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Stephen Donaldson

White Gold Wielder

The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant — 3

PART I: Retribution

One: The Masters Scar

AWKWARD without its midmast, Starfare's Gem turned heavily toward the north, putting its stern to the water clogged with sand and foam which marked the passing of the One Tree. In the rigging. Giants laboured and fumbled at their tasks, driven from line to line by the hoarse goad of Sevinhand's commands, even though Seadreamer lay dead on the deck below them. The Anchormaster stood, lean and rue-bitten, on the wheeldeck and yelled up at them, his voice raw with suppressed pain. If any compliance lagged, the Storesmaster, Galewrath, seconded him, throwing her shout after his like a piece of ragged granite because all the Search had come to ruin and she did not know any other way to bear it. The dromond went north simply to put distance between itself and the deep grave of its hope.

But Grimmand Honninscrave, the Giantship's Master, huddled on the afterdeck with his brother in his arms and did not speak. His massive face, so strong against storms and perils, looked like a yielded fortification; his beard tangled the shadows as the sun declined toward setting. And beside him stood the First of the Search and Pitchwife as if they were lost without the Earth-Sight to guide them.

Findail the Appointed stood there also, wearing his old misery like a man who had always known what would happen at the Isle of the One Tree. Vain stood there with one heel of the former Staff of Law bound around his wooden wrist and his useless hand dangling. And Linden Avery stood there as well, torn between bereavements: outrage and sorrow for Seadreamer swimming in her eyes, need for Covenant aching in her limbs.

But Thomas Covenant had withdrawn to his cabin like a crippled animal going to ground; and he stayed there.

He was beaten. He had nothing left.

Harsh with revulsion, he lay in his hammock and stared at the ceiling. His chamber had been made for a Giant; it outsized him, just as his doom and the Despiser's manipulations had outsized him. The red sunset through the open port bloodied the ceiling until dusk came and leeched his sight away. But he had been blind all along, so truncated of perception that he had caught no glimpse of his true fate until Linden had cried it into his face:

This is what Foul wants!

That was how his former strengths and victories had been turned against him. He could not feel Cail standing guard outside his door like a man whose fidelity had been redeemed. Beyond the slow rolling of the Giantship's pace, the salt of futility in the air, the distant creak of rigging and report of canvas, he could not tell the difference between this cabin and the dungeon of the Sandhold or the betrayed depths of Revelstone. All stone was one to him, deaf to appeal or need, senseless, He might have destroyed the Earth in that crisis of power and venom, might have broken the Arch of Time as if he were indeed the Despiser's servant, if Linden had not stopped him.

And then he had failed at his one chance to save himself. Horrified by love and fear for her, he had allowed Linden to return to him, abandoning the stricken and dying body of his other life. Abandoning him to ruin, though she had not intended any ruin.

Brinn had said to him. That is the grace which has been given to you, to bear what must be borne. But it was a lie.

In darkness he lay and did not move, sleepless although he coveted slumber, yearned for any oblivion which would bring surcease. He went on staring upward as if he too were graven of dead stone, a reification of folly and broken dreams snared within the eternal ambit of his defeat. Anger and self-despite might have impelled him to seek out his old clothes, might have sent him up to the decks to bear the desolation of his friends. But those garments he had left in Linden's cabin as though for safe-keeping; and he could not go there. His love for her was too corrupt, had been too severely falsified by selfishness. Thus the one lie he had practiced against her from the beginning came back to damn him.

He had withheld one important fact from her, hoping like a coward that it would prove unnecessary-that his desire for her would be permissible in the end. But by the lie of withholding he had accomplished nothing except her miscomprehension. Nothing except the Search's destitution and the Despiser’s victory. He had let his need for her blind both of them.

No, it was worse than that. He did need her, had needed her so acutely that the poignance of it had shredded his defences. But other needs had been at work as well: the need to be the Land's rescuer, to stand at the centre of Lord Foul's evil and impose his own answer upon it; the need to demonstrate his mortal worth against all the bloodshed and pain which condemned him. He had become so wrapped up in his isolation and leprosy, so certain of them and what they meant, that they had grown indistinguishable from Despite.

Now he was beaten. He had nothing left for which he might sanely hope or strive.

He should have known better. The old man on Haven Farm had spoken to Linden rather than to him. The Elohim had greeted her as the Sun-Sage, him as the wrongness which imperilled the Earth. Even dead Elena in Andelain had said plainly that the healing of the Land was in Linden's hands rather than his. Yet he had rejected comprehension in favour of self insistence. His need or arrogance had been too great to allow comprehension.

And still, with the destruction of everything he held precious laid squarely at his door, he would not have done otherwise would not give up his ring, not surrender the meaning of his life either to Linden or to Findail. It was all that remained to him; to bear the blame if he could not achieve the victory. Failing everything else, he could still at least refuse to be spared.

So he lay in his hammock like a sacrifice, with the stone vessel spread out unreadably around him. Fettered by the iron of his failures, he did not move or try to move. The first night after the dark of the moon filled his eyes. In Andelain, High Lord Mhoram had warned, He has said that you are his Enemy. Remember that he seeks always to mislead you. It was true: he was the Despiser's servant rather than Enemy. Even his former victory had been turned against him. Sucking the wounded places of his heart, he returned the sightless stare of the dark and remained where he was.

He had no measure for the passage of time; but the night was not far advanced when he heard a stiff, stretched voice rumble outside his door. It uttered words he was unable to distinguish. Yet Cail's reply was precise. “The doom of the Earth is upon his head,” the Haruchai said. “Will you not pity him?”

Too weary for indignation or argument, Honninscrave responded, “Can you believe that I mean him harm?”

Then the door opened, and a lantern led me Master's tall bulk into the cabin.

The light seemed small against the irreducible night of the world; but it lit the chamber brightly enough to sting Covenant's eyes, like tears he had not shed. Still he did not turn his head away or cover his face. He went on staring numbly at the ceiling while Honninscrave set the lantern on the table.

The table was low for the size of the cabin. From the first day of the quest's voyage, the Giantish furniture had been replaced by a table and chairs better suited to Covenant's stature As a result, the lantern threw the hammock's shadow above him. He seemed to lie in the echo of his own dark.

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