In the darkness before dawn Arren dressed in clothing that had been given him, seaman's garb, wellworn but clean, and hurried down through the silent halls of the Great House to the eastern door, carven of horn and dragon's tooth. There the Doorkeeper let him out and pointed the way that he should take, smiling a little. He followed the topmost street of the town and then a path that led down to the boathouses of the School, south along the bay shore from the docks of Thwil. He could just make out his way. Trees, roofs, hills bulked as dim masses within dimness; the dark air was utterly still and very cold; everything held still, held itself withdrawn and obscure. Only over the dark sea eastward was there one faint, clear line: the horizon, tipping momently toward the unseen sun.
He came to the boathouse steps. No one was there; nothing moved. In his bulky sailor's coat and wool cap he was warm enough, but he shivered, standing on the stone steps in the darkness, waiting.
The boathouses loomed black above black water, and suddenly from them came a dull, hollow sound, a booming knock, repeated three times. Arren's hair stirred on his scalp. A long shadow glided out onto the water silently. It was a boat, and it slid softly toward the pier. Arren ran down the steps onto the pier and leapt down into the boat.
“Take the tiller,” said the Archmage, a lithe, shadowy figure in the prow, “and hold her steady while I get the sail up.”
They were out on the water already, the sail opening like a white wing from the mast, catching the growing light. “A west wind to save us rowing out of the bay, that's a parting gift from the Master Windkey, I don't doubt. Watch her, lad, she steers very light! So then. A west wind and a clear dawn for the Balance-Day of spring.”
“Is this boat Lookfar?” Arren had heard of the Archmage's boat in songs and tales.
“Aye,” said the other, busy with ropes. The boat bucked and veered as the wind freshened; Arren set his teeth and tried to keep her steady.
“She steers very light, but somewhat willful, lord.”
The Archmage laughed. “Let her have her will; she is wise also. Listen, Arren,” and he paused, kneeling on the thwart to face Arren, “I am no lord now, nor you a prince. I am a trader called Hawk, and you're my nephew, learning the seas with me, called Arren; for we hail from Enlad. From what town? A large one, lest we meet a townsman.”
“Temere, on the south coast? They trade to all the Reaches.”
The Archmage nodded.
“But,” said Arren cautiously, “you don't have quite the accent of Enlad.”
“I know. I have a Gontish accent,” his companion said, and laughed, looking up at the brightening east. “But I think I can borrow what I need from you. So we come from Temere in our boat Dolphin, and I am neither lord nor mage nor Sparrowhawk, but– how am I called?”
“Hawk, my lord.”
Then Arren bit his tongue.
“Practice, nephew,” said the Archmage. “It takes practice. You've never been anything but a prince. While I have been many things, and last of all, and maybe least, an Archmage… We go south looking for emmelstone, that blue stuff they carve charms of. I know they value it in Enlad. They make it into charms against rheums, sprains, stiff necks, and slips of the tongue.”
After a moment Arren laughed, and as he lifted his head, the boat lifted on a long wave, and he saw the rim of the sun against the edge of the ocean, a flare of sudden gold, before them.
Sparrowhawk stood with one hand on the mast, for the little boat leapt on the choppy waves, and facing the sunrise of the equinox of spring he chanted. Arren did not know the Old Speech, the tongue of wizards and dragons, but he heard praise and rejoicing in the words, and there was a great striding rhythm in them like the rise and fall of tides or the balance of the day and night each succeeding each forever. Gulls cried on the wind, and the shores of Thwil Bay slid past to right and left, and they entered on the long waves, full of light, of the Inmost Sea.
From Roke to Hort Town is no great voyage, but they spent three nights at sea. The Archmage had been urgent to be gone, but once gone, he was more than patient. The winds turned contrary as soon as they were away from the charmed weather of Roke, but he did not call a magewind into their sail, as any weatherworker could have done; instead, he spent hours teaching Arren how to manage the boat in a stiff headwind, in the rock-fanged sea east of Issel. The second night out it rained, the rough, cold rain of March, but he said no spell to keep it off them. On the next night, as they lay outside the entrance to Hort Harbor in a calm, cold, foggy darkness, Arren thought about this, and reflected that in the short time he had known him, the Archmage had done no magic at all.
He was a peerless sailor, though. Arren had learned more in three days' sailing with him than in ten years of boating and racing on Berila Bay. And mage and sailor are not so far apart; both work with the powers of sky and sea, and bend great winds to the uses of their hands, bringing near what was remote. Archmage or Hawk the sea-trader, it came to much the same thing.
He was a rather silent man, though perfectly goodhumored. No clumsiness of Arren's fretted him; he was companionable; there could be no better shipmate, Arren thought. But he would go into his own thoughts and be silent for hours on end, and then when he spoke there was a harshness in his voice, and he would look right through Arren. This did not weaken the love the boy felt for him, but maybe it lessened liking somewhat; it was a little awesome. Perhaps Sparrowhawk felt this, for in that foggy night off the shores of Wathort he began to talk to Arren, rather haltingly, about himself. “I do not want to go among men again tomorrow,” he said. “I've been pretending that I am free… That nothing's wrong in the world. That I'm not Archmage, not even sorcerer. That I'm Hawk of Temere, without responsibilities or privileges, owing nothing to anyone…” He stopped and after a while went on, “Try to choose carefully, Arren, when the great choices must be made. When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are.”
How could such a man, thought Arren, be in doubt as to who and what he was? He had believed such doubts were reserved for the young, who had not done anything yet.
The boat rocked in the great, cool darkness.
“That's why I like the sea,” said Sparrowhawk's voice in that darkness.
Arren understood him; but his own thoughts ran ahead, as they had been doing all these three days and nights, to their quest, the aim of their sailing. And since his companion was in a mood to talk at last, he asked, “Do you think we will find what we seek in Hort Town?”
Sparrowhawk shook his head, perhaps meaning no, perhaps meaning that he did not know.
“Can it be a kind of pestilence, a plague, that drifts from land to land, blighting the crops and the flocks and men's spirits?”
“A pestilence is a motion of the great Balance, of the Equilibrium itself; this is different. There is the stink of evil in it. We may suffer for it when the balance of things rights itself, but we do not lose hope and forego art and forget the words of the Making. Nature is not unnatural. This is not a righting of the balance, but an upsetting of it. There is only one creature who can do that.”
“A man?” Arren said, tentative.
“By an unmeasured desire for life.”
“For life? But it isn't wrong to want to live?”
“No. But when we crave power over life -endless wealth, unassailable safety, immortality– then desire becomes greed. And if knowledge allies itself to that greed, then comes evil. Then the balance of the world is swayed, and ruin weighs heavy in the scale.”
Arren brooded over this a while and said at last, “Then you think it is a man we seek?”
“A man, and a mage. Aye, I think so.”
“But I had thought, from what my father and teachers taught, that the great arts of wizardry were dependent on the Balance, the Equilibrium of things, and so could not be used for evil.”
“That,” said Sparrowhawk somewhat wryly, “is a debatable point. Infinite are the arguments of mages… Every land of Earthsea knows of witches who cast unclean spells, sorcerers who use their art to win riches. But there is more. The Firelord, who sought to undo the darkness and stop the sun at noon, was a great mage; even Erreth-Akbe could scarcely defeat him. The Enemy of Morred was another such. Where he came, whole cities knelt to him; armies fought for him. The spell he wove against Morred was so mighty that even when he was slain it could not be halted, and the island of Solea was overwhelmed by the sea, and all on it perished. Those were men in whom great strength and knowledge served the will to evil and fed upon it. Whether the wizardry that serves a better end may always prove the stronger, we do not know. We hope.”
There is a certain bleakness in finding hope where one expected certainty. Arren found himself unwilling to stay on these cold summits. He said after a little while, “I see why you say that only men do evil, I think. Even sharks are innocent; they kill because they must.”
"That is why nothing else can resist us. Only one thing in the world can resist an evil-hearted man. And that is another man. In our shame is our glory. Only our spirit, which is capable of evil, is capable of overcoming it!,
“But the dragons,” said Arren. “Do they not do great evil? Are they innocent?”
“The dragons! The dragons are avaricious, insatiable, treacherous; without pity, without remorse. But are they evil? Who am I, to judge the acts of dragons?… They are wiser than men are. It is with them as with dreams, Arren. We men dream dreams, we work magic, we do good, we do evil. The dragons do not dream. They are dreams. They do not work magic: it is their substance, their being. They do not do; they are.”
“In Serilune,” said Arren, “is the skin of Bar Oth, killed by Keor, Prince of Enlad, three hundred years ago. No dragons have ever come to Enlad since that day. I saw the skin of Bar Oth. It is heavy as iron and so large that if it were spread out it would cover all the marketplace of Serilune, they said. The teeth are as long as my forearm. Yet they said Bar Oth was a young dragon, not full-grown.”
“There is a desire in you,” said Sparrowhawk, “to see dragons.”
“Their blood is cold and venomous. You must not look into their eyes. They are older than mankind…” He was silent a while and then went on, “And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet would I remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content.”
Both were silent then, and there was no sound but the whispering of the water with the boat, and no light. So at last, there on the deep waters, they slept.
In the bright haze of morning they came into Hort Harbor, where a hundred craft were moored or setting forth: fishermen's boats, crabbers, trawlers, trading-ships, two galleys of twenty oars, one great sixty-oared galley in bad repair, and some lean, long sailing-ships with high triangular sails designed to catch the upper airs in the hot calms of the South Reach. “Is that a ship of war?” Arren asked as they passed one of the twenty-oared galleys, and his companion answered, “A slaver, I judge from the chainbolts in her hold. They sell men in the South Reach.”
Arren pondered this a minute, then went to the gear-box and took from it his sword, which he had wrapped well and stowed away on the morning of their departure. He uncovered it; he stood indecisive, the sheathed sword on his two hands, the belt dangling from it.
“It's no sea-trader's sword,” he said “The scabbard is too fine.”
Sparrowhawk, busy at the tiller, shot him a look “Wear it if you like.”
“I thought it might be wise.”
“As swords go, that one is wise,” said his companion, his eyes alert on their passage through the crowded bay. “Is it not a sword reluctant to be used?”
Arren nodded. “So they say. Yet it has killed. It has killed men.” He looked down at the slender, handworn hilt. “It has, but I have not. It makes me feel a fool. It is too much older than I… I shall take my knife,” he ended, and rewrapping the sword, shoved it down deep in the gear-box. His face was perplexed and angry. Sparrowhawk said nothing till he asked, “Will you take the oars now, lad? We're heading for the pier there by the stairs.”
Hort Town, one of the Seven Great Ports of the Archipelago, rose from its noisy waterfront up the slopes of three steep hills in a jumble of color. The houses were of clay plastered in red, orange, yellow, and white; the roofs were of purplish-red tile; pendick-trees in flower made masses of dark red along the upper streets. Gaudy, striped awnings stretched from roof to roof, shading narrow marketplaces. The quays were bright with sunlight; the streets running back from the waterfront were like dark slots full of shadows and people and noise.
When they had tied up the boat, Sparrowhawk stooped over beside Arren as if to check the knot, and he said, “Arren, there are people in Wathort who know me pretty well; so watch me, that you may know me.” When he straightened up there was no scar on his face. His hair was quite grey; his nose was thick and somewhat snubbed; and instead of a yewstaff his own height, he carried a wand of ivory, which he tucked away inside his shirt. “Dost know me?” he said to Arren with a broad smile, and he spoke with the accent of Enlad. “Hast never seen thy nuncle before this?”
Arren had seen wizards at the court of Berila change their faces when they mimed the Deed of Morred, and knew it was only illusion; he kept his wits about him, and was able to say, “Oh aye, nuncle Hawk!”
But, while the mage dickered with a harbor guardsman over the fee for docking and guarding the boat, Arren kept looking at him to make sure that he did know him. And as he looked, the transformation troubled him more, not less. It was too complete; this was not the Archmage at all, this was no wise guide and leader… The guardsman's fee was high, and Sparrowhawk grumbled as he paid, and strode away with Arren, still grumbling. “A test of my patience,” he said. “Pay that swag-bellied thief to guard my boat! When half a spell would do twice the job! Well, this is the price of disguise… And I've forgot my proper speech, have I not, nevvy?”
They were walking up a crowded, smelly, gaudy street lined with shops, little more than booths, whose owners stood in the doorways among heaps and festoons of wares, loudly proclaiming the beauty and cheapness of their pots, hosiery, hats, spades, pins, purses, kettles, baskets, firehooks, knives, ropes, bolts, bed-linens, and every other kind of hardware and drygoods.
“Is it a fair?”
“Eh?” said the snub-nosed man, bending his grizzled head.
“Is it a fair, nuncle?”
“Fair? No, no. They keep it up all year round, here. Keep your fishcakes, mistress, I have breakfasted!” And Arren tried to shake off a man with a tray of little brass vases, who followed at his heels whining, “Buy, try, handsome young master, they won't fail you, breath as sweet as the roses of Numima, charming the women to you, try them, young sealord, young prince…”
All at once Sparrowhawk was between Arren and the peddler, saying, “What charms are these?”
“Not charms!” the man whined, shrinking away from him. “I sell no charms, sea-master! Only syrups to sweeten the breath after drink or hazia-root – only syrups, great prince!” He cowered right down onto the pavement stones, his tray of vases clinking and clattering, some of them tipping so that a drop of the sticky stuff inside oozed out, pink or purple, over the lip.
Sparrowhawk turned away without speaking and went on with Arren. Soon the crowds thinned and the shops grew wretchedly poor, little kennels displaying as all their wares a handful of bent nails, a broken pestle, and an old cardingcomb. This poverty disgusted Arren less than the rest; in the rich end of the street he had felt choked, suffocated, by the pressure of things to be sold and voices screaming to him to buy, buy. And the peddler's abjectness had shocked him. He thought of the cool, bright streets of his Northern town. No man in Berila, he thought, would have grovelled to a stranger like that. “These are a foul folk!” he said.
“This way, nevvy,” was all his companion's answer. They turned aside into a passage between high, red, windowless house walls, which ran along the hillside and through an archway garlanded with decaying banners, out again into the sunlight in a steep square, another marketplace, crowded with booths and stalls and swarming with people and flies.
Around the edges of the square, a number of men and women were sitting or lying on their backs, motionless. Their mouths had a curious blackish look, as if they had been bruised, and around their lips flies swarmed and gathered in clusters like bunches of dried currants.
“So many,” said Sparrowhawk's voice, low and hasty as if he too had gotten a shock; but when Arren looked at him there was the blunt, bland face of the hearty trader Hawk, showing no concern.
“What's wrong with those people?”
“Hazia. It soothes and numbs, letting the body be free of the mind. And the mind roams free. But when it returns to the body it needs more hazia… And the craving grows and the life is short, for the stuff is poison. First there is a trembling, and later paralysis, and then death.”
Arren looked at a woman sitting with her back to a sunwarmed wall; she had raised her hand as if to brush away the flies from her face, but the hand made a jerky, circular motion in the air, as if she had quite forgotten about it and it was moved only by the repeated surging of a palsy or shaking in the muscles. The gesture was like an incantation emptied of all intention, a spell without meaning.
Hawk was looking at her too, expressionless. “Come on!” he said.
He led on across the marketplace to an awning-shaded booth. Stripes of sunlight colored green, orange, lemon, crimson, azure, fell across the cloths and shawls and woven belts displayed, and danced multitudinous in the tiny mirrors that bedecked the high, feathered headdress of the woman who sold the stuff. She was big and she chanted in a big voice, “Silks, satins, canvases, furs, felts, woollens, fleecefells of Gont, gauzes of Sowl, silks of Lorbanery! Hey, you Northern men, take off your duffle-coats; don't you see the sun's out? How's this to take home to a girl in far Havnor? Look at it, silk of the South, fine as the mayfly's wing!” She had flipped open with deft hands a bolt of gauzy silk, pink shot with threads of silver.
“Nay, mistress, we're not wed to queens,” said Hawk, and the woman's voice rose to a blare: “So what do you dress your womenfolk in, burlap? sailcloth? Misers that won't buy a bit of silk for a poor woman freezing in the everlasting Northern snow! How's this then, a Gontish fleecefell, to help you keep her warm on winter nights!” She flung out over the counterboard a great cream and brown square, woven of the silky hair of the goats of the northeastern isles. The pretended trader put out his hand and felt it, and he smiled.
“Aye, you're a Gontishman?” said the blaring voice, and the headdress nodding sent a thousand colored dots spinning over the canopy and the cloth.
“This is Andradean work; see? There's but four warpstrings to the finger's width. Gont uses six or more. But tell me why you've turned from working magic to selling fripperies. When I was here years since, I saw you pulling flames out of men's ears, and then you made the flames turn into birds and golden bells, and that was a finer trade than this one.”
“It was no trade at all,” the big woman said, and for a moment Arren was aware of her eyes, hard and steady as agates, looking at him and Hawk from out of the glitter and restlessness of her nodding feathers and flashing mirrors.
“It was pretty, that pulling fire out of ears,” said Hawk in a dour but simple-minded tone. “I thought to show it to my nevvy.”
“Well now, look you,” said the woman less harshly, leaning her broad, brown arms and heavy bosom on the counter. “We don't do those tricks any more. People don't want 'em. They've seen through 'em. These mirrors now, I see you remember my mirrors,” and she tossed her head so that the reflected dots of colored light whirled dizzily about them. “Well, you can puzzle a man's mind with the flashing of the Mirrors and with words and with other tricks I won't tell you, till he thinks he sees what he don't see, what isn't there. Like the flames and golden bells, or the S't of clothes I used to deck sailormen in, cloth of In s gold with diamonds like apricots, and off they'd swagger like the King of All the Isles …. But it was tricks, fooleries. You can fool men. They're like chickens charmed by a snake, by a finger held before 'em. Men are like chickens. But then in the end they know they've been fooled and fuddled and they get angry and lose their pleasure in such things. So I turned to this trade, and maybe all the silks aren't silks nor all the fleeces Gontish, but all the same they'll wearthey'll wearl They're real and not mere lies and air like the suits of cloth of gold.”
“Well, well,” said Hawk, “then there's none left in all Hort Town to pull fire out of ears, or do any magic like they did?”
At his last words the woman frowned; she straightened up and began to fold the fleecefell carefully. “Those who want lies and visions chew hazia,” she said. “Talk to them if you like!” She nodded at the unmoving figures around the square.
“But there were sorcerers, they that charmed the winds for seamen and put spells of fortune on their cargoes. Are they all turned to other trades?”
But she in sudden fury came blaring in over his words, “There's a sorcerer if you want one, a great one, a wizard with a staff and all-see him there? He sailed with Egre himself, making winds and finding fat galleys, so he said, but it was all lies, and Captain Egre gave him his just reward at last; he cut his right hand off. And there he sits now, see him, with his mouth full of hazia and his belly full of air. Air and liesl Air and liesl That's all there is to your magic, Seacaptain Goad”
“Well, well, mistress,” said Hawk with obdurate mildness, “I was only asking.” She turned her broad back with a great, dazzle of whirling mirror-dots, and he ambled off, Arren beside him.
His amble was purposeful. It brought them near the man she had pointed out. He sat propped against a wall, staring at nothing; the dark, bearded face had been very handsome once. The wrinkled wrist-stump lay on the pavement stones in the hot, bright sunlight, shameful.
There was some commotion among the booths behind them, but Arren found it hard to look away from the man; a loathing fascination held him. “Was he really a wizard?” he asked very low.
“He may be the one called Hare, who was weatherworker for the pirate Egre. They were famous thieves -Here, stand clear, Arrenl” A man running full-tilt out from among the booths nearly slammed into them both. Another came trotting by, struggling under the weight of a great folding tray loaded with cords and braids and laces. A booth collapsed with a crash; awnings were being pushed over or taken down hurriedly; knots of people shoved and wrestled through the marketplace; voices rose in shouts and screams. Above them all rang the blaring yell of the woman with the headdress of mirrors. Arren glimpsed her wielding some kind of pole or stick against a bunch of men, fending them off with great sweeps like a swordsman at bay.. Whether it was a quarrel that had spread and become a riot, or an attack by a gang of thieves, or a fight between two rival lots of peddlers, there was no telling. People rushed by with armfuls of goods that could be loot or their own property saved from looting. There were knifefights, fist-fights, and brawls all over the square. “That way,” said Arren, pointing to a side street that led out of the square near them. He started for the street, for it was clear that they had better get out at once, but his companion caught his arm. Arren looked back and saw that the man Hare was struggling to his feet. When he got himself erect, he stood swaying a moment, and then without a look around him set off around the edge of the square, trailing his single hand along the house walls as if to guide or support himself. “Keep him in sight,” Sparrowhawk said, and they set off following. No one molested them or the man they followed, and in a minute they were out of the marketsquare, going downhill in the silence of a narrow, twisting street.
Overhead the attics of the houses almost met across the street, cutting out light; underfoot the stones were slippery with water and refuse. Hare went along at a good pace, though he kept trailing his hand along the walls like a blind man. They had to keep pretty close behind him lest they lose him at a cross-street. The excitement of the chase came into Arren suddenly; his senses were all alert, as they were during a stag-hunt in the forests of Enlad; he saw vividly each face they passed, and breathed in the sweet stink of the city: a smell of garbage, incense, carrion, and flowers. As they threaded their way across a broad, crowded street he heard a drum beat and caught a glimpse of a line of naked men and women, chained each to the next by wrist and waist, matted hair hanging over their faces: one glimpse and they were gone, as he dodged after Hare down a flight of steps and out into a narrow square, empty but for a few women gossiping at the fountain.
There Sparrowhawk caught up with Hare and set a hand on his shoulder, at which Hare cringed as if scalded, wincing away, and backed into the shelter of a massive doorway. There he stood shivering and stared at them with the unseeing eyes of the hunted.
“Are you called Hare?” asked Sparrowhawk, and he spoke in his own voice, which was harsh in quality, but gentle in intonation. The man said nothing, seeming not to heed or not to hear. “I want something of you,” Sparrowhawk said. Again no response. “I'll pay for it.”
A slow reaction: “Ivory or gold?”
“The wizard knows the spell's worth.”
Hare's face flinched and changed, coming alive for an instant, so quickly that it seemed to flicker, then clouding again into blankness. “That's all gone,” he said, “all gone.” A coughing fit bent him over; he spat black. When he straightened up he stood passive, shivering, seeming to have forgotten what they were talking about.
Again Arren watched him in fascination. The angle in which he stood was formed by two giant figures flanking a doorway, statues whose necks were bowed under the weight of a pediment and whose knotmuscled bodies emerged only partially from the wall, as if they had tried to struggle out of stone into life and had failed part way. The door they guarded was rotten on its hinges; the house, once a palace, was derelict. The gloomy, bulging faces of the giants were chipped and lichen-grown. Between these ponderous figures the man called Hare stood slack and fragile, his eyes as dark as the windows of the empty house. He lifted up his maimed arm between himself and Sparrowhawk and whined, “Spare a little for a poor cripple, master…”
The mage scowled as if in pain or shame; Arren felt he had seen his true face for a moment under the disguise. He put his hand again on Hare's shoulder and said a few words, softly, in the wizardly tongue that Arren did not understand.
But Hare understood. He clutched at Sparrowhawk with his one hand and stammered, “You can still speak– speak– Come with me, come-”
The mage glanced at Arren, then nodded.
They went down by steep streets into one of the valleys between Hort Town's three hills. The ways became narrower, darker, quieter as they descended. The sky was a pale strip between the overhanging eaves, and the house walls to either hand were dank. At the bottom of the gorge a stream ran, stinking like an open sewer; between arched bridges, houses crowded along the banks. Into the dark doorway of one of these houses Hare turned aside, vanishing like a candle blown out. They followed him.
The unlit stairs creaked and swayed under their feet. At the head of the stairs Hare pushed open a door, and they could see where they were: an empty room with a strawstuffed mattress in one corner and one unglazed, shuttered window that let in a little dusty light.
Hare turned to face Sparrowhawk and caught at his arm again. His lips worked. He said at last, stammering, “Dragon… dragon…”
Sparrowhawk returned his look steadily, saying nothing.
“I cannot speak,” Hare said, and he let go his hold on Sparrowhawk's arm and crouched down on the empty floor, weeping.
The mage knelt by him and spoke to him softly in the Old Speech. Arren stood by the shut door, his hand on his knife-hilt. The grey light and the dusty room, the two kneeling figures, the soft, strange sound of the mage's voice speaking the language of the dragons, all came together as does a dream, having no relation to what happens outside it or to time passing.
Slowly Hare stood up. He dusted his knees with his single hand and hid the maimed arm behind his back. He looked around him, looked at Arren; he was seeing what he looked at now. He turned away presently and sat down on his mattress. Arren remained standing, on guard; but, with the simplicity of one whose childhood had been totally without furnishings, Sparrowhawk sat down cross-legged on the bare floor. “Tell me how you lost your craft and the language of your craft,” he said.
Hare did not answer for a while. He began to beat his mutilated arm against his thigh in a restless, jerky way, and at last he said, forcing the words out in bursts, “They cut off my hand. I can't weave the spells. They cut off my hand. The blood ran out, ran dry.”
“But that was after you'd lost your power, Hare, or else they could not have done it.”
"Power over the winds and the waves and men. You called them by their names and they obeyed you. "
“Yes. I remember being alive,” the man said in a soft, hoarse voice. “And I knew the words and the names…”
“Are you dead now?”
“No. Alive. Alive. Only once I was a dragon… I'm not dead. I sleep sometimes. Sleep comes very close to death, everyone knows that. The dead walk in dreams, everyone knows that. They come to you alive, and they say things. They walk out of death into the dreams. There's a way. And if you go on far enough there's a way back all the way. All the way. You can find it if you know where to look. And if you're willing to pay the price.”
“What price is that?” Sparrowhawk's voice floated on the dim air like the shadow of a falling leaf.
“Life– what else? What can you buy life with, but life?” Hare rocked back and forth on his pallet, a cunning, uncanny brightness in his eyes. “You see,” he said, “they can cut off my hand. They can cut off my head. It doesn't matter. I can find the way back. I know where to look. Only men of power can go there.”
“Wizards, you mean?”
“Yes.” Hare hesitated, seeming to attempt the word several times; he could not say it. “Men of power,” he repeated. “And they must– and they must give it up. Pay.”
Then he fell sullen, as if the word “pay” had at last roused associations, and he had realized that he was giving information away instead of selling it. Nothing more could be got from him, not even the hints and stammers about “a way back” which Sparrowhawk seemed to find meaningful, and soon enough the mage stood up “Well, half-answers beat no answers,” he said, “and the same with payment,” and, deft as a conjuror, he flipped a gold piece onto the pallet in front of Hare.
Hare picked it up. He looked at it and Sparrowhawk and Arren, with jerky movements of his head. “Wait,” he stammered. As soon as the situation changed he lost his grip of it and now groped miserably after what he wanted to say. “Tonight,” he said at last. “Wait. Tonight. I have hazia.”
“I don't need it.”
“To show you– To show you the way. Tonight. I'll take you. I'll show you. You can get there, because you… you're…” He groped for the word until Sparrowhawk said, “I am a wizard.”
“Yes! So we can– we can get there. To the way. When I dream. In the dream. See? I'll take you. You'll go with me, to the… to the way.”
Sparrowhawk stood, solid and pondering, in the middle of the dim room. “Maybe,” he said at last. “If we come, we'll be here by dark.” Then he turned to Arren, who opened the door at once, eager to be gone.
The dank, overshadowed street seemed bright as a garden after Hare's room. They struck out for the upper city by the shortest way, a steep stairway of stone between ivy-grown house walls. Arren breathed in and out like a sea lion– “Ugh!– Are you going back there?”
“Well, I will, if I can't get the same information from a less risky source. He's likely to set an ambush for us.”
“But aren't you defended against thieves and so on?”
“Defended?” said Sparrowhawk. “What do you mean? D'you think I go about wrapped up in spells like an old woman afraid of the rheumatism? I haven't the time for it. I hide my face to hide our quest; that's all. We can look out for each other. But the fact is we're not going to be able to keep out of danger on this journey.”
“Of course not,” Arren said stiffly, angry, angered in his pride. “I did not seek to do so.”
“That's just as well,” the mage said, inflexible, and yet with a kind of good humor that appeased Arren's temper. Indeed he was startled by his own anger; he had never thought to speak thus to the Archmage. But then, this was and was not the Archmage, this Hawk with the snubbed nose and square, ill-shaven cheeks, whose voice was sometimes one man's voice and sometimes another's: a stranger, unreliable.
“Does it make sense, what he told you?” Arren asked, for he did not look forward to going back to that dim room above the stinking river. “All that fiddle-faddle about being alive and dead and coming back with his head cut off?”
“I don't know if it makes sense. I wanted to talk with a wizard who had lost his power. He says that he hasn't lost it but given it traded it. For what? Life for life, he said. Power for power. No, I don't understand him, but he is worth listening to.”
Sparrowhawk's steady reasonableness shamed Arren further. He felt himself petulant and nervous, like a child. Hare had fascinated him, but now that the fascination was broken he felt a sick disgust, as if he had eaten something vile. He resolved not to speak again until he had controlled his temper. Next moment he missed his step on the worn, slick stairs, slipped, recovered himself scraping his hands on the stones. “Oh curse this filthy town!” he broke out in rage. And the mage replied dryly, “No need to, I think.”
There was indeed something wrong about Hort Town, wrong in the very air, so that one might think seriously that it lay under a curse; and yet this was not a presence of any quality, but rather an absence, a weakening of all qualities, like a sickness that soon infected the spirit of any visitor. Even the warmth of the afternoon sun was sickly, too heavy a heat for March. The squares and streets bustled with activity and business, but there was neither order nor prosperity. Goods were poor, prices high, and the markets were unsafe for vendors and buyers alike, being full of thieves and roaming gangs. Not many women were on the streets, and the few there were appeared mostly in groups. It was a city without law or governance. Talking with people, Arren and Sparrowhawk soon learned that there was in fact no council or mayor or lord left in Hort Town. Some of those who had used to rule the city had died, and some had resigned, and some had been assassinated; various chiefs lorded it over various quarters of the city, the harbor guardsmen ran the port and lined their pockets, and so on.
There was no center left to the city. The people, for all their restless activity, seemed purposeless. Craftsmen seemed to lack the will to work well; even the robbers robbed because it was all they knew how to do. All the brawl and brightness of a great port-city was there, on the surface, but all about the edges of it sat the hazia-eaters, motionless. And under the surface, things did not seem entirely real, not even the faces, the sounds, the smells. They would fade from time to time during that long, warm afternoon while Sparrowhawk and Arren walked the streets and talked with this person and that. They would fade quite away. The striped awnings, the dirty cobbles, the colored walls, and all the vividness of being would be gone, leaving the city a dream city, empty and dreary in the hazy sunlight.
Only at the top of the town where they went to rest a while in late afternoon did this sickly mood of daydream break for a while. “This is not a town for luck,” Sparrowhawk had said some hours ago, and now after hours of aimless wandering and fruitless conversations with strangers, he looked tired and grim. His disguise was wearing a little thin; a certain hardness and darkness could be seen through the bluff sea-trader's face. Arren had not been able to shake off the morning's irritability. They sat down on the coarse turf of the hilltop under the leaves of a grove of pendick trees, dark-leaved and budded thickly with red buds, some open. From there they saw nothing of the city but its tile roofs multitudinously scaling downward to the sea. The bay opened its arms wide, slate blue beneath the spring haze, reaching on to the edge of air. No lines were drawn, no boundaries. They sat gazing at that immense blue space. Arren's mind cleared, opening out to meet and celebrate the world.
When they went to drink from a little stream nearby, running clear over brown rocks from its spring in some princely garden on the hill behind them, he drank deep and doused his head right under the cold water. Then he got up and declaimed the lines from the Deed of Morred,
Praised are the Fountains of Shelieth, the silver harp of the waters,
But blest in my name forever this stream that stanched my thirst!
Sparrowhawk laughed at him, and he also laughed. He shook his head like a dog, and the bright spray flew out fine in the last gold sunlight.
They had to leave the grove and go down into the streets again, and when they had made their supper at a stall that sold greasy fishcakes, night was getting heavy in the air. Darkness came fast in the narrow streets. “We'd better go, lad,” said Sparrowhawk, and Arren, said, “To the boat?” but knew it was not to the boat but to the house above the river and the empty, dusty, terrible room.
Hare was waiting for them in the doorway.
He lighted an oil lamp to show them up the black stairs. Its tiny flame trembled continually as he held it, throwing vast, quick shadows up the walls.
He had got another sack of straw for his visitors to sit on, but Arren took his place on the bare floor by the door. The door opened outward, and to guard it he should have sat himself down outside it: but that pitch-black hall was more than he could stand, and he wanted to keep an eye on Hare. Sparrowhawk's attention and perhaps his powers were going to be turned on what Hare had to tell him or show him; it was up to Arren to keep alert for trickery.
Hare held himself straighter and trembled less, he had cleaned his mouth and teeth; he spoke sanely enough at first, though with excitement. His eyes in the lamplight were so dark that they seemed, like the eyes of animals, to show no whites. He disputed earnestly with Sparrowhawk, urging him to eat hazia. “I want to take you, take you with me. We've got to go the same way. Before long I'll be going, whether you're ready or not. You must have the hazia to follow me.”
“I think I can follow you.”
“Not where I'm going. This isn't… spell-casting.” He seemed unable to say the words “wizard” or “wizardry.” “I know you can get to the– the place, you know, the wall. But it isn't there. It's a different way.”
“If you go, I can follow.”
Hare shook his head. His handsome, ruined face was flushed; he glanced over at Arren often, including him, though he spoke only to Sparrowhawk. “Look: there are two kinds of men, aren't there? Our kind and the rest. The… the dragons and the others. People without power are only half-alive. They don't count. They don't know what they dream; they're afraid of the dark. But the others, the lords of men, aren't afraid to go into the dark. We have strength.”
“So long as we know the names of things.”
"But names don't matter there– that's the point, that's the point! It isn't what you do, what you know, that you need. Spells are no good. You have to forget all that, to let it go. That's where eating hazia helps; you forget the names, you let the forms of things go, you go straight to the reality. I'm going to be going pretty soon now; if you want to find out where, you ought to do as I say. I say as he does. You must be a lord of men to be a lord of life. You have to find the secret. I could tell you its name but what's a name? A name isn't real, the real, the real forever. Dragons can't go there. Dragons die. They all die. I took so much tonight you'll never catch me. Not a patch on me. Where I get lost you can lead me. Remember what the secret is? Remember? No death. No death -no! No sweaty bed and rotting coffin, no more, never. The blood dries up like the dry river and it's gone. No fear. No death. The names are gone and the words and the fear, gone. Show me where I get lost, show me, lord… "
So he went on, in a choked rapture of words that was like the chanting of a spell, and yet made no spell, no whole, no sense. Arren listened, listened, striving to understand. If only he could understand! Sparrowhawk should do as he said and take the drug, this once, so that he could find out what Hare was talking about, the mystery that he would not or could not speak. Why else were they here? But then (Arren looked from Hare's ecstatic face to the other profile) perhaps the mage understood already… Hard as rock, that profile. Where was the snubbed nose, the bland look? Hawk the sea-trader was gone, forgotten. It was the mage, the Archmage, who sat there.
Hare's voice now was a crooning mumble, and he rocked his body as he sat cross-legged. His face had grown haggard and his mouth slack. Facing him, in the tiny, steady light of the oil lamp set on the floor between them, the other never spoke, but he had reached out and taken Hare's hand, holding him. Arren had not seen him reach out. There were gaps in the order of events, gaps of nonexistence– drowsiness, it must be. Surely some hours had passed; it might be near midnight. If he slept, would he too be able to follow Hare into his dream and come to the place, the secret way? Perhaps he could. It seemed quite possible now. But he was to guard the door. He and Sparrowhawk had scarcely spoken of it, but both were aware that in having them come back at night Hare might have planned some ambush; he had been a pirate; he knew robbers. They had said nothing, but Arren knew that he was to stand guard, for while the mage made this strange journey of the spirit he would be defenseless. But like a fool he had left his sword on board the boat, and how much good would his knife be if that door swung suddenly open behind him? But that would not happen: he could listen and hear. Hare was not speaking any more. Both men were utterly silent; the whole house was silent. Nobody could come up those swaying stairs without some noise. He could speak, if he heard a noise: shout aloud, and the trance would break, and Sparrowhawk would turn and defend himself and Arren with all the vengeful lightning of a wizard's rage… When Arren had sat down at the door, Sparrowhawk had looked at him, only a glance, approval: approval and trust. He was the guard. There was no danger if he kept on guard. But it was hard, hard to keep watching those two faces, the little pearl of the lampflame between them on the floor, both silent now, both still, their eyes open but not seeing the light or the dusty room, not seeing the world, but some other world of dream or death… to watch them and not to try to follow them…
There, in the vast, dry darkness, there one stood beckoning. Come, he said, the tall lord of shadows. In his hand he held a tiny flame no larger than a pearl, held it out to Arren, offering life. Slowly Arren took one step toward him, following.