John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

At the third tap the elemental Laprivan of the Yellow Eyes heaved in his underground prison and cracks appeared in the road. From these his voice boomed, monstrous, making the welkin echo.

“Leave me be!”

“What do you know of the city which stands yonder?” said the traveler in black.

“Nothing,” responded Laprivan with sullenness.

“Nothing? You say so to spare yourself the pain of memory! Shall I send you where Ryovora has gone, into the domain of Time? There memories cannot be expunged by whirling dust!”

The whole hill shuddered, and an avalanche of pale rock rattled on its further side. The sourceless voice moaned, “What should I know of the city yonder? No man has come from it and passed this way.”

“Bad,” said the traveler thoughtfully. “Very bad.”

After that he was silent for a long while, until at last the elemental pleaded, “Leave me be! Leave me to wipe clean the slate of yesterday!”

“As you wish, so be it,” said the traveler absently, and tapped with his staff again. The cracks in the ground closed; the dust-devils resumed their revolutions.

Ignoring all this, the traveler gazed over the green and gracious meadows of the valley. There the strange city lay in noon-tide sunlight like a worn-out toy cast aside by a giant-child. The heedless ruin of Time was everywhere about it, toothmarks of the greatest leveler on brick and stone and metal. It had been fair and rich, that was plain; its gates were of oak and bronze-but the bronze was corroded green; its towers were of silver and orichalcum-but their bright sheen was overlaid with a dull mist like the foul breath of a swamp; its streets were broad and paved with marble-but the flags lifted to the roots of wild plants, and here and there one found holes filled by the rain and noxious with algae and insect-larvae.

Out of Time and into chaos. Almost beyond belief.

At length he stirred himself. There was nothing else for it-so he reasoned-but to set off on his journey of obligation, and come at last not to familiar, welcome Ryovora, but to this enigma wished on him by fate and boding no good whatever.

Anxiety carried him far and fast, and little by little it was mitigated by relief. To learn that Acromel stood where it had, albeit altered; to find that they yet fished Lake Taxhling when the proper stars came out, and that the river Metamorphia fed it with strange unspawned creatures, greedy and unwholesome-this was reassuring, an earnest of balance continued in the cosmos.

And at these places, and many many more, he did what on this as on all his journeys was required of him.

A lonely hut stood on the shelf-edge of a mountain pasture in the land called Eyneran; here when he paused to ask a crust of bread and a sup of ewe’s milk from the flock.high and distant as clouds on the steep meadow, a woman with a frightened face opened the ill-carpentered door to him, and met his request with a silent shake of the head.

She was wrinkled and worn out beyond her years; yet the hut was sound, a savory smell filled the air, and the clean floor and many copper pots the traveler could see assorted badly with her ragged gown and bare feet. He waited. Shortly a cry-man-deep, yet edged with a child’s petulance-rang out.

“Mother, come here! The pot’s boiling over! What’s keeping you, you lazy slut?”

“Mintra!” whispered the woman, and a patter of feet announced the passage of a girl, some twelve years old, across the floor to tend the pot.

Another cry, still louder: “Mother, I told you to come here! Mintra can’t lift the pot when it’s full, you stupid old bag of bones!”

“We can’t give you food,” the woman said to the traveler. “All of it is for my son.”

The traveler nodded, but waited still. Then at last with great heaving and panting the son came into view: gross-bulging in his apparel of velvet worked with gilt wire and stained with slobberings of food, so tall he nearly scraped the roof with his pate, yet so fat he breathed hard for the simple effort of standing upright.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80

Categories: John Brunner