The Last Dark

The Last Dark

4.6 18
by Stephen R. Donaldson
     
 

The Climax of the Entire Thomas Covenant Chronicles

After more than three decades, having attained bestseller status all over the world, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant reaches its conclusion. This is a truly historic moment in fantasy, as Stephen R. Donaldson’s innumerable fans learn the final fate of the Land.

The Worm of the

Overview

The Climax of the Entire Thomas Covenant Chronicles

After more than three decades, having attained bestseller status all over the world, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant reaches its conclusion. This is a truly historic moment in fantasy, as Stephen R. Donaldson’s innumerable fans learn the final fate of the Land.

The Worm of the World’s End is roused, seeking the ruin of all things....

Compelled step-by-step to actions whose consequences they could neither foresee nor prevent, Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery have fought for what they love in the magical reality known only as “the Land.” Now they face their final crisis. Reunited after their separate struggles, they discover in each other their true power—and yet they cannot imagine how to stop the Worm of the World’s End from unmaking Time. Nevertheless, they must resist the ruin of all things, giving their last strength in the service of the world’s continuance.

You risk much, as you have ever done. Mayhap you will prevail. If you do not, your worth is not thereby diminished.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Donaldson builds toward a staggering resolution of love, endurance, and self-sacrifice.”—Tor.com

“[Donaldson’s] work is remarkably distinct in its hero, its themes, its relationship to the real world.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Donaldson’s landmark historical fantasy series marks a milestone of epic storytelling.”—Library Journal

Library Journal
Donaldson wraps up his epic ten-part fantasy series, begun in 1977 with Lord Foul's Bane. Here, Thomas Covenant is united with Linden Avery and Linden's son, Jeremiah, but the Worm of the World's End is making things look bleak indeed.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780425270059
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/02/2014
Series:
Last Chronicles of Thomas Cove Series, #4
Pages:
592
Sales rank:
81,296
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

What Has Gone Before

“The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever”

As a young man—a novelist, happily married, with an infant son, Roger—Thomas Covenant is 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 infections. Medications arrest its progress; but Covenant is taught that his only 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. But other blows to his emotional stability follow. His wife, Joan, abandons and divorces him to protect their son. 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 becomes impotent—and unable to write. Grimly he struggles to go on living; but as his despair mounts, he has episodes of prolonged unconsciousness, during which he seems to visit a magical realm known only as “the Land.”

In the Land, physical and emotional health are tangible forces, made palpable by an 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, too, has lost half of his hand. Also Covenant possesses a white gold ring—his wedding band—which they know to be a mighty talisman, 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. Indeed, the mere idea that he possesses some form of magical power threatens the stubborn disciplines on which his survival depends. Therefore he chooses to interpret the Land as a dream or hallucination. He responds to his new health with Unbelief: the 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 cruel. At one point, urged by sensations which he can neither accept nor control, and certain that his experiences are illusory, he rapes Lena, a young girl who has befriended him. However, her people 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 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 achieves little, although Covenant is moved by both the ineffable beauties of this world and the kindness of its people. During his travels, however—first with Lena’s mother, Atiaran, then with the Seareach Giant Saltheart Foamfollower, and finally with the Lords of Revelstone—he learns enough of the Land’s history to understand what is at stake.

The Land has an ancient enemy, Lord Foul the Despiser, who dreams of destroying the Arch of Time—and with it 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, and to opposing Despite.

Unfortunately these Lords possess only a small fraction of their predecessors’ power. 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 ally him with the Despiser.

Nevertheless Covenant cannot deny his reaction to the Land’s apparent transcendence. And as he is granted more and more friendship by its people, he remembers his violence toward Lena with dismay. Thus 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 by undermining his necessary caution and hopelessness.

Trapped within this contradiction, he attempts to escape through a series of unspoken bargains. In Lord Foul’s Bane, he lends the Lords his passive support, hoping that this will enable him to avoid 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 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. His experience of friendship and magic has weakened his ability to endure his outcast loneliness. 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 there; and in that time Lord Foul has acquired the Illearth Stone, a bane of staggering power. With it, the Despiser has created an army that now marches against the Lords: a force which the Staff of Law cannot adequately oppose. The Lords need the strength of wild magic.

Other developments also exacerbate 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 crime: unlike the rest of the Council, he can see that she is not completely sane. In addition, the army of the Lords is led by a man named Hile Troy, who appears to come from Covenant’s own world. Troy’s presence radically erodes Covenant’s self-protective Unbelief.

Now more than ever Covenant needs to resolve his conundrum. Again he posits a private bargain. He will give the Lords his active support. Specifically, he will join Elena on a quest to discover the source of EarthBlood, the most concentrated form of Earthpower. But he will continue to deny that his ring has any magic. He will accept no responsibility for the Land’s fate.

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 violate the Law of Death. She resurrects Kevin Landwaster, a long-dead High Lord, believing that he will have more power against Lord Foul than anyone 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 again 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 Lords are besieged by an army too powerful to be defeated.

Covenant still has no solution to his conundrum: only wild magic can save the Land, yet he cannot afford to accept it. 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 victory, but he would rather sacrifice himself for the sake of an unreal yet magical 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. Although he cannot oppose her, she defeats herself: her attack on him draws a fierce response from his ring—a response which also destroys the Staff.

Accompanied only by his old friend, the Giant Saltheart Foamfollower, Covenant finally confronts Lord Foul and the Illearth Stone. Facing 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 uses the dire might of the Illearth Stone to trigger wild magic from 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, he learns that his new-found 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 this insight 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 years in a commune which has dedicated itself to Despite, and which has chosen Covenant to be its victim. Hoping to spare anyone else the hazards of involvement, Covenant attempts to care for Joan alone.

When Covenant refuses aid, Dr. Berenford enlists 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 self-pity. Loathing death, Linden has become a doctor in a haunted attempt to erase her past.

At Dr. Berenford’s urging, Linden intrudes on Covenant and Joan. When members of Joan’s commune seek to sacrifice Covenant, Linden tries to intervene, but she is struck down. 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 plots to use Covenant’s wild magic in order to break the Arch of Time. In The Wounded Land, however, Covenant and Linden learn that Lord Foul has altered his methods. Instead of relying on armies and warfare to goad Covenant, he 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 fertility, rain, drought, and pestilence in mad succession. So great is the Sunbane’s destructiveness that it now dominates all life in the Land. And its virulence also serves to mask Lord Foul’s deeper stratagems.

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 vicious servants. The Clave extracts blood from the people of the Land to feed the Banefire, an enormous blaze which increases the Sunbane.

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 self-control. When the venom has done its work, he will be unable to defend the Land without destroying 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 enabled the people of the Land 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 malice of the Ravers. Such evils threaten her to the core.

Although her health-sense accentuates her potential as a healer, 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 make of her a woman who will possess Covenant, misuse his power. Thus she will give the Despiser what he wants even if Covenant does not.

And should those ploys fail, Lord Foul has prepared other gambits.

Horrified in their separate ways by what has been done to the Land, Covenant and Linden wish to confront the Clave; but on their own, they cannot survive the complex perils of the Sunbane. Fortunately they gain the companionship of two villagers, Sunder and Hollian, who help Covenant and Linden avoid ruin.

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 once 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.

Thereafter 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 Lords.

With his friends, Vain, and a small group of Haruchai, Covenant then 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 to oppose the Clave and the Sunbane.

Traveling eastward, the 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 first they paralyze Covenant’s mind, purportedly to protect the Earth from his growing power. Led now by Linden, the Search sails for the Isle of the One Tree.

Unexpectedly, however, they are joined by Findail, an Elohim who has been Appointed to guard against the consequences of the quest’s actions.

Linden is unable to free Covenant’s mind without possessing him, which she fears to do, knowing that she may unleash his power. When she and her companions are imprisoned in Bhrathairealm, however, she takes the risk of entering Covenant, much to Findail’s dismay. Covenant then fights and masters a Sandgorgon, a fierce monster of the Great Desert. The creature’s rampage through Bhrathairealm allows Covenant, Linden, and their companions to escape.

At last, Starfare’s Gem reaches the Isle of the One Tree, where one of the Haruchai, Brinn, becomes the Tree’s Guardian. But when the companions approach their goal, they learn that they have been misled by the Despiser. 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 life, Seadreamer makes Linden aware of the true danger. She then forestalls Covenant. Nevertheless the Worm’s restlessness forces the Search to flee as the Isle sinks into the sea, taking the One Tree beyond reach.

Defeated, the Search returns to the Land in White Gold Wielder. Covenant now believes that he must confront the Clave directly, quench the Banefire, and then battle the Despiser; and Linden is determined to aid him, in part because she loves him, and in part because she fears his unchecked wild magic.

Rejoined by Sunder, Hollian, and several Haruchai, Covenant, Linden, and a few Giants eventually reach Revelstone, where they challenge the Clave. After a fierce struggle, the companions corner the Raver commanding the Clave. There Seadreamer’s brother, Grimmand Honninscrave—with the help of a Sandgorgon—sacrifices his life in order to “rend” the Raver. As a result, the Sandgorgon gains scraps of the Raver’s sentience. Then Covenant flings himself into the Banefire, using its dark theurgy to transform the venom in his veins. When he is done, the Sunbane remains, but its evil no longer grows.

Afterward, Covenant and Linden, Sunder and Hollian, Vain and Findail, and two Giants turn toward Mount Thunder, where the Despiser now resides. Along the way, Hollian dies. But in Andelain, Caer-Caveral expends his own life to resurrect her by violating the Law of Life.

Gradually Linden 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 his ring, Linden prepares herself to possess him, although she now understands that possession is a great evil.

Yet when she and Covenant finally face Lord Foul, she is possessed herself by a Raver; and her efforts to win free leave her unwilling to interfere with Covenant. As she has feared, he does surrender 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 Lord Foul’s fury. As a result, the Despiser effectively defeats himself; and Covenant’s ring falls to Linden.

Meanwhile, she has come to understand Vain’s purpose—and 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 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 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 able to face 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 by the Despiser, losing half of his right hand. 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, trapped in dissociation. 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 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: a claim which Linden denies. To this setback, Roger responds by taking his mother at gunpoint. And while Linden deals with the aftermath of that attack, Roger captures Jeremiah as well.

Separately, Linden and the police locate Roger, Joan, and Jeremiah. But when Linden confronts Roger, Joan is killed by lightning, and Roger opens fire on the police. In the ensuing fusillade, Linden, Roger, and Jeremiah are cut down; and Linden finds herself in the Land again, where she is informed that Lord Foul now has 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 dedicated to the suppression of all magical knowledge and power. And their task is simplified by an eerie smog called Kevin’s Dirt, which blocks health-sense.

Yet the Land faces threats which the Masters cannot defeat. Caesures—disruptions of time—wreak havoc, appearing randomly as Joan releases blasts of wild magic. In addition, an Elohim has visited the Land, warning of dangers which include various monsters—and an unnamed halfhand. And the new Staff of Law 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 villager; Stave, a Master who distrusts Linden and wishes to imprison Anele; a group of ur-viles, artificial creatures that formerly served Lord Foul; and a band of Ramen, the human servants of the Ranyhyn, the Land’s time-wise horses. Linden also meets Esmer, the tormented descendant of Kastenessen, a deranged Elohim.

From Esmer, Linden learns the nature of the caesures. She is told that the ur-viles intend to protect her from betrayal by Esmer himself. 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 search for him against the opposition of the Masters—Linden risks entering a caesure. 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 more than three thousand years in their past, where they find that the Staff has been hidden and protected by a group of Waynhim, relatives of the ur-viles. When she reclaims the Staff, however, Esmer 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 their power now threatens the existence of the Arch of Time.

To protect the Arch while she and her companions escape, Linden uses Covenant’s ring to create a caesure of her own. That disruption of time carries her company and the Demondim to her natural present. To her surprise, however, her caesure deposits them before the gates of Revelstone, the seat of the Masters. While the Masters fight a doomed battle against the Demondim, she and her companions enter the ambiguous sanctuary of Lord’s Keep.

In Revelstone, Linden meets Handir, 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 in his honor. Cared for by a mysterious woman named the Mahdoubt, Linden tries to imagine how she can persuade the Masters to aid her search for Jeremiah. When she confronts them, however, all of her arguments are turned aside. 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 them are Thomas Covenant and Jeremiah. And Jeremiah has emerged enthusiastically from his dissociation.

In Fatal Revenant, the arrival of Covenant and Jeremiah brings turmoil. They are obviously real and powerful, yet they give no satisfactory account of their presence. And they refuse to let Linden touch them—or to use the Staff of Law. Instead they insist on being sequestered until they are ready to talk to her.

Meanwhile the Demondim mass at the gates, apparently preparing to destroy Revelstone; but they do not attack.

Shaken, Linden retreats to the plateau above Lord’s Keep to await Covenant’s summons. There she calls for Esmer, hoping that he will answer her questions. When he manifests himself, however, he surprises her by bringing more creatures out of the Land’s distant past: a band of ur-viles and a smaller number of Waynhim, joined together to serve her. Cryptically he informs her that the creatures have prepared “manacles.” And he reveals that the Demondim are now working in concert with Kastenessen. But he avoids Linden’s other questions. Instead he tells her that she “must be the first to drink of the EarthBlood.”

When Covenant’s summons comes, Linden meets with him and Jeremiah in their chambers. Covenant speaks primarily in non sequiturs, although he insists that he knows how to save the Land. At the same time, Jeremiah pleads with Linden to trust his companion. Feeling both rejected and suspicious, Linden refuses when Covenant asks for his white gold ring. In response, Covenant demands that she join him on the plateau, where he will show her how he intends to save the Land.

Linden complies. She knows no other way to discover why and how her loved ones have changed. Instead of revealing their secrets, however, Covenant and Jeremiah create a portal which snatches her away from her present. Without transition, she finds herself with them ten millennia in the Land’s past, during the time of Berek Halfhand’s last wars.

They are near the dire forest of Garroting Deep—and far from the place and time that Covenant and Jeremiah sought. Instead their purpose has been deflected by a man called the Theomach, who appears to have a mystical relationship with time. He is one of the Insequent, a race of humans who pursue arcane knowledge and power in complete isolation from each other: a race whose only shared trait, apparently, is a loathing for the Elohim. The Theomach interfered with Covenant and Jeremiah because he believed that their intentions were dangerous enough to attract the Elohim.

The result is that Linden, Covenant, and Jeremiah stand in the dead of winter many brutal leagues from Melenkurion Skyweir, where Covenant and Jeremiah hope to use the EarthBlood and the Power of Command to defeat Lord Foul permanently. In desperation, Linden decides to approach Berek for help. She wins the future High Lord’s trust by healing many of his injured—and by introducing him to his own new-born health-sense.

Afterward the Theomach accomplishes his own purpose by persuading Berek to accept him as a guide and teacher. To show his good faith, he speaks the Seven Words: a mighty invocation of Earthpower which Linden has never heard before.

With supplies and horses provided by Berek Halfhand, Linden, Covenant, and Jeremiah trek toward Melenkurion Skyweir. But when the exhausted mounts start to die, Covenant and Jeremiah transport Linden to the Skyweir through a series of spatial portals. There Jeremiah reveals the magic of his talent for constructs. With the right materials, he is able to devise “doors”: doors from one place to another; doors that bypass time; doors between realities. Building a door shaped like a large wooden box, he conveys himself, Covenant, and Linden deep into Melenkurion Skyweir, to the hidden caves of the EarthBlood.

Covenant is now ready to exert the Power of Command. But Linden drinks first, remembering Esmer’s counsel. She then uses her Command to expose the secrets of her companions.

At once, a glamour is dispelled. Covenant shows his true form: he is Roger Covenant, not Thomas, and he despises all that his father loves. His right hand wields immense power: it is Kastenessen’s, grafted onto him to wield Kastenessen’s savage might. And on Jeremiah’s back rides one of the croyel, a succubus that both feeds from and strengthens its host. The sentience that Jeremiah has demonstrated is the croyel’s, not his own. Gloating, Roger explains that he and the croyel aspire to become gods. Bringing Linden into the past—and bringing her here—was an attempt to trick her into breaking the Arch of Time. So far, she has avoided that danger. But now she is trapped ten thousand years in the Land’s past and cannot escape.

A terrible battle follows, during which the Staff of Law turns black. Using her Staff, the Seven Words, and the EarthBlood, Linden opposes Roger and her possessed son. While an earthquake splits Melenkurion Skyweir, however, Roger and Jeremiah escape, leaving Linden stranded.

The experience transforms her. She now believes that only Thomas Covenant can save the Land. At the same time, her determination to rescue Jeremiah becomes even stronger—and more unscrupulous.

After an encounter with Caerroil Wildwood, the Forestal of Garroting Deep, who engraves her Staff with runes of power, she is retrieved by the Mahdoubt. Here the Mahdoubt is revealed as one of the Insequent. When Linden is returned to Revelstone in her proper time, she learns that Liand has acquired a piece of orcrest, a stone capable of channeling Earthpower in various ways. She also hears that a stranger has single-handedly eliminated the entire horde of the Demondim.

He is the Harrow, yet another Insequent. He covets both Linden’s Staff and Covenant’s ring, and he has the power to take them by emptying her mind. Fortunately the Mahdoubt intervenes. Violating the ethics which govern the Insequent, she defeats the Harrow, winning from him the promise that he will not wrest the Staff of Law and Covenant’s ring from Linden by force: a victory which costs the Mahdoubt her own life. After assuring Linden that he will gain his desires by other means, the Harrow disappears.

Then Linden, her friends, and the three Humbled summon Ranyhyn and ride away from Revelstone. Because she still has no idea where Jeremiah is hidden, her stated intention is to reach Andelain and consult with the Dead, as Covenant once did. For private reasons, she also hopes to recover High Lord Loric’s krill, an eldritch dagger forged to channel extremes of power too great for any unaided mortal.

Along the way, she and her companions come upon a village which has been destroyed by a caesure: a caesure which Esmer controls as a weapon against the Harrow. There she learns that the Harrow knows where Jeremiah has been hidden—and that Esmer intends to prevent the Insequent from revealing his secret. At the same time, Roger Covenant attacks with a force of Cavewights. In the ensuing battle, Linden’s company is soon overwhelmed. Frantic, she takes a wild gamble: she tries to summon a Sandgorgon. Six of them charge into the fight, routing Roger and the Cavewights, and allowing the Harrow to escape.

Later Linden hears that a large number of Sandgorgons have come to the Land, driven by the rent remnants of a Raver’s malign spirit. In Covenant’s name, they answered Linden’s call. But now they have repaid their debt to him. They seek a new outlet for their own savage hungers, and for the Raver’s malice.

When Linden and her companions have done what they can for the homeless villagers, they ride on to Salva Gildenbourne, a great forest which encircles Andelain. There they encounter a party of Giants, Swordmainnir, all women except for one deranged man, Longwrath: their prisoner. When the Giants and Linden’s company reach comparative safety, they stop to exchange tales.

The leader of the Giants, Rime Coldspray, the Ironhand, explains that Longwrath is a Swordmain who has been possessed by a geas. With nine other Swordmainnir, the Ironhand has been seeking the cause or purpose of his compulsion. After acquiring an apparently powerful sword, he has led the Giants to the Land. Here it becomes clear that his geas requires him to kill Linden.

To protect her, the Swordmainnir agree to accompany her to Andelain. But during the next day, they are assailed by the skurj, fiery worm-like monsters that serve Kastenessen. Two of the Giants are killed. Yet Liand saves the company by using his orcrest to summon a thunderstorm. The downpour forces the skurj underground, and the surviving companions are able to flee.

At last, they reach Andelain. The sacred Hills are warded by the Wraiths, small candle-flame sprites that repulse evil by drawing power from the awakened krill. Thus protected, the companions hasten to find the krill.

During the dark of the moon, however, the company meets the Harrow again. Indirectly he has offered Linden a bargain: if she surrenders the Staff of Law and Covenant’s ring, he will take her to Jeremiah. But while he taunts Linden, Infelice, the monarch of the Elohim, appears. She argues passionately against the Harrow—and against everything that Linden intends to do. Yet Linden ignores them both as she approaches the krill.

There the Dead begin to arrive. While the four original High Lords observe, Caer-Caveral and High Lord Elena escort Thomas Covenant’s spectre. Yet the Lords and the last Forestal and Covenant himself refuse to speak. None of them answer Linden.

Driven to the last extremity, she raises all of her power from both her Staff and Covenant’s ring, and commits those contradictory magicks to the krill. Doing so, she cuts through the Laws of Life and Death until she succeeds at resurrecting Covenant; drawing his spirit out of the Arch of Time; restoring his slain body.

Yet power on such a scale has vast consequences. Linden’s actions also awaken the Worm of the World’s End.

In addition, there are other problems. In Against All Things Ending, she finds that Covenant’s leprosy is active again. And the stress of his return to mortality has fractured his mind. As a result, he is often unable to control his thoughts, his memories, or even his attention.

When the companions are informed that days will pass before the World’s End is accomplished, Linden decides to accept the Harrow’s bargain: one last attempt to rescue Jeremiah by surrendering her Staff and Covenant’s ring. Then, however, another Insequent appears, the Ardent, who has come to ensure that the Harrow does not deal falsely with Linden. Under pressure, the Harrow—with the Ardent’s support—transports Linden, Covenant, and all of their companions to the Lost Deep, elaborate caverns which were once the home of the Viles, creators of the Demondim. There Linden follows the Harrow to Jeremiah’s hiding place.

The boy is still ruled by the croyel, and he has concealed himself even from the Elohim within one of his constructs. When Linden breaks the construct, Roger arrives to murder the Harrow, and to claim Covenant’s ring. But Covenant opposes Roger with the krill, and while they struggle, Esmer suddenly takes Roger to safety. Esmer then announces that the company’s actions have awakened an ancient bane, a sentient and eternal being called She Who Must Not Be Named. Now She is rising to devour the company.

Desperately Linden and her companions try to flee, bringing succubus-ridden Jeremiah and a helpless Covenant, whose awareness of his circumstances has been blocked by Esmer. But while the company, led by ur-viles and Waynhim, scrambles to escape, Linden falls prey to the bane indirectly: believing herself to be invaded by worms and maggots, she collapses into unconsciousness. However, Covenant’s love for her enables him to overcome Esmer’s influence. With the aid of the Dead—who sacrifice the spectre of Elena, Covenant’s daughter—he forestalls the bane until the Ardent is able to transport the company away.

On the Lower Land a considerable distance from Mount Thunder, the companions try to recover. All are exhausted, and Linden is trapped in nightmares, unable to regain consciousness. Dismayed by her condition, Covenant takes a desperate risk: he holds her underwater, hoping that the sensations of drowning will bring her back to herself. Fortunately his gamble succeeds.

The Ardent informs the company that he has caused his own death by interfering with the Harrow. Before he passes away, however, he supplies the company with food. Later he also transports the Ramen Cords, Pahni and Bhapa, to Revelstone so that they can try to win the support of the Masters.

When the companions have regained some of their strength, Linden attempts to free Jeremiah from the croyel by entering his mind: a graveyard where all of his thoughts and desires are buried. She fails; and before anyone can try a different approach, the company is attacked by caesures. In the confusion, Liand tries to use his orcrest stone against the croyel; but Anele—suddenly possessed by Kastenessen—kills the young villager.

A different attack soon follows: Roger and a host of Cavewights are joined by Esmer. Although the Swordmainnir and the Haruchai fight furiously, they are vastly outnumbered. But ur-viles and Waynhim respond by rendering Esmer helpless with their manacles. Now sane, Anele challenges the croyel with the orcrest. And when the Humbled Galt unexpectedly sacrifices himself to preserve Anele, Anele is able to destroy the succubus. The effort kills the old man, but not before he transfers his legacy of Earthpower to Jeremiah.

To save the company, Linden uses wild magic, wreaking terrible carnage even though she is not a rightful white gold wielder. In the aftermath, Esmer begs her to kill him. But she cannot: she has done too much killing. However, Stave—Galt’s father—spares her by using the krill to end Esmer’s life.

Later Covenant leaves the company, taking only the remaining Humbled, Clyme and Branl, with him. He intends to confront Joan in an effort to end her torment and stop the caesures; and he is unwilling to risk Linden against a rightful white gold wielder. Also he believes that Jeremiah still needs her. The boy is no longer possessed, but he remains buried in his long dissociation.

Stricken by Covenant’s departure, Linden and her companions decide to let the Ranyhyn choose their destination. After an encounter with the lurker of the Sarangrave, a wetland monster with terrifying appetites and strengths, the great horses run, taking Linden, Jeremiah, and Stave ahead of the exhausted Giants and Manethrall Mahrtiir. After many leagues, the three reach a crater full of the bones of ancient monsters. There Jeremiah begins to build one of his constructs while Linden defends him from caesures. But then Infelice arrives, intending to kill the boy because she believes that he will devise a prison for the Elohim—and because she knows that Lord Foul wants to use Jeremiah’s talent to imprison the Creator. However, Stave’s strength of will enables him to distract Infelice; and with Linden’s help, Jeremiah completes his construct. When he enters it, he emerges with his mind restored.

Meanwhile Covenant and the Humbled travel toward Ridjeck Thome, where Covenant first defeated Lord Foul. Along the way, they encounter the Feroce, worshippers of the lurker, who offer Covenant a bargain: they will help him overcome Joan’s defenders if he will try to preserve the lurker from the Worm. Knowing that he cannot protect the lurker except by saving the Earth, Covenant agrees.

True to their word, the Feroce sacrifice many lives; but their aid does not suffice. In order to reach Joan, Covenant and the Humbled enter a caesure: a doomed gamble from which Joan rescues Covenant so that she can kill him herself. And Joan is possessed by turiya Raver, who casts Covenant adrift in his memories. But before Joan can summon a killing blast, Covenant draws on her wild magic to heal his mind. When she is distracted by the Ranyhyn, he uses the krill to end her life.

A tsunami caused by the Worm follows. It nearly claims Covenant, Clyme, and Branl. And when it passes—when a new day begins—the sun no longer rises. The world has fallen into perpetual twilight: the onset of the last dark.

1.

Betimes Some Wonder

Linden Avery’s fate may indeed have been written in water. It was certainly writ in tears. They blurred everything; redefined the foundations of her life.

Standing in Muirwin Delenoth, resting place of abhorrence, with Jeremiah clasped in her arms, she felt emotions as extreme as the dismay which had followed Thomas Covenant’s resurrection and the rousing of the Worm of the World’s End; as paralyzing and uncontainable as the knowledge that she had doomed all of her loves. But there, in Andelain, the scale of her distress had seemed too great to be called despair. Here, in the company of bones and old death, her glad shock at Jeremiah’s restoration was too great and complex to be joy.

Stave of the Haruchai stood waiting with his arms folded, impassive as a man who had done nothing, and had never lost a son. Three Ranyhyn waited near him, watching Linden and Jeremiah with glory in their eyes. In the distant west, the sun drifted down shrouded in the hues of ash and dust, casting shadows like innominate auguries from the stone blades and plates which rimmed the hollow. Heaved aside by the deflagration of Jeremiah’s construct, the skeletons of quellvisks sprawled against the far slope of Muirwin Delenoth as if they sought to disavow their role in his redemption—or as if they had drawn back in reverence.

Such things were the whole world, and the whole world waited. But Linden took no notice. She was unaware that she had dropped her Staff, or that Covenant’s ring still hung on its chain around her neck, holding in its small circle the forged fate of all things. She regarded only Jeremiah, felt only him; knew only that he responded to her embrace. A miracle so vast—

I did it, Mom. For the first time in his life, he had spoken to her. I made a door for my mind, and it opened.

Joy was too small a word for her emotions. Happiness and gratitude and relief and even astonishment were trivial by comparison. A staggering confluence of valor and trust had restored her son. At that moment, she believed that if the Worm came for her now, or She Who Must Not Be Named, or even Lord Foul the Despiser, her only regret would be that she did not get to know who her son had become during his absence.

Somehow he had weathered his excruciating dissociation. In graves he had endured what the Despiser and Roger Covenant and the croyel had done to him.

She was murmuring his name without realizing it, trying to absorb the knowledge of him; trying to imprint his hug and his tangible legacy of Earthpower and his unmistakable awareness onto every neuron of her being. He was her adopted son. Physically she had known every inch of him for most of his life. But she had never met the underlying him until this moment: until he had arisen from his absence and looked at her and spoken.

The way in which she repeated his name was weeping; but that, too, she did not realize. She was no more aware of her tears than she was of Stave and the Ranyhyn and passing time and the ancient ruin of bones. Holding Jeremiah in her arms—and being held by him—was enough.

She had no better name for what she felt than exaltation.

Yet the exaltation was Jeremiah’s, not hers. He had become transcendent, numinous: an icon of transfiguration. He seemed to glow with warmth and health in her arms as if he had become the Staff of Law: not her Staff, runed and ebony, transformed to blackness by her sins and failures, but rather the Staff of Law as it should have been, pure and beneficent, the Staff that Berek Halfhand had first created to serve the beauty of the Land.

The gift that Anele had given Jeremiah elevated him in ways that Linden could not define. He had not simply become responsive and aware. He appeared to dismiss the past ten years of his life as if they had no power over him.

Such things could not be dismissed.

“Chosen,” Stave said as if he sought to call her back from an abyss. “Linden Avery.” An uncharacteristic timbre of pleading or regret ached in his voice. “Will you not harken to me?”

She was not ready to hear him. She did not want to step back from Jeremiah. He vindicated everything that she had done and endured in his name. If she withdrew from exaltation, she would be forced to think—

And every thought led to fear and contradiction; to dilemmas for which she was unprepared. No one could endure what her son had suffered without emotional damage; without scars and scarification. Yet she could not discern damage. In her embrace, he felt more than physically well. He seemed entirely whole, mentally and spiritually intact.

That Linden could not believe. She knew better.

“Mom.” Like hers, Jeremiah’s voice wept gladly. “Mom, stop crying. You’re getting me all wet.”

For his sake, she tried.

Long ago under Melenkurion Skyweir, she had forgotten the sensations of being a healer. Although she had cared for her companions in various ways, she had responded to their injuries as if her own actions were those of a stranger. But she had not forgotten what she had learned during her years in Berenford Memorial, tending the wounded souls of the abused and broken.

Training and experience had taught her that an escape from unreactive passivity was a vital step, crucial to everything that it enabled—but it was only the first step. When a crippled spirit found the courage to emerge from its defenses, it then had to face the horrors which had originally driven it into hiding. Otherwise deeper forms of healing could not occur.

She realized now that she was expecting a rush of agony from Jeremiah: the remembered anguish of every cruelty which the Despiser and Roger and the croyel had inflicted. That prospect appalled her.

But when she considered her son clinically, she recognized that the outbreak which she dreaded was unlikely. Immediate firestorms of memory were rare. More commonly, a new form of dissociation intervened to protect the harmed mind while its new awareness was still fragile. Full recall came later—if it came at all. Jeremiah felt whole to her because his worst recollections had not arisen from their graves.

For all she knew, they might remain buried indefinitely.

Why, then, was she afraid? Why did she contemplate anything except her son’s restoration? Why could she not be content with miracles, as any other mother might have been?

She could not because Lord Foul’s prophecies might still prove true, if the Despiser contrived to recapture Jeremiah—

—or if events triggered more memories than he could withstand.

She had failed to resurrect Covenant without his leprosy. Other restorations might go awry. With or without Lord Foul’s connivance, predatory pain lurked inside Jeremiah: she could not believe otherwise. Suffering as calamitous as his possession by the croyel might overtake him without presage.

For that reason, she needed to remain alert in spite of her gladness. But she did not know where to begin trying to identify the truths buried beneath her son’s presence.

“Chosen,” Stave repeated more sharply. “Linden Avery. I comprehend the force of your son’s awakening, and of your reunion with him. Who will do so, if I do not? I, who have lost a son, and may only yearn bootlessly for his return to life? Nevertheless we cannot remain here.

“It appears that the Falls have ceased. Yet should the Unbeliever fail in his quest, they will surely return. And the wider perils of the world will not await the culmination of your release from sorrow. The last crisis of the Earth gathers against us. Also the Ranyhyn are restive. I deem that they are eager to rejoin our companions, and that they discern a need for haste.”

Long before Linden was ready to release him, Jeremiah withdrew. For a moment, he gazed at her with gleaming in his eyes like the stars on the foreheads of the Ranyhyn. Then he turned toward Stave.

Linden was too full of other emotions to be surprised when Jeremiah reached out and hugged the Haruchai.

Although Stave did not respond, he suffered the boy’s clasp until Jeremiah let him go. But when Jeremiah stepped back, the former Master lifted his eyebrow as if he were mildly perplexed.

“You are much altered,” he remarked. “Is your condition such that you are able to remember Galt, who kept the fangs of the croyel from your neck?”

Jeremiah nodded. “I remember. He’s your son. He let himself be killed so Anele could get that monster off my back. So Anele could give me all this power.”

—the hope of the Land.

Linden watched the boy with a kind of awe. Some part of him must have remained conscious throughout the long years of his dissociation. Other aspects must have been evoked or informed by the croyel’s use of him. Otherwise he would not have been able to emerge so swiftly—or to know so much.

“Then,” Stave said flatly, “I am content that you are indeed restored.”

As if in confirmation, the Ranyhyn tossed their heads, and Hynyn trumpeted an imperious acknowledgment. From among them, Khelen came forward and nudged Jeremiah, apparently urging the boy to mount.

Jeremiah, Linden tried to say; but she had no voice. She did not know where to begin. Too many aspects of her relationship with her son had taken on new meanings.

Briefly the boy stroked the young stallion’s muzzle: a small gesture of affection. Then he turned back to his mother.

“Mom.” There were tears in his voice again, if not in his eyes. His grin fell away. With his halfhand, he pointed at the bullet hole over her heart. “I’m sorry. I never wanted you to get shot. But I’m glad, too. I needed you so bad—” For a moment, the color of his gaze darkened, hinting at black depths of pain. “I needed you to come after me. I was worse than dead.”

His pajamas remained torn and stained. The horses ramping across the tops were almost indecipherable. And Liand’s blood still soiled the tattered bottoms, in spite of Linden’s efforts to wash them. She could barely remember that the fabric had once been sky-blue. It would never come clean.

But before she could reply, Jeremiah shook his head hard; blinked until his expression cleared. Gesturing around him, he snorted, “Quellvisks. They were good for something after all.”

Something which Lord Foul had not foreseen. In a sense, the boy had reincarnated himself from the old bones of monsters.

Oh, my son. Linden needed to stop weeping. Really, she could not go on like this. When Stave said her name again, his tone had become more peremptory. And he was right. They could not linger here without food or water or their companions. The wonder of her son’s emergence from his portal was a small detail compared to the threat of the Worm. The world’s end would not pause for any instance of mere human exaltation and relief.

“Say something, Mom,” Jeremiah prodded. His tone suggested a teenager’s impatience. “Say anything. Tell me you heard Stave. He’s right, we need to go.” His next thought made him grin again. “And I want to see the Giants’ faces when they see me. They are not going to believe it.”

Linden tried to refuse. She wanted nothing except to concentrate on her son. Her thirst for the sound of his voice was acute. There was so much that she yearned to know about him. About what he had endured—and how he had endured it. It did not matter where she began, as long as she could search for the truth.

I never wanted you to get shot.

But there was something else—Something in Stave’s tone nagged at the edges of her health-sense.

She absolutely had to stop crying.

When she rubbed at her eyes, the emptiness of her hands reminded her that she no longer held the Staff of Law.

She felt strangely reluctant to retrieve it. It represented responsibilities which were too great for her. Nevertheless she was capable now of many things that would have surpassed her less than an hour ago. She was still the same Linden Avery who had raged and failed and despaired; yet somehow she had also been made new. And watching over Jeremiah was a task to which she could commit herself without hesitation.

To meet that challenge, she might well need every conceivable resource.

Unsteadily she stooped to reclaim her Staff.

As her fingers closed on the engraved blackness of the wood, another faint pang touched her nerves: an evanescent breath of approaching wrongness. Frowning, she raised her head to scent the air, extend her health-sense.

The atmosphere had a brittle taste, as if it were compounded of a substance that might shatter. She knew that the season was spring; but that fact seemed to have no meaning on the Lower Land. Hideous theurgies and slaughter had made a wasteland of the entire region. Muirwin Delenoth was as desiccated as its bones: it had been shaped by death.

“Mom?” Jeremiah asked; but still she did not speak.

Drawing warmth and sensitivity from her Staff, Linden considered the slopes of the hollow, the ragged plates around the rim. Then she lifted her attention to the declining sun and the tainted hue of the sky. The pall of ash and dust overhead was wrong in its own fashion: it was unnatural, imposed by some force beyond the reach of her senses. But it was not malice; not evil or deliberate. The almost imperceptible frisson of wrongness rose from some other source.

“Stave—?” She had to swallow hard to clear her throat. “Do you feel it?”

The former Master’s silence was answer enough.

Slowly she turned in a circle, pushing her percipience to its limits. She expected the disturbance to come from the vicinity of Foul’s Creche; from Covenant’s search for Joan. But she felt nothing there. When she faced northwest, however, she found what she sought.

It was faint, almost too subtle to be discerned. Yet it was thin with distance, not weakness. The fact that she could detect it at all across so many leagues bespoke tremendous power. As soon as she tuned her nerves to the pitch of this specific malevolence—and to the direction from which it spread—she knew what it was.

It was Kevin’s Dirt, and it came from Mount Thunder.

For the first time, Kastenessen was extending his bale over the Lower Land.

Repeatedly he had tried to prevent Jeremiah’s rescue from the croyel. Now he was sending the fug of Kevin’s Dirt to hamper Linden and the Staff of Law. When it spread far enough, his theurgy would numb her senses, and Mahrtiir’s, and perhaps Jeremiah’s. And it would aggravate Covenant’s leprosy. If Joan did not kill him first. With forces drawn from She Who Must Not Be Named, the mad Elohim strove to ensure that Linden and her companions would not survive.

A shudder like a chill ran through her. Her fingers clenched the Staff until her knuckles ached. Reflexively she confirmed that she still had Covenant’s ring. An old comfort, it had steadied her for years, until he had refused her.

—the last crisis of the Earth.

“I understand,” she told Stave abruptly. “We should go. Kevin’s Dirt is coming. And maybe the skurj.” Or Kastenessen might decide to challenge her himself now that he had lost Esmer. “We need to find the Giants and Mahrtiir. Then we’ll have to decide what we’re going to do.”

Without Covenant—

She meant to mount Hyn and ride at once. But when she looked at her son again, she faltered. He seemed eager: too eager. Did she detect an undercurrent of alarm? If so, she suspected that he chafed to flee from his memories before they could emerge from their coverts and ravage him. He needed movement.

Stave waited for her impassively. Almost pleading, Linden asked him, “Do we have to ride hard? I need to talk to Jeremiah. There’s so much—” Her son had become someone she did not know. “If the Ranyhyn run, I won’t be able to hear him.”

A quirk at the corner of Stave’s mouth may have implied a smile. “Chosen,” he answered, “the great horses have demonstrated that they are well acquainted with our straits. Mayhap they will moderate their haste for your sake, and for your son’s.”

“Then let’s go,” urged Jeremiah. “I can’t wait to see the Giants. And Infelice gave me an idea. I want to try it.”

He startled Linden. An idea? What could he possibly have gleaned from the interference of the Elohim? And how? Who had he become? Was he simply trying to pack down the earth that shielded him from his immured hurts? Or had he somehow learned strengths which she could not imagine?

If his instincts prompted him to seek safety by outrunning his wounds, surely she should trust him?

Pushing herself into motion, Linden turned toward Hyn.

At once, Stave came to help her mount. And when she was seated astride the familiar security of Hyn’s back, he did the same for Jeremiah, boosting the boy effortlessly onto Khelen. Then he sprang for Hynyn.

Hynyn whinnied a command to the other horses. Together the three Ranyhyn flowed into motion so smoothly that Linden felt no need to cling. Urged by Jeremiah’s shout of celebration, they accelerated at the slope of the caldera, pounding upward, flinging clots and plumes of dry dirt from their hooves. But once they had crested the rim, passed between the sandstone sentinels, and started down the long slope northward, they eased their pace to a light-footed canter. Their strides raised a low drum-roll from the baked ground; yet when Linden settled herself to Hyn’s rhythm, she found that she would not need to shout in order to make herself heard.

Ahead of her, Kevin’s Dirt expanded its maleficence by slow increments. Fortunately its peril was not exacerbated by caesures. Their absence troubled her on Covenant’s behalf—they might now be aimed at him as he approached Ridjeck Thome—but it also reassured her. For the moment, at least, she, Jeremiah, and Stave were relatively safe.

Relying on the former Master and the Ranyhyn to warn her at need, she turned her attention entirely on her son.

“Jeremiah?” She resisted an impulse to raise her voice over the rattle of hooves. “Can you hear me all right?”

He flashed a grin at her. “Sure, Mom. I’ve been listening to you my whole life. I could probably hear you if you whispered half a mile away.”

That simple answer was enough to stun her for a moment. Covenant had assured her, None of the love you lavished on your son was wasted. That isn’t even possible. All those years of speaking her love to Jeremiah without any response—and yet he had heard her. More amazing still, he had believed her in spite of what the Despiser and his natural mother had done to him.

Until we know more about what’s happened to him, just trust yourself.

A fresh rush of emotion made her awkward. “Then you’ve probably already figured out most of the questions I want to ask.”

“Maybe.” He cocked his head to one side, considering. “Let’s see.

“That croyel”—he made a spitting noise—“used me to say all kinds of things. You want to know how many of them are true.”

Linden nodded mutely. Everything about Jeremiah seemed to have the power to astound her.

“Well,” he continued slowly, “a lot of them were. True, I mean.” His voice held a note of caution, as if there were details that he wanted to avoid. “Mom, you tried hard to take care of me. I know that. It wasn’t your fault you couldn’t reach me. I just hurt too much. But giving me those racetrack pieces was like a miracle. I don’t know how you came up with the idea, but it was perfect.

“Using those bones”—he gestured behind him—“was the second time I managed to make a—I don’t know what else to call it—a door for my mind. That racetrack was the first. I couldn’t do anything with my body except build. I wanted to. I just couldn’t. But with my mind—

“Most of what the croyel said about that was true. When I went through my door, I was here. I mean, not here.” He indicated the arid landscape. “I mean in the Land. In this world. But I was still just a mind. I was just kind of floating around. In one time or another. One place or another. I couldn’t touch anything, or talk to anybody.

“But there were people that noticed me anyway. Powers. Beings. And if they noticed me, they could talk to me. The Vizard was one, like the croyel said. He wanted to use me. The Viles once, but they weren’t interested. I think I met a Demimage, but he couldn’t figure out what I was. A couple of Ravers. They wanted me.” Jeremiah shuddered. “A few Elohim, but mostly they tried to convince me to go away and not come back.” With a snort of derision, he added, “Like that was going to happen. It was the only escape I had. I couldn’t give it up.”

“And Covenant?” Linden asked carefully. “Did the croyel tell the truth about him?”

“As much as that monster could stand,” Jeremiah replied without hesitation. She heard gratitude in his voice, saw affection in the brown warmth of his eyes. “I mean about the real Covenant. Not about Roger. The real Covenant talked to me more than all the rest put together.

“He talked like he actually cared about me.”

Treading as cautiously as she could, Linden probed for more. “What did he say?”

The boy grinned at her again. “He told me I could count on you. Like I didn’t know that already. If I needed you, you would do anything to help me, even if it was impossible. He said you have no idea how strong you really are. He said it makes you wonderful.”

Wonderful—? That idea stunned Linden once more. It closed her throat; almost brought her back to tears. For long, terrible days, she had been tormented by the fear that her son secretly belonged to the Despiser; that he had acquiesced to the croyel; that he had been forever marked and marred by Lord Foul’s bonfire, Lord Foul’s malice. Yet Covenant had spent years of Jeremiah’s childhood telling him that his mother was wonderful. And Jeremiah had believed the Unbeliever. Even in his dissociation, he had recognized something in Linden that she herself could not see—

While she tried to master her emotions, Jeremiah looked away. Frowning with concentration, he scanned the beaten terrain. “And he talked about the Elohim. I didn’t really understand, but I think he was trying to explain why they’re important. They’re like a metaphor?” He sounded uncertain. “A symbol? They represent the stars. Or maybe they are the stars. Or maybe the stars and the Elohim are like shadows of each other. The shadows of the Creator’s children.”

He shrugged, flexing easily with the beat of Khelen’s strides. “He wanted me to get it, but it didn’t make much sense.”

Linden, too, did not understand. But she did not care about the Elohim. At the moment, she cared only about the ineffable fact that Jeremiah was speaking to her; that her son had found his voice when he had recovered his mind. And he had recovered his will as well: oh, yes, his will beyond question. His years of self-protective absence had taught him unexpected resources of determination.

They encouraged her to keep him talking.

She avoided the most crucial issue because he avoided it. Instead she inquired further about his encounters with Covenant’s spirit.

“I probably shouldn’t admit this,” she offered tentatively, “but I almost panicked when I saw Revelstone and Mount Thunder in the living room. I came close to taking you and running.” She still believed that she should have done so. “Then neither of us would have been shot.”

“And we wouldn’t be here to fight for the Land,” Jeremiah put in at once.

She conceded his point. She did not want to discuss the cost of trying to carry burdens which were too heavy for human arms to lift. “Of course,” she continued, “I didn’t know then that your mind was coming here at night, when I thought that you were asleep. But what I’m trying to ask is, what inspired you to build those models?” And to build them on the same day that Roger Covenant came to demand custody of his mother? “Was that Covenant’s idea? Did he tell you to do it?”

Jeremiah thought for a moment. “Not exactly. He never told me to do anything. But he made sure I knew Revelstone and Mount Thunder were important. He said things could happen there that might frustrate Lord Foul.” Suddenly vehement, he snapped, “I hate that bastard.” Then, hunching his shoulders and knotting his fists, he calmed himself. “So I wanted to warn you. Legos were the only language I had.”

The only language—Such things threatened Linden’s composure. But Jeremiah had touched on his unspoken wounds, albeit obliquely. That demanded her full attention. Her own reactions could wait.

In the dirt ahead of her, she saw the marks of three Ranyhyn galloping toward Muirwin Delenoth: longer strides, deeper hoof-cuts in the ground, but the same track. Clearly Hyn, Hynyn, and Khelen were retracing their path away from the Swordmainnir and Manethrall Mahrtiir. They aimed to rejoin Linden’s companions instead of pursuing some other purpose.

Instead of taking her to Covenant.

She told herself that she was glad. She wanted to be reunited with her friends. Wanted them, in effect, to meet Jeremiah for the first time. In addition, she needed their support, their comfort, their ready courage. And she felt that she could not afford to be distracted from her son: certainly not by her yearning for the only man whom she had ever truly loved.

As though he had caught the scent of her thoughts, Jeremiah asked abruptly, “Do you think he’s dead? Covenant, I mean. When he left, he looked like he was going to die. Like he planned on dying.”

Startled, Linden countered, “Why do you think that? What made you think he was going to die?”

The boy studied her. “Isn’t that what you think? I must have picked up the idea from you.”

Linden winced. She could easily believe that her reaction to Covenant’s departure had conveyed the impression that she was bracing herself for his death.

While her son faced her with concern darkening in his eyes, she sighed, “No, Jeremiah. I don’t think Covenant is dead. And I don’t think he was planning to die. You’ve met him, but you haven’t seen him in action. Practically everything he does is almost inconceivable, but he does it anyway. That’s why the Land needs him. Why we need him.” Her own needs were more complex. “Maybe he really does have an inherent relationship with wild magic. Or maybe he’s just more than anyone else I’ve ever met. Either way, I don’t believe that Joan can kill him. There isn’t enough of her left, and that Raver can’t make her into something she isn’t.”

After a moment, Linden forced herself to be honest. “But I do think something is dying. If it isn’t already dead.” Every word was bitter to her. It was gall on her tongue. She said it, and the next one, and the next, because she wanted to be worthy of her son. “That must be what you saw in me when he left. He doesn’t love me anymore. Or he’s afraid of me. I love him, but ever since the Ardent brought us out of the Lost Deep, I’ve been watching what Covenant and I had together die.”

Jeremiah listened with an air of impatience; but he waited for her to finish. Then he said as if he were certain, “You’re wrong, Mom. I’ve heard him. He still loves you. Whatever he’s doing, it isn’t about not loving you. That’s what made me think he’s planning to die. He left the way he did because he isn’t sure he’ll ever see you again.”

Her son meant well: Linden knew that. He might even be right. Nevertheless she doubted him. Her awareness of the many ways in which she had failed ran too deep. After all, what had she done to enable Jeremiah’s escape from his prison? Sure, she had resisted Infelice as much as she could. And she had extinguished Joan’s caesures. But in the end, her only real contribution had been trust: trust in the Ranyhyn—and in Esmer’s reasons for restoring Jeremiah’s racecar.

She could not believe in Covenant’s love because she did not know how to make peace with herself.

In self-defense, she reverted to her earlier questions. “We were talking about your models. You explained Revelstone and Mount Thunder. What about your Tinkertoy castle?” She had seen its original in the Lost Deep. “Were you trying to tell me something there, too? Was that another warning?”

Had Covenant nudged Jeremiah to prepare her in some fashion? If so, the effort had been wasted. It was too cryptic. Knowing nothing of the Lost Deep, she could not have interpreted her son’s faery edifice.

This time, Jeremiah shook his head. “I was just practicing. I only visited the Lost Deep once. I mean, on my own.” Without Roger and the croyel. “But while I was there, I saw what the Viles could do. I fell in love with that castle. Then later, when I started to get the idea I needed to warn you somehow, I didn’t want to make a mistake. So I tried to copy the castle.

“I hadn’t done anything like that before. Everything else I built I just sort of found. Even the racetrack. I don’t know how to explain it. I didn’t start out with an idea. The shapes came from whatever I was using. They all just came. But if I wanted to warn you, I had to choose the shapes for myself.

“The castle was my first try.” Linden saw satisfaction in his mien: satisfaction—and a new surge of eagerness. “It was easier than I thought. Until then, I didn’t know I can choose anything I want. Now I do. I just need the right pieces.”

Now, Linden thought. While he was eager. While he felt sure of himself.

It was probably too soon. In her former life, she would have waited longer; perhaps much longer. But her son had so little time. The Earth had so little.

Her heart seemed to crowd her throat as she asked, “What was it like, having the croyel on your back? What did it do to you? What did Lord Foul do?”

At once, Jeremiah’s manner changed as if he had slammed a door. He jerked his face away. “You know what it was like. I don’t want to talk about it. I want to forget it ever happened.”

Then he nudged Khelen away from Hyn. To Stave, he called, “Can we go faster? I want to reach the Giants.”

“Chosen?” Stave inquired. His tone implied no opinion.

Cursing to herself, Linden muttered, “All right. They’re probably worried about us.”

The Swordmainnir had been left behind because they were too weary after their long struggles to run with the Ranyhyn. And Mahrtiir had stayed with them so that Narunal could guide them across the wide wilderland of the Spoiled Plains to rejoin the other horses.

Stave nodded. Briefly he stroked the side of Hynyn’s neck.

With a whicker of command to Khelen and Hyn, the roan stallion gathered speed so fluidly that Linden could not discern the precise moment when he began to quicken his gait. He galloped slightly ahead of them, but they did not lose ground in spite of their smaller stature. Indeed, Hyn matched his pace with apparent ease. As she had done before, the mare cast the hard ground behind her as if she could equal Hynyn’s thundering haste for hours or days.

Stave rode effortlessly, like a man who had become one with his mount. In Khelen’s care, Jeremiah waved his arms and shouted encouragement. But Linden gripped her Staff and prayed that she had not driven her son to bury his wounds more deeply.

The quality of the light in the stained air told her that the sun was setting beyond the barrier of Landsdrop. In the distance ahead, still scores of leagues away, she felt the advance of Kevin’s Dirt more strongly. After their fashion, the Ranyhyn were trying to outrace a doom for which she had no answer.

Linden’s relief and joy at her son’s restoration would have been greater if she had not been so afraid for him.

In your present state, Chosen, Desecration lies ahead of you. It does not crowd at your back.

It was entirely impossible that he had not been maimed in some way by Lord Foul’s malice and the croyel’s cruelty.

2.

Nightfall

The sun set, casting darkness across the Spoiled Plains; shrouding everything except the sensory glower of Kevin’s Dirt. But Kastenessen’s oblique assault on Earthpower and Law was increasingly vivid to Linden’s percipience. Soon it would begin to hamper her. Even Jeremiah’s inherited theurgy might be tainted. And the resources of the Staff would be diminished.

In addition, Covenant’s leprosy would worsen. He might go blind, or lose the use of his hands altogether. He might find it difficult to keep his balance because his feet were numb.

I need to be numb, he had insisted in Andelain. It doesn’t just make me who I am. It makes me who I can be.

Linden did not understand that. The way in which he defined himself as a leper was like his relationship with wild magic, inherent, inexplicable—and too ambiguous to be measured.

Crossing terrain that made her feel numbed herself, Linden clung to the flowing reassurance of Hyn’s back and prayed that some good would come of this long gallop through the threatened night.

Fortunately no caesures appeared. Joan’s attention was focused elsewhere; or turiya Raver’s was. Nevertheless Linden felt a growing disquiet across the region, an almost subliminal sense of disturbance that seemed separate from Kevin’s Dirt. At first, she thought that she was tasting a nameless discomfiture in Hyn, a new anxiety that affected only the Ranyhyn. Yet when she pushed her percipience farther, she found a sensation of restiveness in the ground under Hyn’s hooves. The foundations of the Lower Land appeared to be bracing themselves for an impact which they might not be able to withstand.

Across the leagues, Jeremiah’s mood had changed. His eagerness had become impatience, frustration. He rode low over Khelen’s neck, apparently urging the Ranyhyn to greater speed as if he fled from ghouls—or as if he were filled to bursting with an unspoken sense of purpose.

Stars sprinkled the firmament overhead: the only light on the Lower Land. Surely the moon would rise soon? Even a slim crescent would do more than the lorn stars to soften the dark. But there was no moon. In its absence, the stars seemed strangely closer, at once more distinct and more vulnerable, as if they were drawing near to witness the outcome of their long yearning.

The shadows of the Creator’s children, for good or ill: come boon or bane. They glistened like weeping in the absolute black of the heavens.

With growing urgency, Linden tried to recognize some specific feature of the terrain. But she had not attended to her surroundings during the ride to Muirwin Delenoth. She did not know where she was, and could only guess where she was going.

Hyn’s unfaltering strides spoke eloquently of trust. Linden heard them well enough. She knew what they meant. Nevertheless her anxieties harried her through the night. Galled by them, she traversed an unreadable landscape in darkness like the onset of a nightmare from which there could be no awakening.

How much time had passed? An hour since sunset? Surely no more than two? Nonetheless the star-strewn dark seemed complete, as if it were the last night of the world.

Abruptly Hynyn uttered a loud neigh like a blare of triumph in the face of oncoming evils. And a moment later, the stallion was answered. From the distance ahead came a welcoming whinny. Linden thought that she recognized Narunal’s call.

“There, Chosen,” Stave announced over the pounding of hooves. “Our companions await us where we last found water.”

The Ranyhyn were running between low hillocks like mounds inadequately cloaked in scraps of grass. Vaguely Linden smelled water. But her attention was fixed elsewhere, straining to discern the presence of the Swordmainnir and the Manethrall.

“At last!” Jeremiah shouted. Then he began to halloo as if he expected everyone who could hear him to know his voice.

In moments, the Ranyhyn slowed their strides. Panting heavily, they dropped from a gallop to a canter, then to a jolting trot. Sure of their footing, they angled down into a gully where a small stream ran southward. As it muttered along its crooked path, it caught glints from the stars, a spangling of slight reflections which seemed to confirm that the lost lights were indeed becoming more distinct.

Silhouetted vague and fireless against the faint glisten of the water stood ten shapes that Linden knew instantly: eight Giants, Manethrall Mahrtiir, and Narunal.

At once, Rime Coldspray and her comrades raised a loud huzzah that startled the night, shivering in the air like a challenge to calamity. Jeremiah replied gladly, and all of the Ranyhyn whickered their approval. Only Mahrtiir voiced neither pleasure nor exultation. His reactions were more complex.

As Hynyn, Hyn, and Khelen halted, Frostheart Grueburn and Stormpast Galesend surged forward to lift Linden and Jeremiah from their mounts. On Hyn’s back, Linden almost felt equal to the exuberant relief of the Swordmainnir; but when Grueburn set her on her feet, the Giants towered over her, dwarfing her with their open hearts as much as with their size. She had more in common with Mahrtiir. While the Ironhand, Onyx Stonemage, and Cirrus Kindwind greeted Stave with claps on his back and shoulders that buffeted him in spite of his strength, Linden walked on legs stiff with riding toward the Manethrall. When she reached him, she dropped her Staff so that she could hug him with both arms.

Taken aback by her display of affection, he resisted momentarily. But then he returned her clasp. “Ringthane,” he breathed softly. “Linden Avery. Though I trust the Ranyhyn in all things, I must acknowledge that I have been sorely afraid. Also I am much vexed that I was not permitted to stand at your side. I am diminished in my own estimation. I must remember that I am Ramen and human. I must not judge myself by the majesty of the Ranyhyn.”

As if she were answering him, Linden murmured privately, “Jeremiah saved himself. Now I don’t know how to help him.”

Like Mahrtiir, she would never be equal to miracles. She had to learn how to serve them, as he did.

But the Manethrall appeared not to understand her. “Help him?” he asked in a voice as low as hers. “His alteration is plain. He is transformed beyond all expectation or conception. What manner of aid does he require?”

Jeremiah was already talking to the Giants, practically babbling in his eagerness to tell his story. But caesures and Stave and Infelice and Linden and the Ranyhyn and his racecar and Anele’s legacy and a construct of bone all tried to find words at the same time: they tripped over each other and fell and bounced back up like tumblers performing some implausible feat of dexterity. Laughing at his own happy incoherence, he repeated his verbal pratfalls until he occasionally achieved a complete sentence. And the Giants laughed with him, rapt and delighted.

Only Stave stood apart. His native dispassion did not waver. If he took note of Linden’s exchange with Mahrtiir, he feigned otherwise.

Whispering so that she would not weep again, Linden told Mahrtiir, “He doesn’t want to remember what he’s been through. I can’t think about anything else. No one suffers like that without being damaged.”

The Manethrall stepped back to regard her with his bandaged gaze. Still softly, he replied, “That I comprehend, Ringthane. Who would if I do not, I who have lost eyes and use in a cause which exceeds my best strength? But I will speak once again of trust. Hear his vitality and joy. Hear him well. Far more than his wounds have been restored to him, and to you. If a lifetime of your love has not already wrought some healing, it will do so when its time is ripe.”

Linden had no response. She recognized his effort to reassure her, but she was not comforted. Jeremiah was not her only concern: other anxieties were tightening around her. His emergence required her to shift how she thought of herself.

She had no idea what had happened to Thomas Covenant. League by league, Kevin’s Dirt swelled closer, expanding the ambit of Kastenessen’s wrath and pain. Her awareness of a visceral alarm in the earth was growing stronger. And the Worm of the World’s End was at work. Where its power was concerned, she doubted nothing that Infelice had told her; nothing that she had heard from Anele.

The company’s circumstances, and the Land’s, implied an imperative need for action. Now that she had rejoined her friends, she felt the pressure of events mounting. Instinctively she believed that she and her companions had to make decisions and act on them. Now, while they still could.

Yet she restrained herself for the sake of her son’s rambling tale; and also for the sake of the Giants, so that they could gauge him for themselves. Raising both of her hands, she bowed her thanks and respect to Mahrtiir in the Ramen fashion. Then she retrieved the Staff of Law and went to the stream to quench her thirst. The Giants still carried some portion of the Ardent’s largesse. Surely she could afford to eat a meal and rest before she imposed her tension on her friends?

Yes, she could afford that—but she could not do it. When Jeremiah had given his audience a fairly complete description of what had occurred during his rescue or escape, she went in a gust of compulsion to join Rime Coldspray and Frostheart Grueburn and the rest of the Swordmainnir.

“Have you felt it?” she asked without preamble. “Kevin’s Dirt is coming this way. Kastenessen knows where we are, and he intends to hurt us if he can. At this rate, Mahrtiir and I will start to lose our health-sense sometime around dawn. Even Jeremiah may be affected. And Kevin’s Dirt is going to limit what I can do with my Staff. I won’t be able to fight the skurj. I may not even be able to fight the Sandgorgons.

“Can you feel it?”

One by one, the Giants turned toward her. She could not make out their expressions by starlight; but her nerves felt their enjoyment of Jeremiah subside, replaced by more somber emotions. The last of their laughter faded into the night. Standing with their Ironhand, the Swordmainnir regarded Linden gravely.

“Linden Giantfriend,” Coldspray replied with an air of formality, “we have felt it. But it will not assail us until dawn, as you have observed. For that reason among others, it is not our immediate consideration.

“You have ridden long and long without food or rest or sufficient water. And Giant that I am, I confess that my weariness clings to me, though we have bathed as well as we are able, and have conserved our endurance. Will you not partake of our remaining food? Will you not sleep for a time? The trials of the morrow will not be made less by effort in darkness, when we are scarce able to discern where we set our feet.”

Linden shook her head. Fears coerced her: she did not know how to relent.

“And there’s some kind of distress in the ground,” she countered. “Can you feel that, too? It’s like the rock under this whole part of the Lower Land is afraid. The Worm must be getting close. What else can it mean?

“I don’t regret anything that we’ve done since we lost Liand and Anele.” Anything except Covenant’s departure—and his desire to distance himself from her. “But we’re running out of time. We need to decide what we’re going to do, and then we need to do it.”

The Ironhand regarded Linden for a moment, apparently searching for some clue to the turmoil which goaded her. Then the leader of the Swordmainnir said more gently, “You reveal a welcome alteration, Linden Giantfriend—as welcome as your son’s restoration in mind and power. Heretofore you have given your concern chiefly to him, heedless of the Earth’s doom.

“I do not fault you in this,” she hastened to add. “We are Giants and adore children. Nonetheless other matters also weigh upon us. Your readiness now to challenge the foes of Land and life lifts our spirits.”

Before Linden could find an appropriate response, Coldspray continued, “Yet your need for food and rest remains. Though you did not choose to be so, you are the rock on which we have anchored our own purposes. Since our first encounter in Salva Gildenbourne, we have claimed a place in your company at every turn of the winds and currents. This we have done because we see more in you than you see in yourself, and also because we seek to make amends for the follies which led to Lostson Longwrath’s geas. We will be guided by your heart.

“Still I must urge you to contain your apprehension for this one night. Much has transpired. Much has been asked of you—and much given in return.” She nodded toward Jeremiah. “You would be more or less than mortal if you did not require time to absorb the gift of your son’s restoration. And if you do not eat and rest now, you will be less able to withstand the coming storms.

“We will have need of you, Linden Giantfriend. You must grant to yourself some measure of kindness.”

The Ironhand’s consideration seemed to dissolve a barrier in Linden; to weaken or transform it. Her desire for decisions was as much an expression of incomprehension as it was of urgency. There were too many things that she did not understand. Covenant. Jeremiah. Lord Foul’s plans for her son. And the Elohim, who could have done so much differently.

In bafflement, she nodded to Coldspray. “I’m sure you’re right. Jeremiah must be hungry. And I could use a bath.” The Ranyhyn had withdrawn into the night as if they had satisfied their own purposes; as if now they were content to wait until she determined hers. “Let’s all get some rest. Maybe we’ll be able to see what to do more clearly in the morning.”

The Giants replied with murmurs of approval; and Jeremiah yawned unexpectedly. “I’m not just hungry,” he announced. “I’m sleepy. I thought I was too excited to sleep, but maybe I’m not.”

Linden nodded again. “All right.” Feeling suddenly drained, she turned to Stave. “Will you guide me? I want to wash, but I’m not sure that I can find my way.”

Without hesitation, the Haruchai took her arm and steered her into the darkness away from the company. Trusting his friendship and his certainty, she accompanied him downstream.

But she wanted more than a bath. She wanted to understand. Questions about Jeremiah led her to quellvisks, and to the Elohim. When she and Stave had gone beyond earshot of the Giants and her son, she asked him quietly, “Why do you think they did it?”

“Linden?” the former Master inquired with as much gentleness as his dispassion allowed.

“Why did the Elohim leave those bones where the Ranyhyn could find them? If they’re so afraid of Jeremiah? They can move through time. The Theomach told me that. So did Esmer. They could have known that Jeremiah would need those bones. And they had the whole Earth to choose from. Why did they pick the Lower Land?”

Why did they make possible a fate that they abhorred and then try to prevent it?

Stave shrugged. “Mayhap they did not foresee him.” Then he added, “Their belief that they are equal to all things deludes them. They cannot perceive their own misapprehensions. How otherwise did they fail to foresee that you would permit ur-Lord Covenant to retain his white gold ring when you had become the Sun-Sage? Their fear of the Unbeliever’s power and resurrection blinded them to other paths.”

By slow increments, Linden began to relax. Stave’s answer sounded reasonable. If nothing else, it implied that comprehension was attainable.

As far as she was concerned, the Elohim had been wrong about her from the first.

Before long, the Haruchai brought her to a small pool among the mounded hillocks. It was too shallow to let her immerse herself, had no virtue to assoil her sins; but it offered her enough water to scrub at the worst of her dirt and doubt. When Stave had assured her that he would stand watch somewhere out of sight, he faded soundlessly into the night, and she was alone.

Kneeling among the stones and sand at the pool’s edge, she placed the Staff of Law beside her; lowered her face into the cold tang of the water. As long as she could hold her breath, she dragged her fingers through her hair and rubbed hard at her scalp. After that, she unbuttoned and dropped her shirt, removed her boots and socks, took off her grass-marked jeans.

Alone with the stars, she did what she could to remove the stains of sweat and strain and dust and blood from her skin. With cold clean water, she tried to scour the soilure from her thoughts. Then she tossed her clothes into the pool and beat them like a woman who wanted to pound away every reminder that she was vulnerable to despair.

hen she returned—sodden, dripping, and chilled—to her friends, she had not been made new. Her many taints had been ground too deeply into her to be simply washed away. Her runed Staff remained darkest black. If she raised fire from the wood, her flames of Earthpower and Law would be black as well, indistinguishable from the world’s night. And there was an ache of apprehension in the ground that did not allow her to forget that her company and the Land and all of life were in peril. Nevertheless she had begun to feel the need for rest. And she knew that she was hungry.

“You look better,” Jeremiah pronounced. “I know how you like being clean.” Then he snorted a soft laugh. “I mean, I can guess. You sure gave me enough baths.”

Linden answered by wrapping him in a long, wet hug. She had no other way to express what she felt.

In her absence, the Giants had set out a meal for her: cheese, dried fruit, a bit of stale bread and some cured meat. Embracing Jeremiah, her nerves assured her that he had already eaten. Now she felt a tide of drowsiness rising in him. While she held him, he stifled a yawn.

“Mom. You’re shivering.”

Cold and over-wrought nerves had that effect, in spite of the heat clinging to the Spoiled Plains.

“You’re right.” Reluctantly she released him. “Low blood sugar. I must be hungrier than I thought. Why don’t you find a place to lie down while I eat something?” Smiling crookedly, she added, “If you’re still awake when I’m done, you can tell me a bedtime story. I want to hear more about your visits to the Land.” She particularly wished to hear more about Jeremiah’s encounters with Covenant. “They’re bound to be more interesting than ‘Bomba the Jungle Boy.’”

He grinned, apparently remembering the books that she had read to him in another life. “But I don’t want to sleep.” He made a sweeping gesture that included Stave and the Giants. “This is too exciting.”

“And it will still be exciting in the morning,” Linden admonished him gently.

“Well—” He glanced around the floor of the gully. “Maybe if I get comfortable somewhere.”

“You do that.” Inexplicably she wanted to weep again; but she swallowed the impulse. “I really should eat.” With a conscious effort, she turned to the meal that Frostheart Grueburn had left for her on a flat sheet of stone.

Night covered Grueburn’s face, and Rime Coldspray’s. Linden could not see their expressions, but she felt them grinning. As Jeremiah moved away, looking for a clear stretch of sand and dirt, Cabledarm remarked quietly, “Here Linden Giantfriend reveals yet another of her many selves. She is not merely the Sun-Sage, the Chosen, the indomitable seeker and guardian of her son. She is also the mother who provides care.”

Linden might have protested, if she could have done so with the same light-hearted kindliness that filled Cabledarm’s voice. Instead she began eating; and after her first bites of hard cheese and stale bread, she was preoccupied with hunger.

Mahrtiir responded on her behalf. “Are you taken aback, large ones?” he said with a gruff attempt at humor. “If so, I must chastise your lack of discernment. That she is a mother is plain.”

Having spoken, however, he seemed disconcerted by the quiet laughter that greeted his gibe. Instead of laughing himself, he said more stiffly, “Some have journeyed hard and long. Others have walked when they were weary and heart-sore. I have merely ridden and rested. I will stand watch with the Ranyhyn. And perhaps Stave will consent to join me. I have heard young Jeremiah’s tale of great events. I would hear how those events are interpreted by the long memories and acute judgments of the Haruchai.”

Stave glanced at Linden, then gave the Manethrall a barely perceptible nod. Together they walked away along the stream until they found an easy ascent out of the erosion-cut. A moment later, they were gone into the night.

Still eating, Linden waited for the questions of the Giants.

But they did not question her. As if by common consent, they made themselves comfortable, some sitting against the walls of the gully, others half reclining beside the stream. Then in muted voices they began to tell old tales, stories which they all obviously knew well. None of their narratives went far: the Swordmainnir interrupted each constantly, sometimes with reminders of other tales, more often with good-natured jests. Nevertheless their interjections and ripostes had a soothing effect on Linden. That such strong warriors could be playful even now evoked an irrational sensation of safety. Indirectly they made light of their many perils and foes; and by doing so, they enabled Linden to relax further.

Surely she could afford to rest while Mahrtiir, Stave, and the Ranyhyn watched over her and Jeremiah, and the Swordmainnir were content to amuse themselves with tales and gibes?

When she had eaten everything that Grueburn had set out for her, she went to the stream for a long drink. Briefly she scanned the watercourse until her health-sense confirmed that Jeremiah was already asleep, sprawled unselfconsciously no more than a dozen steps away. Then she began to search for a place where she, too, could lie down.

The dampness and chill of her clothes were only vaguely unpleasant. She could have warmed them with her Staff, but she disliked the prospect of raising black fire here. It felt like a bad omen. And it might attract hazardous attention.

Recumbent on the sand with only a few rocks to discomfit her, Linden rode the current of low Giantish voices as if it were a tide that lifted her into the worlds of dreams.

They were many and confusing, fraught with cryptic auguries and possible havoc. Muirwin Delenoth. An unleashed avalanche of water in the depths of Gravin Threndor. Resurrections. She Who Must Not Be Named. But one vision had more power over her than the others. In it, she and Jeremiah sat together in the living room that she would never see again, he on the floor surrounded by boxes of Legos, she in an armchair watching him. He was building an image of Mount Thunder in elaborate detail; and she loved watching him, as she had always done. The best part of the dream, however, was that he talked while he worked, happily explaining why he had chosen that image, what it meant to him, and how he had become so familiar with it, all in words which made perfect sense to her—and which were forgotten as soon as they were uttered.

Once during the night, she was awakened by the visceral realization that a distant crisis had passed. Its aftershocks began to fade as soon as she became aware of them. Reassured by the knowledge that at least one cataclysm had kept its distance and run its course, she went back to sleep easily.

She yearned to return to Jeremiah and Legos, but that dream was gone. Instead, between one instant of consciousness and another, a hand touched her shoulder, and a low voice said her name. She recognized Stave before she knew that she was no longer asleep.

“Chosen,” he said, still quietly, “dawn draws nigh. Though the disturbance in the Earth has subsided, the Giants surmise that it is but the first of many. Indeed, they deem that some alteration has come to the Land. Having rested, they judge that it is now time to arise.”

In an instant, Linden was fully awake. Jeremiah was stirring, roused by Stormpast Galesend. Like Stave, Manethrall Mahrtiir had returned. He conferred in whispers with the Ironhand, perhaps sharing any impressions that he had received from the Ranyhyn, while the other Swordmainnir secured their armor, checked their weapons, tied the scant remnant of their supplies into bundles.

A low breeze drifted along the gully, touching Linden’s nerves with an insidious sensation of change, not in the weather, but in something more fundamental, something in the nature of the air itself. The shift was not wrongness or malice, yet it seemed to imply that it could be as destructive as evil.

Gripping Stave’s arm and the Staff of Law, she climbed to her feet. “Has anything happened? I mean, anything specific? Are the Ranyhyn worried?”

With his usual detachment, Stave reported, “The great horses appear restive. They snort at the air and toss their heads without any cause that I am able to discern. Nor do the Giants perceive any source of peril. Nonetheless—” He hesitated as if he were searching for contact with other Haruchai minds; with memories which were beyond his reach. Then he continued, “I share the apprehensions of the Swordmainnir. Some dire alteration approaches. We do well to meet it standing.”

A moment later, he added, “It is in my heart that the Unbeliever has confronted his former mate, for good or ill.” A hint of discomfort in his voice made him sound more formal. “He has quelled her, or she has slain him. But the import of either outcome lies beyond my ken. Do such events conduce to the Earth’s salvation or to its damnation? It is said that there is hope in contradiction, yet that insight surpasses me. I am Haruchai, accustomed to clear sight or none.

“At your side, Chosen, I have made a study of uncertainty. Now I have learned that it is an abyss, no less unfathomable than the Lost Deep.”

“Don’t say that,” Linden protested. She meant, Don’t remind me that Covenant may be dead. We need him. I need him. “You understand more than you give yourself credit for.”

Without uncertainty—without hope in contradiction—Stave would not have become her friend. He would not have stood with her against the united rejection of the Masters.

Stave appeared to raise an eyebrow. “Where is the harm? Have I not made my allegiance plain? And did we not escape both the Lost Deep and the bane, though skest and the skurj also assailed us? Chosen, I do not fear to name uncertainty an abyss.”

Linden could have retorted, Sure, we escaped. After that bane nearly killed us. After we lost the Harrow, and the Ardent damned himself, and Covenant’s hands were almost destroyed. After the Dead sacrificed Elena before I could ask her to forgive me. Don’t you understand how deep those wounds are? But she kept her bitterness to herself. All of her protests came to the same thing.

She had no hope for Covenant.

Instead of responding, she left Stave and went to the stream. There she dropped her Staff, knelt, and plunged her face into the water, pulling her fingers through her hair while the cold stung her nerves.

Covenant had asked or ordered her not to touch him. He had spoken as if he believed that she feared his leprosy—or he feared it for her.

The Giants and now Mahrtiir conveyed the impression that they were waiting for her. When she glanced at the northwestern sky, she saw Kevin’s Dirt glowering closer, riding the wind of Kastenessen’s agony and virulence. In another hour at most, it would spread far enough to cover the company. Yet it remained hidden from mundane sight. It did not dull the stars. Indeed, it appeared to sharpen their brilliance and loss.

Linden wiped water from her face, dragged her tangled hair back behind her ears, and rose to her feet. When she had retrieved her Staff, she moved to greet Jeremiah.

“Mom.” She could not read his face except with her health-sense, but he sounded implausibly cheerful. “Did you get some sleep? I sure did.” He stretched his arms, rolled his head to loosen his neck. “Now I feel like I can conquer the world.”

As if he were performing a parlor trick, he snapped his fingers, and a quick spark appeared in the air above his hand; a brief instant of flame. In itself, it was a small thing, almost trivial. But it implied—

He was already learning new uses for Anele’s gift of Earthpower. Perhaps he was becoming Earthpower.

His momentary display caught the attention of the Giants; but he ignored them to concentrate on Linden. “What are we waiting for?” he asked in a tone of rising excitement. “We should go.”

Infelice had given him an idea—

His manner troubled Linden. Instinctively she wanted to probe him again. She hungered to learn who he was in his new life. But she did not know what might happen if she interrupted his mood; his sense of purpose; his defenses. He might need such things more than he needed her understanding or sympathy.

Stave still stood nearby, a silent reminder of stoicism and rectitude. But he was more than that: he was also a reminder of trust. In the Hall of Gifts, she had confessed, Roger said that Lord Foul has owned my son for a long time. And Stave had replied, I know naught of these matters. I do not know your son. Nor do I know all that he has suffered. But it is not so among the children of the Haruchai. They are born to strength, and it is their birthright to remain who they are.

Are you certain that the same may not be said of your son?

If Linden asked him now, Stave might remark that Jeremiah had already proven himself in Muirwin Delenoth. The former Master might suggest that it would be better for her as well as for Jeremiah if she allowed him to discover his own path.

She was not ready for that. But the World’s End would not wait for her to find enough courage. And when the Worm came, Jeremiah would share the Earth’s fate no matter how hard she tried to save him.

She was responsible for the Worm’s awakening. Now she needed to find better answers than the ones that had guided her here.

Sighing, Linden followed Jeremiah toward the Giants and the Manethrall. Sunrise would lift the darkness from the Lower Land. Perhaps it would shed some light into her as well.

When she reached Mahrtiir, she said quietly, “Kevin’s Dirt is almost here. I hope that you’ll let me know when it starts to blind you. I’ll counteract it as much as I can. I don’t like the way the air feels. We’re going to need all the discernment we can get.”

The Manethrall nodded. “Ringthane, I hear you. I cannot evade the approach of Kastenessen’s malevolence.” Bitterness whetted the edges of his voice. “It will make of me less than naught, a mere hindrance to my companions, as it did in the Lost Deep. Be assured that I will not scruple to seek your aid.”

The promise appeared to cost him an effort of will or self-abnegation; but he spoke firmly, denying his pride.

Linden rested her hand on his shoulder for a moment: a gesture of empathy to which he did not respond. Then she sighed, “All right. We have a lot to talk about. Maybe it’s time that we actually talked about it.”

But she did not want to talk. She wanted to wait for the sun.

“Like you, Linden Giantfriend,” Rime Coldspray offered, “we mislike the touch of this air. It speaks of forces which lie beyond our ken. Perils draw nigh which have heretofore remained distant.

“Also the beings and powers which seek the World’s End remain unopposed. I am the Ironhand of the Swordmainnir. I speak for my comrades when I say that we must now choose a new heading. And we must not dally in doing so, lest forces which we cannot oppose overtake us.”

Linden felt more than saw that night was ending. She smelled an easing of the dark. The first faint suggestion of daybreak drifted toward her from the east, riding the troubled breeze. But it did not dim the stars. Like the swift moil of Kevin’s Dirt, the approach of dawn seemed to etch the profuse glitter overhead more precisely against the fathomless abyss of the heavens.

Still she wanted to see the sun. With her Staff, she was capable of much. At need, the ready wood would answer her call with fire and heat and even healing. But she could no longer summon illumination. Jeremiah might be able to do so, if his mastery of his new magicks continued to grow. Covenant’s ring would cast silver and peril in all directions if she forced herself to use it. But the stark ebony of her own access to Earthpower and Law precluded light.

When the sun rose, the confused tangle of who she was and who she needed to be might begin to unravel like the recursive wards which had sealed the Lost Deep.

Stalling, she said uncertainly, “We’ve been trusting the Ranyhyn. They’ve brought us this far. Maybe we should keep doing that.”

But Manethrall Mahrtiir shook his head. “Ringthane, they are Ranyhyn.” She heard a note of finality or fatality in his voice. “They wield neither ancient lore nor mighty theurgies. They have borne many of our burdens. Doubtless they will bear more. But they cannot determine the Earth’s doom. The deeds required of us they cannot perform.

“Also,” he added more sadly, “I sense no clear purpose among them. They are restive, truly, and urgent to do what they may. But they neither command nor encourage us to ride. Rather they abide their discomfort, hoping—or so I deem—that we will soon determine our own intents.”

Now, Linden thought. Now the sun would show itself. Surely the east had begun to lighten? Certainly the funereal bindings of night had loosened their grip on the landscape. A kind of vagueness eroded the dark. In hints, the contours of the watercourse and the stream unveiled themselves. She could make out the Giants more clearly, starker shapes in the enshrouding gloom.

“That’s all right, Mom,” Jeremiah put in, impatient for his chance to speak. “Like I told you, Infelice gave me an idea. I want to try it.”

Linden avoided his gaze. “Can you wait a little longer, Jeremiah, honey? Just until sunrise?”

“But—” he began, then stopped himself. Turning to the east, he frowned at the blurred outlines of the horizon. “It should already be here. Why isn’t it here?”

Kevin’s Dirt was less than a league away, a cruel seethe spurred southward by rage. Night continued to fade from the Lower Land, giving way to a preternatural dusk, an imposed twilight. Nevertheless there was no clear daybreak, no sign of the sun.

“This is wrong,” Linden breathed. “Something is wrong.”

“Indeed,” muttered Onyx Stonemage through her teeth. “Something comes. I know not what it may presage, but my heart speaks to me of dread.”

The stars shone like distant cries. Somehow Kevin’s Dirt and even the swell of gloaming made them brighter, louder. A change had come to the firmament of the heavens, a change that threatened the isolate gleams. A change that caused them pain.

Now? Linden thought. Now? Her sensitivity to organic truth assured her that the sun should appear now; that it should already have crested the crepuscular horizon. The absolute necessity of night and day required it, the life-giving sequence of rest and energy, relief and effort. The most fundamental implication of the Law of Time—

She was wrong. There was no sun. There would be no sun.

The nature of existence had become unreliable.

The dusk softened until she could discern the faces around her indistinctly; until she could almost see the details of their grimaces and fears, their clenched expectations. But then the greying of the world seemed to stabilize as though it had found a point of equilibrium between night and day. After that, there was no increase of light.

The sun was not going to rise because it could not. Forces beyond Linden’s comprehension held the Land in a gloom like the onset of the last dark.

While Linden struggled to grasp the truth, several of the Giants gasped. Sharply Stave said, “Attend, Chosen.”

She flicked a glance around her, saw that all of her companions were staring upward.

For an instant or two, a few heartbeats, startlement confused her. The sky was too full of stars; of lights that glittered like wailing. She could not understand the panoply. She felt the leading edge of Kevin’s Dirt, tasted the shock and horror of her companions, recognized a jolt of vehemence from Jeremiah; but she did not see what her companions saw.

Then she did.

Oh, God—

Stars were going out.

One. Then another. A pause while realities reeled. Two together as if they had been swallowed simultaneously.

God in Heaven! The sun was not the only casualty. And the Worm of the World’s End had not yet reached the Land.

The stars were vast in number, of course they were: numberless beyond counting. By the measure of their profusion, their losses were small; almost trivial. But by the measure of brief human lives—by any measure that included life and death—the scale of the carnage surpassed conception.

What kind of power could eat stars?

Who could hope to stand against it?

“Mom!” Jeremiah said urgently. “You need to listen. I’ve been waiting long enough.”

She could not hear him; could not drag her gaze down to meet his. She was transfixed by the incremental ruin of beauty. She had to watch it because there was no sun.

“Maybe it’s a good thing I waited.” Jeremiah’s voice was taut with restraint. “Maybe now you’ll understand why my idea is important. Maybe now I understand what Covenant was trying to tell me.” But then he could not hold back a yell. “Mom!

His shout dragged at her attention. “Jeremiah—” His name caught in her throat. Hoarse as a woman who had spent the night howling, she asked, “What is it, honey? What’s so important?”

Don’t you see it? The stars are going out!

“You need to listen,” he repeated. “I know what to do!”

Stave regarded the boy steadily. The former Master’s gaze seemed full of the deaths of stars. Mahrtiir continued to peer blindly upward, but he appeared to be tracking the progress of Kevin’s Dirt. Perhaps the stars were beyond the reach of his remaining senses.

Slowly the Giants forced themselves to lower their heads. Blinking as though they had been appalled, they turned their eyes on Jeremiah. None of them spoke. Rigid as women who had become stone, they were too full of horror to express it.

Without stars, every sailor on the seas of the world would be lost. Every Giant aboard a ship, every seafarer from all the peoples of the Earth: trackless and doomed.

“All right.” Jeremiah sounded incongruously satisfied and eager, as if the heavens held nothing fearsome. Nothing except an opportunity. “I have an idea. I said that already. Infelice gave it to me. I mean, I got it from her. I’m sure she didn’t mean what I heard.”

Fortunately Kevin’s Dirt had no immediate effect: it wrought its particular harm slowly. With her health-sense if not with her eyes, Linden watched her son. He no longer looked like a boy. He looked like a young man who did not need her.

The sight made her heart shiver as if she were feverish.

“You’ll have to start from the beginning, Jeremiah. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You do, Mom,” he replied without hesitation. “You were there. You just haven’t thought about it enough.

“The stars going out.” His assurance amazed Linden. It frightened her. “That’s the Worm. It’s eating the Elohim.”

Too stricken to speak, everyone stared at Jeremiah. Beneath his familiar fierceness, Mahrtiir’s visage betrayed an ashen dismay. The muscles of Rime Coldspray’s jaws knotted and released like the hard beat of her heart. Latebirth had covered her eyes with her hands. Frostheart Grueburn gaped like a woman who had forgotten the meaning of her actions.

Every Giant—

“So what are they afraid of?” Jeremiah asked. “I mean, the Elohim. I’m just a kid. Why are they scared of me? What do they think I can do that’s worse than being eaten?”

His purpose for us is an abomination, more so than our doom in the maw of the Worm.

“Infelice told us,” he answered himself. “She thinks I’m going to trap them. And she knows I can do it. I can make a door they can’t refuse. No matter how far they scatter, or how hard they try to hide. They can’t refuse. That’s part of who they are. They’ll have to come if I make a door. I mean, the right door. The right size and shape. The right materials. I can construct a doorway that forces them. They’ll have to pass through it.

“So of course she thinks I’ll make a door they can’t get out of.” —the Worm is mere extinction. “That’s what the Vizard wanted. It’s what she would do if she were me.” The prison which the boy will devise is eternal helplessness, fully cognizant and forever futile. “She thinks I’ll trap the Elohim forever.”

Caught in such a construct, Infelice and her people would out-live the ending of suns and stars.

Stave regarded Jeremiah without expression. Several of the Swordmainnir studied him as if he were changing in front of them, revealing unguessed aspects of horror or hope.

“But she doesn’t know me, Mom.” Jeremiah sounded almost smug. “She doesn’t know what I’ve been learning all these years.

“I’m not crazy like the Harrow. I know I can’t build anything big or strong enough to hold the Worm. But I can make a door that sucks the Elohim in. A door that takes them to a place where the Worm can’t get at them. Only it won’t be a prison because my door will let them leave whenever they want. I can keep them alive until they decide it’s safe to come out.

“Then the stars will stop dying. And we’ll have a better chance to stop the Worm.”

He was moving too quickly for Linden. She scrambled to catch up with him; to untangle the significance of what he was saying. What had he told her about the Elohim? They’re like a metaphor? A symbol? They represent the stars. Or maybe they are the stars. Or maybe the stars and the Elohim are like shadows of each other.

The idea made a weird kind of sense. Saving the Elohim might actually stop—or at least delay—the destruction of the stars.

Still Linden faltered. His purpose for us is an abomination, more so than our doom in the maw of the Worm. But it is not the worst evil.

Infelice believed that Lord Foul would eventually use Jeremiah to trap the Creator. Would that outcome be more or less likely if Linden’s son contrived to preserve some of the Elohim?

Such questions were beyond her. She could not imagine their answers. She could hardly believe that they had answers.

She required an act of will to avoid looking up at the slow ravage of the heavens.

“I am exceeded,” muttered Mahrtiir under his breath. “Here even a youth of newborn mind surpasses a Manethrall of the Ramen. Serving only the Ranyhyn, my people are too small to comprehend or equal such powers.”

When no one else found a response, Linden asked tentatively, “But Jeremiah, honey, what will that accomplish? We can’t stop the Worm. We just can’t. It’s too much for us.”

“But I can slow it down!” Jeremiah crowed. “If I can build my door before it eats too many Elohim, I can buy us time!” With exaggerated patience, he explained, “The Elohim are its natural food. If it doesn’t get enough to eat, it’ll be weaker. It’ll move more slowly.

“Then who knows?” He shrugged as though he knew nothing of uncertainty. “Maybe we’ll think of something. Or Covenant will. He’s like that.”

If Covenant were still alive. If he had survived his encounter with Joan and turiya Raver. And if the Worm did not swallow Jeremiah’s door whole. By the measure of mountains, it is a small thing, no more than a range of hills. It would dwarf anything that Jeremiah could build.

And still the Worm would get all of the nourishment that it needed from the EarthBlood under Melenkurion Skyweir. Anele had said as much. He had gleaned his knowledge from a stretch of veined malachite at the foot of the Hazard: stone lined with stains like Linden’s jeans.

The prospect of acting on Jeremiah’s desires scared her. She drew inferences from it that appalled her. If he did what he wanted to do, she would have to—

That thought she could not complete. It led her toward places which were too extreme to be contemplated.

The construct which he envisioned would be vulnerable. It would need protection. She would have to—

Against the Worm? She had never had that kind of strength. No one with her did. Perhaps even Covenant did not.

She would have to—

How could she make such choices? How could any mother put her son at risk and not stand ready to defend him?

And yet—

He was not the sum of her responsibilities. She had brought about the deaths of Elohim and stars. Liand, Anele, and Galt. Even Esmer. All of Lord Foul’s victims. She had awakened the Worm: she bore the burden of a world’s ruin.

Holding up a hand to ward off Jeremiah’s eagerness, she said, “I’m sorry, honey.” She could not meet his hot gaze. “I need to think about this. It puts a lot of pressure on you, and we can’t be sure what the results will be.” What materials would his construct require? And where in this blighted landscape could such things be found? “I want to talk to Rime Coldspray.” She already knew what Stave and Mahrtiir would say. “Then I’ll decide.”

“Mom!” he protested. But almost at once he bit down on his frustration. Sounding truculent, he muttered, “Talk as much as you want. It won’t change anything. I’m sure I’m right.”

Linden glanced at Stave, asking him with her eyes to watch over her son. Then she raised her head to the Ironhand. “Do you mind if we talk alone?”

Coldspray acquiesced with a shrug. Her jaws continued to bunch arrhythmically, chewing prayers or curses, as she walked away along the stream.

Consumed by her own prayers, Linden followed.

They did not go far. Linden halted when Coldspray did, still within sight of their companions. Arms folded across her cataphract, the Ironhand stood rigid, waiting for Linden to speak.

Linden understood her attitude: she read it in the lines of Coldspray’s visage, the set of her shoulders. The Ironhand was not reluctant to talk to Linden. Instead she was shaken to the core by the sight of stars dying; by the sheer scale of what was being lost.

“Here’s my problem,” Linden began. Reluctance and doubt made her brusque. “I don’t know what to think of Jeremiah. He’s my son. Seeing him like this is like seeing a new dawn. But I don’t know what’s happening to him—or in him. After what he’s been through, I don’t understand how he can be so eager. It doesn’t seem natural.

“Mahrtiir thinks that I should trust him.” Far more than his wounds have been restored to him, and to you. “That’s hard for me. Where I come from, people who have been outrageously damaged don’t suddenly become whole. I know that I haven’t said much about my former life.” She had been shot through the heart. Where she had been born—where she belonged—she had no life left. “But back then, I was a doctor. A healer.” Such assertions felt false to her now. She claimed them only so that Coldspray would understand her. “I specialized in trying to help people with broken minds. And I never saw any of them recover completely without facing what happened to them. Not once.

“I’m afraid for him, Coldspray. I’m afraid of what might happen to him if he can do what he has in mind. I’m afraid of what might happen if he can’t.”

Either outcome might enable Lord Foul to claim him.

Brusque herself, Coldspray asked, “Is your health-sense now dulled?”

Linden shook her head. “Kevin’s Dirt works slowly. It hasn’t had time to affect me yet.”

“Then I cannot counsel you as you wish to be counseled. Your son is closed to my discernment, as you are. Your perceptions exceed any that I am able to proffer.”

More softly, the Ironhand admitted, “Yet I am able to conceive of no course more worthy of our hearts and lives than his. What greater deed can we attempt, few as we are, and friendless in this gloom? For that reason alone, I would follow him wheresoever his eagerness leads. But there is more.

“Linden Giantfriend, my spirit is wracked by the deaths of stars. In their name, my counsel is young Jeremiah’s. We must do what lies within our strength to preserve the Elohim.”

Before Linden could respond, Coldspray continued, “Nevertheless your son’s purpose is perilous.” Her tone tightened. “Indeed, its hazards are extreme. Should he succeed in his intent, he will draw every surviving Elohim to him. Doing so, he will also draw the Worm. They are its food. It will seek them out. Therefore his portal, his door, will require defense. It will require a defense greater than eight Swordmainnir, or eight score, or eight hundred can provide.

“For this reason, the choice must be yours. You alone among us wield true power.” Sternly she concluded, “Knowing the plight of the heavens, you will not turn aside.”

Perilous, Linden thought. Oh, Jeremiah! The same concern had occurred to her, although she had not gauged its implications so concretely. She dreaded what it might require of her.

Without realizing that she had lifted her eyes, she found herself staring skyward, transfixed by the calamity overhead. A gloom like bereavement covered the Lower Land. For all she knew, it covered the whole world. It would never be relieved.

Then she realized that Rime Coldspray was right. She would not turn aside. She could not.

Nevertheless the Giants clearly did not grasp all that Jeremiah’s desires entailed. They were dangerous, yes; but there was more. They meant that Linden would have to leave him. Abandon him to his peril. So that she could find a way to ward his construct when it was complete. In spite of her Staff and Covenant’s ring, she was too weak. She would have to go looking for greater power.

If such power existed anywhere, and could be found.

If Covenant did not return—

She saw no consolation in the gradual reaving of the stars. The heavens were an abyss of uncertainty. Stave did not fear such things. She did. She would have met a kinder fate in the maw of She Who Must Not Be Named.

Finally she forced herself to meet Rime Coldspray’s gaze.

Because she could not bear to say what she was thinking, she murmured, “I would feel better about it if you were laughing. It’s going to be hard.” Earlier she had felt that the foundations of her life were shifting. Now they were being shattered. “We don’t just have to find whatever it is that Jeremiah needs to make his door. And we don’t just have to protect him. Somehow we have to live through it.”

In response, Coldspray managed a wan chuckle. “Then I must concede that I have failed you. If joy is in the ears that hear, I have grown deaf. My hearing is whelmed by the clamor of an unrisen sun, and by the shrieking of slain stars.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Linden answered as if she, too, were dying. “That makes two of us. I’m so deaf, I keep forgetting to be glad that my son is alive and eager.

“Come on.” She gestured toward the waiting company. “Let’s go find out what Jeremiah needs to save the Elohim.”

The Ironhand nodded. “Well said, Linden Giantfriend.” Now she made no effort to force a laugh. “Let us confront the challenge of these times together. While we do what we can, there is no fault in failure.”

Confront the challenge, Linden mused as she and Coldspray began walking. What choice did they have? But if they succeeded in any fashion, they would not do so together. Eventually she would have to face her fears. And she would have to face them alone.

Her yearning for Covenant was so acute that it brought tears to her eyes.

Jeremiah seemed to swim through the blurring of her vision as he came to meet her. “Well, Mom?” he asked before she could say anything. “What did you decide?”

Instead of replying, she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him hard, mutely pleading for his forgiveness. Then she took him with her to rejoin the rest of their companions.

Stave regarded her return impassively, as if his resolve sufficed for both of them. But the Giants and Mahrtiir were more troubled. Grueburn, Cirrus Kindwind, and the others studied Linden with doubt in their eyes. Perhaps they worried that her desire for Covenant ruled her; that she would insist on waiting for him. But the Manethrall’s disturbance was of another kind. His sense of his own uselessness galled him like an unhealed wound. In the risk that Jeremiah wanted to take, Mahrtiir would be able to contribute nothing except his service to the Ranyhyn. He would have been better content if the loss of his eyes had killed him.

Linden paused as though she wanted to be sure that all of her friends were paying attention. But in truth she was searching herself for courage, and trying to blink away her tears. She had always been vulnerable to the kind of paralysis that came from fear. From fear and despair.

“All right,” she finally managed to say. “I’m willing to do this your way, Jeremiah. What do you need to make your door?”

She suspected that it could not be formed of bone. Bones implied mortality, and the Elohim did not die. They could only be devoured. Or sacrificed.

Jeremiah’s instant enthusiasm seemed to fill the gully from wall to wall. Indeed, it seemed to urge the stars closer so that they could hear him. Nevertheless his eagerness made him appear strangely fragile to his mother. What would happen to him if his intentions failed? Or if the Worm simply ate his door after he had gathered all of the Elohim in one place? How would he bear it?

“Stone,” he replied at once. “A lot of it. In big chunks. I mean, really big. I won’t be able to handle some of them, even with Earthpower.” He flashed a glance around the Swordmainnir. “I’m going to need all the help you can give me.”

“Forsooth,” Rime Coldspray responded in a noncommittal rumble. “If aid you require, aid you shall have. But of stone the Earth is a vast storehouse. Even this parched wasteland is rich in forms and substances and textures and indeed purities of stone. Surely, young Jeremiah, the portal which you propose cannot be composed of random fragments. Even the theurgies of stonework practiced by Giants demand rock of particular natures and qualities. We must ask you to name the stone which you deem needful.”

Again Jeremiah did not hesitate. Where his constructs were concerned, he seemed incapable of doubt. “It’s green. More like a deposit than actual rock. I don’t know what it’s called, but I saw some when you took me across the Hazard. Green like veins.”

“Malachite,” Onyx Stonemage pronounced; and Linden’s stomach tightened as if the word were a prophecy.

Jeremiah nodded. “That’s it. But there it was just veins. I need plenty of it. It doesn’t have to be pure. As long as there’s malachite in the stone, I can use it.” After a flicker of thought, he added, “But if it isn’t pure, I’ll need more of it. I have to get the right amount. The less pure it is, the bigger the door has to be.”

“Sadly,” Cabledarm put in before Linden or the Ironhand could speak, “we have seen no malachite since our escape from the Lost Deep. We are Giants, certain of stone. Our course in these last days has encountered no malachite.”

Now Jeremiah faltered. “But you must—” he began, then stopped. After a moment, he admitted, “I didn’t see anything like it myself.” His enthusiasm was crumbling. “The croyel controlled me, but it didn’t control what I saw.”

Caught in his emotions, Linden tried to help him. “Stave? The Masters scouted the whole Land. Did they find anything that resembled malachite around here?”

The Haruchai shook his head. “We are not Giants. Seeking signs of peril, we observe in a different fashion.”

Jeremiah’s consternation dominated the dusk. It demanded answers.

Linden faced him with disappointment in her eyes. “Jeremiah, honey. I’m sorry. I don’t know what else we—”

He cut her off. Ferocity flared in him as if he had suddenly become someone else: a creature of savagery and suspicion. His hands curled into claws. “That’s what you wanted to talk to Coldspray about,” he snarled. “You wanted to be sure I couldn’t get what I need before you said yes.”

His transformation shocked Linden. Suffering had done this to him, this. But she was not prepared for it. While she reeled inwardly, she could not respond.

Around her, the Giants recoiled, as startled as she was, and full of disapproval. But Manethrall Mahrtiir’s reaction was immediate anger. “It is not, boy,” he snapped. “There is no particle of her which does not desire your well-being—aye, and the continuance of the Land. You speak now with the voice of the croyel, and will be silent.”

Surprise stopped Jeremiah. For an instant, his vehemence faltered.

At once, Mahrtiir continued, “Behold!” With one arm, he flung a vehement gesture down the length of the watercourse.

As if by a flourish of magic, he dispelled Jeremiah’s indignation. Instantaneously thrilled, Jeremiah wheeled to gaze where the Manethrall pointed.

The Ranyhyn were coming, four majestic horses bright with purpose. Prancing like pride made flesh, Hynyn led Hyn, Khelen, and Narunal along the stream toward the company.

“Their restiveness is answered,” said the Manethrall. His tone was grim, but softer and more respectful, moderated by devotion. “Their uncertainty was ours. We have now determined our need. Thus their path is made plain.

“Mount,” he urged Linden and Stave. Jeremiah was already running toward Khelen, unable to contain his eagerness. “Ride and hasten. The Ranyhyn have announced their will. Did they not discover bone when bone was needed? They will do as much for malachite. But we must not delay, lest the last Elohim be consumed ere we are able to attempt their preservation.”

“Aye,” Rime Coldspray assented. She and her comrades made a visible effort to set aside their discomfiture. “Make ready, Swordmainnir,” she instructed. “We cannot estimate the leagues which lie ahead of us, but we must traverse them swiftly.”

“Yet again,” grumbled Frostheart Grueburn. “Must we run interminably?” Nevertheless she did not dally as she tightened her armor and checked her sword.

“These great beasts,” the Ironhand replied sternly, “have given aid when we had no other. If they crave haste, they will learn that Giants comprehend its import.”

Jeremiah had swarmed onto Khelen’s back. Now he waved his arms like demands at the company. Hyn approached Linden, nudged her shoulder. For a moment, however, Linden did not react. Her heart was burning down to ash in her chest, and she did not know how to move.

She was sure now that Jeremiah’s eagerness was his way of fleeing.

Without waiting for her consent, Stave boosted Linden astride the dappled mare. At the same time, Mahrtiir appeared to flow into his seat on Narunal. Mere heartbeats later, Stave mounted Hynyn; and the Giants announced their readiness.

With Khelen and Jeremiah in the lead, the company crossed out of the gully toward the northeast; toward the marge-land between the Shattered Hills and Sarangrave Flat.

Following her son, and surrounded by Giants, Linden wept again. She had been given her first glimpse of Jeremiah’s immured pain. She knew now that he needed her—and that she was going to abandon him anyway.

That choice had been made for her. Acting on it would be worse.

3.

Not Dead to Life and Use

Barely able to hold himself upright, Thomas Covenant stood on the cooled flow of Hotash Slay at the headland or boundary of the promontory where Foul’s Creche had once ruled the southeast. Beyond him and against the cliffs on either side, wild seas thrashed in the aftermath of the tsunami. He heard their turmoil, a thunderous seethe and crash like the frantic labor of the ocean’s heart. But through the surly dusk of a dawnless day, he could hardly see the eruption and spray and retreat of the lashed waves. There was no sun. Distinct as murders, the stars were going out.

This was a consequence of the Worm’s rousing, as it was of his resurrection. It heralded the world’s ruin. Now every death pierced him. Joan’s end felt like a knife in his own chest. Killing her, he had wounded himself—

He needed Linden. He did not know how to bear what he had become without her.

But he could not reach her. She was too far away—and he was too badly injured. A shard of stone at the edge of the Shattered Hills had restored the old gash on his forehead: an accusation confirmed during his confrontation with Joan. Blood still oozed into the drying crust around his eyes and down his cheeks. Falling on rocks and coral had gashed his ribs badly. Some of them were cracked or broken. Splinters of pain gouged every breath. His jeans and T-shirt had been shredded. A lattice-work of torn flesh and more blood marked his arms and chest and legs.

The krill’s heat must have burned his hands; his foreshortened fingers. But that damage, at least, he did not feel. Leprosy disguised his lesser hurts.

By comparison, the Humbled were almost whole. They, too, had been struck by scraps of flung rock. A cut marred the side of Branl’s neck. Clyme’s arms and tunic showed rents, contusions, small wounds. But they had not shared Covenant’s floundering on the seabed, or felt Joan’s blow. And they were Haruchai. They would be able to go on.

Now they appeared to be watching for some sign that the doomed sun would rise, or that the incremental extinction of the stars would cease. But perhaps they were waiting for the Ranyhyn. If they permitted themselves anything as human as prayer, they may have been praying that Mhornym and Naybahn had survived the tsunami.

Without mounts, there was nothing further that Covenant or the maimed Masters could do to defend the Land. The Shattered Hills were an indurated barricade thronging with skest, masterless and unpredictable. And the distance between him and Linden was impossible; scores of leagues—

His need for her was just one more wound that could not be healed.

The gloom lightened until it resembled mid-evening or the last paling before sunrise. But it grew no brighter. All of the illumination seemed to descend from the precise and imperiled stars. It was their lament.

The Worm was coming—and Covenant had no idea what to do. The light of the krill’s gem had gone out. There was no wild magic left in him. Simply staying on his feet required every shred of his remaining strength. He bore Joan’s ring in the name of an unattainable dream.

Oh, he needed Linden. He needed to make things right with her before the end.

Such yearnings were as doomed as the stars. The Elohim had no hope of escaping the Worm’s vast hunger.

Time may have passed, but he did not notice it. He did not notice that he was still bleeding. The stab of abused ribs when he breathed insisted that he was alive; but he ignored it. He did not think about anything except Joan and stars and Linden.

Long ago, he had promised that he would do no more killing. Now he was forsworn, as he had been in so many other ways.

Eventually Branl spoke. “Ur-Lord, we cannot remain as we are.” Faithful as a grave, he carried Loric’s krill clad in the remnants of Anele’s apparel. “We will forfeit our lives to no purpose. If the skest do not assail us, privation and your wounds will bring death. We must delay no longer.

“If the Worm’s advance may be measured by the fate of the stars, some few days will pass ere all time and life are extinguished. While they endure, a reunion with your companions—and with the Staff of Law—may yet be achieved. For that reason, we must abandon Naybahn and Mhornym. We must concede that they have perished. In their place, we must summon other Ranyhyn.”

After a pause—a moment of hesitation?—he added, “And you must consent to ride. We cannot hope for your healing, except by the succor of the Staff.”

Covenant meant to say, No. He meant to say, Never. He could not break more promises. But those words eluded him. Instead his knees folded, and he sank to the stone. Some other part of him croaked, “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.”

He did not realize that he had spoken aloud until he tried to laugh. His chest hurt too much for laughter.

“Unbeliever?” Undercurrents of anger fretted Clyme’s tone. He and Branl had followed Covenant into a caesure. They had saved him when he was lost. “Do you accuse us? These straits are not of our making.”

For a while, Covenant could not imagine what Clyme was talking about. Then he managed to say, “Oh, you.” He dismissed the notion. “I didn’t mean you.” Perhaps he should have laid the blame at the feet of the Creator; but he did not. “I meant Foamfollower. This is all his fault.

“If he hadn’t insisted on keeping me alive. Making impossible things possible. Laughing in the Despiser’s face. He was always the Pure One, even if he didn’t think so himself. None of us would be here without him.”

Even the Worm would not. Covenant would have died decades or millennia before Linden first met him.

Time was a Möbius strip. Every implication looped back on itself. Every if led to a then which in turn redefined the if. But his human mind could not comprehend causality and sequence in such terms.

The Humbled regarded him as if he were babbling. Their faces kept secrets. Try to believe that you are pure. Who had said that to him? Like his heart, his mind was failing. He could not remember. Then he could. It was one of the jheherrin; one of the creatures who had aided him after he had denied their prayer for salvation.

“Ur-Lord,” Branl said finally. “Your hurts undermine your thoughts. Saltheart Foamfollower cannot be held to account for Corruption’s deeds.”

Baffled by the simplification of such reasoning, Covenant tried to shake his head. Instead the twilight seemed to waver as if it were dissolving; as if reality itself were in flux. “That’s not the point.” The point was that the Haruchai had no sense of humor. “The point is, I’m not going to ride the Ranyhyn.” Foamfollower would not have known how to laugh if he had not been so open and honest in his grief. “I made a promise.” A vow. “Promises are important. You know that at least as well as I do.”

“We do,” Clyme acknowledged. “We are the Humbled, avowed to your service. We comprehend given oaths. Yet yours contradicts ours. If you do not ride, your death becomes certain. This we will not permit while choice remains to us.”

They had entered a caesure for Covenant’s sake.

“Do you not comprehend the extremity of your straits? Weakened as you are, your oath cannot hold. Soon you will lapse from consciousness. Then we will summon the Ranyhyn and bear you away. This you can do naught to prevent. Where, then, is the harm in granting your consent?

“Did you not permit Mhornym and Naybahn to retrieve you from the path of the tsunami? Did their aid not violate your word?”

You don’t understand. Covenant was too weak for this argument. He could not explain himself to the Humbled. Clyme and Branl had carried him; the Ranyhyn had not. The horses had only helped the Masters help him.

In various ways, the Ranyhyn had always aided him—but they did so because he did not ride.

He needed Linden. If nothing else, he had to ask her forgiveness. Express his love. Confess his sins. How else would he ever be able to put his ex-wife behind him? Nevertheless he could not face her like this. Not at the price of another broken promise.

Holding out his halfhand, he murmured, “Give me the krill.”

The Humbled looked uncertain in the preternatural twilight. Branl may have lifted an eyebrow. Clyme may have frowned. But apparently they could think of no reason to refuse. After a moment, Branl placed Loric’s dagger in Covenant’s grasp.

Trembling as though his burdens were too heavy for him, Covenant dropped the old cloth: Anele’s last legacy. He did not need it now. The krill was cold. Briefly he steadied the forged metal, peered at the inert gem. Then he reached up to pull the chain that bore Joan’s ring over his head.

“You know why the light went out. Joan was the only rightful white gold wielder here. The only one with a ring that belonged to her. The krill’s power died when she did.

“But I still have a claim on her ring. I married her with it.”’Til death do us part. “And I’m something more.” He had become so in the inferno of the Banefire, and in the apotheosis of his death by wild magic at Lord Foul’s hands. “I’m white gold.” How else had he been able to transmute Joan’s power, using it to heal his mind—and to refuse turiya Raver’s malice? “Mhoram said so. Maybe I’m not the rightful wielder of this ring, but I can still use it.”

Shaking, he pushed Joan’s ring on its chain onto the little finger of his left hand. It stuck at the remaining knuckle, but he did not try to force it. He did not intend to wear it long.

With as much care as he could muster, he closed both hands around the haft of the krill. Then, suddenly desperate, he stabbed the blade at the stone under him.

The dagger was only sharp when it was vivified by the possibilities of wild magic. Lightless, it was dull. It could not pierce cooled lava.

But it did. As he struck, the scale of his need and the fundamental strictures of his nature brought forth a familiar blaze from the gem: familiar and absolute, as necessary as breath and blood. It shone into his eyes like the nova of a distant star. The power-whetted blade cut inward as though the stone were damp mud.

When he took his hands away, his fingers and palms felt no heat: the numbed skin of his cheeks felt none. Nevertheless he trusted the efficacy of wild magic; believed that the krill was already growing hot.

Blinking through dazzles, he squinted at Clyme and Branl. At first, they were bright with phosphorescence, as spectral as the Dead. Then they seemed to reacquire their mortality. But they were not diminished. Rather they looked as precise and cryptic as icons in the dagger’s brilliance. Together they confronted Covenant’s display of power as if they were prepared to decide the fate of worlds.

As distinctly as he could, Covenant said, “I forbid you to put me on the back of a Ranyhyn. Find some other answer.”

Then he sagged. He thought that he had come to the end of himself. The Humbled were right: he could not hold out against his wounds. He had lost too much blood, and was in too much pain. If Branl and Clyme did not obey him, he would have to trust the great horses of Ra to forgive him.

When he felt certain that he was done, however, he found that he was not. A distant sensation of power seemed to call him back from the collapse craved by his ravaged body. Involuntarily he straightened his spine, sat more upright. He imagined that he heard either Clyme or Branl say, This delay will prove fatal. Then he saw them recoil like men who had been slapped. He felt their surprise.

Directly in front of him, the figure of a man stepped into the light as though he had been made manifest by wild magic and the eldritch puissance of Loric’s krill.

The newcomer seemed to emanate imponderable age. Indeed, he appeared to be fraying at the edges as he arrived, blurring as though he took in years and released vitality or substance with every breath. Nevertheless he looked taller than the Humbled—taller and more real—although he was not. His apparent stature was an effect of the light and Covenant’s astonishment and his own magicks. He wore the ancient robes, tattered and colorless, of a guardian who had remained at his post, rooted by duty, for an epoch. Yet his features were familiar; so familiar that Covenant wondered why he could not identify them. A man like that—

After two heartbeats, or perhaps three, he noticed that Branl and Clyme were preparing to defend him. Or they were—

Hellfire.

—bowing. Bowing?

Together they each dropped to one knee and lowered their heads as if they were in the presence of some august figure incarnated from the dreamstuff of Haruchai legends.

In Covenant, memories reopened like wounds, and he recognized Brinn.

The ak-Haru. Brinn of the Haruchai, who had outdone the Theomach in mortal combat to become the Guardian of the One Tree.

Here.

If Covenant had ever doubted that the Worm was coming, he believed it now. There could be no surer sign than Brinn’s arrival. Even the absence of the sun, and the slow havoc spreading among the stars, did not announce the Earth’s last days more clearly.

While Covenant stared, open-mouthed and helpless, the ak-Haru approached until he was no more than two strides from the krill. There he stopped, ignoring the obeisance of the Humbled. His gaze was fixed on Covenant.

In a voice rheumy with isolation and too much time, he said, “My old friend.” Words seemed to scrape from his mouth as if they had grown jagged with disuse. The skin of his face had been seamed and lined until it resembled a mud-flat now baked and parched, webbed with cracks. “I perceive that your plight is dire, as it has ever been. The fact that I have come is cause for sorrow. Yet it is cause for joy that my coming proves timely. Once again, I learn that there is hope in contradiction.”

Illumined by Loric’s gem, Brinn’s eyes shone among their wrinkles with a warmth of affection that Covenant had not seen in any other Haruchai face.

“It is well,” Brinn continued, “that you have reawakened the Vilesilencer’s krill.” Strain complicated his tone, but not his gaze. “Lacking some beacon to guide me across the wide seas, my search for you might have been delayed. However, you have done what must be done, as you have done from the first. For that reason among many others, I swallow my sorrow and greet you gladly, ur-Lord and Unbeliever, Thomas Covenant, friend.”

Still Covenant stared. Only the pervasive force of Brinn’s acquired theurgy kept him from crumpling. Never in life had Brinn of the Haruchai called him friend.

Sudden woe and rue and gratitude clogged his throat. He had to choke them down before he was able to inquire hoarsely, “What are you doing here?”

At the Isle of the One Tree, Brinn had told him, That is the grace which has been given to you, to bear what must be borne. Surely now Covenant had reached the limit of what he could be expected to endure?

Still Brinn did not glance at either of the Humbled. His attention belonged to Covenant alone. Speaking more sternly, as if he were setting friendship aside, he replied, “All things exist organically. This you know, Unbeliever. As one swells, another dwindles. As the Worm of death rises, the Tree of life declines.” A lift of his hand referred to the heavens. “After long ages of slumber, the Worm now draws nigh unto the Land, seeking its final sustenance. In natural consequence, the One Tree expires to its roots. Thus I am freed of my Guardianship.

“Alas, my powers diminish as the Tree fails. I am made less by the deaths of stars and Elohim. And it was never my task to preserve the Worm’s sleep, except by protecting the One Tree. I have no virtue to oppose the World’s End. Nor am I permitted to do so, regardless of the leanings of my heart. That burden is yours, Unbeliever, as it is the Chosen’s as well, and also her son’s. Together you must save or damn the Earth, as it was foretold in the time of the Old Lords.”

Then the ak-Haru’s manner softened until it resembled his gaze. “Yet I will not disregard the leanings of my heart. When I had achieved the stewardship of the One Tree, and you were thereby grieved, I assured you that good would come of it, when there was need. That promise I fain would honor. Therefore have I journeyed hither while some small portion of my strength endures, bringing both gifts and counsel. Mayhap thereafter I will also be able to perform a service or grant a boon, if my life does not fray and fall in the attempt.”

Covenant went on staring as though he had been made witless. Part of him heard hope in every word. Part of him had already fled toward Linden, thinking, Gifts? Counsel? A chance to make things right with her? And part of him remained stunned, too astonished to comprehend anything. Brinn had come like a figure in a dream. In another moment, he would depart in the same fashion, with the same effectlessness.

But the Guardian of the One Tree did not appear to take offense at Covenant’s silence. His affection seemed to accept every facet of Covenant’s condition. Nodding at what he saw, the ak-Haru took one step back from the krill. Then at last he looked at Branl and Clyme, still half kneeling, still bowing their heads in homage.

Now his mien darkened. Lines of anger tightened his visage.

“First, however,” he pronounced severely, “I will deliver myself of a reprimand which has long festered within me, tainting my regard for those whom I must name my people.

Haruchai, Masters, Humbled, I have come to reproach you.”

At once, Clyme and Branl arose. The manner in which they surged to their feet and folded their arms conveyed surprise and indignation. In every line, their stances offered defiance.

Stolid as a graven image, Branl stated, “You are the ak-Haru who was once named Kenaustin Ardenol, though you are now Brinn of the Haruchai. We do not lightly gainsay you. If you have cause to reproach us, however, you discern some fault which we do not find in ourselves.

“The weakness of uncertainty we acknowledge. Failure we likewise acknowledge. Against our given word, we have permitted Desecration, upon occasion because we were opposed by those whom we esteem, and upon occasion because the ur-Lord Thomas Covenant commanded it. Yet we have stood as Halfhands at his side. For his sake, we have dared the Lost Deep and She Who Must Not Be Named and Esmer mere-son. We have confronted the skurj and Cavewights and the Unbeliever’s own misbegotten scion. We have entered into a Fall, hazarding endless banishment from time and life, and have there given aid to the ur-Lord when he could not aid himself.

“You are the ak-Haru. Would you have done otherwise in our place? Wherefore will you reproach us?”

Brinn dismissed Branl’s protest with a soft snort. “Your valor is beyond aspersion,” he answered as if such things were trivial. Thunderclouds of ire seemed to gather about his head, contradicting the twilight and the clear stars. “Set aside your pride and hear me.

“Doubtless others have spoken of arrogance. I do not. Rather the fault with which I charge you is simony.” He spat that word. His eyes flashed dangerously, echoing the krill’s radiance. “You have grown ungenerous of spirit, demeaning what would else have been a proud heritage. You have withheld knowledge from the folk of the Land when knowledge might have nurtured strength. And you have withheld trust from Linden Avery the Chosen, setting yourselves in opposition to her efforts and sacrifices because you were unable to share her love and passion. These are the deeds of misers. They do not become you.

“Upon a time, the Haruchai were not ungiving in this fashion. Had they not been ruled by open-handedness, they would have been less grievously stung by the Vizard’s scorn. Yet open their hands were, and open they remained. The bonds among them were as vital as sun and snows, and as enduring as mountains. The wounds of scorn they sought to heal by open means, in direct challenge and honest combat. Thus it was that High Lord Kevin’s generosity moved them to emulation. The Vow of the Bloodguard expressed an answering generosity, a desire to repay expansive welcome with expansive service until both welcome and service overflowed.

“Yet across the millennia of your Mastery you have allowed harsh times and cruel circumstances to bar the doors of your hearts. I will not cite your reasons for doing so, lest you deem yourselves thereby excused. Rather I say to you plainly that you have diminished yourselves until I am loath to acknowledge you as my people.”

Instinctively Covenant wanted to defend Clyme and Branl. Oh, he agreed with the Guardian. How could he not? Nevertheless the Humbled had stood by him like the Haruchai of old. They had saved him again and again when he could not have saved himself.

But his companions did not turn to him for justification. They did not look at him at all. As if they were proud to be castigated, they faced Brinn squarely.

Ak-Haru,” Clyme replied, “this accusation is unjust.” Tautness marred his flat tone. “We do not comprehend it. What deed of ours—or of any Master—has given rise to your wrath?”

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“Donaldson builds toward a staggering resolution of love, endurance, and self-sacrifice.”—Tor.com

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“Donaldson’s landmark historical fantasy series marks a milestone of epic storytelling.”—Library Journal

Meet the Author

Stephen R. Donaldson is the author of the original six volumes of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, a landmark in modern fantasy. Every volume, beginning with Lord Foul’s Bane in 1977, has been an international bestseller. Donaldson returned to the series with The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, comprising The Runes of the Earth, Fatal Revenant, Against All Things Ending, and now the final volume, The Last Dark. Donaldson lives in New Mexico. 

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