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He said, as Morgon put out his torch underfoot and went to help him, "I'm all right." His face was mist-colored in the light from the window; he flung an arm around Morgon heavily, and together they stumbled across the threshold, Astrin sat down on the pallet. His hands were scratched raw; his hair was tangled with sea spray. He held his right hand against his side and would not move it, until Morgon, watching the dark stain bloom under his fingers, made a harsh noise of protest. Astrin's head dropped back on the pallet; his hand slid down. He whispered as Morgon ripped a seam open, "Don't. I'm short of clothes. He saw me first, but I killed him. Then he fell in the sea, and I had to dive for him among the rocks and tide, or they would have found him. I buried him in the sand. They won't find him there. He was made ... He was shaped out of seaweed and foam and wet pearl, and the sword was of darkness and silver water. It bit me and flew away like a bird. If Xel hadn't warned me, I would be dead. If I hadn't turned..." He flinched as Morgon touched his side with a wet cloth. Then he was silent, his teeth locked, his eyes closed, while Morgon washed the shallow wound gently, closed it and bound it with strips from his dry robe. He heated wine; Astrin drank it and his shivering stopped. He lay back again. "Thank you. Xel... thank you. If Xel comes back, let her in."

Astrin came out of his grim thoughts, finally, near sunset. He closed a book with a sigh, its iron bonds locking automatically, and said, staring out at the plain, "I should tell Heureu." Then his hand snapped down flat on the book and closed. He whispered, "No. Let him see with his own eyes. The land is his business. Let him put his own name to this. He drove me out of Caerweddin five years ago for speaking the truth; why should I go back?"

Morgon heard him stirring at sunrise the next day and got up. The rain had stopped; the clouds hung broken above Wind Plain. They ate a breakfast of cold hare, wine and bread, then, carrying Astrin's tools, Xel following, they walked across the plain to the ancient, ruined city.

He said, as Morgon put out his torch underfoot and went to help him, "I'm all right." His face was mist-colored in the light from the window; he flung an arm around Morgon heavily, and together they stumbled across the threshold, Astrin sat down on the pallet. His hands were scratched raw; his hair was tangled with sea spray. He held his right hand against his side and would not move it, until Morgon, watching the dark stain bloom under his fingers, made a harsh noise of protest. Astrin's head dropped back on the pallet; his hand slid down. He whispered as Morgon ripped a seam open, "Don't. I'm short of clothes. He saw me first, but I killed him. Then he fell in the sea, and I had to dive for him among the rocks and tide, or they would have found him. I buried him in the sand. They won't find him there. He was made ... He was shaped out of seaweed and foam and wet pearl, and the sword was of darkness and silver water. It bit me and flew away like a bird. If Xel hadn't warned me, I would be dead. If I hadn't turned..." He flinched as Morgon touched his side with a wet cloth. Then he was silent, his teeth locked, his eyes closed, while Morgon washed the shallow wound gently, closed it and bound it with strips from his dry robe. He heated wine; Astrin drank it and his shivering stopped. He lay back again. "Thank you. Xel... thank you. If Xel comes back, let her in."

He slept motionlessly, exhausted, waking only once near dawn, when Xel came whining to the door, and Morgon sleepless by the fire, rose to open it for the wet, bedraggled huntress.

Astrin said little of the incident the next day. He moved stiffly, with a tight, sour expression that eased only when his eyes fell on Morgon's mute, worried face. They spent the day indoors, Astrin prowling through wizards' books like an animal scenting, and Morgon trying to wash and mend Astrin's robe while questions he could not ask struggled like trapped birds in the back of his throat.

Morgon, watching from the hearth as he struggled with needle and seam, made a questioning sound. Astrin, a hand to his side, turned to add wood to the fire for their evening meal. He paused a moment, to drop one hand on Morgon's shoulder. "I am glad you were here last night. If there is anything I can possibly do for you, I will do it."

Morgon's hands touched his mouth. He nodded, his eyes holding Astrin's, and Astrin drew a breath. "All right. Sit down. Sit quietly. The first step is to become as the stone..."

Morgon, left to his own in the hollow, singing city, wandered through the roofless halls and wall-less chambers, between piles of broken stones rooted deep to the earth by long grass. The winds sped past like wild horses, pouring through empty rooms, thundering down the street to spiral the tower and moan through its secret chamber. Morgon, following them, drawn to the huge, bright structure, put one hand flat on its blue-black wall, one foot on its first step. The gold steps curved away from him; the winds pushed at him like children, tumbled past him. He turned away after a moment, went to find Astrin.

Morgon, left to his own in the hollow, singing city, wandered through the roofless halls and wall-less chambers, between piles of broken stones rooted deep to the earth by long grass. The winds sped past like wild horses, pouring through empty rooms, thundering down the street to spiral the tower and moan through its secret chamber. Morgon, following them, drawn to the huge, bright structure, put one hand flat on its blue-black wall, one foot on its first step. The gold steps curved away from him; the winds pushed at him like children, tumbled past him. He turned away after a moment, went to find Astrin.

When the wind died finally, a silence dropped like thin fingers of moonlight across Wind Plain. The tower rose out of broken stone, whole and solitary, yielding nothing to the moon's eye. Morgon added wood to the fire, made a torch of an oak branch, and went outside. He heard heavy breathing suddenly from the side of the house, an odd, dragging step. He turned and saw Astrin hunched against the wall of the house.

Morgon, left to his own in the hollow, singing city, wandered through the roofless halls and wall-less chambers, between piles of broken stones rooted deep to the earth by long grass. The winds sped past like wild horses, pouring through empty rooms, thundering down the street to spiral the tower and moan through its secret chamber. Morgon, following them, drawn to the huge, bright structure, put one hand flat on its blue-black wall, one foot on its first step. The gold steps curved away from him; the winds pushed at him like children, tumbled past him. He turned away after a moment, went to find Astrin.

He rose as suddenly as he had sat down, and took from his shelves a heavy book with a name on it stamped in gold: Aloil. It was locked with two apparently seamless bindings of iron. He touched them, murmuring a word, and they opened. Morgon went to his side; he looked up. "Do you know who Aloil was?" Morgon shook his head. Then his eyes widened a little as he remembered, but Astrin continued, "Most people have forgotten. He was the wizard in service to the Kings of Ymris for nine hundred years before he went to Lungold, then vanished along with the entire school of wizards seven hundred years ago. I bought the book from a trader; it took me two years to learn the word to open it. Part of the poetry Aloil wrote was to the wizard Nun, in service to Hel. I tried her name to open the book, but that didn't work. Then I remembered the name of her favorite pig out of all the pig herds of Hel: the speaking pig, Hegdis-Noon - and that name opened the book." He set the heavy book on the table, pored through it.

He rose as suddenly as he had sat down, and took from his shelves a heavy book with a name on it stamped in gold: Aloil. It was locked with two apparently seamless bindings of iron. He touched them, murmuring a word, and they opened. Morgon went to his side; he looked up. "Do you know who Aloil was?" Morgon shook his head. Then his eyes widened a little as he remembered, but Astrin continued, "Most people have forgotten. He was the wizard in service to the Kings of Ymris for nine hundred years before he went to Lungold, then vanished along with the entire school of wizards seven hundred years ago. I bought the book from a trader; it took me two years to learn the word to open it. Part of the poetry Aloil wrote was to the wizard Nun, in service to Hel. I tried her name to open the book, but that didn't work. Then I remembered the name of her favorite pig out of all the pig herds of Hel: the speaking pig, Hegdis-Noon - and that name opened the book." He set the heavy book on the table, pored through it.

He dropped the earth and shook his head, feeling tears behind his throat and not knowing why.

He said, as Morgon put out his torch underfoot and went to help him, "I'm all right." His face was mist-colored in the light from the window; he flung an arm around Morgon heavily, and together they stumbled across the threshold, Astrin sat down on the pallet. His hands were scratched raw; his hair was tangled with sea spray. He held his right hand against his side and would not move it, until Morgon, watching the dark stain bloom under his fingers, made a harsh noise of protest. Astrin's head dropped back on the pallet; his hand slid down. He whispered as Morgon ripped a seam open, "Don't. I'm short of clothes. He saw me first, but I killed him. Then he fell in the sea, and I had to dive for him among the rocks and tide, or they would have found him. I buried him in the sand. They won't find him there. He was made ... He was shaped out of seaweed and foam and wet pearl, and the sword was of darkness and silver water. It bit me and flew away like a bird. If Xel hadn't warned me, I would be dead. If I hadn't turned..." He flinched as Morgon touched his side with a wet cloth. Then he was silent, his teeth locked, his eyes closed, while Morgon washed the shallow wound gently, closed it and bound it with strips from his dry robe. He heated wine; Astrin drank it and his shivering stopped. He lay back again. "Thank you. Xel... thank you. If Xel comes back, let her in."

He said, as Morgon put out his torch underfoot and went to help him, "I'm all right." His face was mist-colored in the light from the window; he flung an arm around Morgon heavily, and together they stumbled across the threshold, Astrin sat down on the pallet. His hands were scratched raw; his hair was tangled with sea spray. He held his right hand against his side and would not move it, until Morgon, watching the dark stain bloom under his fingers, made a harsh noise of protest. Astrin's head dropped back on the pallet; his hand slid down. He whispered as Morgon ripped a seam open, "Don't. I'm short of clothes. He saw me first, but I killed him. Then he fell in the sea, and I had to dive for him among the rocks and tide, or they would have found him. I buried him in the sand. They won't find him there. He was made ... He was shaped out of seaweed and foam and wet pearl, and the sword was of darkness and silver water. It bit me and flew away like a bird. If Xel hadn't warned me, I would be dead. If I hadn't turned..." He flinched as Morgon touched his side with a wet cloth. Then he was silent, his teeth locked, his eyes closed, while Morgon washed the shallow wound gently, closed it and bound it with strips from his dry robe. He heated wine; Astrin drank it and his shivering stopped. He lay back again. "Thank you. Xel... thank you. If Xel comes back, let her in."

Walking home at dusk, their finds carefully wrapped in old cloth, Astrin said to him, "You are so patient here. Perhaps you belong here, working among these forgotten things, in silence. And you accept my strange ways so unquestioningly, as though you can't remember how men do live with one another.. .." He paused a moment, then went on slowly, as if remembering himself, "I haven't always been alone. I grew up in Caerweddin, with Heureu, and the sons of our father's High Lords, in the beautiful, noisey house Galil Ymris made out of the Earth-Master's stones. Heureu and I were close then, like shadows of each other. That was before we quarrelled." He shrugged the words away as Morgon looked at him. "It makes no difference here. I'll never go back to Caerweddin, and Heureu will never come here. I had just forgotten that once I wasn't alone. You forget easily."

Once Astrin said, as they walked through the gentle, constant fall of dead oak leaves, "I should take you to Caithnard. It's just a day's journey south of these woods. Perhaps someone knows you there." But Morgon only looked at him blankly, as if Caithnard lay in some strange land at the bottom of the sea, and Astrin did not mention it again.

Morgon heard him stirring at sunrise the next day and got up. The rain had stopped; the clouds hung broken above Wind Plain. They ate a breakfast of cold hare, wine and bread, then, carrying Astrin's tools, Xel following, they walked across the plain to the ancient, ruined city.

Morgon's hands touched his mouth. He nodded, his eyes holding Astrin's, and Astrin drew a breath. "All right. Sit down. Sit quietly. The first step is to become as the stone..."

Astrin sat down with a sigh beside him. He said abruptly, "You are as secret as Wind Tower. I've been here five years in exile from Caerweddin. I speak to Xel, to an old man I buy fish from in Loor, to occasional traders, and to Rork, High Lord of Umber, who visits me every few months. By day I go digging out of curiosity in the great ruined city of the Earth-Masters on Wind Plain. By night, I dig in other directions, sometimes in books of wizardry I've learned to open, sometimes out there in the darkness above Loor, by the sea. I take Xel with me, and we watch something that is building on the shores of Ymris under night cover, something for which there is no name... But I can't go tonight; the tide will be rough in this wind, and Xel hates the rain." He paused a moment. "Your eyes look at me as though you understand everything I'm saying. I wish I knew your name. I wish..." His voice trailed away; his eyes stayed, speculative, on Morgon's face.

Morgon, watching from the hearth as he struggled with needle and seam, made a questioning sound. Astrin, a hand to his side, turned to add wood to the fire for their evening meal. He paused a moment, to drop one hand on Morgon's shoulder. "I am glad you were here last night. If there is anything I can possibly do for you, I will do it."

He slept motionlessly, exhausted, waking only once near dawn, when Xel came whining to the door, and Morgon sleepless by the fire, rose to open it for the wet, bedraggled huntress.

Morgon, watching from the hearth as he struggled with needle and seam, made a questioning sound. Astrin, a hand to his side, turned to add wood to the fire for their evening meal. He paused a moment, to drop one hand on Morgon's shoulder. "I am glad you were here last night. If there is anything I can possibly do for you, I will do it."

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