John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

At the mere sight of Humblenode’s instruments Buldebrime had collapsed into sniveling, and it was long after the thegn’s intrusion into his cell that they contrived to make him utter coherent words.

“No, I did not filch any such candle! I have no knowledge of enchantment!”

“Try him with a little red iron,” Garch proposed, and Tradesman Humblenode set a suitable tool to the fire.

“Have pity, have pity!” Buldebrime cried. “I swear by Orgimos and Phorophos, by Aldegund and Patrapaz and Dencycon-!”

“I thought you had no knowledge of enchantment?” Garch murmured, and gestured for Humblenode’s assistants to stretch the lamp-maker on a rack.

But in a short space from the application of the first iron he escaped into unconsciousness, and not all Humblenode’s art sufficed to awake him.

“Is Roiga meantime testing the lamps and candles that were brought with him?” Garch remembered to ask, somewhat belatedly. He had given that instruction, and not checked that it was carried out-though Runch and Roiga, of all his retinue, had most to lose by neglecting his requirements.

“I come from her, sir,” a nervous waiting-maid reported, who was trying not to look at the limp body of Buldebrime, or anything else present in the cell. “She assures me she has tested every one, and whatever you seek-uh-isn’t there.”

Garch drew himself up to his full height. “So the treacherous lamp-man has tricked me,” he muttered. “Can he not be aroused by midnight?”

“By no art known to me,” said Humblenode apologetically. It was the first time he had failed his master, and he braced himself as though to endure his own style of treatment in consequence.

But Garch swung on his heel and strode away.

He came upon his sister, together with Runch and attendants, at the head of the dank noisome stairway to the dungeons; his private means of vertical transport did not, for logical reasons, extend into this level.

“Have you succeeded?” Scail cried.


“And midnight nears!” Runch muttered.

“What must be done, must be done,” said Garch. “Prepare me for my watch alone.”

“But surely tonight it was imperative to conjure Wolpec, and ask his earnest of your ultimate success!” Under her face-mantling layers of rouge and powder, the lady Scail blanched.

“What’s to be done will be done now!” Garch snapped. “Like it or not! You have tomorrow’s daylight to run away by, if that’s your plan. For the moment, leave me – time is short.”

Without so much as a brotherly embrace, let alone that other kind which had in the past lent certain crucial potency to his doings, he pushed by them both and was gone.

Under the supervision of the crone Roiga, servants had toiled to bring many articles into the cabinet she was making ready. It lacked windows, naturally; what air there was must seep through tiny crevices, and about each, carefully marked, there had been inscribed a line of minuscule writing in an obsolete syllabary. It lacked furniture, too; in place of that it was hung with curtains of goat-hide, woven marsh-grass and the plaited hair of murdered girls. There was a mirror in the center of its floor, which was as true a circle as the mason’s art could contrive, but that mirror was cracked across, and the traveler knew with what hammer the blow would have been struck: silver-headed, hafted with a portion of his anatomy that some man-albeit briefly-would have lived to regret the loss of. He had been aware that enchantments of this calibre were still conducted, but in this case at least one unqualifiedly essential preliminary to them had been totally neglected.


Rat’s-bane and wolf-hemp; powder of dragon-bone and mullet-roe; candied mallow and murex pigment; vantcheen spice… Yes, all the ancient indispensables were here. Bar one. Bar the one that mattered more than anything.

The traveler withdrew into dismal contemplation.

Then, finally, Garch came, pale and trembling but determined not to let his companions recognize the full depth of his terror, to perform the rites required of him as lord of this land which yielded more than its proper share of good things. He was correctly robed in a chasuble of blood-hue; he correctly wore one shoe of hide and one of cloth; he correctly bore the wand, the orb and the sash; and the proper symbols, though awkwardly, had been inscribed on his palms with henna and indigo.

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