A New World: Myths

First: A New World
Previous: Carrenonna


“That is… a very good question.  But I suppose the answer lies in the fact that Kaelingrade is said to have disappeared, isn’t she?  Whereas Carrenonna-”  She trailed off, hoping someone knew.

“Kaelingrade vanished without a trace, tower and all, in a cold spring one day during the Aterpian Wars,” read the father. “What are – oh, those were some of the wars before we landed, weren’t they?  Skirmishes?”

Kael raised her eyebrows at the man. “Skirmishes?  You are talking about battles when thousands on thousands of people died.”

“But they didn’t have real technology here, did they?  Before we, I mean, before colonists came.  That was a long time ago, but I know there wasn’t anything like modern warfare.”

“Oh, come on, Dad.”  The older daughter rolled her eyes.  “Just because we can drop bombs and blow up entire cities now doesn’t mean that we’re superior or something.  And besides, they had magic back then, real magic, didn’t they?”

“Aria, what did we say about-”

“Actually, she’s right, according to the booklet.”  The father sounded as surprised as the mother looked that he had cut her off.  “They did great deeds with magic back in the day, “before the towers vanished across the land, ushering in an age of misery followed by an age of innovation.”

“Bah, that’s just one of those creation myths.”  The mother dismissed it with a wave of the hand. “Magic is just good for little things.  It doesn’t make the world go or anything ridiculous.  And it never did, people just thought more things were magic back in the day.”

The younger daughter was feeling mulish.  “But even if there was just advanced science, they still did great deeds, then!”

“Exaggerated by-”

“Excuse me?” Kael had had enough.  And she was supposed to be the arrogant potions-mistress, after all.  “I do apologize, but are you saying that I did nothing to help this land?”

It was easy enough to pretend to be angry about that.  She wasn’t actually angry, because she’d done most of it very low-key, seeking not to be asked for more help than she wanted to give.  

“Well, I mean, it wasn’t you… and you’re just a myth anyway!”

“The nerve of some people!” Kael huffed.  “Now go away.  I need to finish this potion.”  She turned back to the cauldron, her back nearly to the family.  Nearly.

“But she was going to show us bottling.  You ruined it, Mom!” complained the youngest.  “You ruin everything.  Why couldn’t you just agree that she helped the country?”

“Because she’s a myth.  This place is supposed to be educational!  You should learn that those ancient myths mean nothing!”

“You.”  Kael pointed at the youngest.  “What’s your name?”

“Mayu.”  The girl looked nervous.  “I’m sorry.  Please don’t take my mom seriously. She’s just like that.”

“Come here, stand just on this side of the line.  I will tell you about bottling – but just you.  And your father,” Kael added, mostly because he had been so helpful.  “But only you two.”

“Oh, really.”  The mother scoffed. “Because they’re so gullible they’ll believe anything you sell them, right?”

“Mo-o-om.”  The daughter hurried over to the place Kael had indicated, dragging her father along.

“Now.  The thing with potions is that one, you need the best and freshest ingredients.  If you don’t have a – a farmer? -” she hazarded “-that you can trust, it’s best to have your own garden.  If you live in a city, a pot on a windowsill will do for some things.  And you need to be careful with timing, and with bottling.  Your bottle has to be perfectly clean.”  She pulled the bottle out of the boiling water pot that someone had helpfully provided.  “And having it warm helps.  Having good glass helps more, because cheap or poorly-made glass will shatter.  That – that is no fun.”  She held the bottle with her tongs and carefully slid the dipper into the potion.  “Things to remember.  Your cauldrons and your dippers need to be of non-reactive metal or ceramics, because the wrong metal will react with many potion reagents.  You don’t want to drip.  Some of these things will react even with your floor.  Or burn a hole in your carpet, and that’s no fun.”  She tapped her foot on the stone floor. “Stone is best.  Mountain-glass stone is the absolute best, but hard to get for floors.”

“How do you know all this?” asked the father, while Kael poured slowly and carefully into her favorite style of flask.

“Well,” she answered slowly, “I am, after all, an alchemist and potion-master.  There are any number of things that can go wrong, and many of them every student has to learn the hard way.  The best teachers, however, seek to teach by a more indirect example.  So I can tell this one here that she needs perfectly clean glass, but I could also, when my hands are free, show her in my storeroom, perhaps, if I have an example of what happens with not-clean glass.  You can see along my cheek where a bottle shattered when I was not paying sufficient attention-”

“That’s good make-up,” hissed the mother.  “It even looks like it burned and splattered.”

Kael resisted the urge to lift her hand to the cheek.  The scar had been very old when she had fallen asleep, but she had referenced it without thinking.  It was still there, then, after all that time.  Of course, if a thousand years had passed for her, there would be nothing left of her to hold a scar, would there.  “It did.  It was quite painful.  That’s a lesson you don’t want to learn the hard way.  So:  good glass, very very clean glass, test it in boiling water in such a way that you are not standing above the water when it hits.  Then, at worst, you have a pot of boiling water and shards of glass to pour on any enemies that happen by.  And if your water is strange – colored or manky – boil it, cool it, filter it, and then boil it again. Do you understand?”

The girl was wide-eyed.  “Did Kael – did you really get a scar?  From a shattered bottle?”

“I did.  The bottle was holding a very volatile concoction, or it had begun to be filled with such, at least, when it shattered, and the potion as well as the glass splattered on me.  There are further scares here.”  She touched her neckline, where the provided robe did not hide the scars the way that her own robes would.  “There are some alchemists who hold that these marks are signs of shame and some that hold that they are signs of pride.”

“What do you think?”

If this was her own time, Kael would be stealing this child to be an apprentice.  She would have to discover if such a thing were still possible in this strange era in which she’d ended up.  Surely there was something with which she could compensate the parents – perhaps a potion of silence so that the father could slip it to the mother, when he wanted some peace?  Or a potion of thinking-twice for the mother, or of strength of will for the father, or possibly, the way people had always wanted in her day, something for strong crops and a high price at market. She had gotten some of her best apprentices for less than that.

This one was contemplating Kael, and Kael found herself smiling.  “I think they’re a mark of something learned.  It was a mistake, but the fact that it was a mistake I made only once shows that I learned from it — and shows in my scars.”

“What about this one?”  The older daughter reached out, stopping short of Kael’s wrist.

Kael tucked her arms into her robe sleeves before she could stop herself and forced herself to stand up straight.  “That. That was where I learned that people who come to you for help will not always stop with the help you are willing to give.”

The older daughter’s eyes lingered on the sleeve Kael had tucked over her wrists, and nodded. “They do that.”

“Janae!” Her mother scolded.  “What an uncharitable way to talk about people!”

The girl looked at her mother.  “Deborah.”  It had to be a name, the way she said it.  Not just a name but an entire explanation or reminder in that name.

Her mother quailed backwards.  “Well, she was a bad seed.  Is a bad seed.  She just is.  You’re definitely better off without that one.”

“How uncharitable,” her younger daughter pointed out dryly.  “At least wish her to the bottom of the sea.  Don’t be parsimonious, Mother.”

They were clearly going somewhere that Kael had no path to follow. She turned back to her potion, making sure that it was all poured and capping the bottle with cork and wax.

She smelled the candle first.  It was a good, proper candle, made from bees-wax.  WIth the sham this place was, she’d half expected tallow, or some modern fake.  But it was real, and what’s more, she could smell the herbs in it.  These smelled like home.  They smelled like — “ah.” She smirked.  None of the family noticed her. They were still discussing Deborah, whoever she was, and whether she ought to be drowned, burned alive, or just ignored.

The candles smelled like lavender and red thera, like Smooth-the-Path and her favorite potion, this belongs here.  Someone had been doing proper potions work in her lab.  Someone who knew recipes she had never written down, recipes that could turn into something very bad if you guessed and guessed wrong.

“Thanks,” the younger daughter cut into her thoughts.  “We’re going now.  But thanks for showing us a potion. A real potion.”

“Thanks for talking to us,” added the older daughter.  Something serious in her eyes made Kael wonder again about this Deborah.

“Thank you.”  The father seemed far more grateful than anything she’d done deserved — at least, as long as they had no idea how valuable her time had once been and how dear it would have cost an explorer or a hero to talk to her for that long.

Kael counted to fifty twice, until the sounds of the family were long gone, before she uncorked the potion she has just gone to all the work of bottling and measured out a careful draught.

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2 thoughts on “A New World: Myths

  1. Kael never did get an answer to what happened to Carrenonna, though the mention of all the towers vanishing may be the best she’s going to get. I wonder if her potion will give her an understanding of the Internet good enough to drive a computer. Otherwise, she’s going to have go with descriptions of the older daughter’s tablet.

    And speaking of the older daughter, what had she done — or what hadn’t she done — that kept Kael from inviting her over to watch the bottling process? Mom I can understand. Or I fear I’ve managed to mix up the daughters in my head.

    All the towers vanished, presumably taking magic with them. Or magic vanished and took out all the magic users, but that wouldn’t explain why Kael could come back and why her potions still work. Or is magic now back, and Kael is the only one who removed her tower from the world?

    Mountain-glass stone: obsidian, most likely. Mica as an outside guess. If obsidian is the best glass she had at the time, she’ll probably be thrilled once she finds out about things like borosilicate glass, stainless steel, and other advances in materials science.

    I like how Kael treats her scars. Also, she’s thinking about apprentices, but this whole stealing children business isn’t going to go over well. She’ll have to find another way. Anything I can think of offhand will want access to the tower’s lab, which in turn will involve the cooperation of Mr. Vibius. That alone will take some doing. Though perhaps if there’s a nearby community college — and she understands such things — she can borrow a chemistry classroom, or possibly a kitchen, to teach in.

    If the herbs in the candle still have a smell, the candle has to be pretty fresh. How much of this tower is Kael’s own, and how much is the nominal replica, and how much of Kael’s own tower was preserved with her?

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