Once upon a time there was a young boy, who lived in a small village on the edge of the wood. Like all the other young boys, he loved throwing stones, climbing trees and dropping itching powder down unsuspecting necks.
But he was a little bit different to the other boys. Sometimes he would stop and look at the sky, listen to the wind, quietly watch a bird or small animal while the others chattered and ran and jumped.
One day, he went for a walk across the fields to the next village, where a witch lived. She was a good witch; she never cast spells, she looked just like his next door neighbours’ mum, and she made jam in Autumn. But she could see things other people couldn’t.
That day, the young boy had called in to her house to buy a jar of jam for his family. After he had knocked, she opened the door — and stared at him intently. He trembled inside — he knew her reputation. Would she see that last week he took bird’s eggs from a warm nest? Would she know he had stolen a penny from his brother’s pocket money? He trembled some more. Was she going to tell him what she knew? Would she tell his future fortune?
“You’ll do OK,” she smiled at him. “You don’t have anything to worry about. You’ll be all right.”
As the boy grew up, he remembered the wise woman’s words.
The boy grew tall, learned how to smile, studied hard and went away to sea. He travelled across all the oceans, saw many and marvellous sights and people, learned about potions and contraptions. He became a man of science, expert in cures and machines, descriptions, languages and creations.
Then, one day, he chanced to meet an old man of letters, bearded and wise.
“Young man,” said the bearded man, “I can see you are special. Why don’t you become an alchemist?
“Surely with your ability, your skills and your way of seeing things you will be the one who can turn base materials into gold?”
The young man thought about the old man’s words, and realised that he should try being an alchemist — what did he have to lose?
He rented a small room and turned it into a laboratory. He tried chemicals, he tried powders, he tried unguents, he tried lotions, and he even tried incantations and spells. He tried for more than a year, day in, day out, then another year. But not once did he see a single gleam of gold at the end of his experiments. He grew weary, tired of alchemy, despaired of ever finding that elusive treasure of which all alchemists dream.
Maybe it was just a dream, after all. Maybe he would never, ever, find true gold.
Fatigued at working constantly in his laboratory, he wandered down to the nearby market, to blow some fresh air into his weary brain and eyes, and to buy something to eat. Reminded of his carefree days with the other young boys in his village, he looked up at the sky. The wind blew, ruffled his hair, and pried open a gap in the clouds. A bird flew over the village green and started to sing. A dog stopped, and stared at him.
Attracted by the size and ripeness of the apples on a nearby stall, he walked over to choose one. As he did so, the young woman behind the stall reached forward to select the biggest, finest, juiciest apple to offer him. The sunlight streamed though the gap in the clouds, bathed the canvas of the market stalls with soft colour, and ran up the arm of the young woman reaching for the apple.
As it did so, the wind ruffled the tiny, tiny oh-so fine hairs on her arm. They glistened and sparked and caught the light from the sky and turned into the purest finest gold he had ever seen. He looked up into her eyes and saw the glow of something so precious that he knew in an instant his search was over, that he had found the thing that he had been searching for all his life until that day.
The alchemist knew that he had found his gold.