"I don't know how much you know about the end of your father's life. For the last two weeks before he was killed, he took care of Joan." On Haven Farm. "She had already lost her mind, but she wasn't like this. In some ways, she was much worse. Practically rabid. The only thing that calmed her was the taste of your father's blood. When he needed to feed her, or clean her, he would let her scratch him until she drew blood. Sucking it off his skin would bring her back to herself--for a little while."
Behind Linden's professional detachment, a secret anger made her hope that she might yet shock or frighten Roger Covenant.
"Now she hits herself, Mr Covenant. She wants the pain for some reason. She needs to hurt herself. I don't know why. As punishment?" For her role in her ex-husband's murder? "It certainly looks like she's punishing herself.
"And she won't tolerate a bandage. Her own bleeding seems to comfort her. Like a kind of restitution-- It helps her regain a little balance. I tried to think of some way to sustain that. If restitution calmed her, I wanted her to have more of it.
"Her ring," the symbol of her marriage, "was the only thing I had that I could restore."
At the time, Linden had placed the chain around Joan's neck with acute trepidation. The language of that gesture could so easily have been misinterpreted; taken as a reminder of guilt rather than as a symbol of love and attachment. However, Joan had lapsed into her comparatively pliant trance as soon as the ring had touched her skin.
Since then Linden had often feared that she had made a terrible mistake: that it was precisely the reminder of guilt which calmed Joan: that Joan's catatonia endured because she had been fundamentally defeated by the touch of white gold. Nevertheless Linden did not remove the ring.
Joan's present trance was all that kept her alive. She could not have survived her battering desperation much longer.
Roger nodded as if Linden's explanation made perfect sense to him. "You did well. Again, I'm impressed." For the first time since Linden had met him--hardly an hour ago--he seemed satisfied. "I can see why you're reluctant to let anyone else take care of her."
At once, however, he resumed his irrational insistence. "But you've done all you can. She won't get any better than this unless I help her."
He raised his hand to forestall Linden's protest. "There are things you don't know about her. About this situation. And I can't explain them. Words won't--" He paused to rephrase his point. "They can't be conveyed in words. The knowledge has to be earned. And you haven't earned it. Not the way I have.
"Let me show you."
She should stop him, Linden thought stupidly. This had gone on too long. Yet she did nothing to intervene as he approached the bed. He had touched a forgotten vulnerability to paralysis deep within her.
Gracelessly he seated himself as close to his mother as the bed-rail permitted. A touch of excitement flushed his cheeks. His respiration quickened. His hands trembled slightly as he undid the restraint on her right wrist.
Flowers cast splotches of color into Linden's eyes, deep red and blue, untroubled yellow. A few minutes ago, she had known exactly what kind of flowers they were: now she had no idea. The sky outside the window seemed unattainable, too far away too offer any hope. The sunlight offered no warmth.
Joan stared past or through Roger vacantly. Linden expected her to strike herself, but she did not. Perhaps the fact that her hand was free had not yet penetrated her subterranean awareness.
Roger lifted his palms to Joan's cheeks, cupped them against her slack flesh. His trembling had become unmistakable. He seemed to quiver with eagerness, avid as a deprived lover. Unsteadily he turned her head until he could gaze straight into the absence of her eyes.
From The Runes of Earth: The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Book 1 by Stephen R. Donaldson. Copyright Stephen R. Donaldson 2004. All rights reserved.
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