The Greatest Sinner Ever
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vertaler Nederlands Engels: Maria-Bonita Kapitany
© 2006 Eric Mellema
All rights reserved
The weakened world regenerates
Long-lasting peace reigns everywhere
People travel by air, across land and sea
Then there will be war again
The locked door of the study was forced open, and Anne stepped into the room with trembling knees, afraid to find her husband dead inside. After she had arrived home, the maid had informed her that the scholar had urgently requested to not be disturbed for any reason. He was conducting an important experiment. But now she felt it had taken too long. He hadn't been out of his study for days and now it seemed like her worries were justified. She found her husband lying on the floor.
"He's dead!" she wailed.
"Couldn't you just knock?" Michel asked. He was surprisingly lucid. For a moment she was speechless, but then she got very angry.
"You've kept yourself locked up for three whole days! We called you so many times, we knocked, we wailed, and you wouldn't open the door. I couldn't stand it another minute!"
"I'm fine," he calmly assured her.
"You could have been dead," she continued, still very agitated. "I had no choice but to act. And, by the way, the queen wants to see you. I thought you'd probably want to know about that."
"That is good news, indeed! I'll get packed right away," and he started to get up to get ready.
"Don't be an idiot; first you're going to spend a few days getting your strength back. You look horrible," she shouted and her husband promised her he would take it easy for a few days.
"Where did Daddy go?" three-year-old Pauline wondered the next day at breakfast.
"Daddy's taking care of the hereafter," César answered.
"Pass the bread please," Father asked. His son passed it to him.
"I think he was playing tricks again," Paul said, daringly.
"Your father is losing his hair, but not his mischief," Anne agreed. Her husband took a drink of fruit juice and was amused by the banter.
"Your father is going to visit the queen soon," Mother informed everyone. "Paul, let go of César!" Paul had quite the temper and was often restless.
"I hope the queen is not too pretty. Cause then we would never see Daddy anymore," Madeleine commented.
"I only want your mother," he reassured her. "And anyway, the queen is already married to the king."
"Well, I've heard that marriage is just a sham," Anne remarked. "And there are plenty of mistresses at the court."
"What are mistresses, Mom?" Pauline asked.
"They are woman who are not married to a man, but love him anyway," she tried to explain simply.
"Then there are a lot of mistresses around this table," César joked. His parents laughed and then started to clear the table.
"Would you stay with André a minute," Anne asked. Her husband, who was back to normal, kept an eye on the baby while she went to shake out the tablecloth in the garden.
The first part of The Prophesies had been a big hit at the king's court, and Queen Catherine de Medici requested the immensely popular astrologer to come to her palace to give her a consultation. A greater honor could not be bestowed, and Nostradamus granted her wish. Because Paris was a long way off, he would have to be away from home for about a month. He said goodbye to his family with a heavy heart.
"Here, guys, forget-me-nots," but his kids were already running outside, because they were busy with other things. Father loved them all, no matter what they did, but he felt most connected to César, a bright boy, to whom he might be able to pass on his knowledge some day.
"Be careful. There is always a lot of hate and envy at the court," Anne pressed upon her husband.
"I'll stay out of it all," he promised and after a big kiss, he picked up his suitcase and climbed into the waiting carriage. The guest to the royals would take the opportunity to visit his publisher, Chomarat, in Lyon too.
He arrived two days later. His publisher shook his head in disbelief when he saw the famous writer walk into his office, unannounced.
"I will have to get the guest room ready," he stammered.
"Great, thanks. I'm only staying for one day, though, because I'm on my way to Paris."
"Then I will show you around the office right away," and he gave him a tour of the Maison Thomassin. The topographers were also taken aback by the surprise visit and awkwardly made room for their exalted guest. At the printing press, their boss began to speak nervously.
"Your success is partly due to this invention," said Chomarat, holding on the revolutionary device tenderly, as if it was his own child. He asked one of the workers to put some ink on the template for the cover of The Prophesies. He did as he was asked.
"Now I will show you how it works," Chomarat resumed and he placed the inked form on top of the bottom plate. "And then we place some paper on top and you may make the print yourself…" Nostradamus started to turn the plate down with a winch.
"I wish being under pressure was this easy," he said, jokingly, but before anyone had a chance to start laughing, the publisher cried out in pain. His thumb had got stuck and his guest quickly turned the plate back.
"Let me have a look at that," the latter requested. Moaning, Chomarat showed him his wounded thumb.
"Do you have some bandages?"
With his face twisted in pain, he pointed to his office. They went there and after a bit of searching, found a small piece of bandage.
"You won't be able to write by hand for a while," Michel said, as he bandaged the thumb.
"I'm a printer, not a writer," Chomarat grumbled. He had now recovered from the shock and the men went back to the work floor. Once there, Nostradamus turned the plate down again, so that it was firmly pressed against the piece of paper and then turned it back again.
"Botched up work must now be a thing of the past," he chuckled and then had a look at the wet print.
"Marvelous! But what's that little devil doing there on the last line?" Chomarat was surprised and came over to stand next to him and also saw the irregularity.
"What rascal made this change?" he said, angrily. But no one on the staff seemed to have done it. Their boss ran to the supply of his client's books. For a minute he had visions of thousands of reproduced devils, but thank god, all the covers were okay. They corrected the print template and after all the commotion, the litmus test was passed. The author was very happy and looked at his own work again, which was getting published here in several languages. His books were being eagerly received all over Europe. Afterwards, he and the publisher went to a restaurant and chatted a bit more about improvements to the current version.
The next day, the journey to Paris was resumed. Everything went smoothly and three days later they drove past Fontainebleau. It wouldn't be long now. Suddenly, a group of horseback riders surrounded the carriage and forced it to stop.
"Bandits!" the frightened coachman called out, but it turned out to be police officers and, reassured, he followed their directions. An officer soon explained to the passenger what was going on.
"Your route has been changed; you will be escorted to the palace in Saint Germain en Laye."
"Why the change?" Nostradamus wanted to know.
"The royal couple changes residence every so often."
"So, we have yet some distance to go."
"My apologies for the inconvenience." Officer Morency sat down beside him and they continued on.
"People sure do a lot of traveling these days," the police officer began to harp, while he was taking off his riding boots. "The world is flourishing after those dark ages and is now making rapid progress."
"See those migrant birds up there, flying north?" Michel interrupted.
"They can do it ten times faster than we can."
"So what are you trying to say?"
"That I was born in the wrong time period…"
"I still don't get it," Morency said.
"Oh, don't mind me; I'm just feeling a bit grouchy. Probably just tired," the scholar apologized.
"I will leave you alone, Doctor. I suppose everybody pesters you all the time."
"Well, now that you mentioned it, I must say, the intrusiveness is getting worse every day. In my own town, I can't even go out in public anymore. But, you go ahead and keep talking, because pleasant hours fly fast." Morency spoke about his career and his retirement coming up.
"You will be arrested and jailed before your career is over," the clairvoyant suddenly said. The officer looked at him, crestfallen.
"What are you saying? Right before I retire?"
"Keep your chin up. A peace treaty will give you your freedom back."
"I don't know what to make of all that, but I will keep it in mind. Amazing you can see those things!"
"Well, events just kind of hang in the air and I observe them, the way a bird feels a storm coming. Except, humans, in contrast to animals, usually cause their own miseries."
"Unbelievable. Do you see your own future too?" the officer asked, impressed.
"Personal matters, unfortunately, cloud my vision."
"Well, I appreciate the warning. Are you Catholic?"
"There is political battle going on here between the Catholic House of Guise and the Calvanistic House of Coligny. The queen has chosen the Guise's side. So, you're in the right place. But beware of the Parisian courts, because they are fanatic and look for the slightest excuse to convict anyone. And I am thinking particularly of your publications." A rain shower, just starting, was tapping on the roof of the carriage and the men chatted till the end of the ride.
There it was, finally: Saint Germain en Laye. The town that kings enjoyed so much because of the pleasant climate and which was surrounded by huge forests. The minute the carriage came out from underneath the foliage, the weather cleared up. Then they bumped alongside seemingly endless royal gardens under construction.
"The gardens will have terraces with a view across the Seine," Morency remarked.
"It looks like it would take a whole day just to walk through it," Michel responded.
"Yes, about that and then there are about five thousands hectares of forest. Henry II is a fervent hunter." The carriage was now moving past the new palace, which was still surrounded by scaffolding. Cartloads of materials were moving to and fro and groups of workmen were working on the construction. The guest, however, was taken to the old castle, situated just behind it.
"I wonder how many rooms this place has?" he asked, when the colossal palace came into view.
"Over four hundred. The new one will have even more," his companion answered. The police officers on horseback veered off and the carriage stopped at the entrance. The men got out and walked towards the towering entrance doors, which were opened by two valets. They entered the magisterial entrance hall, where two spiral staircases were elegantly entwined.
"My job is done. Good luck!" the officer said sincerely. The scholar said goodbye and sat down on a gilded sofa and examined the interior while he waited. Wherever he looked, every spot was decorated with the utmost care. Even the ceiling was decorated. And to think that the new castle was to become the real showpiece…
A head valet asked him to follow him to the throne room, where the guests were generally received. The royal couple were waiting for him on their golden thrones. Between them hung a striking painting of a woman with a mysterious smile*( The Mona Lisa, collection of King François I).
"Nostradamus, so glad you are here," Catherine de Medici spoke resolutely, and her guest bowed deeply, as custom demanded.
"Henry, this is that famous astrologer from the Provence, who has been causing such a commotion," she informed her husband. "He used to work as a physician, and saved many of our subjects from the plague." The king gave the illustrious countryman a sidelong glance. His white countenance contrasted sharply with his black wide-brimmed hat with the brown feather.
"Nice to meet you," he said, for form's sake. Another one of those intellectuals, well, he's your visitor Catherine, you take care of him yourself, he thought to himself. Michel saw right through his pretenses; what the king really wanted to do was to go hunting.
"I'm very curious about your talents," the queen, who was wearing a leather cap, resumed, "and I would like you to come to my private living quarters tomorrow morning at eight o'clock, to further discuss it."
"Certainly, Your Majesty." He thought she was a lot more intelligent than her husband.
"On Monday next week, there will be a feast," she continued, "in honor of the marriage of the Duke of Joyeux and the Lady De Vaudemont, and tonight there is a banquet. We invite you to attend both." Michel's heart skipped a beat when he heard the last name of his first wife.
De Vaudemont; unbelievable. The bride must be a sister or niece of Yolande's. My former relatives will not be happy when I show up there, he thought. An inevitable confrontation hung in the air. The king passed gas and was wriggling uncomfortably on his golden seat.
"Thank you very much for the invitation, Your Majesty. I will be sure to attend."
"Our guests are expected to join in with the court dancing, after the performance. Do you know these dances?" Catherine asked.
"Not at all, Your Majesty."
"Then our ballet master will teach you the required steps, some time in the next few days. But tonight we shall see each other at the banquet," and she ordered her valet to see the astrologer out of the throne room. The summoned dance teacher promised to start with dance lessons that same day, but first the guest would get the opportunity to take some rest.
Somewhat recovered from the heavy trip, Nostradamus walked to the ballet studio, where Balthazar was waiting for him.
"Still travel-worn, Sir?"
"A little, but some movement won't do me any harm."
"I will also teach you some courtly skills, since these are inextricably connected to the dance." His guest thought that was fine and started by taking off his over-frock.
"For the court dance, clothing actually must be impeccable," the young ballet master giggled, "but in any case, it looks like you are looking forward to your first dance lesson," and he put the coat back on.
"Do you know anything about the dance?"
"Dance is the female hunt and hunting is the male dance," the scholar answered.
"Well, I will hang that proverb above my bed," Balthazar giggled again. He was an easy fellow to get along with.
Slippery as an eel, Michel thought, on closer inspection.
"Okay, we'd better get started, because the De Vaudemonts will be here in two hours; they are my next students."
"Do you know the De Vaudemonts well?"
"No, I only know that they belong to the nobility. Our queen uses every opportunity to organize a party," Balthazar said unabashedly, and he began the lesson.
"A courtier must have a general education, but above all, he is expected to be able to move elegantly. Everything that is done at court must be done gracefully and effortlessly. Stiff movements or visible exertion are considered sinful." The gentlemen moved to the dance floor.
"At the ball, the dancing will follow set patterns. For example, like this," and while the ballet master counted the beat, he demonstrated a few steps.
"At the same time, you have to follow the social rules. Follow me, please," and Michel copied a Pas de Bourré.
"That's quite challenging," he said when his legs got all tangled up together.
"I will give you a series of exercises on paper, which will help you control your motor functions," the instructor suggested.
"Good, that will give me something to do. I suppose ballet is Catherine de Medici's favorite activity?"
"You're right. Nobility can be recognized by one's posture, according to your queen. Unfortunately, her husband disagrees with her, and it was she who brought the refined manners to the French court. She brought a varied company of cooks, artists and musicians back with her from Florence, after the wedding. You will get to meet them," and they continued dancing. Just when Michel thought he got the hang of something, he got all mixed up again and the affectionate ballet master would take him by the hand. In closing, they practiced a figure dance, after which the first lesson was over. Tomorrow they would continue.
It was late in the afternoon and Michel walked outside to get some fresh air. He walked through a park, where several gardeners were planting shrubs. In passing, he looked at the development of the new castle up ahead. Behind a flower bed stood a courtier, who suddenly began to wave wildly at him.
Well, well, if it isn't that marquis De Florenville. My past is once again coming to haunt me.
It was indeed the castle lord who had tried to trick him in the past and the marquis excitedly rushed over to greet him.
I guess he's reformed now that I'm famous, the astrologer thought scornfully.
"What a privilege to see you again," the blue-blood greeted him.
"Yes, it's been a long time."
"Yes, it certainly has, and we haven't gotten any younger, have we?"
"Do you still go to Strasbourg?" Michel asked.
"Lately I've been staying primarily at the court, for political matters," De Florenville answered, while the sun disappeared behind the horizon. It was getting colder now and the scholar indicated he wanted to go back inside.
"What kind of political matters are you occupying you?" he asked, when they entered the palace together.
"Well, that's a long story…"
"We've got an hour before the banquet starts," Michel said, and the marquis began to talk.
"My friend Erasmus, whom I'm sure you remember, felt that certain parts of the Bible were not translated correctly from the Latin," he told, while they walked through the corridors. "He then translated the Greek New Testament and had it published. The German Luther elaborated on this and his Protestant movement blew over to France. A few Huguenots from Strasbourg asked me to represent this movement in Paris and I could not refuse them. Hence I am here. Have you ever heard of the Colignys?"
"Yes, I heard about them recently. But doesn't that make you the political enemy of the royal family?"
"From a formal point of view, yes," De Florenville agreed, "but the king does not bother with politics and Catherine thinks that the Guises are too powerful. She actually tries to get closer to us. That wicked witch, pardon my French, set the Guises and the Colignys up against each other."
"I didn't know there was such inclination towards Protestantism," Michel said.
"Well, it is growing on a daily basis, especially in Northern France. There are even some supporters among the royal family. But tell me something else; what are you doing here?" and the marquis looked at him expectantly.
"The queen has asked me for a consultation," the seer revealed.
"Ah, and what were your findings?" the politician asked, fishing for spicy details.
"I am not going to speak to Her Majesty until tomorrow, and I am not at liberty to discuss the content of the consultation with anyone. Professional confidentiality. What I can tell you is that the king is not interested in astrology."
"Well, everybody knows that!" the marquis waved off his comment. "Henry II happens to be interested in absolutely nothing. But it has been whispered that he has taken possession of all of the church treasures to build the extremely expensive chateau. See, that's the trouble with Catholics, they're so hypocritical. Except for a few good ones, of course. Stealing from the Church is not a problem for me; I think it is far too powerful anyway…" The scholar was becoming quite well informed about the political snake pit through all this gossip and he felt he had heard enough.
"I still need to get changed. See you at the banquet," he cut off the conversation and then climbed up the central spiral case to his room on the third floor.
A little while later, the groomed seer entered the dining room, where a grand banquet had already begun. Two long, exorbitant tables were set up, with about five hundred guests seated around them. The celebrity was escorted to the royal couple's table by an usher. The two were each seated at the head of the table, so there was quite a distance between them. The other table was for members of the lower nobility, which was where the marquis had also taken place. The astrologer was seated across from the De Vaudemonts, surprisingly, and when they saw their former family member, they stiffened. They nudged each other in astonishment to alert each other to the arrival of the calamity prophet. They were Yolande's brothers and sisters. Although they had become old and grey, they were easily recognizable. Their parents had probably died. The bride turned out to be Elise, the daughter of Désiree, and by her side was Duke de Joyeux. They still hated Michel and his presence spoiled their feast. All kinds of delicacies were being served, in the meantime, and the summoned astrologer managed to enjoy them, despite the sour faces across from him. The queen now proposed a toast to the future bride and groom and everyone unanimously raised their glasses. Only the king didn't, because he was too busy amusing himself with some of the ladies-in-waiting. Michel was able to discern from bits and pieces of conversations around him that Catherine was descended from a rich bankers' family and that the French royal family would be strengthened by this. Henry II was cleverer than he seemed. After the guests had eaten their fill, boredom set in and the conversation became caustic and repressed. The subject changed to politics and with lots of Guises and Colignys in the room, the tension began to mount. During one fierce dispute, Nostradamus was asked to predict the religious future of the royal house. There was a great deal of interest; everyone wanted to know what the explorer of the heavens would say about this.
"In eighty years," he spoke eloquently, "I see a sun king being born in this palace."
"But will he be a protestant?" pressed De Coligny, the leader of the group with the same name.
"He will be a Christian anyway," the seer answered cautiously. Nevertheless, things got out of hand after that, and a shameless argument ensued. Michel decided he had had enough, after the dessert, while the queen looked on despondently.
The next morning, he visited Catherine de Medici in her private quarters. She had clearly decorated the room according to her own personal taste, because it was full of paintings of rich ancestors, posing in front of their residences in Florence.
"Come and sit beside me," the queen ordered, and Michel sat down on the sofa.
"Would you like a treat?" she asked, while she held a bowl of candied fruit in front of him.
"Thank you, Your Majesty," and he picked out one of the exquisite candies.
"And are you enjoying your stay here, so far, aside from that quarrel last night?"
"Well, I am certainly impressed with all the grandeur and magnificence."
"That's the idea. A lot of money is spent on seemingly useless matters, such as parties, triumphs and palaces, but this is how we attempt to impress foreign ambassadors, so that we can do better business. And with the money earned, we can strengthen our army."
A cunning woman, he understood. I'm sure she leads the country from behind the scenes.
"I have requested you to come here," she resumed, "because I would like you to draw up a horoscope for me. Everyone is talking about you and I am very curious to find out what the stars have to say about my life. Can you do that for me?"
"Yes, I certainly can, but I will need the exact data of your birth." Catherine immediately ordered a valet to go and get the birth documents.
"How many hours will it take?" she asked.
"Unfortunately, it takes several weeks; I don't have the necessary equipment with me and I can only work properly at home."
"Well, that is a misunderstanding on my part then, but okay, I will have to be patient. Is there anything you could tell me now?"
"I will first have to concentrate, Your Majesty."
"Go ahead," and Nostradamus closed his eyes. He soon entered other worlds and his head began to nod.
"I see…, I see that the court ballet will experience enormous development because of your efforts. Special academies for dance will be founded."
"That is good news. I adore the ballet. Do you see anything happening during my lifetime as well?"
"Something about Rome is coming through…"
"That's quite possible. The late Pope Leo X, who was established in Rome, was my second cousin, Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici." The queen was sitting on the edge of her chair by now.
"Hmm, ruling is in your blood," he mumbled.
"Do you mean that I will rule the country?"
"Yes, that's coming."
"But does that mean my husband will no longer be alive?" she asked, startled. Michel nodded sympathetically.
"Henry and I have a marriage of convenience, but I sincerely hope that this will not come true."
"Nothing is written in stone, Your Majesty; everything is subject to change. But the divine ideas are revealed to me and every idea is true. It is only a question of how and when. If the seed of a beech tree receives little water or light, the beech will possibly never appear, but it will never be an oak."
"Could you tell me what will happen to my husband? Maybe we can do something to prevent it."
"It is not clear in my mind and I also don't want to unnecessarily discredit your husband. But if your husband wants me to, I could look into it more deeply."
"Slim chance of that," she said, and then suddenly changed the subject; Catherine suddenly stood up and let her dress drop to her feet. Start-naked, she looked at him seductively.
"And, do you think I'm attractive?"
"Well…" he stalled, cautiously.
"Yes, I'm no longer a slender maiden."
"For the real boss of France, you look very good," and he bent towards to her.
"Hmm, and you smell nice," he said, pressing his nose against her waist.
"I air my body every day," she explained.
"I wish everyone was so wise. Alternating hot and cold baths is very good too," and he stroked her buttocks. Catherine coquettishly enjoyed his touch.
"Well, your health is excellent," the doctor said then. "You can put your clothes back on."
"Gosh, you are almost as crafty as I am," and, amused, she put her dress back on. The valet came back in with the birth documents.
"Our wish is for a strong, stable France and the maintenance of the power of the royal House of Valois," the queen resumed, with a serious look on her face. "Can you advise me how my husband and I should handle the politically religious fractions in order to achieve this?"
"I will first draw up a horoscope for you, Your Majesty. After that I will give you some insights into your strong and weak points, after which you will have to put the knowledge into practice yourself. You see, I am not allowed to lead the life of another, no matter how much I want to satisfy your wishes."
"Bon, I appreciate your integrity. We will leave it alone for now then. We shall see each other next Monday at the ball," and she ended the conversation.
It was eleven o'clock in the morning, the time the theatre spectacle in honor of the wedding of Duke de Joyeux and Elise de Vaudemont was to start. Wearing his simple knickerbockers, Michel walked into the gigantic ballroom and paraded through the extremely dolled up guests, some of whom he had already met in the palaces. All the ladies looked like works of art: very wide dresses with extravagant head dresses. The gentlemen too, were wearing fabulous hats or expensive wigs, and both sexes moved through the room with exaggerated formal movements. Someone pressed a program into Michel's hand.
"Let's see what it says," he mumbled and opened it. The famous astrologer had, of course, been noticed already and three eager ladies-in-waiting rushed up to him.
"Mister Nostradamus, how nice that you are here," they called out, "and you like the ballet?"
"Well, I can't really say I'm fond of it, but I am certainly curious to see the performance of my dance instructor in the piece Ballet Comique de la Reine," he admitted.
"But the Ballet Comique de la Reine is the name of the company," Angelique, the lady in the blue hat corrected him.
"What are they performing then?"
"Circe by Homer."
"Ah, one of the best-known pieces from the Odyssee," the scholar knew.
"De Beaujoyeux also did the choreography," Collette, the lady in the pink hat butted in.
"I am not familiar with that one," Michel said.
"It's in the program," she continued.
"I hadn't had a chance to look at it yet, ladies," and again attempted to look at the paper, when the third lady imposed.
"There will be singers, dancers, musicians, animals, circus artists and more," she informed him. The room, meanwhile, had filled to the brim with thousands of courtiers and guests from the entire country.
"I suppose this is the first De Medici party you have attended?" Collette asked.
"Yes, indeed, this is my first time," he acknowledged.
"You'd better brace yourself then," Angelique warned. "The ballet alone takes four hours."
"Four hours of ballet?"
"Don't worry; during all the performances you can freely walk in and out," Collette reassured him.
"I should probably help you familiarize yourself at the court," Angelique offered.
"I know my way around here much better than she does," said Collette, not letting her friend bully her.
"I think that his lordship would prefer to practice discrimination," the third lady-in-waiting outdid her competition. The ladies suddenly couldn't stand each other anymore.
"I'm happily married and I have beautiful children," the astrologer asserted.
"Good day, ladies!" He tipped his hat and continued on his way. The audience was on three sides of the performance area. Partly in the galleries, where the king and queen and the wedding couple sat and partly below, where Michel joined the crowd. The performance started and an impressive set mechanically moved into place. A dance choir performed an aubade for the newly married couple and acted out an allegorical treatment of conjugal love. After the modest tribute, the atmosphere became exuberant and colorfully costumed actors paraded back and forth. After some time, a cry of delight went through the room as a real elephant stepped out of the wings. All stops were pulled out. Various exotic animals trotted past, followed by hordes of marching soldiers, imitating a battle. The audience gazed at the spectacle in admiration and it raised the king's spirits to see his armed forces. Henry II even rose from his chair for a minute when the captain of his personal guard entering into a duel with a Scot.
"Look before you leap," Montgomery called out affectedly to his enemy. The two militia men stood and faced each other on the stage with full arsenal. The Scot began the attack, brandishing his sword at the captain, but he skillfully warded it off with his shield. It was an electrifying performance and the captain prepared for a counterattack. In all the excitement, the king forgot it was just a play and spurred Montgomery on from the balcony.
"Get him, Captain," he shouted through the room. The audience decided to choose him as their favorite and loudly cheered him on.
Darn, now I know what will kill the king: a practice duel, Michel suddenly knew. Montgomery was distracted for a moment by the frenzied audience; the Scot cleverly took advantage of his confusion. He tried to viciously pierce the captain with his sword, but it glanced off his helmet.
"Missed!" the spectators shouted with joy.
"I think I'm going to have to lead my own guard," the king grumbled to his wife. But Montgomery now took the lead and after a collision between the two warriors, the Scot fell down on the ground, after which the captain raised his sword over the head of his victim in victory. A red curtain fell in front of the stage and the possible deathblow was left to the imagination of the audience. While the set was quickly changed, everyone had the opportunity to get something to eat and drink. The political games still continued. De Coligny, who was standing in front of Nostradamus, gave an obvious signal with his hand, which caused several party members to silently leave the room, which was noticed by some of the Guises.
What a bunch of idiots, the scholar thought and paid no further attention to them. The entire stage again turned around spectacularly and the set for the Ballet Comique de la Reine appeared. The audience sat down again and saw the ballet master jump onto the stage first. Balthazar was playing the role of the sorceress. The story was acted out by the dancers, in pantomime. The ballet took a long time indeed and the courtiers regularly walked in and out of the room. Half-way through the performance Mercurius descended; the messenger of the gods was brought down with a winch.
It almost seems like Hermes is following me, the astrologer contemplated. Among a lot of noise, the dancers interrupted his reflections about the signs from above and then Balthazar showed off a ballet tour de force.
Oh dear, soon I will have to put my best foot forward, and Michel mentally went through the dance steps he would have to put into practice after the performance. When Circe by Homer was over, all the dancers jumped down from the stage and requested everyone to join them. The nobles streamed onto the dance floor, while the rest of the audience watched with interest. Michel also joined in with the bassa dance, which incorporated a lot of bows and turns. However, because of the geometric patterns and the tight clothing, the participants looked more like marionettes than like people dancing. The king and queen had come down from the balcony and were ceremoniously striding across the floor with the De Vaudemont family following in their wake. Catherine's cone-shaped dress was so large that five grown men could have fit beneath it. Her husband wore long shoes, whose points were so long they kept everyone at a distance. After the basse dance, the queen got up to speak.
"Dear friends, please move to the side for a moment; I would like to request the bride and groom to come onto the dance floor and start the figure dance." Elise de Vaudemont and Duke de Joyeux came forward and the couple began to move elegantly to the courtly music. One couple kept getting added and the dancers formed long rows, which then formed into circles or triangles. Michel followed the figure dance from the sidelines. The dance was an especially esthetic pleasure for the spectators. The De Vaudemonts' attention was now completely absorbed in the dancing wedding couple and they lost track of their sworn enemy.
I wonder when that low point of the evening will happen? the seer thought to himself, because the hidden tension was very perceivable to him.
"A danse-haute please," Catherine suddenly ordered the musicians, as if she had heard his thoughts. It was the dance where everyone had to continuously switch partners by taking a little jump.
Aha, this will be the collision: a duet with one of the female De Vaudemonts, Michel smiled as he stepped onto the dance floor. Despite her enormous dress, the queen was also participating, and after changing partners a few times, she arrived in front of Nostradamus.
"I feel like we've know each other for years, Doctor," she said coquettishly. Her favorite guest looked at her with a little twinkle and gracefully turned her around.
"My compliments!" she exclaimed, afterwards. "You really have the hang of it," and she jumped to another dancer. While the scholar received a new lady, he saw that Elise would be his next dance partner. The bride had just come to the same painful conclusion and was desperately trying to make eye contact with her family members.
A loony girl, just like the rest of her family, Michel assessed. She's not going to play along. I wonder if she'll bow out altogether? The eye-catcher of the day was furiously looking for ways to get out of the dance, but finally, she couldn't really do anything but take the customary little jump and ended up in front of the seer.
"May I have this dance?" he asked, with a piercing look in his eyes and Elise pretended to faint. The people around them reacted emotionally when they saw the bride falling down and the musicians stopped playing. Duke de Joyeux, much to his dismay, saw his wife lying on the dance floor and rushed over to her. His in-laws were suddenly riveted to the spot.
"Someone get the court physician," he called out, panicking. The queen decided otherwise and resolutely walked to the place of the incident.
"Mr. De Joyeux, there is already a physician present," she said quietly.
"Dr. Nostradamus," she continued, "as a physician, surely you can tell us what is wrong with the bride?"
"I don't immediately see any objective changes, Your Majesty."
"Please have a closer look at the lady," she requested, and he bent over Elise and checked her heart beat, just for show.
"I'll wangle it for you, girl," he whispered and after performing a few more little tests he addressed the groom: "Your wife is suffering from a Vasovagale Synkope."
"Oh, and what does that mean?" the duke stammered.
"It means that she fainted, and she will soon come to. She was probably just feeling a bit overwhelmed." The king was interested in the incident now too and came to take a closer look at the slumped bride.
"Well, that's not uncommon around here," he remarked. At that moment Elise began to pretend-cough and started to make gestures of trying to get up.
"Can someone please help?" her husband asked anxiously. Family members rushed forward and helped the affected celebrant off the dance floor, where she was assisted onto a chair. Catherine ordered everyone to continue the party, and the festive atmosphere was restored. During the popular suites, the king unexpectedly got into the spirit of them and did a dance with his wife.
"You're in a good mood today, Henry," she said.
"Falling girls are good for me," he joked and they turned around to the beat of the music.
"They're not partridges," she replied, when she faced him again.
"You are right, my dear wife. Shooting down partridges is much more exciting." The suites came to an end and the De Vaudemonts left the room, sending one last murderous glance to the evil magician. After the festivities, there was a closing banquet, but Michel also decided he had had all he could take and left so he could get some sleep. It had been quite an eventful day.
The next morning, the scholar took leave of the queen, before going home. A valet saw him into her quarters.
"Is everything as you wish, Doctor?" Catherine, who was just meeting with her council men, asked.
"Yes, Your Majesty, but I am here to say goodbye; I am leaving shortly."
"Oh, I am sorry to hear that. On the other hand, you will be doing my horoscope," and she ordered the councilors to leave the room for a moment.
"I wanted to praise you for your actions last night," she continued when they were alone.
"You mean that incident with Elise de Vaudemont?"
"Yes, indeed. You solved that problem very discreetly. Acting is not her strongest point. But why the resentment? It looked as though the De Vaudemonts were ready to drink your blood."
"That is ancient history, Your Majesty. I was once married to a De Vaudemont." He said it in a way that conveyed that he had no intention to supply any further details.
"Oh, well, all right. I wish you a pleasant return journey, Doctor. And I'm sure we will see each other again," and she presented him with a generous payment for the work yet to be done. She said goodbye to him with a seductive wink. Michel had barely sat down in the carriage when he suddenly felt pain everywhere in his body. It felt as though all of his joints were on fire.
It must be gout, he diagnosed himself, worriedly. You will have a sick little bird at home, dear Anne.
During the long journey back, the inflammations kept flaring up and with great difficulty and in a lot of pain, he arrived in Salon de Provence. Feeling broken, he got out of the carriage and walked toward the front door, taking laborious little steps.
Oh, no, not again, his wife thought, as she watched him through the window and saw him struggling.
"I'd like you to go out the back door and go play outside for a while," she instructed the children. They disappeared without argument.
"I'm afraid I can't welcome you with joy," she moaned at the entrance. "I hope they didn't poison you," and she caught her husband as he began to fall.
"No, this is much worse; it is becoming chronic," he said. Anne barely managed to get him upstairs and into bed.
"Please stay and lie down with me for a while, I longed for you so much while I was gone," he requested and she crawled under the blankets with him. He discharged when he felt her skin against his.
"Oh, this is doing wonders already," and he fell into a deep sleep.
It took several weeks before he felt like himself again and then he got busy right away. In his study, he carefully began to draw up the queen's astrological chart.
Let me see. She was born on April 23, 1519. She is a Taurus with a Scorpio ascendant, he understood from the tables.
"Some woman," he mumbled, a little while later, when he was filling the twelve houses with the astrological signs. Calm, strong, shrewd, socially adept and with Jupiter in the fourth house, she is not going to lose her possessions. It is not easy to make her mad, although, with the Sun in the seventh house and the Moon in the tenth house? That will get repressed. She must occasionally get very jealous and when she does, she is not capable of being forgiving. Watch out! It looks like the House of Valois will be in trouble after her death.
After he had completed the queen's character description, he sent the horoscope to her right away.
The smell of food cooking rose up the staircase to the attic. Anne was busy in the kitchen!
I'll have to go and take a closer look at that, Michel thought. He put down his quill and sauntered downstairs.
"The nutmeg is all gone," she said, when he came in.
"I'll pick some up at the market tomorrow," he promised, as he sat down on a stool at the kitchen table.
"Hey, tomatoes!" he exclaimed, sniffing around.
"Ah, my lord is clairsmelling too," she teased. "You'll be getting some Spaghetti Bolognese on your plate in a minute. Probably a more simple meal than what you got at the queen's palace, but it will have to do." Madeleine came in.
"Is dinner ready yet, Mom?" she asked.
"Almost. You might as well go and get Paul and César now," and her daughter ran outside.
"Antoine is coming to have a bite to eat with us too," Anne informed her husband.
"That's nice. I'll set the table for the occasion," he said, and walked into the dining room with the linen. The children came bounding in a moment later, full of zestful energy and ran to the set table.
"Hey, calm down, you guys!" Father warned, and he brought André's highchair closer. Diane, the smallest one, was still being fed by the maid.
"What's that weird sound I'm hearing?" Michel wondered out loud.
"That's André with a rattle," César said, "Mom bought it for him yesterday." Father walked into the living room and saw the toddler playing with the tin toy. He took him into the dining room and put him into the highchair. There was a loud knock at the front door. That must be Antoine.
"The door is open!" Michel called and his brother came in.
"Hi Antoine, great you're here."
"Well, rising star, any news from the royal front?"
"No, I just sent the horoscope." The lady of the house, meantime, put the spaghetti on the table and asked her husband to go and get a jug of wine from the cellar.
"Been picking up lots of taxes lately, Antoine?" Anne charged.
"I've been promoted to inspector," her brother-in-law suddenly beamed.
"Well, well, we're all so lucky, aren't we? Congratulations. And are you in charge of our district now? Because in that case, we shall have to arrange a private meeting with you."
"I really can't treat anyone with favor," he answered, seriously.
"I was kidding," Anne explained.
They don't exactly have the greatest sense of humor, those Nostredames, she thought, and she placed the low goblets on the table. Her husband came back in with the wine.
"Children, you will have lemonade today," he said and they began to cheer.
"Your brother has just become inspector," his wife informed him.
"That's good news. Are we in your district now?" Michel asked, but Antoine wouldn't meet his eyes.
"I thought you couldn't cook," the inspector said to Anne a little later.
"I've learned my husband's cookbook off by heart," she confessed. "His book La Traite is even being published in Antwerp."
"I would rather go into "retraite"!" the guest yawned. In the meantime, the children were slurping their lemonade and father served out the pasta.
"What is that?" Paul called out, eying the strange doughy strands suspiciously.
"It's an Italian dish, son. Bon appétit," he wished everyone. Pauline began to carefully separate the strands and her brothers followed her lead.
"It is delicious!" Michel praised his kitchen princess. It didn't take the children long to discover the possibilities of the silly food and they did a contest to see who could suck up a strand the fastest.
"Don't play with your food," Father berated them, and they quickly bit them off.
"They sure listen well," Antoine commented, taking a drink of spring water. "By the way, did you know that Bertrand is working on a prestigious project?"
"No, I didn't. Did you, Anne?" But his wife knew nothing about it either.
"Bertrand is going to be digging engineer Craponne's canal," Antoine told.
"He is?" Anne said, surprised.
"Yes, our brother has grown into a big contractor. It is a gigantic project that will make him a lot of money."
"Even when he was little, he was already renovating the house," Michel remembered.
"The canal is supposed to make La Crau fertile," his brother continued. "They have already started digging at the Durance and they want the channel to eventually reach all the way to Salon, but that will take years." The maid came in with a crying Diana in her arms.
"Madam, I can't find the pincers anywhere," she said, nervously.
"They're in the top drawer of the chest next to the hearth," Anne said, and the maid disappeared.
"Michel, what do you think about paying your brother a visit?" his wife asked.
" I think that's an excellent idea."
"I happen to already have a meeting scheduled with Bertrand in Saint Rémy tomorrow," Antoine remarked. "I will tell him you're coming."
"I think it will be interesting to see him at work on his project," Michel hinted. "What do you think, Anne?"
"Fascinating, but it is more than twenty kilometers away and some of those are through very rough terrain."
"We can do it," her husband said. "Ask Bertrand if he would mind."
"Okay, I will," Antoine promised. The pot of spaghetti was empty by now and the children went to play in the backyard.
"Well, I'd better be going now," and Antoine said goodbye to everyone. Father sat down on the veranda, to digest his meal and observed his kids from a distance, while they were playing with a ball.
"Dammit," Anne suddenly shouted from the kitchen and she ran out into the yard.
"Who threw spaghetti up against the ceiling?" she asked, furious.
"Paul," the children all said, startled, but the culprit had fled the scene.
"He's going to be in trouble when he gets back," Mother roared.
A few days later, Michel and Anne went to La Roque, on horseback. Bertrand was digging there with his crew. The kids stayed home with the maid. After a tough journey through the mountainous northern part of La Crau, where the river Durance flowed, they found the excavation site being worked on in full force. They tied up their horses and stepped into the building wagon that was parked a few meters from the activities. An older man was inside, sitting at a desk, writing diligently and didn't notice them come in until Michel politely coughed.
"My famous brother and his wife!" Bertrand called out excitedly.
"I see you're well on your way too," Michel said and they gave each other a hug.
"Sit down," Bertrand invited them and got a wooden bench for them.
"How are you doing with your life's work?" he asked, once they were all seated.
"The Prophesies are making good progress," his brother answered, always reserved when it concerned his work.
"Incomprehensible. Where do you get it all from…"
"And how many kilometers are you digging here?" Michel asked.
"Twenty-six kilometers and a hundred and fifty meters, to be exact," the building master calculated for them. He looked a lot like his brother: piercing eyes, red cheeks, bald head, thick beard, straight nose. Their characters, however, were like day and night.
"You must be thirsty," and without waiting for a response, Bertrand poured three mugs of beer.
"See, the canal is going to be right here," and he rummaged in his pocket and pulled out a map of the planned project. And while his well-read brother seriously absorbed himself in the map, Bertrand and Anne had a cheerful toast.
"Cheers to the canal," she said flamboyantly. One of the workmen came in moments later.
"We found something interesting," he reported.
"Our archeologist", Bertrand whispered, and they followed him outside to a dug up pile of rubble.
"Look, various pieces of an old mosaic," the worker said, and showed them a broken tile that showed part of a snake with an apple in its mouth.
"That must be from Roman times," Bertrand suspected, "Christians don't use that symbol."
"But the Kathars do," Michel said, as he stepped closer to the dig. While the others were admiring the shards, he looked for clues. He found something.
"At the bottom of the canal, there is a trace of a circular wall," he called out, and they all came closer to see.
"It probably used to be a well, embellished with decorative tiles," he continued. "Would you mind if I took that piece with the snake home with me?" he asked his brother. "It fascinates me."
"Be my guest", Bertrand shrugged. They went back inside.
"Where do you know Adam de Craponne from? He lives near us in the city; not anywhere near you," Anne asked, after they had filled their beer glasses again.
"The engineer works with all kinds of municipalities that have recommended me," Bertrand explained. "He is actually looking for more financing. Would that be of any interest to you?"
"I don't know. What do you think?" Anne asked, looking at her husband, who looked non-committal.
"I am convinced it would be a good investment," Bertrand said, persuasively. "Aside from the fact that you would be co-owner, there will be income from the sale of the surrounding land that will be fertilized by irrigation. And the profits will be divided among the owners."
"It does sound interesting," Michel responded cautiously. "We will consider it." When the beer was finished, the builder had to get back to work and he promised to pay them a visit in Salon the Provence with his wife soon.
When they got home, they discussed the attractive investment.
"Maybe something to consider for our old age," Anne suggested, "when we can't do anything anymore." Her husband also thought it seemed like a good idea, and after weighing the pros and cons they decided to invest the considerable sum of two hundred crowns in the project.
"I still have a lot of work to do, darling," Michel said after that big decision and he retired to his study, where he added the broken tile to his collection of relics. After that he sorted his writing materials and checked his mail. There were two important messages. The first one was from his publisher, Chomarat, in Lyon. He wrote that the king had ordered no less than three hundred copies of the third part of The Prophesies. Henry II also asked for an accompanying letter for it.
My book as a relationship present, Michel grumbled at first. The king who sets a good example hasn't been born yet. But deep down inside he felt honored.
Well, after all, rising above the wheel of Samsara is no small feat, he came around. The other envelope was the one he had been waiting for: the response from the queen. After he broke the seal, he tensely read what she had written. It seemed Catherine was very excited about the horoscope he had sent her with the elaborate character sketch and she asked him to do charts for all seven of her children in the same way. Unless she heard from him, he would get picked up the following Thursday.
There is not even time for a response, he determined, annoyed. After writing an accompanying letter for part three, he leaned back in his chair to think.
No sinecure and another difficult journey, he sighed. A few minutes later, he was telling his wife the good news and his decision: he would meet with the offspring of the House of Valois in Paris.
The next week he was picked up and he said goodbye to his family again. They all waved to him from the front door.
"I think the queen is falling for Dad," Madeleine suggested when the carriage had left.
"But he's not falling for her," said César.
"Let's hope not," mother said, and they all went back into the house.
The seven little princes were at Le Louvre, an old, medieval fort, that had been built in the twelfth century to protect the city against attacks from outside, but that had been used as a royal residence for the last number of years. Nostradamus would stay at Hôtel des Tournelles, which was within walking distance of Le Louvre. As soon as he arrived he walked to the colossal fort to meet the royal offspring, who were being tutored there daily in all kinds of subjects. He would - according to the agreement - spend a day with each of them and that meant that he would leave after one week. A secretary welcomed the expected astrologer and immediately took him to the children's quarters.
"Is the queen not here?" Michel asked.
"No, Sir, the royal couple is seldom in Paris. Do you have a preference to which of the children you'd like to see first?"
"I might as well start with the eldest," he said, and they entered the room of Francis II. The bars in front of the windows showed that this part of the fort had served as a prison in the past. The closed-off room was, however, equipped with all princely amenities. The seven-year-old Francis was sitting on his bed, quietly waiting.
Not a very stimulating environment for a child, the scholar thought, walking towards the boy.
"Say hello to the doctor, Your Highness," the secretary commanded sternly. Francis shook his visitor's hand.
That feels more like a dead fish than a human hand, Michel thought.
"May I walk freely through Le Louvre with the prince?"
"Um…, yes, that would be fine," the secretary reluctantly agreed.
"Let's go, Francis, let's take a walk," Michel ordered the boy, and a court servant immediately began to follow them.
"I would prefer if we could walk alone," the scholar said to him. The glorified babysitter hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should abandon his duty, but then left.
"I will let alert the guards," he let him know.
"Well, Francis, you sure are living in a gilded cage here," Michel said when they were alone. For the next few hours, the two of them wandered through countless rooms with exciting treasures and archives of the French kings from days gone by. Francis looked healthy and everything was there, but mentally, he was weak and he didn't have much energy. After the elaborate visit, the seer returned to his hotel, where he got started on Francis' horoscope right away. The next morning, he visited the second son, six-year-old Charles IX, who, despite the isolated environment, was a lot livelier. Nostradamus got permission to walk through the court gardens with him, where tropical birds and wild animals were kept in cages. While they were walking past the cages, he studied the child's behavior. The lad was throwing stones to the animals and then putting his hand through the bars to stroke them. His companion had to repeatedly snatch him away.
This one's not very smart, he thought. No, Charles would also not make a good king. When they got to the monkey cage, they were unexpectedly surprised by a visit from the queen.
"Doctor, I just had to see you," Catherine fawned and she suggested the three of them to have a tea ceremony.
"I had just been told that you hardly ever come here," Michel said as they were walking inside.
"Nonsense, there are state banquets, tournaments and other events here on a regular basis. But how is it going with the study?"
"It's too soon to give you a report, Your Majesty." After the short break, the queen left them to go and support her husband with the state visit of Prince Rudolph of Habsburg. On the fourth day, the scholar was taking an early walk around Le Louvre and looking at the disjointed building structure, on which architects, builders and decorators had been let loose for centuries.
Maybe I'll take the next child outside the gates, he thought, then he'll finally be able to see a bit of the outside world. And he walked to the secretary to propose his plan.
"Absolutely not!" the secretary said firmly. "The safety of the children is paramount."
"But they are languishing here," the physician explained. "At least allow one child to have a look at real life. It would be so good for his development."
The secretary compromised by sending a message to the royal couple, who were staying somewhere in Paris, and an hour later, permission was granted. Michel was sauntering through the streets of Paris with Henry III the same day and while they walked, they rummaged in the proletarian shops. It was visibly good for the boy. They larked about until they reached the Ile de la Cité and then returned via Pont Neuf.
Too bad, but this child is also not a bright light, he concluded. My findings will not please the queen. After the little prince had been safely returned home, Michel walked to his lodgings in the twilight. So far, everything had gone well, but when he got close to Hôtel des Tournelles, he noticed that someone was following him. He decided to confront the man and resolutely turned around. Startled, the man, who was wearing a long coat with a high collar, quickly disappeared into a dark lane.
It's more dangerous than I thought here, Michel realized. From now on, no more little princes outside of the gate. The next morning, he had a visit with the second youngest child, who was only two years old. He showed the same characteristics as his brothers, and the day passed uneventfully.
Tomorrow the youngest one and then my job is done, the astrologer happily thought to himself. He was leaving Le Louvre late that night, because he had had permission to nose around in the archives. He left the poor lighting of the building behind him and crossed the square to go home. It was pitch black and the streets of Paris seemed deserted. Suddenly, he noticed three shapes behind him.
Darn, that feels sinister, he thought. Stupid of me to walk the streets so late at night by myself, and he walked a little faster. Just past the new Pavillon du Roi, which was still surrounded by scaffolding, he darted into a lane to check if he was really being followed. The shadowy figures immediately took the same turn. The light-footed scholar was forced to speed up. As expected, the men behind him began to run after their prey. He tried to get rid of them in the confusion of the dark alley ways. With his adrenaline pumping, Michel scrutinized the stone walls, corners and fences of the Parisian houses. But he couldn't find an escape route and hoped for an inspiration, but his clairvoyance had abandoned him.
It's beyond my control, he decided and looked behind him. An instant later they had him. He called out for help, but all the windows and doors stayed closed. The bandits covered his mouth and pushed him into a dead-end alley. When they pulled out their knives, they heard the sound of horse hooves and turned around, startled. Just in time, some police officers rode into the lane on horseback and attacked the scoundrels, who were now trapped like rats. With their sables raised, the police attacked and two of them were immediately pierced. The third one managed to escape the sword, but was soon caught and put in handcuffs. While Michel breathed a sigh of relief and was about to thank his rescuers, a carriage pulled up and a dignitary got out.
"Are you unharmed?" It was Morency, the police chief who had escorted him earlier.
"Your timing couldn't have been better. Yes, I'm fine," the seer said. Morency brought him to the carriage.
"You made a number of enemies at the court in a very short time," he told him, "that's why the queen has ordered me to keep an eye on you."
"Who wants to murder me?" Michel asked.
"I can't tell you. Many interests of the court are intertwined with each other. What I can tell you is that the Paris authorities have begun an investigation of your magical practices and therefore I advise you to leave the city as soon as possible."
"But I still have to meet with one more child."
"I think you'd better postpone that agreement with the queen, because you are really not safe here," Morency urged him. The astrologer decided to finish his job, however and got dropped off at the hotel. The next day he met with the youngest royal child, after which he left Paris as quickly as he could.
The visitor to the royals once again arrived home safe and sound, and without another gout attack. And there he showed another side of himself. Not the prophet with a heavy heart, but a joyful father, who put a mysterious, overstuffed suitcase on the table for his family. His wife and children looked at it expectantly.
"What is the magician up to?" Anne asked.
"I brought you all something," he smiled. "Hocus pocus, what is hiding in my bag?" and he took out a folder with seven sheets of paper with painted handprints of the little De Valois princes.
"Souvenirs!" Anne exclaimed excitedly, and her husband handed the pictures out to everyone.
"Be careful with them," he instructed, "because I can't ask the princes to do them again." His loved ones were all very pleased and, curious, they began to compare their royal prints with the others.
"And I have another surprise for you," Michel said to his wife and he gave her a miniscule pen drawing of Le Louvre.
"Oh, it's beautiful! I will hang it up above the hearth right away," she responded lyrically.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," he advised.
During the following weeks he completed the horoscopes of the seven princes and wrote a letter to the queen, saying that her sons would all be kings. He didn't add that her offspring were all too weak to rule the country and that the title of king would only be a formality. She was smart enough to be able to deduce that from reading the character sketches herself.
The great man will fall before the conflict
A significant murder; dead too soon and mourned
Born imperfectly, must swim often
The earth near the river smeared with blood
The study was in dire need of a thorough cleaning and the new maid opened the attic window to let in some fresh air. Nostradamus nervously eyed his instruments and papers. He didn't like this; another new one. He would much rather clean everything up himself, but he was getting older and his gout was starting to act up. And with her eye on the master, the maid cleaned the room.
"Are you being careful with my test tubes?" he asked tersely.
"You're welcome to wait downstairs till I'm finished, Doctor," she replied, irritated. He reluctantly decided to do so, though not feeling very trusting. He began to pace back and forth in the living room and his son César, who was eleven years old by now, got the brunt of it.
"Put that tinderbox back where it belongs," he shouted angrily. "Or your mother won't be able to light the fire," and the boy hastily put the object back, next to the hearth. It took some getting used to, giving up control.
"Oh, the bed!" he just remembered and he stormed back upstairs.
"Before you leave, I need you to help me get the bed from the garden house," he said, while glancing around at his things suspiciously.
"All right," the maid squeaked. After finishing the clean-up, and dragging the piece of furniture up the stairs, she left and the scholar was free to get back to work in peace. He wanted to use the bed to comfortably get into a trance and he pushed it to where he wanted it.
Just a sheet should be sufficient, he thought. He lay down and thought about his masterwork. During the last few months he had managed to complete two successive Centuries; together they comprised three actual centuries.
The history of mankind is truly one big repetition, he philosophized, getting back up. From one Nero to the next. After every war there is peace and then it's another grab for power. Human will always keep chasing illusions.
It was getting to be night time and Michel sniffed some of the powder that he kept in one of his desk drawers. With his mind expanded, he opened the attic window to observe the stars through his spyglass. The sky was exceptionally clear and he soon discovered a spiral star cluster. In spiral star clusters, the stars show a strong concentration toward the center, in contrast to open star clusters. The children were banging relentlessly on the walls below him.
"Hey, can you guys be a little quieter!" he called out. It got quiet, except for a bit of whining, but that was tolerable. Father again peered through his spyglass and observed the nebula, which he figured must consist of ten of thousands of stars.
"The stars look as though they're very close together," a voice suddenly spoke out of nowhere. "But if you travel at the speed of light, you need at least a month to go from one star to another." Michel pushed the spyglass away from his eye in surprise and looked around. A small grey-haired man was standing beside him. An apparition!
"Who are you?" Michel asked.
"I am a physicist," the old man answered and he asked if he could have a look through the instrument.
"The spiral nebulas are some of the oldest object known to us," the physicist went on, looking at the sky.
"Oh, I didn't know that."
"They're compact enough to stay stable."
"I know that this star cluster is called Omega Centauri," Michel commented.
"Omega Centauri," the old man repeated, absentmindedly, "misleading, really, that many of these stars are not where we think they are."
"I'm sorry, but I don't understand…"
"Well, the light of the stars bends somewhat when it's near other stars, which causes a curve in space time," the physicist explained, but the other scholar still didn't understand.
"A curve in space time?"
"Time is a relative phenomenon, you know. When you're sitting next to an attractive woman, two hours seems like two minutes, but when you're sitting on a bed of hot coals, two minutes seems like two hours." Michel nodded; he got that.
"Where are you from, by the way?"
"That's a good question and I have several answers for it," the stranger answered, "but I won't bother you with my views. I was born in Germany and I later moved to America with my wife. In 1955, I died of heart failure and since then I have had the freedom to devote myself to the science of the universe."
"America, the land of the Indians."
"They have since been wiped out," the old man replied.
"I suppose you moved because of the Nazi regime?"
"Exactly. The Jews were persecuted this time. Hatred and fear rules anew. There are two things that are never-ending: the universe and human stupidity. But I'm not entirely sure about the universe."
"Short-sightedness is run-of-the mill too in my time, but in the larger scheme of things, we are all humans with defects."
"You sure hit the nail on the head there," the old man said. "If only everyone could act from that standpoint. But may I ask what your name is?"
"Michel Nostradamus, astrologer and physician. And what's yours?"
"Albert Einstein, but you can just call me Albert. So, you're a famous scientist too, that's why we get to meet. Your telescope is pretty archaic."
"You mean my spyglass? Yes, well, I've got to use whatever I can get," and Michel looked at his instrument a little forlornly.
"I've had the good fortune that in my time technology was more advanced," Albert resumed, "and partly because of that, I've been able to develop my theories."
"What are your theories?"
"Well, anyone can have the wildest theories, of course. I always say: if the facts don't match the theory, change the facts. But to answer your question: One of the things I've been occupying myself with is how gravity acts at great distances."
"Are those complicated theories of any use to the world?" Michel asked. Albert was quiet for a moment.
"You just hit a sensitive nerve," he said, suddenly dejected. "Well, yes, there are developments that benefit society, but there is a downside too. I should probably have hidden my creativity better." He was clearly feeling guilty about something.
"Your expression is telling me that you caused something awful to happen."
"Well," Albert sighed, "I made a huge assessment error which could possibly have fatal consequences for mankind. I was afraid of the growing aggressiveness of the Germans and thought that the American army needed strengthening. So I enabled other scientists to create an atom bomb."
"Can you explain to me what that is?"
"Okay. I'll keep it simple. If you split the smallest part of a chemical element, an enormous amount of energy is released. An atomic fission of specific atoms even sets off a chain reaction which is absolutely devastating."
"Yes, something like that," Albert agreed.
"And I suppose some malicious people have run off with your knowledge?"
"Perhaps I am malicious myself as well. I also suffer from narrow-mindedness. Splitting prejudices is even more difficult than splitting atoms."
"Well, at least you are trying to be righteous."
"Yes, well, unfortunately, the bombs have been used several times with disastrous results, and that was after I urged the president of the United States not to allow them to explode."
"What are United States?"
"Um, that is part of North America."
"So, you didn't really know what kind of damage your research was capable of causing?"
"If I knew what it could do, it wouldn't be research," Einstein answered caustically. "But after the Second World War, new positions of power were created amongst nations."
"America and Russia?"
"Precicely. Russia also gained access to atom technology and an arms race between the two superpowers ensued. By now, both parties have a big enough arsenal of nuclear weapons to destroy the world ten times over. On top of that, both leaders each have a so-called red button within their reach. One push on the button would instantly release all nuclear weapons against each other."
"The more influence you have on life, the greater your responsibility," Michel mused.
"Go ahead, rub it in; as if I'm not already feeling guilty enough about it. But once I had gained a reputation, I began to push for world-wide disarmament and equal rights for everyone. Sadly, it's been in vain, because shortly after my death, the United States and the Soviet Union got into a big dispute over Cuba and now they are on the verge of destroying each other," and the nuclear scientist nervously twirled his moustache.
"God's ways are unfathomable, even if you're clairvoyant," Michel tried to comfort him. "But who are the leaders of the superpowers?"
"Um, that would be President Roosevelt for the US and Stalin for the USSR. I was even good friends with Roosevelt, and…"
"No, I mean during that conflict, after you died."
"Oh, after me. That would be John F. Kennedy and Nikita Chroesjtsjov. They are the ones who will determine whether there will be a Third World War or not, and if that happens, the Fourth World War will be fought with sticks and stones."
"Did you meet those two leaders personally?"
"Well, I did get to meet Kennedy once in the White House, but that was just before he became president. At that time I had free access to the White House. But I didn't get to know him. And I never met the Russian commander."
"What is the White House?"
"That's the seat of the American government. The Russian counterpart is the Kremlin. If you want to, I can take you to the White House." That unusual offer certainly took Nostradamus by surprise and he had to stop and think about the possible consequences for a moment.
"All right, if you know the way," he finally said.
"My memories are vivid, come on, let's go," Albert said, cheerful again and pulled his new friend towards the stairs. The children were sound asleep on the middle floor and didn't notice anything as the two scientists descended.
"Do you have some kind of flying machine or something?" Michel whispered, not wanting to wake up his kids.
"We won't need that," Albert answered quietly. They reached the ground floor where Anne was looking through a pile of papers, by the light of a candle.
"Is that you?" she asked warily.
"Yes, darling, I'm just going for a walk; I'll be right back."
"Nice wife you've got."
"Who are you talking to, for goodness sake?" Anne, who couldn't see the physicist, asked.
"A colleague," her husband replied. She left her dizzy husband alone; she knew it was not unusual for him to see ghosts. Einstein resumed walking with confidence and the other scientist was getting quite curious to see where he was being led to.
"We are going to go down one more set of stairs," Albert let him know and they went down into the dark cellar, where they had to move by touch.
"There's only wine in here," the home's owner protested.
"Just trust me…," and, one step at the time, the two went forward.
"I can't see a thing, I should have brought a light," Michel grumbled, but then the cellar suddenly changed into a lit corridor with white walls and someone was coming out of one of the side passages.
"A staff member," the nuclear scientist said, acting like he was feeling quite at home.
"Hello Mister Einstein," the officer greeted him when they passed each other. Albert stopped him.
"Do you know where I can find the president?" he asked.
"I think he is getting some exercise in the swimming pool. You just go straight through and turn left at the end over there and…"
"Yes, thanks, I know where it is," Einstein interrupted him and the two scholars continued on their way.
"They can't see you. They're pretty stupid," he said, as they turned the corner. They soon reached the covered swimming pool, where an attendant was cleaning the pool.
"Isn't the president here?" Albert asked him.
"No, he just left for the Oval Office," and the duo immediately turned around.
"Let's take the elevator; we need to get to the second floor," Albert said. A mechanical box brought the two scientists upstairs, where they got out. The nuclear scientist knocked on one of the closed doors and waited for a moment.
"Come on in," someone called. Einstein opened the door, which gave entrance to an oval-shaped office.
"Hi Albert, here for another visit?" a man in a wheelchair asked.
"Yes, Theodore, I thought it was time for another look."
"I thought you were taking me to see President Kennedy," Michel commented.
"Have some patience," his colleague hushed, and they looked around the beautiful office, while Theodore remained silent. It was as if he was switched off.
"How come this office is oval, anyway?" Michel asked.
"Because that way you can look everyone in the eyes during a conference," Albert answered.
"You're a funny one."
"No, seriously. Look there's Kennedy." The man in the wheelchair had flown on to other realms and in his place now stood a handsome middle-aged man. Michel waved his hand right in front of the new president's face, but there was no reaction.
"He can't see me either," Albert indicated. Kennedy looked pale and had dark circles under his eyes.
"He usually has enormous charisma," the nuclear scientist resumed, alluding to the seriousness of the situation.
"Max, you're just who I need to see," the president suddenly said to Nostradamus, catching him by surprise.
"Max is his personal physician," Albert explained, "this role is made for you."
"Made for me?"
"Just play along. And good luck!" And Einstein disappeared into thin air.
Come now, I get to do his dirty work? Michel complained. But he shook the president's hand.
"Max, you've got to help me stay on my feet. My back is bothering me so much," his Excellency continued. His voice sounded tired and he sat down gloomily on a couch in the center of the office. Michel sat down beside him to lend him an ear.
"I need more of those pills, Max. They're all demanding the utmost of me. Russia is placing more and more nuclear missiles in Cuba. The situation is getting out of hand."
"Um, I don't have any pills," the medieval man stammered.
"An injection's okay too. Man, that damn corset is crooked again."
Nostradamus was inadvertently drawing him out and the president aired his heart some more.
"Chroesjtsjov is walking all over me. That Russian sees me as a weak leader. It's probably true too. I haven't been taking a strong enough position in a number of important issues. His communist allies also think I'm a weakling," and his head dropped down to his chest in a gesture of defeat.
"Give me something, Max, I've got to keep going," he begged again. "We can't just accept nuclear missiles that are pointed at the United States from so close by. I've sent all the diplomats to the Russian commander to convince him of this, but to no avail." Kennedy stared ahead with a vacant expression and suddenly collapsed. The big couch caught him and he lay on it motionlessly. Near the desk, there was a beeping sound and Michel walked up to it to investigate.
"Mister President," a voice announced from a loudspeaker, "Chroesjtsjov on the line for you." He listened attentively.
"Hello Mister Kennedy. You are worried about our defense arms at more than ninety miles from the coast of America? Then I'd like to point out to you that your offense weapons have been set up in Turkey, pointing at our territory." The seer let out a big sigh.
"Or is it your opinion," the Russian continued, "that it is your exclusive right to demand safety for your country?"
"I'm not who you think you are," Michel said, but his words were ignored.
"I therefore propose the following," Chroesjtsjov spoke, unreachable. "We are prepared to remove our missiles from Cuba, and make a promise to the United Nations. Then you must remove your weapons from Turkey and make a similar promise. Do you agree?"
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door of the Oval Office and, startled, the scholar caused a magnetic disruption in the control panel and broke off the connection with the Russian. Vice president Johnson and other top officials entered the office. They were visibly shocked when they saw their leader lying lifelessly on the couch, and rushed to his side.
"He's alive," Johnson said, relieved, while he checked his heart beat.
"He's collapsed a few times during the past few weeks," one of the ministers said glumly.
"I'll call Max Jacobson," the general offered.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Johnson asked. "You know what they call him in Parliament: Doctor Feelgood."
"Yes, but the president doesn't want anyone else," the general said and they decided they'd better alert Jacobson, who was staying in the west wing. Kennedy's personal physician soon came rushing in and examined his boss.
"He has fainted, due to a shortage of the required substances," he quickly diagnosed. He rolled up the president's sleeve and gave him an injection. Sure enough, Nostradamus saw with surprise, that as soon as the substance had been administered, John F. Kennedy slowly but surely came to.
"Thank you, Max. You sure know how to support me through thick and thin," his boss mumbled, while he sat up, with some difficulty.
"Mister President, we don't want to disturb you unnecessarily," the general said, nervously, "but we have extremely important news."
"Okay, go ahead," John answered, still feeling a bit dull.
"Well, it is clearly visible on the new photos that the Russian missiles are still being placed on Cuba. The entire army top is of the opinion that we should teach the Russians a lesson and proceed with an attack." A staff member appeared at the door.
"Mister President," the employee called, "Mister Sukarno is here. May I send him in?" Kennedy agreed and hastily spoke to his colleagues.
"There is one mediator left who I think stands a chance of succeeding and that is the president of the Indonesian Republic. He is in close contact with the Russian commander." Sukarno came in and the Americans welcomed him.
"Please, sit down," Kennedy requested, but Sukarno declined and began to speak agitatedly.
"After the incident with your airplane, the B-25, I am suspecting the American government of wanting to cause my downfall and because I strongly suspect that this room is bugged, I request the president to allow our discussion to take place in his bedroom." The general took his boss aside.
"Our intelligence is warning against a possible assassination attempt on you," he whispered.
"In my bedroom? And by him? No… And anyway, I don't want to lose my freedom," Kennedy decided and left the office with Sukarno. Michel followed the two presidents, who took the elevator to a higher floor. Once they had arrived there, the two leaders resumed walking, but their pursuer forgot to jump out of the box in time. The elevator doors closed too quickly and he was brought down to the basement, where the doors opened automatically. Not knowing how to operate this transportation device, he got out and came to the same corridor with the red carpet.
I think I'd better get home, Michel thought, I've seen enough. He took the same route back and it soon got dark again. After a while, he saw a light in the distance, which turned out to be his own cellar stairs. He stumbled up the stairs, feeling quite depressed.
"Is that you?" Anne asked, still holding papers in her hands. Silently, he padded towards his wife and sat down with her at the table.
"Where's your colleague?" she teased, while looking at pictures of herbs. Turned inward, he put his elbows on the table and sighed.
"Are you okay?" she continued.
"Anne, sometimes I think I'm going mad," he said, finally.
"The world in the future is about to explode. It's all getting to be just too much for me."
"Come here," she asked and he knelt next to her and put his head on her lap. Anne gently stroked his last few strands of hair.
"I just feel so responsible for the fate of the human race," he complained. "My life's path runs right through hell."
"You're special," she said, trying to encourage him.
"Anne, from now on, don't open to door to all those wretched souls who are constantly asking for help, okay? It's all just too much for me these days."
"All right, I won't. But let's get some sleep now. Tomorrow is a new day," and they went to bed.
Michel's depression was the beginning of a new gout attack. It was a big one and he had to stay in bed for a month. His wife answered all his mail for him; requests for reading horoscopes, or for advice about illnesses, from people everywhere. Once in a while there was an argumentative challenge from a scientist about some controversial topic, and she just ignored those ones. For the most part, it was sufficient to send a standard message in French, saying that the doctor was not able to personally answer the letter, due to special circumstances.
"I'll find a clerk soon, to take care of my correspondence," her husband promised, lying in bed in a lot of pain.
"Yes, we certainly do need one," Anne agreed. She was getting exhausted too. André and Diane came in and started jumping on the bed.
"You guys, you leave your sick father alone," Mother ordered testily and she closed the curtains to separate the area from the rest of the room.
"I'm sorry you're having such a hard time because of me," her husband apologized.
"Don't worry, everything will be all right," Anne said, as she sat down at the side of his bed. "But something strange is going on. That big bag of nutmeg is already all gone again!" He didn't respond to that and turned away from her, feigning pain.
"Hey, I don't appreciate that. I want to know what you do with it," she asserted sincerely, but he wouldn't answer.
"What's the big mystery?"
"I just use it for certain experiments," he answered indefinitely. But she wanted to know exactly what he did with it. He did not want to tell her. Finally, he gave in.
"Okay, I inhale it," he confessed.
"Why on earth would you do that?"
"I inhale it because it stimulates my sense of imagination." Anne suddenly turned to ice.
"I refuse to work for an addict," she said, resolutely.
"An addict?" Michel reacted like a hurt puppy and he turned to face her.
"This last drop makes the bucket overflow," she continued.
"Darling, what are you talking about?" and he tried to sit up, groaning.
"We're all walking on eggshells for you, in this house!"
"I thought you said everything was fine?"
"Yes, that's what you thought. But it's not true. You see and feel everything, except your own family. Everything is about you and now this." He let her blow off some steam.
"And that infernal control of yours," she accused him, "you never let yourself go. It would be better if you hit me once in while," and she mockingly pushed him back into bed.
"Temper yourself a bit, please, you'll scare the kids."
"They're always scared already," she yelled, just to make sure they could hear it. He realized he couldn't say anything right, so he didn't say anything.
"We also never have normal sex," she rattled on. "I thought Jews were good in bed, but you seem more like a statue of a saint. I wish you'd have a normal orgasm once in while, like normal man!" and she walked away, furious. Michel crawled out of bed and limped after her.
"Oh, so his holiness can walk all of a sudden. So I've been killing myself for a pretender. I never want to see you again," and she stormed down the stairs and slammed the door so hard that the whole house shook.
She's right; I'm addicted, he thought. I want to see images of the future too much and that's why I've maybe become insensitive. I'll stay away from it from now on, and he crawled back under the woolen blankets.
The fight raged on and on and Nostradamus was forced to answer his letters himself; his usually lively wife refused to do anything for him anymore. In fact, she refused to do anything at all. Fortunately, the kids were old enough to fend for themselves. Still reeling from his gout attack, he wrote a letter to Jean Dorat, one of his admirers in Paris. Perhaps the renowned scholastics teacher had a good student who would be able to assist him. His wife, meanwhile, had retreated to the garden house and the spouses avoided each other for weeks. Until one night there was a banging on the front door.
Another one of those desperados, the healing scholar thought, shuffling towards the entrance.
"Leave me alone!" he called out, but the racket continued and he begrudgingly opened the door.
"Is there something wrong with your ears, or what?" and he looked intently at the supposed needy person standing in the doorway.
"Good heavens, it can't be true!" The ghost of François Rabelais, his study friend from the olden days, had appeared before him.
"By Jupiter, the devil is playing tricks on me," Michel swore.
"Calm down, man, calm down. It's really me," François said soothingly. "I thought you would have sensed I was on my way, but apparently you didn't. Did I come at a bad time?"
"Um, no, of course not; or maybe you did. I'm kind of in the middle of a marital crisis, but come in," and they hugged.
"Maybe I'm here to help you," François suggested while they walked to the living room. They sat down near the fire place.
"What are you doing here?" Michel asked. "I thought you were the court physician of the viceroy of Piemonte."
"Yes, I was, but now I work for the pope in Avignon. Where is your wife?"
"She's in the garden house," he answered dejectedly.
"Yes, six of them. They're all asleep."
"I'm very thirsty. Do you have something to drink?" François asked. And his old study friend went to the kitchen. When he returned with some beer, Rabelais had suddenly disappeared.
Have I really lost my mind after all? he asked himself, in all seriousness. But then he heard an unfamiliar noise in the garden and realized that he had not been hallucinating; François was trying to convince his wife to come out of the garden house.
"So, my husband has sent me a mediator," Anne sneered, when a stranger entered her living space.
"No, no, you're wrong. I had a premonition that my friend was in trouble and I spontaneously decided to pay him a visit."
"Ha, another clairvoyant," she said scornfully.
"You are speaking to the ambassador of the pope, you know!"
"I don't care if you're the pope himself, you arrogant oaf," and she pushed him out of the garden house.
"Where did you find such a wife?" François asked, his ears burning, when he got back to the living room.
"Found her amongst a herd of wild horses," Michel grumbled.
"Is that one of those obscure lines from your verses?" But the astrologer shook his head.
"Well, that explains a lot, but let me see you. We haven't seen each other in ages," and they looked at each other.
"You've still got a full head of hair," Michel said.
"Yes, it's still growing every day. And you look fantastic for your age."
"Thanks, your eyes and tongue are as sharp as ever. Here's your beer," and they sat down by the fire again.
"Hard to imagine, you of all people, a free-thinking Cathar, working for the pope," Michel continued.
"And why not? Your friend is your enemy, though I fully support Pope Pius IV. He is a spiritual leader with a lot of integrity and the bad stuff is happening only at the lower levels."
"What kind of spiritual position do you have?"
"The pope has me secretly inspecting the inquisitors and bishops to see if they're applying the teachings in a pure way."
"Goodness gracious, right in the lion's lair…"
"Yes, life must be lived on the cutting edge," François answered.
"I agree with you on that. So, are you living the life of a celibate too?"
"Certainly. If I had chosen to have a family, I would have to pick a different profession. But I'm sure you have your enemies too." Anne unexpectedly came in and the men looked at her curiously, trying to gauge her mood.
"I'm sorry I was so rude to you," she apologized.
"Never mind, don't worry about it. Why don't you sit down with us?" the uninvited guest requested and she grabbed a chair.
"François is an old study friend of mine. Because of my years of wandering, we lost track of each other," Michel explained, bashfully. But Anne wouldn't give her husband the time of day, and only looked at the spiritual visitor.
"So this is the wife who has to offer resistance to the grand master," Rabelais provoked her.
"Grand master?" she repeated indignantly. "Last week he got his beard stuck in the front door, while locking it. Every passerby had ample opportunity to give him a spanking." François had to laugh so exuberantly at this, it was almost scary.
"Your husband is a genius when it comes to the inner life of humans, but on earth he can sometimes be a klutz, just like anyone else," he said, recovering from the hilarity. Anne, however, was not convinced.
"I know he is famous everywhere, because of his publications," she acknowledged, "but I'm not so sure about his greatness. A year ago, he mistook the mayor for a ghost and bumped right into him." François had to laugh again.
"How can I explain it? Help me out here, Michel."
"I just try to leave things alone as much as I can," he answered vaguely.
"He always shrouds himself in mystery and never tells me anything about his inner world. He's just like an oyster," she added.
"Yes, your husband is indeed reticent and my tongue is very loose in comparison, but you know, speaking is silver, but silence is golden." But Anne was not impressed.
"Good and evil are united in each person," François continued his argument "and there is no one who knows this better than your husband."
"Well, I know that. I often show my anger. He never does."
"If your husband were to show his anger, it could destroy the world. That's why he must be extremely careful with both words and deeds. It is a matter of awareness and your husband has been given an unprecedented, powerful amount of that."
"You mean if Michel were to get mad at me, it could really harm me?"
"The average person could drop dead in a fight with him, or get seriously ill, but you are a strong woman who can take a lot. You are Plato."
"Plato? You're comparing me to that Greek philosopher?"
"Besides being the name of a philosopher, Plato is also the Greek word for broad-shouldered," Michel interrupted.
"Oh, I get it. I'm strong enough to be able to take on my husband," and finally there was a spark of contact between the two spouses again.
"Yes, certainly, but this is especially because he knows how to control his senses with the utmost self-discipline. Because, the bigger the mind, the bigger the beast," Rabelais said wisely.
"You certainly praise my husband highly," she said, still suspicious, "but if I'm not mistaken, you're saying he has to be especially careful to never lose control?"
"Exactly; he really can't afford to. Even an unguarded train of thought could have disastrous results. You see, thoughts are powers."
"Can you explain that?"
"Okay, take that chair you're sitting on, for example. It didn't just spring into existence. First there has to be a thought or a mental image of a chair, and that is then followed by matter. In the case of the chair, this is the wood in the hands of the carpenter."
"Hmm, that sounds kind of like a prediction coming true," she compared.
"Just see, Michel, your wife has occult knowledge."
"If he had shared his knowledge with me sooner, we wouldn't be having this crisis."
"Yes, it might be a good idea to communicate more with your wife," François said to his friend.
"I'm starting to see the truth of that," Michel admitted. The marriage crisis was coming to an end and they celebrated with a beer.
"It's time for me to leave you now, my friends," François finally announced.
"You're welcome to stay here," Anne offered.
"Thank you, I appreciate your hospitality, but I've already made arrangements to stay at The Swan."
"Before you leave, there's something I'd like to show you," Michel said.
"Okay, but first I'll visit your washroom," François said, and the seer went ahead to his work room. When Anne was showing the guest where the bathroom was, he whispered something in her ear: "Anne, your husband is very nearly enlightened. Try to let go of him in your heart. Only the individual soul can transcend; and God loves him." And without waiting for a response, he walked away. The weighty words slowly penetrated and she finally understood that she had an important task to fulfill. In the attic, Michel was waiting to show his friend the broken tile with the snake.
"You might know what this is," he said when he got there.
"Jesus, a part of the mosaic of Magdalene of Montségur," François exclaimed in surprise and he carefully picked up the age-old tile.
"That's not where it came from though. It came from La Roque near the Durance."
"Well, in any case, take good care of it. But I have to go now," and he put the tile back. The two men embraced like brothers.
"Be careful. Don't get yourself murdered," Michel warned him when they were walking down the stairs.
"And you watch you don't crash down off your Jacob's Ladder," his friend replied cheerfully. When they got to the bottom of the stairs, he said goodbye to Anne. At the front door, the men exchanged a few more words.
"Thanks for everything François, and let's keep in touch."
"Yes, that's what you promised forty years ago too," his guardian angel answered as he took his leave.
Incorrigible, that Rabelais, Michel smiled with a hint of sadness, as he watched him walk away.
The next day, one Christophe de Chavigny arrived at the station of Salon de Provence. He asked around for the house of the prophet. His request was granted right away; there were many who wanted to accompany the young man from Paris, hoping to catch a glimpse of their mythical townsman. The cum laude student of Jean Dorat was eager to develop himself under the tutelage of the grand master, and it was the butcher who dropped him off in front of the door, with his cart. With a bag of lamb chops in his hand, the snub-nosed student presented himself.
"Aha, my savior from Paris," Nostradamus welcomed him, and because the house was apparently too small, he sent his helper, minus lamb chops, to an inn to spend the night.
First I'll check out what kind of guy we're dealing with here, Michel thought, eyeing the bag of meat. Christophe turned out to be a true disciple. He didn't need one extra word of instruction; he was quick as lightning in understanding what his master wanted from him. He carried out his tasks with such incredible dedication, that it overwhelmed his boss at times. The young Parisian was also familiar with all the latest philosophical trends, including rational thinking, and was just as proficient in the classical languages. Anne, meanwhile, had arranged for a new desk for the clerk and had her husband's moved into the living room. After a month, the scholar had to acknowledge that De Chavigny's presence was a blessing for him.
My correspondence has never been so up to date, he observed happily.
He was starting to get old now and had been worried that he would not be able to complete The Prophesies. But now he had enough time to be able to tend to it. He had already trained himself in the past to only need four or five hours of sleep at night, but that was primarily because an awake state was the best way to travel to the other side. That night, the pen-pusher had blessedly gone to his own place, a few streets away, and the children were all asleep. Just to be on the safe side, the master locked the door of his room.
I think I'll change to a different technique, he said to himself and he went and got the copper stool. The stool with the legs that were the same angle as the incline on the sides of the pyramids in Egypt.
I'm staying away from the nutmeg and hallucinogenic oils from now on, he determined. I can't let myself go mad. And he started to hum, next to the stool.
"No, that's not working," he mumbled and decided to try the meditation bed.
The two great leaders become friends
Their enormous power will increase
The new country approaches its peak
The number of Reds recounted
In the middle of the night, the explorer of the skies found himself flying over a modern city, where horseless carriages, with lamps on their heads and tails, were driving around. He descended to have a closer look at this marvel and started wandering around the streets and squares, which were lit up lavishly. After a little while, a mighty building appeared up ahead, which he thought he recognized.
This must be the parliament buildings, under which Hister committed suicide, he suspected. His suspicion was confirmed by a monument in front of it. Berlin had recovered admirably from the enormously destructive war violence that had left behind huge piles of rubble back then. A river ran diagonally across the lit up city and he decided to follow the flowing water, which brought him to a church yard, where someone was trudging along the water's edge. A neglected-looking man was pushing a cart loaded up with junk.
Dead end, Michel thought, and let it be. He rose again, turned a sharp corner and flew back to the Potsdamer Platz.
Flying like a bird is a true joy, he decided and like a young god, he spread his wings. On the grand square stood a stately archway with a Greek chariot on top of it and he boldly flew through it. When he had passed the gateway, he bumped right into some kind of electrical field and the punch of it caused him to tumble down to the ground.
Pride always come before the fall, he rebuked himself for his frivolous behavior and feeling a bit dazed, he tried to figure out what had happened to him. He carefully examined the space, but he couldn't see anything. The fallen ghost got up and tested his flying skills.
Good, that's still intact, he thought, relieved. But what did I bump into? Curious, he moved towards the place where it had happened and looked all around the area surrounding it.
"There's got to be something," he mumbled and unexpectedly his hand touched a voltage field, and made a blue surface appear.
Holy cow, the future is full of surprises, and carefully he walked along the magnetic field, which kept shorting out every time he touched it. It seemed to be an invisible wall, which divided the city into two sections. It was a mystery to him what purpose it served, but he really wanted to know. The people who lived here must know more about this and with fresh impetus he started to hunt down a random passer-by. From high above the city, he noticed the same hobo with his cart. And because he was the only sign of life around, he dove towards him.
"Hey, you!" he called out, but the Berliner with his crooked hat didn't hear him and just sauntered on. The ghost now landed right in front of him, but the man just kept walking, undisturbed.
He can't see or hear me, Michel understood, and deliberated how to get his attention. He had to hit the right nerve.
"Hey, Napoleon," he tried. That hit the target right away, because the tramp stopped abruptly.
"Friend or foe?" he wanted to know.
"Wow, finally a fellow countryman. What is your rank?" the poor devil asked. He must have lost some of his marbles.
"Field Marshal," Michel played along.
"Didn't I order you to attack Russia?"
"Yes, but Moscow has been captured in the meantime."
"Excellent. That frees me to deal with cartload of stuff here," and he resumed walking.
"Do you happen to know why that electrical wall runs through Berlin?" the marshal intervened.
"Are you crazy, or what? There used to be wall. It was made of stone, but my brave men tore it down not long ago. I still have a picture of it," and he pulled a newspaper article out of his inside coat pocket. The seer looked at the photo of the dividing wall being demolished, and read the text under it.
"Fall of the Berlin Wall*(1989). It has now been exactly two years since the Iron Curtain, the division between East and West fell. A united Germany will commemorate the fall en masse today, with concerts and discussions, among other things. The Wall was intended to stop the flow of fugitives who were migrating to the free West."
So that's why there's a magnetic field running through the city, he understood. Years of frustration must have given the Wall a psychic charge.
"Where are those men of yours?" he then asked.
"I don't know where they are; they've exiled me, but I can show you where they hang out."
"Okay, show me the place," Michel requested. He wanted to find out how the conflict had been resolved. With the tramp pushing his cart again, the two started on their way to the eastern part of the city. After they had crossed the Alexanderplatz, the man stopped in front of a large, ungainly building.
"This is it, the old Police station, where I used to be in charge. You can go in and ask your questions."
"Yes, I will," the seer said. He gave him a franc and then walked towards the entrance.
"Nay, Pau, Leon, more fire than blood," the tramp called after him. Michel turned around in surprise when he heard the line from his own verse, in the wrong order. But the man was looking the other way and a little further on he moodily kicked a streetlight, which immediately went out.
Wow, amazing, my verses are going to be popular in the future, and feeling pleased, the seer entered the dilapidated building. Beyond the entrance was a gloomy-looking room with no one in it and he decided to go up the marble staircase.
Where are those brave guys he was talking about? Upstairs there was some hope, because he saw a few men who were busy doing something. They turned out to be just civil servants though. He went back downstairs and just as he was about to leave the vestibule he heard a loud sound, indicating activity, coming from the big room.
What on earth is happening in there? And curious, he stepped into the room, which was suddenly filled with a large crowd.
I must have spontaneously moved several years back in time, he speculated. He blended in with the crowd and keeping his ears wide open. It was a press conference and hundreds of journalists had gathered to see the topmost party leaders of the communist state.
"What's going on?" he asked a reporter, who thought he was a foreign colleague.
"We've never been allowed to ask questions directly," the East German answered, fiddling with the flash on his camera, "but it seems that this time Schabowski is bowing to pressure of the people to make an exception. The party is hoping to win back the support of the people through more openness."
"What if they don't succeed?"
"If they don't succeed, our country will simply empty out, regardless of miles of walls and fences," and he excused himself to wrestle his way to the front. Meanwhile, his colleagues were asking all kinds of questions, but as always, they just got a standard response, until a French journalist addressed the core issue in broken German.
"When will your fellow countrymen be free to travel to the West?" he asked simply. The reporters barely took his question seriously, because they fully expected Schabowski to find some elaborate way to talk his way around it without really answering it anyway. But in the face of the international crowd, the party leader suddenly felt like he was on trial, and he clammed up.
How can I go on telling all those lies? he worried, and breaking out into a cold sweat, he unexpectedly began to open up.
"Today, um, as far as I am aware, a decision has been made. And, um, we have decided… , that ultimately, every citizen will be allowed to cross the border." The crowd was dumbstruck.
"When will this new rule go into effect?" a journalist immediately asked. Schabowski shuffled his papers a bit, and then looked at his staff members, who had no idea what to do either.
"Um, as far as I know, it will go into effect ……, as of this moment." Because the press conference seemed so clumsy, everyone doubted if this was really true, until someone ran outside and shouted out loudly: "The border is open!" The news spread through the city like wildfire and soon the East Berliners streamed to the Wall en masse to check and see if they could really get into West-Berlin. Nostradamus floated along behind them.
Amazing what one silly little question from my side can instigate, he thought. From now on, I really must let destiny take its own course.
The Wall turned out to be still locked and thousands of people besieged the border guards in a peaceful way. They were suddenly surrounded by a horde of reporters.
"Am I to understand that the Wall has to be opened today?" the head of the guard stammered.
"Yes, on the order of Schabowski," everyone chanted. The officer waited for a while to see if he would receive formal instructions, but then succumbed to the enormous pressure and opened the border crossings. Fortunately, the Red Army did not intervene. Overwhelmed, the East-Berliners walked to the other side of the border, where they were met by West-Berliners, flocking towards them and welcoming them with loud applause. The seer happily looked on as total strangers embraced each other underneath the Brandenburger Tor and burst into tears of happiness and disbelief. The Berlin monument with the Greek chariot had been standing in no man's land for so many years and some people were moved to touch its cold pillars. One of the city dwellers was parading under the gateway like a madman and filled with emotion kept calling out: "Ich bin ein Berliner!"
Isn't that the man from the White House? Michel thought, but he couldn't be more wrong: it was the future tramp who thought he was Napoleon. The man, who at this point had not yet deteriorated, suddenly began to kiss everyone and the seer also got a big smacker. The border was now definitely open and several strong men had already started to demolish the Wall.
"Souvenir for sale!" one of them joked, with a chunk of the wall in his hand. The French spectator then left the national festival and cheerfully returned to the Renaissance.
Finally, a happy ending, he thought, when he returned to his body. I'd like that to happen more often, and jumped down from the bed. It was the dead of night and he crept down the stairs on his tip toes, to the bedroom.
"Anne," he whispered, "are you asleep?"
"Yes, I'm sleeping, but come on into bed," and he carefully lay down beside her and went to sleep.
A new day dawned and the wind blew fresh air in through the open windows. Well-rested, the scholar went downstairs and found his wife ironing in the living room.
"You're up late," Anne said, while a cloud of steam rose from the ironing board.
"No guests today. Isn't that the maid's job?"
"She's been sick for two days."
"Oh, I didn't notice," her husband mumbled, leaning against the sewing basket.
"I have a lot of paperwork I have to do with Christophe today, but I'd like to go for an all day walk with you tomorrow," he proposed.
"I can only go the day after tomorrow, because tomorrow my sister is coming over for a visit."
"Okay, it's a date," he said, playing with the thimble.
"Do you want Jacqueline to sew another robe for you?" she asked.
"Yes, that would be great. But not a black one; brown would be good."
"Why don't you tell her yourself; she'll like that."
"All right, I will. By the way, I had an amazing experience last night," Michel said, trying to involve her a bit more into the world of his experiences. "It was a kind of Jericho, except it was in Germany."
"Ah, the walls that are crumbled by religion," Anne knew and she placed the iron up on its stand.
"Yes, but not by a belief in God, but by a belief in freedom."
"That sounds good to me," and she started to iron the next piece of clothing while he held the seams tight for her.
"I like it when you tell me about your other life," she said, suddenly shy, and for the first time ever, he saw her blush. Christophe came down from the attic.
"Master, Count Ercole from Florence has still not received your recommendations; I'm afraid the translations have been lost in the mail. Do you want me to prepare new ones?"
"No, just write him that he has to search more carefully in his administration. That shifty character is just trying to avoid my fee," and both men started to walk up the stairs, while talking.
After Jacqueline's visit, Anne and Michel jumped out of bed early the next day and took a picnic basket full of treats to the nearby fields and forests. After spending a very pleasant day together, the couple happily returned home with their basket filled with herbs and flowers. When they were nearing their home, they were approached by the priest, who was hurrying towards them.
"Doctor, have you heard the bad news already?"
"No, but I have some idea of what it could be. Pray tell."
"The king is dead," the priest said, looking sad. "He had an accident with one of his captains."
But vanity was his guiding principle, Michel thought.
"You have a special bond with the royal house, Doctor," the priest continued, "and that's why I want to offer you my condolences."
"Thank you very much, Reverend. This is a sad day for all of France," and they continued their walk home. A crowd of people had gathered in front of their house and when the mystic and his wife arrived, they all expressed their sympathy. The next day, the death of Henry II was legally proclaimed and that afternoon an escorted carriage stopped in front of the De Nostredame home. While the governor of Provence got out, the towns people flocked to see him. Christophe opened the front door and as quick as a whip, he informed his master. Nostradamus came out from behind his desk and invited his friend, the governor, to take a seat on the porch.
"You know about the death of the king, of course," Claude de Tende assumed, as he sat down at the outdoor table. The scholar nodded.
"A lance pierced his golden helmet and went right through his eye and throat; two wounds in one, during a practice duel," the governor informed him. "But aside from the horror of it and the fact that we will all miss him, the unity of France is now in danger.
"Oh, I don't think we have to worry about that," his host opined, while a drop of rain splashed on his face.
"Let's hope not. You had already predicted the king's death in your last almanac. Catherine de Medici personally told me about that. For years I only considered your work a nice bit of entertainment, but now your predictions are being eerily confirmed. Do you have any idea what kind of power you could have?"
"I am only too aware of that, and feel very responsible."
"So why didn't you warn Henry II?"
"The king didn't want to have anything to do with astrology," Michel calmly explained. The governor sighed deeply and was clearly affected by the death, which could even have consequences for his own position.
"Marguerite de Valois, the king's sister, would like to come and see you for a consultation. She will contact you soon," he resumed.
"She is most welcome; I will be happy to serve her," the scholar promised.
Claude stared straight ahead, looking melancholy.
"Who's going to lead France now?" he asked. "The princes are too young and much too inexperienced."
"The queen will rule the country. She has already been educating herself in the current affairs of the state," the scholar answered confidently, while stroking his beard. The governor looked at him in awe, realizing that this fellow countryman was someone of very high caliber. The maid came out onto the porch and served tea and the men talked a bit more.
A few days later, Christophe came in with the expected royal letter.
"Fantastic news, Master," he revealed, and Michel quickly skimmed it. The king's sister wrote that she was planning to come and see him right after her brother's funeral, and hoped that it would not be an inconvenient time for him.
One man's death is another man's living, he thought, sadly shaking his head.
"Christophe, when the time comes, wear something nice," and he gave his student a golden ducat.
That Friday, a royal carriage arrived at the narrow Place de la Poissonnerie and some guards kept the curious commoners at bay. Marguerite de Valois swept into the seer's home, dressed in mourning clothes, complete with a black veil. His children were on their best behavior, waiting in the entrance hall. Only Paul was absent; he was busy chasing girls. They all nodded politely and feasted their eyes on her opulent garment. Michel and Anne accompanied her highness to the living room, which had been spruced up for the royal visit. Christophe made a brief appearance by poking his head in for a minute. Anne offered her condolences to the king's sister and then left the room, to give her and her husband some privacy. After a short talk, Marguerite thanked him for his advice to stay out of politics from now on and to go and spend some time on the seashore to regain her strength. The royal procession continued on its way and peace and quiet returned to the square.
One summer evening, Diane couldn't get to sleep and Anne told the youngest child a fairytale. Her husband happened to be just coming down from the attic and heard how she handled her veiled life's lesson.
"Once there was an evil sorcerer, who uttered a curse," she began.
"Is that about me?" he called from the stairs.
"If the shoe fits, wear it," she answered.
I wonder what's eating her today, he wondered and continued on his way to the living room, where he had a chat with the maid. After he had watered the plants in the garden, he decided to go to bed early.
The next day, he finished part six of The Prophesies and immediately took the manuscript to the post office to send it to his publisher in Lyon. Christophe usually took care of these kinds of things, but Michel felt like getting a bit of exercise. It was quiet in the street, so he figured no one would be bothering him. After dropping off his package, he was walking past his statue in the city square when he saw a number of young guys shooting arrows at his image.
I've never had much understanding of mischief, he thought, disgruntled. But, wait a minute, isn't that my own son, Paul? He even looked like he was the instigator of the group and he felt like he should admonish him, but changed his mind.
Oh well, never mind. I'll save it for something important; it's just a dumb statue. Long live transience.
A city guard had just come around the corner too, and he saw the rascals desecrating the city's figurehead.
"Hey, you! Come here!" he loudly commanded, but the kids took off very fast. When he saw Nostradamus, he apologized.
"I'll get that riff raff, sir. They won't escape me that easily."
"Oh, don't worry about it; it doesn't really bother me," the honored citizen smoothed the incident over. He would rather not have his own son exposed in a bad light and continued walking. After a few minutes he was overcome by an oppressive feeling and he rested for a moment.
That did not feel natural, he thought, a bit upset. But it subsided, so he continued on his way. But after a while, the horrible feeling returned and he had to stop to recover from it again. Now, every time he moved he was attacked by an uncontrollable force.
I should have known, he thought. The harrowing of hell is manifesting, by daylight! And he decided to go home, where he was in a better position to protect himself from supernatural evil. On the way back he was constantly being besieged from the other world and the battle was taking all of his strength. He repeatedly had to stop and passers-by were looking at their stumbling fellow townsman, who was usually so spry despite his advanced age. He kept on staggering and heard someone ask "Can I help you?" several times, but the silent force was so intense and dark that he was unable to respond and suddenly his knees buckled and he fell down. Several people rushed up to the medium to help him and carried him home. Anne and Christophe, alarmed, took over from there and dragged him up the stairs to his bed. Once there, Michel began to have seizures as Anne sat by his side, feeling scared. Her husband looked like he was losing his sanity. He was defending himself from ghosts and kept yelling: "Mouthwash, three times a day." He calmed down for a moment and she quickly tried to make contact.
"What's happening to you?" she asked, in a panic.
"Somebody wants to kill me," he answered listlessly. He was as white as ghost, the usual blush on his cheeks had all but disappeared and when a heavy attack followed, he lost consciousness. His spirit landed on one of the terraces of purgatory and fell into the hands of evil.
In the dark laboratory stood a table full of test tubes, glass bowls, measuring cups and bottles and Nostradamus was just finishing a dark experiment. Several potions were boiling above a fire and rising vapors concealed his face.
"Abracadabra, any time now, there will be gold and everyone will be at my mercy," he laughed uproariously. Excited, he trickled the last bit of alchemical substance into the liberally filled flask and added some more alcohol just to be on the safe side. Then he brought the liquid with the crumbled lead to a boil, after which he distilled the mixture into solid and volatile components.
"Now a bit of gunpowder," he snickered, while he searched inside a cabinet. He returned to the bubbling liquids, with a glass cylinder in his hand.
"The power will not escape me this time." Suddenly, the door to the shed burst open, which startled him and he dropped the glass cylinder, smashing it into smithereens. He looked straight into the barrel of some terrible weapon.
"Kill the sorcerer!" a mechanical voice spoke, coming out of nowhere. The alchemist instinctively dove to the side and the table and all the glass instruments were completely shot to pieces by a gigantic bullet.
"My super-expensive laboratory, completely ruined, you jerk, whoever you are," but he swallowed his words, because the barrel of the weapon was pointed at him again. Right at the last second, some muscled guards came to his rescue from outside.
"Destroy the intruder, men!" he commanded, but the guards were killed one by one and he had to leave the room to save his life.
"Bunch of idiots," the scholar sneered, as he fled down a corridor lit by burning torches. Bang! A bullet flew along the walls. The stranger was right on his heels and fired again. Just in the nick of time, Nostradamus was able to dash into a room where monks in grey dresses were meditating.
Let them take the brunt of it, he thought heartlessly as he mingled in with them. A moment later, his attacker had destroyed all the servants of God who were in his way. The scholar, meantime, roamed through the underground complex and ended up in a grand library, which was lit up by countless fires. He hurriedly bolted the heavy wooden entrance door behind him.
He'll never get in here, he thought with conviction and relaxed as he walked towards the shelves full of age-old books. The valuable manuscripts were useless, now that he had the golden formula. Just then, the entrance door was shattered with one shot and he flew past the rows of bookcases to hide. His pursuer, however, was unstoppable and shot everything to shreds. A fire started and in the chaos Nostradamus managed to escape through a trap door. He landed in a cave-like tunnel and quickly walked through it. A little further on he stopped to listen whether the creep was still following him. Fortunately, he heard nothing.
That problem is solved, he thought, I'm safe. And after some time, he reached an underground lake. But suddenly, the horrible weapon appeared again and was pointed directly at him. Surprisingly, some bats tried to protect him this time, with distraction manoeuvers, but they all got shot to death.
The alchemist shrugged his shoulders, dove into the lake and quickly swam away. He stayed under water as long as possible, because every time he came up for air, bullets were flying everywhere. With more luck than smarts, he managed to reach the other side of the wide lake, where he triumphantly pulled himself up on the rocks. Then, suddenly, he was shot and he collapsed.
"Want to play another game?" the mechanical voice asked.
"Yes, but first I need a minute to recuperate," someone replied. "What's my score?"
In the dark laboratory stood a table full of test tubes and measuring cups. Nostradamus was behind it; on the verge of inventing something great. Various potions were boiling above a fire, while rising vapors obscured his face.
The queen will be happy, he rejoiced, and carefully he trickled some vitriol into the flask and added some alcohol. When the liquid with the crumbled lead had reached the boiling point, he caught the distillation into some long-necked bottles.
"Hmm, still not looking quite right," he driveled and rummaged in a cabinet behind him for some additives. Suddenly, the door to the shed burst open and, startled, he dropped the glass jar on the floor, where it smashed to smithereens. He looked straight into the barrel of a terrible weapon.
"Kill the sorcerer!" a mechanical voice sounded. By reflex, Michel jumped aside and the table, along with all the glass equipment, was wiped out in one shot.
My last hour has arrived, he thought, but some guards unexpectedly rushed in to try to protect him. They were all destroyed in a matter of minutes, however, right before his eyes. And in great distress, he recognized one of the victims.
"Grandpa is done for," he moaned, while he crawled towards him. Jean was lying on the floor, dead as a doornail, after his attempt to save his grandson. He didn't have a lot of time to think about it, because the weapon was once again pointing at him. Like a bat out of hell he fled the laboratory and ran down an endless corridor. The phantom thundered after him, shooting the whole time. Still alive, the alchemist managed to get into another room where some family members were chatting, not suspecting anything.
"Yolande, Victor, get out of here!" he shouted, but they were instantly destroyed by the rising ghost, in the blink of an eye. Shaky, Nostradamus ran on and ended up in an age-old library, where he hurriedly locked the entrance door behind him. Panting, he tried to catch his breath.
"I have a great book for you," someone suddenly said.
"Abigail! We don't have much time!" he answered, in a panic.
"It never pays to rush," the bookseller said in a soothing voice, and pulled him towards the treasures of knowledge.
"Abigail, listen to me. We really must get out of here immediately…" but his words were rudely interrupted; the lock was shot off the door and shattered into a million pieces. The phantom entered and thought he had his prey in the trap. He immediately wiped out Abigail, however. Michel flew off and hid behind the bookcases. Then the whole library was shot to smithereens and the unique manuscripts disappeared in a sea of fire. Thanks to the chaos, the scholar managed to escape through a trapdoor and he landed in an underground corridor, where lighting was indispensable.
"A good thing I brought a candle," he murmured, digging into his bag. "Isabelle, hang on just a little longer. We'll get there." With a light in his hand and his daughter on his back, he strode through the tunnel. Behind him was a sudden sound.
"Good God, does everything have to go wrong today?" he lamented and hurried on. The phantom, meanwhile, had entered the cave structure with his blood-thirsty hounds and the barking sounded fierce. The rattled pair soon reached an underground lake, where Michel hesitated. There was nowhere to go! The demon had caught up to them by then and again pointed his weapon at them.
"Isabelle, take a big breath," Father ordered, but before he had a chance to dive into the water, a direct hit put an end to his attempted escape.
"Do you want to play another game?" the mechanical voice asked again.
"Yes, but let's go to the next level!"
In the dark laboratory Nostradamus stood at a table covered in test tubes. He was working on a unique experiment.
To make gold is like the purification of body and spirit, he was saying to himself. Then he poured a bit of saltpeter into the boiling brew, which had an unexpectedly intense reaction. A large tongue of fire scorched his beard and brought him out his reverie.
Abracadabra: I am creating by speaking. But look at this hodgepodge here on the table, he suddenly thought with perfect clarity. Someone is playing a game with me and he looked around the room.
This is not my work room, he quickly determined. Suddenly, the door to the shed burst open and he was looking into the barrel of a terrible weapon.
"A denizen from hell," he stuttered, utterly bewildered.
"Kill the sorcerer!" a voice out of nowhere commanded. The awakened alchemist dove aside and rolled out of the laboratory, while the glass instruments were being shot to smithereens.
How do I get out of this realm? he wondered in agony. But no bright ideas came to him, so he broke into a run. After he had run down several corridors, the denizen from hell caught up to him. Michel managed to hide in an age-old library, just in the nick of time, and firmly pushed the bolts across the gateway behind him.
"A moment of respite," he sighed, and while he caught his breath he explored his surroundings. The gigantic room appeared to hold an overwhelming number of books.
The Akashic records; the library of all times! The solution must be right here, and he hurried over to the documents. He picked up the first book from the bookcase, which had the words The elixir of bliss by Al-Ghazali written on the front, in illuminated lettering.
The Muslim on the island of Sicily, he immediately remembered and he hurriedly started to leaf through the mystical book. The first passage made reference to the seven valleys of the soul. And searching for the right clue, he continually kept his eye on the entrance gate.
Trial, thunder, abyss, hymn, religious celebration. That's not very helpful, he complained. Let me find it, quick! There was a clattering sound; the denizen from hell was fiddling with the door.
Penance, blockages, curses… That's what I'm looking for. Then the wooden door was smashed into a thousands pieces by an enormous force of fire and he dropped the book out of his hands.
"By Jupiter, stand still, or I'll shoot," the scholar implored, pointing his right index and middle fingers at the danger. The resident of hell froze visibly and Michel moved towards him, stiff with tension. When he got close to him, he peered along the barrel of the weapon to see who was holding it.
"Jesus Christ, a little black boy at the trigger!" he swore and his eyes burned with anger. This startled the Creole boy and he ran away as fast as his legs could carry him. The spell was broken; the hellish terrace disappeared like snow in the sun and a heavy load slid off Michel's shoulders. Then the bedroom was revealed, where Anne was still holding his hand.
"What a vipers' nest," her husband groaned as he returned to consciousness. Then he resiliently got up out of bed and left his wife sitting there, her jaw dropped.
"Sorry, darling," he apologized and he came back to give her a kiss. "Just one question, what were you telling Diane last night?"
"Just a fairytale with a happy ending," she stammered. "Why?"
"I think she fantasized about me. Would you mind singing her a lullaby next time?"
"But she's too old for that now," Anne said, as she got up from the bed.
"Okay, something else then! As long as it doesn't remind her of me," and he walked up to meet his clerk, who was in the attic.
"I'll have to have a word with Paul today," he had to get off his chest when he got upstairs, "otherwise that boy will grow up to be behind bars."
"Are you feeling better, Master?" his helper asked with a quivering feather in his hand.
"I'm a tough cookie, Christophe, although, my damn rheumatism is bothering me a bit," and he wrote down some notes about the virtual world, which had earlier had him in its grip.
Artificial dark land with me playing the lead role, he scribbled in his sketchbook.
"Would you find me all the fairytales that have magical weapons in them, please?" he asked. His secretary promised to do it as soon as possible.
"Some day, children will be in charge of the world," his master explained.
"I sure hope not," Christophe said once he had his pen back under control.
"So don't produce any offspring. It's already too late for me," and the scholar got on with the order of the day.
Tonight I will have to see if it's written in the stars, he thought. He wrestled with a stack of horoscopes for the rest of that afternoon.
Five to forty degrees heaven burns
Fire approaches the new city
After big explosions widthwise
So that the northerners will bow
A heavy gong sounded throughout the entire house and everyone covered their ears. The silver oil lamp, a present from Count Ercole as compensation, almost danced right off the table and the house maid was so startled, she ran into the street.
"You've got another new toy?" Anne complained, when her husband came down the stairs in ecstasy.
"I'm testing my new gong," he said, a bit defensively, "I just got it delivered from Marseille yesterday."
"You're not going to use it to play music, are you?" she asked in all seriousness. "Because then everyone in the entire neighborhood would disappear, including your own family."
"No, no, of course not; you don't have to worry about that," he assured her. Then he sat down in his usual spot next to the hearth to enjoy the released energy. Anne was about to do Madeleine's hair. Their daughter was already waiting at the big table in front of the window, which had a nice view of the garden. While a meager sunray lit up the mother and daughter, Father watched the entertaining spectacle from his lazy chair. He poured himself a glass of wine. An hour later, the last braid was being braided and Mother gathered all the braids together and bound the whole into a crown.
"Just one more minute," she said to her daughter, who was getting tired of sitting still.
"Okay, all done," and she gave her the mirror. Happy with the hairdo, which was done according to the latest Venetian style, Madeleine thanked her mother.
"My friends will be amazed," she said and immediately went outside to show off. The other kids came in and another day flew by. By seven o'clock that evening, Christophe had left the house and the master was taking a break, enjoying the company of his wife on the porch.
"You're going to have to do without me tonight. The planets are favorably lined up right now and there is work to be done," he informed her.
"Okay, darling, that's fine. Join me whenever you want to, as long as you leave that gong alone," she said and he stole up to his attic right away. The driven seer lay down under a sheet and was surprised to notice that the gong beat was still reverberating in his body.
"That thing sure is effective," he mumbled, and soon drifted off to other realms.
Slowly, a store window began to materialize in front of his third eye. It had see-through glass from floor to ceiling. Nostradamus gradually landed with his whole body in a shopping street and quickly looked around; his presence had apparently not attracted any attention. He was in a true buyer's paradise. People from all walks of life were walking around with fancy bags, going in and out of the stores. Aside from many bargain hunters, it was thick with recommended goods, flashing advertisements and immeasurably tall buildings, which touched the clouds. The floor in front of which he had landed, contained extremely advanced products. He saw electric show boxes in all sizes and shapes that showed images of an announcer, actors, sporting events, and, especially, many highly imaginative games. The latter were so-called computer games and the screens showed a colorful collection of action figures which were constantly being shot at.
Those games remind me of that country where I had the questionable privilege of playing a lead role, he contemplated. A river of jungle sounds flowed from the store, which had its doors wide open and he swam towards the sound. In the store, with the deafening music rhythms and screaming animals, customers were looking for strange products, seemingly unbothered by the noise. There was a long line-up of people waiting to pay for the inimitable goods. The descriptions helped him a little bit. He distinguished the audio, television and computer departments and each had a wall full of equipment. It made him feel dizzy. Then he discovered a huge offer of games, on low racks, all of them with warlike titles.
Mostly kids who are enchanted with these dubious games, he noticed, looking around. That murderous little African guy with his hellish weapon is, unfortunately, not the only one of his kind. And he took a closer look at the display. Blockbuster, Space Invaders, Battlefront, he read.
Oh dear, if I see a title with my own name on it in a minute, my future will not look good. And he started to feel queasy thinking about the nasty creeps, venting their frustrations on his image. He noticed that there was information about the designer in small print on the back of the boxes that the games were in.
I'm going to have to remember this place, he thought. You never know. Fortunately, he didn't see any game with his name on it. Suddenly, an Asian man from behind the counter, which was shaped like the Tree of Life, approached him.
"Can I help you?" he asked. The cabbalist was about to answer him, but the question was not addressed to him, but to a small child in front of him.
Unbelievable! It's that little black monster that nearly destroyed me!
"I'm looking for the latest game of Fool the magician," the boy answered.
"That's not out on the shelves yet," the sales person said, "but no worries, I will get you one from the back." A few minutes later, the boy was paying for the latest game at the cash register.
This means that my persona will be misused en masse, Michel shuddered as the young miscreant left the store.
"Hey, you little fiend, where are you going?" he called out grimly, but the boy didn't hear him and crossed the street, where there were only yellow cars driving around. The scholar dashed after him, but recoiled in the traffic and the boy disappeared in the crowd across the street.
How can a child be entertaining such ideas? he wondered, as he crossed the street with difficulty. After a while he found the rascal again as he was walking to a bus stop on the sidewalk. A bus stopped and the boy got in, along with a few other people.
The roles have been reversed, buddy, the seer grumbled and he got into the bus in one second.
"May I see you ticket, please?" the driver asked. Michel grabbed his brown robe without pockets and apologized. Again, it turned out the question was not addressed to him, because an old lady obediently showed her ticket. Ghosts from other times were repeatedly overlooked. Everyone here was completely absorbed in the seduction of city life. The passengers didn't look at anyone and everyone paid attention only to themselves. The little black boy too. He sat down in the back row, next to a Japanese person and started to play a pocket computer game. His stalker sat down in an empty seat nearby.
If I could have a look at that game, I should be able to find out who created it, he thought, and the bus left. Warehouses, cafes, museums and boutiques with the latest fashions whizzed past him. All the streets in the city were numbered, so it looked pretty easy to find your way around here. The bus approached a gigantic city park with cultivated meadows, woods and ponds.
This must be the New World: the land of the northerners, the dreamer supposed, consciously making a mental note of each new insight. He kept looking over at the boy, who was still peacefully sitting in the back.
That little curly-haired kid must not escape me, he thought, with the game in mind. He actually doesn't look so bad. Either appearances are deceptive, or I have judged him too hastily.
The boy suddenly jumped up and got off the bus, which had stopped. His pursuer hurried after him, this time before the doors slammed shut; he had some experience with these now. The boy entered the central park and walked along a path between blooming shrubs towards a skateboard park, where he was meeting some of his friends. They came riding up to him on little boards with wheels.
"Hey Joe," one of them called out. "Where's your skateboard?"
"Oh, something came up. I bought this really cool game," and Joe got the game out of his backpack. The French ghost circled around it and tried to see the back of the box, but Joe was already putting it back. The kids then climbed up into an old tree and soon jumped down again. They started walking and crossed an iron footbridge. The seer orientated himself and saw the impressive row of skyscrapers that bordered the park.
This is quite different from Paris, he thought. At the zoo, the boys decided to each go their own way and Joe left the park through another exit. He got on another bus and the ghost followed him again. This bus drove along a boulevard with all kinds of theaters, hotels and nightclubs. The street was full of screaming billboards and the biggest one said "Coca Cola."
Enough to drive anyone insane, Michel thought, it's giving me a headache.
The boy, meanwhile, was playing with his pocket computer again, with his backpack clasped between his legs. After the exciting trip through the nightlife district with its neon lights, the bus left the crowded island by driving onto an enormous bridge. The seer turned around to catch a glimpse of the magnificent view. The silhouette of the hollow mountains created a sharp contrast against the blue sky.
The city that overflows with abundance, Michel philosophized without losing track of Joe. But the boy was still playing with his computer. After the bridge, the bus turned right and drove along a walkway. At the next stop, the boy got off and trudged to a nearby residential area. A few streets further on he rang the bell at a tidy-looking row house and a woman opened the door.
"You can play outside for a while, if you want to, Joe," his mother said, "dinner won't be ready for another half an hour." Her son sauntered back to the side of the river and sat down on a bench. He took off his backpack and glanced at a stone guard in the distance, holding up a torch. Then he opened his backpack, took the game out and stared at the picture on the box with fascination.
"Turn that thing around!" Nostradamus blurted out, but his words had no effect whatsoever.
I have to do something to prevent this game from being distributed, and he tried to pull the game out of Joe's hands, but he couldn't get a grip on it. He had no power in this realm and, discouraged, he sat down beside his former opponent.
I guess I'll just have to accept the inevitable, he was musing, when suddenly Joe began to talk to him.
"Wow, it's you!" and he held up the picture on the cover to show the sorcerer. The latter recognized his own face. It was a bit too angular and it made him look very grim, but the resemblance was striking. Someone must have made this portrait of him without his knowledge. Probably during his visit to Catherine de Medici.
"Yes, that's me, but aren't you scared of me?"
"No, why?" Joe asked.
"Never mind," he answered, grumpily. Being scared of ghosts was out of fashion, apparently.
"In the picture you're wearing a pirate hat," Joe continued.
"An officer's hat," Michel corrected him, while touching his bald head, "but I lost it."
"You're not from New York, are you?"
"No, I'm from another world. But tell me, are you looking forward to killing me soon?" Joe was taken aback by this question and had to think about it for a few minutes.
"It's just a game," he finally mumbled.
"That's what you think, but thoughts are powerful, you know!"
"Everybody plays games," the boy replied doubtfully.
Well, he's really quite a sweet kid, Michel thought, he's mostly just lacking in proper upbringing.
"Have you ever heard of karma?"
"No, who's that?"
"It's not a person, but a cosmic law. All your deeds, and a thought is also a deed, will have a reaction. An intelligent being, therefore, will never perform any actions that go against the creation."
"What does that have to do with this game?" Joe asked, not quite grasping it.
"Let me formulate it another way: if thousands of kids start killing me, my heart will become so heavy that I will have to burn in hell for eternity."
"I don't want that to happen," Joe said.
"Me neither," Michel admitted.
"I could still exchange this game…"
"A nice thought, thanks, but it wouldn't really make much of a difference, because there are still many more copies."
"Oh, no!" the boy suddenly shouted, "I'm going to be late for dinner," and he ran off. The sorcerer was left behind, dumbfounded. He quickly pulled himself together and caught up to Joe.
"Hey, is that how people say goodbye around here?"
"Oh, sorry, but I have to be on time. I can ask if you can stay for dinner," and they reached the house, where he rang the doorbell again. His mother opened the door, grumbling.
"We just finished eating, son, you're late. And you got such a nice watch for your birthday."
"I'm sorry, Mom."
"Well, okay, I'll heat up your dinner for you," she sighed.
"Would it be okay if my friend stays for dinner?" he asked, carefully, because it wasn't really the best time to be asking for a favor.
"What friend? I don't see anyone."
"Oh, he was just here," Joe said, looking around in surprise, and followed his mom around in confusion. A few minutes later he climbed up the stairs to his room, with his hot dinner, and there he found the magician waiting for him out of nowhere.
"Oh, there you are! Where were you?" the boy asked.
"I was there, but you couldn't see me anymore." Joe looked somewhat bewildered and offered him a piece of chicken.
"No thank you, I just ate. But you could really do me a favor and show me your new game."
"You want to play?"
"No, not really; I'm not exactly eager to shoot myself down, but I would like to know who created that awful game about me."
"Oh, you could easily find out about that on the internet," Joe suggested, while he finished his dinner.
"Internet? What's that?"
"It's the World Wide Web. You can look up anything on it."
"Oh, do you mean the Akashic Records?"
"Um, I don't know anything about those, but I will show you on the computer," and he turned on the device.
"I want to be an information scientist when I grow up," Joe declared, while he was waiting.
"That's excellent. But I hope you won't be inventing any of those murderous games." But the boy didn't hear him, because he was now absorbed in the noisy computer.
"I thought you were disturbed before, but actually you're okay," Michel said, when Joe stopped working the keyboard for a minute.
"By the way, you have a beautiful ship over there on the windowsill."
"It's a scale model of the Providence," the boy said proudly. "It was used to transport slaves in the seventeenth century."
"Yes, humans are not always kind, are they. Homo homini lupus."
"See, this is a search engine. You just type in keywords to search for stuff," Joe showed him when the screen came up and he immediately started to type in some words.
"Can't find anything yet," he said, after a few tries.
"Why don't you try "designer, game, magician and fool" all together, Michel suggested, but that also didn't produce any results.
"Search engines that can't find anything," he said scornfully. "Just get the box and let me see the back of it. It's got to have the information on it." Joe got up and got his backpack, which was lying in a corner of the room.
"Crap, the game's not in here. I must have left it by the river."
"Let's go, right away," the magician said and they ran out of the house towards the walkway.
"We're too late; the game is gone," Joe saw as they approached the bench. He began to search the area and suddenly noticed something.
"That guy over there! He's got the plastic bag with my game in it."
"Okay, let's go get it," Michel said, but his friend's face had turned white.
"What's the matter?"
"He belongs to the Crips," Joe answered, scared, "they're super dangerous."
"Well Crip or Chip, I don't care; I don't have any choice," and he pushed the kid out of his way and purposefully started to go after the other guy.
"Hey, aren't you even going to say goodbye?" Joe called out, but the strange man was already out of earshot and resolutely flying after the youth.
It's not my day today, Michel complained to himself as he caught up to the gang member. The latter disappeared into the underground and threw a coin into a steel gate. He walked through as it unlocked, while the magician simply sailed through the bars. They came to a platform, where the Crip had to wait. He had a bored expression on his face. He briefly glanced at his loot, malcontented, put it back into the pocket of his jacket and carelessly dropped the plastic bag on the ground. After a few minutes, a train stopped and he got in, along with the ghost. The train began to move again. After a one-hour trip with many stops, where passengers got in and out, he still hadn't taken out the game.
At least I have time and time doesn't have me, Michel thought, sitting behind him with incredible patience. Finally, the little scoundrel got out and half-way up the filthy stairs he ran into his friends, who all had a particularly nasty look in their eyes.
If looks could kill… the seer thought.
"Hey Mike! It's about time you got here. We've been waiting for you for ages," said Enrique, a guy who was covered with tattoos.
"I was chasing some jerks in Brooklyn and couldn't get here any sooner," Mike lied.
"So what are we doin'?" Bob, who was wearing his baseball cap backwards, asked. "It's getting boring around here. No one's been lynched for like 9 days."
"But no Bloods in sight since then," said Mike coolly.
"Guys, the piss smell around here is making me sick," Enrique complained, "lets get going," and they all walked up the stairs.
"Long live the Bronx," Bob cheered when they got outside and the hooligans strutted through the neighborhood which was full of dismal apartment blocks.
I'd better be careful in this underworld, Michel thought to himself. Some evil spirit could easily attack me from behind, because like attracts like.
It was getting to be evening and the three shady characters went into a store to buy some drinks. The cash register was set up at a height of two meters and was being guarded like a fortress. Suddenly, a police car came screaming around the corner with its sirens on full-blast and came to a screeching halt. Officers got out, grabbed a random passer-by and violently threw him onto the hood of the car. The three Crips watched, fascinated while they guzzled from their cans at ease.
"Looks like someone's getting picked up again," Enrique laughed. They walked closer to the incident, where a local resident was getting frisked because of some offense or other.
Okay guys; get that game out now, Michel thought, his patience now starting to wear thin. Mike, who still had the game in his pocket, had other ideas though. After stopping at a pub, where the ghost gloomily waited at the bar, the pals finally decided to go home. One street further on, they entered a shabby-looking apartment complex, where they went up in a rickety elevator. Upstairs, the Crips went into a messy apartment where they dropped down on a worn out couch. Mike took off his jacket and brought the game into view. Nostradamus hurried closer, but all he could see was the boy's long fingers.
"Whatcha got there?" Bob asked, drunkenly.
"Oh, a computer game I found in the street: Fool the Magician," Mike answered.
"We only fool Bloods," Enrique blustered, taking the box from him and throwing it out the window.
"Hey, you jerk, I'll decide about that," Mike swore, walking to the window to see where the thing had fallen.
This is my chance, Michel thought. He dove through the window and flew down to the game, which had fallen next to a garbage can. But once he got down there he realized it had gotten too dark and he couldn't read the text.
Some dreams are just like that, he lamented: everything goes wrong. And he sat down beside the garbage can dejectedly.
I'll just have to wait until it gets light out.
The night passed and early in the morning a garbage truck drove into the street. One of the workers picked up all the loose garbage from the street and threw the game box into the grinder, before the dreamer had even noticed what he was doing. Suddenly wide awake, he bravely dove in after the game and ended up with the crushed garbage. It took hours before the stinking trash was dumped onto a big garbage heap. Then the box finally fell out, virtually undamaged and with the right side up.
"Eureka!" Nostradamus shouted happily and he found an address.
Hmm, somewhere in Manhattan, he understood. The street numbering is easy anyway.
He flew up like a rocket and raced to the crowded island. Once he had crossed the river, he sped over the city towards downtown, where he landed near a coffee house.
I think this is it, and he hoofed it through the entrance, where a crowd of people was waiting for the elevators. Along with the others, he got into the box, which brought them to the 99th floor in less than one minute.
Not as fast as I am, but it will do, and he got out and started to look for the darn office that the game had come from.
"Number 214, 216, 218, here it is," Michel murmured, wandering through the door of the design office like a ghost.
"The predator is pretty limited," he heard someone named Max say to his designer. "It's better to change the characters with biomods, but you will have to pick them very carefully."
"Will that enable him to see his enemies through the walls?" John asked.
"If need be." The two men were sitting at a computer and were studying a picture of a game they were developing.
So this is where evil is sown, the seer contemplated, taking in everything.
"I've gathered some information about the upgrade of Wealth Leech," John resumed. "I'll get the file." He walked to his own work space and returned with a folder.
"Oh great, thanks" said Max, taking the folder from him. "What's happening with the extra download of the magician, by the way?" Michel pricked up his ears.
"I just finished tinkering with that one for a week at home," his colleague answered. "I made Nostradamus more ingenious. Now he can use organic materials from dead bodies to recover."
"The first reactions have not been great," Max grumbled. "Maybe it will be better with these new additions. To tell you the truth, I don't really find him exciting enough to shoot at. Can't you make him look more dangerous, but in such a way that he still looks like a magician?"
"I'll see what I can do."
"Yeah, well, you know, kids want violence, not subtlety."
"Of course. I already took out the library, and there are laser beams coming out of his eyes now. But I'll change his appearance too."
"Okay, well, I'll get to work then," said Max, and his colleague left him and walked to his workspace down the hall. After getting himself a cup of coffee, John sat down at one of the computers by the window. An image of the famous seer immediately appeared and he began to deform him experimentally.
"Hey, that's my head and my body," Michel squeaked, looking over his shoulder. Undisturbed, John removed the pirate hat and pasted a wild hairdo in its place. Then he cut off the beard, but after some dawdling put it back on again and made it longer, so it reached down to the ground. He briefly reflected on his new approach, while the lead player was looking at drawings of himself, lying around beside the computer.
This game must absolutely not become a success, he thought determinedly and began to devise a plan of attack. John, meanwhile, had taken off the limbs in order to rebuild the torso. He stretched the cropped body in all directions and let it suffer all kinds of horrible diseases. Finally, he ended up with a blown-up combatant who only vaguely resembled a magician. In the meantime, the desperate ghost was directing all of his powers at the computer, which promptly froze.
"Oh no, not that again!" John complained. A second later, his coffee spilled all over the challenged drawings on the desk.
"This is getting creepy!" he stuttered. He called his boss and told him what was happening.
"I don't believe in ghosts," Max replied caustically. "I'm sure you spilled your coffee yourself and computers just freeze sometimes."
"I never even touched my coffee!" John protested. "Maybe this game is sacrilege?"
"It was your idea! You're the one who wanted Nostradamus as an action figure."
"Yes, because when we did our market research, he was very popular," John defended himself, while dabbing the spilled coffee with a cleaning cloth. "Oh, well, at least I made some copies and back-ups." While the two men were squabbling over the existence of God, Michel's conscience began to gnaw at him. He realized that he was messing with fate and began to doubt the rightness of his meddling.
I really should know better, he realized. I let myself be influenced by fear. I am lacking in faith of the Almighty.
His intuition also told him that there could be some consequences.
"If the roof collapses too," Max suddenly said loudly, "I will believe you." It seemed like the devil was playing along, because right at that moment, a big airplane flew straight towards them. Michel saw the monster coming and was totally perplexed.
My God, did I cause that? he wondered, feeling very guilty; but no, it had to be a coincidence. The airplane drilled into the tower right underneath them and the whole building began to sway dangerously with the intense shock. Immediately, all the lights and the computers went out. John and Max, their jaws dropped, stared at what could not be happening and then held on tightly to each other in fear. The seer rushed to the window where gigantic smoke clouds were rising. Below him, debris was flying in all directions, with bodies mixed in. The two designers were now walking around in a daze and suddenly began to cry. When office staff from the floors above them began to stream in from the stairs, they snapped out of it and sprang into action. They ran to the elevators like they were possessed, but they were out of order. Hysterically they scratched at the elevator doors. A series of explosions followed and then a bunch of suffocating smoke, mixed with the smell of blood and burned clothing, filled the room. People were screaming and in desperation started jumping out the windows. A minute later, a second airplane flew into a nearby skyscraper and the enormous explosion caused the building to sway again. It was complete pandemonium; a huge sea of fire cut off the way downstairs and soon both buildings collapsed. Nostradamus was pulled back by the automatic protection of his earthly body and opened his eyes in a state of shock in his own work room. The unprecedented attack was etched into his memory for ever.
The antichrist soon destroys the three
Twenty-seven years his war will rage
The unbelievers: captured, dead or banned
The earth strewn with corpses and red hail
De Chavigny was ready with his pen. His master was about to dictate something to him; he was suffering from gout.
"Okay, Christophe, write down: 'From the sky will come a king of terror.'" And he diligently dipped his pen into the ink and wrote down the words given to him.
"Oh, wait a minute, change that last part to 'king of horror'." The clerk crossed out the passage, while his boss was looking out the attic window at the autumn sky. Christophe waited at his desk for a new line of the verse.
"The great Mongolian leader will arise from the dead," the scholar continued, and the tapping against the ink pot could be heard again. "No, that's too clear… Change it to 'The king of Angolmois will arise from the dead,"' and again he corrected the text.
"In closing: '1999, the seventh month. After and before, Mars will rule with happiness.'"
"That will be in over 436 years, Master, if my calculations are correct."
"No, I'm not making it that simple. The date of execution of this quatrain will be 2012," Nostradamus invented.
"Oh, not till then?" the clerk mumbled, feeling lost.
"Let's go and sit on the porch, Christophe. It's one of the most beautiful autumn days of the year," and both men went downstairs.
"All finished with your work?" Anne asked. She was sorting out old stuff with the maid.
"No, we're going to work outside," her husband answered while he took some letters out of his private desk before leaving the living room.
"Hey, a new rocking chair," the clerk noticed when they got to the porch.
"Yes, it's for stopping my thoughts," his boss explained, sitting down in a wicker chair.
"Christophe, I would like you to reply to this letter from Bishop Méandre today. That man is demanding that I need his authorization before the publication of my next almanac."
"Méandre is a narrow-minded man."
"Yes, I agree and apparently I am encroaching on his territory. But write him a polite letter and explain that, unfortunately, I cannot meet his demand for the following reasons: The content of my almanac is not blasphemous and does not harm the Church in any way. Furthermore, I cannot carry out my work with imposed restrictions." Christophe promised to take care of it. Just then, Anne came in and interrupted the business talks.
"Pauline is sick; would you mind having a look at her?" she asked, worried. Her husband got up to examine his daughter. Pauline was curled up into a little ball in the corner of the living room.
"Let Daddy take a look, sweetheart," he crooned and she came out of her cocoon. She was looking pale.
"It looks to me like you've just caught a cold. Summer is over, you know! Better start wearing a coat," and he picked her up and put her down at the table.
"I'll make you a hot drink and after you've drunk it, you're going to bed until you feel better. Agreed?" The girl nodded timidly. He went to the kitchen and a few minutes later returned with an herbal mixture.
"To the last drop!"
"Yuck," Pauline complained after the first sip and she pushed the drink away.
"Come on, if you want to get better, you have to make a small sacrifice," and when she had finished the medicine, he brought the patient to her bed. Back with his secretary, he resumed his work. They spoke extensively about the new almanac, which had to be finished this week.
"Piggy nose, piggy nose," one of the kids was suddenly teasing.
"André, you'd better leave Mr. De Chavigny alone! He can write English better than you and me together." The boy came out from behind the shrub and tried to figure out what to do next.
I wonder if maybe I don't pay enough attention to my kids, Father pondered and had an idea.
"André, would you come here please!" His son came out of the garden.
"Go and ask your brothers and sisters if they feel like having a fire by the river." The boy ran off happily.
After lunch, Christophe disappeared upstairs and the scholar got ready to go out with his kids in the living room.
"Who's coming to the Touloubre?" he wanted to know.
"André, César and me," Paul answered, daringly slouching in his dad's chair.
"No one else?" But there didn't seem to be any other candidates.
"Okay, it will be just us men then," Father determined and picked up the tinderbox from the mantle.
"Why don't you take some fishing rods," said Anne, "then we can have fish tomorrow." Her husband picked up the fishing gear from the shed and the men left.
"You forgot to take a bucket," Anne called after them, but they didn't hear her and left town by a secret path, to avoid Father's admirers.
"Oh my goodness, we forgot to bring a bucket," he discovered half-way down Sycamore Lane.
"I'll go back and get one," César offered, and a bit later he rejoined them with the bucket. They arrived at the river, which flowed south of Salon and squabbled about where the best cast would be.
"The best place is definitely on the other side by the Cypresses," Paul was sure. They decided to take his advice and crossed the Roman footbridge.
"I'm turning eight next week," André announced when they got to the other shore.
"Don't worry, we won't forget, son, but what are we going to do first, fish or light a fire?" Paul had already cast his rod and they again took his lead.
"Would you put some bait on my hook, please, César?" Father, whose fingers were hurting him a bit, asked and the boy stuck a piece of dough on it for him. The four of them sat amiably at the waterside this way and Paul was the first one to get a bite.
"How come you're always the first one?" André called out jealously.
"I do this quite often," his brother informed him.
"Practice makes perfect," Father agreed and they all stared at their floats some more.
"The guilds are setting up a school," César commented, "I'd like to go to it."
"Excellent! I like to see my offspring use their brains. And what do you think of school, Paul?" Father asked.
"Well, it's okay, but I really like music much better. Got one!" and he pulled out a bass. "By the way, I'm going to play music with Lisette on Saturday in the Tambourine," he said, while putting his fish in the bucket.
"Isn't that De Craponne's daughter?" Father asked.
"That's right. Lisette plays the viol. She is learning a piece for the opening of the canal, which is being extended to Salon next year." César and André had also caught a fish by now.
"I'm not getting a bite…"
"It takes a certain knack, Dad," Paul opined, "you've either got it, or you don't." Suddenly, Michel's float disappeared far below the surface and he had to pull on his fishing rod with all his might. A giant squid flew into the air and angrily stretched out its tentacles to him. Confounded, the seer was taken into a stranglehold and fought back in mortal fear. Just when he was starting to suffocate, the monster suddenly vanished.
Tsk, what kind of omen could that be? he thought, while catching his breath and recovering from the mirage.
"That's enough fish for us, just throw the next one back into the water," he said under control to his sons, who hadn't noticed anything.
"Let's build a fire then," André suggested and they all put down their fishing rods. A few minutes after they collected some wood and dead branches, they had a roaring fire.
"Can we put a fish on it right away; I'm hungry," Paul suggested.
"We just ate," said César.
"We're going to take all the fish to Mother," Father decided. "She'll fry them tomorrow." When the fire had burned out and it started to get a bit chilly, they decided to start heading back home.
"What are you doing, carrying around that heavy boulder, André?" Paul asked when they crossing the bridge. His brother then dropped the rock into the river. While he was getting splashed, Father was anxiously looking to make sure no angry tentacles were rising up out of the water.
King Winter was keeping the country in its grip. The temperature had plummeted downward drastically in just a few days and it was colder than it had ever been. A paddy wagon, accompanied by gendarmes, arrived at the narrow square in the heart of Salon and stopped at number two. While some of the neighbors were hanging out of their windows with curiosity, the officers got off their horses and the commander knocked on the door with a stern look on his face. Nostradamus, shunning the light, appeared at the window and finally understood the portent of a month earlier.
"Michel de Nostredame, in the name of the law, you are under arrest," the head officer proclaimed when the scholar opened the door. He was given one minute to collect some clothes and say goodbye to this family. Anne arrived too late and watched with sorrowful eyes as her husband disappeared into the wagon with a duffle bag.
"Michel!" she screamed through the streets. The whole town was up in arms. The much-praised scientist was moved past the townspeople in chains and the strangest rumors immediately began to circulate. The old detainee was taken to the castle of Marignane outside of Marseille and there he was locked up like a common criminal. Later that day, he got a visit from Claude de Tende, the governor of Provence.
"I'm terribly sorry, Michel," his friend began, looking as white as a ghost. "Bishop Méandre forced me to have you arrested because of your deviant publications. He threatened to take me to court too if I didn't cooperate. There are a few sensitive issues from my past, which he could use against me."
"Oh, it was my own fault; I'm the one who's been so eager to get published. I just hope I get to see my family again…"
"There's more bad news," Claude said gloomily. There's been an attack on the pope. He survived, but your friend Rabelais didn't. He's been murdered." That was another big hit for Nostradamus to sustain.
I used to be able to foresee these kinds of things, he thought. I was still pure then, but my success has been going to my head lately; I thought I was invulnerable.
"I am a useless seer, Claude," he said.
"Not, that's not true. It's just that the bishop has more power than any of us could have imagined.
"Yes, and now I will have to defend myself against the highest boss of the Church and the outcome is predetermined. The best-case scenario will be a dragged out conflict for years, which will do me in."
"Well, let's still hope for a positive outcome, and I assure you again, my hands are tied." The governor said goodbye to his friend.
While in prison, the scholar did some exercises every day in order to stay healthy, but after a week in the cold, he began to weaken dangerously. His old age and the rheumatism took over and he finally had to succumb and just lie on the bench. He just stared outside through the bars of the window. It was snowing; a rare event in the south of France. A few snowflakes fluttered in through the window and fell onto his frozen hands.
It looks like I might perish before I ever even set foot in a courtroom, he moaned. Well, I'd better not waste my time fretting over it, and he gathered his blanket around himself.
Faith, that's all I can do; just keep up the faith, and due to exhaustion, his spirit absconded.
A caravan was traveling through the desert, towards the snow-covered mountain tops. The dusty wind blowing from the south-west made the journey more difficult for the group, women and children bringing up the rear.
"Getty up!" the donkey drivers repeatedly shouted. Finally, the fugitives left the barren plain with their loaded-down pack animals to find shelter in the foothills.
"We'll set up camp here," the leader with the blue turban commanded when they entered a rocky valley. The caravan came to a halt and the badgered tribe got a chance to rest. A few carriers got bottles of water from the packs on the donkeys and passed them out.
"Be frugal with it," the leader warned, "this has to last us for a few more days." From high on a red cliff, a mountain dweller was observing the group.
"Beshir, go to that man and ask who he is," his boss commanded, "it looks like he is a Pashtun." Beshir, climbed up the rock mass and after a while he reached the man, who was calmly standing there, wearing a long, brown robe.
"May I ask who you are?" the scout asked, catching his breath from climbing the last of the rocks.
"You may call me Discute," the stranger answered. His thick beard was flapping in the wind, while he himself stood motionless in the sun.
"My name is Beshir and we are Pathanes from the North. We are looking for a save haven in the mountains."
"Then I advise you to leave this valley immediately, because a hellish rain will destroy this valley within twenty minutes." The scout looked at him in astonishment.
"I would appreciate it if you could tell my leader about this," he finally said.
Together they climbed down the rocks and they soon reached the camp, where Beshir introduced the strange character to his boss.
"Have we met before?" the latter asked.
"Not that I recall," the mountain dweller answered.
"So this valley is on the verge of being destroyed? Where do you get this information?"
"I am in touch with the All," the mountain dweller claimed. "Over there, on the right, beneath that crevice, you will find a cave where all of you can hide."
"Is it true about that cave?" the leader asked. Beshir nodded. His boss thought for a moment and then motioned to one of his men.
"Alalaam, immediately take all the women and children and half of our men to the cave that Beshir will show you. The others will continue to set up camp." Alalaam hurriedly split up the Pathanes and with Beshir in the lead, hundreds of tribesmen went down into the crevice.
"I cannot let you go free," the leader told Discute. "You will have to enter the cave with us, because we must always be prepared for traitors," and his men kept him within shooting range. "But if you are right, we will be very grateful and we will richly reward you," and the so-called prophet was forced to go along.
"There is not much time left," the stranger said gravely, while they descended.
"We'll see," the leader responded, and a few moments later they entered the cave where the group that had left earlier had already taken cover.
"It's a tunnel going all the way through, boss," Beshir, who was just coming back called out. "It runs through to the next valley and…" Suddenly, a gigantic explosion made the mountain shake on its foundations and the guards at the entrance were thrown into the cave. Large chunks of rock were falling down from the ceiling hazardously and most people fell down. It got quiet again and the Pathanes got up, feeling shaky.
"That was a major blast," the leader mumbled, shaking the dust off his clothes. The damage turned out to be minimal: there were just a few slightly wounded. The leader hurried outside with his confidants, to see how his other men were. An unprecedented large bomb had completely destroyed the valley and left it in ruins. There was nothing left of the camp or any of their fellow fighters. The little group went back into the cave and the boss went to look for his guest.
"I haven't introduced myself yet; I am Osama Bin Laden. You are free to go now. However, I hope that you will stay with us and help us with your special gifts."
"I help all of mankind, and I will stay with you until the danger has abated," the prophet said.
"That will be entirely satisfactory to me. Is Mohammad still all right?" Bin Laden asked Alalaam.
"Yes boss, he is repacking his mule."
"Tell him that we will rest here and from now on we will travel at night," and his helper disappeared down the narrow corridor, which was full of exhausted escapees.
"The enemy will not catch us!" Bin Laden encouraged everyone. "Allah has just sent us his son," and all his people cheered. "Now rest, because tonight we will travel on. Yasser, give our brave rescuer blankets and food." The assistant took Discute into the tunnel and they passed some soldiers who were getting their weapons ready. The newcomer received the necessary articles from a veiled woman.
"Relatively few woman and children," he commented, wondering why.
"All the women and children are Osama's," Yasser clarified. After they had eaten and drunk, the Pathanes rested, except for a few guards at the entrance. Once the sun had gone down, Bin Laden invited his mysterious guest to attend the Jirga. He accepted. They were walking to the board together, when Osama was struck by an inspiration.
"Now I remember where I know you from," he said. "Years ago I had an inspiring dream, in which an old, wise man beckoned to me from a skyscraper. That was you!" Instantly, Nostradamus regained his presence of mind and he got a view of the whole peculiar situation.
Well, I'll be… I personally served that chief myself. Just like the genie summoned from Aladdin's lamp. That Muslim must have some special powers, he thought. And, still feeling a bit foggy, he tried to put the pieces together. A number of wise men were already sitting in the conclave and Osama and his guest joined them.
"Our fighters will continue to engage in holy warfare," someone named Mullah, whose face was hidden behind a cloth, spoke.
"But how? We are barely surviving and prevalence of the unbelievers is great," another board member said. The militant Ahmed now moved.
"First we have to get ourselves properly situated in the mountains and then we will strike with the force of destruction," he proposed.
"Yes, this is good. We all want to continue the fight against the Christian dogs," Mullah summarized, "therefore, I argue for a decisive last battle and Allah will lead us to victory."
"No, if we want to win the battle against the Americans, we must escape," Osama commented critically. "Besides, in military terms we do not even exist."
"What did you have in mind? Go into hiding in Jalalabad or cross the border?" Mullah asked.
"Yes, I was thinking of Pakistan, where we will be able to plan new attacks against the West on all fronts." A number of wise men agreed with him.
"What does Discute think about all this?" Osama asked.
"Well, I'm no strategist," he said, by now realizing that he was not in the company of a bunch of peace lovers.
"Don't you foresee certain dangers?"
"No, I'm not getting anything at the moment," he answered cautiously. The board finally decided to cross the border to Pakistan by way of the Khyber Pass. The trek through the capricious mountains was very risky, but once they had arrived in the neighboring country they would be safe among friendly tribes. Beshir, in the meantime, was waking everybody up, because it was time to be on their way. While the caravan slowly began to
move, the clairvoyant went to join Bin Laden.
"Are you a Sunnite?" the latter asked casually.
"No, I'm not."
"Shiite?" But Discute indicated he didn't belong to them either.
"But you are a Muslim brother, aren't you?"
"I behave according to the rules of the Supreme Being. He is called God or Allah."
"Well, don't let any of the others hear you say that. In any case, you are against the Americans." The convoy came to a brief standstill, because the tunnel was too narrow to easily pass through.
"Why are you engaging in warfare?" Discute asked.
"The Americans are permanently in Saudi-Arabia and are defiling the holy land with their presence."
"Americans? Those are the inhabitants of the New World, aren't they?"
"Are you stuck in time or something? The crusaders are from far away, yes, but from the New World? The ruined world you mean," and the corner of Osama's mouth curled in a cruel sneer.
"Why are the Americans bombing you?"
"We attacked them in order to destroy their power."
"You mean, like that attack on that skyscraper?"
"Yes, and you gave me the idea, but you're sure asking a lot of questions," Osama said, irritated and ended the conversation.
Holy mackerel, it's the antichrist that's mentioned in the Bible, Nostradamus suddenly understood. I've been allowing myself to be misled by the future son of destruction. It's truly bizarre, the way I'm getting tested.
Eventually, the fighters reached the outside world and the coast appeared to be clear. The convoy then continued its journey under the open sky across a rocky plane that was bordered by mountain ranges on both sides. The procession did not travel very fast and Bin Laden was getting worried.
"A helicopter! Everyone hide!" he suddenly shouted. In the distance there was a hideous noise that quickly came closer and the fugitives hurriedly hid in holes and crevices and kept completely quiet. A searchlight shone onto the inhospitable landscape and soon disappeared again, after which the leader commanded everyone to resume marching. The weather conditions changed to their favor: the ascending clouds kept the caravan out of sight. After a long trip, Beshir pointed to a cave, where his people would hide during the day. Then it began to rain and the last of the donkeys were pulled into the hiding place. The overstrained Arabs got a chance to catch their breath.
"I've got some bad new," Bin Laden said to his accomplices. "The crusaders are doing a pincer movement and combing through all the caves."
"Then we are lost!" Alalaam wailed.
"No, these mountains can obviously not be sealed off," his boss replied.
"I'm sure the Americans will bribe some local tribes and they will give us away," Ahmed suggested.
"The mountain dwellers are all loyal to me," the usually silent Mullah reassured them.
"Maybe our friend Discute will receive more signs from above," Osama said. But Discute remained aloof and was not planning the play along anymore. A few hours later, the guards at the entrance were unexpectedly shot at; some American group had found them.
"Get up and keep walking!" the leader immediately commanded. The militant disciples quickly picked themselves up and went deeper into the mountain. Then some faithful followers blew up the entrance to the cave; the way in was permanently blocked for the enemy and for the moment, they were safe. Beshir led the group through various corridors at great speed and a little later they were back outside. This time they found themselves on a rough mountain ridge where a violent snow storm was raging. They were virtually completely blinded on the slippery slopes, but that did not deter the tough Pathanes. Slowly but surely, they traveled over the rugged ridges. They walked past the ruins of an airplane that had crashed some time in the past. A fellow Pashtun suddenly came out of the snow and after a short discussion with the mountain dweller it was decided to take a different path.
"What's going on?" Discute, who was starting to turn blue from the cold, asked.
"The usual entrance is being patrolled by enemy Afghans and the Pakistani army is at the border," Yasser answered. With great determination, the rank slogged on past ravines and granite peaks, ever eastward. Despite the severe weather they managed to reach the other pass to Pakistan and shortly after crossing the border, they took a brief rest. After this, the leader put a select group together, which included his family members, and ordered some hundred remaining warriors to march to the village of Peshawar. Their boss was planning to go into hiding elsewhere, but wisely kept the location a secret.
"Men, our ways must now part for a while," Bin Laden announced. "If I don't survive, we will see each other in paradise."
"Long live Osama," they chanted.
They are brave fellows, but they will be eliminated in a flash, Nostradamus thought. Their role is finished.
"Discute, I would like you to come with us," Osama requested, "because you may be able to serve us with your divine gifts."
"I will accompany you as long as I am meant to," he replied. The selected group began to walk to the north with two mules, while the majority of the men kept moving south.
"Would it not have been wiser for us to also keep going to the south, where our sympathizers live?" Alalaam asked on the way.
"No, that's where the Americans will be looking for us," his boss answered. After some time, they came out of the mountains and arrived at a steppe, where two cars were waiting at the side of a creek. To be on the safe side, the group hid behind some rocks, after which Beshir whistled a signal.
"Zindibad Osama," was the answer at the pond.
"It's okay," Beshir assured everyone and they went on. At the creek, they jumped into the terrain vehicles and they sped off. After riding for hours on bumpy dirt roads, they arrived at a dilapidated building. It was situated on a bare, deserted plane, surrounded by white mountains.
"Welcome to Bar Chamarkand," Osama jested. Exhausted, they all got out and entered the house, which had about a dozen eroded rooms. The wind had free reign in it, because none of the windows had any shutters.
Brr, a dreary cottage, Michel thought. The women were assigned their own room and the men took possession of the main space, where they laid down their weapons. They let the children play outside for a bit; they would only mislead the enemy, rather than attract them.
"Here's a drink for you, Discute," Mullah, called out. The clairvoyant surprisingly caught the can of Mecca cola thrown to him.
Looks like my spirit power has grown, he observed happily. The exhausted warriors lay down on some mattresses and Discute leaned against the window post. Outside, one of the daughters of Osama was amusing herself with a butterfly made of colored glass. Nostradamus wanted to give some attention to the girl, when suddenly, she was gone. A few seconds later she unexpectedly poked her head up through the window.
"Peekaboo!" she called out, her eyes shining with joy.
"Hello, little girl," he said, moved. The cheerful meeting was cut short though.
"Discute, come over here and take a look at this," her father called. He had changed into some clean clothes and was now walking around in army gear. A portable television showed the airplane that had purposely crashed into the skyscraper that Nostradamus had been in at that moment. The men were all watching the images excitedly.
"Osama Bin Laden, the brains behind the attacks on the Twin Towers, has managed to escape from the Tora Bora Mountains, along with other ringleaders," newscaster was saying.
"The Saudi Muslim fundamentalist who made his fortune in drugs, has almost mythical proportions…"
"That's a lie!" someone shouted in the room.
"The most sought-after terrorist in the world is very popular among the Afghan and Pakistani population, because he supplies weapons, training, food and medicine. The golden tip that leads to the arrest of Bin Laden is worth about twenty-five million dollars."
"I've seen enough," Osama said and while he walked away, his men saw pictures of him on the screen. Beshir, meanwhile, was hauling some boxes while Discute was watching him and sipping his coke.
These people are not particularly constructive, he thought, when he heard a bang in one of the rooms. Curious, he left the warriors behind, glued to the tube, and went to check out the rooms.
What happened to all the women? he wondered. He saw that some boxes had fallen down in an improvised office. A box that was decorated with palm trees had broken and some documents lay spread out on the floor. He bent over the papers and focused his eyes.
Oh dear, Einstein will not be happy about this…
The information was about how to build a nuclear bomb.
"So, you are an American spy, after all," Bin Laden said suddenly, from behind him, "I should have known," and he called his accomplices.
"Alalaam, lock this traitor up!"
"But he saved our lives!"
"He is trying to infiltrate," the leader said unrelentingly and the false prophet was locked into a storage room, where he could once again think clearly.
Now I should be able to automatically get back to my cell in Marignane, Michel thought; but nothing happened.
My God, my next thought pattern has to be broken.
Then heard the keys jingling and the door opened. In the door opening stood Osama's daughter, wearing a little paper crown on her head. She smiled.
"Michel, you are a free man once again!" the governor of Provence said. And his voice brought him back to the present.
"Thank you very much, young lady," the scholar answered, and got up from his bench with some difficulty.
"You're raving, my friend; I hope you're not losing your sanity."
"It's all right, the tide has turned, thank God," and he hobbled towards him.
"The charge against you has been dropped," Claude explained, while Nostradamus stuck his nose out of the bars.
"Long live the queen!" he called out hoarsely. Claude didn't say anything, but his face spoke volumes.
In Salon, songs were sung for the returned hero, who weakly waved at his admirers from the balcony. The entire city council was among the crowd, flocking towards him.
"Don't stay out there too long, Michel. You're ready to fall over," Anne said worriedly. He promised to keep it short.
"Dear family, friends and fellow townspeople, I am a free man, once again," he began and the crowd cheered. Then they quieted down so they could hear him speak.
"Thoughts, however, can never be imprisoned and in my cell I had many visions, which I will write down and I will publish them, as before. After all, out of the darkness, the light will always shine again. Alas, that's all I can say right now, because my body needs to rest." The weakened scholar then closed the balcony doors and went straight to bed.
Up to the Danube and the Rhine will come to drink
The great Camel without remorse
Near the Rhône and the Loire violence breaks out
The Cock will ruin him near the Alps
Tonight would be a good opportunity to give César a tour of the constellations and Nostradamus went to look for his son.
"Have you seen César anywhere?" he asked Anne downstairs. She was soaking her feet in a tub of warm water.
"Well, late this afternoon he was doing some chores in the municipal archives. But I don't know where he is now. Why?"
"The stars will be shining tonight and I want to initiate him," he explained. The boy was nowhere to be found, however, and his father decided to get some work done in the attic. He hadn't been using this room for his meditation for some time; Christophe spent most of his time there. He didn't really need isolation anymore. His preternatural gifts had been merging into the busy household over the years and the quietude he needed was anchored in his heart. Just as he was putting the finishing touches on a horoscope for a client, his son came in.
"Well, if it isn't my César," he said lightheartedly.
"Are we going to look at celestial bodies, Dad?" the teenager asked, while eyeing the embryos in the display case.
"Your timing couldn't be better, my boy," and Father closed his book. He stood up, opened the skylight and took the cover off the man-high spyglass, which was set up underneath it.
"You're already almost as tall as this instrument," he mumbled, looking at his son.
"Okay, well, let's see….. There it is! Look César, just above the last rays of the sun: Mercury, the planet of intelligence and mental capacity; over twenty-eight zodiac degrees from the Sun."
"All I see is a small, pink dot," César remarked, gazing through the device.
"Small but significant, but I admit, it's an acquired taste. Boys prefer something more spectacular," and Father aimed the apparatus at the moon.
"Wow, that's beautiful," César said.
"Amazement is the beginning of wisdom," Father quoted. And, a little while later, when it was dark, he showed his son all the remote corners of the sky, just like his grandfather had shown him, a long time ago.
In June, there was a festival in the town. Bertrand and his buddies had finally finished digging the Canal de Craponne all the way to Salon, and the irrigation canal was opened with much fanfare. Once the engineer of the project had personally opened the lock and the water was flowing freely, after a loud applause, a band played a piece of music they had rehearsed for the occasion. Anne wanted to extend the festivities to her home, because her husband had been unable to attend, due to his rheumatism. His brothers Antoine and Julien and their families were invited and of course, Bertrand was part of the party too. In the backyard, long dining tables had set up, because the family had expanded quite a bit during the course of the last few years. The number of children was overwhelming. The resident offspring were running zigzag through the crowd of adults; it was a busy scene. Michel had ordered a barrel of champagne from Reims for the occasion and the four brothers had a toast in honor of the completed project. In the back of the garden, the women were frying chicken.
"Hey, leave some for us, honorable sirs," Anne called out, while she turned the spit.
"Without us they are totally lost," she whispered to the ladies, who by now had gotten used to her liberal attitude. Bertrand was telling tall tales with a flourish and the kids could not be pried away from him, but once the chicken was ready, he had to admit defeat. The women brought the poultry to the table and served it to the hungry guests.
"No, thank you," Michel was the only one to decline.
"What? You're passing up that delicious meat?" Julien asked. "That used to be your favorite."
"Yes, it used to be, but now I prefer the scents of nature."
"Come on, skip a day, Michel, today is a special day," Bertrand requested.
"No, I have to consider my health!"
"Just a little piece to be social?" Antoine implored, but their learned brother persevered.
"Then I'll pour you some more champagne, or is that bad for your health too?" Bertrand asked.
"All right, just half a glass then," Michel said stiffly. And then everyone set about devouring the chickens.
"It's absolutely delicious, ladies; certainly nothing to be spurned," the men praised them. A little later, finances became the topic of discussion.
"That was a good tip you gave us, Bertrand, to invest in the canal," Anne said. "Good interest and the value of the shares has risen. We would like to invest another hundred crowns."
"That's great to hear; we'll arrange it," the contractor answered between bites.
"It did take nine years before the canal was here," Michel said, critically. "That's about two kilometers a year. A snail would do it faster."
"Go ahead and make fun of me, brother, the profits are crystal-clear in the book, for all to see," Bertrand responded, while helping himself to some beans.
"If you guys ever get into a dispute, I can give you legal advice. We'll keep everything in the family, of course," Julien joked, playing the lawyer, and lavishing himself with champagne.
"Doesn't it drive you stark-raving mad, all those people always standing in front of your house?" Julien's wife, Sabine, asked.
"Yes, that's the disadvantage of being famous," Michel answered, as one of the little ones walked into the garden fence.
"Anybody can just climb right over that fence," Bertrand commented. "I'm surprised you don't have any intruders."
"You're right, we do have to protect the house better, and it's time we had the placed fixed up and redecorated as well," his brother admitted.
"Then I have a brilliant idea," Bertrand said. "There's a house in Avignon that's standing empty, which you could rent for a few months. In the meantime, I will renovate your house for a fair price and you will be freed of those pilgrims for a while. Two birds with one stone. What do you think?"
"Aren't you too busy?" Michel asked.
"Oh, well, there are always projects on the go. But the biggest one, the canal, is done and for my brother the whiz kid, I can make the time. I know where to get the best and most beautiful materials. Just one tip: keep the front simple, so the taxes won't rise sky-high."
"I'm sick and tired of those jokes about my work," Antoine replied to that, unexpectedly fierce.
"Sorry, brother, I'm exaggerating. The taxes are not that bad," Bertrand placated. "In the big cities they're even competing about who has the most beautiful building."
"I think it's a plausible proposal," Michel said, finally. "What do you think, Anne? Shall we go and live in Avignon for a while?"
"It's already written in the stars," she answered, a little tipsy.
"I'll come up with a good plan," Bertrand resumed, "you don't have to make any decisions until you've seen it."
"Michel, tell us about the future of mankind," Elise, who was sitting there, feeling a little lost, asked. But he didn't get a chance, because André knocked over a glass of wine in front of him.
"It's all part of a good party," Bertrand laughed.
"Speaking of parties," Julien picked up the thread, "next month is Shavuoth. Do any of you celebrate it?"
"Not me," Michel replied, while mopping up the spilled wine. "Any of you guys?" But it seemed that only the lawyer in the family was still keeping the Jewish traditions, secretly, of course.
"Before I go," Bertrand said towards the end, "I would like to propose a toast to our father and mother. They gave us a lot to be thankful for," and the brothers unanimously raised their glasses.
Once the building plans had been approved, Bertrand immediately began to renovate the house with his workmen. In the meantime, the De Nostredames traveled to Avignon by coach and before noon, they were crossing the bridge of Avignon. They rode into the uninviting town, where Father had studied astrology in his younger days. All the streets were still very familiar to him. And, as though Fate was playing with him, the house they were to move into was situated on the Parc des Papes, near his old university, which was now being used for a different purpose. They got out of the coach and carried their belongings into the house. The fancy home was completely furnished and it didn't take for them to feel completely comfortable. Michel had brought only a bit of work and had plenty of time to spend with Anne and the children. The next day he showed his family the town from the Rocher des Doms, the cliff that rose high above everything. After that, all eight of them walked through Avignon and visited several places, such as the Rue St. Agricol, where Father had once lived in an impoverished little room. Now there was a store selling trinkets and toys in that location. The family enjoyed their time in the worldly city, but Father soon developed pain in his joints, which forced him to stay close to home.
My body seems to be decreasing in resilience every year, he grumbled, while he sat down on a bench in the park, which had survived the passage of time. He looked at the old oaks he had known. They didn't seem diminished in their strength either.
"Michel, we're going to the toy store; we'll be back shortly," Anne reported.
"Okay, I'll be fine." Toy store?
While his family was gone, the wind was caressing his aching knuckles and memories of his youth began to float to the surface.
Time has really slipped through my fingers like sand, he reflected. A little while later, Anne and the kids returned with their bags full.
My goodness, they look just like bargain hunters from the New World, he thought, feeling cheerful once more, and they began to unwrap the toys right in the middle of the field. He was curious and stood up, but had to sit down again to button up his shoe.
That damned gout; I can't even hold a shoelace anymore.
"Michel, come and see what we bought!" his wife called.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," he driveled, while he got up. In the meantime, André was jumping through a rolling hula hoop and César was trying to imitate the fancy trick.
"You're too big for that hula hoop," Madeleine screamed, looking up for a minute, before continuing to rummage through the bags again. The scholar had reached his family members and joined them in going through the newly acquired treasures. There were skipping ropes, a ball, dolls, marbles, a kite, glue, felt, too much to take in all at once. Diane was walking around with a chubby Chinese doll.
I wonder how long this will keep them occupied? Michel thought, sitting down in the grass with his wife.
"Will you play with us, Dad?" Paul asked. "We're going to play tag."
"You kids go ahead; your mother and I will watch."
"Hey, I'm not an old fart," Anne protested, and she jumped up and playfully chased Paul as he flew off. So the days passed and everyone enjoyed their freedom. After some time, the sons started to get rowdy and the neighbors peevish. Father just let them be, but when one day they were playing butcher and Paul wanted to cut Diane's belly open with a pen knife, he intervened.
"Okay, that's enough now. Give me that knife and go to your room!" he said angrily and his offspring quickly returned to moderately good behavior. One day, the seer was recognized by some folks in the street and shamelessly harassed. Soon, they were waiting in front of their house and he decided to spend the rest of his time there indoors. The family played the board game Carcasonne over and over until they were sick of it. The kids had never had so much fun, however. One evening, Michel had some visions of the super-rich West, which would slowly but surely deteriorate. Just then, Pauline padded into his room, wearing a pointed hat she had glued together and a black ribbon on her back.
"Can't we go on vacation more often, Dad?" she asked.
"When you're all grown up, you can travel as much as you like," he replied, "the future Europeans do nothing but."
It took two months before Anne finally grew tired of the unlimited freedom.
"I'm worn out," she said, one day. "I'm yearning to be back in our own house; I even miss Christophe."
"I'm expecting a message from Bertand any day," her husband informed her. When the children were playing ball in the attic the next day, the liberating message arrived for their parents. The house was ready. Back in Salon, Nostradamus' worshippers had grown tired of waiting to catch a glimpse of him and had disappeared. There was no one spying on the house, which now had a new face. Only one person was there: Bertrand, who was waiting for them and pointed at the new façade.
"It's a master piece!" he said full of pride, when they got out of the coach.
"But our house isn't as cozy," the children complained immediately. The whole balcony had been removed to prevent easy break-in, and the bottom windows now all had bars in front of them. The new, sturdy front door had large hinges and a peephole. The house looked a bit like a prison. The windows, however, were quite striking, having been fashioned of genuine glass. They were a delight for the eye and they were the first ones in town. In order to protect the expensive stained glass, the shutters had been left intact.
"Let me give you a tour," Bertrand suggested and they all went inside. The living room had been redone with dark-red wooden paneling and the walls had been painted a nice beige. The floor now had seamless black-gray tiles and there was an impressive chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Most of the old furniture had been replaced with new pieces. There was a red sofa, for example, and André immediately climbed up on it.
"You'd better get down from there this minute," his father warned, "that's not for children!"
"Most of the work was done in the guest house," Bertrand said, while they went through the garden to get to it. The veranda was now completely covered because of the new premises, which could be reached by an outside staircase.
"Well, I think you've done an excellent job," Anne said, after she'd seen it all. Her husband was also completely positive.
"Hidden beauty," he summed it up.
Nostradamus threw himself into his masterpiece again, which had reached an advanced stage, and he would from now on receive his visitors on the sofa. It had become quiet in the house, now that the three oldest children were being educated in Arles. Michel shuffled to the veranda with a cup of hot milk and sat down in a dark corner.
"A nice little drink and then see what happens," he mumbled. When he'd finished the milk, he closed his eyes and concentrated. The information from above immediately suffused his body.
My body might be deteriorating, but at the spiritual level, I'm still going forward, he observed happily, and he gradually became one with the future. Ghosts, who were making the most heinous plans, were flitting past his head. He noticed that one of the ideas had the potential to fructify and decided to follow the process. The catastrophe would take place near Erasmus' town.
Late one night, a van, occupied by two malevolent individuals, stopped in a village near Rotterdam, just north of the Rhine. They searched the area until they were sure that they were not being observed. Then they drove off the road, between some glass greenhouses. At the end of the ride, they parked the vehicle in a hidden spot and again checked the area for spectators. It was totally quiet and the villagers all appeared to be sound asleep. They carefully opened the backdoor of the vehicle and took out a covered object.
"Jan, be careful!" Mohammed whispered. The men carried the long object across a railroad track and dragged it to the river. When they arrived at the dike, they nervously looked to the other side, where some gigantic oil tanks were set up and perpetual fires were burning.
"There's no better place than this," Mohammed said, "from here, you can see almost all of the depots."
"You're right, but let's keep going. It just after five and we're behind schedule," Jan replied, while hiding the object in the bushes. They quickly walked back to the locked van and took out a heavy trunk, which they also dragged to the edge of the river.
"The moment of truth has arrived," Jan said loftily and he pulled the cover off he long object. "A gift from the Saudi prince!" and they admired the missile launcher, manufactured in America.
"Hey Jan, we are doing the right thing, aren't we?"
"We're doing this for the true religion, to make it flourish on top of the ruins of the decadent West. This river will flow with the blood of the unbelievers," he recited. Convinced, Mohammed placed the missile launcher on his friend's shoulder and took the first grenade out of the box. At the same time, a large tanker was traveling from the sea onto the river and the oil supplies quickly disappeared from sight.
"Duck down; we don't want the crew to see us!" Jan commanded and they nervously hid behind the bushes. The ship was moving towards an inner harbor further on and a moment later, the storage tanks came into view again.
"I hope you've practiced enough," Mohammed mumbled.
"Have some faith. I'm going to shoot those things to smithereens. This is going to be world news!" and Jan checked the settings of the heavy weapon, while his buddy was on guard. Finally, the Dutch Muslim gave his Arabic fellow believer the sign to get the first grenade.
"Okay, brother, it's time," Jan said. While he was down on one knee, he pointed the weapon at the biggest fuel supply in Europe.
"I almost forgot to indicate the temperature of the tanks…"
"We've got ten grenades and ten percent can fail," Mohammed reacted. "And with a bit of luck, the fire will spread." His buddy then focused the view finder and saw a few rusty pipes on a forecourt. He aimed a little above them. The right target came into view.
"Michel, where are you?" Anne called, but there was no answer.
"Oh, there you are; I've been looking everywhere for you." The abrupt interruption didn't upset the seer. Those days were long gone.
"What is it, dear?" he asked, with his eyes still closed.
"André had a little job in Gougnaud's apple orchard. His helper broke a finger and it seems our son is responsible for this. Now he can't pick his apples anymore. What should we do?"
"I'll give it some thought," he replied dreamily.
"And another thing, I'll be going past The Papermill. Do you want me to buy some paper for you?"
"Yes, go ahead, pick up a package of sketch paper for me." Anne disappeared again and her husband again absorbed himself in the attack.
"Allah is great!" Jan shouted and pulled the trigger. The missile fired from his shoulder. Mesmerized, the fighters followed the course of the projectile, and watched how the first tank was hit full-on. They cheered with glee and the gigantic explosion that followed broke the silence of the night. The towering storage place burst open and the oil burst into flames.
"Now we must stay calm," Jan said seriously, and his friend loaded a new missile. The Dutchman focused and again fired. Again he hit the bull's eye. The second tank also burst into flames and again they were delighted. Meantime, an alarm was sounding and guards were running for their lives.
"Next one," Jan dictated, and his buddy placed the third grenade. Again a tank was hit.
"We are being assisted from above," Mohammed said.
"Undoubtedly," his buddy replied. The two believers carried out their mission flawlessly and the next storage tank was exploding. The sea of fire was lighting up the whole area, where sparse trees were being scorched like match sticks. Panic had taken over the industrial property and anything that had wheels took off at top speed. The heat was unbearable.
"Yes, the fire is leaping to the other depots!" Jan laughed. Suddenly, a train was coming from their side, threatening to disturb their activities.
"What's going on? Why is there a train at this hour?" Mohammed stammered.
"We're just going to finish the job. There are only four grenades left; I don't care if they see us."
"But they might stop and grab us!"
"Don't tell me you never thought of that before?!" But when the train came closer, Mohammed was overwhelmed by fear and ran off.
"Coward! Weakling! I'll finish this holy war by myself," Jan raged and grabbed the next grenade. The train soon reached the determined terrorist and the engineer, already shaken up by the big explosions, saw how he was loading his weapon on the side of the river. The engineer decided to keep going fast and try to bring himself and his passengers to safety. Irritated, Jan turned around and aimed his weapon threateningly at the passing train.
"Materialistic pigs!" he hissed. The passengers stiffened with fear when they saw him standing there, except for one man, dressed in a long, brown robe, who seemed to look right through him.
In the name of the Prophet, who is that creepy character? Jan thought and he quickly turned away. The train gradually disappeared into the night. The fighter went back to his work and shot the umpteenth oil tank to smithereens. Six storage tanks had been destroyed by now and the burning oil was trickling into the river.
Michel opened his eyes and pensively scratched his nose.
"That's what you call throwing oil on the fire," and he made a note in his notebook. Then he got up with some difficulty, and walked to the kitchen where he heated up some more milk.
Religion without science is blindness, he stated, while filling up his cup, and he sat down at his desk. Christophe suddenly came rushing in.
"I have two hot messages for you, sir!"
"Okay, let's have them," the scholar sighed, sliding deeper into his chair.
"What do you want first, the good news or the bad news?"
"You choose, Christophe."
"Then I'll start with the bad news. Barbe Regnault from Paris has imitated your first part of The Prophesies and published it. He is committing plagiarism by doing this, and I advice you to take him to court in Paris."
"I'm sure no one takes Regnault seriously. And what is the good news?"
"The queen is taking a trip through the South of France and she wants to come and visit you."
"That is indeed good news," his master smiled.
"With your permission, Her Majesty will visit on the eighteenth of next month. Can I send her a confirmation?"
"Absolutely, that will be the crown on my work."
Accompanied by loud trumpet sounds, the impressive royal procession went up the hill to where Salon de Provence was situated. Hundreds of mounted guards were riding in front of the coaches and a similar number behind them. The city guards had blocked off all the roads with fences and thousands of people had gathered behind these. The parade slowly moved through the city walls and finally, amidst a lot of pushing and shoving, came to a halt at the narrow Place de la Poissonnerie.
"Michel, you've got company," Anne joked, while the children waited, lined up in the entrance hall. Christophe and the maid quickly brushed their clothes off.
Holy smokes, I didn't know she would come with such an enormous entourage, Michel thought, looking through the window, and with his wife, he walked to the front door. Catherine de Medici was getting out of her golden coach and a throng of courtiers followed in her wake.
"Hello Doctor. If you don't come to see me, I will come to see you," the queen greeted him.
"Your Majesty, I am so honored by your visit," he laughed and he kissed her outstretched hand.
"This must be your wife," Catherine supposed. Anne nodded and curtsied.
"May my people come in?"
"But of course, Your Majesty," he answered, upon which the queen and her entire noble following entered the house.
"Psst, Michel, this is going to be a problem," Anne whispered, "they're not nearly all going to fit into the guest house." But her husband wasn't worried about it at all and sat down in one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace, along with Her Highness. Her retinue gathered around them.
"Francis, please come and sit with us," Catherine requested. The young king, who had been completely unnoticed until then, obeyed his mother's wish and a valet brought a chair closer.
"You know, of course, that my son is officially the king, but since he is only fifteen years old, I will have to rule for a while yet." Everyone looked at the king to see what his reaction would be, but there wasn't any. Instead, some of the courtiers gave him some compliments about his appearance. The delicate-looking Francis was indeed dressed magnificently. He was wearing a tall beret, decorated with golden tassels and a blue feather, a black and red palace coat and a large white collar.
"I had the honor of meeting Your Majesty a long time ago at Le Louvre," Nostradamus broke the impasse.
"Um, yes, I remember," the teenager stuttered.
"We spent the whole day walking through all the rooms," the host explained. Francis II was absolutely not suitable to rule the country and all present were aware of this, though no one would ever say so. His mother, however, was a leader extraordinaire. All the ladies-in-waiting had to wear tight corsets in order to radiate more stylishness, but she herself wore a noticeably loose-fitting dress.
"We would like to invite you to a dinner at the Chateau de l'Empéri, where we will spend the next few nights," Catherine announced.
Phew, that's one less logistics problem, Anne thought, freed from her worry.
"We gladly accept you invitation, Your Majesty," Michel answered.
"My father thought very highly of you," the king suddenly blurted out.
"That's nice to hear," the host responded, pleasantly surprised. And who knew, maybe it was even true.
"And not only his father," the queen said, "your advice was quite significant. Partly due to that, I have been able to preserve unity in our country. The battle between the Guises and Colignys flared up with great intensity after my husband's death. We are extremely grateful to you and would like to show our appreciation in the form of an allowance and various privileges. Furthermore, we are bestowing upon you two honorary titles and I herewith designate you as royal physician and advisor," and she handed him the documents.
"I very much appreciate this, Your Majesty," and he showed his gratitude with a deep bow. After this tribute, the queen and all the courtiers left for the nearby fort with the two tall towers. The legendary procession disappeared out of sight and tranquility returned.
"It's like a fairytale, being married to you," Anne said when she was alone with her husband again, and nothing could ruin his day after that.
The last evening of the royal visit had already arrived. Michel and Anne proceeded to the Chateau de l'Empéri to bid a festive farewell to Catherine de Medici. After a scintillating meal with musical accompaniment, the laureate astrologer took a short walk with her through the courtyard.
"I'm already looking forward to our next meeting, Doctor," Catherine revealed.
"That's not going to happen, Your Majesty. This is the last time you will see me alive."
"That makes me very sad," she responded, feeling a bit shocked. And, very moved, she said goodbye to her special confidant. So ended the queen's historic visit*(1564) to Salon de Provence and life once again returned to normal.
The very first school in town was opened. Paul, César and Madeleine were among its students and learned skills that would stand them in good stead in the future, such as bookkeeping, law and grammar. Sometimes Old Greek and Latin texts were read to them, but for the average student this was very dry and boring and the only one who had any interest in them was César. He was a keen student and was also the only one who loved poetry and recitation. One day he asked his father if he could help him with his speech in English.
"I don't know much English," he answered, "but the main thing is that you have to really believe in what you're saying, otherwise it will not have any potency. Maybe Christophe can help you." The youth immediately went up to the attic, where the clerk was taking care of the international correspondence. Early that evening, Nostradamus was sitting on the sofa, absorbed in thought, when his wife came home after having done some shopping.
"I'm busy, my little sunshine," he said, floating in those other realms.
"Okay, I'll be quiet," and she put away some new things in the cupboard. Then she surreptitiously placed a bonbon on the salon table for him.
"I'll put your pastis in the kitchen," she couldn't refrain from telling him.
"Wonderful!" he thanked her from among the information streams he was receiving: "Occult monomaniacs honor the dead and show their powers at the games. Jerusalem again causes dissension."
Hmm, pagan sects and the promised land, but I don't see an agreement yet. His wife, meanwhile, was making some disturbing noises. She was moving the furniture around.
"Anne, has Christophe gone home already?"
"Yes, he's gone. You can go and use his room if you want to." Michel slowly stood up, saw the bonbon on the table and put it in his mouth.
"What are you doing with those armchairs?" he asked, smacking his lips.
"I'm putting them next to the cabinet."
"I just need a change; I don't like things always the same."
"I think you just want to get rid of me," he said bluntly.
"Not at all! I even put a treat there for you."
"Yes, all the more reason, you've got too much energy. Maybe you should start horseback-riding again."
"Absolutely not! I may be twenty years younger than you, but I'm getting older too. And besides, I still have to take treatments from the last time I fell; that time with Angelique." He knew that when Anne talked that way, there was no changing her mind. The grand master started up the stairs, with his tail between his legs. On the way up, he had to stop to catch his breath several times. The images kept flowing through his sixth sense: "His thirst for destruction will increase and his followers spread out over the continent like jumping flees", bubbled up in him now. The pain in his body had been getting worse lately. His joints felt like they were on fire on a regular basis now, and when he arrived in his workroom he had to immediately lie down and rest on the meditation bed.
My material vehicle can no longer handle my spirit, he observed somberly and then, bang, he was blown out of his body. The pain disappeared momentarily and he was in seventh heaven, but the higher worlds carried him to another destination.
The minister of External Affairs wanted to stretch his legs and pushed his chair back into the sitting position. In the corridor the scent of fried eggs lingered and he decided to walk to the forecastle. In the see-through dome, right underneath the cockpit, his translator was enjoying the view of the Atlantic Ocean, which was steadily sliding past underneath the airplane.
"You had a long sleep," Jim said, when he noticed his boss.
"Yeah, well, I needed it," Donald yawned, stretching his arms. "I want to start the talks in good form."
"You will probably come to a consensus…"
"Yes, probably with the Europeans and the Russians, but we'll have to wait and see about the Arabs. Can you pour me some more juice please?" he asked a passing stewardess. Jim had another coffee and again took pleasure in the view.
"It feels like you're a bird flying over the sea," he said, but Donald's thoughts were elsewhere and he didn't hear him.
"I think I can see France over there," the translator remarked a few minutes later.
"France, oh yes, the ever troublesome little brother of the United States," the minister grumbled. The airplane was nearing the coast and began to descend to just above sea level.
"Why are we flying so low?" Jim asked.
"We'll be above enemy territory soon and this way they won't have time to shoot at us," his boss explained.
"You mean the Muslims?"
"Yes, over here. But in this country, everyone does whatever they feel like doing. Since the rise of that Chyren Selin, democracy has been eroded and the European laws are no longer being followed."
"I sure hope they don't start shooting at us," Jim said, feeling scared.
"Don't worry. This Boeing has regenerating parts that are full of sensors. The micro-electronics ensure that practically every bullet hole is closed within a few minutes. Only if there's a missile impact will we be in trouble."
"Yes, they sometimes fire missiles from the Alps. That's where all the fanatic nationalists are."
"But that won't happen above Bretagne, will it?"
"No, but you never know…" The airplane was now flying above Ile de France and the former light city came into view.
"Hey, that's the Eiffel tower, isn't it?"
"Yes, you got that right. That pile of rust is still standing, despite all the bombings." The airplane slowed down and up-and-down-moving wings made of self-bending metal ensured a vertical landing. With a one-hour delay, the jet landed in the safe zone of Paris, which had been completely sealed off from its rebel suburbs for several years. After the wings had been retracted into the plane's body, they taxied to a hangar. In the movable gangway, the passengers took place on hanging seats in order to be carried to the right exit in the building via a pipe complex. An identification scan ensured that the luggage was automatically delivered to the rightful owner, after which everyone was checked again by a real-live official. The American minister and his colleagues were picked up by the president of France.
"Good to see you again, Donald," the latter greeted him.
"Likewise, Louis. Have the other delegates arrived yet?"
"They're already sitting at the table."
"No, we're not going to start until you've joined us." The high officials got into an armored vehicle and rode to the center of Paris with police escorts.
"Isn't that Le Louvre?" Donald asked, along the way.
"Yes, it is," Louis confirmed. "Despite the fact that it's lost its position as museum, it is still well-maintained. In the twelfth century, it was a fort that was supposed to protect Paris from outside attacks. History seems to be repeating itself." After arrival in the highly protected government building, the group was taken to an underground office, where panoramas depicting waterfalls cheered the walls. The negotiators of the European Union, Russia and Arabic Confederation were sitting at the conference table, waiting for the late-comers. The president of France immediately opened the summit talks.
"We have gathered here in order to prevent escalation of the ever-growing gap between Islamic and non-Islamic population groups."
"Then you will first have to acknowledge Chyren Selin as one of our leaders," the Arabic diplomat, Al-Atwa, instantly interrupted him.
"You mean that French Muslim with his three bickering wives?" Ivanov, the spokesman for Russia sneered. The meeting had barely begun and the delegates were already at each other's throats. Holstein, the chairman of the European Union offered some assistance.
"We don't mind acknowledging Chyren Selin, but he will have to order his followers to respect our laws first, such as equal rights for homosexuals and women."
"Our leader is prepared to make concessions, provided that the European-Russian fleet is removed from our holy city of Mecca," Al-Atwa replied to this.
"That fleet is there strictly because of a dispute with the government of Saudi-Arabia," Holstein explained for the umpteenth time.
"Gentlemen, please, keep your heads cool. We will all benefit from that," the American minister tried to calm the parties down.
"As far as you Americans are concerned, the only thing that matters is economic interest," Holstein decried, "but that's not what will get us out of this mess. Europe has been torn asunder and anarchy reins in large parts of it."
"Europe has never been able to take care of itself," Donald moaned.
"And the US has? They are the ones who impetuously invaded Afghanistan and Iraq way back then. Since that time, there has not been one step towards world peace," Al-Atwa remarked.
"That was twenty years ago; we've learned our lesson since then."
"Well, we still support the attack on Afghanistan, because that was done purely out of life preservation. But as far as Iraq is concerned, I admit that the US made an error in judgment. In retrospect, the Iraqi population was not happy with our presence there." The president again made an attempt to force a break-through and again addressed the Arab delegation.
"Chyren Selin, is capable of reining in all of the Islamic insurgents in all of Europe by giving one speech on TV. He should take that one step."
"He will do nothing, as long as that fleet stays in the Red Sea," Al-Atwa repeated.
"That fleet is there only to exert pressure to get Bin Laden handed over," the president stressed. "We don't want war with the whole of the Arab Confederation under any circumstances."
"An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. But why all that effort? Bin Laden is an old man without any influence," Al-Atwa said.
"Don't try to fool us," Ivanov interrupted, "there are strong indications that he is your informal commander."
"Why don't you show us some proof of that then!"
"Please stay calm, gentlemen!" Holstein appeased now. "If Chyren is capable of getting his people to uphold our laws, I think the European Union is prepared to withdraw its ships, but there's nothing we can do about the Russian ships."
"Russia will not withdraw as long as Saudi-Arabia does not fulfill its obligations. And we want nothing to do with that French idiot with his three wives," Ivanov responded stubbornly.
"Chyren is not an idiot," Al-Atwa said, angrily. "He is the peaceful guardian of Islam. The Christians and the unbelievers, they are the ones who are the idiots; even more than that, they are all criminals. The wounds inflicted by the crusades, colonization and imperialism have not been healed by any means."
"This is going nowhere," the Russian mumbled.
"Then we'd better end this meeting," Al-Atwa threatened, and his colleagues already got up to leave. Suddenly, all the lights went out and the panoramas disappeared.
"It this some attempt to put pressure on us?" the Arabs asked, in the dark.
"Certainly not. There must be a power outage," the president apologized, and he pressed the intercom button to report the problem.
Strange, that's not working either, Louis thought, surprised.
"One moment please, gentlemen, I'm sure this disturbance will be fixed momentarily," and feeling his way, he proceeded to the hall to ask for assistance. To add insult to injury, the entrance door wouldn't open, due to electronic security and he carefully shuffled back to his spot at the table.
"May I please borrow someone's cell phone?"
"They're not working," Donald answered; he had already tried to make a call.
What on earth is going on here? Louis wondered, feeling totally embarrassed. The Arab delegation was now getting restless.
"It is evident that someone is playing games at our expense," Al-Atwa concluded.
"Absolutely not," the president denied vehemently.
"Probably the Americans," an Arab colleague supposed.
"The Americans are confederates, nothing more. In this country they have no power," the president guaranteed, having found his way back to his place at the table.
"What we want is to prevent a Third World War," Donald said.
"What man desires, is not always what happens," Al-Atwa replied to that. "God's decisions are unfathomable, quote from Al-Ghazali from the year eleven hundred."
"On the contrary; God gave us brains so that we can solve our own problems," Holstein said scornfully.
"I knew it, three against one!" the Egyptian heckled. Then the light returned and the panoramas became visible again. But not a drop of water flowed down the mountain sides anymore.
What kind of joker has been playing with that film? Louis thought, irritated.
A maintenance supervisor came in and rushed to speak to him.
"There's been a power outage, but we don't know yet what caused it," he told his boss privately. The negotiators, meanwhile, were looking at the dried up waterfalls, somewhat surprised.
"Well, gentlemen, the disturbance was temporary, apparently," the president declared, "but please remain seated, because we still need to talk further about a non-attack treaty with respect to nuclear arms.
"The European Union will certainly support that," Holstein said immediately. The Americans and Russians also agreed, but the cornered Arabs were not yet ready to cross the bridge.
"What's in it for us?" Al-Atwa asked, tenaciously.
"What's in it for you?" Ivanov repeated, annoyed. "No nuclear bombs on Mecca; just ordinary ones."
"That does it," the Arab called out, offended, and his delegation had just begun to walk away from the table again when the lights went out once more. No one could leave the room.
"Perhaps an intervention from above, to bring us together?" the president suggested. "A nuclear war would mark the end of human civilization in its entirety."
"Well, let's hope for the best then, and that higher intelligence may prevail," Al-Atwa said, calmed down some. And after the power outage was repaired for the second time and the water was once again flowing from the cliffs, an intention declaration was signed in which it was agreed not to use any nuclear weapons.
The gods will show
That they determine the war
After silence, heaven full of weapons and missiles
The worst damage is on the left
Paul, César and Madeleine came home late from school and flopped themselves down in various places in the living room, just as Father was passing by.
"Why are you walking with such difficulty, Dad?" they asked. He hesitated for a moment, wondering what to say.
"Your father is old and sick", he finally had to tell them. They couldn't believe what they were hearing.
"But you're invincible!" César protested. But the kids, who were growing up, took a closer look at him and could see that, indeed, there was fragile old man standing in front of them.
"Dinner's ready!" Anne suddenly called out. They all went to the kitchen, where a steaming pot of onion soup was waiting for them with some bread and butter. Christophe joined them as well.
"Hot dinner tonight?" he asked, surprised.
"Yes, I decided to turn things around for a change," Anne replied. Her husband was the first one to take a piece of bread out of the basket and laboriously buttered it. The children kept staring at him, observing the stiffness in his movements.
"What's the matter?" Anne asked, while she was looking for cutlery in the drawer.
"Dad is acting like a sick man," César answered.
"Your father is sixty-three years old. He is the oldest man in town," she explained.
"How can a doctor be sick? He can heal anyone, can't he?" André asked.
"Scientists don't have a solution for everything, son," Father answered. "Although, man will find a technique in the future to prolong life quite drastically."
"Diane, take those toys off the table," Mother interrupted.
"How long will people be able to live then, Dad?" Madeleine asked.
"Maybe as old as Methuselah."
"Well, I'd hate to have to listen to the old school master for a hundred years," Paul grumbled.
"Or be married to the same old pain in the neck for four hundred years." Pauline added.
"Well, I see I can learn something from you kids. But don't worry; we're not going to be around to see those things come about." Christophe didn't participate in the table discussion, as usual, and was quietly eating his soup.
"I'd like to be a horse and run through the woods really fast," Pauline fantasized.
"Or fly like a bird," César joined in.
"It's all going to happen, children, because some day, man will be able to travel through the air and across land and water at great speed."
"Through the air? How? Will they glue feathers onto their arms, or something?" Paul asked.
"I think you kids have read the myth of Icarus at school, haven't you? But, anyway, that's not how it will be. Think more of a coach with iron wings, in which the horse is hidden."
"But will the wings be attached to the horse?" César asked.
"Such difficult questions you're asking. No, it will be a machine that will go up in the air, but I'm not exactly sure how. In any case, man will make life more and more complicated, but in my dreams I can fly without any wings."
"Yes, but in the dream world there is no gravity," Paul argued.
"Actually, there is. The more pure you are, the lighter you become. And if you are very pure, you can look around everywhere. Distance, time, high level or low level, don't play any role then."
"Oh, that's why the bad guys are always in the underworld," César understood at once, "they sink down."
"Exactly. Sometimes all the way to the center of the earth. In their sleep, everyone ends up in their own circle and during the day, they again feel the need to look for their equals. A vicious circle, unless man conquers his own ego. You have to find a way to dislodge your anchors in hell. You do this by becoming a good person. Becoming a bad person is very easy and can happen quite rapidly. You all know the story about the fallen archangel, don't you? Lucifer? He fell down very deeply in one second."
"Well, I still think one of those flying machines sounds like a lot of fun," Paul said. Michel liked that little bit of impertinence in his son's character.
"At some point, I will do some research on it, Paul," he therefore promised. The somber mood had lifted and the meal ended on a positive note.
"I'm going upstairs to work for an hour or so," the soft-spoken clerk said to his boss, who was just sitting down in a chair by the fireplace. The kids had gone to play outside, except for Diane, who was looking at a picture book by the window. Anne was giving instructions to the maid in the kitchen and when she was done, she sat down beside her husband.
"Diane, would you mind leaving us alone for a while?" she asked and the girl obediently went into the garden.
"The children were so worried about you. Is there something wrong?"
Michel didn't say anything; just looked at his wife intensely.
"I will not live to see this coming spring," he answered, finally. Anne realized that he was utterly serious, and a big tear slid down her cheek.
"We still have some time before that."
"I don't know if I can live without you," she sobbed.
"When the time comes, you will be able to handle it," he tried to console her and they held each other for a while. After this moving moment, he decided to get back to work and went up to the attic.
"So, Christophe, what urgent matters are keeping you busy up here?" he asked, while catching his breath from climbing the stairs.
"Your publisher in London has asked me to translate your latest almanac into English. His own translator is making a mess of it." Suddenly, Nostradamus began to shake uncontrollably.
"What's wrong, master?"
"No, it's nothing, don't worry about me. The Third World War is about to begin," and he grimly walked to the window.
"You're doing an exceptionally good job, Christophe," he said, while looking out at the evening twilight, "but how much longer will it take you?"
"I'm practically finished," the secretary replied, applying the last few pen strokes.
I can't see anything going on in the sky yet, the clairvoyant thought to himself.
"Shall I clean up those long-necked bottles?" Christophe asked as he was leaving.
"Sorry, I didn't hear you. I was absorbed in my thoughts."
"I was just asking if you wanted me to put those bottles away. You haven't touched them in years."
"Oh, yes, that's fine," Nostradamus answered, while he kept staring out the window.
"Have a nice evening and I'll see you tomorrow, Master." And with a few bottles under his arm, the clerk left.
Then the sky was suddenly littered with monstrous inventions and the air turned black. A horrific war was being carried out right before Michel's eyes. The violence was unprecedented. It was raining milk, steel, fire and pestilence and many nations met their death. The exorbitant amount of violence even caused earthquakes and rivers extended their courses. World trade completely collapsed and people were suffering from enormous hunger and thirst. The antichrist was not one person, but rather, an automated, cold world, which had now come to an end. The seer could see through all the ages at a glance and everything looked excruciatingly bare. Wherever he focused his vision, all was revealed to him. It would take many dozens of years before life on earth would be repaired enough to create a new world order. Aquarius would begin a millennium of peace, in which man would pay attention to the sky and to outer space. Due to new insights into the relationship between our planet and the universe, the old scriptures would be reinterpreted. Religion and science would finally merge together. Then a coordination government would be installed to rule the entire world and from that time on, people would all cooperate with each other. Nevertheless, much damage was done to the earth and an irreversible process was set in motion. The planet would be plagued by floods for centuries, and after that by extreme droughts, for just as long.
Michel lit a candle and sat down at his desk. The sun had set by now. He opened his writing book and wrote down all that had been revealed to him. Suddenly, the flame of his candle began to flutter back and forth and he knew that something or someone must have entered the room. He turned around and saw his wife standing in the doorway.
"Would you like to make love with me?" she asked tenderly. The divine request completely softened his heart again. Without answering, he blew out the candle and together they went downstairs to their bedroom. After the enchantment in bed, the next vision immediately presented itself.
The doorbell rang and Ping hurriedly finished putting on her make-up and ran outside.
"Good morning, Miss Lee, please get in," the instructor, who was wearing a pair of large yellow goggles, requested. She walked around the flying car, which soundlessly hovered above the ground and came dangerously close to the wings, which were moving up and down more rapidly than they eye could perceive.
"Watch out! You could really hurt yourself on those!" the teacher warned, sitting down on the other side.
"Exciting," she said as she fastened her seatbelt.
"Flying is, in fact, very simple; practically everyone knows how. Is this your first lesson?"
"Yes, Mister Norton, and I don't know anything about it at all," while she examined the interior.
"You may call me Unix," he said, as he scribbled some notes.
"You're in luck, Ping. You are getting your lesson in a brand new flying car and it's the lightest model. Not counting the water tank, it only weighs four hundred and thirteen kilos."
"But it is strong enough, right?" she asked.
"Of course. It meets all the regulations," and when he flicked a leaver, the see-through top closed automatically. "We will have to fly out of New Water first, because beginners are no longer permitted to practice in the city," and using the extra steering mechanism, he brought the vehicle high above the inner city and into the sweltering sky.
"We'll go to the Bering Plateau; you can make as many mistakes as you want to there."
"I'm not that dumb," she responded pertly.
"Standard joke," he apologized and they flew to the expansive practice area. Once they got there, he brought the flying car to a stop, high above the salt plateau.
"Now I'm switching the controls over to you, Ping. Do you prefer telepathic or verbal instructions?"
"All right. The most important thing is the control stick. You can move it up and down, in and out and from left to right."
"Yes, I know."
"I'm just starting at the beginning. Next to the control stick are the foot pedals. The right pedal is for accelerating and the left one is for a straight descent. If you don't do anything, the machine will just hang in the air and stay in the same spot. Okay, now you take the wheel, while I take care of the pedals." Ping moved the control stick forward and the machine immediately tipped its nose downward.
"See?" he said, "We're just staying in the same place because I'm not stepping on the gas pedal. But now I'm going to, just a bit," and the flying car began to slowly descend. "Now pull the control stick back, or we'll have an accident." She did as he asked and the machine pulled its nose up and found its height again.
"Now turn left and then right," he ordered. She tried it and made a few sharp turns.
"Now you're going to step on the gas at the same time," and his student made the machine fly above the platform by fits and starts.
"Look, someone's walking over there," she said suddenly and she tapped the window to point him out.
"Who ever would be walking around here?" Unix wondered, surprised. "He must be lost. You'd better go over there," and she got the flying car to go in the right direction, albeit a little clumsily.
"You're learning pretty fast. At the end of this lesson day, you'll be able to fly," he praised her. In the meantime, they were approaching the mortal in the long, brown robe, who was making his way across the parched surface all alone.
"Judging by the way he's walking, he is a Longlife," Ping guessed.
"You could be right, because an intelligent being would not be walking around in this vicinity. Let me take over the controls from you for a minute," and he managed to maneuver the soundless machine to right next to the plodding eccentric. Then he slid open the roof so he could call out to him.
"Can we help you?" The loner just about jumped out of his skin, he was so startled, and uselessly began to flee.
"That's got to be a Longlife, acting like that!" Unix laughed.
"He's probably from the melting factory at the South Pole," Ping suggested.
"That's almost impossible; he would have had to travel thousands of kilometers. Sad that their ancestors had their genes messed with. In the old days they wanted to live forever so badly, they forgot to consider the negative aspects of it. It only became clear after they had kids. Nowadays, the only thing they're good for is melting ice."
"And even then, they get in the way," Ping joked, "except this one…"
"I will alert the authorities of Dutch Harbor," he said and after contacting them, he continued the lesson. After a few exercises, his student was really getting the hang of flying and it was time for a bigger challenge.
"Now we're going to look for air currents. We'll leave the passable flying routes alone for a few more lessons," and he instructed her to turn around.
"Off to the Pacific Ocean, or what's left of it," he joked and they flew southward at a speed of five hundred kilometers an hour. A little while later, the coast appeared.
"There's a free area with a lot of air currents around the Emperor archipelago," he informed her.
"Is that what I should fly to?"
"If you can. But look around you all the time, Ping, don't rely on the radar too much."
"I never saw any radar yet," she responded and he had to swallow hard.
"Check all the meters too," he then urged.
"A red light is on," she said right away.
"Man, that thing runs out of fuel so fast," he grumbled. "That light means we're low on fuel. Go ahead and go down to one meter above sea level."
"So, I should let go of the gas pedal first, right?"
"Correct," he confirmed. Ping took her foot off the gas pedal and pushed down on the other pedal to descend. The flying car shot down immediately. When they got close to the sea, she abruptly let go of the pedal and they came to a standstill with a shock.
"Don't worry, it has an automatic speed limiter," he reassured her. And anyway, the machine is waterproof." Unix then piloted the car right down to the water level himself.
"Now press the purple button and the vacuum will do the rest. Incidentally, did you know that starting in January you're only allowed to put a hundred liters of seawater in your tank?"
"No, I didn't realize that," she replied. "I do feel guilty that I'm now going to be contributing to the evaporation of the oceans."
"Yup, everyone wants his own car and melting ice at the poles is not enough to keep the sea level up. So we're going to have to be more frugal. After all, what can we expect? With something like a billion airplanes in the air, all burning water for years. And the drought continues. Rain is seen as a gift from heaven these days."
"I've never even seen rain," Ping said, while the instruments gave a signal that the tank was full again. "Well, just a drop…"
"Too bad for you. It's a beautiful sight. Okay, now go straight to those islands," and the flying car picked up speed again.
"We're robbing the planet down to nothing," Unix harped on. "People thought burning water for fuel was the solution for the fuel problem, but now we are literally and figuratively drying up."
"There is a plan for condensing moisture from the air on a large scale," she commented.
"That will never work! Before we reach that little island over there, I want you to climb to two thousand feet on course 315. The wind is blowing at twenty knots from the north-east and you always have to take the wind into consideration." Ping translated the technical jargon, pulled the control stick back and stepped on the gas. It seemed to be the right thing to do and he gave her a few more tasks to perform around the group of islands.
"You've carried out everything to my satisfaction," he said, finally. "Let's fly due north again and increase the rpm to 1800." And they returned to the Bering platform. The time had flown by and the sun was disappearing into the stale atmosphere.
"Did you hear that Mabus' space ship is leaving for M'charek next week?" he asked, when they got back over land.
"Yes, of course, I've been following every minute of it. A hundred men and women are going and it's going to take them thirty years to get there," Ping said, while keeping her eye on the indicators.
"The livable planet is popularly already being called "The Little Prince," because its circumference is only half of that of the Earth," he continued.
"Less than half."
"Yes, a bit smaller. I suppose colonization of M'charek is the solution for our drought problem. Our terrestrial globe is just pretty much run-down. Some pessimists are predicting that we will only be able to be here for another half a century before humanity will perish because of the scorching heat. They also say…"
"I'm getting distracted Unix, I'm tired," she interrupted him and he took over the controls.
"What do you think about paying a short visit to the Komandorski top?" he suggested. "The space ship is moored above it and we're going right past it anyway."
"Great idea," Ping replied; at least she could relax now. He increased their speed and a little while later they arrived at the famous mountain top on the Ochotsk plain, where a super-tall elevator between the earth and space had been built. The cable stood up straight, due to the centrifugal force. They flew around it for a while.
"From here they will enter space next month," he said. "I would love to travel along on that sun powered ship with those great sails."
"I'd rather stay right here on Earth!"
"You don't know what you're saying. The whole world is getting bleaker every day; almost nothing grows here anymore."
"I still love Earth."
Women are so sentimental, he thought. They flew around the elevator, which reached to outside of the earth's atmosphere and then turned back towards New Water.
"I see that Longlife is still wandering around down there," Ping discovered when they crossed the southern point of the salt plain.
"I'll report him one more time," he said and they flew up along the ring way.
"Well, it's more difficult than I thought it would be," she admitted, when she got dropped off at home.
"You're doing really well," Unix praised her again. "But the most difficult part is still to pass the theory exams."
"I'll cross that bridge when I get to it, I guess. See you next week!" and she slammed the front door shut behind her.
It was early in the morning and Anne's bare back was roguishly sticking up out of the blankets. From his side of the bed Michel stared at her strong shoulders, covered by her messy locks, which were still golden-brown. She was still asleep and although she was an enticing sight, he was feeling too restless to stay in bed any longer. He covered up her back and got up. The weather was cold and gloomy and as he walked down the stairs his joints were creaking like an old cart. Downstairs in the living room, he immediately lit the fire to chase the dampness out of the house. While he was rubbing his eyes with his crooked fingers, he heard a dull bang. The sound came from the garden side and the old scientist decided to go and see what had caused it. He walked into the courtyard, across the veranda, behind the living room and saw a sparrow lying on the ground, dazed.
"Poor little wretch, you thought you could fly through the window, didn't you, but now it has glass in it. Humans are creating confusion everywhere." He looked at the sparrow for a while. It didn't seem to be able to pull itself together. Then he went inside and in the kitchen he poured some water into a little bowl and dunked some sage into it. Back in the courtyard he carefully picked up the little bird. He opened its beak and dribbled a few drops of the elixir into its mouth. The bird came to and, startled to see those big human hands, began to thrash about.
"Whoa, I'm the doctor," he whispered, and placed the sparrow in a corner where it could relax. When he bent down, he suddenly had a gout attack and huge waves of pain shot through all his joints. It was unbearable and he crawled into the house on his hands and knees. Anne had risen, in the meantime, and was just coming down the stairs, unsuspecting, when she noticed her husband sitting curled up on the couch.
"Where is the pain?" she asked, worried.
"Everywhere," he moaned, "but especially in my left knee." She carefully removed his slipper and sock, but even the light touch on the rotting leg made him tremble.
"It doesn't do any good to look at it," he whined.
"I have to see it for a minute," and she rolled up his pant leg. Around the deformed knee joint she saw purple, swollen skin.
That does not look good, she thought and she felt his pulse. His heartbeat was extremely fast. She ran to the kitchen, and mixed some painkilling herbs with a good quantity of alcohol.
"Drink this!" she ordered, when she returned. Michel drank the glass down and the drink did him some good. The attack subsided.
"I'm going to go out and pick lavender with the kids in a minute, and then I am going to rub it all over your body," she informed him. The kids were up now too and César and Madeleine were going to help their mother. They left for the fields with a straw basket to pick the herb that had a healing effect on rheumatism. They had to search for a while, because the herb, with its grey-green leaves, only grew on steep hills during this season. Once the basket was full, they quickly returned home. Christophe had arrived, in the meantime, and together they dragged the scholar up the stairs for the third time. Anne wanted to undress her husband on the bed, but the faithful servant was still there.
"You go now, Christophe," she commanded and he reluctantly left the room. The old scientist was now lying naked on his stomach and his wife sat down across him. Then she began to rub the calming herb into his body, from the top of his head down to his toes. As she was moving her hands gradually down his body, she came across some gout bumps under the skin, which he had not mentioned before. The morbid growths felt awful. After the massage, she covered him up carefully.
"You might start to feel sleepy," she said. He thanked her, but she couldn't understand his mumbling and left the room. During the next few days, she repeated the treatment twice a day and the whole house smelled like lavender. His health was improving. Weeks after the fearsome blow, he was able to move through the house, very slowly and he exchanged a few words with his kids. All was well for about a month. When winter set in, however, he collapsed and he only got through the days with the utmost effort. He hurriedly called a notary public and he secretly made up his will.
The same behavior as my father, he thought sadly, when the official man left, with his wishes on paper. Nostradamus had now retreated permanently to the attic and worked on his main work The Prophesies until he was no longer able to.
Just one more verse and that will be it, he thought. When he had finished the tenth Century, he suddenly became unwell and tumbled backwards. There he was, lying on the floor, and quietly, but with a clear mind, he stared up at the ceiling. His life on earth came to an end and lying next to his spyglass, he breathed his last breath.
Mabus will die sooner and then will come
A terrible destruction of humans and animals
Suddenly revenge will appear
A hundred hands hungry as soon as the comet strikes
A desolate plane with a sweltering sky, spread out before him.
Is this heaven, where my soul must find peace? Nostradamus seriously wondered. But this really did not look like the promised paradise and he tried to figure out what it was. One thing was sure: his spirit had not left him, because he still had aspirations. It was scorching hot here. The sun was shining brightly and was larger than ever before. In the distance he could see the sea and the innumerable shells in the sand told him that seawater used to flow here in the past. The sea had dried up for miles to the south.
This looks like Camargue in the future, he surmised. Just above the skyline he detected a sign of life. It seemed to be growing. It slowly dawned on him that it was a machine that was zooming towards him, and a few moments later, a flying car stopped right in front of him. The see-through sunroof slid open and a man, wearing large yellow goggles, and a Chinese girl appeared.
"Can we help you?" the man said, in a friendly way. But the seer didn't get a chance to answer the question because just at that moment a large comet passed the earth's atmosphere. The three mortals turned all of their attention to the flaming colossus, which was approaching earth with staggering speed. The exhausted earth planet had somehow attracted the comet and it seemed like her congener was coming to help just in time. They all knew that something terrible was about to happen and looked at each other with expressions of bewilderment. Michel estimated that the chunk of rock would hit about one thousand kilometers from where they were. When that happened, the impact was overwhelming and the planet creaked in all its joints. It felt like an assault to one's own body.
The Flood is coming, they all realized. The catastrophic attack on Mother Earth made them realize who they had to thank for their existence. But it was too late for humility or repentance. The gods had decided to separate the chaff from the wheat and to mow everything down to nothing. The two companions in misfortune, in the flying car, stared ahead blankly and waited for what was to come. The rotating earth, which had been moving around automatically until then, slowed down and everyone held their breath.
"My God, the disappearance of the ice from the poles can lead to unbalance," Michel murmured. His spoken words came true immediately and the earth's axis began to topple. The planet began to whirl out of control. Because of the changing interplay of forces on the celestial body, it wasn't long before there were earthquakes and erupting volcanoes everywhere.
The flying car was still zooming steadily above the ground, but the people inside it were looking around frantically. Now it began to vibrate dangerously under Nostradamus' feet and suddenly the sea roared. A tidal wave was coming towards them at breakneck speed. The two aviators sped off in their machine. The seer managed to avoid the wall of water on his own power, by launching himself high up into the air. The sky, in the meantime, was getting murky: the sun, moon and stars disappeared behind clouds of dust, water and fire. It was time to flee to a safer haven.
Soon I'll run out of energy, and I'll plunge into the ocean, Michel worried. My soul is all I have left. What am I saying, I'm forgetting to mention my memories.
And counting his blessings, he flew towards the northern mountains at high speed to take shelter among them. On the way he became aware of the horrific disaster that was taking place on earth. Abnormal storms raged across land and sea, and airplanes fell down like autumn leaves. Towns and villages turned into piles of rubble, and ships were being devoured by sky-high waves. A desperate fear took hold of all the peoples on the earth and many died just from the fear. Nothing and nobody could stand up against this force of nature, and it only kept getting worse. No place was spared. Chunks of the Earth burst apart or bumped into each other with intense force and thick layers of molten stone were forming new mountains and chasms here and there. The forces of the heavens kept moving and an abundant rain, that had been saved up for years, began to fall. In no time, countries that had been drying up were flooded by the rainwater. A handful of space ships were trying to get to outside of the Earth atmosphere with the assistance of a laser beam.
"God, why are you so merciless?" Michel asked, while he watched everything from a great height, and then he was hit by lighting. He fell down many miles, in shock, but landed, alive, in a valley that seemed to be yet untouched.
I doubted Him, he realized, shaken, and, as a snake that had to crawl on his belly as punishment, he fled into the mountains. The seawater kept rising and the valley filled up. In order to keep his head above the water, he had to take shelter on a mountain. He seemed to be safe there for a little while, but suddenly the valley burst open and red magma spewed up out of holes and crevices. The confrontation between the lava and the water caused an earsplitting, hissing sound. Poisonous gasses and glowing hot steam rose up and threatened the hurrying ghost, who had to keep climbing higher and higher.
This is getting to be hopeless, he thought and with the force of desperation, he kept scrambling up the sheer rock walls. Again there were explosions, which this time caused an enormous squall and he had to hang on to the wall with all his might. With a spark of hope he climbed on. A short while later, a powerful explosion collapsed the sides of several mountains, but miracle of miracles, left his path unharmed. However, he could not see any future for himself and wondered where it would all end up. Defeated, he reached the top, where he watched the end of time on the horizon. The Flood was now at its peak and there was no longer any clear distinction between heaven and earth. Mountain ranges disappeared into ravines, and angry seas shot up into the air. Trails of clouds were sucked through holes, only to spit out again right away.
Why is this mountain the only one that is staying put in this swirling mass? he wondered. Did I become One already? And for a moment he thought he was God's equal.
Oops, mental derangement, that's all I need now, he understood, after some introspection. The illusion had just barely been fought off, when something nasty crawled close to him from behind. It penetrated into all his fibers and a thousand shivers ran down his back.
"Well, are you enjoying the view?" a velvet voice with an iron heart suddenly spoke. The mountain top petrified and the air became bleak. With shaking knees, Michel turned around and saw someone standing there: it was Lucifer, the fallen archangel.
"You have been my best student, so far," he continued. "Many wise people on earth think they can fathom me, but such frivolity is foreign to you." The chief devil radiated an intense black energy and this sucked up the last of the weakened prophet's energy. There were ten horns on Satan's head, but suddenly another one poked through and the others made room for it. He could pulverize his victims effortlessly with his large, bronze claws and iron teeth. Anything left would be trampled under his feet. His strong wings also told that escape would be impossible.
"You have done me some very special favors," he feigned again. "You are the greatest sinner ever." And an enormous glow of pride shone from his eyes, while two crows flew up to land on his shoulders. His words did not really get through to the mortal, because he was just noticing that his own heart felt like a lump of ice.
"You have uttered disastrous curses with your predictions," Lucifer explained, while a piece of a hops plant was growing out of his mouth.
"What? Me?" Michel stuttered, completely flabbergasted.
"Yes, you, even this Flood was started by you. I have had great plans for you from the beginning; your talent cannot be denied. Granted, I had to give you a little push every once in a while," and he bit off the growing plant and chewed on it.
"What? What are you talking about?"
"And as a reward, you get to finally meet your master," Lucifer said, ignoring his question and pointing to himself. "Now, I have a proposal: you worship me and in exchange I will give you all of my worldly wisdom."
"That will put me on the wrong path…"
"What? You think my proposal is not good enough for you?" Lucifer screeched and his voice reverberated all around them. "All right," and he took a few steps forward. His student, meanwhile, was looking around in a panic, thinking of a way to fly away.
"That won't do you any good," Lucifer hissed, reading his thoughts effortlessly. "I always vanquish my enemies. Their power is my fuel," and the desperate ghost let go of his plan.
"I am supremely powerful. I teased you on top of the Etna and I was suddenly on the cover of your book, or I conjured a nice little flame in your living room. I was always with you everywhere and I know more about what goes inside of you than you do. You want to save souls. But be realistic. No one will help you and you barely have the capacity to fly away. And look around you… You have no choice!" Michel considered for a moment if he could hide in his earthly body.
"Ha ha, forget it; your body is already decomposed. There is nothing left to crawl into," Lucifer said immediately. Every thought was caught instantly and in silence, the mortal prayed to God.
"Oh, God. God is okay with everything, no matter if you're alive or dead. I, on the other hand, bring light. Your reputation and your clairvoyance are all thanks to me. If I had not made your previous family die of the plague, you would have been nothing but a local little doctor." Michel couldn't believe what he was hearing and seriously considered letting himself be led to the chopping block.
"The only thing I want from you is cooperation," the light carrier now revealed. "Every little bit helps and together we are strong. Don't be so sentimental; life goes on, you know. Your wife already has her eye on Claude de Tende, you know, that governor. And your offspring, they're all happy they're finally out from under your thumb."
"In the name of Jesus Christ!" Michel suddenly cried out.
"You want to bring him into this too? You sure don't learn fast. Jesus will not help you. He's walking around in circles somewhere, chasing his own tail." Nostradamus fell onto his knees in misery and brought his predictions into his mind.
Did I really cause all those disasters?
"Yes, but it's okay. I can turn it back, if I feel like it. Only under one condition though and that is that you surrender to me."
"I loathe you!"
"All right, I'll sweeten the pot a little more. What do you think about this: in addition to getting all my insights, you may also return to your wife, with a healthy body." Michel was being provoked to the nth degree and the temptation was so strong that he almost succumbed, but fortunately he remembered the most important thing.
"Oh, you and that infernal soul of yours. Stop being so small-minded and think bigger for a change," Lucifer complained, stepping closer. His victim was picking himself up and saw the devil's face coming nearer. It was so horrific, he involuntarily shrank back from it.
"Have I misjudged you after all?" Lucifer raged. "Is this the gratitude I'm going to get from you? And I even sent Hermes to clean your inner stables of Augias. Are you really such a simple soul, to stay stuck in that petty way of thinking? I could have left that to any of my simple helpers!"
"You only have power on Earth. Humanity will surpass you," his student suddenly protested.
"Do you mean that handful of idiots that is trying to fly into outer space? A minor flaw; nobody's perfect. They, however, are doomed to die or to roam aimlessly in space for eternity. You see, a new ice age is beginning here. And I'm getting bored of you, Nos." The ruler of darkness was standing very close now and looked at him with contempt. Then the holy fire ignited in Michel's heart. His fears disappeared and he raised his head and said: "If there was ever anyone who always met evil head-on, it was probably me, but I am not evil. I will never sell my soul to you." The two crows suddenly took flight from Lucifer's shoulders and he bolted towards the apostate and pushed him into the abyss.
"Then burn in hell forever!" Satan called after him and Michel fell down into the red-hot lava streams.
France was in deep mourning after the death of its illustrious compatriot and everyone had their flag out at half-mast. The prominent officers poured into Salon de Provence from far and wide, to pay their last respects to the seer. Under the auspices of the family, the physical remains were buried in the church of the Cordeliers. While a priest was holding the sermon, the coffin was placed into the memorial tomb with the public watching. Anne was standing in the front with her children, nervous about the proceedings. Her ancient brothers-in-law were standing behind her. The memorial tomb had been placed straight up inside the wall, as per Nostradamus' request, so that his enemies would not be able to step on his throat. After the deceased had been blessed, the tomb was closed and Anne briefly touched the stone lid in which her husband's portrait was carved at eye height. The image showed him at the age of about forty-nine. His coat of arms was also on there. Then she sadly kneeled in front of the grave and read the text on the marble commemorative stone, which she had written herself and which she had arranged to have placed below it. The words were etched in Latin: Michaelis Nostradami Ummortaliu." After that, everyone sat down on the church benches and the governor of the Provence spoke a few final words.
"Dear family and friends," Claude said, with a lump in his throat. "The world has lost a very special person during the last few days. A person who, at the beginning of his career as physician managed to save thousands of citizens from the plague and who later allowed us a glimpse into the future through his unprecedented prophesies. Despite his impertinence, Michel de Nostredame was a very pious man. He was never intimidated by anyone or anything. On the contrary, he walked God's path with confidence and defied many dangers. But aside from his inimitable talent and tenacity, he was also a loving father," and all eyes turned to the six children, who had been keeping very quiet all this time. Claude continued: "I once had to, much against my own will, incarcerate my friend, by superior orders. But when he was free again, he never held it against me. This made a great impression on me. I admired him greatly, and who didn't." The governor then addressed his buried friend: "Michel, if there is someone who has shown the right example of what the Lord expects of us, it is you. May your soul find peace." The widow burst into tears after those last words and Claude went to her to comfort her. Then he offered his condolences to the six children and the brothers-in-law, and everyone followed his example. When the dignitaries, friends and other important guests had all expressed their sympathies, they left the church. Claude and Anne exchanged a few thoughts.
"I've been so rude to him," Anne sniffled, "he deserved a better wife."
"You're being too hard on yourself. You really were his pride and joy," Claude soothed her, laying a protective arm around her shoulder. The rest of the relatives were now also coming out of the church and the children were all standing there, looking a little lost.
"Well, I'd better go," Anne said, "those six need me. Or else I need them."
"If you need someone to talk to, don't hesitate to come and see me," Claude offered.
"That's very sweet of you, but I'm sure I'll be fine," and they all left the church of the Cordeliers, which would be closed for an indefinite period of time.
The next day, Anne received hundreds of letters of sympathy from all over the country, including one from the queen. With the assistance of Christophe she would write a thank you note to everyone. The notary public, meanwhile, contacted the widow and informed her that her late husband had recently made up a will. In the presence of the children, he presented it to her. It turned out that Michel had left his wife the enormous sum of more than 3444 crowns plus an individual amount for each child. In the estate there was also a letter that was addressed especially to his son César. The young man, who was sixteen by now, felt honored to accept the letter and sat down with it on the veranda. Sitting in his father's rocking chair, he read the emotionally charged letter.
"To my son César. May life and fortune be with you. Your late arrival gave me the opportunity to dedicate many of my night times, to write that which I want to leave you after my passing into the other world. These are my insights about the general purpose and progression of humanity, which the higher authorities have given me. They have been incorporated into The Prophesies. I feel I must write this letter, although your delicate mind, due to your tender age, will not yet be able to understand their content. All of my predictions will come about according to the stars, but the adventures of humankind will be uncertain in their balance, because everything is ultimately controlled by God himself. Astrology cannot determine human fate with any certainty. Only those with divine inspiration can reveal something real. I was privileged to experience this divine inspiration and many of my predictions have come true in many parts of the country. My messages, however, could fall into the wrong hands of future leaders, who could misuse the prophesies or discard them, which would emphasize the opposite. This would undermine the development of mankind and for this reason I have hidden the prophesies in inimitable quatrains. As the old saying goes: do not cast pearls before swine. I have therefore used obscure and disordered aphorisms in order not to damage the small-minded people in the present or the future. Sometimes I wish I could be silent. Yet, I can't do anything but pass on my insights. It would be a sign of carelessness from my side, because the hidden messages will serve the course of humanity by showing them their place. Only initiates will be able to fathom the verses. It is not for the average person to know the given times and moments. In order to lead and protect the common folk, the Creator will repeatedly reveal the secrets of the future and the past to pure knowing ones. Revelations of the divine works that are perfect. The capacity for clairvoyance is received from the tender soul of the fire, which can be touched during the night rest. The insights flowing from that must not be confused with the natural knowledge of the living beings. The supernatural insights originate with the ethereal source and are kept hidden under the arch of heaven. My son, I pray that you will never lend your intelligence to dreams and trivialities that can dry up the higher bodies and allow the soul to ultimately get lost. I have left my work room empty. I have sacrificed my books full of secret wisdom to Vulcanus, in order to keep its dangerous power from the public. When I burned the books, the sky became unusually clear and that showed me it was a good decision. God has favored me and I hope to be able to pass on my inspiration to you in spirit. Your father seems far away now. But I am not removed further from heaven with my senses, than I am from earth with my feet. And don't praise me into heaven; I am a sinner, greater than any other. But considering your tender mind, I will stop myself from wandering further into that subject. What I am leaving you is The Prophesies. The predictions in this book are related to the arch along which the moon moves. I have discovered that before the earth is burned, there will be such floods that every inch of ground will be under water. Humanity as we know it will ultimately cease to exist. But don't be frightened by this doom scenario. It will take centuries for that to happen and before that time, I hope to have a chance to explain the verses to you in person. May God grant you prosperity."
Salon de Provence became a popular place of pilgrimage. Hordes of people annually visited the legendary seer's memorial tomb and every day some buzzing could be heard in the church of the Cordeliers. Only at night did peace return and was there silence, until, 225 years later, two superstitious soldiers would seriously disturb this ritual. One night, during the French Revolution, Bruno and Yves, who were encamped nearby, were hanging around the big fountain. The inseparable duo was in need of some entertainment and they were talking and drinking.
"You know what I dream of?" Yves blustered, "One of those mounted cast-iron cannons!"
"Brute force," was Bruno's opinion, "I think sorcery is a lot more exciting than that."
'And the bigger the barrel, the more beautiful it is,' his friend prattled on.
"You don't need a stupid canon, man, if you know some magic tricks!"
"What, do you have some supernatural gifts?" Yves asked, while he passed the bottle of wine to his buddy.
"No, but do you have a canon?" Bruno replied, thinking himself smart. His friend shrugged his shoulders and took another swig.
"Did you know," Bruno continued loudly, "that in Paris the Bastille with its eight towers and one-and-a-half meters thick walls has been flattened to the ground and that it involved not even one canon?"
"Heck, I didn't know that," his companion retorted tipsily and while they chattered on, a window opened in one of the neighboring houses.
"Hey, quiet down, you guys!" a citizen of Salon, who was trying to sleep, called out.
"Watch out, or I'll turn you into a frog," Bruno brushed him off and the neighbor grumbled something while he closed the shutter.
"Have you ever been to Paris?" Yves asked, extra loudly.
"No, but have I ever been anywhere without you? We'll get to Paris yet." The soldiers were bored to tears and were in the mood for some action.
"Yves, you know, Nostradamus' grave is nearby; want to come see?" Yves agreed and together they ambled towards the church of the Cordeliers.
"What do you want to do there; it's the middle of the night?" Yves asked on the way.
"I'm going to drink wine out of the skull of the prophet."
"The story is going around that you could maybe get magical powers if you do that."
"Oh wow! But you have to get inside first, don't you," Yves smirked.
"Buddy, just leave it to me," and they walked around the church to the back door.
"I'll be right back," Bruno whispered conspiringly. Yves waited by the door, until his friend came back with an iron bar. Using this, the door was easily broken open and they snuck into the church. In the front, the two soldiers found the upright tomb of the seer and Bruno had a look to see how to open the thing. They had soon managed to remove the stone lid and between the old boards, they saw the skeleton of Nostradamus. They violently ripped off its skull and a golden amulet fell to the bottom of the coffin, unnoticed. While Bruno drank wine out of the skull, his buddy started to juggle with the bones. Suddenly the brains behind the macabre plan felt himself being grabbed across the throat by invisible hands and with all his strength, he tried to pull them off. For a minute Yves thought his friend was just kidding around, but when he kept calling out for help and he began to turn purple, Yves ran away, scared to death. Just past the sacristy, a statue of a saint suddenly fell over right in front of him, and he tripped over it and fell on the floor. The mayor had heard the commotion in the church and ordered his city guards to grab the two burglars. They were caught in the act, and offered no resistance to their arrest. Bruno had almost choked to death and was still trying to catch his breath and Yves was lying unconscious on the floor.
"Throw those soldiers into the lockup!" the furious mayor ordered. "We'll use them later, at the front*(The Battle of Waterloo, see the end of chapter 3); they can catch the enemy's bullets for us." Then he walked over to the damaged tomb and discovered the golden medallion between the remainder of bones in the tomb. When he saw the inscription on the age-old medallion, his jaw dropped in surprise: It had the number of the current year, 1791, on it. He hurriedly put the treasure back into the coffin, which was shut again, with all the bones inside, a few minutes later. The bewildered mayor then immediately ordered his men to transfer the grave to the church of Saint Laurent, where it could be better taken care of. He never spoke another word about it to anyone, ever again.
Henrik Larson was happily walking through his vineyard, under a cloudless sky. Bunches of grapes were hanging from the graceful vines and he pulled one off. He bit the blue fruit in half and carefully tasted it.
Yes, it's ripe, he concluded. The sour-sweet juice was just right for the preparation of the deep-red drink and the harvest was ready to be brought in.
Tomorrow I will gather some pickers, he promised himself, and with a feeling of satisfaction, he looked over at his vines in the valley down by the river. The flowing river water sparkled brightly in the late afternoon sun, and he enjoyed the beautiful view. Above the horizon to the south were the silhouettes of the Pyrenees. Their mighty presence was palpable here and their energies shimmered in the vineyard.
I'd better get home, he thought, looking at his watch and started to trudge up the hill, behind which was Cave Lagneaux. Despite his Swedish background he had become a popular man in this village in just a few years. His open face was an invitation to anyone. The philosophical Larson had landed in Limoux when, during a purification journey, he had met not himself, but a French woman. He had married her and they settled in the sun-drenched district of Aude, with its picturesque villages and narrow roads. They found an old farm that still had an old wine press, and renovated it into its modern state. The house had been furnished with all comforts over the years. Inside the walled-in garden, Henrik had recently built a swimming pool for the children. He walked towards Cave Lagneaux and breathed in the last scents of nature.
Life can be so beautiful, he thought as he went inside.
"Brigitte, tomorrow I want to start picking," he called and looked for his wife on the main floor. He didn't see her anywhere and he was just about to go and look for her upstairs, when a blonde woman came down the stairs. Half-way, they bumped into each other.
"Hello angel, you're so beautiful," he greeted her. It seemed like they hadn't seen each other in ages and they lovingly touched each other.
Every day a new woman, he thought in his head. "Brigitte, I want to bring in the harvest tomorrow."
"Okay, I'll make some phone calls tonight," she said. "How many pickers do you think you'll need?"
"I think five or six should be enough," and they went to the living room to go over the day's business.
"Your father called, he will call back tonight," Brigitte reported, while she picked up an address book.
"I'll call him now," he replied.
"Hi Dad!" David called out, rushing out of the laundry room with a cat in his arms.
"Was Mau hiding in there again?" Dad asked. The child nodded and went upstairs to his room, without the cat. The timer on the oven rang and the couple hurried to the kitchen, where Brigitte was trying out a new recipe.
"You haven't touched your easel in months," she said, as she pulled the hot dish out of the oven, "do you want me to put it away, or are you going to make something beautiful soon?"
"Just put it away. I don't feel like painting anymore. In a painting, everything is so trapped; it has no life anymore. No, I'd rather look at nature, or at you!"
She smiled at the compliment, never tiring of his admiring remarks.
"I still think the painting with the sunflowers is brilliant," she confessed and she poked the vegetable quiche with a knife to see if it was done.
"Oh, it's a nice picture. Oh, right, I was going to call my father. Where is that cell phone?"
"In the cupboard with the mirror, dear," she answered and he went into the living room.
"And you'll call for some workers, right?" he called after her. He found the phone and quickly had his father in Stockholm on the line.
"Hello Dad. I heard you called."
"Right, I did. Your mother had a sudden unsettled feeling about you guys and asked me to give you a call. The violence in Europe is definitely on the increase."
"It's pretty safe in the country, where we are," his son reassured him.
"Let's hope so. In any case, we're glad you're finally doing so well. You seemed like the eternal martyr there for a while. Everything okay with Brigitte and the kids?"
"Yup, everything's excellent. Fred is crawling around everywhere. He can almost walk already. And tomorrow we're going to be bringing in the harvest."
"Beautiful and grateful work, son. Unfortunately, Sweden is not a wine country and we are too old to come by. But next year, god-willing, we are planning to come for a visit. But we'd better keep this short, um?" They both said goodbye and Henrik turned off the cell phone, the only communication device in the house. He had agreed with his wife that the children should be exposed to as few miseries and temptations as possible until their seventh year. For that reason, there was no computer and no television in the house.
"Dinner is ready!" Brigitte called, putting Fred back into the playpen. David and Lisa came down the stairs. The girl hopped to the eating corner with a pack of markers and quickly made another drawing, while her brother followed her actions.
"That doesn't look like anything," he teased and provokingly pulled the paper away from her.
"You jerk!" Lisa shouted.
"Hey, no name-calling around here," her father warned. He didn't see what was going on, because he was just getting some glasses from the kitchen.
"Yeah, but David is teasing and he's always being nasty to me," his daughter whined.
"And you're nasty back to him. That's how you get stuck in a vicious cycle. If you behave properly he'll stop teasing you, because it won't be any fun for him anymore." Lisa had heard the lecture, but she was still angry with her little brother.
"He'll get run over by a car some day," she said, quietly, but her father heard her.
"Those are dangerous thoughts, Lisa. Don't make predictions like that. Don't make any predictions, in fact; it's like pronouncing a curse! Boys just act that way, and they eventually outgrow that kind of behavior. But I will keep a closer eye on David," and he gave his son an intense look. Every once in a while those kids were a pain in the neck, but for the most part they were good kids. After the vegetable quiche had been devoured and the kids had gone to bed, Henrik was leafing through a thick book and making some notes.
"What are you doing?" Brigitte asked, after she had done the dishes.
"I'm giving a lecture about Swedenborg at the Cultural Center next week," he replied, taking off his reading glasses.
"Any particular theme?"
"I hope it won't get too mushy, with all our acquaintances there. I assume you won't be discussing our love life?"
"You know me better than that!" he assured her. She picked up a magazine and sat down on the couch beside her husband. A few minutes later she was sadly shaking her head.
"There's been an attack on City Hall in Pau," she told him.
"Three dead, including the mayor." The climate in the country had been getting harsher during the last few years and they realized how vulnerable their own existence was. But aside from being watchful, they had faith in providence. After Brigitte had made a few phone calls, they decided to go to sleep. Mother picked up Fred from the playpen and together they went upstairs. The little one still slept with his parents.
At dawn, the next day, the group of grape pickers walked to the south-facing vineyard. Above the valleys of the cathar regions hung a beautiful mystical mist that morning. Once in the vineyard, Henrik gave everyone a bucket and a knife to cut down the bunches of grapes. The group consisted of three men from Limoux, a lost Basque and two traveling girls from Denmark. The wooden cart that the full buckets had to be emptied onto was already in its spot.
"Okay, everyone, get to work," their employer ordered, and everyone quickly went to their own row.
"Oh, and there are drinks for you next to the cart," he called after them. A little later, the first buckets were being emptied and a drink of water was taken. Around nine o'clock, the boss' wife brought a picnic and passed out baguettes and an assortment of cheese. Although it was still early in the day, the Frenchmen had a glass of wine with their bread and cheese. The Danish girls preferred simply water. After the short interlude, the picking was resumed. The sun was getter brighter and the mist disappeared. The warm sunrays on everyone's skin made the work pleasant and they were singing and talking.
"You'll probably have a sore back for the first two days," Henrik warned the two ladies, who had never done this kind of work before. But they didn't take him seriously. By eleven-thirty the sun was so hot, everyone was drenched in sweat. Fortunately, it was getting to be lunch time, and they all returned to Cave Lagneaux, where an elaborate meal was waiting for them. The pickers left their dirty shoes by the door and sat down in the eating corner.
"Which of you will be able to help us for the whole month?" Henrik asked when he sat down at the table. "There is a lot of work to do. The fruit still has to be sorted, cleaned and pressed." The four men said they could stay on, but the Danish girls wanted to continue their travels. The group started to eat and they had some pleasant table conversation.
"Your husband has gained quite a bit of weight, due to your cooking talents. I remember he used to be a little pipsqueak," Jules, one of the villagers, said.
"Yes, he sure was. He is finally coming into his own. I guess it's probably the French cuisine," Brigitte agreed.
"No, I just reincarnated," her husband kidded.
"Who wants more to drink?" Brigitte asked, getting up to get an extra bowl of baked eggplant.
"Do you have any grape juice?" the ladies from the north asked.
"Oh yes, we made it ourselves," and she went to the kitchen.
"Larson makes the clearest wine in the whole region," Jules informed the company. "There is nothing artificial in his wine."
"Thanks for the compliment, Jules. It's true; our wine is pure and natural," Henrik admitted. Brigitte arrived back at the table with the juice and poured some for the girls.
"Careful, don't drink too much," Henrik warned. "You girls have been eating quite a few grapes, I noticed. They have a laxative effect, you know." Suddenly, Fred started to scream. He was all by himself in the playpen and no one was paying any attention to him.
"What variety of grapes do you use?" one of the men asked. Henrik had just put some food in his mouth and started to choke.
"Pinot Noir and Chardonnay," he said, coughing, and Jules, who was sitting beside him, pounded him on the back. A little while later, ripening of the wine became the topic of conversation, and Henrik told them about the age-old wine cellar, which was situated underneath the entire house and which could be reached from the living room.
"After lunch I'll show it to you. Some of the original barrels are still down there," he said, passionately. But after lunch, everyone wanted to go straight into the garden to relax for a while, so his invitation was passed up. They all sat in the shade of a large apple tree and ate some chocolate. After everyone had rested enough, they went back to work. Many sunny hours and emptied buckets later, the day was done and the workers took a refreshing shower at the farm. After they got paid, they all went home happy.
That evening, Brigitte had opened all the windows. There was not a breath of wind anywhere.
"It's so calm and muggy," her husband said. "It seems like the proverbial calm before the storm." Tired but happy, he sat down beside his wife in the living room. The children were playing with Lego.
They are such wonderful little treasures, Father thought, as he watched them affectionately. I love them so much, and for a moment he held them in his heart. He felt overcome with happiness. At the same time, the coat of arms from the sixteenth century next to the front door suddenly began to move back and forth and the ominous squeaking pulled him out of his reverie. A deeply hidden insight welled up in him and his hair stood on end.
My God, I have pronounced something terrible, he suddenly realized; I was worshiping my children as if they were gods.
Suddenly a strange wind was blowing through the house. It was the devil's breath.
"Close all the shutters!" Henrik stressed.
"That wind is scary," Brigitte said, startled, and she quickly walked to the windows. Within one minute, the wind had grown into a full-fledged storm. While his wife was closing the windows downstairs, Henrik flew to the open windows on the second floor. The wind was howling through the bedrooms and the curtains were swinging in the air. He hurriedly closed the shutters. Back downstairs again he helped his wife with the sliding doors of the storage space behind the house. A true hurricane was traveling through the region and outside the atmosphere seemed haunted.
"The attic door is still open!" Brigitte suddenly remembered and her husband sprinted back up the stairs. Then they crawled away together in the living room while all the windows were rattling hard.
"Something or someone wants to kill our children," Henrik said, suddenly.
"What, what do you mean?" his wife stammered. David heard his father speak and looked at him intently with his bright blue eyes.
"It's only going to get worse," Henrik predicted. "Take the children to the cellar and nail all the doors and windows shut. There is not much time; I have to go now."
"Please tell me what's going on!" Brigitte asked urgently.
"Don't ask me why," he answered, "I can't explain it… I am being led by something higher." And he hurried to the front door and looked at his wife and children one last time.
We may never see each other again, he thought, heartbroken. Then he closed the door behind him. In the dark, Larson fought his way through the storm, into the hills and he repeatedly had to grab hold of shrubs and trees. His grapevines were being pulled out of the ground and sailing past him. When he got to the top of the hill he saw how the river had changed into a virulent water mass and was spreading out eerily all over the land. For a moment he hesitated, but then he decided to run away from home as far as possible. Maybe to distract the evil from his family. As he ran through the hills, dark clouds seemed to be following him. After a few miles he stopped to catch his breath behind a sturdy tree and started to worry about his wife and kids. At exactly the same time, a malignant whirlwind tore the roof off their farm and the contents of the entire household flew up into the air. Pots and pans, clothing, books, tables, an ironing board, beds, everything flew up like it was weightless. Even the shutters that had been nailed shut got no mercy and in the living room the chairs were dancing across the floor. The antique mirrored cupboard exploded and thousands of glass slivers showered down in the interior. A short distance away, Henrik was standing still, wondering what to do, and not aware of the disaster.
I can't let myself be controlled by fear, he reprimanded himself and forced himself to run again. A violent wind soon pushed him over and he hurt himself on branches and rocks. He managed to get up, but was smashed to the ground again right away. In the face of death, he had to think of what was dear to him.
I wonder if my family is still alive? he thought, when suddenly a cross of insight burned on his forehead.
Evil destroys that which you think of, a voice from inside said. Henrik was terrified by these findings and he quickly tried to change his thoughts.
Don't think, don't think, he said to himself. The evil weather god noticed his resistance and immediately flared up. Henrik was lifted up and savagely smashed against a tree trunk. His ribcage creaked dangerously and he screamed in agony. With the greatest difficulty, he controlled his thought images, which were nothing more than an escape from reality.
I will have to face a confrontation with that devil. There is nothing else left to do.
It was his last straw, and truthfulness was his weapon, and he used that weapon to break this thoughts about anyone or anything. All hell broke out intensely in response. Henrik tried to grab hold of another branch, but was blown away like a little feather. Finally, he just let himself be taken as an unresisting victim, but he kept his faith in tact. He even obligingly let himself be flogged, which only made the devilish catastrophe worse. His surrender to All That Is slowly caused a turn and, mollified, he became aware of a figure. The vague form appeared high above him and made a terrific noise. Then the clouds in the sky started to move in circles around it and they subdued the delirious devil, who slowly but surely began to fade. After a last convulsion, the evil thing gave up and dissolved into thin air. The tornado then focused on the knocked-out wine farmer, who could do nothing but surrender. The whirlwind turned out to be benevolent and its power filled him from head to toe. When the last of it had been sucked through his body, the storm abated and nature calmed down. Henrik sat up, speechless, and licked his wounds. Then he saw a dying phantom. The ghost was wearing a robe that hung down to his feet and around his chest he wore a golden band. His long beard was as white as snow and his eyes burned like fire. In his left hand he held a staff with seven stars and his face shone like the midday sun. Amazed, Henrik got up and looked at the wonder. The ghost held out a hand in friendship and said:
"I am Michaelis Nostradamus and I've had to wait in purgatory for centuries for an immaculate and pure person who would be able to free me. The seventh valley has been completed and my soul can now finally rest. You were the last key and as a token of my gratitude my light will always continue to shine in you." His voice sounded like a mighty waterfall.
"My prophesies are destroyed as of this moment," he continued. "The genie is back in the bottle. I also only play my role. I was dead, but now I will live forever, for eternity." The apparition began to fade.
"Your family is still alive. They're fine, but I have to go now to say goodbye to my human heart." Very touched, Henrik raised his arms and opening them wide, answered: "The Earth will always remember you, Michel." Nostradamus nodded in agreement, took one last breath in the still air and in closing said: "Time is nothing, longing for love is everything," and slowly, his soul disappeared into the clouds. The sky cleared up and the wine farmer watched. In the heavens, a new star could be seen.
Used quatrains from The Prophesies
Pau, Nay, Loron, more fire than blood
Swimming in praise the great one flees across water
He will deny the magpies entrance
Pampon and Durance keep them imprisoned
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 captain of the great Germany
Makes it to king of kings
With false help and support from Pannonia
His revolt causes rivers of blood
The arrow from the sky makes its journey
Death speaks, a big execution
Stone in the tree, a proud race humiliated
Human monster, purification and penance
The weakened world regenerates
Long-lasting peace reigns everywhere
People travel by air, across land and sea
Then there will be war again
The great man will fall before the conflict
A significant murder, dead too soon and mourned
Born imperfectly, must swim often
The earth near the river smeared with blood
The two great leaders become friends
Their enormous power will increase
The new country approaches its peak
The number of Reds recounted
The young lion will defeat the older one
A tournament and a single duel
In the golden cage his eyes pierced
A cruel death by two wounds in one
Five to forty degrees heaven burns
Fire approaches the new city
After big explosions widthwise
So that the northerners will bow
The antichrist soon destroys the three
Twenty-seven years his war will rage
The unbelievers: captured, dead or banned
The earth strewn with corpses and red hail
In the year 1999, seventh month
A king of terror from the sky
Makes the great king of Angolmois relive
Before and after, Mars rules with fortune
Up to the Danube and the Rhine will come to drink
The great Camel without remorse
Near the Rhône and the Loire violence breaks out
The Cock will ruin him near the Alps
The gods will show
That they determine the war
After silence, heaven full of weapons and missiles
The worst damage is on the left
Mabus will die sooner and then will come
A terrible destruction of humans and animals
Suddenly revenge will appear
A hundred hands hungry as soon as the comet strikes
He who will open the found tomb
And will not close it promptly
Evil will come to him and one will be unable to prove
If it would be better to be a Breton or Norman King
All original verses at www.nostredame.info
Original quatrains of Nostradamus
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