John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

But the Margrave was ill at ease in this place of discomfortable forces, and came to the point as quickly as manners would permit. He said firmly, when he had the chance, “Sir, since you are Tyllwin’s master you know my errand.”

“Correction,” the enchanter parried blandly. “I am Tyllwin. I have certain other natures beside my own-a trait which I share with all persons save one alone.”

The Margrave made an appropriate sign at the mention of him who has many names but one nature, and pressed on with what he had to say.

“We will not tolerate interference, sir,” he declared. “Since time immemorial we in Ryovora have striven to create a tradition of calm rationality, and to rely upon hard sense. This petty trick of intruding a so-called god like a gaming-piece into our affairs is hardly worthy of a gentleman of your distinction.”

“I agree,” said Manuus. “And you may therefrom deduce it is not of my choosing.”


“In this matter,” the enchanter continued, ignoring the exclamation, “you and I are on the same side: so to say, the outside. It will perhaps interest you to know that he of whom we were speaking a moment ago- whose nature is single-was sitting in that chair only two days ago.”

The Margrave shivered, and wondered what he had stumbled into. He said respectfully, “Manuus, your powers are beyond imagining!”

“Oh, he did not come at my bidding!” With a thin chuckle. “Rather the reverse!”

“However that may be, I shall take leave of you,” said the Margrave, rising and bowing. “For if this matter is his concern, I dare do nothing to intervene.”

Manuus shook his head, his eyes twinkling. “I am afraid you have no choice, Margrave,” he said. “Like it or not, you and I are both concatenated in this web.”

At which the Margrave departed, his heart so heavy he could barely lift his boots, and when he was gone Manuus fell to ceremonies of a land that had not been performed in living memory, and strange phenomena attended them. There was a storm on peaceful Lake Taxhling; in Barbizond, three madmen ran screaming through the streets; on a hill near Acromel, dust-devils ceased their whirling. Last, but not least, several persons in Ryovora itself saw visions of a disturbing nature, and went hastily to the new-designated temple to place yet more offerings at the feet of Bernard Brown and to consult the already sizable record of his sayings.

Studying them, they found no comfort.


And thus the matter was to remain for another day. The Margrave, making as was his custom the best of a bad job, called up an obliging spirit and had a pavilion built in the Moth Garden to serve as a temporary surrogate for his palace; there he sat, swearing mightily, far into the night, while he pondered the information Manuus had divulged.

Those other nobles of Ryovora who were best skilled in the art of magic met to discuss in low tones over their wine the riddle of distinguishing divinity from humanity. They remained unswayed by both the clamor of the populace, led by Brim, and the scant evidence furnished by their interrogation of Bernard Brown. It seemed implausible, they allowed, that such a person should be a god; nonetheless, one must respect the powers of Manuus, and perhaps in the mood to make a jest of Ryovora he could have conjured up an authentic deity….

The common folk, similarly, found themselves impaled by a dilemma. However, they had been longing for a god of some sort for a considerable while; indisputably someone strange had come among them, preceded by complex indecipherable omens, and it was generally deemed advisable to act as though he were a genuine god until some incontestable argument to the contrary should be advanced.

So the night passed; and of those many who spent it restlessly, not the least fervent seeker of repose was Bernard Brown, for all that his couch was a vast stack of gorgeous offerings in velvet and satin.

It had been centuries since another city had marched against Ryovora. The citizens had long ago deduced that their best protection was their reputation; who after all would dare attack that city where pre-eminently the populace enjoyed the gift to plan and reason?

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