June 17, 1566
The letter was written by an apothecary who had gained his notoriety in another field. Knowing the uproar it would cause, Michel sealed it and several documents inside a wooden box. He gave the box to his lawyer on the same day he signed his last will and testament.
The year was 1566. He was sixty-two years old.
He died fifteen days later.
When his possessions were divided amongst his heirs, the box was not mentioned. If it had been, the rest of his estate would have seemed inconsequential, for the contents of the box were far more valuable than gold or jewels or anything that he owned. Knowing this, he added a secret codicil to his will that only his lawyer knew about. The four-page appendix described in very specific terms what was to be done with the mysterious box and, more importantly, when.
To ensure that his wishes were followed, Michel established a trust fund that compensated the guardians of his secret from one generation to the next. None of these men knew who their benefactor was—otherwise curiosity would have overwhelmed them, tempting them to open the box. Instead, all they were given was a date and a simple set of instructions.
If they completed their task, they would be paid handsomely for their efforts.
If they didn’t, they wouldn’t see a cent.
Amazingly, the chain remained unbroken for over four hundred years. Decade after decade, century after century, they followed their orders like scripture and were rewarded as promised. Wars raged throughout Europe, but somehow the box survived. Cities burned to the ground, but somehow the box survived. No matter what happened, no matter where it was stored, the box always survived—as if it had a guardian angel. Or was protected by magic.
Those familiar with Michel might have suspected the latter, since he had been publicly accused of practicing “the dark arts” on more than one occasion. But those charges never stuck. Partially because of his connection to the queen of France, a loyal patron who believed in his special powers, and partially because of his cunning. Nearly everything he had written was hidden in plain sight, published for the world to see, but purposely ambiguous. This was his way of avoiding prosecution. Authorities couldn’t convict him of witchcraft or wizardry because his writings could be interpreted in a variety of ways, most of which were benign.
Yet most scholars knew his work was anything but innocuous. They realized it was complex, and layered, and intentionally cryptic. The proverbial enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded in mystery. Just like the man himself. Of course, Michel knew how he was perceived, which was why he penned his final letter in straightforward language and sealed it inside the box.
This was his last chance to explain himself to the world.
His last chance to warn the human race.