|Chapter 8: Winter|
"Covenant--beloved," Lena whispered, "I beg you. Do not refuse." Her eyes swam with tears, torn by a cruel effort to see herself as she really was. "Behold, I am frail and faulty. I have neither worth nor courage to preserve myself alone. I have given--Please, Thomas Covenant." Before he could stop her, she dropped to her knees. "I beg--do not shame me in the eyes of my whole life."
His defensive rage was no match for her. He snatched her up from her knees as if he meant to break her back, but then he held her tenderly, put all the gentleness of which he was capable into his face. For an instant, he felt he had in his hands proof that he--not Lord Foul--was responsible for the misery of the Land. And he could not accept that responsibility without rejecting her. What she asked him to do was to forget--
He knew that Foamfollower was watching him. But if Triock and Mhoram and Bannor had been behind him as well--if even Trell and Atiaran had been present--he would not have changed his answer.
"No, Lena," he said softly. "I don't love you right--I don't have the right kind of love to marry you. I'd only be cheating you. You're beautiful--beautiful. Any other man wouldn't wait for you to ask him. But I'm the Unbeliever, remember? I'm here for a reason." With a sick twisting of his lips that was as close as he could come to a smile, he finished, "Berek Halfhand didn't marry his Queen, either."
His words filled him with disgust. He felt that he was telling her a lie worse than the lie of marrying her--that any comfort he might try to offer her violated the severe truth. But as she realized what he was saying, she caught hold of the idea and clasped it to her. She blinked rapidly at her tears, and the harsh effort of holding her confusion at bay faded from her face. In its place, a shy smile touched her lips. "Am I your Queen then, Unbeliever?" she asked in a tone of wonder.
Roughly, Covenant hugged her so that she could not see the savagery which white-knuckled his countenance. "Of course." He forced up the words as if they were too thick for his aching throat. "No one else is worthy."
He held her, half fearing she would collapse if he let her go, but after a long moment, she withdrew from his embrace. With a look that reminded him of her sprightly girlhood, she said, "Let us tell the Giant," as if she wished to announce something better than a betrothal.
Together, they turned and climbed arm in arm up the ravine toward Saltheart Foamfollower.
When they reached him, they found that his buttressed visage was still wet with weeping. Gray ice sheened his face, hung like beads from his stiff beard. His hands were gripped and straining across his knees. "Foamfollower," Lena said in surprise, "this is a moment of happiness. Why do you weep?"
His hands jerked up to scrub away the ice, and when it was gone, he smiled at her with wonderful fondness. "You are too beautiful, my Queen," he told her gently. "You surpass me."