A Light in the Dark
Therial Lan Morian sat quietly waiting. Her ancient bones ached keenly from the cold of the stone floor and her ropy back muscles had stiffened in protest. It used to be she could wait like this for days, moving only occasionally as her bodily functions demanded.
She could sense the others in the room with her always, knew exactly where they sat and when their breathing or concentration faltered. When the sight took her, though, she would not be able to feel anything of this world. She would be lifted up, away from her aching bones and the inadequacy of her withered lungs, away from the perpetual shadows, and she would be able to see. Colour and light, the unbearable beauty of Erys’s world would unfold in a swirling, spinning deluge of imagery.
The calling of sight was Therial’s one true joy and she endured the darkness of her days living for the visions. As a child, she had been quite content, never knowing what she lacked. But when she turned thirteen, the inner sight found her, and she finally understood what she was living without. She had languished for months, devastated by the knowledge that she should live her life bereft of eyesight.
Her mother had gone to the Seers in hopes that a place for her daughter could be found, where she could live happily among others like herself. Not all the Seers of Danum were blind but many were. The gift of inner sight, it seemed, came often to those who were not whole. And so she had found a purpose for her life – to be a vessel for the light of Erys, waiting always for the wonder of visions to shed light on her darkness.
It was coming now. Therial could feel it, like a faint breeze that stirred the stillness, ruffling the hair on her head. It always came with sound as though a distant storm approached, growing in volume as it came. When it hit, it was with full force and Therial was continually surprised not to find herself flat on her back afterwards.
Light suddenly blazed into her blackness and she turned her head instinctively to ease the brightness. She saw stars, a wide bright spangle that studded the heavens and glittered like jewels in the dark. She was floating and she felt coldness unlike any she could have imagined. The bright light came from the moons, but Raelys and Bashelar were not in their own space. Bashelar’s smaller reddish surface barely peeked out from behind her larger sister.
Before Therial could wonder, sound crashed into the peaceful space. Screams and curses, animal growls and men’s voices swirled around her, clashing metal. A dizzying spiral of movement. She could still see the moons but she was looking up at them from the ground.
A black streak hurtled passed her with an animal scream and a battle solidified. Before she could make out the details she was above once more, looking down on a great city perched on the edge of high sea cliffs. The city was about to be swallowed by a mammoth black tide but the wave came from the land not the ocean. She did not recognize the place but she knew with certainty that the city must not fall.
And then she was hurtling through space with only the moons for company until she felt it – a nameless dread welling up. It rose from the blackness beneath her and she could taste the wrongness of it in the back of her throat. It was older than time itself. It existed outside of the endless march of days, forever just under the surface, awaiting the call. Then it would be pulled into this world along with the doom it harboured.
It took a moment for Therial to realize the darkness she saw was her own. Hoping to steady herself, she took as deep a breath as her scarred lungs would allow. She reached up and wiped away some of the sweat on her wrinkled brow with a shaking hand.
Ignoring the pain that darted through her neck, she turned her head to the others, opening her eyes. Her voice came out in a hoarse whisper that had as much to do with what she had seen as the dryness in her throat. “The time has come.”
The blue water of the Eryos Ocean was pure and deep. A wind blew from the northwest. Northern winds were a rare occurrence but seemed fitting for their departure, bringing the faintest scent of the unknown continent they were to sail for. Rowan looked away from the surging swells that rolled under the dock and studied the rocky shore of the bay. The wind caught a few loose strands of her hair, tugging them free of her long braid.
Her small party stood on the shore, going once more through last minute packing and organization. She could hear their excited voices now and then. Their horses stood in a milling group beyond and Rowan made out the grey flashes of her big stallion.
Her mother and brother had seen her off from the city earlier this morning but she had not wanted them to come to the port, needed time to herself before they were to embark on the foreign ship. Her cousin Dell was off to the side, perched upon a huge boulder rooted in the churning surf. Like her, he needed to be alone for a last farewell to their island home. Most of their small party had said their good-byes back in the city, except for Lesiana, inseparable from her husband until absolutely necessary.
Rowan turned her back on the rising volcanic hills of the island to face the sparkling ocean again. After the banquet last night with its fanfare and revelry, the morning was quietly portentous. She flexed her hands into fists and relaxed, exhaling. The sense of the gravity for their mission would not leave her. Myrians were very supportive of sending aid to the mainland, even when they knew little of its people, but Rowan suspected that many of the Islanders did not completely understand the nature of the mission they had voted to send to Eryos.
She had woken long before dawn to sit, awaiting the soft glow of the rising sun as it filtered through the open fretwork of her room. She had been suddenly afraid she would never again see the sun rise over the land of Myris Dar.
When she and Dell had spoken last with the Seers, they had been cautioned that their small party would face hardship in the distant lands and that strength of heart would succeed at times where strength of arms failed. In typical fashion, the Seers had given no details or further help beyond the vague, cryptic warning.
Rowan shook her head and sighed, glancing to the side at the rising shoulders of the bay. The green of the spring grass had faded to the customary golden hues of summer. Only the olive trees and terraced gardens retained their verdant colour.
Seabirds called from overhead, their long narrow wings suspending them on the strong wind, floating in place with only a ruffle of feathers to attest to the effort. Rowan watched wistfully as they spied fish and folded their wings to plummet headfirst into the sea.
The smooth round head of a cellion popped up above the rolling surface, its liquid brown eyes regarding Rowan with curiosity before it slid beneath the waves, oscillating one of its flippers as if in farewell.
She reached up and adjusted the baldric that carried her sword strapped to her back and caught sight of the intricately tooled leather of the new vembraces her brother Andin had given her last night. She smiled; he had made them for her himself and been so proud to see her wearing them this morning.
Rowan looked to the edge of the bay as movement caught her eye. Three ships hove into view around the tip of the headland. They were making good time in the strong wind. The two smaller, sleeker ships were Myrian, their narrow prows slicing through the waves with precision.
The larger ship was foreign; its many coloured pinions and square sails belled out in the breeze and its wide beam sitting low in the swells. It was flanked by the two Myrian ships — escorts to shadow it into the bay. A merchant ship from beyond the land of Eryos had been easy to acquire passage upon. The Westerners from beyond Eryos and the high mountain barrier that separated it from the rest of the continent were staunch seafarers who explored the waters of the known world to its limits. They brought spice and copper and extraordinary woven goods to the few active ports in Eryos and in turn filled their holds with the rare blue-glazed Stoneman pottery and bales of wool and other trade goods.
Myris Dar was a frequent stop along their trade routes, though it was rare for the merchant ships to be granted permission to land. They were usually met out at sea by the Myrian patrol ships that could easily outrun the larger, more cumbersome vessels to prevent a daring captain from getting through to land ashore. Many battles had been fought several leagues offshore to keep the Western Pirates from sailing off with a ship hold’s worth of Myrian plunder.
Rowan could just make out the distant forms of sailors as they scurried over the decks to reef in the multitude of canvas sheets. She had fought and killed men like these who had broken through the Myrian patrol ships to land on Myris Dar. There was often little difference between merchants and pirates and she had battled alongside other Myrians to keep their island sovereign and safe from such raiders.
The island of Myris Dar was almost completely forgotten by the people of Eryos, who had not plied the deep oceans to the south of the mainland for centuries. Even if they had heard of the island from western traders, they would be incapable of reaching Myris Dar in their small fishing boats and sloops.
The kingdoms of Eryos had not been able to look beyond their own borders to the wider world since the vast empires that had flourished hundreds of years ago had crumbled to leave only scattered tribes and a chaotic quest for power. From the little she knew of Eryos, it was only just beginning to rise above the age of darkness and turmoil that had swallowed it after the fall of the twin empires. And she and her companions were about to journey into the heart of that struggling, unsettled land, with little idea of what they had to do once they arrived to fulfill their mission.
Rowan looked critically at the large ship as it came about and began to head towards the small port. It had been given permission to land only long enough to accept its cargo, and then it was to sail out on the same tide that brought it in.
The ship’s high deck had a convex camber to it and the hull’s wooden planks were smooth and free of barnacles. The three masts rising from the centre line of the deck were thick and tapered gracefully to the tops. The middle mast ended in a high crow’s nest, with a sailor posted there for lookout.
There would be more than enough room for the small party of warriors, their horses and the gear they would need for the weeks long journey across the Eryos Ocean to the mainland port city of Dendor in Lor Danith. From there Rowan and her party would head into the unknown in search of a city built on high sea cliffs.
Rowan’s gaze slid past the large ship to the sky and ocean beyond in the northwest. Dark thunderclouds were gathering on the horizon in deep grays and purples. She saw a brief flash of white lightening and distant thunder rolled across the swelling waves toward her. Myris Dar experienced little rain during the hot, dry summer. She wondered whether the Seers would note the approaching storm as a sign of things to come.
She looked again at the ship. It would not be long before it pulled up beside the pier. Rowan turned away from it and the ocean and walked across the heavy wooden planks towards her companions.
There was much work to be done yet before they set sail for Eryos.
A Chance Encounter
As he crept towards the campsite, Torrin studied the lonely figure huddled over the small fire. The flames of the fire were well concealed. Only the light it cast upon the figure hunched over it betrayed it. A larger pale form, highlighted against the deeper surrounding shadow, shifted beyond the camp – a horse.
Despite the lateness of the season, the night air was still warm and although this was one of the most beautiful places to be traveling, it was also an extremely dangerous one.
Torrin crouched down and waited, as he knew the others were also doing. The scent of earth and dead leaves rose from the forest floor and he breathed it in deeply. Arynilas appeared suddenly at his side, motioning that all was clear.
Torrin had long since become used to the silence of the Tynithian. He could almost always hear the approach of men like his own kin but a Tynithian was something completely different. The stealth of the Twilight People was legendary, their tracking skills unparalleled. Torrin believed it had to do with the shape shifting abilities of the slight, nimble race. They all had the ability to assume animal form and the instinctual intelligence they gained from that talent was uncanny.
Torrin had heard stories of Tynithians who renounced their human-like forms entirely, living out their extremely long lives in animal shape. As a race, they were very different from humans. Their eyes were tilted and jewel-like in color and their skin was an almost metallic copper tone. They also lived to be thousands of years old.
It was Arynilas who had first seen the faint glimmer through the trees that marked the camp. While Arynilas had crept close to the campsite to investigate further, Torrin, his brother Nathell and their two other companions, Dalemar and Borlin, had waited in the shadows. When the Tynithian had returned, with the news that there appeared to be only one occupant, they had tethered the horses and begun to cautiously move toward the light of the small fire.
The camp and its single occupant were cause for more than a little curiosity. Torrin and his companions had believed they were the only ones able to move through these rugged lands. He glanced up at the stars, marking them. Only half an hour had passed since the discovery of the stranger. Torrin looked ahead to the campsite and the lone figure, questions filling his mind. When he glanced back to Arynilas, the Tynithian had already disappeared, moving on to signal the others that all was safe.
Dalemar had sensed no magic in the stranger, which meant they would not be surprising a Rith who could wield deadly fire. Dalemar, a young Rith himself, a magic wielder, had stood silently with his eyes closed, casting out for the signs of a fellow Rith. He had sensed nothing.
Torrin stood and began to walk towards the campsite. It was time to solve this mystery. It was important to know how this stranger had traveled so far into this forbidden territory, avoiding the death that claimed so many others. “Ho the camp!” he called. Torrin watched closely as the figure rose smoothly, reaching swiftly to the sword over his right shoulder.
“We are friends and mean you no harm. We simply wish to share your fire for a while,” Torrin called quickly. The figure hesitated but did not lower his hand from the weapon. He was cloaked and hooded such that Torrin could not make out a face in the darkness.
“What do you want?” came a soft reply. It was almost a whisper and there was a hint of a strange accent.
“We were passing by, looking for a suitable rest site and saw your fire. We have food if you have not already eaten. We would share it with you.”
“How many is ‘we’?”
“There are five of us. It is safer to be with a few than with none, don’t you think?”
The figure dropped his hand slowly and looked around at the shadows. He stumbled and caught himself, standing upright again. He reached reflexively to his left shoulder. The man was wounded.
“I do not trust strangers to share my camp.” Again a quiet reply and the unfamiliar accent.
Torrin resumed walking towards the fire. “You look like you are injured. My brother is a healer. He could take a look at your wound.” He stopped three paces from the stranger to avoid causing alarm, though from what he could see of him in the darkness this stranger did not appear to be intimidated, despite his condition.
Torrin had learned long ago how to use his large size to his advantage. He was bigger than the average man, especially the smaller southern people. He was tall and broad of shoulder and his dark hair and eyebrows over an intense blue gaze naturally lent to the stern impression he made. He had used those attributes often to intimidate when he chose, but it also meant he was aware of the fear he could cause unintentionally.
The stranger was smaller than he looked from a distance, perhaps a Lor Danion, though the accent did not fit. The face was still in shadow but as Torrin studied the stranger he caught a glimmer of pale hair within — a plaited braid that disappeared into the darkness of the hood. The people of Lor Danith were almost always dark haired. Torrin supposed he could be a Tynithian; the size would be about right.
Torrin frowned in puzzlement. A long cloak covered most of the stranger but he was well dressed, if a little differently from the styles he was accustomed to. He wore a leather breastplate, intricately tooled with unrecognizable designs; leather vambraces with similar decoration covered the forearms.
Torrin observed the fine boned hands, one of which was resting comfortably on the hilt of an intricately wrought dagger sheathed at the belt. He saw the delicate fingertips and his eyes widened in sudden realization – even Tynithian hands were not that slim, at least not male ones.