A/N: Because my primary directive in life seems to be writing Earthsea fic which nobody will read, ever, about characters who got mentioned once in half a sentence. Done for a challenge on Livejournal, but it might as well go here too. Enjoy.

When he was a boy, a witch had tried to cut out his heart to give to the old ones who had no names and whose domain was darkness.

That was the story he told the others, declaiming, in his element, a wild-haired young man full of ambition and power, standing on a table in the Hall of Roke School preaching the folly of wickedness and women.

It was a lie, but if you looked at it hard enough the truth would hit you like a hammer blow.

Halkel made sure that no one ever got close enough to look.

When he was a young man, the girl he was in love with was killed by a witch.

That was the story he told himself, pushing down the ugly roiling mass of raw emotion that threatened him in his weak moments, when he lost control. It was a slightly shameful story, but he had been young. There was nothing of the hypocrite in him, how could there be? He had been young, and the tale proved that witches and women were not to be trusted.

It was also a lie, but it was his lie, and he clung to it to save himself from falling.

The truth is longer, and more complicated, and too full of the dark and things mages shouldn't have to feel to be looked at in the light.

When he was seventeen, the girl he was going to marry killed herself trying to get rid of the child that had been conceived too soon, because the village witch had refused to help for fear of getting it wrong and facing the blame of the neighbors.

That began it. That was enough to be something he never again wanted to face.

Halkel had been a wizard's apprentice then, a prodigy, going to be sent to Roke in a few months if the girl- if his wife would come. He hadn't been about to help with an abortion. He told her to try it herself, since her own magic was strong if untrained and such things were woman's work.

He had found her on the floor of her house with her parents sobbing and blood all over the place, and had run away to his master's house in the city without glancing back or saying goodbye. The old man had looked at him with a weary sternness, said "To make love is to unmake power," and never spoken of it again. By Sunreturn, he was at the School on Roke, and no one knew him well enough to ask questions.

He hadn't even stopped to see her buried before he went.

That was the truth. It was a story no one knew, not even his own little home village on Perrecal which had been burned to the ground five years ago in a raid from Karego-At.

No one had survived.

He had been secretly glad to get the news.

For another man, such a story lurking in the dark might have made him go mad with grief and guilt. Another man, to assuage his terrible remorse, might have seen what his refusal had done, seen after long hard thought and tears that nothing was men's or women's magic, and that his duty to the one he loved was greater than that to his pride.

There were things he could have done.

He could have helped.

Better, he could have married her sooner, endured the scandal, promised to take care of the child, left for Roke with her a few months early where no one knew they weren't married.

He could have taught her magic himself.

But he listened, instead, to his old, dry teacher, to his pride, which was great, and his fear of being hurt again, which was greater still.

Halkel was a mage, down to the last arrogant bone in his body, and he achieved a thing someone else might have balked at.

Someone else might have sat down and taken the responsibility. But not him. Halkel was a mage, and he managed, with great difficulty and with all the mental training of his years of study, to turn guilt inside out.

He blamed the witch, he blamed the girl, and he blamed all of womankind for the shame he had felt upon hearing his master's words. He blamed himself for loving at all.

The past became a bloody, passion-filled and painful tangle in the back of his mind, and he grew to fear it and loathe it in equal measure. He strived, through his first years on Roke, to keep his mind clean and concentrated.

He would not deal with such a thing again.

Halkel became the champion of purity, of control, the righteous and eloquent enemy of everything that made one lose concentration, lose focus, divert attention from power. Of everything that made one forgive, or feel, or love.

They were impressed by him, the other young men in the school. He was a champion of the light.

They forgot an important fact.

Light blinds.

When he and a few of his closest supporters studied the whispers that had gathered in Roke since its founding, the paranoia over dark magic and the arrogance of power over powerless, uneducated witchery, when they drafted the Rule of Roke, the others were inspired.

He spoke so clearly with such inspiration. He was powerful, and they flocked to follow him.

Even those who envied Halkel still agreed with what he said.

He preached to the voices at the back of all their minds, young men and old men, masters and novices, the voices which feared chaos and competition and the loss of their power, which are the thing that mages know well how to fear.

Fear can be exploited, and you don't have to stand in the dark to do it.

They were glad to let him make himself Archmage, and when he banished women from the school and showed them how to cast the binding spells on themselves and the stones of the place itself they agreed and did as he said.

What did the Patterner and the Doorkeeper know, anyway?

To make love is to unmake power.

Halkel had power, and under his hands and those after him, he unmade history.

All the fear and the suspicion born of the dark time wrote the old powers evil, the earth itself a threat of tangled roots and encroaching darkness, and witches and women tools of wickedness, weak, full of temptation.

How women and witches could be so weak and yet such a threat was never entirely clarified.

Halkel made himself the bearer of light, because everyone knows that darkness is evil and fears what it might do to them.

Halkel made himself the master, so he would not be shamed again, and he slandered those who he saw as responsible, so he could not be hurt.

Halkel made himself the guardian of the future, so that it would not discover his past.

He was trying to stop the tangle of his mind from turning on him.

This is the story:

When he was a boy, a witch had tried to cut out his heart to give to the old ones who had no names and whose domain was darkness.

The question was whether or not she had succeeded.