A haunting and complex coming-of-age tale from master storyteller Ursula K. Le Guin, this is the third book in the Annals of the Western Shore Sequence, which began with Gifts and continued with Voices.
Young Gav can remember the page of a book after seeing it once, and, inexplicably, he sometimes “remembers” things that are going to happen in the future. As a loyal slave, he must keep these powers secret, but when a terrible tragedy occurs, Gav, blinded by grief, flees the only world he has ever known. And in what becomes a treacherous journey for freedom, Gav’s greatest test of all is facing his powers so that he can come to understand himself and finally find a true home.
“Don’t talk about it,” Sallo tells me.
“But what if it’s going to happen? Like when I saw the snow?”
“That’s why not to talk about it.”
My sister puts her arm around me and rocks us sideways, left and right, as we sit on the schoolroom bench. The warmth and the hug and the rocking ease my mind and I rock back against Sallo, bumping her a little. But I can’t keep from remembering what I saw, the dreadful excitement of it, and pretty soon I burst out, “But I ought to tell them! It was an invasion! They could warn the soldiers to be ready!”
“And they’d say—when?”
That stumps me. “Well, just ready.”
“But what if it doesn’t happen for a long time? They’d be angry at you for giving a false alarm. And then if an army did invade the city, they’d want to know how you knew.”
“I’d tell them I remembered it!”
“No,” Sallo says. “Don’t ever tell them about remembering the way you do. They’ll say you have a power. And they don’t like people to have powers.”
“But I don’t! Just sometimes I remember things that are going to happen!”
“I know. But Gavir, listen, truly, you mustn’t talk about it to anybody. Not anybody but me.”
When Sallo says my name in her soft voice, when she says, “Listen, truly,” I do truly listen to her. Even though I argue.
“Not even Tib?”
“Not even Tib.” Her round, brown face and dark eyes are quiet and serious.
“Because only you and I are Marsh people.”
“So was Gammy!”
“It was Gammy that told me what I’m telling you. That Marsh people have powers, and the city people are afraid of them. So we never talk about anything we can do that they can’t. It would be dangerous. Really dangerous. Promise, Gav.”
She puts up her hand, palm out. I fit my grubby paw against it to make the vow. “I promise,” I say as she says, “I hear.”
In her other hand she’s holding the little Ennu-Mé she wears on a cord around her neck.
She kisses the top of my head and then bumps me so hard I nearly fall off the end of the bench. But I won’t laugh; I’m so full of what I remembered, it was so awful and so frightening, I want to talk about it, to tell everybody, to say, “Look out, look out! Soldiers are coming, enemies, with a green flag, setting the city on fire!” I sit swinging my legs, sullen and mournful.
“Tell me about it again,” Sallo says. “Tell all the bits you left out.”
That’s what I need. And I tell her again my memory of the soldiers coming up the street.
Sometimes what I remember has a secret feeling about it, as if it belongs to me, like a gift that I can keep and take out and look at when I’m by myself, like the eagle feather Yaven-dí gave me. The first thing I ever remembered, the place with the reeds and the water, is like that. I’ve never told anybody about it, not even Sallo. There’s nothing to tell; just the silvery-blue water, and reeds in the wind, and sunlight, and a blue hill way off. Lately I have a new remembering: the man in the high room in shadows who turns around and says my name. I haven’t told anybody that. I don’t need to.
But there’s the other kind of remembering, or seeing, or whatever it is, like when I remembered seeing the Father come home from Pagadi, and his horse was lame; only he hadn’t come home yet and didn’t until next summer, and then he came just as I remembered, on the lame horse. And once I remembered all the streets of the city turning white, and the roofs turning white, and the air full of tiny white birds all whirling and flying downward. I wanted to tell everybody about that, it was so amazing, and I did. Most of them didn’t listen. I was only four or five then. But it snowed, later that winter. Everybody ran outside to see the snowfall, a thing that happens in Etra maybe once in a hundred years, so that we children didn’t even know what it was called. Gammy asked me, “Is this what you saw? Was it like this?” And I told her and all of them it was just what I’d seen, and she and Tib and Sallo believed me. That must have been when Gammy told Sallo what Sallo had just told me, not to talk about things I remembered that way. Gammy was old and sick then, and she died in the spring after the snowfall.
Since then I’d only had the secret rememberings, until this morning.
I was by myself early in the morning, sweeping the hall outside the nursery rooms, when I began remembering. At first I just remembered looking down a city street and seeing fire leap up from a house roof and hearing shouts. The shouts got louder, and I recognised Long Street, running north from the square behind the Forefathers’ Shrine. At the far end of the street smoke was billowing out in big greasy clouds with red flames inside them. People were running past me, all over the square, women and men, most of them running towards the Senate Square, shouting and calling out, but city guards ran by in the other direction with their swords drawn. Then I could see soldiers at the far end of Long Street under a green banner; they had long lances, and the ones on horseback had swords. The guards met with them, and there was deep shouting, and ringing and clashing like a smithy, and the whole crowd of men, a great writhing knot of armor and helmets and bare arms and swords, came closer and closer. A horse broke from it, galloping up the street straight at me, riderless, lathered with white sweat streaked red, blood running from where its eye should be. The horse was screaming. I dodged back from it. And then I was in the hall with a broom in my hand, remembering it. I was still terrified. It was so clear I couldn’t forget it at all. I kept seeing it again, and seeing more. I had to tell somebody.
So when Sallo and I went to get the schoolroom ready and were there alone, I told her. And now I told her a...
"Le Guin's storytelling prowress transforms small moments into beautiful, poignantly narrated events . . . Fantasy readers seeking an intricate and thoughtful examination of a life that is as much endured as enjoyed will find Gavir to be unforgettable and his gorgeous but dangerous surroundings engaging."--The Bulletin
star "With compelling themes about the soul-crushing effects of slavery, and a journey plotline that showcasese Le Guin's gift for creating a convincing array of cultures, this follow-up to Gifts and Voices may be the series' best installment."--Booklist (starred)
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