The Guide of Time. The Novella by Cinzia De Santis

21st Century

The elderly editor, beard now largely grey, was staring at the document in his hands. For the first time in his publishing career, he was lost for words. In the chair opposite him, an old woman was smiling at him, almost as though she was enjoying his discomfort. He raised his eyes and frowned at her. Her name was Ariane Claret. The thought crossed his mind that she must have been a beautiful woman when she was young.
The Guide of Time. The Novella
The Guide of Time. The Novella by Cinzia De Santis
—Is all this true? I mean, did it really happen? —Yes, it’s true —she said calmly. —How can you prove it? Before I read it, how can I make sure that what you are telling me is real? We don’t publish fiction, you know. We publish science books, proper science. —Some of the book is about historical events. You can check the facts on them yourself. —Are you are one … one of them? The woman chuckled, and the editor couldn´t help but think that whatever the truth, she was a most intriguing woman. —No, I am not one of them —her face was suddenly serious—. But I know them well. Let me tell you how it all started. Even if I can’t convince you, let me at least try to entice you. The publisher hesitated, and the woman took his brief pause as a positive sign. She smiled shyly, and spoke again, her voice calm and full of purpose. —It all began more than 800,000 years ago, at the start of one of the coldest periods the world has known. Most hominids — our distant ancestors, I suppose you can call them— died. But a small group managed to find refuge in some caves in what is now Siberia. As the surface temperature got colder and colder, they retreated deeper and deeper into the earth. As the woman was speaking, she searched for signs that she still had the publisher’s attention. Satisfied, she continued. —It’s impossible for us to imagine the hardship they faced. But gradually, over many thousands of years, those who survived learned to adapt to the conditions underground. That’s something that our contemporary knowledge of evolution has taught us: the best adapted individuals survive, reproduce themselves and gradually a different species emerges. What they were developing underground was, by our standard and compared to what was going on at the surface, extraordinarily advanced, and you can read all about it in the manuscript I have given you. —I don’t want to stop you, Mrs Claret —the publisher interrupted gently— but what has all this got to do with today’s world, today’s science? —I will now jump ahead many millennia —the woman replied with a smile—. As you can imagine, this underground civilisation started to explore all the caves and tunnels they could find as well as creating new ones. Over time a few of them found their way up to the surface. What they discovered there —here— was very distressing. Although humans were now walking on two legs and had long since spread over many parts of the globe, they were still very primitive. The underground dwellers —the Seers, they called themselves— eventually decided to make contact with the people on the surface. But, and this was crucial for them, the contact would be very limited, very discreet, to avoid any possible risks. The publisher shifted slightly in his chair, clearly uncomfortable with the conversation, but signalled for her to carry on. —The Seers had already made many scientific discoveries, and knew the benefits these would bring to the primitive people living on the surface. So, after a long debate, the Seers concluded that they would nudge humans, give them clues, and help them explore science. In other words, they would guide us. In fact, these emissaries from the underground civilisation called themselves the Guides of Time. Over the centuries, some Seers moved permanently to the surface and mixed anonymously with the humans. If you meet them —as I did—, you wouldn’t know they were different from us. Their motives have always been altruistic and pure. But not all of them shared the same views, and a few have done a lot of damage to mankind. The publisher noticed the sudden sadness in her voice, but the woman quickly composed herself: —This book explains the ways in which humans have been guided to the state where we are now. And it’s not just science, because the Guides have also helped to spread art and the way we appreciate it, and they are working hard to help us solve some of the world’s greatest problems —poverty, international conflict, religion fanaticism. —They aren’t doing a very good job of it —the publisher grunted, and then wished he hadn’t sounded so harsh. —Sorry, I don’t mean to insult you. Listen, Mrs Claret —he paused, stretched his arms, and looked straight at this woman who hadn’t even heard of when he woke up that morning— you have succeeded: I am enticed. I will read your manuscript. —That’s all I ask —the woman was obviously pleased—, and I am grateful. You won’t be disappointed. I promise. —She got up, they shook hands and she closed the door behind her. The publisher leaned back in his chair. Well, he was committed now, he thought to himself, as he opened the first page. Chapter 2 Malta, 20th Century —Hurry up, Ariane! —yelled Sister Ines—. We don’t have the whole morning. Sister Ines was, as usual, in a hurry. She had to go to the market to buy the groceries for the week and I was the only girl in the orphanage she could count on. Not that there were too many older girls; I was one of the few still left there. —Coming, Sister Ines —I replied, hiding the blue feather in my pocket. I still couldn’t work out which bird it belonged to, but to me it was my good luck charm. After all, since I had found it, things seemed to have got better and better. The first memory I have of my childhood is the smell of detergent. In the orphanage where I grew up, the nuns who ran it were as strict about hygiene as they were about their religious duties. Cleanliness was the eleventh commandment. Perhaps they thought it would banish all the smut and sin from the minds of the young girls who lived there. The nuns told me I was born in September, but they didn´t know the exact date. My mother had given me away soon after I was born and then disappeared. The nuns called me Ariane and registered my last name as Claret, the name of the saint protector of the order they belonged to. There were usually about 20 girls in the orphanage, and all of us longed to find a family who would adopt us. Sunday was the day that might happen —the parade, we called it— and our hopes rose as the end of each week drew near. I must have been about three when I first went on the parade, —or at least this was the first time I can remember. A nun came to collect me from the dormitory and, in silence; I walked along the long corridor to the visiting room, holding her hand tightly. It wasn’t long before those visits became a real torment. Nobody wanted to adopt me. Once I heard a nun saying it was because I was too different. I looked in the mirror: with my reddish curls, pale skin and dull-green eyes, why would anyone want me? In a country full of light and colour, of people with brown skin and coal-dark eyes, I was just too odd. It was during that period, though, that I made a new friend. I had just fallen asleep, troubled and unhappy, when I was suddenly aware of somebody standing by my bed. I saw a slight figure, with plaits in her hair and a finger to her lips smiling at me. —Ssh —she whispered—. You must be Ariane. My name is Eliza. I wondered if I was dreaming. She was a complete stranger, but seemed to understand my surprise. —Don’t be scared —she said—, I know you have never seen me before, but I sleep during the day and the nuns don’t know I’m here. —Are you also waiting to be adopted? —I asked. —No, I am here just to be your friend —she replied—. Look, I have a gift for you in my pocket. Eliza produced a bright-blue feather with a split in one end, which glowed in the dark: —This is for you, it will bring you luck. —It’s beautiful —I said, fascinated—, and put it under my pillow. Then she walked quickly away from my bed. I thought I must have been dreaming, but when I woke up, the feather was still there. And soon, something quite special happened. One Christmas, women from the village came to the orphanage to give us used toys. I wasn’t impressed by the dolls or the miniature saucepan, but then I saw a little piano on the floor. The other girls fiddled with it for a while, before turning their attention to the dolls. I touched one of the keys, and then another and the sound that came out of it seemed like magic. Sister Ines was in charge of the convent´s choir and encouraged me to keep practising. I was fond of Sister Ines, despite her appearance. Her skin was grey, she wore thick glasses sitting on a huge nose, and her teeth stuck out so much that she couldn´t really close her mouth; but she had a gentle soul. She got permission from the Mother Superior to let me practise on the piano in the chapel, and began teaching me the little she knew about musical theory. Thus it was, in a world of grey habits, a pervading smell of detergent, and the joy of musical scores, that I spent the early years of my life. Chapter 3 Delos (Greece), 4th Century B.C. Pyros was born in Lefkada, an island in the Aegean sea. His father was a famous mathematician and his mother an Egyptian slave who, having cured her master after a poisonous snake bite that should have killed him, won his gratitude and then his love. Pyros grew up among quadrants and medicinal herbs, surrounded by the beauty of the island, learning from his father the harmonious arrangement of the universe and from his mother the mysteries of nature. As a child, he was eager to learn and he showed a particular interest in science. When his father could teach him nothing more, Pyros set off on a journey to acquire knowledge, travelling to Babylon, Egypt, India, Central Asia and beyond. Everywhere he went, his remarkable mind soaked up facts and ideas. He learned that the most advanced societies had knowledge and wisdom at their core. His passion for science grew stronger year by year, and in his discussions with mathematicians, astronomers and students of nature, Pyros found the answers to most of his questions. After many years, he returned to Lefkada where he devoted himself to spreading the knowledge he had acquired. A captivating speaker with a rigorous mind, it didn’t take him long to find disciples. He endorsed scepticism but on one point he was adamant: knowledge should be accessible to all, rich and poor, slaves and freemen. Mankind couldn’t progress if knowledge was reserved for a few. Following the example of the Egyptians, Pyros established the first public library in Greece. The Houses of Books, as he called them, soon started spreading throughout the Mediterranean. One of their main activities was to transcribe and copy every parchment, so that whenever a new idea was generated, it was quickly shared amongst the Houses. Pyros became one of the best known scholars of his time, and his prestige attracted others from across the ancient world. One day, shortly after he had finished a lecture, a stranger came to see him. He had a weather-beaten face and grey hair, and was dressed in a sleeveless white tunic that revealed his muscled arms. In his right hand he held a cane with an ivory top and a leather bag. Pyros greeted the visitor: —Welcome to the House of Books. I’m afraid my lecture is over, but you are free to stay and rest. —Thank you, Pyros, but I am here to talk to you. —What’s your name, foreigner, and where are you from? —My name is Ammuri and I come from a country you have never heard of. But I want to show you something. The man picked up a bag he had been carrying and brought out a tube with lenses of different sizes. He held it up to show to the audience. —This instrument allows one to see what the human eye can´t reach —he said, passing the tube to Pyros—. Look from the smaller end. Pyros was surprised how clearly he could see the details of Athene´s Temple, more than 20 kilometres away: the shape of the columns, the stairs, he could even see the different types of flowers in the garden. With the scornful muttering continuing in the hall, Pyros looked in amazement through the tube. —This is extraordinary! How does it work? —It has some special lenses that allow it to shorten the distances. You can even see the stars. It was a spectacular sunset and a few bright points dotted the sky and Pyros pointed the tube at the star just next to the moon, open-mouth in astonishment. They spent the whole night in deep conversation, using Ammuri´s tube to scan the sky. It was almost dawn, and while Pyros was trying to capture the last gleam of a star, Ammuri said: —It is not only about astronomy that I came to talk to you. Pyros kept his eyes on the sky and replied: —What do you want to talk about, Ammuri? —I have known of you for a long time. —Am I really known in your land? —asked Pyros, surprised. —Yes, my people do know you. We have been following your progress. Pyros put down the tube and looked at Ammuri, startled. —How do they know me if you tell me that you come from a country that I haven´t heard of? —Listen carefully, Pyros, because what I am about to say will be hard for you to accept, but it will set the whole course of your life —Ammuri paused—. You are not the same as the rest of the people; your blood-line is different. You are one of us, your destiny is extraordinary and you have a great mission ahead of you. —I still don´t understand you, Ammuri. I was born from a man and a woman, just like everybody else. I am not different, I can´t be different. Besides, I don´t believe any mission is more important than the Houses of Books. Don´t you agree? —Pyros picked up the tube again, hoping to end this difficult conversation. —You have seen extraordinary things on your travels —replied Ammuri calmly—, powerful civilizations that have made progress thanks to knowledge. —That´s exactly what I am trying to achieve with the Houses of Books —Pyros was starting to sound angry. —There is something else you can do. —What? —Reality is richer and more extraordinary than you can imagine —said Ammuri—. The laws that govern the universe are infinitely complex and harmonious. —I still don´t understand what you are saying. Ammuri paused for a moment and then continued: —Your mission is to guide mankind to its enlightened future. Human beings are capable of great ideas and achievements, but they need to be guided, they need to be inspired. Their destiny is to pierce the veil that separates the visible from the invisible, and thus to know the truth about life. You and I, our race of Guides, we facilitate that process. Our work takes many forms, but we work underground, everything we do is anonymous. We are here to inspire generations of men and women to make the necessary changes for mankind to progress. Sometimes our enemies delay us, but they can´t stop human progress. —Even if I wanted to believe what you are saying —Pyros said—, you didn´t answer my question. What do you mean when you say I am different? Who are these Guides you talk about, anyway? —Your blood-line belongs to another race, but it was dormant in your ancestors. There are others like you —other Guides— and in time you will meet them. —So who are you then? —I am the Guide of Time —said Ammuri, his voice quiet and serious—. I come from a long lineage of Guides who have been supporting mankind in its development. I take the name from the first Guide of Time. His name was also Ammuri, and lived many centuries ago. Your destiny, Pyros, is to become the Guide of your time. —If I accept what you have said, what should I do about it? —When you are ready, you will follow me and I will teach you. But I´m not in a hurry, I want you to take your time. For now, you will see life in a different way. Many things will start happening, and you will find new answers to your questions. —It doesn´t sound very convincing. Ammuri roared with laughter. —I know, and I wouldn´t have expected anything less from you. Doubt is the main weapon of those who are seeking the truth. Certainty is the enemy of science. You will hear from me soon. Pyros watched Ammuri as he walked away through the garden. His silhouette looked as if it was shining with the early light of dawn, and for a moment Pyros thought he was floating. Then he was gone. Weeks went by without anything special happening, but there wasn´t a day when Pyros didn´t think of Ammuri. Three months after their meeting, Pyros had a vivid dream: Ammuri entered his room, produced a map and pointed at a city on the coast beyond the Aegean Sea. It was called Crotone, and Pyros had to go there to meet a great philosopher. Pyros woke up remembering the dream clearly, but he didn´t pay much attention to it. During the next two weeks, he kept dreaming of Ammuri every night, and Crotone and the philosopher. Then one day, in the wax tablet that he used for taking notes, the formula he had been dreaming of appeared. There and then he decided to go to Crotone. The journey took several weeks, and Pyros began to feel it was all nonsense. How could he have been fooled into such an adventure? Letting a dream guide him wasn’t the way he normally behaved. Then, one morning at dawn, saw on the horizon the silhouette of a city. It was Crotone. With its marble temples and its dense vegetation, it was astonishingly beautiful. He disembarked and walk towards the city, not knowing what to do. As he entered the city wall, he saw Ammuri. Pyros hurried over to him, and demanded: —How did you know I was here? Ammuri gave a friendly laugh. —I sent you here, don´t you remember the dream? —But… —Your education has started, Pyros. It´s inevitable. The sooner you accept it, the better. Chapter 4 Malta, 20th Century Seeing my progress with the piano, Sister Ines talked to the Mother Superior. An old piano teacher lived in the nearby village, and the nun had persuaded her to give me some free lessons, but before she could begin, she needed approval. The Mother Superior was initially reluctant, but after Sister Ines claimed it would be good for my soul, she agreed. In return, I had to play the piano in the chapel every Sunday. I also had to help Sister Astencia, who was getting too old to wash the convent’s dishes by herself. Professor Olga —that was what she wanted to be called—had a white lock of hair in the middle of her dark black curls. She always wore a long black dress and her face was invariably solemn. The day I met her, she gently pressed my hand without saying a word, then put a piece of paper in front of me. It was covered with lines and squiggles, and I couldn´t understand it at all. She stared at me, and I felt quite terrified. Professor Olga smiled sarcastically, took my index finger and put it on the keyboard. “This is G Major” she said in the croaky voice of a heavy smoker. After such an intimidating start, things could only get better. Professor Olga came every week for an hour, and always left me with homework that I had to present at the next lesson. She talked very little, but her eyes said everything. If she raised a brow, I knew I had done something wrong. On those occasions she used to take control of the keyboard and say: “This way”, and nothing else. Sometimes she looked at me out of the corner of her eye, and over time I came to realise that meant she was happy with me. One day Professor Olga said she wanted to talk to me and Sister Ines. I didn´t know what to expect. Maybe she was tired of me and didn´t want to give me lessons anymore. At that time, I was practising six hours a day, but I was never sure if I was doing well or not: my teacher didn’t give me many clues. Professor Olga was waiting for us in the visiting room. —I think Ariane should apply for this —she said, arching one eyebrow while showing us a newspaper—. The Academy where I studied in London has a programme called Talents in the World. It offers scholarships for foreign students. I looked at Sister Ines, astonished. She was blushing furiously: —It is a great opportunity! Thank you so much, Professor Olga. Then, looking at me, Sister Ines said: —This is what you were looking for, Ariane, you must take part! I don´t swear because it is a sin, but if I could I would swear that our little girl is the perfect candidate for a scholarship. She plays like an angel, isn´t that right, Professor Olga? What do we have to do? Sister Ines and Professor Olga started a complicated conversation that mostly went over my head, but one thing I did understand: Professor Olga thought I was good enough to apply for a scholarship, and that was the greatest compliment. The two women decided to fill in the form and post it off straightaway. After that there was silence, and I began to lose heart. I shouldn’t have been so impatient because a month later, Professor Olga showed me a letter. —Read it —she said. Unusually, the white lock in her hair was out of place, as if she had been rushing. I cried out: —I have been accepted for an audition! Sister Ines squealed with delight, and her teeth stuck out even more than usual. She started pouring with sweat and stuttering: —Aa…riane, my sweet girl, thth… is your opportunity. God is opening the doors for a future beyond these four walls. You will win a scholarship, I am sure! —I don´t want to disappoint you but now comes the really difficult part —Professor Olga said—. You have to practise a lot, I mean a lot, Ariane, and I mean a lot. You have to play until your fingers bleed. Do you know how many students will apply all around the world? Hundreds, perhaps thousands! I will give you lessons twice a week from now on, but you will have to work harder. —When do we start? —I asked. Professor Olga quickly became more tyrannical than usual. She laid out a programme of practice that challenged the strict rules of the chapel´s schedule ―and at times my health as well. The wooden rule she used to keep the rhythm seemed to fall closer and closer to my fingers. During our marathon lessons, she wouldn’t let me stand up to stretch, not even for a few minutes. —If you want to win the scholarship, you have to work harder —she said arching her eyebrow. The pace of work was overwhelming, and of course I also had to carry on with my duties in the convent. One day while I was cleaning the kitchen floor, I put oil instead of chlorine in the water. The Mother Superior was furious, but she calmed down after Sister Ines’s explanation: —The girl is a little bit blind —she said, and then she crossed herself in apology for her pity lie. As the days went by, Sister Ines became more and more nervous. One night I woke up with a start, hearing her heavy breathing by my bed. The moon was shining through the dormitory window, and I could see tears in her eyes as she whispered: —Oh, Ariane, my sweet girl. I will miss you so much! She was just as lonely as I was, but at least I was 16 and could dream of a world outside the convent. She was going to be there, alone, for the rest of her life. At last, the great day arrived. It was a Monday, and Sister Ines and I hadn´t slept at all. The bus to Valletta ―where the audition would take place― took about two hours along a rough road. To make sure we wouldn’t miss my audition at 10, we would catch the first bus, at six in the morning. It was still dark when we left the convent, and I had never seen such a starry sky; even the vibrant smell of the dew seemed full of promise. We were the first to get to the bus stop, but we were soon joined by a few people from the village who commuted every day to the capital. A recent storm had caused landslides along the road, so the journey of two hours actually turned into three. The bus had to find its way around puddles, piles of mud and broken-down cars until at last we arrived in Valletta. We were still in time, but only just. I had never been to Valletta before, and I was astonished by the traffic and the noise. Even so, it seemed like the sky was brighter and the sea bluer. I felt a new sense of excitement, but at the same time what lay ahead made me more and more nervous. What would the examiners be like? Would other students be there for the audition? After getting lost several times, we arrived at the address we had been given. When I saw the place, I felt my heart shrinking: it was a luxury hotel, several stories high and with a lobby of shiny granite. Outside, a porter in an elegant blue coat smiled at us and asked if we wanted to go in. Sister Ines stuttered a few words, saying we were there for an audition. The man looked surprised, but he opened the door. We were overwhelmed by the whirlwind of smartly dressed men and women, smiling staff and suitcases so big that all the dresses in the convent would have fitted into just a couple of them. Another man in uniform noticed our confusion and asked us if we needed help. Sister Ines, trying to recover her composure, managed to produce the letter about the audition. What the man said left us stunned: we were in the wrong place! No auditions were taking place in the hotel. Sister Ines’s stutter got worse: —Ititititit’s not popopopssible. I started to feel faint, but at that moment something unusual happened. A man with grey hair and a kind smile was just walking past and spotted the letter with the Academy logo that Sister Ines was holding. He asked us if we were going to the audition. Sister Ines and I looked at him, but we were still so shocked that neither of us could answer. The man in uniform intervened and said yes, we were looking for the audition, but we were in the wrong place. After a brief exchange between the two, the man told us: —It is your lucky day. My name is Christopher Grace and I am the director of the Academy programme. I sent that invitation and that´s my signature. I am on my way to the auditions now; if you want, you can come with me. From that day onwards, Mr Grace became my guardian angel; the flesh and blood version, anyway. Chapter 5 Crotone, 6th Century B.C. Crotone was one of the most prosperous cities of Magna Graecia and admired for its political system, the strength of its citizens —many Olympic champions were from there— and its doctors. It was an ideal place to set up a House of Books. From afar, Crotone looked like a jewel set in an emerald-green bay. Pyros and Ammuri went through the city walls to find the house of his host —Ageon, a prosperous merchant, who had often invited Pyros to stay. Rich people in Crotone felt it was important to study philosophy, and Pyros was considered one of the greatest philosophers of his time. Ageon´s servants were waiting for him with a tray of dry fruits, water and wine. One of them took his tunic and his light luggage and said: —Welcome to Ageon´s home. My master will be here soon. Please come to his study. While he was walking through the house, Pyros looked around him. The floors were of white and pink marble and the roof was supported by marble columns. Elegant statues were decorating the ample room. From the study Pyros could see the inner patio with plants placed harmoniously amongst stones and vases. A tall thin man with brown skin and a straggly beard was sitting with some children on the floor. When he saw Pyros, he smiled and came to greet him. —It is a great honour to have you, Pyros, thank you for staying in my house. Ammuri, I didn’t expect your visit, but you are always welcome. Pyros looked at Ammuri, he was smiling, clearly amused by his surprise. How did Ageon know Ammuri? —I am grateful for your hospitality, Ageon. Your home is beautiful, I couldn´t stay in a finer place in Crotone. —I apologise for not being able to welcome you personally on your arrival. I was finishing a lesson for the children. —Are they all yours? Ageon smiled: —Only two are mine, the rest are my servants´ children. —Your slaves´ children? —asked Pyros, surprised. —Yes. The fact that they were born as slaves doesn´t mean they can´t be educated. —What you are doing is admirable —said Pyros quietly. —I am passionate about knowledge —replied Ageon—, and I don´t think it is fair to deprive anyone of the pleasure of learning. —I share your ideas —said Pyros—. Now let me explain the reason for my, our, visit. As you are aware, I started with the Houses of Books in several places around the Aegean and also in Alexandria. Now a group of noblemen in Crotone have asked me to establish one here too. —I know all about it —said Ageon—, I am on the council that approved the funds for the House here. We need more libraries, places where knowledge is spread and shared. —But you have here a great sage —noted Pyros. —Pythagoras, of course. He is a remarkable man and is highly esteemed by the citizens of Crotone. But his school is not open to everybody, whereas the Houses of Books welcome anyone who wants to visit them. —What do you know of Pythagoras? —asked Pyros. —He is a native of Samos, and he studied with the greatest masters of our time, including Tales of Miletus. He believes that the essence of the universe is one and can be expressed in several ways. He doesn´t believe, though, that the essence is material —like water, for example, as Tales believes— but metaphysical. To Pythagoras, nature is harmonious and reveals its secrets only through numbers, so in his view everything in the cosmos follows rigorous mathematical laws. —How did he end up in Crotone? —asked Pyros. —Pythagoras chose this city for its wealth and because of the importance that the citizens give to the study of philosophy. —A wise choice —said Pyros. —He is not only a philosopher —said Ageon—, he has also great influence in the Crotone Council, the governing body of the city, and he is consulted every time it has important decisions to take. He receives support both from the government and rich citizens to maintain his school, but anyone who wants to join it has to pass very strict rules to show their integrity and the purity of their intentions. Many apply but few are selected. Those who do join Pythagoras´s community of scholars have to swear an oath of absolute loyalty and secrecy. —I didn’t realise it was so. —Yes, it is. Pythagoras once rejected an influential politician, which caused him some trouble, but he didn´t change his mind. Unlike other philosophy schools, Pythagoras accepts women, and for that reason too the rules are very strict. —Is it true that they also teach music? —asked Pyros. —Yes, they do. Apart from science and philosophy, music plays a big part in the curriculum of the school. Pythagoras thinks there is a musical harmony in the universe that also responds to mathematical laws, and studying music helps the mind to understand nature´s perfection. Pythagoras also believes in the transmigration of souls and the effect that actions here on Earth can have on a future life. Ageon stopped talking to offer more wine and fruit to Pyros. Then he continued: —Even if the final purpose is the soul´s purification, the Pythagoreans can´t live isolated from society; they must get involved in political life. The role of the wise man is to influence the government to achieve a fairer society based on philosophical principles. Pythagoras has been very effective in doing this, and his influence has spread to other cities in Magna Graecia, where his schools are flourishing and his scholars also take part in local government. —What an extraordinary man —Pyros didn´t disguise his admiration—. How could I talk to him? —The easiest way is to meet him during his early-morning walk. With your reputation and the respect you command, he will undoubtedly talk to you. Intrigued, Pyros began to think that perhaps Ammuri´s dream had a meaning after all. He would go to the beach tomorrow to meet Pythagoras. After a light dinner, Pyros and Ammuri went out for a walk. The sunset sky was bright orange, with a few sparkling stars and a slice of white moon. It was a good omen, thought Pyros. —Tomorrow you will be on your own —said Ammuri. Pyros was perplexed. —What am I supposed to do? Didn’t you bring me here? Isn’t that what you said? Ammuri let out his resounding laugh that Pyros found so irritating. —Pyros, you are more than ready to do what you have to do. Follow your intuition, your thoughts, and you will be fine. Pyros wasn’t too convinced, but he knew he wouldn’t persuade Ammuri to give him any additional guidance. *** Pyros woke up before dawn and went to the strip of beach where Pythagoras had his daily walk. When Pyros arrived, he was already there. Dawn by the sea was a special moment for Pythagoras: the curve of the sun emerging on the horizon; the first rays that warmed his face and his soul; the smell of the sea breeze. He walked on the sand, watching the waves and stopping from time to time to breathe deeply. On the wet sand, Pythagoras drew geometrical figures with a stick. The waves washed them away and he kept drawing, then he walked on a few steps and started again. He drew his lines slowly, thinking carefully about each drawing. He drew triangles inside squares, inside pentagons, inside circles, and the other way around. Then he stopped and closed his eyes. He felt as if a wave of heat had invaded his body, and in his mind geometrical figures appeared and then a mathematical formulae that he didn´t understand. A turmoil of triangles and geometrical figures was taking shape in this mind. Pythagoras opened his eyes briefly and saw Pyros sitting on the sand smiling at him. Still silent, Pythagoras closed his eyes again. He felt a fresh breeze around him and heard a gentle music coming across the water. In his mind, he saw a triangle, and some letters grouping together, then separating, then coming back again to create a formula: a2 + b2 = c2 On the triangle, under the horizontal line was the “a”, on the vertical side the “b” and on the hypotenuse, the line that joined them, the “c”. Pythagoras opened his eyes with a start: this was the formula he had been searching for, the one that united mathematics and geometry. He spent the rest of the morning drawing on the sand, measuring, verifying; and when he felt the formula really worked, he went back to his school to share the great news with his followers. Pyros still hadn’t said a word, and he realised he didn’t need to. As he turned away from Pythagoras and left the beach, he saw Ammuri, standing in the distance. Pyros hurried over to him, and said: —I think I know what you mean, Ammuri. Ammuri gave a friendly laugh. —You don’t need me anymore. —But… —You are my successor, and one day you will meet yours. You will know when that day comes. Chapter 6 Malta, 21st Century The journey in the taxi was short and nobody said a word. Sister Ines was sweating under her old habit and I could barely control my nerves. Only Mr. Grace seemed calm, and from time to time he looked at me and smiled. When we arrived at the place where the auditions would take place, the Malta Academy of Music, we followed him to a room in the basement and he asked us to wait. There were other girls and boys in the room, and when Sister Ines and I came in, they all turned to look at us; some of the kids didn´t even try to hide a mocking smile. We sat in a corner, terrified. After a short while, a young woman came in to tell us the auditions would take place in two different rooms, one for theory and the other for the recital. Each session would last an hour. I didn´t have to wait long, as my surname was one of the first on the list. Sister Ines and I went into a room where we were greeted by Mr. Grace, who introduced us to a woman with short hair, small glasses and bright eyes. Her name was Carol Hobbs. —Welcome Ariane —she said in a soft voice—. Christopher told me he found you in the wrong place. —That´s right, Miss Hobbs —I managed to mumble. —Call me Carol, please. We were lucky he found you —she smiled—. Sister Ines, you are Ariane’s guardian, is that right? —Yeeeesss —she answered, her face red. —Fine, if you wish to stay, please have a seat in one of the chairs by the wall. —Ththtththanks. Then, turning to me, Carol said: —I see you have been studying with Professor Olga Del Monte, a distinguished graduate of the Academy —said Carol. I moved my head slightly. —We saw her last night. She is a good friend of mine —intervened Mr Grace—, and we were students together at the Academy. Please sit at the piano. You chose three pieces. Could you please start with For Elise from Beethoven? I sat at the piano and my hands started sweating. For a moment I had an irrelevant thought: what if Sister Ines´s sweat was contagious? I rubbed my hands on my skirt, took a deep breath and put my fingers on the keys. They were smoother and whiter than the ones on the convent piano, the white and black of the keys in sharper contrast, and they made a much more refined sound. After a brief stumble at the beginning, I took another deep breath and soon I felt I was flying away, to a place where the notes seemed to dance in the air and time stood still. When I finished, I looked up and saw Carol´s smiling face and Mr. Grace´s shining eyes. —Well done, Ariane! —she said—. The beginning was a bit shaky, but then you started to transmit your feeling very well. I didn´t know what to say, but I felt myself blushing. —Please, continue with the first movement of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor —said Mr Grace. Calmer now, I started playing, and at the end, their applause was reassuring. Mr Grace then asked me to play Concert No. 3 in D minor from Rachmaninov. When I finished, I looked round at Sister Ines and cringed when I saw she was dribbling, as she often did when I was practising. Carol and Mr Grace talked quietly to each other for a moment and then, with a big smile, he said: —Well done, Ariane. Wait outside, please. We will be making a decision today. Out of the room, Sister Ines gave me a big hug: —Today you have played better than ever, my sweet girl. The scholarship is yours, I promise you. We went back to the waiting room and sat down. I could see Sister Ines moving her hand in the pocket where she kept her miraculous rosary. It was the first time I had had that type of test, and the experience had left me quite confused. On the one hand, I felt great satisfaction; on the other, terrible uncertainty. Then the time came for the theory test, with a Mr Siegren and a Mrs Horton as the examiners. They asked questions that I didn´t know how to answer, which made me tense. At the end they didn´t say anything, and I knew they were not impressed. After a few hours, during which we were offered sandwiches, juices and tea, only one other girl and I were left in the room. Sister Ines had drowsed off when Carol and Mr Grace finally came in. —Ariane, please, come back to the recital room —said Carol—. We would like you to repeat the Rachmaninov piece you have chosen in front of our colleagues. Mr Siegren and Mrs Horton were waiting inside. When I finished playing, I looked up and all four of them seemed hypnotised. —Wonderful, Ariane! —exclaimed Mrs Horton. They turned their back to me and started whispering, and occasionally Mr Grace looked around with a reassuring smile. After what seemed like an age, it was Mr Grace who spoke: —You have done very well, Ariane. Congratulations. You have impressed us with your skills and the emotion of your performance. Olga taught you well. You have some gaps in theory, but nothing serious, so we have all decided you will have the scholarship. I gasped, not believing what I had heard, and Sister Ines´s mousy face started to turn purple while she waved her arms in the air. For a moment it seemed she was choking, so I patted her firmly on the back. When she managed to recover her breath, she —Sister Ines, who had never raised her voice in her life— yelled: —You made it! Yes, you did, my sweet girl! —And she hugged me so tightly that I ended up with bruises on my arms. It was true. I had won the scholarship! Something inside me spun around and made me lightheaded, as if my body knew that my whole life had changed in that single moment. Carol, much amused, interrupted us: —You have to be in London by mid-September at the latest, and in our experience, it´s never too early to start sorting out the papers. Ariane, do you have a passport? Sister Ines´s expression answered the question. Carol said: —You must have a passport to get into Britain, so Sister Ines will have to make this a priority. The scholarship will also cover the trip to London and all living expenses. It is not a huge amount of money, but it will be enough to live. If you could send her some extra money, Sister Ines, that would be ideal. Sister Ines, face still puce, said: —This poor girl doesn´t have anybody in this world except us, the nuns, and we have made a vow to be poor, and the convent doesn´t have any money to spare. We barely survive. It will be very difficult to send her money. —Don´t worry, we will find other ways to top up the scholarship. For now we need to make sure the paperwork gets done. Do you know where to start? —No… but don´t worry, we will manage. Ariane will be in London on time for the beginning of the course. As we were about to leave, Mr Grace congratulated me and with a big smile said: —You will do really well in England. I can promise you that. Getting the passport and sorting out other documents proved more daunting than I expected. Being an orphan was hard emotionally, of course, but I soon discovered that even the simplest bureaucratic procedures were doubly complicated for me. Because I was a minor, I needed permission from my parents or guardians to travel, but the nuns had never formalised their role as my guardians. In bureaucratic terms, I didn´t exist in my country; I was an unknown citizen. Sister Ines and I spent entire days running from one place to the other, filling in forms, taking them to the local government offices, but each time the officials kept asking for different things. Carol called us every fortnight to ask how things were progressing, and it was thanks to those conversations that I began to understand what “English phlegm” meant. While Sister Ines seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Carol remained calm and insisted that we shouldn’t get worried. Other candidates had gone through the same process; in the end, they always got the documents they needed. On one occasion, when it seemed that a magistrate was about to prevent my departure, Carol intervened and told us she would talk to the Maltese embassy in London. We never knew what she did, but in less than three weeks I had my passport, a permit to travel, a birth certificate, a good conduct recommendation and a certificate that I was single, just in case. The night before I was due to leave, Sister Ines became very emotional. She kept taking off her glasses and drying her tears, and she was breathing heavily through her swollen nose. —I am going to miss you so much, my sweet girl —she said, hugging me hard till I could hardly breathe. —And I will miss you too, Sister. —You are going to be a great pianist and you will make all of us in the convent very proud. And maybe one day you will take the decision … —I will think about it, Sister Ines —I interrupted her—, but for the time being I just want to go to London to study music. —Yes, Ariane, I know. I am not the one who is pushing this, I was just told to remind you. I knew perfectly well what Sister Ines was talking about. Since I was a child, when it became clear that nobody would adopt me, the Mother Superior had often told me how wonderful it was to devote one´s life to the Lord. Being Jesus´s wife was the highest aspiration of any woman and would make me immensely happy. If I decided to become a nun and stay in the convent, I would be doing God´s will, she said. The Mother Superior, Sister Ignacia, wasn´t the most inspiring person herself. For a start, her looks were against her: she had thick black eyebrows, a menacing expression and her upper lip was unmistakably hairy. Sister Ines once mischievously told me she was sure the Mother Superior shaved. Yet what really bothered me was her breath: onions were part of our daily diet but she ate them like fruit. They affected not only her breath but her clothes too and forever after I associated religion with the smell of onions. Besides, I had no intention of becoming a nun, trapped in the physical and emotional chains of religion. The further I could get from the convent, the better it would be for me. Chapter 7 Delos, 11th Century Pyros had his eyes closed, but he wasn’t asleep. As on many recent occasions, he was resting in a state of pure consciousness, fully aware of what was surrounding him and at the same time totally immersed in himself, as if he and the universe were one single being. It was a blissful state, a prelude of what he was about to enjoy soon, once he moved towards the Higher Light. Pyros had had a long and fruitful life. He had seen extraordinary places and met extraordinary people. He had been able to accomplish his mission as the Guide of Time and now that his successor, Alexander, was ready, he was happy to leave this existence. Alexander was already turning out to be an exceptional Guide. Pyros was confident he would triumph over all the challenges his mission would present to him. Alexander had the qualities to be a successful Guide: he was supremely intelligent, voraciously curious and, above all, he had a deep sense of compassion for the human condition. Pyros smiled and opened his eyes. He knew Alexander had arrived. Pyros was expecting him and they needed to have one last conversation before Pyros’s departure to the Higher Light; the last words of advice to his best disciple. The small sitting room where Alexander was waiting looked more like a chaotic library, ancient leather tomes mixing with more recent manuscripts, pens, ink and candles. Alexander’s presence seemed to glow in the dim light of the room. The old man approached him unsteadily, leaning heavily on his carer. Pyros and Alexander hugged each other and sat down in worn-leather chairs. The carer revived the embers in the fireplace and offered tea to the guest. Both men sat in silence for a while, peaceful in each other’s company. Then Pyros leaned forward slightly: —How was your trip, Alexander? —Fine, Pyros, I was very keen to come and see you. Pyros smiled, his labyrinth of wrinkles spreading over his face. —Are you ready for the ceremony? — Pyros asked. —I am, Pyros. You have prepared me well, but I don’t like the idea of you having to leave. —Oh, but I want to leave, my dear friend. I have been around for too long. Longer than I wished for. Alexander knew what he meant and he could sense the struggle in his master’s heart. —You are being too harsh on yourself, Pyros. —Maybe you are right, Alexander. I shouldn’t feel totally responsible for what happened. —No, Pyros, you shouldn’t feel responsible at all. Zardoff has always been trying to find a way to undermine you, us. Pyros looked at his successor, his bright dark eyes sparkling in the dim light. The old man smiled at Alexander’s unquestionable loyalty. —The truth is that I do have one regret —said Pyros—, a painful thorn that I won’t be able to carve out of my soul before I leave my life on Earth. —We can’t control all the evil in the world. —That’s true, but now I am leaving you to deal with an evil that was born in my time. —You have also given me the tools and the knowledge to defeat it. —Yes, but remember, Alexander: being the Guide of Time carries many responsibilities: it’s not only mankind’s evolution that you are seeking. You must also make sure your own spirit —your own soul— evolves, and you will have to deal with all kinds of unknowns and challenges. It’s not only Zardoff and his followers that you will need to face; it’s your own internal demons. Alexander looked hesitantly at Pyros and then asked: —Do you what lesson will be? What will I need to learn? —I’m afraid I don’t, Alexander. And even if I knew, I couldn’t tell you. Chapter 8 Malta, 21st Century There were only a few days left before my departure and I sat in the dormitory that had been my home for as long as I could remember, looking out of the window. The sun seemed to be stretching itself across the distant sea so as not to let it go. The nuns organised a farewell supper and invited some people from the village too. I sat next to Sister Ines and Professor Olga, and before the blessing of the food, I took their hands to thank them for what they had done for me. Next day I woke up early. We had to leave for the airport at 10, but I wanted one last chance to see the places where I had lived all my life. I went to the chapel and knelt down automatically. Suddenly I realised I would never be forced to attend Mass again: what a wonderful thought! I caressed the piano, opened it and played a few notes. I was going to miss my old friend. I breathed in the chapel´s familiar air, charged with humidity, incense and candles, and I said goodbye. I walked through the corridors, remembering how many times I had longed for somebody to take me away from there. If I had been adopted, would I have had the opportunity to go to London? Maybe not. Maybe all my lonely years at the convent would one day prove to have been the better way. At nine o´clock I was ready. Sister Ines had given me her old suitcase, and I had packed two pairs of trousers, a couple of shirts, sweaters and a coat that Professor Olga had bought me in a second-hand shop. Sister Ines had arranged a taxi to take us to the airport, and she held my hand throughout the journey. —Promise me you will take care of yourself and eat properly —she said tearfully—. You need to take medicines and buy some warm clothes. English weather can make you ill. —Don’t worry, Sister Ines. I will be careful with the weather —I stroked her hand. —And the food. It’s very bad; they eat only fish and chips. You have to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, otherwise you will get ill. They don’t have the sunshine we have here, and that’s why English people are sad all the time. I smiled. Subconsciously, Sister Ines, who had done so much to get me out of the convent, was trying to discourage me from leaving. Our farewell was very sad. My dear Sister Ines was convulsed in sobs, as if a fountain of tears repressed for years had finally found a way out. I felt guilty about leaving her alone. — Oh, my dear Ariane. I will miss you so much. My only consolation is that I know this is what you want; this is your chance to be free and happy. —I will miss you too, Sister Ines, I will write every week and call you as often as I can, I promise. I hugged her tight until the final call for my flight. I turned around to wave one last goodbye, then, seized by both fear and excitement, I walked away from the only life I had known. The next few minutes passed in a blur. I found my seat by the window, thinking that everyone else was much calmer. My hands started sweating and I didn’t know what to do with the straps on my seat. At that point, a young man sat down beside me. He had warm brown eyes and he smiled, asking me if I wanted some help. He fastened my belt and introduced himself as John. He told me he was actually a pilot himself. Before long the plane started shaking, and making a thunderous noise. I grabbed the seat arms, and John smiled again and said quite calmly: —Don’t be afraid. Air travel is very safe. —But the noise … —That’s normal; the engines will be running at full speed while we take off. When we stop climbing, you will hear just a purr, nothing more. Instinctively I closed my eyes, still terrified, but John talked quietly about the training that pilots received, how planes were built, how they are maintained, how the plane we were travelling in was one of the safest. His voice calmed me down. An hour into our flight, we were given some food. More food, in fact, than my three daily meals at the orphanage. John asked me the reason for my trip. He seemed very impressed that I was a pianist and was going to study at the London Academy of Music. He congratulated me, saying I had to be very good to get in there. I turned my attention to an exquisite chocolate pudding and started watching a film, on a small screen in front of me. Half way through the story, and by then completely relaxed, I fell asleep. When I woke up, John passed me an orange juice and some sweet bread. —You looked so peaceful that the flight attendant didn´t want to wake you up —he smiled—, but I did keep your afternoon snack. I was surprised that I was already hungry again. It must have been the altitude. Soon I realised that the plane was pointing down, we had gone through the clouds and I could see green fields and houses down below. —We are about to land —said John—. Is anybody going to meet you? —Yes, somebody from the Academy will be waiting for me. As we left the plane, John said he was going to hurry ahead. He shook my hand, and gave me a small card. —If ever you are in trouble, give me a call. The card told me that his full name was John Andrews and he lived in somewhere called Winchester. To my surprise, in one corner of the card there was a drawing of a two-pointed blue feather, very like the one Eliza gave me. I looked round to say goodbye, but he had already gone. Chapter 9 Ghent (Belgium), 19th Century It was six o´clock in the evening and a fire was burning in the study of Professor August Kekulé. It was autumn, and already the university residence where he lived was starting to feel cold. He added another log to the fire and sat down in his armchair, a blanket around his legs. The housekeeper, his only companion, knocked gently at the door. She bothered him as little as possible, usually to remind him that he had to eat. She brought in a light dinner on a tray, and quickly left the room. Kekulé used to stay awake most of the night, a habit he acquired as a student on the advice of his old tutor, Professor Liebig: “If you want to succeed in chemistry, you have to ruin your health; nowadays those who don´t sacrifice their health for their studies don’t get anywhere in chemistry”. Kekulé slept just three or four hours a night and didn´t stop working even during meals. Single and with few friends, he devoted all his time to his research. On this particular evening, he knew he would get even less sleep than usual. He had to finish some lectures for his classes at the university. He should have done that weeks ago, but his head was somewhere else. Along with all the leading chemistry scholars, Professor Kekulé and his collaborators were trying to solve one of the greatest mysteries of all time. Since Faraday had discovered the Benzene molecule almost half a century ago, its structure had perplexed Europe´s scientists. Its peculiar behaviour couldn´t be explained by the way all the other known molecules combined, but all the hypotheses formulated so far couldn’t stand the facts. This issue had become Kekulé´s obsession. His impatience was partly the result of his success. Before he had turned thirty, Kekulé had made more contributions to chemistry than any of his contemporaries. He developed the Theory of the Molecular Structure, which explained how the elements combined together. Later, he discovered how Carbon bonded with Hydrogen and Oxygen —the key to the creation of organic matter, which provided the transition from the mineral to the animate world. Thanks to Kekulé, it was possible to synthesise a previously unimaginable number of organic molecules. Before he had started studying chemistry, Kekulé was interested in architecture and geometry. He had a gift for spatial visualisation which helped him to understand how the elements organise themselves in nature. Nevertheless, the structure of the Benzene molecule still eluded him. There was something else that was bothering him. He knew that Bodorin, a Russian professor, was working on the same line of investigation. Bodorin had a reputation as a brilliant scientist. Kekulé had met him in Berlin a few years earlier and too an immediate dislike to him. Worse, Kekulé had learned that the Russian had a passion for classical music. How could a scientist be serious if he composed operas and played in an orchestra? Even more extraordinary, Bodorin was known for his insistence on promoting women´s education. Who could possibly think that women had to study? No, Kekulé had decided Borodin definitely wasn’t a serious scientist and he certainly couldn´t be trusted. All these irritations were nagging at Kekulé´s mind when the housekeeper knocked again at the door. She apologised for the interruption, but she had an urgent parcel to deliver. —An urgent delivery for me? Who from? —Asked Kekulé. —I don´t know. A man showed up at the door a few minutes ago and asked if Professor August Kekulé lived here —she replied. —And what else? —He said that you knew him and asked me to deliver this as soon as possible —she said giving him a parcel addressed to “Professor August Kekulé”. Curiously, the package was sealed with a two pointed feather. —Who was he? —He said he was Alexander Von Rossen. Kekulé had never heard that name before. He opened the parcel and found a curious object inside: it was a snake-shaped sculpture biting its tail. The piece had been carved in green amazonite and in intricate detail; it was even possible to see the scales of the skin. Its teeth were of white quartz and its eyes were two rubies. It was certainly a beautiful sculpture, but he couldn´t understand why someone would give it to him. He looked at it for a few seconds and then put it to one side. The mystery could wait; he had more important things to do. Kekulé worked on his lectures until three in the morning. As usual, once he had finished working, he drank a glass of brandy and closed his eyes. He felt as if a heavy fog was enveloping his mind. Even though he was half asleep, he felt a fresh breeze in the room. Dimly, through his half-sleep, Kekulé remembered closing his window. Where was that breeze coming from? No matter: he abandoned himself to the enjoyable feeling of the air on his skin and fell fast asleep. In his dreams, he saw different combinations of carbon and hydrogen atoms arranging themselves first in long lines, then entangling and disentangling themselves, long rows closely fitted together twining and twisting, like snakes. One of the lines settled in a circle, like a snake biting its own tail. He woke up with a start, his heart beating fast, and all of a sudden realised that the mysterious gift represented the Ouroboros, the symbol of Alchemy. He immediately understood: the benzene molecule wasn´t linear! It had six atoms of carbon arranged in a hexagon, alternating double and single bonds between them. Each carbon atom had an atom of hydrogen attached to it, so that the electrons moved around the hexagon, from one atom to the next —just like the snake that bit its tail, the gift he had received earlier that evening. Kekulé’s discovery marked a turning point in the history of chemistry. The new understanding of benzene, and hence of all aromatic compounds, proved to be important for both pure and applied chemistry. In 1895 Kekulé was ennobled by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Of the first five Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Kekulé’s students won three: van’t Hoff in 1901, Fisher in 1902 and Baeyer in 1905. Chapter 10 London, 21st Century All the luggage on the conveyor belt at London airport seemed modern and shiny, and I immediately recognised Sister Ines’s battered old case. As I walked nervously towards the exit, I could see smiling faces, names on boards, flowers and even some balloons. And I could see Carol. What a relief: she hadn´t abandoned me. She waved, and gave me a warm smile. —Welcome to England —she said, getting a sweater out of her bag—. Put this on, we don’t want you catching a cold the first day you are here. The journey into London was surreal: the traffic seemed like a metal river moving slowly through the rain. —London´s traffic can be quite slow —said Carol apologetically— especially when it´s raining. —Sister Ines says that the rain means good luck —I replied. —Then you will be very lucky in England —Carol laughed. During the journey, she told me when I was going to start the lessons, where I was going to live and all about my landlady. Elspeth Bowman was the widow of a British diplomat, and had lived in many exotic countries. She spoke several languages, so when her husband died, she decided to rent rooms in her home to foreign students. I would stay with her for the first few months and then, if I wanted, I could move. —But Elspeth is charming, you won´t want to leave —said Carol—. At the beginning you will have to work harder than the other students, because you need to catch up with the theory. But don´t worry, it will be easy for you. Carol´s enthusiasm and confidence encouraged me. —I can´t wait to get going —I replied. —Next Monday, first thing in the morning, you will start your lessons. In this folder you´ll find all the information you need to get to the Academy. I will meet you and introduce you to the teachers. By the time we reached the centre of London, the sky had cleared and timid rays of sun were setting over the city. A few minutes later, Carol stopped the car in a quiet street and rang the bell at number 29. A small, slim woman with piercing blue eyes opened the door. She was Mrs Bowman. Looking at me with a nice smile, she said: —Welcome to my home, Ariane, I hope your stay will be comfortable. Come in, please, and take your shoes off. At my age it is not so easy to keep the floor clean. —Maybe I should go now Mrs Bowman —said Carol—, it’s getting late and I don´t want to trouble you. —That´s fine, Carol, thank you for bringing Ariane here. Before leaving, Carol shook my hand, and with her warmest smile said: —Goodbye then, I will see you on Monday, Ariane. I am sure you will settle in quickly. —Thank you for everything, Carol. I can’t wait for Monday. I’m so excited! —Now, you do need to eat something —said Mrs Bowman when Carol left—. It is a bit late for tea, but we can´t throw away some treats I´ve prepared. Come to the kitchen, please. I looked around at my new home. Every room was crammed with furniture, ornaments, paintings and carpets, and it seemed to welcome me. The kitchen too was full of pots and pans. In one corner was a table with a teapot and some cakes that looked and smelled delicious. —Do you know about scones? They are typically British, the best companion for a cup of tea, especially if you add jam and cream. —Thank you, Mrs Bowman, you shouldn´t have bothered. —I don´t think you eat enough —she said, looking me up and down. —Maybe —I replied, busy trying a scone. —Carol told me you come from Malta, but you look more North European to me. I have had students from many parts of the world and I´ve learned how to guess from their looks and accents where they come from. You´re a tricky one, I can´t quite place you. While she was talking, a second scone was melting in my mouth, along with the cream and jam. —This is quite delicious, Mrs Bowman. We talked for a while in the kitchen and then I washed up our cups and plates, despite Mrs Bowman´s protests. —Let me show you your room, dear. It´s in the attic, but you have the best view. The stairs are narrow and steep, and the carpet I bought in Afghanistan is quite tired, so be careful. We climbed two floors to my room at the top of the house. It was small and warm like the rest of the house, and compared with my dorm in the convent, it was pure luxury. —Since my husband died —said Mrs Bowman—, I have rented the room to foreign students. It used to be his study, where he read his books and listened to his music. Now, Ariane, listen carefully. There are two rules in this house: smoking and talking about politics are both forbidden. Fifty three years living with a smoking diplomat was quite enough for my lungs and ears. —Fine, Mrs Bowman —I replied, laughing. —If you want a bath or just to rest for a while, dinner will be ready in an hour. I will see you in the kitchen. —Thank you so much, Mrs Bowman. I unpacked my clean clothes and went to the bathroom. I was used to having a cold and quick shower in the orphanage ―the nuns gave us only a few minutes to wash. But in Mrs Bowman’s bathroom there was no sign of a shower. In the middle of the tiny room there was a big bath. I didn´t like the thought of submerging myself in cold water, so with great relief I realised that one of the taps was for hot water. I filled the bath and climbed in, sinking slowly up to my neck. It was as if every cell in my body was relaxing, and I nearly fell asleep. When I got out, I felt that the water had washed away a thin film of dust from the orphanage and, with it, my former life. After dinner, Mrs Bowman showed me round the house, picking up photo-frames and pointing to her daughter Emily and her husband Harry with the granddaughter, Helena. She showed me a photo of her late husband, Lawrence, a handsome man with an infectious smile. At the end of the tour, she took me down to the basement, where to my surprise she had a large store of food, bottled water, torches, candles and medicines. —You never know when something terrible might happen —she said, mysteriously. At nine thirty I was ready to go to bed and her Goodnight, my love sounded like a caress. I went to my room, put on my old pyjamas and snuggled under my warm duvet. I had always suffered from insomnia in the orphanage and I had hoped that it would change when I left; but the past twenty four hours had already transformed my life and I was too excited to sleep. Carol, Mrs Bowman, London. The images went round and round in my head. I heard some steps outside my room and I realised that the lights were on. Maybe it was Mrs Bowman. I opened the door, but nobody was there, and to my astonishment, I found on the floor a beautiful blue two pointed feather. What was a feather doing outside of my door? Maybe the same birds that visited the orphanage also lived in Mrs Bowman’s roof. I was puzzled, but when I went back to bed I fell asleep immediately. Chapter 11 Many miles underground, January the 1st, 2000 Alexander came out of his deep meditation and opened his eyes. He was celebrating his birthday surrounded by his closest friends, in one of his favourite places. Even the Seers were there. He had succeeded Pyros as the Guide of Time many centuries before, and although his had been an exciting journey, he always missed the physical presence of his predecessor and teacher. Every year at this time, he received guidance from the Seers. They helped him to see clearly the path ahead of him, what to expect in the near future. But this time was different. Instead of the sense of peace that he usually felt, he was anxious. His visions told him that difficult times lay ahead. The visions the Seers had shared with him flashed across his mind, so vivid he could almost touch them. Again, the conclusion was clear: there would be wars, tensions and continuing ignorance in many parts of the human world. A new threat was growing. It looked like being the most challenging he had ever known. As the Seers showed him the images of the future, one face in particular was quite distinctive. Although the Seers didn´t let him see what role this character would play, Alexander recognised the face. It had featured in his dreams throughout his life. Now, he realised, he would soon be meeting its owner. Alexander shivered. All the Guides had a mystery to solve at some stage in their existence, and success meant they could move to higher planes of learning and guiding. Alexander’s mystery was obvious: he had to solve the riddle of that face. *** On the same day, on the surface in Siberia, Zardoff was leaning against a snow-sprinkled tree deep in the forest. He was finishing his meal: the heart of a bear he had killed with his own hands. It was his favourite dish, and part of the enjoyment was the ferocious struggle he always had with the animal. But on this occasion, Zardoff wasn´t enjoying himself as much as usual. He was struggling with a familiar feeling. However much he wanted to break all his ties with the Seers, he could still perceive that something was going on in the caves, something that would have a big impact on him, that would put him in danger. Also, he knew Alexander was celebrating, another reason for his bad mood. Alexander, as Pyros before, was his sworn enemy, just as Pyros had been before him. The Guides of Time! What a ridiculous attempt to help mankind! Many times he thought he had defeated the Seers and their emissaries, that he had eliminated their power and influence. But, like weeds, they always seemed to grow back. In one sense only, Alexander and Zardoff shared a view of the future. Both knew there were momentous times ahead. Their destinies were tied in a way Zardoff didn´t understand, which angered him even more; but he knew that a new and powerful threat was looming. This would be the most important battle of his life, and he could sense that Alexander felt the same way. Once Zardoff had finished eating, he started his journey back. The dogs that pulled his sledge obeyed his orders instantly. They were terrified of him. That was Zardoff´s way, to dominate and control, to inspire fear. He smiled grimly to himself, knowing that terror had been successful over many centuries. It would be again, he was sure of that. Chapter 12 London, 21st Century Mrs Bowman knocked at my door and came in with a cup of tea. —I hope you don´t mind me waking you up, but I forgot to mention last night that I have to go to the market. I thought you might want to join me, so you can start getting to know London. I was surprised how much I had slept. In the convent I used to wake up at five every day. Not even on Sundays were we allowed to stay in bed so late. I dressed quickly, but as I rushed out of the room, I tripped and fell down the stairs. When I sat up, a little face with blonde hair and blue eyes was peering at me through thick glasses. I recognised her from the photos and smiles, but she looked scared and ran away. When Mrs Bowman saw me on the floor, she bent down to help me to sit down on the sofa. She then produced a first aid kit that she kept down the stairs in case of accidents. I was surprised to see all the instruments and medicines she kept in there. She told me that, a part from being a teacher, she was a trained nurse. Once she seemed to be reassured, she let me stand up. In the meantime, the little girl had been looking at the scene. She introduced her: she was indeed Helena, her granddaughter and was going to spend the rest of the day with us. Emily, Helena´s mother, left her once a week with Mrs Bowman and the visit to the market was a ritual. After a quick breakfast, Mrs Bowman, Helena and I went out. The cold slipped under my clothes and I soon started shivering. Mrs Bowman, by contrast, thought the day was “beautiful”. When we got to the market, I was amazed: meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, clothes and books ―the stalls went on and on and Mrs Bowman knew them all. Helena was obviously delighted as well, especially when her grandmother let her choose some food for lunch. In the middle of the crowd, I noticed a man who seemed to be staring at me. He was tall and heavily built, and was talking on his phone, his face by turns serious and cruel. I was going to say something to Mrs Bowman, but when I turned round again, he had disappeared. When we returned home, Helena asked lots of questions about lunch. She liked cooking and wanted to help her granny with the food. I had had only a cup of tea and some fruit for breakfast, so I was pleased to see that Mrs Bowman had already prepared a Shepherd´s pie that she put in the oven and in few minutes a mouth-watering smell was filling the kitchen. We sat down at the table, and by now Helena had got over her shyness. She asked me lots of questions, fixing me with the same quizzical expression she had when she saw me trip on the stairs. While we were eating, a black cat with white paws came into the room meowing, rubbed against my legs and jumped on my lap. —Pepe! —cried Mrs Bowman. In the orphanage, I always had longed for a pet so I was sorry when Mrs Bowman picked the cat up and shut it in the utility room. She told me she had found Pepe ill and malnourished in the streets in a town in Spain, and had saved him from some little boys who were throwing stones. To bring it back to England, she had to arrange for Pepe to get vaccinations and a passport. I said I had been through a similar process, and Helena laughed at the idea. We finished lunch with a slice of juicy blueberry tart and a cup of tea. I still remember every moment of that lunch with Mrs Bowman and Helena. It was the first time I had had an idea of what a home would feel like, even if it was a borrowed one. Then I remembered Sister Ines and I wished she were there with me, I felt guilty that I was enjoying all this warmth without her. I helped Mrs Bowman to wash the dishes and went back to my room to read the folder that Carol had lent to me, and then at around four I heard a light knock on the door. It was Helena coming to say goodbye, as her mother had arrived to pick her up. I went down to the kitchen and found Mrs Bowman reading a book; she offered me another slice of pie, saying she was determined I put on some weight. She suggested we go for a walk, and before I had time to protest, she handed me a warm coat. We left the house and walked towards the Academy. Twenty minutes later I saw a beautiful building like a temple illuminated with lights from the ground. I could hardly believe it: this is where I would spend the next two years of my life. I was astonished by it; everything about it was inspiring, and I, a little girl from an orphanage, would be there. I was starting to feel hungry. I was amazed by my appetite since I´d left the convent. Mrs Bowman explained that all the students who came from warmer countries got very hungry when they arrived in England. That was why the body accumulated fat, to protect itself from the cold. Because I was so skinny, she thought, my body would be getting even hungrier. We went back home and, as soon as we arrived, she warmed up some potatoes, cauliflowers and mince, and we sat down. During dinner, she gave me some advice on how to be safe in London. It was a big city and anything could happen, she said. After doing the washing-up, I went upstairs. I was so tired that I fell asleep immediately. Like the night before, the noise of footsteps on the landing outside my room woke me up. I looked at my watch: it was only 4 am. The steps stopped by my door, and then I saw a bright light shining through the keyhole. I rubbed my eyes, thinking I must be dreaming; and when I opened them again, the light was gone. I went back to sleep, puzzled and a little troubled. At 7 am, the alarm woke me up. Chapter 13 Ulm (Germany), end of 19th to beginning of 20th Century ―It´s dinner time, come down! ―His mother shouted up the stairs. —Coming —replied Albert. The boy was absorbed in a natural history magazine and didn´t want to stop reading. His sister Maja came into his room: —Hurry up! We will be waiting for you again. Dinner with the Einstein family was as cheerful as usual. Hermann knew how to entertain his children, while his wife, Pauline, more reserved, managed to follow the conversation while she busied herself with the cooking and the plates. Albert´s parents were German Jews. Hermann was from a merchant´s family, an excellent student with a gift for mathematics. He wanted to continue his studies, but his family decided not to send him to university and he also became a merchant. Pauline was a quiet and sensitive woman, who instilled in Albert a love of music. Neither of his parents was particularly religious, so Albert´s upbringing was liberal and decidedly secular. When Albert was five, his father gave him a special gift: —What is it, Father? —The little boy was mesmerised by the round and metallic case in his hand. It had a glass cover like a watch, but with one arrow that moved swiftly when Albert changed its position. —It´s a compass. It helps you to find your way. The tip of the arrow is always pointing north. Albert was entranced. He couldn´t understand how the arrow could move inside a closed case and always point in the same direction. It was like magic: what invisible force made the arrow move? The compass had a tremendous impact on the child´s imagination. From then on, things that other children simply accepted, like the rotation of day and night or the rain and the wind, were to Albert mysteries that he had to solve. Young Albert became a brilliant student in all the scientific subjects, especially mathematics, but he had a quick temper and he ignored any subject that didn´t interest him. He tested his teachers with questions they couldn´t answer, leaving them exasperated by his irreverence and derision. Albert felt that he didn´t learn enough at school, but he made one particular friend who stimulated his curiosity. Although they were not religious, the Einstein family followed the Jewish custom of inviting a poor Jew to dinner once a week. In their case it was a medical student, Max Talmey, who despite being ten years older than Albert, became his dearest friend. Talmud introduced him to popular science books, and later to philosophy. Reading books like Kant´s Critique of Pure Reason and Ludwig Buchner´s Force and Matter, young Albert was soon having serious doubts about the truth of the Bible. Albert refused to take part in a Bar Mitzvah, and the parents accepted his decision. Before long he became convinced that both politics and religion brain-washed people in order to control them. His rejection of anything that represented authority and the established order created problems for him both at school and later at university. If politics and religion prompted Einstein to ask endless questions and find no answers, the same wasn’t true of the books that Max brought him. The elegance of geometry, the solid logic of integrals and differentials —these were much more interesting to him, and satisfied his curiosity. When he was twelve, he discovered what he later called sacred book of geometry. The school year was starting, and his uncle Jacob gave him an introduction to Euclid’s principles. For Albert, that was a crucial moment. Euclidian geometry was a powerful instrument of deductive reasoning and he was amazed by the lucidity of its principles. The fact that three sides of a triangle intercepted certain points was not evident in principle, but could be proved mathematically. Albert was comfortable with the axioms and the immutable principles from which other theories could stem; the tidiness of the whole structure gave him a sense of security. At about that time Albert had a dream that took him ten years to decipher. He was at the top of a mountain looking at the stars when, all of a sudden, he started sliding downwards faster and faster. When he landed on the ground, he looked again at the stars and noticed that they had changed position. What would happen, he asked himself, if it were possible to travel at very high speed? That sort of questioning —something he called thought experiments— became his process of intellectual deliberation between him and Max. What if… became a recurring question for them to answer. As the young Einstein´s curiosity grew, so did the family’s financial problems. Hermann´s business was struggling and he decided to move to Pavia, in Italy, with his wife and youngest daughter, Maja, leaving Albert in Monaco to complete his studies. That didn´t work, though. Albert was often in trouble with his teachers, and before long, he joined his parents in Pavia, without even taking his final school exams. His new home helped him to get a better perspective on his life. He decided to take the entry exam for the Zurich Polytechnic, to read physics. Albert failed all the non-scientific subjects, but his results in mathematics and physics were so brilliant that the director persuaded him to return to school and try again for the Polytechnic the following year. This time, Albert passed and he was soon revelling in one of the happiest times in his life. At the Polytechnic, his natural rebelliousness resonated with the Marxist ideas of some of his fellow students at university. They met in one of the halls of residence, determined to solve the problems of the world, and often spent their evenings absorbed in dense discussions about physics and philosophy. During one of these meetings, Albert met Mileva Maric, a young Serbian Catholic student, whom he wanted to marry. But Albert´s defiant attitude and his clever mind irritated his professors at the university and when he finished his course, the only reference he got was so embarrassing that he couldn´t find a job anywhere. His most ferocious critic was Professor Heinrich Weber, whom Einstein would meet later in very different circumstances. Just when Einstein was despairing of ever making a living, the father of a friend came to his rescue and got him a job in the Patent Office in Berne. Badly paid though it was, at least it put him in a position to marry Mileva. Albert moved to Berne and found himself in the same department as a friend from university, Michele Besso. Their role was to assess the feasibility and scientific rigour of the patent applications received in the Office. Albert soon discovered that he could do his job in just a few hours every morning, leaving him plenty of time to think and study. With other physicists and mathematicians who lived in Berne, Albert created a group called Academia Olympia. It was a deliberately pompous name chosen by its members: irony was one of the group´s statutes. The meetings were enjoyable, but the food was scarce. Each member was allowed one sausage, one piece of fruit, a slice of cheese and two cups of tea. They often met at Albert´s flat, and on those occasions the atmosphere was jollier, for Einstein was already an accomplished violinist. Music played a big part in Einstein´s life. He shared Kant´s belief that knowledge started with intuition, which then produced concepts; and from them came ideas that could be tested against reality. Playing his violin helped Einstein develop his intuition. He was convinced that no purely logical way would reveal the elementary laws of nature; only through intuition would he unravel its secrets. Even if he rejected religion as a way to discover God, he started to develop what he defined as a profound “cosmic religious feeling”, as he defined it. One day, when he was working in the Patent Office, a visitor arrived. He was obviously a foreigner, but he spoke fluent German. He explained that he would be establishing in Edinburgh a Patent Office similar to the one in Berne, and he had been recommended to talk to Michele and Albert. They looked at each other, thinking the man had been the victim of a bad joke. —We can certainly talk to you, but neither of us knows how this office really works. We just do the technical valuations. —Oh, that´s more than enough —said the visitor—. It is lunch time. Let me take you to a good restaurant and we can continue our conversation. —Thank you sir, but you really shouldn´t bother —said Michele—. Sorry, I didn´t get your name. —My name is Alexander Von Rossen. For me it is a pleasure to talk to two bright young men like you. I have a lot to learn. Alexander took them to an elegant and discreet restaurant on the Aare River, where he had already booked a table. Albert was soon enjoying the wine and the delicious food —and the conversation. They talked about politics and philosophy, and Einstein explained that he planned to take a doctorate, though yet he didn´t know the topic. —I am pretty sure you have plenty of ideas —said Alexander. —Two or three, actually. I have been bothering Michele for quite some time, and I can´t still make up my mind. —Good ideas come in the most unexpected ways —said Alexander. Albert didn´t reply. His attention had been caught by the sight of the water running just a few metres below where they were sitting. Alexander apologised for taking so much of their time, and quickly ordered tea for the three of them. —It is the best in Europe; you have to try it —said Alexander, spooning some sugar into his cup. Albert stared at the spoon stirring the tea, and suddenly he blurted out: —Do you think that a thesis on the movements of sugar molecules could be good for my doctorate? —I think it´s a fascinating topic —replied Alexander—. I am sure you will do a remarkable job. They said goodbye and left the restaurant. Albert spent the rest of the afternoon in a state of high excitement, scribbling mathematical formulae about sugar molecules and the way they move. From those beginnings, he developed a full theory. In 1905, when he was just 27, Einstein wrote three more papers. One was on the photoelectric effect, another on equivalence mass-energy and, remembering his childhood dream, he also wrote his masterpiece on Special Relativity. In 1921 he won the Noble Prize for the photoelectric effect. At that stage, the academic world still didn´t fully understand his theory of relativity, but it was already clear that the dreamy young rebel had created a new vision of space and time. He had revolutionised for ever the way that mankind saw the universe. Chapter 14 Scotland, 21st Century It happened on my last year at the Academy, during an unexpected tour through Scotland. Every autumn, Carol had organised a series of concerts in the south of England, but one of the most generous sponsors of the Academy had asked her to include some Scottish cities as well. Our plans were ambitious: in the space of just three weeks we were going to play in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Inverness, and Perth and finally on Skye. We started in Aberdeen on a grey Monday at the end of October. Anita was on the tour as well, and that filled me with mixed feelings. I always enjoyed her sense of fun. Half way through the tour, we had a few days off to relax which I badly needed. Anita, my best friend since I joined the Academy, had other ideas. She seemed more restless than usual and insisted that, instead of staying with the rest of the orchestra, we should head for a small village on the west coast, in the middle of nowhere. The view, she said, was the most beautiful in Scotland. We could take long walks during the day and go to the pub at night. Reluctantly, I agreed. As dusk was falling, we reached a bed and breakfast in a village called Glennie. Across the grey sea, we could see Skye. The place had been a boat house and then been expanded into an ample and welcoming lodge. The owners welcomed us by a roaring fire, and I caught a whiff of malt whiskey. Our room was small but warm and comfortable. There were flowers on the table, and a small bathroom off in one corner. The next morning I woke up early, and looked out of the window. The view was bleak. The sea was covered in fog, few islands broke the monotony of the view and threatening dark clouds were hanging quite low in the sky. There was dew on the grass, and the trees were stark against the leaden sea. When Anita woke up, we went downstairs for breakfast, drawn by the smell of fried eggs. We decided to visit the grave of a local heroine who had apparently fought against the English, been taken prisoner and then burnt alive. It sounded really gruesome, and I would have been happier to stay in and read a book. But Anita insisted, and Anita usually got her way. We climbed a steep hill, to find only a small and neglected grave —but the view was breath-taking. In the distance, on the other side of the bay, we could see a large granite-grey castle. —That must be Roshven Castle. Do you think people live there? —I asked Anita. —Well, our landlord told me that a Baron lives there. Generous but strange, apparently. Anyhow, let´s keep moving, we can´t stand here. —I want to stay here for a while. Since when were you a fanatic about exercise? ―I asked. —I will explain later —she said, with a playful smile—. You will freeze if you don´t move. —Don´t worry, I will stay just a few minutes. I’ll see you back at the lodge. —OK, I am going to walk to the lighthouse and back. Anita left, and I sat on a stone and gazed out at the sea. The rocky coast, the waves crashing on the shore, the salty breeze: I could see why so many people were enchanted with Scotland’s history, even to the point of believing that a prehistoric monster lived in the bottom of a lake or that Shakespeare’s three witches stirred up trouble in a forest. It was starting to rain and I decided to leave, walking towards Roshven Castle. I had read that it was one of the oldest in Scotland, built around 900 A.D. as a fortress to protect the region from the Vikings. As I made my way down a slippery path towards it, I lost my balance and fell. I must have hit my head on a rock, and I do remember lying there for some time, in pain, wondering if I had cracked my skull. When I eventually opened my eyes, there was a man staring down at me.

0 comments:

Post a Comment

Read free eBooks, English Fiction, English Erotic Story

Delicious Digg Facebook Favorites More Stumbleupon Twitter