New Netherland Colony
December 5, 1695–
Nikolaas was a good boy, neither mischievous nor unruly, yet, tonight he was in a restless mood. At nine years of age, his thoughts should have been filled with the wonders of innocence, not the strange dreams that danced through his weary head. Tossing and turning beneath his blankets until his nightshirt seemed a thing of binding torture, the young boy bolted upright in bed in an attempt to free himself from his entanglement.
“What bothers you at this late hour?” the boy’s father asked as he stepped through the doorway. “If you are afraid Zwarte Piet will come to punish you, you have no reason to worry.”
“It isn’t that, Father,” Nikolaas replied. “Strange visions haunt my dreams.”
“Tell me what you see,” the man said, “and, perhaps, your mind shall be put at ease.”
Nikolaas nodded and his father sat down on the edge of the bed.
There was silence for a few moments as the boy gathered his thoughts. Tears welled up in his soft blue eyes.
“I dream of war,” Nikolaas sobbed.
Reaching over to the chair that served as his son’s nightstand, the man picked up the boy’s handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “There is no war in New Netherland,” the man said, “and neither are there rumors of such.”
“I know that, Father,” Nikolaas said. “Even the Mohawks and Mahicans seem to have settled their differences, but when my eyes close, it is as though I am standing on the field of battle.”
His father thought for a moment, seeking the words that would ease his son’s troubled mind. When an idea struck him, he took his son’s hand in his own.
“Say a prayer to Sinterklass,” the man said. “Ask that he send you peace of mind.”
Saint Nicholas, Nikolaas thought. Surely he would help me. After all, I was named in honor of him.
When his father saw a measure of contentment come upon his son’s face, the man stood up. “After your prayer, I am certain you will find rest.” He helped his son straighten his blankets, then kissed him on the forehead. His father then turned and left.
Nikolaas closed his eyes and tried to picture the saint. In his mind, the man began to take form. As he spoke the man’s name, his own name, in the man’s rich baritone voice, was spoken in return. It was accompanied by a touch on his shoulder.
The boy opened his eyes, not really certain when he had fallen asleep and began to dream, or if this was even a dream at all. Before him stood the man he had seen in his mind.
Saint Nicholas stood at the foot of his bed, a gentle smile on his face. The man appeared to be in his sixties, yet his broad frame seemed to exude a youthful vigor. A beard of snowy white fell in rings upon his chest. He was dressed, not in the robes of a bishop as were befitting a bishop, but in a robe of the softest green velvet. White fur decorated its collar, cuffs, and hem, and a crown of holly rested on his brow. In his gloved hand, Saint Nicholas held a small sack of crimson velvet.
“For what reason have you called upon me?” he asked the boy. There was no harshness in his voice, only a childlike curiosity.
Nikolaas looked at the man, then rubbed his eyes. He half expected the man to be gone when he lowered his fists from his eyes, but the man still stood there, patiently awaiting an answer.
“Sinterklass,” Nikolaas began. “I cannot close my eyes without seeing visions of war.”
The patron saint of children looked down at the boy with compassion, knowing what he must be feeling. Moving from the foot of Nikolaas’ bed, the man lifted the things off of the chair and sat down. “And you hope that I can take away the fear that such dreams cause.”
Nikolaas thought for a moment. “I hope for no more war,” he said.
Saint Nicholas smiled, but it was a sad smile. “That is something I can not stop,” he said.
“Then, I must dream these dreams until I die,” Nikolaas replied, his head bowed in defeat.
“No,” Saint Nicholas said. “Only until you accept that some things must be.”
“I…I don’t understand,” the boy confessed. “Why must I accept something that brings nothing but evil?”
The man did not answer. Instead, he began to untie the silk rope that kept the top of his sack closed. Reaching in, he spoke. “I have a gift for you.”
So, Nikolaas thought, even Sinterklass is like other adults. He wants to give me distractions instead of answers.
When Saint Nicholas withdrew his hand he held a small figure carved out of wood. He looked at it for a moment, then handed it to his namesake.
Although it wore no uniform, Nikolaas knew he was holding a tiny soldier. Unlike the blunderbuss his father carried, the figure held a gun that was long and sleek. As he turned it over and over in his hands, the old man spoke.
“Years from now, men shall decide that they wish to govern themselves instead of living under the rule of a king thousands of miles away. They shall rise up in revolution and throw off the chains of tyranny; they shall fight for their independence. Men shall leave their farms and businesses to unite in a common cause – the cause of freedom.” As he finished talking, he handed Nikolaas another wooden figure.
The boy looked at it and knew that it, too, was a soldier. This one did wear a uniform, although it resembled no style of clothing he recognized. Saint Nicholas began to speak again.
“As this new nation grows, those who once ruled her will try to rule her once more. Again, men, both rich and poor, will come together to preserve the freedom they had already won.”
Another small wooden soldier was taken from the sack and handed to Nikolaas. It, too, wore a different uniform.
“New enemies shall arise and attempt to conquer this fledgling nation, but, as before, men from every station will join together as one and fight.”
Nikolaas looked at the old man’s hand as he removed it yet again from the velvet sack. This time, it held two wooden soldiers, locked together in combat. He looked up at the saint, knowing he would speak again.
“Unfortunately,” the man said, “this nation shall not always unite to defeat its enemies. There shall come a time when the nation divides and becomes its own enemy. Brother shall turn against brother, father shall turn against son, and families will be torn asunder. It will be a dark time for the nation.”
“Then, I was right,” Nikolaas said. “War will bring nothing but evil.”
Saint Nicholas looked at the boy. There was no hint of reprimand, only a look of reassurance. He continued to speak.
“True, there is evil in war,” he said, “but even in a war that does what this one shall, noble men with righteous ideas will rise up on both sides. It will be a hard thing, but the nation will survive. It will be a nation reunited.”
Another tiny soldier was handed to Nikolaas and the man continued to speak. “More wars shall come, and the nation will continue to grow.”
The soldier the boy now held was dressed very odd, from the strange boots that appeared to be wrapped in strips of cloth to the helmet that appeared to be little more than a bowl strapped to the figure’s head.
“There shall be a gathering of nations that make war on other nations, which is usually how such things go, yet this one will engulf the entire world. When all seems lost and this alliance of conquerors seem on the verge of victory, the young nation that so greatly desired freedom shall turn the tide and help bring about peace.”
Yet another wooden soldier appeared in Saint Nicholas’ hand and it, too, was passed to Nikolaas.
“And, again, the world shall come to the brink of annihilation, and the men of this nation shall rise up and help drive back the darkness.”
More wooden soldiers were produced and Saint Nicholas continued his revelation with each one. When he finally folded the sack and lay it on his lap, he looked at the young boy, knowing he still had questions.
Nikolaas looked at the array of soldiers spread about on his bed, then up at the saint. “I don’t understand what you are trying to tell me,” he said.
Saint Nicholas sighed. “Look at the faces of the wooden soldiers I have given you.”
Nikolaas did as he was told. As he examined each figure, he began to notice that they all wore the same face; it was a face he had seen in the reflection of his mother’s silverware.
“They are all me,” he said, his voice barely louder than a whisper.
“They are your descendants,” Saint Nicholas corrected him.
“Then, those who come after me will have to live the nightmares I see in my dreams each ni….”
“No,” the man interrupted him. “These men will be men of honor, men of duty. They will be men who rise up in the face of tyranny and bring hope to the downtrodden. These men, throughout the nation’s history, will be heroes.
“You have seen only a part of the future, the worst part, and you don’t understand why. No child should have to see such things, but know this, there is a purpose. You have been given a gift. Despite how horrible things will become, there is hope.”
“Hope,” Nikolaas whispered.
“Your mind is burdened by things no child should have to dwell on,” Saint Nicholas told him. “Let me bear your burdens.”
Saint Nicholas leaned down and kissed the boy’s forehead. “Sleep, now, and dream of more pleasant things.”
Nikolaas felt his eyes begin to close and, soon, visions of roast goose and krerststol filled his dreams. But more than that, he was filled with hope.