John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

To him, the ritual completed, came a progenitor who had felt the frustration of an aging wife, racked with childbearing beyond the point at which she was capable of assuaging his desires, and who had violated the daughter of his bailiff; it then also being spring. The bailiff had returned early from the task of which animelles were the result, and to avenge the slight on his family’s honor had made prompt use of the implement in his hand. For twenty-one generations the sufferer had awaited the chance to afflict on another the operation sustained by himself, and he did so without a by-your-leave. Leaving Messer d’Icque to leak away his life’s blood, he thereafter set out to multiply his trophies from all possible male sources.

No word of this had been brought to the beauteous Meleagra when she came home. She had never cared for Messer d’Icque, thinking him rough and ill-bred, and the news that he had involuntarily qualified to share her overnight company would have interested her not at all.

In a boudoir hung with lace draperies, containing a round golden bed and a mirror abstracted from the Hall of State, as being the largest in Ys-which she had mounted cunningly on the ceiling-she caused her maids first to draw curtains at the many high windows, then to light candles which gave off a fragrant, intoxicating aroma. She suffered them to remove her clothing, to prepare her a bath in which she dissolved a handful of polychrome salts, and to sing in harmony while they sponged her from head to toe. Sweetmeats were brought on a white platter and a silver filigree dish, and twenty-four new gowns were displayed before her on the body of a dumb girl who matched the dimensions of her figure.

All the while this was going on, she was musing over a crucial decision: should she, or should she not, act upon the promise the black-clad one had made?

That he had the power to which he laid claim, she never doubted. Two years before anyone else in Ys saw what needed to be done, she had closed a bargain concerning her virginity which she had scrupulously kept- at first partly from fear, but lately out of simple habit.

And what she had purchased by the bargain had enabled her to recognize the single nature of their unaccountable visitor.

A single nature! Surely that must imply its possessor could neither lie nor deceive! In which case she might employ her talents now to produce results compared to which her previous achievements were dross. Her whole life since the age of eleven had been on the edge of a precipice-and there were creatures at the bottom of the chasm which she had eluded only by the most exact pre-planning. Accordingly, the notion of exercising her powers at least once in full foreknowledge of success attracted her. An uncharacteristic yielding to vanity had made her call Ub-Shebbab to the Hall of State; he was the meekest and mildest of the beings she had conjured up, yet her skin prickled when she thought of what might have…

No, that happened only to fools and bunglers. And she was neither. She reached her decision and dismissed her maids. Them gone, she put on a gown which had not been displayed during her bath, worked all over in gold wire with a single sentence in a forgotten language; then she opened a brass chest and took out gifts she had exacted from various suitors before information about her inflexible rule was noised abroad.

There was a twig from Yorbeth, bearing a leaf transparent as glass and a brown, blotched fruit which tinkled like a bell; there was a vial of rainwater caught at the foot of the rainbow overarching Barbizond, that had a trifle of Sardhin’s essence in it; there was a block of pumice from the volcano where Fegrim slumbered; there was a jar of grey dust from the hill where Laprivan was shut away; there was a hair from the head of Farchgrind, an inch of candle that had revealed the secret thoughts of Wolpec but had been allowed to burn one instant longer than was safe, and a drawing of two birds and a crocodile made by a possessed child.

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