Ring of FireEric Flint

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5Heinzerling returned to Grantville with wh

t appeared to be a small party of refugees: a woman and three small boys."I have no response for you," he said to Mazzare. "The monsignor is recalled to Rome.""Why?" Mazzare had had hopes of a response that would ease his own tension."I cannot say for sure. He did leave word that I might come to Grantville if I wished it, and would come himself when he might.""What as?" Mazzare frowned. "You, I mean. His spy?"Heinzerling shrugged. "He would have reports of me, ja. Will you have a curate in whose ears you might speak no secrets?"Mazzare stared at him, hard. Then, coming to a decision, sighed. "Fine. I need the help. You can stay at least until Monsignor Mazarini arrives."Heinzerling nodded. "And Hannelore can keep the presbytery. And clean the church.""Ah," said Mazzare, "let us discuss Hannelore . . ."* * *The months passed. Work, again, was the remedy for Mazzare's doubts. Grantville's population swelled. The expanding cordon of rumor and report was like an osmotic membrane, sucking in the frightened and unsettled, the hopeful and the greedy.Mazzare was far and away the busiest of the pastors in town. His responsibilities to what had already been the largest congregation in town doubled and redoubled; more of the refugees, immigrants and outright carpetbaggers were Catholic—or at least decided to be so on arriving—than any other denomination. On top of that, he was working as part of Grantville's corps of mechanics and teaching at the high school, evening classes for those who wanted to try their hand at the new trades the Ring of Fire had brought."I'm doing the work of a bishop, Simon.""Put in for the promotion, then," said Jones, muffled inside another recalcitrant engine. "You got a ten-millimeter nut?""Sure." Mazzare rummaged in one of the drawers of his rollaway. "Joking apart, if we hadn't been such an ageing town, we'd have been in real trouble.""Eh?" Jones stood up."Well, the Ecumenical Relief Committee. What'd we have done without all the old—""Battle-axes?""May you be forgiven, my son. Good word, though. Here's the nut.""I know what you mean. I never thought I'd say this, but having a supply of fierce elderly ladies on hand was a godsend when it came to soup kitchens, if nothing else.""I'm getting sidetracked again. We're getting to be a fair-sized deanery here and practically a diocese. It's more than six priests can deal with, never mind the two of us. And I'm worried about things getting, you know, tense.""Tense? I haven't seen any of that sort of thing other than maybe some brawling now and then. As to the workload, I know what you mean. Well, I would, but we don't get half so many Protestant refugees and there's plenty of a whole lot of denominations hereabouts so we're not so stuck for hands.""Speaking of denominations, how's the theological correspondence?""There, that's fixed." Jones stood up again, slipped his wrench back into its place in the roll. "We'll do the rest in the morning, huh? Too late now.""Yes. The kids are asleep. Y'know, it still feels weird to say that. Coffee?""Kill for one. No, about the correspondence, we seem to have exhausted the real fruitcakes, but Al Green got a doozy this morning. Did he tell you?"Mazzare worked the coffee machine, the newly-arrived Turkish roast temporarily overruling the smell of oil and hot metal. "I haven't seen him since, oh, must be last week sometime.""Yeah, well, word got around that he's the Reverend Doctor Al Green, and so he's gotten a letter from the Earl of Carlisle's secretary. Apparently the earl's in Paris, helping Ussher with his researches, and does the reverend doctor have anything that might help?"Mazzare pantomimed jaw-dropping amazement. "That Ussher?""The very same. He's glomming antiquarian documents from across Europe.""Reassure me Al's not going to send him anything." Mazzare felt a genuine pang of alarm. The Reverend Doctor Al Green, while a fine man, was notorious for occasionally needing to take a little more water with it."Well, I offered him my copy of Hawking . . ." Jones cracked up.Mazzare found Jones' humor infectious. "Simon Jones," he chuckled, "may you be forgiven. Mocking a harmless old lunatic so.""Had a bit of fun at Ussher's expense, too. Anyway, speaking of theological debate, I understand your curate was disputing a point or two at the Thuringen Gardens last night?""Oh, I heard about that. A lively controversy, by all accounts. You hear how it turned out?""Indeed. God exists, by two falls to a knockout.""Exactly." Mazzare grinned a fiendish grin. "Although what Gus got in the Gardens was nothing to what Hanni gave him when he got home."Jones laughed again. "I'll bet. Seriously, how's he shaping up?""Not so bad, within his limits, once I cured him of a few bad habits.""Such as?""Drunkenness. Lewd cohabitation. Foul language." Mazzare chortled. "I thought I had him broken of picking fights in bars, too. No, he's all right. Ah, that's brewed. About the only person that objects is Irene Flannery, bless her.""Oh?""Bit of a story. Come on, let's sit on the porch with these." Mazzare poured coffee into two workshop-issue chipped mugs.The evening was warm with just a hint of the cold night that the clear sky promised after the heat of the summer day. Father Heinzerling was already there, his heels on the porch rail and puffing smoke at the stars. "Hast fettled the engine?" he asked by way of greeting."Likely," said Jones, "try 'er in the morning, I reckon.""How's the jaw?" asked Mazzare."Mending." Heinzerling grinned ruefully and lopsidedly, rubbing at his bruised chin, "and a certain Scotsman will be more respectful of Catholic courage, ja?""Never mind the jaw, what about the eye?" asked Jones. "Ah, now," said Mazzare, "while the jaw was got in defense of the faith, the eye was got for disobedience of Hannelore. Sympathy only where it is proper, Simon, and for just punishment he must suffer in silence."They settled down again, stretching and shifting to get comfortable. Jones broke the silence first. "You know, if Gus' little fracas there was the worst of it, I don't think we need worry too much.""You know me, Simon, I worry." Mazzare sipped at his coffee. "I don't think there was any malice in last night's nonsense, but I hear some ugly things.""Oh?""Oh, the usual. All the best jobs are going to 'them,' we're not getting a fair shake. I'm hearing it from the Catholic side, of course, but I'll bet the same thing is going around among the rest of town. If it's just the creaking as we settle in here, it's nothing, but—" He gestured with his mug, waving at all the possible problems that waited to crystallize out of the clear air."You worry overmuch, Father Mazzare," said Heinzerling, tapping out his pipe on his bootheel. "There are those who will gripe if it would rain florins. With your leave, gentlemen, I shall take to my bed."They bid him good night."So, Larry, what's the story with Hanni and Irene Flannery?" Jones leaned forward. He would cheerfully admit that, if he had a fault, he was an awful gossip.Mazzare grinned. "Ah, now I first got a notion something was up when I turned up at the church and heard the shrieking.""Oh, my." Jones was on the verge of cracking up. "I can imagine. You know, Irene Flannery has scared me all my life? I had her as a teacher. And I imagine Hanni didn't hold anything back—""No, not a bit. I do declare I learned more 'colorful idiom' in two different languages than I had ever hoped to in a lifetime." Mazzare shook his head and chuckled gently."Let me guess—once you intervened, they turned on you?"Mazzare sighed. "That was the worst of it. That might have given them a point of agreement. Of course, they stopped the minute they saw I was there.""A Father Ted moment?" Jones had bought videos of the Irish comedy as a present for Mazzare a few years before."Pretty much. Suddenly all sweet and meek for the priest. And now Irene says she's too old to keep the church any more, and we don't see her but for mass, and her neighbors say she's getting worse. It used to be just kids and footballs, but—" Mazzare bit his lip."She got worse?" Jones frowned."No joking matter, Simon. No, I think she'll get over it in time. She's about the only one who hasn't, anyway." Mazzare sighed and shook his head."Bit of a shock, suddenly having a married priest."Mazzare grinned. "Not for most of my parishioners. Perfectly normal, at least to the older folks. The counter-reformation took a while to get out to here, and most of the older Germans can remember having married priests about the place.""Well, Larry, I can find you—"Mazzare laughed aloud. "Get thee behind me, Jones. I have seen enough of clerical matrimony to know better than to inflict it on myself at my age.""What, four years younger than me?""Shut up, Simon."6It was months before Mazarini could get away from Cardinal Barberini's court to make the long ride to Grantville.His first sight of the town, spread out in the evening sunshine before him, confirmed its alien origin as no amount of reports could have done. The geometry of the place had nothing to do with defense. No wall to huddle in, no easily defended spot. Just a place where roads met. He stopped to look over the town, comparing the place to the map he had had. He identified the carillon tower of St. Mary's, and smiled a moment at the memory of its former name. Then, his lathered horse glad of the slower pace, he dismounted and walked in. The town was quiet, almost deserted, but that was to be expected if the American forces were away dealing with the Spanish threat that had been the main news at Paris when he had passed through. When he reached St. Mary's, he found Heinzerling saying an evening benediction."How are you keeping?" he asked, when Heinzerling had finished and the gratifyingly large congregation had gone."They have a phrase here: 'going native.' I think it fits me.""About the only thing that still does, by the look of you." Mazarini appraised his former aide. He wore the weight like a prize boar. Called on to wrestle with Satan, Heinzerling could make Satan regret it."The living is good here." Heinzerling grinned, and shrugged. "Even a curate does well.""How does the Society take your new status?""Well as can be expected. The Provincial asks I report regularly and fit in. They ask after converts, and I tell them of the increase in numbers here, which satisfies them well enough."Mazarini raised an eyebrow.Heinzerling shrugged. "Things are different here. The place is governed in the strangest way. There is more regulation of how one shits than of how one prays. When you get used to it, though—" He shrugged again."And so your converts?"Heinzerling laughed. "This is a good place to live. People come here. Some of them are Catholic. So we have more each day at mass. Converts!" He waved a hand, "Oh, we have a few, sicher. We have a fine social center. Some come for that. The rigor of our doctrine and the holiness of our sacraments? No. The other churches do just as well, and to each his own."Mazarini had known the genial German was capable of fitting in anywhere—sent among the Turk he would have made friends and found something kind to say of Mahomet—but had not quite expected this. Indeed, had not suspected it from the reports. He changed the subject. "Father Mazzare? He has not written since that first invitation to visit.""As he was. At the moment, he is at the rectory, mending an engine with one of the Protestant priests."Mazarini's bewilderment must have shown.Heinzerling grinned. "There is a lot that has not gone into my reports. Father Mazzare's closest friend is a Protestant priest, and together they raise church funds by mending engines, which they enjoy. I should report this where it might come to the ears of the Holy Office?"Mazarini could not help but grin. "I must meet Father Mazzare. But first, I need to speak with whoever is in charge of the troops here.""This would be Dan Frost, mein' ich, he is the police chief here.""The what?""Sort of like a town watch. Only not. I will explain later. You have news for him?""Indeed. I think Wallenstein may have sent someone this way. I passed what looked like three or four squadrons of cavalry, Croats by the looks of them, four days ago. I have been coming as fast as I could make post-horses go, so I will be ahead of them by perhaps two days. Can you summon a messenger?""I can do better. Here, come to the rectory. How is your English?""Poor. Why?""Ach, I shall translate." As they spoke, Heinzerling had led them across the grounds of the church to the presbytery. Once inside, and before Mazarini could spend any time gawking at the house, Heinzerling had picked up a peculiarly shaped object attached to another by a twisted cord. "Telefon," he said."Ah, I wanted to see this. How is it done?""You press numbers to make another telefon ring. This number makes the one at the police station ring, and, ah," Heinzerling held the instrument closer to his ear. "Marlene? Father Augustus here."Mazarini watched closely as Heinzerling held the instrument to his ear and mouth. He could just hear a voice from the thing, could better follow Heinzerling's much-improved English as he passed on the report of cavalry and their location.Heinzerling turned again to Mazarini, now back in French. "Monsignor, it was three to four hundred, yes?""Yes, nearer four hundred."Heinzerling passed that on to the invisible Marlene. "Ja," he said into the phone, "the monsignor was once a captain of horse. He knows what he is talking about. Perhaps two days if they come straight here." Another exchange of pleasantries and Heinzerling put the phone down. "Done," he said. "Dan Frost will know of these Croats soon enough. There are plans in place for any raid.""Excellent. Now, shall we discuss Grantville while we await Father Mazzare?"* * *Mazzare turned out to be all that the reports had said: tall, spare, silver-gray and black in his short-cropped hair and a touch of gold in his brown eyes: patrician was a word that might have been coined for him. Committed to his pastoral duties, continent in his vows and gentlemanly in his manner. By the standards of his own time, apparently, not unusual. By the standards of the time he was in, practically a saint. Heinzerling, for example, had a woman in tow and three children, none of whom had formed any great bar to his remaining in orders. To Mazarini's surprise, Mazzare had insisted they marry. Over dinner that evening, Mazzare said: "Every other thing about this parish is irregular, so why not our curate?" There was little mirth in Mazzare's laughter.The other irregularity was the presence at table of the pastors of four Protestant churches of Grantville, whom Mazzare had invited to meet the visiting monsignor. There was the Reverend Chalker, a Pentecostalist, the Reverend Wiley, Free Presbyterian—although not, apparently, a Scotsman, and the Reverend Doctor Green, a Baptist. These were familiar strains of heretic, able to give a—friendly enough—account of their heresies by reference to Protestant sects that Mazarini knew. The Reverend Jones and his wife were remarkable, not least for Signora Jones being a minister herself. Their "Methodist" sect was a schism of the English heresy that would not be committed for another hundred years. The meaning of the gesture—Protestant and Catholic clergy at table without even harsh words—was not immediately clear. Mazarini could not help but shake the feeling that it was purely a normal guest-list for such events. He put the thoughts aside and concentrated on enjoying Frau Heinzerling's cooking.After dinner, Mazarini joined Mazzare in the garden behind the presbytery. The Protestant pastors had gone home, leaving promises of hospitality in the coming days, another wonder."I have made errors in my assessment of your situation." Mazarini had discovered early in the day that Mazzare's Italian, his own hesitant, new-learned English and the Latin they had in common were enough to communicate fluently. "Easy enough to do. There'll be a lot of change in the Church over the next four hundred years, and St. Vin . . . St. Mary's reflects that.""Not that. By the standards of these times you are a model of obedience to Rome." Mazarini waved a hand. "From what I see so far, I should arrange for Vincent de Paul to come here and see what he should be trying to achieve." He looked up at Mazzare's face, and grinned back at the frown. "I have the dubious honor to know him, but I haven't told him. The man's a nuisance as it is. Seeing his name on the front of a church would have made him more than mortal man could stand."Mazzare laughed. "Most of the usual patron saints for Catholic churches in the twentieth century are either still alive, not saints yet or not even born." He frowned again. "Or politically sensitive.""It must be difficult. No, to return to my confession of error, I had believed that His Eminence the Cardinal Richelieu was preparing to seek advantage from your presence. I had thought that he would seek a more general war with Spain.""He's not?""No. It seems that between Grantville and its Jews, His Eminence feels Sweden is strong enough that France is better served by alignment with Spain. Which puts me in a hard place.""Oh?" Mazzare's face was suddenly still. Unlike Jones, he had been known to play the occasional hand of cards, and was good at it."Yes. I am now in poor odor in Rome. With France and Spain now aligning, my efforts to hold a balance between them are no longer so highly thought of. I have been these past few months trying to keep on my political feet."Mazzare let out the breath he had been holding in a sigh. "That's nothing we hadn't heard, of course. We have a force out to—we have forces out. We suspected something of this kind must have happened. And His Holiness?"Mazarini nodded. "Can do nothing for fear of the Spaniards. So long as we were providing a, a—""Level killing field?" Mazzare's tone was savage.Mazarini, in return, was gloomy. "Yes, yes, rem acu tetigisti. A phrase of the twentieth century?" He thought for a moment of what Mantua had looked like after three years of bloody stalemate."Yes. An English diplomat," Mazzare spat the word, "sent to try and settle fighting in the Balkans."Mazzare barked a short laugh. "I can excuse him a harsh word or two, if he was sent to do that. Even the Turks have trouble there. No, now France and Spain no longer need their killing field, His Holiness has less need of peacemakers. These three months past I am recalled to Cardinal Barberini's court. It is said to me that I were better to keep quiet for a time, since I have tried to make trouble for France and keep her from Spain's throat, not knowing they were pissing in the same pot." He snarled the last words, his waxed mustachios quivering in indignation. "So," he sighed, "I am come here, at your invitation. Perhaps there is something I can do."Mazzare placed a hand on his shoulder. "We figured some of it out, you know, when Servien never turned up, or at least never announced himself. We'd heard he'd left Vienna after trying to make trouble for the Abrabanels and was on his way here, but we didn't have anyone on hand who'd recognize him." Mazzare's voice turned bitter. "All this time thinking the religion would cause the trouble.""I will admit it is worse than I imagined it would be. There is talk of witchcraft"—he held up a hand to stop Mazzare's hot interjection—"Flummery. The talk of witchcraft is a pretext, as it usually is. The real issue is France, Spain, and the Spanish Road. I had thought that Richelieu would take advantage against Spain, but it seems that His Eminence has made an error.""An error? We're a threat to him. We took his best ally against the Habsburgs and bought them out from under him.""Which Richelieu should have seen as an opportunity to undo Spain. The fool." Mazarini gave vent to a stream of language in an idiom four centuries older than Mazzare had learned in Chicago yet surprisingly comprehensible. "That could so easily have been repaired," he said when he had run out of splenetic force. "France and Spain guided into deadlock with each other, Sweden allowed just enough to stop Wallenstein. It could have been done. I could have done it. This war could have been ended!" This last a shout, at the heavens, clear and starry and moon-bright, the half moon low in the east obscuring the earth with silver-gray shadows."And Rome?"Mazarini sighed again. "Rome is under Spain's thumb. Now Richelieu is in with Spain, Rome must needs no longer intrigue against France and France will not help Rome against Spain. We must allow France her head, and no doubt they will cease to move against Italy.""That isn't what I meant." Mazzare's voice was gentle, weary."It is not?""Where am I in all this?" Mazzare spoke quietly, pleading.Mazarini placed a hand on his arm. "I am sorry, Padre. I do not know. I truly do not. No one is paying mind to such petty matters as religion. Or peace."Silence fell. Mazarini made his excuses and retired to the presbytery's guest room.* * *Mazzare did not go to bed that night. Had anyone been up and about, they would have seen lights on in the church. For a little while, at least, sitting in the presiding chair on the sanctuary—itself an anachronism in this century—he could be seen to be at peace. Over his shoulder, the crucifixion scene behind the tabernacle. In his lap, his well-worn rosary.For some time after, sitting perfectly still, he stared across the sanctuary at the lectern, the missal open on it. Now he sat in a less composed fashion, his face closed and tight as he considered the sight of the book of liturgy.And when he could bear that no longer, he simply stared, eyes unfocused, into the empty pews, his face candid in its misery as he awaited a dawn that had still not come when he turned off the lights and left the church.* * *Mazarini, as was his habit, arose before dawn and descended to find Mazzare, Heinzerling and the redoubtable Frau Hannelore Heinzerling in the kitchen. Like breakfast tables since the dawn of time, there was little conversation among the adults while the children—three beefy little boys, the eldest about eight—chattered. Frau Heinzerling served up just about everything that it was possible to fry in heroic portions, and coffee and beer in similar quantities. Mazarini declined coffee and beer, but noted that Mazzare was drinking coffee like his life depended on it."You like coffee?" Mazarini tried to open some form of conversation once breakfast had gone down and Frau Heinzerling had rounded the boys up for school. St. Mary's, it seemed, was a rich parish to afford schooling for three children."Didn't sleep much, last night," was the mumbled reply.Mazarini noted a peculiar expression on Heinzerling's face. Reproach for his former master, concern for the American priest—it was hard to tell.Another gambit, then. "Perhaps we might discuss how I am to spend my time in Grantville?" Something was troubling Mazzare, it seemed, and Mazarini thought that perhaps a practical topic would concentrate his wits.At that, Heinzerling rose from the table. "I will go and open the church for morning mass, ja?" he said, and left."Doesn't want to hear anything he'd have to report," said Mazzare. His voice was as tired as his face. "The man's torn.""You are troubled?""Somewhat.""I will not pry. Perhaps I might presume upon you for introductions to Grantville's notables? If I can do nothing else, I can at least be plying my trade.""Already tried. I called Rebecca Stearns, but she's gone up to the school for the morning, I was told. Everyone else is out of town at the moment." With a sudden burst of vigor, Mazzare wrenched himself from his chair. "Come on, I'll give you the ten-dollar tour. Need some fresh air, anyway."* * *It was a fresh, bright September morning, the pale moon still showing in the west, the sun low in the east. The town of Grantville, seen only briefly the day before, had some intriguing novelty on every street and corner. The architecture was odd; severely plain in some instances, strangely fanciful in others and here and there, bizarrely, echoing classical Rome. Tastes in ornamentation were radically different from his own.Mazzare was clearly well known. Those up and about were, in the main, women and the elderly. Most with a greeting or a wave or a nod for the American priest. Children he saw assembling to be taken to school, and the notion of schooling for all was explained to him. It was more than even the Jesuits attempted. Then he saw the buses, and was startled almost out of his wits. He had read of the engine-vehicles of Grantville, but the first encounter was a shock. In that shock, he made the mistake of asking Mazzare how the engine worked.Half an hour later, and dazed by the flood of information and the first genuine enthusiasm the American priest had evinced in his presence, Mazarini was, if no wiser about the operation of the internal combustion engine, at least ignorant in more detail than before.Their walk had taken them down by the creek that ran through Grantville when the alarms began to sound. It began with a wail, somewhere between a wolf and night wind in a chimney-cowl."Trouble," said Mazzare."What is that noise?""Siren." He said the word in English. "No, not the mythical creature. A machine for making noise." Mazzare turned and lengthened his stride."Oh." Mazarini had to walk more quickly to keep up with Mazzare, who stood a full hand-span taller than him. "Where are we going?""Downtown. See what's going on.""We can help?""Straight away, no. But we need to know where our action stations are."* * *Downtown turned out to be the name for the part of town with the tallest buildings in it, and there was the busy, determined chaos of a wasp's nest going on in it. Mazzare spoke to several people to get the story, and then translated for Mazarini. It was, indeed, a cavalry raiding party, sighted on the edge of town near the school.Mazarini followed Mazzare to help direct people as they came into the center of town. A man sporting a bronze badge had given the orders. He had been swearing sulphurously about the lack of warning. Apparently someone assumed that cavalry a hundred miles away two days before would not be a threat so soon and simply left a note on the desk of the Chief of Police—who had been too busy to notice it."Wallenstein," said Mazarini."You think so?" answered Mazzare. "No shortage of other bandits.""Not with Wallenstein around. Better opportunities for loot and a stipend when pickings are poor.""Whatever." Mazzare shrugged, began directing the streams of people toward doorways.Mazarini felt his eyebrows climbing when he saw the people coming to take shelter. "They're all armed!"Mazzare grinned over his shoulder, breaking off briefly from his work. "Welcome to America!"The weapons were different, the soldiers nothing like those Mazarini had led in the Valtelline. Nevertheless, the ambush taking shape around the plaza was as old as warfare. Heinzerling showed up at the head of a column of elderly women, half of them with the peculiar pistols the Americans favored.And then came a shout. "Father Mazzare! We need your help." It was another man with a badge.Mazzare strode off, Mazarini on his heels. The man with the badge strode along with him, explaining something in English, talking too fast for Mazarini to follow.They came to a building that was a whirl of activity, more men—and women, here, too, with badges. There was a thunder of shouting in English and German both. Many of those doing the shouting were shouting into little boxes with sticks on them. Like the telefon, he thought.Mazzare, oblivious to Mazarini now, had picked up a telephone and was talking into it, urgently but gently. Heinzerling had come along too. "Scheisse," he said, "typisch.""What?" Mazarini was still confused."Frau Flannery. She was at mass this morning. She must have gone home instead of following me here.""Who?"In the background, Mazzare. "Irene, it's not safe, yes, I know, but you must . . ."Heinzerling went on. "Widow. Older than Satan and just as pleasant. Took it badly when Hannelore began cleaning the church. Thought Hanni was not good enough to set foot in a church. Called her a whore. Hanni called her some bad names, too. Father Mazzare couldn't get them to see reason. I told Hanni to forgive and forget, but Frau Flannery stopped talking to anyone but Father Mazzare."" . . . I know, Irene, but you'll be—yes, but there's no sense . . ."Mazarini, trying to follow two conversations at once, stopped staring at Mazzare and asked, over his shoulder, "Why?"Heinzerling's shrug was all but audible. "Who knows? She is a crazy old woman."" . . . yes, Irene, I know to the minute how long it's been, but I can hardly hear it over the phone, you should come . . .""Is he doing what I think—""Ja." Pause, for another shrug. "He feels bad that she feels unwanted, mein' ich. But Hannelore was fifty years younger and lives next to the church. She could still have helped, but—"From Mazzare, resignedly, the Latin words of absolution. He put the phone down, his face gray. "Penance hardly seemed worth it." Louder, to one of the badged men. "She won't come, Dan. Won't be driven out of her home, she says.""You did all you could, Father.""I should go—"The badged man, Dan, cut that off with a wave. "No, Father. Don't. She made her choice. Save those that want it." He strode away, barking orders—unmistakably in command.Heinzerling, now, with more tenderness than Mazarini had thought the Jesuit had in him. "We should find a position on the plaza, Father."* * *The battle itself was short, noisy and one-sided. The three priests took station in an upper room, awaiting the signal. Heinzerling turned out to have an American pistol, a huge brute of a thing by the standards of such, machined of some black metal. Mazzare frowned, but said nothing.Outside, Mazzare could see down the street to where the Croats were coming from, and saw Dan Frost the constable facing them down. Good, he thought, draw them in. There is a man with courage, to die for his people. Would that constables in other towns were so conscientious. The constable drew a pistol, leveled it at the front rank of Croats.The shooting, when it came, was a rattle of rapid fire, the crack and curls of blue smoke from the Americans answering the coughs and reeking clouds of the Croat pistols. Mazzare kept to the back of the room, where the unarmed sheltered, comforting the frightened. Mazarini stood in the window, ignoring the imprecations to keep his head down—every inch the captain he had once been—and watched the slaughter in the street below for some minutes. Like him, Heinzerling stood. Side on to the window in the classic duelist's stance, returning fire and grinning the savage, tusky grin of a boar with the drop on the hunters. The windows shattered in the storm of fire, the tinkle of glass inaudible in the rip of gunfire and the screams of wounded men and dying horses.When it was clear that the battle was won, the street outside a bloody, shrieking shambles, Mazarini turned to find Mazzare holding a blood-soaked cloth to the back of a woman's head. "Scalp wounds always bleed badly," offered Mazarini, "but are seldom serious.""She's concussed. That"—Mazzare stabbed a finger at a heavy, brass-framed icon in the Eastern style—"fell off the wall."Mazarini picked it up. It was painted on, of all things, black velvet. The saint's face was serene, slightly corpulent, and he was dressed in a white raiment adorned with jewels. The name written under the portrait was an odd one, the appellation even more so. Elvis—Still the King."What saint is this?" he asked, able now to converse normally with the guns all but silent.It took some time to explain the slightly hysterical laughter to his satisfaction.* * *Irene Flannery's body was not found for hours. Cut down in her front yard, she had tried to drag herself back to her house to die, but had gotten only as far as a flowerbed. A riot of colorful growth like the rest of her garden, it had concealed her corpse from the first quick parties of searchers.She was found, eventually, and only on Father Mazzare's insistence was she brought to the church for burial.The order of service was stilted. The passages of scripture, the prayers and invocations echoed in the empty church. The badged man, the "Dan" who had spoken with Mazzare after he had tried to save the old woman's life, turned up for the requiem mass. He had taken no communion and left without speaking. The Protestant Jones had also attended and had followed the pitiful cortege to the graveside, his worried silence following Mazzare's grimness like the foam in the wake of a ship running before a storm wind.Mazzare had spoken the words of the requiem mass in a cold tone, an iron tone that hammered the flowing Latin syllables and drew them out as a glowing, hot wire of condemnation.His sermon had been harsher still, for all its quietness and plainness of manner."The Ring of Fire was an Act of God," he had begun, "and in His Act he has done nothing so capricious as the act that has brought us here today. Irene Flannery, in her lonely old age, felt rejected. Rejected even by the church she made the second home of her thirty years of widowhood."Not, today, the literary form of the eulogy, deprecated in a catechism that would not be written for three hundred years."She was not alone."There were only seven people and a corpse to hear him. Only the corpse did not flinch."We have been brought to a world in which religion is no more than gang colors."The walk to the cemetery was silent. There had been neither gasoline nor spare horses for a hearse. Irene Flannery, birdlike in life like so many old women, scarcely outweighed her pine box, but the pallbearers' tread was heavy."A world in which people kill and die and nations stand or fall by the canting of theologians and the greed of statesmen."Heinzerling had risen in the small hours to dig a grave in the pouring rain."It is not enough to say that religion is not to blame. That it was only a pretext."Half of those present at the graveside wore vestments. The rain had made short work of all of them, and the wind flapped the sodden cloths in short, harsh volleys of cracks, the only salute Irene Flannery would get."Nor is it enough to say that she will be missed by no one. That she left no living relatives behind in America, had no friends here. The same can be said of millions."Around the grave, four clerics and no mourners bar the pallbearers, three miners whom Mazzare had had to call out to help him and Heinzerling and Mazarini carry the coffin."That has never been an excuse for any murder. Who murdered her?"After the fighting, Mazzare had moved among the dead and dying in the plaza, trying to administer the last rites, blessings, whatever might be wanted. "The man so lost to his faith that he refused the rites of his own church?"He had been spat at, cursed, insulted in all the languages the Croats could manage. His countenance, grayed already by the carnage, had paled."No. But his guilt is no less for his lack of responsibility."He had hardly spoken since then, had spoken two words to Mazarini when he finally walked away from the blood-soaked plaza. "Poor bastards."They say that religion is only the pretext."In the grave, already a hand's depth of water. "But it is the fault of the religious who let it be so used."The pallbearers, waiting to lower the stubborn old woman into the red clay, avoided meeting Mazzare's eye as he barked the words of the rite to the uncaring clouds."Irene Flannery was murdered by every man of God who turned his back on the things done in the name of his faith. That good men should do nothing. Indeed. We have all done that nothing, sinned in what we have failed to do."The words spoken, the coffin lowered to its resting place, the cemetery fell silent other than the drumming of the rain on the coffin lid."She lived nearly ninety years, to die of the cowardice of men she would have trusted for the cloth they wore. She had a right, contrary as she was, to better. From me, from everyone professing a Christian faith."Heinzerling picked up the shovel he had left thrust into the mound of earth. He stood, silent a moment, watching Mazzare gaze, empty-eyed into the grave, at the handfuls of earth on the plain, unseasoned pine board of the coffin."Should we take the churchmen of this time to task for their failure to see now what will be seen over the next three centuries?"It was the last of the five graves left after the raid. The others were already starting to settle, a flush of green weeds appearing on the raw earth."Perhaps I cannot. I have, myself stood by. Not acted. Who am I to cast the first stone? But if I cannot, God will."Heinzerling put down the shovel, and, with the others at the graveside, left Mazzare to stand, staring silently into the earth at the coffin of an old woman who had had no living friends."Without faith, the thing that gives meaning to religion, we truly have nothing here but a meaningless death."Rain ran down Mazzare's face. Perhaps he wept. There was no one to see.* * *The kitchen was hot and fuggy with pipe-smoke and steam. Irene Flannery, unwaked before she was buried, was being drunk to now in scalding coffee and silence.They heard the presbytery door open and shut. Long minutes passed. Jones, Mazarini and the Heinzerlings waited in silence.Mazzare walked in to the kitchen. His face was calm. Water dripped from his hair, his clothes. Under his arm, a stack of books. "Mazarini," he said.Mazarini nodded."Larry," said Jones, "are you—""Never better," said Mazzare, "never better, Simon." There was a small, cold smile on his face, his eyes clear and bright. "Can you carry a message, Legate Monsignor Mazarini?""Certainly.""Here. The Papers of the Second Vatican Council." He slammed a heavy hardback in a gray dust-jacket onto the table. "The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1992 Edition." A thick paperback volume, dog-eared and stained and fringed with yellow notes. Hammered onto the table. "The Bible. In English. An approved Catholic translation." This, more gently, on the table. "You won't recognize the names that go with the approval. Take my word that they're honest ordained bishops. Meantime, Father Heinzerling here will stop editing his own reports.""Larry—""Father Mazzare—"Only Mazarini was silent.Mazzare held up a hand for silence. "Simon, Augustus, I've had enough of being quiet but I don't have a big enough voice. Monsignor Mazarini, you rode between the armies once, calling for peace."Mazarini nodded, understanding what was asked of him. "I will fail, of course," he said. "Some things can only be done once."Mazzare nodded. "Sometimes," he said, "failure counts." 

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