King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 19, 20, 21, 22

“I will tell you something about him,” said Svandis with sudden definiteness, “and it is something those fools in the hills got wrong. Like Thierry, who kidnapped me but did not rape me.”

Eyes turned towards her. To his surprise Shef saw the beginnings of a blush spreading across Svandis’s tanned face. She looked uneasily at Tolman, plunged on.

“When men lie with women—in the North anyway, I have heard that these Arabs are wiser—they think of nothing but spilling their seed deep inside her. But there is another way…”

Shef gaped incredulously, wondering what she meant. And how she knew.

“To go on till almost the end, and then to—well, withdraw. Spill the seed outside the womb. It is as good for the woman, better if the act lasts longer. As good for the man too. It makes no children, no more hungry mouths. It is a pity more men cannot practice it. But of course it would mean they had to think of the woman, which no man ever does when he is intent on his pleasure alone!

“But anyway, that is what this book is talking about. The man who wrote it must have known something. But Thierry and Anselm and Richier, they think it means that you must leave women alone, live like a monk! And yet all the time the book tells us to take pleasure in the world. If you cannot take pleasure from women—or from men either—then what pleasure is there? Men are such fools.”

Shef was pleased to notice, sourly, that Thorvin and Solomon seemed as puzzled as himself. “So the book is a manual for pleasure in marriage,” he remarked. “And we were thinking it was a lost gospel.”

“Why can it not be both?” snapped Svandis.

Chapter Twenty-One

The Emperor had had little hope of success from the scaling ladders: he had tried them out because he had plenty of men and one never knew the enemy’s weaknesses. The ram had seemed more practicable. Watching from a distance he had made out the unmistakable figure of Brand on the ramparts, once his ally, never his friend. To lose to him had been galling. Now the time had come, he decided, for serious thought, and to help him he had called in the few men of his army he thought might be capable of it. Agilulf, his deputy, an experienced warrior. Georgios the admiral of the Greeks, with the proverbial subtlety of that race. Erkenbert the deacon, on whom he most relied. Once he and they had made their plan he would communicate it to the host of subordinate leaders who made up his army’s contingents: none of them, in the Emperor’s candid opinion, fit to lead anything more complicated than a charge or an ambush.

“Those in the city are not stupid,” he concluded, “and their defenses are good. Also, we know the one-eye is there, and where he appears, strange things happen. Now, what can we do to puzzle them?”

Georgios replied, speaking slowly in his camp-Latin. “The harbor remains a weak point,” he said. “I will not risk my galleys close in against their mule-stones, but at the same time we have proved that they dare not come out against the floating fort designed by the wise deacon here: I am glad to have seen it and will take careful note of it for my Emperor’s uses in the future. Still, the stone jetties are only six feet above the water, and they run many stadia long. There is a chance there for an escalade, if we can get close enough.”

“Many small boats, not a few large ones?” suggested Bruno.

“And, I would suggest, at night.”

“What about the Greek fire? Can you not bring it close up to the jetties and burn all the defenders off as you did the Arab galleys?” asked Agilulf.

The admiral hesitated. He could not lie to Agilulf, who had seen the Greek fire used several times. Yet at the heart of the policy of the Byzantines was the need to keep their one great technical advantage secret. No barbarian—and barbarian included the servants of the Emperor of Rome, as far as the Greeks were concerned—was allowed to get too close to the projectors or the fuel tanks. The operators were the most highly paid men in the fleet, the admiral included, and all had moreover left hostages for their secrecy in Byzantium. Georgios felt that he had learnt much on this trip, including the details of the Roman and Northern catapults. He wanted to give nothing back in return. Yet he must answer.

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