The Dark Tower IV Wizard and Glass (4 page)

3

After three more minutes of murmured consultation and some quick flipping through
Riddle-De-Dum!
on Eddie’s and Susannah’s parts (Jake already knew the one he wanted to try Blaine with first, he’d said), Roland went to the front of the Barony Coach and laid his hand on the fiercely glowing rectangle there. The route-map reappeared at once. Although there was no sensation of movement now that the coach was closed, the green dot was closer to Rilea than ever.

“SO, ROLAND SON OF STEVEN!” Blaine said. To Eddie he sounded more than jovial; he sounded next door to hilarious. “IS YOUR
KA-TET
READY TO BEGIN?”

“Yes. Susannah of New York will begin the first round.” He turned to her, lowered his voice a little (not that she reckoned that would do much good if Blaine wanted to listen), and said: “You won’t have to step forward like the rest of us, because of your legs, but you must speak fair and address him by name each time you talk to him. If—
when
—he answers your riddle correctly, say ‘Thankee-sai, Blaine, you have answered true.’ Then Jake will step into the aisle and have his turn. All right?”

“And if he should get it wrong, or not guess at all?”

Roland smiled grimly. “I think that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about just yet.” He raised his voice again. “Blaine?”

“YES, GUNSLINGER.”

Roland took a deep breath. “It starts now.”

“EXCELLENT!”

Roland nodded at Susannah. Eddie squeezed one of her hands; Jake patted the other. Oy gazed at her raptly with his gold-ringed eyes.

Susannah smiled at them nervously, then looked up at the route-map. “Hello, Blaine.”

“HOWDY, SUSANNAH OF NEW YORK.”

Her heart was pounding, her armpits were damp, and here was something she had first discovered way back in the first grade: it was hard to begin. It was hard to stand up in front of the class and be first with your song, your joke, your report on how you spent your summer vacation . . . or your riddle, for that matter. The one she had decided upon was one from Jake Chambers’s crazed English essay, which he had recited to them almost verbatim during their long palaver after leaving the old people of River Crossing. The essay, titled “My Understanding of Truth,” had contained two riddles, one of which Eddie had already used on Blaine.

“SUSANNAH? ARE YOU THERE, L’IL COWGIRL?”

Teasing again, but this time the teasing sounded light, good-natured. Good-
humored.
Blaine could be charming when he got what he wanted. Like certain spoiled children she had known.

“Yes, Blaine, I am, and here is my riddle. What has four wheels and flies?”

There was a peculiar click, as if Blaine were mimicking the sound of a man popping his tongue against the roof of his mouth. It was followed by a brief pause. When Blaine replied, most of the jocularity had gone out of his voice. “THE TOWN GARBAGE WAGON, OF COURSE. A CHILD’S RIDDLE. IF THE REST OF YOUR RIDDLES ARE NO BETTER, I WILL BE EXTREMELY SORRY I SAVED YOUR LIVES FOR EVEN A SHORT WHILE.”

The route-map flashed, not red this time but pale pink. “Don’t get him mad,” the voice of Little Blaine begged. Each time it spoke, Susannah found herself imagining a sweaty little bald man whose every movement was a kind of cringe. The voice of Big Blaine came from everywhere (like the voice of God in a Cecil B. DeMille movie, Susannah thought), but Little Blaine’s from only one: the speaker directly over their heads. “
Please
don’t make him angry, fellows; he’s already got the mono in the red, speedwise, and the track compensators can barely keep up. The trackage has degenerated terribly since the last time we came out this way.”

Susannah, who had been on her share of bumpy trolleys and subways in her time, felt nothing—the ride was as smooth now as it had been when they had first pulled out of the Cradle of Lud—but she believed Little Blaine anyway. She guessed that if they
did
feel a bump, it would be the last thing any of them would ever feel.

Roland poked an elbow into her side, bringing her back to her current situation.

“Thankee-sai,” she said, and then, as an afterthought, tapped her throat rapidly three times with the fingers of her right hand. It was what Roland had done when speaking to Aunt Talitha for the first time.

“THANK YOU FOR YOUR COURTESY,” Blaine said. He sounded amused again, and Susannah reckoned that was good even if his amusement was at her expense. “I AM NOT FEMALE, HOWEVER. INSOFAR AS I HAVE A SEX, IT IS MALE.”

Susannah looked at Roland, bewildered.

“Left hand for men,” he said. “On the breastbone.” He tapped to demonstrate.

“Oh.”

Roland turned to Jake. The boy stood, put Oy on his chair (which did no good; Oy immediately jumped down and followed after Jake when he stepped into the aisle to face the route-map), and turned his attention to Blaine.

“Hello, Blaine, this is Jake. You know, son of Elmer.”

“SPEAK YOUR RIDDLE.”

“What can run but never walks, has a mouth but never talks, has a bed but never sleeps, has a head but never weeps?”

“NOT BAD! ONE HOPES SUSANNAH WILL LEARN FROM YOUR EXAMPLE, JAKE SON OF ELMER. THE ANSWER MUST BE SELF-EVIDENT TO ANYONE OF ANY INTELLIGENCE AT ALL, BUT A DECENT EFFORT, NEVERTHELESS. A RIVER.”

“Thankee-sai, Blaine, you have answered true.” He tapped the bunched fingers of his left hand three times against his breastbone and then sat down. Susannah put her arm around him and gave him a brief squeeze. Jake looked at her gratefully.

Now Roland stood up. “Hile, Blaine,” he said.

“HILE, GUNSLINGER.” Once again Blaine sounded amused . . . possibly by the greeting, which Susannah hadn’t heard before.
Heil what?
she wondered. Hitler came to mind, and that made her think of the downed plane they’d found outside Lud. A Focke-Wulf, Jake had claimed. She didn’t know about that, but she knew it had contained one
seriously
dead harrier, too old even to stink. “SPEAK YOUR RIDDLE, ROLAND, AND LET IT BE HANDSOME.”

“Handsome is as handsome does, Blaine. In any case, here it is: What has four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs at night?”

“THAT IS INDEED HANDSOME,” Blaine allowed. “SIMPLE BUT HANDSOME, JUST THE SAME. THE ANSWER IS A HUMAN BEING, WHO CRAWLS ON HANDS AND KNEES IN BABYHOOD, WALKS ON TWO LEGS DURING ADULTHOOD, AND WHO GOES ABOUT WI TH THE HELP OF A CANE IN OLD AGE.”

Blaine sounded positively smug, and Susannah suddenly discovered a mildly interesting fact: she loathed the self-satisfied, murderous thing. Machine or not,
it
or
he,
she loathed Blaine. She had an idea she would have felt the same even if he hadn’t made them wager their lives in a stupid riddling contest.

Roland, however, did not look the slightest put out of countenance. “Thankee-sai, Blaine, you have answered true.” He
sat down without tapping his breastbone and looked at Eddie. Eddie stood up and stepped into the aisle.

“What’s happening, Blaine my man?” he asked. Roland winced and shook his head, putting his mutilated right hand up briefly to shade his eyes.

Silence from Blaine.

“Blaine? Are you there?”

“YES, BUT IN NO MOOD FOR FRIVOLITY, EDDIE OF NEW YORK. SPEAK YOUR RIDDLE. I SUSPECT IT WILL BE DIFFICULT IN SPITE OF YOUR FOOLISH POSES. I LOOK FORWARD TO IT.”

Eddie glanced at Roland, who waved a hand at him—
Go on, for your father’s sake, go on!
—and then looked back at the route-map, where the green dot had just passed the point marked Rilea. Susannah saw that Eddie suspected what she herself all but knew: Blaine understood they were trying to test his capabilities with a spectrum of riddles. Blaine knew . . . and welcomed it.

Susannah felt her heart sink as any hopes they might find a quick and easy way out of this disappeared.

4

“Well,” Eddie said, “I don’t know how hard it’ll seem to you, but it struck me as a toughie.” Nor did he know the answer, since that section of
Riddle-De-Dum!
had been torn out, but he didn’t think that made any difference; their knowing the answers hadn’t been part of the ground-rules.

“I SHALL HEAR AND ANSWER.”

“No sooner spoken than broken. What is it?”

“SILENCE, A THING YOU KNOW LITTLE ABOUT, EDDIE OF NEW YORK,” Blaine said with no pause at all, and Eddie felt his heart drop a little. There was no need to consult with the others; the answer was self-evident. And having it come back at him so quickly was the real bummer. Eddie never would have said so, but he had harbored the hope—almost a secret surety—of bringing Blaine down with a single riddle,
ker-smash,
all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Blaine together again. The same secret surety, he supposed, that he had harbored every time he picked up a pair of dice in some sharpie’s back-bedroom crap
game, every time he called for a hit on seventeen while playing blackjack. That feeling that you couldn’t go wrong because you were
you,
the best, the one and only.

“Yeah,” he said, sighing. “Silence, a thing I know little about. Thankee-sai, Blaine, you speak truth.”

“I HOPE YOU HAVE DISCOVERED SOMETHING WHICH WILL HELP YOU,” Blaine said, and Eddie thought:
You fucking mechanical liar.
The complacent tone had returned to Blaine’s voice, and Eddie found it of some passing interest that a machine could express such a range of emotion. Had the Great Old Ones built them in, or had Blaine created an emotional rainbow for himself at some point? A little dipolar pretty with which to pass the long decades and centuries? “DO YOU WISH ME TO GO AWAY AGAIN SO YOU MAY CONSULT?”

“Yes,” Roland said.

The route-map flashed bright red. Eddie turned toward the gunslinger. Roland composed his face quickly, but before he did, Eddie saw a horrible thing: a brief look of complete hopelessness. Eddie had never seen such a look there before, not when Roland had been dying of the lobstrosities’ bites, not when Eddie had been pointing the gunslinger’s own revolver at him, not even when the hideous Gasher had taken Jake prisoner and disappeared into Lud with him.

“What do we do next?” Jake asked. “Do another round of the four of us?”

“I think that would serve little purpose,” Roland said. “Blaine must know thousands of riddles—perhaps millions—and that is bad. Worse,
far
worse, he understands the
how
of riddling . . . the place the mind has to go to in order to make them and solve them.” He turned to Eddie and Susannah, sitting once more with their arms about one another. “Am I right about that?” he asked them. “Do you agree?”

“Yes,” Susannah said, and Eddie nodded reluctantly. He didn’t
want
to agree . . . but he did.

“So?” Jake asked. “What
do
we do, Roland? I mean, there has to be a way out of this . . . doesn’t there?”

Lie to him, you bastard,
Eddie sent fiercely in Roland’s direction.

Roland, perhaps hearing the thought, did the best he could. He touched Jake’s hair with his diminished hand and ruffled through it. “I think there’s always an answer, Jake. The real
question is whether or not we’ll have time to find the right riddle. He said it took him a little under nine hours to run his route—”

“Eight hours, forty-five minutes,” Jake put in.

“. . . and that’s not much time. We’ve already been running almost an hour—”

“And if that map’s right, we’re almost halfway to Topeka,” Susannah said in a tight voice. “Could be our mechanical pal’s been lying to us about the length of the run. Hedging his bets a little.”

“Could be,” Roland agreed.

“So what do we do?” Jake repeated.

Roland drew in a deep breath, held it, let it out. “Let me riddle him alone, for now. I’ll ask him the hardest ones I remember from the Fair-Days of my youth. Then, Jake, if we’re approaching the point of . . . if we’re approaching Topeka at this same speed with Blaine still unposed, I think you should ask him the last few riddles in your book. The hardest riddles.” He rubbed the side of his face distractedly and looked at the ice sculpture. This chilly rendering of his own likeness had now melted to an unrecognizable hulk. “I still think the answer must be in the book. Why else would you have been drawn to it before coming back to this world?”

“And us?” Susannah asked. “What do Eddie and I do?”

“Think,”
Roland said. “
Think,
for your fathers’ sakes.”

“ ‘I do not shoot with my hand,’ ” Eddie said. He suddenly felt far away, strange to himself. It was the way he’d felt when he had seen first the slingshot and then the key in pieces of wood, just waiting for him to whittle them free . . . and at the same time this feeling was not like that at all.

Roland was looking at him oddly. “Yes, Eddie, you say true. A gunslinger shoots with his mind. What have you thought of?”

“Nothing.” He might have said more, but all at once a strange image—a strange
memory
—intervened: Roland hunkering by Jake at one of their stopping-points on the way to Lud. Both of them in front of an unlit campfire. Roland once more at his everlasting lessons. Jake’s turn this time. Jake with the flint and steel, trying to quicken the fire. Spark after spark licking out and dying in the dark. And Roland had said that he was being silly. That he was just being . . . well . . .
silly
.

“No,” Eddie said. “He didn’t say that at all. At least not to the kid, he didn’t.”

“Eddie?” Susannah. Sounding concerned. Almost frightened.

Well why don’t you ask
him
what he said, bro?
That was Henry’s voice, the voice of the Great Sage and Eminent Junkie. First time in a long time.
Ask him, he’s practically sitting right next to you, go on and ask him what he said. Quit dancing around like a baby with a load in his diapers.

Except that was a bad idea, because that wasn’t the way things worked in Roland’s world. In Roland’s world
everything
was riddles, you didn’t shoot with your hand but with your
mind,
your motherfucking
mind,
and what did you say to someone who wasn’t getting the spark into the kindling? Move your flint in closer, of course, and that’s what Roland had said:
Move your flint in closer, and hold it steady.

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