Read The 1st Chronicles of Thomas Covenant #2: The Illearth War Online

Authors: Stephen R. Donaldson

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The 1st Chronicles of Thomas Covenant #2: The Illearth War (6 page)

BOOK: The 1st Chronicles of Thomas Covenant #2: The Illearth War
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“But there have been dim and dark foreboding movements throughout the Land.

Kresh from the east and ur-viles from Mount Thunder, griffins and other dire creatures from Sarangrave Flat, Cavewights, little-known denizens of Lifeswallower, the Great Swamp-we have heard them all wending toward the Spoiled Plains and Foul’s Creche.

They disappear beyond the Shattered Hills, and do not return. We need no great wisdom to teach us that the Despiser prepares his army. But still we have lacked clear knowledge.

Then at last knowledge came to us. During the summer, our scouts captured this creature, this broken remnant of a Waynhim, on the western edges of Grirrimerdhore Forest. It was brought here so that we might try to gain tidings from it.”

“So you tortured it to find out what it knows.” Covenant’s eyes were sticky with blood, and he kept them shut, giving himself up to useless rage and mist.

“Do you believe that of us?” The High Lord sounded hurt. “No. We are not Despisers. We would not so betray the Land. We have treated the Waynhim as gently as we could without releasing it. It has told us willingly all that we would know. Now it begs us to kill it. Unbeliever, hear me. This is Lord Foul’s handiwork. He possesses the Illearth Stone. This is the work of that bane.”

Through the grayness in his mind, Covenant heard the doors open again. Someone came down the stairs and whispered with Lord Mhoram. Then Mhoram said, “High Lord, hurtloam has been brought for the Unbeliever. I fear that his wound extends far beyond this simple cut. There is other ill at work in him. He must be tended without delay.”

“Yes, at once,” High Lord Elena responded promptly. “We must do all that we can to heal him.”

With a steady stride, Mhoram came toward Covenant.

At the thought of hurtloam, Covenant pushed himself away from the wall, rubbed the caked blood out of his eyes. He saw Mhoram holding a small stoneware bowl containing a light mud spangled with gold gleams that seemed to throb in the glow of the Close.

“Keep that stuff away from me,” he whispered.

Mhoram was taken aback. “This is hurtloam, ur-Lord. It is the healing soil of the Earth. You will be renewed by it.”

“I know what it does!” Covenant’s voice was raw from all the shouting he had done, and it sounded spectral and empty, like the creaking of a derelict. “I’ve had it before. You put that stuff on my head, and before you know it the feeling comes back into my fingers and toes, and I go around ra — ” He barely caught himself. “Hurting people.”

He heard Elena. say softly, “I know,” but he disregarded her.

“That’s the real lie,” he snarled at the bowl, “that stuff there. That’s what makes me feel so healthy I can’t stand it.” He took a long breath, then said fervidly, “I don’t want it.”

Mhoram held Covenant in a gaze intense with questions. And when Covenant did not waver, the Lord asked in a low voice, a tone of amazement, “My friend, do you wish to die?”

“Use it on that poor devil over there,” Covenant replied dully. “It’s got a right to it.”

Without bending the straitness of his look, Mhoram said, “We have made the attempt. You have known us, Unbeliever. You know that we could not refuse the plea of such distress. But the Waynhim is beyond all our succor. Our Healers cannot approach its inner wound. And it nearly died at the touch of hurtloam,”

Still Covenant did not relent.

Behind him, High Lord Elena continued what Mhoram had been saying. “Even the Staff of Law cannot match the power which has warped this Waynhim. Such is our plight, ur-Lord. The Illearth Stone surpasses us.

“This Waynhim has told us much. Much that was obscure is now clear. Its name was dharmakshetra, which in the Waynhim tongue means, ‘to brave the enemy.’ Now it calls itself dukkha-‘victim.’ Because its people desired knowledge of the Despiser’s plotting, it went to Foul’s Creche. There it was captured, and-and wronged-and then set free-as a warning to its people, I think. It has told us much.

“Unbeliever, we know that when you first delivered the Despiser’s prophecy to High Lord Prothall son of Dwillian and the Council of Lords forty years ago, many things were not understood concerning the Gray Slayer’s intent. Why did he warn the Lords that Drool Rockworm had found the Staff of Law under- Mount Thunder? Why did he seek to prepare us for our fate? Why did he aid Drool’s quest for dark might, and then betray the Cavewight? These questions are now answered. Drool possessed the Stag, and with it unearthed the buried bane, the Illearth Stone. By reason of these powers, the Despiser was at Drool’s mercy while the Cavewight lived.

“But with Lord Mhoram and High Lord Prothall, you retrieved the Staff and brought the threat of Drool Rockworm to an end. Thus the Stone fell into Lord Foul’s hands. He knew that the Stone, joined with his own lore and power, is a greater strength than the Staff of Law. And he knew that we are no masters for even that little might which we possess.

“In forty years, we have not rested. We have spoken to all the people of the Land.

The Loresraat has grown greatly, giving us warriors and Lorewardens and Lords to meet our need. The rhadhamaerl and lillianrill have labored to the utmost. And all have given themselves to the study of the Two Wards, and of the Staff. Gains have been made.

Trothgard, where the Lords swore their promise of healing to the Land, has flowered, and we have made there works undreamed by our forefathers. The Staff meets many needs.

But the heart of our failure remains.

“For all our lore, all our knowledge of the Staff and the Earthpower, comes to us from Kevin, High Lord of the Old Lords. And he was defeated-yes, and worse than defeated. Now we face the same foe, made greatly stronger by the Illearth Stone. And we have recovered only Two of the Seven Wards in which

Kevin left his Lore. And at their core these Two are beyond us. Some weakness of wisdom or incapacity of spirit prevents our grasp of their mystery. Yet without mastery of the Two we cannot gain the rest, for Kevin, wise to the hazards of unready knowledge and power, hid his Wards each in its turn, so that the comprehension of one would lead to the discovery of the next.

“For forty years, this failure has clung to us. And now we have learned that Lord Foul, too, has not been idle. We have learned from this Waynhim. The Land’s enemy has grown power and armies until the region beyond the Shattered Hills teems with warped life-myriads of poor bent creatures like dukkha, held by the power of the Stone in soul chattelry to Lord Foul. He has built for himself a force more ill than any the Land has known, more fell than any we can hope to conquer. He has gathered his three Ravers, the servants of his right hand, to command his armies. It may be that his hordes are already afoot against us.

“So it is that we have called you, ur-Lord Covenant, Unbeliever and white gold wielder. You are our hope at the last. We summoned you, though we knew it might carry a cost hard for you to bear. We have sworn our service to the Land, and could not do otherwise. Thomas Covenant! Will you not help us?”

During her speech, her voice had grown in power and eloquence until she was almost singing. Covenant could not refuse to listen. Her tone reached into him, and made vivid all his memories of the Land’s beauty. He recalled the bewitching Dance of the Celebration of Spring, and the lush, heart-soothing health of the Andelainian Hills, the uneasy eldritch gleaming of Morinmoss, the stern swift Plains of Ra and the rampant Ranyhyn, the great horses. And he remembered what it was like to feel, to have lively nerves in his fingers, capable of touching grass and stone. The poignancy of it made his heart ache.

“Your hope misleads you,” he groaned into the stillness after Elena’s appeal. “I don’t know anything about power. It has something to do with life, and I’m as good as dead. Or what do you think life is? Life is feeling. I’ve lost that. I’m a leper.”

He might have started to rage again, but a new voice cut sharply through his protest. “Then why don’t you throw away your ring?”

He turned, and found himself confronting the warrior who had been sitting at the end of the Lords’ table. The man had come down to the bottom of the Close, where he faced Covenant with his hands on his hips. To Covenant’s surprise, the man’s eyes were covered with dark, wraparound sunglasses. Behind the glasses, his head moved alertly, as if he were studying everything. He seemed to possess a secret. Without the support of his eyes, the slight smile on his lips looked private and unfathomable, like an utterance in an alien tongue.

Covenant grasped the inconsistency of the sunglasses-they. were oddly out of place in the Close but he was too stung by the speaker’s question to stop for discrepancies. Stiffly, he answered, “It’s my wedding ring.”

The man shrugged away this reply. “You talk about your wife in the past tense.

You’re separated-or divorced. You can’t have your life both ways now. Either get rid of the ring and stick to whatever it is you seem to think is real, or get rid of her and do your duty here.”

“My duty?” The affront of the man’s judgment gave Covenant the energy to object. “How do you know what my duty is?”

“My name is Hile Troy.” The man gave a slight bow. “I’m the Warmark of the Warward of Lord’s Keep. My job is to figure out how to meet Foul’s army.”

“Rile Troy,” added Elena slowly, almost hesitantly, “comes from your world, Unbeliever.”

What?

The High Lord’s assertion seemed to snatch the ground from under Covenant. The enervation in his bones suddenly swamped him. Vertigo came over him as if he were on the edge of a cliff, and he stumbled.

Mhoram caught him as he dropped heavily to his knees.

His movement distracted the Bloodguard holding dukkha. Before they could react, the Waynhim broke away from them and sprang at Covenant, screaming with fury.

To save Covenant, Mhoram spun and blocked dukkha’s charge with his staff. The next instant, the Bloodguard recaptured the Waynhim. But Covenant did not see it. When Mhoram turned away from him, he fell on his face beside the graveling pit. He felt weak, overburdened with despair, as if he were bleeding to death. For a few moments, he lost consciousness.

He awoke to the touch of cool relief on his forehead. His head was in Mhoram’s lap, and the Lord was gently spreading hurtloam over his cut brow.

He could already feel the effect of the mud. A soothing caress spread from his forehead into the muscles of his face, relaxing the tension which gripped his features.

Drowsiness welled up in him as the healing earth unfettered him, anodyned the restless bondage of his spirit. Though his weariness, he saw the trap of his delusion winding about him. With as much supplication as he could put into his voice, he said to Mhoram,

“Get me out of here.”

The Lord seemed to understand. He nodded firmly, then got to his feet, lifting Covenant with him. Without a word to the Council, he turned his back and went up the stairs, half carrying Covenant out of the Close.

FOUR: “May Be Lost”

COVENANT hardly heard the shutting of the great doors behind him; he was hardly conscious of his surroundings at all. His attention was focused inward on the hurtloam’s progress. It seemed to spread around his skull and down his flesh, soothing as it radiated within him. It made his skin tingle, and the sensation soon covered his face and neck. He scrutinized it as if it were a poison he had taken to end his life.

When the touch of the loam reached past the base of his throat into his chest, he stumbled, and could not recover. Bannor took his other arm. The Lord and the Bloodguard carried him on through the stone city, working generally upward through the interlocking levels of Lord’s Keep. At last, they brought him to a spacious suite of living quarters. Gently, they bore him into the bedroom, laid him on the bed, and undressed him enough to make him comfortable.

Then Mhoram bent close to him and said reassuringly, “,This is the power of the hurtloam. When it works upon a dire wound, it brings a deep sleep to speed healing. You will rest well now. You have done without rest too long.” He and Bannor turned to go.

But Covenant could feel the cool, tingling touch near his heart. Weakly, he called Mhoram back. He was full of dread; he could not bear to be alone. Without caring what he said-seeking only to keep Mhoram near him-he asked, “Why did that-dukkha attack me?”

Again, Lord Mhoram appeared to understand. He brought a wooden stool near the head of the bed, and seated himself there. In a quiet, steady voice, he said,

“That is a searching question, my friend. Dukkha has been tormented out of all recognition, and I can only guess at the sore impulses which drive it. But you must remember that it is a Waynhim. For many generations after the Desecration, when the new Lords began their work at Revelstone, the Waynhim served the Land-not out of allegiance to the Lords, but rather out of their desire to expiate to the Land for the dangerous works and dark lore of the ur-viles. Such a creature still lives, somewhere far within dukkha. Despite what has been done to it-even if its soul has been enslaved by the power of the Stone, so that now it serves the Despiser-it still remembers what it was, and hates what it is. That is Lord Foul’s way in all things-to force his foes to become that which they most hate, and to destroy that which they, most love.

“My friend, this is not pleasant to say. But it is in my heart that dukkha attacked you because you refuse to aid the Land. The Waynhim knows the might you possess-it is of the Demondim, and in all likelihood comprehends more of the uses and power of white gold than any Lord. Now it is in pain too great to allow it to understand you. The last remnant of itself saw dimly that you-that you refuse. For a moment, it became its former self enough to act.

“Ah, ur-Lord. You have said that the Land is a dream for you-and that you fear to be made mad But madness is not the only danger in dreams. There is also the danger that something may be lost which can never be regained.”

Covenant sighed. The Lord had given him an explanation he could grasp. But when Mhoram’s steady voice stopped, he felt how much he needed it-how close he was to the brink of some precipice which appalled him. He reached a hand outward, into the void around him, and felt his fingers clasped firmly in Mhoram’s. He tried once more to make himself understood.

BOOK: The 1st Chronicles of Thomas Covenant #2: The Illearth War
13.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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