Claude finished yet another potion. Another potion. Landes' instructions had been meticulous and clear, and Claude had followed them to the letter.
He'd outdone even his teacher, and done it without much exertion. It seemed as well that he had outdone most alchemists since the war, as all the textbooks he'd read said only the best post-war apothecaries could make proper potions these days. Potions had vanished from all but the elite circles after the magi's fall.
Modern herbalists relied on machines and experimental apparati to treat the herbs and make the concoctions. That was why making a concoction of eight-tenths efficacy compared to potions was the best they could do.
Yet, Landes mentioned in his diary that anything short of a potion was a failure. Lorist believed it was due to the usage of arrays to synthesize various potions, whereas herbalists had to use other methods to simulate the synthesis. The herbalists were at a disadvantage from the get-go.
Claude had some experience with that as well. He had tried using the machines and tools in his mistress' lab to concoct potions and failed. But now he had an array; all he had to do was handle the materials as Landes instructed.
He looked at the twenty-odd crystal tubes on his shelf and scratched his head. How was he going to deal with the potions? He couldn't just sell them to an apothecary.
Maria was an intermediate-rank herbalist, but she could at best create mediocre concoctions. His name would instantly be known throughout the kingdom the moment someone learnt of his ability to concoct potions. However, he'd spent most of his money to get the material he'd used for those potions. He had to sell them one way or another to make his money back.
If only they'd been just concoctions. If he brought superior concoctions to the apothecary, everyone would just think he had an excellent talent his mistress had spotted and cultivated well. There was no downplaying a potion, however. The way he might be able to sell them was to degrade them back down to concoctions. Unfortunately, no one in their right mind would have wanted to do that in Landes' time, so he'd not talked about how that might be done. Claude didn't even know if it was really possible without ruining the potion entirely.
Potions couldn't just be diluted like alcohol or other solutions. Even just concoctions didn't mix with water. Something changed in them during the concocting process and they became like oil to water. They could be mixed with water under specific circumstances, namely, if the concoction was heated to a very specific temperature, but in most cases that completely ruined the concoction.
Half an hour of ponderance gave Claude just two possible solutions. He could either send the potions to his mistress in the capital and leave dealing with them up to her -- the capital had a large enough circle of elites that potions weren't an unheard-of thing, though they were still exceedingly rare -- or he could sell the potions directly to Hurian while doing his utmost to hide his identity. The first option would take time and he'd have to pay for a courier to take it to the city, while the other would force him to deal with that fat old man again.
His purchase had been eyebrow-raising, but not enough to engendre suspicion, and his excuse of excellent backing had allayed much of the wonder as to where he'd gotten the funds to purchase such expensive materials. That excuse, however, would not work for the potions. Hurian would no doubt save no expense to learn who he was once he realised he could make potions.
Even worse, he'd bought most of the materials he'd needed for the potions in his original identity from town. Hurian only had to ask the right people the right questions and he could easily put two and two together.
He sighed and decided to leave the stuff in his laboratory. They were properly stored so they wouldn't lose their efficacy, and thus their value, anytime soon. He'd think about difficult things later. Claude headed up to the bathroom to have a bath, and clean up his face and hair. Almost two days of straight work did not sit well with his appearances.
People shouldn't be obsessed over everything, Claude thought when he got out of his bath. He'd not even changed or washed his clothes for several days since he'd gotten started with his array. Siori had come to him the day before to tell him something, but ran away the moment he opened the door.
He checked the calendar hanging above the small desk against the wall. The 18th of the 11th month. Winter was coming on strongly and there were just 26 days left before his graduation. His parents would be there, too.
The thought of his parents reminded him. He'd not been back to his parents' house in over a week and a half. He'd spent the whole time in his new laboratory. If not for him running out of materials, he suspected he might have happily continued locking himself up in that small room for months.
Claude's mind had been wholly occupied with refining or topics related to it, such as how to sell his potions, for days now. No wonder Landes mentioned losing track of time and losing days on end so often. The sense of satisfaction from successfully concocting a potion was positively addictive.
He slapped himself a couple times, got dressed, and left the hut. The sky was dark and it threatened to rain. Well, either rain or snow, Claude thought, shivering as he rubbed his arms furiously to and win back some heat.
Despite his discomfort, he fetched his musket and prepared to go out on patrol.
Siori was busy in the stable, and waved at him as he walked past.
"Sorry, Uncle. I was locked in my studies so I couldn't afford being interrupted. About what did you want to see me again?" Claude asked, stopping by the stable door.
"It's nothing much," Siori said a little forced, "Winter is just about here and Lancy and I usually cut down a couple old trees for firewood. You're the supervisor now, though, so we need your permission to fell any trees on the estate. We were hoping to make charcoal."
"Charcoal? No problem. And no need to ask me. You can make as much as you want. Anyway, I'm heading out on my patrol now!" Claude said as he mounted Jemmy and galloped off for the woodline.
It didn't take him long to spot a drove of goats. Claude let the arrow fly and one fell immediately. He didn't run into anything else that day, and soon was on his way back to the manor.
He stopped by the stream to skin the goat. While he was at it he decided to butcher the entire animal. He gave half the meet to Siori and kept the rest for himself. The meet was quickly stored and soon after he set out with the carriage, heading for town. He arrived just before his mother started with dinner.
He felt the awkward atmosphere the moment he set foot through the door, and his eyes darted around suspiciously. His mother was pale and he saw that her smile didn't reach her eyes. She took the meat he brought with him without her usual enthusiasm and thanks as well, getting back to work again immediately. His father was his usual piped statue by the dining table. All the house's windows were shut.
Bloweyk darted into his embrace the moment he noticed his presence. His cheeks were wet with tears. Even the snowhound, which had turned into the two children's perpetual shadow was appeared lacklustre.
"What happened, Father?" Claude asked, "Did Arbeit cause trouble again?"
Claude naturally immediately suspected his good-for-nothing older brother. He was almost always the cause of any trouble at home. He remembered suddenly, too, that he'd seen the bastard go whoring in the slums and wondered what fresh scandal he'd brought on the family this time.
Morssen shook his head.
"It has nothing to do with him. But don't worry, it should pass soon. And why are you back now? You didn't come for a visit when the school break started. Your mother even made a feast to welcome you home again, but you didn't show."
"Sorry, I was just too busy with my studies. I completely lost track of the date.
"I happened to hunt a wild goat in the woods today and brought some back. I've also come for my winter clothes. Also, have you received the school's invitation to the graduation ceremony yet? If not you should soon, but you all know when it is..." Claude's voice trailed off for a long moment while he gathered himself, "I've been working in the woods for a couple months now, but I haven't taken my salary yet, could I withdraw it all now?"