John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

“I do not wish him to love me for my beauty or my fortune,” declared the haughty child of a merchant in the city called Barbizond, where there was always a rainbow in the sky owing to the presence of the bright being Sardhin chained inside a thundercloud with fetters of lightning. The girl was beautiful, and rich, and inordinately proud.

“No!” she continually insisted, discarding suitor after suitor. “I wish to be loved for myself, for what I am!”

“As you wish, so be it,” said the traveler, who had come in the guise of a pilgrim to one of the jousts organized that this lady might view her potential husbands. Twenty-one men had died in the lists that afternoon, and she had thrown her glove in the champion’s face and gone to supper.

The next time there were jousts announced, no challenger came, and the girl pulled a face and demanded that more heralds go forth. Her father summoned a hundred heralds. The news went abroad. And personable young men said in every city, “Fight for a stuck-up shrew like her? Ho-ho! I’ve better ways to pass my time, and so’ve my friends!”

At length the truth dawned upon her, and she became miserable. She had never been happy. She had only thought she was happy. Little by little, her pride evaporated. And one day, a young man came by chance to her father’s house and found she was a quiet, submissive, pleasant girl, and married her.

Thus the journey approached its end. The traveler felt a natural relief that nothing excessively untoward had occurred as he hastened his footsteps towards the goal and climax of his excursion-towards Ryovora, where men were sensible and clear-sighted, and made no trouble that he had to rectify. After this final visit, he could be assured that his duty was fulfilled.

Not that all was well by any means. There were enchanters still, and ogres, and certain elementals roamed abroad, and of human problems there might be no end. Still, the worst of his afflictions were growing fewer. One by one, the imprints of the original chaos were fading away, like the footmarks of travelers on the road above the hill where Laprivan of the Yellow Eyes was prisoned.

Then, as the gold and silver towers of Ryovora came to view, he saw that an aura surrounded them as of a brewing storm, and his hope and trust in the people of that city melted away.


At the city called Barbizond, where he had been but recently, there was likewise an aura around the tallest towers. There, however, it was a fair thing and pleasant to look upon, imbued with the essence of bright-if cruel, nonetheless lovely-Sardhin chained in his cloud. Ryovora had been immune since time immemorial from such disadvantageous infestations as elementals, principalities and powers; the local folk prided themselves on being creatures of hard plain sense, sober in the making of decisions, practical and rational and causing a minimum of trouble to the world.

That something had happened to alter this state of affairs… ! There was a conundrum to make the very universe shiver in chill anticipation!

The traveler turned aside from the track, making no attempt to conceal his frowns, and instead of pursuing a straight course into the city, he diverged across a verdant meadow in the midst of which hovered a mist like the mists of early morning, but more dense. When the grey wisps had closed around him entirely, to the point where they would have incapacitated the vision of any ordinary trespasser, he dissolved one of the forces which curdled the light he employed as a staff, and a clear bright beam penetrated the opacity. It had barely sheared the mist when a quiet voice spoke to him.

“Since you know where you are, I know who you are. Come into the castle, and be welcome,”

The mist lifted, and the traveler went forward into the courtyard of a castle that reared seemingly to heaven, with great towers which almost pierced the sky. Two dragons chained beside the portcullis bowed their heads fawningly to the visitor; four man-like persons whose bodies were of burnished steel came to escort him-one before, one behind, one at each side- through the gateway and across the yard; twenty trumpeters sounded a blast from a gallery as he ascended the steps towards the chief tower and keep, and they also were of polished steel.

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