He was thinking of Lookfar, abandoned long ago, beached on the sands of Selidor. Little of her would be left by now, a plank or two down in the sand maybe, a bit of driftwood on the western sea. As he drifted near sleep he began to remember sailing that little boat with Vetch, not on the western sea but eastward, past Far Toly, right out of the Archipelago. It was not a clear memory, because his mind had not been clear when he made that voyage, possessed by fear and blind determination, seeing nothing ahead of him but the shadow that had hunted him and that he pursued, the empty sea over which it had fled. Yet now he heard the hiss and slap of waves on the prow. Mast and sail rose above him when he glanced up, and looking astern he saw the dark hand on the tiller, the face gazing steadily forward past him. High cheekbones, Vetch had, his dark skin stretched smooth on them. He would be an old man now, if he were still alive. Once I could have sent to know. But I don’t need a sending to see him, there in the East Reach on his little island, in his house with his sister, the girl who wore a tiny dragon for a bracelet. It hissed at me, she laughed . . . He was in the boat, and the water slapped her wood as she went east and east, and Vetch looked forward, and he looked forward over the unending water. He had raised the magewind but Lookfar scarcely needed it. She had her own way with the wind, that boat. She knew where she was going.
Until she could not go anymore. Until the deep sea went shoal beneath her, ran shallow, ran dry, and her bottom grated over rock, and she was aground, unmoving, in the darkness that had come on all round them.
He had stepped out of the boat there in the deep sea, over the abyss, and walked forward on dry land. In the Dry Land.
That was gone now. The thought came to him slowly. The land across the wall of stones. He saw that wall—the first time he saw it, saw the child running silently down the dark slope beyond it. He saw all the dead land, the shadow-cities, the shadow-people who passed one another in silence, indifferent, under stars that did not move. It was all gone. They had harrowed it, broken it, opened it—the king and the humble sorcerer and the dragon who soared over them, lighting the dead skies with her living fire . . . The wall was down. It had never been. It was a spell, a seeming, a mistake. It was gone.
Were the mountains gone then, too, that other boundary, the Mountains of Pain? They stood far across the desert from the wall, black, small, sharp against the dull stars. The young king had walked with him across the Dry Land to the mountains. It seemed west but it was not westward they walked; there was no direction there. It was forward, onward, the way they had to go. You go where you must go, and so they had come to the dry streambed, the darkest place. And then on even beyond that. He had walked forward, leaving behind him in the waterless ravine, in the rocks he had sealed shut and healed, all his treasure, his gift, his strength. Walked on, lame, always lamer. There was no water, no sound of water ever. They were climbing those cruel slopes. There was a path, a way, though it was all sharp stones, and upward, upward, always steeper. After a while, his legs would not hold him, and he tried to crawl, hands and knees on the stones, he remembered that. After that, the rest was gone. There had been the dragon, old Kalessin, the color of rusted iron, and the heat of the dragon’s body, the huge wings lifting and beating down. And fog, and islands beneath them in the fog. But those black mountains were not gone, vanished with the dark land. They were not part of the spell-dream, the afterlife, the mistake. They were there.
Not here, he thought. You can’t see them from here, in this house. The window in the alcove looks west, but not to that west. Those mountains are where west is east and there is no sea. There’s only land sloping up forever into the long night. But westward, true west, there’s only the sea and the sea wind.
It was like a vision, but felt more than seen: he knew the deep earth beneath him, the deep sea before. It was a strange knowledge, but there was joy in knowing it.
Firelight played with shadow up in the rafters. Night was coming on. It would be good to sit at the hearth and watch the fire a while, but he’d have to get up to do that, and he didn’t want to get up yet. The pleasant warmth was all around him. He heard Tenar now and then behind him: kitchen noises, chopping, settling a knot into the fire under the kettle. Wood from the old live oak in the pasture that had fallen and he’d split winter before last. Once she hummed some tune under her breath for a minute, once she muttered to her work, encouraging it to do what she wanted, “Come on there now . . . ”
The cat sauntered round the foot of the low bed and elevated himself weightlessly onto it. He had been fed. He sat down and washed his face and ears, wetting one paw patiently over and over, and then undertook extensive cleansing of his hind parts, sometimes holding a back paw up with a front paw so that he could clean the claws, or holding down his tail as if expecting it to try to get away. Now and then he looked up for a minute, immobile, with a strange absent gaze, as if listening for instructions. At last he gave a little belch and settled down beside Ged’s ankles, arranging himself to sleep. He had sauntered down the path from Re Albi one morning last year, a small gray tom, and moved in. Tenar thought he came from Fan’s daughter’s house, where they kept two cows and where cats and kittens were always underfoot. She gave him milk, a bit of porridge, scraps of meat when they had it, otherwise he provided for himself; the crew of little brown rats that holed up in the pasture never invaded the house anymore. Sometimes, nights, they heard him caterwauling in the throes of impassioned lust. In the morning he would be flat out on the hearthstone where the warmth still was, and would sleep all day. Tenar called him Baroon—“cat” in Kargish.
Sometimes Ged thought of him as Baroon, sometimes in Hardic as Miru, sometimes by his name in the Old Speech. For after all, Ged had not forgotten what he knew. Only it was no good to him, after the time in the dry ravine, where a fool had made a hole in the world, and he had to seal it with the fool’s death and his own life. He could still say the cat’s true name, but the cat would not wake and look at him. He murmured the name of the cat under his breath. Baroon slept on.
So he had given his life, there in the unreal land. And yet he was here. His life was here, back near its beginning, rooted in this earth. They had left the dark ravine where west is east and there is no sea, going the way they had to go, through black pain and shame. But not on his own legs or by his own strength at last. Carried by his young king, carried by the old dragon. Borne helpless into another life, the other life that had always been there near him, mute, obedient, waiting for him. The shadow, was it, or the reality? The life with no gift, no power, but with Tenar, and with Tehanu. With the beloved woman and the beloved child, the dragon’s child, the cripple, daughter of Segoy.
He thought about how it was that when he was not a man of power he had received his inheritance as a man.
His thoughts ran back along a course they had often taken over the years: how strange it was that every wizard was aware of that balance or interchange between the powers, the sexual and the magical, and everyone who dealt with wizardry was aware of it, but it was not spoken of. It was not called an exchange or a bargain. It was not even called a choice. It was called nothing. It was taken for granted.
Village sorcerers and witchwives married and had children—evidence of their inferiority. Sterility was the price a wizard paid, paid willingly, for his greater powers. But the nature of the price, the unnaturalness of it—did that not taint the powers so gained?
Everyone knew that witches dealt with the unclean, the Old Powers of the earth. They made base spells to bring man and woman together, to fulfill lust, to take vengeance, or used their gift on trivial things, healing slight ills, mending, finding. Sorcerers did much the same, but the saying was always Weak as woman’s magic, wicked as woman’s magic. How much of that was truth, how much was fear?
His first master, Ogion, who learned his craft from a wizard who’d learned his from a witch, had taught him none of that rancorous contempt. Yet Ged had learned it from the beginning, and still more deeply on Roke. He’d had to unlearn it, and the unlearning was not easy.
But after all, it was a woman who first taught me, too, he thought, and the thought had a little gleam of revelation in it. Back long ago, in the village, Ten Alders. Over on the other side of the mountain. When I was Duny. I listened to my mother’s sister Raki call the goats, and I called them the way she did, with her words, and they all came. And then I couldn’t break the spell, but Raki saw I had the gift. Was that when she saw it first? No, she was watching me when I was a tiny child, still in her care. She watched me, and she knew. Mage knows mage . . . How silly she’d have thought me, to call her a mage! Ignorant she was, superstitious, half fraud, making her poor living in that poor place on a few scraps of lore, a few words of the true speech, a stew of garbled spells and false knowledge she half knew to be false. She was everything they meant on Roke when they sneered at village witches. But she knew her craft. She knew the gift. She knew the jewel.
He lost the thread of his thoughts in a surge of slow, bodily memories of his childhood in that steep village, the dank bedding, the smell of woodsmoke in the dark house in the bitter winter cold. Winter, when a day he had enough to eat was a wondrous day to think about long after, and half his life was spent in dodging his father’s heavy hand in the smithy, at the forge where he had to keep the long bellow pumping and pumping till his back and arms were afire with pain and his arms and face burning with the sparks he could not dodge, and still his father would shout at him, strike him, knock him aside in rage, Can’t you keep the fire steady, you useless fool?
But he would not weep. He would beat his father. He would bear it and be silent until he could beat him, kill him. When he was big enough, when he was old enough. When he knew enough.
And of course by the time he knew enough he knew what a waste of time all that anger was. That wasn’t the door to his freedom. The words were: the words Raki taught him, one at a time, miserly, grudging, doling them out, hard-earned and few and far between. The name of the water that rose up from the earth as a spring when you spoke its name along with one other word. The name of the hawk and the otter and the acorn. The name of
Oh the joy, the pride of knowing the name of the wind! The pure delight of power, to know he had the power! He had run out, clear over to the High Fall, to be alone there, rejoicing in the wind that blew strong, westward, from far across the Kargish sea, and he knew its name, he commanded the wind . . .
Well, that was gone. Long gone. The names he still had. All the names, all the words he’d learned from Kurremkarmerruk in the Isolate Tower and since then. But if you did not have the gift in you, the words of the Old Speech were no more than any words, Hardic or Kargish, or birdsong, or Baroon’s anguished yowlings of desire.
He sat up partway and stretched his arms. “What are you laughing at?” Tenar asked him, passing the bed with an armload of kindling, and he said, a little bewildered, “I don’t know. I was thinking of Ten Alders.”
She gave him her searching look but smiled and went on to the hearth to feed the fire. He wanted to get up and go sit at the hearth with her, but he would lie here a while longer. He disliked the way his legs would not hold steady when he got up, and how soon he tired and wanted only to lie quiet again, looking up into the firelight and the friendly shadows. He had known this house since he was thirteen, just named. Ogion named him in the springs of the Ar and brought him on around the mountain. They went slowly, welcomed into the poor villages like Ten Alders or sleeping out in the forest, in the silence, in the rain. And they came here. He slept for the first time in the little alcove and saw the stars in the window above him and watched the firelight dancing with the shadows in the rafters. He did not know that Ogion was Elehal then. He had had a lot to learn.
Ogion had the patience to teach him, if only he’d had the patience to be taught . . . Well, never mind. One way or another he’d blundered his way through, from mistake to mistake. Even a very great mistake, the wrong, the evil done with the spell they taught him on Roke. But before he knew the spell, he’d found the words, in Ogion’s book, here, in this house, his home. In his ignorant arrogance he had summoned it, the darkness behind the door, the faceless being that reached out to him, whispered to him. He had brought the evil here, under this roof. As this was his home . . . His thoughts blurred again. He drifted. It was like sailing in Lookfar, alone, in cloudy night, in the great darkness on the dark sea. Only the way the wind blew to tell him where he went. He went the wind’s way.
“Will you have a bowl of soup?” Tenar asked him, and he roused. But he was still very tired. “Not very hungry,” he said.
He didn’t think she’d be satisfied by that. And indeed after a while she came back round the half wall that divided the front part of the house, the hearth and the kitchen and the alcove, from this darker back part. It was bedroom and workroom now but once had been the winter byre for the cow or the pig or the goats and the poultry. This was an old house. A few people in Re Albi knew it had once been called the House of the Sorceress, but they did not know why. He knew. He and Tenar had the house from Elehal, who had it from his teacher, Heleth, who had it from his teacher, the witch Ard. It was the kind of house a witch would live in, by itself and apart from the village, not so near anyone had to call her neighbor, but not so far as to be out of reach in need. Ard had put up houses for her beasts nearby and made her bed against that half wall, where the manger had been. And Heleth, and then Elehal, and now Ged and Tenar slept where she had slept.
Most people called it the Old Mage’s House. Some of the villagers would tell a stranger, “He that was the Archmage, away off there in Roke, he lives there,” when city folk and foreigners from Havnor came seeking him; but they said it distrustfully and with some disapproval. They liked Tenar better than they liked him. Even though she was white skinned and a real foreigner, a Karg, they knew she was their kind, a thrifty housewife, a tough bargainer, nobody’s fool, more canny than uncanny.
A girl, white face, dark hair, sudden, startled, stared at him across a cavern of dazzling crystal and water-carved stone, topaz and amethyst, in the trembling radiance of werelight from his staff.
There, even there in their greatest temple, the Old Powers of the earth were feared, wrongly worshipped, offered the cruel deaths and mutilations of slaves, the stunted lives of girls and women imprisoned there. He and Arha had committed no sacrilege. They had released the long hunger and anger of the earth itself to break forth, bring down the domes and caverns, throw open the prison doors.
But her people, who tried to appease the Old Powers, and his people, who held witchery in contempt, made the same mistake, moved by fear, always fear, of what was hidden in the earth, hidden in women’s bodies, the knowledge without words that trees and women knew untaught and men were slow to learn. He had only glimpsed it, that great quiet knowledge, the mysteries of the roots of the forest, the roots of the grasses, the silence of stones, the unspeaking communion of the animals. The waters underground, the rising of the springs. All he knew of it he had learned from her, Arha, Tenar, who never spoke of it. From her, from the dragons, from a thistle. A little colorless thistle struggling in the sea wind between stones, on the path over the High Fall . . .
She came round the divider with a bowl, as he knew she would, and sat down on the milking stool beside the bed. “Sit up and have a spoonful or two,” she said. “It’s the last of Quacker.”
“No more ducks,” he said. The ducks had been an experiment.
“No,” she agreed. “We’ll stick to chickens. But it’s a good broth.”
He sat up and she pushed the pillow behind him and set the bowl on his lap. It smelled good, and yet he did not want it. “Ah, I don’t know, I’m just not hungry,” he said. They both knew. She did not coax him. After a while he swallowed a few spoonfuls, and then put the spoon into the bowl and laid his head back against the pillow. She took the bowl away. She came back and stooped to brush the hair back from his forehead with her hand. “You’re a bit feverish,” she said.
“My hands are cold.”
She sat down on the stool again and took his hands. Hers were warm and firm. She bowed her head down to their clasped hands and sat that way a long time. He loosened one hand and stroked her hair. A piece of wood in the fire snapped. An owl hunting out in the pastures in the last of the twilight gave its deep, soft double call.
The aching was in his chest again. He thought of it not so much as an ache as an architecture, an arch in there at the top of his lungs, a dark arch a little too large for his ribs to hold. After a while it eased, and then was gone. He breathed easily. He was sleepy. He thought of saying to her, I used to think I’d want to go into the woods, like Elehal, to die, he meant, but there’d be no need to say it. The forest was always where he wanted to be. Where he was whenever he could be. The trees around him, over him. His house. His roof. I thought I’d want to do the same. But I don’t. There’s nowhere I want to go. I couldn’t wait to leave this house when I was a boy, I couldn’t wait to see all the isles, all the seas. And then I came back with nothing, with nothing left at all. And it was the same as it had been. It was everything. It’s enough.
Had he spoken? He did not know. It was silent in the house, the silence of the great slope of mountainside all round the house and the twilight above the sea. The stars would be coming out. Tenar was no longer beside him. She was in the other room, slight noises told him she was setting things straight, making up the fire.
He drifted, drifted on.
He was in darkness in a maze of vaulted tunnels like the Labyrinth of the Tombs where he had crawled, trapped, blind, craving water. These arched ribs of rock lowered and narrowed as he went on, but he had to go on. Closed in by rock, hands and knees on the black, sharp stones of the mountain way, he struggled to move, to breathe, could not breathe. He could not wake.
It was bright morning. He was in Lookfar. A bit cramped and stiff and cold as always when he woke from the broken sleep and half sleep and quick, quick-vanishing dreams of nights in the boat alone. Last night there had been no need to summon the magewind; the world’s wind was easy and steady from the east. He had merely whispered to his boat, “Go on as you go, Lookfar,” and stretched out with his head against the sternpost and gazed up at the stars or the sail against the stars until his eyes closed. All that fiery deep-strewn host was gone now but the one great eastern star, already melting like a water drop in the rising day. The wind was keen and chill. He sat up. His head spun a little when he looked back at the eastern sky and then forward again at the blue shadow of the earth sinking into the ocean. He saw the first daylight strike fire from the tops of the waves.
Before bright Éa was, before Segoy
Bade the islands be,
The wind of morning on the sea . . .
He did not sing the song aloud, it sang itself to him. Then came a queer thrumming in his ears. He turned his head, seeking the sound, and again the dizziness passed through it. He stood up, holding to the mast as the boat leapt on the lively sea, and scanned the ocean to the western horizon, and saw the dragon come.
O my joy! be free.
Fierce, with the forge smell of hot iron, the smoke plume trailing on the wind of its flight, the mailed head and flanks bright in the new light, the vast beat of the wings, it came at him like a hawk at a field mouse, swift, unappeasable. It swept down on the little boat that leapt and rocked wildly under the sweep of the wing, and as it passed, in its hissing, ringing voice, in the true speech, it cried to him, There is nothing to fear.
He looked straight into the long golden eye and laughed. He called back to the dragon as it flew on to the east, “Oh, but there is, there is!” And indeed there was. The black mountains were there. But he had no fear in this bright moment, welcoming what would come, impatient to meet it. He spoke the joyous wind into the sail. Foam whitened along Lookfar’s sides as the boat ran west, far out past all the islands. He would go on, this time, until he sailed into the other wind. If there were other shores he would come to them. Or if sea and shore were all the same at last, then the dragon spoke the truth, and there was nothing to fear.