John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

He set spurs to his horse, and away they galloped in the wake of the miserable gang of captives strung with chains.


Laughter rang loud and shrill under the gorgeous canopy that shaded Lord Fellian of Teq from the naked rays of the sun. The canopy was of pleated dragon-hide, bought at the cost of a man’s life in a distant land where chaos and reason had once been less evenly matched and strange improbable beasts went about with lion’s claws and eagle’s beaks and wings of resounding bronze. Report held that there were no more such creatures to be found; even their bones had been rejected by reality.

“But I have my canopy!” Lord Fellian would say.

Its shade fell on a floor of patterned stone: marble was the commonest of the types of tile composing it, outnumbered by chalcedony, jasper, sardonyx, chrysoberyl, and others yet so rare that they had no name save “one of the tiles in Lord Fellian’s gallery.” This was on the very apex of the grand high tower from which Lord Fellian might survey his domain: lands from here to the skyline and beyond which bled their wealth into his coffers.

But on the houseward side there was a high wall, that when he sat in his throne of state-made of the bones of a beast of which the enchanters declared no more than one could ever have existed, translucent as water but harder than steel-not even an absent glance over his shoulder might reveal to him the sole building in Teq which outreached his tower. Atop that mighty edifice presided the figure of Lady Luck, the goddess blind in one eye and masked over the other, whose smile dictated the fortune of those who ruled in Teq.

It was not the custom to look on her. It was said that those who secretly tried to, in order to discover whither her gaze was bent, would die a fearful death. And indeed the agents of Lords Fellian, Yuckin and Nusk did occasionally deposit in the chief market-square the bodies of men and women who had clearly undergone some repulsive torture, and the common folk interpreted these as an awful caution. More often than not, these corpses belonged to persons who had boasted of their favor with the Lady. It was taken for granted that the others belonged to those who had not even enjoyed the brief pleasure of making that boast.

To look on Lady Luck was the one gamble no Lord of Teq would risk. Why should he? Was not affluence itself proof that the Lady bent her enigmatic smile continually on the man who possessed it?

Lord Fellian on his chair of inexplicable bones cramped with pure gold, robed in cloth dyed with the purple of the veritable murex, shod with sandals of the softest kidskin on which had been stamped, again in gold, a series of runes to guide him in the most prosperous of paths; his foppish locks entwined with green ribbons, his nails painted with ground pearls, his weak eyes aided with lenses not of rock-crystal such as his rivals must make do with but of diamond, his lobes hung with amber, his girdle glittering with sapphires: he, Lord Fellian, the greatest winner among all the past and present Lords of Teq, laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

The noise drowned out the soft rattling from the table on which a trained monkey, tethered by a velvet leash, kept spilling and gathering up a set of ivory dice, their values after each throw being recorded by a slave on sheets of parchment; likewise, the humming of a gaming-wheel turned by an idiot-both these, with bias eliminated, to determine whether after fifty thousand throws or spins there would be some subtle preference revealed, that he might exploit in his ceaseless conflict against Lords Yuckin and Nusk. Furthermore his laughter drowned the chirrup of the gorgeous songbirds in a gilded cage which he had won last week from Nusk in a bout at shen fu, and the drone of musicians playing on a suite of instruments he had won-along with their players-from Yuckin a year or more past. Those instruments were of eggshells, ebony and silver, and their tone was agonizingly sweet.

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