Issue 225, Summer 2018
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.