"The next day they spent in Il Bosque, the forest west of Mejis, waiting for Roland to wake up." (Wizard and Glass 635)
The leaves sigh around Alain, as if they're trying to tell him something, something so low and delicate that he will never hear it. Overhead, a crow flaps toward the south, calling out. But Alain pays no attention to crow or trees: he can only stare wordlessly at Roland, who is stretched full length and unconscious on the ground. His head is pillowed on his bedroll, and he breathes. That is all he does.
Cuthbert had threatened the pink glass ball with a gun, and it had given Roland (or at least his body) back to them. And good thing too, for who knows what might have happened if the Wizard's Glass had been allowed to take him? It was only good sense. But Alain feels stupid and fuddled anyway, as if he was in bed and dreaming instead of huddled over a small fire in the belly of Il Bosque.
"Oh," he says, and it sounds like a moan. "What are we going to do now?"
Cuthbert hisses through his teeth and his dark eyes spark. Alain tries and fails to meet those eyes. His brain is pounding as though it might break out of his skull.
"Alain, are you as stupid as you look?" The words aren't really malicious, but seem almost like an afterthought. Cuthbert pulls off his hat, runs a hand through his dark hair, puts the hat back on. "We wait. What else can we do?" His voice shakes, bitter and bleak. "He's our leader. We can't do anything about that."
Alain, who knows exactly how deep it galls Cuthbert to be second in command, merely nods. He does not voice the doubts that are clamoring in him. Cuthbert wouldn't be able to answer them. He would want to, but he wouldn't be able to. And that would cut even deeper. So Alain hunches up against the fall chill and puts his head on his bent knees. Watches the fire.
For quite some time, they sit silent. They watch Roland, who does nothing. And abruptly, Cuthbert stands up. He sounds choked and odd. Only because they have been friends for so long, Alain sees that he is very close to crying.
"I have to go . . . find some. . . ." His voice trails off. His hands are clenched at his sides under the serape. He looks desperate and young. Alain nods. Cuthbert melts into the trees, making so little noise that Alain can still hear Roland's even, comatose breathing.
And he is alone, or alone enough. He doesn't feel like crying: he feels like shrieking, bashing his brains out on a tree trunk. What had Roland seen in the Wizard's Glass? What? He guesses that it had been something about Susan. Something bad. Something so bad that it had sent Roland's mind west, sent it into exile for awhile. Could looking into a pink bubble do that?
Alain has the Touch. Often enough, he is able to read emotions, amorphous thoughts swirling in peoples' heads. He can count people by their thoughts. He can give them his thoughts too, if he wishes. And people can force their thoughts on him. In the Bad Grass, Roland had shoved emotions into Alain's head until he was exploding with them. It wasn't Roland's fault, precisely. He couldn't have helped it. And now Alain has a headache and a brain full of hate and despair. Impotence, too, for whatever Roland had seen in the glass, he hadn't been able to fix.
What could they do? What could they do now? Was it time to go home? Alain quietly shifts to his knees on the crumbly soil, peering at Roland, who hasn't moved a muscle.
"Roland," he calls softly, and crawls over to where his friend lies, covered in a striped serape that is entirely too cheerful for this gathering. "Roland, dear one? Won't you wake up?"
Out in the forest, Cuthbert is probably choking out the same thing, maybe hitting something, maybe not. Alain knows how Cuthbert and Roland love each other, how he loves them and they him. Everything in Alain hates this, hates to see Roland so still, Roland who had used a hawk at fourteen years old to best their master. Roland who smiles like every angel, who rides like a centaur, who can sing all the verses of "Hey Jude."
"We are much too young for this," he moans again. He stands then, meaning to go hit something, to find Cuthbert and talk sense into him, make him see that they have to go home right now, right now.
Instead, to his left, he sees a glow. It's coming from his saddlebag. From a brown leather bag. It's glowing pink. For him. Alain knows it like he knows he can't Touch Roland, because Roland is somewhere in exile. The Grapefruit Glass wants him. So he goes to it.
After fumbling open the saddlebag, he tips the leather bag and the glass falls into the center of his palm. The ball is heavy: it glows as pink as a girl's tongue and it makes no sound. Alain can see nothing but swirling mist inside of it. Instead, it speaks to him in the High Speech, in a voice much like the whisper of the leaves around him.
The Crimson King will sweep this earth, it says. Farson is only His emissary. And you have the Touch. You could have been a wizard. Why bother with this gunslinger shit?
Alain can say nothing. His tongue is stuck to his teeth: his hands are shaking. He listens only.
You could be Farson's wizard, boy. The Good Man rewards his followers. You could have gold and women, you could rend your enemies. You might even be able to have me. Wouldn't you like me in your pocket all the time? If you told me to do it, I could drop all of Mejis where it stands. If you told me to do it, I could bring Roland's mind back from exile.
And, it adds maliciously, I could make Cuthbert want you more than him. Wouldn't you want that?
Barely aware of anything, Alain can only nod. His breath hisses through his teeth and he cups the glass hard enough to shatter. His headache is gone, or at least the pain is. Roland's leftover emotions remain: hate, fear, and despair have joined together, and they are pink.
You are too young to die, Alain, says the glass. Why don't you take me up instead, and live forever?
"Yes," he says. "And the world at my knee?"
The world, says the Wizard's Glass. If you want it.
He is nodding again, yes, yes, yes, but then the glass gives a howl and goes dark. "Fuck!" Alain yells, and looks around to see what has made it stop talking.
It's Cuthbert, interfering again, always in the way. Cuthbert, who doesn't want a big blond boy with the Touch, but wants Roland, that troublemaker who had humped his way into this situation in the first place. Cuthbert, his hands out and his eyes red and his voice hoarse from calling Alain's name.
The sun blazes overhead, but doesn’t touch the forest floor. The two of them are in shadow, marked with fallen pine needles. Alain feels bigger somehow, stronger. He tries to cup the glass away from Cuthbert's gaze, but Cuthbert holds both of Alain's hands in his. He also holds Alain's gaze.
"Have a good cry?" asks Alain in a voice that sounds very little like his own. Cuthbert grins tiredly, but his eyes never waver. His voice is very soft.
"So I did. And I feel better, too. And I come back, and what the hell are you doing while I'm gone, but looking at things that don't belong to you."
Which is patently stupid. Alain shouts at him, "It does too belong to me! It's mine! It said it would be mine!" He tries again to jerk his hands out of Cuthbert's but fails.
"Oh Alain, grow up. It wants your Touch is all. It wants to use you for something, and probably not something fine and good, or it wouldn't ask you in secret when you're all alone, would it?"
"You're jealous! It asked me! It wants me!"
"Course it does," says Cuthbert. "Why would it want Roland, he's slow as the Turtle. And me, I've got no powers except what's in my hands."
"It said I could be a wizard." Staring into Cuthbert's black eyes, the argument starts to get confusing. What had the glass promised him? And how could it deliver? "It said I could have anything I wanted."
"Anything you want and the world at your knees?" queries Cuthbert softly. "Sounds good. And what do you want, Alain? Do you want power and treachery? What is it you want most of all?"
"I don't -- " begins Alain, who knows very well, but Cuthbert just smiles his sweet smile. Quietly he leans over and kisses Alain, his mouth soft as a tree's whisper. And when he pulls back, the glass is back in its bag and Cuthbert is tying the drawstring.
"See?" he says, smiling crookedly. "All in the hands."
Took me 49 minutes and 30 seconds (time limit of 60), and the rest in edits.
feedback to: email@example.com