Quatrain by Medler, John - HTML preview
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June 19, 1566. Salon-de-Provence, France.
Nostradamus only had twelve more days to live. The gout was taking him. The gut pain had gotten worse and worse every day. He had vomited blood in an iron bucket this morning. Nostradamus grabbed for a shirt, but the crippling arthritis in his hands hurt when he tried to fasten the clasps together. His doctors were all waiting for him in the next room. He could have asked them for help, but he did not. He was a proud man and hated to be in this pitiful state. If only his body were as fit as his mind, he thought. This morning felt worse than before.
Nostradamus rolled out of the bed and struggled to dress himself, pulling his long, black robe over his crisp white collar, and ran his hand through his long, sweaty gray beard. He looked at himself quickly in the glass. What a mess. The disease had really taken its toll. His eyes were bloodshot and the deep creases under his eyes showed the weeks of sleep deprivation.
Nostradamus broke away from his reflection in the mirror. He had to get dressed. He thought of just going into the study in his bed clothes, but then decided against it. He had to get up to meet with the lawyer, who was coming this morning. It wouldn’t do to meet a lawyer in one’s bedclothes. Nostradamus pulled his velvet cap off the wooden peg near the nightstand and placed it on his head. God, he was hot in here. How hot was it in this house? It felt like a furnace. He slid into his buckled brown shoes and stumbled down the hall, grimacing at the stomach pain. Where was that idiot Chavigny?
“Chavigny! Where are you? Come here, you dunce! Have you summoned Joseph? Where is he? Time is most pressing!”
Jean-Aime de Chavigny, a lawyer and former magistrate in Burgundy, had been Nostradamus’ secretary and personal apprentice these last twelve years. Chavigny certainly had a fine career ahead of him without the help of Nostradamus. He had schooled with the great Greek scholar Jean Dorat at the Principal of the College de Coqueret in Paris, and had earned his own reputation as a theologian and thinker. He had also dabbled in the magical arts. However, as he had explained to his wife many times, his career would have to wait. Clerking with Monsieur Nostradamus was simply too great an opportunity to pass up. He was willing to withstand the petty slights and menial work for the opportunity to work aside a real genius. He, Chavigny, had actually gotten to assist the Master with Les Propheties! This morning, Chavigny had been asked to summon Joseph Roche, the wills and trusts lawyer. It seemed that Nostradamus had gotten into his mind to prepare a last-minute codicil to his will. Chavigny wondered if there might be something of value for him in the new will. After all, Nostradamus had amassed quite a fortune here in Salon after his successful canal project. And Nostradamus’ second wife, the old battle-axe, had come from money as well. Chavigny had once seen a balance sheet lying on the Master’s desk. He had well over 3,400 crowns! Even if Nostradamus left most of the fortune to his three boys and three girls, surely there was something left over for loyal Chavigny for his dedicated decade of service to Master Nostradamus? Well, he would know soon enough, judging from the bucket of blood he cleaned up this morning.
“I see Monsieur Roche and the witnesses coming down the street now, Master. I shall bring him into the study momentarily.”
Nostradamus had written 942 prophecies of future events. All that was missing were the final 58 verses, which would be his crowning achievement. Unfortunately, the 58 verses were still back in Agen, the town in Southern France where he had married his first wife. Nostradamus’ new publisher was waiting on the final 58. Nostradamus hated publishers. Du Rosne, his first publisher in Lyon, had published the first few centuries. Du Rosne’s version had so many typesetting errors one could hardly read it. His second publisher, Benoist Regaud of Lyon, was lazy. Even though he had been given several hundred of the quatrains five years ago, Nostradamus had not seen a single edition printed. At this rate, Nostradamus would die before he saw his entire masterpiece printed. By switching to a third publisher, he hoped to get the entire 1,000 in print.
Nostradamus looked at the letter lying on the night stand beside his desk and thought of its implications. The letter, delivered by a small eleven year-old boy yesterday, was written by Joseph Justus Scaliger, the son of Nostradamus’ late mentor and former friend, Julius Caesar Scaliger. The letter was dated May 1, 1566, and read:
Dear Monsieur Nostradamus:
I have reviewed your most recent correspondence from last fall. As I have told you several times before, I do not have your poetry. I have no idea what these “58 verses” are to which you constantly refer. I personally collected my father’s effects for the estate when he died, and I can assure you that I did not see any of your poetry. I wish I could help you, Michel, but alas, I cannot. Perhaps you can create some new verses? I have heard you have been a most prolific writer in recent years.
I know that you and my father were once the closest of friends. It is a shame that you had a falling out. On his death bed eight years ago, he was still filled with vitriol for you, Michel. I do not know what your offense was, as the whole matter occurred when I was just an infant. Whatever it was, however, my father never forgave you, even in his last breath. Just before he died, he wrote you a letter. I have not sent it before now because it is filled with anger, and, as a gentleman, I did not want to cause you further insult. However, in your most recent correspondence, you beseeched me to please give you anything of any description which my father may have left you. So, with some reluctance, I attach my father’s last letter to you, written some eight years ago. I cannot imagine what comfort it would give you, but I send it anyway because of the urgency of your request.
The lad who brought me your last letter from April 5 of this year stated that you are in ill health. I am sorry about your condition, and I wish you a healthy recovery.
Michel, you must understand that as a man of science and letters myself, my business is most pressing, and I will not have another opportunity to write you again regarding your poetry. I trust that you may now be in peace. May God be with you.
Joseph Justus Scaliger
May 1, 1566
Separating the letters of the father and his son was a piece of brown wrapping paper, which Nostradamus discarded to the side of the desk. Nostradamus then pulled out the attached letter with enthusiasm. Julius Caesar Scaliger’s last letter to Nostradamus read as follows:
As I look out my window, I long for another spring, when the white almond flowers dance through the blue skies of Agen and the smell of honeysuckle fills the air. However, I fear I have seen my last spring on this earth. I am not in good health, Michel. I fear the morgue awaits me. By the time you read this, I probably will be in the ground, my bodily organs the daily feast of earthworms.
You, on the other hand, will be hawking another edition of your prophetic drivel. Many of your verses, Michel, are simply plagiarized from prophets of earlier ages. The remainder of your verses are drafted in such vague and indecipherable terms that they may mean almost anything to anyone. It astounds me that masters of the written word like Vergil are attacked by critics on a daily basis, while you make riches off verses so poorly written and so poorly constructed that one would think that the literary critics would be armed with pitchforks at your gate. Yet, for some reason, they have prepared the fatted calf for you. And while true prophets are ignored, you shamelessly convince the world that you can predict future events by looking at the stars. You know, Michel, that I see through you. I know for a fact that the great “predictor of pigs” cannot predict future events. If you could, your wife and children would be alive today. And I plan to reveal to your centuries of followers what a charlatan and liar you really are. You may think this is a big game, but when I get finished with you, you will regret your abandonment, fraud, and plagiarism.
Michel, the wind of change is upon us. The world and the Catholic Church face true evil ahead, and I must stop it. My task is difficult. To hold in one’s hands the future of mankind is an awesome responsibility. However, despite the danger to myself and my family, I must press forward, like two oxen pulling a plow through a rough field. Through the divine Word of God, the world will be warned and humanity will be saved from destruction. And even though I am only one frail human voice in the cacophony of misdirection and mendacity, I will be here through the ages to make sure that the words of the true prophets, and not the false ones, are heeded.
If you are the clever man I hope you to be, Michel, then you, too, may be an instrument of change. If you repent and show the world who you truly are on the inside, future generations may avoid the evil that awaits them.
Julius Caesar Scaliger
October 14, 1558
Yesterday, Nostradamus had scowled at first when he had first read the letter. He truly respected Julius Caesar Scaliger, and it pained him to hear his angry words. It appeared the man was never going to forgive him. He read the letter over and over again, hoping to find some hidden meaning, but he could find none. He picked up the brown wrapping paper, preparing to discard it into the trash basket. However, as he did so, he noticed some small cut marks or perforations on the paper. He brought out his magnifying glass, and studied the brown paper. Sure enough, there were little brown indentations in the shape of ovals at various places on the brown paper.
“Aha!” he thought. He quickly pulled out a small knife from a drawer and began cutting along the perforations, creating numerous oval holes in the paper. When he was finished, he laid the brown paper with the holes over the letter from Julius Caesar Scaliger. Only a dozen or so words peeked out through the holes. Nostradamus thought for a minute and then realized the meaning behind the remaining words.
“Ah!” he exclaimed. And then another thought dawned on Nostradamus, and a hearty smile crept across his face. “The old man had a soft spot for me after all!” he thought. Could he get back to Agen in time? Surely not, in his health. If that blasted Joseph Scaliger had only sent him the letter sooner! However, there might be another way…. Then his legacy would be secured after all!
Nostradamus then wrote long letters to his oldest daughter Madeleine and his oldest son Cesar, giving them detailed instructions on what to do after his death. He gave these letters to Chavigny, instructing him to give the letters to Father De Neve of the Chapel of our Lady of the White Penitents of Salon as soon as possible. Father De Neve would be instructed by Chavigny to safeguard the letters and give them to the children upon Nostradamus’ death. He had written a separate letter to Father De Neve.
As Nostradamus struggled to finish dressing himself this morning, Chavigny welcomed Monsieur Roche and his briefcase of scrolls and quills through the front door. Along with Monsieur Roche came Jehan Allegret and Jehan Giraud de Besson, two locals who would act as witnesses to the codicil.
“Good morning, Monsieur Roche,” welcomed Chavigny. “The Master and his doctors are waiting for you in his study. Let me show you in.”
Roche had been somewhat perturbed at his summoning this morning. Roche had an office full of clients waiting for him at the other end of town. He had just spent an entire day with Nostradamus just three days ago preparing his will. As was his custom, Roche had been most thorough, conducting a complete inventory of all assets and covering Monsieur Nostradamus’ wishes as to distribution with respect to each item. There was obviously the house in Salon, as well as some decent furniture, various astrological tools and devices, and a whole library of books. His treasure trove of currency—crowns, rose nobles, simple ducats, German florins, imperials, marionettes, crown-pistollets, Louis XII crowns, golden lions, and other coins were all kept in three large coffers in the house. Three different men in the town were entrusted with the keys to the coffers. As Roche had transcribed into the original will written on the 17th, most of Nostradamus’ fortune would go to his wife Anne Ponsarde. His son Cesar would receive the house, his gilded silver cup, and his wooden and iron chairs. Madeleine, the eldest, would receive 600 golden crowns. Anne and Diane, then eight and five years old respectively, would receive 500 crowns upon their marriages. Charles and Andre, his youngest sons, would receive 100 gold crowns each on their twenty-fifth birthday. There had also been individual bequeaths to the Chapel of our Lady of the White Penitents of Salon, the Brothers of St. Pierre-des-Canons, and the Minor Brothers of the Convent of St. Francis.
He had been so detailed in the preparation of the will, Roche thought. Had he done something wrong in the drafting? He hoped Master Nostradamus was not upset with him. What could have changed in three days? Had Nostradamus had a falling out with the wife? If Monsieur Nostradamus was not paying Roche an obscene fee, he would not have made this speedy house call this morning and ignored his other clients. But one must go after the money if one is to succeed, after all. At least that is what is father had taught him.
Roche entered Nostradamus’ study, which was a scattered garbage heap of parchment, scrolls, astrolabes, maps, astrological tools, candles, and, most of all, books. Books stood in huge stacks on the desk, in the bookshelves, and all over the floor. There was Virgil’s Eclogues, Pliny the Elder’s histories, Livy’s History of Rome, and Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Livre du Monde et des Conjunctions. There were books on the conquests of Caesar, a chronicle on Constantinople, and a history of cataclysms. There were books regarding the interpretation of omens and the alignment of planets. There were books on mythological monsters, meteors and magic talismans. Dozens of texts, some open, some not, many annotated and tabbed and scribbled on, were scattered all over the room. Roche saw Nostradamus hunched over a work bench, in obvious pain. Tending to him were Antoine Paris, doctor of medicine, Guillem Eyraud, apothecary, and Gervais Berard, a surgeon from Salon. These doctors had been unsuccessfully attempting to cure Nostradamus over the last several weeks but they, too, could see the writing on the wall.
“Monsieur Nostradamus, I have brought the will which you executed three days ago. Is there some problem with its execution?”
“No, Joseph, nothing like that. I just remembered that I have a few special items which are particularly important to my eldest children. So I wish a codicil be prepared to dictate the specific bequeaths of those items.”
“Certainly, Monsieur,” said Roche. Roche laid out a scroll on the table. He plunked down a copy of Stadius’ Ephemerides on one end of the scroll so that it would not curl back. Roche wrote out the legal jargon necessary for the establishment of a codicil and then asked the seer about the personal items.
Nostradamus responded, “To my eldest son Cesar, I wish to give my great gold ring, inset with the stone of cornelian, as well as my astrolabe, which I treasure dearly. I have also written this epistle to Cesar, which I wish to be given to him upon my death. In addition, I wish to bequeath the contents these two walnut chests to my daughter Madeleine absolutely and immediately.” Nostradamus pointed to the chests lying under a pile of books in the corner of the study.
“I entrust the keys to the chests to sire Martin Manson, Consul, who shall deliver them to my daughter Madeleine immediately upon my death.”
Roche nodded his head and wrote in the appropriate language in a very sloppy French cursive. Nostradamus signed at the bottom, grimacing at the arthritic pain as he grabbed the quill. When he was finished, everyone but Jehan de Giraud signed at the bottom as witnesses. Roche took custody of the keys to the chest and the newly executed codicil.
“Very well, Monsieur Nostradamus,” said Roche, preparing to leave, “Everything is in order. You can trust me that this matter will be promptly handled.”
Nostradamus thanked the man and handed him a handful of French crowns.
Eleven days later, on the evening of July 1, 1566, Nostradamus gave one more fond look to his study, and pulled out the Ephemerides book from the desk where Roche had left it and wrote on it “Hic prope mors es,” which, in Latin, means “Death is close at hand.” He then got into his nightclothes and summoned Chavigny to his bedside. Chavigny quickly came to his master’s side.
“Chavigny, you have been a dear friend and a good student. I am sorry if I have ever mistreated you. Make sure you carry on my work because I will not live long.”
“Do not say that, Master Nostradamus,” said Chavigny. “Surely with the surgery you can recover.”
“No, son,” said Nostradamus, “You will not see me alive at sunrise. Summon the pastor for Last Rites.”
Chavigny quickly left to summon the local priest. As Nostradamus lay in agony awaiting the local priest, the door to his bedroom silently opened. A dark shadow appeared in the doorway. In the dim light, Nostradamus could barely make out the figure of tall, broad-shouldered man wearing a hooded monk’s garb. His hard, chiseled face, narrow eyes, and silent snarl told Nostradamus that this was not the parish priest.
The man whispered. “Where is the prophecy?”
Nostradamus replied, “If you mean my Propheties, they are with my publisher.”
The monk was agitated. “Not that drivel, you idiot. The real prophecy. The one written in Agen.”
Nostradamus looked terrified, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
The man sat on the edge of Nostradamus’ bed and put his face an inch above Nostradamus’ mouth.
“Old man, you can either tell me where the prophecy is now, or I will kill every member of your family.”
Nostradamus again protested that he did not know anything. The monk then took his two giant muscular hands and began strangling Nostradamus. Nostradamus stiffened, his eyes bulging out, gasping to breathe. After thirty seconds, Nostradamus stopped fighting and his body slumped. Just then, the monk heard a commotion at the front door. It was the local priest and Chavigny. Several moments later, Chavigny and the parish priest entered the bed chamber. Chavigny thought it was odd that his master’s bedroom window was ajar. That draft would not be good for his master’s condition. Chavigny closed the window and looked fondly down at the seer. The priest bent over the bed, making incantations and blessing Nostradamus with holy water. After the Last Rites were administered, the parish priest left and Chavigny retired to bed. True to Nostradamus’ prediction, when Chavigny visited his master the next morning, he was dead.