I freely admit that I am not in any position to either criticise or praise Gastan Leftboot. Still I feel entitled to state firmly that I feel he ought to have exercised more caution. A wise man thinks long and hard before prescribing an evacuant and even longer before concocting one.
Still he is the apothecary not I, and to be fair I cannot fault him for the enthusiasm he brought to the study of aperients. His knowledge of purgatives was unmatched, at least amongst those of a similar age.
Still, a young man entering the profession has to make a mark. He has to have a string of successes, glowing testimonials, and several unique medicines which he can call upon. Gastan had to do something to stand out from his peers, and I suppose that by picking constipation as his condition of choice, he was at least on solid ground.
Now there are a number of ways in which laxatives work, and those most commonly prescribed by apothecaries are those which stimulate the bowel. Apparently they cause the guts to move faster. For the apothecary they have a number of advantages, they are comparatively inexpensive, ostentatiously effective, and the client knows that they are working.
But Gastan was not happy just to give his patients Kilin berries. They work well enough, but dosage is a complicated matter. Three berries picked this month might have a far more vigorous effect than three berries stored over-winter. He wanted to have something more controllable.
So he took to making a syrup of Kilin berries and this syrup he would dissolve in a fortified wine. Thus when he told a patient to take one small glass, three times a day, until normal service was restored; he knew exactly how much they were getting. (We shall ignore the sad case of Faldor Brunt. Brunt was a notorious glutton, but even a glutton doesn’t need a glass of that size. I’ve known exotic fish kept in smaller containers.)
It must be confessed that even a normal sized glass can cause discomfort. Stomach cramps and spasms are not uncommon. So he mixed poppy syrup and Kiln berry syrup with fortified wine. This seemed to help. Whilst there might be stomach cramps and spasms, the poppy syrup reduced the discomfort, at the expense of a certain casual dreaminess. At this point it should be pointed out that dreaminess under these circumstances can be unfortunate.
His attempts to combat the dreaminess by adding a tincture of red lichen was, in all candour, doomed to failure. People react differently to red lichen, but a high proportion suffer not increased mental acuity but hallucinations. Hence one of the first patients to try this laxative decided that there were demons trapped in her guts. This explained the pains, but her attempts to release them by cutting herself open with a carving knife were thankfully thwarted. Still, she had to spend two days on a commode wearing only one of those coats with very long sleeves which fasten at the back.
This left Gastan somewhat disillusioned with Kiln berries. He experimented in other areas, and one remedy that suggested itself to him was getting the client to drink more liquid. The problem for the apothecary is that merely sending the patient off with the instruction, “Drink more water,” might cure them, but does so at no cost. He had to get them to drink more, and somehow have them pay him for the advice. He pondered this and then had a brainwave. He made up a strong solution of brine, and into the brine he added a very little of his Kiln syrup. He then boiled off the water and made the salt he’d collected into salt tablets. The client was given three of these to take a day, and was advised to wash them down with water. These actually worked very well in most cases. The tablets did have a slight laxative effect, but the fact that the patient would happily drink a tankard of two of water to wash away the salt seemed to ensure that things worked even better.
It was then Gastan had his real stroke of genius. He started brewing Leftboot tonic ale. It was an ordinary beer made from malted barley, but instead of hops, Gastan put in rhubarb. His patients were all advised to drink a tankard full, three times a day, with meals. In an attempt to prevent embarrassing accidents, he even sold patients a standard sized tankard to drink from.
His tonic ale was an astounding success. In any number of large houses, the lady of the house would buy it by the barrel, and would have it served to the domestic staff with their meals. Thus was equanimity preserved.
As an aside, I thought I would mention that ‘A licence to print money’ has a review
“Someone has tried to cheat Benor and his young ‘apprentice’ Mutt. They set out, with a little help, to redress the balance. Another in this series of Port Naain novellas that had me smiling. They are not belly-laugh stories but full of wry, clever and thoughtful humour. Often, it’s the way he tells them. I’m always up for more of these stories.”