John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

Which, according to the books in which he reposed his trust, was as fair an answer as they’d ever given anyone.

So into the nervous night, blear-eyed, he waited on their presence, and ultimately at the moment which- said a well-measured time-candle, and no visible stars- corresponded with the time of full moon, he rose expectantly from his discomfortable posture on the floor in the middle of his cracked mirror.

One came of the four, and only one, and in such rage as made the walls shake and the tower-top tremble. And reached out for Garch, and he was not.


That elemental, Tuprid, who had snuffed stars, had gone to see first of the places in his allegedly regained domain the nearest to a star, a place of light: to wit, a lamp-maker’s shop. And there had found awaiting him a little girl, scar-faced, beside whom a boy clutched her hand to loan her courage, chanting at a candle they had brought and making it burn against the fiercest orders of the visitor. Below, the other children cried, and she thought of them, and made her efforts double, and in the upshot melted a maker of great darkness into shapeless wax dribbling across a book bound in human skin.

After that, very suddenly, the stars could be viewed by the skylight.

Also the elemental Caschalanva, who preferred the taste of fire to that of ice, had gone down by the bitter vales under Rotten Tor, and a little girl who wished desperately to make the logs burn more brightly had sensed in an instant of inspiration precisely what was needful to be done….

And in an inn where fleas plagued the customers, the being Lry who fostered dissension found a predilection towards greed that was emanating from the spot with such force as gales have, using a mountain-range for organ-pipes. Greed being among the chiefest of his tools, he grasped at it-and when it dissipated fractionally after, he was swept into nowhere along with it.

Whereupon, learning of the fate of his companions that were a good deal more than merely companions, Quorril returned to say that they were cheated, and- souls being his diet-seized Garch’s with a snatch of an immaterial claw that laid wide open the wall of his secret room, emitting fumes. The high tower of the mansion tumbled down, its foundations turning to mud and sand.

Among the ruins, with her dying breath, the lady Scail called down a doom upon him for what he had done to her brother, and-she being now dowered, as she had desired, with the half of Garch’s skills, and in particular that half which concerned the binding, rather than the releasing, of elementals-Quorril ceased his flight to the sky, and perforced joined her, and Roiga, and Runch, buried forever beneath that stack of masonry.

“Where let him rest,” the traveler said contentedly, having viewed all this from the vantage of the same sward where he had conversed with the Shebya.

“And Buldebrime, and Tradesman Humblenode,” a quiet voice confirmed alongside him. He had not expected to be alone at a moment like this; he did not look around. “And many more!”

“And many less guilty, Highness,” he appended. “Yet none of them entirely innocent. Willing, at least, to serve a lord whose power was drawn from chaos, when it was apparent to any commonsensical mind that no mortal force could make this barren land so wealthy. Equally, prepared to apprentice children to masters who starved and beat them, for the sake of having them learn a profitable trade….”

He shrugged, both hands clasping his staff. “No matter, though,” he concluded. “Has it not all come to a very tidy end?”

There was a silence. Also it was dark here. But it was the regular honest dark of a spring night around moonset: nothing worse.

“At end,” the quiet voice said meditatively. “Yes, perhaps it is an end. It might as well be…. You know, my friend, there’s something very curious!”

“Tell me,” the traveler invited, who now knew in any case the most important thing that had guided his existence. Still, there were degrees of importance, and even a triviality might provoke interest.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80

Categories: John Brunner