TWO GOATS STARED down at the stranger from a steep fenced field. A scatter of hens and half-grown chicks pecked and conversed softly in long grass under peach and plum trees. A man was standing on a short ladder against the trunk of one of the trees; his head was in the leaves, and the traveler could see only his bare brown legs.
“Hello,” the traveler said, and after a while said it again, a bit louder.
The leaves shook and the man came briskly down the ladder. He carried a handful of plums, and when he got off the ladder he batted away a couple of bees drawn by the juice. He came forward, a short, straight-backed man, grey hair tied back from a handsome, timeworn face. He looked to be seventy or so. Old scars, four white seams, ran from his left cheekbone down to the jaw. His gaze was clear, direct, intense.
“They’re ripe,” he said, “though they’ll be even better tomorrow.” He held out his handful of little yellow plums.
“Lord Sparrowhawk,” the stranger said huskily. “Archmage.”
The old man gave a curt nod of acknowledgment. “Come into the shade,” he said.
The stranger followed him, and did what he was told: he sat down on a wooden bench in the shade of the gnarled tree nearest the house; he accepted the plums, now rinsed and served in a wicker basket; he ate one, then another, then a third. Questioned, he admitted that he had eaten nothing that day. He sat while the master of the house went into it, coming out presently with bread and cheese and half an onion. The guest ate the bread and cheese and onion and drank the cup of cold water his host brought him. The host ate plums to keep him company.
“You look tired. How far have you come?”
From ‘The Other Wind’, the fifth book of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin
As well as being a magisterial depiction of the Art Of Hosting, this is a small sample of some of the finest writing I have ever had the priceless pleasure of imbibing. It’s nothing less than plainsong.
And it’s that half an onion that clinches it for me. It says so much about welcome and thrift and respect and humanity and good-enough.
You’ll forgive me, I think I have some onion in my eye.