"Do you want to know how to make a longevity potion?" my colleague, Aspiring Historian, asked today.
"A potion to live a long, youthful life," she responded. "You'll look just like a healthy, 30-year old man--well, woman, in your case," she added for the benefit of both me and our Experienced Colleague.
"Sure," Experienced Colleague said. "But where are you getting this stuff from?"
Aspiring Historian showed us the book, a research reference for a paper she's writing on Medieval ideas of magic and cures, or something along those lines. "You need fingernail and hair clippings from a recently deceased relative."
We pondered this for a bit; given that fingernails and hair appeared to grow after death, it seemed pretty apparent why they would hold supposedly magical properties. But how recent was recent? How close was close? Did they have to be gathered strictly post-mortem?
"That'd be an interesting request," Experienced Colleague remarked. "'Could you let me know when you're going to kick the bucket so I can have some fingernail clippings?'"
"Yeah..." Aspiring Historian trailed off.
"What other remedies have you found?" I asked.
"Oh! A love potion."
"Could be useful. What's in it?"
She made a slight face. "An umbilical cord."
"From a dead baby?" asked Experienced Colleague.
"No. I think it can be from a live one."
"OK, so does it have to be your own or a relative's?"
"It doesn't say. Probably someone close; who else would you give something like that to?"
The topic drifts away after that, but not until we've left our boss shaking her head and remarking that she's not sure she wants to know what we're talking about.
As I'm getting ready to head out, Aspiring Historian is still flipping through the book for remedies. I think she might've been looking for something to cure the myriad of illnesses that are floating around campus. I cough, scowl, and make a crack about my humours being out of balance, especially mucus right now. [Correction: The accurate word is "phlegm." My bad.]
Right before I leave, an exchange with Tutor Who Shaved His Head in Honor of His Brother leaves me laughing and then coughing uncontrollably.
"Excuse me while I hack up a lung," I choke out as the cough subsides.
"Just don't get rid of it," Aspiring Historian tells me. "We might be able to use it."