King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 23, 24, 25, 26

“On est français,” began Berthe uncertainly, her Frankish rusty after ten years of captivity. The cowboys spoke only their native Occitan, saw in front of them only half a score of veiled but bare-legged women, the trulls and whores of the Prophet-worshipers who had oppressed them so long. Calling to each other, they strode greasily forward.

Alfled elbowed her fool of a comrade aside, dropped on her knees, tore away her veil and made the sign of the cross. The cowboys checked, uncertain. As they did so bigger shapes blocked the light. Armored men, the Ritters of the Lanzenorden.

“We beoth cristene,” tried Alfled, fear edging her voice. “Theowenne on ellorlande.”

“Ellorland,” repeated the leading Ritter, himself a man of Alsace, in his Germanic tongue Ellorsetz. “Good. Guard the women well. Let the Emperor decide their guilt. And guard the loot too,” he added, looking round at silk and finery with a professional eye. “Go on, kick those cowboys out of here.”

A hundred paces behind him the Emperor, still on foot, his eye roughly stitched together, strode across the battlefield, noting the small number of corpses. Few had stayed to fight, he noted. He hoped no army he commanded would ever shred away like that. What it showed was how few people had faith, true faith, in their cause and in their god. But faith that was only mouth-deep could have no value. He must put the matter to the wise and learned Erkenbert.

The mouth of Richier the junior perfectus was completely dry as the soldiers marched him up to the long black shed in which, only days before, Tartarin the wool-merchant had stored his fells and fleeces. No longer was it just a part of the local economy. In less than half a month it had become part of the local mythology. Those who went in did not come out, unless they were servants of the Emperor. Even the servants of the Emperor, however much wine was poured into them, said nothing of what had become of the others. The most that any of them would say was, “Ask the deacon.” But no-one dared even to approach the small black-robed man who pored over his papers, called man after man, and woman after woman, and child after child, to answer his questions. There had never been any doubt that he was in league with the devil, since he proclaimed himself the servant of God, whom all the heretic believers knew was the devil. But if there had been any doubt, it would have vanished as the little man, who knew nothing of the country, spoke not a word of their language, nevertheless detected falsehood after falsehood, punishing each one immediately and mercilessly with whip or brand, block or rope, according to the sex and age of the offender.

Richier still did not know what answer had condemned him to the final walk, the walk that none returned from. He could not even guess what kind of lie would serve. And the black deacon had not even bothered to accompany him to the shed—The Shed, as it was now pronounced. In his dreams he had often been permitted to endure martyrdom for his faith: but the martyrdom had been gallant, public, a profession of faith, or done in company like the deaths of the suicides of Puigpunyent. This, this seemed more like the sheep trooping into the slaughterhouse, with as little concern. He tried again to moisten his lips with a cracked tongue as the two soldier-monks jerked on the rope that held him and guided him to the very door of the windowless building.

In his search for the Holy graduale Erkenbert was following the principle that had led him in the end to the Holy Lance, or at least to its last human owner. Somebody knew. The number of those somebodies could be narrowed down. It was somebody within, say twenty miles from south-east to south-west of Puigpunyent. True, the inhabitants of the mountain villages were hard to catch. The least hard, though, were the most senior and most important, and most likely to know. Begin with them.

But before beginning the actual questioning of the major targets, build up the background. Write the lists. Erkenbert began to list the villages. Then the people in them, their trades, spouses, children and relations. Proven heresy was of interest, but not the major matter. Erkenbert assumed that all were heretics, including the village priests, if there were any. What was important was to determine the truth, so that any deviation from it, any lie, stood out and proved the speaker a liar. So, one with something to lie about.

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