Authors: Gene Wolfe
had used those whips."
"The powers of healing protect us from Nature. Why should the Increate protect us from ourselves? We might protect ourselves from ourselves. It may be that he will help us only when we come to regret what we have done."
Still thinking, I nodded.
"I am going to the chapel now. You're well enough to walk a short distance. Will you come with me?"
While I had been beneath that wide canvas roof, it had seemed the Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_4_-_The_Citadel_of_the_Autarch whole of the lazaret to me. Now I saw, though only dimly and by night, that there were many tents and pavilions. Most, like ours, had their walls gathered up for coolness, furled like the sails of a ship at anchor. We entered none of them but walked between them by winding paths that seemed long to me, until we reached one whose walls were down. It was of silk, not canvas, and shone scarlet because of the lights within.
"Once," Ava told me, "we had a great cathedral. It could hold ten thousand, yet be packed into a single wagon. Our Domnicellae had it burned just before I came to the order."
"I know," I said. "I saw it."
Inside the silken tent, we knelt before a simple altar heaped with flowers. Ava prayed. I, knowing no prayers, spoke without sound to someone who seemed at times within me and at times, as the angel had said, infinitely remote.
Loyal to the Group of Seventeen's
Story—The Just Man
The next morning, when we had eaten and everyone was awake, I ventured to ask Foila if it was now time for me to judge between Melito and Hallvard. She shook her head, but before she could speak, the Ascian announced, "All must do their share in the service of the populace. The bullock draws the plow and the dog herds the sheep, but the cat catches mice in the granary. Thus men, women, Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_4_-_The_Citadel_of_the_Autarch and even children can serve the populace."
Foila flashed that dazzling smile. "Our friend wants to tell a story too."
"What!" For a moment I thought Melito was actually going to sit up. "Are you going to let him—let one of them— consider—"
She gestured, and he sputtered to silence. "Why yes." Something tugged at the corners of her lips. "Yes, I think I shall. I'll have to interpret for the rest of you, of course. Will that be all right, Severian?"
"If you wish it," I said.
Hallvard rumbled, "This was not in the original agreement. I recall each word."
"So do I," Foila said. "It isn't against it either, and in fact it's in accordance with the
of the agreement, which was that the rivals for my hand—neither very soft nor very fair now, I'm afraid, though it's becoming more so since I've been confined in this place
—would compete. The Ascian would be my suitor if he thought he could; haven't you seen the way he looks at me?"
The Ascian recited, "United, men and women are stronger; but a brave woman desires children, and not husbands."
"He means that he would like to marry me, but he doesn't think his attentions would be acceptable. He's wrong." Foila looked from Melito to Hallvard, and her smile had become a grin. "Are you two really so frightened of him in a storytelling contest? You must have run like rabbits when you saw an Ascian on the battlefield."
Neither of them answered, and after a time, the Ascian began to Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_4_-_The_Citadel_of_the_Autarch speak: "In times past, loyalty to the cause of the populace was to be found everywhere. The will of the Group of Seventeen was the will of everyone."
Foila interpreted: "
Once upon a time
"Let no one be idle. If one is idle, let him band together with others who are idle too, and let them look for idle land. Let everyone they meet direct them. It is better to walk a thousand leagues than to sit in the House of Starvation."
There was a remote farm worked in partnership by people who
were not related."
"One is strong, another beautiful, a third a cunning artificer. Which is best? He who serves the populace."
On this farm lived a good man."
"Let the work be divided by a wise divider of work. Let the food be divided by a just divider of food. Let the pigs grow fat. Let rats starve."
The others cheated him of his share."
"The people meeting in counsel may judge, but no one is to receive more than a hundred blows."
He complained, and they beat him."
"How are the hands nourished? By the blood. How does the blood reach the hands? By the veins. If the veins are closed, the hands will rot away."
He left that farm and took to the roads."
"Where the Group of Seventeen sit, there final justice is done."
He went to the capital and complained of the way he had been
"Let there be clean water for those who toil. Let there be hot food for them and a clean bed."
He came back to the farm, tired and hungry after his journey."
"No one is to receive more than a hundred blows."
They beat him again."
"Behind everything some further thing is found, forever; thus the tree behind the bird, stone beneath soil, the sun behind Urth. Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts."
The just man did not give up. He left the farm again to walk to the
"Can all petitioners be heard? No, for all cry together. Who, then, shall be heard—is it those who cry loudest? No, for all cry loudly.
Those who cry longest shall be heard, and justice shall be done to them."
Arriving at the capital, he camped upon the very doorstep of the
Group of Seventeen and begged all who passed to listen to him.
After a long time he was admitted to the palace, where those in
authority heard his complaints with sympathy."
"So say the Group of Seventeen: From those who steal, take all they have, for nothing that they have is their own."
They told him to go back to the farm and tell the bad men—in their
name—that they must leave."
"As a good child to its mother, so is the citizen to the Group of Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_4_-_The_Citadel_of_the_Autarch Seventeen."
He did just as they had said."
"What is foolish speech? It is wind. It has come in at the ears and goes out of the mouth. No one is to receive more than a hundred blows."
They mocked him and beat him.
"Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts."
The just man did not give up. He returned to the capital once
"The citizen renders to the populace what is due to the populace.
What is due to the populace? Everything."
He was very tired. His clothes were in rags and his shoes worn out.
He had no food and nothing to trade.
"It is better to be just than to be kind, but only good judges can be just; let those who cannot be just be kind."
In the capital he lived by begging
At this point I could not help but interrupt. I told Foila that I thought it was wonderful that she understood so well what each of the stock phrases the Ascian used meant in the context of his story, but that I could not understand how she did it—how she knew, for example, that the phrase about kindness and justice meant that the hero had become a beggar.
"Well, suppose that someone else—Melito, perhaps—were telling a story, and at some point in it he thrust out his hand and began to ask for alms. You'd know what that meant, wouldn't you?"
Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_4_-_The_Citadel_of_the_Autarch I agreed that I would.
"It's just the same here. Sometimes we find Ascian soldiers who are too hungry or too sick to keep up with the rest, and after they understand we aren't going to kill them, that business about kindness and justice is what they say. In Ascian, of course. It's what beggars say in Ascia."
"Those who cry longest shall be heard, and justice shall be done to them."
This time he had to wait a long while before he was admitted to the
palace, but at last they let him in and heard what he had to say
"Those who will not serve the populace shall serve the populace."
They said they would put the bad men in prison.
"Let there be clean water for those who toil. Let there be hot food for them, and a clean bed."
He went back home.
"No one is to receive more than a hundred blows."
He was beaten again.
"Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts."
But he did not give up. Once more he set off for the capital to
"Those who fight for the populace fight with a thousand hearts.
Those who fight against them with none."
Now the bad men were afraid.
"Let no one oppose the decisions of the Group of Seventeen."
They said to themselves, 'He has gone to the palace again and
again, and each time he must have told the rulers there that we did
not obey their earlier commands. Surely, this time they will send
soldiers to kill us.
"If their wounds are in their backs, who shall stanch their blood?"
The bad men ran away.
"Where are those who in times past have opposed the decisions of the Group of Seventeen?"
They were never seen again.
"Let there be clean water for those who toil. Let there be hot food for them, and a clean bed. Then they will sing at their work, and their work will be light to them. Then they will sing at the harvest, and the harvest will be heavy."
The just man returned home and lived happily ever after.
Everyone applauded this story, moved by the story itself, by the ingenuity of the Ascian prisoner, by the glimpse it had afforded us of life in Ascia, and most of all, I think, by the graciousness and wit Foila had brought to her translation.
I have no way of knowing whether you, who eventually will read this record, like stories or not. If you do not, no doubt you have turned these pages without attention. I confess that I love them.
Indeed, it often seems to me that of all the good things in the world, the only ones humanity can claim for itself are stories and music; the rest, mercy, beauty, sleep, clean water and hot food (as the Ascian would have said) are all the work of the Increate. Thus, stories are small things indeed in the scheme of the universe, but it is hard not to love best what is our own—hard for me, at least.
Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_4_-_The_Citadel_of_the_Autarch From this story, though it was the shortest and the most simple too of all those I have recorded in this book, I feel that I learned several things of some importance. First of all, how much of our speech, which we think freshly minted in our own mouths, consists of set locutions. The Ascian seemed to speak only in sentences he had learned by rote, though until he used each for the first time we had never heard them. Foila seemed to speak as women commonly do, and if I had been asked whether she employed such tags, I would have said that she did not—but how often one might have predicted the ends of her sentences from their beginnings.
Second, I learned how difficult it is to eliminate the urge for expression. The people of Ascia were reduced to speaking only with their masters' voice; but they had made of it a new tongue, and I had no doubt, after hearing the Ascian, that by it he could express whatever thought he wished.
And third, I learned once again what a many-sided thing is the telling of any tale. None, surely, could be plainer than the Ascian's, yet what did it mean? Was it intended to praise the Group of Seventeen? The mere terror of their name had routed the evildoers.
Was it intended to condemn them?
They had heard the complaints of the just man, and yet they had done nothing for him beyond giving him their verbal support. There had been no indication they would ever do more.
But I had not learned those things I had most wished to learn as I listened to the Ascian and to Foila. What had been her motive in agreeing to allow the Ascian to compete? Mere mischief? From her laughing eyes I could easily believe it. Was she perhaps in truth Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_4_-_The_Citadel_of_the_Autarch attracted to him? I found that more difficult to credit, but it was surely not impossible. Who has not seen women attracted to men lacking every attractive quality? She had clearly had much to do with Ascians, and he was clearly no ordinary soldier, since he had been taught our language. Did she hope to wring some secret from him?
And what of him? Melito and Hallvard had accused each other of telling tales with an ulterior purpose. Had he done so as well? If he had, it had surely been to tell Foila—and the rest of us too—that he would never give up.
That evening I had yet another visitor: one of the shaven-headed male slaves. I had been sitting up and attempting to talk with the Ascian, and he seated himself beside me. "Do you remember me, Lictor?" he asked. "My name is Winnoc."
I shook my head.
"It was I who bathed you and cared for you on the night you arrived," he told me. "I have been waiting until you were well enough to speak. I would have come last night, but you were deep in talk already with one of our postulants."
I asked what he wished to speak to me about.
"A moment ago I called you Lictor, and you did not deny it. Are you indeed a lictor? You were dressed as one that night."
"I have been a lictor," I said. "Those are the only clothes I own."