John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

Amid all this coming and going, however, the captives from Wantwich were content to find their way to freedom in the warm morning sun.


On their first return, the villagers were a trifle puzzled to discover that the pond beside the green, which for as long as anyone could recall had been placid, now roiled unaccountably. However, as their repairs proceeded-new roofs and shutters, new gates and fences, to replace those broken by the troops from Teq-that disturbance ceased. Before the new beer was brewed, before new barrels were coopered, before a new fiddle had been made for Fiddler Jarge, the water had resumed its normal state.

And on the day when-belatedly-Leluak led out his bride to start the dancing proper to a marriage, a person in a black cloak stood with a benign smile in the shelter of a sycamore.

“Was it not clever, Horimos?” he said under his breath to the elemental prisoned beneath the water. “Was it not ingenious to pervert the thinking of rational men into the random path of a gambler, who lacks even the dangerous knowledge of an enchanter when he tampers with the forces of chaos?”

Unnoticed except by the traveler, the pond gave off a bubble full of foul marshy gas, which might have been intended for an answer.


“By all means, Horimos,” the traveler murmured, and drained the mug of Brewer Harring’s good beer which he, like all passers-by on a festival day, had been offered. He set the vessel on a handy stump, and the music rose to a frantic gay crescendo.

When, a little diffidently, the new bride came to greet him and ask if he would like to take his turn at partnering her in the dance, there was no trace of his presence except the empty mug.



Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos, is restored; Light dies before thy uncreating word…

-Pope: The Dunciad


“Good morrow, sir,” the folk said civilly to the person in black who stood leaning on a staff-of unusual substance-watching them fetch and carry water from the Gander’s Well. He answered in turn, but absently, preoccupied, and none of them marked him so closely as to recognize him again. It was plain that he was concerned with private thoughts.

Indeed, so absorbed was he that the sun dipped down and the boys and the goodwives whose chore it was to collect water had gone home to their well-earned supper, before he stirred a pace from where he’d wasted the day. Then it was to address a man, well muffled against the evening cool, who came to scrape a few flakes of punk from a rotten tree-stump, not a great distance from the well’s mouth, and dropped them as he gathered them into a pottery jar.

Seeing him then apply a fizzling wick of braided withes, the traveler said, “You go a journey, I take it, sir!”

“Why, yes!” the man said, glancing up. “I’m called to see my sister, who’s in labor with a nephew for me; her man’s abroad, and someone responsible must be by to take her other bairns in charge.”

“And this is what you’ll use for tinder?” said the traveler, pointing with his staff at the tree-stump.

“None better can be found in this vicinity,” said the man. “All who must go a trip by night make use of it. It carries fire through the most amazing storms. In fact, it’s said”-but here he coughed, as though by way of apology for seeming to give credit to such a superstition-“there’s some bright spirit in it, that fosters the sparks against all odds. If you, sir, whom I judge to be a stranger, think of continuing your walk by night, I counsel you should avail yourself of this. More than once friends of mine have been grateful for it, thinking to finish a journey in daylight, and then coming on a washed-out bridge or flooded ford!”

“How far away then can your sister live? As yet, there’s light in the sky; there’s an hour or two before full dark, at least.”

“Hmph!” said the man, straightening as he capped his tinder-jar and tossed aside his wick of withes, to sputter on ground made wet by water spilled from buckets day-long dipped in the well. ” ‘Tis plain you really are a stranger, sir! Needs must I go by Cleftor Heights, and there the dark falls fast, believe you me! Indeed, if you’ll forgive me, I must make haste, even with this to save me in the pitch black.”

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