"Father, I'm going to break out my sleeping bag, that 'cloak' you saw earlier. Let me rip it in two and give you half."
"Do not destroy your property, my son, and do not even break your stride to undo your equipage. We shall soon find shelter. I can smell it."
I could smell nothing but snow and pine trees. "Father, how do you do it? How do you walk barefoot on crunching snow?"
"Well, I will tell you a secret that should not be a secret. When your heart is truly pure, you really do have the strength of ten. And further, while it is best to have your heart pure with God's love, pure anything will do. Pure honor or pure greed. Pure hate or even pure evil. It is only the contradictions and inner conflicts that weaken a man."
"But enough of this. We have forgotten something, and soon I will have to introduce you. My name is Father Ignacy Sierpinski."
"I am most pleased to meet you, Father Ignacy. My name is Conrad." And here I faced a problem. You must understand that I am Polish. All my grandparents were Polish. And all their parents, all the way back to Noah. But in some unexplained manner, my last name is Schwartz. After Father Ignacy's hourlong tirade about Germans, I did not want to tell him that.
"Just Conrad? Well, nothing to be ashamed of. Many people still use only one name. Tell me, where were you born?"
"In Stargard." Stargard is a small town in northwest Poland. The name came about when there was a warehouse on a trade route. A castle was built to protect the warehouse, and a town grew up around the castle. The castle was originally called Store Gard, and the name drifted with time.
"Then Conrad Stargard you are. And here we are. Hello, in there! May two Christian travelers ask for shelter?"
I did not realize that we were at a dwelling until I had almost stepped on it. Barely a meter high, it looked like a peaked mat of straw. We heard some fumbling sounds from within.
"They build their winter huts mostly below ground hereabouts; it is good protection from the cold."
A section of the straw opened up. "Aye, Father, be welcome, and your friend, too. But all I can offer is a place on the floor near the fire. No food, you understand."
"My good son, we understand. You would not be a good Christian if you did not see first to the feeding of your own family. Fear not for us; we are well provisioned. As you give us entrance, you give us life itself, for otherwise we would perish in the cold."
"I am Father Ignacy Sierpinski, and my friend is Conrad Stargard."
We felt our way down a crude ladder into a rectangular space that was lit by a small central campfire.
"I am Ivan Targ. My wife, Marie. My boys, Stashu and Wladyclaw. My baby, little Marie. Shoo! Shoo, you boys! Make a place for our guests."
The boys cleared a space maybe two meters square on one side of the fire. I spread my poncho out as a ground cover and rolled out my sleeping bag over it. The ceiling was high enough for the rest of them to stand upright, but I was nearly bent over double.
When we were seated, I whispered to the priest, "I know that we have not been offered supper. Do you think that we should offer something to them?"
"Oh, yes. That would be most polite. In fact, I was about to do so." He turned to our host. "Ivan, we thank you again for-your courtesy and aid in our need. We would be honored if you would accept a very small token of our gratitude. "
His words seemed to be a fixed ritual. He slowly opened one of his leather pouches, the one with the floppy cover, and drew from it a large, greasy sausage and a chunk of rather ripe cheese. Neither had been wrapped in aluminum foil or waxed paper. He drew his belt knife and cut each in two, returning half to his bag. The remainder of each he divided into seven equal pieces, giving one piece of sausage and one piece of cheese to each person present, himself included.
Everyone ate with relish and nods of thanks. Despite my misgivings at the lack of sanitary wrapping, I ate too. Ritual is ritual, and you do not offend the man who puts a roof over your head in the cold.
It was obviously my turn. I rummaged through my dwindling food supplies for something that could be divided, that wasn't freezedried. I came up with a big two-hundred gram bar of chocolate. I opened the package and found that the bar was conveniently divided into — fourteen squares. Following the priest's ritual, I broke the bar in half, then a half into seven parts, which I passed around.
I gave a piece to the five-year-old boy, and he just looked up at me.
He didn't know what chocolate was.
In my world, there are madmen and there are saints. There are murderers and there are people who live in holes in the ground.
But there are no boys who don't know what chocolate is. Not in the twentieth century, anyway. The truth that I had been fighting off all day was forced in on me, and I could no longer defend myself against it.
"Father, you have told me that this is November twentyfifth. Will you now, please, tell me what year it is?"
It seemed that he had been waiting for that question. "It is, in the year of Our Lord, twelve thirty-one."
I drew my legs close to my chest and hugged them with my arms. I put my forehead on my knees. There were no policemen, no courts of law. There were no ambulances, no hospitals, and no doctors. There were no stores, no Hiking Society, and no Air Rescue teams. There was no rescue at all. There were only brutal knights, crazy saints, and Mongols.
In ten years the Mongols were coming, and they would kill everybody.
I fell asleep.
"Good lord! You mean that one of the Historical Corps teams screwed up that badly?" We were watching a documentary on the extremely unauthorized transportation of Conrad Schwartz. This had been pieced together, in part from his diary (which he wrote in English to keep it private) and from the readouts of a large number of insectsized probes initially developed for police work.
When a crime has been reported, our police transport a cluster of probes to the time and scene of the crime. These record everything, which doesn't do the victims much good. Time is a single linear continuum, and you can't "make it didn't happen." If a dead body was found, a human being was dead, and there was nothing that could change that fact. But our methods did assure that criminals committed only one crime and were always caught. As a result, we had an extremely low crime rate and no professional criminals at all.
The probes were eagerly put to use by the Historical Corps, whose occupation was the writing of a truly definitive history of the human race. It was one of their teams that had screwed up.
"Not one team but two. There were ridiculous breaches of security at both the twentieth-century and thirteenthcentury portals," Tom said. Tom had been a drinking buddy of mine in the U.S. Air Force long before we got involved with time travel. Much later, we were both surprised to discover that he was my father. There were also certain… problems concerning my mother, which I prefer not to discuss. Time travel is not entirely beneficial.
"Well, can't we send him back?" I asked. Anachronisms can be extremely disruptive, and we have no intention of adding to the sum of human misery.
"Impossible. He wasn't discovered, subjectively, until almost ten years later, when I was observing the Mongol invasion of Poland."
"Oh." If Conrad Schwartz had been observed in 1241, then that was an established fact, like the dead body I mentioned earlier. "So there's nothing we can do for the poor bastard."
"We can't bring him back until he has spent at least ten years there, but there are some things that could be done, and in fact, I have already done them."
"Decontamination, for example. The diseases of the thirteenth century are not the same as those of the twentieth century. Thirteenth-century Poland had neither syphilis nor gonorrhea nor acne, and I was not about to see them introduced by our drunken Conrad Schwartz."