The latest batch of slaves were Celts. They were six young men, not much more than boys that Lycurgus had bought from an Etruscan slave merchant in the market at Athens. Young though they were, they were full-grown with massive thighs and muscular arms, though none were as big as Necho. I felt sorry for them because they were so young but also because they suffered so much under the harsh Athenian sun on their bare pale skin. Their backs were not only scarred with the mark of the whip but also with sunburn blisters. I did my best to ease their evening suffering with my ointments but it never seemed enough. Sitting in my corner of the kitchen, I managed to engage Hipatia, my mistress, in conversation. I was telling her about a medicine made from the bark of a special fir tree. She seemed surprised; as well she may, because nearly all the medicines and ointments I make use herbs and the only other ingredients I had asked for were goose grease and scorpion stings. As I explained to her how some of our Thracian warriors took a decoction made from this bark to protect them from sunburn (1), I realised that Alexis was listening from the doorway.
‘What is this Lydia’, He said. ‘Is it magic or is it a proper medicine’
‘There is no magic master’. I replied, casting my eyes down. ‘I believe that it works in some way by cooling the blood or maybe it gets into the skin and cancels the sunlight in some way’.
‘Sounds like magic to me’, He said
I thought I was going to cry as Alexis and his mother laughed and he must have realised this. ‘I was only joking’, he said. ‘Look, I think you should try it out but why don’t we do an experiment? Can you make up an infusion from another bark or herb that tastes the same but does not protect the patient?’
‘I believe I could’, I replied with a small smile. ‘But I will need to find the special pine tree first. It usually grows near the seashore’.
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