Dhoban and Serin

Extract from “Brightly Shines the Darkness”

Several people have asked me where they can read an extract from my forthcoming book, so here is the prologue:-

Brightly Shines the Darkness

Prologue – Ninth Cycle, Day the Third, after dark

At Passenda’s suggestion, the most severely injured priests had been brought to one of the side-chambers of the roundhouse where they had been incarcerated, and she was doing what she could to ease their pain. This was little enough; the warriors had taken away her medicine-bag, and there was not even any fresh water to clean their wounds and cool them. She could do little more than cover them with the cloaks and ceremonial skins of her companions to keep them warm, and use her healing touch to soothe their suffering. Two others who were also healers had seen her efforts and come to assist her, but she knew that several of the wounded would die before morning.

Passenda had not heard Pero approaching, and she faltered in her work when he addressed her. “I must speak with Dhoban or Serin,” he said, “To tell them what has happened, and what they must do.”

“You can’t spirit-walk with those warriors watching us! If the sunservers see you following a moon practice, they’ll kill you.”

“Do you really think they’re going to let us go?” he asked bitterly. “We’re all going to die anyway; I must try to protect our youngsters from harm.” Seeing that his wife was still not convinced, he edged past her into the angle of the side-chamber, where the mud-packed ash and hazel wall hid him from the warriors guarding the only entrance to their prison. “Let me move up some of your patients,” he continued, “And lie down amongst them.” He did so, then picked up a sharp stone from the channel that ran along the perimeter of the packed earth floor. “Cut my forehead, so that blood flows. If any should ask, I am merely one of the wounded.”

Passenda recognised that further argument would serve no purpose, and contented herself with suggesting, “Tell them to abandon the priesthood. They don’t know how fanatical these sunservers are.”

“Nor did we. Beseech the goddess that one of them is spirit-walking, and will be able to hear me.” He passed the stone to Passenda, and closed his eyes as she carefully cut his skin.

* * * * *

After his abortive attempt to interrupt Serin’s dreams, Pero watched impatiently as Dhoban put away the tools he had been using to clear the undergrowth from the path and lay down, wrapped in his cloak, on the freshly turned earth. As soon as Dhoban’s face began to settle into the innocent repose of sleep, Pero gently tugged at his spirit. Such haste was bad-mannered and invasive, but at any moment Pero might be recalled to his body; he could not afford to wait courteously.

“We have been taken,” he said abruptly when he felt he had the young man’s attention, “No, don’t question me. Pay attention, and let us beseech the goddess you remember this as more than a dream.

“You and Serin must not attempt to carry on without us. You are too young and inexperienced; besides, the new sunservers are fanatics, and employ warriors to enforce their beliefs. Sooner or later they will reach our little village. So you must both renounce your priesthood. The proper way to do this is by asking a senior priest, preferably one of your own lineage, to unbind you. In case you later need to convince the authorities that this has been done, the ceremony should be witnessed by an elder beyond reproach.

“You were initiated by myself and my wife, but we are to die, and so we can’t unbind you before witnesses. It was your mother and her partner who taught us to Lead. You should try to find one of them. Your mother went across the sea. Ask Ronil Merchant if he has heard news of her in his travels. You may trust him; he is not a Follower, but he wouldn’t betray you. If you don’t feel you can trace her quickly enough, go with Serin to Rorbik. Seek out an inn set under the cliffs behind the port, with a ship painted above its door. Take rooms there, and hold a calling ceremony. The priest who partnered your mother until her marriage lives nearby – at least, he used to – and if he is still alive and in the area, he will hear your call and know where to find you.”

Dhoban’s attention was wandering, and the link between the two men was weakening. Pero faltered, uncertain that his beloved apprentice had appreciated the importance and urgency of what he was trying to convey. But there was no other way. Discouraged, he continued, “If he doesn’t answer within a quarter-cycle, then seek out any grey-haired priest, and ask him to unbind you before the elders.”

“The Way must always be Followed,” muttered Dhoban.

Cheered at this evidence that the youth had at least heard him, Pero replied, “Yes, it must. But not by you and Serin. Not openly, and not as priests. In your hearts, you will Follow. But you must no longer Lead.”

“You and Passenda Lead.”

“We have been imprisoned; we won’t return. You and Serin must disassociate yourselves from the Way.” Pero’s view of Dhoban blurred, and he realised that their time together had come to an end. “I can’t maintain this link any longer. Don’t grieve for Passenda and me – give our deaths meaning by following my advice one last time.”

Passenda heard his groan as he regained consciousness above the moans and cries of their companions in misfortune, and she abandoned the wounded man she was attempting to console to kneel at his side. “Did you reach either of them?” she begged him for news before he was truly awake.

Pero shook his head and stretched to dispel the cobwebs. “I had to take them as they were; I had neither the composure nor the energy to bend time. Serin was asleep, but unapproachable. I caught Dhoban just as he was lying down for the night. I explained everything to him, but he was this side of the veil. If he remembers it at all, he may dismiss it as a dream.”

“You did your best,” she consoled him.

“Let’s hope it was enough. If I can, I’ll try again in the morning. Perhaps they’ll be more receptive as their spirits move towards awakening than they were as they fell asleep.”

“You won’t be allowed the opportunity. While your spirit was gone, the warriors who are guarding us were gloating about the magnificent offering they would be making when their god next appears.”

Pero understood at once. “And their god is the sun, and their offerings are sacrifices by fire.”

“Yes. Hence the distress you hear around us. We are all to burn at dawn.”