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Chapter 11 The Western Mountains

 Tenar woke, struggling up from bad dreams, out of places where she had walked so long that all the flesh had fallen from her and she could see the double white bones of her arms glimmer faintly in the dark. She opened her eyes to a golden light, and smelled the pungency of sage. A sweetness came into her as she woke, a pleasure that filled her slowly and wholly till it overflowed, and she sat up, stretching her arms out from the black sleeves of her robe, and looked about her in unquestioning delight.
 It was evening. The sun was down behind the mountains that loomed close and high to westward, but its afterglow filled all earth and sky: a vast, clear, wintry sky, a vast, barren, golden land of mountains and wide valleys. The wind was down. It was cold, and absolutely silent. Nothing moved. The leaves of the sagebushes nearby were dry and gray, the stalks of tiny dried-up desert herbs prickled her hand. The huge silent glory of light burned on every twig and withered leaf and stem, on the hills, in the air.
 She looked to her left and saw the man lying on the desert ground, his cloak pulled round him, one arm under his head, fast asleep. His face in sleep was stern, almost frowning; but his left hand lay relaxed on the dirt, beside a small thistle that still bore its ragged cloak of gray fluff and its tiny defense of spikes and spines. The man and the small desert thistle; the thistle and the sleeping man...
 He was one whose power was akin to, and as strong as, the Old Powers of the earth; one who talked with dragons, and held off earthquakes with his word. And there he lay asleep on the dirt, with a little thistle growing by his hand. It was very strange. Living, being in the world, was a much greater and stranger thing than she had ever dreamed. The glory of the sky touched his dusty hair, and turned the thistle gold for a little while.
 The light was slowly fading. As it did so, the cold seemed to grow intenser minute by minute. Tenar got up and began to gather dry sagebrush, picking up fallen twigs, breaking off the tough branches that grew as gnarled and massive, in their scale, as the limbs of oaks. They had stopped here about noon, when it was warm, and they could go no farther for weariness. A couple of stunted junipers, and the westward slope of the ridge they had just descended, had offered shelter enough; they had drunk a little water from the flask, and lain down, and gone to sleep.
 There was a litter of larger branches under the little trees, which she gathered. Scooping out a pit in an angle of earth-embedded rocks, she built up a fire, and lit it with her flint and steel. The tinder of sage leaves and twigs caught at once. Dry branches bloomed into rosy flame, scented with resin. Now it seemed quite dark, all around the fire; and the stars were coming out again in the tremendous sky.
 The snap and crack of the flames roused the sleeper. He sat up, rubbing his hands over his grimy face, and at last got up stiffly and came close to the fire.
 "I wonder-" he said sleepily.
 "I know, but we can't last the night here without a fire. It gets too cold." After a minute she added, "Unless you have some magic that would keep us warm, or that would hide the fire..."
 He sat down by the fire, his feet almost in it, his arms round his knees. "Brr," he said. "A fire is much better than magic. I've put a little illusion about us here; if someone comes by, we might look like sticks and stones to him. What do you think? Will they be following us?"
 "I fear it, yet I don't think they will. No one but Kossil knew of your being there. Kossil, and Manan. And they are dead. Surely she was in the Hall when it fell. She was waiting at the trapdoor. And the others, the rest, they must think that I was in the Hall or the Tombs, and was crushed in the earthquake." She too put her arms round her knees, and shuddered. "I hope the other buildings didn't fall. It was hard to see from the hill, there was so much dust. Surely all the temples and houses didn't fall, the Big House where all the girls sleep."
 "I think not. It was the Tombs that devoured themselves. I saw a gold roof of some temple as we turned away; it still stood. And there were figures down the hill, people running."
 "What will they say, what will they think... Poor Penthe! She might have to become the High Priestess of the Godking now. And it was always she who wanted to run away. Not I. Maybe now she'll run away." Tenar smiled. There was a joy in her that no thought nor dread could darken, that same sure joy that had risen in her, waking in the golden light. She opened her bag and took out two small, flat loaves; she handed one across the fire to Ged, and bit into the other. The bread was tough, and sour, and very good to eat.
 They munched together in silence awhile.
 "How far are we from the sea?"
 "It took me two nights and two days coming. It'll take us longer going."
 "I'm strong," she said.
 "You are. And valiant. But your companion's tired," he said with a smile. "And we haven't any too much bread."
 "Will we find water?"
 "Tomorrow, in the mountains."
 "Can you find food for us?" she asked, rather vaguely and timidly.
 "Hunting takes time, and weapons."
 "I meant, with, you know, spells."
 "I can call a rabbit," he said, poking the fire with a twisted stick of juniper. "The rabbits are coming out of their holes all around us, now. Evening's their time. I could call one by name, and he'd come. But would you catch and skin and broil a rabbit that you'd called to you thus? Perhaps if you were starving. But it would be a breaking of trust, I think."
 "Yes. I thought, perhaps you could just...
 "Summon up a supper," he said. "Oh, I could. On golden plates, if you like. But that's illusion, and when you eat illusions you end up hungrier than before. It's about as nourishing as eating your own words." She saw his white teeth flash a moment in the firelight.
 "Your magic is peculiar," she said, with a little dignity of equals, Priestess addressing Mage. "It appears to be useful only for large matters."
 He laid more wood on the fire, and it flared up in a juniperscented fireworks of sparks and crackles.
 "Can you really call a rabbit?" Tenar inquired suddenly.
 "Do you want me to?"
 She nodded.
 He turned away from the fire and said softly into the immense and starlit dark, "Kebbo... O kebbo..."
 Silence. No sound. No motion. Only presently, at the very edge of the flickering firelight, a round eye like a pebble of jet, very near the ground. A curve of furry back; an ear, long, alert, upraised.
 Ged spoke again. The ear flicked, gained a sudden partner-ear out of the shadow; then as the little beast turned Tenar saw it entire for an instant, the small, soft, lithe hop of it returning unconcerned to its business in the night.
 "Ah!" she said, letting out her breath. "That's lovely." Presently she asked, "Could I do that?"
 "It is a secret," she said at once, dignified again.
 "The rabbit's name is a secret. At least, one should not use it lightly, for no reason. But what is not a secret, but rather a gift, or a mystery, do you see, is the power of calling."
 "Oh," she said, "that you have. I know!" There was a passion in her voice, not hidden by pretended mockery. He looked at her and did not answer.
 He was indeed still worn out by his struggle against the Nameless Ones; he had spent his strength in the quaking tunnels. Though he had won, he had little spirit left for exultation. He soon curled up again, as near the fire as he could get, and slept.
 Tenar sat feeding the fire and watching the blaze of the winter constellations from horizon to horizon until her head grew giddy with splendor and silence, and she dozed off.
 They both woke. The fire was dead. The stars she had watched were now far over the mountains and new ones had risen in the east. It was the cold that woke them, the dry cold of the desert night, the wind like a knife of ice. A veil of cloud was coming over the sky from the southwest.
 The gathered firewood was almost gone. "Let's walk," Ged said, "it's not long till dawn." His teeth chattered so that she could hardly understand him. They set out, climbing the long slow slope westward. The bushes and rocks showed black in starlight, and it was as easy to walk as in the day. After a cold first while, the walking warmed them; they stopped crouching and shivering, and began to go easier. So by sunrise they were on the first rise of the western mountains, which had walled in Tenar's life till then.
 They stopped in a grove of trees whose golden, quivering leaves still clung to the boughs. He told her they were aspens; she knew no trees but juniper, and the sickly poplars by the riversprings, and the forty apple trees of the orchard of the Place. A small bird among the aspens said "dee, dee," in a small voice. Under the trees ran a stream, narrow but powerful, shouting, muscular over its rocks and falls, too hasty to freeze. Tenar was almost afraid of it. She was used to the desert where things are silent and move slowly: sluggish rivers, shadows of clouds, vultures circling.
 They divided a piece of bread and a last crumbling bit of cheese for breakfast, rested a little, and went on.
 By evening they were up high. It was overcast and windy, freezing weather. They camped in the valley of another stream, where there was plenty of wood, and this time built up a sturdy fire of logs by which they could keep fairly warm.
 Tenar was happy. She had found a squirrel's cache of nuts, exposed by the falling of a hollow tree: a couple of pounds of fine walnuts and a smooth-shelled kind that Ged, not knowing the Kargish name, called ubir. She cracked them one by one between a flat stone and a hammerstone, and handed every second nutmeat to the man.
 "I wish we could stay here," she said, looking down at the windy, twilit valley between the hills. "I like this place."
 "This is a good place," he agreed.

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