The Sword of the Lictor

BOOK: The Sword of the Lictor
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Books by Gene Wolfe

Volume One—The Shadow of the Torturer

Volume Two—The Claw of the Conciliator

Volume Three—The Sword of the Lictor



Volume Three of The Book of the New





This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

publication of TIMESCAPE BOOKS

A Timescape Book published by

Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_3_-_The_Sword_of_the_Lictor POCKET BOOKS, a Simon & Schuster division of GULF & WESTERN CORPORATION

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020

Copyright © 1981 by Gene Wolfe

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 81-9427

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Timescape Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y.


ISBN: 0-671-45450-1

First Timescape Books paperback printing December, 1982

10 987654321

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster.

Use of the trademark TIMESCAPE is by exclusive license from Gregory Benford, the trademark owner.

Printed in the U.S.A.

Into the distance disappear the mounds of human heads.

I dwindle—go unnoticed now.

But in affectionate books, in children's games, I will rise from the dead to say: the sun!

—Osip Mandelstam



I Master of the House of Chains

II Upon the Cataract

III Outside the Jacal

IV In the Bartizan of the Vincula

V Cyriaca

VI The Library of the Citadel

VII Attractions

VIII Upon the Cliff

IX The Salamander

X Lead

XI The Hand of the Past

XII Following the Flood

XIII Into the Mountains

XIV The Widow's House

XV He Is Ahead of You!

XVI The Alzabo

XVII The Sword of the Lictor

XVIII Severian and Severian

IX The Tale of the Boy Called Frog

XX The Circle of the Sorcerers

XXI The Duel of Magic

XXII The Skirts of the Mountain


XXIII The Cursed Town

XXIV The Corpse

XXV Typhon and Piaton

XXVI The Eyes of the World

XXVII On High Paths

XXVIII The Hetman's Dinner

XXIX The Hetman's Boat

XXX Natrium

XXXI The People of the Lake

XXXII To the Castle

XXXIII Ossipago, Barbatus, and Famulimus


XXXV The Signal

XXXVI The Fight in the Bailey

Terminus Est



About the Author


Master of the House of Chains



"IT WAS IN my hair, Severian," Dorcas said. "So I stood under the waterfall in the hot stone room—I don't know if the men's side is arranged in the same way. And every time I stepped out, I could hear them talking about me. They called you the black butcher, and other things I don't want to tell you about."

"That's natural enough," I said. "You were probably the first stranger to enter the place in a month, so it's only to be expected that they would chatter about you, and that the few women who knew who you were would be proud of it and perhaps tell some tales. As for me, I'm used to it, and you must have heard such expressions on the way here many times; I know I did."

"Yes," she admitted, and sat down on the sill of the embrasure. In the city below, the lamps of the swarming shops were beginning to fill the valley of the Acis with a yellow radiance like the petals of a jonquil, but she did not seem to see them.

"Now you understand why the regulations of the guild forbid me from taking a wife—although I will break them for you, as I have told you many times, whenever you want me to."

"You mean that it would be better for me to live somewhere else, and only come to see you once or twice a week, or wait till you came to see me."

"That's the way it's usually done. And eventually the women who talked about us today will realize that sometime they, or their sons or husbands, may find themselves beneath my hand."

"But don't you see, this is all beside the point. The thing is…" Here Dorcas fell silent, and then, when neither of us had spoken for some Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_3_-_The_Sword_of_the_Lictor time, she rose and began to pace the room, one arm clasping the other. It was something I had never seen her do before, and I found it disturbing. "What is the point, then?" I asked. "That it wasn't true then. That it is now."

"I practiced the Art whenever there was work to be had. Hired myself out to towns and country justices. Several times you watched me from a window, though you never liked to stand in the crowd—

for which I hardly blame you."

"I didn't watch," she said. "I recall seeing you."

"I didn't. Not when it was actually going on. You were intent on what you were doing, and didn't see me when I went inside or covered my eyes. I used to watch, and wave to you, when you first vaulted onto the scaffold. You were so proud then, and stood just as straight as your sword, and looked so fine. You were honest. I remember watching once when there was an official of some sort up there with you, and the condemned man and a hieromonach. And yours was the only honest face."

"You couldn't possibly have seen it. I must surely have been wearing my mask."

"Severian, I didn't have to see it. I know what you look like."

"Don't I look the same now?"

"Yes," she said reluctantly. "But I have been down below. I've seen the people chained in the tunnels. When we sleep tonight, you and I in our soft bed, we will be sleeping on top of them. How many did you say there were when you took me down?"

"About sixteen hundred. Do you honestly believe those sixteen Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_3_-_The_Sword_of_the_Lictor hundred would be free if I were no longer present to guard them?

They were here, remember, when we came."

Dorcas would not look at me. "It's like a mass grave," she said. I could see her shoulders shake. "It should be," I told her. "The archon could release them, but who could resurrect those they've killed? You've never lost anyone, have you?"

She did not reply.

"Ask the wives and the mothers and the sisters of the men our prisoners have left rotting in the high country whether Abdiesus should let them go."

"Only myself," Dorcas said, and blew out the candle.

Thrax is a crooked dagger entering the heart of the mountains. It lies in a narrow defile of the valley of the Acis, and extends up it to Acies Castle. The harena, the pantheon, and the other public buildings occupy all the level land between the castle and the wall (called the Capulus) that closes the lower end of the narrow section of the valley. The private buildings of the city climb the cliffs to either side, and many are in large measure dug into the rock itself, from which practice Thrax gains one of its sobriquets—the City of Windowless Rooms.

Its prosperity it owes to its position at the head of the navigable part of the river. At Thrax, all goods shipped north on the Acis (many of which have traversed nine tenths of the length of Gyoll before entering the mouth of the smaller river, which may indeed be Gyoll's true source) must be unloaded and carried on the backs of animals if they are to travel farther. Conversely, the hetmans of the Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_3_-_The_Sword_of_the_Lictor mountain tribes and the landowners of the region who wish to ship their wool and corn to the southern towns bring them to take boat at Thrax, below the cataract that roars through the arched spillway of Acies Castle.

As must always be the case when a stronghold imposes the rule of law over a turbulent region, the administration of justice was the chief concern of the archon of the city. To impose his will on those without the walls who might otherwise have opposed it, he could call upon seven squadrons of dimarchi, each under its own commander. Court convened each month, from the first appearance of the new moon to the full, beginning with the second morning watch and continuing as long as necessary to clear the day's docket.

As chief executor of the archon's sentences, I was required to attend these sessions, so that he might be assured that the punishments he decreed should be made neither softer nor more severe by those who might otherwise have been charged with transmitting them to me; and to oversee the operation of the Vincula, in which the prisoners were detained, in all its details. It was a responsibility equivalent on a lesser scale to that of Master Gurloes in our Citadel, and during the first few weeks I spent in Thrax it weighed heavily upon me.

It was a maxim of Master Gurloes's that no prison is ideally situated. Like most of the wise tags put forward for the edification of young men, it was inarguable and unhelpful. All escapes fall into three categories—that is, they are achieved by stealth, by violence, or by the treachery of those set as guards. A remote place does most to render escapes by stealth difficult, and for that reason has been Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_3_-_The_Sword_of_the_Lictor favored by the majority of those who have thought long upon the subject.

Unfortunately, deserts, mountaintops, and lone isles offer the most fertile fields for violent escape—if they are besieged by the prisoners' friends, it is difficult to learn of the fact before it is too late, and next to impossible to reinforce their garrisons; and similarly, if the prisoners rise in rebellion, it is highly unlikely that troops can be rushed to the spot before the issue is decided.

A facility in a well-populated and well-defended district avoids these difficulties, but incurs even more severe ones. In such places a prisoner needs, not a thousand friends, but one or two; and these need not be fighting men—a scrubwoman and a street vendor will do, if they possess intelligence and resolution. Furthermore, once the prisoner has escaped the walls, he mingles immediately with the faceless mob, so that his reapprehension is not a matter for huntsmen and dogs but for agents and informers.

In our own case, a detached prison in a remote location would have been out of the question. Even if it had been provided with a sufficient number of troops, in addition to its clavigers, to fend off the attacks of the autochthons, zoanthrops, and cultellarü who roamed the countryside, not to mention the armed retinues of the petty exultants (who could never be relied upon), it would still have been impossible to provision without the services of an army to escort the supply trains. The Vincula of Thrax is therefore located by necessity within the city—specifically, about halfway up the cliffside on the west bank, and a half league or so from the Capulus.

It is of ancient design, and always appeared to me to have been Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_3_-_The_Sword_of_the_Lictor intended as a prison from the beginning, though there is a legend to the effect that it was originally a tomb, and was only a few hundred years ago enlarged and converted to its new purpose. To an observer on the more commodious east bank, it appears to be a rectangular bartizan jutting from the rock, a bartizan four stories high at the side he sees, whose flat, merloned roof terminates against the cliff. This visible portion of the structure—which many visitors to the city must take for the whole of it—is in fact the smallest and least important part. At the time I was lictor, it held no more than our administrative offices, a barracks for the clavigers, and my own living quarters.

The prisoners were lodged in a slanted shaft bored into the rock.

The arrangement used was neither one of individual cells such as we had for our clients in the oubliette at home, nor the common room I had encountered while I was myself confined in the House Absolute. Instead, the prisoners were chained along the walls of the shaft, each with a stout iron collar about his neck, in such a way as to leave a path down the center wide enough that two clavigers could walk it • abreast without danger that their keys might be snatched away.

This shaft was about five hundred paces long, and had over a thousand positions for prisoners. Its water supply came from a cistern sunk into the stone at the top of the cliff, and sanitary wastes were disposed of by flushing the shaft whenever this cistern threatened to overflow. A sewer drilled at the lower end of the shaft conveyed the wastewater to a conduit at the cliff base that ran through the wall of the Capulus to empty into the Acis below the Wolfe,_Gene_-_Book_of_the_New_Sun_3_-_The_Sword_of_the_Lictor city.

BOOK: The Sword of the Lictor
9.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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