Salerno, 21 September 1635
After four days, we reached Salerno, far from Rome, and Johannes had fully recovered. I’d never seen him as well as this, as every day I’d seen him for the last two weeks he’d been making his journeys, which took so much out of him. His skin was clearer, he stood straight and strong, he never used his stick. He could almost pass for a man of thirty. And his spirits were lifted too, he began to smile more often and even laugh; and detached from the intense experience of the visions, we could talk more calmly about them too.
We drank a lot. Or rather, he drank – I could not keep up with him. He had a big appetite too. He never ate meat, fish or fowl, but would consume huge quantities of bread, cheese, and whatever vegetables he could get hold of. He ate enough for two men, yet did not seem to gain weight beyond filling out his previously frail looking frame. With everything we were eating and drinking, and still two day’s journey ahead of us, I began to be concerned about money. I raised the issue with Johannes.
“Well, how much have we got left?”
I told him. Not much, not enough to eat and drink if we were to afford the fare – we were travelling on farmer’s wagons, but still had to pay our way.
“I see. Is there a stadium near here?”
“When’s the next chariot race?”
Johannes made me wait until the last minute before placing our bet. I felt very uncomfortable placing our entire purse on to one race, especially for the second favourite, but when the chariot came in and we had quadrupled our money I must admit I was very happy.
“Your Father David, his sister. We should take her a present, no?”
“Well, I hadn’t thought of that… but yes that would be nice… I’ve not seen her for four years.”
“How about a big barrel of beer? Like one of those!” He pointed to one of the huge barrels behind a bar, being tapped to drown the sorrows of so many losers at the races, and persuade them that they could recoup their losses with the next bet, and come back for more.
After the second bet I must confess I was hooked. We now had enough money to buy three barrels of beer and almost our own chariot to take us the last few days of the journey.
“How about another one Johannes? Father David’s sister – we could buy her another farm!”
“Ha! Don’t be silly, we’ve won twice in a row with big bets. They will suspect something, and refuse the bet! And even though it was just a couple of little journeys, I am tired. Let’s just choose which barrel we want!”
My next confession will be very interesting…
“So, Father, tell me about this sister of your Father David. What is she like?”
“You mean you don’t know already?”
“Of course not, I’ve been staying put since the races, and anyway, I prefer to leave some things as surprises!”
“Well, she’s a lot younger than Father David; about your age, I would guess.”
“Thirty years old then?”
“Ha. No, nearer forty. Still, that’s a lot younger than Father David. They were the only two survivors in their family – the oldest and the youngest children. The others died in infancy.”
Johannes froze for a while, and then he was back to being the melancholic man we had left in Rome. “That must have been very difficult for their parents.”
“It was, and when they grew old, it was her task to take care of them, alone – as Father David had left for the Church. At least she inherited the farm.”
“And no husband?”
“No, I think it was too late for her. Still, she is a remarkable woman. She took great care of me. I was there for three summers. Johannes, I have not told you much about my past, and we should not dwell on it. I too lost my family to the wars. God found me. He brought me to Father David. Father David brought me to her. To me she is like the mother and sister I lost. Through her, God helped me heal. I would never have succeeded, becoming a priest, were it not for her.”
“It sounds to me as if you should have married this woman, Father! Why have a sister when you can have a wife?! And what is the name of this fine lady?”
I blushed. It was good Johannes could not see the past. If he could, he would have known that yes, there was a time I had loved her. But… she was too old for me? No, I was too young? My calling… I had to serve God. She was my angel. She had held me, all those years ago, and in her arms I found a comfort, like when my mother and sister had comforted me as a young boy. I never told her. God gave me that strength. He had called me as a priest. For what, though? To minister to a condemned congregation, as he threw a rock at us, his children? Maybe she would comfort me again now. Angela.
“Her name is Angela.”
It was the final night of our journey, we had finished our evening meal and many drinks and were back in our room at the inn. We had travelled very light, Johannes and I, to hasten our long journey. I was not dressed as a priest, and Johannes had never carried much anyway, but we had the both of us bought him some simple work clothes, befitting farm labourers, on the way. There was one thing Johannes had brought with him, something clearly important as it was the first thing he had retrieved from his lodgings in Rome, which we had visited briefly on our departure. A small package, wrapped in white muslin. He held it now, in both hands, and stared down at it. He had never unwrapped it, I had never asked him what it was – if he wanted to share this with me, he would.
“Father? Are there any children with Angela? I know you said she had no husband…”
“Well, actually yes. There are a few labourers, who stay on the farm, and they have their children with them. And of course, there is Ilaria. She was just a baby when I was last there.”
“Ilaria?” It was a question, but Johannes seemed to linger on the name, as if he found it beautiful to say.
“Yes. Her mother Sofia, lives on the farm, an old friend of Angela’s, also with no husband… she is practically a sister. Ilaria – she is surely a delightful little girl by now.”
Johannes clasped his muslin package more tightly. “Ilaria.”
I did not want to Johannes to linger on this – he would not sleep well, I thought, if he was thinking of his dead family. So I tried to distract him, and return to focus on our task.
“Johannes, if we cannot change the future, would this person you must find – would they be able to change it?”
“I do not know. When the abilities were given, all I can remember is being told what they were. It was like a dream, and so long ago. All I know is that I cannot stop this, so I doubt any successor can either. The more often I journey through time, Pietro, the closer I can see the pathways.”
“Can you explain?”
“Each… each single moment in time… it is as if each moment contains a tiny fork in the road, where one of several pathways is chosen. The paths that are not taken – those are worlds, perhaps… possible worlds… that are then forever beyond our reach. The path that is taken – that is our world, our ‘now’. For me, as I journey, the ‘choice’ of which path is taken in any moment – it is not fixed, I flow through whichever is stronger, which for the same moment, can vary with each journey.”
“So these other worlds – until the moment passes – do they exist?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they exist afterwards too. But I cannot go where the choice does not. Even if the choice is different each time.”
“You say choice? Whose choice?”
“Ours maybe. God’s, I used to think. Maybe ‘choice’ is the wrong word. Sometimes it is a very strong pull to a particular path, others… almost as if dice are being thrown.”