"About the Franciscans? Wait. Yes, I remember reading an ancient copper plaque that told of a great church, a cathedral almost, that had been built by Henryk the Pious for the Franciscans in 1237. That church still stood in Cracow."
His arms went out again, but he did not touch me
Then he said quietly, "And of me? Do you know anything of me?"
"I'm sorry, Father, but no. Please, understand that I know as much about this age as you know of the fifth century. If you — chance-met a man of that age, what could you tell him about himself?"
"You are quite right, my son. Please forgive my asking…"
"It might be that you are well known to the historians and theologians of my time."
"And it might not. Again, forgive me.- Tell me instead of the wondrous mechanisms that your age has wrought. You spoke of machines that can fly in the air, of ships that navigate without sails or oars, and of the varieties of mechanical land beasts, buses and trains."
So I answered his questions, and we talked out the morning. I answered all his questions truthfully but did not really tell him the whole truth. He never brought up the subject of the Protestant Reformation, so neither did I. And why should I want to mention the Inquisition to a living saint? Because Father Ignacy was a saint. He was also a powerful man, an intelligent man, and by the standards of his own age, a very well educated man.
By the standards of the twentieth century he was quite thoroughly out of his mind! He was concerned-actively worried-about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin! To him, that was a major theological dispute. He was worried about the exact anatomy of incubi and succubi, and he worried if it was proper to take communion on Friday since, by the unquestionable doctrine of transubstantiation, the baked wheat flour of the Host and the wine, after being taken, were transmuted into the body and blood of Christ. And was this not meat? And was not meat forbidden on Friday?
All I knew was that I was attracted to the man, although not at all in the same way as I had been attracted to the magnificent redheaded bitch of Zakopane.
It might have been ten o'clock when we started thinking about dinner.
"Conrad, how much food are you carrying?"
"Three, maybe four days' worth at normal rations, which is a lot more than I've had recently."
"And it is all of that cold-dried variety that keeps indefinitely?"
"Freeze-dried. Yes, most of it. Some candy, but it'll keep too."
"Ali, yes. I meant to ask you. What was that incredible confection you distributed last night?"
"It's called chocolate."
"Marvelous stuff. If you can make more, your fortune is made without recourse to being a copyist."
What an incredible thought! Conrad Schwartz, the capitalist confectioner! Maltreating the women and children slaving away in my chocolate factory! But still, one must eat. Chocolate is what? Mostly milk, sugar, and cocoa beans, isn't it? But cocoa beans came from South America. Or was it Indonesia? I would have to look it up.
No, I would not look it up, because I could not look it up, because I was in the thirteenth century, and a good library here consisted of a Bible, two prayer books, and a copy of Aristotle.
"No, Father. It's impossible. It needs a kind of bean that does not grow around here."
"A pity. Well, keep the rest of it; you may someday have to impress a princely patron. For today's dinner I suggest that we finish off my supplies of cheese and sausage and keep yours for an emergency." With that, he pulled out the remains of his sausage, which might have weighed a kilo. He was about to cut it in half but reconsidered and divided it in proportion to our heights, giving me the larger piece. Half an hour later he did the same with his cheese. He refused to stop for lunch, and we ate on the march.
Again I felt queasy about the unsanitary food, but I was living in the thirteenth century and would have to get used to it. He slapped his now-empty pouch. "The last of my Hungarian food."
"Then what do you keep in the other pack, Father? Spare underwear?"
That was the first time I heard his laugh, a good sound. "Ali, Conrad, I know that you have an exalted opinion of my abilities as a traveler, and I confess that I take an improper pride in them myself. But no, I would not carry anything superfluous over the High Tatras, let alone the Alps!"
"No, this is my gift to my new abbot. I have in here a copy of Euclid, a complete Aristotle, and Ptolemy in Latin, my own translation into Polish of de Bivar's Poem of the Cid, and letters. There are fully three dozen letters, one of them from His Holiness, Pope Gregory IX himself!"
"So, you see that there can be no faltering along the way."
"You mean you have nothing at all but your cassock? It might take us weeks to walk to Cracow!"
"You worry overmuch about material things. We shall ride to Cracow and be there in five days, and we shall be well fed along the way. I can smell it."
I could smell nothing at all but more snow coming. I kept silent.
At perhaps two in the afternoon we heard the boat. A high-pitched voice was singing through the bushes:
Despite the recent rain and snow, The river is still far too low! This tub to Cracow will not go. Let's plant the grain and watch it grow!
"How's that, brother boatman? It scans well, don't you think?"
"I think that if we don't get this boat off these rocks, we'll be iced in by morning and spend the winter here! My only pleasure will be in seeing you starve to death right next to me. Now pull on that rope, you foppish twit!"
"What? Starve while sitting on a hundred sacks of grain? That would take more ingenuity than a poet could muster. Let's see…"
"While starving on a mound of rye,
I saw a maiden floating by.
"Shut your goddamn trap and pull!"
"'Hello, friends," Father Ignacy shouted.
"Who goes there?"
"A good Christian priest and a good Christian knight, come to assist you!"
As we forced our way through the brush toward the river, I whispered, "What do you mean calling me a knight? We don't even have knighthood!"
"And you are doubtless better off without it. But you are an officer in your military, aren't you? And a king's man besides? Knighthood would seem to be the equivalent."
"We don't have kings! There's an elected body that-"
"An excellent system. Oh, yes, don't mention the future to these men. It might frighten them. If they ask, tell them that you're Spanish."
"With blond hair?"
"Why not? Many Spaniards have blond hair. Or better yet, tell them you are English. You could easily pass for an Englishman."
Before I could reply, we broke through the brush and were on a rocky beach. In the middle of the river, a boat was securely wedged between two large rocks. The boat was about eight meters long and three meters wide and was pointed at both ends. A brightly garbed slender youth, wet to the waist, was clambering on board. Another man, in a wet gray tunic, was standing at the stern and looking at us. He held a longbow in his left hand and had an arrow fitted. There was something odd about the way he held it.
"Put away your weapon, boatman! We mean you help, not harm!" Father Ignacy held his book pouch above his head and waded into the water.
I unslung my pack and belt, held them high, and followed. That water was cold! I would have been prepared to swear in a court of law that it was below — 10'C, if there had been any courts. My legs were numb before we got to the — boat, Father Ignacy put his pouches aboard and clambered on after them. I did the same.
"Good afternoon, good boatman. I am Father Ignacy Sierpinski, and this knight is Sir Conrad Stargard."
"Good afternoon, good father and good sir knight. I am Tadaos Kolpinski, and I am at your service."
"A pleasure, Tadaos Kolpinski. We are bound for Cracow. What is your destination?"