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Chapter 2 The Wall Around the Place

 As she grew older she lost all remembrance of her mother, without knowing she had lost it. She belonged here, at the Place of the Tombs; she had always belonged here. Only sometimes in the long evenings of July as she watched the western mountains, dry and lion-colored in the afterglow of sunset, she would think of a fire that had burned on a hearth, long ago, with the same clear yellow light. And with this came a memory of being held, which was strange, for here she was seldom even touched; and the memory of a pleasant smell, the fragrance of hair freshly washed and rinsed in sage-scented water, fair long hair, the color of sunset and firelight. That was all she had left.
 She knew more than she remembered, of course, for she had been told the whole story. When she was seven or eight years old, and first beginning to wonder who indeed this person called "Arha" was, she had gone to her guardian, the Warden Manan, and said, "Tell me how I was chosen, Manan."
 "Oh, you know all that, little one."
 And indeed she did; the tall, dry-voiced priestess Thar had told her till she knew the words by heart, and she recited them: "Yes, I know. At the death of the One Priestess of the Tombs of Atuan, the ceremonies of burial and purification are completed within one month by the moon's calendar. After this certain of the Priestesses and Wardens of the Place of the Tombs go forth across the desert, among the towns and villages of Atuan, seeking and asking. They seek the girl-child who was born on the night of the Priestess' death. When they find such a child, they wait and they watch. The child must be sound of body and of mind, and as it grows it must not suffer from rickets nor the smallpox nor any deformity, nor become blind. If it reaches the age of five years unblemished, then it is known that the body of the child is indeed the new body of the Priestess who died. And the child is made known to the Godking in Awabath, and brought here to her Temple and instructed for a year. And at the year's end she is taken to the Hall of the Throne and her name is given back to those who are her Masters, the Nameless Ones: for she is the nameless one, the Priestess Ever Reborn."
 This was all word for word as Thar had told her, and she had never dared ask for a word more. The thin priestess was not cruel, but she was very cold and lived by an iron law, and Arha was in awe of her. But she was not in awe of Manan, far from it, and she would command him, "Now tell me how I was chosen!" And he would tell her again.
 "We left here, going north and west, in the third day of the moon's waxing; for Arha-that-was had died in the third day of the last moon. And first we went to Tenacbah, which is a great city, though those who've seen both say it's no more to Awabath than a flea to a cow. But it's big enough for me, there must be ten hundred houses in Tenacbahl And we went on to Gar. But nobody in those cities had a baby girl born to them on the third day of the moon a month before; there were some had boys, but boys won't do... So we went into the hill country north of Gar, to the towns and villages. That's my own land. I was born in the hills there, where the rivers run, and the land is green. Not in this desert." Manan's husky voice would get a strange sound when he said that, and his small eyes would be quite hidden in their folds; he would pause a little, and at last go on. "And so we found and spoke to all those who were parents of babies born in the last months. And some would lie to us. `Oh yes, surely our baby girl was born on the moon's third day!' For poor folk, you know, are often glad to get rid of girl-babies. And there were others who were so poor, living in lonely huts in the valleys of the hills, that they kept no count of days and scarce knew how to tell the turn of time, so they could not say for certain how old their baby was. But we could always come at the truth, by asking long enough. But it was slow work. At last we found a girlchild, in a village of ten houses, in the orchard-vales westward of Entat. Eight months old she was, so long had we been looking. But she had been born on the night that the Priestess of the Tombs had died, and within the very hour of her death. And she was a fine baby, sitting up on her mother's knee and looking with bright eyes at all of us, crowding into the one room of the house like bats into a cave! The father was a poor man. He tended the apple trees of the rich man's orchard, and had nothing of his own but five children and a goat. Not even the house was his. So there we all crowded in, and you could tell by the way the priestesses looked at the baby and spoke among themselves that they thought they had found the Reborn One at last. And the mother could tell this too. She held the baby and never said a word. Well, so, the next day we came back. And look here! The little bright-eyed baby lying in a cot of rushes weeping and screaming, and all over its body weals and red rashes of fever, and the mother wailing louder than the baby, `Oh! Oh! My babe hath the Witch-Fingers on her!' That's how she said it; the smallpox she meant. In my village, too, they called it the Witch-Fingers. But Kossil, she who is now the High Priestess of the Godking, she went to the cot and picked up the baby. The others had all drawn back, and I with them; I don't value my life very high, but who enters a house where smallpox is? But she had no fear, not that one. She picked up the baby and said, `It has no fever.' And she spat on her finger and rubbed at the red marks, and they came off. They were only berry juice. The poor silly mother had thought to fool us and keep her child!" Manan laughed heartily at this; his yellow face hardly changed, but his sides heaved. "So, her husband beat her, for he was afraid of the wrath of the priestesses. And soon we came back to the desert, but each year one of the people of the Place would return to the village among the apple orchards, and see how the child got on. So five years passed, and then Thar and Kossil made the journey, with the Temple guards, and soldiers of the red helmet sent by the Godking to escort them safely. They brought the child back here, for it was indeed the Priestess of the Tombs reborn, and here it belonged. And who was the child, eh, little one?"
 "Me," said Arha, looking off into the distance as if to see something she could not see, something gone out of sight.
 Once she asked, "What did the... the mother do, when they came to take the child away?"
 But Manan didn't know; he had not gone with the priestesses on that final journey.
 And she could not remember. What was the good in remembering? It was gone, all gone. She had come where she must come. In all the world she knew only one place: the Place of the Tombs of Atuan.
 In her first year there she had slept in the big dormitory with the other novices, girls between four and fourteen. Even then Manan had been set apart among the Ten Wardens as her particular guardian, and her cot had been in a little alcove, partly separated from the long, low-beamed main room of the dormitory in the Big House where the girls giggled and whispered before they slept, and yawned and plaited one another's hair in the gray light of morning. When her name was taken from her and she became Arha, she slept alone in the Small House, in the bed and in the room that would be her bed and her room for the rest of her life. That house was hers, the House of the One Priestess, and no one might enter it without her permission. When she was quite little still, she enjoyed hearing people knock submissively on her door, and saying, "You may come in," and it annoyed her that the two High Priestesses, Kossil and Thar, took their permission for granted and entered her house without knocking.
 The days went by, the years went by, all alike. The girls of the Place of the Tombs spent their time at classes and disciplines. They did not play any games. There was no time for games. They learned the sacred songs and the sacred dances, the histories of the Kargad Lands, and the mysteries of whichever of the gods they were dedicated to: the Godking who ruled in Awabath, or the Twin Brothers, Atwah and Wuluah. Of them all, only Arha learned the rites of the Nameless Ones, and these were taught her by one person, Thar, the High Priestess of the Twin Gods. This took her away from the others for an hour or more daily, but most of her day, like theirs, was spent simply working. They learned how to spin and weave the wool of their flocks, and how to plant and harvest and prepare the food they always ate: lentils, buckwheat ground to a coarse meal for porridge or a fine flour for unleavened bread, onions, cabbages, goat-cheese, apples, and honey.
 The best thing that could happen was to be allowed to go fishing in the murky green river that flowed through the desert a half mile northeast of the Place; to take along an apple or a cold buckwheat bannock for lunch and sit all day in the dry sunlight among the reeds, watching the slow green water run and the cloudshadows change slowly on the mountains. But if you squealed with excitement when the line tensed and you swung in a flat, glittering fish to flop on the riverbank and drown in air, then Mebbeth would hiss like an adder, "Be still, you screeching fool!" Mebbeth, who served in the Godking's temple, was a dark woman, still young, but hard and sharp as obsidian. Fishing was her passion. You had to keep on her good side, and never make a sound, or she would not take you out to fish again; and then you'd never get to the river except to fetch water in summer when the wells ran low. That was a dreary business, to trudge through the searing white heat a half mile down to the river, fill the two buckets on their carrying pole, and then set off as fast as possible uphill to the Place. The first hundred yards were easy, but then the buckets began to grow heavier, and the pole burned your shoulders like a bar of hot iron, and the light glared on the dry road, and every step was harder and slower. At last you got to the cool shade of the back courtyard of the Big House by the vegetable patch, and dumped the buckets into the great cistern with a splash. And then you had to turn around to do it all over again, and again, and again.
 Within the precincts of the Place -that was all the name it had or needed, for it was the most ancient and sacred of all places in the Four Lands of the Kargish Empire- a couple of hundred people lived, and there were many buildings: three temples, the Big House and the Small House, the quarters of the eunuch wardens, and close outside the wall the guards' barracks and many slaves' huts, the storehouses and sheep pens and goat pens and farm buildings. It looked like a little town, seen from a distance, from up on the dry hills westward where nothing grew but sage, wire-grass in straggling clumps, small weeds and desert herbs. Even from away off on the eastern plains, looking up one might see the gold roof of the Temple of the Twin Gods wink and glitter beneath the mountains, like a speck of mica in a shelf of rock.
 That temple itself was a cube of stone, plastered white, windowless, with a low porch and door. Showier, and centuries newer, was the Temple of the God-king a little below it, with a high portico and a row of thick white columns with painted capitals - each one a solid log of cedar, brought on shipboard from Hur-atHur where there are forests, and dragged by the straining of twenty slaves across the barren plains to the Place. Only after a traveler approaching from the east had seen the gold roof and the bright columns would he see, higher up on the Hill of the Place, above them all, tawny and ruinous as the desert itself, the oldest of the temples of his race: the huge, low Hall of the Throne, with patched walls and flattish, crumbling dome.
 Behind the Hall and encircling the whole crest of the hill ran a massive wall of rock, laid without mortar and half fallen down in many places. Inside the loop of the wall several black stones eighteen or twenty feet high stuck up like huge fingers out of the earth. Once the eye saw them it kept returning to them. They stood there full of meaning, and yet there was no saying what they meant. There were nine of them. One stood straight, the others leaned more or less, two had fallen. They were crusted with gray and orange lichen as if splotched with paint, all but one, which was naked and black, with a dull gloss to it. It was smooth to the touch, but on the others, under the crust of lichen, vague carvings could be seen, or felt with the fingers - shapes, signs. These nine stones were the Tombs of Atuan. They had stood there, it was said, since the time of the first men, since Earthsea was created. They had been planted in the darkness when the lands were raised up from the ocean's depths. They were older by far than the God-kings of Kargad, older than the Twin Gods, older than light. They were the tombs of those who ruled before the world of men came to be, the ones not named, and she who served them had no name.
 She did not go among them often, and no one else ever set foot on that ground where they stood, on the hilltop within the rock wall behind the Hall of the Throne. Twice a year, at the full moon nearest the equinox of spring and of autumn, there was a sacrifice before the Throne and she came out from the low back door of the Hall carrying a great brass basin full of smoking goat's blood; this she must pour out, half at the foot of the standing black stone, half over one of the fallen stones which lay embedded in the rocky dirt, stained by the blood-offering of centuries.
 Sometimes Arha went by herself in the early morning and wandered among the Stones trying to make out the dim humps and scratches of the carvings, brought out more clearly by the low angle of the light; or she would sit there and look up at the mountains westward, and down at the roofs and walls of the Place all laid out below, and watch the first stirrings of activity around the Big House and the guards' barracks, and the flocks of sheep and goats going off to their sparse pastures by the river. There was never anything to do among the Stones. She went only because it was permitted her to go there, because there she was alone. It was a dreary place. Even in the heat of noon in the desert summer there was a coldness about it. Sometimes the wind whistled a little between the two stones that stood closest together, leaning together as if telling secrets. But no secret was told.
 From the Tomb Wall another, lower rock wall ran, making a long irregular semicircle about the Hill of the Place and then trailing off northward towards the river. It did not so much protect the Place, as cut it in two: on one side the temples and houses of the priestesses and wardens, on the other the quarters of the guards and of the slaves who farmed and herded and foraged for the Place. None of these ever crossed the wall, except that on certain very holy festivals the guards, and their drummers and players of the horn, would attend the procession of the priestesses; but they did not enter the portals of the temples. No other men set foot upon the inner ground of the Place. There had once been pilgrimages, kings and chieftains coming from the Four Lands to worship there; the first God-king, a century and a half ago, had come to enact the rites of his own temple. Yet even he could not enter among the Tombstones, even he had had to eat and sleep outside the wall around the Place.
 One could climb that wall easily enough, fitting toes into crevices. The Eaten One and a girl called Penthe were sitting up on the wall one afternoon in late spring.
 They were both twelve years old. They were supposed to be in the weaving room of the Big House, a huge stone attic; they were supposed to be at the great looms always warped with dull black wool, weaving black cloth for robes. They had slipped outside for a drink at the well in the courtyard, and then Arha had said, "Come on!" and had led the other girl down the hill, around out of sight of the Big House, to the wall. Now they sat on top of it, ten feet up, their bare legs dangling down on the outside, looking over the flat plains that went on and on to the east and north.
 "I'd like to see the sea," said Penthe.
 "What for?" said Arha, chewing a bitter stem of milkweed she had picked from the wall. The barren land was just past its flowering. All the small desert blossoms, yellow and rose and white, low-growing and quick-flowering, were going to seed, scattering tiny plumes and parasols of ash white on the wind, dropping their hooked, ingenious burrs. The ground under the apple trees of the orchard was a drift of bruised white and pink. The branches were green, the only green trees within miles of the Place. Everything else, from horizon to horizon, was a dull, tawny, desert color, except that the mountains had a silvery bluish tinge from the first buds of the flowering sage.
 "Oh, I don't know what for. I'd just like to see something different. It's always the same here. Nothing happens."
 "All that happens everywhere, begins here," said Arha.
 "Oh, I know... But I'd like to see some of it happening!"
 Penthe smiled. She was a soft, comfortable-looking girl. She scratched the soles of her bare feet on the sunwarmed rocks, and after a while went on, "You know, I used to live by the sea when I was little. Our village was right behind the dunes, and we used to go down and play on the beach sometimes. Once I remember we saw a fleet of ships going by, way out at sea. The ships looked like dragons with red wings. Some of them had real necks, with dragon heads. They came sailing by Atuan, but they weren't Kargish ships. They came from the west, from the Inner Lands, the headman said. Everybody came down to watch them. I think they were afraid they might land. They just went by, nobody knew where they were going. Maybe to make war in Karego-At. But think of it, they really came from the sorcerers' islands, where all the people are the color of dirt and they can all cast a spell on you easy as winking."
 "Not on me," Arha said fiercely. "I wouldn't have looked at them. They're vile accursed sorcerers. How dare they sail so close to the Holy Land?"
 "Oh, well, I suppose the God-king will conquer them some day and make them all slaves. But I wish I could see the sea again. There used to be little octopuses in the tide pools, and if you shouted `Boo!' at them they turned all white. -There comes that old Manan, looking for you."
 Arha's guard and servant was coming slowly along the inner side of the wall. He would stoop to pull a wild onion, of which he held a large, limp bunch, then straighten up and look about him with his small, dull, brown eyes. He had grown fatter with the years, and his hairless yellow skin glistened in the sun.
 "Slide down part way on the men's side," Arha hissed, and both girls wriggled lithe as lizards down the far side of the wall until they could cling there just below the top, invisible from the inner side. They heard Manan's slow footsteps coming by.
 "Hoo! Hoo! Potato face!" crooned Arha, a whispering jeer faint as the wind among the grasses.
 The heavy tread halted. "Ho there," said the uncertain voice. "Little one? Arha?"
 Manan went forward.
 "Hoo-oo! Potato face!"
 "Hoo, potato belly!" Penthe whispered in imitation, and then moaned, trying to suppress giggles.
 "Somebody there?"
 "Oh well, well, well," the eunuch sighed, and his slow feet went on. When he was gone over the shoulder of the slope, the girls scrambled back up onto the top of the wall. Penthe was pink with sweat and giggles, but Arha looked savage.
 "The stupid old bellwether, following me around everywhere!"
 "He has to," Penthe said reasonably. "It's his job, looking after you."
 "Those I serve look after me. I please them; I need please nobody else. These old women and half-men, these people should leave me alone. I am the One Priestess!"
 Penthe stared at the other girl. "Oh," she said feebly, "oh, I know you are, Arha-"
 "Then they should let me be. And not order me about all the time!"
 Penthe said nothing for a while, but sighed, and sat swinging her plump legs and gazing at the vast, pale lands below, that rose so slowly to a high, vague, immense horizon.
 "You'll get to give the orders pretty soon, you know," she said at last, quietly. "In two more years we won't be children any more. We'll be fourteen. I'll go into the Godking's temple, and things will be about the same for me. But you'll really be the High Priestess then. Even Kossil and Thar will have to obey you."
 The Eaten One said nothing. Her face was set, her eyes under black brows caught the light of the sky in a pale glitter.
 "We ought to go back," Penthe said.
 "But the weaving mistress might tell Thar. And soon it'll be time for the Nine Chants."
 "I'm staying here. You stay, too."
 "They won't punish you, but they will punish me," Penthe said in her mild way. Arha did not reply. Penthe sighed, and stayed. The sun was sinking into haze high above the plains. Far away on the long, gradual slant of the land, sheep bells clanked faintly and lambs bleated. The spring wind blew in dry, faint gusts, sweetsmelling.
 The Nine Chants were nearly over when the two girls returned. Mebbeth had seen them sitting on the `Men's Wall' and had reported this to her superior, Kossil, High Priestess of the Godking.
 Kossil was heavy-footed, heavy-faced. Without expression in face or voice she spoke to the two girls, telling them to follow her. She led them through the stone hallways of the Big House, out the front door, up the knoll to the Temple of Atwah and Wuluah. There she spoke with the High Priestess of that temple, Thar, tall and dry and thin as the legbone of a deer.
 Kossil said to Penthe, "Take off your gown."
 She whipped the girl with a bundle of reed canes, which cut the skin a little. Penthe bore this patiently, with silent tears. She was sent back to the weaving room without supper, and the next day also she would go without food. "If you are found climbing over the Men's Wall again," Kossil said, "there will be very much worse things than this happen to you. Do you understand, Penthe?" Kossil's voice was soft, but not kindly. Penthe said, "Yes," and slipped away, cowering and flinching as her heavy clothing rubbed the cuts on her back.
 Arha had stood beside Thar to watch the whipping. Now she watched Kossil clean the canes of the whip.
 Thar said to her, "It is not fitting that you be seen climbing and running with other girls. You are Arha."
 She stood sullen and did not reply.
 "It is better that you do only what is needful for you to do. You are Arha."
 For a moment the girl raised her eyes to Thar's face, then to Kossil's, and there was a depth of hate or rage in her look that was terrible to see. But the thin priestess showed no concern; rather she confirmed, leaning forward a little, almost whispering, "You are Arha. There is nothing left. It was all eaten."
 "It was all eaten," the girl repeated, as she had repeated daily, all the days of her life since she was six.
 Thar bowed her head slightly; so did Kossil, as she put away the whip. The girl did not bow, but turned submissively and left.
 After the supper of potatoes and spring onions, eaten in silence in the narrow, dark refectory, after the chanting of the evening hymns, and the placing of the sacred words upon the doors, and the brief Ritual of the Unspoken, the work of the day was done. Now the girls might go up to the dormitory and play games with dice and sticks, so long as the single rushlight burned, and whisper in the dark from bed to bed. Arha set off across the courts and slopes of the Place as she did every night, to the Small House where she slept alone.
 The night wind was sweet. The stars of spring shone thick, like drifts of daisies in spring meadows, like the glittering of light on the April sea. But the girl had no memory of meadows or the sea. She did not look up.
 "Ho there, little one!"
 "Manan," she said indifferently.
 The big shadow shuffled up beside her, starlight glinting on his hairless pate.
 "Were you punished?"
 "I can't be punished."
 "No... That's so..."
 "They can't punish me. They don't dare."
 He stood with his big hands hanging, dim and bulky. She smelled wild onion, and the sweaty, sagey smell of his old black robes, which were torn at the hem, and too short for him.
 "They can't touch me. I am Arha," she said in a shrill, fierce voice, and burst into tears.
 The big, waiting hands came up and drew her to him, held her gently, smoothed her braided hair. "There, there. Little honeycomb, little girl..." She heard the husky murmur in the deep hollow of his chest, and clung to him. Her tears stopped soon, but she held onto Manan as if she could not stand up.
 "Poor little one," he whispered, and picking the child up carried her to the doorway of the house where she slept alone. He set her down.
 "All right now, little one?"
 She nodded, turned from him, and entered the dark house.

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