Fandom: Earthsea
Rating: Gen
Wordcount: 5000
Summary: For three days and three nights, Ged holds the Door, on Roke.
Notes: Many thanks to betas bethia_cathrain, doro, Richard and unovis. People, I had real problems with this story. Ursula le Guin is a superb author, stunning, but in these Earthsea books she's already covered many of the themes that I find attractive to write. It took, literally, a year before I could come up with something that was an idea rather than a story set on Earthsea, and even so, if you're familiar with canon, you'll find the beginning of this story is repetitive and that I've dodged canon in one place: the Doorkeeper's place and name of birth are recorded. I console myself that, for him, that hasn't yet happened in this story.
I am so grateful to espresso_addict for her patience.
It will become obvious that I am much indebted to T.H.White for the idea behind this story.


Written for espresso_addict. in help_japan.


This story is part of the Ten Stories zine, and can be downloaded as a .pdf here from 22nd July 2012. Please right click and download.

 


The Shining of the Stars

Jay Tryfanstone
2012

 


All power is one power. At the end of days there is nothing but silence, and the word, the last word and the first word: Agnen. Agnen, the rune of ending, which will never be spoken until the world's end, and after Agnen, nothing.

Thus, it is taught on Roke where the wizards of Earthsea study their trade: that as a wizard's knowledge grows and his power with it, so his focus narrows. To study on Roke is to be both chained and set free, as a student learns both the span and the limits of their own power, and the nature of the balance which governs the world and all powers therein.

From the Master Chanter, students learn the Deeds of Heroes and the Lays of Wisdom, beginning with the first song, the Creation of Éa. With the Master Windkey, the arts of wind and weather: with the Master Herbal, the nature of all growing things. From the Master Hand, the arts of illusion, the craft of juggling, and the minor arts of changing which any lesser wizard has at his fingertips. More dangerous are the arts of the Master Changer, whose perilous craft can reshape the world in a name. Of the names themselves, students learn in the Isolate Tower perched on the northernmost cape of Roke, where the Master Namer keeps his lists, the true names of every creature which breathes or has ever breathed. There are listed the names of the rock and of the earth, and of the sea and the wind and all the currents and tides therein, and those lists are never ending and never complete. These are the true names of the Old Speech, which is the language of dragons and from which came the Six Hundred Runes of Hardic, the source and spring of wizardry. Any witch will know some of these names. A mage knows many, and might spend his life in the search for more.

Teaching in the school at Roke are also the Master Patterner, of whose craft wizards do not speak, and the Master Summoner, who deals only in true magic, the summoning of the forces which set the world and the stars spinning and hold them steady. This is an art both perilous and dire, to be used only in the greatest of need, and the best and worst of this art, and the most dangerous, are the spells for the summoning of the living and the dead. This Ged has learned, to his cost.

On Roke too lives the Archmage, and it is from his hands that a student learned in the arts of sorcery receives their staff, and is acknowledged as a wizard. In these days, the days before Ged had sailed the Dragon's Run from East to West and back again, before the finding and sealing of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, the Archmage was Gensher. Like many men of Way he was black-skinned and heavy-browed, and his strengths lay in the arts of defense and of protection. Steady indeed was his eye on the Balance of the World, in the years after Ged received his staff.

Yet even as the constellation of Ending has nine stars, so too does Roke have nine masters, and the ninth of these is the Master Doorkeeper.


~*~


He was a small man, the Doorkeeper, and he smiled often, although a wizard might see that smile only twice in his life, at the entering and at the leaving of the Great School of Wizardry on Roke. Yet of all wizards the Doorkeeper was the only man who held in his hands the true names of all who passed over his threshold. It was said on Roke that the Doorkeeper never forgot a name, from that of the humblest serving man to the Archmages themselves, whose use-names any child might list, yet the truth was both different and stranger still.

When Ged returned from the Open Sea, the easternmost sea of the world which lies beyond Astowell, the last land, it was to Roke that he came at length. Salt-stained and worn, he walked up through the streets of Thwil after evening fall, and when the Doorkeeper opened the door to his quiet knock, Ged came home to the Great School as if he had returned from nothing more than a stroll down to the harbour. To the Archmage Gensher and to his masters he paid his respects, but spoke little of the journey that had taken him from Osskill to Iffish and beyond, to those stretches of the Reaches where few men had ever sailed. Little, save only that he was free of his shadow. Those few wizards on Roke who knew him remarked on the lightness of his step and the freedom of his laughter: those who did not seldom marked his unobtrusive presence. As so many wizards have done since and before, Ged spent his days in the libraries of Roke and with the lists of Names. To no wizard did he divulge for what he searched, for his quest was so far-fetched it could have been nothing more than a mage's whim.

In truth, Ged's searching was desultory and easily halted by the drift of a salt-scented Easterly wind or the merry tumble of sea campion amongst the rocks of the Northernmost cape of Roke, for in returning Ged brought brought with him the burden and joy of the knowledge of his own death, and to him these small things were no longer to be named but to be lived. Often, he would leave his studies to wander through the oak groves or along the small sandy coves of the island, and often as he did so he would find the Doorkeeper by his side, as silent and amiable a companion as the otek who had once sat on Ged's shoulder. He talked seldom and listened more, the Doorkeeper of Roke, and it was to him that Ged spoke when he spoke at all: of the maps and genealogies and of the histories of the Islands, of the feathered pattern of salt spray flung up by the pitching prow of a close-hauled boat, and of the pattern of jewels stitched to the bodice of a child's silk dress.

Of the schooling of wizards, too, Ged spoke.

"There are nine masters on Roke," Ged said. It was morning, a morning of the fallows, and early enough for the last of the nine stars, Gondoran, to shine still above the roof tiles of the Council Room, although the sky was already lightened with dawn. They were walking in the courtyard. Behind them, the fountain played against the marble of its basin, and the shadows of werelights tricked the leaves and the budding blossom on the trees into shadowed lacework as fine as any on Kamery. In front of them stood a doorway, silver runed, but of honest oak.

"Nine masters," Ged said to the Doorkeeper, "And the Archmage. With all of them have I studied, saving the Archmage, who does not teach, and you."

"Are you so sure?" asked the Doorkeeper, smiling.

To him alone of all the wizards of Roke had Ged given his true name, when he had entered the school for the first time, and of all Ged's masters only the Doorkeeper vouchsafed to every student passing into wizardry his own name. Not all wizards of Roke proved true: many were the paths to power and some were darker than others, yet the Doorkeeper had never failed in his post, and never had his name been bespelled.

"Tell me of the door," Ged asked.

The Doorkeeper said, "I cannot. To understand the door is to be the door."

"Then let me be the door," Ged said. He was young in this year, and the accent of his own home of Gont, which he would never entirely lose, was still strong in his words.

As easily as if he had known and considered the question before it had taken shape, the Doorkeeper nodded. "Three days," he said. "Three days and three nights, will you hold the door. That is enough."

For a moment, it seemed to Ged as if he had heard those very words before in the same tone of voice, as if they were not conjecture but something that had already happened, and when he looked at the Doorkeeper the man watched him back unsmiling and certain. It seemed a simple thing, the keeping of the threshold of Roke, but the doorway was a thing of Roke and the Doorkeeper with it, and Ged had long learned that what appeared simplest of names could conceal the deepest of meanings. Yet of all things, Ged desired most what was unknown.

He bowed his head.

When he looked up, the last of the Nine Stars was shining still over the courtyard on Roke through the branches of the young trees, although the pale blossom was surely heavier than it had been moments before and the sky lighter. It was morning yet, he was lying on his back, and on his chest the Doorkeeper had written the rune Agnen, the rune of ending, the last rune.

The Doorkeeper was smiling.

Then the sky fell, and took everything Ged was.

In darkness, without air, here, he was nothing. Nothing and nameless. He had no word for himself, nor for the slow dance of stars so far from Earthsea they had never been named by wizard or dragon, nor for the clouds of dust and the black emptiness of all space and time that lay between them. No word for the order of it, no pattern, no language, no rhythm, silence, silence, and within it Ged flung without chart or compass. Within that vast emptiness he was utterly insignificant, smaller than a grain of sand in all the seas that are one sea, as undistinguished as a single blade of grass on all the islands of Earthsea. He was unraveling. He was unmade, spiraling out, stretched thin, fog, mist, cloud, vapour, burning up in the light of the indifferent stars. He could feel himself lessen: Tenar; Kalessin; Lebannen; the Ring, gone, lost, their names nothing amongst the light of the stars. The line of the beach at Solidor at midday slipped through his fingers and faded, the pattern of currents around the last black rock of the Dragon's Run was smoothed away: he did not know the face of the King in Havnor nor the true-names of Yarrow's daughters which he himself had whispered into their ears. He lost the smell of hazia, burning, and the pattern of blue dye engrained into a woman's hands, and the waysigns of the path over the wall between life and death.

But he had never known these things. These things had not yet happened. Yet he knew them now in the leaving as he had never known them, and of the things that came before there was nothing, nothing -

He was - he was -

He was. A thrum of chord. A word. He was Ged, the Doorkeeper and the door.

The stars danced, infinitely slow, and the music of their dance was the first word and the last, inevitable and endless, and Ged was part of the whole, small, smallest, nothing more than a drop of water in all the oceans of Earthsea, but himself, as every drop of water and every grain of sand knew its own name.

He stood on the threshold of the doorway on Roke, and the white enamel of the dragon's tooth was cool under his hand.

He was between the great gold-studded doors of the throne room in Awabath, a prince's ransom in his hands, sick with fear. The cladding on the walls here was marble, yet beneath it was yellow brick, and the brick was crumbling.

He was on a raft, so far beyond the outermost isles that the sea he traveled knew not of earth nor leaf, poised to dive, caught for this instant between the boundaries of air and water.

In the doorway of a tomb in Atuan, he was afraid, and the pockmarked iron of the door he opened was cold against his skin.

For a space of time that lasted no more than the moment between footrise and footfall, he was there on the threshold, and then he was again on Roke, in the darkness before daylight.

A man stood before him in the doorway, a wizard Ged did not know and does. This man was the Master Windkey, although the face he wore was not the face of the man who had taught Ged the ways of the wind and the tide. He was the Archmage Ged's Master Windkey, although here on the threshold he was younger and unscarred and the staff in his hands was made of Rowan, not the sea drift ash Ged remembers him owning.

Ged knew this man. He had sat in council with this man, eaten with him, sailed with him. He opened the door, on Roke.

On Karego-At.

On Atuan.

On the outermost sea.

In a ruined castle on an island whose name was all but forgotten, a dragon stepped though the ruined arches of a gateway crowded with stone-frozen beasts. The dragon turned his face to Ged and grinned, and his grin was blackly toothed and amused: the dragon's name was Orm Embar.

But Ged does not know this. He did. He knew this dragon's death. And yet alive, Orm Embar stepped over the threshold, spread his wings, and flew sere and terrible into the light of the rising sun.

This was the first night, the last night, on which Ged held the doorway, on Roke.

The stars turned. The tide rode the sea. The moon fell and rose in the sky. Morning came.

On Roke, men crossed over the threshold, serving men and cooks and gardeners, a student, a wizard, a merchant. For an instant, as they stepped through the door, just as the door, Ged knew their momentary lives and their loves and joys and sorrows. Then they were gone. He saw them only in the moment they walked through the door, no more, no less. He saw the glint of a trout's scales in a rush basket and smelled the sweet, bitter smell of a handful of wild garlic and the sharpness of preserved lemon: the cook considered fish; the gardener, soil; the student, the quality of time and his own tardiness; the wizard a shadow of a spell Ged almost knew - and then they were gone. These were fragments, shades across the door, known only in the instance of their crossing, nothing, nothing. In this the first day, the last day, Ged was stretched thin. He was every door, every threshold, every windowsill and every chimneybreast and every boundary. He was an arch of rock on Astowell where the gulls swoop and skirl in the eastern wind and an ice cave on Hogan Island known only by the seals, an island off Selidor, a strait, a carelessly looped leather curtain, a door.

On Havnor, a woman, veiled, laughed as she stepped between bedroom and boudoir. There was a rose in her hand, sweetly scented. Ged knew her son's true name already: he had watched her son crowned. A hostler on Semel cursed, between stable yard and stall: a weaver on Lorbanery carried a tray of silkworms between shed and weaving parlour, a wizard on Gont let his goats out into the day and looked up to the hills, thinking of the westerly wind and the scent of pine trees in mist. Every threshold on Earthsea was held between Ged's hands, from Hogen Land to Far Sorr, from Astowell to Selidor, and all the islands and seas that lie between.

On the islands of the Hand, a woman paused in the concealing shade of a narrow stone doorway, and her hands formed a symbol Ged did not know: the woman walking towards her smiled in recognition. Then she was gone, but on Pody, another woman, her hair tangled and knotted and her clothes ragged, made the same gesture to the weaver who sat at her loom and was answered. On Hille, on Andrad, other women spoke in a silent language, in words Ged did not know nor understand, but recognised.

Far to the west of Gont, a woman called Anthil who was once a princess stooped, crawling through a driftwood door hinged with salt-stained leather and mis-matched nails. On Way, another paused, with a hand held to her back, between the stone pillars of a field gate. She was pregnant, but the child in her belly was fierce and hungry, and in the brief knowledge of that moment Ged saw not a child's fist but a dragon's talons. He saw her child take wing.

Under a carved stone lintel, on Gont, a man paused to survey his land: he was weak, grasping, dissatisfied, and he burned thin with a mage-bound life that was not his own. Yet Ged knew the slopes and boundaries of the fields this man surveyed, the wooden houses of his village and the drift of windblown blossom on the cobbles of the square, and the fountain that ran dry will in Ged's memory be shyly bountiful. His too were the stone carved dragons of the landgate of Gont Port and the sounding whales of the wooden temples of the Children of the Open Sea, the moments of a snatched run of a half-tuned harp on Elini, and a juggler's patter, between passage and parlour, on Atnini. The words were Kargish, but to the door and to Ged the Doorkeeper all languages were one language, all words echoed and resonant with the one word that was their beginning and their end.

On Orrimy, a clerk unbolted the great studded door of a warehouse whose walls were as thick as those of the Great House of Roke itself, and the darkness within was scented with nutmeg and cardamom and saffron.

On a slave ship, wallowing through the Southing Reaches, a child in ragged silk and emeralds slammed a cabin door: Ged knew her face, knew the hammer of her hand on the horn of the door of Roke itself and her face in that moment, but in that moment she was no more than seven, fierce and feral as a rat. He knew her name. Then, between one step and the next, she was gone.

Another child ran across a painted bridge, between houses, in Havnor City. Twenty feet above the street, he towed behind him a kite painted with hawk's eyes, and his thoughts were all of honeycakes and wind, while behind him flags fluttered and danced from Havnor's white marble towers. On Wathort, the same wind ruffled past the palace doorway where the statues struggled from the stone, infinitely slow: Ged knew the moment when they crumbled to dust, but not the ring of the sculptor's chisel set to stone in the moment of their carving.

A ship sailed through the Ebavnor Straits and the Gates of the Bay: this too he knew, the slap of the waves against wood, the creak of the ropes and the swell of the sail, the heel of the ship into the wind and the rough voices of the seafarers, the cold-forged iron of the ship's fittings and the woven linen of its sail. This place too was a doorway.

Smallest of dragons, a Harrekki swooped in a flash of golden scales through a doorway to its mistress's hand, and the feel of it passing was the same as a whisper of words in the Old Speech, the language of dragons. On Éa, a scholar shuffled between rooms, a stack of papers and texts in his hands, and the books he held whisper too of secrets and names, although Ged heard only the briefest echo of their passing. On Atuan, the labyrinth in the Place of the Tombs was never silent to a mage's ears, and this place too Ged knew, although he had never walked willingly over any threshold there, wood or stone, red-veined marble or bone, in darkness or his own fading werelight: yet this place too he knew as he has known every threshold.

The sun set.

This was the first day, the last, and after it, before it, came the second night. Light faded, was lost, gone into the night, and Ged with it.

There were two doorways on Earthsea which the Doorkeeper did not hold, and one of them was on Roke, and the other on the border between life and death. Over those, the dry lands, where no wind blew and no river ran and no rain fell, the stars of the constellation of the Door shone unmoving and unchanging. Under that barren light, in the dry lands and silent cities, the dead moved slowly and without purpose or meaning amidst desolation.

Yet the stars of the Door will set, the wind will blow: the hawk will stretch its wings over green hills: lovers will be reunited and children run to their mother's arms. Ged knew this, this and the flight of dragons, triumphant, over these green lands, although in that night the Door looked down on barren rock and dust and the silent dead. This too Ged knew, the path the living climb to leave the dead lands, and flinched from the knowing of it and, weary, knew it still.

On Earthsea, the stars turned. The tide rode the sea. The moon fell and rose in the sky. Morning came. Day dawned, and Ged leaves the Door, and took up again the Doorkeeper's mantle on Earthsea.

This was the second day. As the door was, Ged was aware of every door, but on this the second day, he was on Roke.

The Great House of Roke had only two doors which allowed men to pass from the school outside: the back door of horn and ivory, and Medra's Gate, the garden door of uncarved oak black with age, which led to Roke Knoll. Between these two, there were many doors: the door between the Court of the Fountain and the Council Room: the low, arched doorway that led to the Chanter's Tower, the barred, spellbound door to the Room of Shelves and all the doorways therein: the doors between kitchen and buttery and Hearth Hall and refectory, the doors of the sleeping cells and gardens and healing rooms. Here too, was the single door to the Isolate Tower where the Master Namer worked amidst his lists, that of Otter's House, and the Immanent Grove, and this last was the second of the doors on Earthsea over which the Doorkeeper had no dominion.

Over all the doors within the School itself, he did. So, as easily as the wind blowing through an empty house, under the Doorkeeper's watch the wizards of Roke passed and repassed, the students, the serving men and cooks and gardeners, the masters and the Archmage, all of them known and named. Even the mice and the library cats and the small creatures of the woodland, the Doorkeeper knew. Of them all he knew the moments of their joys and sorrows, their triumphs and the day of their deaths. Of none of these men living, save one, did he know the day of their arrival on Roke.

This boy, this boy who knocked on the door. He was dark-skinned and small, and his hands clutched on the roll of clothes were clumsy, too big for his frame, and his feet shuffled on the pavement. When he spoke, it was with the accent of Venway.

Ged knew this boy's name, could remember him a man, barrel-chested and powerful, laughing, a yew staff of his own considerable height in his hand. The boy who will be that man told the door his true name, but the door already knew. It opened at Ged's thought as easily as clouds heeling to the wind, as easily as the naming of a child, although Ged the Doorkeeper knew this man grown, a wizard in the fullness of his powers.

Ged opened the door. The shade of the great door at midday was a bar of shadow, and the boy crossed over it and entered, as every boy before him will enter, the Court of the Fountain where the Archmage waited. As Ged will wait, when he is Archmage.

He knew this courtyard when it was wild-blown and deserted, the trees dead and the fountain dry, the tiles slipping from the roof of the halls and chambers and the Chanter's Tower cracked and listing. He knew this courtyard deserted, the Isolate Tower empty, the library left to the mice, rain rotting the oak shelves and the desks. He knew the laughter of dragons.

All this was to come. In this moment, the Great School was bustling with students and wizards and the hall rich with the scent of roast meat and apples and gravy, the library was full of books: werelights played over the angled rooflines and amongst the branches of the trees, and there was no wind a wizard had not called.

It was night, the third night and the first that Ged held the door on Roke. The moon rose and fell and the tide followed, the stars wheeled, the clouds fled the sky. The wind blew cold and salt-scented from the sea, rustled the leaves of the young trees in the courtyard and startled the ordered fall of the fountain into drifting spray.

Ged was the door. He was the stars in the sky and the rune and the word, the threshold and the crossing of it, the beginning and the end, greater and smaller than any name he had been or was yet to be. He was the door: he was himself, and he was content.

This much he knew.

The stars turned. The tide rode the sea. The moon fell and rose in the sky. Morning came, the dawn of the first day and the last day Ged held the door, on Roke.

His hand was on the door, and under his left hand the ivory of the dragon's tooth was as warm and familiar to him as if it was bone of his bone, and under his right the inlaid patterns of the thousand-leaved tree stirred and drifted, as if touched by a wind he could see.

The door opened.

He was looking at himself, walking through the courtyard, on Roke. Sunlight patterned the leaves of the trees over his face and that of the Doorkeeper at his side, filigreed the paving stones and the worked masonry, scattered the water of the fountain into momentary brilliance.

The Doorkeeper said, "Three days and three nights. That is enough."

Ged saw himself bow his head.


~*~


He is lying on his back, and on his chest the Doorkeeper draws the rune Agnen, the rune of ending. Ged looks up. The sun has just risen. It is morning, on the first day of the fallows, and the last of the nine stars of Ending, Gobardon, shines yet above the tiles of the Council House. Time trickles through his fingers and is gone: it has not yet happened. The door is closed. He looks up.

A moment ago, three days ago, the Doorkeeper had smiled. He is smiling still.

"You are not yet named," Ged says, wondering, as time passes through his fingers and is gone, has passed, has not yet happened, will never happen: the three days he held the door, Lebannen, Tenar, the pathways of the dead, all the names he will come to know of men not yet born and women not yet met. The door closes, closes, is closed.

"I have borne many names," the Doorkeeper says. "But only in the beginning will I be named."