High up, almost hidden in the shadows beyond the light from the lead-paned windows, wooden carvings of fishing boats at sea formed a frieze between the supports of the hammer-beam roof of the guild hall. Down the centre of the room ran a massive table of solid oak with high-backed chairs along either side. To one side stood a smaller table, with a design on top that reminded Maybourne vaguely of a backgammon board. There were even counters for players of the game. The room raised contradictory emotions in him. The architectural style was medieval, but the wood was light in colour instead of the black induced by age and smoky fires. On the lintel over the door were carved the letters MCIIIVII. Void of any clue as to when year zero was, the date lacked meaning. You had to go to Europe to find buildings of this nature, unless of course you were a millionaire and could ship over the real thing for reassembly in your own estates. On the walls hung tapestries which had a similar impact to the hall itself: old designs showing the exploits of gods and heroes, but with the colours bright and vivid rather than faded to dull shades of brown and blue.
He felt oddly out of place, caught between newness and a sense of age.
The guildmasters inspired the same mixture of feelings. Their crafts were antique: shipwright, leather-maker, silversmith, and so forth, but they were sharp-eyed and quick-witted in their dealings. It had taken him a week to get this appointment; outsiders were not normally welcome to speak at meetings.
As everyone took their seats, he ran mentally over his calculations. He'd had to make several educated guesses regarding the economy in addition to checking prices, but funding a small-scale trial shouldn't be beyond them, and the long-term pay-off could make them all rich. Half the problem would be trying to explain the concepts in a language that didn't even have a word for 'science'. When Heimdahl had offered to imprint the Svenska language on his brain he had accepted without hesitation, but the language had turned out to have its limitations. Sunlight had had the same offer, but he'd refused on her behalf; her brain was still developing - the risk might be minimal, but he didn't want to take it. She'd pick up the language soon enough; the problem there would be to ensure that she continued to learn English. She had a few local words already. Right now though, she sat quietly on a chair beside the doorway - close enough to be able to see him, but apart from the meeting. He'd taken great pains to convince her of the need to behave in front of these people.
Everyone was seated and waiting.
"We are exiles," he began, "refugees from Midgard, escapees from the destruction caused by the Ettins. My Goddaughter," he gestured to Sunlight in her pretty purple pinafore dress, "as you have doubtless recognised, is of the royal blood." There were a couple of nods around the table. Good, he'd caught that one correctly. Amazing what you could learn if you read enough National Geographics. Purple had been a rare, expensive colour until synthetic dyes came along. "Her father and mother fought the Ettins many times in battle, until they were defeated by treachery.
"We have fled here, to a world under the protection of the Aesir. We escaped with nothing more than we could carry. We have no weapons, no magics, but I have knowledge that will be of great use to you. However, it will take time and money to reproduce that information - I have no tools, no equipment; my books of knowledge were lost.
"But," he held up a volume of Shakespeare, "the books I still retain show proof of what I can do for you. I know how to print in such a way that each page does not have to be carved as a single woodblock. If I have the money and a skilled metal-worker, then I can build a machine to do this type of printing in a year or less. There is more, far more, ideas and concepts that will lead to enormous advances, but I won't deceive you - it will take a long time to reproduce them.
"In the case of printing, there are potential benefits to all of you. Imagine having the great legends available for everyone to read. Imagine books so cheap that you can hardly believe the price. Imagine having the knowledge of your crafts instantly available for those who wish to learn."
That gained him nothing but stony glares. Somehow, he'd goofed. How? Where? Was there a religious prohibition on printing stories of the gods?
"If the secrets of the crafts are available for all to know," one of them said, "then who will be willing to serve an apprenticeship?"
Ah, not religion, just good old-fashioned greed. Okay, hit them in the wallet.
"Forget trade secrets," he said hastily. "Just consider the money to be made from printing religious books. It currently costs seventy crowns for a scribe to copy the entire volume of legends by hand. It takes him most of a year to do a single volume. If I can print copies for one crown each, I can sell them for five crowns. By the time collating and binding are allowed for, I should be able to produce an average of a copy a day. That's three hundred and twelve copies a year at four crowns profit each, making an overall profit of one thousand, two hundred and forty-eight crowns. Now, if I-"
The master shipwright made a warding sign.
"Karl," said the mayor, "does he deceive us?"
A man at the bottom of the long table rose and went over to the gaming table. "A copy each day at four crowns?" he said, laying counters on the table as he did so.
"That's just a rough estimate," Maybourne said. "It doesn't allow for holidays. I still don't know how many feast days you have in a year. How many are there?"
The mayor half-closed his eyes in concentration. "The blessing of the ships, the giving of the runes, harvest celebration... Thirteen in all."
"Okay, so that's three hundred and twelve minus eleven, which is three hundred and one. Multiply that by four and you get twelve hundred and four."
The mayor jerked back in his chair. "Sorceror!"
Sunlight pulled at Maybourne's hand. "Harry, what's wrong?"
He ignored her, had to to concentrate on the situation at hand.
"What did I say?"
An accusing finger pointed at him. "You cast account without even using the stones. By what kind of sorcery do you do that?"
"Wait. You're saying that arithmetic is magic? You can't do multiplication?" The date over the door had been in Roman numerals. Did they use proper numbers? The idea of trying to do any kind of math using Roman numbering was scary.
Karl looked up from his table. Not a gaming table, Maybourne's memory for the new language juggled words and finally came up with a term that had 'abacus' as its closest English equivalent, except that this device he remembered as a boy had had beads sliding on rods and this one involved a much slower movement of stones in columns. "His first calculation was correct," Karl said. "I am checking the second one."
He couldn't ignore her this time.
"Princess, I have to decide if it's safer to be a genius or a magician."
"You're a Grand Vizier."
"Okay, we'll go with magician." He switched rapidly back to Svenska. "That's nothing. I can do division as well." Did Karl look a trifle pale? He grabbed Teddy Blue, held it aloft. "I have a guardian spirit granted me by Heimdahl himself. It taught me everything to do with numbers. I can do addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and..." his tongue tripped over the lack of an equivalent for 'quadratic equations' "...and numerology..." He smiled, enjoying the sudden sensation of power that came with the nervous looks of his listeners. Why stop at numerology? Let them fear you a little. He reached out his hands, spoke slowly and deliberately. "'Twas brillig and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.
"That ensured that no evil spirits can enter this place until after the next blessing of the ships. Rest assured, my curses have similar power should I choose to use them."
Such a pleasure to see an attentive audience... Now appeal to greed, it's usually a reliable motive. "I'll do your accounts, keep your customers and suppliers from cheating you, for half of whatever Karl charges. And what's more, for a suitable fee, I'll even teach you how to do it for yourselves."
A race that does not use money should not be able to gamble, but the Asgard manage it anyway - they simply use different stakes. In a room aboard Bifrost, two of them relaxed surrounded by soothing microtones of grey highlighted by shifting patterns of ultraviolet dancing over the walls. Music of faint cymbals echoed in time with the tracing lights and notes of cedarwood completed the symphony.
Thor smiled gently. "I believe I said within ten days?"
"I removed all devices from him," Heimdahl said in frustration, even as he inclined his head to indicate the precise degree of political support that he would now owe Thor at the next meeting of the High Council. The music accepted his emotion, adding a hint of amber resin to the circulating air.
"Maybourne is adaptable, as are many of the Earth humans, and technology transfer is his stock in trade. He will introduce more changes before the year is out."
"But what of the treaty?"
"The treaty forbids us from artificially advancing the technology of the protected worlds. Maybourne is not Aesir and he went through the Gate at his own request, after having all technological items taken from him. I do not think there has been any violation. Indeed, in the eyes of the Goa'uld, the ideas that he brings with him may be so primitive as to be of no interest to them in any case."
Heimdahl's nostrils picked up a delicate floral scent: Thor had keyed another element to the symphony. "If the changes are of so little worth, why are you pleased?"
"Because they are critical. Earth has advanced beyond the Protected Worlds, because there are multiple cultures on the same planet. They take ideas from one another, develop and adapt them. As communications grow faster, technology accelerates. On Earth, positional arithmetic was developed by the Hindus, adopted by the Arabs and only slowly made its way over centuries into Europe. Most of their present day computers and mathematics would be impossible without it. The other change Maybourne will give them is movable type. Printing accelerates the spread of knowledge."
"But you could not be certain he would do this."
"I could not predict precisely what he would do. It might have been agricultural machinery or crop rotation with legumes - both would have increased the percentage of the population devoted to jobs other than raising food, which would also speed development. It might have been something else entirely. The only thing I could be certain of is that he is a man who seeks his own advantage; he will use anything that he has to ensure his own survival."
"Including the child?"
"What do you think?" Thor asked.
"That may be the one area in which he has a conscience."