King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 11, 12, 13

“We cannot take the risk. We must recover our treasures. By war. By stealth. With a bribe. If we need help from outside we must find it.”

“Outside?” came a query.

“The world is coming to us now. The Emperor, successor of Charlemagne, whom we drove off eighty years ago. But others too. Strange news from Cordova, as you know. We must guard above all against thinking like men, as if all that happens in this world were mere chance and mortal effort. For we know it is a battle-ground, between the One Above and the One Below. If all that happened, happened in this world, we know which one would win.”

“And yet He is the princeps huius mundi, the Great Prince of the World.”

“And so we must go outside. Outside our world, outside this world.”

Slowly the perfecti, the men who believed the God of the Christians was indeed the Devil, to be overthrown when time came into its fullness, began to evolve their plan for bringing that fullness forward.

The old man who sat in the shade of the vine-trellis looked at the King of the North sitting opposite him with doubt. He did not look like a king, still less like the subject of prophecy. He was not dressed in Bozrah purple. His men did not bow down before him. He was sitting on a small stool, and following the custom of the Northerners, sitting in full sunlight, as if he could not get enough of it. Sweat ran from his brow, dripped steadily on to the flagstones of the balcony built out to overlook sea and harbor far below.

“You are sure he is a king?” the old man asked Suleiman again. They spoke in Hebrew, Shef listening patiently but without understanding to the alien syllables, which no Englishman had ever heard before in the history of the world.

“I have seen him in his homeland, in his own hall. He rules a wide realm.”

“He was born a Christian, you tell me. He will understand this, then. Tell him…” The old man, Benjamin Prince of Septimania, Lion of Judah, Ruler of the Rock of Sion, spoke on. After a few moments Suleiman—or, in his own country, Solomon—began to interpret.

“My prince tells me that you will understand what it says in our holy book, which was your holy book also, in the days when you were of the Christian Church. In the Book of the Wisdom of ben-Shirach, which you call ‘Ecclesiasticus,’ it is said, ‘The conies are a feeble folk, but they dwell in the rocks.’ The Prince says that here—and I have told him what your strange woman said of the Jews—here the Jews are not a feeble folk. Yet still they dwell in the rocks, as you can see in all directions.” He waved a hand at the mountains looming not far off, at the sheer stone walls guarding harbor and town.

Shef stared at him blankly. The Jewish prince’s assumption that a Christian was bound to know Old and New Testaments was completely wide of the mark. Shef had never heard of ‘Ecclesiasticus,’ never read a Bible, had indeed never seen a Bible in his life till he attended the wedding of his love Go-dive and his partner Alfred in the great cathedral at Winchester. The priest of his fenland village had owned only a service book, with extracts from the Bible for the different services of the Church year. All that Father Andreas had ever even tried to teach was respect for authority, whether that were the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the necessity for tithing, or social superiors. He had never seen a coney or rabbit either, though this did not matter since Solomon had translated the word as ‘hare,’ for want of a better.

“Hares don’t live in the rocks,” he said. “They live in the open field.”

Solomon hesitated. “The point my prince wishes to make is that we have very strong natural and artificial defenses.”

Shef looked round. “Yes, I can see that.”

“He did not understand my remark,” cut in Benjamin.

“No. The fact is, prince, that these people receive almost no education, even if they are born Christians. Few of them can read and write. I believe the king here can, but he does not do so easily. I do not think he knows the Scriptures at all.”

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Categories: Harrison, Harry