When a traveller is adrift in the silent blue dunes of Vaarn’s desert, he dreams of a city. When the camel’s hump sways beneath him he dreams of a cushioned alcove in a tavern, with learned conversation and hookah smoke coiling languidly in the air; when Vaarn’s red sun beats upon his head he dreams of cool avenues shaded by demure and welcoming lemon trees. Oppressed by his loneliness, the traveller dreams of a city where the crowds embrace him and strangers greet him as brother; when he swills the last dregs of water around blistered gums he dreams of a a fountain in a public courtyard, where the daughters of the neighbourhood arrive to draw water and eye a handsome stranger.
Gnomon, the city of shaded markets, appears to be this dream made solid. There are taverns with cushioned alcoves, as the traveller sought; also he will find learned conversation and hookah smoke, wide avenues flanked by lemon trees, public fountains and smiling maidens and strangers who greet him as brother. There are many sights in Gnomon, sights beyond the traveller’s dreams: glittering mezzanine gardens and parades of masked exorcist-harlequins, guild halls where cone-hatted clerks ponder their great brass ledgers of debt, babbling souks where the merchants mutter their bargains like mantras and even memories may be found to have a price. Truly this was what he sought in a city.
So bewitched is our traveller, he scarcely notices that the merchants’ smiles do not reach their eyes, that the women who wave from passion-house windows have faces brittle as porcelain, that each stranger in the street calling him brother has an accomplice reaching into his pocket. It is only as he leaves under cover of darkness, head ringing from cheap wine and his purse empty as his stomach, that the traveller begins to curse Gnomon, the city of leeches and masks, the undreamed-of city, the gilded trap.