You hurry down the narrow, cobblestone street, only stopping every so often to check the address on the wax-sealed envelope you clutch in your hand. The contents of this letter summoned you here, a cryptic message within:
Come to my workshop. Magic awaits.
While you have visited this village often, you somehow never found this street before. The buildings are older here, made of ancient stone and choked with ivy and climbing, flowering vines. You see no people, though a long, lean black cat lounges on a doorstep, savoring the sun. As you pass, the animal arises and follows at a respectful distance. Its amber eyes watch you.
The street ends with a winding stair that leads in turn to a small courtyard. A heavy wooden door with ancient runes scratched upon it awaits. You hesitate. Could this be it? Why have you been drawn here?
Before you can decide what to do, the cat passes you to sit before the door. It twitches its tail and the runes on the door glow blue. The door swings open, and the cat enters, leaving you gaping.
Delightful aromas waft from within. Spices, incense, smoke, leather, fresh grass, and crisp apples. It smells of anything and everything all at once, but somehow the dizzying combination soothes your soul. In spite of your reservations, you enter.
Beakers bubble and a fire crackles. Old books with cracked leather spines are stuffed into bookshelves along one wall and a cauldron steams above the fireplace. Dried herbs and flowers hang from the ceiling and in front of the stained glass windows. On top of the long workshop table, jars filled with indescribable and wondrous ingredients sit.
The shop is empty. You can't even see the cat.
"Hello?" you call out. "Is anyone here?" You stand for a moment, just taking in the chaotic surroundings. You clear your throat and try again. "Am I in the right place?"
"Hello, my friend."
You spin around. An old woman now stands in the corner, her hair jet black in spite of her aged face.
You jump back then regain your courage and hold out the letter. "I got your message."
Her eyes glisten. "So you did. I am so glad. My usual assistant had to leave for a few days to see to a family matter. It is his right, but it has left me in a bit of a bind. Be a dear, will you, and fetch me those dried toadstools?" She points to a jar on the highest shelf.
Looking around, you find a rickety wooden stool that you use to reach the jar. Bringing them down, you try to offer them to her, but she points to the worktable.
"Good, good, now pick out the three reddest ones and grind them into a fine powder."
You aren't certain why, but you don't feel right about refusing her. You find a heavy stone mortar and pestle on the table and begin your task.
As you work, she stands above the fire, stirring the contents of the cauldron with a massive wooden paddle. The already potent fragrance intensifies. The scent surrounds you, and you find your mind wandering through faraway realms and ancient lands. Great forests, craggy mountains, and a restless sea. They all dance before your eyes.
You hear the voices of great warriors, preparing their men for battle. You hear the singing of the fair folk, alluring but eerie.
You sway on your feet as the mushroom are reduced to crimson dust.
A hand grips your shoulder, and you look into the woman's face.
"That is enough. Now, we need jars."
You help her place a series of jars along the length of the worktable and then carefully affix cotton wicks to the bottom of each, wrapping the wicks around a stick to keep them upright in their container.
"Now what?" you ask.
"Like my letter said." She winks. "Magic."
She ladles the contents of the cauldron into a large pitcher then walks down the line of jars and fills them all with clear liquid. As you watch, she waves her hand over each in turn, and they cool, the melted wax hardening and turning pure white. She then instructs you in how to trim the wicks, not too long, not too short.
"You have been very helpful," she says. "Here, take this candle as your reward." She passes one to you. The glass is still warm, but it does not burn you.
You thank her and allow her to walk you to the door. Stepping outside into the dazzling sun, you draw a deep breath.
Realizing you forgot to say goodbye you turn to look back into the workshop one last time. It is empty, except for the black cat, now sleeping by the fire.
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