Sidney Blaylock, Jr.
My first thought was, he lied with every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
--Robert Browning, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"
Roland sat cross-legged, his body floating several feet off the roof of the apartment complex. In front of him floated a broadsword with stark white runes, with a blade as ebon as the deep night of space.
Roland's skin was a deep burnished brown, but his eyes, he knew, were all white with no pupils. He was Marked--marked as a Childe.
His shaved bald head glistened in the moonlight. Roland's goatee was well-groomed and his clothes were simple--slacks, a white but-ton-down shirt, penny loafers, a simple black tie, and a long duster to keep the chill of the night air from his bones. Simple and elegant, they were the clothes of an Adjunct Instructor. However, what Adjunct could say that they were living out in real life the very literature that they had taught?
The Dark Tower screamed at him, as if in defiance of his thought. It was not a blood-curdling scream like one might hear in a horror movie. No, this scream was much more primal, visceral, and ravenous. The Tower wanted some-thing. Something very dear.
You are going to die, sang Durandal, Roland’s ebony Blade, in his mind. You are naught but ashes and dust, and so shall you return.
Durindana, Roland thought, I Name you. By your secret name I command you to be either useful or silent. It is your choice.
Durandal fell silent in his mind, its sibilant lies cut short by his Commandment. Roland knew it would never willingly help him. It would see him dead first. And that would be its greatest mistake.
Roland sighed and strove for inner peace, secure in his knowledge that Durandal would be silent for a time. A sword was merely a killing tool. But a Blade--a Named Blade--now that was power. Durindana, the Blade that Could Not Be Shivered. It was one of the many Blades of Legend like King Arthur's Excalibur, Beo-wulf's Hrunting, or Sigurd's Balmung. While those Blades, to Roland’s knowledge, were lost to the world, perhaps asleep and waiting for their time to be awakened, while Durindana, or Duran-dal, was alive and awake. Roland tightened his grip on the sword's hilt. It was so very alive. Du-randal wanted him dead. And so did his enemies. Besieged from within and without. That was the life of Childe Roland.
They were coming for him--he could feel it. All his enemies were closing in, cordoning off avenues of escape. Soon they would attack en masse. There were too many to count, but they fell into two main factions: the mon-sters and the Tower Guard. From Grendels to Fenrae, Drakes to Ogres, the monsters hunted him because they wanted to feast on his power . . . his 'greatness.' They were like the primitive tribes of old who thought they could grow more powerful by consuming their enemies. They were dan-gerous, yes, as all wild things were, but it was the Tower Guard and their leader, Ganelon the Traitor, who were to be truly feared.
The Tower Guards didn't just want his life. No, they wanted Durandal. They wanted to separate him from the Blade. They did not want him finding the Tower--not with the Blade in hand--and they would do anything to make sure that he never did.
And so was the Dark Tower. It domi-nated his dreams as it had the dreams of all the other Rolands. It was hard to think of himself in the plural, but he remembered . . . others . . . Orlando, perhaps, or maybe it was Rinaldo, or even Rollande . . . who were not him, but who also strove for The Tower. Like characters from Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier, the other Rolands seemed to expand his knowledge of his life as he lived through them, and each one seemed just as real as himself. Whether he was actually living through them in one endless journey, or like Maddox's novel, Roland was viewing different aspects of his story and deepening his understanding via the recursive narrative, he real-ly could not say. Although, as an Adjunct, he could say that his own story, and not that of Ford Maddox Ford, was truly the saddest story ever told. Who else could bear the dreadful fate placed on him? To live, to learn, to die, and then to live again, seemingly to forever make the same mis-take? No, that was not living, but rather a living nightmare. He had the feeling, however, that no matter how this night turned out, he would be the last. The very last Childe to seek the Tower. Had all the other Rolands simply been training for this very moment or, even more ominously, warnings?
And then there was the Tower itself. The Tower stood outside of time and space, not subject to the fundamental laws of the universe. It, like an engine, stood at the center of all things. It was once said that all Roads lead to the Tower and The Tower stands at the heart of all Crossroads.
What was the Tower? Was it life, death, or some combination of the two? No one knew as no one had ever pierced its Veil. There were very few people who could even see the Tower, let alone hear its siren shriek. Obviously, the poet Robert Browning had been an intimate to its call. How else could he have described the Tower so marvelously in his poem? The only thing Browning missed was describing the Tower's shriek, a sharp keening that chilled to the very bones. Roland often thought of the Tower's screech as the wailing of a universe slowly going insane.
Dark and ominous, the Tower stood, ghost-like, shrouded in the deepest gloom. It shimmered out of phase, like a marvelous hologram projected on the night sky. Yet, Roland knew, it was real, so very real. This dark and mysterious Tower that was at once all styles of architecture and none at all.
Roland heard the baying of the first of the Fenrae. He touched the pommel of the sword and allowed his feet to touch the roof.
I wonder who will show up first, he wondered, the monsters or the Tower Guard? Today was his last day. He would either find the Tower or he would die trying.
In his mind, Roland felt a spark of fe-ral joy from Durandal--warm and acrid, like the taste of blood. Stay your hand, Childe. You are not ready for this. You can still turn aside and find another Road.
Roland gripped the leather-bound hilt with his fingers and curled them tightly around the grip. "It ends, Durandal," he said aloud. "Ei-ther I find the Tower tonight or I will not find it at all. There is no other Road for me."
Roland shifted to an en garde position and whispered, "Balefire." The length of the Blade erupted in fire--a midnight black fire that chilled the blood. Wisps of orange curled of the edges of the fire as if it were an abhorrent parody of real fire. The balefire keened hungrily.
Heart pounding--somehow he knew there would be no other lives spun out if he failed--Roland waited. He waited--waited as his en-emies closed about him, waited on the Road to show itself, waited on his Fate. He was ready. Ready to dance, to die, and finally become a Knight of the Tower, a Childe no longer. He already knew what he had to do, but he shielded his intention from his mind so as not to arouse Duran-dal's suspicion.
The roof door opened and out of the gloom limped white-haired Ganelon, the Traitor. His surcoat was a brilliant white emblazoned with a magnificent tower in the deepest black. He reminded Roland of a rook from some over-sized chess board.
"Renounce your Quest for the Tower, Childe, and you may yet live," Ganelon said. He spoke with coldness. His gravelly voice matched his unyielding frame.
Roland's answer was simple. He raised Durandal into position.
Ganelon's smile was winter and frost. "Then you will die your final death." Ganelon rushed forward and arced his deadly Blade, Mur-gleis, toward Roland with deadly grace.
Roland flicked Durandal to meet it and there was a resounding clang as Blade strove against Blade.
What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travelers, who might find him posted there,
--Robert Browning, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"
Some called Ferragut a giant. In truth, the monster was an Ogre. Gray stone skin, arms thicker than a giant oak, and a thick jaw that held a row of razor sharp canines defined this beast. Well over thirteen feet tall, he towered over Orlando, even on horseback.
Orlando whipped out Durandal. Bale-fire lit up its length.
"No closer," he warned the slobbering beast, "or you'll taste steel."
"What's a Childe doing out in the Wilds?" asked the beast. Its mouth turned into a rictus of teeth. "Doesn't it know that it is dan-gerous out here, with only a pig-sticker for protection?"
A slow rain began to pelt Orlando's armor. Raindrops hissed and sizzled whenever they fell upon the balefire running along the Blade. The trees swayed in the wind and the grass scrunched under his horse's hooves.
"This 'pig-sticker' has a name. It's called Durandal and make no mistake, it can cut through even your stone hide. So if you want to live, I suggest you answer a question for me."
Ferragut laughed. "You humans fun-ny. You have names for everything: you name yourselves, you name your beasts, you even name your pig-pokers." He licked his teeth and took a step closer. "Ferragut no pig and Ferragut hun-gry."
Orlando whipped the sword out at the nearest tree. Durandal sliced clean through. But rather than falling, the tree was engulfed in bale-fire. In seconds, the balefire devoured the tree, engulfing it in a fire that ate not just the physical form of the tree, but also the soul. The tree shrieked in agony that reverberated as it withered and blackened, but its dying scream was not alone. The Tower wailed in agony as well. Orlando could feel the breaking of reality. Somehow, he knew instinctively, that the tree was no longer a part of this universe. The fire had unhinged reality and the tree was lost for all time. "I’m not an ordinary knight, Ferragut, so don't test me. I seek the Road."
Ferragut came no closer, but he did not seem dissuaded by Orlando's eyes. "So you have magic pig-sticker. You still just a man. And you taste like any other man."
Orlando felt his lip curl into a sneer. "Think you so? I don't seek just any road, I seek the one True Road. I seek the Road to the Tow-er. You know the one that I speak of."
Ferragut's smile turned cruel then. "Oh, you that man. It told me about you. You think you can find Tower. You one stupid man."
Orlando felt heat rising in him, but he kept his emotions under control . . . barely. Durandal was gibbering at him insanely to cut off the Ogre's head and be done with it.
"Who told you and why am I stupid?"
Ferragut ignored the first question, but chose to answer the second. "The Road to Tower cannot be found. It was never lost. Look."
The word 'look' was like a com-mandment and as if a veil was lifted, Orlando saw the Road stretching in front of him. Orlando could see the Road as it wound its way deeper and deeper into the forest like a clear-cut path that extended up into the hills for many miles. The path faded into the distance, but behind the for-ested hill, he could see the Tower, ethereal and resplendent. As he spied the Road again, he no-ticed that it forked. One fork went to the left and one went to the right. The Dark Tower lay in the distance beyond the Road, and Orlando knew instinctively that only one fork in the Road would take him to the Tower. Just as instinctively, he knew the other would lead him to his doom.
"Now, Childe, you see why you is stupid. If you know the Secret of the Tower, then you know which way. We alls know the secret, we alls, but you."
Orlando began to sweat. This creature wanted him dead. He couldn't trust himself to make the choice and he couldn't trust the Ogre. Who could he trust? Then he remembered. Durandal. It had been there at the beginning. It would know.
Durandal, which path do I take? he whispered in his mind.
Left is for woe and ruin, right is for surcease and ease.
With a "hie!" Orlando spun away from the fearful Ogre, Blade at the ready in case the fearsome creature made a grab for him and launched his destrier into the wood. He had passed the test! He would be the first ever to survive an encounter with the man-eating beast that was Ferragut. Orlando’s soul sang. He would finally find the Tower and end this fearsome Quest that had dominated his life.
He rode on for seven days and seven nights, pausing only to eat and relieve himself.
At the beginning of the eight day, he found the fork in the Road. The left fork had a great thundercloud and promised a storm like no one had ever seen, while the right fork seemed clearer and just looking on it made his heart light-en.
He chose the right fork and instantly, when he looked back, there was no other road but the road he trod upon. The sun disappeared behind a bank of clouds and was not seen again. A wintery wind blew and blustered. The trees all closed in as if reaching for his bones. Suddenly, there was a clearing and in it stood a pack of Fenrae. They stood on two legs like men, but their faces were canine and the bodies were cov-ered in thick gray and black fur. Their eyes seemed to burn with human intelligence, but drool dripped from their snarling mouths like starving wolves too long denied their meal. Their hands and feet had five digits like men, but their fingers and toes were gnarled and ended in sharp wolf-like claws. Supposedly, they were the brood of the great wolf Fenrir. In their midst was the Ogre, Ferragut.
"You so stupid. The secret is: the Black Blade lies. Now we eat man-meat."
Orlando fought valiantly, but his screams could be heard even as the Ogre and his pets began to feast on Orlando's still living body.
If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet, acquiescently
I did turn as he pointed:
--Robert Browning, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came."
Rogero stood outside the entrance to a deep cave at the sandy beach that cut deep into the continent. He could hear waves crashing against the shore and water lapping against the sand. Without knowing how, he knew that his Road, his Way, was through this cave. Should he choose correctly, he would find the Tower. Should he fail . . . he shuddered, not wanting to admit that he was on the edge. So close to being broken.
The inscription on the cave read: "The Way is Closed. It may not be Opened again until the Key is Turned in the Lock. Find, therefore, the Key. If you fail, know that here your Quest Ends. The Key is Broken and Unhinged, and the Way is Closed."
Rogero read those words and a weight settled in his stomach. His quest for the Tower was so close, so very close. Bradamante would be sailing in soon.
Surprisingly, Bradamante was the on-ly other Paladin to have seen the Tower. All of the others believed the Tower was only a fool's errand, like that of a midnight tale told to pacify a babe, yet the babe takes fright, and the tale unwittingly does more harm than good. Such was the story of the Tower--a place beyond time and space. A place beyond existence itself.
Implacable, unchanging, and immuta-ble. The Tower was and always would be until the end of time itself.
Even now, Rogero could see the Tower. Its towers, spires, arches, and parapets all seemed to meld into a blended, whole. He could see where styles of different eras, even ages, began and stopped, but whether the architec-ture was from ages long ago or ages yet to come, Rogero had not the means to decipher.
Yet, as real as the Tower seemed, it was ethereal. It was not out of focus, hazy, or blurry, so much as it was like a reflection in a still pond. It seemed as if it were real, but if Rogero could but stretch forth his hand all the way to infinity, his hand might pass through the Tower's reflection, but never actually reach the Tower itself.
Something was wrong with the Tow-er. Or something was wrong with him.
Why not both? whispered Durandal in a sort of mocking gleefulness. Surely, you can accept that one can be insane even in the midst of a world full of insanity? A talking Blade? A quest that can never be fulfilled? A Tower that can be seen but not reached?
"What do you mean?" he asked aloud of the Blade, but the Blade's response was nothing but a sibilant laugh.
"I am not insane!" Rogero yelled to the uncaring Blade.
He sat on the damp ground, rocking back and forth until he was almost feverish with worry and doubt. He was still rocking when Bradamante rode to him on that lonely road.
He was in a stupor, almost a trance, but some things still registered in his mind. The way her hair flowed as she lit upon the ground with elfin-like grace. Her dark eyes seemed to smolder, as if a great burning fire in them had been smothered, yet it seemed ready to blaze up again. She wore armor, like any man, and she fought--and bled--like any man. Her beauty was unmatched, yet few were equal to her sword arm.
She cupped his face in her hands. Warrior's hands. "What is wrong? Have you lost all reason?"
He shook his head, but for a long time the words would not come. Finally, he managed to croak out a few words. "The Key is Unhinged and the Way is Closed. We will fail. Durandal has foreseen it."
He saw her glance at the sword and he knew that look. She'd never really ever liked Durandal. "Bah," she said, "that sword gossips more than a fish-wife. If there's any foretelling to be done here, leave it to me."
She sat beside him and held out her hands, palms upward. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head. After a moment she spoke, her voice strangely doubled, as if someone or something, was speaking along with her: "The Way is shut--and barred. Not by the Tower. By one who does not want you to find it. Find the Key. Find your Way. It fears. It lies. It manipulates. It hates. Beware, Rogero. You have had many names and in each name, you have failed. Look to the cause. Rogero, look to the cause. Otherwise, you will find your Heart's Demise."
She shook herself and her eyes rolled back down. "I'm sorry I wasn't clearer. Foretelling is like looking at shifting sands--the harder I peer into the Void, the farther away the grains fly."
Rogero rose and strode to the mouth of the cave with his shoulders set. "I know what I must do now. I must find the key."
"But what about my vision? What about the 'lying key?' When you find it, how will you make it tell you the truth? You shouldn't go until you're ready."
I can force it to tell us the way, Durandal gleefully informed him. It'll be easy.
"Put your mind at rest. Durandal has it well in hand. It has yet to lead me wrong."
Bradamante looked askance at the black Blade and put a hand on his shoulder. "I think you put too much trust in that thing . . . but if that's what you think you must do, then I am here for you. I am your sword arm and true com-panion. I will wait for you here."
He put his palm over her heart and felt rhythmic pulse. "My heart beats with yours, my love. When I find the key, I will call for you. And we will seek the Tower together."
With one last look back, he entered the cave.
He trudged forward through the cave for thirteen long years, never going back, never deviating from the trail. Starvation, isolation, and near madness had been his only friends during all that time as he scavenged and hunted to sur-vive the ever-gloom of the cave.
Finally, he saw a light at the mouth of the cave and heard waves crashing. He took a deep breath and smelled the salty brine of sea-water. Dreams of success filled his mind. The key must be there! And then, he could send for Bradamante using Durandal.
He stepped out into the light. It was a beach, remarkably like the one he had entered the cave. There was a ship in the water, but it was all broken and ripped to pieces by the pounding serf.
Rogero's brow furrowed. There was a cave here too? And then his heart caught and his breath sawed through his throat and made a small whining noise like a scream at its very beginning. There was a skeletal body at the mouth of the cave and it wore Bradamante's armor. There was a hole torn in the breast-plate of the ar-mor. Around her were the skeletal frames on hundreds of monsters.
He ran with all his speed to the body. At first, he thought it was some trick, but then he saw the cave's inscription. He then noticed a smaller inscription in spidery script, as if written by a weak and shaky hand. He cast his eyes down and saw a dagger, notched and blunted. The inscription read: I waited for you, my love. The monsters come every night. The ship has returned, but it was broken and overrun before we could escape. I cannot enter the cave, it is as if there is a door barring my way. I can only hope that you've found the Tower in spite of it all. Tell me about it, my love, when next we meet. Tell me
The inscription ended after that, her words dying with her in midstream.
Rogero dropped to his knees and raged at Durandal in his mind. You told me we would find the key in that cave! You promised me we could bind it to us and find the Tower!
Durandal whispered in his mind. I lied. You will never find the Tower, Rogero. Never.
The scream that had been building fi-nally erupted from his throat and his mind broke. He cradled Bradamante and rocked her desic-cated body in his arms until he died a few days later from starvation, with Durandal laughing all the while in the hollows of his broken mind.
For, what with my whole world-wide wan-dering,
What with my search drawn out through years, my hope
Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
--Robert Browning, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"
"Rollande, damn you! Blow the horn!" Oliver cried. He seemed about to say more, but spun away from a Grendel's cruelly scythed claws just in time. Spinning back, he decapitated the thing's skull-like head. "Rollande, the horn!"
Rollande laughed as he heard his friend's despairing cry. He laughed as he cut down a leaping Fenrae, laughed as his warhorse thundered over the cavalry of the Tower Guard, laughed as Durandal cleaved through great swatches of the pressing throng that threatened to rip him from his saddle. He laughed and laughed until tears as fat as raindrops streamed down his cheeks, fell, and mixed with the blood of dying men and beasts on the battlefield of the lonely mountain pass.
"Can you not see it, my friend?" Rollande demanded. "Do you not know where we are? Look, use your eyes, man! See what I see!"
"Damn my eyes!" Oliver yelled. "All I see here on this forsaken mountain are our graves if you don't call for help. We need Lord Charlemagne, we need his army! We are too few to sustain this battle. We need reinforcements."
Rollande waved his friend's argu-ments away even as he cut down Sandlings that had erupted from the ground beside him trying to pull his horse into the ground.
For once his way was clear, he point-ed with Durandal. "Those two hills on the right. Look at them--they are like what the Old Man told us. 'Two bulls locked in a fight,' he said. And there, to the left, look! 'A tall scalped moun-tain.' And there, in the distance right in the midst, do you not see it? There it is! The Tower! This is it! This is finally the one true Way. This pass is our Road to the Tower. We must take it. At all costs. We must!"
Two Fenrae came at Rollande then and he broke off, turning the great beast of a horse in a circle and slashed Durandal at both of them.
"That may be true, my Lord Rollande," called out Archbishop Turpin from behind, "but we are too few and our losses too great. Oliver is right. Use the horn, call for the army. Although, I confess to you that while I can't see this Tower you claim is right in front of us, I will still follow you."
Rollande turned to his friend. His brother-in-arms. "Surely, you see it?" It was there, ethereal, but like a full moon that blazed dur-ing the evening hours of the day, it stood out so that even the blind could see it.
Oliver shook his head. "I see nothing but rock, dirt, blood, and death. But . . . I believe in you, Rollande. If you say that this Road will take us to the Tower, then it will. But we are overmatched. Use the horn. At worst, we will lose a day or two. We can fight off Ganelon’s forces, gather our strength, and with the full might of Charlemagne's army behind us, assault the Tower once and for all."
No! raged Durandal. They just want the glory for themselves. They want to be the first to say they found the Tower. It is yours! Your quest, your Tower, your glory! Do not let them have it!
Rollande was torn. His friends could not see what was so plainly in front of them and their counsel seemed wise. Yet, the Tower, the object of his life-long quest, stood in from of him. Durandal had never failed him. It had sus-tained him through many battles. And the Tower--it was so close.
His remaining men had finally caught up to him and had cleaved a small circle around himself, Oliver, and Turpin. Durandal was alight with balefire, Oliver's sword dripped with blood even as sweat ran down his face in streams--after three days of near continuous fighting, even Oliver's massive frame was showing fatigue. Archbishop's Turpin's hands were alight with a brilliant yellow flame that either damned or healed depending upon his will. Roland had seen enemies erupt in that brilliant flame, melting away on the spot, and he'd seen wounded allies rise from nearly mortal blows at naught but a touch from the holy man. But dead was dead. And there was a trail of broken and bloody bodies that stretched for miles and miles along the road.
Maybe Oliver and Turpin were right. Maybe he needed more men. He'd waited a lifetime to find the Tower. What was one more day?
He reached back to grab Oliphant, the giant horn, from his back, but before he could, Durandal screamed in his mind. Look! There's Ganelon, Captain of the Tower Guard. If you defeat him, you'll have your way to the Tower. He has the Key!
At the very back of the seething horde stood his most hated enemy. Again and again, Ganelon had thwarted his attempts at the Tower. Now Roland was so close, so very close, he could almost feel the Tower.
He spurred his horse and dove head-long into the throng of monsters and men, cleaving a path of destruction all about him. He heard a despairing cry from behind him--from Oliver and Turpin. His men seemed to deflate as they sullenly charged forward.
He shook his head as Durandal weaved death all around him. Why could they not understand? This was a time of joy and laugh-ter. One more final push, only one more, and their lifelong quest was at an end. They would find the Tower, find out its secrets, and be gods among men. Songs would be sung of this day--he was sure of it. He wanted to yell out to them to be of good cheer, but for every enemy he killed, it seemed as if two took its place.
He strove and strove, but watched as one by one, his men were cut down. It was slow and their deeds were legendary, but they were too few. He fell as his horse was dragged under the earth, whinnying and pawing all the way.
With tendrils of dread creeping into his heart, he grabbed Oliphant and blew. He blew and blew. The sound of the horn was like the deepest bass roar that echoed off the mountains and magnified ten thousandfold as it curled out of the valley. The Dark Tower seemed to scream in response. He blew until a red mist seemed to form behind his eyes. Pain flared in his temple and he knew that he had broken something inside himself. Blood dribbled from his nose. He was dying. He needed no battlefield surgeon to tell him his life was over.
Still he fought, inching ever forward. He kept fighting even when a bright yellow light exploded behind him. He looked and saw Tur-pin alight with Holy Fire. With a look that both accused and forgave Rollande, Turpin yelled and exploded in a final blast that took many of Ganelon’s forces down and gave him a brief respite. Bits of his friend landed at his feet.
Still he fought, inching ever forward. He kept fighting even when a Grendel had him clearly in its grip and a cruel scythe-like clawed curled at his chest to rip his heart out. He heard Oliver exclaim, "Damn you, Rollande!" Then he heard a squelching noise.
Rollande looked down, but it was not his chest that had been ripped open, but Oliver's. Poor, doomed Oliver had stepped in front of the Grendel and had born the blow meant for Rollande. He decapitated the Grendel and it dropped to the ground--still holding the heart of his friend.
Still he fought, inching ever forward until he was brought low by a sword eating into a hamstring. He crawled forward, pawing the ground as monsters and the Tower Guard stood watching. He felt, rather than saw, a parting of the way. There, right in front of him stood Ganelon. His right arm twitched, but the Blade which had seemed so light now seemed to be made of stone.
Durandal, Roland cried out, I need you! One strike, one quick strike, and I can kill him! With the Key, I might manage to make it to the Tower before I die.
You may need me, but I don't need you . . . not anymore. Besides, he doesn't have the Key. I'm the Key.
You lied to me! Roland thought. I'll destroy you!
Durandal was full of contemptuous amusement. You couldn't even if you wanted to, remember? I'm the Blade that Can't be Shiv-ered. Go on, try it if you like. You'd have better luck trying to destroy the Tower.
Rollande tried to make good on his threat by slamming the flat part of Durandal’s Blade against a nearby boulder. The slate gray rock shattered into rubble. Durandal cackled wildly in his mind until final blow came down upon him.
As when a sick man very near death
Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
The tears and takes the farewell of each friend,
And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
Freelier outside ("since all is o'er," he saith
And the blow fallen no grieving can amend"),
--Robert Browning, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"
Kill the Traitor and take his key, Durandal grated in his mind.
Roland did not raise Durandal. He knew better. He knew that Ganelon was just a diversion. The moon lit night seemed fitting. The Tower watched balefully as if knowing this was Roland's last chance.
What are you doing? screamed Durandal in his mind. Use me! Defend yourself or you're going to die!
Then die I shall, but it'll be through my choice, not through your lies.
Ganelon's sword arced ever closer. No! Not this way--you can't! You're Roland, you must fight! The Blade twitched and tried to make his arm move, but Roland locked his muscles and kept his arm still.
Why? So I can die again? Not this time, Durandal. This time, we both tempt Fate together.
Ganelon's sword sliced into Roland's jugular and all went black.
Head pounding, heart thundering, Ro-land awoke on a sandy plain. His hand went to his neck. There was no wound. He looked around and his eyes lit upon Durandal. It lay on the sand. Its black sheen was dull, and he could hear its sibilant gibbering in his mind. There was no coherence to it, no shape to it. It sounded for all the world like a raving madman caught and lost in a nightmare of his own making.
Roland's hand went to his head. The pounding was nigh unbearable. Then he listened, truly listened. There was another voice in his head, but where Durandal whispered, this one thundered.
Come, it said.
Roland looked up and there on the horizon was the Tower. There was nothing but sand, sky, and the Tower. Looking closely, Ro-land wasn't even sure that was the sky above him as there were no stars in it and it was inky black, but he chose to think of it as the sky.
Come, it said.
Picking up Durandal, who whimpered and gibbered insanely, he trudged forward. Durandal was so heavy he could not lift it. He just let its tip drag the ground. He looked back once, but there was no trail in the sand showing where he had come.
Come, it said.
Focusing on the Tower, his thoughts seemed to clear. With every step, it seemed like insight bloomed in his mind.
The Tower was no longer hazy or in-distinct. It was real, if impossibly far away. He now understood. He had done it--he had found the Tower.
Come, it said. His feet has-tened to obey.
After what seemed like a lifetime of walking--perhaps it was a lifetime, as there was no way to feel or see the passage of time--Roland spied the base of the Tower. With each footfall, the Tower seemed closer.
Come, it said.
Durandal screamed in horror. It struggled in his grip like a naughty child terrified of the coming chastisement of its parent, but Roland trudged ever forward.
Finally, he arrived at the Dark Tower and saw that in its inky perfection, there was a flaw. A piece had been broken off.
He looked at Durandal and sure enough, it was the perfect shape of the Dark Tower's missing piece.
Now, at last, do you under-stand? the voice thundered.
Roland shook his head. "Some . . . not all. At some point, you were broken? And Durandal is the piece you lost."
Before time and space, there was a Schism. What could not be sundered was fragmented. What could not be lost was no longer found. What needed to be whole was fractured for all time.
Suddenly, Roland saw and under-stood. "All my lives . . . all the Rolands that I've dreamed about, seen, been, or whatever. They . . . we were trying to bring Durandal back to the Tower."
To make whole what was broken. When the Tower was broken, time became broken, space became broken. Look and see.
Suddenly, the sand became trans-parent and Roland could see Reality stacked upon Reality, Universe stacked on Universe, and Time stacked upon Time. An infinite number of Universes above him, below him, and all around him. Each reality, each universe, each dimension was just slightly different than another. And in each, there was a Roland, or an Orlando, or a Rogero, or a Rollande, or any number of different men, with different faces, who were, for all intents, him.
And anchoring each Reality, stood the Dark Tower. It transcended the Universes like a linchpin. There was only one Tower and yet that Tower spanned every Universe, every Dimension, every Reality. It was like looking into the infinite. He closed his eyes to preserve his sanity.
When he opened his eyes, there was just the sand and the Tower, but Roland knew better now. He knew what lay hidden. He also knew what the Tower wanted of him.
"What are you?" Roland asked. "I know that you are the Tower, but, in truth, what are you? No more riddles, no more ambiguity. I passed your test and found you. I want answers."
I cannot answer your question completely as no one in the Multiverse has yet to come up with a theory of what I am. Your sci-entists would call me a Gravitational Singularity. To be more specific, a Naked Singularity--a Singularity without the accompanying Event Horizon.
Roland looked around at the com-pletely dark sky all about them. "You're a Black Hole? That can't be, we'd be crushed out of ex-istence by the gravity."
Not a Black Hole, but a Singu-larity. The difference is slight, I grant you, but important. As you have already seen, I stretch to infinity and it is I and Durendal who have created what you term the Multiverse.
"But why?" Roland asked. He waved a hand at featureless ground and dark sky. "Why do all of this?"
Because of the Schism. I have al-ways been and I always will be, but when I formed I was whole. When the Schism occurred--
"--That which could not be Broken was Broken," Roland finished. He imagined a blinding flash of light and an explosion of epic proportions. "The Big Bang! The formation of the Universe . . . that’s the Schism you keep refer-ring to."
What you refer to as the ‘Big Bang’ was the evaporation of my Event Horizon. I was . . . expressed . . . in what you term as Space-Time and I am now bound and limited by the laws that govern whatever universe I exist in.
Roland gestured to the Blade in his hand. "And what’s your part in all this?"
The Blade refused to answer and con-tinued to gibber.
What you call Durindana is the piece of me that was broken in the Schism. It creates universes to hide from me. You are my in-strument for finding it and returning it here to me. I am Bound by this Universe’s constraints. You have free will and I cannot compel you to return the piece to me--that you must do on your own.
"If I heal you, what will happen? Will all those lives never have existed? Will all that life inhabiting those worlds cease to exist? Bradamante, Turpin, Oliver, and the other Peers will never have been born. Will you make me the engine of extinction for all those Realities?"
Have you met Brandemante, Oli-ver and Turpin as of yet?
Roland shook his head.
You will, you know. If I were to send you back, you would meet the Peers and they would die. Entropy cannot be denied. I stand outside of time and space, but there are limits. Your Peers have died and will die, no matter the universe. The insanity of wars, the strife, the famines, the destruction of worlds, of suns, of whole universes--none of it was not intended. The insanity in the Multiverse is not of my making.
"Are you telling me that Durindana is the cause of all this evil?"
It is insane. It was never meant to be apart from me. Have you never wondered where the monsters and Tower Guard came from? If you are my agent--
"Then Ganelon was created by Durindana? It told me you created him and the Guard."
And yet, I wanted to you find the Blade and return it to me. It seems odd that I would create a foe to keep you from finding the sword and carrying out my intentions, do you not think? You must return Durindana to me.
"And if I don't?"
Then it will continue for all time. The Tower must be whole. This insanity has resulted in Entropy and death throughout the Multi-verse. Returning the piece back to me is the only way to heal everything the Schism tore asunder.
I will not go back! Durandal raged in his mind. You’re condemning me to death. I am sentient and I will lose that if you do this. You will kill me!
"You killed me and you killed my friends."
And I would do it again unto in-finity to keep myself alive. I am alive, damn you, and I intend to stay that way.
Heat flushed through Roland and he understood. His life, the lives of the Peers, the lives of everything in existence was nothing to Durindana. The only thing that mattered to the Blade was its life and it was willing to trade the lives of the entire Multiverse just retain its insanity-laced sentience. The Tower offered a chance at peace while Duridana offered nothing but an eternity of death.
This was why the Tower brought him here. Here there could be no dissembling. Here he could see the true equation without Duran-dal’s lies. Many lives for one or one life for the many.
He strained and raised Durandal.
No! it screamed. I will not go back!
"The choice isn’t yours to make," Roland said.
He cast Durindana with every last ounce of his strength at the Tower. It hit the Tower and there was a blinding light that thundered in every corner of all creation. Durandal melted and then melded with the Tower and fused into place. Its voice died in his head, subsumed into the deeper, richer chorus of the Dark Tower.
Suddenly, all of creation wrenched as all other possibilities began to slowly fade out of existence and the one that was left shone with a brilliant glow. The Tower sang.
"What happens to me now?" Roland wondered aloud.
Come and see, the Tower said and opened up to him.
Roland walked into the Tower--there was a blinding flash of light and it enveloped and engulfed him.
Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.