Wolves of the Calla
Part Two Telling Tales Chapter I: The Pavilion
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If anything about the ride into Calla Bryn Sturgis surprised Eddie, it was how easily and naturally he took to horseback. Unlike Susannah and Jake, who had both ridden at summer camp, Eddie had never even petted a horse. When he'd heard the clop of approaching hooves on the morning after what he thought of as Todash Number Two, he'd felt a sharp pang of dread. It wasn't the riding he was afraid of, or the animals themselves; it was the possibility - hell, the strong probability - of looking like a fool. What kind of gunslinger had never ridden a horse?
Yet Eddie still found time to pass a word with Roland before they came. "It wasn't the same last night."
Roland raised his eyebrows.
"It wasn't nineteen last night."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know what I mean."
"I don't know, either," Jake put in, "but he's right. Last night New York felt like the real deal. I mean, I know we were todash, but still..."
"Real," Roland had mused.
And Jake, smiling, said: "Real as roses."
The Slightmans were at the head of the Calla's party this time, each leading a pair of mounts by long hacks. There was nothing very intimidating about the horses of Calla Bryn Sturgis; certainly they weren't much like the ones Eddie had imagined galloping along the Drop in Roland's tale of long-ago Mejis. These beasts were stubby, sturdy-legged creatures with shaggy coats and large, intelligent eyes. They were bigger than Shetland ponies, but a very long cast from the fiery-eyed stallions he had been expecting. Not only had they been saddled, but a proper bedroll had been lashed to each mount.
As Eddie walked toward his (he didn't need to be told which it was, he knew: the roan), all his doubts and worries fell away. He only asked a single question, directed at Ben Slightman the Younger after examining the stirrups. "These are going to be too short for me, Ben - can you show me how to make them longer?"
When the boy dismounted to do it himself, Eddie shook his head. "It'd be best if I learned," he said. And with no embarrassment at all.
As the boy showed him, Eddie realized he didn't really need the lesson. He saw how it was done almost as soon as Benny's fingers flipped up the stirrup, revealing the leather tug in back. This wasn't like hidden, subconscious knowledge, and it didn't strike him as anything supernatural, either. It was just that, with the horse a warm and fragrant reality before him, he understood how everything worked. He'd only had one experience exactly like this since coming to Mid-World, and that had been the first time he'd strapped on one of Roland's guns.
"Need help, sugar?" Susannah asked.
"Just pick me up if I go off on the other side," he grunted, but of course he didn't do any such thing. The horse stood steady, swaying just the slightest bit as Eddie stepped into the stirrup and then swung into the plain black ranchhand's saddle.
Jake asked Benny if he had a poncho. The foreman's son looked doubtfully up at the cloudy sky. "I really don't think it's going to rain," he'd said. "It's often like this for days around Reaptide - "
"I want it for Oy." Perfectly calm, perfectly certain. He feels exactly like I do , Eddie thought. As if he's done this a thousand times before .
The boy drew a rolled oilskin from one of his saddlebags and handed it to Jake, who thanked him, put it on, and then tucked Oy into the capacious pocket which ran across the front like a kangaroo's pouch. There wasn't a single protest from the bumbler, either. Eddie thought: If I told Jake I'd expected Oy to trot along behind us like a sheepdog, would he say, "He always rides like this"?No ... but he might think it .
As they set off, Eddie realized what all this reminded him of: stories he'd heard of reincarnation. He had tried to shake the idea off, to reclaim the practical, tough-minded Brooklyn boy who had grown up in Henry Dean's shadow, and wasn't quite able to do it. The thought of reincarnation might have been less unsettling if it had come to him head-on, but it didn't. What he thought was that he couldn't be from Roland's line, simply couldn't. Not unless Arthur Eld had at some point stopped by Co-Op City, that was. Like maybe for a redhot and a piece of Dahlie Lundgren's fried dough. Stupid to project such an idea from the ability to ride an obviously docile horse without lessons. Yet the idea came back at odd moments through the day, and had followed him down into sleep last night: the Eld. The line of the Eld.
They nooned in the saddle, and while they were eating popkins and drinking cold coffee, Jake eased his mount in next to Roland's. Oy peered at the gunslinger with bright eyes from the front pocket of the poncho. Jake was feeding the bumbler pieces of his popkin, and there were crumbs caught in Oy's whiskers.
"Roland, may I speak to you as dinh?" Jake sounded slightly embarrassed.
"Of course." Roland drank coffee and then looked at the boy, interested, all the while rocking contentedly back and forth in the saddle.
"Ben - that is, both Slightmans, but mostly the kid - asked if I'd come and stay with them. Out at the Rocking B."
"Do you want to go?" Roland asked.
The boy's cheeks flushed thin red. "Well, what I thought is that if you guys were in town with the Old Fella and I was out in the country - south of town, you ken - then we'd get two different pictures of the place. My Dad says you don't see anything very well if you only look at it from one viewpoint."
"True enough," Roland said, and hoped neither his voice nor his face would give away any of the sorrow and regret he suddenly felt. Here was a boy who was now ashamed of being a boy. He had made a friend and the friend had invited him to stay over, as friends sometimes do. Benny had undoubtedly promised that Jake could help him feed the animals, and perhaps shoot his bow (or his bah, if it shot bolts instead of arrows). There would be places Benny would want to share, secret places he might have gone to with his twin in other times. A platform in a tree, mayhap, or a fishpond in the reeds special to him, or a stretch of riverbank where pirates of eld were reputed to have buried gold and jewels. Such places as boys go. But a large part of Jake Chambers was now ashamed to want to do such things. This was the part that had been despoiled by the doorkeeper in Dutch Hill, by Gasher, by the Tick-Tock Man. And by Roland himself, of course. Were he to say no to Jake's request now, the boy would very likely never ask again. And never resent him for it, which was even worse. Were he to say yes in the wrong way - with even the slightest trace of indulgence in his voice, for instance - the boy would change his mind.
The boy. The gunslinger realized how much he wanted to be able to go on calling Jake that, and how short the time to do so was apt to be. He had a bad feeling about Calla Bryn Sturgis.
"Go with them after they dine us in the Pavilion tonight," Roland said. "Go and do ya fine, as they say here."
"Are you sure? Because if you think you might need me - "
"Your father's saying is a good one. My old teacher - "
"Cort or Vannay?"
"Cort. He used to tell us that a one-eyed man sees flat. It takes two eyes, set a little apart from each other, to see things as they really are. So aye. Go with them. Make the boy your friend, if that seems natural. He seems likely enough."
"Yeah," Jake said briefly. But the color was going down in his cheeks again. Roland was pleased to see this.
"Spend tomorrow with him. And his friends, if he has a gang he goes about with."
Jake shook his head. "It's far out in the country. Ben says that Eisenhart's got plenty of help around the place, and there are some kids his age, but he's not allowed to play with them. Because he's the foreman's son, I guess."
Roland nodded. This did not surprise him. "You'll be offered graf tonight in the Pavilion. Do you need me to tell you it's iced tea once we're past the first toast?"
Jake shook his head.
Roland touched his temple, his lips, the corner of one eye, his lips again. "Head clear. Mouth shut. See much. Say little."
Jake grinned briefly and gave him a thumbs-up. "What about you?"
"The three of us will stay with the priest tonight. I'm in hopes that tomorrow we may hear his tale."
"And see..." They had fallen a bit behind the others, but Jake still lowered his voice. "See what he told us about?"
"That I don't know," Roland said. "The day after tomorrow, we three will ride out to the Rocking B. Perhaps noon with sai Eisenhart and have a bit of palaver. Then, over the next few days, the four of us will have a look at this town, both the inner and the outer. If things go well for you at the ranch, Jake, I'd have you stay there as long as you like and as much as they'll have you."
"Really?" Although he kept his face well (as the saying went), the gunslinger thought Jake was very pleased by this.
"Aye. From what I make out - what I ken - there's three big bugs in Calla Bryn Sturgis. Overholser's one. Took, the storekeeper, is another. The third one's Eisenhart. I'd hear what you make of him with great interest."
"You'll hear," Jake said. "And thankee-sai." He tapped his throat three times. Then his seriousness broke into a broad grin. A boy's grin. He urged his horse into a trot, moving up to tell his new friend that yes, he might stay the night, yes, he could come and play.
"Holy wow," Eddie said. The words came out low and slow, almost the exclamation of an awestruck cartoon character. But after nearly two months in the woods, the view warranted an exclamation. And there was the element of surprise. At one moment they'd just been clopping along the forest trail, mostly by twos (Overholser rode alone at the head of the group, Roland alone at its tail). At the next the trees were gone and the land itself fell away to the north, south, and east. They were thus presented with a sudden, breathtaking, stomach-dropping view of the town whose children they were supposed to save.
Yet at first, Eddie had no eyes at all for what was spread out directly below him, and when he glanced at Susannah and Jake, he saw they were also looking beyond the Calla. Eddie didn't have to look around at Roland to know he was looking beyond, too. Definition of a wanderer , Eddie thought, a guy who's always looking beyond .
"Aye, quite the view, we tell the gods thankee," Overholser said complacently; and then, with a glance at Callahan, "Man Jesus as well, a'course, all gods is one when it comes to thanks, so I've heard, and 'tis a good enough saying."
He might have prattled on. Probably did; when you were the big farmer, you usually got to have your say, and all the way to the end. Eddie took no notice. He had returned his attention to the view.
Ahead of them, beyond the village, was a gray band of river running south. The branch of the Big River known as Devar-Tete Whye, Eddie remembered. Where it came out of the forest, the Devar-Tete ran between steep banks, but they lowered as the river entered the first cultivated fields, then fell away entirely. He saw a few stands of palm trees, green and improbably tropical. Beyond the moderate-sized village, the land west of the river was a brilliant green shot through everywhere with more gray. Eddie was sure that on a sunny day, that gray would turn a brilliant blue, and that when the sun was directly overhead, the glare would be too bright to look at. He was looking at rice-fields. Or maybe you called them paddies.
Beyond them and east of the river was desert, stretching for miles. Eddie could see parallel scratches of metal running into it, and made them for railroad tracks.
And beyond the desert - or obscuring the rest of it - was simple blackness. It rose into the sky like a vapory wall, seeming to cut into the low-hanging clouds.
"Yon's Thunderclap, sai," Zalia Jaffords said.
Eddie nodded. "Land of the Wolves. And God knows what else."
"Yer-bugger," Slightman the Younger said. He was trying to sound bluff and matter-of-fact, but to Eddie he looked plenty scared, maybe on the verge of tears. But the Wolves wouldn't take him, surely - if your twin died, that made you a singleton by default, didn't it? Well, it had certainly worked for Elvis Presley, but of course the King hadn't come from Calla Bryn Sturgis. Or even Calla Lockwood to the south.
"Naw, the King was a Mis'sippi boy," Eddie said, low.
Tian turned in his saddle to look at him. "Beg your pardon, sai?"
Eddie, not aware that he'd spoken aloud, said: "I'm sorry. I was talking to myself."
Andy the Messenger Robot (Many Other Functions) came striding back up the path from ahead of them in time to hear this. "Those who hold conversation with themselves keep sorry company. This is an old saying of the Calla, sai Eddie, don't take it personally, I beg."
"And, as I've said before and will undoubtedly say again, you can't get snot off a suede jacket, my friend. An old saying from Calla Bryn Brooklyn."
Andy's innards clicked. His blue eyes flashed. "Snot : mucus from the nose. Also a disrespectful or supercilious person. Suede : this is a leather product which - "
"Never mind, Andy," Susannah said. "My friend is just being silly. He does this quite frequently."
"Oh yes," Andy said. "He is a child of winter. Would you like me to tell your horoscope, Susannah-sai? You will meet a handsome man! You will have two ideas, one bad and one good! You will have a dark-haired - "
"Get out of here, idiot," Overholser said. "Right into town, straight line, no wandering. Check that all's well at the Pavilion. No one wants to hear your goddamned horoscopes, begging your pardon, Old Fella."
Callahan made no reply. Andy bowed, tapped his metal throat three times, and set off down the trail, which was steep but comfortingly wide. Susannah watched him go with what might have been relief.
"Kinda hard on him, weren't you?" Eddie asked.
"He's but a piece of machinery," Overholser said, breaking the last word into syllables, as if speaking to a child.
"And he can be annoying," Tian said. "But tell me, sais, what do you think of our Calla?"
Roland eased his horse in between Eddie's and Callahan's. "It's very beautiful," he said. "Whatever the gods may be, they have favored this place. I see corn, sharproot, beans, and... potatoes? Are those potatoes?"
"Aye, spuds, do ya," Slightman said, clearly pleased by Roland's eye.
"And yon's all that gorgeous rice," Roland said.
"All smallholds by the river," Tian said, "where the water's sweet and slow. And we know how lucky we are. When the rice comes ready - either to plant or to harvest - all the women go together. There's singing in the fields, and even dancing."
"Come-come-commala," Roland said. At least that was what Eddie heard.
Tian and Zalia brightened with surprise and recognition. The Slightmans exchanged a glance and grinned. "Where did you hear The Rice Song?" die Elder asked. "When?"
"In my home," said Roland. "Long ago. Come-come-commala, rice come a-falla." He pointed to the west, away from the river. "There's the biggest farm, deep in wheat. Yours, sai Overholser?"
"So it is, say thankya."
"And beyond, to the south, more farms... and then the ranches. That one's cattle... that one sheep... that one cattle... more cattle... more sheep..."
"How can you tell the difference from so far away?" Susannah asked.
"Sheep eat the grass closer to the earth, lady-sai," Overholser said. "So where you see the light brown patches of earth, that's sheep-graze land. The others - what you'd call ocher, I guess - that's cattle-graze."
Eddie thought of all the Western movies he'd seen at the Majestic: Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Lee Van Cleef. "In my land, they tell legends of range-wars between the ranchers and the sheep-farmers," he said. "Because, it was told, the sheep ate the grass too close. Took even the roots, you ken, so it wouldn't grow back again."
"That's plain silly, beg your pardon," Overholser said. "Sheep do crop grass close, aye, but then we send the cows over it to water. The manure they drop is full of seed."
"Ah," Eddie said. He couldn't think of anything else. Put that way, the whole idea of range wars seemed exquisitely stupid.
"Come on," Overholser said. "Daylight's wasting, do ya, and there's a feast laid on for us at the Pavilion. The whole town'll be there to meet you."
And to give us a good looking-over, too , Eddie thought.
"Lead on," Roland said. "We can be there by late day. Or am I wrong?"
"Nup," Overholser said, then drove his feet into his horse's sides and yanked its head around (just looking at this made Eddie wince). He headed down the path. The others followed.
Eddie never forgot their first encounter with those of the Calla; that was one memory always within easy reach. Because everything that happened had been a surprise, he supposed, and when everything's a surprise, experience takes on a dreamlike quality. He remembered the way the torches changed when the speaking was done - their strange, varied light. He remembered Oy's unexpected salute to the crowd. The upturned faces and his suffocating panic and his anger at Roland. Susannah hoisting herself onto the piano bench in what the locals called the musica . Oh yeah, that memory always. You bet. But even more vivid than this memory of his beloved was that of the gunslinger.
Of Roland dancing.
But before any of these things came the ride down the Calla's high street, and his sense of forboding. His premonition of bad days on the way.
They reached the town proper an hour before sunset. The clouds parted and let through the day's last red light. The street was empty. The surface was oiled dirt. The horses' hooves made muffled thuds on the wheel-marked hardpack. Eddie saw a livery stable, a place called the Travelers' Rest that seemed a combination lodging-house and eating-house, and, at the far end of the street, a large two-story that just about had to be the Calla's Gathering Hall. Off to the right of this was the flare of torches, so he supposed there were people waiting there, but at the north end of town where they entered there were none.
The silence and the empty board sidewalks began to give Eddie the creeps. He remembered Roland's tale of Susan's final ride into Mejis in the back of a cart, standing with her hands tied in front of her and a noose around her neck. Her road had been empty, too. At first. Then, not far from the intersection of the Great Road and the Silk Ranch Road, Susan and her captors had passed a single farmer, a man with what Roland had called lamb-slaughterer's eyes. Later she would be pelted with vegetables and sticks, even with stones, but this lone farmer had been first, standing there with his handful of cornshucks, which he had tossed almost gently at her as she passed on her way to... well, on her way to charyou tree , the Reap Fair of the Old People.
As they rode into Calla Bryn Sturgis, Eddie kept expecting that man, those lamb-slaughterer's eyes, and the handful of cornshucks. Because this town felt bad to him. Not evil - evil as Mejis had likely been on the night of Susan Delgado's death - but bad in a simpler way. Bad as in bad luck, bad choices, bad omens. Bad ka, maybe.
He leaned toward Slightman the Elder. "Where in the heck is everyone, Ben?"
"Yonder," Slightman said, and pointed to the flare of the torches.
"Why are they so quiet?" Jake asked.
"They don't know what to expect," Callahan said. "We're cut off here. The outsiders we do see from time to time are the occasional peddler, harrier, gambler... oh, and the lake-boat marts sometimes stop in high summer."
"What's a lake-boat mart?" Susannah asked.
Callahan described a wide flatboat, paddlewheel-driven and gaily painted, covered with small shops. These made their slow way down the Devar-Tete Whye, stopping to trade at the Callas of the Middle Crescent until their goods were gone. Shoddy stuff for the most part, Callahan said, but Eddie wasn't sure he trusted him entirely, at least on the subject of the lake-boat marts; he spoke with the almost unconscious distaste of the longtime religious.
"And the other outsiders come to steal their children," Callahan concluded. He pointed to the left, where a long wooden building seemed to take up almost half the high street. Eddie counted not two hitching rails or four, but eight. Long ones. "Took's General Store, may it do ya fine," Callahan said, with what might have been sarcasm.
They reached the Pavilion. Eddie later put the number present at seven or eight hundred, but when he first saw them - a mass of hats and bonnets and boots and work-roughened hands beneath the long red light of that day's evening sun - the crowd seemed enormous, untellable.
They will throw shit at us , he thought. Throw shit at us and yell "Charyou tree." The idea was ridiculous but also strong.
The Calla-folk moved back on two sides, creating an aisle of green grass which led to a raised wooden platform. Ringing the Pavilion were torches caught in iron cages. At that point, they still all flared a quite ordinary yellow. Eddie's nose caught the strong reek of oil.
Overholser dismounted. So did the others of his party. Eddie, Susannah, and Jake looked at Roland. Roland sat as he was for a moment, leaning slightly forward, one arm cast across the pommel of his saddle, seeming lost in his own thoughts. Then he took off his hat and held it out to the crowd. He tapped his throat three times. The crowd murmured. In appreciation or surprise? Eddie couldn't tell. Not anger, though, definitely not anger, and that was good. The gunslinger lifted one booted foot across the saddle and lightly dismounted. Eddie left his horse more carefully, aware of all the eyes on him. He'd put on Susannah's harness earlier, and now he stood next to her mount, back-to. She slipped into the harness with the ease of long practice. The crowd murmured again when they saw her legs were missing from just above the knees.
Overholser started briskly up the path, shaking a few hands along the way. Callahan walked directly behind him, occasionally sketching the sign of the cross in the air. Other hands reached out of the crowd to secure the horses. Roland, Eddie, and Jake walked three abreast. Oy was still in the wide front pocket of the poncho Benny had loaned Jake, looking about with interest.
Eddie realized he could actually smell the crowd - sweat and hair and sunburned skin and the occasional splash of what the characters in the Western movies usually called (with contempt similar to Callahan's for the lake-boat marts) "foo-foo water." He could also smell food: pork and beef, fresh bread, frying onions, coffee and graf. His stomach rumbled, yet he wasn't hungry. No, not really hungry. The idea that the path they were walking would disappear and these people would close in on them wouldn't leave his mind. They were so quiet! Somewhere close by he could hear the first nightjars and whippoor-wills tuning up for evening.
Overholser and Callahan mounted the platform. Eddie was alarmed to see that none of the others of the party which had ridden out to meet them did. Roland walked up the three broad wooden steps without hesitation, however. Eddie followed, conscious that his knees were a little weak.
"You all right?" Susannah murmured in his ear.
To the left of the platform was a round stage with seven men on it, all dressed in white shirts, blue jeans, and sashes. Eddie recognized the instruments they were holding, and although the mandolin and banjo made him think their music would probably be of the shitkicking variety, the sight of them was still reassuring. They didn't hire bands to play at human sacrifices, did they? Maybe just a drummer or two, to wind up the spectators.
Eddie turned to face the crowd with Susannah on his back. He was dismayed to see that the aisle that had begun where the high street ended was indeed gone now. Faces tilted up to look at him. Women and men, old and young. No expression on those faces, and no children among them. These were faces that spent most of their time out in the sun and had the cracks to prove it. That sense of foreboding would not leave him.
Overholser stopped beside a plain wooden table. On it was a large billowy feather. The farmer took it and held it up. The crowd, quiet to begin with, now fell into a silence so disquietingly deep that Eddie could hear the rattling rales in some old party's chest as he or she breathed.
"Put me down, Eddie," Susannah said quietly. He didn't like to, but he did.
"I'm Wayne Overholser of Seven-Mile Farm," Overholser said, stepping to the edge of the stage with the feather held before him. "Hear me now, I beg."
"We say thankee-sai," they murmured.
Overholser turned and held one hand out to Roland and his tet, standing there in their travel-stained clothes (Susannah didn't stand, exactly, but rested between Eddie and Jake on her haunches and one propped hand). Eddie thought he had never felt himself studied more eagerly.
"We men of the Calla heard Tian Jaffords, George Telford, Diego Adams, and all others who would speak at the Gathering Hall," Overholser said. "There I did speak myself. 'They'll come and take the children,' I said, meaning the Wolves, a'course, 'then they'll leave us alone again for a generation or more. So 'tis, so it's been, I say leave it alone.' I think now those words were mayhap a little hasty."
A murmur from the crowd, soft as a breeze.
"At this same meeting we heard Pere Callahan say there were gunslingers north of us."
Another murmur. This one was a little louder. Gunslingers... Mid-World... Gilead .
"It was taken among us that a party should go and see. These are the folk we found, do ya. They claim to be... what Pere Callahan said they were." Overholser now looked uncomfortable. Almost as if he were suppressing a fart. Eddie had seen this expression before, mostly on TV, when politicians faced with some fact they couldn't squirm around were forced to backtrack. "They claim to be of the gone world. Which is to say..."
Go on, Wayne , Eddie thought, get it out. You can do it .
"... which is to say of Eld's line."
"Gods be praised!" some woman shrieked. "Gods've sent em to save our babbies, so they have!"
There were shushing sounds. Overholser waited for quiet with a pained look on his face, then went on. "They can speak for themselves - and must - but I've seen enough to believe they may be able to help us with our problem. They carry good guns - you see em - and they can use em. Set my watch and warrant on it, and say thankya."
This time the murmur from the crowd was louder, and Eddie sensed goodwill in it. He relaxed a little.
"All right, then, let em stand before'ee one by one, that ye might hear their voices and see their faces very well. This is their dinh." He lifted a hand to Roland.
The gunslinger stepped forward. The red sun set his left cheek on fire; the right was painted yellow with torchglow. He put out one leg. The thunk of the worn bootheel on the boards was very clear in the silence; Eddie for no reason thought of a fist knocking on a coffintop. He bowed deeply, open palms held out to them. "Roland of Gilead, son of Steven," he said. "The Line of Eld."
"May we be well-met." He stepped back, and glanced at Eddie.
This part he could do. "Eddie Dean of New York," he said. "Son of Wendell." At least that's what Ma always claimed , he thought. And then, unaware he was going to say it: "The Line of Eld. The ka-tet of Nineteen."
He stepped back, and Susannah moved forward to the edge of the platform. Back straight, looking out at them calmly, she said, "I am Susannah Dean, wife of Eddie, daughter of Dan, the Line of Eld, the ka-tet of Nineteen, may we be well-met and do ya fine." She curtsied, holding out her pretend skirts.
At this there was both laughter and applause.
While she spoke her piece, Roland bent to whisper a brief something in Jake's ear. Jake nodded and then stepped forward confidently. He looked very young and very handsome in the day's end light.
He put out his foot and bowed over it. The poncho swung comically forward with Oy's weight. "I am Jake Chambers, son of Elmer, the Line of Eld, the ka-tet of the Ninety and Nine."
Ninety-nine ? Eddie looked at Susannah, who offered him a very small shrug. What's this ninety-nine shit ? Then he thought what the hell. He didn't know what the ka-tet of Nineteen was, either, and he'd said it himself.
But Jake wasn't done. He lifted Oy from the pocket of Benny Slightman's poncho. The crowd murmured at the sight of him. Jake gave Roland a quick glance - Are you sure? it asked - and Roland nodded.
At first Eddie didn't think Jake's furry pal was going to do anything. The people of the Calla - the folken - had gone completely quiet again, so quiet that once again the evensong of the birds could be heard clearly.
Then Oy rose up on his rear legs, stuck one of them forward, and actually bowed over it. He wavered but kept his balance. His little black paws were held out with the palms up, like Roland's. There were gasps, laughter, applause. Jake looked thunderstruck.
"Oy!" said the bumbler. "Eld! Thankee!" Each word clear. He held the bow a moment longer, then dropped onto all fours and scurried briskly back to Jake's side. The applause was thunderous. In one brilliant, simple stroke, Roland (for who else, Eddie thought, could have taught die bumbler to do that) had made these people into their friends and admirers. For tonight, at least.
So that was the first surprise: Oy bowing to the assembled Calla folken and declaring himself an-tet with his traveling-mates. The second came hard on its heels. "I'm no speaker," Roland said, stepping forward again. "My tongue tangles worse than a drunk's on Reap-night. But Eddie will set us on with a word, I'm sure."
This was Eddie's turn to be thunderstruck. Below them, the crowd applauded and stomped appreciatively on the ground. There were cries of Thankee-sai and Speak you well and Hear him, hear him . Even the band got into the act, playing a flourish that was ragged but loud.
He had time to shoot Roland a single frantic, furious look: What in the blue fuck are you doing to me? The gunslinger looked back blandly, then folded his arms across his chest. The applause was fading. So was his anger. It was replaced by terror. Overholser was watching him with interest, arms crossed in conscious or unconscious imitation of Roland. Below him, Eddie could see a few individual faces at the front of the crowd: the Slightmans, the Jaffordses. He looked in the other direction and there was Callahan, blue eyes narrowed. Above them, the ragged cruciform scar on his forehead seemed to glare.
What the hell am I supposed to say to them ?
Better say somethin, Eds , his brother Henry spoke up. They're waiting .
"Cry your pardon if I'm a little slow getting started," he said.
"We've come miles and wheels and more miles and wheels, and you're the first folks we've seen in many a - "
Many a what? Week, month, year, decade?
Eddie laughed. To himself he sounded like the world's biggest idiot, a fellow who couldn't be trusted to hold his own dick at watering-time, let alone a gun. "In many a blue moon."
They laughed at that, and hard . Some even applauded. He had touched the town's funnybone without even realizing it. He relaxed, and when he did he found himself speaking quite naturally. It occurred to him, just in passing, that not so long ago the armed gunslinger standing in front of these seven hundred frightened, hopeful people had been sitting in front of the TV in nothing but a pair of yellowing underpants, eating Cheetos, done up on heroin, and watching Yogi Bear.
"We've come from afar," he said, "and have far yet to go. Our time here will be short, but we'll do what we can, hear me, I beg."
"Say on, stranger!" someone called. "You speak fair!"
Yeah ? Eddie thought. News to me, fella .
A few cries of Aye and Do ya .
"The healers in my barony have a saying," Eddie told them. 'First, do no harm.' " He wasn't sure if this was a lawyer-motto or a doctor-motto, but he'd heard it in quite a few movies and TV shows, and it sounded pretty good. "We would do no harm here, do you ken, but no one ever pulled a bullet, or even a splinter from under a kid's fingernail, without spilling some blood."
There were murmurs of agreement. Overholser, however, was poker-faced, and in the crowd Eddie saw looks of doubt. He felt a surprising flush of anger. He had no right to be angry at these people, who had done them absolutely no harm and had refused them absolutely nothing (at least so far), but he was, just the same.
"We've got another saying in the barony of New York," he told them. " 'There ain't no free lunch.' From what we know of your situation, it's serious. Standing up against these Wolves would be dangerous. But sometimes doing nothing just makes people feel sick and hungry."
"Hear him, hear him!" the same someone at the back of the crowd called out. Eddie saw Andy the robot back there, and near him a large wagon full of men in voluminous cloaks of either black or dark blue. Eddie assumed that these were the Manni-folk.
"We'll look around," Eddie said, "and once we understand the problem, we'll see what can be done. If we think the answer's nothing, we'll tip our hats to you and move along." Two or three rows back stood a man in a battered white cowboy hat. He had shaggy white eyebrows and a white mustache to match. Eddie thought he looked quite a bit like Pa Cartwright on that old TV show, Bonanza . This version of the Cartwright patriarch looked less than thrilled with what Eddie was saying.
"If we can help, we'll help," he said. His voice was utterly flat now. "But we won't do it alone, folks. Hear me, I beg. Hear me very well. You better be ready to stand up for what you want. You better be ready to fight for the things you'd keep."
With that he stuck out a foot in front of him - the moccasin he wore didn't produce the same fist-on-coffintop thud, but Eddie thought of it, all the same - and bowed. There was dead silence. Then Tian Jaffords began to clap. Zalia joined him. Benny also applauded. His father nudged him, but the boy went on clapping, and after a moment Slightman the Elder joined in.
Eddie gave Roland a burning look. Roland's own bland expression didn't change. Susannah tugged the leg of his pants and Eddie bent to her.
"You did fine, sugar."
"No thanks to him ." Eddie nodded at Roland. But now that it was over, he felt surprisingly good. And talking was really not Roland's thing, Eddie knew that. He could do it when he had no backup, but he didn't care for it.
So now you know what you are , he thought. Roland of Gilead's mouthpiece .
And yet was that so bad? Hadn't Cuthbert Allgood had the job long before him?
Callahan stepped forward. "Perhaps we could set them on a bit better than we have, my friends - give them a proper Calla Bryn Sturgis welcome."
He began to applaud. The gathered folken joined in immediately this time. The applause was long and lusty. There were cheers, whistles, stamping feet (the foot-stamping a little less than satisfying without a wood floor to amplify the sound). The musical combo played not just one flourish but a whole series of them. Susannah grasped one of Eddie's hands. Jake grasped the other. The four of them bowed like some rock group at the end of a particularly good set, and the applause redoubled.
At last Callahan quieted it by raising his hands. "Serious work ahead, folks," he said. "Serious things to think about, serious things to do. But for now, let's eat. Later, let's dance and sing and be merry!" They began to applaud again and Callahan quieted them again. "Enough!" he cried, laughing. "And you Manni at the back, I know you haul your own rations, but there's no reason on earth for you not to eat and drink what you have with us. Join us, do ya! May it do ya fine!"
May it do us all fine , Eddie thought, and still that sense of foreboding wouldn't leave him. It was like a guest standing on the outskirts of the party, just beyond the glow of the torches. And it was like a sound. A boot heel on a wooden floor. A fist on the lid of a coffin.
Although there were benches and long trestle tables, only the old folks ate their dinners sitting down. And a famous dinner it was, with literally two hundred dishes to choose among, most of them homely and delicious. The doings began with a toast to the Calla. It was proposed by Vaughn Eisenhart, who stood with a bumper in one hand and the feather in the other. Eddie thought this was probably the Crescent's version of the National Anthem.
"May she always do fine!" the rancher cried, and tossed off his cup of graf in one long swallow. Eddie admired the man's throat, if nothing else; Calla Bryn Sturgis graf was so hard that just smelling it made his eyes water.
"DO YA! " the folken responded, and cheered, and drank.
At that moment the torches ringing the Pavilion went the deep crimson of the recently departed sun. The crowd oohed and aahed and applauded. As technology went, Eddie didn't think it was such of a much - certainly not compared to Blaine the Mono, or the dipolar computers that ran Lud - but it cast a pretty light over the crowd and seemed to be non-toxic. He applauded with the rest. So did Susannah. Andy had brought her wheelchair and unfolded it for her with a compliment (he also offered to tell her about the handsome stranger she would soon meet). Now she wheeled her way amongst the little knots of people with a plate of food on her lap, chatting here, moving on, chatting there and moving on again. Eddie guessed she'd been to her share of cocktail parties not much different from this, and was a little jealous of her aplomb.
Eddie began to notice children in the crowd. Apparenty the folken had decided their visitors weren't going to just haul out their shooting irons and start a massacre. The oldest kids were allowed to wander about on their own. They traveled in the protective packs Eddie recalled from his own childhood, scoring massive amounts of food from the tables (although not even the appetites of voracious teenagers could make much of a dent in that bounty). They watched the outlanders, but none quite dared approach.
The youngest children stayed close to their parents. Those of the painful 'tween age clustered around the slide, swings, and elaborate monkey-bar construction at the very far end of the Pavilion. A few used the stuff, but most of them only watched the party with the puzzled eyes of those who are somehow caught just wrongways. Eddie's heart went out to them. He could see how many pairs there were - it was eerie - and guessed that it was these puzzled children, just a little too old to use the playground equipment unselfconsciously, who would give up the greatest number to the Wolves... if the Wolves were allowed to do their usual thing, that was. He saw none of the "roont" ones, and guessed they had deliberately been kept apart, lest they cast a pall on the gathering. Eddie could understand that, but hoped they were having a party of their own somewhere. (Later he found that this was exactly the case - cookies and ice cream behind Callahan's church.)
Jake would have fit perfectly into the middle group of children, had he been of the Calla, but of course he wasn't. And he'd made a friend who suited him perfectly: older in years, younger in experience. They went about from table to table, grazing at random. Oy trailed at Jake's heels contentedly enough, head always swinging from side to side. Eddie had no doubt whatever that if someone made an aggressive move toward Jake of New York (or his new friend, Benny of the Calla), that fellow would find himself missing a couple of fingers. At one point Eddie saw the two boys look at each other, and although not a word passed between them, they burst out laughing at exactly the same moment. And Eddie was reminded so forcibly of his own childhood friendships that it hurt.
Not that Eddie was allowed much time for introspection. He knew from Roland's stories (and from having seen him in action a couple of times) that the gunslingers of Gilead had been much more than peace officers. They had also been messengers, accountants, sometimes spies, once in awhile even executioners. More than anything else, however, they had been diplomats. Eddie, raised by his brother and his friends with such nuggets of wisdom as Why can't you eat me like your sister does and I fucked your mother and she sure was fine , not to mention the ever-popular I don't shut up I grow up, and when I look at you I throw up , would never have thought of himself a diplomat, but on the whole he thought he handled himself pretty well. Only Telford was hard, and the band shut him up, say thankya.
God knew it was a case of sink or swim; the Calla-folk might be frightened of the Wolves, but they weren't shy when it came to asking how Eddie and the others of his tet would handle them. Eddie realized Roland had done him a very big favor, making him speak in front of the entire bunch of them. It had warmed him up a little for this.
He told all of them the same things, over and over. It would be impossible to talk strategy until they had gotten a good look at the town. Impossible to tell how many men of the Calla would need to join them. Time would show. They'd peek at daylight. There would be water if God willed it. Plus every other cliche he could think of. (It even crossed his mind to promise them a chicken in every pot after the Wolves were vanquished, but he stayed his tongue before it could wag so far.) A smallhold farmer named Jorge Estrada wanted to know what they'd do if the Wolves decided to light the village on fire. Another, Garrett Strong, wanted Eddie to tell them where the children would be kept safe when the Wolves came. "For we can't leave em here, you must kennit very well," he said. Eddie, who realized he kenned very little, sipped at his graf and was noncommittal. A fellow named Neil Faraday (Eddie couldn't tell if he was a smallhold farmer or just a hand) approached and told Eddie this whole thing had gone too far. "They never take all the children, you know," he said. Eddie thought of asking Faraday what he'd make of someone who said, "Well, only two of them raped my wife," and decided to keep the comment to himself. A dark-skinned, mustached fellow named Louis Haycox introduced himself and told Eddie he had decided Tian Jaffords was right. He'd spent many sleepless nights since the meeting, thinking it over, and had finally decided that he would stand and fight. If they wanted him, that was. The combination of sincerity and terror Eddie saw in the man's face touched him deeply. This was no excited kid who didn't know what he was doing but a full-grown man who probably knew all too well.
So here they came with their questions and there they went with no real answers, but looking more satisfied even so. Eddie talked until his mouth was dry, then exchanged his wooden cup of graf for cold tea, not wanting to get drunk. He didn't want to eat any more, either; he was stuffed. But still they came. Cash and Estrada. Strong and Echeverria. Winkler and Spalter (cousins of Overholser's, they said). Freddy Rosario and Farren Posella... or was it Freddy Posella and Farren Rosario?
Every ten or fifteen minutes the torches would change color again. From red to green, from green to orange, from orange to blue. The jugs of graf circulated. The talk grew louder. So did the laughter. Eddie began to hear more frequent cries of Yer-bugger and something that sounded like Dive-down !, always followed by laughter.
He saw Roland speaking with an old man in a blue cloak. The old fellow had the thickest, longest, whitest beard Eddie had ever seen outside of a TV Bible epic. He spoke earnestly, looking up into Roland's weatherbeaten face. Once he touched the gunslinger's arm, pulled it a little. Roland listened, nodded, said nothing - not while Eddie was watching him, anyway. But he's interested , Eddie thought. Oh yeah - old long tall and ugly's hearing something that interests him a lot .
The musicians were trooping back to the bandstand when someone else stepped up to Eddie. It was the fellow who had reminded him of Pa Cartwright.
"George Telford," he said. "May you do well, Eddie of New York." He gave his forehead a perfunctory tap with the side of his fist, then opened the hand and held it out. He wore rancher's headgear - a cowboy hat instead of a farmer's sombrero - but his palm felt remarkably soft, except for a line of callus running along the base of his fingers. That's where he holds the reins , Eddie thought, and when it comes to work, that's probably it .
Eddie gave a little bow. "Long days and pleasant nights, sai Telford." It crossed his mind to ask if Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe were back at the Ponderosa, but he decided again to keep his wiseacre mouth shut.
"May'ee have twice the number, son, twice the number." He looked at the gun on Eddie's hip, then up at Eddie's face. His eyes were shrewd and not particularly friendly. "Your dinh wears the mate of that, I ken."
Eddie smiled, said nothing.
"Wayne Overholser says yer ka-babby put on quite a shooting exhibition with another 'un. I believe yer wife's wearing it tonight?"
"I believe she is," Eddie said, not much caring for that ka-babby thing. He knew very well that Susannah had the Ruger. Roland had decided it would be better if Jake didn't go armed out to Eisenhart's Rocking B.
"Four against forty'd be quite a pull, wouldn't you say?" Telford asked. "Yar, a hard pull that'd be. Or mayhap there might be sixty come in from the east; no one seems to remember for sure, and why would they? Twenty-three years is a long time of peace, tell God aye and Man Jesus thankya."
Eddie smiled and said a little more nothing, hoping Telford would move along to another subject. Hoping Telford would go away, actually.
No such luck. Pissheads always hung around: it was almost a law of nature. "Of course four armed against forty... or sixty... would be a sight better than three armed and one standing by to raise a cheer. Especially four armed with hard calibers, may you hear me."
"Hear you just fine," Eddie said. Over by the platform where they had been introduced, Zalia Jaffords was telling Susannah something. Eddie thought Suze also looked interested. She gets the farmer's wife, Roland gets the Lord of the fuckin Rings, Jake gets to make a friend, and what do I get? A guy who looks like Pa Cartwright and cross-examines like Perry Mason .
"Do you have more guns?" Telford asked. "Surely you must have more, if you think to make a stand against the Wolves. Myself, I think the idea's madness; I've made no secret of it. Vaughn Eisenhart feels the same - "
"Overholser felt that way and changed his mind," Eddie said in a just-passing-the-time kind of way. He sipped tea and looked at Telford over the rim of his cup, hoping for a frown. Maybe even a brief look of exasperation. He got neither.
"Wayne the Weathervane," Telford said, and chuckled. "Yar, yar, swings this way and that. Wouldn't be too sure of him yet, young sai."
Eddie thought of saying, If you think this is an election you better think again , and then didn't. Mouth shut, see much, say little.
"Do'ee have speed-shooters, p'raps?" Telford asked. "Or grenados?"
"Oh well," Eddie said, "that's as may be."
" "I never heard of a woman gunslinger."
"Or a boy, for that matter. Even a 'prentice. How are we to know you are who you say you are? Tell me, I beg."
"Well, that's a hard one to answer," Eddie said. He had taken a strong dislike to Telford, who looked too old to have children at risk.
"Yet people will want to know," Telford said. "Certainly before they bring the storm."
Eddie remembered Roland's saying We may be cast on but no man may cast us back . It was clear they didn't understand that yet. Certainly Telford didn't. Of course there were questions that had to be answered, and answered yes; Callahan had mentioned that and Roland had confirmed it. Three of them. The first was something about aid and succor. Eddie didn't think those questions had been asked yet, didn't see how they could have been, but he didn't think they would be asked in the Gathering Hall when the time came. The answers might be given by little people like Posella and Rosario, who didn't even know what they were saying. People who did have children at risk.
"Who are you really?" Telford asked. "Tell me, I beg."
"Eddie Dean, of New York. I hope you're not questioning my honesty. I hope to Christ you're not doing that."
Telford took a step back, suddenly wary. Eddie was grimly glad to see it. Fear wasn't better than respect, but by God it was better than nothing. "Nay, not at all, my friend! Please! But tell me this - have you ever used the gun you carry? Tell me, I beg."
Eddie saw that Telford, although nervous of him, didn't really believe it. Perhaps there was still too much of the old Eddie Dean, the one who really had been of New York, in his face and manner for this rancher-sai to believe it, but Eddie didn't think that was it. Not the bottom of it, anyway. Here was a fellow who'd made up his mind to stand by and watch creatures from Thunderclap take the children of his neighbors, and perhaps a man like that simply couldn't believe in the simple, final answers a gun allowed. Eddie had come to know those answers, however. Even to love them. He remembered their single terrible day in Lud, racing Susannah in her wheelchair under a gray sky while the god-drums pounded. He remembered Frank and Luster and Topsy the Sailor; thought of a woman named Maud kneeling to kiss one of the lunatics Eddie had shot to death. What had she said? You shouldn't've shot Winston, for 'twas his birthday . Something like that.
"I've used this one and the other one and the Ruger as well," he said. "And don't you ever speak to me that way again, my friend, as if the two of us were on the inside of some funny joke."
"If I offended in any way, gunslinger, I cry your pardon."
Eddie relaxed a little. Gunslinger . At least the silver-haired son of a bitch had the wit to say so even if he might not believe so.
The band produced another flourish. The leader slipped his guitar-strap over his head and called, "Come on now, you all! That's enough food! Time to dance it off and sweat it out, so it is!"
Cheers and yipping cries. There was also a rattle of explosions that caused Eddie to drop his hand, as he had seen Roland drop his on a good many occasions.
"Easy, my friend," Telford said. "Only little bangers. Children setting off Reap-crackers, you ken."
"So it is," Eddie said. "Cry your pardon."
"No need." Telford smiled. It was a handsome Pa Cartwright smile, and in it Eddie saw one thing clear: this man would never come over to their side. Not that was, until and unless every Wolf out of Thunderclap lay dead for the town's inspection in this very Pavilion. And if that happened, he would claim to have been with them from the very first.
The dancing went on until moonrise, and that night the moon showed clear. Eddie took his turn with several ladies of the town. Twice he waltzed with Susannah in his arms, and when they danced the squares, she turned and crossed - allamand left, allamand right - in her wheelchair with pretty precision. By the ever-changing light of the torches, her face was damp and delighted. Roland also danced, gracefully but (Eddie thought) with no real enjoyment or flair for it. Certainly there was nothing in it to prepare them for what ended the evening. Jake and Benny Slightman had wandered off on their own, but once Eddie saw them kneeling beneath a tree and playing a game that looked suspiciously like mumblety-peg.
When the dancing was done, there was singing. This began with the band itself - a mournful love-ballad and then an uptempo number so deep in the Calla's patois that Eddie couldn't follow the lyric. He didn't have to in order to know it was at least mildly ribald; there were shouts and laughter from the men and screams of glee from the ladies. Some of the older ones covered their ears.
After these first two tunes, several people from the Calla mounted the bandstand to sing. Eddie didn't think any of them would have gotten very far on Star Search , but each was greeted warmly as they stepped to the front of the band and were cheered lustily (and in the case of one pretty young matron, lustfully) as they stepped down. Two girls of about nine, obviously identical twins, sang a ballad called "Streets of Campara" in perfect, aching harmony, accompanied by just a single guitar which one of them played. Eddie was struck by the rapt silence in which the folken listened. Although most of the men were now deep in drink, not a single one of these broke the attentive quiet. No baby-bangers went off. A good many (the one named Haycox among them) listened with tears streaming down their faces. If asked earlier, Eddie would have said of course he understood the emotional weight beneath which this town was laboring. He hadn't. He knew that now.
When the song about the kidnapped woman and the dying cowboy ended, there was a moment of utter silence - not even the nightbirds cried. It was followed by wild applause. Eddie thought, If they showed hands on what to do about the Wolves right now, not even Pa Cartwright would dare vote to stand aside .
The girls curtsied and leaped nimbly down to the grass. Eddie thought that would be it for the night, but then, to his surprise, Callahan climbed on stage.
He said, "Here's an even sadder song my mother taught me" and then launched into a cheerful Irish ditty called "Buy Me Another Round You Booger You." It was at least as dirty as the one the band had played earlier, but this time Eddie could understand most of the words. He and the rest of the town gleefully joined in on the last line of every verse: Before yez put me in the ground, buy me another round, you booger you !
Susannah rolled her wheelchair over to the gazebo and was helped up during the round of applause that followed the Old Fella's song. She spoke briefly to the three guitarists and showed them something on the neck of one of the instruments. They all nodded. Eddie guessed they either knew the song or a version of it.
The crowd waited expectantly, none more so than the lady's husband. He was delighted but not entirely surprised when she voyaged upon "Maid of Constant Sorrow," which she had sometimes sung on the trail. Susannah was no Joan Baez, but her voice was true, full of emotion. And why not? It was the song of a woman who has left her home for a strange place. When she finished, there was no silence, as after the little girls' duet, but a round of honest, enthusiastic applause. There were cries of Yar ! and Again ! and More staves ! Susannah offered no more staves (for she'd sung all the ones she knew) but gave them a deep curtsy, instead. Eddie clapped until his hands hurt, then stuck his fingers in the corners of his mouth and whistled.
And then - the wonders of this evening would never end, it seemed - Roland himself was climbing up as Susannah was handed carefully down.
Jake and his new pal were at Eddie's side. Benny Slightman was carrying Oy. Until tonight Eddie would have said the bumbler would have bitten anyone not of Jake's ka-tet who tried that.
"Can he sing?" Jake asked.
"News to me if he can, kiddo," Eddie said. "Let's see." He had no idea what to expect, and was a little amused at how hard his heart was thumping.
Roland removed his holstered gun and cartridge belt. He handed them down to Susannah, who took them and strapped on the belt high at the waist. The cloth of her shirt pulled tight when she did it, and for a moment Eddie thought her breasts looked bigger. Then he dismissed it as a trick of the light
The torches were orange. Roland stood in their light, gunless and as slim-hipped as a boy. For a moment he only looked out over the silent, watching faces, and Eddie felt Jake's hand, cold and small, creep into his own. There was no need for the boy to say what he was thinking, because Eddie was thinking it himself. Never had he seen a man who looked so lonely, so far from the run of human life with its fellowship and warmth. To see him here, in this place of fiesta (for it was a fiesta, no matter how desperate the business that lay behind it might be), only underlined the truth of him: he was the last. There was no other. If Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy were of his line, they were only a distant shoot, far from the trunk. Afterthoughts, almost. Roland, however... Roland...
Hush , Eddie thought. You don't want to think about such things. Not tonight .
Slowly, Roland crossed his arms over his chest, narrow and tight, so he could lay the palm of his right hand on his left cheek and the palm of his left hand on his right cheek. This meant zilch to Eddie, but the reaction from the seven hundred or so Calla-folk was immediate: a jubilant, approving roar that went far beyond mere applause. Eddie remembered a Rolling Stones concert he'd been to. The crowd had made that same sound when the Stones' drummer, Charlie Watts, began to tap his cowbell in a syncopated rhythm that could only mean "Honky Tonk Woman."
Roland stood as he was, arms crossed, palms on cheeks, until they quieted. "We are well-met in the Calla," he said. "Hear me, I beg."
"We say thankee! " they roared. And "Hear you very well !"
Roland nodded and smiled. "But I and my friends have been far and we have much yet to do and see. Now while we bide, will you open to us if we open to you?"
Eddie felt a chill. He felt Jake's hand tighten on his own. It's the first of the questions , he thought.
Before the thought was completed, they had roared their answer: "Aye, and thankee !"
"Do you see us for what we are, and accept what we do?"
There goes the second one , Eddie thought, and now it was him squeezing Jake's hand. He saw Telford and the one named Diego Adams exchange a dismayed, knowing look. The look of men suddenly realizing that the deal is going down right in front of them and they are helpless to do anything about it. Too late, boys , Eddie thought.
"Gunslingers!" someone shouted. "Gunslingers fair and true, say thankee! Say thankee in God's name!"
Roars of approval. A thunder of shouts and applause. Cries of thankee and aye and even yer-bugger .
As they quieted, Eddie waited for him to ask the last question, the most important one: Do you seek aid and succor?
Roland didn't ask it. He said merely, "We'd go our way for tonight, and put down our heads, for we're tired. But I'd give'ee one final song and a little step-toe before we leave, so I would, for I believe you know both."
A jubilant roar of agreement met this. They knew it, all right.
"I know it myself, and love it," said Roland of Gilead. "I know it of old, and never expected to hear 'The Rice Song' again from any lips, least of all from my own. I am older now, so I am, and not so limber as I once was. Cry your pardon for the steps I get wrong - "
"Gunslinger, we say thankee!" a woman called. "Such joy we feel, aye!"
"And do I not feel the same?" the gunslinger asked gently. "Do I not give you joy from my joy, and water I carried with the strength of my arm and my heart?"
"Give you to eat of the green-crop ," they chanted as one, and Eddie felt his back prickle and his eyes tear up.
"Oh my God," Jake sighed. "He knows so much ..."
"Give you joy of the rice," Roland said.
He stood for a moment longer in the orange glow, as if gathering his strength, and then he began to dance something that was caught between a jig and a tap routine. It was slow at first, very slow, heel and toe, heel and toe. Again and again his bootheels made that fist-on-coffintop sound, but now it had rhythm. Just rhythm at first, and then, as the gunslinger's feet began to pick up speed, it was more than rhythm: it became a kind of jive. That was the only word Eddie could think of, the only one that seemed to fit.
Susannah rolled up to them. Her eyes were huge, her smile amazed. She clasped her hands tightly between her breasts. "Oh, Eddie!" she breathed. "Did you know he could do this? Did you have any slightest idea?"
"No," Eddie said. "No idea."
Faster moved the gunslinger's feet in their battered and broken old boots. Then faster still. The rhythm becoming clearer and clearer, and Jake suddenly realized he knew that beat. Knew it from the first time he'd gone todash in New York. Before meeting Eddie, a young black man with Walkman earphones on his head had strolled past him, bopping his sandaled feet and going "Cha-da-ba, cha-da-fow!" under his breath. And that was the rhythm Roland was beating out on the bandstand, each Bow ! accomplished by a forward kick of the leg and a hard skip of the heel on wood.
Around them, people began to clap. Not on the beat, but on the off-beat. They were starting to sway. Those women wearing skirts held them out and swirled them. The expression Jake saw on all the faces, oldest to youngest, was the same: pure joy. Not just that , he thought, and remembered a phrase his English teacher had used about how some books make us feel: the ecstasy of perfect recognition .
Sweat began to gleam on Roland's face. He lowered his crossed arms and started clapping. When he did, the Calla-folken began to chant one word over and over on the beat: "Come!... Come!... Come!... Come! It occurred to Jake that this was the word some kids used for jizz, and he suddenly doubted if that was mere coincidence.
Of course it's not. Like the black guy bopping to that same beat. It's all the Beam, and it's all nineteen.
"Come!... Come!... Come!"
Eddie and Susannah had joined in. Benny had joined in. Jake abandoned thought and did the same.
In the end, Eddie had no real idea what the words to "The Rice Song" might have been. Not because of the dialect, not in Roland's case, but because they spilled out too fast to follow. Once, on TV, he'd heard a tobacco auctioneer in South Carolina. This was like that. There were hard rhymes, soft rhymes, off-rhymes, even rape-rhymes - words that didn't rhyme at all but were forced to for a moment within the borders of the song. It wasn't a song, not really; it was like a chant, or some delirious streetcorner hip-hop. That was the closest Eddie could come. And all the while, Roland's feet pounded out their entrancing rhythm on the boards; all the while the crowd clapped and chanted Come, come, come, come .
What Eddie could pick out went like this:
Rice come a-falla
I-sissa 'ay a-bralla
Dey come a-folla
Down come a-rivva
Or-i-za we kivva
Rice be a green-o
See all we seen-o
Seen-o the green-o
Rice come a-falla
Deep inna walla
Under the sky-o
Grass green n high-o
Girl n her fella
Lie down togetha
They slippy 'ay slide-o
Under 'ay sky-o
Rice come a-falla!
At least three more verses followed these two. By then Eddie had lost track of the words, but he was pretty sure he got the idea: a young man and woman, planting both rice and children in the spring of the year. The song's tempo, suicidally speedy to begin with, sped up and up until the words were nothing but a jargon-spew and the crowd was clapping so rapidly their hands were a blur. And the heels of Roland's boots had disappeared entirely. Eddie would have said it was impossible for anyone to dance at that speed, especially after having consumed a heavy meal.
Slow down, Roland , he thought. It's not like we can call 911 if you vapor-lock .
Then, on some signal neither Eddie, Susannah, nor Jake understood, Roland and the Calla-folken stopped in mid-career, threw their hands to the sky, and thrust their hips forward, as if in coitus. "COMMALA !" they shouted, and that was the end.
Roland swayed, sweat pouring down his cheeks and brow... and tumbled off the stage into the crowd. Eddie's heart took a sharp upward lurch in his chest. Susannah cried out and began to roll her wheelchair forward. Jake stopped her before she could get far, grabbing one of the push-handles.
"I think it's part of the show!" he said.
"Yar, I'm pretty sure it is, too," Benny Slightman said.
The crowd cheered and applauded. Roland was conveyed through them and above them by willing upraised arms. His own arms were raised to the stars. His chest heaved like a bellows. Eddie watched in a kind of hilarious disbelief as the gunslinger rolled toward them as if on the crest of a wave.
"Roland sings, Roland dances, and to top it all off," he said, "Roland stage-dives like Joey Ramone."
"What are you talking about, sugar?" Susannah asked.
Eddie shook his head. "Doesn't matter. But nothing can top that. It's got to be the end of the party."
Half an hour later, four riders moved slowly down the high street of Calla Bryn Sturgis. One was wrapped in a heavy salide . Frosty plumes came from their mouths and those of their mounts on each exhale. The sky was filled with a cold strew of diamond-chips, Old Star and Old Mother brightest among them. Jake had already gone his way with the Slightmans to Eisenhart's Rocking B. Callahan led the other three travelers, riding a bit ahead of them. But before leading them anywhere, he insisted on wrapping Roland in the heavy blanket.
"You say it's not even a mile to your place - " Roland began.
"Never mind your blather," Callahan said. "The clouds have rolled away, the night's turned nigh-on cold enough to snow, and you danced a commala such as I've never seen in my years here."
"How many years would that be?" Roland asked.
Callahan shook his head. "I don't know. Truly, gunslinger, I don't. I know well enough when I came here - that was the winter of 1983, nine years after I left the town of Jerusalem's Lot. Nine years after I got this." He raised his scarred hand briefly.
"Looks like a burn," Eddie remarked.
Callahan nodded, but said no more on the subject. "In any case, time over here is different, as you all must very well know."
"It's in drift," Susannah said. "Like the points of the compass."
Roland, already wrapped in the blanket, had seen Jake off with a word... and with something else, as well. Eddie heard the clink of metal as something passed from the hand of the gunslinger to that of the 'prentice. A bit of money, perhaps.
Jake and Benny Slightman rode off into the dark side by side. When Jake turned and offered a final wave, Eddie had returned it with a surprising pang. Christ, you're not his father , he thought. That was true, but it didn't make the pang go away.
"Will he be all right, Roland?" Eddie had expected no other answer but yes, had wanted nothing more than a bit of balm for that pang. So the gunslinger's long silence alarmed him.
At long last Roland replied, "We'll hope so." And on the subject of Jake Chambers, he would say no more.
Now here was Callahan's church, a low and simple log building with a cross mounted over the door.
"What name do you call it, Pere?" Roland asked.
"Our Lady of Serenity."
Roland nodded. "Good enough."
"Do you feel it?" Callahan asked. "Do any of you feel it?" He didn't have to say what he was talking about.
Roland, Eddie, and Susannah sat quietly for perhaps an entire minute. At last Roland shook his head.
Callahan nodded, satisfied. "It sleeps." He paused, then added: "Tell God thankya."
"Something's there, though," Eddie said. He nodded toward the church. "It's like a... I don't know, a weight, almost."
"Yes," Callahan said. "Like a weight. It's awful. But tonight it sleeps. God be thanked." He sketched a cross in the frosty air.
Down a plain dirt track (but smooth, and bordered with carefully tended hedges) was another log building. Callahan's house, what he called the rectory.
"Will you tell us your story tonight?" Roland said.
Callahan glanced at the gunslinger's thin, exhausted face and shook his head. "Not a word of it, sai. Not even if you were fresh. Mine is no story for starlight. Tomorrow at breakfast, before you and your friends are off on your errands - would that suit?"
"Aye," Roland said.
"What if it wakes up in the night?" Susannah asked, and cocked her head toward the church. "Wakes up and sends us todash?"
"Then we'll go," Roland said.
"You've got an idea what to do with it, don't you?" Eddie asked.
"Perhaps," Roland said. They started down the path to the house, including Callahan among them as naturally as breathing.
"Anything to do with that old Manni guy you were talking to?" Eddie asked.
"Perhaps," Roland repeated. He looked at Callahan. "Tell me, Pere, has it ever sent you todash? You know the word, don't you?"
"I know it," Callahan said. "Twice. Once to Mexico. A little town called Los Zapatos. And once... I think... to the Castle of the King. I believe that I was very lucky to get back, that second time."
"What King are you talking about?" Susannah asked. "Arthur Eld?"
Callahan shook his head. The scar on his forehead glared in the starlight. "Best not to talk about it now," he said. "Not at night." He looked at Eddie sadly. "The Wolves are coming. Bad enough. Now comes a young man who tells me the Red Sox lost the World Series again... to the Mets ?"
"Afraid so," Eddie said, and his description of the final game - a game that made little sense to Roland, although it sounded a bit like Points, called Wickets by some - carried them up to the house. Callahan had a housekeeper. She was not in evidence but had left a pot of hot chocolate on the hob.
While they drank it, Susannah said: "Zalia Jaffords told me something that might interest you, Roland."
The gunslinger raised his eyebrows.
"Her husband's grandfadier lives with them. He's reputed to be the oldest man in Calla Bryn Sturgis. Tian and the old man haven't been on good terms in years - Zalia isn't even sure what they're pissed off about, it's that old - but Zalia gets on with him very well. She says he's gotten quite senile over the last couple of years, but he still has his bright days. And he claims to have seen one of these Wolves. Dead." She paused. "He claims to have killed it himself."
"My soul!" Callahan exclaimed. "You don't say so!"
"I do. Or rather, Zalia did."
"That," Roland said, "would be a tale worth hearing. Was it the last time the Wolves came?"
"No," Susannah said. "And not the time before, when even Overholser would have been not long out of his clouts. The time before that."
"If they come every twenty-three years," Eddie said, "that's almost seventy years ago."
Susannah nodded. "But he was a man grown, even then. He told Zalia that a moit of them stood out on the West Road and waited for the Wolves to come. I don't know how many a moit might be - "
"Five or six," Roland said. He was nodding over his chocolate.
"Anyway, Tian's Gran-pere was among them. And they killed one of the Wolves."
"What was it?" Eddie asked. "What did it look like with its mask off?"
"She didn't say," Susannah replied. "I don't think he told her. But we ought to - "
A snore arose, long and deep. Eddie and Susannah turned, startled. The gunslinger had fallen asleep. His chin was on his breastbone. His arms were crossed, as if he'd drifted off to sleep still thinking of the dance. And the rice.
There was only one extra bedroom, so Roland bunked in with Callahan. Eddie and Susannah were thus afforded a sort of rough honeymoon: their first night together by themselves, in a bed and under a roof. They were not too tired to take advantage of it. Afterward, Susannah passed immediately into sleep. Eddie lay awake a litde while. Hesitantly, he sent his mind out in the direction of Callahan's tidy little church, trying to touch the thing that lay within. Probably a bad idea, but he couldn't resist at least trying. There was nothng. Or rather, a nothing in front of a something.
/ could wake it up , Eddie diought. I really think I could .
Yes, and someone with an infected tooth could rap it with a hammer, but why would you?
We'll have to wake it up eventually. I think we're going to need it.
Perhaps, but that was for another day. It was time to let this one go.
Yet for awhile Eddie was incapable of doing that. Images flashed in his mind, like bits of broken mirror in bright sunlight. The Calla, lying spread out below them beneath the cloudy sky, the Devar-Tete Whye a gray ribbon. The green beds at its edge: rice come a-falla. Jake and Benny Slightman looking at each other and laughing without a word passed between them to account for it. The aisle of green grass between the high street and the Pavilion. The torches changing color. Oy, bowing and speaking (Eld! Thankee!) with perfect clarity. Susannah singing: "I've known sorrow all my days ."
Yet what he remembered most clearly was Roland standing slim and gunless on the boards with his arms crossed at the chest and his hands pressed against his cheeks; those faded blue eyes looking out at the folken . Roland asking questions, two of three. And then the sound of his boots on the boards, slow at first, then speeding up. Faster and faster, until they were a blur in the torchlight. Clapping. Sweating. Smiling. Yet his eyes didn't smile, not those blue bombardier's eyes; they were as cold as ever.
Yet how he had danced! Great God, how he had danced in the light of the torches.
Come-come-commala, rice come a-falla , Eddie thought.
Beside him, Susannah moaned in some dream.
Eddie turned to her. Slipped his hand beneath her arm so he could cup her breast His last thought was for Jake. They had better take care of him out at that ranch. If they didn't, they were going to be one sorry-ass bunch of cowpunchers.
Eddie slept. There were no dreams. And beneath them as the night latened and die moon set, this borderland world turned like a dying clock.