Notes: This chapter would have been out sooner but new babies take a lot of time. And sleep. And laundry. And patience. And time. Anyway, thanks to all my readers.
After weeks – months – years – of sleeping on the ground, except for their brief time in the Calla, even the lumpy mattress at the cheap motel they slept at that night was heavenly. The money the Pere had left them (along with the note and the car) was more than enough for a nicer hotel, but they all agreed that they had to make sure it lasted as long as possible. The two adjoining rooms smelled of mildew and burnt popcorn, but no one complained. It was enough, more than enough, that the ka-tet remained intact.
Roland had spent the entire drive (after they had buried the Pere in a funeral whose memory kept bringing tears to Eddie and Jake's eyes) sitting in the backseat of the Crown Victoria, one arm around the boy's sleeping shoulders. Suze had kept her hand on Eddie's knee as they drove south. Every member of the ka-tet, from Roland to Oy, felt the truth of the situation – they were in uncharted territory; this was different from anything that had come before. They had saved the Beams and the Tower and the ka-tet remained unbroken.
That night Eddie and Susannah slept tightly in each other's arms; on the other side of the thin wall Roland held a vigil, smoking the last of his Calla tobacco as he watched Jake and Oy sleep curled around each other under the thin motel blanket under the glammer of the strengthening beam.
Susannah's joy at her reunion with Papa Mose, coupled with the song of the saved Rose, reduced both Eddie and Jake to tears. They held palaver with him and the other members of the Tet Corporation; gifts and thanks given and received. Then they were taken to the Dixie Pig, which had been shut down by the authority of the NYPD with the unofficial backing of the Tet Corporation. It was a relief for all of them, to walk through the door to Fedic into Roland's world, their home, holding hands.
The cold between Fedic and the Castle of the King was hardest on Susannah, who thought longingly of steaming hot baths and woolen mittens. Then Eddie would wrap his arms around her and kiss her neck, and she would feel warm enough again.
Roland alone seemed utterly unsurprised at the imprisonment of the Crimson King on side of the Tower. Prison pent.
After they'd finished the long, exhausting task of shooting and skinning the deer, not to mention sewing new gloves, leggings and jackets, Eddie joked that they all looked like weird versions of Davy Crockett. Then he spent the next half hour thoroughly annoying Roland (and amusing Jake and Suze) by singing "the Ballad of Davy Crockett" ad nauseum. Oy tried to join in, but could only get out "Avy Ockkit."
It was Eddie who shot Dandelo after the creature had begun to bewitch Roland, Susannah, and Jake. There had to be something wrong with him, Eddie declared, if Joe Collins of Odd's Lane could make Roland laugh with that shitty material.
Each member of the ka-tet felt shamed for not catching on to their danger sooner; Roland for not seeing the trap at all, Susannah for not trusting her instincts, Jake for not using the Touch.
They sent Jake to coax Patrick from his cage because he looked the least threatening and because his Touch could reassure the poor, imprisoned, mute boy better than anything else – save Oy, who captivated the artist from the very beginning. They camped warm and happy in the barn, and when Lippy came back Roland shot him, but this time there was no Dan-Tete to sicken himself on the meat, because on this level of the Tower Roland brought Jake out from under the mountains.
As they walked through the fields of No-Ken-Ka-Ray, Eddie and Roland taking turns pulling Susannah and Patrick in the cart, the gunslinger spoke. For hours he spoke, revealing old stories, old betrayals, old deaths. Faces long forgotten flickered before the eyes of their Dinh's ka-tet, and they understood they had come to a place of atonement.
It was Susannah who discovered The Artist's ability to Draw and Erase when she had him erase the sore from her mouth, but it was Roland who fully understood the implications of the power.
Jake didn't know what was more unsettling; the piercing, hellish shrieks of the Crimson King or the call of the Tower that stood among the field of Roses. They shot sneetches out of the sky and felt the pull of Gan; none more so than Roland, who felt the draw of the stone column with every drop of blood in his veins. He could have asked Jake or Eddie or Susannah to fetch the Rose for him (any one of them would have, for Roland was their Dinh) but he chose to do it himself, mangling his right hand in the process, losing two fingers and a thumb.
The sight filled him with remembrance.
Then the pained shrieks of the son of Arthur Eld filled the air as Patrick mixed blood with roe and erased Los the Red from all worlds.
Roland set the horn to his lips and blew.
The roses responded with a trumpeting blast that rang through End World at Sunset. Eddie and Susannah had ushered Patrick back to the road, telling him to take it back to the Federal. Now they all stood, silent and still as the fallen statues as Roland called out the names of all the lost ones. Every name echoed endlessly through the field of roses; every name sent gooseflesh up Eddie's arms and brought tears to Jake's eyes.
Roland's own name echoed away and his ka-tet watched in awe as the gunslinger unholstered both of his revolvers – the guns of Eld – along with the horn and the silver cross of Talitha Unwin – and laid them at the door to the Tower. For a moment he caressed the stone, his mutilated fingers brushing against the cold, dark stone – and then turned to face Eddie, Susannah, and Jake with Oy in his arms.
Never before had the gunslinger's blue eyes burned so brightly in his weary face; never before had any of them seen such a look of contentment on Roland's face.
Moving quickly, copying Roland, Jake set Oy on the ground and lifted the bag of Oriza's from his shoulder, placing it and the gun he had once handed to Benny Slightman at the foot of the Tower. Eddie and Susannah did the same with their weapons as the last band of gunslingers offered their weapons to the Dark Tower.
Before Roland could lay a hand on the door it swung open, bringing with it the smell of
And some indefinable scent that whirled around them and then dissipated. Without speaking, Roland held out his whole left hand – calloused, cracked, marked with age and the names of everyone who had lost their lives to its deadly skill – and Jake took it, holding his own out to Susannah, riding in Eddie's arms. Oy rode inside Jake's shirt, panting rapidly, gold ringed eyes gazing at the boy adoringly.
The gunslinger turned and stepped inside the Tower.
They passed room upon room, floor upon floor, every nineteen steps bringing them up another level, another scene of Roland's life. They were in Can Calyx, the Hall of Resumption, and every room carried another memory of Roland's past. Old betrayals (David) and deaths (Cuthbert) and loves (Susan).
Each story Roland told them slowly, haltingly, each room a brand on his skin. His ka-tet listened in wondering silence, tasting the dust of forgotten towns, hearing the cries of the wounded, smelling the spilt blood of a thousand enemies. Every betrayal, every death, every life tossed away in pursuit of the Tower; Roland told them all.
Some of the rooms which detailed Roland's life included them (Jake saw his own face, heard the rush of the waterfall, and his own scornful, shaken voice, "You're going to kill me. He killed me the first time and you're going to kill me this time and I think you know it." But he did not release his grip on the gunslinger's hand. They followed him, up seemingly miles and miles of stairs, past room after room.
"This is a place of atonement," the gunslinger thought, and Gan answered; "Yes, Roland. But only because you allowed it to be so."
The deepening light found them at the last door at the top of the Tower. Roland inscribed in the High Speech across it. Sunlight peeking out, rose and gun entwined on the shining knob. This sigul Roland caressed with one bloody fingertip. Turned, and looked once more at his ka-tet. One last look at them as they were.
Roland opened the door at the top of the Dark Tower.
Roland of Gilead shook his head, disoriented. The heat, probably. For a moment, he'd believed himself to be inside the Dark Tower itself – Can Calyx, the hall of Resumption – but the Tower was leagues and worlds away, at world's end.
There had been a time in his youth when Gilead's dinh had considered questing after the Tower – was it not the center of the universe, the secret of existence, the unifying essence that bound the White together? But it was a young man's fancy, a dream. The magic of the Prim sang among the Beams and Gilead shone under the will of the White and the rule of Eld. The Beams were strong, the Tower stood true, and the world remained sweet, for there was magic everywhere.
Roland caressed the statue, wrought by Gilead's most skilled artisan, with both hands. Whole hands.
Patrick had captured the beauty of the galloping horse, the tension in its neck, the lovely lines of its muscles. Had managed to capture the young woman above the horse as well, immortalizing her in stone. Lovely face turned upward, strong hands wrapped around the horse's bridle, hair blown across her shoulders. He almost expected her to spring down from the galloping horse and cover his face with kisses.
"Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish." He whispered, one hand warm on the cold stone. Her death, four years ago, had been a terrible shock. To the kingdom and to Roland himself. Those responsible for the fire in the King's stables had been punished, and punished severely, for the King's rage and grief had been great – but Susan, lovely Susan, had left them behind. His wife lost, as so many others – his father, his mother, Cort, Vannay – had been, to the passage of time.
Roland walked towards the castle, the disorientation he had felt earlier ebbing as he walked. The green Great Lawn of Gilead, hearing the click of croquet balls as the women played at Points and the pennons snapping in the hot breeze. Dinh though he was, the man (now tending towards gray) wore no crown; the siguls of his power were inscribed on the horn of Eld he wore on his hip, next to the guns of Steven, his father. The guns themselves were more than symbols and could still mediate justice (as the men who had fired the King's stables had discovered) but Gilead was calm, the world was at peace, and the guns of Eld, fashioned from the sword of Excalibur, were rarely drawn.
Distant laughter interrupted Roland's thoughts. Sitting in the shade among the ash and alder trees sat the newest ka-tel. Forty in all, grouped by age, sitting their backs to the lawn that Roland now crossed.
He paused just outside the circle of trees providing shade and shelter to the children and their teacher. Susannah must have taken them out here to escape the heat of the day; the months before Reap often found the castle humid and stifling. Out here on the mall, there was always hope of a breeze, even if it was a warm one.
"Who knows the legend of Gray Dick and Lady Oriza?" The lovely dark skinned woman asked her students. Many were remarkably attentive, despite the heat of the day and the distraction of their surroundings; others with drooping eyes and stifled yawns were obviously fighting naps.
"John, son of Roland. Do you know the tale?" Susannah's voice lightened almost imperceptibly as she gestured to the young boy seated near her. It was no secret that John – Jake, as his mother had called him – was a favorite of his teacher. Some may have believed she favored him to curry favor with the current ruler of Gilead, (and its future one) but Roland knew better. Susannah pandered to no one, including her husband; her fondness for Jake was genuine affection, and the boy was grateful for it, for he missed his mother terribly.
The boy carefully placed one of the young bumblers from the barn that had been sitting on his lap on the ground and stood, tapping his throat three times.
"Yes, thankee sai." He cleared his throat and began, "A long time ago, in another age –"
Roland watched his son recite the old tale, listening to the cadences as his voice rose and fell. There was so much of Susan in Jake – his golden hair, handsome face and good temper were only the most obvious. He wasn't sure where the boy had inherited his skill with The Touch – it was not strong in the line of Eld; perhaps it came from the Chambers line, she of Susan's mother – but Roland could see himself in the boy's blue eyes and the speed of his hands.
Out of the corner of his own eyes, Roland spied Cuthbert walking across the lawn, heading towards the small group gathered amongst the alder and ash trees. He was smiling, the expression lighting his eyes, and so Roland surmised his trip to the Outer Arc had gone well. Cuthbert's travels had played no small part in contributing to the peace that Gilead now enjoyed; Roland had never met a better diplomat than Cuthbert Allgood. His travels through In-World and Mid-World had also gained him the love his life; meeting Susannah on the roads of Garlan.
"- and may it last ten thousand years." Jake finished as Cuthbert reached the spot where Roland stood.
There they stood, shoulder to shoulder in the late afternoon of full Earth. His hazel eyes sparkled with tales and stories, but, for a wonder, Cuthbert kept his silence and Roland was grateful. A solemn joy had settled over him as he surveyed the people and the land before him.
In the story his son had just told Lady Riza had meant them as a curse, and Roland supposed they were – for those who found themselves in hell. But Roland was not, and he repeated the words Jake had said in a solemn whisper, not in curse but in blessing, as his blue eyes surveyed all that he knew and loved.
"And may it last ten thousand years, and be only the beginning."
Notes: This is strictly only my opinion, but there are really only two different scenarios I envision for Roland's fate upon entering the tower. Should Roland reach the top of the Tower alone, having lost his ka-tet again but having achieved redemption, I see death as his reward – rest, and finding his lost loved ones in the clearing.
In this story, with the ka-tet intact, I emphasized the Tower as the Hall of Resumption, the center of time, to send Roland back, with variations of his ka-tet, to Gilead. It is not a perfect ending – Susan is still dead, and Gilead still has its own struggles – but in DT7, Roland speculates that the healing beams may bring back the homeland he knew and loved.
A lot of ground was covered in this chapter, and if there are readers who are disappointed at the brief snippet style of writing, all I can say is that covering the second half of the TDT would have been impossible. A few readers speculated on the ka-tet's reaction to the Crimson King – Eeeeeeeeeeeee! Again, this is purely my own speculation, but I imagine after having faced deeper, more personal horrors, the ka-tet would find the Crimson King dangerous and terrifying, but not debilitating. I keep seeing Eddie scared but laughing while shooting sneetches out of the sky. In this story I also copied King's Deus ex machina in having the Tet corporation clear and clean out the Dixie Pig, allowing the ka-tet a quick, convenient door back to Roland's world.
Thanks to all the readers who reviewed. This entire story grew out of my personal speculation: what if Roland didn't let Jake die under the mountains? How would that one decision (that we revisit again and again in the actual canon series) change the entire course of the saga if it went another way? King himself admitted in an interview a few months ago that it was Roland's dropping Jake that doomed him to another cycle; this story is just my idea of what might happen should Roland make a different choice.
This story is over, but we have The Wind Through the Keyhole to look forward to next year and (possibly) the DT movies. Like you, I can't wait.