See also the short story Gilden-Fire.
The Illearth War is the second book of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever trilogy.
- "After scant days in his "real world", Thomas Covenant found himself again summoned to the Land. There forty bitter years had passed, while Lord Foul, immortal enemy of the Land, moved to fulfill his prophecy of doom.
The Council of Lords found the spells useless, now that Foul the Despiser held the Illearth Stone, ancient source of evil power. High Lord Elena turned in desperation to Covenant and the legendary white gold magic of his ring. And nobody knew how to use the white gold—least of all, Thomas Covenant.
Thus continues one of the most remarkable epic fantasies ever written..."
For Dr. James R. Donaldson, M.D.,
whose life expressed compassion and commitment
more eloquently than any words
To Robyn Butler
who has given her best.
Several weeks after returning to his world from The Land, the leper Thomas Covenant is taking a phone call from his ex-wife Joan when he falls and hits his head, waking to find himself in the chamber of the Council of Lords of Revelstone.
Angered by the fact that he has been transported away from "reality", Covenant nevertheless believes he is once again experiencing a dream or delusion due to his head injury. His hypothesis is supported by the fact that the Land has seen the passing of forty years compared to the few weeks that have passed in his own world: the High Lord of the Council is Elena, the daughter of Lena and the product of Covenant's rape (though he does not know this when he first returns). Elena shows him only good intent and friendship; soon, she and Covenant become close friends.
Elena explains that the evil Lord Foul has assembled a massive army, with which he now threatens the people of The Land. For more than forty years, the Lords have dedicated themselves to the study of Kevin's Lore, training new students at the school at the newly created tree-city of Revelwood. Only Lord Mhorham remains of those Covenant knew; however, seven new Lords (including Elena) have mastered both the magical and martial arts to gain seats on the Council. The horse-tending Ramen have been enlisted to patrol the frontier near Foul's dominions. The Warward, the army of Revelstone, is full of battle-ready volunteers led by Hile Troy, who came to the Land from Covenant's world. Troy is a genius in military tactics, who developed a mystical form of sight when Hurtloam, a magical mud with miraculous curative properties, was used to try and "heal" his lack of eyes.
While making military preparations, an attempt was made to attack Lord Foul via a raid on Foul's Crèche, his lair at the Land's eastern edge. Although the raid failed, the Lords gained valuable knowledge about Foul's forces.
The commander of Foul's army is Fleshharrower (aka Jehannum, one of triplets born to the race of Giants--a people previously thought incorruptible. With the aid of the powerful Illearth Stone, Foul's non-corporeal servants, the Ravers, possessed the three brothers, now renamed Kinslaughterer, Fleshharrower and Satansfist. In shame and despair, the Giants offer no resistance as Kinslaughterer murders them all in their home city. Thus, the Lords lost their mightiest ally before the battle truly began.
Nevertheless, the Lords resolve to meet the enemy on the battlefield. While Troy leads the army to confront Fleshharrower, Elena and Covenant go in search of the Seventh Ward. This is an ancient magical power which Elena believes will ensure victory, even though she has little idea what it might be. Covenant, Elena and their two Bloodguard protectors journey through the remote mountain region on the western frontier of the Land, seeking the hiding place of the Ward.
An early clash of armies goes against the Warward, with Fleshharrower's legions proving far more powerful than Troy had feared. Forced into a desperate retreat, the Warward ends at the edge of a dangerous, forbidding forest known as Garroting Deep. In desperation, Troy and Mhoram beg the aid of Caerroil Wildwood, an immortal Forestal charged with protecting the remnants of the One Wood from the Ravers. Wildwood brings the forest to life, destroying Foul's army and garroting Fleshharrower. The victory is a Pyrrhic one, however: the Lords' army is nearly obliterated, three Lords besides Elena have been killed, and Hile Troy has sacrificed himself as the price for the Forestal's aid, becoming Wildwood's immortal apprentice Caer-Caveral.
Deep beneath the mountains of ''Melenkurion'' Skyweir, Elena and Covenant come at last to the Seventh Ward. It is Earthblood, the liquid essence of Earthpower, which allows those who drink it to exercise the power of Command. *Anything* may be commanded and the Earthpower will make that command happen. But a mortal may only exercise that power once; a second drink would annihilate the drinker.
Elena foolishly uses this power to summon the long dead High Lord Kevin from his grave. This act breaks the Law of Death, the barrier preventing the souls of the dead from interfering in the world of the living. Although warned by Kevin that this is a catastrophic mistake, Elena pits the wraith against Lord Foul. Kevin's spirit is easily defeated and then enslaved by Foul. Kevin is sent back, having been commanded to destroy Elena. The two High Lords engage in a battle of magic. Covenant is able to save himself and Bannor using the power of his white gold ring, again without understanding how.
Although it is not observed directly, Elena and her Bloodguard are defeated and killed, and the Staff of Law lost again. A large area of the mountain collapsing from the effects of the battle. With the death of High Lord Elena, his summoner, Covenant once again returns to his own world. His ex-wife has long since hung up the phone, and he is a leper once more.
The Illearth War thus ends in a draw and the Lords are no closer to defeating Lord Foul. In some ways, it will be shown, they are worse off than before.