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Legends 3 13
“I’m sorry too,” he said, trying to speak carelessly, lightly.
“She’s Irian of Westpool’s mare. You’re the wizard, then?”
He bowed. “Ivory, of Havnor Great Port, at your service. May I—”
She interrupted. “I thought you were from Roke.”
“I am,” he said, his composure regained. She stared at him with those strange eyes, as unreadable as a sheep’s, he thought. Then she burst out: “You lived there? You studied there? Do you know the Archmage?”
“Yes,” he said with a smile. Then he winced and stooped to press his hand against his shin for a moment.
“Are you hurt too?”
“It’s nothing,” he said. In fact, rather to his annoyance, the cut had stopped bleeding. The woman’s gaze returned to his face.
“What is it—what is it like—on Roke?”
Ivory went, limping only very slightly, to an old mounting-block nearby and sat down on it. He stretched his leg, nursing the torn place, and looked up at the woman. “It would take a long time to tell you what Roke is like,” he said. “But it would be my pleasure.”
* * *
“The man’s a wizard, or nearly,” said Rose the witch, “a Roke wizard! You must not ask him questions!” She was more than scandalized, she was frightened.
“He doesn’t mind,” Dragonfly reassured her. “Only he hardly ever really answers.”
“Of course not!”
“Why of course not?”
“Because he’s a wizard! Because you’re a woman, with no art, no knowledge, no learning!”
“You could have taught me! You never would!”
Rose dismissed all she had taught or could teach with a flick of the fingers.
“Well, so I have to learn from him,” said Dragonfly.
“Wizards don’t teach women. You’re besotted.”
“You and Broom trade spells.”
“Broom’s a village sorcerer. This man is a wise man. He learned the High Arts at the Great House on Roke!”
“He told me what it’s like,” Dragonfly said. “You walk up through the town, Thwil Town. There’s a door opening on the street, but it’s shut. It looks like an ordinary door.” The witch listened, unable to resist the lure of secrets revealed and the contagion of passionate desire. “And a man comes when you knock, an ordinary-looking man. And he gives you a test. You have to say a certain word, a password, before he’ll let you in. If you don’t know it, you can never go in. But if he lets you in, then from inside you see that the door is entirely different—it’s made out of horn, with a tree carved on it, and the frame is made out of a tooth, one tooth of a dragon that lived long, long before Erreth-Akbe, before Morred, before there were people in Earthsea. There were only dragons, to begin with. They found the tooth on Mount Onn, in Havnor, at the center of the world. And the leaves of the tree are carved so thin that the light shines through them, but the door’s so strong that if the Doorkeeper shuts it no spell could ever open it. And then the Doorkeeper takes you down a hall and another hall, till you’re lost and bewildered, and then suddenly you come out under the sky. In the Court of the Fountain, in the very deepest inside of the Great House. And that’s where the Archmage would be, if he was there.…”
“Go on,” the witch murmured.
“That’s all he really told me, yet,” said Dragonfly, coming back to the mild, overcast spring day and the infinite familiarity of the village lane, Rose’s front yard, her own seven milch-ewes grazing on Iria Hill, the bronze crowns of the oaks. “He’s very careful how he talks about the Masters.”
“But he told me about some of the students.”
“No harm in that, I suppose.”
“I don’t know,” Dragonfly said. “To hear about the Great House is wonderful, but I thought the people there would be—I don’t know. Of course, they’re mostly just boys when they go there. But I thought they’d be…” She gazed off at the sheep on the hill, her face troubled. “Some of them are really bad and stupid,” she said in a low voice. “They get into the School because they’re rich. And they study there just to get richer. Or to get power.”
“Well, of course they do,” said Rose, “that’s what they’re there for!”
“But power—like you told me about—that isn’t the same as making people do what you want, or pay you—”
“If a word can heal, a word can wound,” the witch said. “If a hand can kill, a hand can cure. It’s a poor cart that goes only one direction.”
“But on Roke, they learn to use power well, not for harm, not for gain.”
“Everything’s for gain some way, I’d say. People have to live. But what do I know? I make my living doing what I know how to do. But I don’t meddle with the great arts, the perilous crafts, like summoning the dead,” and Rose made the hand-sign to avert the danger spoken of.
“Everything’s perilous,” Dragonfly said, gazing now through the sheep, the hill, the trees, into still depths, a colorless, vast emptiness like the clear sky before sunrise.
Rose watched her. She knew she did not know who Irian was or what she might be. A big, strong, awkward, ignorant, innocent, angry woman, yes. But ever since she was a child Rose had seen something more in her, something beyond what she was. And when Irian looked away from the world like that, she seemed to enter that place or time or being beyond herself, utterly beyond Rose’s knowledge. Then Rose feared her, and feared for her.
“You take care,” the witch said, grim. “Everything’s perilous, right enough, and meddling with wizards most of all.”
Through love, respect, and trust, Dragonfly would never disregard a warning from Rose; but she was unable to see Ivory as perilous. She didn’t understand him, but the idea of fearing him, him personally, was not one she could keep in mind. She tried to be respectful, but it was impossible. She thought he was clever and quite handsome, but she didn’t think much about him, except for what he could tell her. He knew what she wanted to know and little by little he told it to her, and then it was not really what she had wanted to know, but she wanted to know more. He was patient with her, and she was grateful to him for his patience, knowing he was much quicker than she. Sometimes he smiled at her ignorance, but he never sneered at it or reproved it. Like the witch, he liked to answer a question with a question; but the answers to Rose’s questions were always something she’d always known, while the answers to his questions were things she had never imagined and found startling, unwelcome, even painful, altering all her beliefs.
Day by day, as they talked in the old stableyard of Iria, where they had fallen into the habit of meeting, she asked him and he told her more, though reluctantly, always partially; he shielded his Masters, she thought, trying to defend the bright image of Roke, until one day he gave in to her insistence and spoke freely at last.
“There are good men there,” he said. “Great and wise the Archmage certainly was. But he’s gone. And the Masters … Some hold aloof, following arcane knowledge, seeking ever more patterns, ever more names, but using their knowledge for nothing. Others hide their ambition under the grey cloak of wisdom. Roke is no longer where power is in Earthsea. That’s the Court in Havnor, now. Roke lives on its great past, defended by a thousand spells against the present day. And inside those spell-walls, what is there? Quarreling ambitions, fear of anything new, fear of young men who challenge the power of the old. And at the center, nothing. An empty courtyard. The Archmage will never return.”
“How do you know?” she whispered.
He looked stern. “The dragon bore him away.”
“You saw it? You saw that?” She clenched her hands, imagining that flight.
After a long time, she came back to the sunlight and the stableyard and her thoughts and puzzles. “But even if he’s gone,” she said, “surely some of the Masters are truly wise?”
When he looked up and spoke it was with a hint of a melan
choly smile. “All the mystery and wisdom of the Masters, when it’s out in the daylight, doesn’t amount to so much, you know. Tricks of the trade—wonderful illusions. But people don’t want to believe that. They want the mysteries, the illusions. Who can blame them? There’s so little in most lives that’s beautiful or worthy.”
As if to illustrate what he was saying, he had picked up a bit of brick from the broken pavement, and tossed it up in the air, and as he spoke it fluttered about their heads on delicate blue wings, a butterfly. He put out his finger and the butterfly lighted on it. He shook his finger and the butterfly fell to the ground, a fragment of brick.
“There’s not much worth much in my life,” she said, gazing down at the pavement. “All I know how to do is run the farm, and try to stand up and speak truth. But if I thought it was all tricks and lies even on Roke, I’d hate those men for fooling me, fooling us all. It can’t be lies. Not all of it. The Archmage did go into the labyrinth among the Hoary Men and come back with the Ring of Peace. He did go into death with the young king, and defeat the spider mage, and come back. We know that on the word of the king himself. Even here, the harpers came to sing that song, and a teller came to tell it.…”
Ivory nodded gravely. “But the Archmage lost all his power in the land of death. Maybe all magery was weakened then.”
“Rose’s spells work as well as ever,” she said stoutly.
Ivory smiled. He said nothing, but she knew how petty the doings of a village witch appeared to him, who had seen great deeds and powers. She sighed and spoke from her heart—“Oh, if only I wasn’t a woman!”
He smiled again. “You’re a beautiful woman,” he said, but plainly, not in the flattering way he had used with her at first, before she showed him she hated it. “Why would you be a man?”
“So I could go to Roke! And see, and learn! Why, why is it only men can go there?”
“So it was ordained by the first Archmage, centuries ago,” said Ivory. “But … I too have wondered.”
“Often. Seeing only boys and men, day after day, in the Great House and all the precincts of the School. Knowing that the townswomen are spellbound from so much as setting foot on the fields about Roke Knoll. Once in years, perhaps, some great lady is allowed to come briefly into the outer courts.… Why is it so? Are all women incapable of understanding? Or is it that the Masters fear them, fear to be corrupted—No, but fear that to admit women might change the rule they cling to—the … purity of that rule—”
“Women can live chaste as well as men can,” Dragonfly said bluntly. She knew she was blunt and coarse where he was delicate and subtle, but she did not know any other way to be.
“Of course,” he said, his smile growing brilliant. “But witches aren’t always chaste, are they?… Maybe that’s what the Masters are afraid of. Maybe celibacy isn’t as necessary as the Rule of Roke teaches. Maybe it’s not a way of keeping the power pure, but of keeping the power to themselves. Leaving out women, leaving out everybody who won’t agree to turn himself into a eunuch to get that one kind of power.… Who knows? A she-mage! Now that would change everything, all the rules!”
She could see his mind dance ahead of hers, taking up and playing with ideas, transforming them as he had transformed brick into butterfly. She could not dance with him, she could not play with him, but she watched him in wonder.
“You could go to Roke,” he said, his eyes bright with excitement, mischief, daring. Meeting her almost pleading, incredulous silence, he insisted—“You could. A woman you are, but there are ways to change your seeming. You have the heart, the courage, the will of a man. You could enter the Great House. I know it.”
“And what would I do there?”
“What all the students do. Live alone in a stone cell and learn to be wise! It might not be what you dream it to be, but that, too, you’d learn.”
“I couldn’t. They’d know. I couldn’t even get in. There’s the Doorkeeper, you said. I don’t know the word to say to him.”
“The password, yes. But I can teach it to you.”
“You can? Is it allowed?”
“I don’t care what’s ‘allowed,’” he said, with a frown she had never seen on his face. “The Archmage himself said, Rules are made to be broken. Injustice makes the rules, and courage breaks them. I have the courage, if you do!”
She looked at him. She could not speak. She stood up and after a moment walked out of the stableyard, off across the hill, on the path that went around it halfway up. One of the dogs, her favorite, a big, ugly, heavy-headed hound, followed her. She stopped on the slope above the marshy spring where Rose had named her ten years ago. She stood there; the dog sat down beside her and looked up at her face. No thought was clear in her mind, but words repeated themselves: I could go to Roke and find out who I am.
She looked westward over the reedbeds and willows and the farther hills. The whole western sky was empty, clear. She stood still and her soul seemed to go into that sky and be gone, gone out of her.
There was a little noise, the soft clipclop of the black mare’s hoofs, coming along the lane. Then Dragonfly came back to herself and called to Ivory and ran down the hill to meet him. “I will go,” she said.
* * *
He had not planned or intended any such adventure, but crazy as it was, it suited him better the more he thought about it. The prospect of spending the long grey winter at Westpool sank his spirits like a stone. There was nothing here for him except the girl Dragonfly, who had come to fill his thoughts. Her massive, innocent strength had defeated him absolutely so far, but he did what she pleased in order to have her do at last what he pleased, and the game, he thought, was worth playing. If she ran away with him, the game was as good as won. As for the joke of it, the notion of actually getting her into the School on Roke disguised as a man, there was little chance of pulling it off, but it pleased him as a gesture of disrespect to all the piety and pomposity of the Masters and their toadies. And if somehow it succeeded, if he could actually get a woman through that door, even for a moment, what a sweet revenge it would be!
Money was a problem. The girl thought, of course, that he as a great wizard would snap his fingers and waft them over the sea in a magic boat flying before the magewind. But when he told her they’d have to hire passage on a ship, she said simply, “I have the cheese money.”
He treasured her rustic sayings of that kind. Sometimes she frightened him, and he resented it. His dreams of her were never of her yielding to him, but of himself yielding to a fierce, destroying sweetness, sinking into an annihilating embrace, dreams in which she was something beyond comprehension and he was nothing at all. He woke from those dreams shaken and shamed. In daylight, when he saw her big, dirty hands, when she talked like a yokel, a simpleton, he regained his superiority. He only wished there were someone to repeat her sayings to, one of his old friends in the Great Port who would find them amusing. “‘I have the cheese money,’” he repeated to himself, riding back to Westpool, and laughed. “I do indeed,” he said aloud. The black mare flicked her ear.
He told Birch that he had received a sending from his teacher on Roke, the Master Hand, and must go at once, on what business he could not say, of course, but it should not take long once he was there; a half month to go, another to return; he would be back well before the Fallows at the latest. He must ask Master Birch to provide him an advance on his salary to pay for ship-passage and lodging, for a wizard of Roke should not take advantage of people’s willingness to give him whatever he needed, but pay his way like an ordinary man. As Birch agreed with this, he had to give Ivory a purse for his journey. It was the first real money he had had in his pocket for years: ten ivory counters carved with the Otter of Shelieth on one side and the Rune of Peace on the other in honor of King Lebannen. “Hello, little namesakes,” he told them when he was alone with them. “You and the cheese money will get along nicely.”
He told Dragonfly very little of his plans, la
rgely because he made few, trusting to chance and his own wits, which seldom let him down if he was given a fair chance to use them. The girl asked almost no questions. “Will I go as a man all the way?” was one. “Yes,” he said, “but only disguised. I won’t put a semblance-spell on you till we’re on Roke Island.”
“I thought it would be a spell of Change,” she said.
“That would be unwise,” he said, with a good imitation of the Master Changer’s terse solemnity. “If need be, I’ll do it, of course. But you’ll find wizards very sparing of the great spells. For good reason.”
“The Equilibrium,” she said, accepting all he said in its simplest sense, as always.
“And perhaps because such arts have not the power they once had,” he said. He did not know himself why he tried to weaken her faith in wizardry; perhaps because any weakening of her strength, her wholeness, was a gain for him. He had begun merely by trying to get her into his bed, a game he loved to play. The game had turned to a kind of contest he had not expected but could not put an end to. He was determined now not to win her, but to defeat her. He could not let her defeat him. He must prove to her and himself that his dreams were meaningless.