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Legends 3

Legends 3

Legends 3 17


  “Ah,” said the Patterner.

  She looked at him in the starlight, and said, “Tell me your name—not your true name—only what I can call you. When I think of you.”

  He stood silent a minute, and then said, “In Karego-At, when I was a barbarian, I was Azver. In Hardic, that is a banner of war.”

  “Thank you,” she said.

  * * *

  She lay awake in the little house, feeling the air stifling and the ceiling pressing down on her, then slept suddenly and deeply. She woke as suddenly when the east was just getting light. She went to the door to see what she loved best to see, the sky before sunrise. Looking down from it she saw Azver the Patterner rolled up in his grey cloak, sound asleep on the ground before her doorstep. She withdrew noiselessly into the house. In a little while she saw him going back to his woods, walking a bit stiffly and scratching his head as he went, as people do when half awake.

  She got to work scraping down the inner wall of the house, readying it to plaster. But before the sun was in the windows, there was a knock at her open door. Outside was the man she had thought was a gardener, the Master Herbal, looking solid and stolid, like a brown ox, beside the gaunt, grim-faced old Namer.

  She came to the door and muttered some kind of greeting. They daunted her, these Masters of Roke, and also their presence meant that the peaceful time was over, the days of walking in the silent summer forest with the Patterner. That had come to an end last night. She knew it, but she did not want to know it.

  “The Patterner sent for us,” said the Master Herbal. He looked uncomfortable. Noticing a clump of weeds under the window, he said, “That’s velver. Somebody from Havnor planted it here. Didn’t know there was any on the island.” He examined it attentively, and put some seedpods into his pouch.

  Irian was studying the Namer covertly but equally attentively, trying to see if she could tell if he was what he had called a sending or was there in flesh and blood. Nothing about him appeared insubstantial, but she thought he was not there, and when he stepped into the slanting sunlight and cast no shadow, she knew it.

  “Is it a long way from where you live, sir?” she asked.

  He nodded. “Left myself halfway,” he said. He looked up; the Patterner was coming toward them, wide awake now.

  He greeted them and asked, “The Doorkeeper will come?”

  “Said he thought he’d better keep the doors,” said the Herbal. He closed his many-pocketed pouch carefully and looked around at the others. “But I don’t know if he can keep a lid on the anthill.”

  “What’s up?” said Kurremkarmerruk. “I’ve been reading about dragons. Not paying attention. But all the boys I had studying at the Tower left.”

  “Summoned,” said the Herbal, dryly.

  “So?” said the Namer, more dryly.

  “I can tell you only how it seems to me,” the Herbal said, reluctant, uncomfortable.

  “Do that,” the old mage said.

  The Herbal still hesitated. “This lady is not of our council,” he said at last.

  “She is of mine,” said Azver.

  “She came to this place at this time,” the Namer said. “And to this place, at this time, no one comes by chance. All any of us knows is how it seems to us. There are names behind names, my Lord Healer.”

  The dark-eyed mage bowed his head at that, and said, “Very well,” evidently with relief at accepting their judgment over his own. “Thorion has been much with the other Masters, and with the young men. Secret meetings, inner circles. Rumors, whispers. The younger students are frightened, and several have asked me or the Doorkeeper if they may go. And we’d let them go. But there’s no ship in port, and none has come into Thwil Bay since the one that brought you, lady, and sailed again next day for Wathort. The Windkey keeps the Roke-wind against all. If the king himself should come, he could not land on Roke.”

  “Until the wind changes, eh?” said the Patterner.

  “Thorion says Lebannen is not truly king, since no Archmage crowned him.”

  “Nonsense! Not history!” said the old Namer. “The first Archmage came centuries after the last king. Roke ruled in the kings’ stead.”

  “Ah,” said the Patterner. “Hard for the housekeeper to give up the keys when the owner comes home.”

  “The Ring of Peace is healed,” said the Herbal, in his patient, troubled voice, “the prophecy is fulfilled, the son of Morred is crowned, and yet we have no peace. Where have we gone wrong? Why can we not find the balance?”

  “What does Thorion intend?” asked the Namer.

  “To bring Lebannen here,” said the Herbal. “The young men talk of ‘the true crown.’ A second coronation, here. By the Archmage Thorion.”

  “Avert!” Irian blurted out, making the sign to prevent word from becoming deed. None of the men smiled, and the Herbal belatedly made the same gesture.

  “How does he hold them all?” the Namer said. “Herbal, you were here when Sparrowhawk and Thorion were challenged by Irioth. His gift was as great as Thorion’s, I think. He used it to use men, to control them wholly. Is that what Thorion does?”

  “I don’t know,” the Herbal said. “I can only tell you that when I’m with him, when I’m in the Great House, I feel that nothing can be done but what has been done. That nothing will change. Nothing will grow. That no matter what cures I use, the sickness will end in death.” He looked around at them all like a hurt ox. “And I think it is true. There is no way to regain the Equilibrium but by holding still. We have gone too far. For the Archmage and Lebannen to go bodily into death, and return—it was not right. They broke a law that must not be broken. It was to restore the law that Thorion returned.”

  “What, to send them back into death?” the Namer said, and the Patterner, “Who is to say what is the law?”

  “There is a wall,” the Herbal said.

  “That wall is not as deep rooted as my trees,” said the Patterner.

  “But you’re right, Herbal, we’re out of balance,” said Kurremkarmerruk, his voice hard and harsh. “When and where did we begin to go too far? What have we forgotten, turned our back on, overlooked?”

  Irian looked from one to the other.

  “When the balance is wrong, holding still is not good. It must get more wrong,” said the Patterner. “Until—” He made a quick gesture of reversal with his open hands, down going up and up down.

  “What’s more wrong than to summon oneself back from death?” said the Namer.

  “Thorion was the best of us all—a brave heart, a noble mind.” The Herbal spoke almost in anger. “Sparrowhawk loved him. So did we all.”

  “Conscience caught him,” said the Namer. “Conscience told him he alone could set things right. To do it, he denied his death. So he denies life.”

  “And who shall stand against him?” said the Patterner. “I can only hide in my woods.”

  “And I in my tower,” said the Namer. “And you, Herbal, and the Doorkeeper, are in the trap, in the Great House. The walls we built to keep all evil out. Or in, as the case may be.”

  “We are four against him,” said the Patterner.

  “They are five against us,” said the Herbal.

  “Has it come to this,” the Namer said, “that we stand at the edge of the forest Segoy planted and talk of how to destroy one another?”

  “Yes,” said the Patterner. “What goes too long unchanged destroys itself. The forest is forever because it dies and dies and so lives. I will not let this dead hand touch me. Or touch the king who brought us hope. A promise was made, made through me, I spoke it—‘A woman on Gont’—I will not see that word forgotten.”

  “Then should we go to Gont?” said the Herbal, caught in Azver’s passion. “Sparrowhawk is there.”

  “Tenar of the Ring is there,” said Azver.

  “Maybe our hope is there,” said the Namer.

  They stood silent, uncertain, trying to cherish hope.

  Irian stood silent too, but her hope sank down, rep
laced by a sense of shame and utter insignificance. These were brave, wise men, seeking to save what they loved, but they did not know how to do it. And she had no share in their wisdom, no part in their decisions. She drew away from them, and they did not notice. She walked on, going toward the Thwilburn where it ran out of the wood over a little fall of boulders. The water was bright in the morning sunlight and made a happy noise. She wanted to cry but she had never been good at crying. She stood and watched the water, and her shame turned slowly into anger.

  She came back toward the three men, and said, “Azver.”

  He turned to her, startled, and came forward a little.

  “Why did you break your Rule for me? Was it fair to me, who can never be what you are?”

  Azver frowned. “The Doorkeeper admitted you because you asked,” he said. “I brought you to the Grove because the leaves of the trees spoke your name to me before you ever came here. Irian, they said, Irian. Why you came I don’t know, but not by chance. The Summoner too knows that.”

  “Maybe I came to destroy him.”

  He looked at her and said nothing.

  “Maybe I came to destroy Roke.”

  His pale eyes blazed then. “Try!”

  A long shudder went through her as she stood facing him. She felt herself larger than he was, larger than she was, enormously larger. She could reach out one finger and destroy him. He stood there in his small, brave, brief humanity, his mortality, defenseless. She drew a long, long breath. She stepped back from him.

  The sense of huge strength was draining out of her. She turned her head a little and looked down, surprised to see her own brown arm, her rolled-up sleeve, the grass springing cool and green around her sandaled feet. She looked back at the Patterner and he still seemed a fragile being. She pitied and honored him. She wanted to warn him of the peril he was in. But no words came to her at all. She turned round and went back to the streambank by the little falls. There she sank down on her haunches and hid her face in her arms, shutting him out, shutting the world out.

  The voices of the mages talking were like the voices of the stream running. The stream said its words and they said theirs, but none of them were the right words.

  4. Irian

  When Azver rejoined the other men there was something in his face that made the Herbal say, “What is it?”

  “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe we should not leave Roke.”

  “Probably we can’t,” said the Herbal. “If the Windkey locks the winds against us…”

  “I’m going back to where I am,” Kurremkarmerruk said abruptly. “I don’t like leaving myself about like an old shoe. I’ll join you this evening.” And he was gone.

  “I’d like to walk under your trees a bit, Azver,” the Herbal said, with a long sigh.

  “Go on, Deyala. I’ll stay here.” The Herbal went off. Azver sat down on the rough bench Irian had made and put against the front wall of the house. He looked upstream at her, crouching motionless on the bank. Sheep in the field between them and the Great House blatted softly. The morning sun was getting hot.

  His father had named him Banner of War. He had come west, leaving all he knew behind him, and had learned his true name from the trees of the Immanent Grove, and become the Patterner of Roke. All this year the patterns of the shadows and the branches and the roots, all the silent language of his forest, had spoken of destruction, of transgression, of all things changed. Now it was upon them, he knew. It had come with her.

  She was in his charge, in his care, he had known that when he saw her. Though she came to destroy Roke, as she had said, he must serve her. He did so willingly. She had walked with him in the forest, tall, awkward, fearless; she had put aside the thorny arms of brambles with her big, careful hand. Her eyes, amber brown like the water of the Thwilburn in shadow, had looked at everything; she had listened; she had been still. He wanted to protect her and knew he could not. He had given her a little warmth when she was cold. He had nothing else to give her. Where she must go she would go. She did not understand danger. She had no wisdom but her innocence, no armor but her anger. Who are you, Irian? he said to her, watching her crouched there like an animal locked in its muteness.

  His friend came back from the woods and sat down beside him on the bench awhile. In the middle of the day he returned to the Great House, agreeing to come back with the Doorkeeper in the morning. They would ask all the other Masters to meet with them in the Grove. “But he won’t come,” Deyala said, and Azver nodded.

  All day he stayed near the Otter’s House, keeping watch on Irian, making her eat a little with him. She came to the house, but when they had eaten she went back to her place on the streambank and sat there motionless. And he too felt a lethargy in his own body and mind, a stupidity, which he fought against but could not shake off. He thought of the Summoner’s eyes, and then it was he that felt cold, cold through, though he was sitting in the full heat of the summer’s day. We are ruled by the dead, he thought. The thought would not leave him.

  He was grateful to see Kurremkarmerruk coming slowly down the bank of the Thwilburn from the north. The old man waded through the stream barefoot, holding his shoes in one hand and his tall staff in the other, snarling when he missed his footing on the rocks. He sat down on the near bank to dry his feet and put his shoes back on. “When I go back to the Tower,” he said, “I’ll ride. Hire a carter, buy a mule. I’m old, Azver.”

  “Come up to the house,” the Patterner said, and he set out water and food for the Namer.

  “Where’s the girl?”

  “Asleep.” Azver nodded toward where she lay, curled up in the grass above the little falls.

  The heat of the day was beginning to lessen and the shadows of the Grove lay across the grass, though the Otter’s House was still in sunlight. Kurremkarmerruk sat on the bench with his back against the house wall, and Azver on the doorstep.

  “We’ve come to the end of it,” the old man said out of silence.

  Azver nodded, in silence.

  “What brought you here, Azver?” the Namer asked. “I’ve often thought of asking you. A long, long way to come. And you have no wizards in the Kargish lands, I think.”

  “No. But we have the things wizardry is made of. Water, stones, trees, words…”

  “But not the words of the Making.”

  “No. Nor dragons.”

  “Never?”

  “Only in some very, very old tales. Before the gods were. Before men were. Before men were men, they were dragons.”

  “Now that is interesting,” said the old scholar, sitting up straighter. “I told you I was reading about dragons. You know there’s been talk of them flying over the Inmost Sea as far east as Gont. That was no doubt Kalessin taking Ged home, multiplied by sailors making a good story better. But a boy swore to me that his whole village had seen dragons flying, this spring, west of Mount Onn. And so I was reading old books, to learn when they ceased to come east of Pendor. And in one I came on your story, or something like it. That men and dragons were all one kind, but they quarreled. Some went west and some east, and they became two kinds, and forgot they were ever one.”

  “We went farthest east,” Azver said. “But do you know what the leader of an army is, in my tongue?”

  “Erdan,” said the Namer promptly, and laughed. “Drake. Dragon.…”

  After a while he said, “I could chase an etymology on the brink of doom.… But I think, Azver, that that’s where we are. We won’t defeat him.”

  “He has the advantage,” Azver said, very dry.

  “He does. So.… So therefore, admitting it unlikely, admitting it impossible—if we did defeat him—if he went back into death and left us here alive—what would we do? What comes next?”

  After a long time, Azver said, “I have no idea.”

  “Your leaves and shadows tell you nothing?”

  “Change, change,” said the Patterner. “Transformation.”

  He looked up suddenly. The sheep, who ha
d been grouped near the stile, were scurrying off, and someone was coming along the path from the Great House.

  “A group of young men,” said the Herbal, breathless, as he came to them. “Thorion’s army. Coming here. To take the girl. To send her away.” He stood and drew breath. “The Doorkeeper was speaking with them when I left. I think—”

  “Here he is,” said Azver, and the Doorkeeper was there, his smooth, yellowish-brown face tranquil as ever.

  “I told them,” he said, “that if they went out Medra’s Gate this day, they’d never go back through it into a house they knew. Some of them were for turning back, then. But the Windkey and the Chanter urged them on. They’ll be along soon.”

  They could hear men’s voices in the fields east of the Grove.

  Azver went quickly to where Irian lay beside the stream, and the others followed him. She roused up and got to her feet, looking dull and dazed. They were standing around her, a kind of guard, when the group of thirty or more men came past the little house and approached them. They were mostly older students; there were five or six wizard’s staffs among the crowd, and the Master Windkey led them. His thin, keen old face looked strained and weary, but he greeted the four mages courteously by their titles. They greeted him, and Azver took the word—“Come into the Grove, Master Windkey,” he said, “and we will wait there for the others of the Nine.”

  “First we must settle the matter that divides us,” said the Windkey.

  “That is a stony matter,” said the Namer.

  “The woman with you defies the Rule of Roke,” the Windkey said. “She must leave. A boat is waiting at the dock to take her, and the wind, I can tell you, will stand fair for Way.”

  “I have no doubt of that, my lord,” said Azver, “but I doubt she will go.”

  “My Lord Patterner, will you defy our Rule and our community, that has been one so long, upholding order against the forces of ruin? Will it be you, of all men, who break the pattern?”

  “It is not glass, to break,” Azver said. “It is breath, it is fire.”

  It cost him a great effort to speak.