In the southlands the seas rush against the land which rises up green and gentle from the water. The mists cling to the hills and the cliff-sides, and the gulls wheel above the tide-washed beaches, calling their lonely calls. Upon these beaches the women with long trailing hair walk, plucking up the shells they cook in the hearthfires. In these tides the men stand shoulder to shoulder up to their bare sides, casting again and again their nets.
One man turns often to look at the women on the beach, looking for one that is not there. The nets run easily through his hands, the salt spray clings to his face. His name is Yaesathi, the son of the great lord Doshi'ya, who leads the Company of the North, the son of Shiyana, the fair shield-maiden. All know the tale of their courtship, how they fought a duel together, and found neither could best the other. All know that when Shiyana was with child, Doshi'ya sent her to the south, and she went only for the sake of their son.
Now that he drinks with the other men at the hearths, and stands shoulder to shoulder with them, bare-chested in the swell, casting the nets, she has returned to the north. There she takes up sword again with her beloved warrior, the great Doshi'ya who guards the northlands. Her son looks for her on the beach, for he loves her and how she sang softly over the shells in the hearth. But he is no longer the boy who played along the sand, who fell asleep to the sight of her face.
Everywhere he hears of the strength and valor of his father, who, in the dead of winter when the lesser spawn of long-dead demons killed the Second Children in their beds, took up the sword of Lord Romulus and drove them back into the dark winding forests of the north; how the great Doshi'ya gathered to him the renowned Company of the North and built a hall on a high hill to house the fell warriors; how no enemy can best him in battle-all this he hears, and it fills his heart with shame. Even as tall Yaesathi stands with the sea-men, pulling in the laden nets, he feels the disgrace of not standing beside his famous father in the forests of the north, sword in hand.
As the men carry back to their houses the gleaming fish each night, all thinking such gleaming treasure all they could wish, the son of Doshi'ya thinks he should gather together his few possessions and journey to the north. He stands at his door in the darkening eventide, looking to the rising height where shines the hearth-ember his father set many years ago, longing for the glory of battle to make his father proud.
Yet ever is he drawn to the sea. It calls to him. He has no wish for battle, beyond the seeking of honor for a father he has never seen. He wishes only to remain with the sea, with the ebbing and flowing of the tides, with the fresh breezes, with the storms. So day by day he goes out with the men, carrying empty nets, to stand in the surf and return with nets filled at the day's ending. Of the women who walk the sands in search of shells, one in particular glances often at Doshi'ya's son. Isis she is named, slender and graceful. She likes his strong shoulders and his strength as he hauls the nets. In turn, he glances often at her, admiring her grace and the darkness of her hair. Soon enough, they notice the stolen glances too, and smile. Soon enough, they walk elbow to elbow homeward in the evenings, bearing their burdens and speaking few words. Both know the other thinks of courtship.
But Isis is proud. Her soul, like the sea, is stormy. She desires that he prove himself to her, the son of great Doshi'ya. So when he stands before her one evening, asking her to bind herself to him, she gives him one condition. Tame the shifting sea, she says. Not until you master the sea will I bind myself to you. She says it smilingly, without reproach. It is an impossible task, and she will take him anyway. But within her words he hears ringing what he has always sought: a chance to prove himself great, to live up to his father's name.
So he thinks on her words. He watches the flow of the tides, notes the direction of the winds. Above he sees the wheeling seabirds, and takes notice of the driftwood washing to the sands. An idea forms slowly in his mind, and he smiles as he works beside the men, because he knows he has her.
So night by night he weaves. He weaves a net finer than any woven before, a net to catch, not the leaping silver fish, but the winds themselves. Driftwood he gathers, and from it fashions a vessel, light and swift. Above its sleek wooden body he raises the product of his weaving, a net fine enough to catch the free winds. And one morning, as the men with their nets and the women with their baskets watch astonished, he thrusts his craft into the sea. The sails billow out with confined breezes, and fleet he mounts the waves, steering far unto the bound of sight.
A master of the sea, someone cries, and all cheer the son of Doshi'ya. Flying on the wind he returns, and makes landfall on the beach. All flock about him, the children grasping at his hands and reaching out to touch the wooden sides of his vessel. But only one smile he sees, that of Isis, who smiles her love. Yaesathi, son of Doshi'ya, teaches the fisher-folk the building of ships, and ever after they cast their nets far into the deeper waters. Their catches grow more bountiful, and all rejoice. High above the sea he raises the light his father set, a beacon-light to guide the mariner home. By now he is a brother, for his mother has born two more sons. He and Isis raise them by the shore of the sea he loves. Afar he sails, but looks ever to the high-raised light; for there he returns where Isis and his beloved youthful brothers await him at his hearthside.
A great captain of the Northern Hall walks through the dark forests. Snow falls about him, the unfriendly winds tear at his cloak. He is grey-eyed, tall and strong. The few men who follow him press close to him as the shadows lengthen, for they trust in his leadership but fear the silent forests. He leads them on into the night, sword at his side, surety in his step.
Dosuth was his name. Much of Doshi'ya's favor had he won for his bravery and strength, and Doshi'ya had named him a captain of the Northern Company. He had saved Doshi'ya's life once, a debt Doshi'ya strives to repay. Of the three outposts to the north of the Hall of the Northern Company that Doshi'ya had built to keep the demons at bay, he had commanded the northernmost. In the bleak midwinter the demons had come upon him unawares, and had broken through his defenses. Defeated, he took what remained of his company to the south in hopes of reaching the Northern Hall, knowing demon-hunters followed close behind.
Now Dosuth presses on as the storm gathers. The winds mock him for his defeat. The snow falls heavy, his men founder. He sees they can go no further, and they halt for the night. The men huddle together, silent and cold. Dosuth builds no fire from the hearth-ember he carries, for a fire with the hunters so close could mean death. He walks apart, and, finding a small stream too quick for winter's ice, stoops to drink. As he takes the clear water into his hands, he looks into the depths of the stream, and there sees a golden crown. Bright it shines, and he stares at it. But need drives him. His men are thirsty. So he dips the water-skin he carries into the stream, and when he draws it brimming forth, the crown is gone.
He returns to his men, shares out the water. Seeing their despair, he shares comforting words with them, and soon they are asleep. He remains awake long enough to find Alana in the sky, whispering a prayer to her to protect them in the night. Then he too sleeps.
One man had fallen behind in the day's trek. His name has been lost to time. He wanders alone, not daring to call out for fear of the hunters. They are close to him now. He can hear them on every side, but still he flees. The night closes in. His heart pounds. Now they have caught him, and forced him to his knees. One steps forward, taller than the rest.
This one asks where the others, the ones who follow the great captain, have gone. To save his life, the nameless one reveals that Dosuth intends to follow the river to make the fastest way south. Satisfied, the leader slits his throat. His fate will never be known. Perhaps he lies still in the north, frozen for all time. Perhaps they eat him on the march.
But his words, in the form of ill fortune, live on. The hunters race onward, and at daybreak they catch their prey. Dosuth and his men limp beside the river, starved and exhausted. They are like the ghosts of deer that have not seen food since winter's beginning. They fight as best they can, but they are riven by spear shafts. They fall, until only Dosuth stands alone, the river rushing at his side. A demon's spear bites deep into his body. His blood falls into the snow. To all sides he turns, the pain rising in him. On every side he sees death's shadow. So with the last of his strength, he casts himself into the fast waters of the river. He is gone. His hunters see him not. They break off the hunt, thinking him dead.
The river carries him. His blood stains the water. A demon-poison runs in his veins, and he is bound in a fever-sleep as the water tosses his body. Indeed Alana watches over him, for he is not drowned. South the river carries him, until he is washed, prone, to the bank.
There he lies, a day and a night, until the men of the Northern Company find him. They bear him to the hall that rises high above the dark northern forests. There Doshi'ya sits beside the hearth, and at his feet they lay his friend and loyal captain. Doshi'ya's face grows pale, thinking the grey-eyed Dosuth dead, until he sees the breath fluttering in him still. Resolve grips him then, stronger than steel: his friend will not die.
He takes up Dosuth in his arms, and without a word races out into the night. To the south he runs, fleet as the wind, carrying Dosuth to the hall of his mother, the greatest of healers. Into the dawn he flies-see him, loping across the snows as the first children were wont to do, outfled by neither daylight nor shadow. At last he arrives at the doors of the hall, and there knocks three times. There he falls. Those within bear both to the hearthside, and the earth-wise Evdashi bends over both, listening to their breaths, counting their heartbeats. They are in her hands now.
Three days pass. Doshi'ya has woken, well and rested from his race, but the grey-eyed Dosuth lies still in deathlike repose. Evdashi watches over him, binding his wound with the yarrow leaves and the bark of the willow.
Many days pass. At last the warmth of the hearth seeps back into his cold bones, and he awakes. Doshi'ya greets him, clasping his arm in friendship. He asks the tall captain how he came to lie near death on the riverstones. Dosuth tells his story, and all listen-tells them of how he lost the northernmost outpost, of the hunt through the forests of the north, and of the vision of the golden crown in the flowing of the stream. At this last all gasp, remembering Lord E'taem' prophecy. This, they think, is the king sent to lead us. He tells them of the providence of the river, and that he could remember nothing else after. Then Evdashi bids him rest, and bids the listeners to leave his side. They do as she wishes. Only she remains, stoking the hearthfire, keeping watch. But now, looking down at the sleeping captain, she thinks she sees in the frost-grey of his hair the glint of a golden crown. And she feels warm in her heart the love of him she had nursed into life along with him.
So he rests, and drinks the broth she gives him. They take meals together, talking quietly and laughing. All whisper in joyful counsel of their growing affections for each other. Before long, the whisperers are proved right. Doshi'ya gives Dosuth his blessing before departing to the north, and soon Evdashi grows heavy with child. In the warm months of summer three sons are born to her, strong lads with the grey eyes of their sire. Soon Evdashi is again with child. The Second Children take Dosuth as their king, and all rejoice.
All but Dosuth. For even with the warming of the year he grows grim. Just as the whisperers say the eternal frosts of the north have whitened his hair, so those frosts found their way into his heart. He thinks of the men who died beside the cold flowing river and spilled their blood into the snow. He thinks of the tall demon who lead the others, whose spear wounded him so deeply. One night, with the onset of winter, as Evdashi and his sons sleep he dons his cloak, belts his sword at his side, and walks unseen from the hearth. He goes to hunt the demon who slew his brothers deep in the winter past, to repay him in kind. Never is he seen again. Many say he still wanders the dark forests of the far north, his frosted sword at his side.
Ever after the children of Dosuth ruled. Yet they have all ruled crownless, just as their father walked without a crown, to honor the great grey-eyed captain of the Northern Company.
Y'adashi, the great teller of tales, makes his way up the long slope of the hill. Behind, in the Hall of the First Hearth, the Second Children make merry. The farmland all about the hill dances with lights, for it is the last day of the Festival of Light. But Y'adashi's steps are heavy and somber. He bears a doom-laden question for the sorrowful Elwing, who sits gazing into her still pool, seeing fate in its depths.
Slowly he walks, until he stands beside the mirroring pool. There he asks his question. The prophetess tells him that he must go far away, and that he will find his answer in fire if he follows in the footsteps of Doshiru, the Wandering Star. A warning too she gives him: should he find his answer, he will find no more peace in this world. No other words will she say to him, so he turns grimly away, and descends the hill.
That very night he sets out alone, journeying to the east. He seeks the eastern hearth-ember his brother set, at the command of Lord E'taem many winters ago. Long he travels through the snows, until at last in the depths of the white woods he finds the light, on a hilltop above a wide, cold lake. There alone he builds a long, high-eaved house, and sets the ember within the hearth. There in the house he remains, sitting beside the glowing hearth.
The hearths have dimmed. The bright glowing fires Lord E'taem set himself at the beginning of days have begun to go out. The few years past have grown darker, the winters longer. The Second Children shiver in their halls, for all their fires burn lower. Soon there will be no fire left at all. Y'adashi knows this, wise as he is. So he sought the Lady Elwing's counsel, in the hope of finding some way the hearthfires can be rekindled.
Now he sits without hope beside the dying hearth, thinking on Elwing's words. His thoughts flurry within him like the disparate snows of a winter storm. He does not sleep. Instead he meditates, for this is Doshiru's path-as Elwing's counsel revealed. Many days he sits in stillness, calming his mind and forgetting himself. He does not eat, but he feels no hunger. He does not rest, but feels no exhaustion. Only stillness remains within him. Now it seems to him that darkness filled with stars stretches on every side. The house on the hill beside the lake has vanished. Only the fire remains, burning before him. His stillness remains unbroken by wondering. As he watches, a light begins to glow. He sees within the light the shape of a great wolf. Yet it has the kingly face of a man, and great antlers spread above its brow. It rushes past, and the light fades. Y'adashi, the great storyteller, knows he has seen the shape of Shidar, the bright sun. Again, as he watches, another light grows, softer than the first. Before long he perceives a woman walking in the darkness. Tears fall from her cheeks, bright glowing tears that hang in the darkness. On she steps, regal and fully of grace, until she too vanishes. And Y'adashi, the great storyteller, knows he has been visited by Doshiru, the wandering star.
But now he feels something like a wind stirring his soul. His spirit shakes, the flames of the hearthfire dance. A great shadow rises before him, a dark vision of spreading wing or mantel. And from within this shadow looks a face, crowned in blossoms, eyes infinite and burning with light. Y'adashi, the great storyteller, knows that this is the spirit of the Mother Goddess. Into those eyes he looks, and his being rends, for within those eyes he sees a love greater and more terrible than any other. It seeps into his soul where it burns.
As she stands in majesty before him, the Mother Goddess lifts her hand, and from her heart pulls a bright spark of flame. This she adds to the hearthfire, which blazes brightly. Y'adashi is blinded, and when his sight returns, the vision is gone. The silent house beside the cold lake once again surrounds him. Now he knows the answer he sought. From the depths of his being he conjures bright fire into his hand. With this he rekindles the hearth. He feels power within him. But he feels too the love of the Mother Goddess for all her children, and he longs again to rejoin with that love which is far beyond the bounds of the world. He leaves the silent house and, journeying to the Hall of the First Hearth where the sons of Dosuth hold rule, he rekindles the First Hearth. From door to door he goes, sowing fire and warmth everywhere, and the people bless him. To some he teaches this miracle, and to them he teaches the stories and the rites. And when they have learned all he teaches them, he returns in solitude to the silent house. For he can find no peace in this world, as Elwing warned, so sundered from the love of the Mother Goddess. He has begun Istalai, the search for Vasae'ah that many will follow.
With the rekindling of the hearths, light returns to the world. Far to the north, the first of the Third Children wake from the snows. They are hardy, strong, and fierce. They hunt the white deer of the northern mountains, and wear their hides. They establish a territory.
The demons become aware of this new enemy. Bitterly they fight in the dark forests of the north. Among the Third Children great warriors rise. Three brothers are born, sons of the hunter Taelon, and grow to men, and many follow them for they are strong fighters and inspiring leaders. Between them they protect a large number of their people.
See them: the eldest, Nevron the Strong, who wears the skin of a great white wolf he killed when he was a boy; the middle brother, Harthon, proud in countenance and word; the youngest, Alsson, wise in counsel and valiant in battle. They are born to destiny, for they are fated to bring their people into the light.