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, eleven-year-old Tim had found the Covenant Man’s wand, seen a vision of himself finding a magical blindfold to cure his blind mother, and taken off for the Endless Forest.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 40
On his way to find the Covenant Man—or at least the realization of CM’s vision he was “allowed” to see—Tim stops by the cottage of the Widow Smack. He wants her to visit his mother the next morning and explain that he’s gone into the forest and will return with something to reverse her blindness. He also wants her to retrieve the mule Bitsy. The widow’s pretty horrified and tries to change his mind, but he doesn’t want to hear that the Covenant Man “saw a bright light in the darkness of this forgotten backwater, and nothing will do for him but to put it out.”
So the widow does the only thing she can think of to help him, which is to give him some two-day-old bread and a gun that her brother owned, which he’d bought from a peddler. The gun has four barrels, the widows has kept it in firing condition (at least she thinks so), and he has nine bullets.
What Constant Reader Learns: Wonder if our Covenant Man was the peddler…probably not. I’m finding little to comment on since this story isn’t much related to the larger Dark Tower tale and is a self-contained little fairy tale. Literally, as we shall soon see.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 41
When Tim reaches the Ironwood Trail, Tim dismounts and tethers Bitsy to a bush. He plans to go on foot, and doesn’t trust Bitsy to find her own way home.
What Constant Reader Learns: Wonderful authorial intrusion here, as Tim squashes any stray doubts that arise about the Covenant man. He’s always been truthful with Tim, hasn’t he? He has never lied to him. “By the time he was three wheels father up the Ironwood Trail, he had begun to believe this,” we are told. “You must remember he was only eleven.” Love that last sentence; it puts a whole new spin on it.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 42
All through the night, Tim walks in darkness but for a “cold green light” in the distance as he gets toward the end of the Ironwood Trail. When he reaches the trail’s end, he finds the light is being emitted by a four-inch-tall naked fairy girl, smiling at him. She dips and dives and he follows her, mesmerized, as she leads him past his father’s sign that says TRAVELER, BEWARE.
What Constant Reader Learns: Cool description of the forest, with an ancient ironwood whose trunk is “bigger than the largest house in Tree.”
Since we’re told that the “Traveler, Beware” sign was written by Tim’s father, I wonder if he’d ever had adventures beyond the trail himself, or maybe only knew the legends of what was back there. Or if Big Kells was pushed over the edge by whatever’s beyond that sign….
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 43
As soon as he’d reach the sighe, she’d flit away and beckon for him to follow. He becomes so captivated by her that he pays little attention to his surroundings as they reach the edge of the Fagonard swamp. Now, with no trail to follow, he must jump from tussock to tussock. It’s easy at first, but they grow farther apart. He almost falls in a couple of times, but manages to hang on and asks the fairy her name, and is told, “Armaneeta.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Might be time for that starkblast soon.
I wish the sighe was a bit less Tinkerbell-ish. Of course she might become so as we go on.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 44
The fairy leads Tim deeper into the Fagonard, and he’s too focused on Armaneeta to be aware of the primeval gatorlike critters following along silently in the water and growing in numbers. Nor does he see the “more or less upright shapes” that were keeping pace with him on one side.
Finally, Tim comes to a place where the next tussock looks too far for him to jump, but she beckons him on and he gives it a shot. He manages to catch the end of it and pull himself atop it…only to realize it’s not a tussock at all but the head of some large creature. It begins to rise, and lets out a roar. When the green-orange fire belches from its mouth, he knows he’s found himself a dragon.
Desperate, he sees another tussock and leaps off the dragon’s head, barely managing to pull himself on it using the sawgrass growing over it. He faces the dragon, who fans her wings and can think of nothing else to do but drop to his knees and apologize: “Please don’t burn me, for I was led astray and cry your pardon!”
The dragon studies him for a few moments and then slowly submerges again. Tim looks around for Armaneeta, but she is gone. “Nothing but lies,” Tim says, knowing everything the Widow Smack had told him was true.
What Constant Reader Learns: “Oh, gods, I’m standing on its head,” Tim thinks. Yeah, that would bring on a swear word or two. So, we still have the advancing mutant gators and the humanoids on the bank—slow muties, perhaps? Or a local version of them?
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 45
Tim sits on the tussock and has a bit of a pity party…well, not much self-pity as self-recriminations that he had, indeed, been played for a fool by the Covenant Man. He finally notices the big gatorlike things, which are circling and he figures are getting ready to attack. While he’s waiting to die, he eats a bit of bread (being only eleven) and examines the gun. He stuffs the spare bullets in the bread loaf hoping that will help them stay dry.
Two of the creatures head for him, and he jumps to his feet and shouts the first thing he thinks of: “You better not, cullies! There’s a gunslinger here, a true son of Gilead and the Eld, so you better not.”
The sound of his voice startles them, and they shear off. Next time, he claps his hands. Eventually, he knows, his noise won’t stop them.
What Constant Reader Learns: Huh, interesting that he claims gunslinger-dom. I wonder if the humanoids on the bank understand what he’s saying?
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 46
As another dawn breaks, Tim realizes there are easily two dozen of the creatures circling him. The shortest is about ten feet long, but most are much longer. It’s also light enough for him to see the watchers from the bank—slumped, semi-human shapes with shaggy heads and rounded shoulders. He figures they’re there to see the entertainment of him being eaten.
Finally, one of the gatorthings (or maybe crocstrosities since crocs are bigger than gators) makes a charge at Tim. He’s so annoyed at the hooting humanoids on the bank that he forgets to be afraid. He takes out the gun, waits until it’s close enough, and blows its head apart. He calmly reloads that chamber and shouts for the crocstrosities to try again, but now he realizes the humanoids are not hooting anymore. They’re saying “hile” and bowing to him as to a gunslinger, which freaks out Tim Ross, son of Jack.
What Constant Reader Learns: Maybe in another time or circumstance Tim would have been a gunslinger, with his steady hands and cool head. I can see how such a tale would appeal to young gunslingers. And hey, if it talks like a gunslinger and shoots like a gunslinger….
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 47
Tim’s pretty freaked out at being “hiled” by the humanoids, but not too freaked to realize this is his chance to use them before they realize he’s just a little boy. So he remembers an old guy in town who used to tell tales of the gunslingers and mimics his speech: “Hile, bondsmen,” he greets them. “Rise in love and service.”
They don’t hop-to, but eventually they do stand. He thinks a few moments about what to say next and finally decides to go the direct route: “Get me off this f’ing island!”
What Constant Reader Learns: It will be interesting to see how sentient the mudmen are, as sai King calls them.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 48
At first, the mudmen don’t respond, but then they seem to have a sort of primitive discussion. One of them gestures for Tim to stay put. Eventually, a “queer, misshapen boat” is rowed toward him. The helmsman is holding the “dripping chunk of carcass” that belonged to a boar and when they reach the dragon’s spot, he holds it over the water. The dragon sticks one claw out of the water, the helmsman places the meat in it, and it disappears. “Now you know how to appease a dragon,” Tim thinks.
What Constant Reader Learns: The mudman who gestures to Tim has too many fingers on his hands and his palms seem to be covered in moss. So I’m still not sure if these are primitive creatures like cavemen, mutants, or a nonhuman species altogether. And will they, indeed, figure out Tim is not a real gunslinger?
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll continue reading “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”