The Masters of Roke
The School on Roke is where boys who show promise in sorcery are sent from all the Inner Lands of Earthsea to learn the highest arts of magic. There they become proficient in the various kinds of sorcery, learning names, and runes, and skills, and spells, and what should and what should not be done, and why. And there, after long practice, and if hand and mind and spirit all keep pace together, they may be named wizard, and receive the staff of power. True wizards are made only on Roke.
Since there are sorcerers and witches on all the isles, and the uses of magic are as needful to their people as bread and as delightful as music, so the School of Wizardry is a place held in reverence. The nine mages who are the Masters of the School are considered the equals of the great princes of the Archipelago. Their master, the warden of Roke, the Archmage, is held to be accountable to no man at all, except the King of All the Isles; and that only by an act of fealty, by heart's gift, for not even a king could constrain so great a mage to serve the common law, if his will were otherwise. Yet even in the kingless centuries, the Archmages of Roke kept fealty and served that common law. All was done on Roke as it had been done for many hundreds of years; a place safe from all trouble it seemed, and the laughter of boys rang in the echoing courts and down the broad, cold corridors of the Great House.
Arren's guide about the School was a stocky lad whose cloak was clasped at the neck with silver, a token that he had passed his novicehood and was a proven sorcerer, studying to gain his staff. He was called Gamble, “because,” said he, “my parents had six girls, and the seventh child, my father said, was a gamble against Fate.” He was an agreeable companion, quick of mind and tongue. At another time Arren would have enjoyed his humor, but today his mind was too full. He did not pay him very much attention, in fact. And Gamble, with a natural wish to be given credit for existence, began to take advantage of the guest's absentmindedness. He told him strange facts about the School, and then told him strange lies about the School, and to all of them Arren said, “Oh, yes” or “I see,” until Gamble thought him a royal idiot.
“Of course they don't cook in here,” he said, showing Arren past the huge stone kitchens all alive with the glitter of copper cauldrons and the clatter of chopping-knives and the eye-prickling smell of onions. “It's just for show. We come to the refectory, and everybody charms up whatever he wants to eat. Saves dishwashing too.”
“Yes, I see,” said Arren politely.
“Of course novices who haven't learnt the spells yet often lose a good deal of weight, their first months here; but they learn. There's one boy from Havnor who always tries for roast chicken, but all he ever gets is millet mush. He can't seem to get his spells past millet mush. He did get a dried haddock along with it, yesterday.” Gamble was getting hoarse with the effort to push his guest into incredulity. He gave up and stopped talking.
“Where… what land does the Archmage come from?” said that guest, not even looking at the mighty gallery through which they were walking, all carven on wall and arched ceiling with the Thousand-Leaved Tree.
“Gont,” said Gamble. “He was a village goatherd there.” ,
Now, at this plain and well-known fact, the boy from Enlad turned and looked with disapproving unbelief at Gamble. “A goatherd?”
“That's what most Gontishmen are, unless they're pirates or sorcerers. I didn't say he was a goatherd now, you know!”
“But how would a goatherd become Archmage?”
“The same way a prince would! By coming to Roke and outdoing all the Masters, by stealing the Ring in Atuan, by sailing the Dragons' Run, by being the greatest wizard since Erreth-Akbe – how else?”
They came out of the gallery by the north door. Late afternoon lay warm and bright on the furrowed hills and the roofs of Thwil Town and the bay beyond. There they stood to talk. Gamble said, “Of course that's all long ago, now. He hasn't done much since he was named Archmage. They never do. They just sit on Roke and watch the Equilibrium, I suppose. And he's quite old now.”
“Old? How old?”
“Oh, forty or fifty.”
“Have you seen him?”
“Of course I've seen him,” Gamble said sharply. The royal idiot seemed also to be a royal snob.
“No. He keeps to himself. But when I first came to Roke I saw him, in the Fountain Court.”
“I spoke with him there today,” Arren said.
His tone made Gamble look at him and then answer him fully: “It was three years ago. And I was so frightened I never really looked at him. I was pretty young, of course. But its hard to see things clearly in there. I remember his voice, mostly, and the fountain running.” After a moment he added, “He does have a Gontish accent.”
“If I could speak to dragons in their own language,” Arren said, “I wouldn't care about my accent.”
At that Gamble looked at him with a degree of approval, and asked, “Did you come here to join the school, prince?”
“No. I carried a message from my father to the Archmage.”
“Enlad is one of the Principalities of the Kingship, isn't it?”
“Enlad, Ilien, and Way. Havnor and Ea, once, but the line of descent from the kings has died out in those lands. Ilien traces the descent from Gemal Seaborn through Maharion, who was King of all the Isles. Way, from Akambar and the House of Shelieth. Enlad, the oldest, from Morred through his son Serriadh and the House of Enlad”
Arren recited these genealogies with a dreamy air, like a well-trained scholar whose mind is on another subject.
“Do you think we'll see a king in Havnor again in our lifetime?”
“I never thought about it much.”
“In Ark, where I come from, people think about it. We're part of the Principality of Ilien now, you know, since peace was made. How long has it been, seventeen years or eighteen, since the Ring of the King's Rune was returned to the Tower of the Kings in Havnor? Things were better for a while then, but now they're worse than ever. It's time there was a king again on the throne of Earthsea, to wield the Sign of Peace. People are tired of wars and raids and merchants who overprice and princes who overtax and all the confusion of unruly powers. Roke guides, but it can't rule. The Balance lies here, but the Power should lie in the king's hands.”
Gamble spoke with real interest, all foolery set aside, and Arren's attention was finally caught. “Enlad is a rich and peaceful land,” he said slowly. “It has never entered into these rivalries. We hear of the troubles in other lands. But there's been no king on the throne in Havnor since Maharion died: eight hundred years. Would the lands indeed accept a king?”
“If he came in peace and in strength; if Roke and Havnor recognized his claim.”
“And there is a prophecy that must be fulfilled, isn't there? Maharion said that the next king must be a mage.”
“The Master Chanter's a Havnorian and interested in the matter, and he's been dinning the words into us for three years now. Maharion said, He shall inherit my throne who has crossed the dark land living and come to the far shores of the day.”
“Therefore a mage.”
“Yes, since only a wizard or mage can go among the dead in the dark land and return. Though they do not cross it. At least, they always speak of it as if it had only one boundary, and beyond that, no end. What are the far shores of the day, then? But so runs the prophecy of the Last King, and therefore someday one will be born to fulfill it. And Roke will recognize him, and the fleets and armies and nations will come together to him. Then there will be majesty again in the center of the world, in the Tower of the Kings in Havnor. I would come to such a one; I would serve a true king with all my heart and all my art,” said Gamble, and then laughed and shrugged, lest Arren think he spoke with over-much emotion. But Arren looked at him with friendliness, thinking, “He would feel toward the king as I do toward the Archmage.” Aloud he said, “A king would need such men as you about him.”
They stood, each thinking his own thoughts, yet companionable, until a gong rang sonorous in the Great House behind them.
“There!” said Gamble. “Lentil and onion soup tonight. Come on.”
“I thought you said they didn't cook,” said Arren, still dreamy, following.
“Oh, sometimes -by mistake-”
No magic was involved in the dinner, though plenty of substance was. After it they walked out over the fields in the soft blue of the dusk. “This is Roke Knoll,” Gamble said, as they began to climb a rounded hill. The dewy grass brushed their legs, and down by the marshy Thwilburn there was a chorus of little toads to welcome the first warmth and the shortening, starry nights.
There was a mystery in that ground. Gamble said softly, “This hill was the first that stood above the sea, when the First Word was spoken.”
“And it will be the last to sink, when all things are unmade,” said Arren.
“Therefore a safe place to stand on,” Gamble said, shaking off awe; but then he cried, awestruck, “Look! The Grove!”
South of the Knoll a great light was revealed on the earth, like moonrise, but the thin moon was already setting westward over the hill's top; and there was a flickering in this radiance, like the movement of leaves in the wind.
“What is it?”
“It comes from the Grove– the Masters must be there. They say it burnt so, with a light like moonlight, all night, when they met to choose the Archmage five years ago. But why are they meeting now? Is it the news you brought?”
“It may be,” said Arren.
Gamble, excited and uneasy, wanted to return to the Great House to hear any rumor of what the Council of the Masters portended. Arren went with him, but looked back often at that strange radiance till the slope hid it, and there was only the new moon setting and the stars of spring.
Alone in the dark in the stone cell that was his sleeping-room, Arren lay with eyes open. He had slept on a bed all his life, under soft furs; even in the twenty-oared galley in which he had come from Enlad they had provided their young prince with more comfort than this-a straw pallet on the stone floor and a ragged blanket of felt. But he noticed none of it. “I am at the center of the world,” he thought. “The Masters are talking in the holy place. What will they do? Will they weave a great magic to save magic? Can it be true that wizardry is dying out of the world? Is there a danger that threatens even Roke? I will stay here. I will not go home. I would rather sweep his room than be a prince in Enlad. Would he let me stay as a novice? But perhaps there will be no more teaching of the art-magic, no more learning of the true names of things. My father has the gift of wizardry, but I do not; perhaps it is indeed dying out of the world. Yet I would stay near him, even if he lost his power and his art. Even if I never saw him. Even if he never said another word to me.” But his ardent imagination swept him on past that, so that in a moment he saw himself face to face with the Archmage once more in the court beneath the rowan tree, and the sky was dark and the tree leafless and the fountain silent; and he said, “My lord, the storm is on us, yet I will stay by thee and serve thee,” and the Archmage smiled at him… But there imagination failed, for he had not seen that dark face smile.
In the morning he rose, feeling that yesterday he had been a boy, today he was a man. He was ready for anything. But when it came, he stood gaping. “The Archmage wishes to speak to you, Prince Arren,” said a little novice-lad at his doorway, who waited a moment and ran off before Arren could collect his wits to answer.
He made his way down the tower staircase and through stone corridors toward the Fountain Court, not knowing where he should go. An old man met him in the corridor, smiling so that deep furrows ran down his cheeks from nose to chin: the same who had met him yesterday at the door of the Great House when he first came up from the harbor, and had required him to say his true name before he entered. “Come this way,” said the Master Doorkeeper.
The halls and passages in this part of the building were silent, empty of the rush and racket of the boys that enlivened the rest. Here one felt the great age of the walls. The enchantment with which the ancient stones were laid and protected was here palpable. Runes were graven on the walls at intervals, cut deep, some inlaid with silver. Arren had learned the Runes of Hardie from his father, but none of these did he know, though certain of them seemed to hold a meaning that he almost knew, or had known and could not quite remember.
“Here you are, lad,” said the Doorkeeper, who made no account of titles such as Lord or Prince. Arren followed him into a long, low-beamed room, where on one side a fire burnt in a stone hearth, its flames reflecting in the oaken floor, and on the other side pointed windows let in the cold, soft light of fog. Before the hearth stood a group of men. All looked at him as he entered, but among them he saw only one, the Archmage. He stopped, and bowed, and stood dumb.
“These are the Masters of Roke, Arren,” said the Archmage, “seven of the nine. The Patterner will not leave his Grove, and the Namer is in his tower, thirty miles to the north. All of them know your errand here. My lords, this is the son of Morred.”
No pride roused in Arren at that phrase, but only a kind of dread. He was proud of his lineage, but thought of himself only as an heir of princes, one of the House of Enlad. Morred, from whom that house descended, had been dead two thousand years. His deeds were matter of legends, not of this present world. It was as if the Archmage had named him son of myth, inheritor of dreams.
He did not dare look up at the faces of the eight mages. He stared at the iron-shod foot of the Archmage's staff, and felt the blood ringing in his ears.
“Come, let us breakfast together,” said the Archmage, and led them to a table set beneath the windows. There was milk and sour beer, bread, new butter, and cheese. Arren sat with them and ate.
He had been among noblemen, landholders, rich merchants, all his life. His father's hall in Berila was full of them: men who owned much, who bought and sold much, who were rich in the things of the world. They ate meat and drank wine and talked loudly; many disputed, many flattered, most sought something for themselves. Young as he was, Arren had learned a good deal about the manners and disguises of humanity. But he had never been among such men as these. They ate bread and talked little, and their faces were quiet. If they sought something, it was not for themselves. Yet they were men of great power: that, too, Arren recognized.
Sparrowhawk the Archmage sat at the head of the table and seemed to listen to what was said, and yet there was a silence about him, and no one spoke to him. Arren was let alone also, so that he had time to recover himself. On his left was the Doorkeeper, and on his right a grey-haired man with a kindly look, who said to him at last, “We are countrymen, Prince Arren. I was born in eastern Enlad, by the Forest of Aol.”
“I have hunted in that forest,” Arren replied, and they spoke together a little of the woods and towns of the Isle of the Myths, so that Arren was comforted by the memory of his home.
When the meal was done, they drew together once more before the hearth, some sitting and some standing, and there was a little silence.
“Last night,” the Archmage said, “we met in council. Long we talked, yet resolved nothing. I would hear you say now, in the morning light, whether you uphold or gainsay your judgment of the night.”
“That we resolved nothing,” said the Master Herbal, a stocky, dark-skinned man with calm eyes, “is itself a judgment. In the Grove are patterns found; but we found nothing there but argument.”
“Only because we could not see the pattern plain,” said the grey-haired mage of Enlad, the Master Changer. “We do not know enough. Rumors from Wathort; news from Enlad. Strange news, and should be looked to. But to raise a great fear on so little a foundation is unneedful. Our power is not threatened only because a few sorcerers have forgotten their spells.”
“So say I,” said a lean, keen-eyed man, the Master Windkey. “Have we not all our powers? Do not the trees of the Grove grow and put forth leaves? Do not the storms of heaven obey our word? Who can fear for the art of wizardry, which is the oldest of the arts of man?”
“No man,” said the Master Summoner, deep-voiced and tall, young, with a dark and noble face, “no man, no power, can bind the action of wizardry or still the words of power. For they are the very words of the Making, and one who could silence them could unmake the world.”
“Aye, and one who could do that would not be on Wathort or Narveduen,” said the Changer. “He would be here at the gates of Roke, and the end of the world would be at hand! We've not come to that pass yet”
“Yet there is something wrong,” said another, and they looked at him: deep-chested, solid as an oaken cask, he sat by the fire, and the voice came from him soft and true as the note of a great bell. He was the Master Chanter. “Where is the king that should be in Havnor? Roke is not the heart of the world. That tower is, on which the sword of Erreth-Akbe is set, and in which stands the throne of Serriadh, of Akambar, of Maharion. Eight hundred years has the heart of the world been empty! We have the crown, but no king to wear it. We have the Lost Rune, the King's Rune, the Rune of Peace, restored to us, but have we peace? Let there be a king upon the throne, and we will have peace, and even in the farthest Reaches the sorcerers will practice their arts with untroubled mind, and there will be order and a due season to all things.”
“Aye,” said the Master Hand, a slight, quick man, modest of bearing but with clear and seeing eyes. “I am with you, Chanter. What wonder that wizardry goes astray, when all else goes astray? If the whole flock wander, will our black sheep stay by the fold?”
At that the Doorkeeper laughed, but he said nothing.
"Then to you all," said the Archmage, it seems that there is nothing very wrong; or if, there is, it lies in this, that our lands are ungoverned or ill-governed, so that all the arts and high skills of men suffer from neglect. With that much I agree. Indeed it is because the South is all but lost to peaceful commerce that we must depend on rumor; and who has any safe word from the West Reach, save this from Narveduen? If ships went forth and came back safely as of old, if our lands of Earthsea were well-knit, we might know how things stand in the remote places, and so could act. And I think we would act! For, my lords, when the Prince of Enlad tells us that he spoke the words of the Making in a spell and yet did not know their meaning as he spoke them; when the Master Patterner says that there is fear at the roots and will say no more: is this so little a foundation for anxiety? When a storm begins, it is only a little cloud on the horizon."
“You have a sense for the black things, Sparrowhawk,” said the Doorkeeper. “You ever did. Say what you think is wrong.”
“I do not know. There is a weakening of power. There is a want of resolution. There is a dimming of the sun. I feel, my lords– I feel as if we who sit here talking, were all wounded mortally, and while we talk and talk our blood runs softly from our veins…”
“And you would be up and doing.”
“I would,” said the Archmage.
“Well,” said the Doorkeeper, “can the owls keep the hawk from flying?”
“But where would you go?” the Changer asked, and the Chanter answered him: “To seek our king and bring him to his throne!”
The Archmage looked keenly at the Chanter, but answered only, “I would go where the trouble is.”
“South or west,” said the Master Windkey.
“And north and east if need be,” said the Doorkeeper.
“But you are needed here, my lord,” said the Changer. “Rather than to go seeking blindly among unfriendly peoples on strange seas, would it not be wiser to stay here, where all magic is strong, and find out by your arts what this evil or disorder is?”
“My arts do not avail me,” the Archmage said.
There was that in his voice which made them all look at him, sober and with uneasy eyes. “I am the Warder of Roke. I do not leave Roke lightly. I wish that your counsel and my own were the same; but that is not to be hoped for now. The judgment must be mine: and I must go.”
“To that judgment we yield,” said the Summoner.
“And I go alone. You are the Council of Roke, and the Council must not be broken. Yet one I will take with me, if he will come.” He looked at Arren. “You offered me your service, yesterday. Last night the Master Patterner said, `Not by chance does any man come to the shores of Roke. Not by chance is a son of Morred the bearer of this news' And no other word had he for us all the night. Therefore I ask you, Arren, will you come with me?”
“Yes, my lord,” said Arren, with a dry throat.
“The prince, your father, surely would not let you go into this peril,” said the Changer somewhat sharply, and to the Archmage, “The lad is young and not trained in wizardry.”
“I have years and spells enough for both of us,” Sparrowhawk said in a dry voice. “Arren, what of your father?”
“He would let me go.”
“How can you know?” asked the Summoner.
Arren did not know where he was being required to go, nor when, nor why. He was bewildered and abashed by these grave, honest, terrible men. If he had had time to think he could not have said anything at all. But he had no time to think; and the Archmage had asked him, “Will you come with me?”
“When my father sent me here he said to me, `I fear a dark time is coming on the world, a time of danger. So I send you rather than any other messenger, for you can judge whether we should ask the help of the Isle of the Wise in this matter, or offer the help of Enlad to them.' So if I am needed, therefore I am here.”
At that he saw the Archmage smile. There was great sweetness in the smile, though it was brief. “Do you see?” he said to the seven mages. “Could age or wizardry add anything to this?”
Arren felt that they looked on him approvingly then, but with a kind of pondering or wondering look, still. The Summoner spoke, his arched brows straightened to a frown: “I do not understand it, my lord. That you are bent on going, yes. You have been caged here five years. But always before you were alone; you have always gone alone. Why, now, companioned?”
“I never needed help before,” said Sparrowhawk, with an edge of threat or irony in his voice. “And I have found a fit companion.” There was a dangerousness about him, and the tall Summoner asked him no more questions, though he still frowned.
But the Master Herbal, calm-eyed and dark like a wise and patient ox, rose from his seat and stood monumental. “Go, my lord,” he said, “and take the lad. And all our trust goes with you.”
One by one the others gave assent quietly, and by ones and twos withdrew, until only the Summoner was left of the seven. “Sparrowhawk,” he said, “I do not seek to question your judgment. Only I say: If you are right, if there is imbalance and the peril of great evil, then a voyage to Wathort, or into the West Reach, or to world's end, will not be far enough. Where you may have to go, can you take this companion, and is it fair to him?”
They stood apart from Arren, and the Summoner's voice was lowered, but the Archmage spoke openly: “It is fair.”
“You are not telling me all you know,” the Summoner said.
“If I knew, I would speak. I know nothing. I guess much.”
"Let me come with you:
“One must guard the gates.”
“The Doorkeeper does that-”
“Not only the gates of Roke. Stay here. Stay here, and watch the sunrise to see if it be bright, and watch at the wall of stones to see who crosses it and where their faces are turned. There is a breach, Thorion, there is a break, a wound, and it is this I go to seek. If I am lost, then maybe you will find it. But wait. I bid you wait for me.” He was speaking now in the Old Speech, the language of the Making, in which all true spells are cast and on which all the great acts of magic depend; but very seldom is it spoken in conversation, except among the dragons. The Summoner made no further argument or protest, but bowed his tall head quietly both to the Archmage and to Arren and departed.
The fire crackled in the hearth. There was no other sound. Outside the windows the fog pressed formless and dim.
The Archmage stared into the flames, seeming to have forgotten Arren's presence. The boy stood at some distance from the hearth, not knowing if he should take his leave or wait to be dismissed, irresolute and somewhat desolate, feeling again like a small figure in a dark, illimitable, confusing space.
“We'll go first to Hort Town,” said Sparrowhawk, turning his back to the fire. “News gathers there from all the South Reach, and we may find a lead. Your ship still waits in the bay. Speak to the master; let him carry word to your father. I think we should leave as soon as may be. At daybreak tomorrow. Come to the steps by the boathouse.”
“My lord, what-” His voice stuck a moment. “What is it you seek?”
“I don't know, Arren.”
“Then how shall I seek it? Neither do I know that. Maybe it will seek me.” He grinned a little at Arren, but his face was like iron in the grey light of the windows.
"My lord," Arren said, and his voice was steady now, "it is true I come of the lineage of Morred, if any tracing of lineage so old be true. And if I can serve you I will account it the greatest chance and honor of my life, and there is nothing I would rather do. But I fear that you mistake me for something more than I am. "
“Maybe,” said the Archmage.
“I have no great gifts or skills. I can fence with the short sword and the noble sword. I can sail a boat. I know the court dances and the country dances. I can mend a quarrel between courtiers. I can wrestle. I am a poor archer, and I am skillful at the game of net-ball. I can sing, and play the harp and lute. And that is all. There is no more. What use will I be to you? The Master Summoner is right-”
“Ah, you saw that, did you? He's jealous. He claims the privilege of older loyalty.”
“And greater skill, my lord.”
“Then you'd rather he went with me, and you stayed behind?”
“No! But I fear-”
Tears sprang to the boy's eyes. “To fail you,” he said.
The Archmage turned around again to the fire. “Sit down, Arren,” he said, and the boy came to the stone corner-seat of the hearth. “I did not mistake you for a wizard or a warrior or any finished thing. What you are I do not know, though I'm glad to know that you can sail a boat… What you will be, no one knows. But this much I do know: you are the son of Morred and of Serriadh.”
Arren was silent. “That is true, my lord,” he said at last. “But…” The Archmage said nothing, and he had to finish his sentence: “But I am not Morred. I am only myself.”
“You take no pride in your lineage?”
“Yes, I take pride in it -because it makes me a prince; it is a responsibility, a thing that must be lived up to-”
The Archmage nodded once, sharply. “That is what I meant. To deny the past is to deny the future. A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the rowan's roots are shallow, it bears no crown.” At this Arren looked up startled, for his true name, Lebannen, meant the rowan tree. But the Archmage had not said his name. “Your roots are deep,” he went on. “You have strength and you must have room, room to grow. Thus I offer you, instead of a safe trip home to Enlad, an unsafe voyage to an unknown end. You need not come. The choice is yours. But I offer you the choice. For I am tired of safe places, and roofs, and walls around me.” He ended abruptly, looking about him with piercing, unseeing eyes. Arren saw the deep restlessness of the man, and it frightened him. Yet fear sharpens exhilaration, and it was with a leap of the heart that he answered, “My lord, I choose to go with you.”
Arren left the Great House with his heart and mind full of wonder. He told himself that he was happy, but the word did not seem to suit. He told himself that the Archmage had called him strong, a man of destiny, and that he was proud of such praise; but he was not proud. Why not? The most powerful wizard in the world told him, “Tomorrow we sail to the edge of doom,” and he nodded his head and came: should he not feel pride? But he did not. He felt only wonder.
He went down through the steep, wandering streets of Thwil Town, found his ship's master on the Quays, and said to him, “I sail tomorrow with the Archmage, to Wathort and the South Reach. Tell the Prince my father that when I am released from this service I will come home to Berila.”
The ship's captain looked dour. He knew how the bringer of such news might be received by the Prince of Enlad. “I must have writing about it from your hand, prince,” he said. Seeing the justice in that, Arren hurried off -he felt that all must be done instantly– and found a strange little shop where he purchased inkstone and brush and a piece of soft paper, thick as felt; then he hurried back to the quays and sat down on the wharfside to write his parents. When he thought of his mother holding this piece of paper, reading the letter, a distress came into him. She was a blithe, patient woman, but Arren knew that he was the foundation of her contentment, that she longed for his quick return. There was no way to comfort her for his long absence. His letter was dry and brief. He signed with the sword-rune, sealed the letter with a bit of pitch from a caulking-pot nearby, and gave it to the ship's master. Then, “Wait!” he said, as if the ship were ready to set sail that instant, and ran back up the cobbled streets to the strange little shop. He had trouble finding it, for there was something shifty about the streets of Thwil; it almost seemed that the turnings were different every time. He came on the right street at last and darted into the shop under the strings of red clay beads that ornamented its doorway. When he was buying ink and paper he had noticed, on a tray of clasps and brooches, a silver brooch in the shape of a wild rose; and his mother was called Rose. “I'll buy that,” he said, in his hasty, princely way.
“Ancient silverwork of the Isle of O. I can see you are a judge of the old crafts,” said the shopkeeper, looking at the hilt -not the handsome sheath– of Arren's sword. “That will be four in ivory.”
Arren paid the rather high price unquestioning; he had in his purse plenty of the ivory counters that serve as money in the Inner Lands. The idea of a gift for his mother pleased him; the act of buying pleased him; as he left the shop he set his hand on the pommel of his sword, with a touch of swagger.
His father had given him that sword on the eve of his departure from Enlad. He had received it solemnly and had worn it, as if it were a duty to wear it, even aboard ship. He was proud of the weight of it at his hip, the weight of its great age on his spirit. For it was the sword of Serriadh who was the son of Morred and Elfarran; there was none older in the world except the sword of Erreth-Akbe, which was set atop the Tower of the Kings in Havnor. The sword of Serriadh had never been laid away or hoarded up, but worn; yet was unworn by the centuries, unweakened, because it had been forged with a great power of enchantment. Its history said that it never had been drawn, nor ever could be drawn, except in the service of life. For no purpose of bloodlust or revenge or greed, in no war for gain, would it let itself be wielded. From it, the great treasure of his family, Arren had received his use-name: Arrendek he had been called as a child, 'the little Sword.'
He had not used the sword, nor had his father, nor his grandfather. There had been peace in Enlad for a long time.
And now, in the street of the strange town of the Wizards' Isle, the sword's handle felt strange to him when he touched it. It was awkward to his hand and cold. Heavy, the sword hindered his walk, dragged at him. And the wonder he had felt was still in him, but had gone cold. He went back down to the quay, and gave the brooch to the ship's master for his mother, and bade him farewell and a safe voyage home. Turning away he pulled his cloak over the sheath that held the old, unyielding weapon, the deadly thing he had inherited. He did not feel like swaggering any more. “What am I doing?” he said to himself as he climbed the narrow ways, not hurrying now, to the fortress-bulk of the Great House above the town. “How is it that I'm not going home? Why am I seeking something I don't understand, with a man I don't know?”
And he had no answer to his questions.