Read Thomas Covenant - 02b - Gilden Fire Online
Authors: Stephen Donaldson
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the unbeliever, The missing chapters from the Illearth War. Read the foreword for more information.
GILDENFIRE is, in essence, an “outtake” from THE ILLEARTH WAR. For that reason, it is not a complete story. Rather, it describes an episode which occurred to Korik of the Bloodguard and his mission to Seareach during the early days of THE ILLEARTH WAR, after Thomas Covenant’s summoning to the Land but before the commencement of the actual war. This material survived through two drafts of the manuscript, but is entirely absent from the published version of the book.
On that basis, I think it requires some explanation. As a general rule, I use my out takes for wastepaper. But I”ve made an exception In this case for a variety of reasons.
Some of them have to do with why GILDENFIRE was taken out of THE ILLEARTH WAR in the first place. The version of the manuscript which originally crossed the desk of Lester del Rey at Ballantine Books was 916 pages long
roughly; 261,000 words That was manifestly too long. With much regret, Lester gave me to understand that I would have to cut 250 pages.
Well, I”m a notorious overwriter; and I was able to eliminate 100 pages simply by squeezing the prose with more than my usual ruthlessness. But after that I had to make a more difficult decision.
As it happened, the original version of THE ILLEARTH WAR was organized in four parts rather than the present three. Part II in that version dealt exclusively with Korik’s mission to Seareach; and it eventually provided me with the 150 pages of cuts I still needed. Not because I considered the material to be of secondary importance (I have little sympathy for anyone who considers the fate of the Unhomed, the fidelity of the Bloodguard, and the valour of the Lords to be of secondary importance). On the contrary, I was quite fond of that whole section. No, I put my axe to the roots of my former Part II for reasons of narrative logic. From the beginning, that section had been a risky piece of writing. In it, I had used Korik as my viewpoint character.
For the first time in the trilogy, I had stepped fully away from Thomas Covenant (or any direct link to the “real” world). And that proved to be a mistake. It was crucial to the presentation of Covenant’s character that he had some good reasons for doubting the substantial “reality” of the Land. But all his reasons were undercut when I employed someone like Korik
a character with no bond, however oblique, to Covenant’s world
for a narrative centre. (THE ILLEARTH WAR does contain two chapters from Lord Mhoram’s point of view. But in both cases Mhoram is constantly in the company of either Covenant or Hile Troy. Korik’s mission lacked even that connection to the central assumptions on which LORD FOUL”S BANE and THE ILLEARTH WAR were based.) In using Korik as I had, I had informed the reader that the people of the Land were in fact “real”: I had unintentionally denied the logic of Covenant’s Unbelief. Which was allready too fragile for its own good.
Therefore I took the absolutely essentialsections of that Part II and recast them as reports which Runnik and Tull brought back to Covenant and Troy
thus preserving the integrity of the narrative perspective from which the story was being viewed. And in the process I achieved the 150 pages of cuts I needed.
But all of GILDENFIRE was lost.
That does not exactly constitute high tragedy. Cutting is part of writing; and narrative logic is more important than authorial fondness. My point is simply that GILDENFIRE was cut, not because it was bad, but because it didn”t fit well enough.
However, the question remains: if this. material didn”t fit THE ILLEARTH WAR, why am I inflicting it upon the world now?
The main reason, I suppose, is my aforementioned fondness. I like Korik, Hyrim, and Shetra, and have always grieved over the exigency which required me to reduce their role in the story so drastically. But, in addition, I”ve often felt that the moral dilemma of the Bloodguard is somewhat obscure in the published version of my books; too much of their background was sacrificed when I cut GILDENFIRE. In fact, too much development of the people who would eventually have to face the destruction of the Unhomed was sacrificed. (How, for instance, can Lord Hyrim’s achievements be fully understood when so little is known about him?) By publishing GILDENFIRE, I”m trying to fill a subtle but real gap in THE ILLEARTH WAR.
Finally, I should say that I think the logic which originally required me to cut out this material no longer applies. Since it cannot stand on its own as an independent story, GILDENFIRE will surely not be read by anyone unfamiliar with “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever”. And those readers know that the question of whether or not the Land is ultimately real” (whether or not a character like Korik is sufficiently “actual” to serve as a narrative viewpoint) no longer matters. In reality as in dreams, what matters is the answer we find in our hearts to the test of Despite. By publishing GILDENFIRE, I hope to give more substance to the answers Korik, Hyrim, and Shetra found.
AS SUNRISE ECHOED the fire of farewell which High Lord Elena had launched into the heavens from the watchtower of Revelstone, Korik Bloodguard and his mission to Seareach wheeled their Ranyhyn, tightened their resolve about them, and went running into the east.
With the new sun in his eyes, Korik could not see clearly. Yet he moved comfortably to the rhythm of Brabha’s strides, faced the prospect ahead without a qualm. He had been riding Brabha for nearly fifty years now; but his experience of Ranyhyn was far longer than that: the great horses of Ra by the score had borne him in turn, one after another as their individual lives ended and their fidelity passed from generation to generation. He knew that the Ranyhyn would not miss their footing. Theterrain near Revelstone was muchtravelled and reliable; yet even in the cluttered rigour of the Northron Climbs, or in the subtle deceptions of Sarangrave Flat, the Ranyhyn would remain surefooted. Their instincts were founded on something more constant than the superficial details of hills and plains. They bore Korik’s mission down through the foothills of Revelstone as confidently as if the great horses were part of the ground itself
a part made
mobile and distinct by their quicker lifepulse, but still sharing the same bone, the same ancestry, so that no orphaning misstep or betrayal could occur between hoof and earth.
And around Korik rode his companions, those who shared his mission to the Giants of Seareach: fourteen more Bloodguard and two Lords, Hyrim son of Hoole, and Shetra Verementmate. The memory of their parting from the people of Revelstone
Shetra’s grief over her separation from her unRanyhynchosen and self doubting husband, Hyrim’s argute attempts to probe the difference between what the Bloodguard remembered and what they knew, Thomas Covenant’s refusal to share this mission
was vivid to Korik. But more vivid still was the urgent need which gave cause to this journey. Summon or succour. A need so compulsory that it had been given into his hands, to the Bloodguard themselves, rather than to the Lords, so that if Hyrim or Shetra fell their defenders would go on.
For there had been a special timbre of exigency in Terrel’s silent voice earlier that night as he had sent out his call to First Mark Morin.
Summon the High Lord, Terrel had said,. following a grimeyed and haggard Lord Mhoram toward the Close. There is a peril upon the Giants of Seareach. He has seen it.
Lord Mhoram had seen it. Seer and oracle to the Council, he had described the death of the Unhomed stalking them across all the leagues between Revelstone and Coercri
a death no more distant than a score of days. When the High Lord and all the Council had gathered with him in the Close, he had told them what he had seen. His vision had left them grey with many kinds of dread.
In this Korik knew the Lords well. Without sleep or let, he had served the Council in all its manifestions for two millenia: he knew that the pain in Hyrim and Callindrill and Mhoram, the bitten hardness of Shetra. and Verement, the wide alarm of the Lords Amatin, Loerya, and Trevor arose from concern for the lifeloving Unhomed
a concern as deep as the. ancient friendship and fealty between the Giants and the Land. But Korik also understood the other dreads. Corruption was mustering war against the Council; and that jeopardy had become so imminent that only scant days ago the High Lord had felt compelled to summon the Unbeliever from his unwilling world. In such a need, all the eyes of the Land naturally turned toward Seareach for assistance. And for three years there had been silence between the Giants and Revelstone.
A year of silence was not unusual. Therefore the first year had not been questioned. But the second gave birth to anxiety, and so messengers were dispatched to Seareach. None of them returned. In the third year, one Eoman was sent and not seen again. Unwilling to hazard more of the Warward, the High Lord had then commanded the Lords Callindrill and Amatin to carry word of the Land’s need eastward. But hey had been turned back by Sarangrave Flat; and still the silence endured. Thus the Council had already known fear for the Giants as well as for themselves. Lord Mhoram’s vision gave that fear substance.
The High Lord did not hesitate to conceive aid for the Giants. Summon or succour. But Corruption’s hordes were believed to be marching for the Land’s ruin; and few warriors and little power could be spared from the defence. So the mission was given to the Bloodguard. Given by First Mark Morin to Korik by reason of his rank and years. And by the High Lord to the Lords Hyrim and Shetra: Hyrim son of Hool, a corpulent, humorous, and untried man with an avowed passion for all fleshly comforts and a silent love of Giants; and Shetra Verementmate, whose pain at her husband’s selfdoubt made her as bitter as the hawk she resembled. It was a small force to hurl into the unknown path of Corruption’s malice. No Bloodguard required reminder that there were only two roads to bear the Despiser westward one to the south of Andelain, then northward against Revelstone; the other to the north of Mount Thunder, then westward through Grimmerdhore Forest. And Korik’s way toward Seareach also lay through Grimmerdhore.
However, the road of Corruption’s choice was uncertain; and the Bloodguard did not pang themselves with uncertainties. Korik and his people were not required by their Vow to know the unknown: they were required only to succeed or die. It was not in that fashion that they had been taught doubt. The test of their service was one of judgement rather than knowledge.
When Korik left the Close, he went without hesitation about the task of selecting his comrades.
He had no qualm about his choices. the Bloodguard shared a community of prowess
and responsibility; and any individual member of the community could be elected or replaced without causing any falter in the service of the Vow Yet he exercised care in his decisions. Cerrin and Sill he included as a matter of course: they had borne the direct care of Shetra and Hyrim since those Lords had first joined he Council. Then he added Runnik and Pren because they were among the senior members of the two ancient Haruchai clans, the Hoaru and Nimishi, that in the mountain fastnesses of their home had warred together for generations until the Bond which had united them. Similarly, he Included five younger Bloodguard from each clan, so that both would have a fair hand in the mission. Among these was Tull, the youngest of the Bloodguard.
Some time ago, when Lord Mhoram had made his scouting sojourn to the Spoiled Plains and Hotash Slay, and had been forced to flee, the Bloodguard
with him had fallen. In keeping with the ritual of the Vow, the fallen had been Ranyhynborne to Guards Gap and the Westron Mountains for burial in native grave grounds, and the Haruchai had sent new men to replace them. Tull was among them. He was centuries younger than Korik; and though the Vow bound him and straitened him and sustained him and kept him from sleep, so that he was a Bloodguard like any other, still he did not know the Giants as his older comrades did. For this reason, Korik chose him. It would gratify Tull to see that the unflawed fealty of the Bloodguard was not unmatched: the Giants of Seareach could also be trusted beyond any possibility of Corruption.