John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

Urging his god forward, and sweating, Brim the locksmith made a path to the front of the crowd. “There!” he bellowed, throwing up his arm to indicate the hideous red idol. “That’s the best they can muster against you! Hark at his howling! Why, already he fears your mere presence!”

“I must go down,” said the Margrave in low tones. “I have no stomach to stand and watch the poor fools massacred.”

“I will come also,” said Eadwil. And accordingly they descended together to the gate. Among muttered threats from the commoners, saying that if these nobles were going to- interfere out of spite they would get short shrift, they elbowed closer and closer to Bernard. The heat of Eadwil’s glowing feet helped clear a path.

At last the Margrave was face to face with Bernard Brown, and cast on him a look full of sympathy.

“This is none of our doing,” he said in apologetic tones. “It seems that the people of Ryovora, so long reputed sensible, have finally taken leave of their senses.”

Bernard Brown blinked unhappily at him. “I think you are right, sir,” he agreed. “Especially since this galumphing monstrosity is plainly nothing more than an overgrown child.”

“A what?” said the Margrave, and Eadwil was seen to be grinning almost from ear to ear.

“An overgrown child,” repeated Bernard patiently. “Why, he howls and strikes out and breaks things at random-this is not the behavior of an intelligent, adult personality! Moreover, one must assume that the folk of Acromel have attempted to establish communication with the idol, must one not?”

“Why-ah…” The Margrave was bewildered. “One would imagine so, yes!”

“Yet their preferred mode of communication proves to be torches on sticks.” Bernard spread his hands. “I deduce that we have here a case of arrested development, and what I would propose…”


Wave upon wave of laughter rang out around the walls of Ryovora, and at once the citizens, led by the Margrave, set about implementing Bernard’s plan. Eadwil stood a little apart, his lips set in a smile that bid fair to become permanent.

Meanwhile, the sky grew to full brightness, and the sun hoisted itself towards the meridian. Among the ranks of those from Acromel a certain impatience grew manifest. The long torches which served to goad the idol were withdrawn one by one, soaked in fresh pitch, and re-lit; the chains which tethered his sixteen limbs were anchored firmly to posts hammered in the ground, so that the teams of men afoot and ahorse who weighed him down when he was on the move might relax for a while; but in the comings and goings of the people, there was more restlessness than purpose.

Ultimately, towards mid-day, the spokesman who had previously addressed the nobility of Ryovora again ascended his knoll and called for the Margrave. Sweating from his work, hands filthy, his richly embroidered sleeves turned back above his elbows, the Margrave leaned over the ramparts and gave a wave.

“Margrave! Our god is restive! Time wastes, and we desire to know the outcome of this affair!”

The Margrave glanced down into the avenue below the wall, where work was proceeding apace under Bernard Brown’s direction. Far below him, Eadwil raised an arm in signal that all was ready.

“Good!” said the Margrave to himself, and called to the spokesman for Acromel.

“Our city’s god is prepared to meet yours!”

The man from Acromel at once spun on his heel and yelled to those charged with loosing the Quadruple God’s chains. A moment passed; then, from the front of the crowd before the gate, diffidently yet with unfaltering strides Bernard Brown marched out towards the enemy.

A gust of merriment ascended, and the welkin echoed with scornful gibes. But Bernard kept on marching towards the Quadruple God.

And the Quadruple God paid him no attention.

Behind the approaching man, behind the ramparts of the city, another figure was appearing-a figure so gigantic, so bloated, so huge that the Quadruple God seemed a mere ant by comparison. This apparition had a head with teeth twenty feet long in its gash of a mouth; it had arms like a hundred barrels, it had legs planted either side of a tall building.

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