Part the Two Hundred Fortieth: The Alchemist’s Tale
“Do you not like the fish stew, Mister Jukes?” Hope asked.
“Pardon me?” he replied.
“I noticed that you have been staring at your dinner for some time since you were served. You’ve barely had any while everyone has had a bowl, some having had a second-”
“S’éloigner de la route, la vache!” cried de Flanders.
“Allez l’enfer de suite, vous cochon!” replied Charity
“Or third by now,” Hope rolled her eyes. “Which I find rather curious, considering how much help you provided preparing this dish. Not to mention every now and then hearing you chant ‘nigredo albedo’ over the ingredients.”
“Ah, forgive me. I can assure you that I did not poison or enchant the meal.”
Hope watched as Jukes’ eyes widened with every bulge her throat made to expel the stew.
“No, no, no, it’s just a stew,” he replied. “You watched me put the ingredients in myself, remember?”
She swallowed and took a few breaths. “When you said ‘poison or enchant,’ I just- You did say ‘enchant,’ didn’t you?”
“Ah, yes. That’s a holdover from my time with Master Starkey, who sometimes claimed to be ‘in a Paracelsian mood’ and would use some of the older methods, though I think he was just being humorous.”
“I… Please, start at the beginning. Assume I know nothing, which is indeed the case here.”
“Well, when I left County Wexford, my father presumed I would take his letter of introduction to fellow priests he corresponded with in London to follow his plan, becoming a deacon and then return to Ireland to carry on God work there. Being a wanton youth, I never did present the letter, after the distractions of the city drew my attentions.
“Among those I was reckless with was Tom Goody, who was in the employ of George Starkey, my first master. He was a good man, and a great healer, and not one to shy away from taking risks to get to the root of a problem. In fact, when I met Goody, he was scouring the lower depths of London looking for souls whose humours were out of balance whom Master Starkey hoped he could correct with new formulae on which he had been working.
“Well, I took Goody’s coin to help him find a few of the desired folks, and then helped lead them back to Master Starkey’s. But when I got there I couldn’t stop looking over the bellows, bowls and balances in the work area. I’d never been to an alchemist before, and everything was so exotic and wondrous, the way the equipment was laid out on the workbenches with charts and books at hand.
“I don’t know how long it had been between when Master Starkey caught me in his laboratory and when he let me know he was there, but I thought right then that he had something brewed to turn me into a newt for having been in there unaccompanied-”
“Wait, wait,” Hope interrupted with raised hand. “Did you just walk in to his sanctum unannounced?”
“My curiosity had the better of me. That, and the wine I’d been drinking all night before accompanying Goody on his errands clouded my judgment.
“I had thought then, my first visit to an alchemist would be my last mistake…”
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