“Ah, you’re back!” Onta said.
“You were right, the smith had the coal tar pitch ready.”
“Perfect,” Onta said, rubbing her hands together.
“He said he melted coal for you. That doesn’t seem right.”
“Just because he has biceps the size of my waist doesn’t mean he’s stupid.”
“How do you melt coal?”
Joesph laughed. “I suppose it’s some sort of secret you’ll never tell me.”
“If you can make good black lead refractories, you’ll earn the secret.”
Joseph went to the small workbench by the window of the workshop and set the jar down. He got out the jar of wood alcohol and carefully measured out a portion and put it in a wooden bowl. He did the same with the coal tar and mixed them with a wooden spoon.
“Mix, mix, mix,” he said.
“Surely you can come up with something better. Weren’t you begging your father to let you be a bard?”
“Three primes, four elements, conjoin and mix, give me my solution.”
“Now I see why you’re my apprentice,” she said.
“I could do better if you gave me some time!”
“You’ve got until you finish.”
“… because they are made of black lead, and are thus a very specific type of crucible…”
“You were listenting!”
“… black lead really isn’t lead at all…”
“I sound like that?”
“You’re voice is higher pitched,” the Duke of Ellington said from the doorway, “but otherwise, he’s spot on.”
The duke walked into the workshop. On his way to the shelf where she kept her finished pieces, he looked down the front of her dress.
Joseph scowled at his back.
“Is my ring ready?” he said studying the items on the shelf.
Onta pulled a small box out of a drawer and held it out.
“Ah, good. That box needs changing.”
“It’s what I have. I’m sure you’ll be able to find a nicer one.”
Ellington took it and opened it. Joseph peered around his shoulder to see the ring.
“The emerald looks lovely. That’s really iron?”
“I didn’t know iron could be so shiny.”
“Swords are shiny,” Joseph said.
“Did some one say something?” the Duke said.
“No Sir,” Onta said, waving at Joseph to keep quiet.
Joseph dutifully went back to making refractories.
Ellington reached for the ring and Onta blocked him with her hand.
He raised an eyebrow.
“The less it’s handled, the better.”
“The use rubs the thin wall until it breaks or crushes. I remember.”
“Good. Wouldn’t want my benefactor getting poisoned,” Onta said.
“When will the electrum ring be ready?”
“Probably next week.”
“Yes. Electrum takes a great deal more preparation.”
“Very well, a week from today,” he said stroking her cheek.
“Yes sir,” Onta said.
Ellington closed the box and left.
“He shouldn’t be touching you,” Joseph said.
“There’s no harm. He knows he can’t have it and I certainly will not have a liaison with him. Never with the one paying your bills.”
“Is that part of my training? Who not to sleep with?”
“Yes. An extra special part. I don’t want some blond having your child and stealing my apprentice.”
Joseph’s cheeks turned pink. He knew exactly which blond Onta referred to. “Just because he pays…”
“… for everything. I have a nice workshop inside the keep, fully stocked. I have a very good life. When I’m too old…”
“… to see straight, it’ll all be mine. I’ll have all your secrets. What if I give them to someone else?”
“Only I know the things I teach you. That makes me valuable. If I’m old, then you’re the only that can make them. That makes you valuable. You hurt yourself by giving it to someone else.”
“Hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“I know. Now mix that black lead powder into your pitch solution.”
“And press it in the mold so that we can make the refractories to mold your special rings.”
“Yes. This time I’ll show you how to make an alloy.”
“What metals are in electrum?”
“Silver and gold.”
“Do you like poisoning people?”
“Oh, I’m not poisoning them. He is.”
“But you fill the hollow ring band with blue vitriol and white phosphorus.”
“Yes. I originally did it as a curative. Then the band broke.”
“So you made more?”
“I don’t think you hear me. I have a workshop. It’s mine. I can experiment. I can lock the door. No one can hurt me.”
“Except the duke.”
“If you think that, then you don’t know me very well.”
I'm on "B" today - blue vitriol Blue vitriol is copper sulfate. The tiny bit that could fit in a ring band would not kill a person. Black lead is graphite. Graphite refractories are still used in metal making today. Electrum was used by Egyptians in jewelry and as coins by the Romans. Coal isn't melted, but pyrolized - heated without oxygen. It doesn't burn and instead breaks down.