AN END OF DARKNESS

Chapter 13

This had been a day such as none of them, whether of Li’is or Ma’al, had ever experienced, but now it was drawing to a close. Dusk had fallen, and since the Prayer Room could not accommodate all who had thronged the Gatehouse, Aiel led them in the Evening Prayers in the Great Hall, Perceiving as he did so the gladness of the refugees at being able to partake openly in the Prayers. After the Prayers, more food was prepared and given out. Aiel knew that Arentha and Krystha were among those helping to prepare the meals, for many hands were needed. Preference was of course given to the refugees, the others could eat later and the people of Ma’al were tired from their journey and experiences and would soon need to sleep. Rentha used the wait to visit the Healing Place and see that all was well with Corhan. She was surprised when the attendants told her that he had not yet woken. “But he was exhausted” she said, “and I do not think they used sweetwood in Ma’al, so maybe it had a stronger effect on him than usual. The sleep will not harm him.” She had just left the Healing Place when she heard her name called “Lady Rentha!” and turned to see Saban coming towards the Healing Place. His expression was a mixture of concern and excitement, and guessing his errand she asked “Daria?” “Yes, Lady. She thinks the babe is coming.” “One moment” she told him, and stepped back inside the Healing Place to take a flask of prepared blueroot from the Healers’ bench, then came out again to ask “Where is she?” “In the camp,” he replied.

Rentha followed Saban out of the Gatehouse and along the path to the wildflower meadow, where he held the small gate open for her to enter. It was quite dark now, and across the meadow lamps glowed inside the tents and small fires burned between them. It was a familiar sight to Rentha, half of Western stock and used to scenes like these when visiting her mother’s family. Saban led her to the tent he and Daria were sharing, and they went in. The travelling tents of the Westerners were built for groups of herdsmen and quite spacious, well appointed with cushions and coverings. Daria was sitting on one of the big cushions, and seemed quite calm, indeed she looked up and smiled at Rentha as the Healer entered. Rentha smiled back and said “So, the little one is impatient to enter Li’is? How early?” “Little more than a week, by the time of Ma’al.” Daria answered. “I have felt some small pains these last couple of days, but thought it was the discomfort of being cramped in the carts. They grow stronger now, though.” “Good”, Rentha said. “All will be well with the babe, then.” Daria seemed about to speak, but paused and took a deep breath. Rentha guessed that another pain was running its course, and Daria, when asked, confirmed it. When it had subsided she asked.”How is it with Corhan, Lady?” “He is sleeping still, but that will do him only good. I think you do not use sweetwood in Ma’al? It may be that because of that it works more strongly on Corhan.” “I had never heard of sweetwood” Saban told her , “until Karis and Karlin used it to overcome the mercenaries who held a Lightfriend captive.” Rentha raised her eyebrows. “I have yet to hear that tale!” she smiled, “But you need not concern yourself, Daria. Corhan is safe, and you are our concern now. And please, call me Rentha – I am not used to such formality!” She showed Daria the flask of blueroot, and said “I do not know if you use this in Ma’al, either. It is blueroot, and we use it in birthing. When the pains grow strong it will ease them, without harming you or the babe.” Daria nodded. “I trust you, Rentha” she said. “I know you would not harm me.”

Rentha had expected a long night’s work, but Daria’s labour progressed surprisingly quickly. The Malani was strong and healthy and dealt well with her pain, and it was not until the pains came quickly together that Rentha had recourse to the draught of blueroot to ease them for her. Saban too was calm and helpful, supporting and comforting his wife, encouraging her and rubbing her back. Rentha felt a sense of excitement too, realising that this would be the first child born of Ma’al but into the freedom of Li’is. She concentrated on her work, telling Daria when to allow her body to take over, and when to pause. Soon Daria indicated that she felt the birth was imminent, and Rentha guided her through. Daria was groaning, but with effort, not pain, and her strength was apparent. Now Rentha could see the top of the little head, and told Daria to follow her instructions exactly. Daria obeyed, and Rentha was able to bring the babe smoothly and safely to birth. Daria , with one last effort, delivered her child, and Rentha quickly attended to the babe and turned to the Malani, smiling, to say, “You have a son, Daria, Saban! You did well, Daria, I wish all mothers I had delivered had been as calm as you!” “A son!” Saban exclaimed. ” Though I would have been as happy with a daughter, as long as you were both well, my love!” he added. “I am very happy” Daria said, as Rentha placed the newborn in her arms. “Thank you, Rentha. Will you tell Corhan?” “I will, as soon as he wakes. I am glad to have been here, Daria, to see the first of your children born to the freedom of Li’is.” “Oh, yes!” Daria gasped. “I had not thought – our son is born to freedom in Light, Saban! What a blessing of Light!” Rentha finished her tending of Daria and her babe, and gently refused Saban’s offer to escort her back to the Gatehouse. “I will be safe enough” she told him. “This is not Ma’al! Stay and look after Daria, and enjoy your babe. But call me if there is need, though I do not expect any.” “I will. Thank you again, Lady – I mean, Rentha.”

Rentha walked back to the Gatehouse, smelling the night scents of the Gardens. There was plenty of light, for both moons had risen and were near full. She should have felt tired, but her mind was still alert and active, happy for Saban and Daria, and wondering about Corhan, and if he had woken. As she approached the door of the Gatehouse the Watchward there looked at her with surprise. “You are out late, Lady”, he commented, then, seeing her Healer’s sack, asked with concern “Is all well in the camp?” Rentha smiled, and said “Very well. I have been at a birth, and it is well with mother and child. A boy-child, and the first son of Ma’al to be born in Li’is.” The Watchward grinned. “Praise Light! A good night’s work, Lady.” He opened the door for her and Rentha went in. She hesitated, then went quickly to the Healing Place. She had the flask of blueroot to replace, after all, and she might just see how Corhan fared while she was there. An attendant was seated outside, and told her that Corhan had woken and taken some food and drink, but was now sleeping again. Rentha thanked him and handed him the flask to return to the Healers’ bench, then went to find the room she had been allocated. Space was limited, and she was once more sharing with Moondancer, but also with Whitestar. She went in quietly, and found they had left the lamp burning for her. The twins looked soundly asleep , curled in identical positions. As she prepared to sleep, Rentha tried to move silently, so as not to wake them, but she had reckoned without their Perception. Moondancer stirred, then sat up. “Rentha! Where were you? We were concerned.” Whitestar , beside her, leaned up on one elbow and added.”Have you been busy all night?” Rentha smiled at them. “Indeed I have! Saban came to call me. Daria has given birth, and they have a boy-child. All is well with them both.” “Praise Light!” the other girls said, almost in unison. “Corhan, too, has woken and taken nourishment, so they told me at the Healing Place. He is sleeping again now.” Rentha added, knowing the special relationship of the Malani to the Lightfriends. She was feeling sleepy now, and , after bidding the twins good night, though it was nearer to morning, put out the lamp and climbed gratefully into her bed.

Unsurprisingly, Rentha slept late, and woke to find the twins had woken and gone, and she was feeling very hungry. Reflecting , she realised that she had missed last night’s meal as she had gone to help Daria, so she quickly got ready and went out into the Hall. She felt momentarily guilty that she had also missed the Morning Prayers, but she had a good reason for that. Once she had eaten, she decided to go back to the camp and see that all was well with the Malani, before she went to tend Corhan. The morning air was warm and fresh, and she enjoyed the walk through the Gardens to the wildflower meadow. She found Saban’s tent and called out to him. He came out, smiling, and invited her in, and she entered to find Daria contentedly nursing her babe. To Rentha’s enquiries, Daria replied that it was well with both her and her son, and thanked Rentha again for her help with the birth. Satisfied, Rentha turned to Saban, and asked, “Will you show me around the Malani camp, Saban? I can see if there are any needs, and would like to be able to tell Corhan how his people fare, when I return to tend him. ” “Of course!” Saban agreed, and they set off on a tour of the camp. Rentha found the Malani to be very thankful to be in Li’is, and glad of her interest, though she found, and tended, only minor problems. Saban said ” You are kind, Rentha, to take such an interest in the Malani.” “Ah, I have heard that you are a special people!” she answered. “It is I who should thank you, for your guardianship of my family’s Brothers-and-Sisters-in-Light of Ma’al, when we here knew nothing of them or the dangers they faced.” “Your people too, though, so Zarel said, were guardians of the Lightfriends once.” Saban replied. “Those who provided these shelters for us.” “Yes, my mother’s people, the Ketai.” Rentha told him. “Though nowadays they are known as the Westerners.” They returned to Saban’s tent, where Rentha bade farewell to him and Daria. Now she felt she could assure their Lord that all was well with his people, and that he could take the time he needed to rest and recover.

Aiel had been conferring with other members of the Council-at-Need. Later that day, they had decided, or perhaps the next, when everyone had grown used to being in Li’is, they would address the refugees and welcome them formally to Li’is, explaining the workings of life here and what options were open to them. Mellin, Janir and Lin were ready to accept any of the few Swordsmen who wished to join the Watch at the Harbour, or Mountain or Western Fortresses. For now, though, such considerations could wait. There were still needs to be met, and all of them, and their families, were eager to help. The hundreds of refugees needed food and clothing, and other necessities, since they had brought little or nothing with them from Ma’al. Karis and Karlin were among the helpers, glad to be of practical use now they had rested after the stress of the Way and the joy of returning and reunion. After he had helped with the distribution of food to the refugees from Ma’al, and eaten his own hasty meal, Karis, leaving Karlin with Janna, went to the Healing Place to see how Corhan was faring. He found Rentha there, standing at the foot of the dark Swordsman’s couch. Corhan was sleeping, and she was gazing down at him. Well, there was nothing unusual in that; she was a Healer, and he in her care, after all. Still, when Karis spoke her name, she started, and a quick flush rose in her cheeks, as though he had caught her in an impropriety.”How is it with my Sword-Brother, Rentha?” he asked. The flush faded, and she smiled at him. “It will be well with him, Karis. He has slept a great deal, for he was exhausted, and he had lost a fair amount of blood. But the wound is clean, no sign of Wound Fever, and he is very strong. A few days’ rest, and food and drink to build up his reserves of strength again, and he will be as fit as he ever was.” Karis nodded, and said ,”He saved my life in Ma’al, Rentha. It is – was – such a place of Darkness, even a Swordsman of Li’is could not have been prepared for all the dangers there. Twice Corhan saved my life.” “A Sword-Brother indeed!” the Healer answered, and looked again at Corhan’s sleeping face. Karis, remembering how certain Corhan had been that Rentha was his dream-maiden,said suddenly, “Rentha, if I ask you something, will you take it that I have good reason to ask, and not as an impertinence?”

She looked at him, puzzled, and said, “What is it that you want to ask me, Karis?” He replied softly, “Do you – or do you think you might – feel anything for Corhan?” The colour flew to her face again, and for a moment she would not look at him. “From anyone else, that would be an impertinence”, she murmured, ” and yet – oh, Karis, why do you ask?” “For a very good reason, Rentha. Will you tell me?” Though it was obvious, he thought, from her reaction, that she did have some feelings for Corhan. The Healer said, slowly, “Karis – yes, I do feel something, yet I cannot say what it is. I feel drawn to him, but I scarcely know him. I am afraid that it is only that he is strange to me – his – his beauty, his colouring, and what I have been told of his bravery, the fact that he fought against Darkness and has come out of Ma’al, in love of Light. Would it not be an insult to him to – to care for him only because of that? And what other reason can there be when I do not know him, have scarcely even spoken to him?” “I believe there is another reason, Rentha ” Karis said. He took her hand and gently drew her to one of the benches, and when they were seated he told her, quietly, about Corhan, and his dream, and how the dark Swordsman had been certain that Rentha was the maiden he had seen in his dream-vision. As she listened, Rentha’s dark eyes grew wide with astonishment, and when Karis had finished telling her about Corhan’s dream-vision, she glanced across at the sleeping man, then asked “And – and you believe I might be the maiden in Corhan’s dream, Karis?” ” I believe you are the maiden, Rentha! Corhan said that his vision was so vivid, he would know her as soon as he saw her. And when he saw you, he was certain.” “But he had been wounded, and was weak, near unconscious, he might not have been right.” “I am sure he was” Karis said. He did not for a moment believe that Rentha doubted it either, only that, as was her way, she wanted to be scrupulously fair and honest about the matter. Now she looked at him and said, with a hint of gentle reproach in her voice, “But was this not Corhan’s to tell me, Karis? Should you have said anything to me at all?” “I wondered that”, he confessed, “yet, in the end, I felt it wise, for two reasons. First, to reassure you that anything you might feel for Corhan was in the Will of Light for you, even though you have not known him long. And second, for Corhan himself. I think perhaps it will not be easy for him to tell you about his dream, and your part in it – even though you are a daughter of the Priesthood. If you are prepared, it may make it easier for him, and I know I can trust you not to mention it till he does, Rentha. He has been through so much, you see, ” Karis added, “they all have. The flight, the attacks, the fear of pursuit – and then to be carried to another world, to watch their own world die, to be unsure as yet of their place or their welcome in ours – it has been a great burden on these poor people. And Corhan must feel it all the more because of his responsibilities, since he is Lord of the Malani.”

There was a slight sound in the quiet room, and they turned to see Corhan beginning to stir from his sleep. Rentha rose and went to the Healers’ bench and , moving with quick efficiency, mixed a draught in a wooden bowl and carried it back to the couch. Karis caught a slight, sweet-sharp perfume from the bowl and recognised it as a reviving draught used after sickness. He had received it himself from Krystha after childhood ailments. He had gone to the foot of the couch and, leaning forward as Corhan’s black eyes opened, smiled, saying, “That is better! How is it with you, Sword-Brother?” “Well, I think”, the deep, musical voice replied, with a slight crack to it. “But I have a sore head, and a throat to match it.” “That is because you need to drink, Corhan”, Rentha said, appearing at his side with the bowl.”You have lost fluids from your body over the last few days, and they need replenishing. Karis, lift up your friend so that he can drink.” Karis obeyed, admiring Rentha’s coolness. Despite their conversation, she gave no indication that she knew anything about Corhan, or had any feelings for him. And this, Karis knew, was to protect Corhan, not herself. Corhan gazed at Rentha as she held the bowl to his lips, forgetting to drink as he took in all the details of her face. She smiled at him, and told him, “Drink the draught, Corhan. There is nothing in it to harm you.” He drank then, but automatically, his gaze still clinging to her face. She signalled to Karis to lower Corhan again, and the Lord of the Malani gave a great sigh, and said, “You are real! I thought I might have dreamed again. To dream of a dream, Karis – would that not be strange?” “You are not dreaming, Corhan ,my friend.” Karis said, softly. Rentha said, with a touch of pretended indignation, as though she had no idea what they were talking about,”Of course I am real! Do you not remember, Corhan? I am Rentha, Zarel’s sister. I am a Healer,and have been tending you. And,” she added, surprising Karis, who had not known, “I have been among your people, and it is well with them, most of them, save that they are weary and have been frightened by the journey. Saban has your camp well in hand, There is a child with a slight ailment, and a grandmother with swollen feet, nothing serious. I have tended them. And there is some good news for you!” “What is it?” Corhan asked, smiling up at her.”I have also been at a birthing. Your sister has borne a boy-child,” the Healer answered.”The babe came a little early, but all is well with them both. The first of your people to be born to your new world, Corhan. And you are an uncle.” “A boy!” Corhan exclaimed. “Daria was right, then, and her man and I were wrong. We told her, since she is such a strong woman, it would be a girl.” Quite suddenly, there were tears gleaming in the darkness of his eyes. “He will be the first of our children born to freedom of worship, in a world of Light!” Karis smiled gently,”A good thought, Corhan!” “Thanks to you, and Karlin, and most of all to Zarel, the Lightstone-Bearer.” Corhan said. “But for your obedience to Light, we would have perished with our world.” Karis shook his head firmly. “No. Light would have saved you somehow, with or without us. It would not have been permitted that the Children of Light should perish with the Children of Darkness.”

Corhan sat up suddenly, saying,”But I must go back to my people…”, but then he sank back again. “Do not move so quickly!” Rentha scolded him.”See, you have made yourself dizzy. You cannot return to the Malani yet, you are still a little weak and need rest and sustenance. I promise you that all is well with them. Wait till you are at full strength, for they are concerned for you, and if you go among them in a weakened state, you will only cause them more worry.” Corhan, recovering from the swirling of his head that his impetuous movement had caused, said, “You are right, maiden – Rentha. But it is hard not to be with them at such a time.” “Saban will come and tell you how it is with them”, she assured him, then smiled, and added, “And he is anxious to show you his son!” She turned to Karis, and requested “Karis, could you find some food and drink for Cothan? He needs to build up his strength.” “Of course!” the Swordsman answered, and left the Healing Place. Returning to the Hall, he found others of his family there, and, going to collect the food and drink for Corhan, told Karlin, Zarel and Aren that Corhan was awake and improving. “That is good!” Karlin said, then, “And what of him, and Rentha? Has he been able to say anything to her? I think it may be hard for him to explain.” “I thought so too”, Karis said. “And so, after consideration, I have told Rentha about Corhan’s dream, and that she is his dream-maiden, She has promised to say nothing until he speaks. I was not sure, but I thought it wise. Rentha is happy, for she had begun to feel a pull towards him, and was concerned about it, since she hardly knows him. Now she understands. She is sensible enough to deal with the matter, and it eases the way for Corhan.” Zarel said, “Yes, I think you were right, Karis. My sister is clear-headed and kind-hearted. I see, too, that it would have worried her that she might care for him, when she did not know why, for she is so honest in her dealings with others.” Karis smiled at him.”I am glad you agree with what I did, Zarel. Now I must take this nourishment back to Corhan, so he may grow strong again. He is very anxious to be with the Malani again, but agreed with Rentha that he should not return until he is at full strength, lest they be concerned for him.”

When Karis had left them, Zarel too considered Corhan’s situation. Aren’s Perception, closely linked with his as always, agreed with his decision to do his part too to help to smooth the way for Corhan. Accordingly, Zarel left the others and went to find Arenel and Zohra. He found them in a side room,with Zohra’s father and uncle, who were taking the opportunity to catch up with her news, now that the immediate urgency of helping the refugees was over. They smilingly welcomed the Lightstone-Bearer, and the Kets of the Westerners, after praising him for achieving the end of the Way, were curious about one thing. “These Malani”, said Ket-Kai. “It seems they are our ancient Sword-Brethren, though we knew nothing of them. It would be good to meet them.” Taking advantage of this comment, Zarel said, “It is the Malani I have come to speak to you about. Especially their Lord, Corhan.” Arenel, his Perception sensing that Zarel had something important to say, asked “I Perceive that you have some concern for Corhan, Zarel. I know that he was wounded, for Rentha told us that she was tending him. He has not taken the Wound Fever?” “Oh, no, praise Light. It is well with Corhan – very well. Father, Mother, I wanted to tell you what he told me, when we first met.” He had their attention now, and he went on, telling them about Corhan’s vison-dream, and how he had recognised that Zarel came from the same people as his dream-maiden. Ket-Lai, listening too, asked, “Then we must find his bride among our maidens of the West?” “No!” Zarel laughed. “For when we came through the Gate from Ma’al, Corhan was near collapse, and we called Rentha to tend him. And when he saw her, weak though he was, he knew instantly that she was his dream-maiden.” “Rentha?” Zohra exclaimed, “How wonderful! But has he told her? It will be hard for him to explain, I think.” “And hard to ask your approval of their betrothal” Ket-Kai commented , “since he and his people are new to Li’is and as yet unsure of their place here.” Zarel said “Karis has told Rentha of Corhan’s dream, because he saw that she was beginning to feel attracted to Corhan, and was concerned about it, because she scarcely knew, or had spoken to, him. She has promised to say nothing until Corhan speaks to her. Karis thought to ease Corhan’s way, and that is also why I have told you. As my grandfather says, he may not find it easy to speak to you of their betrothal.” Arenel smiled at Zohra and said, “Then we will say nothing either, my heart, until they come to us, if you agree. Since it is Light’s Will that they should be together, there is nothing to say to a betrothal but yes – but I am not reluctant, Zarel. From all I have heard of Corhan and his Malani, they are true to Light and courageous against Darkness, and that is all we need to know. If Rentha’s heart is given to him, and she will be happy with him. it is well.” Zohra agreed, and added “How marvellous are the ways of Light! Who would have guessed that Corhan would dream of Rentha, so long ago, in Ma’al, and have to be brought into Li’is by Light to find her.” Zarel laughed again. “Those were almost his words, Mother, when I told him who I was, and where I came from.’How shall I search a whole new world?’ he said. And I told him we could easily find his dream-maiden among the Westerners, never guessing it would be my own sister!”

While Karis went to fetch provisions for Corhan, Rentha busied herself about the Healing Place. Corhan was, of necessity, still wearing the dirty clothes in which he had escaped from Ma’al, and she knew he would feel better for a wash and change of clothing, so she looked out a robe which would fit him. She was outwardly calm, and maintaining the pretence that she knew nothing of what Karis had told her, but inwardly her mind was racing. To know that Light had destined her for Corhan in such a strange and miraculous way, though each of them had been in different worlds, not knowing, save for the dream, that either existed, was amazing. Chiefly, though, she felt relief that the tenderness she felt for the Lord of the Malani had a legitimate basis and was not some fantasy of her own mind. Corhan, moving a little on his couch, exclaimed “What is it that you have done to my arm, Rentha? Oh, I do not doubt your skills, but it feels strange.” She went back to him and told him, “I have pinned it, until it starts to heal.” “Pinned?” he queried. “Oh, perhaps you do – did – not use this in Ma’al.” she said. “We use pins to hold the edges of a wound together, until the flesh begins to knit again. They are small, and made of gold, so as not to cause harm. Maybe you feel them pull at the wound a little, but they will not harm you.” “I see”, Corhan said. Karis came back into the Healing Place with the supplies for Corhan, and Rentha told Corhan, “Now you may sit up again, but slowly. You have lain flat a long time, that is why you were dizzy when you sat up quickly before. Karis and I will help you.” This time there were no problems, and Rentha thought there was probably no need to confine Corhan to a couch for too long. When he had eaten, she said “We will try if you are well enough to stand, Corhan. If you are steady on your feet, I will ask Karis to help you to the Bathing Place – the Healing Place has its own. You will feel better if you refresh yourself there, I think.” Corhan grinned. “Indeed I will! I feel as if I have been in these clothes forever.” The experiment in standing was successful, and Rentha smiled and handed Karis the robe for Corhan, saying, “You can help your Sword-Brother, Karis, only do not let the wounded arm become wet. ” “Gladly” Karis answered, then, turning to Corhan, ” Come then, I will show you the Bathing Place. lean on me if you feel the need.” But Corhan was perfectly able to walk unaided, and Rentha, watching their progress towards the Bathing Place, wondered if she were being unnecessarily cautious.

However, when they returned, although he was still walking unaided, Corhan sank down gratefully on the edge of the couch, whose covers Rentha had now replaced with fresh ones, and said, “I would not have believed such a simple task could tire me so! But I am glad to be clean and freshly clothed, Rentha. It was a good thought.” “Then you need a draught, and more rest”, the Healer replied. For a moment he looked a little alarmed, and she laughed “I am not going to send you to sleep again, Corhan! No sweetwood, just another reviving draught.” He laughed too, and Karis thought that their eyes met and lingered for a few seconds.The Swordsman said, “Now that I know all is well with you, Sword-Brother, excuse me if I leave you. There is work to do.” Corhan smiled at him. “Thank you for your help, Karis. Yes, go and help the others. But do not neglect Sharamine!” “Who is Sharamine?” asked Rentha, who had not yet heard their story. Karis replied, “Corhan can tell you, Rentha. It will help pass the time for him.” And also, the Swordsman thought, give them more time together, and perhaps an opportunity for Corhan to speak to Rentha about his vision-dream . He bade them farewell and left the Healing Place. When he had gone, Rentha ordered Corhan back to his couch, while she fetched the draught for him, though she allowed him to sit up, propped on cushions. When he was settled and had drunk the draught, she pulled a bench round to sit beside the couch, and asked, “Now, who is Sharamine? Why was Karis being so mysterious?” Corhan looked across at her and said “Sharamine is a maiden we rescued from the danger of a forced marriage, and to keep her safe, she and Karis were married, by the laws of Ma’al.” “Married?” Rentha exclaimed. “It was to be a sham marriage, to be broken when she was far enough away from her pursuer to be safe”, Corhan explained. “But there was never opportunity to break the marriage, so in a sense they are still wed. But it does not matter, since they have fallen in love. Karis said they can be properly married, here in Li’is, in the sight of Light, and till then they count themselves as betrothed only.” “Then I am glad for Karis” Rentha said, then smiled, “It is just the thing he would do, he is brave and impetuous and cannot bear to see any , person or animal, being hard used. I mind when we were children, how he berated a merchant he thought had overloaded his horse’s wagon!” “He was your playmate, then?” Corhan asked. “Yes, he and Karlin. Though he is really my father’s cousin, he was so much younger that we were all much of an age, Karis and Karlin, Zarel and Aren, Mella and I.” “Now, who is Mella? It is my turn to ask questions.” “Oh, Mella is Karlin’s sister, another Healer.”

Rentha found she was enjoying chatting to Corhan. When he turned his head momentarily she studied the sculpted planes of his face and the slight sheen of his dark skin. He looked back at her and asked more questions. “And your people, the Ketai? They came into Li’is with the Lightfriends, Zarel said, and from what else he said, it seems their way of life is much like ours.” “They are my mother’s people.” Rentha replied. “Their Kets, like my brothers, are twins. The Ket is the Lord of the Westerners, but because my grandfather and great-uncle are twins, they share the Lordship. The Ketai only use that name now for special occasions and ceremonies. They live on the Plateau of the West, and everyone knows them as the Westerners.” “And they are a people who move around, as we do?” Corhan asked. “Most of them, the herdsmen and horse breeders. They need to find grazing for their animals. The Kets, though, and the Elders, keep a fixed camp, so that any problems or disputes may be brought to them. And all the Westerners gather for the Festivals, and the Night of the Warrior Children.” That intrigued him, so she explained the rituals of that Night, and the Sword-Training that followed. She felt he was not only interested in the Westerners in general, but trying to find out some of her own background. She could see now, though, that there was a weariness about his eyes, and said, “Corhan, I was glad to spend this time with you, but you look tired, and need to rest again.” She could tell he was reluctant, but he allowed her to rearrange his cushions so that he could lie down. She pointed out the bell pull that hung over his couch, as over all in the Healing Place, and said, “If you have need, pull on the bell. The Healing Place attendants will be nearby and help you.” “I will”, he said. “But you will come back, Rentha?” He sounded a little anxious, and she said lightly, “Of course! I am in charge of your Healing, am I not?”

Aiel had been trying to decide what offer to make to the Lightfriends of Ma’al. The fact that Dorvai had decidedly placed them under Aiel’s authority, as High Priest of Light in Li’is, made it easier, but he was still unwilling to force any changes on them that they might not wish. He felt that it would be good if all of them, at first, came to the City. Even the thirty mature Lightfriends would need some guidance as to the service of Light in Li’is, and the younger ones, and the Perception-gifted children, would need to complete their training in the Student House. Aiel wanted, too, to receive the Lightfriends into the Priesthood of Li’is, and gift them the robes and circlets that would show everyone that they were Priests of Light, the women too, though that would take some time for the people of Li’is to understand and accept. The Priesthood, though, having learned of their service in Ma’al, and met Moondancer, were already happy about the change. How to spread the news of what had happened to Ma’al, and how those of its people, though few, who were true to Light, had been saved, was another question he needed to answer. However, he had received news, through the Thought-without-Words, from the Priests of the Third Faring House in the Merchant Town, of developments which might help. They reported that travellers to the Faring House had arrived carrying strange news. The Dark Ruins, it seemed, were no more, had disappeared completely, as though the ground had swallowed them up. And the land around them was healing; the Red Forest was changing as its trees came to life, threw off their tainted foliage and put on new, fresh growth. The earth itself had changed, too, from dry, dusty red to healthy soil on which the first blades of grass and colonising wild flowers were making an appearance. Zarel had told Aiel how the Shining One had said that those Dark Ruins were still a foothold for the Dark Lords in Li’is, save that the Dancers guarded the way. With Ma’al now destroyed and the link broken, it was obvious that this last lingering fragment of Ma’al in Li’is had also been destroyed. The comment it had caused, and the rumours which would no doubt be circulating, Aiel thought, would make a basis for the spreading of the story of the refugees. He had told Arentha, Lin and Krystha the news, and they had been glad. Though nothing would erase the memory of what they had experienced in the Dark Ruins, the fact that that awful place had been obliterated, and the land on which it had stood was healing, was some consolation.

Janir and Aila, Mellin and Marla, had rejoiced at the safe return of Karis and Karlin and the reuniting of Karlin and Janna. The added happiness of Karis and Sharamine , as well as the relief and joy of the successful completion of Zarel’s Way, created an aura of wellbeing and contentment over them all. Karlin and Janna had found each other changed by the experience, but in no bad way. Each of them had fought fear and strengthened faith, and matured. Their love was as strong and deep as ever, but had a new dimension. Karlin had told Janna, privately, of what Mihel had said to him. “He told me we would have a long and happy life together, and see our children’s children prosper, my heart. And he is a Spirit-in-Light! So he spoke a prophecy for us.” Janna had been amazed but happy. Sharamine, nervous at first of her reception, had relaxed and blossomed with the welcome of Karis’ family, and the knowledge of his love for her. The two couples, as Lin had suggested, were already planning a joint wedding, when all the many other matters concerning the refugees from Ma’al had been settled. There still was much to do, though. The next morning all of them would be gathered and formally welcomed to Li’is by the Council-at-Need, who had spent some time conferring and trying to put together a comprehensive list of the options available to them. The Lord of the East would welcome any who wished to cross the sea to his lands, though in view of what he had been told, Aiel wondered of any of the refugees would dare entrust themselves to the Eastern lands when they had always been, in Ma’al, a place to be dreaded and shunned, as the seat of the Dark Lords. There would be places on the Watches for any Swordsmen and their families who wished to take them, and of the twelve, including Talar and Lorin, two were very young, though they had fought valiantly, and might benefit from more Sword-Training. Corhan and his Malani would wish to stay together as a people, and would need to find a place where they could do so. Farmers and craftsmen would no doubt be easier to find places for. But Aiel was adamant that none should be forced or cajoled in their choice of home. “They have lived under oppression long enough, with no freedom to live their lives as they wished”, the High Priest said. Lin said, thoughtfully, “That other place….where Ma’al was. I wonder – all who served Light have left it , and though Ma’al is destroyed, surely it can be nothing now but the realm of Darkness.” Aiel, though, disagreed. “There is Darkness there, yes, but nowhere is out of the reach of Light, Lin, for Light is everywhere. There may yet be hope for that other realm.” “The Secret Word has been fulfilled, though.” Lin answered.” We have seen the end of Ma’al, and surely this is the beginning that was spoken of too, a new life for the people of Ma’al who were loyal to Light.” “That is true.” Aiel responded. “Yet in the First Days, Rafel, Brann and Tamorine penned the Secret Word without knowing what would come of it. There may be things yet to come that we will never know.” He smiled, then, and added, “But you are right, Lin, for we need not concern ourselves with such things. We can rejoice in what Light has done, and make our plans for the present times.”

AN END OF DARKNESS

Chapter 14

A few days passed, and life at the Gatehouse began to take on a rhythm. The Council-at-Need had called together the refugees from Ma’al and officially welcomed them to Li’is, calming the fears of some who had been unsure if they would be welcome in their new world. Prayer times and meal times had fallen back into their accustomed slots. Fed, clothed, and reassured, the refugees began to make new friends and reconnect with old ones, and to make tentative plans for the future. Aiel, with the agreement of the Council and the Lightfriends of Ma’al, had sent the Thought-without-Words through the Priesthood, telling them to now pass on the story of the Way and the rescue from Ma’al, emphasising that it was the Children of Light who had been brought into Li’is. That way, the people of Li’is would be prepared for the newcomers to their communities. Karis and Karlin had been delighted when Talar and Lorin had decided to join the Fortress Watch, along with an older Swordsman, Tabet, his son, still undergoing Sword-Training, wife, and young daughter. Since the Malani had asked for news of their Lord, Saban had come to visit Corhan in the Healing Place, bringing his baby son. “What will you name him?” Rentha had asked. “Darhan” Saban had answered, and Corhan said “That was our father’s name, too – mine and Daria’s.” Saban had reassured Corhan that all was well with the Malani, and there was no need for him to return to the camp until Rentha said he was strong enough. There was to be another important appointment for Corhan, Aiel told his granddaughter when she was eating her evening meal with her family. “The Council have decided that since the Malani are a new people to Li’is, they should be represented on the Council, even though it rarely meets. So we will invite the Lord of the Malani to become a member of the Council. Say nothing to him yet, though, Rentha, for the invitation must come from the Council.” Rentha promised, glad for Corhan and the Malani. It would prove to them that they would be valued by the Lords of Li’is.

Corhan’s fitness and stamina had stood him in good stead. Rentha had been able to unpin the small wound, since it was healing well, and, as she had expected, the few days’ rest and good food and drink had restored his strength. When Karis came to see how Corhan fared, he found him up and dressed, and Rentha said, “It is well enough with him now, Karis. You can return to your camp, Corhan, and I will only need to check the wound in a day or so, to see how the healing goes.” Corhan smiled broadly, and said, “Ah, that is good news! I miss my people. ” “They miss you too”, Rentha said, “though Saban and Daria have done well in your place. ” Karis also smiled, saying, “I am glad you have recovered, Sword-Brother, and can rejoin your people.” Rentha said, “I will come with you to the camp, Corhan, if I may. I would like to make sure all is well with those I tended, and there is no other need.” And, she thought, maybe among his own people he would feel able to speak to her about his vision-dream and her place in it, as he had not so far. “Of course, you will be welcome ,Rentha.” he replied. They made their way through the Gardens, encountering some of the Lightfriends on the way, who were glad to see their protector fit and well again. “It is a very special relationship you have with the Lightfriends.”Rentha commented. “And an ancient one” Corhan replied. “I hope it will not change too much, now that we are in Li’is and they have less need of protection.” ” Once the Priesthood were established in Li’is, in the First Days, they had less need of the protection of the Ketai.” Rentha answered, “But still, there is friendship and respect between the Priesthood and the Westerners. The Lightfriends will not forget you.” Corhan was looking round him at the Gardens now. “This is surely a place of repose and healing”, he said. Rentha smiled. “I had forgotten you had not seen the Gardens. I think you will enjoy the wildflower meadow, where. the Malani are camping.” Sure enough, when they reached the little gate and walked through into the meadow, Corhan exclaimed “You are right, Rentha! This place is perfect.” He looked across at the tents and said “These are the tents your people have provided? They are larger than I imagined.” “The travelling tents are intended for groups of herders, sometimes up to ten”, she explained, ” so they need to be spacious. Saban has set one aside for your return.”

They went first to Saban and Daria’s tent, where Corhan was received rapturously, and Rentha assured herself that all was well with Daria and the babe. She did not miss, though, the quick, questioning glance that Saban cast at Corhan, and the slight shake of Corhan’s head, and guessed that Saban was anxious to know if Corhan had yet broached the subject of his dream with her. Word of their Lord’s return had quickly gone round the camp, and when they stepped outside the tent, the Malani were gathering to welcome him. He assured them that all was well with him now, and added, “See, here with me is the Healer who helped me. If you or your families have need of her aid, she is here to offer it.” There were a few who came forward at that, mostly those concerned for children or older members of their families, and Rentha was glad to be of help. She found no serious problems, and was able to deal quickly with the few she did find, with the contents of her Healer’s sack. As she moved around the camp, with Corhan at her side, Rentha could not but be aware of the glances that came her way. How much, she wondered, did Corhan’s people, other than the Elders, know of his dream? Karis had told her that because of it, Corhan had broken with the tradition of betrothal at manhood for the Lords of the Malani. That, surely, must have demanded an explanation. Yet perhaps Corhan’s people would not, after all, have asked one of him, since it was obvious that he was greatly loved and respected by them. Rentha glanced up at Corhan, thinking how tall he was. She herself was not considered small, but she barely reached to Corhan’s shoulder. As if he felt her glance, he looked down at her and smiled, and she felt a warmth in her cheeks. ‘Light chose well for me’, she thought, no longer doubting that Corhan’s dream had been Light-sent, and that she was the maiden he had seen so long ago. At last he said, “Rentha, you have done enough for today. Do not weary yourself.” “But if there are other needs…” she began, but he said, “I think you have seen to all who asked.” He paused, then said, “I will come back to the Gatehouse with you.” They walked in silence for a while, back towards the little gate, and then Corhan said “It is good of you to take my people on your heart so, Rentha.” How was she to reply without revealing what she knew of his dream? She answered, truthfully, “It seems Light has laid your people on my heart, Corhan.” “Does it?” he said, opening the gate of the Gardens for her.

When he had followed her through, he said suddenly, urgently, “Rentha, do you have time to walk with me here for a while? I must talk to you.” Realising that her words had given him the opening he had needed, to tell her about his dream, she answered, “Of course, Corhan. What is it?” “Do you believe that Light may speak to the Children of Light?” “Why, yes, Corhan! I am a daughter of the Priesthood, remember. Light may speak to us in many ways.” “Years ago, in Ma’al, when I was very young, Light spoke to me, Rentha -” he had got so far, but now he hesitated. They had reached one of the arbour-seats that were scattered throughout the Gatehouse Gardens, and Rentha sat down, and said, “Let us sit here and talk, Corhan. Perhaps you can gather your thoughts better if you are still.” He sat beside her, turning his hands palm up on his knees in a gesture of helplessness. “I do not know how to say this to you, Rentha! yet it is vital that I do.” Rentha took pity on him and knew that it was time to help him, by telling him what she already knew. She reached out her hand and laid it in Corhan’s. The palms of his hands were much paler than the dark skin of their backs, almost the colour of her own hand, so that they seemed to meld together. Corhan looked across at her in surprise. “Corhan”, she said, “I – I know about your dream – Karis told me. Oh, do not be angry with him!”, she rushed on, afraid that her confession might spoil the Swordsmen’s friendship. “It was because he saw that I was concerned that – that I was beginning to feel myself drawn to you.” “I am not angry”, Corhan said, and his hand closed on hers. “I did not know how to tell you about it, Rentha; I was afraid you might disbelieve me. It seems Karis has done me another service. But why did it concern you, that you were drawn to me?” Rentha looked into his black eyes and told him, honestly and openly, “Because I did not understand why, Corhan. All I knew of you was what my brother and cousins had told me – enough to make me respect and honour you, yes, but not to account for – for any other feelings.” She felt herself blush again, but went doggedly on, “I had hardly even spoken to you, then – oh yes, I tended you, but you were unconscious at first, then asleep much of the time. I did not know you, Corhan, so how could I – care – for you? I thought that, like a foolish child, I was falling under the spell of their tales of your bravery, and of your strangeness and your – your beauty -” “My beauty?” he exclaimed, with a laugh. “Why yes, I found you beautiful” Rentha answered, surprised to find that she was growing quite calm and unflurried now that she had actually embarked on the telling. “And I was glad when Karis told me about your dream. I began to understand, then, that it was Light that had turned my heart to you, and to your people, and not some fancy of my own. But I was a little concerned that Karis should have told me what was yours to tell. I challenged him, and he said he had thought about it carefully, and not only for my sake, he said, but yours, he had told me, because you had been through so much and might find it yet another ordeal, to try to explain your dream to me.” “And you believe in my dream, Rentha? You do believe that you are the one Light meant for me?” Corhan asked, anxiously still. “Yes, I do” Rentha assured him. “It explains everything, Corhan.”

He took her other hand in his and said softly “It has been such a long time, Rentha, that I almost began to doubt it myself. And never, never did I imagine that I would have to come into another world to find you!” Rentha had seen another side to Corhan now, a gentler, more vulnerable side, and it woke a well of tenderness in her, so that she said, gently but decisively, “Dear Corhan, it is your world too, now. All Children of Light are children of Li’is too – no matter if they were born of Ma’al.” He smiled at her, and, still softly, spoke her name and leaned closer towards her. They kissed tentatively, shyly, as if each tested the other’s response. But it felt so right that they kissed again, and this time it was an affirmation, as though with the kiss they made a silent vow to each other. Corhan said, with wonder in his voice, “From my early youth I have been in love with the maiden in my dream, but now I have found the reality and it is better, far better, than the vision told me, Rentha, sweet!” Rentha, echoing her earlier thoughts, told him “Light chose well for me, Corhan! For surely Light knew my heart better than I, and that I would love you, even before I knew you.” “We must be betrothed”, he said, simply. “What is the way of it in your world, Rentha? I do not know – oh, there is so much I do not know!” “Then I will teach you”, she said. “It is the custom that you should ask my father, Arenel, if we may be betrothed.” “Oh!” , he half-groaned. “But why should he say yes, Rentha? I have nothing to offer you. We are without place or possessions, my people and I.” “There will be a place for you – for us” Rentha corrected herself, and was rewarded by Corhan’s flashing smile. ” It is custom only, Corhan. My father, Arenel, could not prevent us. But you know that he is of the Priesthood, and will not withstand the Will of Light in this, understanding that I will be happy with you.” “Is your father here? I do not know him.” Corhan asked. “He is here – my mother too. I will take you to meet them.” He nodded, but she saw that he was frowning slightly. “Corhan, something still worries you?” “Karis and Karlin and Zarel had never seen a Malani before. There are no people like us in Li’is?” “No. Does it matter to you?” “To me, no. But will your father and mother accept me as your betrothed if I am – different?” “Oh, Corhan, of course! You are a Child of Light. It is your inner spirit that matters, not your outward appearance. You are loyal to Light. That is all my father will ask of you, Corhan.” “And that is all I need to do? To ask your father?” “And me!” she laughed. ” Oh – Rentha, I am sorry! I should not have taken it for granted…” “Corhan, my heart, I was teasing you!” she broke in, smiling. “Of course I will be your Lady, that is settled. But what of your people? I was wondering, this morning in the camp – what do they know of your dream?” “All of them know a little. The Elders, and the most trusted, like Saban, know everything. But you have been seen with me among them. Those who know have guessed the truth, I think, and the others wonder. That is why I wish us to be betrothed quickly, to end their uncertainty. And there is a betrothal ceremony among the Malani – if you are willing -?” “Certainly, since the Malani will be my people too”, she answered, then, “Come, Corhan, let us go and find my father.”

They went quietly, hand in hand, back through the Gardens to the Gatehouse. In the Hall of the Gatehouse they found the two sets of twins, with Zohra. She and her sons had been tuning their harps, and as Rentha and Corhan came into the Hall, they were beginning to play. The music was beautiful, but new to Rentha, and she guessed it was Zohra’s new composition. Corhan whispered to her, “I have never heard music like this – so beautiful! It stirs my heart.” “My mother makes wonderful music, it is her Gifting of Light” she whispered back. “And my brothers, too, are accomplished musicians.” “That Lady is your mother?” Corhan asked. “Yes. Her name is Zohra, and she is a daughter of the Ketai.” Whitestar and Moondancer too were listening to the music, entranced, and Rentha and Corhan stood listening with them, until the music ended. Zohra smiled at her sons and said, “Good. You played well. You have not forgotten your skills, Zarel!” They smiled back, and Zarel looked across at his sister and said. “What do you think of our mother’s new music, Rentha – and Corhan? She has made it to celebrate the end of the Way and the arrival of the Children of Light of Ma’al.” Rentha too smiled, and responded that her mother’s music was as beautiful as ever, but Corhan was full of praise. “I did not know that such music as yours existed, Lady! It is wonderful, I felt it enter my spirit.” Zohra said “Ah, I fear there was no opportunity for Light’s music in Ma’al – but you are in Li’is now, Corhan. And you are the Lord of the Malani? It seems your people were the Sword-Brethren of mine – the Ketai – in the time before the First Days. My father and uncle are anxious to meet you – as was I.” “And I am glad to meet you, Lady Zohra.” Corhan replied. Rentha asked “Where is Father? We have something to ask him.” Zohra said, “I am not sure, since everywhere is so busy, but your brothers can call him by their Perception.” Zarel said, “I will call him, Mother”, for, Perceiving why the couple wished to speak to Arenel, he wanted to forewarn his father. Thus prepared, Arenel quickly arrived in the Hall, smiling in anticipation of Corhan’s request. When he reached them, Corhan stepped forward. “You are Rentha’s father?” “I am, Corhan. I am happy to meet you. I have heard much about you.” Corhan said, “I have something to tell you – ask you…” He stopped, unsure how to go on, and Arenel, remembering his own nervousness when asking for the Ket’s approval of his betrothal to Zohra, felt sorry for him. Laying one hand on the Swordsman’s shoulder, he said, “No need to struggle for words, Corhan. If it concerns Rentha, Zarel has told us about your vision-dream, and that she is the maiden Light intended for you. And Light has turned her heart to you too. It is good.” Corhan looked relieved at this assurance, but went on determinedly, “Still, I need to ask your agreement to a betrothal, and your blessing, Lord Priest Arenel, Lady Zohra. And you may have questions.” Rentha came to Corhan’s side, taking his hand, and smiled at her father. “Corhan, I told you my father would not resist the Will of Light.” “No indeed!” Arenel said. “But you need not think that I agree reluctantly, Corhan. I said that I had heard much about you, and all that I have heard is good. You are a true Child of Light, and Light has given you and Rentha this love for each other. Zohra and I are very happy for you, and gladly agree to a betrothal.” “Then I praise Light, and thank you both”, Corhan told them, then added, “There is a betrothal ceremony among the Malani, and I would wish us to be betrothed in the way of my people – if you have no objection?” Arenel put one arm around Zohra, and said, with a smile, “When I took my bride from among the Ketai, Corhan, we were betrothed in their way, handfasted by the Ket. It is proper that you and Rentha should be betrothed in the way of the Malani.” He could Perceive the relief and joy in Corhan, and added “Surely the ways of Light are wonderful! This Way has fulfilled so many things.”

Aiel, meanwhile, Perceiving the presence of Corhan in the Hall, had called together the Council, in the Prayer Room, and now sent the Thought-without-Words to Arenel, who acknowledged the message silently, then said aloud to the Lord of the Malani, “Corhan, Aiel requests that you go to the Prayer Room, for there is something he wishes you to do.” Corhan looked a little startled, and Arenel told him “There is nothing to fear.” Corhan glanced at Rentha, but she, forewarned by her grandfather, told him, “I cannot come with you, my heart, but as my father says, there is nothing to fear.” “I will show you the Prayer Room”, Zarel offered, and Corhan followed him, somewhat reluctantly, it seemed to those watching. In the Prayer Room they were all waiting; Aiel, Lin, Mellin, Janir, Rujel, the Lord of the East and the twin Kets. When Corhan entered, he looked around questioningly, wondering what these Lords of Li’is could want with him, and took refuge in formality, saying “You summoned me, Lord High Priest?” Aiel smiled. “We did, Corhan. We have a request for you.” “I do not know what I can do for you, but I will do it gladly.” Corhan replied, relaxing a little. Aiel explained, “Corhan, we are the Council-at-Need of Li’is. The Council meets very rarely, except at times of great peril, or great joy. Nevertheless, we represent all the peoples of Li’is. ” Corhan nodded, to show he understood, and Aiel continued, “Now that the people of Ma’al have come into Li’is, we will represent them too. But there were no Malani in Li’is before Light brought you here, and your people must be represented . So we invite the Lord of the Malani to become a member of the Council.” Corhan gasped. “But I am new to Li’is – I do not know your ways. Are you sure?” “We are sure. You will learn the ways of Li’is, and the Malani will become a people of Li’is.” “As the Ketai did, in the First Days.” Ket-Kai added. Corhan replied “It is a great honour . If you are certain – then I accept, for myself and my people.” “Good”, Aiel said. “Membership of the Council , like Lordship, is hereditary, Corhan, so your heirs will become members in the future, as we have succeeded our fathers. This decision will be recorded later, in the House of Records of the Temple,but for now we are glad to welcome you.” Now that the formalities were over, they came in turn to welcome and congratulate the new member of the Council, the Kets especially eager to greet him and learn more about the Malani. As they spoke, Corhan glanced round him at the Prayer Room, and when things were a little quieter, he asked Aiel, “Lord High Priest, I know this is a Place of Prayer. But what is that?” He was pointing to the Crucible, and Aiel said, “Ah, I had not remembered that you have not been to the Prayer Room yet, Corhan.” He explained the Crucible to the Lord of the Malani.” It is to draw our thoughts to Light – not a representation of Light, for that is impossible, but to remind us of the One Light, and set our hearts towards Light when we pray.” Corhan said, ” I see. It is an aid to prayer, then.” “And also a place of focus for important events, such as Festivals…” Aiel paused, then smiled at Corhan, and went on ” and weddings.” Corhan cast him a quizzical glance, and Aiel said, ” I have learned of your betrothal to my granddaughter, Corhan. I am very glad for you both.” Corhan returned his smile, and said, ” You knew of my vision-dream, then, Lord?” “I did. And since you will be my grandson-by-marriage, you must call me Aiel.”

When Corhan left the Prayer Room, Rentha was waiting for him outside. She smiled at him, and said, “You see, I told you there was nothing to fear.” “No, indeed!” he replied. “The Lords of Li’is do me great honour, to invite me to join the Council.” “But you are a Lord of Li’is now, too.” she replied. ” I will return to the camp”, Corhan said, “and tell the Elders about this, and about our betrothal. We must make preparation for the betrothal ceremony. I think Daria will have it in hand.” “Daria?” Rentha asked. He smiled. “It involves my nearest female relative, and since I have no mother, that is Daria. I think she has been preparing for this for many years, to be ready when I found you, my heart.” Since they were alone, he bent and swiftly kissed her, then said, “When all is ready, I will send word for you to come to the camp with your family and kin. It will not be long.” “And then the Malani will know.” Rentha said. “I am glad, Corhan – but a little nervous. I hope that your people will accept me as your betrothed.” “They will”, he answered, decisively. She left him at the door of the Gatehouse, to go back to the Malani camp, and herself turned back inside, wondering what the betrothal ceremony would entail. She knew of her parents’ betrothal in the camp of the Westerners, and wondered if this would be similar. Returning to the Hall, she looked around for her mother, and found her with Aila and Marla. All of them smiled at her as she approached, and guessing the subject of their conversation, she scolded them, but in fun, laughing, “Are you talking about me?” Aila, her Perception sensing Rentha’s happiness, answered her. “What else should we be discussing, Rentha, dear? When Light has done something so amazing in your Life, and Corhan’s, how could we not?” “I am so glad for you, Rentha”,added Marla. “Corhan is a fine man, and a courageous one.” Zohra hugged her daughter, and said, “Now we must wait for the summons to the Malani’s betrothal ceremony. I wonder if it will be anything like that of the Westerners?” “I was wondering that, too.” Rentha said, and laughed again. “Corhan is keeping it a secret, he has told me nothing, except that it will involve his sister Daria, as his nearest female relative.” At that, they naturally fell to discussing the possibilities of the betrothal ceremony, while agreeing that they would have to wait and see.

They did not have long to wait, for next morning one of the Malani women came to the Gatehouse, with the message that Rentha and her family and kinfolk should come to the Malani camp at midday, for the betrothal ceremony. Rentha felt happy, excited, and just a little nervous. It took some time to gather all who were invited to attend, since they were about various tasks in the Gatehouse, but at last they were ready, and at the appointed time the party set off for the wildflower meadow and the Malani camp. They came into the meadow through the little gate, to see that the Elders of the Malani were gathered in a crescent, with Saban and Daria at the centre. Daria had something folded over her arm, looking like a garment, seeming very old and somewhat faded, though clean. The rest of the Malani had gathered behind them, quiet, but with expressions of joyful expectation. Corhan was standing in front of Saban and Daria, and as Rentha came towards them, followed by her parents, brothers, grandparents and other kin, he turned to greet her. “Come” was all he said, as he took her hand, and brought her to stand with him, turning to face her. Her family stood watching as the betrothal ceremony commenced. Saban spoke first. “People of the Malani, Corhan son of Darhan, Lord of the Malani, declares his intention to be betrothed to Rentha, daughter of Arenel of the Priesthood.” Then Daria spoke for Rentha. “Family of Arenel, Rentha, daughter of Arenel of the Priesthood declares her intention to be betrothed to Corhan son of Darhan, Lord of the Malani.” Saban said, “Corhan, that is your intent?” “It is.” Corhan replied. Daria asked Rentha, “Rentha, that is your intent?” “It is”, she replied, following Corhan’s lead. Daria shook out the garment she was holding. It looked like a long, deep shawl, and she took it and wrapped it around both Corhan and Rentha, binding them together. Rentha could feel the warmth and softness of it round her shoulders. Daria spoke again. “We bind you in the betrothal cloth of our family, Corhan and Rentha, to seal your betrothal. We bind you in the protection of our family, Rentha, until you may wed Corhan. We bind you both in the protection of Light.” Cocooned in the cloth, Corhan leaned to kiss Rentha, not on the lips, but on the forehead, and Daria said, “Now you are betrothed.” The Malani behind the elders began to sing, a soft, chorus that grew gradually into a shout of joy, intriguing Zohra’s musician’s ear. When the sound ceased, Daria unwrapped the betrothal cloth from Rentha and Corhan, and folded it carefully. Now the ceremony was over, Rentha’s family came to mingle with the Malani and share congratulations. Corhan explained the ceremony to them. “Life in Ma’al was dangerous, even for the Malani. When a maiden is betrothed, though she still belongs to her own family until she weds, she is also bound into the family of her betrothed. That is because, in Ma’al, some Darkness might overtake her family, and then she would be assured of the protection of her betrothed’s family. Or if something happened to him or his family, her family would take care of those who remained.”

The Malani around them had been voluble in their congratulations, and welcome to Rentha’s family, but suddenly all the noise was hushed, as a shimmering in the air betokened the appearance of a Dancer . The light-being blinked into existence before them all, drawing little gasps of awe from the Malani, unused as yet to the existence of the Dancers. Its thought, though, was extended only to Aiel and Zarel. ‘Aiel, High Priest of Light, and Zarel, Lightstone-Bearer. There is more to be done.’ Aiel’s and Zarel’s Perceptions meshed briefly in wordless query , then the Dancer continued. ‘You must gather the Council and their families, together with Dorvai and his daughters, at tomorrow’s dawn, at the foot of the Dancer’s Mountain. The Spirit-in-Light, Mihel, will come to show you.’ That was all, and the bright being disappeared. Zarel whispered to Aiel “But the Way is over!” “Not quite, it seems”, his grandfather replied. Since none of the others had heard the Dancer’s message, the Malani , not knowing the ways of the Dancers,assumed that it had appeared briefly in celebration of their Lord’s betrothal, and Aiel and Zarel did not say anything to disabuse them. Rentha’s family, though, knowing that a Dancer’s appearance was of great significance, wondered what it might mean. It was not until they were all on the way back to the Gatehouse, though, that they began to discuss it, and Aiel told them of the Dancer’s message, since they would all be involved. Corhan was with them, as custom dictated that he should accompany his betrothed safely back with her family, and Aiel told him, “You are of the Council now, Corhan, so you must bring your family too.” “There is only Daria, and Saban and the babe.” he answered. “Then bring your sister and her man” Aiel answered. “There will be someone to care for the babe for a while?” “Yes.” Corhan said, and, practicalities resolved, they began to ponder what it might all mean, and why they should be visited by the Shining One. Once back at the Gatehouse, Corhan left them, to return to the Malani camp and prepare Daria and Saban for the morning’s doings, while Aiel and the others went in and told the others of the Council. Mellin asked “Is the Way not over? Is there more peril?” “Not with Mihel.” Zarel said, firmly, having learned to put so much trust in his Light-sent protector. The Lord of the East was the only one who could not comply fully with the Dancer’s request, since his family had not accompanied him, and the Kets too had left some of their family on the Plateau, but Aiel reasoned that since all was known to Light, that would not affect whatever was to be shown them by Mihel.

They might have thought that such an early start would be difficult, but in truth most of them were so nervously eager to discover what was to happen that all of them were up and ready before the dawn hour. The Council gathered their families and followed Aiel through the Gatehouse Gardens, collecting Corhan, Daria and Saban from the Malani camp on the way. They came up to the great wrought metal gate at the foot of the Dancer’s Mountain, tallest among the range of mountains that formed the barrier at the end of men’s lands in the Western Continent of Li’is. Here they stopped, and waited silently. The sun was rising, but suddenly a brighter light filled their sight, until they were forced to shut them. A gentle voice spoke. “Children of Light, open your eyes.” When they did, the bright light had faded, and a figure stood in front of the gate. Though they all knew Mihel to be a Spirit-in-Light, he had come to them now in the guise he had worn in Ma’al, an ordinary Swordsman, perhaps to reassure them. “You must come with me”, he said. “What happens now will change Li’is forever, but only for good.” “The Secret Word” Lin murmured,and Mihel smiled, “Yes.” They followed Mihel through the gate at the foot of the mountain, and when they were through it, he stopped, turning to them, and said, “Zarel, Lightstone-Bearer, come with me. The rest of you, stay here.” Zarel followed Mihel to the very base of the mountain, where the Shining One indicated a crack in the rock face to one side of the main peak. “Lightstone-Bearer, touch the Lightstone there,” he said. Curious, but obedient, Zarel stepped forward and laid the stone to the rock, as if to someone’s brow. Immediately there was a great blaze, as there had been on the Meeting Place in Ma’al, and Zarel wondered if another Gate was about to open. The others, watching from a distance, wondered the same. No Dancers appeared, though, and Zarel looked enquiringly at Mihel, who said only, “Wait.” They began to hear sounds, a low rumble, a creaking groan, as though the very rock spoke. Aren, concerned for Zarel, stared at the scene before them, and asked, suddenly, “Did the rocks move then?” That caught all their attention, and they too stared, trying to see through the veil of bright light.

By the rock face, Zarel realised that the crack was widening, spreading out and up. He felt a moment’s fear, but then thought to himself that Mihel would not have led him into danger. “What is happening?” he asked. “Li’is is changing, as I told you”, Mihel replied. “Light is working.” Fascinated but unafraid, Zarel watched as the blaze of light emanating from the Lightstone seemed to drive a wedge through the crack in the rock face, and it continued to widen slowly outwards and upwards. The alteration in the rock was visible to the others too, now, and Aiel, watching intently, said suddenly, “Lin -does not that look much like the Spearcleft Pass?” Lin looked, and answered,” Yes! Is Light creating a pass through the Dancers’ Mountains? And if so – what is on the other side?” That question was in all their minds as the new pass through the mountains opened slowly, inexorably, until it was wide enough for several people to walk through. Zarel had half expected a rock fall or some other sign of the new rift in the mountains, but it had opened miraculously at the Will of Light. Gently and almost quietly the whole rock face had split in half to make the new pass, and now Mihel raised his hand and the light withdrew again into the Lightstone. The Shining One turned to the others and called them to come near, and they crossed to the place, gazing in astonishment at the opening which they had just seen created. Now Mihel turned to face the new pass, and told them, “Come and see.”They looked at each other, nervous as to where they might be going, but obeyed, and followed him through the rift in the rock. Its sides were high and it was cool in their shade. The passage they traversed was quite long, but the pass did not twist like the Spearcleft Pass, and they could see daylight ahead.

When they reached the other side, there were gasps and exclamations as they came out into the early morning sunlight and found themselves standing at the top of a gentle slope, looking out over a whole new landscape. They were in a belt of trees, tall, slender trees with narrow grey-green leaves which gave off a refreshing fragrance instantly familiar to some of them. “Those trees!” Krystha exclaimed, and Aiel said, “Yes, I remember.” Mihel smiled at them, and said, “Barriers to men do not stop birds. Over many years the birds have carried the seeds of those trees across the mountains, and the seeds found a place where they were content, and formed the forest you remember.” They looked down the slope, past the trees. There was an area of rough ground and wild plants, some of which the Healers among them recognised as useful herbs. Then more, different trees and bushes. At the bottom of the slope was a wide valley and they could catch the gleam of a river. On the other side of the valley the land rose again, then levelled out, reaching to the limits of their vision. Mihel said “Light kept this land apart, till now. While Ma’al existed and the Dancers’ Gate needed protection from the Lords of Darkness.” “And now?” asked Rujel, the Gatekeeper. “Now it is given to the people of Li’is. And when people come to settle here, Gatekeeper, they will be part of your Soul-Watch. In time there will be others of the Priesthood,as the people grow in number, but for now it falls to you, and those who follow you.”

Corhan said, slowly, “It is a good land. I think perhaps…” he hesitated, and Aiel encouraged him, “Go on, Corhan, what do you wish to say?” The Lord of the Malani said, “My people and I are newcomers here. I do not know the right thing to do or ask. But we would want to stay together as a people, and it seems to me that, if it were allowed, we could settle in this place.” He glanced at Daria and Saban as he spoke, and they both signalled agreement. Corhan went on “I know there are no others of the Malani in Li’is. A new people for a new place seems good to me. But you may have objections to that?” Zohra said, “When my people, the Ketai, came into Li’is with the first Lightfriends, they too wished to remain together as a people, and they settled the Western Plateau. We are the Westerners, now, Corhan. If you settle here , the Malani will become the Northerners. It is good.” Aiel answered him, “Why should anyone object, Corhan? Light has given this land, and Light brought you out of Ma’al to live in Li’is. It will be your choice, and the Malani’s, where in Li’is you live, as it will be the choice of all the Children of Light who have come out of Ma’al. It would not be Light’s Will that any should be forced to live where they are unhappy.” “The Malani are a brave, strong people”, Karis said. “We know, we have fought alongside them. They are well able to settle this land.” Corhan smiled, then looked at Rentha, and said, “But you will be far from your home and family here with me, Rentha.” “Did not your vision-dream tell you I would be here with you and the Malani, to support and help you – ‘at a time of great turmoil’?” she asked him. “It is the Will of Light that I go where you go, Corhan, my heart. You and your – our-“, she corrected herself, “people. Yes, I will miss my family, but I will see them again, sometimes.” Arenel said, “I know I can trust my daughter to you, Corhan. As she has said, it is Light’s Will.” Lin said, “It is amazing – that these lands have been here for so long, and nobody knew, not even the Gatekeeper.” Mihel answered “They have been seen, from time to time, from the oceans – by ships caught in the Two-Moon Tides.” “The lands where the seacats go!” Janir exclaimed. “That is so. But they were guarded, and could never be found. Now, though, all people of Li’is have the freedom of them.” “And this is the new beginning of which the Secret Word tells us?”, Aiel asked. “No” came the surprising answer. “This is a new beginning, but not the fulfilment of the Secret Word.” “There is more to be done?” asked Zarel. As Lightstone-Bearer, he was wondering what else Light might require of him. “There is” Mihel answered, “but not by you. Come with me, and you will see.”

Obediently they followed him again, back through the pass, and he said, “We must climb to the Meeting Place.” In wondering silence they made their way up to the rock shelf, and gathered together there. Now Mihel shed his disguise; hidden for a few moments in a bright blaze of light, he reappeared, neither as a Swordsman, nor the towering, avenging figure they had seen on the plains of Ma’al, but as they recognised him, gleaming, white-robed, golden-eyed, with an aura of peace, power, love and joy. Around him Dancers began to appear, and ‘said’ to the onlookers, ‘You have come to see the fulfilment of the Secret Word’. Aiel said, “It spoke of an end – and a beginning. We have seen the end of Ma’al. Will you show us the ‘beginning’ now?” Mihel said, “I will show you the beginning. First you must all link through the Perception-gifted, for Light wills that you all hear the Song of this beginning, and only Zohra, Aren and Zarel can hear it.” So Aiel and the Priests and Lightfriends made the Thought-without-Words, and set their Perceptions on the others, so that all were joined in the link. Then they waited. Mihel swept his arm in an arc, and, as though he drew back a curtain, the Dancers’ Gate opened, and another view was before them. They were gazing out on a dark expanse, and then they recognised it as the sight they had looked on after the destruction of Ma’al, the Dark World and its moons shrunken and diminished, empty of life, banished to a distance, its former place in this cosmos empty and dark. Then they heard the Dancers begin to sing. Their Song seemed to flow like a river out into the darkness of those other skies, and it was full of the Presence of Light, of power, and love, and joy. Yet there was also pain in the Song, an intense pain, and a sorrow that seemed at odds with its other elements, and yet they were in perfect harmony. As they listened, awed and entranced, gazing into the blackness beyond them, they heard Mihel’s voice again.” Behold! Light’s new beginning!”

Into their sight suddenly swam a globe, much like Li’is as Aiel had seen it, when the Dancers carried him to one of its moons, mostly blue, but patched with colour, veiled with white cloud. It was accompanied by a single glowing moon, and it settled into the place left by the banishment of Ma’al, as the Dancers sang triumphantly. Mihel said quietly, “It is done.” He swept his arm across their view again, the Gate closed, and the strange new world was lost to their view. The Dancers were no longer on the Meeting Place, and Aiel wondered if they were still out there in that other space, singing to the new world. Zarel said, breathlessly, “Oh, so beautiful! But why was there so much pain and sorrow in the Dancers’; Song?” Mihel answered, “Because they sang of what will happen in that world. There too the Darkness will fight against Light, and because of that, it is in that world that the Sacrifice of Light must be made. As it is in Li’is, all there who accept the Sacrifice of Light will become Children of Light – but that Sacrifice will cost Light everything.”Aiel said “They will have a Priesthood?” “A different Priesthood. Aiel, with different ways, but true to Light. And there will be no more connection between Li’is and there. Ma’al is gone, the Dancers’ Gate has closed for the last time. You will know nothing of what happens on the other side of Light and Time from Li’is from now on. Light has permitted you to see this much, but no more.” Children of Light, all of them, they accepted this, but Zarel, the Lightstone-Bearer, asked hesitantly, “Mihel – does Light permit that we may at least know the name of this new world, so that we may pray for it, and its people?”

And Mihel smiled, and answered, “You may. Its people will call it Earth.”

LIGHT

Light
You are Light
You are Light uncreated, eternal, unchanging
You are Light pure and blazing, holy, awful;
You are Light gently searching, touching, healing.
Warm Light, easing cold and ache in us,
Cool Light, bidding fever cease in us;
Till with chill and pain of loneliness gone,
With fever of sin and anger stilled,
We may turn to You like flowers in sunlight,
Drawn to you like tides by moonlight,
Bathed in Your Light,
Dumb in Your Light
Like creatures stunned by the light of the noon sun,
Overwhelmed, worshipping, flung to our knees
By the wonder, the beauty, the glory of You
Who are Light unapproachable, incomprehensible,
You Who are Light,
Purely Light.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.