2618 words (10 minute read)

Chapter Five: A Letter from Rome


Viggianello, 29 September 1635

We had begun to journey again, but something had changed. Now, every visit, we encountered Rome as a scarred battlefield, even before the rock hits, which before we had only seen a few times. Johannes knew that something, which he hadn’t seen, had fixed some ‘path’ through time, and made it inevitable. What did it matter? If humanity destroys the Earth before God, did it really make a difference?

Another letter had arrived from Rome, this time addressed to me. I read it first, with Johannes, Sofia and Angela next to me, and then I passed it to Johannes, and then Angela. By the time Angela had read it, Sofia didn’t need to.

Dear Pietro,

I regret that I have not had much time to research an answer to your questions about the Pantheon. I had a lot of materials, but I have had to destroy them. I saved one thing, for you, a drawing, which I enclose.

Certainly the location of the Pantheon has been a place of worship for many years, for there was a building here even before the Roman pagans built the current one in Hadrian’s time. And even though it is pagan in origin, we have embraced the architecture, removed the imagery of their gods but respected the building, at least until our current Pope. There is evidence that we have been visited before, a few times, by people not unlike your Johannes, to remind us of its importance, although they have usually been dismissed as lunatics. I have found a few notes and this drawing in the archives of my predecessor.

If there is anything in this, then it must be supressed, because with the way the church is now, an empire unto itself, I fear that any indication of the importance of this building beyond its status as an ancient place of worship would threaten its existence – possibly achieving the opposite of what your friend is working for. So the notes, I destroyed, and hope there are no copies. Even if you had them, they might be discovered some day. I ask you to burn the drawing. And this letter.

My friend, I fear the Inquisition will break me. I stood for Galileo and that has become an unforgiveable sin in the eyes of Barberini. I am an old man. I do not want to break and confess to them where you are or what you do. So I will have an accident, before the hearing, they will believe it to be an accident and not an escape, and hopefully the matter will be closed. Questions have been asked about you and Johannes, and I have said that you are his nephew, that he is a veteran, and troubled, and you have gone to look after him. This seems to have been accepted.

Pietro, I am sorry that I have had to keep so much from you. Please, stay with my sister, and care for her and Sofia and the child as she cared for our parents, and for you. There is a church there, perhaps you could become a priest there, or maybe you are even considering leaving the priesthood.

I have not told my correspondent anything about you or Johannes, but you are free to write to him if you wish. As I said, he was at the battle where Johannes fought. I trust him. He has been enigmatic, philosopher that he is, but he has told me that he thinks he sees a way out of doubt, which could be a valuable thing. I give you his address below. His name is René Descartes.

Farewell, my friend. Pray for my soul.


I looked at the picture. It was a sketch of the rotunda, looking up to the oculus, with the roof fracturing as I had seen in Johannes’s visions.

When Angela read the letter, she did not turn to me, although I was ready to receive her, wanting to comfort her as she had me when I lived here. She did not turn to Johannes, the strongest man I knew. She turned to Sofia.


That evening, as we dined, Ilaria finally asked Johannes that which none of us had dared to before.

“You don’t eat any meat. Why?”

He turned to her directly, and calmly.

“Have you seen how an animal suffers, when you kill it, when you take away its children? I have. And I have seen the same thing in people, little girl. I tell you that whatever you have been told, the animals have souls just as you or I. The only way I learned to be good again was to recognise the suffering of others was the same as my own. And that their suffering, it is the same as ours. After that, I could not take a soul, or suffer any soul to be taken on my behalf.”

Ilaria slowly seemed to accept what Johannes had said. Then she smiled.

“I want to be like you, Johannes!”

“No, Ilaria, you want to be like you, my little angel. I will fight for you, and here on this hill we will build a castle, and keep all the bad away, and play in the fields and in the trees, and you will play me your lyre, and I will protect my maidens on the hill, and Uncle Pietro will help me!”



“Do you know everything, Uncle?”

I like that she calls me ‘Uncle’. She thinks of me as family. For so long I have been alone. And my son, my daughter, they had once asked me the same thing. I do not know what I have done to earn a position of trust, of authority, among these innocent people. I am humbled that they give me this honour so freely.

I chanced another look at the lovely Sofia, mother of this beautiful child. I am forever promised to my murdered wife, my murdered children… But in another life, maybe, just maybe, we could have been together. It could be that I see a beauty, in every woman, every girl. Perhaps they are all aspects of the same woman, of her. I see it in Angela too. She is closer to my age, yet her years do not dull her beauty, they enhance it – I can see why he loves her – and with her heart and her hands she has built this place, home to many good people. She carries the burden alone… No! Of course not alone – she has Sofia and Ilaria and now Pietro too, to help her… And she is so strong, even after the loss of her brother…

Truly I knew nothing before. Now, I feel I begin to understand. These women have a strength which makes me weak, a beauty which makes me ugly.

“Ilaria, I know nothing. Just like Socrates, the wisest of all the Greeks. But even I – ‘Johannes the Wise’ you may call me! – Even I am not even half as wise…”

I looked at Sofia smiling at me. She approves of me speaking to her daughter!

“…as your mother Sofia. You know her name actually means ‘wisdom’, in Greek…”

Sofia was laughing. Not for the first time, I wished to kiss her. Of course, Ilaria wasn’t interested in hearing how wise her mother was. She had a different question in mind.

“Uncle, what are the stars?”

I could have told her about the sun and the stars, as I have seen them. Great spheres of fire, filling the universe with light. But better let her discover for herself… Let her read the book Pietro brought from Rome. Let her also read Kepler and Galileo should his writings survive – I know they will. I wonder, even, if she will know through intuition what the English mathematician will deduce, thirty years from now. She is the brightest star that shines.

“Well, the Greeks believed that for every soul on Earth, who has ever lived, and who will ever live, that for each of them there is a star in the heavens.”

“So we are stars? The stars are us?”

“Maybe. I believe that we were made in the stars. One day, we’ll be part of the stars again.”

“Which star am I, Uncle?”

I took her to the window. Looking at the moon, which was in the east, I took her hand and guided it westwards, I pointing to the bright star known as Wega, or Vega, in the constellation of Lyra.

“That star there, Ilaria, is you. Vega. It is one of the brightest stars. It is part of Lyra, can you see? The shape of a lyre.”

“It looks more like a fish to me!”

“Well, you have to use your imagination. The Greeks believed it to be the lyre of the great musician Orpheus, and it is said that when he played, his music was so enchanting that neither god nor mortal could turn away, even rocks and trees and water could be charmed. You see, the music you make is so beautiful that you are already in the stars.”

Ilaria gave me a hug, she held me so tight, it was if my daughter had returned.

I feel so welcome here, accepted. It’s as if I have a family again. Sofia is still smiling at me. I hope she approved of what I said. Now it is her turn to talk to Ilaria.

“Ilaria, it’s time for bed!”

“Really? I’m not tired! I want to hear about Orpheus!”

“Another time. Now, say goodnight to everybody, and then, bed!”



After Ilaria had gone to bed, Johannes spoke to the rest of us.

“Pietro, we must get back to our work. The answer is not in the Pantheon. It is here. It was you. You brought me here. You brought me home, to these wonderful people. Leave the priesthood! Let us marry – which one will have you though? Maybe I can have both!”

The mixture of melancholy and elation in his voice was quite frightening to me, but thankfully Sofia and Angela responded with laughter, as we continued to drink.

Presently, Johannes turned to Sofia, and asked, “Ilaria’s father – who was he?”

Sofia sighed. We were all past secrets now, the sigh was as if her memory had been awakened, not frustration at Johannes’s inappropriate question.

“He was a soldier, like you, Johannes. They came through here, on their way to war.”

“I am sorry. Many of my men… also behaved badly. I would not tolerate it, I would punish it, but still they did it.”

“No, Johannes, it wasn’t like that at all. It was not… unpleasant. He did not force himself on me. It was what I wanted.”

“But he never returned? You did not marry? That was wrong of him, too.”

“It was what I wanted. It was the only way…” she looked at Angela. Angela looked down at the table for a moment, then looked back at Sofia. Sofia continued. “It was the only way we could have a child.”

Johannes was surprised. I was surprised. I could hear my priest-self shouting at me, but somehow I didn’t care to listen.

Johannes said “I see, Sofia, Angela. Where I come from you would be burned as witches. But I don’t come from there anymore. Your child, my wonderful Ilaria, how could such a beautiful creature be other than by being born of love?”

He went quiet for a second. Then he said “I have seen this before, but not until now did I truly understand. If only… you were all born too soon.” He paused again.

“I lost my wife, they took her from me. I loved her so. And she loved me. My beautiful son, my beautiful daughter, taken too. I buried them with my bare hands. Taken in the name of God? For some King? For what? And all I could think of was revenge. I should not have dishonoured their love by bringing death. But I did, and it is my sin. This, what you have here… This is a family. This is love. I fear for you… but you must not be scared. It will be difficult for you. But you must not give up. Pietro – after I am gone, you must protect them.”

He looked at us, each in turn, smiling now. “Please, take my hands. I need to show you something. Do not let go of each other.”

We joined hands – I hesitated, but Sofia and Angela did not. I knew what this could do to Johannes. We were a circle around the table.

We flew above the house and over the valley. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, all the flowers blooming. The church on the village hill, much older now – but not ruined – was below us. We descended, and walked together through the doors.

The church, for its age, had not changed much. Lights that I had seen in the Pantheon of the future, which were not flames, and did not burn – like little stars. Also, many candles, incense, a congregation, a priest. The clothes of the congregation were as I’d seen in some of the other journeys, very odd looking to my eyes. But the priest, he looked the same as any other Catholic priest. This was a familiar event, in a familiar place.

Two families, friends. A joyous occasion. Everyone united together, to celebrate the union of two souls, in holy matrimony. It was as beautiful as any other wedding I had witnessed. And each bride, resplendent in white, removed the veils of the other, they kissed, and all were happy, proud of their children who had found each other, united in love. And just for once, I was with Johannes in the future, and I felt that God was with us too.


After we had hauled Johannes to bed, she came to me. I was sobbing.

“I am so sorry, I could never tell you, Pietro. I knew… I knew you loved me. And I loved you too, as a son. As my brother’s son. When she came to me, we just… we knew. All those years, with David away, with our parents dying… I thought life had passed me by. But it hadn’t. I was just waiting for her. And she for me. And yes, I thought then it was sinful, but we made each other happy, and strong. And we made Ilaria. And now Johannes has shown us that I was mistaken. We have not sinned. So be happy for me, Pietro, please!”

This time I held her gaze, and did not turn away.

“It is not that, Angela. I knew we could never be together, and I accepted that. And sin – I don’t even know what sin is now. And I am happy for you. It’s just… I have journeyed with Johannes so many times. We have seen… terrible things in the future. Horrific… I cannot tell you. This is the first time, the only time, which he has shown me hope. That is why I cry.”

Next Chapter: Chapter Six: Absolution