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Tenar met them as she was returning from Middle Valley. One moment, the mountain road was empty; the next, four men in green stepped out of the trees to block her path. Their faces were hooded, their hands held stout sticks or hilts of daggers.

Tenar gripped her staff and planted her feet firmly on the path. “Get out of my way,” she said.

One of the men in front gave her a toothy grin. “Don’t you know who we are, little woman?”

“Oh, I do,” replied Tenar calmly. “When I went to heal the widow in Middle Valley, I found her door broken and her house robbed. On the way back I passed Farmer Hob coming home from market with an empty pocket. I went to teach the hedgewitch Oak spells to cure her chickens, and I found all the eggs taken by thieves in the night.” She shifted slightly, changing her stance and raising the staff in her hands. “I know who you are.”

He blinked, hesitating. Tenar could see him slowly taking in her words, her strange appearance, the power in her voice.

Their leader had not listened. He broke the silence with a booming laugh. “The little woman’s got a stick to walk with, and she tries to hold it like a wizard’s staff!” He came closer, unsheathing the long knife from his belt. “Give us all your money, white lady, and no one hurts you.”

She brought her staff down hard with a single spoken word. The men stopped dead in their tracks, puzzled expressions frozen on their lips as she chanted softly. When she was done, the four of them wandered away down the twisting path, blinking confusedly at the trees.

Tenar smiled to herself. The villagers would be surprised to see their stolen goods returned to their doorsteps in the morning, and she could go home to Ogion at last. She’d walked up and down this road four times already; she’d thought they would never turn up.

But her smile faded as she walked up the path to Ogion's home. This was but one gang of thieves that she had dealt with today; she had heard of others, and that in an area where thieves stayed away, for fear of Ogion and his witch companion. Ships came and went from Gont, but less of them than before, and more with tales of pirates; there were more guards in Gont port. She had spoken of spells, but she had not mentioned that she could cure only half of Oak's chickens, and the spell was wholly useless in Oak's hands. Nor that she stumbled now, leaning on her staff out of exhaustion from a spell that should have taken but a little energy from her.

"We have no center," she murmured to herself as she walked. "Our power is fading, without strength to hold it together." 

What was the Archmage doing? Was he even now working some mighty spell, or setting off in his little boat on some great quest? She pictured him unfurling Lookfar's patched old sail, setting off from Roke to bring peace back to all the Inner Lands. Yet surely, news would have come?

Perhaps he does not see, she thought idly, and then stopped, struck by the thought. Was it possible? Roke, Ogion had told her, was so shielded, so overflowing with magic in its every rock and pool, that Ged might simply not know what passed in the rest of the isles. 

Tenar stood very still for a minute, and then resumed her walk with new strength. She would speak with Ogion, and if he agreed - if he agreed, then in the morning she would go back down the mountain to take ship for Roke.

 

***

 

It was dawn in Havnor. Sailors, tradesmen, messengers, and vagabonds thronged the great port, pushing and shoving and shouting over the noise. Beyond the port lay the shining city, its white towers rising one after another over red roofs, radiant in the glare of the rising sun.

A young man sat alone on one of the quays, head and face covered with a faded cloak, watching the white-sailed ships come into the harbor. Wealthy merchants and noblemen rode past him without looking down. A few women looked in his direction and then turned away, uninterested.

A woman in a black cloak passed close by him, a basket dangling from her wrist. She walked a little way on and then stopped. Lebannen glanced aside hastily, but he could feel her eyes lingering on his back. Then she approached him, and he turned around with a sigh, seeing no route by which he might make a quick escape. With luck she would not know his face, or would see no more than a passing resemblance to the King of All the Isles.

“King Lebannen,” the woman addressed him. Her sharp eyes darted this way and that, her voice was a hushed whisper even though there was no one nearby to hear. “What are you doing here alone?”

Lebannen looked at her face, and to his surprise, beneath the folds of her plain black cloak he saw the pale skin of the Kargish people. He knew her then; the White Lady, Tenar of Havnor, who had placed the ring of Erreth-Akbe in his hands three months ago. He had not spoken to her since that day. “So,” he said, smiling, “I am caught out at last. Well done, my lady Tenar. You have accomplished what all the lords of my court could not.”

“You evade my question,” said the lady, smiling back. “But you are a king and have no need to answer. Yet if you permit, I would say one thing, which perhaps will be of use to you.”

Lebannen sighed. To come all this way to evade the politics of his court, only to have the court come to him! But he could not refuse the White Lady. Her wealth and beauty had made her a powerful player in the politics of the city, as beloved by the people as she had once been sought-after in marriage by their lords and princes. She alone of the mighty of Havnor had not sought to build favor with the young king – until now. 

He gestured to her and she sat down gracefully beside him, not taking her strange, unreadable eyes off him for a moment. But his eyes turned east, across the open sea in the direction of Gont, and his heart cried out across the waves: Sparrowhawk!

“He will not return,” she said softly. “I looked for him once, as you do. I sat here with the ships each morning, thinking every moment that now I would see the little boat with eyes painted on the sides, its red sails billowing out in the wind, and he would be there, standing in the prow, his hair blown back by the sea-breeze - and he would call out my name across the waves, and I would come running to him!" She fell silent. “But he did not come,” she finished at last. “He will never come, now.”

“He must come," said Lebannen, allowing some of his long-held frustration to seep into his voice. "I cannot do this alone. Rule, he said, and left me. It is not so simple!”

“You will learn," said the lady calmly.

“There shall be no difficulty in that," he answered. "Teachers are easy to come by. Roke would teach me, as would the court of Havnor. They would follow me everywhere, whispering their words of wisdom in my ears, while Roke challenges my authority and the lords who acknowledge my rule carry on doing as they always did. And all the while the people watch me and wait for the promised change to come!” 

He stopped. Why do I say these things to her? The only one to whom he thought he could unburden his troubles with an easy heart was separated from him by all the leagues of the sea; had his soul then seen no choice but to turn to but another who had been in the same position, left on the shores of a shining city by a wizard who had won her love and friendship, who said to her– “live here!” and expected that to be the end of the matter, as if it were one of his spells? Or had he simply sought the one person who was as close as he could get to Sparrowhawk?

Lebannen looked at her, and saw that her eyes were thoughtful. “Lady," he said. "My lord Sparrowhawk trusted you who brought us what peace we have, and I trust him above all others. Do not be silent - say what you will!” 

Instead of speaking, she pointed out the tall ship that had just come into port. A row of sullen-looking sailors were walking down the plank. “Do you see that ship, my king?” she asked. "It was raided by pirates off Gont. Now its master has no goods to sell.”

“Near Enlad we had little trouble from pirates," he said. "Yet here I hear of pirates every day. The lords of the isles have soldiers - what do they do?”

“Pirates did not come to Enlad because your father held them at bay," she answered. "In some of the isles, the lords themselves are little more than pirates with fatter purses. Now the owner of that ship is of a noble family, wealthy, with connections across the isles, yet pirates bring him steady losses. A king who moves against piracy would win his support and that of wealthy traders, and his lords would see that he is to be feared and respected.”

Lebannen kept his expression neutral in the manner that he had taught himself in his first week at court. “And what would you have me do with Roke, lady?”

Her eyes flashed. “What archmage has Roke raised to crown you?” she asked. “Sparrowhawk himself named you king. Who is Thorion of Roke to gainsay his word? Stand firm, my king. Give way to Thorion now, and you will find yourself giving way again and again until people begin to whisper- who is subject, and who is king?" She paused. "Still, Thorion's reach is long, and you will need allies if you hope to stand against his influence. Build a council, then. They will argue with you, but arguing with trusted advisors behind closed doors is better than arguing with all in open court, and your orders will be obeyed faster if they are seen to come with the support of your lords. Yet do not keep only lords in your council, nor only friends; a king needs his opponents no less than he needs his supporters, if he wishes a long and peaceful reign."

Lebannen stared at her. “You were a ruler once,” he said slowly. 

“Not a good one, I fear,” said the lady. “But I have watched the princes of Havnor rise and fall. And power-hungry lords” – she smiled suddenly - “are not so very different from power-hungry priestesses.”

Lebannen watched her, and thought, and a strange thought came to his mind –  did Ged leave me alone because he knew she was here?

“Perhaps,” he said, then paused, then began again. Now it was his turn to surprise her. “Perhaps the White Lady will consent to serve upon the King’s Council, and to name such others as she feels are worthy.”

The White Lady bowed her head to the king. “I will.”

 

***

 

The novice was trembling when she ran into Issa’s chambers in the middle of the night. “Men, priestess,” she whispered. “Soldiers from Awabath. The High Priestess of the Godking is asleep…”

Issa did not stay to listen. She flung on her warmest cloak and ran from her house. Her servants lay sprawled beside the walls, snoring. “Wake up!” she whispered loudly, kicking them in the shins. They rose, stumbling to gather their lanterns and follow her as she hurried to the wall.

She slowed to a solemn walk as she approached the wall, both for the dignity of her position and to observe what was happening. It was easy to see what had frightened the novice. Twenty soldiers in the Godking’s armor stood before her, dragging a cart bearing what seemed to be lumps of dark cloth. As she approached, Ined raised his lamp and she saw that the lumps were in fact men - five of them, chained and clothed in rags. So. Matters had worsened in Awabath, and sooner than expected.

“Priestess,” began the captain. Issa met his eyes and gave him her firmest glare. After a few moments, he lowered his eyes and inclined his head in the slightest gesture of respect, far less than he would have done for a servant of his Divine Emperor.

She did not demand more. “What men have you brought us, soldier?”

“Not men, priestess,” he replied. “Demons! These are demons in human form, who dared to plot against the Godking!”

Because they were starving, thought Issa. They were men like you, before the Godking’s treasury took all they had. Before you beat them into senseless lumps of flesh. She pressed her lips into a thin line. It would be worse than death for even a High Priestess to utter such words.

“Bring them,” she said harshly, whirling around and sweeping away from the soldiers. She could hear Ined and Urkan dragging the cart behind her. It could not have been too difficult; the men were nearly starved.

Issa led them into the secret room beneath the Small House, where she watched stone-faced while her servants bound the men with ropes and chains. They looked at her through dull eyes, not speaking or pleading but merely resigned to their fate. When she had inspected their bonds and was certain that they could make no resistance, she left them and climbed the stairs to Arha’s chambers.

The door was opened by the already awakened High Priestess of the Godking. Penthe glanced up and down the corridor as Issa entered, then locked the door behind her. The windows were already closed and Arha seated on a chair before them. She was fully dressed, wrapped in her cloak and wearing her silver ring around her wrist. Issa breathed more deeply, feeling her fear and anger drain away as they always did when she approached Arha.

“How many?” asked Arha. “Five,” Issa answered.

Arha nodded. “Have my servants send food and water down to them. Let the soldiers be watched when they leave. When three days are by, take the prisoners out by the secret ways. I will see that our friends collect them.”

“They will find out,” whispered Issa. “One of those men will return to Awabath, and attack the Godking again, and he will be recognized… they will know…” she trembled, unable to say more. 

Arha rose from her seat and put her hands on Issa's shoulders. “Do not fear,” she answered. “When they find out, we will deal with it.”

Issa had no doubt that Arha would deal with it. She had heard of the High Priestess who dared to insult the Nameless Ones, who had entered their holy domain without leave, only to be struck down by Arha for her sin and buried under falling rock. The Godking is not supreme in the Place, the First Priestess of the Twin Gods' temple at Awabath had warned her when she left. Other powers rule there, older and darker powers. Do not anger them.

Yet when Issa had arrived, she had found peaceful and prosperous temples, happy priestesses, and a strange air of strength that surrounded the silver-ringed Arha and drew Issa to her as a moth to a lamp. The only powers were thin, solemn Arha and plump, gentle Penthe, who ruled the Place with hands that were firm yet kind, who welcomed her into their friendship. 

The Priestesses worked throughout the day, and at night when the weaving was done and the offerings had been made, they sat in Arha’s chambers and talked of inconsequential things. Penthe spoke of food, Arha asked after the health of the novices, and Issa spoke of the upkeep of the temples. And on some nights they would speak in lowered voices of food and weapons to send to friends in secret places, of prisoners to be rescued and messages to be smuggled, and of the downfall of the Godking in Awabath.

Sometimes, when the night was fair and the moon was full, they would speak of none of these things. Penthe would cut apples, Issa would tell stories, and Arha would sit silent for hours before whispering to her friend, "Tell me of the Inner Lands." Then Penthe would put down her knife and speak of dark men on tall ships sailing by the coast, and Issa would see Arha gazing out of the western window with a wondering, longing expression in her eyes.

 

***

 

Ged and Tenar sat together beneath the golden trees as the sunlight faded. Beside Tenar’s bare feet, the stream ran swift and clear. She dipped her fingers in tentatively, feeling the icy water, the strength of the current carrying it forward.

“You need not be afraid, Tenar,” Ged was saying. “Havnor is the fairest of cities, and its people will welcome you as a princess. They will see you for what you truly are. You will want for nothing.” He went on, describing the city of Havnor and its great port, its marble palaces and fair courtyards, and something coiled up inside Tenar’s chest.

She did not want to go to Havnor. She would know nothing there, not the place or the people or even the words they spoke. She might bear it with a friend by her side - with him by her side - yet already she knew that it could not be so. He was a power that she could not understand; he was as the stream; she a pebble in his path, left on the banks while the stream passed on to greater places.

“I know nothing of the ways of princesses,” she said abruptly, cutting Ged off in the middle of a sentence. “I know how to sweep floors, and harvest grain, and weave cloth; I know how to dance before the throne of my masters, and sacrifice goats, and sing songs that have no meaning. Will these things be of any use in the palaces of your land?”

Ged fell silent, watching her intently, and for a while there was no sound but the rushing of the stream and the rustling in the leaves. “Where else would you go, Tenar?” he asked. “All paths are yours to choose from. You who gave me light in the darkness; command me! I will place your feet wherever they wish to tread.”

Tenar looked down, twisting the grass between her fingers. There was no grass in the Place of the Tombs, she thought suddenly.

It had happened to her so slowly that she had not realized it, but now she did; she was at ease here. This was her place. Not the dark of the labyrinth, nor the strange lands of the Archipelago, but this; the green hills, the grass beneath her feet, the red sun fading behind the trees. She looked up at Ged, at the flickering red-gold light on his dark face, and for the first time in years an old memory flashed across her mind; a memory of golden firelight dancing across another face, long ago.

They left early the next morning, changing their path; they moved away from the coast and deeper into the hills. After five days they entered the city of Gar, veiled under Ged’s sorcery. They slept in lofts and stables by night and begged for food by day, calling each other brother and sister when others were near. In this manner they passed around the city Entat, and on the morning of the tenth day from the Tombs they reached a deep valley, lush with trees and the roofs of small houses.

“Is this the place?” asked Ged.

“I do not know,” said Tenar.

They went down into the valley, to the small village of huts and goats and sheep. As they made their way to the orchards filled with the strong scent of flowers, Tenar stumbled suddenly. Ged caught her arm, looking at her with concern. “Apples,” she whispered. “I remember apples. This is the place.”

She shook off his arm and began to run. Her feet remembered the way all by themselves, between the rows of apple trees and past the well, the old gravel path covered with moss. At the end of the path was a small wooden house. Once there had been a hut, but it had grown and been rebuilt over the years. A pair of goats peered curiously at her. The door was half-open, and through it Tenar could see a pale line of golden light.

“Go on, little one,” urged Ged, coming up behind her. “All is well.”

Slowly, Tenar pushed open the door and stepped into the light. A man sat at the table, dark-haired and dark-eyed; grim, suspicious eyes turned to Tenar, and she did not know what to say. Then she heard a soft cry, and her eyes turned to the woman rising from the hearth; the woman with hair the same color as the fire, who came to her and caught her shoulders, searching her eyes desperately. 

Then she pulled Tenar hard into her arms. Tenar could smell the fragrance of her hair, feel the tears falling on her as she let her mother hold her close as she had not been held in years.

She had come home.