John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

Then Petrovic set about his task, and did what he had to do in the sight of all, which was most disturbing. The Margrave, trying not to watch, wished Petrovic had had the decency to conceal himself as Ruman had done.

Yet the business failed, and Petrovic returned to them at last speaking a tongue no one could understand, and burst into tears when he realized what had transpired. The great red idol still fumed and howled and shook his chains.

“Igoroth!” said Gostala in exasperation. “Dumedinnis! And likewise Algorethon!”

Three odd-looking gentlemen-one in blue, one in white, one in green-walked through a nearby wall and stood before her. None of them was entirely normal in appearance, though it was hard to say in what particular respect.

“Get rid of that-object!” directed Gostala forcefully.

The three peculiar personages looked at her, then at each other, then at her again. Premeditatedly, they shook their heads, and departed, taking her with them.

The Margrave hastily hurled a protective charm about the city, to guard against a re-appearance of the three-for they were notoriously tough to tackle-and bit his lip in frustration. This was a bad business altogether, and the worst fears he had carried away from his interview with Manuus were being overfulfilled.

“These are indeed magics to bind a god,” said Eadwil, his boyish face white and strained because his feet were blazing hot-he had walked from his dwelling when news of the attack was brought. “But are they magics to bind one such as Manuus? Margrave, I think Tyllwin may be found in the vicinity.”

“You are a true citizen of Ryovora,” the Margrave said with enthusiasm. “That is clear reasoning.”

He strode forward to the battlements and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Tyllwin!” he bellowed towards the Acromel party. “Tyllwin, ha!”

An acre of grass turned brown and died, while songbirds that had been chanting in the trees nearby fell stiffly from their perches. And from the besieging company the gaunt figure of Tyllwin was borne into view on the back of a brawny slave.

“You desire speech with me, Margrave?” said that scarecrow form.

“So this is your doing!” exclaimed the Margrave in disgust.

Tyllwin’s thin chuckle carried clearly to his ears; also to those of various dogs, causing them to howl.

“Why, Margrave, did I not state that you and I are on the same side in this matter? Admit frankly that the pretended god in your palace is not to your taste! Admit that it is in our common interest to show his fallibility by matching him against this perfectly genuine god from Acromel!”

“It’s for this reason that you have destroyed three of the leading enchanters of our city?” bellowed the Margrave. “Why could you not have left us to deal with the matter ourselves?”

Tyllwin’s voice was suddenly as dull as doom. “Because he whose nature is single has a hand in the affair.”

He fell silent. A horse neighed into the quietness, and the neigh became a scream of agony.

The Margrave looked helplessly at Eadwil, who shook his head. “Against Manuus, which of us can stand?” he said. “Moreover, the business is escaping our control. Look down into the street. The townsfolk have gone to fetch their god, supplicating him for protection.”

Indeed, down the broad avenue leading to the main gate, they saw a pressing throng of men and women, and among them a figure in outlandish attire who was crying out for aid and receiving none. Brim the locksmith could be discerned grasping his elbow, hurrying him willy-nilly along, and occasional voices rang out distinct above the general uproar.

“Save us! Defeat the enemy god! We have no hope except in you!”

“Hah!” said the Margrave in mingled pity and annoyance. “So nothing will convince them the wretch is not a god, but that he be laid low by the Quadruple One. Well, at least we now know which way the lot is cast.”

Eadwil mustered the ghost of a smile. “I wonder!” he said. “I wonder…!”

Shortly the leaders of the crowd opened the gates, and poured forth onto an open level space where they could confront the menacing array of troops from Acromel. On seeing those armored ranks-for the enemy had doubtless made careful preparations, whereas the folk of Ryovora had been surprised-many felt qualms and tried to draw back, but the press was too great, and at length the mass of them, in number three or four thousand, simmered and seethed but stood still.

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