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

Authors: Stephen R. Donaldson

Tags: #Fantasy

The 1st Chronicles of Thomas Covenant #2: The Illearth War (7 page)

BOOK: The 1st Chronicles of Thomas Covenant #2: The Illearth War
7.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“She was my wife,” he breathed. “She needed me She-she’ll never forgive me for doing this to her.”

He was so exhausted that he could no longer see Mhoram’s face. But as he ran out of consciousness, he felt the Lord’s unfaltering hold on his hand. Mhoram’s care comforted him, and he slept.

Then he hung under a broad sky of dreams, measurable only by the strides of stars. Out of the dim heavens, a succession of dark shapes seemed to hover and strike.

Like carrion, he was helpless to fend them off. But always a hand gripped his and consoled him. It anchored him until he returned to consciousness.

Without opening his eyes, he lay still and probed himself tentatively, as if he were testing buboes. He was enfolded from his chest down in soft clean sheets. And he could feel the fabric with his toes. The cold numbness of dead nerves was gone from them, warmed away by a healing glow which reached into the marrow of his bones.

The change in his fingers was even ‘more obvious. His right fist was knotted in the sheets. When he moved his fingers, he could feel the texture of the cloth with their tips. The grip on his left hand was so hard that he could feel the pulse in his knuckles.

But nerves do not regenerate-cannot

Damnation! he groaned. The sensation of touch prodded his heart like fear.

Involuntarily, he whispered, “No. No.” But his tone was full of futility.

“Ah, my friend,” Mhoram sighed, “your dreams have been full of such refusals.

But I do not understand them. I hear in your breathing that you have resisted your own healing. And the outcome is obscure to me. I cannot tell whether your denials have brought you to good or ill.”

Covenant looked up into Mhoram’s sympathetic face. The Lord still sat beside the bed; his iron-shod staff leaned against the wall within easy reach of his hand. But now there were no torches in the room. Sunlight poured through a large oriel beside the bed.

Mhoram’s gaze made Covenant acutely conscious of their clasped hands.

Carefully, he extricated his fingers. Then he propped himself up on his elbows, and asked how long he had been asleep. His rest after the shouting he had done in the Close made his voice rattle harshly in his throat.

“It is now early afternoon,” Mhoram replied. “The summoning was performed in the evening yesterday.”

“Have you been here-all that time?”

The Lord smiled. “No. During the night How shall I say it? I was called away.

High Lord Elena sat with you in my absence.” After a moment, he added, “She will speak with you this evening, if you are willing.” Covenant did not respond. The mention of Elena reawakened his outrage and fear at the act which had compelled him into the Land.

He thought of the summoning as her doing; it was her voice which had snatched him away from Joan. Joan! he wailed. To a cover his distress, he climbed out of bed, gathered up his clothes, and went in search of a place to wash himself.

In the next room, he found a stone basin and tub j connected to a series of balanced stone valves which allowed him to run water where he wanted it. He filled , the basin. When he put his hands into the water, its sharp chill thrilled the new vitality of his nerves. Angrily, he thrust his head down into the water, and did not raise it until the cold began to make the bones of his skull hurt. Then he went and stood dripping over a warm pot of graveling near the tub.

While the glow of the fire-stones dried him, he silenced the aching of his heart.

He was a leper, and knew down to the core of his skeleton the vital importance of recognizing facts. Joan was lost to him; that was a fact, like his disease, beyond any possibility of change. She would become angry when he did not speak to her, and would hang up, thinking that he had deliberately rebuffed her appeal, her proud, brave effort to bridge the loneliness between them. And he could do nothing about it. He was trapped in his delusion again. If he meant to survive, he could not afford the luxury of grieving over lost hopes. He was a leper; all his hopes were false. They were his enemies. They could kill him by blinding him to the lethal power of facts.

It was a fact that the Land was a delusion. It was a fact that he was trapped, caught in the web of his own weakness. His leprosy was a fact. He insisted on these things while he protested weakly to himself, Not I can’t stand it! But the cold water dried from his skin, and was replaced by the kind, earthy warmth of the graveling. Sensations ran excitedly up his limbs from his fingers and toes. With a wild, stubborn look as if he were battering his head against a wall, he gave himself a VSE.

Then he located a mirror of polished stone, and used it to inspect his forehead. No mark was there the hurtloam had erased his injury completely.

He called out, “Mhoram!” But his voice had an unwanted beseeching tone. To counter it, he began shoving himself into his clothes. When the Lord appeared in the doorway, Covenant did not meet his eyes. He pulled on his T-shirt and jeans, laced up his boots, then moved away to the third room of his suite.

There he found a door opening onto a balcony. With Mhoram behind him, he stepped out into the open air. At once, perspectives opened, and a spasm of vertigo clutched at him. The balcony hung halfway up the southern face of Revelstone-more than a thousand feet straight above the foothills which rested against the base of the mountain.

The depth of the fall seemed to gape unexpectedly under his feet. His fear of heights whirred in his ears; he flung his arms around the stone railing, clung to it, clutched it to his chest.

In a moment, the worst of the spasm passed. Mhoram asked him what was wrong, but he did not explain. Breathing deeply, he pushed himself erect, and stood with his back pressed against the reassuring stone of the Keep. From there, he took in the view.

As he remembered it, Revelstone filled a long wedge of the mountains which stood immediately to the west. It had been carved out of the mountain promontory by the Giants many centuries ago, in the time of Old Lord Damelon Giantfriend. Above the Keep was a plateau which went beyond it west and north, past Furl Falls for a distance of a league or two before rising up into the rugged Westron Mountains. The Falls were too far away to be seen, but in the distance

the White River angled away south and slightly east from its head in the pool of Furl Falls.

Beyond the river to the southwest, Covenant made out the open plains and hills that led toward Trothgard. In that direction, he saw no sign of cultivation or habitation; but eastward from him were ripe fields, stands of trees, streams, villages-all glowing under the sun as if they were smiling with health. Looking over them, he sensed that the season was early autumn. The sun stood in the southern sky, the air was not as warm as it seemed, and the breeze which blew gently up the face of Revelstone was flavored with the loamy lushness of fall.

The Land’s season-so different from the spring weather from which he had been wrenched away gave him a renewed sense of discrepancy, of stark and impossible translation. It reminded him of many things, but he forced himself to begin with the previous evening. Stiffly, he said, “Has it occurred to you that Foul probably let that poor Waynhim go just to get you to call me here?”

“Of course,” Mhoram replied. “That is the Despiser’s way. He intends you to be the means of our destruction.”

“Then why did you do it? Hellfire! You know how I feel about this-I told you often enough. I don’t want-I’m not going to be responsible for what happens to you.”

Lord Mhoram shrugged. “That is the paradox of white gold. Hope and despair run together for us. How could we refuse the risk? Without every aid which we can find or make for ourselves, we cannot meet Lord Foul’s might. We trust that at the last you will not turn your back on the Land.”

“You’ve had forty years to think about it. You ought to know by now how little I deserve or even want your trust.”

“Perhaps. Warmark Hile Troy argues much that way-though there is much about you that he does not know. He feels that faith in one who is so unwilling is folly. And he is not convinced that we will lose this war. He makes bold plans. But I have heard the Despiser laughing. For better or worse, I am seer and oracle for this Council. I hear-I approve the High Lord’s decision of summoning. For many reasons.

“Thomas Covenant, we have not spent our years in seclusion here, dreaming sweet dreams of peace while Lord Foul grows and moves against us. From your last moment in the Land to this day, we have striven to prepare our defense. Scouts and Lords have ridden the Land from end to end, drawing the people together, warning them, building what lore we have. I have braved the Shattered Hills, and fought on the mange of Hotash Slay-but of that I do not speak. I brought back knowledge of the Ravens.

Dukkha alone did not move us to summon you.”

Even in the direct beam of the sun, the word Ravens gave Covenant a chill he could not suppress. Remembering the other Waynhim he had seen, dead, with an iron spike through its heart-killed by a Raven-he asked, “What about them? What did you learn?”

“Much or little,” Mhoram sighed, “according to the uses of the knowledge. The importance of this lore cannot be mistaken-and yet its value eludes us.

“While you were last in the Land, we learned that the Ravens were still aboard-that like their master they had not been undone by the Ritual of Desecration, which Kevin Landwaster wreaked in his despair. Some knowledge of these beings had come to us through the old legends, the Lore of the First Ward, and the teachings of the Giants. We knew that they were named Sheol, Jehannum, and Herem, and that they lived without bodies, feeding upon the souls of others. When the Despiser was powerful enough to give them strength, they enslaved creatures or people by entering into their bodies, subduing their wills, and using the captured flesh to enact their master’s purposes. Disguised in forms not their own, they were well hidden, and so could gain trust among their foes. By that means, many brave defenders of the Land were lured to their deaths in the age of the Old Lords.

“But I have learned more. There near Foul’s Creche, I was beaten-badly overmastered. I fled through the Shattered Hills with only the staff of Variol my father between me and death, and could not prevent my foe from laying hands upon me. I had thought that I was in battle with a supreme loremaster of the ur-viles. But I learned-I learned otherwise.”,

Lord Mhoram stared unseeing into the depths of the sky, remembering with grim, concentrated eyes what had happened to him. After a moment, he continued: “It was a Raven I fought-a Raven in the flesh of an ur-vile. The touch of its hand taught me much.

In the oldest time-beyond the reach of our most hoary legends, even before the dim time of the coming of men to the Land, and the cruel felling of the One Forest-the Colossus of the Fall had both power and purpose. It stood on Landsdrop like a forbidding fist over the Lower Land, and with the might of the -‘ Forest denied a dark evil from the Upper Land.”

Abruptly, he broke into a slow song like a lament, a quiet declining hymn which told the story of the Colossus as the Lords had formerly known it, before the son of Variol had gained his new knowledge. In restrained sorrow over lost glory, the song described the Colossus of the Fall — the huge stone monolith, upraised in the semblance of a fist, which stood beside the waterfall where the River Landrider of the Plains of Ra became the Ruinwash of the Spoiled Plains.

Since a time that was ancient before Berek Lord

Fatherer lost half his hand, the Colossus had stood in -lone somber guard above the cliff of Landsdrop; and the oldest hinted legends of the Old Lords told of a ‘ time, during the ages of the One Forest’s dominion in the Land, when that towering fist had held the power to forbid the shadow of Despite-held it, and did not wane until the felling of the Forest by that unsuspected enemy, man, had cut too deeply to be halted. But then, outraged and weakened by the slaughter of the trees, the Colossus had unclasped its interdict, and let the shadow free. From that time, from the moment of that offended capitulation, the Earth had slowly lost the power or the will or the chance to defend itself.

So the burden of resisting the Despiser had fallen to a race which had brought the shadow upon itself, and the Earth lay under the outcome.

“But it was not Despite which the Colossus resisted,” Mhoram resumed when his song was done. “Despite was the bane of men. It came with them into the Land from the cold anguish of the north, and from the hungry kingdom of the south. No, the Colossus of the Fall forbade another foe-three tree- and soil-hating brothers who were old in the Spoiled Plains before Lord Foul first cast his shadow there. They were triplets, the spawn of one birth from the womb of their long forgotten mother, and their names were samadhi, moksha, and turiya. They hated the Earth and all its growing things, just as Lord Foul hates all life and love. When the Colossus eased its interdict, they came to the Upper Land, and in their lust for ravage and dismay fell swiftly under the mastery of the Despiser. From that time, they have been his highest servants. They have performed treachery for him when he could not show his hand, and have fought for him when he would not lead his armies.

“It was samadhi, now named Sheol, who mastered the heart of Berek’s liege-Sheol who slaughtered the champions of the Land, and drove Berek, halfunhanded and alone, to his extremity on the slopes of Mount Thunder. It was turiya and moksha, Herem and Jehannum, who lured the powerful and austere Demondim to their breeding dens, and to the spawning of the ur-viles. Now the three are united with Lord Foul again-united, and clamoring for the decimation of the Land. But alas-alas for my ignorance and weakness. I cannot foresee what they will do. I can hear their voices, loud with lust for the ripping of trees and the scorching of soil, but their intent eludes me. The Land is in such peril because its servants are weak.”

The rough eloquence of Mhoram’s tone carried Covenant along, and under its spell the brilliant sunlight seemed to darken in his eyes. Grimly, unwillingly, he caught a sense of the looming and cruel ill which crept up behind the Land’s spirit, defying its inadequate defenders. And when he looked at himself, he saw nothing but omens of futility. Other people who s had protested their weakness to him had suffered terribly at the hands of his own irreducible and immedicable impotence. Harshly-more harshly than he intended-he asked, “Why?”

BOOK: The 1st Chronicles of Thomas Covenant #2: The Illearth War
7.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Memory by K. J. Parker
Men by Marie Darrieussecq
City of the Dead by T. L. Higley
Comedy of Erinn by Bonaduce, Celia
What We Lost in the Dark by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Trigger Snappy by Camilla Chafer
Split Second by Sophie McKenzie