John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

Vengis searched the room with feverish eyes. In the far corner he spied a closet large as a man; he dashed to it, and slammed the door with him inside.

The sergeant, astonished, went nonetheless to answer the knock, and fell back in dismay before the apparition which confronted him. Gaunt, tall, with a second mouth gaping redly in his throat, here was the figure of legendary Lord Gazemon who had laid the foundation stone of Ys with his own two hands.

Now those hands held a broadsword; now he advanced with slow terrible steps upon the closet in which Vengis thought to secrete himself, and battered down the planks of the door to hale that miserable successor of his into the wan torchlight.

“You know me!” croaked the city’s founder.

Gulping, moaning, Vengis contrived a nod, and the huge spectre shook him as a terrier shakes a rat. “Oh, to what a dwarfish stature have shrunk these weaklings of today!” he bellowed. The sergeant, cowering behind an oaken table, could not tell by which mouth Gazemon spoke-his natural one, or the second which had let out his life.

Again the door rattled to an imperious knock, and he scuttled to answer before Gazemon could address him. With trembling hands he admitted those who stood without: Lorin, who had slain Gazemon by treachery and usurped his throne; Angus, who had reclaimed that throne into the rightful line of descent; then Caed; then Dame Degrance who passed for a man and ruled like one until the physicians at her deathbed unmasked her sex; then Walter of Meux; then Auberon; then Lams, and the first Vengis who was a stout and brave leader for the one short year he survived, and others and others to the latest who had sat the chair below prior to the advent of the incumbent lord.

With axes, maces, swords, with pens and scrolls and money-changer’s scales according to the form of power by which they had made Ys great, they gathered around the hapless target of their contempt.

“We have walked abroad in the city since we were called from rest,” rumbled Gazemon, his grip still fast on Vengis’s shoulder. “We have seen stagnant puddles in the streets, shutters dangling from one hinge on the cracked walls of once-fine houses; we have been followed by beggars and starving children in Ys which we devoted our lives to, making it a city that the world should envy! You have given our golden towers to tarnish, our iron doors to rust; you have given our splendid harbor to the mud and our fat grain-fields to the weeds; you have squandered our treasury on baubles, forgetful that we paid for it with blood. How say you all, you who listen here? Is it not time that we held an accounting?”

“Aye, time,” they said as one, and hearing the menace in their voices Vengis rolled his eyes upward in their sockets and let go his hold on life.


“Oh, there you are!”

Perched on a grey rock atop a grey hill, Jacques the scrivener forwent his gazing at sunset-gilded Ys in favor of a scowl at the traveler in black who had come to join him. There were no footprints to show by what path he had arrived; still, where Laprivan wiped away the past that was no wonder.

“I’ve sat here long enough, in all conscience,” Jacques complained. “This wind is cold! And, for all you promised I should witness the doom of Ys, I see nothing but what I’ve always seen when looking on the city from afar. When will this doom befall, tell me that.”

The traveler sighed. Now the course of events was grinding to its inexorable conclusion, he felt downcast, despite there never having been an alternative. He did not much like Jacques, regarding him as pompous and self-opinionated, but even so…

“The doom is already in train.”

Jacques leapt from his rock and stamped his foot. “You mean I’ve missed it?”

“That, no,” said the traveler. He raised his staff and pointed across the twilight grey of the valley. “Do you not see, there by the gates, a certain number of persons making in this direction?”

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