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. Young Tim Ross was concluding a disturbing visit in the Endless Forest to see the Covenant Man, and had discovered his father’s body in the water.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 23
The Covenant Man (CM) forces the hysterical Tim to drink a soothing potion, which calms him down and clears his head—at least for a few minutes, long enough for CM to divulge how he learned what had happened to Tim’s father. On his tax-collecting rounds, he’d heard the story of the dragon killing an ax-man in Tree, but he knew very well there were no more dragons in those parts so he began to investigate, out of curiosity. After about ten minutes, the potion or spell wears off and Tim tosses his stew.
What Constant Reader Learns: Omniscient readers that we are, we know that the Covenant Man is Walter. But does Roland, who’s telling the story to the ka-tet as they wait out the starkblast, realize this? Would he have known this as a “babby” when his mother was using this story as a bedtime tale? Would his mother have known that she was to have an affair with the Covenant Man himself at the time she was telling her young son this story?
Interesting, this: “Wanting to know secrets has always been my besetting vice,” says the CM. “Someday ‘twill be the death of me.” Especially if it involves evil two-fathered spider babies.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 24
The CM tells Tim to go to his mother, or at least to go to her as soon as he shares one more thing. He reaches in his pack and gives Tim his father’s hand-ax. An enraged Tim says he’ll bury it in Big Kells’ scalp. Before Tim leaves, the CM tells him to “watch for the green sighe.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I doubt the gift of the ax was out of kindness. When he hears what Tim plans to do with it, he responds cheerfully, “I like a boy with a plan.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 25
When Tim reaches the house, the Widow Smack rushes out to meet him, saying Nell needs to “hear him and touch him.” But not see him, of course. When he asks how she knew to go to the house, she said she’d seen him riding past her house toward the forest and realized something was wrong.
What Constant Reader Learns: I gather from comments last week that the Widow Smack is old Rhea? I keep wondering what I’ve missed that would’ve tipped that off because I don’t really see it yet.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 26
As Tim visits with his mother, the widow tells him it was a “concussive blow,” and that Nell’s vision might return once the swelling in her brain goes down. Tim’s about to explode with the knowledge of what really happened, so as soon as Nell is asleep he asks the Widow Smack if he can talk to her.
What Constant Reader Learns: Sai King, as always, is very good at showing a boy caught between boyhood and manhood, with some of the emotions of both.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 27
Tim and the widow sit on the front porch. Before he begins his story, the widow wants to know what the plan is in case Big Kells returns that night. Tim pulls out the hand-ax and says he’ll kill him. The widow starts to chastise him, but stops when she sees his face.
What Constant Reader Learns: Finally! The widow notes that it feels like starkblast weather. I was wondering when we’d get to the starkblast since it’s what prompted this storytelling session to begin with. Tim asks what a starkblast is, but she only says there hasn’t been one around those parts since she was young.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 28
Tim finishes telling his story, including Nell’s earlier observation that “yon chary man” hasn’t aged since her girlhood. “Tax collecting is not his job,” the Widow Smack replies. “I think it’s his hobby. He’s a man with hobbies.” She tells Tim to bunk by the front door for the rest of the night and she will sit with Nell. She also tells him that, in the morning, he should find Square Peter Cosington and tell him everything that’s happened so the men of Tree can go after Kells.
When Tim mentions that he might need to go back and talk to the Covenant Man, the widow stops him. “He leaves ruin and weeping in his wake,” she tells him. The widow doesn’t know his name, but that he’s said to be an advisor to the Council of Eld and is a great mage. Some think he is Maerlyn himself, turned bad by the “glammer” of the Wizard’s Rainbow. Others say he turned back when he became obsessed with some of the “artyfacts” of the Old People. He’s said to have a magical house deep in the forest.
What Constant Reader Learns: In the end, Tim is still just a little boy. He falls asleep despite his best efforts to sit in wait all night for Kells. Fortunately, his stepfather doesn’t show up.
Before they end their talk, Tim asks the widow what a sighe is, and she says “fairy-folk” who live deep in the forest. She asks if the Covenant Man mentioned them, and Tim lies and says no.
Interesting stuff about the possible origins of our favorite man in black.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 29
Tim awakens in the morning to find that Nell is still blind and Kells never returned.
What Constant Reader Learns: Not much.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 30
When Tim finds Square Peter Cosington and his partner, he promises the boy they’ll rouse enough ax-men and farmers to find Kells and lock him up.
What Constant Reader Learns: Judging by Peter’s comments, everybody in Tree knew that Kells still carried a torch, so to speak, for Nell—everybody except Big Ross.
Baldy Anderson doesn’t like the unseasonably warm weather: “I hope to gods it doesn’t bring a starkblast.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 31
By the time Tim gets his balky mule home, the women of Tree are busy at his house, cleaning and restocking. They ask him to take the Widow Smack home.
What Constant Reader Learns: Tim’s learning to be cynical. When one of the women advises he pray for his mother, he recalls a saying of his father’s: “Pray for rain all you like, but dig a well as you do it.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 32
Tim takes the widow home; she sleeps most of the way.
What Constant Reader Learns: The widow leaves him with a final warning to “stay away from that dark man. He’s made of lies from boots to crown.” Say thankya.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 33
Tim runs into a couple of neighborhood boys on the way back home, and they tell him the posse hasn’t yet found Kells. They’d hoped he was sleeping it off in town, but obviously not.
What Constant Reader Learns: Tim has a feeling that the posse won’t find Big Kells at all. He also feels the Covenant Man still has plans for him. I feel he’s probably correct.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 34
When he returns to his cottage, Tim finds it cleaner and better stocked than he’s ever seen it. All of Bern Kells’ stuff, including the trunk, has been removed and stashed outside beneath the porch.
What Constant Reader Learns: Nell knows that her Jack Ross’s body is being brought to the burying parlor in town, and she asks Tim to say their goodbyes since she can’t move yet.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 35
On his way to the burying parlor, which is part of the blacksmith shop, Tim stops in the barn and, being one tired little boy, decides to take a quick nap. Square Peter wakes him to tell him that his father’s body is now at the burying parlor.
What Constant Reader Learns: Not much. But I have to wonder, thinking about the coming starkblast. Which is mightier, a dark man or a force of nature?
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 36
When Tim arrives at the burying parlor, Big Jack Ross is laid out on a bier, wrapped in a shroud. Tim reaches in and finds his father’s hand, wrapping his fingers around his father’s the way he’d done as a small boy.
What Constant Reader Learns: Nice imagery there, although I can’t help but think of practical things like how many months that body has been in the water, and no matter how well preserved it was due to his being a virtual man, all I can say is ick.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 37
When Tim comes out, Square Peter offers to take him home, but Tim wants to walk and think. There is still no news of Kells’ whereabouts.
What Constant Reader Learns: One of the other men wonders if perhaps Kells threw himself in the river and drowned. I suspect Tim wouldn’t be that lucky.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 38
Tim rides toward home, feeling tired and hollow and wondering how he and his mother will survive this. Along the way, he almost trips over something sticking out of the ground—it’s a steel rod with an ivory tip, and he knows it’s the wand the Covenant Man had used when scrying with the silver basin, and that it was left there for him to find. He sees a glint of metal near the barn and thinks it’s the silver basin.
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh oh. This is bad news.
I like that Tim’s thoughts of Gilead—his resentment that they should have to pay taxes to Gilead—show how John Farson was able to rally so many people to his side.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 39
It isn’t the silver basin Tim finds, but what he at first thinks is an aluminum pail—only it’s not his feed pail and once he examines it, he doesn’t think it’s made of tin. But he fills it with water, waves the wand above it, and in the swirl he sees the Covenant Man looking back at him. There is a green light hovering above him and, looking closer, Tim can see that it’s a tiny green woman. Around them, he can read the sign marking the Ross-Kells cutting area, as well as another sign that says TRAVELER, BEWARE! The CM signals for Tim to hurry, and then the vision fades.
Tim uses the wand a second time, and this time, he looks in the pail and sees a tall house in a clearing, surrounded by ironwoods. He realizes this is much deeper in the forest than any of the ax-men have gone, and that this is the house of Maerlyn Eld, “where time stood still or perhaps ran backward.” He sees himself in the water, knocking on the door of the house, and being greeted by an old man with a long white beard and wearing a conical yellow cap. The old man holds up a length of cloth that looks like a blindfold, and the vision fades.
For the third time, Tim waves the wand over the pail, and in this vision he sees himself with his mother. She’s removing the same blindfold from her eyes, and they are celebrating because she can see. This time, the vision fades and he can’t get anything more
What Constant Reader Learns: Don’t believe it, Tim!
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll continue reading “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”