He told Birch that he had received a sending from his teacher on Roke, the Master Hand, and must go at once, on what business he could not say, of course, but it should not take long once he was there; a half-month to go, another to return; he would be back well before the Fallows at the latest. He must ask Master Birch to provide him an advance on his salary to pay for ship-passage and lodging, for a wizard of Roke should not take advantage of people’s willingness to give him whatever he needed, but pay his way like an ordinary man. As Birch agreed with this, he had to give Ivory a purse for his journey. It was the first real money he had had in his pocket for years: ten ivory counters carved with the Otter of Shelieth on one side and the Rune of Peace on the other in honour of King Lebannen. “Hello, little namesakes,” he told them when he was alone with them. “You and the cheese money will get along nicely.”

He told Dragonfly very little of his plans, largely because he made few, trusting to chance and his own wits, which seldom let him down if he was given a fair chance to use them. The girl asked almost no questions. “Will I go as a man all the way?” was one.

“Yes,” he said, “but only disguised. I won’t put a semblance-spell on you till we’re on Roke Island.”

“I thought it would be a spell of Change,” she said.

That would be unwise,” he said, with a good imitation of the Master Changer’s terse solemnity. “If need be, I’ll do it, of course. But you’ll find wizards very sparing of the great spells. For good reason.”

The Equilibrium,” she said, accepting all he said in its simplest sense, as always.

“And perhaps because such arts have not the power they once had,” he said. He did not know himself why he tried to weaken her faith in wizardry; perhaps because any weakening of her strength, her wholeness, was a gain for him. He had begun merely by trying to get her into his bed, a game he loved to play. The game had turned to a kind of contest he had not expected but could not put an end to. He was determined now not to win her, but to defeat her. He could not let her defeat him. He must prove to her and himself that his dreams were meaningless.

Quite early on, impatient with wooing her massive physical indifference, he had worked up a charm, a sorcerer’s seduction-spell of which he was contemptuous even as he made it, though he knew it was effective. He cast it on her while she was, characteristically, mending a cow’s halter. The result had not been the melting eagerness it had produced in girls he had used it on in Havnor and Thwil. Dragonfly had gradually become silent and sullen. She ceased asking her endless questions about Roke and did not answer when he spoke. When he very tentatively approached her, taking her hand, she struck him away with a blow to the head that left him dizzy. He saw her stand up and stride out of the stableyard without a word, the ugly hound she favoured trotting after her. It looked back at him with a grin.

She took the path to the old house. When his ears stopped ringing he stole after her, hoping the charm was working and that this was only her particularly uncouth way of leading him at last to her bed. Nearing the house, he heard crockery breaking. The father, the drunkard, came wobbling out looking scared and confused, followed by Dragonfly’s loud, harsh voice – “Out of the house, you drunken, crawling traitor! You foul, shameless lecher!”

“She took my cup away,” the Master of Iria said to the stranger, whining like a puppy, while his dogs yammered around him. “She broke it.”

Ivory departed. He did not return for two days. On the third day he rode experimentally past Old Iria, and she came striding down to meet him. “I’m sorry, Ivory,” she said, looking up at him with her smoky orange eyes. “I don’t know what came over me the other day. I was angry. But not at you. I beg your pardon.”

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Categories: Ursula K. Le Guin