"To Light A Candle" ran almost 300,000 words in its first draft, and unfortunately, that was a bit too long to see publication, so it needed to be cut and tightened. Most of what was removed from the final draft was a matter of a line here and a paragraph there, but in one case, an entire scene it the cutting-room floor, if you will permit the metaphor.

You may recall that just before Sandalon leaves with the Elven caravan for the Fortress of the Crowned Horns, he, Vestakia, and Shalkan go on a picnic.


"Ah, here at last," Idalia said, greeting him. "There's cheese and cold pie and apples if you're hungry, but don't expect to get your hands on any of this before tomorrow - it's for the picnic."

"Picnic?" Kellen asked, baffled. Was there something he'd been supposed to do with Idalia that he'd forgotten?

"Vestakia's already been here. You chose a good day. There's supposed to be a break in the weather tomorrow. Finally. Jermayan has said that Vestakia can borrow Lily, and I suppose you will take Deyishene, so the four of you will be able to go quite a way. Shalkan will know the prettiest places for this time of year. Oh, don't stare at me like that - did you think I was going to let you starve? Or were you planning to gather mushrooms and berries? It's quite the wrong time of year for it, as you should know, brother mine."

"But . . . you already know?" Kellen stammered.

"Kellen," Idalia said, laughing, "will you never understand how fast gossip runs in Sentarshadeen? Sandalon will have told someone about his plans for tomorrow on his way home, and they will have told someone, who will have mentioned it - just by the way! - to Vestakia, who came to me to see what she should prepare for the day, since everyone in Sentarshadeen also knows that you can't cook!" She shook her head, still laughing, and returned to stirring the batter.

"I guess then . . . it's all right?" Kellen asked hopefully, coming closer to the table to see if there was anything worth stealing.

"Sandalon will adore it. And with Vestakia with you, there's no possibility of trouble. And as for you getting into trouble, you'll have Shalkan. So have fun. But just out of curiosity, what were you planning to eat?"

"Well, I sort of thought . . . if there wasn't anything in the cupboard . . . I'd go down to the market in the morning and . . . buy something?" Kellen said meekly.

Idalia just shook her head. "Go wash up and eat. And then you can chop the fruit for the spice-cake. And make sure more goes into the cake than into you!"

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Later Kellen would look back at this as the last truly serene day he was to spend for a very long time, but at the time he only thought of it as his farewell to Sandalon, and a way of making the child's last day and departure less painful. He'd grown very fond of the young Elven prince over the past sennights, and knew that Sandalon would miss his home and his familiar surroundings very much. Lairamo would be going with him to the Crowned Horns, of course, and a number of other adults from Sentarshadeen, since no one expected the children to fend for themselves in an isolated mountain fortress, but his parents wouldn't be there, and neither would many of the adults that Sandalon considered to be his friends.

That morning Kellen arose at his usual time - it was a habit by now - and walked down to the stables to saddle Deyishene, carrying a large basket of baked treats and a glazed spice-cake with him. Idalia said that Vestakia would meet him with Lily at the Unicorn Spring, and they could go on from there to collect Sandalon; a message had come from Lady Ashaniel giving her gracious permission for the plan, and thanking Kellen for coming up with the idea to distract her son from the preparations for the little convoy's departure. Most of the senior Knights who still spent their days at the House of Sword and Shield would be riding with the party; the House would seem empty until they returned.

Of course, those twenty Knights were only a fraction of the numbers Sentarshadeen alone could put into the field, but the rest were out patrolling the Borderlands, searching not only for signs of the Enemy, but for trouble brought on by the prolonged and heavy rains. An extensive mudslide could be as devastating as any action of the Enemy.

When Kellen reached the stables, he was not surprised to find Shalkan waiting for him.

"Cake," the unicorn observed, stretching out his neck toward the basket and sniffing greedily. "I smell cake!"

"That's for later," Kellen told him firmly. "Behave yourself."

Shalkan did his best to look affronted, but couldn't quite manage it. "Do you wish you were going with them?" he asked instead.

"Well, I've never seen an Elven fortress," Kellen said, trying to conceal his reluctance - because he did want to go with them. "But, like I told Sandalon, I've still got a lot to learn here." He managed not to sigh. Just the trip out and back would be fascinating, and he wouldn't at all have minded being one of those chosen to remain to guard the children.

He took a quick look inside the stable, setting the basket down. Deyishene wasn't in her stall, but that wasn't unusual at this time of day. He knew she'd be close by, though.

The more Kellen learned about Elven-bred horses - or at least, Elven-bred destriers - the less they seemed like regular horses. Deyishene, for example, seemed to understand an awful lot of what he said to her - simple commands, anyway - and had picked up his routine awfully fast. She knew that he worked with her in the afternoon, so after the first few days, when he came down, he'd find her waiting for him in her stall. And now that she had a regular rider, she hung around close to the buildings all the time. The other horses scattered all over the valley; Jermayan said they only came in when the weather got really bad or the grass failed.

He walked out of the stable and whistled. "Deyishene! Hey! Dey!"

A familiar russet shape lifted its head from the grass, swiveling its head toward him. Kellen waved, and the mare trotted over.

She nuzzled him enthusiastically, obviously pleased to see Kellen at this unusual time of day.

"Hey, girl, want to go for a ride?" Kellen said, leading her inside.

Rubbing the mare dry and saddling her was almost second-nature by now, and shortly Kellen was on his way, the basket securely strapped to his saddle.

As he reached the House of Sword and Shield he hesitated, arguing with himself. But only for a moment. Prudence won, and he went inside.

The younger students were already hard at their work under Master Belesharon's watchful eye.

"Ah, young Kellen. You appear before us upon your day of leisure, one sees," Belesharon said.

"I'm on my way, Master," Kellen said. "But I . . . almost forgot something."

He hurried through the workroom into the armory, and opened the drawer where his armor was kept. Slowly he withdrew his sword in its scabbard, and carefully belted it around himself.

There. That felt better.

He walked out back through the workroom. Master Belesharon caught his eye and smiled.

"One sees you are a Knight, young Kellen," the swordmaster said enigmatically, and turned back to his students.

#

The rain had stopped by the time Kellen and Shalkan reached Songmairie, and there was actually a break in the clouds for the first time since Kellen had returned to the city.

Vestakia was already waiting for him, standing beside Lily at the spring. She was well bundled up against the morning chill, and Kellen was amused to see that Tengitir was apparently determined to keep her in reds and golds. Her winter cloak was a deep red, with a wide band of embroidery in dull gold and violet along the hem and hood, and her wide trousers were a deep shade of russet, a few shades darker than Deyishene's coat. They were tucked into low sturdy boots, suitable for walking or riding, of an even darker shade of red, that matched her gauntlets exactly.

"Kellen!" she exclaimed. "You look wonderful! Is this Deyishene? From all Sandalon told me about her, I thought she'd be much larger . . . and possibly glow in the dark."

"I don't think she can," Kellen said, swinging down out of the saddle. "But I wouldn't put it past her. And how are you? You look . . . happy."

"I am," Vestakia said simply. "If you've been worrying about me, don't. This is the best place I've ever been, and I'm happier here than I've been since . . . well, since Mama died. But come on. We don't want to keep Sandalon waiting. And you can tell me what it's like to train as an Elven Knight."

Vestakia was easy to talk to, and Kellen found himself explaining to her how he spent his days as they led Deyishene and Lily up to the House of Leaf and Star.

Lairamo and Sandalon were waiting in the portico. If Sandalon had not had very good manners indeed, the boy would have been jumping up and down with impatience.

Lairamo was holding a large hamper, and there were additional bundles at her feet.

"Supplies for the outing," she explained gently. "And an extra ground-cloth and a change of clothes for Sandalon as well, should they be necessary."

"I shall see to it that the young Prince comes to no harm," Shalkan said firmly. Lairamo's worried expression eased a little.

With the ease of long practice, Kellen stowed Lairamo's baskets and bundles in Lily's panniers, and added his own basket, since he would be taking Sandalon up with him. Between what he'd brought, what Vestakia had brought, and what Lairamo had sent, it looked as if they'd have enough food for a week, at least.

When everything was in place, he set Sandalon in place on Deyishene's back and swung up behind him.

"Lead the way!" he called to Shalkan.

The unicorn reared - showing off for Sandalon - and trotted off across the meadow.

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"First," Shalkan announced over his shoulder, "I think we should have breakfast." His nostrils twitched, and Kellen had the feeling that there was probably more cake in the new hampers they'd gotten from Sandalon's nurse.

"Have you had breakfast yet, Sandalon?" Vestakia asked the boy. He shook his head.

"Well, Lairamo wanted me to eat, but I wasn't really hungry," he amended. "I didn't want to miss you."

"So are you hungry now?" Kellen asked teasingly.

"Oh yes!" he exclaimed, "Lairamo said there were sausage rolls!"

"Throne Hill, then," said Shalkan cheerfully. "Then Unicorn Meadow."

Throne Hill turned out to be a very accurate description; a high hill with a strange construction atop it. It could have been a pavilion set in near the crown, except it was carved all of stone, stone made to look like fabric draperies pulled back against support posts and tied there - three of the sides were open, the third set into the hill, and a stone stair led up the hill to the flat top. And on the top was a throne, also carved of stone, but it was a throne apparently made for a giant to sit in, because all three of them would have fitted into the seat very comfortably.

Inside the pavilion was a stone table and benches, and at the back set into the hillside, was a hearth and chimney. "The chimney is built into the back of the throne," said Shalkan, "Which is the whole point of having the throne, apparently, to disguise the chimney. Elves! I don't know, sometimes."

"I think we'll come back here for dinner," Kellen said, surveying the place. "A fire would be nice, then, but for breakfast, I think we ought to eat up on the throne, don't you?"

"Oh yes!" Sandalon enthused. "You can see all of Sentarshadeen from there, I bet!"

So they did, climbing up into the seat with the help of steps carved there, Sandalon between Kellen and Vestakia, the three of them sharing the packet of sausage-rolls while Shalkan got his cake after all. Lily and Deyishene seemed contented enough with the grasses and sweet herbs that grew up there, and the view was excellent. Not spectacular; it was too pastoral for that, with the city of Sentarshadeen far in the misty distance. But it was a grand view, and twice during their breakfast, they got some rare views of wildlife that delighted Sandalon. Once, a herd of deer with half-grown fawns at their mothers' sides passed across the meadow below them, and a bit later a bear with two playful cubs tumbling and chasing each other came from the opposite direction. Kellen made use of a little Wild Magic at the sight of the bear, for in spite of Sandalon's excitement at seeing them, he knew that bears, especially those with cubs, could be dangerous indeed. He simply sent the she-bear a little nudge to send her on her way, a sense, not that there was anything dangerous about, but that there was absolutely nothing worth investigating in or around the hill.

With breakfast over, they tidied up, scattered the remains for birds and other wildlife, and collected Lily and Deyishene again. Once again, Shalkan led the way, this time to a place he called Unicorn Meadow.

This was not the meadow in which Kellen had first seen the Unicorn herd when he'd come to Sentarshadeen. The way to this place led through a birch-forest, the white trunks rising on all sides like the ghosts of trees, with mist threading through their upper branches, and moss thickly carpeting the path underfoot. "I think it's going to rain soon," Shalkan said over his shoulder. "But there's shelter at the Meadow. It's where the foals are born."

Sure enough, just as the first signs of drizzle began, the birch-forest abruptly opened up into a meadow that was overshadowed by one of the cliff walls that framed the whole of Sentarshadeen Valley. And the moment they came into the open, Vestakia gasped.

Not just because of the herd of Unicorns either, though that was a breathtaking sight. But flowing down the rock wall of the cliff on the far side of the meadow like a skein of finest white silk was a waterfall that was easily ten or twelve stories tall. It cascaded into a pool at its base, that in turn fed a stream cutting through the meadow and out into the forest.

"Pelashia's Veil," said Shalkan proudly. "It is said to be the most perfect waterfall of its kind. If it were warmer, Sandalon could swim in the pool."

But already a half a dozen Unicorn foals had gamboled up to them and were nosing Sandalon curiously. "Shalkan! I think they want to play with me!" Sandalon said with delight.

One of them snorted. "'Course, silly!" it said in a high, childish voice. "Come down and play! Mama says you can!"

"It's going to rain - " Kellen said warningly.

But it was Vestakia who laughed. "Which is why we have a change of clothing for him with us! Kellen, he won't melt! Let him play!"

Sandalon didn't even wait for permission; he slipped off the destrier's back and ran off with the foals bounding and prancing all around him, while Shalkan shook his head and chuckled.

"Come on, I'll take you to the shelter," he said. "Nothing's going to hurt him with the foals, and if he runs himself into exhaustion today, he'll be able to get a good night's sleep before the journey tomorrow."

Shalkan led them towards the cliff-face, and along the rim of the pool, and there, out of reach of the spray from the waterfall, but perfectly positioned for a fine view, was a moss- and fern-covered overhang with more than enough room inside it for their ground-cloth. While Kellen kept an eye on Sandalon, Vestakia spread out the picnic gear. There was also a dry pile of firewood there, and a place where someone had made a crude hearth where the smoke would presumably be carried up the cliff, so once everything was in readiness, Kellen laid and lit a fire. But it wasn't until the rain was coming down in sheets and Sandalon was thoroughly soaked that he could be persuaded to come in.

Shalkan was only too pleased to join the party again, especially as there was cake involved. Sandalon squirmed out of his wet clothing and into the dry set from the pack; Vestakia hung the wet clothing near the fire to dry, and the four of them set about doing justice to Idalia's cooking. Shalkan got most of the cake after all; Sandalon kept slipping pieces to him whenever the Unicorn made big, mournful eyes at the boy. While they ate, they watched the unicorn foals romping, and the young males practicing the same kinds of combat-movements that Shalkan had used in the past, while the older males and females watched, and presumably critiqued. Kellen was reminded irresistibly of his own lessons - except that the poor young males here each had at least one Master to please, if not more than one.

"What are they doing?" Sandalon asked, after a while.

"Practicing," said Shalkan. "Some of them will be going along tomorrow."

"Oh." Sandalon's face fell a little at this reminder of what was to come.

"But they'll be staying with you," Vestakia added, brightly, "Some of them, anyway."

"Say! Why don't you go find out which ones?" Kellen suggested.

"That is an excellent idea. And find out if one of them will help you learn to ride," said Shalkan. "You could start learning today, in fact. It would be much better if you could ride a Unicorn properly from the beginning, instead of like a sack of grain," he added, with a withering glance at Kellen.

Kellen flushed, Sandalon giggled, and jumped up to join the young males and their teachers. The others couldn't hear what was said from the shelter of the overhang, as most sound was overlaid with the noise of the waterfall, but it was clear immediately that both Kellen and Shalkan had made excellent suggestions. One of the oldest males, tall and strong, with a horn that rivaled Shalkan's, took the boy to several of the young stallions in turn. Before long, Sandalon was perched on the bare back of one of them, being walked carefully around the meadow while the old stallion walked beside them.

"Is the old stallion coaching them?" Vestakia asked in fascination.

"Probably," Shalkan replied, edging a little nearer to the fire and folding his legs under himself as he laid down next to it.

"I could have done with some of that coaching myself," Kellen said, feeling just a bit put out.

"You could," said Shalkan, "but would you have listened? And anyway, you managed. You're getting the kind of riding lessons now that will do you - and me - the most good, anyway. You couldn't help it if you were clumsy," Shalkan added sweetly. "You'd never been taught to ride properly. The boy will do fine from the start, since he hasn't any bad habits to unlearn."

"And anyway, at that age, children are very flexible," Vestakia pointed out, as Kellen bristled. "Their balance is better, and it's just easier for them to learn physical things. It's much, much harder for an adult to learn things like riding and tumbling and that sort of thing."

"And they're fearless," Shalkan added fondly, watching as the unicorn stallions began to move into a trot, Sandalon holding onto the mane of his mount with both hands and shouting with pleasure. "It never occurs to them that they might get hurt, so they don't stiffen up and make things harder."

Kellen half rose with alarm. "He isn't going to fall off, is he?" he exclaimed, picturing himself trying to explain to Ashaniel how Sandalon got a broken leg - or a broken neck.

"Oh, please," Shalkan replied scornfully. "Whatever makes you think we would allow that?"

Kellen relaxed again. And it was true enough that he himself had never actually fallen off Shalkan's back. He'd been knocked off, but never fallen off.

Finally even Sandalon tired of riding - though it was more accurate to say that he just ran out of energy. The unicorn he was on knelt down so that he could slide off, and the two stallions went back to the sparring practice.

The young Elven princeling made his way back to his two guardians, looking only a little stiff and sore. "It occurred to me," Shalkan said as he arrived, "That your lady-mother would appreciate a lovely bunch of flowers."

Kellen was about to protest that surely the Elven gardens were full of flowers, but Vestakia clapped her hands with glee and even Sandalon looked eager, so once again they packed everything up, and while Kellen made sure that the fire was out and Sandalon's other set of clothing was dry, Shalkan rounded up Lily and the destrier.

This time he took them around to the other side of the waterfall and up a path that zigzagged up the side of the cliff. From time to time there was a break in the trees that somehow managed to cling to the cliffside and even thrive there, and the view down into the valley was nothing short of spectacular.

Finally they emerged onto another flat meadow, though in the distance behind the trees that ringed it, the cliff sloped further upwards. There were signs that there had been a fire here recently; the black, burned stumps of trees protruded up from lush grasses - but that was not what caught the eye.

The meadow was full of flowers.

Great, blazing blossoms in every shade of red, orange, and yellow covered the meadow. Vestakia gasped, and Sandalon whooped. "Fireflower," said Shalkan with satisfaction. "They only bloom in a place where fire has cleared the ground, and only after a good soaking rain. I thought they might be ready."

Sandalon was practically bouncing, wanting to get down, so Kellen obliged him and he ran off into the meadow, looking for the best blooms for his mother.

"Won't they wilt before we get them back?" Vestakia asked worriedly.

Shalkan and Kellen both shook their heads, and this time Kellen answered first. "They'll last most of a day without being in water. Idalia just taught me about them. Not only are they handsome, but someone in the household will probably take them and dry them after Sandalon leaves. They're good for a lot of things."

"In that case, we had better pick some and take them back to Idalia as well," Vestakia said, with matter-of-fact practicality.

So they did, filling the hamper that they had emptied with the flower-heads alone, rather than picking blossom, stem, and all for a bouquet, as Sandalon was doing.

With care that seemed instinctive to Elves, Sandalon was choosing his flowers, blossom by blossom, rather than grabbing handfuls as a human child would, so it took him some time to gather his bouquet.

By the time he had a bouquet about as big as he could manage, Shalkan called out to him. "Time to get back to Throne Hill! It will be raining again soon. If we leave now, we can have a fire going and toast things for our dinner over it."

With the prospect of sticking food into a fire in front of him, Sandalon reacted as any young child would; he immediately ran back. Kellen secured the bouquet to the outside of the blossom-filled pannier where it would be safe and uncrushed, and the three of them began their journey back down the side of the cliff. Sandalon waved at the unicorn herd, several of whom reared and pawed the air for him, but did not ask to stop. Kellen suspected that he was already getting hungry.

And just as they reached Throne Hill and the stone pavilion, the pleasant mizzle began to strengthen. They all crowded into the shelter and Kellen once again put his fire-making skills to good use.

Sandalon was given a sharpened stick with a sausage on it to toast, but the real meal was the roast chicken still in the other hamper. Kellen propped it over the fire just long enough to heat through and fill the air with a glorious aroma, and when Sandalon's sausage proved to be half char and half raw, he was happy enough to inhale his share of the fowl. Vestakia showed him how to wrap dough around a buttered stick to bake, then fill with honey and eat as soon as it was golden brown, so he got his need to "cook over a fire" fulfilled. And Shalkan was perfectly pleased to eat as many of the improvised pastries as Sandalon could make, so everyone was happy. The rain drumming down on the hillside and cascading off the stone roof made it seem as if they were inside a waterfall, and the fire kept everything cozy. And somewhat to Kellen's surprise, there was not a crumb of cake or a scrap of chicken left when they were done. He wouldn't have believed they could have eaten all of that!

But that left the last pannier empty, so Sandalon's precious bouquet went into it for safe-keeping. And as the rain slackened off again, Shalkan raised his head. "Dark soon," he said. "Time to go home."

"Oh no, can't we just stay out a little longer?" Sandalon begged, proving that small Elven boys were not so different from small human boys.

"Well, I wouldn't mind, and Kellen wouldn't mind, but poor Lily and Deyishene would be very uncomfortable," Shalkan said, shaking his head soberly. "They don't see as well in the dark as unicorns do, and they might fall and hurt themselves."

Sandalon sighed. "Well," he said reluctantly, "I suppose we had better go back, then."

They arrived at the House of Leaf and Star just as dusk thickened, and Lairamo's anxious face brightened as soon as she saw her charge. Kellen delivered the boy and his bouquet into the capable hands of his nurse.

"Thank you, Kellen, Vestakia, Shalkan," Sandalon said, and added a polite bow after a sharp glance from Lairamo. "I had such a good time!"

"And so did we," Kellen assured him, and Sandalon left, chattering at high speed as Lairamo led him away.

"And I must make my farewells here as well," Vestakia said firmly. "I must return Lily to the stable, and get the baskets back to Idalia. Thank you Kellen! It was a glorious day, and I cannot think when I have ever had more fun in my life!" She rode off, leaving Kellen unsettled.

Partly, to be honest, it was from those thoughts forbidden by his geas. But mostly it was because of something else, something for which he didn't quite have words. As he took Deyishene back to the stables, he found himself wondering if - and hoping he was going to have - a future that included Vestakia. He found himself simply wanting her company, quite apart from anything else. She was simply the best companion he had ever had: she was clever, she was kind, she knew how to have fun, and how to make it too. Any girl from the City, faced with the prospect of a rainy-day picnic, would have wept and moaned about ruining her clothing or getting cold and wet. Vestakia had taken the situation and not only made the best of it, but made it seem better than a sunny-day picnic would have been. And he wanted to spend more time in her company.

But with the storm-clouds of Shadow Mountain gathering on the horizon, he couldn't quite make himself believe that any kind of future, much less a peaceful one with Vestakia in it, was ever going to exist. He wasn't used to thinking that far ahead and he wasn't used to feeling that - grim - about things. Idalia was the dour introspective one and all his attempts to try and get a grip on the situation only left him feeling troubled for no reason that he could put his finger on.

Fortunately Shalkan interrupted his thoughts before he sank too deeply into depression.

"They'll be leaving from here tomorrow before dawn. You'll want to be here," Shalkan said, breaking into his thoughts.

"I don't know," Kellen said, surprised at the suggestion. "Elves aren't much on big going-away ceremonies, I thought."

"No," Shalkan agreed. "But you'll want to see it, just the same. Don't worry. I'll make sure you're here in plenty of time."

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