Waking in the morning Arren saw before the boat, dim and low along the blue west, the shores of Selidor.
In the Hall in Berila were old maps that had been made in the days of the Kings, when traders and explorers had sailed from the Inner Lands and the Reaches had been better known. A great map of the North and West was laid in mosaic on two walls of the Prince's throne-room, with the isle of Enlad in gold and grey above the throne. Arren saw it in his mind's eye as he had seen it a thousand times in boyhood. North of Enlad was Osskil, and west of it Ebosskil, and south of that Semel and Paln. There the Inner Lands ended, and there was nothing but the pale blue-green mosaic of the empty sea, set here and there with a tiny dolphin or a whale. Then at last, after the corner where the north wall met the west wall, there was Narveduen, and beyond it three lesser islands. And then the empty sea again, on and on; until the very edge of the wall and the end of the map, and there was Selidor, and beyond it, nothing.
He could recall it vividly, the curving shape of it, with a great bay in the heart of it, opening narrowly to the east. They had not come so far north as that, but were steering now for a deep cove in the southernmost cape of the island, and there, while the sun was still low in the haze of morning, they came to land.
So ended their great run from the Roads of Balatran to the Western Isle. The stillness of the earth was strange to them when they had beached Lookfar and walked after so long on solid ground.
Ged climbed a low dune, grass-crowned, the crest of it leaning out over the steep slope, bound into cornices by the tough roots of the grass. When he reached the summit he stood still, looking west and north. Arren stopped at the boat to put on his shoes, which he had not worn for many days, and he took his sword out of the gear-box and buckled it on, this time with no questions in his mind as to whether or not he should do so. Then he climbed up beside Ged to look at the land.
The dunes ran inland, low and grassy, for half a mile or so, and then there were lagoons, thick with sedge and salt-reeds, and beyond those, low hills lay yellow-brown and empty to the end of sight. Beautiful and desolate was Selidor. Nowhere on it was there any mark of man, his work or habitation. There were no beasts to be seen, and the reedfilled lakes bore no flocks of gulls or wild geese or any bird.
They descended the inland side of the dune, and the slope of sand cut off the noise of the breakers and the sound of the wind, so that it became still.
Between the outmost dune and the next was a dell of clean sand, sheltered, the morning sun shining warm on its western slope. “Lebannen,” the mage said, for he used Arren's true name now, “I could not sleep last night, and now I must. Stay with me and keep watch.” He lay down in the sunlight, for the shade was cold; put his arm over his eyes; sighed, and slept. Arren sat down beside him. He could see nothing but the white slopes of the dell, and the dune-grass bowing at the top against the misty blue of the sky, and the yellow sun. There was no sound except the muted murmur of the surf, and sometimes the wind gusting moved the particles of sand a little with a faint whispering.
Arren saw what might have been an eagle flying very high, but it was not an eagle. It circled and stooped, and down it came with that thunder and shrill whistle of outspread golden wings. It alighted on huge talons on the summit of the dune. Against the sun the great head was black, with fiery glints.
The dragon crawled a little way down the slope and spoke. “Agni Lebannen,” it said.
Standing between it and Ged, Arren answered: “Orm Embar.” And he held his bare sword in his hand.
It did not feel heavy now. The smooth, worn hilt was comfortable in his hand; it fitted. The blade had come lightly, eagerly, from the sheath. The power of it, the age of it, were on his side, for he knew now what use to make of it. It was his sword.
The dragon spoke again, but Arren could not understand. He glanced back at his sleeping companion, whom all the rush and thunder had not awakened, and said to the dragon, “My lord is weary; he sleeps.”
At that Orm Embar crawled and coiled on down to the bottom of the dell. He was heavy on the ground, not lithe and free as when he flew, but there was a sinister grace in the slow placing of his great, taloned feet and the curving of his thorny tail. Once there he drew his legs beneath him, lifted up his huge head, and was still: like a dragon carved on a warrior's helm. Arren was aware of his yellow eye, not ten feet away, and of the faint reek of burning that hung about him. This was no carrion stink; dry and metallic, it accorded with the faint odors of the sea and the salt sand, a clean, wild smell.
The sun rising higher struck the flanks of Orm Embar, and he burnt like a dragon made of iron and gold.
Still Ged slept, relaxed, taking no more notice of the dragon than a sleeping farmer of his hound.
So an hour passed, and Arren, starting, found the mage had sat up beside him.
“Have you got so used to dragons that you fall asleep between their paws?” said Ged, and laughed, yawning. Then, rising, he spoke to Orm Embar in the dragons' speech.
Before Orm Embar answered, he too yawned =perhaps in sleepiness, perhaps in rivalry– and that was a sight that few have lived to remember: the rows of yellow-white teeth as long and sharp as swords, the forked, red, fiery tongue twice the length of a man's body, the fuming cavern of the throat.
Orm Embar spoke, and Ged was about to answer, when both turned to look at Arren. They had heard, clear in the silence, the hollow whisper of steel on sheath. Arren was looking up at the lip of the dune behind the mage's head, and his sword was ready in his hand.
There stood, bright lit by sunlight, the faint wind stirring his garments slightly, a man. He stood still as a carven figure except for that flutter of the hem and hood of his light cloak. His hair was long and black, falling in a mass of glossy curls; he was broad-shouldered and tall, a strong, comely man. His eyes seemed to look out over them, at the sea. He smiled.
“Orm Embar I know,” he said. “And you also I know, though you have grown old since I last saw you, Sparrowhawk. You are Archmage now, they tell me. You have grown great, as well as old. And you have a young servant with you: a prentice mage, no doubt, one of those who learn wisdom on the Isle of the Wise. What do you two here, so far from Roke and the invulnerable walls that protect the Masters from all harm?”
“There is a breach in greater walls than those,” said Ged, clasping both hands on his staff and looking up at the man. “But will you not come to us in the flesh, so that we may greet one whom we have long sought?”
“In the flesh?” said the man, and smiled again. “Is mere flesh, body, butcher's meat, of such account between two mages? No, let us meet mind to mind, Archmage.”
“That, I think, we cannot do. Lad, put up your sword. It is but a sending, an appearance, no true man. As well draw blade against the wind. In Havnor, when your hair was white, you were called Cob. But that was only a use-name. How shall we call you when we meet you?”
“You will call me Lord,” said the tall figure on the dune's edge.
“Aye, and what else?”
“King and Master.”
At that Orm Embar hissed, a loud and hideous sound, and his great eyes gleamed; yet he turned his head away from the man, and sank crouching in his tracks, as if he could not move.
“And where shall we come to you and when?”
“In my domain and at my pleasure.”
“Very well,” said Ged, and lifting up his staff moved it a little toward the tall man– and the man was gone, like a candleflame blown out.
Arren stared, and the dragon rose up mightily on his four crooked legs, his mail clanking and the lips writhing back from his teeth. But the mage leaned on his staff again.
“It was only a sending. A presentment or image of the man. It can speak and hear, but there's no power in it, save what our fear may lend it. Nor is it even true in seeming, unless the sender so wishes. We have not seen what he now looks like, I guess.”
“Is he near, do you think?”
“Sendings do not cross water. He is on Selidor. But Selidor is a great island: broader than Roke or Gont and near as long as Enlad. We may seek him long.”
Then the dragon spoke. Ged listened and turned to Arren. “Thus says the Lord of Selidor: 'I have come back to my own land, nor will I leave it. I will find the Unmaker and bring you to him, that together we may abolish him: And have I not said that what a dragon hunts, he finds?”
Thereupon Ged went down on one knee before the great creature, as a liegeman kneels before a king, and thanked him in his own tongue. The breath of the dragon, so close, was hot on his bowed head.
Orm Embar dragged his scaly weight up the dune once more, beat his wings, and took the air.
Ged brushed the sand from his clothes and said to Arren, “Now you have seen me kneel. And maybe you'll see me kneel once more, before the end.”
Arren did not ask what he meant; in their long companionship he had learned that there was reason in the mage's reserve. Yet it seemed to him that there was evil omen in the words.
They crossed over the dune to the beach once more to make sure the boat lay high above the reach of tide or storm, and to take from her cloaks for the night and what food they had left. Ged paused a minute by the slender prow which had borne him over strange seas so long, so far; he laid his hand on it, but he set no spell and said no word. Then they struck inland, northward, once again, toward the hills.
They walked all day, and at evening camped by a stream that wound down toward the reed-choked lakes and marshes. Though it was full summer the wind blew chill, coming from the west, from the endless, landless reaches of the open sea. A mist veiled the sky, and no stars shone above the hills on which no hearth-fire or window-light had ever gleamed.
In the darkness Arren woke. Their small fire was dead, but a westering moon lit the land with a grey, misty light. In the stream-valley and on the hillside about it stood a great multitude of people, all still, all silent, their faces turned toward Ged and Arren. Their eyes caught no light of the moon.
Arren dared not speak, but he put his hand on Ged's arm. The mage stirred and sat up, saying, “What's the matter?” He followed Arren's gaze and saw the silent people.
They were all clothed darkly, men and women alike. Their faces could not be clearly seen in the faint light, but it seemed to Arren that among those who stood nearest them in the valley, across the little stream, there were some whom he knew, though he could not say their names.
Ged stood up, the cloak falling from him. His face and hair and shirt shone silvery pale, as if the moonlight gathered itself to him. He held out his arm in a wide gesture and said aloud, “O you who have lived, go free! I break the bond that holds you: Anvassa mane harw pennodathe!”
For a moment they stood still, the multitude of silent people. They turned away slowly, seeming to walk into the grey darkness, and were gone.
Ged sat down. He drew a deep breath. He looked at Arren and put his hand on the boy's shoulder, and his touch was warm and firm. “There's nothing to fear, Lebannen,” he said gently, mockingly. “They were only the dead.”
Arren nodded, though his teeth were chattering and he felt cold to his very bones. “How did,” he began, but his jaw and lips would not obey him yet.
Ged understood him. “They came at his summoning. This is what he promises: eternal life. At his word they may return. At his bidding they must walk upon the hills of life, though they cannot stir a blade of grass.”
“Is he– is he then dead too?”
Ged shook his head, brooding. “The dead cannot summon the dead back into the world. No, he has the powers of a living man; and more… But if any thought to follow him, he tricked them. He keeps his power for himself. He plays King of the Dead; and not only of the dead… But they were only shadows.”
“I don't know why I fear them,” Arren said with shame.
“You fear them because you fear death, and rightly: for death is terrible and must be feared,” the mage said. He laid new wood on the fire and blew on the small coals under the ashes. A little flare of brightness bloomed on the twigs of brushwood, a grateful light to Arren. “And life also is a terrible thing,” Ged said, “and must be feared and praised.”
They both sat back, wrapping their cloaks close about them. They were silent a while. Then Ged spoke very gravely. “Lebannen, how long he may tease us here with sendings and with shadows, I do not know. But you know where he will go at last.”
“Into the dark land.”
“Aye. Among them.”
“I have seen them now. I will go with you.”
“Is it faith in me that moves you? You may trust my love, but do not trust my strength. For I think I have met my match.”
“I will go with you.”
“But if I am defeated, if my power or my life is spent, I cannot guide you back; you cannot return alone.”
“I will return with you.”
At that Ged said, “You enter your manhood at the gate of death.” And then he said that word or name by which the dragon had twice called Arren, speaking it very low: “Agni– Agni Lebannen.”
After that they spoke no more, and presently sleep came back into them, and they lay down by their small and briefly burning fire.
The next morning they walked on, going north and west; this was Arren's decision, not Ged's, who said, “Choose us our way, lad; the ways are all alike to me.” They made no haste, for they had no goal, waiting for some sign from Orm Embar. They followed the lowest, outmost range of hills, mostly within sight of the ocean. The grass was dry and short, blowing and blowing forever in the wind. The hills rose up golden and forlorn upon their right, and on their left lay the salt marshes and the western sea. Once they saw swans flying, far away in the south. No other breathing creature did they see all that day. A kind of weariness of dread, of waiting for the worst, grew in Arren all day long. Impatience and a dull anger rose in him. He said, after hours of silence, “This land is as dead as the land of death itself!”
“Do not say that,” the mage said sharply. He strode on a while and then went on, in a changed voice, “Look at this land; look about you. This is your kingdom, the kingdom of life. This is your immortality. Look at the hills, the mortal hills. They do not endure forever. The hills with the living grass on them, and the streams of water running… In all the world, in all the worlds, in all the immensity of time, there is no other like each of those streams, rising cold out of the earth where no eye sees it, running through the sunlight and the darkness to the sea. Deep are the springs of being, deeper than life, than death…”
He stopped, but in his eyes as he looked at Arren and at the sunlit hills there was a great, wordless, grieving love. And Arren saw that, and seeing it saw him, saw him for the first time whole, as he was.
“I cannot say what I mean,” Ged said unhappily.
But Arren thought of that first hour in the Fountain Court, of the man who had knelt by the running water of the fountain; and joy, as clear as that remembered water, welled up in him. He looked at his companion and said, “I have given my love to what is worthy of love. Is that not the kingdom and the unperishing spring?”
“Aye, lad,” said Ged, gently and with pain.
They went on together in silence. But Arren saw the world now with his companion's eyes and saw the living splendor that was revealed about them in the silent, desolate land, as if by a power of enchantment surpassing any other, in every blade of the windbowed grass, every shadow, every stone. So when one stands in a cherished place for the last time before a voyage without return, he sees it all whole, and real, and dear, as he has never seen it before and never will see it again.
As evening came on serried lines of clouds rose from the west, borne on great winds from the sea, and burnt fiery before the sun, reddening it as it sank. As he gathered brushwood for their fire in a creek-valley, in that red light, Arren glanced up and saw a man standing not ten feet from him. The man's face looked vague and strange, but Arren knew him, the Dyer of Lorbanery, Sopli, who was dead.
Behind him stood others, all with sad, staring faces. They seemed to speak, but Arren could not hear their words, only a kind of whispering blown away by the west wind. Some of them came toward him slowly.
He stood and looked at them, and again at Sopli; and then he turned his back on them, stooped, and picked up one more stick of brushwood, though his hands shook. He added it to his load, and picked up another, and one more. Then he straightened and looked back. There was no one in the valley, only the red light burning on the grass. He returned to Ged and set down his load of firewood, but he said nothing of what he had seen.
All that night, in the misty darkness of that land empty of living souls, when he woke from fitful sleep he heard about him the whispering of the souls of the dead. He steadied his will, and did not listen, and slept again.
Both he and Ged woke late, when the sun, already a hands' breadth above the hills, broke free at last from fog and brightened the cold land. As they ate their small morning meal the dragon came, wheeling above them in the air. Fire shot from his jaws, and smoke and sparks from his red nostrils; his teeth gleamed like blades of ivory in that lurid glare. But he said nothing, though Ged hailed him, crying in his language, “Hast found him, Orm Embar?”
The dragon threw back his head and arched his body strangely, raking the wind with his razor talons. Then he set off flying fast to the west, looking back at them as he went.
Ged gripped his staff and struck it on the ground. “He cannot speak,” he said. “He cannot speak! The words of the Making are taken from him, and he is left like an adder, like a tongueless worm, his wisdom dumb. Yet he can lead, and we can follow!” Swinging up their light packs on their backs, they strode westward across the hills, as Orm Embar had flown.
Eight miles or more they went, not slackening that first, swift, steady pace. Now the sea lay on either hand, and they walked on a long, falling ridge-back that ran down at last through dry reeds and winding creek-beds to an outcurving beach of sand, colored like ivory. This was the westernmost cape of all the lands, the end of earth.
Orm Embar crouched on that ivory sand, his head low like an angry cat's and his breath coming in gasps of fire. Some way before him, between him and the long, low breakers of the sea, stood a thing like a hut or shelter, white, as if built of long-beached driftwood. But there was no driftwood on this shore which faced no other land. As they came closer Arren saw that the ramshackle walls were built up of great bones: whales' bones, he thought at first, and then saw the white triangles edged like knives, and knew they were the bones of a dragon.
They came to the place. Sunlight on the sea glittered through crevices between the bones. The lintel of the doorway was a thighbone longer than a man. On it stood a human skull, staring with hollow eyes at the hills of Selidor.
They stopped there, and as they looked up at the skull a man came out of the doorway under it. He wore an armor of gilt bronze of ancient fashion; it was rent as if by hatchet blows, and the jeweled scabbard of his sword was empty. His face was stern, with arched, black brows and narrow nose; his eyes were dark, keen, and sorrowful. There were wounds on his arms and in his throat and side; they bled no longer, but they were mortal wounds. He stood erect and still, and looked at them.
Ged took one step toward him. They were somewhat alike, thus face to face.
“Thou art Erreth-Akbe,” Ged said. The other gazed at him steadily and nodded once, but did not speak.
“Even thou, even thou must do his bidding.” Rage was in Ged's voice. “O my lord, and best and bravest of us all, rest in thy honor and in death!” And raising his hands, Ged brought them down in a great gesture, saying again those words he had spoken to the multitudes of the dead. His hands left behind on the air a moment a broad, bright track. When it was gone, the armored man was gone, and only the sun dazzled on the sand where he had stood.
Ged struck at the house of bones with his staff, and it fell and vanished away. Nothing of it was left but one great rib-bone that stuck up out of the sand.
He turned to Orm Embar. “Is it here, Orm Embar? Is this the place?”
The dragon opened his mouth and made a huge, gasping hiss.
“Here on the last shore of the world. That is well!” Then holding his black yew staff in his left hand, Ged opened his arms in the gesture of invocation, and spoke. Though he spoke in the language of the Making, yet Arren understood, at last, as all who hear that invocation must understand, for it has power over all: “Now do I summon you and here, my enemy, before my eyes and in the flesh, and bind you by the word that will not be spoken till time's end, to come!”
But where the name of him summoned should have been spoken, Ged said only: My enemy.
A silence followed, as if the sound of the sea had faded. It seemed to Arren that the sun failed and dimmed, though it stood high in a clear sky. A darkness came over the beach, as though one looked through smoked glass; directly before Ged it grew very dark, and it was hard to see what was there. It was as if nothing was there, nothing the light could fall on, a formlessness.
Out of it came a man, suddenly. It was the same man they had seen upon the dune, black-haired and long-armed, lithe and tall. He held now a long rod or blade of steel, graven all down its length with runes, and he tilted this toward Ged as he faced him. But there was something strange in the look of his eyes, as if they were sun-dazzled and could not see.
“I come,” he said, “at my own choosing, in my own way. You cannot summon me, Archmage. I am no shadow. I am alive. I only am alive! You think you are, but you are dying, dying. Do you know what this is I hold? It is the staff of the Grey Mage, he who silenced Nereger; the Master of my art. But I am the Master now. And I have had enough of playing games with you.” With that he suddenly reached out the steel blade to touch Ged, who stood as if he could not move and could not speak. Arren stood a pace behind him, and all his will was to move, but he could not stir, he could not even put his hand on his sword-hilt, and his voice was stopped in his throat.
But over Ged and Arren, over their heads, vast and fiery, the great body of the dragon came in one writhing leap and plunged down full-force upon the other, so that the charmed steel blade entered into the dragon's mailed breast to its full length: but the man was borne down under his weight and crushed and burnt.
Rising up again from the sand, arching his back and beating his vaned wings, Orm Embar vomited out gouts of fire and screamed. He tried to fly, but he could not fly. Malign and cold, the metal lay in his heart. He crouched, and the blood ran black and poisonous, steaming, from his mouth, and the fire died in his nostrils till they became like pits of ash. He laid down his great head on the sand.
So died Orm Embar where his forefather Orm died, on the bones of Orm buried in the sand.
But where Orm had struck his enemy to earth, there lay something ugly and shriveled, like the body of a big spider dried up in its web. It had been burned by the dragon's breath and crushed by his taloned feet. Yet, as Arren watched, it moved. It crawled away a little from the dragon.
The face lifted up toward them. There was no comeliness left in it, only ruin, old age that had outlived old age. The mouth was withered. The sockets of the eyes were empty and had long been empty. So Ged and Arren saw at last the living face of their enemy.
It turned away. The burnt, blackened arms reached out, and a darkness gathered into them, that same shapeless darkness that swelled and dimmed the sunlight. Between the arms of the Unmaker it was like an archway or a gate, though dim and without outline; and through it was neither pale sand nor ocean, but a long slope of darkness going down into the dark.
There the crushed, crawling figure went, and when it came into the darkness it seemed suddenly to rise up and move swiftly, and it was gone.
“Come, Lebannen,” said Ged, laying his right hand on the boy's arm, and they went forward into the dry land.