An easy to read, historical, spiritual novel about the life of Nostradamus, the famous seer from the 16th century.
After a happy childhood, Michel de Nostredame successfully battles the plague, as a young physician, during the last part of the dark Middle Ages in France. But then a great calamity befalls his own family and totally destroys his life...
"Brrr, it's so cold in here!"
"Stop complaining, Mercury; only thirty-one days till you'll be turned around."
"I am Hermes, your higher self."
"Hermes, your visit is timely because those boring turns around my orbit are driving me stark-raving mad."
"Well, I'll tell you, Zeus has decided that your assignment is almost done. You only have to be of the flesh for a while before you get to shine."
"And how do you know all this?"
"I am the fastest one in the Milky Way, and I put my ear to the ground here and there, so to speak. Besides, it's my job to relay messages."
"How much longer do I have?"
"Until you're lined up with the Sun and the Earth, so not much longer."
"Hmm, at least it's a change from being a dead planet. My only diversion is causing shock waves and sun baths."
"You might well come to miss this simple existence, my material brother, but please be patient just a little longer."
A month later, an extraordinary birth took place on planet Earth. A person with unprecedented prophetic gifts was born. The astrologer's birth in the village took place at the very beginning of the Renaissance, in the French town of Saint Rémy de Provence. In a stately mansion behind the market halls where the merchants had been hawking their wares for some time, the contractions had started. Reynière de Nostredame had carefully calculated the date of birth, but the onset of labor still came unexpectedly. The little one probably had a slightly earlier birth in mind in order to meet the optimum position of the planets. The noticeably large mucus plug, which closes off the cervix during pregnancy, had just come out. This was the sign that showed the end of the pregnancy was nearing. Reynière lost some blood and asked for her father, Jean de Saint Rémy to come; her father was the court physician of the Good King René, the former count of Provence. She lay on the bed, perspiring, and her husband, Jacques, who had risen to the status of notary public, hurriedly entered along with her father. The contractions were now coming regularly and were becoming more painful, until, at their peak, they suddenly stopped. Her father looked worried and felt his daughter's belly with a professional touch. Relieved, the physician established that the unborn child was still moving and that Reynière was losing amniotic fluid at a normal rate. Regular contractions returned and the membranes broke; labor was now well underway. Slowly but surely, Reynière's body made an opening for the baby to move through. The cervix, which during pregnancy is drawn tight, was now gradually opening. The peculiar newcomer was fighting as if his life depended on it and the expulsion stage was exhausting. The labor would take as many as ten hours. Finally, the little head emerged, the wide-open eyes critically taking in the world. Jean and Jacques were amazed and looked at each other with great joy. The shoulders were next, after which the rest of the little body slid out, without any problems.
"Michel!" his mother proudly welcomed the wet little bundle. Jean carefully picked up the slightly bloody baby, who was still attached to the umbilical cord, and put him on the mother's belly. The boy was born with a caul* (with the membranes wrapped around the head: clairvoyant children). Michel de Nostredame appeared at exactly high noon on December 14 of the year 1503, with the church bells of Saint Rémy loudly ringing in the background. His parents were overjoyed with their first child, who would have a safe future as a Catholic. Jacques and Reynière were both descended from old Jewish families, but several years earlier, all Jews had been forced, under pain of death, to convert to Catholicism. There was still a menorah on the table, however, symbolizing the Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, that was being celebrated that month. For these special holidays, the tradition was secretly honored and Jacques always read from the Talmud. This time, he ceremoniously addressed his newborn son, surrounded by the entire family, and told him that the Talmud speaks about the wonder of Hanukah. Michel, securely wrapped in swaddling cloths, only heard some paternal sounds.
When the little one, crawling and later walking, began to discover the world, he showed himself to be a very curious little boy. He wanted to investigate everything in sight and examine every object. He enthusiastically attacked visitors and sometimes liked to play with their hair. He quickly expanded his boundaries to outdoors, where he ignored the other children his age. He thought they were playing aimlessly round and round. Once, he extinguished the fire in the fireplace with water and sat there looking at the clouds of steam with great fascination. During his first visit to the market, his gift came to light. The family was walking past the booths displaying wares. Because of his limited height, Michel was amusing himself with what was going on underneath the wooden tables: fish remains, rotting fruit, blood waste, broken jute sacs, an occasional rat chewing on things, and countless shuffling feet. His mother was keeping a close eye on him. The Nostredame family stopped at a booth with glassware and wanted to buy something pretty for the holidays. In the previous century, one only saw drinking glasses among the socially elite, but nowadays glass was being produced on a larger scale, which made it more affordable. The eager market merchant quickly grabbed the most delicate bowl between his teeth, trying to impress the young mother.
"You know, Madam, pottery and wood and tin dishes are functional, but very ugly. Glass dishes are all the rage now." Reynière cheerfully listened to him, while keeping her child close by.
"There are several types of glass drinking cups available," he continued. "Look at this: gorgeous cups with hollow, funnel-shaped stems, and low chalice-type glasses with tall, graceful stems. Behind them are cylinder-shaped cups, decorated with polka dots."
"And what type is this?" she asked.
"Those are Berkemeiers, Madam, drinking glasses with a funnel shaped cup and a finely ridged foot ring."
The merchant took everything out of the cabinet because the family looked like they had money to spend. Jacques thought the ridged one were quite nice.
"The ridged ones are very popular," the merchant repeated immediately, "besides the low drinking bowls, cabbage stalks and Berkemeiers, of course."
"What are those ridges for?" inquired Reynière.
"The ridges or polka dots ensure a better grip on the glass."
"And which ones do you sell most of?" asked her husband.
"The glass drinking dishes sell especially well. Pouring devices, such as bottles, are very expensive." The specialist apparently was the only person in the area who possessed a grand collection of glassware and he proudly brought out his most beautiful bottle. The family was getting completely entranced by his products and Jacques asked the man if he could look at the bottle more closely. Little Michel had been behaving himself in a most exemplary fashion all this time and was quietly looking at the half-filled boxes under the table. Above, Jacques grabbed the glass showpiece clumsily and it immediately slipped out of his grasp. The expected crash, however, surprisingly didn't come and everybody's startled attention focused below. There, their son had just effortlessly caught the very expensive bottle. He put the heavenly gift to his lips, whereupon the owner quickly grabbed it out of his little hands. After many apologies, the disillusioned family went home without buying anything. When they got there, the father, who got away with just a scare, was full of praise for his son.
His parents left the boy's upbringing to his grandfather. With the erudite Jean, he was in good hands. The former court physician and astrologer taught his grandson not only mathematics, but also ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew as well as the preliminaries of astrology. Jean often took him outside the village at night, so they could lie in the field together and look up at the stars. There, he told him that you can see the northern sky better in the winter and the southern sky in the summer and that the winter constellations, such as the Canis Major and Canis Minoris, can be easily found, using the star Orion as a guide.
"When I grow up, I want to be a star too," said his grandson.
"Funny you should say that. I was just thinking about the story where someone gets punished by being put in the sky as a star. It's about Orion, who was chasing his seven sisters, the Pleiades. The sisters felt threatened by the chase and prayed for help, which caused the goddess of the hunt to come to their rescue and she killed their brother with one of her arrows. Then Orion was placed in the sky as a star. But I don't know if that's possible for people made out of flesh and blood too, Michel. Although, I just remembered, there is some mention of it in the old scriptures. So, who knows? By the way, the Pleiades are visible with the naked eye. Look, they're right there," and Jean stretched his arm toward the black sky.
"Those stars look like they're touching each other," the boy remarked.
"Yes, it does look that way, but in reality they are very far away from each other," replied the grandfather.
When spring came around, Grandpa showed Michel the stars Arcturus, Regulus and the sparkling Spica, the brightest stars in the spring sky, which together formed the Spring Triangle. That summer, the stars were not very clearly visible and it wasn't until autumn that grandfather showed the winged horse, Pegasus, which is often difficult to find, because it is up-side-down. Through these little excursions, Michel got to know the constellations and his parents kept grumbling that he and his grandfather came home so late at night.
One clear evening, when Jean had once again taken his grandson out, the weather suddenly changed and turned gloomy. No celestial bodies were visible and Michel cursed the dark clouds that were gathering. That night, the little rascal was tossing and turning in his bed, which was separated from other sleeping places with long curtains, and couldn't sleep. He was still angry and disappointed, when suddenly, the window shutters blew open and a furious tornado pulled him out of his bed. He just managed to grab hold of the window sill, with his body dangling outside. Reynière was woken up at that very moment by maternal instinct, shook her husband awake and together they ran to the child who was in mortal peril. Together, the two of them pulled the child back into the room and shut the window tightly. Not really realizing what had happened, they went back to sleep, and a short time later, the window was pulled open once more. Again, the whirlwind directed its energy toward the gifted child, with a seething fury, but his parents were there in a heartbeat and defeated the catastrophe before he was sucked out of the room. The shutters were nailed shut permanently. This was a lesson their son would never forget. No more cursing anyone or anything, he resolved.
One day, a message arrived from Pierre de Nostredame, Michel's paternal grandfather. Pierre and his wife lived in Grasse and invited the whole family to come and stay with them for a few weeks. Pierre had also been a court physician, in the service of the son of the Good King René. After his patient was murdered in Barcelona, Pierre settled in the developing perfume town. Jacques and Reynière decided to accept his invitation. Many preparations had to be made for the trip, because Grasse was not exactly next door and they had had four more children through the years; all boys. A busy household. A few weeks later, they were ready and they all climbed into the rented carriage which was pulled by a team of horses. Father, mother and three sons. Jean stayed home with the two youngest ones. After a few days, they reached Cannes, and from there a path lead them inland toward Grasse. The landscape was surrounded on all sides by lush tree-covered hills and invited them to take a break. It would have been better if they hadn't, because little Hector immediately disappeared and it took three hours to find him in a crack in the rocks. And guess who found him? Of course: Michel! Hector got a cuff on the ear and they continued on their way. Behind them, they could still catch an occasional glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. There were not many flowers blooming in the perfume region. Summer was coming to an end and bees were looking for the last of the honey. Finally, they saw Grasse, situated against a mountain slope, surrounded by fields that would only display their flowers again in the spring. When they entered the wealthy trading town, the boys were very excited by all the sights. There were all kinds of tanneries, which, their father told them, used to spread a terrible stink not too long ago. In order to dispel the penetrating scent of the leather, the Grassois got the idea to saturate the leather with a mixture of animal fats and flowers. Necessity is the mother of invention and in this way, perfumed handbags, gloves and belts turned into a true fashion rage. The carriage bumped along laboriously, past the many shops with displayed leather wares, but finally, they reached Place aux Aires, where their grandparents lived. Bertrand passionately flung open the carriage doors to get out as quickly as possible and start horsing around, but his father stopped him.
"First you're going to greet your grandparents, young man," he said. Meanwhile, Pierre came walking up, swaying, and immediately began to lug the suitcases in. Despite his advanced age he was very vigorous and he still worked for the physicians' guild. After kissing Grandpa, the three brothers ran off into the perfectly unknown but oh so alluring city in great ecstasy.
"Just let them play for a while," Reynière said tiredly to her husband, "that will give us a chance to unpack our bags in peace." The children, meanwhile, were parading past the many perfumers, soap-boilers, distillers and other merchants. Grasse was a dazzling but also very dirty town and the open sewers could barely handle the mountains of waste. Nevertheless, it smelled wonderful in the streets. There were cases, bags and balloons full of flower water, oils, wine, lavender soap, herbs and scented leather, everywhere. Eleven-year-old Michel found himself in a virtual paradise for the senses and was soon enchanted with a specific scent that pulled him into an alley.
"Where are you going now?" Bertrand and Hector exclaimed, surprised. But Michel wouldn't say and followed the narrow lane toward an archway that led outside of the town. Beneath the stone arc he stopped for a moment, closed his eyes and smelled. Here, the scent was at its strongest. He deeply inhaled the peculiar odor, which was sweet and dark at the same time. A few minutes later he returned, fulfilled, and found his brothers playing in the square. The days flew by in this fantastic town and tomorrow would be extra exciting: they were to visit a well-known perfumery. Grandfather Pierre was friends with Amalfi, the proprietor of the factory. She had promised him that his family could have a tour. That morning, they went among the potential buyers who had flocked from far and near, and Amalfi personally gave them a guided tour. The distinguished people all saw Hector elaborately picking his nose and Father chastised him. Amalfi, meanwhile, told them all about her famous line of scents.
"These azure flasks hold various types of eau de toilet and Soliflores for women." After her introduction, the group shuffled towards the next table, while the other son started to be troublesome. Bertrand tried to surreptitiously open the flasks.
"Don't touch those, Bertrand," his father warned. The madam fortunately didn't notice and continued: "Soliflores are scent water made from only one type of flower, plant or fruit." After an elaborate listing of the assortment, the guests followed her to another room, where ingenious devices were set up.
"These are our distillation alambics. Distillation was developed by the Arabs." While attentively listening, Michel and his grandfather heard Hector whining at his mother that he needed to pee. It distracted the factory owner from her story and she coughed agitatedly.
"Okay, go outside quickly, but be quiet!" Reynière commanded her child.
"Jasmine originally comes from India and Spanish sailors introduced the flower in Grasse via North-Africa not long ago. Maître Gantier managed to get a monopoly on it," continued Madam.
"This is a good opportunity to buy some perfume," Reynière whispered to her husband. Jacques idly agreed because he was completely caught up in taking care of the little ones. Fortunately, they were hanging around Pierre and were behaving themselves for the moment. Father even managed to catch the last part of the story.
"When I compare it to jasmine from abroad, I always notice that Jasmin Grassois has more depth and volume. Oh, I could tell you so much more about our perfumery, but it is time to finish the tour. Are there any questions or comments?" Unexpectedly, Michel came forward with panache and asked if he could say a few words. Father was starting to get a headache from all the unpredictable behaviors of his youngsters, whereas Madam Amalfi was quite charmed with the childish request and agreed. Michel's heart started to beat faster. The little prophet squared his shoulders and with great force pronounced his first prophesy.
"Some day, this perfumery will be very famous. This will be because of a student with an exceptionally good nose. His name is Montesquieu and he will produce three amazing scents. At the height of his career, he will create a bizarre perfume for himself with the scent of recently killed bodies of young girls. After his death, the success will decline." With this, the pre-teen ended his oration and walked back to his parents with dignity. Everyone was dumbstruck and even Amalfi didn't know how to respond. Jacques decided not to chastise his son, because the boy had followed all the rules of proper conduct. No one mentioned the dark prophesy again; they could not make any sense of it. A little embarrassed about the behavior of his strange grandson, Pierre thanked the owner for the fascinating outing and the family returned home. Soon the vacation came to an end.
Grandpa Jean was very happy with their return, especially because of Michel, with whom he had developed a special bond. When the carriage rode into their street, the Rue des Remparts, the two immediately sought eye contact. Hector and Bertrand were dead-tired from the long trip and went straight to bed, but Michel was still excited about his performance. Feverishly, he discussed his peculiar prophesy and his urge to speak out with his grandfather. The strange scent in Grasse had awakened something in him, the pre-teen reported. Jean took him seriously and suggested that he would share all his insights relating to astrology with him, but now Michel had to go to bed. It took hours before the sparkle in his mind diminished and he finally fell asleep. A few months later, Grandpa found a suitable moment to further his eldest grandchild's education in astrology. He decided to tell him all the ins and outs of it and took him up to the attic. This was his personal domain and no one was allowed to snoop around in there uninvited. Especially not children, because he was afraid his delicate instruments might get damaged or his papers lost. From his easy chair Grandfather told Michel that he had managed to pick up an ingenious piece of equipment in Paris a while back. It consisted of two polished lenses in a pipe, through which you could see very far.
"Thanks to this invention, a whole new world has opened up for me," he said, "and in my mind, you are now old enough to enter into this world. I foresee a great future for you. You have exceptional mental capacities and that is why I am now going to tell you everything I know about astrology. Up till now I have never allowed anyone to be in this room without supervision, but for you I am making an exception. I hereby give you permission to use all of my instruments and books anytime you want to." His grandfather got up and retrieved a large object from underneath a dusty cloth.
"Using this spy-glass, young man, you can see the planets so closely that it seems like you are right there. But first, I will give you some theory, before we explore the heavens." His grandson was looking at the exciting device, his eyes like saucers.
"Astrology looks for the relationship between events in the cosmos, on earth and in humans. But haven't we already talked about this before?" Michel shook his head "no."
"My memory is not what it used to be, my boy. Through this research we are able to use information about one moment to trace a series of events which follow it. In other words: we can predict the future from it. This is much more difficult than it seems. Since time immemorial it has been accepted that the Sun, the Moon and the planets influence our lives here on Earth." Grandfather got up again, opened the attic shutter and placed the spy-glass on its stand.
"Come and stand over here. The sun has just set and we will probably be able to see several planets. Let me see if… there it is! Look Michel, just above the last rays of the sun: Mercury, the planet of the intellect and mental capacities." His grandson looked through the device and discovered a pink planet that was twinkling. Jean continued.
"As you know, the Earth rotates around the Sun in one year and not the other way around as the Church claims. They're also still insisting that the Earth is flat and that you can fall off it. Poppycock! They just prefer to keep their followers ignorant."
"But doesn't the Sun also make a circle every year?"
"Yes, but not around the Earth, but along various groups of stars. Those groups all together are called the Zodiac. For example, there is Gemini, Aries, Taurus, etcetera."
"I'm a Sagittarius."
"Undeniably true, my boy, but it will take some time before the Sun will pass by there, because we are not currently living in the age of Sagittarius."
Grandpa peered through the spy-glass again and continued his tale.
"Mercury is always near the Sun and for that reason it not always clearly visible, but tonight we are lucky," and he passed the device over.
"That planet's not very exciting," said Michel, while he peered through the lenses.
"Well, you should see the Moon," and Jean serenely looked up the celestial body in the cloudless canopy. There was genuine love between grandfather and grandson. Perhaps because they were so much alike. They both had the same interests and they were both of slight build. Only the youngest one still had his life stretching out before him and Grandpa obviously didn't anymore.
"This is what you want to see," said Jean and stepped aside.
"Wow!" exclaimed Michel and gazed at the gigantic Moon, full of craters, mountains and crevices.
"Someone is walking around on there, Grandpa."
"Ha-ha, that's funny. Even if that were possible, it is too far away to be able to see such details."
"I really do see him," the boy insisted. "He is planting a flag with red and white stripes and stars." Jean made an unbelieving face and took over the spy-glass. There was his familiar Moon, much too far to be able to see a person on it.
"I don't see what you're seeing, Michel."
"Maybe it's something that will happen in the future?"
"Anything is possible, my boy, but I can only talk about matters that I know something about. I still wanted to explain to you how to cast a horoscope," and they let the heavens be and sat down on the bed.
"To calculate a horoscope, you need a number of particulars, namely the date, time and place of your birth; but the most important thing is the birth date. Let me show you your own horoscope as an example." Grandfather looked through a drawer in his desk and brought out a piece of paper covered with strange symbols.
"Is that mine?"
"Let me see, born in Saint Rémy, on December 12, 1503. Yes, this is yours."
"It is actually the 14th."
"The 14th? I must have written it wrong at the top, because I always check everything three times. Must be old age," and Grandpa apologized. "In any case, you have a heavily loaded horoscope with three outer planets: Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Because of this fierce configuration, you will need iron discipline in order to control the creative power. If you don't succeed in this, the power will turn destructive."
"You mean, like Samson, who made an entire temple collapse?"
"Hmm, that's not such a good comparison. In any case, you will have to learn to channel your energy. And always remember, that in every person there is as much good as evil," and Jean brought his attention back to the horoscope.
"This picture here shows the twelve houses and…" But his voice suddenly faltered.
"I'm tired," he wheezed, "but if you want to learn more, everything is described in that massive volume over there," and he pointed towards a bookshelf. Grandfather was no longer approachable.
As time went on, Jean and Michel became more and more devoted to each other. They often spent the entire day at an old convent*(The later institution where Vincent van Gogh stayed in 1890) that lay hidden a few miles south of Saint Rémy. They spent hours reading original bibles. Michel learned, above all, to pray to the Christian God and effortlessly followed the Catholic scriptures, despite his Jewish background. It is, after all, the same God as the one from the Old Testament, he thought. Jean always hummed while they prayed, at least when no one else was around. From the priory, when the weather was fine, they foraged about in the surrounding lavender fields, where they had found a mysterious, half caved-in pyramid-like structure. His well-read grandfather could comment on just about anything.
"From ancient Greek times," he said about the structure while at the same time using it to take a rest. Michel, by contrast, was full of energy and went exploring in the area while Jean took his customary little nap. One day, the boy came back excitedly.
"A little ways over there, there are all kinds of holes hacked out of the cliffs, Grandpa. Come and see!" But Jean quietly stayed where he was and coolly explained that long ago, goatherds had made those holes for their goats to protect them from predators. Apparently, he had discovered them before. One time, he could barely get up and Michel had to literally drag him home.
During adolescence, the young man began to notice girls and this was a good opportunity for his mentor to speak about the marriage of two souls. He explained how the male and female souls can merge together and the male/female principle is represented everywhere in the universe.
"You mean there are male and female planets too?" asked Michel.
"The planets are, in principle, all female. That's why they call our planet Mother Earth," answered Jean.
"And do we men have anything to say, in the cosmos?"
"Well, the stars are male, in contrast with dust and darkness, wich are female. These eternal polarities are also the essence of alchemy."
The boy spent the majority of his childhood outdoors with his grandfather and his parents didn't see much of their rapidly developing son. They only got together at mealtimes. It was not only Michel and Jean's fault they saw so little of each other; Jacques worked at the notary's practice all day and Reynière, besides running the household, had her hands full with the youngest children. Seven-year-old Antoine was a particularly challenging case, because he always exhibited recalcitrant behavior. For the rest, Michel got along well with his little brothers, but play with them? No, there was little chance of that.
The seasons flew by very pleasantly, until that one sad day. They found dear old Grandfather in his quarters. He had died of old age. Michel had been watching him deteriorate for a while and knew the end was in sight. Nevertheless, it was a devastating event.
It was drizzling on the day of Jean de Saint Rémy's funeral. They took turns keeping vigil with the body in the house, until it was brought out for the burial services. All the family members were there. Old Pierre and his wife had come all the way from Grasse, as well as Jean's three sisters and cousins from near-by Marseille. The Catholic prayer service took place in the church of Selongey. The families walked to the church, where the coffin had been placed. Michel's grandparents were walking so slowly, that he had plenty of time to carefully observe the fancy houses with turrets at the Place des Halles. Finally they arrived at the church, where many friends and acquaintances had gathered. At the entrance, a large man with reddish hair accidentally bumped into Michel. His shoes were covered in paint. He was apparently not an invited guest, but he wanted to go in. Michel didn't pay any attention to him and the funeral procession slowly moved through the gate with the imposing round arch door. Jacques and Reynière were the first ones to stride past a row of pillars in the church and they were followed by Michel and his four brothers in chronological order. Reynière was overcome with emotion and shed a tear for her father every now and then. The public was seated at the wooden benches in the main chapel where the coffin was set up in the center. The church of Selongey had various chapels, which were all lit by windows with blood-red divisions. Way up high was a painting of an apostle. The last visitor had found a spot and Priest Bergé, who was wearing a faded red shoulder covering, began his sermon. The funeral service was, as everyone knew, aimed at the purification and eternal rest of the soul of the deceased.
"When someone has died, this means that he has irrevocably taken his leave of this world. This person will then be with God. This is not an ending, but a new beginning. Those who have lived good lives will go to heaven, and those who have lived sinful lives will go to hell. The transition from life to death is often not a harmonious passage. But the Lord protects us all, because he understands the complicated lives of humans and accepts everyone as he is." The Priest then awkwardly leafed through his Bible, from behind his lectern and began to read a long drawn-out passage in Latin. Michel looked around and recognized the metal holy-water font, an up-side-down church tower, in which one of his friends had once almost drowned. Candles were burning everywhere; there were so many that even the tomb of the founder of the church in the front chapel was lit up. His engraved image was visible at the entry. Jean had long ago managed to interest his grandson in art and culture and they had visited the church of Selongey together a number of times. Michel knew the interior well and would have rather examined the murals than to have to listen to the droning sound of Bergé's voice. Or the armor-plated vault in the sacrist! Of course, he couldn't. Though he knew it would be perfectly fine with Grandfather. "Life before death," he had always said. Finally, God's servant praised the deceased for his charity, in ordinary French and the visitors sat up straight again. Michel saw the carilloneur, who was hard of hearing, get up. He was dying to get to his forty-eight church bells and start ringing them and began to climb up the stairs in the turret. Meanwhile, the priest was sprinkling the body with holy water and scenting it with frankincense. This was to indicate that the body of the deceased was in a state of holiness before God. The acolyte said a few more prayers asking for forgiveness for Jean's sins. After the hymns, the priest and his helpers strode out of the church and the pall bearers followed with the coffin. All those gathered walked behind them. The church bells were ringing and they all approached the cemetery in silence. Family, friends and other interested people who had joined, gathered around the grave that had been prepared and the pall bearers slowly lowered the coffin into it. Reynière quickly put a few flowers on the lid before the priest, who was standing at the head, silently blessed the grave and said an "Our Father." After he finished the prayer, he threw a small amount of soil onto the coffin, with the words, "Earth to earth; ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Then everyone said goodbye to the jovial Jean by adding their own scoop of soil onto the coffin and Michel watched his deceased friend slowly disappear. Finally, Jacques thanked all those present for their sympathy and the family sadly returned home.
After the mourning period, Michel and Mother visited Grandfather's hallowed place up in the attic. Still feeling sad, Reynière opened the shutters to let the light into the room and then they took an inventory of the estate. Memories drifted up and her son stared, unseeing, through the attic window for a while, feeling depressed.
"This attic is so lifeless and desolate now," he grumbled, when mother was unexpectedly called downstairs by one of her children.
"I'll be right back, Michel," and left him there, alone. From the attic window he had a good view of the town. He discovered a new home about half a mile away that had been built without his noticing. One of its windows was open; it was a glass one. Unprecedented, but it was too far away to see it very well.
I know, I can use Grandpa's spy glass, he suddenly realized and soon he could see every speck of the house. Then the youngster could not resist the temptation to sneak a look inside. He saw a tall man with short, dark hair, who was passionately working at a painting easel.
Why would anyone imitate sunflowers? Michel wondered in surprise. The unknown person was standing in front of a canvas and repeatedly dipped his paint brush into the paint. At one point, he picked up another brush that he used for painting in finer detail and again glanced at the real sunflowers, which were arranged carelessly on a table behind it. Suddenly, the artist felt as if he was being observed and he turned around with a start. The voyeur was startled out of his wits, feeling caught, although he couldn't possibly be seen, he thought. Still, it looked as though the stranger was staring at him, albeit with a friendly look. Only then did Michel realize that this was another peek into the future. The other world dissolved almost instantly after this. The house was also completely gone.
Too bad; no one to share my daydream with, he thought sorrowfully.
A few months later, Michel, who was sixteen by now, went to Avignon to study astrology. His parents had reluctantly given him permission to make this unusual choice for his university studies. Avignon was only twenty miles away from Saint Rémy, so he would be able to easily visit his parents and brothers. Avignon was a very important town, because the Papal Palace was situated there. From 1304 on, there had been a series of French popes and these religious leaders all went to live in Avignon, because their chance of survival in Rome was not great. The French town and its surroundings had been papal property ever since. Jacques had heard from a client that Mrs. Plombier, whose husband had died of the plague six months earlier, was moving to Avignon with her daughters, to live with relatives. Michel could get a ride, provided that he would help the widow with her household goods. That was no problem for him and they set a date. Mrs. Plombier had been cleaning her house that last week and all her possessions were packed up and waiting for her young fellow traveler. Michel knocked on her door on the day of departure, and began to fill up the old, rickety wagon according to her instructions. With the next-door neighbors unexpectedly rolling up their sleeves as well, the whole lot was quickly loaded. The madame then took her place on the driver's seat and, with the two girls, they drove to the Rue des Remparts, so their companion could say goodbye to his family. They were all anxiously waiting, while the widow, who was not very experienced, brought the horse to a halt. Michel jumped down from the wagon and embraced his father and mother. The latter was looking very sad.
"It seems like saying goodbye is becoming a regular occurrence", Reynière lamented with tears once again streaming down her beautiful face.
"I'll come and visit soon," her son promised.
"You'd better," said Father, who gave him a hug. When the brand-new student had said goodbye to his brothers too, it was time to leave. Everyone waved until the horse and wagon had disappeared from sight. Not far outside Saint Rémy it began to pour. The rain was coming down in buckets and it got dark so fast it was scary. The female driver, fortunately, was prepared for rain and with Michel's help she stretched a canvas over the wagon. When lightning struck, the horse became restless and the widow kept control of it with great difficulty. Her daughters, aged five and seven, were hunkered down deep beneath the canvas. Soon, the path became barely passable because of the abundant amount of rain water and it looked like they might be in trouble. Half-way through the journey they could see frightening fires on both sides of the road. Bodies were being burned. The plague, the greatest disaster in the history of mankind had once again exacted its price and the horrifying disease raged through all of Europe. Madame already knew, as no other, what those fires were for. Her husband had been cremated not long ago in order to prevent the plague from spreading more. But she bravely held on, and kept driving. Suddenly, they heard shrieking in the distance, someone seemed to be calling for help. They decided to ignore it and to keep going. It kept raining unusually fiercely and to make matters even worse, a vicious wind began to howl. The horse could scarcely get the wagon to move forward anymore and continually slipped in the mud. It was getting tired and every meter was a victory. Gradually, a violent storm developed and there were branches and shrubs flying across the road.
"Hell and damnation," Madame could occasionally be heard saying to herself. They had to stop many times and then Michel would drag the debris off the path. After many hours of beastly weather, they reached the papal region. They were exhausted and completely drenched. One more obstacle had to be faced: crossing the Rhône River. With a strong head wind, they arrived at the famous bridge of Avignon. So far, Mrs. Plombier and her traveling companion had been taking turns on the driver's seat, but once they arrived at the bridge, where the wind was dangerously powerful, the widow preferred to keep control of the reins herself. She was just about to encourage the horse to cross the angry water, when Michel suddenly shouted "Stop!" She immediately pulled hard on the reins which caused the horse to neigh and the wagon to come abruptly to a halt. The youngest girl began to cry and her sister tried to comfort her.
"What on earth is the matter?" their mother asked with astonishment. De Nostredame didn't say a word, jumped off the wagon and landed in the mud. Then he plodded fearlessly through the storm to the bridge, with his long coat flapping in the wind. When he arrived at the stone connector, he stood for a moment, his eyes on the road. He felt how the greatly swollen river streamed past the piles and walked back again.
"What are you up to?" Plombier called out.
"All the stuff has to be loaded off the wagon" he answered, barely audible through the volatile wind.
"Are you crazy?" Michel climbed up on the driver's seat and explained himself.
"The bridge is about to collapse!"
"You idiot, wagons have been crossing it for years," she said, irritably. The student jumped down from the wagon in protest and sat down in the mud with his arms folded across his chest. After a short deliberation, she decided she might as well obey.
"All right, as long as you're willing to do the work," she demanded, upon which the young man began to drag the suitcases to the other side right away. Mother, meanwhile, retrieved her children from under the canvas and clasped together they followed their peculiar traveling companion. On the other side of the river the little family looked for shelter beside a cliff, while Michel went back to the horse and wagon. When, after much plodding, he had brought over all of the household belongings, he tied a long rope to the horse and walked to the bridge with it. Above them, threatening clouds rushed past and the horse refused to come along. Michel spurred it on with firm tugging movements. Hesitantly, the frightened horse stepped forward and the wagon slowly began to move. They approached the age-old bridge, which looked totally solid and showed no sign of any defect, and the student led the horse and wagon across it. After the very smooth crossing, Madame made a sour face and refused to say another word to him. After the wagon had been loaded up again, the journey continued. Finally, they were approaching the big city. They arrived just before sundown and not much later they were sitting warm and safe in front of a crackling fire with the Plombier family. After a good meal and a night's rest, their paths would separate. The youth expressed his thanks for the hospitality and carrying his things, he started to walk towards the university. In the city center, the mayor was announcing some hot news and the student joined the gathering crowd which was flocking near. The announcer theatrically unrolled a parchment.
"The bridge of Avignon has collapsed," he began. "Seven people were killed tonight. The bridge was once destroyed, in 1226. As you can see, the Lord does not wish this bridge to be here. Our bridge builder, Bénézet, from days gone by has wrongly been declared a saint." It was now completely crowded with people and many of them blocked Michel's view, but he had heard enough and strolled away.
A harsh atmosphere pervaded in Avignon, whose history started high on the cliff by the river. The city, once the center of a Celtic tribe, hated visitors. His grandfather used to talk about the mercilessness of the Avignois, a long time ago. "In Paris they argue, in Avignon they will stick a knife in you," he had said. Avignon was situated on the well-known Via Agrippa, the main road between Cologne, Lyon and Arles. In the Parc des Papes Michel sat down on a park bench to calm his mind. He concentrated on the old oaks in front of the university, before his initiation into it. The freshman had been having a lot of dreams lately and sometimes he couldn't tell his dreams from real life anymore. He would have to find some technique to create clarity in this. Maybe his astrology studies would give him the aid he sought. After his small indulgence in navel-gazing, he went to meet his teachers and at their advice he moved into a small room in the Rue St-Agricol, a little street not far away. From that day on, he walked to the school building every day, through the inner city. From the Rocher des Doms he had been able to map out the city quite well. The Rocher des Doms was the cliff that stuck out above everything and from which the city was easy to explore. Michel usually preferred to saunter along the large boulevards, because there he could ponder his studies better. He got along well with a number of students, although they were soon often jealous of the exceedingly intelligent young man. At the esoteric school he gathered useful knowledge for the first few months. He learned that man possesses various bodies, a total of seven: the physical, vital, astral and mental bodies and, at a higher lever, the causal, buddhi and atma bodies. He was taught that these represent seven levels of consciousness and that the planets and stars are also made up of them. All of these bodies are connected to each other and are present in every person, in at least a dormant form. The visible material body is the crudest type. The vital body holds the material together and provides the energy required. The astral body is connected to the emotions and reveals itself primarily in the dream world. The mental body represents thinking and the causal body only develops itself when thinking has completely plumbed the depths of cause and effect. Buddhi is understood to be the state where a person truly awakens and atma is the breath of life, a condition that is achieved when a someone becomes One with the All-that-is and the individual aspect is dissolved. It was an exciting theory, but there were no practical examples.
One day, the industrious first-year student went to the Place de l'Horloge around five o'clock in the morning to do his exercises. The square was still pristinely clean at that time of day and there was no one there to bother him. After finishing his exercises, he walked through the streets in good spirits and had arrived outside the city wall, when several carriages with guards surprisingly came driving up. A mysterious stop-over took place, because several large men hurriedly began to exchange the used-up horses for fresh ones. Moreover, inside one of the parked carriages sat a small fat man, decorated with many badges, who was wedged tightly between two solid-looking guards.
That guy must have committed some kind of crime, the student understood. The convoy had obviously arrived so early so as not to attract any unwanted attention. The changing of the horses and stocking up of provisions took some time. Meanwhile, Michel was looking at the prisoner with fascination. That man must have illusions of grandeur: he exuded the air of an emperor. Suddenly, there was a great commotion. Hordes of Avignois rushed from de Porte St. Lazare upon the carriages, wanting revenge on "the small corporal from Corsica." The city guard tried to control the riot, but there was no stopping the furious citizens and they surrounded the carriage in the center. They called the decorated prisoner every name in the book. Other insurgents threw rocks at him or threatened him with their swords. A few minutes later, several people jumped onto the carriage, climbed inside and started to tear off his badges of honor. An officer who arrived in a hurry managed to calm the heated tempers, after which the last horses were quickly hitched. The besieged carriage with "the small corporal" managed to escape, after a guard succeeded in pulling a few fanatics off the wheels. The rest of the carriages had been left alone and were able to follow their course uninterruptedly. Afterwards, the student was reflecting on the event.
"Hey, asshole, are you growing roots there, or what!" a workman suddenly swore.
"Didn't you see that riot just now?" asked Michel.
"I only see a stranger, and we don't like those here," and he continued on his way, rolling his barrel. It was the old Avignon mentality. And the strange riots*(1814 the dethroned Emperor Napoleon, nearly stoned in Avignon) turned out to have been nothing but hallucinations.
After the first trimester, the teachers were full of praise for the young De Nostredame. That was very nice, but the gifted student was not learning very much from them. His grandfather had already taught him so much about astrology that it was impossible for his teachers to add much to it. The disappointed Michel therefore didn't expect them to expand his knowledge much. Fortunately, there was a three-storey library that was the most beautiful one he could ever imagine. He liked to pass the time in there and examine the ancient texts. The teachers encouraged the genius to research related areas. They instructed Mr. Grimbert, the librarian who, due to some illness, was always shivering, to gather together a list of books for the student. Grimbert has set up the literature in a separate part of the library where the young man could go about his business without being disturbed. Michel devoured the stack of documents in a short time. Aside from a few works by Grandfather, the only book he had studied in depth was the Bible, and the change of fare was very welcome. In the end, there was really only one manuscript that really spoke to him. This was an essay about alchemy. It seemed like a cliché, but who didn't see images of an old, bearded wizard, performing strange experiments in a dusty old lab when they heard the word alchemy. The book contradicted his preconceived notions and he wanted to go more deeply into the subject matter. In the manuscript in question, it said that alchemy was introduced in Spain by the Arabs after the crusades, and so he scrutinized the Spanish department for days on end. During his search he came upon an eye-catching article, written by Artephius in the twelfth century, entitled: "The art of increasing the lifespan of man." The Spanish article was written in Latin, which he was familiar with. Curious, he began to read it.
"I, Artephius, have learned all the arts in the magical book of Hermes. During my long life, I have seen people who wanted to perfect alchemy. However, I did not want to write down anything that would make the laws more accessible to a broader audience, because they may only be revealed by God or a master. It is therefore useful to read my book only if one possesses broad knowledge and a free spirit. I once was like others: jealous. I have now been alive for about a thousand years, ultimately by the grace of God alone."
That man is as old as Methuselah! Michel thought, excitedly. He was determined to read those two books, but indefatigable as he was in his search, he did not find them.
That one by Hermes probably doesn't even exist, he thought, and he consoled himself by reading all the alchemical literature he could find. In one of the works, he read that metal can be changed into gold, using a mystical object, the so-called "Philosopher's Stone." The stone had been sought after for centuries, but was never found and in the thirteenth century, most alchemists had given up on it. Another manuscript told that alchemy can have a medical effect. If one ingested exactly accurate proportions of salt, sulfur and mercury, it could have a positive effect on one's health. The Greek philosophers Thales and Aristotle believed that earth, water, air and fire were the basic elements from which everything material could be created. Another essay spoke about a fifth basic element: the essence. But for now he had read enough and he put the books away.
"Thanks for your help, Mr. Grimbert, see you tomorrow." Another day had flown by and the tired student went back to his austere room in the Rue St. Agricol. After cooking and eating some warm mush, he meditated on the book of Hermes, without any effect, and then tried out "the philosopher's stone", but unexpectedly fell asleep. That night his desires were fulfilled. The searching soul was touched by something magnificent and powerful and with a shiver he sat up straight in his bed.
"Michel de Nostredame, I am the one you are looking for, I am Hermes, the son of Zeus and Maia, the daughter of Atlas, one of the Titans." Right before him sat a radiant, powerful, athletic being, wearing a winged hat and holding a golden staff entwined with snakes. Hermes continued, "I am the leader of the three worlds. I was born in a cave in Arcadia. I am the fastest of all the gods and the god of thieves. The Egyptians call me Toth. The Romans call me Mercury. I am Hermes Trismegistus from Genesis. I am "The Hope of the Stones", "The Philosopher's Stone" and "The Emerald Tablet." My material brother, your fate has been determined. You will play a role in the cosmic drama that will unfold on earth during the coming millennia. But for now, until the Moon is mature, you will go in another direction in order to allow your slumbering knowledge to be awakened by Black Death." Hermes vanished as quickly as he had appeared and left behind an enormous emptiness. Michel could not cope with the powerful, supernatural confrontation and collapsed. He did not wake up until the next afternoon. Feeling awful, he got up and, stumbling, picked up his school bag so he could get back to studying. But it was much too late to go the university and feeling confused he sat back down on his bed.
"I feel so wretched," he groaned. With great difficulty, he reconstructed the message from Hermes, but he could not absorb it all. Meanwhile, his father - driven by higher powers - was in Saint Rémy, worrying about the less than practical education of his son. Although astrology had become an acknowledged science, there was not much you could do with it. He discussed it with Reynière, who initially stayed supportive of Michel's choice. But Jacques kept harping on the fact that there was no future in it and she finally had to admit that the disadvantages outweighed the advantages. They wrote a letter to their son, in which they expressed their concerns and suggested that he consider a study in the field of medicine; after all, both of his grandfathers had been physicians. Michel received their mail the next day and read their suggestion to change the course of his studies. He was pleasantly surprised and thought about Hermes, who had spoken about a change of direction.
So medicine is my destiny, he concluded. The next day he carefully approached his teachers, because he did not want discredit them in any way. During the parting discussion it turned out that they sympathized with his parents' arguments and he left his studies in Avignon on friendly terms.
After a short stay with his family, he left for the next university, in Montpellier.
"Welcome, Mr. De Nostredame", the caretaker greeted him most charmingly when he came in. "I will take you to the lecture hall right away, because you are the last one to arrive," and the stout woman got up from her stool with some difficulty and showed him the way. They walked through the main hallway and turned a corner at the end.
"The lecture will begin momentarily and will be given by Dr. Hache," she informed him. The lady brought him to the back room, where she showed him a spot at a table beside a young man with extraordinarily lively eyes. Professor Hache, unlike the caretaker, did not take the trouble to welcome his students, and began his lecture without delay.
"Thousands of years ago, the first doctors tried to cure their patients by drilling a hole in their heads," he said. François, the person seated next to Michel, pointed to his forehead condescendingly.
"Precisely, that is where that gesture originates," said Hache, who noticed, "but it really wasn't such a crazy idea, because in this way, they wanted to allow the evil spirits, which they thought were the cause of illness, to escape from the body. This was also called trepan." A student from Toulouse put up his hand.
"Questions may be asked at the end of my lecture," the professor said. "Later, in ancient Greek times, a sick person would go to a temple and make animal sacrifices to Aesculapius, the god of healing. Afterwards, the patient would drink healing water as well as bathe in it, and then follow a strict diet." The same student again raised his hand.
"What did I just tell you?" said the teacher.
"I'm just trying to let an evil spirit escape from my arm," clarified the student, trying to be funny.
"Please leave!" Hache said, unexpectedly strict. The student got up, crestfallen, and left the room.
"Stupid jokes are not tolerated here," and the professor continued his speech. "In four hundred BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates lays the foundation for our scientific medical science. He says that illness is not caused by sorcery, but by nature, and can only be cured by her." His pupils were now keeping close ranks and no one dared make another sound.
"Around two hundred AD, Galenus, also a Greek physician, taught us that the body contains four types of fluids, or humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile and that they must be in balance with each other. That's it for the introductory history. Now is the time to ask questions, but briefly." The students hesitated for a few moments.
"Do women have the same amount of blood, phlegm and bile as men?" someone asked.
"We're not exactly sure about that, but when these humors are out of balance, men and women both get sick," he answered.
"My mother sure spews a lot of bile anyway," a Basque fellow commented.
"She must be sick," Hache supposed
"Not really, she's as fit as a fiddle."
"In any case, I can't make a diagnosis from a distance. Fortunately, we have advanced far beyond Galenus and we conduct scientific studies by cutting open human bodies, among other things. So, if your mother is nearby…" The blood drained from the Basque's face when he heard his teacher's serious-sounding suggestion.
"You mean you cut open live people too?" he asked.
"Certainly, but that happens only rarely. We primarily study cadavers and make elaborate drawings of them. Due to these studies we have gained innumerable insights and many people can be cured of present-day diseases."
"What methods currently exist to cure diseases?" Michel now asked.
"For instance, with medications, that are processed into liquids, powders or tablets," the lecturer answered. "Unfortunately, there are many quacks, herbalists and witches who pose as pharmacists. Another very effective method is phlebotomy or bloodletting, which allows the disease to drain out of the body; this is my specialty." Question period came to an end and there was an afternoon break. After this, Hache lectured uninterruptedly until sundown. In the evening, after a cheap meal in the cafeteria, Michel and his classmates left the university building to go home.
"Feel like walking through town?" someone who caught up to him at the Notre-Dame-des-Tables church called. It was François Rabelais, the student with the lively eyes who sat next to him in class. It sounded like a good idea to Michel and they walked through the town and quickly became friends. François turned out to be a masterful story teller who wore his heart on his sleeve. Everywhere they went he named everything in such a frank and unusual way that many would have blushed just listening to it. The rebel literally had no qualms about discussing anything: he talked about heretical matters, painful emotions or body parts that people usually avoided mentioning. And when he found that Michel responded too seriously to something, he suddenly acted like a little child or became surprisingly obscene. François, for his part, was deeply impressed by Michel's enormous amount of knowledge. The student from Saint Rémy seemed like a walking encyclopedia. In a pub, Michel told about his Jewish background, his education from his grandfather and, finally, about the interrupted studies in Avignon.
"Then we're both in the same boat," said François.
"What boat?" his classmate asked, surprised.
"Well, Jews and Kathars are both considered a threat to the Catholic religion. You're a Jew and I'm a Kathar."
"How can you be Kathar? Kathars were the last Gnostics."
"Of course, his Lordship would know," François grinned. "We, as true Christians, no longer practice our religion in public but underground. In Montpellier there are actually quite a lot of fellow believers. My father runs a restaurant over there, where meetings are held once in a while, in secret of course. I'll bring you there some time if you want."
"Sounds interesting. I'm curious to know what you people preach. Gnostics always had a very well-founded argument because of their thorough study of the Latin Bible, among other things."
"Right, and that's why the Catholic leaders hate us so much," the Kathar added.
"Is that the only reason your religion is prohibited?"
"No, we are individualists and our Holy Books have been translated directly from the Gospel. The foundation of the Church, on the other hand, is based on power and their message is about the original sin."
"Oh well, popes, bishops and priests often interpret the Bible to suit their own purposes, but in principle, we all believe the same thing," was Michel's opinion. Rabelais cast some doubt on his findings.
"We have our own laws and we don't believe that one single being created all good and evil, like the Catholics do. Furthermore, we are for individual freedom, equality of women and against any form of violence. They're not!"
"I was talking about the original Greek Bible," Michel clarified. "In there, such points of view are not refuted."
"Hmm, that may be. I'm not as learned as you are."
After the foundation course at the medical university, the two friends effortlessly passed to the next grade. The class had shrunk to thirty students by then and today they were to have their first practicum. Professor Hache was standing on his platform and was wringing his hands in anticipation.
"Gentlemen, we always begin the second year with a practical demonstration of blood-letting. This will be performed by me personally on a person who has been declared incurably ill. Don't worry, there is no Black Death involved."
"What is the Black Death?" asked Michel pointedly.
"It's a nick-name for the plague, my dear fellow, but don't keep interrupting me. I hope for all of you that you won't faint, because it is a bloody business. I've gotten used to it." His colleagues carried in a woman with a seriously yellow complexion, who was tied to a chair; she was too weak to sit up. The patient could no longer look straight ahead and her eyes wandered in all directions. For the rest there was not much to her and she was uttering uncontrolled sounds. She was a poignant case and a commotion started in the room.
"I understand you feel compassion for her and you undoubtedly think I'm being somewhat heartless," said the professor, "but this experiment is in the service of science and the end justifies the means. Moreover, I assure you that this lady will receive some financial compensation." The bully moved closer to the guinea pig and picked up where he left off.
"There are two ways we can perform bloodletting. The first one is to cut into a blood vessel," and he pointed to a suitable spot on the patient's forearm. "The second method is to place leeches." He took a number of glass pots out of his pockets and showed various specimens.
"Today, I will demonstrate only the first one; these little creatures are already sated anyway. For the first method, the patient needs to squeeze a stick in his fist. This causes the veins to swell and speeds up the process of the phlebotomy. Unfortunately, this lady is too weak for this and we will have to cut deeper," and he brought the lancet out of his doctor's bag.
"Are there any volunteers to try this with me?" he asked. No one dared say yes, so he appointed someone.
"Mr. De Nostredame, would you be so kind?" His student obediently got up and walked towards him.
"Make a cut right here, lengthwise," his teacher commanded while handing him the blades.
"Shouldn't I wash my hands first?" Michel asked.
"Wash hands. What for? If you're afraid to do it, I will do it myself."
"Sir," François bravely interrupted, "what my study partner means is that if the monk, the flabby kind, does not work the land, the farmer will not guard the land. As doctor he does not teach or preach to the people, so the warrior does not heal the sick. Do you understand?" Hache didn't understand a word of it.
"Um, right," he lied and he viciously made a deep cut into the forearm himself. As expected, little blood flowed out and he skillfully collected it in a glass bowl. Michel just let him be and returned to his spot. After staunching the wound, the woman still served as an overview for the arteries, which had to always be avoided. After this, she was removed. When closing the practicum, the professor looked around with satisfaction and asked if his students had any speculation about the future of medicine. Michel was the first one to put up his hand.
"Ah, the inquisitive but frightened student, go ahead," Hache teased.
"I could see people using body parts in the future," his student proposed.
"I thought you were a serious kind of person."
"Yes, I am."
"Apparently not," the teacher denied.
"I do try to be," Michel insisted.
"No one is interested in unsubstantiated nonsense stories."
"Obviously, I can't give a scientific basis, sir, but you were asking for speculations, weren't you?"
"Okay, that is quite enough. Leave your rubbish out of my class from now on," the teacher said, insulted. After school, Michel asked François what he meant when he was talking about the monk of the flabby type.
"Oh, nothing really, I was only trying to test the thinking capacity of that ogre," he said, carelessly.
"Gee, you can be mean!"
"Sure can," Rabelais laughed, without being the least bit embarrassed, and on the way home they discussed the usefulness of hygiene.
One evening the two friends were being treated to a plate of mussels by François' father in his restaurant. The place was filling up with fellow believers and they were fervently chattering with each other. A little later there would be prayers in the back room and the Jewish student had been invited to join in. François meanwhile confessed he has been busy translating Italian medical letters.
"That's ambitious," Michel said.
"And that's not all. I am also writing my debut novel: Les Horribles et Espouvantables Faict et Prouesses du très renommé Pantagruel."
"An impressive title. Perhaps a bit long though," his friend opined.
"Maybe I'll just call it Pantagruel then. But, to change the subject, are you someone who indulges in self-gratification?"
"Do you masturbate?" De Nostredame surreptitiously looked around to see if anyone was listening.
"Now you're really going too far, François. That's none of your business," he said angry.
"Hey, I only wanted to prepare you for the mystical lesson you're about to hear."
"What are you talking about?" Michel asked, confused.
"Well, there is not only going to be praying, but gnosis or holy knowledge is also going to be revealed and this time it is about sexuality." They were interrupted by the noise of the mixed company that was moving to the back room. Apparently it was time for the gathering and the two young men followed to the private room, where everyone was taking place on thick carpets. After a short prayer, a volunteer stood up to give the lecture and he brought out a stack of papers.
"Tonight, I will be speaking about the Hermes Cups," he announced.
Holy cow, Michel said to himself, the son of Zeus and Maia, the messenger of the gods. The man showed a mystical image of the human body to clarify what he was talking about. In the head there were two symbolic overflowing cups and from the sacrum a pair of snakes crept up around the spine towards the opened wings at the height of the heart.
"As everyone knows, the old scriptures teach us to treat our sexual powers with great care. But why have we been taught for ages to behave chastely? The answer is different from what the Church deludes us with. Go forth and multiply, it preaches. It's easy to get new recruits among your own offspring. Eager for power, the church leaders have obscured and twisted the Gospel in order to keep the real reason hidden. The old scriptures only say "Do not lose any seed." In other words, never allow it to be lost, not even during the act of love." Michel looked at François in surprise. So that's what the funny guy had been alluding to.
"The holy objective of gnosis is enlightenment of the individual," the mystic continued, "and the coming home of the soul to the divine nature. This drawing shows the sexual transmutation of the Ens Seminis*(the human sperm). This delicate knowledge is only taught at mystical inauguration schools, such as the one in Montpellier. The pharaohs of the old Egypt were some of the people who were instructed in this. The technique requires the utmost self-control of sexual powers during lovemaking between man and woman. Especially for the man. By withholding the semen during the melting together of the two souls, a divine spark can be created, which can be compared to an actual ignition. "Ignatius" in Latin, which is where the word "gnosis" originated. The spark is created by the induction between the male and female sexual organs and produces a supernatural power, which rises up along the spinal column. Hence the two twisting snakes. The re-born energy reaches up to the top of the so-called caduceus of Mercury through these channels and there opens the wings of the spirit. The energy, or kundalini, can rise further, up to the Hermes Cups, but only if there is true love. If this is present, the cups are gradually filled. When they are full, they overflow and the energy slowly flows down the front to the heart. After repeating this process seven times, man is completely developed." The mystic put the drawing away.
"Now I ask you all to rise." The believers all stood and started to recite the standard prayers. François sang along with full conviction. Finally, after fifteen religious mysteries had been contemplated, the service was completed and tea was served. At the end of the evening the two students evaluated the material in the now abandoned room.
"I thought you had stooped to obscenity again, before the service," Michel apologized, "but I was truly fascinated with what they were saying."
"I knew you would find it interesting," François answered.
"It sure was, but it does make life seem like punishment."
"Well, the fruits can be picked during one's lifetime, and if you apply this technique properly, you can cultivate special powers. Nature will listen to you."
"You mean I could talk to a horse?" the invited guest asked frivolous.
"Are you serious, or are you playing with me?"
"No, seriously; the Red Sea opened for Moses, didn't it?" Rabelais indicated.
"Then everyone should apply that technique as soon as possible."
'Better not; hardly anyone is pure enough and you can create a lot of havoc with bad intentions. Those are the Brothers of Darkness. Watch out for them!" Michel let everything sink in for a while.
"Are children still conceived among practitioners of this technique?" he then asked.
"They are still being delivered by the stork."
"Oh great, the stupid jokes are back," and, making a long face, Michel got up to leave.
"Sorry, sorry, I'll answer your question seriously. Ordinary mortals are having enough babies to preserve our population. Besides, very advanced children are often born of initiates."
"I suppose the transcendence of lust is the basis of this," his guest speculated.
"Indeed, once upon a time, Eve ate the forbidden fruit and ever since then man has been banished from paradise. Now we have to move mountains to repair her mistake."
"Forbidden fruit is symbolic for male sperm," François explained, drinking a last cup of tea. "But do you play with yourself, or don't you?" His friend shook his head sadly and walked out of the room. Incorrigible, that Rabelais!
After several years of intense cramming, Michel got permission to establish himself as a physician. His studies were not completed yet, but he definitely wanted to go and help the plague victims in the country. In the back of his mind he always held the thought that the Black Death would awaken his dormant insight, according to the message from Hermes. The nineteen-year-old physician told François about his intention, who regretted it, but agreed that his friend was ready for the real work.
"And what will you call yourself?" François asked.
"Just Doctor De Nostredame."
"You know that scientists embellish their names with a Latin ending, don't you?"
"Yes, but …" Michel hesitated, not wanting to be vain.
"It's important the make an impression, you know. What do you think of Nostradamus?"
"Sounds great!" his buddy laughed, submitting to the idea. A few days later, the two friends bade each other farewell and promised to keep in touch.
Michel returned to his parents' home, so that from Saint Rémy he could offer his knowledge in the surrounding areas. They were very happy with the return of their son, and Father spontaneously offered him Grandpa's attic.
"Shouldn't you discuss that with Julien first?" Reynière cautioned her husband.
"Julien only studies up there, but Michel is going to be bringing in money", he retorted.
"You're just walking all over that boy," she disapproved.
"All right, I'll ask him what he thinks." Julien, who was studying law up in the attic, had no problem with making room for his eldest brother, as it turned out, and he moved back into his former room, along with his books. His older brother's presence was good for him too; he could now help him translate texts. All's well that ends well. Michel was happy to see his family again; his last visit had been a year ago, and he observed the familiar goings-on with a broadened mind. His little brothers had grown into strapping lads and were about to leave the nest and go out into the wide world. Bertrand wanted to be a carpenter. Most of the woodwork in the house was made by him. He definitely didn't want to be a notary like his father, "because he has a deformed forehead from all that brainwork", he claimed. Father did indeed have a strange forehead: it was flat, high and stuck way out. His hands, by contrast, were exceptionally nicely shaped. In addition, Jacques was a bit stuffy; he always considered everything in the minutest detail. His wife was more in touch with her intuition. Michel noticed for the first time what an attractive woman his mother was. She had a great figure, beautiful, warm eyes and long shiny brown hair, which she usually wore up. It was a pity that she was a bit too trusting with strangers; a few times, money had disappeared in her presence. Father, on the other hand, had a healthy dose of suspicion in that regard, so the two completed each other quite well. The other brothers, Hector and Antoine didn't know what they were going to do yet.
"I know: I'm going to make some matzo," Reynière said breezily in reaction to all the heavy plans for the future. "Want to help me, Michel? Then you could tell me what you've been up to in Montpellier at the same time," and the young physician willingly went with her. In the kitchen they mixed water with some flour.
"Okay, tell me," she commanded, and her son began to tell her all about his student days.
"Oops, I still have to stoke the fire in the back garden," she interrupted him. "You go ahead and start kneading; I'll be right back." A few minutes later, she returned, covered in soot and Michel continued his narrative, as if he hadn't noticed anything. Many college stories later the scent of the unleavened bread filled the whole house. Father cut the crunchy matzo at the table and in this way they celebrated the homecoming of their successful son.
"Would you visit a sick acquaintance of mine?" Jacques asked afterwards.
"That's the city chirurgeon's job, isn't it?" Michel asked.
"Well, I don't have a lot of faith in him. Mr. Delblonde's health is steadily declining."
"Okay, I'll go and have a look," his son promised.
"By the way, the municipality of Arles is looking for a physician," Reynière just remembered. "You should go and apply there."
"I will Mother, thanks for the tip." The next day he visited Mr. Delblonde, who had been in the medical care of Villain for some time. This chirurgeon took care of your wounds, cut away swellings, performed phlebotomy, pulled teeth, prepared herbal remedies and cut your hair or shaved your beard. The long-term patient had had the misfortune not to qualify for free treatments. His illness had been dragging on and on and he had been obliged to sell the one family heirloom he possessed, a root wood wardrobe, in order to be able to pay the bills. Only people who were completely destitute were eligible for free services and the municipality covered these cost. Michel's suspicions were confirmed when he entered; Villain was of the old school. Delblonde was completely exhausted due to laxatives and various fontanelles. The patient was lying in bed in critical condition with a sister by his side. Nostradamus introduced himself and the old man thought he remembered him from the past. Half delirious, he began to talk about the old days, but his sister put a stop to it right away.
"Let's not waste any time, doctor," she said and she told him that her brother had gotten much worse after the incisions in the skin had become infected. Villain was trying to release an excess of humors this way. Michel examined the patient and gave his diagnosis.
"I don't think that the cause is serious, but the medical treatment is. If you want your brother to stay alive, those incisions must be closed and you must get rid of those purgative drinks," he insisted. The despondent sister realized that it was time for a change and she agreed. Michel immediately removed the iron tubes from the dozens of fontanelles and cleaned the wounds with water.
"Also, give your brother fresh fruit and vegetables every day," the doctor advised as he was leaving, "as soon as he is a bit stronger, I will be back." At city hall they were furious when they heard about this "illegal practice." They instructed the police to pick up the charlatan, but he showed them his papers which proved that he was an acknowledged physician and that he had every right to treat any patient in France. The city council members were still going berserk and were claiming that there was room for only one chirurgeon in Saint Rémy, but Nostradamus held his ground and there was nothing they could do about it. Within a week, Mr. Delblonde began to regain his strength and the controversial physician told him he should now start to take short walks. The patient did as he was told and walked around the town for the first time in months. His health continued to improve by leaps and bounds and everyone in town witnessed his surprising cure. The city chirurgeon as well as the council members looked like fools and Michel's name as physician was established. Within a few days, sick people started to knock on the De Nostredame's door and the miracle doctor treated all of them with good results. After Villain, in the course of time, had made a few big blunders, Michel was appointed as the official new physician of Saint Rémy. The swearing-in ceremony had barely taken place when there was a sudden massive outbreak of the plague in the Camargue. The District Council reported that there were thousands of victims in the area and the brand new chirurgeon was now facing a huge challenge. The pestilence was extremely contagious and if you had a family member who had the disease, the same fate, as a rule, was awaiting you. Within two to six days, you could be dead and buried. Dogs, cats, chickens and even horses were also its victims. But the young physician was resilient and thought he was immune. Fortunately, Saint Rémy had not been hit with an outbreak of the plague as yet. But the nearby village of Sainte Doffe had been and public life had come to a grinding halt there. Dead bodies were rotting in the streets or tossed into hastily dug graves by shattered loved ones. The unbearable stench of rotting flesh hung in the air and people were burning fragrant pieces of wood in an effort to dissipate it. Many villagers had kicked their family members out of their homes to try to save their own lives. Others had fled elsewhere. Michel visited his first plague patient in this plagued village and was brought to a deathly ill child in a little clay hut. The little boy was spitting up blood, had big black spots and lumps as large as eggs all over his body. His mother was sprinkling the floor with vinegar to freshen the air. The brave doctor examined the child, but truth be told, there was really nothing he could do. No remedy had yet been found for this disease. At the university they were advising to perform bloodletting, but Michel wanted nothing to do with such backward practices. Just to give the family some hope he placed a piece of devil's dung around the child's neck; an herb that was used in exorcism. He wrote down the symptoms of the extremely contagious disease and left without being able to do anything substantial. During the days that followed, the physician visited several plague sufferers, who were initially taking shelter in spiritual peace with God. Wherever he came in, there was always some anxious priest who would be taking confession and promising the patient a place in the hereafter. Medical help, unfortunately, took second place. Ignorance is a cardinal sin, Michel realized more than ever. However, the abundance of superstition, the abuse of power and the ignorance stimulated him to attempt to discover the cause of the disease by using his common sense and to find a solution for it. He distinguished two types of plague: the one with lumps forming on the outside of the body and the one affecting the lungs. After examining the symptoms of the disease, he could see the importance of hygiene, which, in the Jewish religion had been traditional for centuries. An interesting case in Milan confirmed his findings. The archbishop had ordered to brick up the first three houses that had been attacked by the plague, with the residents inside. As a result of this, Milan was protected from a further outbreak. This harsh management had shown that contagion was being passed on invisibly. Nostradamus began to introduce quarantine for new cases, during which time no healthy citizens were permitted to have any contact with the patients, who were still being provided with food and water. This method began to yield some good results. The researcher also had the idea that the disease could be carried by the wind and he therefore distributed masks among the population in a neighboring village that had not been contaminated with the plague yet. The residents were spared from the epidemic and Michel began to suspect the existence of bacteria. He then began to advise everyone to take a bath in warm water once a week if at all possible and to wash their hands with soap before each meal. He also stimulated them to regularly brush their teeth, for example with chewed up licorice root, to rinse the mouth with honey water or wine vinegar, to clip th
eir finger nails and cut and wash their hair, moustaches and beards. Everyone also had to change their clothing and thoroughly clean it by washing it, preferably in hot or boiling water. Despite the essential pioneer work, he nevertheless remained a voice calling out in the wilderness, until Pope Clemens VII heard about the willful plague fighter and invited him to his private quarters in Avignon. The pope asked him how he should protect himself against a future outbreak of the plague and Michel advised him to at least withdraw into his residence. When the epidemic reached the neighborhood of the religious leader about a month later, he spent several weeks in solitude. Because of the isolation he stayed alive and Nostradamus gained some fame. The plague, meanwhile, was raging through all parts of the country and exacted a terrible toll in all of Europe. The overpopulated areas were hit the hardest. Armies of well-trained, strong soldiers fell apart after a few days of the epidemic, and local wars were lost before being fought. Quacks tried to take advantage of the panic situation and make a quick fortune. The young doctor worked day and night and treated thousands of people. After four years, the plague had finally spent its fury and Nostradamus returned to Montpellier to finally complete his studies. François had graduated by then and, surprisingly, had left France. The caretaker told him strict measures had been taken against the reformed, the humanists and all dissidents. Even scientists with sharp tongues were no longer welcome in the country. In spite of this, François had the good fortune to be employed as a physician by the viceroy of Piemonte. Michel once again attacked his studies, but he came upon a lot of incomprehension among his former teachers regarding his progressive ideas. His theoretical and practical knowledge was so impressive, however, that the teachers could not deny him his doctor's title a year later. The unconventional physician gave lectures at this university for a short time, but his treatment methods ultimately caused too much consternation. The director-in-chief took action; the culprit was admonished and thereupon left the university. Tried and tested, Michel returned home to Saint Rémy and there decided to resume his practice.
"There's no place like home," Jacques said, after the umpteenth return of his son, but Michel didn't respond to his corny remark.
"You've changed, boy; you're so quiet."
"I'm getting older, father," he replied tersely. Michel had completely outgrown his parents, but he didn't want to hurt their feelings and didn't say anything else. There had been extra space in the house for a while, and the physician decided to once again move into the abandoned attic. Julien was now studying law in Aix-en-Provence and Bertrand and his wife were living in a house he had built himself at the edge of town. Hector and Antoine were still living at home and were hoping to hear new stories from their worldly brother, but he didn't seem to be in the mood to talk. Michel had been through a lot and his mind had become too heavy and too powerful for wasting time. In fact, it had become so heavy and forceful that it was getting cloudy. The mystical veil protected his higher bodies in their development and it made him inaccessible. And when anyone pulled this blanket off him, his look could burn you. The learned family member badly needed rest and resigned himself to the character changes in himself. Today the fearless physician went to visit some patients in nearby Arles. After a pleasant little trip through the sunny scenery, the carriage stopped in front of a yellow house near the town center. Nostradamus knocked and waited, but there was no response. The shutters were open and he glanced inside
"The doctor's here," he called out in a clear voice, but there was still no sign of life. He decided to try knocking loudly on the front door one more time before climbing in through the window, when suddenly he was approached from behind by a scrawny man with reddish hair. The man, whose shoes were covered with paint, carelessly pushed him aside and entered the house.
"Whoa, wait a minute, I'm visiting a patient here," the doctor said, but the man, who was missing his left ear, seemed deaf and mute and rudely slammed the door shut in his face.
Well, that's never happened to me before! Michel thought, feeling somewhat humiliated. I'm being treated like dirt here.
Still in a funk, the generally well-respected physician walked through Arles, which possibly was one of the most beautiful cities in France. Nostradamus had some extra time because of the strange incident, and ordered a cool drink at Place du Forum, which was littered with cafés. Sitting on a wicker chair, he observed what was going on in the street while he quenched his thirst. The provincial town was known for its cultural manifestations and was visited by many wealthy Italians and Spaniards. The foreigners were noticeable because of their expensive clothing and different looks. It was an enjoyable spectacle and drew a lot of attention. A little while later, an Italian lady walked towards him from a shopping street, and he was instantly taken with her. He guessed her to be about twenty years old, a few years younger than himself. The Italian woman had a small, beautiful head, a long neck and sparkling eyes and she moved very elegantly. The physician stared at the charming lady, who looked to be high-born and he was unable to avert his gaze. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and his heart was pierced by Cupid. Most people did not show off their beauty, but Italians did; the lady was walking around wearing very conspicuous clothing. She was wearing a purple velvet gown with puffed sleeves and an open white collar. The Venetian-style garment flared from her waist down to the ground, held up by hoops. Dozens of them! In addition, her black hair was bound on top of her head as an ornament, decorated with jewels. Around her neck she wore an expensive-looking pearl necklace. While the breathtakingly beautiful lady was walking towards Michel, her dress majestically dragged on the ground and the longer he looked at her, the more unearthly he began to feel. When the Italian woman walked past him, chatting with two gentlemen and a matron, she suddenly gave him a candid look. A spell was cast. He melted like wax, under her unexpected gaze, and he felt as if his life was now just beginning.
"Good heavens," he stammered, totally rattled. And while he kept staring at her he was shaking like a leaf. He suddenly felt very small and more vulnerable than he had ever thought possible. After years of only visiting patients, he had completely forgotten about love and now the sun was beginning to shine in the crevices of his soul. During the heartbeat that their eyes met, she was also struck by a love arrow and she blushed as she continued on her way with her companions. Michel's heart was aflame and he determined he absolutely must court this woman. The love-struck admirer jumped up, threw some money on the table and ran after the Italian woman. He followed the little group from a distance and feverishly tried to think of a way to approach her. The lady sensed him behind her, but did not dare to turn around and look and finally entered an establishment. The unsteady physician almost started to panic.
Now what? he wondered. A serving girl happened to be leaving the same place at the same time. He noticed and called out to her: "Miss, could you please tell me when that last group of people leaves, because I have something to discuss with them." The servant looked at his neat appearance and responded as he had hoped: "You are an acquaintance of the De Vaudemonts?"
"More or less," he twisted the truth. She became talkative and told him that the company would be returning to the Lot en Garonne that coming Saturday. He had the information he wanted, thanked her and returned to Saint Rémy on cloud nine. There, he began to make plans to meet the woman of his dreams. During lunch, a changed housemate sat at the table.
"You're in a good mood," Father remarked.
"And I've never seen you look so handsome," his mother added, "you're positively beaming." Michel just smiled sheepishly, but didn't say a word about it; he kept his heart to himself. But Reynière had an idea.
"I think I know what's going on," she said mischievously and when her son asked for a mirror the next day, she was sure. He must be in love!
"Is it on account of a lady that you're so out of sorts?" she asked.
"Um, yes," he admitted.
"Well, I'd better give you a few tips then. You may be learned, but when it comes to women's business you're better off listening to me." Mother had seen through his secret and the diligent physician looked at his mother expectantly, like a small child.
"Women like it when you pay them compliments," she told him. "Is she from around here?"
"No, she's from Italy."
"Ah, the country where fashion comes from. Then we'd better do something to improve your image." And that same day, Mother bought a trendy suit and fit it on him personally. Hector and Antoine were curious and came to see what was going on with their brother in the living room.
"Mother is dressing Michel?" they scratched their heads. Reynière unpacked the new red jerkin and pulled it on over the buttoned up shirt with ruffles. On top of this came a black over-frock.
"I want one of those too!" Hector shouted enthusiastically, when he saw the expensive velvet overcoat with long, split sleeves. A few minutes later, Father came home from work.
"Michel, I have some mail for you," he reported, looking on in wonder.
"I can't use my hands right now, Dad."
"I'll put it in your desk for you," Jacques offered. His wife, meanwhile, kept pulling on the various pieces of clothing.
"You're slight and this makes you look broader," she said, fidgeting with the coat.
"I'll have to take your word for it," her son answered and kept standing as still as a statue.
Soon he started to hop from one foot to the other, because his mother was trying to put a pair of knickerbockers with a zipper on him. Then she put white stockings on his feet and wide slippers made of cowhide.
"I think those shoes are beautiful," Antoine said.
"They sure are," his fancy brother said, looking down. Finally, Reynière placed a hat with a feather on his head, and the result was charming indeed. He looked both distinguished and stylish, everyone agreed, and their love-struck family member paraded through the living room for them.
"Goodness gracious, you look like a king," said Father, who came in again, shaking his head.
The next day, the physician, who had taken a day off, happily set off to Arles, wearing his new outfit. Once there, he loitered around the boarding house he had seen the beautiful lady enter before, for about an hour. He repeatedly looked into all the windows of the building, hoping to catch a glimpse of her, but she was nowhere to be seen. A hunchback, who was advertising bullfights in a most irritating way, came and stood right next to him. The lover slunk away and sat down at the same terrace where had been two days earlier. He had just ordered a drink to calm himself, when the beautiful woman suddenly appeared out of nowhere and walked past, by herself. His disappointment disappeared like snow in the sun and he bravely hurried towards her. He had not been mistaken: she was so beautiful, so elegant and fine. Irresistible! The Italian woman got butterflies in her stomach when she saw him trotting towards her and for a moment she didn't know what to do. On top of that, her face turned scarlet when she saw his modern clothing, which was perfect in every detail.
That must be meant for me, she thought, feeling nervous and honored at the same time.
"Mademoiselle De Vaudemont," he stammered, "as a physician, I must point out to you that the waist of your dress is too tight. This is bad for your circulation." How stupid of me, he thought, I meant to give her a compliment.
"I mean, it could harm your beauty," but there was no reply; The Italian woman didn't know what to say. I should just express myself freely, he decided.
"To be honest, you have made a profound impression on me and I had to see you again," he said. That broke the ice and she smiled at his candor.
"Do you practice here in Arles?" she asked, still a bit stiff, but in flawless French without a trace of an accent.
"Um, no, although, yes sometimes, but I am from Saint Rémy and I work there too." The unnerved physician introduced himself and invited her to sit down and have a drink with him, after which they both walked to the terrace where his drink was still waiting for him. It was quite a feat to maneuver her hoop skirt between the tables, but finally they were sitting down.
"You look truly fabulous," he complimented "Yolande", "but how can you get through the day wearing that dazzling but heavy dress?"
"I only wear this dress when I'm parading through town; as soon as I get home, it is removed," and she nervously thanked the waiter for the anise drink. Bystanders meanwhile, were openly staring at the enchanting couple. The two were completely oblivious to this public attention, however, and the physician tried to think of topics of conversation.
"It's not possible, is it, to deal with such a dress alone?"
"The matron helps me with it," she answered, and then there was a pregnant pause. Michel again searched for words, but he couldn't find any and ordered another drink instead.
"I've heard it is quite a heavy load to study for physician," Yolande commented.
"Oh, five years of university."
"Well, that is very clever; there are not many who could accomplish that," she praised him and slowly but surely, something beautiful began to flow between them.
"What brings you to Arles? It looks like you're journeying through on your way somewhere else," Michel asked. Yolande told him that her family owned a castle in the Lot and Garonne, to which they were traveling and that she was from a noble lineage.
"I suppose the castle belongs to your parents?" he commented. She confirmed this and started to warm up, talking about her father, Count Ferry VI de Vaudemont, and her mother, Queen of Naples. Her parents had nine children, including herself. The chill had completely left the air and the chemistry between them started to manifest. The spark between them was palpable. It was true love and time had never flown by so fast. They were both over the moon when eventually said goodbye to each other and left the scintillated public behind. Yolande promised to write him as soon as she arrived in the Lot. Back in Saint Rémy, Mother immediately inquired how it went for him.
"It was positive," he answered coolly.
"Positive? Is that all you have to say? You are beaming, my man!"
"Oh, all right," he laughed out loud, "but first I've got to get out of this monkey suit." And while he was running up to the attic, he shouted out: "She is going to be my wife!" A week later, he received the first letter from his beloved, in which she expressed her desire for him. After a few more letters it was evident: the fire kept burning and the two were meant for each other. In the last letter Yolande requested him to come and visit her in the Lot soon. Jacques and Reynière were overjoyed that their eldest son had finally found a woman, and one from a wealthy, noble family no less.
"You've caught a big fish, Michel. I hope you'll put us in your will," his father, the notary, teased.
"Certified idiot," his son replied unusually lightheartedly.
"I guess you'll get to live in that beautiful castle," his mother supposed.
"That's a bit premature Mom. First let's see how this visit goes." But her intuition told her that her son was about to leave the village for good.
Not long after, Nostradamus left to go and see his princess. He was going to rescue her and in his mind he saw a beautiful drama unfold. Love really did have a blinding effect, the lucky devil realized while making the long trip in the carriage, by way of Toulouse. And on the way he found himself possessed by a longing for Yolande that would - he thought - burn eternally. In the Ariège, the carriage passed the historic Mount Montségur, where the last of the Kathars were murdered en masse centuries ago, and he remembered his old university friend François Rabelais. The scenery was now getting a lot greener and he began to see vineyards everywhere.
Picking grapes, he fantasized right away, just to pick grapes with her would be enough, and he looked at the blooming vineyards stretching to the horizon, intoxicated by his love for her. When dusk began to fall, the silhouette of Castle Puivert loomed in the distance: it was the castle that belonged to the De Vaudemonts. The castle was beautifully situated on top of the hill and Orion shone above it, seemingly symbolically. The coachman had planned the trip well, because they arrived at seven o'clock and he parked his vehicle in the twilight. The keyed-up lover got out and looked for a sign of life. Abruptly, the portcullis in the massive entrance tower was raised. Michel took a deep breath and walked to the opened gate with his luggage. While he was looking around, he caught a glimpse of his beloved behind an open window. Nervously, he walked through the portcullis and across an enormous courtyard, while the gate slammed shut behind him, to keep out intruders.
"Good evening, Mr. Nostradamus," Count De Vaudemont greeted him, smoothing out his drooping moustache. Yolande's father kept his distance and a servant rushed to take the bags of the visitor.
"So you are the young physician my daughter has been so enthusiastically exclaiming about. Did you have a good trip?"
"Indeed I did my Lord, but my body is craving some movement now," Michel answered and demonstratively started to stretch his limbs. Yolande arrived, elated, but was unable to exchange one word with her lover, for he was taken to his quarters immediately as ordered by her father.
"Tonight during dinner, you will have plenty of chance to speak to him," he whispered to his daughter. It was repugnant to the castle lord to see her following the newcomer like a panting deer. Such nonsense! And the count disappeared into one of the rooms with a disapproving look on his face. The guest was taken to a donjon that was twenty meters high.
"You'll be staying on the top floor," the servant mumbled, carrying an oil lamp and slowly ascending the stairs. A thousand steps higher, the tired traveler was left in a room with a four-poster bed that was guarded by the sculptures of eight musicians. After a short nap, Michel decided to explore his immediate surroundings. In the dark, he climbed a narrow, wooden staircase to the roof terrace, where he had a great view of the area. The full moon was shining onto the village of Puivert which was situated on a tranquil lake. Some commotion in the courtyard caught his attention. Several well-groomed guests were there, waiting for dinner. Michel hurried back to his room to get changed and then joined the group, which was just starting to go in. In the large, fancy room stood a gorgeous dining table with matching chairs. The kind of furniture belonging to the avant-garde. A servant showed the physician to a place across from Yolande, but between Ferry VI and the queen of Naples. They would put this serious candidate for their daughter to the test. The sweethearts were looking expectantly at each other, but were also a bit unsure about the parents' verdict. Yolande was wearing a brilliant turquoise gown and her hair was coiffed in a low chignon this time. She sent a restrained smile to her friend, who subtly answered. The dining table was set for royalty. There were glass dishes with golden trim and hand-painted replicas of the family coat of arms. The linen and cutlery were also decorated with it. The emblems were everywhere. The staff, meanwhile, had started serving the entrees. In addition to the count and the countess there were five sons, four daughters, three in-laws, several grandchildren and a handful of guests. During the rich meal, the turtle doves could not take their eyes off each other and they began to flirt.
"You're not the only ones at this table, you know", a son-in-law said, irritated. In any case, one thing was clear: the two were in love.
"You seem to have built up a good reputation in the Provence," the count remarked, while his drooping moustache just missed his soup.
"I do my best to cure the ill," the physician said, "but I'm glad the last outbreak of the plague has run its course, because I have very little control over it."
"We're very fortunate to not have experienced that terrible disease here," the queen of Naples said.
"But did you actually graduate?" the count suddenly asked.
"I already talked to you about that, Father," Yolande defended her beau.
"I will bring you my certificate after dinner, my Lord," Michel promised.
"Please do, I am very interested in seeing it. I'll be expecting you in my room shortly then. I happen to have some excellent cognac there as well. I'm sure you understand that I only want the best for my daughter." Ferry VI remained suspicious and was not in the least embarrassed to go through a list of questions that should determine if the physician was qualified as a son-in-law. The questions were about random topics; Nostradamus was able to give an impeccable answer to each one and slowly the mistrust began to diminish. After the dessert the count had a brief private consultation with his wife outside of the dining hall and then returned. It seemed the couple had decided that the prospective new husband was good enough for their daughter. After that, Michel could do no wrong. After Ferry VI had spent some time with him in his room, the lovers finally had a chance to be together and they quietly took a walk outside the gate. They seemed to understand each other so well, that words were superfluous. Behind a chestnut tree they furtively kissed, and the touch was like magic. After a week at the castle, Michel asked for Yolande's hand in marriage, and she accepted only too happily. Her calculated father gave his permission that same day; after all, the candidate met all of his conditions. A dream was coming true and Nostradamus felt as though he could take on the entire world. The physician, who had been freed from his melancholy, informed his parents of the coming wedding at Puivert, but they sent a message that it would not be possible for them to make the long trip, due to their geriatric ailments. Only his brother Hector would be able to attend. Their eldest son requested them to send his personal possessions and promised to come to Saint Rémy with Yolande as soon as possible.
The auspicious day arrived and countless prominent ladies and gentlemen gathered to make it a splendid occasion. And it was a spectacular wedding party. When the newly-weds were finally alone, they could not get enough of each other.
"It is a like fairytale to be married to you," Michel swooned, while they were lying in his four-poster bed, kissing.
"It is a fairytale," she replied softly and they continued to melt together with the climax as the grand finale. The eight sculptures of the musicians had been turned to face the walls. After the celestial wedding night, they got down to business right away; they decided to settle in Agen. The guild there was looking for a licensed physician and they had accepted Nostradamus for the position. The influential town was not far from Puivert and so the young couple was able to be independent as well maintain contact with the family. The blissfully happy pair went on a house hunt and quickly found a suitable residence, situated on the town square, which had a beautiful fountain. While decorating their new home, they enjoyed their freedom, the summer days, and especially each other. One sultry night, the lovers scampered to the fountain and danced under the spraying water to their hearts' content. They sat down on the edge, dripping, and laughing with glee.
"Close your eyes," Yolande requested and she put something in his mouth.
"A cherry!" he uttered.
"I have something else for you."
"Yes, I am pregnant," and they continued to kiss ecstatically.
Aside from his work, Nostradamus set up a small perfume factory, where concentrated oils for medicinal use were manufactured. A dozen employees distilled plants and herbs into ethereal oils there and their master would develop a recipe for every ailment. In the meantime, the married couple was starting to feel comfortably at home in Agen. In the Rue du Soleil, there was a special book store, in which Michel decided to nose around one day.
"Are you finding what you want?" the owner called from the back.
"I'm just browsing. I'm not looking for anything in particular," the visitor answered. The bookseller, who had a long beard, walked towards him.
"Aren't you the new doctor?"
"I'm Abigail. Nice to finally meet another well-read person around here. In that regard, it is slim pickings in this little town."
"I don't know the people here very well yet," Michel apologized.
"Of course, a book is much more expensive than a loaf of bread and almost no one can afford to buy one," Abigail qualified his comment, "but if you're ever looking for medical literature, I will certainly be able to help you. I have good connections with publishers in London, who are progressive in that area."
"Possibly later, when I have more time," the busy physician said. "I'm afraid I have to go already, goodbye," and he went on to see his next patient.
After the doctor had acquired a decent collection of medical works in the course of time, their first child was born. It was a son: Victor. And while he was still in diapers, his mother got pregnant again. His father, meanwhile, had become friends with the bookseller, who one day had a mysterious bundle set aside for him. Nostradamus was pleasantly surprised when he saw the work, which had the word "Kabala" written on it in Gothic letters. Of course, he had heard of it a long time ago, but he had never studied it. Amazing that he would now completely unexpectedly receive it from Abigail.
"How much is it?" he asked, reaching for his wallet.
"This book won't cost you anything," Abigail answered.
"Well, thank you very much."
"It's not me you should thank, but a secret admirer of yours." The doctor shrugged his shoulders in surprise and accepted the gift. At home, Victor was fast asleep in his little bed and his father had a chance to recuperate in peace from his long work day. Yolande poured her husband some jasmine tea and they enjoyed each other's company, sitting in front of the fire. The successful physician looked contentedly at his beautiful wife, gave her a kiss and laid his hand on her swollen belly; the unborn child was already kicking a bit. When he'd finished his tea, he decided to read his new kabala book and took it down from the shelf. "The bestowal of mystical knowledge", was the sub-title. While he made himself comfortable, nestling close to his spouse on the carpet, he opened the book and found a card in it with a name and address on it: "Julius Scaliger, 15 Avenue de Lattre, Agen." This must undoubtedly be his secret admirer.
"Yolande, do you know someone named Julius Scaliger?"
"Scaliger, that is a famous fellow townsman who is causing quite a stir as a writer. He is highly praised everywhere as a humanist," she answered.
"Why don't I know that?"
"You can't know everything, darling, but why are you asking?"
"He gave me this book. Look, here's his card," and he gave it to her.
"Why would he do that?" Yolande asked, surprised.
"Darned if I know."
"Wait a minute, he's a physician too," she suddenly remembered, "court physician of the Bishop of Agen. That must be the link. Maybe he knows you from the medical university in Montpellier?"
"No, definitely not," he said. "Let's see what kind of book he gave me," and he began to read.
"Besides the written tradition of the Bible, there is also the tradition of the Kabala. This mystical knowledge is based on Genesis and is passed on primarily from teacher to student. The Tree of Life is the prescribed model and this form is the key to the mystical reading of the Bible. We are speaking here of the four worlds, which symbolize the different levels of consciousness in the story of Creation, and this knowledge is deepened with the aid of meditation. The Kabala was originally a Jewish mystical tradition used to reveal secret messages in the bible, but is now also used in scholasticism. The Kabala is practiced in esoteric schools and by individual magicians."
Michel closed the book and painfully had to acknowledge that on the spiritual level he had been at a stand-still for years. This book was a gift from heaven. After changing Victor, the three of them happily went to bed.
"I'll have to pay this Scaliger a visit soon," said Michel, while their son's eyes were slowly closing.
"Take your time, sweetheart. Scaliger's not going anywhere; he's been living here for years," his wife whispered.
A few days later, the doctor knocked on the door at number fifteen in the Avenue de Lattre. A hefty servant opened the door and claimed that his master was not in, but a gaunt little man came walking down the stairs. It was the court physician himself.
"Oh, doctor, I have a terribly sore throat," Julius Scaliger joked, but his humor went right over Nostradamus' head.
"I'll have a look at it in a minute, but allow me first to thank you for the beautiful book you gave me," he answered, seriously.
"No problem. To tell you the truth, it was Abigail's choice." And the two gentlemen proceeded to the drawing room, which was decorated with many portraits of scientists and philosophers.
"Impressive; you know them all personally?" the visitor inquired.
"Not all of them, but the portrait you're looking at right now is of Erasmus, with whom I have been arguing by correspondence lately. They call him the greatest thinker of Europe, but I think there are quite a few gaps in his line of reasoning," and Julius sat down in an easy chair.
"I've heard of him," admitted Michel. "But what exactly is the reason you sought contact with me?" en he sat down in a chair too.
"Your name comes up on a regular basis," his host explained. "A physician who doesn't care about the religious authorities is rare. I am attracted to recalcitrant scientists and since I also studied medicine, it seemed to me a good idea for us to get to know each other."
"I feel honored," Michel replied, while he looked around the interior.
"It is such a coincidence that you moved to Agen of all places," Julius continued, "especially with that beautiful noble flower, who makes my heart skip a beat."
"Aha, so that's why you sent me a present!"
"Who knows; everything plays a role. You're very lucky to have such a beautiful wife."
"Indeed I am. And who is that?" Michel asked, pointing to a portrait.
"That is Cardano."
"Hmm, Cardano. If I'm not mistaken, he is a mathematician and astrologer."
"But also a fraud," Scaliger said, scornfully. "In his book "Subtilitate", he speaks of demons, but the passage was taken word for word from my writing."
"Plagiarism is a nasty business," his guest responded. 'And what kind of humanist works have you written?"
"Many, but my most important work is the summary of all of the literature that has been published everywhere, far past our borders. Furthermore, I am considered to be one of the great thinkers of this century, along with Erasmus," he boasted.
"Of the entire century no less?"
"I can't stand false modesty," his host declared, and Michel had to smile at the self-willed humanist. The scientists were well matched, and spent some time discussing medical documents by Aristotle. They hit it off very well and decided to visit each other more often. During the next few months, the bonds of friendship grew between them and one day, Julius showed his secret library. Secret, because many books were seen as a threat by the Church.
"Look Michel, the revolutionary document by Copernicus with "The sun as the center of the universe."
"Actually, mystics and astrologers see the sun as one of the stars," his friend commented. "But I suppose a scientist wants to see proof and what can he do with these kinds of pipe dreams?"
"On the contrary, dreams can be very useful," Julius answered. "Why don't you write them down some time. You'll see that your personal development will benefit from it."
Isabelle was born. She shone like the sun and grew rapidly. The girl seemed to be the center of the universe and Victor was her constant companion. The maid, who didn't have any children of her own, liked to pretend the beautiful baby was hers. While the family grew and blossomed, something sinister was beginning to happen in the outside world. Agen had been spared from the plague so far, but fate now struck. After the first case became known, public life immediately came to a grinding halt. Terrified of being infected with the disease, everyone avoided contact with each other as much as possible. And rightly so, because soon there were more victims. The progressive city doctor immediately set up quarantine for various districts of the city, where hundreds of dogs and cats already lay rotting. Notradamus was working overtime, rushing from one patient to the next. The tough physician gave the authorities orders to bury the bodies of both humans and animals between layers of lime, in order to prevent infection. He also ordered everyone to burn their garbage, so that nothing would be left to feed rats and fleas. After this, there was a constant smell of smoke and fire in the air. He told the plague victims who were still alive to rub a cream made with garlic and aloe on their bodies. The doctor kept stressing the importance of hygiene and good food and most of the townspeople supported his method. Some didn't trust him, however, and were looking for a scapegoat for the disaster. Riots began to break out in the town square; exactly where the Nostradamus family was living. The overworked physician heard the noise, walked to the window and was amazed to see that a fire stake was being prepared next to the fountain. In no time at all a huge crowd had gathered around it and two men were led towards it. The Agenois were furious and shouting at the top of their lungs. Michel realized that the townspeople were playing judge and jury. Things were getting out of hand.
"God almighty, they've got Abigail," he suddenly called out. One of those poor bastards was his friend, the book seller. He was being called all kinds of names and the doctor's anger began to boil over. Yolande came to stand beside him, alarmed.
"You will stay here, won't you?" she said, frightened, but her husband didn't listen to her and ran into the street, seething. His common sense told him just in time to keep his head cool and he pushed through the crowd in a somewhat controlled manner.
"Those rotten Jews are the cause of all this evil, burn them!" some of them yelled, full of hatred. Yolande looked on helplessly.
Please, don't argue with them, she thought, stiff with fear. The two Jews were tied to the poles and someone tried to ignite the stake.
"Stop!" Nostradamus screamed. The compelling order silenced the crowd and people moved back to make way for the physician, who, after all was married to one of the Vaudemonts. He coldly ordered the last of the instigators to move aside and climbed up on the stake. With great determination he wrenched off the ropes that tied the unfortunates to the poles. The rescuer focused his attention on his old friend Abigail for a moment. Abigail looked at him, filled with faith and a light began to shine in his eyes.
What is happening to me? Michel thought. And for a minute the intense beauty of those eyes unbalanced him.
No, don't show any vulnerability in front of the wolves, and guarding against a possible change in the crowd's mood, he turned around resolutely and spoke strongly to the people.
"The plague is not cause by the Jews. If this were true, it would first have to be irrefutably proven. You have all been whipped into this frenzy by fear and fury. Go home and return to your senses and don't disturb the public order again." The heated crowd turned around, deflated, and the square emptied out. Yolande was finally freed of her intense fear when Michel was safely back in the house.
"Don't you ever do that again!" she called out, still shivering.
"I couldn't very well have left them to that rabble!"
"Your family needs you alive!'
"I am alive," he teased, which made Yolande mockingly attack him with a pillow. The plague, meanwhile, continued to rage and the doctor worked around the clock during those days.
A few weeks later fate knocked on the Nostradamus family's door. Yolande and Victor got sick. Michel was confronted with it when he came home from work, late in the evening. As white as a sheet, he diagnosed them with the feared disease.
"It's the damn plague," he swore, when he was alone in the kitchen and punched the walls with his fists. It was a horrible concurrence: the plague fighter defeated at the home front. Deeply upset, he broke the bad news to his wife.
"All my attention was on my patients instead of on you," he lamented.
"Michel, please don't blame yourself and promise me that you will go on living with Isabelle."
"I don't know if I can live without you!"
"A higher power will come through for you, darling," she tried to comfort him. He washed their wounds as they appeared, prepared the best food he could think of and hoped for a miracle up to the last minute, but to no avail. His flower quickly faded and died in his arms. He watched the last glow disappear from her eyes, and saw her spirit leave her body. The next day, Victor also left his life and while he was kissing his son goodbye, he heard his daughter calling him. Isabelle had been locked up in her room to keep her safe. The devastated physician left his daughter in the care of the servant for a day and brought the remains of his family members to Puivert. His wife had wanted to be buried in the family grave. The De Vaudemonts, watched in horror as a wagon carrying coffins approached. Of course, they understood what had happened, but out of fear they left the gate shut.
"This is killing us," the count called through a window, "but there are others here that I love too."
"I understand. Can someone help me dig a grave at a safe distance?" the son-in-law asked.
"No, sorry. Good luck," the count heartlessly ended the conversation and closed the shutters. Bitter and alone, the widower buried his wife and child in the family grave, which was just outside the gate. His wife's family secretly watched from the castle. Back in Agen, the doctor took charge of his daughter, who forced him to go on with his life. The first lie about him began to spread through the city: Yolande, buried by her own father. That evening, the maid knocked on the door. A heavily depressed Nostradamus opened it as asked what was the matter.
"Doctor, I came to warn you. The De Vaudemonts have set the townspeople against you. They are accusing you of purposely letting your wife die, so that you can run off with the dowry. It is also being rumored that you are a friend of the Jews. I had to tell you, sir, because I know you are a good person," and she ran away. Michel bolted the front door, walked around the house brooding and then took some precautionary measures. Upstairs in the bedroom he looked at Isabelle's carefree little face as she lay sleeping peacefully. Finally, he was able to cry and the wind, blowing through the open window, brushed his tears. Then the silence was broken and all hell broke loose. Enraged townspeople carrying torches and shouting malicious battle cries began to gather in front of the house in great numbers.
"Murderer," they shouted, "you deserve the death penalty." Michel looked with one eye, from behind the curtains, and saw the crowd.
"Let's get him now," he heard someone say. He knew that this time he would have to leave. The locked front door was creaking with the effort of the brutes trying to break it open and then a burning torch was thrown into the house, barely missing him. Quick as a wink, Nostradamus picked up his daughter who woke up with a start; he tied her onto his back and ordered her to be quiet. Behind her bed, he wrenched open a drawer in a bureau, grabbed a bag of provisions out of it and threw it over his shoulder. Then he ran up the attic stairs with Isabelle. The bedroom curtains were already in flames and a few minutes later the whole house was ablaze. The hooligans finally managed to break down the front door and started to search for the evil magician on the main floor, but because of the towering flames, they didn't dare to go up any higher. Meanwhile, Father, with his child bound onto his back, was climbing onto the roof at the back of the house and jumped onto the next roof, out of sight of the rioters. In this way, he was able to leave the burning house behind him via the adjoining houses. Fortunately it was a pitch-black night and the insurgents couldn't find him. But half-way there, that same darkness caused Michel to slip and almost fall off the roof. Laboriously, he reached the last house, where he climbed down onto a balcony and from there used a vine to get down onto the ground.
"There he is!" a shifty character, having discovered his shadow, suddenly called out. The rebels, who were still screaming and shouting in front of the house, also caught sight of him and came in for the chase right away. The limber physician jumped onto the ground and ran off. He managed to loose his pursuers in the maze of lanes and alleys and fled the city as fast as the wind; far away, into the hills and forests. A short while later, they gave a sock belonging to the doctor to a pack of tracker dogs to smell and they quickly found the trail. The chase was resumed.
"Why are they so angry?" Isabelle asked.
"They don't like us," said Father, who thought they had escaped them.
"But why not? We're good aren't we?"
"Yes, but they have a different opinion," and then, to his horror, he saw a group of hunters in the valley. He increased his speed, pushing on through the forest. Up on a hill, the plateau suddenly ended and a gaping chasm prevented them from fleeing any further. While he paced back and forth on the edge of the cliff, he frantically searched for a solution. The sound of the barking dogs was getting louder; he had to think of something quick.
Okay, I'll have to go down that impossibly steep cliff, he decided. Michel placed his hands on the edge and swung his legs over. He felt around with his feet for a place to put them, while his hands were threatening to start slipping. They found something and using the utmost concentration, he began the impossible descent. Isabelle was terrified, looking down into the ravine from his back. Their pursuers were making rapid progress and soon reached the same chasm. They discovered Nostradamus, who was covering the last part of the sheer cliff twenty meters below them and then disappeared into the shelter of the trees and bushes. The moon disappeared behind the clouds and they could no longer follow him with their eyes. The conspirators didn't dare to try to go down the same way, especially because it could not be done with their dogs. Some of the pursuers, who knew the area like the back of their hands, pointed to some nearby passages. The group split up and carried on with the chase. Miles ahead, Michel had to choose between two paths: One going up and one going down. Because of the tall trees, he couldn't really get a good impression of where either path led, and he took a gamble and chose the path going down. Following the chosen route, he soon arrived at a passable fissure which separated two plateaus from each other. A group of pursuers, who had taken another route, had now found the same trail; the dogs could once again be heard. Michel's strength was beginning to diminish; he had traversed an enormous distance and would not be able to keep this up much longer. The moon came back and lit up an opening in the rocks that was within reach. Almost feeling the townspeople's hot breath on his neck, the doctor decided to hide in the cave. Who knows, with a bit of luck…? But the pariah was discovered again.
"There they go!" someone called out. Underneath the stone vault, Michel frantically searched in his shoulder bag. He took out a candle and, quick as a flash, lit it with a firestone. Light was indispensable here and carrying his valuable load on his back, he strode through the cave, which led to an underground network of paths.
"Damn, the flame is going out," he swore, "walking too fast." He lit the candle again and continued on his way. He suddenly heard screaming behind him.
Good heavens, they're here already, we're sure not having any luck at all, he murmured to himself. The enemy entered the cave and the dogs' barking now became frighteningly altered. This disoriented the beasts and made it harder for them to keep following the trail. The attackers, however, were not discouraged by this and immediately split into smaller groups. After all, there were only a limited number of passages, one of them knew. Divided into various groups, they continued on their way. Nostradamus heard them come closer and tried to make as little sound as possible. At one point, he saw a tunnel with shallow groundwater. This would be his one chance to get rid of those dogs. They would completely lose the scent here. Father felt around to make sure his daughter was still firmly tied to his back and then began to wade through the tunnel. Although she was only two years old, she understood the seriousness of the situation and was keeping as quiet as a mouse. The water level began to rise at an alarming rate, however, and Father was beginning to fear the worst, while the townspeople were right at their heels. He desperately went on. The water was now reaching to his waist and his daughter was shivering with cold.
It's over, he lamented, just another few moments and I will have to take Isabelle off my back. The water was already up to her lips.
Maybe I should surrender, he considered. Maybe they would let my little girl live? But who would raise her? No one would want the child of magician whose family died of the plague. Especially after those accusations by my in-laws, and despondently, he kept wading. Suddenly, the ground disappeared from under his feet and he was forced to start swimming. Michel said a quick prayer, while the candle extinguished and sunk to the bottom.
May the Lord be with us. Are those bastards never going to give up? And he swam towards a treacherous black hole and then hit his head on the ceiling. But wonder of wonders, they were both still breathing and the walls were slowly beginning to recede. There was more room to move and with big strokes he swam on in the underground lake.
No one is following us, he noticed. Then he felt ground under his feet and with some difficulty, he slipped and slid up the slippery slope.
"I believe we are going to make it, Isabelle," he whispered, feeling hopeful again and, thoroughly drenched, they reached the bank, where he listened for sounds for a long time. It seemed that the villains had really given up the chase, because there was still no sound to be heard. After resting for a little while, he took a new candle out of his bag and the damp wick soon took flame. A gigantic cave with innumerable holes and tunnels lit up and Michel hurried to find his way. The limestone layer down here had been worn by precipitation for centuries and turned into a labyrinth.
This cave could be millions of years old, he contemplated and promptly discovered walls covered in mythical drawings of live animals.
"We're not the first ones here, Isabelle," and he looked around in wonder. Running horses, and taut deer, drawn in black red and yellow, seemed to be ready to leap off the glistening walls. The mysterious images were full of action and movement. Just past a round vault, a purple-colored foal with black manes looked you right in the eye, and a white cow was jumping playfully across the ceiling. A little further, in a gallery of jumping and falling figures, a pregnant mare who was hit by an arrow was shown. It somehow reminded him of Yolande and he quickly turned his head.
"Prehistoric drawings!" he mumbled. He was at the end of his rope and he looked for a place to spend the night.
"Achoo!" Isabelle unexpectedly sneezed and the sound echoed through the cave.
I hope no one heard that, Father thought feeling afraid again. He took his daughter down from his back and laid her down in a hollow in the ground. Our clothes will just have to dry on us, he concluded, after feeling his jacket. He blew out the candle, after which they both fell into an exhausted sleep. Michel soon woke up to find some stones painfully pressing into his ribs. Isabelle was still asleep.
Too bad. It was not a nightmare, he sighed. He felt around for the last candle and lit it. He saw water dripping down a rock-face, and caught it in a cup. His little girl woke up a few minutes later and he gave her some water to drink. There was some bread and dried meat in the bag, and they used this to still their hunger for the time being. Their clothes were a bit dryer, and it was time to start looking for an exit. He tied his child onto his back again and began to search for the light. After an hour they had still not found an opening and the last candle was getting frightfully small. They just kept on wandering around, when suddenly the flame started to pull to one side. In hopeful expectation, he waked toward the breath of wind and soon discovered a ray of light, shining through a hole in the ceiling. He could see the blue of the sky. It was a sight for sore eyes after that prolonged darkness.
But there's nothing for me to pull myself up on, he thought, discouraged, while he examined the steep walls.
"Wait a minute…" and he took a knife out of his bag, thinking he could carve out hand and foot-holds. The limestone was brittle enough and it worked well. When the job was done, he carefully pulled himself up to on the carved out crevices, with Isabelle on his back. After a super-human effort, he reached the opening and sticking to the wall, he put his hand outside for a minute. The sun shone on it.
The star that makes everything visible, he thought, humbled. And after enlarging the opening, he crawled out and found himself on a grassy plain, where he immediately scouted out the area like an eagle. There was no human in sight and he breathed a great sigh of relief.
"Isabelle, we made it, it's all behind us now," and he took his daughter down from his back. The girl was finally standing on her own two feet again and ran around through the landscape, where there was no house anywhere to be seen.
"We've got to get ourselves cleaned up, little one," said Father, who suspected there might be a river or stream up in the hills further on. He put Isabelle up on his shoulders and after a short walk they reached a valley with a small brook running through it. The river water looked clean and they took a drink from it. Then they took off their shoes and dangled their feet in the clear water. After they had washed their faces, Michel gave his daughter a piece of bread from the bag, which also held a small fortune. Over three hundred francs; the De Vaudemont dowry.
That should get us through the next few years, he estimated and he began to think of a strategy for the future.
Going back to Agen was not an option. First leave the area on foot and then hopefully find a carriage to take us to Saint Rémy. That seemed like a good plan. A little further on grew some plum trees and the ripe fruits were easy to pick. After eating their fill, they started to recuperate a bit from the exhausting witch hunt. Isabelle already cried out in glee at a butterfly that fluttered by.
Truly, life goes on, Father observed, wistfully. Perhaps she really will make my life worth living… That day they traveled over hills and dales and by sunset they discovered a small, dilapidated, stone house that lay hidden in a woodsy area. The hovel proved to be deserted and they chose a spot in its shelter. Here they could safely spend the night. Charcoal remains on the floor told of fires that had been lit there, probably by hunters. After eating some dried meat and a few more plums, it was time to go to sleep. Father curled around his daughter to protect her from the wind, which freely blew through the ruin. In the middle of the night the wind became more intense and howled through the little wreck of a house. It woke Nostradamus up and he checked to make sure his little girl was still beside him, before he went back to sleep.
It was late the next morning when a magpie woke him up, by loudly singing on the roof. His daughter, however, had not made a peep yet.
"Isabelle," he whispered and he touched her. Why is she so quiet? And he bent over her with a dreadful premonition.
"God, no!" he shouted as he recognized the black spots on the child's face with great horror. His screaming woke up Isabelle and she opened her eyes and indicated that she was not feeling well. This confrontation with the plague was too much for him. Something inside him snapped and in a daze, he sat and held his daughter, gently rocking her. The next day she died and with her died his motivation to stay alive. He just sat there staring off into space as a haunting scene began to play in his mind.
"You can leave those two together; one can't survive without the other," the French officer ordered. The inseparable duo Bruno and Yves was dragging the heavy cannon on its mount to the front, through the mud, with great effort. The abundant rain had changed the dusty ground into a brown muck and their blue uniforms were getting covered in it while they worked.
"Pull to the left, you blockhead!" Bruno reproached his companion.
"I thought you'd take care of the job with the powers of your mind," Yves sighed. They finally got the cannon in the right spot and Bruno started to tamp down the gunpowder, while Yves placed the cannon ball into the top of the barrel. The trick was to get the missile to backfire on the ground right in front of the enemy so that it could then penetrate the lines at man's height. The whole artillery was brought into position and General Ney stood ready to give the signal for attack.
"Fire!" he commanded. The French cannons thundered and the alliance brigade suffered visible losses. The artillerists then watched the battle of Waterloo*(1815) progress, while four of their divisions marched to the Mont Saint Jean. Two enemy brigades' cavalry unexpectedly rode into the marching French soldiers, who had to beat a hasty retreat. It was now all hands on deck and the cannons were reloaded as quickly as possible.
"Hurry up, Yves, throw that ball in!" The entire supply of ammunition was used up in no time, but the English were beat to a pulp. When trumpets heralded the attack, the French riders galloped through the slush to deal the alliance the deathblow. But suddenly, completely unanticipated, thousands of Prussians shot out of the forest to help the others and they completely trampled those roosters. To save their lives, Bruno and Yves crawled underneath the cannon and in the midst of the chaos aimed their guns.
"I wish we were still in the Provence," Yves said, dreamily, while some of their officers kicked the bucket right in front of their eyes, with their sables in their hands. Bruno didn't get a chance to respond, because he was hit by an enemy cannon ball at the same time. His arms and legs were flung through the air and only his head stayed beside his buddy.
With a start, Nostradamus jumped back into reality. After all those horrific dream images, he saw the partly decomposed body of this daughter, lying beside him, surrounded by a swarm of flies.
"Get out!" he yelled like a madman and swung his arms to disperse them.
The father had grown wild; he didn't know how long he'd been sitting there. He rose and picked up the remains of this child and buried them in the open field.
"Rest in peace, my little girl," he said, calming down a bit. "You were only given a short life. Now I must take my leave and say farewell to you. Life goes on." After he had placed a cross made of branches on the little grave, he picked up his bag and began to walk. After he'd taken a few steps, he turned around and looked at it one last time. From then on, the cast away physician wandered.
Pau, Nay, Loron, more fire than blood
Swimming in praise the great flees across the water
He will deny the magpies entrance
Pampon and Durance keep them imprisoned
Late one night there was an unexpected loud banging on the front door of an inn, somewhere high in the Pyrenees. The owner reluctantly opened it and was startled by the scary-looking person on his front step. The sinister visitor was wearing a dirty black cape with a hood and had a wild beard. He had an evil look and his face looked like tanned leather.
"Um, sorry, we're closed," the innkeeper said, frightened.
"Then why is the door open," the stranger objected; then he gave him a franc and obstinately walked in.
"I want to stay here for a few days," the traveler continued. It seemed pointless to argue with him.
"I guess we do have a room," the landlord stammered, "but may I ask you what your name is?"
"You may call me Discute," he answered, and the owner showed him to his room.
"I would like something to eat and drink before I go to sleep," his guest let him know, and again pressed a franc into his hand.
He sure is generous with his money, the host thought greedily and he quickly put a jug of beer in front of him before he hurried to the kitchen to prepare a meal. After a little while, he served the weird fellow some hot mush. The ill-at-ease innkeeper wanted to go to bed, but thought he'd better stay alert for the time being.
"Mister Discute, did you see the beautiful sky? Even in these mountains it is rare to see so many stars in the heavens."
"No, I didn't notice," his guest answered and stoically continued to eat.
"You can even see the planet Mars," the owner continued.
"With the naked eye?"
"Yes, of course, what else?"
"A spy glass!" the stranger declared, who wiped his mouth and then drank his beer in one gulp.
"I've never heard of that," the owner stammered.
"I once had one," his guest claimed, who had finished his plate and was now getting ready to go to sleep.
"Well, goodnight then, and please forgive me for denying you entrance before," the inn keeper said, finally feeling it was safe to leave him. The visitor entered his room and hung his cape on a hook. Then he walked over to the closed window with a heavy gait, opened the shutters and looked out at the unusually clear sky. Mars was indeed visible with the naked eye.
People come and people go, but stars and planets always remain, he thought, while he looked at the sparkling Spica. It was long ago, Grandpa, when we used to look at the sky together. Michel took his wallet out of its holder, put it safely under his pillow and lay down in the musty bed.
Tomorrow I will walk through the mountains a bit, he thought. Then he stared out the window. A little while later, the waxing Moon came into view and the wandering physician looked at the planet of maternal feeling and uncertainty. The Moon kept getting bigger and seemed to want to be the center of attention. Michel slowly fell into a trance. Imperceptibly, it had become white everywhere around him and where ever he looked was the moon. He suddenly realized he was no longer lying in his bed, but floating in space. He turned around and looked for the familiar Earth, but it was far away. He started to panic because of the enormous empty space around him, after which he returned to his bed with a bang. Covered in cold sweat he realized that he had had an out-of-body experience. A very unpleasant one.
I think I'll hang around on Earth for a while after all, he thought. When the next morning, he was walking outside in the rarefied air, he discovered to his great surprise that the blinders had fallen from his eyes. The whole world was suddenly open and naked, and the previously thin mountain air was pregnant with a myriad of ideas which formed the material world. The ideas were born out of stagnant material and in both atmospheres time had become a three-dimensional phenomenon. It was a wondrous reciprocal creation. Innumerable causes and effects were also revealed to him and due to the many impulses he weaved about like a drunk on the mountain path. It seemed as if his causal body had become functional.
Before the Moon has finished waxing, your slumbering knowledge will awaken, but first the Black Death will lead you to repentance, he now remembered the words of Hermes.
But that means that my family has been sacrificed for me, it occurred to him. Is that what they mean by the naked truth: truth that is not bearable for a human? And he cringed in pain with the ghastly realization.
Does God have no mercy? he moaned. And if my family was just a pawn in this game, then what am I? Then we are all just marionettes in a play. They were cutting insights and for a minute he felt an enormous resentment towards the almighty Creator.
But who am I to hate Him? he quickly reconsidered. I am but an insignificant link in the chain, and he let go of his hatred.
I will play my role and let the chaff be sifted from my wheat, he decided and with determination the re-born seer climbed to the mountain top. The brief streams of information, which continually changed their nature, were overwhelming for his sixth sense and he couldn't get a grip on it yet. He let it run its course and turned around on a jutting cliff to view the beautiful landscape, which stretched north of the city of Pau, but again he caught a shred of information: Pau, Nay, Loron, more fire than blood. Pampon and Durance keep the greatness imprisoned. The riddle was unfortunately interrupted by new symbols and images, which made him reel.
I'm going to have to learn to walk again, he determined with surprise.
The next day, Nostradamus left the Pyrenees and traveled to the city of Pau to inquire about the names of Pampon and Durance at the town hall. A local government official received him in his office and the shaggy physician showed him his doctor's title to be on the safe side.
"I'm sorry, but I can't help you with your search," the officer said. "Maybe the mayor has heard of these names. Take a seat over there for a moment." Michel sat down in the reception room, where someone was making a statue out of clay. He followed the creative process from a distance, but soon padded over to the artist for a chat.
"What's it going to be?" he asked.
"The Holy Virgin Mary," the man answered, without passion.
"And what will it be cast in?"
"Bronze." Michel sat down on the waiting bench again and after a while, started to feel annoyed about the dutiful execution of the Virgin Mary statue. He finally got up, restlessly, and again walked towards it.
"At this rate, it will look more like a devil than the Holy Virgin Mary," he nagged. The workman was very insulted.
"I will have to report your comment," he barked, but his squabbling left Michel cold. The mayor finally showed up and invited the unknown scholar into his office.
"Pampon and Durance," he said, thinking hard, "the latter is the same as the river. But I will have to look in our archives. Come back next week and I will probably have more information for you."
That week the outsider was suddenly grabbed by the collar in the town hall, because the authorities were charging him with blasphemy. Notradamus had to appear in court. In the court room he admitted that he had made the critical comment to the workman, but he defended himself with the fact that he was only commenting on the ignorance of the artist, not about the Virgin Mary herself.
"Do you have a witness?" the judge asked.
"Unfortunately I don't!"
"Then your argument is not convincing. I hereby sentence you to one week in the Nay jail. And I am being lenient." Michel was led away in handcuffs. As it turned out, the house of detention in Nay was under renovation and the convicted man was therefore transferred to the jail in Loron.
"I've never locked up a scientist in here before," the warden said.
"You'd better give me some water and bread, before I escape," Michel responded dryly. The warden laughed.
"In three days Pampon will be here to relieve me. I will miss your humor."
"Humor is not my strongest side, but may I ask you what your name is?"
After his release, the rejected scholar found himself sauntering along a forest trail, somewhere in the Charente, thinking about the symbolism of all the messages he had been getting from above.
What if I combine the information with astrology, he thought. Then I should be able to accurately predict the date of the predictions within one or two days. And he was just about to bend down to pull up his baggy pants, when a beech tree told him that one of its kind was about to fall down. On his guard, he carefully took one step at a time, when a chestnut tree smashed down on the path, right in front of him.
"Are you trying to inspire me?" the oddball foolishly asked. After stepping over the obstacle, he pondered the prediction that had come true, argued with himself about its purity and compared it to previous cases.
Short-term prophesies are showing courser energies, he discovered, but in order to penetrate the symbolism, I need more knowledge about the subject. Too bad I didn't record the lucid dreams in my youth. From now on he would record all predictions in a journal and occasionally make connections.
After wandering for some time, he heard from a traveling trader that the monastery in the coastal town of Fécamp in Normandy had a nice guest house. The monks there were very compassionate; it sounded like a good place to retreat for a while. He decided to follow these recommendations and joined the monastery, which was situated at the bottom of the chalk cliffs. The order of the Benedictines reigned here and they followed the rules of their spiritual leader from the fourth century after Christ. Nostradamus demonstratively threw his duffle bag on the ground and brother Mabillon walked up to him and asked him how he could be of service.
"I would like to stay here for a while," the visitor indicated, while a flock of monks in black robes very slowly walked past behind him.
"That is fine. We do expect our guests to strictly follow the rules. In other words: to sleep, eat and work with us."
"That's perfect for me, because I am in dire need of some regularity," Michel answered airily.
"Don't think it will be easy," the monk commented. "Everyone is expected to work hard from seven in the morning till seven-thirty at night. After that, everyone still has to attend a lecture. And a short prayer is said on every even hour. All of this is seven days a week. Oh yes, and breakfast is at six o'clock."
"There are some portions of the day where you can choose your own activity," the monk continued. Benoit Mabillon then assigned a room to him, after which they all sang the twelve o'clock mass. Late in the evening there was a recreational hour and Michel got to see the other side of Mabillon. Benoit showed himself to be a fun monk with rebellious tendencies.
"Our leader, Benedictus, shunned worldly riches and temptations," he chatted. "We do too, of course, but you really ought to taste my herbal brew. It has a good amount of alcohol added to it."
"I can't wait…" When they arrived in his quarters a few minutes later, the jolly Benedictine poured him some of the home-made drink.
"This is great," his guest said, after downing it.
"That's what I think. I have incorporated twenty-seven rare plants and herbs from all over the world into it," Benoit said proudly.
"It is a rich infusion; I'd love to learn from you. I could probably use your knowledge of herbs later for combating diseases."
"No problem. Tomorrow after the vespers you can come and take a look in my kitchen. We pray for the whole world; not just for ourselves. In the same way, our knowledge should be shared."
Gradually Benoit taught his friend to recognize and process herbs and Michel helped him to decipher old writing styles.
"Look, here is a text about astrology, your territory," Benoit said, when they were looking through a collection of books together. The connection with the warmhearted monk had come just at the right time. After a miserable period in his life, the physician began to heal somewhat. He decided he would stay and adhere to the strict rules of the monastery until the end of the winter.
During a free hour, one afternoon, Michel was sitting high up on the cliffs, staring out at the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. The British coast was not far.
The fascinating city of London must be somewhere over there, he knew. But you could see nothing but waves, which drifted steadily towards the Straits of Dover. Shrieking seagulls caught his attention. They were following fishing boats that had pulled up their nets. Suddenly a prediction came to the observer, from England. A sad event would come to pass on the island. But what? He didn't know yet. In a document borrowed from Benoit, he checked the astrological tables for it.
The current position of the stars and planets will not repeat itself until 1666, he calculated, while the wind ruffled the pages. Holding his pen in his hand, he again reflected on the coming disaster, which was still unclear.
I will have to buy the right measuring tools, because the time calculations are very broad this way.
Next, he wrote down the concepts and put the calculations next to them, in code.
If this falls into the hands of those accursed religion judges without any disguise, I'll be in big trouble. I've already learned that lesson.
That night he went to bed feeling content. Well before the start of lauds, he was rudely awakened from his sleep. At least, that's what he thought.
"Fire!" someone screamed and thick clouds of smoke floated through his room. Michel was so startled, he fell out of bed, and took off, running down the stairs. The ground floor was going up in flames, and it looked impossible to extinguish the fire.
"Isabelle, where are you?" he called, confused, but then it slowly dawned on him that his daughter was no longer alive. On the ground floor, a cracked stone oven was visible through the dense smoke. It was white-hot. There were also broken bags of flour everywhere.
This is not a monastery but a bakery, he realized. I am dreaming! Big flames suddenly moved his way and interrupted his train of thought. While he ran away, he saw through his automatic behavior and wondered if the dream body would be able to get burned. He bravely turned back and put his hand in the fire.
"Ouch!" he screamed in pain, and fled outside.
I still think this is a dream though, he maintained. The enormous sea of flames was spreading to the other buildings and Nostradamus watched from a safe distance. He was curious to find out what city he had ended up in. Across from the bakery was an imposing bridge, which he thought he recognized from pictures. It was the Tower Bridge in London.
"Don't just stand there! Come on, help us!" an Englishman suddenly called out.
I have no trouble understanding him, Michel thought, surprised. I suspect that in dreams, the language of the heart is what is spoken. But the French observer had no notion to help. He was a time traveler, not a Londoner. The fire was spreading rapidly through the packed wooden houses on the waterfront, where lightly flammable things were stored. Fire fighters were rushing onto the scene by now, but the earlier destruction of the waterwheel next to the famous bridge had cut off the water supply. The fire could not be conquered. The never-ceasing wind blew the fire deeper into the city and the riverbank, along with the many districts along it, was getting completely devoured. The dreamer wandered behind the sea of flames, following it to the city center where the rich neighborhoods were threatened. Fire fighters began to demolish adjoining houses - due to lack of water - , in an attempt to contain the fire. Finally, more than half of the city had gone up in flames and the magnificent cathedral of Saint Paul came down. Then the wind died down and the biggest fire in human memory slowly went out. The old center of London had gone up in smoke.*(1666. The Great Fire of London)
One year later in Strasbourg. It was raining cats and dogs and Nostradamus, who was still roaming around, entered an establishment where people were playing folk songs. Workmen were waving beer pitchers to the music and singing at the top of their lungs: "Drunk, crazy and foolish, I bit into my beer, I drank a pint with René, I drank a barrel with Renaud." The gloomy widower could not suppress a smile upon seeing so many cheerful though tipsy faces. The musicians were playing various instruments. There was a portative organ, a flute and a sackbut. The next battle song had a tambourine in it.
"Let's have another drink," someone blustered. Michel sat down at a table with people who were heartily indulging in the beverages and for the sake of solidarity he ordered a large pint. A new song was announced: "The Thirsty Sounds." After an hour or so, the mood of the music changed. A viol gradually transported the audience to rapture and the sounds became sultry. Then some women of easy virtue showed up and began to seduce the male guests. The men leered at them, but Michel, though sitting with them, was as cool, calm and collected as they were excited. This barely interested him. At the other side of the bar he saw a distinguished gentleman, whom he thought he recognized. The gray-haired old man, wearing a beret, was having a discussion with his companion, a young nobleman. Unfortunately, their faces were not clearly visible in the sparse light and, curious, he decided to have a closer look. When he got closer, he was still not sure who it was, until the old man suddenly looked at him. Then he knew.
"Do you want something?" the man asked. Combed curls peeped out from under his beret.
"I think you are Erasmus!" Michel answered. The Dutch scholar was pleasantly surprised,
"Nice to be recognized. And who are you?"
"I am Doctor Nostradamus." That's funny, he thought at the same time, the great thinker has a squeaky little voice.
Erasmus looked at him thoughtfully, but he did not recognize the name.
"This is the Marquis De Florenville," he introduced his companion.
"Have a seat," the marquis said. Michel thanked him and sat down.
"Aha! Now I remember," Erasmus cried out. "I think I heard about you during one of my trips to Italy. Aren't you that doctor who saved the Pope's life by advising him to lock himself up in his house during an outbreak of the plague?"
"Yes, that's me. And I had the opportunity to admire your portrait at the house of Julius Scaliger."
"Oh, Scaliger," Erasmus sighed. "I still have to answer his letter." The conversation between the two scholars was just getting started when two ladies of pleasure came to their table. They noticed the surly Nostradamus and tried to seduce him. The loose women impudently sat down on his lap and stroked his beard. The people around them gaped at the conspicuous encounter. Michel's table mates were also curious to see how he would react.
"Apparently, you are attractive," De Florenville joked, but the former plague fighter stiffly stared straight ahead. The women were now kissing his forehead and provocatively pushing their breasts in his face. Only the viol could still be heard and everyone was sitting at the edge of their chair. The practiced ascetic, however, had no intention of giving in to any lustful demands and whispered something in their ears. After that they ran away, screaming. Everyone was speechless and a painful silence ensued in the previously festive place. The owner knew what to do though. He ordered the musicians to let loose and the party atmosphere was soon back in full swing.
"What on earth did you whisper to those ladies?" Erasmus and De Florenville asked very curiously.
"That they will die of a professional disease within a week," their table companion answered dryly. Erasmus burst out laughing.
"Nothing is as piquant as to treat silly things with such a serious expression on your face that no one notices it is just a joke."
"It was not a joke," Michel explained. The marquis was shocked to hear that and considered the remark very off-color.
"You really can't do that as a physician. What you just said was not a diagnosis but a curse."
"It was not a curse, but a prediction that will come true. I only speak the truth," the seer replied.
"Indeed? The Christian doctrine forbids those kinds of practices," De Florenville sneered.
"Then I'd like to point out the following passages from the Bible to you, Mister the marquis! In Joel it says that God believes that people receive the gift of prophesy and visions. In Amos it is stated that God shows his decisions to the prophets. In Deuteronomium it is written that God condemns all forms of occult practices, with the exception of astrology. In the Letter to the Hebrews it says that everything is naked and open. Would you like me to continue, Mister the marquis?" The conceited ass shut up.
"I've been having visions since my youth. I also studied astrology," Michel emphasized. The marquis was hoping for some criticism from his learned friend Erasmus after such boasting, but he was unmoved.
"I can't say anything about that," he told them. "I don't have the ability to predict the future and I can only speak about my own experiences." De Florenville stared ahead with a sour look on his face.
"Finally, someone with an open mind," the physician mumbled.
"Women have a soft spot for the religious order," Erasmus said, "because they can find a sympathetic ear among civilized people and can pour out their hearts about their husbands."
"Well, I'm not going to curry any favor with women," Michel denounced, "all that gossiping!"
"The ladies misjudged you. You are the exception to the rule, but not the worst kind. Where did those ladies go anyway?" Erasmus asked. The departed ladies were back and having their fun, but they did not come close to the cursed table anymore.
"Ignorance is bliss," the humanist continued. "A simple remark is all it takes to make them happy again and they share their fortune with many." The conversation changed to another topic. The thinker from Rotterdam turned out to be seventy years old, an unheard of old age. The average lifespan was around thirty-five. He also told the physician that he was on his way to Bazel.
"So you're only in Strasbourg to take a break?" Michel supposed.
"Partly. I am going to be honored here tomorrow at city hall for my entire humanistic body of work. Also, I know Mister De Florenville from the circle of the humanistic scholar Jacob Wimpfeling, with whom I have had the pleasure to engage in many discussions."
"Strasbourg has become an important center of the literary arts because of Wimpfeling," De Florenville, who was coming out of his funk, informed him.
"Certainly, and that is how we met," Erasmus agreed. "We've kept in touch ever since and Mister De Florenville is my willing host whenever I visit this city." The three table mates conversed until late in the evening. Finally, the owner told his guests that it would soon be closing time and the three men had a last drink of beer. Once outside, they said goodbye under a dry sky. The ancient Dutchman indicated that he would like to see the clairvoyant physician again some time.
"There is little chance of that," Michel said. He foresaw that Erasmus would die that summer. The old humanist got the hint and was faced with his mortality, after which they gave each other a warm handshake. Surprisingly, De Florenville invited his new acquaintance to stay at his castle for a while. Nostradamus had no responsibilities of any kind and accepted the invitation. After all, he was on this earth to experience life.
A week later, the seer, traveling in a distinguished-looking carriage, was on his way to the Château De Florenville in the Lorraine, a region near Strasbourg. It took the coachman a while to find it. The castle lay hidden in a remote, dark forest. At the entrance to the vast estate was a gatehouse, where he announced his arrival. The gatekeeper opened the tall gate without any questions and let the carriage with the expected scholar through to the forecourt. A few minutes later, the castle became visible through the trees. It was situated on an island that was surrounded by a moat. The carriage went across a drawbridge and came to a halt in front of the steps leading up to the castle. De Florenville came out right away.
"Doctor Notradamus, how nice you're here," he feigned. It was obviously still bothering the marquis that he had been humiliated by him in front of Erasmus.
"Shall we take a stroll through the castle garden first?" he suggested.
His guest felt ready to stretch his legs and agreed. De Florenville, meanwhile, pretended everything was a-okay and took him to a maze that was made out of beech hedges.
"Your place is magnificent," Michel said. While the marquis thanked him, a nasty little idea struck him and his mind floated along with the wind.
I'll have some fun with that supposed clairvoyance of his, he thought cunningly. I will expose him in the presence of all my guests. The men walked through the labyrinth, where a small statue of Marco Polo was set up in the center and functioned as the end point at the same time. After that, they proceeded through a turnstile into the orchard, where several types of fruit trees grew. De Florenville then showed him the vegetable garden with all kinds of exotic plants. There were some sheds next to it, with pigs in one of them; a black one and a white one.
"Doctor Nostradamus," the host suddenly spoke up self-importantly, "you claim to be clairvoyant. Can you predict for me, which one of these two pigs will be served for dinner tonight? You have my word that I will not say anything about this to my cook." It smelled like deceit, but Michel answered without hesitation: "We will have the black swine for dinner tonight, because a wolf will devour the white one." Back at the castle, De Florenville made a beeline for the kitchen an immediately broke his word; he ordered the cook to slaughter the white swine for dinner. The cook slaughtered the chosen pig and put it on a spit. While he was busy in the kitchen, he called his galley boy: "Grenouille, would you get some herbs from the garden for me?" and, receiving no answer, started looking for him. But Grenouille was nowhere to be found and so the cook went out to pick the herbs himself. Right at that moment, an observant wolf happened by, snuck in through the open kitchen door, grabbed the white pig and made off with it. When the cook returned and saw what had happened, he was very upset and decided not to tell his master. He just went and got the black pig, slaughtered it and managed to prepare it just in time. Meanwhile, the prominent guests were chatting with each other in the drawing room.
"Have you read any of Wimpfeling's works yet?" a nobleman asked.
"No, I have been occupied primarily with scientific dissertations," Michel answered.
"Well, I highly recommend him…"
"Thank you, I will take your advice to heart," he responded politely. The marquis welcomed his guests and invited them to take their places at the table. During the first few courses, all manner of subjects were discussed, until the lord of the castle asked for everyone's attention, right before the main course.
"In order to reach the required profundity on this beautiful evening, I would like to quote my friend Erasmus: 'True happiness exists only in illusions we create about it.' Although I greatly esteem his motto, I would like to add an amusing sideline to it. Tonight, let us leave dreaming to the fools, because momentarily a delicious dish will be served which will make our mouths water. It will approach true happiness. Speaking of dreams, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we have a prophet here in our midst tonight." The guests all looked at each other in surprise, wondering who he was talking about. Michel was sitting at ease; he knew right away what De Florenville was up to: trying to make a fool of him.
"It is Mister Nostradamus," the host revealed. The noblemen were all on edge, noticing his critical tone of voice and regarded the physician dubiously.
"And this afternoon my guest made a prediction about our main course. Now, I personally don't believe in such hoopla, but we shall see if he was right. Again the key question, Mister Nostradamus: will a white or a black swine be served for our dinner tonight?"
"It will be the black one," he stood his ground. The marquis then gave the cook the sign to put the covered dish on the table, and at the critical moment, he lifted off the lid. To his dismay, he saw that it was the black pig.
"Is this not a black-baked white swine?" he asked despairingly, but the honest cook confessed his mistake and told him that this was indeed the black swine, because the white one was taken by a wolf. The party then heartily laughed at the marquis who had ended up playing a trick on himself. He did not look at his intangible guest, who received praise from everyone, for the rest of the evening.
The popular physician had no problem relaxing on the estate for several weeks, enjoying the opulence, until his host could stand it no longer and ordered him to leave. The next day the scholar left the castle in the air behind without any regrets.
After all that luxury and extravagance it was time for some purification and Nostradamus decided to visit the mountains. He went to the Alps to appreciate their pure mountain air. The majestic nature of the Swiss Confederation was quite an experience and he found his heart expanding more and more. His insights also increased. The growth was painful and difficult at the same time, because suffering and enjoyment are so close together.
"Why is it that people have to suffer before they can enjoy?" Michel asked out loud, while he was crossing a quiet mountain lake by himself. But the lake stayed veiled in silence, while he steadily paddled along on the barge.
Oh well, I think I know. We have frittered away out talents in our youth and now we have to fight to re-conquer that quality, he convinced himself.
"Mountain gods, tell me, why is a baby still one with everything, only to be kicked out of paradise afterwards?" But the mountains would not give up their secret and he only had his ego to explain the mysteries of life. He felt somewhat jealous of the plants and animals, who can better serve the Creator by simply being who they are. But he comforted himself with the thought that quality is only a quality if it is self-created and he longed ardently to observe the naked truth by the strength of his own power some day. Little by little he began to enjoy life again and with each ascent of a mountain, he sang its praises. His reward on every mountain top was a clear mind and a beautiful panorama. At one point he crossed the Rhone at Wallis.
"Now I know where I'm being led," he put his spiritual search into perspective. "To Italy!" And in pleasant solitude he continued his journey to the land of the mighty Church. Weeks later, in the vicinity of Perugia, he ran into a group of monks in a mountain pass. He could tell by their impoverished appearance that they were Franciscans. The monks, wearing grey robes, were followers of the Holy Francis of Assisi, who preached poverty as a means to get closer to God. As they approached each other, the Frenchman stepped aside to let them pass and respectfully bowed his head. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of one of the Franciscans and spontaneously uttered a cry of admiration. He knelt and brought his head down on the feet of the surprised monk. Michel was taken aback by his own devotion and understood that he had met his superior.
"Come on, I'm nothing special," the young monk responded, but the seer could see it crystal-clearly in front of him and said: "I can only bow down to your Holiness. You were once a poor swineherd, you are now a simple monk, but some day your name will shine in gold letters on the highest place of the Saint Peter's dome in Rome. You are the future Pope Sixtus V." The surprised monk looked at his brothers inquiringly, but they didn't know what to think of it either.
"Many roads lead to Rome, my dear friend. And may the Lord be with us all," he said and the Franciscans continued on their way. After his long self-castigation, the traveler sought refuge in the opulent city of Venice, because a change of scenery could do no harm. The city had passed its Golden Age and kept losing more and more conquered ground. Nevertheless, he was curious to see the greatest harbor of the western world. It was the city where the renowned Marco Polo and Columbus had grown up. The latter had just discovered America. A small fishing boat brought Michel to a gigantic harbor, where dozens of ships were mooring or anchored. Some of the exotic loads of silks, spices and strange jewelry had been en route for years. He jumped ashore with his luggage and walked past bags and crates with Chinese and Arabic lettering, which were piled high.
"There seems to be quite a bit of action around here," he chuckled to himself. Venice was shrouded in a thick layer of fog and the numerous palaces, churches and canals were scarcely visible. Michel soon found some moderate lodgings and stored his belongings there. He decided to take a tour through the city and climbed down the worn steps of the rooming house.
"Sir, you forgot your key," the landlord called after him.
"I don't need a key," the scholar replied in good Italian, "for I have trust. But can you tell me how I can get a gondola?" The Italian suggested that his nephew would probably like to give him a tour. A little while later, Michel was in a gondola, touring the many canals that were connected by as many bridges.
"Passing through?" the nephew asked.
"Yes and no. I think I may stay a while," the Frenchman answered.
"Then you must be very privileged. There are not many people who have time, money and independence."
"You're right, but decadence is a distant prospect…" When they were going under the Bridge of Sighs, the gondolier began to complain.
"My dreams are still not coming true. Last night I had another nightmare…" But his customer didn't feel like listening to his moaning and directed his attention to the busy water traffic.
"This is the main canal: the Canal Grande," his guide told him, returning to his task at hand, "and over there is the Rialto Bridge." After some time, Michel had seen the most beautiful places and he asked to be let off at the Ducal Palace.
"Soon there will be a carnival, perhaps you'd like to go," the gondolier suggested at the conclusion.
"No, that will be of no interest to me," the tight-lipped foreigner responded as he put a coin in the bag and then disappeared behind the palace from which the Doges ruled the city.
There was music in the streets and Nostradamus decided to leave his books alone.
I think I'll indulge in a diversion, he thought, and left his upstairs rooms to observe the festival from close-by. Crowds of Venetians were proceeding among the hubbub outside and had decorated themselves festively. Their faces were covered with elegant masks, which depicted different characters, mainly a parody of the universal scholar, the posh merchant, the harlequin and the provocative maid.
And tomorrow they'll be complaining about nightmares, because this certainly doesn't do anything to clear the mind, the seer grumbled. On the Plaza of San Marco, the dream-like spectacle was in full swing. It was packed full of merrymakers and the music filled the grand square. To get away from the jostling, Michel shuffled along the waterfront and after avoiding a tall pillar with a lion, he arrived at the somewhat quieter Piazetta, where he saw an unusual lady. She was wearing a Star of David around her neck and was surrounded by little children, who were playing around a butterfly made of colored glass. It was the Gnostic butterfly. Interested, he walked towards here.
"What a beautiful butterfly!" he called out, but it was too noisy to make himself heard. The woman saw him approach and, without saying anything, handed him a mask of the devil. The gesture probably meant that he should fit in with the partying folks and he willingly put the mask on. Just when he wanted to ask her if she thought it looked good on him, the intriguing woman and all the children had disappeared as if by magic. He looked in all directions, but the many party goers were blocking his view. He was surprised to discover her once more next to an age-old library and she beckoned him to come closer. Speechless, he pushed through the crowd, but when he got to the library, she was gone again and he felt embarrassed. He saw her again, with the children. They were dancing through the Gate of Paper and he elbowed his way to the central building. But when he arrived at the inner courtyard, all he saw were the statues of Mars and Neptune. He hastily looked around everywhere. There she was, running up the Stairs of the Giants; she was obviously playing a game with him.
"Is this some kind of carnival ritual?" he called after her, but the sound was drowned by the noise all around them. He decided to follow the mystery, was lured into alleys and found himself in a quieter district. The mysterious lady was now dancing with her kids on a wooden staircase and disappeared into one of the old houses, which were casting long shadows because of the setting sun. He came to an overgrown courtyard with a water well, but there was no sign of the woman or the children.
"Anybody there?" he asked, but there was no response. Behind the courtyard, he noticed a door. He opened it and entered a narrow lane that led to another courtyard, that had several doors.
Where am I being led to? he wondered. On the first entrance, the word Shalom was written, and he opened the door. In the room stood a table with a seven-armed candleholder placed in the center. He well remembered the menorah from his youth.
"Hello, anybody home?" he called, but there was no answer. The woman and the children had vanished into thin air. Suddenly he heard a loud trumpet blast from the city and he unsuspectingly walked outside to see what was going on. In the lane that he had just come from, there was nothing to be seen. The shrill trumpet sounded again. It seemed to be coming from the San Marco square and he decided to go back there. On the way there, he noticed that all the streets were surprisingly empty. The city seemed deserted, except for a few costumed townspeople, who were running away in fear. He stopped one of them and asked why they were all running away.
"The carnival has been prohibited by decree," the man dawdled.
"By the Doges?"
"They don't exist anymore," and the Venetian took off. The scholar hurried along and reached the San Marco square, where there were only traces left of the carnival. Alarmed, he looked around. Even the pillar with the lion was gone. In its place stood a new statue, a rearing horse with a heroic figure on its back. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte.
"Grab that man with the mask!" someone suddenly shouted. Michel turned around and saw a group of French soldiers who were heading towards him. Instinctively, their fellow countryman jumped into the air and managed to avoid the guard by flying. Within a short time, there were soldiers everywhere and they pointed to the alleged partygoer, who was staying just above the roofs.
"He won't be able to stay up there very long," an officer said and had several streets in the area blocked off. Nostradamus saw the growing danger and tried to flee towards the ocean, but unexpectedly, gravity got hold of him and he began to descend. A company of soldiers rushed to the wharf to grab the lawbreaker by the collar. The situation was getting awkward and Michel floated down, gritting his teeth. Just in time, he managed to turn his fall into a glide-down and finally splashed into the harbor water. The soldiers tried to catch him, but he dove deep into the water and then hid among the moored boats.
The next morning the traveler reflected on his confusing dream situations in the leafy park of Zan Zanipolo. This time he had completely lost touch with reality and he didn't even know from which day. The dazzling city had confounded him.
Napoleon, he remembered. But it will be several hundred years before this emperor will actually come into power, he estimated and made a note in his journal.
It is truly miraculous to think that everything and everyone is already in existence, waiting for a chance to manifest. And that intriguing lady: was she trying to offer me some kind of insight, or was she trying to protect me from the French danger? In any case, the danger had passed. Flying was something that Nostradamus had done often enough in his sleep, but never before into the future. Too bad he still had so much ego. At the most crucial times he blew it and sank down again.
"Tomorrow is the first day of the carnival, sir," a gardener suddenly mentioned. The scholar gave him a friendly nod.
Just imagine if those followers of Napoleon had succeeded in grabbing me, he pondered while cut branches fell down around his feet. I wonder what would have happened then? If I want to be safe in the future, I will have to be more conscious in my dreams, because the higher I go, the harder I will fall. The gardener, who was up in the tree, trimming the branches, warned him to get out of the way of a large, falling branch.
When did reality shift into that dream? Michel continued to muse, and he decided that from then on he would jump into the air every day to test gravity. In the higher worlds there is barely any gravity, he knew. The higher the world, the less gravity there was. The scholar got up, brushed the leaves off his clothes and left the park. So far, location had been what provoked his prophesies, but he thought it must be possible to some day be able to visit the entire world from one place.
After a few months in Venice, Michel started to crave change; he wanted to travel some more. He had checked in with a shipping company and would go on the first ship that would leave the harbor. Three days later he packed up his stuff and went to the three-master that had just arrived and was moored next to the shipyard. The Dutch merchant ship, commanded by Captain Pelsaert, was usually used for trade, but this time there was little cargo and paying passengers were welcome. Michel zigzagged through a group of carpenters to the schooner, which had a sailor on guard at the ramp. "Providence" looked slender compared to the grotesque and clumsy ships of the previous century. A fever for discovering the world had broken out among the Portuguese and the Spaniards and the shipbuilding industry had been making rapid progress.
"Ahoy, passenger Nostradamus" he greeted the sailor on watch. The seaman gave him a surly look, checked a long list of names and then began to speak in Dutch. Michel motioned that he didn't understand, to which the crewman responded, "No Nostradamus." Michel asked him for the list.
"See, that's me," he said, pointing to his name and pronouncing each letter. The Dutchman sniffed loudly and made a money gesture: "Blijckende penning, ping ping." The Frenchman paid him the traveling costs in advance and stepped up onto the ramp of the sailing vessel.
"Smart-aleck treasurer," he mumbled scornfully while he jumped aboard and walked towards a handful of passengers who were awaiting instructions by the main mast.
"Are you going to Malta for business too?" a pushy chap asked, to which the scholar gloomily shook his head. The Venetian understood that he was not going to get anywhere with this guy and began to jabber at a lone lady.
"Nice ship, isn't it Madam? It took three months to build."
"That long?" she asked. Then the fellow went into an elaborate explanation about sanding the wood, before Captain Pelsaert asked for everyone's attention. He welcomed the passengers in Italian and told them that they just brought a load of Delft porcelain to shore and were now taking spices to Sicily. The ship was from Amsterdam, the city that was becoming enormously popular. The Dutchmen traded in pepper, nutmeg, cloves, Chinese tea, coffee, sugar and, of course, cheese. The captain was called away by a crew member during his little speech and walked away. Where was that rotten smell coming from all of a sudden? Apparently, the tide was right for departure. They cast off and the schooner was carefully guided out of port by some rowboats. Out at the seagate, the jib was set as the first sail and the ship went into the open ocean assisted by a light breeze. Nostradamus put his belongings in his cabin and again he caught a whiff of a nasty odor. One of the crew members pointed out to him that the ship had transported slaves in earlier days. The smell of destruction was intolerable below deck and Michel hurried back outside to the fresh sea breeze, where the passengers were bidding a sentimental farewell to a fading Venice.
I prefer to face the future, he thought, pleased with himself and sauntered across the landing to the front of the ship. At the prow, he thoroughly enjoyed the grand view, while the bow whipped the ocean water into foam.
It almost feels like you're a bird flying over the ocean like this, he imagined. After relaxing for a while, he returned to the poop deck. He saw Pelsaert standing on the forward deck, where the helmsman was just taking over the wheel from him.
A good time to meet the captain, Michel figured, and he padded towards him.
"Are you coming to check if we're keeping the ship on course?" Pelsaert asked.
"Absolutely. We will soon sail past an island with sirens and I am curious to see if you can completely resist them."
"Been reading Odyssey by Homers?" the captain supposed.
"Yes, but only in Greek!"
"Well, well, we have a scholar aboard. I can read too, you know, but I don't have much time for it. Reading maps, of course, is something I do regularly. Do you feel like coming to my cabin and seeing my collection of maps?" Michel accepted the invitation and they chatted while they walked to the largest quarters on board. Pelsaert had incredibly foul-smelling breath and his entire cabin was permeated with the odor. The physician was about to advise him to rinse his mouth with alcohol, but he stopped himself.
Maybe at our next meeting, he thought. The captain spread a map of the Adriatic Sea on the table in front of him.
"See, this is how we're sailing around the boot of Italy," and he traced the route for him. "Right here we have to watch out for pirates."
"Nice map," his guest commented.
"By the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator. I have some more of his," and he proudly brought several land and sea maps out of a trunk.
"These are the best ones there are," he continued. "They've been developed with a new projection method. There are a lot of mistakes in the old maps and they say that that's why Columbus got onto the wrong route when he was trying to find an alternate way to India."
"Pretty handy, those maps," Michel agreed, "but the position of the ship can be measured much better using the stars." Pelsaert laughed, self-assured: "Absolutely, without the Jacobstaf we would be lost," and he took a strange-looking instrument that could measure stars out of a drawer.
"See, besides the tilt angle it gives the number of degrees of the latitude," he explained.
"The device must be pointed towards the pole star?" his guest supposed.
"So, you know something about stars as well," Pelsaert said, as he was putting away the Jacobstaf.
"Some, yes, I studied astrology for years."
"And what do you think about this?" the captain asked, placing a bearded-man jug on the table. The face on the jug was supposed to be a likeness of himself, but it didn't look much like him.
"Um, I'm not crazy about it," Michel answered in all honesty. Pelsaert reacted a bit grumpily and let it be known that it was time for him to get back to work, but not before he tried to impress his guest with a collection of silver pennies. The silver pieces were indeed beautiful. The scholar thanked him for the interesting visit and then spent a bit more time standing outside in the wind. When it got dark, everyone went to their berths, while the ship lightly bobbed up and down. During the night the waves got a lot bigger and the schooner surged violently. It kept Michel from being able to go to sleep. After a while he felt seasick and the versatile man blamed himself. After four days they finally sailed around the boot of Italy and Sicily was on the horizon.
Maybe I should go ashore here, Michel considered. I'm never going to have sea legs. That night the passengers were served a bizarre mush for dinner in the galley; it was called hutspot.
"Good to keep the sea monsters away," the ship's cook said and gave everyone a generous portion.
"Are there sea monsters around here?" someone named Giuseppe asked, frightened.
"Certainly, a month ago we had to flee from the Cracken. A gigantic sea monster that can capsize the whole ship."
"And hutspot protects us from that?"
"Sea monsters don't like hutspot," the cook clarified and the dish was immediately devoured by Giuseppe after that.
"Nonsense," a catholic priest, on his way to preach on Malta, interrupted, "Did you personally see this monster, who supposedly doesn't like hutspot?"
"Well, no actually, I was in the galley," the cook defended himself.
"It's all based on stories, exaggerated by fear and ignorance," the priest continued and the group of table companions breathed a sigh of relief.
"The Cracken, isn't that some kind of giant octopus with enormously long tentacles?" Nostradamus then resumed.
"Yes, exactly, see, I was right, our scholar even says so," the cook happily responded.
"I think I may not travel through to Malta tomorrow," Michel promptly announced and the little group of passengers again became nervous.
"But you know, there is a much greater chance that we could be attacked by pirates," the cook mentioned.
"Okay, that's enough scary stories," the priest reprimanded him, "there is a lady in our presence." Long after dinner, in the dead of night, the ship sailed into the bay of Syracuse and the anchor was dropped. Michel was dozing in bed with a high fever and wondered what was wrong with him.
Am I seasick, or was it the hutspot? he wondered. The Dutch meal lay like a rock in his stomach. A traveler in the same cabin heard him moan and informed the ship's physician. He came waddling in half asleep to check up on the case. The captain, who couldn't sleep, also came by and his foul breath blew all over the patient.
"Rinse with mouthwash three times a day," Michel suddenly raved deliriously.
"He's talking gibberish," the ship's physician observed sadly. "He will have to be taken ashore as soon as possible. He will be better off getting treated on land." Early in the morning the patient was brought ashore in a sloop and taken to a hospital in Syracuse. Providence resumed her trip to Malta that same day.
After days of illness, the Sicilian doctor still couldn't figure out what was wrong with his French patient, who was shaking like a leaf.
Better do some bloodletting, to let the evil juices flow out, he thought.
"No!" Nostradamus protested loudly when his arm was grabbed. The Sicillian was startled and refrained from the treatment. Despite some moments of clarity, Michel was having a hard time getting his thoughts straight. It took a lot of effort and he kept passing out. The high fever continued and the local physician again decided to resort to bloodletting, until an Arab unexpectedly tapped him on the shoulder.
"I want this man to convalesce at my house, because it is too noisy for him here. I will take full responsibility for him."
"Oh, Mr. Al-Ghazali!" the physician exclaimed, snapping to attention. The patient was transported to a splendid house on the ocean, where a mild-mannered woman nursed him with great devotion. The care, the seawater and the quietude did wonders for him and the fever finally started to abate. A few days later, he was standing on his own two feet and his mysterious benefactor came to see him.
"I see there is some progress," the man with the dark brown eyes said.
"Yes, absolutely, but who is it who has helped me so unselfishly?"
"I am Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali*(European name: Algazel), but my wife, Fatima, is the one who did all the work. I only ordered to have you brought here."
"Well, you saved my life," Michel thanked him. His rescuer was ingratiatingly silent, while the surf sounded pleasantly in the background.
"We are both not of Sicilian origin," Abu then remarked.
"Yes, I agree, I am from France, and you?"
"Baghdad, Persia," the Arab, who was dressed in wool from head to toe, answered.
"How did you end up on this island?"
"My wife and I settled here, because there is a sense of free spirit here. But I must leave you now, because it is time for our prayers. We will meet again soon." The Muslim left the room and the patient focused his attention on the ocean and followed the action of the waves. The next day he was strong enough to share the midday meal with Al-Ghazali and his wife.
"The beautiful thing about Sicily is that the Arabic and Christian cultures can meet here," Abu said, in passing. His guest nodded in agreement, while the humble Fatima placed some bowls on the table.
"Are you homesick for the Provence?" the Moslem man continued.
"No, not really, I left there many years ago and now I travel all over the place."
"I think you are following the path of the heart…"
"You have quickly understood me," Michel replied, surprised. "And what is it that keeps you busy?"
"I try to live according to the insights of Sufism, a mystical movement within the Islam. I also publish works in my mother tongue."
"Too bad I don't speak Arabian, or I would have loved to study them. But maybe you could tell me something about your books." Abu thought for a minute, while his wife was bringing in a hot dish.
"The elixir of bliss is the title of my latest work," he then gave as an example.
"Oh, I thought the Islam was based on subjection," Michel said.
"No, not at all. Many Muslims probably do believe this, but the Koran and the strict rules of the Sharia are only outward appearances. Allah's true message is love."
"So that is the message that saved me from a precarious fate."
"You must be blessed, my dear friend."
"I haven't noticed much of that in the last few years," his guest grumbled.
"Well, life is not always what it seems and always gives us difficult tests. But perhaps a woman will soon come into your life who will soften the way for you somewhat." Fatima, meanwhile, served the soup and the
Arabic couple began to eat in silence. Due to their restful presence, there was no urge to speak anymore and their guest peacefully enjoyed his meal with them. After a week, he was feeling great and it was time to travel on.
"Is the eagle about to fly again?" Abu asked when the recovered physician wanted to see him. The latter smiled meekly.
"How can I thank you?"
"Live, that is enough," the Moslem answered from his heart. Michel embraced him and offered him some money, but Abu declined absolutely. The Frenchman thanked his wife too and then he was on his way; alone again.
The southern part of Sicily consisted of picturesque plains, but when you looked to the North, you could see Etna, the largest volcano of Europe, threateningly rising up out of the landscape. In the town of Syracuse, Nostradamus found out that the area around the volcano had been hit again by earthquakes. For the past year, a big plume of smoke had already been visible above the top, which was covered in snow. His interest in the mountain was awakened and he proposed to himself to plan to climb it. He thoroughly tested his physical condition for the risky undertaking.
Everything seems to be functioning properly, he decided with his last knee bend and he bought an old officer's hat as protection from the burning sun. During the walk to the volcano, he spent his nights at hospitable farms. When he had crossed many plains, the level of the land seriously began to rise. The trip was getting heavier and Etna was getting bigger. The soil around the foot of the volcano had become very fertile. The Sicilians grew citrus fruits, olives, grapes, figs, wheat and barley there. The volcano apparently took and gave life. Michel visited one last farm and inquired about the situation with Etna.
"You've got to be nuts to climb that mountain for your own pleasure," the farmer frowned.
"I crave danger."
"Well, it's your life," and the farmer explained the best climbing route to him. The next day the eccentric left civilization behind him. He soon came to some pine trees growing around the rocky giant. He orientated himself, ate an orange and resumed his trip through the forest, which quickly changed into a bare rock face. The ground was now getting significantly steeper and the adventurer had to stop to catch his breath. In the distance he discovered the bay of Syracuse. The ships looked like little pinpricks.
So small and vulnerable; reminds me of humans, he philosophized and he got ready to put his pack on his back again.
I am so lonely, he suddenly lamented. I miss my family and even my own country. And suddenly feeling terribly homesick, he hung his head.
Okay, this is no time to get sentimental; hanging from a steep mountainside. And, determined, he continued his journey. On his left he could see a hole with lava and water vapors were wafting up from it.
Fire, earth, water and air. Maybe that's why I'm here; to experience the building block of life.
Etna seemed safe enough. According to the last farmer, there hadn't been a new eruption for years. Nevertheless, the volcano spread a lot of smoke, which was visible everywhere in the area.
"You're going to keep quiet, aren't you?" Michel kept climbing, but the blood drained from his face when he heard a loud bang as a cloud of ashes was ejected. The volcano dust spewed out of one of the side walls, but it was not an eruption of the central cone.
All's well; false alarm!
After a lot of endeavor, he arrived at the snowy part, where nothing grew, except the odd thorn bush. The loner looked down into the depths and saw rivers of magma flowing out of several flanks.
That looks scary. Am I just being foolhardy? he wondered. But the weather was fine and it must be possible. He finally reached the top and the mighty crater emerged. Once he had climbed onto the side of it, he was overwhelmed with an icy fear. He lost his balance and almost tumbled into the crevice. Just in time, he planted his foot and grabbed hold of the ground. His officer's hat fluttered down into the abyss.
"That was a close call!" he mumbled, relieved, while his hat lay hundreds of feet below him on the bottom of the crater.
Why was I suddenly gripped by fear, I wonder. I had chills running down my spine. Is it fear of heights or is it from the thin air or the sulfur vapor?
He really had no idea. Recovered from his fright, he carefully continued on and managed to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of nature. After spending some time at the top, the climber started to feel chilled and began his descent. Once he had safely reached the foot of the volcano again, he decided to head towards the north. That choice would cost him dearly, because it proved to be an incredibly difficult path, which went along jagged mountain ranges. It took weeks before he finally reached the harbor town of Palermo, utterly exhausted, and there he just moped around for a while.
All this traveling is not exactly warming my heart, he thought, dejectedly. And when he happened to be upon a Normandic cathedral and attended the mass, he knew for sure: he wanted to go back to France.
Michel found a Portuguese ship that would take him to Marseille. After three days of sailing, the imposing limestone cliff of the French naval town appeared and the stately forts of Saint Jean and Saint Nicolas were still protecting the area. The ship slowly sailed into the harbor, where part of the wharf was under water because of an unusually high tide.
That could cause problems for the Rhone, the scientist pondered, looking over the railing. After disembarking, he found a place to stay in the Canebière, a centrally located district of Marseille. Then he decided to celebrate his return to his fatherland in one of the many seafood restaurants around the harbor.
Soon I'll be visiting my family, he rejoiced, while he sat down at a terrace on the wharf that had stayed dry. A waiter came to take his order.
"Good afternoon. What can I get for you?"
"Do you have any sole on your menu?"
"No problem, as you can see, they swim right in here," the waiter joked.
"Okay, I would like one fried in butter please. I'm starving."
"Anything to drink?"
"Yes, I'll have a beer," the lone guest decided, feeling in a celebratory mood.
"I'm probably wrong, but aren't you that famous physician from the old days? Um Notre, or Nostre…"
"Nostradamus! Yes, I am. Nice to be recognized after all this time. I've been abroad for ages and I've just arrived back today."
"Then you are just in time," the waiter said, suddenly serious.
"What's going on?'
"Well, the greatest floods of our history have been happening. The entire Rhone delta has been flooded due to weeks of rain in the Alps and the surplus of river water has nowhere to go because of the extremely high sea level. To make matters even worse, a case of the plague has been identified."
"Wow, that could be a disastrous combination," Michel understood and immediately thought of his family in Saint Rémy, which the Rhone flowed past.
"Many people have already drowned," the waiter elaborated. "The survivors have been robbed of all of their possessions and almost everyone is homeless. The roads have been washed out and the cattle is floating dead in the rivers."
"Has Saint Rémy been hit?"
"Undoubtedly. The entire Camargue has flooded and the area is barely reachable, if at all."
"But that means that people no longer have access to safe drinking water…"
"I don't know about that, but the disaster is being handled by the provincial government now, and they're looking for people with medical experience. They desperately need a doctor of your caliber."
"Well, I will roll up my sleeves," Michel said. "You'd better just bring me a simple meal, instead of that sole, because I'm no longer in the mood for a celebration." A little while later, he presented himself to the local authorities and immediately had two assistants assigned to him.
After the water level had started to go down, the three of them left for the disaster area, on horseback, to assess the situation and offer First Aid.
"Men, just to refresh your memories: again my plan of attack," Nostradamus told them. "The only thing we can do for people at this point is to convince everyone that the usual water is not suitable for consumption, not even for washing. Safe water is boiled water or rainwater that has been caught in clean barrels. When we get back, we will make rose petal pills and then distribute them to as many victims as possible." The two men listened carefully. They reached the Rhone before noon and already spotted several bodies, floating in the water, and the horses began to act mulish. So they dismounted and tied the animals to a tree.
"Let's see what killed those poor souls," the doctor said, and together they walked to the bank, where they poked a body with a stick, that was floating along the edge.
"Try to turn it around, then I'll be able to see it better," the leader requested. After a bit of fumbling, his helpers succeeded in turning the body over and they saw a face covered in horrific abscesses.
"Black death!" they shuddered.
"We'd better keep going, the horses will get used to it," Michel said grimly. The first flooded village they reached, with great difficulty, turned out to have been hit simultaneously by a flood of the plague. The streets were flooded and dead human and animal bodies floated in the puddles. The calamity tidings were beginning to take shape and Nostradamus feared that this was the greatest catastrophe he had ever experienced in his life. It was painful for them to have to look at the broken down villagers, but after giving them their information about the water there was nothing more they could do for them, and they continued on their way. Between the Grand Rhone and the Petit Rhone, were pools of death and the horses continually refused to go on. In all of the next villages, the situation proved to be the same. The Grim Reaper had done his work, and the only choice was to die either by drowning or the plague. In the village of Ulain, fear reined and some of the survivors clung onto the three riders in desperation. Michel had the greatest difficulty keeping control over his mount and ordered them to let go.
"What are you guys doing here then?" they called in desperation.
"Bringing you advice about how to use water!" the doctor answered.
"You're only bringing us words?"
"Yes, but if you follow my advice, you have a good chance of staying alive."
"Get lost," another villager scoffed and they suddenly began to throw rocks and sticks. The mounted trio hurried away. After having rushed through dozens of villages, they reached the fork of the river, where the Petit Rhone split off from its big brother. Michel knew this area like the back of his hand and they would soon be riding into Saint Rémy, his place of birth. The population proved to be decimated.
I wonder if I'll see a family member alive, he thought sadly and he left his men behind and quickly rode to the Rue des Remparts, where his parents' house was, looking deserted. He dismounted anyway, hoping to catch a sign of life. But he found no one and decided to go to the town hall for information. The only official there knew that one of his brothers was propping up a house that was about to collapse at the edge of the city. Nostradamus immediately jumped back on his horse and raced over to it. A moment later, he saw Bertrand standing there holding a wooden pole in his arms.
"Michel, you alive," his brother shouted, recognizing the rider right away, and threw his pole on the ground. They flew into each other's arms and allowed their tears to flow freely.
"Father and Mother?" Michel asked hurriedly.
"They haven't been alive for a quite while," Bertrand sobbed.
"And what about my other brothers?"
"Hector drowned and I haven't heard anything from Julien. He lives higher up in Aix-en-Provence. Antoine is still alive and is working at the municipality of Arles. So we actually survived the flood relatively well. But why haven't we heard from you for so long?"
"Oh, too much has happened to be able to tell you all right now. But to make a long story short: after the death of my family, I went crazy for half a year," Michel answered.
"We had to hear the terrible news from the municipality of Agen back then."
"I still feel guilty, Bertrand: the plague-fighter's family killed by the plague," he said, briefly lapsing back into that other time. "So, you're repairing houses that are collapsing?"
"Yes, and there is an awful lot of work to be done, as you can see."
"Well, we'd better get back to work then; I have a few mountains to move myself. But I'll be back for a visit soon," and each went their way.
When the worst of the flood and plague was past, Nostradamus settled in the town of Salon the Provence, where the general population welcomed him with open arms. He decided to stay there permanently. After one year he had built up a new practice at the Place de la Poissonnerie. Besides this he made ethereal oils and home remedies again and published some booklets about cosmetics and hygiene. It was the beginning of a prosperous time. The only thing that was still missing was a woman.
Alone in the night during secret study
Resting on a copper tripod
The flame from the void ignites that success
Where frivolity is sinful
A herd of white horses ran as the wind and a flock of flamingos rose up and then descended again a little further on. The doctor on his mare galloped through the Camargue, the stretch of wilderness where he found strength and peace in his spare time. It was so enjoyable to be able to ride through this beautiful countryside full of lakes and lagoons; a wonderful place for water fowl. He left the swampy heath behind him and steered his horse in the direction of the dunes. A black stork-like bird nervously darted off. On top of the dune he stopped and stared at the sea's horizon for a while. The Camargue was like an island, divided by the Mediterranean Sea and the river arms of the Rhone. The age-old sediment of the river water with its tidal activities had given the landscape a special character. It was constantly changing and every time he came here there was something new to discover. The only stamp humanity had been able to place upon this watery plain were the perfectly straight tracks from a distant Roman past. He led his mount to the wide sandy beach and let the wind blow away the many impressions left by his patients. In the distance, he saw the dark profile of a bull disappear behind a hill. He was urging his mare on, hoping to discover more wild bulls, when he heard a horse trotting behind him. He turned around and saw a woman on a jet-black stallion. The rider, wearing a red headscarf, passed him without a greeting and disappeared into the dunes.
It looks like she's following something. I want to investigate this, he thought and he spurred his horse on in the same direction. His curiosity aroused, he observed from a dune top what that the tough woman was doing. She seemed to be racing like a maniac after a group of wild horses, leaving great clouds of dust in her wake. Seagulls, cormorants, birds of prey and others of their ilk, all dispersed at once.
She's herding wild horses! he determined, astonished. I'd better give her a hand, and he rode down the hill and brought his horse to a gallop. Several flamingos, with plankton in their beaks, were startled by the unexpected visitor and immediately stopped feeding their young.
"Excuse me," he nodded pleasantly. After he had crossed a wet part, the ground became dryer and he was able to bring his mare to full speed. Meanwhile, the she-man was screaming at the wild horses and she sped after them like one possessed. High above her, groups of white/yellow herons flew in formation in the blue sky, at a safe distance from the noisy scene. Michel managed to catch up to her while calibrating the direction of the untamed horses, which were fiercely being kept together by her. A number of the animals threatened to get away to the right and he quickly cut them off. She noticed, but continued her activities without any acknowledgement.
I've never seen such a presumptuous woman, he chuckled to himself. She rode around on her stallion, completely self-possessed and despite her masculine inclinations she had a nicely proportioned body.
But what kind of woman would wear trousers? Michel, meantime, did what he could to keep the animals together, but he was not a very experienced rider and kept floundering. She was still ignoring him. Some of the horses now tried to escape through the smaller, woodsy areas, but they didn't stand a chance and were driven back by both of them. This game continued until he again tried to control the animals on uneven ground but had to give it up. His mare stumbled and he fell, with a thump, on the ground. He hurt himself considerably and the dragoon rode up to him to see how serious his fall had been. The herd of animals dispersed.
"I'm sorry I ruined it for you," he said.
"You said it," she grumbled, while she got down from her horse. She didn't try to hide her chagrin.
"All in one piece?" she then asked, a little milder.
'I think so," and he felt his body. "But where do those horses need to go?"
"Nowhere? Then why are we doing all this work?"
"We? I never asked for your help." She had a point there and he introduced himself.
"My name is Michel de Nostredame, and may I ask who you are?"
"Anne Ponsart Gemelle. But let me help you up," and she firmly grasped his hand.
"You are a strong woman," he complimented, while she helped him up.
"Yes, sometimes men are afraid of me."
"To tell you the truth, I've never met such a robust woman. You herd those wild horses just for fun?"
"Yes, I love to spend time here."
"Exceptional for a lady of any standing. I'm from Salon de Provence; I work there as a physician. And where are you from?"
"From Istres, near the lagoon of Berre, and I must say, I have heard of you before, Dr. Nostradamus."
"Please call me Michel. Shall we ride a bit?"
"All right!" And they mounted their horses. While they were riding through a green landscape, Anne began to thaw a bit and talked about their surroundings.
"Sometimes there are bears in these woods."
"Bears? I've never seen a bear here," and he surreptitiously studied her form. Aside from her wide shoulders, her body was actually quite feminine, he now saw. She also had a beautiful face with even features, and her thick, golden-brown hair stuck out from under her headdress. When they were crossing the salt plain, Anne - relaxed now - told him about the waterfowl, and pointed out several species. They enjoyed each other's company and he wanted to know more about her.
"Do you have a love in your life?" he asked, deciding to be straight-forward. But that was a bit too direct for her.
"This place has a great supply of salt," she answered, avoiding the question. He pushed on.
"A healthy, young woman like you must have a husband?"
"I'm a widow," she explained irritably and he didn't say anything else for a while. They reached the beach and slowly walked along the coast, back to Istres.
"Been a widow for long?" he carefully asked after a while.
"Nearly three years."
That's good timing, he thought and when they had arrived at her house, he decided to invite her over for dinner. The invitation was received positively and they set up a time.
His maid had given the house a good cleaning and Michel was making his preparations in the kitchen. When everything was ready for the afternoon, he put on his best clothes and waited for his female company to arrive. Finally she knocked and he nervously opened the door.
"Good afternoon Mrs. Ponsart Gemelle."
"I thought we were on a first-name basis," she answered contrarily and stood in the doorway somewhat awkwardly. The tough woman from Istres was wearing the same garb as before.
Not particularly elegant, he thought, a little disappointed, and he felt a bit uncomfortable.
"I think I've overdressed for the occasion, but please do come in." Anne entered the living room and he caught her scent. She smelled nice anyway and her clothes had at least been washed.
"Well, Michel, I hope your cooking skills will be acceptable."
"If you don't trust them, you are welcome to assist me in the kitchen momentarily. I see you're still wearing your work clothes anyway," he said sharply. Anne was surprised at her host who seemed to know how to put her in her place.
"I'm going to change into something more comfortable. Go ahead and have a look at what I have prepared so far," he continued, and proceeded up the stairs. She walked to the kitchen and poked around a bit. She saw a variety of cut vegetables, cheese, fish, eggs and squares of dough on the counter. Just above all this, she discovered a rack with dozens of spice jars. In a cupboard she found containers with dried mushrooms. Besides these, there were rows of pots of marmalade, each made with a different kind of fruit, according to the labels. The iron griddles above the fire were glowing hot and ready to be used.
Wow, he's really going all out, she realized, I think I may have underestimated him. Michel returned, wearing more casual clothing and had a stack of paper in his hand.
"Look, my cookbook La Traite, essential for anyone who wants to know more about exquisite recipes."
"You wrote a cookbook?"
"Yes, but it hasn't been published yet. But roll up your sleeves now. See those pieces of dough over there? You can brush them with a beaten egg and then sprinkle it with some sesame seeds. I will grease the baking tray." And while they were working, they talked about their lives.
"Do you still miss your late wife?" she asked a little later.
"Yes, sometimes I do. She will always be in my heart. Stir that cream cheese very gently, Anne, and mix some chopped capers in with it."
"Are these the capers?"
"Not much of a domestic goddess, are you?" Meanwhile, he baked the puff pastry till it was golden brown and poured the melted cheese sauce with vegetables over it. His guest was mesmerized, watching him place little pieces of smoked salmon on top of this and then cover the whole thing with squares of crispy baked puff pastry.
"All done. Let's sit down."
"I've never seen anything like it," she said, her eyes widened.
"Supernatural," he grinned and carrying the plates, they walked to the dining room where he poured a glass of red wine for each of them.
"It tastes absolutely fabulous," she informed him. "I apologize for underestimating you."
"Thank you. You're a good equestrian. You have an amazing horse, by the way; you must be rich."
"My husband had a salt factory."
"Ah, that's why you mentioned salt when we were riding around in the Camargue. It must have been a successful business."
"Yes, very much so; the salt is exported to many countries. The Camargue is the largest salt extraction area in Europe. My husband, Jacques, had a fatal accident in his own factory and so I felt I had to sell the company."
"That's sad," he said.
"What kind of stool is that?" Anne asked, looking at the strange object in the corner of the room. He got up and picked up the copper tripod.
"It is an occult instrument I use for my meditation."
"You're a funny guy," she laughed. Suddenly a flame ignited out of nothing, only to extinguish itself just as quickly, in the same corner.
"Bon sang!" he exclaimed.
"What on earth was that?" Anne asked, startled.
"I don't know. It seemed like magic…" They let it sink in for a while and then resumed eating.
"Are you coming with me? Let's make the Pommes Dauphines," he said after the appetizers and they went back to the kitchen. Half an hour later, the steaming hot main course was on the table.
"Did you cook for your husband much?" he asked while he shook some nutmeg over the entrée.
'No, not really. I think I'm just too careless for it. But that doesn't mean I can't learn."
"If you want, I can show you the ropes some time," he suggested. When they had finished the potato dish, the chef still had a delicious dessert in store: halved peaches with whipped cream and shredded almonds.
"If you're trying to impress me, you have succeeded," Anne praised him after she tasted the dessert. After dinner, they cleared the table and then amiably did the dishes together in the kitchen.
"Pretty, those pots of marmalade," she said while she put away the dried glasses.
"That's jam. Marmalade has little pieces of peel in it; jam doesn't," he explained.
"Oh, I didn't know that. How do you make it?"
"Wash, dry, cook and add sugar."
"Is it really that simple?" Michel nodded.
"Well, I guess maybe I should develop my female side," Anne said.
"You're fine the way you are," and they left the clean kitchen behind.
"I had a wonderful afternoon, but it's time for me to go home now," she said at last.
"You're welcome to spend the night, if you'd like. It's a long way back and it will get dark within the hour." Anne thanked him; she said her purebred would only take half an hour to get her home. At the door she unexpectedly kissed him on the mouth and was gone before he had a chance to recover. Smiling, he walked back to the living room, cast a glance at the place where the mysterious flame had appeared, and spent a few moments enjoying the memory of the pleasant time spent together. Then he waddled upstairs and happily crawled between the sheets.
A narrow, high mountain with a steep side, was silhouetted, and the top looked like an opened calyx. A castle was perched on its edge; it was shaped like a ship that looked as though it was ready to sail away. A bit lower, someone was climbing a rocky path to the fortress, which seemed like a link between heaven and earth. He approached some soldiers, who were standing guard at its entrance.
"Nostradamus, is that you at last?" a young man with a halo, who was just joining the guards, called out. The dreamer didn't know what to say, and the man read his discomfort.
"You've arrived at a higher state of consciousness. You have met the right woman," he clarified.
"How so?" Michel asked.
"You have been awakened by her!" The visitor took a minute to let this sink in.
"But where do you know me from?" he then asked.
"We've been watching you on earth for some time now," the man, whose name was Tristan, answered.
"Once your spirit has penetrated to these higher regions, you automatically become a member of the Brothers of Light. Hosanna in Excelsis. But let's not tarry. Come with me. We're just preparing the Manisola and I will show you what we're up to." They entered the castle, which had many rooms and corridors, and which was built with the positions of the sun in mind. They passed large groups of transparent people who were busy preparing for the coming festival.
"Look, the Druid room, filled with flowers," Tristan said, while scanning the crowd. "I want to introduce you to my friends, but I don't see them just now."
"Are these all people who have fully awakened, like me?" Michel asked.
"No, these are servants. There are very few like you and I," and he stopped someone. "Where is Isola?"
"I don't know," the passer-by answered.
"If you see her, tell her we have a special guest. Oh, and they need your help at the banquet." Then the two proceeded towards the main room where drinks, snacks and flower arrangements were being placed on a large, round table. The priests were making sure everything was running smoothly.
"This reminds me of the last Kathar fortress on the Montségur," Michel commented.
"It is," Tristan agreed.
"But that means that everyone here will soon be killed by the Catholic armies," the visitor concluded.
"No, not at all, you haven't arrived in the twelfth century after Christ. Time does not exist here and our ritual festivals and initiations go on eternally. Really, it is safe here. Ah, there is Isola!" An angel-like woman with long, blond hair and blue eyes appeared in the midst of the activities. She had a divine aura and was the picture of purity.
"Isola, I want to introduce you to Nostradamus."
"How wonderful to meet another pure spirit," she said. After the introduction, the newcomer was shown around some more and they visited the Occitan room, which had an impressive floor mosaic. In its center, there was an image of Mary Magdalene with a dove on a crescent moon, and underneath, a snake twisted with an apple in its mouth. While Michel was taking it all in, some worshippers, carrying bowls of raspberries, blackberries, currants and other kinds of fruit walked past them. Then the pair walked outside, to wait for the opening of the festival on the surrounding terraces. In the meantime, they looked at the foothills of the Pyrenees.
"I just saw people from every continent," Michel mentioned. "Do they all belong to the Kathar community?"
"It is more a Gnostic society," Tristan indicated, "which welcomes Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic and other believers. Converted atheists are also received here with open arms."
"It looks like it's not causing any problems…"
"No, it doesn't here, but our free, spiritual outlook is often seen as a threat elsewhere, and that was the reason why the last Gnostics to be out in the open were murdered en mass. But they only left a physical shell behind."
"Why did they not flee?" Michel continued to ask.
"Our predecessors made a holy vow, a long time ago, to allow the Catholic armies to kill them after a conquest of the mountain, knowing that their liberated souls would go to the higher worlds, where God manifests himself in the purest form."
"I would choose life."
"We're not all cut from the same cloth. The self-sacrifice was meant to create this eternal place. A place where we can continue our sacred work unseen. Without them, this would not have been possible.
"Is self-sacrifice not too much to ask?"
"It was a free choice. I have also vowed not to let myself be subjugated by earthly matters. But come, I see the festival is about to begin." They walked back to the main room, where hundreds of initiates and followers were already waiting.
"Do you see that man over there?" asked Tristan. "That is Parsival, an exceptional being. I will introduce you to him." They proceeded towards the man with the heroic appearance.
"Your first time in the grail castle?" Parsival asked.
"Yes, and it is quite a revelation to me," Michel admitted.
"I used to leave this castle as ignorant as I was when I arrived, in the beginning," he warned.
"I assume you have found the way since then."
"Certainly, but I first had to live a life of hardship."
"You are from the age of chivalry," the newcomer continued. "During that time, everyone was always looking for the Holy Grail. Did anyone ever find it?"
"Many have. The Grail is actually a symbol for the space where God has mixed the materials of the creation with sunlight. The searching soul has to fight his way through this barrel of paradoxes to reach the eternal life."
"I meant did a tangible Grail ever exist?"
"Wait and see," Parsival said, smiling. Then one of the high priests at the round table asked for everyone's attention and stood up to address them.
"Today we are celebrating the Manisola, in honor of Jesus Christ, the son of God, and his wife, Mary Magdalene, the priestess of the goddess Isis. With this celebration, we are commemorating the Last Supper, where Jesus drank from the chalice of the holy water of life. After his crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea collected his holy blood in that self-same cup. The servant passed it on to Mary Magdalene, who took it with her on her journey. She was carrying Jesus' child and to ensure his safety, she moved to France. She finally gave birth to the child, here at the Montségur. We Kathars are therefore the descendents of Jesus Christ. We are the keepers of the inheritance of the culture of the Essenes, which was the culture that Jesus and Mary Magdalene came from. She later founded mystery schools in the Languedoc; wherever she went, therapeutic springs spontaneously appeared. We have been celebrating the Manisola for centuries, but this time is a special year. A soul has come to us by his own power, and for this joyful occasion we have brought out the Holy Grail. We have prepared a drink, which can give him access to the Most High." A servant handed the priest the Grail, which was filled with a liquid.
"Nostradamus, would you step forward please?" he then asked. The newcomer was amazed as he walked up to the round table.
"You are our beacon of light on Earth and we wish you all the power and wisdom to complete your mission," the priest continued and then he offered him the chalice. Michel took a drink from the Holy Grail and a shimmering energy took hold of him.
"Long live Nostradamus!" everyone in the room cheered.
"And now, let's have a great festival," the priest ended his speech. Harpists began to play celestial music and the revelers spread out into the decorated rooms, where they enjoyed the displayed delicacies. Some people chose silence and went to the surrounding terraces. The weather was cooperating and everyone had a great time.
It was late in the evening, when suddenly an alarm was sounded by the guards. The castle was under a surprise siege and the soldiers who were standing guard were attacked by a shower of arrows. Panic ensued and the followers, due to lack of orders, ran in all directions. Some tripped over kneeling priests, who wanted to surrender to their destiny. Several high priests, with a horde of guards in their wake, rushed up to Parsival and Tristan.
"We want you to pass on the religion. Quick, there is an escape route!"
"But we have vowed to stay here eternally," they resisted. The high priests urgently pointed out to them how important it was to preserve the existence of their religion. The communal interest was first and foremost and thanks to the intense pressure and chaotic situation, Parsival and Tristan reluctantly agreed. Michel had been observing everything, until they called out to him too.
"Please, go with them. You are very important. You are going to hold up a mirror for humanity, so they can see what will happen to them, so that their eyes can be opened and the light can prevail." He didn't know what to do, other than to agree. The head of the guard was instructed to show them the way and to raise barricades behind them if necessary.
"Farewell and keep our memories alive." The high priests said goodbye and looked on with heavy eyes.
"Come, there is no time to lose," the guard commanded and he dragged them along to a remote part. At the same time, a loud bang made the castle shake on its foundation. The enemy armies had managed to enter the hall and Kathar soldiers had to seal off the central room in all haste. The followers who were left behind in the conquered area were slaughtered to the last man. Meanwhile, the three chosen ones were taken to a landing, which was finished with extraordinarily beautiful cedar woodwork. The guard stopped there and carefully studied the wooden paneling, which consisted of various diamond shapes. He began to meticulously feel along the seams with his fingers. At a certain spot, his hand rested and then, as he pushed the diamond, it gave way. A secret passage opened up.
"Get in," he ordered. Tristan, Parsival and Michel hastily entered the hidden crawl space. The guard followed them and shut the wooden diamond behind him, rendering it once again invisible. He then lit a lamp and a narrow passageway came into view.
"Make haste, we don't have much time," he summoned, and the trio hurried along.
"At the end of this passage, turn left," he whispered a few minutes later. The next corridor was a dead end; a ball the height of a man, which had a hole in it, became visible. The battles in and around the castle could be heard here and Tristan contemplated staying behind for a moment.
"Crawl in here," the guard sternly commanded, seeing his hesitation. The three of them obediently climbed into the rescue device, but had no idea what was about to happen. The contraption, which was made of twigs and animal skins, was exactly the right size for three adults, and they each found a spot to sit down.
"There are some handles and footholds to hang on to," the guard said. They had barely settled when he slowly put the capsule into motion. The ball began to roll under its own power and the underground tunnel quickly became a vertical track. The vehicle ended up in a free fall and its occupants dropped hundreds of meters in a few seconds, until the ball jerked onto some kind of ground and then began to roll very fast. Nostradamus lost consciousness and did not recover. In the twilight zone, time flew by and everything was there. Or did time stand still and there was nothing? At the end of the tunnel there was a light. With an unbelievable number of forms and at least as many colors.
"I am with you," he heard someone say. Powerlessly he opened his eyes and to his great surprise, he saw Anne's face. Up-side-down and with her golden-brown hair right up to his nose.
"I've been holding you for hours," she continued, worriedly, "you were freezing cold and I thought you were dead." Michel pinched himself for assurance. Yes, he was back on Earth.
"How did you…" but he was too weak to finish his sentence. She understood and explained it to him.
"At home, I was suddenly wide awake in the middle of the night and something told me you needed me desperately. I immediately got my horse out of the stable and rode over. When I ran into your bedroom and saw you lying there motionless beside your bed, I was afraid I had come too late. But, fortunately, you were still alive. Then I managed to get you back into bed and warmed up your body, until your temperature was back to normal."
"Oh, dear Anne, thank..," but she interrupted him by laying her fingers on his lips.
"No need to thank me," and she kissed him.
She sure is the right woman, he thought, deeply moved, and tears of happiness filled his eyes. When he tenderly touched her, the steel frame around his heart suddenly began the melt. The pain from the last so many years disappeared in a flash and his soul was enraptured.
"Will you marry me?" he asked, beaming. Anne smiled from ear to ear, and immediately said yes.
Love between a man and a woman, the most beautiful kind of love there is, moved through him and they fell asleep in each other's arms.
Michel woke up late in the morning and realized he was alone in his bed. He jumped up, tied a cloth around his waist and hurried down the stairs.
"Anne, are you still here?"
"Yes, I'm in here!" He went into the kitchen and, to his surprise, all the drawers were open and there were pots everywhere.
"I needed something to eat," she explained, with a bowl in her hand. "You can forget about that wrap, by the way; it's not like I've never seen a naked man before," and she continued to eat. He was looking straight ahead.
"I see you ate my truffle too," he finally said.
"You mean that black thing that smelled a bit musty?"
"Yes. That black thing happens to be worth its weight in gold and is very difficult to find."
"Oh, sorry, I didn't know that."
"Never mind, I'll find a new one." Was this really the right woman? A woman with eating binges! he thought, scornfully.
"Did you say something?"
"No, nothing," and he assessed the rest of the damage.
A captain of the formidable Germany
Makes it to king of kings
With false help and support from Pannonia
His revolt causes rivers of blood
After a modest wedding party, Anne relocated from Istres to Salon de Provence to move in with Michel, who lived in a leaking house of fading glory. She decided to take care of the overdue maintenance and her stallion Salé was housed in the stables of a friendly neighbor. After she had put away her things - on their first day together - she lustfully jumped on top of her husband without warning.
"Hey, watch it, I'm a delicate scholar, not a butcher's boy", he said, while she had him pressed between her legs.
"My late husband never had any problems with it," she answered, surprised.
"I'm not your late husband. Come here…" and they took off the rest of each other's clothes. Gradually, the two got used to each other and one day Anne announced she was pregnant. For the first time. Their lives started to develop a nice rhythm and, a number of months later, when Anne was trying to sell some of her husband's cosmetic products, Paul was born. His robust mother began to relate more to her feminine energy and it was visibly good for her; her demeanor softened considerably. After seven bad years, now the good ones had clearly started and every Venus year they would be blessed with another offspring.
One day, after the third child was born, Nostradamus was sitting on the veranda behind the house, enjoying spring. There were flowers blooming everywhere, spreading their sweet fragrances and the trees were full of singing birds. A girl from the neighborhood was walking by the adjacent gardens which were alive with buzzing bees. He could tell by her basket that she was going to the nearby forest to gather some wood.
"Hello, lassie," he called to her. The girl knew him well and returned his greeting politely. Anne, meanwhile, was in the attic with some workmen, renovating the space into a study. She had finally convinced her hubby to only absorb himself in matters that were truly dear to him. This meant predicting the future combined with astrology. Her financial fortune enabled him to do this without worries; treating patients only for the sake of making some money was something he had finally stopped doing, at her insistence. Michel bent over his books on the occult, while the sun was pleasantly shining on his back. He was working on some predictions that would take place during the coming year. Suddenly he got hit on the forehead by a pea, which then fell onto the page in front of him with a splat.
"Okay, that's it, Paul," he warned his son, who was playing with a catapult he had made himself. Just like his fertile marriage, his creative efforts were also bearing their first fruits. He had recently been asked by the local council to make a Latin inscription for the public fountain at the Château de l'Empéri. And his cookbook La traite des fardemens et confitures had finally been published by Volant in Lyon. This morning he was concentrating on his first almanac with general prophesies in poetry form, which related to all of Europe. The work would consist of twelve quatrains. This afternoon, his brother Antoine, who had survived the disastrous floods, several years ago, was coming by for a chat. Antoine had lately been working as a tax collector in their birth place Saint Rémy, which was situated not far from Salon.
"Michel," Anne called from the window above, "would you come and have a look please?" Her husband hurried into the house, but in the living room he had to be careful not to trip over his progeny. César was lying on the floor and was being held in a choke-hold by his brother and sister. At the same time they were practically tickling him to death. Father negotiated the obstacle and climbed up to the top floor, where he looked at the custom-built book cases in which his green, red, yellow and blue bottles had been placed to keep them safe. The luxurious new desk stood in front of the enlarged window shutter, so the scholar would be able to get plenty of fresh air. Special chests for his geometrical materials had also been purchased and the looking glass that had been bought in Marseille was placed neatly under the traditional roof shutters.
"Ah, my first impression is that I can't complain. I see my measuring cups have all survived," Michel responded happily and he began to inspect the carpentry work.
"I do have a few comments though," he said to his wife, a little later, and he explained to the workmen exactly what changes he wanted. The church bells, meanwhile, were chiming twelve o'clock and they heard Antoine calling. He was very prompt in sharing the midday meal. The brothers had been seeing each other regularly since the water calamity. Anne hurried downstairs to set the table on the veranda, before the maid came with the serving dishes.
"Have a seat, Antoine," Michel requested, while he grabbed an extra chair. Madeleine and César had to sit beside their uncle and mother served out the pork sausages.
"Those are not kosher," Antoine remarked.
"Neither am I," his oldest brother said.
"Paul, dinner!" Anne called for the third time. Paul didn't want to come and glared at the intruder from up in the tree he had climbed. He kept a close watch on the taxman. While enjoying the sausages with vegetables, the brothers exchanged some local news.
"Everything okay with Bertrand?" Michel asked.
"Yes, excellent; Bertrand had started his own small building company."
"Wonderful. Too bad Anne just had the attic renovated. Otherwise, he could have done it." Antoine wanted to burst out laughing, but he controlled himself.
"What kind of woman gets involved with renovations?" he whispered to this brother.
"I heard that," Anne said, unexpectedly. "Do you want me to slap you now or later?"
"Sorry Anne, no offense intended."
"We complement each other perfectly," Michel confessed. "She is the man and I am the woman."
"You two are an exceptional couple," Antoine murmured, feeling a bit confused.
"My husband speaks for himself, because I feel like a woman, one hundred percent. Madeleine, stop that snatching," she suddenly screamed. After that ungraceful display towards their daughter, Michel had to laugh too.
"You're right, Antoine. Don't ever pick a fight with my wife. I will have to polish her up a bit."
"Wait a minute, Mr. professional student," she protested, "it's me who's enabling you to make a big splash. So who's polishing whom?" and she angrily left the table.
"It won't be easy to tame that little horse of yours," Antoine predicted. He had to leave. After seeing his brother to the door, Michel got settled in his work chair and again picked up his writing book. In the late afternoon, the same girl from that morning was walking home and her basket was filled with gathered wood.
That's funny, he thought, she looks more mature now than she did this morning.
"Hello, young lady," he called out to her. She waved at him and giggled about the word "lady", because just that morning he had called her "lassie." It was cooling off and he decided to have another look at the renovated study. When he was entering the house, he bumped into his wife. She was still furious about the comment he made earlier that afternoon. Apologies didn't help and that day the pots and pans went flying through the house - from Anne's side.
One night, the scientist discovered a group of shooting stars with his new looking glass. In astrological circles, it had already been known for some time that pieces of stone or iron would sometimes penetrate Earth's atmosphere, partly burning in the process, but these insights had not been acknowledged by society. Michel had read once that in a distant mythical past, meteorites with a diameter of several kilometers had created enormous craters in the terrestrial globe and that this had radically changed the Earth's climate. He was planning to write a letter about it to the governor of the Provence, who was known for his open-mindedness and interest in science.
The governor will certainly read an essay by a respected astrologer, he surmised, and knowledge must be shared. But in the back of his mind, the idea was brewing that perhaps the viceroy would be able to help him along. His estimation was correct. The governor wrote him a letter in response, thanking him for his scientific insights. He also mentioned that he was very appreciative of his almanac with predictions for the coming year, 1555, which has recently been published in Lyon. He had been recommending the predictions in higher circles and the work was now selling well, all over France. The door to success had been opened and Michel decided to publish an almanac every year. He also thought of a more virtuous task: to discover what the future of mankind looked like for the next millennia. This work would have the well-fitting name of The Prophesies. Happy with this state of affairs, he came down to the living room and saw his wife defiantly standing on top of the dining table. Surprised, he looked around to see what was going on. Madeleine was on top of a cupboard, Paul was hanging from the ceiling and César was crawling on his knees.
"Is this a conspiracy?" he asked.
"No, we're playing a game, come and join us!" Anne called out excitedly.
"What's the game?"
"Feet off the floor."
"I'd rather keep my feet on the floor."
"Oh, you're always so serious," she sighed. This kind of hurt her husband's feelings and he turned around and went back to his study. He always had things to do there, even if it was just organizing some of his stuff. Feeling a little melancholy, he was thinking about his grandfather Jean, who understood him so well, when Anne came into his room.
"My dear husband, I love you, even though we often collide with each other. My love for you really never changes. But maybe you could try to explain to me what goes on in that head of yours," and she sat down.
"I don't know if you will believe this," he began, hesitantly, "but I have a mission. It is my life's work to show humanity what disasters will befall it, if it doesn't come to its senses and sees the truth. And my path weighs heavily on me."
"Hmm, I guess that kind of explains that gap between us, but, well, that's just the way it is," she replied empathetically. "I actually didn't realize your work was so serious; so that's why you can't play with the children."
"I am constantly receiving dismal images," he continued.
"How awful for you. But is that mission more important than your family?" and with that, she, of course, hit a sensitive nerve. He stared at her, feeling somewhat ashamed.
"Maybe. Once my task has been completed, I hope to once again be one with God," he confessed.
"I think we all want that," and she stroked his cheek and left him in peace.
Nostradamus soon finished the first part of The Prophesies by using the dreams and visions he had been collecting for years in his journals. He had picked out the most important predictions and had dated, classified and re-interpreted them, using astrology. He called every chapter a century. Not to signify an actual century, but because each chapter contained one hundred quatrains. The four-line verses were virtually unintelligible by anyone else, due to their obscure style and because he used a mixture of French, Provencal, Greek and Latin. He had to disguise his messages in this way, because the inquisition was becoming more and more powerful. And on no account did he want to be convicted again for blasphemy or magical practices while he had a family.
Just to be on the safe side, I will also mix up the order of the quatrains, he thought, and spread the filled pages out on his desk. My secrets can only be revealed by an initiate or only solved after the prediction has come true, and he mixed everything together. Once he had created a random order, he put the work aside. After a bit of navel-gazing, he sighed, running his fingers through his hair. He often still thought about his initiation into the higher worlds with Tristan and Parsival, and he would love to know if they had survived the fall of the Montségur. His vision had been fading again. No answers had been coming to him from the source and his dreams were not helping either. A few weeks later, however, the planets were in a unique position and it was likely that they would offer relief at this time. In the attic, the inspired mystic brought out the copper stool with its mysterious powers. When placed at a particular angle, the metrically designed stool had a connection to the celestial bodies. After determining the correct position, he placed a container of water nearby on the floor. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he moistened the feet and the seat of the tripod and then put in head on it. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the fallen angels who had broken their promise not to flee. And lo and behold, it seemed the time was ripe and by fits and starts, he left his body.
He was floating in a residential room, on whose ceiling hung a beautiful chandelier, which could not have existed in his time; the candles in it were not made of wax, but were little glass bulbs that flared up all by themselves. The high-ceilinged room was furnished with red plush sofas, mahogany coffee tables, some more ingenious lamps and a gigantic mirror with a gilded frame. He heard the sounds of some grand orchestral music, accompanied by choirs, but oddly enough, there were no musicians to be seen anywhere. The sound seemed to be coming from a box in which a round, black disc was turning around all by itself. In a corner of the room was a life-size statue of some hero to be admired. The marble statue was made with technical perfection and it depicted a muscular demigod who was proudly brandishing a sword and radiating victory.
The artist must be obsessed with victory; this statue is dripping with pathos, Michel thought. A German in uniform, his hair cropped close to his head, entered the room and walked to the box with the horn. The bombastic piece of music was repeated and while the man was reveling in emotion, he called out to someone.
"Magda, where are you?" He didn't get a response, and he called again, louder, and then got a response.
"Here I am!" a voice sounded in the distance and a few moments later, his wife walked into the room.
"That's the sixth time you're playing Parsival by Wagner," she complained, and her husband quickly turned off the record. Meanwhile, the intruder was realizing that this glorification of the age of chivalry was the reason for his presence here and that again there was no language barrier.
"Helga has a stomach ache," Magda continued, "but why were you calling me?"
"I'm going to be terribly busy in the next few weeks. That's why I don't have time for the children; and I need you to help me with my speech for the foreign press," and Joseph picked up a folder.
"Okay sweetheart. By the way, did you know that four hundred years ago someone predicted that in 1939 we would be at war with France and England over Poland?"
"Ah, so you read Kritzinger's book Mysterien von Sonne und Seele," he supposed. She confirmed this.
"Anyway, some members of the Party told me about it, but I haven't read it yet." His wife magically made the controversial book from 1922 appear, and thumbed through it to find a specific passage.
"Look, this quatrain seems to predict both the cause and the date of the war. You can check it against the French original; it is shown below it," she said.
"French?! We are about to attack France! Surely you don't think I'm going to absorb myself in that language?" But Joseph let her convince him to read the German version and the couple bent over the book, while the author observed them from above.
It must be mine, the latter concluded, surprised. Incredible that I am coming across my verses in the future; a future whose content I don't even know, and he watched, dumbfounded.
"Here is a striking quatrain, which you can certainly use for your speech on Reichstag*( the parliament buildings)," Magda suggested and her spouse read it out loud: "Somewhere in the far reaches of Europe, a child will be born from poor parents and great numbers will be seduced by his speeches. He will cause transformations to a larger Germany."
"The Führer will love that," she said.
"I will give it some thought, darling. Maybe if I give Kritzinger as the source. The Führer and the German people are not going to want to listen to prophesies from a Frenchmen from the Middle Ages."
"From the Renaissance," she corrected.
"Oh, don't be such a perfectionist. A message doesn't necessarily have to be true. It must be simple and repeated loudly and often enough. Truth is what I decide is true, Magda, but thanks for your interesting contribution. Who knows, it may have some value for propaganda*(1940. The Germans spread fake Nostradamus prophesies of war in France.). But will you please listen to my response to the Crystal Night for the press conference now," and he began, but was interrupted by a tinkling sound. Joseph picked up a horn from a device, listened to someone for a minute and then hung up.
"Magda, the governess wants you to come and pick up Helmut and Hilde," and his wife immediately left the room. Her husband walked up to the big mirror and started practicing his speech for the journalists.
"All the stories you've been hearing about so-called plundering and destruction of Jewish possessions are dirty lies; the Jews have not been harmed in any way." He emphasized each word with a grand gesture, until he felt that the statement came across in the way he wanted it to. He paced up and down the room for a while and then returned to the mirror to convince himself one more time.
"The great and absolute truth is that the Party and the Führer are right. They are always right." Suddenly he turned around and asked someone: "Or would you dispute that?" Michel looked around the room for another person the orator could be addressing, but he didn't see anyone.
"Well, would you?" the German repeated in a harsh voice.
Who was he talking to?
"Don't think I can't see you," Joseph said, looking straight up now.
Yikes, the man has discovered me! …for one moment everything seemed to freeze.
"I often see things that other people don't see," he continued, "and I never talk about that with the Party or they would think I was nuts. But what are you doing here, ghost? Are you here to help or hinder me?" Michel was astounded and didn't know what to say.
This man must be highly gifted, he thought, he can see ghosts and is not the slightest bit afraid of them. Joseph now began to practice his speech in front of his one-man audience.
"We, nationalistic-socialists, will act only for our voters. We are entering the Reichstag to avail ourselves of weapons from the weapon room of democracy, which have been fashioned by this disposable form of government. We are not entering as friends or neutrals, but as enemies. Well? How does that sound?" he asked forcibly. Another silence followed and Michel felt very much put on the spot.
"Sorry, I can't follow you," he finally said.
"Oh dear, an undeveloped little spirit. Permit me to teach you something. I don't know where you're from, but you have arrived in the Third Reich. The empire that is lead by my Führer Hitler, half plebeian, half god. Possibly the new Christ or at least a John the Baptist. He has everything it takes to be king, this born tribune of the people and soon-to-be dictator. My love for him is great. And let me not be falsely modest, ghost, I am playing one of the most important roles in this mightiest kingdom on Earth. I am the brilliant minister of propaganda, Herr Doctor Joseph Goebbels, doctor of philosophy and Germanics. Do you realize what an important person you have stumbled upon here?"
"I sort of understand what you're saying," Michel answered. He just couldn't ignore Goebbels' energy.
"What I'm doing," Joseph continued, "is to sell an idea to the masses in such a penetrating and all-encompassing way that they will completely accept the range of ideas and can never again escape it. I do all this to please my Führer. I am usually more nimble with my choice of words, but you are only a ghost. You're obviously not someone who will make my speeches known world-wide, so this is my chance to air my heart."
"Are there many people who are enthralled with that leader you are speaking of with such admiration?" Michel asked, while flying around the chandelier.
"Ha-ha, you are clearly a time-traveling ghost. Yes, millions of country fellowmen worship him. My wife also adores him. She even wanted to be his wife, but she didn't succeed so she married me, the man who is closest to the Führer."
"That Hister must be an impressive person," his visitor assumed.
"Hitler! Yes, he certainly is. What our leader wants to attain is the purity and the idealization of the Arian race. In this way he stimulates the ideal German model family: white and blonde. Ein Kind für den Führer. My seven children, Helga, Hilde, Harald, Helmut, Holde, Hedda and Heide all have blonde hair and blue eyes and are particularly suitable for our propaganda. See, this is a picture of the Führer," and he held up a portrait of a man with a small mustache. Michel was getting fed up with the know-it-all attitude of the minister. The professional orator kept trying to win him over, even from his height.
"How should I imagine the purity and idealization of the Arian race?" the seer asked. He was dying to teach him a lesson.
"Goodness gracious, our house ghost can think. How charming! Well, I will explain it to you: in life there are high quality people and inferior people. Whatever it is that makes gypsies gypsies, or homosexuals homosexuals, and whatever it is that makes people mentally ill, is in the blood, or in the genes. Can you follow this?"
"Yes, of course," he lied.
"All right. The diversity of the people therefore has a biological cause. Now, we have noticed that the inferior people multiply faster than the superior classes. Therefore, it is necessary to segregate the inferior types, sterilize them, or better yet, get rid of them altogether. Otherwise, this unbalanced growth will undoubtedly lead to the destruction of our culture."
This Goebbels character is one of the Brothers of Darkness, Michel understood by now and he had no intention of being bullied by him.
"Is that Crystal Night related to that too?" he asked.
"Shame on you; you were eavesdropping on me earlier, but you are smarter than I thought," Goebbels said. "The Crystal Night is a step towards the total annihilation of the Jews. Our party members recently made a fool of those miserly Untermenschen by destroying all of their possessions, such as synagogues, stores and businesses."
"I just heard you say that those people have not been harmed in any way."
"Is that an accusation? I already told you: I twist the truth wherever I see fit. Dexterity and timing are very important in reaching our goal and a lie can be appropriate in such cases. The Führer and I want to give the German people what they crave: a large, pure, Arian kingdom. There is nothing the masses hate more than to look at a matter from both sides." Goebbels twisted himself out of that one like a snake.
"Aren't you afraid that the people will discover the truth behind your trickery?" Michel asked. He was just beginning to realize what a great evil he had come face to face with.
"No, not at all, but just as a precaution, the Party has already had 20,000 books by prominent writers, philosophers and scientists burned in public. Scandalous books that lead to moral decadence. Books with un-German spirit. What we are aiming for will be a blessing for our fellow man and our descendents. Finally we will be freed from homosexuals, gypsies, asocial people, schizophrenics and the insane. We have already sterilized between 350,000 and 450,000 people." The minister kept going on and on. "And in order to solve the immense Jewish problem, we are creating special destruction camps, where our doctors will have the opportunity to conduct experiments on these impure types, for the betterment of the Arian race."
There's no talking to this guy, Michel thought, starting to feel quite distraught. "You ought to be sterilized, according to your own standards; you are insane," he suddenly exploded.
"I see you are not in agreement with me. Too bad; so this is your true face. But not everything that is true is good for the Party," Joseph continued, unrelenting. "If it coincides with the actual truth, so much the better, but otherwise it will just have to be adjusted." Michel was burning up by now; the German creep was draining his energy.
"What would you think of a poster, advertising a new kind of soap?" the minister started up again. "Would it be best to point out the high quality of a competing brand? No, even you would shake your head at that. Look at my argument as the same type of political advertising." His visitor was now looking for a way out. His energy was so depleted that he had get out of there as quickly as possible. He could not keep listening to the propagandist a minute longer.
"If the truth doesn't serve you, it must be adapted," Goebbels repeated, and then he turned off all the lights in the room with the flick of just one switch. Michel was taken by surprise with the sudden change from day to night and began to tumble downwards. He tried to grab the chandelier, but he plunged down and crashed on the floor.
My God, I have met the devil in person, and in a daze he tried to get up.
"That almost always works for disturbing little ghosts like you," Goebbels chuckled, and then he turned on dozens of lights again. This time Nostradamus got an enormous electric shock and his mental body collapsed. There he lay, beside the stone hero with the raised up sword, and feverishly looked for salvation.
"Conform to our ideal, or I will have to destroy you," the German said ruthlessly.
"Wait, I can predict the future of the Third Reich for you," the seer said to buy himself some time.
"Unseres schönes Reich, so weiss, so weiss and wunderschön," Goebbles sang, completely out of his mind and put on another Wagner piece.
"Tristan und Isolde," he informed and again turned off the lights. This new shock caused a paralysis on one side of Michel's body and his powers of perception began to falter. The phone rang for the second time and this gave him some respite. The minister turned off the music and picked up the horn.
"No, there's nothing wrong, I'm just playing with the lights," he answered and hung up.
"Now, where were we? Oh yes, you wanted to predict the future of the Third Reich to me. I am not going to fall for that of course, but I can predict that your future is not looking rosy," and he again made a sea of light appear. Because of these hard hits, Michel could barely think anymore, his volatile body was trembling dangerously and was on the verge of evaporating. One more attack would have been fatal. Right at that moment, the door opened and Magda came in.
"I picked up the children and they are in bed now. Did you behave yourself while I was gone?" she asked.
"Of course, darling, I've been practicing my speech," he feigned. His wife looked at him closely.
"I want you to stop seeing Irene. It is damaging the Führer's image," she said.
"There's nothing going on between me and her; she is just a great actress that I keep close track of."
"We both know better than that, Joseph. You want to be a model family, don't you? Then control your sexual impulses or I will have to inform the Führer." He sullenly sat down on the sofa and looked past his wife.
"I'm going to bed now and stop playing with the lights," she commanded and then left the room. Her husband didn't waist a second and eagerly turned around in order to resume his little game. But there was nothing to be seen beside the life-size sculpture; the ghost had disappeared. Just in the nick of time, he had returned to his material body, which was dutifully waiting for its master.
"That was a close call," he groaned, the image of Goebbels still burned on his retina. He pulled himself together and put away the tripod. Then he sat down at his desk to write down the perilous adventure.
Only by casting my light onto the darkness can evil be overcome, he reflected, while dipping his pen into the ink.
Anne was pregnant for the fourth time and it was only a few more months before the new baby would be born.
"It's going to be a girl," her husband predicted, while he was working on his second almanac.
"I don't want to know!" she yelled and covered her ears.
"Don't make so much noise, you'll scare the baby," he warned, but she wasn't listening. There was an unexpected knock on the door and Michel went to answer it. He returned to the living room with a dejected look on his face.
"Take the children upstairs and stay there," he ordered.
"What's going on?" Anne responded indignantly. "How come I'm being treated like some kind of beast of burden?"
"I'm not going to discuss it right now; I'll explain later," and when she had gone upstairs with the kids, he went back to the front door and invited the company in. It was a married couple from Senas. The wife was carrying a hideous-looking new-born child with two heads and four arms. They had traveled from Toulon, without stopping to see the clairvoyant physician. The latter scratched behind his ears when he saw the monstrosity, while the desperate couple looked at him hopefully.
What on earth am I going to do with this? he thought, but he didn't have the heart to send them away and for the sake of formality he examined the fused twins.
"How did you find me?" he asked, while he looked at the back of the ghastly creature.
"The authorities in Toulon recommended you," the young father answered. "They told us that you could possibly help us." The doctor gave them something to drink, after which he briefly concentrated on the essence of the child, which did not look very viable.
"I am sorry, but your child will not live long," he said, carefully, upon which the mother burst into tears. Her husband consoled her and they left, utterly sad. Anne came down with the children and asked what had just happened.
"I only wanted to spare all of you something so gruesome, that it would only give you nightmares," he explained. Later, when the little ones were in bed, he lifted the veil of mystery for his highly pregnant wife, just a bit, which gave her the shivers.
A few months later, their fourth child - perfectly normal, fortunately - was born. It was a girl, just as Michel had predicted, and she was christened Pauline. Anne got pregnant again right away. Her husband thought it was just fine, although the household was getting pretty busy and the crying and screaming disturbed the tranquil atmosphere in his study. The solution was simple: a dividing door was placed at the stairwell and the scholar was able to peacefully get back to work. Aside from ferreting out the events of the coming year and casting horoscopes for all kinds of people, Nostradamus had made several attempts to find out more about the twentieth century, but the trick with the tripod no longer worked. In the occult store in Marseille he found a new instrument, and once he was back at home again, he hurried upstairs with the mysterious package. He carefully unwrapped the delicate bowl and placed it on the floor. Then he ran downstairs again to the garden to get some water from the rain barrel.
"Boy, you're thirsty," Anne said, while she hung up the laundry.
"Yes, I'm parched," her husband said, not wanting to engage in any bickering and he hastily returned to his room with a full bucket. Today he was going to succeed in visiting Hister, the Great German leader who would cause a world war, he was convinced. He sprinkled some water into the bowl and added some oil that had hallucinogenic properties. Then he sat down beside it. After staring at the water surface for a while, he began to relax and when the ethereal vapors slowly but surely began to intoxicate him, he fell into a deep trance. Suddenly, he was attached from behind; someone jumped onto his back. It was too late to defend himself and he fell forwards.
"Dad, we've got something for you," César cried out, hanging on his neck.
"Damn it all!" he raged, scaring the wits out of the boy. He had never seen his father angry. Father was always calmness personified, but now his eyes were blazing fire and thunder. Michel saw his little boy standing there forlornly and immediately felt regret for his outburst.
"I'm sorry I lost my temper, but you came at a very bad time," and reached his hand out to him. César hesitated for a second, but then held out his hand, a bit suspiciously.
"Yes, my boy, evil is in everyone, even in your father, and it is good to learn to control that force, which I just failed to do. Fortunately we have a conscience." They both felt pretty shaken and took a minute to recover.
"Michel, are you coming down? We have a surprise for you," his wife suddenly called from two floors below.
"Now what!" and in a bad mood he rumbled down the stairs and landed in the living room, where he couldn't find anyone.
"Happy birthday," Anne and the children hooted and came out of the kitchen. "Your present is by the door!" Father, who had just turned fifty, started to get a headache and grumpily walked to the front entrance. But he couldn't see any package and returned to the living room, shrugging his shoulders.
"Behind the door!" they chanted. He went back there again and grumbling, opened the door.
"Ta-ta-ta," a horn blared. A crowd of townspeople stood right in front of him.
"Doctor Nostradamus," Mayor Lemerre began, "it is our pleasure to congratulate you on your fiftieth birthday, celebrating half a century." All Michel really wanted to do was to slam the door in his face, but he couldn't very well do that to all of his excited fellow citizens or his family, so he had to be tolerant.
"You are a very special person," the mayor continued, "and very valuable to Salon the Provence. Therefore, the town council has decided to erect a statue of you and we humbly invite you to come and unveil your own image in the town square." There was no getting away from it, and the glorified scholar was pulled along without delay. The celebrating crowd even carried him on their shoulders and brought him to the square, where his covered statue stood.
"Dear people," the mayor called out, when they got there. "Our famous fellow townsman has turned fifty today and the council would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to him by making him an honorary citizen, and has erected a statue of him." Lemerre asked Nostradamus to pull the cloth off the statue and the bronze figure, which was a good likeness of the astrologer, was revealed. A fan-fare orchestra began the play and the town council members hurried towards the scholar to congratulate him. After this deluge of lavish praise, the mad scholar saw an opening and fled around the back. The mayor exchanged a few words with the seer's wife, while the council members enjoyed the free snacks. Afterwards, Anne walked home, feeling pleased, and let the children stay at the square a bit longer to play ball. Her husband was rigidly waiting for her in the living room.
"I don't ever want to have another surprise like that again," he said fiercely. "I was sitting in deep concentration when you sent César up to get me. My heart nearly gave out." Pauline, who was wrapped up in cloths, began to cry.
"It's okay, sweetie," her mother calmed her, "we always have to adjust ourselves to your weird daddy. He seems to think the universe revolves around him." Deeply insulted he turned away from his headstrong spouse and cursing and swearing climbed up the stairs.
"All you want to do is absorb yourself in all kinds of disasters, all the time," she shouted after him. "Well, we don't, we like having fun once in a while." He knew he had married an unconventional wife, but this time she had gone too far and he locked the door to his attic for good. All day long he stayed and pouted in his room, but by the evening he had calmed down and went to see Anne in the bedroom and told her he was sorry.
"You're right, I'm far too serious and it must be difficult for you and the children to be with me, but I can't help the way I am…"
"That's nothing new. Get over here and take those clothes off," she said. He crawled into bed with her and they lovingly embraced each other.
"I know you need to fulfill your mission," she continued, "and I will support you till the end, but at the same time, I want to have a life too." Her understanding soothed him and they made love.
"I'm so lucky to have you," he whispered afterwards. The next morning he awoke feeling awful; he felt like his body was burning up. Apparently yesterday had been too much for him. Anne heard her husband moaning and saw that he was seriously ill.
"Should I get a doctor?" she asked, worried.
"I am the doctor, and all I need is rest. And love," he added. He was sick in bed for days and his wife took care of him, despite her large belly.
It's always something with my scholar, she thought sadly, while she peeled a boiled egg for him. I just have to give him more space.
It was Christmas, the biggest holiday of the year after Easter. The Nostradamus family, now expanded to five children, celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ in the Saint-Laurent church. It was the first time that a nativity scene had been set up in a church, with life-size statues, and everyone wanted to see it. The children rushed to the front and Paul and César managed to get right next to the manger with the baby Jesus in it.
"Mama, André looks like Jesus!" Paul called, seeing a resemblance to his new-born brother.
"I think André is more handsome," she answered from behind a row of people. The bystanders looked at her askance.
"That's sacrilege," one of them accused her. Anne didn't pay it any mind and viewed the rest of the Christmas dolls with her husband. Mary, Joseph and the shepherds were considerably less popular and a little further on, the three kings from the East had the least amount of attention. All the church goers were now requested to sit down on the wooden benches, where Nostradamus quickly told his children about Francis of Assisi, who was the one who had started the use of the barn. In this way, the monk wanted to carry out the Christmas message for the illiterate. Unfortunately, the kids were not as philosophical as he had hoped; they were busy looking at the thousands of lights that cast a spell on the room. It was time for the Christmas play. The old arch bishop from Arles, shuffled to the lectern, eager for it to begin.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Christmas is the promise of the new life that Jesus brings, and this beautiful theme will now be enacted for you. Enjoy." The actors came onto the stage and the audience leaned forward eagerly. Not all the spectators, because Michel thought the whole event was a bit dubious. Before the rise of the Protestants, such a beautiful Christmas performance had never been organized, and the bishop had never been so friendly and spoken so briefly. The Counter Reformation was obviously trying to win back souls, but any sounds of criticism could not be expected form this parochial public. His innocent children were being brain-washed. He watched the theatrical play with aversion, but as the crowd became more excited he began to yield to the happy atmosphere. To conclude, there were parades with the shepherds and the three kings, which ended at the crib. Despite the impure motives of the church, it had been a pleasant evening and the family returned home after the entertainment. That night, their sixth child was conceived.
The arrow from the sky makes its journey
Death speaks; a big execution
Stone in the tree; a proud race humiliated
Human monster; cleansing and penance
"Michel," Anne called from behind the closed attic door, "I'm going out this afternoon and I won't be back until tomorrow morning. I'll have tea with you before I go, if you'd like." That sounded like a good idea to her husband and he opened the door. She entered with a tray of tea and cookies and placed it on his desk.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"I'm going horseback riding in the Camargue with Jacqueline and then I'm going to stay overnight at her place in Istres. It's been a long time since I've seen my sister."
"I didn't know she rode horses."
"Yes, she just started recently. So, you will have to manage without me for a bit. But the maid will keep an eye on the children," and she poured the flower tea.
"Does she still work at that sewing studio?" her husband inquired, taking a bite from his raisin cookie.
"Yes, and I've asked her to make a long, brown robe for you."
"Wonderful, thanks", he said, while he wiped the crumbs from his beard. They finished their tea, and then Anne went on her way.
"Give my best to your sister," he said, as she was leaving, and they quickly gave each other a kiss. He locked the door, so that no child could jump on his back this time, and closed the windows too. It was now practically completely dark in the room and he sat down in his office chair and took a secret pill box from a drawer in his desk. In this little box he kept an herb that was used for stimulating the third eye. A new experiment! He shook the powdered herb out onto his desktop and inhaled it through his nostril in one big sniff.
"Nondedju, took a bit too much of the stuff," he grumbled and his eyes watered with the pain. The room suddenly began to spin and he grabbed onto the armrests of his chair, but lost control.
"Anne!" he squeaked, with his eyes rolling around in their sockets, and his body slowly slid off the chair.
After some time, the mystic, lying flat on the floor, regained consciousness.
This is not my study, he noticed, looking around. He found himself in a huge room and sat up to take a better look at it. The room had an imposing floor mosaic of a black sun; the image was made up of symbols from various religions. There were many relics in the room and there was only one small window. He immediately went to it and looked out.
I've ended up in a castle, he decided. There was nothing of further interest in the room and filled with curiosity, he walked towards an exit.
I sense a strange atmosphere here that reminds me of black magic.
And he carefully descended a stone staircase. On the next level below, there were more rooms and all the doors were wide open. The first one had "King Arthur Room" on it. In this room there was a round, wooden table with twelve chairs around it.
Inspired by Arthurian times, obviously, he thought. The time traveler walked around, looking at everything, briefly touched the chairs and then visited the next room, called "King Heinrich I Room." Here, the furniture was made of very advanced materials, possibly from the nineteenth or twentieth century, he guessed. There were a desk, metal filing cabinets and a safe. On the wall hung a blueprint with the word Wewelsburg in thick letters above it.
That must be the floor plan of this castle, he supposed. The gigantic project took up a city in a half circle of exactly one thousand meters in diameter and the whole thing was in the shape of an arrow, which was pointing due north. He nosed around in one of the open drawers in the desk, and found that it was full of skull rings.
A macabre collection, he thought. In the filing cabinets all the files were neatly arranged alphabetically. Only a folder with very clear images of a Tibetan monastery was lying haphazardly on top. Suddenly he heard voices and he carefully looked around the doorframe. Three men in uniform were trudging up the stone staircase.
"The people of Germany will have a special leader every one thousand years," he heard one of them say.
"You mean me, of course," the man with the little moustache and a terrifying voice responded.
That must be Hister, Michel instantly realized.
"Without any doubt, my Führer," his deputy, Heinrich Himmler answered. "It was exactly one thousand years ago that Heinrich I ruled the German lands and you could well be his reincarnation." The men were now close-by and were preparing to enter the level where Michel was.
"How is the renovation of Wewelsburg coming along?" Hermann Göring asked.
"The castle is as good as ready. Come, I will show you the general's room," Himmler answered and they continued climbing up the stairs. Michel could no longer hear the men talking, but their footsteps sounded through the whole building. After a while, the Germans came down again and their voices became audible again.
"Well, great master of the Teutonic knighthood," Göring teased, "what will be our permanent place?'
"The King Arthur Room," Himmler replied, "that is where we will meet from now on." Michel could hear them from the next room, as they sat down at the round table. There was a door between the two rooms and he very quietly put his ear on it.
"Gentlemen, I have asked you come here for a special reason," Himmler began. "I would like to present to you my magnificent plans."
"I expect only magnificent plans from you," Hitler pouted, but his deputy didn't let himself be distracted.
"Wewelsburg will become the shrine of Europe," he continued. "The castle must become a center for a new religion. A religion with recognizable gods, myths and even its own Vatican."
"Based on the Christian model?" Göring assumed.
"No, I want our old Arian roots to become dominant. That is why I want the Bible to be replaced by Mein Kampf and all crosses by swastikas. The clairvoyant Karl Wiligut has predicted in the past that this place will be a magical Germanic bulwark."
"The damned power of the Vatican must indeed be broken," Hitler agreed.
"Still, there is an aspect of Christianity," the nation's second-in-command said, "which endlessly fascinates us all, and that is the Holy Grail." Michel was listening to all of this with amazement. They were talking about the magical cup from which he had drunk at his initiation.
"For years our Thule Society has been trying to get hold of this grail for us because this was supposed to lead to the ultimate power. Four years ago I ordered Otto Rahn*(The German grail searcher died mysteriously in 1939), the historian, to search for the grail in the caves near Montségur, but he has been searching in vain. Important information can no longer be passed on to any third parties by him anyway."
"I have heard about other victims during your search," Hitler commented.
"About a million," Himmler replied dryly, "but that is of minor importance in what we have in mind."
"You're already being called the great inquisitor," Göring joked and the men all laughed.
"Yes, but listen, here is the thing: I traveled to Montségur myself and searched for several months. One track finally led me to the monastery of Montserrat in Spain, and, gentlemen, I have succeeded. I have found the grail." Nostradamus heard this incredulously. That Himmler character was even more dangerous than his boss!
"Where is the cup?" Adolf cried out excitedly.
"In the safe in the next room. I will get it momentarily," and proud as a peacock Himmler walked to the King Arthur Room where the overwhelmed seer quickly hid like a little boy. With bated breath he watched from behind the filing cabinet how the safe was opened and he caught a glimpse of the Holy Grail.
That's not it, he thought, relieved; the original chalice is smaller and has a dent in it. Meanwhile, Himmler took the relic and returned to his Brothers of Darkness.
"My Führer, the honor is yours," and he handed the supposed Holy Grail to his superior. Hitler examined the chalice suspiciously and then silently put it on the table. Then he began to applaud with conviction and looked at his deputy full of pride.
"Absolute power is now ours," Himmler grinned, "but permit me to place the grail behind locked doors once again. Herr Wiligut*(Himmler’s Rasputin) and the officers will be here any minute and I want the location of the grail to be known only to the three of us." Hitler gave his approval and Heinrich left the room to put the grail in a safe place again, while Michel again hid behind the files. Many guards could now be seen in Wewelsburg and soon a group of SS officers arrived. They came in and greeted the Führer. Adolf completely ignored them; he only had eyes for his deputy who he thought might have something else up his sleeve.
"Is Goebbels not coming?" Göring asked his daydreaming boss.
"No, Joseph is working on my speech, with predictions from Kritzinger," he answered indifferently.
"This room," Himmler addressed the expanded group, "will be accessible only to the twelve highest ranking officers of the empire. After initiation, the strictest confidence will be maintained about everything that will take place in this order. The vow of confidentiality will have to be guaranteed by force, under the supervision of the clairvoyant Herr Wiligut." The summoned medium introduced himself and Nostradamus smelled a rat.
"Every member will go into the next room at a set time", Himmler continued, "while the others will focus their thoughts on that person. Due to the influence of the knightly force, the member will not be able to keep any possible secrets to himself. Herr Göring, I propose that you go first." Michel ducked away for the third time and a fraction of second later Göring entered the room and sat down at the desk to wait. The closed SS circle then began to contact spirits of Germanic ancestors, who, along with the sounds of the Tibetan scale were supposed to purify the room. When the sounds died away, there was perfect silence for a while. Göring belonged to the most trusted and he was sure he had a clean slate. Nevertheless, the experiment was making him feel uncertain and he nervously bit his nails. Finally he was readmitted to the room with his colleagues.
"This is not what I expected, Hermann. What are you hiding from us?" Himmler asked, unexpectedly.
"I am hiding absolutely nothing," Göring replied haughtily.
"Well, according to Herr Wiligut, you are…"
"I am a man of honor and decency and I have always been faithful to the Führer."
"Then, there has to be someone else in that room," Wiligut surmised.
"That's unlikely," Himmler said, "this complex is being guarded like a fortress." But just to be sure, he ordered his guards to search the next room.
Oh no! They're going to catch me, the other clairvoyant realized too late. The soldiers found the intruder and dragged him to the group of conspirators. Their leader rose angrily and looked at him with loathing.
"How did you get in here?" he snarled, but the spy remained silent.
"The Führer asked you a question," Himmler emphasized viciously, but Michel kept his mouth still shut tightly.
"This will never happen again, my Führer," his deputy apologized. "Throw him into the Walhalla and turn on the burning oven. We have ways to make him talk." The guards took the intruder and locked him up in the cellar, where Michel came to his senses.
I completely forgot that this is just an image of the future, he realized. I was obsessed with the danger.
Feeling somewhat reassured, he looked around the room. Next to the burning oven, which was beginning to show signs of life, was a container filled with shields belonging to dead soldiers. The insignia were ceremonially being burned here.
Fear is my greatest enemy, but I'd better play it safe and not take any chances. You never know, they might burn me to ashes too; the oven is getting hot already.
And he focused his attention on the study in his home.
"It's all about concentration…" And after he had cooled his head, he gradually dissolved.
"Ah, that's a sight for sore eyes", he sighed when he saw his familiar attic. He walked straight to his desk to write down the events, but was taken aback when he noticed his earthly body, lying motionless on the floor beside the chair. The body was breathing very slowly and he suspected that it was still recovering from the overdose of herbs he had taken earlier. The ghost tried to enter by force, but the material body did not respond.
Now what? This isn't something you can learn from a book, he said to himself soberly and decided to just wait and see.
The knights from the twelfth century certainly made an impression on those Germans, he thought. I wonder what will become of those monsters.
And before he had even finished thinking that thought, he found himself in a bunker, surrounded by Nazis, who were walking around in panic.
Damn! But fortunately no one noticed him. These dark characters were absorbed in much more urgent matters.
Sometimes they see you and sometimes they don't. It seems to depend on their mood, he realized, frowning. It seems like real life and then…
A sudden explosion caused the concrete bunker to tremble dangerously and clouds of dust covered the room. The Nazis were being bombed: it was a matter of life and death. A large, blonde secretary was running around, confused by the upheaval and brushed right past the unobserved visitor.
She is blinded by panic and unable to take in anything else, Michel observed again. Carefully, he examined the complex, where dozens of officers had taken shelter from the battle in the various rooms. Most of them were lying on bunk beds and they looked as if their last hours had arrived. All of the rooms looked in sad shape and were in a state of decay. Pipes were hanging loosely here and there from the ceiling, the walls were cracked and there was junk everywhere. Between the beds were plastic barrels of fuel. In one of the rooms, the time traveler discovered six blonde children with blue eyes.
Those must be the Goebbel kids, he supposed. In the officers' room he found Hitler and his confidants. Again the bunker shook on its foundation while a telephone operator was trying, with great difficulty, to maintain contact with the army. The Führer was trying to rule the remains of his Third Reich from Berlin. The quarters were situated right under the Reichstag and had a fortified roof, several meters thick, to protect the leader from the worst possible bombs.
"The Russians and their allies are attacking us from all directions," Hitler yelled, but it was just not in his character to surrender. Nostradamus had a close look at hatred personified. Every pore seemed to be in the service of destruction.
Kind of funny, that I get to put their leader under a magnifying glass like this, he thought. Himmler was there too. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes despondently.
"Maybe it's not too late to surrender in exchange for our freedom," he suggested.
"No, we will never negotiate with the enemy. We will go on until the final victory!" Hitler rasped, while a German shepherd dog was licking his fingers. His deputy was staring off into space, abandoning all hope. The bunker again shook on its foundation. The bombings were drawing nearer.
"I think we should surrender too," General Berger reluctantly admitted.
"Listen to me: I will never surrender alive!" Hitler hissed in his face. Berger left the room, frustrated.
"So, you're abandoning me, traitor," his leader complained, while continuing to give random orders. His supporters, however, were mollified and resigned themselves to the situation, which was looking more hopeless by the minute. The aggrieved Führer walked to his secretary to dictate his last will and testament to her.
"Write down," he said, "that I, Adolf Hitler, swear that I will rule my Third Reich, even from the grave."
I sure hope that doesn't come true, Michel thought, standing right behind him. The telephone operator came in, bearing bad news.
"The partisans have murdered our ally Mussolini, and have hanged him upside-down," he informed them. Hitler was put out for a moment, but quickly recovered.
"I don't want the enemy to get hold of my body. Burn it after I die," he commanded. Traudl made a note of his wish. Eva, the Führer's girlfriend came in with a bowl of water for the dog, Blondie, who eagerly began to lap it up right away.
"Where is Magda?" Eva asked. She was leaning against a stack of boxes containing important document that were supposed to get burned at the last minute.
"I guess she is with Joseph," Himmler replied. The contact officer came in again with a disastrous message. The SS seemed to have suffered a major defeat at the edge of the city.
"So my army is definitely deserting me," Hitler scoffed, turning purple in the face. He nearly had a seizure and had to leave the quarters. He retreated to the living room, where Magda Goebbels was lying on the sofa like a wet rag.
"Why don't you get those kids of yours to fight for a change," he snarled at her. She wisely kept her mouth shut and fled from her idol. Adolf's dream of a super empire was being smashed to smithereens.
"No one will speak to me anymore, only Eva," he whined and dropped down on the sofa and turned on the Convention in Nuremburg for the umpteenth time. It was the highlight of his life and watching the film relaxed him a bit. His girlfriend had followed him and sat down beside him.
"Adolf, I want to marry you. Today," she said.
"You know that I am married to my mission," he protested. But Eva began to stroke him, trying to convince him.
"All right, we will get married for your sake," he finally agreed. And while she thanked him with a kiss on the nose, the screen showed a gigantic square, where hundreds of thousands of people had one arm slanting upward to salute their leader.
The king of kings, with the support of Pannonia, Michel figured out while he watched. The Führer's personal servant came running in.
"What is it now?" his boss asked.
"Herr Himmler is gone. He fled westwards through the tunnel system."
"Send a few soldiers to finish him off."
"Um, there's no one left to carry out that order," the servant answered reluctantly. Hitler stopped the film and stared ahead, looking grim. Nostradamus was curious to find out more about the deputy's escape and left the living room. After he had searched through the complex, he found a tunnel to the west, through which Himmler supposedly had fled. He was just wondering what to do, when he heard a thumping sound from the adjoining room.
"Well, well, if it isn't our house ghost," a familiar voice suddenly sounded. It was the Minister of Propaganda, who could see ghosts and who had already tricked him earlier by having an undermining discussion with him. Goebbels was staring at him from the doorway, with a strange expression on his face.
This time, I must not let myself get carried away by this idiot, Michel resolved.
"Too bad you left so soon the last time," Goebbels said to him. "I guess you came back to have a look at how we meet our destruction? But he who laughs last…," and he began to laugh. Hitler came walking up.
"Joseph, I need you as a witness. Eva and I are getting married."
"I'll be there in a minute. I'm just talking to someone."
"There's no one here, Joseph. You're seeing ghosts again."
"But he's right there!" and he pointed in Michel's direction. Hitler took out his pistol and fired several shots at the place where the phantom was supposed to be.
"Not anymore. Come along and keep your mouth shut." Some startled officers were running in with their machine guns and asked what was going on.
"I just shot a ghost," their leader sneered, pulling Goebbels along with him. Michel, meanwhile, was sliding down to the floor. The bullets had gone right through him.
"I'm dying!" he cried. But his higher body was merely rattled. There were sounds of wedding music coming from the living room. Adolf and Eva were really tying the knot at the last minute. The ceremony didn't exactly go smoothly; they were interrupted by several serious explosions. The enemy was now laying siege to the city with great force. The German shepherd was frightened by the shooting and lay down next to the collapsed ghost; the only spot to find any comfort underground. This was lucky for Michel, because the animal's warmth helped him to recover remarkably well. Instead of fleeing, he decided he wanted to see the finale of the war drama. To be on the safe side, he kept away from the psychic Goebbels, as he closely watched the downfall of the Nazis. After the wedding party, the Führer announced that he was going to commit suicide and wanted to be left alone. When he was alone with Eva, he dribbled a few drops of something into the mouth of his faithful dog. Blondie fell down dead and was whisked away to a corner of the room.
He must have tried out a poison, Michel understood. Indeed, the “king of kings” gave some to his brand-new bride and then took some himself. They both fell asleep forever. Then the personal servant entered the room and shot his employer in the head for good measure. The last few followers dragged the two bodies upstairs to the backyard, along with the important documents and burned everything.
"Good riddance," the seer, who had accompanied them, mumbled before going back into the bunker again to witness everything until the last minute.
Who else is there? he wondered, while he moved through the building. In the children's room he found more horrors. Goebbels' six children were lying in bed, dead by poisoning.
I bet father and mother did that, Michel suspected and then he found them, lifeless, behind the door.
Justice has prevailed. However, that evil genius is still on the loose, and he resolutely moved towards the tunnel through which Himmler was supposed to have escaped. He carefully entered the dark corridor, but he soon scraped himself on the foundation.
Damn, this is going to take more strength than I have left, he worried. In the distance he saw some light. It didn't last long, however, because it turned out to be coming from Hitler's secretary, who was trying to save her skin. Defeated, she was walking along the trail with a lantern. He squeezed past her and went on. An underground train station soon appeared and some faulty lamps lit up large groups of women, children and elderly people. They had been hiding there from the battles in the city and were waiting for the end of the war, sitting on the platform. Michel flew past the arches and the despondent faces and left the U-Bahn station behind him. While following the trail westwards, he painfully bumped into the tunnel wall again.
"Ouch!" he cried out, but it was not earthly pain, merely a disturbance and he increased his speed. The next station loomed, and intense fighting was still taking place there. Fanatic SS members were murdering deserted soldiers who had been entrenching among the hiding civilians.
No time to stop, the ghost decided and sailed past the Berliners who were fighting for their lives. The tunnel seemed endless, until the way was suddenly barred. The underground had caved in and a bit of daylight was shining on the heaps of rubble. Michel looked at the ruined ceiling and slid his supple body out through the opening. He came out in West Berlin, which had been flattened to the ground. Huge fires were making black clouds and the odd row of houses was still standing here and there. The Allies were steadily making their way through the last of the streets towards the inner city. Bloody corpses were lying everywhere among the debris and fallen trees. A bunch of droning objects suddenly flew out of the clouds.
"Wow, they've succeeded in building flying machines!" the seer exclaimed euphorically, then reprimanded himself for his childish reaction and concentrated once more on finding signs of Himmler. From the sky, he discovered a British control post, which was obstructing the way of outgoing traffic; some horseless carriages were being inspected. There were thousands of soldiers, but they were all marching towards the city center. He had lost the trail and returned to the collapsed tunnel to look for clues. Eureka! Behind a mountain of debris he spied an officer's hat with matching coat, bearing the badge of the highest rank in the country.
That Nazi got rid of his uniform, he realized, and scanned the whole area. He had flown over the control post a few times when he noticed Himmler. He was just coming out of a barrack and was accompanied by a British commander. Himmler was pretending to be a simple, deserted officer and trying to make a deal. The ghost landed right beside him in the grass and heard him lying. The scoundrel was making up some grand story and was whispering about some great reward. The British commander seemed to like the idea and was looking around to make sure he wouldn't get caught by his comrades. But chaos reigned and the British as well as the American soldiers only had eyes for the last of the resisters. This was the right moment for shady deals and the men went and stood behind a tree to do their scheming.
"Deal", the Brit finally agreed, and they clinched their bargain just as some dark clouds above them suddenly opened up. The sun broke through the opening and shone exactly onto the dark event. Himmler was lit up; and so was Nostradamus, who unexpectedly became visible.
"Are you the one who will pass the last judgment?" the unscrupulous German asked, when he saw him. The supposed judge gave him a silent but meaningful look.
"I spit on you," Himmler said, without a grain of remorse. Then a mysterious arrow flew from the sky, through the clouds, and pierced his heart. This definitely marked the end of the Third Reich.
Does my presence actually make a difference or doesn't it? Michel wondered.