John Brunner – The Traveler in Black
John Brunner – The Traveler in Black
IMPRINT OF CHAOS
Ante mare et terras et quod tegit omnia caelum unus erat toto naturae vultus in orbe, quen dixere Chaos: rudis indigestaque moles.
-Ovid: Metamorphoses, I5
He had many names, but one nature, and this unique nature made him subject to certain laws not binding upon ordinary persons. In a compensatory fashion, he was also free from certain other laws more commonly in force.
Still, there was nothing to choose as regards rigidity between his particular set of laws and those others. And one rule by which he had very strictly to abide was that at set seasons he should overlook that portion of the All which had been allotted to him as his individual responsibility.
Accordingly, on the day after the conjunction of four significant planets in that vicinity, he set forth on a journey which was to be at once the same as and yet different from those many which had preceded it.
It had been ordained that at this time, unless there were some pressing reason to the contrary, he should tramp along commonplace roads, and with goodwill enough-it was not a constituent of his nature that he should rail against necessity-he so arranged his route that it wound and turned and curved through all those zones where he might be made answerable for events, and ended within a short distance of where it had begun. It ended, to be precise, at the city called Ryovora: that place of all places in his domains where people had their heads screwed on the right way.
He did this for an excellent reason. It was an assurance to him that when he subsequently reviewed the situation the memory of one spot where he might justly feel pleased with his work would be uppermost in recollection.
Therefore, on a sunny morning when there were birds singing and few clouds in a sky filled with the scent of flowers, he began to trudge along a dusty road towards his first destination.
That was a great black city upreared around a high tower, which was called by its inhabitants Acromel, the place where honey itself was bitter. It was sometimes a cause of mild astonishment-even to him of the many names and the single nature-that this most difficult of cities should be located within a few hours’ walking of Ryovora. Nonetheless, it was so.
And to be able to state without fear of contradiction that anything whatsoever was so was a gauge and earnest of his achievement.
Before him, the road began to zig-zag on the slope of a hill dotted with grey-leaved bushes, A local wind raised dust-devils among the bushes and erased the footprints of those who passed by. It was under this hill that the traveler had incarcerated Laprivan of the Yellow Eyes, to whom memories of yesterday were hateful; some small power remained to this elemental, and he perforce employed it to wipe yesterday’s traces away.
He took his staff in his hand-it was made of light, curdled with a number of interesting forces-and rapped once on an outcrop of bare rock at the side of the pathway.
“Laprivan!” he cried. “Laprivan of the Yellow Eyes!”
At his call the dust-devils ceased their whirling. Resentfully, they sank back to the earth, so that the dust of which they were composed again covered the bared roots of the grey-leaved bushes. Most folk in the district assumed that the leaves were grey from the dust of passage, or from their nature; it was not so.
Laprivan heaved in his underground prison, and the road shook. Cracks wide enough to have swallowed a farm-cart appeared in its surface. From them, a great voice boomed.
“What do you want with me, today of all days? Have you not had enough even now of tormenting me?”
“I do not torment -you,” was the calm reply. “It is your memory that torments you.”
“Leave me be, then,” said the great voice sullenly. “Let me go on wiping away that memory.”
“As you wish, so be it,” the traveler answered, and gestured with his staff. The cracks in the road closed click; the dust-devils re-formed; and when he looked back from the crest of the hill his footsteps had already been expunged.