11. The Essence of the Land
When the company had passed out from under the downpour into the ambiguous shelter of the trees, the Giants paused—briefly, briefly—so that Linden could shift her attention to healing.
Kindwind’s arm was the most urgent of their wounds, but their hurts were many. Galesend had been nearly hamstrung by raking fangs. Coldspray, Cabledarm, and Stonemage bled from gashes like latticework on their arms and legs. And one of Long-wrath’s guards wore fractured bones in her cheek: he must have struck her when he broke free to pursue Linden. Only Grueburn and the Swordmain who aided Coldspray with Longwrath’s unconscious bulk had avoided serious harm.
In addition, the Humbled, the Ramen, Stave, Liand, and Anele had all been burned by splashes of gore. Among Linden’s original companions, she alone had escaped any physical hurt. Her injuries were more spiritual, and she had borne them longer.
As soon as the Giants stopped, she withdrew her scourge of Earthpower from the thunderheads. Gritting her teeth against her fear of the skurj, she transformed her fire to more gentle flames and spread them over her friends. Rapidly she sealed Kindwind’s severed arm; stopped the bleeding of the Giants; sent a quick wash of Law and balm to soothe the Ramen, Liand, and Stave. But she did not offend the Humbled by offering to ease them. And she did not risk triggering Anele’s self-imposed defenses. She already knew how fiercely he would fight against healing and sanity.
Then the company ran again, dragging Longwrath with them. None of them knew when the skurj would attack again, and Liand’s storm clouds were beginning to scatter.
Grueburn’s arms seemed as certain as the Earth’s bones. The senses of the Haruchai were preternaturally acute, and the Giants could see far. Surely they would know it when Kastenessen rallied his monsters?
The skurj had vindicated Linden’s visions during her translation to the Land. If Lord Foul kept his promises, she would eventually have to face the Worm of the World’s End.
Nevertheless her efforts with the Staff had drained her. Fatigue blurred her attention for a time. Like the torrents which she had left behind, she frayed and drifted until only Jeremiah remained. Her son and Covenant.
Within the Andelainian Hills, Loric’s krill summoned her like a beacon.
Esmer had not rescued her or her companions. But the lodestone of his presence had drawn the Demondim-spawn. And he had answered some of her questions.
Aid and betrayal.
Her foes were right to fear her.
Slowly Liand regained consciousness, although he rested with his eyes closed in Stonemage’s embrace. The Humbled had already scattered to search for signs of pursuit behind or snares ahead. Mahrtiir watched over the company fervidly without his eyes. Alert for threats, Stave sped a few paces ahead of Grueburn.
Later the sound of Grueburn’s stertorous breathing began to trouble Linden. The Giants had been under too much strain for too long. Their reserves of stamina were wearing thin. And they had lost two of their comrades. They needed to grieve.
But ahead of her, Salva Gildenbourne relapsed to thick jungle. Once again, it became a tangle of thickets, vines, draped ivy, crowding trees, and deadwood monoliths like fallen kings. Without the guidance of the Cords, the Giants could not run unhindered; and they had no time to seek an easy route. They had to brunt their way by plain strength.
The skurj could move faster than this; much faster. The fact that the Humbled detected nothing did not reassure Linden. It may have meant only that Kastenessen had received new counsel, and had begun to devise a surer assault. She did not believe that the furious Elohim would cease his efforts to prevent her from reaching Andelain.
The company needed speed, but the Giants were too tired.
Apparently Coldspray shared Linden’s concerns. Muttering Giantish obscenities, the Ironhand left her comrade to bear the burden of Longwrath alone. The woman draped his arms over her shoulders so that she could drag him on her back. Meanwhile Coldspray moved ahead of her people and began to hack a passage with her glaive. Arduously the Giants improved their pace.
Linden’s percipience was focused behind her, northward toward the skurj. Too late to give warning, she felt Longwrath plant his feet and heave against the Giant supporting him. He moved so suddenly that Linden feared he would break the woman’s neck.
But the Swordmain must have sensed his intent. She caught his wrists before his hands struck her throat. Holding him, she ducked under his arms and spun in an attempt to wrench him off balance, flip him to the ground.
He countered by kicking her hard enough to loosen her grasp.
The Giants heard that instant of struggle. Bracing themselves to protect their burdens, they turned quickly to face their comrade and Longwrath. Stave sprang to Grueburn’s side as Longwrath reached for his flamberge.
But its sheath was empty. His sword had been left behind among the rocks and desperation of the tor.
For a moment, he gaped at Linden, apparently torn between his hunger for her death and his need for his weapon. Then, howling, he wheeled and raced away, back toward the battle-mound.
In the scales of his madness, his flamberge outweighed Linden’s blood.
The Giant who had been carrying him started to give chase; but Coldspray called her back. “Permit him, Latebirth,” the Ironhand commanded sadly. “You are needed among us. And I deem that he is in no peril. While he covets Linden Giantfriend’s death, our foes will not harm him. He will return when he has retrieved his blade.”
Cursing, Latebirth acquiesced. “The fault of Scend Wavegift’s death is mine, Ironhand,” she proclaimed loudly, bitterly. “Halewhole Bluntfist and I held Long-wrath’s arms to aid him against the constraint of his shackles. Wavegift followed at his back. But I allowed my concern for your fate to loosen my clasp. When his shackles dropped from him, Bluntfist held him, but my grip was broken. With the hand that I should have restrained, he struck down Bluntfist. I endeavored to grapple with him, but I stumbled, unable to avoid Bluntfist’s fall. While I floundered, he confronted Wavegift.
“She was armed. He did not draw his blade. Therefore she hesitated. Doubtless she believed that Bluntfist and I would regain our feet swiftly to join her. But we hindered each other. While we rose, he slapped Wavegift’s blade aside and contrived to snap her neck. Then he ran. Though Bluntfist and I gave chase, we could not catch him.
“With clumsiness and inattention, I have shamed the Swordmainnir as well as myself. Henceforth I will name myself Lax Blunderfoot. When our journey has come to its end, for good or ill, I will lay down my sword.”
Stop, Linden wanted to say. We don’t have time for this. It doesn’t do any good. But she bit her lip and did not intervene. She understood Latebirth too well.
“We will speak of your name in Andelain,” retorted Coldspray. “Our present straits forbid recrimination. We must have haste. Let your shame become anger, and aid me in shaping a path.”
“Aye,” Latebirth muttered. “I hear you.” Drawing her sword, she stamped past Grueburn, Stave, and Linden to join Coldspray at the head of the company.
With pity in his eyes, Liand watched the woman pass. Like Linden, he said nothing; but she could see that his emotions were kinder than hers.
Together Rime Coldspray and Latebirth attacked the worst of the jungle’s impediments. In a kind of shared outrage, they cut vines, ivy, and deadwood aside, driving themselves past their fatigue so that their comrades could move more rapidly.
Fortunately the knotted underbrush and trees soon thinned as the terrain became a declining slope littered with moss-furred rocks and fallen leaves. There clusters of elm and sycamore stood back from solitary Gilden, and few shrubs and creepers found enough soil for their roots. As the Giants trotted downward, their feet stirred up a haze of insects and the damp mould of fallen leaves.
And at the bottom of the slope, the company found a stream turbulent with new rain. The invoked torrents of Liand’s storm filled the rushing current with silt, torn leaves, snapped twigs. Nevertheless the Swordmainnir paused once more so that the company could drink.
When he had eased his thirst, Bhapa asked Mahrtiir’s permission to lead the Giants once more. But Coldspray shook her head before the Manethrall could respond.
“While this stream tends southward, we need no guidance. And we are Giants, agile on rock—aye, even on slick stones concealed by debris. I cast no doubt on your skill, Cord, when I say that your aid will not quicken us here.”
“Heed the Ironhand,” instructed Mahrtiir. His tone was unexpectedly gentle. “You and Cord Pahni have won my pride. I do not doubt your resolve. Yet some further rest will harm neither you nor this company. When your aid becomes needful, you will be better able to provide it.”
If Bhapa or Pahni replied, Linden did hear them. The Giants were already running again.
Now their long, heavy strides raised a loud clatter of water. They splashed forward with extraordinary speed, sending spray in all directions. Within moments, Linden’s clothes were soaked, so wet that she shivered against Frostheart Grueburn’s stone armor.
Here Stave could not keep pace: he sank too deeply into pools and holes that barely reached the Giants’ knees. Unwilling to fall behind, he left the stream and made his way among the trees, flickering through patches of sunlight as he dodged past trunks and tore through the undergrowth.
Surely, Linden thought, surely this stream would lead the Giants into Andelain? But she could not credit that she and her companions had outrun the skurj—or Kaste-nessen’s savagery. Her enemies could not afford to let her reach her goal. If they failed to thwart her themselves, moksha Jehannum would suggest other tactics; summon other foes.
The scraps of samadhi Sheol’s dark spirit wielded some form of influence among the Sandgorgons. And they had repaid their self-imposed debt. They are done with you. If the skurj could not catch her in time, and Roger’s resources proved useless in Salva Gildenbourne, moksha Raver might reach out to his rent brother—
Linden had made too many mistakes. Acknowledging that the Sandgorgons had honored their debt was only one of them.
Still Stave reported that the Humbled discerned no sign of pursuit. They saw no dangers ahead.
How far had Grueburn carried Linden from the tor? She could not gauge the distance. The rapid stutter of trees and brush, shade and sunlight, along the western side of the stream confused her. And the foliage occluded any landmarks which might have defined the company’s progress. She was sure only that the sun was falling past mid-afternoon—and that the Giants could not continue to run like this much longer.
The ragged labor of Grueburn’s respiration was painful to hear. Linden tried to close her mind to it, and failed. She was barely able to stop herself from counting the frantic beats of Grueburn’s heart.
By degrees, however, the current slowed as its flood dissipated. At the same time, the hills on either side gradually seemed to acquire a kind of gentleness. Flowing through softer terrain, the stream became more direct. Still it tended southward across bursts of afternoon sunshine.
Then Linden noticed that Salva Gildenbourne’s unkempt extravagance was changing. By degrees, the constricted throng of trees modulated into a more stately forest, and the undergrowth gave way to unexpected swaths of grass. Stands of twisted jacaranda and crowded mimosa were replaced by comfortable chestnuts, austere elms, nervous birches. The rich gold leaves of the Gilden caught more sunlight and shone like resplendence. At last, the Giants were able to leave the stream and travel unobstructed by water or unseen rocks and holes.
And ahead of the company—
In faint whiffs and suggestions, evanescent savors like caresses, Linden’s nerves found their first taste of Andelain.
She sat up straighter; leaned forward with instinctive eagerness. Was it possible? Had she and her companions come four leagues since their battle on the tor? Without being attacked? She did not know how to believe it: it surpassed all of her expectations. Instinctively she distrusted her senses—and strained to confirm them.
The Andelainian Hills. In some sense, consciously or unconsciously, she had been striving to reach them ever since she had first heard Thomas Covenant’s voice in her dreams; ever since she had begun to imagine that he walked among the Dead.
Linden, find me.
She could be wrong. Surely she was wrong?
Careless of the danger, she drew Earthpower from the Staff to sharpen her healthsense. Her heart swelled with supplications which she could not utter: anticipation, hope, doubt; desire as acute as exultation.
Allusive and enticing, scents came to her: greensward and munificent verdure, air as crisp and sapid as aliantha, wildflowers luxuriating in their abundance. No, she was not wrong. More and more, Salva Gildenbourne became a cathedral forest, solemn and sacral. With every step, the trees verged closer to transubstantiation. Ahead of her, they implied a bedecked panoply clinquant with Gilden sunshine. Grueburn carried her through splashes of declining light toward a woodland vista so numinous and vital that every line was limned with health.
Long ago, during her first approach to the Hills of Andelain, she had feared them. They had appeared to nurture something cancerous, a disease which would destroy her if she walked among them. Later, however, she had learned the truth. Her initial perceptions had been distorted by the Sunbane. Immersed in relentless evil, and unable to control her sensitivity, she had seen sickness everywhere. As a result, she had failed to discern the real source of her dread.
Even then, the Hills were not ill. They could not be: the last Forestal protected them. Her trepidation had arisen, not from Andelain itself, but from the presence of the Dead. Because the Law of Death had been broken—and because Earthpower suffused the Hills—spectres walked in Andelain’s loveliness. Confused by the Sunbane, she had felt their nearness as if they were evil.
Now she knew better. High Lord Elena’s abuse of the Power of Command had made it possible for Covenant’s Dead to speak with him; counsel him. Without their aid, he would not have been able to save the Land. Linden herself had met the shade of Kevin Landwaster and quailed; but even in his unrelieved despair, he had not been evil.
There is hope in contradiction.
Since that time, the Law of Life had been damaged as well. The Land held new possibilities, for good or ill. If the breaking of Laws enabled Joan to spawn caesures,it might also free Linden to accomplish her unspoken purpose.
She approached Andelain with yearning because she had learned to love the Hills— and because she hoped to gain something more precious than reassurance or counsel.
Around her, her companions also beheld what lay ahead of them. Excitement shone in Liand’s eyes, and he gazed past the Swordmainnir eagerly. Near him, Pahni glowed as if her weariness had become a form of enchantment. Even Stave appeared to lift more lightly from stride to stride, strengthened by the prospect of Andelain’s distilled beauty.
As one, the Giants slowed their steps. As if in reverence, they set aside their haste, assumed a more condign gravitas. When they left the last fringes of Salva Gildenbourne and crossed into Andelain, they did so as if they were entering a place of worship. Here was the Land’s untrammeled bounty, as essential as blood, and as profound as orogeny. And they were Giants: instinctively they reveled in largesse.
Together they ascended partway up the first slope and surcease of Andelain’s welcome. There Clyme awaited them calmly, certain that they had passed beyond peril. And there the Giants set down Linden and her friends so that they could walk at last, and feel the air freely, and be eased.
—Loric’s krill was roused from its slumber. Its might wards the Hills. The skurj cannot enter— Kastenessen himself cannot.
Joyfully Bhapa and Pahni threw themselves prostrate on the lush grass, doing homage to Andelain and escape. Mahrtiir knelt with his head bowed to the earth as if he were praying. Liand flung his arms wide and spun in circles, crowing with delight. “Andelain?” he cried. “Oh, Linden! This is Andelain? I could not have believed—!”
Linden wanted to share their joy. She felt as they did, and would have celebrated. But her first concern was for Anele.
Amid the long verdure of the Verge of Wandering, the old man had spoken to her in Covenant’s voice. Among the rich grasses of Revelstone’s upland plateau, he had offered her friends rue and advice. And here every aspect of the tangible world was more—
The hillside glistened with grace, green and lavish. The air was a cleansing ache in her lungs, and the springtime daisies, forsythia, and columbine were as bright as laughter. Every tree spread its leaves in wealth and majesty. The late sunlight offered warmth to soothe the chill of Linden’s damp clothes.
She did not know how Anele would respond. The tonic atmosphere might comfort him. Or he might feel threatened by the inherent health on every side. Or he might be possessed—
Galesend had already lowered him to the ground. Now, however, the company had no blankets to protect him.
Suppressing her own reaction to escape and glory, Linden approached the old man. Softly she murmured his name.
For a moment, he seemed unaware of her. His moonstone gaze wandered the southward expanse of the Hills, and he stood stiffly erect as if he were awaiting the acknowledgment of an august host. But then a subtle alteration came over him. As he turned toward Linden, his posture loosened. Studying her, he seemed to peer outward through veils of madness.
“Ah, Linden,” he sighed. His voice was his own; but it was also Hollian’s, light and loving, and as poignant as lamentation. “You should not have come. The hazard is too great. Darkness consumes you. The Despiser has planned long and cunningly for your presence, and his snares are many.”
Anele paused, swallowing grief. He blinked at tears which were not his. Then he continued to speak words bestowed by his long-dead mother.
“Yet the sight of you gladdens me. I pray that you will be able to bear the burden of so many needs. There is more in Andelain—and among the Dead—and in your heart—than Lord Foul can conceive.”
The old man started to withdraw. But before Linden could cry out to him—or to Hollian—he faced her again. “Be kind to my beloved son,” he said, quietly imploring. “His vision of his parents is too lofty. He torments himself for faults which are not his. When your deeds have come to doom, as they must, remember that he is the hope of the Land.
“This, also, the Despiser and all who serve him cannot imagine.”
Abruptly Anele turned to the south. While Linden floundered in silence, shaken and unsure, he strode away from her. After a moment, he began to run deeper into Andelain as if he could hear Hollian and Sunder calling for him.
“Linden?” Liand asked. Apparently Anele’s voice and her distress had pierced his jubilant astonishment. “Linden? Shall I follow after him? Will he be lost?”
Liand’s concern seemed to rouse the Ramen. Mahrtiir rose to his feet: his wrapped head moved like a hawk’s as he scrutinized his companions. At once, Bhapa and Pahni stood. The young Cord’s mien promised that she would accompany Liand if he pursued Anele.
Linden’s eyes burned, but they were dry. “No.” The stone of her purpose was too hard for weeping. “Let him go. He’s safe here.” When your deeds have come to doom— “If we don’t catch up with him, he’ll wander back to us eventually.” —as they must— “In the meantime, maybe he’ll find a little peace.”
—remember that he is the hope of the Land.
After an instant of hesitation, Liand nodded. The angle of his raven eyebrows showed that he was more troubled on Linden’s behalf than Anele’s. But she had nothing more to say to him. She was not prepared to explain why she intended to ignore Hollian’s warning.
While Anele ran, Branl and Galt emerged from the trees near the boundary of Andelain. Like Clyme, they seemed confident that they had passed beyond danger.
Without obvious hurry, they trotted lightly into crystalline cleanliness. Soon they joined Clyme amid the wildflowers and the casual hum of feeding bees.
Rime Coldspray had gathered her Swordmainnir around her. For a few moments, they spoke together in low voices. Then the Ironhand turned to address the Humbled.
“We are Giants,” she said formally, “and have not found pleasure in the unwelcome of the Masters. But the time has come to set aside such affronts. In the name of my comrades, I thank you for your many labors. You are the Humbled, Masters of the Land. But you are also Haruchai, and have done much to ensure our lives. I hope that you will honor us by accepting our gratitude.”
The Humbled faced her impassively. In a flat tone, Branl said, “There is no need for gratitude, Rime Coldspray, Ironhand of the Swordmainnir. The unwelcome of which you speak was not meant as unfriendship. We were concerned only that your open hearts and tales might undermine our service to the Land. Now you have accomplished that which we deemed impossible. With the aid of this unlikely Stone-downor”—he indicated Liand—“you have wrested the lives of Linden Avery’s company from the jaws of the skurj. Together we acknowledge your deeds. When the time comes to speak of you before the Masters assembled in Revelstone, we will speak with one voice, and will be heeded.”
Sure, Linden thought dourly. Of course you will. The Humbled had as much authority among their people as Handir. But Branl had not revealed what he would say to the Masters.
She intended to pursue the question with Stave later, when she had a chance to talk to him alone.
Nonetheless Coldspray inclined her head as if Branl had satisfied her. Only her frown and an oblique timbre of anger in her voice suggested otherwise as she continued, “Yet our gratitude remains. Therefore we ask your counsel. We are Giants. We must grieve for those whom we have lost. For that reason, we require a caamora.We wish to gather wood from Salva Gildenbourne, that we may express our sorrow in fire. Will your Mastery gainsay us? Will our flames offend the spirit of Andelain?”
If the Humbled felt any reluctance, they did not reveal it. Instead Clyme replied, “Ironhand, we have no heart for sorrow. Yet here we would not oppose any need or desire of the Swordmainnir. And Andelain is the soul and essence of the Land. As the Land has known grief beyond description, so the Hills themselves are familiar with mourning and loss. Your flames cannot give offense where their meaning is shared and honored.”
“That is well,” said Coldspray gruffly. “Accept our thanks.”
With a gesture, she sent Cabledarm and Latebirth back down the slope toward the darkening forest.
Linden still did not know the name of the Giant who had died on the tor.
Doubtless Cabledarm and Latebirth were safe enough. If they sensed the skurj,or any other foes, they could return to Andelain quickly. While Mahrtiir instructed Bhapa and Pahni to forage for treasure-berries, Linden drew Earthpower from her Staff again; but she did not do so to protect the Giants. Rather she turned her attention and the Staff ’s flame, as yellow and lively as buttercups, to healing.
The Swordmainnir needed better care than she had given them earlier. Now she treated their many wounds with more diligence. Walking slowly among the women, she tended severed nerves and blood vessels, ripped flesh and muscles. Gently she cauterized bleeding, burned away sepsis, repaired bone. The Giants were hardy: their wellsprings of health ran deep. Nevertheless the virulence of the poisons left by the fangs and blood of the monsters shocked her. Already every wound oozed with infection. The most severe hurts required a delicate balance of power and precision.
Kindwind’s condition was the worst. Septicemia had polluted her bloodstream, and her long exertions had spread its taint throughout her body. Linden could not cleanse away the infection until she had searched the marrow of Kindwind’s bones with percipience and strict fire.
By comparison, repairing the structure of Bluntfist’s cheek was a simple task, easily completed. The burns suffered by Liand, the Ramen, and Stave responded well to their given healing.
Linden expected her own weariness to hamper her efforts, but it did not. Andelain’s air was a roborant, restoring her reserves. It dimmed the effects of Kevin’s Dirt. Every glance around the ineffable Hills strengthened her. And the grass under her boots sent a caress of warmth and generosity along her nerves. While she worked, she found that she was capable of more than she had imagined.
The krill was in Andelain. Esmer had said so. The Hills themselves might make her strong enough to fulfill her intentions.
As she tended the Swordmainnir, their wonder and thankfulness gathered palpably around her. The tales of their people had not prepared them for what could be accomplished with health-sense and Earthpower. Even the First and Pitchwife had never seen her wield the Staff as she used it here.
If these women ever found their way Home, they would tell long tales about Lin-den’s efforts. Like the other Giants whom she had known, they relished small miracles as much as grander achievements.
When Cabledarm and Latebirth returned, they bore huge stacks of deadwood. For a moment, Cabledarm bowed over the spot where she meant to build a fire as if she were asking the grass and ground to forgive her. Then she readied a small pile of twigs and kindling, took out her pouch of tinder and stones, and began to strike sparks.
As the wood began to burn, Linden cared for Cabledarm and Latebirth with the same attentiveness that she had expended on Coldspray and her other companions.
In the west, the sun was setting among the tallest trees. Long shadows blurred by distance streaked the hillside while darkness accumulated in the margins of Salva Gildenbourne. A soothing breeze wafted like beneficence among the Hills. Pahni and Bhapa brought back an abundance of aliantha to nourish the company. And water was plentiful nearby. The stream which had led the Giants here ran eastward along the foot of the slope until it found its own course into Andelain.
Within the borders of the Land’s essential health and bounty, Rime Coldspray and her comrades formed a circle around Cabledarm’s fire and began their ritual of grief.
They were Giants: they took their time. Dusk and then night covered the hillside. Slowly stars added their cold glitter to the subdued dance of the flames. In the numinous dark, the Swordmainnir raised their voices as if they addressed Andelain and the wide heavens as well as each other.
First the Ironhand spoke sternly of “fault.” The previous night, she had accepted some responsibility for Longwrath’s condition. Now she claimed a similar blame for Scend Wavegift’s death. Certainly Latebirth had erred. She was mortal: she could be taken by surprise, or suffer mishap, as easily as any being defined by birth and death. But she had not caused Longwrath’s plight—and the deed of Wavegift’s end was his, not Latebirth’s.
Then Coldspray assumed the fault—if fault there was—for Moire Squareset, who had been slain by the skurj. Responsibility belonged to the Ironhand, whose decisions led the Swordmainnir. Like Wavegift’s, Squareset’s blood was on Coldspray’s hands or no one’s, for even Longwrath could not be held accountable. While she lived, she would both accuse and forgive herself.
When she was done, she knelt beside the fire and reached into the heart of the flames with both hands as though she sought to burn them clean.
Her flesh refused the harm of fire, but it could not refuse the pain. Her act was a deliberate immolation: in flame and willing agony, she surrendered her bereavement and remorse. This was the Giantish caamora, the articulation of their grief. In some sense, Linden understood it, although it filled her with dismay. Coldspray kept her hands in the fire while Cabledarm stoked it with more and more wood. A scream stretched the Ironhand’s mouth, but she did not permit herself to voice it. The flames spoke for her.
The Ramen watched with their fists clenched and a kind of ferocity in their eyes. Long ago, their ancestors had known the Unhomed. Ramen may have witnessed a caamora: they had certainly given the story to their descendants. But millennia had passed since any Ramen had seen what transpired here. Their legends could not have prepared them for the intensity of Coldspray’s chosen excruciation.
Liand stood near Pahni, but he did not touch her. He needed his arms; needed to clasp them across his chest with all of his strength in order to contain his horror and
empathy, his protests. Unlike the Ramen and Linden—and the Haruchai—he had nothing except his health-sense to help him comprehend what he was seeing.
Finally Coldspray withdrew. As she regained her feet, her arms trembled, and tears spilled from her eyes. But her hands were whole.
Cirrus Kindwind was the next to speak. In careful detail, alternately grave and humorous, she described Moire Squareset’s training and initiation among the Swordmainnir. Kindwind herself, with Onyx Stonemage and two other Giants, had been charged with developing Squareset’s skills, and she remembered those years with loving vividness. She knew Squareset’s strengths and weaknesses intimately, and she gave them all to the night.
Then she took her turn in the flames. The harsh silence of her pain and rue was so loud that Linden did not know how to bear it.
When Kindwind was done, Stormpast Galesend told similar tales of Scend Wavegift. She, too, thrust her hands into the fire. Grueburn, Bluntfist, and the rest of the Giants related their experiences with Wavegift and Squareset, their shared love and laughter, their memories of blunders and triumphs and longing. Each in turn, they offered their grief to the flames, and endured agony, and were annealed. Separately as well as together, they gave the ambergris of their woe to the dead.
But Linden turned away long before the Giants were done. She could not release her own tears and fury: they had been fused, made adamantine, by Roger’s betrayal and Jeremiah’s immeasurable suffering. She, too, yearned for a caamora—but not like this. Her heart craved an altogether different fire.
When she had gained some distance from the firelight and the Giants, she spent a while studying the vast isolation of the stars. In the expanse of the heavens, only the faintest glimmer of their mourning reached her—or each other. Yet she heeded their infinite lament. They could not burn away their loneliness without extinguishing themselves.
In that aspect of their limitless sojourn, she understood them better than she did the Giants. They calmed her as if she were in the presence of kindred spirits.
Gradually she let her attention return to Andelain, to the gentle embrace of health—and to the reasons that had compelled her here. But she did not rejoin the Giants, or listen to their stories and pain. Instead, certain of Stave’s notice, she beckoned the former Master toward her.
He came to her softly, more silent than the drifting breeze. Under the stars, he asked in a low voice, “Linden?”
It was the second time that he had called her by her given name.
His friendship touched her—and she did not want to be touched. More brusquely than she intended, she asked, “What are the Humbled going to say when they get back to Revelstone?” We will speak with one voice— “What will they tell the Masters?”
Stave made a small sound that may have been a snort. “They remain uncertain. The Giants threaten the defined service of the Masters. It is their nature to do so. With tales alone, they wield power to overthrow millennia of dedication and sacrifice. Yet in all ways they merit admiration. Therefore the Humbled withhold appraisal. They will adjudge the Giants according to your deeds rather than theirs.”
Oh, good, Linden thought mordantly. That’s perfect. It galled her to think that the attitude of the Masters toward the Giants depended on her. But then she swallowed her vexation. Whatever the Humbled decided was their problem, not hers. She could not make their choices for them. She would simply have to live with the consequences.
Sighing, she said, “This is Andelain, Stave. You might think that here, at least,” if nowhere else in the Land, “it would be acceptable for the Giants to be who they are.”
“Yet Andelain is not free of peril,” he returned stolidly. “It may be that Kastenessen and the skurj cannot enter. Nonetheless the fate of the Land is the fate of Andelain as well. I do not concur with the Humbled, but I comprehend their doubt. In some measure, I share it.”
You share—? He startled her. In dozens of ways, he had declared his loyalty.
“Chosen,” he explained, “you have not revealed your deeper purpose. You have not named your hopes for the unfathomable theurgies which the krill of Loric Vilesilencer will enable. By your own word, you desire those around you to know doubt.
“I do not seek to question you,” he stated before she could respond. “I am content in the knowledge that you are Linden Avery the Chosen, Sun-Sage and Ringthane, companion of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. To me, you are ‘acceptable’ in all things.
“Yet I am constrained by doubt to inquire if you also are uncertain. Have you not found cause to reconsider your intent?”
Linden stared at him in darkness. The stars shed too little light to unmask his features, and her health-sense could not reach into the mind or emotions of any Haruchai. She was barely able to discern the new skin where she had healed Stave’s burns.
Without inflection, he continued, “We stand now within the safety of Andelain. Here choices may diverge. Other paths lie before you. If you must confront your Dead, you do not require Loric’s krill to do so. And Gravin Threndor may be approached without risk, though hazards wait within the Wightwarrens. It is there—is it not?— that Kevin’s Dirt has its source. Are not Gravin Threndor’s depths conceivable as a hiding place for the Unbeliever’s son, and for your own?”
Linden wanted to cover her face. Jeremiah had built an image of Mount Thunder in her living room, as he had of Revelstone. Eventually she would have to go into the catacombs under the mountain: she knew that. But not yet—
Not while she was still so weak.
“I’m not Covenant,” she answered softly. “I’m not Berek, or some other hero. I’m just me. And I could be wrong. Of course I could be wrong. This whole thing might turn out to be a monumental exercise in futility.” Or something worse— “That’s possible. It’s absolutely possible.”
The breeze seemed to pause as if it wanted to hear her. Andelain itself appeared to hold its breath. In the distance, the voices of the Giants withdrew to a nearly inaudible murmur.
She needed to be doubted because she could not afford to doubt herself.
“But I have to have more power. Covenant’s ring is useless whenever Esmer decides to interfere. Kevin’s Dirt hampers Earthpower. If Jeremiah”—oh, my son!—“stood right in front of me, I might not be able to save him. I don’t know how to kill the croyel without killing him. I’m just not that strong.
“And look at who wants to stop me.” She gathered force as she spoke. “Look at who wants to help. Kastenessen and Roger and the Ravers have tried hard to kill us. The urviles and Waynhim are united, for God’s sake, even though they’re the last, and too many of them are dead. The Mahdoubt gave up everything to protect me. I must be doing something right.”
“Chosen—” Stave tried to interrupt her, but she was not finished.
“Lord Foul has my son. I’m going to get him back. But first I need more power.”
“Chosen,” Stave said again more firmly. “Longwrath approaches Andelain.”
Oh, shit. Wheeling, Linden projected her senses toward Salva Gildenbourne.
Almost immediately, she felt Longwrath’s unbridled rage. It was lurid in the darkness, a cynosure of hunger and desperation. The last trees still shrouded him, but he was heading straight toward her with his flamberge in his fists. Evanescent glints like phosphorescence wavered along the edges of his blade as though the iron had been forged to catch and hold starshine.
For the first time, Linden wondered whether his sword might be an instrument of magic. If his weapon had been formed with theurgy as well as fire, however, the effects were no longer perceptible. They had been attenuated by too much time—or they had been designed for circumstances which no longer existed.
The Swordmainnir seemed unaware of Longwrath. They were not done with their caamora: it held them like a geas. The Ramen and Liand remained transfixed by what they witnessed. But the Humbled were already moving, silent as thought.
Surely three Haruchai would suffice to restrain Longwrath until the caamora ended?
Nonetheless Linden tightened her grip on the Staff. Stave walked a little way down the slope to place himself between her and Longwrath.
But Esmer had told her the truth. Andelain is preserved. Suddenly a small piece of night appeared to condense as if something blurred or invisible had come into focus;
made itself real. Without transition, a yellow light like the delicate flame of a candle began to dance along the grass. As precise and self-contained as a single note of song, it bobbed some distance beyond the Giants. Yet it conveyed the impression that the distance was irrelevant. If the flame had shone directly in front of Linden, it would have been no larger—and no less vivid.
She recognized it instantly. It was a Wraith: one of the Wraiths of Andelain. She had seen its like before, during that cruel and necessary night when Sunder had slain Caer-Caveral with Loric’s krill so that Hollian could live again. Wraiths had appeared then, dozens of them, hundreds, to mourn the passing of the last Forestal’s music, and to celebrate what Sunder and Hollian had become.
The sight compelled an involuntary gasp from Linden. For a moment, she forgot Longwrath and every peril. The Wraith incarnated Andelain’s eldritch beauty: it entranced her. Its beauty reminded her of loss and resurrection; of broken Law and death that enabled life and victory. And it made Thomas Covenant live again in her mind, her savior and lover, whose consternation and courage had ruled him as severely as commandments.
I can’t help you unless you find me.
Everything for which she had struggled since her escape from Melenkurion Skyweir was contingent upon him.
Then the moment passed—and the Wraith was not alone. Another appeared near Linden, and another among the Ramen. Exquisite candle flames pranced over the hillside, more and more of them, until at least a score had become manifest.
They seemed to cast a spell over the caamora as they swept down the slope toward Longwrath. Even the Humbled paused as if they were amazed.
As soon as Longwrath’s foot touched the palpable demarcation between Salva Gildenbourne and Andelain, the Wraiths arrayed themselves in front of him. Together they gyred and flared as though they meant to ensorcel his madness.
Linden held her breath. At the edge of the stream, Longwrath hesitated. Yellow warmth illuminated his confusion. Other beings also act in Andelain’s defense. Although they exerted no magic that Linden could detect, the Wraiths formed a barrier against Longwrath’s craving for death.
Then he roared in defiance and charged at the lucent denial of the flames—
—and staggered as if he had collided with a wall. In some fashion that baffled Linden, he was shoved back. Each Wraith was a note, and together they formed a lush chord of rejection. As they danced, they looked small and frail; easily plucked from the air. Yet they refused Longwrath despite his size and strength.
His rage scaled higher as he charged again. The Wraiths took no visible notice of him. They merely swirled, bright and lovely, and self-absorbed as stars, as though they
had no purpose except to be themselves: the simple fact of their existence summed up their significance. Nonetheless they repulsed Longwrath so firmly that he nearly fell.
Now he cut at them with his sword. His flamberge wove and slashed among the flames as if its dance might equal theirs. But his vehemence could not touch the Wraiths. They only flickered and burned, and were unharmed.
His fury became a scream that threatened to tear his throat; his lungs. Still the Wraiths did not permit him to advance. They made no discernible effort to elude his blade, yet their chord remained inviolate.
Then one of them swooped closer to alight delicately on the scar that disfigured his visage.
At once, his scream rose into a shriek. He plunged backward, pounding at his face with fists that still clutched his sword. An instant later, the Wraith danced away; but he continued to strike and flounder after the flame was gone.
Finally he appeared to realize that he was no longer threatened; and his cry turned to rent sobs. Stumbling to his feet, he fled back into the forest. Behind him, dismay and horror seemed to linger in the air. When they faded at last, he had passed beyond the reach of Linden’s percipience.
Shuddering, she began to breathe again.
After a moment, Stave observed quietly, “Andelain is indeed warded. Yet the Wraiths refuse none but Longwrath. Perhaps the shades of Sunder Graveler and Hollian eh-Brand are mistaken.” Darkness consumes you. Doom awaits you in the company of the Dead. “Perhaps there is no peril in your craving for Loric’s krill—or in your chosen ire.”
The Wraiths had permitted Anele. They had permitted Linden herself. By forbidding Longwrath, they had countered Stave’s doubt.
Until she concentrated on Stave’s voice and understood what he was saying, she did not realize that the flames had scattered. Somehow they had wandered away without calling attention to their departure.
The Despiser has planned long and cunningly for your presence, and his snares are many.
Simultaneously bemused and troubled, Linden began to take notice of her companions once more. Around the fire, the caamora of the Giants had ended. At first, she did not know whether they had finished grieving. But the mood of their ritual had been broken—or the time for it had passed. They moved slowly, glancing around with a dazed air as if they had been dazzled by the Wraiths. Liand and the Ramen seemed to rouse themselves from reveries or dreams.
Then Linden looked at the Swordmainnir more closely and saw that they had relieved their sorrow. Although some sadness remained, they were ready now to bear Moire Squareset’s death, and Scend Wavegift’s.
They had assuaged their bereavement with fire. Long ago, Covenant had done the same for the Dead of The Grieve.
In her own way, Linden intended to follow their example.