|Chapter 26: Coercri|
The prospect terrified him. But he had no other solution to the venom in his veins, to the power he could not master, had no other answer to the long blame of the past. The Dead repeated their doom in The Grieve above him, damned to die that way forever unless he could find some grace for them. Foamfollower had given his life gladly so that Covenant and the Land could live. Covenant began moving, advancing toward the fire.
Brinn and Hergrom opposed him. But then they saw the hope and ruin in his eyes. They stepped aside.
Linden came running toward him. But Cail caught her, held her back.
Heat shouted against Covenant's face like the voice of his destiny; but he did not stop. He could not stop. Entranced and compelled, he rode the mourning of the Sea forward.
Into the fire.
At once, he became wild magic and grief, burning with an intense white flame that no other blaze could touch. Shining like the gem of the krill, he strode among the logs and embers to Seadreamer's side. The Giant did not see him, was too far gone in agony to see him. Remembering Foamfollower's pain, Covenant thrust at Seadreamer. Wild magic blasted the Giant from the fire, sent him sprawling across the cold stone.
Slowly, Covenant looked around at his companions. They were distorted by the flames, gazing at him as if he were a ghoul. Linden's appalled stare hurt him. Because he could not reply to her in any other way, he turned to his purpose.
He took hold of the wild magic, shaped it according to his will, so that it became his own ritual, an articulation of compassion and rage for all torment, all loss.
Burning, he opened himself to the surrounding flames.
They rushed to incinerate him; but he was ready. He mastered the bonfire with argence, bent it to his command. Flame and power were projected outward together, so that the blaze lashed tremendously into the night.
He spread his arms to the city, stretched himself as if he yearned to embrace the whole of The Grieve.
In wild magic, white puissance without sound, he shouted: Come! This is the caamora! Come and be healed!
And they came. His might and his will interrupted the masque, broke the geas which locked the Dead in their weird damnation. Hearing him, they turned as if they had been waiting through all the long ages of their anguish for his call. In throngs and eagerness, they began flowing down the passages of Coercri.
Like a river, they swept out onto the headrock of the piers.
Toward the fire.
The Giant-Raver tried to pursue them. But the breaking of their eternal round seemed to break also his hold over them, break the spell of his maleficent glee. His form frayed as he moved, blurred until he was only a tingling green smear of memory across The Grieve--until he faded into the night, and was lost.
And the Dead continued toward the fire.
The Haruchai drew back, taking Linden and the Stonedownors with them. Pitchwife and the First went with aching bones to tend Seadreamer.
Vain did not move. He stood in the path of the Dead and watched Covenant's immolation with gaiety in his eyes.
But the Dead passed around him, streamed forward. Need and hope shone through their pearl faces.
Reaching out to them as if they were all one, as if they were only Foamfollower in multiform guise, Covenant took them into his embrace, and wept white fire.
The wild magic struck pain into them, seared them the way a physical conflagration would have seared their bodies. Their forms went rigid, jaws stretched, eyes stared--specters screaming in soul-anguish. But the screaming was also laughter.
And the laughter prevailed.
Covenant could not hold them. They came into his arms, but they had no bodies that he could hug. Nothing filled his embrace; no contact or benison restored him to himself. He might have been alone in the fire.
Yet the laughter stayed with him. It was glad mirth, joy and restitution which Foamfollower would have known how to share. It ran in his ears like the Sea and sustained him until everything else was gone--until his power was spent against the heavens, and the night closed over him like all the waters of the world.