home   |   -   |   A-Z   |  


Lorbanery

Seen across ten miles of sunlit water, Lorbanery was green, green as the bright moss by a fountain's rim. Nearby, it broke up into leaves, and tree-trunks, and shadows, and roads, and houses, and the faces and clothing of people, and dust, and all that goes to make up an island inhabited by men. Yet still, over all; it was green: for every acre of it that was not built or walked upon was given up to the low, round-topped hurbah trees, on the leaves of which feed the little worms that spin the silk that is made into thread and woven by the men and women and children of Lorbanery. At dusk the air there is full of small grey bats who feed on the little worms. They eat many, but are suffered to do so and are not killed by the silk-weavers, who indeed account it a deed of very evil omen to kill the grey-winged bats. For if human beings live off the worms, they say, surely small bats have the right to do so.

The houses were curious, with little windows set randomly, and thatches of hurbah-twigs, all green with moss and lichens. It had been a wealthy isle, as isles of the Reach go, and this was still to be seen in the well-painted and well-furnished houses, in the great spinning wheels and looms in the cottages and worksheds, and in the stone piers of the little harbor of Sosara, where several trading galleys might have docked. But there were no galleys in the harbor. The paint on the houses was faded, there was no new furniture, and most of the wheels and looms were still, with dust on them, and spiderwebs between pedal and pedal, between warp and frame.

Sorcerers? said the mayor of Sosara village, a short man with a face as hard and brown as the soles of his bare feet. There's no sorcerers in Lorbanery. Nor ever was.

Who'd have thought it? said Sparrowhawk admiringly. He was sitting with eight or nine of the villagers, drinking hurbah-berry wine, a thin and bitter vintage. He had of necessity told them that he was in the South Reach hunting emmelstone, but he had in no way disguised himself or his companion, except that Arren had left his sword hidden in the boat, as usual, and if Sparrowhawk had his staff about him it was not to be seen. The villagers had been sullen and hostile at first and were disposed to turn sullen and hostile again at any moment; only Sparrowhawk's adroitness and authority had forced a grudging acceptance from them. Wonderful men with trees you must have here, he said now. What do they do about a late frost on the orchards?

Nothing, said a skinny man at the end of the row of villagers. They all sat in a line with their backs against the inn wall, under the eaves of the thatch. Just past their bare feet the large, soft rain of April pattered on the earth.

Rain's the peril, not frost, the mayor said. Rots the worm cases. No man's going to stop rain falling. Nor ever did. He was belligerent about sorcerers and sorcery; some of the others seemed more wistful on the subject. Never did used to rain this time of year, one of them said, when the old fellow was alive.

Who? Old Mildi? Well, he's not alive. He's dead, said the mayor.

Used to call him the Orcharder, the skinny man said. Aye. Called him the Orcharder, said another one. Silence descended, like the rain.

Inside the window of the one-roomed inn Arren sat. He had found an old lute hung on the wall, a long-necked, three-stringed lute such as they play in the Isle of Silk, and he was playing with it now, learning to draw its music from it, not much louder than the patter of the rain on the thatch.

In the markets in Hort Town, said Sparrowhawk I saw stuff sold as silk of Lorbanery. Some of it was silk. But none of it was silk of Lorbanery.

The seasons have been poor, said the skinny man. Four years, five years now.

Five years it is since Fallows Eve, said an old man in a munching, self-satisfied voice, since old Mildi died, aye, die he did, and not near the age I am. Died on Fallows Eve he did.

Scarcity puts up the prices, said the mayor. For one bolt of semi-fine blue-dyed we get now what we used to get for three bolts.

If we get it. Where's the ships? And the blue's false, said the skinny man, thus bringing on a half-hour argument concerning the quality of the dyes they used in the great worksheds.

Who makes the dyes? Sparrowhawk asked, and a new hassle broke out. The upshot of it was that the whole process of dyeing had been overseen by a family who, in fact, called themselves wizards; but if they ever had been wizards they had lost their art, and nobody else had found it, as the skinny man remarked sourly. For they all agreed, except the mayor, that the famous blue dyes of Lorbanery and the unmatchable crimson, the dragon's fire worn by queens in Havnor long ago, were not what they had been. Something had gone out of them. The unseasonable rains were at fault, or the dye-earths, or the refiners. Or the eyes, said the skinny man, of men who couldn't tell the true azure from blue mud, and he glared at the mayor. The mayor did not take up the challenge; they fell silent again.

The thin wine seemed only to acidify their tempers, and their faces looked glum. There was no sound now but the rustle of rain on the uncountable leaves of the orchards of the valley, and the whisper of the sea down at the end of the street, and the murmur of the lute in the darkness within doors.

Can he sing, that girlish lad of yours? asked the mayor.

Aye, he can sing. Arren! Sing a measure for us, lad.

I cannot get this lute to play out of the minor, said Arren at the window, smiling. It wants to weep. What would you hear, my hosts?

Something new, growled the mayor.

The lute thrilled a little; he had the touch of it already. This might be new here, he said. Then he sang.


By the white straits of Solea

and the bowed red branches

that bent their blossoms over

her bowed head, heavy

with sorrow for the lost lover,

by the red branch and the white branch

and the sorrow unceasing

do I swear, Serriadh,

son of my mother and of Morred,

to remember the wrong done

forever,forever.


They were still: the bitter faces and the shrewd, the hardworked hands and bodies. They sat still in the warm rainy Southern dusk, and heard that song like the cry of the grey swan of the cold seas of Ea, yearning, bereft. For a while after the song was over they kept still.

That's a queer music, said one, uncertainly.

Another, reassured as to the absolute centrality of the isle of Lorbanery in all time and space, said, Foreign music's always queer and gloomy.

Give us some of yours, said Sparrowhawk. I'd like to hear a cheery stave myself. The lad will always sing of old dead heroes.

I'll do that, said the last speaker, and hemmed a bit, and started out to sing about a lusty, trusty barrel of wine, and a hey, ho, and about we go! But nobody joined him in the chorus, and he went flat on the hey, ho.

There's no more proper singing, he said angrily. It's the young people's fault, always chopping and changing the way things are done, and not learning the old songs.

It's not that, said the skinny man, there's no more proper anything. Nothing goes right anymore.

Aye, aye, aye, wheezed the oldest one, the luck's run out. That's what. The luck's run out.

After that there was not much to say. The villagers departed by twos and threes, until Sparrowhawk was left alone outside the window and Arren inside it. And then Sparrowhawk laughed, at last. But it was not a merry laugh.

The innkeeper's shy wife came and spread out beds for them on the floor and went away, and they lay down to sleep. But the high rafters of the room were an abode of bats. In and out the unglazed window the bats flew all night long, chittering very high. Only at dawn did they all return and settle, each composing itself in a little, neat, grey package hanging from a rafter upside down.

Perhaps it was the restlessness of the bats that made Arren's sleep uneasy. It was many nights now since he had slept ashore; his body was not used to the immobility of earth and insisted to him as he fell asleep that he was rocking, rocking and then the world would fall out from underneath him and he would wake with a great start. When at last he got to sleep, he dreamt he was chained in the hold of the slaver's ship; there were others chained with him, but they were all dead. He woke from this dream more than once, struggling to get free of it, but falling to sleep at once reentered it. At last it seemed to him that he was all alone on the ship, but still chained so that he could not move. Then a curious, slow voice spoke in his ear. Loose your bonds, it said. Loose your bonds. He tried to move then, and moved: he stood up. He was on some vast, dim moor, under a heavy sky. There was horror in the earth and in the thick air, an enormity of horror. This place was fear, was fear itself; and he was in it, and there were no paths. He must find the way, but there were no paths, and he was tiny, like a child, like an ant, and the place was huge, endless. He tried to walk, stumbled, woke.

The fear was inside him, now that he was awake, and he was not inside it: yet it was no less huge and endless. He felt choked by the black darkness of the room, and looked for stars in the dim square that was the window, but though the rain had ceased there were no stars. He lay awake and was afraid, and the bats flew in and out on noiseless leather wings. Sometimes he heard their thin voices at the very limit of his hearing.

The morning came bright, and they were early up. Sparrowhawk inquired earnestly for emmelstone. Though none of the townsfolk knew what emmelstone was, they all had theories about it and quarreled over them; and he listened, though he listened for news of something other than emmelstone. At last he and Arren took a way that the mayor suggested to them, toward the quarries where the blue dye-earth was dug. But on the way Sparrowhawk turned aside.

This will be the house, he said. They said that that family of dyers and discredited magicians lives on this road.

Is it any use to talk to them? said Arren, remembering Hare all too well.

There is a center to this bad luck, said the mage, harshly. There is a place where the luck runs out. I need a guide to that place! And he went on, and Arren must follow.

The house stood apart among its own orchards, a fine building of stone, but it and all its acreage had gone long uncared for. Cocoons of ungathered silkworms hung discolored among the ragged branches, and the ground beneath was thick with a papery litter of dead grubs and moths. All about the house under the close-set trees there hung an odor of decay, and as they came to it Arren suddenly remembered the horror that had been on him in the night.

Before they reached the door it was flung open. Out charged a grey-haired woman, glaring with reddened eyes and shouting, Out, curse you, thieves, slanderers, lackwits, liars, and misbegotten fools! Get out, out, go! The ill chance be on you forever!

Sparrowhawk stopped, looking somewhat amazed, and quickly raised his hand in a curious gesture. He said one word, Avert!

At that the woman stopped yelling. She stared at him.

Why did you do that?

To turn your curse aside.

She stared a while longer and said at last, hoarsely, Foreigners?

From the North.

She came forward. At first Arren had been inclined to laugh at her, an old woman screeching on her doorstep, but close to her he felt only shame. She was foul and ill-clothed, and her breath stank, and her eyes had a terrible stare of pain.

I have no power to curse, she said. No power. She imitated Sparrowhawk's gesture. They still do that, where you come from?

He nodded. He watched her steadily, and she returned his gaze. Presently her face began to work and change, and she said, Where's the stick?

I do not show it here, sister.

No, you should not. It will keep you from life. Like my power: it kept me from life. So I lost it. I lost all the things I knew, all the words and names. They came by little strings like spiderwebs out of my eyes and mouth. There is a hole in the world, and the light is running out of it. And the words go with the light. Did you know that? My son sits staring all day at the dark, looking for the hole in the world. He says he would see better if he were blind. He has lost his hand as a dyer. We were the Dyers of Lorbanery. Look! She shook before them her muscular, thin arms, stained to the shoulder with a faint, streaky mixture of ineradicable dyes. It never comes off the skin, she said, but the mind washes clean. It won't hold the colors. Who are you?

Sparrowhawk said nothing. Again his eyes held the woman's; and Arren, standing aside, watched uneasily.

All at once she trembled and said in a whisper, I know thee-

Aye. Like knows like, sister.

It was strange to see how she pulled away from the mage in terror, wanting to flee him, and yearned toward him as if to kneel at his feet.

He took her hand and held her. Would you have your power back, the skills, the names? I can give you that.

You are the Great Man, she whispered. You are the King of the Shadows, the Lord of the Dark Place-

I am not. I am no king. I am a man, a mortal, your brother and your like.

But you will not die?

I will.

But you will come back and live forever.

Not I. Nor any man.

Then you are not not the Great One in the darkness, she said, frowning, and looking at him a little askance, with less fear. But you are a Great One. Are there two? What is your name?

Sparrowhawk's stern face softened a moment. I cannot tell you that, he said gently.

I'll tell you a secret, she said. She stood straighter now, facing him, and there was the echo of an old dignity in her voice and bearing. I do not want to live and live and live forever. I would rather have back the names of things. But they are all gone. Names don't matter now. There are no more secrets. Do you want to know my name? Her eyes filled with light, her fists clenched, she leaned forward and whispered: My name is Akaren. Then she screamed aloud, Akaren! Akaren! My name is Akaren! Now they all know my secret name, my true name, and there are no secrets, and there is no truth, and there is no death death death! She screamed the word sobbing, and spittle flew from her lips.

Be still, Akaren!

She was still. Tears ran down her face, which was dirty, and streaked with locks of her uncombed, grey hair.

Sparrowhawk took that wrinkled, tear-blubbered face between his hands and very lightly, very tenderly, kissed her on the eyes. She stood motionless, her eyes closed. Then with his lips close to her ear he spoke a little in the Old Speech, once more kissed her, and let her go.

She opened clear eyes and looked at him a while with a brooding, wondering gaze. So a newborn child looks at its mother; so a mother looks at her child. She turned slowly and went to her door, entered it, and closed it behind her: all in silence, with the still look of wonder on her face.

In silence the mage turned and started back toward the road. Arren followed him. He dared ask no question. Presently the mage stopped, there in the ruined orchard, and said, I took her name from her and gave her a new one. And thus in some sense a rebirth. There was no other help or hope for her.

His voice was strained and stifled.

She was a woman of power, he went on. No mere witch or potion-maker, but a woman of art and skill, using her craft for the making of the beautiful, a proud woman and honorable. That was her life. And it is all wasted. He turned abruptly away, walked off into the orchard aisles, and there stood beside a tree-trunk, his back turned.

Arren waited for him in the hot, leaf-speckled sunlight. He knew that Sparrowhawk was ashamed to burden Arren with his emotion; and indeed there was nothing the boy could do or say. But his heart went out utterly to his companion, not now with that first romantic ardor and adoration, but painfully, as if a link were drawn forth from the very inmost of it and forged into an unbreaking bond. For in this love he now felt there was compassion: without which love is untempered, and is not whole, and does not last.

Presently Sparrowhawk returned to him through the green shade of the orchard. Neither said anything, and they went on side by side. It was hot already; last night's rain had dried, and dust rose under their feet on the road. Earlier the day had seemed dreary and insipid to Arren, as if infected by his dreams; now he took pleasure in the bite of the sunlight and the relief of shade, and enjoyed walking without brooding about their destination.

This was just as well, for they accomplished nothing. The afternoon was spent in talking with the men who mined the dye-ores, and bargaining for some bits of what was said to be emmelstone. As they trudged back to Sosara with the late sun pounding on their heads and necks, Sparrowhawk remarked, It's blue malachite; but I doubt they'll know the difference in Sosara either.

They're strange here, Arren said. It's that way with everything; they don't know the difference. Like what one of them said to the headman last night, 'You wouldn't know the true azure from blue mud' They complain about bad times, but they don't know when the bad times began; they say the work's shoddy, but they don't improve it; they don't even know the difference between an artisan and a spell-worker, between handicraft and the art magic. It's as if they had no lines and distinctions and colors clear in their heads. Everything's the same to them; everything's grey.

Aye," said the mage, thoughtfully. He stalked along for a while, his head hunched between his shoulders, hawklike; though a short man, he walked with a long stride. "What is it they're missing?"

Arren said without hesitation, Joy in life.

Aye, said Sparrowhawk again, accepting Arren's statement and pondering it for some time. I'm glad, he said at last, that you can think for me, lad I feel tired and stupid. I've been sick at heart since this morning, since we talked to her who was Akaren. I do not like waste and destruction. I do not want an enemy. If I must have an enemy, I do not want to seek him, and find him, and meet him If one must hunt, the prize should be a treasure, not a detestable thing.

An enemy, my lord? said Arren.

Sparrowhawk nodded.

When she talked about the Great Man, the King of Shadows-?

Sparrowhawk nodded again. I think so, he said. I think we must come not only to a place, but to a person. This is evil, evil, what passes on this island: this loss of craft and pride, this joylessness, this waste. This is the work of an evil will. But a will not even bent here, not even noticing Akaren or Lorbanery. The track we hunt is a track of wreckage, as if we followed a runaway cart down a mountainside and watched it set off an avalanche.

Could she -Akaren tell you more about this enemy who he is and where he is, or what he is?

Not now, lad, the mage said in a soft but rather bleak voice. No doubt she could have. In her madness there was still wizardry. Indeed her madness was her wizardry. But I could not hold her to answer me. She was in too much pain.

And he walked on with his head somewhat hunched between his shoulders, as if himself enduring, and longing to avoid, some pain.

Arren turned, hearing a scuffle of feet behind them on the road. A man was running after them, a good way off but catching up fast. The dust of the road and his long, wiry hair made aureoles of red about him in the westering light, and his long shadow hopped fantastically along the trunks and aisles of the orchards by the road. Listen! he shouted. Stop! I found it! I found it!

He caught up with them in a rush. Arren's hand went first to the air where his sword hilt might have been, then to the air where his lost knife had been, and then made itself into a fist, all in half a second. He scowled and moved forward. The man was a full head taller than Sparrowhawk, and broadshouldered: a panting, raving, wild-eyed madman. I found it! he kept saying, while Arren, trying to dominate him by a stern, threatening voice and attitude, said, What do you want? The man tried to get around him, to Sparrowhawk; Arren stepped in front of him again.

You are the Dyer of Lorbanery, Sparrowhawk said.

Then Arren felt he had been a fool, trying to protect his companion; and he stepped aside, out of the way. For at six words from the mage, the madman stopped his panting and the clutching gesture of his big, stained hands; his eyes grew quieter; he nodded his head.

I was the dyer, he said, but now I can't dye. Then he looked askance at Sparrowhawk and grinned; he shook his head with its reddish, dusty bush of hair. You took away my mother's name, he said. Now I don't know her, and she doesn't know me. She loves me well enough still, but she's left me. She's dead.

Arren's heart contracted, but he saw that Sparrowhawk merely shook his head a little. No, no, he said, she's not dead.

But she will be. She'll die.

Aye. That's a consequence of being alive, the mage said. The Dyer seemed to puzzle this over for a minute, and then came right up to Sparrowhawk, seized his shoulders, and bent over him. He moved so fast that Arren could not prevent him, but Arren did come up very close, and so heard his whisper, I found the hole in the darkness. The King was standing there. He watches it; he rules it. He had a little flame, a little candle in his hand. He blew on it and it went out. Then he blew on it again and it burned! It burned!

Sparrowhawk made no protest at being held and whispered at. He simply asked, Where were you when you saw that?

In bed.

Dreaming?

No.

Across the wall?

No, the Dyer said, in a suddenly sober tone, and as if uncomfortable. He let the mage go, and took a step back from him. No, I I don't know where it is. I found it. But I don't know where.

That's what I'd like to know, said Sparrowhawk.

I can help you.

How?

You have a boat. You came here in it and you're going on. Are you going on west? That's the way. The way to the place where he comes out. There has to be a place, a place here, because he's alive not just the spirits, the ghosts, that come over the wall, not like that, -you can't bring anything but souls over the wall, but this is the body; this is the flesh immortal. I saw the flame rise in the darkness at his breath, the flame that was out. I saw that. The man's face was transfigured, a wild beauty in it in the long, red-gold light. I know that he has overcome death. I know it. I gave my wizardry to know it. I was a wizard once! And you know it, and you are going there. Take me with you.

The same light shone on Sparrowhawk's face, but left it unmoved and harsh. I am trying to go there, he said.

Let me go with you!

Sparrowhawk nodded briefly. If you're ready when we sail, he said, as coldly as before.

The Dyer backed away from him another step and stood watching him, the exaltation in his face clouding slowly over until it was replaced by a strange, heavy look; it was as if reasoning thought were laboring to break through the storm of words and feelings and visions that confused him. Finally he turned around without a word and began to run back down the road, into the haze of dust that had not yet settled on his tracks. Arren drew a long breath of relief.

Sparrowhawk also sighed, though not as if his heart were any easier. Well, he said. Strange roads have strange guides. Let's go on.

Arren fell into step beside him. You won't take him with us? he asked.

That's up to him.

With a flash of anger Arren thought: It's up to me, also. But he did not say anything, and they went on together in silence.

They were not well-received on their return to Sosara. Everything on a little island like Lorbanery is known as soon as it is done, and no doubt they had been seen turning aside to the Dyers' House and talking to the madman on the road. The innkeeper served them uncivilly, and his wife acted scared to death of them. In the evening when the men of the village came to sit under the eaves of the inn, they made much display of not speaking to the foreigners and being very witty and merry among themselves. But they had not much wit to pass around and soon ran short of jollity. They all sat in silence for a long time, and at last the mayor said to Sparrowhawk, Did you find your blue rocks?

I found some blue rocks, Sparrowhawk replied politely.

Sopli showed you where to find 'em, no doubt.

Ha, ha ha, went the other men, at this masterstroke of irony.

Sopli would be the red-haired man?

The madman. You called on his mother in the morning.

I was looking for a wizard, said the wizard.

The skinny man, who sat nearest him, spat into the darkness. What for?

I thought I might find out about what I'm looking for.

People come to Lorbanery for silk, the mayor said. They don't come for stones. They don't come for charms. Or arm-wavings and jibber-jabber and sorcerers' tricks. Honest folk live here and do honest work.

That's right. He's right, said others.

And we don't want any other sort here, people from foreign parts snooping about and prying into our business.

That's right. He's right, came the chorus.

If there was any sorcerer around that wasn't crazy, we'd give him an honest job in the sheds, but they don't know how to do honest work.

They might, if there were any to do, said Sparrowhawk. Your sheds are empty, the orchards are untended, the silk in your warehouses was all woven years ago. What do you do, here in Lorbanery?

We look after our own business, the mayor snapped, but the skinny man broke in excitedly, Why don't the ships come, tell us that! What are they doing in Hort Town? Is it because our work's been shoddy?- He was interrupted by angry denials. They shouted at one another, jumped to their feet, the mayor shook his fist in Sparrowhawk's face, another drew a knife. Their mood had gone wild. Arren was on his feet at once. He looked at Sparrowhawk, expecting to see him stand up in the sudden radiance of the magelight and strike them dumb with his revealed power. But he did not. He sat there and looked from one to another and listened to their menaces. And gradually they fell quiet, as if they could not keep up anger any more than they could keep up merriment. The knife was sheathed; the threats turned to sneers. They began to go off like dogs leaving a dog-fight, some strutting and some sneaking.

When the two were left alone Sparrowhawk got up, went inside the inn, and took a long draft of water from the jug beside the door. Come, lad, he said. I've had enough of this.

To the boat?

Aye. He put down two trade-counters of silver on the windowsill to pay for their lodging, and hoisted up their light pack of clothing. Arren was tired and sleepy, but he looked around the room of the inn, stuffy and bleak, and all a-flitter up in the rafters with the restless bats; he thought of last night in that room and followed Sparrowhawk willingly. He thought, too, as they went down Sosara's one, dark street, that going now they would give the madman Sopli the slip. But when they came to the harbor he was waiting for them on the pier.

There you are, said the mage. Get aboard, if you want to come.

Without a word, Sopli got down into the boat and crouched beside the mast, like a big, unkempt dog. At this Arren rebelled My lord! he said. Sparrowhawk turned; they stood face to face on the pier above the boat.

They are all mad on this island, but I thought you were not. Why do you take him?

As a guide.

A guide -to more madness? To death by drowning, or a knife in the back?

To death, but by what road I do not know.

Arren spoke with heat, and though Sparrowhawk answered quietly, there was something of a fierce note in his voice. He was not used to being questioned. But ever since Arren had tried to protect him from the madman on the road that afternoon and had seen how vain and unneeded his protection was, he had felt a bitterness, and all that uprush of devotion he had felt in the morning was spoilt and wasted. He was unable to protect Sparrowhawk; he was not permitted to make any decisions; he was unable, or was not permitted, even to understand the nature of their quest. He was merely dragged along on it, useless as a child. But he was not a child.

I would not quarrel with you, my lord, he said as coldly as he could. But this this is beyond reason!

It is beyond all reason. We go where reason will not take us. Will you come, or will you not?

Tears of anger sprang into Arren's eyes. I said I would come with you and serve you. I do not break my word.

That is well, the mage said grimly and made as if to turn away. Then he faced Arren again. I need you, Arren; and you need me. For I will tell you now that I believe this way we go is yours to follow, not out of obedience or loyalty to me, but because it was yours to follow before you ever saw me; before you ever set foot on Roke; before you sailed from Enlad. You cannot turn back from it.

His voice had not softened. Arren answered him as grimly, How should I turn back, with no boat, here on the edge of the world?

This the edge of the world? No, that is farther on. We may yet come to it.

Arren nodded once and swung down into the boat. Sparrowhawk loosed the line and spoke a light wind into the sail. Once away from the looming, empty docks of Lorbanery the air blew cool and clean out of the dark north, and the moon broke silver from the sleek sea before them and rode upon their left as they turned southward to coast the isle.


Sea Dreams | The Farthest Shore | The Madman



Loading...