John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

“I do not know what a god is,” said Manuus. “And I doubt that any man knows, though many think they do.”

“Fair enough,” said the black-clad traveler, and rose.

“Have you not even one more question to put to me?” suggested the enchanter with a wan smile.

“No,” said the traveler.

Manuus gave a shrug and rose also. “Then I can only thank you for having graced my dwelling, sir,” he said formally. “Few of my colleagues can have enjoyed the honor of receiving you personally.”

The traveler bestowed on him a hard, forthright look.

“I have many names, but one nature,” he said. “Man has one name, and many more than two natures. But the essential two are these: that he shall strive to impose order on chaos, and that he shall strive to take advantage of chaos. You, sir, are not a better enchanter for having received me here, but a worse one. And, I may say, such people as you are often the greatest allies of the powers who were before me.”

“I resent that, sir,” said Manuus frostily. “Let it not be said that I oppose one whose task I am aware of.”

“A third element of man’s nature,” the traveler murmured, “is this: that he shall not understand what he is doing. Good day to you, Manuus-though whether it will be is rather up to you than up to me.”

The traveler left Manuus deep in thought, with one elbow on a book in front of him, his chin cupped in his hand, his eyes staring vacantly at his pet owl. The traveler set forward, towards the gold and silver towers of Ryovora, and there went among the populace confirming what he had been told.

That same argument which Manuus had put him bluntly, he heard indirectly expressed before the houses of the great merchant-enchanters, who conjured this city’s goods from the far corners of the world; so too in the market-square, and in private homes, and in taverns and theatres and laboratories and even in the houses of ill-repute. And when at last he came to stand upon the roof of a high silver tower and overlook the sleeping city in the small dead hours, he was convinced.

Yes, truly, the people of Ryovora were dissatisfied, and it was as Manuus had claimed. They had struggled through centuries inquiring of the mute cosmos what its nature and the nature of man might be, and they were left still hungering, to the point of growing weary.

This hunger-so they said-would be assuaged if only they had a god, as did their neighbors in Acromel. News had arrived, of course, that the god of Acromel had caused the death of many citizens, and widespread misery, but they ascribed all that to the stupidity of Duke Vaul. “We are sensible people!” they insisted. “We would know how to treat a god!”

The traveler stood gazing out over the placid, sleeping city. Moonlight shone on the roofs of glorious buildings, on the river’s ripples, on bridges and mansions and on fine wide roads.

He had asked everywhere, “What is the nature of a god?” And they had said confidently, “We have no god, so how can we tell? But if we had one-ah, then we should know!”

The traveler remained rapt in thought until the dawn-flush tinged the east, absorbing and reviewing the desire that inchoately washed against his mind. At last, a breath or two before the sun rose, a quirking smile twisted his mouth upwards, and he put out his staff over the city and said, “As you wish, so be it.”

Then, his task for the moment being accomplished, he departed.


To park a car while one goes for a walk in the woods is not uncommon. To return and find that the car is no longer there is not unprecedented. But to return and find that the road itself, on which the car was parked, has likewise vanished, is a different matter entirely.

Yet for a man who rules himself by the straightforward logic of common sense, there is no need instantly to assume that a problem of this nature is insoluble. Bernard Brown was such a person, and it was to him that this improbable event had just occurred.

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