Lord Foul's Bane, p.1Stephen R. Donaldson
LORD FOUL'S BANE
By: Stephen R. Donaldson
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and Unbeliever BOOK ONE
**SCANNED BY LUPINIV FEB01**
ONE: Golden Boy
SHE came out of the store just in time to see her young son playing on the sidewalk directly in the path of the gray, gaunt man who strode down the center of the walk like a mechanical derelict. For an instant, her heart quailed. Then she jumped forward, gripped her son by the arm, snatched him out of harm's way.
The man went by without turning his head. As his back moved away from her, she hissed at it, "Go away! Get out of here! You ought to be ashamed!"
Thomas Covenant's stride went on, as unfaltering as clockwork that had been wound to the hilt for just this purpose. But to himself he responded, Ashamed? Ashamed? His face contorted in a wild grimace. Beware! Outcast unclean!
But he saw that the people he passed, the people who knew him, whose names and houses and handclasps were known to him-he saw that they stepped aside, gave him plenty of room. Some of them looked as if they were holding their breath. His inner shouting collapsed. These people did not need the ancient ritual of warning. He concentrated on restraining the spasmodic snarl which lurched across his face, and let the tight machinery of his will carry him forward step by step.
As he walked, he flicked his eyes up and down himself, verifying that there were no unexpected tears or snags in his clothing, checking his hands for scratches, making sure that nothing had happened to the scar which stretched from the heel of his right palm across where his last two fingers had been. He could hear the doctors saying, "VSE, Mr. Covenant. Visual Surveillance of Extremities. Your health depends upon it. Those dead nerves will never grow back-you'll never know when you've hurt yourself unless you get in the habit of checking. Do it all the time-think about it all the time. The next time you might not be so lucky."
VSE. Those initials comprised his entire life.
Doctors! he thought mordantly. But without them, he might not have survived even this long. He had been so ignorant of his danger. Self-neglect might have killed him.
Watching the startled, frightened or oblivious faces -there were many oblivious faces, though the town was small-that passed around him, he wished he could be sure that his face bore a proper expression of disdain. But the nerves in his cheeks seemed only vaguely alive, though the doctors had assured him that this was an illusion at the present stage of his illness, and he could never trust the front which he placed between himself and the world. Now, as women who had at one time chosen to discuss his novel in their literary clubs recoiled from him as if he were some kind of minor horror or ghoul, he felt a sudden treacherous pang of loss. He strangled it harshly, before it could shake his balance.
He was nearing his destination, the goal of the affirmation or proclamation that he had so grimly undertaken. He could see the sign two blocks ahead of him: Bell Telephone Company. He was walking the two miles into town from Haven Farm in order to pay his phone bill. Of course, he could have mailed in the money, but he had learned to see that act as a surrender, an abdication to the mounting bereavement which was being practiced against him.
While he had been in treatment, his wife, Joan, had divorced him-taken their infant son and moved out of the state. The only thing in which he, Thomas Covenant, had a stake that she had dared handle had been the car; she had taken it as well. Most of her clothing she had left behind. Then his nearest neighbors, half a mile away on either side, had complained shrilly about his presence among them; and when he had refused to sell his property, one of them moved from the county. Next, within three weeks of his return home, the grocery store-he was walking past it now, its windows full of frenetic advertisements had begun delivering his supplies, whether or not he ordered them-and, he suspected, whether or not he was willing to pay.
Now he strode past the courthouse, its old gray columns looking proud of their burden of justice and law-the building in which, by proxy, of course, he had been reft of his family. Even its front steps were polished to guard against the stain of human need which prowled up and down them, seeking restitution. The divorce had been granted because no compassionate law could force a woman to raise her child in the company of a man like him. Were there tears? he asked Joan's memory. Were you brave? Relieved? Covenant resisted an urge to run out of danger. The gaping giant heads which topped the courthouse columns looked oddly nauseated, as if they were about to vomit on him.
In a town of no more than five thousand, the business section was not large. Covenant crossed in front of the department store, and through the glass front he could see several high-school girls pricing cheap jewelry. They leaned on the counters in provocative poses, and Covenant's throat tightened involuntarily. He found himself resenting the hips and breasts of the girls-curves for other men's caresses, not his. He was impotent. In the decay of his nerves, his sexual capacity was just another amputated member. Even the release of lust was denied to him; he could conjure up desires until insanity threatened, but he could do nothing about them. Without warning, a memory of his wife flared in his mind, almost blanking out the sunshine and the sidewalk and the people in front of him. He saw her in one of the opaque nightgowns he had bought for her, her breasts tracing circles of invitation under the thin fabric. His heart cried, Joan!
How could you do it? Is one sick body more important than everything?
Bracing his shoulders like a strangler, he suppressed the memory. Such thoughts were a weakness he could not afford; he had to stamp them out. Better to be bitter, he thought. Bitterness survives. It seemed to be the only savor he was still able to taste.
To his dismay, he discovered that he had stopped moving. He was standing in the middle of the sidewalk with his fists clenched and his shoulders trembling. Roughly, he forced himself into motion again. As he did so, he collided with someone.
He caught a glimpse of ocher; the person he had bumped seemed to be wearing a dirty, reddish-brown robe. But he did not stop to apologize. He stalked on down the walk so that he would not have to face that particular individual's fear and loathing. After a moment, his stride recovered its empty, mechanical tick.
Now he was passing the offices of the Electric Company-his last reason for coming to pay his phone bill in person. Two months ago, he had mailed in a check to the Electric Company-the amount was small; he had little use for power-and it had been returned to him. In fact, his envelope had not even been opened. An attached note had explained that his bill had been anonymously paid for at least a year.
After a private struggle, he had realized that if he did not resist this trend, he would soon have no reason at all to go among his fellow human beings. So today he was walking the two miles into town to pay his phone bill in person-to show his peers that he did not intend to be shriven of his humanity. In rage at his outcasting, he sought to defy it, to assert the rights of his common mortal blood.
In person, he thought. What if he were too late? If the bill had already been paid? What did he come in person for then?
The thought caught his heart in a clench of trepidation. He clicked rapidly through his VSE, then returned his gaze to the hanging sign of the Bell Telephone Company, half a block away. As he moved forward, conscious of a pressure to surge against his anxiety, he noticed a tune running in his mind along the beat of his stride. Then he recollected the words:
Golden boy with feet of clay,
Let me help you on your way.
A proper push will take you far
But what a clumsy lad you are!
The doggerel chuckled satirically through his thoughts, and its crude rhythm thumped against him like an insult, accompanied by s
But he could not sneer his way out of that thought, because at one time he had been a kind of golden boy. He had been happily married. He had had a son. He had written a novel in ecstasy and ignorance, and had watched it spend a year on the best-seller lists. And because of it, he now had all the money he needed.
I would be better off, he thought, if I'd known I was writing that kind of book.
But he had not known. He had not even believed that he would find a publisher, back in the days when he had been writing that book-the days right after he' had married Joan. Together, they did not think about money or success. It was the pure act of creation which ignited his imagination; and the warm spell of her pride and eagerness kept him burning like a bolt of lightning, not for seconds or fractions of seconds, but for five months in one long wild discharge of energy that seemed to create the landscapes of the earth out of nothingness by the sheer force of its brilliance-hills and crags, trees bent by the passionate wind, night-ridden people, all rendered into being by that white bolt striking into the heavens from the lightning rod of his writing. When he was done,
he felt as drained and satisfied as all of life's love uttered in one act.
That had not been an easy time. There was an anguish in the perception of heights and abysses that gave each word he wrote the shape of dried, black blood. And he was not a man who liked heights; unconstricted emotion did not come easily to him. But it had been glorious. The focusing to that pitch of intensity had struck him as the cleanest thing that had ever happened to him. The stately frigate of his soul had sailed well over a deep and dangerous ocean. When he mailed his manuscript away, he did so with a kind of calm confidence.
During those months of writing and then of waiting, they lived on her income. She, Joan Macht Covenant, was a quiet woman who expressed more of herself with her eyes and the tone of her skin than she did with words. Her flesh had a hue of gold which made her look as warm and precious as a sylph or succuba of joy. But she was not large or strong, and Thomas Covenant felt constantly amazed at the fact that she earned a living for them by breaking horses.
The term breaking, however, did not do justice to her skill with animals. There were no tests of strength in her work, no bucking stallions with mad eyes and foaming nostrils. It seemed to Covenant that she did not break horses; she seduced them. Her touch spread calm over their twitching muscles. Her murmuring voice relaxed the tension in the angle of their ears. When she mounted them bareback, the grip of her legs made the violence of their brute fear fade. And whenever a horse burst from her control, she simply slid from its back and left it alone until the spasm of its wildness had worn away. Then she began with the animal again. In the end, she took it on a furious gallop around Haven Farm, to show the horse that it could exert itself to the limit without surpassing her mastery.
Watching her, Covenant had felt daunted by her ability. Even after she taught him to ride, he could not overcome his fear of horses.
Her work was not lucrative, but it kept her and her husband from going hungry until the day a letter of acceptance arrived from the publisher. On that day, Joan decided that the time had come to have a child.
Because of the usual delays of publication, they had to live for nearly a year on an advance on Covenant's royalties. Joan kept her job in one way or another for as long as she could without threatening the safety of the child conceived in her. Then, when her body told her that the time had come, she quit working. At that point, her life turned inward, concentrated on the task of growing her baby with a single-mindedness that often left her outward eyes blank and tinged with expectation.
After he was born, Joan announced that the boy was to be named Roger, after her father and her father's father.
Roger! Covenant groaned as he neared the door of the phone company's offices. He had never even liked that name. But his son's infant face, so meticulously and beautifully formed, human and complete, had made his heart ache with love and pride-yes, pride, a father's participation in mystery. And now his son was gone-gone with Joan he did not know where. Why was he so unable to weep?
The next instant, a hand plucked at his sleeve. "Hey, mister," a thin voice said fearfully, urgently. "Hey, mister." He turned with a yell in his throat -Don't touch me! Outcast unclean!- but the face of the boy who clutched his arm stopped him, kept him from pulling free. The boy was young, not more than eight or nine years old-surely he was too young to be so afraid? His face was mottled pale-and-livid with dread and coercion, as if he were somehow being forced to do something which terrified him.
"Hey, mister," he said, thinly supplicating. "Here. Take it." He thrust an old sheet of paper into Covenant's numb fingers. "He told me to give it to you. You're supposed to read it. Please, mister?"
Covenant's fingers closed involuntarily around the paper. He? he thought dumbly, staring at the boy. He?
"Him." The boy pointed a shaking finger back up the sidewalk.
Covenant looked, and saw an old man in a dirty ocher robe standing half a block away. He was mumbling, almost singing a dim nonsense tune; and his mouth hung open, though his lips and jaw did not move to shape his mutterings. His long, tattered hair and beard fluttered around his head in the light breeze. His face was lifted to the sky; he seemed to be staring directly at the sun. In his left hand he held a wooden beggar-bowl. His right hand clutched a long wooden staff, to the top of which was affixed a sign bearing one word: "Beware."
For an odd moment, the sign itself seemed to exert a peril over Covenant. Dangers crowded through it to get at him, terrible dangers swam in the air toward him, screaming like vultures. And among them, looking toward him through the screams, there were eyes-two eyes like fangs, carious and deadly. They regarded him with a fixed, cold and hungry malice, focused on him as if he and he alone were the carrion they craved. Malevolence dripped from them like venom. For that moment, he quavered in the grasp of an inexplicable fear.
But it was only a sign, only a blind placard attached to a wooden staff. Covenant shuddered, and the sir in front of him cleared.
"You're supposed to read it," the boy said again.
"Don't touch me," Covenant murmured to the grip on his arm. "I'm a leper."
But when he looked around, the boy was gone.
TWO: "You Cannot Hope"
IN his confusion, he scanned the street rapidly, but the boy had escaped completely. Then, as he turned back toward the old beggar, his eyes caught the door, gilt-lettered: Bell Telephone Company. The sight gave him a sudden twist of fear that made him forget all distractions. Suppose- This was his destination; he had come here in person to claim his human right to pay his own bills. But suppose-
He shook himself. He was a leper; he could not afford suppositions. Unconsciously, he shoved the sheet of paper into his pocket. With grim deliberateness, he gave himself a VSE. Then he gripped himself, and started toward the door.
A man hurrying out through the doorway almost bumped into him, then recognized him and backed away, his face suddenly gray with apprehension. The jolt broke Covenant's momentum, and he almost shouted aloud, Leper outcast unclean! He stopped again, allowed himself a moment's pause. The man had been Joan's lawyer at the divorce-a short, fleshy individual full of the kind of bonhomie in which lawyers and ministers specialize., Covenant needed that pause to recover from the dismay of the lawyer's glance. He felt involuntarily ashamed to be the cause of such dismay. For a moment, he could not recollect the conviction which had brought him into town.
But almost at once he began to fume silently. Shame and rage were inextricably bound together in him. I'm not going to let them do this to me, he rasped. By hell! They have no right. Yet he could not so
As Covenant paused, he thought, I should write a poem.
These are the pale deaths which men miscall their lives: for all the scents of green things growing, each breath is but an exhalation of the grave. Bodies jerk like puppet corpses, and hell walks laughing-
Laughing-now there's a real insight. Hellfire.
Did I do a whole life's laughing in that little time?
He felt that he was asking an important question. He had laughed when his novel had been accepted -laughed at the shadows of deep and silent thoughts that had shifted like sea currents in Roger's face laughed over the finished product of his book laughed at its presence on the best-seller lists. Thousands of things large and small had filled him with glee. When Joan had asked him what he found so funny, he was only able to reply that every breath charged him with ideas for his next book. His lungs bristled with imagination and energy. He chuckled whenever he had more joy than he could contain.
But Roger had been six months old when the novel had become famous, and six months later Covenant still had somehow not begun writing again. He had too many ideas. He could not seem to choose among them.
Joan had not approved of this unproductive luxuriance. She had packed up Roger, and had left her husband in their newly purchased house, with his office newly settled in a tiny, two-room but overlooking a stream in the woods that filled the back of Haven Farm-left him with strict orders to start writing while she took Roger to meet his relatives.
That had been the pivot, the moment in which the rock had begun rolling toward his feet of clay-begun with rumbled warnings the stroke which had cut him off as severely as a surgeon attacking gangrene. He had heard the warnings, and had ignored them. He had not known what they meant.
Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes