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Family Faith

Anette M. Pedersen

Johannes Grünwald shivered in the cold gray dawn and tried to stifle a cough. The down-hanging branches of the big conifer sheltered him somewhat from the cold, but a thin layer of ice was visible on the small puddles of water in the wagon-track, and despite the layers of rags wrapped around him he was chilled to the bones. He had grown up here on Grünwald-an-der-Saale, his father's small estate, and knew the area like the back of his own hand. There were several warmer places nearby, but before seeking a better shelter he had to talk with his old playmate Frank Erbst.

Frank was the son of the old reeve, and for the first sixteen years of their lives the two boys had been each other's best friends. Then Johannes had left to stay with his mother's family in France, where his remarkable talent for painting and drawing could be trained better than on the small estate at the edge of the Thuringen Forest. Frank now ran the estate for Johannes' older brother Marcus, who preferred the life of a Protestant professor of theology at the university in Jena.

Johannes had not visited the estate since becoming a Jesuit priest seven years ago, but the old reeve had always walked to the piers at the river landing first thing in the morning, and Frank would undoubtedly do the same. From beneath the conifer Johannes could see and hear who came along the track between the river and the estate, without being seen himself, so he muffled the sound of the cough and tried to burrow deeper into the dry needles. He had walked all night, as he had walked most nights of the late summer and autumn. Despite the cold he soon slept.

* * *

As the sun rose above the forest on the other side of the river, it quickly melted the thin layer of frost on the ground. The tall trees were nearly naked in the early November morning, but the yellow leaves of the brambles glowed in the sun, and along the track small water-drops sparkled on the knee-high seed-heads of the grasses. The old dog shook the droplets from his graying head and sniffed into the wind before slowly approaching the big conifer.

At the first bark from the dog, Frank Erbst left the track and hurried toward the tree while lifting the gun from his shoulder. Old Wolf's barking was mixed with yips and sounded joyous rather than angry, but with all kinds of people displaced by the war it was better to be careful.

Beneath the sheltering branches of the big tree Wolf was wagging his tail till he nearly fell over, while trying to lick Johannes' face. At Frank's command the old dog went to him and sat down with the tail still wagging. Johannes crept out from his shelter and stood before his old friend with a tentative smile on his face.

"Johannes," said Frank, hardly believing his eyes.

"Well, yes. I don't intend to stay, but do you know what has happened to Martin and his family?"

Frank's responding hug squeezed Johannes' ribs and started a new coughing fit. When the fit passed Johannes was wrapped in Frank's coat and the two men sat down on a log, passing a small bottle of brandy between them.

"Of course you must stay, Johannes, this is your home."

Johannes looked at the red-haired bear of a man beside him. "No, not anymore. Had Lucas still been alive it might have been possible. After Papa's death, Lucas' devotion to any religion would always come a distant second to his place as head of the family. Marcus, however, is a devoted orthodox Protestant, and being a professor in Jena means much more to him than the position he inherited."

"You might be right," said Frank, frowning towards the river flowing north to Jena. "Marcus has grown more stiff-necked than ever since his wife died. But Marcus also hasn't been here since Lucas' funeral. He would never know."

"Perhaps, but there is another problem," said Johannes with a slight smile. "People around here know who and what I am, and I made some very bad enemies after Magdeburg. Besides, neither Protestant nor Catholic soldiers are likely to show much mercy towards a excommunicate Jesuit. Or to those who shelter him. And before you protest my old friend, remember your family."

"Oh, we are fairly safe these days," said Frank. "Largely thanks to old Wolf there."

"Of course, I remember Wolf," said Johannes, reaching out to put his hand on the head of the dog. "But is he really that fierce? He was bred as a hunting dog, and I trained him so myself on my last visit."

Frank grinned in answer. "When Lucas and his heir died, and Marcus hired me to run the estate, I started a few projects of my own. One of them was breeding and selling hunting dogs to both Protestant and Catholic nobility. Grünwald-an-der-Saale is now very well known to both armies for its excellent hunting dogs, and only out-and-out bandits don't fear the wrath of the officers enough to leave us alone. Old Wolf has probably done more to keep the estate safe with the puppies he has sired than the fiercest guard-dogs ever could. But joking aside, Johannes. If you are really in danger, you could go to Jena. Marcus'll protect you if you ask."

"Probably. I'm just not certain I really want to live that badly. I would, however, like to stay in one of the cabins till this cough I'm plagued with has passed. And I really want to hear everything you know about Martin."

* * *

By noon, Johannes was installed in a cabin overlooking the river valley, with old Wolf for company. The cabin was little more than four walls and a sod-roof dug partly into the hillside. Inside, a fireplace would keep out the cold and a heap of boughs covered with old blankets formed a sleeping place. Otherwise, the only furniture were two rough benches and a rickety table placed in front of the shuttered window-opening.

Frank ordered Johannes to sit on the bench nearest the fire, and started brewing a tisane and heating an old pot filled with stew.

"Was not your wife curious about the stew?" asked Johannes.

"Elisa? No. Our oldest daughter may present us with a grandchild any day, and none of the women can think of anything else." Frank's broad grin showed his pride as well as his worry.

"Your first grandchild?"

"Yes. Elisa was a farmer's daughter. She gave me five children in as many years. The three daughters are all married, but they haven't been in much of a hurry to make us grandparents."

"Are you happy here? Running the estate for Marcus?"

"Yes. Marcus has always had a very rigid mind. He is, however, neither unkind nor unfair. And besides, employing the son of his father's reeve to run the estate for him fits his creed of people doing God's will by filling the place they have been born to." Frank smiled wryly. "I get that particular sermon every time I go to Jena. We mainly talk by letters, though. The few times a year I visit, I can live with a sermon or two."

"You've always been far more easygoing than me," said Johannes. "I never understood the pride that kept Lucas and Marcus from playing with you and the other children on the estate. As heir and the oldest Lucas may have felt it beneath his dignity to join our games and pranks, but even before Marcus went to study in Jena, his dogmatism always irritated me. Had it not been for his love for his wife, Catherina, I would have doubted he even knew the meaning of the word compromise. You do know Catherina was a Catholic?"

Frank shook his head, "No, but I know his son Martin is." He gave Johannes a mug filled with the fragrant tisane. "I'm leaving the herbs here with you. It is mainly thyme, but with some of the southern herbs you gave me at Martin's wedding. You can make a second portion from the same herbs. Drink it hot, but no more than three times a day."

Johannes obediently drank and said, "Once you hoped to study medicine."

"Going to a university to become a doctor was always an impossible dream for the son of a reeve. For a while I hoped an apothecary might be willing to take me on as an apprentice, but we could never spare the money for the fee. Still, I've learned a lot from reading on my own, and the seeds and recipes you've sent me over the years have been most useful."

"And now your herbs may help me regain my health. Bread upon the water."

"Bread upon the water indeed," answered Frank. "Now eat the stew before we start on the news. Elisa doesn't expect me before dark, and I want to hear about your life before I tell you what I know."

Once the plates were empty, Johannes sat fiddling with his spoon. "I don't want to talk about my own life. I suppose you've heard what happened at Magdeburg last May."

"Yes," said Frank quietly. "Louisa, Martin's wife, told me you were there."

"Then they made it to Jena?" Johannes looked up quickly. "And Martin lives?"

"Yes, but there are complications. Please go on."

"I don't know how much you know about this, but when Marcus went to study at the university in Jena, he became the special protégé of the strongly orthodox Lutheran Professor Johann Gerhard. Despite this he married Catherina, a devout Catholic, and allowed her to raise their only son Martinus in her faith. For all his aloof behavior, I suppose Marcus must have loved his little dab of a wife very much. He certainly became more cold and dogmatic than ever, when she died of the same fever that had killed Lucas and his family." Johannes stopped his tale while Frank rinsed out the mugs and filled them from a jug of wine.

"Young Martin grew to his father's size, but with Catherina's cheerful and gentle temper. He stayed to study in Jena, and in all matters, except religion, he was his father's dutiful son. Turbringen—and the other universities specializing in students from the nobility—offers a full range of military training for its students. Jena University, boasting of its theological scholars, has never tried to do so. Still, after the death of Lucas, Martin managed to acquire at least the most basic of the skills of war necessary to a nobleman. During his weapon-training Martin met and made friends with Helmuth Eberhart. It must have been a case of opposites attract. As far as I can see, the two men have nothing in common except both being minor Thuringian nobility and heirs to small estates. Did you ever meet Helmuth?"

"Yes, I saw him at the wedding and a few times later. We never spoke."

"I met him only at his and Martin's double wedding, but everything I've heard about him supports my opinion of him as a short-tempered, hot-headed enthusiast, who never gives the smallest thought to the consequences before leaping into action. A bigger contrast to the gentle and studious Martin I can barely imagine." Johannes shook his head and went on.

"The brides were two sisters from Nancy in France. Their mother had been Mama's closest friend there, and after Papa's death she had come with her two daughters to keep Mama company for a while. Martin's bride, Louisa, seemed a very calm and serious young girl, while her one year younger sister Anna impressed me as the most frivolous little flutter-head I'd ever met. Anna was also an unusually pretty young girl, and her flirting combined with Helmuth's temper alternatively scandalized and amused the entire town for months before the wedding. Louisa was far less pretty than her sister and probably the most practical-minded female I had ever met. I suppose you saw them, while they stayed with Mama?"

"Yes, and I completely agree with you."

"Well, according to Martin both marriages were quite happy, while the two couples lived in Jena. And had it not been for Marcus they might still all have been safely there. Do you know why they left?"

"Not in any detail."

Johannes sat for a while drinking from the wine before taking up the tale again. "The way the changing political alliances of this war has been supposed to change people's religion as well has created a lot of problems for the parish priests. Some have just gone on as they always have, regardless of the decrees of the princes. Others have found it necessary to flee, and now wander around looking for a new place. Still others just change as the wind blows. This can work in the countryside, but would never do in a town. I could come to Protestant Jena, even during the war, by invitation from the university, to 'assist' Marcus' mentor Professor Gerhard in his research on theological questions. That I timed those visits with family affairs was no problem, but Martin and Louisa, who lived in Jena, had to pretend to be Protestants. And that meant having their children baptized by a Protestant priest. And to promise in church to raise them in the Protestant faith. Is Loewthall still priest for the estate?"

"Yes. And people may choose if they want the old or the new rituals." Frank smiled. "Do you want to talk to him? He is a man of many faiths."

"No. I have nothing to say to a man of any faith." Johannes drank again and held out the mug for more wine before saying more. "A year after the weddings—well, eight months for Anna, but I'm told it was a small baby—both sisters had borne a son. Martin had intended to work around the baptism problem by arranging for the ceremony to take place at the estate, using Mama's wishes as an excuse. When Marcus overruled his son and arranged a ceremony in Jena, even asking Johann Gerhard to witness and permit the child his name, Martin for the first time in his life rebelled against his father. The baptism took place, but afterwards Martin and Helmuth both left Jena with their families. Taking service as officers at Tilly's army must have been Helmuth's idea. Martin's faith in the Catholic church has always been strong, but I had told him some of the things I'd seen since the war began. He could not possibly have thought such a life would suit him. At least I hope so. Perhaps I should have told him more."

Frank kept silent, while Johannes sat a long time staring at the flames in the fireplace. When a log shifted, it seemed to startle him and he went on in a rush. "I expect you know that Martin lost a leg at Magdeburg. Louisa came to me for help, but by then I'd been confined to quarters with a guard outside my door, and there was little I could do to help her. Conditions at the field-hospitals were—as always—horrible, but she had stayed with Martin to nurse him, leaving little Johann with Anna in the camp outside the town. Martin had survived the amputation and overcome the following wound fever, but the horrors surrounding him made her fear for his sanity. We decided that the best thing to do, would be trying to get Martin back to Jena. The boats and river-barges carrying goods along the Saale river went no farther than Halle, so it would be dangerous, but it was the least strenuous way for Martin to travel. And besides, a wagon and an escort all the way would cost more money than either of us had."

Johannes drank again. "Louisa wanted to leave Johann with Anna. None of us really liked this, but Louisa felt that keeping track of an energetic four year old, while caring for Martin and handling all the travel arrangements, would be too much for her. Anna, on the other hand, had long since found some camp-followers to help look after her own son. Not that she didn't care for him, but to Anna her husband and her own pleasures came first."

Johannes stopped his rush of words, and said slowly, "In a way I envy people like Anna—and Helmuth too. Once I condemned such lack of reflection, the frivolity and seeming absence of the finer emotions. But Anna really loves life. Her sense of humor may have lacked refinement, but it enabled her to see the horror around her, and still look at life with joy. As officers, Helmuth and Martin usually had a farmhouse or at least bigger tents placed apart from the camp with the soldiers they commanded. But as they were young and without political connections, their troops were among the worst in the army. I went to visit her and Louisa several times during the siege at Magdeburg. We talked about faith. About God's purpose."

Johannes stopped again. Then he shook his head and went on. "Still, no soldier would dare harm the child of an officer. And besides, little Johann's sunny temper can melt all but the hardest men. He surely melted the heart of his Uncle 'Annes the few times we met." Johannes smiled. "Is Johann in Jena too?"

Frank shook his head.

"What happened?" Johannes' voice sank to a whisper.

"In early September, I had a letter from Marcus telling me to come to Jena," said Frank. "Louisa and Martin had made it there, but Martin was in a bad shape from fever, and nobody could find little Johann. Louisa had left Johann with Anna, as she told you she would, and Marcus had sent a messenger to Helmuth in Tilly's army, now camped near Leipzig. Helmuth was to bring Johann to Leipzig, and from there a friend of Professor Gerhard would arrange an escort to Jena. But the messenger brought back only a short letter. Helmuth had been killed in a skirmish near Magdeburg, and Anna had died from a fever shortly afterward. The group of soldiers Martin and Helmuth had commanded was no longer a part of the main army, and what had happened to the two boys nobody knew."

Frank drank the rest of his wine. "Tracing that group of soldiers, and especially those camp-followers Anna had hired, seemed to be the only chance for finding the boys. Marcus now wanted me to use my Catholic contacts to do so, and before leaving the estate I sent off the first letters to people who might be able to help. We have now traced the soldiers and the camp-followers to a place called Grantville. We don't know for certain that the boys are there. Or even if they survived the fever that killed Anna. The main problem with finding out is Marcus, but that's a long story and I better get back to Elisa." Frank put a hand on the shoulder of his friend. "Drink the rest of the wine and get some sleep, Johannes, you need it. I'll be back tomorrow."

After Frank left, Johannes remained sitting at the table drinking the wine and gazing at the fire until only embers remained. When he curled up between the blankets, and old Wolf went to lie beside the bed, he patted the blankets and said, "Come here old man, I can use the extra heat."

After a few moments he continued, "I like it here. I should never have left this place. Perhaps I can become a hermit. Would you like to be a hermit's dog?"

Old Wolf sighed and closed his eyes, and soon two sets of snoring filled the cabin.

* * *

The next morning, Johannes woke to the sound of somebody chopping wood. His head felt as if it was being used as the chopping block, and the sour taste in his mouth made him stumble through the open door and head for the small trickle of water running from a shale outcrop.

"Good morning." Frank's cheerfulness seemed out of place in the gray November morning. "I've brought you breakfast."

"Don't be obscene."

Frank laughed, "You always were a slug-a-bed, Johannes. However did you manage to get up in time for mass at daybreak? No. Don't answer me. Congratulate me instead, I am now the grandfather to a big bouncing red-haired baby boy."

"Congratulation indeed, Frank." Johannes smiled and went to give Frank a hug. "But should you not be with your family today? Play with the boy? Or at least stand and admire him?"

Frank's grin grew a little sourly. "No chance for that today. Every woman from miles around is gathered around the baby and his mother. Chattering like magpies, too. I'll go down later."

Inside the cabin Frank built up the fire and made the tisane, while Johannes opened the shutters and let in the light.

"I brought along an extra gun for you," said Frank. "It's an old one, but you might need it."

"No!" Johannes jerked around. "I'll never touch a gun again."

Frank looked surprised at his friend. "I don't mean for hunting. You are in no shape to do so. But there are all kinds of people moving around the forest these days. You might need it for protection."

"No! No more deaths." Johannes pulled the fingers of his shaking hands through his hair.

"Be sensible Johannes," Frank looked worried now. "No more deaths might well mean no more deaths but yours."

"Then so be it," Johannes' voice grew firm. "At least I won't have to look at my own corpse."

"As you will, but come sit down. Are you sure you don't want any food?"

"Quite sure, but you promised to tell me what you knew about little Johann. I've been trying to remember a town or place named Grantville but with no success. Is it in France?"

"No, it's between here and Jena."

Johannes frowned. "Frank, that's ridiculous. It might have been seven years since I was here last, but I spend several months in Jena five years ago. Nobody mentioned starting a new village or estate."

"It's true though," said Frank. "It seems a group of foreigners settled there sometime last spring. I haven't been there myself, but I spoke to some of them in Jena last month. They call themselves Americans. Clever people, too."

"And what do they have to do with Marcus and Johann?" Johannes asked.

"I managed to trace the group of Catholic soldiers Martin and Helmuth had commanded to Badenburg not far from Jena," Frank said. "There they had been part of an army defeated and nearly wiped out by Protestant troops reenforced with soldiers from Grantville. The Grantville soldiers—the Americans—had several kinds of new weapons, and it was them, rather than the Protestant troops, that saved Badenburg. No one at the time had ever heard of Grantville, but the Badenburg leaders were desperate. Besides, the changing political and religious alliances have forced many people to move for one reason or another. You must have met some, Johannes."

"Sure. A Hungarian Protestant took care of me when I caught fever on my way here. He was a Calvinist and on his way to Holland, where he hoped to find employment. But please go on."

"While I was in Jena a couple of months ago, another Catholic army threatened the town, and the Americans again offered to help. Not surprisingly the offer was accepted in the end, but when the town leaders first asked the university for the opinion of the professors the replies ranged from eager cries of "new knowledge" to vehement "vile sorcery." And, as you can probably guess, your brother Marcus was strongly in the second group."

Johannes nodded. "But surely even Marcus cannot have become so rigid as to let that stop him from finding Johann?"

Frank grinned a little, "No, but things got worse for your brother. The Americans completely beat the army threatening Jena, and with seemingly few losses. They left a few of their soldiers in Jena to help the City Watch maintain order. Just a few men, nothing like an occupying army. And the only payment they asked for was trade and an exchange of knowledge and skills. Seemingly a most innocent request, but after a few weeks it had the entire faculty of theology in a state of absolute fury. That the Americans were republicans was bad enough, since God had surely created kings to rule and peasants to serve. But the new ideas and chances for knowledge had completely won over all the brightest students, and that was absolutely intolerable."

Frank was now grinning broadly. "One night even Marcus lost his temper—and dignity—and threw an inkwell at one of Professor Gerhard's favorite students. The student, Peder Winstrup, was defending the contact with the Americans with the argument that any knowledge about the world would lead to a better understanding of God. After all the Bible said that God's mercy spanned the world, so if one knew exactly how big the world was, one would know more about God."

Frank laughed out loud at the memory and Johannes joined more quietly.

Then Frank grew serious again and said, "It was only a few days later we finally found out that the captive soldiers from the battle at Badenburg had gone to Grantville, not Badenburg. Unfortunately your brother's dislike for the Americans had by then hardened to considering them anathema. He not only forbade me to go to Grantville, he also ordered me back to the estate. Not even a last chance to find his missing grandson could make Marcus consort with such Devil's spawn."

"And Martin?"

"Martin has not recovered completely from the fever he contacted on his journey to Jena, and he is slowly getting weaker and weaker. He tried to reason with his father, until Marcus refused to go near him."

"Stiff-necked idiot." Johannes frowned. "But surely Louisa would not just accept that."

"No," said Frank, "and neither did I. Before returning to the estate I first contacted Helmuth's parents. They are in favor of the Americans, and would gladly go to Grantville. Unfortunately neither of the Eberharts have seen any of the two boys since they were babies, and in the end we decided that Louisa and Helmuth's father should go to Grantville together. Louisa didn't like leaving Martin, but finding Johann is quite likely the only thing that can make Martin live, too. And if the boys are not in Grantville, there are no more leads to try. My last task before leaving Jena was making contact with one of the American soldiers. The man could not help with information about the boys, but he promised that Louisa and Herr Eberhart would be quite welcome to search in Grantville. He also promised to introduce Louisa to a woman named Gretchen, who knows both those camp-followers from Badenburg who stayed in Grantville and those who left."

After Frank had stopped talking both men sat silent for a while.

Finally Frank broke the silence. "If the boys are still alive, I believe we'll find them in Grantville, but I must admit I don't understand your brother's definition of faith. Or of family. Perhaps you can explain it to me, Johannes."

Johannes shook his head, "I never understood Marcus either. I once thought I understood faith, but it turned out I didn't. As for family? Well, I care about Martin and his family, but you are so much closer to me than anybody else. We haven't spent very much time together since I first went to France, but it seems to me that no brother—and certainly none of mine—could have been more pleased to see me."

"There is nobody I would have been more happy to see, Johannes, but remember that you are quite a lot younger than your brothers, while you and I were born only two days apart and spent nearly every moment of the day together from the day we could walk."

"Yes, and quite a lot of nights too. Do you remember how I used to climb down the wall from my bedroom window?" Johannes asked.

"Yes, and I never understood how you could do it. The only time I tried something similar I fell and broke an arm."

"Well, that particular skill may have saved my life this summer. I don't want to talk about Magdeburg, but, as you probably know from Louisa, I was arrested for heresy and blasphemy, and placed under guard. Father Vincent tried to convince the rest that I was sick, and would regain my senses if sent to the peace of a monastery. Father Francisco—as always—opposed him and wanted me burned as a heretic for my insults to the church—and to him. I was far from the first priest to suffer a crisis, and while most just sink quietly into black melancholia, it is becoming a problem. So for a while I was merely locked away, and—aside from those coming to interrogate, argue or just shout at me—I was left alone.

"Father Vincent was the one who gave me most of the recipes I've sent to you. He is from northern Italy and—I suspect—more than a little influenced by the humanism once popular there. He often works with the hospitalers, and sort of took me under his wing when I was first sent to draw pictures of the war. Father Francisco, on the other hand, is a Spaniard and strongly connected with the inquisition. The two of them almost never agree on anything, but though Father Francisco usually wins, it doesn't seem to slow Father Vincent the slightest."

Johannes paused before going on, "I managed to escape from Magdeburg before they got around to torture me, though. In June, as always after a major battle, fever spread around the area. I took advantage of the fewer guards, and escaped one night, simply by climbing out the window and down the rough stone wall. Just the way I used to do as a child to join you catching crawfish in the ponds and all the other things we used to do. Do you remember the kobold trap in the ravine, that caught Frau Messel?"

"Yes, and also the beating I got afterwards," said Frank wryly. "But how did you get here from Magdeburg?"

"I walked." All traces of humor had disappeared from Johannes' face. "Once out of Magdeburg I walked south towards Jena. The area is filled with abandoned farmhouses, some just standing empty, and I could usually find edible plants growing round the house. Others were burned and plundered. Often, much too often, with the corpses of the previous owners inside." Johannes tried to smile. "It wasn't the corpses, as such, that bothered me. Only, sometimes the corpses showed beyond any doubt exactly how those poor people had died. I couldn't take that. At first I just dug their graves, and prayed for their souls with a sincerity I had never felt as a priest. But after a very bad house, the nightmares started haunting me until I feared going to sleep. I caught a fever and that wracking cough you are trying to cure, while standing outside a farmhouse in a thunderstorm, fearing what might be inside would break my sanity.

"I knew I had to find someone to talk to, but Father Francisco would surely have sent out soldiers to search for me. I could not approach a church of any faith, and trying to find Martin and Louisa would endanger them. Marcus? You are probably right that Marcus both could and would protect me, but we have never been able to talk of anything but the most commonplace without quarrelling. Meeting that Hungarian traveler saved me in more ways than one. Still, if I never see another corpse from now until Judgement Day, it'll still be too soon."

Again both men sat silent, until Johannes spoke again, now in a lighter voice. "Once past Jena, I dared not let anyone see me, so I walked at night when the moon was up, and hid during the day. It took me until now to get here."

"And the future?"

"I don't know." Johannes drank the last of the tisane and looked down into his empty mug. "I cannot stay here, where people know I used to be a Jesuit, but there is nowhere I want to go, and nothing I want to do."

Frank smiled and pushed two bundles across the table to Johannes. "I can do nothing to give you back the faith in God you seem to have lost, but perhaps this will change your mind about wanting nothing. I must go now, but if nothing else, eat the food in the big bundle. I'll come back tomorrow."

After Frank left, Johannes sat staring at the two bundles, before reaching out to open the biggest. Never taking his eyes from the oblong roll of the smaller bundle, he broke off pieces of bread and ate them slowly. Closing the food-bundle again he hung it from a peg, and with unsteady hands he reached to open the second bundle. Sheets of fine white paper lay on the rough table along with big feathers and ink.

At the sound of a broken sob, old Wolf came, and looked up at the shaking man as if to ask a question.

"Look, Wolf," whispered Johannes. "For this I traded my home and family. My faith and everything I was or could have been. Marcus might have been the only devoted Protestant in the family, but even Mama worried, when her brother entered me in a Jesuit school. She only reluctantly accepted that it offered the best teachers. Me? I was so absorbed by learning how to draw and paint, that I never even questioned going to her family in France. I'd barely noticed the religious teachings until I found myself a priest. Even my quarrels with Marcus seemed unreal. I suppose I defended the Catholic faith so strongly, more because my brother irritated me than because I felt very strongly about the theological differences. Only my drawings were real. Only while painting did I really live."

* * *

Carefully Johannes cut a feather, and made the first lines on a sheet. Jagged lines as if of flames followed each other across the sheets until darkness forced him to stop.

* * *

Johannes build up the fire and closed the shutters against the darkness outside. Then he sat down at the table and looked at the sheets of paper now filled with drawings and words.

* * *

In my dreams Magdeburg is still burning, and so it still is in my drawings. As a boy I dreamed of painting the glories of Heaven in glowing colors in the churches. When told my talent was better suited for copperplates and broadsheets, I accepted this, still certain that my talent was a gift from God, and that I was using it for His purpose. 

But at Magdeburg there could have been no God's purpose. No Glory. Nothing right! Denouncing my fellow priests and superiors as hypocrites, and accusing them of doing Satan's work in God's name had me branded as a heretic. But they had claimed those people had died and burned for the glory of God and the true faith. This could not possibly be! 

I no longer know what I am, or what I believe. The faith that once made me certain, that I knew what God wanted from me, is as burned as those people in Magdeburg. As dead as those children I saw in its gutters. 

* * *

The old dog put his head on the knee of the crying man, and when getting a hug in return, tried to lick away the tears. Rising, Johannes rolled together the sheets, wrapped them in rags and hid them in a hollow between the wall and the roof.

* * *

The next morning there was no sign of Frank Erbst around the cabin. Old Wolf was restless and kept sniffing into the wind blowing from the valley, so Johannes took him to the ledge from which they could see the estate. The dog whined, and Johannes put his hand upon its head.

Normally few people came to the small estate, but today many were moving around. Mainly on the estate and along the roads, but also into the Thuringen Forest. There were horses and wagons, people looking like soldiers but with no banners to identify them.

The old dog whined again and looked up at Johannes.

"There are no fires, Wolf." Johannes spoke as much to calm himself as for the dog. "And people seem to move about in an orderly fashion. I don't think they are bandits, so Frank and his family are probably safe. But how about you and me? The existence of the cabin is no secret, and the trail here isn't hidden. Sooner or later those soldiers will get here."

Johannes sighed, "I suppose we can try hiding in the forest until they have left, but I'm still frail, and who knows how long they'll stay. Perhaps we should just stay at the cabin. Disciplined soldiers, Protestant or Catholic, might not know who or what I used to be, and might leave a harmless old man and his dog alone. With the drawings hidden there is nothing to show I'm more than just an old refugee with no possessions of any value. Of course, if they are one of those rowing bands of riffraff plundering the countryside in between serving in one or the other of the armies, we'll probably both be dead before nightfall, and I probably by torture. But they do look well organized. What do you think, Wolf?"

The old dog looked up at the man, and whined again.

"That's not very helpful."

The man and the dog went back to the cabin.

* * *

Taking the old pot from the fireplace, Johannes went to the small spring and placed the pot beneath the trickle of water, before sitting down and wait for it to fill. The stone he was sitting on was cold, but the sun had broken through the low clouds. It warmed his face and made the autumn colored shrubs glow.

Like fire. 

The bright blue sky above the rocks and the forest made Johannes long for the colors and paints he had left behind when first sent to draw The Glorious Victories of God's Holy Army over the Heretic and Damned Protestants. Painting the sufferings of Protestants and Catholics alike had been no problem, though letters had to be added to show who were what. But Glory! Or Holiness! Those had become increasingly difficult to see.

Like fire. The colors of fire. 

"No. Like harvest. God's harvest."

The sound of his own voice woke Johannes from his reverie, and he looked around in confusion. The pot was full, and he took it back to the cabin. Wolf had placed himself at the top of the narrow trail from the cabin to the valley. His ears were raised and he stood sniffing into the wind, but when Johannes called he came with no protest.

Inside, Johannes stirred the fire and placed the old pot on its hook above the fireplace, before sitting down to dry his feet and stare at the flames.

"The fires! The fires at Magdeburg. They were caused by people, not by God. God's colors are those of the harvest." At the sound of Johannes' whisper Wolf looked up, but Johannes fell silent again, and the old dog laid his head on his paws.

* * *

Drops of boiling water hitting the fire startled Johannes back to the present. He crushed some of the dried herbs into a mug and poured on the boiling water. Then, stirring the tisane with a twig, he again sat staring into the fire.

Painting God by painting His creation.

The words of Johannes' old teacher suddenly sounded in his mind. Father Baptiste's hands had been shaking so badly he could no longer hold a brush, but he had taught his pupils to see the beauty of the smallest leaf. Taught them to paint what they saw. To paint Truth. He had shared his pupils' joy, when their results had been good. And their sorrows, when eyes and minds wanted more than the hands could give.

In the brash ignorance of his youth the young Johannes had asked if Father Baptiste did not miss painting his own pictures. After all he had once painted an altarpiece for a royal chapel. Father Baptiste's gentle answer, that his pride in his pupils brought him more joy than the empty hubris of his own accomplishments ever had, sounded like nonsense to the young Johannes. It still didn't make sense, but thoughts about painting and creating now tumbled through Johannes' mind. If the soldiers killed him today, what would he be leaving to show he had ever lived? Had he nothing to teach to others?

Taking the big cloth-wrapped bundle from its peg Johannes put the dark rye bread, apples and a piece of honeycomb on the table. At a sound from outside he went to the door, but there was no one in sight, and Wolf remained calm.

Leaving the door open, Johannes sat down and started to eat. Old Wolf moved closer to the fire and split his attention evenly between the food and the open door. Johannes scraped honey from the comb into the tisane, before throwing the rest to old Wolf. Then he drank the tisane and poured more hot water into the mug. He packed away the rest of the bread, and went to stand in the open door. Old Wolf joined him, but just sat down looking alert.

* * *

Suddenly Wolf growled and stared towards the trail to the valley with his hackles up. Johannes went outside and listened. When hearing the sound of men and horses on the track to the cabin, he sat down on a rough bench by the cabin wall, his eyes meekly on the ground. A short command made the old dog lie down by his side, still bristling and looking towards the sounds.

The soldiers would come now; they were only minutes away. Perhaps what would happen would give him back some idea of God's will. Of what God wanted from him. As living or as dead.

* * *

The purpose of life is living. 

The memory of Anna's simple words made Johannes' head jerk up.

Anna dancing with her son on her arm amid the ruins and cruelty of the war. 

Father Vincent's pain and Father Francisco's triumph. 

Teaching and Creating. 

Fire and Harvest. 

"No! Not like this." Johannes hurried into the cabin, grabbed the drawings from their hiding place and spread them across the table. If even one of the soldiers looked at them and remembered, then they would not be wasted. Even if burned immediately afterwards.

And those words he had spoken in Magdeburg. About doing Satan's work in the name of God. They might be the only thing resembling a sermon from his heart that he had ever spoken. But he would be speaking them again to whoever now came to the cabin. Speaking them as he died.

Johannes hurried outside, taking a deep breath to speak to whoever waited there.

His jaw dropped at Frank Erbst's cheerful—if slightly out-of-breath—greeting.

"Good morning, Johannes. Come meet Harry Nielson and Magnus Fries. They are some of the Americans I told you about."

* * *

When Johannes came to himself again, he looked up at Frank's worried face.

"Thank God, Johannes. I thought you'd died." Frank held his small bottle of brandy to Johannes' mouth.

"I'm fine. I'm fine. I just didn't expect you. I expected somebody else." Johannes took the bottle and drank deeply.

"The Devil himself, from the look of your face." The oldest of the two American soldiers smiled down at Johannes. "More people are coming to Grantville—our town—every day, so we need more food to see everybody through the winter. We gather food from abandoned farms, and trade with those who have anything to trade. Your friend, Frank Erbst, wants us to take you with us, when we go back. We have room for anybody. Do you want to come?"

"Yes." Johannes stumbled to his feet. "Yes, I'll come. I just want to get some papers in the cabin."

* * *

The first thing Johannes noticed about Grantville was the activity. He had seen more people on streets in market towns, but never a place with so many things going on at once. Many he did not see the purpose for, but whatever these people were doing, they seemed very enthusiastic about it. The Americans he had traveled with had called Grantville a "boomtown." Odd word. But somehow very fitting.

"We sent a message ahead about you," said Magnus Fries. "Father Mazzare is expecting you. He is our Catholic priest."

Johannes shook his head. "I told you, I am no longer a member of the Catholic church."

"That doesn't matter, you can stay with him until you find a place of your own. And besides, he wants to see you."


* * *

Father Mazzare met Johannes and Magnus at the door of his church, and when Johannes looked into the smiling eyes of the priest, he immediately felt less worried.

"Father," Johannes blurted out. "Do you understand God's purpose?"

"No. And I personally doubt anybody truly can. But sometimes His Mercy is unmistakable. Please come in." Still smiling, Father Mazzare stepped aside.

* * *

Inside the church a small boy left his mother to run down the aisle, shouting "Uncle 'Annes, Uncle 'Annes!"


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