John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

“Sir, who are you and what do you want?”

In the terribly patient tone of one dealing with lunatics, the stranger said, “My name is Bernard Brown, and all I want is to go home.”

“That is easy enough,” said the Margrave in relief. But if he had paused to reflect that Tyllwin was concerned at this man’s arrival, he would not so soon have been optimistic. He rounded on Petrovic. “Will you oblige?” he said.

Petrovic looked up in the air and down at the ground. He scratched a number of ideograms in the dust with his staff Nitra, then hastily scuffed them over with his foot. He said flatly, “No.”

“Well, if you won’t you won’t,” sighed the Margrave. He appealed to Gostala, who merely shook her regal head and went on scrutinizing Bernard Brown.

“Eadwil!” cried the Margrave.

The boy, whose face had gone perfectly pale, stammered a few incomprehensible words and burst into tears.

“See! They can’t! What did I tell you?” bellowed a bull-like voice from the crowd, and the Margrave shot a glance at the speaker as sharp as a spear.

“Come forth!” he commanded, and with the aid of a number of bystanders the fellow pushed and shoved until he stood before his ruler. He was an insolent-faced churl with a shock of corn-colored hair, and wore a leather apron with big pockets in which reposed the tools of his trade. He appeared to be some kind of worker in metal.

“You are-” said the Margrave, and ran through a short formula in his mind. “You are Brim, a locksmith. What did you mean by what you said?”

“What I said, of course,” the fellow retorted, seeming amused. “Why, anyone can see he’s not to be pushed around by ordinary folk!”

“Explain further,” commanded the Margrave.

“Why, ‘tes simple as your mind…sir.” Brim thrust an errant lock of hair back into place with his blunt thumb. “I see it plain, and so do all of us. Here we’ve been saying these years past that what’s amiss with Ryovora is we haven’t got a god like all those towns around the world every wherever. And now, today, what else do the omens say? Can you tell us that?”

He thrust a stubby finger at the Margrave’s chest. The Margrave recoiled and looked at him distastefully. But he was by inclination an honest man, so he had to shake his head and admit that although the noble enchanters had speculated long and long about the recent omens they had not been able to arrive at any conclusion.

“There, mates! What did I tell you?” bellowed Brim, whirling to face the crowd. There was an answering yell, and in a moment the situation had turned topsyturvy. The throng had closed in on Bernard Brown, unmindful that they trod on some of the nobles’ toes, and had seized him and gone chairing him down the avenue, while men, women and children ran and skipped behind him, singing a rhythmic song and laughing like hyenas.

“Well!” said the Margrave in vexation. “This is a most improper and irregular state of affairs!”


The Margrave had cause to repeat those words, with still greater emphasis and an even more sombre expression, the following morning. He sat once more at the head of the long table in the Moth Garden, for the air had become if anything more oppressive than yesterday; moreover, reports of omens seemed to have doubled in number.

“This is extremely aggravating!” said the Margrave testily. “Virtually the entire populace is firmly convinced this stranger is a god, simply because they can’t make head or tail of what he says. Accordingly, they have turned me out of my own palace-I spent an uncomfortable night here in the Moth Garden-and are at work converting it into a temple for this character without so much as a by-your-leave!”

Eadwil suppressed an inappropriate smile. “Moreover,” he supplied, “all those persons who have voyaged extensively are being interrogated concerning the correct manner in which to pay homage to a new deity. Brim the locksmith, around whom this ferment seems to be most turgid, has traveled to Acromel and is enthusiastic for human sacrifice; there is a group of women who in their youth were captives in Barbizond and wish to hold daily single combats before the altar; a man who formerly fished Lake Taxhling declares that the sole method of adopting the god is to burn down the city twice a year and re-build it, as the fisherfolk do with their reed-hut villages…”

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