"Brother Johann? The Fathers are ready."
Brother Johann closed the small book he was studying and rose, straightening his black robe. While he had been aware of the gathering of Abbots, he had no idea why the assembled Abbots of the Order of St. Benedict in the region had summoned him to their chambers. He followed Brother Mark into the meeting hall, which was carved out of the living rock cliff that the Monastery was built out of. As he entered, he recognized the five Abbots and Arch Abbots. Each represented congregations of Benedictine monasteries from Rome in the south to the Bursfeld Union in Germany and had traveled to Subiaco to consult on the current crisis facing the Faithful. Also seated at the table was Dean Bernard, of his home Monastery of Fulda.
"Thank you for coming, Brother," Cardinal Subiaco, the host for this congregation, began. "Please be seated. The Order has been blessed by the wonderful work you've done in the six years since the Lord called you here to tend to our archives and the St. Scholastica Library. However, Dean Bernard has brought us most disturbing news from Johann Bernhard, Abbot Prince of Fulda. We thought it may very well provide a most important calling for you and your skills."
Cardinal Subiaco nodded to Dean Bernard, who began, "It's wonderful to see you again, Brother. It's been too long since we've broken bread in Franconia. Johann, have you been following the news from our home?"
Brother Johann pressed his glasses back into place and squinted. "Not really, Bernard. I have noted in some of the recent reports the reversals in the campaigns to re-establish the Holy Church in the area. Of course I am aware that the Monastery at Fulda itself is now under control of the Swedes."
"Not quite the Swedes, at least not directly." Dean Bernard pulled out a small book and passed it over to Brother Johann.
The book was of a construction that Johann had not seen before. It was of cloth, worn but smooth, wrapped around some sort of hard material. The backing had silver printing in what Johann assumed was English. It read: Western Civilization. He turned the book in his hands and felt the smoothness of the edges of the pages between their covers, and noticed a slight gleam that he had not noticed on the thousands of books he had handled in his life.
Pressing his glasses back into position, Johann then carefully opened the front cover and felt the glossy paper of which the book was printed. Casting a quick glance of disbelief at Dean Bernard, he thumbed through the book. Then such an incredible sight met his eyes that his mouth fell open and he instinctively crossed himself.
There on the page was an engraving unlike anything he had ever imagined. The colors were so vivid and the engraving was so fine that he thought momentarily that the people pictured there would begin to move at any moment. Johann had seen the finest illuminations that the Order of Saint Benedict had collected in the nine centuries since its founding, but nothing to rival this!
As he turned the pages, Johann noted illustrations, engravings, and actual paintings of people, places, and the most incredible artifacts that he could imagine. Even the clothing on those in the engravings changed from the familiar to more and more bizarre as he flipped rapidly through this incredible book.
"Dean Bernard, where did this come from? It is . . . most unusual."
"Most unusual indeed, Brother. It came from a city in the Saale River Valley. While filing away your monastic reports, have you come across any references to a 'Grantville'?"
"As you may recall," Johann responded in a puzzled tone, "I was born in the Saale River Valley just west of Schwarza. I recall no village or town by such a name."
"That is our problem, Brother," Arch Abbott Monte Cassino, who represented the monasteries of the Congregation of St. Justina of Padua, broke in as he leaned forward. "Until some months ago, there was no Grantville in the Saale River Valley, or anywhere else in God's Creation. It appeared there, full blown, along with people and inventions and artifacts which no one has ever seen before."
Glancing over to Bernard and nodding an apology, Arch Abbot Monte Cassino continued, "Forgive me for breaking in on your explanation, Dean Bernard. But the urgency of the matter requires a more direct sharing of information with Brother Johann.
"Brother, this Grantville has become the ruling power in Thuringia and an ally of the Swede. It, not the Swede, now controls vast reaches of Franconia and has managed to put the forces of Tilly in panicked retreat.
"They claim to be from a future almost four centuries ahead of our time. They claim to have no idea how or why they were brought here to the current time and place. The book you hold in your hands is evidence of the incredible things that their merchants and tinkerers can do with the most exotic machines. These devices mystify the most knowledgeable alchemists and scientists that the Church has consulted.
"Even more puzzling, although they have made a devil's pact with the Swede Gustavus Adolphus, they seem to be perfectly content to allow followers of the True Faith to practice our religious beliefs. They attempt to make no regulation based on their leaders' faith and beliefs.
"Dean Bernard has brought it to our attention that our brothers in Christ, the Society of Jesus, have managed to place observers right in the middle of Grantville. This was done openly, with no apparent repercussions or persecutions of these emissaries. There even seems to be a Roman Catholic Church with its own congregation and parish priest, also from this amazing future.
"Brother Johann," Arch Abbot Monte Cassino asked, "would you please read the passage marked in the book you hold?"
Johann again looked down at the marvelous relic in his hands and noticed for the first time a cloth ribbon protruding slightly from the edge. Opening to the marked page, he saw a passage marked with what must have been a quill pen.
Johann was horrified at the desecration of such perfection. Still he began, "The confiscation of Catholic religious property following the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) had been for the benefit of Protestant rulers alone. More than a hundred monasteries and countless pious foundations disappeared at this time. By the middle of the eighteenth century a new movement devoted to the destruction of monastic institutions swept over those German portions of the Holy Roman Empire, which had remained loyal to the Catholic Faith. The supernatural character of the religious life was totally ignored; abbeys and convents were permitted to exist only after giving proof of their material utility."
"That's enough, Brother." Arch Abbot Monte Cassino paused and looked around the table. "For nine centuries the Order has brought education, civilization and the Good News of our Lord's Passion to the peoples of Europe and the world. Now we find ourselves still strong in the Faith, but weakened. Only three centuries ago, our Order numbered over thirty seven thousand monasteries. If this book is to be trusted, by the end of this century, we will be able to count only five thousand. Our lands in Germany are under Protestant control. Bursfeld itself is under Lutheran control. The Hessians have looted the great library at Fulda. And now, the Lord has brought to us a clear vision of how The Adversary will triumph over our best efforts unless we open our eyes to whatever it is He is trying to show us.
"We are in a crisis, Brother," Arch Abbot Monte Cassino continued. "Your brothers in Christ, here assembled, believe that the Lord has brought this test to us for a reason. After much prayer and discussion, we believe that Grantville was placed near Fulda at the time of its greatest challenge just so we could learn what lessons our Order may have passed along to this future generation, represented by Grantville. Thus we hope to have a light cast on the path the Lord intends for us to walk during this time of death and destruction.
"You, Brother Johann, are from the very valley in which Grantville is now located. You worked and prayed and studied for decades in the Library of Fulda. You brought such a rationality to the organization of the books and journals and other papers there that your methods have been adopted by not only our monasteries," Arch Abbot Monte Cassino gestured to the other Abbots around the table as he continued, "but by Benedictine monasteries throughout Europe. You were called here to help rediscover the knowledge that our Lord has revealed to our brothers that has been stored here since our founding.
"'Listen, My Son, to the precepts of the Master, and lend the ears of your heart.' These are the words of our beloved Saint Benedict and this is the calling which we believe that God has chosen for you."
All the Abbots and Dean Bernard stood and clasped their hands as if beginning a prayer. "Brother Johann, we, the Fathers assembled, humbly request that you make a pilgrimage to this place Grantville, not to spread the Word, but to listen and learn. We fervently pray that the Lord reveal His purpose to you, thereby to the future of the Order and how we may continue to serve the souls of humanity by His Grace."
Johann had spent the night in his cell praying for guidance on how to prepare for this great adventure that God had ordained for him. When the first rays of light broke through his small window, he ended his communion with the Lord, crossed himself, and walked to his library.
Like the fruit that tempted Eve, the book lay on the table where he'd left it the previous night. The stories it held! Up to the current time, it seemed to be accurate or at least convincing that there might be truths contained that he had not been exposed to. But then it continued, page after page of horrible, mind numbing events and wars. But most amazing of all, the ideas!
Thinkers, some just born, some not to be born for centuries, illuminate this future with such intriguing ideas and the results of those ideas. Some of those ideas were on a par with Aristotle, some on a par with Lucifer, but all contained promise and all contained traps.
Johann picked up the Western Civilization book and wandered over and laid it next to the Lattanzio Sublacense. That was the first book written, typeset, and printed in this very monastery by Brothers and fellow Germans Sweynheim and Pannartz. They had brought the first printing press to Italy in 1464. That very press still stood in another room in the monastery. He was staring at what he had always considered the holy art of printing, on one hand one hundred sixty-seven years in the past, on the other three hundred sixty-seven years in the future. He glanced up and saw the cabinet in which he had stored one of the only manuscripts of St. Augustine himself, the De Civitate Dei.
"Blessed St. Augustine," he prayed, "please show me whether this Grantville is indeed a City of God or a City of the Devil."
It took several more days before he was satisfied that he had learned all that his mind could absorb from this book of one future and began his preparations. As a Benedictine monk, Johann led a very simple life. Leaving behind material possessions was not a problem. Brother Julio was ready to take over his responsibilities in the library. Johann devoted his remaining time to meeting with individual monks. He prayed with them singly or in small groups and then began his trip to his almost forgotten homeland.
During the weeks it took for him to walk across the Alps, Johann had sufficient time to realize that this was truly a journey into the future and the past.
Grantville, of course, represented the future. But Thuringia . . . memories of his childhood in Thuringia, seemingly lost in the decades since he had been away, kept coming up at every turn. He remembered skipping rocks off the small pools formed in the meanders of the Schwarza River and chasing rabbits in the meadows of his father's estate. He smiled as he recalled the rich smells of the pastries his mother could bake in that beautiful, giant, solidly built German house that protected his family and in winter, the family livestock.
It had been years since he learned that his sisters Gretchen and Inga had died of the plague. They were the last of his family, other than himself, to survive the horrible devastation of "The Thirty Years War," as the book had named it.
Johann shivered and pulled his black robes closer and adjusted his pack. It wasn't just the chill of the mountain air in this northern clime that caused that particular shiver. "I wonder if Herr von Schoenfeld is still alive?" he murmured.
When Johann had been a boy, it was von Schoenfeld who had introduced him to the joy of books. They held wonderful tales, vistas and horizons that he could never have even imagined. Books had opened a door that had led Johann inevitably to the great library in the Abby of Fulda, the greatest library in southern Germany.
There it was Brother Georg who showed him how to preserve those precious manuscripts in such a way as to make them last. It was Brother Georg who showed him the beauty of the order of knowledge that exists in a library, and from that in the teachings of God as revealed by St. Benedict.
And when Brother Georg was promoted to the Church Triumphant some years later, Johann knelt before Abbot Johann Friedrich von Schwalbach and accepted his vows, converting from the Lutheran heresy to the monastic life of St. Benedict.
After several days of following the road down the Elbe River Valley towards where the Saale River joined its flow, Johann began hearing a peculiar sound. At first he thought it might be his imagination, the soft "potato, potato, potato" sound, but soon he noticed it changing to a low rumbling roar in the distance. Occasionally he heard a high-pitched whirring sound that he could not identify either. Crossing himself, once again he offered up his silent prayer for protection and took care to keep within sight any convenient hiding spot along his path.
At the next bend in the road, he saw the source of his concern. There, in the middle of the road was a machine, yellow with a large box affixed to one end and what looked like an arm attached to the other. In the center sat a man in dress something like what Johann had seen in the incredible engravings in the book. Black smoke blew from the chimney of the roaring machine as the person on top did something with some levers. The arm moved!
There was a large scoop at the end. The arm and scoop took a bite out of the ground beneath, picked it up and tossed it to one side. Then it repeated the action.
Johann was so amazed at this, that he was startled by the high-pitched whine, which suddenly started up to the left of the yellow machine. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose in order to improve his vision and squinted. He finally located a man standing by a felled tree holding something that was tearing a hole out of the timber. After watching the actions of this small crew of men and their machines for a time, he decided that if he was to ever reach Grantville, he must get past this challenge.
Johann walked carefully toward the men and their machines. Another one of them noticed him and, putting down his device, picked up something that resembled a musket but was much shorter. In bad German, he yelled, "Advance and be recognized! Keep your hands in clear sight! Hurry!"
Johann raised his arms to waist height and turned his palms up in what he hoped the stranger would view as a supplicating manner, and continued his approach.
"I come to find Grantville," Johann said when he was within range of normal speech. "Would you rather speak in English or German?"