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Lighting the Lamps

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Lighting the Lamps

When she had been eighteen, she remembered, it had been a matter of small, flickering pride to her that she had never once thought of Ged with desire. She had carried that thought with her as a little dark seed of certainty, of pride, of Arha, at the bottom of the hazy confusion that the new world left in her mind.

She had found everything in Re Albi so foreign and strange. The damp, the heights, the forest. And in the village, the farmers, tailors, tinkers, weavers, their wives and quarrels; the men, everywhere, their eyes flickering over her, the women with their endless, equable chatter, their flirting with the men and laughter with each other. After the desert and the dark, the bright complexity of village life had been a strange new pattern to learn, a maze she stumbled in, feeling young and awkward and foreign.

She remembered, still, the shock of fear, the disorientation, that had come with the first recognition of her own desire (Flint, glancing up at her from his work in the wheatfield, sunlight amber in his dark hair, dust white over the smooth dark muscle of his arm). She had felt hollow and strange, shivery, like an empty vessel that had been struck; and he had still been looking at her. She had had a moment of sheer, dumb panic, a hot longing to turn on her heel and run, and then she had deliberately summoned up the strange equilibrium of calm that had held her when Ged looked at her, that distance; she was no child or fool, to have desired the first man she had ever seen. So she had met Flint's eyes, given him a nod and passed calmly on with her basket of peaches, a woman.

The memory of that moment, that thought, came clearly back to her now as she lay in the quiet room, watching the twilight begin through the high window, Ged's face tucked warm against her shoulder. To think that the calm she had taken such pride in, that unshakeable sense of Ged as something other, dark and certain as the shadows left behind her, quite apart from the wavering new life she was making for herself in the light --

"Tenar," he said, muffled and soft, lips moving against the skin of her arm, and then turned his head to look up at her, sleepily bewildered, blinking. "You're laughing."

"It's nothing," she touched his hair, following the threading silver down to the grey scars to his cheek and he breathed deep, eyes sliding half-shut and then dropping closed. He looked soft, shadowy, drowsy, and she remembered the fierce white of the light he had been in the Tombs, the harsh black that had cloaked her. It all seemed very small and remote, far away, a story from long ago that had happened to other people. The Archmage and the White Lady.

Against the deepening blue of the sky, the first, smallest stars of the Dancers beginning to bloom, the lamp in the window glowed a dim, placid gold. She thought of getting up in a while to put it out, of stopping in on Therru maybe, she must look out the scissors to cut that child's hair and then there were the accounts to do tomorrow as well. He murmured against her arm again, and then his eyes opened, bright and dark and the same, fixing her with recognition.

"Tenar," and this time her name sparked in her like fire, flushing through her body, and her reply opened in her mouth like breath itself, like the dragon's name, utterly new and utterly familiar.

*

He made a strangled, terrible sound when he woke, a kind of choking, which he tried to muffle in the pillow when he realised he was awake. When she touched his shoulder, he said nothing, but he let her draw him closer, stroke his arm, his temple, his cheek, until his breathing slowed and calmed a little more.

It was very dark. After some time, he kissed the corner of her mouth, clumsily, missing; when she turned her head to meet him in the kiss, he was trembling.

"That place," he said, "the dark," and she cut him off with another kiss, made a soothing sound low in her throat that was hardly a name at all.

*

"Hawk," she said, and he glanced up from his place opposite her at the kitchen table, where he was shelling peas. She forgot what she had been about to say.

"You've done that before," she said instead, watching him deftly split a pod with his thumbnail.

"Shelled peas?" He looked briefly startled. "Of course."

He went on. She added up another row of figures, and another, and then had to look again. He was in a broad slant of late afternoon sunlight. It illuminated his long copper hands, the fine lines under his eyes and the deeper-scored ones at the corners of his mouth, the yellowing linen of his sleeves. His face was relaxed, concentrated, watching the work. He was still too thin.

"Sparrowhawk," she said softly, and he smiled absently and didn't look up. The kitchen slowly warmed with light, Tehanu's voice in the other room murmuring over the Creation, the same verse over and over. Bright the hawk's flight, whispered the small rough voice, distant and calm. Only in silence the word. They worked.

"Do you remember," Ged said after some time, hands slowing and then halting over the work, and then he said nothing, studied the pile of green husks in front of him for a while before looking up at her, rueful. "That dress."

She felt the blood rush to her face at the memory, her hand going slack over the accounts: she was sixteen again, crystal and pearl and turquoise glittering over her breast, her bodice, curving out over her skirts. Make it go away. The memory came sharp and sweet, new, for the first time in twenty-five years, Ged's eyes, the first man who had ever seen her, shaping her in that unexpected colour.

"It's one of -- I could wish to do that again," he said, looking away from her again, a flush darkening under his skin, and when she stood up and took his hands from him, put them on her, it felt like a slow release from another darkness, his hands tentatively, so carefully, tracing her in glittering feeling, in light.

"That damn spell," she said later, fiercely angry, fiercely glad, the evening sky brilliant in the bedroom window, "keeping us in the dark."

His face was soft, amazed, still, and he laughed a little at that, a short, breathless sound. "But you, oh, Tenar," he said, kissed her shoulder, "you made, you held the light."