The White Lady of the Ring
(fanfic: Earthsea Trilogy, Volume II: The Tombs of Atuan)
Part IV: A Promise is Fulfilled
DESPITE HIS THREAT, REMIER did not bother Tenar in the days that followed. Princess Feliste stayed out of the way as well. Nevertheless, Tenar kept a watchful eye, not leaving her chamber unless necessary, and keeping Mirai always by her side. Tenar could not contain her fears although she believed that Remier could not truly harm her. She never voiced her thoughts to Mirai nor to Ged, but she could tell from Mirai's perceptive gaze that the maid knew more than she was told and was watching as well. Tenar felt that she had gained a true friend in Mirai.
On her last day in Havnor, Tenar and Mirai paid a visit to the Ring of Erreth-Akbe in the Tower of the Sword. The Ring lay on its place of honor, on the red cushion with the golden runes, enclosed in a glass box atop a marble altar. Mirai sat waiting on a bench near the doorway while Tenar stood by the altar, gazing reverently at the Ring.
I was once the First Priestess of the Nameless Ones, in the Labyrinth of Atuan, Tenar thought. I was a servant of Darkness, of Powers that had lived longer than time. But now, I am nothing but a fugitive from my shadowy past. O Lord Erreth-Akbe, I know not who you are nor what deeds you have done, but the natives of the Inner Lands with whom I have sought shelter regard you reverently as the greatest wizard and dragonlord that ever lived. I pray that, with this Ring that Ged and I brought back from the darkness of Atuan to the heart of Earthsea, I would find happiness and peace from the evils that haunt me. I hope you could hear me.
The silver waves carved on the Ring caught the bright morning sunlight, the shine almost blinding. Tenar shielded her eyes. When the light faded, she bid her farewell to the Ring and left the Tower of the Sword with Mirai.
That night, sleep would not come to Tenar. She lay awake on her soft bed in that pink-and-white chamber that must have belonged to a princess, stirring with emotions she could not describe. She could not put to words even to herself the excitement that she felt, that in but a few hours, she and Ged will finally sail forth on his Lookfar and head for Gont. Finally, she can turn her back on the darkness of her past, of the petty intrigues embroiled by mistrustful entities, of men and their thwarted desires, and live the quiet life in Ged's homeland. Tomorrow, when the red patched sail is hoisted up on Lookfar, she shall be truly free.
The thought of freedom made Tenar sigh and lulled her into half-sleep. However, she had not yet closed her eyes long when she heard a soft yet frantic knock on her door. She stirred and opened her eyes. The knocking would not cease. Soon, someone began to call from the outside.
"White Lady! White Lady! Open your door, I beg of you, White Lady!"
"Mirai?" Tenar sat up.
Tenar lit the candle on the table beside her bed and threw a heavy shawl around her shoulders. Then she rose from her bed and slightly opened the door. Mirai stood there on the other side.
"What's the matter, Mirai?" Tenar asked.
Despite the candlelight, Tenar could not see much in the darkness. But she could clearly see Mirai's bright blue eyes, gleaming glassily in the dark. The maid's lips were trembling.
Tenar frowned. "What's wrong, Mirai? Did something happen?" she asked in a gentle tone.
Mirai blinked at the sound of her voice. The glassy look was suddenly gone and was replaced by fright.
"Bolt your door, my lady! Bolt your door!"
The seconds that followed went swiftly for Tenar. The next thing she knew, Mirai was down on the floor, the color seeping from her face. The candle in Tenar's hand dropped on the floor and extinguished itself. Tenar fell on her knees beside the maid.
"Leave her be, White One!"
Someone grabbed Tenar's long loosened hair and savagely pulled her up from the floor. She cried out.
"Didn't I tell you, my lady, that no one has ever dared refuse me in my entire life?" a familiar voice said softly, coldly in the dark. "Now, you shall pay the price for daring."
Tenar tried to scream for help, but no sound escaped her dry lips. She looked down and saw a thin dagger thrust at her neck, its slender point barely touching the skin of her throat. It glinted dully in the dark. The scream died into silence.
She was pulled inside her room by her hair and thrown on her bed. Her breath was knocked out of her lungs. The door shut and its bolt clicked. A tall shadow then loomed ominously before her. She looked up and gasped.
"In the flesh, White Lady, in the flesh. If you don't believe me, you shall soon see."
Tenar's heart froze. With frightened eyes, she saw crazed darkness playing wildly on Remier's face. His lips were parted in a leering grin and his eyes were gleaming with evil. Remier pulled his shirt over his head, revealing a tough, well-exercised body, and climbed on the bed beside Tenar. His sweat glistened in the darkness, the smell coming sharply up to her nose. Tenar cowered in fear.
"What's the matter, my lady? Do you fear defilement?" Remier sneered at her. "Oh, I know about the customs and traditions observed in the Place of the Tombs, although I have never been there myself. The First Priestess cannot be touched in any way by any man, for she should be kept pure for the Nameless Ones she serves. In my thinking, why bother? Purity could not mean so much for servants of evil."
Remier crawled slowly towards Tenar, still grasping the dagger in one hand. She tried to flee but was pulled by the hair once more. Remier pinned her beneath him.
"You cannot escape me any longer, White One. Stop struggling so. Ease yourself and enjoy it. After all, didn't I tell you that I'll make you happy?"
Remier reached out and lay the dagger on the side of the table where Tenar could not snatch it. There was a clink of metal against hard polished wood. Tenar heard the tearing of fabric and felt hot, moist hands against her skin. She could not breathe; the weight on her was too heavy. Desperately, her mind sought means of escaping, but she could not find one. She felt trapped and helpless; her wrists were held in a tight grasp and her legs were pinned under Remier's bulk. She bit her lip as tears coursed down from her eyes. Remier raised his head from the curve of her neck and saw the tears fall.
"Tears! Tears? And here I am expecting magic. Where is your magic, Priestess? Aren't you an enchantress who, with your dark power, pulled the wool over the eyes of a wizard from Roke, the Isle of the Wise, and fooled us into believing that we owe you for the return of Erreth-Akbe's Ring? Hah! But the Ring nestling on its blessed altar in the Tower of the Sword is no ring at all. Just illusion! Come on, show me your power, Priestess. Push me away with magic! Paralyze me with a spell!"
"You are wrong!" Tenar gasped out. "You are wrong!"
Remier sat up and gazed mockingly at her, taking delight on her rumpled and disheveled appearance. "What is it? You have no power? Why, that's unbelievable! I see that you are nothing but the mage Sparrowhawk's toy!"
Searing anger slowly replaced Tenar's fear. "I am not anyone's toy!"
"Come now," Remier replied, lowering his head once more to Tenar. "That's no mystery. Sparrowhawk must have enjoyed your favors many times before. If you allowed him that, then you can bestow the same favor on me. You are a Priestess of the dark after all."
Flashes of red exploded in Tenar's mind. Blinded by rage, she pulled her hand free and grabbed the brass candlestick standing on the table beside the bed and lashed it out towards her assaulter. It hit Remier squarely on the side of his face. He fell heavily on his side without any consciousness, blood beginning to trickle from a cut on his temple down to the sheets.
Tenar gasped in shock and dropped the candlestick. She gathered her torn dress about her and wrapped herself once more in her shawl. Half-blinded with tears, she fumbled with the bolt of her door. When the lock gave in, she ran outside and stumbled on Mirai's body. She knelt over Mirai and tried to shake her awake.
"Oh, Mirai! Wake up, Mirai!"
Tenar placed cold, trembling fingers on the maid's neck and felt for the pulse.
"Mirai! Mirai! Please don't be dead, Mirai!"
The pulse came faintly. Tenar smiled through her tears.
"Wait for me, Mirai. Please! I'll call for help."
Tenar made for Ged's room at the other end of the hallway, all the while crying for help. She raised her fists to bang them against Ged's door. As her hands touched the heavy, wooden door, bolts of blue light emanated from the wood and enveloped Tenar's hands. She screamed in excruciating pain and saw her white hands turn into the color of forged metal: hot, burning red. She slumped on the floor sobbing, powerless to do anything, even to cradle her seared hands. A laugh rang joyously from behind her.
"How do you like my magic trick, White Lady?"
Tenar turned and saw Feliste gliding towards her, her straight black gown blending with the shadows. In the dark, Feliste's face glowed with triumph. Tenar sniffed and eyed her dully. She could not feel anything anymore.
"What have you done, Feliste?"
Feliste shot her a contemptuous look. "I have sealed the mage's room. He is sound asleep, unaware of what is going on outside his own door. He will not hear your cries, nor will any in this palace, except for myself."
"What do you want with me, Feliste?"
Feliste tittered. "What a question to ask, White Lady of the Ring. The answer, however, is simple enough: I want you gone from Earthsea. I want you dead."
"Why? I have done my best to keep out of your way. What wrong have I done you?"
Laughter echoed through the darkness of the hallway, contorting Feliste's face and magnifying the wickedness of her soul.
"What wrong have you done me? What wrong have you done to me?" Feliste's laughter rang hysterically. "Oh, Priestess, don't feign innocence. It does not suit you. I'm sure you know very well that with your very presence, you have wronged me."
Feliste began to glide around Tenar. Soon, Tenar felt her strength ebb. She grew weaker and weaker with every word Feliste uttered.
"I am the Princess Feliste, cousin to the Prince of Havnor, as well as future wife to his brother Remier. Before you ever came to this island, Priestess, I was the most adored woman here in Havnor, second only to the Prince of Havnor's wife. Everyone admired me, everyone loved me. For the people of Havnor, I was a treasure, a rare jewel."
Tenar's head began to swim. Everything before her seemed to fade into a blur. She blinked her eyes, but still, she could not see clearly anymore.
"And then you came, bringing nothing except your rags and the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. Everyone rejoiced and welcomed you with open arms, cheering you and praising you and calling you the White Lady of the Ring, breathing the name as if it was a blessing. It is as if Elfarran the Fair herself has returned to life and chose to grace the island of Havnor with her presence as she had long ago. You, with your white skin and alarming youth, cast everyone into the shadows, including the Princess of Havnor."
A coldness began to seep into Tenar's bones. She began to shake and shiver. Her shawl slipped from her shoulders, exposing the skin Remier made bare. With great effort, Tenar curled on the floor and wrapped her arms around herself, taking care not to touch her hands' burnt skin.
"Of course at first, I didn't mind. The mage who brought you here made it clear that he will take you to Gont with him after the return of the Ring. Whether he makes you his wife or what does not matter, as long as you do not stay in Havnor for good. But my stupid cousin Remier suddenly had to be taken by your charms and break our engagement to have you as his wife. That I greatly mind. Now, it is not enough for you to get out of Havnor; you must disappear from Earthsea. As long as you live, Remier will not stop until he has you within his grasp. I cannot live with that, Priestess."
Every word Feliste spoke squeezed Tenar's heart, filling it with immense pain. She could not breathe. With her weakened vision, she saw Feliste raise her hands. Then she sang an eerie song. As Feliste chanted cold, frightful, painful words, a black fire slowly enveloped her whole being. Strong wind began to blow from nowhere, tearing at Feliste's hair and veil. Tenar shielded her face with her arms.
"You must die, Priestess! You must die!"
Feliste shrieked and threw her arms out to the wind. With a wave of her hands, Tenar was raised from the floor and hurled against the wall. She fell into a heap on the floor. The impact knocked the breath out of Tenar and deadened her senses. She could not move.
Am I going to die? Tenar thought weakly. Perhaps it is better to die. If I can't escape the evil of my past, then I might as well die. I have no strength to fight it anymore.
Call me if you need me, and I will come to you. Even from my grave, I will come to you. I made you that promise before, remember? You can always count on that.
Tenar heard Ged's words as if he was there beside her, whispering the promise in her ear. Hope began to stir in her heart. Will his promise hold true?
Ged! Please help me! I cannot fight the darkness on my own.
The door to his room remained shut, sealed by Feliste's magic. Tenar's flame of hope died. She saw Feliste gliding towards her, her face glowing with exultation. Closing her eyes, Tenar resigned herself to the inevitable. Feliste had already won.
Feliste's scream, however, forced Tenar's eyes open. Feliste no longer glided and was crouching near her with her back towards her, a hand shielding her eyes. A blinding light spread across the dark hallway, flooding the place with brightness. Tenar closed her eyes once more.
The next thing Tenar felt was the warmth of a kiss on her burnt hands. The touch did not hurt; instead, the tingling pain slowly ebbed and faded. She heard her name, her true name, whispered heavily as she felt strong, steady hands lift her and press her against a warm, solid chest, with its strong, steady heartbeat. When Tenar slightly opened her eyes, she saw a face bent so close to her own. She could not see the features of the face except for long old scars down a cheek. She reached up to touch those scars.
He kept his promise. . . . He kept his promise.
The shadow that held her sighed with relief and pressed gentle lips against her own. In that kiss, Tenar felt the specter of death vanish along with her fears; the shadow that held her made them all go away. Restful silence then began to sing her a soft lullaby. The last thing Tenar knew, when she closed her eyes to sleep, was that her lips had curved into a smile.
THE FIRST THING SHE saw upon waking up was the clear cloudless sky. The early morning sun painted streaks of gold on a cloth of bright brilliant blue, creating a picture of perfect peace and silence. The sea on which they floated sang soft, cheerful songs and sent small waves tugging playfully at Lookfar's sides. She smiled and stretched her arms lazily, taking note of the whiteness of her hands. The burnt skin had completely peeled off.
Her companion did not hear her stir. She found him sitting, unmoving and unseeing, against the mast. The sunlight shone strongly on his dark, scarred face. Although his body was there with her, his spirit was somewhere else, in a place only he knows and only he could go. She was already used to these moments of utter silence. She knew that she will never be able to follow him there, wherever it is that his soul flies to.
The two of them have been sailing on Lookfar for two days now, using the wind of the world to guide the boat's red patched sail. The Isle of Havnor is now far behind them; the shadows they left suffering in their own guilt. The Ring of Erreth-Akbe exacted its own punishment and the Prince of Havnor vowed to carry out the Ring's will. The punishment was for Remier and Feliste to remember every moment they have succumbed to the darkness and to silently bear the weight of shame on their souls.
Tenar sat up quietly and patiently waited for Ged's spirit to come home. Soon enough, Ged turned and looked at her as if he has never seen her before. The look on his face was something she was familiar with by now: calm and serene, but full of terrible pain. The pain then cleared and went away.
"Tenar," he smiled at her as he uttered her name.
Tenar moved to curl up beside him and leaned her head against his shoulder. She felt Ged's arm move so that it rested around her and his head on hers. They sat in silence for what seemed to be a very long while.
Whatever fears and misgivings Tenar had when she first stepped on the soil of Havnor, they all vanished the very moment the magewind steered Lookfar away from its shores. For the first time in her life, true peace settled within her soul. The kind of peace no one would ever be able to give her, save the one man who can.
After a long while, Ged spoke up. "You are happy, aren't you, little one?" he asked her.
Tenar did not reply. She just sat there beside him, a half-smile playing on her face. Ged dropped a kiss on her forehead and smoothed back her loose hair that flowed like a black stream down her back.
Tenar knew that this wise silent man who held her at that moment, who saved her from the darkness for a chance to be reborn, could not hold her that way forever. For this man had a calling; he cannot stay in any place for long. But as long as both of them lived, Tenar was sure that wherever he went, her image would never fade from his mind. That wherever he is, she could rely on him to come to her when she needed him, that the thing they shared which he called trust and other names would never die.
For Tenar, those things are more than enough. For them, Tenar would be more than happy.
November 17, 1997
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