CATHAN JERKED ABRUPTLY FROM SLEEP
and glanced round the room in confusion.
The dying embers from the fire cast a dull red glow, turning the drapes round the
bed into dark, glowering shapes. He sat up, pulling the blankets close against the
A figure waited at the end of the bed. A young woman. Even in the dull glow from
the fire, he could see her quite clearly. Long lashes framed her dark eyes; beneath
them, heavy shadows smudged across pale skin. Her mouth was narrow, the lips
slightly apart revealing even, white teeth. Her face was neither young nor old,
fair or plain. It was a haunted face, the face of someone driven to the limit of
endurance. A face that revealed nothing but sorrow.
Against the pallor of her skin, the bright scarf tied round her hair seemed too
vivid and gaudy. The fringes hung across her brow and down around her ears like
strands of rainbow hair.
Her clothes were unbleached wool, bordered with the same vivid colours as the
scarf. Heavy knitted garments that seemed too large and cumbersome for such a
slender frame. Around her neck, a dark disk hung on a fine silver chain. Gold
hoops glinted in her ears.
Cathan stared in shocked silence. No one would enter his rooms uninvited. Maybe
she had knocked, and come in without waiting for his reply. She had the look of
the Dhyathen about her. Was she the messenger he was expecting from Elyssian?
He rubbed his eyes. "Greetings to you."
The woman regarded him in silence.
"Can I help you?" he asked, wondering if this were merely the continuation
of his dreams.
"I am no dream, High Lord," her voice was husky and deep.
"Then who are you? Do you come from the Dhyathen?"
Slowly, she shook her head and the rainbow fringes from the scarf fell across
her face. "I am Rhialla na Goreth. Guardian of Rhath Alazhyl."
Cathan's frown deepened. "How did you get in here?"
A faint smile touched her lips. "I am here, and I am not here. What you see
is mere projection. An image cast from far way. I am come with a message."
She held something up before her. In the dull glow from the fire, it looked like
a heavy glass rod, about an arm span long.
"I don't understand
She gestured him to silence with her other hand. "Have patience, and I will
speak the reason for my visit."
"But why come now, in the middle of the night?"
"When else could I be sure to find you alone? But listen, I lack strength
enough to hold this projection long, and there is much I must say. I am Rhialla
na Goreth, Guardian of Rhath Alazhyl, on the isle of Ynith Alazhyl. For generations
my ancestors have resided in that lonely tower."
Cathan nodded. Now she had named Ynith Alazhyl, he knew where she was from. An
island, north and west of Dhorhan. An island he thought uninhabited by any other
than seabirds and seals.
"I am the last of us."
His eyes widened in surprise. Was she reading his thoughts?
"A little, maybe. 'Tis the way of the projection," she confirmed.
"Before Ar'Amhya, many folk lived on our island. After the plague, only my
family and a few others remained. It is a lonely isle. The winds are
bitter and the boats from Rhesham few. Over the years the young folk left,
seeking companionship and trade on the mainland. Since my birth, only my parents
and I remained. My mother died some five winters since, and this last summer my
father followed her. Now I am alone. But I have kept the pledge. I am Guardian
of Rhath Alazhyl, and I am come to give you the warning." She held up the glass
rod again. "The glass does not lie, Lord. The lights of Rhath Alazhyl have
"The lights?" he asked, perplexed. "I am sorry
Rhialla shook her head, and a deep frown creased her brow. "You know not
of our pledge? You know not of the lights of Rhath Alazhyl?" She regarded
him with weary eyes. "There is not the time for this. The projection
I cannot hold it for much longer. High Lord, you must consult your records. Our
pledge is scribed in the annals of the High Council, by the hand of Amnan na
Goreth himself. You must come. Come to Rhath Alazhyl and honour our
Cathan shook his head in bewilderment. "I cannot leave Mesorathe. The city
is in turmoil. There have been riots. The College of Ems has been razed to the
She bowed her head, and he saw despair in her eyes. "High Lord, you must not
fail us. What matters the fate of one city against the doom of our entire land?
Before the festival of Gateways, before Isfanyn, you must come to Rhath Alazhyl.
Do not cast away the pledge my family has kept since the time of the
" her voice became fainter as she spoke, and he had to strain to
catch her words. The glass rod fell from her hand, shattered with a crash. Rhialla
staggered, and grasped at the trinket round her neck. She glanced towards him in
utter despair, then gave a terrible cry of pain and crumpled to the floor.
Cathan leapt from bed and fumbled for a lantern and firestone. As the soft golden
glow lit the room, he heard her voice again, a soft whisper as though from very far
away. "Come to Rhath Alazhyl, High Lord. You must come
Before the Seven
Strangers are seen
Cathan stood motionless, staring at where she had been. Broken glass scattered over
the boards and rug, but of Rhialla na Goreth, there was no sign. He picked up one
of the larger fragments of glass. It was one end of the rod. Heavy, clear glass,
in the form of a hollow tube nearly as thick as his wrist. The end of the tube was
sealed with a dark disk. Inside what remained of the tube, the other side of the
disk was polished like a mirror. He sorted through the fragments until he found the
second disk, with fragments of glass still adhering to its edge.
Cathan sighed, sat on the end of the bed and turned the disk over in his hands.
It was cold and heavy; some kind of metal. Blood seeped slowly from one finger
where the sharp glass had cut him, but he paid it no heed, regarding the shattered
fragments in awe.
It had been no dream.