1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 24

“So acidum salis is feminine?”

“Yes. Think of it as being Eve,” Phillip said. “Now . . .”

“So aqua fortis is supposed to be Adam?” Michael asked. “Why do you say that?”

“Because aqua fortis enables the violent masculine explosions in gunpowder. Therefore it is male.”

“But you don’t use aqua fortis to make gunpowder,” Michael said. “You use saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal. Everyone knows that.”

“And aqua fortis is the acidic essence of saltpetre,” Phillip said a little more forcefully than was possibly necessary. “You do know how to make aqua fortis, don’t you?” he asked.

Michael bit his lower lip and shook his head.

“And you consider yourself an educated man.” Phillip gave rein to a set-upon sigh before continuing. “You make aqua fortis the same way you make acidum salis, only instead of using the feminine salt of the sea, you use the masculine saltpetre.”

“So aqua fortis is Adam, acidum salis is Eve, and aqua regia is Cain?” Michael asked.

“For the purposes of this explanation, yes.” He stared hard at Michael. Was it possible he was laughing at him?

“I don’t remember. Was Cain more powerful than Adam or Eve?”

That tilted Phillip’s suspicions heavily towards being laughed at. Still, he was going to finish this explanation even if he ended up killing Michael. “The Adam and Eve analogy is purely to show that two parts, which can’t achieve something on their own, can achieve that same something when they are combined.

“So, aqua fortis and acidum salis come together to form aqua regia, which unlike its parent acids, can dissolve gold, thus proving that the power of a mixture can be greater than the power of the individual ingredients. Of course, like Cain, aqua regia, changes as it ages, transforming into other states and natures, which is why only fresh aqua regia can dissolve gold.” At last Michael was nodding, raising Phillip’s hopes. They were dashed only moments later.

“So how does the quinta essentia of anything increase the power of a drug?”

Phillip admitted his lack of knowledge with a well-practiced Italian shrug. “Perhaps the extracted quinta essentia pulls out more of the masculine essence of the medicine than a lesser solution. Who knows? And that is why I need time to talk to Isaac, so I can find out.”

“How long do you want?”

“I’d like as long as you can give me.”

“I can give you five days. I expect it’ll take me that long to clear my backlog of specimens.”

That was much better than Phillip had hoped for. “I can do that.” He grabbed Michael and hugged him. “Thank you,” he said before running off.

A week later

Phillip was trying to pack, but Michael was walking along the bench checking everything he’d been doing over the last few days. “Do you mind,” Phillip demanded as he edged Michael away so he could plant a basket of horse manure on the bench.

Michael took one look at the contents of the basket and jumped clear, pinching his nose. “What is that?” he asked, pointing at the basket.

“It’s exactly what it looks like,” Phillip said as he carved a hole in the manure.

“What do you want that for?”

Phillip held up a flask of a clear liquid. “This is fivefold distilled waters of wine. According to Isaac, if I bury it in horse manure for four months, then decant it into a clean flask, and bury it for another four months, and then decant it into another clean flask and bury it for another four months, I will be left with a flask of the Quinta Essentia of the Waters of Wine.” He thrust the flask into the hole and covered it with manure, firmly patting down the top layer.

“A year!” Michael repeated. “That’s a long time. I hope it’s worth it.”

Phillip walked over to a bucket of water and started washing his hands. “According to Isaac, if you mix the distillate of any item with the Quinta Essentia of the Waters of Wine you’ll have a medicine that can cure any malady.”

Michael’s eyes screwed up and he stared at Phillip. “If I drank a medicine mixed with fivefold distilled waters of wine I’m pretty sure I’d feel cured, for a while.”

Phillip grinned. “Maybe I misunderstood Isaac. We did have a bit of a communication problem, with him thinking in Hebrew but trying to explain in Latin.”

Michael nodded. “That’s possible. So, what are you going to do now?” his gaze settled on a number of glass jars on the bench awaiting packing. “What are these?”

“Those are the quinta essentia of such things as of Plantago major, willow bark, Tanacetum cinerariifolium, and Cantharis beetle.”

“And they were all collected by the destructive distillation of the parent?”

“Of course. How else can one extract the quinta essentia?” Phillip demanded.

“Phillip, I have this vague recollection that the whole idea of this quinta essentia of whatever is so you can do something with the Quinta Essentia of the Human Humors.”

“That’s right.”

“Well,” Michael said with some emphasis. “I can’t help but think you’re going to run into a bit of resistance when you use destructive distillation to extract the Quinta Essentia of the Human Humors.”

“You don’t extract it,” Phillip said. “The idea is to invigorate it while it’s still in the body.” Phillip sighed. “At least that’s what I’ll be trying to do in a year’s time when my Quinta Essentia of the Waters of Wine are ready.

Michael looked dubiously at Phillip. “Do you really think burying a flask of fivefold distilled waters of wine in horse manure for a year is going to somehow give it special powers?”

“But Michael, according to Isaac, his people have been preparing the Quinta Essentia of the Waters of Wine in this way for hundreds of years. Why would they continue doing it if there was no benefit?”

May 1617, Zadar, Dalmatia

Phillip was in his natural habitat, an alchemical laboratory. He was hard at work producing pure acids, which were to be his payment to Davitt Tapiero for the use of his laboratory. At the door Davitt was watching on in awe when Michael turned up.

“He is absolutely magnificent,” Davitt said with a very Italian flourish of his arms.

“How do you mean?” Michael asked.

“Look at him,” Davit instructed with a wave of his arm. “Look at the way he has a dozen retorts working at once.”

“Running a dozen retorts on a distilling furnace isn’t anything special. I’ve seen plenty of people do the same,” Michael said.

“Yes, but no doubt they are all distilling the same thing. Signore Gribbleflotz is distilling three different acids, aqua vitae, and water, all at the same time.”

Michael whistled. “That’s Impressive. But I still need to talk to him.” He walked over to the bench where Phillip as working on something. “Phillip. I’ve got some bad news for you.”

Phillip carefully laid down the pen he was holding and turned to Michael. “What’s happened?”

“Professor Alpini died on the 6th February.” Michael held up a letter. “This was waiting for me when I checked with our shipping agent.”

Phillip was shaken by the news. “How did it happen?”

Michael checked the letter. “They think an imbalance of the humors caused his kidney’s to fail.”

Phillip slumped into a chair. He’d lost the second of his great mentors. He’d learned a lot about the various medical qualities of plants from the man who had been the director of Padua’s botanical garden. And now he was dead. “There’s nothing left for me in Padua now.”

“So what will you do now that our plant gathering expedition is over?”

Phillip shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Are you still interested in being a military surgeon?”

Phillip nodded. It was something he’d mentioned during one of the many discussions they’d had around a campfire over the last few months.

“Well, the Republic is fighting the Archduke of Styria. I’m sure they’d welcome someone of your talents.”

“I’ll think about it,” Phillip said. He turned his back on Michael to hide the tears that were starting to fall. His tear filled eyes settled on the jars of quinta essentia. One day he’d learn how to invigorate the quinta essentia of the human humors. It would be too late to save Giulio and Prospero, but he would do it. It was personal now.