“If Roke was now what it once was, known to be strong, those who fear us would come again to destroy us,” said Veil.

“The solution lies in secrecy,” said Medra. “But so does the problem.”

“Our problem is with men,” Veil said, “if you’ll forgive me, dear brother. Men are of more account to other men than women and children are. We might have fifty witches here and they’ll pay little heed. But if they knew we had five men of power, they’d seek to destroy us again.”

“So though there were men among us we were the women of the Hand,” said Ember.

“You still are,” Medra said. “Anieb was one of you. She and you and all of us live in the same prison.”

“What can we do?” said Veil.

“Learn our strength!” said Medra.

“A school,” Ember said. “Where the wise might come to learn from one another, to study the pattern…The Grove would shelter us.”

“The lords of war despise scholars and schoolmasters,” said Medra.

“I think they fear them too,” said Veil.

So they talked, that long winter, and others talked with them. Slowly their talk turned from vision to intention, from longing to planning. Veil was always cautious, warning of dangers. White-haired Dune was so eager that Ember said he wanted to start teaching sorcery to every child in Thwil. Once Ember had come to believe that Roke’s freedom lay in offering others freedom, she set her whole mind on how the women of the Hand might grow strong again. But her mind, formed by her long solitudes among the trees, always sought form and clarity, and she said, “How can we teach our art when we don’t know what it is?”

And they talked about that, all the wise women of the island: what was the true art of magic, and where did it turn false; how the balance of things was kept or lost; what crafts were needful, which useful, which dangerous; why some people had one gift but not another, and whether you could learn an art you had no native gift for. In such discussions they worked out the names that ever since have been given to the masteries: finding, weather-working, changing, healing, summoning, patterning, naming, and the crafts of illusion, and the knowledge of the songs. Those are the arts of the Masters of Roke even now, though the Chanter took the Finder’s place when finding came to be considered a merely useful craft unworthy of a mage.

And it was in these discussions that the school on Roke began.

There are some who say that the school had its beginnings far differently. They say that Roke used to be ruled by a woman called the Dark Woman, who was in league with the Old Powers of the earth. They say she lived in a cave under Roke Knoll, never coming into the daylight, but weaving vast spells over land and sea that compelled men to her evil will, until the first Archmage came to Roke, unsealed and entered the cave, defeated the Dark Woman, and took her place.

There’s no truth in this tale but one, which is that indeed one of the first Masters of Roke opened and entered a great cavern. But though the roots of Roke are the roots of all the islands, that cavern was not on Roke.

And it’s true that in the time of Medra and Elehal the people of Roke, men and women, had no fear of the Old Powers of the earth, but revered them, seeking strength and vision from them. That changed with the years.

Spring came late again that year, cold and stormy. Medra set to boat-building. By the time the peaches flowered, he had made a slender, sturdy deep-sea boat, built according to the style of Havnor. He called her Hopeful. Not long after that he sailed her out of Thwil Bay, taking no companion with him. “Look for me at the end of summer,” he said to Ember.

“I’ll be in the Grove,” she said. “And my heart with you, my dark otter, my white tern, my love, Medra.”

“And mine with you, my ember of fire, my flowering tree, my love, Elehal.”

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Categories: Ursula K. Le Guin