In the island of Iffish there is a saying: an Iffishman out of Iffish is like a fish on the sand. Vetch had thought of this proverb many times as a student on Roke, and again he thought it as he looked upon the high white towers of Havnor, the golden-roofed buildings, the sword of Erreth-Akbe rising above all, too bright in the morning sunlight to admit a direct gaze; he thought it as he entered in the great dark carven doors of the Tower of the Sword.
He laughed a little at himself. Here he was, in the heart of the world, the city famed for its beauty above all others, and all he could think of was how he wished to be home! Better he should think of the honor of it, that with the Lords of Soders and Rolameny he had been chosen to speak for the East Reach in the Great Assembly of the Ring at Havnor, met to give and receive counsel on the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, that which had been broken and now was made whole, that which bound the lands in peace. Lords from the South Reach were there, and the wizard Redet of the West Reach; and princes of Enlad and Ilien and Way and Havnor itself, and the Master Chanter of Roke.
And there too was Sparrowhawk, Ged, whom he saw again for the first time after the many years since they followed the shadow to the uttermost end of the sea. They said no word to each other, being separated by princes, but smiled at each other, their friendship holding through the years and distance that had parted them.
Beside him was the one they called the White Lady, Tenar of the Ring, who carried her truename without fear, pale and resplendent in a dress of emerald silk, sweeping in graceful lines from her shoulder to ankle. Crystals sewn in irregular patterns into the bodice of the dress glittered like stars. Looking at her, Vetch thought: but she is just a girl! She was a few years younger than his own sister, and did not smile, at Vetch or anyone else. Vetch thought of how his sister Yarrow would feel in the midst of all these dignitaries. Some were noble and great-hearted, but some were puffed up with their own importance, and some singleminded of purpose no matter what was in their way. He sighed.
The Lord of Havnor City stood to speak, conducting the meeting by virtue of his stewardship of the city. The Assembly itself proved to be long and tedious. Vetch did not speak for the most part, reckoning that others would have given more thought than he to questions of how the Ring was to discourage piracy or robbers. Certainly, if measured by the number of words devoted by the great princes and lords to these subjects, he was correct on this point.
But the talk then turned to a king in Havnor, and whether one could be found in Havnor or at Roke now that the Ring had been rejoined. And if so, the princes wanted to know, who could it be; though none was so indelicate as to name himself directly. And here Vetch could not be silent. He said, breaking into the discussion: "But we do not have to guess. This we know! Maharion said it: He shall inherit my throne who has crossed the dark land living and come to the far shores of the day."
Several of the princes frowned, but the Master Chanter looked at him, considering, and Tenar smiled.
When the meeting was finally over, Vetch made his way through the lords and princes. They paid him no mind, now that the assembly had ended, and perhaps their hopes of kingship as well. Vetch found he was more relieved by this than otherwise. He finally found Ged and Tenar, Ged evenly discussing prophecies with the Prince of Enlad, Tenar looking a little lost. Again he thought of his sister, and how she would feel far from her home, a minnow on the bank. He hastened to speak to Tenar. "Lady," he said, "well met. I am Vetch of Iffish, and Sparrowhawk's friend."
Her face shed a little of its lost look, and she said to him, in her accented Hardic, "Sparrowhawk has told me of you. I am Tenar, but I think you knew that already."
He smiled at her. "I did," he answered. He said more tentatively, "You speak Hardic well." The only other person from the Kargad Lands he had ever met, years ago on a boat in Ismay harbor, had barely spoken a word of Hardic, and what words he had spoken had been much harder to understand than the fluent words coming from Tenar's mouth.
"Sparrowhawk taught me," she said, her expression becoming more animated. "And I have been learning some of your songs — the Deed of Erreth-Akbe. Those have been helping me speak your language."
The Enlad prince had now gone, and Ged turned to Vetch, clasping his hand; both smiled for a moment, taking pleasure in the warmth of meeting again after a long parting. Vetch spoke first. "Well, Sparrowhawk, there you are!" he said. "I see you've been busy, what with speaking to dragons, and finding ring-pieces, and getting rescued by fair maidens, and so on."
"You are one to talk," Ged returned, grinning, "now that you have counseled the Princes and Masters of all of Earthsea with Maharion's words."
Vetch laughed. "A sea-journey of many days, to say two lines they could have heard said by any chanter in the streets! It seems wasteful, but there, it's over and done with now."
"It was not wasteful," said Ged thoughtfully, "if you caused people to listen, who would not have listened otherwise. And not everyone, I think, knew Maharion's words. I had not remembered them, myself."
Vetch shrugged dismissively; he had never been one for dwelling overmuch on his own accomplishments. "After all that talking and no doing, I am hungry! Shall we find some food?" He looked at Tenar as well as Ged as he said it, and she nodded gravely.
They found an inn, the King's Peace, which served them roast lamb, filled with savory meat juices that ran out over the plate when the lamb was pierced, and an egg-rich oily bread, just baked, puffed up with hot air. "It's falling!" Tenar said, with fascinated doubt, as the bread cooled and the puff deflated. There was also a bowl of small curious diamond-shaped fruit that Ged identified as terin, fruit from a tree that grows only on the island of Havnor. It is eaten whole, rind and all, and has a distinctive sour-sweet taste that Vetch did not like, and Ged and Tenar did.
Ged and Vetch spoke easily during the meal, as old friends will. Tenar talked but little at the beginning, though Vetch sought to draw her in to the conversation, and would often change the subject if it veered too close to subjects Tenar would have no knowledge or interest in, such as their time on Roke. He noticed that when the great songs and tales of the Archipelago were mentioned, even in passing, Tenar would pay more careful attention; he made sure to talk of some of the stories and songs he had learned as a lad, and found that she lost some of her reserve when they were discussed.
As the meal went on, Vetch liked her not just for his sister's sake, though that was how he had begun. She was her own self: quiet, but also wry and intelligent, and with a dignity that sometimes ruffled easily but also was a constant, a fundamental part of her.
"And what have you in mind to do now that the Assembly of the Ring is over, Tenar?" Vetch inquired. "Are you going to stay here in Havnor?"
"I am going to Gont," Tenar said, in her clear voice. Ged elaborated, speaking of Ogion and the mountains, the silence and the solitude to be found there. Vetch listened, and he thought he understood more than Ged said, for Ged had previously told him much of his apprenticeship with Ogion.
"Tenar, Ged," he said slowly, "if you are set in this course, I won't dissuade you. But let me say: would you consider coming to Iffish?"
"Iffish?" Ged said, his voice raised very slightly in incredulity, and then in the Speech: "My friend, who better than Ogion to take her?"
Sometimes Vetch had to remind himself that, as skilled a wizard as Sparrowhawk was, there were things Vetch himself took for granted that his friend did not know. He said gently to Ged, in Hardic so that Tenar could understand, "Ogion is a great wizard, and I have no doubt that he would love her dearly. But Sparrowhawk, there are more things in the world than wizards, even great ones, and in Iffish there are others than I to teach her."
And, too, though he did not give voice to it, he had seen the way Tenar looked at Ged. He had seen the way that Ged always seemed to know precisely where she was, the way Ged fidgeted when she moved even slightly away, without seeming to be aware of it. It came into Vetch's mind that sending Tenar to Gont, though founded indeed in his regard for Ogion, might be in part a means of folding her away so that Ged would not ever have to be aware of it.
She was worth more than that, Vetch thought, much more. She should be able to have what she needed. What she needed was not what Ged knew how to give her, not yet, though perhaps he could learn. But for now she was too young; for now, she needed a place to learn who she was.
Ged said slowly, "I had not thought of it in that way."
Vetch grinned at him, rather fondly. "I know you had not." He turned to Tenar. "I had not meant to speak of you as if you were not present," he said. "Ged has told you of Ogion, and of the mountains of Gont. But if you will lay those aside for a moment — it need not be forever, but only for a little while — you would be more than welcome with me and with my family. I cannot promise you there will always be silence, for there are many of us in my family and we are often a rowdy lot; but solitude you may have when you wish it, and our friendship will be yours for the taking." For he judged that more than tutelage she needed friendship; more than wizardry, she needed the company of others, as well as seclusion.
Tenar, for her part, heard Vetch talking of Iffish with some confusion. She liked Vetch, what she knew of him, and what Ged had told her; but since the time she had come to Havnor she had thought that she was to go to Gont after the Assembly. To be presented so suddenly with another alternative was rather bewildering.
She turned to Ged, questioning, but he shook his head. "It is yours to choose," he said quietly. "But I will say that I trust Vetch with my life, and more than my life."
She had not known until then that freedom was not a single choice against the dark, as she had thought, but a choosing again and again, and sometimes a choice with no clear answer, and she bowed her head against the weight of it. Her heart yearned towards the stillness and the silence of Ogion as Ged had described it to her, but something deep inside of her opened to the openness of Vetch's friendship.
And she had liked how Vetch looked at her, not as the White Lady of the Ring, not as Ged's companion or spoils, but as her own person, as Tenar.
She looked up and saw Vetch's face. There was kindness in his look, as if he understood what moved her, and she knew that he would not judge her whatever path she took.
She said abruptly, "I will go to Iffish, Vetch."
And so they came to Iffish in Lookfar after many days at sea, having stopped only at the islands of Shelieth and Venway to replenish the boat with food and water. They did not speak much, there amid the immensity of the sea and sky. Tenar had become used to Ged's silence on their journey to Havnor. But Ged and Vetch sang the great songs as they sailed, the Deed of Erreth-Akbe and the Deed of the Young King, as Tenar listened, as the mage-wind filled the sail and the boat cut through the restless waves, until at last they docked in the harbor of Ismay and came ashore.
Vetch, though he was no Ogion, had planned to give Tenar as much silence and solitude as he was able. But his plans had to be delayed for an evening, for when Lookfar landed the word spread in the small town until his family heard of it. And in the evening they came to Vetch's house to celebrate Vetch's homecoming, and to greet Ged and Tenar though they had not known of their coming: his brothers Murre and Tern, his sister Yarrow, and their families, a bright tangle of laughter and embraces, the children tumbling over each other, Yarrow and Tern with small children on their hips, Vetch tossing the infants into the air while they shrieked with glee. Yarrow's tiny dragon, her pet harrekki, ran to and fro and occasionally flapped its wings to fly to and snag its small claws on someone's shoulder.
Ged too entered into the general gaiety. Though he was more reserved than Vetch, he did not object when one of Murre's children crawled into his lap and tugged on his tunic, clearly expecting a treat; he caught from thin air a gleaming bar of gold and handed it to the child, who tried to bite it and looked discomfited when it vanished with a pop.
Tenar stood a little apart, watching how Ged smiled at Murre and Yarrow, thinking her own thoughts, and sometimes they were dark thoughts.
Yarrow saw her, came to her. "Tenar," she said, "let us get to know each other better. I am so pleased you are here!" In her dark face was kindness and honesty, as it was in Vetch's, and almost unwillingly Tenar found herself drawn into the light.
Yarrow said to her, "Come to the kitchen with me. Murre and I both brought food for you. My brother, you know, he's a great wizard, and Sparrowhawk as well, but sometimes they don't think of things you and I would only think sensible, like what we are to eat!"
As she talked, she caught Tenar by the hand and led her to the kitchen, where there was a large assortment of containers and boxes which Yarrow started to efficiently sort and unpack. The contents, set on the large table that filled the room, gave off an enticing aroma. The harrekki had followed them, and it looked longingly at the table and the heaps of food from its perch near the hearth-fire.
Here there was some respite from the uproar of the gathering, and Yarrow said, "I have never been off this island, and you: you have come from the other end of the world, almost! Tell me of your home; is it very different from here?"
Tenar was warmed, a little. Many had spoken to her in Havnor, but none there, not even Ged or Vetch, had asked her about where she had come from. She said, "Some things are very different. It is a desert, where I came from. There was no magic. There were no men, only women, the priestesses, and…" She did not know the word for eunuch. She stopped speaking. How could she explain Thar, or Kossil, or the God-Kings, or the Dark Ones? She felt awkward, thick-tongued. She knew how to be the One Priestess of the Tombs; but that was over and done with. She did not know how to be Tenar. She did not know what was expected of Tenar.
She was saved from having to say more by Murre coming in, heralding an invasion of hungry children seeking food. After much jostling and crowding as everyone was diverted to the large dining-table, everyone was seated and the plates of food were passed around. Tenar had had splendid meals in Havnor, the roast meats and creamy sauces it is rightly famed for; but the white-fleshed cod Yarrow had baked with parsley and chives, so moist and rich that in the East Reach it is often called butterfish, was something she had never eaten before. There were bannocks, and those she had eaten frequently in Atuan, but they had been heavy and tasteless, not the light airy cakes she ate now, sprinkled with a little rosemary. Peas and onions she was familiar with, but these slow-cooked onions, dark and sweet and smoky-flavored, were as unlike the hard raw onions she knew as it was possible to be.
After dinner they sang, starting with the Creation of Éa, the oldest song, which can be sung in winter or in summer. Tenar listened closely; she had learned much of it in Havnor, but had never been in a group that sang it together. It spoke to her as none of the temple chants she had learned ever had: the making from the unmaking, the ending from the beginning, who shall know surely?
One of the children, who could not have been much older than five or six, recited a few lines from the Deeds of the Dragonlords, the part of the tale that concerns the great dragon Orm Isen and how she told the mage Ilen of Way the truenames of his fellow-wizards, hoping to sow dissension; but indeed she strengthened their wizardry thereby, for Ilen went to these wizards and gave them his own truename, so that they all shared their power equally.
"Very good. You said it well, Fennel," Vetch said to the child gravely. "What shall we have next?"
"A tale, a tale!" the children chanted. Yarrow looked at Ged and Vetch, who both shook their heads. She said peacefully, "I'll tell you the story of my harrekki, will that do?" There were enthusiastic noises of assent. "But then," she said sternly, "bed for the little ones." Amid some smaller noises of complaint, she began, with a glint of humor in her eyes: "As long ago as forever, as far away as Selidor — "
More outbursts from the audience: "Right here, Mama, not far away!" and "Not that long ago, it was the year I was born!" from a strapping lad of ten, Tern's oldest.
"Yes, Gannet, you're right, it was the year you were born." Yarrow, smiling, waited for them to quiet before she went on with her story.
Though harrekki themselves are not uncommon on Iffish, domestic harrekki rarely breed, and wild nests with eggs are rarely found by humans. When they are found, it is almost always with the aid of a domesticated harrekki. These nests are considered more precious than gold, for a harrekki taken directly from the egg becomes a beloved pet, but wild harrekki cannot be tamed. The people of Iffish are protective of these animals, and the location of a nest cannot be bought by coin nor taken by force, but only found by serendipity, or passed on to another as a free gift. So had Vetch and Yarrow been told of a nest with eggs, a nest found by a family friend's pet harrekki and given to them as an act of love. All this Yarrow now told to the children, and Tenar listened.
"And," Vetch continued, taking up the thread of the story, "Garnet had thought that I, as a wizard born and trained, would naturally have an affinity for the creature, and so I thought as well. And indeed Yarrow and I were both equally near the egg as it hatched. But the harrekki chose, and did not choose me! Well! I was a bit taken aback, I will say, and considered the little beast to have poor judgment for quite a while after." There was merriment at his words, and Yarrow put a hand over her eyes in mock embarrassment. "But — " this more soberly — "the harrekki chose well, sister." He put a hand on her shoulder, in the way a brother will, and she smiled at him.
There was a little silence then, into which Ged said, "I envy you your family, Vetch. It is a joy to be here with you."
"We are glad to have you here," Yarrow said softly, and her glance included Tenar.
Yarrow came back to Vetch's house early the next morning, her younger daughter strapped to her back, her older one walking at her side, the harrekki on the girl's shoulder. Both Yarrow and her daughter were carrying baskets. Ged and Vetch were sitting at the kitchen table, munching on leftover food and talking. Yarrow's older daughter promptly disappeared into the interior of the house, while the harrekki scurried over to investigate the baskets. Vetch turned to her in surpise. "Yarrow! I hadn't expected to see you this morning. What brings you here?"
"I brought clothes and other such things for Tenar; she and I are about the same size, so I think my clothes will fit her, or at worst be a little large, which is better than being a little small. Or had you thought of it?"
Vetch's and Ged's twin expressions of wry dismay indicated that they had not, in fact, given it any thought at all. Aside from one or two plain pieces, all of Tenar's clothing had been loaned from the great ladies and princesses of Havnor, and had been left there. "Well," Vetch said. "She and I both thank you, then."
"Where is she?"
"Still resting," said Ged. "It was an eventful day for her, sailing, coming here, meeting everyone…"
Yarrow nodded, unslinging the child from her back with the ease of long practice. The child took some steps, fell down, and tried again. "It was a great deal to take in, I'm sure. I should have tried to calm down the children more."
Vetch laughed at her. "As if anyone could calm Gannet, or Reed, or Fennel, if they did not wish it!"
She laughed back at him. "That's as may be. Now, Tenar… what is it that she would like to do, here in Ismay?"
"Have time by herself, surely," Vetch said, "but time with others too… And," he continued, a little to Yarrow but mostly to Ged, "there's the question of magic, of power. She has it, Sparrowhawk, you must have seen; and the power should be taught, if she desires it. As they say: strange as women's magic, subtle as women's magic."
Ged blinked. "That is not how they say it in Gont. And I suppose she does desire it; there are things she has said… Even so — who could teach her?"
Both Vetch and Yarrow looked curiously at Ged. Yarrow said gently, "There are witches here who could teach her, my friend." She did not know what the saying was on Gont, nor did she know what Ged's own experience had been with witches on Gont, but she could read the expression on his face, how it changed, became more fearful. She frowned with the effort of thinking what could work. "But — Vetch, would you?"
"I? A wizard teaching her?" said Vetch, surprised. Ged looked shocked as well, and then his look turned abstracted, as if he were working out a complex spell. "Yarrow," Vetch said, "you're not a wizard; if you were, you would know that is not how it is done — "
"It could be, you know," Ged said, very dry.
The harrekki, tiring of nosing at the baskets, sauntered over to Vetch and leapt onto his lap, where it looked around to see if there were any crumbs. Finding none, it curled up in a comfortable ball.
Vetch looked from her to Ged, and then back again to Yarrow, and then to the harrekki. He let out a huff of breath and began to laugh, a little helplessly. "And we were talking of the wisdom of harrekki, and of sisters, weren't we… Hmm. Perhaps there is a reason I do not have an apprentice at this time. Well, Sparrowhawk, I will do it, if you request it of me, and if Tenar does indeed wish it."
"Yes," said Ged.
Ged stayed with them until the end of summer. Sometimes he would go off on his own, wandering the hills above Ismay, and sometimes he and Vetch would travel together across Iffish, seeing to Vetch's people. Tenar had assented eagerly to being taught by Vetch, and when he was in Ismay, he taught Tenar the Speech and the Hardic runes, and other such subjects of wizardry; and also what he knew of the witches of Iffish, so that if she desired to pursue that path she might well do so. But for the most part he let her alone to do as she wished.
Yarrow seemed to have a second sense as to when Tenar wanted some other company rather than that of Vetch or Ged, and had tired even of silence. She would come into Vetch's house and suggest an outing, sometimes leaving the children with Vetch and Ged, sometimes bringing them along. Sometimes she would take Tenar with her on errands, buying goat-cheese or tapestry silk. Sometimes they would go to her house. She taught Tenar a little of how to weave and knot the great tapestries Iffish is famed for out of the shining brightly-colored silk of Lorbanery. One afternoon, together with Yarrow's daughters they made the delicate flaky pastry known in the East Reach as zirfin, constructed of layers of thin buttery dough and flavored with honey and bits of preserved lemon from the South Reach.
Not every evening, but many evenings, Vetch's family would gather at his house, for food and merriment and songs and tales, and despite herself Tenar felt herself being drawn in. Most of all during these evenings she loved the splendid songs and tales of wizards, of Erreth-Akbe or the Dragonlords, of the great mages of Way. Yarrow or Ged occasionally asked her, gently, "Would you like to tell a story of Atuan?" but she always shook her head and stayed silent. The histories and chants she had learned as a priestess were of the dark, were not suitable for the light.
Above all, Tenar loved to go up into the hills above Ismay, green as they were now with the summer grass. There she would sit alone, looking at the delicately-veined small white and yellow flowers blooming like stars in the grass, their faces wide open to the sun, the bees and the butterflies wandering seemingly aimlessly amongst them. Sometimes she thought of nothing in particular. Sometimes she looked over to the blue mist of the ocean below and thought about wizardry, the glory of it: the great light shining in the dark caverns that had never before known sun or star, the restoring of the Rune of Peace that bound the isles together; and she did not understand why she still felt emptiness at the thought.
Yarrow woke without being prompted by cry or call and slipped out of her bed. Everything was grey in the dim light. Torv murmured something inaudible and threw an arm over the empty space, but otherwise did not stir. Yarrow smiled, and noiselessly padded to the children's room. They also slept, nestled in their blankets. Saffron smiled in her sleep, while Fennel frowned. Seized with a great tenderness, she smoothed Fennel's hair and kissed her cheek. She did not do even that much with Saffron, who would wake from even a slight touch; she would be back soon enough from saying good-bye to Ged, back before her spouse had to leave for the first carpentry appointment of the day.
Ged, Vetch, and Tenar were already at the harbor when she arrived, the dark pre-dawn sky just beginning to be touched with blue. Vetch and Ged exchanged a few words in the Speech, as wizards will do when parting, and clasped hands briefly. Yarrow took Ged's hand and held it with both of hers, though neither spoke. Ged released her hand and turned to Tenar. "I will return soon," he said to her.
Yarrow drew strength from his words, mostly for Tenar's sake and some for her own, for she knew that wizards always spoke the truth. She saw that coming back to Iffish had deeply affected him, that the old friendships he had rekindled and the new friendship he had with Tenar would together have power to bring him back. She wondered if Vetch had had this in mind when he asked Tenar to come here rather than to Gont; if he had thought that friendship and family might hold and center Ged where an old master, though much beloved and without peer, might not.
"As soon as you can," said Tenar, looking at him steadily.
He looked back at her. They were both still, amid the unceasing movement of the sea. "Yes," he said finally; an answer, and a promise.
He looked then at all three of them. "Fare well," he said, "until we meet again," and with that he turned from them to step into Lookfar. He pushed the boat away from the dock, and mage-wind filled Lookfar's patched red sail.
Vetch left then with a murmur and a word, but Yarrow and Tenar sat down on the dock, watching Lookfar become smaller and smaller, until it was a dot, and then even the dot was gone, erased by the flow and ebb of the restless water.
Neither of them said anything for a long moment. The waves crashed on the shore behind them, and the sea-birds overhead called angrily into the wind.
Finally Tenar said, "I left everything I had ever known, and went with Sparrowhawk; and now he is gone." Her voice cracked as if she were weeping, but her eyes were dry.
Yarrow's own eyes prickled with tears, thinking of how Tenar must feel. She asked hesitantly, "Do you wish you had gone with him?"
"No!" Tenar said, forcefully. "If I had gone with him again, to Gont or Havnor or another place, I would have been a stranger again... I could not do that again. Not now. Maybe someday. Maybe when he returns. But not now."
Yarrow ached for her, this girl who was so wise and so vulnerable. She put an arm around her, as if Tenar had been Fennel. But Tenar shied away immediately, and at her reaction Yarrow stilled, giving her space to move further away should she wish it. She did not, only hunched forward a little. "It's hard," Yarrow said fiercely, "oh, it's hard when the ones who know our names leave us!" And then Tenar did lean against Yarrow, and she wept, almost soundlessly, her shoulders shaking. Yarrow stroked her hair and held her close, like a daughter, like a sister, like a friend.
They sat like that for a long time. The soft voice of the sea murmured around them. Listening to it, Yarrow had a thought: she had been saving it as a surprise for Vetch, but he would understand. This would be better. She said in Tenar's ear, softly, "My harrekki has found a nest. Would you like to have a harrekki for your own?"
Tenar started, and met Yarrow's eyes; she knew what such an offer meant. She nodded, accepting the gift, accepting Yarrow: a person who until lately had been a stranger, holding out her hand.
Yarrow and Tenar made their way up one of the many trails leading to the hills around Ismay. The grass on the hills had lost its summer intensity of green, becoming dry and yellowed. The toyonberry bushes to the side of the trail retained their greenery, and sprays of bright red berries had begun to adorn the dusty green leaves.
Yarrow's daughter Fennel ran alongside them as they walked, Yarrow's harrekki on her shoulder. She had insisted on coming, had used all her small-child arsenal of wheedling and negotiation to convince Yarrow and Tenar that she should be allowed, though Saffron had stayed behind with her spouse.
"Here," said Yarrow, indicating the place at where they turned off the trail into a grove of oak trees, the greenery of which was just beginning to be touched with orange and gold. As they entered the grove, the strong mid-afternoon sunlight softened, gentled as it filtered through the leaves, dappling the ground around them with patterns of light and shadow that changed each moment.
"What are you thinking about, Tenar?" Yarrow asked, breaking into the silence.
Tenar had been thinking of that morning with Vetch. Some days of his teaching were a bright companionship, a joy of learning, as if she were recalling something she already knew; and some, more and more, were difficult. Today had been one of the difficult days. She said, gathering her thoughts into words, "Learning the writing of runes, that is a great thing, and the language of the Speech."
Yarrow put a hand on her shoulder briefly as they walked, the barest touch, but comforting for all that. "But?"
Tenar hesitated, then spoke again. "But the spells of power, the rules, the strictures, of both the wizards and the witches… oh, I have the skill, it comes easily enough, but it doesn't fit, it's not right. For another person, yes. But for me, it's as if I dressed up as a king, as Morred or Maharion. And if I did, I wouldn't be them, would I? Any more than I was a princess, when I was in Havnor."
Vetch had said to her that morning, "You have power; it is there to see. But you need not feel that you must be its slave, nor that you must choose Sparrowhawk's way." He said it, not as one who judged, or one who disapproved, but as a teacher who was also a friend. "What will you be, Tenar?" And Tenar had no answer.
She said to Yarrow now, moodily, "And yet, to be able to use magic to heal, to perform the great deeds against the dark, surely that is the one end worth striving towards…"
Yarrow glanced at her. "I'm not one who would know about such things, of course, but Vetch told me not long ago that wizardry seemed like it was about spells, about great deeds. He said he thought was more about the truth; finding the truth, in names, in serving life. Though it seems sometimes that it's what being a person is about, isn't it, regardless of whether one is a wizard? Searching for the meaning of things, helping each other in the search, sometimes coming at it slant. Oh, I cannot say what I mean," she finished, a little apologetically. And then, her head and arm coming up in a quicksilver motion, "There! That's the tree. Fennel, not too close to the edge, love."
Tenar looked where she pointed. They had come out from under the shadow of the trees to an open grassy space, ending in an outcropping of rock. There was a small scrubby oak tree almost on the edge of the outcropping, the roots curling around the rock, embracing it. Beyond the tree was a sharp dropoff; quite a way below Tenar could see a small white sandy cove, the waves rushing forward to envelop the sand and then retreating away again.
Yarrow's harrekki ran up this tree, making a small sound like the clashing of tiny metal shards, and started tugging with its teeth at what looked to Tenar like part of a branch, a mess of twigs, at about shoulder's-level height. Yarrow, walking up to the tree, set her hand on this part of the tree and pulled. Part of the branch came away in Yarrow's hands, and Tenar saw that it was in fact a small nest, cunningly worked of twigs in such a way that she would have completely missed it had the harrekki not shown them the way.
Yarrow loosened the nest from the tree, bringing it to Tenar, and gently moved some of the twigs and dirt of the nest to the side, exposing the inside. They saw within a single egg, like a large pearl, gleaming faintly. She handed the nest to Tenar and they sat down by the tree, with the nest in Tenar's lap, Yarrow holding her harrekki tightly by the neck to keep it from interfering with the egg in any way. Fennel looked over Yarrow's shoulder silently.
"It should be ready to hatch," Yarrow said, prodding the egg gently with her finger. "I knew by the sound my harrekki made, but also: see how you can almost see through the shell, here?" She drew her hand back quickly, for the strain of having been moved had apparently made the harrekki within the egg decide to come out. The thin layer of shell Yarrow had pointed out soon became a small hole, and then a larger one.
"Oh," Tenar breathed, as the crest of the harrekki appeared, tiny copper-and-gold scales, cutting through the shell. Soon enough the entire harrekki appeared, a little larger than her thumb, miniscule and perfect. It shook off the small bits of shell that clung to its scales, and its mouth opened with a questioning sound, a peep like a bird, though no bird ever had such sharp small teeth.
"Harrekki, o harrekki," Tenar murmured, looking into the deep yellow eyes. They gazed back at her, unblinking. She dug into the pouch by her side for the minced-meat balls they had made the evening before and offered them to the harrekki, which nibbled on one and then crawled onto her knee, curled up, and closed its eyes.
Tenar extended a hesitant finger to touch the harrekki. The scales were warm and rough to the touch, and glittered in the late afternoon sun. She stroked her finger over the scales of its back, and, eyes remaining closed, it made a high-pitched purring noise.
"There," Yarrow said with satisfaction. "That is your harrekki, now." She sat down next to Tenar and looked up at Fennel, who, tiring of watching the harrekki, had decided to climb the tree. "Fennel," she called, "don't climb that, it's too near the edge—"
There was a crack, a short agonizing silence, and then the wail of a child in pain.
Tenar jumped to her feet; her harrekki, having rudely been awakened, scrambled to her shoulder where it sat, tense and waiting. "Fennel!" Yarrow shouted, running to her. "Fennel! Are you all right, can you hear me — "
Tenar hastened to the edge of the hillside where Yarrow already was. Fennel had, by great good luck, fallen to an outcropping of rock that jutted out from the hill, and so had not fallen very far, and to Tenar's eye she did not appear to be greatly hurt. But she had fallen double Tenar's height; it was too far for either her or Yarrow to reach the girl easily.
"Can you climb up?" Yarrow asked, sounding half-panicked herself, but Fennel only cried harder, and in any case Tenar could see that the drop was too sheer for a small child to clamber up. Yarrow's harrekki had made its way down to Fennel, who held on to it, but it would not be able to help her get back up. "Fennel, love, hold on — "
"Is there a rope anywhere?" Tenar asked.
Yarrow turned to Tenar, her eyes unfocused for a minute as if she did not quite see her. "A rope. Yes. There is a hut not too far from here, where Murre and I used to play — But it is easy to miss, you wouldn't be able to find it. If I go, can you look after Fennel?"
Tenar did not like it. There had been no other small children at the Place where she had been priestess. Her only knowledge of small children was from her time in Iffish, and that itself was more of a mutual lack of interest than otherwise. But she could see there was nothing else to be done. She said stiffly, "I will look after her."
Yarrow nodded quickly, and then she was running, darting quickly like a minnow in a stream, silver in the afternoon sun.
Fennel liked her mother leaving even less than Tenar did. Her crying had mostly stopped by then, but as she watched her mother go, her eyes wide, the tears started again, and then the sobbing, first quietly, then more loudly. Tenar watched her, helpless.
She thought of her meager knowledge of children, starting that first night in Iffish, and remembered that Yarrow's children loved tales. She knew how to start by now, at least. "As long ago as forever, as far away as Selidor," Tenar began, speaking over Fennel, "there was a girl, Silk, who apprenticed to a wizard. She — "
Fennel stopped crying, though her breath was still hitched from the storm of tears. "Women aren't wizards," Fennel said scornfully, from the height of a child's vast wisdom, forgetting that she was upset. "Only witches."
"This girl was a wizard," Tenar returned equitably. "And," she added, "I have been learning from Vetch. So I could be too, I suppose."
Fennel subsided, and Tenar went on with the story. She was surprised to feel a sense of satisfaction with the words coming out of her, a pleasure like that of seeing a fine wool thread emerge from the spinning wheel where before there had been a cloud of wool; of building a structure from an amorphous mass. Her memory, the finely-trained recall of the Priestess of the Dark Ones, stood her in good stead here, as she twined together the histories she had learned in Atuan and the tales she had heard on Vetch's hearth. And she found she could describe her life in the tale, what it had been like for her: the malevolence of the Tombs translated, transformed into something benign, without power to hurt. Fennel listened, intent.
The late afternoon sun cast long shadows over the grass and rock. The wizard-apprentice Silk had traveled to Karego-At and sworn true friendship with the priestess of the God-King in Atuan. She had sailed the Dragon's Run to see the dance of the dragons, and was preparing to set off on a quest to find the true king in Havnor when Yarrow ran up to them, rope in hand. She was clearly expecting a distraught and weeping child, and was visibly though pleasantly surprised to find Fennel sitting cross-legged and calm, Yarrow's harrekki in her lap, listening to Tenar describe the sea-journey of the apprentice wizard.
Tenar broke off the story, seeing Yarrow there. Between the two of them they managed to secure the rope to the tree and coax Fennel up it. ("Silk would climb up," Fennel said to Yarrow, who replied: "And so can Fennel.") When she was safely up the rope, mother and daughter held one another close for a long time, Yarrow murmuring words of comfort into Fennel's hair.
Soon enough, Fennel, the crisis over, extricated herself from her mother and ran off through the grass, seemingly having forgotten the entire incident, Yarrow's harrekki flapping its wings behind her, attempting to launch onto her shoulder. Tenar and Yarrow gathered up the rope and followed her.
"Thank you for my daughter," Yarrow said to her, low.
Tenar shook her head. "I did nothing. I did not rescue her. You brought the rope. She would have been safe, regardless."
Yarrow frowned thoughtfully. "Calming a child is scarcely nothing, and I don't know that she would have so readily climbed the rope if not for you. But it is more than that. I watched her as you spoke; I do not think you know how much you have done… She has always had a restless spirit, my Fennel. For her, I think, there is a hollow in her that must be filled, and I have been frightened that she would not find what she needed to fill it…"
As she trailed off, the baby harrekki, which had been on Tenar's shoulder all this time, spread its wings and sprang into the air. Its wings were webbed so fine that the sunlight shone through them, making them seem to glow a reddish gold. And Yarrow's harrekki, from where it had glided onto Fennel's shoulder, also flew up, its wings thicker, glinting bronze. Tenar and Yarrow, and Fennel too, looked up to see more than their own harrekki in the air.
The sight of harrekki dancing on the wind is one of the wonders of Earthsea. It is smaller and more intimate than the flight of dragons over the Dragons Run, but no less wonderful for all that. Though the harrekki have lost both their speech and their magic, they still retain some dragonish instincts; and in the golden light of sundown sometimes, rarely, they remember that anciently their ancestors were dragons, and they dance the spiral patterns on the wind as their larger brethren do, for joy in the wildness of flight and that alone.
The three of them gazed upward in wonder, watching the tiny sinuous shapes circle round each other, the sunset light gleaming off their scales and through their wings in entwined rings and spirals of candle-flames. Tenar's small harrekki could barely be seen, a point of light gleaming against the darkening sky. "Just like in the story!" Fennel said, turning to Tenar, her eyes shining.
They watched, entranced, for long minutes. Then, as the sun dipped lower, one by one the harrekki left the dance to fly away to their nests, and Yarrow's harrekki came back to her shoulder. Only a few remained in the sky, looping in great circles on the air. "Call yours back," Yarrow said to Tenar, "and she will come."
"Harrekki!" Tenar called softly, and though her harrekki seemed far away on the wind, still it heard and came to her, beating its wings triumphantly as it landed gently on her shoulder. It stayed there for only a moment, then leaped back from her shoulder to the air. Yet Tenar knew then that her harrekki would always return to her.
"Tell me more about Silk," Fennel said to Tenar. "What happened when she went to Havnor—?"
Tenar looked at Yarrow, thought of her holding out the nest with the egg, thought of Fennel running to her and away again. In her mind's eye she saw again Fennel's face as she heard the story. She understood what Vetch, with his kind, blunt manner, and Yarrow more gently, had wanted her to know. Wizardry is not the only way, the only path in the service of Life. It is not by spells alone by which the broken is made whole, by which a light is given in darkness: but also through a touch, a word, a gift, a tale.
A new, shy sense of gladness began to rise in her. Tenar had known freedom, the weight of choice, as a heavy load. Now she began to know the joy of it as well, the song in silence, the imperishable spring. She thought of the story she was telling, itself a flowering of these possibilities. All the choices of a life there were in the tale, to be chosen and rechosen. And she also began to see how each person is a part of another's tale, beginnings from endings, making from unmaking.
"And Silk saw then the white towers of Havnor, the sword of Erreth-Akbe set high above, in the Tower of the Sword…" As Tenar continued to speak, the three of them walked back on the trail to Ismay. The golden sunset light deepened into twilight, the stars coming out one by one; and the harrekki flew before them.
The Deed of Seren tells of how after the Archmage Ged shut the door in the dark land, the wizard Seren and the White Lady met the dragon Kalessin and brought Ged to Iffish, where Seren's teacher, her mother's brother Estarriol, received them with joy. And it is further told in this song of how Seren and King Lebannen afterwards crafted the Great Peace with the Kargad Lands.
In the East Reach, the Deed of Seren is often sung. But the Tales of the White Lady of Iffish are those that have been told over the years in every household and are beloved of every child.