The Doorkeeper nodded once, mild as ever.

“This is what you brought the Nine together for? This and no more?”

“This and no more,” said the Doorkeeper.

“Dragons have been seen flying above the Inmost Sea. Roke has no Archmage, and the islands no true-crowned king. There is real work to do,” the Summoner said, and his voice too was like stone, cold and heavy. “When will we do it?”

There was an uncomfortable silence, as the Doorkeeper did not speak. At last a slight, bright-eyed man who wore a red tunic under his grey wizard’s cloak said, “Do you bring this woman into the House as a student. Master Doorkeeper?”

“If I did, it would be up to you all to approve or disapprove,” said he.

“Do you?” asked the man in the red tunic, smiling a little.

“Master Hand,” said the Doorkeeper, “she asked to enter as a student, and I saw no reason to deny her.”

“Every reason,” said the Summoner.

A man with a deep, clear voice spoke: ‘It’s not our judgment that prevails, but the Rule of Roke, which we are sworn to follow.”

“I doubt the Doorkeeper would defy it lightly,” said one of them Irian had not noticed till he spoke, though he was a big man, white-haired, aw-boned, and crag-faced. Unlike the others, he looked at her as he spoke. “I am Kurremkarmerruk,” he said to her. “As the Master Namer here, I make free with names, my own included. Who named you, Irian?”

“The witch Rose of our village, lord,” she answered, standing straight, though her voice came out high-pitched and rough.

“Is she misnamed?” the Doorkeeper asked the Namer.

Kurremkarmerruk shook his head. “No. But….”

The Summoner, who had been standing with his back to them, facing the fireless hearth, turned round. “The names witches give each other are not our concern here,” he said. “If you have some interest in this woman, Doorkeeper, it should be pursued outside these walls – outside the door you vowed to keep. She has no place here nor ever will. She can bring only confusion, dissension, and further weakness among us. I will speak no longer and say nothing else in her presence. The only answer to conscious error is silence.”

“Silence is not enough, my lord,” said one who had not spoken before. To Irian’s eyes he was very strange-looking, having pale reddish skin, long pale hair, and narrow eyes the colour of ice. His speech was also strange, stiff and somehow deformed. “Silence is the answer to everything, and to nothing,” he said.

The Summoner lifted his noble, dark face and looked across the room at the pale man, but did not speak. Without a word or gesture he turned away again and left the room. As he walked slowly past Irian, she shrank back from him. It was as if a grave had opened, a winter grave, cold, wet, dark. Her breath stuck in her throat. She gasped a little for air. When she recovered herself she saw the Changer and the pale man both watching her intently.

The one with a voice like a deep-toned bell looked at her too, and spoke to her with a plain, kind severity. “As I see it, the man who brought you here meant to do harm, but you do not. Yet being here, Irian, you do us and yourself harm. Everything not in its own place does harm. A note sung, however well sung, wrecks the tune it isn’t part of. Women teach women. Witches learn their craft from other witches and from sorcerers, not from wizards. What we teach here is in a language not for women’s tongues. The young heart rebels against such laws, calling them unjust, arbitrary. But they are true laws, founded not on what we want, but on what is. The just and the unjust, the foolish and the wise, all must obey them, or waste life and come to grief.”

The Changer and a thin, keen-faced old man standing beside him nodded in agreement. The Master Hand said, “Irian, I am sorry. Ivory was my pupil. If I taught him badly, I did worse in sending him away. I thought him insignificant, and so harmless. But he lied to you and beguiled you. You must not feel shame. The fault was his, and mine.”

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Categories: Ursula K. Le Guin