Conqueror

Conqueror by Stephen Baxter Read Free Book Online

Book: Conqueror by Stephen Baxter Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen Baxter
Tags: Historic Fiction
here, tonight. And now my sole remaining duty is to pass the prophecy to you. Isn’t it marvellous?’ And he clutched the prophecy to his chest. He seemed to be trying not to weep. Wuffa saw that these brief moments were in some way the fulfilment of his whole life.
    Ulf said, practically, ‘We cannot read, either of us. What use are we to you?’
    Ambrosias replied, ‘You can remember, can’t you? You people are famous for your sagas, your long dreary poems. I hear them floating up from the village on the night air, though I thank Sol Invictus that I don’t understand a word. You will remember, and teach your own children, who will teach theirs. Thus the prophecy will be passed down your families until such time as even you Outer Germans learn the benefit of literacy. My time is at an end - my life, my family - even Britannia, or the last vestiges of it. It has been an heroic age. But now that day is done. You are the future, you Germans, you Norse. You! Why, the Menologium says so.’
    ‘But what’s the point of all this?’ Wuffa asked quietly. ‘What of the far future? What does your calendar say of destiny?’
    Ambrosias’s eyes were huge. ‘There will be a great crisis,’ he said. ‘At the close of the eighth Great Year.’
    Wuffa said, ‘And when is that?’
    ‘Who can say? My grandfather once tried to add up all the months in the Menologium, and divide by twelve and so forth, but everybody knows you can’t do figuring with numbers above a few hundred.’
    ‘But it will be centuries from now—’
     
    ‘Oh, yes! More than four hundred years, my grandfather believed.
    The whole world will tremble, north pitted against south. But a hero will emerge, and with the love of his brother he will win an empire. And then the future will be shaped by the will of his children - of yours - and they will call themselves Aryans. An Aryan empire. This is his plan.’
    ‘Whose?’
    ‘The Weaver’s. The spinner of the prophecy, who sits in his palace of the future and sees all - and schemes to establish the new Rome. But, you understand, the prophecy must be fulfilled, in every particular, in all the Great Years, if this shining future is to come to pass. Otherwise darkness will surely fall.’ And with these chilling words he pawed at his prophecy, reading it over in the dim light of the animal-fat lamps. ‘Now. Are you ready to learn?’

XI
    Wuffa, on a straw pallet, reluctantly sharing the floor of Ambrosias’s kitchen with Ulf, found it difficult to sleep.
    And when he did doze he dreamed of centuries, stretching around him like a vast firelit hall.
    He imagined the power the Menologium might give him and his family. But he was afraid. Were even gods meant to know the future? Could it be that all this was an elaborate trap set by Loki - a trap he had walked into that day when he had gone breaking windows in a haunted city?
    He dreamed of Ambrosias’s fine, ruined face, his wrinkled neck, the drone of his voice as he pounded his Menologium into their heads. And he imagined wrapping his hands around that scrawny neck, choking the last life out of the old man who had inflicted this prophetic curse on Wuffa and his descendants.
    He was woken by a scream.
    It was a grey dawn. He glimpsed Ulf hurrying out of the door. He pushed out of his bed and rushed to follow.
    The scream had been the bishop’s. Wuffa found him in the triclinium, with Sulpicia. They were both in their night clothes, and at another time Wuffa might have been distracted by the glimpses of Sulpicia’s ankles and calves, her bare arms. But Ulf was here too, glowering. The light from the open door was dim, blue-grey.
    On the floor lay Ambrosias, Last of the Romans. His body looked oddly at peace, his arms by his sides. But his head was at an impossible angle, and purple bruises showed on his throat.
    Wuffa smelled burning. He saw ashes around one of Ambrosias’s animal-fat lamps on a low table, the remnants of a burnt parchment.
    Bishop

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