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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Saturday, December 6, 2003 00:01 EST



    The barbecue had done its work and they were munching on ribs and chicken to Mary Ellen Jones’s recipe. The boys were sticky all over with barbecue sauce. The adults were being as careful as they could with napkins—which, as always with barbecue, meant just about as sticky. Father Mazzare reflected that on afternoons like this, with a good bellyful of barbecue and a stein of good beer, it was possible to be very content with life.

    “Hello the house!” came a call. Mazzare thought he recognized the voice of Mike Stearns, and he got up to greet him.

    “Hello yourself!” he called back, heading toward the path around the side of the rectory. “We’re in back, come on round.”

    It was indeed Mike Stearns, and he had brought Francisco Nasi with him. “Resting from your homework, Father?”

    “Just about done, as it happens. Have a seat, Mike, Francisco. A few bits left to add, one more read-through and then we can type it up.”

    “Good, good,” Mike said. Mazzare sensed he had something on his mind, and decided to let him come to the point however he saw fit. Nasi was his usual serene self, nodding as greetings went around and deferring to Mike in the making of small talk. The weather continued fair, the Heinzerling boys were looking well, and small wonder, the cooking smelled like it had been good, everyone was well, the pressures of the Mike’s job were bearable for the moment but, of course, everyone was worried about Rebecca in Amsterdam and the people in the Tower of London.

    “In fact,” said Mike, after that last topic had been appropriately commiserated on, “that was what I came to talk to you about.”

    “The situation in England?” Mazzare frowned. He didn’t know much more about that than he could have gotten from any newspaper. And if it was a theological problem, it wasn’t his field at all. In fact, the nearest thing Grantville had to the Anglican Communion was the Reverends Jones and their congregation, and the history of Methodism didn’t start for another century, and that with their divergence from the Church of England. Mazzare idly wondered what Wesley would do when he showed up.

    Except he wouldn’t, Mazzare knew. There would be no John Wesley in this universe. Wesley hadn’t been born until early in the eighteenth century, and Tom Stone had once explained to Mazzare that the so-called butterfly effect would have started scrambling the gene pool in Europe immediately after the Ring of Fire. Within days, apparently, spreading out from Thuringia with incredible speed. By now, Tom had said firmly, it would have swept the entire globe.

    Mazzare had found that hard to believe, at first. That the butterfly effect was real, of course, he didn’t doubt for a moment. He had only to look around him to see the many ways in which the Ring of Fire had changed Europe in less than three years. But the idea that its effects could be felt that quickly, and across such a great distance...

    Tom had shaken his head. “You’re mixing apples and oranges, Father. Sperm cells are a lot more sensitive to the environment than kings and queens—or housewives, for that matter. You’d be amazed how little it takes—”

    There had followed a lengthy explanation in far more detail than Mazzare could follow. But, at the end, he’d been convinced that almost anyone who’d been conceived very long after the Ring of Fire in their old universe would never exist in this one. Although he had, smilingly, cautioned Tom not to tell Rebecca Stearns whenever she returned from Amsterdam that her much-prized adopted son “Baby Spinoza” probably wasn’t Spinoza at all.

    “Not to worry,” Tom had replied, grinning. “In the immortal words of Muhammad Ali, ‘I’m bold but I’m not crazy.’” Then, much more seriously: “It doesn’t matter anyway. Whoever the kid is, genetically, he’ll be awfully close to the original. And since his environment’s been completely changed, he wouldn’t grow up the same even if he does have the identical genome. So who cares? All that matters now is that he’s Mike and Rebecca’s kid.”

    It made Mazzare dizzy, sometimes, trying to follow the logic of the causal loops caused by the Ring of Fire. In this universe, “Methodism” would be founded, more than by anyone else, by the only two Methodist ministers in the world: his good friends Simon and Mary Ellen Jones. But when he’d said that to Simon once, his friend had shaken his head. “No, not really. Because we trace where we come from back to John Wesley—so he still does exist in this universe. If you look at it the right way. His soul exists here, even if his chromosomes never will.”

    Mazzare could hardly argue with that. Whatever other doctrinal disputes he had with Simon Jones, the primacy of the spirit over matter was not one of them.

    But he was wool-gathering, he suddenly realized, while Mike had been talking. He was jolted out of the half-reverie by the last phrase Mike had spoken.

    “—like to offer you a job.”

    Mazzare sat up abruptly. “I’ve, ah, already got one.” He gestured vaguely at the bulk of St. Mary’s over the fence of the rectory garden. He was uncomfortably aware of having missed something important. Beer at lunchtime probably wasn’t a good idea, however nice a day it was, and whatever down-time custom might have to say on the matter.

    “Yes, but this one’s important, and for the government,” Mike replied. “And I don’t think we’ve got a better man for the job available, frankly. I want you to be an ambassador.”

    “I can’t!” Mazzare protested, almost as a reflex. “Anyway, parish priest’s a very important job by itself.” So’s ambassador, a treacherous little part of him said. He grabbed for the first lifeline to hand. “Anyway, I can’t. Separation of Church and State.”

    “Ah, not so,” said Nasi. “We rather ignore your status as an ordained minister--”

    “Priest!” Mazzare barked, wincing as soon he did so. Just because he was suddenly panicking, there was no reason to be rude.

    “Priest, I thank you for the correction,” Nasi continued smoothly, “but we employ you in a secular capacity, if you follow me?”

    Mazzare spotted the flaw immediately. “My parish, Don Francisco. This is my first responsibility, the cure of souls or to see it discharged. If you found a curate for me, another curate rather, while I’m away, that’s the state funding the church right there.”

    “Again, and with the greatest of respect, not so, Father.” Don Nasi gave every impression of already having reached this point in the argument and having passed it some time ago. “Your stipend as an ambassador will be suitably generous to compensate you for the expenses of the post. Insofar as you choose to disburse some of it to a curate, that is done by you in your private management of what is, in law, your own household. Not a matter for the State at all.”

    Mazzare detected the authentic whiff of lawyering. A sort of brimstone reek. He fumed to himself, keeping his face straight the while.

    For all of Nasi’s smooth legalese, there was still a real problem involved. Since the Reformation, southern Thuringia’s Catholic church had ceased to exist—there were no archdeaconries, no dioceses, no Catholic ecclesiastical administration of any kind. The impact of the Thirty Years War, especially since Gustav Adolf’s decisive victory at Breitenfeld two years earlier, had spread the disorganization into the parts of Franconia that made up the remainder of the territory that Grantville was managing for the Swedish king. The bishops of Wuerzburg and Bamberg were in exile at the Habsburg court, as was the prince-abbot of Fulda. The Archbishop of Mainz had fled in the other direction, to Cologne, also outside of the CPE, which removed that link in the religious chain of command.

    The normal clear hierarchies simply didn’t exist any longer in Thuringia and Franconia. For all practical purposes, there was nobody between Father Larry Mazzare and... well, the Pope himself. Although Mazzare always insisted that he was simply a parish priest, in fact he’d increasingly been playing the informal role of “the bishop of Thuringia and Franconia.”

    That was part of the reason, of course, that the Jesuits were so eager to come to Thuringia and set up shop. Protestants in the area tended to view their activities as part of a fiendish Jesuitical plot. But Mazzare knew that most of the explanation was simply that the Jesuits were delighted not to face the usual hassles with a diocesan bishop.

    So. It would have to be a curate hired by Mazzare himself while he was off—he stamped down hard on that thought. Granted, it was flattering that they thought he was up to...

    No. Blast it, I’m just a parish priest!



    “I can’t,” he said, trying to be as firm about it as he could. Listening to himself, he thought he was just doing a good job of sounding obdurate.

    “Sure you can,” replied Mike, relaxed. “In fact, you’re perfect for the job.”

    “I’m not related to you,” Mazzare retorted. “That was why you had to send Rita and Rebecca, wasn’t it? Put your own good name on the line, and all that?”

    “Priests do the same job, you know. Look at what Father Joseph does for Richelieu, or the Emperor’s confessor, what’s his name--”

    “I’m not your confessor. You’re not even Catholic, Mike.” Mazzare had an inkling of where this particular line was going, and didn’t much like it.

    “I’m not really much of anything, religion-wise,” Mike said, raising his hands. Rough hands, Mazzare noted. No strangers to hard work. Hard, unsentimental work. “It’s something I rather tend to gloss over, of course, when it comes up. Especially these days, when everyone and his dog in Europe wants to know.”

    “So you’re sending me somewhere Catholic, then? Is that how it is, Mike?” Mazzare realized he sounded peevish, which only made him more peevish. “You want to dissemble yourself as a Catholic?”

    Mike never even blinked. “I swear, Father, that thought hadn’t occurred to me.”

    He looked as sincere as Shirley Temple. Mazzare didn’t believe it for an instant. Whatever else he was, Mike Stearns was the slickest politician Mazzare knew.

    “It had occured to me,” said Francisco Nasi, suddenly blunt and pugnacious in his manner; from the courtier to the bazaar-haggler in barely a heartbeat. “Father Mazzare, I will not try to pour sugar on this. A mission to Venice, which is indeed Catholic, is vital to our interests—and possibly even our survival. Your presence as leader of that mission represents the best hope we may have of the success of that mission. And, yes, the fact that you are a Catholic priest is part of what fits you so well for the task. For all that nearly everything in Venice turns on money and trade, Father, they need to see a face of Grantville they can trust. Even had we all our pool of potential ambassadors present in Grantville to choose from, most are women, or Jewish.”

    “Or Jewish women,” Mike added, with a brief flash of a grin.

    “Just so,” said Nasi. “You, Father, are a Catholic priest and, however indirectly”—he gestured at the notes, now weighted down with a brick on the chair where they had been put out of the way—”you have the ear of the Pope. Added to this, you are an up-timer and, if you will permit me the compliment, renowned as a man of conscience and integrity among the diplomats of Europe.”

    “Come again? That last part?” Mazzare shook his head. “Hardly anyone outside this town knows me at all, let alone well enough to give me a character reference.”

    There was genuine warmth and humor in Nasi’s laugh, for all its quietness and brevity. “No, Father Mazzare, many have heard of your reputation. For one thing, you count among your acquaintances one of the rising stars of modern diplomacy, Monsignor Mazarini, and he is, when not keeping secrets, a terrible gossip. Well, not a ‘gossip’ exactly—nothing that man says is uncalculated. For another thing, surely you cannot think you have escaped the notice of the spies that infest this town?”

    “Place is thick with ‘em,” Mike added. Though he didn’t seem terribly aggrieved at the thought.

    “Oh, quite,” said Nasi, smiling widely. “It is all I can do not to have a guidebook printed so as to be sure that they get everything. Most helpful, in the matter of sending clear messages to our adversaries.”

    Mazzare gave a little shudder at the kind of mind that would welcome and take advantage of pervasive espionage. For all his affable urbanity, Don Francisco was a deeply devious man. He was, after all, from the city that gave the world the term “Byzantine” in the first place.

    “Why would they be interested in me?” he asked, almost afraid of the answer.

    “They pay attention to all the churches in this town,” Nasi answered. “Also attracting them was the fact that Monsignor Mazarini paid you close attention and in his own person carried your first message to Rome. A message, I might add, that it is widely known was read by either the Pope or one of his closest advisers. Hardly the sort of thing that characterizes ‘a simple parish priest.’”

    Mike snorted. “Hardly. Come on, Larry, cut it out.” He gave Mazzare a hard and level gaze. “You know perfectly well that you’re in a special position in this world. And, by now, probably the most famous ‘simple priest’ since a guy named Martin Luther.” He pointed a finger at the thick stack of paper on the chair. “Do you really think the Pope asks every ‘simple parish priest’ to send him a tome on theology?”

    Mazzare didn’t try to meet the gaze. Mike was right, and he knew it. He’d known it since the day he decided to ask Mazarini to take those first books to Rome.

    For the first time, be began seriously considering the matter. Where would he do more good?

    Hesitations came first. “I don’t know anything about Venice, especially not in this day and age. And what I know about diplomacy and negotiations you could...” Metaphor failed him. “It’s not very much. Nothing, come right to it.”

    Nasi waved those objections aside. “Briefings. Training. Weeks of it. We do not propose to send you on the morrow. Then, when you reach Venice, there will be a staff from the Abrabanel and Nasi holdings in the city to advise you and to handle the details of negotiations. Finally, Father Heinzerling here has some experience as a diplomatic aide.”

    “Gus?” Mazzare looked sharply at his curate. “Did you have a hand in this, this--?”

    Not a muscle moved in Heinzerling’s face. “Don Nasi inquired, and I informed him that there would be no difficulty in obtaining the services of a curate or two during any time we spent away. He did not say for how long, where, or on what particular business.”

    The trouble with Gus, Mazzare thought as he parsed that, was that it was desperately easy to assume that he was plain and straightforward all the time, rather than just most of it. The man could be damnably devious when he put his mind to it, and his loyalty to his parish priest would probably cause him to. The trouble was that his idea of Mazzare’s best interests was decidedly seventeenth century. Heinzerling was bound and determined that Larry Mazzare would become—bare minimum—a bishop. In this day and age, that almost required political prominence.

    Mazzare sighed. He didn’t doubt that Gus’ conversation with Francisco had gone considerably beyond the possibility of getting curates while they were away. Nasi seemed to be altogether too well prepared for this meeting for Mazzare’s liking.

    Nothing for it, then, but to bull ahead. “All right, Gus, who did you sound out for the job?”

    “Father Kircher.” Again, not a muscle in Heinzerling’s face betrayed him. “He is willing, and kind enough to find his own assistant priest if asked to undertake the parochial work here at St. Mary’s in addition to his duties at the school.”

    Mazzare tried not to laugh at his own defeat. Kircher, no less!

    Athanasius Kircher, SJ. Scientist, scholar, and all round genius, was willing to cover his parochial work? The Jesuits must be very keen to see Mazzare get on. Kircher had made the first serious attempt on Egyptian hieroglyphics, some of the first experiments in rocketry, was a known man in the fields of physics and chemistry. The only reason he hadn’t been remembered as a great astronomer was because Galileo and Kepler were his contemporaries and were more dedicated to it than he was.

    And this—this genuine polymath—was willing to add ten masses, confession, novena and benedictions to his working week? So that Father Lawrence Mazzare could junket to Venice?

    “It’s a done deal, isn’t it?” he said to Mike.

    “You can always say no.”

    “How? With everyone, including at least one leading light among the Jesuits, greasing the rails, all this effort to get me to agree, how can I refuse?” There, that put it in terms his conscience could handle.

    Mike had the good grace to look embarrassed. “Look, Father, I’m sorry and all, but I wouldn’t be pressing so hard if it wasn’t so important.”

    A sudden wild whim overtook Mazzare. He turned to Jones, who had been watching the conversation in silence, his head following the action like a tennis spectator. “Simon, how about it?”

    Jones swallowed, hard, before replying. “Larry, I can’t decide for you, you know that. It sounds like there’s nothing to get in your way, though, and I think you’d be good with a bit of training. Seriously.”

    “No, not that. I mean, do you want to come to Venice with me? Call it ‘assistant ambassador,’ or whatever the appropriate diplomatic title is. Show ‘em we’re not just Catholics here, and that religion is completely separate from politics?”

    “He’s starting already,” Mike said.

    Jones went a little pale. “Me? Why?”

    “I’m going to need help.”

    “You should, Simon, if there’s a place for you,” said Mary Ellen, over her knitting but not actually looking up. “I can fill in for you while you’re gone. And you can bring me back some of that nice Venetian glassware I’ve always wanted.”

    Jones, in that moment, looked like Mazzare felt.

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