Fatal Revenant (Last Chronicles Series #2)by Stephen R. Donaldson
In the most eagerly-awaited literary sequel in years, Linden Avery, who loved Thomas Covenant and watched him die at the end of Book Six, has returned to the Land in search of her kidnapped son, Jeremiah. As Fatal/i>/i>
The instant New York Times bestseller, and the return of the Thomas Covenant series? ?a landmark fantasy saga.?(Entertainment Weekly)
In the most eagerly-awaited literary sequel in years, Linden Avery, who loved Thomas Covenant and watched him die at the end of Book Six, has returned to the Land in search of her kidnapped son, Jeremiah. As Fatal Revenant begins, Linden watches from the battlements of Revelstone while the impossible happens?riding ahead of the hordes attacking Revelstone are Jeremiah and Covenant himself, apparently very much alive. But Covenant is strangely changed?
This thought-provoking sequel to 2004's The Runes of Earthopens with a bang. Watching from the battlements of Revelstone, a keep besieged by the power-hungry Demondim, battle-weary healer Linden Avery can see both Thomas Covenant and her son, Jeremiah, riding ahead of a wave of pursuers-even though Covenant, her former lover, is dead and mind-damaged Jeremiah has been captured by Lord Foul the Despiser. Odder still, both men treat her almost disparagingly when they reach the keep, forbidding her to touch them and showing no signs of affection. Soon it becomes clear that nothing is what it seems. Avery's fight to save the Land from Lord Foul will take her to the Land's past through the worst kind of betrayal and across its length, but the worst enemy she faces is her self-doubt. Difficult but worthwhile, this complicated and emotional continuation of the Thomas Covenant saga is exactly what Donaldson's fans have been hoping for. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever Series , #8
- Edition description:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.90(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.40(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR THE RUNES OF THE EARTH
“[A] landmark fantasy saga.”
“A reawakening of a classic fantasy saga.”
“A trilogy of remarkable scope and sophistication.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Startlingly original antiheroic fantasy resonating with echoes of both Tolkien and Philip K. Dick.”
“An epic with page-turning intrigue.”
—Detroit Free Press
“Impressive . . . filled with splendid inventions.”
“The most important and original work of epic fantasy after Tolkien . . . rich in paradox, metaphor, and symbolism . . . Donaldson continues his explorations into the psyches of his characters, as well as themes of estrangement, despair, guilt, and responsibility. Intricately plotted . . . Donaldson’s writing remains one of the most original and intellectually challenging works to have graced contemporary epic fantasy.”
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
LORD FOUL’S BANE
THE ILLEARTH WAR
THE POWER THAT PRESERVES
THE WOUNDED LAND
THE ONE TREE
WHITE GOLD WIELDER
THE RUNES OF THE EARTH
AGAINST ALL THINGS ENDING
The Last Chronicles of
Stephen R. Donaldson
As this saga goes along, I have more and more people to thank. Members of Kevin’s Watch have been generous and diligent. John Eccker has demonstrated once again that he is indispensable: a friend, a gentleman, and an unfailing aid. Robyn Butler has contributed more than I had any right to ask. And Jennifer Christensen, the notorious Cameraman Jenn, has been a “power reader” of the most useful sort.
What Has Gone Before
As a young man—a novelist, happily married, with an infant son, Roger—Thomas Covenant is inexplicably stricken with leprosy. In a leprosarium, where the last two fingers of his right hand are amputated, he learns that leprosy is incurable. As it progresses, it produces numbness, often killing its victims by leaving them unaware of injuries which have become infected. Medications arrest the progress of Covenant’s affliction; but he is taught that his only real hope of survival lies in protecting himself obsessively from any form of damage.
Horrified by his illness, he returns to his home on Haven Farm, where his wife, Joan, has abandoned and divorced him in order to protect their son from exposure.
Other blows to his emotional stability follow. Fearing the mysterious nature of his illness, the people around him cast him in the traditional role of the leper: a pariah, outcast and unclean. In addition, he discovers that he has become impotent—and unable to write. Grimly he struggles to go on living; but as the pressure of his loneliness mounts, he begins to experience prolonged episodes of unconsciousness, during which he appears to have adventures in a magical realm known only as “the Land.”
In the Land, physical and emotional health are tangible forces, made palpable by an eldritch energy called Earthpower. Because vitality and beauty are concrete qualities, as plain to the senses as size and color, the well-being of the physical world has become the guiding precept of the Land’s people. When Covenant first encounters them, in Lord Foul’s Bane, they greet him as the reincarnation of an ancient hero, Berek Halfhand, because he has lost half of his hand. Also he possesses a white gold ring—his wedding band—which they know to be a talisman of great power, able to wield “the wild magic that destroys peace.”
Shortly after he first appears in the Land, Covenant’s leprosy and impotence disappear, cured by Earthpower; and this, he knows, is impossible. And the mere idea that he possesses some form of magical power threatens his ability to sustain the stubborn disciplines on which his survival depends. Therefore he chooses to interpret his translation to the Land as a dream or hallucination. He responds to his welcome and health with Unbelief: the harsh, dogged assertion that the Land is not real.
Because of his Unbelief, his initial reactions to the people and wonders of the Land are at best dismissive, at worst despicable (at one point, overwhelmed by sensations he can neither accept nor control, he rapes Lena, a young girl who has befriended him). However, the people of the Land decline to punish or reject him for his actions: as Berek Halfhand reborn, he is beyond judgment. And there is an ancient prophecy concerning the white gold wielder: “With the one word of truth or treachery, / he will save or damn the Earth.” Covenant’s new companions in the Land know that they cannot make his choices for him. They can only hope that he will eventually follow Berek’s example by saving the Land.
At first, such forbearance conveys little to Covenant, although he cannot deny that he is moved by the ineffable beauties of this world, as well as by the kindness of its people. During his travels, however, first with Lena’s mother, Atiaran, then with the Giant Saltheart Foamfollower, and finally with the Lords of Revelstone, he learns enough of the history of the Land to understand what is at stake.
The Land has an ancient enemy, Lord Foul the Despiser, who dreams of destroying the Arch of Time—thereby destroying not only the Land but the entire Earth—in order to escape what he perceives to be a prison. Against this evil stands the Council of Lords, men and women who have dedicated their lives to nurturing the health of the Land, to studying the lost lore and wisdom of Berek and his long-dead descendants, and to opposing Despite.
Unfortunately these Lords possess only a small fraction of the power of their predecessors. The Staff of Law, Berek’s primary instrument of Earthpower, has been hidden from them. And the lore of Law and Earthpower seems inherently inadequate to defeat Lord Foul. Wild magic rather than Law is the crux of Time. Without it, the Arch cannot be destroyed; but neither can it be defended.
Hence both the Lords and the Despiser seek Thomas Covenant’s allegiance. The Lords attempt to win his aid with courage and compassion: the Despiser, through manipulation. And in this contest Covenant’s Unbelief appears to place him on the side of the Despiser.
Nevertheless Covenant cannot deny his response to the Land’s apparent transcendence. And as he is granted more and more friendship by the Lords and denizens of the Land, he finds that he is now dismayed by his earlier violence toward Lena. He faces an insoluble conundrum: the Land cannot be real, yet it feels entirely real. His heart responds to its loveliness—and that response has the potential to kill him because it undermines his necessary habits of wariness and hopelessness.
Trapped within this contradiction, he attempts to escape through a series of unspoken bargains. In Lord Foul’s Bane, he grants the Lords his passive support, hoping that this will enable him to avoid accepting the possibilities—the responsibilities—of his white gold ring. And at first his hopes are realized. The Lords find the lost Staff of Law; their immediate enemy, one of Lord Foul’s servants, is defeated; and Covenant himself is released from the Land.
Back in his real world, however, he discovers that he has in fact gained nothing. Indeed, his plight has worsened: he remains a leper, and his experience of friendship and magic in the Land has weakened his ability to endure his outcast loneliness on Haven Farm. When he is translated to the Land a second time, in The Illearth War, he knows that he must devise a new bargain.
During his absence, the Land’s plight has worsened as well. Decades have passed in the Land; and in that time Lord Foul has gained and mastered the Illearth Stone, an ancient bane of staggering power. With it, the Despiser has created an army which now marches to overwhelm the Lords of Revelstone. Although the Lords hold the Staff of Law, they lack sufficient might to withstand the evil horde. They need the strength of wild magic.
Other developments also tighten the grip of Covenant’s dilemma. The Council is now led by High Lord Elena, his daughter by his rape of Lena. With her, he begins to experience the real consequences of his violence: it is clear to him—if to no one else—that she is not completely sane. In addition, the army of the Lords is led by a man named Hile Troy, who appears to have come to the Land from Covenant’s own world. Troy’s presence radically erodes Covenant’s self-protective Unbelief.
Now more than ever Covenant feels that he must resolve his conundrum. Again he posits a bargain. He will give the defenders of the Land his active support. Specifically, he will join Elena on a quest to discover the source of EarthBlood, the most concentrated form of Earthpower. But in return he will continue to deny that his ring holds any power. He will accept no responsibility for the ultimate fate of the Land.
This time, however, the results of his bargain are disastrous. Using the Illearth Stone, Lord Foul slaughters the Giants of Seareach. Hile Troy is only able to defeat the Despiser’s army by giving his soul to Caerroil Wildwood, the Forestal of Garroting Deep. And Covenant’s help enables Elena to find the EarthBlood, which she uses to sever one of the necessary boundaries between life and death. Her instability leads her to think that the dead will have more power against Lord Foul than the living. But she is terribly wrong; and in the resulting catastrophe both she and the Staff of Law are lost.
Covenant returns to his real world knowing that his attempts to resolve his dilemma have served the Despiser.
Nearly broken by his failures, he visits the Land once more in The Power That Preserves, where he discovers the full cost of his actions. Dead, his daughter now serves Lord Foul, using the Staff of Law to wreak havoc. Her mother, Lena, has lost her mind. And the defenders of the Land are besieged by an army too vast and powerful to be defeated.
Covenant still has no solution to his conundrum: only wild magic can save the Land—and he cannot afford to accept its reality. However, sickened at heart by Lena’s madness, and by the imminent ruin of the Land, he resolves to confront the Despiser himself. He has no hope of defeating Lord Foul, but he would rather sacrifice himself for the sake of a magical, but unreal, place than preserve his outcast life in his real world.
Before he can reach the Despiser, however, he must first face dead Elena and the Staff of Law. He cannot oppose her; yet she defeats herself when her attack on him draws an overwhelming response from his ring—a response which also destroys the Staff.
Accompanied only by his old friend, the Giant Saltheart Foamfollower, Covenant finally gains his confrontation with Lord Foul and the Illearth Stone. Facing the full force of the Despiser’s savagery and malice, he at last finds the solution to his conundrum, “the eye of the paradox”: the point of balance between accepting that the Land is real and insisting that it is not. On that basis, he is able to combat Lord Foul by using the dire might of the Illearth Stone to trigger the wild magic of his ring. With that power, he shatters both the Stone and Lord Foul’s home, thereby ending the threat of the Despiser’s evil.
When he returns to his own world for the last time, he learns that his newfound balance benefits him there as well. He knows now that the reality or unreality of the Land is less important than his love for it; and that knowledge gives him the strength to face his life as a pariah without fear or bitterness.
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
For ten years after the events of The Power That Preserves, Covenant lives alone on Haven Farm, writing novels. He is still an outcast, but he has one friend, Dr. Julius Berenford. Then, however, two damaged women enter his life.
His ex-wife, Joan, returns to him, violently insane. Leaving Roger with her parents, she has spent some time in a commune which has dedicated itself to the service of Despite, and which has chosen Covenant to be the victim of its evil. Hoping to spare anyone else the hazards of involvement, Covenant attempts to care for Joan alone.
When Covenant refuses aid, Dr. Berenford enlists Dr. Linden Avery, a young physician whom he has recently hired. Like Joan, she has been badly hurt, although in entirely different ways. As a young girl, she was locked in a room with her father while he committed suicide. And as a teenager, she killed her mother, an act of euthanasia to which she felt compelled by her mother’s illness and pain. Loathing death, Linden has become a doctor in a haunted attempt to erase her past.
At Dr. Berenford’s urging, she intrudes on Covenant’s treatment of his ex-wife. When members of Joan’s commune attack Haven Farm, seeking Covenant’s death, Linden attempts to intervene, but she is struck down before she can save him. As a result, she accompanies him when he is returned to the Land.
During Covenant’s absence, several thousand years have passed, and the Despiser has regained his power. As before, he seeks to use Covenant’s wild magic in order to break the Arch of Time and escape his prison. In The Wounded Land, however, Covenant and Linden soon learn that Lord Foul has fundamentally altered his methods. Instead of relying on armies and warfare to goad Covenant, the Despiser has devised an attack on the natural Law which gives the Land its beauty and health.
The overt form of this attack is the Sunbane, a malefic corona around the sun which produces extravagant surges of fertility, rain, drought, and pestilence in mad succession. So great is the Sunbane’s power and destructiveness that it has come to dominate all life in the Land. Yet the Sunbane is not what it appears to be. And its organic virulence serves primarily to mask Lord Foul’s deeper manipulations.
He has spent centuries corrupting the Council of Lords. That group now rules over the Land as the Clave; and it is led by a Raver, one of the Despiser’s most ancient and potent servants. The Clave extracts blood from the people of the Land to feed the Banefire, an enormous blaze which purportedly hinders the Sunbane, but which actually increases it.
However, the hidden purpose of the Clave and the Banefire is to inspire from Covenant an excessive exertion of wild magic. And toward that end, another Raver afflicts Covenant with a venom intended to cripple his control over his power. When the venom has done its work, Covenant will be unable to defend the Land without unleashing so much force that he destroys the Arch.
As for Linden Avery, Lord Foul intends to use her loathing of death against her. She alone is gifted or cursed with the health-sense which once informed and guided all the people of the Land by enabling them to perceive physical and emotional health directly. For that reason, she is uniquely vulnerable to the malevolence of the Sunbane, as well as to the insatiable malice of the Ravers. The manifest evil into which she has been plunged threatens the core of her identity.
Linden’s health-sense accentuates her potential as a healer. However, it also gives her the capacity to possess other people; to reach so deeply into them that she can control their actions. By this means, Lord Foul intends to cripple her morally: he seeks to transform her into a woman who will possess Covenant in order to misuse his power. Thus she will give the Despiser what he wants even if Covenant does not.
And if those ploys fail, Lord Foul has other stratagems in place to achieve his ends.
Horrified in their separate ways by what has been done to the Land, Covenant and Linden wish to confront the Clave in Revelstone; but on their own, they cannot survive the complex perils of the Sunbane. Fortunately they gain the help of two villagers, Sunder and Hollian. Sunder and Hollian have lived with the Sunbane all their lives, and their experience enables Covenant and Linden to avoid ruin as they travel.
But Linden, Sunder, and Hollian are separated from Covenant near a region known as Andelain, captured by the Clave while he enters Andelain alone. It was once the most beautiful and Earthpowerful place in the Land; and he now discovers that it alone remains intact, defended from the Sunbane by the last Forestal, Caer-Caveral, who was formerly Hile Troy. There Covenant encounters his Dead, the spectres of his long-gone friends. They offer him advice and guidance for the struggle ahead. And they give him a gift: a strange ebony creature named Vain, an artificial being created for a hidden purpose by ur-viles, former servants of the Despiser.
Aided by Waynhim, benign relatives—and ancient enemies—of the ur-viles, Covenant hastens toward Revelstone to rescue his friends. When he encounters the Clave, he learns the cruelest secret of the Sunbane: it was made possible by his destruction of the Staff of Law thousands of years ago. Desperate to undo the harm which he has unwittingly caused, he risks wild magic in order to free Linden, Sunder, and Hollian, as well as a number of Haruchai, powerful warriors who at one time served the Council of Lords.
With his friends, Vain, and a small group of Haruchai, Covenant sets out to locate the One Tree, the wood from which Berek originally fashioned the Staff of Law. Covenant hopes to devise a new Staff with which to oppose the Clave and the Sunbane.
Traveling eastward, toward the Sunbirth Sea, Covenant and his companions encounter a party of Giants, seafaring beings from the homeland of the lost Giants of Seareach. One of them, Cable Seadreamer, has had a vision of a terrible threat to the Earth, and the Giants have sent out a Search to discover the danger.
Convinced that this threat is the Sunbane, Covenant persuades the Search to help him find the One Tree; and in The One Tree, Covenant, Linden, Vain, and several Haruchai set sail aboard the Giantship Starfare’s Gem, leaving Sunder and Hollian to rally the people of the Land against the Clave.
The quest for the One Tree takes Covenant and Linden first to the land of the Elohim, cryptic beings of pure Earthpower who appear to understand and perhaps control the destiny of the Earth. The Elohim agree to reveal the location of the One Tree, but they exact a price: they cripple Covenant’s mind, enclosing his consciousness in a kind of stasis, purportedly to protect the Earth from his growing power, but in fact to prevent him from carrying out Vain’s unnamed purpose. Guided now by Linden’s determination rather than Covenant’s, the Search sets sail for the Isle of the One Tree.
Unexpectedly, however, they are joined by one of the Elohim, Findail, who has been Appointed to bear the consequences if Vain’s purpose does not fail.
Linden soon finds that she is unable to free Covenant’s mind without possessing him, which she fears to do, knowing that she may unleash his power. When events force her to a decision, however, she succeeds at restoring his consciousness—much to Findail’s dismay.
At last, Starfare’s Gem reaches the Isle of the One Tree, where one of the Haruchai, Brinn, succeeds at replacing the Tree’s Guardian. But when Covenant, Linden, and their companions approach their goal, they learn that they have been misled by the Despiser—and by the Elohim. Covenant’s attempt to obtain wood for a new Staff of Law begins to rouse the Worm of the World’s End. Once awakened, the Worm will accomplish Lord Foul’s release from Time.
At the cost of his own life, Seadreamer succeeds at making Linden aware of the true danger. She in turn is able to forestall Covenant. Nevertheless the Worm has been disturbed, and its restlessness forces the Search to flee as the Isle sinks into the sea, taking the One Tree beyond reach.
Defeated, the Search sets course for the Land in White Gold Wielder. Covenant now believes that he has no alternative except to confront the Clave directly, to quench the Banefire, and then to battle the Despiser; and Linden is determined to aid him, in part because she has come to love him, and in part because she fears his unchecked wild magic.
With great difficulty, they eventually reach Revelstone, where they are rejoined by Sunder, Hollian, and several Haruchai. Together the Land’s few defenders give battle to the Clave. After a fierce struggle, the companions corner the Raver which commands the Clave. There Seadreamer’s brother, Grimmand Honninscrave, sacrifices his life in order to make possible the “rending” of the Raver. Then Covenant flings himself into the Banefire, using its dark theurgy to transform the venom in his veins so that he can quench the Banefire without threatening the Arch. The Sunbane remains, but its evil no longer grows.
When the Clave has been dispersed, and Revelstone has been cleansed, Covenant and Linden turn toward Mount Thunder, where they believe that they will find the Despiser. As they travel, still followed by Vain and Findail, Linden’s fears mount. She realizes that Covenant does not mean to fight Lord Foul. That contest, Covenant believes, will unleash enough force to destroy Time. Afraid that he will surrender to the Despiser, Linden prepares herself to possess him again, although she now understands that possession is a greater evil than death.
Yet when she and Covenant finally face Lord Foul, deep within the Wightwarrens of Mount Thunder, she is possessed herself by a Raver; and her efforts to win free of that dark spirit’s control leave her unwilling to interfere with Covenant’s choices. As she has feared, he does surrender, giving Lord Foul his ring. But when the Despiser turns wild magic against Covenant, slaying his body, the altered venom is burned out of Covenant’s spirit, and he becomes a being of pure wild magic, able to sustain the Arch despite the fury of Lord Foul’s attacks. Eventually the Despiser expends so much of his own essence that he effectively defeats himself; and Covenant’s ring falls to Linden.
Meanwhile, she has gleaned an understanding of Vain’s purpose—and of Findail’s Appointed role. Vain is pure structure: Findail, pure fluidity. Using Covenant’s ring, Linden melds the two beings into a new Staff of Law. Then, guided by her health-sense and her physician’s instincts, she reaches out with the restored power of Law to erase the Sunbane and begin the healing of the Land.
When she is done, Linden fades from the Land and returns to her own world, where she finds that Covenant is indeed dead. Yet she now holds his wedding ring. And when Dr. Berenford comes looking for her, she discovers that her time with Covenant and her own victories have transformed her. She is now truly Linden Avery the Chosen, as she was called in the Land: she can choose to live her old life in an entirely new way.
The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
In Book One, The Runes of the Earth, ten years have passed for Linden Avery; and in that time, her life has changed. She has adopted a son, Jeremiah, now fifteen, who was horribly damaged during her first translation to the Land, losing half of his right hand and—apparently—all ordinary use of his mind. He displays a peculiar genius: he is able to build astonishing structures out of such toys as Tinkertoys and Legos. But in every other way, he is entirely unreactive. Nonetheless Linden is devoted to him, giving him all of her frustrated love for Thomas Covenant and the Land.
In addition, she has become the Chief Medical Officer of a local psychiatric hospital, where Covenant’s ex-wife, Joan, is now a patient. For a time, Joan’s condition resembles a vegetative catatonia. But then she starts to punish herself, punching her temple incessantly in an apparent effort to bring about her own death. Only the restoration of her white gold wedding band calms her, although it does not altogether prevent her violence.
As the story begins, Roger Covenant has reached twenty-one, and has come to claim custody of his mother: custody which Linden refuses, in part because she has no legal authority to release Joan, and in part because she does not trust Roger. To this setback, Roger responds by kidnapping his mother at gunpoint. And when Linden goes to the hospital to deal with the aftermath of Roger’s attack, Roger takes Jeremiah as well.
Separately Linden and the police locate Roger, Joan, and Jeremiah. But while Linden confronts Roger, Joan is struck by lightning, and Roger opens fire on the police. In the ensuing fusillade, Linden, Roger, and—perhaps—Jeremiah are cut down; and Linden finds herself once again translated to the Land, where Lord Foul’s disembodied voice informs her that he has gained possession of her son.
As before, several thousand years have passed in the Land, and everything that Linden knew has changed. The Land has been healed, restored to its former loveliness and potency. Now, however, it is ruled by Masters, Haruchai who have dedicated themselves to the suppression of all magical knowledge and power. And their task is simplified by an eerie smog called Kevin’s Dirt, which blinds the people of the Land—as well as Linden—to the wealth of Earthpower all around them.
Yet the Land is threatened by perils which the Masters cannot defeat. Caesures—disruptions of time—wreak havoc, appearing and disappearing randomly as Joan releases insane blasts of wild magic. In addition, one of the Elohim has visited the Land, warning of dangers which include various monsters—and an unnamed halfhand. And the new Staff of Law that Linden created at the end of White Gold Wielder has been lost.
Desperate to locate and rescue Jeremiah, Linden soon acquires companions, both willing and reluctant: Anele, an ancient, Earthpowerful, and blind madman who claims that he is “the hope of the Land,” and whose insanity varies with the surfaces—stone, dirt, grass—on which he stands; Liand, a naïve young man from Mithil Stonedown; Stave, a Master who distrusts Linden and wishes to imprison Anele; a small group of ur-viles, artificial creatures that were at one time among Lord Foul’s most dire minions; and a band of Ramen, the human servants of the Ranyhyn, Earthpowerful horses that once inhabited the Land. Among the Ramen, Linden discovers that the Ranyhyn intend to aid her in her search for her son. And she meets Esmer, the tormented and powerful descendant of the lost Haruchai Cail and the corrupted Elohim Kastenessen.
From Esmer, Linden learns the nature of the caesures. She is told that the ur-viles intend to protect her from betrayal by Esmer. And she finds that Anele knows where the Staff of Law was lost thousands of years ago.
Because she has no power except Covenant’s ring, which she is only able to use with great difficulty—because she has no idea where Lord Foul has taken Jeremiah—and because she fears that she will not be able to travel the Land against the opposition of the Masters—Linden decides to risk entering a caesure. She hopes that it will take her into the past, to the time when her Staff of Law was lost, and that Anele will then be able to guide her to the Staff. Accompanied by Anele, Liand, Stave, the ur-viles, and three Ramen—the Manethrall Mahrtiir and his two Cords, Bhapa and Pahni—Linden rides into the temporal chaos of Joan’s power.
Thanks to the theurgy of the ur-viles, and to the guidance of the Ranyhyn, she and her companions emerge from the caesure more than three thousand years in their past, where they find that the Staff has been hidden and protected by a group of Waynhim. When she reclaims the Staff, however, she is betrayed by Esmer: using powers inherited from Kastenessen, he brings a horde of Demondim out of the Land’s deep past to assail her. The Demondim are monstrous beings, the makers of the ur-viles and Waynhim, and they attack with both their own fierce lore and the baleful energy of the Illearth Stone, which they siphon through a caesure from an era before Thomas Covenant’s first visit to the Land.
Fearing that the attack of the Demondim will damage the integrity of the Land’s history, Linden uses Covenant’s ring to create a caesure of her own. That disruption of time carries her, all of her companions, and the Demondim to her natural present. To her surprise, however, her caesure deposits her and everyone with her before the gates of Revelstone, the seat of the Masters. While the Masters fight a hopeless battle against the Demondim, she and her companions enter the ambiguous sanctuary of Lord’s Keep.
In Revelstone, Linden meets Handir, called the Voice of the Masters: their leader. And she encounters the Humbled, Galt, Branl, and Clyme: three Haruchai who have been maimed to resemble Thomas Covenant, and whose purpose is to embody the moral authority of the Masters. Cared for by a mysterious—and oddly comforting—woman named the Mahdoubt, Linden tries to imagine how she can persuade the Masters to aid her search for Jeremiah, and for the salvation of the Land. However, when she confronts Handir, the Humbled, and other Masters, all of her arguments are turned aside. Although the Masters are virtually helpless against the Demondim, they refuse to countenance Linden’s desires. Only Stave elects to stand with her: an act of defiance for which he is punished and spurned by his kinsmen.
The confrontation ends abruptly when news comes that riders are approaching Revelstone. From the battlements, Linden sees four Masters racing to reach Lord’s Keep ahead of the Demondim. With the Masters are Thomas Covenant and Jeremiah. And Jeremiah has emerged enthusiastically from his unreactive passivity.
“lest you prove unable to serve me”
In sunshine as vivid as revelation, Linden Avery knelt on the stone of a low-walled coign like a balcony high in the outward face of Revelstone’s watchtower.
Implacable as the Masters, Stave of the Haruchai stood beside her: he had led her here in spite of the violence with which his kinsmen had spurned him. And at the wall, the young Stonedownor, Liand, stared his surprised concern and incomprehension down at the riders fleeing before the onrush of the Demondim. Like Stave, if by design rather than by blows, he had abandoned his entire life for Linden’s sake; but unlike the former Master, he could not guess who rode with the Haruchai far below him. He could only gaze urgently at the struggling horses, and at the leashed seethe of theurgy among the monsters, and gape questions for which he seemed to have no words or no voice.
At that moment, however, neither Liand nor Stave impinged on Linden’s awareness. They were not real to her.
Near Liand, Manethrall Mahrtiir studied the exhausted mounts with Ramen concentration while his devoted Cords, Bhapa and Pahni, protected mad, blind Anele from the danger of a fall that he could not see.
With Linden, they had crossed hundreds of leagues—and many hundreds of years—to come to this place at this time. In her name, they had defied the repudiation of the Masters who ruled over the Land.
But none of her companions existed for her.
To the north lay the new fields which would feed Revelstone’s inhabitants. To the south, the foothills of the Keep’s promontory tumbled toward the White River. And from the southeast came clamoring the mass of the Demondim, vicious as a host of doom. The monsters appeared to melt and solidify from place to place as they pursued their prey: four horses at the limits of their strength, bearing six riders.
Six riders. But four of them were Masters; and for Linden, they also did not exist. She saw only the others.
In the instant that she recognized Thomas Covenant and Jeremiah, the meaning of her entire life changed. Everything that she had known and understood and assumed was altered, rendering empty or unnecessary or foolish her original flight from the Masters, her time among the Ramen, her participation in the horserite of the Ranyhyn. Even her precipitous venture into the Land’s past in order to retrieve her Staff of Law no longer held any significance.
Thomas Covenant was alive: the only man whom she had ever loved.
Her son was free. Somehow he had eluded Lord Foul’s cruel grasp.
And Jeremiah’s mind had been restored. His eager encouragement of the Masters and their mounts as they struggled to outrun the horde showed clearly that he had found his way out of his mental prison; or had been rescued—
Transfixed, she stared at them past the wall of her vantage point, leaping toward them with her gaze and her health-sense and her starved soul. Moments ago, she had seen only the ruinous advance of the Demondim. But now she was on her knees, struck down by the miraculous sight of her adopted son and her dead lover rushing toward Revelstone for their lives.
Already her arms ached to hold them.
For two or three heartbeats, surely no more than that, she remained kneeling while Liand tried to find his voice, and Stave said nothing, and Mahrtiir murmured tensely to his Cords. Then she snatched up the Staff and surged to her feet. Mute and compelled, she flung herself back into the watchtower, intending to make her way down to the open gates; to greet Jeremiah and Covenant with her embrace and her straining heart.
But the chambers within the tower were crowded with tall mounds of firewood and tubs of oil. At first, she could not locate a stairway. And when she discovered the descent, the Masters refused to let her pass. One of them stood on the stair to forbid her.
“We prepare for battle,” he informed her curtly. His people had already refused her claims on them. “You will be endangered here.”
He did not add, And you will impede our efforts. Nor did she pause to heed him, or to contest the stair. Linden, find me. Her need for haste was too great. In all of her years with her son, she had never seen him react to people and events around him; had never seen an expression of any kind on his slack features. Riding toward Revelstone, however, his face shone with excitement as he waved his arms, urging his companions forward.
She wheeled away from the stair; ran for the suspended wooden bridge which linked the tower to the battlements of Revelstone.
Stave came to guide her. He had not wiped the blood from his mouth and chin. Dark stains marked his tunic. But his hurts did not slow him. And Mahrtiir accompanied him, with Bhapa, Pahni, and Liand grouped around Anele at his back.
They were her friends, but she hardly noticed them.
Fearless with urgency, she followed Stave and Mahrtiir across the unsteady span above the courtyard between the watchtower and Revelstone’s inner gates. Gripping the Staff hard in one hand, she pursued her guides into the sudden gloom of the Keep’s lightless passages.
She did not know the way. She had spent too little time here to learn even a few of Revelstone’s complex intersections and halls. And she required illumination. If she had been willing to move more slowly, using only her enhanced senses, she could have trailed Stave’s hard shape and Mahrtiir’s more legible tension through the wrought gutrock. But she had to hurry. Instinctively, irrationally, she felt that her own rush to meet them might enable Jeremiah and Covenant to reach the comparative safety of the massive interlocking gates, the friable sanctuary of the Masters. As the reflected sunshine behind her faded, and the darkness ahead deepened, she called up a gush of flame from one iron heel of the Staff. That warm light, as soft and clean as cornflowers, allowed her to press Stave and the Manethrall to quicken their pace.
Nearly running, they descended stairways apparently at random, some broad and straight enough to accommodate throngs, others narrow spirals delving downward. Her need for haste was a fever. Surely she could reach the cavernous hall within the gates ahead of Jeremiah and Covenant and their small band of Masters?
Her friends followed close behind her. Anele was old; but his intimacy with stone, and his decades among the mountains, made him sure-footed: he did not slow Liand and the Cords. And after them came the three Humbled, Galt, Clyme, and Branl, maimed icons of the Masters’ commitments. They were as stubborn and unreadable as Stave; but Linden did not doubt that they intended to protect her—or to protect against her. The Masters had rejected Stave because he had declared himself her ally; her friend. Naturally they would not now trust him to fill any of their self-assigned roles.
Fervidly she tried to cast her health-sense farther, striving to penetrate Revelstone’s ancient rock so that she might catch some impression of the Vile-spawn. How near had they come? Had they overtaken Covenant and Jeremiah? But she could not concentrate while she dashed and twisted down the passages. She could only chase after Stave and Mahrtiir, and fear that her loved ones had already fallen beneath the breaking tsunami of the Demondim.
But they had not, she insisted to herself. They had not. The Demondim had withdrawn their siege the previous day for a reason. Possessed by some fierce and fiery being, Anele had confronted the Vile-spawn; and they had responded by allowing Linden and those with her to escape—and then by appearing to abandon their purpose against Lord’s Keep. Why had they acted thus, if not so that Jeremiah and Covenant might reach her? If they desired Jeremiah’s death, and Covenant’s, they could have simply awaited their prey in front of Revelstone’s gates.
Jeremiah and Covenant were not being hunted: they were being herded.
Why the Demondim—and Anele’s possessor—might wish her loved ones to reach her alive, she could not imagine. But she strove to believe that Covenant and Jeremiah would not fall. The alternatives were too terrible to be endured.
Then Linden saw a different light ahead of her: it spilled from the courtyard into the Keep. A moment later, Stave and Mahrtiir led her down the last stairs to the huge forehall. Now she did not need the Staff’s flame; but she kept it burning nonetheless. She might require its power in other ways.
The time-burnished stone echoed her boot heels as she ran into the broad hall and cast her gaze past the gates toward the courtyard and the passage under the watchtower.
Beyond the sunshine in the courtyard, the shrouded gloom and angle of the wide tunnel obscured her line of sight. She felt rather than saw the open outer gates, the slope beyond them. With her health-sense, she descried as if they were framed in stone the four Masters astride their laboring horses. Covenant clung to the back of one of the Haruchai. Jeremiah balanced precariously behind another.
The mustang that bore her son was limping badly: it could not keep pace with the other beasts. And Covenant’s mount staggered on the verge of foundering. All of the horses were exhausted. Even at this distance, Linden sensed that only their terror kept them up and running. Yet somehow they remained ahead of the swarming Demondim. If the monsters did not strike out with the might of the Illearth Stone, the riders would reach the outer gates well before their pursuers.
The fact that the Vile-spawn had not already made use of the Stone seemed to confirm Linden’s clenched belief that Jeremiah and Covenant were being herded rather than hunted.
She wanted to cry out her own encouragement and desperation; wanted to demand why the Masters had not organized a sally to defend her loved ones; wanted to oppose the horde with Law and Earthpower in spite of the distance. But she bit down on her lip to silence her panic. Jeremiah and Covenant would not hear her. The Haruchai could not combat the Demondim effectively. And she did not trust herself to wield power when the people whom she yearned to save were between her and the horde.
Grimly she forced herself to wait, holding her fire over her head like a beacon, nearly a stone’s throw from the courtyard so that the Keep’s defenders would have room in which to fight if the monsters could not be prevented from passing the gates.
Abruptly the Masters and their horses surged between the outer gates into the dark tunnel. Hooves clanged on the worn stone as first Covenant and then Jeremiah fell into shadow.
A heartbeat later, ponderous as leviathans, the outer gates began to close.
The heavy stone seemed to move slowly, far too slowly to close out the rapacity of the monsters. Through her fear, however, Linden realized that the Demondim had once again slackened their pace, allowing their foes to escape. She felt the impact as the gates thudded together, shutting out the Vile-spawn, plunging the tunnel into stark blackness.
Then the riders reached daylight in the courtyard, and she saw that all six of them were safe. She did not know how far they had fled the Demondim; but she recognized at once that none of them had suffered any harm.
The mounts had not fared so well. Like their riders, the horses were uninjured. But their terror had driven them to extremes which might yet kill them: they had galloped hard and long enough to break their hearts. Yet they did not stop until they had crossed the courtyard and passed between the inner gates. Then, as those gates also began to close, shutting out the last daylight, Jeremiah’s mount stumbled to its knees; fell gasping on its side with froth and blood on its muzzle. Jeremiah would have plunged to the stone, but the Master with him caught him and lifted him aside. The horse bearing Covenant endured only a moment longer before it, too, collapsed. But Covenant and his fellow rider were able to leap clear.
When the inner gates met and sealed like the doors of a tomb, the flame of the Staff was the only light that remained in the forehall.
The Ramen protested at the condition of the horses; but Linden ignored them. She had already begun to rush forward, avid to clasp her loved ones, when Covenant yelled as if in rage, “Hellfire, Linden! Put that damn thing out!”
She stopped, gasping as though his vehemence had snatched the air from her lungs. Her power fell from her, and instant darkness burst over her head like a thunderclap.
Just be wary of me. Remember that I’m dead.
If she could have found her voice, or drawn sufficient breath, she might have cried out at the Despiser, You bastard! What have you done?
A hand closed on her arm. She hardly heard Stave as he urged her softly, “A moment, Chosen. Handir and others approach, bearing torches among them. You need only constrain yourself for a moment.”
He could still hear the mental speech of the Masters, although they now refused to address or answer him in that fashion.
At once, she rounded on Stave. Behind him, Liand and the Ramen were whispering, perhaps asking her questions, but she had no attention to spare for them. Gripping Stave as he gripped her, she demanded, “Your senses are better than mine.” Like their preternatural strength, the vision of the Haruchai had always exceeded hers. “Can you see them?” See into them? “Are they all right?”
In the absence of the Staff’s flame, she knew only blackness and consternation.
“They appear whole,” the former Master answered quietly. “The ur-Lord has ever been closed to the Haruchai. Even the Bloodguard could not discern his heart. And his companion”—Stave paused as if to confirm his perceptions—“is likewise hidden.”
“You can’t see anything?” insisted Linden. Even Kevin’s Dirt could not blind the Masters—
Stave may have shrugged. “I perceive his presence, and that of his companion. Nothing more.
“Chosen,” he asked almost immediately, “is the ur-Lord’s companion known to you?”
Linden could not answer. She had no room for any questions but her own. Instead she started to say, Take me to them. She needed to be led. Covenant’s shout had shattered her concentration: she might as well have been blind.
But then the torches that Stave had promised appeared. Their unsteady light wavered toward her from the same passage which had admitted her and her companions to the forehall.
A few heartbeats later, the Voice of the Masters, Handir, entered the hall. A coterie of Haruchai accompanied him, some bearing fiery brands. As they moved out into the dark, the ruddy light of the flames spread along the stone toward the gates. It seemed to congeal like blood in the vast gloom.
Now Linden could see the faces of her companions, confused by erratic shadows. None of them had the knowledge or experience to recognize Covenant and Jeremiah. Perhaps as a reproach to Linden, Handir had called the newcomers “strangers.” Nevertheless Mahrtiir and his Cords may have been able to guess at Covenant’s identity. The Ramen had preserved ancient tales of the first Ringthane. But Liand had only his open bafflement to offer Linden’s quick glance.
Apparently none of the Masters had done her friends the courtesy of mentioning Covenant’s name aloud. And of course even the Masters could only speculate about Jeremiah.
Then the light reached the cluster of horses and their riders within the gates; and Linden forgot everything except the faces that she loved more dearly than any others she had ever known.
Unconscious that she was moving again, she hurried toward them, chasing the limits of the ambiguous illumination.
The inadequacy of the torches blurred their features. Nevertheless she could not be mistaken about them. Every flensed line of Covenant’s form was familiar to her. Even his clothes—his old jeans and boots, and the T-shirt that had seen too much wear and pain—were as she remembered them. When he held up his hands, she could see that the right lacked its last two fingers. His strict gaze caught and held the light redly, as if he were afire with purpose and desire.
And Jeremiah was imprinted on her heart. She knew his gangling teenaged body as intimately as her own. His tousled hair and slightly scruffy cheeks, smudged here and there with dirt or shadows, could belong to no one else. He still wore the sky-blue pajamas with the mustangs rampant across the chest in which she had dressed him for bed days or worlds earlier, although they were torn now, and stained with grime or blood. And, like Covenant’s, his right hand had been marred by the amputation of two fingers, in his case the first two.
Only the eagerness which enlivened the muddy color of his eyes violated Linden’s knowledge of him.
The light expanded as more torches were lit. Holding brands high, the Humbled followed her, joined by her friends; followed as if she pulled them along behind her, drawing their fires with her. Now she could see clearly the cut in Covenant’s shirt where he had been stabbed, and the old scar on his forehead. Flames lit his eyes like threats; demands. His appearance was only slightly changed. After ten years and more than three millennia, the grey was gone from his hair: he looked younger despite his gauntness. And the marks of the wounds that he had received while Linden had known him were gone as well, burned away by his consummation in wild magic. Yet every compelling implication of his visage was precious to her.
Nevertheless she did not approach him. Deeper needs sent her hastening toward Jeremiah.
She was still ten paces from her son, however, when Covenant snapped harshly, “Don’t touch him! Don’t touch either of us!”
Linden did not stop. She could not. Long days of loss and alarm impelled her. And she had never before seen anything that resembled consciousness in Jeremiah’s eyes. Had never seen him react and move as he did now. She could not stop until she flung her arms around him and felt his heart beating against hers.
At once, his expression became one of dismay; almost of panic. Then he raised his halfhand—and a wave of force like a wall halted her.
It was as warm as steam: except to her health-sense, it was as invisible as vapor. And it was gone in an instant. Yet she remained motionless as if he had frozen her in place. The shock of his power to repulse her deprived her of will and purpose. Even her reflexive desire to embrace him had been stunned.
At a word from Mahrtiir, Bhapa and Pahni moved away to help the Masters tend the horses. The Manethrall remained behind Linden with Liand, Anele, and Stave.
“He’s right,” said Jeremiah: the first words that Linden had ever heard him utter. His voice sounded as unsteady as the torchlight, wavering between childhood and maturity, a boy’s treble and a man’s baritone. “You can’t touch either of us. And you can’t use that Staff.” He grinned hugely. “You’ll make us disappear.”
Among the shadows cast by the flames, she saw a small muscle beating like a pulse at the corner of his left eye.
Linden might have wept then, overwhelmed by shock and need. Suddenly, however, she had no tears. The Mahdoubt had told her, Be cautious of love. It misleads. There is a glamour upon it which binds the heart to destruction. And days ago Covenant had tried to warn her through Anele—
Between one heartbeat and the next, she seemed to find herself in the presence, not of her loved ones, but of her nightmares.
In the emptiness and silence of the high forehall, the old man asked plaintively, “What transpires? Anele sees no one. Only Masters, who have promised his freedom. Is aught amiss?”
No one answered him. Instead Handir stepped forward and bowed to Covenant. “Ur-Lord Thomas Covenant,” he said firmly, “Unbeliever and Earthfriend, you are well come. Be welcome in Revelstone, fist and faith—and your companion with you. Our need is sore, and your coming an unlooked-for benison. We are the Masters of the Land. I am Handir, by right of years and attainment the Voice of the Masters. How may we serve you, with the Demondim massed at our gates, and their malice plain in the exhaustion of your mounts?”
“No,” Linden said before Covenant—or Jeremiah—could respond. “Handir, stop. Think about this.”
She spoke convulsively, goaded by inexplicable fears. “The Demondim allowed us to escape yesterday. Then they pulled back so that”—she could not say Covenant’s name, or Jeremiah’s, not now; not when she had been forbidden to touch them—“so that these people could get through. Those monsters want this.” Her throat closed for a moment. She had to swallow grief like a mouthful of ashes before she could go on. “Otherwise they would have used the Illearth Stone.”
The Demondim had not planned this. They could not have planned it. They had not known that she would try to protect the Land by snatching them with her out of the past. If Anele had not been possessed by a being of magma and rage, and had not encountered the Vile-spawn—
Surely Covenant and Jeremiah would not be standing in front of her, refusing her, if some powerful enemy had not willed it?
Turning from the Voice of the Masters to Covenant, she demanded, “Are you even real?”
The Dead in Andelain were ghosts; insubstantial. They could not be touched—
Covenant faced her with something like mirth or scorn in his harsh gaze. “Hell and blood, Linden,” he drawled. “It’s good to see you haven’t changed. I knew you wouldn’t take all this at face value. I’m glad I can still trust you.”
With his left hand, he beckoned for one of the Humbled. When Branl stepped forward holding a torch, Covenant took the brand from him. Waving the flame from side to side as if to demonstrate his material existence, Covenant remarked, “Oh, we’re real enough.” Aside to Jeremiah, he added, “Show her.”
Still grinning, Jeremiah reached into the waistband of his pajamas and drew out a bright red toy racing car—the same car that Linden had seen him holding before Sheriff Lytton’s deputies had opened fire. He tossed it lightly back and forth between his hands for a moment, then tucked it away again. His manner said as clearly as words, See, Mom? See?
Linden studied his pajamas urgently for bullet holes. But the fabric was too badly torn and stained to give any indication of what had happened to him before he had been drawn to the Land.
None of the Masters spoke. Apparently they understood that her questions required answers.
Abruptly Covenant handed his torch back to Branl. As Branl withdrew to stand with Galt and Clyme, Covenant returned his attention to Linden.
“This isn’t easy for you. I know that.” Now his voice sounded hoarse with disuse. He seemed to pick his words as though he had difficulty remembering the ones he wanted. “Trust me, it isn’t easy for us either.
“We’re here. But we aren’t just here.” Then he sighed. “There’s no good way to explain it. You don’t have the experience to understand it.” His brief smile reminded her that she had rarely seen such an expression on his face. Roger had smiled at her more often. “Jeremiah is here, but Foul still has him. I’m here, but I’m still part of the Arch of Time.
“You could say I’ve folded time so we can be in two places at once. Or two realities.” Another smile flickered across his mouth, contradicted by the flames reflecting in his eyes. “Being part of Time has some advantages. Not many. There are too many limitations, and the strain is fierce. But I can still do a few tricks.”
For a moment, his hands reached out as if he wanted something from her; but he pulled them back almost at once.
“The problem with what I’m doing,” he said trenchantly, “is that you’ve got too much power, and it’s the wrong kind for me. Being in two places at once breaks a lot of rules.” This time, his smile resembled a grimace. “If you touch either one of us—or if you use that Staff—you’ll undo the fold. Time will snap back into shape.
“It’s like your son says,” he finished. “We’ll disappear. I’m not strong enough to keep us here.”
“Your son?” Liand breathed. “Linden, is this your son?”
“Liand, no,” Mahrtiir instructed at once. “Do not speak. This lies beyond us. The Ringthane will meet our questions when greater matters have been resolved.”
Linden did not so much as glance at them. But she could no longer look at Covenant. The torchlight in his eyes, and his unwonted smiles, daunted her. She understood nothing. She wanted to scoff at the idea of folding time. Or perhaps she merely yearned to reject the thought that she might undo such theurgy. How could she bear to be in his presence, and in Jeremiah’s, without touching them?
As if she were turning her back, she shifted so that she faced only her son.
“Jeremiah, honey—” she began. Oh, Jeremiah! Her eyes burned, although she had no tears. “None of this makes sense. Is he telling the truth?”
Had her son been restored to her for this? And was he truly still in Lord Foul’s grasp, suffering the Despiser’s wealth of torments in some other dimension or manifestation of time?
She was unable to see the truth for herself. Covenant and her son were closed to her, as they were to Stave and the Masters.
An Elohim had warned the Ramen as well as Liand’s people to Beware the halfhand.
Jeremiah gazed at her with a frown. He seemed to require a visible effort to set aside his excitement. “You know he is, Mom.” His tone held an unexpected edge of reproach; of impatience with her confusion and yearning. “He’s Thomas Covenant. You can see that. He’s already saved the Land twice. He can’t be anybody else.”
But then he appeared to take pity on her. Ducking his head, he added softly, “What you can’t see is how much it hurts that I’m not just here.”
For years, she had hungered for the sound of her son’s voice; starved for it as though it were the nurturance that would give her life meaning. Yet now every word from his mouth only multiplied her chagrin.
Why could she not weep? She had always shed tears too easily. Surely her sorrow and bafflement were great enough for sobbing? Still her eyes remained dry; arid as a wilderland.
“All you have to do is trust me,” Covenant put in. “Or if you can’t do that, trust him.” He nodded toward Jeremiah. “We can do this. We can make it come out right. That’s another advantage I have. We have. We know what needs to be done.”
Angry because she had no other outlet, Linden wheeled back to confront the Unbeliever. “Is that a fact?” Her tone was acid. She had come to this: her beloved and her son were restored to her, and she treated them like foes. “Then tell me something. Why did the Demondim let you live? Hell, why have they left any of us alive? It was just yesterday that they wanted to kill us.”
Jeremiah laughed as if he were remembering one of the many jokes that she had told him over the years; jokes with which she had attempted to provoke a reaction when he was incapable of any response. The muscle at the corner of his left eye continued its tiny beat. But Covenant glared at her, and the fires in his gaze seemed hotter than any of the torches.
“Another trick,” he told her sourly. “An illusion.” He made a dismissive gesture with his halfhand. “Oh, I didn’t have anything to do with what happened yesterday.” Despite its size, the forehall seemed full of halfhands, the Humbled as well as Covenant and Jeremiah. “That’s a different issue. But they let Jeremiah and me get through because”—Covenant shrugged stiffly—“well, I suppose you could say I put a crimp in their reality. Just a little one. I’m already stretched pretty thin. I can’t do too many things at once. So I made us look like bait. Like we were leading them into an ambush. Like there’s a kind of power here they don’t understand. That’s why they just chased us instead of attacking. They want to contain us until they figure out what’s going on. And maybe they like the idea of trapping all their enemies in one place.”
Again he smiled at Linden, although his eyes continued to glare. “Are you satisfied? At least for now? Can I talk to Handir for a minute? Jeremiah and I need rest. You have no idea of the strain—”
He sighed heavily. “And we have to get ready before those Demondim realize I made fools out of them. Once that happens, they’re going to unleash the Illearth Stone. Then hellfire and bloody damnation won’t be something we just talk about. They’ll be real, and they’ll be here.”
Apparently he wanted Linden to believe that he was tired. Yet to her ordinary eyes he looked potent enough to defeat the horde unaided.
And her son seemed to belong with him.
She could not identify them with her health-sense. Jeremiah and Covenant were as blank, as isolated from her, as they would have been in her natural world. Yet there she would have been able to at least touch them. Here, in the unrevealing light of the torches, and fraught with shadows, Jeremiah seemed as distant and irreparable as the Unbeliever, in spite of his obvious alert sentience.
If Covenant could do all of this, why had he told her to find him?
Bowing her head, Linden forced herself to take a step backward, and another, into the cluster of her friends. She ached for the comfort of their support. She could discern them clearly enough: Liand’s open amazement, his concern on her behalf; Mahrtiir’s rapt eagerness and wonder and suspicion; Anele’s distracted mental wandering. Even Stave’s impassivity and his ruined eye and his new hurts felt more familiar to her than Covenant and Jeremiah, her loved ones. Yet the complex devotion of those who stood with her gave no anodyne for what she had gained and lost.
Linden, find me.
Be cautious of love.
She needed the balm of touching Covenant; of hugging and hugging Jeremiah, running her fingers through his hair, stroking his cheeks— But she had been refused. Even the warm clean fire of the Staff of Law had been forbidden to her.
Covenant nodded with an air of satisfaction. Then both he and Jeremiah turned to the Voice of the Masters.
“Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting.” For a moment, Covenant’s voice held an unwonted note of unction, although he suppressed it quickly. “You know Linden. When she has questions, she insists on answers.” He grinned as if he were sharing a joke with Handir. “You have to respect that.”
Then he swallowed his smile. “You said we’re well come. You have no idea how well come we are.
“You speak for the Masters?”
Abruptly Linden swung away from them. She could no longer bear the sight of her son’s eagerness and denial. She wished that she could close her ears to the sound of Covenant’s voice.
In the light of the torches, her friends studied her. Liand’s curiosity and puzzlement had become alarm, and Mahrtiir glowered. Stave’s single eye regarded her with characteristic stoicism. Anele’s moonstone blindness shifted uncertainly around the great hall as though he were trying to recapture an elusive glimpse of significance.
Because her nerves burned for human contact—for any touch which might reassure her—she hooked her arms around Liand’s and Mahrtiir’s shoulders. At once, Liand gave her a hug like a promise that she could rely on him, whatever happened. And after an instant of hesitation, Mahrtiir did the same. Through his dislike of impending rock and the lack of open skies, she tasted his readiness to fight any foe in her name.
With senses other than sight, she felt Handir bowing to Covenant a second time, although the Voice of the Masters had never bowed to her.
“I am Handir,” he began again, “by right of—”
“Of years and attainment,” interrupted Covenant brusquely. “The Voice of the Masters.” Now his manner seemed to betray the exertion he had claimed; the difficulty of folding time. “I heard you the first time.
“Handir, I know you’re worried about the Demondim. You should be. You and your people can’t hold out against them. Not if they use the Stone. But they’re unsure of themselves right now. By hell, Foul himself is probably having fits.” Grim pleasure glinted through the impatience in Covenant’s tone. “They’ll realize the truth eventually. But I’ve been pretty clever, if I do say so myself.” With her peripheral vision, Linden saw Jeremiah’s nod, his happy grin. “I think we might have a day, or even two, before the real shit hits the fan.”
To her friends, Linden murmured, “Don’t say anything. Just listen.” She could not bear to be questioned. Not now. She was in too much pain. “That’s Thomas Covenant and my son. My Jeremiah. I know them.
“But there’s something wrong here. Something dangerous. Maybe it’s just the strain of what they’re doing.” Being in two places at once? “Maybe that’s making them both a little crazy.” Or maybe the Despiser had indeed done something. Maybe the Elohim had sought to warn the Land against the halfhand for good reason. “Whatever it is, I need your help.
“Mahrtiir, I want Bhapa and Pahni to stay with Liand and Anele.” Liand opened his mouth to protest, but Linden’s grip on his shoulder silenced him. “The Masters won’t threaten you,” she told him. “I trust them that far,” in spite of what the Humbled and Handir had done to Stave. They were Haruchai. “But I have to be alone, and I’ll feel better if Bhapa and Pahni are with you.” She had seen Ramen Cords fight: she knew what Bhapa and Pahni could do. “Whatever is going on here, it might have consequences that we can’t imagine.” Don’t touch him! Don’t touch either of us! To Mahrtiir, she added, “They should be safe enough in Liand’s room.”
In response, the Manethrall nodded his assent.
“Anele is confused,” the old man informed the air of the forehall. “He feels Masters and urgency, but the cause is hidden. The stone tells him nothing.”
Linden ignored him. Covenant was still speaking to Handir.
“What Jeremiah and I want right now is a place where we can rest without being disturbed. Some food, and maybe some springwine, if you’ve got it. We have to gather our strength.”
Linden tried to ignore him as well. “As for you,” she continued to Mahrtiir, “I need you to guide me out of here. To the plateau.” He and his Cords had spent the night there. He would know the way. “I can’t think like this. I need daylight.”
She might find what she sought in the potent waters of Glimmermere. The lake could not give her answers, but it might help her to remember who she was.
The Manethrall nodded again. When he left her so that he could speak to Pahni and Bhapa, she turned to Stave. The tasks that she had in mind for him would be harder—
Meeting his gaze with her dry, burning eyes, she said, “I want you to find the Mahdoubt for me. Please.” Be cautious of love. “I need to talk to her.” That strange, kindly woman had given Linden a hint of what was in store. If Linden probed her directly, she might say more. “And keep the Humbled away from me. If you can. I can’t face their distrust right now.”
Her memories of Glimmermere—of Thomas Covenant as he had once been—were private and precious. She could not expose them, or herself, to anyone: certainly not to the demeaning suspicions of Branl, Galt, or Clyme.
Stave did not hesitate. “Chosen, I will,” he said as if obstructing the actions of the Masters were a trivial challenge.
At least he was still able to hear his people’s thoughts—
Behind Linden, Covenant appeared to be nearing the end of his exchange with Handir. His voice had become a hoarse rasp, thick with effort. Yet when she glanced at him at last, Linden saw that he was smiling again.
At Covenant’s side, Jeremiah seemed hardly able to contain his anticipation. The only sign that he might still be in Lord Foul’s power was the rapid beating at the corner of his eye.
“I know what to do,” Covenant assured the Voice of the Masters. “That’s why we’re here. When we’re done, your problems will be over. But first I’ll have to convince Linden, and that won’t be easy. I’m too tired to face it right now.
“Just give us a place to rest. And keep her away from us until I’m ready. We’ll take care of everything else.” Darkly he avowed, “I know a trick or two to make the Demondim and even the almighty Despiser wish they had never come out of hiding.”
In spite of her clenched dismay, Linden found herself wondering where he had learned such things. How much of his humanity had he lost by his participation in Time? What had the perspective of eons done to him? How much had he changed?
And how much pain had her son suffered in the Despiser’s grasp? How much was he suffering at this moment? If even the tainted respite of being in two places at once filled him with such glee—
In many ways, she had never truly known him. Yet he, too, may have become someone she could no longer recognize.
She needed to do something. She needed to do it now. If she waited for Covenant to explain himself, she would crumble.
While Handir replied to the ur-Lord, the Unbeliever, the Land’s ancient savior—while the Voice of the Masters promised Covenant everything that he had requested—Linden strode away into the shadows of the forehall, trusting Mahrtiir to claim a torch and catch up with her before she lost herself in darkness.
How Stave accomplished what she had asked of him, Linden could not imagine. Yet when Mahrtiir led her at last past the switchbacks up through the long tunnel which opened onto the plateau above and behind Revelstone—when they finally left gloom and old emptiness behind, and crossed into sunshine under a deep sky stained only by Kevin’s Dirt—she and the Manethrall were alone. The Humbled had not followed them. In spite of Stave’s severance from his people, he had found some argument which had persuaded the Masters to leave her alone.
Here she could be free of their distrust; of denials that appalled her. Here she might be able to think.
Covenant and Jeremiah had been restored to her. And they would not allow her to touch them. They had been changed in some quintessential fashion which excluded her.
And Kevin’s Dirt still exerted its baleful influence, slowly leeching away her health-sense and her courage—and she had been ordered not to use the Staff of Law. Both Covenant and her son had assured her that its power would undo the theurgy which enabled their presence. In dreams, Covenant’s voice had told her, You need the Staff of Law. Through Anele, he had said, You’re the only one who can do this. Yet now she was asked to believe that if she drew any hint of Earthpower from the warm wood, she would effectively erase Covenant and Jeremiah. The two people in all of life whom she had most yearned to see—to have and hold—would vanish.
She believed them, both of them. She did not know whether or not they had told the truth: she believed them nonetheless. They were Thomas Covenant and Jeremiah, her son. She could not do otherwise.
She had repeatedly insisted that she could not be compared to the Land’s true heroes; and now the greatest of them had come.
And he had asked the Masters to keep her away from him until he was ready to talk. I’m too tired—But she did not protest. While she could still think and choose—while she could still determine her own actions—she meant to make use of the time.
As Mahrtiir had guided her up through the Keep, she had resolved to find some answers.
She was on her way to Glimmermere because she had once been there with Thomas Covenant: a brief time of unconstrained love after the defeat of the na-Mhoram and the quenching of the Banefire. She hoped to recapture at the eldritch lake some sense of what she and Covenant had meant to each other; of who she was. But now she had another purpose as well. The strange potency of Glimmermere’s waters might give her the power to be heard—
With Mahrtiir beside her and the Staff hugged in her arms, she walked steadily—grim and dry-eyed, as though she were not weeping inside—out of Revelstone onto the low upland hills which rumpled the plateau between Lord’s Keep and the jagged pinnacles of the Westron Mountains.
Here she could see the handiwork of Sunder and Hollian, who had accepted the stewardship of the Land thirty-five centuries ago. When she had walked into these hills with Thomas Covenant, the Sunbane had still ruled the Upper Land; and a desert sun had destroyed every vestige of vegetation. She and Covenant had crossed hard dirt and bare stone baked by the arid unnatural heat of the sun’s corona. But now—
Ah, now there was thick grass underfoot, abundant forage for herds of cattle and sheep. With her health-sense, she could see that the gentler slopes ahead of her were arable. Revelstone was nearly empty, and its comparatively few inhabitants were easily fed by the fields to the north of the watchtower. At need, however, crops could be planted here to support a much larger population. And there were trees—God, there were trees. Rich stands of pine and cedar accumulated off to her right until they grew so thickly that they obscured her view of the mountains in that direction. And ahead of her, clumps of delicate mimosa and arching jacaranda punctuated the hillsides until the slow rise and fall of the slopes seemed as articulate as language. Everywhere spring gave the air a tang which made all of the colors more vibrant and filled each scent with burgeoning.
Under the Sunbane’s bitter curse, she had seen nothing here that was not rife with pain—until she and Covenant had reached the mystic lake which formed the headwater of the White River. Now everywhere she looked, both westward and around the curve of the sheer cliffs toward the north, the plateau had been restored to health and fertility. Somehow Linden’s long-dead friends had taught themselves how to wield both Earthpower and Law. While they lived, Sunder and Hollian had made luxuriant and condign use of the Staff. The beauty which greeted Linden’s sore heart above and behind Lord’s Keep was one result of their labors.
Poor Anele, she thought as she walked toward the first trees. It was no wonder that his parents had filled him with astonishment; or that he had been daunted. Throughout their long lives, he had known the harsh aftereffects of the Sunbane—and had seen those enduring blights transformed to health. In his place, Linden, too, might have felt overwhelmed by their example.
Yet neither Anele nor the restoration of these hills dominated her thoughts. At her side, the Manethrall lost some of his severity as he regained the wide sky and the kindly hills; but if he had spoken to her, she might not have heard him. While she walked, the prospect of Glimmermere filled her with memories of Thomas Covenant.
When the threat of the Banefire had been extinguished, she had joined him in the private chambers which had once been High Lord Mhoram’s home. At that time, she had feared that he would reject her; scorn her love. Earlier his intention to enter alone and undefended into the inferno of the Clave’s evil had appalled her, and she tried to stop him by violating his mind, possessing him. That expression of her own capacity for evil might have destroyed the bond between them. Yet when they were alone at last, she had learned that he held nothing against her; that he forgave her effortlessly. And then he had taken her to Glimmermere, where the lake had helped her to forgive herself.
She wanted to hold onto that memory until she reached the upland tarn and could endeavor once again to wash away her dismay.
Don’t touch him! Don’t touch either of us!
She had risked the destruction of the world in order to retrieve the Staff of Law so that she might have some chance to redeem her son; yet both Jeremiah and Covenant had appeared through no act or decision or hazard of hers. For years and years she had striven to free Jeremiah from the chains of his peculiar dissociative disorder; yet he had reclaimed his mind in her absence, while Lord Foul tormented him. She had used all of her will and insight in an attempt to sway the Masters, and had won only Anele’s freedom and Stave’s friendship—at the cost of Stave’s violent expulsion from the communion of his people. And she had brought the Demondim to this time, recklessly, when Revelstone had no defense.
Like Kevin’s Dirt, shame threatened to drain her until she was too weak to bear the cost of her life. Without the Staff’s fire to sustain her, she clung to her best memories of Covenant’s love—and to the possibilities of Glimmermere—so that she would not be driven to her knees by the weight of her mistakes and failures.
But those memories brought others. Alone with her, Covenant had spoken of the time when he had been the helpless prisoner of Kasreyn of the Gyre in Bhrathairealm. There the thaumaturge had described the value and power of white gold; of the same ring which now hung uselessly on its chain around her neck. In a flawed world, Kasreyn had informed Covenant, purity cannot endure. Thus within each of my works I must perforce place one small flaw, else there would be no work at all. But white gold was an alloy; inherently impure. Its imperfection is the very paradox of which the Earth is made, and with it a master may form perfect works and fear nothing.
The flaw in Kasreyn’s works had permitted the Sandgorgon Nom to escape the prison of Sandgorgons Doom. Without it, Covenant, Linden, and the remnants of the Search might not have been able to breach Revelstone in order to defeat the Clave and quench the Banefire. But that was not the point which Covenant had wished Linden to grasp. Long centuries earlier, his friend Mhoram had told him, You are the white gold. And in the Banefire, Covenant himself had become a kind of alloy, an admixture of wild magic and the Despiser’s venom; capable of perfect power.
At the time, he had wanted Linden to understand why he would never again use his ring. He had become too dangerous: he was human and did not trust himself to achieve any perfection except ruin. With his own strict form of gentleness, he had tried to prepare her for his eventual surrender to Lord Foul.
But now she thought that perhaps his words three and a half thousand years ago explained his unexpected appearance here. He had been transformed in death: Lord Foul had burned away the venom, leaving Covenant’s spirit purified. As a result, he may have become a kind of perfect being—
—who could wield wild magic and fear nothing.
If that were true, he had come to retrieve his ring. He would need the instrument of his power in order to transcend the strictures imposed on him by his participation in the Arch of Time. Without his ring, he would only be capable of what he called tricks.
But why, then—? Linden’s heart stumbled in pain. Why did he and Jeremiah refuse her touch?
She believed that she understood why her Staff threatened them. If Covenant had indeed folded time, he could only have done so by distorting the fundamental necessities of sequence and causality; the linear continuity of existence. Therefore the force of her Staff would be inherently inimical to his presence, and to Jeremiah’s. It would reaffirm the Law which he had transgressed. He and Jeremiah might well disappear back into their proper dimensions of reality.
But how could her touch harm him, or her son? Apart from her Staff, she had no power except his wedding band.
If he wanted his ring back, why did he require her to keep her distance?
She groaned inwardly. She could not guess her way to the truth: she needed answers that she could not imagine for herself. As she and the Manethrall gradually turned their steps northwestward with the potential graze lands and fields of the lowest hillsides on their left and the gathering stands of evergreen on their right, she spoke to him for the first time since they had left the forehall.
“Could you see them?” she asked without preamble. “Covenant and my son? Is there anything that you can tell me about them?”
For some reason, Anele had seemed unaware of their presence.
Mahrtiir did not hesitate. “The sight of the sleepless ones is not keener than ours,” he avowed, “though we cannot resist the diminishment of Kevin’s Dirt.” Scowling, he glanced skyward. “Yet the Unbeliever and your child are closed to us. I can descry nothing which you have not yourself beheld.”
“Then what do you think I should do?” Linden did not expect guidance from him. She merely wished to hear the sound of his voice amid the distant calling of birds and the low rustle of the trees. “How can I uncover the truth?”
Just be wary of me.
She needed something akin to the fierce simplicity with which Mahrtiir appeared to regard the world.
He bared his teeth in a smile like a blade. “Ringthane, you may be surprised to hear that I urge caution. Already I have dared a Fall—aye, and ridden the great stallion Narunal—in your name. Nor would I falter at still greater hazards. Yet I mislike any violation of Law. I was the first to speak against Esmer’s acceptance by the Ramen, and the last to grant my trust. Nor does it now console me that he has justified my doubts. I judge that I did wrongly to turn aside from them.
“The Unbeliever and his companion disturb me, though I cannot name my concern. Their seeming is substantial, yet mayhap they are in truth spectres. These matters are beyond my ken. I am able to counsel only that you make no determination in haste.”
The Manethrall paused for a long moment, apparently indecisive; and Linden wondered at the emotion rising in him. As they passed between mimosas toward the steeper hills surrounding Glimmermere, he cleared his throat to say more.
“But know this, Linden Avery, and be certain of it. I speak for the Ramen, as for the Cords in my care. We stand with you. The Ranyhyn have declared their service. Stave of the Haruchai has done so. I also would make my meaning plain.
“It appears that the Unbeliever has come among us, he who was once the Ringthane, and who twice accomplished Fangthane’s defeat, if the tales of him are sooth. Doubtless his coming holds vast import, and naught now remains as it was.” Mahrtiir’s tone hinted at battle as he pronounced, “Yet the Ramen stand with you. We cannot do less than the Ranyhyn have done. To him they reared when he was the Ringthane, but to you they gave unprecedented homage, bowing their heads. And they are entirely true. If you see peril in the Unbeliever’s presence, then we will oppose it at your side. Come good or ill, boon or bane, we stand with you.”
Then the Manethrall shrugged, and his manner softened. “Doubtless Liand will do the same. For the Demondim-spawn, either Waynhim or ur-vile, I cannot speak. But I have no fear that Stave will be swayed by the Unbeliever. He has withstood the judgment of the sleepless ones, and will no longer doubt you. And Anele must cling to the holder of the Staff. He cannot do otherwise.”
Mahrtiir faced her with reassurance in his eyes. “When you are summoned before the Unbeliever, consider that you are not alone. We who have elected to serve you will abide the outcome of your choices, and call ourselves fortunate to do so.”
I seek a tale which will remain in the memories of the Ramen when my life has ended.
Under other circumstances, Linden might have been moved by his declaration. But she was too full of doubt, of thwarted joy and unexplained bereavement. Instead of thanking him, she said gruffly, “It isn’t like that. I’m not going to oppose him.” Them. “I can’t. He’s Thomas Covenant.
“I just don’t understand.”
Then she looked away; quickened her pace without realizing it. Her impatience for the cleansing embrace of Glimmermere was growing. And her dilemma ran deeper than the Manethrall seemed to grasp.
If both Covenant and Jeremiah were here—and they indeed had something wrong with them—she could imagine conditions under which she might be forced to choose between them. To fight for one at the expense of the other.
If that happened, she would cling to Jeremiah, and let Thomas Covenant go. She had spent ten years learning to accept Covenant’s death—and eight of those years devoting herself to her son. Her first loyalty was to Jeremiah. Even if Covenant truly knew how to save the Land—
The Mahdoubt had warned her to Be cautious of love.
God, she did not simply need answers. She needed to wash out her mind. Just be wary of me. Remember that I’m dead. She had been given too many warnings, and she comprehended none of them.
Fortunately the high hills which cupped Glimmermere’s numinous waters were rising before her. She could not yet catch the scent of their magic: the mild spring breeze carried it past the hilltops. And the lake itself was hidden from sight and sound on all sides except directly southward, where the White River began its run toward Furl Falls. Nevertheless she knew where she was. She could not forget the last place where she and Covenant had known simple happiness.
She wanted to run now, in spite of the ascent, but she forced herself to stop at the base of the slope. Turning to Mahrtiir, she asked, “You’ve been here already, haven’t you?” He and his Cords had spent the previous afternoon and night among these hills with the Ranyhyn. “You’ve seen Glimmermere?”
She expected a prompt affirmative; but the Manethrall replied brusquely, “Ringthane, I have not. By old tales, I know of the mystic waters. But my Cords and I came to these hills to care for the Ranyhyn—and also,” he admitted, “to escape the oppression of Revelstone and Masters. Our hearts were not fixed on tales.
“However, the Ranyhyn parted from us when we had gained the open sky. Galloping and glad, they scattered to seek their own desires. Therefore we tended to our refreshment with aliantha and rest, awaiting your summons. We did not venture toward storied Glimmermere.”
In spite of her haste, Linden felt a twist of regret on his behalf. “Why not?”
“We are Ramen,” he said as if his reasons were self-evident. “We serve the Ranyhyn. That suffices for us. We do not presume to intrude upon other mysteries. No Raman has beheld the tarn of the horserite, yet we feel neither regret nor loss. We are content to be who we are. Lacking any clear cause to approach Glimmermere, I deemed it unseemly to distance ourselves from Revelstone and your uncertain plight.”
She sighed. Now she understood the blind distress of Mahrtiir and his Cords when she had met them in the Close. But she had scant regard to spare for the Manethrall’s strict pride. Her own needs were too great.
“All right,” she murmured. “Don’t worry about it.
“I’m going on ahead. I want you to stay here. I need to be alone for a while. If the Masters change their minds—if the Humbled decide that they have to know what I’m doing—try to warn me.” Glimmermere’s potency might muffle her perception of anything else. “When I come back, we’ll talk about this again.
“I think that you’ll want to see the lake for yourself.”
She held his gaze until he nodded. Then she turned to stride up the hillside without him.
Almost at once, he seemed to fall out of her awareness. Her memories of Covenant and Glimmermere sang to her, dismissing other considerations. At one time, she had been loved here. That experience, and others like it, had taught her how to love her son. She needed to immerse herself in Earthpower and clarity; needed to recover her sense of her own identity. Then she could try to make herself heard; heeded.
She was breathing hard—and entirely unconscious of it—as she passed the crest of the hill and caught sight of the lake where Thomas Covenant had given her a taste of joy; perhaps the first joy that she had ever known.
In one sense, Glimmermere was exactly as she remembered it. The lake was not large: from its edge, she might have been able to throw a stone across it. On all sides except its outlet to the south, it was concealed by hills as though the earth of the plateau had cupped its hands in order to isolate and preserve its treasure. And no streams flowed into it. Even the mighty heads of the Westron Mountains, now no more than a league distant, sent their rivers of rainfall and snowmelt down into the Land by other routes. Instead Glimmermere was fed by hidden springs arising as if in secret from the deep gutrock of the Land.
The surface of the water also was as Linden remembered it: as calm and pure as a mirror, reflecting the hills and the measureless sky perfectly; oblivious to distress. Yet she had not been here for ten long years, and she found now that her human memory had failed to retain the lake’s full vitality, its untrammeled and untarnishable lucid purity. Remembering Glimmermere without percipience to refresh her recall, she had been unable to preserve its image undimmed. Now she was shocked almost breathless by the crystalline abundance and promise of the waters.
Taken by the sight, she began to jog down the hillside. She knew how cold the water would be: she had been chilled to the core when Covenant had called her into the lake. And now there was no desert sun to warm her when she emerged. But she also knew that the cold was an inherent aspect of Glimmermere’s power to cleanse; and she did not hesitate. Covenant and Jeremiah had been returned to her, but she no longer knew them—or herself. When she reached the edge of the lake, she dropped the Staff of Law unceremoniously to the grass; tugged off her boots and socks, and flung them aside; stripped away her grass-stained pants as well as her shirt as if by that means she could remove her mortality; and plunged headlong into the tonic sting of memory and Earthpower.
In the instant of her dive, she saw that she cast no reflection on the water. Nothing of her interrupted Glimmermere’s reiteration of its protective hills and the overarching heavens. The clustered rocks around the deep shadow of the lake’s bottom looked sharp and near enough to break her as soon as she struck the surface. But she knew that she was not in danger. She remembered well that Glimmermere’s sides were almost sheer, and its depths were unfathomable.
Then she went down into a fiery cold so fierce that it seemed to envelop her in liquid flame.
That, too, was as she remembered it: inextricable from her happiness with Covenant; whetted with hope. Nevertheless its incandescence drove the breath from her lungs. Before she could name her hope, or seek for it, she was forced gasping to the surface.
For a brief time, no more than a handful of heartbeats, she splashed and twisted as if she were dancing. But she was too human to remain in the lake: not alone, while Covenant’s recalled love ached within her. Scant moments after she found air, she swam to the water’s edge and pulled herself naked up onto the steep grass. There she rested in spite of the wet cold and the chill of spring, giving herself time to absorb, to recognize, Glimmermere’s effects.
Closing her eyes, she used every other aspect of her senses to estimate what had become of her.
The waters healed bruises: they washed away the strain and sorrow of battle. She needed that. They could not undo the emotional cost of the things which she had suffered, but they lifted from her the long physical weariness and privation of recent days, the visceral residue of her passage through caesures, the tangible galls of her fraught yearning for her son. The eldritch implications of Glimmermere renewed her bodily health and strength as though she had feasted on aliantha.
As cold as the water, Covenant’s ring burned between her breasts.
But the lake did more. The renewed accuracy with which she was able to perceive her own condition told her that the stain of Kevin’s Dirt had been scrubbed from her senses. And when she reached beyond herself, she felt the ramified richness of the grass beneath her, the imponderable life-pulse of the undergirding soil and stone. She could not detect Mahrtiir’s presence beyond the hills: his emanations were too mortal to penetrate Glimmermere’s glory. Yet spring’s fecundity whispered to her along the gentle breeze, and the faint calling of the birds was as eloquent as melody. The wealth of the lake was now a paean, a sun-burnished outpouring of the Earth’s essential gladness, as lambent as Earthpower, and as celebratory as an aubade.
In other ways, nothing had changed. Her torn heart could not be healed by any expression of this world’s fundamental bounty. Covenant and Jeremiah had been restored to her—and they would not let her touch them. That hurt remained. Glimmermere held no anodyne for the dismay and bereavement which had brought her here.
Nevertheless the lake had given her its gifts. It had made her stronger, allowing her to feel capable again, more certain of herself. And it had erased the effects of Kevin’s Dirt, when she had been forbidden to do so with the Staff of Law.
She was as ready as she would ever be.
Steady now, and moving without haste, she donned her clothes and boots; retrieved her Staff. Then she climbed a short way up the hillside, back toward Revelstone, until she found a spot where the slope offered a stretch of more level ground. There she planted her feet as though her memories of Thomas Covenant and love stood at her back to support her. Facing southward across the hillside, she braced the Staff in the grass at her feet and gripped it with one hand while she lifted the white gold ring from under her damp shirt with the other and closed it in her fist.
She took a deep breath; held it for a moment, preparing herself. Then she lifted her face to the sky.
She had ascended far enough to gain a clear view of the mountainheads in the west. Clouds had begun to thicken behind the peaks, suggesting the possibility of rain. It would not come soon, however. The raw crests still clawed the clouds to high wisps and feathers that streamed eastward like fluttering pennons. As Glimmermere’s waters flowed between the hills into the south, they caught the sunshine and glistened like a spill of gems.
Now, she thought. Now or never.
With her head held high, she announced softly, “It’s time, Esmer. You’ve done enough harm. It’s time to do some good.
“I need answers, and I don’t know anyone else who can give them to me.”
Her voice seemed to fall, unheard, to the grass. Nothing replied to her except birdsong and the quiet incantations of the breeze.
More loudly, she continued, “Come on, Esmer. I know you can hear me. You said that the Despiser is hidden from you, and you can’t tell me where to find my son, but those seem to be the only things that you don’t know. There’s too much going on, and all of it matters too much. It’s time to pick a side. I need answers.”
Still she had no reason to believe that he would heed her. She had no idea what his true powers were, or how far they extended. She could not even be sure that he had returned to her present. He may have sought to avoid the pain of his conflicting purposes by remaining in the Land’s past; in a time when he could no longer serve either Cail’s devotion or Kastenessen’s loathing.
Hell, as far as she knew, he had arrived to aid and betray her outside the cave of the Waynhim before his own birth. And he had certainly brought the Demondim forward from an age far older than himself. But his strange ability to go wherever and whenever he willed reassured her obliquely. It was another sign that the Law of Time retained its integrity.
No matter which era of the Earth Esmer chose to occupy, his life and experience remained consecutive, as hers did. His betrayal of her, and of the Waynhim, in the Land’s past had been predicated on his encounters with her among the Ramen only a few days ago. If he came to her now, in his own life he would do so after he had brought the Demondim to assail her small company. The Law of Time required that, despite the harm which Joan had wrought with wild magic.
Even if he did hear her, however, he had given her no cause to believe that he could be summoned. He was descended—albeit indirectly—from the Elohim; and those self-absorbed beings ignored all concerns but their own. Linden was still vaguely surprised that they had troubled to send warning of the Land’s peril.
Nevertheless Esmer’s desire to assist her had seemed as strong as his impulse toward treachery. The commitments that he had inherited from Cail matched the dark desires of the merewives.
He might yet come to her.
She was not willing to risk banishing Covenant and Jeremiah with the Staff. And she was not desperate enough to chance wild magic. But she had found her own strength in Glimmermere. She had felt its cold in the marrow of her bones. When a score of heartbeats had passed, and her call had not been answered, she raised her voice to a shout.
“Esmer, God damn it! I’m keeping score here, and by my count you still owe me!” Even his riven heart could not equate unleashing the Demondim—and the Illearth Stone—with serving as a translator for the Waynhim. “Cail was your father! You can’t deny that. You’ll tear yourself apart. And the Ranyhyn trust me! You love them, I know you do. For their sake, if not for simple fairness—!”
Abruptly she stopped. She had said enough. Lowering her head, she sagged as if she had been holding her breath.
Without transition, nausea began squirming in her guts.
She knew that sensation; had already become intimately familiar with it. If she reached for wild magic now, she would not find it: its hidden place within her had been sealed away.
She felt no surprise at all as Esmer stepped out of the sunlight directly in front of her.
He was unchanged; was perhaps incapable of change. If she had glimpsed him from a distance, only his strange apparel would have prevented her from mistaking him for one of the Haruchai. He had the strong frame of Stave’s kinsmen, the brown skin, the flattened features untouched by time. However, his gilded cymar marked him as a being apart. Its ecru fabric might have been woven from the foam of running seas, or from the clouds that fled before a thunderstorm, and its gilding was like fine streaks of light from a setting sun.
But he stood only a few steps away; and at this distance, his resemblance to his father vanished behind the dangerous green of his eyes and the nausea he evoked as though it were an essential aspect of his nature. His emanations were more subtle than those of the Demondim, yet in his own way he seemed more potent and ominous than any of the Vile-spawn.
By theurgy if not by blood, he was Kastenessen’s grandson.
For a moment, nausea and perceptions of might dominated Linden’s attention. Then, belatedly, she saw that he was not alone.
A band of ur-viles had appeared perhaps a dozen paces behind him: more ur-viles than she had known still existed in the world; far more than had enabled her to retrieve the Staff of Law. Only six or seven of those creatures had lived to reach the ambiguous sanctuary of Revelstone and the plateau. Yet here she saw at least three score of the black Demondim-spawn, perhaps as many as four. None of them bore any sign that they had endured a desperate struggle for their lives, and hers.
And on either side of the ur-viles waited small groups of Waynhim. The grey servants of the Land numbered only half as many as the ur-viles; yet even they were more than the mere dozen or so that had accompanied her to Lord’s Keep. Like the ur-viles, they showed no evidence that they had been in a battle.
What—? Involuntarily Linden took a startled step backward. Esmer—?
Millennia ago, he had brought the Demondim out of the Land’s ancient past to assail her.
In alarm, she threw a glance around the surrounding hills—and found more creatures behind her. These, however, she recognized: twelve or fourteen Waynhim and half that many ur-viles, most of them scarred by the nacre acid of the Demondim, or by the cruel virulence of the Illearth Stone. They had formed separate wedges to concentrate their strength. And both formations were aimed at Esmer. The battered loremaster of the ur-viles pointed its iron jerrid or scepter like a warning at Cail’s son.
Esmer, what have you done?
Where else could he have found so many ur-viles, so many Waynhim, if not in a time before she and Covenant had faced the Sunbane? A time when the ur-viles had served Lord Foul, and the Waynhim had defended the Land, according to their separate interpretations of their Weird?
Instinctively Linden wanted to call up fire to protect herself. But the creatures at her back had supported her with their lives as well as their lore when no one else could have aided her. They intended to defend her now, although they were badly outnumbered. And the force of her Staff would harm them. For their sake—and because there were Waynhim among the ur-viles with Esmer—she fought down her fear.
As she mastered herself, all of the Demondim-spawn began to bark simultaneously.
Their raucous voices seemed to strike the birdsong from the air. Even the breeze was shocked to stillness. Guttural protests as harsh as curses broke over her head like a prolonged crash of surf. Yet among the newcomers appeared none of the steaming ruddy iron blades which the ur-viles used as weapons. None of them resembled a loremaster. And neither they nor the Waynhim with them stood in wedges to focus their power.
Then Linden understood that the newcomers did not mean to strike at her. They were not even prepared to ward themselves. Their voices sounded inherently hostile; feral as the baying of wild dogs. Nevertheless no power swelled among them. Their yells were indistinguishable from those of her allies.
And Esmer himself sneered openly at her apprehension. A sour grin twisted his mouth: the baleful green of disdain filled his gaze.
“God in Heaven,” Linden muttered under her breath. Trembling, she forced herself to loosen her grip on the Staff; drop Covenant’s ring back under her shirt. Then she met Esmer’s eyes as squarely as she could.
“So which is it this time?” She almost had to shout to make herself heard. Aid and betrayal. “I’ve never seen so many—”
She was familiar with Esmer’s inbred rage at the Haruchai. He had nearly killed Stave with it. If Hyn’s arrival, and Hynyn’s, had not stayed his hand—
Because of the Haruchai, there will be endless havoc!
The Masters would not expect an assault from the direction of the plateau.
If the Waynhim condoned—or at least tolerated—the presence of the ur-viles, she could be sure that she was not in danger. Perhaps the Masters and Revelstone were also safe. Yet she could not imagine any explanation for Esmer’s actions except treachery.
Fervently she hoped that Mahrtiir would not rush to her aid. She trusted him; but his presence would complicate her confrontation with Esmer.
However, Kevin’s Dirt had blunted the Manethrall’s senses. And the Demondim-spawn were able to disguise their presence. If the shape of the hills contained the clamor—or if the sound of the river muffled it—he might be unaware of what transpired.
“‘Keeping score’?” replied Esmer sardonically. “‘Count’? Such speech is unfamiliar to me. Nonetheless your meaning is plain. In the scales of your eyes, if by no other measure, my betrayals have outweighed my aid. You are ignorant of many things, Wildwielder. Were your misjudgments not cause for scorn, they would distress me.”
She had often seen him look distressed when he spoke to her.
“Stop it, Esmer,” she ordered flatly. “I’m tired of hearing you avoid simple honesty.” And she was painfully aware of her ignorance. “I called you because I need answers. You can start with the question I just asked. Why are these creatures here?”
A flicker that might have been uncertainty or glee disturbed the flowing disdain in his eyes. “And do you truly conceive that I have come in response to your summons? Do you imagine that you are in any fashion capable of commanding me?”
Around Linden, the ur-viles and Waynhim yowled and snarled like wolves contending over a carcass. She could hardly recognize her own thoughts. As if to ready a threat of her own, she clenched her fists. “I said, stop it.”
She wanted to be furious at him. Ire would have made her stronger. But her writhen nausea described his underlying plight explicitly. He could not reconcile his conflicting legacies, and behind his disdain was a rending anguish.
More in exasperation than anger, she continued, “I don’t care whether I actually summoned you or not. If you aren’t going to answer my questions,” if he himself did not constitute an answer, “go away. Let your new allies do whatever they came to do.”
Neither Esmer’s expression nor his manner changed. In the same mordant tone, he responded, “There speaks more ignorance, Wildwielder. These makings are not my’allies.’ Indeed, their mistrust toward me far surpasses your own.”
He heaved a sarcastic sigh. “You have heard me account for my actions, and for those of the ur-viles and Waynhim as well. Still you do not comprehend. I have not garnered these surviving remnants of their kind from the abysm of time in order to serve me. Nor would they accept such service for any cause. I have enabled their presence here, and they have accepted it, so that they may serve you.”
“Serve me?” Linden wanted to plead with the Demondim-spawn to lower their voices. Their shouting forced her to bark as roughly as they did. “How?”
Did they believe that less than a hundred Waynhim and ur-viles would suffice to drive back the Demondim? When that horde could draw upon the immeasurable bane of the Illearth Stone?
“Wildwielder,” Esmer rasped, “it is my wish to speak truly. Yet I fear that no truth will content you.
“Would it suffice to inform you, as I have done before, that these creatures perceive the peril of my nature, and are joined in their wish to guard against me? Would it appease you to hear that they now know their kindred accompanying you have discovered a purpose worthy of devoir, and that therefore they also desire to stand with you?”
“Oh, I can believe that,” she retorted. The ur-viles at her back had already shown more selfless devotion than she would have believed possible from the Despiser’s former vassals. The Waynhim had demonstrated that they were willing to unite with their ancient enemies for her sake. And none of the creatures on the hillside had raised anything more than their voices against each other. “But you’re right. I’m not ‘content.’
“Why did you bring them here? What do you gain? Is this something that Cail would have done, or are you listening to Kastenessen?”
In response, a brief flinch marred Esmer’s disdain. For an instant, he gave her the impression that he was engaged in a fierce battle with himself. Then he resumed his scorn.
God, she wished that the Demondim-spawn would shut up—
“It is your assertion that I am in your debt,” Esmer said as if he were jeering. “I concur. Therefore I have gathered these makings from the past, for their kind has perished, and no others exist in this time. They retain much of the dark lore of the Demondim. They will ward you, and this place”—he nodded in the direction of Revelstone—“with more fidelity than the Haruchai, who have no hearts.”
Covenant had said that he did not expect the horde to attack for another day or two. Could so many ur-viles and Waynhim working together contrive a viable defense? If she ended the threat of the Illearth Stone?
She had already made her decision about the Stone. Its powers were too enormous and fatal: she could not permit them to be unleashed. Nonetheless she shook her head as though Esmer had not affected her.
“That tells me what they can do,” she replied through the tumult of barking. “It doesn’t tell me why you brought them here. With you, everything turns into a betrayal somehow. What kind of harm do you have in mind this time?”
He gave her another exaggerated sigh. “Wildwielder, it is thoughtless to accuse me thus. You have been informed that ‘Good cannot be accomplished by evil means,’ yet you have not allowed the ill of your own deeds to dissuade you from them. Am I not similarly justified in all that I attempt? Why then do you presume to weigh my deeds in a more exacting scale?”
Linden was acutely aware that the “means” by which she had reached her present position were questionable at best: at worst, they had been actively hurtful. She had used Anele as if he were a tool; had violated Stave’s pride by healing him; had endangered the Arch of Time simply to increase her chances of finding her son. But she did not intend to let Esmer deflect her.
She met his disdain with the fierceness of Glimmermere’s cold and strength. “All right,” she returned without hesitation. “We’re both judged by what we do. I accept that. But I take risks and make mistakes because I know what I want, not because I can’t choose between help and hurt. If you want me to believe you, answer a straight question.”
She needed anything that he could reveal about Covenant and Jeremiah; needed it urgently. But first she had to break down his scorn. It protected his strange array of vulnerabilities. He would continue to evade her until she found a way to touch his complex pain.
“You don’t want to talk about what you’ve just done,” she said between her teeth. “That’s pretty obvious. Tell me this instead.
“Who possessed Anele in the Verge of Wandering? Who used him to talk to the Demondim? Who filled him with all of that fire? Give me a name.”
Covenant and Jeremiah had been herded—If she knew who wished them to reach her, she might begin to grasp the significance of their arrival.
The abrupt silence of the Waynhim and ur-viles seemed to suck the air from her lungs: it nearly left her gasping. Their raucous clamor was cut off as if they were appalled. Or as if—
Trying to breathe again, she swallowed convulsively.
—as if she had finally asked a question that compelled their attention.
Now Esmer did not merely flinch. He almost appeared to cower. In an instant, all of his hauteur fled. Instead of sneering, he ducked his head to escape her gaze. His cymar fluttered about him, independent of the breeze, so that its sunset gilding covered him in disturbed streaks and consternation.
Together all of the Demondim-spawn, those behind him as well as those with Linden, advanced a few steps, tightening their cordon. Their wide nostrils tasted the air wetly, as though they sought to detect the scent of truth; and their ears twitched avidly.
When Esmer replied, his voice would have been inaudible without the silence.
“You speak of Kastenessen.” He may have feared being overheard. “I have named him my grandsire, though the Dancers of the Sea were no get of his. Yet they were formed by the lore and theurgy which he gifted to the mortal woman whom he loved. Therefore I am the descendant of his power. Among the Elohim, no other form of procreation has meaning.”
The ur-viles and Waynhim responded with a low mutter which may have expressed approval or disbelief. Like them, if in an entirely different fashion, the merewives were artificial beings, born of magic and knowledge rather than of natural flesh.
Kastenessen, Linden thought. New fears shook her. She believed Esmer instinctively. Kastenessen had burned her with his fury in the open center of the Verge of Wandering. And yesterday he had influenced the Demondim, persuading them to alter their intentions.
“That’s why you serve him,” she murmured unsteadily. I serve him utterly. “You inherited your power from him.”
His power—and his hunger for destruction.
“As I also serve you,” he told her for the second time.
Kastenessen. The name was a knell; a funereal gong adumbrating echoes in all directions. Her nausea was growing worse. The Elohim had forcibly Appointed Kastenessen to prevent or imprison a peril in the farthest north of the world. But now he had broken free of his Durance. When Lord Foul had said, I have merely whispered a word of counsel here and there, and awaited events, he may have been speaking of Kastenessen.
She knew how powerful the Elohim could be, any of them—
Kastenessen had provided for her escape from the horde. Had he also enabled Covenant and Jeremiah to reach her? Did he want all three of them alive?
Still scrambling to catch up with the implications of Esmer’s revelation, she mused aloud, “So when Anele talks about skurj—”
“He names the beasts”—Esmer shook his head—“nay, the monstrous creatures of fire which Kastenessen was Appointed to contain. They come to assail the Land because he has severed or eluded the Durance which compelled him to his doom.”
Behind the Mithil’s Plunge, Anele had referred to Kastenessen. I could have preserved the Durance! he had cried. Stopped the skurj. With the Staff! If I had been worthy.
Did you sojourn under the Sunbane with Sunder and Hollian, and learn nothing of ruin?
According to Anele—or to the native stone that he had touched behind the Plunge—the Elohim had done nothing to secure Kastenessen’s imprisonment.
Aching for Anele’s pain, and for her own peril, Linden asked Esmer softly, “What about this morning? The Demondim let Covenant and my son reach Revelstone.” Covenant had given her an explanation. She wanted to know if he had told the truth. “Was that Kastenessen’s doing too?”
“You do not comprehend,” Esmer protested dolefully; as regret-ridden as the wind that drove seafarers into the Soulbiter. “Your ignorance precludes it. Do you not know that the Viles, those beings of terrible and matchless lore, were once a lofty and admirable race? Though they roamed the Land widely, they inhabited the Lost Deep in caverns as ornate and majestic as castles. There they devoted their vast power and knowledge to the making of beauty and wonder, and all of their works were filled with loveliness. For an age of the Earth, they spurned the heinous evils buried among the roots of Gravin Threndor, and even in the time of Berek Lord-Fatherer no ill was known of them.”
Esmer’s ambiguous conflicts had grown so loud that Linden could not shut them out. They hurt her nerves like the carnage before Revelstone’s gates, when the Demondim had slaughtered so many Masters and their mounts.
She had asked about Kastenessen—about Covenant—and Esmer talked of Viles.
“Yet a shadow had already fallen upon them,” Cail’s son continued, “like and unlike the shadow upon the hearts of the Elohim. The corruption of the Viles, and of their makings, the Demondim, transpired thus.”
Wait, she wanted to insist. Stop. That isn’t what I need to know. But the accentuation of Esmer’s manner held her. He was right: her ignorance precluded her from asking the right questions—and from recognizing useful answers.
“Many tales are told,” said Esmer, “some to conceal, some to reveal. Yet it is sooth that long before the Despiser’s coming to the littoral of the Land, he had stretched out his hand to awaken the malevolence of Lifeswallower, the Great Swamp, as it lurked in the heart of Sarangrave Flat, for he delights in cruel hungers. And from that malevolence—conjoined with the rapacity of humankind—had emerged the three Ravers, moksha, turiya, and samadhi. By such means was the One Forest decimated, and its long sentience maimed, until an Elohim came to preserve its remnants.
“Awakened to themselves,” Esmer explained as though the knowledge grieved him, “the trees created the Forestals to guard them, and bound the Elohim into the Colossus of the Fall as an Interdict against the Ravers, repulsing them from the Upper Land.
“Later the Despiser established Ridjeck Thome as his seat of power, though he did not then declare himself to human knowledge. There he gathered the Ravers to his service when the Colossus began to wane. And with his guidance, they together, or some among them, began cunningly to twist the hearts of the sovereign and isolate Viles. Forbidden still by the Colossus, the Ravers could not enter the Lost Deep. Instead they met with Viles that roamed east of Landsdrop, exploring the many facets of the Land. With whispers and subtle blandishments, and by slow increments, the Ravers obliquely taught the Viles to loathe their own forms.
“Being Ravers, the brothers doubtless began by sharing their mistrust and contempt toward the surviving mind of the One Forest, and toward the Forestals. From that beginning, however, the Viles were readily led to despise themselves, for all contempt turns upon the contemptuous, as it must.”
Esmer had raised his head: he faced Linden as steadily as he could. But his eyes were the fraught hue of heavy seas crashing against each other, and his raiment gusted about him in the throes of a private storm.
“In that same age,” he went on, “as the perversion of the Viles progressed, samadhi Raver evaded the Interdict by passing beyond the Southron Range to taint the people who gave birth to Berek Lord-Fatherer. By his influence upon their King, samadhi instigated the war which led Berek through terrible years and cruel bloodshed to his place as the first High Lord in the Land.
“Among the crags of Mount Thunder, Berek had sworn himself to the service of the Land. But he was new to power, and much of his effort was turned to the discovering of the One Tree and the forming of the Staff of Law. He could not halt all of humankind’s depredations against the forests. And as the trees dwindled, so the strength of the Colossus was diminished.
“Nonetheless in the time of High Lord Damelon the Interdict endured. When the Viles turned their lore and their self-loathing to the creation of the Demondim in the Lost Deep, the Ravers were precluded from interference.”
Esmer nodded as if to himself. His gaze drifted away from Linden. He may have been too absorbed in his tale, in rue and old bitterness, to remember that he was not answering her. Nevertheless the Waynhim and ur-viles heeded him in utter silence, as if their Weird hinged on his words. For their sake, and because she could not evaluate his reasons for speaking, she swallowed her impulse to interrupt him.
“And the Viles were too wise to labor foolishly, or in ignorance. They did not seek to renew their own loathing, but rather to render it impotent. Therefore the Demondim were spawned free of their creators’ stain. Though they lacked some portion of the Viles’ majesty and lore, they were not ruled by contempt. Instead they were a stern race, holding themselves apart from the Viles in renunciation.
“Yet across the years the Demondim also were turned to abhorrence. Dwelling apart from the Viles, they made their habitation in proximity to the Illearth Stone and other banes. And the evil within the Sarangrave called to them softly, as it had to the Viles. When at last the Demondim ventured to seek the source of that call, they entered the Lower Land and Sarangrave Flat, and there they met the fate of their makers, for the Ravers gained power over them also.”
Complex emotions seemed to tug like contrary winds at Esmer’s cymar, and his voice resembled the threat of thunder beyond the Westron Mountains. “Moksha Jehannum took possession of their loremaster, and turiya with him, luring the Vile-spawn to self-revulsion. Though the loremaster was later slain by the krill of Loric Vilesilencer, the harm was done. The Demondim also learned the loathing of trees, and so came to loathe themselves. Thus they met the doom of their makers, and the labors which created the ur-viles and the Waynhim began.
“Unlike the Viles, however, the Demondim were seduced to the Despiser’s service. Their makers had created within them an aspect of mortality and dross, and they were unable to perceive that the Despiser’s scorn toward them exceeded their own. Nor was their desire to follow the dictates of their loathing restricted by the Interdict. They acted upon the Upper Land while the Ravers were hidden from the Council of Lords, and the Despiser himself remained unknown.
“Throughout the years of Loric Vilesilencer and High Lord Kevin, the Demondim pursued evil in the Land, until at last they participated in the treachery which broke Kevin Landwaster’s resolve and led him to the Ritual of Desecration. That the Demondim themselves would also perish in the Ritual, they could not foresee, for they did not comprehend the disdain of their master. Therefore they were unmade.”
The listening creatures had moved still closer. They seemed to hear Esmer with their nostrils as much as their ears. And as they approached, more and more of the Waynhim were mingled among the ur-viles. For the moment, at least, they had set aside their long enmity.
“For millennia thereafter,” Esmer sighed, “the ur-viles likewise served the Despiser and opposed the Lords, following in the steps of their makers, though the Waynhim chose another path. Yet the Demondim had accomplished both less and more than their purpose. The ur-viles and Waynhim were entirely enfleshed. For that reason, their blindness exceeded that of the Demondim—as did their inadvertent capacity for wisdom. Being imprisoned in mortality, they became heir to a power, or a need, which is inherent in all beings that think and may be slain. By their very nature, they were compelled to reconsider the significance of their lives. Flesh and death inspired the ur-viles and Waynhim to conceive differing Weirds to justify themselves—and to reinterpret their Weirds as they wished. In consequence, their allegiances were vulnerable to transmutation.”
Linden recognized aspects of truth in what he said, but that did nothing to relieve her distress. Her mouth was full of bile and illness, and she did not know how much longer she could contain her nausea. Esmer’s conflicts aggravated it. The Demondim-spawn may have understood his intent: she did not.
“Why are you telling me this?” she asked abruptly. “It isn’t what I need. I have to know why the Demondim didn’t kill Jeremiah and Covenant. You said that Kastenessen convinced those monsters to let me escape. Did he do the same for my son and Covenant?”
A flare of anger like a glimpse of the Illearth Stone showed in Esmer’s eyes. “And are you also ignorant,” he retorted, “that the Cavewights were once friendly to the people of the Land? I wish you to grasp the nature of such creatures. You inquire of Kastenessen, and I reply. That which appears evil need not have been so from the beginning, and need not remain so until the end.
“Doubtless your knowledge of Viles and Demondim and ur-viles has been gleaned from the Haruchai.” He had recovered his scorn. “Have they also informed you that when both the Viles and the Demondim had been undone, the ur-viles retained the lore of their making? Do you comprehend that the ur-viles continued to labor in the Lost Deep when all of their creators had passed away? Though the Waynhim did not arrogate such tasks to themselves, the ur-viles endeavored to fashion miracles of lore and foresight which would alter the fate of their kind, and of the Land, and of the very Earth.”
He had shaken Linden again. Holding the Staff in the crook of her arm, she pushed her fingers through the damp tangles of her hair: she wanted to push them through her thoughts in an effort to straighten out the confusion of Esmer’s indirect answers.
“Wait a minute,” she protested with her hands full of uncertainty. “Stave said—”
He had said, Much of the black lore of the Viles and the Demondim endured to them—and much did not. Both Waynhim and ur-viles continued to dwindle. They created no descendants, and when they were slain nothing returned of them.
Esmer snorted. “The Haruchai speak of that which they know, which is little. The truth has been made plain to you, for you have known Vain. You cannot doubt that the ur-viles pursued the efforts of their makers.
“At the same time, however, more of these creatures”—he gestured around him—“came into being, both ur-viles and Waynhim. For that reason, I have been able to gather so many to your service.”
Linden tried to interrupt him again; slow him down so that she could think. He overrode her harshly. Twisted by the contradictory demands of his heritage, he may still have been trying to answer her original question.
“But the ur-viles have created other makings also. They did not cease their labors when they had formed Vain, for they were not content. Their reinterpretation of their Weird was not yet satisfied. Therefore they have made—”
Suddenly he stopped as if he had caught himself on the edge of a precipice. Chagrin darkened his gaze as he stared at her, apparently unable or unwilling to look away.
“Made what?” Linden breathed softly. His manner alarmed her.
The ur-viles and Waynhim crowded closer. Ripples of dark power ran among them as if they were sharing intimations of vitriol; nascent outrage.
Linden unclosed the Staff from the crook of her arm and wrapped both of her hands around it. She had too many fears: she could not allow them to daunt her. “Made what?” she repeated more strongly.
Esmer’s green eyes seemed to spume with anger or dread as he pronounced hoarsely, “Manacles.”
She gaped at him in surprise. What, manacles?. Fetters?
“Why?” she demanded. “Who are they for?” Or what?
Which of the powers abroad in the Land did the ur-viles hope to imprison?
He shook his head. At the same time, the creatures started barking again, arguing incomprehensibly in their guttural tongue. Some of them made gestures that may have been threats or admonitions. Force rolled through them, small wavelets of energy like ripples spreading outward from the impact of their inhuman emotions; but they did not seek to concentrate it.
Linden wanted to cover her ears. “What are they saying?” Her voice held an involuntary note of pleading. “Esmer, tell me.”
At once, the froth of waves seemed to fill his eyes, concealing their deeper hues. “They have heard me. They acknowledge my intent, though you do not. Now some debate the interpretation of their Weirds. Others demand that I explain their purpose further.” He folded his arms like bands across his chest. “But I will not. The debt between us I have redeemed, and more. In this, there is no power sufficient to compel me.”
Around him, the shouting of the creatures subsided to an angry mutter. Or perhaps their low sounds expressed resignation rather than ire.
Manacles—? In frustration, Linden wanted to hit him with the Staff. He still had not answered her question about his grandsire—or shed any light on the conundrum of Covenant and Jeremiah.
Struggling to keep her balance amid a gyre of information and implications which she did not know how to accommodate, she retreated to surer ground.
“All right. Forget the manacles. I don’t need to know.” Not now, when she had so many more immediate concerns. “Tell me something I can understand. How did you convince your ur-viles and Waynhim to come with you?” She knew why her own small band had combined their efforts against the Demondim. Even now, however, she could not be certain that the truce between them would hold. And those with Esmer had not shared in her battles. “They’ve been enemies for thousands of years. Why have they set that aside?”
Esmer raised one hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. Closing his eyes, he massaged them briefly with his fingertips. As he did so, he replied in a tone of exaggerated patience, as if he had already answered her question in terms that even a child could comprehend.
“To the ur-viles, I offered opportunity to see fulfilled the mighty purpose which they began in the making of Vain. To the Waynhim, I promised a joining with their few kindred, that they might be powerful in the Land’s service.” Then he lowered his hand, letting her see the wind-tossed disturbance in his eyes. “And of both I required this covenant, that they must cease all warfare between them.”
As if in assent, the creatures fell silent again.
Before Linden could ask another question, Esmer added, “Wildwielder, you exhaust my restraint. You have demanded answers. I have provided them, seeking to relieve the darkness of my nature. But one of the Haruchai approaches from that place”—again he indicated Revelstone—“and I will not suffer his presence. I cannot. Already my heart frays within me. Soon it will demand release. If I do not depart, I will wreak—”
He stopped. His expression and his green eyes seemed to beseech her for forbearance.
But her nausea and distress were too great. Her son and Thomas Covenant had refused to let her hold them. They might as well have rejected her years of unfulfilled love. Instead of honoring Esmer’s appeal, she said grimly, “If you didn’t insist on doing harm, you wouldn’t need relief.”
For an instant, he looked so stricken that she thought he might weep. But then, as if by an act of will, he recovered his scorn. “If I did not insist upon aiding you,” he told her acidly, “I would not be required to commit harm.”
He had told her the history of the Viles and Demondim in order to justify himself: she believed that, although it may have been only part of the truth. He wanted her to trust that the creatures which he had brought forward from the past would serve her. At the same time, he was plainly trying to warn her—
But she could not afford to think about such things now. He was about to depart: she would not be able to stop him. And she still had learned nothing about Covenant and Jeremiah.
“All right,” she said again, trying to speak more quickly. “I accept your explanation. I accept”—she gestured around at the ur-viles and Waynhim—“all of them. You’re trying to help me, even though I don’t understand it. But I still need answers.
“You said that there’s a shadow on the hearts of the Elohim. What does that mean?” She meant, What does Kastenessen have to do with Covenant and my son? But Esmer had already evaded that question. “Why didn’t they stop Kastenessen from breaking free?”
Esmer groaned as if she endangered his sanity. Gritting his teeth, he said, “The Elohim believe that they are equal to all things. This is false. Were it true, the Earth entire would exist in their image, and they would have no need to fear the rousing of the Worm of the World’s End. Nonetheless they persist in their belief. That is shadow enough to darken the heart of any being.
“They did not act to preserve Kastenessen’s Durance because they saw no need. Are you not the Wildwielder? And have you not returned to the Land? The skurj are mindless beasts, ravaging to feed. Kastenessen’s will rules them, but they cannot harm the Elohim. And you will oppose both Kastenessen and his monsters. What then remains to cause the Elohim concern? They have done that which they deem needful. They have forewarned the people of the Land, speaking often of the peril of the halfhand when the Haruchai have effaced any other knowledge or defense. Their Würd requires nothing more. While you endure, they fear no other threat.”
Linden flinched. She should have been prepared for Esmer’s assertion. Since their first meeting millennia ago, the Elohim had distrusted and disdained Thomas Covenant. They had been convinced even then that she, not Covenant, should be the one to hold and use white gold. And later, just a few days ago, Esmer had said, You have become the Wildwielder, as the Elohim knew that you must.
Nevertheless he filled her with dismay.
“Wait a minute,” she protested. “You have to tell me. What’s ‘the peril of the halfhand’? You can’t mean the Humbled. They don’t have any power—and they don’t want to threaten the Land. And you can’t mean my son. That poor boy has been Lord Foul’s prisoner ever since he came here. He doesn’t have a ring, or a staff, or lore.” He retained only his racecar, pitiable and useless. “He has power now, but he must be getting it from someone else.
“No.” She shook her head in denial. “You’re talking about Thomas Covenant. But how is he dangerous? My God, Esmer, he’s already saved the Land twice. And he’s probably been holding the Arch of Time together ever since Joan started her caesures. Why do the Elohim think that anybody has to Beware the halfhand?”
“Wildwielder.” Esmer seemed to throw up his hands in disgust or apprehension. “Always you persist in questions which require no response, or which serve no purpose, or which will cause my destruction. You waste my assistance, when any attempt at aid or guidance is cruel to me. Do you mean to demand the entire knowledge of the Earth, while the Land itself is brought to ruin, and Time with it?”
“It’s not that simple!” she snapped urgently. “Practically everything is being hidden from me,” and not only by Cail’s son. “When I do learn something, it isn’t relevant to my problems. Even with the Staff, I might as well be blind.
“You’ve at least got eyes. You see things that I can’t live without. You’re in my debt. You said so. Maybe that’s why these ur-viles and Waynhim are here. Maybe it isn’t. But if I’m asking the wrong questions, whose fault is that? I’ve got nothing but questions. How am I supposed to know which are the right ones? How can I help wasting you when you won’t tell me what I need to know?”
Esmer’s sudden anguish was so acute that it seemed to splash against her skin like spray; and the doleful green of his gaze cried out to her. In response, her stomach twisted as though she had swallowed poison. Another mutter arose from the watching creatures, a sound as sharp as fangs. The air felt too thick to breathe: she had difficulty drawing it into her lungs.
As if the words were being wrung from him by the combined insistence of the Waynhim and ur-viles, he hissed, “You must be the first to drink of the EarthBlood.”
For a moment longer, he remained in front of her, letting her see that his distress was as poignant as a wail. Then he left.
She did not see him vanish. Instead he seemed to sink back like a receding wave until he was gone as if he had never been there at all, leaving her with the fate of the Land on her shoulders and too little strength to carry it alone.
The abrupt cessation of her nausea gave her no relief at all.
Love and Strangers
Linden hardly saw the ur-viles and Waynhim disperse, withdrawing apparently at random across the hillsides. With Esmer gone, they seemed to have no further purpose. They kept their distance from Glimmermere. And none of them headed toward Revelstone. As they drifted away, small clusters of Waynhim followed larger groups of ur-viles, or chose directions of their own. Soon they were gone, abandoning her to her dilemmas.
You must be the first to drink of the EarthBlood.
In the west, a storm-front continued to accumulate behind the majesty of the mountains. Leery of being scourged by winds and rain and hostility, she peered for a moment at the high threat of the thunderheads, the clouds streaming past the jagged peaks. But she saw nothing unnatural there: no malice, no desire for pain. The harm which had harried her return to the Verge of Wandering—malevolence that she now believed had arisen from Kastenessen’s frustration and power—was entirely absent. When this storm broke over the plateau, it would bring only torrents, the necessary vehemence of the living world. And when it passed, it would leave lucent and enriched the grass-clad hillsides, the feather-leaved swaths of mimosa, the tall stands of cedar and pine.
Aching, she wished that she could find ease in such things. But Thomas Covenant and Jeremiah had refused to let her touch them; and Esmer had foiled her efforts to find out what was wrong with them. Her fear that they had been herded toward her remained unresolved.
Covenant had claimed responsibility for that feat—but how could she know whether his assertions were even possible? How did his place in the Arch of Time enable him to violate time’s most fundamental strictures? Had he indeed become a being of pure paradox, as capable of saving or damning the Earth as white gold itself?
And Jeremiah had not simply recovered his mind: he appeared to have acquired the knowledge and understanding of a fifteen-year-old boy, even though he had been effectively absent from himself for ten of those years. That should have been enough for her. It was more, far more, than she could have hoped for if she had rescued him with her own strength and determination; her own love.
But he and Covenant had denied her. Her son had gained power—and had used it to repel her. They kept their distance even though every particle of her heart and soul craved to hold them in her arms and never let them go. And they claimed that they had good reason for doing so. Instead of relief, joy, or desire—the food for which her soul hungered—she felt only an unutterable loss.
Don’t touch him! Don’t touch either of us!
Faced with Esmer’s surprises and obfuscations, she had failed to ask the right questions; to make him tell her why Covenant and her son were so changed. Now she had no choice except to wrest understanding from Covenant himself. Or from Jeremiah. Somehow.
Keep her away from us until I’m ready.
Her heart was full of pain, in spite of Glimmermere’s healing, as she turned at last to ascend the hillside toward Revelstone. How had the man whom she had loved here, in this very place, become a being who could not tolerate the affirmation of Law? And where had Jeremiah obtained the lore, the magic, or the need to reject her yearning embrace?
She did not mean to wait until Covenant decided that he was ready. She had loved him and her son too long and too arduously to be treated as nothing more than a hindrance.
But first she hoped to talk to the Mahdoubt. The older woman had been kind to Linden. She might be willing to say more about her strange insights. In any case, her replies could hardly be less revealing than Esmer’s—
As Linden reached the crest of the hills which cupped and concealed Glimmermere, the southeastward stretch of the upland plateau opened before her. Distraught as she was, she might still have lingered there for a moment to drink in the spring-kissed landscape: the flowing green of the grass, the numinous blue of the jacarandas’ flowers, the yellow splash of blooms among the mimosas. But Manethrall Mahrtiir stood at the foot of slope below her, plainly watching for her return. And in the middle distance, she saw Stave’s solitary figure striding purposefully toward her. Their proximity drew her down the hillside to meet them.
She wanted a moment alone with Mahrtiir before Stave came near enough to overhear her.
The Manethrall studied her approach as though he believed—or feared—that she had been changed by Glimmermere. He must have noticed the sudden silence of the birds— She felt his sharp gaze on her, searching for indications that she was unharmed.
He was unaware of what had transpired: she could see that. Both Esmer and the Demondim-spawn were able to thwart perception. And the bulk of the hill must have blocked the noises of her encounter with them. If Mahrtiir had felt their presence, he would have ignored her request for privacy.
Yet it was clear that he retained enough discernment, in spite of Kevin’s Dirt, to recognize that something had happened to her or changed for her. As she neared him, he bowed deeply, as if he felt that he owed her a new homage. And when he raised his eyes again, his chagrin was unmistakable, in spite of his fierce nature.
“Ringthane—” he began awkwardly. “Again you have surpassed me. You are exalted—”
“No, Mahrtiir.” Linden hastened to forestall his wonder. She was too lost, and too needy, to bear it. “It isn’t me. It’s Glimmermere. That’s what you’re seeing.” She attempted an unsuccessful smile. “You don’t need to stay away from it. As soon as you touch the water, you’ll know what I mean. It belongs to the Land. To everyone. You won’t feel like an intruder. And it cleans away Kevin’s Dirt.
“I can’t use my Staff right now.” She frowned at the wood in frustration. “You know that. I can’t protect us from being blinded, any of us. But as long as we can go to Glimmermere—”
When they knew the truth, Liand, Bhapa, and Pahni would be delighted. Anele, on the other hand— Linden sighed. He would avoid the lake strenuously. He feared anything that might threaten his self-imposed plight. And his defenses were strong. He would use every scrap of his inborn might to preserve the peculiar integrity of his madness.
As Stave came closer, she promised the Manethrall quietly, “You’ll get your chance. I’ll make sure of it.”
The Raman bowed again. “My thanks, Ringthane.” Wryly he added, “Doubtless you have observed that the pride of the Ramen runs hotly within me. I do not contain it well.”
Hurrying to put the matter behind her, Linden said again, “Don’t worry about it. I respect your pride. It’s better than shame. And we have more important problems.”
Mahrtiir nodded. He may have thought that he knew what she meant.
A moment later, Stave reached the Manethrall’s side. He, too, bowed as if in recognition of some ineffable alteration, an elevation at once too subtle and too profound for Linden to acknowledge. “Chosen,” he said with his familiar flatness, “the waters of Glimmermere have served you well. You have been restored when none could have known that you had been diminished.”
He had cleaned the blood from his face, but he still wore his spattered tunic and his untended bruises as if they were a reproach to the Masters. His single eye gave his concentration a prophetic cast, as if in losing half of his vision he had gained a supernal insight.
Did he see her accurately? Had she in fact gleaned something sacramental from the lake? Something untainted by her encounter with Esmer’s ambiguous loyalties?
She shrugged the question aside. It could not change her choices—or the risks that she meant to take.
Without preamble, she replied, “I was just about to tell Mahrtiir that something happened after I—” She had no words adequate to the experience. “I wanted to talk to somebody who could tell me what’s going on, so I called Esmer.” Awkwardly she explained, “I have no idea what he can and can’t do. I thought that he might be able to hear me.”
While Stave studied her, and Mahrtiir stared with open surprise, she described as concisely as she could what Cail’s son had said and done.
“Ur-viles,” the Manethrall breathed when she was finished, “and Waynhim. So many—and together. Have these creatures indeed come to your aid? Do they suffice against the Teeth of the Render?”
Stave appeared to consult the air. With his tongue, he made a sound that suggested vexation. “The actions of these Demondim-spawn are unexpected,” he said aloud, “but no more so than those of their makers. If the spirit of Kastenessen is able to possess our companion Anele, much is explained.”
Our companion—Linden could not remember hearing Stave speak the old man’s name before. Apparently the former Master had extended his friendship to include all of her comrades.
“For that reason, however,” he continued, “the peril that the same spirit moves Esmer, and with him the ur-viles and Waynhim, cannot be discounted.
“Did Esmer reveal nothing of the ur-Lord, or of your son?”
“No,” she muttered bitterly. “I asked him whether Kastenessen helped Covenant and Jeremiah reach Revelstone, but he just changed the subject.”
Mahrtiir opened his mouth, then closed it again grimly. Stave had more to say.
“I mislike this confluence. Plainly the return of the Unbeliever from the Arch of Time holds great import. It appears to promise that the Land’s redemption is at hand. Yet his account of his coming troubles me. That he is able to cast a glamour of confusion upon the Demondim, I do not greatly question. However, his avowal concerning distortions of the Law of Time—” He hesitated momentarily, then said, “And Esmer’s grandsire connives with Demondim while Esmer himself removes Waynhim and ur-viles from their proper time.
“Chosen, here is cause for concern. It cannot lack meaning that such divergent events have occurred together.”
“Stave speaks sooth, Ringthane,” the Manethrall said in a low growl. “Esmer has been altered by your return to the Land. He is not as he was when he first gained the friendship of the Ramen. Had he answered you, his words would have held too much truth and falsehood to be of service.”
Linden agreed; but the thought did not comfort her. She had suffered too many shocks.
Jeremiah is here, but Foul still has him.
What you can’t see is how much it hurts that I’m not just here.
What were Esmer’s surprises—or his betrayals—compared to that?
Fiercely she set aside her failures. Supporting her resolve, if not her heart, on the Staff of Law, she met Stave’s flat gaze.
“I’m worried about the same things. Maybe Covenant can explain them.” Or perhaps the Mahdoubt might share her obscure knowledge. “Is he ready to see me yet? Has something else happened? I wasn’t expecting you so soon.”
“There is no new peril,” replied the Haruchai. “The Demondim remain in abeyance, without apparent purpose. But the ur-Lord has indeed announced his readiness to speak with you. I have been instructed to summon you.”
His manner suggested that he disliked being “instructed” by either Covenant or the Masters.
“Then let’s go.” At once, Linden started into motion. “Foul still has my son.” Somehow. “If I don’t do something about that soon, it’s going to tear me apart.”
Lord’s Keep was at least a league away.
Stave and the Manethrall joined her promptly, walking at her shoulders like guardians. She set a brisk pace, borne along by Glimmermere’s lingering potency; but they accompanied her easily. Either one of them could have reached Revelstone far more swiftly without her—
As they followed low valleys among the hills and trees, Linden asked Stave, “Did you find the Mahdoubt? Will she talk to me?”
The Haruchai shook his head. “It is curious. It appears that the Mahdoubt has departed from Revelstone. How she might have done so is unclear. Demondim in abundance guard the gates, the passage to the plateau is watched, and Lord’s Keep has no other egress. Yet neither the Masters nor those who serve the Keep can name her whereabouts.
“I was shown to her chambers, but she was not there. And those who have known her cannot suggest where she might be found.” He paused for a moment, then added, “Nor are they able to account for her. Indeed, they profess to know nothing certain of her. They say only that she conveys the sense that they have always known her—and that she seldom attracts notice.”
Stave shrugged slightly. “In the thoughts of the Masters, she is merely a servant of Revelstone, unremarkable and unregarded. To me, also, she has appeared to be entirely ordinary. Yet her absence now demonstrates our error. At a time of less extreme hazard, the Masters would seek to grasp her mystery. While Revelstone remains besieged, however, their attention is compelled by the Demondim.”
“I also was baffled by her,” Mahrtiir put in. “In some fashion, she appeared to alter herself from moment to moment, yet I could not be certain of my sight. Another woman inhabited her place, or she herself inhabited—” He muttered in irritation. “I do not comprehend it.”
“Me neither,” Linden admitted. But she swallowed her disappointment. If the Mahdoubt had not warned her to Be cautious of love, she would never have thought to ask for the older woman’s guidance.
“All right,” she went on. “Since that doesn’t make any sense, maybe you can tell me something that does. How did you convince the Humbled to leave me alone? If they don’t trust me, shouldn’t they be guarding me?”
Stave considered briefly before saying, “Other concerns require precedence. A measure of uncertainty has been sown among the Masters. They know nothing of the peril which Esmer has revealed. But they have heard Anele speak of both Kastenessen and the skurj. And they are chary of the Demondim. That such monsters front the gates of Revelstone, holding among them the might of the Illearth Stone, and yet do nothing, disturbs the Masters. In addition, the Unbeliever’s presence is”—he appeared to search for a description—“strangely fortuitous. It is difficult to credit.
“Your power to create Falls, or to efface the ur-Lord by other means, troubles the Masters deeply. However, I have reminded the Humbled that your love for both the Unbeliever and the Land is well known—and that your son will be lost by any act of theurgy. Further, I have assured them that you are not a woman who will forsake those companions who remain in Revelstone. This your fidelity to Anele confirms.
“Also”—Stave shrugged eloquently—“the Humbled will not willingly forego their duty to the Halfhand, regardless of their disquiet. Therefore they heeded my urging.”
Stave’s tone reminded Linden that the Humbled would not otherwise have listened to him.
“They are fools,” growled Mahrtiir.
“They are Haruchai,” Stave replied without inflection. “I thought as they do. Had I not partaken of the horserite, I would do so still.”
He deserved gratitude, especially because of his own bereavement; and Linden thanked him as well as she could. Then she asked a different question. “You mentioned the skurj. Why didn’t you say anything about them before we came here?”
“Chosen?” Stave cocked an eyebrow at her question.
“You’ve heard Anele talk about them. You were there when that Elohim appeared in Mithil Stonedown,” warning Liand’s people that a bane of great puissance and ferocity in the far north had slipped its bonds and had found release in Mount Thunder. “And you told me yourself that ‘Beasts of Earthpower rage upon Mount Thunder.’ But you haven’t said anything else.”
Until now, she had not needed to know more—
“Your people are the Masters of the Land. If something that terrible has been set loose,” something which resembled fiery serpents with the jaws of krakens, something capable of devouring stone and soil, grass and trees, “someone must have at least noticed. I assume that the Masters can’t fight the skurj, but they must be watching, studying, trying to understand.”
Now Stave nodded. “There has been misapprehension between us. The Masters have no knowledge of the skurj which has not been gleaned from Anele. We—” He stopped himself. “They have beheld no such evil upon the Land. If the skurj have come, they have done so recently, or without exposing themselves to the awareness of the Masters.
“When I spoke of ‘beasts of Earthpower,’ I should perhaps have named the Fire-Lions of Mount Thunder. I did not because I believed them unknown to you. Their life within Gravin Threndor is ancient, far older than the history of Lords in the Land. They came first to human knowledge in the time of Berek Halfhand, the Lord-Fatherer, who called upon them to destroy the armies of his foes. So the tale was later told to the Bloodguard during the time of Kevin Landwaster. Indeed, it has been sung that the Landwaster himself once stood upon the pinnacle of Gravin Threndor and beheld the Fire-Lions. Thereafter, however, they were not again witnessed until the time of the Unbeliever’s first coming to the Land, when he called upon Gravin Threndor’s beasts for the salvation of his companions.”
“So it is remembered among the Ramen,” Mahrtiir assented, “for Manethrall Lithe accompanied the Ringthane and his companions into the Wightwarrens, though we loathe the loss of the open sky. She it was who guided the defenders of the Land from those dire catacombs to the slopes of Gravin Threndor. She witnessed the Ringthane’s summoning of the Fire-Lions—and of the Ranyhyn who bore the Ringthane’s companions to safety.”
“That also the Haruchai have not forgotten,” said Stave. “The courage of the Raman enabled hope which would otherwise have been lost utterly.”
Linden bit her lower lip and waited for Stave to continue his explanation.
“Now, however,” he said, “the Fire-Lions are restive. After millennia of concealed life, they may be observed at any time rampaging upon the slopes of Mount Thunder. They present no peril to the Land, for they are beings of Earthpower, as condign after their fashion as the Ranyhyn. But the cause of their restlessness must be a great peril indeed. When the unnamed Elohim spoke of ‘a bane of great puissance and ferocity’ from the far north which had ‘found release’ in Mount Thunder, no Master knew the form or power of that evil, though all presumed it to be the source of the Fire-Lions’ unrest.
“Upon that occasion, the Elohim also named the skurj.”
“As he did among the Ramen as well,” Mahrtiir put in.
The Haruchai nodded again. “And Anele has indeed uttered that name repeatedly. But his words revealed nothing of what the skurj might be, or of the Fire-Lions’ unrest. Only when he spoke in the Close did he declare beyond mistake that Kastenessen had been Appointed to contain the skurj, that he has now broken free of his Durance, and that therefore the skurj are a present danger to the Land.
“For that reason, we”—again he stopped himself—“the Masters, and I as well, conceive that the skurj are not the bane which has been released in Mount Thunder. The Fire-Lions have been too long restless, and such devouring harm as Kastenessen was Appointed to imprison would surely have become manifest to our senses. Rather I deem, as do the Masters, that the bane of which the Elohim spoke, and the cause of the Fire-Lions’ unrest, is Kastenessen himself. We surmise that when he had broken free of his Durance, he came alone to Mount Thunder, preceding his former prisoners. Those creatures are the skurj, as Anele has plainly proclaimed. Only now does Kastenessen summon them to his aid.”
Kastenessen again, Linden thought darkly. She did not doubt Stave: his explanation fit Anele’s cryptic references to the skurj, the Durance, and the Appointed. Nor did she doubt that when Lord Foul had whispered a word of counsel here and there, and awaited events, he had been speaking to Kastenessen. He may even have told Kastenessen how to shatter or evade his Durance.
Whether or not the Despiser had also advised Esmer, she could not begin to guess.
But Lord Foul had Jeremiah. Her son had constructed images of Revelstone and Mount Thunder in her living room. And the Masters had reason to think that Kastenessen now inhabited Mount Thunder.
Perhaps he was also responsible for Kevin’s Dirt—
Such speculations left her sick with frustration. They were too abstract: she needed a concrete explanation for what had happened to Covenant and Jeremiah. And she feared the storm of her own emotions when she stood before them again. If they still rejected her touch, she might not be able to think at all.
Still searching for some form of insight, she asked Stave what he remembered of the Elohim’s portentous visit to Mithil Stonedown. Surely he had heard or understood more than Liand was able to recall?
He replied with pronounced care, as though she had asked him to touch on subjects that would cause her pain.
“I can add little to that which the Ramen have revealed, or to the Stonedown’s memory of the event. I saw the Elohim for what he was, oblique and devious. Such names as merewives, Sandgorgons, and croyel were known to me, as they are to you, though they conveyed naught to the Stonedownors. Also the Haruchai have heard it said, as you have, that there is a shadow upon the heart of the Elohim.
“But of the skurj we knew nothing. The Masters do not grasp the purpose of the Elohim’s appearance, for they cannot comprehend his warning against the halfhand. Indeed, they honor those who have been titled Halfhands, both Berek Lord-Fatherer and ur-Lord Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. The Humbled are a token of that honor, as they are of the fault which doomed the Bloodguard.”
A premature twilight dimmed the air as Linden and her companions strode among the low hills. She had been on the plateau longer than she realized. The sun was not yet setting; but the peaks of the Westron Mountains reached high, and the dark clouds behind them piled higher still. She seemed to cross into shadow as Stave answered her.
“Yet, Chosen—” The Haruchai hesitated, apparently uncertain that he should continue. However, he had declared his loyalty to her. His tone remained dispassionate as he said, “I have been cast out from the Masters, but they cannot silence their thoughts. They merely refuse to heed me if I do not speak aloud. For that reason, I know that they are disturbed by the knowledge that your son also is a halfhand.”
Linden flinched involuntarily; but she did not interrupt.
“In the time of the new Lords,” Stave continued, “the Unbeliever was considered by some the reincarnation of Berek Heartthew, for their legends said that Berek would one day return. It may be that the Elohim fear the Unbeliever because his presence, the rebirth of High Lord Berek’s potent spirit, will dim their own import in the Earth. Or it may be that the Elohim seek to warn the Land against your son, seeing in him a peril which is hidden from us.”
No, stop, Linden protested inwardly. I can’t think—Without noticing what she did, she dragged her fingers roughly through the tangles of her hair: she needed that smaller hurt to contain her larger shock. What, you suspect that my son is a threat to the Land? Now what am I supposed to do? Jeremiah had recovered his mind. He had recovered his mind. How could she bear to believe that he had become dangerous? That the Elohim saw danger in him?
Or in Covenant—?
Where had Jeremiah’s mind been while she had tried and failed for years to reach it?
After a moment, Mahrtiir said gruffly, “This gains nothing, Stave. That we have cause for concern is plain enough. But the youth is no son of ours. We cannot gaze upon him as the Ringthane must. And the burden of determination is not ours, for we hold neither white gold nor the Staff of Law. She will speak with the Unbeliever and her son, and her wisdom and valor will guide her. The speculations of the Masters—mere imaginings, for the truth remains shrouded—serve only to tarnish her clarity.”
The Manethrall’s words offered Linden a way to calm her turmoil. He was right: she could not guess the truth of Jeremiah’s condition—or of Covenant’s. She needed to fight her impulse to jump to conclusions.
“She will learn what she can,” Mahrtiir said, “and do what she must. This the Ramen understand, who have spent their lives in the service of the Ranyhyn. But the Masters have lost such wisdom, for they conceive themselves equal to that which they serve. Among your people, you alone recognize their fault”—the Manethrall grinned sharply—“humbling my pride as you do so, for the Ramen also are not without fault. We have permitted ourselves to forget that at one time, when the Bloodguard had ended their service to the Lords, some few of them chose instead to serve the Ranyhyn among the Ramen. Foolishly we have nurtured our disdain toward the sleepless ones across the centuries, and so we have proffered distrust where honor has been earned.
“Together we must now be wary that we do not teach the Ringthane to share our ancient taints. We may be certain that she will serve the Land and her own loves. No other knowledge is required of us.”
Although her heart trembled, Linden pushed aside the warning of the Elohim. She could not afford to be confused by fears that had no name.
She and her companions were nearing the wide passage that angled down into Lord’s Keep. There she stopped so that she would not be overheard by the Masters who presumably guarded the passage. Resting her free hand on Stave’s shoulder, she turned to meet the Manethrall’s whetted gaze.
“Thank you,” she said gravely. “That helps.” Then she faced Stave. “And thank you. I need to know anything that you can tell me. Even if it makes me crazy.” She grimaced ruefully. “But Mahrtiir is right. I can’t think about everything right now. We have too many problems. I need to take them as they come.
“We’re running out of time. I know that. Those Demondim aren’t going to wait much longer.” And when they resumed their siege, they would unfurl the full virulence of the Illearth Stone from its source in the deep past. “But I can’t worry about them yet.” She knew what she had to do. “First I need to talk to Covenant and Jeremiah.”
The gloom on the upland continued to darken as storm clouds hid the sun.
“I hope that you’ll forgive me,” she told Stave. “There might be things that I can’t talk about in front of you.” Not until she knew more about the Unbeliever and her son—and about where she stood with them. “If you can still hear the Masters’ thoughts, I have to assume that they can hear yours. And if they even half believe that Jeremiah is a threat—” She swallowed a lump of distress. “I can’t take the chance that they’ll get in my way.”
Stave faced her stolidly. “No forgiveness is needful. I do not question you. The Masters are indeed able to hear my thoughts—should they deign to do so. Speak to me of nothing which may foster their opposition.”
Mutely Mahrtiir gave the former Master a deep Ramen bow. And Linden squeezed his shoulder. She wanted to hug him—to acknowledge his understanding as well as his losses—but she did not trust herself. Her emotions gathered like the coming storm. If she could not emulate his stoic detachment when she confronted Covenant and her son—and if they still refused her touch—she would be routed like a scatter of dry leaves.
Millennia ago, Covenant had promised that he would never use power again. But he was using power now: he was folding time. He might ask for his ring. Why else had he come so unexpectedly? He might demand—
And somehow Jeremiah had obtained his own magic.
If either of them accepted Linden’s embrace now, she would certainly lose control of herself. And she feared the costs of her vulnerability.
t the end of the long tunnel down into the ramified convolutions of Revelstone, Linden, Stave, and Mahrtiir were met by Galt of the Humbled. He greeted them with a small inclination of his head, hardly a nod, and announced that he would guide the Chosen to speak with ur-Lord Thomas Covenant.
Linden paused to address Mahrtiir and Stave again. “I have to do this alone.” Her voice was tight with trepidation. “But I hope that you’ll stay nearby, Stave.
“Mahrtiir, it might be a good idea to take Liand and the others to Glimmermere. Drink the water. Go swimming. Anele won’t, but the rest of you will be better off.” Unnecessarily she added, “There’s a storm coming, but it doesn’t feel like the kind of weather that can hurt you.”
When the Manethrall had bowed to her and walked away, she returned her attention to Galt.
“All right,” she said softly. “Let’s do this. I’m tired of waiting.”
Saying nothing, the Humbled led her and Stave into the intricate gutrock of Revelstone’s secrets.
The way had been prepared for her, by the Masters if not by Revelstone’s servants. Torches interspersed with oil lamps lit the unfamiliar halls, corridors, stairs. Some of the passages were blunt stone: others, strangely ornate, elaborated by Giants for reasons entirely their own. But the inadequate illumination left the details caliginous, obscure.
As Galt guided her downward and inward, she sensed that he was taking her toward the Keep’s outer wall where it angled into the northwest from the watchtower. The complications of his route—abrupt turns, ascents instead of descents, corridors that seemed to double back on themselves—might have confused her; but her refreshed percipience protected her from disorientation. Concentrating acutely, she felt sure that she was nearing her destination when the Humbled steered her into a plain hallway where there were no more lamps or torches after the first score or so paces.
Beside the last lamp, a door indistinguishable from the one to Linden’s quarters defined the wall of the corridor. She wanted to pause there, rally her courage, before she faced the uncertain possibilities behind the door. But when Galt knocked, a stone-muffled voice called promptly, “Come in.”
Even through the barrier of rock, she seemed to recognize Covenant’s stringent tone; his harsh commandments.
Without hesitation, Galt pressed the door open and gestured for Linden to enter.
Even then she might have faltered. But from beyond the doorway, she heard the faint crackle and snap of burning wood, saw firelight reflect redly off the stone. And there was another glow as well: not the flame of lamps or torches, but the tenebrous admixture of the fading day.
Such homely details steadied her. Very well: Thomas Covenant and her son were still human enough to want a fire against the residual chill of the stone, and to leave their windows open for the last daylight. She would be able to bear seeing them again.
Even if they still refused her touch—
For a brief moment, she braced herself on Stave’s inflexible aura. Then she left him in the corridor. Biting her lip, she crossed the threshold into the chambers that the Masters had made available to Covenant and Jeremiah.
As she did so, Galt shut the door. He remained outside with Stave.
She found herself in a room larger than her own small quarters. A dozen or more people could have seated themselves comfortably around the walls: she saw almost that many stone chairs and wooden stools. Among them, a low table as large as the door held the remains of an abundant repast—bread and dried fruit, several kinds of cured meat, stew in a wide stoneware pot, and clay pitchers of both water and some other drink which smelled faintly of aliantha and beer. The floor was covered to the walls by a rough flaxen rug raddled to an ochre like that of the robe of the old man who should have warned her of her peril.
A large hearth shining with flames occupied part of the wall to her left. Above it hung a thick tapestry woven predominantly in blues and reds which must have been bright until time had dimmed their dyes. The colors depicted a stylized central figure surrounded by smaller scenes; but Linden recognized nothing about the arras, and did not try to interpret it.
Four other doors marked the walls. Three of them apparently gave access to chambers that she could not see: two bedrooms, perhaps, and a bathroom. But the fourth stood open directly opposite her, revealing a wide balcony with a crenellated parapet. Beyond the parapet, she could see a sky dimmed by late afternoon shadows.
On this side, Revelstone faced somewhat east of north. Here the cliffs which protected the Keep’s wedge and the plateau cut off direct sunshine. From the balcony, the fields that fed Revelstone’s inhabitants would be visible. And off to the right, along the wall toward the southeast, would be at least a glimpse of the massed horde of the Demondim.
Then Thomas Covenant said her name, and she could no longer gaze anywhere except at him—and at her son.
Her pulse hammered painfully in her chest as she stared at Covenant and Jeremiah. They were much as she had seen them in the forehall; too explicitly themselves to be anyone else despite their subtle alterations. Jeremiah sprawled with the unconsidered gracelessness of a teenager in one of the stone chairs, grinning with covert pleasure or glee. Although Lord Foul must have tortured him—must have been torturing him at this moment—his features retained their half-undefined youth. But the imminent drooling which had marked his slack mouth for years was gone. An insistent tic at the corner of his left eye contradicted his relaxed posture.
His eyes themselves were the same muddy color that they had always been: the hue of silted water. But now they focused keenly on his adoptive mother. He watched her avidly, as if he were studying her for signs of acceptance, understanding, love.
If Linden had seen him so in their lost life together, she would have wept for utter joy; would have hugged him until her heart broke apart and was made new. But now her fears—for him, of him—burned in her gaze, and the brief blurring of her vision was not gladness or grief: it was trepidation.
Tell her that I have her son.
He was closed to her, more entirely undecipherable than the Haruchai. Her health-sense could discern nothing of his physical or emotional condition. Past his blue pajamas with their rearing horses, she searched his precious flesh for some sign of the fusillade which had ended her normal life. But the fabric had been torn in too many places, and his exposed skin wore too much grime, to reveal whether or not he had been shot.
Shot and healed.
To her ordinary sight, he looked well; as cared for and healthy as he had been before Roger Covenant took him. She did not know how that was possible. During their separation, he had been in the Despiser’s power. She could not imagine that Lord Foul had attended to his needs.
Covenant claimed that he had folded time, that he and Jeremiah were in two places at once. Or two realities. But she had no idea how such a violation of Time had restored her son’s physical well-being. Or his mind.
Covenant himself was sitting on a stool near Jeremiah. Her former lover had tilted the stool back on two legs so that he could lean against the wall. Lightly held by his left hand, a wooden flagon rested in his lap.
He, too, was smiling: a wry twist of his mouth etiolated by an uncharacteristic looseness in his mouth and cheeks. His gaze regarded her with an expression of dull appraisal. He was exactly the same man whom she had known for so long in the Land: lean to the point of gauntness; strictly formed; apt for extreme needs and catastrophes. The pale scar on his forehead suggested deeper wounds, hurts which he had borne without flinching. And yet he had never before given her the impression that he was not entirely present; that some covert aspect of his mind was fixed elsewhere.
His right arm hung, relaxed, at his side. Dangling, the fingers of his halfhand twitched as though they felt the absence of the ring that he had worn for so long.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Jeremiah said, grinning. “You still can’t touch us.” He seemed to believe that he knew her thoughts. “You’ve changed. You’re even more powerful now. You’ll make us vanish for sure.”
But he had misinterpreted her clenched frown, her deep consternation. She had forgotten nothing: his prohibition against contact held her as if she had been locked in the manacles of the ur-viles. Nevertheless her attention was focused on Covenant. The smaller changes in him seemed less comprehensible than her son’s profound restoration.
Meet the Author
Stephen R. Donaldson is the author of six previous Covenant books: Lord Foul's Bane, The Illearth War, The Power That Preserves, The Wounded Land, The One Tree, and White Gold Wielder, as well as many other novels.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
I have had a hard time putting the book down and now cannot wait for the final (3rd) book to come out. I read and still have all of the Thomas Convenant books and will go back and re-read them.
I won't spoil anything for the future reader of this book except to say that nothing is as it seems. The only certainties are Linden Avery herself and the immediate members of her party - the Stonedowner Liand, the Ramen, and the Haruchai. Don't trust anything or anyone else in this book. It'll make for a far more enjoyable read.
Fatal Revenant picks up the pace after the meandering Runes of the Earth. The action comes at a much faster pace and much more happens in this book. Obviously, if you're new to Donaldson's work, you'll need to back WAY up and start with his earlier works, but Donaldson fans will love it. The negatives are the word choices, which sometimes make it seem like Donaldson's thesaurus vomited all over the manuscript, and the character of Linden Avery, who is just plain annoying. Despite these shortcomings, this is still a step in the right direction for Donaldson.
If I could rate this book in halves, I would rate the first half at 1 star and the 2nd half at 3 stars. This first half is slow going. It is boring, so repetitive. Linden whining and then whining some more about her son, mostly to herself. Nothing really happens. Was Donaldson trying to make us irritated with Linden? I almost quit reading it and I rarely do that. The second half of the book is substantially better. However, it by no means reaches the heights of Donaldson's previous work, in The Land and elsewhere.
Given the fact that there are such a large number of books, I guess I can't expect to love them all. I frankly got a little tired of linden's attitude and 'poor me' syndrome, but frankly I never liked Thomas either as a hero, it was the surrounding cast that I was so addicted to, the Lords, the Giants, Bloodguard, etc. Postiives: The story continues, I always loved it so to read more of it is just plain nice. New races have been added, and the story is growing more complex which is a good thing. I won't get into extended plot details in case you haven't read it. Negatives: Linden is a little whiney... gets on my nerves, and calls for help at every turn. Half the book was wasted imho during the trip to the mountain and the meeting with Berek was dissapointing at best. 250 pages to expose a conspiracy... 'doh' I suffered through it. Overall: If you've read the other books in the series, its a must read, if for nothing else than the continuation of characters 'or types' that you love. And i'm hoping that two 'thick' books of setup will make this book 3 interesting. In meantime, i'll probably just go back and read Illearth war and White Gold Weilder again while I wait for the last book. I've read all of Donaldson's works, some good some bad but the Covenant series brings me back. In the meantime
I'm a big Donaldson fan, and I've read all the Covenant books. For the most part I enjoyed them all. I can't say too much about this book because I haven't gotten very far yet. Maybe it's a great book like the other reviewers say, maybe not. I simply cannot stand to read any more about Linden whining. Is this the hero we are supposed to be excited about? Someone that needs to be practically carried to her room after a stressful conversation. Someone that thinks it's the end of the world that she can't touch her son, or Covenant. Someone that whines and cries and can't seem to do anything on her own. It may end up being a good book. But all this whining is driving me crazy.....
Looking down form the watchtower of Revelstone, Linden Avery sees men and riders being chased by Demondim to her shocked elation the riders are the love of her life Thomas Covenant while the other is her adopted autistic son Jeremiah. Covenant explains that though he holds together the Arch of Time together still, he is through a fold in time here in the flesh. Jeremiah is being held by Lord Foul the Despiser who seeks destruction of the land while part of him is here thanks to Covenant. From the first moment, Linden senses a change in her beloved who is short with her and very sarcastic and scornful. Jeremiah makes it clear that he worships Covenant and has no time for Linden. They trick her into meeting him in an isolated place where they separate her from her friends and allies. They travel thousands of years back in time because Covenant needs to drink the Blood of the Earth so he can use the Power of Command to put an end to Lord Foul. When Linden learns why the two men she most lives are cold to her, she feels her heart torn apart she vows revenge on those who caused her such anguish if she ever returns to her future present. --- FATAL REVENANT, Book Two of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, is a complex poignant epic fantasy about The Land where wild and tamed magics are part of the earth. The Land is populated by various races including creatures out of myth and legend some of whom serve as pivotal plot points to move the complicated story line forward even when the heroes go back in time. Lord Foul never appears, but his shadow minions are everywhere seemingly to stop Linden¿s quest.. Stephen R. Donaldson is a great worldbuilder as he makes his characters even the monsters seem real, but it is the poignancy of relationships that make him one of the best fantasists today. --- Harriet Klausner
For me, this one isn't up to par with the ones that have come before. The story has gone a bit stagnant. Something has happened to the magic that made me, as the reader, care about the main characters and their actions; perhaps Covenant's self-imposed detachment has leaped off the page and numbed my mind. Donaldson's series has been wonderful and engaging until now, so perhaps the next installment will resurrect my interest. The search for the next simile and the over-use of a thesaurus are often intrusive and torturous and may be what kept me at a distance. It is difficult to become invested when the prose is unnecessarily encumbered and prodigiously peppered with stumbling blocks.