After 293 A.D. Nicaea
Kairos 94: Bishop Veritas
“Over here,” the man said. “Follow me.”
Lockhart looked at the man who dressed in a simple brown robe with only a rope for a belt. The man wore sandals that appeared to be falling apart, and the travelers would have ignored him as one of the uncountable number of poor and destitute people they had seen through their journey, except for two things. For one, he wore a leather necklace, which held a hand-sized iron cross, and which bounced off his ample belly as he walked. Rather than a Greek or Thracian from the Roman Empire, it made him look more like a medieval monk—at least the Hollywood version. For two, and more to the point, when they saw him, he first said to them, “Welcome, friends from the future.” The man waited while Lockhart considered what to do. The man spoke again after a moment.
“I know an inn where you, your horses, and equipment can all be safe in the night. And I know a Ship Captain that will sail all of us to Asia for a reasonable price,” the man said, and he went back to waiting.
“I sense no evil intent in him,” Katie tried to whisper as she held her horse steady.
“I think he is one of the good guys,” Boston spoke up from the rear, making herself heard and directing her voice to Lockhart’s ears only.
Lincoln pushed his horse forward to speak to the man. “We are looking for Bishop Veritas. Do you know him?”
“I do, indeed,” the man said, and smiled. “He is the one who told me about you and asked me to keep watch for you while I worked here in Byzantium. He said, after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, when the emperor had a vision and the cross appeared on the hill in Constantine’s face—and you did not come then—this is probably the worst time for you to arrive. He said to expect you any day, and here you are.”
“And where is the bishop?” Alexis asked. She had followed Lincoln to the front where their four horses presently blocked most of the street.
“He is in Nicaea, where all the bishops argue day and night in front of the Emperor, Constantine. They gave me a headache, so his grace kindly sent me to Byzantium to see to the construction of the church of God’s Peace.” The man shook his head. “It will be ten years in the building, but it will be worth it. Constantine has brought peace on the whole empire, and in God’s name, it is only right to celebrate that.”
“I see,” Katie said.
“And do you have a name?” Lockhart asked.
“I am Father Flavius of Apollonia. My companion, whom you will meet, is Galarius, Deacon of Barke.”
Before anyone could introduce the travelers, they got interrupted by a group of soldiers. “Hey. Move on. You can’t park here. You are blocking traffic.”
“Follow me,” Father Flavius said, and with one more glance at his fellow travelers, Lockhart, with Katie, followed, and the rest of the group trailed behind.
When the horses were well stabled, the wagon put up for the night, and the travelers settled into the inn beside the port, Father Flavius, Deacon Galarius, Captain Ardocles and his mate, a skinny fellow named Pinto, that Decker called Beans, ate their fill. They all enjoyed a fish supper that the priest, his deacon, and the sailors gladly did not have to pay for. Lincoln had become treasurer for the group, and he had plenty of gold and silver, a gift from Odaenathus and Zenobia. The coins held the likeness of the Emperor Gallienus, so they were fifty years out of date, but gold and silver held their value no matter whose likeness they had.
“You can’t park here,” Boston repeated the phrase, and giggled. It was what the Kairos Sophia said to a group of aliens several years earlier, near the beginning of their journey. Katie and Lockhart both grinned at the memory. Tony had not been there. He ate his supper. Those four sat across the table from the four locals. The other travelers sat at the other table.
“Sophia,” Deacon Galarius responded in the Latin they all spoke. “It means wisdom in the Greek. Was your Sophia a wise woman?”
Those who remembered looked embarrassed. Sophia had been a whore, but Boston spoke up and said, “Yes. Very wise,” and that was certainly true enough, so no one argued.
“Yes,” Father Flavius spoke up. “I argued for Hagia Sophia, the Church of God’s Wisdom. Galarius, here, argued for Hagia Dynamis, the Church of God’s Power. But the bishop overruled us.”
“Dynamis?” Lockhart asked.
“Think dynamic, dynamo, or maybe dynamite,” Katie whispered.
“Maybe those other churches will be built one day,” Tony said, and looked carefully at the others, especially Katie, in the hope that he did not speak out of turn.
“But maybe one at a time,” Katie said. “Hagia Eirene, the Church of God’s Peace seems a good place to start.”
“That is exactly what Bishop Veritas said,” Deacon Galerius exclaimed. “One at a time.”
Father Flavius nodded, knowingly. “I don’t know what future you are from, but clearly you know some things we can only guess. I got that impression that his Grace is connected to the future, too, somehow. He can quote the holy books word for word, even the Hebrew scriptures.”
“He says the Storyteller reads it to him,” Deacon Galarius interrupted. “He says he has the hard part translating it all back into Latin and Greek. Don’t know what language he hears it in. He has never said who the Storyteller is.” The man shrugged.
“How did he become a bishop, anyway?” Lockhart asked, with a glance at Lincoln. That is the sort of question Lincoln usually looked up in the database. “He usually does not insert himself into local positions like that.”
Lincoln took that moment to put a few coins in his pocket and dump his bag of coins back into his saddlebag, with considerable clinking sounds, and an “Ugh,” as he lifted the heavy saddle bags from the bench to the floor. Everyone looked. No one paid attention except Captain Ardocles, who glanced at his mate. Pinto stayed stone faced.
Lincoln did not notice the others. He stayed too busy keeping up a lively conversation with Alexis. They sat across from Decker and Nanette, who sat next to each other, but looked at their plates and scrupulously did not touch each other, or say much of anything beyond yes, no, and I don’t know. Sukki sat next to Lincoln, across from Elder Stow who ate little and mumbled as he worked on his screen device. After three days, he did not appear any closer to fixing the device than he was when the wraith busted it.
“So, at the battle of Adrianople,” Father Flavius said. “Constantine marched under the Labarum, the banner of Christ, and Licinius fought with the pagans, and even hired some pagan goths. Licinius thought to counter Constantine’s Labarum by putting known Christians in the front of his lines, including a couple of bishops.”
“My old pagan bowing, statue worshiping bishop of Cyrene was there,” Deacon Galarius said, with some disgust in his voice. “He said paying homage to the gods and making sacrifice to the emperor was the only way he could keep his position and property during the persecutions, but honestly, no telling what he actually believed.”
“Now,” Father Flavius took the conversation back. “Veritas was a soldier, a young centurion who served in Constantine’s inner circle. They say he killed the old pagan bishop with his own hand. The emperor had an idea—always a dangerous thing. He decided to make Veritas the new bishop of Cyrene. Veritas swore he was a soldier, and what did he know about being a leader in the church? Constantine countered that he was also a soldier, and what did he know about being emperor? He said they would learn as they went along. The bishop responded with the word, “crap,” though later he said it was the word “carp.” I don’t know what language that was in, but he explained that a carp was a fish particularly hard to catch, and he got caught.”
“Oh, crap,” a grinning Boston could not resist repeating the word. Lockhart and Katie grinned with her. Tony looked more stoic, but none explained the meaning of the word, as Captain Ardocles and Pinto interrupted by standing.
“Lovely stories,” Captain Ardocles said. “But we have high tide before sunrise. Me and my mate need to get some rest, so we can load your horses, mule, and wagon straight from the dock when the tide is up. We will stock the ship during the day and be ready to sail when the tide returns in the late afternoon.”
“Mighty fine-looking horses you got,” Pinto said, as they left.
Tony scooted around the table so everyone could have more room. “Probably uncomfortable with the talk about the bishop. They are Christians?” he asked in a casual tone.
Father Flavius paused before he answered. “Yes, of course.”
“No telling these days,” Deacon Galarius said more honestly. “Since Constantine’s victory last September, it seems everyone claims to be Christian. Who knows how much of it is real?”
Father Flavius nodded. “Bishop Veritas says the church will have to teach every day and twice on Sunday, and maybe the great-grandchildren will actually be people of faith.” He looked again at the door with some uncertainty on his face.
Deacon Galarius added, “Right now, we are just digging up the hard, crumbly soil and planting seeds. We are gentle persuasion, prayer, and hard work. God will bring a harvest in his good time. We can wait and pray for it, but it will probably come after our time.”
Katie nodded. “It will be centuries before Europe can be called anything like Christendom.”