Chapter 1

Themaninblackfledacrossthedesert,andthegunslingerfollowed.

Thedesertwastheapotheosisofalldeserts,huge,standingtotheskyforwhatmighthavebeenparsecsinalldirections.White;blinding;waterless;withoutfeaturesaveforthefaint,cloudyhazeofthemountainswhichsketchedthemselvesonthehorizonandthedevil-grasswhichbroughtsweetdreams,nightmares,death.Anoccasionaltombstonesignpointedtheway,foroncethedriftedtrackthatcutitswaythroughthethickcrustofalkalihadbeenahighwayandcoacheshadfollowedit.Theworldhadmovedonsincethen.Theworldhademptied.

Thegunslingerwalkedstolidly,nothurrying,notloafing.Ahidewaterbagwasslungaroundhismiddlelikeabloatedsausage.Itwasalmostfull.Hehadprogressedthroughthekhefovermanyyears,andhadreachedthefifthlevel.Attheseventhoreighth,hewouldnothavebeenthirsty;hecouldhavewatchedownbodydehydratewithclinical,detachedattention,wateringitscrevicesanddarkinnerhollowsonlywhenhislogictoldhimitmustbedone.Hewasnotseventhoreighth.Hewasfifth.Sohewasthirsty,althoughhehadnoparticularurgetodrink.Inavagueway,allthispleasedhim.Itwasromantic.

Belowthewaterbagwerehisguns,finelyweightedtohishand.Thetwobeltscrisscrossedabovehiscrotch.TheholsterswereoiledtoodeeplyforeventhisPhilistinesuntocrack.Thestocksofthegunsweresandalwood,yellowandfinelygrained.Theholstersweretieddownwithrawhidecord,andtheyswungheavilyagainsthiships.

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