They had ridden all morning in silence and finally Joseph said, “Was he surprised when you said you didn’t need a driver?”
“Duke Ellington forgot farmers know how to drive wagons,” she said, nodding to Joseph’s hands holding the reins.
“I don’t understand the struggle between the two of you.”
“It’s the most elemental. Power. He has it, I want it.”
“And he’s not sharing.”
“Correct. We have a balance now, but he’s always trying to tip it toward himself.”
“And you toward yourself.”
“No, I know I can’t tip it my way. The best I can hope for is to maintain the balance.”
An inn was ahead on the left side of the road.
“We’ll stop here for lunch,” Onta said. “You’ll stay with the wagon and I’ll have them bring the food out.”
They pulled up and stopped and Onta jumped out of the small wagon and went inside. She came out with a teapot.
“They’ll bring the food out. I have hot water to make myself some tea.” Onta climbed up into the wagon and sat next to Joseph. She took her knapsack from under the bench and pulled out a mug and and a small basket that was mug sized. She took one packet at a time time out of her sack and measured out the herbs into her palm. She crushed them with her finger, but them in the basket, and put the basket into the mug. She poured the hot water over the herbs and through the basket. She let the herbs steep.
“What did I just do?” she asked Joseph.
He knew ‘make tea’ was not the answer. What was the alchemical version of steeping tea? “It’s a trick question. You want me to answer ‘decoction’, but tea is not a decoction because it’s only steeped, not boiled.”
“I can’t catch you out. You are a smart boy.”
“That’s why I’m here and not in the fields.”
The meal was brought out and they ate and were on their way. They rolled into the capitol city in the late afternoon.
Joseph concentrated on the road, and Onta gave directions. They parked in front of a small offset of the castle. It wasn’t large enough to be called a wing, but it was large enough to be… something.
Joseph and Onta walked into the hall, and a large bearded man called from the opposite end, “Dear Onta! So good of you to come!”
“Hello Sergei, you’re in my spot. Joseph, fetch the table.”
Joseph darted outside.
“First come, first serve! You’ve always said that.”
Joseph returned with the boards and sawhorses that would be their table. Onta pointed to the floor in front of Sergei’s table. Joseph put the items on the floor.
“Sergei,” Onta said. “If you don’t move, I will move you.”
Onta looked around the moderate size hall. Those that had arrived had started setting up around the periphery, as she had told them to. The rest would be in the center in neat rows.
She studied the alchemists. The first two would be fine next to each other as would two and three. Three and four… no, no. Should their ingredients mix…
“Oscar, Ben, you should know better! Oscar, move down to the end. Everyone else, move up to close the gap.”
The men grumbled and shuffled and eventually the arrangement Onta wanted was achieved. She looked over at Sergei. He had moved off to the side, and was no longer at the head of the hall in the place of honor.
“Set up, Joseph.”
Joseph nodded and said to Onta, “I don’t know if your bossy nature will sit well with the man in charge.”
Sergei laughed. “My dear boy, Onta is the man charge!”
Today is D – decoction; decoction is a process of extracting oils and other compounds from plant material. The material is first crushed or otherwise broken down, then added to water and boiled. After boiling, any remaining material is filtered out, leaving the desired compounds in the water.