A Lycanthrope in Wolf’s Clothing: Gene Wolfe’s ‘Return to The Whorl’


Horn again resumes his account, having acquired a fresh supply of paper and ink from bandits who have attacked the little party consisting of himself, Hide, Jahlee and Oreb, travelling towards New Viron. Jahlee has saved them. This time, his account is solely of his efforts to return home and to report his failure to find and bring back Calde Silk.
Interspersed with this in the finished book are third person accounts of what happened to Horn whilst he was back in the Whorl. At the end of the book, we learn that these have been composed by Horn’s twin sons, Hoof and Hide, and their wives, from the times Horn spoke of what happened to him there. These changes are so deeply mixed that the two accounts should be read separately.
The latter-day narration establishes that, though Horn denies it at every turn, it is clear that he is now in the body of Silk, and that the corpse is that of Hyacinth. Whether Silk is responsible for Hyacinth’s death, or if she was a suicide, or died naturally, remains unknown: Silk’s hands and arms have been badly cut. Horn is badly disoriented, thinking he is back on the lander to Green. He stumbles out into the darkest of nights, but he is not blind, nor has he died.
In the dark, he finds a tree, from which he takes a stick, and seeing a distant light, he heads for it, his own and Silk’s memories mingling. Horn dreams of a night on Lizard Island, the night he and Nettle discovered Sinew had been attacked by the inhuma.
Waking, he arrives at a farm, where a woman bathes and cleans his wounds. He learns that he is at Endroad, on the road to Viron. The blackness is a Darkday, part of attempts to force people to leave the Whorl. They ask if he had been attacked by a godling.
Horn admits that whilst he is from Viron, that was 20 years earlier. He explains his mission to find Silk, and new stocks of corn. While the wife prepares food, the husband takes Silk to the barn, where he gives him 12 ears of corn, and instructions on how to preserve the strain. Then he seeks to drive Horn away: Horn refuses to fight, because that would be ungrateful, but anticipates and easily defeats an attack, before leaving. Marching on in the dark, an Oreb appears, an Oreb, calling him Silk: is this Silk’s Oreb?
Horn meets a giant man, twice his height, and blind: his eye sockets are empty. The big man takes the name Pig. They travel on together. Horn explains that he too is seeking an eye, an artificial one (though the original has been left behind on Green, with Seawrack’s silver ring).
Oreb warns them of a godling ahead, guarding a bridge that their way crosses. Pig guides Horn into a wood, where they follow a stream into a pitch black tunnel. They emerge into bright light, the skylands visible above, beneath the massive domed head of the godling, with bestial pointed ears.
He and Pig find houses in their joint dark. Pig knocks on a random door, threatening to break in if it is not opened. It belongs to Hound and Tansy, who feed them soup. Hound and Tansy run a general store in Endroad after leaving Viron five years ago.
Pig explains he was a trooper, caught and blinded by having his eyes cut out. His references to ‘wee folk’, ‘light lands’ and ‘mountings’, and the wee folk telling him he could get new eyes in the west, at Mainframe, tell Horn that the ‘wee folk’ are Fliers, from the Mountains That Look At Mountains, at the East Pole. It is hundreds of leagues from there to the West Pole: Pig has been a year already on his journey.
Hound offers to take the two travellers to Viron the next day. Whilst Horn sleeps, the others discuss the fact he is clearly Silk: Pig confirms he called at the manse, and what he found. They all agree that Horn is unaware of who he is. Horn dreams of being in his boat, en route to Pajarocu. He dreams of several things, the last being Pig at the tiller, but Pig’s face is Silk’s.
Viron is two day’s journey and Hound will take Horn and Pig. At the store, they first learn that strangers are about, looking for Silk, three foreign looking men, with covered heads, guns and swords. Darkness falls again.
En route, they shelter in what turns out to be Blood’s old manteion. Pig goes ahead but is clearly disturbed by what he finds: he has seen a woman in the house. Hound relates a children’s story about a rich merchant with an ugly daughter, who he locked up until she was freed by an auger: after the merchant died, no-one came to free her and she starved. Her ghost can be seen. Horn realises this to be the story of Blood and Mucor.
Horn finds Mucor’s old room and she comes to him, looking as she did then. She confirms he will find Silk wherever he goes, which he takes as confirmation Silk is in Viron. He sends her to Pig, who is clearly deeply moved by the sight. Horn avoids Pig for the rest of the night, but gives in to the whim to seek Hyacinth’s room: he find Pig there, smashing things.
Horn discusses with Hound the gods of the Whorl. He reveals that Pas, father of the gods, was originally Typhon and that he sent out the Whorl with both sleepers and men. One or other would survive to colonise Blue and Green. The likes of Silk and Mucor (and Pig) were enhanced embryos, meant to assist in the greater dangers of Green. Hound wants to go to Green to colonise.
Oreb leads Horn to a ‘big man’ but it is not Pig, but a godling, who gives him a message from Silk: the rest are to stay, enough have gone from the Whorl. He tells Hound and Pig the message, but doesn’t intend to spread the message. Hound asks if the message comes from Silk the man, or the god: Silver Silk or Silent Silk: Horn did not know Silk was now supposedly a god.
That night he dreams of himself as both Horn and Silk. Hearing Pig, he confronts him with the fact that Pig is possessed by Silk, and has been given instructions.
The following day, they arrive in Viron. The streets of the city are deserted, decaying and unfamiliar: the area was burned, years ago. Hound confirms the current Caldé is Bison, husband to Mint, former Maytera, former General, and Caldé after Silk. Horn will present himself at the Juzgado in the morning, after he has found the Sun Street Quarter and his old manteion.
Pig is overcome by his memory of attacking a manteion in the Mountains, and of slaying the auger whilst looting. He was possessed in front of the Sacred Window, a feeling he wants to recapture. Horn believes it was the Outsider. They arrive at a clearing and Horn sends Hound away so that he cannot overhear Pig’s shriving.
Horn sends Hound on to Ermine’s inn, and asks Pig to leave him, taking Oreb when he realises he is in the old Sun Street quarter, by Silk’s manteion, and hadn’t remembered it.
Horn looks for his old home – Smoothbone’s Stationers – and meets his own father who offers to help him. They talk about families, until Horn reveals himself as Smoothbone’s son, though he has to overcome disbelief at his appearance with a memory only Horn could recollect. They go to a tavern to catch up. Horn’s mother has remarried on Blue, with Oxlip, Smoothbone also, with further children. When Horn returns to the shop, a pen case is waiting for him, on the step.
Horn walks on to the Caldé’s Palace, which is shut and locked. He is stopped by a woman calling herself Olivine, who, taking him for Silk, asks him to come with her. She takes him within a building, where she offers him a place for a bath, and a change of clothes, which he accepts gratefully.
The new clothes are those of an augur, all black. Horn makes Olivine show her face, which reveals her as a chem: she is the half-made daughter of Marble and Hammerstone. Olivine considers herself ugly and inadequate: she cannot give birth as a woman. She seeks a sacrifice and a blessing from Horn, which he gives. He tells her about her blind mother and about meeting his own father recently: Olivine removes one of her eyes and, before Horn can refuse it, presses it on him and flees.
Horn is reunited with Hound and Pig at Ermine’s, where a visitor, Patera Gulo, the coadjutor from the Prolocutor’s Palace, has left a message to warn him. He wakes in the night and leaves to return to the Caldé’s Palace, where he has left his staff. First, he visit’s Ermine’s ‘Glasshouse’, where he talks to the ‘ghost’ of Silk, asking him to appear: he sees an older Silk in the pond.
Whilst at the Palace, Horn hears shots from Ermine’s, an attack made by the strangers who are seeking Silk. The following day, he and his friends attend on Caldé Bison. Horn explains his mission and asks Bison’s help. Bison explains he has no access to landers, which were eventually used as an alternative to execution, and thus all taken. He invites the trio to lunch with Mint. She is all but confined to a wheelchair, as a result of an assassination attempt.
Horn reluctantly speaks the invocation. Pig explains that he is seeking new eyes. Horn promises that if these have not been found by the time he finds Silk, he will take Pig with him. He is very serious about his mission to find Silk, but no-one seems to know where he is. Mint explains that Silk was Caldé for ten years, but resigned in her favour. Horn asks if she was attacked for being the first woman Caldé. Mint thinks not: almost immediately she was appointed, the Long Sun was darkened for the first time. The Whorl became very hot, the sun was overheating, the tunnels became blocked. They decided that no-one should leave, that the tunnels should be cleared as too many had left already. Trivigaunti declared victory, and Viron agreed it was so.
Horn interjects to relate the godling’s message, and repeat his request to know Silk’s whereabouts. Bison says they do not know, deliberately: some people believe the gods are angry because Silk is not still Caldé, and this is why Mint was attacked. All emigration has been stopped, the landers have been seized. After the shooting, they could have arrested all their opponents, but this would have fomented revolt. Some were allowed to leave.
Horn hopes they will allow Silk to go, but he doesn’t know where to find him. He knows others are hunting him, the men who attacked Ermine’s last night claimed Silk was staying there. They too want to take him to Blue, though he does not believe they are from New Viron. These men clearly have a lander, under guard.
Bison confirms Silk is in hiding. His friends are protective of him. If he and Mint were known to know of his whereabouts, they might be attacked. He believes Silk is being hidden by the Prolocutor. He leaves to speak to him. Mint speaks of the ‘ghost’ and the recent appearance of ‘Silk’. Horn refuses to disclose his knowledge of Olivine but admits he is the one mistaken for Silk. Even the Prolocutor believes he is Silk, and wishes him to sacrifice at the Grand Manteion: at Mint’s request, Horn agrees to do so. He admits that he looks like Silk, but he knows who he is: they cannot make him believe he is someone else.
At the Grand Manteion, Horn prepares to assist Prolocutor Incus. Mint visits him, warningthat those pursuing him may be near. For his protection, she gives him hyacinth’s azoth. Alone, Horn shaves, reducing his resemblance to Silk. He wonders aloud, to Olivine, why no-one will take him to Silk, when it would assist both Bison and the Prolocutor to have a substantial rival taken away.
Horn conducts most of the ceremony himself, giving the reading, during which he passes on the godling’s message. He does not appeal for word of Silk as he senses most people believe him to be Silk. Pig joins him in the sacristy whilst he cleans up. They are surprised by the men from Gaon, led by Hari Mau: they are sworn to take Silk to Gaon, where he will be Rajan, and will judge and lead their people. Horn agrees to go willingly, on condition that first they fly Pig to the West Pole.
There, Horn surrenders one of his own eyes, to be transplanted into Pig. The surgery is done under remote control. The West Pole obeys the orders of Mainframe, at the East Pole. Direct communication has been cut and it is no easy task to restore it. They are not supposed to repair Cargo, but have been instructed to make an exception for Horn’s requirements as to Pig: the word has come by Flyer, their communications system with Mainframe. The surgeon confirms that, once it is repaired, the Whorl will leave this system, but that this will not be for years, a lifetime perhaps.
Horn pays Pig a final visit in sickbay. Pig wants Horn to stay with him, but Horn has promised to accompany Hari Mau to Gaon, and Pig, though willing to join him, will need a long period of care in sick bay if his eye is not to be rejected. Besides, the Rajan will be troublesome if he has a friend who can be made a target. Silk’s voice speaks through Pig: ‘Pig’ would be a danger to Horn as well.
Horn descends to Blue on the lander. It is not his first journey, but it is the first time he has vomited in flight. He watches Blue approach, alongside Hari Mau. He admits that he regards Blue as his home, not the Whorl, however good it was to return. Hound will be happy remaining here, helping to rebuild it.
Hari Mau will be second only to ‘Silk’ in Gaon, a very important position. The town is only 15 years old. They were only 11 days in Viron, and were lucky to find Silk so quickly. Horn knows it was not luck, that their way was pointed by Bison and the Prolocutor: they had got Hound out of the way and left Pig in no danger. They had rid themselves of a challenge to their authority without the risk of murder.
Horn will have the biggest house in Gaon and four wives, an idea he rejects, because he is married, and because he has never seen these women. But to do so will disgrace them: he must have wives to cook and clean, Hari Mau argues. When he is brought to his house in Gaon, two lovely faces look at him briefly.

In the present, Horn’s party fall in with four merchants, who call upon Horn to resolve their quarrels: he agrees on condition he is obeyed absolutely, to which the merchants pledge. Horn then tells the merchants to separate and continue their journey to the coastal town of Dorp one at a time. The richest, Nat, refuses and Horn has the others arrest, bind and gag him. He is not released until the following morning.
Nat is an important man in Dorp because he has troopers sent out to arrest Horn and his party. Under the charge of Sergeant Azijin and his legermen, they stay overnight at an inn, at Horn’s expense. Jahlee complains of the cold, and comes into Horn’s bed at night, seeking warmth. Horn holds her, noting that it feels the same as holding a human woman, although he knows her to be a reptile in human shape.
They sleep, and dream themselves (along with Sergeant Azijin and Legerman Vlug) to Green. They have been drawn there by Jahlee’s longings – for the warmth of Green, to be a human woman for Horn, or Hide, or anyone who has wanted her. They have come to a room in a tower of immeasurable height, stretching above Green’s clouds.
Horn awakens in the inn, with Jahlee asleep beside him: she cannot be woken, because her ‘spirit’ is still on Green. Azijin approaches Horn about his ‘dream’. He explains that their spirits left their bodies and went to another place. He does not say it was Green.
On arrival at Dorp, with Jahlee still asleep, the trio are split up and billeted on different people. Horn fears that Jahlee will be discovered to be an inhuma, and that he and Hide will be beaten, robbed of their goods and probably enslaved.
He is billeted upon Aanvegan and her husband Beroep, honest folk. He makes friends with a young serving girl, Vadsig, who points out Jahlee’s house, diagonally opposite. The next day, she reports where Hide is being kept. The Judge is a cousin of Nat, who is a bad man and a thief. He has been billeted on Beroep because Nat hopes he will escape, providing an excuse to confiscate his goods. Hide’s host Strijk and Jahlee’s, Wijzer, are honest men.
Horn is summoned to ‘court’ at Judge Hamer’s house. He presents a defence for Hide and Jahlee. He is accused of kidnapping – a capital offence. Horn denies the Judge’s right to try him and is beaten. Hide arrives and claims to be his twin, Hoof. He claims to have changed with Hide, to fool their father.
Horn is beaten again, this time into unconsciousness: he dreams of Green, which he believed impossible, since he was alone. He is back in the tower, but Jahlee is not to be seen. Horn climbs out, but is attacked by masses of inhumi, some vaguely human, many like reptilian bats. He climbs to the top of the cliffs and meets Jahlee.
At the formal trial, Hamer is forced to accept there has been a switch. He releases the absent Jahlee, declares Hide guilty as proved by his escape, and enters please of not responding for him and Horn. Strijk is charged with Hide’s escape. Cijfer announces Jahlee has escaped.
Horn is released. Vadsig was possessed during the hearing Mora and Fava.They discuss overthrowing the judges who rule Dorp: it is the only way to secure everyone. Oreb, having been sent with a message to Nettle, returns with news of everyone, including Krait, whom Horn identifies as the son of Jahlee. Apparently, Nettle cried on receiving the message, but has sent no response, which mystifies Horn.
Attempting to raise money by pawning jewellery, Horn finds Hoof is also in Dorp. He aannounces himself to his son and they are joined by Hide.
Horn is kept from writing for some time and cannot set down everything that followed. A succession of the Neighbours attend his trial and gave evidence on behalf of Horn. Nat tries to withdraw his charges, but Hamer refuses and threatens to charge Nat with perjury, demonstrating how the system in Dorp has corrupted everyone. For an undefined but seemingly extensive period, Horn took Judge Hamer and some (if not all) of those attending the trial to the Red Sun Whorl.
Horn does not directly relate this, although later he recalls being visited in his cell by an apprentice of the torturers, a lad with piercing eyes, who does not smile, who cannot forget, who has friends called Drotte, Roche and Eata: Severian. It is necessary for Horn to order Hamer to convict him on their return. This sparks an uprising against the judges.
After the trial, Horn lives for a time in Hamer’s house, which has been given to him by the town. Hide and Vadsig are to marry, and he expects Hoof will follow shortly. Some days after, during which he has done little writing and is clearly falling behind, his party, now including Vadsig, takes sail for New Viron, with Wijzer.
Only now does Horn recognise Wijzer as the merchant who gave him directions in New Viron, almost two years ago. He learns that Marrow is dead, the year before last. Vadsig wants to return to the Whorl, to see Viron and Grotestad, where her parents came from. They discuss why the Vanished People went to the Whorl and introduced the inhumi. Horn believes they wanted to see what humans were: they knew the inhumi and by studying the difference to humans, could learn much. They would give Blue and Green to the humans. Their own race had been ruined by the inhumi, their civilisation failed from shock.
Horn insists upon completing his mission by reporting back to New Viron, despite seeing and passing Lizard Island. Gyrfalcon is now Calde: he is a tyrant, but many regard a tyrant as better than anarchy. Hoof leaves for Lizard. Horn spends all day waiting to see Gyrfalcon, a waste of his time. Next, Horn visits Marrow’s house, meets Capsicum, his ‘executor’. She confirms that Marrow left a letter, asking for various things to be distributed, with the rest going to Capsicum, who had comforted him after his wife died. There is something for Horn, which proves to be a boat, a yawl that he renames Seanettle. Capsicum warns Horn he is in danger from Gyrfalcon, though Horn disagrees.
Having failed to see Gyrfalcon, Horn sets sail in the yawl, with Hide, Vadsig and Jahlee, first to Mucor’s rock. Horn remains on the boat, sending the others up and asking for Marble to descend to him. Marble descends. Immediately she can tell he is not Horn. Horn installs her new eye: he will never forget the great glory and joy at the sight.
At supper, Horn tells Marble that the eye came from her daughter Olivine. The next day he gives her a robe he has had made for her – not a sybil’s gown but similar in appearance. When they leave, Marble comes with them. She intends to find a way back to the Whorl, to find Hammerstone and Olivine, and together complete the building of their daughter, and have another.
At long last he returns home to Nettle. She comes to sit with him on a blanket on the beach, as they used to do. Horn is happy to be home, and not even wretched not to have found Silk. She falls asleep on the sands. Horn goes for a blanket to cover her and returns to find Jahlee feeding from her. He strikes Jahlee with his fists and kicks her to death. Jahlee admits she intended to kill Nettle and Horn was right to strike her. She admits that she and Krait were inhumi: Nettle is horrified that Horn has brought an inhumi here after what was done to Sinew as a baby.
Jahlee gives away the inhumi’s secret to Nettle: without blood, their children have no minds. Jahlee drank blood from Sinew long ago: Krait was her only son to live with a mind taken from Sinew. Without humans, the inhumi are only animals that fly and drink blood at night.
That is the last that Horn writes of his book. The remainder of the story is written by Hoof, with Daisy, his wife, and Hide and Vadsig.
After Jahlee’s burial, Horn leaves Lizard, taking Hoof. They return to New Viron. Horn wants to speak to Gyrfalcon, but spends his days wandering, speaking to many people. He is looking for an inhumi. He attracts Gyrfalcons’ attention and is summoned by the Calde’s men. Gyrfalcon asks if Horn wants to take New Viron off him: Horn says not. He hands over the corn grains, and cries at the completion of his mission.
Horn asks Gyrfalcon to attend Hide and Vadsig’s wedding. He admits he failed to find Silk, a moment he has feared. He confirms he wants to carry on journeying.
Finding an inhumi named Juganu, who recognises Horn as the Rajan of Gaon they sail out to sea, and travel to the Red Sun Whorl, including Babbie. They arrive on a boat out on the Red Sun’s seas. Oreb turns into both a bird and a girl. Horn says he has been possessed by Scylla, ever since the sacrifice in the Grand Manteion: it was why he left on returning to Blue and stayed away for a year: he was searching for a Sacred Window.
Horn is taking Viron’s Scylla to meet the Great Scylla of the Red Sun Whorl: Hoof witnesses but does not follow or understand the conversation: people coming out of the water, giant women, naked or dressed in robes and cowls. Horn tells the Red Sun captain that they will now leave, for good. Scylla will die tomorrow, when they go back to Blue, but Horn must take Scylla to the grave of Typhon’s daughter Cilinia, in the necropolis, a bargain he has made with the monster in the water. The grave was filled 300 years ago, but Horn has a friend who knows the place. It will be their last visit to the Red Sun.
They make the final journey from Marrow’s old house in New Viron. Horn’s cloak changes to fuligin. Severian finds Cilinia’s grave in an old building with lots of coffins. Scylla comments that she died young, not longer after she was scanned: she ‘dissolves’ into the grave. Horn has it re-closed and suggests it not be re-opened.
Hide and Vadsig come to New Viron for their wedding. The church is attacked by inhumi. Many die, human and inhumi: nearly two hundred of the latter. Without the weapons of Gyrfalcon’s guards, Horn and the wedding party would have perished.
Later, Horn speaks with Remora in the garden. Remora divines that Horn was trying to end his own life, by instigating the attack on the wedding: Horn admits this. He had provoked an attack, but had expected it to be against him only. He has not resumed with Nettle. Remora slowly draws Horn towards the realisation he has been avoiding. No-one could have blamed a man who gave his life in pursuit of his mission. Horn did not fail them. Silk nods.
AFTERWORD
The Book of the Short Sun was mostly written by the former Rajan of Gaon. He left no written account of his brief sojourn in Old Viron or the West Pole, but spoke of them often. Based on such conversations they have recreated this as best they could.
After his visit to Remora’s garden, the only one to see Horn again was Daisy, who writes the last account alone. She returned to her father’s boat and encountered the man Hide and Hoof called Father. He congratulated her on surviving the wedding, she having been rescued by Hoof. He introduced her to Seawrack. They are accompanied by an old iron sybil. He said they would sail that night, and asked Daisy to make his farewells. He had been dreading it: in a sense he had killed the twins’ father. Seawrack said they were sailing to Pajarocu. They would find a lander and return to the Whorl.
The Whorl is much farther away now, and invisible to the naked eye.

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