"Then again, in the twentieth century smallpox has been eradicated, leprosy is very mild compared to the earlier strains, and the Black Death has become one of the varieties of the common cold."
"The 'fluorescent lights' he slept under in the Red Gate Inn did a lot more than light his way out of the transport capsule. They wiped out every foreign microorganism in him and gave him a complete immunization treatment as well."
One of the nice things about time travel is that it gives you the time to do things that are worth doing. I'd spent much of my life helping to build a technical civilization in the sixty-third millennium B.C. That civilization provides us with most of our personnel and some very high technology. It's also a fine place to live.
"Speaking of diseases, Tom, what was wrong with the priest?"
"Father Ignacy? Nothing. A fine man."
"But those huge, calloused feet!"
"That wasn't a disease. That's what normal human feet look like when they've spent a lifetime walking barefoot over broken rock and snow."
A smiling, nude serving wench announced lunch, and we took a break.
By one, we were back at the screen.
"Up now, Conrad. Get up!" Father Ignacy was shaking my arm. I was in a dark, smelly, smoky hut. It had log walls, a dirt floor, and a straw roof. Memory came back. The barefoot saint. The snow. The thirteenth century.
"Yes. Yes, Father. I'm up. What's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong. God has seen fit to grant us another day. As good Christians, we must not waste His gift. Come, we must be off."
"Oh. Yes. Certainly." I started putting my gear together. "The coals are still warm. Let's make breakfast and have some coffee before we go."
"What? Eating on waking? What a slothful habit! Come now. I have already bid our good host good-bye, and there is need of haste."
I find it hard to be assertive before breakfast, and soon we were walking north in the gray dawn. The snow grew thinner as we approached a river, the Dunajec. There we found a small wooden dock but no boat.
"What was the great hurry, Father? Has the boat left without us?"
"It has. Yesterday morning, in truth, and it was the last boat of the season. You should not have lost consciousness so early, Conrad."
"I fell asleep."
"To me, it appeared that you had fainted. Afterward, I heard the confessions of good Ivan and Marie and said a mass for the family. They told me of the boat."
"But what good does an absent boat do us?"
"Absent, yes. But with a crew of only two. The boatman and a wandering poet, a goliard-worthless sorts. Despite the recent snow and rain, the river level is still low, and six men would make a better crew than two. It might be God's will that we shall find them snagged on a sandbar and in need of our aid." We walked along the river path.
"If you say so. The truth is that I no longer have a pressing need to go to Cracow. It is no longer on my way home. I no longer have a home. Or a mother. Or a job." The reality of being stranded was hitting me again, and I was holding back sobs with difficulty.
"We shall pray for your mother, my son. But remember that she is not dead, she is merely elsewhere. As to your home, why, it is only a material encumbrance and can be replaced at need. As to your job that too can be replaced. You are an educated, healthy young man-if overly large-and it should not prove difficult to find gainful employment. In fact, already an idea occurs to me."
"I have told you that I have an appointment in Cracow. That appointment is to take over the copying department at the Franciscan monastery. I am ordered to expand the number of copyists and to found a proper library."
"Now, you can read and write, and you have told me that you know something of the new Arabic system of numbers and of the arithmetic that is used to manipulate them. You have knowledge of Euclid and of the algebra, as well."
Not to mention analytic geometry, calculus, and computer programming, I thought. "You are suggesting that I work for you as a copyist?"
"And why not? You have told me that much of your previous work was at a drawing board, which you describe as similar to a proper copying table."
"Hmm. " The idea of a steady job did have merit. I had grown up in the arms of a reasonably benevolent government that was founded on sensible socialist principles.
While such a system discouraged the acquisition of fabulous wealth, it did ensure that all people were fairly well taken care of. But from what I remembered of my history courses, in the thirteenth century they actually allowed people-their own countrymen-to starve to death! "Your suggestion has merit, but I see some problems. For one thing, I do not think that I am ready to take Holy Orders."
"I agree with you, my son. You are not ready for so momentous a decision, nor need you be. You could be engaged as a lay brother, without any vows at all."
"The next problem is that I do not know if I would be competent as a copyist. It is different from what I have done."
"I don't know that either, my son, so my offer is tentative and temporary-for the winter at least."
"Then there is the question of remuneration, Father. What does the position pay?"
"I have no idea of what the rates are in Cracow. When demand is high and copyists are few, the pay can be excellent. But in any event, you are guaranteed a roof over your head and food in your belly."
"Very well, then, Father. It is agreed that I shall work for you for an indefinite time on nebulous terms." The snow was gone by then. The sky was a rich blue, and evergreens gave the landscape some color.
"Excellent! I'm glad that this is settled, for I was worried about you. Now then! I have several thousand questions to ask. Yesterday, as your confessor, I was obligated to concentrate on your sins. Today, as your fellow traveler and future employer, I have the right to ask questions to my own liking. Now, tell me if I am correct. You were born in the year of Our Lord, nineteen fifty-seven?"
"The twentieth century! Tell me of the church, my son. Does the Pope still rule from Rome? Do the Germans dominate him?"
"The Pope is supreme in the Vatican; he is dominated by no secular power. The Germans have been pushed north of the Alps and west of the Odra."
"And the Pope himself-what of him?" The man was trembling with excitement.
"He is John Paul II, and-this you will love-he is as Polish as you are, and born Karol Wojtyla. A fine man and a great Pope."
"Oh, glory! My son, you make my heart rejoice!" That incredibly tough man, who could walk barefoot across the Alps and pray kneeling in chest-high snow, that man had stopped on the river path, and tears were streaking his windburned cheeks.
Some time passed before we started, once more, down the river road to Cracow. We were silent for a while. Then:
"And my own order, my son. Tell me of the followers of Francis of Assisi."
"Gladly, for this too is a happy thing. I know of him only as Saint Francis of Assisi. The Franciscans are alive and well in the twentieth century. I knew one personally and counted him a friend." He. had been on my college fencing team and was a fine hand with a saber, though I could generally beat him with an epee.
Ignacy stopped, hugged me solidly, yanked my head down to his level, and kissed both my cheeks. I felt awkward about it. In the time of my birth, men were abandoning the ancient Slavic custom of kissing each other; perhaps it was because homosexuality was tolerated, if not socially acceptable, and healthy men did not want to he associated with anything that they did.
"I see that I have offended you, my son."
"Well, it's okay. But, you know, customs change."
"Forgive me. What else do you remember?"