Roland of Gilead walked through the last door, the one he always sought, the one he always found. It closed gently behind him.
The gunslinger paused for a moment, swaying on his feet. He thought he’d almost passed out. It was the heat, of course; the damned heat. There was a wind, but it was dry and brought no relief. He took his waterskin, judged how much was left by the heft of it, knew he shouldn’t drink-it wasn’t time to drink-and had a swallow, anyway.
For a moment he had felt he was somewhere else. In the Tower itself, mayhap. But of course the desert was tricky, and full of mirages. The Dark Tower still lay thousands of wheels ahead. That sense of having climbed many stairs and looked into many rooms where many faces had looked back at him was already fading.
I will reach it, he thought, squinting up at the pitiless sun. I swear on the name of my father that I will.
And perhaps this time if you get there it will be different, a voice whispered-surely the voice of desert delirium, for what other time had there ever been? He was what he was and where he was, just that, no more than that, no more. He had no sense of humor and little imagination, but he was steadfast. He was gunslinger. And in his heart, well-hidden, he still felt the bitter romance of the quest.
You ‘re the one who never changes, Cort had told him once, and in his voice Roland could have sworn he heard fear… although why Cort should have been afraid of him-a boy-Roland couldn’t tell. It’ll be your damnation, boy. You’ll wear out a hundred pairs of boots on your xoalk to hell.
And Vannay: Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
And his mother: Roland, must you always be so serious? Can you never rest?
Yet the voice whispered it again
(different this time mayhap different)
and Roland did seem to smell something other than alkali and devil-grass. He thought it might be flowers.
He thought it might be roses.
He shifted his gunna from one shoulder to the other, then touched the horn that rode on his belt behind the gun on his right hip. The ancient brass horn had once been blown by Arthur Eld himself, or so the story did say. Roland had given it to Cuthbert Allgood at Jericho Hill, and when Cuthbert fell,
Roland had paused just long enough to pick it up again, knocking the deathdust of that place from its throat.
This is your sigul, whispered the fading voice that bore with it the dusk-sweet scent of roses, the scent of home on a summer evening-O lost!-a stone, a rose, an unfound door; a stone, a rose, a door.
This is your promise that things may be different, Roland-that there may yet be rest. Even salvation.
A pause, and then:
If you stand. If you are true.
He shook his head to clear it, thought of taking another sip of water, and dismissed the idea. Tonight. When he built his campfire over the bones of Walter’s fire. Then he would drink.
As for now…
As for now, he would resume his journey. Somewhere ahead CODA 830
was the Dark Tower. Closer, however, much closer, was the man (was he a man? was he really?) who could perhaps tell him how to get there. Roland would catch him, and when he did, that man would talk-aye, yes, yar, tell it on the mountain as you’d hear it in the valley: Walter would be caught, and Walter would talk.
Roland touched the horn again, and its reality was oddly comforting, as if he had never touched it before.
Time to get moving.
The man in black fled across die desert, and the gunslinger followed.
June 19, 1970-April 7, 2004:
Tell God thankya.