The Hammer and The Cross by Harry Harrison. Jar1. Chapter 10, 11, 12

The Hammer and The Cross. Jar1. Chapter 10, 11, 12

Chapter Ten

This time Shef was anxious for the vision he knew would come. His mind buzzed with doubts, with possibilities. Yet he had no certainty. Something must come, he knew, from outside to help him. It came usually when he was exhausted, or sleeping off a heavy meal. That day he had walked deliberately beside his pony, ignoring the chaff from the ranks. In the evening, had stuffed himself slowly with the porridge they had made from the last of the winter store, before the new grain came from the harvesters. He stretched out to sleep, fearful that his mysterious adviser would fail him.

“Yes,” said the voice in the dream. Shef felt an instant surge of relief as he recognized it. The amused voice which had told him to seek the ground, which had sent him the dream of the wooden horse. The voice of the nameless god with the sly face who had shown him the chessqueen. This was the god who sent him answers. If he could recognize them.

“Yes,” said the voice, “you will see what you need to know. But not what you think you need to know. Your questions are always ‘What?’ and ‘How?’ But I shall show you ‘Why?’ And ‘Who?’ ”

Instantly he found himself on a cliff, so high up he could see the whole world stretched out before him, the dust-plumes rising, the armies marching, just as he had seen them the day they killed King Edmund. Again he felt that if he narrowed his eye exactly right, he would be able to pick out anything he needed to know: the words on the lips of the Frankish commander, the place where Alfred lurked—live or dead. Shef gazed round anxiously, trying to orient himself so he could see what he needed to.

Something turned his head away from the panorama below, made him stare into the far, far distance, remote from the real world in space and time.

What he saw was a man walking along a mountain road, a man with a dark, lively, humorous face, one not entirely to be trusted, the face of the unknown god of his dreams. Now that man, Shef thought, drifting into the vision, that man has more than one skin.

The man, if man he was, came to a hut, a hovel in fact, a grubby shelter of poles and bark reinforced with turf and inept handfuls of clay on the chinks. That was the way men lived in the old time, Shef thought. They know better now. But who showed them better?

By the hut a man and a woman stopped their tasks and stared at the newcomer: a stranger couple, both bent over from continuous work, short and squat in physique, brown haired and sallow, bow-legged, crooked-fingered. “Their names are Ai and Edda,” the god’s voice said.

They were welcoming the newcomer, showing him in. They offered him food, burnt porridge, full of husks, full too of stone particles from being hand-ground in a pestle and mortar, moistened only with goat’s milk. The newcomer seemed undaunted by this welcome, talked cheerfully; when the time came, lay down on the heap of ill-cured skins between his host and his hostess.

In the middle of the night he turned to Edda, still dressed in her long black rags. Ai lay in a deep sleep, unmoving, stung perhaps by a sleep-thorn. The clever-looking man pulled up the rags, mounted upon her, thrust away without preliminaries.

The stranger in the vision rose next morning and went his way, leaving Edda behind him to swell, to moan, to bring forth children as squat and ugly as herself—but more active, more industrious. They carted dung, they carried brushwood, they tended swine, they broke clods with wooden spades. From them come, the Shef-mind said, the race of thralls. Once I too might have been a thrall. No longer.

The traveler went on his way, walking briskly, along through the mountains. The next night he came to a log cabin, well-built, its ends fitted into each other in deep, axe-cut grooves, a window on one side with solid, well-fitting shutters, a privy outside over a deep ravine. Again a couple paused from their work as the traveler came up to them: a stout and powerful pair, ruddy-faced, thick-necked—the man bald, with trimmed beard, the woman round-faced and long-armed, built for carrying burdens. She wore a long brown gown, but a woolen mantle lay close by to be put on in the cool evening. Bronze clasps lay ready to fix it on. He wore loose trousers like a warrior of the Viking fleets, but his leather shirt was cut into thongs at waist and sleeve, for show. This is how most folk live now, the Shef-mind thought. “Their names are Afi and Amma,” said the voice.

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