"Who are you?" The gunslinger asked.
And in the High Speech, his voice filling with the old thunder of command, Roland demanded: "Who are you, Demon? Speak, if you would speak. My time is short; my hands lose patience."
"Go slow," a dragging, clotted voice said from within the wall. And the gunslinger felt the dreamlike terror deepen and grow almost solid. It was the voice of Alice, the woman he had stayed with in the town of Tull. But she was dead; he had seen her go down himself, a bullet hole between her eyes. Fathoms seemed to swim by his eyes, descending. "Go slow past the Drawers, gunslinger. While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket."
"What do you mean? Speak on!"
But the breathing was gone.
The gunslinger stood for a moment, frozen, and then one of the huge spiders dropped on his arm and scrambled frantically up to his shoulder. With an involuntary grunt he brushed it away and got his feet moving. He did not want
To do it, but custom was strict, inviolable. The dead from the dead, as the old proverb has it; only a corpse may speak. He went to the hole and punched at it. The sandstone crumbled easily at the edges, and with a bare stiffening of muscles, he thrust his hand through the wall.
And touched something solid, with raised and fretted knobs. He drew it out. He held a jawbone, rotted at the far hinge. The teeth leaned this way and that.
"All right," he said softly. He thrust it rudely into his back pocket and went back up the ladder, carrying the last cans awkwardly. He left the trapdoor open. The sun would get in and kill the spiders.
Jake was halfway across the stable yard, cowering on the cracked, rubbly hardpan. He screamed when he saw the gunslinger, backed away a step or two, and then ran to him, crying.
"I thought it got you, that it got you, I thought - "
"It didn't." He held the boy to him, feeling his face, hot against his chest, and his hands, dry against his ribcage. It occurred to him later that this was when he began to love the boy - which was, of course, what the man in black must have planned all along.
"Was it a demon?" The voice was muffled.
"Yes. A speaking-demon. We don't have to go back there anymore. Come on."
They went to the stable, and the gunslinger made a rough pack from the blanket he had slept under - it was hot and prickly, but there was nothing else. That done, he filled the waterbags from the pump.
"You carry one of the waterbags," the gunslinger said. "Wear it around your shoulders - like a fakir carries his snake. See?"
"Yes." The boy looked up at him worshipfully. He slung one of the bags.
"Is it too heavy?"
"No. It's fine."
"Tell me the truth, now. I can't carry you if you get a sunstroke."
"I won't have a sunstroke. I'll be okay."
The gunslinger nodded.
"We're going to the mountains, aren't we?"
They walked out into the steady smash of the sun. Jake, his head as high as the swing of the gunslinger's elbows, walked to his right and a little ahead, the rawhide-wrapped ends of the waterbag hanging nearly to his shins. The gunslinger had crisscrossed two more waterbags across his shoulders and carried the sling of food in his armpit, his left arm holding it against his body.
They passed through the far gate of the way station and found the blurred ruts of the stage track again. They had walked perhaps fifteen minutes when Jake turned around and waved at the two buildings. They seemed to huddle in the titanic space of the desert.
"Goodbye!" Jake cried. "Goodbye!"
They walked. The stage track breasted a frozen sand drumlin, and when. the gunslinger looked around, the way station was gone. Once again there was the desert, and that only.
They were three days out of the way station; the mountains were deceptively clear now. They could see the rise of the desert into foothills, the first na*ed slopes, the bedrock bursting through the skin of the earth in sullen, eroded triumph. Further up, the land gentled off briefly again, and for the first time in months or years the gunslinger could see green - real, living green. Grass, dwarf spruces, perhaps even willows, all fed by snow runoff from further up.
Beyond that the rock took over again, rising in cyclopean, tumbled splendor to the blinding snowcaps. Off to the left, a huge slash showed the way to the smaller, eroded sandstone cliffs and mesas and buttes on the far side. This draw was obscured in the almost continual gray membrane of showers. At night, Jake would sit fascinated for the few minutes before he fell into sleep, watching the brilliant swordplay of the far-off lightning, white and purple, startling in the clarity of the night air.
The boy was fine on the trail. He was tough, but more than that, he seemed to fight exhaustion with a calm and professional reservoir of will which the gunslinger fully appreciated. He did not talk much and he did not ask questions, not even about the jawbone, which the gunslinger turned over and over in his hands during his evening smoke. He caught a sense that the boy felt highly flattered by the gunslinger's companionship - perhaps even exalted by it - and this disturbed him. The boy had been placed in his path - While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket - and the fact that Jake was not slowing him down only opened the way to more sinister possibilities.
They passed the symmetrical campfire leavings of the man in black at regular intervals, and it seemed to the gunslinger that these leavings were much fresher now. On the third night, the gunslinger was sure that he could see the distant spark of another campfire, somewhere in the first rising swell of the foothills.
Near two o'clock on the fourth day out from the way station, Jake reeled and almost fell.
"Here, sit down," the gunslinger said.
"No, I'm okay."
The boy sat obediently. The gunslinger squatted close by, so Jake would be in his shadow.
"I'm not supposed to until - "
The boy drank, three swallows. The gunslinger wet the tail of the blanket, which was lighter now, and applied the damp fabric to the boy's wrists and forehead, which were fever-dry.
"From now on we rest every afternoon at this time. Fifteen minutes. Do you want to sleep?"
"No." The boy looked at him with shame. The gunslinger looked back blandly. In an abstracted way he withdrew one of the bullets from his belt and began to twirl it between his fingers. The boy watched, fascinated.
"That's neat," he said.
The gunslinger nodded. "Sure it is." he paused. "When I was your age, I lived in a walled city, did I tell you that?"
The boy shook his head sleepily.
"Sure. And there was an evil man - "
"No," the gunslinger said, "but the two of them had some relationship, I think now. Maybe even half-brothers. Marten was a wizard... like Merlin. Do they tell of Merlin where you come from, Jake?"
"Merlin and Arthur and the knights of the round table," Jake said dreamily.
The gunslinger felt a nasty jolt go through him. "Yes," he said. "I was very young, ..."
But the boy was asleep sitting up, his hands folded neatly in his lap.
"When I snap my fingers, you'll wake up. You'll be rested and fresh. Do you understand?"
"Lay over, then."
The gunslinger got makings from his poke and rolled a cigarette. There was something missing. He searched for it in his diligent, careful way and located it. The missing thing was that maddening sense of hurry, the feeling that he might be left behind at any time, that the trail would die out and he would be left with only a broken piece of string. All that was gone now, and the gunslinger was slowly becoming sure that the man in black wanted to be caught.
What would follow?
The question was too vague to catch his interest. Cuthbert would have found interest in it, lively interest, but Cuthbert was gone, and the gunslinger could only go forward in the way he knew.
He watched the boy as he smoked, and his mind turned back on Cuthbert, who had always laughed - to his death he had gone laughing - and Cort, who never laughed, and on Marten, who sometimes smiled - a thin, silent smile that had its own disquieting gleam... like an eye that slips open in the dark and discloses blood. And there had been the falcon, of course. The falcon was named David, after the legend of the boy with the sling. David, he was quite sure, knew nothing but the need for murder, rending, and terror. Like the gunslinger himself. David was no dilettante; he played the center of the court.
Perhaps, though, in some final accounting, David the falcon had been closer to Marten than to anyone else... and perhaps his mother, Gabrielle, had known it.
The gunslinger's stomach seemed to rise painfully against his heart, but his face didn't change. He watched the smoke of his cigarette rise into the hot desert air and disappear, and his mind went back.
The sky was white, perfectly white, and the smell of rain was in the air. The smell of hedges and growing green was strong and sweet. It was deep spring.
David sat on Cuthbert's arm, a small engine of destruction with bright golden eyes that glared outward at nothing. The rawhide leash attached to his jesses was looped carelessly about Cuthbert's arm.
Cort stood aside from the two boys, a silent figure in patched leather trousers and a green cotton shirt that had been cinched high with his old, wide infantry belt. The green of his shirt merged with the hedges and the rolling turf of the Back Courts, where the ladies had not yet begun to play at Points.
"Get ready," Roland whispered to Cuthbert.
"We're ready," Cuthbert said confidently. "Aren't we, Davey?"
They spoke the low speech, the language of both scullions and squires; the day when they would be allowed to use their own tongue in the presence of others was still far. "It's a beautiful day for it. Can you smell the rain? It's - "
Cort abruptly raised the trap in his hands and let the side fall open. The dove was out and up, trying for the sky in a quick, fluttering blast of its wings. Cuthbert pulled the leash, but he was slow; the hawk was already up and his takeoff was awkward. With a brief twitch of its wings the hawk had recovered. It struck upward, gaining altitude over the dove, moving bullet-swift.
Cort walked over to where the boys stood, casually, and swung his huge and twisted fist at Cuthbert's ear. The boy fell over without a sound, although his lips writhed back from his gums. A trickle of blood flowed slowly from his ear and onto the rich green grass.
"You were slow," he said.
Cuthbert was struggling to his feet. "I'm sorry, Cort. It's just that I - Cort swung again, and Cuthbert fell over again. The blood flowed more swiftly now.
"Speak the High Speech," he said softly. His voice was flat. with a slight, drunken rasp. "Speak your act of contrition in the speech of civilization for which better men than you will ever be have died, maggot."
Cuthbert was getting up again. Tears stood brightly in his eyes, but his lips were pressed tightly together in a bright line of hate which did not quiver.
"I grieve," Cuthbert said in a voice of breathless control. "I have forgotten the face of my father, whose guns I hope someday to bear."
"That's right, brat," Cort said. "You'll consider what you did wrong, and bookend your reflections with hunger. No supper. No breakfast."
"Look!" Roland cried. He pointed up.
The hawk had climbed above the soaring dove. It glided for a moment, its stubby, muscular wings outstretched and without movement on the still, white spring air. Then it folded its wings and dropped like a stone. The two bodies came together, and for a moment Roland fancied he could see blood in the air... but it might have been his imagination. The hawk gave a brief scream of triumph. The dove fluttered, twisting, to the ground, and Roland ran toward the kill, leaving Cort and the chastened Cuthbert behind him.
The hawk had landed beside its prey and was complacently tearing into its plump white breast. A few feathers seesawed slowly downward.
"David!" The boy yelled, and tossed the hawk a piece of rabbit flesh from his poke. The hawk caught it on the fly, ingested it with an upward shaking of its back and throat, and Roland attempted to re-leash the bird.
The hawk whirled, almost absentmindedly, and ripped skin from Roland's arm in a long, dangling gash. Then it went back to its meal.
With a grunt, Roland looped the leash again, this time catching David's diving, slashing beak on the leather gauntlet he wore. He gave the hawk another piece of meat, then hooded it. Docilely, David climbed onto his wrist.
He stood up proudly, the hawk on his arm.
"What's this?" Cort asked, pointing to the dripping slash on Roland's forearm. The boy stationed himself to receive the blow, locking his throat against any possible cry, but no blow fell.
"He struck me," Roland said.
"You pissed him off," Cort said. "The hawk does not fear you, boy, and the hawk never will. The hawk is God's gunslinger."
Roland merely looked at Cort. He was not an imaginative boy, and if Cort had intended to imply a moral, it was lost on him; he was pragmatic enough to believe that it might have been one of the few foolish statements he had ever heard Cort make.
Cuthbert came up behind them and stuck his tongue out at Cort, safely on his blind side. Roland did not smile, but nodded to him.
"Go in now," Cort said, taking the hawk. He pointed at Cuthbert "But remember your reflection, maggot And your fast. Tonight and tomorrow morning."
"Yes," Cuthbert said, stiltedly formal now. "Thank you for this instructive day."
"You learn," Cort said, "but your tongue has a bad habit of lolling from your stupid mouth when your instructor's back is turned. Mayhap the day will come when it and you will learn their respective places." He struck Cuthbert again, this time solidly between the eyes and hard enough so that Roland heard a dull thud - the sound a mallet makes when a scullion taps a keg of beer. Cuthbert fell backward onto the lawn, his eyes cloudy and dazed at first. Then they cleared and he stared burningly up at Cort, his hatred unveiled, a pinprick as bright as the dove's blood in the center of each eye.
Cuthbert nodded and parted his lips in a scarifying smile that Roland had never seen.
"Then there's hope for you," Cort said. "When you think you can, you come for me, maggot."
"How did you know?" Cuthbert said between his teeth. Cort turned toward Roland so swiftly that Roland almost fell back a step - and then both of them would have been on the grass, decorating the new green with their blood. "I saw it reflected in this maggot's eyes," he said. "Remember it, Cuthbert. Last lesson for today."