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The Illearth War

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The Illearth War

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Author: Stephen R. Donaldson
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1977
Series: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever: Book 2

1. Lord Foul's Bane
2. The Illearth War
3. The Power that Preserves

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: High Fantasy
Sword and Sorcery
Heroic Fantasy
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(193 reads / 66 ratings)


After scant days in his "real" world, Thomas Covenant finds himself again summoned to the Land. There, forty bitter years have passed, while Lord Foul, immortal enemy of the Land, moves to fulfill his prophecy of doom.

The Council of Lords find their spells useless, now that Foul the Despiser holds the Illearth Stone, ancient source of evil power. At last High Lord Elena turns in desperation to Covenant and the legendary white gold magic of his ring....


ONE: The Dreams of Men

By the time Thomas Covenant reached his house the burden of what had happened to him had already become intolerable.

When he opened the door, he found himself once more in the charted neatness of his living room. Everything was just where he had left it--just as if nothing had happened, as if he had not spent the past four hours in a coma or in another world where his disease had been abrogated despite the fact that such a thing was impossible, impossible. His fingers and toes were all numb and cold; their nerves were dead. That could never be changed. His living room--all his rooms--were organized and carpeted and padded so that he could at least try to feel safe from the hazard of bumps, cuts, burns, bruises which could damage him mortally because he was unable to feel them, know that they had happened. There, lying on the coffee table in front of the sofa, was the book he had been reading the previous day. He had been reading it while he was trying to make up his mind to risk a walk into town. It was still open to a page which had had an entirely different meaning to him just four hours ago. It said, "... modeling the incoherent and vertiginous matter of which dreams are composed was the most difficult task a man could undertake...." And on another page it said, "... the dreams of men belong to God...."

He could not bear it.

He was as weary as if the Quest for the Staff of Law had actually happened--as if he had just survived an ordeal in the catacombs and on the mountainside, and had played his involuntary part in wresting the Staff from Lord Foul's mad servant. But it was suicide for him to believe that such things had happened, that such things could happen. They were impossible, like the nerve health he had felt while the events had been transpiring around him or within him. His survival depended on his refusal to accept the impossible.

Because he was weary and had no other defense, he went to bed and slept like the dead, dreamless and alone.

Then for two weeks he shambled through his life from day to day in a kind of somnolence. He could not have said how often his phone rang, how often anonymous people called to threaten or berate or vilify him for having dared to walk into town. He wrapped blankness about himself like a bandage, and did nothing, thought nothing, recognized nothing. He forgot his medication, and neglected his VSE (his Visual Surveillance of Extremities--the discipline of constant self-inspection on which the doctors had taught him his life depended). He spent most of his time in bed. When he was not in bed, he was still essentially asleep. As he moved through his rooms, he repeatedly rubbed his fingers against table edges, doorframes, chair backs, fixtures, so that he had the appearance of trying to wipe something off his hands.

It was as if he had gone into hiding: emotional hibernation or panic. But the vulture wings of his personal dilemma beat the air in search of him ceaselessly. The phone calls became angrier and more frustrated; his mute irresponsiveness goaded the callers, denied them any effective release for their hostility. And deep in the core of his slumber something began to change. More and more often, he awoke with the dull conviction that he had dreamed something which he could not remember, did not dare remember.

After those two weeks, his situation suddenly reasserted its hold on him. He saw his dream for the first time. It was a small fire--a few flames without location or context, but somehow pure and absolute. As he gazed at them, they grew into a blaze, a conflagration. And he was feeding the fire with paper --the pages of his writings, both the published best-seller and the new novel he had been working on when his illness was discovered.

This was true; he had burned both works. After he had learned that he was a leper--after his wife, Joan, had divorced him and taken his young son, Roger, out of the state--after he had spent six months in the leprosarium--his books had seemed to him so blind and complacent, so destructive of himself, that he had burned them and given up writing.

But now, watching that fire in dreams, he felt for the first time the grief and outrage of seeing his handiwork destroyed. He jerked awake wide-eyed and sweating--and found that he could still hear the crackling hunger of the flames.

Joan's stables were on fire. He had not been to the place where she had formerly kept her horses for months, but he knew they contained nothing which could have started this blaze spontaneously. This was vandalism, revenge; this was what lay behind all those threatening phone calls.

The dry wood burned furiously, hurling itself up into the dark abyss of the night. And in it he saw Soaring Woodhelven in flames. He could smell in memory the smoldering dead of the tree village. He could feel himself killing Cavewights, incinerating them with an impossible power which seemed to rage out of the white gold of his wedding band.


He fled the fire, dashed back into his house and turned on the lights as if mere electric bulbs were his only shield against insanity and darkness.

Pacing there miserably around the safety of his living room, he remembered what had happened to him.

He had walked--leper outcast unclean!--into town from Haven Farm where he lived, to pay his phone bill, to pay it in person as an assertion of his common humanity against the hostility and revulsion and black charity of his fellow citizens. In the process, he had fallen down in front of a police car--

And had found himself in another world. A place which could not possibly exist, and to which he could not possibly have traveled if it did exist: a place where lepers recovered their health.

That place had called itself "the Land." And it had treated him like a hero because of his resemblance to Berek Halfhand, the legendary Lord-Fatherer--and because of his white gold ring. But he was not a hero. He had lost the last two fingers of his right hand, not in combat, but in surgery; they had been amputated because of the gangrene which had come with the onset of his disease. And the ring had been given to him by a woman who had divorced him because he was a leper. Nothing could have been less true than the Land's belief in him. And because he was in a false position, he had behaved with a subtle infidelity which now made him squirm.

Certainly none of those people had deserved his irrectitude. Not the Lords, the guardians of the health and beauty of the Land; not Saltheart Foamfollower, the Giant who had befriended him; not Atiaran Trell-mate, who had guided him safely toward Revelstone, the mountain city where the Lords lived; and not, oh, not her daughter Lena, whom he had raped.

Lena! he cried involuntarily, beating his numb fingers against his sides as he paced. How could I do that to you?

But he knew how it had happened. The health which the Land gave him had taken him by surprise. After months of impotence and repressed fury, he had not been prepared for the sudden rush of his vitality. And that vitality had other consequences, as well. It had seduced him into a conditional cooperation with the Land, though he knew that what was happening to him was impossible, a dream. Because of that health, he had taken to the Lords at Revelstone a message of doom given to him by the Land's great enemy, Lord Foul the Despiser. And he had gone with the Lords on their Quest for the Staff of Law, Berek's runed staff which had been lost by High Lord Kevin, last of the Old Lords, in his battle against the Despiser. This weapon the new Lords considered to be their only hope against their enemy; and he had unwillingly, faithlessly, helped them to regain it.

Then almost without transition he had found himself in a bed in the town's hospital. Only four hours had passed since his accident with the police car. His leprosy was unchanged. Because he appeared essentially uninjured, the doctor sent him back to his house on Haven Farm.

And now he had been roused from somnolence, and was pacing his lighted house as if it were an eyot of sanity in a night of darkness and chaos. Delusion! He had been deluded. The very idea of the Land sickened him. Health was impossible to lepers; that was the law on which his life depended. Nerves do not regenerate, and without a sense of touch there is no defense against injury and infection and dismemberment and death--no defense except the exigent law which he had learned in the leprosarium. The doctors there had taught him that his illness was the definitive fact of his existence, and that if he did not devote himself wholly, heart and mind and soul, to his own protection, he would ineluctably become crippled and putrescent before his ugly end.

Copyright © 1977 by Stephen R. Donaldson


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