The Runes of the Earth, p.1Stephen R. Donaldson
What Has Gone Before
Prologue “my heart has rooms”
1. Mother’s Son
2. Gathering Defenses
3. In Spite of Her
5. The Cost of Love and Despair
Part One “chosen for this desecration”
1. “I am content”
3. In the Rubble
4. Old Friends
6. The Despiser’s Guidance
7. Companions in Flight
8. Into the Mountains
9. Scion of Stone
10. Aided by Ur-Viles
12. The Verge of Wandering
Part Two “the only form of innocence”
1. Spent Enmity
2. Dangerous Choices
3. The Will of the Ranyhyn
4. Heedless in Rain
5. Against Time
6. The Staff of Law
7. Aid and Betrayal
8. “Contrive their salvation”
10. Troubled Sanctuary
11. The Masters of the Land
12. Find Me
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Runes of the Earth
A Putnam Book / published by arrangement with the author
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2004 by Stephen R. Donaldson
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Electronic edition: December, 2004
to Jennifer Dunstan—
the Princess of my heart
My particular thanks to John Eccker, who went “above and beyond the call” after the first draft and never looked back.
What Has Gone Before
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever
As a young man—a novelist, happily married, with an infant son, Roger—Thomas Covenant is inexplicably stricken with leprosy. After the last two fingers of his right hand are amputated, medications arrest the progress of Covenant’s affliction, but he is taught that his only hope of survival lies in protecting himself obsessively from any form of injury. He is devastated when his wife, Joan, abandons and divorces him in order to protect their son from exposure.
Other blows to his emotional stability follow. Fearing the mysterious nature of his illness, the people around him cast him in the traditional role of the leper: a pariah, outcast and unclean. In addition, he discovers that he has become impotent—and unable to write. Grimly he struggles to go on living; but as the pressure of his loneliness mounts, he begins to experience prolonged episodes of unconsciousness, during which he appears to have adventures in a magical realm known only as the Land.
In the Land, physical and emotional health are tangible forces, made palpable by an eldritch energy called Earthpower. Because vitality and beauty are concrete qualities, as plain to the senses as size and color, the well-being of the physical world has become the guiding precept of the Land’s people. When Covenant first encounters them, in Lord Foul’s Bane, they greet him as the reincarnation of an ancient hero, Berek Halfhand, in part because he has lost two fingers, and in part because he possesses a white gold ring—his wedding band—which they know to be a talisman of great power, able to wield “the wild magic that destroys peace.”
Shortly after he first appears in the Land, Covenant’s leprosy and impotence disappear, cured by Earthpower; and this, he knows, is impossible. And the mere idea that he possesses some form of magical power threatens his ability to sustain the stubborn disciplines on which his survival depends. Therefore he chooses to interpret his translation to the Land as a dream or hallucination. He responds to his welcome and health with Unbelief: the harsh, dogged assertion that the Land is not real.
Because of his Unbelief, his initial reactions to the people and wonders of the Land are at best dismissive, at worst despicable (at one point, overwhelmed by his reborn sexuality, he rapes Lena, a young girl who has befriended him). However, the people of the Land decline to punish or reject him for his actions. As Berek Halfhand reborn, he is beyond judgment. And there is an ancient prophecy concerning the white gold wielder: “With the one word of truth or treachery, / he will save or damn the Earth.” Covenant’s new companions in the Land know that they cannot make his choices for him. They can only hope that he will eventually follow Berek’s example by saving the Land.
At first, such forbearance conveys little to Covenant, although he cannot deny that he is moved by the ineffable beauties of this world, as well as by the kindness of its people. During his travels, however, first with Lena’s mother, Atiaran, then with the Giant Saltheart Foamfollower, and finally with the Lords of Revelstone, he learns enough of the history of the Land to understand what is at stake.
The Land has an ancient enemy, Lord Foul the Despiser, who dreams of destroying the Arch of Time—thereby destroying not only the Land but the entire Earth—in order to escape what he perceives to be a prison. Against this evil stands the Council of Lords, men and women who have dedicated their lives to nurturing the health of the Land, to studying the lost lore and wisdom of Berek and his long-dead descendants, and to opposing Despite.
Unfortunately these Lords possess only a small fraction of the power of their predecessors. The Staff of Law, Berek’s primary instrument of Earthpower, has been hidden from them. And the lore of Law and Earthpower seems inherently inadequate to defeat Lord Foul. Wild magic rather than Law is the crux of Time. Without it, the Arch cannot be destroyed; but neither can it be defended.
Hence both the Lords and the Despiser seek Thomas Covenant’s allegiance. The Lords attempt to win his aid with courage and compassion: the Despiser, through manipulation. And in this contest Covenant’s Unbelief appears to place him on the side of the Despiser.
Nevertheless Covenant cannot deny his response to the Land’s apparent transcendence. And as he is granted more and more friendship by the Lords and denizens of the Land, he finds that he is now dismayed by his earlier violence toward Lena. He faces an insoluble conundrum: the Land cannot be real, yet it feels entirely real. His heart responds to its loveliness—and that response has the potential to kill him because it undermines his necessary habits of wariness and hopelessness.
Trapped within this contradiction, he attempts to escape through a series of unspoken bargains. In Lord Foul’s Bane, he grants the Lords his passive support, hoping that this will enable him to avoid accepting the possibilities—the responsibilities—of his white gold ring. And at first his hopes are realized. The Lords find the lost Staff of
Back in his real world, however, he discovers that he has in fact gained nothing. Indeed, his plight has worsened: he remains a leper; and his experience of friendship and magic in the Land has weakened his ability to endure his outcast loneliness on Haven Farm. When he is translated to the Land a second time, in The Illearth War, he knows that he must devise a new bargain.
During his absence, the Land’s plight has worsened as well. A number of years have passed in the Land; and in that time Lord Foul has gained and mastered the Illearth Stone, an ancient bane of staggering power. With it, the Despiser has created an army which now marches to overwhelm the Lords of Revelstone. Although the Lords hold the Staff of Law, they lack sufficient might to withstand the evil horde. They need the strength of wild magic.
Other developments also tighten the grip of Covenant’s dilemma. The Council is now led by High Lord Elena, his daughter by his rape of Lena. With her, he begins to experience the real consequences of his violence: it is clear to him—if to no one else—that she is not completely sane. In addition, the army of the Lords is led by a man named Hile Troy, who appears to have come to the Land from Covenant’s own world. Troy’s presence radically erodes Covenant’s self-protective Unbelief.
Now more than ever Covenant feels that he must resolve his conundrum. Again he offers a bargain. He will give the defenders of the Land his active support. Specifically, he will join Elena on a quest to discover the source of EarthBlood, the most concentrated form of Earthpower. But in return he will continue to deny that his ring holds any power. He will accept no responsibility for the ultimate fate of the Land.
This time, however, the results of his bargain are disastrous. Using the Illearth Stone, Lord Foul slaughters the Giants of Seareach. Hile Troy is only able to defeat the Despiser’s army by giving his soul to Caerroil Wildwood, the Forestal of Garroting Deep. And Covenant’s help enables Elena to find the EarthBlood, which she uses to sever one of the necessary boundaries between life and death. Her instability leads her to think that the dead will have more power against Lord Foul than the living. But she is terribly wrong; and in the resulting catastrophe both she and the Staff of Law are lost.
Covenant returns to his real world knowing that his attempts to resolve his dilemma have served the Despiser.
Nearly broken by his failures, he visits the Land once more in The Power That Preserves, where he discovers the full cost of his actions. Dead, his daughter now serves Lord Foul, using the Staff of Law to wreak havoc. Her mother, Lena, has lost her mind. And the defenders of the Land are besieged by an army too vast and powerful to be defeated.
Covenant still has no solution to his conundrum: only wild magic can save the Land—and he cannot afford to accept its reality. However, sickened at heart by Lena’s madness, and by the imminent ruin of the Land, he resolves to confront the Despiser himself. He has no hope of defeating Lord Foul, but he would rather sacrifice himself for the sake of a magical, but unreal, place than preserve his outcast life in his real world.
Before he can reach the Despiser, however, he must first face dead Elena and the Staff of Law. He cannot oppose her; yet she defeats herself when her attack on him draws an overwhelming response from his ring—a response which also destroys the Staff.
Accompanied only by his old friend, the Giant Saltheart Foamfollower, Covenant finally gains his confrontation with Lord Foul and the Illearth Stone. Facing the full force of the Despiser’s savagery and malice, he at last finds the solution to his conundrum, “the eye of the paradox”: the point of balance between accepting that the Land is real and insisting that it is not. On that basis, he is able to combat Lord Foul by using the dire might of the Illearth Stone to trigger the wild magic of his ring. With that power, he shatters both the Stone and Lord Foul’s home, thereby ending the threat of the Despiser’s evil.
When he returns to his own world for the last time, he learns that his newfound balance benefits him there as well. He knows now that the reality or unreality of the Land is less important than his love for it; and that knowledge gives him the strength to face his life as a pariah without fear or bitterness.
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
For ten years after the events of The Power That Preserves, Covenant lives alone on Haven Farm, writing novels. He is still an outcast, but he has one friend, Dr. Julius Berenford. Then, however, two damaged women enter his life.
His ex-wife, Joan, returns to him, violently insane. Leaving Roger with her parents, she has spent some time in a commune which has dedicated itself to the service of Despite, and which has chosen Covenant to be the victim of its evil. Hoping to spare anyone else the hazards of involvement, Covenant attempts to care for Joan alone.
When Covenant refuses aid, Dr. Berenford enlists Dr. Linden Avery, a young physician whom he has recently hired. Like Joan, she has been badly hurt, although in entirely different ways. As a young girl, she was locked in a room with her father while he committed suicide. And as a teenager, she killed her mother, an act of euthanasia to which she felt compelled by her mother’s illness and pain. Loathing death, Linden has become a doctor in a haunted attempt to erase her past.
At Dr. Berenford’s urging, she intrudes on Covenant’s treatment of his ex-wife. When members of Joan’s commune attack Haven Farm, seeking Covenant’s death, Linden attempts to intervene, but she is struck down before she can save him. As a result, she accompanies him when he is returned to the Land.
During Covenant’s absence, several thousand years have passed, and the Despiser has regained his power. As before, he seeks to use Covenant’s wild magic in order to break the Arch of Time and escape his prison. In The Wounded Land, however, Covenant and Linden soon learn that Lord Foul has fundamentally altered his methods. Instead of relying on armies and warfare to goad Covenant, the Despiser has devised an attack on the natural Law which gives the Land its beauty and health.
The overt form of this attack is the Sunbane, a malefic corona around the sun which produces extravagant surges of fertility, rain, drought, and pestilence in mad succession. So great is the Sunbane’s power and destructiveness that it has come to dominate all life in the Land. Yet the Sunbane is not what it appears to be. And its organic virulence serves primarily to mask Lord Foul’s deeper manipulations.
He has spent centuries corrupting the Council of Lords. That group now rules over the Land as the Clave; and it is led by a Raver, one of the Despiser’s most ancient and potent servants. The Clave extracts blood from the people of the Land to feed the Banefire, an enormous blaze which purportedly hinders the Sunbane, but which actually increases it.
However, the hidden purpose of the Clave and the Banefire is to inspire from Covenant an excessive exertion of wild magic. And toward that end, another Raver afflicts Covenant with a venom intended to cripple his control over his power. When the venom has done its work, Covenant will be unable to defend the Land without unleashing so much force that he destroys the Arch.
As for Linden Avery, Lord Foul intends to use her loathing of death against her. She alone is gifted or cursed with the health-sense which once informed and guided all the people of the Land by enabling them to perceive physical and emotional health directly. For that reason, she is uniquely vulnerable to the malevolence of the Sunbane, as well as to the insatiable malice of the Ravers. The manifest evil into which she has been plunged threatens the core of her identity.
Linden’s health-sense accentuates her potential as a healer. However, it also gives her the capacity to possess other people; to reach so deeply into them that she can control their actions and emotions. By this means, Lord Foul intends to cripple her morally: he seeks to transform her into a woman who will possess Covenant in order to misuse his power. Thus she will give the Despiser what he wants even if Covenant does not.
And if those ploys fail, Lord Foul has other stratagems in place to achieve his
Horrified in their separate ways by what has been done to the Land, Covenant and Linden wish to confront the Clave in Revelstone; but on their own, they cannot survive the complex perils of the Sunbane. Fortunately they gain the help of two villagers, Sunder and Hollian. Sunder and Hollian have lived with the Sunbane all their lives, and their experience enables Covenant and Linden to avoid ruin as they travel.
But Linden, Sunder, and Hollian are separated from Covenant near a region known as Andelain, captured by the Clave while he enters Andelain alone. It was once the most beautiful and Earthpowerful place in the Land; and he now discovers that it alone remains intact, defended from the Sunbane by the last Forestal, Caer-Caveral, who was formerly Hile Troy. There Covenant encounters his Dead, the specters of his long-gone friends. They offer him advice and guidance for the struggle ahead. And they give him a gift: a strange ebony creature named Vain, an artificial being created for a hidden purpose by ur-viles, former servants of the Despiser.
Aided by Waynhim, relatives of the ur-viles, Covenant hastens toward Revelstone to rescue his friends. When he encounters the Clave, he learns the cruelest secret of the Sunbane: it was made possible by his destruction of the Staff of Law thousands of years ago. Desperate to undo the harm which he has unwittingly caused, he risks wild magic in order to free Linden, Sunder, and Hollian, as well as a number of Haruchai, powerful warriors who at one time served the Council of Lords.
With his friends, Vain, and a small group of Haruchai, Covenant sets out to locate the One Tree, the wood from which Berek originally fashioned the Staff of Law. Covenant hopes to devise a new Staff with which to oppose the Clave and the Sunbane.
Faring eastward, toward the Sunbirth Sea, Covenant and his companions encounter a party of Giants, seafaring beings from the homeland of the lost Giants of Seareach. One of them, Cable Seadreamer, has had a vision of a terrible threat to the Earth, and the Giants have sent out a Search to discover the danger.
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