William P. Lazarus
A comic romp through the 1500s with an unlikely protagonist examining such areas as belief and reality.
On his deathbed, Nostradamus is approached by a young man hoping to become famous. The great seer proceeds to explain how he achieved notoriety. He first was almost captured and killed by renegade pilgrims. Then, he was involved in the near autopsy of his comatose grandfather before setting off on an effort to kill Henry VIII of England. later, he is accused of being a messiah and almost burned before finding safety in Munster, a city taken over by radical Protestants. FGree by a cardinal who wants to be pope, and wants to have Nostradamus predict his future, Nostradamus returns home to find himself renowned for predictions he did not make.
A long bony finger, tinged with a yellow stain, slowly
pointed towards me. I hung back in the shadows of this large
bedroom lit by three large tallows and the sunlight poking
through the glassed window. The finger hovered in space,
“I know what you want,” rasped the old man behind the
finger. Lying in a bed, his back propped up by an array of
pillows as would have befit royalty, he stared at me through
half-closed eyes, red and rheumy. His long nose stretched
over a face lined with creases, yet, as he spoke, the signs of
age smoothed out, the way a sudden splash in a river slowly
fades into nothingness.
“You do?” I managed.
Of course, he did. Michel de Notradame, better known
to the world as Nostradamus, knows everything. He has seen
the future, the heavens above and the deep recesses below. I
could barely speak. I gripped my sheets of rag paper as my
I had come to the dying seer’s bedchamber to find the
truth. Of course, he knew why I was there!
The finger crooked and beckoned me forward. I could
not resist. Slowly, my bare feet stumbling on the hard wooden
floors, I inched towards him. Nostradamus lay quietly, almost
smiling. He had just finished eating a morsel of bread and
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seemed content. His hands were spread across the knitted
coverlet, his nails were trimmed and bluish; his care-worn
face, lined and crinkled, was elongated and narrow, an effect
enhanced by the white beard that came to a twisted point well
below his chin. His white hair, so thinned in spots that his
scalp glistened through, spread across his pillow like thick
I could hear the stomp of feet nearing the bedroom door,
yet inside, where I stood trembling, I was alone.
“Come,” he said impatiently. “The jackals are
I quickened my step and let my knees dare touch the
coverlet that fell across his legs and stretched to the wooden
floor. From such proximity, I could see the reddening of his
forehead from the heat within and the film that had formed
across his brown, all-seeing eyes. His face was filled with
sullen resignation, the same look of many a cow that I helped
my father butcher. His breath came in shallow bursts. Several
times, his thin, frail body quivered and shook. Still, his bony
finger remained in space, pointing directly at my bursting
“Your book,” he said. I hesitated. “I would sign now,”
he mumbled impatiently. “My name shall be worth much in
the coming years. Have you any ink with that quill?”
Realization stunned me. “No, no, honored sir,” I
whimpered. “I did not come for your autograph.”
His face fell. The wrinkles re-emerged as he seemed to
dry up. “Would you mock me?” he asked in harsh tones,
drawing himself up a little. His gray robe bunched around
his thin neck, the way a frightened bird fluffs out its chest to
“No, never,” I cried in agony. “I have come to talk to
you, to find out the truth.”
“The truth?” he murmured, lying back. The effort had
caused sweat to dampen his aged brow.
“All famous people know the truth about life,” I
“We do?” he murmured.
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I shuddered. I must have touched upon a sore point.
I decided to focus on fame and let truth come as it may. “I
implore you,” I whimpered, dropping to my knees. “Tell me:
how does one achieve such greatness? What is the secret of
fame? Must one ingest nutmeg and dream great dreams? Do I
have to be a doctor and find a cure for an invented disease? A
lawyer with the speed to catch the fastest ambulance? Where
does greatness lie? ”
“It simply lies,” Nostradamus said.
I digested that wisdom as I stared at dust balls collected
beneath the great bed.
“Get up,” Nostradamus ordered. “I can’t see you down
I arose, my paper pressed against my heaving chest. I
pleaded with him for more, using my eyes in the way that
always softened my mother’s anger and bemused my father.
Nostradamus, the giant among us, was not immune. I knew
he would lead me on the journey of his life, to show me the
paths he followed. I would see the route to immortality
through the eyes of the man who knows everything.
There was a knock at the door. I moved back to the small
nook against the white plastered wall and readied my turkeyfeather
quill. A cauldron thick with black ink sat at my side.
I had found the supply in a small room near the bedroom, but
had to clean out the rancid brown liquid once inside it.
Quickly, the room filled with visitors. All entered with
hushed tones and respectful expressions. Dressed in robes
and formal attires, as though going to an investiture of a royal
servant or a funeral, they tiptoed on soft slippers and gathered
about the old man on the bed.
Nostradamus coughed and every head swiveled to
watch. He closed his eyes, and every mouth immediately grew
silent. He gave a deep sigh, and every ear perked up, listening
intently. He opened his eyes, and everyone relaxed.
The old man stared at the underside of his blue, woolen
canopy. I crept close to peer at the same surface. I could not see
anything of the least interest on the weathered cloth. The old
man continued to stare; I remained there, bent over, studying
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the woolen texture. Soon, I was joined by several others in
the bedroom. In a few minutes, the bed was surrounded as
everyone stared at the underside of the aged canopy ringed
with a golden fringe.
“It’s wool,” Nostradamus finally rasped. Everyone
nodded. After a few more seconds of intense contemplation,
the visitors separated into smaller groups to discuss the latest
Some insisted the old man was making another
prediction. Wool could mean anything: sheep, sheep in
wolves clothing, flock, the Second Coming, Beelzebub. Every
word should be recorded for posterity, the bald sage firmly
insisted. Others nodded. “He always writes in riddles,” a
third man noted, tugging thoughtfully on a full, white beard.
“This latest comment about wool, while cryptic, could hold
deep meaning for future generations,” he added with nodding
The mayor of St. Remy, a hefty man whose narrow view
of the world endeared him to the city council, suggested
hesitantly the single word “wool” might be nothing more
than a description, but he was instantly silenced with cold
“Nostradamus does not just issue idle blathers,” a scholar
in a black robe solemnly said. “He pontificates, he clarifies,
he enunciates. All we can do is record and try to understand.
We are feeble humans, not blessed with is sixth sense, and can
only ponder the unknowable, like supplicants at Mass.”
Some gasped; there was a murmur about sacrilege, but
the conversation quickly shifted as the old man on the bed
groaned. He rubbed his foot, hidden beneath the blankets,
and said something about gout.
“Do you suppose he reads the future through his feet?”
I hesitantly asked.
“No one knows,” the scholar whispered. “He usually
retreats into his study and emerges with his findings.”
“Then could it be gout that guides him or his oft-time
stomach pains?” I wondered aloud. “If so, I can’t wait until I
am infirm. Imagine the mysteries pain can unfold.” I looked
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around. “Perhaps I could speed the process. Could someone
“The secret, my son, lies not in pain, but how the ache is
interpreted,” an apothecary said, to my relief. He was dressed,
like most of the others, in a simple tunic and tights. “You
could ache and not see the fall of the Medici in the agony.
Nostradamus, on the other hand, does. The writhing in pain,
the suffering, the agony he must go through.”
The speaker paused to admire the old man who was
now muttering epithets from his bed. “On the other hand,
I’ve heard that he relies on a code, a sort of Runic lettering
like those found among the Vikings,” the apothecary said in
a conspiratory whisper. The rumor now circulated the small
room, until it was converted from heretical speculation into
“It can’t be the devil,” I responded. “I’ve been here
an hour and have not seen anything resembling horns and
The old man in the bed cocked an ear at this. “Humph,”
he muttered. “Maybe all of you are in disguises.”
We all turned again to gaze at Nostradamus and his sea
of blankets. He suddenly closed his eyes with hands folded
on his thin chest.
“Is he?” someone asked hesitantly.
“Dead?” Nostradamus finished with his deep rumbling
voice without opening his eyes. “I will let you know when
that time comes.”
“Of course,” the scholar intoned. “As I have told you.”
A priest slipped through the door and approached the
bed. “How are you, my son?” he asked tremulously, glancing
nervously at those in the room and the long figure in the bed.
He held a chalice in one hand, a communion