-->


The first is young, dark-haired. He stands on the brink of robbery and murder. A demon has infested him. The name of the demon is HEROIN. Which demon is that? I know it not, even from my tutor’s lessons. “We see in part, and thus is the mirror of prophecy darkened.” There are other worlds, gunslinger, and other demons. These waters are deep. Watch for the doorways. Watch for the roses and the unfound doorways. The second? She comes on wheels. I see no more. The third? Death . . . but not for you. The man in black? Where is he? Near. You will speak with him soon. Of what will we speak? The Tower. The boy? Jake? . . . Tell me of the boy! The boy is your gate 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. . . . What shall I 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 of young boys. May he not be spared? Yes. How? Cease, gunslinger. Strike your camp and turn back northwest. In the northwest 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. Eagerness. The shadow swung over him, enfolded him. There was sudden 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 climax of their coupling: Sylvia Pittston; Alice, the woman from Tull; Susan; a dozen 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 (honeysuckle, jasmine, sweet attar) and he pushed her violently, falling to his knees. He 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. Had he learned enough to justify this feeling of defilement? He didn’t know. In time he supposed he would. 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. “You’re sick!” Jake stood up fast when the gunslinger shambled back through the last trees and came into camp. He’d 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. “No,” he said. “Not sick. Just tired. Whipped.” He gestured absently at the jawbone. “You can let go of that, Jake.” The boy threw it down quickly and violently, rubbing his hands across his shirt after doing it. His upper lip rose and fell in a snarl that was, the gunslinger believed, perfectly unconscious. 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 speak to the boy dan-dinh after telling him all he had learned, then thrust the idea away with horror. He wondered if a part of him—mind or soul—might not be disintegrating. To open one’s mind and heart to the command of a child? The idea was insane. “We sleep here tonight. Tomorrow we start climbing. I’ll go out a little later and see if I can’t shoot something for supper. We need to make strength. I’ve got to sleep now. Okay?” “Sure. Knock yourself out.” “I don’t understand you.” “Do what you want.” “Ah.” The gunslinger nodded and lay back. Knock myself out, he thought. Knock. Myself out. 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 stopped at the sound of the boy’s voice. Stopped dead. “Spark-a-dark, where’s my sire?” the boy murmured, and Roland heard the sharp chik!chik!chik! of the flint. It sounded like the cry of a small mechanical bird. “Will I lay me? Will I stay me? Bless this camp with fire.” Picked it up from me, the gunslinger thought, not in the least surprised to discover he was all over goosebumps and on the verge of shivering like a wet dog. Picked it up from me, words I don’t even remember saying, and will I betray such? Ah, Roland, will thee betray such true thread as this in a sad unthreaded world? Could anything justify it? ’Tis just words. Aye, but old ones. Good ones. “Roland?” the boy called. “Are you all right?” “Yar,” he said gruffly, and the tang of smoke stung faintly in his nose. “Thee’s made fire.” “Yes,” the boy said simply, and Roland did not need to turn to know the boy was smiling. The gunslinger got moving and bore left, this time skirting the willow grove. 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 crackle of the campfire Jake had rekindled. The sound made him smile. He stood without moving for ten minutes, fifteen, twenty. Three rabbits came, and once they were at silflay the gunslinger pulled leather. He took them down, skinned them, gutted them, and brought them back to the camp. Jake had water already steaming over the low flames. 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 his intuition was that the climb would not be a particularly difficult one. He felt ka at work on the surface of things and no longer even considered it 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 in this world?” The gunslinger smiled and gave Jake an elbow. “You are,” he said. Jake responded with a wan smile. “Will it be hard to 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.