Disclaimer: Ursula LeGuin wrote Earthsea. This is an unofficial fan work, written only for fun.

Written for Miss Morland as part of the 2009 Earthsea ficathon (earthsea_fic at LiveJournal). The prompt was: "Jasper/Vetch, A Wizard of Earthsea: Jasper's dislike of the new boy Sparrowhawk has nothing to do with jealousy. Of course not."

*

Loyalty

Vetch knocks once; with little need, since the door stands open.

A shell of magelight follows him as he enters. His gaze touches Jasper's face and fastens on the pallet bed, where the bag sits neatly packed. "Have you made ready to go, then?" he says.

"As you see."

"You will be travelling light," Vetch says. "We bring little to Roke, and we take little leaving. Not things that weigh of matter, at least. – But need you leave tonight? In the morning will be time enough."

"The boat embarks at first light. It will have no weatherworker if I am not aboard; nor will there be passage on another for a week."

The room is chill. Jasper fastens his cloak more securely, untying and retying the points. "You knew full well when I planned to travel. This has all been decided for days now."

"You decided," Vetch agrees. He sounds wistful, as if he spoke of something that was not a choice at all. "You could remain here still. Study to gain your staff. Our new Archmage would welcome it."

"And is that what you want?"

"I would not have you leave Roke. You know that."

"Do I know that?" Jasper asks. "Unlike some of our acquaintance, I do not make claim to know everything without first being told. And I do not recall that you have ever proved it. On the isle where I was raised, we seldom recognise allegiances unless they are spoken. We make solemn pledges to show who is dedicated to the good of whom."

"I gladly pledge," Vetch says, "that I would not see you leave Roke."

"Those pledges are binding, Vetch. That is how we govern a land without a king; there is no assurance but loyalty, and no authority but to hold in one's hand an oath given. Before I came here, I had to swear fealty to my own father; swear on my true name, which I had not revealed to any man willingly, that I would never challenge his rule. His exact words were: If you love me, you will swear it. If you will not, then you do not."

Jasper pulls on one glove, followed by the other; and then he can find no more garments to put on, and he hangs his bag from his shoulder. The moon is rising, a shred of copper in the evening sky.

"Name? You want my name?" Vetch's face is mild and troubled. "Are you testing me, kesset?"

"I am not testing my own worthiness to hear it. My worthiness has been tested enough."

"I do not question that. But a man's name is not something that can be asked, perhaps. Although I am no noble, and come from ordinary fisherfolk, and no lord of a domain has aught to fear from me, yet still... There is much I would give you. I would give you what I can, but I cannot pay this as a price, as you were made to do. That was a wrong thing."

Jasper bows his head. "No doubt you are right," he says. "And you have me at a disadvantage, for probably you have no need for oaths, and could pluck my name straight from the weave of things, as the Archmage Nemmerle did when first I arrived in this house. You always had more talent for that dragons' lore than I."

"Some mages are gifted at finding out names. But the best do it to heal, and not to compel."

"It is no matter now," Jasper says. "I shall soon be gone. Take my name if you will. Your friend the sparrowhawk would do so."

But Vetch only smiles his slow smile and spreads out his hands, wide, with the palms open. Kesset, he says again, which is part of the language of the Making but is no man's name, and means, simply, jasper.

He crushes the magelight, and they stand together for a moment, with the moon sliding in.

"If you would go, this night, let me accompany you to the harbour," Vetch says. "I would gladly do that service. You may believe in it as loyalty."

"Yes."

Jasper refuses to let Vetch carry his bag, saying he needs no help with that light load, and they walk unhurriedly through the hallways of the Great House.

Candles are flaring as the routine of the evening begins. Vetch says little in the familiar steps and turnings. He pauses once in the courtyard; there the fountain is a grey whisper under the dark tree, and the Master Doorkeeper does not mark their leaving, for he is still in council with the Archmage.

Outside, on the hill, all is quiet. Roke Town is home at its supper and night blows in from the sea.

It does not take long to reach the harbour, or to find the inn where the ship of O awaits the tide. There is scarcely any room for farewell, after that. When Jasper draws back the curtain of his chamber, Vetch has already turned to begin the climb back up the hill. Without a light, he is a shadow in the town streets; a subtle dark shape, moving through the world's darkness.