Part ten in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.
Merph looked around Kluvenstrom's workroom. A couple packages towered in piles by the door that Merph didn't recognize. The new healer must be using these rooms.
He couldn't let himself feel guilty about leaving Whitey outside the tower. The dog had found him, more accurately it had rescued him, far from any inhabitants and Merph guessed that the dog would survive on its own. At least until he rescued Healer Kluvenstrom from the runelock.
One of the pig bladders caught on Merph's ear as he lifted it from under his shirt to place on the worktable. He'd filled one bladder with ash powder and the other with steel dust. The two books that Kluvenstrom had left him were pushed to a corner of the table. Merph paged through the powder book looking for powders that required steel dust or ways he might release the healer from the runelock. Outside the window, dawn lit the sky. When he looked back at the book, his eyes touched on the bat powder that he'd previously made.
Merph shrugged and took the runelock out of the burlap bag and set it on the table beside him as he dropped a pinch of the bat powder over his nape and held the runelock close to his ear. He murmured, "Healer Kluvenstrom, can you hear me?"
He concentrated on the box, ignoring the clank of cast iron pans in the ovens as the cooks baked the morning bread for the Lord and the crack of stall door latches as the Lord's horses yearned against their box stalls. An emptiness filled the runelock like the wind racing over his ears on a spring morning. Disappointed, Merph began to set the runelock on the table.
"Merph, is that you?" Kluvenstrom's voice was weak.
Merph's heart beat fast. He could complete this quest. "How do I get you out?"
"I don't know, this type of magic is not my bailiwick."
"You got me out the first time." Merph shook the runelock.
"Don't do that."
"Sorry," said Merph.
"I could rescue you because the ties that bound you to the astral plane were fresh. I've been in here too long, I might not even be able to find my body if I was searching myself. You must find a runeworker. They will know the way these things work." Kluvenstrom's voice became thin.
Merph's words tumbled out. "Tvinnrun set the trap for you."
"Does Calle know?"
Kluvenstrom coughed. "You must not tell him. It'll be your word against Tvinnrun. What powders do you have?"
Merph got excited and told him how he'd made the bat powder. "And I've got some iron filings from the blacksmith."
"Gelid powder, eh?" Kluvenstrom's voice warmed.
Merph didn't know what gelid meant, but he felt like he had at least done something right. "I don't know what other ingredients I need."
The door squeaked as it opened and Merph dropped the runelock into the burlap bag grimacing as he thought of Kluvenstrom banged about by the falling cube. A man with a close-trimmed beard stood in the doorway wearing a healer's robe.
"What are you doing here?" asked the man.
"I'm... I'm a healer Kluvenstrom's apprentice."
The man's eyes narrowed. "Don't mind me, I just need to get some herbs." The man grabbed one of the benches and stood on it to push a brick in the ceiling out of the way and yanked on the latch underneath to expose a hidden shelf crowded with jars filled with liquids, dried leaves, and sticks.
Merph's mouth dropped open. When he saw the man looking at him he closed his mouth. "How did you know that was there?"
The man grabbed one of the jars filled with leaves. "Lord Calle told me." His eyes bored into a Merph. "Were you truly Kluvenstrom's apprentice?"
The man backed toward the door. "Your right to work here is as good as mine. Continue with what you were doing." He waved an arm.
"Wait," said Merph. "What is oenothera?"
The man stopped as he was opening the door. "What are you going to use that for? Never mind. It's the scientific name for sundrop flowers. Mostly used in ointments for older woman."
"Don't tell anyone about me."
"I won't." The healer slunk into the hallway and closed the door.
Merph pushed the table underneath the shelf. He now knew where Kluvenstrom kept his cache of powders. Standing on tiptoe, he moved the jars searching for powders but all he found were jars with liquids and dried leaves. He looked at the thick oily substance with the label "Sundrop" on it and figured it was fortunate that those two words were easy ones that he knew. If there wasn't any powders here, at least he could make gelid powder, whatever that was.
He mixed the iron, some mastic powder, and the sundrop oil. The powder became a brilliant yellow and Merph picked up a pinch tossed it at the wall. Except for some fog that rose off the ground and beads of perspiration that condensed on the floor, nothing happened. Resigned, he poured the powder into the empty pig bladder and placed both bladders around his neck.
He picked up the mortar and pestle to clean as Kluvenstrom had exhorted him. A clean workshop was a safe workshop. The door opened and Detlef and one of the Lord's guards hurried into the room with the healer standing behind them. Merph placed the mortar on the table and pushed the burlap bag onto the floor hoping they wouldn't notice it.