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Sea Dreams

Late in the morning Sparrowhawk took the magewind from the sail and let his boat go by the world's wind, which blew softly to the south and west. Far off to the right, the hills of southern Wathort slipped away and fell behind, growing blue and small, like misty waves above the waves.

Arren woke. The sea basked in the hot, gold noon, endless water under endless light. In the stern of the boat Sparrowhawk sat naked except for a loincloth and a kind of turban made from sailcloth. He was singing softly, striking his palms on the thwart as if it were a drum, in a light, monotonous rhythm. The song he sang was no spell of wizardry, no chant or Deed of heroes or kings, but a lilting drone of non-sense words, such as a boy might sing as he herded goats through the long, long afternoons of summer, in the high hills of Gont, alone.

From the sea's surface a fish leapt up and glided through the air for many yards on stiff, shimmering vanes like the wings of dragonflies.

We're in the South Reach, Sparrowhawk said when his song was done. A strange part of the world, where the fish fly and the dolphins sing, they say. But the water's mild for swimming, and I have an understanding with the sharks. Wash the touch of the slave-taker from you.

Arren was sore in every muscle and loath to move at first. Also he was an unpracticed swimmer, for the seas of Enlad are bitter, so that one must fight with them rather than swim in them and is soon exhausted. This bluer sea was cold at first plunge, then delightful. Aches dropped away from him. He thrashed by Lookfar's side like a young sea-serpent. Spray flew up in fountains. Sparrowhawk joined him, swimming with a firmer stroke. Docile and protective, Lookfar waited for them, white-winged on the shining water. A fish leapt from sea to air; Arren pursued it; it dived, leapt up again, swimming in air, flying in the sea, pursuing him.

Golden and supple, the boy played and basked in the water and the light until the sun touched the sea. And dark and spare, with. the economy of gesture and the terse strength of age, the man swam, and kept the boat on course, and rigged up an awning of sailcloth, and watched the swimming boy and the flying fish with an impartial tenderness.

Where are we heading? Arren asked in the late dusk, after eating largely of salt meat and hard bread, and already sleepy again.

Lorbanery, Sparrowhawk replied, and the soft syllables formed the last word Arren heard that night, so that his dreams of the early night wove themselves about it. He dreamt he was walking in drifts of soft, pale-colored stuff, shreds and threads of pink and gold and azure, and felt a foolish pleasure; someone told him, These are the silk-fields of Lorbanery, where it never gets dark. But later, in the fag-end of night, when the stars of autumn shone in the sky of spring, he dreamt that he was in a ruined house. It was dry there. Everything was dusty, and festooned with ragged, dusty webs. Arren's legs were tangled in the webs, and they drifted across his mouth and nostrils, stopping his breath. And the worst horror of it was that he knew the high, ruined room was that hall where he had breakfasted with the Masters, in the Great House on Roke.

He woke all in dismay, his heart pounding, his legs cramped against a thwart. He sat up, trying to get away from the evil dream. In the east there was not yet light, but a dilution of darkness. The mast creaked; the sail, still taut to the northeast breeze, glimmered high and faint above him. In the stern his companion slept sound and silent. Arren lay down again and dozed till clear day woke him.

This day the sea was bluer and quieter than he had ever imagined it could be, the water so mild and clear that swimming in it was half like gliding or floating upon air; strange it was and dreamlike.

In the noontime he asked, Do wizards make much account of dreams?

Sparrowhawk was fishing. He watched his line attentively. After a long time he said, Why?

I wondered if there's ever truth in them.

Surely.

Do they foretell truly?

But the mage had a bite, and ten minutes later, when he had landed their lunch, a splendid silverblue sea bass, the question was clean forgotten.

In the afternoon as they lazed under the awning rigged to give shelter from the imperious sun, Arren asked, What do we seek in Lorbanery?

That which we seek, said Sparrowhawk.

"In Enlad," said Arren after a while, "we have a story about the boy whose schoolmaster was a stone:'

Aye? What did he learn?

Not to ask questions.

Sparrowhawk snorted, as if suppressing a laugh, and sat up. Very well! he said. Though I prefer to save talking till I know what I'm talking about. Why is there no more magic done in Hort Town and in Narveduen and maybe throughout all the Reaches? That's what we seek to learn, is it not?

Yes.

"Do you know the old saying, Rules change in the Reaches? Seamen use it, but it is a wizards' saying, and it means that wizardry itself depends on place. A true spell on Roke may be mere words on Iffish. The language of the Making is not everywhere remembered; here one word, there another. And the weaving of spells is itself interwoven with the earth and the water, the winds and the fall of light of the place where it is cast. I once sailed far into the East, so far that neither wind nor water heeded my command, being ignorant of their true names; or more likely it was I who was ignorant.

"The world is very large, the Open Sea going on past all knowledge; and there are worlds beyond the world. Over these abysses of space and in the long extent of time, I doubt whether any word that can be spoken would bear, everywhere and forever, its weight of meaning and its power; unless it were that First Word which Segoy spoke, making all, or the Final Word, which has not been nor will be spoken until all things are unmade So, even within this world of our Earthsea, the little islands that we know, there are differences and mysteries and changes. And the place least known and fullest of mysteries is the South Reach. Few wizards of the Inner Lands have come among these people. They do not welcome wizards, having -so it is believed their own kinds of magic. But the rumors of these are vague, and it may be that the art magic was never well known there, nor fully understood. If so, it would be easily undone by one who set himself to the undoing of it, and sooner weakened than our wizardry of the Inner Lands. And then we might hear tales of the failure of magic in the South.

For discipline is the channel in which our acts run strong and deep; where there is no direction, the deeds of men run shallow and wander and are wasted. So that fat woman of the mirrors has lost her art and thinks she never had it. And so Hare takes his hazia and thinks he has gone farther than the greatest mages go, when he has barely entered the fields of dream and is already lost But where is it that he thinks he goes? What is it he looks for? What is it that has swallowed up his wizardry? We have had enough of Hort Town, I think, so we go farther south, to Lorbanery, to see what the wizards do there, to find out what it is that we must find out Does that answer you?

Yes, but-

Then let the stone be still a while! said the mage. And he sat by the mast in the yellowish, glowing shade of the awning and looked out to sea, to the west, as the boat sailed softly southward through the afternoon. He sat erect and still. The hours passed. Arren swam a couple of times, slipping quietly into the water from the stern of the boat, for he did not like to cross the line of that dark gaze which, looking west over the sea, seemed to see far beyond the bright horizon-line, beyond the blue of air, beyond the boundaries of light.

Sparrowhawk came back from his silence at last and spoke, though not more than a word at a time. Arren's upbringing had made him quick to sense mood disguised by courtesy or by reserve; he knew his companion's heart was heavy. He asked no more questions and in the evening he said, If I sing, will it disturb your thoughts? Sparrowhawk replied with an effort at joking, That depends upon the singing.

Arren sat with his back against the mast and sang. His voice was no longer high and sweet as when the music master of the Hall of Berila had trained it years ago, striking the harmonies on his tall harp; nowadays the higher tones of it were husky, and the deep tones had the resonance of a viol, dark and clear. He sang the Lament for the White Enchanter, that song which Elfarran made when she knew of Morred's death and waited for her own. Not often is that song sung, nor lightly. Sparrowhawk listened to the young voice, strong, sure, and sad between the red sky and the sea, and the tears came into his eyes, blinding.

Arren was silent for a while after that song; then he began to sing lesser, lighter tunes, softly, beguiling the great monotony of windless air and heaving sea and failing light, as night came on.

When he ceased to sing everything was still, the wind down, the waves small, wood and rope barely creaking. The sea lay hushed, and over it the stars came out one by one. Piercing bright to the south a yellow light appeared and sent a shower and splintering of gold across the water.

Look! A beacon! Then after a minute, Can it be a star?

Sparrowhawk gazed at it a while and finally said, I think it must be the star Gobardon. It can be seen only in the South Reach. Gobardon means Crown. Kurremkarmerruk taught us that, sailing still farther south would bring, one by one, eight more stars clear of the horizon under Gobardon, making a great constellation, some say of a running man, others say of the Rune Agnen. The Rune of Ending.

They watched it clear the restless sea-horizon and shine forth steadily.

You sang Elfarran's song, Sparrowhawk said, as if you knew her grief, and you'd made me know it too Of all the histories of Earthsea, that one has always held me most. The great courage of Morred against despair; and Serriadh who was born beyond despair, the gentle king. And her, Elfarran. When I did the greatest evil I have ever done, it was to her beauty that I thought I turned; and I saw her for a moment I saw Elfarran.

A cold thrill went up Arren's back. He swallowed and sat silent, looking at the splendid, baleful, topaz-yellow star.

Which of the heroes is yours? the mage asked, and Arren answered with a little hesitancy, Erreth-Akbe.

Because he was the greatest?

Because he might have ruled all Earthsea, but chose not to, and went on alone and died alone, fighting the dragon Orm on the shore of Selidor.

They sat a while, each following his own thoughts, and then Arren asked, still watching yellow Gobardon, Is it true, then, that the dead can be brought back into life and made to speak to living souls, by magery?

By the spells of Summoning. It is in our power. But it is seldom done, and I doubt that it is ever wisely done. In this the Master Summoner agrees with me; he does not use or teach the Lore of Paln, in which such spells are contained. The greatest of them were made by one called the Grey Mage of Paln, a thousand years ago. He summoned up the spirits of the heroes and mages, even Erreth-Akbe, to give counsel to the Lords of Paln in their wars and government. But the counsel of the dead is not profitable to the living. Paln came on evil times, and the Grey Mage was driven forth; he died nameless.

Is it a wicked thing, then?

I should call it a misunderstanding, rather. A misunderstanding of life. Death and life are the same thing like the two sides of my hand, the palm and the back. And still the palm and the back are not the same They can be neither separated, nor mixed.

Then no one uses those spells now?

I have known only one man who used them freely, not reckoning their risk. For they are risky, dangerous, beyond any other magery. Death and life are like the two sides of my hand, I said, but the truth is we do not know what life is or what death is. To claim power over what you do not understand is not wise, nor is the end of it likely to be good.

Who was the man who used them? Arren asked. He had not found Sparrowhawk so willing to answer questions before, in this quiet, thoughtful mood; both of them were consoled by their talk, dark though the subject of it was.

He lived in Havnor. They accounted him a mere sorcerer, but in native power he was a great mage. He made money from his art, showing any who paid him whatever spirit they asked to see, dead wife or husband or child, filling his house with unquiet shadows of old centuries, the fair women of the days of the Kings. I saw him summon from the Dry Land my own old master who was Archmage in my youth, Nemmerle, for a mere trick to entertain the idle. And that great soul came at his call, like a dog to heel. I was angry and challenged him -I was not Archmage then saying, 'You compel the dead to come into your house: will you come with me to theirs?' And I made him go with me into the Dry Land, though he fought me with all his will and changed his shape and wept aloud when nothing else would do.

So you killed him? Arren whispered, enthralled.

No! I made him follow me into the land of the dead, and return with me from it. He was afraid. He who summoned the dead to him so easily was more afraid of death -of his own death than any man I ever knew. At the wall of stones But I tell you more than a novice ought to know. And you're not even a novice. Through the dusk the keen eyes returned Arren's gaze for a moment, abashing him. No matter, said the Archmage. There is a wall of stones, then, at a certain place on the bourne. Across it the spirit goes at death, and across it a living man may go and return again, if he is a mage. By the wall of stones this man crouched down, on the side of the living, and tried to withstand my will, and could not. He clung to the stones with his hands and cursed and screamed. I have never seen a fear like that; it sickened me with its own sickness. I should have known by that that I did wrong. I was possessed by anger and by vanity. For he was very strong, and I was eager to prove that I was stronger.

What did he do afterward-when you came back?

Grovelled, and swore never to use the Pelnish Lore again; kissed my hand and would have killed me if he dared. He went from Havnor into the West, to Paln perhaps; I heard years later that he had died. He was white-haired when I knew him, though long-armed and quick like a wrestler. What made me fall to talking of him? I cannot even bring to mind his name.

His true name?

No! that I can remember- Then he paused, and for the space of three heartbeats was utterly still.

They called him Cob in Havnor, he said in a changed, careful voice. It had grown too dark for expression to be seen. Arren saw him turn and look at the yellow star, now higher above the waves and casting across them a broken trail of gold as slender as a spider's thread. After a long silence he said, It's not only in dreams, you see, that we find ourselves facing what is yet to be in what was long forgotten, and speaking what seems nonsense because we will not see its meaning.


Magelight | The Farthest Shore | Lorbanery



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