SHANTITOWN


Frater Noster

 PROLOGUE 

Type the name Saint Germain in any search engine on the Internet and you will come up with numerous sites that offer theories about my existence, stories, most of them extraordinary, incredible and above all completely unverifiable. But then again, what can be more mysterious than life itself? My own journey has been set apart in that I was privy to secrets guarded outside the confines of society and nature itself has always been and still is the greatest teacher. Every day it shows me that human existence is basically predicated on a very basic assumption: that all living organism contains the inherent knowledge to overcome any problem that may arise; or within any given challenge lies the elements of its solution. In other words, all tribulations are but for evolution. As plant reach for the sun, so does man reach for light. In man, the seed of that light is love. That is the fundamental principle of numerous religions and schools of thought. It is also the only viable human emotion; everything else is but a burden. Man is meant to be happy, not to suffer. Why then is there so much suffering? What are we here to pay for? Why are some spared while others are subjected to extreme torments? Every day in this life, I discover something. I never know if this day will be my last and I live as if it were. I pledge my life to love and light long ago, not knowing that I would eventually be afforded the occult wisdom that allows man to lord over time, space, cause and effect. This was basically accomplished over several years through yoga, in the broader, philosophical sense of the word, not the mere physical positions and exercises but the total, holistic, ubiquitous experience as enunciated in 1893 by the Hindu sage Vivekananda who traveled to America for the first time to the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in the State of Illinois. There, to a selective international audience he formulated the concept that "Yoga is a science". What he meant by that was simply that the tenets of yoga imply that when practiced with constancy, certain exercises will yield certain specific results. That is the basic tool kit that has permitted me to live this long. Along the way I have had countless teacher and I discover as I go along where it is I am supposed to be going. However, extreme longevity is a lonely, complicated and demanding journey where exercises eventually monopolize the equivalent of half the waking time of what could be considered a normal schedule within the confines of modern society. There are many observances such as peculiar sleep patterns, rigorous hygiene and unconventional eating habits that include selective fasting and intricate spice amalgams in food preparations. There are also a multitude of precepts that vary individually but are at the core of the essential conditions for extended living.

Along the way, I have had many preceptors who helped me and I am indebted to them all forever. Let me clarify a few things. First, I am not a vampire although, unfortunately, such creatures do exist but I will not dwell on the subject. Second, I was born a normal human being, just like you. After many lives, I was able to reach a level of awareness that for the first time afforded me to retain a memory continuum between two lives, two incarnations. That means that I was able to bring all my past with me and, in quite a short time, in retrospect, achieve full recollection. Actually, all experiential knowledge is stored in the superconscious of man's brain at the delta level; if not cultivated, access to the delta level wanes and finally disappears altogether. Once the theta level of lucid dreaming is brought under control, it can travel back and forth between the two wavelengths and not only retrieve information but also create a continuum. Eventually, time is transcended and all becomes known; past, present and future link up. That occult knowledge is hidden from the layman’s consciousness because man is too busy with his life. The makings of man constitute an illusion, called Maya in Sanskrit, where the world created by man, society and its rules, is fleeting and ultimately does not provide inherent happiness, the ultimate goal of each human. Constantly, we need to weed the garden so that flowers may grow. While I have seen the sunrise and sunset so many times, the wonders of life never cease to amaze me. Obviously it is impossible to recall every instant but the most important moments of my journey have always occurred in the company of other people. Interaction with fellow human beings creates the fabric of life. When all is said and done, man learns only from two sources: other men and that silent energy that pervades everything and everyone, life itself. So know, along the way, that you too, if you apply yourself, can live as long as you wish and exit this life when you deem that your mission has been completed and all your questions have been answered.



     I

Miami, Florida USA - 2008

The silver rays of the October sun seemed to glide upon the ocean, reflecting a gradual sky, creating dark, infinite undulations that melted with the horizon. I was one with the horizon, lost in contemplation, hovering between dream and reality when security rang. I told the guard to let the woman through. Her telephone call the previous day had been most disturbing: "My name is Cecilia Von Hagen, I was a friend of your father." "I’m sorry", I replied, "but my parents died when I was very young and…" She cut me off: "I will bring you proof, please expect me tomorrow at seven." She hung up. Her tone had been firm, unequivocal and it sent chills down my spine. And here she was, pulling up in a mint green Jaguar, right on time.

Before she can ring the bell I open the door. She is of medium height, with a fine figure. She could be forty or forty-five years old. Her long black hair accentuates the perfection of her ageless silhouette, wrapped in a blood red, ankle length silk dress that lands on two minuscule feet laced in Roman style sandals. She wears very little, if any make-up, her alabaster skin illuminated by two piercing jade green eyes atop an aquiline nose that shadows voluptuous purple lips. Our eyes lock, and a twitch transpierces her gaze. "You look just as I had imagined you", she says, both her manicured hands clutching a small Judith Lieber purse. I silently motion her to come in and she seems to glide past me. She stops in the middle of the living room, looks around, as if hovering to find her equilibrium and center herself. Slowly she ambles to the bay window facing the ocean. "Finally", she says. Not knowing what she means, I am nevertheless aware of the intensity of her presence and her energy makes me uncomfortable. She turns around and walks past me towards the fireplace. "Can I offer you something?” I ask, trying to sound casual. “Yes, water, please”, she replies before slowly sitting down in my favorite chair, a gold leaf trimmed Napoleon III. I make my way over to the marble counter where the refreshments are. The ice cubes crack loudly as I pour water over them, as if to warn me or rather to confirm that the danger that I sense in the company of this woman is real. She obviously wants something but what? I glance over my shoulder. Cecilia Von Hagen, whoever she may be, sits there, equanimous, calm, absent-mindedly twirling the large Egyptian ring on the middle finger of her left hand as she inspects the objects that make up the décor of my daily life. The track lights seem to bounce off her pearl nail polish like minuscule lasers. Handing her the glass, I sit across from her. As she admires the eleventh century Tonka above the fireplace, I interject “So you say you knew my father?” “Yes” she says, offering no further explanation. “Where and when did you know him?” She sips on her water, taking her time, letting her intense magnetism fill the air between us. “You think you know me but you can’t quite place me, isn’t it so?” Indeed I feel a certain familiarity between us but I discard it, "Madam, my name is Francis Hermann and I am..." but she doesn't let me finish. "Please spare me the bullshit!" The sudden change in her tone and vocabulary, neither of which fit her appearance nor her demeanor, is totally impromptu. She gets up and walks back to the bay window. As she brushes past me, I am overwhelmed by her scent, an ethereal blend of gardenia and bergamot. From the depths of my psyche a torrent of childhood memories come over me. 

As an infant and young child, my mother had been the whole world to me since my father was away most of the time. I remember holding her hand, walking down the corridors of a desolate castle with torches lining the walls. Mother often said that life is a labyrinth from where most people never find their way out. Then I saw myself lying in bed at night, trying to see in the dark, unable to sleep. When that happened, my mother would put her hands on my stomach and emit an eerie sound, the dream sound, she used to call it. Suddenly I felt transported to another place, back in the bedroom where my mother had died. There she was, sitting in her pillows, a peaceful smile on her face. I could remember pulling on her sleeve, trying to call her back from the eternal slumber she had just slipped into.

"You remember, don’t you, Hermann? Clever about switching the name but not fool proof, nothing ever is..." the woman said, waking me from the reverie as if reading my mind. I realized what she had just called me: Hermann. "Or do you prefer any of your other names or maybe chronologically…" Those names belonged to another me, a me that had come so far, it no longer had the luxury to let memories linger and interfere with the present let alone the future.  As she turned around, I stood up to face her. "What do you want?" "I want what’s mine, Hermann, nothing more, nothing less." The depth of her eyes reached the far corners of my soul; I felt sick to my stomach. This woman knows, I told myself, she knows who I am. If she was not bluffing, she would be the only person outside a very limited circle of friends to know my real identity.  No, it was impossible. "Frankly I have no idea what you’re talking about". 

Slowly she walked towards me. Her lanky fingers opened the small purse and pulled out a little, wrinkled, yellow envelope and out of it, with the dexterity of a magician she produced a lock of blond hair.  Gently grabbing my right wrist, she put the curl in the palm of my hand, closed it in a fist, her own hand firmly over mine to seal the contact. A rush of heat pulsated through my body as if I were experiencing the moment of death; I was leaving my body. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath trying to slow down the cascade of images flooding my mind. 

"You were such a special child, Hermann, and you know this is your own hair." Those words stopped the vision instantaneously and I barely regained my composure. "Where did you get this? Who are you?" Our eyes locked in a dimension beyond time and space. "I thought you would never ask. I once was Aurore de Valcourt, I am your mother!" she said.  


 II 

Paris, France - 1668

Louis XIV was born on September 5, 1638. Upon the death of his father Louis XIII, he became King of France in 1643 at the age of five. Until the king’s majority, the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria and Cardinal Mazarin a protégé of the late Cardinal Richelieu formally ruled the country.  In 1661, upon the death of Cardinal Mazarin, Louis XIV, then twenty-three, assumed the full power of the throne. The previous year in 1660, the young man had married Princess Maria-Teresa, heiress to the Spanish Dominions, also known as the Infanta. Their alliance was one that Cardinal Mazarin and the Queen Mother had spent years arranging. Such a pact ascertained the balance of power between France’s territories and the Austrian Empire controlled by the House of Habsburgs.

In 1661, the Queen finally bore the King a son, Louis de France, who was also known as Le Grand Dauphin. The heir to the crown of France would be outlived by his father the King and would never ascend to the throne. But, on this beautiful day of March 24, 1668 to celebrate the baptism of their heir, Louis XIV and Queen Maria-Teresa would be hosting a ball at the Palais des Tuileries. The event drew fifteen thousand people from all over France and the nearby territories. The day started at the Grand Châtelet, a royal palace built by Louis VI in 1122 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a commune twenty kilometers northwest of Paris where the boy had been born. At age seven, time had come for the monarchs to commit the young soul to God and so it was that on this fateful day that Louis was taken to the baptismal room in the castle's magnificent chapel. The sacrament was administered by Camille de Villeroy, Archbishop of Lyon on behalf of the Cardinal de Vendôme and attended solely by the King and Queen where the young boy, clad in a white satin robe, was anointed and baptized by affusion.

Following the ceremony, a column of soldiers surrounded by street artists, musical groups and dancers filed out of the gates of the castle’s park. A crowd of hundreds has gathered to watch fire eaters, acrobats and saltimbanques as they create an atmosphere of delirious celebration around the royal procession. Everywhere there were musicians around bivouacs, people cooking on spits and children running around. The first of the open-top carriages decorated in red and gold bore the seal of its passengers, King Philip IV of Spain and his wife Queen Mariana, the maternal grandparents of Le Dauphin. By then, King Philip IV was in his sixties, a thin man in a long, ornate, red redingote whose pale and skinny face seemed to disappear under his big, dark and curly wig. He seemed unaffected by the commotion around him, unlike his third wife Queen Mariana, who was in her late twenties. She wore a green, jeweled dress that sparkled to the point of practically blinding the on-lookers at whom she waved profusely. In the second carriage the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria, held her head high and stoically looked in the distance as her gold dress shined like a second sun. The third carriage was the pièce de résistance: a giant glass egg-shaped cab held by four golden pillars with glass windows all around and an open top. Nestled in white ermine pillows sat the young Louis de France, wearing a white tunic with gold epaulettes and cordons and waving at the onlookers. Le Grand Dauphin was the living proof of the King’s own immortality. Behind the son, the proud father, Louis XIV and the loving mother, Queen Maria-Teresa, were beaming to the “Vive Le Roy’s” of the crowd.  Theirs carriage was an ornate gold-leafed wheeled platform drawn by eight white Palfrey horses. Furs and multi-colored flowers surround the two ornate thrones on which the Royals were sitting. People were throwing rose petals at the King and Queen as they saluted their subjects, proud to introduce the only child of theirs who would not die of infant mortality. Louis de France was the Queen’s third attempt to give the throne an heir, the first child had been still born and the second died hours after birth from suffocation. There had been rumors in the halls of the Palais des Tuileries that she might have fallen out of favor with the King but today was her day of triumph. Le Grand Dauphin was now here for all to see and the royals meant to show Paris its future ruler. An orchestra of thirty musicians immediately followed the King and Queen on another large platform, that one drawn by twenty black horses and covered with ferns and encased in a border of yellow roses. A procession of several other coaches followed as they slowly make their way to the Seine River, a two-hour journey.  Along the river and throughout the countryside, crowds of people were lined up to see the heir to the throne of France. Everywhere there were vendors, food stalls, wine barrels, people playing music, singing and dancing. The whole caravan boarded five giant rowboats that were waiting at the Saint-Germain-en-Laye quay and the festivities continued on the water. Along the banks, the populace ogled a King and Queen who rarely ventured in public, especially in such grand manner. Some cheered blindly, while other poor folks marveled in awe at the opulence displayed to celebrate the royal baptism. The boats made their way down the Seine. As the sun began to set, torches were lighted on the boats and fires along the banks of the Seine illuminated the approach into the city. As the convoy neared the docking area at the Jardin Des Tuileries, floating bivouacs burning directly on the water, gave the whole scene a golden glow and a surreal atmosphere of warmth. 

An enormous crowd was gathered at the edge of the Jardin Des Tuileries, the gardens adjacent to what would later become the Place de la Concorde. Everywhere statues had been decorated with costumes and wigs, trees and bushes were covered with garlands and candelabras stand erect everywhere. Large flower arrangements were propped up against buffet tables where servants dressed in white tended to elaborate displays of meats, game, fish and other dishes. There were several stages from where performers entertained the crowd. When the royal party entered the Jardin des Tuileries, a hush came over the crowd and all activities came to a halt. Time stood still as all eyes converge on the convoy. The carriages disembarked and the crowd went wild. Rows of soldiers opened up a pathway through the crowd for the procession to make its way to the Palais.  

Inside the palace's grand hall, a much more extravagant feast was already underway. Drum rolls silenced the people present as a flurry of horns announced the entrance of the Sun King, as the French monarch would come to be known and his Queen. The crowd kneeled as the monarchs entered the room followed by four soldiers carrying the golden chair where sat Le Grand Dauphin. At the head table, the boy was seated between his parents and the crowd applauded cheerfully. The perfumes of aristocracy filled the air, the ladies in their colorful silk dresses, the gentlemen in their powdered wigs and redingotes, all bejeweled for the occasion. Five hundred of the noblest friends and allies of the monarchy were in attendance.

One such man was Ferenc-Leopold Rakoczy I, Prince and ruler of Transylvania, a friend of France. The Prince was dashing young man in his early twenties who wore a full-length jeweled black cloak and a cap. His father György II was Prince of Transylvania and ruler of Hungary, a wise man who had survived several wars and was a lifelong ally of France and a personal friend of Louis XIV. His was the last fiefdom to resist the Habsburgs, who controlled the Slavic territories and most of the Balkans and he also cultivated cordial diplomacy with the Ottomans of Constantinople; therefore, it was important for France to maintain the rapport with is son and successor, the Gräf Rakoczy, as he is called in his homeland. Two years ago the young prince was forced into a loveless arranged marriage to Countess Jelena Zrinska of Croatia, a mean beauty with a penchant for intrigue. But to this event, the Gräf Rakoczy had come alone, by coach, with two cavalrymen as escort. He was elated to be in Paris after a long time. After the feast for Le Grand Dauphin, he had been invited by King Louis to spend a fortnight at the Château de Chambord, the royal hunting grounds in the Loire Valley. 

Mademoiselle Aurore de Valcourt was a classical beauty who had just turned twenty-five but barely looks emancipated. She had long Irish-red hair, perfect white skin with a slender figure. She was educated, worldly and witty and was known in most of the political circles of Europe. Confidante to Maria-Teresa of Spain she had been at the Royal Court of France for two years whence she came as demoiselle-de-compagnie to Queen Maria-Teresa. Her father was a banker who was ennobled by Louis XIII, became the Marquis de Valcourt and was sent on diplomatic missions as ambassador of France. Her mother was a very feminine, beautiful brunette with almond-shaped eyes, a former courtesan whose fate was changed when the Marquis, one of her regulars, ennobled her by a controversial marriage. She more than lived up to her husband's expectations:  she was a great lover, a consummate hostess, a perfect mother and she used the eases of her new situation to further her knowledge; she was a humanitarian, charitable and well loved by her entourage, as she made no secret of her past but rather blessed the second chance she had been given and for which she was ever grateful to the Marquis de Valcourt. Always drawn to the occult, she was a mystic and belonged to secret societies. In time, her daughter Aurore acquired that same thirst for knowledge. Born in Paris, Aurore grew up all over the world. She was first raised in Persia where she was exposed to eastern philosophy at an early age. Then, her family lived in London for a few years where she was tutored in the ways of the modern world. Aurore then followed her parents to Vienna. By then it was clear that she had a gift for languages. When the Habsburgs started their rampage throughout Eastern Europe, her parents lived in Amsterdam but they returned to Paris. Still a young demoiselle, Aurore was sent to Madrid where she was introduced at Royal Court of Philippe IV, upon recommendation from the late Cardinal Mazarin, a personal friend of her father. For two years, she attended the Collège de Sorbonne where she studied astronomy, medicine, and literature. It is also there that she befriended Princess Maria-Teresa when the latter returned from studying in Switzerland. It is that friendship that ultimately brought her back to Paris, once the Queen Mother and Cardinal Mazarin convinced Philippe IV that the union of Maria-Teresa and Louis would save Europe from the Habsburgs.

And today Aurore is Demoiselle de Cérémonies. Her social stature and knowledge of languages, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German and Sanskrit make her most sought after at such events. Throughout the day, she has been going around sorting out requests for audiences with His Majesty and the Queen, together or separately. All the while, she has also been making sure that the royals, per their requests, will see certain guests in private. Once Louis XIV and Queen Maria-Teresa sat down at the table of honor, the guests made their way to their assigned spaces around the Grand Ballroom. Servants dressed in red and gold with black gloves and wearing black masks went about serving dishes so varied and so abundant that it was literally impossible for one individual to taste them all. 

On recommendation from Queen Maria-Teresa herself, on behalf of His Majesty, Aurore de Valcourt had seated herself next to the Gräf Rakoczy about whom she knew very little, except that he was to be treated with the utmost deference and that he would be joining the royals at Chambord. She noticed the tall, young man approaching the table. He was looking at her; in fact he was staring. Could that be him? As he reached the chair next to hers, she got up. "You must be the Gräf Rakoczy." "At your service, mademoiselle." He bowed and she curtsied. She liked the way he looked and his manliness made her feel secure. They sat and as customary, he took her plate, and using his jeweled dagger was about to cut into an ornate piece of pork meat when she stopped him. "Sire, no offense but I do not eat animal flesh." He looked at her bemused. "What is it you eat then?" "Everything else." "Very well." He proceeded to fill her plate with vegetables, raw, cooked and pickled adding rice and barley and tastes of the various sauces available. He served her. "Delightful!" She waited for him to serve himself before starting. Everything was delicious. Thirty-five of the best chefs in Paris had been cooking for the past two days with literally hundreds of helpers to put on this feast. "Is this the first time you travel to Paris?" She asked between bites. "No, mademoiselle and it is a delight every time I visit your lovely city. Were you born here?" "Yes but I have not lived here long. My father was an ambassador so we moved a lot." "Was that good or bad?" "In hindsight it was good but when I had to leave my friends it was always heartbreaking." "I can imagine." It was most unusual in those times to find a man, especially a young and good-looking one, who sympathized with a woman's point of view. "And what was your favorite place?" "I loved them all, really. Everywhere is so different; I loved the sunshine in Spain, the music in Persia, the culture in England." "Do not say that too loudly here, mademoiselle." She laughed; he had a sense of humor. "And you, sire, where have your travels taken you?" "Far and wide also, Turkey, the Caucasus, Magyar, Vienna, London, the Nederlands and Transylvania, my home of course, but in name only, since I am never there." "And where do you like best?" "I really don't know. I think that the place where I will stop and settle, that will be my most cherished. And I am happy to be here at this wonderful gathering. This is a great time. The best of everything is here." "Are you fond of reading, sire?" "Yes and I enjoy reading when I am traveling, it is the best way to pass time. But when I get to where I am going, I work hard and I also like to enjoy life. I love art and music. I do not care for the politics of the Catholic Church but I must admit they are masters at both." Again she laughed, "They certainly are. As a matter of fact, have you seen the Vatican's art collection?" "No, I was there twice and I saw only what was on display, still..." His voice was firm yet soothing and his erudition and sophistication were pleasing to her. They laughed and he loved her laugh, it was frank, jovial and spontaneous. Throughout the evening, Aurore kept noticing a small, round blue light in the corner of her eye. Whenever she tried to hone in on it, it disappeared, only to reappear moments later. She did not know what to make of it at the time and concentrated her attention on the Prince. When his hand brushed past her hair, she blushed, unable to disguise her desire. Interminable minutes turned to hours while their eyes locked, their hands touched and the whole world around them seemed to disappear. Finally, he asked her if she was empowered to give him a tour of the Palace. She blushed even more. Aurore de Valcourt was not an easy woman, she had never been, she simply felt the moment was right. She whispered something in his ear before swiftly walking across the room and vanishing behind one of the wall size tapestries.

Aurore waited in the suite of rooms she had been occupying for the occasion, calmly brushing her long red locks now free from the pins and tiara she wore. The light from the candles danced around the room and flickers shined on her perfect silhouette wrapped in a white silk robe with embroidered red dragons all over. The knock was faint but she had been eagerly anticipating it. She opened the door.  Gräf Rakoczy entered and swung his cloak onto the bed. She locked the door. Immediately, before any word could be said, their lips were locked into a passionate embrace. Their bodies clung together and found the bed. It was that night and that passion that my soul chose to come back to life on this earth. I had been around Aurore for some time now, a mere hovering blue light in the corner of her eye in times of fertility. And tonight, the time had come. It was an easy choice, they were great together and their love was perfect.

The following two weeks at the Chateau de Chambord, Aurore de Valcourt and the Gräf Rakoczy were inseparable. They rode horses together early in the morning. They ate together usually in their suite of rooms. They visited the King. They took walks. They made love every chance they had. They talked about Russian art, world religions and British literature; he told her about his interest in mysticism and the occult and soon she confided in him that her mother had great esoteric knowledge and power that had she lived in another time, she would have probably been burned at the stake. All the factors that made them compatible proved to me that I had made the right decision by choosing them as a vehicle for my incarnation.

 

 

 

 III 

Hunedoara, Transylvania - 1669 to 1673

Transylvania is a region in central Europe that encompasses parts of Romania and Hungary and ownership of the territory was at different times through the ages claimed by both countries. Since it came into existence circa 80 B.C. Transylvania was invaded and occupied by the Romans, the Huns, the Visigoths and the Bulgars but to this day, the province retains its reputation as a place of mystery, intrigue and great danger. At the time of my birth, Transylvania was an autonomous principality, loyal in principle to the Ottoman Empire seated in Constantinople. Already sparsely populated by Saxons and Turks, in the mid 600 B.C. colonies of Gypsies, or Romanis as they refer to themselves, started arriving after walking westward from the Punjab and Gujurat regions of India. Some carried on but many settled, mostly at the foothills of mountains, in caves and near streams in meadows that offered protection from rain, wind and the harsh winters. The eco system provided plenty of everything necessary for survival.

Still, lawlessness prevailed in the remote regions and soon throughout the continent, rumors of hauntings and apparitions turned to legends of lycanthropes and vampires committing atrocities such as mutilations, dismemberments and killings. Stories of blood draining, ritual extraction and ingestion of human hearts began to circulate and for a reason. Before firearms were introduced, wars and other smaller conflicts were ultimately conducted 'mano a mano' or one on one, so to speak. The infantry was composed of numerous soldiers who usually led the way carrying shields, swords and knives. They were supported by a large contingent of archers who would fire their arrows as they moved forward in concert. Once the two armies collided, the cavalries would then charge for the final assault. Those carnages left the battlefields littered with corpses. If one army or the other was from a relatively close area, some relatives would come and seek out their deceased loved ones in order to give them a proper burial but in the end, countless bodies were left behind to rot.

Soon, a small contingent of Romanis took it upon themselves to begin cleaning some of the battlefields nearby where they had set up camp. In time they became known as the "Zigunerflückers" or "Gypsy Pickers". First they would dig an immense hole either at the foot of a mountain or in a natural depression in a valley where the soil was soft. They carried away the dirt from the hole on large platforms pulled by four heavy draft horses. They would then go to the battlefields where they would ditch the dirt. Then, after carefully alleviating the cadavers of any valuables that may still be on their persons, they would pile the dead bodies on the platform and go dump them in the craters. Soon there were more and more holes, more and more bodies; these sites became known as "Zigunermassengrabs", the "Gypsys' mass graves". The bodies of mostly men of various ages and forms, aggregated to skeletons in various stages of decomposition. The stench from the putrefaction could be perceived from hectares away and it attracted vultures and scavengers in great numbers. Everywhere the vegetation was dense, the weather cold and wet and the atmosphere foreboding. Transylvania was eerie.

The Rakoczys were one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in the region. Their castle was at Sárospatak in northern Hungary but in 1645, to commemorate the birth of his son Ferenc-Leopold I, György II Rakoczy, ruler of Transylvania had purchased the gothic Hunyad Castle near the village of Hunedoara in Romania. Hunyad Castle is where Vlad III of Wallachia, also known as Dracula, was held captive for seven years circa 1462. Ferenc-Leopold I had visited several times but had not yet undertaken the extensive overhaul required to restore the castle to its original grandeur. The place was majestic, yet ominous. On this night, the sky was pitch black and only the thundering crackle of metallic blue lighting rods across the sky revealed the sheath of rain that caused an otherwise invisible rumble. Out of nowhere, a small contingent consisting of two carriages and four cavalrymen appeared around the turret. The drawbridge came down over the moat and the gigantic portal opened as if by magic to swallow beasts and men.

Inside the courtyard, Gabor, the caretaker, greets the carriages with some of his helpers who unload the personal effects of the lone passenger, Aurore de Valcourt. Swiftly she is ushered inside the castle and along dark corridors as Marina, Gabor's wife, carrying a torch, escorts her to a suite of rooms. Her belongings are brought in and Marina informs her that His Majesty The Prince will meet her in the anti-chamber, next door, in an hour. She excuses herself, leaving Aurore standing in the middle of the large room. The far wall consists of a two-meter high fireplace that heats up and lights the room; next to it is a large, carved wood cabinet that houses logs. It is furnished sparsely: a rose wood upright dresser, a desk and chair, a wrought iron bed with white silk linens and a canopy, with an ornate trunk standing guard at the foot of the bed. Two dark red Moroccan carpets cover the majority of the stone floor and a woven tapestry with cherubs and garden scenes adorns one of the gray stonewalls. In one of the corners is an alcove where a wooden tub is filled with hot water and the scent of eucalyptus fills the room. Numerous candles scintillate in the red glow of the crackling flames. The woman takes off her hooded garment. She undoes the laces of a dress that can no longer hide the truth: Aurore de Valcourt is with child.

When the embryo is becoming a being, its sensory world begins to awaken. At first sounds are indistinct, as one would hear them underwater but with time, they become more and more distinct. Besides sounds, the most noticeable change the unborn experiences is the temperature of its immediate surroundings; that is the conduit of the mother’s emotions to her child. And when my mother Aurore de Valcourt was reunited with my father, the Gräf Rakoczy, Prince of Transylvania, their love brought on a feeling of warmth and tenderness that I cherished.

Steam envelopes the serving silver dishes on a cart next to the lavish table that has been set in the middle of the otherwise empty room. The Gräf Rakoczy is putting fresh logs in the fireplace when Aurore walks into the room. He immediately feels her presence and turns around. No words are necessary as they embrace. He goes down to his knees to kiss her stomach as tears well up in his eyes. "He is a child of love", she says almost in a whisper. He holds her waist as if she were a life raft and he adrift in the storm that still rages outside. After a moment of religious silence, they both sit at the table. The Prince serves Aurore a variety of vegetables, aware that she has never eaten meat in her life. "When?" he asks her as he sits down across her admiring her perfect skin basking in the glow of the candlelight. "Anytime. Now that I’m with you, I’m ready." "There are things that you have to know; things I have not told you that I should have." She puts her index finger on his lips. "My love, do not speak. I know of your union and I understand your obligations. To know that you are faithful to your heart, to your love for me and to our child, is all I need." "I promise that I will make this place a paradise for you and our son; I will bring back the ancient glory of this castle and you will be its queen." "I already am your queen, my love." "You are. "This is the greatest day of my life. I have so much I want to say but..." he lets his words hang in the air. "We can talk later, we have all the time in the world now." A smile lights up his eyes as he pours himself some more wine. Marina and Gabor are my trusted servants, my father rescued them when they were young and their loyalty is untouchable. When I am not here they will see to all your needs, they are aware of the situation." "Of course." She says, lowering her gaze.

It rained all night and the Gräf Rakoczy dozed off in a chair next to the bed in his lover’s room, hypnotized by the rhythm of her belly under the covers and lulled by the crackling of the logs. At dawn, the sky cleared up, leaving way for a glorious sunrise over the pristine countryside. Aurore woke up with a moan and the Gräf immediately came out of his slumber. She felt the sheets around her. “It’s time”, she said. The Gräf ran to get Marina, who had also acted as midwife of his own birth some twenty-three years ago. The two of them propped Aurore up in a mountain of pillows. She started sweating profusely and breathing harder and harder. Marina fetched some large smooth river rocks that she put in the fire. Then she and the Gräf grabbed Aurore under her arms and helped her into the wooden tub. Once they were heated up, they transported a couple of the rocks and put them into the wooden tub to keep the water temperature warm. Marina then instructed Aurore to start breathing rhythmically to control the pain of the contractions. When she felt she was ready, Aurore stabilized herself on her knees in the water. She bit her lip and rolled her eyes but she never let out more than a groan, as if humming to the water to gain its collaboration in making the transition easier for the little being she is bringing into this world; through the whole process, she never screamed once.

Between incarnations, I had retained my awareness and was fully conscious of my choice of parents. In the womb, I remembered my previous life, as I had been trained to do. After six months, I could distinctly hear the sounds of life across the walls of my mother’s belly. My passage through the birth canal took only forty-five minutes. The birth experience is like being taken by the current of a river, a wave that propels you downward, headfirst. As the mother’s water breaks, the child’s environment is immediately transformed from weightless to magnetic. The force that draws one into this world is irresistible; the pressure on the ears is almost unbearable and the lungs are first activated by the contractions of the mother. Then the eyes open momentarily but since it is still dark, the unborn’s reflex is usually to close them again. When the head finally starts through the passage, the astral body, the body of emotions of the newborn leaves the confines of the uterus through the top of the mother’s head and awaits the child outside of the womb. That is when the new soul separates from the mother. In most cases, when the umbilical cord is severed, the astral body snaps back in the infant through the navel. At that instant, the soft spot atop the center of the baby’s head usually starts closing, and all memory is lost, all anterior knowledge acquired by the soul is sealed off from the new brain. In my case, things were different. As opposed to the ‘normal’ birth with the mother either lying in bed or squatting in the woods, exiting into the water was a much easier transition as the liquid provides an environment where the awareness is allowed to take hold of the senses and is given time to review what is contained in the soul’s memory, allowing for said recollections to be stored in the new brain.  

After a few minutes, my mother realized that my eyes remained open. She grabbed me by the neck and slowly raised me out of the water. There was no shock. Upon contact with the air, it felt as if I had been holding my breath; I did not cough, choke nor suffocate. I swallowed immediately, creating the onset of hearing and therefore allowing for speech to come forth. I did not cry for I felt no pain, I simply reached for her smile, her kisses. I was born at 3 AM on January 8, 1669. My mother suffered very little in the birth process, as she had been privy to the secrets of ancient wisdom where preparation with rituals, potions, herbal teas and rhythmic breathing allow for a practically painless experience. Aurore took me in her arms and my father came over. He tied a silk lace around my umbilical cord and cut it with a silver dagger. I did not panic and my astral body calmly entered through the top of my head with no shock, allowing retention of all past knowledge for me to discover and expand with the experiences I would accrue in this lifetime. However, I would have to account with the limitations of a growing body but the brain's evolution would start immediately.

My father had gone back to his obligations at Sarospatak. Marina would usually come by throughout the day and make sure that everything was in order. One night, not long after I was born, mother was sound asleep and I lay on a pillow next to her head. We were alone in semi-darkness, the room bathed in the red glow of the last coals in the fireplace when the door opened. A slender figure dressed in black glided in silence towards the bed. A large white coif framed her face and her piercing black eyes looked right through me. I was not afraid for I had known that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. The woman smelled of strong perfume. Her eyes were dark and deep and she looked right at me. She opened the blanket I was wrapped in to see my sex. A wicked smile exposed yellow teeth as she pinched my little penis between her fingers. My squirm triggered an abnormally jovial smile on her evil face as she covered me. Then she took a knife out from under her dark tunic and cut a lock of my hair. Then she got up and quietly left the room. I would only see her one other time during my lifetime. My father had been forced to lie to his wife, Croatian Countess Jelena Zrinska, telling her that Aurore de Valcourt was bearing King Louis XIV’s illegitimate child and that to avoid problems since the monarch did not want to recognize the child and take Aurore as a mistress since she was not ennobled, the Sun King himself had personally asked the Prince for his help in the matter. To oblige, the woman had to be sent in exile to give birth. The Gräf explained to his wife that she would stay for a few years, until the rumors died down in Paris and the child could be put into a third party’s care. The payoff for such service was so substantial that it would pay for the renovation of the Hunedoara castle, which had fallen in disrepair. But the countess had a suspicious mind and she could not bring herself to believe such a strange story, even though the young woman had indeed brought with her a large coffer filled with jewels, silver and gold. While that momentarily pacified her greed, the countess would write to people in high places who owed her favors, she would dig until the truth surfaced. And in due time, she would figure out who that woman was and what fate best suited her and that baby. For days after the Countess’ visit, I woke up in the middle of the night, wondering if the witch was going to come back. I feared not for myself but for my mother as I lay there, watching her shallow breath, incapable of talking to her yet. Often I wished she would wake up because I thought that when she was awake, nothing bad could happen.  For the first nine months of my life, I slept on a large pillow next to mother in bed. On certain nights when my father was home, they would both laugh and play with me. Marina would come in every morning before sunrise to build a fire and leave behind water and a basket of fruits, vegetables, bread and spices. Upon waking, my mother would see to her ablutions before breastfeeding me. Then she would prop me up in the large chair next to the fireplace and she would sit still as a statue for twenty minutes of meditation. Then she would have tea and pack a basket for our daily outing. 

As she walked through the woods carrying me in a cloth wrapped around her chest, she would sing to me. She spoke in different languages on different days of the week. Usually it was French on Monday, Italian on Tuesday, Spanish on Wednesday, English on Thursday and German on Friday and Sanskrit on Saturday and Latin on Sunday. Subsequently, she would talk to me all day in that language; whatever she said, she never ever resorted to using baby language in my presence. After walking for about an hour, she would stop and eat some of whatever she had brought in the basket. Then she would feed me again and after, she would place me in the basket and put me on the ledge of a nearby cliff that ran along the trail. The reason was that animals feared venturing that close to the precipice, instead they would get accustomed to my scent in the air and later would be familiar with me and become my friends and playmates. My mother would rock me to sleep before going into the forest to either gather herbs for her practices or to plant seeds that would yield food in the months and years to come. 

We would always be back at the castle before dark. During our absence, Marina always cleaned the place. There were fresh linens and daily, combed cotton cloth was laid on the bed for mother to wrap me in. The wooden tub was always filled with warm water and we would bathe, mother and I together. That ritual was performed at night to cleanse us of the dusts of the day and prepare us for our "time on the other side", as mother would call sleep. During our bath, she would teach me the names of our body parts, organs and bones. When my father was around she would dine with him in the anti-chamber. On such evenings, he would usually spend the night with us; they would play with me until I fell asleep. At times, when my mother was alone, she would make soup in a large caldron that hung on the side of the fireplace. Often she would spread out her herbs and potions in the middle of the room and write in her grimoire, a beautiful, leather-bound book that contained all her magical secrets. Off and on, she sang riddles, songs and hymns from different heritages and often I remembered the melodies from her singing them before I was born. She followed the same routine every day. Mother told me that this time, the first nine months of life, is for the awakening of the spirit and is to be used for sacred remembrance of who you used to be and how that is going to serve who you are going to become. Though never ceremonially giving me a formal name, she always called me Hermann, because she would say in English with a thick accent that I was Her Man and my father went along with it.

  After nine months, I was weaned from her breast, and she fed me vegetables and fruit purees that she made herself. By the time I turned one year old, I could walk and speak normally. During the course of our excursions in the woods, I discovered that she had planted a formidable garden in the wild. She would still leave me in a basket to take a nap while she did her work. Animals such as fawns, wild dogs, even skunks and possums would come around to visit. If mother was not in the immediate vicinity, I would describe the animal to her and she would tell me its name and what its primary functions were in nature. For example, fawns exude a scent that plants find absolutely enthralling and that helps them grow. But fawns will fall victim to wolves driven to violence by that same scent or bears whose smell is so strong that rabbits and squirrels will stop in their track and remain immobile with fear when one comes around. Bears, in turn, are preyed upon by men for their fur and, in those days, their meat. Mother was at one with nature and in the years we spent together she schooled me in the ways of the wilderness, "to prepare me to live among men", as she said.