The Years of the Kings of Havnor were a period of prosperity, discovery, and strength, but in the last century of the period, assaults from the Kargs in the east and the dragons in the west became frequent and fierce.

Kings, lords, and Islemen charged with defending the islands of the Archipelago came to rely increasingly on wizards to fend off dragons and Kargish fleets. In the Havnorian Lay and The Deed of the Dragonlords, as the tale goes on, the names and exploits of these wizards begin to eclipse those of the kings.

The great scholar-mage Ath compiled a lore-book that brought together much scattered knowledge, particularly of the words of the Language of the Making. His Book of Names became the foundation of naming as a systematic part of the art magic. Ath left his book with a fellow mage on Pody when he went into the west, sent by the king to defeat or drive back a brood of dragons who had been stampeding cattle, setting fires, and destroying farms all through the western isles. Somewhere west of Ensmer, Ath confronted the great dragon Orm. Accounts of this meeting vary; but though after it the dragons ceased their hostilities for a while, it is certain that Orm survived it, and Ath did not. His book, lost for centuries, is now in the Isolate Tower on Roke.

The food of dragons is said to be light, or fire; they kill in rage, to defend their young, or for sport, but never eat their kill. Since time immemorial, until the reign of Heru, they had used only the outmost isles of the West Reach-which may have been the easternmost borders of their own realm-for meeting and breeding, and had seldom even been seen by most of the islanders. Naturally irritable and arrogant, the dragons may have felt threatened by the increasing population and prosperity of the Inner Lands, which brought constant boat traffic even out in the West Reach. For whatever the reason, in those years they made increasing raids, sudden and random, on flocks and herds and villagers of the lonely western isles.

A tale of the Vedurnan or Division, known in Hur-at-Hur, says:

Men chose the yoke,

dragons the wing.

Men to own,

dragons no thing.

That is, human beings chose to have possessions and dragons chose not to. But, as there are ascetics among humans, some dragons are greedy for shining things, gold, jewels; one was Yevaud, who sometimes came among people in human form, and who made the rich Isle of Pendor into a dragon nursery, until driven back into the west by Ged. But the marauding dragons of the Lay and the songs seem to have been moved not so much by greed as by anger, a sense of having been cheated, betrayed.

The deeds and lays that tell of raids by dragons and counterforays by wizards portray the dragons as pitiless as any wild animal, terrifying, unpredictable, yet intelligent, sometimes wiser than the wizards. Though they speak the True Speech, they are endlessly devious. Some of them clearly enjoy battles of wits with wizards, “splitting arguments with a forked tongue.” Like human beings, all but the greatest of them conceal their true names. In the lay Hasa’s Voyage, the dragons appear as formidable but feeling beings, whose anger at the invading human fleet is justified by their love of their own desolate domain. They address the hero:

Sail home to the houses of the sunrise, Hasa.

Leave to our wings the long winds of the west,

leave us the air-sea, the unknown, the utmost…


Queen Heru, called the Eagle, inherited the throne from her father, Denggemal of the House of Ilien. Her consort Aiman was of the House of Morred. When she had ruled thirty years she gave the crown to their son Maharion.

Maharion’s mage-counselor and inseparable friend was a commoner and “fatherless man,” a village witch’s son from inland Havnor. The most beloved hero of the Archipelago, his story is told in The Deed of Erreth-Akbe, which bards sing at the Long Dance of midsummer.

Erreth-Akbe’s gifts in magic became apparent when he was still a boy. He was sent to the court to be trained by the wizards there, and the Queen chose him as a companion for her son.

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Categories: Ursula K. Le Guin