Alchemist's Gift

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Roland threw a few more small logs into the fire. Sofia worked the bellows. The logs caught and were quickly consumed. The bluish smoke drifted up, swirled above them, and rushed through the broken out window. The entire laboratory had a mellow amber glow from the fire. Even though it had rained most of the day and the chill of evening was upon them, the room was quite warm.

Sofia wiped the sweat off of her forehead with her kerchief. Roland rolled up his sleeves. They returned to the worktable. Sofia sat and studied her father’s notes. “Cadmium is the next symbol.”

Roland knelt before the Alchemist Cabinet. Roland counted off the number of scales that were between the symbol for cadmium and the codpiece. He sat back down.

Sofia dragged the stool she was sitting on over to a tall storage case and stood on it to reach a stoneware crock. She returned to the table and handed it to Roland. He carefully measured out ten tiny scoops and added it to a mortar that already had six parts sulfur and four parts arsenic in it. He mixed the ingredients together.

“What does this make the tenth time we tried it?”

Sofia looked at her notes. “No, this is the eleventh. There are twenty steps.”

“So many,” mused Roland.

Sofia went to the long work table to the glass distiller she had so carefully set up, and poured the distillation through a small glass funnel into a flask. She brought the flask back to the table and put it next to the mortar. Meanwhile, Roland filled an ingot mold with molten lead. He carefully set the mold on a little board, and carried it to the table and set it down.

He sprinkled the gritty mixture from the mortar onto the still-fluid lead. The mixture must be added in three steps, first in a clockwise circle and then in a counter clockwise circle, and then in the sign of the cross, representing the four cardinal points and also the four elements; and all the while, Roland needed to recite an incantation they had found in the workbook.

As he followed the steps, Sofia was to pour four drops from the flask into the lead. The lead absorbed the mixture, and the four drops from the flask hissed into steam, but the lead did not change.

Roland tossed the book onto the table. His impatience got the better of him.

“What are we missing? We have tried every combination. We have to get this done. I made an oath to Rosanera.”

Sofia winced when she heard Rosanera’s name, but she was proud of Roland for keeping his word. She plucked up her courage and followed her father’s advice. “There is one more thing that we may need to add.” She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out the small blue glass bottle that Rene had collected her tears in. The lead had not yet solidified. Sofia poured one drop from the bottle onto the lead. The one drop turned to a vapor that hovered above the mold and slowly absorbed into the metal. The lead was now gold.

“Look, look, we did it! We did it.” Roland picked up Sofia and gave her a hug.

Sofia was a little less celebratory. “Yes, it is done.”

Roland could not stop smiling. He put Sofia back down and sat on the stool. He invited her to sit on his knee. She declined. He was still so excited that he did not bother to question her reluctance to share in the moment. He could not take his eyes off the ingot. Finally, he looked up at Sofia. “Tell me, what was in the bottle?”

“Something Pater has collected over his lifetime.”

“Well, what is it?”

“The tears of nineteen virgins who have lost their hearts to someone who did not return their love.” She held her clasped hands together in front of her as she spoke.

Roland’s jubilation waned when he finally noticed Sofia’s uneasy look. “Do you know any of these girls?”

“One, I know quite well.”

“I see. Come to me, Sofia.” He stood and waited.

She entered his open arms. The embrace was gentle and warm and loving. They stood there quietly with their eyes closed. They listened to the coals crackle in the open hearth and each other breathe. They felt each other’s heartbeat.

“Sofia,” he whispered.

“Yes,” she whispered back.

“Have we not found each other? I am not going anywhere.” He put his cheek against hers for a moment before they dropped the embrace.

The transmuting continued until midnight. They turned pile of scrap lead into twenty-six solid gold ingots. They stopped when the flask was empty. Roland and Sofia held hands and leaned against each other and surveyed the fortune on the table before them. They slid down the wall and collapsed into each other’s arms and fell asleep.

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