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Chapter 9 The Ring of Erreth-Akbe

 In the Great Treasury of the Tombs of Atuan, time did not pass. No light; no life; no least stir of spider in the dust or worm in the cold earth. Rock, and dark, and time not passing.
 On the stone lid of a great chest the thief from the Inner Lands lay stretched on his back like the carven figure on a tomb. The dust disturbed by his movements had settled on his clothes. He did not move.
 The lock of the door rattled. The door opened. Light broke the dead black and a fresher draft stirred the dead air. The man lay inert.
 Arha closed the door and locked it from within, set her lantern on a chest, and slowly approached the motionless figure. She moved timorously, and her eyes were wide, the pupils still fully dilated from her long journey through the dark.
 She touched his shoulder, and spoke his name again, and yet again.
 He stirred then, and moaned. At last he sat up, face drawn and eyes blank. He looked at her unrecognizing.
 "It's I, Arha- Tenar. I brought you water. Here, drink."
 He fumbled for the flask as if his hands were numb, and drank, but not deeply.
 "How long has it been?" he asked, speaking with difficulty.
 "Two days have passed since you came to this room. This is the third night. I couldn't come earlier. I had to steal the food -here it is-" She got out one of the flat gray loaves from the bag she had brought, but he shook his head.
 "I'm not hungry. This... this is a deathly place." He put his head in his hands and sat unmoving.
 "Are you cold? I brought the cloak from the Painted Room."
 He did not answer.
 She put the cloak down and stood gazing at him. She was trembling a little, and her eyes were still black and wide.
 All at once she sank down on her knees, bowed over, and began to cry, with deep sobs that wrenched her body, but brought no tears.
 He got down stiffly from the chest, and bent over her. "Tenar-"
 "I am not Tenar. I am not Arha. The gods are dead, the gods are dead."
 He laid his hands on her head, pushing back the hood. He began to speak. His voice was soft, and the words were in no tongue she had ever heard. The sound of them came into her heart like rain falling. She grew still to listen.
 When she was quiet he lifted her, and set her like a child on the great chest where he had lain. He put his hand on hers.
 "Why did you weep, Tenar?"
 "I'll tell you. It doesn't matter what I tell you. You can't do anything. You can't help. You're dying too, aren't you? So it doesn't matter. Nothing matters. Kossil, the Priestess of the Godking, she was always cruel, she kept trying to make me kill you. The way I killed those others. And I would not. What right has she? And she defied the Nameless Ones and mocked them, and I set a curse upon her. And since then I've been afraid of her, because it's true what Manan said, she doesn't believe in the gods. She wants them to be forgotten, and she'd kill me while I slept. So I didn't sleep. I didn't go back to the Small House. I stayed in the Hall all last night, in one of the lofts, where the dancing dresses are. Before it was light I went down to the Big House and stole some food from the kitchen, and then I came back to the Hall and stayed there all day. I was trying to find out what I should do. And tonight... tonight I was so tired, I thought I could go to a holy place and go to sleep, she might be afraid to come there. So I came down to the Undertomb. That great cave where I first saw you. And... and she was there. She must have come in by the red rock door. She was there with a lantern. Scratching in the grave that Manan dug, to see if there was a corpse in it. Like a rat in a graveyard, a great fat black rat, digging. And the light burning in the Holy Place, the dark place. And the Nameless Ones did nothing. They didn't kill her or drive her mad. They are old, as she said. They are dead. They are all gone. I am not a priestess any more."
 The man stood listening, his band still on hers, his head a little bent. Some vigor had come back into his face and stance, though the scars on his cheek showed livid gray, and there was dust yet on his clothes and hair.
 "I went past her, through the Undertomb. Her candle made more shadows than light, and she didn't hear me. I wanted to go into the Labyrinth to get away from her. But when I was in it I kept thinking that I heard her following me. All through the corridors I kept hearing somebody behind me. And I didn't know where to go. I thought I would be safe here, I thought my Masters would protect me and defend me. But they don't, they are gone, they are dead..."
 "It was for them you wept -for their death? But they are here, Tenar, here!"
 "How should you know?" she said listlessly.
 "Because every instant since I set foot in the cavern under the Tombstones, I have striven to keep them still, to keep them unaware. All my skills have gone to that, I have spent my strength on it. I have filled these tunnels with an endless net of spells, spells of sleep, of stillness, of concealment, and yet still they are aware of me, half aware; half sleeping, half awake. And even so I am all but worn out, striving against them. This is a most terrible place. One man alone has no hope, here. I was dying of thirst when you gave me water, yet it was not the water alone that saved me. It was the strength of the hands that gave it." As he said that, he turned her hand palm upward in his own for a moment, gazing at it; then he turned away, walked a few steps about the room, and stopped again before her. She said nothing.
 "Did you truly think them dead? You know better in your heart. They do not die. They are dark and undying, and they hate the light: the brief, bright light of our mortality. They are immortal, but they are not gods. They never were. They are not worth the worship of any human soul."
 She listened, her eyes heavy, her gaze fixed on the flickering lantern.
 "What have they ever given you, Tenar?"
 "Nothing," she whispered.
 "They have nothing to give. They have no power of making. All their power is to darken and destroy. They cannot leave this place; they are this place; and it should be left to them. They should not be denied nor forgotten, but neither should they be worshiped. The Earth is beautiful, and bright, and kindly, but that is not all. The Earth is also terrible, and dark, and cruel. The rabbit shrieks dying in the green meadows. The mountains clench their great hands full of hidden fire. There are sharks in the sea, and there is cruelty in men's eyes. And where men worship these things and abase themselves before them, there evil breeds; there places are made in the world where darkness gathers, places given over wholly to the Ones whom we call Nameless, the ancient and holy Powers of the Earth before the Light, the powers of the dark, of ruin, of madness... I think they drove your priestess Kossil mad a long time ago; I think she has prowled these caverns as she prowls the labyrinth of her own self, and now she cannot see the daylight any more. She tells you that the Nameless Ones are dead; only a lost soul, lost to truth, could believe that. They exist. But they are not your Masters. They never were. You are free, Tenar. You were taught to be a slave, but you have broken free."
 She listened, though her expression did not change. He said no more. They were silent; but it was not the silence that had been in that room before she entered. There was the breathing of two of them now, and the movement of life in their veins, and the burning of the candle in its lantern of tin, a tiny, lively sound.
 "How is it that you know my name?"
 He walked up and down the room, stirring up the fine dust, stretching his arms and shoulders in an effort to shake off the numbing chill.
 "Knowing names is my job. My art. To weave the magic of a thing, you see, one must find its true name out. In my lands we keep our true names hidden all our lives long, from all but those whom we trust utterly; for there is great power, and great peril, in a name. Once, at the beginning of time, when Segoy raised the isles of Earthsea from the ocean deeps, all things bore their own true names. And all doing of magic, all wizardry, hangs still upon the knowledge -the relearning, the remembering- of that true and ancient language of the Making. There are spells to learn, of course, ways to use the words; and one must know the consequences, too. But what a wizard spends his life at is finding out the names of things, and finding out how to find out the names of things."
 "How did you find out mine?"
 He looked at her a moment, a deep clear glance across the shadows between them; he hesitated a moment. "I cannot tell you that. You are like a lantern swathed and covered, hidden away in a dark place. Yet the light shines; they could not put out the light. They could not hide you. As I know the light, as I know you, I know your name, Tenar. That is my gift, my power. I cannot tell you more. But tell me this: what will you do now?"
 "I don't know."
 "Kossil has found an empty grave, by now. What will she do?"
 "I don't know. If I go back up, she can have me killed. It is death for a High Priestess to lie. She could have me sacrificed on the steps of the Throne if she wanted. And Manan would have to really cut off my head this time, instead of just lifting the sword and waiting for the Dark figure to stop it. But this time it wouldn't stop. It would come down and cut off my head."
 Her voice was dull and slow. He frowned. "If we stay here long," he said, "you are going to go mad, Tenar. The anger of the Nameless Ones is heavy on your mind. And on mine. It's better now that you're here, much better. But it was a long time before you came, and I've used up most of my strength. No one can withstand the Dark Ones long alone. They are very strong." He stopped; his voice had sunk low, and he seemed to have lost the thread of his speech. He rubbed his hands over his forehead, and presently went to drink again from the flask. He broke off a hunch of bread and sat down on the chest opposite to eat it.
 What he said was true; she felt a weight, a pressure on her mind, that seemed to darken and confuse all thought and feeling. Yet she was not terrified, as she had been coming through the corridors alone. Only the utter silence outside the room seemed terrible. Why was that? She had never feared the silence of the underearth before. But never before had she disobeyed the Nameless Ones, never had she set herself against them.
 She gave a little whimpering laugh at last. "Here we sit on the greatest treasure of the Empire," she said. "The God-king would give all his wives to have one chest of it. And we haven't even opened a lid to look."
 "I did," said the Sparrowhawk, chewing.
 "In the dark?"
 "I made a little light. The werelight. It was hard to do, here. Even with my staff it would have been hard, and without it, it was like trying to light a fire with wet wood in the rain. But it came at last. And I found what I was after."

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