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

He was away, in a shower of sparks where his horse’s metal hooves struck the rock. The sergeant standing by the doorway of the tent, a stolid Brüder from Burgundy with a name like Jopp, smiled fondly after the departing figure, displaying a mouthful of broken teeth.

“He is a Ritter,” he said. “He honors courage even in his enemies.”

The boy Maury was still alive, Erkenbert reflected. He might have recovered enough to talk a little more. Probably the mere sight of his questioner would do the trick by now.

Yet again Shef slid from a horse, this time feeling less stiff, sore and cramped, than certain that his legs would no longer support him. The level flagstones of the Septimania dock met him. After a few moments he straightened, looked past the heads of the crowd.

“The sea,” he croaked.

Brand passed him a flask of the diluted wine they had fallen back on once the ale ran out, stood with thumbs in belt while his leader drained it down.

“What about the sea?”

“I love it. Because it’s flat. All right.” By now there were a hundred men gathered round, dockside loafers, Jewish traders, but most of them Waymen skippers and sailors. Tell them quick and the word would spread. No need for secrecy. “All right. We got Svandis back. I’m afraid we lost two of the boys, Ubba and Helmi. Tell you about that later. But the main thing is, we twisted the Emperor’s nose. Twisted it very badly. He’s looking for us and I bet he knows we’re here. So clear for sea and let’s get going. That’s best for everyone, right, Solomon? He turns up, we’ve gone, everyone very sorry, no harm done. Why are you all still standing here? Clear for sea, I said, what’s the matter…”

. Brand put a vast arm round his leader’s shoulder, lifted him companionably off his feet, and began to walk along the dock, the crowd parting to let them through, but showing no sign of wanting to follow.

“Come for a little walk along the staithe,” he suggested. After a few paces he allowed Shef’s feet to touch the ground again but did not release his grip. They walked carefully round the crowded harbor, on to the base of the long stone mole which sprang out from the very heart of the fortified city, began to walk along its hundred-yard extent, stepping over the iron rings to which the small craft were made fast, the larger ones lying out at anchor in the harbor, like the Wayman fleet. Half way along Brand stopped, gestured out to sea.

“What can you see out there?” He plucked the far-seer from Shef’s belt, held it out to him.

Shef took it, put it to his eye, moved the lower half in and out on its sliding case as he had learned to, stared into the noonday haze. Nothing that he could see, the haze was difficult, scan round a bit. Oh.

“The galleys,” he said. “The red galleys. Three of them out there, no, four.”

“That’s right. They were there at dawn, fried a couple of fishing boats, pulled back off shore. Just showing us they were watching.”

“All right,” said Shef, “it’s noon now, no wind, they have the advantage. In a few hours, as the sun starts to sink, we’ll get the breeze off the sea, regular as a mule’s bowels. Then it’s our turn. We’ll put out, if any of them get in the way we’ll sink them. And then have some harpoon practice, right, for Sumarrfugl,” he added savagely.

“Keep looking,” said Brand.

Puzzled, Shef took up the far-seer again. The haze was irritating, he could see almost nothing in some places, it was thickest down by the surface of the sea. There. There was something there, closer than he expected, closer than the galleys. But he could not make out what it was. It was gray, and low, barely projecting above the flat sea, not a ship at all, more like a long low island. He moved the far-seer in and out, trying to get the blurry image to become clearer.

“I can’t see what it is.”

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Categories: Harrison, Harry