The Rowan Tree
In the Court of the Fountain the sun of March shone through young leaves of ash and elm, and water leapt and fell through shadow and clear light. About that roofless court stood four high walls of stone. Behind those were rooms and courts, passages, corridors, towers, and at last the heavy outmost walls of the Great House of Roke, which would stand any assault of war or earthquake or the sea itself, being built not only of stone, but of incontestable magic. For Roke is the Isle of the Wise, where the art magic is taught; and the Great House is the school and central place of wizardry; and the central place of the House is that small court far within the walls, where the fountain plays and the trees stand in rain or sun or starlight.
The tree nearest the fountain, a well-grown rowan, had humped and cracked the marble pavement with its roots. Veins of bright green moss filled the cracks, spreading up from the grassy plot around the basin. A boy sat there on the low hump of marble and moss, his gaze following the fall of the fountain’s central jet. He was nearly a man, but still a boy; slender, dressed richly. His face might have been cast in golden bronze, it was so finely molded and so still.
Behind him, fifteen feet away perhaps, under the trees at the other end of the small central lawn, a man stood, or seemed to stand. It was hard to be certain in that flickering shift of shadow and warm light. Surely he was there, a man in white, standing motionless. As the boy watched the fountain, the man watched the boy. There was no sound or movement but the play of leaves and the play of the water and its continual song.
The man walked forward. A wind stirred the rowan tree and moved its newly opened leaves. The boy leapt to his feet, lithe and startled. He faced the man and bowed to him. “My Lord Archmage,” he said.
The man stopped before him, a short, straight, vigorous figure in a hooded cloak of white wool.
Above the folds of the laid-down hood his face was reddish-dark, hawk-nosed, seamed on one cheek with old scars. The eyes were bright and fierce. Yet he spoke gently. “It’s a pleasant pace to sit, the Court of the Fountain,” he said, and, forestalling the boy’s apology, “You have traveled far and have not rested. Sit down again.”
He knelt on the white rim of the basin and held out his hand to the ring of glittering drops that fell from the higher bowl of the fountain, letting the water run through his fingers. The boy sat down again on the humped tiles, and for a minute neither spoke.
“You are the son of the Prince of Enlad and the Enlades,” the Archmage said, “heir of the Principality of Morred. There is no older heritage in all Earthsea, and none fairer. I have seen the orchards of Enlad in the spring, and the golden roofs of Berila… How are you called?”
“I am called Arren.”
“That would be a word in the dialect of your land. What is it in our common speech?”
The boy said, “Sword.”
The Archmage nodded. There was silence again, and then the boy said, not boldly, but without timidity, “I had thought the Archmage knew all languages”
The man shook his head, watching the fountain.
“And all names…”
“All names? Only Segoy who spoke the First Word, raising up the isles from the deep sea, knew all names. To be sure,” and the bright, fierce gaze was on Arren’s face, “if I needed to know your true name, I would know it. But there’s no need. Arren I will call you; and I am Sparrowhawk. Tell me, how was your voyage here?”
“The winds blew ill?”