The White Lady of the Ring
(fanfic: Earthsea Trilogy, Volume II: The Tombs of Atuan)
I am a huge fan of Ursula K. LeGuin. And of all her works that I have already read, nothing has captured me more than The Earthsea Trilogy. I wholly fell in love with the characters Ged and Tenar and I wish Ms. LeGuin made the "romance" between them more definite. So, I wrote this fanfic in order to quiet down my wild imagination. I know the fourth Earthsea book, Tehanu, deals with the two of them, but I haven't read the book and it isn't available in my country. I still don't have the capability of ordering it online.
All the characters and concepts in this story, except for the existence of Prince Remier, Princess Feliste and Mirai, belong to Ms. LeGuin. I don't have Ms. LeGuin's permission to use them, and I don't think she'll ever grant me that. But if Ms. LeGuin ever gets hold of this fanfic, I hope she would not get angry with me for taking liberties with her characters and her story and sue me for copyright infringement. Instead, I hope she would see it as a homage of an obsessed fan.
I hope you'd like this fanfic. And I also hope it would inspire you to get a-hold of the Earthsea books and see why I fell in love with them.
Part I: The Return of the Ring
SHE SAT BY THE WINDOW, waiting to be called to the Great Hall. It seemed as if she had long been waiting, for days at least, in that huge, luxuriously furnished room that was bigger than the room in the house she had left back at Atuan. But in truth, she and her companion had just come from their journey across the wide, wide sea only the day before.
That day was an important day, not only for her, but for all the people of this white, shining city, perhaps for everyone who live in all Earthsea. For that day marked the return of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, Earthsea's most precious treasure, in its rightful place in the tower of Havnor after centuries of burial in the darkness that was the Tombs of Atuan. That day was also the day when she would finally shed off what remains of her former self and be truly reborn. For she was none other than the Arha-that-was, who died and became Tenar.
And yet, as she sat by the window in that big room, Tenar could not help but feel the fear constantly gnawing at her heart. She tried to keep her hands still by clasping them, but they would not stop trembling. Tenar felt overwhelmed by the brightness of the light surrounding Havnor. She could see that light from her window in that palace that looked over the whole of the city down to the calm, blue-green sea. The light bounced from roof to snow-covered roof and paved the white, snow-covered streets, making them look like diamonds embroidered on a soft cloth of blue and green.
Tenar looked around her, still unaccustomed to the room she was made to use ever since she and Sparrowhawk had come to Havnor. To her, even this room is filled with brightness. The Prince of Havnor had bid them to stay at the New Palace, and Tenar was installed in what seems to have been a princess' room. It was a pink and white room: the draperies, the curtains, the cushions, and the sheets were all in pink and white. The furnishings were made of hard polished wood and ivory and gilded with gold. Unused to such luxuries, even to a soft bed and a wide window, Tenar gave a long sigh. Sparrowhawk was right. The people of Havnor, nobles and peasants alike, received and treated her as if she was a princess.
Tenar knew very well that she was not a princess. She was Arha, the Reborn, the One Priestess of the Nameless Ones that sleep deep within the Tombs of Atuan. Not anymore. An earthquake buried those dark gods and their treasures deep in the darkness of their tombs and reduced their altar to rubble. With them the First Priestess lies dead, and in its body resides a new soul: she, Tenar.
But how could she face the strangers gathered today at the Great Hall? The mages, the nobles, the lords and ladies? She was merely an ordinary person, the one who now only bears the name Tenar.
Just be yourself, little one. There is nothing to be afraid of. You need not fear these people, for they are not the people of the Priestess Kossil. They are people who love and adore you for the treasure your strength alone have brought them. They will not eat you nor harm you.
Sparrowhawk's words were wise. But at that very moment, even his wise words fail to calm down the storm brewing in her heart. Tenar stood up and tried to walk steadily toward the table with the looking glass.
Ged was right on one thing once more. Because of her creamy white skin, the people of Havnor had taken to calling her the White Lady, or the White One. She had stood out even among the fairest of the ladies gathered to meet her at the prince's palace. Even the pure blackness of her eyes and hair set her apart. They thought her beautiful, but she did not believe them. How could she be beautiful, as beautiful as the princesses who were born and bred under the light, she who had spent all of her life in the dark?
The princesses gave her gifts of lovely dresses, one of which looked like the dress Ged had made for her with magic that night in the Painted Room of the Tombs. But that dress was white instead of turquoise, and she now wore it on that special day. It left her shoulders barely covered with the fine lace netting clasped with a collar around her throat. The bodice squeezed her tightly, although the skirts belled fully about her hips and legs down to her feet, swishing gracefully with her every movement, and the wide sleeves were long enough to cover all but her fingers. Tenar had always thought herself to be thin and straight as a stick, like the Priestess Thar. She did not know that she had a slender figure and a waist that seemed small enough to be spanned by two hands. Tenar did not wear any jewelry save for the rope of tiny pearls woven into her braided hair, and the silver arm-ring of Erreth-Akbe.
The image on the mirror was a lovely vision clothed in splendor. It was a vision Tenar could not recognize nor feel as herself. Tenar only felt the winter cold.
There was a knock her door. Despite the faintness of the sound, Tenar almost jumped in surprise. A moment later, a serving girl entered and bobbed a curtsy to Tenar.
"My lady," said the girl, "my lord the Prince of Havnor says come."
Tenar could understand but the few words Sparrowhawk had taught her of the Hardic tongue. But the girl's nod told her that she was being called. Tenar caressed the silver ring around her right wrist and took a deep breath. Then, she followed the girl.
A great many heads turned to her when she entered the Great Hall. Lined by an aisle covered with a thick red carpet were the grandly-garbed nobles and the great wizards of Earthsea. They all came to witness the simple yet sacred and important event that was the presentation of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe and its return to its shining white tower, the Tower of the Sword. All of them stared at her, she who once could not be looked at. Tenar felt her stomach turn over and something rose to her throat. She knew her face went as pale as her white dress. She wanted to run back to her room but she could not; her legs went numb.
Tenar scanned the room for something familiar and reassuring. But she could not find one. Suddenly, her eyes were pulled to the other end of the aisle, to a red cushion embroidered with golden runes, sitting on top of a marble pedestal. Beside the pedestal stood a wizard also in white, whose dark face bore old scars. Although the face itself looked tired and worn-out, its gentle smile lent her strength and calmed her fears. All at once, Tenar blushed and smiled back at Ged and made her lone procession toward the pedestal.
She went lost again when she reached the pedestal. Not knowing what else to do, she fell on her knees in front of it, bowed her head and took the Ring of Erreth-Akbe off her wrist. Then, with her head still bowed, she held it out in her right hand. Whispering something even Tenar could not hear, Ged took the ring, kissed it and laid it on the embroidered cushion. Afterwards, taking Tenar's small white hands in his, he pulled her up and whispered something in her ear. She did not understand a word. Ged merely grinned at her, squeezed her hands and turned her to face the gathering.
The people started cheering and clapping. It was all over. After hundreds of years in the darkness, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe was finally returned.
A FEAST IMMEDIATELY followed the ceremony. As she could not yet comprehend the Hardic language, Tenar kept herself beside Ged. Sparrowhawk smiled at her indulgently and kept her hand at the crook of his arm, patting it once in a while. People came to them occasionally to have a word with her, but Tenar could not understand, so she let Ged make her answers for her. Sometimes there were some who addressed her with varying degrees of fluency in Kargish, to which Tenar herself replied as pleasantly as she could.
The festivities lasted until late that night. Tables remained full of food. There was dancing and singing of deeds of heroes, which Ged gladly translated in Kargish for her. Everyone around them laughed and feasted as if they have not laughed and feasted all their lives. Everyone celebrated the return of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe.
To pass the time, Ged told her stories about some of the mages and nobles gathered there, the adventures and deeds associated with their names. But of his own feats and exploits, Ged said nothing. There were princes who asked her to dance with them, but Tenar politely refused. Ged chuckled at every prince who left their table with a dejected stoop to his shoulders.
"You will be famed in all Earthsea for being beautiful and aloof," he told her. "Why don't you dance with them?"
Tenar was not yet used to being touched and she could not imagine herself being held by a man the way these princes held their dancing partners. But neither would she give Sparrowhawk the pleasure of laughing at her for telling him so.
"Your dances look strange to me," she replied instead.
Sparrowhawk laughed at her all the same. "They do, don't they?"
He glanced at the wide space at the center of the room where couples have begun to regroup. "I think another quadrille is next. If I asked you to dance with me, would you give your consent?"
But that is an entirely different matter. Tenar knew she would do anything for Ged and would not ask for anything in return. Yet, she hesitated and she knew Ged saw her hesitate. He stood up and bowed to her.
"White Lady, may I have this dance?"
Ged was laughing at her. Although his lips did not move, Tenar saw the sparkle in his eyes. The music seemed inviting.
"No, you may not," she replied slyly.
"Please?" Sparrowhawk said softly, entreatingly.
The smile fell from Tenar's face. She shot a diffident glance at the couples gathered at the wide space at the hall's center.
"I--I don't know how to dance this--this quadrille," she stammered. "I'll step all over your toes."
"I wouldn't worry about that, little one," Ged replied. "And I'm sure you can dance as gracefully as any princess in this room."
Tenar wanted to refuse but Sparrowhawk was insistent. She shrugged and let him lead her to the dance floor.
"What do I do?" she asked.
"Just follow me." He laid her left hand on his shoulder and placed both of his around her waist. "Hold your skirts up a little with your right hand so you won't trip on them. And when I let you go, make a curtsy to the man on my right and follow his lead. Do this until all the turns have finished and you are back with me. Did you get them all, little one?"
She nodded and waited for further instructions. Sparrowhawk smiled at her reassuringly.
"All right, here goes!"
Ged waltzed her around the dance floor. At first, Tenar could not follow his lead, but soon enough she felt herself floating and gliding in Ged's arms. Then she lost all awareness of anything except of Ged holding her in his arms. He twirled her round and round. And then, all too soon for her, they stopped and Ged handed her to the man next to him, who bowed most courteously to her.
The dance went on. Tenar shifted from partner to partner, feeling a lightheartedness she had never felt before. For the first time in her many lifetimes, she felt young and carefree.
Tenar curtseyed to her next partner, a tall man with the dark skin of any native of the Inner Lands, but lighter than the rest gathered in the Dining Hall that night. His hair was long, almost as black as hers, and tied at his nape. His face had strong features that were a pleasure to behold, if not for the dark and rakish expression etched there. His silk tunic and leather leggings, as well as the jeweled sword hanging from his hip and the simple gold band around his forehead, bespoke of nobility. When she looked up, her eyes met light brown ones that were laughing down at her.
The man smiled at her, his teeth white and even. "I have caught the beauty of this night at last in my arms."
To Tenar's surprise, the words were spoken in perfect Kargish. But the meaning of the man's words confused her. She blushed. The vivid color that spread across her face made the stranger's smile grow wider.
"My lady knows how to receive compliments."
The man suddenly pulled her body closer against his, knocking the breath out of her. Tenar tried to push him away, but his hold on her was too tight. She missed her footing and almost tripped, but the man's hands held her in check.
He laughed. "You are not falling for me, are you, my lady?"
Tenar bit her lip in annoyance. It was all she could do to keep the words of an old Atuan curse from spilling out of her mouth. She was Priestess no longer. She turned her face away and silently endured the dance until the turn was over.
The next turn was the last one: Ged's. In her relief, Tenar almost ran into his arms like a child. She heard his surprised chuckle.
"You're shivering," said Sparrowhawk. "Are you all right, little one?"
She did not reply. Instead, Tenar leaned her forehead against Ged's shoulder and allowed him to lead her around for the rest of the dance. She did not even hear the music end. The dancers broke into an applause for their partners. Tenar flushed deep red as Ged led her back to their table.
"I told you you can dance as gracefully as any princess in this room," he said, patting her hand. "In fact, even more. You have danced before, haven't you?"
"There were dances that the One Priestess had to perform before the Throne."
Tenar felt herself sweat despite the winter chill. Ged ran a hand across her forehead to wipe off some of the moisture there.
"You must be thirsty. Wait here, I'll get you something to drink."
And Ged went off. With him away from her side, Tenar suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable-and cold. Cold despite her sweating face. Tenar stared apprehensively about her, wishing for Sparrowhawk to return soon. But he vanished, as if he cloaked himself with his own magic.
"How unkind of the lord wizard to have left you here all alone!"
The words were spoken in perfect Kargish. Tenar looked up at the voice that interrupted her thoughts and saw light brown eyes smiling down at her.
"I hope my lady has not forgotten me that soon."
The stranger who had danced with her sat down on the chair Sparrowhawk had vacated and stared at Tenar. Tenar saw something in his eyes that she could not name, but it both frightened and irritated her. She frowned and looked away. The man straightened himself.
"I'm sorry for being rude, White Lady, but I just could not help myself from thinking how beautiful you are. And what an injustice it is to leave such a beauty grow lonely. The lord wizard has gone for quite sometime now. Maybe he has already forgotten you."
Tenar's frown grew deeper. Her wish that Ged would come soon became more fervent. The stranger's boldness bothered her. What irked her more was that she could perfectly understand every word he had said. She wanted him to go away.
The stranger looked at her as if he read her mind. "Perhaps I am being excessively rude. I think I should go."
But he made no move to go. Patience wore away from Tenar's face. Where is Ged? she thought. She stood up.
"Excuse me, my lord," Tenar said and she made her way toward a group of mages, where she thought Ged was. However, the stranger grabbed her wrist where the Ring of Erreth-Akbe once was. Tenar gasped.
"You are not to touch me!" she said without thinking and jerked her hand away.
"Oh! I'm sorry, my lady." The man let her hand go, although his expression remained amused instead of repentant. Tenar chose to ignore him and searched the room with her eyes for Ged.
The man sighed and stood up. "All right, I'll go. But I think we'll be seeing more of each other, White Lady of the Ring. By the way, if it interests you to know, I am called Remier."
With that, the man bowed to her and walked away, whistling to himself. As soon as she was sure that the annoying stranger was gone, Tenar sank down to her chair and let out a deep sigh of relief. She thought she had found someone she could understand besides Ged. But it seems she had only found a bothersome cur in a noble's garb.
Ged finally returned with a skein of wine. He filled their winecups and handed her hers. She thanked him and gratefully drank the wine all in one gulp.
"I'm sorry for taking so long, little one," Ged apologized. "There is a great demand for wine in this feast. The guests are bent on getting drunk."
"It's all right."
Ged toyed with his cup before taking a sip. "I saw you talking with Prince Remier."
"Aye. He spoke perfect Kargish. Who is he?"
"Why, little one," Ged said in a soft teasing tone as he refilled her cup. "Prince Remier is the younger brother of our host, the Prince of Havnor." His voice then grew more grave. "As for his speaking perfect Kargish, he has traveled widely and spent a few years exploring the Kargad Lands. I heard he had just returned home when we came."
Tenar took another sip of wine. Although she was not looking at him, Tenar knew that Sparrowhawk was gazing at her. His glance was always gentle, but they pierced, all the same.
"Did he annoy you, little one?"
"Aye," she replied without hesitating.
Sparrowhawk's lips curved slightly in a smile. "Try to keep your patience, White One. We are different from the people you grew up with in Atuan. Soon you'll learn to understand and handle ones such as he."
Tenar clasped her hands around her winecup and bent her head. "Oh, Sparrowhawk, I wish we could go soon to the land of the mountains you always speak of."
Ged reached out and touched her wrist where the arm-ring once was. "Don't worry, little one. It won't be long now. Tomorrow, we shall rest all day. And then we'll sail for Gont early the next morning."
Tenar sighed happily. But when she turned to smile at Ged, her face fell. In the light, never before had she seen Ged so tired and weary. She had never seen those terrible scars look so livid.
Part I: The Return of the Ring
Part II: The Shadows Emerge
Part III: The Shadows Follow Tenar
Part IV: A Promise is Fulfilled
When the Hawk Flew Home