The carriage stopped and while everything in the world tempted Life to just jump out of it and run to look at what surrounded him, he stayed in his seat and waited as patiently as he could; he was, after all, an adult, and he had to behave like one if he wanted to be taken seriously after all. Alexander got out first, and invited him to follow, looking at him thoughtfully.
He climbed onto the carriage and searched for something for a moment, mumbled some satisfaction and stepped out, putting a black bowler on Life’s head, stepping back and nodding, satisfied.
-That should do. Now come on, let’s go.
He started walking away and for a moment Life took the hat in his hands to take a look at it, smiled, put it back on his head and followed. So many ladies and gentlemen were gathered around and, he noticed, a few of them were younger than he was. He felt a sort of pride in seeing that he was someone’s elder, he who was so used to always being the youngest wherever he walked.
Soon they were entering a rather large house, even by the young man’s standards; and while they were not exactly offered a tour of the mansion, they were soon led to a large ballroom and on the scene in front were a few items that he couldn’t see quite clearly from where he stood. They had been given numbers fancily written down on a piece of red cardboard upon entering, that they had tied to their suits. He noticed quite a few gentlemen around them had fresh flowers in their breast pockets and Life looked at them with a sort of inspired spark in his eye and decided that it was a marvellous idea and that he should start doing exactly that starting on the next day.
He was brought back to reality by his brother-in-law’s hand on his shoulder, and he looked at him only to notice that someone was on the scene and coughed loudly to catch everyone’s attention.
-So how does any of this work, Alex?
-Simple, my lad; the man there will show items on the front and if you’re interested in buying them you make a sign.
He showed him the different signs he could do; one to add to the current price, and one to double it. Knowing he had a fair amount of money under his father’s name, Life knew he could buy something that fancied his interest here and that made it all the more interesting. By the time he had memorized the hand gestures, there was a sale going on already and he couldn’t believe his ears and he turned back to whisper to the older gentleman, slightly concerned.
-Why is that man talking so quickly?
-Well, how does that make you feel?
-Nervous, I’d say. It’s unsettling.
-Well, that’s exactly what he wants. If you’re nervous and in a hurry, you don’t think twice.
He gave him a mysterious smile and Life seemed to catch on his drift. So basically people were spending money in here, crazy amounts of money, under the impression that if they didn’t hurry up the opportunity would slip between their fingers.
He decided to watch on for the first sales before he did any moves, to make sure he grasped how any of this worked; that, and nothing had picked his curiosity anyhow. All sorts of things had been sold, from frames with beautiful portraits, to jewelry and silverware. Some were sold ridiculously low, some really high, and so far Alexander hadn’t lifted his hand a single time.
-And here we have this marvellous Elizabethan rapier, a sword that has been passed down for generations in a certain noble family until they fell in the recent war against China…
Life glanced up at the mention of the weapon and his eyes lit up at its beauty. The man started the bid and, deciding that he should try to live a little, he raised his hand proudly to show interest. His mentor glanced at him with a smile and a gleam into his eyes, but quickly enough someone outbid him. He felt disappointed for a moment and hesitated, and a nudge in his sides determined him to try again; and once more he was pushed out of the game by the same man.
At that point the lad started to feel very frustrated indeed and while he tried to look into the crowd to see who was that man, didn’t notice that while he wasn’t paying attention to the auction anymore, his brother-in-law was trying to win it for him, not without laughing under his breath.
Not caring about the actual object anymore, or maybe a sort of pride kicked in somewhere into his heart, but as it turned out Life started making his way into the crowd in hopes of finding this gentleman who kept on outbidding him. Upon realizing his nephew was gone, Alexander stopped bidding on the sword and the other man won the item.
Having no more clues to go on to now that the fight was over, and seeing as he was now lost in the middle of a lot of strangers, Life decided to simply wait for the auction to be over and find his way back once people started getting out. It wasn’t like he was afraid he’d be left behind or that he needed to be constantly watched over anyway, so he kept on listening and decided to wait once again to see if an item that picked his fancy showed up again, forgetting all about his earlier irritation.
Finally some time later in the evening he had managed to actually win something at a fair price; a lovely map, made by a sailor’s hand and as soon as he had laid his eyes on it he had wanted it. Not only did it remind him of these adventure books about pirates he’d read as a kid, but it was truly a work of art, something that would look simply wonderful if framed properly and put on a wall.
By now a good chunk of those who were present had left, and a few others had come in. There was something peculiar about all of them, but Life couldn’t exactly put his finger on it.
-Most of them are alchemists, you know.
He thought his heart was going to stop and he turned around sharply to see Alexander standing behind him. He left out a sigh of relief, a hand on his chest.
At first he tried to wonder why they would come here and then remembered what he had circled in the paper that morning. Did people really believe an elixir could give them eternal life, he wondered? Or at the very least, live longer. In both cases the young man didn’t feel like it was a very realistic thing to come up with.
-The reason we’re here if for the next few items, my dear. Most of them have come here only for that; the auction itself is merely a cover for it.
-So this sort of thing is normal then? You’ve come here before?
-Yes, and this is where I met your brother, even.
He gave him a curious glance and the red-eyed gentleman chuckled.
-Well, not here in London obviously. But in your hometown, too, if you’re willing to dig a little, you can find the hints and clues and find yourself in a similar event.
He pat the lad’s head, making the hat fall over his eyes for a moment, before giving his attention back to the front. Life wondered what he had meant, but he felt like he wouldn’t get any answer were he to ask; and now that the item Alexander had circled in the paper that morning had been announced, he knew better than to bother him as he bid on it.
Instantly, however, just as he had experienced himself earlier, the same man as before doubled the offer for the elixir. Alexander apparently didn’t let this get to him and he, too, doubled the offer; only to be once again be outclassed by someone else. They were about eight to try and win it and as the price went up and up, to numbers very scary indeed to the lad’s ears, his brother-in-law was then fighting one on one with the mysterious gentleman.
On and on the price raised, and raised, and quite frankly it was about five times the amount that Life would have been ready to spend on anything, so he assumed this either worth a whole lot of money; that, or his mentor had fallen into the trap set by the fast-talking man… or his pride. Whatever the case, however, the two stubbornly kept on raising the price on and on and at some point it started to even look sort of childish. Childish like two kids trying to win an argument, and upon seeing that they’re not winning, start saying as much nonsense as they can just to shut the other up; instead here they were talking with numbers and money.
By then the audience was mostly silent, save from the gasps every time one of them made a new offer, taking longer and longer with each price raise before they’d say anything. When finally the price became too crazy and Alexander won, there seemed to be some sort of murmur of respect all around the crowd.
Well, Life surely hoped this elixir wasn’t a scam like he expected it to be, because that would make it a very costly one, just to take a chance that it wasn’t. The man who had made up that potion must have been a crazy rich genius.