“Ah! Here we go,” he said. One of the scraps stuck to his lip; two more fluttered to the ground. He stooped again to pick them up, then held one out at arms length, squinting at it.

“Alum,” he read, pausing to remove the scrap from his lip. “Black vitriol, live lime, and borates. No, that can’t be right. Didn’t I get borates in Verdun?” He scratched his chin again, then stuffed that scrap back into his purse. Gigot started walking again, and Gaspard followed, shuffling through the remaining couple of scraps in his hands.

“Yes, here we go. Hair cloth. I know I needed hair cloth. And some new iron molds. And phials. That goes without saying, of course.” He looked up at me. “And of course the relic market. Liege is an excellent market for relics.”

He was now moving at speed, and I took up position beside him once more. He had a surprisingly long stride. “Relics?”

He stopped again. “You aren’t a officer of the church, are you?”

“Me?”

“No, no, of course you aren’t.” He started walking once more. “Liege was once a great center of learning, you know. Well, it still is, I suppose, but it has fallen behind Paris and the other universities. It has never actually had an university, per se.” He said that last bit like it was an obscure but amazing bit of trivia. Like “bulls can’t actually see the color red; they just hate capes.”

“Really?” I asked. Hey, it was better than thinking about dead people.

“It’s true. But it is nonetheless an excellent source for instruments and materials of philosophy.”

“And relics.”

“Oh, yes, and relics. Though I suppose that has more to do with the churches.”

That would make sense. I guess.

“Why the interest in relics? What do they have to do with—um—philosophy?”

“Well, Rhazes speaks very little about the intervention of the divine on transmutation—but then, you would know that, of course. I suppose that’s to be expected; he was a heathen.” He paused, and for a second we walked in silence. Then he went on: “I’ve often thought it interesting that so much of note has come from the heathen philosophers. Not that they are all in agreement, of course: Rhazes himself demonstrated that the four elements of the Greeks are a misconception. Though few scholars fully accept his thinking on this topic. His medicine, yes, of course. . .” He went on for quite some time; I think he was rather into this Rhazes dude. Eventually, he trailed off.

And then he said, “But we were talking about relics.”

“Right,” I replied. “Relics.”

“I have rather an amazing one. Its effects on transmutation, especially the nigredo, have been, well, quite eye-opening. Would you like to see it?”

“You brought it with you?”

He hesitated. “I don’t usually leave it . . .” he muttered.

“In your pocket?” I suggested. He glanced down.

“I don’t think it would fit. Perhaps the mule.” The mule was just wandering by; apparently we again weren’t keeping up the pace. Gaspard started rummaging through the baggage as he walked.

“Wait,” said Gigot, halting. The mule stopped as well, flicking a nervous ear at Gaspard.

“Perhaps we should stop for a rest,” Michel said. He was a good twenty paces ahead. “Before we reach that village.”

We were well into the fields now; in another ten minutes we’d reach the village. I don’t think Michel wanted to spend any more time there than we needed to, and after my conversation with Madeleine, neither did I.

I picked out a spot along the bank that didn’t look too damp and sat down, arranging my cloak to let as little moisture soak through to my bottom as possible. Gigot started digging around on the far side of the mule as Gaspard seemed to find what he was looking for.

“Here it is!”

He brought it over and sat down next to me.

In his hand he had a box, about the size of a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. The deluxe kind, with the goop instead of the powder. Only this box was made of wood, with elaborate metal trim. He handed it to me.

It was heavier than I expected, despite being just a bit smaller than my initial impression. The surface was engraved or inlaid or whatever with dense patterns that formed octagons and eight-sided stars. The corners and edges were made of brass or something, and there was a latch made of the same metal. It looked like something one of my gaming buddies might have kept his D&D dice in, only quite a bit more expensive.

“It’s—” I started to say Middle Eastern. “It’s from the Levant?”

“Oh, yes!” Gaspard responded with a nod. “Open it!”

I lifted the lid. The walls of the box were thick, so the space inside was considerably smaller than one would guess. Inside, something about the size of a shot glass was wrapped in dirty, stained fabric.

Michel had wandered up to us. He leaned over to watch.

“What is it?” I asked.

Yeah, yeah, it’s Wednesday. The Black Death is currently sweeping through the Ryan household, though, with severe cases of the flu affecting every family member. I have staggered from my deathbed to bring you this week’s chapter. By way of recompense for your inconvenience, however, I include the extra-long cut-scene above (really, I’m just too bushed to edit it) and a new deluxe omnibus edition of the first 10 chapters, gathered together.

Click through for PDF.

A fine collector’s piece for those of you who have been reading along, and a great place to start for those of you who haven’t!

This isn’t the most action-packed chapter, but you’ll see some significant elements of the main plot showing themselves, along with the introduction or blossoming of a couple of important sub-plots. Along with all the humor, wit, and insight that is simply de rigueur in this fine literary work.

As always, comments craved. Click below. And if you’d like to keep up with where I’m currently at on this literary travail, visit me on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I talk about the writing process as I go along (currently on Chapter 25). Couldn’t hurt to toss me a Like while you’re there. . . .

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

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