Napoleon Bonaparte paces in his tent, fretting, his brow knitted. He goes to the flap and looks outside.
“Any sign of the messenger yet?”
The guard shakes his head and turns back to his watch. Napoleon curses under his breath and goes to his desk and sits down. His personal guard enters the tent and asks if there is anything he can get the Emperor.
Napoleon glares at him and the guard retreats. Napoleon reaches into his pocket and retrieves a worn piece of paper and reads it. He thinks back a year to the day when he was first made aware of the unusual form of divination his trusted seer had found.
It was madness of course. To think that a beast of any sort could divine the future but he had known even then that many ancient cultures had read omens in things such as the entrails of goats and sheep and other sacrificial animals.
He remembered well the conversation with the seer.
“Your highness, I swear to you by all I hold sacred. I saw it with my own eyes. The beast can divine the future!”
“Then tell me how.”
The seer had lowered his eyes and stammered as he attempted to explain. He related how the beast had been brought to the Paris zoo and he had gone to see it out of curiosity. He had implored him to keep an open mind. It was no accident that he had discovered this treasure, he was certain of it and in the end he had persuaded Napoleon to at least give it a try.
“These Hippos, when they defecate they spin their tails with great energy. This beast shits against a wall in its enclosure. I swear to you, I saw right away signs and portents in the pattern.”
He proposed that he would keep watch over the beast and report his findings and the Emperor could determine for himself what merit there was in them. It had gone well. The seer had reported seeing an assassination attempt was to be made. The assassin was found exactly where he was said to be and dealt to. Henceforth Napoleon was a believer.
His only caveat was that no one else was to know what was involved. If anyone knew that he took advice that was divined in the pattern of Hippo shit on a wall the mortification would too much to bear.
Lost in his reverie he hadn’t noticed the worn and bedraggled messenger that had entered the tent and was standing at attention off to one side. He looked up and smiled. He took the sealed parchment the messenger proffered and opened it.
He dismissed the messenger telling him to send in his aide de camp. He told the aide to be seated.
“What word do we have of the movement of the enemy troops?”
“Your Highness, The Duke of Wellington approaches from the North and General von Blucher from the East.”
“When are they expected to reach us?”
“No later than the 15th Your Highness.”
Napoleon nodded and dismissed his aide. So the seer’s beast was right again. He looked again at the message. It was predicted that a pre-emptive attack on the 15th at Waterloo would secure victory and he, Napoleon, would once again be the greatest general in the world. So be it then. The English and the Germans would be crushed.
He glanced again at the last line of the message and shook his head.
“I have decided to name the hippo Nostrildamus.