The house in Valmouth was built on the bones of the family business: Apple's husband was a merchant as his father and his father's father had been before him, trading mostly in soft fleecefell from inland Gont, in wine and grain from the rest of the Archipelago, and sometimes, but rarely, in gold and Lorbanery silk for the rich folk up at Re Albi and Gont Port. It was a good, solid business and the modest wealth it brought in had built the good, solid house which sheltered the family for three generations. Three generations lived there still: Apple's husband and herself, her husband's sister and aunts and a raggle-taggle collection of indeterminate elderly relations. Steep-gabled and slate-roofed like its neighbours, the house was towards the high end of the town but every day, like today, Apple was woken by the yearning voices of the gulls down by the harbour. Her husband grunted and blinked beside her in the pallid light and, grumbling, threw back the blankets.
'It's early yet,' said Apple, watching him from the bed.
'There's a shipment of Andrades wine coming in on the morning tide,' he said and rubbed at his chin. 'Needs receiving and inventory doing. Best I oversee it.'
'Don't you have men for that?'
Doan smiled at her wryly and explained, 'If I do it, I know what's going on. If I ask one of my men to do it, it probably won't get done properly and then I'd have to listen to a recounting of how they haven't done it properly and then fix it.'
It was with the ease of long practice that she didn't tell him that women knew the same problems: his aunt Serta had guarded the housewifery jealously ever since Apple arrived in the house as a new bride. Even now, she kept performing the tasks to her own standards and when Apple tried to put her hand to the harrow, Serta had carried on doing as she would and then presented the badly-done tasks to her as a cat would present a mangled mouse. Apple untangled herself from the bed and moved, shivering, through the chill of an early spring dawn. Her mother had always risen with her father at the farm, no matter the time, no matter the weather; there were worse examples to follow. She dressed quickly and hurried downstairs to start water boiling for some rushwash tea. For a mercy, Serta was not already hunched over the hearth, as proprietary as a hen on an egg; it was too early even for her. Apple built the fire and kindled it as quickly as possible to let the room warm up before she filled the kettle from the pail of clean water.
Moving quietly through the kitchen, she pulled out bread and some smoked fish she set to simmering in water and the barley gruel that she still ate for breakfast despite living in town these days. The fish was well on its way to being cooked, sea-smoke scent hanging in the air, by the time her husband made it into his clothes and through the counting-room and he grinned as he caught her round the waist and kissed her soundly.
'The best wife on all Gont,' he said, and she laughed.
'Fine words, my lord,' she said, 'but you've yet to taste the fish.'
'Ah,' Doan said, comfortably, 'you always get it right, my love. It was the best idea I ever had to marry you.'
'Oh, you think it was your idea?' she said, and laughed again when he shook his head reprovingly. Before he could say anything, there was a quick rap on the old, oak door as if the one on the other side was impatient. It was too early even for Doan's foreman to turn up.
She pulled the door open, yanking at it just a little when it stuck in the sea-air, and looking out into the pale streets of Valmouth and her brother's familiar face, she surprised herself by bursting into tears.
'But where have you been, Spark?' she demanded once she'd mopped her face. Doan had departed regretfully for the wharf and she and her brother had settled at the white-scrubbed table. 'You've been gone so long and there was no word--' She stopped and said, sick with dread, 'Do you know--?'
'Father's dead, yes,' Spark said. 'Mother told me.'
'Yes,' she agreed. 'Three years past. It was- very quick.'
'A stroke, Mother said. Not that quick.'
'I suppose so,' she agreed, defeated and with that bitter and familiar grief rolling over her like the sea, yet again.
'But he didn't linger.'
'No point,' he said and she scoured his face for any sign that he was making a joke, however bad, but there was nothing. She was struck by a terrible realisation that Spark would never fight for anything, not even his life; if ever he decided that he was due to die, he would then die. For Spark, whatever happened would happen and it would never be his fault.
'Well, it's good to see you, at least,' she said. 'Are you looking for another ship? Doan might be able to ask about for you.'
'No,' he said and his eyes flickered up from the table and around the room, restlessly. 'I've taken over the farm.'
'Oh,' she said, startled, 'but I-- What about Mother?'
'Gone up to the Old Mage's House,' he said shortly, 'with that burned thing she keeps about. And a man. Not right at her age.'
'What's not right?' she said, taken aback when Spark made a swift, vulgar gesture. She sat back and smoothed her skirt before she cleared her throat and said, 'You've been too long at sea if you think that's a thing to do in front of your sister.'
'Well,' he said awkwardly but didn't apologise. 'Is there any more tea? And I could do with something to eat. It was a long walk.'
'It's a half-day from Oak Farm and downhill all the way,' she pointed out, laughing a little, but ladled the rest of the fish out of the kettle and into a bowl.
When Doan got home later that day he insisted that Spark stay for a few days to catch up with his sister but by the end of the second day Spark was with them, silent but to point out where something was not to his liking, Apple regretted her husband's open-handed generosity and his kindness. It was mortifying to find that despite her years, her marriage, and her much-lauded good nature, she was still an impatient, quarrelsome child when confronted with her uncommunicative brother. Nonetheless, she was determined to be pleasant to him for as long as he stayed for, as she said to her friend, Shinny, when they were safely sequestered away in the counting-room, 'He is my brother and I love him, and after all you only get one family. But oh! if he doesn't go and be my brother elsewhere very soon, I shall fetch him a clout on the ear he'll not forget!'
A laughing Shinny wiped tears from her cheeks and said, 'I've never seen you in such a rage, my dear, and such a colour you go! I never knew apples could be so red.'
'Oh,' said Apple, half-laughing and half-shamed at her own temper, and touched her cheek to find it scalding hot, 'I have my mother's pale skin and her sharp tongue too, apparently.'
'Is it such a bad thing?'
'According to Serta and Spark,' said Apple, a little waspishly.
'I've yet to see the King of the Western Lands kiss Serta or your brother in front of the whole town,' said Shinny, wickedly. 'It seems to me that your mother's the one to follow.'
They caught each other's gaze and collapsed into laughter at the thought of King Lebannen formally embracing short, angry little Serta. 'She'd be like a sulky hen,' wheezed Shinny, wiping tears of laughter away from her coppery cheeks.
They'd recovered themselves by the time that the sulky hen in question entered the room with only a perfunctory knock and announced, 'The Sorcerer's here to see you.' She was bubbling over with thinly disguised interest and Apple would have sent her smartly about her business for the interruption had it not been for the nibbling guilt she felt for mocking her husband's aunt and her own bewilderment.
'I've no business with Master Beech,' Apple said.
'Well, maybe he has business with you,' snapped Serta. 'Or maybe he's come to talk to you about your mother: Spark's been very worried about her up there all alone with that monster and a strange man, you know,' she said, nodding self-importantly and damn her brother if he'd been talking out of turn, thought Apple crossly, and to Serta of all people; goats had more forethought.
Shinny snorted. 'Mistress Goha is a careful woman,' she said, 'yes, and respectable and well-liked too. I doubt anyone with sense would spread gossip about her.'
Apple smiled at her, good humour restored. Her relatives might have been troublesome but she was lucky in her friends and in her husband. Whatever might have brought Master Beech to her door, that was a comfort to her.
An hour later, she was no longer so sure that any comfort could be enough in the face of such absurd, horrifying news.
'I do not understand,' she said slowly. 'Why would this man attack my mother; he a wizard and her a widow?'
'No one is quite sure,' Master Beech said, his usually smooth face creased with concern. 'Someone had the tale from the household of the wizard of Gont Port, which is badly done for a mage's business should be not be common gossip, but now it is skimming over the island like a seabird and I thought it best to tell you before you heard from someone else. I thought perhaps,' he said delicately, 'that you would want to hear that she is alive and well from someone known to you both.'
'I'm much obliged to you, Master Beech,' she said mechanically as she clutched at her husband's hand. She'd sent for him down at the warehouse when she'd first heard the news. She'd been unreasonably glad when he and Spark had turned up and been as bewildered and horrified as she had. A wizard cursing a widowed farmwife to her death made no sense; wizards were and always had been men apart, untouched by passion, and with the arrival of this news, all their certainty about the workings of wizards, and the working of the world, has been shattered.
'What made him do it?' asked Spark again, his face heavy with trying to reason it out. 'Did she offend him in some way?' and Apple tightened her hand on her husband's so that she did not hit out.
'Mother has a strong will and a dry tongue,' she said, 'but to drive a mage to spell her death? That-- Wait, there's no mage on the Overfell but the one at Re Albi.'
'Yes,' said Beech. 'The wizard Aspen.'
'I don't know his name,' said Apple impatiently. 'She never told me that, but Re Albi-- Yes, she said that the mage there had taken a dislike to her because she was a woman.'
'It can't just have been that,' exclaimed Spark. Apple swung her head like a bull to look at him and said, 'For some men that's all that's needed.'
'It's that witch-child she keeps,' Spark said, nodding his head as if he had come to a conclusion for all of them. 'It's bad luck.'
'Ah,' said Beech uncomfortably, 'Therru isn't a witch. Poor child hasn't even had her naming yet.'
'It'll be a name as ill-favoured as her face,' muttered Spark, and Apple stood abruptly. All three men looked at her questioningly, and she realised that were she to rail and slap at her brother, they would not understand why. Oh, she thought to herself bitterly, I wish I could use words as carelessly and cruelly as you men, I'd make your ears sting for it; but she folded her anger away like linens and forced a smile.
'Whatever the reason, and I cannot think that it was anything but a sort of madness in this Aspen, I must go to my mother. I do not like to think of her and Therru up there alone on that cliff after such a thing has happened.'
'Oh,' said Beech surprised, 'they are not alone.'
'What did I tell you?' grunted Spark, both sour and smug, 'She's carrying on with that goatherd.'
Doan raised an eyebrow at her. Her mother had always been regarded on Gont as a peerless, if foreign, householder and a steadfast wife to Flint, and she was about to say as much when Beech said, 'A goatherd? No, no, she is at the Falcon's Nest with Sparrowhawk.' Beech was not a prepossessing man, a little too sleek and round and his eyes the only quick movement in him, but in that moment it was as though a light had dawned in him, his face wondering and reverent, when he said, 'The Archmage has returned to Gont.'
He told her the rest of the tale as they walked up the Kaheda's course to Oak Farm, Beech hot and panting within two miles despite the chill in the air. Doan had been reluctant to see her go off to Re Albi on her own with the wild tale he had just heard, but he'd had pressing business down at the wharf and Apple had been resolute. It hadn't been till Beech had reassured her anxious husband that he and Spark would be with her as far as Oak Farm, and Spark had grudgingly offered to have Clearbrook take her up to the Overfell by cart, that he had felt comfortable about the whole business. Would that he had been as willing to listen to her reasoning, Apple thought, but there, as he'd said, if men would do what they'd done to Therru, who knew what they would do to a woman full-grown and one as pretty and buxom as Apple. In the end, she had capitulated and they'd set off as soon as she could get them to move. Beech had dismissed her thanks, saying that he had business in Middle Valley in any case; she didn't doubt him but thought to herself that he probably wanted to be in the vicinity on the off-chance of seeing the Archmage of Roke.
'Well, not really Archmage any more,' Beech said, his face dropping back into its customary round urbanity when he remembered. 'Or even a mage, if what they say is true.'
'He's lost his power?' said Spark, suspiciously. He'd been striding on ahead of them, striking at the rushes with a stick but had dropped back to listen to Beech's story without either of them noticing. 'Is that even possible?'
Beech shrugged and spread his hands and said, 'I am only a sorcerer. The ways of mages are to us common practitioners as clouds are to the dirt. But it is certain that he has no magic left to him since he returned, else Aspen would not have dared--'
'Well, but,' said Apple impatiently, 'he must have some power to him or how could he and my mother have escaped from Aspen?'
'Well, the fact is that no one is quite sure,' said Beech, a little embarrassed. 'There are stories that Aspen and the men from Re Albi just burst into flame like torches, or withered where they stood, but how could it come to pass without magic? I don't know, I don't know.'
A brisk pace brought them by noon to Oak Farm where Beech left them for his patients in the village and it became apparent why Spark had come to visit in Valmouth. The kitchen was thick with dust and grease, and dishes lay like steeply-piled spoil in and around the sink. Spark flushed at her long look and said defensively, 'I've been trying to find a woman to come and keep house.'
She hummed non-committally and said, 'Who did you leave in charge of the work?'
'Clearbrook,' he said shortly.
'It's a wonder you still have a farm,' she said and rolled her sleeves up reluctantly in order to at least clear the dishes and track down whatever was making the kitchen smell like a midden. 'You'd better go and ask him what he's done in your absence, if anything. And best to tell him he's taking me up to Re Albi tomorrow, while you're at it. He'll need the evening to grumble about it.'
While she scraped oil and cheese off plates and sluiced them down with water, she wondered what kind of woman Spark would be able to find to take care of him: some village girl too scared to ask him anything, or one of the many women of the harbour towns looking for some protection or consequence, perhaps. Clearbrook and his wife, Shandy, had worked the farm under her father and then her mother but they were growing old, and her mother had always said that what Clearbrook thought he did on the farm and what he actually did was akin to the Armed Cliffs at Gont Port: eternally divided by a deep gulf. Spark needed a woman about the place, if he was to keep the farm running and respectable. Serta's grim determination to rule the hearth and her cockerel-eyed attention to her own dignity crossed Apple's mind and arrested her hands; then she laughed, shook her head and returned to the dishes with a better will than before.
They passed a civil enough evening in their childhood home, but Spark looked glad to be rid of her when she took a seat on the cart the following morning. He wasn't coming with her to the Overfell, he explained: more to do at the farm than he had expected, and he'd seen their mother not a few days ago, and by all accounts she was well enough and being taken care of. His mouth pursed like he'd bitten into a sour plum when he said this last. But he didn't say anything further except to ask Apple to pass on his love to his mother so they were able to part in relative amity, although there was little doubt in Apple's mind that they were both secretly resolved that it would be next spring at least before they saw the other again.
Despite the wagon, it still took two days to get to Re Albi. Clearbrook had always been inclined to dawdle and the oxen shared his inclination. They had some justification for their reluctance, though. Spark, at the last, had pressed some furniture upon her to take to the Old Mage's House, half-shamed and half-smug; to get them started, he said. The cart's weight slowed them further on the chilly, dusty road up to the Overfell. And such a gift: as though his mother were a child he was giving in marriage, as though he condescended to Tenar of the Ring and the Archmage of Roke, Apple thought half-hysterically; well, well, Spark might tell himself whatever story comforted him.
Both nights were spent with the cart, lest thieves come by, Apple underneath an awning rigged to the cart-tail and Clearbrook wrapped in a rusty, foul-smelling blanket and as close to the fire as he could manage. She chivvied him, sleepy and cross, out of his makeshift bed when the stars were fading and the night had started to break up over the sea, and had them on the road as soon as she could manage.
By the time they reached the Old Mage's House, the dawn had flowered into a cold, clear day with the close horizon of the Overfell dropping abruptly into the sea and the sky. The cart trundled to a halt, the oxen grumbling with relief, and she saw her mother wrangling heavy, wet laundry over the furze bushes to dry beyond the low, solid house. Further up the slope, Therru and an older girl, thick-set and ungainly, were energetically leaping about after a herd of goats and several complaining chickens; there, walking from the vegetable patch with pails swinging from his hands, a man, with the dark eyes and skin of Gontishmen but a face scarred and worn with too much knowledge.
Everyone stopped short when they noticed her arrival, except for the girl who kept chasing the goats with shouts of excitement and occasional useless supplications to their good nature, and were only jolted into action again by recognition. Her mother leapt towards her as fleet of foot as the recalcitrant goats.
'Oh, my sweet girl,' her mother gasped, pressing her cheek to Apple’s. 'I had not thought to see you.'
'Beech came.' Apple stumbled over her words, near incoherent with relief that her mother was here, and she could hold her and see her whole and familiar. 'He came and said--'
'Oh, that man,' said her mother, with the thickness of tears in her voice. 'I never thought I'd see the day I gave thanks for his gossip but it is so good to see you. I thought-– I thought I would never see your face again. Oh, here is Therru and,' she hesitated, 'Hawk.'
Apple knelt to greet Therru and despite the child’s usual reserve kissed the cheek that was as dark and crenelated as the cliffs, then straightened to her full height to meet the gaze of her mother’s-- of Sparrowhawk, Archmage of Roke, Dragonlord and Healer of the Rune of Peace.
'Master Hawk,' she said formally.
'Mistress Apple,' he returned, making a queer little obeisance that might be mockery coming from a mage to a merchant’s wife. She watched him as keenly as his namesake as he straightened but there was nothing in his face to indicate that he was making a joke at her expense. Perhaps he was sincere, although she found it difficult to believe that a man such as this, who had songs made about him, would bow to her; still, she did not think that her mother would tolerate a man who was cruel or flippant.
Her feeling was reinforced when her mother had Clearbrook unload the furniture before he set off for Oak Farm again and Apple heard Hawk saying bemusedly, 'Well, we shall have to find somewhere to put it. The house may be small but it was a kind gesture in your son.' She caught her mother's eye over a rickety stool and they both snorted in shared amusement, while Therru and Hawk looked on, bewildered.
'It is much smaller than Oak Farm,' said Apple when they had moved the furniture, such as it was, inside. She looked round with interest, admiring the shining sea of the floor if nothing else. 'Where will we sleep?'
Her mother exchanged a glance with Hawk. Oh, thought Apple. Oh. And for some reason, despite her opposition to Spark’s willingness to consign their mother to a widowhood like the grave, she felt her stomach tighten.
'It’s small, but we make do,' her mother said vaguely but still with her grey eyes fixed on Hawk as though they were having a completely separate conversation. 'We’ll sleep in the alcove: you, me and Therru, and Hawk will--'
'I’ll sleep in the goatshed,' said Hawk calmly.
Apple gave an appalled little crow of laughter and exclaimed without meaning to, 'My lord, you can’t. The Archmage cannot sleep with the goats.'
'I have slept in worse places, Mistress,' he said, a smile creasing his scarred face. 'And I am Hawk, or Sparrowhawk if you prefer, and no mage. I am learning how to be a man in this world.'
'How does someone become a man?' asked Therru seriously.
'I do not know, child,' Hawk said to her. 'How does one become a dragon?'
There was a sound from behind Therru’s fall of hair that sounded like a laugh, a laugh as little and rough as a kitten's lick, but there nevertheless.
'Is it a riddle?' said Apple.
'Of a kind, I suppose,' said Hawk thoughtfully. 'Certainly, it’s an unravelling of knowledge that each must struggle with in their own way. Ah, there: infinite are the arguments of mages, among whom,' he added, with a wry smile, 'I may no longer be numbered.'
'You’ll never stop being a mage in your head, I think,' said Apple. 'But maybe you’ll be a man as well.'
He looked at her mother then and there was a moment where Apple felt her heart constrict a little as they looked at each other steadily, not quite smiling, but as certain of each other as of the wind or the sun. Once the chores of the farm and as much of a spring cleaning as they could manage had been finished and they’d been down to the village to see to Moss, they pulled together a supper of bean soup and bannocks, tired but glad enough to see their work shining and unfurled around them. Aspen's curse still clung to Moss like a fungus to a tree but the upheaval at Re Albi had unfettered the women of the village enough that they were willing to sleep in her hut of a night until the mage from Gont Port arrived to heal her. Her mother had insisted firmly though that the goat-girl, Heather, should stay with them for the time being, thinking that neither Heather nor Moss could care for each other while Aspen's evil still rimed the world.
Eventually Apple pushed her bowl away from her and sighed. 'Tell me what happened,' she said, 'for I cannot make sense of it at all.'
Her mother folded her hands carefully on the table in front of her. 'I wish I could make it into a thing with a reason and a rhythm but there was no sense to be found in it,' she said. 'He hated senselessly and would have seen the world ground into dust so that he might have looked down upon it. He hated me because I was a woman and Therru because she was--'
'Because Therru has come closer than him to the threshold of the Dry Land and its power, has seen it and not flinched, not submitted. He could not command her. And then too she was a reminder of the evil and emptiness of his own hatred, I think,' said Hawk, glancing over at where the child was humming a hoarse little song and winding scraps of cloth around some bone figures with Heather's help. 'And he hated me, because I had denied his master the power over life and death, and because he thought I'd had power where he knew his own to be an illusion.'
'That's a reason; that's an old enmity between men, but how could he hate a child?' Apple said, bewildered. 'And a child who has been so treated?'
'He thought she had brought her treatment upon herself: punishment, he called it.'
'But punished for being a girl-child in the first place,' said Apple. 'That’s reasoning that goes round and round, and ends up nowhere.'
'True enough,' her mother said. 'But she is not only Therru; she is Tehanu as well. We are thankful for that, for it has saved her life and ours.'
'Therru saved you from that one?' she said incredulously. 'How? What happened to him?'
'A dragon sat on him, missus,' shouted Heather from where she'd wandered closer in order to plash her hands in the cold soup, 'and that's a fact,' and she sucked soup from her fingers with an air of triumph.
Apple looked to both her mother and Hawk in disbelief but they looked at each other and then her and her mother said dryly, 'I said there was no sense to this story,' and Apple laughed until she cried, there within earshot of Re Albi, where until recently the sound of women’s laughter and women’s voices had been mercilessly strangled.
When she came out of the house the following morning, into a cold wind that wound around her like a cat, she saw them by the wall of the house. Hawk and her mother were standing under a peach tree, crabbed and dark but budding green and white in the morning sun, and she didn't know what to make of the strange tumult she felt inside her chest. Her husband often joked that she was born to live by a harbour, so calm and careful as she was, but she felt at that moment like she too should have run straight into the sea's embrace as Spark had done, because there was a man stroking her mother's hair and a child singing a strange, gull-voiced song by the door, and they were not her kin. Her mother might as well have drawn her new family from the leaves that whirled down from Gont mountain in winter and Apple could not but dislike herself for this jealousy.
But Hawk was not her father. And for all she loved Therru fiercely and was horrified by what had been done to her, she was not her true sister either, not by blood. But then Spark was not the brother she remembered from their childhood either, or he was perhaps moreso; a man with a face so white and immovable she would think he came back a drowned man and not a sailor returning to his childhood home. Like the relentless slap of the cold sea, there was neither thought nor warmth in him. She could not quite line it up in her mind. 'Hot snow, dry water,' she muttered, as she started purposefully for the pump. She had always hated riddles but she puzzled it through as she drew fresh water for tea. Maybe there are different kinds of family, she thought, stitched together as neatly as her mother's quilts, different patterns to hold all together. That's a kind of magic too; she'd seen travelling menders call a pot's shape back out of a pile of sherds. Last night, she'd heard Hawk tell Therru a tale of a mage on Roke that did nothing but study patterns and how things fit together. Maybe that's something people do when they choose to love, she thought, like patterning a family and a village and a life and Earthsea beyond that, a pattern of patterns. Perhaps then if she chose to see a particular pattern, Therru would be as truly her sister as Spark was her brother. All it would take would be the will and the seeing and the love.
The mage of Gont Port finally arrived to see to Moss, and for all that he had taken his time, they were relieved to see him. Auntie Moss had shrivelled from the sly, strong woman she had been and despite all their care she'd only had breath to catch and whimper for the last day and a half. None of them had the power to heal her, only to try to comfort her by holding her hand, wiping cold sweat from her face and telling her the winter tales. In the end, the mage made it look simple enough to strip away Aspen's curse but not one of them doubted that Moss's recuperation would be protracted and painful, her body wasted and her mind scrabbled about like a shrike tears apart its prey.
Once the spell had been worked, the wizard moved out of the fetid, fox-earth darkness of Moss's hut with palpable relief and accepted the offer of a glass of wine. He looked surprised when he tasted it; Apple had brought up a bladder of the Oak Farm red wine, dry as stone but leaving a taste of pepper and brambles, but she said nothing as he looked around more speculatively. The wine's quality set him a little more at ease but the mage from Gont Port was still clearly uncomfortable; torn between reverence and disapprobation, it seemed to her.
'We would be honoured if you would come to us in the town,' she heard him saying to Hawk later in low tones. 'You cannot be happy up here playing the goatherd after your years on Roke and Havnor. We would make you comfortable as befits a man of your importance, if you would but come.'
'You misunderstand me,' Hawk said, 'I am not playing at being a goatherd, I am a goatherd. I have always been a goatherd, but for a time I was also a mage and Archmage after that. I have everything that I desire right here.'
'Including the company of women?' the wizard said. 'My lord, there is some concern- You need not console yourself with the pleasures of lesser men because your power has left you-'
'My power did not leave me.' Hawk's voice, always so measured and soft, became suddenly not like a thunderclap but the white lances of lightning on the side of the mountain, the light that flayed the world down to its bones. 'I gave the power I held back into the world; I gave it up to something greater. And this woman does not value me for the power I once held as you so clearly do, nor does she love me for coming to her aid in the Kargad lands, or because dragons choose to speak to me. She is the light that I had forgotten was in the world and she is the shadow it casts, and she is the White Lady of Gont and deserves more respect than you show her now. We thank you for the healing of the witch, Moss, but you may go back to your empty house and the words you hoard like ivory, and leave us be.'
She went to find him once the mage, disappointed and a little angry, had left for the port town, his staff striking clouds of dust from the road. Hawk was pruning the branches of a fruit tree that had been encroaching into the stonework of the walls and tying them back so that the tree would catch more sunlight.
'Master Hawk,' she said to catch his attention, and he stopped and turned to her courteously.
'Master Hawk,' she said again and took a deep breath. 'My name is Hayohe.'
'Mistress Apple,' he said and made that odd genuflection towards her again which she realised in that moment was a gesture of respect. 'My name is Ged.'
'Ged,' she said, 'I do not know what kind of mage you were, but you are a good man.'
He drew in a breath and let it out slowly, his thin shoulders dropping. 'Thank you, Hayohe.'
She nodded and left him to his husbandry.
On the morning Clearbrook was due to roll up from Oak Farm with the cart, although perhaps at his own schedule, Apple steeled herself and made two cups of tea to take out to her mother who was planting vegetables as fast as she could in the patch of earth adjacent to the house. They might have a good crop of beans by summer, Apple thought, looking appraisingly at the planting and the earth, perhaps even carrots and lettuce. When her mother straightened and stretched from her crouch, she handed her one of the cups and said, 'You knew him before; Hawk, I mean. He was the man who brought you from the Kargad Lands. He was the other half of the Bond Rune.'
'That's not quite how it was. But yes, I knew him,' said her mother.
'And you knew he was here. You knew he'd come back to Gont.' said Apple. 'Last time I came to the farm with you, you said to Aunt Lark, 'Where's Hawk?'. You knew all that time and you didn't say. Have you been in love with him all this time? Did you ever love Father? Why would you want a farmer when you were half of a song?'
'The Ring of Erreth-Akbe was joined,' her mother said sharply. 'We were not. You must understand, he was a mage at that time and I was-- I was a girl, a girl who had been eaten. The thought of love, that kind of love, didn't come to either of us; there was nothing within us in which it could grow or gain purchase. There was no thought of it in us.'
'Now,' said her mother and took a sip of tea while she considered. Black earth edged her fingernails and clung to the hem of her skirt. 'Have you been into the orchard since you arrived?' she said, seemingly inconsequentially. 'There are peach trees and plum trees but this house catches the wind from the sea. On a winter's day it can seem as though all the winds of Earthsea blow across this fell; after all those years as First Priestess in Atuan, in the comforting darkness, oh, it was bitter here on the edge of the world.' She shivered in remembrance. 'But Ogion treated me like a daughter and I grew to love Gont, and then I met your father and grew to love him too. Some years the trees flower and are blighted by the winds. But if the winds drop away early and it's a good, warm spring, they'll flower again or late. That's Ged and me; a second flowering and a late flowering. But the first flowering was no less sweet. Should I have lived on the memory of that early bloom? Living inside the way you remember me, in the way I lived in Atuan? her mother said. 'Wedded to the past, confined in my own home?'
'No,' said Apple, as passionate as a child in her confusion and unhappiness, 'I want you to be happy, you know I do, but you have a new family and you are so different. I fear being left behind. Everything is changed.'
'All changed, yes,' said her mother and then sighed. 'Oh, my love, I did love your father but you must see that it is not that things are changed. Things have, I think, changed me.' And she wiped her hand down her skirt before she said, reluctantly, 'I fear so much now, and I am having to relearn how not to be afraid. Hawk and I are learning to be a man and a woman together again.'
Remorseful and frightened herself, Apple put her tea down on the uneven rock wall beside her and gathered her always fearless mother to her.
'He took away so much,' her mother confessed, 'not just my will but my words and worse. I cannot forget that.'
'But you were saved.'
'And how many are not? Look at Auntie Moss, rotting away in her own house and not a hand lifted to save her. What of Therru's poor, doomed mother? Not everyone can have a dragon come along.'
'Well, then,' Apple said stubborn and certain, 'we'll just have to be our own dragons, every one of us.'
The peal of her mother's laughter shook her down to her bones, in body and feeling, but when her mother raised her head from Apple's shoulder, her eyes were shining like the sea off Valmouth Bay.
'Oh, you are a wonder to me,' she said, and it was Apple's turn to blink back tears. 'I love you,' said her mother, baldly, honestly.
'And I you, Mother,' said Apple, breathless. 'You know I do. Will you be all right here with Ged and Tehanu?'
'No,' said her mother, and looked out to sea where the sun had slipped into the sea, gilding the horizon and the water till all was light, and her face was certain. 'I'll be better, and so will Tehanu and Ged and you. We will all of us be better, for we'll be brave and we'll be happy. One day, my love, one day soon we'll speak and we won't be struck down for it; we'll speak and it will be like flying.'