King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 27, 28, 29, 30

He cast his eye down. He was trying, he told himself, to instruct these men at their own speciality, which was books and the making of books. How would they fare if they came into his camp and told Cwicca how to wind a catapult? The thought of the furious bawdry with which a learned scribe would be received round the camp-fires amused him momentarily, seemed to break a hole in the barrier of silence. Remember, he told himself again. What you have to do is to take a story, the story that was written down, and make it into an appeal. You have to change it from an I-story into a you-story. Start with that. If you do not know where to start, start with the beginning.

He raised his head and his one eye again, stared at the room full of men, beginning to exchange glances and pass remarks at the immobility of the barbarian. As the glare passed over them, the glare of a man who had stood face to face with Ivar, Champion of the North, and killed Kjallak the Strong on the King’s Stone of the Swedes, the scribes fell silent again. Shef began to speak in a tone of suppressed fury. As he spoke, phrase by phrase and sentence by sentence, Solomon’s voice pattered out the quiet accompaniment, and the scratch of many quills on paper followed it.

“Followers of Christ,” Shef declaimed, “you have heard of the joys of Heaven and the fires of Hell. In hope of one and in fear of the other, you give your children to be baptized, you confess your sins, you pay the tithe. You wear the Cross. On Easter Sunday you crawl to the Cross on your knees, the priest holds it in front of your dying eyes.

“Why? Because it is the sign of life, of life after death. You hope to live in Paradise after you are dead because there was One who once came back and declared He had power over death and after death. On the Cross, and on the Resurrection, all your hope rests.

“What if there was no Resurrection? Where is your hope then, and what good are your tithes? What need have you then of a priest? Now who has told you the story of the Resurrection? Was it a priest? Would you buy a horse on the word of the man who took your money? If you never saw the horse? Listen to this story instead.

“There was a man called Jesus, and many years ago Pontius Pilate crucified him. But the hangmen bungled in haste, and he did not die. He did not die. Instead, his friends came and took away the body on a ladder, and brought it back to life. When he was strong again, he fled and made a new life, and in that new life he took back many of the things he had said. Heaven is in this world, he said, and men should make it for themselves. Women too.

“Do you live in Heaven? Or in Hell? Ask your priest, ask him how he knows what he knows. Ask him, where is the Cross? Where is the ladder? Look in his eyes when you ask him, and think of selling the horse. If you do not believe him, think what you can do.”

“It was an interesting account,” remarked Moishe the scribe to Solomon as they walked away together, for the moment on friendly terms again. “Inept, of course.”

Solomon raised an eyebrow, but did not challenge the view. “I had trouble,” he agreed, “in translating some of it. His words for ‘baptize’ and ‘Resurrection’ are very simple, and I had to do the best I could. In what lies its ineptitude?”

“Oh, seven rhetorical questions in a row, like a schoolboy who has not felt the rod. Constant repetition, horses and hangmen and ladders and tithes all mixed in with life and death and the mysteries of faith. No grandeur. No idea of style. I would blush to have it known that I had written such a thing. But to your One King I am just the part of a machine, a machine for making many copies.”

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