King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 8, 9, 10

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” said the skeptical voice again, followed by a comprehensive hawk and spit into the fire. “True enough. I heard them say it.”

Shef placed the voice finally. Not Cwicca, but Trimma, one of his mates. Strange that he should speak so freely. It must be the ale.

Another voice breaking in, the quiet one of Suleiman the Jew, by now speaking the fleet’s common Anglo-Norse mixed speech with barely a trace of accent.

“An interesting view, young lady. I wonder what you will have to say of the Lord whose name is not spoken.” He added, as ignorance remained complete, “The god of my people. The god of the Jews.”

“The Jews live in a corridor,” said Svandis flatly. “At the far end of this inner sea. All the armies of the world have marched up and down it, Arabs, Greeks, Rome-folk, all of them. The Jews have been toads under the harrow since their history began, from what I have been told of it. Have you heard the toad shriek out as the harrow rakes it? It cries out, ‘I will be revenged!’ The Jews have made a god of total power, and total memory, who never forgets any injury to his people, and who will revenge it—sometime. When the Holy One comes. He has been a long time coming, and they say you crucified him when he did. But if you believe what you do, it does not matter that the Holy One never comes, because he is always coming. That is how the Jews live on.”

Shef could see Suleiman’s face in the firelight, watched it carefully for any grimace, any twist of anger. Nothing that he could see.

“An interesting view, young princess,” said Suleiman carefully. “I see you have an answer for everything.”

“Not for me,” said Shef, draining his mug. “I have seen them, in dreams. And others have seen me in the same dreams, so it is not just my fantasy. They have shown me sights far off as well, and they have come true. As they have for Vigleik of the visions, for Farman priest of Frey, for others of the Way.

“And I tell you, those gods are not made in my image! What was it that bit me, Svandis, you saw the marks in my flesh? A pet of Loki’s, a pet of Othin’s? No pet of mine. I do not even like my father Rig, if he is my father. The world would be better with no gods, I say. If we all believed what we wanted, I would be a believer in Svandis. But I know better. It is the gods who are evil. Men are evil too, because they have to be. If it were a better world that the gods made, men would be better too.”

“It will be a better world,” rumbled Thorvin in his deep bass, “if we can escape the chains of Skuld.”

“Keep thinking about it, Svandis,” said Shef, standing up. He stopped as he walked towards his blanket on the sand. “I mean what I say, and not as a joke, nor an insult. You are wrong about the gods of the Way, or at least you have not explained to me what I know. Just the same, there may be new knowledge in there somewhere, knowledge of people if not of gods. That is what the Way is about. Knowledge, not preparing for Ragnarök.”

Svandis dropped her eyes, for once silent, defenseless against praise.

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Categories: Harrison, Harry