Sunday 5 July 2015

The Garden of Doctor Krast

Some fiction from August 2012. I’ve written better.

"Do you know why they call this flower wise-man's-tears?" asked the apothecary, holding the wilting bundle of petals up to the light.

"Because... because it cannot die?" The boy twitched, avoiding the old man's eyes.

"So say the societies of readers", said the apothecary. "In their own way, they are quite right. But nothing really dies, does it Thomas?"

"No, master."

Thomas stared at the petals, fluttering in the breeze of the open window. Glints of yellow and purple played like electricity across their grey surfaces.

"Wise-man's-tears are so called because they avoid the presence of death. You will see in Riverstone that they climb every rooftop and choke every tree, save those that border the graveyard and the butcher's shop. It is said that before the Bone March they swarmed through the woods at Theel, now they may not be seen for leagues around. They have the property of abhorring dead flesh."

"Yes master". Outside, the birds were calling busying themselves with their morning fanfare.

"What said the grey prophet to the singer in the woods?"

For a moment, the boy's mind was blank. But before he could process the meaning of the words, his training returned to him. "That the first burden is the burden of sensation, the second burden is the burden of thought, and the third burden the burden of experience."

"And why did Jeremiah go among the birds?"

"Because obliteration did not come to him in the second great burning of the world, and because he knew it would not come to his sons nor to his daughters."

The apothecary nodded. "So you understand", he said. "Come. Let us walk outside."

They entered the garden, silver in the dawn light. The low sun sharpened and lengthened the shadows of the steel chimneys, striping the warm grass with dark knives.

As they walked down the gravel path, shifting in and out of the heavy shade, Thomas took pride in his knowledge of the plants that thronged the garden. Here was mottled green Fallwort, a hallucinogen when boiled and a soporific when dried and salted. There was a purple flash of Winter Antlers, its stark pigment once used by the Society of Tailors to dye their jagged weapons. Entwined around a low metal frame, he could see the orange leaves of a Gentleman's Blood, said by lesser country doctors to relieve blindness, and whose true name was held to ransom by the hall of the archivists.

This peace did not last long. There came a hammering, heavy and fumbled, at the iron gate to the garden. And with it a calling - a high-pitched whine - of "Doctor Krast! Doctor Krast!"

The apothecary raised an eyebrow and walked to the gate. He looked briefly through the wall's hidden spyhole, before undoing the rusted iron bolts.

Behind the gate, Thomas recognised the stunted, plump, and sweating form of Brother Nathaniel.

"Ah! Doctor Krast! And Thomas, I see. Late night tuition, I assume?"

Thomas began to realise quite how tired he was. "We were studying the behaviour of the moths", he said.

Nathaniel nodded distractedly. "Wonderful, wonderful. I too have had-" he coughed "-a rather busy night." He turned to the apothecary. "The Archbishop was restless. We tried sedation, but..."

"Not in front of the boy." There was no sharpness in the apothecary's voice, simply control. He turned to examine a bed of red flowers (The Catherine's Lock, thought Thomas), and almost as an afterthought, said "Have the engineers been informed?"

"Surely, you don't think..."

"Have they?"

"Yes doctor. Yes they have. But may the Prophets help us all if they come."

"Doubtless they will come", said the apothecary. It seemed to Thomas that the apothecary was barely perceiving his surroundings.

"They will have little use for your garden. They will need to..."

"The mountains are my Garden, brother Nathaniel. The forests are my garden. The state acts for all our sakes. And if my little collection must fall-"

Nathaniel nodded. There was something oppressive about the coolness of the shade in which Thomas stood.

The apothecary turned to Thomas. "Go to your mother," he said. "You know how to distil a cold sleep and steam a mind to emptiness. I have taught you that much. In the coming weeks, I am sure that the prophets will forgive you if you ease their burdens for yourself and for your family. There are some men I must travel to see. I will be back for you if I can."

The birds still sang in the youth of the morning. Cool rain began to fall upon the soft ground.

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