King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 5, 6, 7

“Winch the boy in,” said Shef. “Tell the master of the house how grateful I am to him for showing me this, and how much I respect his readiness to try for himself. Say we would like to make careful drawings of his contrivance. We may be able to find a better place to test it than the banks of the Guadalquivir. And tell him also that we are amazed by his tubes of glass, and would like to know how to make them for ourselves. We wonder how he came upon the idea.”

“He says,” the translation came back, “that the lens which makes small writing large has been known here for many years. After that, it was only a matter of mechanical skill and many tests.”

“Making old knowledge new,” said Shef with a beam of pleasure. “This is a wiser man than his pupil.”

In one of the innumerable tiny tenements of the city, a man sat cross-legged in front of an open window. His hands moved continually as he stitched, the seam he worked on moving through his hands as if it were a living serpent. His eyes never looked down, never left the street. Everything that went by was observed. In the corner to one side of him sat another man, out of sight from outside.

“You got a close look at it?” asked the tailor.

“I did. They walk through the city all the time, gaping like monkeys. They wear no more than a tight tunic on their upper bodies, and many of them not even that. They would walk naked as apes in the sun if the Cadi allowed it. It is easy to see what they wear round their necks. And I have stood as close to the ferengi king as I am to you.”

“What did you see, then? And what did you hear?”

“All the strangers wear a silver charm round their necks. Often it is a hammer, many times a horn, or a phallus, or a boat. There are some signs that only a few wear: an apple, a bow, a pair of strange sticks. Usually these are worn by the bigger strangers, the ones who entered the city wearing mail, but the apple is worn only by the very small one in white, whom they say is a leech.”

“And what does the king wear?”

“He wears a graduale. There is no doubt of that. I have peered so close I could smell the sweat of his shirt. It is a graduale. It has three steps on the right and two steps on the left.”

“Which is uppermost?”

“Two are level at the top, like a cross. Below that, the right as we see it.” The left as he wears it, the tailor reflected, still sewing.

“Tell me what you have found out about these signs.”

The other man hitched his stool conspiratorially closer. “We found soon that all these men are very eager to find strong drink of the sort forbidden by the Prophet, more eager for it than for women or for music. We approached some of them, said that we were Christians for whom this was not forbidden, that we had a store of wine for the service of our God. We found then that the bigger ones were shocked, looked askance, wanted the drink but cared nothing for the Christ. Some of the smaller ones, though, said easily that they had been Christians too, knew all about the mass and the holy wine. These we drew aside.”

“Had been Christians?” muttered the tailor. “So they are apostates now?”

“That is so. But they told a clear story, as far as our interpreters could follow. They said that their whole kingdom had been Christian once, but they spoke with horror of the practices of their Church. Some of them had been slaves to abbot or bishop, and showed us stripes to prove it. Then they had been freed by the one-eyed king, who had converted the land to what they call ‘the Way.’ It means much the same as shari’a. The sign of this is the pendant they wear, one sign for each of the many gods they have.”

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