It starts in the spring of 1211, with an alchemist in her laboratory…



Here’s an example of a medieval alchemist’s lab. Layla’s lab is very different. It’s dark, except for candlelight, not nearly as refined…and known to be quite dangerous.

It’s midnight, April 30, 1211 and Layla is sealing her last vial of belladonna vapors and wondering if she’ll ever return to paradise. She places the vial carefully in a large embroidered travel bag, already packed with salves, tinctures, a small case holding a man’s beard and a priest’s collar, more poison vapors and several lemon-sized cloth bags filled with colored powder. She closes her travel bag, places it inside the stone-faced furnace that occupies an entire wall, and looks across her laboratory’s shelves, still covered with half-full jars of medicinal herbs and minerals, along with ingredients for more dangerous creations. Her alchemical laboratory has served her well, and she’ll miss it.


April 30 is St. Walpurga’s Night, named for an 8th-century abbess in Germany who was canonized in 870. In German folklore, Walpurgisnacht is believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany.

The Brocken is noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre, a magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low. The phenomenon was first reported on the Brocken.


St. Walpurga by the Master of Meßkirch, c. 1535-40.

Read Orphans, Assassins and the Existential Eggplant and find out why a medieval alchemist named Layla is sealing belladonna vapors in small glass vials and dreaming about paradise.


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