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.
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.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.
Inside himself, he again insists that this experience in the Land is only a dream.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.
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.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.
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.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.
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.
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.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.
Leaving that Waymeet with Atiaran on a beautiful clean morning, TC realizes he's awakened to a new sensitivity for the Land's health.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.
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.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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.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."
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."
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".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."
Covenant's near future doesn't seem too bright, right about now.