King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 3, 4

On the map, divisions were marked in colors. First Shef saw his own dominions, Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the islands between them, in a wash of brilliant red. Against them, other lands began to be marked out in blue. First the land of the Franks, facing Britain, then the whole interior of Europe, the German lands, then rippling down in a blue tide the boot-shape of Italy. The Empire of Charlemagne. Now owing allegiance again to the Holy Lance. Only carried in the hands of Charlemagne’s true successor, though not his blood-successor. Bruno, new emperor.

Shef jerked as he heard a cold, quiet voice, too familiar to him now. “Easy,” it said. “This is not a Hel-vision. No serpent, no Loki. Just look at the map. Look at the frontiers on it.

“See, you have only one land frontier with the Empire, at the base of Denmark. Fortified now by you from the Ditmarsh to the Baltic Sea, along the lines of the old Dannevirke, the Dane-work that King Guthfrith built. But Bruno has many frontiers. To the East…” and Shef saw the blue fade away to a near-colorless pallor, gently turning green. “The land of the steppe and the forest. From it any moment great armies can come. But they fade as fast as they appear. Bruno does not worry greatly about them.

“To the South-East.” And suddenly Shef saw a blaze of gold sweep across from the Italian boot-top towards the depths of Asia. “The Greeks. With their great city of Byzantium, Micklegarth as Brand calls it, the Great Town. Not as rich, any more, as the lands of the Arabs. But the true heir of the Romans, and the Roman knowledge. Bruno does not fear them either, though he has plans for them. He wishes to bring them into a united Christendom, with the skill and subtlety of the Greeks and the energy and ferocity of his own Germans. Even the warriors of the steppe might quail before that. But now see the silver.”

And it was there, washing across the map like a carpet unrolling, stretching over lands Shef could not imagine, far to the East of the Byzantines and deep into Africa as well. “The lands of Dar al-Islam, submission to the will of Allah,” said the cold voice. “Allah the One God. No wonder that the hate is hottest between the two sides who believe alike in One God. Maybe the same god. But that neither side can agree.

“See now where lies the Dar al-Harb. The House of War.” A glowing line began to thread between the silver and the blue, across the mountain-lands of northern Spain—”robber-dukedoms,” said the voice, “but strengthened now by the Lanzenorden, the soldier-monks of Christ.” A flicker across southern France—”robber-holds of the Mohammedans,” said the voice, “but now under threat from the reviving Empire.” And then a glow around island after island, Sicily, Malta, Sardinia, Mallorca, the remaining Balearics. “They are the key,” said the voice. “They control the Inner Sea.” Slowly Shef saw the silver change again and again to blue. Like pincers groping round the flank of Arab Spain.

Unite the blue and gold, Shef thought. Cut off the silver and turn it blue. There will then be a great block across the world. His own red came back into focus—a thin line, an edge drawn around one corner of the block. His dominion ran from Scilly to North Cape. It seemed no more than a pencil line for thinness.

“Now there is the hinge,” said the voice, already seeming to come from further away, as if it was withdrawing. The maps of the Christians showed Jerusalem, always, as the world-center, the pivot, the axle-tree of destiny. As Shef looked at it, one center spot seemed to glow, to stand out against the fading colors of his dream, to swell towards him. A spot at the heart of the Inner Sea, balancing north against south, east against west. But he did not know where it was. His thought reached out after his fading mentor, calling:

“Where? Where?” And the voice came back, from a chill and hostile distance.

“Rome,” it called. “Go to Rome, my son. And there you will find your peace…”

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Categories: Harrison, Harry