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Arha's isolated existence as high priestess in the tombs of Atuan is jarred by a thief who seeks a special treasure.
Chapter One: The Eaten One
One high horn shrilled and ceased. The silence that followed was shaken only by the sound of many footsteps keeping time with a drum struck softly at a slow heart-pace. Through cracks in the roof of the Hall of the Throne, gaps between columns where a whole section of masonry and tile had collapsed, unsteady sunlight shone aslant. It was an hour after sunrise. The air was still and cold. Dead leaves of weeds that had forced up between marble pavement-tiles were outlined with frost, and crackled, catching on the long black robes of the priestesses.
They came, four by four, down the vast hall between double rows of columns. The drum beat dully. No voice spoke, no eye watched. Torches carried by black-clad girls burned reddish in the shafts of sunlight, brighter in the dusk between. Outside, on the steps of the Hall of the Throne, the men stood, guards, trumpeters, drummers; within the great doors only women had come, dark-robed and hooded, walking slowly four by four towards the empty throne.
Two came, tall women looming in their black, one of them thin and rigid, the other heavy, swaying with the planting of her feet. Between these two walked a child of about six. She wore a straight white shift. Her head and arms and legs were bare, and she was barefoot. She looked extremely small. At the foot of the steps leading up to the throne, where the others now waited in dark rows, the two tall women halted. They pushed the child forward a little.
The throne on its high platform seemed to be curtained on each side with great webs of blackness dropping from the gloom of the roof; whether these were curtains, or only denser shadows, the eye could not make certain. The throne itself was black, with a dull glimmer of precious stones or gold on the arms and back, and it was huge. A man sitting in it would have been dwarfed; it was not of human dimensions. It was empty. Nothing sat in it but shadows.
Alone, the child climbed up four of the seven steps of red-veined marble. They were so broad and high that she had to get both feet onto one step before attempting the next. On the middle step, directly in front of the throne, stood a large, rough block of wood, hollowed out on top. The child knelt on both knees and fitted her head into the hollow, turning it a little sideways. She knelt there without moving.
A figure in a belted gown of white wool stepped suddenly out of the shadows at the right of the throne and strode down the steps to the child. His face was masked with white. He held a sword of polished steel five feet long. Without word or hesitation he swung the sword, held in both hands, up over the little girl's neck. The drum stopped beating.
As the blade swung to its highest point and poised, a figure in black darted out from the left side of the throne, leapt down the stairs, and stayed the sacrificer's arms with slenderer arms. The sharp edge of the sword glittered in mid-air. So they balanced for a moment, the white figure and the black, both faceless, dancer-like above the motionless child whose white neck was bared by the parting of her black hair.
In silence each leapt aside and up the stairs again, vanishing in the darkness behind the enormous throne. A priestess came forward and poured out a bowl of liquid on the steps beside the kneeling child. The stain looked black in the dimness of the hall.
The child got up and descended the four stairs laboriously. When she stood at the bottom, the two tall priestesses put on her a black robe and hood and mantle, and turned her around again to face the steps, the dark stain, the throne.
"O let the Nameless Ones behold the girl given to them, who is verily the one born ever nameless. Let them accept her life and the years of her life until her death, which is also theirs. Let them find her acceptable. Let her be eaten!"
Other voices, shrill and harsh as trumpets, replied: "She is eaten! She is eaten!"
The little girl stood looking from under her black cowl up at the throne. The jewels inset in the huge clawed arms and the back were glazed with dust, and on the carven back were cobwebs and whitish stains of owl droppings. The three highest steps directly before the throne, above the step on which she had knelt, had never been climbed by mortal feet. They were so thick with dust that they looked like one slant of gray soil, the planes of the red-veined marble wholly hidden by the unstirred, untrodden siftings of how many years, how many centuries.
"She is eaten! She is eaten!"
Now the drum, abrupt, began to sound again, beating a quicker pace.
Silent and shuffling, the procession formed and moved away from the throne, eastward towards the bright, distant square of the doorway. On either side, the thin double columns, like the calves of immense pale legs, went up to the dusk under the ceiling. Among the priestesses, and now all in black like them, the child walked, her small bare feet treading solemnly over the frozen weeds, the icy stones. When sunlight slanting through the ruined roof flashed across her way, she did not look up.
Guards held the great doors wide. The black procession came out into the thin, cold light and wind of early morning. The sun dazzled, swimming above the eastern vastness. Westward, the mountains caught its yellow light, as did the facade of the Hall of the Throne. The other buildings, lower on the hill, still lay in purplish shadow, except for the Temple of the God-Brothers across the way on a little knoll: its roof, newly gilt, flashed the day back in glory. The black line of the priestesses, four by four, wound down the Hill of the Tombs, and as they went they began softly to chant. The tune was on three notes only, and the word that was repeated over and over was a word so old it had lost its meaning, like a signpost still standing when the road is gone. Over and over they chanted the empty word. All that day of the Remaking of the Priestess was filled with the low chanting of women's voices, a dry unceasing drone.
The little girl was taken from room to room, from temple to temple. In one place salt was placed upon her tongue; in another she knelt facing west while her hair was cut short and washed with oil and scented vinegar; in another she lay face down on a slab of black marble behind an altar while shrill voices sang a lament for the dead. Neither she nor any of the priestesses ate food or drank water all that day. As the evening star set, the little girl was put to bed, naked between sheepskin rugs, in a room she had never slept in before. It was in a house that had been locked for years, unlocked only that day. The room was higher than it was long, and had no windows. There was a dead smell in its, still and stale. The silent women left her there in the dark.
She held still, lying just as they had put her. Her eyes were wide open. She lay so for a long time.
She saw light shake on the high wall. Someone came quietly along the corridor, shielding a rushlight so it showed no more light than a firefly. A husky whisper: "Ho, are you there, Tenar?"
The child did not reply.
A head poked in the doorway, a strange head, hairless as a peeled potato, and of the same yellowish color. The eyes were like potato-eyes, brown and tiny. The nose was dwarfed by great, flat slabs of cheek, and the mouth was a lipless slit. The child stared unmoving at this face. Her eyes were large, dark, fixed.
"Ho, Tenar, my little honeycomb, there you are!" The voice was husky, high as a woman's voice but not a woman's voice. "I shouldn't be here, I belong outside the door, on the porch, that's where I go. But I had to see how my little Tenar is, after all the long day of it, eh, how's my poor little honeycomb?"
He moved towards her, noiseless and burly, and put out his hand as if to smooth back her hair.
"I am not Tenar any more," the child said, staring up at him. His hand stopped; he did not touch her.
"No," he said, after a moment, whispering. "I know. I know. Now you're the little Eaten One. But I-"
She said nothing.
"It was a hard day for a little one," the man said, shuffling the tiny light flickering in his big yellow hand.
"You should not be in this house, Manan."
"No. No. I know. I shouldn't be in this House. Well, good night, little one. Good night."
The child said nothing. Manan slowly turned around and went away. The glimmer died from the high cell walls. The little girl, who had no name any more but Ahra, the Eaten One, lay on her back looking steadily at the dark.
Copyright © 2004 by Ursula K. Le Guin
Excerpted from The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin Copyright © 2004 by Ursula K. Le Guin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted January 29, 2000
This book is a tale about a young girl named Tenar and her survival in the bleak and surturnine world of the Tombs of Atuan. However, the experinced mage named SparrowHawk/Ged goes there to try to find a lost art and to free Tenar from the groping madness of the ANCIENT ONES. I think that this has a mysterious plot because you never really know what will happen next in this story. I found this extremely satisfying and i recommend this for people 13 and over. I give this book FIVE STARS OUT OF FIVE.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 15, 2009
Wow, I wasn't expecting a story like this. The beginning doesn't relate at all to the previous book. I was thinking of returning it because I wasn't familiar with any of the characters. But the first book was so good, that I just continued to plow through. It was an interesting read I have to say. Not what I expected at all, which is a good thing from a critic's point of view. But to my disappointment none of the characters from the first book, except for Ged himself, make any second appearances. I was especially disappointed that Ogion didn't make a second appearance, he and Estarriol are my absolute favorites. But if your looking for an interesting read, this is the book your looking for.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 6, 2005
I loved this book. It's a beautiful love story and so much more. I read it before the Wizard of Earthsea and I think it made it even better.
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Posted January 6, 2007
After reading A Wizard of Earthsea, I was expecting much more out of this book. The story seemed to drag on and even became repetitive at times. All in all, you could skip this book entirely and still get the same enjoyment out of the following book (I¿ve read no farther).
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 20, 2013
Posted May 15, 2013
Posted April 13, 2013
This sequel to The Wizard of Earthsea took a while to get going. The first half or so almost feels like a summary of the main character's life up to the main portion of the story. The character, herself, is a little difficult to like until very near the end. Still, this second Earthsea book is just as beautifully written as the first. It feels less like a sequel and more like a seperate story in the same world with an appearence by the previous book's main character. You'll want to have read the first book before picking up this one, but you don't need to read then back-to-back like you do with a traditional fantasy series. Beautiful, just not quite as good as the first.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 19, 2013
Posted October 12, 2012
The first book in the series was hard to get through, but I am glad I tried this second book. It was a good story and a quick read
0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 10, 2010
While this is part of the Earthsea series, it is not as good as the rest of Earthsea and does not really have the same feel. I still enjoyed it as a short and fun beach read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 29, 2010
This is an excellent book. It's 4 stars just because not every book is going to be Lord of the Rings. I think this book would mean much more to girls coming into adulthood, but every fan of fantasy should read this entire trilogy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 6, 2009
A rare early Le Guin book written entirely from a female point of view, this second installment of the Earthsea Cycle introduces a very different civilization. Tenar is a young priestess who was chosen from birth to serve the Nameless Ones. Ged comes looking for the ring of Erreth-Akbe and is captured by Tenar in the labyrinth; they must learn to trust each other and eventually he takes her away with him and gives her a new life in the Archipelago. Reading this for the first time as a teenage girl (and many times since) it was easy to identify with her confusion and loss of her own identity. There's a very subtle love affair between the two of them that can't become more as he is a celibate mage; she is much yoiunger but they meet as equals and develop trust in each other.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 5, 2007
I have just begun reading the Earthsea series. I was surprised with The Tombs of Atuan because I thought the book would be more about Ged once again, but instead it revolved around a the Priestess of the Tombs, The Eaten One. Ged does make a grand appearance and we learn that he has aged many years since the first book. I thought this was all very surprising, I didn't expect it. But even though we don't hear of Ged until deep in the book, the story still wraps around him and our new heroine as they rescue a certain piece of treasure from the darkness. I am getting hooked on these books. I can't wait to read the next book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 24, 2007
This is by far my favorite book in the series and maybe of all time. The tale is told with such simplicity and clarity yet sacrifices nothing because of this. The story develops slowly but this only helps one to better imagine all the details of the world in it. Le Guin is a master story teller. There is not one wasted word in this tale. Every word and every sentence is meaningful and I've never read anything from another author who can achieve this effect. Don't expect in your face action from this one. It would also help to read the first book in this series before this so that you know more about the character 'Ged' since this book doesn't tell you much about him.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 11, 2006
ok dude.... i loved this story at first....it gripped me my the neck and tugged me into a world of darkness and mystery.... i couldn't put it down.....but it started to get dull after some time. The only reason I was grazing the sides instead of fully getting into it was because there was no story line after 1/3 od the book or so.....especially since there was absolutely no chemistry between tenar and ged...i would have given the book a 5 it there was...in just sorta fell apart.....Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 20, 2006
It was a good book but I felt that many details could have been added and I never found a real exciting part in the book. I also have realized that in her books like Wizard of Earthsea you expect there to be a battle between him and his shadow but there is barely a discription of it, I felt the same way with this book (but don't get me wrong Wizard of Earthsea was pretty good).Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 27, 2006
I have read alot of books in my life.The wizard of earthsea was one of my favorite books.A handsome young wizard with alot of potetial.And then i got the tombs of atuan.At first i thought that the book was going to be great, abeautiful young girl meating up with a handsome wizard(if you get what i mean.) but things didnt turn out that way, Ged was an old man,she was a young girl.and plus it wasent as adventurous as i had hoped.but it was still well written.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 6, 2006
I was really looking forward to reading this series and i was really dissapointed. It came highly reccommended by many people, but when i finally finished this quick read it felt like the entire book had been a summary or an introduction. I spent the entire novel waiting for something to happen. Le Guin is too objective for my taste and I never feel like I can get to know the characters. I would only reccommend this to somebody if they were looking for a light read with no real emotional involvement.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 25, 2005
This book wasn't amazing. But it was definately a read worth your while. I had a hard time getting into it. I felt like I was only grazing the surface and not really getting into the story. It was an interesting and different kind of read that I really enjoyed, though.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 10, 2005
This book is my favorite of the Earthsea trilogy. I read it once and thought it was good, but then for some isane reason read it again, and truly loved it. I have to admit that the first time I read this story I would not have deemed it worthy of five stars, but after thinking about the book when finished, it became incredible.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.