|The Book of the New Sun|
|by Gene Wolfe|
The Shadow of the Torturer
"I see," the volunteer said. It was plain he did not. Roche and I edged nearer the gate.
Drotte actually stepped back from it. "If you won't let us gather the herbs, we'd better go. I don't think we could ever find that boy in there now."
"No you don't. We have to get him out."
"All right," Drotte said reluctantly, and we stepped through, the volunteers following. Certain mystes aver that the real world has been constructed by the human mind, since our ways are governed by the artificial categories into which we place essentially undifferentiated things, things weaker than our words for them. I understood the principle intuitively that night as I heard the last volunteer swing the gate closed behind us.
I  We belive that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life—they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.
II  There were always the three of us—Drotte, Roche, and I. Later Eata, the next oldest among the apprentices. None of us were born among the torturers, for none are. It is said that in ancient times there were both men and women in the guild, and that sons and daughters were born to them and brought up in the mystery, as is now the case among the lamp-makers and the goldsmiths and many other guilds. But Ymar the Almost Just, observing how cruel the women were and how often they exceeded the punishments he had decreed, ordered that there should be women among the torturers no more.
"When a client speaks, Severian, you hear nothing. Nothing whatsoever. Think of mice, whose squeaking conveys no meaning to men."
I squinted to indicate that I was thinking of mice.
III  Winter (I was told) had ended the campaigning season in the north, and thus brought the Autarch and his chief officers and advisors back to the seats of justice. "And so," as Roche explained, "we have all these new clients. And more to come . . . dozens, maybe hundreds. We might have to reopen the fourth level." He waved a freckled hand to show that he at least was ready to do whatever might be necessary.
"I am all the sisters we breed," she answered. "And all the sons."
An old servant brought us tea and small, hard cakes. Not real tea, but the maté of the north, which we sometimes give our clients because it is so cheap.
Valeria smiled. "You see, you have found some comfort here. You are worried about your poor dog because he is lame. But he, too, may have found hospitality. You love him, so another may love him. You love him, so you may love another."
I agreed, but secretly thought that I would never have another dog, which has proved true.
I caught the amusement in his tone. "I think you know the contents of every book here, sieur."
"Hardly. But Wonders of Earth and Sky was a standard work, three or four hundred years ago. It relates most of the familiar legends of ancient times. To me the most interesting is that of the Historians, which tells of a time in which every legend could be traced to half-forgotten fact. You see the paradox, I assume. Did that legend itself exist at that time? And if not, how came it into existence?"
VII  Gurloes was one of the most complex men I have known, because he was a complex man trying to be simple. Not a simple, but a complex man's idea of simplicity. Just as a courtier forms himself into something brilliant and involved, midway between a dancing master and a dplomacist, with a touch of assassin if needed, so Master Gurloes has shaped himself to be the dumb creature a pursuivant or bailiff expected to see when he summoned the head of our guild, and that is the only thing a real torturer cannot be. The strain showed; though every part of Gurloes was as it should be, none of the parts fit. He drank heavily and suffered from nightmares, but he had the nightmares when he had been drinking, as if the wine, instead of bolting the doors of his mind, threw them open and left him staggering about in the last hours of the night, trying to catch a glimpse of the sun that had not yet appeared, a sun that would banish the phantoms from his big cabin and permit him to dress and send the journeymen about their business. Sometimes he went to the top of our tower, above the guns, and waited there talking to himself, peering through glass said to be harder that flint for the first beams. He was the only one of our guild—Master Palaemon not excepted—who was unafraid of the energies there and the unseen mouths that spoke sometimes to human beings and sometimes to other mouths in other towers and keeps. He loved music, but the thumped the arm of his chair to it and tapped his foot, and did so most vigorously to the kind he liked best, whose rhythms were too subtle for any regular cadence. He ate too much and too seldom, read when he though no one knew of it, and visited certain of our clients, including one on the third level, to talk of things none of us eavesdropping in the corridor outside could understand. His eyes were refulgent, brighter than any woman's. He mispronounced quite common words: urticate, salpinx, bordereau. I cannot well tell you how bad he looked when I returned to the Citadel recently, how bad he looks now.
"When I am free," she said, "I shall found my own sect. I will tell everyone that its wisdom was revealed to me during my sojourn among the torturers. They'll listen to that."
I asked what her teachings would be.
"That there is no agathodaemon or afterlife. That the mind is extinguished in death as in sleep, yet more so."
"But who will you say revealed that to you?"
She shook her head, then rested her pointed chin upon one hand, a pose that showed off the graceful line of her neck admirably. "I haven't decided yet. An angel of ice, perhaps. Or a ghost. Which do you think is best?"
"Isn't there a contradiction in that?"
"Precisely." He voice was rich with the pleasure the question gave her. "In that contradiction will reside the appeal of this new belief. One can't found a novel theology on Nothing, and nothing is so secure a foundation as a contradiction. Look at the great successes of the past—they say their deities are the masters of all the universes, and yet that they require grandmothers to defend them, as if they were children frightened by poultry. Or that the authority that punishes no one while there exists a chance for reformation will punish everyone when there is no possibility anyone will become the better for it."
The "Chatelaine Thecla" touched my hand. The scent she wore was stronger than the faint perfume of the real Thecla; still it was the same scent, making me think of a rose burning. "Come," she said.
I followed her. There was a corridor, dimly lit and not clean, then a narrow stair. I asked how many of the court were here, and she paused, looking down at me obliquely. Something there was in her face that might have been vanity satisfied, love, or that more obscure emotion we feel when what had been a contest becomes a performance. "Tonight, very few. Because of the snow. I came in a sleigh with Gracia."
"Aren't you strong enough to master reality, even for a little while?"
"What do you mean?"
"Weak people belive what is forced on them. Strong people what they wish to believe, forcing that to be real. What is teh Autarch but a man who believes himself Autarch and makes others believe by the strengt hof it?"
"You are not the Chatelaine Thecla," I told her.
"But don't you see, neither is she. The Chatelain Thecla, whom I doubt you've ever laid eyes on—No, I see I'm wrong. Have you been to the House Absolute?"
Her hands, small and warm, were on my own right hand, pressing. I shook my head.
"Sometimes clients say they have. I always find pleasure in hearing them."
"Have they been? Really?"
She shrugged. "I was saying that the Chatelaine Thecla is not the Chatelaine Thecla. Not the Chatelaine Thecla of your mind, which is the only Chatelaine Thecla you care about. Neither am I. What, then, is the difference between us?"
X  "No one really knows what the Autarch will do. That's what it all comes down to. Or Father Inire either. When I first came to court I was told, as a great secret, that it was Father Inire who really determined the policy of the Commonwealth. When I had been there two years, a man very highly placed—I can't even tell you his name—said it was the Autarch who ruled, though to those in the House Absolute it might seem that it was Father Inire. And last year a woman whose judgement I trust more than any man's confided to me that it really made no difference, because they were both as unfathomable as the pelagic depths, and if onde decided things while the moon waxed and the other when the wind was in the east, no one could tell the difference anyway. I thought that was wise counsel until I realized she was only repeating something I had said to her myself half a year before."
XIII  It is said that it is the peculiar quality of time to conserve fact, and that it does so by rendering our past falsehoods true.
XIII  Knowing that my case was hopeless, I learned in my own person what Master Malrubius had once impressed on me when I was a child: that hope is a psychological mechanism unaffected by external realities. I was young and adequately fed; I was permitted to sleep and therefore I hoped.
XVI  Dr. Talos leaned toward her, and it struck me that his face was not only that of a fox (a comparison that was perhaps too easy to make because his bristling reddish eyebrows and sharp nose suggested it at once) but that of a stuffed fox. I have heard those who dig for their livelihood say there is no land anywhere in which they can trench without turning up shards of the past. No matter where the spade turns the soil, it uncovers broken pavements and corroded metal; and scholars write that the kind of sand that artists call polychrome (because flecks of every colour are mixed with its whiteness) is actually not sand at all, but the glass of the past, now pounded by aeons of tumbling in the clamorous sea. If there are layers of reality beneath the reality we see, even as there are layers of history beneath the ground we walk upon, then in one of those more profound realities, Dr. Talos's face was a fox's mask on a wall, and I marveled to see it turn and bend now toward the woman, achieving by those motions, which make expression and thought appear to play across it wit hthe shadows of nose and brows, and amazing and realistic appearance of vivacity.
XVI  "You may trust him. The doctor has his own way of looking at the world, but he lies less than people believe."
XVIII  The sun was now just above the tallest spires, and the flooding light that turned the dusty pavement to red gold made me feel philosophical. In the brown book in my sabretache there was the tale of an angel (perhaps actually one of the winged women warriors who are said to serve the Autarch) who, coming to Urth on some petty mission or other, was struck by a child's arrow and died. With her gleaming robes all dyed by her heart's blood even as the boulevards were stained by the expiring life of the sun, she encountered Gabriel himself. His sword blazed in one hand, his great two-headed ax swung in the other, and across his back, suspended on the rainbow, hung the very battle horn of Heaven. "Where wend you, little one," asked Gabriel, "with your breat more scarlet than a robin's?" "I am killed," the angel said, "and I return to merge my substance one more with the Pancreator." "Do not be absurd. You are an angel, a pure spirit, and cannot die." "But I am dead," said the angled, "nevertheless. You have observed the wasting of my blood—do you not observe also that it no longer issues in straining spurtings, but only sleeps sluggishly? Note the pallor of my countenance. Is not the touch of an angel warm and bright? Take my hand and you will imagine you hold a horror bew dragged from some stagnant pool. Tase my breath—is it not fetid, foul, and nidorous?" Gabriel answered nothing, and at last the angel said, "Brother and better, even if I have not convinced you with all my proofs, I pray you stand aside. I would rid the universe of my presence." "I am convinced indeed," Gabriel said, stepping from the other's way. "It is only that I was thinking that had I known we might perish, I would not at all times have been so bold."
XIX  I asked Agia if we would have time to see the gardens—and then, before she could reply, told her that I would see them whether there was time or not. The fact was that I had no compunction about arriving late for my death, and was beginning to have difficulty taking seriously a combat fought with flowers.
XX  "I don't know. Do you think there are answeres to everything here? Is that true in the place you come from?"
XX  "From the sound of the smilodon's roar, I knew he was far off. Perhaps he is not here at all, or perhaps the distance is one of time."
XX  He wore irridescent robes that seemed to fade into gray when I looked at them, as if they had been dyed in mist.
" 'Yet even though light is so weightless we have given its name to that condition, it presses against what it falls on, just as wind, which we cannot see, pushes the arms of a mill. See now what happens when we provide light to mirrors set face to face: The image they reflect travels from one to the other and returns. Suppose it meets itself returning—what do you suppose happens then?'
" Domnina laughed despite her fear, and said she could not guess.
" 'Why, it cancels itself. Think of two little girls running across a lawn without looking where they're going. When they meet, there are no more little girls running. But if the mirrors are well made and the distances between them are correct, the images do not meet. Instead, one comes from behind the other, That has no effect when the light comes from a candle or a common star, because both the earlier light and the later light that would otherwise tend to drive it forward are only random white light, like the random waves a little girl might make by flinging a handful of pebbles into a lily pond. But if the light is from a coherent source, and forms the image reflected from an optically exact mirror, the orientation of the wave fronts is exactly the same because the image is the same. Since nothing can exceed the speed of light in our universe, the accelerated light leaves it and enters another. When it slows again, it reenters ours—naturally at another place.'
" 'Is it just a reflection?' Domnina asked. She was looking at the Fish.
" 'Eventually it will be a real being, if we do not darken the lamp or shift the mirrors. For a reflected image to exist without an object to originate it violates the laws of our universe, and therefore an object will be brought into existence.' "
"What are they, Isangoma? Tokoloshe—but what are tokoloshe?"
"Bad spirits, Preceptor. When man think bad thought or woman do bad thing, there is another tokoloshe. He stay behind. Man think: No one know, everyone dead. But tokoloshe remain until end of world. Then everyone will see, know what that man did."
The woman said, "What a horrible idea."
Her husband's hands clenched the yellow stick of the windowsill. "Don't you see they are only the results of what we do? They are the spirits of the future, and we make them ourselves."
XXVI  When we are talking to women, we often talk as though love and desire are two separate entities; and women, who often love us and sometimes desire us, maintain the same fiction. The fact is that they are aspects of the same thing. If we desire a woman, we soon come to love her for her condescension in submitting to us, and since if we desire her she always submits in imagination at least, some element of love is ever present. On the other hand, if we love her, we soon come to desire her, since attraction is one of the attributes a woman should possess, and we cannot bear to think she is without any of them.
"I'm sure Agia could discover anything I discovered," I said. "I don't know her well, and in fact I don't feel I know her as well as I know you. But I know her well enough to realize that she's much cleverer than I am."
Dorcas shook her head again. "She's the sort of woman who's good at making puzzles for other people, but not at solving ones she didn't make herself. I think she thinks—I don't know—sideways. So no one else can follow it. She's the kind of woman people say thinks like a man, but those women don't think like real men at all, in fact they think less like real men than most women do. They just don't think like women. The way they do think is hard to follow, but that doesn't mean it's clearm or deep."
XXX  Tomorrow would be my first appearance on the scaffold, unless the chiliarch decided at the last moment to exercise clemency. That was always a possibility, always a risk. History shows that every age has some unquestionable neurosis, and Master Palaemon had taught me that clemency is outs, a way of saying that one less one os more than nothing, that since human law need not be self-consistent, justice need not be so either.
"The book is a collection of the myths of the past, and it has a section listing all the keys of the universe—all the things people have said were The Secret after they had talked to mystagogues on far worlds or studied the popul vuh of the magicians, for fasted in the trunks of holy trees, Thecla and I used to read them and talk about them, and one of them was that everything, whatever happens, has three meanings. The first is its practical meaning, what the book calls, 'the thing the ploughman sees.' The cow has taken a mouthful of grass, and it is real grass, and a real cow—that meaning is as important and as true as either of the others. The second is the reflection of the world about it. Every object is in contact with all others, and thus the wise can learn of the others by observing the first. That might be callsed the soothsayers' meaning, because it is the one such people use when they prophesy a fortunate meeting from the tracks of serpents or confirm the outcome of a love affair by putting the elector of one suit atop the patroness of another."
"And the third meaning?" Dorcas asked.
"The third is the transubstantial meaning. Since all objects have their ultimate origin in the Pancreator, and all were set in motion by him, so all must express his will—which is the higher reality."
"You're saying that what we saw was a sign."
I shook my head. "The book says everything is a sign. The post of that fence is a sign, and so is the way the tree leans across it. Some signs may betray the third meaning more readily than others."
For perhaps a hundred paces we were both silent. Then Dorcas said, "It seems to me that if what the Chatelain Thecla's book says is true, then people have everything backward. We saw a great structure leap into the air and fall to nothing, didn't we?"
"I only saw it suspended over the city. Did it leap?"
Dorcas nodded. I could see the glimmer of her pale hair in the moonlight. "It seems to me that what you call the thurd meaning is very clear. But the second meaning is harder to find, and the first, which ought to be the easiest, is impossible."
Once more I heard footsteps, now the slow, firm tread of a man; I knew at once that it was Master Malrubius—I could recall his step in the corridors under the tower on the days when we made the ronds of the cels; the sound was the same. He came into the circle of my vision. His cloak was dusty, as it always was save on the most formal occasions; he drew it about him in the old wau as he seated himself on a box of properties. "Severian. Name for me the seven principles of governance."
It was an effort for me to speak, but I managed (in my dream, if it was a dream) to say, "I do not recall that we studied such a thing, Master."
"You were always the most careless of my boys," he told me, and fell silent.
A foreboding grew on me; I sensed that if I did not reply, some tragedy would occur. At last I began weakly, "Anarchy . . ."
"That is not governance, but the lack of it. I taught you that it precedes all governance. Now list the seven sorts."
"Attachment to the person of the monarch. Attachment to the bloodline or other sequence of succession. Attachment to the royal state. Attachment to a code legitimizing the governing state. Attachment to the law only. Attachment to a greater or lesser board of electors, as framers of the law. Attachment to an abstraction conceived as including the body of electors, other bodies giving rise to them and numerous other elements, largely ideal."
"Tolerable. Of these, which is the earlier form, and which the highest?"
"The development is in the order given, Master," I said. "But I do not rrecall that you ever asked us before which was highest."
Master Malrubius leaned forward, his eyes burning brighter than the coals of the fire. "Which is the highest, Severian?"
"The last, Master?"
"You mean attachment to an abstraction conceived as including the body of electors, other bodies giving rise to them, and numerous other elements, largely ideal?"
"Of what kind, Severian, is your own attachment to the Divine Entity?"
I said nothing. It may have been that I was thinking; but if so, my mind was too much filled with sleep to be conscious of its thought. Instead, I became profoundly aware of my physical surroundings. The sky above my face in all its grandeur seemed to have been made solely for my benefit, and to be presented for my inspection now. I lay upon the ground as upon a woman, and the very air that surrounded me seemed a thing as admirable as crystal and as fluid as wine.
"Answer me, Severian."
"The first, if I have any."
"To the person of the monarch?"
"Yes, because there is no succession."
"The animal that rests beside you now would die for you. Of what kind is his attachment to you?"
There was no one there. I sat up. Malrubius and Triskele had vanished, yet my side felt faintly warm.
XXXV  "In the old times, the lords of this world feared no one but their own people, and to defend themselves against them built a great fortress on a hilltop to the north of the city. Many of the people were angry at the building of that citadel, holding it to be their right to slay their lords without hindrance if they so desired."
To those who have preceded me in the study of the posthistoric world, and particularly to those collectors—too numerous to name here—who have permitted me to examine artifacts surviving so many centuries of futurity, and most especially to those who have allowed me to visit and photograph the era'sfew extant buildings, I am truly grateful.
The Claw of the Conciliator
II  "It's traditional. You've heard the saying, 'A legend, a lie, and a likelihood made a tradition'?"
II  He was a solid, square-built man whose open face was marred by something too clever about the eyes.
"What you're about to see here is only the beginning of what you'll be seeing at our fair in Saltus! For the events of the next few days we have employed one of the finest professionals from Nessus! You will see at least two persons executed here in the formal style, with the head struck off at a single blow. One's a woman, so we'll be using the chair! That's something a lot of people who boast of their sophistication and the cosmopolitan tincture if their education have never seen. And you will see this man," pausing, the alcalde struck the sunli stone doors with the flat of his hand," this Barnoch, led to Death by a expert guide!"
He lifted his voice to a shout. "If you can, Barnoch, cut your throat now! Because if you don't, you're going to wish you had starved long ago!"
III  "Oh, it rose all right. When my grandson-in-law heard about it, he was fairly struck flat for half a day. Then he pasted up a kind of hat out of paper and held it over my stove, and it went up, and then he thought it was nothing that the cathedral rose, no miracle at all. That shows what it is to be a fool—it never came to him that the reason things were made so was so the cathedral would rise just like it did. He can't see the Hand in nature."
"I am not a talking vegetable, as you should be able to see. Even if a plant were to follow the one evolutionary way, out of some many millions, that leads to intelligence, it is impossible that it should duplicate in wood and leaf the form of a human being."
"The same thing might be said of stones, yet there are statues."
For all his aspect of despair (and his was a sadder face by far than my friend Jonas's), something tugged at the corners of his lips. "That is well put. You have no scientific training, but you are better taight than you realize."
"You must have seen my brown book when I was reading it upstairs. It tells all the secrets of the world, or at least what various mages have said they were. I haven't read it all or even half of it, though Thecla and I used to read an entry every few days and spend the time between readings arguing about it. But I've noticed that all the explanations in that book are simple, and seemingly childish."
"Like my story."
I nodded. "Your story might have come out of the book. When I first carried it to Thecla, I supposed it was intended for children, or for adults who enjoyed childish things. But when we had talked about some of the things in it, I understood that they had to be expressed in that way or they couldn't be expressed at all. If the writer had wanted to describe a new way to make wine or the best way to make love, he could have used complex and accurate language. But in the book he really wrote he had to say, 'In the beginning was only the hexaemeron,' or 'It is not to see the icon standing still, but to see the still standing.'"
VIII  Some say this power is linked to weak judgement—of that I am no judge.
IX  And then, to pass the time, he described to me the means by which his master dealt with captives, most of which were primitive in the extreme, and more productive of theatrical effects than of true agony.
IX  And it came to me that these trees had hardly been smaller when I was yet unborn, and had stood as they stood now when I was a child playing among the cypresses and peaceful tombs of our necropolis, and that they would stand yet, drinking in the last light of the dying sun, even as now, when I had been dead as long as those who rested there. I saw how little it weighed on the scale of things whether I lived or died, though my life was precious to me. And of those two thoughts I forged a mood by which I stood ready to grasp each smallest chance to live, yet in which I cared not too much whether I saved myself or not.
IX  All the boasted human panoply of pillars and arches is no more than an imitation in sterile stone of the boles and vaulting branches of the forst, and here it seemed to me that there was scarcely any difference between the two except that the one was gray or white, and the other brown and pale green. Then I believed I understood why all the soldiers of the Autarch and all the thronging retainers of the exultants could not subdue Vodalus—he occupied the mightiest fortress of Urth, greater far than out Citadel, to when I had likened it.
X  "What you're saying is very true," I admitted. "I'm striving to do all those things, and although you won't credit it, I am giving all my strength and as much of my attention as can be of any benefit to all of them. Yet I have to admit things aren't going as well as they might. My divided ambitions have landed me in no better place than the shade of this tree, where I am a homeless wanderer. While you, with your single-minded persuit of one all-powerful objective . . . look where you are."
XIV  Beyond it lay the gardens proper. If I should try to describe them, I should seem only to have borrowed the mad, stammering eloquence of Hethor. Every hill and tree and flower seemed to have been arranged by some master intelligence (which I have since learned is that of Father Inire) to form a breathtaking vision. The observer feels that he is at the center, that everything he sees has been directed toward the point at which he stands; but after he had walked a hundred paces, or a league, he finds himself at the center still; and every vision seems to convey some incommunicable truth, like one of the unutterable insights granted eremites."
XVIII  Whatever we may say, all of us suffer from disturbed sleep at times. Some in truth hardly sleep, though some who sleep copiously swear that they do not. Some are disquieted by incessant dreams, and a furtunate few are visited often by dreams of delightful character. Some will say they were at one time troubled in sleeping but have "recovered" from it, as though awareness were a disease, as perhaps it is.
Then he stepped into the circle of panels, and a brilliant light kindled in the air above his head.
How foolish to call them mirrors. They are to mirrors as the enveloping firmament is to a child's balloon. They reflect light indeed; but that, I think, is no part of their true function. They reflect reality, the metaphysical substance that underlies the material world.
"Calling you Death wasn't a lie, it was a . . . a . . ."
"Metaphor," I suggested.
"But it was a dangerous, bad metaphor, and it was aimed at you like a lie."
XXIII  Their generosity had waked the doctor's bent toward the grandiose (which never slumbered deeply).
XXVI  "But now, dear driends," he rose and dusted his trousers, "now we have come, as some poet aptly puts it, to the place where men are pulled apart by their destinations."
XXVIII  "You believed then that you were hated, and did not know how much you were loved. The seas of the whole world shook with our mourning for you, and the waves wept salt tears and threw themselves despairing on the rocks."
XXIX  "The ignorant eclectics who live near there believe that no matter which way a man goes, the stone town moves itself to wait in his path." The hrdsman laughed softly, then sobered. "That is not so. But the stone town bends the way a man's mount walks, so he finds it before him when he thinks he will go around it."
XXX  "Yes?" The face that looked into mine was hardly higher than my own. It was one of those—outstanding of its kind among all the hundreds of thousands of faces I have seen—that are at once suggestive of beauty and disease. The witch to whom it belonged seemed old to me and must actually have been about twenty or a little less; but she was not tall, and she carried herself in the bent-backed posture of extreme age. Her face was so lovely and so bloodless that it might have been a mask carved in ivory by some master sculptor.
XXX  "It is significant, possibly, that you, who are three, saw three of us at the fire, while we who are two at first saw but two of you."
The Cumaean looked up at Dorcas with eyes that seemed as bright as the stars. "Words are symbols. Merryn chooses to delimit magic as that which does not exist . . . and so it does not exist. If you choose to call what we are about to do here magic, then magic lives while we do it. In ancient days, in a land far off, there stood two empires, divided by mountains. One dressed its soldiers in yellow, the other in green. For a hundred generations they struggled. I see that the man with you knows the tale."
"And after a hundred generations," I said, "an eremite came among them and counseled the emperor of the yellow army to dress his men in green, and the master of the green army that he should clothe it in yellow. But the battle continued as before. In my sabretache, I have a book called The Wonders or Urth and Sky, and the story is told there."
"That is the wisest of all the books of me," the Cumaean said. "Though there are few who can gain any benefit from reading it."
Dorcas lay as if in sleep. There was no foam flecking her lips, and she was more solid in appearance than Hildegrin. Merryn had collapsed into a black-clad doll, so thin and dim that slender Dorcas seemed robust beside her. Now that intelligence no longer animated that ivory mask, I saw that it was no more than parchment over bone.
As I had suspected, the Cumaean was not a woman at all; yet neither was she one of the horrors I had beheld in the gardens of the house absolute. Something sleekly reptilian coiled about the glowing rod. I looked for the head but found nonw, though each of the patternings on the reptile's back was a face, and the eyes of each face seemed lost in rapture.
Dorcas woke while I looekd from one to another. "What has happened to us?" she said. Hildegrin was stirring.
"I think we are seeing ourselves from a perspective longer than a sngle instant's."
The Sword of the Lictor
II  Thecla must, I think, have been taken at least into the foothills of these heights, no doubt to escape the heat of some particularly torrid summer; for many of the scenes that rose in my mind (as it seemed, of their own accord) were noticeably childlike. I saw rock-loving plants whose virginal flowers I beheld with an immediacy of vision no adult achieves without kneeling; abysses that seemed not only frightening but shocking, as though their existence were an affront to the laws of nature; peaks so high they appeared to be literally without summit, as though the whole world had been falling forever from some unimaginable Heaven, which yet retained its hold on these mountains.
V  I was one of the first guests to arrive. There were more bustling servants still than masquers, servants who seemed to have begun their work only a moment before, and to be determined to complete it at once. They lit candelabra with crystal lenses and coronas lucis suspended from the upper limbs of the trees, carried out trays of food and drink, positioned them, shifted them, then carried them back to one of the domed buildings again—the three acts being performed by three servants, but occasionally (no doubt because the others were busy elsewhere) by one.
V  I saw men and womed costumed as autochthons, with their faces stained russet and dabbed with white, and even one man who was an autochthon and yet was dressed like one, in a costume no more and no less authentic than the others, so that I was inclined to laugh at him until I realized that though he and I might be the only ones who knew it, he was in fact costumed more originally than any of the rest, as a citizen of Thrax in costume.
"You must know the story of how the race of ancient days reached the stars, and how they bargained away all the wild half of themselves to do so, so that they no longer cared for the taste of the pale wind, nor for love or lust, nor to make new songs nor to sing old ones, nor for any of the other animal things they believed they had brought with them out of the rain forests at the bottom of time—though in fact, so my uncle told me, those things brought them. And you know, or you should now, that those to whom they sold those things, who were the creations of their own hands, hated them in their hearts. And truly they had hearts, though the men who had made them never reckoned with that. Anyway, they resolved to ruin their makers, and they did it by returning, when mankind had spread to a thousand suns, all that had been left with them long before.
"So much, at least, you should know. My uncle once told it to me as I have told it to you, and he found all that and more recorded in a book in his collection. It was a book no one had opened, as he believed, for a chiliad.
"But how they did what they did is less well known. I remember that when I was a child, I imagined the bad machines digging—digging by night until they had cleared away the twisted roots of old trees and laid bare an iron chest they had buried when the world was very young, and that when they struck off the lock of that chest, all the things we've spoken of came flying out like a swarm of golden bees. That's foolish, but even now I can hardly imagine what the reality of those thinking engines can have been like."
I recalled Jonas, with the light, bright metal where the skin of his loins ought to have been, but I could not picture Jonas setting free a plague to trouble mankind, and shook my head.
"But my uncle's book, he said, made clear what it was they did, and the things they let go free were no swarm of insects but a flood of artifacts of every kind, calculated by them to revive all those thoughts that people had put behind them because they could not be written in numbers. The building of everything from cities to cream pitchers was in the hands of the machines, and after a thousand lifetimes of building cities that were like great mechanisms, they turned to building cities that were like banks of cloud before a storm, and others like the skeletons of dragons."
"When was this?" I asked.
"A very long time ago—long before the first stones of Nessus were laid."
I had put an arm about her shoulders, and now she let her hand creep into my lap; I felt its heat and slow search.
"And they followed the same principle in all they did. In the shaping of furniture, for example, and the cutting of clothing. And because the leaders who had decided so long before that all the thoughts symbolized by the clothers and furniture, and by the cities, should be put behind mankind forever were long dead, and the people had forgotten their faces and their maxims, they were delighted with the new things. Thus all that empire, which had been built only opon order, passed away.
"But though the empire dissolved, the worlds were along time dying. At first, so that the things they were returning to humans would not be rejected again, the machines conceived of pageants and phantasmagoria, whose performances inspired those who watched them to think on fortune or revenge or the invisible world. Later they gave each man and woman a companion, unseen by all other eyes, as an advisor. The children had such companions, long before.
"When the powers of the machines had weakened further—as the machines themselves wished—they could no longer maintain these phantoms in the minds of their owners, nor could they build more cities, because the cities that remained were already nearly empty.
"They had reached, so my uncle told me, that point at whch they had hoped mankind would turn on them and destroy them, yet no such thing had occurred, because by this time they who had been despised as slaves or worshipped as devils before were greatly loved.
"And so they called all who loved them best around them, and for long years taight them all the things their race had put away, and in time they died.
"Then all those whom they had loved, and who had loved them, took counsel together as to how their teachings could be rpeserved, for they well knew their kind would not come again upon Urth. But bitter quarrels broke out among them. They had not learned together, but rather each of them, man or woman, had listened to one of the machines as if there were no one in the world but those two. And because there was so much knowledge and only a few to learn it, the machines had taught each differently.
"Thus they divided into parties, and each party into two, and each of those two into two again, until at last every individual stood alone, misunderstood and reviled by all the others and reviling them. Then each went away, out of the cities that had held the machines or deeped into them, save for a very few who by habit remained in the palaces of the machines to watch beside their bodies."
A sommelier brough tus cups of wine almost as clear as water, and as still as water until some motion of the cup woke it. It perfumed the air like those flowers no man can see, the flowers that can be found only by the blind; and to drink it was like drinking strength from the heart of a bull. Cyriaca took her cup eagerly, and draining it cast it ringing into a corner.
"Tell me more," I said to her, "of this story of the lost archives."
"When the last machine was cold and still and each of those who had learned from them the forbidden lore mankind had cast aside was separated from all the rest, there came dread into the heart of each. For each knew himself to be only mortal, and most, no longer young. And each saw that with his own death the knowledge he loved best would die. Then each of them—each supposing himself the only one to do so—began to write down what he had learned in the long years when he had harkened to the teaching s of the machines that spilled forth all the hidden knowledge of wild things. Much perished but much more survived, sometimes falling into the hands of those who copied it enlivened by their own additions or weakened by omissions . . . Kiss me, Severian."
Though my mask hampered us, our lips met. As she drew away, the dhadow memories of Thecla's old bantering love affairs, played out among the pseudothyrums and catachtonian boudoirs of the House Absolute welled up within me, and I said, "Don't you know this kind of thing requires a man's undivided attention?"
Cyriaca smiled. "That's why I did it—I wanted to see if you were listening.
"Anyway, for a long time—no one knows quite how long, I suppose, and anyway the world was not as near the sun's failing then and its years were longer—these writings circulated or else lay moldering in cenotaphs where their authors had concealed them for safekeeping. They were fragmentary, contradictory and eisegesistic. Then when some autarch (though they were not called autarchs then) hoped to recapture the dominion exercised by the first empire, they were gatherd up by his servants, white-robed men who ransacked cocklofts and threw down the androsphinxes erected to memorialize the machines and entered the cubicula of moiraic women long dead. Their spoil was gathered into a great heap in the city of Nessus, which was then newly built, to be burned.
"But on the night before the burning was to begin, the autarch of that time, who had never dreamed before the wild dreams of sleep but only waking dreams of dominion, dreamed at last. And in his dream he saw all the untamed worlds of life and death, stone and river, beast and tree slipping away from his hands forever.
"When morning came, he ordered that the torches not be kindled, but that there should be a great vault built to house all the volumes and scrolls the white-robed men had gathered. For he thought that if the new empire he planned should fail him at last, hw would retire to that vault and enter the worlds that, in imitation of the ancients, he was determined to cast aside.
"His empire did fail him, as it had to. The past cannot be found in the future where it is not—not until the metaphysical world, which is so much larger and so much slower than the physical world, completes its revolution and the New Sun comes. But he did not reture as he had planned into that vault and the curtain wall he had caused to be built about it, for when once the wild things have been put behind a man for good and all, they are trapwise and cannot be recaptured.
"Nevertheless, it is said that before all he gathered was sealed away, he set a guardian over it. And when that guardian's time on Urth was done, he found another, and he another, so that they continue ever faithful to the commands of that autarch, for they are saturated in the wild thoughts spring from the lore saved by the machines, and such faith is one of those wild things."
I had been disrobing her as she spoke, and kissing her breasts; but I said, "Did all those thoughts of which you spoke go out of the world when the autarch locked them away? Haven't I ever heard of them?"
"No, because they had been passed from hand to hand for a long time, and had entered into the blood of all the peoples. Besides, it is said that the guardian sometimes sends them out, and though they always return to him at last, they are read, whether by one or many, before they sink once more into his dark."
"It wasn't until several days afterward that I understood . . ."
I found I could not say what it was I understood; that it was in fact on the level of meaning above language, a level we like to believe scarcely exists, though if it were not for the constant discipline we have learned to exercise upon our thoughts, they would always be climbing to it unawares.
VII  "You have heard tales of necromancers," she said, "who fish for the spirits of the dead. Do you know there are vivimancers among the dead, who call to them those who can make them live again?"
XII  We have each of us in the dustiest cellars of our minds a counter at which we strive to repay the debts of the past with the debased currency of the present.
XIII  When these celestial animals burst into vbiew, I was awed by their beaty. But when they became so strongly evident (as they quickly did) that I could no longer dismiss them by an act of will, I began to feel as frightened of them as I was of falling into that midnight abyss over which they writhed; yet this was not a simple physical and instrinctive fear like the other, but rather a sort of philosophical horror at the thought of a cosmos in which rude pictures of beasts and monsters had been painted with flaming suns.
XIX  Then the he-wolf raised his head and sniffed the air. "He hunts the son of Meschia and the daughter of Meschiane, and you know no good can come of such meat." At this the she-wolf nodded, for she knew that alone among the living creatures, the sons of Adam kill all when one of their own is slain. That is because the Pancreator gave Urth to them, and they have rejected the gift.
XIX  Sometimes a she-wolf lies with a dog for spite, but though the sons of dogs iften look much like wolf cubs, they have always a spot of white on them somewhere, for white was the colour of Meschia, who remembered the pure light of the Pancreator; and his sons leave it still for a brand on all they touch.
XXII  It is always a temptation to say that such feelings are indescribable, though they seldom are.
XXII  The tale I read to little Severian said that the universe was but a long word of the Increate's. We, then, are the syllables of that word. But the speaking of any word is futile unless there are other words, words that are not spoken. If a beast has but one cry, the cry tells nothing; and even the wind has a multitude of voices, so that those who sit indoors hay hear it and know if the eather is tumultuous or mild. The powers we call dark seem to me to be the words the Increate did not speak, if the Increate exists at all; and these words must be maintained in a quasi-existence, if the other word, the word spoken, is to be distinguished. What is not said can be important—but what is said is more important.
XXVII  By this unlimited size he is rendered minute, so that we are in relation to him like those who walk upon a continent but see only forests, bogs, hills of sand, and so on, and though feeling, perhaps some tiny stone in their shoes, never reflect that the land they have overlooked all their lives is there, walking with them.
XXVII  Just as I had not known my weakness, until I saw the boats and the rounded curves of the thatched roofs of the village I had not known how solitary I had been since the boy died. It was more than mere loneliness, I think. I have never had much need for companionship, unless it was the companionship of someone I could call a friend. Certainly I have seldom wished the conversation of strangers or the sight of strainge faces. I believe rather that when I was alone I felt I had in some fashion lost my individuality; to the thrush and the rabbit I had been not Severian, but Man. The many people who like to be utterly alone, and particularly to be utterly alone in a wilderness, do so, I believe, because they enjoy playing that part. But I wanted to be a particular person again, and so I sought the mirror of other persons, which would show me that I was not as they were.
XXVIII  One of the easiest ways to dominate a man is to demand something he cannot supply.
XXX  It is impossible, I think, that all the symbols we see in natural landscapes are there only because we see them. No one hesitates to brand as mad the solipsist who truly believes that the world exists only because they observe it and that buildings, mountains, and even ourselves (to whom they have spoken only a moment before) all vanish when they turn their heads. Is it not equally mad to believe that the meaning of the same objects vanishes in the same way?
"I have traveled far, and I have observed that poor people usually have more wit and more virtue than rich ones."
He smiled at that. "You are kind. But our people have so much wit and virtue now that they may die."
XXXV  "Now we must go," Ossipago told Baldanders, and he handed him the Claw. "Think well on all the things we have not told you, and remember what you have not been shown."