(urth) The assassin

Roy C. Lackey rclackey at stic.net
Tue Sep 21 21:34:07 PDT 2004

Pursuant to Jeffrey Lefstin's "Valeria = Urth" post of 9/4/04, a few related

I, for one, have long wondered about the identity of the "assassin" whose
body Severian stumbled over in the Secret House in Book V of the Urth Cycle.
I don't recall much in the way of discussion about his identity but,
considering where the episode occurs in the story -- just as Old Urth is in
the throes of its death agony -- he must be important, if only symbolically.

I would suppose that the lack of speculation about his identity is due to
the fact that the text tells us almost nothing about him. In fact, the only
thing that seems reasonably certain is that he is male. No physical
description whatsoever is given -- not features, age, dress -- nothing.
Further, the few characteristics he is stated to have or supposed to have by
our narrator are suspect. Those qualities are: that he was in fact an
assassin, that he wielded a poisoned knife and that he was a "swordsman of

Severian had entered the Secret House after emerging from his cenotaph. He
had been surprised to discover that he was thought to be dead and wondered
who had caused the monument to be erected. He had no way of knowing at that
time that he had been gone for forty years; from his point of view he had
been gone for "fewer perhaps than a hundred days all told." Unconsciously,
however, as he states in the first paragraph of chapter XLII, he had entered
the Secret House to "learn who it was who sat the Phoenix Throne, and to
reclaim it if I could."

His unconscious moods are significant, as he had been compelled to learn a
few chapters earlier. Severian had been seething with anger when he boarded
the _Alcyone_, and sulking about Burgundofara leaving his bed for Hadelin's.
Unconsciously, he had caused the big storm that threatened to wreck the
ship, and which was calmed only by his conscious will. Immediately before
the storm struck, as related in the third paragraph of chapter XXXIV, and as
yet unaware that he was not on Urth in his own time period, Severian had
been brooding over the identity of the "monarch" he had heard mentioned,
"the suzerain who had replaced Father Inire", as he then believed. He
intended to reclaim the throne, thinking that the New Sun would not arrive
in his lifetime. A few days later he left Typhon's era for the Brook
Madregot, from which he tried to find his way back to his own time, then
stepped from his cenotaph. He knew by then that the "monarch" had been a
thousand years before his own time, but the fact of the cenotaph meant that
someone else was sitting on his throne -- and he didn't like it!

What I'm trying to say is that the identity of the dead man with the knife
in the Secret House _before_ his revivification is not only unknowable, but
unimportant. He had been dead "for a year at least". We don't know what was
going on on Urth a year before the deluge. As Severian reveals in the same
paragraph where he relates stumbling over the man, on any given night the
Secret House might harbor a "round dozen" or even a "hundred" "intrigues".
The dead man's body was far from the throne room; why then should he have
the knife ready in his hand if his intended target was Valeria? He may have
been on some personal vendetta or involved in some lovers' triangle. But the
term "assassin" implies a target of prominence, as distinguished from a
common murderer. I believe that when Severian immediately termed the dead
man an assassin he unconsciously influenced the man during the process of
revivification, in effect turning him into an assassin.

There is precedence for this. The anonymous dead soldier who became known as
Miles was also the product of an unconscious resurrection. The unwitting
resurrections of both the soldier and the assassin are also uniquely related
by the presence of flies attracting Severian's attention. That anonymous
soldier came to exhibit some of the essence of Jonas. I don't think I'm the
first to suggest that the Jonas in Miles had been put there by Severian at
the time of revivification, because Jonas had been on his mind.

After fleeing from the assassin Severian eventually made his way to the
throne room, where he discovered a much older Valeria holding forth. With
flooding immanent, he picked her up and sought to escape via the Secret
House. Baldanders' final words were to Severian: " .. . [t]he rest do not
matter. Save yourself if you can." Severian "nodded without thinking", and
when he commanded the door to open the assassin entered and struck. The
assassin did not seem concerned with the person of Valeria in particular,
but with _whoever_ wore the crown. There are no renowned swordsmen in the
Urth Cycle. That Valeria's thin body proved to be such a poor shield is more
testament to Severian's character than to the assassin's skills with a
blade. Valeria died with Urth, and there was no attempt to bring her back,
consciously or otherwise, even though Severian was then at the height of his
god-like powers, which is why he reflected, shortly after boarding the raft,
on "Valeria rotting underwater".

The sentiment he expressed a few pages later that Valeria "somewhere
survived" the flood does not mean that she survived the thrust of the
poisoned blade; she didn't, as the above makes clear. She lived on only in
Severian's memory.


More information about the Urth mailing list