Disclaimer: The characters and universe of Earthsea belong to Ursula LeGuin. Any mangling thereof is my responsibility.
Written for a challenge at the earthsea-fic LiveJournal community. The prompts were: marriage, the letter D, and a quotation by W.H. Auden (from which I took the mention of stars).
"Boil that kettle if you're going to sit in the corner, dearie," says Aunty Moss.
Therru swings the bar across the hearth. "I was listening to the sea," she says. "It's come from Havnor tonight. Before the king was there. It is happy now."
"They're just waves, dearie."
"But water is always different," Therru says. "My father told me that. Every wave that rolls in to Gont Port once broke upon the rocks of Soléa when it was new."
"And would tell a fine story if it could, I don't doubt that." Moss wonders if she should close the shutters, but her joints are aching. "Just get down some of that raspberry tea. The red jar."
They arrange the pallet by the hearth before they get too tired. "I hope it doesn't turn hard on your bones. Not much laid in store for guests, I'm afraid. The kind I've had – well. I wouldn't think it right to put you here if your parents didn't need some lone time on their wedding night."
"They never needed to put me out the house before," Therru says, grinning.
"A wedding is different, dearie. Ask any of the girls – and men, too – who come here begging me to tell the mirror for them. Now, there's a clean coverlet in that chest."
Therru brings the coverlet. "Did you tell the mirror for my father and mother, once?"
"No. Goodness." Moss smooths down the bed. "What would have been the sense in that?"
The fire burns lower. "I've some spillikins, somewhere, if you want to play."
Therru chews her lip. "I should read this. I meant to finish it sooner." She has a book on her knee; the letters on its side are only shapes to Moss, but she recognises a wizard's rune. Therru's parents set her too much of what Moss calls men's learning.
"What is it, dearie?"
"The Deed of Lebannen. The king. He made me better once."
"I know." Moss cannot help looking at the redness under Therru's hair. "So that's his Deed. It looks like a bow at the beginning."
"That's the 'D'. And the two letters like mouths about to eat you, are e's. And then another 'd'."
"It doesn't look like the first one," Moss says.
"No." Therru is not sure how to explain. "The first one is grown. It's filled out all the way. It is a whole shape."
"There's some candles on the shelf behind you," Moss says, "if you need more light."
"The king saved my father," Therru says. "He followed the stars back out of the dry land. I know, because my mother told me. And now it is in this book and people sing about it."
"I've heard more songs than I can count about kings. Even the bad ones."
"But my father was badly hurt," Therru says. "So hurt that even the king couldn't heal him. So my other father took him to my mother. Not even following a star, but going like the sea, straight to Gont. She was standing on the cliff-top."
"It's a pretty story, dear. But you don't want to take everything you read in wizards' books. I was there that day, and I never saw a – . Well, best to say, some things aren't worth fancying over."
"Is that why you've never told the mirror for me?"
Moss looks at Therru in the firelight: the breasts beginning to push out the front of her dress, the long hair, the red ruin that was half a face. Other things you couldn't see that might give pause to fishermen of Gont. "No, dearie," she says, "no, no, no, no."
"Perhaps I want to know." Therru stands on a stool, taking the bowl from a shelf that Moss finds hard to reach now. "No one will believe I want to know these things."
"Your mother wouldn't like this," Moss says.
"I can make her understand." Therru steps down. "It does work, doesn't it? Hatha."
Her name is an assertion of will. "Put the bowl by the hearth," says Moss, "and fetch some water. You've seen me do this before. Step lively if you want to see your future husband."
Therru dips into the barrel that holds the day's supply. She brings the pitcher, brimming.
They wait as the bowl calms into a flat surface. It still moves with the shadows of the fire across the ceiling. "Kneel down," Moss instructs. She throws a handful of herbs on the fire. Her eyes sting at the smoke. "Bend your head. Look into the water."
"Nothing." Therru stands. Her head stays tilted forward, screened by her hair and the flickering firelight.
"Well, now." Moss kneads her hands. "It doesn't always work, dearie."
Moss moves to pick up the bowl and empty it back into the barrel; no need to waste good water. Therru stops her. "Can I keep it for a while?" she says.
Moss shrugs. She settles back into her chair. She watches Therru, but Therru does not say any more. The smoke from the herbs is drowsily sweet. Her eyelids become heavy.
Therru stands staring into the fire. Its patterns form and separate against the back of the grate. How can she explain what she saw in the mirror? Moss only knows a handful of little words in the language that she would need to tell it truthfully. Without the proper words, having to translate clumsily, it would sound like one of the stories told by fishermen when they get into their cups.
The mirror is empty now, save for the room it keeps reflecting. But the face is as clear as though still laid out before her. She could never have described the elongated features, pure crimson and etched like a sword made by a master smith; or the wise eyes that held the flame of ancient stars; or the sheen like the dawn over the ocean; or how beautiful she was, how impossibly lovely.
Aunty Moss has gone to bed. Therru sits, wrapped in the coverlet, on her pallet by the hearth. She sips at the wine that was poured earlier for her parents' fortune, and that Moss said Therru was too young to drink. Far below crash waves that have journeyed all the way from Selidor to come to Gont.
Out on the cliffs, under her own star, she hears the cries that must have filled the air when Soléa first broke the surface of the ocean. Thousands of seabirds descending, a storm of white wings in a red dawn. Finding their feet on the streaming rocks as the sun looked for the first time upon the rings of the Archipelago. And then lifting again, dazzled, to fly from one lit island to the next.
Some must have flown further still. Flown to explore the sky that they had never fully seen, having, until then, known only of the water.