Author's Note: A Dark Tower ficlet about Roland and his true ka-mai. One-Shot and AU so some liberties have been taken – rated for theme and naughty language. All hail the King, say thankya.
Disclaimer: I do not lay claim to anything Dark Tower. Nor the title, which is filched from Robert Jordan. Arg – I'm a pillaging swine.
The Grave is No Bar to My Call
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil.
Well, maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.
Hallelujah – J. Buckley
And so it had come to this. The reek of gunsmoke, arrows blackening the sky with their vicious hornet's whine, stone at their backs, the clearing in sight, and Cuthbert laughing, laughing, laughing as Roland rallied the troops.
'We're going into them. And will accept no quarter.'
'Nope, no quarter. Absolutely none,' Cuthbert says.
'We will not accept their surrender if offered.'
'Under no circumstances!' Cuthbert is wheezing now. Blood oozes with each gust of mirth. 'Not even if all two thousand lay down their arms.'
Roland hefts his gun, cocks the safety. 'Then blow that fucking horn.'
A grin from Cuthbert, like bone flashing through a wound, as he raised the horn of Eld. 'The Tower!' was his cry, loud and strong in the High Speech.
'No prisoners,' Roland heard himself scream and scream again.
They charged, hailing Gilead, Eld, the Tower, that god-fucking finger of hell. Gunshot on their left side, gunshot on their right. Arrows thudding so the ground trembled with the violation. And the horn, the baleful, blatting horn at Bert's lips calling for aid that would never come.
You can have it again when I'm dead. Neglect not to pick it up, Roland, for it's your property. Cuthbert had grinned as he spake that last part, hair swept from his clear brow - the only part of him left unmarked, it seemed.
But the line of Eld would end here, Roland knew. The horn would be nothing but a relic of a dead dynasty….and it will forget me.
The thought was sharp as the arrow that struck Cuthbert from his saddle. His mount's scream (time to make good on your oath to the knackers, Glue Boy) rang with the last shrill note of the horn, then horse and rider went down in the stew of blood and ruined flesh.
Roland tried to scream. Nothing answered.
He was on his knees, scrabbling through corpses still warm from the sun. Blood flowed free and steamed with a copper-reek. The blaze of flies was maddening.
For a heartbeat Roland was snared twixt the battle and the ghost-lit memory of its eve. Was it Cuthbert or Alain he was panting and heaving towards? Would he find a grin or the abattoir stare of the betrayed? Alain. Light, I'm so….
Faithful to the last, Glue Boy had shucked Cuthbert free. He lay dying surely as his master, lips peeled from strong, yellowed teeth that had nipped Bert's unwary arse more than once. The boy lay sprawled alongside, his legs jointed at odd angles. Pain showed in every line of his face as he panted like a bumbler in the sun.
'Am I still pretty?'
'Til his dying day Roland wondered how he mustered a smile at that. He knelt and cradled the boy's head in his lap. Cuthbert gazed feverishly up at him with his remaining eye. Roland kept his gaze from the obscene jut that had obliterated the other. 'I've seen worse.'
'Light! Cort would have me flayed for this, to be sure.' Bert was trembling, his bones bird-light. 'What are you waiting for, maggot?' he gruffed in a voice eerily like their old teacher's. 'Got one good eye left, haven't you? On guard!'
Roland laughed and the sound startled him. It was like the bark of some feral creature.
The grin slid from his Cuthbert's face. Beneath the boy's bloodied shirt he felt the whump of a heart slugging strong to its last. 'I'm not afraid.'
'Yes. There are other worlds than these.'
But Cuthbert was shaking his head. The arrow shaft swayed horribly, like the mast of a sinking ship. 'No. It feels right.' That aspirated word emerged with a crimson mist. 'It's like….it's part of what you believe, Roland.'
A snarl was crawling up his belly like poisoned meat. There was no meaning here. No ka. Just two scared boys kneeling in the valley of death.
'You believe me, don't you? You believe it's—?' And a fit of coughing ravaged his friend.
Roland thought Cuthbert would not survive that paroxysm, that he would die with a question on his lips just as Cort had always said he would.
But the spasm passed, leaving a wet rattle at the tail of each breath and Roland saw that Cuthbert was fighting for each one, fighting so hard his neck was corded with the strain. He was holding out, as though waiting for something.
Why? his mind snarled in a voice that was part Cort's, part his own.
No ka here, no sir-ee. Cuthbert had fallen silent but his words were fulsome and spry in Roland's head. I'm not leaving 'til you stop believing that, Roly-boy.
A faint hum that was Alain, like the whisper of a thinny but sweet and infinite. He was too close yet, so close Roland could almost feel him, a warm shade at his shoulder.
Bird and bear and hare and fish,
Give the boy his dying wish.
Cuthbert's remaining eye was a wet slit. Roland saw true fear there and, oh, how that speared like a bolt through his heart. Cuthbert's fear was not for himself but the tall boy cradling him, the one bowed with the slump of the faithless, the one who had forgotten what came like the wind.
The one who had forgotten the face of his father.
Clasping his friend's hand, Roland leaned close. 'Bert.'
The boy's eye cracked open, the pupil huge and pulsing.
'It is ka.'
'Ka-ka.' A smile, so beautiful Roland would never see its like again, lit Cuthbert's face. 'Will you—?'
He broke off, red-flecked foam curdling his last smile.
Roland leant close to the boy now slack and heavy as a sack of meal, faceless as the rest of the dead.
'Ka-mai,' he breathed, and it was a lover's sigh, a simple prayer that drifted like dander across the killing fields.
Cort's mocking laugh rasped loud. I told him, maggot - keep asking questions and you'll die with one drying on your lips.
And that is ka, you son of a bitch, the last Gunslinger thought as the first sob shook him. That is fucking ka.