…The Shion of Alzu gave the Shion of Suli another long, skewerlike glance. Even Lord Kurososhora’s glances seemed thin, somehow. ‘I see’ he said. And then, after a moment’s calculation: ‘You are an intriguing fellow, Suli – I must say that. I really don’t know what to make of you’.

Akzasosan raised his eyebrows faintly in surprise. There was something very direct about the fur-coated man’s statement – it was the kind of thing no jahzig or sentinel would ever say. Only the extraordinary Utman Gor, perhaps, would have been so straightforward – although Gorsoga, it was true, tended to be straightforward for three words, and then scuttle crabwise for ten, so that what seemed straightforward to begin with appeared less so by the end.

‘There is little enough to make of me’ the Lord declared, after a brief pause. ‘I’m a traveller on the road – as you are, Alzu.’

‘Ah, no, Suli: or at least, not exactly. It’s as I said before: there’s a tale in you, I can see that plain enough. You’re a man with a story. I am keen for stories, myself.’

‘And you?’ the Lord responded, with a kind of wary blankness.

‘Me? Oh – I have a story too – not a very interesting one, though, I think. I’m modest about my own story: I’ve heard too many boring stories from other men to rate my own dull life too highly. Some people, you know, Suli – they have no story at all’ Alzu went on, elaborating his thoughts carefully, and giving Zy the sense that this subject was one to which Lord Kurososhora had devoted considerable time: ‘really: it’s true – no story at all. They may think they have a story, but – phwah – when they tell you it, you hear nothing at all.’

Alzu warmed to his theme.

‘They’re like men without shadows: that’s how I see them – shadowless men’ he said. ‘And others, they have a story perhaps, but it doesn’t really belong to them. You’ve heard it all before. Really: you can anticipate the whole thing. They’ve really only got somebody else’s story – you follow? Ah, the bores I’ve listened to! Men and women both. But still: that’s my fault. You never know. But the thing about that type, Suli, is that they haven’t had the spice to make up their own story – d’you see what I mean? Their lives are just… I don’t know – the cut-out parts of other people’s lives. But you, now, old man – please, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not prying – you: you have a true story to tell. And that’s why I can’t make you out, you see’ he ended, gazing firmly into Akzasosan’s attentive face – ‘because your story has taken you to a new place, and I don’t see how you’ve got there. Or here’ he added, with another lugubrious shrug, indicating the flickering trees of the Rez­Isimgrian road.