The cathedral’s five-hundredth anniversary had been widely publicised, and drawn even more tourists than usual to town, including Nico. She appreciated visiting new-to-her places in general, and in that particular moment enjoyed the view from a street café to the birthday building. It seemed strangely familiar but slightly off, but then, she had seen other a lot of pictures both of this one and other churches in similar styles.
The thought, ‘The ground used to be lower when it was built, that’s why it looks different now’ at first made no sense, but looking at that from different angles, the idea seemed to be that she had witnessed at least part of the building process firsthand. Technically, in her case, it was possible, but had she really been in this world that long? It didn’t feel like it. On top of that, she had been certain this was her first visit in this country, let alone town. Might well be the little thought was just a particularly imaginative déjà vu.
Her plans already made included a guided tour of the cathedral, and she wasn’t about to drop that. It went as expected, architectural generalities someone with wide interest had learned about via osmosis already, and historical detail that fit itself into the much vaguer world history Nico knew. She was rather glad none of the details seemed familar.
In areas that would not have been open to visitors in a pure house of worship, rather than one whose primary occupation was “tourist attraction”, it got back to architectural details. The tour guide pointed out a few symbols cut into the stones, and explained, “Those mason’s marks were most likely used as bookkeeping aid, to keep track who had delivered how many stones. No records of the craftmen’s names remain, yet we can see…”
The guide’s voice faded from Nico’s perception as the group moved on, and she stayed rooted to the spot. There was one of the angular symbols she could put a name to, and a face. He had stood out in his circle of friends by value of his red hair, and she could remember he’d talk about his wife and two little children at every opportunity.
That first solid thread led to a web of associations, bringing memories of dozens of people who’d been dead and forgotten for centuries, and yet had left as their heritage a thing of such awe-inspiring beauty, not to mention persistence.
Nico wandered the now public “backstage” areas of the cathedral in a daze, looking for the traces of people she had known five centuries ago. She had indirectly made a tiny and way more ephemeral contribution to this wonder of cooperation, working for one of the traders that supplied the builders.
She could sense the tangle of philosophy of life and death that would distract her for a long time, but more pressing, and more personal, was the question how she could forget that? If she just lost centuries of her life, could she still trust her own mind?
That way lay madness.