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Legends 3 15
“Do you know the way in?” His almond-shaped eyes were attentive, yet seemed to look at her from miles or years away.
“This is the way in, sir.”
“Do you know whose name you must tell me before I let you in?”
“My own, sir. It is Irian.”
“Is it?” he said.
That gave her pause. She stood silent, “It’s the name the witch Rose of my village on Way gave me, in the spring under Iria Hill,” she said at last, standing up and speaking truth.
The Doorkeeper looked at her for what seemed a long time. “Then it is your name,” he said. “But maybe not all your name. I think you have another.”
“I don’t know it, sir.”
After another long time she said, “Maybe I can learn it here, sir.”
The Doorkeeper bowed his head a little. A very faint smile made crescent curves in his cheeks. He stood aside. “Come in, daughter,” he said.
She stepped across the threshold of the Great House.
Ivory’s spell of semblance dropped away like a cobweb. She was and looked herself.
She followed the Doorkeeper down a stone passageway. Only at the end of it did she think to turn back to see the light shine through the thousand leaves of the tree carved in the high door in its bone-white frame.
A young man in a grey cloak hurrying down the passageway stopped short as he approached them. He stared at Irian; then with a brief nod he went on. She looked back at him. He was looking back at her.
A globe of misty, greenish fire drifted swiftly down the corridor at eye level, apparently pursuing the young man. The Doorkeeper waved his hand at it, and it avoided him. Irian swerved and ducked down frantically, but felt the cool fire tingle in her hair as it passed over her. The Doorkeeper looked round, and now his smile was wider. Though he said nothing, she felt he was aware of her, concerned for her. She stood up and followed him.
He stopped before an oak door. Instead of knocking he sketched a little sign or rune on it with the top of his staff, a light staff of some greyish wood. The door opened as a resonant voice behind it said, “Come in!”
“Wait here a little, if you please, Irian,” the Doorkeeper said, and went into the room, leaving the door wide open behind him. She could see bookshelves and books, a table piled with more books and inkpots and writings, two or three boys seated at the table, and the grey-haired, stocky man the Doorkeeper spoke to. She saw the man’s face change, saw his eyes shift to her in a brief, startled gaze, saw him question the Doorkeeper, low-voiced, intense.
They both came to her. “The Master Changer of Roke: Irian of Way,” said the Doorkeeper.
The Changer stared openly at her. He was not as tall as she was. He stared at the Doorkeeper, and then at her again.
“Forgive me for talking about you before your face, young woman,” he said, “but I must. Master Doorkeeper, you know I’d never question your judgment, but the Rule is clear. I have to ask what moved you to break it and let her come in.”
“She asked to,” said the Doorkeeper.
“But—” The Changer paused.
“When did a woman last ask to enter the School?”
“They know the Rule doesn’t allow them.”
“Did you know that, Irian?” the Doorkeeper asked her, and she said, “Yes, sir.”
“So what brought you here?” the Changer asked, step, but not hiding his curiosity.
“Master Ivory said I could pass for a man. Though I thought I should say who I was. I will be as celibate as anyone, sir.”
Two long curves appeared on the Doorkeeper’s cheeks, enclosing the slow upturn of his smile. The Changer’s face remained stern, but he blinked, and after a little thought said, “I’m sure—yes—It was definitely the better plan to be honest. What Master did you speak of?”
“Ivory,” said the Doorkeeper. “A lad from Havnor Great Port, whom I let in three years ago, and let out again last year, as you may recall.”
“Ivory! That fellow that studied with the Hand?—Is he here?” the Changer demanded of Irian, wrathily. She stood straight and said nothing.
“Not in the School,” the Doorkeeper said, smiling.
“He fooled you, young woman. Made a fool of you by trying to make fools of us.”
“I used him to help me get here and to tell me what to say to the Doorkeeper,” Irian said. “I’m not here to fool anybody, but to learn what I need to know.”
“I’ve often wondered why I let the boy in,” said the Doorkeeper. “Now I begin to understand.”
At that the Changer looked at him, and after pondering said soberly, “Doorkeeper, what have you in mind?”
“I think Irian of Way may have come to us seeking not only what she needs to know, but also what we need to know.” The Doorkeeper’s tone was equally sober, and his smile was gone. “I think this may be a matter for talk among the nine of us.”
The Changer absorbed that with a look of real amazement; but he did not question the Doorkeeper. He said only, “But not among the students.”
The Doorkeeper shook his head, agreeing.
“She can lodge in the town,” the Changer said, with some relief.
“While we talk behind her back?”
“You won’t bring her into the Council Room?” the Changer said in disbelief.
“The Archmage brought the boy Arren there.”
“But—But Arren was King Lebannen—”
“And who is Irian?”
The Changer stood silent, and then he said quietly, with respect, “My friend, what is it you think to do, to learn? What is she, that you ask this for her?”
“Who are we,” said the Doorkeeper, “that we refuse her without knowing what she is?”
* * *
“A woman,” said the Master Summoner.
Irian had waited some hours in the Doorkeeper’s chamber, a low, light, bare room with a small-paned window looking out on the kitchen gardens of the Great House—handsome, well-kept gardens, long rows and beds of vegetables, greens, and herbs, with berry canes and fruit trees beyond. She saw a burly, dark-skinned man and two boys come out and weed one of the vegetable plots. It eased her mind to watch their careful work. She wished she could help them at it. The waiting and the strangeness were very difficult. Once the Doorkeeper came in, bringing her a plate with cold meat and bread and scallions, and she ate because he told her to eat, but chewing and swallowing was hard work. The gardeners went away and there was nothing to watch out the window but the cabbages growing and the sparrows hopping, and now and then a hawk far up in the sky, and the wind moving softly in the tops of tall trees, on beyond the gardens.
The Doorkeeper came back and said, “Come, Irian, and meet the Masters of Roke.” Her heart began to go at a carthorse gallop. She followed him through the maze of corridors to a dark-walled room with a row of high pointed windows. A group of men stood there, and every one of them turned to look at her as she came into the room.
“Irian of Way, my lords,” said the Doorkeeper. They were all silent. He motioned her to come farther into the room. “The Master Changer you have met,” he said. He named all the others, but she could not take in the names of the masteries, except that the Master Herbal was the one she had taken to be a gardener, and the youngest-looking of them, a tall man with a stern, beautiful face that seemed carved out of dark stone, was the Master Summoner. It was he who spoke, when the Doorkeeper was done. “A woman,” he said.
The Doorkeeper nodded once, mild as ever.
“This is what you brought the Nine together for? This and no more?”
“This and no more,” said the Doorkeeper.
“Dragons have been seen flying above the Inmost Sea. Roke has no Archmage, and the islands no true-crowned king. There is real work to do,” the Summoner said, and his voice too was like stone, cold and heavy. “When will we do it?”
There was an uncomfortable silence, as the Doorkeeper did not speak. At last a slight, bright-eyed man who wore a red tunic under
his grey wizard’s cloak said, “Do you bring this woman into the House as a student, Master Doorkeeper?”
“If I did, it would be up to you all to approve or disapprove,” said he.
“Do you?” asked the man in the red tunic, smiling a little.
“Master Hand,” said the Doorkeeper, “she asked to enter as a student, and I saw no reason to deny her.”
“Every reason,” said the Summoner.
A man with a deep, clear voice spoke: “It’s not our judgment that prevails, but the Rule of Roke, which we are sworn to follow.”
“I doubt the Doorkeeper would defy it lightly,” said one of them Irian had not noticed till he spoke, though he was a big man, white-haired, rawboned, and crag-faced. Unlike the others, he looked at her as he spoke. “I am Kurremkarmerruk,” he said to her. “As the Master Namer here, I make free with names, my own included. Who named you, Irian?”
“The witch Rose of our village, lord,” she answered, standing straight, though her voice came out high-pitched and rough.
“Is she misnamed?” the Doorkeeper asked the Namer.
Kurremkarmerruk shook his head. “No. But…”
The Summoner, who had been standing with his back to them, facing the fireless hearth, turned round. “The names witches give each other are not our concern here,” he said. “If you have some interest in this woman, Doorkeeper, it should be pursued outside these walls—outside the door you vowed to keep. She has no place here nor ever will. She can bring only confusion, dissension, and further weakness among us. I will speak no longer and say nothing else in her presence. The only answer to conscious error is silence.”
“Silence is not enough, my lord,” said one who had not spoken before. To Irian’s eyes he was very strange-looking, having pale reddish skin, long pale hair, and narrow eyes the color of ice. His speech was also strange, stiff and somehow deformed. “Silence is the answer to everything, and to nothing,” he said.
The Summoner lifted his noble, dark face and looked across the room at the pale man, but did not speak. Without a word or gesture he turned away again and left the room. As he walked slowly past Irian, she shrank back from him. It was as if a grave had opened, a winter grave, cold, wet, dark. Her breath stuck in her throat. She gasped a little for air. When she recovered herself she saw the Changer and the pale man both watching her intently.
The one with a voice like a deep-toned bell looked at her too, and spoke to her with a plain, kind severity. “As I see it, the man who brought you here meant to do harm, but you do not. Yet being here, Irian, you do us and yourself harm. Everything not in its own place does harm. A note sung, however well sung, wrecks the tune it isn’t part of. Women teach women. Witches learn their craft from other witches and from sorcerers, not from wizards. What we teach here is in a language not for women’s tongues. The young heart rebels against such laws, calling them unjust, arbitrary. But they are true laws, founded not on what we want, but on what is. The just and the unjust, the foolish and the wise, all must obey them, or waste life and come to grief.”
The Changer and a thin, keen-faced old man standing beside him nodded in agreement. The Master Hand said, “Irian, I am sorry. Ivory was my pupil. If I taught him badly, I did worse in sending him away. I thought him insignificant, and so harmless. But he lied to you and beguiled you. You must not feel shame. The fault was his, and mine.”
“I am not ashamed,” Irian said. She looked at them all. She felt that she should thank them for their courtesy but the words would not come. She nodded stiffly to them, turned round, and strode out of the room.
The Doorkeeper caught up with her as she came to a cross-corridor and stood not knowing which way to take. “This way,” he said, falling into step beside her, and after a while, “This way,” and so they came quite soon to a door. It was not made of horn and ivory. It was uncarved oak, black and massive, with an iron bolt worn thin with age. “This is the back door,” the mage said, unbolting it. “Medra’s Gate, they used to call it. I keep both doors.” He opened it. The brightness of the day dazzled Irian’s eyes. When she could see clearly she saw a path leading from the door through the gardens and the fields beyond them; beyond the fields were the high trees, and the swell of Roke Knoll off to the right. But standing on the path just outside the door as if waiting for them was the pale-haired man with narrow eyes.
“Patterner,” said the Doorkeeper, not at all surprised.
“Where do you send this lady?” said the Patterner in his strange speech.
“Nowhere,” said the Doorkeeper. “I let her out as I let her in, at her desire.”
“Will you come with me?” the Patterner said to Irian.
She looked at him and at the Doorkeeper and said nothing.
“I don’t live in this House. In any house,” the Patterner said. “I live there. The Grove. —Ah,” he said, turning suddenly. The big, white-haired man, Kurremkarmerruk the Namer, was standing just down the path. He had not been standing there until the other mage said “Ah.” Irian stared from one to the other in blank bewilderment.
“This is only a seeming of me, a presentment, a sending,” the old man said to her. “I don’t live here either. Miles off.” He gestured northward. “You might come there when you’re done with the Patterner here. I’d like to learn more about your name.” He nodded to the other two mages and was not there. A bumblebee buzzed heavily through the air where he had been.
Irian looked down at the ground. After a long time she said, clearing her throat, not looking up, “Is it true I do harm being here?”
“I don’t know,” said the Doorkeeper.
“In the Grove is no harm,” said the Patterner, “Come on. There is an old house, a hut. Old, dirty. You don’t care, eh? Stay awhile. You can see.” And he set off down the path between the parsley and the bush-beans. She looked at the Doorkeeper; he smiled a little. She followed the pale-haired man.
They walked a half mile or so. The knoll rose up full in the western sun on their right. Behind them the School sprawled grey and many-roofed on its lower hill. The grove of trees towered before them now. She saw oak and willow, chestnut and ash, and tall evergreens. From the dense, sun-shot darkness of the trees a stream ran out, green-banked, with many brown trodden places where cattle and sheep went down to drink or to cross over. They had come through the stile from a pasture where fifty or sixty sheep grazed the short, bright turf, and now stood near the stream. “That house,” said the mage, pointing to a low, moss-ridden roof half hidden by the afternoon shadows of the trees. “Stay tonight. You will?”
He asked her to stay, he did not tell her to. All she could do was nod.
“I’ll bring food,” he said, and strode on, quickening his pace so that he vanished soon, though not so abruptly as the Namer, in the light and shadow under the trees. Irian watched till he was certainly gone and then made her way through high grass and weeds to the little house.
It looked very old. It had been rebuilt and rebuilt again, but not for a long time. Nor had anyone lived in it for a long time, from the feel of it. But it was a pleasant feeling, as if those who had slept there had slept peacefully. As for decrepit walls, mice, cobwebs, and scant furniture, none of that was new to Irian, She found a bald broom and swept out a bit. She unrolled her blanket on the plank bed. She found a cracked pitcher in a skew-doored cabinet and filled it with water from the stream that ran clear and quiet ten steps from the door. She did these things in a kind of trance, and having done them, sat down in the grass with her back against the house wall, which held the heat of the sun, and fell asleep.
When she woke, the Master Patterner was sitting nearby, and a basket was on the grass between them.
“Hungry? Eat,” he said.
“I’ll eat later, sir. Thank you,” said Irian.
“I am hungry now,” said the mage. He took a hardboiled egg from the basket, cracked, shelled, and ate it.
“They call this the Otter’s House,” he said. “Very old. As old as the Gr
eat House. Everything is old, here. We are old—the Masters.”
“You’re not,” Irian said. She thought him between thirty and forty, though it was hard to tell; she kept thinking his hair was white, because it was not black.
“But I came far. Miles can be years. I am Kargish, from Karego. You know?”
“The Hoary Men!” said Irian, staring openly at him. All Daisy’s ballads of the Hoary Men who sailed out of the east to lay the land waste and spit innocent babes on their lances, and the story of how Erreth-Akbe lost the Ring of Peace, and the new songs and the King’s Tale about how Archmage Sparrowhawk had gone among the Hoary Men and come back with that ring—
“Hoary?” said the Patterner.
“Frosty. White,” she said, looking away, embarrassed.
“Ah.” Presently he said, “The Master Summoner is not old.” And she got a sidelong look from those narrow, ice-colored eyes.
She said nothing.
“I think you feared him.”
When she said nothing, and some time had passed, he said, “In the shadow of these trees is no harm. Only truth.”
“When he passed me,” she said in a low voice, “I saw a grave.”
“Ah,” said the Patterner.
He had made a little heap of bits of eggshell on the ground by his knee. He arranged the white fragments into a curve, then closed it into a circle. “Yes,” he said, studying his eggshells, then, scratching up the earth a bit, he neatly and delicately buried them. He dusted off his hands. Again his glance flicked to Irian and away.
“You have been a witch, Irian?”
“But you have some knowledge.”
“No. I don’t. Rose wouldn’t teach me. She said she didn’t dare. Because I had power but she didn’t know what it was.”
“Your Rose is a wise flower,” said the mage, unsmiling.
“But I know I have—I have something to do, to be. That’s why I wanted to come here. To find out. On the Isle of the Wise.”
She was getting used to his strange face now and was able to read it. She thought that he looked sad. His way of speaking was harsh, quick, dry, peaceable. “The men of the Isle are not always wise, eh?” he said. “Maybe the Doorkeeper.” He looked at her now, not glancing but squarely, his eyes catching and holding hers. “But there. In the wood. Under the trees. There is the old wisdom. Never old. I can’t teach you. I can take you into the Grove.” After a minute he stood up. “Yes?”