King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 31, 32, 33, 34

“If he did that, you know what I think his great pleasure would have been, after all the pain and blood and triumph?”

“His craft?” suggested Shef.

“His children,” said Svandis.

“Yes to both. But also think of him watching what others did with his legacy. Watching from the fireside, from the forge or the ingle-corner. I have said it before. Let others deal now with Loki and Othin, with Balder and Christ and Rig.”

“But you have had the power and have ruled from the seat of power.”

“That is finished—nor do I miss it.” He pointed at the stumps of the broken row of columns, the traces of the mosaic floor between them. “Did you know that this was once a palace built by an old Emperor of the Rome-folk? One of twelve he built on this island because he loved it so. That was over eight hundred years ago and the people here still talk about him as though it were yesterday. Hund says his real name was Tiberius, but here they call him Timberio, like a member of their family.”

“Is that the way you wish to be remembered?”

“Perhaps. But it doesn’t really matter, does it? If the world is set on a better path, as Farman said, a path that leads away from the Skuld-world of the Christians, then I am happy. But most of all—” He patted his rough tunic. “I am happy because I wear no pendant now. No slave-collar, no king’s crown, no god’s token. And that is enough for me.”

“For me as well.” She held his arm, leaned closely to him. “Even Hund seems at peace. His reputation as a leech has spread, to Napoli and beyond. They come to see him and seek his cures. He writes everything down now. Says that he is writing a book recording all his knowledge. He wants to see it printed one day.”

Shef reached inside his cloak, reminded by the mention of printing, took out a folded paper.

“Hund asks always for news of the world, prefers these printed papers to payment in gold. So far all have been in the Latin dialect that he puzzles over. But now, look at this.”

She smiled, touched the quill-pendant of Edda, the great-grandmother, which she still wore. “Old tales are my study. Not news from Rome or rumors from Napoli.”

“But this is in English—printed in London. It tells of grave doings, great events…”

“Does it speak of war?”

“No. The peace holds.”

“Then that is enough to know. And we are at peace here as well. Our son grows straight and strong. Peace now after a lifetime of war. That is enough for me. But is it enough for you?”

Shef did not answer. Perhaps he could not answer. He looked at the trail of smoke from Vesuvio, now flattening and stretching out in the wind. Then nodded his head.

Below them, flying with steady grace above the sea, the first storks from Africa returned to Europe at winter’s end.

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Categories: Harrison, Harry