Hydrargyrum

Note: The featured image is from the game Potion Craft.


“Don’t hang over the bowl like that. The vapor is toxic.” Onta said.

“So we’re making more poison?” Joseph asked. “Doesn’t it bother you?”

“No. We’d be better off if they all killed each other.”

“I won’t have any part of making rings.”

“You can find an apprenticeship elsewhere.”

“I like this one.”

“That’s a surprise.”

“It shouldn’t be. No one does the things you do.”

“This is cinnabar.”

Joseph tugged his hair. Mater Onta was frustrating. She was done speaking of the matter and expected him to move on as well. “The pigment the artists use?”

“Yes.”

Joseph studied the red powder in the refractory. “That’s a good sample.”

“Indeed. It helps to live here where the stuff is mined and exported.”

“Is that why you chose Ellington’s keep?”

“No. Overseers noticed that mining the ore this powder is refined from causes the miners to get sick and go insane.”

Joseph took a step back from the workbench.

“How do they mine it now?”

“Prisoners do the mining. I have deal with the artists guild.”

“You have a lot of deals.”

“I didn’t have a lot of money. They supply me a small sample of cinnabar whenever I ask. In return, I help them create better pigments.”

“Oh, so you didn’t sell your soul for that one?”

“Your question should have been, ‘Why do you want cinnabar?'”

“Let’s pretend it was.”

“You’ve noticed that I have my oven fired up?”

“You’re going to put it in there?”

“Yes. Get your notebook and in your entry for today, describe this powder. No taste or smell test.”

Joseph did as he was told. “Then I describe it again after the oven?”

“Yes.” Onta picked up a pair of long-handled tongs an grasped the refractory full of cinnabar. She placed it in the center of the hot coals in her small oven. She did not close the door.

“Watch it,” she commanded.

Joseph kept his eyes on the red powder.

“We’re going to the Alchemical Gathering,” Onta said.

Joseph’s eyes didn’t leave the powder. “Why?”

“It’s a gathering of other alchemists that specialize in different areas. We trade information and substances. It’s very useful.”

“Where is it?”

“In the capital. The king sponsors it, which means he gives us a place to gather. Sometimes he stops by.”

“I get to come?”

“Of course. The better educated you are, the better you can help me.”

“Hey!” Joseph shouted. “It changed! It’s liquid silver. Phew, what is that smell?”

“Take it out.”

Joseph used the tongs and placed the hot refractory on a brick on the work bench.

“What happened?” he asked.

“I believe the powder is made up of at least two parts. That smell should be familiar.”

“Yeah, rotten eggs.”

Onta reached up and smacked the back of his head.

“Burning the yellow brimstone.”

“Yes.”

“But the liquid silver?”

“I call it quicksilver. It has the properties of a metal. The only difference is that it is liquid.”

“Combining brimstone and quicksilver makes cinnabar?”

“Yes.”

“Why does it make miners go mad?”

“A better question…”

“… would be…” Joseph paused and thought a moment. “Which element makes them go mad?”

“Yes! And your answer…”

“Quicksilver, because we know brimstone doesn’t do that.”

“I knew you had a brain lodged in all that brawn!”

“Farmers can think. Just like smith’s. He’s married.”

“Who is?”

“The smith.”

“Yes. I fail to see what that has to do with brains.”

“I’ve seen you sneaking from the smithy.”

“When we’re at the gathering, remember your oath. I can’t afford to have another apprentice turn on me.”

“But I thought I was your first.”

“No.”

“That’s it? That’s all you’re going to say? What happened to him?”

“He left.”

“Will he be at the gathering?”

“Yes. He’s making a living selling my secrets. That brings down demand for my services.”

“So you’ll exact vengeance.”

Onta laughed. “Where did you get that turn of phrase? Only men think like that.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Kill him.”

I’m on “C” today. Cinnabar

Cinnabar is the only known ore of mercury (HgS), and it was mined by prisoners. Hg is the abbreviation for mercury and comes from the Greek hydrargyrum, which in translation means silver water (hydror – water; argyrum – sliver).

You could put your hand in elemental mercury, and it wouldn’t hurt you. However, should you have any break in the skin, it will be absorbed by the body. The vapor is far more dangerous. It easily inhaled. I don’t recommend playing with mercury. Here is a cool video that shows some far out reactions between mercury and aluminum: https://youtu.be/ZiWlthrtneU?t=210.

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