Sen-Mar lay quiet in the heavy sun of noon. Quiet in the temple, where Callis sat brooding in the room that had been Mal-Den’s, staring at the statue of Jaren and turning a knife-blade around and around so that it bored a hole into the surface of Mal-Den’s fine ancient table. Quiet in the market-places, where no stalls were offering goods for sale and where rats squeaked about the few rotting remains of food that stank in the gutters. Quiet in the streets, since all the people who had not fled the city by road or by sea were hiding in their shuttered houses. Nothing moved; no children played; all the children who had not escaped from Sen-Mar had been rounded up by the temple guard in a few raging days of slaughter and sacrifice. Children’s blood stained the floor and walls of Jaren’s sanctuary, and the last wisps of their burning still drifted faintly out of the slits in the roof.

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‘There is only one thing that I can do.’ Saranna stood in the middle of the cave, peering round at her friends in the dim lamplight.  ‘I have to go into the desert to find the people who dwell there – I know in my heart that among them I will find an answer to the sorrows and pains of this land.’

‘And I will go with you, lady.’ Mara rose from her place beside Arnett, and came to stand beside Saranna. The princess shrieked, startling the little ones into tears.

‘You cannot leave me, Mara – what shall I do without you?’

Then everyone was speaking, cutting across one another, all trying to convince Saranna and Mara that they must not, could not, go on this journey into the dry lands.  After a while, Mor-Len looked around the cave entrance and said, ‘Begging your pardon, my friends, but I must suggest you try to be quieter. If some patrol comes out along the south road, they will hear us.  Indeed, we should all be moving on, due south seems good to me but I cannot help you all to decide whether or not the lady should follow her own way.’

‘I must!’ she repeated, glaring at them all.

‘Then I must come too,’ said Mara.

‘And I.’ Arnett stood and walked to her handmaid’s side.

‘And me, lady!’ Ar-Nen scampered across the cave and grabbed Saranna’s hand.  Slowly Tamnet rose, and saying, ‘I am sorry, Torik,’ she took her place with the others.

‘Mercy,’ Gennet cried out, ‘what is to become of me and master Torik with all these little ones?’



Mal-Den stepped through the new-found door into the light. He stopped at once, so abruptly that Raðenn bumped into him.
‘What is the matter?’
‘I’m sorry, prince, I am bewildered. Look!’
Both men moved forward and saw that the light was washing down through a cloud of green leaves high above. Tall trunks as straight as spears and fat as seven fat men standing together rose up so high that neither could see as far as the leaves without craning his neck fiercely.
They looked down again, and Raðenn said, ‘Where in Skorn are we? How did we get here?’
Then Mal-Den cried, ‘The door! Raðenn, the door!’
Both ran towards the curved wall and beat upon it with their hands. The door had vanished, and as they stepped back and stared, the entire building shimmered and was gone. Where it had been were more and more of the huge trees, spread out further than their eyes could see.
‘Now what do we do?’ asked Raðenn.

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In the city, few houses now held any of their former inhabitants. Some of the poorest folk still lurked in the shadows, prowling from house to house at night in hope of finding something to eat or drink. As they found less and less for forage, they began to slip away, some to the Northgate and some to the South. Many of them escaped the guards, but many were taken. The captives were led to the temple, and herded into empty storerooms; those who had children with them fought desperately when the guards came to take the little ones away, by twos and threes until none were left. They never saw the children again. And after a time the guards began to come for them, too.

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Turning his back on the circle, Mal-Den surveyed once again the elegant chamber he and Raðenn had dwelt in for – for however long it was. His unease deepened as he struggled to accept yet further strangeness – how could he not have eaten or drunk for so long? How was the wound on his head made to vanish? Was he in fact still imprisoned with his friend and in delirium, soon to die of cold, hunger and neglect? He looked down at his own hands, and pinched one of them hard with a thumb and finger. ‘Mal-Den, why are you doing that?’ The priest jumped; Raðenn was standing beside him, looking puzzled, and also looking strong, healthy, clean and happy – as each of them now looked all the time. ‘I wondered if I would wake myself up – I cannot believe that this is not a dream.’




Ar-Nen, seated beside Torik, looked this way and that as they moved forward. If any lurking enemy should move or make a sound, Ar-Nen would spot them. Gradually they neared the wall, nearer and nearer until it loomed above them. Lowering itself down the sky to the west, the sun shone strongly on the old stones, softening their hardness to beauty. Now the gateway itself was near, and where it passed under the wall it fell soon into shadow. Ar-Nen peered ahead, trying to see beyond the patch of sunlight where the gate stood open, into the dark where danger might be. Mor-Len looked back and signalled to Torik, who hauled on the reins to slow the tired horse. The guard walked carefully forward, drawing his sword as he went. He passed under the arch of the gateway and soon vanished into the shade. In the wagon no-one moved or spoke, except that the baby girl, Karett, was weeping as quietly as she could in her grandmother’s arms. Ar-Nen was afraid to breathe.

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Mal-Den and Raðenn sat down on one of the comfortable benches.
‘What are we to do? How shall we get out?’
Raðenn smiled at his friend. ‘I begin to wonder whether it is yet time for us to leave this place. My greater need is for rest, and so is yours. Why should we not sleep here for a while and recover our strength? It may that will prepare us for whatever faces us beyond the walls.’
‘I do not understand you, prince – you have said many strange things since we found this chamber. How can we simply lie down and sleep, while unknown danger roams outside?’
‘Try it, Mal-Den.’ And Raðenn settled himself to rest on the deep cushioned seat. He was asleep in seconds. Mal-Den shook his head, looked about the chamber, stared at the deep-shining marble circle, heard what sounded like music briefly surrounding him – then lay down in his turn and fell deeply asleep.

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Mara leaned forward and took each of them by the hand.  ‘Each of you is right, in her own way.  The lady Saranna’s wisdom is right, though it may seem madness to others.  The lady Tamnet’s fear of the desert is right, it is what all should feel at the thought of that dry waste.  I feel in my heart that we must separate, some of us to the desert and some to the south. Take the children south and they may be safe for a while.  Let Saranna find what she seeks in the desert, and the whole land may be safe for a long time to come.’

‘Thank you Mara – I am glad you understand me. Tamnet, I do not ask anyone to turn aside and follow me – of course you have the children and the old lady to care for.  But I must go.’



The priest turned away, and left the circle. ‘We would do better, prince, to look for food and water.’
‘You are right, my friend. Except – that I do not feel either hunger or thirst. Do you?’
Malden stared at him. ‘No. No. I do not.’ He raised a hand to his head, then pulled it back. ‘Raðenn – come and look at the wound on my head, please.’
Raðenn came to him, and peered closely at the top of the priest’s head. ‘I see no wound, Mal-Den. It is healed as if it had never been.’

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As the long hot day was turning to twilight, the host of the Sguush straggled to a halt near the ancient oasis that had been their mainstay for generations. Little growth and less water remained there. Many people wept, while some sat down and stared emptily at the ground or into the darkening sky.
The litter of the Old One was borne through the crowd, and set down beside the muddy pool that was the remnant of the ancient lake. The Old One leaned on her attendant’s arm, and came to the edge of the water. Then she planted her staff in the mud, and turned to survey the people.
‘We are the Sguush!’ she cried.
Hesitantly they replied, ‘We are the Sguush.’
‘We are strong!’
This time they answered more boldly, ‘We are strong.’
‘This land is ours!’
‘Yes! This land is ours!’
The Old One nodded. ‘Firsts, gather around the pool. Divide the water sparingly among the people so that none go without, while none takes too much. The earth tells me that so we shall come through this night, and there shall be still some water for the morning.’
‘The earth has spoken!’ they responded.

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Desert Mountains - The Spine Range