Alchemist Gift – Rene Hermes Returns from University
“Very nice. Safe journey to you.”
“And to you too, sir.”
As Marcella found her way back home, the young man she passed, Rene Hermes, was also heading to his home. He left the University of Padua after having earned his doctorate in medicine. He was twenty five and thin as any student who had been away from his mother’s cooking for so many years. Rene still had a long way to go. He was headed to a lush and forested Bavarian valley outside of the town of Alder Lager.
Rene reckoned he had another month of travel. So far he walked along with four different groups of folks headed down the same path. They shared their stories and food. Rene did not like to travel alone and happenstance was kind enough to bring him company in a most timely manner. When one traveling partner turned down another path, he would encounter someone or some group to walk with. Rene heeded his father’s warning of the dangers on the lawless roads he would travel.
Rene walked alone for the better part of a day accompanied by the warm sun on his shoulders and hunger in his belly. His rations were reduced to a quarter loaf of bread and a piece of cheese smaller than his fist. Rene considered stopping at the first farm house he came to ask shelter for the night when he heard horses and the unmistakable sound of a carriage rumbling down the road. He looked behind him and watched the pale blue carriage with gilded trim slow down as it approached. Rene stepped off the road into the knee high grass and nodded to the coachman who nodded back. He saw the occupant pull back the leather curtain and look out at him. Rene looked up at the coach window but was unable to see who might be inside. The coach passed by but slowed and stopped a little less than fifty paces ahead.
Rene stepped back on the road and continued. When he was less than ten paces away the door opened and a gentleman stepped down to the road, he stretched, then he made his water on the trunk of a nearby tree.
Rene stopped and looked away. When the gentleman was finished he put his hand on his hips and bent the trunk of his body from side to side and from front to back. He arched his back, relaxed and in an exaggerated way stretched his arms and legs as he walked around the coach once. Upon seeing Rene standing there at a distance obviously looking on at the strange machination, Conte Emilio d’Benevita stopped his little constitution and waved for Rene to approach.
Rene came up to the conte and stopped a few paces back. The conte stood as tall as Rene. His dark brown hair was long and hung down is relaxed curls that framed his square, strong face. The conte’s forehead was tall, his eyes were a watery hazel color; his face was graced with high angular cheekbones, a well formed longish nose, pale pink lips and a clean shaven chin. His physique was athletic and he was three years Rene’s senior.
He wore a low crowned, wide brimmed hat, that was dove gray and decorated with a white feather that curled at the end, a comfortable, full sleeved, white shirt with an open v- neck, baggy gray trousers and flat soled shoes that were well ventilated with decorative slashes.
“State your business on this road, young man.” His tone was more inquisitive than authoritarian.
“I am traveling on my way home, sir.”
“Where are you coming from?” The conte continued his stretching as he waited for an answer.
“From university, Padua.”
“With a degree?”
“Yes sir, I earned my doctorate in medicine.”
“No doubt, now tell me my young medico, your name.”
“Rene Hermes of Alder Lager.”
“Ah yes, Alder Kralle castle, the seat of Duke Gunter the Just. That’s his territory.”
“You are correct, sir.”
“I too attended Padua. I took my doctorate in philosophy, a discipline not quite as useful as yours.” The conte crossed his arms and rocked back and forth from toe to heel and back again.
Emilio d’Benevita smiled. “You are an agreeable sort my fellow alumnus. Ah, those were the days, at university. I am to be away, travel well and safely.”
“Thank you, sir.” Rene bowed.
Emilio d’Benevita opened the door to the coach and as a second thought called out. “Rene Hermes, accompany me. We are heading in the same direction. I would do well to have someone to chat with.”
Rene was surprised and pleased. The conte entered his coach
and Rene followed after handing his pack and walking stick up to the coachman who secured them on the roof of the coach. The interior of the coach was appointed with soft tan leather upholstery and had a heavy scent of lavender. The conte sat and crossed his legs and stretched his arms over the seat’s back putting the palms of his hands flat on the sides of the coach.
Rene sat across from the conte. He tried not to look directly at this kind gentleman with the great good fortune to have such a lovely carriage. Rene saw an opened book on the seat next his benefactor. On the other side of the conte was a basket. Rene could see the neck of a wine bottle, some grapes and the end of a loaf of bread peeking out from under the cloth that was draped over the top of the basket.
“Are the girls still as pretty in Padua?” The conte could see that Rene was a bit uncomfortable. “I remember one at the Singing Swan, Clairessa, beautiful girl. Did you frequent the Singing Swan?”
Rene smiled. “Why yes, many of the students went there, myself included. I don’t remember one named Clairessa. I do remember Annalisa. We were all in love with her.” For an instant Rene’s eyes fell on the basket but he quickly looked back at the conte.
The conte looked over at the basket. “Help yourself. Tell me, how is it you were able to go to university?”
Rene bowed to the conte as he retrieved the basket and sat back in his seat. He put the basket on his lap and uncovered its contents. “Duke Gunter the Just, employed my father as aide to the chancellor. As a reward for his services the court offered to fund my education and I will someday be the court physician.”
“Quite a responsibility for an inexperienced fellow.”
“I have had the same thoughts, sir.” Rene pulled a leg from the cold duck at the bottom of the basket. He took a bite. It was good.
“Surely Gunter has his doctor.”
“Oh yes sir, I will be under his tutelage.”
“I’m sure you will. Gunter and I are related through marriage. I visited Alder Kralle castle when I was a boy.”
“You know the Duke?”
“I am Conte Emilio d’Benevita, as you must have surmised.”
“Your servant, sir.” Rene again bowed his head.
“Yes, yes, all well and good, now tell me about your school days. I do miss the wonderful discussions and arguments we used to have.”
“Sir, my time was spent in lectures and in the dissecting of corpses and the study of Rhazes’ writings, of course along with Galen and Hippocrates.”
“It is said that Rhazes thought that a doctor should study not only the ailments of the body but that a doctor had to understand the soul as well.”
“Yes sir, a difficult task. I have found that one cannot be divorced from the other. We are bound to both and controlled by both, and when there is an imbalance between the two, well, that opens the way to ill humors and sickness.”
“A noble philosophy, but what of death? One’s soul is free and the body is left behind, is it not? ” Emilio d’Benevita invited Rene to answer with a raise of his eyebrows. Rene nodded. “Doesn’t that cause the greatest imbalance? One cannot exist without the other.”
“The soul goes to its eternal reward, heaven or hell and the body will be resurrected and united with its soul on judgment day.”
“If one cannot exist without the other wouldn’t the soul die away too?” Emilio was having a little fun with his serious companion.
“The soul goes to its eternal reward or punishment.” Rene answered not quite understanding why the conte did not take his answer as a truth that could not be refuted.
“That again, is it? I think it is possible to capture or lure or somehow enable the soul to re-enter the body and reanimate it.”
Rene wrinkled his brow and sat back in his seat. He chose his words carefully and said them in a most deferential way, “Are you speaking of necromancy, sir?”
“Heavens no, and so what if we are discussing necromancy, these are only words, no more than a diversion, parlor chat.”
The mood in the carriage changed. The conte kept his smile and pulled back the curtain and looked out at the countryside. Rene felt this was more serious than “parlor chat” as the conte put it. So serious a subject it made Rene ill at ease with the topic. He absently ate a few grapes and now wished the conte had not offered him his hospitality.
After a pounding silence the conte spoke again in a gay and friendly manner. “Ah my young friend, please don’t take everything you hear to heart. I was hoping for nothing more than a spirited discussion on the subject, especially from a medical man.”
“I am sorry, sir, perhaps after I practice my art I will be able to discuss such things. But now my thoughts are on returning home.”
“I too am going to what may be my future home. I am to meet my fiancée.”
“Congratulation sir,” Rene was glad for the change of subject. Love and marriage were things he understood.
“We shall see.” The conte added wistfully, “an arranged affair, but a very sizable dowry. Gold for a title; I envy you my good doctor; you may find your true love. I, on the other hand have sold my chance for the good of the d’Benevita’s name and coffers.”
“There may be the spark of love between you two. You have never met, it’s possible.”
“She is thirteen years old, most likely a spoiled child. The only thing I know about her is her name, Rosalba. A pretty enough name. I suppose I should practice my own philosophy and keep an open mind.”
The coach slowed and the coachman called out to the horses. They stopped at a crossroad. The coach squeaked and bobbed as the coachman jumped down and alit with Rene’s pack and walking stick. He opened the door.
The conte looked at Rene. “Best of luck to you Doctor Hermes, I am away to survey Casa Bella and meet with my bride and the patron of the Familgia Testaoro. Travel well.”
Rene smiled. “Thank you sir, very much, and may you find what your heart is looking for.”
“Well said, take the basket, and give Duke Gunter my greetings.”
Rene left the coach; put his pack on his back, the basket on his arm and with his walking stick in hand continued on his way home. The coachman cracked his whip over the horses’ heads and Rene gave a quick glance at the coach as it headed away down the dusty, tree shaded, road.
Rene traveled another three weeks on the road, sometimes in the company of others and sometimes alone. He still had two silver pieces and a handful of coppers. If he was frugal and the weather permitted him to sleep under the stars and moon he might even have enough to keep himself for a few weeks after his return.
Fortuna smiled on him when he came upon Duke Gunter’s envoy that was returning from Rome. He introduced himself to the captain who was leading the expedition of ten mounted soldiers along to protect the familiar faces from Alder Kralle Castle. The vice chancellor and monsignor along with a cook and a few servants were nestled inside the large closed wagon. The vice chancellor cordially invited Rene to join them and partake in the meals and the comforts such as they were.
With his way home secure Rene shared his opinions and experiences and interesting and not so interesting little stories with the travelers. When the novelty of his presence wore off, the men as men do, continued on with little more to say. Rene’s mind wandered to the Conte Emilio d’Benevita and how the conte’s first meeting with his wife-to-be went. Rene wondered about what the future would bring him when it came to the whims of Venus. He thought of the love of his life, Bella Fiore, as he rode along with the others and watched the countryside lazily slip away at each turn of the wagon’s wheels.
His thoughts went to the first time he met Bella. Rene was home visiting from Padua for two months during the spring of his twenty-first year. It was a beautiful May Day. The vibrant blue sky pulsed over Alder Lager, bursting with sunlight and lush white clouds that playfully rolled across the horizon. The soft warm breeze carried the scent of spring blossoms and the new green grass grew sweet and succulent. The malaise of winter was replaced by the primal forces that poured forth from Maia on to her children, especially to a certain young man who shared in her son’s name.
Rene was there with his fourteen year old sister, Giesella so pretty and pert, and his excited, wide eyed, ten year old brother Alfeo. The younger two wandered off together to see their friends, watch the jugglers, attend the marionette theatre and see the trained bear. Rene heard the singing and the music. He found the other young men, and greeted friends and acquaintances, some he hadn’t seen since he left for school. The young men and boys joined in loose groups of three or four and stood back in a loose circle around the May Pole.
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