Flint loves his wife as he loves his land: a dumb thirst that goes as deep as his bones. He could no more part with it than cut off his toes. Sometimes he takes it for granted, often he curses it, but just occasionally the season changes, the oak leaves begin to unfurl, and it surprises him with its beauty.

He never has to question whether it loves him in return.


Flint knew his wife had been a priestess in the desert far, far away before she came to Gont, knew it as he knew Segoy raised the islands and gave the stars their names. Seeing her like this, though—there's a difference between knowing that fire burns and putting your hand in the flame.

He could not look away.

When he'd heard the noise in the woodhouse Flint thought it must be one of the goats got out again, and he'd grumbled under his breath about his neighbour's fences and the malign nature of goats that wasted so much of a man's time. But when he opened the door the shaft of sunlight fell not on a goat but on his wife. The slaughtering knife was in her hand, and she was dancing, throwing and catching the knife with every twist and turn of her bare feet upon the earth.

At first he feared – the blade was six inches long and as sharp as whetstone could make it – then he saw how the handle found her hand over and over, sure as the swallow finds the gap in the barn wall. (The first time he'd taken her hand he found the long scars crisscrossing her palms; he'd never asked and she'd never told, but now he wondered how much blood had bought this strange skill.) She faltered when the light touched her and he thought she would stop, but she looked straight at him in the doorway for a moment, and when the dance caught her up again he knew that each step, each catch, each heavy breath was for him.

And then the dance ceased and she was his little white spider again, and yet not. She took a step towards him, and then another. He found he was breathing as deep as she was, and his breeches felt uncomfortably tight. Come into the house, he started to say, but she put her finger to his mouth and pulled him towards her by the laces of his breeches. He felt no fear though the knife was still in her hand. The door swung shut behind him, and in the newborn darkness he could smell her sweat over the scent of pine resin and the tang of cow dung from the byre next door. And then they were pressed against the log pile and the dance, the oldest dance of all, caught them both up again.

When he was spent he didn't pull away but pulled her even tighter against him, breast to breast. And for the first time since he asked her to marry him, the right words formed in his mouth.

'Tenar,' he said, 'my true name is Elennost.'