It was late on a moonless night when Ged and Vetch returned to Ismay after Ged's meeting with the shadow, but yellow light flickered at a window of Vetch's house. When they went inside, they found a lantern left burning, and on a small table covered plates of soft sheep's cheese and fresh-baked bread, and a pitcher of tea made from roasted barley.
"Yarrow must have done this every night," said Ged. Vetch nodded.
They were glad of the food, for they had long since eaten the last of her cakes, and ate before they slept. The sheets and blankets on the bed that had been made up for Ged were scented with dried herbs, some whose names he knew in both Hardic and the Old Speech, and some he did not recognize. He would ask Yarrow the names in Hardic, he thought, and Vetch the names in the Old Speech. And if Vetch did not know, he would take the herbs back to the Master Namer, Kurremkarmerruk in the Tower, for now Ged could set foot on Roke without endangering it.
But when he slept, he dreamed not of the Tower but of the Immanent Grove; and not of the ancient trees, but of tiny sprigs of green growing beneath them, sending up a warm scent whose earthiness would intensify if they were dried.
"Whistleflower," said Ged as he awoke, and then in the Old Speech, "Oltun."
When he came into the kitchen to join the others at breakfast, Yarrow thrust a fine-woven green coat at him. Vetch was wearing a similar one in white.
"This would have kept me warm on my journey," said Ged. "Though it would have been spoiled with sea water."
"Don't jump in the ocean when you're wearing it, then." Then Yarrow hid her eyes for a moment. "How long will you stay?"
Murre looked up from the cup he was carving, and Ged saw the boy's hope reflected in Yarrow and Vetch's eyes. It was strange to hear people who didn't need a wizard wish him to stay, and stranger still to no longer have a quest.
"Come with me today," suggested Vetch, seeing Ged's confusion. "The main well has run dry on Holp, and they want me to come replenish it. Who knows, I might need another hand."
Ged nodded, knowing that Vetch would not need help. But Ged had no reason to leave immediately, other than habit, and this warm house and family made him want to stay a little while.
"I'll come too," said Yarrow.
Vetch looked up at his sister in surprise.
"Oh, not because you'll need my hands," said Yarrow. "But I didn't come on your last voyage, and while I sat here weaving your coats, sometimes I wished I had…"
"It was too dangerous," said Vetch.
"But this journey won't be. Besides, I have two wizards to protect me."
Yarrow plucked her small dragon from its position beside her plate, where it was eyeing her smoked fish, and set it on its usual perch on her arm. It dug its tiny talons onto a patch of leather that Yarrow had sewn into her left sleeve and dyed to such a perfect match that few people ever noticed it was there.
She stroked her forefinger down its scaly back. "I shall take my harrekki, so that I too may have something small to protect."
The three of them sailed to Holp, a small island not known outside of the Far Reaches, and not famous even there. Its people were fishers, mostly, but also grew root vegetables, the kind that require a great deal of stewing. Vetch and Yarrow explained this to Ged on their way, and Yarrow offered Ged a cake from a bag she had brought.
"You won't find anything this good to eat on Holp," she said, taking another and feeding the harrekki on the crumbs. "I remember you said that you can create the illusion of food, but it won't fill your stomach. But can you create the illusion of taste, to make a Holp rutabaga stew seem like a fresh-baked cake?"
"It would still stain your clothes if you tried to pick it up," replied Vetch.
But a light came to Ged's eyes that had not been there for a long time. "Don't drop it." He gestured at the cake Yarrow held. "Siriet."
The cake became a plump fruit with glossy skin shading from red to yellow. Yarrow turned it over in her hands, marveling. A dry leaf clung to a short stem, and a sweet scent rose up from where the stem met the flesh. She bit into it. Juice dripped down her fingers and spotted her shirt.
"What is it?" she asked.
"A fruit from Gont, where I come from. You have to climb high into the mountains, and hope the bears don't get them first. Shall I take away the illusion?"
"No!" Yarrow pulled the fruit in close to her body. "Let me finish it first… Look, you've even tricked my harrekki."
The harrekki had dropped the piece of cake he had been eating, and a piece of fruit lay leaking juice where it had fallen.
She finished the fruit, and Ged spoke again. The shiny black pit in her hand became a fragment of cake, the stains on her shirt became crumbs, and the harrekki scrambled down to retrieve what was once again a bit of cake.
Yarrow cocked her head at what had once been a pit. "I have a good memory… Siriet." Nothing happened.
"Knowledge isn't enough," said Vetch. "You also need power."
"I like knowing the names," said Yarrow. "Even though I can't use them. It's good just to know."
Ged remembered his master back on Gont, Ogion the Silent, and thought that he would like Yarrow.
At Holp they were escorted to the well by several voluble townsmen, all talking on top of each other as they explained that the well had suddenly run dry. The people of Holp were not as dour as Ged had expected from all the talk of root vegetables. Their clothes were bright, their skin was a rich black with undertones of blue, and they wore their hair in great puffs or long ropes, not cropped like Vetch and Murre or in twists like Yarrow.
The well had rough steps cut into the sides. When Ged and Vetch and Yarrow descended, they found that it was dry as a bone all the way down to the bottom. Vetch laid down his hand on the stone and spoke not a word, but he and Ged looked at each other.
"Where did the water go?" asked Yarrow.
"Somewhere else," said Vetch.
They climbed out again, and Vetch asked the townspeople if there were any people who had to walk a long distance to get water; especially, if there was anyone like that who was young.
The men set up a great chatter, but they agreed the wizard wanted to see someone called Thistledown, whose parents had died in a storm and who had refused to leave their house. They offered an escort, but Holp is a small island and pointed fingers were sufficient.
To Ged's surprise, the person who came out of the house beside a small but brimming well proved to be a girl no older than Yarrow. She wore a dandelion-colored dress that made her skin look even blacker. A huge cloud of dark hair surrounded her scowling face.
"I suppose you're here to put the water back," Thistledown said.
Vetch said mildly, "Did you mean to take it from the other well?"
The girl shook her head. "I just wanted water here. I spend half the day hauling buckets back and forth. This well has never been any good. And now I can't get it to go back."
"There are better ways to renew a well than what you did," said Vetch. "Ways that don't dry up your neighbors' well."
The girl's scowl intensified. "Are there? Teach them to me, then."
"Who taught you to move water?"
"No one. A sorcerer stopped here on his way to somewhere else. He wouldn't take me with him. But I remembered every word he spoke. He raised the wind, too. Shall I -"
"No!" Vetch and Ged spoke as one.
"I believe you," added Vetch. "But you see what happens when you use spells you don't quite understand. You could blow down your own home…"
"You could be captured by goats," said Ged, remembering an arrogant, ignorant boy of Gont.
"Then teach me," insisted Thistledown. "The sorcerer wouldn't. And girls can't go to Roke."
"There's a wise woman on Iffish," Vetch said. "I could take you to her."
Thistledown turned away from Vetch, toward Ged. "You teach me. You're from somewhere far away, and that's where I want to go. I want to speak to dragons, and sail to the end of the world, and never eat another rutabaga."
Ged again remembered a boy on Gont, but this time not the boy called Duny, but the barely older boy who left Ogion to seek glory, and found darkness. "Not I. Vetch would be a better teacher for you, if he'd have you. And if you'd be willing to stay."
"Why not teach her?" Yarrow spoke to her brother, not to Ged. "Our house is big enough. I could weave for her in bright colors, and while she waits for dragons, my harrekki can keep her company."
Thistledown spoke no word of power, but the little dragon scurried down Yarrow's arm and reached out one tiny claw toward Thistledown. The two girls looked at each other, and though the one possessed great power and the other none, for a moment Ged could not tell which was which.
"I'd stay," said Thistledown. "At least for a while."
Vetch touched the water in Thistledown's well. A ripple spread out from his finger, widening and widening until it reached the gray stone circle around the water. When he took his hand away, the water was gone.
He said, "In the Old Speech, the word for rutabaga is kinnion."
"Kinnion," repeated Thistledown. Her lips moved again, repeating it silently, committing it to memory.
"Don't you hate them?" asked Ged.
She shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I still want to know the name."
"Then come," said Vetch. "And stay for a while."
The deeds of women are not often written into songs. But there is a tale told in Lorbanery of a woman with skin the color of a thundercloud, who sailed to their island after the world had changed and departed with the one who had once been a master dyer, a woman who had cried aloud her true name in despair. Her son too had left with strangers, and in time word came of his death. But the dyer herself returned alone some months later, and began to make new colors. The one which revived the fortunes of Lorbanery shifted from scarlet to yellow to orange as the wearer moved, so that she seemed cloaked in living flame; princes bought that fiery silk for their wives and daughters. But another became popular with ordinary people. It was a rich black with undertones of blue. The dyer called it thistledown.
It is also said that dragons speak of a dark woman who struck a bargain with the Dragon of Pendor to heal his slow-dying son. But whether she succeeded and what she got in return, only the dragons know.
On Ismay the stories tell of a woman who often sails in to stay for a while, a woman who calls the wizard Vetch her master, who bore a son to the woodworker Murre, who took Yarrow's youngest daughter as her apprentice. In their house there is always a room kept ready, a lantern left burning, and a dish of food left covered, waiting for her to come home.