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Chapter 4 Dreams and Tales

 Arha was not well for several days. They treated her for fever. She kept to her bed, or sat in the mild autumn sunlight on the porch of the Small House, and looked up at the western hills. She felt weak and stupid. The same ideas occurred to her again and again. She was ashamed of having fainted. No guard had been set upon the Tomb Wall, but now she would never dare ask Kossil about that. She did not want to see Kossil at all: never. It was because she was ashamed of having fainted.
 Often, in the sunlight, she would plan how she was going to behave next time she went into the dark places under the hill. She thought many times about what kind of death she should command for the next set of prisoners, more elaborate, better suited to the rituals of the Empty Throne.
 Each night, in the dark, she woke up screaming, "They aren't dead yet! They are still dying!"
 She dreamed a great deal. She dreamed that she had to cook food, great cauldrons full of savory porridge, and pour it all out into a hole in the ground. She dreamed that she had to carry a full bowl of water, a deep brass bowl, through the dark, to someone who was thirsty. She could never get to this person. She woke, and she herself was thirsty, but she did not go and get a drink. She lay awake, eyes open, in the room without windows.
 One morning Penthe came to see her. From the porch Arha saw her approach the Small House with a careless, purposeless air, as if she just happened to be wandering that way. If Arha had not spoken she would not have come up the steps. But Arha was lonely, and spoke.
 Penthe made the deep bow required of all who approached the Priestess of the Tombs, and then plopped down on the steps below Arha and made a noise like "Phewph!" She had gotten quite tall and plump; anything she did turned her cherry pink, and she was pink now from walking.
 "I heard you were ill. I saved you out some apples." She suddenly produced a rush net containing six or eight perfect yellow apples, from somewhere under her voluminous black robe. She was now consecrated to the service of the Godking, and served in his temple under Kossil; but she wasn't yet a priestess, and still did lessons and chores with the novices. "Poppe and I sorted the apples this year, and I saved the very best ones out. They always dry all the really good ones. Of course they keep best, but it seems such a waste. Aren't they pretty?"
 Arha felt the pale gold satin skins of the apples, looked at the twigs to which brown leaves still delicately clung. "They are pretty."
 "Have one," said Penthe.
 "Not now. You do."
 Penthe selected the smallest, out of politeness, and ate it in about ten juicy, skillful, interested bites.
 "I could eat all day," she said. "I never get enough. I wish I could be a cook instead of a priestess. I'd cook better than that old skinflint Nathabba, and besides, I'd get to lick the pots... Oh, did you hear about Munith? She was supposed to be polishing those brass pots they keep the rose oil in, you know, those long thin sort of jars with stoppers. And she thought she was supposed to clean the insides too, so she stuck her hand in, with a rag around it, you know, and then she couldn't get it out. She tried so hard it got all puffed up and swollen at the wrist, you know, so that she really was stuck. And she went galloping all over the dormitories yelling, `I can't get it off! I can't get it off!' And Punti's so deaf now he thought it was a fire, and started screeching at the other wardens to come and rescue the novices. And Uahto was milking and came running out of the pen to see what was the matter, and left the gate open, and all the milch-goats got out and came charging into the courtyard and ran into Punti and the wardens and the little girls, and Munith waving this brass pot around on the end of her arm and having hysterics, and they were all sort of rushing around down there when Kossil came down from the temple. And she said, `What's this? What's this?"'
 Penthe's fair, round face took on a repulsive sneer, not at all like Kossil's cold expression, and yet somehow so like Kossil that Arha gave a snort of almost terrified laughter.
 "'What's this? What's all this?' Kossil said. And then-and then the brown goat butted her-" Penthe dissolved in laughter, tears welled in her eyes. "And M-Munith hit the, the goat with the p-ppot"
 Both girls rocked back and forth in spasms of giggling, holding their knees, choking.
 "And Kossil turned around and said, `What's this? What's this?' to the - to the - to the goat..." The end of the tale was lost in laughter. Penthe finally wiped her eyes and nose, and absentmindedly started on another apple.
 To laugh so hard made Arha feel a little shaky. She calmed herself down, and after a while asked, "How did you come here, Penthe?"
 "Oh, I was the sixth girl my mother and father had, and they just couldn't bring up so many and marry them all off. So when I was seven they brought me to the Godking's temple and dedicated me. That was in Ossawa. They had too many novices there, I guess, because pretty soon they sent me on here. Or maybe they thought I'd make a specially good priestess or something. But they were wrong about that!" Penthe bit her apple with a cheerful, rueful face.
 "Would you rather not have been a priestess?"
 "Would I rather! Of course! I'd rather marry a pigherd and live in a ditch. I'd rather anything than stay buried alive here all my born days with a mess of women in a perishing old desert where nobody ever comes! But there's no good wishing about it, because I've been consecrated now and I'm stuck with it. But I do hope that in my next life I'm a dancing-girl in Awabath! Because I will have earned it."
 Arha looked down at her with a dark steady gaze. She did not understand. She felt that she had never seen Penthe before, never looked at her and seen her, round and full of life and juice as one of her golden apples, beautiful to see.
 "Doesn't the Temple mean anything to you?" she asked, rather harshly.
 Penthe, always submissive and easily bullied, did not take alarm this time. "Oh, I know your Masters are very important to you," she said with an indifference that shocked Arha. "That makes some sense, anyhow, because you're their one special servant. You weren't just consecrated, you were specially born. But look at me. Am I supposed to feel so much awe and so on about the Godking? After all he's just a man, even if he does live in Awabath in a palace ten miles around with gold roofs. He's about fifty years old, and he's bald. You can see in all the statues. And I'll bet you he has to cut his toenails, just like any other man. I know perfectly well that he's a god, too. But what I think is, he'll be much godlier after he's dead."
 Arha agreed with Penthe, for secretly she had come to consider the self-styled Divine Emperors of Kargad as upstarts, false gods trying to filch the worship due to the true and everlasting Powers. But there was something underneath Penthe's words with which she didn't agree, something wholly new to her, frightening to her. She had not realized how very different people were, how differently they saw life. She felt as if she had looked up and suddenly seen a whole new planet hanging huge and populous right outside the window, an entirely strange world, one in which the gods did not matter. She was scared by the solidity of Penthe's unfaith. Scared, she struck out.
 "That's true. My Masters have been dead a long, long time; and they were never men... Do you know, Penthe, I could call you into the service of the Tombs." She spoke pleasantly, as if offering her friend a better choice.
 The pink went right out of Penthe's cheeks.
 "Yes," she said, "you could. But I'm not... I'm not the sort that would be good at that."
 "I am afraid of the dark," Penthe said in a low voice.
 Arha made a little sound of scorn, but she was pleased. She had made her point. Penthe might disbelieve in the gods, but she feared the unnameable powers of the dark - as did every mortal soul.
 "I wouldn't do that unless you wanted to, you know," Arha said.
 A long silence fell between their.
 "You're getting to be more and more like Thar," Penthe said in her soft dreamy way. "Thank goodness you're not getting like Kossil! But you're so strong. I wish I were strong. I just like eating..."
 "Go ahead," Arha said, superior and amused, and Penthe slowly consumed a third apple down to the seeds.
 The demands of the endless ritual of the Place brought Arha out of her privacy a couple of days later. Twin kids had been born out of season to a she-goat, and were to be sacrificed to the Twin God-Brothers as the custom was: an important rite, at which the First Priestess must be present. Then it was dark of the moon, and the ceremonies of the darkness must be performed before the Empty Throne. Arha breathed in the drugging fumes of herbs burning in broad trays of bronze before the Throne, and danced, solitary in black. She danced for the unseen spirits of the dead and the unborn and as she danced the spirits crowded the air around her, following the turn and spin of her feet and the slow, sure gestures of her arms. She sang the songs whose words no man understood, which she had learned syllable by syllable, long ago, from Thar. A choir of priestesses hidden in the dusk behind the great double row of columns echoed the strange words after her, and the air in the vast ruinous room hummed with voices, as if the crowding spirits repeated the chants again and again.

 The Godking in Awabath sent no more prisoners to the Place, and gradually Arha ceased to dream of the three now long since dead and buried in shallow graves in the great cavern under the Tombstones.
 She summoned up her courage to return to that cavern. She must go back there: the Priestess of the Tombs must be able to enter her own domain without terror, to know its ways.
 The first time she entered the trapdoor was hard; yet not so hard as she had feared. She had schooled herself up to it so well, had so determined that she would go alone and keep her nerve, that when she came there she was almost dismayed to find that there was nothing to be afraid of. Graves might be there, but she could not see them; she could not see anything. It was black; it was silent. And that was all.
 Day after day she went there, always entering by the trapdoor in the room behind the Throne, until she knew well the whole circuit of the cavern, with its strange sculptured walls -as well as one can know what one cannot see. She never left the walls, for in striking out across the great hollow she might soon lose the sense of direction in the darkness, and so, blundering back at last to the wall, not know where she was. For as she had learned the first time, the important thing down in the dark places was to know which turnings and openings one had passed, and which were to come. It must be done by counting, for they were all alike to the groping hands. Arha's memory had been well trained, and she found no difficulty to this odd trick of finding one's way by touch and number, instead of by sight and common sense. She soon knew by heart all the corridors that opened off the Undertomb, the lesser maze that lay under the Hall of the Throne and the hilltop. But there was one corridor she never entered: the second left of the red rock entrance, that one which, if she entered mistaking it for one she knew, she might never find her way out of again. Her longing to enter it, to learn the Labyrinth, grew steadily, but she restrained it until she had learned all she could about it, aboveground.
 Thar knew little about it but the names of certain of its rooms, and the list of directions, of turns made and missed, for getting to these rooms. She would tell these to Arha, but she would never draw them in the dust or even with the gesture of a hand in the air; and she herself had never followed them, had never entered the Labyrinth. But when Arha asked her, "What is the way from the iron door that stands open to the Painted Room?" or, "How does the way run from the Room of Bones to the tunnel by the river?" then Thar would be silent a little, and then recite the strange directions she had learned long before from Arha-that-was: so many crossings passed, so many left-hand turns taken, and so on, and so on. And all these Arha got by heart, as Thar had, often on the first listening. When she lay in bed nights she would repeat them to herself, trying to imagine the places, the rooms, the turnings.
 Thar showed Arha the many spy holes that opened into the maze, in every building and temple of the Place, and even under rocks out of doors. The spiderweb of stone-walled tunnels underlay all the Place and even beyond its walls; there were miles of tunnels, down there in the dark. No person there but she, the two High Priestesses, and their special servants, the eunuchs Manan, Uahto, and Duby, knew of the existence of this maze that lay beneath every step they took. There were vague rumors of it among the others; they all knew that there were caves or rooms of some sort under the Tombstones. But none of them was very curious about anything to do with the Nameless Ones and the places sacred to them. Perhaps they felt that the less they knew, the better. Arha of course bad been intensely curious, and knowing that there were spy holes into the Labyrinth, had sought for them; yet they were so well concealed, in the pavements of the floors or in the desert ground, that she had never found one, not even the one in her own Small House, until Thar showed it to her.
 One night in early spring she took a candle lantern and went down with it, unlit, through the Undertomb to the second passage to the left of the passage from the red rock door.
 In the dark, she went some thirty paces down the passage, and then passed through a doorway, feeling the iron frame set in the rock: the limit, until now, of her explorations. Past the Iron Door she went a long way along the tunnel, and when at last it began to curve to the right, she lit her candle and looked about her. For light was permitted, here. She was no longer in the Undertomb. She was in a place less sacred though perhaps more dreadful. She was in the Labyrinth.
 The raw, blank walls and vault and floor of rock surrounded her in the small sphere of candlelight. The air was dead. Before her and behind her the tunnel stretched off into darkness.
 All the tunnels were the same, crossing and recrossing. She kept careful count of her turnings and gassings, and recited Thar's directions to herself, though she knew them perfectly. For it would not do to get lost in the Labyrinth. In the Undertomb and the short passages around it, Kossil or Thar might find her, or Manan come seeking for her, for she had taken him there several times. Here, none of them had ever been: only she herself. Little good it would do her if they came to the Undertomb and called aloud, and she was lost in some spiraling tangle of tunnels half a mile away. She imagined how she might hear the echo of voices calling her, echoing down every corridor, and she would try to come to them, but, lost, would only become farther lost. So vividly did she imagine this that she stopped, thinking she heard a distant voice calling. But there was nothing. And she would not get lost. She was very careful; and this was her place, her own domain. The powers of the dark, the Nameless Ones, would guide her steps here, just as they would lead astray any other mortal who dared enter the Labyrinth of the Tombs.
 She did not go far into it that first time, but far enough that the strange, bitter, yet pleasurable certainty of her utter solitude and independence there grew strong in her, and led her back, and back again, and each time farther. She came to the Painted Room, and the Six Ways, and followed the long Outmost Tunnel, and penetrated the strange tangle that led to the Room of Bones.
 "When was the Labyrinth made?" she asked Thar, and the stern, thin priestess answered, "Mistress, I do not know. No one knows."
 "Why was it made?"
 "For the hiding away of the treasures of the Tombs, and for the punishment of those who tried to steal those treasures."
 "All the treasures I've seen are in the rooms behind the Throne, and the basements under it. What lies in the Labyrinth?"
 "A far greater and more ancient treasure. Would you look on it?"
 "None but you may enter the Treasury of the Tombs. You may take your servants into the Labyrinth, but not into the Treasury. If even Manan entered there, the anger of the dark would waken; he would not leave the Labyrinth alive. There you must go alone, forever. I know where the Great Treasure is. You told me the way, fifteen years ago, before you died, so that I would remember and tell you when you returned. I can tell you the way to follow in the Labyrinth, beyond the Painted Room; and the key to the treasury is that silver one on your ring, with a figure of a dragon on the haft. But you must go alone."
 "Tell me the way."
 Thar told her, and she remembered, as she remembered all that was told her. But she did not go to see the Great Treasure of the Tombs. Some feeling that her will or her knowledge was not yet complete held her back. Or perhaps she wanted to keep something in reserve, something to look forward to, that cast a glamor over those endless tunnels through the dark that ended always in blank walls or bare dusty cells. She would wait awhile before she saw her treasures.
 After all, had she not seen them before?
 It still made her feel strange when Thar and Kossil spoke to her of things she had seen or said before she died. She knew that indeed she had died, and had been reborn in a new body at the hour of her old body's death: not only once, fifteen years ago, but fifty years ago, and before that, and before that, back down the years and hundreds of years, generation before generation, to the very beginning of years when the Labyrinth was dug, and the Stones were raised, and the First Priestess of the Nameless Ones lived in this Place and danced before the Empty Throne. They were all one, all those lives and hers. She was the First Priestess. All human beings were forever reborn, but only she, Arha, was reborn forever as herself. A hundred times she had learned the ways and turnings of the Labyrinth and had come to the hidden room at last.
 Sometimes she thought she remembered. The dark places under the hill were so familiar to her, as if they were not only her domain, but her home. When she breathed in the drug-fumes to dance at dark of the moon, her head grew light and her body was no longer hers; then she danced across the centuries, barefoot in black robes, and knew that the dance had never ceased.
 Yet it was always strange when Thar said, "You told me before you died..."
 Once she asked, "Who were those men that came to rob the Tombs? Did any ever do so?" The idea of robbers had struck her as exciting, but improbable. How would they come secretly to the Place? Pilgrims were very few, fewer even than prisoners. Now and then new novices or slaves were sent from lesser temples of the Four Lands, or a small group came to bring some offering of gold or rare incense to one of the temples. And that was all. Nobody came by chance, or to buy and sell, or to sightsee, or to steal; nobody came but under orders. Arha did not even know how far it was to the nearest town, twenty miles or more; and the nearest town was a small one. The Place was guarded and defended by emptiness, by solitude. Anybody crossing the desert that surrounded it, she thought, would have as much chance of going unseen as a black sheep in a snowfield.
 She was with Thar and Kossil, with whom much of her time was spent now when she was not in the Small House or alone under the hill. It was a stormy, cold night in April. They sat by a tiny fire of sage on the hearth in the room behind the Godking's temple, Kossil's room. Outside the doorway, in the hall, Manan and Duby played a game with sticks and counters, tossing a bundle of sticks and catching as many as possible on the back of the hand. Manan and Arha still sometimes played that game, in secret, in the inner courtyard of the Small House. The rattle of dropped sticks, the husky mumbles of triumph and defeat, the small crackle of the fire, were the only sounds when the three priestesses fell silent. All around beyond the walls reached the profound silence of the desert night. From time to time came the patter of a sparse, hard shower of rain.
 "Many came to rob the Tombs, long ago; but none ever did so," said Thar. Taciturn as she was, she liked now and then to tell a story, and often did so as part of Arha's instruction. She looked tonight as if a story might be gotten out of her.
 "How would any man dare?"
 "They would dare," Kossil said. "They were sorcerers, wizardfolk from the Inner Lands. That was before the Godkings ruled the Kargad Lands; we were not so strong then. The wizards used to sail from the west to Karego-At and Atuan to plunder the towns on the coast, loot the farms, even come into the Sacred City Awabath. They came to kill dragons, they said, but they stayed to rob towns and temples."
 "And their great heroes would come among us to test their swords," Thar said, "and work their ungodly spells. One of them, a mighty sorcerer and dragonlord, the greatest of them all, came to grief here. It was long ago, very long ago, but the tale is still remembered, and not only in this place. The sorcerer was named Erreth-Akbe, and he was both king and wizard in the West. He came to our lands, and in Awabath he joined with certain Kargish rebel lords, and fought for the rule of the city with the High Priest of the Inmost Temple of the Twin Gods. Long they fought, the man's sorcery against the lightning of the gods, and the temple was destroyed around them. At last the High Priest broke the sorcerer's witching-staff, broke in half his amulet of power, and defeated him. He escaped from the city and from the Kargish lands, and fled clear across Earthsea to the farthest west; and there a dragon slew him, because his power was gone. And since that day the power and might of the Inner Lands has ever waned. Now the High Priest was named Intathin, and he was the first of the house of Tarb, that lineage from which, after the fulfillment of the prophecies and the centuries, the Priest-Kings of Karego-At were descended, and from them, the Godkings of all Kargad. So it is that since the day of Intathin the power and might of the Kargish lands has ever grown. Those who came to rob the Tombs, they were sorcerers, trying and trying to get back the broken amulet of Erreth-Akbe. But it is still here, where the High Priest put it for safekeeping. And so are their bones..." Thar pointed at the ground under her feet.
 "Half of it is here," Kossil said.
 "And the other half lost forever."
 "How lost?" asked Arha.
 "The one half, in Intathin's hand, was given by him to the Treasury of the Tombs, where it should lie safe forever. The other remained in the sorcerer's hand, but he gave it before he fled to a petty king, one of the rebels, named Thoreg of Hupun. I do not know why he did so."
 "To cause strife, to make Thoreg proud," Kossil said. "And so it did. The descendants of Thoreg rebelled again when the house of Tarb ruled; and yet again they took arms against the first Godking, refusing to acknowledge him as either king or god. They were an accursed, ensorcelled race. They are all dead now."
 Thar nodded. "The father of our present Godking, the Lord Who Has Arisen, put down that family of Hupun, and destroyed their palaces. When that was done, the half-amulet, which they had kept ever since the days of Erreth-Akbe and Intathin, was lost. No one knows what became of it. And that was a lifetime ago."
 "It was thrown out as trash, no doubt," Kossil said. "They say it doesn't look like anything of value, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. A curse upon it and upon all the things of the wizardfolk!" Kossil spat into the fire.
 "Have you seen the half that is here?" Arha asked of Thar.
 The thin woman shook her head. "It is in that treasury to which none may come but the One Priestess. It may be the greatest of all the treasures there; I do not know. I think perhaps it is. For hundreds of years the Inner Lands sent thieves and wizards here to try to steal it back, and they would pass by open coffers of gold, seeking that one thing. It is very long since Erreth-Akbe and Intathin lived, and yet still the story is known and told, both here and in the West. Most things grow old and perish, as the centuries go on and on. Very few are the precious things that remain precious, or the tales that are still told."
 Arha brooded awhile and said, "They must have been very brave men, or very stupid, to enter the Tombs. Don't they know the powers of the Nameless Ones?"
 "No," Kossil said in her cold voice. "They have no gods. They work magic, and think they are gods themselves. But they are not. And when they die, they are not reborn. They become dust and bone, and their ghosts whine on the wind a little while till the wind blows them away. They do not have immortal souls."
 "But what is this magic they work?" Arha asked, enthralled. She did not remember having said once that she would have turned away and refused to look at the ships from the Inner Lands. "How do they do it? What does it do?"
 "Tricks, deceptions, jugglery," Kossil said.
 "Somewhat more," said Thar, "if the tales be true even in part. The wizards of the West can raise and still the winds, and make them blow whither they will. On that, all agree, and tell the same tale. That is why they are great sailors; they can put the wind of magic in their sails, and go where they will, and hush the storms at sea. And it is said that they can make light at will, and darkness; and change rocks to diamonds, and lead to gold; that they can build a great palace or a whole city in one instant, at least in seeming; that they can turn themselves into bears, or fish, or dragons, just as they please."
 "I do not believe all that," said Kossil. "That they are dangerous, subtle with trickery, slippery as eels, yes. But they say that if you take his wooden staff away from a sorcerer, he has no power left. Probably there are evil runes written on the staff."
 Thar shook her head again. "They carry a staff, indeed, but it is only a tool for the power they bear within them."
 "But how do they get the power?" Arha asked. "Where does it come from?"
 "Lies," Kossil said.
 "Words," said Thar. "So I was told by one who once had watched a great sorcerer of the Inner Lands, a Mage as they are called. They had taken him prisoner, raiding to the West. He showed them a stick of dry wood, and spoke a word to it. And lo! it blossomed. And he spoke another word, and lo! it bore red apples. And he spoke one word more, and stick, blossoms, apples, and all vanished, and with them the sorcerer. With one word he had gone as a rainbow goes, like a wink, without a trace; and they never found him on that isle. Was that mere jugglery?"
 "It's easy to fool fools," Kossil said.
 Thar said no more, avoiding argument but Arha was loath to have the subject dropped. "What do the wizard-folk look like," she asked, "are they truly black all over, with white eyes?"
 "They are black and vile. I have never seen one," Kossil said with satisfaction, shifting her heavy bulk on the low stool and spreading her hands to the fire.
 "May the Twin Gods keep them afar," Thar muttered.
 "They will never come here again," said Kossil. And the fire sputtered, and the rain spattered on the roof, and outside the gloomy doorway Manan cried shrilly, "Aha! A half for me, a half!"

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