Grantville, June 1633

“Could I have a word with you, Father Johannes?”

Johannes Grunwald jumped up from the table with a gasp and spun around quickly, sending several maps and notes to the floor. “Sorry, I wasn't expecting anybody. It's rather late.” He looked at the elegant young man in the doorway, and relaxed slightly. He had met Don Francisco Nasi only in passing, but, while the head of the Abrabanel financial network in Germany might not be the most reassuring person to make an unexpected appearance close to midnight, the young Jew wasn't likely to be a personal threat either. Johannes looked down on the maps and floor plans on the table. “Please sit down, Don Francisco, I don't suppose you have much need to know the layout of Fulda's main buildings?”

“Not much, no. But my apology for startling you, Father Johannes. I suppose you are preparing something for the NUS team in Fulda?” Francisco Nasi closed the door and sat down at the table in the high school classroom, considering the German priest. Father Johannes had been one of the foremost painters of propaganda broadsheets for the Holy Roman Empire until the atrocities at Magdeburg had made him revolt, flee and finally—a year and a half ago—seek refuge in Grantville. He had easily been worth his stipend as a teacher, not so much for his knowledge of languages and paints, as because after two decades of painting for both clerical and secular rulers all over Germany, his knowledge of people, towns, and buildings was without equal among the new citizens in Grantville. “I was wondering, Father Johannes, if you'd heard anything from the Inquisition?”

“No. Nothing.” Johannes sat down at the table too, and fiddled with his pen. “Father Mazzare's contacts within the Church tell of several people asking for Father Johannes the painter, but those asking are seemingly just interested in having me come to paint for them. I am told you head a vast network of all kinds of contacts, Don Francisco. Have you heard anything?”

“Oh no, nothing about you from the Inquisition,” Don Francisco smiled. “Do you worry about an abduction? Or perhaps a formal request for you?”

“I don't think those I personally insulted at Magdeburg have enough power for either. My main value to anybody seems to be the paintings I make. I would like that, if only people wanted their beauty rather than their propaganda value.” Johannes shrugged. “Frankly, the most likely thing to happen is an attempt to make me go back to making propaganda for the Church—willingly or under threat from the Inquisition. If I refuse that, but keep a low profile, I may be excommunicated or I may just be ignored. Only if I'm seen to work against the Church—or its political interests—do I expect any serious force to be brought against me. In which case an assassination may be easier to arrange than an abduction, at least in the areas where the Americans keep order.”

“I see.” Don Francisco leaned back in the chair and steepled his hands. “As I said, I've heard nothing about you in connection with the Inquisition. But I was wondering if you might be willing to leave Grantville. Perhaps to accept a few commissions from some of the more open-minded and politically neutral of your old patrons?”

“And?” Father Johannes too leaned back and looked straight at the polished young man across the table.

Don Francisco shrugged. “Look out for opportunities. Keep your options open, I think the Americans call it.”

Johannes kept looking. ”Please excuse my rudeness, Don Francisco, but why are you taking an interest in this? Are you asking me to report to you?”

“If you so wish. You haven't been excommunicated, so you're still a Catholic priest. And a man. With loyalties to whomever or whatever you are loyal to.”

“And just what, Don Francisco, are you loyal to?”

“Primarily my family and my faith. Is that so different from you?”

“No. Different family and different faith, of course, but that's not my problem. Where do the Americans enter your loyalties?”

“The Americans? Not the NUS or CPE?”

Johannes nodded. “Ideas and ideals, not politics and compromises.”

Don Francisco raised his eyebrows and looked up at the ceiling, “What the Americans have begun may well be the best chance for prosperity and security in Europe today, for my family as well as for my faith. We realize that they are just a small town and risk drowning in the greater political picture. So I—and my family—try to aid them. Help them help themselves and thus ourselves.” He looked back again to Johannes. “You have, since your arrival here, been giving the American leaders quite a lot of help yourself, Father Johannes, with your lessons in Contemporary Social and Political Studies.”

Johannes laughed a little, “Oh yes. Everything I Know About the Present Political Situation—its Players and Powers. Still, my family and I owe the Americans a debt for helping little Johann, the son of my nephew Herr Martin Grunwald.”

“And that debt is the only reason for your help? You don't agree with the American goals?”

Johannes shrugged, “Both yes and no. Aside from teaching and painting I've spent just about every spare waking moment reading the American books of history and philosophy. I think I've got a good idea of what they are and what they are trying to do. On the whole I'm fairly certain I approve. What still bothers me is that all these important new ideas come from people who seemingly fear neither God nor the Devil. How about you, Don Francisco? Do you fear God and do you fear the Devil?”

“I'm a Jew, Father Johannes. Our faith is different. Personally I hope God will have mercy on my human frailty, and think that the Devil—if such exists—does his work on Earth and among the living.” Don Francisco rose from his chair. “But please consider my words, Father Johannes. The American's alliance with the Swedish king has made them a power to consider. It would be well to know how this is viewed among the clerical nobility.”

“I'll think about it.” Johannes started gathering his papers, but Don Francisco remained by the table watching him.

“You have been supplying the American leaders with all kinds of information, Father Johannes. And by now the Americans are being taken very seriously by both the Catholic Church and the secular powers. Do think—carefully.”

Grantville, August 1633

The Thuringen Gardens was filled almost to capacity in the warm and dusty afternoon, but Johannes steered his friend, Frank Erbst, to a quiet corner. Frank was a big, strong, red-haired bear of a man, with a warm smile and an ever-ready interest in the world around him. He and Johannes had grown up together on Grunwald-an-der-Saale, the estate Frank now managed for Johannes' older brother Marcus Grunwald, professor of theology at the University in Jena. Ever since his arrival in Grantville, Johannes had been sending seeds and information about American farming to Frank. Despite Marcus' dislike of everything connected with the Americans, Frank had—with great enthusiasm—put the new crops and ideas to use at the estate. And despite the drought, the tomatoes and long beans had been running rampant during the summer on the sunny hillsides along the Saale River. Now, just before the main harvest was about to start, Frank had come to Grantville—the best market for the new crops—to make arrangements with several traders.

With their second tankards half-drained, the two old friends were now catching up on family news.

“Have you heard from your nephew Martin recently, Johannes? He was scuttling around like a woodcock on his new crutches, when I went to Jena last spring. He also wanted me to write to him about growing the new crops. He seemed to be doing some kind of avisa.”

Johannes laughed, “It's not an avisa, Frank. I sent Martin some copies I'd made of the Americans' magazines, especially one in German called Simplicissimus. Martin has become the publisher of a monthly newspaper magazine—with his wife, Louisa, handling the legwork and the practical arrangements. Marcus helped with getting the permissions before he saw just what Martin and Louisa intend to publish.”

“I've seen such before.” Frank shrugged. “Why would Marcus object to council decisions posted on tavern walls.”

“Simplicissimus is different, Frank. The Americans are every bit as good at this, as they are at farming. What Martin offers for public subscription, and delivers by post every month—soon every two weeks—is a mixture of information and entertainment. There's the latest political news, along with detailed explanations about the persons and places mentioned. There are colored plates with the latest fashions, printed with new American methods. There are pictures and descriptions of beautiful homes, and recipes for the most fashionable food. And most of all: there are illustrated jokes and gossip about court scandals and political mistakes. I've made quite a lot of those illustrations for the new magazine. I promise you, it's like nothing you've seen before. I'll give you some copies to take home.”

“Sounds odd to me, but I can well imagine my wife and her sisters with their heads together over such a thing.”

“Yes. And taverns, public libraries, noble households, city councils, discussion groups and students. They are all buying it for the political news, you see. Never dreaming of reading the gossip.”

“Becoming a cynic, Johannes?”

The whimsy faded from Johannes eyes, and he called for two more beers before continuing in an entirely different voice. “The Americans genuinely want to stop things like war, plague, and poverty, and they see democracy and education as some of the most important steps towards that goal. Judging from their history, they are right. Martin is promoting these ideas—spreading them among the gossip and jokes in his new magazine. I have helped him do that, but . . . ”

“But now you regret that?”

“No. And I'll also go on making those pro-democracy cartoons.” Johannes drank deeply from his beer. “It's just that . . . There is nothing among the American ideas to encourage people to bow to God's will or trust his priests.”

Frank sat silently for a while, doodling in the wet circles on the table. Bowing to God's will was something you occasionally were forced to do, when no other choices existed. And trusting a priest? That damned well depended on the priest! Frank had no objection to trusting a trustworthy man who happened also to be a priest. But then that went for tinkers and horse traders as well. Still, even after all his fellow priests had done to him, Johannes saw things differently, and in the end Frank said slowly, “I remember a letter you wrote before taking your vows, Johannes. About how some of your fellow students held long discussions about exactly how many imps were around in the world, and the precise rank of the various kinds of angels in Heaven. These discussions irritated you, since the truth could not be known. Unless you've been having divine visions on the sly, you cannot know the future, and I'd say you should just follow your heart.”

“Well, my heart tells me that however they got here, the Americans are not here for evil. Their lack of respect for the Lord still bothers me, but you are right—I cannot know the future. And it's about time that I decided what I personally should do—with or without the Americans—instead of hiding here.” Johannes smiled wryly into his beer. “I used to be such a self-absorbed little artist, ignoring everything but my paintings, even when reality kicked my arse. Well, Magdeburg definitely did more than just kick, and after my stay here in Grantville, it's certain I'll never go back to what I was.”

“Do you plan to leave? You wrote that you felt safe here, but you could go to Jena—or with me back to the estate?”

“I'm probably safer with the Americans than anywhere else. The Inquisition has no power here in Grantville, and Father Mazzare has assured me that I have committed no crime as the Americans see it. In Jena I know Marcus would try to protect me—his pride if nothing else would see to that—but he might not be able to. The Inquisition has no power there. Catholics accusing me of heresy or excommunicating me would not cause trouble with the Protestants. More probably, it would delight them. But blasphemy is an entirely different matter.”

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff