Once upon a time, a ka-tet of readers found themselves at tor.com on a long quest to reach Stephen King’s Dark Tower. During the journey, the author (or perhaps it was simply ka) tried to throw our hardy band of pilgrims into confusion by telling a new story. Undeterred, their path followed the Beam until the end, and only now, when we know what is at the clearing at the end of the path, do we return to Mid-World once again, to join our old friends for The Wind Through the Keyhole (Dark Tower 4.5, if it do ya). Welcome. There be spoilers ahead.
When we last left our story, we were lost in Roland’s telling of his story of Debaria and, within that, his retelling of his childhood story The Wind Through the Keyhole. In the story, young Tim Ross’s mother has remarried after her husband’s death, and the new husband, Big Kells, is abusive and secretive.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 14
As “full earth” gave way to “wide earth,” Tim goes to work at the sawmill three days a week, stacking wood. Things seem to settle down a bit at home. Big Kells is working alone in the forest, so he’s not bringing in as much ironwood, but at least there is some. But Tim misses being able to study with the Widow Smack, and can see his future stretch out in front of him, full of nothing but physical labor and the work of surviving.
What Constant Reader Learns: Tim isn’t growing any fonder of Kells, even though he seems to have quit drinking for the moment. He catches the man staring at him sometimes as he sits on his mysterious trunk, which gives the kid the creeps. What’s up with that trunk?
It’s fun to get lost in this story within a story and within a story, knowing that we don’t have to worry about our ka-tet, back there in the starkblast, coming to harm. At least I don’t think so.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 15
The storms of winter move in, and not far behind them is the Barony Covenanter, come to collect the taxes from the people of Tree. Finally, he comes to Tim’s house. Kells, Nell, and Tim meet him on the porch.
The Covenanter pulls out a roll of parchment. Kells tries to tell him the story of what happened to Big Ross, with the dragon, but the man shuts him up. He says the tax is nine knuckles of silver—eight for the house they currently live in and one for the sale of Kells’ house. Kells begins to argue, but the Covenanter threatens him and, again, he shuts up.
They count out the money, but the Covenanter wants Tim to bring it to him. When he does, the tax man grabs him by the wrists and pulls him onto the big black horse. Nell tries to run for him, but Covenant Man orders Kells to restrain her. He rides the horse a little ways away and speaks softly, asking Tim how he likes his new stepfather. Tim tells him that he beats Nell when he drinks. The Covenant Man says it’s not surprising because Kells’ father did the same.
He reaches in his cloak and hands Tim a magic key that will open anything, but only a single time. As Nell continues to protest, the man tells Tim a riddle: “She’ll know much but see little.”
As if in a daze, Tim tells him about Kells’ trunk, and the man tells Tim where he’ll be camping that night, a wheel or two down the Ironwood Trail. “Come and see me if you care to,” he tells the boy. Then he releases Tim, bids his farewell, and rides away. As he leaves, Tim sees what looks like a metal washbasin tied to the top of his saddle roll.
What Constant Reader Learns: Great fairy tale character, this Barony Covenanter. He rides a tall black horse and is himself tall and gaunt, wearing a black cloak and hat, his face a “pale lamp” beneath the brim of the hat, his lips red, his eyes dark and unblinking.
Nice to see old Kells put in his place, although Nell will probably pay for it.
Um, Tim. Not sure a nighttime visit to old creepy-face is a good idea. Looks like we’ll find out what’s in that trunk, though.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 16
As soon as the Covenant Man rides away, Kells grabs Tim and shakes him, demanding to know what “lies did’ee speak.” Nell tries to stop him, and Kell punches her in the face with his fist. Tim rushes him and gets the same treatment.
His work done, Kells stomps off down the street, no doubt headed for Gitty’s tavern. Tim helps his mother up and into the house. “I’ve made a mess of things,” Nell tells her son. “We would have been better on the land, I think.” Tim only knows he has a key.
When Nell goes to lie down, she tells Tim she remembers the Covenanter from her own childhood and he has the same horse, the same silver basin, the same face. “He hasn’t aged a day.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Kells, your NFL career is toast.
I have missed something to do with Kells and I can’t figure out what it is. He’s obviously got issues, but there seems to be more there as to why the other men won’t partner with him. Maybe when Tim gets into the trunk it will become clearer. Or not.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 17
As soon as Nell is asleep, Tim goes to the hall where Kells’ trunk sits. He takes the tiny key and even though he knows the key can’t possibly work on the big lock, it, of course, works very well indeed.
Inside the trunk is a layer of ragged clothing and, beneath it, the carpentry tools of Kells’ father. Tim knows that, because they’re made of metal, the tools are worth a lot of money, and he wonders why Kells hasn’t sold them. He pulls out the tools and, beneath them, are five ax-heads that are rusted and dull. Tim also finds a photo of Kells’ first wife, and a deerskin bag. And in that bag is his father’s lucky coin.
What Constant Reader Learns: Kells strokes and pets the trunk as if it were the One True Ring, so let’s see what’s in there…ahhhhh. Well, I doubt a dragon would have burned Big Ross to a crisp and left behind the lucky coin, so this makes an interesting mystery. Did Kells kill his partner for the coin? Is it the One True Coin to Rule Them All? What’s so lucky about it? Doesn’t seem as if it were very lucky to Big Ross.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 18
Tim puts everything except his father’s coin back into the trunk although, as the Covenant Man promised, the key is now useless so he can’t lock the trunk back. He replaces the blanket that was covering it and hoping it would be a while before his little burglary is discovered.
He knows the Covenant Man can tell him if his suspicions are true, so he writes a note for his mother, telling her not to worry about him and that he’ll be back.
What Constant Reader Learns: Tim realizes the implications of the coin being in the trunk immediately, and for the first time, we’re told, he feels a man’s rage. The coin isn’t damaged and has obviously not had a run-in with a dragon.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 19
Bypassing Kells’ mules, Tim takes Bitsy, one of his father’s gentle mollies, even though he’s getting too tall to ride her.
What Constant Reader Learns: Tim is getting madder and madder, but somehow I don’t think he’s going to like whatever answers he gets from old Tall and Spooky.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 20
Bitsy knows the way into the ironwood forest, but Tim’s never been in there at night, not this far. He lights his gas lantern and finds himself surrounded by tremendous trees creating a maze around him. He extinguishes the lantern and nervously heads farther into the dark woods.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m reminded here of just how good sai King is at writing kids. The way Tim coaxes himself farther into the forest rings so true: I’ll ride until I count to a hundred….then two hundred…then till I count backward….
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 21
Tim reaches a sign marked “Cosington-Marchly,” which marks the cutting territory of two Tree cutters. Just past it, he enters a clearing and finds the Covenant Man (CM) sitting beside a campfire. He invites Tim to have some stew and, despite the boy’s misgivings, he joins him.
Once they’ve finished, CM notices Tim admiring the silver wash basin, and says it’s a “relic of Garlan that was.” He tells Tim to take the basin and fetch him some water from the edge of the clearing, and be wary of the pooky in the tree. Tim pauses when he finds the brackish water and asks CM if he’s sure he wants it. So the boy fills the basin, and is disgusted by fat white bugs in the water that seem to be eating each other.
CM tells him to hunker over, and he uses a steel rod or wand and waves it above the basin. On the third pass of the wand, Tim sees a vision of his mother in the water. Kells is walking toward her from the back hall where his trunk is stored, and Tim can read his lips although he can’t hear: “How did you open my trunk?”
Tim has to watch as Kells takes the heavy ceramic water jug and smashes it into the center of Nell’s forehead, after which he continues to beat her. Tim screams, and the vision disappears.
What Constant Reader Learns: That many dragons is a bonfire, many lions a pride, many crows a murder, many bumblers a throcket. Useful knowledge, that. If there isn’t a book called A Bonfire of Dragons, I shall write one. The world needs it.
What a pooky in a tree is, however, I have no idea. A Pooky in a Tree is not a book that should be written….Ah, a pooky appears to be a snake. Of course.
Best lines ever: “Tim stared at the steel rod in the gloved hand. ‘Is that a magic wand?’ The Covenant Man appeared to consider. ‘I suppose so. Although it started life as the gearshift of a Dodge Dart. America’s economy car, young Tim.’ ‘What’s America?’ ‘A kingdom filled with toy-loving idiots.’”
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 22
Tim tries to run for Bitsy, but CM grabs him and hauls him back to the campfire. Tim asks if what he’s seen is a glammer, but CM assures him it’s real but it’s already happened. He urges him to look again, so Tim does. This time, he sees a woman helping Nell to her feet, and realizes it’s old Widow Smack.
The CM seems to enjoy walking Tim through what he’s seeing—the Widow Smack leading his mother, who obviously can no longer see, back into the house. Tim again tries to leave, but CM tells him to take the basin back to the stream and empty it, but to take it to a different place since “yon pooky” appears hungrier.
Tim does as he’s told, while the CM chatters on about gossip in the town—including the fact that Peter Cosington, whose section this is, was caught beneath a tree that fell wrong. He says the ironwood trees actually think. The point he’s trying to make, however, is that while Peter Cosington was laid up with his injury, this part of the forest was pretty empty.
This confirms Tim’s earlier thought that there was no dragon. But when he asks why his father’s lucky coin was in Kells’s trunk, CM only tells him to finish dumping out the basin.
When he leans over the water, he sees this part of the stream is clear and just below the surface, he sees the body of his father.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, that earlier riddle now is answered. Nell seems to have been blinded.
One word: Ents.
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll continue reading “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”