What Has Gone Before
White Gold Wielder, Book Three of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, continues the struggle against the ancient enemy of the Land, Lord Foul the Despiser. The Land sickens under the Sunbane, a corruption of the Law of Nature unleashed by the Despiser. The Sunbane intensifies as the people of the Land, deceived by the Raver Gibbon, sacrifice themselves in the Banefire of The Clave in the false belief that this will reduce the corruption: instead, it accelerates it.
Aboard the Giantship Starfare’s Gem, Covenant is beset by despair. The venom inflicted upon him by the Despiser has made the wild magic he wields so powerful that he knows that were he to use it, he would risk destroying the Arch of Time, setting his nemesis free. The Isle of the One Tree has sunk into the sea, and Covenant’s quest to remake the Staff of Law, with which he had hoped to combat the Sunbane, has failed. But Linden Avery, the doctor who was unwittingly drawn to the Land along with him, refuses to admit defeat. She urges the Unbeliever to tackle The Clave. His love for Linden forces him to listen to her, and, seeing no other path, he agrees. Starfare’s Gem heads back to the west.
The already damaged Giantship is at the mercy of the sea as the Search journeys on. The dromond is forced to run for days before the Dolewind, becalmed in the demon-infested Soulbiter, beset by a storm that almost cripples the vessel and then is driven into an ice flow where it becomes trapped and can go no further. Leaving the majority of the crew behind them with instructions to try to make for Coercri, the abandoned home of the giants in the Land, the Search heads across the ice on two sleds. Nine set off: Covenant; Linden Avery The Chosen; the haruchai Cail; Grimmand Honninscrave, the Giantship’s Master; Mistweave; the cripple Pitchwife and his wife, Gossamer Glowlimn, the First of the Search; the elohim Findail the Appointed and Vain, the silent, enigmatic demondim construct.
The instability of the ice forces them to travel ever further Northward, into the realm of the mindless ice-creatures known as arguleh. Though malevolent, the giants know these as solitary beasts, hateful of all life and just as likely to fall upon their own kind. But when the company is ambushed by four of these working together, the giants realise that their understanding of them is faulty – or that something has changed. They narrowly escape the ambush and flee westward, with the slow-moving ice beasts in relentless pursuit.
Reaching land at last, but uncertain where, they are met by Hamako, an old friend of Covenant’s. Hamako leads the last of the Waynhim, remnants of several rysh, in a desperate struggle against the malice of the arguleh, and it is the eve of their final battle against them. Hamako believes that the arguleh are being controlled by something, and he intends to make one last attempt to crush it. Covenant and his companions can only watch as the wedge of Waynhim, led by Hamako, battles against the massed ranks of several score of the ice creatures. As it becomes clear that the battle will be lost, Covenant is enraged, and is about to release his venom-poisoned wild magic when Linden calls him back from the brink: her health-sense has seen what drives the arguleh, and she recognises it as a croyel, a malign intelligence that they have met before. They warn Hamako, who employs a desperate tactic that succeeds in destroying the croyel, though it is at the cost of his own life. But the Waynhim are saved.
The company continues westward and climbs the cliff of Landsdrop, returning at last to the Land. The cycle of the Sunbane – rain, drought, fertility, pestilence – has accelerated in their absence, severely hindering their progress towards the giant-wrought fortress of Revelstone. During a sun of rain they are met by Sunder and Hollian, two Stonedowners of the Land to whom Covenant had given the task of raising resistance against The Clave. However, all of their efforts have come to nought, the people of the Land are failing: most have been driven by the Clave’s Riders to feed the Banefire.
At last they reach Revelstone, where Gibbon sends a swarm of bees, ripe with cancrous venom. Before these can reach him, Covenant releases the wild magic but is horrified to find that the poison within him has corrupted the argent fire, turning it completely black. Knowing that this means that he is endangering everything he has fought for so long to protect, somehow he manages to recall the power into himself. However, all the bees are burnt, so, this time, the gamble pays off.
Though the outer gates of Revelstone were broken long ago, the inner gates are strong. Covenant calls Nom, the Sandgorgon who had bowed to him, and directs it to destroy the inner gates. The company heads inside, where they are attacked by a Grim, a storm of black flakes that destroys anything it touches. Covenant again risks his magic to destroy the Grim, focusing it through the pure gem at the heart of the Krill, an ancient weapon of Lore. The Raver sends his Riders at the company, but they are defeated. Gibbon retreats to the Hall of Gifts, pursued by Honninscrave, maddened by grief and eager to revenge the loss of his brother Cable Seadreamer, who fell at the One Tree. Honninscrave attacks the Raver and kills the body of Gibbon – but the Raver possesses him instead. With his giantish strength of will, he holds fast to the Raver, preventing his escape – and Nom kills him, destroying the Raver.
Covenant immolates himself in the Banefire, seeking to burn out the venom within him. Instead, all he succeeds in doing is fusing the venom with the wild magic, making of himself an alloy that is no less powerful than before. However, his spirit is restored in the attempt, and he is able at last to open himself to Linden, and their love for each other is strengthened. Linden directs Nom to create a channel from Glimmermere, the lake above Revelstone, into the Lord’s Keep, and this flood, potent with Earthpower, finally extinguishes the Banefire. Covenant takes Linden to Glimmermere, and the lake recognises Covenant as a being of Earthpower himself. The couple spends some tender time together alone in the room which Lord Mhoram once occupied. But though the Banefire is out, and they both wish to linger and rest in the now peaceful refuge, the Sunbane still corrupts the land; and Covenant knows that he must still face the Despiser, for good or ill.
Covenant frees the Haruchai from their vow to him, and Cail sets off to rejoin the merewives. The First directs Mistweave to seek out the crew of the Starfare’s Gem, who she hopes will have made landfall at Seareach to the east, and inform them of the progress of the Search. The rest of the company journeys south along the dried-up bed of the Soulsease river. In an attempt to hasten their journey, Hollian, the eh-brand, succeeds in coercing the Sunbane to switch to a sun of rain. But the cost of her triumph is extreme: Hollian is dead. The grief-stricken Sunder refuses to leave her body behind.
Swelled by torrential downpours, the river bears them south to Andelain, where the Forestal Caer-Caveral has held the Sunbane’s corruption at bay for centuries. Wearied by the task, he seeks release, and provokes Sunder into striking him with the Krill blade. The resultant conflagration tears at the fabric of the world: when it subsides, all that remains is a blasted tree-stump, the now-dead Krill embedded within it. Caer-Caveral has broken the Law of Life, which had prevented the dead crossing back; Sunder and Hollian, together with the unborn son within her, are restored to life. However, their new state is a fragile one, supported in part by Earthpower; and so they must remain in Andelain. The rest of the party continues on, to Mount Thunder.
Deep within the wightwarrens under the mountain, the First and Pitchwife hold off cavewights while Covenant and Linden confront Lord Foul in Kiril Threndor. Covenant, the Earthfriend, sacrifices his life, and his revenant goads the Despiser into expending all of its power against him. But although the Land’s foe is banished, the Land itself still suffers; the Unbeliever persuades Linden to pick up his white gold ring, and use it, together with her earth-sight, to heal the Land’s hurt. Time is short: Linden can feel Covenant’s dead body becoming more solid as her own begins to fade. She takes up Covenant’s ring and wields the wild magic. She embraces the demondim-spawn Vain and the elohim Findail, fusing them into a Staff of Living Law, imbued with her passion for health and healing.
Wild magic graven in every rock,contained for white gold to unleash or control –gold, rare metal, not born of the Land,nor ruled, limited, subduedby the Law with which the Land was created-and white – white gold –because white is the hue of bone;structure of flesh,disciple of life.
As the pressure of her dismissal from the Land continues to rise, Linden Avery The Chosen heals the giants, and then fulfills her role as Sun-Sage and Healer. Guided by her health-sense and earth-sight and aided by the Staff of Living Law, she cleanses the Land of rot and corruption, restoring the Earthpower. As she fades from the Land, Covenant’s white gold ring still clutched in her right hand, she places a silent touch of victory into the minds of the giants so that they will know that she has succeeded. The First picks up the new Staff of Law, and lifts it like a promise. Pitchwife, his back now strong and straight, gathers the body of Covenant into his arms, and together, the two giants leave Kiril Threndor.
Gossamer Glowlimn, her path lit by the faint glow of the Staff of Law in her hand, led the way. Behind her, Pitchwife followed, the limp, lifeless body of the Unbeliever held in the crook of one arm, resting there like a sleeping child. They were lost, deep within the mountain: the immense mass of rock all around felt like a tangible threat. The severe chill didn’t trouble them – they were giants, as immune to cold as to heat. But there was a foul taste to the air, a smell of strife; and now and then they heard low, ominous murmurings. Although the Despiser, Lord Foul, had been banished, the cavewights remained.
As they stumbled into an open space, the Staff’s wan light dimmed into darkness all around, suggesting a wide cavern. Suddenly, the mumblings ceased. The giants pushed onward into the unknown, and out of the dark appeared a score or more of the cavewights, blocking their path. But the beasts seemed hesitant, uncertain. The Swordmain glowered at them and they cowered; she raised her sword, and as one the dark shapes turned and fled in disarray.
Though the danger from the cavewights seemed to have passed, they remained alert against the possibility of further attack as they continued onward. Not knowing how to get out of the maze of passages under the mountain, when faced with a choice they took the path that led upwards. The strategy was rewarded when at last they encountered a dark tunnel; a passage that they recognised as being the one that had led them inside. With the rushing water of the Soulsease on one side and a sweet-smelling breeze brushing their faces, the two giants strode out from beneath the mountain, into a Land caressed by clean sunlight.
Sensing something, the First paused and turned to look at the water rushing beside them. The light danced and sparkled on its surface; the sight was a welcome one, it refreshed her spirit. A change came over her eyes as some of the tiredness they reflected within her was washed away. And yet, she felt uneasy; there was something here that didn’t fit. She turned to look at her husband, her mouth already forming the words to ask him if he felt the same – and as she did so, two objects splashed against the flow of the river from out of the shadows, skipping over the water directly toward her. Pitchwife saw them too, and moved to put his body between these and the First. But before he could shield his mate the objects leapt out of the water and struck the Living Staff, where they stuck fast. No more came; the danger, if any there were, seemed to have passed.
"Orcrest," said the First, sheathing her sword and raising the staff to show her husband. Embedded in the staff’s skin, a pair of stones glowed softly, ruby-red. "Perhaps it summoned them?" Pitchwife merely shrugged, and the First’s face broke into a beaming smile at the sight of her husband’s now-healthy frame, standing before her revealed for the first time in the sunlight, fully restored by The Chosen’s parting gift. "Come, love," she said, a catch in her voice, "let us make haste to Andelain, I doubt not that Sunder and Hollian will find use for these items!". Pitchwife smiled back, and together they turned and began to run along the riverbank, their giant legs eating up the ground beneath.
No longer slowed by smaller companions, and buoyed by the release they felt, not only from the oppressive dark of the mountain but also the removal of the Sunbane, they ran northeastward. Their pace lengthened as they travelled, their bodies revelling in the sun’s warmth, and the leagues sped by beneath their feet. They paused briefly just once to rest beside the river, then continued, through a land bursting with new, healthy growth. The journey that had taken three days by river flood took the two giants less than a single day. Soon after sunset, they reached the border of the Andelainian hills, and headed onward, into the interior.
As the night drew in, the air cooled, but their exertions kept them warm. They came to a stream that passed between two low hills and fed into the Soulsease, and at this fork a lone aliantha bush stood. The First stopped to drink from the cool, clean water. Pitchwife gathered a few of the treasure-berries, and handed some to his wife. They rested, eating the succulent fruit and scattering the seeds around them. And over one of the hills came a single wraith of Andelain. It stopped beside them, and its form ducked: perhaps a bow; then it retreated back up the hill and stopped once more. Pitchwife looked at the First. "Do you think it wants us to follow?"
In answer, the First rose and strode up the little hill toward the wraith, which started moving away. "I think perhaps it does," she said, "and as I have no idea how we are to find the Stonedowners, this direction is as good as any." Pitchwife joined her and the two giants followed their new-found guide, which increased its pace to match theirs. Stars twinkled overhead in the moonless night, easing the dark just a little, and they walked through glades and dells made magical by the gentle light.
Ahead, to the North, the sky paled as though a moon were rising. And yet, they knew that no moon was due in that direction. The wraith vanished over the crest of a hill, and as they reached the top the giants looked down into a deep bowl. Near the centre, a lone dead tree-stump stood, the blade of the Krill embedded within it. Sunder and Hollian stood beside it, engaged in a heated discussion, arms and hands gesturing forcefully, a discussion that looked as though it may be bordering upon argument: yet, no sound reached the giants’ ears. And all around them, glowing by their own faint internal light, stood hordes of the Dead, row upon row, with heads bowed, standing patiently as though waiting. In amongst them, wraiths danced in lines and sworls, an energetic counterpoint to the quiet stillness.
One revenant stood beside Sunder and Hollian, head cocked, clearly listening, and deep in thought. But he was facing the giants, and as he saw them he beckoned. Seeing the gesture, the Stonedowners turned to face up the hill, and as they did so, their arms dropped to their sides, and they fell silent. But their faces lit up with smiles of joy and welcome, smiles that spoke volumes.
The First and Pitchwife descended into the bowl, and as they moved the massed ranks of the Dead stepped aside for them. Silence descended like a blanket once they passed the outer lines, and even their giant footfalls on the grass were muted. As they approached the central group, they recognised that the shade who had beckoned them was that of Thomas Covenant himself. His gaze was fixed upon Pitchwife: or, rather, at the body that the giant held in his arms, and his face was – unsurprisingly – troubled. On his left stood the spectral form of a giant, Saltheart Foamfollower, his visage wreathed in recent laughter; and on his right were the Lords Mhoram, and Elena, bearing expressions of serenity. Various haruchai forms stood in a circle around them, even in death still observing their Vow; and beyond them, the tall, grim shade of Kevin Landwaster, his face lined by ancient grief but now at peace.
Bowing, the First extended the Staff towards Sunder and Hollian. The two Stonedownders returned the bow, then linked hands and raised their free hand to each grasp a heel of the staff. Sunder threw a questioning look at Hollian, who grimaced as though stung. Then her breast rose once and fell as her lips parted: clearly a hearfelt sigh, though no sound escaped; and she nodded once.
A heartbeat pause.
Now the wraiths stopped their dance, and sound returned, though at first there was no sound. And then, over the hilltops around, from all directions, spectral forms appeared, each accompanied by a rush of air like an indrawn breath. They darted inwards towards the centre and disappeared into the gem of the Krill with a soft sigh. One after another, a trickle of wisps approached the stump that once was the Forestal Caer-Caveral and were absorbed by the talisman of ancient Lore embedded within its heart. Abruptly, the trickle became a flood. The sound swelled and grew as tens, then hundreds, then thousands of the Dead of the Land rushed towards the centre; becoming a windless hurricane with no eye. And as each bright shade struck the gem of Loric’s Krill it passed its light into the jewel. It pulsed hesitantly at first but soon it glowed steadily; and as the sound of the Dead’s passing swelled and grew, the light within the gem kept pace till it shone like a bright blue star.
The First and Pitchwife stood, transfixed. Now no more spectres flowed over the hill into the bowl; and the Dead at the outer reaches of the bowl were being drawn into the Krill.
Pitchwife glanced at Foamfollower, who winked at him.
Suddenly, Sunder and Hollian stepped together towards Thomas Covenant. Hollian released her end of the Living Staff; Sunder whipped it around the Unbeliever’s revenant and Hollian grasped the free heel once again. Covenant looked at the Stonedowners in alarm as they focused their power. Shouting to make himself heard over the rushing of the Dead, he cried, "I thought we agreed we weren’t going to try this!"
"Ur-Lord, forgive," the appeal in Sunder’s voice was clear, "we still need your help!".
Covenant’s face moiled in indecision. "I must go with the others. The Laws of Life and Death must be restored!".
Lord Mhoram addressed the Unbeliever, "Have no fear, Thomas Covenant. I believe that the Stonedowners have seen the rightness in this. All will be well, my friend." He bowed in final salute.
Elena blew a kiss as she cried "Farewell, beloved!"
Kevin Landwaster smiled.
And then the last of the Dead were drawn into the Krill: the rising tide of sound crescendoed with a clap like thunder and silence descended once more like a shroud. At once, Hollian released her end of the Staff, and Sunder swung it towards the Krill, tapping it once. As he did so, it fell from the stump. Covenant’s revenant was immediately drawn out of the Stonedowners’ embrace. But his glowing form did not follow the other Dead into the Krill – that way was now shut. It went instead to the only other place it could: to his lifeless body in Pitchwife’s arms. It merged into the corpse, which gasped once and then lay still. But the pallor of death was no longer upon the body, and the chest gently rose and fell.
The First suspected that she knew what had transpired. But nevertheless, she asked "What is it that we have just witnessed here?"
Hollian answered her. "We hope – we believe – that we have achieved the restoration of the Laws of Life and Death. The Lords Mhoram and Elena showed us how. All we lacked was the Staff to seal the breach, and the Dead told us that you were bringing that."
The First nodded. Covenant’s body stirred in Pitchwife’s arms, and his eyes opened. Pitchwife set him on his feet, ready to catch him if he fell. He stood unsteadily, but they could all see that his strength was returning swiftly to him.
Sunder picked up the Krill, its gem once again glowing brightly, its power regained. He turned to Covenant, and bowed deeply. "Ur-Lord, I am glad that you are restored. Hollian and I will go now to Revelstone, there is much to be done. Will you accompany us?"
Covenant bowed just as deeply, but turned to the First and Pitchwife. "What are your plans?"
"Pitchwife and I will return east, to Coercri, to seek out Mistweave, and news of the Starfare’s Gem. If they have managed to fight free of the ice then the dromond will have need of Pitchwife’s skill to make ready for the sea once again. But, Earthfriend, rest assured that we shall not leave these shores without visiting Revelstone once more."
"Stone and Sea!" cried Pitchwife, "I should think not. The crew would kill us if we left without giving them a chance to experience that marvel. And perhaps too, we will be able to mend some of the hurt that Nom – and the Clave – inflicted upon it."
Covenant nodded and turned back to Sunder. "I will go with you to Revelstone. You, and the Haruchai, will need as much help as you can get." He paused. "And I’d better find some way to summon Linden back to the Land.
"If I don’t, she’ll probably kill me."
I was almost done writing this when I was surprised to discover that Stephen Donaldson had begun writing "The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant". The first of these Chronicles is already in print, and is called "The Runes of The Earth". The second volume (of four in total, I understand) is entitled "Fatal Revenant" and is due for publication in October 2007.
My own copy of Runes of The Earth has just arrived in the post, so I’m off to read that 🙂