The Price of Ink

“May I come in? The rain is getting much stronger outside and there is nowhere else for several miles.”

Gregor looked at the tall stranger with deep confusion, but motioned for him to come inside. He spoke with deep generosity. “Yes, yes, of course, please. We can’t have you out in the elements. What kind of host would I be if I did?” Gregor started walking back deeper into his small home.

The stranger stood in the front portion of Gregor’s home awkwardly, dripping from his long dark cloak and wide brimmed hat. Gregor almost fell over, turning around so quickly. “I’m so so sorry. Please, let me take that hat and cloak of yours. They are absolutely soaked.”

The stranger shook his head gently and said, “No, it is quite alright. I would just like to warm up and dry off by your fire. I imagine that the weather will turn well soon, I can feel it in my knees.” Gregor felt warmth from his guest’s deep baritone. It felt like the voice of a friend he must have forgotten.

Gregor motioned to the hearth which was quite visible from the entrance of his home. He noticed that the long cloak that completely covered the stranger gave the illusion that he simply glided over to a chair next to the fire. “Your home is quite lovely if I might say.” He wrapped himself around the chair and then took a seat. “Although you do live quite far from the city. It took me quite a journey to come here, and I still have so much further to go. But I loved walking up this pristine cozy hill, with the tall oaks framing the path on both sides. And your home, just past the spring near the river. I can’t wait to see it when it clears up too.”

Gregor walked back to his desk, much more comfortable now that his guest had taken a seat. With a sigh of relief, he said, “It’s quite pristine, that is for sure. I love it for its simplicity, a nice change of pace.”

“Not used to a life of simplicity then, are you?”

Gregor let that phrase hang in the air to dry like many of the leaves and herbs that cluttered the ceiling of his home. “I should be returning to my work, if you don’t mind.” Strewn across his desk were several books of varying ages. Most of them were brightly colored texts, illuminated with gold and silver, as well as kermes scarlet, ultramarine blue, and malachite green. But one, in the center, was unfinished.

The stranger stood up. Gregor was startled by how tall he was, but pushed it from his mind, thinking he simply forgot his guest’s height. The stranger walked towards the desk in two long strides and stood over the books. He peered at them, picked one up and said, “The pictures are quite beautiful, although I wish I could read the text. I’ve seen books like these before, along my travels. They always make me consider teaching myself letters, but I simply do not have the time between jobs.”

Gregor gently took the book from his guest’s hand, closed the book, and set it down on his desk. “That one is very rare, please don’t touch it. It’s the Splendor Solis and it took me very long to find a full copy of the text.”

“Ah, pardon my rudeness then. I was not quite aware of the text. It seems fascinating though. I’m particularly interested in the pigments. Where did you get them?”

“Which ones? The pigments are gathered from far and wide. I don’t think you would have heard of the places considering your education.”

“Oh, no, don’t take that as an indication of what I know. I know quite a lot, and have seen many places and realms. The different ways people live and die is so fascinating to me.” The stranger’s voice picked up with curiosity. “But, for instances, this green, of the grass on the hill, where did you get this from? I feel like the green in clothes is much less vibrant and very likely to fade.”

“That, well, that is from crushed malachite. I have connections to a mine owner not far from here.” Gregor smiled. He loved casually mentioning the old vestiges of his previous life.

“This blue is absolutely beautiful, here, in the sky. Did it come through Venice? Must have cost quite a lot.”

“Oh.” Gregor was caught off guard by his guest’s sudden knowledge. “Yes, uhm, it’s from the east. Trade ships bring it in to Italy from the lands of the Afghans, and then it’s shipped here. It’s called ‘ultramarine,’ Latin for ‘beyond the sea.’”

“Fascinating! And this red, on this knight’s armor, where is that from? It reminds me of blood. Is it from killing too?”

Gregor could hear the stranger smiling even if he couldn’t see it from this angle. “I-it’s crushed up beetles I believe. I’m sorry, I never caught your name.”

“It is quite alright. I never gave it. Could you tell me about this color, for the robes of this hermit all safe and comfortable in his cottage?” His voice began to sound like the pounding of the icy rain outside, “Could you tell me about that one.”

“I-I must not be feeling well, I should be seeing you off. I don’t even remember hearing you knock, let alone opening the door.” Gregor gripped his head as he began to shake it.

“Oh, please, before I go, I would love to hear about where you got this lovely shade of purple. It reminds me of ‘Caput Mortuum.’ You seem to be a scholar, what does that mean? It is Latin, correct?”

“It-It means ‘dead head.’”

“Ah, that’s right. The residue that sticks to the glass after a failed philosopher’s stone, built up along the edge, worthless remains. That has the same name, too, but we are talking about the ink. This is much more vibrant than Caput Mortuum though. Much much more vibrant. I remember hearing about it from a now dead alchemist, maybe you have heard of her. Mary the Prophetess.”

“Please! Please! Who are you?”

“Now now, none of that. You are being quite rude to your guest. I asked you a question though, and I would appreciate an answer. Where did you get this shade of purple?” The stranger turned to face Gregor and it was at that moment that he noticed the swirling purple in his guest’s eyes.

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