John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

“I chose nothing of the sort, if you will forgive my contradicting you,” Bernard sighed. “All I want is to be allowed to go home!”

“This does not sound like the utterance of a god,” the Margrave muttered to Eadwil, who nodded.

“Sir,” he said to Bernard, “we wish to determine your powers. Are you acquainted with the Book of Universal Shame, and can you conjure from it?”

By now, the townspeople had ceased their going and coming before the altar, and were gathering in silence to listen to this discussion. It was plain that a few of them were unconvinced, propitiating Bernard only by way of insurance, as it were.

“I never heard of it,” said Bernard, swallowing.

“Then of the Book of Three Red Elephants? Perhaps of the Casket of Disbelief?”

To each name Bernard shook his head.

Eadwil turned smiling to the Margrave. “It is most unlikely that he is a god!”

Then in their turn Petrovic, Gostala and Ruman questioned Bernard about the most esoteric wisdom known to them-which implied the most esoteric wisdom known to anyone. Some few individuals surpassed the enchanters of Ryovora, such as Manuus, but those persons were far beyond the commerce of everyday life and chose to exist alone with their powers, not intruding on mundane affairs.

To each inquiry Bernard was constrained to reply in the negative, and in the watching crowd some began to stare significantly at Brim. The locksmith grew more and more flustered and annoyed, until at last, when Ruman had completed his questioning, he strode forward and faced the altar challengingly, hands on hips.

“Let’s have it straight!” he bellowed. “Are you a god, or is this false pretenses?”

“I-I was advised not to deny it,” said Bernard tentatively, and the Margrave clapped his hand to his forehead.

“Fool that I am!” he exclaimed, and thrust Brim to one side, ignoring the fellow’s complaint. “It was Tyllwin who advised you thus, was it not?”

“I don’t suppose it can do much harm to say who it was,” Bernard decided reflectively. “Uh-whether it was Tyllwin or not, I’m unsure, for he gave me no name. But I can describe him: a very charming elderly gentleman, with a wisp of white beard clinging at his chin.”

“Manuus!” exclaimed several persons together, and the Margrave whirled to face his colleagues.

“How many of you had seen Tyllwin before yesterday?” he demanded.

“Why-” began three or four speakers, and as one fell silent with expressions of amazement.

“You have it!” snapped the Margrave. “He was there, and some enchantment persuaded us he was seated by right and custom. But I for one now realize that I have no other knowledge of Tyllwin. Well, then! So Manuus is behind all this! We must go to him and tell him that he is not permitted to meddle in Ryovora’s affairs. If he chose to live among us as a responsible citizen, that would be a different cauldron of spells. But as things are, we can only respect his privacy so long as he respects ours.”

There was much shuffling of feet. With juvenile dignity Eadwil spoke up. “Margrave, I regret that I dare not face Manuus in this connection. My powers are inadequate as yet. I hate to shelter behind my youth- but.”

And he took his leave.

One by one, shamefacedly, the others of the council followed his example, until the Margrave was left by himself, and the townsfolk, having garnered from these events only that the nobles had failed to disprove Bernard’s divinity, hastily resumed their self-imposed tasks.

“A fine lot we breed in Ryovora!” exclaimed the Margrave scornfully. The scorn was a mask for his own forebodings; he was less of an enchanter than many who served under him, having achieved his eminence on administrative skills. But nonetheless he was a resolute man, and accordingly he summoned his train and set forth to beard Manuus in his castle.

The mists parted in such fashion as to imply that this call was not unexpected, and having left his attendants huddled together in the great yard he ascended to Manuus’s sanctum with determined steps. There the enchanter greeted him with warm expressions of respect.

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