The Dark Tower IV Wizard and Glass (83 page)

BOOK: The Dark Tower IV Wizard and Glass
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Roland bent his face over the pulsing ball, its light running over his cheeks and brow like liquid, drowning his eyes in its dazzle.

In Maerlyn’s Rainbow he saw her—Susan, horse-drover’s daughter, lovely girl at the window. He saw her standing in the back of a black cart decorated with gold symbols, the old witch’s cart. Reynolds rode behind her, holding the end of a rope that was noosed around her neck. The cart was rolling toward Green Heart, making its way with processional slowness. Hill Street was lined with people of whom the farmer with the lamb-slaughterer’s eyes had been only the first—all those folk of Hambry and Mejis who had been deprived of their fair but were now given this ancient dark attraction in its stead:
charyou tree,
come, Reap, death for you, life for our crops.

A soundless whispering ran through them like a gathering wave, and they began to pelt her—first with cornhusks, then with rotting tomatoes, then with potatoes and apples. One of these latter struck her cheek. She reeled, almost fell, then stood straight again, now raising her swollen but still lovely face so the moon painted it. She looked straight ahead.

“Charyou tree,”
they whispered. Roland couldn’t hear them, but he could see the words on their lips. Stanley Ruiz was there, and Pettie, and Gert Moggins, and Frank Claypool, the deputy with the broken leg; Jamie McCann, who was to have been this year’s Reap Lad. Roland saw a hundred people he had known (and mostly liked) during his time in Mejis. Now these people pelted his love with cornshucks and
vegetables as she stood, hands bound before her, in the back of Rhea’s cart.

The slowly rolling cart reached Green Heart, with its colored paper lanterns and silent carousel where no laughing children rode . . . no, not this year. The crowd, still speaking those two words—
chanting
them now, it appeared—parted. Roland saw the heaped pyramid of wood that was the unlit bonfire. Sitting around it, their backs propped on the central column, their lumpy legs outstretched, was a ring of red-handed stuffy-guys. There was a single hole in the ring; a single waiting vacancy.

And now a woman emerged from the crowd. She wore a rusty black dress and held a pail in one hand. A smear of ash stood out on one of her cheeks like a brand. She—

Roland began to shriek. It was a single word, over and over again:
No, no, no, no, no, no!
The ball’s pink light flashed brighter with each repetition, as if his horror refreshed and strengthened it. And now, with each of those pulses, Cuthbert and Alain could see the shape of the gunslinger’s skull beneath his skin.

“We have to take it away from him,” Alain said. “We have to, it’s sucking him dry. It’s killing him!”

Cuthbert nodded and stepped forward. He grabbed the ball, but couldn’t take it from Roland’s hands. The gunslinger’s fingers seemed welded to it.

“Hit him!” he told Alain. “Hit him again, you have to!”

But Alain might as well have been hitting a post. Roland didn’t even rock back on his heels. He continued to cry out that single negative—
“No! No! No! No”
—and the ball flashed faster and faster, eating its way into him through the wound it had opened, sucking up his grief like blood.

25

“Charyou tree!”
Cordelia Delgado cried, darting forward from where she had been waiting. The crowd cheered her, and beyond her left shoulder Demon Moon winked, as if in complicity.
“Charyou tree,
ye faithless bitch!
Charyou tree!”

She flung the pail of paint at her niece, splattering her pants and dressing her tied hands in a pair of wet scarlet gloves. She grinned up at Susan as the cart rolled past. The smear of ash
stood out on her cheek; in the center of her pale forehead, a single vein pulsed like a worm.

“Bitch!”
Cordelia screamed. Her fists were clenched; she danced a kind of hilarious jig, feet jumping, bony knees pumping beneath her skirt.
“Life for the crops! Death for the bitch!
Charyou tree!
Come, Reap!”

The cart rolled past her; Cordelia faded from Susan’s sight, just one more cruel phantasm in a dream that would soon end.
Bird and bear and hare and fish,
she thought.
Be safe, Roland; go with my love. That’s my fondest wish.

“Take her!” Rhea screamed. “Take this murdering bitch and cook her red-handed!
Charyou tree!

“Charyou tree!”
the crowd responded. A forest of willing hands grew in the moonlit air; somewhere firecrackers rattled and children laughed excitedly.

Susan was lifted from the cart and handed toward the waiting woodpile above the heads of the crowd, passed by uplifted hands like a heroine returned triumphantly home from the wars. Her hands dripped red tears upon their straining, eager faces. The moon overlooked it all, dwarfing the glow of the paper lanterns.

“Bird and bear and hare and fish,” she murmured as she was first lowered and then slammed against the pyramid of dry wood, put in the place which had been left for her—the whole crowd chanting in unison now,
“Charyou TREE! Charyou TREE! Charyou TREE!”

“Bird and bear and hare and fish.”

Trying to remember how he had danced with her that night. Trying to remember how he had loved with her in the willow grove. Trying to remember that first meeting on the dark road:
Thankee-sai, we’re well met,
he had said, and yes, in spite of everything, in spite of this miserable ending with the folk who had been her neighbors turned into prancing goblins by moonlight, in spite of pain and betrayal and what was coming, he had spoken the truth: they had been well met, they had been very well met, indeed.

“Charyou TREE! Charyou TREE! Charyou TREE!”

Women came and piled dry cornshucks around her feet. Several of them slapped her (it didn’t matter; her bruised and puffy face seemed to have gone numb), and one—it was Misha Alvarez, whose daughter Susan had taught to ride—spat into her eyes and then leaped prankishly away, shaking
her hands at the sky and laughing. For a moment she saw Coral Thorin, festooned with reap-charms, her arms filled with dead leaves which she threw at Susan; they fluttered down around her in a crackling, aromatic shower.

And now came her aunt again, and Rhea beside her. Each held a torch. They stood before her, and Susan could smell sizzling pitch.

Rhea raised her torch to the moon.
“CHARYOU TREE!”
she screamed in her rusty old voice, and the crowd responded,

“CHARYOU TREE!”

Cordelia raised her own torch.
“COME, REAP!”

“COME, REAP!”
they cried back to her.

“Now, ye bitch,” Rhea crooned. “Now comes warmer kisses than any yer love ever gave ye.”

“Die, ye faithless,” Cordelia whispered. “Life for the crops, death for you.”

It was she who first flung her torch into the cornshucks which were piled as high as Susan’s knees; Rhea flung hers a bare second later. The cornshucks blazed up at once, dazzling Susan with yellow light.

She drew in a final breath of cool air, warmed it with her heart, and loosed it in a defiant shout:
“ROLAND, I LOVE THEE!”

The crowd fell back, murmuring, as if uneasy at what they had done, now that it was too late to take it back; here was not a stuffy-guy but a cheerful girl they all knew, one of their own, for some mad reason backed up against the Reap-Night bonfire with her hands painted red. They might have saved her, given another moment—some might have, anyway—but it was too late. The dry wood caught; her pants caught; her shirt caught; her long blonde hair blazed on her head like a crown.

“ROLAND, I LOVE THEE!”

At the end of her life she was aware of heat but not pain. She had time to consider his eyes, eyes of that blue which is the color of the sky at first light of morning. She had time to think of him on the Drop, riding Rusher flat-out with his black hair flying back from his temples and his neckerchief rippling; to see him laughing with an ease and freedom he would never find again in the long life which stretched out for him beyond hers, and it was his laughter she took with her as she went out, fleeing the light and heat into the silky, consoling
dark, calling to him over and over as she went, calling bird and bear and hare and fish.

26

There was no word, not even
no,
in his screams at the end: he howled like a gutted animal, his hands welded to the ball, which beat like a runaway heart. He watched in it as she burned.

Cuthbert tried again to take the cursed thing away, and couldn’t. He did the only other thing he could think of—drew his revolver, pointed it at the ball, and thumbed back the hammer. He would likely wound Roland, and the flying glass might even blind him, but there was no other choice. If they didn’t do something, the glam would kill him.

But there was no need. As if seeing Cuthbert’s gun and understanding what it meant, the ball went instantly dark and dead in Roland’s hands. Roland’s stiff body, every line and muscle trembling with horror and outrage, went limp. He dropped like a stone, his fingers at last letting go of the ball. His stomach cushioned it as he struck the ground; it rolled off him and trickled to a stop by one of his limp, outstretched hands. Nothing burned in its darkness now except for one baleful orange spark—the tiny reflection of the rising Demon Moon.

Alain looked at the glass with a species of disgusted, frightened awe; looked at it as one might look at a vicious animal that now sleeps . . . but will wake again, and bite when it does.

He stepped forward, meaning to crush it to powder beneath his boot.

“Don’t you dare,” Cuthbert said in a hoarse voice. He was kneeling beside Roland’s limp form but looking at Alain. The rising moon was in his eyes, two small, bright stones of light. “Don’t you dare, after all the misery and death we’ve gone through to get it. Don’t you even
think
of it.”

Alain looked at him uncertainly for a moment, thinking he should destroy the cursed thing, anyway—misery suffered did not justify misery to come, and as long as the thing on the ground remained whole, misery was all it would bring anyone. It was a misery-
machine,
that was what it was, and it had killed Susan Delgado. He hadn’t seen what Roland had seen
in the glass, but he had seen his friend’s face, and that had been enough. It had killed Susan, and it would kill more, if left whole.

But then he thought of
ka
and drew back. Later he would bitterly regret doing so.

“Put it in the bag again,” Cuthbert said, “and then help me with Roland. We have to get out of here.”

The drawstring bag lay crumpled on the ground nearby, fluttering in the wind. Alain picked up the ball, hating the feel of its smooth, curved surface, expecting it to come alive under his touch. It didn’t, though. He put it in the bag, and looped it over his shoulder again. Then he knelt beside Roland.

He didn’t know how long they tried unsuccessfully to bring him around—until the moon had risen high enough in the sky to turn silver again, and the smoke roiling out of the canyon had begun to dissipate, that was all he knew. Until Cuthbert told him it was enough; they would have to sling him over Rusher’s saddle and ride with him that way. If they could get into the heavily forested lands west o’ Barony before dawn, Cuthbert said, they would likely be safe . . . but they had to get at least that far. They had smashed Farson’s men apart with stunning ease, but the remains would likely knit together again the following day. Best they be gone before that happened.

And that was how they left Eyebolt Canyon, and the seacoast side of Mejis; riding west beneath the Demon Moon, with Roland laid across his saddle like a corpse.

27

The next day they spent in Il Bosque, the forest west of Mejis, waiting for Roland to wake up. When afternoon came and he remained unconscious, Cuthbert said: “See if you can touch him.”

Alain took Roland’s hands in his own, marshalled all his concentration, bent over his friend’s pale, slumbering face, and remained that way for almost half an hour. Finally he shook his head, let go of Roland’s hands, and stood up.

“Nothing?” Cuthbert asked.

Alain sighed and shook his head.

They made a travois of pine branches so he wouldn’t have to spend another night riding oversaddle (if nothing else, it
seemed to make Rusher nervous to be carrying his master in such a way), and went on, not travelling on the Great Road—that would have been far too dangerous—but parallel to it. When Roland remained unconscious the following day (Mejis falling behind them now, and both boys feeling a deep tug of homesickness, inexplicable but as real as tides), they sat on either side of him, looking at each other over the slow rise and fall of his chest.

“Can an unconscious person starve, or die of thirst?” Cuthbert asked. “They can’t, can they?”

“Yes,” Alain said. “I think they can.”

It had been a long, nerve-wracking night of travel. Neither boy had slept well the previous day, but on this one they slept like the dead, with blankets over their heads to block the sun. They awoke minutes apart as the sun was going down and Demon Moon, now two nights past the full, was rising through a troubled rack of clouds that presaged the first of the great autumn storms.

Roland was sitting up. He had taken the glass from the drawstring bag. He sat with it cradled in his arms, a darkened bit of magic as dead as the glass eyes of The Romp. Roland’s own eyes, also dead, looked indifferently off into the moonlit corridors of the forest. He would eat but not sleep. He would drink from the streams they passed but not speak. And he would not be parted from the piece of Maerlyn’s Rainbow which they had brought out of Mejis at such great price. It did not glow for him, however.

Not,
Cuthbert thought once,
while Al and I are awake to see it, anyway.

Alain couldn’t get Roland’s hands off the ball, and so he laid his own on Roland’s cheeks, touching him that way. Except there was nothing to touch, nothing there. The thing which rode west with them toward Gilead was not Roland, or even a ghost of Roland. Like the moon at the close of its cycle, Roland had gone.

BOOK: The Dark Tower IV Wizard and Glass
12.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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