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with our way lit only by stars

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It was deep winter, a time when the snow came as regularly as the sunrise, and the sunrise finally came earlier each day, when Tenar awoke from dreams of the sea. She had never been one to put too much stock in dreams; life was complicated enough without adding unnecessary prophecy to it. But the dreams returned night after night for a week and then two. She could almost taste the salt on her lips, and feel the swell of the waves even in their bed of sturdy oak.

"Divination was never my gift," Ged said when she finally mentioned them to him, after her tossing and turning woke him after yet another week in which the dream bore her across the seas. "But if you feel there's something you must do, you should do it." He gave her the same sweet smile he'd worn when both they and the world were younger, and her heart still rejoiced in that sweetness, even as concern lay heavy on her shoulders.

She waited and she watched, both the patterns of the frost on the windows and the comings and goings of Ged and the goats, and her waking mind finally understood what her sleeping mind had realized weeks ago. The question was, what to do about it? She walked the snowy fields and orchards, and pondered the paths laid out before her. And then she wrote a letter to the king.

Part of her felt utterly ridiculous that she, a farmer's wife on Gont, should make demands of the king of the Inner Lands, but the part of her which had been the First Priestess, who still was the White Lady of Gont, felt that because of who Ged was to him (and who she was to Ged), he'd grant her request.

Still, she said nothing of it to Ged when the letter was sent nor when she received a letter in reply, promising that all would be prepared as she had asked.

As the time drew near for her plans to reach fruition, Tenar arranged matters to her satisfaction with Heather to care for the house and the goats, who were good goats, as far as goats can be good, though it is in their nature to be mischievous, and not to blame for their tender's sudden bout of melancholy.

Tenar quietly packed up what she and Ged would need in the coming weeks. What she didn't remember or couldn't carry could be provided later, or they could do without. They were both good at that, though she'd grown to dislike having to more and more as the years passed. Perhaps she was less suited to adventuring now than she had been once, if she had ever been truly suited for it at all. Time would tell.

In the early hours of the first morning of spring, she woke Ged with a gentle kiss and an admonition to hurry.

"I didn't know we were going anywhere," he said mildly but did just as she told him, dressing and gathering his own belongings that she hadn't packed yet.

They drove the cart to the city, where the guards recognized Ged at least, and opened the gates before him with low bows and mumbled words of gratitude which made him shift uncomfortably. Tenar tutted and patted his arm in comfort and solidarity, having herself long grown used to being paid attention both welcome and not wherever she went.

Soon enough they came to the Great Port of Gont, where a sleek little grey ship awaited them at one of the docks, bobbing lightly on the waves.

"What is this?" Ged asked, perplexed.

"You've sailed from Reach to Reach," she answered with a laugh. "And from the Kargad Empire to Selidor and beyond. Surely you know a boat when you see one."

His mouth twitched but he pretended to be unimpressed with her levity and kept his voice solemn when he said, "Tenar."

"You're restless," she said, meeting his gaze with her jaw set in determination.

"I am not," he replied firmly and honestly. "I'm perfectly happy with you and the goats."

"I don't think you're unhappy," she said slowly. She didn't; the remedy for that would have been different. "I think you're hemmed in by routine, and need a new adventure." She paused thoughtfully, and touched his cheek. "We both do."

"Tenar," he said again, softer, and filled with tenderness. "Are you sure?"

"You were singing The Deed of Erreth-Akbe to the goats." She smiled knowingly. "I think it's time you and I both had some proper conversation with other people." She nodded at the sailors who stood waiting for them on the dock. "Now come, help me down. My knees are not as young as they used to be."

Laughing, he climbed down from the cart and then set his hands to her waist and swung her down to the cobbles easily, as he might once have done as a younger man, as if to prove that he was still up to the task. She had never doubted it. She touched his cheek again, lingering this time, and felt herself to be as full of love for him as she ever had been, even as a younger woman when their love was of a different kind.

"It is no Lookfar, but it should suffice." She nodded once in satisfaction. "What do you think?" She was no expert, but the grey ship the king provided looked sturdy enough to her.

"Lookfar was a fine boat," he agreed, with a fond look on his face. When she had first sailed in it, he had told her about how it had been built and named, long ago when he'd been on the hunt for the shadow that had dogged him in his youth. Lookfar had been lost, as so much else had, during his striving against the dark mage, Cob, and there was no replacing her. Nor had Tenar or the king tried. The ship awaiting them was larger, and fully-crewed, and its fine white sails bore no patches or stains, as it had not yet been tried fully by sea or storm. "But I'm sure this ship will be fine for whatever it is you have planned." His look was curious and wry.

"I thought you could show me more of the world's wonders, as you once promised me you would."

"Your memory is as sharp as ever, my dear. And there are good friends in distant places I've not seen in many years. But it won't be easy without being able to work the weather."

"We'll sail with the wind as it wills," she replied and he laughed.

"Even the winds would think twice about disobeying you when you speak in that tone of voice." His gaze was admiring and she found she still had it in her to blush as his awkward compliments as she had when she was a girl. She kissed him then, this dear man who was her husband, and felt nothing but pride and satisfaction when he returned the kiss despite the public nature of it.

No one seemed to mind. An impressed whistle brought them back to themselves and their surroundings, and Tenar couldn't wipe the pleased smile off her face, though it might not have been proper for a woman her age.

The whistler turned out to be the captain of their little grey ship; Peregrine she was called. As romantic as it might have been to cross the seas alone together as they'd done in their youth, Tenar couldn't find it in herself to turn away the king's kindly and practical gift of a small crew of six to handle the ship for them, even if Ged drew himself up to his full height, which was not very tall at all, and insisted he could still sail as well as any Gontishman, even if the winds no longer heeded his commands.

"It's our honor to serve," the captain, a man of the Andrades called Harnat, said. "The king would be most displeased with us if something happened to you, for you are both dear to him."

"Fine, if the king insists," Ged said, his pride assuaged. He smiled again to show he meant Captain Harnat no disrespect.

The crew was small but proficient. Their gear was brought on board and Tenar went about unpacking efficiently; they had not brought much, but she did like having her own soap and linens with her, even in the tiny cabin under the aft deck. It was snug and warm, with a porthole to let in what sunlight was available and a lamp hung over the bed for when it wasn't.

They cast off with the tide, and after a little while, it was if they'd never lived on land at all, so quickly and easily did the rolling walk of the sailor come back to them. To Ged more quickly than Tenar, though she wouldn't admit it, but his arm was strong and steady beneath her hand when she stumbled at some unexpected movement of the deck beneath her. The brisk spring wind that ruffled their cloaks and hair as they stood at the rail was a welcome, bracing chill.

She could see already that some of the tension had left Ged's shoulders, that he was more at ease than he'd been in weeks. She understood. His life had been full of travel and magic, of great deeds and strife and wonder, and the farm that had once belonged to Ogion offered none of those things. He'd left it twice before in search of adventure, and though he'd sworn when he came back to her on the back of a dragon that his life of adventuring was done, she'd known that it was the promise of a shaken, tired man.

There would be no great deeds on this trip, no wicked wizards or dark shadows to fight, only the balm of old friends long unmet, and the sea, as timeless and unchanging as it ever was.

Still, no ocean journey is ever without risk, and there were storms and calms that befell them as they sailed south from Gont, avoiding the Kargad Empire and stopping at the Torikles and Way to resupply before turning east.

The skies were full of stars, and they cuddled on deck together of an evening, wrapped in his cloak and the blankets she dragged off their bed, watching as they winked into brightness as the sunset.

"There is the Arrow, and there, the Forge, and that is the Dragon, that is only visible in the East in the spring," he said, pointing and naming each constellation in turn, and telling her the tales that went with them. Though she had heard them all before in her time on Gont, it was always a secret thrill to hear him tell a tale; it reminded her of their time in the dark, trading stories and learning trust. In return, she dug the Kargish names and stories from her memory. And then, when those were told, whispering, he taught her the names of the stars in the Old Speech, for though his powers were spent, his knowledge remained. "So if you ever get the chance to speak with dragons, you'll have something interesting to say."

The wind was warmer now, and Tenar had acquired a slight tan on her arms and cheeks from all their days of walking on deck, and helping the crew, which in her case meant staying out of the way as much as possible, but for Ged meant manning the lines when they tacked or an oar when they were becalmed, or half a dozen other things that he explained to her in his matter-of-fact way in their bunk at night or over porridge in the morning.

The food on the ship was better than she expected, and the ship's cook allowed her to help in the galley, though she had never been one for fancy cooking. She could make bannocks or fry bacon as well as any farm wife, and she'd brought a small store of spices and dried fruit along to liven up the oatmeal they ate for breakfast every day. The cook was used to grander things--Peregrine was the king's personal yacht, and he'd cooked for great lords from all over the Archipelago in his time in the king's service--but even he was a little awed the first time she swept into the galley and offered to help, because she knew how Sparrowhawk liked his eggs.

Even the hardtack and salt fish diet they had been reduced to when they were blown off course by a late spring gale and didn't see land for longer than planned was interesting in its way, though Ged and the captain laughed when she said this.

"It's a challenge to the determined cook," she replied, unruffled by their laughter, "to make such plain food taste good over so many meals."

"The cook who could do that would be a wizard indeed," Ged said, giving her knee a squeeze under the table.

"Flatterer." She sniffed and pretended to be annoyed. "It's simply knowing what ingredients can be combined to the best effect. And having those ingredients on hand." She gave him a sidelong look. "And you wondered why I brought the jar of fish sauce."

"I'll never question your packing again," he said. "You're magic in your own way. You always have been."

She smiled then, pleased, and applied herself once again to the plain meal in front of her.

He said it again later that night, in a lower, more sincere voice, their bodies joined intimately as they moved together, pleasure rising and cresting and breaking between them as inevitable as any wave crashing on the shore. She closed her eyes and saw stars, unrecognized and unnamed constellations bursting into waterfalls of light as he brought her pleasure to completion again and again. Time and familiarity hadn't blunted his awe of her in this, and sometimes she wanted to weep over all the years they'd spent apart, even though she'd been happy in her life and he'd saved the world with his.

"I love you," she said when they were done, sweat drying on bare skin suddenly cool without the heat of his body above hers. "I love you in this life and if my soul should be reborn, I will love you in the next."

He gathered her close and pressed a kiss to her ear. "I thought wicked unbelievers from the Inner Lands didn't have souls and weren't reborn."

"For you, even the God-Brothers of Awabath would make an exception."

He kissed her again. "And I, you," he murmured against her cheek. "As the shore loves the sea, or the sky, the stars."

They slept, then, and Tenar had no dreams she could recall.

Two days later, they put in at Far Toly, much further east than they had planned to be, and resupplied the ship. It was a small island, with a small port, but the grass on the dunes swayed in the warm wind and once they were away from the docks, the air smelled of the sea without the overwhelming stench of fish. It was odd to walk on land again, and once more, Ged's arm was her ballast and guide as they strolled through the town and purchased fresh fruit and bread that had been baked that day. The warm yeasty scent of it made her stomach growl embarrassingly.

"Hunger is the best sauce," the baker said with a smile as she handed over a second loaf, "though butter is good too."

"Too true," Tenar replied. "Many thanks."

They ate the bread that night dipped in oil seasoned with salt and basil, with fried sausage, onions, and sweet peppers, and for dessert, they had fresh honeydew with yogurt.

"Too many more meals like that and we won't fit into this bed anymore," Tenar said, laughing, when it was time to retire.

"I will always make room for you," Ged promised in that sweet and solemn way he had, which won him a kiss that turned into many kisses, and a night of slow and tender lovemaking.

From Far Toly, it was only two days' sailing to Iffish with good wind. Ismay was much larger and more sophisticated than Far Toly was, or any of the villages Tenar had lived in during her time on Gont.

She suddenly felt dowdy and old in her sun-faded breeches and tunic, despite having woven the material herself and knowing it was as fine as anything available in the Archipelago.

"And my hair," she said with a frown, trying to tug a brush through the dark tangles of it, stiff as it was from so much exposure to the salt in the sea air.

"Your hair is fine," Ged said. "They'll be too busy looking at mine to notice, anyway." He brushed his hair back and tied it into its usual queue with a self-conscious air.

He was still as handsome as he'd ever been, she thought, even though he was thinner than he'd been as a young man, and his hair was now a snowy white, the dark color of it leached away along with his power when he'd returned from the dry land of the dead.

"Let me," he said when he saw she was still struggling with the brush. His hands were deft and sure-fingered, as they had always been, and he soon had the knots untangled and her hair brushed to a becoming smoothness. When he was done, he put his hands on her shoulders and pressed a kiss to her temple. "You should leave it loose."

"You should brush my hair more often."

He grinned. "As you wish."

"But I'm still going to braid it. It's only proper."

"You don't give a snap for propriety."

"No, but I want to make a good impression." She turned to face him, her hands working quickly to form the five strand braid that she usually wore for holidays and festivals at home. "Vetch is your oldest friend, and I don't want him to think less of you for having married me."

"He would never."

Tenar huffed softly. She wanted to believe him, but she'd never been good at seeing the best in people, and aside from Ged and Ogion, the few wizards she'd met had looked askance at her.

When she was done, he gave her an appreciative look and offered his arm. "Come, wife, let us go."

"As you wish, husband." She laughed at the formality of it, where once they'd both been so serious.

Ismay was a bustling town, its merchants and fisherfolk doing well with the peace that reigned over Earthsea since the king had been crowned. The inn to which Ged took her, The Harrekki, was crowded and noisy, but in a warm and welcoming way.

"Come to consult our wizard, have you?" the innkeeper asked when they inquired about the way to Vetch's house.

"Yes," Ged replied. "It's been many years since I've visited and I no longer recall the route."

The innkeeper looked at him intently, and Ged turned his face just a bit, moving his scarred cheek out of direct view. The innkeeper grunted, but gave them the directions they'd requested. "He knows you're coming?"

"If he doesn't by now, he's lost his touch," Ged answered gravely, though Tenar, through long association with him, could hear the humor underneath.

The innkeeper harrumphed and moved on to the next customer demanding his attention.

They made their way to Vetch's house at an unhurried pace. Walking the cobble-stoned streets, Tenar was reminded that she was not the young girl who'd once thought a town of two dozen houses was a great city, that she had been to Havnor and spent market days in the City of Gont, and so Ismay, as busy as it was, no longer intimidating her. Or perhaps it was that she could tell Ged was anxious about seeing his old friend, worried that his lack of power (or his marriage, though perhaps Tenar was the one worried about that) would cause a chill between them, and she would have to be confident enough for the both of them.

There was no need for concern, though. When they reached the wizard's gate, the door was flung wide and Vetch himself rushed out to meet them.

"My friend," he said, catching Ged up in a tight embrace, "it's been too long."

"Vetch," Ged replied, his voice thick with emotion as he clung to Vetch's broad back. When they released each other, he continued, "This is my wife, who is called Goha."

Vetch was older than Ged; his face bore more lines and his head less hair (and what remained was grayer than Ged remembered, he told her later) but his eyes were bright and kind and his hands, though gnarled like the roots of a mighty oak, were warm and gentle and did not tremble when he took Tenar's hand between them. "The White Lady of Gont, who returned the Ring of Erreth-Akbe to Havnor? It's an honor to finally meet you."

"The honor is mine," she replied. "I'm glad to know Sparrowhawk has had such good friends in his life."

"And we shall also be friends," he declared, ushering them into his house with a flourish.

The house was warm and cozy, the dark wood floors waxed and the windows gleaming in the early summer sunshine. The curtains were white and gauzy, and there were woven rag rugs on the floors to lend the rooms a colorful, homey touch.

A small lizard came flying through the air to alight on Ged's shoulder, followed by a laughing woman about Tenar's age, though from her looks she was related to Vetch.

"Sparrowhawk," the woman exclaimed, and claimed him in a fierce hug. "It's been too many years."

"Yarrow," Ged replied gravely. "It is good to see you haven't lost any of your exuberance." He stroked the nose of the lizard on his shoulder. "Surely this isn't the same harrekki as the last time I was here."

"No," she said. "He is the grandson of that one, and the great-grandson of the one I had when you first visited us, so many years ago."

"See," Ged said to Tenar, "here is a dragon you can wear on your wrist." He held it out to her and she took it gingerly. It quivered in her hands like a kitten and her heart was won.

"Oh," she replied with a smile. "How wonderful." She turned to Yarrow and returned the harrekki to her. "I am called Goha. You must be Vetch's sister. I've heard so much about you."

Yarrow smiled in return. "And I so little about you. Come, let the men have their boring conversation." She threaded her arm through Tenar's and led her away from Ged and Vetch. "We can have a livelier chat in the kitchen. My wife and I are preparing a feast for you, and I know we'll all be fast friends."

The kitchen was bustling; in addition to the cook, a stout middle-aged woman with a stern mien, Yarrow's wife Rill and their two daughters were there, rolling out the pastry for the evening's dessert.

Yarrow chattered about the food they were cooking and the spring's catch, for Rill was the captain of her own fishing ship, and earned her livelihood with the net and the sail. She was a tall, elegant woman, quiet and stately where Yarrow was lively and quick, and Tenar could see how they fit together and made a family and a home. It reminded her a little of her own days as a young mother, and she felt a fleeting pang of homesickness for her children, who were now so grown up and far away. But Yarrow and Rill and their girls made her feel as at home as she ever had in her own kitchen.

Yarrow and her daughters asked many questions about Tenar's life on Gont, and when they realized she didn't mind talking about her time as the One Priestess, they asked about that too.

"And what brought you here?" Yarrow asked as the conversation wound down.

Tenar paused and thought for a while before she spoke. "To start a new life and to make a home is a wonderful thing," she finally said, "but the same four walls can sometimes press in too close, if one is used to always seeing something new.

"Sparrowhawk came to me tired and wounded, and now that he's been healed and found some peace, it seemed right to travel again, knowing that home always lies at the end of the journey." She snuck a bit of sliced apple from the pie Yarrow was making, and ate it thoughtfully. "And he was singing the Deed of Erreth-Akbe to the goats, so I thought it was time he had some adult company aside from me."

Yarrow laughed and gave Tenar's hand a knowing touch. It was good to have friends, Tenar thought, and to not have to watch every word she said, for they already knew her story and her husband's, and didn't turn them away.

The afternoon sped by in a haze of laughter and cooking, and Tenar felt as warmly welcomed here as she'd ever felt in her own home.

Dinner was a feast of local specialties, beginning with a salad of peppery greens dressed with oil and vinegar, followed by a course of steamed mussels and well-salted fried potatoes.

"The first time I offered her mussels," Ged said, grinning and holding up a shell, "she refused. Fresh off the rocks, they were, too."

"You ate them live!" Tenar responded in mock outrage. "I'd never had anything more exciting than broiled trout and lentil soup, at that point," she told the others, widening her eyes in the semblance of surprise. "It was shocking to me."

"You missed a tasty meal," he said.

"I've more than made up for it since." She turned to Yarrow and Rill. "Everything is delicious."

"We haven't even had the main course yet," Yarrow replied, and then she and the cook brought out platters of grilled fish, flavored with lemon and garlic, on beds of sticky rice.

Tenar ate her fill and a little more, the meal made more delicious by the presence of friends and loved ones, and a fine vintage of wine that tasted of peaches and citrus and the bright summer to come.

After a break from the table, they had tea and buttery pastries filled with cinnamon sugar or almond paste, and the apple pie Yarrow had made. They talked and laughed long into the night.

Vetch insisted on putting them up for the night rather than making them return to the ship or book rooms at the inn, and once Tenar snuffed the candle and climbed into bed, Ged rolled onto his side and kissed her nose.

"It was a good idea to come here," he said, and then gave her a more lingering kiss on the mouth.

"I know," she replied, glad that her plan had played out so perfectly. "I'm glad to be here with you."

There would be other friends to visit, and other journeys to take, but that night both Ged and Tenar slept soundly, knowing that together, they would always find home.