John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

Where, trapped and furious, the packman shortly found himself, possessed of all the secret lore he had suspected, down to the use that might be made of a sheet of the bark when luring Ogram-Vanvit from his lair… and powerless to exploit that for his gain.

Yorbeth of course ceased to be. Heavy-hearted, the traveler went on.


In the mountainous land called Eyneran, where folk were above all proud of their sheep and goats, he had once incarcerated the chilly elemental Karth, thanks to whose small remaining power one strange valley stayed frozen beneath a mask of ice when all around the summer flowers grew bright and jangly music drifted from the bell-wethers of the grazing flocks. Here the traveler came upon a fellow who with flint and steel was seeking to ignite the ice, grim-visaged and half-blue with cold.

“Why,” inquired the traveler, “do you lavish so much effort on this unprofitable pastime?”

“Oh, you’re a simpleton like all the rest!” cried the man, frenziedly striking spark after spark. “Is it not the nature of ice to melt when the hot sun falls on it? Since what is in this valley does not melt, it cannot be ice. Certainly, moreover, it’s not stone-it differs in significant respects from rock-crystal, quartz, adament and fluorspar. Therefore it must be of an amberous nature, QED. And amber is congealed resin, and resin burns well, as any drudge knows who has lit a stove with pine-knots. Accordingly this so-called ‘ice’ must burn. Sooner or later,” he concluded in a more dispirited tone, and wiped his brow. The gesture made a little crackling noise, for so bitter was the wind in this peculiar valley that the sweat of his exertion turned at once to a layer of verglas on his skin.

The traveler thought sadly of Jacques of Ys, who also had been persuaded that he alone of all the world was perfectly right, and suppressed his opinion of the would-be ice-burner’s logic. Sensing disagreement nonetheless, the fellow gave him a harsh and hostile glare.

“I’m sick of being mocked by everyone!” he exclaimed. “Would that the true nature of this substance could become clear for you and all to see!”

“As you wish, so be it,” said the traveler, realizing that the time of release had come also to Karth. With the cessation of his dwindled ancient power, sunlight thawed the glacier and warm zephyrs fathered water from its edge.

The man looked, and touched, and tasted, and paddled his hands in it, and cried out in dismay.

“If this is. water, that must have been ice-but that was not ice, therefore this is not water!”

Spray lashed him; rivulets formed around his ankles.

“It is not water,” he declared, and stood his ground. But when the pent-up floods broke loose they swept him with his flint and steel far down the hillside and dashed him to death on a rock that was deaf to his entreaties.

Aloof, the black-clad traveler stood on a promontory and watched the whirling waters, thinking that he, so aged that there was not means to measure his duration, knew now what it meant to say, “I am old.”

So too in Gryte, a fair city and a rich one, there was a lady who could have had her choice of fifty husbands, but kept her heart whole, as she claimed, for one man who would not look at her, though he had wooed and conquered maidens for leagues around.

“Why does he scorn me?” she cried. “He must be hunting for a wife who will give him surcease from this endless philandering! Can he not come to me, who hunger for him?”

“As you wish, so be it,” said the traveler, and next day the man she dreamed of came a-courting her. She pictured all her hopes fulfilled and made him free of her household and her body. And the day after, he treated her as he had treated the rest: rose from her couch where he had taken his pleasure, not sparing a kind look or a kiss, and left her to wring her hands and moan that she was undone.

Likewise there stood a gravestone in the cemetery at Barbizond, under the arch of rainbow signaling the presence of the bright being Sardhin. Grass by it flourished in the gentle never-ceasing rain. The traveler visited it because he owed a particular debt to the man beneath, who full of years and honor had gone to his repose.

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