"Man is wrong if his understanding
is of means and ends in change
Life is not to fittest driven
Survival not the end.
Fittest survival is but the means
The means not end of change.
Means increasing greater communion
In cell, organ, body, mind.
Communion ends, survival means
This is the way of evolution."
Carolin rested her head against the window. She could feel the shaking of the glass and the cold wisps of air that flowed between the glass and rubber. The shaking against her head was stronger here whilst the train waited stationary, its powerful engine sending shivers down the lines. Shivers felt in each carriage causing panes to rattle more.
Carolin and Marlene had boarded the train at Central Station. They had started early that morning when the river mist still hung over the dark waters of the Elbe. They, with Rover alongside, had walked to the station for they had no cases, these had been sent ahead. Each carried a light bag with book and other essentials for the long journey, including a change of clothes and a nightgown. Their path had taken them past the sports stadium, then by Witten Station and the rail yards. They were headed to Marseille, France, but rather than go by Berlin and Paris they were to travel via Liepzig, Frankfurt, Basel and Lyon.
Carolin was going to visit Marlenes doctor friend but she didnt think it really necessary. Yes, she had gone into a deeper trance after spelling out the runes, a coma maybe. But that incident was only a deeper level of the state where she let her vision people come to her. Carolin couldnt be sure but felt this deeper level might well have been her visiting them. The problem was she couldnt remember anything of it, unlike her normal dreams.
"Hi dreamy! Take this, its hot." Marlene, who had been to vist Rover in the guards van, came into the carriage and closed the door shutting out some of the noise of the night. She handed Carolin hot coffee in a china cup from a tray and then gave her some sandwiches and a bar of chocolate. "Theyre busy up there, and pricey." Marlene was referring to the train kiosk which was in the next carriage but one. " I heard we should be going soon, were just waiting for one of the local trains to pass."
Marlene settled down beside Carolin and tucked a blanket around her waist to keep her legs warm.
"What were you thinking about when I came in? Anything interesting?"
"Not really. Just the same thing. I really dont understand how I came to know those runes."
Marlene answered "Well, you know your father does have a big library. It is possible you read a small part of one of his books about ancient Germanic practices. And then the stone I gave you triggered something off in your memory and back it came. I know its strange but the mind is quite capable of doing that. Often when I go back and look at a book I havent read for decades, I find the author has put the same ideas that I use in my writings. And yet when I used them I thought they were all my own."
Carolin quietly absorbed this interpretation. Disturbing this quiet reflection came the night sound of a train whistle, a distant sound of ghostly resonance, splitting the cool valley air.
Carolin looked up at Marlene and said "You were going to tell me about Baldr when we stopped. Please go on with it. It was interesting."
"Where were we up to?" queried Marlene.
"You were referring to the story of Baldrs Dreams found in one of the shorter Eddic manuscripts and the story of how Baldr the Beautiful is fated to die even though everything except mistletoe had sworn an oath not to harm him. Apparently the mistletoe was too young to swear an oath. Thats where we got to."
"Yes, well Baldrs protective charm became the centre of a game. The Gods basically used him for target practice because whatever they threw or fired at Baldr caused no injury. But Loki who was jealous of Baldrs looks and talents made an arrow out of the mistletoe. He then acted as a friend to Hod, the blind God, helping him to improve his skills with bow and arrow. He pointed Hod in the direction he was to fire, guided the bow and gave him the arrows. When he was lined up properly Loki gave the mistletoe arrow to Hod, who then fired at Baldr, killing him.
"I dont much like the ending. Baldr was kind, beautiful and hated war but despite his goodness he gets killed by treachery. Uggh! " Carolin shuddered.
"Yes. Its not what we want to happen to our heroes is it? But there is a little more about Baldr that is worth telling", said Marlene.
She went on "At about the time of Christ there was an ancient order, based on Odin. This order was a secret society or priesthood and to become part of it new entrants had to be initiated.
"The initiation took place in underground crypts or caves, which were always nine in number."
"The candidate was given the task of raising Baldr from the dead. What he wasnt told was that he was playing the part of Baldr in this ceremony. All he was told was that he was a wanderer and each cavern through which he passed was symbolic of the worlds and spheres of Nature. He was accompanied on his travels by priests, twelve in number, that represented Sun, Moon and stars. The three highest priests were called Sublime, Equal to the sublime and Highest."
Marlene continued "The wanderer was put to various tests by the priests, intended to divert him from the course of wisdom. After wandering for hours in these caverns and passing all the tests he was ushered into a cavern where a statue of Baldr stood. This cavern was a huge apartment or palace chamber roofed with shields. The statue was at the chambers centre as was a plant with seven blossoms, one for each planet. This room represented the source of all Wisdom and in it the candidate swore an oath of secrecy. He drank to this oath from a human skull filled with mead. He was then presented, in the name of Baldr, with the sacred ring of the order; hailed as a man reborn; and it was said of him that he was a man reborn without passing through the gates of death."
As she had told the tale the sound of the approaching train began to grow louder. From its distant low rumble, it now thundered in steamy, piston driven nearness. Its single light broke through the darkness, bringing the surrounding trees into dull green clarity. Out of the window, old timber sleepers could now be seen and a pitted pile of stones stood out as brief testimonial to mans work in progress. The shudder of the engine grew near, pulsing strength through its shafts, turning wheels that sang with metallic rhythm across the jointed lines. With roar and hiss and clatter now the engine passed. Then carriages with dimly lit windows, concealing those within. Each carriage a fleeting glimpse, from right to left, a caravan of unknown stories, people just like themselves on a journey, passing strangers on another train.
It was only a minute after the train had passed that they could feel and hear the signs of their journey recommencing. A loud, long whistle, a jerking clank, slowly edging forward and then the steady growing rhythm as the pistons gathered pulse. Metallic screech subsiding to a well timed clacking, rocking motion as with speed the train seemed to count by changing sound each length of steel along the line.
And now the other passenger returned. She was about forty years old and quite plump. So much so that Carolin secretly wondered how she fitted through the narrow door. The heavy sliding mechanism helped for with a little effort the door could be made just wide enough that she could squeeze herself in. The woman had announced herself to Marlene and Carolin as "Madame Catherine Ambile of St Remy, near Marseille."
Both Carolin and Marlene were intrigued by Madame Ambiles book but on the early part of the journey they hadnt spoken much. She had only joined them at Leipzig and it was dinner-time when she had boarded.
The book had lain on the seat opposite the two younger women throughout the period when the train was stopped. Its title was easily read Marveilleux Quatrains de Nostradamus" by Colin de Larmor. Marlene had dared to peek inside the cover to see how old it was. "Nantes 1925" she had read out to Carolin.
When the woman had squeezed her way into the carriage and worked herself awkwardly down the narrow aisle between the seats, she sat down with a great whoosh. A whoosh from air suddenly expelled from the seat, a whoosh in her breath as it was driven outwards by the collapse and a whoosh from her clothing as air in it also suffered extreme compression from this dramatic seating.
She looked across at them with a well-pleased expression as though she had just performed a little miracle. "Ca va! Ca va!" she pronounced and then with lyrical accent asked in English "Are you English?" She had heard the two young women talking in English and even she was able to tell that Carolin spoke it very differently to Marlene.
This broke the ice and they were soon telling of their lives. Madame Amblise or Catherine as she asked to be called, was the wife of a moderately wealthy merchant family from St Remy. She had been visiting her sister in Liepzig and was now on her way back home. The way she introduced herself led naturally to the topic of the book.
Catherine had said "My homes in St Remy, where Nostradamus was born and brought up. " At a later point she had commented on the origins of her familys wealth. "For four hundred years my family have been farmers. Along the Durance River. We considered Nostradamus as one of our familys benefactors. He funded Adam de Craponne who had the vision and energy to build a canal to irrigate the once semi arid land alongside the river."
It was now easier to talk than before the break in their journey. The topic became Nostradamus and his prophecies. They did not talk much about the prophecies themselves but the whole concept of his being able to predict, for this was the focus of Marlenes interest.
Marlene had asked "I can understand why you admire him but do you think he was able to see the future?"
Catherine had replied "I dont really know, it seems impossible even improbable but I find it harder to dismiss his works than I would like."
Marlene was encouraged by the lack of bigotry in this position so she followed up with "Yes, I think I know what you mean. Some of his prophecies are uncannily close. Lots of people dismiss it as lucky results and readers who are only too willing to read their own meaning into vague statements."
Catherine interjected "That and the fact that many seem to be plainly wrong."
"Then why do people have doubts? Why do some people still think he might have been an accurate prophet?" asked Carolin.
Catherine answered "Usually people quickly realise that a supposed prophet is a charlatan. There have been countless others who have set out to create a reputation; even Chavigny who claimed to be Nostradamus successor. They have not succeeded. Vague statements are soon discounted and their words have little predictive success so people quickly lose interest. There is enough in the Nostradamus quatrains that is accurate for it to remain a genuine puzzle."
"And thats after you discount the woolly analysis of the many people who have claimed they understand Nostradamus true meaning" said Marlene.
"And the number of false prophecies that various people have written and tried to pass off as those of Nostradamus" said Catherine.
"The main thing I know about Nostradamus" Carolin said "is that he is supposed to have written a lot about this century. Why would he do that when he lived in the sixteenth?"
"Exactement" said Catherine "Why would he write about a time which would not affect him?. Why hide it in obscure statements when it doesnt matter? Even the inquisition cannot torture a man who dies 400 years before his prophecies take place.
"Many people believe he was trying to warn us about the future so we could avoid the danger" Catherine went on " But I think that is patent nonsense. I firstly cant believe that if you can change the future you can see four hundred years in advance. The idea of seeing a changing future is contradictory. "
"Yes" said Marlene. "If there is only one major world-shifting change in every 20 years Nostradamus would have to see over a million different futures and then think that this one, which has happened, is worth saving. You are right it seems to be a contradiction. In fact if he could see the future and sought to change it the future has to be fixed with only one path to follow."
"But if the future is unchanging why seek to change it?" challenged Carolin.
"Again you ask the right question" said Marlene "Of course you wouldnt. You are then reduced to the statement that if Nostradamus could see into the future, the future must be fixed."
"But surely then it reduces the claim that he is predicting a major world disaster?" said Carolin.
"Why do you think that?" asked Catherine.
"Well, it really is a useless and cruel thing to tell people they are going to suffer horribly and they cant do anything about it. If people cant change their future then its unlikely he would have bothered at all" answered Carolin.
"Yes" said Marlene " It confirms the profundity of the question which has no known answer. Why write in such obscure terms about a future that is so far distant?"
"And why are some in error? Do these errors prove he was just writing rubbish or are they a result of some fundamental principle in the art of prophecy?" added Marlene.
"And at the end of all that" asked Catherine "I can still feel that there is more here than I comprehend."
"Yes" said Marlene "I agree. It is too easy to claim the concept that Nostradamus was a prophet is unscientific but it is actually unscientific to dismiss an idea prematurely just because it is more comfortable to do so."
At this point two short loud whistles could be heard from the engine and suddenly the world changed around them. The noise of the train rhythmically marking out the line in smooth metallic motion became an echoing cacophony. The view outside changed to rushing sooty, smoky black, the light of their passing window no longer traced unevenly on the ground. The roar of sound held inside a tunnel. Sound feeding on itself with rushing loudness signaled they were underground. Now they would have to wait, the noise too much for speaking. Wait for what seemed an unending time until at last the train once more broke out into the open night.
But either the women had finished with their thoughts or the tunnel interrupted their pattern. They now made preparations for bed. Marlene and Carolin would pull down the seats and make up the bunks while Catherine went to the washroom compartment and performed her nightly bedtime rituals. Then the two younger women would allow Catherine the cabin to herself for a few minutes so that she might settle into one of the lower bunks.
They could feel the steady rhythm of the train and knew that sleep would not be totally uninterrupted for this was unfamiliar sleeping. Therefore in tired minds they each arranged their nights repose.