15 Aug 2000. Free City of Kraków.
The party and Sister Basia carried the most holy relic, The Black Madonna. A painting directly on the wooden frame, damaged by abuse through the centuries, Our Lady of Częstochowa was covered in a simple burlap sack by the party.
They made their way south across the bustling old city to Wawel Castle, and more specifically to Wawel Cathedral, accompanied by Father Tadeusz from St. Mary’s Basilica. The party was followed by not one, but two tails from factions unknown.
One of the agents following them, now openly approached. Sgt William broke away from the party to intercept. The man was young, and indicated he posed no threat. In broken English he asked William, “You are American, yes?”
“Then you tell me if you see Sgt Cutler, and I pay you. Or better, you get Reset device, I pay you more. Contact Edek the dentist in the marketplace to find me.” At that, he departed.
The other tail, an older, rougher-looking sort, continued following the party.
At the massive gate to Wawel Castle, the party was stopped by guards, who wanted to know their reason for entry. They nodded when the clergy said they were to see the Pope. But they wanted to see what the party was carrying. The group hesitated, but seeing no way around it, revealed the relic to the guard.
Upon seeing The Black Madonna, the sentry stumbled back a step, as if slapped. He waved them on, seemingly lost in his head. Pratt and Schultz remained outside the walls with the party’s sidearms. Their tail also waited.
See also: Party finds The Black Madonna
Outside the cathedral doors, a Cardinal was arguing with the city’s Police Prefect in Polish. The Cardinal said, “the people of Krakow must be allowed to see His Holiness, the Pope. ALL the people, not only the well-connected”.
The Police Prefect was angry. “We have already been over this. Allow all the riff raff into the city? Impossible! How would we maintain security?”
The Cardinal held his hands up in defeat. “Then we will hold an outdoor Mass outside the city walls.” The Police Prefect stared at the Cardinal for a few moments, then snorted and walked off.
The Cardinal greeted the party, and the clergy accompanying them. Introductions were made. The Black Madonna was uncovered.
Cardinal Macharski was overcome. Kneeling, he traced the gilded matte protecting the Madonna. “We thought this lost when Częstochowa was destroyed. Truly this is a miracle.”
He led the party into the cathedral. It was simpler than St. Mary’s Basilica, but steeped in history. The warrior king, Jan Sobieski, hero of Vienna, was interred here. Wawel Cathedral is also the seat of the Archbishop of Kraków, this same Cardinal Macharski who was leading them.
There were many people inside, but the crowd parted like water before the small group that bore the most holy relic of Poland.
Below the altar was seated Pope John Paul II.
But this was not the athletic, powerful Pope everybody remembered from before the war. The Polish Pope appeared to suffer from some degenerative disease. He slumped in his seat, his speech slurred. He truly was visiting his old home, his cherished Wawel Cathedral, one last time.
As the group approached, His Holiness fixed his eyes on the Black Madonna in astonishment. Cardinal Macharski spoke to him quietly.
The Bishop of Rome wept. He asked the party for the whole story, who they were. After the tale was told, The Pope, exhausted, waved over Cardinal Macharski. He profusely thanked the party for the Black Madonna, and promised that the icon will be cherished here until the day that the city of Częstochowa is rebuilt.
Macharski and the Pope are clearly old friends, “His Holiness was Cardinal here before me.”
The Pope blessed each party member with holy water sprinkled from an aspergillum, his hand trembling. Macharski called over a young priest who just entered the room, sweating from exertion. He had been sent to fetch a box of rich hardwood. Macharski, on behalf of the Pope, placed around each of their necks the medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, cast in solid gold. “Conferred for distinguished service to the church, the highest award bestowed to the laity”, Marcharski said.
As they left, Cardinal Macharski thanked the party members individually again, saying “My resources are quite modest these days, but if I can help you find work, or provide a reference, please let me know.”
Cardinal Macharski and Pope John Paul II were of course historical figures. They aren’t in the module Free City of Krakow. But the time and place fit, so why not? And you can bet they’d be overwhelmed to receive such an important symbol of hope amid such ruin and devastation in Poland at the close of World War III. This also closes the icon plot thread from the aptly-named module The Black Madonna.
Tired, the party decided to retire to the Na Zdrowie bar. There, Maks played chess – both literally and figuratively – with the enigmatic Lt. Schneider. He also spoke with the barkeep Adam, who was outfitting a boat to motor up the dangerous waters of the river Vistula to Warsaw in search of family in the ruins. He’s got a boat and crew, but could use armed guards.
Adam also revealed he’s concerned about Lucja, a waitress involved with the ne’er-do-well Sgt Cutler, who seems to be wanted by everybody. She’s in hiding, but not staying hidden. Adam is very worried that she’s going to get hurt. Maks said he’d find her, and see about getting her under church protection.
Beautiful move to place Pope. For me, a Polish catholic, beautiful story.
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I have a Catholic background as well, principally through my wife. When I realized that the Pope at the time of the Twilight War was John Paul II, well, the idea train just went from there.