by Alex Epstein
I heard tell of a king from a southern kingdom, who commanded his alchemists to concoct a perfume that would smell exactly like old books. The alchemists rejoiced: At last! A simpler task than distilling gold out of urine! They began to work day and night, destroying books and burning covers and crumbling pages. They achieved some good results, and almost discovered penicillin on the way. But one night, as in all legends, the king suffocated in his sleep and died. His beloved son, heir to the throne, immediately gave orders for a deep grave to be dug for his father in the heart of the desert, where he would be buried with all of his wives and his servants and his books and his camels. One of the alchemists had written the final formula for the perfume in the margins of a book that was also tossed into the grave. And other storytellers add that the sand, as it is wont to do for both great and small, covered it all.
All rights reserved by the author. Illustration © 2012 by David Polonsky. Translated by Jessica Cohen.
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