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in silence, and in splendor

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She wakes, some nights, tasting earth in her mouth, gasping for air that comes not, sand trickling down the back of her throat as if she is the earth, as if she is swallowing her own grave. She hears the stones creaking, groaning, and cannot sit up for the weight of them as they thud across her chest -- one, two, leaning, slipping.

But she can open her eyes in the darkness and see that the sound is only the shifting of the wood on the hearth, orange sparks drifting upward like the children of the stars she saw above the mountains that night, that night when she was given back her name.

That night when she was Tenar.

She wakes and finds that she is in a little wood house, lying on a wood floor, sleeping in front of the burned-down embers of a man-made fire, and she lies still and listens. Inside the silence is a galaxy of sound -- Ogion snoring softly, the rasp of his roughcloth blanket as his chest rises and falls, the crackle of the orange-hearted, black-shelled branches as they burn. They remind her that she is no longer Eaten, that her domain is more now than graves both rotting and empty, that death is no longer her only inheritance.

She never thinks of it in the sunlight, content to sit with Ogion inside the house, or outside on the forest path, heavy books open and musty in her lap. She learns the names of things, and asks questions that Ogion never answers except to turn a page or hand her another volume. She finds the answers for herself, and she likes knowing that she can.

At first it is enough for her, this silence, this cocoon where she feels herself growing again, feels parts of herself forming in ways they were never allowed to do before. She thinks it was neater the first time, the way she grew inside her grave-clothes, inside the rituals of the Nameless Ones. It's messier now, the way she grows unevenly, in fits and starts, but she finds delight in it anyway, each twinge of discomfort and surprise.

The village is an endless wonder to her, a new Labyrinth, full of smells and strong, bitter tastes that overwhelm her at first, her palate used to gruel and bread and rice. Ogion lets her wander in the village as much as she wants, and after the first two times, he doesn't even follow her. He doesn't like it; he prefers the silence of his hilltop house, without the curious eyes of the villagers.

So she goes alone, and she carries her head high, and she pays for raspberries at the price asked of her. No one speaks to her much; she is as set apart as she was in the Tombs, a pale-skinned foreigner instead of a Priestess. The only person who speaks to her is the witch, Moss, who most of the villagers call Aunty. She smells, and her hair is a tangle of witch's herbs and her namesake, and Tenar thinks that when she is older she will be a wrinkled crone with a hook nose and deep-set eyes, but for now she is still young, and she bows to Tenar and greets her politely.

"Hello, White Lady," she says with a dip of her head, lips stretching in a toothy grin. "A bushel of peaches for the young lady? A bag of herbs? They'll attract a man, they will." She spits into the grass by her feet, the juice of a brown leaf she has stuffed inside her lip. "Worked a charm on 'em, bring you luck and a good husband."

Tenar doesn't speak to her at first, nervous and unsure, remembering how she was thoughtlessly cruel to Penthe, to Manan. She doesn't wish to slight anyone without meaning to, and her grasp on their language is shaky at best. In that, Ogion's silence doesn't help her.

But Moss speaks to her every time she returns to town, and eventually Tenar speaks back, and Moss crows and claps and bows deeply. "You are paying too much for your food, White Lady," she says, and teaches Tenar to haggle. At first Tenar is shocked, finds it rude and disrespectful to question the prices the merchants have set, but she soon finds that the villagers are more at ease when she learns to work them down. It helps them accept her as one of their own, someone who barters and bargains just as they do.

"You see, Aunty Moss helps you," the witch cackles, and Tenar smiles, shy and delighted.

She tells Ogion about her achievements, but he just makes a thoughtful noise, and she cannot tell whether he is proud of her for this growth, or whether he is disappointed that she is drawn to the village more than the forest path.  He still gives her books to read, though, and still helps her learn the skills that a Priestess of Atuan never needed to know. He teaches her how to brew a broth, how to season meat, how to fry an egg in a black iron pan, mended and charmed many times.

But the night is hers in a way that little else is, and sometimes she creeps out of the little wood house and lets her bare feet carry her to the cliff over the ocean. She sits there, wrapped in a blanket woven of wool that she haggled for in the market, wool that she spun into yarn and knitted herself, and she tilts her head back. In the ever-shifting sky, the far-flung stars drip like glittering jewels at the throats of Havnoran merchants' wives, and she remembers the cavern of the Undertomb lit up by the werelight on the staff of a stranger, the first glimmer of a new life, a wider world, that she had ever glimpsed.

And sometimes in the night, she feels the part of herself that was bound to the service of the darkness and the silence. She feels it stirring, and she smiles and lets Arha look out through her eyes at the splendor of the expanse, and she whispers to herself that this is their new domain, their new birthright, their new darkness. And the night wind sighs to her that she is right, and that there is still more waiting for her. Always, always waiting.