Interview with the Alchemist: Edward Kelley
As I was wandering through one of the less reputable quarters of old Prague a couple of centuries ago, I happened to catch sight of a familiar figure. It was the robed, long-haired alchemist Edward Kelley, who had just exited a secretive-looking shop in a shabby little back alley. A rickety wooden sign was swinging creakily above the shop’s door, displaying a weather-worn picture of a mortar and pestle – the symbol of the apothecary’s trade.
Kelley cast an occasional furtive glance over his shoulder as he made his way back toward Prague Castle. A large wicker basket dangled from his left hand, swinging like a pendulum.
I called out to him, but this only caused him to hasten his step. It was apparent that he was in the midst of some important errand. Desiring a brief interview, I finally took it upon myself to run up to him.
Luckily, the alchemist was in a good mood, or I do not believe that he would have stopped to talk with me. The following is a transcript of the exchange that ensued between us, in which I managed to touch on important issues of all sorts:
JLB (panting): Good afternoon. Do I have the pleasure of addressing Magister Edward Kelley, the world-renowned alchemist?
EK (frowns): Excuse me. Do I know you?
JLB: Please allow me to introduce myself. I am J.L. Burger, a Teller of Tales from a faraway land. Could you spare a moment to talk to me about your work?
EK (sneering): You shall have none of my secrets, spy. Why would I even give the time of day to a peasant such as you?
JLB: It is true that I am merely a poor storyteller, but many of the wealthy nobles in my land would be interested in learning of your craft. If I can spread the word, there will be great demand for your services.
EK: Demand for my services, eh? Well, I suppose it can’t hurt to talk to you if it can make me some money. But don’t expect me to divulge any of my secrets – I’m no fool!
(At this juncture, good fortune was on my side. I was able to convince my new friend to join me for a drink at a nearby alehouse -- as long as I paid for it, that is! Tankards in hand, we settled in at a scarred wooden table to continue our conversation.)
EK: So… what is it that you’d like to know?
JLB: Well, for starters, can you tell me what it’s like to be one of the world’s foremost alchemists?
EK: It’s not easy being a great alchemist, you know. I have kings and queens constantly besieging me with requests to make gold for them. Generals and military leaders seeking explosives and solvents. Dukes and duchesses begging for elixirs to heal their ailments. I suppose there can be no rest for the weary…
JLB: It sounds very challenging. How did you become an alchemist? There must have been years of study involved.
EK: Well, actually, no, I never studied. I never had to. In fact, I like to believe that I was chosen to be an alchemist.
JLB: What do you mean?
EK: For most of my life, I was just an ordinary clerk. But one day, several years ago, something quite unbelievable happened. I was traveling through Somerset on a routine business matter, when an impenetrably thick fog fell over the road on which I was riding. My horse and I were driven astray, and I soon found myself wandering across the moors, with absolutely no idea where I was.
|Ruins at Glastonbury|
Just as I was beginning to give up hope, I arrived at the towering ruins of some long-lost, abandoned abbey. It was quite unsettling at first, being all alone among these massive white buildings, leering at me out of the fog like giant skulls. But it seemed like a reasonable place to seek shelter, for night was falling rapidly. As I began to unburden my horse, I glimpsed a strange light, flickering deep in the mist. I followed it. It led to a small burrow, a cave that looked to be a perfect sheltering spot for the night.
But it was not just shelter that I found in that cave. Tucked inside a small alcove were an ancient, leather-bound book and a small, golden box containing a minute quantity of reddish powder. The book turned out to be the only existing copy of a great alchemical text, The Book of Dunstan, which I read thoroughly. It changed my life.
JLB: What about the red powder?
EK (produces a small vial of red liquid from inside the depths of his robe): Here you see my famed Red Tincture. This is the substance that I use to create gold. The powder that I found in Glastonbury Abbey is the main ingredient to this tincture. It is that powder, together with the knowledge of Saint Dunstan, that inspired me to take up alchemy. I believe that fate must have led me to that cave.
JLB: That’s a fascinating story. Can I take a closer look at your Red Tincture?
EK: No! A thing of such value would be dangerous in the hands of a commoner such as you. This vial never leaves my possession!
(vial disappears back into the folds of his robe)
JLB: That’s a neat trick. Do you keep any other useful things stored inside your robes?
EK: Of course. An alchemist should never be without his tools of the trade. I can’t reveal everything to you, of course, but here are some of the things that I always keep at hand:
(Kelley’s hand disappears into his robe and reappears holding a small canister of crushed leaves)
JLB: Is this a powdered herb of some kind?
EK: Yes. I have several herbs in my possession at all times. In fact, I was just on my way home from the apothecary’s shoppe when you stopped me. This particular herb is Monkshood.
JLB: What is Monkshood for?
EK: It’s, uh… medicinal.
JLB: I thought it was poisonous. Can’t it also be used as a poison?
EK: Perhaps… (smiles mysteriously as the herb glides out of sight into his sleeve, to be replaced by a small bottle)
JLB: That little bottle looks like it contains some kind of potion.
EK: Yes. I carry all sorts of useful potions with me, including my Red Tincture, of course. This particular one is a potion of flatulence. Distilled from lentils, naturally.
JLB: A fart potion? What could you possibly need that for?
EK: One never knows. Just to be safe. What if, for example, we had been unable to find a free table at this establishment? In such a circumstance, I have often found the flatulence potion quite useful.
JLB: Okay, point well taken.
(Kelley’s hand disappears again and reappears clutching a small drawstring pouch that he opens to reveal a golden glow. This attracts the attention of some unsavory-looking tavern guests, so Kelley quickly shuts the pouch and retracts it back into his sleeve.)
JLB: Hmm, that little pouch was full of gold coins. I guess you’re doing quite well for yourself!
EK: It’s not actually full of gold coins. You take a bag full of coppers, but place a gold ducat or two at the top. That way it looks like it’s full of gold. It makes a good impression, you know.
JLB: That’s interesting. That actually reminds me of one question I’ve always wanted to ask. If you’re really able to create gold from lead, why don’t you just make a pile of gold for yourself? Why do you waste time selling your services to kings and noblemen? You could make yourself richer than all of them. Unless you aren’t really able to make gold…
EK: Hmm… That’s a very good question…
(Kelley looks at the ceiling, whistles and drums his fingers on the table for a moment)
Excellent! Now, what’s your next question?
JLB: Um, okay… Some people say that alchemists are just fakers, using secret tricks to fool people into believing that they can perform magical tasks. What do you say to that? What are your secrets?
EK: (smiles charmingly) My dear friend, we alchemists have no secrets. Many people are jealous, which is why they make up these slanderous lies about us. But everything that you see from me is genuine. My elixirs, spells and transmutations are the result of years of careful study and experimentation. That’s all.
JLB: I’m a bit surprised to hear that, I was actually just thinking of writing a book about you. I was going to call it Secrets of the Alchemist.
EK: That’s too bad. Looks like you’ll need to find a new title for your book.
With these words, the alchemist rose from his seat, swirled his robes around him and disappeared into thin air. Or at least, out the door…
Title: Secrets of the Alchemist
Author: J.L. Burger
Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy Adventure
Length: 391 pages
Release Date: April 2014
Imprint: Mythos Press
SYNOPSIS: What are Nora and Tomik to do? They’ve been transported 400 years back in history, and have no clue how to get back home. The members of the Royal Court refuse to let them leave – everyone believes that the children are wizards, come to save their struggling empire.
Well, not quite everyone. The wicked chamberlain wants to toss the children into the castle’s deepest dungeon. The crazed, witch-hunting duke is starting to look at them funny. But worst of all is the emperor’s prized alchemist. He just wants them dead – and has a bag full of sinister tricks to make it happen.
It looks like the only way out of this predicament is to save the empire, after all. But how? Nora will have to come up with some magic of her own, and fast – for his next trick, the scheming alchemist is planning to make the children disappear… forever!
MEET THE AUTHOR
It was at an early age that J.L. Burger discovered the secret to traveling in time. Since then, he has scoured the universe, searching for the deepest mystical knowledge, sowing discord and trouble along the way. He was most recently sighted in ancient Troy, making tasteless jokes about the hole through which the Greeks exited the rear of the Trojan Horse. His most horrific stunt of all, however, was grossly overcooking s’mores in his microwave last summer. Unfortunately, there are some mysteries that are not meant to be solved…
When not traveling in time and space, he resides in New Jersey with his lovely wife, two mostly-charming daughters, and two mostly-smelly dogs. He spends his summers in Europe, inspecting the most recent advances in medieval torture devices.