John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

In accordance with that precept, the Lords of Teq, before they inherited their fathers estates, must kill all challengers, and did so by any means to hand, whether cleanly by the sword or subtly by drugs and venom. Consequently some persons had come to rule in Teq who were less than fit-great only in their commitment to greed.

“That,”‘ said the traveler to the leaves on the chestnut-tree, “is a highly disturbing spectacle!”

However, he stood as and where he was, neither concealed nor conspicuous, and as ever allowed events to pursue their natural course. Few of the rank-and-file soldiery noticed him as they strode along, being preoccupied with the warmth of the day and the weight of their equipment, but two or three of the officers favored him with inquisitive glances. However, they paid no special attention to the sight of this little man in a black cloak, and likely, a mile or two beyond, the recollection of him would be dismissed altogether from their minds.

That was customary, and to be expected. Few folk recognized the traveler in black nowadays, unless they were enchanters of great skill and could detect the uniqueness of one who had many names but a single nature, or perhaps if they were learned in curious arts and aware of the significance of the conjunction of the four planets presently ornamenting the southern sky in a highly specific pattern.

But there had been changes, and those who recognized him now were exceptional.

The journeys the traveler had made had long surpassed the possibility of being counted. Most of them, moreover, were indistinguishable-not because the same events transpired during each or all, but because they were so unalike as to be similar. A little by a little earnests of his eventual triumph were being borne upon him. Perhaps the loss of Ryovora into time had marked the pivotal moment; however that might be, the fact-was incontestable. Soon, as the black-garbed traveler counted soonness, all things would have but one nature. He would be unique no more, and time would have a stop. Whereupon…


Watching the purposeful progress of the army, the traveler considered that notion with faint surprise. It had never previously crossed his mind. But, clearly, it would be a wise and kindly provision by the One who had assigned him his mission if his single nature should include the capacity of growing weary, so that in his instant of accomplishment he might surrender to oblivion with good grace.

That instant, though, still needed to be worked towards. He waited while the rearguard of the army passed, slow commissary-wagons drawn by mules bumping on the rough track; then, when the drumbeats died in the distance, their last faint reverberation given back by the hills like the failing pulse of a sick giant, he stirred himself to continue on his way.

It was not until he came, somewhat later, to Erminvale that he realized, weary or no, he must yet contend with vastly subtle forces arrayed against him.

For a little while, indeed, he could almost convince himself that this was to be the last of his journeys, and that his next return would find the places he had known tight in the clutch of Time. The borderland between rationality and chaos seemed to be shrinking apace as the harsh constraint of logic settled on this corner of the All. Reason is the step-child of memory, and memory exists in Time, not the arbitrary randomness of eternity.

Thus, beyond Leppersley the folk remembered Farchgrind, and that being’s chiefest attribute had been that no one should recall his deceits, but fall prey to them again and again. Yet where once there had been a monstrous pile of follies, each a memento to some new-hatched prank-‘Build thus and worship me and I will give you more wealth than you can carry!”, or: “Build thus and worship me and I will restore you the health and vigor of a man of twenty!” (the wealth of course being tons of ore and the health that of a paralysed cripple)-there were sober families in small neat timber houses, framed with beams pilfered from the ancient temples, who said, “Yes, we hear Farchgrind if he speaks to us, but we recall what became of grandfather when he believed what he was told, and we carry on about our daily business.”

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