John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

A scream died still-born in the lord’s throat. He stared and stared, and after a while he said, “But… But there’s only a stump!”

And it was true; against the sky, instead of the celebrated statue, nothing but a jagged pediment.

He began to giggle. “Why, you’ve lost after all!” he chuckled. “You did not make the wager that Lady Luck had ceased to smile on me, which would be a fair victory-you wagered that her face was turned away from my throne!”



“Then I have won.” He gestured with his staff. “Go forward; examine those chunks of stone I have broken from the wall.”

Hesitant, yet ashamed to seem frightened, Lord Fellian obeyed. His fingertips fumbled across rough plaster while he coughed at the dust he was stirring up, and found smooth chased stones not conformable to the flat slanting over a shoulder-blade…

“There was a storm,” said the traveler didactically. “The figure tumbled and landed in the street. It has always been the custom, has it not, that any who looked on Lady Luck should die? Save the breath you’d waste for an answer; I know your agents dump those whom you dislike in the market-square, claiming that it was for that reason they expired.

“Accordingly, none recognized the fragments. When you commanded stone-masons to assemble the necessary material and build this wall atop your handsome tower, they gathered up whatever they could find, and into the wall they set the broken pieces of the statue, in such fashion that the back of the head was behind your throne.”

“But that’s not fair!” Fellian shrieked. “You knew this all the time, didn’t you?”

“Who are you to talk of ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’?” the traveler snapped. “Did I not hear you yesterday promising to reward Achoreus by increasing his stake on a wager that your privy intelligence informed you he had won? Be silent! I am not here to argue, but to claim my winnings!”

He pointed at Fellian with his staff, and with one hand clutching a fragment of the statue, the other clawing at air as though he could cram it by fistfuls into his choking lungs, the greatest winner of all the Lords of Teq departed into nowhere.

A while later, when they came upon the corpse, those who had pledged themselves to his service began to quarrel about partitioning what he had left behind, in sum, the total wealth of the city and its environs.

“I will have the treasury!” cried Torquaida. “It’s my due!” But a young and vigorous clerk from the counting-house struck him down with a golden candlestick. His old pate cracked across like the shell of an egg.

“If I can have nothing more, I’ll take the booty Lord Fellian cheated me of!” vowed Achoreus, and set off in search of the girl Viola. But he tripped on a slippery marble step at the entrance to the women’s quarters, and by the time he recovered from his bang on the head she was awake and away.

By contrast, though: on learning that his lord was a loser in the game of life after all, the groom who tended Western Wind saddled up the stallion, sighing.

“At least this small recompense is due to me,” he muttered, and opened the door of the stable.

Later, in Barbizond, he offered the steed’s services to cover some mares in heat, and from the foals which resulted built up a livery-stable of his own.

Likewise the falconer, on being told the news, gathered his prize merlin and went out into the countryside to get what living he could; he lost the merlin by flying it at an eagle which had stolen a child, a match the eagle was foredoomed to win. But that child was the only son of a wealthy land-owner, and in gratitude he made the falconer bailiff of his estates.

Also the cook gathered a brand from beneath his cauldron and went forth by a secret passage leading from the back of his ox-roasting hearth. There he turned his ankle on a square object lying in the dust of the passageway, and the light of the brand showed that it was the lost Book of Knightly Vigor, from which- legend claimed-the Count of Hyfel, founder of Teq, had gained the amorous skill to woo and wed his twenty-seven brides. With recipes from it he opened a cookshop, and defeated lovers from a score of cities trudged over hill and dale to sample his unique concoctions.

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