Tamorine, Rafel, all of you –run!” he shouted. The girl too looked back, gasped, and began to run. The dust of the collapse billowed around them, and he could not see her, or the others. Then Rafel and the others appeared, but he still could not see Tamorine. Brann felt a moment’s pure, blind panic, a horrific vision of Tamorine crushed beneath the falling buildings. Then he recovered himself and ran back towards her, shouting her name. She appeared, then, coughing and covered in dust, calling “I am here, Brann. Go on!” They raced on, gradually pulling away from the danger of the falling buildings, throats sore with breathing in the dust as they panted with the effort of their flight. At last they reached the gates, which, as Rafel had said, were wide open. They saw no sign of any of the Dark Lord’s mercenaries, but their own forces were waiting anxiously for them, and cries of relief and praise to Light went up when the two commanders appeared.

Outside the gates they were assured that the wounded had been taken back to the Lightfriends’ haven, the dead, as far as possible, carried away for honourable burial. Brann looked round at his companions and realised, for the first time, that Tarn had a bloody rag round one arm. “Tarn, you are hurt!” he exclaimed. “Why did you not say?” ” It was only a scratch” Tarn answered. “But might have been much worse if not for Kerrin”, he went on. “If he had not come to my aid – and been wounded himself in doing it, though not badly, praise Light – I might not be here with you now. I chose my Sword-Brother well.” “You did indeed.” Brann said. “Where is Kerrin?” “Gone back with the Healers, to have his wound dressed ” Gamlin told him, glancing at Tarn, “as this stubborn one would not, but must be at your side!” “I must thank Kerrin, when I see him” Brann said. He was deeply moved by Tarn’s narrow escape, but knew that to show it too much would embarrass his friend, so he smiled, and added “Life without Tarn would be very boring.” He heard Tamorine cough hard, and turned to ask “Is it well with you, Tamorine?” “It is just this dust” she said, looking at him. They were all covered with dust from the fall of the Dark City, and she laughed, ” Oh, Brann, you look as if you had fallen in the flour barrel!” “And so do you!” he told her, reaching out to brush some of the white dust from her. All of them were laughing now, not so much from merriment as release of fear and tension, and there was a harsh edge to their laughter. “We should move further away” Rafel said. “We are not safe on the edges of the Dark City, with the buildings still falling.” At his words, they looked back, and saw that he was right, as street on street and every circle of the Dark City continued to fall. They retreated from the devastated City, and as they did so they heard another odd sound, rumbling and swishing noises coming not from the City, but to the side of it. Looking in that direction, they saw a strange sight; the forest was sliding slowly downwards. They stared, confused, until Ket-Jal exclaimed ” The quarry! The Dancer warned us to leave it. The land and forest above it are falling into the quarry.” “And the walls of the City are starting to crack!” Gamlin cried. “We must get away from here. Who knows what will collapse next!” “Back to the Lightfriends’ caverns”, Brann ordered, looking to Tamorine for agreement. She nodded, and he continued ” Be on the lookout for mercenaries who may have escaped.” “There may be more for us to do yet” Tamorine said ” to deal with the remnant of the Dark Lord’s forces, and free the places they have captured. But our main task is accomplished, praise Light, thanks to Rafel and the Lightstone. We need to tend our wounded, assess our losses, and send word to the Mountain and the Forest, before we decide what to do next.” Thus agreed, they set out on the march back to the derelict farm that hid the Lightfriends’ dwelling, taking every precaution against pursuit, but none came. They went silently, not only to avoid detection, but because all of them were occupied with thoughts of what had happened in the Dark City, and silent praise went up from many for their deliverance from the Dark Lord. Brann glanced at the Lightstone, still glowing faintly on Rafel’s breast. It was still difficult for him to believe the power in that simple, pebble-like white stone, the power that had hurled the evil spirit that had possessed the Dark Lord back across unimaginable reaches of time and space to its own dark world, and shaken the Dark City apart.

Other thoughts were crowding in on him too, as he looked sideways at Tamorine, marching sturdily beside him, almost as though he wanted to make sure that she was there, real, alive, unharmed. He remembered the way his heart had hammered in his chest and the horror he had felt as the tottering buildings of the street had crashed down towards her. He had been unsure even to almost the last moment, but his absolute terror for her, and his premonition of the total sense of loss he would feel if she were killed, had told him the truth. He loved Tamorine, not as a comrade and Sword-Brother, but as the woman he wanted to spend his life with. Such feelings, though, must wait. There was first the aftermath of the battle to be dealt with, as she had said; the wounded to tend, the dead to lay to rest, the outposts of the Dark Lord’s realm to be recovered and controlled. His thoughts were interrupted by the breaking of the silence by a dull thudding sound which at first he could not place. Then he realised that it was the sound of galloping horses. The others heard it too, and turned, ready for a mercenaries’ attack, but though they saw the horses coming towards them, the beasts were riderless. Some of the Ketai left their ranks and made towards the animals, which they now understood must be fleeing the collapsing City. Tamorine cried “They will be run down!” “Not they!” laughed Ket-Jal. “The Ketai have always been herders and breeders of horses, Lady Tamorine. The Dark Ones stole our horse herds, but they could not steal the knowledge of our people. Watch.” Brann , Tamorine and the others did as he asked, and Brann thought that if the Ketai could calm and capture the horses, the beasts would be very useful.

The Ketai were using their spears as poles to guide the animals, talking to them softly and making little sounds that seemed to calm them and slow them. Many of the horses were without saddle or bridle, but one of the Ketai vaulted on to the back of the lead horse and rode it bareback, holding on to the long mane. Once he had the beast under control and slowed to a steady trot, the others followed and more of the Ketai mounted the horses on the outer edge of the herd, urging the rest into a controlled, wedge-shaped group. Ket-Jal called to his men. “Take them to the farmstead, and care for them. We will follow.” He turned to the others, and said, “The horses are still nervous and skittish, but my people can control them. I could not let you ride them, though. They need calming and care before they are ready.” “We can march” Brann said, “and when the Ketai have the horses under control, we will be able to make use of them. As Tamorine said, we will need to send word to the Lords of the Mountain and the Forest that the Dark Lord has been defeated, and a mounted messenger will travel more quickly.” They continued their march back to the farmstead, still wary in case there should be any roving bands of mercenaries about still, but no man accosted them, and at last they saw the dilapidated building ahead of them. In the courtyard they found that the Ketai had managed to adapt one of the tumbledown barns into suitable stabling for the captured horses. Fortunately the beasts looked well-fed, for it would be some time before they could find feed for them, but they had water and seemed grateful for it. Ket-Jal paused to speak to his men, while the others went inside the building and down the hidden stairway to the Lightfriends’ caverns

.Brann and Tamorine were anxious to assess the state of their forces and find out who was wounded, and if any had been lost. They found that there was some bad news, but not as bad as they had expected. Three of the Mountain fighters were dead, several wounded, but few seriously. Brann had lost Harin, the little quick hunter, and the Swordsman Aldaran. He paused to commiserate with Harith, Harin’s brother, who said ” I mourn him, yes, but the Lightfriends assure me that he will be with Light in the Joyous Place. And he died bravely, and to free Li’is. I am proud of him.” Brann’s own cousin, Javan, was wounded badly, but not mortally, and though Javan’s brother, Jamin, was naturally hovering anxiously as the Healers tended Javin, Brann saw that Javan’s other cousin, Tavan , who had taken so long to make peace with Javan, was just as concerned. Tarn had found Kerrin and was sitting beside him, waiting their turn till the Healers had dealt with more serious hurts. Kerrin had a shallow cut on his side, and Brann said ” Tarn told me how you came to his aid, Kerrin. Thank you.” The mountain man glanced up at him, and said only “He is my Sword-Brother.” Brann could sense, though, the feeling behind Kerrin’s words, and replied. “Mine too. I am grateful, Kerrin.” Rafel, meanwhile, had crossed the main cavern and stood facing them all. The Lightfriends who were not tending the wounded joined him, and he called “Children of Light, let us give thanks to Light for our victory.” They quieted as he raised his arms and led them in prayer. He wore the Lightstone openly now and it glowed softly on his breast as he prayed. When the time of prayer was finished, he said. “The Dark Lord is defeated, but there is still work to do to restore normal life in Li’is. For now, though, we may rest, and eat, and sleep, and recover from the battle.” Brann and Tamorine made their way to him, and Tamorine asked “How is it with the Lightfriends, and the Students? We know one Lightfriend and one Student were killed.” Rafel answered ” We lost no more of our Brothers-in-Light, for the Ketai protected them well. Of the Students, one of the Masked Ones was slain and two wounded, and another of the students has a severe wound. It is well with the others.” “Do the Masked Ones feel they have fulfilled their vow now?” Brann asked, and Rafel said “They do. They feel they have regained their honour by their actions today.” “And the Ketai?” Brann went on. ” They have some losses” Rafel said, sadly. “Those who fought to protect the Lightfriend who was killed, and were cut down alongside him, and some others. Four killed, in all, and several wounded. But all who die in Light touch Light. They will be in the Joyous Place.” He sighed. “We can make a full reckoning tomorrow, but, as I said, tonight we need food and rest. It has been a long day and a fierce battle.”


FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 8

Brann did not need the Lightfriends’ Perception to sense the tension in the air as he spoke; he was a Swordsman and could recognise the feelings of his companions. A mixture of anticipation, eagerness, nervous energy and impatience emanated from them as they prepared to face the battle at last. He said ” The closer we can get to the Dark Lord without being challenged, the better. We will fight when needed, but if we can avoid it and not draw attention to ourselves, we will. Time enough for battle when we reach the Dark Lord’s guardians. Above all, the Lightstone-Bearer must be protected at all times. Without him we have no way to defeat the Dark Lord and his sorceries.” Tamorine, standing beside him, agreed “We will move as quietly as we may. Be alert and prepared to fight, but, as Brann says, we will avoid attention while we can.” They prepared to move out, Rull going with Brann and Tamorine at the head of their troops, as he knew at least some of the roads of the Dark City. As the smithy was on the corner of one of the cross streets, they decided to follow that up through the circles of the City, rather than go round the circle to another street. They knew that the main quarters of the mercenaries were on the next circle, and were not sure if the escape of the slaves had been discovered yet, so proceeded very cautiously. As they came to the corner of the second circle, Brann signalled a halt, as he saw a movement ahead. It proved to be a lone mercenary, but before he could decide what to do, he heard a slight exclamation beside him, and Rull pushed past him and faced the man. The mercenary seemed to recognise him, and said brusquely ” The smith? How were you freed, slave? What are you doing here?” Rull replied, in a quiet voice that still resonated with rage, “Returning your sword!” Before the mercenary could react, Rull had drawn the sword and run the man through. The mercenary gave a strangled gasp, choked, staggered, and fell. Brann, seeing the mercenary was dead, stepped from hiding, and said angrily “That was foolish, Rull! You could have given us away.” The smith looked at him defiantly, and said, “I knew the shock of seeing me would silence him. The man was a brute and a bully. I paid him for many beatings – and not just those I suffered!”

Brann wasted no time in recriminations, but made sure the body was moved to a dark spot where it would not be easily seen, before they moved on. It seemed the mercenary had been late returning to barracks, for they encountered no others, and moved up the street to the next circle, where they listened out for patrols, but heard none. Rull warned “We are nearing the fourth circle next. That is where the Dark Lord’s followers and favourites live. It is there that more guards will be.” They approached the junction cautiously, and as they neared they heard a murmur of voices and caught a glimpse of lantern light. A band of mercenaries appeared at the junction of the circle and the cross street, and froze momentarily, seeing the shadowy figures of the vanguard of Brann and Tamorine’s force. Then they drew their swords and advanced. Brann, Tamorine, and the others had also armed themselves, while Ket-Jal and his Ketai grouped around Rafel, protecting him with their spears. As the mercenaries grasped the number of their attackers, Brann saw one near the back of the group pull out a horn and raise it to his lips. A Ketai arrow took him in the chest, but nor before he had time to blow a warning blast. “That will bring them down on us!” Tarn gasped, as they closed with the other mercenaries. Brann smiled grimly, thinking that if not the horn, then the sound of clashing metal as blade parried blade would surely do that. He had to grudgingly admit to himself that the mercenaries were good fighters, and if they had grown complacent within their City stronghold, it had not made them careless. Rafel called, then, “The Lightfriends report that more mercenaries are coming from the barracks. Our Swordsmen and Ketai at the rear are preparing to face them.” The small group of mercenaries they had first encountered were down now, dead or too badly wounded to hinder them further, and Tamorine called across to him “Brann, we must let the others deal with the men from the barracks, and carry on towards the Dark Lord’s dwelling with Rafel.” He knew she was right, and agreed, though he was concerned about leaving some of their force to fight through the streets to join them .

“There will be more guards ahead” Rull warned, but Brann had realised that must be so, as they neared the Dark Lord. The sounding of the mercenary’s horn would have alerted those ahead, he knew, and there would be no easy passage before them. As he thought this, Rafel said “I Perceive more danger ahead, Brann, Tamorine”. All of them were prepared, and the mercenaries’ ambush came as no surprise. If the Dark Lord’s men had thought to take them unawares, they were disappointed, as their attack was met with fierce opposition and many of them fell before the determined onslaught of Brann and Tamorine’s forces. But there were casualties on both sides, and though none of their own side were killed, a few were wounded. These the Healers tended as best they could in the midst of the fighting. Brann saw that the mercenaries were pulling back, but only, he felt sure, to gather reinforcements and renew their attack. It gave them a brief respite to push forward, but in the midst of it he was startled to hear a sudden sharp cry from Rafel. He turned, anxious that the Lightstone-Bearer might have been wounded, and asked “What is it Rafel? Are you hurt?” Rafel drew a deep breath and answered “Not I – but one of the Lightfriends near the rear of our force has been killed, and I felt it. It is a hard thing to Perceive the death of a Brother-in-Light.” Ket-Jal gave a little groan, and exclaimed “Then the Ketai have failed you! Forgive us, Lightstone-Bearer.” “No” Rafel said gently, “the Ketai have not failed the Lightfriends. Your men fought to save him, but were killed or wounded. No shame to them, Ket-Jal. And our brother has touched Light.”

A brief silence followed, as they moved on to the next circle of the City, where again they were met with an onslaught from the mercenaries. “We must get through” Rull gasped, “for the next circle is where we will find the Dark Lord.” “We will!” Brann said, with grim determination. He glanced across at Tamorine as he said it and she gave a slight nod in recognition of his comment. Rafel said ” As we near the Dark Lord, it is likely we will meet with some of his sorceries. If so, your weapons will not defeat them, and I will need to use the Lightstone. Be prepared.” They fought fiercely, but their opponents were as determined to keep them from the Dark Lord’s lair, and it was a prolonged and bloody battle. Some of Brann and Tamorine’s men fell, but they had no time to spare to see if they were dead or only wounded, as they pressed on with the attack. Brann had never fought for so long at a stretch and felt his sword arm beginning to ache with the effort. The rest of their force had now dealt with the mercenaries behind them and closed up to join the fight. Tarn had forced his way through the melee to fight at Brann’s side, with Kerrin and Gamlin there too. Again Brann glanced across at Tamorine and saw her fighting with single-minded intent. They all knew they were closing on their goal and were determined that nothing would stop them reaching the Dark Lord and facing him. He noted that one of the Masked Ones had closed with a mercenary and seemed determined to make an end of the man, focused on his adversary alone. Brann wondered momentarily if the Masked One had recognised the mercenary as one who had done him or his kinfolk personal harm, but he had no time to spare for such thoughts as another of the enemy came at him and he had to defend himself. He felt a sharp sting across his cheek as the other man’s sword caught it a glancing blow, but he was faster and the mercenary fell. Brann felt a trickle of blood and wiped it away with the back of his hand. The mercenaries, with many of their number killed or wounded, were falling back before the onslaught as Brann and Tamorine’s forces approached the last circle of the Dark City , where the building lay that housed the Dark Lord. They were not retreating, though ,but regrouping to defend the place.

The building they were approaching had a wide flight of steps leading up to the main door and the mercenaries were ranging themselves on the steps to defend the doors. Brann thought that they would be at a disadvantage if their enemies were above them on the steps and barked out orders to his men prevent this. They fell on the mercenaries and some of Brann and Tamorine’s force managed to get past and behind them, preventing them going further up the steps. The Dark Lord’s defenders were now surrounded and fighting fiercely, but their opponents were determined to reach the doors and gain entry. Tarn and Gamlin managed to clear a way through for their leaders and the Lightfriend, who reached the doors but found them sealed. They could see no handle or keyhole, and Rafel said quietly “The doors are held shut by sorcery, as I suspected.” He drew out the Lightstone, and gazed into it. The stone began to glow, brighter and brighter, and the Lightstone-Bearer lifted it on its long chain and touched it to the centre of the doors, where they joined. The light from the stone ran like a rivulet along the join of the doors and slowly, reluctantly it seemed, they began to open inwards. Brann peered through the crack as it opened. Were there more defenders inside, or was the Dark Lord relying solely on his sorceries? They soon saw, for as the doors opened they saw figures struggling to force them shut again, but the power of the Lightstone was inexorable, and the mercenaries inside gave up the attempt and drew their swords. They were not numerous, and Brann and the others soon overpowered them, and leaving part of their force to finish dealing with those outside the doors, went on into the building. Tamorine, looking across at Brann, and seeing him properly, since this was the first time they had had to draw breath since the attack began, exclaimed “Brann-you are wounded?” Tarn glanced at his friend with an anxious expression, but Brann said, lightly, “Only a cut, Tamorine.” and his friends relaxed.

They were following a wide corridor, lamp-lit and paved with stone, that led towards another door. Brann wondered if that door was also sealed, but as they neared it they saw it was partially open. Rafel, however, paused, and said “We must be careful. I Perceive Darkness ahead.” “The Dark Lord?” Ket-Jal asked, taking a firmer grasp of his spear. “No, but his sorceries”, Rafel answered. As he spoke, there was a sudden roar, and the corridor between them and the doorway filled with flames. Instinctively they flinched back, and Tamorine gasped ” He has set the building on fire!” “Then why do we not feel the heat?” Brann asked, recovering from his momentary fear. “Flames so high should scorch us where we stand, yet I do not feel them.” “You are right, Brann” Rafel said. “The flames are only an illusion. The Dark Lord has set a delusion to make us turn back. They are only there as long as we believe in them.” “Then we shall show him we do not believe in them!” Brann answered, and before anyone could respond he strode determinedly forward into the apparent conflagration. His friends watched with concern, but as soon as he stepped into the fire and it was obvious that no harm came to him, they saw that the flames flickered and disappeared, and the way was clear once more. “Well done, Brann!” the Lightstone-Bearer commented, as they followed him past the place and on into the building. He looked round at them all, and added ” His other sorceries will not be so easy to overcome. It may be that that was just a test, to see how determined we are. And there may be other mercenaries to guard him too. Do not let your guard fall.” “We shall not” Tamorine assured him. They moved on, alert for danger, but all was surprisingly quiet and still. Brann did not like this apparent lull in the battle. He was sure the Dark Lord was aware of their progress and planning further traps.

Now the corridor they were following began to turn, and as they rounded the bend more guards came at them and the fight began again. There were not many guards, but they seemed intent on keeping the attacking force from the next set of doors. Brann saw their leader, a burly man, step back and quickly slot a bar into place across the door, then take his stand in front of it. His companions fell, dead or wounded, but the man did not move. His sword was in his hand, and as Brann’s forces moved towards him, he laughed. “You will do me no harm!” he challenged “I keep the doors and you cannot pass.” Brann saw that he was right; somehow every sword blow and arrow, even the spears of the Ketai, seemed to glance off the man as though he were surrounded by an invisible shield. Rafel said “It is another sorcery.” The man laughed again. “My Lord protects me as I protect him. No weapon of Li’is can harm me.” No weapon of Li’is, indeed, seemed capable of touching the man, but, Brann thought, he himself bore the True Sword, and that was no weapon of Li’is, but had come out of Ma’al with the Lightfriends. He raised his arm and called to their forces to cease attacking the man, who said gloatingly, “So, you see sense and surrender? Good.” “I do not surrender” Brann said calmly, and strode forward with the True Sword ready. “Do you wish to die?” the other man asked, sneeringly. “I tell you, you cannot defeat me.” His face changed as Brann lunged with the True Sword, trying to disarm him, and caught the knuckles of his sword hand. He stared in disbelief as a few beads of blood swelled along the cut. “What…” he began, then stopped and parried Brann’s next blow. The others watched in apprehension, unable to help Brann, as the sword fight progressed. The mercenary leader was quick and skilful, but Brann was the better Swordsman, and at last his opponent went down, and the way to the doors was clear. Brann wiped his brow, and gasped to Rafel “Now I see the purpose of the True Sword!” “As Light must have known it” the Lightstone-Bearer answered. They lifted the bar that was holding the doors shut, and opened them cautiously.

Beyond these doors the corridor suddenly split into three branches. Brann said “Now we have need of your Perception, Rafel. Which path should we follow? For I feel that two of these ways will lead to dead ends and traps, and even the correct route will be suspect.” Rafel nodded, and bent his gaze to the Lightstone, blue eyes glowing. After a while he lifted his head, and said “The left-hand path leads to the Dark Lord, but there are more snares ahead. We must be careful.” They moved on into the corridor he had indicated, ready for another attack from mercenaries or more illusory dangers set by the Dark Lord, but though the way twisted and they were ready for danger at every corner, they met no resistance. Brann did not like this easy progress, fearing it was meant to put them off their guard when they encountered more peril. After a while, though, Brann’s keen hearing caught a strange sound. “Rafel, do you hear it?” he asked quietly, and the Lightstone-Bearer answered as softly “I hear it, Brann. I do not know what it means, but it does not bode well.” Ahead of them were more doors, and from behind those doors, which were, ominously, not barred but partly open, came the sound Brann, and now all of them, heard. It was an eerie music, which had a beauty to it, but also a strangeness which set the hairs on Brann’s neck on end. But they could not stop now, and he stepped forward and cautiously pushed open the doors. Beyond was a large hall, hung all in black cloth embroidered with strange symbols in silver thread. In the middle of the otherwise empty room stood a huge block of black stone and beside it stood a woman. She was tall and slender and very pale, her pallor made more pronounced by a mane of dark hair. Her eyes were like none they had ever seen, of a strange glowing shade of violet. Her clothing, like the room, was all of black trimmed with silver. She was the source of the strange music, for she was playing a kind of flute or pipe, golden in colour, which hung round her neck on a red cord. She looked up as they entered, but did not cease playing. They crowded into the black-hung hall, unsure of what this might mean, but feeling that one unarmed woman could not stop them. Brann thought that whatever sorcery the woman might weave could be overcome by the Lightstone. Still, he had a feeling of foreboding as he looked at the strange woman, who seemed unmoved by their presence, though she must have seen them. He made to move forwards towards her, but found he could not. He felt as though he was stuck to the spot. He glanced at Rafel, willing the Lightstone-Bearer to move, to use the Lightstone to free them from this enchantment, but the Lightfriend seemed as immobile as the rest of them. Only Tamorine shifted slightly where she stood, but as yet did not attempt to move.

Now the woman lowered her pipe and came towards them, and her previously expressionless face turned to an evil smile. “You behold the Priestess of Night, men of Li’is” she told them. “Look well, for I am your death. No man can resist my powers, and I shall summon my Lord to destroy you all.” She stood in front of them, gloating at their helplessness, playing with the golden pipe. She saw Rafel, surrounded by the Ketai, all of them motionless under her enchantment, and said, triumphantly, “So- somehow you have followed us from Ma’al, enemies of Night. But your accursed Light cannot aid you now, for I tell you again, no Swordsman or Priest can resist my powers. We shall be rid of you all!” The witch’s attention had been on Rafel, and she had not seen Tamorine, on the edge of the frozen group, stealthily drawing her sword. Brann gazed at Tamorine in astonishment. Why was she not affected by the enchantment? Then, even as she lunged at the other woman, he understood. The Priestess shrieked in terror and rage as Tamorine’s blade pierced her body, and Tamorine laughed, “No Swordsman can resist you – but I am a Swordswoman!” As the Priestess fell dying at her feet, Tamorine tore the pipe from her neck, snapping the cord, dropped it on the floor, and crushed it under her foot. Immediately the others found themselves free and able to move. Brann came close to Tamorine and said quietly, because he knew she would not want him to praise her openly before the others, “Well done, brave heart! I chose my Sword-Brother well!” and she smiled briefly at him. Rafel, looking somewhat shaken, said “Praise Light for Tamorine! For even I could not withstand the Dark Priestess, though I am the Lightstone-Bearer.” Tamorine said “Rafel, you told us that Light knows all things, so surely Light knew that I, a woman, could overcome her, though no man could. The Dark Lord is not so clever after all, since he did not reckon that a woman would come to fight against him.” “It is true that the Way of Light is often beyond our understanding” Ket-Jal commented. Brann, thinking of those they had left behind to fight in the streets of the City, asked “Rafel, can your Brothers-in-Light tell us how the battle goes outside this building?” Rafel lifted his head, eyes glowing, and they knew he was making the Thought-without-Words. After a pause, he said “They have made progress towards here, but the mercenaries have called out the Children of Night who live on the fourth circle, and they have armed themselves to join the battle. Our force is still hard-pressed.” He looked round at them, with determination in his face, and said “We must go on, find the Dark Lord, and bring this to an end!”

Tarn, looking round the black-hung hall, asked “But where is the way out of here towards him? Everywhere looks the same, and I see no door.” “There must be one, behind the hangings” Gamlin answered him. “We shall have to search.” He took a step towards the black stone slab, then stopped. Around the slab there seemed to be a darkness forming. Brann ordered “Wait, Gamlin! It must be another sorcery!” More illusory fire? he wondered, for the darkness at first looked like smoke. But then it began to form into shapes; tall flame-shapes, but not the glowing Dancers they had seen before. “What are they?” Tamorine whispered, as the dark flame-shapes materialised. They were sooty black, shot with angry-looking red sparks, threatening, a palpable sense of evil about them. Rafel said “They are the Night Lords, Tamorine – the corrupted Dancers of Ma’al.” Brann gasped, remembering what Rafel had said of these beings before. “How can we defeat them?” he asked. “The Lightstone?” Rafel did not answer, but raised his arms, eyes glowing again. For a few brief moments everything was still. Then, as the threatening dark shapes began to eddy towards them, there was a sudden shimmer in the air, and a phalanx of Dancers appeared between them and the Night Lords. All of them felt the thought of the Dancers echo in their minds “Do not fear the Night Lords, Children of Light. They will feed on your fear. Set your thoughts on Light only.” There was a moment’s silence, then Rafel began to pray aloud, though softly. Ket-Jal murmured “He speaks the Quieting Prayers. Follow him”, and so they spoke the words of the prayers after Rafel, though they had not yet learned them. As they prayed the Dancers began to press forward against the Night Lords in a silent attack. All of them could sense the tension between the light-beings and their Dark counterparts. The Quieting Prayers finished, Rafel encouraged them to praise Light and support the Dancers, and they complied as best they could. They could see the noiseless but purposeful advance of the Dancers, and watched in growing hope as the dark flames that were the Night Lords slowly and unwillingly retreated before them, until at last they were surrounded. Pressed on all sides by a growing number of the light-beings, the Night Lords could no longer resist, and eventually they began to blink out of existence, singly at first, then in a sudden rush. The thought of the Dancers echoed again in their minds. “We have driven the Dark Ones back to Ma’al. They will not return. You must go on with your Way, Lightstone-Bearer and warriors of Ma’al and Li’is.” “Will you come with us?” Brann asked aloud. “No” was the reply. “The Lightstone-Bearer summoned us to deal with the Night Lords, and that we have done. The rest of the battle is yours, not ours.”

FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 7

The days of waiting, though necessary, were difficult for Brann and Tamorine and their men. They had set out from the Mountain Fortress determined to face the Dark Lord as soon as might be, and with their minds and hearts focussed on the coming battle, and now they were constrained to bide their time. It was not that they were inactive, for there were sword drills to be carried out, and plans to be made, and the welding of their forces with the Ketai and the Students who would fight with them, into one combined army. Then there were the times with Rafel and the other Lightfriends, the morning and evening prayer times, and the other times when they were given more instruction in the Way of Light.

On one such occasion, Brann asked suddenly, wondering why he had never thought of it before, “Rafel, if you and the Ketai came here from Ma’al, and it is another world, how is it that you use the common speech of Li’is?” The Lightstone-Bearer replied “Because it is also the common speech of Ma’al.” “But how can that be, if our worlds are separated by such a great gulf as you say?” Brann persisted. “Others have entered Li’is from Ma’al before the Dark Lord came” Rafel told him, astonishing him. “But – we have used the common speech for so long! The Old Tongue has all but died out…” “That is so” Tamorine agreed. “Only the nobles and the wise men of Li’is continued to use it. And how could any of the Dark One’s people have come into Li’is without being seen by someone, somewhere?” Rafel said ” The Dark Lords had been planning the conquest of Li’is for a very long time, longer than you could imagine, since they are deathless. It was part of their strategy to turn the language of Li’is to that of Ma’al. ” “Then when the Dark Lord is defeated, we will turn it back to our own tongue!” Tarn exclaimed. Brann said ” I do not see how we could do that, Tarn. It is the common speech of Li’is now, and has been for so long. And very few now know the Old Tongue. ” ” If the common speech was the language of Ma’al, it must have been so before Ma’al went down into Darkness, surely?” asked Tamorine, and Rafel said ” It was, Tamorine. It was not created by the Dark Lords, simply used by them. It is not evil of itself, Tarn.” “But if the Dark Lords brought it here…” Tarn began again, and Rafel interrupted him, “Those who brought it here were men of Ma’al, in the pay of the Dark Lords,but not hosting them. They posed as traders, and to trade it is necessary to know the language of those with whom you deal. So they taught their language, and it spread. A simple plan, but efficient. And after so many years, as Brann says, it has become the common speech of Li’is, and we cannot change that ,nor is there need to. More than that” he added, “though the Dark Lords believed they were making a step forward in their plan of conquest, they were being used themselves. For Light meant always to send the Lightstone into Li’is to save it from the Dark Lords, and it was necessary that the Lightfriends should be understood. We have learned the use of the Old Tongue now, but our task is easier since all of Li’is speaks the common tongue. The Dark Lords were serving Light’s purposes, unknown to them!”

Meanwhile, the Ketai were cautiously continuing their exploration of the tunnels in the old quarry, always with a guard set in case of discovery, but it seemed that the place, as they had said, was either unknown to or ignored by the inhabitants of the Dark City. As the Two-Moon Tide passed and they began their preparations for the attack on the Dark City, the Ket brought news from his people at the quarry. “They have finished clearing the tunnel they were working on” he reported. “The main tunnel ends blind, but there is a smaller side tunnel. ” “And does that lead anywhere?” Brann asked. Ket-Jal said ” It does. It seems to have been used in the past as some kind of refuse or drainage channel, but is clear and dry now. There is a pit in the floor of the tunnel with a metal grille covering it, and the tunnel ends in a kind of door with another metal grille in the bottom. Of course, they could use only the dimmest of lamps to see by, but there is a space beyond the grille, and it seems unused. Dust is thick on the ground, and they could see no sign of footprints in the dust.” “Even if we enter that space, though, there is nothing to say that it will give access to the Dark City” Gamlin pointed out. “It might well have been sealed and forgotten long since.” Brann considered, and said ” I think it is likely that it led once to the first or second ring of the City, before it fell to the Dark Lord. If it was a refuse or drainage channel, as the Ketai suppose, it would most probably have been connected to a shop or an inn.” “That makes sense” Tamorine commented. The Ket said ” My people are working to see if they can get through the door, but it is old and stiff and hard to move, and they cannot make much noise.” “No, indeed!” Tarn said. “If Brann is right about the disposition of the Dark Lord’s men, and they are billeted nearby, we cannot risk them hearing the Ketai at work.” “We will hear further before it is time to set out” Ket-Jal added, “and must await their report.”

Tamorine said “Even if we can enter the Dark City from the tunnels, I wonder if we should not also attack the gates? It would draw the attention of the mercenaries away from the tunnels.” ” Any of our force making a frontal attack would be in much more danger, though” said Tarn. “Yet I see some merit in such a plan. If we can keep the mercenaries distracted while the rest of our force enters the Dark City – if that is possible – it would take them time to regroup when they realised the incursion. We could make progress in that time.” “If our forces can enter through the tunnels, Rafel and his guard must go with them ” Brann added, “for that will bring him and the Lightstone closer to the Dark Lord. ” “The larger force should go that way, if possible” said the Ket, ” and a smaller force make an attack on the gates. Once the mercenaries have been drawn to defend the gates, our forces can make a feint of retreat, as if defeated, and make to the quarry to join the others.” “Will the mercenaries not pursue them, though, if they think they are in retreat?” Gamlin asked. “I think they would not risk opening the gates, thinking that there might be others in hiding waiting to enter. And they would need to open the gates to pursue us.” Ket-Jal said. “They will believe they have repelled the attack and concentrate on reinforcing the guard on the gates.”

“And which of us is to command this frontal attack?” Tamorine asked. There was a hint of challenge in her question and when Brann said “Not you” there was anger in her face and scorn in her voice as she asked “Because I am a woman?” “No” Brann replied, “because you are all that Tamor has left. ” ” He speaks reason” Gamlin said, ” for our Lord has lost much. If he were to lose you too it would perhaps be a blow from which he would not recover.” “Brann is the True Sword” Tamorine argued ” and surely he should be at Rafel’s side.” “We cannot risk our commanders at such an early stage of the attack.” Tarn contributed. “Gamlin and I can lead the attack on the gates.” “While I hide in the tunnels?” Brann asked, almost as angry as Tamorine now. “You will not be hiding, you will be fighting!” The Ket intervened in the dispute. “And perhaps in more danger than those at the gates. We do not yet know where the tunnel leads, and how many enemies may be at the end.” “It is a battle” Tarn said, ” and whether outside or inside the Dark City, we are in peril, but we must get the Lightstone-Bearer to the Dark Lord’s lair, so that he can use the Stone against the Dark One and defeat him. If any fall, it is worth the cost to free Li’is from his dominion.” Tamorine was calmer now, and said, “Tarn speaks the truth, and I am sorry I was angry. We should not quarrel among ourselves, and divide our forces, for we swore to meld Mountain and Forest into one force, one people.” “I feel as you do, Tamorine”, Brann agreed. “We should not think of pride or prowess, and I was wrong. Only the defeat of the Dark Lord matters. But I would not have you feel I think less of you as a Sword-Brother because you are a maiden. I had hoped I had proved that it was not so.” “You have” she answered , “and I was being over sensitive.” She sighed. “It took me long enough to establish myself as a suitable heir to my grandfather and leader of my people, and it has led me to sometimes see slights that are not there. Forgive me, Brann.” “Willingly” he replied, smiling at her, and she smiled back.

“Then Gamlin and Tarn will lead the assault on the gates while the rest of us enter secretly by the tunnel – assuming that is possible.” Brann said. “Perhaps a hundred to attack the gates – too large a force and the mercenaries will not believe it is defeated when it retreats, too small and they will not be concerned enough to fight.” “I would counsel that any Ketai who go with you stay concealed as far as possible” Rafel said.” We cannot have the mercenaries carrying tales of strange Swordsmen to the Dark Lord, that he will recognise as a people out of Ma’al. He must know as little of our presence as possible until the last minute. The Ketai are formidable bowmen, and can hit a target on the City Wall from a good distance. ” Brann sighed “It is well enough to make plans, but until we know whether we can use the tunnels to enter the Dark City, we cannot confirm them.” “We will know soon” the Ket told him, “certainly before it is time to move out.” “We can select the force to attack the gates, at least.” Tarn said. “You will need bowmen, since the defenders will be on the walls, your own as well as the Ketai” Ket-Jal advised. “They will not come down to fight unless you actually breach the gates.” “Should we try to do so?” Gamlin queried. “That will depend on whether we can use the tunnels” Brann said, “for if not, our whole force must attack the gates. As the Ket says, we must wait for his men’s report.”

It was not until the day before the planned attack that they received the facts they needed from the Ketai who had been exploring the tunnels. They were once more in conference, and Ket-Jal said ” There is news, at last. The Ketai managed to get through the old door. Beyond it they found an unused undercroft of sorts, low-roofed, but with a few steps leading up to another room. They could see a trap door but were not sure if it could be opened, or who might be above. As all was quiet, they risked an attempt on the door. That one too was stiff, but eventually they opened it enough to see through, and found a room filled with discarded and broken weapons and other metal objects. They believe it must be an annexe to a smithy, and the things in it either awaiting repair, or to be melted down. But it is at ground level, and we can get through.” “They have left no trace?” Gamlin asked. The Ket smiled “They are the Ketai! They left all as they found it, even to brushing out their footprints in the dust.” “It is good” Rafel said. “Light has made a way for us.” Brann leaned over the map of the City again and said “There is a smithy marked here, on the first ring, by the side of one of the cross streets. I see no others.” “It is the most likely place for it” commented Tarn, ” near to where the defenders would have been, and with access from the streets for loads of metal.” “So we can enter the Dark City that way” said Tamorine. “We can, but must be cautious, since it is near where the the Dark Lord’s defenders are no doubt still billeted.” Gamlin replied. “We attack at night” the Ket said, ” and have the other attack on the gates to distract them. The mercenaries in the dormitories will need time to waken and come to the aid of the others. They will not expect an attack, having been untroubled for so long, and may have grown careless.”

Since the direct attack on the gates would be the most perilous, they had asked for volunteers rather than order any of their men to make it. One of the first to volunteer had been the Healer, Forin. Brann said “We are asking for fighters, Forin, Swordsmen and bowmen. I do not doubt your valour, but you are trained in neither.” “I am a Healer” Forin said, “and if any are wounded in the attack, I will be needed. The other Healers are Lightfriends, and they cannot be seen by the Dark Lord’s forces, or they will report it to him and our advantage of surprise will be lost.” “The Healer speaks truth” Tamorine said, and Brann replied ” Very well. You may go , Forin, but stay back. You will help no one if you are injured yourself.” Brann’s cousins Jamin and Javan and Javan’s cousin Tavan also volunteered, with many others of their force. Kerrin, of course, was insistent on going with Tarn too, as were some of the Masked Ones and other Swordsmen among the students, and then there were the Ketai. In the end there were more than enough volunteers, and some had to be refused. The larger force, attacking through the tunnels, took more organising. They would have to descend, first, into the abandoned quarry, and the Ketai had been busy adding to the number of rope-ladders they had made for this purpose. The presence of the Lightfriends, necessary to communication, was an added complication, as some of the Ketai would be needed to protect them. Rafel, the Lightstone-Bearer, must be shielded, whatever happened, until he could face the Dark Lord himself. Rafel was unshaken in his belief in Light, and his strong assertion that he would achieve his aim. “And if I die in doing it, I will touch Light” he assured them.” I am not afraid.” Nevertheless, he must be guarded well until they reached the Dark Lord, and the Ket himself, and several of his most experienced fighters, took that task upon themselves. Gamlin had spoken quietly to Brann, when they found themselves alone for a moment. “I swore to my Sword-Brother Tamran to protect his sister, Lady Tamorine, till he returned. But I will not be with her in the tunnels. You are her Sword-Brother too, so I entrust her to you.” “I will do what I may” Brann reassured him, then smiled wryly, and added, “but you know I will risk her wrath if I guard her too closely.” Gamlin smiled too. “I know. She is as valiant as her brother.”

So the night came, and found them as well prepared as they could be. There was little moonlight, but the Ketai knew the way to the Dark City and the quarry well. Rafel had concealed the Lightstone in a soft leather pouch, lest its glow betray them. It seemed, though, that the guardians of the Dark City were lax about observing its surroundings, never expecting anyone to approach it, and they reached the forest and crept through it to the edge of the quarry without incident. Here they divided, Tarn and Gamlin and their men waiting until the rope ladders had been unrolled and the others had descended to the floor of the quarry. Some of the Ketai would remain at the top to help Tarn and Gamlin’s force to descend when they returned. As soon as Brann, Tamorine, the LIghtfriend with his guard, and all the others had entered the tunnel, Tarn and Gamlin, led by the Ketai who knew the way through the forest, headed towards the gates of the Dark City, to make their attack. Forin remained in the rear, as instructed, but moved as silently as any. They paused to station the best of the Ketai bowmen where they had a clear view of the walls, to back them up, and then the rest of the force flung themselves forward with a rush and a roar, to attack the gates. It seemed that for a few seconds the mercenaries guarding the walls were taken by surprise, for at first there was no response to the attack. Then they heard shouts and the blowing of some kind of horn, and men swarmed to the walls. The Ketai bowmen sent off a flight of arrows, some of which found targets on the walls, but it was not long before an answering rain of arrows, along with spears, flew at them from the walls of the Dark City. One arrow rebounded from Gamlin’s leather breastplate and Tarn turned to him anxiously. “Gamlin…” “No harm” the other grunted, ” but how long can we keep this up without loss, Tarn?” “We need to give the others the time they need” Tarn said, ” and we cannot withdraw too soon. The mercenaries must think they have defeated us.” “At least we seem to have drawn them to the walls.” Gamlin commented. That was true, for the number of mercenaries on the walls had increased significantly. Tarn and Gamlin’s forces were battering at the gates, knowing they would not pass them, but giving the impression of an army desperate to break through. Orders were shouted above them and some of the mercenaries disappeared, presumably to strengthen those defending the gates. The hail of arrows from the Ketai continued, but so did that raining down on them from the walls. Their strong leather armour turned aside the arrows, but spears were another matter, and the two commanders did not want to lose men if possible. As it was they had seen two men fall, one of theirs and one of the Students, and be dragged away by their comrades. Tarn hoped that they were only wounded, and Forin was tending them. At last Tarn and Gamlin felt they had bought enough time for the others and ordered their men to retreat through the forest and edge round to the quarry. Behind them they heard the triumphant shouts of the mercenaries, and a few stray arrows followed them but found no target. At the brink of the quarry they regrouped. Forin told them “Two wounded, one lightly and one severely. And one dead, one of Rafel’s students. The spear pierced him through, I could do nothing for him.” “The others?” Gamlin asked. ” In the care of the Ketai” the Healer answered. “Some of them will stay here to guard the way in and out of the quarry. I have told them what to do for the wounded.” “You can stay with them” Tarn said, but Forin’s eyes narrowed and he said ” They will do well with the Ketai. I come with you!” His tone was such that they did not feel inclined to argue, and he joined the descent into the quarry and followed them into the tunnel.

Meanwhile Brann, Tamorine, Rafel and the others had been making their way through the old tunnels. The walls were rough and smelled of rock dust and the floor was a little uneven, but the Ketai had cleared away all obstacles and they made good progress. In the interim between the discovery of the door at the end of the smaller tunnel and their moving out to attack the dark City, the Ketai had greased the hinges of the door and the trap-door in the space above, so that they now moved easily and quietly. They were moving with the dimmest of lights, partly so they would not be seen, and partly so that when they came out into the night again it would not take long for their eyes to adjust. The Ketai warned them to take care crossing the grid in the floor of the smaller tunnel, since they did not know its strength and it might collapse under the burden if too many crossed at once. So they were, of necessity, spread out in the tunnels, and Brann was anxious to get everyone through as soon as possible. He and Tamorine were at the head of their force, just behind the Ketai who led the way, with Rafel and his guard behind them. He gave a sigh of relief when they reached the door with its corresponding grille and the Ketai eased it open. They crowded into the undercroft, and Brann looked round for the exit. He saw the steps and asked one of the Ketai who had been leading them “There is no danger of toppling any of the metals stored above? The noise would betray us.” He had spoken in a whisper, and the Ketai whispered back “No, we were wary of that, but everything is neatly stacked.” “Strange, then, that they had not noticed the trap door” Tamorine said, as quietly. “It is one with the floor, of wooden planks.” said the Ketai. “They may even know it is there, but have no use for it. But we have observed, and no one has come near it.” “Very well, we will move on” Brann said. The Ketai went first, as they knew the operation of the trap door and the surroundings of the building above. Once they had climbed the stairs they could hear distant shouting and pounding and the bee-hum of arrows and knew their diversion was well under way.

Peering through the gloom they could see an open door leading into another building. There was a glow of firelight, and Tamorine whispered ” That must be the smithy.” They crept forward and paused at the open door, seeing a figure bent over an anvil, hammering at a piece of red-hot metal. The sound of the distant battle had masked the sound of his hammering so that they had not realised his presence.”The smith!” Brann breathed. He had thought, like all of them, that the forge would be empty. They hesitated, then he whispered “Wait here”. ” Be careful, Brann!” Tamorine murmured, as he stepped forward. He was in the dim light and the smith had the light of the forge in his eyes. Perhaps he would be mistaken for a mercenary long enough to deal with the man. The smith must have heard him, however, though he moved quietly, for the man looked up, and snarled “I am working as fast as I can, but it takes time! You can whip me as much as you wish, it will not make the work go faster.” Brann was momentarily confused. Then he saw that there was a rough bed pallet in the corner of the forge, and leg irons and chains on the man himself. The Ketai had believed that there were slaves in the Dark City, kept to work for the Dark Lord. A skilled smith would be of use to him, and would have been enslaved. He moved quietly forward and suddenly, before the smith could react, seized his arm and put a hand over his mouth.

The man tried to jerk away, obviously afraid of punishment, but then his eyes took in Brann’s appearance and widened in astonishment. Brann whispered ” Do not speak. Are you a slave of the Dark Lord?” The man’s head signalled yes, and Brann went on “We are not the Dark Lord’s men. We are here to destroy him. Do you hear the sound of battle?” The smith nodded again, and Brann said ” That is others of our army, distracting the mercenaries while we make a secret entrance to the Dark City. They will join us soon. Are you with us?” The man nodded for a third time, and Brann said “I will let you speak now. But if you try to cry out or betray us, your life is forfeit.” He did not intend to harm the man if it could be avoided, but he was taking a risk, and wanted the man frightened enough to obey him. He slowly took his hand from the man’s mouth, and said “What is your name?” “Rull” said the smith, quietly, obviously understanding the need to keep his voice low. ” I was a smith in the Harbour Town on the East coast. When the mercenaries came raiding they captured me and brought me here to work as a slave for them.” The others of Brann’s party had begun to enter the smithy now, seeing that all was under control. Erris and Yarris, the two brothers, were among them, and Yarris asked ” You are manacled, but if you are a smith, could you not have removed your shackles?” “I could, if they were metal of Li’is” Rull answered, “but these are made of the metal of Ma’al, and my skills do not avail against them. Do not think I have not tried! But even if I escaped my bonds, where could I go? The gates are well guarded.” “Then we cannot set you free?” asked Tamorine. He stared at her, obviously surprised to find a woman among their army, but answered her. “Only a blade of the same metal can cut through these”, and indicated the chains. The metal of Ma’al, Brann thought, and drew the True Sword. Rull gasped ” Do not kill me! I will not betray you!” Brann said ” Not kill you, Rull, but free you, I hope. There are those with us who have come out of Ma’al but are the enemies of the Dark Lord. And they gave me this sword, forged in Ma’al. Let me try it on your chains.” Rull relaxed, and pointed out where the weakest point of his shackles would be, and Brann raised the True Sword and brought it down. There was a clash of metal, and they held their breaths, afraid that it might bring the mercenaries down on them. But the chain had split asunder. Rull still had shackles on his ankles, but they pulled the chain out of them, and he was free to move. Brann said ” Can you walk like that, Rull? I do not wish to try my blade on your other shackles, for I might cut off a foot!” “I can” the smith assured them. Erris said ” Did the mercenaries hear you cut the metal, though, Brann?” Rull answered “They would take no notice, Swordsman. This is a smithy, and they force me to work late. A sound of hammering metal from here would not be out of the ordinary.”

Brann asked “Are there other slaves in the City? Men, women, children?” Rull replied, “Yes, the men and youths they take. The children…” he paused, and did not elaborate, but Brann thought of Marvis’ young son, cut down by the mercenaries, and understood his meaning. Rull went on ” As for the women they capture – the mercenaries use them, and slay them. They do not bring women here.” He paused again, then said ” When they came on our town – it was the first time I was glad that my wife was dead. And our daughter married away from the town.” Brann distinctly saw Tamorine give a shudder, but her voice was steady as she asked “Do you know where the slaves are kept? Are others chained as you were?” “No” Rull answered. “They kept me here to keep me at work. The others are not skilled, just labourers. They are all kept in one building, but it is next to the place where the mercenaries are quartered.” “On this ring of the City?” Brann asked. ” No, the next” Rull told them. “Only those who are next on duty at the gates are quartered on this ring.” “And the Dark Lord?” Brann asked. “In the main building, at the centre of the City. The approaches are well -guarded, Swordsman.” By now the Ket and Rafel had come through to the smithy, followed by others of the Ketai and more of Brann and Tamorine’s men. With them were some of the hooded Masked Ones, and Rull looked frightened. “Who are these?” he asked. “You have some strange companions, Swordsman. A maiden, these hooded men, strange warriors, and that one…” he pointed at Rafel. “His eyes … you have deceived me! He is kin to the Dark Lord.” Rafel answered for himself. “No, Rull. I am no kin or friend to the Dark Lord. As he is on the side of Darkness, I stand on the side of Light. I am the Lightstone-Bearer, and his destruction, with Light’s aid.” The Ket spoke now “We are the Ketai. Brann told you of those who came out of Ma’al to fight against the Dark Lord. We and the Lightfriends are those people. The hooded ones are those who have vowed to go masked until the Dark Lord is defeated,men of Li’is who, like you, have suffered at the hands of his mercenaries. ” Brann added “There is nothing to fear, Rull. The Power of Light has come into Li’is, and the Darkness will be defeated.”

“I do not know this Power of Light” said Rull, “but if it is against the Dark Lord and his mercenaries, I am on the side of Light.” “You shall know it, Rull” Rafel told him, “but now is not the time. Our diversion has bought us time, but we must hurry.” “If we can free the slaves, they might help us” said Yarris. “Or hinder us” said the Ket. “You heard what Rull said. They are not Swordsmen.” “But once we begin the attack, the mercenaries may slay them” Tamorine replied, “to prevent them joining us. I am for freeing them.” ” I can tell you the place” Rull said, “and there is only one guard. But you will need to overcome him, for he holds the keys to their prison.” You said the mercenaries are quartered in the next building, though” Erris objected, but Brann said ” Surely they will have been called to the gates when Tarn and Gamlin attacked. Most of them, at least. we can deal with the others. But we should not all go” Brann decided, “for our main objective is the Dark Lord’s dwelling. ” ” Some of the Lightfriends should be among those who go.” said Rafel. “Their Perception will be of use in locating prisoners, and they can warn us by the Thought-without-Words if there is danger to them or to us.” “But if they and the Ketai are seen, the Dark Lord will be forewarned.” said Tamorine, but Brann replied , grimly, “Only if any mercenaries escape to tell him!”

He was ready to go to the aid of the slaves, but Rafel said “You are the True Sword, Brann. You must stay near to me.” “And you and Tamorine are our commanders.” Erris added. “If anything should befall either of you, the other must still command.” Both Brann and Tamorine would have gone, but saw the sense of Rafel’s and Erris’ words and reluctantly let some of the others go, two of the Lightfriends, well-guarded by Ketai, with them. While they waited for news, Brann questioned Rull further. “If we free the slaves, they will be on our side? None would side with the mercenaries, from fear?” “Our hatred of the mercenaries, for what they have done to our friends and kin, is far greater than any fear of them.” Rull answered, bitterly. “Better to die free than live as their slaves!” Rafel lifted his head, blue eyes glowing. “They have reached the place and overcome the guard” he reported. ” They have the keys to free the slaves, and no sign yet of any mercenaries. Gamlin and Tarn have withdrawn their force, but the mercenaries are wary of another attack, it seems, and are staying close to the gates.” Rull, ready to be fearful again, demanded “How can he know that? It is sorcery!” “Not sorcery”, Brann assured him, “The Lightfriends have a special way of communicating, that is all.” He turned to Rafel and said “If they can free the slaves, best if they bring them here. Any who wish to fight with us can stay, and if any are fearful they can be conducted through the tunnels to the Ketai, who will help them escape.” Rafel said “They will do so, Brann. And other Lightfriends report that the rest of your force are now entering the tunnels.” Brann gave a sigh of relief at the news. Rafel continued “The slaves are being brought here, but they must hurry. The order has been given to stand down the mercenaries at the gates and they will be returning to their quarters.” “Then Light grant that they are not seen” said Tamorine, “or our hand will be shown too soon.”

They waited anxiously for any noise of battle from either direction, but heard nothing until a quick, quiet scuffle of feet showed the approach of the contingent with the escaped slaves, who had obviously been warned to keep silence. Yarris, who had led the attempt to free them, was first through the door of the smithy, with the report .”All is well, Brann, though we barely escaped being seen as the mercenaries returned. We have the enslaved ones, and their guard will tell no tales. We locked the doors again and brought the keys away, so it will take them time to discover that their slaves have gone. No losses to us.” Brann asked “You slew the guard?” “The Ketai did, they are fast and silent, and took him by surprise. And we could not let him live to tell what happened.” By now the freed slaves were entering the smithy, followed by their rescuers, still keeping quiet. With Tarn, Gamlin, and their force ready to enter too, the place was growing far too crowded, and Brann stepped forward and said, “Men of Li’is, listen! We are here to end the rule of the Dark Lord, with the aid of Light and the friends who have joined us. If any of you can fight and will do so, you are welcome to join us. Those who do not wish to fight, and the young ones, will be escorted safely away from here and set free.” He nodded to the Ket, who joined him, and said, “We are the Ketai, and stand against the Dark Lord. We will show you how to get away.” Rull spoke up next. “I see some of you I know, from my own town. I can assure you that these men speak truth. They have freed me, and you, and mean us no harm. You can trust them.” One of the freed men, a middle-aged man with his arm protectively round the shoulders of a youth whom they guessed to be his son, said “I know you, Rull the smith. You always were an honest man, and we have nothing left to fear, after what we have suffered at the hands of the Dark Lord’s men. I will trust your friends.” Several others signalled agreement, and Rull said “There are weapons here, for any who will fight. Repaired and awaiting collection, but we will turn them against the mercenaries who owned them!” Seeing that some of the freed men were hesitating, Brann said “No shame to any who do not wish to stay and fight. You have suffered enough, and we have no right to ask that you risk your lives in battle. That is the task we have taken on ourselves.” Rull said ” I will stay”, and Brann replied “But we could not free you of your shackles, except for the chain. You will be hampered by those.” “I have learned to walk in them well enough, these last years” Rull answered. “I can fight, Brann.” One of the other men stepped forward and said “We wish you well, Swordsmen. But some of us have sons here with us, and families dispersed when we were attacked. We need to find our loved ones.” “I understand” Brann said. “Go in Light, and may you find them unharmed.”

When the Ketai had led away those who wished to leave, Brann found that Rull and five others remained. These were men who had seen family and friends destroyed by the Dark Lord’s mercenaries, and wanted to avenge them. Rull found swords for himself and four of the others. The fifth man, though, asked if he had a bow, since he was a hunter and had seldom used a sword. There was no bow in the smithy, but the Ketai found him one of theirs. Once the men had been led out through the tunnels there was room for Tarn, Gamlin, and the rest of their force to come through, and Tarn and Gamlin reported to their leaders. “We lost one man – one of your Students, Rafel, I am sorry” Tarn said. “And two wounded, one badly, but the Healer has tended them and left them with the Ketai for safety” Gamlin added. Brann was relieved that Tarn, Gamlin, his cousins and their cousin Tavan, as well as most of their force, were unharmed. He introduced Rull and the five freed slaves who would be fighting with them, and asked Rull if he had any more information about the disposition of the mercenaries in the City. Rull answered “There are not so many guards in the outer circles. They patrol in small groups, and when not patrolling they wait at the junctions of the circles and the side roads. I was taken once to repair some metalwork on a door in the fourth circle and noted that that is where those who serve the Dark Lord live, in some luxury. The approaches to the inner circles of the City, and the Dark Lord’s stronghold, are well guarded, though. ” “And do you know if there are guards within the stronghold?” Tamorine asked. “I do not know, Lady” the smith replied, “but I believe there must be.” One of the freed men said “It is said that the Dark Lord weaves sorceries to defend himself, as well as being guarded by his mercenaries. You will not find it easy to broach his stronghold.” Brann replied “The Lightfriend Rafel carries that which will stand against his sorceries. And his mercenaries are only men. Light is with us, and we will defat him.” He looked round at them with a fierce intensity of purpose and added ” It is time to begin the assault.”

FIRST LIGHT

Chapter 6

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 prefect 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.