King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 3, 4

“Two, I think the track they set us on was the right track, and men have never quite forgotten it. But since then we have climbed back onto the wrong track: the track of Hermoth, Othin’s favorite. War and piracy. We give it proud names and call it drengskapr, the hermanna vegr, gallantry, the warriors’ way. You do that, Brand, I know. But it comes down to the strong robbing the weak.”

“I prefer to rob the strong,” growled Brand, but Thorvin ignored him.

“I think King Shef has been sent here to return us to the right track. But that track is not the track of Hermoth, or of Othin. Indeed I think our king bears Othin’s enmity. He will not sacrifice to him. He will not take his token.

“And now I come to what some would call heresy. I cannot help remembering that all this was supposed to happen at the same time as the Christians say their White Christ came. And why did he come? Why did Sheaf and Shield come? I can only say this, and it is the third opinion I hold.

“I think the world at some time endured some great maim, some great wound that could not be cured. Balder died, we say, and the light went out of the world. The Christians have their foolish story of an apple and a serpent, but it comes to the same point: the world was maimed, and it needed a healer.

A healer from outside. The Christians say the healer was the Christ and the healing is done, and so we can all sit on our backsides and wait for rescue. Hah! We say maybe—or we used to say—that two kings came, to start us on our way. Then we lost it. It is my view that the king we have, not called Shef by chance, has come to set us on the right way again, like his many times grandsire. For I think that both he and his ancient namesake are the begetting of a god, the god Rig. Not older, maybe, than Othin, but wiser.”

After a pause Hund said, fingering his Ithun-pendant, “I cannot see where the heresy lies in that, Thorvin. Not that we are Christians in any case to tell men what to think.”

Thorvin stared into the distance, out across road and fields. “I am beginning to suggest that the Way-stories and the Christ-story are of the same kind. Both false, both garbled. Or, it may be, both true. But true fragments of a greater whole.”

Brand laughed, suddenly. “And you may be right, Thorvin! But while you may persuade me, and Hund here, and even the council of the priests of the Way if you talk to them long enough, I doubt you will get far in persuading the Pope of the Christians in Rome to go along with you. And agree that maybe the Way has some truth on its side too!”

Thorvin laughed with him. “No, I shall not go to Rome and ask for an audience to put my point of view. Nor will I forget that whatever one thinks of the Christians, the Church remains our deadly enemy. And the Empire now that supports it. They say our king had Bruno the German in the sights of his crossbow that day. He should have pulled trigger.”

For the first time Farman spoke, the pale thin face unaffected by emotion. “The maim,” he repeated. “The maim the world has suffered, that this second Shef, or second Savior, has been sent to heal. In our myth that is the death of Balder, brought about by the tricks of Loki. But we all know that Othin tried to have Balder released from Hel, and failed, and chained Loki beneath serpent-fangs in vengeance. Vengeance may be good, but how can one see any cure?”

“If there is a cure,” said Thorvin, “it will come about through something mere sense cannot predict. But our friend Shef—he is wise, but often good sense is not in him.”

“And so we are back to our real question,” Hund concluded. “Whether he is man or half-god, crazy or driven, what are we to do with him?”

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Categories: Harrison, Harry