Alchemist's Gift

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The black stallion threw its head to one side and reared high against the lavender sky when the boy quickly passed in front of it with the torch. Lady Rosanera tightened her legs against the horse’s sides, gripped the red leather reins, and pulled the horse back down. The horse’s red lacquered hooves narrowly missed the boy’s head. “There, there, Enzo, calm yourself.” She patted her steed on the side of its neck. “There, there, my love, be calm,” she whispered. The horse settled down as its mistress relaxed back into the red leather saddle. “You, boy, do that again, and you will be whipped.” The boy cringed at the thought of feeling the sting of her riding crop on his naked backsides again and went about his task of readying the supplies for the other members of Lady Rosanera’s party.

Dawn’s warmth and light were just reaching the rear of the stables at Adler Kralle castle where Lady Rosanera and her mounted company waited for Clotilda, the servant girl. Catharina was Rosanera’s second cousin. Catharina was tall and serious, judgmental, pious and aloof. Her black, straight hair was pulled tight and hidden under a dark headdress that came to a peak at the forehead and covered the sides of her face and ears. Her wardrobe befitted her courtier status, but Catharina wore dull browns and inky blues.

Cecilia was as true a friend as a foil. Cecilia was nine years older than Rosanera. She was widowed and wise and asked to court because she was kind and generous, honest and always smiling or on the verge of laughter. Her pale oval face was surrounded by ringlets of red hair. Her features, both in face and body, were regular and pleasing. Her riding habit was rust-colored, her blouse shiny gold with a frilled front. Her gloves and boots were tan.

The boy put his torch in a wall sconce, picked up the bundled clothes, and tied them fast behind Cecilia’s saddle. He then went to Catharina with her medicine bags and did the same.

Lady Rosanera’s two gentleman escorts were her second cousins Luis and Angelo. Both were foppish and effeminate. Angelo was tall and muscular and even though he had sad eyes he was almost always in a good humor. His brown hair hung in springy curls out from under the oversized beret he wore. His face was smooth and boyish. His doublet was striped in blue and white, and his britches were dark, mid-calf, and loose. He wore high boots with the cuffs turned down. Angelo came from her father’s side of the family.

Luis, a Spaniard, came from Rosanera’s mother’s side. Luis wore a pointed goatee. That, along with his bald head, made a long caricature of his face. He was short and thin with a dark, pocked complexion. Luis dressed in dark clothing, and he always wore a red sash and scarf.

The boy tugged the reins of a pack that had two large baskets tied together at the handles and draped over its back. The baskets were filled with loaves of bread, dried meat, and chunks of cheese. He handed Luis the reins. Luis patted the boy on the head as one might a pet. The boy beamed. Luis fetched a copper coin out of a little pocket in his waistband and tossed it to the boy.

Rosanera called out, “You, boy, tell Clotilda to hurry.”

The boy ran off and returned less than a minute later, walking in front of Clotilda, who carried five military cloaks over her arms. Each in the group donned a cloak as a disguise. It was common knowledge that Rosanera had left the confines of the castle against the Duke Gunter’s orders.

“Listen, my loves, we visit the orphanage first and then the hospital. Remember, anyone we meet along the way… give them whatever they ask for. Except for you, Cecilia; the clothes are for the orphans.”

Luis cleared his throat. “Dear cousin, must we stop for them? They stink so badly. They are so poor and filthy. Not a pretty girl amongst them.” His lips shriveled in disgust.

Cecilia spoke up with a wry smile on her lips. “Pretty girls should not concern you, Luis. Now, a pretty boy… that is another thing altogether.”

Everyone in the party broke into laughter except Catharina. She frowned, and everyone, including Luis, resignedly waited for the moral point she was about to make.

Catharina shook her head and gave Luis a disappointed look. “The devil has made Luis the way he is. We should pray for his immortal soul, not make light of his depravity.”

Angelo hoped to defuse the moment with his his own kind of humor. “You would make a great prioress.”

It was Cecilia’s turn. “The convent will not take her. They say she is much too serious and pious, even for them.”

Everyone had a chuckle at Catharina’s expense. She sat straighter in her saddle, looked off to the side, and held her nose up a little higher than usual.

“Come, my pets. Let us away.” The five rode into the dawning light of this new day and on the road to Adler Lager.

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