Mordant's Need, p.1Stephen R. Donaldson
Also by Stephen R. Donaldson:
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
Book One: Lord Foul’s Bane
Book Two: The Illearth War
Book Three: the Power that Preserves
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
Book One: The Wounded Land
Book Two: The One Tree
Book Three: White Gold Wielder
The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
Book One: The Runes of the Earth
Daughter of Regals and Other Tales
Also by Stephen R. Donaldson
The Mirror of her Dreams
Prologue: TERISA AND GERADEN
Two: THE SOUND OF HORNS
Four: THE OLD DODDERER
Five: WARDROBES FULL OF CLOTHES
Six: A FEW LESSONS
Seven: THE DUNGEONS OF ORISON
Eight: VARIOUS ENCOUNTERS
Nine: MASTER EREMIS AT PLAY
Ten: THE LAST ALEND AMBASSADOR
Eleven: A FEW DAYS WITH NOTHING TO DO
Twelve: WHAT MEN DO WITH WOMEN
Thirteen: FOLLY IN GOOD FAITH
Fourteen: OUT OF THE RUBBLE
Fifteen: ROMANTIC NOTIONS
Sixteen: WHO YOUR FRIENDS ARE
Seventeen: TERISA TAKES ACTION
Eighteen: A LITTLE CONVERSATION
Nineteen: THE ADVANTAGES OF AN EARLY THAW
Twenty: FAMILY MATTERS
Twenty-One: AT LEAST ONE PLOT DISCOVERED
Twenty-Two: QUESTIONS ABOUT BEING BESIEGED
Twenty-Three: ANTICIPATING DISASTER
Twenty-Four: THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Twenty-Five: MASTER EREMIS IN EARNEST
A Man Rides Through
Twenty-Seven: THE PRINCE’S SIEGE
Twenty-Eight: A DAY OF TROUBLE
Twenty-Nine: TERISA HAS VISITORS
Thirty: ODD CHOICES
Thirty-Two: THE BENEFIT OF SONS
Thirty-Three: PEACE IN HOUSELDON
Thirty-Four: FRUSTRATED STATES
Thirty-Five: AN OLD ALLY OF THE KING
Thirty-Six: GATHERING SUPPORT
Thirty-Seven: POISED FOR VICTORY
Thirty-Eight: CONFLICT AT THE GATES
Thirty-Nine: THE FINAL PIECE OF BAIT
Forty: THE LORD OF LAST RESORT
Forty-One: THE USES OF TALENT
Forty-Two: UNEXPECTED TRANSLATIONS
Forty-Three: THE ONLY REASONABLE THING TO DO
Forty-Four: MEN GO FORTH
Forty-Five: THE ALEND MONARCH’S GAMBLE
Forty-Six: A PLACE OF DEATH
Forty-Seven: ON THE VERGE
Forty-Eight: THE CONGERY AT WORK
Forty-Nine: THE KING’S LAST HOPES
Fifty: CAREFUL RISKS
Fifty-One: THE THINGS MEN DO WITH MIRRORS
Fifty-Two: NO MORE FIGHTING
Epilogue: CROWNING THE PIECES
To Ross McGuire Donaldson:
and just enough dignity
To Perryn Laura Donaldson:
for sunshine and flowers
whenever you need them
whenever you want it
‘Steeped in the vacuum of her dreams,
A mirror’s empty till
A man rides through it.’
– John Myers Myers, Silverlock
TERISA AND GERADEN
The story of Terisa and Geraden began very much like a fable. She was a princess in a high tower. He was a hero come to rescue her. She was the only daughter of wealth and power. He was the seventh son of the lord of the seventh Care. She was beautiful from the auburn hair that crowned her head to the tips of her white toes. He was handsome and courageous. She was held prisoner by enchantment. He was a fearless breaker of enchantments.
As in all the fables, they were made for each other.
Unfortunately, their lives weren’t that simple.
For example, her high tower was a luxury condominium building over on Madison, just a few blocks from the park. She had two bedrooms (one of them a ‘guest room,’ fully furnished and entirely unused), a spacious living room with an impressive view west, a separate dining room which contained a long, black, polished table on which candles would have gleamed beautifully if she had ever had any reason to light them, and the kind of immaculate modern kitchen displayed in remodeling catalogues.
Her home cost her father what the people she worked with would have called ‘a small fortune,’ but it was worth every penny to him. The security guards in the lobby and the closed-circuit TV cameras in the elevators kept her safe; and while she was living there she wasn’t mooning passively around his house, gazing at him and his business associates and his women with those big brown calf-eyes that seemed too inert, or even too stupid, to intend what he read in them: the awareness of unlove that saw all his pampering and expense as a form of neglect. So he was glad to be rid of her.
And she thought she was glad to be living where she was because the bills were paid, and she could afford to work at the only job she felt herself competent for, the only job in which she thought her life might count for something: she was the secretary for a modern-day almshouse, a mission tucked away in a small ghetto only a fifteen-minute walk from the shining windows and reflected glory of her condo building; and she typed letters of mild explanation and appeal, vaguely desperate letters, for the lost old man who ran the mission.
Also, she thought she was glad to be living where she was because she had been able to decorate her rooms herself. This had been a slow process because she wasn’t accustomed to so much freedom, so much control over her environment; but in the end what it came to was that her bedroom, living room, and dining room were decorated completely in mirrors. Mirrors had a seductive beauty which spoke to her – but that wasn’t the point. The point was that there was virtually no angle in her apartment from which she couldn’t see herself.
That was how she knew she existed.
When she slept, her mind was empty, as devoid of dreams as a plate of glass. And when she was awake, moving through her life, she made no difference of any kind to anybody. Even the men who might have considered her beautiful or desirable seemed not to see her when they passed her on the street, so blind she was to them. Nothing around her, or in her, reflected her back to herself. Without dreams – and without any effect – she had no evidence at all that she was a material being, actually present in her world. Only her mirrors told her that she was there: that she had a face capable of expression, with brown eyes round with thwarted softness, a precise nose, and a suggestion of a cleft like a dimple in her chin; that her body was of a type praised in magazines; that both her face and body did what was required of them.
She was completely unaware of the enchantment which held her. It was, after all, nothing more than a habit of mind.
As for Geraden, he was in little better condition.
He was only an Apt to the Congery of Imagers – in other words, an apprentice – and he had been given a task which would have threatened a Master. In fact, the opinion of the Congery was sharply divided about his selection. Som
Those who claimed that the act of bringing any champion into being was inherently immoral were secretly considered toadies of that old dodderer, King Joyse – and anyway they were only a small minority of the Congery. Apparently, all auguries indicated that the realm couldn’t be rescued from its peril without access to a champion brought into being through Imagery. But how that translation should take place – and, indeed, who that champion should be – was less sure.
The Masters who considered Geraden expendable had good reason. After all, he wasn’t just the oldest Apt currently serving the Congery: he was the oldest person ever to keep on serving the Congery without becoming skillful enough to be a Master. Though he was only in his mid-twenties, he was old enough to appear ridiculous because he had failed to earn the chasuble of a Master.
He was so ham-handed that he couldn’t be trusted to mix sand and tinct without spilling some and destroying the proportions; so fumblefooted that he couldn’t walk through the great laborium which had been made out of the converted dungeons of Orison without tripping over the carefully arranged rods, rollers, and apparatus of the Masters. Even rabbity Master Quillon, who had surprised everyone by casting aside his self-effacement and speaking out loudly (as King Joyse might have done, if he weren’t asleep half the time) against the immorality of wrenching some champion out of his own existence in order to serve Mordant’s need – even Quillon was heard to mutter that if Geraden made the attempt and failed, the Congery would at least gain the advantage of being rid of him.
In truth, this capacity for disaster rendered moot the central ethical point. Normally, the Master who had made that particular glass could simply have opened it and brought the champion into being. But Geraden had again and again shown himself incapable of the simplest translation. He would therefore have to do exactly what King Joyse would have demanded: he would have to go into the glass to meet the champion, to appeal for the champion’s help.
His advantages were a willing heart, ready determination, and a quality of loyalty usually ascribed to puppies. His short chestnut hair curled above his strong brow; his face would have well become a king; and the training of being raised with six brothers had left him tough, brave, and little inclined to hold grievances. But his expression was marred by an almost perpetual frown of embarrassment and apology, occasioned by the petty mishaps and knowledge gone awry that harried his heels. His instinctive yearning toward the questions and potential of Imagery was so potent that his unremitting dunderheadedness left a gloom on his spirit which threatened to become permanent until the Congery elected by augury and common sense to send him on the mission to save Mordant’s future.
When that happened, he recovered his ebullience. Where he had formerly worked for the Masters with a will, he now labored in fervor, doing the things their art demanded – mixing the sand and tinct with his own hands so that the glass would welcome him, stoking the furnace with wood he cut himself, shaping the mold and reshaping it a dozen times until it exactly matched the one that had made the mirror in which the Masters watched their chosen champion, pouring the hot liquid while blood hammered like prayer in his veins, sprinkling the specially ground and blended powders of the oxidate. At every failure of attention, error, or mischance, he groaned, cursed himself, apologized to everyone in sight – and then threw himself back into the work, hope singing to him while sweat soaked his clothes and all his muscles ached.
He had no more idea than Terisa did that she was under an enchantment. And if he had known, he might not have cared, so consumed was he by the opportunity the Masters had provided – an opportunity which might be a sentence of maiming or even death.
She wasn’t the champion the Congery had chosen.
She didn’t so much as inhabit the same world as that champion.
In theory, at least, Geraden’s mirror would have had to be entirely different.
The night before Geraden came for her, Terisa Morgan had a dream – one of the few she could ever remember. In it, she heard horns: faint with distance, they reached her through the sharp air over the hills covered with crisp snow like the call for which her heart had always been waiting. They winded again – and while she strained to hear them, again. But they came no closer.
She wanted to go looking for them. Past the wood where she seemed to be sitting or lying as if the cold couldn’t touch her, she saw the ridge of the hills: perhaps the horns – and those who sounded them – were on the far side. Yet she didn’t move. The dream showed her a scene she had never seen before; but she remained who she had always been.
Then along the snow-clogged skirt of the ridge came charging men on horseback. As the horses fought for speed, their nostrils gusted steam, and their legs churned the snow until the dry, light flakes seemed to boil. She could hear the leather creaking of their tack, the angry panting and muttered curses of their riders: the ridge sent every sound, as edged as a shard of glass, into the wood. She yearned to block out those noises, to hear the horns again, while the three men abruptly swung away from the hills and lashed the snow toward the trees – directly toward her.
As their faces came into focus for her, she saw their fierce hate, the intent of bloodshed. Long swords appeared to flow out of their sheaths into the high hands of the riders. They were going to hack her into the snow where she stood.
She remained motionless, waiting. The air was whetted with cold, as hard as a slap and as penetrating as splinters. In the dream, she wasn’t altogether sure that she would mind being killed. It would bring the emptiness of her life to an end. Her only regret was that she would never hear the horns again, never find out why they spoke such a thrill to her heart.
Then from among the black-trunked trees behind her came a man to impose himself between her and the riders. He was unarmed, unarmored – he seemed to be wearing only a voluminous brown jerkin, pants of the same fabric, leather boots – but he didn’t hesitate to risk the horses. While the first rider swung his blade, the man made a sidelong leap at the reins of the mount; and the horse was wrenched off balance, spilling its rider in front of her second attacker. Both horse and rider went down, raising clouds of snow as thick as mist.
When a low breeze cleared her sight, she saw that her defender had snatched up the first rider’s sword and spitted the second with it. He moved with a desperate awkwardness which showed that he was unfamiliar with fighting; but he didn’t falter. In furious assault, he stretched the first rider out against the trunk of a tree before the horseman could strike back with his long poniard.
Watching, Terisa saw the third rider poised above the young man who fought for her – mount firmly positioned, sword hilt gripped high in both fists. Though she understood nothing of what was going on, she knew that she ought to move. In simple decency and gratitude toward her defender, if for no other reason, she should fling herself against the rider. He wasn’t looking at her: surely she would be able to reach his belt and pull him out of his saddle before he struck.
But she didn’t. In the dream, a small, vexed frown pinched her forehead as she regarded her passivity. It was the story of her life, that mute nothingness – the only quality she could ascribe to her uncertain existence. How could she act? Action was for those who didn’t seriously doubt their own presence in the world. During the more than twenty years of her life, her opportunities for action had been so few that she typically hadn’t recognized them until they were past. She didn’t know how to make her limbs carry her toward the rider.
Yet the man who fought for her did so for no reason she could see except that she was being attacked. And he didn’t know his danger: he was still trying to wrest his blade from
Startling herself and the horseman and the sharp cold, she cried, ‘Watch out!’
The effort of the warning jerked her into a sitting position. She was still in bed. Her shout made her throat ache, and an unaccustomed panic pounded through her veins.
She recognized herself in the mirrors of her bedroom. Lit by the night-light plugged into the wall socket behind the bed, she was hardly more than a shadow in the glass all around her; but she was herself, the shadow she had always been.
And yet, while her pulse still labored and a slick of sweat oozed from her face, she thought she heard beyond the comfortless noises of the city a distant calling of horns, too faint to be certain – and too intimate to be ignored.
Of course, nothing was changed. She got up the next morning when her alarm clock went off; and her appearance in her mirrors was as rumpled and wan as usual. Though she studied her face for any sign that it was real enough for men on horseback to hate so fiercely, it seemed as void of meaning as always – so unmarked by experience, decision, or impact that she was dimly surprised to find it still able to cast a reflection. Surely she was fading? Surely she would wake up one morning, look at herself in the mirror, and see nothing? Perhaps, but not today. Today she looked just as she remembered herself – beautifully made, but to no purpose, and slightly tinged with sorrow.
So she showered as usual, dressed herself as usual in the sort of plain skirt and demure sweater her father preferred for her, breakfasted as usual – watching herself in the mirrors between bites of toast – and put on a raincoat before leaving her apartment to go to work. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the way she looked, or about her apartment as she left it, or about the elevator ride down to the lobby of her building. The only thing out of the ordinary was the way she felt.
Mordant's Need by Stephen R. Donaldson / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes