King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 3, 4

And yet when he came to the town they called the capital, Ghaniya felt his sense of disdain and superiority rise again like the flesh of a caliph in his harem. The town would not have ranked as a suburb of Cordova. Its stone tower was new and well-made, but low and single. The marketplace itself had fewer men in it than a courtyard of his master. From one end of the town he could see the other! Instead of the crowd of suppliants being ranked and listed by chamberlains, one man came out to meet them, and made no pretense that his master was too busy to receive any visitor. Surely the master of such a place could feel only honor at being offered an alliance with the Caliph of Cordova, Successor of the Prophet, Deputy of Allah on Earth!

Ghaniya felt confidence again as he prepared for his audience with the master of the men and of the ships. He must impress them, he reflected, with his own wealth and with the learning of Mu’atiyah, neither of which, he was sure, the barbarians could match. It troubled him only that in this far land he must rely, for a translator, on the skills of Suleiman the Jew.

“What’s a Jew?” muttered Shef out of the corner of his mouth. The embassy of strangers stood in front of him in his great chamber of audience, one of their party—not the leader, but the spokesman—standing in front of the others. He had just introduced himself, but the word he used meant nothing to Shef.

The advisers who stood behind him conferred briefly. Then, as Shef’s own translator Father Boniface began again to put the other’s credentials into English, Skaldfinn priest of Heimdall stepped forward. A linguist and interpreter, he knew all there was to be known in the North about foreign peoples.

“The Jews are the people from the East who crucified the Christian god,” he said. “Apparently there are still some of them left.”

“It was the Romans who crucified Christ,” said Shef. “German soldiers from a Roman legion.” He spoke with flat certainty, as if he had seen the event himself.

“The Christians prefer to blame the Jews.”

“And these other folk, the ones in long thin robes. What do they believe?”

“We call them Mohammedans. They believe in a prophet who arose some time before ours. Their God and the Christian God seem much the same, but they do not believe in the Christ as divine, and the Christians will not accept their prophet even as a prophet. There is always war between the Mohammedan kingdoms and the Christian ones. Yet the Mohammedans accept Christian subjects, and Jewish subjects, and treat them fairly.”

“Like us, then.”

“Yes: except—”

“Except what?” Shef was still listening with half an ear to Boniface’s long translation of what seemed the Jewish spokesman’s excessively flowery string of opening compliments.

“Except that they regard all three, Mohammedan, Jew and Christian, as ‘People of the Book.’ They do not regard any others as sharing the same God, as these three religions do, even if they have different beliefs.”

Shef pondered for a while as the double translation wandered on, the Arabic of Ghaniya heard and put into a kind of Latin by Suleiman the Jew; the Latin heard and put into the Norse-English dialect of Shef’s court by Boniface. Eventually he raised a hand. The translation stopped at once.

“Tell him, Boniface, that I am told they do not consider us to be People of the Book. Now, Thorvin, show him one of our books. Show him your book of holy poems, written all in runes. Boniface, ask whether he will not say that we too are people of a book.”

Ghaniya stroked his beard as the big man in white with a hammer in his belt came towards him, holding out a volume of some kind. He let Suleiman take it in case there was some sort of defilement lurking in it.

“What is it made of?” he muttered in Arabic.

“They say it is the skin of calves.”

“Not pigs, then, praise Allah. They have no paper, then?”

“No. Neither paper nor scrolls.”

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