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The Search for Donaldson.

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There was a time , a few years ago, the only author I read was Stephen Donaldson, who wrote the bestselling Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

It is about a successful author whose world collapses after he discovers he has leprosy. His wife divorces him, taking their son, Roger with her,

He  is ostracized by the community.

During a visit to town he collapses in front of a car and is somehow transported to a place called The Land, Because he wears a white gold wedding band which is considered magical and has tremendous power he is believed to be the reincarnation of a great hero from a former age, 

His leprosy is healed and he is called upon to save the people from a figure known as Lord Foul.

Covenant is more of an anti hero  and the reader generally develops a love hate relationship with him, especially as he is convinced that he is merely dreaming, a stance he adopts throughout the book. But then who wouldn’t?

There are many  familiar elements to the story found in other fantasy novels, but this one I felt was something special. But I am not very good at synopsis. What a personal indictment from a writer. Just go and buy a copy of Lord Foul’s Bane. 

Smile…

If you like fantasy, the books are brilliant

One could say I was pretty much addicted to this series.

When Donaldson published the sixth novel and – one thought – ended the story – I was in a serious *dwaal.

I felt there had to be more Thomas Covenant. But, alas, it seemed it was over.

Donaldson published several more fantasy novels and a 5 volume science fiction series titled The Gap.

It was during this period, with no sign of  a return of Thomas Covenant, that I seriously contemplated writing my own version of The Chronicles. But I held off, ever hopeful that Donaldson would somehow resurrect  one of my favorite literary characters.

Eventually I gave up and sucumbed to the realisation that if I wanted to see Thomas Covenant again I would have to write my own damn story!

So I began. And guess what? I hadn’t got past 10,000 words when I read that Donaldson was going to publish a third Chronicles of Thomas Covenant!  

Sigh…so much for that literary adventure! 

And my publishers husband still has a copy of the first volume of the Third Series which I lent him ….are you listening Iain?  I want it back , China  

 🙂

Some of the terms and characters may have no meaning if you have never read Donaldson, but I hope this wont distract too much.

Anyway, here’s the first chapter of The search for Donaldson.

Chapter One

It was a cold and blustery morning. How corny, he thought. Yet, staring out of the kitchen window  this was exactly what it was. The valley, which his property overlooked, was shrouded in mist.   Underneath all that mist was a golf course and on the other side of the valley were several other properties, similar to his.

The wattle tree in the front garden bent and swayed in the wind. Outside the kitchen window the large Delicious Monster was flapping several of its leaves against the glass, as if attempting to attract his attention. The more he tried to ignore it the more insistent the tapping became.

The steam from his tea began to mist up the window and what little of the wonderful view his property offered began to slowly disappear. He felt too tired to even lift his arm and wipe the window clean.

He wondered why he was up so early at all. It was only 5.45a.m. Considering he had been at the hospital until 11.30 p.m last night and only managed to crawl into bed at around 1.30 a.m. He should be tucked up in bed fast asleep.

Perhaps the sound of the rain woke me up? I’ll finish my tea and then go back to bed, he decided.

The phone rang. He swore under his breath, but ignored it. Stuff them. It rang again and conditioning made him get up from the chair, cross the kitchen and answer it. Conditioning and the fact that if it had rang once more his wife would have woken up and given him an earful for not answering it.

‘Doctor Stewart’, he said.

And that was how it started.

The duty nurse led him to a private room. The patient, a man in his late fifties, early sixties, looked asleep. But Stewart had already been informed that he was in a coma.

After checking the man’s level of pupil dilation and pulse then reading the other relevant information on the hospital admittance chart he asked the nurse to fetch him a cup of coffee.

He studied the man’s face and a glimmer of recognition made his eyes widen slightly with surprise. Taking the chart from the foot of the bed he looked at the name.

S. Donaldson. I don’t believe it, he thought. What the hell was Donaldson doing here, in South Africa? Didn’t he live in the States somewhere?

The famous author of the Thomas Covenant series was here, in his hospital.

Pulling up a chair he sat next to the bed. He took hold of Donaldson’s hand to feel the pulse once more and suddenly his own hand was taken in a vice like grip.   Stewart was so startled he initially did nothing but an instant later he tried to yank back his hand. But the grip was secure. It would not release him.

Donaldson began to pull him towards the bed. Stewart looked at the man’s face.   The eyes were still closed. There was no apparent sign of consciousness. Stewart did not resist and Donaldson pulled him close enough to whisper in his ear.

‘Stone and sea, you must set me free.’

That was all Stewart heard. His mind went blank and he felt himself slump over Donaldson’s chest.

As he came too he was assailed by a strong smell of dung. The fact that he was in the open air, lying on grass did not initially register. Just the smell. It was awful.

I must have stood in dog crap, he thought. He sat up, steadied himself with his left arm and looked under the sole of his left boot. Nothing. But the smell was still there. Even stronger now that he had sat up. His head jerked to the right and there was the source. Horse droppings.  He had no doubt what had caused the indentation in the middle of the pile. Pulling a disgusted face he yanked off his jacket and flung it to one side at the same time scrambling over the grass away from the muck.

That small exertion made him feel dizzy and slightly nauseous. He was overcome by the need to lie down again. He settled himself on the grass in the shade of a bush covered in berries. Before he knew it he was asleep.

He awoke sometime later with a feeling of warm breath on the side of his face.  Without opening his eyes he smiled at the thought of his wife, curled up next to him, whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

The slobbery, wet tongue that rasped across the side of his cheek dispelled that thought in a flash.  Yelling a curse in surprise, his heart kicked like a jackhammer and instinct flung him away from that tongue. But he only managed to entangle himself in the bush under which he had been sleeping. The large, fawn mare with liquid, dreamy eyes, and a small white star in the middle of its forehead returned to munching the grass, unperturbed by his sudden movement.

Freeing himself from the bush he climbed to his feet took a deep breath to calm himself a little then looked at the horse.

Suddenly, everything began to crash down on him. The bush, the horse. This place.

I was in the hospital. Stephen Donaldson had been brought in after apparently slipping into a coma. Donaldson had whispered something to him. Free me or something like that. Now he was here. Here? Here! Where the hell was here? But he knew. The bush. Those berries. Aliantha? Had to be. The horse. The star on its forehead. Ranyhyn? If that’s true, he thought then…Something sharp was pushed against his back.

‘Ware, stranger. Remain still if you value your next breath!’

Stewart froze. A figure came from behind the bush and stood in front of him. The point of whatever was between his shoulder blades remained.

The figure, a man, was barefoot. He was dark skinned, stood about one metre seventy in height and wore a short ochre tunic. An air of confidence about the man suggested total capability.

‘Bannor?’ Stewart croaked. He could hardly speak. The only response the man gave was to raise his right eyebrow a fraction.

‘Brinn, Ceer, Cail, Tuvor?’ Stewart continued, blurting out the names of   Haruchai that came to mind.

‘The names of those you speak are known to us.’ the Haruchai paused, as if wondering how this man could possibly know anything about Bloodguard or Haruchai. ‘Their stories are amongst many which have been passed on generation to generation.’

‘One who knows such ancient and important names could also possess other knowledge of equal import. If we are to question this stranger surely it would be better in more appropriate surroundings?’

Stewart attempted to turn his head toward the direction of the new speaker but the point of whatever it was, Stewart presumed a sword or spear, pressed more firmly into his back.

‘Furthermore’, the new speaker continued, ‘Have we not watched this man for some time now? He has given no indication that he is an enemy and has no visible weapons. As cautious as we have learned to become, surely we have not completely forsaken common courtesy?’

There was a snort of derision from the person who held the weapon at his back.   But the Haruchai glanced in the direction of the speaker and frowned.

‘You speak truly. Though we will not abandon all caution so blithely’. He nodded fractionally to the person holding the weapon at Stewart’s back and the pressure of the blade was eased. This time he was able to turn his head without hindrance. He knew what the second speaker was, if not who. Stewart smiled. ‘A Giant!’

‘Forsooth a Giant indeed. Also, from the look in your eyes it would seem you have knowledge of other Giants. Mayhap they too are ancient like the Haruchai you have mentioned. I would cherish any tale, no matter how strange, that included Giants.’

‘Tales will keep, Giant. This is neither time nor place for them. I was reminded of courtesy. For that there is time’.

The Haruchai stepped back two paces.

‘I am Damon’, the Haruchai introduced himself and bowed fractionally without taking his eyes off Stewart. ‘My companions, Marack and Gan, who are also of the Haruchai. Callum, first Lieutenant of the Guard and the Giant, Cove Whitesand’.

Stewart bowed to each of them and they bowed in turn. The Giant bowed with a flourish and a beaming smile.

They waited for him to introduce himself.

‘Oh. Sorry. I am Adrian Stewart’ He paused then added, ‘The Seeker’. For some reason it seemed appropriate to give him self a title.

‘Adrian Stewart,’ repeated Damon.  ‘An unusual name for an unusual person.’   The Haruchai regarded him for a moment.  ‘I sense an air of urgency about you and as Cove Whitesand has said, this is not the most appropriate setting for more searching questions. There are others more capable to ask and to answer. Come we will return to…’

‘Revelstone,’ Stewart interrupted.

‘Indeed Revelstone,’ the Giant replied. ‘For one so strange to the Land you appear to have the familiarity of one born to it.’

‘I’ve read the…’ Stewart caught himself.  ‘I was told about this place by someone.’

‘Then perhaps…’ the Giant began.

‘Peace, Giant,’ Damon interrupted, forestalling further conversation. ‘Revelstone is five leagues from here. We must leave now if we are to gain its safety before nightfall.’

Damon nodded to Gan who turned and gave a short piercing whistle.

Three Ranyhyn and a black Mustang trotted into view and gathered around their riders.

‘Adrian Stewart, do you ride?’ Damon asked.

Stewart interpreted the do as are you able. ‘I have ridden. But that was a long time ago, when I was a child.’

‘Then you shall ride with Lieutenant Callum. Gan will go ahead of us to   Revelstone to alert the High Lord. The Giant, Marack and I must remain unencumbered to watch and ward.’

Stewart took this for granted. Something must be very wrong within the Land.   That was why here was here; to sort out whatever it was, wasn’t it?

Unlike Thomas Covenant, who, during his sojourns to the Land had fluctuated from vehement denial to eventual acceptance of his situation and surroundings,   Stewart immediately accepted everything. His main concern was why was he here? But rather than speculate on any number of scenarios he decided simply to go with the flow. His role, either as an active or passive participant would be revealed soon enough.

Gan mounted his own Ranyhyn and headed back to Revelstone at a fast gallop. Stewart realised that he had appeared in the Land less than fifty metres from where Damon and his scouting party had stopped for a brief meal. They were, in fact, on their way back to Revelstone when they had heard him yelling. The Ranyhyn had given away his location.

The groups’ supplies were stored away in sacks that were then draped over the back of each horse.

Lieutenant Callum leapt lightly onto his horse and edged slightly forward to make space for Stewart to sit behind him. Callum’s horse although not as large as the three Ranyhyn still seemed to tower over Stewart.

Stewart considered the clingor stirrup but still felt uneasy mounting the horse.  His concern was for nothing as two huge hands lifted him effortlessly off the ground and placed him squarely behind the lieutenant.

‘Thanks’, Stewart acknowledged the Giant’s gesture.

Whitesand smiled.

‘Friend Damon is wary of anything strange or unusual. Perhaps, rightly so. His native caution has preserved many a life in times past and continues to do so now.

However, I am a Giant and our nature leans as much towards the curious as it does towards caution. Although, even Giants are not foolhardy enough to poke a snake merely because it does not look poisonous’.

The Giant gently poked Stewart in the ribs and asked. ‘Are you a snake, Stewart’?

There was obviously more to that gesture but Stewart replied simply,

‘No, Giant, I am not a snake.’

‘Then, I believe we will become friends.’

‘That’s good. I have a feeling we are going to need all the friends we can get,’ Stewart said his tone more serious.

Both the Giant and Damon gave him an inquiring look but Stewart did not elaborate.

Damon shrugged noncommittally then urged his horse forward with a slight pressure from his knees. Marack leant forward and spoke a few words to his own mount. The horse’s ears pricked in understanding and it too moved off at a light canter.

Whitesand’s giantish strides easily kept pace with the horses and the small band headed west towards the ancient keep of Revelstone.

Riding horseback after so many years was an eye-opener for Stewart. There is an art or skill to doing anything. Riding being no exception. Just like his other world counterpart from previous times he very quickly became excruciatingly aware of the horses spine. Only the clingor saddle prevented him from being flung from the back of the horse at every jolt. The base of his own spine was soon so numb that he began to wonder if he would be able to walk properly once he had climbed off the horse.

Conversation of any kind became an ordeal in itself. Questions, which came almost exclusively from the Giant, were initially answered monosyllabic.  Eventually that became too difficult and Stewart’s replies degenerated into grunts.

He tried clinging to Callum and pressing the side of his face against his back in an effort to reduce the relentless bouncing. But he soon gave that up after feeling that the skin on his cheek was being rubbed raw with the friction.  He cursed richly but silently about the fact that after so much time one would have thought that these people would have invented some form of comfortable mechanised transport. But he realised, of course, that was a ridiculous thought. Things like that just did not happen in situations such as these.

Taking in his surrounding was equally as difficult so he forced his mind to go as blank as possible.

After a journey which Stewart felt would never end he heard the Giant cry,

‘Ah, proud Revelstone. Your beauty never fades and I am always gladdened to behold you.’

Stewart peered over Callums’ shoulder. The horses pace had reduced to a gentle trot as they approached the huge stone gates that guarded the entrance to Lord’s Keep.

Four mounted Haruchai were riding out to meet them. The leading rider hailed the scout party and saluted by extending his palm forward.

Without preamble he informed Damon that Gan had reached Revelstone almost an hour ago and preparations to receive the stranger had been made.

‘The High Lord requests that Adrian Stewart be placed in your charge. He will meet with you all once the stranger has rested and eaten.’ The High Lord’s request was directed specifically at Damon who nodded once in agreement. Stewart had no doubts that the Haruchai’s duty would be that of a guard as much as an aide.

Stewart was so exhausted he could not have protested even if he had reason to do so.

The group entered Revelstone through the tunnel under the watchtower.  Smokeless braziers lit the way that led to a circular forecourt. Stewart’s senses were so numb after the ride he was only vaguely aware of the activity around him.  He heard the Giant ask in concern,

‘He appears unwell. Should not a healer be summoned?’

Stewart lifted his head and responded.

‘I’ll be fine. I’m just tired and a bit light-headed. I’ll be alright after some sleep.

But I would appreciate some help getting of this horse.’

The Giant smiled then lifted Stewart effortlessly out of the saddle. ‘Are you able to stand?’ he asked.

‘Think so, yes,’ Stewart replied but immediately his feet touched solid ground his legs buckled underneath him.

Whitesand’s shovel sized hands still supported Stewart and he lifted him into the crook of his arm.

‘See, Adrian Stewart, you have been amongst us but a few hours and already you are surrounded by friends.’ But Stewart had already passed out.

Copyright ©2007 Douglas Pearce

5 thoughts on “The Search for Donaldson.

  1. Brilliant M.D’Ark! It’s been such a long time since I read the Covenant books, but I remember them very well. How surreal to hear all of those familiar character names again.
    Years after I read the books I watched Peter Jackson’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings, never having read the books as my brother had. But I remember sitting in the cinema utterly thrown, suddenly realising that the story bore a striking resemblance to that of the Covenant Chronicles, and honestly I felt a tad disappointed that Donaldson hadn’t been more inventive and not ripped off such a classic tale, in fact a tale that has fuelled fantasy novels and films ever since, including his own by all accounts!
    Still, many hours, indeed years were spent reading those books of his, and with much enjoyment. I still haven’t read the Lord of the Rings, and probably never will. Why bother when the films tell the story so well?

    • Thank you for your kind words.
      I read Lord of The Rings after Covenant and also felt that twinge that Donaldson had nicked something, but felt he did it so much better!
      In LOR, reading Bilbo Baggins birthday party nearly drove me nuts!
      And I will be honest I didn’t really enjoy the movie.

      Back in 2006 there was talk of making a movie of the Chronicles but after much negotiation it was finally scrapped ( according to Donaldson) and I have heard only the occasional rumor since.
      At that stage they were talking about Russell Crowe playing Covenant but he declined.

      I have not enjoyed the third series any way near as much, sad to say. It is incredibly self-indulgent and I reckon the publishers allowed Donaldson a lot more leeway regarding the editing than with the first two series.
      I like to collect different imprints when I come across them Nuts I know, but I love the cover art.

      • I have the ones you have presented in your post.
        Personally I never fancied reading LOR, from what I’ve heard it’s far too wordy and cumbersome. But the films I absolutely loved, and they will probably remain my favourites of all time, which is saying something because I’ve watched and liked a lot of films. I used to be a real film buff when I had time and energy to watch them.
        I did hear that the books may be turned into film, or films, but maybe it’s just as well that the first six books were as entertaining and as iconic as they were and have become. At least for us Donaldson fans.

        • When we (me and the kids) hear of film plans we would occasionally while away a few dinners speculating on who would play the parts of Linden, Covenant, Mhoram and Bannor.

          Did you ever read his other fantasy stuff? Mordant’s Need and a Man Rides Through?
          I could never get into them, but my son adores them.
          I love the Gap series, though. This was great science fiction.

          • Mordant’s need I think I read, but like you I struggled to really get gripped so I think I didn’t read anything else by him. Besides by that point I was entrenched in my Seth books, and fantasy fiction took a bit of a back-seat for me.

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