Beatrice and François
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The Wizard's Notebook

     One day in the summer of the year 1234, the Duke of Rochehaut travelled through his forests with fifteen soldiers on horseback, all armed with bows and arrows. They arrived at a little cottage with a thatched roof in the middle of a clearing. They surrounded it.

The duke rode his horse to within a few feet of it and shouted:

"Wizard, come out of there!"

A little smoke escaped from the chimney of the cottage. The door stayed closed, quiet.

"Wizard, come out of there! Second chance!"

No one responded. The wind made the thatch move slightly. One of the soldiers' horses snorted.

"Mage Icarus, if you don't come out of your abode right away, I will have my archers destroy it."

The door opened. A man appeared on the threshold. He had a strong build, long brown hair, jet black eyes and wore a large red coat.

"What do you want Duke Rochehaut?"

"Mage Icarus, I'm giving you only until tomorrow morning to leave this cottage and my territories. Or I will hunt you down. I've had enough of you and your sorcery ... unless you entrust me with your magic spell," he added with a purr.

The man was quiet for a moment. He regarded the duke with a fixed stare.

"You will never learn my magic spell."

"Then I advise you to disappear. First thing in the morning, I will be back with my archers. They will have flaming arrows and, with them, I will destroy your abode."

The Lord of Rochehaut did an about-face and left with his soldiers.

"So," said the Mage Icarus quietly, "he would dare hunt me down... I know what I will do in revenge. And my vengeance will be terrible."

He went into his cottage and rekindled the fire in the hearth. He put a copper pot over the flames. Into it, he added several strangely coloured powders. He added a dark, ruby-coloured liquid, along with other substances only known to him.

Then he turned the pages of one book then another and spoke several incantations as he stirred the now-bubbling liquid.

This reduced to an oval ball the size and shape of a chicken's egg. It looked like it was made of gold. Some small black marks appeared on the outer shell.

"Perfect," the wizard murmured. "And now let's get to the writing. You want to know my precious magic spell, Duke! You're going to have it. I'm just going to tweak it a little, for my own pleasure."

He took a little notebook and slowly wrote the following over four pages:

"Rahou-Gougou-Enzi. Sanga zongo. Azal i malamou. Nganga azali ndoki."

After finishing his work, he rubbed his hands together.

"There. My vengeance is ready, Duke of Rochehaut. My only regret is that I won't be here to see it. Unless ... unless... But, yes, of course! I could be present! I only need to find a tree not too far from my cottage."


The next day, the duke returned, accompanied by his fifteen archers. Each of them had a crossbow and a bolt ready to light on fire.

This is what we call an arrow for a crossbow.

They positioned themselves around the wizard's cottage, drew back the bowstring of their crossbows, lighted and fired the flaming bolts. In an instant, the cottage became an inferno.

No one came out of it. An hour later there was nothing more than smouldering ash.

"Good," said the Duke of Rochehaut. Then he gave an order, "Now, men, search the area; look in every bush, every tree. Find any possible hiding place. If you see anyone or anything that seems strange to you, bring them before me."

For a good while, the men searched the undergrowth, the trees, everything that grew in the surrounding area. They returned without having found anything. Except one of them. One of the soldiers held in his hands a golden egg with black marks on the shell. And a little notebook.

"Here, sir! I found this in a tree, over there, at the edge of the woods. The trunk of that oak was hollowed out. It must have been struck by lightning," explained the man. "These were inside."

The Duke of Rochehaut took the egg.

"It looks like gold to me!"

He opened the notebook and saw the handwritten inscription. He recognized the wizard's writing.

"The spell! Maybe what I have here is the wizard's spell at last. You can leave, men. Return to the castle and tell the duchess that I will return by noon."

"You don't want us to stay with you, sir?"

"No. I want to be alone, my friends. Let my wife and children know that I'll be there for the midday meal."

The soldiers left. The duke was alone. He dismounted from his horse.

He leaned against the trunk of the old oak and considered the golden egg that he held in his hand. He opened the notebook to the first page and read what he believed to be the magic spell.


Sanga zongo.

Azal i malamou."

He came to the fourth page.

"It's hard to make out," he grumbled between clenched teeth.

"It must be: Nganga azali ndoki."

The duke's wife and children waited but he never made it back for the midday meal. He didn't turn up that evening. No one heard anything from Lord Rochehaut ever again. His soldiers searched his forest, but only found his horse. No trace of his body.

After several weeks of waiting, the duchess and her children left the region for good and returned to her family in the south of the country.

The castle was abandoned and left to looters. They carried away the carpets, the furniture, the curtains and all that remained inside.

Abandoned by humans, the building was slowly taken over by the forest.

One after the other, the stones came loose from their mortar. Hail, snow, sun, storms and, above all, plants, trees and their roots made their way into everything.

The castle crumbled, wall following archway, tower following tower.

Soon, it was nothing more than a simple pile of stones, overgrown with brambles, nettles and plants of all kinds. Five hundred years passed.


Around 1750, on an evening of torrential rain, two children, two boys, sheepherders, found themselves by the great oak. They were looking for shelter.

"We're lost," said the younger one.

"Yes," replied the other. "But, look, see that tree? It looks hollow. Let's take cover there and gather the sheep around it. We can pass the night there and tomorrow morning we can make our way back to the village."

The two children took shelter in the ancient oak; it could have been as much as six hundred years old.

Exploring the inside of the trunk, the kids found an egg in a crevice. It seemed to be made of gold. Along with it was a little notebook.

"Hey, look what I found!"

They turned the pages of the wizard's notebook.

"There's something written here..."

"I don't know how to read," said the younger one.

"Me neither, I can't read either," the older one repeated.

In that era, children didn't often go to school. They lived in poverty. Among the villagers, the children took care of the sheep and goats while their parents worked in the fields.

The two boys knew neither how to read nor write. So much the better for them, this time...

They left for their village at dawn, promising themselves they'd return to the stone and notebook another day. But, seeing as though they'd only found it because they had been disoriented, they never found the oak again and it was lost in the middle of the forest.

Another two hundred and fifty years passed. And we come to today.


"Yes, François?"

"Can I come with you this afternoon?"

It was a beautiful Saturday in summer.

"Yes, of course!" the little girl exclaimed in joy.

"It's hot! What about if we go for a walk in the forest?" her friend suggested.

"I can't go there alone! My parents don't allow me."

"You won't be all alone. I'll be with you."

The two friends, aged seven, left for the woods. They were very good friends. François's little sisters were named Olivia and Amandine. They were five, and three and a half years old. Béatrice's little brother, Nicolas, was still a baby; he wasn't even one yet.

Béatrice wore a jean skirt. The boy wore shorts that went to his knees. They both wore red T-shirts and white gym shoes that weren't so white anymore.

All of a sudden, François exclaimed:

"When I was walking with my father and my little sisters the other day, we saw an old oak tree. Dad said it was more than five hundred years old. Maybe even a thousand. Its truck is hollow. Do you want to see it?"

"Oh, yes," Béatrice replied. "I'd really like that."

The two of them left the path and found themselves at the foot of an enormous hollow tree.

"I don't know if I've ever seen one so big," the girl said.

"Me neither," the boy said. "Look, we can even slip inside."

They went into the oak. François suddenly started scaling the inside of the trunk with the help of his friend. Béatrice followed him with her eyes.

"Oh!" our friend cried. "I see a hole and ... here, what's this?"

From a crevice inside the tree, he removed a stone that looked like an egg.

"Oh my goodness, it looks like gold!"

They saw some black marks on the shell.

The boy held the egg in his hands.

"I found something else, a little book."

Béatrice took the notebook and François held on to the egg. They sat on the ground, leaning against the tree. The girl opened the notebook to the first page.

"I'm going to read it," she said. What strange words!


She turned the page.

"Sanga zongo. Azal i malamou."

Another page.

"Here it's not clearly written," Béatrice said. "Nganga azali ndoki," she read in a hesitant voice.

Nothing happened. She read as her friend held the egg.

"I wonder what it means," the girl said to herself.

"Maybe it's Chinese," her friend suggested.

"Oh, no. Chinese is written differently; it goes from the top to the bottom of the page. But maybe it's Arabic."

"No, it can't be Arabic or else we wouldn't know how to read the letters. I think it could be Latin."

"Yes, maybe it's Latin," Béatrice agreed.

François took the notebook out of his friend's hands. He then had the egg in one hand and the notebook in the other. The girl took a few steps outside of the trunk to see it from there.

-"Rahou Gougou enzi," the boy read.

"Sanga zongo.

Azal i malamou.

Nganga azali ndoki."

"François, where are you?" said Béatrice, coming back towards her friend, who was supposed to have stayed in the tree. "Stop scaring me. Are you hiding? Where are you?"

Silence. Just the sound of the wind.

"Please stop it. If it's a joke, I don't like it."

No one responded. Béatrice looked to the top of the tree. Then she walked around the tree. She searched everywhere. Her friend had really and truly disappeared.

"François," she called out. "Now come back!"

She went into the tree again. On the ground she saw a toad. It hadn't been there before.


Just like that, seeing the notebook and the golden egg there beside the toad, an idea came to her. A terrible idea. What if the four sentences in the notebook were a magic spell? And what if this creature ... what if it were her friend! She knelt before the toad.

"Is that you François?"


"Wait a minute. Not like this! If you are my friend, say 'coa-a' three times. Are you my friend François?" Béatrice repeated, firmly.

"Coa-a, Coa-a, Coa-a"...

"Oh my goodness, what should I do? Should I read the spell? If I should, croak three times. If not, croak twice.

"Coa-a, Coa-a."

Béatrice slipped the book and the egg into her pocket. Then she put the toad into a fold at the bottom of her skirt, because she didn't like touching it very much. She set off for her house holding the bottom hem of her skirt in both hands.

"Mom, Dad, come see! Look at this toad."

She put it on the kitchen table. Nicolas, her little brother, looked at it and smiled.

"It's François!"

"Impossible," Dad said.

"I swear to you it's François!"

She told them what had happened that day and explained how her friend had disappeared.

"Look, you see this golden egg? See this book? If you read the spell written here while you're holding the egg in your hand, you'll turn into a toad."

"That's incredible, Béatrice!"

"I swear it's true, Dad!"

Our friend's parents, curious and not a little impressed, called François's parents.

They arrived within the hour with Olivia and Amandine in tow, François's little sisters. When they saw that their brother had turned into a toad, they started crying.

"If I understand your explanation properly," said François's dad to Beatrice, "if I take this egg in my hand and speak the spell written in this notebook, I'll become a toad."

"I... I think so, I really think so sir."

"Coa-a,coa-a,coa-a," said the creature in front of them.

The boy's father turned to his wife.

"What do you think, dear?"

"I'm still a little confused," she said quietly.

"I'm going to try it," François's father said. "I'm going to read the spell while holding the egg in my hand. I have faith that you will manage to turn us back into humans."

In his left hand, he took the golden egg with the black marks on it.

In his right, he opened the notebook and spoke the terrible spell.

"Rahou Gougou enzi. Sanga zongo. Azal imalamou. Nganga azali ndoki."

On the table "coa-a, coa-a" sounded twice. Two toads were croaking on the table!

"My goodness!" François's mom cried.

His two sisters started crying twice as much as before.

François's mother called her doctor. He sent them to the hospital. The hospital suggested they consult a veterinarian. The veterinarian couldn't do anything either. He said that the toads seemed to be in good health. He suggested calling a wizard.

They contacted several wizards, astrologers and fortune tellers. One of them told François's mother to contact Odister, the most powerful wizard in the country. He lived alone in the Ardennes forest. Perhaps he could do something to turn the two toads back into her husband and son.

François's mother entrusted her two daughters to Béatrice's parents and brought Béatrice with her in her car. The two toads they placed in a shoebox with a few holes in it so they could breathe. Into the car, the two also packed the notebook and the egg.

They came to the village where the wizard Odister lived. He welcomed them very kindly. But as soon as the man opened the notebook...

"My goodness!" he exclaimed. "This writing... This notebook... This egg! This comes from the Mage Icarus! He was the most powerful wizard of all time. He was known to be active around the years 1200 to 1250. Sorry, ma'am, I can do nothing to help you or your family. Only Icarus can undo what he did. He discovered an extraordinary spell with a wizard from China whose life he'd saved. It seems that Icarus modified the spell but I don't know why. Many of my colleagues tried to recover the exact words. None of them could."

Béatrice and François's mom listened without saying a word.

"Only the mage Icarus can save your husband and son ma'am."

The situation seemed desperate. They drove home in silence. This man must have been dead for many years. If he were alive today, he'd be more than eight hundred years old.

The next day, a Sunday, Béatrice went off on her own into the forest. She came upon the oak she'd found with her friend, where he'd been turned into a toad. She sat down inside the hollow trunk. Then she spoke directly to the tree.

"Great oak, they tell me that you might be a thousand years old. You've surely met the mage Icarus in all that time. It seems that he lived in these woods. Can you do something for my friends?"

Suddenly, she felt a gust of air, a breeze that shook the branches of the oak. And our friend thought she could make out a creaky voice.

"Come back ... at midnight..."

"Come back at midnight?" the girl repeated. "I will."

She ran home. She explained to her parents what she'd just heard.

That night, François's mother drove the brave girl the short way in her car. They brought the two toads in the shoebox. Our friend held the wizard's notebook and the egg in her hands.

The car could only get within about three hundred feet of the tree. The forest path wasn't made for driving.

"I'll go with you on foot," said François's mother, getting out of the car.

"I think," Béatrice said, "that it's really better if I go on my own... Otherwise, I'm worried that the tree won't talk again. I'd like you to be with me but I was on my own this afternoon when the tree talked to me."

"Won't you be afraid?"

"Yes," the girl said, "I'm really frightened but... I'm doing this for François, and for his dad."

"I'll wait for you in the car," François's mother promised. "I'll keep the window open so I can hear you if you call. The oak is about three hundred feet from here. I'll wait as long as need be, all night if that's what it takes. Take your time. And if you're too frightened, or even if nothing's wrong, call me and I'll come right away."

"Thank you."

"Good luck. I want you to know how much I admire your courage!"

Béatrice took the shoebox. Still wearing her green overalls from last night, she slid the golden egg and the wizard's notebook into its bib pocket. She made her way to the tree. She placed the box on the ground inside the truck. Then she opened it. She gazed at the two creatures.

She picked up one of the toads and caressed it. Suddenly, she realized that she didn't know if it was her friend or his dad that she was cradling. It still wasn't clear to her which of the two was François and which was his father.

The moon was full that night. It wasn't very warm. The girl shivered as much from the cold as from fear. A fox yelped under the pine trees. An owl hooted in the distance.

"I'm here, great oak. I'm waiting but nothing is happening!"

Once again, just then, a gust of air shook the tree. The creaking voice started up again.

"Wait... Wait until midnight."

As the distant church bells struck midnight, a mysterious grey mist rose from the forest. It surrounded the old oak. Béatrice stood up. The fog had become so thick that now she couldn't even see the trees at the edge of the woods. She felt as though she were all alone in the world.

She could see nothing more than the trunk in front of her, and not even its higher branches. Just then, also coming from the forest, she could see someone approaching.

The shadow moved towards her. A man. She gazed at his thin face and his black eyes. He wore a big red coat that hung to the ground.

Yes, you're guessing right: it was the mage Icarus. But our friend didn't know this because she'd, of course, never met him.

The man approached the tree and looked at the girl. Then he saw the toads.

"I am the wizard, Icarus. Finally, a boy, braver than all others, dares to come to me."

"I... I'm not a boy," Béatrice stammered. "I'm a girl."

"A girl! But you wear boy's clothes!"

Our friend was wearing her green overalls, a T-shirt and gym shoes.

"Ah, no!" Béatrice said. "Nowadays, girls can dress the same as boys."

"Ah," said the man, astonished. "In my time, boys also wore robes."

"Ah, okay," our friend smiled.

The wizard continued.

"So, you are a girl. And you dare come here to wait for me."

"Please sir," Béatrice begged, "my friend and his dad have been turned into toads. Can you help them?"

"Yes. I can free them from this curse. The vengeance of the curse was not intended for them but for the Duke of Rochehaut."

You understand, dear reader, why the duke never came back. He had been changed into a toad and disappeared into the woods, once he'd read the spell back in the year 1234.

"To transform your friend and his father back into human form, I need three things," said the wizard.

"I'll get you whatever you need," Béatrice promised. "Do you need my penknife?"

"A penknife!" the wizard cried. "A penknife... Look at that big pine tree."

He made a brief cutting gesture with his arm, holding his hand horizontally. The pine tree in before him was sliced through and fell heavily to the ground.

"I can chop a tree down with a gesture or a glance. Why do you think I'd be interested in a penknife?"

"Excuse me," our friend said, worried. "If you like, I could give you my watch..."

"A watch!" laughed the wizard. "It's been more than seven hundred and fifty years that I've waited for this meeting and you want to give me a watch! Clearly, you are mocking me."

"Oh, no," cried the girl. "But what can I give you then?"

"First, hand me the egg."

"Here it is!"

The man took it in his hand.

"You will not see this again."

"That's okay," Béatrice answered.

He closed his fist. When he opened it, the egg had disappeared.

"Now I need the notebook with the spell."

"Here it is!"

She put the book in his hand.

"Nor will you see this again."

Béatrice shrugged her shoulders. The wizard closed his fist, then opened it. The notebook had disappeared.

"I need one more thing," said the wizard.

"I don't have anything else," our friend whispered.

"I need your two braids."

"My ... my braids?" said the girl, astonished.

"Yes," the wizard confirmed.

Béatrice really liked her long hair. She often put it up into a ponytail, but this evening she had two beautiful brown braids. She had no desire to cut them but, for the sake of her friend and his father, she agreed.

She opened the blade of her penknife and cut the two braids. She gave them to the wizard.

He placed one on each toad. Then he asked the girl to back away to a safe distance.

A white light appeared in the oak tree. It grew larger and lighted up the whole tree. Gradually, it became so dazzling that it was as if it were broad daylight. Then, suddenly, it disappeared.

Inside the oak tree, Béatrice now saw François and his dad looking at each other in astonishment.

Béatrice called to François's mother who was still in her car. "You can come now," our friend called.

François's mother came running. She hugged and kissed her husband and son. Everyone congratulated Béatrice for her courage. They returned home together.

No one ever saw the terrible wizard Icarus again.

Once back home, they celebrated their safe return.


Translation : Andrew Gordon Middleton