Prophecies' Pawns by D.H. Aire - Read Online
Prophecies' Pawns
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About

Summary

Highmage George Bradley, formerly an archeologist from another world, hoped for a respite after helping end a civil war to deal with… family matters. Alas, the Elvin-Human Empire faces assassins intent on killing the Empress before she can give birth to her heir as the Demonlord prepares to launch an invasion.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the black dragon destined to kill George is on the loose. But that’s less of an issue… George’s loved ones seem more interested in killing him first.

Welcome to Prophecies’ Pawns, the next book In the Highmage’s Plight Series.

Published: D.H. Aire on
ISBN: 9781533753199
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Works by D.H. Aire

The Highmage’s Plight Series

Highmage’s Plight

Merchants and Mages

Human Mage

Highmage

Well Armed Brides

Prophecies’ Pawns

Paradox Lost

Hand of the Highmage Series

For Whom the Bell Trolls

Of Elves and Unicorns

Goldilocks and the Three Dwarves (forthcoming)

Dare2Believe Series

Dare 2 Believe

Double Dare

Triple Dare (forthcoming)

Terran Catalyst Series

The Terran Catalyst

Plymouth Meets Rock

Other works

Crossroads of Sin and Other Stories

Want D.H. to email you when he publishes a new book or when one goes on sale? Go to dhr2believe.net and sign-up for his new releases notification list. Those are the only times he'll contact you. No spam.

Dedication

To Sarah

Acknowledgements

I would like to gratefully acknowledge my copyeditor, Karen MacLeod, for assistance in offering editorial advice on this book. Additionally, I wish to express my appreciation to Aleksandra Klepacka for the wonderful cover design. As ever, I also wish to thank my family and friends for all their support.

Finally, to you, my friends and readers, who have purchased this book, I’ve known many of these characters for well over thirty years and they never cease to surprise me. They are practically members of my family. Thank you for letting them into your lives.

D.H. Aire

June 2016

Table of Contents

Works by D.H. Aire

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1 – Imperial Capital

Chapter 2 – Highmage’s Keep

Chapter 3 – Imperial Court

Chapter 4 – Highmage’s Keep

Chapter 5 – Imperial Capital

Interlude – Then and Now

Chapter 6 – Imperial Palace

Chapter 7 – Imperial Capital

Chapter 8 – Edge of Rian Province and Highmage’s Keep

Chapter 9 – Highmage’s Keep and Southern Sea

Chapter 10 – Imperial Capital

Chapter 11 – Highmage’s Keep and Cathart

Chapter 12 – Highmage’s Keep

Chapter 13 – Highmage’s Keep

Part II: Bride and Prejudice

Chapter 14 –– Imperial Capital

Chapter 15 –– Seventh Tier

Chapter 16 –– Highmage’s Keep and Imperial Capital

Chapter 17 –– Imperial Borders and Highmage’s Keep

Chapter 18 –– Highmage’s Keep

Chapter 19 –– Highmage’s Keep and Imperial Palace

Chapter 20 –– Imperial Trader’s Road

Chapter 21 –– Imperial Capital

Chapter 22 –– Imperial Capital

Part III: Prophecies and the Dragon

Chapter 23 –– Imperial Capital

Chapter 24 –– Llewellyn and Imperial Capital

Chapter 25 –– Imperial Capital

Chapter 26 –– Scrying

Chapter 27 –– Llewellyn

Chapter 28 –– Imperial Capital

Chapter 29 –– Llewellyn

Chapter 30 –– The Ball

Chapter 31 –– Uninvited Guests

Chapter 32 –– Llewellyn

Chapter 33 –– Underhill

Chapter 34 –– Thief of Underhill

Part IV: Heir of Empire

Chapter 35 –– Wards of Llewellyn

Chapter 36 –– Imperial Capital

Chapter 37 –– Imperial Palace

Chapter 38 –– Contractions

Chapter 39 –– Prophecies’ Truth

Interlude

Epilogue

About the Author

Prologue

––––––––

The Seeress faced the unicorn which walked beside her through the Citadel’s Great Hall, one far larger than Bastian’s, which had formerly resided here, where a city sized fortress now jutted from the Empire’s northern cliffs.

Fenn du Blain’s forces had been standing too close when the magery exchanged the former Bastian with the new Citadel, paying with their lives as the walls smashed into them as they formed out of the Imperial cliff wall and the ether. The survivors would be facing worse soon enough, the Seeress knew.

‘You took a terrible chance,’ the unicorn shared.

I knew where it would be, she replied, and where it would take me.

‘How much time did you lose?’

Mere weeks, but I did arrive safely –– and my acolytes have had plenty to do in that time. It took nearly as long to reach Bastian before it changed into the Citadel.

‘And the dragon now roams free?’

She sighed, pausing, shut her eyes, nodding. The unicorn peered into her thoughts...

#

The black dragon backwinged at sunrise, settling upon the hill, smoke billowing up behind him in the distance. ‘The Eyres of Gwed are now yours once more, welcome home –– for what little they are worth in the condition they are now to you.’

The exiled prince standing before him, nodded, Fenn stole the people away?

‘Leaving me only goats upon whom to feed.’

Hail, Thorinskath, Lord of Dragons, the Seeress said, facing him, the banner of the black dragon on a red background, held high behind her by Gwilliam’s banner-man, as his army stood arrayed in the Northern Trelorian plains.

‘I am almost fully healed,’ the dragon said, holding up its arm, once more covered in black scales. ‘I must go while I still can. I have fulfilled my promise and can do nothing more.’

These lands are free of the Lord of Demons’ taint, the exiled prince said, but not the damage Fenn’s brought. They have taken them all to the west.

‘I cannot scout without falling under the Demon’s sway. I would spare the world for as long as I may.’

We have done what we may to protect this land from your return, Gwilliam replied.

Shaking his head, snorting smoke, the dragon nodded, ‘You have bested my Master in this. This land is Sworn to my Blood and even under the Demon’s geas, I will not –– cannot harm my kin.’

The Seeress smiled, Gwilliam now holds the allegiance of the Barrier Mountain Clans and every city-state in the Southern Crescent.

‘Flying over the cities, I believe, helped end their bickering.’

They called it debate, Truthsayer offered.

More your spitting fire, to be precise, Gwilliam admitted with a smile.

‘I did appreciate their offerings.’

Gwilliam glanced at the Seeress, who did not turn away from the dragon. Those serving the Dark One in secret fled of their own accord.

‘And were so many to feast upon.’

The Councils after such, uh, hasty departures, Gwilliam said, have certainly created an era of cooperation.

‘May the Blood of the Dragon grow strong, Kinsman,’ the dragon said to Gwilliam. ‘As long as you live, their Oaths bind me. Do not get yourself killed or upon my return... I will not be able to stop myself from ravaging this land.’

My Lord will come to no harm! shouted the brown haired woman archer beside the banner-man.

‘Mother to be of the children of the Line of my Blood, know it is no easy thing you Swear will be. For what it is worth, harken to what I thought never to say to one such of your birth... My fires to your hearth. May your daughters be strong and wise, Cathartan.’

Bek’ka, daughter of Ryff, bowed. Thank you, Lord Thorinskath.

‘Now, I must go, though I wish, for your sake, that Fenn du Blain, my Master’s pawn, had not abandoned these lands so.’

I have my homeland back, Gwilliam said, sounding bleak.

‘At a price too dear,’ Thorinskath replied, spreading his wings, launching skyward and flying south as fast and as far as he could in the time remaining before the Demon reclaimed his soul and changed his physical pain to his loss of will.

The Seeress knew Gwilliam likely thought the dragon’s parting words were for him. She walked away, leaving the former prince and now King of the Crescent Lands in all but name, to fall into the arms of the woman he had bonded in saving her life from the dragon’s hunger.

I knew my fate, she whispered to the retreating dragon, would have preferred death to this, she replied, refusing to look back at Lord Gwilliam or the woman. She knew that woman would forever ride at his side until his death, one that she would see be due to old age if she could thread the visions and fates well enough to help save the world from the Lord of Demons and the coming war.

‘I wish you the hope of that,’ the dragon whispered in her mind, as she felt every beat of his wings. ‘You know the two-fold man will not escape me.’

He is no mere human, she replied, watching his dark form grow smaller in the distance.

‘I care not if he is the Highmage... He will die by my fire and the Lord of Demons will forgive me for what I have done. Then, perhaps, I will be free of that vile creature! That said, the dragon banked, spewing flame.

Seeress, are you all right? Truthsayer asked.

All right? I can but tell you the truth, so accept that I shall not answer that question. However, I must warn you that you are in for a hard ride in days to come.

Truth... Uh, what are you talking about? he frowned.

You are being called elsewhere, as am I.

And I was having such fun identifying traitors.

A very important skill... When the black steed comes for you, do not argue. His penance has begun.

You are leaving, too.

Gladly do I follow that fate, though my apprentice and acolyte will miss me, they are better off remaining in Gwilliam’s care.

You’re going alone?

For now... she glanced in Gwilliam’s direction.

Truth, he muttered as the air rippled behind her. What?

Fate calls. She took a step backwards and vanished.

Seeress!

#

The unicorn was not satisfied and savagely drew more from the Seeress’s memories.

No! she rasped.

‘You lost more than weeks...’

Do not look!

But the unicorn did.

#

The Seeress stepped through a ripple of paradox, and wound her way through conflicting realities in what seemed but instants. A cloaked man suddenly blocked her way, glanced up at her, a light blazing around his neck, then his form spun away.

Two young women clasping hands fell through a tunnel of spinning ebony, crying out, Jewels! 

Flame shot beneath her feet and she saw the unicorn racing reality, crying out, ‘NO!’

So much more flashed by as that which never was and that which never would be pressed around her as a funnel opened before her taking leagues through fates where the black dragon confronted her screaming, ‘He is mine at last!’

She waved her hand, That will not be!

BUT THE PRICE WILL BE DEAR.

She knew she could not stop moving forward or she would be lost forever, her visions warned as Fenn’s lash struck her flesh long ago, when she had given herself over to be his prisoner. She had sacrificed herself to create the opportunity that had never existed before Je’orj du Bradlei had fallen through the Gate.

Prophecies once lost now vied to be fulfilled as the Highmage-yet-to-be played the role of his mentor, reinstating a future that could still be but hoped for, and could so easily never be.

An eternity later, she stepped forth into the Northlands near the Imperial cliffs. She dropped to her knees, drained and exhausted.

The moment of clashing realities disturbed the falcs, who now called the caves high upon the cliffside home. They burst forth like a disturbed beehive.

There was a barking of hounds and she smiled as the first found her.

Good boy, she rasped, now where’s that Medicine man?

Here, Woman of the Light, the bald Hillman said. Three more hounds were at his side as he stepped clear of the woods.

Water bladder in hand, he came to her side and helped her sip.

That was madness; you nearly did not escape whatever that was.

The falcs called it into being, she replied.

The harbingers have never taken so active a hand in things.

Yet, they summoned you in your dreams and told you I would be here, now.

That they did, but not why, he frowned.

It is good we have no need to argue with the Prophecy.

Then the falcs do have him...

She nodded. He will join us soon, then we must go to the Bastian.

Fenn’s Army lies between it and us now. I have never seen its like before.

He stripped the Northern Crescent to build and manage it. There is not a drop of grain left behind in their wake, nor any cattle. Their presence is also why I’m here to lead you as the Prophecy needs.

My people have waited long for him.

The world has waited long for a lot of Prophecies to be fulfilled. Prophecies the Demon had spent every hour scheming to rend from the tapestries of fate.

A hound sniffed her, rose on his hind legs and put paws to her shoulders. His tongue licked her.

She looked him in eyes filled with human cunning. Keep this form as you will, changeling of the Hill Tribes. He is coming and you will protect him with your very life, understood?

The hound dropped to his haunches and bowed his head. Each of the hounds that were not hounds did the same. The Medicine Man shrugged, We claim him. He will save our people.

He better do more than that, she replied, glancing back up as a falc circled. You know who I am. Destiny requires him as... as it has drawn others into the coming battle... The time draws nigh, and the falcs have prepared to do what they must to save our world from the Demon.

A black winged falc circled them, then disappeared into one of the many open crags.

She sighed, vision welling, unbidden as they waited for the last member of their party bound for the Bastian that was soon to vanish. Fenn du Blain’s Army would pay the terrible price for the victories it had wrought unknowing, perhaps unwittingly in taking the Northlands on behalf of Fenn’s dread Lord of Demons.

The Demon’s schemes have slain thousands of Imperial legionnaires, she muttered, but with such victories comes the vengeance he has unleashed in turn. There is greater hope for your people than you realize.

My people will not be brought low by the Demon. Nor be served as offerings to his goblin-kin. Our changelings await their Prince, the Medicine Man proclaimed. Before the Black Dragon visits us once more to claim our blood and extinguish our people.

#

The boy, Casber, hurried across the hall the Seeress would soon walk, perhaps had walked. He saw her and the unicorn in disagreement, the oddly shaped jewel at his throat, glowing. You two should stop arguing and remember you’re friends.

The unicorn blinked, ‘So says the Hand that freed the Dragon and set him on a slightly altered path.’

She and I will... argue... no more, the Seeress replied as the boy did what none but her acolyte or apprentice should be able to, he reached out and his touch brought another vision... 

#

In the East Wing of the Highmage’s Keep, Raven howled. ‘Let me out!’

:George.: his computer staff and alter-ego said. :Perhaps...:

Don’t you start, muttered George Bradley, archeologist far from any semblance of the world he called home. Accidental Imperial Highmage of the Aqwaine Empire.

:She has matured recently.:

There’s ‘matured’ and there’s being an adult.

:For all we know, she is decades older than you are.:

George winced. Staff, she’s in heat and I’m not... not going near her.

:Then why are you walking to her door?:

George stopped cold. What?

Raven scratched the stout wood door, warded against her. Her eyes were bright as she changed from beast to the form of a taller and slender very young woman. Je’orj, please.

:Pheromones, George, or, at least their psychic equivalent.:

Je’orj, Raven cried through the door. I must be with you!

Raven, you are a child.

He could feel the shapechanger grinning, I’m looking more rounded like Fri’il... I’m old enough... I can hear your heart beating faster, smell your desire!

Gripping his computer staff, George stepped back. You are my friend, and a child, Raven.

I am not your friend. I am your wife, and not a child.

You are most definitely not my wife. I’ve far too many already. Thank you, very much.

We were... engaged by the Prelate’s hand at the wedding.

That was an accident, Raven!

:You could say all your marriages have been,: Staff quipped unhelpfully. :George, when in Rome...:

No child brides, no matter the culture... he rasped.

‘Listen to Staff,’ Raven pleaded mind-to-mind. ‘We belong to each other.’

Oh, there you are, Se’and said, obviously pregnant, a warder mage floating behind her as perpetual bodyguard. De’ohr apparently brought the girls herself.

Se’and, please! Raven cried, pounding on the door. Let me out!

Sorry, dear, but you are rather young and we agreed — you agreed, this would be best for now, she replied.

Raven ceased pounding, instead pleaded, Se’and, you’re having one of his pups and I did not know what I was agreeing to.

I think that’s the longest sentence she’s ever uttered, Se’and said. This is really bringing out the human in her... Je’orj, what are you doing?

Um, George replied, realizing his hand was reaching for the barred door latch.

Look at me, Je’orj, Se’and said.

With difficulty, he turned around.

Come with me. I’ve arranged a bath... an ice cold one. Or I am sure Cle’or would be more than—

No! A cold bath sounds grand.

Se’and canted her head.

Ice cold bath, definitely will need a lot of ice in it. Cle’or can see to other matters.

Se’and held out her hand to him. I really think Cle’or might—

Raven pounded on the door. NO! NO! COME BACK, JE’ORJ!

He stumbled away as Se’and hurried to his side drawing has arm across her shoulders to steady him, Je’orj, I think you really need a, uh, Cathartan bodyguard of Cle’or’s caliber at your side. We wouldn’t want anything to distract you and bring you back to this room later, now would we?

Leaning heavily on Staff, he shook his head, Definitely not. But Cle’or can wait... a while before becoming my shadow.

Well, as your wife, my half-sister would...

Don’t remind me.

:Where’s the fun in that,: the computer staff quipped in his mind.

Just make certain, other than our significantly warded young mage here, no other males enter this wing... he said. I don’t think they could help but answer, um, Raven’s need.

Don’t worry, I already thought of that, Se’and said, which is why I came up here with our warder mage just in case you, uh, succumbed.

#

This is not exactly what I had in mind when I summoned him, the disembodied voice said, ghosting away from the hall and Raven’s warded and barred room.

Truly, Alrex? You mean you did not intend to wake me and have a strange human and his troll, a rather short one at that, poking at me with their devices, trying to ascertain I know not what? Worse, the changeling in heat is trying to tear one of my lovely rooms apart.

He’s helped save the Empire... and I did not mean to do more than waken the nodes, certainly not waken you to this extent...

Or your predecessors, the rather distinguished line of Guardians, those titled Highmages? Well, you have, which should not even have been possible.

Je’orj has a tendency to have things just happen.

Then do something about that, at least.

What?

That! There! Don’t tell me you don’t hear it...

Oh. That. Uh, I’m sorry, I have never been particularly good with babies.   

#

Je’orj’s baby daughter, Ri’ori, was crying in her crib. She suddenly stopped crying.

A ball of light hung above her. It winked.

She blinked.

It winked again.

She smiled, reaching for it.

It bobbed out of reach. Well, being incorporeal has its uses after all. Alrex danced forward, sensing Je’orj was heading this way to check on his little girl as Se’and ordered his bath of frigid water readied. Female bodyguards trailed behind him to make certain he did not go back to Raven’s door.

To better keep his mind off the one in heat yearning for him.

Ri’ori whimpered.

That’s not helping. Alrex bobbed back and forth, hoping George would get here quickly. What I do for the Empire.

Eyes wide, Ri’ori giggled, then stopped... and frowned.

Oh, my. I don’t think I can do anything about that.

Ri’ori was soon crying again and the Keep was less than pleased.

#

Seeress? Are you all right? the Medicine man asked as they paralleled the Imperial cliffs, falcs seeming to watch over them, circling wide.

She cleared her throat, struggling to be here, while realizing she was also seeing the unicorn now kneeling beside a dais as the Highmage entered.

The illusion was strong. The woman at the journeyman mage’s side was a master in her own right. Then again, their Raven luckily had no knowledge or matching inclination as the actual changeling did at this moment, or, she frowned, did some tomorrow.

I’m well, she replied standing in the Keep’s dining hall.

Milady? the person at her side asked.

We must leave here soon and go to the Imperial capital.

Uh, we must? Je’orj smiled. Well, perhaps in a few more days.

We must leave here. Lady Se’and must foster those young Mother Shamans of Lord Lawson. Thankful, not all of them are reaching that particular level, but...

Foster... You mean Lawson’s adopted daughters?

Uh, huh, your nieces, she replied. Their kinswomen, for some reason, are having a hard time adjusting to the changes in those girls. Se’and has more experience with... well, dealing with human magery. Ani’ya, in particular, needs her and the shaman girls will prove helpful to Se’and under the circumstances, too.

The unicorn gazed back at them from her place near the dais and gave a mental sigh.

The Seeress shivered and a moment later realized Duncan was steadying her, the Imperial cliff’s casting a long shadow over the land. I’m fine...

Milady? the exiled prince asked as the Medicine man looked overhead at one black falc in particular.

She sighed, It’s a long way yet to Bastian.

Chapter 1 – Imperial Capital

––––––––

Mother Shaman, they’ve... well, done it again.

De’ohr sat in the vast library of the Temple of Knowledge, the aged silver haired Prelate sitting opposite her as the gray haired Cathartan Sister in black livery with a pair of daggers at her hips wrung her hands.

What did Lawson’s daughters do this time?

Several of them slipped out in the middle of the night.

I thought you put an end to that, the prelate commented, trying not to smile.

I did, too, De’ohr said. 

Oh, no, Mother Shaman, it’s not that. They aren’t going outside like a dog needing to be let out anymore.

Oh, good, De’ohr said. Progress.

Don’t tell me they’ve begun playing more instruments? the prelate suggested.

The older woman shook her head, No, and I’ve no complaints on their musical abilities... And the Sisters have requested another performance for...

De’ohr gave the woman a look as the prelate grinned. Ahem.

The Empress truly enjoyed their performance, the prelate said, ever so helpfully, particularly the fiddler.

Ani’ya, the woman said, it’s her... again.

What’s she done now? the Mother Shaman sighed.

She... Vi’ya and En’sta flew off the roof and haven’t come back.

De’ohr blinked, Did you say ‘flew?’

The old prelate sat back, Oh, my... Anyone see them?

Just me; and only because I heard this faint humming sound.

Flew? How did... Explain! De’ohr demanded, wishing the prelate were less wise.

The old woman shook her head, I’m not certain. They were dressed in our livery, so they were difficult to see, but those girls are... distinctive. That’s what the Sisters of the Shattered House thought they whispered out of our hearing at least. It looked like they were standing on something darker than the night.

The prelate covered his mouth and muttered, what sounded to Mother Shaman De’ohr like, "Antigrav."

Which way were they heading? De’ohr asked.

The woman pointed.

Tell no one about this, understand? she ordered.

Who would believe me, Mother Shaman?

De’ohr dismissed her and as soon as the door closed, she looked at the frowning prelate. You know more about this than you’re saying.

De’ohr, they are, apparently, doing Mother’s will.

The Troll goddess I told them to speak to no one else about?

She’s not a goddess, he replied, gaze hooded.

Yet, she’s made them older than their years... and speaks to them in their dreams.

Well, yes, Mother does seem to be a might impatient after five thousand years.

This Mother-not-goddess, what does she want? Why do they look years older?

The prelate shook his head, She’s being cagey about that.

You’ve spoken to her?

Well, yes.

Perhaps, if I—

Oh, no, you really don’t want her attention... That Lawson’s adopted daughters are, uh, apprentices now should be considered sacrifice enough for your Sisterhood.

Frowning, De’ohr replied, I’ve lost more than those twelve girls to her. Lord Lawson is a matter of some concern.

I hear he’s becoming a fine, err, human mage.

He’s a troll.

A short one, only seven feet tall or so, which makes him a bit of a throwback, which from Mother’s perspective is, apparently, ideal.

Short compared to his friend, Greth, who is, what... fourteen feet tall?

Hmm, I think he may be taller than that, but looking that high up strains my neck too much.

And he’s claimed Me’oh’s youngest, Nessa.

Only as a daughter, I thought.

So, she claims. So, the girls claim of Lawson, too.

I don’t think she’d lie to her mother about that.

Not to Me’oh, no, but I glimpse Ani’ya and her Sisters as having aspirations to be more than Lawson’s little girls, so... she shrugged, uncertain.

Thankfully, Lawson does not.

Cathartan males they do not always get a say in such things.

So I’ve, uh, heard.

Something else is bothering you, she said.

Flying, such, uh, magery is rare.

Magery makes much possible, does it not? De’ohr stated. And the Warder Mages float about a foot off the ground.

They do, but they don’t fly... and, well, the direction your Sister pointed.

What?

There’s nothing really out that way but the poorest shanties and, well, the junkyard.

The junkyard?

Well, it’s a fancier name, the old Imperial Refuse Harbor.

De’ohr frowned, eyes widening, Isn’t that where...

Yes, that’s the place that Greth bought that he said reminded him of home.

Whatever could the Empress have been thinking when she granted him the right to invest in it? De’ohr wondered.

There were two schools of thought on that. It was the long ignored former Refuse Harbor and, well...

It kept the troll out of sight, she hazarded.

Which, based on the fact that no one in their right mind wanted to invest in that eyesore for the last millennium or so earned its quick approval by the Office of the Exchequer, the prelate said, frowning, thinking, One person’s junk is another’s treasure?

In turn, the Mother Shaman was thinking, those girls definitely need to be with their... Father before things get any worse than them somehow flying off late at night to see the other troll.

#

Casber du Winome patted the unicorn’s neck as the three girls floated out of the night sky into what Greth jokingly called the Holy Reclamation Center.

Nessa, hands on hips, shouted, What are you doing here, riding on those things?

Ani’ya grinned, Mother called and wanted a progress report.

Greth frowned, You mean she downloaded her message.

Of course, Uncle Greth, Vi’ya said.

He shook his head as the girl stepped off the black as night dragon scale that had brought her here, which shot into the midst of the dozens of others working the smelting and reconstruction process.

Ani’ya’s was the only one that did not join the effort. Uh, they’ve certainly multiplied.

How many serve you now? Nessa asked the tall nine-year-old, who looked nearer thirteen.

We’ve twelve, one dedicated to each of us, Ani’ya said as the light of