“Onta the Alchemist” from the beginning…

She circulated through the alchemists. Onta’s amalgamation of minds was no longer a few weird people with crazy ideas, but rather a collection of geniuses vying for the king’s eye. She would supply the king with the next Royal Alchemist. And she would quietly apply the benefits of her usefulness to her research.

Onta probably had enough time to visit one more alchemist before the king was scheduled to appear. The one that caught her eye had a small wooden box on his table covered by a sheet of transparent mineral. She remembered his letter. He had attended last year, but this wasn’t his usual line of research. She liked the atypical.

“Good afternoon, Master Onta,” George Stokes said.

“Hello George. It’s good of you to come,” Onta said.

“It was tough convincing you. Did you change your mind about this being alchemy?”

“Not yet. You must convince me.”

George grinned. “Let’s take my box outside.”

Onta followed George and his apprentice. It was a blinding, sunny day.

“Ah, perfect weather,” George said.

His apprentice held the box and George picked up the sheet of mineral. He held it up and showed it to the alchemists that had followed them outside.

“Ordinary fluors,” he said to them. “Most of you may not recognize this. It is a sheet of mineral, and is found like this in nature. Fluors is used as a window in kilns, so the ceramacist can see their work during the firing process. Fluors can withstand high temperatures. When held one way, it is transparent.” He held the fluors up for everyone to see.

“The curious thing,” he said, and flipped the fluors round, “is that in the other direction, it is not.” There were gasps as the flours became opaque and looked like any other mineral.

He swapped items with his apprentice and held up the box. It had a slit on one side. Pointing to the slit and showing it to the alchemists, he said, “This box will allow a small amount of light within.”

He slid up one side and said, “The specimen goes in,” and slid the side down. “The flours goes over the slit,” and he turned the box to another side and pointed to a small hole, “and the eye goes here.” He brought the box to his eye.

“We’re not here for a peep show!” one of the men shouted.

George bowed and waved his hand to indicate the group. “Ah, but you are!” He bowed a perfect court bow and said, “Your Majesty, if I could borrow your ruby ring?”

The group turned toward the back and the King nodded. There was a flurry of “Your Majesty’s” and bows. The king’s ring was passed up to George.

“Rosa, if I may?” he said pointing at her ring with a wink. Onta guessed this part had been pre-arranged.

Rosa winked back and handed over her ruby ring.

George held the rings side by side. Rosa’s was a duplicate of the king’s.

George put them in the box, turned the box round and round and took them out.

“Which is which?” he said.

There were murmurs from the group, and one person’s whispered word carried over the others, “… beheaded…”

“All is well, friends,” George said with a smile. He held the rings side by side. “I will tell you which is His Majesty’s. Your Majesty, if you could send for your expert to verify my claim?”

The king waved at someone in his entourage and they darted into the castle.

“While we wait, I’ll explain how this simple box can find the true ruby.”

Onta smiled. She was impressed with his showmanship. He had rehearsed this to perfection.

“Will light will enter the box?” He held the sheet up and showed its opaque side and put it on top of the slit.

“Light will leak in from the seams as well as the slit,” an alchemist said.

“Inspect the box,” George said, handing it to the alchemists. They verified that the only light entering was through the slit and the peep hole.

“I can identify the ruby with light that enters the slit through the fluors.”

“The fluors isn’t real,” an alchemist called.

“I’m sure there’s one of you here that knows minerals.” George handed the sheet of flours to the skeptic.

George’s box and fluors were handed back to him, with the fluors have been verified. He put one of the rings in, set the fluors over the slit and had the apprentice hold the contraption. He looked in and adjusted the the apprentice’s grip.

A man arrived and bowed to the king. The king nodded.

“And now,” George said with a bow, “Your Majesty, if you will?”

As the king looked into the hole, George said, “Please describe what you see.”

“The box is dark, but the gem glows brightly!”

“I call it fluorescence,” George said. “May I show the alchemists?” George said to the king.

“Of course,” he said and stepped aside.

The alchemists were astounded and confirmed the king’s observations.

George handed the ring to the king and repeated the process with the second ring.

“This ring is not as bright,” the king pronounced, “however it glows red.”

After the alchemists observed, George said, “Keep this ring, Your Majesty. It is your ruby.”

The king waved to his expert, and the expert studied the ring. He asked for the first ring and studied it.

“The alchemist is correct,” the expert claimed. “He has accurately identified the true ruby.”

“This is astonishing!” the king said. “Tell us how this works.”

George smiled and scratched his head. “I’m still working that part out. Sunlight must be composed of more than one thing. I call them iotas. The bright iotas are filtered out by the fluors, but some other type of iota must pass through. The fluors-filtered-iotas, or fluofiltas, pass through and cause the gems to glow.

A debate ensued, and the alchemists desperately wanted to connect fluofiltas with fluxism.

The king took Onta by the elbow and walked her back into the hall, away from the cacophony and into cool silence.

“Who else should I see?” he asked.

“Rosa Parkland,” Onta said.

“No hesitation. She impressed you.”

“Yes sire. She’s brilliant and when she finds the cause of fluxism, it will change alchemy.”

The king clasped his hands behind his back and pursed his lips. “If it changes alchemy, it changes the world.”

Onta nodded. She had no doubt, but hadn’t said it that way to avoid sounding arrogant.

“I’ll see Rosa. If there are others, send me list. I’ll visit as I am able. I’ll choose a new Royal Alchemist from those here.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Onta knew he needed a replacement and was thrilled she was the one to bring them to him. “Will you make the announcement on the last day?”

“Yes. Perhaps sooner.”

Next installment…

Today is F – fluorescent. First, the mineral fluors is fictional. It is based on mica. Mica is not polarized. Light passes through thin layers no matter the orientation. However, mica was, and sometimes still is, used in high temp ovens as a window. Mica was the inspiration for fluors.

Yes, glass or crystal does fluoresce more brightly than ruby. However, ruby has a signature red glow. Diamonds have a blue glow. Have you guessed yet what makes them glow? UV light, in particular, long-wavelength UV (LWUV). There isn’t much LWUV in sunlight, so it’s hard to see these glow. If you’re outside on a sunny day, your ruby/diamond is glowing, you just can’t tell the difference between the sparkle and glow.

George Stokes first described fluorescence in 1852 and was responsible for coining the term when he observed that the mineral fluorspar emitted red light when it was illuminated by ultraviolet light from the sun. His experimental method was more complex than my George in this story. Yes, I used his real name in my story. No one recognizes it, not like Darwin or Mendel.

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