Through the crack in the door, I can see my Master at his work. Strange smelling brews drip into glass bottles. Every so often he tends the little fire he has made below the bottle, and he examines with an eyeglass, a magnifying lens he has told me, the contents of the bottle.
Suddenly, a crack sounds, the bottle spills its contents into the fire and puts it out.
"Duffin!" he cries, "Duffin, where are you, you idler, you waster of time and energy."
"Here, Master" I cry from my bolt hole, and then rush forwards with cloths, and a pail of water.
"Take care not to get this substance on your hands" he warns, "Use much water to wash it away, and test it with a little rag to see if it will burn."
"A liquid that burns?" says I.
"There are many that burn, and they are called humours, you must take note Lad. And do not let this liquid touch iron, for it will fizz and crackle and scald."
"Well I never," says
"Keep your wits about you, Lad, and keep this all to yourself." He drew his finger across his mouth and held his finger up in front of him. It was both a warning to keep silent, and a threat. A very gentle one mind, not like a clout across the ear or a boot up the backside. That was about as far as my Master went. As far as he needed to, for I was in truth both terrified of his powers, and in awe of this kind and gentle old man. Old, but I don't really know how old, for he has looked exactly the same this past twelve years that I have served him. Gentle, for that is what he is. In all the time I have known him, he has taken the time and trouble to explain his doings, and me a half-wit! But he has kindly tried to show me that the Alchemy that he practices is naught but natural law, but I do fear that if certain priests were to apprehend him in the course of his experiments, then he would have to do some fast talking.
That being said, my Master does have friends in high places. There are many nights when Sir Jeffrey this and Sir Harry that make a call, and I have even seen certain high ups in the Church make their secret ways up and down the back stairs. There was once even a lady. A very distinguished Lady by her dress, who came to call. My Master is tall, but she was taller, and pale, oh so pale that it made me shiver. It was the only time that my Master has called me from my bolt hole, in the cupboard by the fire, and asked me, asked me mind to leave the room and wait outside.
I was not supposed to listen, I know, but of course I caught a sentence or two.
"My Lord Cabraham," she said. I had not heard him called thus before. People usually called him Nicodemus the Sage, or Master Nicodemus. "My Lord, I have a great boon to ask of you, and I have little to offer in return."
"You are the daughter of my sister, I take no payment from my family. Pray ask what you will, and if is at all within my power I will comply" he replied.
The words got quieter then and I could hear little else, but what I did appeared to be in a strange language, not Latin, or Greek for I know a little of them. No, this language had shrieks and whistles, almost birdlike, but not unlovely. I heard the phrase, "Sometimes these magics do not work on this plane," then I heard the door close. Later I let myself back into the room. I dare not question my Master for I did not want him to know I had been listening.
In the next few weeks he arose very early, and I of course with him. He constructed what appeared to be a great square bath; easily large enough to immerse a man, and then spent many days filling it with I know not what mixtures. He occasionally consulted one of the very large books that were on the very top shelf of his laboratory, as he called it. He read, committed to memory and returned the book, almost as if the book would suffer if it were out of place. Those books were too heavy for me to lift by myself, I know because I tried one day and it was as if they were stuck like glue to the shelf. My Master though, he handled them as if they were feathers. It is all very strange to me.
He said that we were constructing a portal, a gateway to the heavens. I know of but one heaven, but I know that my Master is extremely wise and knows many things that others do not, so I kept mum and did what he asked. After a few days the contents of the bath seemed to turn into a jelly. My Master would spend many hours testing the surface and adding smaller and smaller amounts into the mixture. He would then stir very, very slowly and test again. He said that he was tuning it, much as one would tune a mandolin. I am familiar with that, as I have played upon the mandolin since I was given one by my Master five years ago. He taught me to play a simple tune, and chuckled as I jumped and shouted after I had made my first piece of music. How I love that mandolin!
When the jelly was tuned, and he was happy, he blew into it, emitting a bird cry and the surface folded inwards like a giant bubble. He called again into the bubble, this time a series of sounds. There came back not my Masters' sounds but answering sounds all beautiful as the night my Master met the pale young woman.
Two weeks later, it was a very cold winter's night, and the stars shone like diamonds in a black velvet sky, the pale lady appeared again. She came as before, but dressed so like a queen in all her coronation glory. She removed her cape and her body seemed to glow from within. On her forehead the skin glowed like gold and a single eye seemed to be in the centre, with an iris of emerald.
The Master kissed her lightly on the lips then led her gently to the portal. He blew on it, and a hand lifted through the surface. She stepped over the edge and into the portal. She took the hand that waited, and then she sang with the strange tongue that I had heard them speak, before as she slowly descended into the pool, and was gone.
For some reason I was crying. I think it was her beauty, and the loss from this world of such beauty. Master Nicodemus took me by the shoulder, and said,
"You know, young Duffin, you may have all the world can offer you, but unless your heart is settled, then you will always want more. My niece there, oh yes, I know you know who she is, she could have had any husband in this world, but her heart lies in another. I grieve for I will never see her again. She cannot come back, and I cannot leave, for I am destined to guard this portal now that it opened."
"Guard the portal?" queried I," 'gainst what?"
"The many things in my world that may invade yours," He said.
"Then close it! Destroy it!" said I forgetting my place in fear.
"Not so easy, the thing. This portal, once opened will remain opened for a thousand of your years, and we must remain ever vigilant, taking no sleep until time has healed this opening. Come young Duffin, I have much to teach you, and you have much to learn before I can take my rest. You will become a guardian of the portal. But first, I think, you had best put the kettle on for a little rose petal tea."
I think it was then that I caught sight of a wink from somewhere in the middle of his forehead.