Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

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  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and

  incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used

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  living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 1990 by Ursula K. Le Guin

  Cover art copyright © 2004 by SCI FI Channel, a division of NBC

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  ISBN: 1-4165-0963-1

  ISBN: 978-1-4165-0963-9

  eISBN: 978-1-4391-0689-1

  First Pocket Books trade paperback edition November 2004

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  Only in silence the word,

  only in dark the light,

  only in dying life:

  bright the hawk’s flight

  on the empty sky.

  —The Creation of Éa

  AFTER FARMER FLINT OF THE MIDDLE Valley died, his widow stayed on at the farmhouse. Her son had gone to sea and her daughter had married a merchant of Valmouth, so she lived alone at Oak Farm. People said she had been some kind of great person in the foreign land she came from, and indeed the mage Ogion used to stop by Oak Farm to see her; but that didn’t count for much, since Ogion visited all sorts of nobodies.

  She had a foreign name, but Flint had called her Goha, which is what they call a little white web-spinning spider on Gont. That name fit well enough, she being white-skinned and small and a good spinner of goats-wool and sheep-fleece. So now she was Flint’s widow, Goha, mistress of a flock of sheep and the land to pasture them, four fields, an orchard of pears, two tenants’ cottages, the old stone farmhouse under the oaks, and the family graveyard over the hill where Flint lay, earth in his earth.

  “I’ve generally lived near tombstones,” she said to her daughter.

  “Oh, mother, come live in town with us!” said Apple, but the widow would not leave her solitude.

  “Maybe later, when there are babies and you’ll need a hand,” she said, looking with pleasure at her grey-eyed daughter. “But not now. You don’t need me. And I like it here.”

  When Apple had gone back to her young husband, the widow closed the door and stood on the stone-flagged floor of the kitchen of the farmhouse. It was dusk, but she did not light the lamp, thinking of her own husband lighting the lamp: the hands, the spark, the intent, dark face in the catching glow. The house was silent.

  “I used to live in a silent house, alone,” she thought. “I will do so again.” She lighted the lamp.

  In a late afternoon of the first hot weather, the widow’s old friend Lark came out from the village, hurrying along the dusty lane. “Goha,” she said, seeing her weeding in the bean patch, “Goha, it’s a bad thing. It’s a very bad thing. Can you come?”

  “Yes,” the widow said. “What would the bad thing be?”

  Lark caught her breath. She was a heavy, plain, middle-aged woman, whose name did not fit her body any more. But once she had been a slight and pretty girl, and she had befriended Goha, paying no attention to the villagers who gossiped about that white-faced Kargish witch Flint had brought home; and friends they had been ever since.

  “A burned child,” she said.



  Goha went to shut the farmhouse door, and they set off along the lane, Lark talking as they went. She was short of breath and sweating. Tiny seeds of the heavy grasses that lined the lane stuck to her cheeks and forehead, and she brushed at them as she talked. “They’ve been camped in the river meadows all the month. A man, passed himself off as a tinker, but he’s a thief, and a woman with him. And another man, younger, hanging around with them most of the time. Not working, any of ’em. Filching and begging and living off the woman. Boys from downriver were bringing them farmstuff to get at her. You know how it is now, that kind of thing. And gangs on the roads and coming by farms. If I were you, I’d lock my door, these days. So this one, this younger fellow, comes into the village, and I was out in front of our house, and he says, ‘The child’s not well.’ I’d barely seen a child with them, a little ferret of a thing, slipped out of sight so quick I wasn’t sure it was there at all. So I said, ‘Not well? A fever?’ And the fellow says, ‘She hurt herself, lighting the fire,’ and then before I’d got myself ready to go with him he’d made off. Gone. And when I went out there by the river, the other pair was gone too. Cleared out. Nobody. All their traps and trash gone too. There was just their campfire, still smoldering, and just by it—partly in it—on the ground—”

  Lark stopped talking for several steps. She looked straight ahead, not at Goha.

  “They hadn’t even put a blanket over her,” she said.

  She strode on.

  “She’d been pushed into the fire while it was burning,” she said. She swallowed, and brushed at the sticking seeds on her hot face. “I’d say maybe she fell, but if she’d been awake she’d have tried to save herself. They beat her and thought they’d killed her, I guess, and wanted to hide what they’d done to her, so they—”

  She stopped again, went on again.

  “Maybe it wasn’t him. Maybe he pulled her out. He came to get help for her, after all. It must have been the father. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Who’s to know? Who’s to care? Who’s to care for the child? Why do we do what we do?”

  Goha asked in a low voice, “Will she live?”

  “She might,” Lark said. “She might well live.”

  After a while, as they neared the village, she said, “I don’t know why I had to come to you. Ivy’s there. There’s nothing to be done.”

  “I could go to Valmouth, for Beech.”

  “Nothing he could do. It’s beyond... beyond help. I got her warm. Ivy’s given her a potion and a sleeping charm. I carried her home. She must be six or seven but she didn’t weigh what a two-year-old would. She never really waked. But she makes a sort of gasping.... I know there isn’t anything you can do. But I wanted you.”

  “I want to come,” Goha said. But before they entered Lark’s house, she shut her eyes and held her breath a moment in dread.

  Lark’s children had been sent outdoors, and the house was silent. The child lay unconscious on Lark’s bed. The village witch, Ivy, had smeared an ointment of witch hazel and heal-all on the lesser burns, but had not touched the right side of the face and head and the right hand, which had been charred to the bone. She had drawn the rune Pirr above the bed, and left it at that.

  “Can you do anything?” Lark asked in a whisper.

  Goha stood looking down at the burned child. Her hands were still. She shook her head.

  “You learned healing, up on the mountai
n, didn’t you?” Pain and shame and rage spoke through Lark, begging for relief.

  “Even Ogion couldn’t heal this,” the widow said.

  Lark turned away, biting her lip, and wept. Goha held her, stroking her grey hair. They held each other.

  The witch Ivy came in from the kitchen, scowling at the sight of Goha. Though the widow cast no charms and worked no spells, it was said that when she first came to Gont she had lived at Re Albi as a ward of the mage, and that she knew the Archmage of Roke, and no doubt had foreign and uncanny powers. Jealous of her prerogative, the witch went to the bed and busied herself beside it, making a mound of something in a dish and setting it afire so that it smoked and reeked while she muttered a curing charm over and over. The rank herbal smoke made the burned child cough and half rouse, flinching and shuddering. She began to make a gasping noise, quick, short, scraping breaths. Her one eye seemed to look up at Goha.

  Goha stepped forward and took the child’s left hand in hers. She spoke in her own language. “I served them and I left them,” she said. “I will not let them have you.”

  The child stared at her or at nothing, trying to breathe, and trying again to breathe, and trying again to breathe.

  IT WAS MORE THAN A YEAR LATER, in the hot and spacious days after the Long Dance, that a messenger came down the road from the north to Middle Valley asking for the widow Goha. People in the village put him on the path, and he came to Oak Farm late in the afternoon. He was a sharp-faced, quick-eyed man. He looked at Goha and at the sheep in the fold beyond her and said, “Fine lambs. The Mage of Re Albi sends for you.”

  “He sent you?” Goha inquired, disbelieving and amused. Ogion, when he wanted her, had quicker and finer messengers: an eagle calling, or only his own voice saying her name quietly—Will you come?

  The man nodded. “He’s sick,” he said. “Will you be selling off any of the ewe lambs?”

  “I might. You can talk to the shepherd if you like. Over by the fence there. Do you want supper? You can stay the night here if you want, but I’ll be on my way.”


  This time there was no amusement in her look of mild scorn. “I won’t be waiting about,” she said. She spoke for a minute with the old shepherd, Clearbrook, and then turned away, going up to the house built into the hillside by the oak grove. The messenger followed her.

  In the stone-floored kitchen, a child whom he looked at once and quickly looked away from served him milk, bread, cheese, and green onions, and then went off, never saying a word. She reappeared beside the woman, both shod for travel and carrying light leather packs. The messenger followed them out, and the widow locked the farmhouse door. They all set off together, he on his business, for the message from Ogion had been a mere favor added to the serious matter of buying a breeding ram for the Lord of Re Albi; and the woman and the burned child bade him farewell where the lane turned off to the village. They went on up the road he had come down, northward and then west into the foothills of Gont Mountain.

  They walked until the long summer twilight began to darken. They left the narrow road then and made camp in a dell down by a stream that ran quick and quiet, reflecting the pale evening sky between thickets of scrub willow. Goha made a bed of dry grass and willow leaves, hidden among the thickets like a hare’s form, and rolled the child up in a blanket on it. “Now,” she said, “you’re a cocoon. In the morning you’ll be a butterfly and hatch out.” She lighted no fire, but lay in her cloak beside the child and watched the stars shine one by one and listened to what the stream said quietly, until she slept.

  When they woke in the cold before the dawn, she made a small fire and heated a pan of water to make oatmeal gruel for the child and herself. The little ruined butterfly came shivering from her cocoon, and Goha cooled the pan in the dewy grass so that the child could hold it and drink from it. The east was brightening above the high, dark shoulder of the mountain when they set off again.

  They walked all day at the pace of a child who tired easily. The woman’s heart yearned to make haste, but she walked slowly. She was not able to carry the child any long distance, and so to make the way easier for her she told her stories.

  “We’re going to see a man, an old man, called Ogion,” she told her as they trudged along the narrow road that wound upward through the forests. “He’s a wise man, and a wizard. Do you know what a wizard is, Therru?”

  If the child had had a name, she did not know it or would not say it. Goha called her Therru.

  She shook her head.

  “Well, neither do I,” said the woman. “But I know what they can do. When I was young—older than you, but young—Ogion was my father, the way I’m your mother now. He looked after me and tried to teach me what I needed to know. He stayed with me when he’d rather have been wandering by himself. He liked to walk, all along these roads like we’re doing now, and in the forests, in the wild places. He went everywhere on the mountain, looking at things, listening. He always listened, so they called him the Silent. But he used to talk to me. He told me stories. Not only the great stories everybody learns, the heroes and the kings and the things that happened long ago and far away, but stories only he knew.” She walked on a way before she went on. “I’ll tell you one of those stories now.

  “One of the things wizards can do is turn into something else—take another form. Shape-changing, they call it. An ordinary sorcerer can make himself look like somebody else, or like an animal, just so you don’t know for a minute what you’re seeing—as if he’d put on a mask. But the wizards and mages can do more than that. They can be the mask, they can truly change into another being. So a wizard, if he wanted to cross the sea and had no boat, might turn himself into a gull and fly across. But he has to be careful. If he stays a bird, he begins to think what a bird thinks and forget what a man thinks, and he might fly off and be a gull and never a man again. So they say there was a great wizard once who liked to turn himself into a bear, and did it too often, and became a bear, and killed his own little son; and they had to hunt him down and kill him. But Ogion used to joke about it, too. Once when the mice got into his pantry and ruined the cheese, he caught one with a tiny mousetrap spell, and he held the mouse up like this and looked it in the eye and said, ‘I told you not to play mouse!’ And for a minute I thought he meant it....

  “Well, this story is about something like shape-changing, but Ogion said it was beyond all shape-changing he knew, because it was about being two things, two beings, at once, and in the same form, and he said that this is beyond the power of wizards. But he met with it in a little village around on the northwest coast of Gont, a place called Kemay. There was a woman there, an old fisherwoman, not a witch, not learned; but she made songs. That’s how Ogion came to hear of her. He was wandering there, the way he did, going along the coast, listening; and he heard somebody singing, mending a net or caulking a boat and singing as they worked:

  Farther west than west

  beyond the land

  my people are dancing

  on the other wind.

  “It was the tune and the words both that Ogion heard, and he had never heard them before, so he asked where the song came from. And from one answer to another, he went along to where somebody said, ‘Oh, that’s one of the songs of the Woman of Kemay.’ So he went on along to Kemay, the little fishing port where the woman lived, and he found her house down by the harbor. And he knocked on the door with his mage’s staff. And she came and opened the door.

  “Now you know, you remember when we talked about names, how children have child-names, and everybody has a use-name, and maybe a nickname too. Different people may call you differently. You’re my Therru, but maybe you’ll have a Hardic use-name when you get older. But also, when you come into your womanhood, you will, if all be rightly done, be given your true name. It will be given you by one of true power, a wizard or a mage, because that is their power, their art—naming. And that’s the name you’ll maybe never tell another person, because you
r own self is in your true name. It is your strength, your power; but to another it is risk and burden, only to be given in utmost need and trust. But a great mage, knowing all names, may know it without your telling him.

  “So Ogion, who is a great mage, stood at the door of the little house there by the seawall, and the old woman opened the door. Then Ogion stepped back, and he held up his oak staff, and put up his hand, too, like this, as if trying to protect himself from the heat of a fire, and in his amazement and fear he said her true name aloud—‘Dragon!’

  “In that first moment, he told me, it was no woman he saw at all in the doorway, but a blaze and glory of fire, and a glitter of gold scales and talons, and the great eyes of a dragon. They say you must not look into a dragon’s eyes.

  “Then that was gone, and he saw no dragon, but an old woman standing there in the doorway, a bit stooped, a tall old fisherwoman with big hands. She looked at him as he did at her. And she said, ‘Come in, Lord Ogion.’

  “So he went in. She served him fish soup, and they ate, and then they talked by her fire. He thought that she must be a shape-changer, but he didn’t know, you see, whether she was a woman who could change herself into a dragon, or a dragon who could change itself into a woman. So he asked her at last, ‘Are you woman or dragon?’ And she didn’t say, but she said, ‘I’ll sing you a story I know.”

  Therru had a little stone in her shoe. They stopped to get that out, and went on, very slowly, for the road was climbing steeply between cut banks of stone overhung by thickets where the cicadas sang in the summer heat.

  “So this is the story she sang to him, to Ogion.

  “When Segoy raised the islands of the world from the sea in the beginning of time, the dragons were the first born of the land and the wind blowing over the land. So the Song of the Creation tells. But her song told also that then, in the beginning, dragon and human were all one. They were all one people, one race, winged, and speaking the True Language.

  “They were beautiful, and strong, and wise, and free.

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