Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Science Fiction > The Tombs of Atuan > Chapter 7 The Great Treasure
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
Chapter 7 The Great Treasure

 Never had the rites and duties of the day seemed so many, or so petty, or so long. The little girls with their pale faces and furtive ways, the restless novices, the priestesses whose looks were stern and cool but whose lives were all a secret brangle of jealousies and miseries and small ambitions and wasted passions- all these women, among whom she had always lived and who made up the human world to her, now appeared to her as both pitiable and boring.
 But she who served great powers, she the priestess of grim Night, was free of that pettiness. She did not have to care about the grinding meanness of their common life, the days whose one delight was likely to be getting a bigger slop of lamb fat over your lentils than your neighbor got... She was free of the days altogether. Underground, there were no days. There was always and only night.
 And in that unending night, the prisoner: the dark man, practicer of dark arts, bound in iron and locked in stone, waiting for her to come or not to come, to bring him water and bread and life, or a knife and a butcher's bowl and death, just as the whim took her.
 She had told no one but Kossil about the man, and Kossil had not told anyone else. He had been in the Painted Room three nights and days now, and still she had not asked Arha about him. Perhaps she assumed that he was dead, and that Arha had had Manan carry the body to the Room of Bones. It was not like Kossil to take anything for granted; but Arha told herself that there was nothing strange about Kossil's silence. Kossil wanted everything kept secret, and hated to have to ask questions. And besides, Arha had told her not to meddle in her business. Kossil was simply obeying.
 However, if the man was supposed to be dead, Arha could not ask for food for him. So, aside from stealing some apples and dried onions from the cellars of the Big House, she did without food. She had her morning and evening meals sent to the Small House, pretending she wished to eat alone, and each night took the food down to the Painted Room in the Labyrinth, all but the soups. She was used to fasting for a day on up to four days at a time, and thought nothing about it. The fellow in the Labyrinth ate up her meager portions of bread and cheese and beans as a toad eats a fly: snap! it's gone. Clearly he could have done so five or six times over; but he thanked her soberly, as if he were her guest and she his hostess at a table such as she had heard of in tales of feasts at the palace of the Godking, all set with roast meats and buttered loaves and wine in crystal. He was very strange.
 "What is it like in the Inner Lands?"
 She had brought down a little cross-leg folding stool of ivory, so that she would not have to stand while she questioned him, yet would not have to sit down on the floor, on his level.
 "Well, there are many islands. Four times forty, they say, in the Archipelago alone, and then there are the Reaches; no man has ever sailed all the Reaches, nor counted all the lands. And each is different from the others. But the fairest of them all, maybe, is Havnor, the great land at the center of the world. In the heart of Havnor on a broad bay full of ships is the City Havnor. The towers of the city are built of white marble. The house of every prince and merchant has a tower, so they rise up one above the other. The roofs of the houses are red tile, and all the bridges over the canals are covered in mosaic work, red and blue and green. And the flags of the princes are all colors, flying from the white towers. On the highest of all the towers the Sword of Erreth-Akbe is set, like a pinnacle, skyward. When the sun rises on Havnor it flashes first on that blade and makes it bright, and when it sets the Sword is golden still above the evening, for a while."
 "Who was Erreth-Akbe?" she said, sly.
 He looked up at her. He said nothing, but he grinned a little. Then as if on second thoughts he said, "It's true you would know little of him here. Nothing beyond his coming to the Kargish lands, perhaps. And how much of that tale do you know?"
 "That he lost his sorcerer's staff and his amulet and his power- like you," she answered. "He escaped from the High Priest and fled into the west, and dragons killed him. But if he'd come here to the Tombs, there had been no need of dragons."
 "True enough," said her prisoner.
 She wanted no more talk of Erreth-Akbe, sensing a danger in the subject. "He was a dragonlord, they say. And you say you're one. Tell me, what is a dragonlord?"
 Her tone was always jeering, his answers direct and plain, as if he took her questions in good faith.
 "One whom the dragons will speak with," he said, "that is a dragonlord, or at least that is the center of the matter. It's not a trick of mastering the dragons, as most people think. Dragons have no masters. The question is always the same, with a dragon: will he talk with you or will he eat you? If you can count upon his doing the former, and not doing the latter, why then you're a dragonlord."
 "Dragons can speak?"
 "Surely! In the Eldest Tongue, the language we men learn so hard and use so brokenly, to make our spells of magic and of patterning. No man knows all that language, or a tenth of it. He has not time to learn it. But dragons live a thousand years... They are worth talking to, as you might guess."
 "Are there dragons here in Atuan?"
 "Not for many centuries, I think, nor in Karego-At. But in your northernmost island, Hur-at-Hur, they say there are still large dragons in the mountains. In the Inner Lands they all keep now to the farthest west, the remote West Reach, islands where no men live and few men come. If they grow hungry, they raid the lands to their east; but that is seldom. I have seen the island where they come to dance together. They fly on their great wings in spirals, in and out, higher and higher over the western sea, like a storming of yellow leaves in autumn." Full of the vision, his eyes gazed through the black paintings on the walls, through the walls and the earth and the darkness, seeing the open sea stretch unbroken to the sunset, the golden dragons on the golden wind.
 "You are lying," the girl said fiercely, "you are making it up."
 He looked at her, startled. "Why should I lie, Arha?"
 "To make me feel like a fool, and stupid, and afraid. To make yourself seem wise, and brave, and powerful, and a dragon-lord and all this and all that. You've seen dragons dancing, and the towers in Havnor, and you know all about everything. And I know nothing at all and haven't been anywhere. But all you know is lies! You are nothing but a thief and a prisoner, and you have no soul, and you'll never leave this place again. It doesn't matter if there's oceans and dragons and white towers and all that, because you'll never see them again, you'll never even see the light of the sun. All I know is the dark, the night underground. And that's all there really is. That's all there is to know, in the end. The silence, and the dark. You know everything, wizard. But I know one thing - the one true thing!"
 He bowed his head. His long hands, copper-brown, were quiet on his knees. She saw the fourfold scar on his cheek. He had gone farther than she into the dark; he knew death better than she did, even death... A rush of hatred for him rose up in her, choking her throat for an instant. Why did he sit there so defenseless and so strong? Why could she not defeat him?
 "This is why I have let you live," she said suddenly, without the least forethought. "I want you to show me how the tricks of sorcerers are performed. So long as you have some art to show me, you'll stay alive. If you have none, if it's all foolery and lies, why then I'll have done with you. Do you understand?"
 "Very well. Go on."
 He put his head in his hands a minute, and shifted his position. The iron belt kept him from ever getting quite comfortable, unless he lay down flat.
 He raised his face at last and spoke very seriously. "Listen, Arha. I am a Mage, what you call a sorcerer. I have certain arts and powers. That's true. It's also true that here in the Place of the Old Powers, my strength is very little and my crafts don't avail me. Now I could work illusion for you, and show you all kinds of wonders. That's the least part of wizardry. I could work illusions when I was a child; I can do them even here. But if you believe them, they'll frighten you, and you may wish to kill me if fear makes you angry. And if you disbelieve them, you'll see them as only lies and foolery, as you say; and so I forfeit my life again. And my purpose and desire, at the moment, is to stay alive."
 That made her laugh, and she said, "Oh, you'll stay alive awhile, can't you see that? You are stupid! All right, show me these illusions. I know them to be false and won't be afraid of them. I wouldn't be afraid if they were real, as a matter of fact. But go ahead. Your precious skin is safe, for tonight, anyhow."
 At that he laughed, as she had a moment ago. They tossed his life back and forth between them like a ball, playing.
 "What do you wish me to show you?"
 "What can you show me?"
 "How you brag and brag!"
 "No," he said, evidently a little stung. "I do not. I didn't mean to, anyway."
 "Show me something you think worth seeing. Anything!"
 He bent his head and looked at his hands awhile. Nothing happened. The tallow candle in her lantern burned dim and steady. The black pictures on the walls, the bird-winged, flightless figures with eyes painted dull red and white, loomed over him and over her. There was no sound. She sighed, disappointed and somehow grieved. He was weak; he talked great things, but did nothing. He was nothing but a good liar, and not even a good thief. "Well," she said at last, and gathered her skirts together to rise. The wool rustled strangely as she moved. She looked down at herself, and stood up in startlement.
 The heavy black she had worn for years was gone; her dress was of turquoise-colored silk, bright and soft as the evening sky. It belled out full from her hips, and all the skirt was embroidered with thin silver threads and seed pearls and tiny crumbs of crystal, so that it glittered softly, like rain in April.
 She looked at the magician, speechless.
 "Do you like it?"
 "It's like a gown I saw a princess wear once, at the Feast of Sunreturn in the New Palace in Havnor," he said, looking at it with satisfaction. "You told me to show you something worth seeing. I show you yourself."
 "Make it- make it go away."
 "You gave me your cloak," he said as if in reproach. "Can I give you nothing? Well, don't worry. It's only illusion; see."
 He seemed not to raise a finger, certainly he said no word; but the blue splendor of silk was gone, and she stood in her own harsh black.
 She stood still awhile.
 "How do I know," she said at last, "that you are what you seem to be?"
 "You don't," said he. "I don't know what I seem, to you."
 She brooded again. "You cou............

Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved