Standard Disclaimers Apply: Tenar and the universe of Earthsea belong solely to Ursula K. Le Guin, and this story was written solely for amusement, and not profit.
A/N: This is the final installment in what has become a loose trilogy about Tenar's life on Gont. I've always been fascinated by the gap between the Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu, and these stories were my way of trying to bridge the distance between Arha and Goha. That said, this story is theoretical, not canonical. Chronologically, it could never happen. I've stretched some time frames and squished others, so that the events I wanted to meet could. Also, the Master Hand in the story is not intended to be the character who appears in A Wizard Of Earthsea or Le Guin's later works.
For days, rain clouds too thick for any mere sorcerer to dispel had shrouded Gont. But a freshening wind had sprung up just before dawn and scattered them, allowing the spring morning to arrive with a rush of sun and wind and dew.
Tenar lay sprawled upon her favorite large rock at the Overfell, her face angled to receive the morning light. One arm was curled over her head and buried in her dark hair, while the other rested upon her stomach so that she could feel herself breathe. She thought of nothing but the breeze against her cheeks and the odor of stone in her nostrils.
She should've been minding her books, those old pages of parchment gathering dust and pollen on the ground next to her. Ogion would be cross if he knew. But she couldn't study today, not with spring's light gladness tingling in her every limb. And Ogion was patient even when irritated.
Besides, she thought wryly, this wonderful rock will feel just the same whether I call it stone or tolk or geshen. She splayed her fingers and felt the cool moss beneath her palms.
Eventually, her conscience nudged her up into a sitting position. Her eyes squinted against the brightness of the day. The sea stretched before her, its green waves white-crested and choppy. Storm clouds piled upon the horizon. In the distance squatted the blue haze of Kamerer, and beyond that she knew the waters stretched for distances which she could not fathom, past islands she could not imagine.
She shielded her eyes with one hand. Sometimes, she felt as if she could never have enough of gazing upon the sea.
A sail entering the harbor caught her eye, brilliantly white against the grey darkness of the Armored Cliffs. She scrambled to her knees, pushing wind-roughened hair from her eyes to get a better view.
She knew it for a Roke ship at once; the pennant flying from the mainmast would've told her that much. But even without the signal, she would've known there was a skilled wizard on board, for the ship progressed too easily. Years of sitting on this rock gazing seaward had taught her to know intimately the moods and tempers of Gont Harbor, as her fingers had once known the twists and turns of tunnels in the dark. A forceful current near the Armed Cliffs forced many vessels dangerously toward the rocks, and strong rowing was often needed to carry a ship safely through. But this vessel sailed smoothly through the choppy water even though the wind blew against it. And this told her – as it would have told any sensible person – that there was a wizard aboard.
She tumbled from the rock and cursed as her bare foot painfully crushed a twig. Her shaking hands fumbled at the laces of her boots as she pulled them up. Only one man from Roke could have business on Gont this time of year, when trading season had not yet begun in earnest. A hand flew to her head, feeling the tangles that the sea wind had blown into her hair. Then, catching herself, she laughed and let the hand fall easily to her side, where it smoothed her brown homespun dress. Oh, how Ged would laugh when he saw her, clad as a goatherd lass of Gont!
Seven years, she thought. Has it really been so long?
Her eyes followed the docking of the vessel and the gathering crowd. A small procession was disembarking. Strange, she was used to thinking of Ged as a solitary traveler. Perhaps something had happened to Look-far? The idea of the vessel being gone gave her a small, aching sadness in her chest.
The books would stay closed today, that much was clear. She glared at them, thinking of how they'd recently begun to lose the charm they'd once held for her. She remembered how eager she'd once been for learning, the incessant manner in which she'd demanded knowledge from Ged, even knowing that she couldn't use it, that his power was not hers.
She knew many things now: she could read and write Hardic, and trace the outline of shores she'd never tread. But the knowledge had begun to seem small to her, trivial. It hung between her and the world she now found herself in like a veil. She'd recently taken to watching other young Re Albi women as they walked down the streets, chattering and laughing. She did not know what made them smile so easily, but that she did want to learn.
She shook herself, impatient with gloomy thoughts. As if mocking her determined effort to be cheerful, a falcon flew between her and the sun, casting a swift shadow over her features. She grimaced at the vanishing bird, stuffed the offensive books into a burlap bag, and tied her hair back. It would take Ged some hours to walk to Ogion's. She had time to return home, tell Fan of the visiting ship, and then walk leisurely to the old mage's house.
She set her feet on the road the Re Albi, where her own little cottage awaited her. The village was bustling, with people hurrying to and fro concerned with the daily chores of life. Her cottage was at the far end, approached by a small pebbled path. She entered the single empty room, carefully placed Ogion's books upon her shelf, and immediately left again to visit with her landlord.
"Good morning, Fan," she said cheerfully, bending to enter through his low door.
The weaver looked up, smiling. "Tenar! I'm glad you've come, lass," he said. "My fingers are clumsy today." He pointed to the large loom that took up almost half of the room. "I seem to have forgotten the right pattern."
Tenar cleared piles of wool from a table and deposited there a parcel of meat she'd brought from her home. "I was at Ogion's yesterday," she said. "He asked me to give this to you. It's dried goat meat, payment for a charm against wood-mites. But we have more than enough, especially with summer coming."
"Thank you," Fan said, his bleary eyes crinkling at her. Light from the small window cast shadows on his wrinkled face. "Do you have a story for me today as well?"
Tenar laughed. She'd been very lonely when she'd first left Ogion's. Fan had recognized his young tenant's dull quietness for what it was and had made a determined effort to get to know her. He'd found her kind and funny, if a little shy, and had begun to tell her the tales of Gont, so that she could find herself a little more at ease with the island he loved. Tenar, grateful for the weaver's friendship, which had nothing to do with sorcery or quests, would tell Fan something of what she was learning from Ogion in return. He always listened eagerly to anything she could tell him of dragons.
"And it was the lad from Ten Alders who did such a thing?" he'd asked once in wonder as she finished the story of Yevaud, the dragon of Pendor. He'd shaken his head disbelievingly and let out a huff of air. "Well!"
"Not exactly a story today, Fan," she said, collapsing into a rocking chair across from his workplace. "But I will tell you something of what I saw this morning. There is a ship in Gont Harbor, an elegant ship, with guards and courtiers and luxury. From Roke."
"Is there now?" he asked, surprised. His fingers fumbled with the rug draped over his shoulders, drawing it closer about him. "Who from that place could have business here?"
"It might be the mage Sparrowhawk," she said. "I'm sure he misses Ogion."
Fan frowned. "But I thought he was a voyaging mage? Surely, there's no reason for him to sail from Roke?"
Tenar dismissed the quite reasonable observation. "Oh, I'm sure he returns often, to visit friends. And he could barter passage from there."
Fan was old, and his eyesight was fading. But his ears heard the light in her voice as she spoke the name, and his skin felt the warmth that radiated from her being. Memories of his own youth came flooding back, and he knew where her glow came from. And this scared him, for her sake. She should have been married by now.
She didn't know, of course, for that was their art. Indeed, he was amazed that she was able to love at all, even unconsciously. Either she was stronger than most, or the mage himself had…no. That couldn't be. Too much evil would come of it.
"Tenar," he said hesitantly, leaning forward, straining to see her expression as she turned and let her hair fall over her face. "Child. I know you come from a far place, a strange place, and did not grow up here. You know little of the sorcery of mages. But surely, you've been told that…"
"Yes?" she asked, fingers caressing the arms of her chair.
He couldn't continue in face of her unconscious innocence. "Nothing," he mumbled, letting his chin fall to his chest and busying his fingers braiding strands of wool together. "I'm tired, girl, and no company today. My wits have dried up. You may leave if you wish."
She felt the sting of dismissal, and a flush rose slowly in her cheeks. "I'm twenty-three," she said stiffly, rising from her chair. "Surely, I'm capable of avoiding whatever foolishness it is you suspect me of."
"Not foolishness," he replied gently. "Blindness."
She left the weaver's hut without saying farewell, confusion clouding all her movements. Her legs felt heavy, awkward, and her chest rose and fell roughly. She avoided the village, electing to walk a path to Ogion's that skirted the main buildings. The road wound through a small grove of oak, and all was quiet except for the newly unfurled leaves chattering above her head. Still, she couldn't think.
Oh, what was the matter with her? She'd never walked out on a friend like that before, and Fan had been everything that was kind to her. He deserved more respect than she'd shown, even if he insisted on speaking incomprehensible nonsense.
Her bewildered reverie was broken by the sound of a male voice, slow and deep, calling her name.
Her eyes snapped up and focused, and she immediately banished her frown as she saw the young farmer Flint walking towards her. He was waving a strong brown arm at her, and she smiled wanly and raised her own arm in salute.
"Flint!" She forced a laugh as they met in the road. "What are you doing here? Is everything well on Oak Farm?"
"Yes," he said, his dark eyes squinting at her. "In fact, everything's marvelously well, which is why I'm walking this way. We've hired some men to do most of the planting." He gestured to a pack on his back. "Mother wanted some rose seeds for the summer, which are rare in both Middle Valley and Valmouth. So I'm making to the trip to the harbor. It's fortunate, no, that we've met like this?"
Tenar nodded politely in agreement, although she was finding it rather hard to show enthusiasm over the accomplishments of Flint's farm. But it had been many months since she'd seen him last, and she could afford to listen patiently…for awhile, at least.
She'd first met Flint on a blustering winter's night, when a knock had come on Ogion's door and they'd opened it to find the young man shivering and miserable in the yard. His sister was ill, he'd explained, suffering from fever and dementia. They'd called in the local witch, but she'd been able to do little. And so he'd made the long journey from Middle Valley, in the futile hope that a man as great as the Re Albi mage would come to the aid of his family. His sister, you see, he'd explained in a somewhat awed voice, was loved.
Ogion always answered such calls as well as he was able to. He and Tenar had prepared packs, bundled themselves with heavy woolen cloaks, and embarked with Flint on the trip to Oak Farm.
When they finally arrived, the girl was writhing on a sweat-soaked bed. Ogion had quietly called for some herbs to be brought, and by this Tenar had known that there was some hope for the poor child, for the mage never cast a spell he thought useless. The herbs had been brought by the distraught brother, and she'd spent many hours over a hot fire preparing the draught as Ogion had instructed, her eyes blinking and streaming from the pungent fumes. But she'd done her work well and patiently, and the brother had watched her with a desperate hope in his eyes.
When the girl had fully recovered, Flint once again had made the journey to Re Albi. This time, however, it was spring, and he'd brought with him a catch of newly-hatched chickens. They were, he'd explained, his family's finest, and he would teach her how to care for them if she desired. She had so desired. From then on, not a season had passed that the young farmer did not visit with something he thought the mage would find useful. Tenar knew that such gifts were merely his way for repaying Ogion for the life of his sister. Still, they'd become friends.
"No, the farm is very well," he was saying, puffing out his chest somewhat. "We finished planting the wheat yesterday. There should be a good crop this year. Only the oats are left."
Tenar took a closer look at him. There was a strange light in his eyes and something in his manner spoke of haste. "I don't believe you," she said abruptly, forgetting momentarily some of the awkwardness she usually felt in his company. "Well, no, I believe you about the wheat. Congratulations. But I don't believe you that everything is well. Your cheeks are flushed, you're in a hurry. What ails thee, friend?"
"Nothing," he replied, dropping ponderously upon a log at the side of the road. She took a seat beside him, back straight, shoulders level. Flint's thick fingers plucked a piece of grass and began twirling it between thumb and forefinger. "It's just that you weren't at Ogion's, and I must admit I was coming in haste to find you at your cottage, wanting to see you. I'm surprised to find you here."
"Well, because of the guest that the Lord Ogion has. I was bringing some seeds today that you could plant for him. Tomatoes mostly, but some peppers as well. And those gourds the mage is so fond of. But I dared not knock at the door for fear of the fine gentlemen that might answer it."
"What?" A sudden stillness came over her, and her eyes sparked.
Flint looked somewhat offended. "I left the seeds by the water barrel for you to find, Goha," he said stiffly. "I did not know what else to do."
She shook her head in confusion. "No, no, I don't care about the seeds. I mean the guest…the man there. How did he arrive so quickly?"
Flint looked at her in surprise. "Surely you knew, didn't you? The villagers say he arrived this morning, in a great rush, and that they expect him to be off again before sunset. Indeed, he may already be gone."
Tenar felt herself grow cold. To be leaving so soon! And she sitting here wasting time! It must be something urgent if Ged used his wizardry to reach Ogion's instead of walking, and if he planned to stay only a mere seven hours after an absence of seven years.
She flew to her feet. "Flint," she said hurriedly, "I must leave you. I'm so sorry." And without waiting for a response from the astonished man, she took off down the road towards Re Albi, her long hair coming loose from its restraints and flying back behind her in the wind. It felt good to run, good to let the wind whip her face and sting her eyes. It had been one of the first things she'd learned on Gont, that she had a love of running. Arha hadn't run. She'd crept.
Wait for me, Ged. I'm coming. Wait for me.
"Hylath a'l tylar," she whispered, the Kargish tongue coming easily, as it always did in moments of stress. O, mother, I hope nothing's wrong.
She gritted her teeth and willed her legs to move faster. It was silly, wasn't it, that little things like limbs could hurt so much?
She reached Ogion's house breathless and red-faced, lungs burning, legs quivering beneath her. She was supremely conscious that strands of hair were plastered against her sweaty forehead. Without thinking, she went to the water barrel and dunked her head in. She surfaced gasping from the cold, shaking her hair back so that water dribbled down her neck and along her spine, deliciously cool beneath the sticky homespun.
Breathing deeply, she approached Ogion's door. She was only partly amazed to discover that her hands were shaking. It had, after all, been seven years.
Oh, this is silly, she chided herself. Don't act like a frightened child. You're a woman grown now, and an independent one at that. You provide for yourself. And she resolutely pushed open the door.
Immediately, she saw why Ged had not come in Look-far.
Ged had not come.
A mage she did not know stood in the center of the room, leaning upon a staff made of cedar and talking quietly with Ogion, who stood opposite. He was hooded and cloaked as the mages of Roke were, and, though rather youngish, had a short brown beard streaked with grey. He looked up as she entered, and she saw that his eyes were a dancing, gentle green.
"Oh!" Tenar blurted, brought up short.
"Ah," the unfamiliar mage said quietly, giving a slight bow in her direction. His voice was light and precise, and skimmed swiftly over the words. "My Lady Tenar. Truly, this is an honor."
She recoiled as if she'd received a blow to her chest. It had been many years since she'd last been addressed formally, or with as much civil urbanity as this man casually displayed. She struggled to remember again the tone and inflections of power, the turns of phrase that Arha had once wielded so easily. It was rather difficult, for polite discourse was different in Hardic and Kargish, and what she once would've said to a visiting dignitary did not quite translate. But Ogion was smiling affectionately at her from where he stood, and she was determined not to shame him by being rude in his own home. She would do her best.
"Mage," she finally replied, gathering herself and trying not to think of the wet hair dripping down her back. "I greet thee strongly. Welcome to Gont, and to my father's house." She solemnly inclined her head.
The mage's smile widened, and she knew that he found her an amusing curiosity. "I am Rethen," he said simply, "the Master Hand from Roke. And I am here on the behalf of the Archmage."
"Gensher?" she asked, frowning as she remembered the name of the black-skinned man who'd talked so kindly to her at Havnor. He'd needed to practice his Kargish, he'd explained ruefully, seating himself beside her at one of the many banquets they'd attended. She'd happily accepted the role of teacher, only to find that he spoke better than the temple soldiers who had guarded her before she became the Eaten One. And then he'd taught her the names of all the dishes they ate that evening, the meats and fruits that sat strangely upon her tongue and made her giggle with discovery. That had been a good night.
"No, my Lady," Rethen said reverently, bowing his head. "Gensher sickened and died some weeks ago. He went quietly, though, and in peace."
The swift shot of grief in her chest left her briefly bewildered. Her shoulders fell, and her arms swung indifferently at her sides. "He's dead? Then who – ?"
"Sparrowhawk, my dear," Ogion interrupted, walking forward to place a hand on her shoulder. "The Masters of Roke chose him as the next Archmage soon after Gensher passed, and he has accepted the position."
"Ah. I see."
And she did see. Saw that it would be many years more before Ged could come again to Gont – if, indeed, he ever came at all. After all, an Archmage – that great, terrible, and distant personage – was far above the concerns of a small mountainous island. And a friendship with an Archmage was a very treacherous thing. An Archmage wasn't free.
And he had known that, of course, when he'd accepted. Whatever failings Ged might have, lack of wisdom was not one of them.
Rethen had approached and was placing a rolled parchment in her limp hand. "Here," he said eagerly. "He's written you."
Tenar blindly took the parchment and, holding one end, let it fall open. An unfamiliar handwriting – Ged's – stared out at her, small compact letters with only tiny flourishes on the tails of some characters. It was an invitation. He wanted them, her and Ogion both, to visit Roke and spend some months with him. He couldn't promise lavish entertainments, and he would be occupied most of the days, but he did wish to see their faces.
The letter ended with a small, deprecating joke about finally being settled, and chained into one place. Tenar smiled somewhat when she read that. The tone was humorous, but she knew him well enough to guess that there was more truth behind the sentiment than not.
Finished reading, she thoughtfully turned the parchment in her hands before letting it curl back in upon itself with a small whoosh. She took several small steps forward, so that the warmth of Ogion's hand fell from her. It would be nice to have some time to mull over her decision, but she knew that her mind was already essentially decided…
"Mage Rethen," she began, choosing her words carefully. "Please tell the Archmage Sparrowhawk that his invitation is very kind. There's nothing I would like better than to visit Roke and to see the school there, and the magical tricks the boys would perform for my amusement. However, I regret that it is impossible for me to make such a journey."
A rather affronted look came over Rethen's face. He'd stretched his wizardry to the utmost in his attempt to reach Gont swiftly. There was much business for him to accomplish on Roke, and he was anxious to return. Secretly, he believed that this errand the new Archmage had sent him on was foolish. He knew that Sparrowhawk had simply wished to honor his friend, by sending a Master when he himself could not go. Still, surely there were more important things for a mage to do than fetching a girl…
He shook his head. He'd always found women incomprehensible. No mere girl, no matter how renowned, should refuse the type of request he'd just brought her. Her refusal was completely unexpected. Indeed, her berth was already made up on his ship, a small aft cabin with a real bed and silken sheets. The Archmage himself had ordered that, laughing as he did so.
"Lady," he said patiently, speaking as he would to a child. "Surely you do not mean to refuse. Think carefully for a few moments, and then give me the answer you truly desire."
Tenar felt a small rage building inside her. She welcomed it, for it was the familiar anger of a slighted Arha, and she knew that it gave her strength in the face of those who would wish to intimidate her. She flung her head up and spoke with all the pride she'd learned as Priestess of the Nameless Ones.
"Mage Rethen, I'm quite sincere. There's work to be done here on Gont. My life is here. I have my own cottage to pay for, and I do small works in the village to support myself. I also help Ogion tend his garden, and even today we were given some tomato and pepper seeds. Someone needs to plant these. And then there are my studies for me to keep up with."
"I'm sorry, but I have nothing more to say on the subject."
There was a long pause.
"Tomatoes?" Rethen finally asked, doubtfully.
"Tomatoes," she replied firmly.
The Master Hand's face hardened into a mask of petulant disapproval. "Well then," he said. "There's nothing more for me to say here. Ogion, I believe we've discussed everything necessary?"
The mage nodded.
"Lady Tenar," he turned to her and made a flourishing bow. "It was a pleasure." And the air around him suddenly seemed to flash and bend, and where Rethen had once stood hovered the large falcon that had cast a shadow on her face that morning. It gave a screech of farewell, raised it wings, and flew through an open window with a sudden rush of air.
Tenar sighed and went to sit in a chair, where she occupied herself with shelling nuts she'd collected the fall before. Ogion moved towards his bookshelf, and removed a volume bound in red leather. He sat beside the window, his lips moving wordlessly as he read in the morning light.
Several minutes passed. When Tenar spoke again, she didn't look up from the task to which she'd set her hands. "And are you going to Roke, Father?"
Ogion looked up, one finger marking the place on the page where he'd stopped reading. "No, dearest. There's no need, and Ged knew I wouldn't come. The invitation was for you."
She nodded wordlessly. Of course, even Rethen had known that. Her shoulders jerked, but no cry escaped her lips, and her eyes remained dry. She felt Ogion's gaze upon her, and she stood and left the house before something foolish happened, like tears.
The sun had climbed higher in the sky, burning away the morning's freshness. Her eyes blinked in the brightness. A walk would do her good, she decided, and set her feet upon the path that led to the cliffs.
She was so wrapped in her thoughts that she didn't notice the man who'd been waiting for her at the edge of Ogion's clearing, turning a small stick over and over in his strong hands. But he ran forward a few steps, and she turned her head upon hearing the soft thudding footfalls upon the grass.
"Flint," she said, rather dully. "What are you doing here?"
The farmer reached her side, his face intense. "I was worried so I followed you. I don't like to see women upset. Nothing good ever comes from it."
The solicitous words brought her shatteringly back from the great distance she'd traveled. "I wasn't upset!" she snapped. She saw the stiffening of his jaw muscles and immediately moderated her tone into something gentler, less harsh. "Oh, Flint, I'm sorry. No, I wasn't upset then, just overly-excited. I'm upset now, true, but I'll be fine in a few minutes. Do you – do you mind if we just walk quietly for a while?"
"If that's your wish."
They followed a path for some time, scrambling among rocks and tree roots. Eventually, they found themselves standing at the cliff's edge, and Tenar gazed dispassionately at the rock and the moss that she'd found so comforting just a few hours before. Clouds were bulking again on the horizon, and she watched as the ship from Roke furled its foresails in the now blustering wind and began to maneuver its way out of the harbor, tacking awkwardly. It looked much more difficult than before. She took a dim pleasure in imagining Rethen angry and unfocused.
Rather clumsily, Flint had plucked a flower and was placing it in her hand to hold. A smile of thanks flickered over her face, and he drew a deep breath to speak:
"Goha." His voice was solemn and serious, and he gripped her upper arm with one hand, as if he couldn't decide whether to embrace or push her away. "I do not know what saddened you today, but you know, don't you, that you needn't always live alone? You could find a home elsewhere, as a wife and mother. You could have your own family, children to care for." His words slowed. "You're pretty enough, though foreign-looking, and hard-working, which is even better. Any man would be – would be wise to choose you as his helpmate."
She found that she'd been expecting the words. They'd been whispering at the back of her mind for months, evidence of an unexpected option that had been laid in her lap. A choice she herself could make, that did not depend upon the whims of a wizard. Still, the words sat in her breast like stones, and the mundane enormity of her choice briefly overwhelmed her. "Not now, Flint," she cried. "Not today! Please, I – I need some little time."
But he heard the answer to his unspoken question in her voice, and his eyes gleamed. When he lowered his hand from her shoulder to encircle her waist, she didn't move away. Rather, she angled her head so that it could lie easily upon his shoulder.
A good man, Tenar was thinking. He's good. Not dangerous or wicked. He'll stay on his farm his whole life, contented and respectable. I'd be safe – and good.
…I wonder what Ged will think…
Flint had kept talking, about additions he was planning to make to the farmhouse, and a new rotation of crops that would give him a yield higher than that of any other man on Gont. There were years of comfort before him…before them. "And a woman called Lark lives nearby," he was saying. "She could teach you how to sew."
"That's good," his black-haired Goha said, gazing out at her endless sea. "I'd like to have a friend."