Excerpt from The Telling
The King and Tehanu go to meet dragons.
Tehanu's mare, though small, was the finest of the lot, and had a strong conviction that she should lead the others. If Tehanu didn't hold her back she would keep sidling and overtaking till she had got ahead of the line. She came up at once when Lebannen reined in his big horse, and so Tehanu was beside him now, looking where he looked.
"The forest is burning," he said to her.
He could see only the scarred side of her face, so she seemed to gaze blindly; but she saw, and her claw hand that held the reins was trembling. The burned child fears the fire, he thought.
What cruel, cowardly folly had possessed him to tell this girl, "Come talk to the dragons, save my skin!" and bring her straight into the fire?
"We will turn back," he said.
Tehanu raised her good hand, pointing. "Look," she said. "Look!"
A spark from a bonfire, a burning cinder rising over the black line of the pass, an eagle of flame soaring, a dragon flying straight at them.
Tehanu stood up in her stirrups and let out a piercing, scraping cry, like a sea-bird's or a hawk's scream, but it was a word, one word: "Medeu!"
The great creature drew nearer with terrible speed, its long, thin wings beating almost lazily; it had lost the reflection of fire and looked black or bronze-colored in the growing light.
"Mind your horses," Tehanu said in her cracked voice, and just then Lebannen's grey gelding saw the dragon and started violently, tossing its head and backing. He could control it, but behind him one of the other horses let out a neigh of terror, and he heard them trampling, and the handler's voices. The wizard Onyx came running up and stood beside Lebannen's horse. Mounted or afoot, they stood and watched the dragon come.
Again Tehanu cried out that word. The dragon veered in its flight, slowed, came on, stopped and hovered in the air about fifty feet from them.
"Medeu!" Tehanu called, and the answer came like an echo prolonged: "Me-de-uuu!"
"What does it mean?" Lebannen said, bending to Onyx.
"'Sister, brother,'" the wizard whispered.
Tehanu was off her horse, had tossed the reins to Yenay, was walking forward down the slight slope to where the dragon hovered, its long wings beating quick and short like a hovering hawk's. But these wings were fifty feet from tip to tip, and as they beat they made a sound like kettledrums or rattles of brass. As she came closer to it, a little curl of fire escaped from the dragon's long, long-toothed, open mouth.
She held up her hand. Not the slender brown hand, but the burned one, the claw. The scarring of her arm and shoulder kept her from raising it fully. She could reach barely as high as her head.
The dragon sank a little in the air, lowered its head, and touched her hand with its lean, flared, scaled snout. Like a dog, an animal greeting and sniffing, Lebannen thought; like a falcon stooping to the wrist; like a king bowing to a queen.
Tehanu spoke, the dragon spoke, both briefly, in their cymbal-shiver voices. Another exchange, a pause; the dragon spoke at length. Onyx listened intently. One more exchange of words. A wisp of smoke from the dragon's nostrils; a stiff, imperious gesture of the woman's crippled, withered hand. She spoke clearly two words.
"'Bring her,'" the wizard whispered.
The dragon beat its wings hard, lowered its long head down and hissed, spoke again, and then sprang up into the air, high over Tehanu, turned, wheeled once, and set off like an arrow to the west.
"It called her 'Daughter of the Eldest,'" the wizard whispered, as Tehanu stood motionless, watching the dragon go.
She turned around, looking small and fragile in that great sweep of hill and forest in the grey dawn light. Lebannen swung off his horse and hurried forward to her. He thought to find her drained and terrified, he put out his hand to help her walk, but she smiled at him. Her face, half terrible half beautiful, shone with the red light of the unrisen sun.
"They won't strike again. They will wait in the mountains," she said.
Then indeed she looked around as if she did not know where she was, and when Lebannen took her arm she let him do so; but the fire and the smile lingered in her face, and she walked lightly.
While the hostlers held the horses, already grazing on the dew-wet grass, Onyx and Tosla and Yenay came round her, though they kept a respectful distance. Onyx said, "My lady Tehanu, I have never seen so brave an act."
"Nor I," Tosla said.
"I was afraid," Tehanu said, in her voice that carried no emotion. "But I called him brother, and he called me sister."
"I could not understand all you said," the wizard said. "I have no such knowledge of the Old Speech as you. Will you tell us what passed between you?"
She spoke slowly, her eyes on the west where the dragon had flown. The dull red of the distant fire was paling as the east grew bright. "I said, 'Why are you burning the king's island?' And he said, 'It is time we have our own lands again.' And I said, 'Did the Eldest bid you take them with fire?' Then he said that the Eldest, Kalessin, had gone with Orm Irian beyond the west to fly on the other wind. And he said the young dragons who remained here on the winds of the world say men are oath-breakers who stole the dragons' lands. They tell one another that Kalessin will never return, and they will wait no longer, but will drive men out of all the western lands. But lately Orm Irian has returned, and is on Paln, he said. And I told him to ask her to come. And he said she would come to Kalessin's daughter."