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.’‘Black skin!’ said Egil.‘A dwarf then?’‘A man of the Roman Theban legion, a descendant of the ancient pharaohs.’‘The people of those lands are blue,’ said Ofaeti.‘I know it because it is said that is why they are called Blaumen.’‘One man’s blue is another’s black,’ said Jehan.‘The Theban legion was composed entirely of Christians, 6,666 men strong.’‘That’s a mighty force,’ said Ofaeti.‘Depending on the mettle of the men,’ said Egil.Jehan went on: ‘They served the pagan king Maximium Caesar, who ordered them, for the pleasure of his god Mercury, to kill some Christian families who were living in this place.The legion refused.’‘They were wrong to do so if they had taken an oath to the king,’ said Ofaeti.‘They had a stronger bond to their god,’ said Jehan.‘When the news of their refusal came back to Caesar he ordered that one-tenth of their number be killed.’‘What is a tenth?’ said Astarth‘A lot.’‘More than a dozen?’ said Ofaeti.‘It is 666 of them,’ said Jehan.‘And their fellows stood by and saw so many slaughtered?’ said Egil.‘They welcomed martyrdom.’‘What’s that mean?’ said Egil.‘Your Latin means nothing to me, priest.’‘The chance to die for their god.’‘They’d have been better men if they’d killed for him.It’d be a mighty king who came in and took so many from Rollo’s army, I tell you that,’ said Egil.‘When the first tenth had died, the emperor sent his orders again.They were refused.And he killed 666 men again, and again, until only six remained.Then he killed them and the whole legion was dead.’‘Would they not have been better defending these families of their god? The Roman king could now order his other soldiers to slaughter them,’ said Ofaeti.Jehan ignored the question in order to drive home his point.‘Six thousand, six hundred and sixty-six men stood and died in this place.Their bones may be beneath your feet.Do you call them cowards?’‘I don’t know what to call them,’ said Ofaeti.‘I know what to call a man who fights; I know what to call a man who runs.One who does neither I have no name for.’‘He said he was called a Saint Maurice,’ said Egil.Jehan spoke in a low voice: ‘You are less than serious, Egil, and yet you should quake in fear before my god.I am not a warrior.Your idols would not be interested in me.I have been downtrodden, taken from my homeland by savage men, my companions killed, my future promising only death.Do I tremble? No, because my god is a god of love.’ He grabbed the tip of Egil’s spear and held it to his own breast, staring the Viking down.‘You are brave men, but it is the bravery of fools who do not know what is arrayed against them.You would shake to your boots if you knew his wrath.Yet God wants to love you.He offers you deliverance, asks you to dwell for ever in his house.If you refuse, damnation awaits.You will be tied and pinioned and thrown into the mouth of hell, where the eternal suffering of fire awaits.’‘Burned for eternity by the god of love?’ said Ofaeti.He seemed puzzled.‘He offers you his mercy.If you refuse it, you condemn yourself,’ said Jehan.‘I could do with something to warm me up,’ said Egil.‘It’s like Nifhelm up here.’‘Nifhelm?’‘The realm of the ice giants,’ said Ofaeti.‘It’s underground, so I’m fairly certain it’s not around here.’‘It’s a silly myth,’ said Jehan.Ofaeti shrugged.‘It is cold, though, isn’t it? There could be white bears here, which wouldn’t be a lot of fun.I’ll tell you what,’ he said: ‘if your god sends us this monastery, a warm bed and a bowl of stew before the night’s out, then I’ll believe in him.’‘You worship God without conditions.You don’t make bargains with him.’Ofaeti looked genuinely nonplussed.‘So what do you do?’‘Praise him.’‘Flatter, you mean.Lord Tyr would strike such a man down.You offer him the death of fine warriors in battle, gold and cattle, not words to please a lady.If you can’t bargain with a god then the god is no good to you.’The mist in the valley was thinning.Jehan peered through the grey air.There was a cliff rising out of the main slope, and beneath it was a structure too regular to be natural.It was just a shape, a darker grey on a field of other greys, but the confessor knew it could only be one thing – the monastery.From along the valley he heard a sound.It was the wind, though it reminded him of what he would soon be hearing.Singing.The monastery was famous for its acoemetae – the sleepless ones.The monks sang in shifts, unceasing for nearly four hundred years now.He looked at the sky.It would be around mid-afternoon, the little hour of nones.They’d be singing the songs of ascents.He recited the words of one of them to himself.He who goes out weeping,Carrying seed to sow,Will return with songs of joy,Carrying sheaves with him.The message of the psalm cleared his head and renewed his strength for the struggle to convert the northerners.He had to accept that he was dealing with a simple people.There are many ways to Christ, his abbot had told him.Perhaps he should let the northerners walk theirs.He looked up.The great cliff curved around to his left, the monastery tight to it.Could none of the Vikings see it?‘If God sends you the monastery, will you renounce your idol?’‘He’d have to chuck in a whore as well for that,’ said Ofaeti.‘He’s a god of love; he should have a few at his disposal.But I hear your god doesn’t like whores, begging the question of what he does like.’The confessor waved his hand.‘Honest men and good women.Whores are tolerated by some in the Church for they keep the good women of the town chaste.They are not tolerated by me.Pray properly and God will send you a wife.’‘All whores are thieves too,’ said Ofaeti, ‘but they’re gone by the morning.It’s one thing to get done by a pirate, it’s another to invite him into your house and let him complain when you fart.I’ll have no wife.’‘You don’t want children, Ofaeti?’‘Don’t you, monk?’Jehan snorted and looked to the mountains, just gigantic shadows in the mist.He had often lectured people on the sins of the flesh.What had Eudes said to him when Jehan had warned him that his whoring would see him in hell? ‘It is easy to be chaste when God has made it impossible for you to be anything else.’ Had Jehan known lust? Of course, but he had prayed for it to go and it had, largely.Those feelings were not the hardest ones to control.God had stricken his body, rendered him blind, and Jehan had known why [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]