Chapter 4: The priestess of Kargs
Tenar stood in the prestigious hall trying not to stare too much. In truth, she used to live in a place this lofty but she had forgotten how long she had left all those behind. Almost, without her coat around herself – the person in waiting had taken it earlier – with only her usual dress, she felt miserably out of place. Seriously, she came here to see a king, and the big thing called kingship was written all over the place and being in that hall made her felt slightly queasy. No wonder Tehanu hated castle that much. Well, unless she was raised in one and she had given her all that comfort like this, she might not have hated it on the first place. Not that she's comparing it with the place they lived right then in Gont. Not that she's longing for this kind of place either. That small farm in Gont, God had given her peace in that place. God had given her freedom, a child to love and what's more, Ged, the man that she loved. Truly, there was no place in the world to be compared with it.
It didn't take long for her to hear light quick footsteps coming her way, and she turned just in time to face a handsome young man panting and heaving for breath as he emerged from within the rows of hallways, arches and chambers. Looking at how he was, Tenar had a brief idea from where he had run all the way from. Clad all in his formal white royal robes, with his richly embroidered purple mantle behind him, Arren seemed, as Tenar put it, slightly taller than he used to be, slightly older, and more good-looking than she remembered he was. That day when they met on the ship, putting his kingly aura aside, she remembered how thin and how small he was. Arren was definitely younger and no bigger than her own son, then, a boy. After all, he was still too young when he was crowned. Now, after twelve years had passed, the man who stood before her had… dare she to say it, changed… in so many ways that Tenar couldn't possibly described them all in words. He was lean and tall - a proper built made for a king- walked in a gait more suave and stern than any man she had ever seen and with a presence more enchanting than he had ever been.
Taking in her presence, the ever sweet smile emerged on those thin lips of his and he stopped panting and walked steadily, longingly even towards her. His fine hands quickly reached up for his crown as he walked and in one swift tug he pulled it off his head, dark soft fringes fell down his forehead. She was surprised at how willing he was to throw his rank before her. Honestly, it made her old heart raced just like he did on their first meeting, when he tried to bow and kneel to her and she had to valiantly catch his hands just to stop it.
This time, he was the one who reached hers and just as softly kissed them.
"Tenar, it's good to see you!" he said as he looked up to her. Just as he was, vulnerable in his honesty, Tenar could clearly taste the joy in his heart as she looked at his face, his smile, his eyes. The wound of the fire was still evident, however, in his clear eyes, still so far older than his age.
"It's been awhile, Lebannen. And look how you have grown!" she laughed and with tears in it. Indeed, seeing the man he had become, she would cry, she would cry in joy a thousand times over.
"Did you come alone?" he asked as he embraced her, a formal welcoming gestures, laying one cheek to cheek.
"Tehanu's with me. She's in one of the guest room the attendants had assigned us." Lebannen, still not letting go of her hands led her to the middle of the hall where a simple throne and seats were neatly arranged as if for a small counsel. "Well, pardon her, Sire, I left her there for the child is a little tired."
"Nay, Tenar. Drop the formalities. I'm just Lebannen when I'm with you." He was Lebannen to her in the letters, but she just couldn't resist it, now that he was there before her in person looking all grown up. Lebannen stopped and turned back to her, his dark eyes gleeful and impatient. "Well, about Tehanu, let her rest, we won't discuss anything before tomorrow. And, in fact, you should be resting as well, Tenar, but I would like to have a little word with you. Oh, please wait here for a moment." The king strode to one of the seats and brought one with him to Tenar. He put the chair in front of her and literally ran to take her hand and let her sit. "Here, Tenar, have a seat, you must be tired."
"Thank you." Tenar smiled rather awkwardly as she sat wondering will the king go and take another seat for himself - truly, it would be strange to be the only one sitting while he, the king, stood. Instead, the young man held her hands and knelt down in front of her, indeed, like a good son would to his mother.
Tenar's heart instantly melted. The weariness she carried along her journey all gone. The day she had set eyes on him, she already liked the boy. He had said kind words to her, helped her, gently treated her, the all sweet character of a child which all parents dream of and are proud of. That day on the ship, a son he already was to her, and in his many letters, the way he addressed her, told her everything, asking news, seeking counsel, a son he was still, and of course even right then. He was and always will be her sweet dear Lebannen.
"So, how was Gont?" he asked with a smile.
"Everything's fine and lovely."
"Did you find the good dog that you wanted?"
"I did. Mrs. Lark found one for me and it had been a good farm dog ever since."
"So Tehanu hasn't made a fuss on the crows any longer, has she?"
"Thankfully, no. An angry dragon is truly terrifying."
"Terrifying indeed, yet not enough to scare the crows." Tenar chuckled at his wit and smiled.
"I hope you will not say that in front of her, Lebannen."
"Do not worry, Tenar. I still wish to rule my kingdom." Then, there was a pause. Though his smile didn't falter, in his clear eyes Tenar knew whose name was slowly drifting in his mind right then. She wasn't sure whether he would say it out loud judging by the circumstances. For some reasons, Tenar had thought that Lebannen might crumble once the very subject was raised. Therefore, she decided to be silent, if he didn't want it raised. Really, he's not to be blamed, though, she supposed. Twelve years were quite a long time to wait and she gave him credits for that.
"And Ged? Is he well?" he said finally, a slight quiver in his sweet dark eyes.
Tenar began to smile. He was one of the two who had traveled to the Dry Land, after all, a position given not to whom born with the lack of any strength.
"Old, but well, just like me." With that the young king started to laugh softly, whole-heartedly pulling both Tenar's already wrinkly hands and kiss them again gratefully like he would to his mother. He later buried his face onto that hand, and for once let everything that had been constricting him for the whole months, the whole weeks bled silently out of him to the floor right where he had been sitting. In truth, even without Ged, with Tenar there, he felt a thousand times at ease.
Tenar surely saw what was wrong the moment Arren knelt before her. Being a king, he was capable to show others what he exactly felt in just one single act. But, this silent display of emotion was something others didn't see coming from him. No one had seen him stoop and what's more kneeling before another person besides his parents. No one had seen him being subservient and so fragile like this. There must be something so grave bothering him then to have the king of Havnor in such distress. Luckily, Tenar was shrewd enough to know that. And, she didn't have to peer into his deep eyes hidden under the dark bangs between her palms to figure that out.
"Lebannen," Tenar called, her voice soft and careful, as if weaving a silken thread. "I heard that you are getting married." Immediately, Tenar saw the stooping figure stiffened. Tenar waited but did not push him. Indeed, it took a while for him to say something, Tenar almost gave up waiting.
"It isn't a marriage." The answer sounded muffled on her lap, yet Tenar who had been listening heard him.
"The Kargs are trying to strangle me," he said still not looking up, though a little louder this time.
"By giving you their princess? How come?"
"He's twisting the peace treaty."
"Too political. I don't get it."
"Everything is too political when I'm concerned." The king sighed and looked up to meet her face. To say that she wasn't surprised was an understatement. In fact, she was taken aback by the face she saw.
Lebannen, he was… he was scowling…
Tenar had never seen him scowl. A deep thinking frown, yes, but not a scowl. In fact, she hadn't the slightest idea that the young king would be capable of making one. Honestly speaking, she had always imagined him smiling all the times in his letters.
"I don't know, Tenar. I have never been so in rage in my life. I have been through uncertainty, before, indecision, pain and remorse but not this! Right now, I just don't know what to do." Right then, the young king's voice had risen to a notch, and his pale skin had turned slightly pink. "For five years, I've built up trade and tried to keep on good terms with Thol, because he's a warlord and I don't want my kingdom pinched, as it was in Maharion's reign, between dragons in the west and warlords in the east. And because I ruled in the Sign of Peace. And it went well enough until this. Till he sends this girl out of the blue saying, if you want peace give her Elfarran's Ring, Your Ring, Tenar! Yours and Ged's!"
Tenar hesitated a while, "She is his daughter, after all. Maybe he did mean a marriage, a true bond." Yet, she knew even beyond self-doubt what it was.
"No, they are trying to chain me, Tenar. If I refuse the proposal, the Kargs will be my enemy, and I don't want that." His voiced trailed away to a mindful silence. All that, and he was left again with the only option, that only option. Instantly the scowl was back in place and his lips pursed. An uncharacteristic childish groan almost escaped him.
"I don't know her. I've never seen her. I've never talk to her. I've never even know how! What does that crazy Thol think? The King of Havnor to baby-sit a princess? I don't even speak her language. Oh, what am I supposed to do with her!"
"Erm.. Marry her?"
"Tenar!" he whimpered burying his face again in her hands. Were she in a different situation, she would be laughing at him then. The words 'he's stuck with her' were pathetically written all over his being. Yet, pity would be the best way to describe how Tenar felt towards him. But, one shouldn't pity a king, for he was the one who was born not to be, raised and trained to be so strong that he didn't deserved to be pitied, who shouldered the responsibility instead, in protecting others, his people, his land. But, casting all the ranks and what he was trained to be, beyond all that, Lebannen was a mere human being. Everyone had been hard on him, everyone expected highly of him as much as he did to himself. For twelve years he had worked hard to protect his people, rebuilding the ruin that is his kingdom.
But, who then, protected him? Who had stood up behind him and swept the blood and tears for him?
Being in that position, looking all like a lost child, Tenar's motherly instinct was immediately aroused. She couldn't help but to feel sorry for him.
Arren felt Tenar's gentle hands on his head caressing his smooth black hair. He had no words to tell on how grateful he was to that simple gesture. It calmed him down almost instantly. Since courtiers were always ceremonious and cautious on how and when they touch the king, after he was crowned, few people did touch him that way. But Tenar wasn't. She laid her hand on his, laughing, smiling. Truly, it reminded him the most to his mother.
If only she was still around to give him counsel. She would know what to do to with the girl.
Oh, indeed, it would be a great thing if she was there, living, and he could hear her voice, see her eyes under dark arched brows, touch her hands. And he could simply say everything he wanted and she would understand. But, now that she was gone, he had unconsciously bothered Tenar with that foolishness. Foolishness indeed, for he had written to her to help him with the problems of the dragons, not some arranged marital issues. Yet, she had arrived at a time he was most vulnerable, he couldn't help it. And she was the mother that remained to him.
As he thought about his mother and Tenar, however, another woman suddenly came into the picture. It was faceless and unreadable and it came in a red headdress. Thinking about her father and the political tie between the countries made him forget entirely about her. He saw what happened during the leave taking ceremony. He saw the grief that she felt, a glimpse of what might be her mind. He saw that she, just like anybody else, was a human being, being pushed into the circumstances.
"She…she shouldn't be dragged into this," he later said regretfully. "It was my fault. I wrote that letter to her father. Really, it wasn't fair for her." He looked back into Tenar's surprised eyes with sudden resolution. "The princess, she shouldn't be dragged into this. I can't marry her. Maybe I should return her. I'll deal with Thol however it is."
Tenar hated to tell Lebannen the truth, but he needed to know it.
"If you return her, she will be killed." For once a look of horror emerged from the king's eyes, replacing his resolution, crumbling it down. "A return consort is a disgrace, no matter for what reasons," Tenar explained. "That's what they do in Kargs." Lebannen's face had turned pink again, and it was getting redder furiously to put anyone in that perimeter beyond any comfort. Yet, before he could burst out, cursing Thol and his barbaric customs, Tenar reached out and touched his cheeks, smiling at him pitifully. "Lebannen, get to know her. The princess might have a mind of her own in this matter. Perhaps it will give you a leeway or what not. I'll go and speak to her tomorrow since we use the same language. I'll even teach her Hardic, if I should. And you, Lebannen, just concentrate on the things you have to do, alright?"
And to that, with heavy hearts, he said nothing.
They said nothing, in fact, about the princess even during the royal dinner in the castle. Lebannen had politely introduced them one by one to the guests, and they greeted Tenar back rather more politely than she was used to. They asked her about Gont, about Sparrowhawk and about some of her past adventures in the Tomb of Atuan. Tenar seriously didn't want to go back there, not that the wounds were never healed, but to Tenar those memories were dark memories and they were harder still to be retraced. When Tenar's hand started to uncomfortably snatch a fist of her dress under the table, Lebannen had changed the subject for which Tenar was grateful. Tehanu, however, had remained silent the entire meal.
When the dinner ended, Lebannen bid good night to all the guests and personally walked Tenar and Tehanu back to their chambers. There were no other attendants with them, just the two women and the king and Tenar had never felt at ease after all she had gone through during the dinner. "I would like to apologize, Tenar, if any of the men offended you." Tenar smiled gratefully to the young king and knew that he must have noticed her discomfort in some ways. Always so sharp for his age.
"Not at all, Lebannen, they are good people, they just didn't know that it would be hard for me and you had been a great host." Lebannen smiled back and later turned towards the silent Tehanu and tried to make her talk. He got nothing, though, but a scowl from her.
As they walked, Tenar's mind drifted. For some reasons, she wasn't entirely settled with everything around her. Perhaps it was the impending threat that Arren had explained during the dinner, perhaps it had been awhile for her to travel so far from Gont, perhaps the cattle and the goats at home were left unfed, perhaps Ged being too busy with the fence had forgotten to feed them, perhaps he hadn't, and worse, perhaps he even had forgotten to feed himself. Tenar sighed. Being a farmer's wife was hard, harder even than being a priestess since she had never felt so distracted in her entire life.
Tenar came back to the sound of Arren's voice asking a few questions to Tehanu. How do you feel being in the castle? Is it worse than being in the ship? Knowing you, you seem to hate being in a ship, don't you? I take that as a yes since you are all too quiet. Are you always so quiet like this? Why? Sometimes she remained silent; sometimes a quiet annoyed voice came forth. She heard a respond of both triumph and amusement from him whenever the latter happened and she knew that Tehanu understood what the young king tried to do- a reason why she was more annoyed than ever. After all, all the questions he asked weren't that important, anyway, just to cheekily get some responds from her now and then, and Tenar smiled at how much Tehanu had slowly opened up to him, though not entirely… Tenar remembered when the two of them had met for the first time, he was worried and all concerned for her and she being the hard child she was – with the shock and everything- had ignored him completely. It was just a bit funny to recall the scene right then.
Right, and it seemed Lebannen would have none of that on their second meeting.
"Good night, Tenar. May you have a good dream," Lebannen said when they reached their chambers.
"Thank you, Lebannen. It was really a good dinner." Lebannen politely stooped over her and gave her a hug. There was a sudden warmth within her as he did and Tenar had never felt so grateful and proud of him. He gave her a shy smile, then.
"And you too, Tehanu." Lebannen carefully reached over, hugged the girl's small frame and planted a chaste kiss on the forehead. He chuckled as a wide-eyed Tehanu stared back at him incredulous. "Sleep well," he said. Then, the king left.