Lord Foul's Bane - Chapters 9 and 10


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Lord Foul's Bane - Chapters 9 and 10

Post by Cord Hurn »

Lord Foul's Bane, Chapter 9


In the aftermath of being attacked by Triock and reluctantly rescued by Atiaran, Thomas Covenant walks northward following the mother of his rape victim. He's tired and sore, and his sensory awareness fades more and more, except his awareness of physical pain and weariness. He is dazedly surprised to find he has fallen asleep, and it is now twilight instead of afternoon when Atiaran shakes him to consciousness. He gulps down a bowl of hot broth and a flask of springwine that Atiaran gives him, gains soothing sensations from the springwine, then settles down to sleep some more.
His last sight before his eyes fell shut was of Atiaran, sitting enshadowed on the far side of the graveling pot, her face set relentlessly toward the north.
Atiaran wakes him at dawn, and he re-experiences the awakening of his nerves by flexing his fingers and squeezing his blistered toes within his boots. He realizes Atiaran put a blanket on him during the night. He avoids her gaze as he goes to splash water on his face, and re-experiences fear of Atiaran and what she might do to him in retribution for his crime against Lena. Her clenched, weary visage reveals she is suppressing her loathing of him, but she gives food, inspects his hand wound, and packs up camp resignedly. She sets a brisk pace to follow throughout the day, and Covenant mostly stares at her uncompromising and authoritative back as he follows along. The South Plains on his left is purple with bracken, and the hills on his right have flowers, oaks, sycamores, and golden-leafed, maple-like trees that Atiaran identifies as "Gildens". Covenant is too weary to notice much as he follows Atiaran's back, though. He helps with unpacking when they stop around sunset, has a restless night of sleep, and wakes up to find that his body has gained strength. His vivid sensations from his nerve endings proclaim his leprosy to have been a fantasy.
But that was impossible. It's one or the other, he panted fiercely. Not both. Either I'm a leper or I'm not. Either Joan divorced me or she never existed. There's no middle ground.
Inside himself, he again insists that this experience in the Land is only a dream.
He could not bear the alternative. If he were dreaming, he might still be able to save his sanity, survive, endure. But if the Land were real, actual--ah, then the long anguish of his leprosy was a dream, and he was mad already, beyond hope.
Any belief was better than that. Better to struggle for a sanity he could at least recognize than to submit to a "health" which surpassed all explanation.
Focusing on his leprosy as a fact keeps him from reflecting on the violence of his recent actions/experiences. So he doesn't experience shame, which keeps his anger in check enough that he doesn't resist following Atiaran at the relentlessly brisk pace she sets. A couple of times she stops and sniffs in the afternoon as if something's wrong, but can't explain what she senses. By late afternoon, she seems to be looking for some kind of sign in the trees and grass, then turns quickly to the right into a low valley, passing bramble bushes and then disappearing around a thick copse of trees.
The space was lit by light filtering through the walls, which were formed of saplings standing closely side by side in a rude rectangle; and a faint rustling breeze blew through them. But interwoven branches and leaves made a tight roof for the chamber. It was comfortably large enough for three or four people, and along each of its walls were grassy mounds like beds. In one corner stood a large tree with a hollow center, into which shelves had been built, and those were laden with pots and flasks made of both wood and stone. The whole place seemed deliberately warm and cozy.
Atiaran explains to Covenant that this is a resting place for travelers called a "Waymeet". After they eat, TC quietly asks her to explain more about Waymeets. Loathing him, Atiaran is reluctant to talk to him, but finally explains that creatures called the Waynhim wished to make up for the evil performed by their kindred the ur-viles, and asked the Lords of Revelstone what service they could do. The Lords suggested the idea of Waymeets, and the Waynhim have since set up and maintained many such places throughout the Land. Signs are left by the Waynhim near the Waymeets for travelers to find the resting places. Satisfied with these answers, Covenant goes off to sleep.

Waking up to a stormy morning, they leave the copse of the Waymeet after eating breakfast. While resuming their walk northward through the open valley between low hills just west of that copse, Covenant asks Atiaran why she appears so disquieted by the coming storm: "What's wrong with rain? Don't you get rain in the spring?" Atiaran answers that the rain usually comes from the southwest in spring, not from the north, and that she sense this is evidence of the "Cavewight wrong-wielder" applying his abilities. They get hit hard with rain soon afterward, almost unable to discern what's ahead, and Covenant tries hard to keep up with Atiaran Trell-mate so that she doesn't disappear from view. Three times the Unbeliever demands of her that they must for halt and find cover, and Atiaran insists there's no time. She keeps moving forward through the violent deluge. Then Covenant slips on a muddy hillside and falls down in a nasty slide that leaves him covered with filth. He can no longer see Atiaran.
Fighting his way to his feet, Covenant roared at the rampant clouds, "Hellfire! You can't do this to me!"
Without warning, just as his fury peaked, a huge white flash exploded beside him. He felt that a bolt of lightning had struck his left hand.
The blast threw him up the hill to his right. For uncounted moments, he lay dazed, conscious only of the power of the detonation and the flaming pain in his hand. His wedding ring seemed to be on fire. But when he recovered enough to look, he could see no mark on his fingers, and the pain faded away while he was still hunting for its source.
He shook his head, thrust himself into a sitting position. There were no signs of the blast anywhere around him. He was numbly aware that something had changed, but in his confusion he could not identify what it was.
Awkwardly he gets up and sees Atiaran not far away, on her back but unhurt. She asks what he did, and he denies doing anything. She points out the wind now comes from the southwest rather than from the Cavewight's home of Mt. Thunder, and that he must have accomplished this. He again denies this, but can see the rain is now falling without violence. She asks him if he's ready to resume their journey, with "a note of unwilling respect in her voice". He agrees, and they walk through a cool rainy afternoon in hill country until she finds them another Waymeet to dry off and rest for the night.
But he still felt dazed by what had happened. He could not shake the odd impression that whatever force had changed the fury of the storm had altered him also.
Leaving that Waymeet with Atiaran on a beautiful clean morning, TC realizes he's awakened to a new sensitivity for the Land's health.
With an intuitive leap, he grasped the change which had taken place within him or for him. In some way that completely amazed him, his senses had gained a new dimension. He looked at the grass, smelled its freshness--and saw its verdancy, its springing life, its fitness. Jerking his eyes to a nearby aliantha, he received an impression of potency, health, that dumbfounded him.
He points to a Gilden tree that has a feeling of sadness/sickness emanating from it, and Atiaran remarks that she also perceives that tree is slowly perishing. The Unbeliever realizes that an earlier remark she's made about him, "You are closed to me," means that she cannot see the leprosy within him. This he finds comforting. On three occasions they smell an odor which conveys evil or illness in the air, coming vaguely to the north where they are headed. But where they camp that night by a creek, the threatening odor is absent, so Covenant settles himself down to an uneasy sleep.

The next day, their sixth of traveling northward from Mithil Stonedown, that evil odor strengthens and is noticed more often. When asked by him if she notices it and what it means, Atiaran tells TC that they're heading towards danger and it's the scent of murder. She walks swiftly away from him to remind him she won't forget what he's done to Lena. The smell worsens by mid-afternoon, and when Atiaran freezes in shock along a hillside overlooking a hollow, Covenant knows he will soon discover the reason for the evil smell. The hollow contains a small copse within a glade, and they both race to it. Atiaran stops before the copse, shouting, "Waynhim? Melenkurion! Ah, by the Seven, what evil!" She stands in shuddering revulsion, and Covenant sees a path leading into that copse.
Impulsively, he moved forward, plunged between the trees. In five steps, he was in an open space much like the other Waymeets he had seen. This chamber was round, but it had the same tree walls, branch-woven roof, beds, and shelves.

But the walls were spattered with blood, and a figure lay in the center of the floor.

Covenant gasped as he saw that the figure was not human.

Its outlines were generally manlike, though the torso was inordinately long, and the limbs were short, matched in length, indicating that the creature could both stand erect and run on its hands and feet. But the face was entirely alien to Covenant. A long, flexible neck joined the hairless head to the body; two pointed ears perched near the top of the skull on either side; the mouth was as thin as a mere slit in the flesh. And there were no eyes. Two gaping nostrils surrounded by a thick, fleshy membrane filled the center of the face. The head had no other features.

Driven through the center of the creature's chest--pinning it to the ground--was a long iron spike.

The chamber stank of violence so badly that in a few breaths Covenant felt about to suffocate. He wanted to flee. He was a leper; even dead things were dangerous to him. But he forced himself to remain still while he sorted out one impression. One seeing the creature, his first thought had been that the Land was rid of something loathsome. But as he gritted himself, his eyes and nose corrected him. The wrongness which assailed his senses came from the killing--from the spike--not from the creature. Its flesh had a hue of ravaged health; it had been natural, right--a proper part of the life of the Land.

Gagging on the stench of the crime, Covenant turned and fled.
He and Atiaran put as much speed into heading north as possible to get away from the reek of the crime scene, even though they are both disquieted by the feeling that they're heading the direction the killer took. As they are trying to drop off to sleep, TC asks Atiaran if they should have buried the Waynhim. She replies these Waynhim beings would likely be offended by such interference, but they may now cease to tend the Waymeets over this murder. Though he's not sure why, the thought disturbs Covenant enough to make him lose sleep for half the night.

They awaken on a chilly morning to the fact that they're running out of food, and Covenant feels ticked off because of the Waynhim's murder. But they sustain themselves with treasure-berries while resuming their journey, and Covenant starts to calm down by contemplating the health around him.

They stop for another night, and the following day, the seventh of their journey, Atiaran changes course by heading northeastward, following a crooked trail along valleys between hills. A short while before sunset, they glimpse Soaring Woodhelven.
Their approach gave Covenant a good view of the tree village from some distance away across a wide glade. He judged the tree to be nearly four hundred feet high, and a good thirty broad at the base. There were no branches on the trunk until forty or fifty feet above the ground, then abruptly huge limbs spread out horizontally from the stem, forming in outline a half-oval with a flattened tip. The whole tree was so thickly branched and leafed that most of the village was hidden; but Covenant could see a few ladders between the branches and along the trunk; and in some tight knots on the limbs he thought he could make out the shapes of dwellings. If any people were moving through the foliage, they were so well camouflaged that he could not discern them.
"That is Soaring Woodhelven," said Atiaran, "a home for the people of the lillianrill, as Mithil Stonedown is a home for those of the rhadhamaerl. I have been here once, on my returning from the Loresraat. The Woodhelvennin are a comely folk, though I do not understand their wood-lore. They will give us rest and food, and perhaps help as well. It is said, 'Go to the rhadhamaerl for truth, and the lillianrill for counsel.' My need for counsel is sore upon me. Come."
They cross to the large tree to see an opening in the tree's base--but that opening is blocked by a gate. Atiaran remarks that the presence of the gate and the absence of children playing are bad signs, both unlike when she last visited. She then calls out that they are travelers and questions the hospitality and friendliness of the Woodhelvennin. They are quickly surrounded by 7-8 Woodhelvennin men, all tall, skinny, blonde, light-eyed, and holding polished wooden daggers. One of the men activates a torch after declaring, "The meaning of friendship changes with the times. We have seen darkness, and heard dark tidings. We will be sure of strangers." Atiaran introduces herself and Covenant, and the man with the torch bows and mentions strange tokens had been observed lately, indicating he considers Covenant another such token. Atiaran aquiesces to accompanying the men for examination, but interjects that Mithil Stonedown would not treat the Woodhelvennin so suspiciously. The man with the torch retorts that the Stonedowners should understand their reasons for caution before judging.

Covenant realizes that he's expected to climb the tree, and when he refuses his arms are grabbed by the men. In fright, he proclaims his acrophobia and accuses them of trying to kill him. The Woodhelvennin leader tells Covenant he doesn't have to climb if he's no good at it. Suddenly his wrists are tied to a rope end and he's hauled swiftly upward to near the tree's top, sometimes brushing against leaves in the process. He's bewildered and frightened by this experience, naturally. Three Woohelvennin men, one with a circlet of leaves around his head, are waiting to grab him, and carry him from the end of a large branch to a wide opening in that tree trunk that has been shaped to be a large chamber. They drop him there, and he focuses on sitting still and feeling circulation return to his arms while keeping his eyes shut. When he opens them, he discerns he's in a twenty-foot-wide chamber, on a polished wood floor with a concentric ring pattern. The chamber is lit by torches that don't smoke, and the fire doesn't eat away the wood.

Five of the Woodhelvennin surround Covenant, two women and the three men Covenant has just encountered. Soon Atiaran appears with the leader of the captors from down below. That leader, called Soranal, is asked by one of the women if there's any more strangers, and Soranal answers the scouts haven't seen anybody else. Atiaran asks why scouts are needed, and what have the two of them done to receive this suspicious treatment? The Woodhelvennin woman who has spoken introduces herself as Llaura, and gives the name of others in the chamber, calling the man with the leaf circlet "Baradakas, Hirebrand of the lillianrill", and indicating that they are the Heers, the leaders of Soaring Woodhelven. She explains the logic of their suspicion rests chiefly on their belief that one of the Ravers, Lord Foul's ancient servants, has recently been among them. Covanant catches the insinuation that he and Atiaran may be Ravers, and says, "That's ridiculous." :E
The Heers ignored him, After a short pause, Soranal continued Llaura's explanation. "Two days past, in the high sun of afternoon, when our people were busy at their crafts and labors, and the children were playing in the upper branches of the Tree, a stranger came to Soaring Woodhelven. Two days earlier, the last ill storm out of Mount Thunder had broken suddenly and turned into good--and on the day the stranger came our hearts were glad, thinking a battle we know not of had been won for the Land. He wore the appearance of a Stonedowner, and said his name was Jehannum. We welcomed him with the hospitality which is the joy of the Land. We saw no reason to doubt him, though the children shrank from him with unwonted cries and fears. Alas for us--the young saw more clearly than the old.
"He passed among us with dark hints and spite in his mouth, casting sly ridicule on our crafts and customs. And we could not answer him. But we remembered Peace, and did nothing for a day.
"In that time, Jehannum's hints turned to open foretelling of doom. So at last we called him to the heartwood chamber and the meeting of the Heers. We heard the words he chose to speak, words full of glee and the reviling of the Land. Then our eyes saw more deeply, and we offered him the test of the lomillialor."

"You know of the High Wood, lomillialor--do you not, Atiaran?" Baradakas spoke for the first time. "There is much in it like the orcrest of the rhadhamaerl. It is an offspring of the One Tree, from which the Staff of Law itself was made."

"But we had no chance to make the test," Soranal resumed. "When Jehannum saw the High Wood, he sprang away from us and escaped. We gave pursuit, but he had taken us by surprise--we were too full of quiet, not ready for such evils--and his fleetness far surpassed ours. He eluded us, and made his way toward the east."
He sighed as he concluded, "In the one day which has passed since that time, we have begun relearning the defense of the Land."
Atiaran apologizes for her earlier anger, and Llaura says she sees both sorrow and courage in her. But Llaura says TC is closed to them and may need to be imprisoned. Atiaran exclaims "Melenkurion!" and Soranal says she's used a name no Raver would say, gives her a welcome salute, and pulls her away from Covenant. Llaura says Jehannum predicted "a great evil in the semblence of Berek Halfhand" walked toward them from the south, she notes his white gold ring, and predicts Covenant carries messages of doom to the Lords. Atiaran warns them not to trust a Raver's word, and Baradakas responds, "Our test is for the man." He holds a three-foot-long debarked wooden rod that glistens when he identifies it as lomillialor. He throws it to Covenant, who tries to catch the wood with his halfhand, and can't hold on. The Heers say the High Wood rejects him because he's "a wrong in the Land".

Covenant's near future doesn't seem too bright, right about now. 8O
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Cord Hurn
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Lord Foul's Bane - Chapters 9 and 10

Post by Cord Hurn »

Lord Foul's Bane, Chapter 10

The Celebration of Spring

Baradakas pulls a club and springs toward Covenant. Covenant quickly grabs the lomillialor rod and strikes the Hirebrand's arm, splintering the club and throwing Baradakas backward in a flurry of sparks. Holding the rod by its middle despite its slippery feeling, TC stares down the standing Heers and demands, "Now why don't you tell me one more time about how this thing rejects me."

Atiaran responds to this by noting that Lord Foul was once given lomillialor and orcrest by High Lord Kevin and those gifts did not reject him, so if Despite can surpass truth, so might wild magic. Covenant angrily stares at her, but Llaura soon says she hopes they are not damned for distrusting TC and apologetically salutes him. Covenant says "Forget it." Baradakas soon rises, looking dazed but unharmed, and and also salutes Covenant. Covenant nods to him and quickly hands him the lomillialor rod. The Hirebrand invites TC to dine in his home, and after an indecisive pause, the Unbeliever accepts.

The Hirebrand leads him out of the heartwood chamber onto a large branch as they pass lights through the leaves, and Covenant reflexively clutches at Baradakas' shoulder to control vertigo. The Hirebrand softly promises Covenant that they will only need to climb a rope ladder one branch higher, and he will insure the Unbeliever does not fall. Baradakas' dwelling sits on a tree fork, and is a two-room home formed of the Tree's interwoven branches. After setting torches in the walls, Baradakas brings Covenant bread, cheese, grapes, and a jug of springwine. Covenant starts eating as soon as he can.

When Baradakas asks how else he may be of service, Tom says he wants to know why he was invited here. The Hirebrand replies his home is close to the heartwood chamber for one such as TC who fears heights, neither of them are needed for the discussion of the Heers to determine Atiaran's path, and that he wished to offer hospitality as apology for trying to damage him when holding him would have sufficed. Covenant states Baradakas is still testing him, and the Hirebrand allows this may be the case. Baradakas offers the Unbeliever a staff of ordinary wood he has just finished making, and TC insists he complete his testing first.
Suddenly, Baradakas raised the staff and struck the wood under his feet a hard blow. For an instant, the entire limb shook as if a gale had come up; the smaller branches thrashed, and the dwelling tossed like a chip on an angry wave. Covenant feared that the tree was falling, and he gripped his chair in apprehension. But almost immediately the violence passed. Baradakas leveled his pale eyes at Covenant and whispered, "Then hear me, Unbeliever. Any test of truth is no greater than the one who gives it. And I have felt your power. In all the memory of the lillianrill, no Hirebrand has ever been struck by the High Wood. We are the friends of the One Tree, not its foes. But beside you I am as weak as a child. I cannot force the truth from you. In spite of my testing, you might be the Grey Slayer himself, come to turn all the life of the Land to ashes."

Incensed by the suggestion, Covenant spat, "That's ridiculous."

Baradakas stepped closer, drove his probing gaze deep into Covenant's eyes. Covenant squirmed; he could feel the Hirebrand exploring parts of him that he wanted to protect, keep hidden. What has that bastard Foul to do with me? I didn't exactly choose to be his errand boy.

Abruptly, Baradakas' eyes widened, and he fell back across the room as if he had seen something of astonishing power. He caught himself on the bed, sat there for a moment while he watched his hands tremble on the staff. Then he said carefully, "True. One day I may be wise enough to know what can be relied upon. Now I need time to understand. I trust you, my friend. At the last trial, you will not abandon us to death.
"Here." He proffered the staff again. "Will you not accept my gift?"

Covenant did not reply at once. He was trembling also, and he had to clench himself before he could say without a tremor, "Why? Why do you trust me?"

The Hirebrand's eyes gleamed as if he were on the verge of tears, but he was smiling as he said, "You are a man who knows the value of beauty."
(I found this to be a neat and most unexpected moment, the first affirmation of faith in Covenant's spirit, and wonder how much of TC's life Baradakas was able to glimpse.) Covenant feels a shame of unworthiness, but that feeling soon gives way to sleepiness after accepting the staff from kindly-smiling Baradakas. He experiences a rather solid night of rest.

The next morning he awakens with Baradakas absent but Atiaran standing there, and she urges him to get ready for departure. He quickly eats, and they momentarily look northward from one of the Hirebrand's windows to see the Mithil River and a rippling, power-emanating land beyond the River that the Trell-mate identifies as "the Andelainian Hills, the heart-healing richness of the Land". They leave Baradakas' home to walk on the nearest wide branch toward the tree's trunk and a rope ladder. Quickly, a girl and a boy drop down from a higher branch. The boy, pursued by the girl, darts behind Covenant and proclaims he's "safe". Covenant agrees, the girl fakes a run at the boy, and they both run off in different directions. (Like "Lord Mhoram" above, I like that Covenant says, "He's safe." I don't know why I like that, I only know that I do.)

They descend the rope ladder, and making it to the ground see the Heers, Baradakas included, gathered to make their farewells. Covenant shows the Hirebrand he hasn't forgotten the staff, and Baradakas smiles while Covenant grimaces. Llaura states that the message-bearing task of Atiaran is important, and regrets the Woodhelven can offer no further aid. She urges Atiaran to remember the path Soranal taught her, and exhorts TC to remember the Hirebrand's staff in any tough situation. After exchanging gestures of farewell with the Heers, Atiaran and Covenant head northward.

Reassured that Jehannum had fled eastward rather than north, and restored by their visit at the Woodhelven, they walk swiftly toward the Mithil River and cross it through a wide shallows into Andelain by early afternoon. Covenant feels a thrill of healthiness through his feet as he steps into the Andelainian Hills. There is a feeling of joy and pure vitality here such as Covenant has never experienced before, and he senses it in all the plant and animal life he sees. He'd gladly linger to drink in every detail, but Atiaran wants to hasten to see this "Celebration", about which she offers no details. Covenant hurries along behind her to keep her in his sight.

The second day they traverse the Hills until almost midnight, and after the night's meal the Unbeliever remarks that the moon will be dark soon. (In our world, the crescent moon right before the new moon rises just before the sun. In the Land's world, the moon rises at dusk and sets at dawn regardless of what phase it's in. Does this mean the Land's world is ultimately flat rather than round? In any case, the moon's phases here are magical rather than scientific.) Atiaran reacts to Covenant's remark by giving him a surprised and guarded look, but says nothing.

The following day is bright and beautiful as they journey northward, but Covenant's feet are twice assaulted suddenly with a feeling of wrongness that is acidic, clutching, and murderous. This leaves him shaken with disbelief the first time and has him clawing the grass with outrage the second time. Atiaran cannot guess what it is, so Covenant takes her advice that they hurry on their way in hopes of outrunning these outbreaks of wrongness through the earth. They end up walking until the gloom of night has firmly taken hold of the landscape.

The following morning he's stung through his feet twice more, then four more times that afternoon and evening, leaving him too jittery to even trust where he can step. The next day, Covenant is not attacked this way as often, but when it happens, the attacks feel more vicious and enduring. However, touching those ground spots of attack with his hands reveals no evil feelings at all. Atiaran touches those spots and also feels nothing wrong. Touching those spots with his foot makes memories of pain return, though. Removing the boot and sock of one foot, he tests the ground with that bare foot and feels no wrong. He tosses both socks and boots away from him, and Atiaran reminds him she has no sandals for him--and footwear will be a necessity for their continuing journey. She pushes him to make a decision. He gets back his socks and boots, puts them on, and follows her. He suffers another stinging assault that afternoon, but no more for the rest of the day after that. Atiaran and Covenant try to relax that night under a steady but gentle rain, not really successfully.
But the next morning--the sixth of their journey from Soaring Woodhelven--dawned bright and full of Andelainian cheer. Atiaran met it with haste and anticipation in her every move; and the way she urged Covenant along seemed to express more friendliness, more companionship, than anything she had done since the beginning of their sojourn. Her desire for speed was infectious; Covenant was glad to share it because it rescued him from thinking about the possibility of further attacks of wrong. They began the day's travel at a lope.
They move quickly over mostly level ground through a cool but sunny day, slowing down but once to gather treasure-berries, and by sunset Atiaran has found a small track (that has been described to her by the Woodhelvennin) leading up a long rise to the east that she eagerly follows. The Stonedowner spins him until he falls down and she exults about having arrived in time. Covenant groans as he looks downward into a treeless, grassy wide bowl. He doesn't feel the sight was worth all the rush in walking. Atiaran leads him by the arm to a tree at the bowl's edge, and tells him that as this is Banas Nimoram, the Celebration of Spring that occurs when the dark of the moon happens in the middle night of spring, "If you do not disturb the air with anger, we will see the Dance of the Wraiths of Andelain." They eat, drink, and enjoy the soothing breeze as the evening thickens, and suddenly they see a yellow and orange flame bobbing and flickering across the grassy bowl.
With a lucid, cycling movement, the flame moved down into the bowl. It was not halfway to the bottom when a second fire arrived on the northern rim. Then two more Wraiths entered from the south--and then, too suddenly to be counted, a host of flames began tracing their private ways into the bowl from all directions. Some passed within ten feet of Atiaran and Covenant on either side, but they seemed unconscious of the observers; they followed their slow cycles as if each were alone in the Hills, independent of every gleam but its own. Yet their lights poured together, casting a dome of gold through which the stars could barely be seen; and at moments particular Wraiths seemed to bow and revolve around each other, as if sharing a welcome on their way toward the center.
Scarcely breathing and clutching his chest, TC is transfixed by wonder and afraid to do anything that might disturb the Wraiths and end the Dance.
Then a change came over the gathered flames. Up into the sky rose a high, scintillating wordless song, an arching melody. From the center of the bowl. the private rotations of the Wraiths resolved themselves into a radiating, circling Dance. Each Wraith seemed finally to have found its place in a large, wheel-like pattern which filled half the bowl, and the wheel began to turn on its center. But their were no lights in the center; the wheel turned on a hub of stark blackness which refused the glow of the Wraiths.

As the song spread through the night, the great circle revolved--each flame dancing a secret, independent dance, various in moves and sways--each flame keeping its place in the whole pattern as it turned. And in the space between the inner hub and the outer rim, more circles rolled, so that the whole wheel was filled with many wheels all turning. And no Wraith kept one position long. The flames flowed continuously through their moving pattern, so that as the wheel turned, the individual Wraiths danced from place to place, now swinging along the outer rim, now gyring through the middle circles, now circling the hub. Every Wraith moved and changed places constantly, but the pattern was never broken--no hiatus of misstep gapped the wheel, even for an instant--and every flame seemed both perfectly alone, wandering mysteriously after some personal destiny through the Dance, and perfectly a part of the whole. While they danced, their light grew stronger, until the stars were paled out of the sky, and the night was withdrawn, like a distant spectator of the Celebration.

And the beauty and wonder of the Dance made of Covenant's suspense a yearning ache.
The circle of Wraiths starts to bend until it's pointing towards Covenant, and soon the Wraiths are bowing to him before dancing away. Then the Wraiths start dancing above Tom's wedding ring, turning silver-white as they do so. When Covenant comprehends he's not burned, he stands up and holds out his hand for the Wraiths, and a number of the transformed white Wraiths start making their way back towards the main body of the Dance.

Suddenly Atiaran clutches his arm hard and cries, "No! By the Seven! This must not be! There! That is the meaning of the ill your feet have felt!" Covenant sees an impenetrably black wedge moving from the northeast rim into the center of the Dance, and every Wraith that enters that sable triangle is extinguished. Yet their flames keep revolving within the Dance, and more of them continue to move towards that dark wedge and disappear.
"They will all die!" Atiaran groaned. "They cannot stop--cannot escape. They must dance until the Dance is done. All dead--every Wraith, every bright light of the Land! This must not be. Help them! Covenant, help them!"

But Covenant did not know how to help. He was paralyzed. The sight of the black wedge made him feel as nauseated as if he were observing across a gulf of numbness his fingers being eaten by a madman--nauseated and enraged and impotent, as if he had waited too long to defend himself, and now had no hand with which to fight back.
(This helplessness to respond is indeed very much like a dream, like too many dreams I've had.)

Atiaran yells into his face to help them again, and runs down into the bowl to combat the wedge. This breaks Covenant's paralysis, and he runs with Baradakas' staff, bent forward to avoid the Wraiths. He puts Atiaran behind him as he runs, and as she follows him she warns him the wedge is made up of "ur-viles, Demondim corruption".
With a last burst, he broke into the empty core of the wheel.
He halted. Now he was close enough to see that the wedge was composed of tall, crowded figures, so black-fleshed that no light could gleam or glisten on their skin. As the helpless Wraiths swung into the wedge, the attackers ate them.

The ur-viles drew nearer. The tip of their wedge was a single figure, larger than the rest. Covenant could see it clearly. It looked like one of the Waynhim grown tall and evil--long torso, short limbs of equal length, pointed ears high on its head, eyeless face almost filled by gaping nostrils. Its slit mouth snapped like a trap whenever a Wraith came near. Mucus trailed from its nostrils back along either side of its head. When Covenant faced it, its nose twitched as if it smelled new game, and it snarled out a cadenced bark like an exhortation to the other creatures. The whole wedge thrust eagerly forward.
Covenant is made aware by Atiaran that one of the Wraiths is still dancing over his ring, and he shoves it into the face of the knife-wielding lead ur-vile, who jumps back. Touching the staff to the Wraith causes the staff to burst in white flame, further cowing the lead ur-vile. But that ur-vile recovers and sticks its blood-red blade into the staff's fire, extinguishing it with a blast that knocks the Unbeliever and Atiaran on their backs. Covenant shrinks back in frozen fear as the lead ur-vile advances with the knife, but Atiaran jumps up and struggles with the knife-hand while yelling "Melenkurion! Melenkurion abatha!"
Then, from behind her to the west, her cry was answered. An iron voice full of fury shouted, "Melenkurion abatha! Binas mill Banas Nimoram khabaal! Melenkurion abatha! Abatha Nimoram!" The sound broke through Covenant's panic, and he lurched up to Atiaran's aid. But together they could not hold back the ur-vile; it flung them to the ground again. At once, it pounced at them.

It was stopped halfway by a hulking form that leaped over them to tackle it. For a moment, the two wrestled savagely. Then the newcomer took the blood-red blade and drove it into the heart of the creature.

A burst of snarls broke from the ur-viles. Covenant heard a sweeping noise like the sound of many children running. Looking up, he saw a stream of small animals pour into the bowl--rabbits, badgers, weasels, moles, foxes, a few dogs. With silent determination, they hurled themselves at the ur-viles.

The Wraiths were scattering. While Covenant and Atiaran stumbled to their feet, the last gold flame passed from the bowl.
The ur-viles break their wedge formation to start knifing the animals. The large man who rescued Covenant and Atiaran orders them to head north to the river and assures them he has released the Wraiths and will provide for the two of them to escape. Atiaran protests that their rescuer isn't enough to combat the ur-viles, and the newcomer retorts that their combined strengths are insufficient, that she must see that the Lords are informed of this outrage, so that Drool will be punished for it. He then runs to combat the ur-viles with his fists.

Atiaran grabs the staff and she and Covenant run northward out of the bowl, and keep on running until they hear a scream behind them. Then Atiaran drops to her knees and sobs that the Unfettered One is dead, that it's her fault there will be an end to Celebrations and demands Covenant strike her with the staff. He grabs the staff, but pulls her up to a standing position and leads her northward while she continues crying.
He wanted to weep himself, but in his long struggle with the misery of being a leper he had forgotten how, and now he could only keep on walking. He was aware as Atiaran regained control of herself and pulled away from him that she accused him of something. Throughout the sleepless night of their northward trek, he could do nothing about it.
Obviously, Atiaran thinks Covenant is deliberately holding back his power, because she witnessed him changing the nature of Drool's storm days earlier. This makes me wonder what would have happened if TC had shaken his fists at the ur-viles and yelled, "Hellfire! You can't do this to me!" :luke: |R
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