The Dark Tower IV Wizard and Glass (41 page)

At the bottom of the hill, the pipe rose out of the ground and, supported on a series of rusty steel cradles, ran about seventy yards toward the abandoned building before stopping with the ragged suddenness of a battlefield amputation. Below this stopping point was what looked like a shallow lake of drying, tacky oil. That it had been there for awhile Susan could tell from the numerous corpses of birds she could see scattered across it—they had come down to investigate, become stuck, and stayed to die in what must have been an unpleasantly leisurely fashion.

She stared at this with wide, uncomprehending eyes until Will tapped her on the leg. He had hunkered down. She joined him knee-to-knee and followed the sweeping movement of his finger with growing disbelief and confusion. There were tracks here. Very big ones. Only one thing could have made them.

“Oxen,” she said.

“Aye. They came from there.” He pointed at the place where the pipe ended. “And they go—” He turned on the soles of his boots, still hunkered, and pointed back toward the slope where the woods started. Now that he pointed them out, she easily saw what she should have seen at once, horseman’s daughter that she was. A perfunctory effort had been made to hide the tracks and the churned-up ground where something heavy had been dragged or rolled. Time had smoothed away more of the mess, but the marks were still clear. She even thought she knew what the oxen had been dragging, and she could see that Will knew, as well.

The tracks split off from the end of the pipe in two arcs. Susan and “Will Dearborn” followed the right-hand one. She wasn’t surprised to see ruts mingled in with the tracks of the oxen. They were shallow—it had been a dry summer, by and large, and the ground was nearly as hard as concrete—but they were there. To still be able to see them at all meant that some goodly amount of weight had been moved. And aye, of course; why else would oxen be needed?

“Look,” Will said as they neared the hem of forest at the foot of the slope. She finally saw what had caught his attention, but she had to get down on her hands and knees to do it—how sharp his eyes were! Almost supernaturally so. There were boot-tracks here. Not fresh, but they were a lot newer than the tracks of the oxen and the wheelruts.

“This was the one with the cape,” he said, indicating a clear pair of tracks. “Reynolds.”

“Will! Thee can’t know it!”

He looked surprised, then laughed. “Sure I can. He walks with one foot turned in a little—the left foot. And here it is.” He stirred the air over the tracks with the tip of his finger, then laughed again at the way she was looking at him. “ ’Tisn’t sorcery, Susan daughter of Patrick; only trailcraft.”

“How do ye know so much, so young?” she asked. “Who are ye, Will?”

He stood up and looked down into her eyes. He didn’t have to look far; she was tall for a girl. “My name’s not Will but Roland,” he said. “And now I’ve put my life in your hands. That I don’t mind, but mayhap I’ve put your own life at risk, as well. You must keep it a dead secret.”

“Roland,” she said wonderingly. Tasting it.

“Aye. Which do you like better?”

“Your real one,” she said at once. “ ’Tis a noble name, so it is.”

He grinned, relieved, and this was the grin that made him look young again.

She raised herself on her toes and put her lips on his. The kiss, which was chaste and close-mouthed to begin with, bloomed like a flower: became open and slow and humid. She felt his tongue touch her lower lip and met it, shyly at first, with her own. His hands covered her back, then slipped around to her front. He touched her breasts, also shy to begin with, then slid his palms up their lower slopes to their tips. He uttered a small, moaning sigh directly into her mouth. And as he drew her closer and began to trail kisses down her neck, she felt the stone hardness of him below the buckle of his belt, a slim, warm length which exactly matched the melting she felt in the same place; those two places were meant for each other, as she was for him and he for her. It was
ka
, after all—
ka
like the wind, and she would go with it willingly, leaving all honor and promises behind.

She opened her mouth to tell him so, and then a queer but utterly persuasive sensation enfolded her: they were being watched. It was ridiculous, but it was there; she even felt she knew who was watching. She stepped back from Roland, her booted heels rocking unsteadily on the half-eroded oxen tracks. “Get out, ye old bitch,” she breathed. “If ye be spying on us in some way, I know not how,
get thee gone!

15

On the hill of the Cöos, Rhea drew back from the glass, spitting curses in a voice so low and harsh that she sounded like her own snake. She didn’t know what Susan had said—no sound came through the glass, only sight—but she knew that the girl had sensed her. And when she did, all sight had been wiped out. The glass had flashed a brilliant pink, then had
gone dark, and none of the passes she made over it would serve to brighten it again.

“Aye, fine, let it be so,” she said at last, giving up. She remembered the wretched, prissy girl (not so prissy with the young man, though, was she?) standing hypnotized in her doorway, remembered what she had told the girl to do after she had lost her maidenhead, and began to grin, all her good humor restored. For if she lost her maidenhead to this wandering boy instead of to Hart Thorin, Lord High Mayor of Mejis, the comedy would be even greater, would it not?

Rhea sat in the shadows of her stinking hut and began to cackle.

16

Roland stared at her, wide-eyed, and as Susan explained about Rhea a little more fully (she left out the humiliating final examinations which lay at the heart of “proving honesty”), his desire cooled just enough for him to reassert control. It had nothing to do with jeopardizing the position he and his friends were trying to maintain in Hambry (or so he told himself) and everything to do with maintaining Susan’s—her position was important, her honor even more so.

“I imagine it was your imagination,” he said when she had finished.

“I think not.” With a touch of coolness.

“Or conscience, even?”

At that she lowered her eyes and said nothing.

“Susan, I would not hurt you for the world.”

“And ye love me?” Still without looking up.

“Aye, I do.”

“Then it’s best you kiss and touch me no more—not tonight. I can’t stand it if ye do.”

He nodded without speaking and held out his hand. She took it, and they walked on in the direction they had been going when they had been so sweetly distracted.

While they were still ten yards from the hem of the forest, both saw the glimmer of metal despite the dense foliage—
too dense,
she thought.
Too dense by far.

It was the pine-boughs, of course; the ones which had been whacked from the trees on the slope. What they had been interlaced to camouflage were the big silver cans now missing
from the paved area. The silver storage containers had been dragged over here—by the oxen, presumably—and then concealed. But why?

Roland inspected along the line of tangled pine branches, then stopped and plucked several aside. This created an opening like a doorway, and he gestured her to go through. “Be sharp in your looks,” he said. “I doubt if they’ve bothered to set traps or tripwires, but ’tis always best to be careful.”

Behind the camouflaging boughs, the tankers had been as neatly lined up as toy soldiers at the end of the day, and Susan at once saw one reason why they had been hidden: they had been re-equipped with wheels, well-made ones of solid oak which came as high as her chest. Each had been rimmed with a thin iron strip. The wheels were new, so were the strips, and the hubs had been custom-made. Susan knew only one blacksmith in Barony capable of such fine work: Brian Hookey, to whom she had gone for Felicia’s new shoes. Brian Hookey, who had smiled and clapped her on the shoulder like a
compadre
when she had come in with her da’s shoebag hanging on her hip. Brian Hookey, who had been one of Pat Delgado’s best friends.

She recalled looking around and thinking that times had been good for sai Hookey, and of course she had been right. Work in the blacksmithing line had been plentiful. Hookey had been making lots of wheels and rims, for one thing, and someone must have been paying him to do it. Eldred Jonas was one possibility; Kimba Rimer an even better one. Hart? She simply couldn’t believe that. Hart had his mind—what little there was of it—fixed on other matters this summer.

There was a kind of rough path behind the tankers. Roland walked slowly along it, pacing like a preacher with his hands clasped at the small of his back, reading the incomprehensible words writ upon the tankers’ rear decks:
CITGO. SUNOCO. EXXON. CONOCO
. He paused once and read aloud, haltingly: “Cleaner fuel for a better tomorrow.” He snorted softly. “Rot!
This
is tomorrow.”

“Roland—Will, I mean—what are they
for
?”

He didn’t answer at first, but turned and walked back down the line of bright steel cans. Fourteen on this side of the mysteriously reactivated oil-supply pipe, and, she assumed, a like number on the other. As he walked, he rapped his fist on the
side of each. The sound was dull and clunky. They were full of oil from the Citgo oilpatch.

“They were trigged quite some time ago, I imagine,” he said. “I doubt if the Big Coffin Hunters did it all themselves, but they no doubt oversaw it . . . first the fitting of the new wheels to replace the old rotten rubber ones, then the filling. They used the oxen to line them up here, at the base of the hill, because it was convenient. As it’s convenient to let the extra horses run free out on the Drop. Then, when we came, it seemed prudent to take the precaution of covering these up. Stupid babies we might be, but perhaps smart enough to wonder about twenty-eight loaded oil-carts with new wheels. So they came out here and covered them.”

“Jonas, Reynolds, and Depape.”

“Aye.”

“But why?” She took him by the arm and asked her question again. “What are they
for
?”

“For Farson,” Roland said with a calm he didn’t feel. “For the Good Man. The Affiliation knows he’s found a number of war-machines; they come either from the Old People or from some other where. Yet the Affiliation fears them not, because they don’t work. They’re silent. Some feel Farson has gone mad to put his trust in such broken things, but . . .”

“But mayhap they’re not broken. Mayhap they only need this stuff. And mayhap Farson knows it.”

Roland nodded.

She touched the side of one of the tankers. Her fingers came away oily. She rubbed the tips together, smelled them, then bent and picked up a swatch of grass to wipe her hands. “This doesn’t work in our machines. It’s been tried. It clogs them.”

Roland nodded again. “My fa—my folk in the Inner Crescent know that as well. And count on it. But if Farson has gone to this trouble—
and
split aside a troop of men to come and get these tankers, as we have word he has done—he either knows a way to thin it to usefulness, or he thinks he does. If he’s able to lure the forces of the Affiliation into a battle in some close location where rapid retreat is impossible, and if he can use machine-weapons like the ones that go on treads, he could win more than a battle. He could slaughter ten thousand horse-mounted fighting men and win the war.”

“But surely yer fathers know this . . . ?”

Roland shook his head in frustration. How much their fathers knew was one question. What they made of what they knew was another. What forces drove them—necessity, fear, the fantastic pride which had also been handed down, father to son, along the line of Arthur Eld—was yet a third. He could only tell her his clearest surmise.

“I think they daren’t wait much longer to strike Farson a mortal blow. If they do, the Affiliation will simply rot out from the inside. And if that happens, a good deal of Mid-World will go with it.”

“But . . .” She paused, biting her lip, shaking her head. “Surely even Farson must know . . . understand . . .” She looked up at him with wide eyes. “The ways of the Old People are the ways of death. Everyone knows that, so they do.”

Roland of Gilead found himself remembering a cook named Hax, dangling at the end of a rope while the rooks pecked up scattered breadcrumbs from beneath the dead man’s feet. Hax had died for Farson. But before that, he had poisoned children for Farson.

“Death,” he said, “is what John Farson’s all about.”

17

In the orchard again.

It seemed to the lovers (for so they now were, in all but the most physical sense) that hours had passed, but it had been no more than forty-five minutes. Summer’s last moon, diminished but still bright, continued to shine above them.

She led him down one of the lanes to where she had tied her horse. Pylon nodded his head and whickered softly at Roland. He saw the horse had been rigged for silence—every buckle padded, and the stirrups themselves wrapped in felt.

Then he turned to Susan.

Who can remember the pangs and sweetness of those early years? We remember our first real love no more clearly than the illusions that caused us to rave during a high fever. On that night and beneath that fading moon, Roland Deschain and Susan Delgado were nearly torn apart by their desire for each other; they floundered for what was right and ached with feelings that were both desperate and deep.

All of which is to say that they stepped toward each other, stepped back, looked into each other’s eyes with a kind of
helpless fascination, stepped forward again, and stopped. She remembered what he had said with a kind of horror: that he would do anything for her but share her with another man. She would not—perhaps
could
not—break her promise to Mayor Thorin, and it seemed that Roland would not (or
could
not) break it for her. And here was the most horrible thing of all: strong as the wind of
ka
might be, it appeared that honor and the promises they had made would prove stronger.

“What will ye do now?” she asked through dry lips.

“I don’t know. I must think, and I must speak with my friends. Will you have trouble with your aunt when you go home? Will she want to know where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing?”

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