“Now,” Sage said, lifting up a container filled with an opalescent white liquid. “This is an Alabaster Potion.” She handed it to Helen. “Open and sniff gingerly.”
She did so, feeling the fumes clearing her head a bit. “Smells like tomato soup.”
“Really? I say chicken soup, but there is no accounting for smell.” Sage took the bottle back and placed it on the table. “This potion helps heal mostly any minor ailment: colds, flues, fevers, and so forth.”
Helen nodded as Sage handed over a small vial of a translucent golden liquid. “Sniff gingerly.”
“Ugh, smells like ink.”
“Indeed. This is a more concentrated version of the potion, capable of healing major injuries. Sword wounds for example.” Sage placed the vial back. “Of course, you do not drink this but instead pour it on the injury.”
“And this one?” Helen said, pointing to a glowing blue flask.
Sage smiled. “This is a more active version of the potion.”
Sage motioned to the first container. “And this is the inert version.”
Helen looked confused. “You mean,” she said slowly,” the blue one is in the process of being made?”
“Correct!” Sage smiled and tilted her head to the side. “Now, let us get to today’s lesson.” She motioned to the table behind Helen. “See if you can identify the ingredients.”
She turned to look at the items and drew blanks. “I can’t.”
Sage went to the other side of the table and pointed the items out. “Heartwood root for energy,” to a blue, wizened tuber. “Fenugreek for supporting the power structures,” to a small bowl of pale yellow seeds. “Day-old goat milk to enhance the healing.” to a large pewter pitcher. “And lastly, ground dragon scale as a catalyst.” to a small glass vial of white powder.
“Dragon scale?” Helen said, awed. She picked the bottle up and shifted it to the side, seeing the powder gently shift from one end to the other. “Where did you get this?”
“It is rather easy if you think about it,” Sage said, plucking the bottle from Helen and placing it back on the table. “Now, to make the potion…”
She led Helen through a rather complicated process. She had to peel and chop the root, grinding it with the seeds until it was a paste, adding a smidgen of the powder to the paste, then stirring everything into the milk.
“Now, as you can see,” Sage said as Helen stirred, “how it is already glowing? Time to put it into the flask.”
Helen poured the liquid into the bottle, where it soon brightened into a pale blue.
“Now, this will take a few hours to cure,” Sage said, “and in the meanwhile, as you noticed from the other bottle, it will intensify in color until it is fully aged. At that time, it will break down to the white we saw in the first bottle.” Helen nodded, understanding. “In the meanwhile, I am sure you have some questions about a few interesting things?”
“Well,” Helen said as she wiped her hands on a scrap of fabric, making sure that no traces of the potion were left behind, “can we talk more about dragons?”
Sage grinned. “A subject Her Majesty does not like me talking about. I am sure she is suspicious about our talks here, though.” She turned towards a small table stacked with books and plucked one off. “What do want to ask me?”
Helen tossed the cloth down and sat on a dusty chair. “Everyone says that they are dangerous and forbid me to even get close to one. But today I gave Ibilen a quick hug, and he did not react. Why?”
“Dragons are indeed touchy when it comes to personal space,” Sage said, browsing the volume with nimble hands. “I am surprised that he did not snap at you.”
“Well, the grooms were there feeding him. Does that help?”
“Hm. Maybe. Dragons do get somewhat peaceful when they are eating.” She paused in her perusal. “What about his rider, what’s-his-name? Where was he?”
“The duke was giving a report on his latest battles to my father. After I served them tea, I went back to the stables.”
Sage closed the book, placed it on the table, and picked up another. “So, the rider was distracted and the dragon complacent. That could account for the fact you got to hug him.” She glanced at the cover title, placed the book back on the stack without opening it, and looked at Helen. “I have to ask you not to do it again.”
“Okay,” Helen sighed out. “It was rather good, though, hugging Ibilen.”
Sage smiled at Helen’s expression. The princess was fascinated with the winged creatures almost all of her life. “Let us continue the lesson, then.” She went to a carved crystal decanter filled with a leaf green liquid. “I see the growth potion finished aging. Care to test it out?”
Helen nodded and rose, dusting her dress clean. She went outside to pluck a vine from the pillars and came back with a six-inch spray of stems and blossoms.
“Excellent,” Sage said, uncorking the decanter. She took a small glass and poured a bit into it. “Here you go,” she added, handing the glass to the princess.
Helen placed the ends of the spray into the liquid. A moment later, pale white roots started to grow out of the cup. “Oh my!” she exclaimed.
“Now, time to plant it.”
Gingerly, trying not to disturb the roots or the potion, Helen moved to a small pot filled with soil. She gently placed the roots onto the soil and poured the potion around the sprig.
The plant responded immediately, the roots digging into the dirt. The stems grew thicker and longer; the leaves darkened to a dim twilight purple. The flowers, on the other hand, shriveled into brown husks and fell off.
“Can you explain why the flowers died off?” Sage asked.
Helen thought about the way she made the potion last class. “Something about the newt tail?” she guessed. “Its regeneration power does not apply to flowers?”
Sage nodded slightly. “Almost. The tail supplies the energy for the potion, true, but it is the quartz sand that prevents the energy from going into the blossoms. All the power to grow is shifted to the stems and leaves.”
A knock on the door interrupted Sage’s discussion, and they both turned to find Ward standing outside.
“Majesty,” he said, giving another shallow bow to the duo. “I was told to find you here.” He stepped inside and frowned at the bottles and the rooted plant. “Really now, potion making? What a terrible study for a person of your station, Majesty.”
Helen opened her mouth, but Sage responded. “It is the custom here,” she said, “for the Princess-Betrothed to learn the arts of alchemy and healing. It is part of the dowry.”
Odd as it seemed, the duke’s frown deepened. “I am very happy that our kingdom does not permit such foolishness.” He bowed again. “I was told by your mother, the queen, that you caressed Ibilen.” He unconsciously grabbed at the side, where a sword usually hung. “I know the price of killing an innocent, so I will let it go this time. Next time, I will let Ibilen destroy you to save me the trouble.” He bowed one last time and walked back.
“What did he mean by killing innocents?” Helen asked.
Sage glanced at the bottles before answering. “One of the main responsibilities for a dragoneer is to battle the orcs and the gnolls. But there are rules.”
She motioned Helen back to the dusty seat and sat down with her. “There are several, but one of the strongest is never to kill an innocent person. It does not matter what species – human, orc, troll, gnoll, giant, and so forth. If a dragoneer kills an innocent person, the mental connection that joins the rider and the dragon is broken, and the dragon will leave the rider to find another one. That is why the riders are only used in battle or for peaceful missions.”
“What happens to the rider?”
“Depends on the situation. If in battle, the rider usually tries to fight against the hordes. Usually a suicide mission, but sometimes they survive. If they do, or if it happened during a peaceful mission, then he is at the mercies of the courts. The family usually strikes him off as an outcast.”
Helen looked at Sage wide-eyed.
“Indeed, princess,” the potion maker continued. “It is one of the strongest taboos a dragoneer should never do. I have yet to see someone who would do this intentionally, though. The dragons weed that sort of thing out.”
“One last question,” Helen said. “How do the dragons choose the riders?”
“Now that I do not know,” Sage said, standing up. “There have been many theories on how it is done, but none answer all the questions.” She helped Helen up. “I think we are done for the day,” she continued. “You show exceptional progress in making potions, and we might have to progress to the more complicated ones next week.” She lead the princess out of the chamber and into the sunny pathway. “Come back tomorrow, and we will test out the alabaster potion.”
“What about the growth potion?” Helen said. “Will that get stronger?”
“You remember your lesson, Highness,” Sage said, smiling. “It will get stronger, but nothing to worry about. It should not intensify greatly tomorrow, but by next week, it will be enough for another potion.”
“Now, off you go,” she finished, shooing Helen away. “Say hello to your parents, will you?”
Helen leaned over to give her teacher a quick hug, and she walked back into the castle hallway.