The Stone of Pain
When Arren woke, a grey fog hid the sea and the dunes and hills of Selidor. The breakers came murmuring in a low thunder out of the fog and withdrew murmuring into it again. The tide was in, and the beach much narrower than when they had first come there; the last, small foam-lines of the waves came and licked at Ged's outflung left hand as he lay face down on the sand. His clothes and hair were wet, and Arren's clothes clung icily to his body, as if once at least the sea had broken over them. Of Cob's dead body there was no trace. Maybe the waves had drawn it out to sea. But behind Arren, when he turned his head, huge and dim in the mist the grey body of Orm Embar bulked like a ruined tower.
Arren got up, shuddering with chill; he could barely stand, for cold and stiffness and a dizzy weakness like that which comes of lying a long time unmoving. He staggered like a drunken man. As soon as he could control his limbs he went to Ged and managed to pull him a little way up the sand above the waves' reach, but that was all he could do. Very cold, very heavy, Ged seemed to him; he had borne him over the boundary from death into life, but maybe in vain. He put his ear to Ged's breast, but could not still the shaking in his own limbs and the chattering of his teeth to listen for the heartbeat. He stood up again and tried to stamp to bring some warmth back into his legs and finally, trembling and dragging his legs like an old man, set off to find their packs. They had dropped them beside a little stream running down from the ridge of the hills, a long time ago, when they came down to the house of bones. It was that stream he sought, for he could not think of anything but water, fresh water.
Before he expected it, he came to the stream, as it descended onto the beach and wandered mazy and branching like a tree of silver to the seas edge. There he dropped down and drank, with his face in the water and his hands in the water, sucking up the water into his mouth and into his spirit.
At last he sat up, and as he did so he saw on the far side of the stream, immense, a dragon.
Its head, the color of iron, stained as with red rust at nostril and, eye-socket and jowl, hung facing him, almost over him. The talons sank deep into the soft, wet sand on the edge of the stream. The folded wings were partly visible, like sails, but the length of the dark body was lost in the fog.
It did not move. It might have been crouching there for hours, or for years, or for centuries. It was carven of iron, shaped from rock– but the eyes, the eyes he dared not look into, the eyes like oil coiling on water, like yellow smoke behind glass, the opaque, profound, yellow eyes watched Arren.
There was nothing he could do; so he stood up. If the dragon would kill him, it would; and if it did not, he would try to help Ged, if there was any help for him. He stood up and started to walk up the rivulet to find their packs.
The dragon did nothing. It crouched unmoving and watched. Arren found the packs, filled both the skin bottles at the stream, and went back across the sand to Ged. After he had taken only a few steps away from the stream, the dragon was lost in the thick fog.
He gave Ged water, but could not rouse him.. He lay lax and cold, his head heavy on Arren's arm. His dark face was greyish, the nose and cheek-bones and the old scar standing out harshly. Even his body looked thin and burnt, as if half-consumed.
Arren sat there on the damp sand, his companion's head on his knees. The fog made a vague, soft sphere about them, lighter overhead. Somewhere in the fog was the dead dragon Orm Embar, and the live dragon waiting by the stream. And somewhere across Selidor the boat Lookfar, with no provisions in her, lay on another beach. And then the sea, eastward. Three hundred miles to any other land of the West Reach, maybe; a thousand to the Inmost Sea. A long way. “As far as Selidor,” they used to say on Enlad. The old stories told to children, the myths, began, “As long ago as forever and as far away as Selidor, there lived a prince…”
He was the prince. But in the old stories, that was the beginning; and this seemed to be the end.
He was not downcast. Though very tired, and grieving for his companion, he felt not the least bitterness or regret. Only there was no longer anything he could do. It had all been done.
When his strength came back into him, he thought, he would try surf-fishing with the line from his pack; for once his thirst was quenched he had begun to feel the gnawing of hunger, and their food was gone, all but one packet of hard bread. He would save that, for if he soaked and softened it in water he might be able to feed some of it to Ged.
And that was all there was left to do. Beyond that he could not see; the mist was all about him.
He felt about in his pockets as he sat there, huddled with Ged in the fog, to see if he had anything useful. In his tunic pocket was a hard, sharp-edged thing. He drew it forth and looked at it, puzzled. It was a small stone, black, porous, hard. He almost tossed it away. Then he felt the edges of it in his hand, rough and searing, and felt the weight of it, and knew it for what it was, a bit of rock from the Mountains of Pain. It had caught in his pocket as he climbed or when he crawled to the edge of the pass with Ged. He held it in his hand„ the unchanging thing, the stone of pain. He closed his hand on it and held it. And he smiled then, a smile both somber and joyous, knowing, for the first time in his life, alone, unpraised, and at the end of the world, victory.
The mists thinned and moved. Far out through them he saw sunlight on the open sea. The dunes and hills came and went, colorless and enlarged by the veils of fog: Sunlight struck bright on the body of Orm Embar, magnificent in death.
The iron-black dragon crouched, never moving, on the far side of the stream.
Past noon the sun grew clear and warm, burning the last blur of mist out of the air. Arren threw off his wet clothes and let them dry, and went naked save for his swordbelt and sword. He let the sun dry Ged's clothing likewise, but though the great, healing, comfortable flood of heat and light poured down on Ged, yet he lay still.
There was a noise as of metal rubbing against metal, the grating whisper of crossed swords. The ironcolored dragon had risen on its crooked legs. It moved and crossed the rivulet, with a soft hissing sound as it dragged its long body through the sand. Arren saw the wrinkles at the shoulder joints, the mail of the flanks scored and scarred like the armor of Erreth-Akbe, and the long teeth yellowed and blunt. In all this, and in its sure, ponderous movements, and in a deep and frightening calmness that it had, he saw the sign of age: of great age, of years beyond remembering. So when the dragon stopped some few feet from where Ged lay, and Arren stood up between the two, he said, in Hardic for he did not know the Old Speech, “Art thou Kalessin?”
The dragon said no word, but it seemed to smile. Then, lowering its huge head and sticking out its neck, it looked down at Ged, and spoke his name.
Its voice was huge, and soft, and smelt like a blacksmith's forge.
Again it spoke, and once more; and at the third time, Ged opened his eyes. After a while he tried to sit up, but could not. Arren knelt by him and supported him. Then Ged spoke. “Kalessin,” he said, “senvanissai'n ar Roke!” He had no more strength after speaking; he leaned his head on Arren's shoulder and shut his eyes.
The dragon made no reply. It crouched as before, not moving. The fog was coming in again, dimming the sun as it went down to the sea.
Arren dressed and wrapped Ged in his cloak. The tide which had drawn far out was coming in again, and he thought to carry his companion up to dryer ground on the dunes, for he felt his strength coming back.
But as he bent to lift Ged up, the dragon put out a great, mailed foot, almost touching him. The talons of that foot were four, with a spur behind such as a cock's foot has, but these were spurs of steel, and as long as scythe-blades.
“Sobriost,” said the dragon, like a January wind through frozen reeds.
“Let my lord be. He has saved us all, and doing so has spent his strength and maybe his life with it. Let him be!”
So Arren spoke, fiercely and with command. He had been overawed and frightened too much, he had been filled up with fear, and had got sick of it and would not have it any more. He was angry with the dragon for its brute strength and size, its unjust advantage. He had seen death, he had tasted death, and no threat had power over him.
The old dragon Kalessin looked at him from one long, awful, golden eye. There were ages beyond ages in the depths of that eye; the morning of the world was deep in it. Though Arren did not look into it, he knew that it looked upon him with profound and mild hilarity.
“Arw sobriost,” said the dragon, and its rusty nostrils widened so that the banked and stifled fire deep within them glittered.
Arren had his arm under Ged's shoulders, having been in the act of lifting him when Kalessin's movement stopped him, and now he felt Ged's head turn a little and heard his voice: “It means, mount here.”
For a while Arren did not move. This was all folly. But there was the great, taloned foot, set like a step in front of him; and above it, the crook of the elbow joint; and above that, the jutting shoulder and the musculature of the wing where it sprang from the shoulder blade: four steps, a stairway. And there in front of the wings and the first great iron thorn of the spine-armor, in the hollow of the neck there was place for a man to sit astride, or two men. If they were mad and past hope and given up to folly.
“Mount!” said Kalessin in the speech of the Making.
So Arren stood up and helped his companion to stand. Ged held his head erect, and with Arren's arms to guide him, climbed up those strange steps. Both sat down astride in the rough-mailed hollow of the dragon's neck, Arren behind, ready to support Ged if he needed it. Both felt a warmth come into them, a welcome heat like the sun's heat, where they touched the dragon's hide: life burnt in fire beneath that iron armor.
Arren saw that they had left the mage's staff of yew lying half-buried in the sand; the sea was creeping in to take it. He made to get down for it, but Ged stopped him. “Leave it. I spent all wizardry at that dry spring, Lebannen. I am no mage now.”
Kalessin turned and looked at them sidelong; the ancient laughter was in its eye. Whether Kalessin was male or female, there was no telling; what Kalessin thought, there was no knowing. Slowly the wings lifted and unfurled. They were not gold like Orm Embar's wings but red, dark red, dark as rust or blood or the crimson silk of Lorbanery. The dragon raised its wings carefully, lest it unseat its puny riders. Carefully it gathered in the spring of its great haunches, and leapt like a cat up into the air, and the wings beat down and bore them above the fog that drifted over Selidor.
Rowing with those crimson wings in the evening air, Kalessin wheeled out over the open sea, turned to the east, and flew.
In the days of high summer on the island of Ully a great dragon was seen flying low, and later in Usidero and in the north of Ontuego. Though dragons are dreaded in the West Reach, where people know them all too well, yet after this one had passed over and the villagers had come out of their hiding places, those who had seen it said, “The dragons are not all dead, as we thought. Maybe the wizards are not all dead, either. Surely there was a great splendor in that flight; maybe it was the Eldest.”
Where Kalessin touched to land none saw. In those far islands there are forests and wild hills to which few men ever come, and where even the descent of a dragon may go unseen.
But in the Ninety Isles there was screaming and disarray. Men rowed westward among the little islands crying, “Hide! Hide! The Dragon of Pendor has broken his word! The Archmage has perished, and the Dragon is come devouring!”
Without landing, without looking down, the great ironcolored worm flew over the little islands and the little towns and farms, and deigned not even a belch of fire for such small fry. So it passed over Geath and over Serd, and crossed the straits of the Inmost Sea, and came within sight of Roke.
Never in the memory of man, scarcely in the memory of legend, had any dragon braved the walls visible and invisible of the well-defended isle. Yet this one did not hesitate, but flew on ponderous wings and heavily over the western shore of Roke, above the villages and fields, to the green hill that rises over Thwil Town. There at last it stooped softly to the earth, raised its red wings and folded them, and crouched on the summit of Roke Knoll.
The boys came running out of the Great House. Nothing could have stopped them. But for all their youth they were slower than their Masters and came second to the Knoll. When they came, the Patterner was there, come from his Grove, his fair hair bright in the sun. With him was the Changer, who had returned two nights before in the shape of a great seaosprey, lame-winged and weary; long he had been caught by his own spells in that form and could not come into his own shape again until he came into the Grove, on that night when the Balance was restored and the broken was made whole. The Summoner, gaunt and frail, only one day risen from his bed, had come; and beside him stood the Doorkeeper. And the other Masters of the Isle of the Wise were there.
They saw the riders dismount, one aiding the other. They saw them look about with a look of strange contentment, grimness, and wonder. The dragon crouched like stone while they clambered down from its back and stood beside it. It turned its head a little while the Archmage spoke to it, and briefly answered him. Those who watched saw the sidelong look of the yellow eye, cold and full of laughter. Those who understood heard the dragon say, “I have brought the young king to his kingdom, and the old man to his home.”
“A little farther yet, Kalessin,” Ged replied. “I have not gone where I must go.” He looked down at the roofs and towers of the Great House in the sunlight, and he seemed to smile a little. Then he turned to Arren, who stood tall and slight, in worn clothes, and not wholly steady on his legs from the weariness of the long ride and the bewilderment of all that had passed. In the sight of them all, Ged knelt to him, down on both knees, and bowed his grey head.
Then he stood up and kissed the young man on the cheek, saying, “When you come to your throne in Havnor, my lord and dear companion, rule long and well.”
He looked again at the Masters and the young wizards and the boys and the towns-folk gathered on the slopes and at the foot of the Knoll. His face was quiet, and in his eyes there was something like that laughter in the eyes of Kalessin. Turning from them all, he mounted up again by the dragon's foot and shoulder, and took his seat reinless between the great peaks of the wings, on the neck of the dragon. The red wings lifted with a drumming rattle, and Kalessin the Eldest sprang into the air. Fire came from the dragon's jaws, and smoke, and the sound of thunder and the stormwind was in the beating of its wings. It circled the hill once and flew off, north and eastward, toward that quarter of Earthsea where stands the mountain isle of Gont.
The Doorkeeper, smiling, said, “He has done with doing. He goes home.”
And they watched the dragon fly between the sunlight and the sea till it was out of sight.
The Deed of Ged tells that he who had been Archmage came to the crowning of the King of All the Isles in the Tower of the Sword in Havnor at the world's heart. The song tells that when the ceremony of the crowning was over and the festival began, he left the company and went down alone to the port of Havnor. There lay out on the water a boat, worn and beaten by storm and the weather of years; she had no sail up and was empty. Ged called the boat by name, Lookfar, and she came to him. Entering the boat from the pier Ged turned his back on land, and without wind or sail or oar the boat moved; it took him from harbor and from haven, westward among the isles, westward over sea; and no more is known of him.
But in the island of Gont they tell the story otherwise, saying that it was the young King, Lebannen, who came seeking Ged to bring him to the coronation. But he did not find him at Gont Port or at Re Albi. No one could say where he was, only that he had gone afoot up into the forests of the mountain. Often he went so, they said, and did not return for many months, and no man knew the roads of his solitude. Some offered to seek for him, but the King forbade them, saying, “He rules a greater kingdom than I do.” And so he left the mountain, and took ship, and returned to Havnor to be crowned.