All night long, the shortest night of the year, torches burned on the rafts, which lay gathered in a great circle under the thick-starred sky, so that a ring of fires flickered on the sea. The raft-folk danced, using no drum or flute or any music but the rhythm of bare feet on the great, rocking rafts, and the thin voices of their chanters ringing plaintive in the vastness of their dwelling place the sea. There was no moon that night, and the bodies of the dancers were dim in the starlight and torchlight. Now and again one flashed like a fish leaping, a youth vaulting from one raft to the next: long leaps and high, and they vied with one another, trying to circle all the ring of rafts and dance on each, and so come round before the break of day.
Arren danced with them, for the Long Dance is held on every isle of the Archipelago, though the steps and songs may vary. But as the night drew on, and many dancers dropped out and settled down to watch or doze, and the voices of the chanters grew husky, he came with a group of high-leaping lads to the chief's raft and there stopped, while they went on.
Sparrowhawk sat with the chief and the chiefs three wives, near the temple. Between the carven whales that made its doorway sat a chanter whose high voice had not flagged all night long. Tireless he sang, tapping his hands on the wooden deck to keep the time.
“What does he sing of?” Arren asked the mage, for he could not follow the words, which were all held long, with trills and strange catches on the notes.
"Of the grey whales and the albatross and the storm.
They do not know the songs of the heroes and the kings. They do not know the name of Erreth-Akbe. Earlier he sang of Segoy, how he established the lands amid the sea; that much they remember of the lore of men. But the rest is all of the sea."
Arren listened: he heard the singer imitate the whistling cry of the dolphin, weaving his song about it. He watched Sparrowhawk's profile against the torchlight, black and firm as rock, saw the liquid gleam of the chief's wives' eyes as they chatted softly, felt the long, slow dip of the raft on the quiet sea, and slipped gradually toward sleep.
He roused all at once: the chanter had fallen silent. Not only the one near whom they sat, but all the others, on the rafts near and far. The thin voices had died away like a faroff piping of sea birds, and it was still.
Arren looked over his shoulder to the east, expecting dawn. But only the old moon rode low, just rising, golden among the summer stars.
Then looking southward he saw, high up, yellow Gobardon, and below it the eight companions, even to the last: the Rune of Ending clear and fiery above the sea. And turning to Sparrowhawk, he saw the dark face turned to those same stars.
“Why do you cease?” the chief was asking the singer. “It is not daybreak, not even dawn.”
The man stammered and said, “I do not know.”
“Sing on! The Long Dance is not ended.”
“I do not know the words,” the chanter said, and his voice rose high as if in terror. “I cannot sing. I have forgotten the song.”
“Sing another, then!”
“There are no more songs. It is ended,” the chanter cried, and bent forward till he crouched on the decking; and the chief stared at him in amazement.
The rafts rocked beneath their sputtering torches, all silent. The silence of the ocean enclosed the small stir of life and light upon it and swallowed it. No dancer moved.
It seemed to Arren then that the splendor of the stars dimmed, and yet no daylight was in the east. A horror came on him, and he thought, “There will be no sunrise. There will be no day.”
The mage stood up. As he did so a faint light, white and quick, ran along his staff, burning clearest in the rune that was set in silver in the wood. “The dance is not ended,” he said, “nor the night. Arren, sing.”
Arren would have said, “I cannot, lord!”– but instead he looked at the nine stars in the south, drew a deep breath, and sang. His voice was soft and husky at first, but it grew stronger as he sang, and the song was that oldest song, of the Creation of Ea, and the balancing of the dark and the light, and the making of green lands by him who spoke the first word, the Eldest Lord, Segoy.
Before the song was ended, the sky had paled to greyish-blue, and in it only the moon and Gobardon still burned faintly. The torches hissed in the wind of dawn. Then, the song done, Arren was silent; and the dancers who had gathered to listen returned quietly from raft to raft, as the light brightened in the east.
“That is a good song,” the chief said. His voice was uncertain, though he strove to speak impassively. “It would not be well to end the Long Dance before it is completed. I will have the lazy chanters beaten with nilgu thongs.”
“Comfort them, rather,” Sparrowhawk said. He was still afoot, and his tone was stern. “No singer chooses silence. Come with me, Arren.”
He turned to go to the shelter, and Arren followed him. But the strangeness of that daybreak was not yet done, for even then, as the eastern rim of the sea grew white, there came from the north flying a great bird: so high up that its wings caught the sunlight that had not shone upon the world yet and beat in strokes of gold upon the air. Arren cried out, pointing. The mage looked up, startled. Then his face became fierce and exulting, and he shouted out aloud, “Nam hietha arw Ged arkvaissa!”-which in the Speech of the Making is, If thou seekest Ged here find him.
And like a golden plummet dropped, with wings held high outstretched, vast and thundering on the air, with talons which might seize an ox as if it were a mouse, with a curl of steamy flame streaming from long nostrils, the dragon stooped like a falcon on the rocking raft.
The raft-folk cried out; some cowered down, some leapt into the sea, and some stood still, watching, in a wonder that surpassed fear.
The dragon hovered above them. Ninety feet, maybe, was he from tip to tip of his vast membranous wings, that shone in the new sunlight like gold-shot smoke, and the length of his body was no less, but lean, arched like a greyhound, clawed like a lizard, and snake-scaled. Along the narrow spine went a row of jagged darts, like rose-thorns in shape, but at the hump of the back three feet in height, and so diminishing that the last at the tail-tip was no longer than the blade of a little knife. These thorns were grey, and the scales of the dragon were iron-grey, but there was a glitter of gold in them. His eyes were green and slitted.
Moved by fear for his people to forget fear for himself, the chief of the raft-folk came from his shelter with a harpoon such as they used in the hunt of whales: it was longer than himself and pointed with a great, barbed point of ivory. Poising it on his small, sinewy arm, he ran forward to gain the impetus to hurl it up and strike the dragon's narrow, light-mailed belly that hung above the raft. Arren waking from stupor saw him, and plunging forward caught his arm and came down in a heap with him and the harpoon. “Would you anger him with your silly pins?” he gasped. “Let the Dragonlord speak first!”
The chief, half the wind knocked out of him, stared stupidly at Arren and at the mage and at the dragon. But he did not say anything. And then the dragon spoke.
None there but Ged to whom it spoke could understand it, for dragons speak only in the Old Speech, which is their tongue. The voice was soft and hissing, almost like a cat's when he cries out softly in rage, but huge, and there was a terrible music in it. Whoever heard that voice stopped still and listened.
The mage answered briefly, and again the dragon spoke, poising above him on slight-shifting wings: even, thought Arren, like a dragonfly poised on the air.
Then the mage answered one word, “Memeas,” I will come; and he lifted up his staff of yew-wood. The dragon's jaws opened, and a coil of smoke escaped them in a long arabesque. The gold wings clapped like thunder, making a great wind that smelled of burning: and he wheeled and flew hugely to the north.
It was quiet on the rafts, with a little thin piping and wailing of children, and women comforting them. Men climbed aboard out of the sea somewhat shamefaced; and the forgotten torches burned in the first rays of the sun.
The mage turned to Arren. His face had a light in it that might have been joy or stark anger, but he spoke quietly. "Now we must go, lad. Say your farewells and come. He turned to thank the chief of the raft-folk and bid him farewell, and then went from the great raft across three others, for they still lay close ingathered for the dancing, till he came to the one to which Lookfar was tied. So the boat had followed the raft-town in its long, slow drift into the south, rocking along empty behind; but the Children of the Open Sea had filled its empty cask with hoarded rainwater and made up its stock of provisions, wishing thus to honor their guests, for many of them believed Sparrowhawk to be one of the Great Ones, who had taken on the form of a man instead of the form of a whale. When Arren joined him, he had the sail up. Arren loosed the rope and leapt into the boat, and in that instant she veered from the raft and her sail stiffened as in a high wind, though only the breeze of sunrise blew. She heeled turning and sped off northward on the dragon's track, light as a blown leaf on the wind.
When Arren looked back, he saw the raft-town as a tiny scattering, little sticks and chips of wood afloat: the shelters and the torch-poles. Soon these were lost in the dazzle of early sunlight on the water. Lookfar fled forward. When her bow bit the waves, fine crystal spray flew, and the wind of her going flung back Arren's hair and made him squint.
Under no wind of earth could that small boat have sailed so fast, unless in storm, and then it might have foundered in the storm-waves. This was no wind of earth, but the mage's word and power, that sent her forth so fleet.
He stood a long time by the mast, with watchful eyes. At last he sat down in his old place by the tiller, laying one hand upon it, and looked at Arren.
"That was Orm Embar," he said, "the Dragon of Selidor, kin to that great Orm who slew Erreth-Akbe and was slain by him. "
“Was he hunting, lord?” said Arren; for he was not certain whether the mage had spoken to the dragon in welcome or in threat.
“Hunting me. What dragons hunt, they find. He came to ask my help.” He laughed shortly. “And that's a thing I would not believe if any told me: that a dragon turned to a man for help. And of them all, that one! He is not the oldest, though he is very old, but he is the mightiest of his kind. He does not hide his name, as dragons and men must do. He has no fear that any can gain power over him. Nor does he deceive, in the way of his kind. Long ago, on Selidor, he let me live, and he told me a great truth; he told me how the Rune of the Kings might be refound. To him I owe the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. But never did I think to repay such a debt, to such a creditor!”
“What does he ask?”
“To show me the way I seek,” said the mage, more grimly. And after a pause, “He said, 'In the west there is another Dragonlord; he works destruction on us, and his power is greater than ours.' I said, 'Even than thine, Orm Embar?' and he said, 'Even than mine. I need thee: follow in haste.' And so bid, I obeyed.”
“You know no more than that?”
“I will know more.”
Arren coiled up the mooring line, stowed it, and saw to other small matters about the boat, but all the while the tension of excitement sang in him like a tightened bowstring, and it sang in his voice when he spoke at last. “This is a better guide,” he said, “than the others!”
Sparrowhawk looked at him and laughed. “Aye,” he said. “This time we will not go astray, I think.”
So those two began their great race across the ocean. A thousand miles and more it was from the uncharted seas of the raft-folk to the island Selidor, which lies of all the lands of Earthsea the farthest west. Day after day rose shining from the clear horizon and sank into the red west, and under the gold arch of the sun and the silver wheeling of the stars the boat ran northward, all alone on the sea.
Sometimes the thunderclouds of high summer massed far off, casting purple shadows down on the horizon; then Arren would watch the mage as he stood up and with voice and hand called those clouds to drift toward them and to loosen their rain down on the boat. The lightning would leap among the clouds, and the thunder would bellow. Still the mage stood with upraised hand, until the rain came pouring down on him and on Arren and into the vessels they had set out and into the boat and onto the sea, flattening the waves with its violence. He and Arren would grin with pleasure, for of food they had enough, if none to spare, but water they needed. And the furious splendor of the storm that obeyed the mage's word delighted them.
Arren wondered at this power which his companion now used so lightly, and once he said, “When we began our voyage, you used to work no charms.”
“The first lesson on Roke, and the last, Is Do what is needful. And no more!”
“The lessons in between, then, must consist in learning what is needful.”
“They do. One must consider the Balance. But when the Balance itself is broken-then one considers other things. Above all, haste.”
“But how is it that all the wizards of the South -and elsewhere by now– even the chanters of the rafts– all have lost their art, but you keep yours?”
“Because I desire nothing beyond my art,” Sparrowhawk said.
And after some time he added, more cheerfully, “And if I am soon to lose it, I shall make the best of it while it lasts.”
There was indeed a kind of light-heartedness in him now, a pure pleasure in his skill, which Arren, seeing him always so careful, had not guessed. The mind of the magician takes delight in tricks; a mage is a trickster. Sparrowhawk's disguise in Hort Town, which had so troubled Arren, had been a game to him; a very slight game, too, for one who could transform not just his face and voice at will, but his body and very being, becoming as he chose a fish, a dolphin, a hawk. And once he said, “Look, Arren: I'll show you Gont,” and had him look at the surface of their watercask, which he had opened, and which was full to the brim. Many simple sorcerers can cause an image to appear on the water-mirror, and so he had done: a great peak, cloud wreathed, rising from a grey sea. Then the image changed, and Arren saw plainly a cliff on that mountain isle. It was as if he were a bird, a gull or a falcon, hanging on the wind offshore and looking across the wind at that cliff that towered from the breakers for two thousand feet. On the high shelf of it was a little house. “That is Re Albi,” said Sparrowhawk, “and there lives my master Ogion, he who stilled the earthquake long ago. He tends his goats, and gathers herbs, and keeps his silence. I wonder if he still walks on the mountain; he is very old now. But I would know, surely I would know, even now, if Ogion died…” There was no certainty in his voice; for a moment the image wavered, as if the cliff itself were falling. It cleared, and his voice cleared: “He used to go up into the forests alone in late summer and in autumn. So he came first to me, when I was a brat in a mountain village, and gave me my name. And my life with it.” The image of the water-mirror now showed as if the watcher were a bird among the forest branches, looking out to steep, sunlit meadows beneath the rock and snow of the peak, looking inward along a steep road going down in a green, gold-shot darkness. “There is no silence like the silence of those forests,” Sparrowhawk said, yearning.
The image faded, and there was nothing but the blinding disk of the noon sun reflected in the water in the cask.
“There,” Sparrowhawk said, looking at Arren with a strange, mocking look, “there, if I could ever go back there, not even you could follow me.”
Land lay ahead, low and blue in the afternoon like a bank of mist. “Is it Selidor?” Arren asked, and his heart beat fast, but the mage answered, “Obb, I think, or Jessage. We're not half way yet, lad.”
That night they sailed the straits between those two islands. They saw no lights, but there was a reek of smoke in the air, so heavy that their lungs grew raw with breathing it. When day came and they looked back, the eastern isle, Jessage, looked burnt and black as far as they could see inland from the shore, and a haze hung blue and dull above it.
“They have burnt the fields,” Arren said.
“Aye. And the villages. I have smelled that smoke before.”
“Are they savages, here in the West?”
Sparrowhawk shook his head. “Farmers; townsmen.”
Arren stared at the black ruin of the land, the withered trees of orchards against the sky; and his face was hard. “What harm have the trees done them?” he said. “Must they punish the grass for their own faults? Men are savages, who would set a land afire because they have a quarrel with other men.”
“They have no guidance,” Sparrowhawk said. “No king; and the kingly men and the wizardly men, all turned aside and drawn into their minds, are hunting the door through death. So it was in the South, and so I guess it to be here.”
“And this is one man's doing – the one the dragon spoke of? It seems not possible.”
“Why not? If there were a King of the Isles, he would be one man. And he would rule. One man may as easily destroy, as govern: be King or Anti-King.”
There was again that note in his voice of mockery or challenge which roused Arren's temper.
“A king has servants, soldiers, messengers, lieutenants. He governs through his servants. Where are the servants of this-Anti-King?”
“In our minds, lad. In our minds. The traitor, the self; the self that cries I want to live; let the world burn so long as I can live! The little traitor soul in us, in the dark, like the worm in the apple. He talks to all of us. But only some understand him. The wizards and the sorcerers. The singers; the makers. And the heroes, the ones who seek to be themselves. To be one's self is a rare thing and a great one. To be one's self forever: is that not better still?”
Arren looked straight at Sparrowhawk. “You would say to me that it is not better. But tell me why. I was a child when I began this voyage, a child who did not believe in death. You think me a child still, but I have learnt something, not much, maybe, but something; I have learnt that death exists and that I am to die. But I have not learnt to rejoice in the knowledge, to welcome my death or yours. If I love life, shall I not hate the end of it? Why should I not desire immortality?”
Arren's fencing-master in Berila had been a man of about sixty, short and bald and cold. Arren had disliked him for years, though he knew him to be an extraordinary swordsman. But one day in practice he had caught his master off guard and nearly disarmed him, and he had never forgotten the incredulous, incongruous happiness that had suddenly gleamed in the master's cold face, the hope, the joy -an equal, at last an equal! From that moment on, the fencing-master had trained him mercilessly, and whenever they fenced, that same relentless smile would be on the old man's face, brightening as Arren pressed him harder. And it was on Sparrowhawk's face now, the flash of steel in sunlight.
“Why should you not desire immortality? How should you not? Every soul desires it, and its health is in the strength of its desire. -But be careful; you are one who might achieve your desire.”
“And then this: a false king ruling, the arts of man forgotten, the singer tongueless, the eye blind. This! – this blight and plague on the lands, this sore we seek to heal. There are two, Arren, two that make one: the world and the shadow, the light and the dark. The two poles of the Balance. Life rises out of death, death rises out of life; in being opposite they yearn to each other, they give birth to each other and are forever reborn. And with them all is reborn, the flower of the apple tree, the light of the stars. In life is death. In death is rebirth. What then is life without death? Life unchanging, everlasting, eternal? -What is it but death– death without rebirth?”
“If so much hinges on it, then, my lord, if one man's life might wreck the Balance of the Whole, surely it is not possible -it would not be allowed-” He halted, confused.
“Who allows? Who forbids?”
“I do not know.”
“Nor I. But I know how much evil one man, one life, can do. I know it all too well. I know it because I have done it. I have done the same evil, in the same folly of pride. I opened the door between the worlds just a crack, just a little crack, just to show that I was stronger than death itself… I was young and had not met death-like you… It took the strength of the Archmage Nemmerle, it took his mastery and his life, to shut that door. You can see the mark that night left on me, on my face; but him it killed. Oh, the door between the light and the darkness can be opened, Arren; it takes strength, but it can be done. But to shut it again, there's a different story.”
“But my lord, what you speak of surely is different from this-”
“Why? Because I am a good man?” That coldness of steel, of the falcon's eye, was in Sparrowhawk's look again. “What is a good man, Arren? Is a good man one who would not do evil, who would not open a door to the darkness, who has no darkness in him? Look again, lad. Look a little farther; you will need what you learn, to go where you must go. Look into yourself! Did you not hear a voice say Come? Did you not follow?”
“I did. I– I have not forgotten. But I thought… I thought that voice was… his.”
“Aye, it was his. And it was yours. How could he speak to you, across the seas, but in your own voice? How is it that he calls to those who know how to listen, the mages and the makers and the seekers, who heed the voice within them? How is it that he does not call to me? It is because I will not listen; I will not hear that voice again. You were born to power, Arren, as I was; power over men, over men's souls; and what is that but power over life and death? You are young, you stand on the borders of possibility, on the shadowland, in the realm of dream, and you hear the voice saying Come. But I, who am old, who have done what I must do, who stand in the daylight facing my own death, the end of all possibility, I know that there is only one power that is real and worth the having. And that is the power, not to take, but to accept.”
Jessage was far behind them now, a blue smudge on the sea, a stain.
“Then I am his servant,” Arren said.
“You are. And I am yours.”
“But who is he, then? What is he?”
“A man, I think – even as you and I.”
“That man you spoke of once – the wizard of Havnor, who summoned up the dead? Is it he?”
“It may well be. He had great power, and it was all bent on denying death. And he knew the Great Spells of the Lore of Paln. I was young and a fool when I used that lore, and I brought ruin on myself. But if an old man and a strong one used it, careless of all consequence, he might bring ruin on us all.”
“Were you not told that that man was dead?”
“Aye,” said Sparrowhawk “I was.”
And they said no more.
That night the sea was full of fire. The sharp waves thrown back by Lookfar's prow and the movement of every fish through the surface water were all outlined and alive with light. Arren sat with his arm on the gunwale and his head on his arm, watching those curves and whorls of silver radiance. He put his hand in the water and raised it again, and light ran softly from his fingers. “Look,” he said, “I too am a wizard.”
“That gift you have not,” said his companion.
“Much good I shall be to you without it,” said Arren, gazing at the restless shimmer of the waves, “when we meet our enemy.”
For he had hoped -from the very beginning he had hoped– that the reason the Archmage had chosen him and him alone for this voyage was that he had some inborn power, descended from his ancestor Morred, which would in the ultimate need and the blackest hour be revealed: and so he would save himself and his lord and all the world from the enemy. But lately he had looked once more at that hope, and it was as if he saw it from a great distance; it was like remembering that, when he was a very little boy, he had had a burning desire to try on his father's crown, and had wept when he was forbidden to. This hope was as ill-timed, as childish. There was no magery in him. There never would be.
The time might come, indeed, when he could, when he must, put on his father's crown and rule as Prince of Enlad. But that seemed a small thing now, and his home a small place, and remote. There was no disloyalty in this. Only his loyalty had grown greater, being fixed upon a greater model and a broader hope. He had learned his own weakness also, and by it had learned to measure his strength; and he knew that he was strong. But what use was strength if he had no gift, nothing to offer, still, to his lord but his service and his steady love? Where they were going, would those be enough?
Sparrowhawk said only, “To see a candle's light, one must take it into a dark place.” With that Arren tried to comfort himself; but he did not find it very comforting.
Next morning when they awoke, the air was grey and the water was grey. Over the mast the sky brightened to the blue of an opal, for the fog lay low. To Northern men such as Arren of Enlad and Sparrowhawk of Gont, the fog was welcome, like an old friend. Softly it enclosed the boat so that they could not see far, and it was to them like being in a familiar room after many weeks of bright and barren space and the wind blowing. They were coming back into their own climate, and were now perhaps at the latitude of Roke.
Some seven hundred miles east of those fog-clad waters where Lookfar sailed, clear sunlight shone on the leaves of the trees of the Immanent Grove, on the green crown of Roke Knoll, and on the high slate roofs of the Great House.
In a room in the south tower, a magicians' workroom cluttered with retorts and alembics and great-bellied, crook-necked bottles, thick-walled furnaces and tiny heating-lamps, tongs, bellows, stands, pliers, pipes, a thousand boxes and vials and stoppered jugs marked with Hardic or more secret runes, and all such paraphernalia of alchemy, glass-blowing, metal-refining, and the arts of healing, in that room among the much-encumbered tables and benches stood the Master Changer and the Master Summoner of Roke.
In his hands the grey-haired Changer held a great stone like a diamond uncarved. It was a rock-crystal, colored faintly deep within with amethyst and rose, but clear as water. Yet as the eye looked into that clarity, it found unclarity, and neither reflection nor image of what was real round about, but only planes and depths ever farther, ever deeper, until it was led quite into dream and found no way out. This was the Stone of Shelieth. It had long been kept by the princes of Way, sometimes as a mere bauble of their treasury, sometimes as a charm for sleep, sometimes for a more baneful purpose: for those who looked too long and without understanding into that endless depth of crystal might go mad. The Archmage Gensher of Way, coming to Roke, had brought with him the Stone of Shelieth, for in the hands of a mage it held the truth.
Yet the truth varies with the man.
Therefore the Changer, holding the stone and looking through its bossed, uneven surface into the infinite, palecolored, shimmering depths, spoke aloud to tell what he saw. “I see the earth, even as though I stood on Mount Orm in the center of the world and beheld all beneath my feet, even to the farthest isle of the farthest Reaches, and beyond. And all is clear. I see ships in the lanes of Ilien, and the hearthfires of Torheven, and the roofs of this tower where we stand now. But past Roke, nothing. In the south, no lands. In the west, no lands. I cannot see Wathort where it should be, nor any isle of the West Reach, even so close as Pendor. And Osskil and Ebosskil, where are they? There is a mist on Enlad, a greyness, like a spider's web. Each time I look, more islands are gone and the sea where they were is empty and unbroken, even as it was before the Making-” and his voice stumbled on the last word as if it came with difficulty to his lips.
He set the stone down on its ivory stand and stood away from it. His kindly face looked drawn. He said, “Tell me what you see.”
The Master Summoner took up the crystal in his hands and turned it slowly as if seeking on its rough, glassy surface an entrance of vision. A long time he handled it, his face intent. At last he set it down and said, “Changer, I see little. Fragments, glimpses, making no whole.”
The grey-haired Master clenched his hands. “Is that not strange in itself?”
“Are your eyes often blind?” the Changer cried, as if enraged. “Do you not see that there is…” and he stammered several times before he could speak, “Do you not see that there is a hand upon your eyes, even as there is a hand over my mouth?”
The Summoner said, “You are overwrought, my lord.”
“Summon the Presence of the Stone,” said the Changer, controlling himself, but speaking in a somewhat stifled voice.
“Why, because I ask you.”
“Come, Changer, do you dare me – like boys before a bear's den? Are we children?”
“Yes! Before what I see in the Stone of Shelieth, I am a child – a frightened child. Summon the Presence of the Stone. Must I beg you, my lord?”
“No,” said the tall Master, but he frowned, and turned from the older man. Then stretching wide his arms in the great gesture that begins the spells of his art, he raised his head and spoke the syllables of invocation. As he spoke, a light grew within the Stone of Shelieth. The room darkened about it; shadows gathered. When the shadows were deep and the stone was very bright, he brought his hands together, lifted the crystal before his face, and looked into its radiance.
He was silent some while and then spoke. “I see the Fountains of Shelieth,” he said softly. “The pools and basins and the waterfalls, the silver-curtained dripping caves where ferns grow in banks of moss, the rippled sands, the leaping up of the waters and the running of them, the outwelling of deep springs from earth, the mystery and sweetness of the source, the spring…” He fell silent again, and stood so for a time, his face pale as silver in the light of the stone. Then he cried aloud wordlessly, and dropping the crystal with a crash, fell to his knees, his face hidden in his hands.
There were no shadows. Summer sunlight filled the Jumbled room. The great stone lay beneath a table in the dust and litter, unharmed.
The Summoner reached out blindly, catching at the other man's hand like a child. He drew a deep breath. At last he got up, leaning a little on the Changer, and said with unsteady lips and some attempt to smile, “I will not take your dares again, my lord.”
“What saw you, Thorion?”
“I saw the fountains. I saw them sink down, and the streams run dry, and the lips of the springs of water draw back. And underneath all was black and dry. You saw the sea before the Making, but I saw the… what comes after… I saw the Unmaking.” He wet his lips. “I wish that the Archmage were here,” he said.
“I wish that we were there with him.”
“Where? There is none that can find him now.” The Summoner looked up at the windows that showed the blue, untroubled sky. “No sending can come to him, no summoning reach him. He is there where you saw an empty sea. He is coming to the place where the springs run dry. He is where our arts do not avail… Yet maybe even now there are spells that might reach to him, some of those in the Lore of Paln.”
“But those are spells whereby the dead are brought among the living.”
“Some bring the living among the dead.”
“You do not think him dead?”
“I think he goes toward death and is drawn toward it. And so are we all. Our power is going from us, and our strength, and our hope and luck. The springs are running dry.”
The Changer gazed at him a while with a troubled face. “Do not seek to send to him, Thorion,” he said at last. “He knew what he sought long before we knew it. To him the world is even as this Stone of Shelieth: he looks and sees what is and what must be… We cannot help him. The great spells have grown very perilous, and of all there is most danger in the Lore of which you spoke. We must stand fast as he bade us and look to the walls of Roke and the remembering of the Names.”
“Aye,” said the Summoner. “But I must go and think on this.” And he left the tower room, walking somewhat stiffly and holding his noble, dark head high.
In the morning the Changer sought him. Entering his room after vain knocking, he found him stretched asprawl on the stone floor, as if he had been hurled backward by a heavy blow. His arms were flung wide as if in the gesture of invocation, but his hands were cold, and his open eyes saw nothing. Though the Changer knelt by him and called him with a mage's authority, saying his name, Thorion, thrice over, yet he lay still. He was not dead, but there was in him only so much life as kept his heart beating very slowly, and a little breath in his lungs. The Changer took his hands and, holding them, whispered, “O Thorion, I forced you to look into the Stone. This is my doing!” Then going hastily from the room he said aloud to those he met, Masters and students, “The enemy has reached among us, into Roke the well-defended, and has stricken our strength at its heart!” Though he was a gentle man, he looked so fey and cold that those who saw him feared him. “Look to the Master Summoner,” he said. “Though who will summon back his spirit, since he the master of his art is gone?”
He went toward his own chamber, and they all drew back to let him pass.
The Master Healer was sent for. He had them lay Thorion the Summoner abed and cover him warmly; but he brewed no herb of healing, nor did he sing any of the chants that aid the sick body or the troubled mind. One of his pupils was with him, a young boy not yet made sorcerer, but promising in the arts of healing, and he asked, “Master, is there nothing to be done for him?”
“Not on this side of the wall,” said the Master Healer. Then, recalling to whom he spoke, he said, “He is not ill, lad; but even if this were a fever or illness of the body, I do not know if our craft would much avail. It seems there is no savor in my herbs of late; and though I say the words of our spells, there is no virtue in them.”
“That is like what the Master Chanter said yesterday. He stopped in the middle of a song he was teaching us, and said, 'I do not know what the song means.' And he walked out of the room. Some of the boys laughed, but I felt as if the floor had sunk out from under me.”
The Healer looked at the boys blunt, clever face, and then down at the Summoner's face, cold and rigid. “He will come back to us,” he said. “The songs will not be forgotten.”
That night the Changer went from Roke. No one saw the manner of his going. He slept in a room with a window looking out into a garden; the window was open in the morning, and he was gone. They thought he had transformed himself with his own skill of form-change into a bird or beast, or a mist or wind even, for no shape or substance was beyond his art, and so had fled from Roke, perhaps to seek for the Archmage. Some, knowing how the shape-changer may be caught in his own spells if there is any failure of skill or will, feared for him, but they said nothing of their fears.
So there were three of the Masters lost to the Council of the Wise. As the days passed and no news ever came of the Archmage, and the Summoner lay like one dead, and the Changer did not return, a chill and gloom grew in the Great House. The boys whispered among themselves, and some of them spoke of leaving Roke, for they were not being taught what they had come to learn. “Maybe,” said one, “they were all lies from the beginning, these secret arts and powers. Of the Masters, only the Master Hand still does his tricks, and these, we all know, are frank illusion. And now the others hide or refuse to do anything, because their tricks have been revealed.” Another, listening, said, “Well, what is wizardry? What is this art-magic, beyond a show of seeming? Has it ever saved a man from death, or given long life, even? Surely if the mages have the power they claim to have, they'd all live forever!” And he and the other boy fell to telling over the deaths of the great mages, how Morred had been killed in battle, and Nereger by the Grey Mage, and Erreth-Akbe by a dragon, and Gensher, the last Archmage, by mere sickness, in his bed, like any man. Some of the boys listened gladly, having envious hearts; others listened and were wretched.
All this time the Master Patterner stayed alone in the Grove and let none enter it.
But the Doorkeeper, though seldom seen, had not changed. He bore no shadow in his eyes. He smiled, and kept the doors of the Great House ready for its lord's return.