Arkadi and Boris Strugatski.
Hard to be a god
The stock of Anka's crossbow was made of black plastic. The string of
chrome steel was operated by a noiselessly moving winch. Anton did not think
much of such innovations. He owned a conventional arquebus in the style of
Marshal Totz, King Pitz the first. It was overlaid with black copper and a
rope of steer sinews ran along small wheels. Pashka, on the other hand, had
an air rifle. Crossbows were childish weapons, he thought, for he was lazy
by nature and lacked manual dexterity.
They landed on the north shore at a spot where the gnarled roots of
mighty pine trees protruded from the yellow sandy slope. Anka let go of the
rudder and looked around. The sun had risen above the forest. A blue fog
hung over the lake. The pines glowed dark green and a yellow sandy beach
stretched in the distance. A light blue sky arched over the whole landscape.
The children bent over the side of the boat and looked into the water.
"Can't see a thing," said Pashka.
"A huge pike," said Anton, a trifle too sure of himself.
"With fins like that?" asked Pashka.
Anton did not reply. Anka, too, looked into the water, but she saw only
her own reflection in it.
"How about taking a swim?" said Pashka, and plunged his arm into the
water up to the elbow. "Cold," he reported.
Anton climbed onto the bow and jumped ashore. The boat rocked to and
fro. Anton took hold of the boat and glanced questioningly at Pashka. Now
Pashka rose, placed the oar like a water carrier's beam across his neck,
bent his knees a bit and sang at the top of his voice:
Old salt, sea-dog, Witzliputzli!
Are you watching, on your guard?
Look! A school of hard-boiled sharkies
Are approaching, swimming hard!
Anton rocked the boat.
"Hey, hey!" yelled Pashka, trying not to lose his balance.
"Why 'hard-boiled?'" Anka asked.
"I don't know," answered Pashka. They climbed out of the boat. "But
it's pretty good, isn't it? 'A school of hard-boiled sharkies!'"
They pulled the boat ashore. Their feet slipped on the wet sand, which
was strewn with dried needles and pine cones. The boat was heavy and
slippery but they dragged it all the way up onto the land. Then they stopped
for a while to catch their breath.
"Almost squashed my foot," said Pashka, and straightened his red fez.
He made sure that the tassel hung directly above his right ear--just like
the broad-nosed Irukanian pirates were wont to do. "life isn't worth a
farthing, my dear!" he recited dramatically.
Anka was intently sucking her finger.
"A splinter?" asked Anton.
"No. Got a scratch. One of you two must have long nails."
"Let me see!"
She showed him her finger.
"Yes," said Anton. "A scratch.--Well, let's do something!"
"Pick up your arms and let's walk along the shore!" suggested Pashka.
"For that we didn't need to crawl ashore," Anton said.
"It's chicken to stay in the boat," stated Pashka. "But along the shore
there are all kinds of things. Reeds, canyons, whirlpools, eddies with
eels--and catfish, too."
"A school of hard-boiled catfish," said Anton.
"Hey, did you ever dive into a whirlpool?"
"Funny that I didn't see you do it."
"Lots of things you haven't seen yet"
Anka turned her back on them, raised her crossbow and aimed at a pine
tree 20 feet away. The bark came off in splinters.
"Wow, did you see that!" exclaimed Pashka with admiration. Then he
aimed his air rifle at the same spot. But he missed. "I didn't hold my
breath properly," he said.
"And even if you had held it properly, so what?" asked Anton. He looked
With a firm movement Anka retracted the steel bow with the winch. She
had splendid muscles, and Anton watched with pleasure the hard ball of her
biceps rolling beneath her tanned skin.
Anka took aim carefully, and shot again. The second arrow penetrated
the tree trunk, a bit lower than the first
"That doesn't make any sense," said Anka, and let the crossbow hang
down her side. "What?" asked Anton.
"We're only damaging the trees, that's all. Yesterday, a kid shot an
arrow at a tree and I forced him to pull that arrow out with his own teeth."
"Pashka would have run away," said Anton. "You have good teeth."
"I can whistle through my teeth, too," said Pashka.
"Well," said Anka, "let's do something!"
"I don't feel like climbing up and down canyons," said Anton.
"Me neither. Let's walk straight ahead."
"Where to?" asked Pashka.
"Just follow your nose."
"Meaning what?" said Anton.
"Let's go into the forest!" said Pashka. "Toshka, do you remember the
"You know, Anetchka--" said Pashka.
"Don't you call me Anetchka," Anka cut in abruptly. She could not stand
to be called by any other name than Anka.
Anton remembered very well that she did not like it, and said quickly:
"Sure--the Forgotten Road. Nobody has driven over it for ages. It isn't
even marked on the map, and where it leads to, nobody knows."
"Have you ever been there?"
"Yes. But we didn't explore it."
"A road coming from nowhere and leading nowhere," stated Pashka, who
had regained his former self-assurance.
"That's fine!" said Anka. Here eyes narrowed to black slits. "Let's go!
Will we get there by tonight?"
"What are you talking about? Well be there by noon."
They clambered up the steep slope. Once they had arrived at the top,
Pashka tamed around. Down below was the blue lake with yellow speckled sand
bars, and the boat on the sandy beach. Close to the shore, where the water
was as smooth as oil, large concentric circles broke the surface-- that was
the pike, probably. And the boy felt, as always, that vague joy he
experienced whenever he and Toshka stole away from the boarding-school and a
whole day of freedom lay before them. A day filled with unexplored places,
strawberries, sun-scorched deserted meadows, lizards, and ice cold water
from unexpected springs amidst the rocks. And as always he felt overcome by
a desire to shout out loud and jump up into the air. Anton, laughing
happily, watched him, and Pashka saw the understanding in his friend's eyes.
Anka placed two fingers in her mouth and gave forth with a piercing whistle.
And they entered the forest.
It was a pine wood, with sparse vegetation. Their feet skidded over the
slippery, needle-covered soil. The slanting sun rays glittered between the
straight tree trunks, and golden spots danced on the ground. The air smelled
of resin, the nearby lake, and strawberries. Somewhere, far above them, an
invisible lark was warbling.
Anka walked ahead. She carried her crossbow in one hand, and with the
other reached now and then for the strawberries that occasionally peeked
out, as red as blood, from among the foliage. Anton marched behind her with
the solid battle gear of Marshal Totz slung over his shoulder. The quiver,
filled with mighty battle arrows, rhythmically banged against the seat of
his trousers with every step. He looked at Anka's neck: it was deeply
tanned, and the vertebrae jutted out like little knobs. Once in a while he
turned around and looked for Pashka, who had disappeared; only the red fez
flashed from time to time in the bright sunlight. Anton imagined Pashka
prowling silently among the pine trees, his air rifle held in firing
position, his lean face with the hooked nose pointing forward like some
predatory animal Pashka crawling through the underwood. But the forest knows
no mercy. A challenge--and you must react at once, thought Anton. He was
just about to duck--but Anka was walking right in front of him, and she
might turn around any moment Wouldn't he look silly then!
Anka tamed around and asked:
"Did you sneak away real quietly?"
Anton shrugged his shoulders. "Nobody sneaks away noisily!"
"Well, I did. I guess I made some awful noise," said Anka with a
worried expression. "I dropped a cup--and suddenly I heard steps in the
corridor. Probably old maid Katja; she's on duty today. I had to jump out of
the window into a flower bed. Guess what kind of flowers grow there,
"Under your window? I don't know, what kind?"
"Pretty tough flowers. No wind can rock them, no storm can break them.
You can jump around in them and trample on them and it won't harm them."
"That's interesting," said Anton in a serious voice. He remembered that
he also had a flower bed under his window, with flowers that were neither
rocked by wind nor broken by storm. But actually he had never paid any
attention to it.
Anka stopped and waited until Anton had caught up with her. She held
her hand out to him. It was full of strawberries. With the tip of his
fingers, Anton seized exactly three berries.
"Go ahead. Take some more," said Anka.
"No, thanks," said Anton. "I like to pick them myself.-- But listen,
Anka, it must be easy to get along with old maid Katja, isn't it?"
"That all depends," said Anka. "Just imagine somebody telling you every
night how dirty and dusty your feet are--"
She fell silent. It was good to walk with her through the woods,
shoulder to shoulder, and their bare elbows touching now and then. And it
felt good to look at her--how pretty she was, so nimble, so friendly--and
how big and gray her eyes were, and what dark lashes she had.
"Sure," said Anton, and stretched out his hand to grasp a spider web
that glistened in the sun. "Her feet wouldn't get dirty. If somebody carried
you through every puddle, then you wouldn't get dirty either."
"Who carries her?"
"Henry from the weather station. A big, strong guy with blond hair, you
"Didn't you know it? It's old hat, everybody knows they're in love."
Both fell silent again. Anton looked at Anka. Her eyes were dark caves.
"And when did that happen?" she asked.
"Oh, on a moonlit night," replied Anton, not too eagerly. "Just keep
this all to yourself, will you?"
"It wasn't hard to drag it out of you, Toshka," She said. "Do you want
some more strawberries?"
Quite mechanically, Anton now took some berries from her red-stained
hand and put them in his mouth. I don't like gossip-mongers, he thought I
can't stand people who tell tales about others. Suddenly he had a thought.
"Some day somebody will carry you, too. How would you like it if people
talk about it then?"
"I'm certainly not going to tell anybody about it," said Anka. "I don't
Then she continued in a more confidential tone: "You know, I'm really
fed up with having to wash my feet two times every night."
Poor old maid Katja, thought Anton. What an uphill fight she has.
They reached a narrow lane. The path led up a steep slope and the wood
became darker and darker. Ferns grew in profusion, and wood sorrel. The pine
trunks were covered with moss and the whitish foam of lichen.
But the forest knows no mercy. Suddenly a hoarse, shrill voice, quite
unhuman, roared out:
"Stop! Throw your arms to the ground! You, milord, noble don and you,
If there is a challenge in the woods, you must react at once, Anton
knew. With calculated precision, Anton pushed Anka down into the ferns to
the left of the path, while he himself leapt into the ferns to the right. He
slipped at first, and then hid behind the evil-smelling lichen foam. The
echo of the hoarse voice still rang through the wood, but the path was
empty. Suddenly everything was quiet.
Anton turned to one side to bend his bow, when an arrow hit close by.
Dirt showered down on him. The hoarse, unhuman voice announced:
"Milord has been hit in the heel!"
Anton moaned and pulled up his left
"Not that one, it's the right heel!" corrected the voice.
He could hear Pashka giggle nearby. Cautiously, Anton peered out from
the ferns, but he could not see him anywhere in the dusky, green jungle.
At that moment, a penetrating, whistling sound came and a thud as if a
tree were falling to the ground.
"Owoooooo!" howled Pashka in a tortured voice. "Have mercy! Spare my
life! Don't kill me!"
Anton leapt to his feet. From the thicket of ferns he saw Pashka
approach in an unsteady gait, both arms raised above his head. Anka's voice
"Toshka, can you see him?"
"Yes, I can," called Anton cheerfully. "Don't move!" he yelled in
Pashka's direction. "Put your hands on top of your head!"
Pashka obediently clasped his hands above his head and declared:
"I won't tell a thing."
"What shall we do with him, Toshka?" asked Anka.
"You'll find out in just a minute," said Anton, settling comfortably on
the ground and placing his crossbow across his knees.
"Name!" he croaked, using the voice of the witch of Irukan.
Pashka simply arched his back and made a contemptuous gesture. He did
not want to submit to defeat. Anton fired. The heavy arrow noisily
penetrated the branches above Pashka's head.
"Wow!" exclaimed Anka.
"They call me Don Sarancha," grudgingly confessed Pashka. And then he
began to recite: "And here lies, as you all can see, one of his
"An infamous thug and murderer," Anton clarified. "But he is known
never to do something for nothing. On whose behalf have you come here to
"Don Satarina the Pitiless has sent me," Pashka lied.
Anton spoke with contempt in his voice:
"This hand of mine cut the thread of Don Satarina's stinking life on
the Square of the Heavy Swords just two years ago."
"Shall I pierce him with an arrow?" suggested Anka.
"Oh, I completely forgot," said Pashka quickly. "Actually, I'm being
sent by Arata the Fair. He promised me one hundred gold pieces for your
Anton slapped his knees.
"What a liar!" he shouted. "Do you believe for an instant that Arata
would have anything to do with a swindler like you?"
"Maybe I'd better pierce him with an arrow after all?" asked a
Anton laughed demonically.
"By the way," said Pashka, "you were shot in your heel. You should have
collapsed long since from losing so much blood."
"Nuts!" countered Anton. "First of all, I've had a piece from the bark
of the White Tree in my mouth the whole time; and, second, two beautiful
barbarian maidens bandaged my wound."
The ferns began to move and Anka stepped out onto the path. On her
cheek was a long scratch and her knees were smeared with earth and lichen.
"It's about time we threw him into the swamp," she declared. "If the
enemy won't surrender, he must be destroyed."
Pashka's arms dropped down and dangled at his sides.
"You don't stick to the rules of the game," he said to Anton. "With you
it always turns out that the witch is a good person."
"You don't know the first thing about it!" said Anton. He, too, stepped
out onto the path. 'The forest knows no mercy, you filthy mercenary."
Anka returned the air rifle to Pashka.
"You two are real sharpshooters," said Anka enviously. "Do you always
aim so close?"
"What else did you expect from us?" Pashka asked. "We don't run around
yelling 'Bang, bang--you're dead!' When we play, we always take risks."
Anton added with nonchalance:
"We play William Tell a lot."
"We take turns," volunteered Pashka. "One day I have to go stand there
with an apple on my head, and next time he's got to do it."
"You don't say." Her words came slowly. "I'd love to watch that some
"We'd show it to you right now--with pleasure," snapped Anton. 'Too bad
we don't have an apple!"
Pashka grinned from ear to ear. But Anka quickly yanked the pirate's
fez from his head and swiftly rolled it up into a cone.
"It doesn't have to be an apple!" she said. "This makes a marvelous
target. Come on, let's play William Tell!"
Anton took the red cone and examined it carefully. He glanced at Anka;
her eyes were like dark wells. Pashka was dancing about; he felt great Anton
held the cone out to him.
"I can hit the bull's-eye at 30 paces," he said flatly. "Of course,
only with a pistol I'm familiar with."
"Really?" said Anka, and she turned to Pashka. "And how about you? Can
you score a direct hit from 30 feet away?"
"I'm known as the fastest gun this side of the lake!" he grinned
broadly. "Let's try it out."
Anton made an about-face and walked down the path, counting out loud:
"... fifteen... sixteen... seventeen..."
Pashka said something that Anton couldn't hear, and Anka laughed, much
"Thirty," said Anton and turned around.
At a distance of thirty paces, Pashka looked pretty small. The red cone
sat on his head like a dunce cap. Pashka grinned. He was still playing.
Anton leaned forward and leisurely drew his bow.
"Bless you. Father William!" Pashka called out to him. "And whatever
happens, thanks for everything!"
Anton placed a bolt in the slot which would guide the missile. He
straightened up. Pashka and Anka looked at him. They were standing close to
each other. The lane stretched ahead like a dark soggy passage between tall
green walls. Anton raised the crossbow. The battle gear of Marshal Totz
suddenly felt very heavy. My hands are trembling, thought Anton. That's bad.
What nonsense! He remembered how he and Pashka had amused themselves last
winter for one full hour by aiming snowballs at an icicle on a fence post
They were throwing from a distance of twenty feet, then fifteen, then
ten--and they still could not hit it And finally, when they had grown tired
of the game and were just about to leave, Pashka pitched the last snowball,
without even taking aim, and made a direct hit.
Anton pressed the stock hard against his shoulder. Anka is standing
much too close, he thought He was on the point of calling out to her to move
over a bit, but then he remembered that this would seem silly. Higher.
Higher still. . . Higher . .. Suddenly he was firmly convinced that the
heavy bolt was going to strike Pashka right between the eyes, bore deeply
between those merry, green eyes, even if he turned around now and let the
arrow fly in the opposite direction.
He opened his eyes and looked at Pashka. Pashka's grin had vanished.
Anka raised her hand very slowly, then ever so slowly spread her fingers
apart. Her face looked very intense and grown-up. Now Anton lifted his
crossbow higher still and pulled the trigger. He did not see where the arrow
"Missed it!" he said very loud.
He walked along the path but his legs would not properly obey him.
Pashka wiped the red cone across his face, shook himself like a wet dog,
unrolled the cone and formed it into a fez again. Anka bent down and picked
up her crossbow. If shell hit me over the head with it, thought Anton, I'll
even say thank you. But Anka did not even look at him.
She tamed to Pashka and asked: "Are we leaving?"
"Right away," said Pashka.
He looked at Anton, tapping his finger against his forehead.
"But you were scared too." Anton said. Pashka did not reply. Once more
he tapped his finger against his forehead. Then he followed Anka. Anton
ambled along in the rear, trying to cope with his doubts.
What did I do, he thought. His head felt very heavy all of a sudden.
Why are they so put out? Pashka--well, he was scared stiff. Who knows who
was more afraid: Father William or his son? But what's the matter with Anka?
Maybe she was worried about Pashka. But what should I have done? Now they
make me trot behind like an outcast. I should take off on my own. I can take
that tarn over there on the left, there's an interesting looking little pool
Maybe I can catch an owl; wouldn't that be something!
But he did not even slow down. That's for good, he thought Somewhere he
had read that such things happened frequently.
They reached the Forgotten Road sooner than they had expected. By now,
the sun was high up in the sky, and it was very hot. The pine needles
pricked their bare skin. The road was paved with concrete; it consisted of
two rows of cracked, reddish-gray blocks. Thick tufts of dried grass were
growing in the cracks. The soft shoulders on either side were full of dusty
thistles. Above the road flew fat blowflies, buzzing and droning, and a
brazen one bumped right into Anton's forehead. The air was quiet and sultry.
"Look, you two!" said Pashka.
He pointed to a round metal sign hanging over the middle of the road on
a rusty wire that had been strung across. The paint was peeling off the
sign. They could barely make out a light-colored crossbar on a red
"What is that?" asked Anka. She did not seem too interested.
"A traffic sign," said Pashka. "Do Not Enter."
"A one-way street," explained Anton.
"What does that mean?" asked Anka.
"That means that you can't enter that road," said Pashka.
"But why do they have the road, then?"
Pashka shrugged his shoulders.
"It's a very old road," he said.
"An anisotropic road," Anton explained. Anka stood with her back to
him. "Traffic can move only in one direction."
"The wisdom of our forefathers," said Pashka pensively. "There they
were, driving along for about 200 miles, and all of a sudden--smash,
bang!--Do Not Enter! Wrong Way! And you can't drive on, and there isn't
anybody you can ask."
"Just imagine all the things that might be there on the other side of
that traffic sign!" said Anka. She looked all around. For many miles there
was only the deserted forest and not a person to ask what might lie beyond
that traffic sign. "Maybe it isn't an anisotropic traffic sign after all,"
said Anka. "The paint's almost all peeled off."
Now Anton lifted his crossbow, took careful aim and shot off an arrow.
How nice if the bolt would snap the wire and let the traffic sign fall right
before Anka's feet. But the arrow hit the upper part of the sign, pierced
the rusty metal and nothing fell down except some flakes of dried paint
"Silly ass!" said Anka without bothering to turn around.
That was the first remark she had addressed to him since they had
played William Tell. Anton smiled wryly.
"And enterprises of great pitch and moment," he recited, "with this
regard their current turn away and lose the name of action."
Faithful Pashka called out:
"Hey, kids, a car was here! After the thunderstorm! The grass is still
flat where the tires drove over it! And here--"
That lucky Pashka, thought Anton. Carefully he examined the tire tracks
in the road. He, too, saw the trampled grass and the black skid marks where
the car must have suddenly braked before a pothole in the concrete pavement.
"I can see it now," called out Pashka. "The car must have come from the
other side, from behind the traffic sign."
It seemed very obvious, but Anton said:
"Baloney! He's come from the other direction!"
Pashka regarded him with surprise:
"What's gotten into you? You're blind as a bat!"
"He's come from this way here," Anton argued stubbornly. "Let's follow
"You idiot!" Pashka sounded angry. "Who in his right mind would drive
into a one-way street the wrong way? And look here: here is the pothole and
over there the skid mark --so where did the car come from?"
"I don't care what you say! I'm going along this one-way street, even
if it's the wrong way."
Pashka turned pale with fury. "Go right ahead!"
He started to hiccup. "What idiocy! The sun must have cooked your
Anton turned around. He looked straight ahead, ducked under the traffic
sign and passed through to the other side. He only wished he could come upon
a collapsed bridge and have to work his way over to the other side. I have
nothing more to do with them, he thought. Let them go wherever they
please--with her darling Pashka. Then he remembered how Anka had cut off
Pashka when he had called her Anetchka, and feeling a bit relieved, he
turned and looked back.
His eye fell on Pashka. Like a dog sniffing a scent, Don Sarancha was
following the track of the mysterious car. The rusty sign over the road was
gently swaying in the wind, and the blue sky gleamed through the hole the
arrow had made, Anka sat at the side of the road, her elbows resting on her
knees and her chin supported by her small, clenched fists.
As they were returning home, dusk began to fall. The two boys rowed,
while Anka sat at the rudder. A red moon stood above the dark forest and the
frogs croaked untiringly.
"And we had planned everything so nicely," said Anka mournfully. "You
The boys remained silent. Then Pashka asked softly:
"Toshka, what did you find behind the one-way street sign?"
"A collapsed bridge," answered Anton. "And the skeleton of a German,
chained to a machine gun." He thought a while, then he added: "the machine
gun was halfway sunk into the ground already."
"Hmm, yes," said Pashka. "These things can happen. I helped somebody
repair his car back there."
As Rumata passed by the tomb of the Holy Mickey--the seventh and the
last on this stretch of the road--darkness had already fallen. The highly
praised Chamalharian stallion which he had won from Don Tameo in a game of
cards, was in fact a miserable nag. The animal was dripping with sweat; it
kept stumbling over its own legs, and its irregular trot reminded one of the
swaying motions of a tossing ship. Rumata pressed his knees hard into the
animal's flanks and slapped his gloves between the horse's ears. The nag
responded merely with a tired nod; its pace remained the same. Under the
late evening dusk, the bushes that lined the road appeared like solidified
smoke clouds. Swarms of flies buzzed annoyingly around the rider's head. Up
in the darkened night sky a few yellowish stars dimly nickered. An
alternately cold and warm wind came in gentle, irregular squalls, typical
for this coastal strip during fall with its sultry, dust-filled days and
cold, frosty nights.
Rumata drew his cloak closer around his shoulders and let go of the
reins. There was no use trying to hurry. Midnight was still one hour away,
and already he could recognize the black jagged outline of Hiccup Forest on
the horizon. To the left and the right of the road carelessly ploughed
fields stretched into the distance. Swamps stinking of rotten vegetation and
decaying animals glimmered in the faint light of the stars: here and there
silhouettes of hills and the half-rotted wooden palisades from the time of
the Great Invasion loomed up horribly. Far off in the distance the sullen,
lambent flames of a fire flickered: most likely a village was burning
somewhere over there--one of the innumerable wretched little look-alike
places that until recently had been known by names such as "Death Hamlet,"
"Gallows Hill View," or "Robbers Nest"; imperial edicts had renamed them
"Blossom Grove," "Peace Harbor View" and "Angel Rest."
This land stretched over hundreds of miles, from the shores of the Big
Bay to the eerie Hiccup Forest. The terrain teemed with hosts of gnats,
gouged by gorges, half smothered by swamps; its inhabitants were raked by
fever and forever threatened by pestilence and vile colds.
Near a bend in the road, a dark figure stepped from the bushes. The
stallion gave a sudden start and threw back its head. Rumata quickly seized
the reins, then with a swift movement adjusted his right sleeve--an old
habit of his--and reached for his sword. Then he had a closer look. The man
at the side of the road took off his hat.
"Good evening, noble don," he said softly. "I beg your pardon."
"What's the matter?" inquired Rumata. He cocked an ear toward the
There is actually no such thing as a silent ambush. Robbers are
betrayed by the singing of their bow strings; the men of the Gray Militia
constantly belch up their sour beer; the hordes of the barons grunt with
greed and rattle their sabers; and the monks who hunt for slaves scratch
themselves noisily. No, it was all quiet in the thicket. This man was no
bushwhacker, thought Rumata. He did not look at all like a sniper: he was a
short, stocky townsman wrapped in a rather inexpensive cloak.
"Will you permit me to run alongside your horse?" he asked the rider
and bowed deeply to him.
"Come along," said Rumata, toying with the reins. "You can hold onto
The man walked alongside, holding his hat in his hand. His head was
completely bald. A stewart from some baronial estate, thought Rumata. Visits
barons and cattle dealers, buys up hemp and flax. A stalwart man . . . Then
again, maybe he's no stewart after all. Maybe he's a "bookworm," or a
fugitive. Maybe he's a ne'er-do-well--there are many of that kind roaming
the roads at night--certainly more than there are baronial stewarts. But be
could be a spy as well...
"Who are you and where are you coming from?" asked Rumata.
"They call me Kiun," answered the man sorrowfully. "And I come from
"You mean you are fleeing from Arkanar," said Rumata and bent forward
slightly toward him. "Yes." The man spoke with sadness. Some freak, an odd
character, thought Rumata. Or is he a spy after all? I'll keep an eye on him
. . . But why should I bother to keep an eye on him? Who will be helped by
that? Who am I to scrutinize and test him? I don't even want to observe him!
Why shouldn't I simply believe him? There is a man, quite obviously an
intellectual, on the run, his life at stake ... He feels lonely, he's afraid
and weak, just looking for a helping hand--and then he runs into an
aristocrat The aristocrats are too stupid and arrogant to know much about
politics. Instead, they have very long sabers, and they don't like the Gray
Militia, Why shouldn't citizen Kiun simply seek protection from some stupid,
arrogant aristocrat? That's it. Of course, I won't keep my eye on him
especially. I have no special reason to. Let's rather chat for a while, kill
some time, and then we will part friends...
"Kiun . . ." he said aloud. "I once knew a Kiun. A quack doctor and
alchemist on Klempner Street. Are you related to him?"
"Oh dear, yes, I am," said Kiun. "I'm only a very distant relative of
his, but they don't care. They exterminate our kind up to the twelfth
"And where are you fleeing to, Kiun?"
"Any place. As far away from here as possible. Many have fled to
Irukan. Ill try my luck with Irukan, too."
"Well, well," said Rumata. "And you think the noble don will lead you
safely through the sentry posts?"
Kiun remained silent.
"Or, maybe you think the noble don doesn't know what kind of a man the
alchemist on Klempner Street really is?"
Kiun still did not answer. I think I'm talking a lot of nonsense,
thought Rumata. But then he rose high up in his stirrups and, imitating the
town crier on the Royal Square, puffed up his throat and shouted:
"Accused and condemned of the most horrible and unforgivable crimes
against God, the Crown and the public safety!"
Kiun still remained silent.
"And what if the noble don adored and revered Don Reba, the father of
all abominations? What if he were devoted with all his heart to the cause of
the Gray Militia? Or do you think that is totally out of the question?"
Kiun kept silent. To the right of the road, the black silhouette of a
gallows tree loomed in the dark. A ghostly white naked body, strung up by
the feet, swung from a crossbeam. Oh well, thought Rumata, what's the good
of it all? He pulled tight his reins, seized Kiun by the shoulder and turned
the man's face around for him to see.
"And how would you like it if the noble don would hang you now right
next to that gallows bird?" he said and stared into the white face and dark
orbs of Kiun. "I'd do it myself. Swift and skillful. With a strong
Arkanarian rope? For the sake of ideals? Why do you keep silent, bookworm
Kiun did not speak. His teeth were rattling with fright and he twisted
weakly under Rumata's strong grip like a captured lizard. Suddenly, a splash
could be heard as something fell into the canal alongside the road. At the
same time, as if to drown out the splashing noise of the impact, the man
"Go ahead and hang me! String me up, you traitor!"
Rumata caught his breath and let go of Kiun.
"I was only joking," he said. "Don't be afraid."
"Lies, lies," Kiun sobbed. "Nothing but lies everywhere!"
"All right, then," said Rumata. "Forgive me! You'd better fish it out
of the water, whatever you just threw in there. It will get soaked through
Kiun did not budge from the spot. His upper body swayed back and forth
in indecision. He continued to sob softly, and beat his palms senselessly
against his cloak. Then, slowly, he crawled into the canal. Rumata was
waiting. He was very tired and he sank down into his saddle. That's the way
it's got to be, he thought; it can't be done any other way. Kiun came
staggering out of the canal, a bundle hidden under his cloak.
"Books, of course," said Rumata.
Kiun gently shook his head.
"No," he said hoarsely. "Only one book. My book."
"What do you write?"
"I'm afraid it wouldn't interest you, noble don."
Rumata wrinkled his brow and sighed.
"Hold onto the stirrup," he said, "and come on."
Neither spoke for a long time.
"Listen, Kiun," said Rumata. "I was only joking. Don't be afraid of
"What a world," grumbled Kiun. "What a funny world. Everybody is making
fun. And they all do it the same way. Even the noble Don Rumata.
Rumata was startled.
"You know my name?"
"Yes, I do," said Kiun. "I recognized you by the circlet on your
forehead. And at first I was so happy to have met you of all people here on
Why, of course, Rumata thought. That's what was on his mind when he
called me a traitor. He said:
"You see, I thought you were a spy. And those I kill usually at once."
"A spy?" Kiun replied. "Yes, indeed. Nowadays it's so easy and
profitable to be a spy. Our shining eagle, our most noble Don Reba, is very
anxious to know what the king's subjects are saying and thinking. I wish I
were a spy. A proper scout in the Gray Joy Tavern. How fine and honorable!
At six o'clock, off I go to the inn. The innkeeper will rush to my usual
table to bring me my first tankard, and I can drink as much as I can hold.
Don Reba is paying for the beer-- or to be exact, nobody really pays for it.
I just sit there with my beer in front of me and my ears open. Sometimes I
pretend to make some notes about the conversations, and you should see the
poor frightened things crawl up to offer their friendship and their purses.
In their eyes I can see what I always wanted to: the devotion of whipped
dogs, awe and fear and impotent hatred. I can have any girl I want, any time
I like; women melt in my arms right in front of their husbands' eyes--all
healthy, strapping men, who stand there with obsequious giggles. Splendid
prospects, noble don, don't you agree? I heard all this first-hand from a
fifteen-year-old kid, a pupil of the Patriotic School--"
"And what did you tell him then?" Rumata's curiosity had been roused by
the fugitive's tale.
"What should I have told him? He wouldn't have understood anyhow. So I
told him about the men of Waga Koleso, the robber chief; whenever they catch
a spy, they simply slit his belly open and stuff his guts with pepper. Then
again, there are the drunken soldiers who jam a spy into a sack and drown
him in the village pond. And, what's more, I was telling the truth, the pure
truth--but he wouldn't believe me. He said, "That's not what they teach us
at school." Then I took a piece of paper and started to write down our
conversation. I needed it at the time for my book, but the poor boy thought
it was a denunciation. He suddenly broke out in a sweat all over..."
They could see lights twinkle through the foliage of the trees lining
the road. It was coming from the inn called Bako's Skeleton. Kiun's steps
began to falter and he fell silent.
"What's the matter?" asked Rumata.
"A patrol of the Gray Militia. Over there," answered Kiun under his
"Well, so what?" said Rumata. "Listen--we love and revere these simple
rough men, our militant Gray boys. We need them. From now on the people will
have to keep their tongues in check, if they don't want to dangle from the
nearest branch of a tree!"
He laughed because he had expressed it so splendidly--exactly in the
language of the Gray Barracks.
Kiun seemed to shrink; he pulled his head between his shoulders.
"Simple folk have to know their place. God didn't give them a tongue
for talking, but for licking the boots of their master, the noble lord, who
has been placed above them from the very beginning of time..."
In the paddock, behind the inn, the saddled horses of the Gray Patrol
pranced about. Through an open window came the raucous cursing of the
players and the knock and rattle from their game of knucklebones. In the
doorway stood "Skeleton Bako" in person, blocking the way with his
tremendous belly. He wore an old leather jacket whose seams had burst in
innumerable places. The edges of his sleeves dripped with moisture. His
mossy paw gripped a club--evidently he had just slain a dog for his broth,
had broken out in a heavy sweat with the effort, and had stepped outside to
get his wind back. A Gray Sturmovik lolled on the stairs, his battle-ax held
between his knees. The massive handle of his ax pushed his face to one side.
It was plain to see that he was nursing a giant hangover. When he noticed
the rider, be cleared his throat, spat between his feet, and called
hoarsely. "Sto-o-o-p! Who goes there? St-o-o-op! No-o-o-ble d-o-n-n-n!"
Rumata's chin barely jutted out as he rode past the man without so much
as a glance.
". . . But if their tongue is licking the wrong boots," he said aloud,
"then it must be yanked out, for it is written: Your tongue--my enemy..."
Hidden by the nag's croup, Kiun hopped alongside with long leaps. Out
of the corner of his eye, Rumata noticed Kiun's bald head gleaming with
"Stop, I said!" roared the Sturmovik.
One could hear his ax scraping against the steps as he dragged himself
down the stairs, cursing God, the devil, and all people of high birth.
About five men, pondered Rumata, and tugged at his lace cuffs. Drunken
butchers. So what!
They had passed the inn by now and kept moving toward the woods.
"I can walk faster, if you so desire," said Kiun with an exaggerated
"Certainly not!" said Rumata and slowed his horse down.
"It would be boring to ride so many miles without a single brawl. Don't
you ever want to get into a good fight, Kiun? Just talk, that's all you do,
"No," said Kiun. "I have never any desire to get into a fight."
"That's exactly your trouble," Rumata grumbled, annoyed. He directed
the stallion to the side of the road, and tugged impatiently at his gloves.
From a bend in the road, two riders came galloping at full speed. They
halted as soon as they caught sight of him.
"Hey, there, noble don!" shouted the first one. "Show your pass!"
"You boor!" Rumata's voice was icy. "You can't even read, what good
will a pass do you!"
He jerked his knees deeply into his horse's flanks, and the steed took
off in a fast trot straight toward the two Gray Sturmoviks. Cowards, he
thought. Let's just slap their faces a few times! No, what's the use. Here I
am, burning to vent the rage that has been building up all day--but nothing
will come of it anyhow. So let's stay calm and humane, let's forgive
everyone, remain imperturbable like the gods. The gods are never in a hurry;
after all, they have all eternity ahead of them...
He rode close to the Sturmoviks. The two men, no longer sure of
themselves, seized their axes and fell back.
"W-e-e-ell?" Rumata asked slowly.
"Oh--what's the matter with me?" stammered the braver of the two
Sturmoviks, quite perplexed. "I mean--it's you, the noble Don Rumata?"
His companion had already turned his horse around and made off in a
fast gallop. The first Sturmovik kept falling back and lowered his raised
"I beg your most humble pardon, noble don," he gushed. "We did not
recognize you right away ... it was our fault. Official business, you
know--so easy to make a mistake there. The fellows have been drinking a
little, and they are burning with eagerness--" He maneuvered his horse
around, ready to take off. "You will understand, noble don, such restless
times . . . We're hunting down those fleeing bookworms ... I hope you won't
make complaints about us, noble don--"
Rumata turned his back on him. "A pleasant journey, most noble don!"
shouted the Sturmovik after him, much relieved.
As soon as the two riders were out of sight, Rumata called out softly:
There was no answer.
Still no answer. He listened more closely; now he could hear a distant
rustling in the bushes that was set off distinctly against the background of
the constantly singing gnats and mosquitoes. Kiun must be marching hastily
across the land, toward the West, in the direction of the Irukanian border.
That's that, thought Rumata. What was the good of the whole conversation?
It's always the same thing, over and over again. Cautious exploring at
first, then guarded exchange of ambiguous remarks . . . Week after week you
waste your energy on stupid chatter with any number of morons; but if you
are lucky enough to meet some real person, there's no time for a
heart-to-heart talk. You'd like to provide some cover for him, to protect
him, to help him reach some refuge--and he walks away without ever knowing
whether he encountered a friend or a vain fop. And you don't find out
anything about him either--his desires, his abilities, his reason for
living, his goals...
His thoughts turned to Arkanar in the evening. Solid stone houses along
the main streets, friendly lanterns over the inn gates, kindhearted,
satisfied shopkeepers drinking their beer at clean tables, chatting about
the world, how it isn't such a bad place after all; discussing the falling
bread prices or the rising harness prices; here and there a conspiracy is
unveiled, warlocks and suspect bookworms are incarcerated, the king is as
magnificent and grand as ever; Don Reba, however, is infinitely clever and
always on his guard. "You don't say!"---"That's the way it's supposed to
be!"-- "The world is round!"--"For all I care it might be square, only don't
you touch our learned men!"--"Believe me, brothers, all our misfortunes come
from those know-it-alls!"-- "Happiness is not caused by money; the peasant
is a human being, too, so they say, fine, but go on--and all the time more
and more of this inciting poetry: and they begin to raise hell, there are
riots and mutiny . . ." "Throw them all in jail, brothers! Myself, for
example, what would I do? I would ask them directly: can you read and write?
Lock him up! You write poems? Lock him up! You are an expert on diagrams?
Lock him up! You know too much!--" "Bina, my angel, another three tankards
of beer and a roast hare!"
And outside the window--stomp, stomp, stomp--come marching along the
nailed boots of the sturdy, red-nosed fellows in their gray shirts. And over
their right shoulder, the heavy hatchets. "Brothers! There they are, our
protectors! They keep this learned rabble at a proper distance, yes, indeed!
. . . And that one over there, that's my boy, my son--Over there on the
right flank! It was only yesterday that I tanned his hide! Yes, brothers,
we're living in a wonderful time! Our monarchy, so solidly entrenched,
prosperity, unshakable law and order--and justice. Hooray for our Gray
Troops! Hooray, Don Reba! Long live our King! That's the life, brothers!"
Over the dark plains of the kingdom of Arkanar, however, lit up by
raging fires and glowing woods, hundreds of miserable men are fleeing,
skirting the sentry posts, running, stumbling, and running on. Bitten by
gnats, with bleeding, sore feet, covered with dust and sweat, tormented,
frightened and tortured by despair, but as hard as steel and firm in their
convictions--they are unlawfully accused and persecuted. Why? Because they
heal and teach their people, who are riddled by disease and swamped by
ignorance; because, like gods, they create a second nature out of clay and
stone, wishing to beautify our existence, for a people that does not know
beauty; because they penetrate into the secrets of nature hoping to place
these secrets at the service of and for the benefit of the dull, apathetic
people, who have been kept in fear by ancient black arts. They are helpless,
good and awkward, way ahead of their own times...
Rumata pulled off one glove and soundly slapped his stallion between
the ears. "Let's go, you lame old mare!" He spoke Russian. It was already
past midnight when he rode into the forest.
Nowadays nobody could tell exactly any more where that strange name
came from--"Hiccup Forest." A rumor had been circulated via official sources
that some 300 years earlier the Iron Squads of Imperial Marshal Totz (who
later became the first king of Arkanar) had penetrated this forest as they
were pursuing the retreating hordes of the copper-skinned barbarians. There
the brave warriors had gathered the bark of the White Trees and brewed a
kind of domestic beer which turned out so miserably that whoever drank it
would suffer for hours from hiccups and belching. The following morning, so
the legend goes, when said Marshal Totz came to inspect the camp, he tamed
up his blue-blooded nose and spoke, the following words; "Indeed, this is
unbearable! The whole forest has the hiccups and reeks of bad beer!" That is
the origin, it is said, of this peculiar name.
One might quarrel about the veracity of this legend, but in any case
this was no ordinary forest. Giant trees with firm white trunks were growing
in it, of the kind that could no longer be found anywhere else in the
country. Not even in the dukedom of Irukan, and definitely not in the
Mercantile Republic of Sloan, where all the timber had long since been cut
down for use in the construction of ships. There were rumors making the
round that many such woods still existed beyond the Red Mountains, in the
country of the barbarians--but there are all kinds of stories told about
those barbarians, you know ...
A path had been cut through the forest some 200 years back. This road
led to the silver mines and by virtue of feudal law the noble family of the
Barons of Pampa, the descendants of a comrade-in-arms of Marshal Totz, had
been invested with these holdings. According to this feudal law, the Barons
of Pampa were supposed to pay the Arkanarian kings twelve poods of pure
silver each year. Thus each new king would gather an army shortly after he
ascended to the throne, and march toward Castle Bau, where the barons dwelt
The walls of the castle were solid, the barons were brave, and each year, as
before, the kingdom of Arkanar had yet to collect the twelve poods of pure
silver. After their defeated armies had returned home, the Arkanarian kings
would once again confirm the barons' legal claims, in addition to other
privileges, including the right to pick one's nose at the royal table, the
right to go hunting in the western regions of Arkanar and, finally, the
right to call the princes by their first names, without adding their rank
Hiccup Forest was full of dark secrets. Throughout the day, heavy
carloads of silver ore would roll toward the South. But at night, the road
was deserted, for few men dared walk there under the lights of the stars. It
was said that at night the Siu bird called from the High Tree. No one had
ever beheld this bird, for it cannot be seen by human eyes, being no
ordinary bird. It was said that great shaggy spiders would jump from the
tree branches onto a horse's neck to suck his blood in almost no time. It
was said that the monstrous primeval dragon Pech roamed this forest; the
monster was said to be covered with giant scales; to bear a live young
dragonlet once every twelve years; and to drag after it 12 tails pouring
with sweat. And somebody is said to have seen with his own eyes, in broad
daylight, how the naked wild sow Y, cursed by the Holy Mickey, was dragging
itself along the highway, moaning and grunting--a rapacious beast of prey,
invulnerable to iron but easily pierced by a bone.
Here in this mysterious forest, you might encounter the fugitive slave,
the one with the black tattoos between his shoulder blades. He was stupid
and pitiless, just like the shaggy, blood-sucking spiders. Or you might meet
the magician, the one who had been mangled by three deaths; he was always
gathering mysterious mushrooms for his magic potions, which could make a man
invisible, or change him into different animals, or even give him a second
Everyone knew, of course, that the robber captain Waga Koleso and his
band roamed along the road all through the night, and fugitive forced
laborers from the silver mines, with their black hands and whitish,
transparent faces. The poisoners would gather here for their nocturnal
meetings, and the brazen hunters of the Barons of Pampa camped out in the
glades where they could roast their stolen buffaloes on a spit over an open
In the midst of the thicket, where the underbrush was growing denser
than anywhere, stood a giant tree, gouged with clefts and chinks by old age.
Beneath it leaned a warped wooden hut, surrounded by a blackened, wooden
palisade. The hut had been here since time immemorial. The door was always
closed. Idols hewn of entire logs leaned against the moldering wooden steps.
This hut was, as everyone could testify, the most, most dangerous spot in
all Hiccup Forest. Every twelve years the old wild sow Pech comes here to
bring forth its young. Then the sow crawls under this hut to die, poisoning
the whole foundation of the hut with its black venom. If ever this poison
seeps to the outside, the end of the world will be near. People also say
that on unclean nights, the idols will dig themselves out from the soil,
walk to the path, and make mysterious signs there. And they also say that at
times a demonic light will shine in the dead windows of the hut, while dull
sounds can be heard from within, and smoke can be seen rising from the
chimney up to the sky.
Not long ago, the village idiot Kukisch from the hamlet "Sweet Stench"
(also popularly known as "Dung Heap") happened to chance upon this hut and,
fool that he is, stared into a window. He came home completely mad, and
after he had regained the pitiful traces of wit he had, he told of having
seen a light inside the hut, a man sitting at a rough wooden table, his feet
propped up on the rough bench, holding a little casket in his hand and
drinking from it. His jowls drooped almost down to his belt and his skin was
all pockmarked. And that, naturally, was the Holy Mickey in person, before
he had seen the light, in fact: a moll hunter, drunkard, and blasphemer. To
gaze upon him was only possible for those who were entirely without fear. A
sweet, heavy odor had come through the window and shadows flitted through
the trees. People came from all over to listen to the idiot's tale. The
whole story finally ended when the Sturmoviks appeared, screwed his elbows
up to his shoulders and sent him packing. Still, of course, the rumors about
the old hut could not be quenched, and from then on it was generally known
as the "Drunkard's Lair."
Rumata made his way through the prolific growths of gigantic ferns
until he came to the entrance of the Drunkard's Lair. He tied his horse to
one of the idols. There was a light inside the hut and the door was open,
hanging by a single hinge. Father Kabani sat at the table, completely
disheveled. A penetrating odor of schnapps filled the hut; on the table,
amidst gnawed bones and boiled beets, sat a giant earthenware jug.
"Good evening, Father Kabani," said Rumata as he crossed the threshold.
"I bid you welcome," replied Father Kabani with a voice that sounded
like a hunter's horn.
Rumata approached the table with clicking spurs, dropped his gloves on
the table and looked again at Father Kabani, who sat motionless, his heavy
drooping jowls supported in his palms. His shaggy, half-gray eyebrows hung
down onto his cheeks like dried grass tufts over a ravine. From the nostrils
of his porous large-pored nose the air came whistling whenever he breathed
out. It stank of half-digested alcohol.
"I invented it myself!" he said suddenly, unexpectedly. With great
effort he pulled up his right eyebrow and directed a somber glance at
Rumata. "I myself! And what for?" He withdrew his right hand from under his
jowl and his hairy finger gestured aimlessly in the air. "And despite all, I
am good for nothing! I have invented it--and yet I'm no good, eh? That's
right, that's right, a failure. None of us invents anything anyhow, nobody
has any new ideas, but-- oh, the devil with it all...!"
Rumata unbuckled his belt, took off his fez and removed his swords.
"Come, come," he said gently.
"The box!" Father Kabani wheezed. Then he fell silent and moved his
cheeks in a strange fashion.
Without taking his eyes off the old man, Rumata swung his feet, shod in
dusty boots, over the bench and sat down. He placed both his swords next to
each other on the table.
"The box . . ." repeated Father Kabani. "We always say we invented it.
But in reality it was all thought up a long time before us. Some person
invented it ages ago, put it in a box, made a hole in the box, and then made
off--maybe went to sleep somewhere--And what comes next? Then Father Kabani
arrives, closes his eyes and puts his hand into the hole." Father Kabani
looked at his hand. "Ha! Invented! I, he said, have thought up this thing
... ! And if you don't believe it, then you are an ass. And I stick my hand
inside --One! What do I find? Barbed wire! What is that for? For the wolves,
naturally. Splendid! And I stick my hand inside again--Two! What do I find?
What a cleverly conceived thing, a so-called meat grinder. What is that for?
For finely ground meat. Splendid! I stick my hand inside for the third
time--Three! What is it? Firewater. What is that for? To make damp wood
Father Kabani fell silent once, more and arched forward as if someone
had grabbed him by the collar. Rumata took the jug, peered inside, then
poured a few drops on the back of his hand. The liquid was violet and
smelled strongly of cheap alcohol. Rumata carefully dried his hand with his
lace handkerchief. Greasy spots remained on the cloth. Father Kabani's
disheveled head touched the table. He suddenly straightened up again.
"Whoever put all this stuff into the box knew what it was good for.
Barbed wire against the wolves? I made that up myself, fool that I am. They
use the barbed wire for fencing the mines and the pits! So that the
political prisoners don't run away from there. But I won't play along with
them! I'm an enemy of the state, too. But did they ask me? Sure they did!
Barbed wire, eh? Sure, barbed wire, what else. Against the wolves, eh?
Against the wolves . . . Excellent . . . Splendid chap! Let's fence the
mines and the pits with it! Don Reba in person, the first minister of state,
helped to fence the mines. And he even requisitioned my meat grinder. He's
got brains, all right! Splendid! And now he grinds the meat in the Tower of
Joy--from human beings--And that works miracles during interrogations,
I know all that, thought Rumata. I know it all. I know how you screamed
in your private audience with Don Reba, how you crawled at his feet,
imploring and begging: Stop, please. I'll confess! But it was too late
already. Your meat grinder had already started...
Father Kabani seized the jug and lifted it to his hairy mouth, tippling
the poisonous swill as he roared like the wild sow Y. Then he set the jug
back on the table with a bang and popped a boiled beet into his mouth. Tears
flowed over his broad cheeks.
"Yes, firewater!" he said when he found his voice again. "To be used as
tinder for the hearth and for a jolly game or two. But what kind of
firewater is that, my dear, if you can drink it? Mix it with beer, and how
the price of beer would soar! But no, I won't give it to you! I'll drink it
all myself. And how I drink it! Night and day. I'm all bloated. And it's
getting worse all the time. The other day I looked in a mirror and--Don
Rumata, you won't believe it--I was scared of myself! I looked closer--may
the Good Lord protect me! What was left of Father Kabani? A sea-monster, a
polyp, dotted all over with colored spots. Some red, some blue . . . They
say firewater was invented for merry games with fire--"
Father Kabani spat on the floor, scraping his shoe over the spot to rub
out his spittle. Suddenly he asked: "What day is it today?"
"The eve of Kata the Just," said Rumata.
"And why isn't the sun shining?"
"Because it's night."
"Night again," said Father Kabani painfully and fell forward, his face
splashing into the beets.
Rumata regarded him for a while, whistling softly between his teeth.
Then he rose from the bench and walked over to the back porch. Amid small
piles of beets and sawdust glittered the glass pipes of Father Kabani's
voluminous distillation equipment for home-brewed liquor. It was the amazing
creation of a born engineer and a masterful glass-blower. Twice, Rumata
walked around the devilish machine, then, in the dark, groped for a piece of
iron and began to hit about at random, without aiming at anything in
particular. There was the sound of breaking glass, rattling metal, and
gurgling liquids. The cheap smell of soured spirits pervaded the small room.
As he walked over to the other comer to switch on the electric light, the
broken glass crunched under his boots. In the comer stood a heavy strongbox,
containing a "Midas" field synthesizer. With his right hand Rumata swept
some rubble off the top of the safe, dialed a combination of various numbers
on the lock and opened it. Even in the bright electrical light, the
synthesizer looked rather odd in the midst of all the rubbish and garbage.
Rumata grasped a handful of sawdust from a pile and threw it into the feeder
funnel. The synthesizer started humming at once, then automatically switched
on the indicator. With the tip of his boot, Rumata shoved a rusty pail under
the output slot. And in no time--clink, clink, clink--golden ducats, coins
with the aristocratic profile of Pitz the Sixth, King of Arkanar, fell into
the battered pail.
Rumata carried the old man over to an old creaking wooden cot, pulled
off his boots, tamed him over on his right side, and covered him with the
almost hairless fur of a long-dead animal. In the process, Father Kabani
woke up briefly. He could neither move nor think clearly. So he contented
himself with reciting a few verses of a forbidden romance: "I am like a
crimson flower in your dear little hand . . . ," whereupon he lapsed into a
Rumata cleared the table, swept the floor, and cleaned the single
window, which was black with accumulated dirt and soot from the chemical
experiments that Father Kabani conducted at the window sill. Behind the
dilapidated stove he found a bottle with alcohol which he poured into a
rathole. Then he watered his Chamalharian stallion, fed him oats from his
saddlebag, washed his face and hands, and sat down to wait. He stared into
the little smoking flame of the oil lamp.
He had been leading this strange dual existence for the past six years
and had apparently adjusted to it by now. Only from time to time--like the
present, for instance--it suddenly seemed to him that there was no reality
behind the organized bestiality, the depressing cult of the Grays. He felt
as if a strange theater performance were unrolling in front of his eyes,
with himself, Rumata, playing the principal part And any moment now, after
some particularly successful rejoinder, the applause would begin to thunder
and the connoisseurs and art lovers from the Institute of Experimental
History would shout enthusiastically from their loges:
"Bravo, Anton, fantastic, great! Well done, Tony!"
He looked around but there was no crowded theater, only damp, mossy
walls of rough-hewn logs, blackened by the smoking oil lamp.
Outside, the Chamalharian stallion neighed softly and pawed the ground.
Gradually, a deep whistle came nearer. It sounded so familiar, so well known
from days of old, that tears almost welled up in Rumata's eyes--the sound
was so unexpected in this godforsaken place. Rumata listened intently, his
mouth half open. Now the throbbing stopped suddenly; the tiny flame in the
oil lamp began to sputter, then suddenly flared up again. Rumata was about
to get up from the bench when Don Kondor emerged from the darkness of the
night and came striding into the room. Don Kondor was the Supreme Judge and
Keeper of the Great Seal of the Mercantile Republic of Soan, Vice-President
of the Conference of the Twelve Negotiators, and Cavalier of the Imperial
Order of Righteous Pity.
Rumata jumped up and knocked the bench over. He would have loved to
embrace, his friend, kiss his cheeks, but his legs automatically bent at the
knee (as prescribed by etiquette), his spurs clicked solemnly, his right
hand swept in a semicircle from his heart over to his right side, and his
head lowered itself so swiftly that his chin almost disappeared in his
scarf. Don Kondor took off his velvet cap, adorned by a simple feather, and
quickly waved it in the direction of Don Rumata, as if he were shooing
flies. Then he threw the cap on the table and undid the clasp at the collar
of his cloak. The cloak sank downwards along his back as he sat on the bench
and stretched out his legs. His left hand was held akimbo, and with his
outstretched right hand he held the hilt of his gilded sword, whose tip
stuck in the moldy wood of the floor. He was rather small and lean, and big,
somewhat protruding eyes marked his pale face. His black hair was gathered,
like Rumata's, by a heavy golden circlet with a green stone on his forehead.
"Are you alone, Don Rumata?" he asked hastily.
"Yes, noble don," Rumata answered, depressed.
Father Kabani's voice thundered suddenly: "Noble Don Reba! You are a
hyena, that's what you are!"
Don Kondor did not pay any attention to him. He did not even turn
"I've come with the helicopter," he said.
"Let's hope nobody saw you."
One legend more or less. "What's the difference?" answered Don Kondor
in a somewhat irritated voice. "I've simply not the time to ride around on a
horse. What's happened with Budach? I'm worried about him. Do sit down, Don
Rumata, will you please? I'm getting a crick in my neck this way."
Rumata obediently took a seat on the bench.
"Budach has disappeared," he said. "I waited for him at the Square of
the Heavy Swords. The only person that came was a one-eyed vagabond, who
gave the password and handed me a bag full of books. I waited for another
two hours; then I got in touch with Don Hug, who told me he took Budach as
far as the border. Budach was in the company of some noble don, a man who
could be trusted since he had lost everything at a game of cards with Don
Hug and therefore sold himself over, body and soul. Consequently, Budach
must be somewhere here in Arkanar. That's all I know."
"Not much, I dare say," remarked Don Kondor.
"But the affair with Budach is not that important," replied Rumata. "If
he is still alive, I'll find him and extricate him from any tight spot he
might be in. That's no problem really. But this wasn't what I wanted to
discuss with you. I must once more draw your attention to the fact that the
situation in Arkanar is exceeding the bounds of the basis theory--"
Don Kondor made a sour face.
"No, no, hear me out," said Rumata firmly. "I have the feeling I can
never make myself properly understood over the radio. And in Arkanar
everything is helter-skelter! A new, systematically effective factor has
made its appearance. It looks as if Don Reba is intentionally hurtling the
whole depressing Grayness of the kingdom on the scientists. Anyone who rises
even slightly above the average Gray level puts his life in jeopardy. Listen
to me, Don Kondor! These are no vague, emotional impressions, these are real
facts! It's enough to be intelligent and educated, to dare to have doubts,
to say something out of the ordinary. Perhaps if some day you refuse a glass
of wine, your life will be in danger. Any little grocery clerk can beat you
to death. Hundreds, thousands of people are being denounced. They are caught
by the Sturmoviks, strung up by their feet in the streets. Naked, with their
head dangling down. Only yesterday they trampled an old man to death in my
street with their boots: somebody told them he could read and write. They
kept kicking him for two hours, these stupid pigs with their beastly
Rumata paused for a moment to collect himself and ended in a calm
voice: "To sum it all up, it won't be long now until not a single
intelligent person will remain alive in Arkanar. Just like in the domain of
the Holy Order after the slaughter of Barkan."
Don Kondor fixed his dark eyes on Rumata and pressed his lips together.
"I don't like what's happening with you, Anton," he said in Russian.
"There are lots of things I don't like either, Alexander Vassilevitch,"
said Rumata. "For instance, I don't like the fact that we have tied our own
hands, the way we have set up our problem here. I don't like the fact that
we call it the 'problem of bloodless procedure.' For as far as I am
concerned, this is equivalent to scientific justification of inactivity. I
know all your arguments! And I am well acquainted with our theories. But
theories do not work in such a situation, where every minute human beings
are attacked by wild beasts in a typical fascist manner! Everything is going
to pieces, going to rack and rum. What good is our knowledge and our gold?
It always comes too late."
"Anton," said Don Kondor, "calm down. I believe you when you say that
the situation in Arkanar has reached a critical point. But I am also
convinced that you cannot propose a single constructive solution."
"That's true," agreed Rumata. "I have no concrete solutions to propose.
But it gets to be more and more difficult for me to control myself in view
of these increasing signs of physical and moral corruption."
"Anton," said Don Kondor. "There are 250 of us altogether on this
entire planet. All of us exercise effective self-control, and it is equally
difficult for all of us. The most experienced among us have lived here for
twenty-two years. They came only as observers, nothing else. They are
forbidden to intervene here in any way. Just imagine: an out-and-out ban on
any intervention. We don't have the right to rescue Budach, even if they
trampled him to death in front of our eyes."
"You don't need to talk to me as if I were a child," said Rumata.
"But you are as impatient as a child," replied Don Kondor. "And you
must display a lot of patience here."
Rumata laughed bitterly.
"And while we are practicing patience and waiting forever," he said,
"holding endless discussions about the proper ways to behave, these beasts
are attacking their fellow human beings every day, every single minute."
"Anton," said Don Kondor, "there are thousands of other planets in the
universe which we have not yet visited and where history runs its course."
"But we did come to this planet!"
"Yes. Not to vent our righteous anger, but rather to help these
creatures here. If you're too weak for the job, then get out! Go back home!
After all, you're not a child. You knew what to expect here."
Rumata did not speak. Don Kondor's features relaxed; he seemed to have
aged many years during his last words. Slowly he strode the length of the
table, seized his sword and dragged it behind him like a stick. Then he
lapsed into an almost imperceptible, sad shaking of his head; only his nose
seemed to move.
"I can understand all that," he said. "I've gone through all of this
myself. There were times when this sensation of personal impotence, my own
wretchedness, appeared to me as the most horrible thing. Some weaker
characters even went crazy over it and were sent back home for treatment. It
took me fifteen years to understand what the most horrible thing is. It's
become dehumanized, Anton; to harden your soul by dragging it through the
dirt. We are the gods here, Anton, but we have to be wiser than the local
gods that men here have created after their own image. Our path, however,
leads us along the edge of an abyss. One wrong step and you are caught in a
morass, and for the rest of your days you cannot free and cleanse yourself
of it. In the Story of the Descent, Goran the Irukanian wrote: After God had
descended from Heaven and emerged from the Pitanian swamps in order to show
himself to the people, lo and behold, his feet were covered with dirt."
"Goran was ultimately burned to death for that," added Rumata in a
"True, they put him to death by burning him alive. But these things do
not really concern us. I have been here now for fifteen years. Even in my
dreams I don't see Earth any longer. Some time ago while I was rummaging in
some old papers, I found the photo of a woman, and for the longest time I
could not remember who she was. Sometimes I am overcome by a sensation of
horror because in reality I am no longer a staff member of the Institute but
rather an exponent of that local institution, the highest judge of the
Mercantile Republic. That, to my mind, is the most frightening thing: to
become adjusted to your role. Inside each of us, the noble wild sow
struggles with the communard. And while everyone around cheers for the sow,
the communard is all alone.--Earth is a thousand years and a thousand
parsecs away from here." Don Kondor fell silent; he patted his knees.
"That's the way it is, Anton," he said after a while, and his voice grew
firmer. "So let's remain communards!"
He doesn't understand, thought Anton-Rumata. How should he after all?
He's lucky; he does not know the Gray Terror or Don Reba. All that he has
seen on this planet in the course of these past fifteen years fits somehow
within the framework of the basis theory. And if I talk to him about
fascism, the Gray Sturmoviks, the rising militancy of the petty bourgeoisie,
he accuses me of emotional word games: "Don't fool around with terminology,
Anton! Terminological confusion will bring about dangerous results!" He is
absolutely incapable of comprehending that the average level of medieval
bestiality corresponds to the happy day yesterday on Arkanar. In his eyes
Don Reba is another Richelieu, a wise and farsighted politician, who is
defending the absolute regime from feudalistic excesses. I am the only one
on this planet to see the terrible shadow spreading over the whole land. But
I just can't understand where this shadow is coming from, and why. And how
can I convince him, when I can clearly see in his eyes that he would like
best to send me back to Earth on the spot for a cure?
"How is the noble Synda?" asked Rumata.
Don Kondor stopped inspecting him with his eyes and murmured: "Very
well, thank you." Then he added: "We must finally come to grips with the
fact that neither you, nor I, nor anybody of our group here, will ever see
the tangible results of our work. We are not physicists but historians. Our
unit of time is not the second but the century. And what we are doing here
is not meant to be the sowing of the seed but merely the preparation of the
soil. And those emissaries from Earth, those--enthusiasts we get from time
to time--I wish they'd go to hell, those eager beavers ..."
Rumata put on a forced smile and tugged needlessly at his riding boots.
Eager beavers. Yes indeed.
Ten years ago, Stefan Orlovski, alias Don Kapada, commander of the
crossbow troops of His Imperial Highness, had ordered his soldiers to open
fire on the emperor's men as they were publicly torturing eighteen Estorian
witches. With his own hand he had slain the imperial high judge and two of
his assistants but in the end he had been pierced by the spears of the
emperor's bodyguard. As he lay dying, he called out to the people watching
the public spectacle:
"Remember, you are human beings! Defend yourselves, kill them, don't be
afraid of them!" But his voice could scarcely be heard over the din of the
roaring crowd as they were shouting, "Burn the witches! Burn them alive!"
And it was at about the same time that Karl Rosenblum, one of the most
highly regarded historical experts on the Peasants' War in Germany and
France, alias Pani-Pas, the wool merchant, incited a riot amongst the Murian
peasants, He took two cities by assault and was killed by an arrow in his
back as he tried to put a stop to the looting. He was still alive when he
was rescued by a helicopter but he could no longer speak. His big blue eyes
expressed guilt and amazement as big tears trickled down his bloodless
And shortly before Rumata's arrival on this planet, the most powerful
fellow conspirator, confidant of the Tyrant of Kaisan (alias Jeremy
Toughnut, specialist in reforms on Terra), had staged a palace revolution
out of a clear sky, had seized power and tried to introduce the Golden Age
within two months; had stubbornly refused to reply to the strongest protests
and interpellations of neighbors and the Earth had earned the dubious
reputation of a crazy fool; had successfully evaded eight rescue attempts;
and was finally captured by the Institute's special commando troop who had
taken him by submarine to an island base near the South pole...
"Just think of that!" Rumata said under his breath. "And people on
Earth still firmly believe to this very day that our physicists are working
on the most complicated problems ..."
Don Kondor suddenly sat up and took notice.
"Ah, finally," he whispered.
From outside came the sound of angry or desperate neighing, hoofs
pawing the ground, and energetic cursing in a voice with a strong Irukanian
accent. A man entered the room, It was Don Hug, the first groom of the
chamber of His Lordship the Duke of Irukan. He was stout, red-cheeked with a
smartly upturned mustache, grinned from ear to ear, and from under the wavy
curls of his auburn wig peered two merry little eyes. And once again Rumata
wanted to obey the impulse to embrace the new arrival--it was his boyhood
friend Pashka; but Don Hug suddenly assumed a formal posture, his fat face
took on the sickeningly sweet smile demanded by etiquette; he bowed nimbly
from the waist down, pressed his hat against his chest and pursed his lips.
Rumata stole a furtive glance over to Alexander Vassilevitch. Alexander
Vassilevitch had vanished, and in his place was Don Kondor, the Supreme
Judge and Keeper of the Seal; his legs stretched out, his left hand akimbo,
while his right hand clasped the hilt of his gilded sword.
"You are very late, Don Hug," he said in an unpleasant tone of voice.
"I beg your most humble pardon!" called out Don Hug, swiftly
approaching the table. "I swear by my Duke's rickets, nothing but totally
unforeseen unfortunate circumstances! I was stopped four times by the patrol
of His Highness, the King of Arkanar, and twice I had to fight off some
rascals." He raised his left hand with an elegant movement to show off his
blood-soaked, bandaged limb. "By the way, noble don, whose helicopter is
that behind the hut?"
"It's mine," Don Kondor answered snippishly. "I have no time to waste
on brawls along the way."
Don Hug gave him a friendly smile and sat down, straddling the bench.
"In other words, noble dons, we are forced to state that our most learned
Dr. Budach has mysteriously vanished somewhere between the Irukanian border
and the Square of the Heavy Swords-"
Father Kabani stirred on his cot. He turned over in his sleep and
without waking he mumbled: "Don Reba ..."
"Leave Budach to me," said Rumata, in a desperate tone, "and despite
everything, will you please try to understand me..."
Rumata woke up with a start. He opened his eyes. It was broad daylight.
Down in the street, just below his windows, was some commotion. Somebody,
probably a soldier, yelled at the top of his voice: "You stinking bum! Look
at this filth! I'll make you lap it up with your tongue! (Good morning to
you, thought Rumata.) Shut up, you! I swear by the hunchback of Holy Mickey,
you make me lose my temper!"
Another voice, hoarse and coarse, growled: "You've got to watch your
step in this miserable street! It rained this morning, but who knows when
they last swept this place."
"You'll show me where I'm supposed to look, all right."
"You'd better let go of me, noble don, let go of my shirt, will you!"
"Oh, you'll show me, all right--"
Rumata heard a loud slapping sound. It was evidently the second slap;
the first one had woken him up.
"You'd better stop hitting me, noble don." A familiar voice. Who could
it be? Probably Don Tameo. I'll let him win back his decrepit Chamalharian
nag today. I wonder if I'll ever learn to distinguish a good horse from a
poor one. But after all, my family isn't known for their expertise with
horses. Camels, yes; we are experts on fighter camels. A good thing there
are hardly, any camels here in Arkanar. Rumata stretched his arms and legs,
until his joints cracked. He groped for a silken rope attached to the
headboard of his bed and tugged at it several times. Little bells could be
heard ringing throughout the house. That fellow is probably hanging out of
the window, watching the racket down below.
I could simply get up, of course, and get dressed by myself, but that
would only start tongues wagging again.
He listened once more to the stream of abuse coming from below his
windows. The inventiveness of the human tongue! What entropy, what measure
of the uncertainty of human knowledge!
Lately, Rumata continued with his thoughts, some know-it-alls have
emerged in the guard troops, declaring that only one sword alone can be used
for noble warfare, while the second sword must be used exclusively for
street fights--and Don Reba pays too much attention to their worries in
beautiful Arkanar. By the way, Don Tameo is not one of them. Too much of a
coward, our dear Don Tameo, and an incorrigible armchair politician.
How horrible when the day starts out with Don Tameo ... Rumata sat up
in bed and clasped his hands around his knees underneath the patched-up
elegant coverlet. He was seized by a feeling of leaden hopelessness. You
could ponder forever, keep thinking about how powerless and small we are in
the face of circumstances ... On Earth I wouldn't ever dream of doing such a
thing. On Terra we are strong, self-assured men with specialized,
psychological training, men who are ready for anything. And we do have
We manage, for instance, not to turn away our head when some poor
person is beaten or executed. We are capable of tremendous self-control: We
can stand to listen unperturbed to the endless babblings of the most abject
cretins. We have also forgotten how to feel disgusted: We don't mind when
someone puts a dish before us from which the dogs eat, or when they wipe it
out afterwards with a duly rag. And aren't we marvelous actors? Not even in
our dreams do we lapse into our mother tongue or any of the other languages
of Earth. And after all, we are equipped with an invincible weapon: The
basis theory of feudalism, worked out in the quiet offices of our officials
and in our laboratories, based on studious research and serious
It's just too bad that Don Reba hasn't the slightest inkling of the
theory. And too bad, also, that our special psychological training peels off
like sunburnt skin, that we have to go to extremes, that we are forced to
submit to a steady mental reconditioning: grit your teeth and remember that
you are a god in disguise. Remember that they do not know what they are
doing; and that they are almost all free of guilt. And that is why you must
have the patience of Job, patience, patience--and meanwhile the fountains of
humanism inside us, which on Earth seemed to be well-nigh inexhaustible, are
drying up here with frightening speed. Holy Mickey! Weren't we real
humanists back on Terra, lovers of mankind, humanism was the mainstay of our
nature and in our respect for the human being, in our love for man, we even
steered toward anthropocentrism--and now we discover with horror that we did
not truly love mankind but only the communards, our compatriots who
resembled us ... And more and more frequently we catch ourselves in the act
of wondering: Are these human beings, after all? Are they even capable of
becoming human beings in time? And then we remember men like Kyra, Budach,
Arata, the hunchback, or the unsurpassable Baron Pampa, and we feel
ashamed--but this is equally rare and unpleasant and, worse still, it does
not help us in the least...
All right, thought Rumata, that's enough of that. At least not so early
in the morning. And damn this Don Tameo! So much trouble, so much has
accumulated inside me, in my soul, and there is no place to get rid of it in
this isolated state. That's what gets me: the isolation, the solitude. What
did they call us back home? "Strong and self-assured, strapping young men."
When we were back home did we ever imagine in those days that we would ever
have to put up with such loneliness? Nobody would believe it. Anton, my
friend, what's happening to you? To the West from here, barely three hours
by plane, lives Alexander Vassilevitch, a good man with a set of brains. To
the East is Pashka, a merry, faithful friend, who went to school with you
for seven years. It's just a momentary depression, Anton. Too bad--we
believed you had more endurance; but doesn't this happen to all of us? What
a wretched grind. We understand. So why don't you go back home to Terra,
recuperate from all this, occupy yourself with theoretical research, and the
rest will follow...
Incidentally, Alexander Vassilevitch is a dogmatist par excellence. So
if the basis theory doesn't take in the Gray Ones--"In fifteen years of
working on this, my friend, I have never once come across an exception like
this ..." In other words, I am simply dreaming of the Gray hordes. And if I
dream about them, it simply means that I am overworked, under too much
tension, that they should send me home for a rest. "All right, Don Rumata, I
promise to investigate this personally and advise you of my findings. But in
the meantime, give me your word, no excesses, please . . ." And then there
is Pavel, whom I used to call Pashka when we were kids together: now he's a
scientist, an expert, a brain full of information. He became totally
immersed in the history of two planets and proved with enthusiasm that the
phenomenon of the Gray hordes represents merely the most common occurrence
in the relationship of the bourgeoisie against the barons--" By the way,
I'll pay you a brief visit in a few days. To be frank with you, I'm quite
disturbed when I think about the incident with Budach . . ." Many thanks!
And that's the end of it! I'll take care of the Budach case myself, even if
I'm no longer much good for anything else.
The most learned Doctor Budach. A great physician, a most devoted
citizen of Irukan; the duke almost knighted him, but then he changed his
mind and had him incarcerated. The most distinguished specialist for cures
by drugs in the entire empire. Author of the widely known and famous
treatise Concerning Herbs and Other Plants, which Items in Mysterious Ways
Cause and Occasion Sorrow, Joy or Tranquility; Concerning the Salivary and
Body Fluids of Reptiles, Spiders and the Hairless Wild Sow Y, which Last
Disposes over said Characteristics and Many Others Besides. A remarkable
person, undoubtedly, and a genuine mental giant, at the same time a devoted
humanist and eccentric who never had any money. His entire fortune consisted
of a sack full of books. Who needs you, Doctor Budach, in this country of
darkest ignorance that wallows in a bloody morass of conspiracy and greed?
Let us assume you are alive and you are in Arkanar. Of course you may
have fallen into the hands of the barbarians, who periodically raid the
countryside from their mountain strongholds. If this should be the case,
then Don Kondor will contact with our friend Schumtuletidovodus, a
specialist in the history of antique cultures, who presently works as an
epileptic shaman for the chieftain whose first name consists of forty-five
syllables. But if you should be in Arkanar after all--first of all, you
might have been captured by the nocturnal armies of the robber chieftain
Waga Koleso. No, not "captured, " - but simply taken along, for they would
consider your companion the far more desirable booty, your friend, the noble
don, who has gambled away his entire fortune. Either way, they will not kill
you: Waga Koleso is far too avaricious.
There's an equal chance, though, that some idiot of a baron has you in
his clutches. Without any malicious intentions, merely out of boredom and
some warped idea of hospitality. He simply would like to drink together with
a noble guest, so he sends out his hordes and has them drag you to the
castle of your companion. And you will be sitting in the stinking chamber
until the dons have drunk themselves into oblivion and finally part company.
In that case no harm will befall you.
But it's quite another story with the remnants of the recently defeated
peasant army of Don Ksi and of Pert Posvonotchnik, who have retreated to the
hamlet "Rotten Nest" where they are secretly supported and fed by our bright
eagle, Don Reba himself--just in case some complication should arise in his
relationship with the barons. These peasant soldiers know no mercy; better
not even imagine the eventuality. And then there is Don Satarina, a crabby
imperial aristocrat, 102 years of age and, of course, totally senile. He
carries on a family feud with the dukes of Irukan, and snatches--whenever he
revives sufficiently--anything that crosses the Irukanian border. He is very
dangerous; when he is under the influence of Cholezistit, he is quite
capable of issuing commands with such catastrophic results that the churches
cannot collect the corpses from his cellars fast enough.
And then there's the top possibility. Not the most dangerous one, but
the one most likely to occur: the Gray Patrol of Don Reba. The Sturmoviks on
the main roads. You might have fallen into their hands quite by accident,
Budach, in which case your only hope would be the quick wit and cool head of
your companion to get you out of this calamity. But what if Don Reba should
be interested in you personally? For Don Reba will occasionally display an
unexpected concern . . . His spies might report that you are traveling
through Arkanar, then a detachment under the command of some very eager Gray
officer will be sent out to meet you. And this Gray cretin of low rank will
be responsible for your ending up in a bag of stones in the Tower of Joy...
Rumata pulled once more at the rope, very impatient now. The bedroom
door opened with a repulsive creak and a thin, somber-looking boy entered
the room. His name was Uno, and his fate might have served as the theme for
a ballad. He bowed deeply as he stood on the threshold, scraping the floor
with his torn shoes, and stepped up to the bed. On the small bedside table
he put down a tray with letters, some coffee, and a stale bread crust to be
chewed, which in turn was supposed to strengthen and cleanse the teeth.
Rumata glanced at him, very annoyed.
"Tell me please, are you ever going to oil that creaky door?"
The boy looked silently at the floor. Rumata threw the coverlet back,
let his bare feet dangle down over the edge of the bed and reached for the
tray. "Washed yourself this morning?" he asked. The boy shifted from one
foot to the other; without answering he wandered through the room, picking
up the scattered garments that lay on the floor.
"I believe I asked you whether you washed yourself today?" said Rumata
while he opened his first letter.
"Water won't wash away your sins," muttered the boy under his breath.
"So why, noble don, should I wash myself?"
"And what did I tell you about microbes?" said Rumata. Carefully, the
boy placed his master's green trousers over the back of the armchair, then
passed his thumb in a circle above it to chase away the wicked ghosts.
"I prayed three times last night," he said. "What more could I do?"
"You numbskull," said Rumata and started to read his letter.
It was from Dona Okana, a lady-in-waiting, the latest favorite of Don
Reba. She invited him to come and visit her this very evening, and signed
the letter "amorously languishing for you." The P.S. stated in clear, simple
language what she really expected from this rendezvous. Rumata felt
embarrassed; he blushed. Throwing a side glance at the boy, he murmured:
"That's really too much . . ." He ought to think it over. To go there was
disgusting; not to go there would be foolish. Dona Okana was a well-informed
person. He quickly drained his cup of coffee and put the chewing-crust into
The next envelope was made of heavy paper; the seal was damaged. It was
obvious that the letter had been opened. The letter was from Don Ripat, an
unscrupulous careerist and lieutenant in the Gray Militia, who inquired
after his esteemed well-being, expressed his belief in the imminent victory
of the Gray Cause, and begged to postpone payment of his debt, by quoting
various unfavorable circumstances. "All right, all right," Rumata mumbled
and put the letter aside, picked the envelope up once again and examined it
with great interest. Oh yes, they were working much more carefully now; much
The third letter contained an invitation to a duel because of a certain
Dona Pifa, but the writer was willing to withdraw his challenge provided the
noble Don Rumata would testify that he was making no claims upon the person
of Dona Pifa and had never made any such claims. The letter was typical: the
basic text had been written by a calligrapher and the blanks had been filled
in with names and times-- in a clumsy hand and full of mistakes.
Rumata put the letter down and scratched the mosquito bites on his left
"I want to wash up. Bring the things in!" he ordered.
The boy disappeared behind the door, to return soon with a wooden
basin. He dragged the tub along the floor, his behind wagging with the
exertion. Then he ran once more out of the room and dragged in an empty tub
with a big dipper.
Rumata now jumped to his feet, pulled the elaborately embroidered
nightshirt over his head, and noisily unsheathed the swords that had been
hanging over the headboard of his bed. Cautiously, the boy ducked behind a
chair. For ten minutes Rumata practiced attack and defense; then he leaned
the swords against the wall, bent over the empty tub, and ordered: "The
water!" It was rather miserable to wash without soap but Rumata had become
used to it. The boy scooped up the water with the dipper and poured it over
Rumata's back, neck, and head. Dipper after dipper filled with water. All
the while he kept grumbling: "Everywhere else people behave like human
beings, only here in our house must we bother with such refined nonsense.
Who has ever heard of such a thing? To wash yourself with two buckets of
water? Every day a fresh towel . . . And His Lordship jumps around all naked
with two swords every morning, without having said his prayers first.. ."
While Rumata toweled himself vigorously, he spoke with an authoritative
tone: "I am a member of the court, not just some lousy baron. A courtier
must always be clean and sweet-smelling."
"His Royal Highness will hardly sniff at you," replied the boy.
"Everyone knows that his Highness prays day and night for us sinners. And
Don Reba--he never washes. I have it first-hand; his servant has told me
"All right, don't fret," said Rumata and put on his nylon undershirt.
The boy regarded the undershirt with dismay. Rumors about it had been
circulating for quite some time now amongst the servants in Arkanar. But
there was nothing that Rumata could do about it, for very natural reasons
growing out of his masculine mentality. As Rumata slipped on his shorts, the
boy jerked his head to one side, moving his lips as if he wanted to shoo
away the spirit of impurity.
Still, it wouldn't be a bad idea to introduce here the fashion of
wearing undergarments, thought Rumata. But such innovations could naturally
be carried out only with the help of the fairer sex. And in this area,
too--unfortunately for him--he distinguished himself by rather high
requirements. Quite inconvenient for a spy. For a cavalier and man of the
world, for a renowned connoisseur of court etiquette and for a person who
was sent to the provinces, there to fight duels to settle love affairs, it
was only fitting to have twenty mistresses. Rumata made heroic endeavors to
keep up with his reputation. Half the members of his agency, rather than
devote their time to more serious efforts, spread the most despicable
rumors--rumors calculated to arouse the envy and delight of the young men of
the Arkanarian Guard. Dozens of overjoyed and disappointed ladies whom
Rumata visited until late in the night--reciting poems all the time (third
night watch: fraternal kiss on the lady's cheek, a mighty leap over the
balcony's balustrade and right into the arms of the commander of the night
watch, whom he knew well)--dozens of ladies would outdo each other with
tales of the marvelous style of the genuine cavalier from the big city.
Rumata used the vanity of these women, depraved to the point of
repulsiveness, for his own purposes. However, the question of underwear was
never touched on.
How much simpler had been the business with the handkerchiefs! On the
occasion of the very first ball be had pulled an elegant silk cloth from his
waistcoat pocket, and with flourish had proceeded to dry his lips with it.
And at the next ball, the manly youths were drying their sweaty faces with
large or small pieces of cloth of various colors, gaily embroidered and with
monograms. And within one month, the ladies' men were outdoing each other by
draping bedsheets over their hand, dragging the four comers elegantly along
the floor behind them ...
Rumata put on his green trousers and a white batiste shirt with a
freshly pressed, upturned collar.
"Any callers?" he inquired of the boy.
"The barber is waiting," said the boy. "And there are two dons sitting
in the drawing room, Don Tameo and Don Sera. They had me bring them some
wine and are quarreling violently. They are waiting to have breakfast with
"Go and get the barber. Tell the noble dons that I'll join them very
soon. But don't be rude to them, do you hear me? You must always remain
Breakfast was not very opulent and left room for an early lunch. A
strongly spiced roast was served along with dogs' ears, marinated in
vinegar. They drank Irukanian sparkling wine, the viscous, brown Estorian
and the white Soanian. While he skillfully dissected a leg of lamb with the
aid of two daggers, Don Tameo complained about the overbearing temerity of
the lower classes. "I will lodge a complaint at the highest instance," he
declared. "The nobility demands that the plebs, the peasants, and the
artisans be forbidden to show their faces in public places and in the
street. Let them use the courtyards and back entrances. In those instances
where the appearance of a peasant cannot be avoided--for example, when they
deliver bread, meat, or wine--they should obtain a special permit from the
Ministry for the Protection of the Crown.'"
"What a clever brain!" Don Sera spoke with enthusiasm and sprayed the
area before him liberally with saliva and juice from the meat. "But last
night at the Court . . ." And he related the latest gossip. Don Reba's
current flame. Lady in waiting Okana, had been careless enough to step on
the king's sore foot. His Highness flew into a rage and turned to Don Reba,
ordering him to mete out an exemplary punishment to the evildoer. Whereupon
Don Reba, without even so much as batting an eyelid, replied; "It will be
carried out, Your Highness. This very night!"
"I laughed so hard that two buttons popped off my waistcoat!" remarked
Don Sera, cocking his head to one side.
Protoplasm, though Rumata. Nothing but ingesting and digesting and
"Indeed, noble dons," he said. "Don Reba is truly a very, very clever
"Ho, Ho!" said Don Sera. "Much more--he is an intellectual luminary!"
"An outstanding statesman," said Don Tameo emphatically, with a knowing
"Yes it's really very strange," Don Rumata continued with a friendly
smile, "when you remember the kind of things people would tell about him
hardly a year ago. Do you recall, Don Tameo, how wittily you expressed
yourself on the subject of his bow legs?"
Don Tameo's drink almost went down the wrong way as he quickly
swallowed a little glass of Irukanian wine.
"I can't remember a thing," he grumbled. "And besides I am not known as
"Oh surely you must remember," said Don Sera and reproachfully wagged
"Yes, indeed!" shouted Don Rumata. "You were present at the
conversation, Don Sera! I remember so well how you laughed at Don Tameo's
witty ideas. You laughed so hard that something popped off the clothes you
Don Sera turned red and blue in the face and started to justify his
remarks with long-winded and distorted explanations. He was lying in his
teeth, of course. Don Tameo's face had grown somber. He made a long face. He
devoted himself wholeheartedly to the strong Estorian wine, and since he
had--according to his own words--"begun two mornings ago, and had not been
able to desist till now," he had to be supported from either side when they
It was a sunny, friendly day. The common people stood around in the
streets and gaped as if there were something to look at; little boys
whistled and screamed, throwing mud at each other; prettily bedecked
housewives with bonnets on their heads leaned out of the windows; daring
servant girls flashed their shy glances from moist eyes. Don Sera's mood
began to improve. He tripped a peasant and almost split his sides to see how
the man wallowed in the mud. Don Tameo suddenly noticed that he had put on
his fez with the double sword ornament back to front. He yelled: "Stop! Stay
put!" and raised his fez, held it up steady, while he tried to turn his body
180 degrees underneath the fez. Another item popped off Don Sera's
waistcoat. Rumata seized a pretty servant girl passing by the group, tugged
at her pink ear and begged her to put Don Tameo's headgear in order. A crowd
of onlookers quickly gathered around the three noble dons, all eagerly
dispensing advice to the girl whose face was as red as a beet--and Don's
Sera's waistcoat kept losing a steady stream of buttons, buckles, and hooks.
When finally they were on their way again, Don Tameo summoned up his courage
and on the spot drew up an addenda to his complaint wherein he pointed out
how necessary it was "To keep pretty persons of the female gender at a
proper distance from peasants and the common people."
And then a cart loaded with earthenware pots blocked their path. Don
Sera unsheathed both his swords and stated that it was not fit and proper
for the noble dons to make a detour around pots of any kind and declared his
determination to pave his way straight through the cart. But while he was
still busy trying to aim properly and distinguish where the wall of the
house ended and where the pots began, Rumata grasped the spokes of two
wheels and turned the cart around, and thus cleared the road. The gaping
crowd, who had followed the incident with delight, began to cheer: Hip, hip,
hooray! The noble dons were about to continue on their way when from a
second-storey window a fat merchant's gray-blue head popped out, loudly
giving forth with a tirade concerning the rudeness of the courtiers against
whom "Our Enlightened Eagle, Don Reba, would soon find some proper remedy."
Of course they had to stop on the spot once more and transfer the entire
load of pots into the merchant's window. Rumata saved the last pot, threw
two gold pieces with the profile of Pitz the Sixth inside into the vessel
and presented it to the petrified owner of the wagon.
"How much did you give him?" asked Don Tameo as they started out again.
"Oh, it's not worth mentioning," answered Rumata, shrugging his
shoulders. 'Two pieces of gold."
"I swear by the humpback of our Holy Mickey!" broke from Don Tameo's
lips. "You do have money! If you want, I'll sell you my Chamalharian
"I'd rather win that stallion from you in a game of knucklebones," said
"Splendid!" shouted Don Sera and stopped in his tracks. "Let's have a
game of knucklebones!"
"Right here?" asked Rumata.
"Why not?" asked Don Sera. "I see no reason why three noble dons can't
play a game of knucklebones wherever it pleases them!"
Suddenly Don Tameo stumbled and sprawled full length in the mud. Don
Sera's legs, too, suddenly became entangled and he fell down.
"Oh, I completely forgot," he said. "We're supposed to be on guard duty
Rumata dragged the two to their feet and led each by the arm along the
way. Before the giant dark house of Don Satarina he came to a halt
"We ought to pay a visit to the old don," he suggested.
"Sure, can't see any reason why three noble dons shouldn't call on Don
Satarina," said Don Sera.
Don Tameo opened his eyes.
"In the king's Service," he managed the words painfully, "we must all
look ahead to the future. D-d-d-on Satarina-- that's a piece of the past
already. Onward, noble dons! I must get to my guard post."
"Onward!" echoed Don Rumata.
Don Tameo's head dropped forward to rest on his chest; he did not wake
up a second time. Don Sera cracked his knuckles and began to tell stories
about his ever-successful amorous adventures. They arrived at the palace and
went to the guardroom where Rumata, very relieved, laid Don Tameo on a
bench. Don Sera, however, took a seat at the table, grandly swept aside a
pile of orders signed by the king, and declared that the time had finally
come to drink a glass of cold Irukanian wine. The landlord ought to roll out
a little barrel, he stated, and these old women (he pointed to the officers
of the guard on duty who were playing cards at another table) should join
them for a drink. The commander of the guard, a lieutenant of the guard
troop, came over. He eyed Don Tameo and Don Sera from top to toe. And after
Don Sera had directed an inquiry to him--"Why are all the flowers fading
away in the shelter of my solitude?"--he decided it would not make any sense
to send them to their sentry post in the present condition; they'd be better
off to lie there for a while.
Rumata won a gold piece from the lieutenant and talked with him about
the new ribbons on their uniforms and the best method of polishing a sword.
He mentioned a short time later that he hoped to visit Don Satarina, who was
known to possess some fine grinding stones, and seemed visibly upset to
learn that the honorable grandee apparently had now lost his mind for good.
One month earlier he was said to have released all his prisoners, had
dissolved his bodyguard and handed over to the state his rich arsenal of
instruments of torture. At the age of 102 years, the old man declared, it
was his intention from now on to devote the rest of his life to good deeds.
He'd probably not be long for this world now.
Taking his leave of the lieutenant, Rumata left the palace and ambled
over in the direction of the harbor. He had to walk around puddles and jump
over deep wheel ruts filled with greenish-brown water. Without further ado,
he pushed the loitering onlookers out of his path, winked at the girls (who
seemed greatly impressed by his outfit), bowed deeply to the ladies who were
being carried down the street in sedan chairs, waved friendly greetings to
his acquaintances from the court and deliberately ignored the Gray
Next, Rumata made a little detour to look in at the School of Patriots.
This school had been founded two years previously under the protection of
Don Reba himself for the purpose of training the adolescent sons of
merchants and the lower middle class for positions as low-ranking military
and administrative officials. The building was constructed of stone, without
any columns or ornaments; it had thick walls with narrow, embrasurelike
windows; on either side of the main entrance were two semicircular towers.
If necessary, one could defend oneself there for quite a while.
Rumata climbed up a narrow circular staircase leading to the second
floor, his spurs clanking on the stone floor. On his way to the office of
the school's procurator he passed by the classrooms. A monotonous, uniform
hum of voices came from the rooms; answers were given in unison. "What is
our king?"--"A sublime person." "What are our ministers?"-- "Faithful and
without the spirit of contradiction." "And God, the Creator, spoke: 'I
pronounce a curse.' And He pronounced a curse . . ." ". . . and at the sound
of the horn blowing twice, run two by two and form a chain, holding your
spears ready to thrust ...""... in case the tortured should lose
consciousness, the torturing must be interrupted immediately..."
The school, thought Rumata. The breeding ground of wisdom. The mainstay
of culture ...
Without knocking, he pushed open the low entrance door and entered the
office; it was dark and icy as a crypt. Behind an immensely massive writing
desk, heaped with papers and thrashing canes, a tall, angular man jumped to
his feet. A pair of deep-seated eyes peered from his bald head, and on his
tightly braided gray uniform could be seen the epaulets of the Ministry of
Security. He was the procurator of the School of Patriots, the most learned
Father Kin, a sadist, a murderer, and a monk at the same time, author of the
Treatise Dealing with Denunciations, which had aroused Don Reba's interest
"Well, how are you faring here?" asked Don Rumata with a benevolent
smile. 'The literate folk . . . Some we slaughter and others we teach, eh?"
Father Kin smiled wryly.
"Not every literate man is an enemy of the crown," he said. "The king's
enemies are the literate dreamers, skeptics, and disloyal dissidents!
Whereas our task here--"
"All right, all right," said Rumata. "I believe you. Are you writing
anything new? I have read your treatise--a very useful work, but stupid. How
can you harbor such thoughts? How do you get such ideas? That isn't very
good, my dear ... procurator, is it... ?"
"I make no boastful claims of special intelligence or wisdom," answered
Father Kin with dignity. "My only goal is the good of the state. We need no
clever people. We need loyalty. And we--"
"That will do, that will do," said Rumata. "All right then. But are you
writing anything new or not?"
"In the near future I will hand the minister an outline of the New
State for his perusal. I have used the Realm of the Holy Order as a model
"The very ideal" Rumata was filled with wonder. "Do you intend to make
monks of all of us?"
Father Kin pressed his palms together and leaned forward.
"Permit me, noble don, to make myself clear," he said excitedly,
licking his lips. "The crux of the matter lies somewhere else. The crux of
the matter lies in the basic pillars of the New State. And the basic pillars
are rather simple; there are but three: blind belief in the infallibility of
the law; total submission to the law; and finally, the unrelenting
observation of everyone by all."
"Hum," said Rumata. "And what for?"
"What do you mean, what for?"
"You are stupid after all," said Rumata. "All right, I believe you. I
wanted something else. What was it now? . . . Oh, yes. Tomorrow you'll get
two new teachers to add to your staff. Father Tarra, a venerable old man, is
dabbling in --cosmography; and Brother Nanin, also a most worthy man,
specialist in history. They are my people, and you are to treat them right!
Here is my pledge." He threw a money pouch of leather on the table. "That's
for you, five gold pieces. All clear?"
"Yes, noble don," said Father Kin humbly.
Rumata yawned and looked around.
"Just as long as we understand each other," he said. "For some reason
my father used to love these people very dearly, and charged me with the
task of making their lives as pleasant as possible. Would you do me a favor
and explain, you learned man, why such a most noble don would be so inclined
toward the sciences?"
"Some special merits perhaps?" guessed Father Kin.
"What are you babbling about?" asked Rumata angrily. "But then again,
why not? Indeed, why not? There might be a beautiful daughter, or a sister .
. . Don't you have any wine here? Of course not--"
Father Kin shrugged his shoulders guiltily. Rumata took one of the
papers that cluttered the writing desk and held it against the light for a
"Defensive belt breakthrough," he read out loud. "Oh, you crafty
He dropped the paper on the floor and rose to his feet "Just make sure
that your educated brood doesn't bother these two. Ill come to visit them
some time soon, and if I hear that--" He pushed his fist under Father Kin's
"All right, all right, don't worry." Father Kin snickered obsequiously.
Rumata nodded curtly and walked out the door, scraping his spurs along
On the Boulevard of Overwhelming Gratitude, he went into an armorer's
workshop and bought new rings for his sword sheath. He tried out a few
daggers, hurled them against the wall, weighed them in his hand, but could
not decide on any of them. Then he sat down on a table and chatted with the
owner of the place, a certain Father Hauk. Father Hauk had kind, sad eyes,
and small pale hands, stained with inkspots. Rumata discussed with him for a
while the merits of Zuren's poetry, listened to an interesting commentary on
the poem. "It weighs upon my soul like fallen leaves," and asked for
something new to read. Before leaving, he sighed with the author over the
inexpressibly sad verses and recited "To be or not to be" in an Irukanian
"Holy Mickey!" Father Hauk cried out exuberantly. "Who writes such
"I do," said Rumata and left the store.
He made his way to the Gray Joy Inn, drank there a glass of Irukanian
white wine, patted the innkeeper's wife on the cheek, skillfully overthrew
with one thrust of his sword a table where a government spy sat staring at
him with empty eyes. Then he walked to a far comer of the inn and found
there a ragged, bearded man, who had an inkwell suspended around his neck.
"Good day, Brother Nanin," he greeted the man. "How many petitions have
you written today?"
Brother Nanin's embarrassed smile displayed his small decayed teeth.
"Nowadays people want to write very few petitions, noble don," he
answered. "Some believe that it is useless to beg for favors. And others
count on the likelihood that they will get what they want soon anyhow,
without having to ask for it."
Rumata bent over and whispered in his ear that he had arranged the
matter with the School of Patriots.
"Here are two pieces of gold for you," he said finally. "Clean up and
put on some decent clothes. And weigh your words. At least for the first few
days. Father Kin, the procurator, is a dangerous man." .
"I'll read him my treatise about rumors," said Brother Nanin merrily.
"I thank you, noble don."
"The things one does in memory of a dear departed father," said Rumata.
"But, tell me, where can I find Father Tarra?"
Brother Nanin's smile vanished suddenly and a nervous tick played
around his mouth.
'There was a brawl here yesterday," he said. "And Father Tarra had a
bit too much to drink and got somewhat out of hand. And, then, you know, he
has red hair . . . They broke his ribs."
"What a mess!" Rumata said. "Why do you all drink so much?"
"Sometimes it's hard to control oneself," said Brother Nanin sadly.
"That's very true," said Rumata. "Well, here's a few more gold pieces,
and try to take care of him, will you?"
Brother Nanin bowed low and wanted to kiss Rumata's hand but Rumata
stepped back quickly.
"Now, now," he said. "I have seen you make better jokes in your time,
Brother Nanin. Farewell!"
The harbor smelled like no other spot in Arkanar. It smelled of
seawater and foul algae, of spices, tar, smoke, and rotten corned beef, and
from the taverns came a nauseating odor of boiled fish and home brewed beer
turned sour. The sultry air was filled with a jumble of curses in many
tongues. On the piers, in the narrow lanes between the warehouses and around
the taverns, thousands of people shoved and pushed. They caught the eye.
Down-and-out seamen, bloated merchants, fishermen with somber faces, slave
traders, pimps, heavily made-up whores, drunken soldiers, men impossible to
classify, hung with arms from head to toe, and fantastic vagabonds in torn
clothes with golden bracelets around their dirty wrists. And all were
excited and ill-tempered. Don Reba had issued an edict three days before,
forbidding any ship or boat to leave the harbor.
The Gray Sturmoviks lounged on the quays, playing with their rusty
butcher cleavers. They spat into the water and bestowed impertinent and
malicious glances on the crowd. On some of the ships that were moored near
the quays, groups of five or six men huddled, brawny, copper-skinned men
clad in heavy furs turned inside out. These were the barbarian mercenaries.
They were no good in a fight at close range, but when they were at a
distance (as they were now) they were very dangerous with their blowpipes
and poisoned arrows. In the distance loomed the black masts of the war
galleys of the royal fleet, like threatening fingers pointing skywards. From
time to time, streams of fire issued from them and landed on the surface of
the water toward the quays: the oil slicks were ignited in this way in order
to intimidate the waiting crowd.
Rumata passed the customs shed where the ship captains were waiting in
front of closed doors in vain, trying to obtain their permit to depart. He
thrust through the noisy crowd that was busy at bartering and trading with
anything at hand: from slave girls and black pearls to narcotics and trained
spiders. He continued on to the quays, threw a swift glance over to the side
where corpses in sailors' uniforms were publicly displayed. The dead bodies
had already swelled up under the hot sun. He described a wide circle around
a square which was littered with all kinds of junk and garbage, and finally
entered an evil-smelling little side street. It was much quieter here.
Half-naked prostitutes were sprawled in the doorways of cheap waterfront
dives; at a street crossing a soldier lay, dead drunk, his nose bashed in
and his pockets tamed inside out: suspicious figures with pale nocturnal
faces crept along the walls of the houses.
This was the first time that Rumata had come here during the day. At
first he was surprised at the lack of reaction to his presence. The people
he encountered either looked past him with their watery eyes or saw straight
through him. Still, they stepped aside to let him pass. Once when he tamed
around a comer and then swiftly looked back, he saw some twenty various
heads--male and female, bushy-haired and bald--disappear instantly behind
doorways, windows, and fences. Suddenly he felt the strange atmosphere of
this nauseating neighborhood, an atmosphere filled not so much with
hostility or danger as with an evil, avaricious interest.
He pushed a door open with his shoulder and entered one of the taverns.
Inside the darkened room a man dozed behind the bar. He was very old, with a
face like a mummy and an extraordinarily long nose. There were no patrons in
the room. Rumata approached the bar and was just about to flip his fingers
against the enormous nose of the old man when all of a sudden he became
aware that the old man was not really asleep, but was watching him carefully
from behind his almost closed eyelids. Rumata threw a silver coin on the
table and the old man's eyes jerked open as if pushed by a button.
"What would you like, noble don?" he inquired officiously. "Something
to eat? To sniff? Or maybe a girl?"
"Don't ask such stupid questions," said Rumata. "You know quite well
what I'm here for."
"Well! Now isn't that the noble Don Rumata!" shouted the old man as if
completely taken by surprise. "There I am, just sitting there--and suddenly
I see a familiar face--"
After this long speech, the old man closed his eyes again. Rumata got
the message: the coast was clear. He walked around the bar and crawled
through a tiny door into the adjoining room. It was very crowded and dark
inside and the room was filled with a penetrating odor of sour beer. In the
middle of the room, standing behind a high desk, was an elderly man. His
deeply wrinkled face was bent over a pile of papers. His head was covered by
a flat black cap. A weak oil lamp flickered on the high desk and its pale
light barely illuminated the faces of the men sitting motionless along the
wall. Rumata used his two swords like canes and groped for a low chair near
the wall. He sat down. Special laws and a special etiquette ruled here. None
of those present paid the slightest bit of attention to the newcomer. If
somebody entered, then that was the way it was supposed to be; but in case
it was not the way it was supposed to be, then you blinked just once and
that person disappeared. You could search the wide world over and never find
a trace of him . . . The pucker-faced old man busily scratched his pen over
the paper; the people along the wall did not budge. From time to time one of
them would sigh deeply. Up and down the walls scurried invisible
salamanders, hunting for flies.
The motionless men along the wall were the leaders of robber bands.
Rumata had known some of them by sight for quite a while now. These dull
brutes were not worth anything, actually. Their psyches were no more
complicated than that of the average shopkeeper. They were stupid, brutal,
and very handy with .knives and cudgels. But then there was the man at the
He was called Waga Koleso, and he was all-powerful; there was no
competitor who would have contested his position as chief of all the
criminal forces in the land, from the Pitanian swamps in the Western regions
of Irukan to the maritime borders of the mercantile republic of Soan. He had
been cursed and expelled from all three official churches of the empire
because of his excessive haughtiness, for he claimed to be the younger
brother of the ruling prince. He had at his disposal a standing nocturnal
army, some ten thousand men strong; had a few hundred thousand gold pieces
in his treasure chests; and his agents penetrated as far as the very heart
of the government machine. He had been officially executed at least four
times during the past twenty years, each time in the presence of a large
populace. According to an official version he was currently languishing
simultaneously in three of the darkest jails of the realm. Don Reba,
however, had repeatedly issued commands "regarding the rebellious spreading
of rumors and legends by enemies of the State and other malevolent persons
regarding a certain so-called Waga Koleso, who in actuality does not exist
and thus belongs to the realm of legends."
According to certain rumors, the same Don Reba summoned several barons,
who disposed of strong troops of warriors, and promised the following
reward: five hundred gold pieces for Waga's body and seven thousand for Waga
alive. In his time, Rumata himself had had to spend a great deal of effort
and money in order to establish contact with Koleso. He felt violently
repelled by the old man but Koleso was occasionally very useful, even
literally indispensable. Besides, Waga was of scientific interest to him,
namely as a most intriguing specimen in Rumata's collection of medieval
monsters, and as a person who apparently lacked any trace of a past.
Finally, Waga put his quill aside, straightened up his back and said
with a croaking voice:
"Well, then, my dear children. Two and a half thousand pieces of gold
within three days. And expenses run only 1996. Five hundred and four little
round pieces of gold in three days. Not bad, my dear children, not bad at
Nobody moved. Waga .left his place behind the high desk, took a seat in
a comer and forcefully rubbed his dry palms together.
"Isn't that something to make you jump for joy, my dear children?" he
said. "These are good times for us, these fruitful years . . . But we must
work hard for our daily bread. Indeed, how hard! My older brother, the king
of Arkanar, has set his mind on annihilating all learned men in his own
kingdom as well as in mine. Well, he in his wisdom ought to know what should
be done. After all, who are we to doubt the wisdom of his judgment? It does
not behoove us to criticize his most exalted decisions. On the other hand,
we may--nay, we must--extract some profit from these decisions. And since we
are his loyal subjects, we must serve him. As we are but his nocturnal
subjects we will not deliver into his hands our modest part of these profits
without further ado. He, of course, won't notice it, and therefore he will
not be annoyed at us. What is the matter?"
"I had the impression that Piga was sighing over there. Am I right,
Piga, my son?"
There was a slight commotion, somebody fidgeting in his seat,
apparently, as nothing could be seen in the darkened room. A slight cough
came from a comer.
"I didn't sigh, Waga," said a coarse voice. "I wouldn't.. ."
"That's it, Piga, just keep quiet! Excellent! Now hold your breath and
listen to me carefully! Look sharp and set to work and nobody will bother
you at your difficult task. My older brother, His Royal Highness, has let it
be known through his mouthpiece, the noble Don Reba, that he has set a
rather considerable sum of money on the heads of several learned men who are
in hiding or who wish to flee from here. We must deliver these heads into
his royal hands, just to humor the old man. On the other hand, though, some
of these scientists want to hide from my older brother's wrath, and are
willing to remunerate whoever will assist them in it. Out of compassion, in
the name of pity, and also to guard my brother's soul from the burden of
excessive misdeeds, we will help these people. And if later on His Royal
Highness should still be in need of these heads, he can still get them from
us. At a good price. Very cheap ..."
Waga fell silent and lowered his head. Tears were trickling down his
cheeks all of a sudden--the slow tears of an old man.
"I am getting old," he sighed, trying vainly to stifle a sob. "My hands
are trembling with age, my legs fail me and my memory begins to fade.
Indeed, I forgot completely that inside this tiny, stifling cage a noble don
is languishing in our midst--surely he does not care to hear about our petty
money deals. I am leaving you, I will rest. But meanwhile, my children, let
us ask the noble don to be gracious enough to forgive our oversight . . ."
Moaning and groaning he rose to his feet, arched over to make a bow. The
rest of the men also got to their feet and bowed before Rumata, but
indecision and fear showed plainly in their faces. Rumata could literally
hear their dull, primitive brains crackling with the strain of trying to
interpret the old man's words and gestures.
Things were perfectly clear, however. The clever old man would seize
the opportunity at the right moment to inform Don Reba of his intention that
he and his nocturnal army would join the Gray hordes in the pogrom they had
just started. Now, however, the time for concrete orders had come, when
lists of names were to be handed out and the exact date and hour were to be
determined when the plans would be carried out. At this point Don Rumata's
presence was, to put it mildly, considered undesirable. This way it was
suggested to the noble don to state quickly the purpose of his visit and
then to take his leave as fast as possible. What a morose old man! A nasty
person! What was he doing here in town? Waga couldn't stand city life.
"You are right, my dear Waga," said Rumata. "My time is limited. But it
is I who must beg your pardon because I will bother you with some
inconsequential little business." Rumata remained seated while all the
others listened to him standing up.
"It has come about that I am in need of your advice . .. You may sit
Waga bowed once more and sat down.
"This is what I came to tell you," continued Rumata. "Three days ago I
was supposed to meet my friend, a noble don from Irukan, at the Square of
the Heavy Swords. We failed to meet. He has vanished. But I knew for certain
that he has crossed safely the Irukanian border. Perhaps you might know
something further about his fate?"
Waga did not reply for a long time. The bandits kept clearing their
throats and sighed deeply. Then Waga, too, cleared his throat.
"No, noble don," he said. "Nothing is known to us in this matter."
Rumata instantly stood up.
"Thank you, my friend," he said. Then he walked over to the high desk
in the middle of the room and set down a leather pouch with ten gold pieces.
"I'm leaving this here with you with the following request: Should you hear
of any further news, let me know about it, please." He touched his cap.
He stopped once more, just before he reached the door, turned around
and remarked casually:
"You mentioned something about learned men. A thought just occurred to
me. I have the feeling that the King of Arkanar won't succeed in capturing
any proper bookworms even if he should try for a whole month. And I must
found a university in the capital city. I once made such a vow when I was
cured there from the plague. So if you should seize any bookworms, will you
let me know before you inform Don Reba. Maybe I might use one or the other
for my university."
"That will cost you dearly," warned Waga with a mawkish voice. "The
merchandise is hard to come by."
"But my honor is dearer still," bragged Rumata as he turned to go.
It would be most interesting, thought Rumata, to capture this Waga and
bring him to Terra. Technically not difficult at all. Easy to arrange. But
what would he do on Earth? Rumata tried to imagine what Waga would do on
Earth. Throw a giant shaggy spider into a bright room with shining walls and
air conditioning pervaded with pine scent or ocean breezes - and the spider
flattens itself against the shiny floor, jerks its wicked, feverishly
contorted eyes to and fro and--what else can he do?--crawls sideways, always
sideways into the farthest little comer, doubles up into a ball and
threateningly bares its poisonous mandibles. First and foremost, Waga would
seek out the company of the dissatisfied and the social outcasts. And just
as certain would it turn out, that even the most stupid grumbler of Earth
would still be too pure and unsuitable for Waga's purposes. The old man
would simply deteriorate. Maybe even expire. But who really knew what he was
like? That is the whole difficulty in such an affair. The psyche of these
monsters resembles a dark forest. Holy Mickey! To find your way through it
is far more complicated than in nonhumanoid civilizations. It's possible to
explain all their actions but hellishly difficult to prognosticate them.
Yes, there was definitely a possibility that Waga might die of grief.
Perhaps, though, he might look around, get adjusted somehow, quickly
understand what belongs where, and then sojourn in some wildlife reserve as
a sylvan spirit. It's most unlikely that he wouldn't have some small,
insignificant passion, some interest which is only in his way here, but that
on Earth might become the center of his existence. I believe he is fond of
cats. They say he has a whole barrage of them somewhere in Hiccup Forest,
and a servant who does nothing but take care of them. And Waga even pays
that man, despite his reputation of being an old miser, and despite the fact
that he could simply string along the caretaker with promises and threats.
But I can't imagine what he would do on Earth with his tremendous lust for
Rumata stopped before a tavern. He was about to enter when he noticed
that one of his money pouches was missing. He stood at the entrance door,
totally perplexed--he could not get used to such things for the life of him,
although this was not the first time that it happened. He searched and
rummaged through his pockets for the longest time. All told he had brought
along three pouches with ten gold coins in each. One he had given Father
Kin, the procurator, the second to Waga. The third pouch had disappeared.
His pockets were empty. From his left trouser leg all gold clasps had been
carefully cut away and his dagger had been removed from his belt.
Suddenly he saw two Sturmoviki a little way off who were staring at
him, grinning and sneering. As far as the collaborator and member of the
Institute of Experimental History was concerned, they could simply go to
Hell--but the noble don flew into a rage. For a moment he lost control. He
walked over to the two Gray Soldiers and raised his hand, which somehow
clenched into a fist of its own accord. Evidently some terrible change had
also come over his face, for the sneering soldiers were gripped by sheer
terror, their mocking faces suddenly frozen, and they fled inside the
tavern. Rumata was frightened. Only once before had he ever felt so
horrible: the time when (as a standby cosmonaut) he had been seized by the
first symptoms of malaria. Nobody could understand how the malady had
appeared so suddenly, and two hours later he had been cured, and sent off
with some good words and a few jokes. But he had never been able to forget
the shock, the shock that he --who had never been sick before in his
life--had felt at the notion that something was disintegrating inside his
body, the realization that he was gradually diminishing and was somehow
threatened with loss of control over his body.
I didn't want to do it, he thought now. It would never have crossed my
mind. They didn't even do anything in particular, after all ... They were
just standing there, grinning, baring their teeth ... It was a stupid grin,
I admit, but I must have looked quite idiotic myself, rummaging through my
pockets like that. And I almost tore them to pieces, he suddenly realized.
If they hadn't run inside I would have killed them! He remembered the bet he
had recently made, how he had taken a dummy clad in a double Soanian suit of
armor and split it from head to toe with his sword--cold shivers ran down
his back at the thought. They might now be lying here in a pool of their own
blood, like stuck pigs, and he would be standing here, sword in hand, not
knowing what to do ... A fine god you are! You've become a beast ...
Suddenly all his muscles ached as if he had been doing heavy physical labor.
Come on, come on, he told himself. It wasn't so horrible after all. It's all
over now. Just an instant flash. Like a bolt of lightning and it's all gone.
I am a human being, in spite of everything, so there must be animal in me as
well. It's only nerves. Nerves and the tension of the past few days. The
worst thing, though, is the sensation of an approaching shadow. You can't
tell whose shadow it is or where it comes from but it keeps creeping closer
and closer and can't be stopped . . .
This feeling of inevitability pervaded everything. It could be felt in
the fact that the Sturmoviks, who until recently had huddled like cowards
inside their barracks, now paraded brazenly in the middle of the roads,
where hitherto only the noble dons had been permitted. And in the fact that
the streetsingers had vanished from the city, the storytellers, the dancers,
the acrobats. And in the fact that the citizens no longer sang songs with
political themes, had become very serious, and could suddenly predict with
utter certainty what would benefit the state. And in the fact that the
harbor had suddenly been closed without any explanation. And in the fact
that "indignant crowds" had been seen destroying all the old curiosity
shops, the only places in the kingdom where it was still possible to buy or
borrow books and manuscripts in all the languages of the country, even in
the now dead languages of the natives beyond the bay. And in the fact that
the landmark of the city, the shining tower of the observatory, loomed
against the sky like a blackened, decayed tooth: it had been burned down by
a "careless conflagration." And in the fact that the consumption of alcohol
had increased fourfold during the past two years--in Arkanar of all places,
that had been notorious for its heavy drinkers from days of old. And in the
fact that the flogged and frightened peasants buried themselves in the
cellars of their filthy little nests and could not bring themselves to
emerge even to deal with the most urgent field chores. And finally in the
fact that the old buzzard Waga Koleso had transferred his headquarters to
the city (evidently he must have gotten wind of some worthwhile spoils).
Somewhere in the interior of the palace, in the luxurious apartments,
where the gout-ridden king resided, the king who had not seen the light of
the sun for the past twenty years for fear of anything that moved outside in
the world; the son of his own grandfather; the imbecile king who would sign
one terrible edict after the other, sending the most honorable and selfless
people to a cruel death--somewhere inside there ripened a tremendous abscess
that threatened to burst any moment now...
Rumata stumbled over the remains of a squashed melon and raised his
head. He was on the Boulevard of Overwhelming Gratitude, the neighborhood
where the better merchants had their stores, the moneylenders and the
jewelers. The street was lined with solid old houses, the sidewalks were
wide and the road was paved with granite. Usually one would find here the
noble dons and the moneyed aristocracy of the town but now a dense crowd of
simple folk poured toward him. They made a wide and cautious detour around
Rumata. Some gaped at him with curiosity; many, though, bowed deeply before
him, just to make sure. Fat shiny faces glowed from the upper-storey windows
like little light towers, excited and paralyzed with curiosity. Somewhere,
farther on ahead, imperious voices could be heard: "Hey, there, move on!
Disperse! Hurry up, will you? Move it on!" Comments came from the crowd:
"They've got the devil on their backs, got to watch out for those,
they're the worst kind. Look like ordinary, quiet, moral people. Like honest
folk. Just like any other merchant. But just look a bit closer--there's
poison inside them, .. bitter poison..."
"He had it coming, the devil ... I'm used to quite a lot, but my eyes
are still smarting from that..."
"Put a fire under them! Yes, that does my heart good. We can count on
"Wasn't that a little too cruel? After all, he is a human being, a
creature of flesh and blood . . . When someone sins, well, you should punish
him, set his mind right, but why--"
"Cut out that nonsense! And please keep your voice down, my friend. You
aren't alone here, remember that, will you? People are listening ..."
"My dear sir! It's marvelous material, a good piece of cloth. Take
advantage of it now, before the price goes up again . . . Take advantage of
it, before Pakin's agents snatch up everything again ..."
"Above all, my son, don't doubt! Simply believe, that's the most
important thing. Once the authorities step in, you can be sure that they
know what they are doing..."
They've done it again. Cruelly beaten some poor soul. Rumata wished he
could turn around, make a wide detour around this spot, from the oncoming
crowd and the shouts of "Get a move on! Disperse!" But he did not turn back.
Instead, he smoothed back his hair to uncover the stone in the golden
circlet around his forehead. In fact, it was not a stone, but the lens of a
television camera, and the circlet was not an ornament but a transmitter.
The historians back on Earth could see and hear everything that the two
hundred fifty scouting emissaries saw and heard on the nine continents of
this planet. And the emissaries were obligated to look and to listen.
He made his chin jut out, spread the two swords apart on each side of
his body, in order to push as many people out of his way as he could, and
marched directly toward the middle of the road. The idle onlookers quickly
jumped aside to let him pass. Four thick-lipped porters, their mouths
heavily painted, were carrying past a silvery sedan chair. From behind the
curtains peered a beautiful, cold face with half-closed eyes. Rumata took
off his hat with a flourish and made a bow. It was Dona Okana, the current
favorite of the Enlightened Eagle, Don Reba. Upon catching sight of the most
noble cavalier, she smiled at him, yearning and promise in her eyes. One
could have ticked off the names of at least two dozen noble dons who would
have given a great deal for that smile. Such a smile was a rare thing these
days and could not be bought with gold. Rumata paused for a moment and let
his glance follow the sedan chair. I must come to a decision, he thought. I
must finally make up my mind . . . He shuddered at the thought of what this
would involve. But it had to be! I must . . . My mind is made up now,
besides I have no choice, there is no other way. Tonight. He passed by the
armorer's workshop where he had tried out the daggers and listened to poetry
earlier in the day. He stopped. So that's what it was. It was your turn this
time, my dear Father Hauk ...
The crowd had already begun to thin out. The door of the shop had been
torn off its hinges, the windows smashed. A bully of a Gray Sturmovik leaned
in the entrance, his, feet crossed. Another Sturmovik squatted near the
wall. The wind blew some torn papers with writing across the street. The
Sturmovik bully stuck his finger in his mouth and sucked at it for a while,
pulled it out again and examined it carefully. The finger was bleeding. The
Sturmovik caught Rumata's glance and said in a complacent, raucous voice:
'That beast bit like a polecat."
The second Sturmovik chuckled, full of zeal. What a thin, pale youth,
still insecure, with pimples around his mouth. He was obviously: a
greenhorn, a beginner, a young monster, a wolf cub.
"What's going on here?" asked Rumata.
"They went after a secret bookworm," the wolf cub said nervously.
The bully stuck his finger back in his mouth, without changing his
"At-ten-tion!" commanded Rumata.
The young wolf cub jumped to his feet and took his ax, holding it the
proper way. The bully thought a while, but then he straightened out his feet
and stood more or less at attention.
"A bookworm? What kind? Who?" inquired Rumata.
"Who knows?" said the young one. "On orders of Father Zupik..."
"Well--did they catch him?"
"Sure. They got him all right."
"Splendid," said Rumata.
It wasn't too bad, after all. There was still time left. Nothing is
more important than time, he thought. One hour may cost a life, one day is
"And where did you take him to? To the Tower?"
"Huh?" asked the wolf cub in a totally absentminded voice.
"I'm asking you, is he in the Tower now?"
An uncertain smile spread over the pimply face. The bully laughed deep
in his belly. Rumata turned around quickly. Over there, on the other side of
the street, the body of Father Hauk swung from a crossbeam of a house door.
He hung limply like a bag filled with rags. A few neglected children stared
at him, their mouths wide open.
"Not everyone gets to go to the Tower nowadays," came the raucous voice
of the bully from behind his back. "We do quick work these days. Rope around
the neck--and fare-thee-well..."
The wolf cub started giggling again. Rumata glared at him with blind
eyes and then walked slowly across the street. The face of the sad poet was
black and unrecognizable. Rumata lowered his eyes. Only the poet's hands
looked familiar now, long, weak fingers, all covered with ink ...
No one walks out on life these days.
You're led out by the neck.
Did anyone ask for
Limp and awkward
his feeble hands will fall.
Who knows where the heart of the polyp is located
Or whether the polyp has a heart at all...
Rumata turned away and left. Good weak Father Hauk ... The polyp does
have a heart. And we know where it is. And that is the most horrible thing,
my silent, forsaken friend. We know its location, but we cannot destroy it
without shedding the blood of thousands of frightened, corrupt, uncritical,
blind people. And there are so many of them, so hopelessly many dismal,
desperate people, grown hard by constant work without proper recompense.
Debased human beings who are not yet capable of rising above the ideal of a
few copper pennies. And they cannot yet be taught, united, guided, and saved
from themselves. Too early, far too early, one century too early did the
Gray vermin rise in Arkanar; there is no resistance to meet it. So only one
thing remains to be done: save the few that can still be saved. Budach,
Tarra, Nanin, and another dozen or two at most. . .
But merely the thought that thousands of others, perhaps less gifted
but still honest and truly noble human beings, were condemned to perish,
evoked in Rumata a sensation of chill horror and a feeling of his own
baseness. Occasionally this feeling would overwhelm him to the point where
his conscious awareness grew dim; and then Rumata could visualize in bright
daylight rows upon rows of Gray soldiers, their backs turned to him,
illuminated by flashes of gunfire; and Don Reba's insignificant face being
eaten up alive by stinking flies; and the Tower of Joy slowly collapsing in
a rubble heap . . . Wouldn't that be a splendid, a marvelous feat.
Intervention in great style. But then later ... They were right back home in
the Institute. Then the inevitable will follow. Bloody chaos throughout the
country. Koleso's nocturnal troops will rise to the forefront, ten thousand
foul assassins, the rejects of society, the excommunicated, the child
molesters, the rapists, the dregs of the human race; hordes of
copper-skinned barbarians pour down from their mountain strongholds and
slaughter everyone, babes-in-arms and the old alike; immense crowds of
peasants, artisans and burghers, blinded with fear, take to the woods, flee
to the mountains, the desert; and your comrades-in-arms--those wonderful,
brave men!--will slit each other's bellies in a cruel struggle for power and
your machine gun, of course, after you have come to an inevitable, violent
end, your death . . . And this stupid, ugly death will rise to find you from
a goblet of wine some friend will offer you, or in an arrow shot from behind
a curtain. And then the stony face of your successor, who will be sent from
Earth as your replacement and who will find the land drenched with blood and
ravaged by fire--a land where everything, yes, everything must be started
all over again from the very beginning...
Rumata pushed open his house door, and entered the magnificent entrance
hall, which already had fallen in a state of disrepair. His face was as dark
as an approaching thunderstorm. Muga, the hunchback, his gray-haired servant
who had worked as a lackey for the past forty years, was frightened at this
sight He hunched his torso a bit more forward and drew his head still deeper
between his shoulders, as the furious young master tore off his hat, cape,
and gloves, hurled his swords on a bench, and quickly ascended to his room.
The boy Uno awaited him in the drawing room.
"Give orders to have my lunch served!" yelled Rumata. "In my study!"
The boy did not move from the spot.
"Somebody's waiting for you in there," he announced in a sulking voice.
"Some young woman. Perhaps a dona. Very charming, dressed like a noble
lady; she is beautiful."
Kyra, thought Rumata, relieved. His tension began to fade away. How
wonderful, how good of her to come right at this moment, sweet child . . .
He stood there, his eyes closed in order to regain his composure completely.
"Want me to chase her away?" asked the boy solicitously.
"Idiot," said Rumata. "I'll chase you away! Where is she?"
"In the study," answered the boy and smiled sheepishly.
"Lunch for two, Uno," Rumata said as he turned to go to the study. "And
no visitors! Not even the king--or the devil --or Don Reba himself! I won't
let anybody in."
He saw her as he entered the study. She was sitting in a big armchair,
her legs tucked under sideways, her head cupped in her little left hand,
while she absentmindedly leafed through the Treatise Concerning Rumors.
She saw Rumata come into the room and wanted to stand up. But he did
not give her enough time to do so, rushed over to her, embraced her, buried
his nose in her thick, fragrant hair and said softly: "You've come at the
right time, Kyra! How wonderful!"
There was really nothing very special about Kyra. A girl like many
others, eighteen years old, upturned nose. Her father an assistant clerk at
the courthouse, her brother a sergeant in the Gray Militia. She had few
admirers, since she had reddish-blond hair, and redheads were not much in
demand in Arkanar. This was probably the reason she was so surprisingly
quiet and shy: she had nothing in common with those loud, voluptuous women
who were the idols of rich and poor alike. Neither did she share any of the
characteristics of those languid ladies of the court, who were forced to
learn--far too soon, and for the rest of their lives--what a woman's role
was. Kyra was capable of true love, the way women on Earth would love--quiet
and without any reservations.
"Why have you been crying?"
"What has upset you so much?"
"No, tell me, why have you been crying?"
"I'll tell you in a moment. Your eyes look so tired. What has
"Later. Who insulted you?"
"Nobody insulted me. Just take me away from here! Please!"
"I promise I will."
"When will we leave?"
"I don't know, sweetheart. But we will go away, most assuredly."
"To the capital?"
"Yes... To the capital. To my home."
"Is it beautiful there?"
"Very beautiful. Nobody ever has to cry there."
"And what are the people like there?"
"Not all. There are many far better than myself."
"Why is it so easy to believe you? My father won't believe in anybody.
My brother says all men are pigs, filthy animals. But I don't believe them,
I have no confidence in what they are saying, but I always believe you."
"I love you..."
"Wait. . . Rumata .. . Take off your circlet--you said it was sinful--"
A happy smile came over Rumata's face. He removed the circlet from his
head, placed it on the table and covered it with a book.
"That is the eye of the God," he said. "Let it rest for a while."
He took her in his arms.
"It's really very sinful. But when I am with you, I don't need any god,
"Yes, you are right," she said softly.
When they finally sat down at the table, the roast was cold and the
wine from the cool cellar had become warm. Uno came into the room and walked
noiselessly along the wall--the way he had been trained by old Muga--and
began to light the candles in the candlesticks, although it was still day.
"Is that your slave?" asked Kyra.
"No, he is free. A splendid boy, only very stingy."
"Gold should stay in its place," said Uno without turning around.
"You probably still haven't bought any new sheets, have you?" asked
"Why should I?" said the boy. "The old ones are still good enough.
They'll do for quite a while."
"But I can't sleep on the same sheets for a whole month, Uno," remarked
"Eh!" said the boy. "His Royal Highness sleeps on the same sheets for
half a year, and he doesn't complain."
"And the candles?" said Rumata and winked at Kyra. "The candles in the
candlesticks? Did you get those for free?"
Uno paused for a moment.
"But you have a visitor," he said finally with emphasis.
"You see what he is like!" said Rumata.
"He is a good person!" Kyra was serious. "He's fond of you. Let's take
him along with us."
"We'll see about that," said Rumata.
The boy frowned with suspicion and said:
"Where are we supposed to go? I won't leave."
"We'll go to a place where all men are like Rumata."
The boy pondered for a while, then said, full of contempt:
"To paradise, eh, like nobility?"
Then he snorted like a horse and shuffled out of the study.
Kyra followed him with her eyes.
"A fine boy," she said. "Grouchy as a bear cub. But you have a real
friend in him."
"All my friends are good people."
"Baron Pampa, too?"
"Where do you know him from?" wondered Rumata.
"You talk about no one else. All I hear from you is Baron Pampa this,
Baron Pampa that."
"Baron Pampa is a valuable comrade."
"What do you mean: the Baron--a comrade?"
"I meant to say, he is a good fellow. Very kind and cheerful. And he
dearly loves his wife, more than anything."
"I'd like to meet him ... or do you have second thoughts about me?"
"N-n-n-o. But even if he is a good fellow, he's still a baron."
Rumata pushed back his plate.
"Now, tell me, why you were crying. And why you came running to my
house unaccompanied. You know it's not advisable these days to be out in the
streets all alone."
"I couldn't stand it any longer at home. I won't go back there. I'll
work for you as a servant. For free."
Rumata smiled but he felt a lump in his throat at the same time.
"Every day Father copies written confessions," she continued, with
quiet desperation in her voice, "and the papers he copies from are stained
with blood. He gets them in the Tower of Joy. Oh, why did you ever teach me
to read? Every evening, every night, he copies these reports from the
hearings--and he drinks. It's so horrible, so horrible! 'Look, Kyra,' he
says. 'Our neighbor, the calligrapher, he used to teach people how to read
and write. Can you imagine what he is in reality? He confessed it in the
torture chamber: A magician and an Irukanian spy.--'And who,' he says, 'who
should one believe now? I myself,' he says, 'learned to read and write from
him.' And my brother comes home from patrol service reeking of beer, dried
blood on his hands . . . 'We are exterminating all of them,' he says, 'down
to the twelfth generation.' He won't leave Father alone, he keeps asking him
why he can read and write . . Today, he says he and his friends dragged a
man into our house . . . They beat him until they were splashed all over
with blood. Then he finally stopped screaming.--I can't go on like this, I
won't go back any more, I'd rather die..."
Rumata stood beside her, his hand softly caressing her hair. Her dry,
shining eyes were fixed on a far-away point. What could he say to her? He
swooped her up in his arms, carried her to the divan, sat down next to her
and began to speak. He told her of crystal temples, of gay gardens
stretching for many miles--without filth, or swarms of flies and gnats, or
garbage. He spoke of the table that serves dinner all by itself, of the
flying carpet, of the charming city of Leningrad, of his friends--proud,
happy, good people, and of a wonderful country beyond the oceans, beyond the
seven mountains, the so-called "Earth" . . . She listened quietly and
attentively, and pressed closer to him as they heard now down below in the
street--grrrrum, grrrum, grrrum--rang out the metallic sound of boots on
Kyra possessed a marvelous trait. She believed unconditionally in what
was good. If he were to tell the same story to some peasant serf, the man
would only make an unbelieving, stupid grimace, wipe the snot off his nose
on his sleeve and wordlessly gape at him as if he were a legendary creature,
all the while thinking: What a pity, such a good, clever, noble don! Too bad
he lost his marbles telling such tales! Or even worse, let him tell such
stories to Don Tameo or Don Sera--they wouldn't bother hearing him out. One
would unfailingly fall asleep and the other just belch and remark: "Very
creditable, very creditable indeed . . . and how about the women over there,
any good?" Whereas Don Reba would listen attentively to the end, then give a
sign to his bloodhounds, the Sturmoviki, to screw the noble don's elbows up
to his shoulder blades and find out for sure where the noble don had learned
such fairy tales and who else had heard them...
After Kyra had calmed down and fallen asleep, he kissed her gently on
her peacefully slumbering face, covered her with his fur coat, and left the
room on tiptoe, closing the squeaking door behind him softly. He descended
through the darkened house, down the servants' quarters, looked over the
heads bowed down in salute to him, and said:
"I have taken on a housekeeper. Her name is Kyra. She will live
upstairs, share my quarters. The room next to the study is to be thoroughly
cleaned tomorrow. You will obey the housekeeper's orders as if they were my
own!" He threw a quick glance at his servants to see whether anyone was
grinning. No one as much as batted an eyelid; they listened to his
instructions with the respect due him. "And if anybody here dares whisper
behind my back, I'll pluck out his tongue!"
After he had finished, he lingered a while to let his words take full
effect on them, then he turned and walked back to his apartments. The walls
of his parlor were draped all over with rusty old weapons, and the room was
filled with strange-looking furniture, stained from the dead remains of
innumerable insects. He went to the window, pressed his forehead against the
dark, cold glass, and looked down into the street. The bells were just
chiming for the first night watch. In the windows across the street the
lights were lit and the shutters closed, to avoid attracting wicked men and
ghosts. All was quiet for a little while. The silence was broken only once,
when a drunk roared out horribly; either he was being robbed or else he had
stumbled against a strange house door.
These evenings were the most terrible thing here: miserable, lonely,
and hopeless. We believed it would be a long drawn-out battle, wild but
victorious, reflected Rumata. We believed we would never deviate from our
firm notions of good and bad, of friend and foe. And in general our ideas
proved to be correct; but we did not foresee everything. Evenings like
these, for instance--although we knew well enough that they were bound to
Downstairs he heard the sound of metal striking upon metal: they were
bolting the doors to prepare for the night. The cook prayed to Holy Mickey
to send her a man, any man, just as long as he had some pride in himself and
understanding for her. Old Muga yawned and made little circles with his
thumb in the air. The servants in the kitchen drank their evening beer and
gossiped for all they were worth, while the boy Uno flashed angry glances at
them and scolded them like an adult: "He'll wash your mouths out with soap,
Rumata stepped back from the window and began to pace the room. It's
hopeless, he thought. No power in this world is strong enough to jerk them
out of their habits, their worries, their ingrained traditions. You could
give them everything. You could move them to the most modern
spectro-acoustic housing, teach them the ionization--they'd still gather in
their kitchens at night, play cards till all hours, and let loose on the
neighbor who beats his wife. And there will be no better pastime for them.
Don Kondor is right there: Reba is a louse, a nothing compared to the
overwhelming weight of traditions, strict rules sanctified through the
centuries, time-honored, irrefutable, and familiar for even the most stupid.
They relieve you of the necessity to think and to be interested in
something. And Don Reba will probably hardly be mentioned in high school
textbooks: "A minor adventurer during the epoch of consolidation of
Don Reba, Don Reba! Neither tall nor short, neither fat nor lean; his
hair is not exactly full, but he's far from being bald. When he moves, it's
neither energetic nor lethargic.
You'd forget his face in a minute; there are thousands who resemble him
closely. He is polite and gallant toward the ladies; an attentive
conversationalist, if he so chooses, but not a brilliant one...
Three years ago he emerged from some musty basement room in the
chancellery, a small, inconspicuous official . . . At that time he was still
servile, and his complexion was rather pale (sometimes even a little
grayish-blue). Shortly afterwards, the prime minister was suddenly arrested
and executed. In the torture chambers many high officials lost their lives;
they went mad with fright and never even knew what had happened. And over
their corpses grew a giant, colorless mushroom, this bull-headed, merciless
genius of mediocrity.
He is a nobody. He comes from nowhere. He is not some brilliant mind in
the regime of a weak ruler, the kind of man we know from history; nor is he
the great man who strikes fear in many hearts as he devotes his entire life
to uniting the country in the name of autocracy. He isn't even the greedy
parasite with nothing on his mind except women and gold, who, drunk with
power, will blindly lash out left and right, and who rules in order to kill.
Some people even whisper that he isn't Don Reba at all, that Don Reba is
actually quite a different person; while the other one. God knows, may be a
werewolf, a Doppelganger, a changeling...
Whatever plan Don Reba hatched out, it was bound to fail. He incited
two princely houses of the kingdom to battle and intrigue against each
other, in order to weaken them, and tried to profit from this enmity by
waging a frontal attack against the barons. But the two princely houses
became reconciled, swore eternal blood-brotherhood over the clinking of
champagne glasses, and robbed the king of a fine piece of land that since
time immemorial had belonged to the royal family Totz of Arkanar. He
declared war on Irukan, personally led the army to the border, let them
drown in the swamps or lost them in the woods, left them to their fate, and
fled back to Arkanar. Due to Don Hug's endeavors--of which he was totally
ignorant, of course--he succeeded in wresting a peace treaty from the Duke
of Irukan, albeit at the cost of two fortified border towns. Furthermore,
the King was forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel of his depleted
treasury in order to cope with the peasant rebellions that had seized the
entire country. Anyone else committing such foolish blunders would have been
strung up by his feet in the Tower of Joy. Don Reba, however, somehow
managed again and again to remain in power. He issued a decree to dissolve
the ministries of culture and morals, founded the Ministry of Internal
Security for the Protection of the Crown, removed the local aristocracy and
a few scholars from key positions, totally upset the entire economy of the
state, wrote a treatise Concerning the Foolishness of Cattle Breeders and
Agriculture, and just one year ago, organized his special troops, the Gray
hordes. Hitler was backed by the capitalists, thought Rumata, but nobody
stands behind Don Reba; it is as inevitable as night follows day that his
Sturmoviki will kill him like a fly sooner or later.--But he kept on hedging
and shuffling, committed one foolish act after the other, extricated himself
again and again from the net that threatened to strangle him, cheated and
deceived himself day after day, and was in the grip of one ardent, insane
desire: to destroy all culture. Like Waga Koleso, he had no past. Barely two
years ago, every aristocratic parasite of the court had still talked of him
scornfully as a "contemptible swindler who cheats the King." At present,
however, you could ask any number of noblemen, and each would firmly declare
himself to be a relative of the minister of internal security, at least on
his mother's side.
Right now he seems to need Budach for one of his plans. It's bound to
turn into another of his many calamities. Another blunder. Budach is a
bookworm. Into the hole with him! Make a lot of fuss and noise about it, so
that all will know. But there is no fuss and outcry. Should that mean that
he needs Budach alive? What for? Reba can't be naive enough to hope to be
able to force Budach to work for him? But maybe he is that stupid after all.
Could it be that Don Reba is merely a dumb (but successful) spinner of
intrigues, who doesn't know what he wants himself, who acts the fool with a
sly face in front of everyone's eyes? It's ridiculous; I've been watching
him now for the past three years, and I still can't figure him out. And if
he should watch me in turn, he would not fare any better. But anything is
possible, that's the amusing part about it all. The basis theory may put
forth a list of fundamental aspects of the psychological goals to be
attained; but in reality there are as many of these objectives as there are
human beings on Earth, and any one--it doesn't matter who--can ascend to
power, even one who has devoted his life to playing pranks on his fellow
human beings, sabotaging and ruining them. Eventually he is swept off the
throne, of course, but in the meantime he's had sufficient time to show his
contempt for all mankind, to cause harm wherever there, is a chance, and,
worst of all, to enjoy his evil deeds. And he is not in the least concerned
that history won't even wonder who he was, and just as little affected by
the thought that his descendants will rack their brains many years from now
to categorize his behavior to fit the advanced theory of the laws of
history. Suddenly Rumata remembered Dona Okana. Come on, make up your mind,
he thought. Start at once. Once a god decides to make a clean sweep of
things, he needn't bother to make sure he has unsullied hands . . . He felt
nauseated as he thought of what lay ahead of him. But this was preferable to
killing. Better filth than blood.
He walked on tiptoe, careful not to awaken Kyra, to his E study and
changed his clothes. Undecided, he kept toying with his transmitter circlet,
but then put it resolutely in a drawer of his desk. Then he stuck a white
feather behind his right ear as a symbol of passion, buckled on his two
swords and threw his best cloak over his shoulders. As he was unlocking the
gate downstairs, he thought: If Don Reba gets wind of this, that will be the
end of Dona Okana. But it was already too late to turn back.
The guests were assembled, but Dona Okana had not yet arrived. Gathered
around a small golden snack table, as if on a wall gobelin, were the chiefs
of the royal guard, who were famous for their duels and amorous adventures.
They leaned forward gracefully as they drank, while their fat behinds stuck
out in the rear. Beside the fireplace giggled thin-blooded ladies who were
distinguished in nothing whatsoever, and who for this reason had been
assigned to Dona Okana as her confidantes and companions. They sat in a
simple row on small, low divans, and before them three elderly gentlemen
danced around constantly on their thin legs: famed lounge lizards from the
era of the previous king, the last connoisseurs of long forgotten anecdotes
of the royal court. Every one knew that a salon was no proper salon without
these old gentlemen. In the middle of the hall, legs spread wide apart,
stood Don Ripat, lieutenant of the Gray Court Guard--a clever and dependable
agent for Rumata. He had a splendid mustache and was completely amoral. He
had hooked the thumbs of his big red hands into his leather belt and
listened to Don Tameo who, totally disorganized and with great rushes of
detail, tried to present a project to revitalize business at the expense of
the peasants; at the same time, Don Ripat pointed his mustache in the
direction of Don Sera, who groped his way along the walls, obviously
searching for some hidden door. Two famous portrait painters sat in a comer,
scanning the room with alert eyes as they devoured a roast the size of a
half-grown crocodile, and nearby in a bay window sat an elderly lad clad in
black -- the chaperone assigned to Dona Okana by Don Reba. She stared
straight ahead with a rigid face, looking very severe; only once in a while
would she suddenly jerk her whole body forward. Off to one side, a personage
of royal blood and the secretary of the Soanian embassy passed the time with
a game of cards. The royal personage was cheating and the secretary smiled
indulgently. He was the only person in the entire salon who was occupied
with something serious: he was gathering material for the diplomatic spy
The guard officers at the little golden tables greeted Rumata with
friendly shouts. Rumata gave them a comradely nod and went from one guest to
the other. He exchanged bows with the old lounge lizards, paid a few
compliments to the confidantes of Dona Okana, who immediately eyed the white
feather behind his ear; gave a friendly slap to the blubbery back of the
personage of royal blood; and then turned his attention to Don Ripat and Don
Tameo. As he passed the bay window, the chaperone's upper torso happened to
fall forward once again; a strong odor of brew emanated from her.
Upon seeing Rumata, Don Ripat pulled his thumbs from his belt and
clicked his heels. Don Tameo, however, called out loudly: "It's you, my
friend? Wonderful that you have come, I had already given up all hope of
seeing you. Like a swan with a broken wing, sighing and staring up to a star
. . . I was filled with such a longing--And if it had not been for the most
charming Don Ripat, I would have long since perished from grief!"
It was obvious that Don Tameo had had the best intentions to remain
sober until lunch, but unfortunately had not quite made it.
"Dear, dear!" exclaimed Rumata. "Since when do we quote the words of
the rebel Zuren?"
Don Ripat straightened up and flashed his catlike eyes at Don Tameo.
"Eh, eh--" stammered Don Tameo in confusion. "Zuren? Yes, indeed, and
why am I quoting him? Yes, yes, if I may say so ... with sarcastic intent--I
assure you, noble dons! Yes, for who is this Zuren? Nothing but a common,
ungrateful demagogue. I wanted simply to emphasize--"
"That Dona Okana hasn't arrived yet," interrupted Rumata. "And you were
forced to drink without her company."
"That's exactly what I wanted to emphasize."
"By the way, where is she?"
"We expect her any moment now," answered Don Ripat, who then bowed and
The confidantes of the lady of the house, however, sat there with their
mouths wide open, still staring at the white feather. The old lounge lizards
snickered archly. Don Tameo finally noticed the feather, too, and began to
"My friend!" he whispered. "What is that supposed to mean? If Don Reba
should see that . . . Even if we don't expect him tonight, but you can never
know for sure . . ."
"Oh, cut it out," said Rumata, letting his eyes sweep impatiently
across the room. He wanted to get it all over with as quickly as possible.
The officers of the guard approached, wine cups in their hands.
"How pale you are!" whispered Don Tameo. "I understand, passion is like
that . . . But, Holy Mickey! The state should come first. And after all,
it's so dangerous, so very dangerous... An insult to Don Reba's emotions
Something in his face changed and he began to mince his steps
restlessly; he stepped back a bit and then walked backwards out of the room,
bowing and scraping all the while. The officers of the guard gathered around
Rumata. Somebody handed him a full wine goblet
"Let's drink to honor and to our Majesty, the King!" shouted one of the
"And to love!" added another officer.
"Just show her what the guard is capable of, noble don," said a third
Rumata took the goblet; then suddenly he saw Dona Okana. She stood in
the doorway, fanning herself with her elegant fan and swaying her shoulders,
a languid expression animating her features. She was very pretty. From this
distance she could even be called beautiful. Unfortunately she was not at
all Rumata's type, but she was undoubtedly pretty, this stupid, sensuous
cow. Big, blue eyes without a glimmer of intellect or warmth, a soft,
knowing mouth, a voluptuous body whose contours were revealed intentionally
with skill and with great care ... A guard officer behind Rumata apparently
could not control himself any longer and he noisily smacked his lips.
Without turning around, Rumata handed him his goblet and with long strides
walked over to Dona Okana. All those present in the salon turned their eyes
aside and began to talk busily about inconsequential things.
"Your beauty is blinding my eyes," murmured Rumata as he bowed deeply
and rattled his swords. "Permit me to lie at your feet--like a whippet at
the feet of an indifferent and beautiful woman."
Dona Okana hid her face behind her fan and peeked out coquettishly.
"You are very daring, noble don," she said. "Poor ladies from the
provinces that we are, we are simply unable to withstand such storms . . ."
She had a deep, rasping voice, that occasionally failed. "Alas, there is
nothing left for me to do but to open the gates of my fortress and admit the
Gritting his teeth with shame and anger, Don Rumata bowed deeper still.
Dona Okana lowered her fan and called out loudly:
"My noble dons! Go on and amuse yourselves! I'll be right back with Don
Rumata! I have promised to show him my new Irukanian carpets ... I"
"Don't rob us too long of your presence, you bewitching beauty!"
bleated one of the old gentlemen.
"What a magnificent woman!" called out another old man. And he added in
a sickeningly sweet tone of voice: "A fairy princess!"
The officers of the guard rattled their sabers. "You must admit, he has
pretty good taste," said the personage of royal blood. Dona Okana held
Rumata by his sleeve and dragged him along behind her. Out in the corridor,
Rumata could hear Don Sera declare in an offended tone of voice: "I can't
see why a noble don shouldn't have a look at some Irukanian carpets..."
At the end of the corridor. Dona Okana suddenly came to a halt, clasped
her arms around his neck and with a deep moan to indicate a sudden outburst
of wild passion, she kissed him hard on his mouth, clinging and sucking on
to his lips as tightly as a leech. Rumata held his breath. The woman's body
radiated a sharp odor of strong Irukanian perfume mingled with the smell of
unwashed limbs. Her lips felt fiery hot, moist and sticky from sweetmeats.
He tried valiantly to fight off nausea and to return the kiss, and was
apparently successful, for Dona Okana moaned again loudly and with tightly
shut eyes surrendered herself to his embrace. That seemed to last an
eternity. Well, you're going to get it now, you beast, thought Rumata and
pressed his arms tightly around her torso. Something began to crack, the
corset--or perhaps her ribs--; the beauty whined pitifully, opened her
startled eyes and wiggled weakly trying to free herself from his firm clasp.
Rumata quickly let go of her.
"You daredevil, you, what a lover!" she said breathing hard and rapt
with desire. "You almost squashed me!"
"I'm burning with desire," he murmured guiltily.
"So am I. Oh, how I have been waiting for you! Let's go! Let's hurry!"
She led him by the hand through some icy cold rooms. Rumata took his
handkerchief and furtively wiped his Ups. The whole affair seemed so
senseless now. But it's got to be, he thought The things we have to bear
here! Can't be all done with words alone. Holy Mickey, why don't they ever
wash here at court? And on top of that stench this peculiar passionate
temperament ... if only Don Reba would surprise them now . . . She dragged
him behind her, without a word, with purposeful strength, the way an ant
drags along dead larvae. Rumata felt like an idiot and kept murmuring
nonsense about "swift little feet" and "rosy pink lips." Dona Okana kept
giggling the whole way. She whisked him into an overheated boudoir, whose
walls actually were decorated by huge rugs; threw herself on her enormous
bed, gaped at him with her moist, glittering eyes. Rumata's body stiffened.
There was an unmistakable odor of bedbugs in this boudoir. "You are so
beautiful!" she whispered loudly. "Do come closer, come to me. I have been
waiting for you such a long time!"
Rumata turned away his eyes; he felt nauseated. Perspiration beaded on
his forehead. I can't do it, flashed through his mind. To hell with all the
information I can drag out of her . . . what a beast she is, what a
caricature . . . It's unnatural, it goes against my grain, it's dirty. Dirt
is preferable to blood, of course, but this here is far worse than dirt.
"What are you waiting for, noble don?" panted Dona Okana. "Oh, my
sweet, do come to me, I'm waiting!"
"Oh, go to hell!" Don Rumata hissed between his teeth impulsively.
She jumped off the bed and hurried toward him.
"What is the matter with you? Are you drunk?"
"I don't know." He forced the words over his lips. "It's so hot here."
"I'll have a cup brought for you."
"Oh, forget it ... it'll pass . ," Her fingers were trembling with
impatience as she started to unbutton his vest. "How gorgeous you are . - ."
she whispered breathlessly. "But you are so shy, like a virgin. I'd never
have suspected that from you , . . But it's so exciting, I swear by the Holy
Whether he wanted to or not, he could no longer delay it; he had to
take her by the hands now. He looked down on her and saw her lacquered,
untidy hair, her round, bare shoulders, dotted with tiny clumps of powder,
and her tiny rose pink ears. Disgusting, he thought. Nothing doing here. .
Too bad, though, she is bound to know a few things . . . Don Reba talks in
his sleep ... He takes her along to the hearings, and she loves
cross-examinations . . . No, I can't do it...
"Well?" she asked, irritated.
"Your carpets are beautiful indeed, Dona," he said. "Thanks for showing
them to me but I have to go now."
At first she failed to understand; but then her features were
grotesquely contorted with fury.
"How dare you!" she demanded, but he had already groped for the door
knob, slipped out into the corridor and taken to his heels. From now on I
won't wash myself any longer, he thought. One has to be a filthy swine here,
not a god!
"You old nag!" she yelled. "You miserable old woman! You should be
thrown into the dungeon!"
Rumata yanked a window open and jumped down into the yard. For a while
he stood underneath a tree, greedily breathing in big gulps of fresh, cold
Then he remembered the stupid white feather. Furiously he pulled it
from behind his ear and stomped on it with his boots. My friend Pashka
wouldn't have made it either, he thought. None of our crowd. (Are you so
sure?--Yes!-- Then none of you are any good.--But it makes me
nauseated!--The experiment doesn't care what your feelings are. If you can't
do it, then keep out of it!--But I'm no animal!
--If it's required by the experiment, then you must turn into an
animal, if need be.--The experiment can't make such demands.--It can very
well, as you see!--But then ... !
--What, then?--He did not know what would follow after that--Then . . .
Then . . . Well, then, well say that I am a bad historian.--He shrugged his
shoulders--so let's try to improve. Let's learn how to turn into a pig ...)
It was midnight when he arrived home. He undid the clasps of his fez
and, without getting undressed, threw himself down on a couch in the salon,
where he fell into a deep sleep.
He was awakened by the exasperated shouting of Uno and a good-natured
deep bass voice yelling:
"Get away, you little beast. I'll skin you alive!"
"My master is asleep, I'm telling you!"
"Beat it! Don't crawl around my legs!"
"You can't go in, I'm telling you!"
The door flew open with a loud bang and into the room came storming Don
Bau, Baron Pampa, gigantic like the wild monster Pech, red-cheeked, with
white teeth, drooping mustache, a jaunty red velvet beret on his head and an
expensive raspberry-colored cape slung around his broad shoulders, and a
copper mail shirt clearly visible underneath. He dragged Uno after him. Uno
frantically clung to the baron's right trouser leg.
"Baron!" called out Rumata and let his legs slide off the couch. "How
do you happen to be in town, my friend? Uno, let go of the baron!"
"What a devoted boy, he really sticks by you," said the baron and
walked toward Rumata with open arms. "He seems all right, I must say. How
much will you take for him? But let's discuss this later . . . Now let me
They embraced. The baron exuded a pleasant smell of dusty country
roads, horses, and a mixed bouquet of various wines.
"I see you are totally sober," he said, sorrow in his voice. "But then,
you are always sober, you fortunate man!"
"Please sit down, my friend!" said Rumata. "Uno! Bring some Estorian
wine, and plenty of it!"
"Not a drop!"
"What? Not a drop of Estorian wine? Uno, forget the Estorian and bring
us some Irukanian instead!"
"No wine at all!" said the baron miserably. "I'm not drinking."
Rumata sat down again.
"What has happened?" he asked, worried. "Are you sick?"
"I am as healthy as a horse. But these damned family quarrels ... To
make a long story short; I have had a terrible fight with the baroness. And
now I am here."
"A fight with the baroness? You? Now please stop it, baron; what kind
of joke is that supposed to be?"
"I can't understand it myself, I'm like in a fog. Yes, I came here on
horseback, riding 120 miles, my brain all in a fog!"
"My friend," said Rumata, "let's start right away and ride back to
"But my horse is still winded and sweaty," replied the baron. "And
what's more: I want to punish her!" "Who?"
'The baroness, damn it! Am I a man or a mouse? You see, she is
dissatisfied with Pampa, the--drunk; let her find out for herself how sober
he can be! I'd rather rot away here with plain water than return to the
castle!" Uno pouted:
"Tell him to stop wiggling his ears."
"Now be off, you little rascal!" grumbled the good-humored deep voice
of the baron. "And bring me some beer! I've sweated it all out; now I must
fill up again."
Baron Pampa spent the next half hour filling up again and chattering
away merrily all the while. In between big gulps from a tankard of beer he
reported his troubles. He repeatedly cursed "those drunkards, my neighbors,
who come and invade my castle. They pretend they want to go hunting with me,
arrive early in the morning--and before you know it, they are all dead drunk
and smash up the furniture. They come charging over the entire castle,
befoul everything, annoy the servants, spoil the dogs and set a terrible
example for the young baron. Then they all depart, ride home again and leave
me behind, drunk as a pig, and I have to stay there with the baroness, all
alone, have to face her, eye to eye..."
Toward the end of his story, the baron lost control over himself and
was just about to ask for some Estorian wine, when he pulled himself
together again and said:
"Rumata, my friend. Let's leave here. Your wines are much too
expensive! Let's go!" "But where to?"
'That doesn't matter, where to! How about the Gray Joy?"
"Hmm," said Rumata. "And what are we going to do there at the Gray
The baron remained silent for a few moments and tugged mischievously at
"Come, come, now!" he said finally. "You ask the strangest questions.
What are we going to do there? We'll just sit and talk a bit."
"At the Gray Joy?" asked Rumata doubtfully.
"Yes," said the baron. "I understand what you mean . . . That's awful .
. . but still, let's go. Here I'm constantly tempted to ask for Estorian
"My horse!" said Rumata and went into his study in order to pick up his
A few minutes later the two were riding side by side down a narrow
lane, enveloped by impenetrable darkness. The baron had regained his good
humor and told with a loud voice about the huge boar they had killed the
previous day, then about the remarkable talents of the young baron, and
about the miracle at the monastery of the Holy Tukky, where the abbot had
given birth from his hip to a six-fingered boy. In between stories he did
not forget his own kind of pranks. From time to time he would howl like a
wolf, sing lullabies, and knock with the heavy handle of his riding whip
against the shuttered windows.
They arrived at the Gray Joy and the baron stopped his horse and fell
into deep thoughts. Rumata waited. The dirty windows of the inn shone
gaudily, the horses were pawing the ground, the heavily made-up girls who
were sitting on a bench underneath the window were quarreling noisily, and
two servants were straining to roll a giant barrel through the entrance
The baron said sorrowfully:
"Alone! How horrible to think that I have the whole night before me,
and all alone! And she, too, is all alone!"
"Don't be so sad, my friend," said Rumata. "The young baron is there
with her, and I am here with you."
'That is not the same thing," said the baron. "You haven't the faintest
idea, my friend. You are young and light-hearted. I believe you even enjoy
looking at these sluts here."
"And why not?" replied Rumata and regarded the baron with interest.
"These girls are quite acceptable, I think."
The baron shook his head and laughed sarcastically.
"Just look at that one over there," he shouted, "her behind is
practically flopping to the ground. And the one over there, the one
scratching herself, she hasn't any behind at all. They are cows, my friend,
cows at best. Just think of the baroness! What hands, what grace! What a
body, my friend!"
"Yes," agreed Rumata. "The baroness is beautiful. Let's get out of
"Where to?" asked the baron depressed. "And why?" An expression of
resoluteness came suddenly over his face. "No, my friend. I won't leave
here. I won't go anywhere but you can do what pleases you." He got off his
horse. "Although I would feel insulted if you would leave me here alone."
"I'll stay with you here, of course," said Rumata. "But--"
"No buts," said the baron.
They threw the reins to one of the servants who rushed up, and strutted
haughtily past the girls into the inn. The air was oppressively heavy. The
weak light of the tiny oil lamps hardly penetrated through the dense haze of
fumes and exhalations; the place resembled a big and very filthy sauna bath
back on Earth. Soldiers with unbuttoned tunics, dripping with sweat, sailors
with colorful kaftans over their naked bodies, women with barely covered
breasts. Gray Sturmoviks holding their battle axes between their knees, and
some down-at-the-heel workers were all sitting at some long tables, eating
and drinking, cursing, laughing, crying, and singing filthy songs with
roaring voices. To the left, one could vaguely see a bar, where the
innkeeper sat on a platform surrounded by huge barrels and directed a swarm
of skilled and fraudulent servants. On the right, a large bright rectangle
shone through the mist, the entrance to the "private room," the room for
noble dons, reputable merchants, and Gray officers.
"Why shouldn't we wet our whistle, come to think of it?" asked the
baron in a tone of irritation. He seized Rumata by the sleeve and made his
way toward the bar, passing through a narrow aisle between the tables,
scratching the backs of guests who were seated at the tables with his
slightly protruding belt-armor. At the counter he picked up a large jug, had
the innkeeper fill it up to the rim and without a word drained the jug in
one large draught to the last drop;
then he stated that all was lost anyhow and only one thing remained--to
have a good time. Then he turned to the innkeeper and inquired loudly if
this establishment had some accommodation where noblemen could pass the time
in a befitting manner without having to be bothered by all kinds of rabble,
riff-raff and vermin. The innkeeper reassured him that there was indeed such
a suitable place on the premises.
"Excellent!" said the baron with a grand flourish as he threw a few
gold coins to the innkeeper. "Will you bring us the best you have in your
house? But don't have the food served by some dolled-up little whore--we
want to be waited on by some respectable older woman!"
The innkeeper himself accompanied the noble dons to the "private room."
It was occupied by just a few guests. In one comer sat a group of Gray
officers, two lieutenants in tight uniforms and two captains in short
soldiers' coats with the epaulets of the Ministry of Internal Security. Two
aristocrats were dozing near the window over a slender jug of wine: their
faces looked pinched and sour, exuding an air of general depression. At the
nearby table sat a little band of impoverished dons in rumpled jackets and
mended cloaks. They sipped their beer and let their greedy eyes sweep around
the room ever so often.
The baron lumbered over to a free table, cast a mean glance in the
direction of the Gray officers and grumbled:
"You just can't get away from that rabble. Not even here." But now a
fat old auntie waddled into the room bearing the first course. The baron
croaked greedily, pulled his dagger from his belt, and fell over the feast.
Silently he devoured big chunks of roast venison, mountains of marinated
mollusks, huge piles of crabs, enormous quantities of salads and mayonnaise
dressings, washed everything down with cascades of wine, beer and home brew,
and finally wine mixed with beer and home brew. The impoverished dons
attempted repeatedly to join Baron Pampa at his table, but the baron sent
them packing with a majestic sweep of his hand and a nasty growl.
Suddenly he stopped eating, stared at Rumata with protruding eyes, and
roared like a beast of prey: "It's quite a while since I've been last in
Arkanar, my noble friend. And I swear upon my honor there is something I
don't like about this place!"
"And what would that be?" inquired Rumata, interested, while he gnawed
at a chicken wing.
Awe and attention marked the faces of the impoverished dons.
"Tell me, my dear friend," thundered the baron and wiped his greasy
hands at his cloak, "since when has it become the custom in our beautiful
capital city, the seat of our Highness the King, that the descendants of the
oldest families of the realm can't take a step without running into these
miserable shopkeepers and butchers?!"
The noble dons exchanged quick glances and withdrew into their comer.
Rumata blinked over to the other corner where the Gray officers were
sitting. They put down their glasses and looked over to the baron's table.
"I'll tell you, noble dons, where the fly in the ointment is,"
continued Baron Pampa. "The whole trouble is that you are a bunch of damped
cowards. You tolerate them because you are afraid OF them. You over there,
you are scared stiff!" He yelled at the top of his voice and locked eyes
with the impoverished don nearest to him. But the poor nobleman, smiling
weakly, left his table like a dog with his tail between his legs. "Cowards!"
trumpeted the baron. He was so excited that his mustache reared up skywards.
But there wasn't much one could expect from the impoverished dons. They
were obviously disinclined to get into a brawl; they only wanted to eat and
Now the baron hurled one foot over the bench, twirled the right half of
his mustache around his fist, riveted his eyes on the comer where the Gray
officers were sitting and declared:
"But I, gentlemen, I am not afraid, not even of the devil! I squash the
Gray pests under my foot wherever I encounter them!"
"What's that beer barrel whining over there?" loudly inquired a Gray
captain with a horse's face.
A satisfied smile played around the baron's lips. He rose Boisterously
from the table and jumped onto the bench. Rumata raised his eyebrows and
started to gnaw at his second chicken wing.
"Hey, there, you Gray bastards from hell!" yelled the baron as loud as
if the officers were miles away. "Let it be known that I, Baron Pampa Don
Bau, gave a fine object lesson to the likes of you just three days ago. You
know, my friend," Baron Pampa turned and spoke from the ceiling down to Don
Rumata, sitting at the table, "I had a few drinks the other night with
Father Kabani at my castle. Suddenly my horse groom came running up to
announce that a Horde of Gray Sturmoviks is just about to tear down the
Golden Horseshoe Inn. My inn! On my own grounds! I issued the command; Let's
ride! And we were there in no time. I swear to you by my spurs, we found
there a whole horde, some twenty men altogether! They'd caught three of my
men, got as drunk as pigs--these bastards can't drink, of course--and they
were just beginning to smash everything to smithereens. I grabbed one by the
legs, and that started the merry chase. I chased them as far as the Heavy
Swords. Blood was flowing--you won't believe it, my friend--we were wading
in it up to our knees, and I don't know how many battle axes were left
Here the baron's account was interrupted. The captain with the horse's
face swung his hand and hurled his heavy dagger against the baron's chain
"Finally!" said the baron and drew his giant two-fisted sword.
He jumped off the bench with unexpected agility; his sword arched
expertly through the air and cut through a crossbeam supporting the low
ceiling. The baron cursed. The ceiling sagged a little and plaster and dust
fell from above on the men's heads.
Everyone in the room had risen. The impoverished dons kept close to the
walls. The young aristocrats climbed onto the tables to have a better view.
The Gray officers formed a half-circle and drew their swords while slowly
advancing toward the baron. Only Rumata remained seated, trying to figure
out on which side it would be safer to stand up without coming to grief. For
now the baron's broad sword was hissing ominously through the air,
describing flashing circles above the baron's head. It was an awe-inspiring
sight. The baron reminded Rumata of a freight helicopter with idly spinning
Now the baron was hemmed in on three sides by the Gray officers, who
were forced to a halt as soon as they came within range of the whirling
sword. One of the officers was unfortunate enough to have his back to
Rumata, who leaned across the table, seized the hapless man by the collar,
yanked him down so that his back slammed into the dirty dishes on the table,
and gave him a sharp chop behind his ear. The Gray officer shut his eyes and
his body stiffened. The baron yelled:
"Cut his throat, noble Rumata, I'll finish off the others!"
He'll massacre the whole lot, thought Rumata uneasily.
"Attention!" he said to the Gray officers. "Why should we ruin each
other's evening? You don't have a ghost of a chance against us. Throw down
your arms and beat it!"
"Certainly not! That would be the limit!" put in the baron, visibly
upset. "I want to fight! I want them to fight! Stand up and fight, you
With these words he advanced towards the Gray officers, all the while
whirling his sword faster and faster above his head. The Gray officers fell
back, all pale in the face. Evidently this was the first time they had ever
seen a freight helicopter. Rumata jumped over the table. "Stop, my friend!"
he called out. "There is really no reason for us to quarrel with these
people. You don't care for their presence here? Fine, tell them to leave!"
"We won't leave without our weapons," grumbled one of the lieutenants.
"We'd be punished. We are on patrol duty now."
"Go to hell and take your weapons with you!" decided Rumata. "Sheath
your swords, hands on top of your head; leave one at a time! And no tricks!
Or I'll beat you to a pulp!"
"How can we get out of the room?" inquired the captain with the horse
face. His long upper lip twitched with irritation. "This don blocks our way
as you can see!"
"And will continue to do so!" insisted the stubborn baron.
The young dons snickered.
"All right then," said Rumata. "I'll hold him down and you file out,
one after the other, but hurry up. I won't be able to control him much
longer! Hey, there, clear the doorway! Baron," he said and grasped Pampa
around his broad waist, "it seems to me you have forgotten an important
fact. This famous sword was used by your ancestors only to do battle, for it
is written: Do not draw your sword in taverns!"
The shadow of a doubt darkened the baron's features while he continued
to swing his sword.
"But I don't have another sword here with me," he said puzzled.
"All the more relevant . . . ," answered Rumata emphatically.
"Do you think that?" The baron was still hesitating.
"You know the rules better than I do!"
"That's true," said the baron. "You are right." He looked up to his
whirling hands. "You wouldn't believe it, Don Rumata, I could go on like
this easily for another three or four hours without stopping. And I wouldn't
even feel tired. Too bad that she can't see me like this now!"
"Ill tell her all about it, rest assured," promised Rumata.
The baron sighed and lowered his sword. The Gray officers crept out of
the room, cowering in fear. The baron followed them with his eyes.
"I don't know, I don't know," he said undecided. "Do you really think I
made the right decision, not smashing them to a pulp?"
"You acted correctly, absolutely correctly," Rumata reassured him.
"Well then," said the baron as he sheathed his sword. "If we were not
fortunate enough to have a good fight, let's have something decent to eat
and lots to drink."
He grabbed the still unconscious Gray lieutenant by his legs and pulled
him off the table, while he croaked out loudly: "Hey, there, innkeeper!
Bring us some wine and a bite to eat!"
The young aristocrats came to their table to congratulate them most
humbly on their victory.
"That's nothing, it was easy!" said the baron complacently. "Six skinny
milksops--and big cowards, like all shopkeepers are. I've finished off two
dozen like that, at the Golden Horseshoe--chased them out . . . How
fortunate," and he turned to Rumata, "that I did not have my battle sword
with me at the time! I might have drawn it, absentminded as I am. Although
the Golden Horseshoe is actually not a tavern, it's just a little comer
"Some also say," remarked Rumata, "that it is written: Do not draw your
sword in the corner bistro!"
The innkeeper's wife brought new dishes with meat and some more wine.
The baron rolled up his sleeves and set to work.
"By the way," said Rumata, "who were the three prisoners you set free
that time at the Golden Horseshoe?"
The baron stopped chewing and stared at Rumata. "But my dear friend,
maybe I didn't make myself clear. I did not set anybody free. True, they
were all prisoners, had been arrested, but these are affairs of the
government. Why should I have liberated them? It was just some old don, a
big coward, an old bookworm and his servant . . ." He shrugged his
"Yes, of course," said Rumata.
Suddenly the baron turned purple in the face; he rolled his eyes in a
most frightening manner.
"What?! Again?!" he roared.
Rumata turned around. Don Ripat stood in the doorway. The baron jumped
up from his seat, overturning benches and dishes. Don Ripat threw a
significant glance at Rumata and left the room again.
"I beg your pardon, baron," said Rumata, rising to his feet. "The
King's service is calling."
"Oh, dear," mumbled the baron in a disappointed voice. "I feel sorry
for you. I wouldn't serve for anything in this world!"
Don Ripat was waiting for him outside the door.
"What's new?" asked Rumata.
"Two hours ago," reported Don Ripat officiously, "I placed Dona Okana
under arrest under the orders of our Minister of Internal Security. I had
her taken to the Tower of Joy."
"Hmm," was all that Rumata said.
"Dona Okana died one hour ago. She did not survive the tortures."
"Officially she was accused of being a spy. But--" Don Ripat seemed
embarrassed and gazed down at the floor. "I think--I believe--"
"I understand what you mean," said Rumata.
Don Ripat looked at him with a guiltridden face.
"I was powerless--" he started to say.
"That's none of your concern," said Rumata hoarsely.
Don Ripat's eyes became leaden. Rumata slightly nodded his head to him
and went back to his table. The baron was just finishing off a platter with
"Estorian wine! Let's have a lot of it!" Rumata could hardly choke out
the words. He tried to swallow a big lump in his throat. "Let's enjoy
ourselves now! To hell with everything, let's have a good time!"
When Rumata came to again, he found himself lying in the middle of a
big empty lot. A gray day was dawning, in the distance roosters crowed a
raucous reveille. Dense flocks of blackbirds were crowing overhead, circling
above something unpleasant nearby. It smelled of rot and decay. The fog in
Rumata's head lifted quickly, the usual penetrating lucidity and reliability
of all his senses returned. A pleasant taste of mint seemed to linger on his
tongue. The fingers of his right hand hurt badly. Rumata lifted his right
fist, all cramped up, to his eyes. The skin around his wrist was chafed. He
opened his fist and found that he had still been grasping an empty vial of
Casparamid, the potent medication against alcohol poisoning that was
standard equipment --just as a precautionary measure--for all Terranian
emissaries sent by the various institutes to extraterrestrial planets.
Apparently he had followed some blind instinct and poured the whole contents
of the vial into his mouth before he had sunk completely into brute
unconsciousness here on this large empty lot.
The neighborhood seemed familiar. The charred skeleton of the
observatory tower jutted skywards and to the left of the burnt-out ruin, the
watchtowers of the royal palace, thin as minarets, pierced the pale light of
the dawn. Rumata breathed in deeply the cold, humid air, then set out for
Baron Pampa had had a wonderful night, exactly the kind he liked.
Accompanied by a little band of moneyless dons who were easily inclined to
lose their dignity, he set out on a gigantic roving expedition through the
cheap saloons of Arkanar, where he downed unbelievable quantities of
alcohol, accomplished amazing feats of gluttony, and became involved in no
less than eight brawls. At least this was the number of times that Rumata
could clearly recall having intervened to separate the belligerents in order
to prevent the worst from happening. The rest had vanished in a haze. Only
occasionally the fog would lift and animallike, grimacing faces, knives held
in their teeth, would emerge, then again the bewildered, bitter face of the
last of the moneyless dons, whom Don Pampa tried to sell as a slave down in
the harbor area, then again an Irukanian with a bulbous nose and mean eyes,
who, boiling with rage, demanded from the noble dons the return of his
In the beginning Don Rumata still remained a spy. He did not drink any
less than the baron: Irukanian, Estorian, Soanian, and Arkanarian wine; but
every time he changed the brand of wine he secretly popped a vial of
Casparamid into his mouth. He retained his discerning power of judgment and
noticed that the Gray Patrols were stationing themselves in far larger
numbers than usual at intersections and bridges; then there was a sentry
post of barbarians on horseback somewhere on the Soanian cross-country road,
who would probably have shot the baron if Don Rumata had not understood and
mastered their dialect. He remembered clearly the thought that flashed
through his mind at the motionless rows of strange soldiers in long, black
cloaks with hoods, who had taken up position in front of the Patriotic
But isn't that the guard of the monks? What business does the church
have in this place? he had wondered. Since when does the church mix in
secular affairs here in Arkanar? Only very gradually did he get inebriated,
but then, all at once, he was overcome by deep intoxication. In a fleeting
moment of lucidity he noticed a totally wrecked table in some unfamiliar
room, saw his own hand brandishing a sword and the pitiful, imploring
figures of the impoverished dons around him. He almost thought it was time
to go home; but by then it was already too late. He was seized by a wave of
mad rage and by a disgusting, irresistible joy to be able for once to throw
off all traces of humaneness. Nevertheless, he had still remained a
Terranian and an emissary of the institute back on Earth, a descendant of
man, the masters over fire and iron, who will neither spare themselves nor
stop before anything if it is in the cause of a great goal to be achieved.
He could not remain Rumata of Estoria, flesh from the flesh of twenty
generations of his warrior ancestors, who were famed for their robbing and
drunkenness. But neither was he a communard, a comrade any longer. He no
longer felt any obligation to the great Experiment. He was only concerned
now with obligations toward his own person. And he was no more beset by
doubts. Everything seemed clear now, absolutely clear. He now knew exactly
who was to blame for everything and he knew exactly what he wanted to do: to
lash out blindly, to hurl down into the fire, down from the steps of the
palace, down onto the spears and pitchforks of the raging mob . . .
Rumata gave a sudden start; he unsheathed his swords. There were nicks
on the blades that were otherwise blank. He remembered vaguely having fought
with someone. But with whom? And how had it ended?
They had boozed away their horses. The impoverished dons had vanished
somehow. Rumata had dragged the baron home--this he could recall, too. Pampa
Don Bau was enterprising, apparently completely sober and good and ready to
continue with this most entertaining evening--only he could not stand on his
legs any longer. Besides, he believed for some obscure reason that he had
just taken leave of his beloved baroness and that he was now on a campaign
against his arch enemy, Baron Kaska, who had already had the audacity to
commit the most outrageous feats ("Will you judge for yourself, my dear
friend, this scoundrel brought forth from his hip a six-fingered boy and
named him Pampa...").
"The sun is about to set," he declared as he regarded a gobelin
representing a sunrise. "We could drink all night through, noble dons, but
we need some sleep before the battle. And not a drop of wine during the
battle! Besides, the baroness would not care for it."
"What? A bed? Beds on a battlefield? Our bed is our saddled steed."
With these words he tore the gobelin off the wall, wrapped it around his
entire body and stumbled noisily over to the comer under the big chandelier.
Rumata ordered the boy Uno to place a tub with pickled cucumbers and a tub
with sauerkraut beside the baron. The boy's face was sleepy and very angry.
"There, look! He has wrapped himself in our good gobelin," he muttered.
"Eyes that look in different directions . . ." "Shut up, you fool," said
Rumata in answer, and--then something happened. Something very vulgar, that
had chased him halfway across town to this empty lot. Something very, very
vile, wretched, mean, unforgivable, embarrassing...
The memory of this distressing action reawakened as he approached his
house. He stopped in his tracks.
. . . He had pushed Uno aside, climbed up the stairs, pushed the door
open and stormed over to her. He was her master. And by the light of the
street lantern he saw her white face and huge eyes filled with fear and
disgust--and in these eyes he could see himself as he was: staggering, with
a drooping, drooling lower lip, with fists whose skin hung down in shreds,
in soiled clothes. He saw a beastly, vile, blue-blooded skunk. And her
glance hurled him backwards, down the stairs, into the entry hall, out of
the door and out into the street, the dark nocturnal street and on and on,
farther and farther, as far away as possible ...
He gnashed his teeth, felt his insides contort and turn to ice, then he
gently opened the house door and entered the hall. Over in a comer, snoring
peacefully like a walrus, was the sleeping baron. "Who is that?" called Uno,
who had been slumbering on a bench, a spread lying across his knees.
"Quiet!" commanded Rumata in a whisper. "Go to the kitchen, bring a bucket
of water, vinegar and new clothes. Hurry up!"
Leisurely he poured water over his body for quite a while, and with
great gusto scrubbed himself with vinegar, thus cleansing himself from the
filth of his nightly pleasures and fights. Contrary to his usual self, Uno
remained silent throughout while he assisted his master. Not until he helped
him button up the ridiculous lilac-colored trousers with the pretty buckles
did he report sullenly:
"During the night, after you ran out, Kyra came downstairs and asked if
the master had come home or not, but then said that she must have been
dreaming. I told her that you had not yet returned from your guard duty at
the palace, where you went last night..."
Rumata sighed deeply and turned away. But this did not help in the
least. It made things even worse.
"And I've been sitting here the whole night through near the baron with
my spear all ready across my knees. I was afraid he might crawl upstairs
while he was so drunk."
"Thanks, my little one, thanks," Rumata uttered painfully. He put on
his shoes, went into the dressing room and stood in front of his dark metal
mirror. The Casparamid was doing its work. Very effectively. The mirror
reflected an image of an elegant, noble don with a slightly fatigued face
after the long, strenuous night guard duty. But definitely very decent
looking. His moist hair, framed by the golden circlet, fell softly and
neatly down on either side of his face. With an automatic gesture, Rumata
adjusted the lens on his forehead. Lovely scenes they're watching today on
Earth, he thought somberly.
Meanwhile, the day broke. The sun began to peer into dusty windows. The
shutters rattled. Sleepy voices could be heard in the street. "Did you sleep
well, brother Kiris?"-- "Very well, brother Tika, praise the Lord. The night
is over, thank God."--"Somebody was beating against the windows of our
house. They say Don Rumata went out during the night"--"He is said to have a
house guest."--"So, and he went out? I think he went to the young prince,
and did not even notice how they burnt down half the town."-- "What can I
tell you, brother Tika? Thank God that we have such a noble don in our
neighborhood. Once a year he does guard duty, and that's a lot already."
Rumata walked up the stairs, knocked and entered the study. Kyra was
sitting in the armchair as the day before. She raised her eyes and looked,
restless and fearful, into his face.
"Good morning, my darling," he said, walked over to her, kissed her
hands and sat down in an armchair across from her.
She looked at him a while with questioning eyes and asked finally:
"Are you tired?"
"Yes, a bit. And I must go away once more today."
"Would you like me to prepare something for you?"
"No, thanks. Uno will take care of it. Well. . . you might iron my
Rumata could feel a wall of lies rise between them. Very thin at first,
then thicker and thicker and more and more solid. For the rest of our lives!
Rumata thought bitterly. He sat in his seat, covered his eyes with his
hands, while she was rubbing carefully various lotions and perfumes onto his
strong neck, his cheeks, his forehead and his hair. Then she said:
"You don't even ask how I slept."
"How did you sleep, my darling?"
"I dreamt. A terrible, horrible dream. Do you know what I mean?"
The wall grew as thick as a rampart.
"It's usually that way in a new place," said Rumata hypocritically.
"The baron must have caused quite a commotion."
"Shall I order breakfast for you?" she asked.
"What kind of wine do you like in the morning?"
Rumata opened his eyes.
"I'd like some water," he said. "I don't drink in the morning."
She went out and he heard how she spoke to Uno. Her voice sounded clear
and full. Then she returned, sat on the arm of his chair and began to tell
him her dream. Rumata listened, nervously plucking at his eyebrows, and felt
the wall grow thicker and more unassailable by the minute, separating him
forever from the only human being whom he loved and cherished here on this
horrible world. And, all of a sudden, he threw himself forcefully against
Kyra, he said. It was no dream!" And nothing extraordinary happened.
"My poor darling," said Kyra. "Wait, I'll bring you some pickles..."
Once, not too long ago the court of the Irukanian kings had been one
that especially concerned itself with refinement and culture. A number of
scholars were retained at court-- mostly charlatans, of course, but also men
like Bagir Kissenski, the discoverer of the curvature of the planet, or the
king's personal physician Tata, who made the brilliant assertion that
epidemics were caused by tiny worms, invisible to the naked eye and spread
by water and wind, or Synda the alchemist, who--true to his kind--was
searching for a way of making gold from dirt, and who quite incidentally
discovered the law of the preservation of energy. There were also poets to
be found at the Arkanarian court. Though the majority consisted mainly of
sycophants and parasites, there was also Pepin, the Great, the author of the
historical tragedy The Northern Campaign; then there was also Zuren, the
Just, who wrote over five hundred ballads and sonnets that became folksongs;
and finally the poet Gur, who wrote the first secular novel in the history
of the realm, a sad romance about a prince who fell in love with a beautiful
barbarian maiden. There were also splendid artists, dancers and singers at
the court. Remarkable painters covered the walls with immortal frescoes,
famous sculptors adorned the parks of the royal abode with their creations.
Nevertheless it cannot be said that the Arkanarian kings were true patrons
of the arts and sciences or genuine connoisseurs. All that served merely as
decoration, the same as the ceremony accompanying the awakening and rising
of the king or the spectacular officers of the guard at the castle entrance.
The indulgence of the monarchs would sometimes go as far as to permit
some scientists and poets to become note-worthy little cogs in the machinery
of the state. Thus, for instance, barely fifty years had passed since the
highly learned alchemist Botsa had held the post of Minister of the
Department of Mining--a position that had since been eliminated because it
was no longer needed. In this capacity he opened up several new mines and
made Arkanar famous for its high-grade, alloys; unfortunately, Botsa's
secret formulas had been lost after his death. Pepin, the poet, presided
until recently over the state's educational program, but then his Ministry
for History and Language Sciences was declared to be detrimental to mental
health, as it was known to have caused the disintegration of human minds.
Although it had occasionally happened that the king's favorite
mistress, a dull, mawkish person, did not care for a particular scientist or
artist, who then might be either sold abroad or poisoned by arsenic, it was
Don Reba who finally espoused the cause thoroughly and with gusto. During
his reign as omnipotent Minister of Security for the Protection of the
Crown, he would organize such violent pogroms amongst the members of the
intelligentsia that he would even manage to evoke the dissatisfaction of
certain noble grandees, who pronounced that court life was becoming
increasingly more boring and who complained that they heard nothing but
silly gossip at the court balls.
Bagir Kissenski was accused of insanity present to a degree bordering
on treason, and was then imprisoned in a dungeon. It was only through the
efforts of Rumata that he was released and returned to the capital. Bagir's
observatory was burned to the ground and those of his students who had
remained unmolested fled as far away as possible. Tata, the king's personal
physician, together with five other quacks, suddenly turned out to be a
common poisoner who was inciting the Irukanian Duke against the person of
the King. He confessed everything in the torture chamber and was hanged in
public on the Royal Square. While attempting to rescue Tata, Rumata spent
thirty poods of gold, lost four of his agents (noble dons who did not
realize what they were doing) and came himself within an ace of being killed
when he was attacked during an attempt to abduct the condemned physician.
That had been his first big defeat. And that was when he finally
understood that Don Reba was no mere accident. One week later he learned
that Synda the alchemist was to be brought to trial for allegedly concealing
the philosopher's stone from the state treasury. Rumata was still boiling
mad over his latest defeat and therefore decided to take matters into his
own hands. He laid an ambush around the house of the alchemist, disguised
himself with a black mask, and personally disarmed the Sturmoviks who were
about to march the alchemist off to prison; locked the Sturmoviks in the
cellar of Synda's house and that very night led Synda, who had not the
vaguest notion what was happening to him, across the border to Soan. There,
after an initial shrug of his shoulders, the alchemist continued his search
for the philosopher's stone under Don Kondor's supervision. Pepin, the poet,
suddenly donned a monk's garb and retired to some distant monastery. Zuren,
the Just, had been unmasked only recently. He was found guilty of making
criminally ambiguous utterances, and was further convicted of playing up to
the taste of the lower classes. He was declared to have forfeited his honor
and fortune, tried to fight for his rights, recited quite openly subversive
ballads in disreputable inns and was twice almost beaten to death by some
patriotically minded persons. Not until then did he permit his friend and
patron Don Rumata to persuade him to flee to the capital of the realm.
Rumata would never be able to forget the sight of the departing poet: pale
and blue at the same time, totally drunk, his thin arms clung to the planks
of the ship as it left the dock, while he roared out his farewell sonnet in
a resonant, surprisingly youthful voice: "It weighs upon my soul like fallen
As far as the poet Gur was concerned, he was informed by Don Reba on
the occasion of a private audience that the Prince of Arkanar could not
befriend his ilk, in view of the hostility expressed in his poems. Whereupon
Gur personally threw his own works into a bonfire on the Royal Square. Ever
since that time, whenever the king was graciously pleased to go for a ride,
Gur would stand in the crowd of courtiers, his head bowed, his face blank;
upon an imperceptible sign from Don Reba, he would step forward from the
courtiers' ranks and recite ultrapatriotic poems-- which, however, were
greeted with nothing but secretly stifled yawns.
And on the stage the same play was presented over and over again: The
Downfall of the Barbarians; or Marshal Totz, King Pits of Arkanar. Musical
performances were generally limited now to concerts with songs accompanied
by orchestra. Those artists who had survived painted signboards. Two or
three of the cleverest ones even managed to remain at court, where they
painted portrait after portrait of the king and Don Reba (who was always
solicitously and respectfully supporting the king). This characterization
was none too encouraging: the king was always represented as a radiant
twenty year old clad in a suit of armor, while Don Reba was pictured as a
mature man with a very meaningful expression.
It became very boring indeed at the Arkanarian court. Nevertheless, the
grandees, the noble dons without occupation, the officers of the guard, and
the noble dons' frivolous beauties would fill the antechambers and salons of
the palace as of yore--some out of vanity, others out of fear. To be
truthful, many were quite unaware of any changes. They were those who, in
the olden days, when they had had to attend concerts and poetry readings,
had been most appreciative of the intermission. In fact, they could hardly
wait for the pause so that they could discuss the merits of various breeds
of hunting dogs or tell each other jokes. They were still capable of
participating in a short dispute about the characteristics of souls in life
after death, but problems such as the form of planets or the cause of
epidemics were already considered indecent. A certain nostalgia was felt by
the officers of the guard when the painters vanished; their representations
of nature in the raw had been so masterful...
Rumata appeared at the palace, a little too late. The ceremony of the
king's toilette had already begun. The rooms were packed, and the king's
irritated voice could be heard over the melodious commands of the master of
ceremony, who oversaw the formal dressing of His Majesty. The courtiers were
discussing the events of the previous night. A criminal with Irukanian
features had stolen into the palace during the night, slain the guard, and
crept into the king's sleeping chamber. There, it was said, he had been
disarmed and captured by Don Reba in person; on the way to the Tower of Joy
he had been torn to pieces by a pack of patriots whose servility and loyalty
to the king had driven them wild with rage. This was the sixth attempt on
the king's life in one month, and this latest incident hardly roused any
particular interest. It was only the special details that were being
discussed. Rumata learned that His Majesty had set up in bed at the sight of
the murderer and had covered the most beautiful Dona Midara with his own
body, while uttering the historic words: "Get away with you, scoundrel!"
Most courtiers willingly believed that these historic words had been spoken
but assumed that the king had uttered them mistaking the murderer for a
servant. And all agreed to a man that as usual Don Reba had been on his
guard and was invincible in a fight at close quarters. Rumata expressed his
agreement with this opinion with some flowery expressions, and in reply told
a story he thought up on the spur of the moment how Don Reba had been
attacked by twelve bandits: he finished off three of them right then and
there, and routed the rest. The story was received with keen interest and
lively approval, whereupon Rumata made the incidental remark that he had
heard this story from Don Sera. All interest rapidly faded from the faces of
the listeners, for it was common knowledge what a notorious liar and cheat
Don Sera was. Not a word was said about Dona Okana. Either they had not yet
heard about it or they pretended not to know anything.
With pleasant remarks, gallantly kissing the ladies' hands, Rumata
pushed his way step by step through the crowd of bedizened, perfumed and
profusely sweating people until he reached the front rows. The nobles of the
land spoke in soft voices: "Yes indeed, what a filly. She tried to barricade
herself but, confound it! if he didn't gamble her away that same night and
lost her to Don Ke . . ."--"And her hips, my noble don, were of the most
exquisite shape. How did Zuren phrase it so beautifully . . . hm, hm, hm . .
. mountains of cool foam . . . hm, hm, hm . . . no, hills of cool foam . .
.. be it as it may, they were fine hips."--"So I open the window very
softly, take my dagger between my teeth, and just imagine, my dear friend, I
feel how the window grating above me is giving way . . ."--"I raked the hilt
of my sword across his teeth so that the old gray dog spun twice around his
axis. By the way, you can admire him right over there; there he stands
looking like he owned the world . . ." --". . . and Don Tameo was spitting
on the floor, slipped and fell head forward into the fireplace . . ."--". .
. then the monk says to her: 'Do tell me your dream.' Ha ha ha!"
Nauseating, thought Rumata. If somebody should chance to do away with
me at this moment, this group of morons would be the last thing I had seen
in my life. Only ready wit, that's the only thing that will save me. Me and
Budach. Seize the right moment and then suddenly let him have it. Take him
by surprise so he won't even have a chance to open his mouth! But don't give
them a chance to finish me off; there-is no reason for me to die here!
At a measured pace he advanced toward the door of the king's
bedchamber, touched his swords with both hands, bent his legs slightly at
the knees according to the court's etiquette and approached the royal bed.
They were just about to put on the king's stockings. The master of
ceremonies followed with bated breath each movement of the skillful hands of
the two royal grooms. To the right of an open alcove stood Don Reba, talking
in a hardly audible voice with a tall, rawboned man in a gray velvet
uniform. It was Father Zupik, one of the leaders of the Sturmoviki, a
colonel in the king's bodyguard. Don Reba was a well-experienced courtier.
To judge by the expression on his face, his only concern here was the nose
of a certain filly, or the virtuous behavior of the royal niece. Father
Zupik, however, a warrior and an ex-grocer, did not know how to control
himself. His face grew dark, he bit his lips, and his fingers gripped his
sword hilt, then released it suddenly. Finally, with a violent twitching of
his cheeks, he turned around abruptly and--violating all rules of proper
etiquette -- walked straight out of the king's bedchamber toward the crowd
of assembled courtiers, who stood there petrified by such rudeness. Don Reba
looked after him with an innocent smile, while Rumata followed the awkward
gray figure with his eyes and thought: another dead man. Here we go again!
He knew of the friction between Don Reba and the leadership of the Gray
hordes. History was about to repeat itself; another one to share the fate of
Captain Ernst Rohm of Nazi fame!
Now the stockings had been properly pulled up on the king's legs.
Obeying the melodious orders of the master of ceremony, the royal grooms
elegantly reached for the royal shoes with their fingertips, when suddenly,
out of the clear blue sky, the king kicked at them and turned so violently
in the direction of Don Reba, that his belly flopped on his knees like a
fully packed sack.
"I am sick and tired of your attempts on my life!" he howled
hysterically. "Assassins, assassins, assassins! I want to sleep at night,
and not to have to battle with assassins! Why can't it be arranged that they
attack me sometime during the day? You're a lousy minister, Reba. Another
night like this and I will have you executed." Dona Reba bowed and put his
hand on his heart. "I always get a headache after these attempts on my
All of a sudden he fell silent and quietly regarded his belly. The
moment seemed favorable. The royal grooms were hesitating. Above all, he had
to draw the king's attention to himself. Rumata yanked the right shoe out of
the royal groom's hand, knelt down before the king and reverently pulled the
shoe onto the heavy, silk-clad foot. For this was the age-old privilege of
the house of the Rumatas: to shoe with their own hand the right foot of the
crowned heads of the kingdom. The king bestowed a dull glance upon Don
Rumata; then suddenly, a glimmer of interest came into his eyes.
"Ah, Rumata!" he said. "You are still alive? But Reba promised me to do
away with you!"
He started to chuckle. "What a miserable minister he is, that Reba.
He's always making promises but he only pretends. He promised to put an end
to all these conspiracies but the conspiracies grow more and more frequent.
And these Gray monsters he's shipped into my palace . . . I'm a sick man,
and he hangs all my personal physicians."
Rumata had now completely slipped the shoe on, bowed and stepped back
two paces. He intercepted an attentive glance from Don Reba and tried to
give his face a snooty, dull expression.
"I'm a very sick man," the king continued. "Everything hurts me. I'd
like to pass on to my eternal rest. I would have long since done so, but
you'll all go to rot and ruin without me, you pigs..."
Now they put on his other shoe. He rose to his feet but soon began to
moan, doubled over with pain, and clasped his knees.
"Where are my physicians, my quacksalvers?" he roared with pain. "Where
is my good Tata? You hanged him, you imbecile! And I would feel better at
the mere sound of his voice! Be silent! I know myself that he was a
poisoner! But I could not have cared less? So what if he concocted poisons?
He was a physician, he was a good medical doctor! Do you understand that,
you murderer? He may have poisoned some people, but he cured others. But you
strangle everybody you can lay your hands on. How I wish you'd hanged
yourself instead of him!" Don Reba bowed, placed a hand over his heart and
remained in this position. "You had all of them hanged! Nobody stayed alive
except for the charlatans! And the priests who administer holy water to me
instead of medicine . . . Who will prepare some medicine for me now that
Tata is gone? Who will rub healing ointment on my foot?"
"My King!" Rumata spoke up loud and clear, and it seemed to him that
the whole palace froze in horror. "You have but to give the command and the
best doctor in your entire kingdom will be here within one hour!"
The king stared at him perplexed. The risk was tremendous. Don Reba
needed merely to blink an eyelid . . . Rumata could sense with all his body
how numerous eyes stared at him intensely, ready to attack at any moment--
he also knew the purpose of the rows of round, black openings which were
visible just below the ceiling of the bed chamber. Don Reba regarded him
with an expression of both politeness and benevolent curiosity.
"What is that supposed to mean?" asked the king in a sulking voice.
"Well, then, I am giving you an order: where is your quacksalver?"
Rumata's entire body began to tense up. He could almost feel the arrow
tips in his back already.
"Your Majesty," he said quickly. "Please, order Don Reba to produce the
famous doctor Budach before your presence!"
How amazing! He had said the most important thing and he was still
alive. Should Don Reba harbor any doubts about his position in this case?
The king directed his weary glance toward his Minister of Internal Security.
"Your Majesty," continued Rumata, now without haste and with a
deliberate and restrained tone. "Inasmuch as I have known of your truly
unbearable suffering, and heedful of my family's duty toward the royal
house, I arranged for the famous, most learned physician Budach to come here
from Irukan. Most regrettably I must report that the doctor's journey to you
was cut short. The soldiers of our honorable Don Reba seized him one week
ago and his fate from that day on is known to Don Reba alone. I presume that
the physician is currently somewhere in this vicinity, probably in the Tower
of Joy. I can only hope that Don Reba's peculiar dislike of physicians has
not yet had a fateful effect on Doctor Budach's well-being."
Rumata fell silent and held his breath. Apparently everything was going
smoothly. Hold your horses, Don Reba! He glanced swiftly in the direction of
the minister--and froze. The Minister of Internal Security had firm control
over himself. He nodded briefly toward Rumata--a tender, fatherly reproach.
This was the last thing Rumata expected from him. He seems triumphant,
thought Rumata nonplussed. But the king, on the other hand, behaved true to
"You scoundre!" he shouted. "I'll wring your neck! Where is the doctor?
Where is the doctor, I am asking you!"
Reba advanced a step, smiling pleasantly.
"Your Majesty," he said, "you are truly a fortunate ruler, for you have
so many devoted subjects that they sometimes interfere with each other in
their desire to serve you." The king stared at him with dull,
uncomprehending eyes. "I do not wish to conceal that our zealous Don
Rumata's noble intentions were well known to me, like everything else in
your realm. I do not wish to conceal that I sent out our Gray soldiers to
meet Doctor Budach halfway for the sole purpose of protecting the honorable
old man from the discomforts of his long journey. Furthermore, I do not wish
to conceal that I was in no particular hurry to present the Irukanian Budach
to Your Majesty"
"How dare you do that!" the king reproached him.
"Your Majesty, Don Rumata is young and as inexperienced in politics as
he is experienced in the noble art of dueling. Thus he was, of course,
totally unaware of the dastardly feats the Duke of Irukan is capable of in
his raging wickedness against the person of Your Majesty. But you and I, we
two are naturally aware of that, aren't we, Your Majesty?" The king nodded
assent. "And that is why I deemed it advisable to conduct some kind of an
investigation, merely as a precautionary measure. I would not have rushed
matters, but if you, my King (a deep bow toward the king), and you, Don
Rumata (a slight nod toward Rumata), so urgently insist on it, I'll bring
Doctor Budach into your presence this very day, after your midday meal, so
that he can begin your treatment."
"You are not so stupid after all, Don Reba," said the king, after
pondering a little while over his minister's words. "An investigation . . .
that's fine . . . can never do any harm.
The cursed Irukanian . . ." He howled suddenly with pain and touched
his knee again. "Oh, damn that leg! Good, right after the midday meal then?
I'll have to wait till then . . . have to wait."
And leaning on the shoulder of the master of ceremony, the king slowly
walked into the presence chamber, past Rumata, who was completely
dumbfounded. And just as Don Reba was about to make his way through the
crowd of the courtiers, who politely stepped aside to let him pass through,
he bestowed a friendly smile on Don Rumata and asked:
"Is it correct, Don Rumata, that it is you who will do guard duty
tonight in the Prince's bedroom? I have been properly informed, haven't I?"
Rumata bowed in silence.
Rumata ambled aimlessly through the endless corridors and cross
passages of the palace. It was dark and humid there, and smelled of ammonia
and putrefaction. He passed by magnificent rooms, decorated with rich
carpets and wall hangings, and also by storage closets filled with junk and
old furniture with peeling gilding. One rarely encountered anybody there.
Occasionally some courtier would lose his way and wander around in this
labyrinth, located in the back wings of the palace where the royal
apartments gradually merged into the offices of the Ministry of Internal
Security. It was easy to get lost here. Everyone remembered the time when a
patrol of the guard, doing their rounds, were frightened by the howling of
some man, who stretched his scratched hands out to them through the barred
window of an embrasure. "Save me!" yelled the man. "I am a gentleman of the
bedchamber! I don't know how to get out of here! I haven't eaten in two
days! Will you get me out of here!" (There was an animated correspondence
for ten days between the Treasurer of the Household and the Lord Stewart,
which finally resulted in a decision to yank out the window bars. During
these ten days they fed the poor gentleman of the bedchamber with bread and
meat that was passed to him speared upon the tip of a lance.) Besides, there
lurked various other dangers in these passages. Drunken soldiers of the
Household troops, who were supposed to guard the person of the king, and
drunken Sturmoviks, in charge of watching over the ministry, would clash in
these narrow corridors and fight bitter battles. But after they had done
with beating each other up, they would separate and carry off their wounded.
And finally, this was where the ghosts of the slain would wander about--a
quite considerable crowd of poor murdered souls had accumulated here in the
palace during the course of the last two centuries.
From a deep nook in the wall he saw a Sturmovik emerging who was on
guard duty. The Gray soldier raised his ax and said somberly:
"A fat lot you know, stupid!" said Rumata and shoved him aside.
As he was walking on, he could hear the Sturmovik scrape the floor with
his boots and stomp his feet, unable to decide how he should react to Don
Rumata's insult. Don Rumata caught himself thinking that this offensive
manner of speaking and these indolent gestures had almost become second
nature to him: no longer did he merely pretend to act like a lout of noble
birth, but he had assumed such behavior as sort of an automatic reflex. He
visualized the effect of such behavior back on Earth and was overcome at
once by a feeling of shame and nausea.--Why should I behave that way? What
change has come over me? Whatever became of the respect and the confidence
in my peers that constituted an ingrained pattern of conduct ever since I
was a child? What kind of relationship have I developed to other human
beings, to the wonderful creature called "man"? But I must be beyond all
help anyhow by now . . . The horrifying thought raced through his mind: I
actually hate and despise them. I feel no pity for them--no, I truly hate
and despise them. Even if I consider the dullness and bestiality of that
lump of flesh, the social circumstances and his horrible education ... I can
try as hard as I might, but I now see quite clearly that this is my enemy,
hostile to everything I hold dear, the enemy of my friends, the enemy of all
I personally hold sacred. And I do not hate him in an abstract manner, nor
as a "typical representative," but as an individual. I hate his disgusting
mouth, all smeared with saliva, the stench of his unwashed body, his blind
faith, his antipathy toward anything beyond sexual needs and guzzling beer.
There he stands, shuffling his feet, this adolescent whose potbellied father
used to thrash his hide not more than half a year ago in order to train him
with such methods to become a merchant in maggoty flour and mouldy jam:
there he stands, moaning and groaning, this addlebrain, torturing himself as
he tries in vain to remember the pertinent paragraphs of the rules that were
crammed into his stupid head--and he cannot make up his mind whether to use
his hatchet on the noble don, to shout for help, or to simply wave him on
his way. Whichever way he decides, no one will ever find out about it. He
shrugs off everything in the world that bothers him, returns to his niche in
the wall, puts a piece of chewing rind into his fat mouth, smacks his lips,
chews the cud like a contented cow, and drips saliva like a teething babe.
And nothing in the world will interest him. He will not exercise his brain
for anything. God forbid! But how much better than he is our Enlightened
Eagle, Don Reba? True, his psyche is more complicated, and his reflexes are
more intricate, but his thoughts definitely resemble those of this fellow,
who is reeking of ammonia and these labyrinthine corridors, studded with
crimes. And he is indescribably vile, a horrid criminal, an unscrupulous
spider. I have come to this planet to love these people, to assist them in
their task of self-development, to enable them to see the light. No, I am a
poor emissary, he thought sadly. I am a failure as a historian. And when did
it happen that I fell into this abyss of which Don Kondor was speaking? Is a
god entitled to any other feelings besides pity?
From behind his back came a hurried clomping of boots down the
corridor. Rumata spun around and seized both swords with his hands placed
crosswise at the hilt. Don Ripat rushed toward him, brandishing his
"Don Rumata, Don Rumata!" he called out in a loud whisper while still
Rumata released his grip on his swords. Now Don Ripat had come quite
close; he looked carefully in all directions, then whispered, almost
inaudibly, into Rumata's ear:
"I've been looking for you for nearly an hour. Waga Koleso is here in
the palace! He is talking with Don Reba in the lilac room."
Rumata narrowed his eyes momentarily. Then he cautiously stepped to one
side and said with polite surprise:
"You wouldn't be talking about the famous robber chief? I believe he
has been executed a long time ago, or probably exists only as a figment of
The lieutenant licked his chapped lips.
"He does exist . . . He is in the palace ... I thought this would
"My dear Don Ripat," said Rumata with emphasis. "I am always interested
in all kinds of rumors. Gossip. Anecdotes. Life is so dull... You must have
The lieutenant regarded him with perplexed eyes. Rumata continued:
"Just use your own judgment, will you? Why should I be involved in Don
Reba's underhand dealings and fishy relationships? But don't forget how much
I do appreciate Don Reba as a person; I would be unable to condemn and
criticize his actions.--Please, will you forgive me, I am in a hurry. A lady
is expecting me."
Don Ripat licked his lips again, bowed awkwardly and walked off to one
side. Suddenly, Don Rumata had an inspiration.
"By the way, my friend," he called after Don Ripat with kindness in his
voice, "how did you like the little trick we played on Don Reba this
Don Ripat willingly came to a halt.
"We are most satisfied," he said.
"Wasn't it charming?"
"It was marvelous! The leadership of the Gray soldiers is very pleased
that you finally have openly taken our side. Such a clever man like you, Don
Rumata, wasting your time with barons, these titled monsters ..."
"My dear Ripat!" said Rumata condescendingly, while turning to leave.
"You seem to forget that seen from the pinnacle of my lineage hardly any
difference can be noticed between the king and your ilk. Goodbye!"
He strode off confidently through the corridors, turned into side
passages without a trace of indecision and pushed the guards aside without
as much as a word being said. He had only some dim notion how to proceed now
but he was sure that this was an amazing and very rare coincidence. He must
hear the conversation between the two spiders. It was not for nothing that
Don Reba had promised fourteen times the reward for Waga brought in alive
rather than dead.
From behind the heavy lilac-colored curtains stepped two Gray
lieutenants, their swords unsheathed.
"Greetings to you, my friends," said Don Rumata and stopped right
between the two men. "Is the minister in his apartment?"
"The minister is busy, Don Rumata," said one of the two lieutenants.
"I'll wait for him, then," said Rumata and passed between the drapes.
It was pitch dark here, impossible to see anything at all. He cautiously
groped his way through chairs, tables, and heavy cast iron lantern stands.
Then he perceived a thin ray of light, heard the familiar tenor voice of
Waga Koleso, and came to a halt. Several times he distinctly heard someone
breathe just behind his head and he was enveloped in a cloud of garlic and
beer odors. Then he felt a spear point pressed cautiously but unmistakably
between his shoulder blades. "Keep calm, you moron!" he said irritably but
softly. "It's me, Don Rumata!"
The spear was withdrawn. Rumata pushed a chair toward the chink of
light, sat down, crossed one leg over the other, and yawned so loud that
anyone could hear it. Then he started to observe.
The spiders had met. Don Reba sat there, very tense, elbows on the
table and fingers interlaced. At his right was a stack of papers with a
heavy wooden-handled dagger placed on top.
The minister's face displayed a pleasant if somewhat rigid smile. The
honorable Waga was sitting on a divan, his back turned to Rumata. He
resembled a quaint old magnate who had been spending the last thirty years
of his life on his country place in total seclusion.
"The murgles are crockled," he said, "and the crack-stampers have been
stubbing around our warrels with their greems quappered up. And there are
twenty long zackerlings by now. Crupply and cressly, I would shrab them
right on the snoller, crump over crass. But the zackerlings have a zunker
way of sharmauning things. That's why we've been brimsing our trunks. That's
our expomple ..."
Don Reba cupped his well-shaven chin in his hand.
"Murbelously brickered out," he said pensively.
Waga shrugged his shoulders.
"That is krapul our expomple. I wouldn't flarry that you'd cruckle with
us. Well, groosby then?"
"Groosby," said the Minister of Internal Security firmly.
"And smucks off," said Waga and got to his feet.
Rumata, who had listened totally perplexed to this nonsense, discovered
a bushy mustache in Waga's face and a little, gray pointed beard. A genuine
courtier from the reign of the former king.
"This was a very pleasant chat, Don Reba," said Waga.
Don Reba rose, too.
"I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, a great pleasure indeed," he
said. "I have never met such a courageous man as you, my dear Koleso..."
"The same here," replied Waga with a slightly bored expression. "I am
as amazed as I am proud of the boldness of the First Minister of our
Then he turned on his heels and walked toward the exit, leaning heavily
on his cane. Don Reba did not take his eyes off the old man. He seemed lost
in thought and absentmind-ediy placed his hand on the handle of his dagger.
Immediately afterwards somebody standing behind Rumata puffed with all his
might and the long blue tube of a blow-gun pushed past his ear to the chink
in the drapes. For a moment, Don Reba remained motionless, intent on
listening, then he sat down again, pulled out a drawer, took out a bundle of
papers and began to study them. Somebody spat out in back of Rumata and the
blowpipe disappeared. It was all very clear. The spiders had found their
solution. Rumata stood up, stepped on someone's feet and finally left the
horrid room with the lilac-colored drapes.
The king was dining in a gigantic hall whose ceiling took up two
storeys. The ninety-foot table had been set for 100 persons. The king was
joined at table by Don Reba, personages of royal blood (two dozen blue
bloods, gluttons, and experienced drunkards), various masters of ceremony,
several members of the local aristocracy who traditionally were the king's
dinner guests and among whom Rumata was counted, a few transient barons with
their wooden-headed spouses, and at the farthest end of the table, the
landed gentry, the lesser nobility that had been invited with or even
without any special privileges. The last group of guests received, together
with their dinner invitations, a seating number for the table, and a list of
instructions: "Sit quietly; the King does not like people to wiggle in their
seats. Keep your hands on top of the table; the King does not like people to
hide their hands underneath it. Do not turn around; the King does not like
people to turn then back on him." At every meal they would devour enormous
quantities of the choicest foods, guzzle down rivers of old wines, and
veritable mountains of the famous Estorian porcelain dishes were broken. In
one of his reports to the king, the Treasurer once boasted that one such
dinner at the royal table cost as much as was spent for the upkeep of the
Soanian Academy of Sciences during six months.
While Rumata was waiting for the master of ceremonies to call three
times, "Come to table!" and the accompanying sound of fanfares, he joined a
group of courtiers and listened for the tenth time to Don Tameo's famous
story about how he had had the honor to partake of another royal meal some
six months ago. "... So I arrive at my designated seat, we're all standing,
the King enters, sits down, so we, too, sit down, and the meal takes its
normal course. But suddenly, just imagine, my noble dons, all of a sudden I
feel all wet on my seat. Wet! I don't dare to budge from the spot, neither
turn around, nor put my hand down there. But, then, I wait for some
propitious moment and cautiously feel down there with the fingers of my left
hand. And would you believe it, my dear gentlemen, would you believe it!
It's wet down there! I quickly sniff at my fingers--no, they don't stink.
What the devil is going on? Meanwhile the dinner is over, everyone rises
from their chairs, but--as you can fully imagine, my dear dons--I don't
quite feel like getting up from my seat . . . Then, lo and behold, the King
comes toward me, His Majesty! But I remain seated like some yokel baron from
the hinterland who knows nothing about court etiquette. His Majesty comes
quite close, smiles graciously and puts his hand on my shoulder. 'My dear
Don Tameo,' he says. 'We have all gotten up from table and are going to
watch the ballet but you are still sitting on your chair. What is the
matter? Have you not had enough to eat, perhaps?'--'Your Majesty,' I say,
'have my head cut off, but my seat is wet." His Majesty was graciously
pleased to break out in laughter, and ordered me to stand up. I rise from my
chair--and guess what? Loud laughter all around us. Noble dons, all
throughout dinner I had been sitting on a rum torte! His Majesty was
graciously roaring with laughter. Finally he said: 'Reba, Reba! Is that one
of your pranks again? Just wipe the noble don's behind, he has his pants
full!' Don Reba doubles over with laughter, pulls out his dagger and scrapes
the torte off the seat of my pants. Can you picture what I felt like, noble
dons? I won't hide it from you, I was trembling and shaking all over,
frightened to death at the thought of having humiliated Don Reba in front of
everyone, afraid that he now would revenge himself. Fortunately, however,
all turned out all right at the end. I assure you, my noble dons, this was
the happiest event in my life! I made the King enjoy himself. Oh, how he
laughed! How he had fun!"
The fanfares sounded, the master of ceremonies called in his melodious
voice for all to come to the table. The king entered the hall, slightly
dragging one leg behind. All took their seats at the royal table. The guards
on duty were stationed in all four comers of the hall, immobile, leaning on
their double-fisted swords. Rumata's table companions on either side were
silent. To his right, the chair was filled with the quaking, immense belly
of the somber glutton Don Pifa, married to a fabled beauty. On his left sat
the poet Our, staring into his empty plate with a blank expression. The
guests were all intently watching the king. The king fastened a napkin, more
gray than white, around his neck, quickly glanced at the round of dishes in
front of him, and reached for a chicken leg. Hardly had he fastened his
teeth on the meat than one hundred knives swept with a noisy clatter down on
the plates and one hundred hands greedily dug into the dishes. The dining
hall was filled with slurping and smacking of lips, the wine flowed like a
torrent. The mustaches of the guardsmen, who were leaning unmoving on their
swords, began to twitch in a dance of greed. Once Rumata had been nauseated
by these affairs, but now he had gotten used to them.
While he was carving the thigh of a ram with his dagger, he slyly
glanced to his right, but quickly looked away again:
Don Pifa's torso was bent over an entire roast boar and working its way
into it like a bulldozer. Not even the bones remained behind his steadily
advancing body. Rumata held his breath and emptied a full glass of Irukanian
wine. Then he turned slightly to his left. The poet Gur was poking his spoon
joylessly in a bowl of meat salad.
"Writing something?" inquired Rumata in a subdued voice. Gur gave a
"Writing something? I? I don't know ... sure, sure, lots of things.."
"Yes, yes ... poems ..."
"They're terrible poems, Father Gur." Gur looked at him with a strange
expression "You're no poet!"
"No poet. . . Sometimes I reflect on what I really am, and what I am
afraid of. I don't know..."
"Look into your plate and continue eating. I'll tell you what you are.
A creative genius, the discoverer of new ways in literature, and one of the
most productive writers to boot." Gur's cheeks became flushed with red. "In
a hundred years, and maybe sooner, dozens of poets will follow in your
"God forbid!" The words escaped from the poet's lips. "Now I shall tell
you what you're really afraid of." "I am afraid of the dark." The evening
"This too. For dusk offers us up to the power of the ghosts. But most
of all I fear the darkness at night, for everything turns gray in the same
manner at night."
"Well said. Father Gur. But now, something else: is your work still
"I don't know--and I do not want to know." "Let me assure you, one copy
is in the capital, in the emperor's library. Another copy is preserved in
the Museum of Rarities in Scan. And a third copy is in my possession." Gur
took a spoonful of jelly, his hand trembling heavily. "I... I do not
His large, deep-set eyes were depressed as he looked at Rumata. "I
would like to read it... read it once more . .." "I shall send it to you
with pleasure." "And then?" "And then you'll return it to me." "Oh, yes,
give it back again!" said Gur sharply. "Don Reba has intimidated you very
much Father Gur." "Intimidated , . . Have you ever had to burn your own
children? What do you know of terror, of fear, noble don?"
"I bow my head respectfully before all you have had to go through,
Father Gur. But I condemn you with all my soul for giving up!"
Suddenly Gur, the poet, began to whisper so softly that Rumata could
hardly hear him over the general babble of voices and noisy eaters at the
"And what is that all supposed to mean? What is the truth? Prince Chaar
really did love that beautiful copper-skinned woman. They had children
together. I know their grandchildren. They poisoned them, they really did.
But they told me this was all a lie. They told me truth is whatever is
beneficial for the King. All else is nothing but lies and crimes. Only now
am I finally writing the truth . . ." He suddenly rose from his seat and
recited in a lofty, declamatory singsong:
Great and glorious, like eternity,
Rules the King named Noblemind.
Plotting princes grope uncertainly
When their visions he strikes blind.
The king interrupted his chewing for a moment, parted his lips to show
a mouth full of food. He regarded Gur out of dull eyes. The guests pulled
their heads back between their shoulders. Only Don Reba smiled and clapped
his hands a few times, almost inaudibly. The king spat out several bones
onto the carpet and said:
"Glorious? Right. Eternity? Good! You can go on eating."
The lip smacking and babbling started anew. Gur sat down.
"How sweet and pleasant to tell the King the truth right to his face,"
he said raucously.
Rumata was silent. Then he said:
"I'll have a copy of the book sent over, Father Gur. One condition
though. You will immediately begin a new work."
"No," said Gur. "Too late. Let Kiun write. I'm already poisoned. And
anyway, I'm no longer interested in these things. The only thing I'd like to
do now--I want to learn to drink. Only I can't... My stomach hurts ..."
One more defeat to chalk up, thought Rumata. Too late.
"Listen, Reba," said the king suddenly. "Where is the quack? You
promised to bring me a physician after dinner!"
"He is here, Your Highness," said Don Reba. "Are you ordering me to
"Am I ordering you? That's more than flesh and blood can bear! If you
had pains in your knee like mine, you'd be squealing like a stuck pig! Have
him come in at once!"
Rumata leaned back in his chair in order to see better. Don Reba raised
his hand above his head and snapped his fingers. The door opened and in
walked an old, bent man, constantly bowing, clad in a floor-length mantilla
embroidered with silvery spiders, golden stars and glittering snakes. He was
carrying a long, flat satchel under his arm. Rumata was worried and
disappointed at the same time. He had imagined Budach to look quite
different. Could such a wise man and humanist, author of the encyclopedic
Treatise Concerning Poisons, have such restlessly wandering, inflamed eyes,
lips aquiver with fear, and such a pitiful, subservient smile? But then
Rumata remembered the poet Gur. Wouldn't the persecution of an Irukanian spy
be a worthwhile literary discussion in Don Reba's cabinet? Wouldn't it be
fun to tweak Don Reba's ear, he thought, and mentally smacked his lips. He
should be dragged off to the dungeon. And the torturers should be
instructed: There he is, that Irukanian spy who pretends to be our
Arkanarian Minister of Internal Security. The king demands that you drag out
of him where the real minister is being kept. Go to work! And woe betide
you, if he dies before the week is over . . . Rumata had to hide his face in
his hand. A wave of hatred swept over him. What a terrible thing, this
"There you are. Come over here, you quack," said the king. "Come here,
my dear man, you mental giant. Well, sit down over here--sit down, I
The unfortunate Budach set to work, his face contorted with fright.
"Go on, go on!" winced the king. "Keep on going, I tell you! Get down
on your knees, your knees can't possibly hurt you. Cured himself, that
devil! Now, let me see your teeth! That's the way. I'll say a fine set of
teeth you have here. If I only had teeth like that! And your hands are in
fine shape, too, good and strong. What a healthy chap he is ... and a mental
giant in spite of it ... Well, then . . . Come on, my dove, go on, heal me,
what are you waiting for?"
"If You-you-r Ma-majesty . . . would graciously show me the sick leg
... the leg . . .," stuttered the physician. Rumata looked up.
The physician knelt before the king and cautiously examined his leg.
"Eh!" snorted the king. "What's that supposed to be? Don't you touch
me! Now that you have started, cure me!"
"I ... I ... have seen everything I need, Your Majesty," mumbled the
physician nervously and started to rummage hurriedly in his satchel
The guests stopped chewing. The aristocrats of lower rank, who were
sitting at the farthest end of the table, even stood up and, burning with
curiosity, stretched their necks so as to be able to see better.
Budach took a few small stone bottles from his satchel, uncorked them,
sniffed at each, one after the other, then placed them in one row on the
table before him. Then he took the king's goblet and filled it half with
wine. While he was executing mysterious hand motions above the goblet, he
whispered magic formulas then swiftly emptied all the little bottles into
the cup. A distinct smell of ammonia spread throughout the hall. The king's
lips became pencil-thin. He peered into the cup, puckered, up his mouth, and
glanced over in Don Reba's direction. The minister smiled sympathetically.
The courtiers held their breath.
What on earth is he doing? wondered Rumata. The old king has gout! What
concoction has he been brewing together in that cup? Yet he stated quite
clearly in his treatise:
"Rub the swollen limbs with the three-days-old poison of the Qu snake."
Perhaps he is going to use it to rub the potion into his skin?
"What is this?" asked the king, full of distrust, pointing with his
right forefinger to the goblet. "It's a liniment, is it, to rub into my
"Not at all, Your Majesty," said Budach. He seemed to have regained his
composure somewhat by now. "This is to be taken by mouth."
"B-y-y mou-outh?" The king puffed out his cheeks and leaned back in his
armchair. "I don't want to take anything by mouth! Rub it in!"
"Your wish is my command," said Budach obediently. "But I take the
liberty of warning Your Majesty that an external application will not help
you, not at all."
"And why did all the others used to rub my knee with ointments?"
inquired the king in a surly tone. "And you insist on making me drink this
"Your Majesty," said Budach and straightened up proudly. "This medicine
is known only to me. I have cured the uncle of the Duke of Irukan with it.
And what concerns those who advocate rubbing your knee with salves . . .
permit me to say ... these quacksalvers have not cured Your Majesty ..."
The king glanced once more over to Don Reba. Don Reba smiled with
compassion, it seemed.
"You swindler!" said the king to the physician in a nasty tone of
voice. "You yokel! You flea-bitten know-it-all!" He seized the cup. "Here,
that's what I'll do with this brew! I'll throw it in your teeth!" He peered
into the goblet. "What if it makes me throw up?"
"Then the procedure will have to be repeated. Your Majesty," answered
Budach with a sad face.
"Well, I'll do it then," said the king and was just about to raise the
cup to his lips when he suddenly pushed it back again, so violently that
some of the liquid spilled on the rug. "Ha, dear man, you drink some of it
first! I know your ilk, you tricky Irukanians have even sold our Holy Mickey
to the barbarians. Drink, I order you!"
Budach accepted the cup, looking rather offended, and sipped a few
drops from it.
"Well, what does it taste like?"
"Bitter, Your Majesty," said Budach subdued. "But you, Your Majesty,
must drink this medicine now!"
"Must, must!" wailed the king. "I know all by myself what I must do.
Give it to me! Half has been spilt already anyhow. Well then, hand it to
He drained the cup at one draught. Compassionate sighs could be heard
here and there coming from the dinner guests. And suddenly all was quiet.
The king grew rigid, his mouth wide open. Tears welled up in his eyes, then
ran down his cheeks, one by one. His face became flushed, little by little,
then it turned blue. He stretched one hand out over the table, spasmodically
snapping his fingers. Don Reba quickly handed him a sour pickle. The king
hurled the pickle at Don Reba and then stretched his hand out again.
"Wine!" he croaked hoarsely.
Somebody bent down and handed him a clay jug. The long drank hastily
with huge gulps, madly rolling his eyes all the while. Red stripes were
flowing down on his white vest. After he had drained the jug, he threw it at
Budach, but he missed.
"You dog's son!" he said with an unexpected deep basso. "Why do you
want to kill me off? Haven't they hanged enough of your kind? Go to the
He fell silent and touched his knee.
"It hurts!" he said in the same whining tone as before. "It's still
"Your Majesty!" said Budach. "To obtain a complete cure your Majesty
ought to drink this mixture daily, for at least one week."
Something seemed to burst in the king's throat.
"Get away!" howled the king. "Go and be hanged! All of you!" The
courders jumped up, rushed en masse to the doors, overturning some chairs.
"Out of my sight! Ou-ou-ou-t!" screamed the king, beside himself with
fury, and swept the dishes from the table.
After Rumata had quickly fled the scene along with the rest of the
diners, he dived behind the nearest curtain at hand and started to laugh.
Behind the curtain next to him, he heard the others laughing too--fitfully,
gasping for breath and howling with delight.
Rumata's tour of night duty in the prince's bedchambers did not begin
until midnight. Rumata decided, therefore, to go home in the meantime in
order to check if everything was in order and to change clothes. He was
puzzled by the way the town looked in the evening light. The streets were
enveloped in deep silence, the inns and taverns had shut their doors. At the
street crossings groups of the Gray Sturmoviks rattled metallically, their
torches in their hands. They, too, did not utter a sound, and seemed to be
waiting for something definite. On several occasions one of them would come
quite close to Rumata, stare at his face, but as soon as he had recognized
him, would always silently permit him to proceed on his way. When Rumata was
within fifty feet of his own house, a group of suspicious-looking characters
followed hard behind him, yet keeping at a steady distance. Rumata came to a
brief halt and rattled his swords. The figures fell back a bit, but soon
afterwards he heard behind him the click of a loaded crossbow. Rumata
hurried on his way, all the time pressing close to the walls of the houses.
He groped for his house door, turned the key in the lock and was all the
time painfully aware of his unprotected back. He leapt inside the entrance
hall with a sigh of relief.
All his servants had already assembled in the entrance hall, armed with
all kinds of weapons. They had checked the gate already repeatedly to make
certain it was well secured. Rumata liked none of this. Perhaps I shouldn't
leave the house after all, he thought. To hell with the young prince.
"Where is Baron Pampa?" he asked.
Agitated greatly, his crossbow slung over his shoulder, Uno answered
that the baron had not awakened until noon, had then drunk all the available
water from the sour pickle jugs and had then departed again to have some
more fun. Then Uno reported in a serious voice that Kyra had inquired
several times after the master--she was most worried about him.
"All right," said Rumata and ordered his servants to take up their
All in all, not counting the female cooks, he had six servants,
dependable people generally, used to street brawls. Of course, they won't
start up anything with the Gray Ones, thought Rumata, for they fear the
wrath of the omnipotent Minister of the Security Forces; but they can make a
stand against the wretched characters of the nocturnal army, all the more,
since the robbers were expecting to find easy prey without any resistance.
The servants were equipped with two crossbows, four battle-axes, several big
butcher knives, iron helmets; the gate was secured, studded with nails and
bound with iron in keeping with the good old local traditions. Or would it
perhaps be best not to leave the house tonight?
Rumata walked upstairs and tiptoed into Kyra's room. Kyra was sleeping
in her clothes, curled up on top of the bedspread. Rumata leaned over her, a
candlestick held in his hand. Shall I go or not? I would dearly like for
once not to have to leave.
He put a light blanket over her, kissed her on the cheek and returned
to his room. I must go. Whatever happens, a scout must always be right in
the thick of all that is going on. For the benefit of the historians back on
Terra. A bitter smile flitted across his features, he took the circlet off
his forehead, carefully cleaned the lens with a soft rag and then put the
circlet back on again. Then he called Uno and ordered him to bring his suit
of armor and the freshly polished copper helmet Shivering with cold, he
pulled his metalloplast shirt over his undershirt, right underneath his
vest. The metalloplast garment was fashioned like chain mail (the local
chain mail provided good protection against injuries inflicted by daggers or
swords, but an arrow from a crossbow could easily pierce it). While he
girded himself with his uniform belt, fastening the metal clasps, he said to
"Listen, my boy. I trust you more than anyone else.
Whatever might happen here, Kyra must remain alive and well. I don't
care if the whole house burns down, or if they steal all the money I have,
but do protect Kyra for me. Lead her, if necessary, over roofs or through
basements, whichever way is best, but look out for her, guard her. Is that
"Yes, sir," said Uno. "You shouldn't go out tonight"
"Listen to me. If I'm not back in three days, take Kyra and lead her to
the clearing in Hiccup Forest. Do you know where that is? Well, there you
will find the Drunkard's Lair, a peculiar-looking hut not far off the road.
You need only ask, people will show you where it is. But be careful who you
ask. A man by the name of Father Kabani lives there. Tell him everything. Is
"Yes, sir. But it would be much better if you wouldn't leave tonight."
"I would prefer to stay. But it's impossible. Duty calls. Well then, be
He gently patted the boy's cheek and returned his awkward smile with a
friendly glance. Downstairs, he said a few encouraging words to his
servants, left the house, and disappeared once more into the darkness.
Behind him, he heard the clanking of the heavy doors as they were barred
against intruders. Traditionally, the prince's apartments had never been
guarded very closely. Quite likely this was the reason no one had ever made
an attack against the life of the Arkanarian princes. And in particular,
nobody seemed to be interested in the present prince. There was no one who
liked this sickly blue-eyed boy, who resembled everyone except his own
father. Rumata was fond of the boy, though. His education had been grossly
neglected and therefore his imagination had remained unspoiled; he was not
cruel like the others, could not stand Don Reba--instinctively, it would
seem--loved to sing songs to the verses of Zuren and to play with little
boats. Rumata had ordered some illustrated books to be sent for him from the
capital, told him about the starry sky and completely won the boy's sympathy
by regaling him with fairy tales about flying ships. To Rumata, who rarely
had any dealings with young children, the ten-year-old prince seemed to be
quite different from the other inhabitants of this wild country. And yet
these innocent, blue-eyed children, whichever strata of the population they
came from, were the ones who would later develop bestiality, ignorance, and
blind submission to the authorities.
Still, these children showed absolutely no traces of meanness. It
wouldn't be a bad idea, he thought sometimes, if there were no adults on
The prince was already asleep. Rumata began his guard duty. Together
with the officer he had come to relieve, he approached the bed where the
prince was sleeping, and they executed complicated figures with their naked
swords as prescribed by court etiquette. Then Rumata made the traditional
rounds to check if all windows were closed and bolted, if the nursery-maids
were stationed at their assigned places and if candlesticks were burning in
all the rooms. Then he returned to the antechamber, played a game of
knuckles with the officer of the guard, who was now off duty, and who
inquired of the noble don what he thought of the recent events in town. The
noble don, a man of tremendous intellectual prowess, became lost in deep
thoughts, then announced that in his opinion the common folk were preparing
for Holy Mickey Day.
After the officer had left, Rumata pushed a chair to the window, sat
down at ease and looked out over the city. The house of the prince stood
atop a hill and during the day one had a splendid view all over the city and
as far as the ocean. Now, however, all was enveloped in darkness. Only
occasional clusters of lights were visible where people gathered at the
crossroads, waiting for the torch signals of the Sturmoviks. The city was
asleep, or at least pretended to be. How interesting it would be to know
whether the inhabitants could sense that something horrendous was about to
happen. Or did they assume, like the noble don with the tremendous
intellectual prowess, that these were just preparations for Holy Mickey Day?
Twenty thousand men and women. Twenty thousand locksmiths, armorers,
butchers, cloth merchants, jewelers, housewives, prostitutes, monks,
money-changers, soldiers, vagabonds, and bookworms who had still been spared
were tossing in their sticky beds that reeked of bedbugs. They were
sleeping, making love, going over in their minds the profits of the day,
crying, gritting their teeth with wickedness or depression...
Twenty thousand human beings! In the eyes of a terrestrial observer,
they all had something in common. Probably it was the fact that all of them,
with almost no exceptions, were not yet human beings in the current sense of
the word, but rather preliminary stages, blocks of raw iron ore out of which
the bloody centuries of history would eventually forge proud and free men.
They were passive, greedy, and incredibly egoistic. Seen from a
psychological point of view, almost all of them were slaves--slaves of
faith, slaves of their own persons, slaves of their powerful passions and
slaves of their avarice. And if by chance one of them was born a nobleman,
or worked his way up through diligence over the years, he did not even know
what to do with his freedom. He rushed to become a slave once more--enslaved
by wealth, enslaved by unnatural luxury, enslaved by debauched companions
and enslaved by his own slaves. The majority could not really be blamed for
this at all. Their enslavement was rooted in passivity and ignorance.
Passivity and ignorance, however, would lead in turn again and again to
their enslavement. If indeed they all came from the same mold, all would
merely twiddle their thumbs and not a glimmer of hope would exist for them.
But they were nevertheless human beings and bore the spark of intelligence.
And thus constantly, sometimes here, sometimes there, the fire of a very,
very distant but inevitable future would flare up. It would begin to bum,
despite everything. Despite their apparent incompetence. Despite the
unending suppression and persecution. Although they were kicked and beaten.
Although nobody in this world needed them, and all men were against them.
Although at the very best they could count on uncomprehending, condescending
They did not realize that the future was ahead of them, that the future
was impossible without them. They did not recognize themselves as the only
real hope for the future in a world caught in the grip of horrible ghosts of
the past, that they are a ferment, the vitamin in the organism of their
society. Once you destroy these ferments, society will start to rot, social
decay will result, the muscles grow limp, the eyesight fade and the teeth
fall out. No state can develop without the help of the sciences.--It will be
wiped out by its neighbors. Without art and culture a state will lose its
capacity for self-evaluation, will give impetus to the wrong drifts, will
constantly bring forth hypocrites and scoundrels, encourage the development
of overconsumption of goods by its citizens, engender arrogance and
eventually fall victim in turn to some bolder neighbor. Let the authorities
persecute the bookworms as much as it pleases, hinder and stop the
activities of the scientists, destroy the arts: sooner or later the
government leaders will stumble, and as they gnash their teeth they will be
forced to reopen all those avenues to mankind that are so hated by the
power-hungry dunderheads and ignoramuses. And as thoroughly as these Gray
men in power might despise culture and knowledge, in the long run they are
nevertheless impotent in the face of objective historical necessity--they
can only delay the course of progress, but they can not bring it to a
complete standstill. And even if they fear and scorn educated minds, they
are inescapably forced to further them eventually, simply in order to
survive. Sooner or later they must stand by as universities are founded,
scientific societies are organized, scientific research centers are set up,
observatories and laboratories are built, to train cadres of experts who are
already beyond the rulers' control--to educate men with a totally different
psyche, with completely different demands.
These people, however, cannot exist--nor can they function properly--in
an atmosphere of common greed, plebeian interests, dull self-sufficiency,
and exclusively sensual desires. They need a new type of atmosphere--an
atmosphere of general and all-encompassing cognition, imbued with artistic
tension; they need writers, poets, painters, composers --and the mighty Gray
Ones will see themselves forced to make concessions here, too. Those who
resist will be swept away by cleverer rivals in the battle for power; those,
on the other hand, who agree to make such concessions, will be digging their
own graves against their own will--inescapably and paradoxically. For
ignorant egoists and fanaticists are doomed, once the people's culture
awakens in all areas, from scientific research to the ability to enjoy good
music. This is followed by an epoch of vast social upheavals, accompanied by
an upswing of the sciences such as has never been seen before. And in
conjunction with the intellectualization of society through all strata will
follow an era when the powers of Gray will gather their final effort in a
battle whose cruelty will throw mankind back to the inhumanity of the Middle
Ages. This life-and-death struggle will see the downfall of the powers of
Gray, and they will ultimately go under in a society freed of all class
distinctions and the oppression of man .. .
Rumata was still looking out over the city, a petrified glob veiled in
gloom. Somewhere in its midst, in some stifling little room, was Father
Tarra, twisting and squirming on a wretched cot, racked by fever, but
Brother Nain was sitting next to him at a lopsided little table--drunk,
happy, and mean--finishing his Treatise about Rumors, the book wherein he
ridiculed with obvious relish, and with artfully chosen words, the life of
Graydom. Somewhere else, down there, Gur, the poet, was pacing the floor of
his empty, elegant rooms, blind with despair and terrified at the
realization that in spite of everything new worlds were trying to surface
from the depths of his ravaged soul. These new, bright worlds seemed to be
buoyed up by an unknown force, seemed to be filled with wonderful human
beings and staggering emotions. And somewhere down there Doctor Budach was
spending the night, who knew how? Humbled, forced to his knees, and beaten,
but still alive . . . My brothers all, thought Rumata. I am one of you.
After all, we are of the same flesh! Suddenly he was overwhelmed by the
insight that he was no god protecting the luminaries of the mind between the
palms of his hands, but rather a brother helping another brother, or a son
hurrying to his father's rescue. "I'll kill Don Reba."--'What for?"--"He has
destroyed my brothers."--"He does not know what he is doing."--"But he is
murdering the future."--"He is innocent; a child of his time."--"You mean he
does not realize his guilt? But what does it matter whether or not he is
aware of his guilt?"--"And what about Father Zupik? What wouldn't he give if
someone were to slay Don Reba? Now you're silent. You'll have to do a lot of
killing, won't you?" --"I don't know. Perhaps. One after the other. All
those who try to prevent the future from happening."--"The same old story.
Poison, homemade bombs--they never changed anything."--"Oh yes, they did.
The strategy of the revolution was born."--"What do you care about the
strategy of the revolution? All you want is to kill."--"Yes, I want to
kill."--"Can you really go through with it?"--"Yesterday I caused the death
of Dona Okana. I knew she would be killed the moment I went to her house
with a feather stuck behind my ear. I only regret having killed her
senselessly. They've almost managed to teach me such things here."-- "But
this is bad. It's a serious matter, and a dangerous one. Do you remember
Sergei Koschin, George Lenni or Sabine Krueger?"--Rumata ran his hand over
his sweat-covered forehead. Here you are, pondering, contemplating and
worrying--and all you have to show for it is a load of garbage.
He leapt to his feet and tore the window open. The widely dispersed
concentrations of lights throughout the dark city were set in motion,
broken, scattered, drifted apart, moved along in chains, vanished behind
invisible houses and appeared again. An indefinable roar surged up over the
city, a distant, many-voiced din. Two conflagrations flared up, illuminating
the neighboring rooftops. Something exploded in the harbor area. It had
begun. In a few hours it would be known what the significance was of the
union between the Gray hordes and the nocturnal army, this unnatural
alliance of little shopkeepers and robbers. And it would also be known then
what Don Reba had accomplished with that and what new provocation he had
managed to finagle, or--to put it in a plain language--who was to be
slaughtered tonight. Most likely this was the beginning of a night of the
long knives, a blood-letting among the leadership of the Gray hordes and at
the same time the annihilation of those unfortunate barons who just happened
to be in town, as well as of those aristocrats who represented the greatest
nuisance. I wonder what Pampa is doing, he thought. If only he isn't asleep.
Hell make out all right then.
There was no more time now to give free rein to his thoughts. The door
began to shake from a violent hammering with fists; somebody was yelling in
a hoarse voice: "Open up! Open up!" Rumata pushed back the bolt. A man, half
undressed, blue with fright, rushed into the room, seized Rumata by his vest
and shouted with a trembling voice:
"Where is the prince? Budach has poisoned the king! Irukanian spies
have started a riot in the city! Save the prince!"
It was the marshal of the prince's household, a stupid man, an
obsequious servant of his master. He pushed Rumata aside and ran into the
prince's bedchambers. The women began to scream. Meanwhile, however,
brandishing their notched battle-axes, the Sturmoviks in gray shirts rushed
through the open doors, their distorted faces drenched in perspiration.
"Get back," he said as cool as a cucumber.
From behind his back, from the bedchamber, came a brief, muffled
outcry. We are in trouble, thought Rumata. He dashed into a comer and
barricaded himself behind a table. Panting Sturmoviks began to fill the
room. Fifteen men in all, it seemed. A lieutenant in a gray uniform, in the
front row, raised his dagger.
"Don Rumata?" he asked, gasping for air. "You are under arrest.
Surrender your swords."
"Why don't you come and get them!" said Rumata and threw a quick glance
toward the window.
"Seize him!" the lieutenant wheezed.
Fifteen men, drunk and equipped with mere axes are no match for one who
is an expert in defensive techniques that will become known here only three
hundred years hence. The crowd surged forward and then fell back again. On
the floor remained several axes, two Sturmoviks writhing in pain, their
smashed hands gingerly pressed against their stomachs as they stumbled off
to the back rows of their comrades. Rumata was a master of the defensive fan
technique. The attackers were greeted by a dense, glittering curtain created
by his whirling swords, and it seemed impossible to penetrate this barrier
of steel. The Sturmoviks withdrew and looked at each other with baffled
faces. A sharp odor of beer and onions emanated from them.
Rumata moved the table, cautiously walked along the wall toward the
window, all the while keeping an eye on the Gray soldiers. A knife was
thrown at him from the back rows but it missed. Rumata laughed, set one foot
on the window ledge and said; "You try once more and this time I'll cut off
your hands. You know me."
They knew him. They knew him very well, and not one of the men budged
from his spot despite the commands and curses from their officers who were
careful not to risk anything themselves. Constantly threatening them with
both swords, Rumata pulled himself all the way up onto the window ledge. At
that moment a lance, coming from the street down below, hit him in the back.
The impact was terrific. Though the weapon did not pierce his metalloplast
shirt, it still swept him off the ledge and threw him back into the room,
down to the floor. Rumata held onto his two swords but they were of no help
in this situation. The whole mob pounced at once. All of them together must
have weighed well over a ton but they were in each other's way and thus he
succeeded in getting back to his feet again.
His fist smashed between somebody's wet lips, another fellow was
wiggled under his shoulder like a wounded rabbit, and Rumata kept hitting
out in all directions with his fists, elbows, shoulders (he had not felt
that free in a long time) but he could not shake them off. Dragging a throng
of bodies behind him, he managed to get as far as the door, where he finally
freed himself from the men who had dug their fingers into his legs. Then he
felt a painful, mighty blow on his shoulder and he fell on his back. Several
Sturmoviks were struggling to get out from under him. Once again he managed
to get back on his feet, dealing short blows that hurled the desperately
hitting and kicking Gray soldiers against the walls. For a moment he saw the
pockmarked face of the lieutenant loom up before him as he ducked behind his
discharged crossbow, when suddenly the door gave way and a new flood of
sweating, grimacing faces poured into the room. They threw a large net over
him, drew it together around his feet, and flung him to the ground.
He stopped resisting at once in order to preserve his strength. For a
while they kicked him with their boots-- silently, straining hard and
panting with delight. Then they grabbed him by his feet and dragged him
away. As they passed the open door of the bedchamber, he could see the
master of the prince's household nailed to the wall by a spear, and a bundle
of bloody sheets on the bed. "It's a revolution!" thought Rumata. 'That's
what it is all about. Poor boy. .." They pulled him down the stairs, and
then he lost consciousness.
He was lying on a grassy hill looking up into the clouds that sailed
along the deep, blue sky. He felt quiet and at peace but on the grassy hill
next to him sat the embodiment of shooting pain. The pain was externalized,
and yet he could also feel it inside himself, especially on his right side
and on the back of his neck. "Kicked the bucket, has he? I'll cut off your
heads!" And then a flood of icy cold water poured down on him from out of
the sky. True, he was lying on his back and looking up into the sky, but it
was not a grassy hill, but a puddle of water; and the sky was not blue
either, it was leaden black with red stripes. "Not a bit," said another
voice. 'That's alive. Twitching with the eyes." I am the one who is alive,
he thought. They are talking about me. I am the one whose eyes are
twitching. What's all this drivel? Don't they know how to speak properly?
Someone moved nearby and hit the water with some heavy object. The
black silhouette of a head with a flat cap appeared on the sky.
"How about it, noble don, will you walk under your own power or shall I
have them carry you?"
"Untie my legs!" snapped Rumata, and felt at once a sharp, burning pain
in his bruised lips. Gingerly he passed his tongue over them. Some lips, he
thought. More like flabby pancakes.
Someone busied himself about his feet, pushing and pulling them
unceremoniously. People were conversing nearby in subdued voices.
"You certainly made a mess of him."
"Had to, he almost got away . . . He's bewitched--arrows bounce off his
"I knew a fellow once, you could work him over with an ax and he
wouldn't bat an eyelash."
"Probably a peasant."
"Of course he was."
"So? But this one is a blue blood."
"To hell with it. Look how they tied these knots! Even our Holy Mickey
couldn't untie those. Pass me a torch!"
"Better take, a knife!"
"Hey, fellows, leave his legs tied up. Hell start thrashing at us
again. He almost knocked my head off."
"No, no, he won't do anything."
"Whatever anyone says, comrades, I sure let him have it with my spear.
It went right through his armor."
Some voice called out peremptorily from the darkness.
"Finish up, will you!"
Rumata felt now that his legs were free; he stretched them, tried to
stand up, but fell down immediately. Several Sturmoviks who were crouching
on the ground watched in silence as he wallowed in the muddy puddle. Rumata
gnashed his teeth in fury and humiliation. He jerked his shoulder blades:
his hands were bound and turned up on his back, but so tightly that he could
not tell where his palms and where his elbows were. He gathered up all his
strength and violently jerked them upwards, but at once doubled over in
pain. The Sturmoviks broke out in laughter.
"Can't escape that way," said one of them.
"I think he's a little tired. Hey, you, drop dead."
"Hey, don, not too pleasant, is it?"
"Shut up! Stop that silly babbling!" said the imperative voice from the
dark. "Come over here, Don Rumata!"
Rumata struggled to his feet and walked toward the voice; he felt
himself staggering uncertainly from side to side. A man appeared from
somewhere, holding a torch, and led the way for him. Rumata recognized the
locality. It was one of the innumerable interior courts of the Ministry of
Security, near the royal stables.
He thought quickly. If they lead me to the right, that would mean the
Tower, the dungeon. To the left: The offices of Don Reba's Ministry. He
shook his head. So what, he thought. I am still alive, I'll make out all
right.--They turned to the left. These new, bright worlds seemed to be
buoyed up by an unknown force, seemed to be filled with wonderful human
beings and staggering emotions. And somewhere down there Doctor Budach was
spending the night, who knew how? Humbled, forced to his knees, and beaten,
but still alive ... My brothers all, thought Rumata. I am one of you; after
all, we are of the same flesh! All of a sudden he was overwhelmed by an
insight that he was actually no god protecting the luminaries of the mind
between the palms of his hands, but rather a brother helping another brother
or a son hurrying to come to his father's rescue. "I'll kill Don
Reba."--"What for?"--"He has destroyed my brothers."--"He does not know what
he is doing."--"But he is murdering the future!"--"He is not guilty; he is a
child of his time."--"You mean he does not realize his guilt? But what does
it matter whether or not he is aware of his guilt?"--"And what about Father
Zupik? What wouldn't he give if somebody were to slay Don Reba. Now you're
silent. You'll have to do a lot of killing, won't you?" --"I don't know.
Perhaps. One after the other. All those that try to prevent the future from
happening!"--"That's an old story. Poison, homemade bombs--And nothing ever
changed."--"Oh yes, something did change. The strategy of the revolution was
born."--"What do you care about the strategy of the revolution? All you want
is to kill!"-- "Yes, I want to kill."--"Can you really go through with
that?"--"Yesterday I caused the death of Dona Okana. I knew she would be
killed the moment I went to her house with a feather stuck behind my ear. I
only regret having killed her senselessly. They've almost managed to teach
me such things here."--At least not right away, thought Rumata. First an
interrogation, a cross-examination. Awful. In that case, what can they
accuse me of? That's obvious enough. Inducing the poisoner Budach to poison
the king, conspiracy, plotting against the crown. Maybe also murdering the
prince. And, of course, spying for Irukan, Soan, the barbarians, the barons,
the Holy Order, and so on and so on. Surprising enough that I am still
alive. That means he has been thinking of something else still, the
"This way," said the man with the imperious voice. A low door flew
open. Rumata ducked his head and entered a large room, lit up by a dozen
chandeliers. The men who sat or lay on the worn rug in the center of the
room were tied up and covered with blood. Some were already dead or had
fainted. Almost all were barefoot and wore only worn and ripped night
shirts. Along the walls, the red-nosed Sturmoviks were leaning negligently
on their hatchets and battle axes. They looked about with wild eyes and were
satisfied. They had been victorious. The officer on guard was striding up
and down before them, his hands clasped on his back. He wore a gray uniform
with a very greasy collar. Rumata's companion, a tall man in a black cloak,
approached the officer and whispered something in his ear. The officer
nodded his head, regarded Rumata for a moment with great interest and
disappeared behind the heavy, colorful drapes at the other end of the room.
The Sturmoviks examined Rumata in turn, also very interestedly. One of
them, with a dim eye, said:
"Say, that's some precious stone there on his forehead!"
"Not bad, that stone," agreed another soldier. "Some booty for the
king. And the circlet is made of pure gold."
"We are the kings now."
"Down with it then, eh, what do you think?"
"Get away from there," growled the man in the black cloak.
The Sturmoviks stared at him in surprise.
"Another one to patronize us?" asked the Sturmovik with the blind eye.
The man with the black cloak did not answer, but turned his back on him
and stepped close to Rumata. The Sturmoviks looked him up and down, their
eyes filled with mistrust.
"Perhaps a blackbird, a priest?" said the Sturmovik with the blind eye.
"Hey, blackie, want a smackie?"
The Sturmoviks cackled and crowed in amusement. The dim-eyed man spat
on his palms, tossed his hatchet from hand to hand and moved toward Rumata.
He's going to get it now, thought Rumata, and slowly pulled back his right
"The people I have always beaten up," said the Sturmovik as he came to
a halt before the man in black, and staring at him insolently, "were the
priests, any learned trash and our so-called masters. Once I--"
The man with the black cloak raised his outstretched hand. A buzzing
click could be heard all of a sudden, just below the ceiling. Sh-sh-sh-! The
Sturmovik with the blind eye dropped his hatchet and fell over backwards. A
thick, feathered arrow protruded from the middle of his forehead. All at
once there was absolute silence. The Sturmoviks shifted nervously from one
foot to the other, their eyes flitted anxiously along the openings below the
"Get rid of that body, quick!"
Several Sturmoviks bent down, grabbed their comrade by his arms and
legs and dragged him outside. A Gray officer came out from behind the
curtains and beckoned to Rumata and the man in black.
"Let's go, Don Rumata," said the man in black.
Rumata passed the bodies of the prisoners and walked over to the
curtains. I don't understand anything any more, he thought. Once behind the
drapes, he was seized by invisible hands that expertly frisked his
body in the darkness, tore the empty scabbards from his belt, then pushed
him into the light.
Rumata knew at once where he was.
This was the infamous cabinet of Don Reba in the lilac-colored
apartments. Don Reba sat at the same spot, striking the identical pose as
once before; his back straight, elbows resting on the tabletop and fingers
clasped. I bet the old man is suffering from hemorrhoids, the thought
abruptly flashed through Rumata's mind. He felt sorry for him. To the right
of Don Reba was enthroned Father Zupik, concentrating hard and pompously
biting his lips. To Don Reba's left sat a kindly smiling potbellied man, the
epaulettes on his shoulders marking him as a captain of the Gray Army.
Nobody else was in the room besides these three- As Don Rumata entered, Don
Reba said benevolently in a low voice:
"Well, my friends, here we have finally the noble Don Rumata."
Father Zupik smiled condescendingly and the fat man started to nod his
"Our old and very consistent enemy," said Don Reba.
"An enemy? Hang him!" remarked Father Zupik hoarsely.
"And what is your opinion, Brother Aba?" asked Don Reba, throwing a
warning glance at the potbellied man.
"You know . . . somehow I have . . ." Brother Aba smiled rather
childishly and lost, fidgeting with his short arms in the air. "Somehow, you
know, I actually do not care. But maybe we ought to hang him anyhow? Or
perhaps burn him, what do you say, Don Reba?"
"Why not," said a pensive Don Reba.
"You see," continued Brother Aba desperately, and directed a strangely
friendly smile toward Rumata, "in general we hang the riff-raff, the little
fish. But we must maintain a respectful relationship toward the aristocracy.
For the sake of the people. After all, he is a descendant from old nobility,
an important Irukanian spy. Irukanian, isn't that right?" He took a piece of
paper from the table and stared at it with nearsighted eyes. "Ah, and
besides that, also a Seaman spy. Even worse!"
"Burn him then," concurred Father Zupik.
"Fine," said Don Reba. "Then we are all agreed. Burn him!"
"By the way, I believe Don Rumata might ease his lot!" said Brother
Aba. "You know what I mean, Don Reba?"
"To be quite frank with you, not quite."
"His fortune! My noble don, his fortune! The Rumatas are a fabulously
wealthy family... !"
"You're right, as always," said Don Reba.
Father Zupik yawned, covered his mouth with his hand, and kept stealing
glances toward the heavy lilac-colored drapes to the right side of the
"All right then, let's start according to the rules," said Don Reba
with a sigh.
Father Zupik still cast furtive glances at the drapes. Evidently he was
waiting for something definite and was not at all interested in this
cross-examination. What kind of a farce is that? thought Rumata. What is the
meaning of all this?
"Well, then, my noble don," said Don Reba and turned to Rumata, "it
would be most pleasant to hear your answers to some questions we are
"Remove these bonds from my hands," said Rumata.
Father Zupik flinched, while making desperate chewing motions with his
lips. Brother Aba moved his head from side to side excitedly.
"Well?" said Don Reba and looked first at Brother Aba, then at Father
Zupik. "I do understand you, my friends. However, considering the
circumstances and the fact that they will also be clear to Don Rumata . .."
With a meaningful glance he let his eyes sweep along the rows of openings in
the walls underneath the ceiling. "Untie him," he said in the same quiet,
Without making a sound, somebody stepped up to Rumata from behind. He
felt the oddly soft, skillful fingers touching his hands, and then heard the
ropes being cut with a knife. With amazing speed--considering his
bulk--Brother Aba pulled a huge crossbow from underneath the table and
placed it directly in front of him on top of a pile of papers. Rumata's arms
fell to his sides like two braids. He had almost no feeling in them.
"Well, then, let's begin," said Don Reba cheerfully. "Name, family, and
"Rumata, descended from the race of the Estorian Rumatas. Noble
courtiers for the past twenty-two generations."
Rumata looked around, saw a sofa, sat down and started to massage his
wrists. Brother Aba gasped for air and aimed the crossbow at him.
"My noble father--imperial councilor, loyal servant and personal friend
of the emperor."
"Is he alive?"
"Eleven years ago."
"How old are you?"
Rumata found no time to reply. From behind the lilac-colored curtains
came suddenly some noises, and Brother Aba turned around suspiciously.
Father Zupik rose slowly from his seat and laughed maliciously.
"Well, there you are, gentlemen ..." That was all he managed to say.
For three men jumped out from behind the heavy drapes, to Rumata's greatest
surprise--they were the last people he would have expected in this place.
Apparently his feelings were shared by Father Zupik. The three men were
powerfully built, clad in black monk's garb, their hoods pulled down over
their eyes. Swiftly and noiselessly, they leapt over to Father Zupik and
seized him by the elbows.
"Devil take it!" he uttered somehow. A deathly pallor fell over his
face. Undoubtedly he had expected something quite different.
"What do you think, Brother Aba?" inquired Don Reba calmly and leaned
slightly toward the fat man.
"Yes, of course!" Father Aba answered resolutely. "Of course!"
Don Reba motioned with his hand. The monks lifted Father Zupik off his
feet and carried him, still treading noiselessly, behind the curtain. Rumata
frowned in disgust, Brother Aba rubbed his soft palms together and said
"That went off splendidly. What did you think, Don Reba?"
"Yes, not bad," nodded Don Reba in consent. "But let's go on. So. How
old are you, Don Rumata?"
"How long have you been in Arkanar?"
"It has been five years."
"Where did you come from?"
"Till then I had been living in Estoria on my family's ancestral seat."
"Why this change of residence?"
"I was forced by circumstances to leave Estoria. I was in search of a
city that could challenge the splendor of our capital." Finally he began to
feel a fiery tingling in his arms. Patiently and untiringly, Rumata
continued to massage his swollen joints.
"What kind of circumstances?" asked Don Reba.
"I killed a member of the imperial household in a duel."
"The young Duke Ekin."
"And what was the reason for this duel?"
"A woman," answered Rumata briefly.
He became gradually suspicious that all these questions were actually
meaningless. That they were just as much part of the game as the
consultation regarding the manner of his execution.
The three of us are waiting for something. I am waiting until I have
regained full use of my hands. Brother Aba, the dunderhead, is waiting for
me to drop all the gold of the family treasure of the Rumatas in his lap.
Don Reba, too, is waiting for something. But the monks, the monks! How did
the monks come to be here at court? And especially such skillful and nimble
'The name of that woman?"
Oh, these questions, thought Rumata. One would be hard put to think up
a more witless batch. I'll try to throw him out of gear a bit.
"Dona Rita," he replied.
"I did not expect that you would answer me. Thank you."
"Always at your service."
Don Reba slightly bowed his head. "Have you ever been in lrukan?"
"Are you sure?"
"We want to speak the truth!" said Don Reba in a didactic tone of
voice. Brother Aba produced a quivering nod of his head. "Nothing but the
"Aha!" said Rumata. "And I was under the impression .. ." He fell
"Under what impression?"
". . . that you were mainly interested in laying your hands on my
fortune. But for the life of me I can't imagine, Don Reba, how you will
"How about donating it? Yes, donate it!" shouted Brother Aba.
Rumata laughed impudently.
"You are an ass, Brother Aba, or whatever your name might be. One can
see with half an eye that you're nothing but a miserable little shopkeeper.
You probably are not aware that the right of primogeniture is not subject to
transfer into other hands?"
It was plain to be seen that the fat man was ready to explode with
rage. But he managed to keep himself under control.
"You are not entitled to speak in such a manner," said Don Reba in a
"You want the truth?" countered Rumata. "Here it is, the truth, nothing
but the truth--the absolute truth: Brother Aba is an ass and a petty
Meanwhile, Brother Aba had completely regained his composure.
"It seems to me that we are not sticking to the point," he said with a
smile. "What do you think, Don Reba?"
"You're right, as always," said Don Reba. "My noble don, did you ever
go to Soan?"
"I was in Soan."
"For what purpose?"
'To attend the Academy of Sciences."
"What a peculiar occupation for a young man of your circumstances."
"That's what I fancied."
"And are you acquainted with the chief judge of Soan, Don Kondor?"
Rumata became suspicious; he smelled a rat
"He is an old friend of my family."
"A most worthy man, isn't he?"
"A most honorable person."
"Are you familiar with the fact that Don Kondor is a member of the
conspiracy against His Majesty the King?"
Rumata's chin began to jut out imperceptibly.
"Put your own house in order first, Don Reba," said Rumata haughtily.
"As far as we, the old nobility of the capital, are concerned, all these
Soanians and Irukanians, as well as the Arkanarians, are and will always be
nothing but vassals of the imperial crown!" He crossed his legs and turned
Don Reba studied him pensively.
"Are you rich?"
"I could buy up all of Arkanar if I had a mind to. But I am not
interested in trash."
Don Reba took a deep breath.
"My heart bleeds," he said, "when I consider how I am forced to chop
off the famous branch of such a famous and noble lineage! It would almost be
a crime if I were not driven to do it in the higher interests of State."
"Don't worry so much about the interests of the state," said Rumata.
"Better worry about how to save your own skin."
"You are quite right," said Don Reba and snapped his fingers.
Rumata alternately tensed and relaxed his muscles. His body was
apparently functioning normally again. From behind the curtains, once more
three monks jumped out, with the same incredible agility and precision which
bespoke a great deal of experience. They surrounded the still smiling
Brother Aba and grasped his arms, twisting them up behind his back.
"Ou-ou-ou-ouch!" he screamed in pain, his fat face distorted in agony.
"Hurry up, get it over with quickly!" commanded Don Reba.
As they were dragging him behind the drapes, the fat man resisted
furiously. He could still be heard, crying and whining; then suddenly he
roared briefly in a weird, hardly recognizable voice, and finally all became
Don Reba stood up and cautiously unloaded the crossbow. Rumata, quite
perplexed, followed his motions with his eyes.
Slowly, Don Reba began to pace the floor, apparently lost in deep
thought, while scratching his back with the arrow. "Good, good," he
murmured, almost tenderly. "How perfect . . ." He seemed to have completely
forgotten Rumata's presence. He kept pacing faster and faster, twirling the
arrow in the air like a baton. Then, abruptly, he stopped in his tracks by
the table, threw the arrow away, sat down gingerly, his face suddenly lit up
by a smile, and said:
"Well, what do you say to that? Neither of them even put up a good
fight. I don't think we'd get away as easily as that with you."
"Ye-e-es ...," said Rumata slowly, thoughtfully.
"All right then. Now let's have a talk, Don Rumata. Or is it maybe not
even Rumata? And perhaps not even a don? How about it?"
Rumata remained silent and examined him interestedly. Don Reba was
pale, and little red veins showed on his nose. He was nearly shaking with
excitement, as if he were about to clap his hands in glee and scream out: "I
knew it! I knew it!"--You know nothing at all, you dog, he thought. And even
if you should find out, you would not believe it anyhow. Go ahead, speak,
"I'm listening," said Rumata.
"You are not Don Rumata," explained Don Reba. "You are an usurper." He
looked seriously into Rumata's eyes. "Rumata of Estoria died five years ago
and is entombed in the family crypt of his ancestors. And the saints have
long since quieted his rebellious and--excuse me--none too pure soul. So? Do
you confess or do you need some prompting?"
"I confess," said Rumata. "I am called Rumata of Estoria, and I am not
accustomed to people doubting my words."
Let me annoy you a bit, thought Rumata. Look out, here we go.
"I can see well have to continue this talk somewhere else," said Don
Reba in an ominous tone.
Remarkable changes came over Don Reba's face. The pleasant smile
disappeared, his lips narrowed to a thin line. It was odd, almost to the
point of eeriness: even the skin on his forehead started to twitch. Yes,
thought Rumata, a man like that can be frightened. "You do have hemorrhoids,
don't you?" he asked solicitously.
Something flashed in the comers of Don Reba's eyes but he did not bat
an eyelid. He acted as if he had not heard.
"You treated Budach very badly," said Rumata. "He is an excellent
physician. That is to say, he was . . . ," he added significantly.
For another moment, Don Reba's eyes flashed again. Aha, thought Rumata.
Budach is presumably still alive ... He settled more comfortably in his
chair, clasped his hands around his knees.
"You refuse to confess," said Don Reba.
"That you are an usurper!"
"My most honorable Don Reba," said Rumata with the intonation of a
schoolmaster. "Such accusations usually ought to be solidly backed by
concrete proof. You insult me!"
Don Reba's face assumed an expression of utter sweetness.
"My dear Don Rumata," he said. "Forgive me if I continue to use that
name for the time being. I am not usually in the habit of proving anything.
The proof comes over there, in the Tower of Joy. For this purpose I have at
my service experienced, well-paid specialists who work with the meat grinder
of our Holy Mickey, with the weapons of the sole divine force, the gloves of
the holy martyr Tata, or, for instance, with the seating accommodation--oh,
pardon me, with the iron chair of Totz, the fighter. They can prove anything
they please with these implements. That God exists or that He does not
exist. That human beings walk on their hands or even on their sides. Do you
understand me? You are perhaps unaware of it but we have an entire science
devoted to obtaining confessions. Just think for a moment:
Why should I try to prove what I already know? And what's more, no harm
will befall you after you have confessed . .."
"I am not threatened by any harm, but you are," interrupted Rumata.
Don Reba pondered for a while.
"All right," he said finally. "Apparently I will have to make a
beginning. Let's examine in what way Rumata of Estoria has distinguished
himself during the five years of his stay in the kingdom of Arkanar. And
then you will explain the meaning of it all. Agreed?"
"I won't make any rash promises," said Rumata. "But I am interested in
listening to what you have to say."
Don Reba started to rummage in his writing desk, took out a thick pile
of square papers and skimmed them with raised eyebrows.
"You are probably aware of the fact," he started with a pleasant smile,
"that in my capacity as Minister of Internal Security I have undertaken some
steps--for the protection of the Crown--against the so-called bookworms,
scholars and other elements that are useless and harmful for the State.
These actions encountered strange resistance. At the same time as the entire
population helped me in a unanimous wave of patriotism and
loyalty--denouncing hidden criminals, organizing trials on the spot, giving
useful hints as to who the suspicious characters were that had escaped my
attention--just at that time some unknown but extremely energetic person
snatched away from right under my nose all the most important, incorrigible
and detestable criminals and abducted them across the border. This way many
have gotten away, as for instance the godless astrologer Bagir Kissenski;
the criminal alchemist Synda, who, it has been definitely proven, was in
alliance with the devil's brood as well as with the Irukanian potentates;
the vile pamphleteer and disturber of the peace, Zuren; and several others
of low rank. And the mad magician and mechanic Kabani has slunk away and is
hiding in some hole somewhere. Some unknown person has distributed enormous
sums of gold in order to prevent the people from venting their righteous
anger on those blasphemous spies and poisoners, the former personal
physicians of His Majesty. Someone liberated Arata, the hunchback, under the
most fantastic circumstances which once more lead us to suspect the unknown
to be in league with ungodly forces--Arata, a regular demon of depravity,
who seditiously poisons the nation's soul, the instigator and leader of
peasants' revolts ..."
Don Reba stopped, wrinkled his forehead and regarded Rumata with a
meaningful glance. Rumata turned his eyes up to the ceiling and smiled
dreamily. True, he had kidnapped Arata, the hunchback, yes, indeed--with a
helicopter at that. It had made a tremendous impression on Arata's guards.
On Arata, too, by the way. I'm quite a guy, I must admit, he thought. That
was a good piece of work.
"You are probably also aware that the aforementioned Arata is currently
in the eastern sectors of the capital, leading a mutineering army of slaves,
shedding considerable quantities of noble blood--and he still disposes over
sufficient money and arms."
"I can easily believe that," said Rumata. "He impressed me right away
as a very determined man."
"You confess then?" quickly asked Don Reba.
"To what?" asked Rumata surprised.
They remained silent for a while, just staring at each other.
"I'll continue," said Don Reba. "In order to rescue all these spoilers
of souls, you, Don Rumata, have poured out at least over one hundred pounds
of gold, according to my moderate and incomplete calculations. I will not
make mention here of the fact that contact with these forces of evil has
sullied your soul for all eternity. Neither will I discuss here the fact
that you did not receive a single copper penny from your Estorian estates as
long as you have been staying within the borders of the Arkanarian realm;
surely, after all, why should you have gotten any money? Why provide a dead
man with money even if he's a relative? But your gold, your gold!"
He opened a strong-box that had been buried under a pile of papers on
the table and took out a handful of gold coins showing the profile of Pitz
"This gold alone would suffice to have you burnt at the stake!" he
cried. 'This gold is the devil's work! Human hands are not capable of
producing gold of such purity!"
He literally pierced Rumata with his glance. I must admit in all
honesty, Rumata thought, he's got me there. Touche. We didn't think of that
one. Must give him credit for that; he's the first to have noticed it . ..
But Don Reba grew suddenly very mild again. Paternal, solicitous tones came
into his voice:
"And in general you are behaving in a most imprudent manner, Don
Rumata. I kept worrying about you the whole time. What a duelist, what a
mischief-maker! One hundred and twenty-six duels within five years! And not
a single person killed . . . After all, in the final analysis, one might
arrive at some conclusions. I, for instance, have done so. And I am not the
only one. Just take Brother Aba, for example--well, we shouldn't speak ill
of the dead, but he was a very cruel man, and I never could really stand him
. . . Well, then. Brother Aba selected not the most skillful, but the
biggest and strongest men to have you put under arrest. And he was right in
the end. A few dislocated shoulders, wrenched necks, not to mention some
bashed-in teeth . . . And here you are standing in front of me! But how
could you know you were fighting for your life? You are a master! You are
undoubtedly the best sword fighter in the whole country. And there can be no
doubt that you have sold your soul to the devil, for only in hell is it
possible to learn such fantastically masterful swordsmanship. I am even
inclined to admit that you were given this fabulous skill only under
condition never to kill anyone. Although I am hard put to imagine why the
devil of all creatures should insist on such a stipulation. But that's
something for our scholars to figure out..."
A thin, high scream, a sound like a squealing pig, interrupted Don
Reba's deliberations. Annoyed, he looked at the lilac-colored, heavy drapes.
Sounds of people scuffling came from behind them. There were thuds, blows,
and someone shouting, "Let go! Let go!" and then hoarse voices, cursing and
shouting in an incomprehensible dialect. Suddenly the curtain tore with a
crack like a whip and fell to the ground. Into the cabinet staggered a
bald-headed man on all fours, his chin bleeding and his eyes open wide. Huge
human paws pushed through a chink of the other curtains that were still in
place, seized the man by his-feet and pulled him back again. Rumata
recognized the man--it was Budach.
He screamed like a wild animal:
"Betrayed! I have been betrayed! It was poison! Why?"
They dragged him back into the darkness. A man, clad in black, swiftly
picked up the fallen curtain and arranged it again. The sudden silence was
interrupted by sickening noises coming from behind the curtain--somebody was
vomiting. Rumata understood.
"Where is Budach?" he asked harshly.
"As you can see, he's had a little accident," answered Don Reba, but he
was clearly no longer as self-assured as he had been.
"Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes," said Rumata. "Where is
"My dear Don Rumata," said Don Reba, wagging his head. He had collected
himself again. "What do you want with Budach? Is he a relative of yours,
perhaps? You've never even set eyes on him in your life until now."
"Listen to me, Reba," Rumata was enraged. "I'm not joking. If anything
happens to Budach, you'll die like a dog. I'll strangle you with my own two
"Hardly," Don Reba said quickly. He was very pale.
"You're a fool, Reba. You're a master at intrigue, but you actually
don't know your way around. You've never let yourself in for a game as
dangerous as this one. And you don't even know it."
Don Reba bent over the table, his eyes like glowing coals. Rumata knew
that he himself had never been in a situation as precarious as the present
one. It was time to put the cards on the table; they would soon know who had
the upper hand in the game. Rumata tensed his muscles, ready to spring.
There was no weapon, be it spear or arrow, that could kill you instantly:
the thought was written on Don Reba's face. And the old man with the
hemorrhoids wanted to live. "What is it that you want?" he said in a whining
voice. "We've had a nice little chat here . . . your Budach is alive. Alive
and healthy. He'll even live to treat me one of these days. Just don't get
"Where is Budach?"
"In the Tower of Joy."
"I need him!"
"So do I, Don Rumata."
"Listen to me, Reba," said Rumata, "don't provoke me. And stop
pretending. You are afraid of me. And well you might be. Budach belongs to
me, do you understand? To me!"
Now both were standing, facing each other. Don Reba's face was an
alarming sight: He turned blue, his lips began to twitch feverishly and he
mumbled to himself with little spurts of saliva coming from his mouth.
"You whippersnapper!" he hissed. "I'm not afraid of anybody! I can
squash you like a leech!"
He wheeled around abruptly and pulled down a gobelin that had been
hanging behind his back. A wide window appeared.
"There, have a look!"
Rumata went to the window. It opened onto the square in front of the
palace. Dawn was approaching by now. The smoke of many fires rose into the
sky. The square was dotted with corpses. In the center of the square was a
black, unmoving rectangular mass. Rumata examined it more closely. It was a
group of riders, lined up with amazing exactitude. They wore long black
cloaks, black hoods that were pulled down over their eyes, black, triangular
shields in their left hand--and long halberds in their right.
"If you please," said Don Reba with a rattling voice. He was trembling
all over. "The valiant, martial children of the Lord our God--the cavalry of
the Holy Order. They landed in the port of Arkanar during the night in order
to crush the barbarian revolt of the nocturnal scoundrel Waga Koleso, who
allied himself with the snooty merchants and storekeepers. The rebellion has
been quelled. The Holy Order now rules over the city and the entire country
whose name henceforth is the Arkanarian Province of the Holy Order..."
Instinctively, Rumata scratched the back of his neck. So, that's what
it is! These are the people for whom the unfortunate shopkeepers have paved
the way. What a coup! Don Reba was grinning triumphantly.
"We haven't properly met yet," he continued with the same rattling
voice. "Allow me to introduce myself: Don Reba, representative of the Holy
Order in the Arkanarian Province. Bishop and Councilor of War, servant of
It isn't so surprising after all, thought Rumata. Wherever Graydom
triumphs, the blackbirds will always seize power. Oh, you historians, to
hell with you ... But he regained his composure, gripped his hands behind
his back and began to rock back and forth on his heels.
"I am tired now," he said in an affected manner. "I want to sleep. I
want to wash myself with warm water, to rinse off the blood and spit of your
cut-throats. Tomorrow . . . that is to say, today . . . let's say, one hour
after sunrise ... I'll come to your offices. The writ for Budach's release
must be ready by then."
"Look, down there! Twenty thousand men!" shouted Don Reba pointing to
the square below the windows. Rumata frowned.
"Not quite so loud, please," he said. "And just remember, Don Reba: I
am absolutely certain that you are not a bishop. I know you through and
through. You are nothing but a filthy traitor and a clumsy, cheap schemer .
. ." Don Reba licked his lips; his eyes assumed a glassy stare. "I know no
pardon. For any foul play, involving myself or any of my friends, you'll
have to pay with your own life! I hate you, just remember that! I'll have to
tolerate you, but you must learn in time to get out of my way. You
Don Reba smiled pleadingly and said quickly: "I have only one wish. I
want you to be near me, Don Rumata. I cannot loll you. I do not know why,
but I cannot do it!"
"You are afraid," said Rumata.
"All right, then, so I am afraid," said Don Reba. "Maybe you are the
devil, maybe the Son of God. Who can tell? Maybe, on the other hand, you
come from some faraway, powerful domain: People say they do actually exist.
I won't even try peering down into the abyss that has swallowed you. My head
begins to swim and I feel close to heresy. Yet, I can have you killed any
time I want to. Now. Tomorrow. Yesterday... Do you understand that?"
"I am not interested in any of that," said Rumata.
"So? What does interest you?"
"Nothing at all," answered Rumata. "I simply want to have a good time.
I am neither a devil nor a god, I am Chevalier Rumata of Estoria, a gay
nobleman, a courtier, burdened with personal whims and prejudices,
accustomed to be free in every respect. Bear that in mind, will you!"
Don Reba had himself well under control again. He dabbed his swollen
face with a handkerchief and smiled pleasantly.
"I appreciate your stubbornness. After all, even you are striving
toward some goal. And I respect these ideals, even if I fail to comprehend
them. I am very happy that we had a heart-to-heart talk. Quite possibly
sometime you will present your views to me more fully and, who knows, you
might convince me that way to revise my own. All men are liable to make
mistakes; that's a human failing. It may well be that I am the one who is
making a mistake, that I am not striving toward those goals that would make
it worthwhile to work as arduously and strenuously as I do now. I am a man
of broad views, and I can well imagine that some day we will work together,
standing shoulder to shoulder..."
"That remains to be seen," said Rumata and left the room. What a
bootlicker!" he thought. Some collaborator he would make! Shoulder to
The city was shaken to the core by the unbearable terror. The blood-red
morning sun illuminated a somber scene of empty streets, smoking ruins,
shattered window shutters and doors. Bloody glass splinters glittered in the
dust of the roads. Innumerable swarms of crows descended on the city as if
it were a churchyard. Patrols of two to three riders, clad in black, trotted
their horses across open places and at crossroads. They slowly tossed from
side to side in the saddles. Everywhere could be seen wooden stakes, hastily
rammed into the ground, with scarred bodies drooping over the embers of the
pyre. The whole city gave the appearance that nothing alive had
remained--except for the disgusting, screeching crows and the busy
slaughterers in black.
Rumata was making his way through the city. Most of the time he kept
his eyes closed. He was gasping for air, his bruised body hurting
furiously.--Can these still be called human beings? Some are slaughtered
openly in the streets while the others sit inside their houses, waiting
obediently for their turn. And each one thinking: Who cares what happens, as
long as it is not me--I'll escape. Cold-blooded bestiality of the
slaughterers and cold-blooded obedience of the slaughtered. Stupid
cold-blooded attitudes, that is the worst. Ten people will stand there
paralyzed with fear and wait obediently until someone comes by and chooses a
victim and cuts his throat in cold blood. The souls of these people are
littered with filth, and each hour of obedient waiting will sully them
further and further. Quite unintentionally, these homes, cringing with fear,
will give birth to the vilest villains, informers, and murderers. Thousands
of people who throughout all their lives will be wracked by fear and fright,
will teach fear and fright to their own children, and these children in turn
will teach their children.--I can't go on, Rumata kept repeating to himself.
I am close to losing my mind and then I'll become like these people; it
won't take much more before I finally stop understanding the reason for my
being in this place ... I must gain perspective again, turn my back on all
of this for a while, get some peace and quiet...
". . . At the end of the year of the Great Water--in the year X of the
new era--the centrifugal processes rapidly gained ground in the old empire.
By taking advantage of this future, the Holy Order which represented the
interests of the most reactionary groups of the feudal society who tried
with every means to bring to a halt the general decay . . ." But are you
familiar with the stench of smoldering corpses at the stake? Do you know
what it is like? Have you ever seen a naked woman, her belly slit open,
wallow in the dusty road? Have you ever seen cities where human beings are
silent and only crows can be heard? Yet, the still unborn boys and girls,
who will be sitting before the dictascopes of the schools in the Communist
Republic of Arkanar?
His chest bumped into something pointed and hard. He looked up and saw
a black rider before him. A long spear with a broad, precisely toothed
blade, pressed against his chest. The rider regarded him silently through
the slits of his black hood. All the hood revealed were a thin-lipped mouth
and a small chin. I must do something, thought Rumata. But what? Dismount
him? No. The rider slowly drew back his right arm, readying his spear. This
gesture reminded Rumata of what he had to do. Casually, he raised his left
hand and pulled back his sleeve. An iron bracelet came to light; it had been
handed to him before he had left the palace. The rider inspected the
bracelet, lowered his weapon, moved aside to let Rumata pass. "In the name
of the Lord," he said with a strange accent. "Blessed be His name," murmured
Rumata. A short stretch farther on he passed another rider who was busily
knocking down with his spear some elaborately carved figurines representing
little devils from a roof ridge. On the second floor a fat face, distorted
with fright, peeked out from behind half-lowered shutters--probably one of
those shopkeepers who barely three days ago had enthusiastically hollered,
"Hooray for Don Reba!" while waving his beer stein and listening with gusto
and relish to the crunch, crunch, crunch of the Gray horde's hobnailed boots
marching on the pavement. Oh, Graydom, Graydom... Rumata turned away.
But what is happening at home? he suddenly remembered, and he began to
quicken his steps, almost running during the last stretch of the way. The
house was unharmed. Two monks were sitting on the small stoop. They had
pulled back their hoods, exposing their badly shaved heads to the sunlight.
The moment they saw him, they stood up. "In the name of the Lord," both said
in unison. "Blessed be His name," replied Rumata and demanded:
"What business have you to be here?" Both monks bowed and folded their
arms over their stomachs. "Now that you have come we can leave," answered
one of the monks. They descended the few steps and walked leisurely off,
their crossed arms halfway hidden in their long sleeves. Rumata followed
them with his eyes, remembering how many thousands of times he had seen
these humble figures in then-long black habits, walking down the street. But
then they did not use to drag the scabbards of long swords behind them in
the dust. We goofed on this one. Oh, and now we goofed here, he thought.
What a delightful pastime it had been for the noble dons to attach
themselves to some lone monk, ambling down the road, and to tell each other
naughty stories close to the monk's ears. And fool that I am, I pretended to
be drunk, and would walk behind them, laughing out loud for joy because the
country, at least, was not ravaged by religious fanaticism. But what else
could we have done? Indeed, what else could we have done? "Who is it?" rang
out a voice. "Open up, Mugu, it's me," said Rumata softly. The bolts clicked
as they were pushed back; the door was Opened slightly, and Rumata squeezed
himself through the narrow chink. Here in the entrance hall, all was as
usual, and Rumata breathed a sigh of relief. Old Mugu with the silvery hair
and perpetually wagging head relieved his master of his helmet and swords.
"How is Kyra?"
"Kyra is upstairs," said Mugu. "She is fine." "Splendid," said Rumata
while he unbuckled his belt. "And where is Uno? Why is he not here to
welcome me?" Mugu took the belt.
"Uno is dead," he said in a calm, firm tone. "He is lying in the
servants' room." Rumata closed his eyes. "Uno dead..." he repeated. "Who
killed him?" Without waiting for an answer, he went into the servants' room.
Uno's body lay on the table. He was covered with a sheet up to his waist.
His hands were folded over his chest, his eyes wide open and his mouth
distorted in a grimace. The servants surrounded the table, their heads
bowed, listening to the murmurings of the monk who prayed in a comer. The
cook was sobbing. Without taking his eyes off the boy, Rumata unbuttoned his
"The dirty dogs," he said. "Oh, those filthy beasts!" He stumbled over
something, went very close to the table, looked into the dead eyes, raised
the sheet slightly, but dropped it again at once.
"Yes, too late," he said. "Too late. Hopeless. Oh, you bastards! Who
killed him? The monks?"
He turned to the monk, seized him by the scruff of his neck, pressed
him down to the ground and bent over his face.
"Who killed him?" he said. "Was it one of you? Speak up!"
"No, not the monks," spoke a calm voice behind his back. "The Gray
soldiers did it."
For a while Rumata stared into the emaciated face of the monk, whose
pupils slowly began to dilate. "In the name of the Lord," croaked the monk
painfully. Rumata let him go, sat down on a bench at the boy's feet, and
began to cry. He covered his face with his hands, cried, and listened to the
quietly droning voice of Mugu. The old servant told that shortly after the
second watch, there was knocking at the house door: "Open up, in the name of
the King!" Uno called out not to open the gate, but then they were forced to
open it after all when the Gray soldiers threatened to set the house on
fire. They forced their way into the entrance hall, beat and bound the
servants, then crept upstairs. Uno had been standing guard at the doors of
the upstairs apartments; he started shooting with his crossbow. He had two
bolts, and shot off both. The second arrow missed. The Gray soldiers threw
their knives, and Uno fell. They dragged him down the stairs and were just
about to kick him and hack him with their cleavers, when suddenly the black
monks entered the house. They killed two Gray soldiers, disarmed the rest,
tied ropes around their necks and dragged them out into the street.
Mugu fell silent But Rumata remained seated at the end of the table,
his elbows resting on the table top at the feet of the dead boy. Slowly he
rose to his feet, wiped his eyes dry with his sleeve, kissed the boy on his
cold forehead. Then he walked upstairs, placing one foot in front of the
other with great effort.
He was half dead with fatigue and exhaustion. Only with great effort
did he reach the landing, and walk through the guest room to his bed; there,
moaning, he fell face down on a pillow. Kyra hurried over to him. He was so
exhausted that he could not even help her as she removed his soiled
clothing. She pulled off his boots, cried over his swollen face, took off
his uniform and the metalloplast shirt, and continued to weep quietly over
his bruised body. Now, suddenly, he felt his bones aching, aching as if he
had been bound on the torture rack. While Kyra washed his body with a sponge
dipped in vinegar water, he panted and hissed through his teeth, without
opening his eyes: "I could have killed him . . .He was standing right next
to me ... Wrung his neck with my bare hands ... Is that a life, Kyra? Let's
leave this place . . . After all, this is an experiment with me, and not
with them." He did not even notice that he was speaking Russian. Kyra looked
anxiously at his eyes, glassy with tears, and showered gentle kisses on his
cheeks. Covering him with the mended sheets (Uno had not bought any new ones
despite his master's urging) she ran downstairs to prepare some mulled wine
for him. Moaning in physical and mental pain, Rumata crawled from his bed
and staggered barefoot into the study. There he opened a secret drawer in
his desk, rummaged in his medicine chest, and took several Sporamin tablets.
When Kyra returned, bearing a steaming kettle on a silver tray, he was
already back in bed. He felt the pain leave him, the din in his head quieten
down and his body fill with new strength and energy. He drained the kettle
and soon felt quite well again. Then he called Mugu and asked that his
clothes be made ready.
"Don't go, Rumata," said Kyra. "Don't go! Stay here at home!"
"I must go, my darling!"
"I am afraid. Stay here... They'll kill you!"
"You don't say. Why should they kill me? They're all afraid of me,
She started to weep again, but quietly, as if she was afraid of
annoying him. Rumata pulled her down on his lap and gently stroked her hair.
"The worst is over," he said. "And remember, we're going to leave this
She calmed down and pressed her body against his. Mugu stood quietly
next to them, patiently holding Rumata's trousers with the little golden
"But before we leave, I have a lot to do here," continued Rumata.
"Countless numbers of people have been killed this night. I must find out
who is still alive and who has been slain. And I must help those who are
still in danger."
"And who is going to help you?"
"Fortunate the man who thinks only of others . . . And besides, there
are powerful people who will come to our assistance if necessary."
"I cannot think of others," she said. "You came home more dead than
alive. I can see with my own eyes how they have beaten you. And Uno was
beaten to death. Where were your powerful people when you needed them? Why
did they not prevent all this slaughter? I do not believe you ... I do not
She tried to wrest herself free from his arms but he held her tight.
"It was unfortunate," he said. "This time they came a bit too late. But
now they are watching us again and will protect us. Why don't you believe me
today? You have always believed me. And didn't you see for yourself: I came
home half dead, and now, just look at me!"
"I don't want to look at you," she said hiding her face. "I don't want
to cry again."
"Oh, come, come! These scratches here? Nothing! The worst is over now
... at least for the two of us. But there are fine, upstanding people for
whom the horror has not yet ended. And I must help them."
She sighed deeply, kissed his neck and freed herself gently from his
embrace. "Come tonight," she begged. "Will you come?"
"You can count on it," he said firmly and smiled. "I'll be home even
earlier than nightfall, and most likely not alone. I'll be back at dinner
She walked over to an armchair, sat down, clasped her hands around her
knee, and watched Rumata getting dressed. As he put on his trousers with the
bells he mumbled to himself in Russian; Mugu sat cross-legged on the floor
before him and began to fasten the innumerable buckles and buttons. Rumata
put a clean undershirt over his metalloplast shirt. Finally he said in a
desperate tone: "Darling, please do understand me, I must go! What can I
do?! It's simply out of the question for me to remain here!"
Suddenly she said pensively: "Sometimes I wonder why you don't beat
Rumata was just buttoning his shirt with the lacy frills; he froze with
"What do you mean by that?" he asked perplexed. "How could anyone
possibly want to beat you?"
"You are not only a good, a very good man," she continued without
listening to him, "but you are also a strange man, almost like an archangel.
When you are with me I feel very strong. Now, for example, I am strong.
Sometime soon I shall ask you for something. Won't you tell me about
yourself some day? Not now, only when all this is over-- will you do that
Rumata did not reply for a long time. Mugu handed him the
orange-colored vest with the red ribbons. Rumata put it on with intense
dislike and buckled up his belt.
"Yes," he said finally. "Someday I shall tell you everything, my
"I'll wait till then," she said seriously. "But now you must leave.
Don't let me detain you here any longer."
Rumata walked over to her and pressed his bruised lips tenderly on her
soft mouth. Then he pulled the iron circlet from his wrist and held it out
"Put this on your left arm," he said. "I doubt that they'll pay us
another visit today . . . but in case they should turn up here just show
them this iron bracelet."
She followed him with her eyes and he felt that she was mutely calling
out after him.--I know, she is thinking: I do not know who you are, perhaps
the devil or the Son of God, or maybe a man from legendary worlds across the
seas, but one thing is certain. If you do not return I will die.
He was most grateful for her silence, for having to leave her now was
somehow quite unusually hard for him. Like diving head first from a sunny,
emerald-blue shore into an evil-smelling puddle.
Rumata decided not to take the direct route to the offices of the
bishop of Arkanar. He crept stealthily through rows of backyards, hid behind
rags hung on washlines, crawled through holes in fences--catching his rich,
colorful ribbons and strips of the finest Soanian lace on rusty nails--and
wriggled on all fours between mounds of potatoes. But for all his efforts he
failed to evade the watchful eye of the black soldiery. As he turned into
the narrow, winding lane which led to the big dump heap, he encountered two
somber, drunken monks.
Rumata wanted to get out of their way but the monks drew their swords
and blocked his path. As Rumata, too, grasped both his swords, the monks
whistled for reinforcements. Rumata was just about to withdraw to the hole
in the fence through which he had emerged a moment ago when an agile little
man with a nondescript face ran toward him. He brushed against Rumata's
shoulder, hurried over to the monks, and whispered something to them,
whereupon the monks pulled up their long habits, baring their legs wrapped
around with lilac-colored ribbons and made off in a trot, soon to disappear
behind some houses. The little man scurried after them without looking back
So that's the story, thought Rumata. A spy, a bodyguard. And he doesn't
even bother to do his job in an inconspicuous manner; our new bishop of
Arkanar really thinks of everything. It would be interesting to know whether
he's frightened for me or of me. Following the spy with his eyes, Rumata
walked toward the dump heap. The dump heap led to the rear buildings of the
former Ministry of Internal Security. He hoped that no guards had been
The lane was empty; not a living thing could be seen. But soon he could
hear the soft creaking of shutters, doors being opened and shut, a baby
crying, and above all that hung anxious whispering. From behind a
half-rotten fence cautiously peered out an emaciated face all blackened by
deeply imbedded layers of soot. Two frightened, hollow eyes stared at
"I beg your pardon, noble don; please forgive me. Could the noble don
perhaps tell me what is going on in the city? I am Kickus, the smith, also
called the lame one; I want to go to my forge, but I am afraid ..."
"Don't go there," advised Rumata. "One can't fool around with these
monks. The King is dead. Don Reba has seized power. He is now the bishop of
the Holy Order. Just stay home, will you."
The smith accompanied each of Rumata's words with an eager nod of his
head, his eyes filling with melancholy and despair.
'The Holy Order, you don't say," he mumbled heavily. "I'll be damned
... I beg your pardon, noble don. So, the Order, well then . . . They are
the Gray Ones, aren't they?"
"No, no," said Rumata and regarded him with a certain curiosity. "The
Gray Ones have been beaten, you see. These are the monks."
"Oh, dear me!" said the smith. "So the Gray Ones are ... well, and the
Holy Order! The Gray Ones are defeated? Not bad, I say. But what is going to
happen with us now, noble don, what do you think? We'll have to conform, eh?
Conform to the Holy Order, yes?"
"Why not," said Rumata. "The Order will have to eat and drink, too.
Adjust to them, I say!"
All of a sudden the smith became quite animated.
"That's what I think, noble don. We must adjust and conform. I believe
the main thing is not to bother others and you will be left in peace. Is
that the idea?"
Rumata shook his head.
"Oh, no," he said. "Those who remain quiet and peaceful will be the
first ones to be slaughtered."
"That sounds right to me, after all," moaned the smith. "But what are
we supposed to do? One man alone is as weak as a little finger, and all the
snot-nosed blackbirds are on his back. Oh, Glorious Mother, if only they
would cut my master's throat! He was an officer with the Gray Ones. What do
you think, noble don, it's possible that they did him in, isn't it? You
know, I owe him five golden guilders."
"I wouldn't know," said Rumata. "They might have finished him off,
quite possible. But I'd like you to think about something: It's true that
you alone are as weak as a little finger, but fingers like that exist by the
tens of thousands in this city."
"So?" said the smith.
"Just think about it, what that means!" said Rumata annoyed, and walked
A fat lot of good that advice will do him, thought Rumata. It's still
too early for him to try and think. And how simple things could be here
really; Ten thousand such hammerlike fists--if properly infuriated--would
make mincemeat out of any foe. But they have not yet reached that point.
They have not yet experienced the right kind of fury. Only fear. Every man
for himself, and one god for the lot of them.
The elderberry bushes lining the road suddenly began to move and sway
and out jumped--Don Tameo. The moment he saw Rumata walking in the harrow
lane, Don Tameo roared with joy, and despite his enormous bulk he leapt
nimbly to his feet, then staggered toward Rumata, stretching his
dirt-encrusted hands out to him.
"My noble friend!" he roared. "What joy! I see you too are on your way
to the chancellery offices?"
"Yes, indeed, my noble don," answered Rumata and quickly twisted his
body to free himself from Don Tameo's embrace.
"Will you permit me to join you, noble don?"
"It will be an honor for me, noble don."
They bowed to each other. Apparently Don Tameo had not yet quenched his
thirst from earlier in the day. He extracted a little bottle of the finest
quality from the folds of his wide yellow trousers.
. "Would you care to join me in a drink?" came his offer, accompanied
by an elegant flourish of the bottle.
"No, thank you," said Rumata.
"Rum!" explained Don Tameo. "Genuine rum from the capital! I've paid
its weight in gold!"
They descended to the dump heap. They held their noses as they made
their way through the garbage piles, past dead dogs, through stinking
puddles swarming with white worms. The morning air was filled with the
constant hum of millions of emerald green flies.
"Most peculiar," said Don Tameo, and stoppered up the bottle. "I've
never been in this place before."
Rumata was silent.
"I've always been delighted by Don Reba," said Don Tameo. "I knew all
along that he would sweep this good-for-nothing monarch from the throne and
pave new ways for us and open up new vistas for the country." With these
words he slid with one leg into a yellow-green puddle, splashing mud over
himself from head to toe, but managed to grasp Rumata's arm to avoid falling
flat on his face. "Oh, yes," he resumed his remarks after they had regained
firm ground once again, "we, the young aristocracy, will always stand by Don
Reba's side! Now they'll finally show the proper respect due to us. Judge
for yourself, my noble friend, I've been walking now for one hour through
streets and gardens and I have not met a single Gray bastard. We have wiped
the Gray scum off the face of the earth. Ah, how wonderful and how sweet it
is now to be able to breathe freely in our newborn Arkanar! In place of the
boorish shopkeepers, in place of the impertinent swindlers, and peasant
louts, the streets have now been taken over by the Servants of the Lord. I
have seen it with my own eyes: noblemen are parading quite openly in front
of their houses. No longer must they fear that some fool in a coachman's
apron will splash mud all over them with his dirty cart. And you no longer
have to elbow your way through the throng of butchers and shopkeepers.
Inspired by the blessing of the great Holy Order, for which--I must admit--I
have always felt great admiration and great sympathy, we are now striving
forward to an era of unheard-of glory. No peasant will dare any longer to
raise his eyes up to a nobleman without procuring first a special permit
which will have to be signed by the district inspector of the Holy Order. I
am just on my way to hand in a written petition for this purpose."
"A nauseating stench," said Rumata with feeling.
"Yes, disgusting," agreed Don Tameo and replaced the cork on his
bottle. "On the other hand, though--how freely we can breathe in our newborn
Arkanar I And the price of wine has gone down to half what it was just
By the time they reached the end of the lane Don Tameo had emptied the
contents of his bottle, which he flung to the side of the street. He became
unduly agitated, fell twice flat on his face, refusing both times to brush
the dirt off his soiled clothes, declaring that it was his natural state to
be defiled and that he wished to come into the presence of his new master in
this condition. He began again and again to recite his petition at the top
of his lungs. "How marvelously said!" he shouted. "Just take this passage,
for instance, noble dons: 'In order that the stinking peasants . . .' Eh?
Isn't that a splendid thought?"
As they entered the courtyard behind the chancellery, Don Tameo
collided with a monk, burst into tears and begged for forgiveness of his
sins. The almost choking monk tried to ward off his iron clasp and whistle
for help but Don Tameo clung to the monk's habit and thus both fell into a
garbage heap. Rumata left them lying there and walked on. From quite a
distance he could still hear the fitful, pitiful whistling and the shouts of
"In order that the stinking peasants! . .. your blessi-i-ing! . . . with all
my heart! ... I felt sympathy, sympathy, understand, you peasant lout?"
On the square in front of the entrance to the chancellery stood a
detachment of infantry monks, armed with blunt cudgels. They had removed the
dead from the street. The morning wind drove yellow columns of dust across
the square. The rectangular shadow of the Tower of Joy fell across the monk
soldiers. Below the broad, conical roof of the tower the crows were cawing
and quarreling as usual. A rafter jutted out above; this was where they
would hang the men head downwards. The tower had been built two hundred
years before by the king's ancestors for the exclusive purpose of warding
off the enemies in case of war. It had been erected on a firm foundation, a
three-storey structure, which served as storage rooms for victuals in case
of a protracted siege. Later on the tower was used as a prison. As a result
of an earthquake, all the floors and ceilings inside the tower collapsed and
the prison had to be moved to the basement. Some time previously, an
Arkanarian queen complained that the cries of the tortured prisoners
disturbed her, whereupon her royal consort decreed that a military band was
to play in the tower from early in the morning until late at night. It was
from this time that it received its present name. It was no longer anything
more than an empty stone shell; the torture chambers had long been shifted
to the newly opened, deeper cellar holes; and the orchestra had long since
stopped playing its daily concerts; but the citizens still called it by its
old name, the Tower of Joy.
Usually the area around the Tower of Joy. was deserted. But today there
was a great commotion. The soldier monks led, pushed, dragged along the
ground hordes of Sturmoviks in torn gray uniforms, miserable vagabonds clad
in rags, half-undressed citizens, frozen with fear, and hysterically
screaming young girls. The down-at-the-heel soldiers of the nocturnal army,
casting sullen looks about them, were driven there like whole herds of
cattle. And from secret exits they pulled out the corpses with barbed hooks,
threw them on carts, and transported them out of the city. In the long queue
of waiting courtiers and privileged citizens that still stood outside the
doors of the chancellery, the last in line observed this dreadful traffic
with fear and horror.
All were admitted to the chancellery; some, however, were guided inside
in a convoy. Rumata elbowed his way inside, where he found the air as sticky
and close as in the dump heap. Behind an enormous table, piled high with
papers, sat an official with a yellow-gray complexion. A giant goose quill
was stuck behind his right ear. The petitioner, whose turn it was now, the
noble Don Keu, haughtily twitched his mustache as he announced his name.
'Take off your hat," said the official in a monotonous voice, without
raising his eyes from his papers.
"The clan of the Keus has the privilege to keep on their hats, even in
the presence of the King," stated Don Keu proudly.
"Nobody has any privileges before the Holy Order," said the official in
the same monotonous tone of voice. Don Keu began to hiss and tamed beet red,
but removed his hat nevertheless. The official moved his long yellow finger
across the paper.
"Don Keu . . . Don Keu," he murmured. "Don Keu . . . King Street,
"Yes," said Don Keu in his fat, irritated voice.
"Number 485, brother Tibak."
Brother Tibak, his face purple from obesity and shortness of breath,
sat at the next table. He rummaged in some documents, wiped the sweat from
his brow, got to his feet and read out in a toneless voice:
"Number 485, Don Keu, King Street, number twelve, guilty of blasphemy
against the name of His Magnificence, the bishop of Arkanar, Don Reba, two
years ago at a royal dance, is ordered to receive three dozen lashes on his
bare buttocks, as well as to kiss the shoe of His Magnificence."
Brother Tibak resumed his place again. "Go to the corridor here," said
the official with the colorless voice. "The lashings to the right, the shoe
to the left. Next, please."
To Rumata's great surprise, Don Keu did not even attempt to protest.
Evidently he must have seen a great deal while he was waiting in line. He
croaked once briefly, stroked his mustache with great dignity and walked out
into the corridor.
The next in line was the gigantic Don Pifa, who wobbled with fat. He
had already taken off his hat as he stepped up to the table. "Don Pifa . . .
Don Pifa," cackled the official and moved his finger along the paper before
him. "Milkjug Street, number two?" Don Pifa emitted a gurgling sound.
"Number 504, brother Tibak." Brother Tibak stroked his bald head and stood
up. "Number 504, Don Pifa, Milkjug Street, number two, remained unnoticed
for any offenses by His Magnificence and consequently pure!"
"Don Pifa," said the official, "receive the sign of blameless conduct."
He bent down over a box next to his chair and took out an iron bracelet
which he handed to Don Pifa. 'To be worn on the left wrist, to be presented
immediately when requested by the warriors of the Holy Order. Next one,
Once more Don Pifa emitted a gurgling sound; his eyes were riveted to
his bracelet as he left the room. The official with the colorless voice was
already calling out the next name. Rumata viewed the people who had lined up
to wait. There were many familiar faces among the crowd. Some were dressed
in fine clothes as usual, others were obviously impoverished, but whether
they were rich or poor, they were all thoroughly splashed with mud.
Somewhere in the middle of the line, Don Sera said in a loud voice and for
the third time in five minutes, "I fail to see why a noble don shouldn't get
a few sound whacks, too, in the name of His Magnificence!"
Rumata waited until they sent the next man into the corridor (he was a
well-known fishmonger, sentenced to five strokes with a cane--without having
to kiss the shoe-- because of illicit trains of thought). Then Rumata
jostled his way to the table and without much ado placed his hand on the
official's stack of papers.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I need an official order for Doctor
Budach's release. I am Don Rumata."
The official did not look up.
"Don Rumata . . . Don Rumata," he mumbled, pushed Rumata's hand aside
and ran a finger down a list of names.
"What are you doing, you old inkpot?" said Rumata. "I need an order of
"Don Rumata . . . Don Rumata . . ." It was impossible to stop this
ossified automaton of a bureaucrat, "Spengler Street, number eight. Number
sixteen. Brother Tibak." Rumata sensed how all behind him were holding their
breath. But to be quite frank, he, too, felt somewhat ill at ease. The
scarlet-faced, heavily perspiring Brother Tibak stood up!
"Number sixteen, Spengler Street, number eight, for special services in
the cause of the Holy Order to receive an expression of special recognition
by His Magnificence. His Magnificence will therefore graciously issue for
him an edict for Doctor Budach's release, over whose person he will be
permitted to dispose at his own discretion, see form 6/17/11."
The official proceeded to pull this form immediately from the pile of
documents to his right and handed it to Don Rumata.
"Through the yellow door, to the second floor, room six, straight
through the corridor, make a right turn at first, then one to the left," he
said without moving a muscle. "Next, please."
Rumata quickly skimmed the contents of the document. It was not an
order for Doctor Budach's release. It was merely a document to obtain an
entry permit to the fifth special department of the chancellery, where he
was supposed to pick up a recommendation for the secretary of the secret
police. "What did you give me here, you nitwit?" asked Rumata. "Where is the
official release order?!"
"Through the yellow door, to the second floor, room six, straight
through the corridor, make a right turn first, then one to the left,"
repeated the official.
"I am asking you, where is the release order!" yelled Rumata.
"Haven't the faintest idea ... no idea . . . Next one, please!"
A softly rattling breath sounded above Rumata's ears and something warm
and soft leaned against his back. He shook it off with a brief resolute
movement. It was Don Pifa, who had pushed his way back once more to the
"It doesn't fit," he complained in a whining voice.
The official looked up and regarded him with his tired, dull eyes.
"Name? Rank?" he inquired.
"It doesn't fit," repeated Don Pifa, and pulled and pushed the bracelet
that would hardly fit over three of his fat fingers.
"It doesn't fit ... it doesn't fit . . ." murmured one of the two
officials and suddenly seized a fat book that had been lying on the table
over in a comer. The book looked ominous in its greasy, black cover. For a
few seconds Don Pifa stared in confusion at the book, then swiftly recoiled
one step and without another word quickly stomped toward the exit. Voices
from the queue began to complain: "Don't keep us waiting!... hurry up, will
Rumata, too, left the table. You filthy beast. I'll show you a thing or
two! thought Rumata. The official started loudly to read from the greasy
black book in a droning voice: "In case said bracelet should not fit the
left wrist, or if the purified person should not have a left hand . . ."
Rumata walked around to the other side of the table, stuck both hands into
the box with the bracelets, took out as many as he could hold in his hands
and went his way.
"Hey, hey," shouted the official in the same monotonous tone, "the
"In the name of the Lord," said Rumata over his shoulder with
significant emphasis. The official and Brother Tibak rose swiftly from their
seats and answered confused: "In His name!" The people waiting in line
stared after Rumata with envy and admiration.
Rumata left the chancellery and made his way toward the Tower of Joy,
merrily jingling the iron rings on his left hand. It turned out that he had
snatched nine iron rings but he could find enough place for only five on his
left arm. So he slipped the other four over his right wrist. That's the way
the bishop of Arkanar intended to get rid of me, he thought. Well, he's
barking up the wrong tree! His metal bracelets were clanking with every step
he made and in his hand he held an important-looking piece of paper--form
6/17/11-- decorated with many colorful stamps. The monks in the street,
walking or riding toward him, quickly gave him a wide berth. Occasionally he
caught a glimpse in the crowd of his faithful spy and bodyguard, who always
kept at a respectful distance. Rumata arrived at the gate of the Tower of
Joy. He rattled his swords in a menacing manner at the guard who stuck out
his head in curiosity, but who just as quickly withdrew it when he heard
Rumata's growl. Rumata passed through the courtyard and descended the
slippery, worn-out state down into the semidarkness, only relieved by some
primitive, sputtering oil lamps. Here was the entrance to the Holy of Holies
of the former Ministry of Internal Security, the royal prison, and the
Every ten paces along the vaulted corridor he could see a stinking
torch fastened in a rusty holder on the wall. Below each torch was a
cavelike recess that ended in a small black door with a tiny window provided
with iron bars. This was the entrance to the prison cells; heavy bolts on
the outside secured the doors. The corridors were teeming with people. They
bumped into each other, ran back and forth, shouted and screamed, trying to
give orders to each other. Bolts rattled and clanked, doors were opened and
slammed, somebody was being beaten and cried out in pain, another tried
desperately to hold onto the railing as he was dragged away, another was
shoved into a cell that was already overflowing with too many prisoners, and
another prisoner, whom some men were unsuccessfully trying to drag out of a
crowded cell, clutched his neighbor with an iron grip, screaming all the
while: "Not me, not me!" The faces of the passing monks were eager and
puckered up. Everyone was in a hurry, everyone performed duties of great
importance to the State. Rumata intended first of all to find out what was
going on in this place. He wandered leisurely through a number of passages
and corridors, gradually venturing farther down the stairs. The lower floors
were somewhat quieter. Judging by the conversations he overheard, this was
the place where the graduates of the School for Patriots were examined. Clad
only in leather breechcloths, the adolescents stood at the doors of the
torture chambers, leafed through old greasy manuals, and occasionally walked
over to a big wooden tub to drink water from a tin cup that was fastened by
a chain to the wall above. Horrible cries came from the chambers, the sound
of thrashings, and it smelled unmistakably of burnt flesh. And their talk!
Oh, that talk!
"You know, the rack has a screw on top, and it got worn out and went
right through. Is that my fault, I ask you? He had them whip me for that.
'You rotten, stupid pig,' he said. 'You ape, go get five on your naked butt.
Then let me see you again.'"
"If we only could find out who does the whipping. Maybe it's one of us,
a student. We could grease his palm--a few copper pennies would do the trick
"If you get a fat man, the spikes won't leave a mark in his flesh. The
best thing to do is take a couple of red-hot needles and push the lard aside
"Yes, but the Lord's bonds are intended for torturing only the legs,
and the martyr's gloves, those with the screws, are specially for the hands,
"I almost exploded, brothers, I laughed so hard! I go inside to have me
a look--and who's lying there, all chained up? Fika with the red hair, the
butcher from down our street, he always used to box my ears, when he was
drunk. Now it's my turn, I said to myself, just wait..."
"And Pekor with the thick lips was dragged away this morning by the
monks. He hasn't come back yet. Didn't show up even for the exam."
"I was supposed to work the meat grinder but I accidentally placed the
man sideways. Well, he broke a few ribs, so what? But you should have seen
Father Kin! He grabs me by the hair and kicks me in my behind with his heavy
boots. Boy, can he aim well! I saw stars! 'What's the idea,' he screamed at
me; 'you're damaging the goods!"
Just look here, friends. Come take a good look, thought Rumata while he
slowly turned his head from side to side to get a sweeping view of the
scene. We're not dealing with mere theory here. No one on Earth has ever
seen anything like it before. Just watch, listen, and film it all! And learn
to appreciate and love our own era on Earth--oh, damn it-- and bow to honor
the memory of those who have lived through times like these! Just take a
long, close look at these disgusting faces--young, dull, indifferent, inured
to the worst kinds of bestialities; but don't turn up your noses. Our own
ancestors weren't any better in their time.
By now the young students had noticed him. A dozen pairs of eyes of all
shades stared at him.
"Hey, look, the noble don deigns to visit us down here. A bit pale
around the gills, eh, milord?"
"I say! I thought we were all done with noblemen?" "They say in such
cases they put water in front of them, but make the chain too short for them
to reach it..." "What's he nosing around down here for?" "I'd love to lay my
hands on that character. He'd answer every question, confess anything I'd
ask him to, I bet.,.."
"Keep it quiet! Not so loud, friends! He's quite capable of drawing his
sword all of a sudden, just watch out . . . Look at all the iron bracelets
he is wearing--and that slip of paper!"
"I don't like it the way he is looking at us. Let's beat it, boys; we
don't want to mix with such unsavory characters!"
Finally they withdrew and left the scene, hiding in some dark comers
where occasional flashes from suspicious spider eyes revealed their
presence. Good riddance, thought Rumata, they won't bother me any more. He
was just about to tug at the cloak of one of the monks who hurried by down
the corridor, when he noticed three other monks in a comer who were less in
a hurry and quietly concentrated on their business at hand. They were
systematically beating a henchman--probably guilty of some
insubordination--with their heavy sticks. Rumata approached them.
"In the name of the Lord," he said and clanked his iron bracelets.
The monks lowered their cudgels and examined Rumata. "In His name,"
said the tallest of the three. 'Take me to the section supervisor!" said
Rumata. The monks quickly exchanged some glances. Meanwhile, the henchman
crawled behind a water tub to hide. "What do you need him for?" asked the
tall monk. Without a word, Rumata shoved the paper under the monk's nose.
"Aha," said the monk. "Well, for the time being I am the supervisor for
"Splendid," said Rumata and rolled up the piece of paper.
"I am Don Rumata. His Magnificence has made a present to me of Doctor
Budach. Have him brought here!"
"Budach?" he said frowning. "Who is that supposed to be?" The monk put
his hand under his hood and noisily scratched his head. "Budach, the
"No, no," said another monk. "The troublemaker is called Rudach. He was
released last night already. Father Kin in person removed his chains and led
him out of the building. But I--"
"Nonsense, nonsense!" said Rumata impatiently and slapped the rolled-up
paper against his thigh. "Budach is the one who poisoned the King!"
"Ah-aah," said the supervisor. "Now I know who you mean. He's probably
already in the dungeon. Brother Pacca, go and have a look in number twelve."
Then he turned again to Rumata. "So, and you want to take him out of here?"
"Of course," said Rumata. "He belongs to me now."
"All right. Your Honor. May I have that paper? I must record everything
properly." Rumata handed him the form. The supervisor examined both sides of
the paper, devoting special attention to the seal, and then remarked
"That's what I call a fine document! Pardon me, don, will you just step
aside for a moment and wait until we have finished this little business here
. . . Now where did that henchman get to?"
The monks searched for the hangman, who had apparently treated the
tortured prisoners too tenderly for the new master's taste. Rumata walked
away. The monks found the hangman, pulled him from behind the water tub
expertly, laid him out flat on the floor and then started to work him over
again with their sticks without displaying any particular passion or
cruelty. Five minutes later, the first monk, who had been sent off to fetch
Doctor Budach, reappeared. The monk came around a bend in the corridor
pulling behind him a rope that had been fastened around the neck of an
emaciated gray-haired old man in dark clothes.
'There you have your man! You old Budach!" shouted the monk joyfully
while still at a distance. "He hadn't been thrown into the dungeon yet; he's
alive and well! Just a bit weak, probably hasn't eaten in quite a while."
Rumata walked toward them, yanked the rope out of [:] the
monk's hand, and removed the noose from the old man's neck.
"Are you Budach from Irukan?" asked Rumata.
"Yes," said the old man.
"I am Rumata. Follow me and try to keep up with me!" Rumata turned to
the monks. "In the name of the Lord," he said.
The supervisor straightened up, let his stick sink to his side and
answered, breathing heavily: "In His name!"
Rumata turned his attention back to Doctor Budach. He saw that the old
man was leaning against the wall, hardly able to keep on his feet
"I am nauseated and very weak," he said, and a sickly smile came over
his face. "Please forgive me, noble don!"
Rumata took him by the arm and led him along the corridor. As soon as
the monks no longer could see them, he stopped and took from a small vial a
Sporamin pill. He handed it to Budach who questioned him with his eyes.
"Just swallow it," said Rumata, "you'll feel better directly."
Budach was still leaning against the wall. He took the tablet from
Rumata's hand, examined it carefully, sniffed at it, raised his shaggy
eyebrows, then cautiously placed the pill on his tongue and tasted it.
"Swallow it, just swallow it," said Rumata with a friendly smile.
Budach swallowed the pill.
"Mmm," he said. "And I thought I knew everything there was to know
about medicines." He fell silent again and observed the changes that soon
came over his body. "Mmm," he said again. "Interesting! Dried spleen of the
wild sow Y? Np, can't be, I can't taste any putrefaction."
"Let's go," said Rumata.
They walked along the corridors, then up some stairs, turned into
another passage, a few more steps again. Suddenly Rumata stopped in his
tracks as if struck by lightning. A wild and familiar roar filled the prison
vaults. From somewhere inside one of the cells curses boomed out damning God
and the world; it was the thundering voice of his dear friend the baron
Pampa, Don Bau de Suruga de Gatta de Arkanar. With his stentorian voice be
cursed God and all the saints he could think of, Don Reba, the Holy Order,
and many more. So the baron fell into their clutches after all, thought
Rumata very contritely. I had completely forgotten about him. He wouldn't
have forgotten me ... Rumata quickly slipped two bracelets off his own
wrist, placed them on Doctor Budach's thin arms and said:
"Walk upstairs now, but stay inside the building. Wait for me somewhere
in some hidden comer. If anybody should bother you, just show him these iron
circlets and you'll be left alone."
Baron Pampa roared and howled like an atomic icebreaker plowing through
the Polar fog. A thundering echo reverberated in the vaulted building. The
people in the corridors stiffened and listened attentively, their mouths
wide open. Many quickly passed (heir thumbs across their faces in order to
chase away the evil spirits. Rumata raced down two stairs and hurled aside
the monks that tried to block his way. With his two swords he forced his way
through the throng of the graduating students of the School for Patriots,
and kicked in the door of the cell. The whole room shook with Baron Pampa's
bellowing voice. The flickering light of the torches revealed a strange
sight: His friend Baron Pampa, this mountain of a man, had been strung up by
the legs and was hanging face down and stark naked. His face had turned a
bluish-black color from the congestion of blood in his head. At a small
table with crooked legs sat a hunchbacked official holding his hands over
his ears; a perspiring torturer --who somehow resembled a dentist--busied
himself with his clinking instruments in an iron vat.
Rumata dosed the door, stepped up to the torturer from behind and
struck him on the head with the hilt of his sword. The torturer wheeled
around, his hands flew up to his head, he lost his balance and fell
backwards into the tub. Rumata drew his other sword from its sheath and
hacked the table in two where the official had been silting shuffling his
papers. The torturer sat in the tub hiccupping violently, while the official
swiftly crawled on all fours into a comer of the cell. Rumata stepped over
to the baron and tried to loosen the chains by which his feet had been
fastened to the wall. At the second try he succeeded in yanking the chains
down. Carefully, he helped the baron to get back on his feet. The baron
abruptly ceased to roar, stiffened in a peculiar pose, then hastily pulled
and tugged at his bonds and freed his hands.
"I can't believe my eyes," he bellowed, rolling his blood shot eyes
from side to side. "It's you, my noble friend! I've found you at last!"
"Yes, my friend, here I am," said Rumata. "But let's get out of here.
This is no place for you!"
"Beer!" said the baron. "I've seen beer somewhere in this place." He
walked around the cell, dragging the rest of his chains behind him on the
floor and did not stop roaring and bustling about. "Half the night I was
chasing through town! And damn it, they told me you had been arrested, so I
beat up a number of people, one after the other. And I was convinced I would
find you here in this prison! Well, and here you are indeed, as it turns
He went over to the torturer and with one move of his mighty arm swept
him and the tub aside as if he were busy dusting off something. Beyond the
space where the tub had stood appeared now a small barrel. With his bare
fist the baron smashed in its bottom, threw back his head, opened his mouth
wide and let the contents pour down his throat. A torrent of beer ran
gurgling into his gullet. What a guy, thought Rumata as he watched the baron
with great pleasure. Looks like an ox, like some brainless bull, but still,
he went looking for me, wanted to rescue me, and most likely landed here in
this prison because of me . . . and he did all this out of his own accord.
Thank God there are some human beings on this world after all, as rotten as
it is. How lucky it's turned out all right in the end!
The baron had drained the barrel dry and hurled it into the comer where
the official's teeth could be heard loudly chattering. Now a squeal came
from that comer.
"That's better," said the baron and wiped his beard with the back of
his hand. "Now I'm ready to follow you. Does it matter that I have nothing
Rumata looked around the room, walked over to the torturer and shook
him out of his leather breechcloth.
"Take that for the time being," he said.
"You are right," said the baron and tied the breechcloth around his
loins. "It would be most improper to appear naked before the baroness."
They left the torture chamber. Nobody had the courage to block their
way and the corridor was suddenly quite deserted for twenty paces.
"I'll kill all of them!" shouted the baron. "They're occupying my
castle--they've ordered somebody by the name of Father Arima to take up
residence there. I don't know whose father he is, but I swear to you that
his children will soon be orphans! Devil take it, dear. friend, don't you
agree that these ceilings here are mighty low? I've already skinned the top
of my skull to the bone..."
Finally they got out of the tower. For a moment the spy and bodyguard
became visible but he disappeared directly again in the crowd. Rumata gave a
sign to Budach to follow him. The crowd in front of the gate parted before
them as if they had tried to scatter them with a sword. They could hear
shrieks that an important state criminal had fled, fingers pointed to them,
and voices growled: "Just look at that naked devil, the famous Estorian
The baron walked to the center of the square, stopped and halfway had
to close his eyes because of the bright sunlight. Speed was of the essence
now. Rumata quickly sized up the situation. "My horse was somewhere around
here," said the baron. "Hey you there! My horse!"
Over in the paddock where the horses of the cavalry of the order were
prancing, a wild commotion arose.
"Not that one!" crowed the Baron. "That one over there, the gray
"In the name of the Lord!" yelled Rumata belatedly and pulled his
circlet down over his forehead.
A frightened little monk in a dirty cloak brought the Baron his horse.
"Give him something, Don Rumata," said the baron and raised himself
with difficulty up onto his saddle.
"Stop, stop!" came loud shouts from the tower.
Several monks came running across the square, brandishing their
cudgels. Rumata gave the baron one of his swords.
"Hurry up, baron. Quick!" he said.
"Yes," said Baron Pampa. "I must speed on. That Arima is probably
cleaning out my whole wine cellar in the meantime. Ill expect you at my
castle, tomorrow or the day after, my friend. Any messages for the
"Kiss her hand for me," said Rumata. The monks were almost upon them by
now. "Faster, faster, baron!"
"Are you out of danger yourself, my friend?" the baron pressed. His
voice betrayed that he was still concerned about Rumata's safety.
"Yes, damn it, yes! Move on!"
The baron dashed off and rode at full speed directly into the crowd of
monks. One of them fell to the ground, another one tumbled, there was a loud
whine, a great cloud of dust arose, the horses' hooves rapped sharply on the
cobblestones -- and the baron was out of sight. Rumata was just looking down
a lane which led off the square and where those who had been knocked over in
the tumult had taken refuge. Suddenly an insistent and stealthy voice
sounded in his ear:
"But, my noble don, don't you think you are taking unwarranted
Rumata spun around and found himself peering into the affectedly
smiling face of Don Reba.
"Unwarranted?" said Rumata. "That word doesn't exist for me."
Suddenly he remembered Don Sera. "And anyway, I can't see why noble
dons should not help each other in case of distress."
A group of heavily breathing monks rode quickly past them, their
halberds held ready for action, in hot pursuit of Baron Pampa. A change came
over Don Reba's face.
"All right then," he said. "Forget it. Oh, isn't this the most learned
Doctor Budach here? You look splendid, Doctor. I think I ought to inspect my
prison. Criminals of State, including released prisoners, must never go on
foot when they leave. They should be carried out."
Doctor Budach stormed toward Don Reba with the movements of a blind
man. Rumata quickly stepped between the two men.
"By the way, Don Reba," he said, "what do you think of Father Arima?"
"Father Arima?" Don Reba raised his eyebrows. "An outstanding warrior.
Occupies a high position in my episcopate. What is that question supposed to
"As a faithful servant of Your Magnificence," said Rumata with obvious
malicious relish of the situation, "I hasten to inform you that you may
consider this high position as vacant."
Rumata glanced down the lane where the yellow dust had not yet settled.
Don Reba, too, looked that way. A worried expression came over his face.
It was already late in the afternoon when Kyra asked her noble Lord and
his most learned guest to come to the table.
Now that Doctor Budach had bathed, carefully shaved, and changed into
fresh clothes, he made a pleasant and imposing impression. His movements
were deliberate and dignified, his intelligent gray eyes peered out from
under his shaggy eyebrows in a benevolent and somewhat condescending manner.
First of all he apologized to Rumata for his impetuous behavior toward Don
Reba during their encounter on the square.
"Please understand me," he said. "He's a hideous person, a monster who
came into this world only because of some divine oversight. I am a
physician, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I would kill him if I only had
an opportunity to do so. It has come to my ears that the King has been
poisoned. And now I do understand how he perished." Rumata sat up and took
notice. "That Reba came into my cell and demanded I should mix a poison for
him which would become effective a few hours later. Of course, I refused to
do so. He threatened to have me tortured -- I laughed in his face. In reply,
he summoned his torturers and ordered them to bring a dozen boys and girls,
not more than ten years old. He lined them up in front of me, opened my
medicine bag and declared he would try out all my medications one after the
other on these pitiful human guinea pigs until he found the right one. And
this is the way the King was poisoned, Don Rumata."
Budach's lips began to tremble, but he soon regained his composure.
Rumata nodded knowingly and turned aside, so as not to embarrass his
scholarly guest. Now I finally understand, he thought. I understand it all
now. The king would never have accepted anything from the hands of his
ministers, not even a dill pickle. So the wicked rogue foisted some
fifth-rate charlatan off on the king by promising that no-good nobody to
make him the king's personal physician as a reward for curing his ailing
legs. And now it's clear why Don Reba felt so triumphant when I compromised
him in the royal bedchamber: one would have been hard-put to imagine a
better way to slip the king a false Budach. The entire responsibility now
fell on the shoulders of Rumata from Estoria, the Irukanian conspirator and
spy. We are real greenhorns, he thought. Just like silly little innocent
puppies. They ought to teach a special course for feudal intrigues back home
at the Institute. And they should introduce another course on how to acquire
the right qualifications for properly sizing up the Rebas of the universe,
large and small. Doctor Budach was quite obviously starving. Nevertheless,
he politely yet very definitely refused all meat dishes and devoted his
attention exclusively to the salads, pastas and desserts. He also drank a
glass of fine Estorian wine and his eyes began to sparkle again; a healthy
blush spread over his cheeks. Rumata could not swallow even a bite. He could
still see in his mind's eyes the crackling, smoking, scarlet torches; he
could still smell the odor of burnt flesh. He felt a big lump in his throat.
And thus he waited, until Doctor Budach had eaten his fill, while he,
Rumata, leaned against the window sill, conversing politely, slowly and
calmly, to avoid disturbing the guest who was enjoying his meal.
Slowly, life returned to the city. People appeared in the streets
again, voices could be heard, growing louder and louder, accompanied by the
pounding of hammers and the cracking of wood: they were knocking down the
wooden idols from the walls and the gabled roofs. A bald, fat shopkeeper
pushed a cart laden with a barrel of beer in front of him so he could sell
it later on the square for two pennies a jug. People walked arm in arm,
slapping each other on the back in a friendly fashion. Under the arched gate
across the street he could see his spy and bodyguard talking with a thin
woman. Carts passed under his window piled high with something. At first
Rumata failed to understand what kind of carts these were but then he
noticed blue-black hands and feet sticking out from under the hemp matting.
He quickly walked away from the window.
"Man's nature," said Budach while chewing leisurely, "is characterized
by his ability to adjust to everything. There is nothing in this world that
man cannot adjust to. Neither horses nor dogs possess this ability.
Presumably when God created man he considered the tortures to which he would
subject man on this earth, and therefore equipped him with a tremendous
capacity for endurance. Of course, it's difficult to say whether this is
good or bad. If man had not been endowed with such potential for patience
and suffering, then all good people would have perished long ago and only
the wicked and soulless would remain. On the other hand, tolerance and
adaptability make men dumb beasts, distinguishable from animals only on
corporal structure, even surpassing the lowly beasts in their lack of
ability to defend themselves. And each new day brings forth new horrors of
wickedness and brutality ..."
Rumata glanced over in Kyra's direction. She sat opposite Budach and
attentively listened to his words, one cheek resting on her hand. Her eyes
were filled with grief: it was obvious how sorry she felt for mankind.
"You are probably right, dear Doctor Budach," said Rumata. "But take
me, for instance. I am nothing but a simple don of high birth." Budach's
high forehead became wrinkled like a washboard and his eyes grew wide with
amazement and amusement. "I love learned people more than anything; I admire
their nobility of spirit. But on the other hand I completely fail to
understand why you, who are men of science and the sole representatives of
intellectual life and wisdom, remain so hopelessly passive? Why do you
surrender without any resistance to contempt, why do you permit yourselves
to be thrown into prisons, why do you accept your fate and let yourselves be
burnt at the stake? Why do you separate your raison d'etre -- the search for
new knowledge -- from the practical demands of life, the fight against all
Budach pushed back his empty dish.
"You ask strange questions, Don Rumata," he said. "Oddly enough, I was
confronted with these self-same questions by the honorable Don Hug, the
duke's chamberlain. Are you acquainted with him by any chance? Yes, I
thought so . . . Indeed, the fight against evil! But what actually do we
understand by 'evil'? After all, everyone is at liberty to interpret this
concept of evil in his own way. For us, the scholars, evil lies in
ignorance; the Church, however, teaches ignorance to be bliss and that all
evil comes from knowledge. For the peasant, evil consists of high taxes and
drought; for the grain merchant, however, drought is very propitious. Slaves
see the evil embodied in the person of a drunken, hardhearted master, while
the artisans regard an avaricious moneylender as evil personified. Tell me,
then, what is the evil we are supposed to fight, Don Rumata?" He cast a
saddened glance at his interlocutor. "Evil cannot be eradicated. No man is
capable of curtailing its growth in this world. The individual might improve
his own lot, perhaps, but always only at the expense of sealing the fate of
others. And there will always be kings, who can be distinguished from one
another by the degree of their cruelty, and there will always be, too, crude
and debauched barons, the same as there will always be stupid folk, the
ignorant masses, who show delight toward their oppressors and who,
paradoxically, meet their liberators with hatred. This can all be explained
by the strange phenomenon that servants and slaves understand their masters
(even the most cruel) so much better than their liberators; for each
subjugated slave can easily picture himself in the place of his master, but
it's a rare one who can visualize himself in the role of his liberator. This
is the way of human beings, Don Rumata; this is what our world is like."
"The world undergoes constant changes. Doctor Budach," said Rumata. "We
know of a time when there were no kings at all..."
"The world cannot keep on changing forever," countered Budach, "for
nothing is forever, not even change itself . . . We do not know the laws of
completed perfection but completion will be reached some day, sooner or
later. Examine, for example, the structure of our society. How pleasant for
the eye of the beholder to regard this geometrically perfect system! Down at
the very bottom come the peasants and the artisans, above them the noblemen,
then the clergy, and finally the king. How meticulously everything has been
calculated! What steadfastness, what constancy, what harmonic order! What
change could ever occur in this cut crystal from the hand of our divine
jeweler? There is no structure in this world that is superior to a
pyramid--as any well-trained architect will confirm." He raised a finger,
punctuating each remark with a slight stab in the air. "When grain pours
from a sack, it does not spread out flat in a plane area, but will form a
so-called conical pyramid. Each little grain adheres to the next, trying to
avoid the fall to the ground. And this is the way it goes with mankind. In
their attempt to form some kind of an entity, men must cling together, and
inevitably they form a pyramid."
"Do you seriously consider this world the best of all possible worlds?"
asked Rumata astonished. "After your encounter with Don Reba, your
experiences in jail?"
"Of course not, my young friend! There are many things I do not like in
this world, I'd like to see many things changed. But what should we do? In
the eyes of the Supreme Power, perfection presents quite a different picture
than in mine. What sense would it make for a tree to complain that it is
rooted to the spot, although it would be most happy to be able to move away
in order to escape from the woodcutter's ax?"
"But if it were possible to change the decisions of the Supreme Power?"
"Only the Supreme Power itself is capable of doing so,"
"But just imagine you had divine authority to act . . ."
"If I could imagine being God, I would become God!"
"All right, suppose you had the opportunity to give God some advice?"
"You have a fertile imagination," said Budach amused. "That would be
splendid. You know the Holy Scriptures? Wonderful! I'd be happy, to carry on
a conversation with you."
"You flatter me. But still, what advice would you give the Almighty?
What, in your opinion, would the Almighty have to do so that you'd be able
to say: the world is now truly good and beautiful?"
Budach smiled approvingly, leaned comfortably back in his armchair and
folded his hands across his stomach. Full of interest and anticipation, Kyra
peered into the physician's face.
"All right then," he said, "if you so desire. I would tell the
Almighty: 'Great Creator, I do not know your plan; maybe it's simply not
your intention to make mankind good and happy. Nevertheless, I beg you: let
it happen--it would be so easy for you to accomplish--that all men have
sufficient bread, meat, and wine! Provide them with shelter and clothing,
let hunger and want disappear from the face of the earth, and all that
separates men from each other."
'That would be all?" asked Rumata.
"Does it seem too little to you?"
Rumata shook his head slowly from side to side.
"God would answer you: This would be no blessing for mankind. For the
strong of your world take away from the weak whatever I gave them and the
weak would be as poor as before."
"I would beg God to protect the poor. "Enlighten the cruel rulers,' I
"Cruelty is a mighty force. Once the rulers rid themselves of their
cruel ways they would lose their power. And other cruel men would take their
Budach's friendly face grew suddenly somber.
"Then punish the cruel men," he said with determination, "and lead them
away from the path of evil, so that the strong may not be cruel to their
"It is man's nature to be weak from the moment he is born. He will only
grow strong when there is no one stronger than he is. And if the cruel ones
among the strong are punished and removed from their ranks, they will simply
be replaced by the relatively stronger ones from among the throng of the
weak. And the newly strong ones will become cruel in their turn. That would
mean that eventually all men would have to be punished, and this I do not
want to do."
"You have greater insight, Almighty Lord. Therefore arrange that
mankind will obtain all they need and thus avoid that they will rob each
other of whatever you gave them."
'This solution wouldn't be a blessing for mankind either," sighed
Rumata. "They would not reap profit from this. For if they obtain everything
from my hand without any effort on their part, they will forget what it is
to work and labor; they will lose their taste for living. As time goes on
they'll become domestic animals whom I will have to feed and clothe--and
that for all eternity."
"Don't give them everything at once!" said Budach excitedly. "Give it
to them slowly, gradually!"
"Gradually mankind will take everything they need anyhow."
Budach's smile became embarrassed.
"Now I can see that things are not quite so simple," he said. "I've
never really thought about the problems ... I believe we have discussed all
possibilities now. However," he leaned forward, "there exists still another
possibility: Ordain that mankind will love work and knowledge above all,
that work and wisdom will be regarded by them as their sole reason for
Yes, thought Rumata, we've already considered such experiments. Mass
hypno-induction, positive remoralization, exposure to hypnotic radiation
from three equatorial satellites ...
This is an alternative I might choose perhaps," he said. "But could it
be justified if I were to rob mankind of its history? Does it make sense to
replace one type of man with another? Would this not mean in the end that
one would wipe this mankind off the face of the earth and create another in
Budach frowned and remained silent, busy with his own thoughts. From
below the windows came again the melancholy groaning of heavily laden carts.
Suddenly Budach spoke softly:
"Then, oh, Lord, remove us from the face of the earth and create us
anew, make us better men this time, more perfect beings. Or, better
still--leave us the way we are, but ordain that we can follow our own path!"
"My heart is heavy with sorrow," Rumata said slowly, "but this is not
within my power."
And he suddenly became aware of Kyra's eyes which she had fastened on
him with great intensity. There was fear and hope in her glance now.
Rumata led Doctor Budach to a bedroom to rest for the long journey
ahead, and then went to his study. The Sporamin had worn off, and he felt
exhausted; his wounds began to hurt again, and his wrists--they still
smarted from the rope burns--started to swell. I should lie down and sleep
now for a while, he thought, I simply must get some sleep; then I ought to
get in touch with Don Kondor. I should also communicate with Controls and
have them report everything to headquarters. We need to decide what to do
now -- if there is anything we can do at all. And how we should behave in
case there's nothing we can do.
As Rumata entered his study, he saw a black monk sitting at the table,
his hood pulled down over his eyes. He was all bent over and had his arms
hidden in his wide sleeves.
"What are you doing here?" asked Rumata, very tired. "Who let you in
"Greetings, noble Don Rumata," said the monk and pulled back his hood.
Rumata shook his head gently.
"Well, I'll be damned!" he said. "Greetings to you, my good Arata. What
brings you here? What has happened?"
"The usual," said Arata. "The army has broken up, the men are dividing
up the land among themselves and nobody wants to go south. The duke is
gathering those of his warriors who have escaped unscathed, and it won't be
long now before he starts stringing up my peasants by their feet along the
Estorian tract. Everything as usual," he repeated.
"I understand," said Rumata.
He threw himself down on the divan, leaned his head back on his crossed
arms and regarded Arata. Twenty years earlier, when Anton had built models
with his erector set and played William Tell back on Earth, the man had been
known as Arata the Fair, and he was quite a different person at that time.
At that time Arata the Fair had not yet acquired the horrible purple
scar on his high forehead. He bore the scar ever since the mutiny of the
Soanian sailors--three thousand naked, enslaved workers who had been driven
from all corners of the realm to the wharves of Soan and who had already
become so brutalized that they had almost lost their drive for survival. One
dark night they swarmed out of the harbor area and attacked Soan, leaving
nothing but bodies and raging fires behind. Finally they were received near
the edge of the town by the imperial infantry, well equipped with steel
And at that time, of course, Arata still had two healthy eyes. He lost
his right eye through the vigorous blow of a cudgel, struck by a baron, when
a peasants' army, twenty-thousand men strong, planned to invade the capital
in order to ferret out the baronial gangs, and when instead they encountered
the imperial guard, five thousand men strong, on the open field. They were
split up into small groups, surrounded, and finally trampled to death under
the pointed iron shoes of the fighting camels ...
In those days, Arata the Fair was still as straight as a poplar tree.
He acquired his hunchback (and with it his new nickname) after the battle in
the dukedom of Uban, two oceans removed from here, when after seven years of
pest and drought, four-hundred-thousand living skeletons seized their hay
forks and threshing flails, chased away the noblemen and besieged the Duke
of Uban in his residence. However, the duke, whose weak mind suddenly became
strong in the face of this unbearable strain and fright, declared himself
willing to forgive his subjects, lowered the price of intoxicating beverages
and promised his serfs freedom. Arata, seeing that all was lost, ordered and
implored them in a desperate roar, not to swallow this treacherous bait; he
was then seized by the Atamans, who believed that nothing good should be
expected from a good man; they beat him with iron rods and threw him into a
pit, leaving him to die a miserable death ...
But the heavy iron ring on his right wrist probably went back to the
time when he was still called the Fair One. The ring had been forged at the
end of a chain to the rudder of a pirate's galley, and Arata had ripped the
chain apart, struck a blow against the temple of Captain Ega the Gracious,
captured first the ship and then the entire pirate's fleet, and then had
tried to found a free republic on the ocean. And the whole enterprise ended
in a blood fight, for at that time Arata was still a young man who had not
learned how to hate and who believed that the gift of freedom was sufficient
in itself to render a slave into a godlike creature...
He was a professional rebel, an avenger by the grace of God, a figure
that is not often encountered during the Middle Ages. Historical evolution
gives birth to such pikes only from time to time, releases them into the
deep gulfs of society to stir up the fat carps who sit and dream in the mud
at the bottom of the abyss . . . Arata was the only person here whom Rumata
neither hated nor pitied. And in the heated dreams of this citizen of Earth,
who had spent almost five years in blood and stench, he frequently saw
himself as a figure resembling Arata. He had gone through all the infernal
torments of this universe and was rewarded for it with the privileged right
to slay the murderers, to torture the torturers, and to betray the traitors.
"Sometimes it seems," said Arata, "that we are all powerless. I remain
forever the leader of mutineers and I realize that my strength is based on
my extraordinary vitality. But this strength does not help me in my
powerless state. As if by magic, my victories change into defeat. My allies
in battle become my enemies, the most courageous desert me, the most
faithful betray me or perish. And nothing remains to me but my own bare
hands. But one cannot reach the golden idols behind the fortress walls with
bare hands ..."
"How did you get to Arkanar?" asked Rumata.
"With the monks."
"You're crazy! You're so easy to recognize."
"But not among monks. Among the crowds of officers of the Holy Order
nearly half are made up of divine fools and cripples like myself. The maimed
and the deformed are a pleasing sight in God's eyes." He stared straight at
Rumata and laughed.
"What do you intend to do now?" asked Rumata and lowered his eyes.
"The same as always. I know the Holy Order. Before the year is out, the
people of Arkanar will arm themselves and crawl out of their holes--they'll
chop each other to bits with their axes. I'll lead them so that they
slaughter not each other, but rather those who deserve it." "Do you need
some money?" asked Rumata.
"Yes, as usual. And weapons . . ." He fell silent. Then he narrowed his
eyes and said; "Don Rumata, do you remember how disappointed I was when I
found out who you really are? I hate the shavelings, and it hurts me that
their tissue, of lies proved to be the truth. But unfortunately, a poor
rebel is forced to profit from circumstances of all kinds. The priests are
saying that the gods have thunderbolts at their disposal . . . Don Rumata, I
urgently need such thunderbolts, to be able to smash the walls of these
Rumata sighed deeply. Following his miraculous rescue, Arata had
ceaselessly demanded explanations. Rumata had once even attempted to tell
about himself, he even once showed him Sol, the sun of his planet, in the
nocturnal sky --a tiny, hardly recognizable star. But the rebel understood
only one thing: The cursed priests were right, gods were indeed living
behind the walls of the firmament, omniscient and almighty gods. And from
that moment on, every conversation he had with Rumata would always lead to
the same point: God, since you do exist, lend me your strength, for this is
the best that you can do for me. And each time Rumata made no reply or would
steer the conversation on to a different topic.
"Don Rumata," said the rebel, "why don't you want to help us?"
"Just a minute," said Rumata. "I beg your pardon, but first tell me how
you got into my house?"
"That isn't so important. No one besides me knows the way. But don't
try to sidetrack me, Don Rumata. Why don't you want to confer your powers on
"We won't go into that."
"Oh yes, we will. I did not call you. I have never asked a favor of
anybody. You came to me of your own accord. Or did you just want to have a
It's hard to be a god, thought Rumata.
Patiently, he answered: "You don't understand. I have tried at least
twenty times to explain that I am not a god-- and you wouldn't believe me.
And neither will you comprehend why I cannot help you with my weapons."
"Do you have thunderbolts?"
"I cannot lend you the thunderbolt."
"I've heard that story twenty times," said Arata. "Now I want to know:
"I'll tell you once more: you won't understand."
"So try once more to explain it to me."
"What do you plan to do with the thunderbolt?"
"I will burn the golden brood like bedbugs, to the last man, their
cursed kith and kin down to the twelfth descendant I'll wipe their
fortresses off the face of the earth. I'll burn their armies and all those
whom they defend and support. You can rest assured that your lightning will
serve a just cause, and once only the freed slaves remain on earth and peace
reigns everywhere, I shall return your thunderbolts to you and never again
ask you for them."
Arata fell silent He was breathing heavily. His face had turned almost
purple from the blood that had congested his brain. Apparently he could
already see duchies and kingdoms going up in flames, the seared bodies lying
at the scene of conflagration and among the burnt-out ruins, and the
gigantic armies of the victors roaring triumphantly: "Liberty! Liberty!"
"No," said Rumata. "I will not give the thunderbolt to you. It would be
a mistake. Try to believe me, I can see further than you can."
Arata lowered his chin onto his chest. Rumata began to crack his finger
joints. "I'll tell you just one of the reasons. Though it is insignificant
compared with the main reason, you will understand this one. You are
brimming over with vitality, dear Arata, but even you are mortal. And if you
should perish and the thunderbolt should happen to fall into the wrong
hands, those that are not quite as pure as yours, the mere thought of what
this might lead to is unbearable ..."
Neither spoke for some time. Then Rumata took out a bottle of Estorian
wine and something to eat, and placed it before his guest Without raising
his head, Arata started silently to bite off chunks of bread and sip at the
wine. Rumata was overcome by a strange and morbid schism within himself. He
knew he was right and yet this awareness humbled him before Arata. Somehow,
Arata surpassed him; but not him alone--Arata surpassed all the others that
came unbidden to this planet and observed with full impotent pity its
teeming life from the lofty peak of passionless hypotheses and alien moral
standards. And for the first time Rumata thought: Nothing can be acquired
without loss. We are infinitely stronger than Arata within our realm of
goodness but infinitely weaker than he is within his realm of evil.
"You should not have descended from heaven," Arata remarked suddenly.
"Go back. You are doing us here only harm!"
"No, no," said Rumata. "We don't harm anybody here."
"Oh, yes, you are harming us. You instill unfounded hopes in us."
"Who, for instance?"
"Me. You have weakened my will power, Don Rumata. It used to be that I
relied only on myself, but now you have caused me to be always aware of your
strength standing behind me. Formerly, I fought every battle as if it were
my last one. But now I have noticed that I preserve my strength for the
other battles, for the decisive ones, because you will participate in them.
Leave this planet, Don Rumata, return to your heavens, and never come back
here. Or else, give us your thunderbolts, or at least your iron bird. If
nothing else, draw your sword and be our leader."
Arata fell silent again and reached for another piece of bread. Rumata
observed Arata's hands, especially his fingers. Two years ago, Don Reba in
person had torn out the nails of both hands with some special device. You
know only half the story, thought Rumata . . . You feel pacified by the
thought that you are the only one to be condemned to failure. You don't know
yet how hopeless your entire cause really is. You don't know that your enemy
is not to be found beyond the ranks of your own soldiers, but rather within
themselves. Perhaps you will succeed in annihilating the Holy Order of the
Black monks and the wave of the peasant rebellion will carry you onto the
throne of Arkanar. You will raze to the ground the castles of the feudal
lords and drown the barons in the bay. The rebellious masses will shower
you, their liberator, with all honors, and you will be a good and wise
ruler--the only good and wise man in your entire kingdom; in your goodness
you will distribute all the land among your comrades-in-arms, but what good
will this land do your co-fighters without serfs? And the wheel will turn in
another direction again. And you'll be getting off easy if you die a normal
death and do not have to watch the new barons and counts emerge from among
the ranks of your faithful collaborators of yesterday. All this has happened
time and again, my good Arata, back on Earth as well as on your planet.
"You are silent?" asked Arata. He pushed back his plate and swept the
bread crumbs off the table with the sleeve of his cloak. "Once upon a time I
had a friend," he said. "You have probably heard of him--Waga Koleso. We
started out together. Then he turned into a bandit, a dark prince of the
night. I have never forgiven him for this betrayal, and he knows it. Later,
he would help me a great deal--out of fear or vanity--but whichever way, he
did not wish to repent his ways: He had goals of his own. Two years ago his
men delivered me into the hands of Don Reba . . ." He looked down at his
maimed fingers and clenched his fist. "And this morning I caught him in the
harbor of Arkanar. Half-hearted friendships are impossible in our cause, for
half a friend--is always half an enemy."
He rose and pulled the hood down over his eyes. "Will I find the gold
in the usual place, Don Rumata?" "Yes," said Rumata slowly. "In the usual
place." "I am leaving now. Thank you, Don Rumata." Almost inaudibly, he
crossed the study and disappeared behind the door. Downstairs, in the
entrance hall, the door bolts clicked softly.
"The Drunkard's Lair" was comparatively clean today; the floor had been
carefully swept and the table vigorously scrubbed. Bunches of sweet-smelling
herbs and lavender lay in the comers. Father Kabani sat respectably on a
bench in the comer. He was completely sober and calm and his clean hands
rested in his lap.
While they waited for Budach to fall asleep, they discussed everything
imaginable. Budach, who sat next to Rumata at the table, followed the
lighthearted chatter of the noble dons with a kind, indulgent smile. From
time to time he would give a sudden start, when he was just about to nod
off. His hollow cheeks burned from the double dose of Tetraluminal they had
slipped unnoticed into his food. The old man was highly excited and had
great difficulty falling asleep. Don Hug, filled with impatience, fingered a
camel's horseshoe underneath the table; his face, however, kept its
appearance of unaffected ease. Rumata crumbled his bread into balls and
followed with tired interest Don Kondor's efforts to swallow his anger. The
Keeper of the Seal of State was excessively nervous since he had arrived
late at the extraordinary nocturnal conference of the twenty terrestrial
agents. The conference was to deal with the overthrow of the government in
Arkanar, and he was supposed to be the chairman.
"My dear friends!" Doctor Budach said at last with a sonorous voice. He
stood up and immediately fell onto Rumata's shoulder.
Rumata carefully put an arm around him.
"Ready?" asked Don Kondor.
"He won't wake up till tomorrow morning," said Rumata, and he took
Budach into his arms and carried him over onto Father Kabani's cot.
Father Kabani said with jealousy:
"You certainly take good care of the doctor, but you forget about old
Kabani. Well, then, gentlemen!"
"I have fifteen minutes," Don Kondor said in Russian.
"I need only five minutes," answered Rumata. He could hardly hide his
irritation. "And I've told you earlier so much about it that even one minute
will do now. In complete accordance with the basis theory of feudalism," his
furious glance was directed straight at Don Kondor's eyes, "this is merely a
normal confrontation between the burghers and the barons"--he looked over at
Don Hug--"which developed, however, into a provoking intrigue of the Holy
Order and eventually made Arkanar a stronghold of feudal-fascist aggression.
We are sitting here, racking our brains in an attempt to align the
complicated, contradictory, and enigmatic figure of our Enlightened Eagle,
Don Reba, with historical personalities of similar stature, such as
Richelieu, Oliver Necker, Tokugawa Ledschasu, and Monk--and our eagle turns
out to be merely a little insignificant hoodlum and dolt. He betrayed and
sold out anything he could lay his hands on; got caught in the web of his
own intrigues, was overcome by mortal terror, then tried to save his skin by
throwing himself into the hands of the Holy Order. Wait another six months:
they'll cut his throat, but the Order will remain. The consequences
resulting from this for the coastal regions and eventually for the entire
kingdom I simply dare not envision. One fact, though, is certain: our entire
work of twenty years within the borders of the kingdom has gone down the
drain. There is no way back under the regime of the Holy Order. In all
probability, Budach is the last person I'll be able to rescue. We won't save
anyone else; it's too late. That is all I have to say."
Don Hug finally broke the horseshoe in two and hurled the fragments
into a comer.
"That's quite a setback, to be sure," he said. "But maybe it isn't
quite as bad as you think, Anton."
Rumata glanced briefly at him.
"You should have removed Don Reba," said Don Kondor suddenly.
"What do you mean by 'removed'?"
Red splotches spread over Don Kondor's face.
"In a physical sense!" he said sharply.
Rumata sat down.
"Yes! Yes! Yes! Kidnap! Destroy! Squash! Kill him! You should have
acted and not conferred with two idiots about the matter, men who had not
the vaguest notion what was really going on."
"Neither did I!"
"You sensed it, at least."
There was an uneasy silence.
Then Don Kondor started up again. He spoke softly and looked to one
side. "Something like the carnage at Barkan?"
"Yes, something like it. Only better organized."
Don Kondor bit his lips.
"Would it be too late now to remove him from the scene?"
"Completely senseless," said Rumata. "First of all, they'll finish him
off anyhow, with or without our assistance; and secondly, it won't even be
necessary to kill him. He's eating out of my hand."
"What do you mean?"
"He's afraid of me. He senses that some mysterious power is standing
behind me. He even suggested that we collaborate."
"Really?" growled Don Kondor. "Then there's no point in doing it."
Don Hug swallowed hard.
"What is the matter with you, comrades, are you serious about all
"What do you mean?"
"Well, all this . . . everything ... to remove him, to kill him off ...
What has gotten into you, are you out of your mind?"
"The noble don is cut to the quick," Rumata remarked softly. Don Kondor
chose his words deliberately and cautiously:
"In case of extraordinary circumstances only extraordinary means are
Don Hug let his eyes wander from one to the other, his lips trembling.
"Do you ... do you . . . really know what you are getting into?" He
could hardly bring the words to his lips. "Do you realize what this might
"Calm down, please," said Don Kondor. "Nothing will happen. And now,
enough of that. What shall we do about the Holy Order? I suggest a blockade
of the area around Arkanar. What's your opinion, comrades? Make it quick,
will you, I'm in a hurry."
"I have no opinion, not yet," replied Rumata. "And neither has Pashka.
Well have to confer with Controls. Let's wait a bit. We'll meet again in one
week and then come to a decision."
"Agreed," said Don Kondor and stood up. "Let's go!"
Rumata loaded Budach onto his shoulders and left the hut. Don Kondor
lit the way with a lantern. They walked to the helicopter and Rumata laid
Budach down on the back seat. Don Kondor's foot got caught in his long cloak
and he fell into the driver's seat with rattling swords.
"Couldn't you take me home quickly?" asked Rumata. "I have to get some
"Yes, yes," rumbled Don Kondor. "Make it quick, will you!"
"I'll be right back," said Rumata and hurriedly returned to the hut.
Don Hug was still sitting at the table, staring vacantly ahead of him
and rubbing his chin. Father Kabani, who stood beside him, said:
"This is the way it always ends, my friend. You strive tooth and nail,
try to do your best, and still it doesn't turn out right in the end ..."
Rumata swiftly picked up his swords and his fez.
"Cheer up, Pashka," he said to Don Hug. "Don't lose heart, we're all
overtired and irritable."
Don Hug shook his head vigorously.
"Look here, Anton," he said. "Will you please look! I won't say
anything about Uncle Sasha. He's been here a long time, and we can't change
him any more. But you . . ."
"I want to sleep, that's all I want now. Father Kabani, do me the favor
and take my horses and bring them to Baron Pampa. I'll come to see him in a
Outside, the propeller started up a gentle roar. Rumata waved to his
friends and ran out of the hut. The bright light streaming from the
helicopter's headlights made the gigantic tangled growths of the high fern
look ghostly against the background of the brilliant white trunks of the
birch trees. Rumata climbed into the cabin and slammed the little door.
Inside the cabin it smelled of oxygen, synthetic wall-boards, and
cologne. Don Kondor let the machine climb and guided it with nonchalant
assuredness along the country road. I wouldn't be up to that now, thought
Rumata, a bit jealous. From the back seat came the peaceful snore of old
"Anton," said Don Kondor, "I'd like to ... that is, 1 don't ... I don't
want to be tactless, and please believe me, I don't want to ... uh ...
interfere with your personal affairs..."
"I'm listening," said Rumata. He knew at once what Don Kondor had in
"We are scouts on a mission here," said Don Kondor. "And all we cherish
must either remain back on Earth or locked up inside ourselves. This way it
can never be taken away from us or used for blackmail or as hostages against
"Are you referring to Kyra?" asked Rumata.
"Yes, my friend. If all I have heard about Don Reba is true, then it
will be neither easy nor safe to hold him back. Do you understand what I
"Yes, I understand," said Rumata. " I'll try to think of something."
They lay next to each other holding hands in the darkness. It was very
quiet now in the city. From the distance came only an occasional neighing
and stomping of horses. From time to time Rumata would drop off into a light
sleep, but he woke up quickly again. Then Kyra would hold her breath; in his
sleep he clung tightly to her hand.
"You are very, very tired," said Kyra softly. "Go to sleep, my
"No, no, tell me all, I am listening."
"You keep falling asleep, my darling."
"I'm nevertheless listening to you. You are right, I am extremely
tired, but I am longing even more to be near you and to listen to your
words. I won't sleep. Just go an telling me, I'll pay attention, go ahead."
Gratefully she rubbed her nose against his shoulder, kissed him on the
cheek and picked up her story again, how recently the son of her father's
neighbor had come to her one evening at her father's bidding. "Your father
is confined to his bed. They chased him from the office and beat him up with
sticks as a farewell present. He hardly eats anymore, he just drinks. His
face looks bluish-gray, and he's got the shakes." The boy also told her that
her brother had appeared again, wounded, but happy and drunk, in a new
uniform. He gave some money to the father, had a few drinks with him, then
threatened that he was going to slaughter all of them. He is now a
lieutenant--goodness knows where--in some special detachment, has sworn
loyalty to the Holy Order, and will soon be knighted. Her father implored
her not to come home, at least for the time being. Her brother was
constantly threatening to disavow her since she, the red witch, had taken up
with some nobleman...
Sure enough, he thought, she can't go home anymore. And under no
circumstances can she stay here either. If anything should happen to her ...
He had vivid visions that some evil would befall her. Chills ran down his
back at the mere thought.
"Are you asleep?" asked Kyra.
He gave a sudden start and relaxed the hand that had been squeezing her
little finger spasmodically.
"No," he said, only half awake. "What else did you do?"
"I tidied up your rooms; everything was in a terrible disorder. I found
a book, a work by Father Our. It tells about a noble prince who loves a
beautiful but primitive young girl from the mountain regions. She is really
a savage and thinks he is a god, but she still loves him with all her heart.
Then they become separated and she dies of grief."
"It's a good book," said Rumata.
"I even cried. I kept thinking it was about us, about you and me."
"Yes, it concerns people like the two of us. And, in general, all human
beings who are in love with each other. Except that nobody will ever
The safest place for her would be on Earth, he thought. But how will
she get along there without me? And how will I fare here, all alone? I could
ask Anka to become your friend. But how will I be able to remain here
without you? No, we'll fly to Earth, but together! I myself will steer the
spaceship and you will sit beside me and I'll explain everything to you. So
that you won't be afraid. So that you'll love Earth immediately. So that you
will never be homesick. This planet isn't your home at all. Your home has
rejected you. And you were born a thousand years before your time. My
darling, you good, you dear, you selfless girl, willing to sacrifice
yourself . . . people like you have been born in every epoch of the bloody
history of our planets. Pure, unsullied souls who do not understand cruelty
and who know no hatred. Victims. Unnecessary victims. Far more senseless
still than the poet Our or Galileo. For people like you are no fighters. In
order to be a fighter one has to be able to hate and this is exactly what
you cannot do...
Rumata dropped off to sleep again. In his dreams he saw Kyra standing
at the edge of a flat rooftop in Soviet Russia with a degravitator fastened
to her belt. And Anka, in gay and mocking mood, urging Kyra impatiently
toward the edge of a mile-deep abyss ...
"Rumata," said Kyra, "I'm afraid!"
"Of what, my darling?" .
"You are always silent, forever silent I get an uncanny feeling..."
Rumata pulled her closer to him.
"All right, my darling," he said, "then I'll talk and you pay close
attention to me: Far, far away from here, beyond the great forest, is a
sinister-looking, inaccessible castle There lives Baron Pampa, a merry,
happy and good man the very best baron of all of Arkanar. He has a wife, a
beautiful, kind woman, who loves Pampa when he is sober but who cannot stand
him when he is drunk..."
He fell silent and listened attentively. He heard the stomping of many
hooves in the street and the loud snorting of many men and horses. "Looks
like it's here, eh?" asked a coarse voice under their windows. "Looks like
it, yes." "Ha-a-alt!" The heels of many boots were clicked outside on the
steps of the terraced staircase, and shortly afterwards several fists
hammered on the gate. Kyra was frightened and clung closely to Rumata.
"Wait, my darling," he said and threw back the blankets.
"They've come for me," she whispered, "I knew they would!"
Rumata freed himself with difficulty from her arms and rushed to the
window. "In the name of the Lord!" they shouted down below. "Open up, it'll
go bad with you if w have to beat down the front door!" Rumata pushed the
curtain aside a bit and the dancing light of torches flitted into the room.
A fairly large crowd of riders were trampling the ground in front of the
house, somber people, dressed in black with pointed hoods on their heads.
Rumata cast a swift glance down below, then looked and examined the window
frame. The frame was solidly anchored in the masonry. Downstairs they were
trying to ram the front door. Rumata groped for his sword in the dark and
smashed the window pane with the hilt A tinkling shower of splinters rained
down to the street.
"Hey, you there!" he shouted down to them. "What's the matter with you?
You must be tired of living!"
The pounding and ramming stopped.
"They always mess things up," came the low voices from below. "The
master is home..."
"And what should that matter to us?"
"Don't you know? He's unbeatable with his swords in his hands..."
"And they said he was away for the night and wouldn't be back before
"N-n-o, we aren't scared. It's just that we have no orders to do
anything with him. No orders to kill him . . ."
"Well tie him up, beat him over the head, and then chain his legs and
hands! Hey, who's fidgeting with their spears back there?"
"If only he won't bash in our skulls ..."
"No, don't be afraid. They all say he has the strange habit of never
"I'll slit your throats like puppies," said Rumata with a frightening
Kyra pressed herself against his back. Her heart was beating wildly; he
could hear it. Downstairs the screaming commands were flying: "Knock the
gate down, brothers! In the name of the Lord!"
Rumata turned around and looked into Kyra's eyes. She stared at him as
she had done a little while ago, with fear and hope in her glance. The
reflection of the torches shone in her dry eyes.
"Come, come, my little one," he said tenderly. "You aren't afraid of
that mob? Go and get dressed. There's no sense in staying here any longer."
Hastily he put on his metalloplast shirt. "I'll chase them away and then
well leave. We'll go to Baron Pampa's castle."
She stood at the window and was looking down into the street Red dots
of light ran across her face. Sounds of smashing, splintering wood, clanking
metal came from downstairs. Rumata's heart seemed to burst, it was so full
of pity and tender love for her.--I'll chase them away like mangy dogs, he
thought. He bent down to pick up his other sword but when he straightened up
again, Kyra was no longer standing at the window. Her fingers clutched the
drapes as she slowly sank to the ground.
"Kyra!" he cried.
A bolt from a crossbow had pierced her throat, another stuck in her
chest. He seized her in his arms and carried her to the bed, gently placing
her down on the covers. "Kyra . . . ," he called out softly. She moaned
briefly and her limbs went limp. "Kyra," he said. She did not answer. For a
moment he stood over her, then he took his swords, slowly walked down the
stairs to the entrance hall and waited for the gate to give way under their
"And then?" asked Anka.
Pashka lowered his eyes, slapped his knee several times with the flat
of his palm, bent down and picked a wild strawberry growing on the ground
near his feet. Anka waited.
"Then . . .," he murmured. "Actually, nobody knows for sure what
happened then, Anka. He had left his transmitter at home, and after the
house had burnt to the ground, they understood at Controls that things were
not going well, and they immediately sent a special emergency squad to
Arkanar. They released a considerable amount of sleeping gas over the city,
to cover all eventualities. At first they looked at the house. But since it
was totally burnt to the ground, they were confused, not knowing where to
look for him. But then they saw--"
He became embarrassed and hesitated for a moment
"Well, they saw the traces he had left behind."
Pashka fell silent again and started popping one strawberry after the
other into his mouth.
"And?" said Anka softly.
"They came to the palace . . . That's where they found him."
"Well ... he was sleeping. And all the others . , . around him . . .
were also lying on the ground. Some were asleep and others . . . well . . .
They also found Don Reba . . ." Pashka quickly glanced at Anka, then swiftly
lowered his eyes again. "They took him, that is, they took Anton and brought
him back to the station at the base . . . You see, Anka, he doesn't tell us
about anything. And in general he talks very little now."
Anka sat bolt upright, very pale, and looked over Pashka's head toward
the little meadow in front of the cabin in the woods. The fir trees rustled
their needles as they swayed in the breeze; a pair of fat white clouds
slowly drifted through the blue sky.
"And what was the matter with the girl?" she asked.
"I don't know," Pashka said firmly.
"Listen, Pashka," said Anka, "maybe I shouldn't have come here at all."
"Will you stop that nonsense! Of course he will be happy to see you..."
"And I have the feeling he is hiding somewhere here in the bushes,
watching us, and waiting for me to leave."
"No, no," he said. "Anton's not hiding in the bushes, you can believe
me. He hasn't got the faintest idea that you're here. He's gone off fishing
somewhere, as usual."
"And how does he behave toward you?"
"So-so. We get along all right. But didn't you want something else?..."
They were both silent for a while.
"Anka," said Pashka. "Do you remember the anisotropic road?"
"What kind of a road?"
"The anisotropic road. With the one-way street sign. Don't you
remember? We were there, the three of us ..."
"Oh, yes. Now I remember. Anton used that word."
"Yes, and then he entered the one-way road the wrong way and walked its
whole length; and when he returned he said he'd found a collapsed bridge and
the skeleton of a German chained to a machine gun."
"I don't remember that part," said Anka. "What about it?"
"Nowadays I often think back to that road," said Pashka. "Maybe there's
some connection somewhere ... the road was anisotropic--just as history is.
There is no way back. And he went right ahead anyway. And met up with a
"I don't follow you. What do you mean by the chained skeleton?"
"I don't know," admitted Pashka. "It's just an impression I have."
"See to it that he doesn't brood too much! Try to keep him involved in
discussions about anything at all. Make small talk with him. Try to take his
mind off his worries."
Pashka sighed deeply.
"Oh, I know ... I've tried all of that. But what good does all my small
talk do him? He listens for a little while, smiles and says: 'Pashka, why
don't you sit here? I'm going for a walk.' And then he goes off. And there I
sit ... In the beginning I used to follow him secretly; but now I only sit
here waiting for him to come back. Maybe you could--"
All of a sudden Anka got to her feet. Pashka stood up too and looked
around. Anka followed with bated breath as Anton emerged from a clearing in
the woods and came walking toward them--very tall, broad-shouldered, his
face pale. He seemed completely unchanged; he had always had a serious
expression on his face.
She walked to meet him.
"Anka," he said tenderly. "Anka, my little friend ..."
He held his long arms out to her. Timidly she leaned forward, then
quickly jumped back a step. On his fingers . . .
But it was not blood, only the stain of strawberries.
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