"Of course," Linden countered. "But what inspired your desire to take care of her? That's not as common as you might think. Frankly, it sounds a little"--the term she wished to use was de trop, existentially dislocated--"daunting."
In response, Roger's manner seemed to sharpen. "The last time I saw her," he replied precisely, "she told me that if she failed I would need to take her place. Until yesterday I didn't have the resources to do that."
Involuntarily Linden caught her breath as the bottom of her stomach seemed to fall away. "Failed at what?"
Long ago, Joan had sought out Thomas Covenant--no, not sought out, she had been sent--in order to teach him despair. Despite her terrible plight, however, and her thirst for his blood, she had failed absolutely.
"Isn't that obvious?" Covenant's son returned. "She's here, isn't she? Wouldn't you call that failure?"
No. For a moment, Linden's heart quailed. Memories beat about her head like wings: she felt harried by furies.
Her face must have betrayed her chagrin. Solicitously, Roger reached out to touch her arm. "Dr Avery, are you all right?" Then he dropped his hand. "I really think you should let me take her. It would be better for everyone."
Even you, he seemed to say. Especially you.
Take her place.
Ten years ago, empowered by all of those hands thrust into the flames, all of that ceded pain, as well as by the fatal rush of Thomas Covenant's blood, a bitter malevolence had pierced the reality of Linden's life. It had drawn her in Covenant's wake to another place, another dimension of existence. The psychiatrists on call at Berenford Memorial would have called it a "psychotic episode"--an extended psychotic episode. With Covenant, she had been summoned to a realm known as the Land, where she had been immersed in evil until she was altered almost beyond recognition. During the black hours of that one night, before Julius Berenford had found her with Covenant's body, she had somehow spent several months outside--or deep within--herself, striving to win free of her own weakness and the legacy of her parents in order to preserve the beauty of a world which had never been meant for corruption.
Now Roger's words seemed to suggest that she would have to face it all again.
No. Shuddering, she came back to herself. It was impossible. She was flinching at shadows, echoes. Roger's father was dead. There would be no second summons for her. The Land was Thomas Covenant's doom, not hers. He had given his life for it, as he had for Joan, and so its enemy, the dark being known variously as a-Jeroth, the Grey Slayer, and Lord Foul the Despiser, had been defeated.
Trusting in that, Linden set aside her alarm and faced Covenant's son.
Roger's implied threat she ignored. Instead she asked, "What do you mean, you have the 'resources' to take her place?"
"It's simple," Roger replied. He seemed to misunderstand her without being aware of it. "I'm twenty-one now. I'm of age. Yesterday I inherited my father's legacy.
"Of course," he explained as if Linden might have forgotten, "he left everything to my mother. Haven Farm. His royalties. But she was declared incompetent when she was committed here. Ms Roman--you know her, my father's lawyer--has been trustee of the estate. But now it's all mine." His smile hinted at self-satisfaction. "Once I've persuaded you to release her, she and I will live on Haven Farm.
"She'll like that. She and my father were happy there."
Linden swallowed a groan. Thomas and Joan Covenant had lived on Haven Farm until his leprosy had been diagnosed. Then she had left him, abandoned him; divorced him to protect their son from his illness. No doubt she had believed that she was doing the right thing. Nevertheless the knowledge of her own frailty--the awareness that she had broken her vows when her husband had needed her most--had given the Despiser a foothold in her soul. Her shame was fertile soil for the seeds of despair and madness.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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