(urth) Baby Severian

Roy C. Lackey rclackey at stic.net
Wed Oct 18 12:40:53 PDT 2006

Severian seems to have been the product of natural childbirth. He said
that women "big with child" were cut open and the babies removed. There was
apparently some sort of prohibition against torturing obviously pregnant
women, which is part of the reason Gurloes warned Severian against knocking
Thecla up. Her pregnancy "might force a delay in her torment and bring
disgrace on the guild."

Early on, Severian said that his earliest recollection was of "piling
pebbles in the Old Yard." That isn't true, and he knew it wasn't true when
he wrote it. Piling pebbles requires a certain degree of motor skills that
an infant acquires only as it matures and gains strength and coordination.
He later relates two memories from an earlier age. The second of those
memories was triggered by the mandragora. He remembered crying his head off
in a basket when he was still "not old enough to crawl". The other memory
was of his mother:

"[ . . .] a breast running with warm milk. It was my mother's breast then,
and I could hardly contain my elation (which might have wiped the memory
away) at having reached back at last to her, after so many fruitless
attempts. My arms sought to clasp her, and I would, if only I could, have
lifted my eyes to look into her face. My mother certainly, for the children
the torturers take know no breasts. The grayness at the edge of my field of
vision, then, was the metal of her cell wall. Soon she would be led away to
scream in the Apparatus or gasp in Allowin's Necklace." (CLAW, chapter

The key part of this quote is "the children the torturers take know no
breasts", which seems to contradict his earlier statement about wet-nurses.
But does it? Not necessarily. While "take" certainly applies to a child cut
from its mother's womb, it might equally apply to any small children a woman
had with her when she was handed over to the torturers. As Severian said in
chapter II of SHADOW, "None of us [he and his fellow apprentices] were born
among the torturers, for none are." He goes on to say:

"Since that time our numbers have been repaired solely from the children of
those who fall into our hands. In our Matachin Tower, a certain bar of iron
thrusts from a bulkhead at the height of a man's groin. Male children small
enough to stand upright beneath it are nurtured as our own; [. . .]" This is
the proof that some women came to the tower with children in tow. The
sentence continues: "[a]nd when a woman big with child is sent to us we open
her and if the babe draws breath engage a wet-nurse if it be a boy."
Obviously, the height test would be irrelevant to a baby newly cut from its

In order for all the stated conditions for conscription to the guild to be
satisfied, and for the memory of nursing at his mother's breast to be true,
the implication for Severian is that *he was not born in the Matachin

The early memory of nursing in a cell suggests that he and his mother were
brought to the tower when he was less than six-months old and still too
young to crawl, much less pile pebbles.

So where was he born? If we are supposed to believe that Ouen's Catherine
was his mother, and that Ouen's professed ignorance of her pregnancy is
valid, then she was probably not 'showing' at the time she was "taken" by
"the law". I don't know where she was held between the time she was "taken"
and when she was sent to the torturers.

The Old Autarch opened his whorehouse about that time. His newly-imposed
lack of manliness seems to have resulted in his lack of attention to his
concubines, as evidenced years later by the fact that Thecla was missing
from among them for a whole year without his noticing. It may be that
Catherine was simply returned to wherever she had been before running away.
It may be that she didn't become a real problem for the autarch (or whomever
caused her to be picked up) until her pregnancy became obvious and/or she
gave birth.

It would probably be an embarrassment for a eunuch to have a ceremonial
concubine with child, and the child itself would be an inconvenience. Give
them both, quietly, as was the case with Thecla, to the torturers.


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