The man in black? Where is he?
Near. You will speak with him.
Of what will we speak?
The boy? Jake?
Tell me of the boy!
The boy is your gateway to the man in black. The man in black is your gate to the three. The three are your way to the Dark Tower.
How? How can that be? Why must it be? 'We see in part, and thus is the mirror - God damn you.
No god damned me.
"Don't patronize me, Thing. I'm stronger than you.
What do they call you, then? Star-slut? Whore of the Winds?
Some live on love that comes to the ancient places... even in these sad and evil times. Some, gunslinger, live on blood. Even, I understand, on the blood 0/young boys.
May he not be spared?
Cease, gunslinger. Strike your camp and turn west. In the west there is still a need for men who live by the bullet.
I am sworn by my father's guns and by the treachery of Marten.
Marten is no more. The man in black has eaten his soul. This you know.
I am sworn.
Then you are damned.
Have your way with me, bitch.
The shadow swung over him, enfolded him. Suddenly ecstasy broken only by a galaxy of pain, as faint and bright as ancient stars gone red with collapse. Faces came to him unbidden at the cl**ax of their coupling: Sylvia Pittston, Alice, the woman from Tull, Susan, Aileen, a hundred others.
And finally, after an eternity, he pushed her away from him, once again in his right mind, bone-weary and disgusted.
No! It isn't enough! It - "Let me be," the gunslinger said. He sat up and almost fell off the altar before regaining his feet. She touched him tentatively and he pushed her violently, falling to his knees.
(honeysuckle, jasmine, sweet attar)
He staggered up and made his drunken way to the perimeter of the circle. He staggered through, feeling a huge weight fall from his shoulders. He drew a shuddering, weeping breath. As he started away he could feel her standing at the bars of her prison, watching him go from her. He wondered how long it might be before someone else crossed the desert and found her, hungry and alone. For a moment he felt dwarfed by the possibilities of time.
Jake stood up fast when the gunslinger shambled back through the last trees and came into camp. Jake had been huddled by the ruins of the tiny fire, the jawbone across his knees, gnawing disconsolately on the bones of the rabbit. Now he ran toward the gunslinger with a look of distress that made Roland feel the full, ugly weight of a coming betrayal - one he sensed which might only be the first of many.
"No," he said. "Not sick. Just tired. I'm whipped." He gestured absently at the jawbone. "You can throw that away."
Jake threw it quickly and violently, rubbing his hands across his shirt after doing it.
The gunslinger sat down - almost fell down - feeling the aching joints and the pummeled, thick mind that was the unlovely afterglow of mescaline. His crotch also pulsed with a dull ache. He rolled a cigarette with careful, unthinking slowness. Jake watched. The gunslinger had a sudden impulse to tell him what he had learned, then thrust the idea away with horror. He wondered if a part of him - mind or soul - might not be disintegrating.
"We sleep here tonight," the gunslinger said. "Tomorrow we climb. I'll go out a little later and see if I can't shoot something for supper. I've got to sleep now. Okay?"
The gunslinger nodded and lay back. When he woke up the shadows were long across the small grass clearing. "Build up the fire," he told Jake and tossed him his flint and steel. "Can you use that?"
"Yes, I think so."
The gunslinger walked toward the willow grove and then turned left, skirting it. At a place where the ground opened out and upward in heavy open grass, he stepped back into the shadows and stood silently. Faintly, clearly, he could hear the clik-clink-clik-clink of Jake striking sparks. He stood without moving for ten minutes, fifteen, twenty. Three rabbits came, and the gunslinger pulled leather. He took down the two plumpest, skinned them and gutted them, brought them back to the camp. Jake had the fire going and the water was already steaming over it.
The gunslinger nodded to him. "That's a good piece of work."
Jake flushed with pleasure and silently handed back the flint and steel.
While the stew cooked, the gunslinger used the last of the light to go back into the willow grove. Near the first pool he began to hack at the tough vines that grew near the water's marshy verge. Later, as the fire burned down to coals and Jake slept, he would plait them into ropes that might be of some limited use later. But he did not think somehow that the climb would be a particularly difficult one. He felt a sense of fate that he no longer even considered odd.
The vines bled green sap over his hands as he carried them back to where Jake waited.
They were up with the sun and packed in half an hour. The gunslinger hoped to shoot another rabbit in the meadow as they fed, but time was short and no rabbit showed itself. The bundle of their remaining food was now so small and light that Jake carried it easily. He had toughened up, this boy; you could see it.
The gunslinger carried their water, freshly drawn from one of the springs. He looped his three vine ropes around his belly. They gave the circle of stones a wide berth (the gunslinger was afraid the boy might feel a recurrence of fear, but when they passed above it on a stony rise, Jake only offered it a passing glance and then looked at a bird that hovered upwind). Soon enough, the trees began to lose their height and lushness. Trunks were twisted and roots seemed to struggle with the earth in a tortured hunt for moisture.
"It's all so old," Jake said glumly when they paused for a rest. "Isn't there anything young?"
The gunslinger smiled and gave Jake an elbow. "You are," he said.
"Will it be a hard climb?"
The gunslinger looked at him, curious. "The mountains are high. Don't you think it will be a hard climb?"
Jake looked back at him, his eyes clouded, puzzled. "No."
They went on.
The sun climbed to its zenith, seemed to hang there more briefly than it ever had during the desert crossing, and then passed on, giving them back their shadows. Shelves of rock protruded from the rising land like the arms of giant easychairs buried in the earth. The scrub grass turned yellow and sere. Finally they were faced with a deep, chim neylike crevasse in their path and they scaled a short, peeling rise of rock to get around and above it. The ancient granite had faulted on lines that were steplike, and as they had both intuited, the climb was an easy one. They paused on the four-foot-wide scarp at the top and looked back over the falling land to the desert, which curled around the up land like a huge yellow paw. Further off it gleamed at them in a white shield that dazzled the eye, receding into dim waves of rising heat. The gunslinger felt faintly amazed at the realization that this desert had nearly murdered him.
From where they stood, in a new coolness, the desert certainly appeared momentous, but not deadly.
They turned back to the business of the climb, scrambling over jackstraw falls of rock and crouch-walking up inclined planes of stone shot with glitters of quartz and mica. The rock was pleasantly warm to the touch, but the air was definitely cooler. In the late afternoon the gunslinger heard the faint sound of thunder. The rising line of the mountains obscured the sight of the rain on the other side, however.
When the shadows began to turn purple, they camped in the overhang of a jutting brow of rock. The gunslinger anchored their blanket above and below, fashioning a kind of shanty lean-to. They sat at the mouth of it, watching the sky spread a cloak over the world. Jake dangled his feet over the drop. The gunslinger rolled his evening smoke and eyed Jake half humorously. "Don't roll over in your sleep," he said, "or you may wake up in hell."
"I won't," Jake replied seriously. "My mother says - He broke it off.
"She says what?"
"That I sleep like a dead man," Jake finished. He looked at the gunslinger, who saw that the boy's mouth was trembling as he strove to keep back tears - only a boy, he thought, and pain smote him, like the ice pick that too much cold water can sometimes plant in the forehead. Only a boy. Why? Silly question. When a boy, wounded in body or spirit, called that question out to Cort, that ancient, scarred baffle-engine whose job it was to teach the sons of gunslingers the beginning of what they had to know, Cort would answer:
Why is a crooked letter and can't be made straight... never mind why, just get up, pus-head! Gel up! The day's young!
"Why am I here?" Jake asked. "Why did I forget everything from before?"
"Because the man in black has drawn you here," the gunslinger said. "And because of the Tower. The Tower stands at a kind of... power-nexus. In time. "
"I don't understand that!"
"Nor do I," the gunslinger said. "But something has been happening. Just in my own time. 'The world has moved on,' we say... we've always said. But it's moving on faster now. Something has happened to time."
They sat in silence. A breeze, faint but with an edge, picked at their legs. Somewhere it made a hollow whooooo in a rock fissure.
"Where do you come from?" Jake asked.
"From a place that no longer exists. Do you know the Bible?"
"Jesus and Moses. Sure."
The gunslinger smiled. "That's right. My land had a Biblical name - New Canaan, it was called. The land of milk and honey. In the Bible's Canaan, there were supposed to be grapes so big that men had to carry them on sledges. We didn't grow them that big, but it was a sweet land."
"I know about Ulysses," Jake said hesitantly. "Was he in the Bible?"
"Maybe," the gunslinger said. "The Book is lost now - all except the parts I was forced to memorize.
"But the others - "
"No others," the gunslinger said. "I'm the last."
A tiny wasted moon began to rise, casting its slitted gaze down into the tumble of rocks where they sat.
"Was it pretty? Your country.., your land?"
"It was beautiful," the gunslinger said absently. "There were fields and rivers and mists in the morning. But that's only pretty. My mother used to say that.., and that the only real beauty is order and love and light."
Jake made a noncommittal noise.
The gunslinger smoked and thought of how it had been - the nights in the huge central hall, hundreds of richly clad figures moving through the slow, steady waltz steps or the faster, light ripples of the pol-kam, Aileen on his arm, her eyes brighter than the most precious gems, the light of the crystal-enclosed electric lights making highlights in the newly done hair of the courtesans and their half-cynical amours. The hall had been huge, an island of light whose age was beyond telling, as was the whole Central Place, which was made up of nearly a hundred stone castles. It had been twelve years since he had seen it, and leaving for the last time, Roland had ached as he turned his face away from it and began his first cast for the trail of the man in black. Even then, twelve years ago, the walls had fallen, weeds grew in the courtyards, bats roosted amongst the great beams of the central hall, and the galleries echoed with the soft swoop and whisper of swallows. The fields where Cort had taught them archery and gunnery and falconry were gone to hay and timothy and wild vines. In the huge and echoey kitchen where Hax had once held his own fuming and aromatic court, a grotesque colony of Slow Mutants nested, peering at him from the merciful darkness of pantries and shadowed pillars. The warm steam that had been filled with the pungent odors of roasting beef and pork had been transmuted to the clammy damp of moss and huge white toadstools grew in corners where not even the Slow Muties dared to encamp. The huge oak subcellar bulkhead stood open, and the most poignant smell of all had issued from that, and odor that seemed to symbolize with a flat finality all the hard facts of dissolution and decay: the high sharp odor of wine gone to vinegar. It had been no struggle to turn his face to the south and leave it behind - but it had hurt his heart.
"Was there a war?" Jake asked.
"Even better," the gunslinger said and pitched the last smoldering ember of his cigarette away. "There was a revolution. We won every battle, and lost the war. No one won the war, unless maybe it was the scavengers. There must have been rich pickings for years after."
"I wish I'd lived there," Jake said wistfully.
"It was another world," the gunslinger said. "Time to turn in."
The boy, now only a dim shadow, turned on his side and curled up with the blanket tossed loosely over him. The gunslinger sat sentinel over him for perhaps an hour after, thinking his long, sober thoughts. Such meditation was a new thing for him, novel, sweet in a melancholy sort of way, but still utterly without practical value: there was no solution to the problem of Jake other than the one the Oracle had offered - and that was simply not possible. There might have been tragedy in the situation, but the gunslinger did not see that; he saw only the predestination that had always been there. And finally, his more natural character reasserted itself and he slept deeply, with no dreams.
The climb became grimmer on the following day as they continued to angle toward the narrow V of the pass through the mountains. The gunslinger pushed slowly, still with no sense of hurry. The dead stone beneath their feet left no trace of the man in black, but the gunslinger knew he had been this way before them - and not only from the path of his climb as he and Jake had observed him, tiny and bug-like, from the foothills. His aroma was printed on every cold downdraft of air. It was an oily, sardonic odor, as bitter. to his nose as the aroma of devil-grass.
Jake's hair had grown much longer, and it curled slightly at the base of his sunburned neck. He climbed tough, moving with sure-footedness and no apparent acrophobia as they crossed gaps or scaled their way up ledged facings. Twice already he had gone up in places the gunslinger could not have managed. Jake had anchored one of the ropes so that the gunslinger could climb up hand over hand.
The following morning they climbed through a coldly damp snatch of cloud that began blotting out the tumbled slopes below them. Patches of hard, granulated snow began to appear nestled in some of the deeper pockets of stone. It glittered like quartz and its texture was as dry as sand. That afternoon they found a single footprint in one of these snow patches. Jake stared at it for a moment with awful fascination, then looked up frightfully, as if expecting to see the man in black materialize into his own footprint. The gunslinger tapped him on the shoulder then and pointed ahead. "Go. The day's getting old."