The Alchemist’s Baths
Apart from his dungeon-sized alembic, his ingredient library and the laboratory-kitchen I’m looking forward to hearing about, Telecanter’s Arabic alchemist would obviously need to build baths on his island. For ritual cleansing preparatory to his experiments and transmutations, natch, but also as a kind of ur-herbary-hammam – full of genuinely transformative, protean treatments that our latterday, decadent aromatherapies and black soaps can only feebly and dimly hint at.
There are four baths dedicated to each of the elements/humours. The water baths are built on the familiar model, fed from the centre by a captive water and a fire elemental: the water elemental cannot think of how to escape because it’s kept in a steamy state of confusion, in which all it can do is continuously summon water from its elemental plane, which, being of an unearthly purity and faintly magically-infused, filters through the caldarium, tepidarium and frigidarium in turn, before being piped out to the specimen plants in the botanical gardens.* These last supply ingredients for a wide and poorly-documented array of soaps, rubs, rinses, scrapers and potions, variously shelved and hung around the greenhouse, or possibly stored permanently underwater, in the case of the more recondite treatments.
The fire baths require full immersion, for which the alchemist must don a metalled body. The key is to resist the choleric seduction of the flames and to take care over which powders one throws into the furnace, to avoid being scalded, crystallized or rendered into salts.
The air baths begin with lofty Jantar Mantars that thrust the viewer into the heavens for a close-up look, perhaps offering a stepping-off point into the clouds, to explore the continents that form and dissolve daily above the surrounding sea.
The earth baths of course feature abrasive pumice and pools of hot muds. Strong currents below the surface hint at opportunities for blind cave diving through the fluid dome of a volcano caldera, to retrieve the gifts of the deep underworld – glasses and geodes and velvety dry sands – and to receive prophetic visions from the heavens through terrestrial astrology.
The baths of melancholia trap you unawares. By the time you recognise them, it is only to wonder how you did not see the signs before.
…the abandoned treasures of the Alchemist’s island attract their own kinds of scavengers. Eloping lovers, fleeing the wrath of fathers and viziers, find their way to its shores, and swear they’ll stay forever, living off its generous fruits, its clear streams of unwary trout, and most of all enjoying the luxuriant water baths. Unending leisure takes its own toll, though: the island is also littered with the bones of lovers murdered or abandoned: deliberately lost. Often the couples that fetch up there are not welcoming of later arrivals, because they fear discovery or simply do not wish to be disturbed. Sometimes later arrivals lead to conflict of other kinds, when the reality of eternity with your one true love supplants the dizzy first weeks.
Whether it’s the water or some other taint, the island does not support human fertility: no child has ever been born there.
“Real-world” alchemists’ strongholds: Uraniborg. The Garden of No Worries.
* Layout of the water baths: 1 = elemental captivity chamber; 2 = caldarium; 3 = tepidarium; 5 = frigidarium; 8 = greenhouse/robing room, containing the more delicate specimen plants. Chambers 4, 6 and 7 cannot be seen at your initiation level.
…also, the Hammam Medina in Paris is fantastic. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Mixed on Saturdays.
Reverse-joesky: brilliant Harry Potter cartoons. Fandom not required.