The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin


  Book 5 of the Earthsea series

  Ursula K. LeGuin

  * * *


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  * * *


  ^ »


  Sails long and white as swan’s wings carried the ship Farflyer through summer air down the bay from the Armed Cliffs toward Gont Port. She glided into the still water landward of the jetty, so sure and graceful a creature of the wind that a couple of townsmen fishing off the old quay cheered her in, waving to the crewmen and the one passenger standing in the prow.

  He was a thin man with a thin pack and an old black cloak, probably a sorcerer or small tradesman, nobody important. The two fishermen watched the bustle on the dock and the ship’s deck as she made ready to unload her cargo, and only glanced at the passenger with a bit of curiosity when as he left the ship one of the sailors made a gesture behind his back, thumb and first and last finger of the left hand all pointed at him: May you never come back!

  He hesitated on the pier, shouldered his pack, and set off into the streets of Gont Port. They were busy streets, and he got at once into the Fish Market, abrawl with hawkers and hagglers, paving stones glittering with fish scales and brine. If he had a way, he soon lost it among the carts and stalls and crowds and the cold stares of dead fish.

  A tall old woman turned from the stall where she had been insulting the freshness of the herring and the veracity of the fishwife. Seeing her glaring at him, the stranger said unwisely, “Would you have the kindness to tell me the way I should go for Re Albi?”

  “Why, go drown yourself in pig slop for a start,” said the tall woman and strode off, leaving the stranger wilted and dismayed. But the fishwife, seeing a chance to seize the high moral ground, blared out, “Re Albi is it? Re Albi you want, man? Speak up then! The Old Mage’s house, that would be what you’d want at Re Albi. Yes it would. So you go out by the corner there, and up Elvers Lane there, see, till you reach the tower…”

  Once he was out of the market, broad streets led him uphill and past the massive watchtower to a town gate. Two stone dragons large as life guarded it, teeth the length of his forearm, stone eyes glaring blindly out over the town and the bay. A lounging guard told him just turn left at the top of the road and he’d be in Re Albi. “And keep on through the village for the Old Mage’s house,” the guard said.

  So he went trudging up the road, which was pretty steep, looking up as he went to the steeper slopes and far peak of Gont Mountain that overhung its island like a cloud.

  It was a long road and a hot day. He soon had his black cloak off and went on bareheaded in his shirtsleeves, but he had not thought to find water or buy food in the town, or had been too shy to, maybe, for he was not a man familiar with cities or at ease with strangers.

  After several long miles he caught up to a cart which he had seen far up the dusty way for a long time as a dark blot in a white blot of dust. It creaked and streaked along at the pace of a pair of small oxen that looked as old, wrinkled, and unhopeful as tortoises. He greeted the carter, who resembled the oxen. The carter said nothing, but blinked.

  “Might there be a spring of water up the road?” the stranger asked.

  The carter slowly shook his head. After a long time he said, “No.” A while later he said, “There ain’t.”

  They all plodded along. Discouraged, the stranger found it hard to go any faster than the oxen, about a mile an hour, maybe.

  He became aware that the carter was wordlessly reaching something out to him: a big clay jug wrapped round with wicker. He took it, and finding it very heavy, drank his fill of the water, leaving it scarcely lighter when he passed it back with his thanks.

  “Climb on,” said the carter after a while.

  “Thanks. I’ll walk. How far might it be to Re Albi?”

  The wheels creaked. The oxen heaved deep sighs, first one, then the other. Their dusty hides smelled sweet in the hot sunlight.

  “Ten mile,” the carter said. He thought, and said, “Or twelve.” After a while he said, “No less.”

  “I’d better walk on, then,” said the stranger.

  Refreshed by the water, he was able to get ahead of the oxen, and they and the cart and the carter were a good way behind him when he heard the carter speak again. “Going to the Old Mages house,” he said. If it was a question, it seemed to need no answer. The traveler walked on.

  When he started up the road it had still lain in the vast shadow of the mountain, but when he turned left to the little village he took to be Re Albi, the sun was blazing in the western sky and under it the sea lay white as steel.

  There were scattered small houses, a small dusty square, a fountain with one thin stream of water falling. He made for that, drank from his hands again and again, put his head under the stream, rubbed cool water through his hair and let it run down his arms, and sat for a while on the stone rim of the fountain, observed in attentive silence by two dirty little boys and a dirty little girl.

  “He ain’t the farrier,” one of the boys said.

  The traveler combed his wet hair back with his ringers.

  “He’ll be going to the Old Mage’s house,” said the girl, “stupid.”

  “Yerraghh!” said the boy, drawing his face into a horrible lopsided grimace by pulling at it with one hand while he clawed the air with the other.

  “You watch it, Stony,” said the other boy.

  “Take you there,” said the girl to the traveler.

  “Thanks,” he said, and stood up wearily.

  “Got no staff, see,” said one boy, and the other said, “Never said he did.” Both watched with sullen eyes as the stranger followed the girl out of the village to a path that led north through rocky pastures that dropped down steep to the left.

  The sun glared on the sea. His eyes dazzled, and the high horizon and the blowing wind made him dizzy. The child was a little hopping shadow ahead of him. He stopped.

  “Come on,” she said, but she too stopped. He came up to her on the path. “There,” she said. He saw a wooden house near the cliff’s edge, still some way ahead.

  “I ain’t afraid,” the girl said. “I fetch their eggs lots of times for Stony’s dad to carry to market. Once she gave me peaches. The old lady. Stony says I stole ‘em but I never. Go on. She ain’t there. Neither of em is.”

  She stood still, pointing to the house.

  “Nobody’s there?”

  “The old man is. Old Hawk, he is.”

  The traveler went on. The child stood watching him till he went round the corner of the house.

  Two goats stared down at the stranger from a steep fenced field. A scatter of hens and half-grown chicks pecked and conversed softly in long grass under peach and plum trees. A man was standing on a short ladder against the trunk of one of the trees; his head was in the leaves, and the traveler could see only his bare brown legs.

  “Hello,” the traveler said, and after a while said it again a bit louder.

  The leaves shook and the man came briskly down the ladder. He carried a handful of plums, and when he got off the ladder he batted away a couple of bees drawn by the juice. He came forward, a short, straight-backed man, grey hair tied back from a handsome, timeworn face. He looked to be seventy or so. Old scars, four white seams, ran from his left cheekbone down to the jaw. His gaze was clear, direct, intense. “They’re ripe,” he said, “though they’ll be even better tomorrow.” He held out his handful of little yellow plums.

  “Lord Sparrowhawk,” the stranger said huskily. “Arch-mage.”

  The old man gave a curt nod of a
cknowledgment. “Come into the shade,” he said.

  The stranger followed him, and did what he was told: he sat down on a wooden bench in the shade of the gnarled tree nearest the house; he accepted the plums, now rinsed and served in a wicker basket; he ate one, then another, then a third. Questioned, he admitted that he had eaten nothing that day. He sat while the master of the house went into it, coming out presently with bread and cheese and half an onion. The guest ate the bread and cheese and onion and drank the cup of cold water his host brought him. The host ate plums to keep him company.

  “You look tired. How far have you come?”

  “From Roke.”

  The old man’s expression was hard to read. He said only, “I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

  “I’m from Taon, lord. I went from Taon to Roke. And there the Lord Patterner told me I should come here. To you.”


  It was a formidable gaze.

  “Because you walked across the dark land living…” The stranger’s husky voice died away.

  The old man picked up the words: “And came to the far shores of the day. Yes. But that was spoken in prophecy of the coming of our King, Lebannen.”

  “You were with him, lord.”

  “I was. And he gained his kingdom there. But I left mine there. So don’t call me by any title. Hawk, or Sparrowhawk, as you please. And how shall I call you?”

  The man murmured his use-name: “Alder.”

  Food and drink and shade and sitting down had clearly eased him, but he still looked exhausted. He had a weary sadness in him; his face was full of it.

  The old man had spoken to him with a hard edge in his voice, but that was gone when he said, “Let’s put off talking for a bit. You’ve sailed near a thousand miles and walked fifteen uphill. And I’ve got to water the beans and the lettuce id all, since my wife and daughter left the garden in my charge. So rest a while. We can talk in the cool of the evening. Or the cool of the morning. There’s seldom as much hurry as I used to think there was.”

  When he came back by half an hour later his guest was flat on his back asleep in the cool grass under the peach trees.

  The man who had been Archmage of Earthsea stopped with a bucket in one hand and a hoe in the other and looked down at the sleeping stranger.

  “Alder,” he said under his breath. “What’s the trouble you bring with you, Alder?”

  It seemed to him that if he wanted to know the man’s true name he would know it only by thinking, by putting his mind to it, as he might have done when he was a mage.

  But he did not know it, and thinking would not give it to him, and he was not a mage.

  He knew nothing about this Alder and must wait to be told. “Never trouble trouble,” he told himself, and went on to water the beans.

  As soon as the sun’s light was cut offby a low rock wall that ran along the top of the cliff near the house, the cool of the shadow roused the sleeper. He sat up with a shiver, then stood up, a bit stiff and bewildered, with grass seed in his hair. Seeing his host filling buckets at the well and lugging them to the garden, he went to help him.

  “Three or four more ought to do it,” said the ex-Archmage, doling out water to the roots of a row of young cabbages. The smell of wet dirt was pleasant in the dry, warm air. The westering light came golden and broken over the ground.

  They sat on a long bench beside the house door to see the sun go down. Sparrowhawk had brought out a bottle and two squat, thick cups of greenish glass. “My wife’s son’s wine,” he said. “From Oak Farm, in Middle Valley. A good year, seven years back.” It was a flinty red wine that warmed Alder right through. The sun set in calm clarity. The wind was down. Birds in the orchard trees made a few closing remarks.

  Alder had been amazed when he learned from the Master Patterner of Roke that the Archmage Sparrowhawk, that man of legend, who had brought the king home from the realm of death and then flown off on a dragon’s back, was still alive. Alive, said the Patterner, and living on his home island, Gont. “I tell you what not many know,” the Patterner had said, “for I think you need to know it. And I think you will keep his secret.”

  “But then he is still Archmage!” Alder had said, with a kind of joy: for it had been a puzzle and concern to all men of the art that the wise men of Roke Island, the school and center of magery in the Archipelago, had not in all the years of King Lebannen’s rule named an Archmage to replace Sparrowhawk.

  “No,” the Patterner had said. “He is not a mage at all.”

  The Patterner had told him a little of how Sparrowhawk had lost his power, and why; and Alder had had time to ponder it all. But still, here, in the presence of this man who had spoken with dragons, and brought back the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, and crossed the kingdom of the dead, and ruled the Archipelago before the king, all those stories and songs were in his mind. Even as he saw him old, content with his garden, with no power in him or about him but that of a soul made by a long life of thought and action, he still saw a great mage. And so it troubled him considerably that Sparrow-hawk had a wife.

  A wife, a daughter, a stepson… Mages had no family. A common sorcerer like Alder might marry or might not, but the men of true power were celibate. Alder could imagine this man riding a dragon, that was easy enough, but to think of him as a husband and father was another matter. He couldn’t manage it. He tried. He asked, “Your—wife—She’s with her son, then?”

  Sparrowhawk came back from far away. His eyes had been on the western gulfs. “No,” he said. “She’s in Havnor. With the king.”

  After a while, coming all the way back, he added, “She went there with our daughter just after the Long Dance. Lebannen sent for them, to take counsel. Maybe on the same matter that brings you here to me. We’ll see… But the truth is, I’m tired this evening, and not much disposed to weighing heavy matters. And you look tired too. So a bowl of soup, maybe, and another glass of wine, and sleep? And we’ll talk in the morning.”

  “All with pleasure, lord,” Alder said, “but for the sleep. That’s what I fear.”

  It took the old man a while to register this, but then he said, “You fear to sleep?”


  “Ah.” A keen glance from the dark eyes under eyebrows grown tangled and half grey. “You had a good nap there in the grass, I think.”

  “The sweetest sleep I’ve had since I left Roke Island. I’m grateful to you for that boon, lord. Maybe it will return tonight. But if not, I struggle with my dream, and cry out, and wake, and am a burden to anyone near me. I’ll sleep outside, if you permit.”

  Sparrowhawk nodded. “It’ll be a pleasant night,” he said.

  It was a pleasant night, cool, the sea wind mild from the south, the stars of summer whitening all the sky except where the broad, dark summit of the mountain loomed. Alder put down the pallet and sheepskin his host gave him, in the grass where he had slept before.

  Sparrowhawk lay in the little western alcove of the house. He had slept there as a boy, when it was Ogion’s house and he was Ogion’s prentice in wizardry. Tehanu had slept there these last fifteen years, since she had been his daughter. With her and Tenar gone, when he lay in his and Tenar’s bed in the dark back corner of the single room he felt his solitude, so he had taken to sleeping in the alcove. He liked the narrow cot built out from the thick house wall of timbers, right under the window. He slept well there. But this night he did not.

  Before midnight, wakened by a cry, voices outside, he leapt up and went to the door. It was only Alder struggling with nightmare, amid sleepy protests from the henhouse. Alder shouted in the thick voice of dream and then woke, starting up in panic and distress. He begged his host’s pardon and said he would sit up a while under the stars. Sparrowhawk went back to bed. He was not wakened again by Alder, but he had a bad dream of his own.

  He was standing by a wall of stone near the top of a long hillside of dry grey grass that ran down from dimness into the dark. He knew he had been there before, had sto
od there before, but he did not know when, or what place it was. Someone was standing on the other side of the wall, the downhill side, not far away. He could not see the face, only that it was a tall man, cloaked. He knew that he knew him. The man spoke to him, using his true name. He said, “You will soon be here, Ged.”

  Cold to the bone, he sat up, staring to see the space of the house about him, to draw its reality around him like a blanket. He looked out the window at the stars. The cold came into his heart then. They were not the stars of summer, beloved, familiar, the Cart, the Falcon, the Dancers, the Heart of the Swan. They were other stars, the small, still stars of the dry land, that never rise or set. He had known their names, once, when he knew the names of things.

  “Avert!” he said aloud and made the gesture to turn away misfortune that he had learned when he was ten years old. His gaze went to the open doorway of the house, the corner behind the door, where he thought to see darkness taking shape, clotting together and rising up.

  But his gesture, though it had no power, woke him. The shadows behind the door were only shadows. The stars out the window were the stars of Earthsea, paling in the first reflection of the dawn.

  He sat holding his sheepskin up round his shoulders, watching those stars fade as they dropped west, watching the growing brightness, the colors of light, the play and change of coming day. There was a grief in him, he did not know why, a pain and yearning as for something dear and lost, forever lost. He was used to that; he had held much dear, and lost much; but this sadness was so great it did not seem to be his own. He felt a sadness at the very heart of things, a grief even in the coming of the light. It clung to him from his dream, and stayed with him when he got up.

  He lit a little fire in the big hearth and went to the peach trees and the henhouse to gather breakfast. Alder came in from the path that ran north along the cliff top; he had gone for a walk at first light, he said. He looked jaded, and Sparrowhawk was struck again by the sadness in his face, which echoed the deep aftermood of his own dream.

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