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

Erkenbert waved to the four other Ritters, and as they had done before, they spilled the contents of their sacks on to the pavilion floor.

“The holy vessels of the heretics,” said Erkenbert. “Captured to the glory of God.”

“And God shall have them all,” said Bruno. “I swear that no man shall receive a pennyweight of what you have taken. I will compensate the army and the Lanzenorden from my own private purse. But every ounce of what you have taken shall be made into the greatest reliquarium of the West, to enshrine this relic for ever and ever.

“And I swear this too,” shouted Bruno, drawing his sword and holding it up like a cross in front of him. “In gratitude for the favor that God has sent me, I swear to conquer the whole of Spain for the Catholic Church, or die in the attempt. More! I will leave no-one alive within the old Empire who does not accept the sole authority of Saint Peter. Whether in Hispania or Mauretania or Dacia.”

“Or Anglia,” said Erkenbert.

“Or Anglia,” repeated Bruno. “And I further swear this. In gratitude for the faith that the deacon Erkenbert has brought me, the faith that I weakly doubted, not only will I bring his country back to the Church from its apostates, but I will make him the heir of Saint Peter, and set him on the Papal throne. And he and I will rule Church and Empire together. From Rome!”

The audience stirred slightly, did not dare to mutter. They had no doubt the Emperor had power to make a Pope. Had he the right? Some at least had no objections. Better an Englishman that they saw campaigning with them than some unknown Italian who never left the city walls.

“Now, Erkenbert,” Bruno’s voice sank to its normal pitch. “Put the Grail in a place of honor, and tell me the story of how you won it. And I need your advice. I captured one of your countrywomen amid a batch of others, there she is, acting as a wine-bearer. Whores of the Caliph, God rot their faithless marriageless ways. Not her fault, though. What am I to do with her, with all of them?”

Erkenbert shot a glance at the beautiful woman listening intently to the conversation in the half-familiar Low German. A disapproving glance.

“Let her expiate her sin,” he rasped. “Her and the others. Found an order of the Grail, an order of nuns. A strict order, for penitents.” He thought of the evil wickedness in the books he had had destroyed, their accursed fable of Christ’s marriage to the Magdalen. “Call it the Order of Saint Mary Magdalen. God knows there are enough whores in the world to fill it.”

Alfled’s hands did not shake as she filled the cup. She had had long training in self-control.

Shef had spent long days in trying to make his entire fleet once more fit for sea: transferring supplies from the new arrivals to the old, reprovisioning all the ships with water and such preserved food as could be had in Septimania, organizing squads to find and chip replacement mule-stones from the shore, remounting those machines that had been taken from ships to battlements.

The work had got easier as time passed. Indeed it seemed to him sometimes as if some kind of watershed had been crossed with the unexpected arrival of reinforcements. Either that or—and this was what he feared in his heart—some new favor had been granted him by the gods. By a freed god.

The Emperor’s forces, much weakened as soon as the Emperor himself had left to fight the Caliph, raised even their token siege one night and disappeared. Soon food and news began to trickle in as the mountaineers of the interior realized the roads were once more open. The kites flew gaily as Tolman and his fellows delightedly displayed their prowess to the new arrivals. In exchange Farman had produced a dozen far-seers made by glass-blowers in Stamford: the lenses inferior in clarity, and scratched by grinding even with the finest sand and chalk, but proof that Arab skills could be matched in time. Cwicca and his gang had carefully and leisurely built a replacement giant catapult, with proper side-bracing, and shot it in till they were confident of dismantling, storing and re-erecting it at any time. Steffi’s flares illuminated day and night as he too practiced unhurried and unhindered. Solomon had found in the market-place a device of wires and beads which much improved on Shef’s lines and columns in the sand.

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