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The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The gift of sweet secrets

By Carlos HarrisonPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 6 min read
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“The powder’s secrets have traveled across time,” the sorcerer said. “For more than three thousand years.”

He whirled to face the student. His long white beard and hair whipped around him like Poseidon breaking from the water. He leaned across the rough-hewn table, looked deep into his student’s eyes.

“It’s been coveted and craved. Worshipped and praised. Fought over and jealously guarded.”

His eyes filled with fire and passion.

“Now, today, you’ve come of age. It is time for you to know the way of wizards.”

The apprentice gasped in wide-eyed awe, surprised by the sorcerer’s words. This was more than a mere ritual, she realized, it was an initiation. The apprentice would soon be part of a special society, the holders of an arcane skill.

She ran her eyes around the room, over the mysterious tools of the master’s trade — bowls and ladles, spoons and wands for mixing. An iron oven with a door that creaked, flames licking beneath, pushed back the chill in the room. Glass containers lined the shelves, labeled with runes and symbols the apprentice was still too young to comprehend. Still, she knew they held the varied and sundry ingredients for the making of the master’s concoctions.

“Really?”

“Yes. Really.”

Outside the windows, a tempest raged. Winds beat and bent the trees. Rain hammered at the glass. Lightning cracked with a deafening roar, close enough to make the hair on her neck stand up.

“The Greek gods of the pantheon had their ambrosia and nectar,” the sorcerer said. “But this, for the ancients an ocean away, was the ‘food of the gods,’ delivered onto earth and shared with humankind by the most powerful in their firmament — the rainbow-feathered serpent.”

He paused to let the words sink in, then added in a secretive whisper.

“They called it cacahuatl.”

The sorcerer thrust a hand deep into a polished metal container the color of the setting sun, and came up with a handful of the treasure. He raised it to let the rich brown dust, as fine as baby’s talcum, sift through his fingers like sand in an hourglass.

“They traded it as currency, more valuable than gold. Filled great storerooms with their bounty. And from it they brewed a magical elixir, a bitter drink they called xocatl.”

As he spoke, the sorcerer’s hands flew in ostentatious arcs, like a conductor leading an orchestra.

“Warriors drank it before battle, to make them brave and strong. Priests offered it to those destined to be sacrificed, to soothe their spirits as they climbed the temple steps to their fate.”

He scooped a ladleful of the precious powder, and then another, into a large bowl.

“It has various formulations, and myriad effects — a love potion, a stimulant, an aphrodisiac.”

“An aphro-dee …,” the child apprentice’s face contorted in confusion as she struggled with the word.

The sorcerer waved her efforts away.

“From there it spread to many lands, where alchemists and magi practiced and experimented to define and refine its powers,” the old man said, tucking a wayward wisp of hair behind his ear. “They whispered their discoveries in clandestine corners, recorded it carefully in sacred texts.”

He pulled a massive volume from a shelf on high, dropped it on the table with a loud thud. Pulled it open at a place marked by a sliver of parchment, let the pages part like furrows freshly plowed.

“Like this one.”

He scanned the page, ran his finger over the script.

“Ah, yes,” he said, in a reverential whisper.

Then he spun and darted from shelf to shelf, pulling down canisters and jars. He checked the text occasionally, then, mumbling, grabbed another. He spread them on the table before him, then pulled up the sleeves of his robe.

“Ground grains to honor the earth from which it came,” he said, scooping a heavy white powder from one of the jars and adding it to the bowl.

He quickly jabbed the scoop into another.

“Sweet Persian shakar,” he said, “by way of the Khyber Pass.”

He pulled a different canister close.

“Pearlash, or saleratus, if you prefer,” he said with a wink. “The breath of the gods, to breathe life into our creation. Observe!”

He dumped a spoonful into a cup of hot water.

Almost instantly, it began to bubble and froth. Great white clouds of foam spilled over the rim.

“Double, double, toil and trouble,” the sorcerer said. “Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”

The child recoiled, as if the brew might explode.

“A simple parlor trick, my child. Nothing of consequence. This, though, this matters,” the white-haired sorcerer said.

He stuck the tip of the spoon into a small ceramic jar, pulled out barely enough to fill a thimble.

“Natron, from the reddish-blue alkaline lakes of Egypt, with the power to calm the flames. Or, as they used it in the time of pharaohs, to shepherd mummies to the afterlife.”

He kept going, adding and naming as he went.

“Some of this, tlilxochitl, the flavor of a rare orchid. Mother’s milk from a bovine breast. And this.”

He held up a white orb between finger and thumb.

“An egg?”

“The vessel of life itself.”

He checked the book of potions again, slapped his forehead with his palm.

“How could I forget? It crossed the oceans on galleons and barques, in the days of sailing ships. Listen carefully and you still might hear the creak of timber and rigging lines — which is why we add a dash of salt from the sea.”

Then he stuck a large wooden spoon in the bowl and stirred and stirred, until the mixture thickened into a gooey paste. He poured it into a metal pan. A rush of heat filled the room as he pulled open the oven door and slid the pan inside. He kicked the door closed with a clang and turned back to the child with a smile.

“And now while Vulcan’s gift does its work, we make some sweet xocatl to make our creation complete.”

He ladled giant portions of the rich brown powder into a bowl, added milk, sweet shakar, and some of the orchid tincture.

“Plus a touch of sunshine,” he said, as he dabbed in thick gobs of golden butter.

Again he stirred the mixture, slow and firm, until it turned the color of mahogany and congealed like honey on the comb.

The pan came out of the oven. They waited for it to cool. The child yawned and lowered her head. The sorcerer kept working.

When she opened her eyes, the creation was done. It sat round and fat in front of her, covered with the sweet xocatl, glistening mocha brown.

The old man sliced a thick triangle, slid the piece onto a plate.

“Handed down from ancient days, perfected by wizards wise in their ways,” he said. “And, now, shared with his acolyte — the fairest and brightest of them all, and the daughter of his queen.”

He raised the plate with a theatrical flourish, set it down before the child.

“Happy birthday, honey,” he said. “Your favorite. Chocolate cake. What the Aztecs called xocatl.

The child looked up with eyes that glistened, and a smile that split her face.

“Oh, gram-pa!” she said, with a voice full of joy and whimsy, and attacked it with her spoon.

Short Story
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About the Creator

Carlos Harrison

Writer, reader, traveler.

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