The Poison Garden

In the dead of night a girl flees all she's ever known, fearing for her life and seeking to save that of her brother.
Far into the forest, beyond yew trees grown on human flesh, she seeks the Serpent, a small community of individuals secretly thriving away from the pious eyes of the Garden.
If she's lucky, their interests might just align.

Follow Henbane, Bluebottle, Mistletoe and others as they seek to tear down their old lives in order to build them anew.

(Cover by WinterSoldier)

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21. Chapter 20 - Bluebottle

The day was dawning with a feeling of imminence.

Bluebottle knew the hours until night would tick by in cold, almost torturous, slowness.

For now, she tried to take it in in deep, calming breaths. The soft embrace of her bed still clung to her, but she had to shake it off – for anyone outside of the Serpent and the Weed Pit, this had to be a normal day.

That meant going to work.

The previous night had been a battle of information. One thief would dive into the hut declaring their message was sent, only to crash into another on their way out.

By the early hours of the morning, the flow had begun to stem, and Wormwood sent the others off to bed. She alone remaining to take the last messages.

After an intense day of discussion, the plan was decided upon, and the Weeds and Serpent both were ready to move.

Returning to their rooms, Henbane had started to wonder aloud, as she often did,

“Wormwood usually takes messages in her study, doesn’t she? We met with the allies there the other day, too.” She pondered, as energetic as always though she must have been exhausted, too. Bluebottle was envious. “And all of our planning took place in the hut, too!”

“We do things in the hut sometimes.” Bluebottle commented, impatient to get to bed.

“Yes, we did look at those maps the other day in there, but Yew was present then.”

“And you think they can’t come inside or something?” Bluebottle sighed, “Wormwood’s spontaneous a lot of the time, it doesn’t mean anything.”

“Yes, but usually-” Henbane tried again.

“It does make sense to take the messages in the hut.” Hellebore put in, voice barely a whisper from fatigue and anxiety, “They were comin’ in quick. It would take longer if they had to go all the way down and up again.”

“I suppose…” Henbane confessed.

“On th-the oth-ther h-hand,” Poppy yawned, “If any of th-them h-had been followed, sitting in th-the h-hut where everyone c-could see us would p-put th-the Serp-pent’s Nest on th-the map.”

“Yes!” Henbane exclaimed.

The others shied away from her enthusiasm, and disappeared into their own bedrooms with a brief ‘goodnight’.

When Bluebottle had finally reached her room, she was eager to get away from Henbane’s talking and the panging headache it was causing.

Bluebottle suspected Henbane was having particular trouble because of the new plan, and that was why she was so insistent on talking for as long as possible.

She didn’t know anything about any kind of demons, but Bluebottle had already started to believe there were some workings within Henbane’s head that didn’t occur in most people’s.

Mostly, Bluebottle would let Henbane chatter – somehow it helped – but tonight Bluebottle was heavily fatigued and not looking forward to awakening again in another few hours to the dawn and her beckoning pup and job.

And now that pup was pawing at her cheek.

Bones popped and cracked as she stretched. Like her clothes, she eased warmly into the painful relief that came with the action. It tingled up her spine and dissipated as she swung open the door and stepped into another chill day.

 

~

 

Quickly, her first task of the day was complete. The trees started to thin around her as she got closer to the Reaper’s hut.

For a while, she walked in peace. Sheep ran about her ankles, chuffing happily. In the trees, the birds sang their winter songs.

A wind so chill that the sting of it forced Bluebottle to close her eyes rushed through the branches, adding a brand new tone to the orchestra swirling around her.

When she opened her eyes again, the orchestra was gone.

The already-cold air had dropped 10 degrees or more. Bluebottle quickly tucked her fingers underneath her arms, huddling herself closer.

At her feet, Sheep cowered and whimpered.

All around the light had been smothered by thick mist and a disorientating new copse of yew trees.

Panic rushed up Bluebottle’s spine with memories of her parents.

But, no, this wasn’t the same.

The Weight had not increased.

On the other hand, Bluebottle didn’t know if the Weight could increase. She may have adapted to the constant presence of Death and be invulnerable to it’s effects.

Catching her breath, she started to run. Desperately, she pushed in the same direction she’d been going – or she thought she was, but there were only yew trees and corpse-roots wherever she looked. Branches swatted her cheeks and arms and legs. Sheep tripped her with every step.

When at last she fell from the dense mass of Death, she felt she must have been running for half an hour.

And yet, she knew she’d been barely five minutes from the hut.

Never had she thought that the sight of the Reaper’s Hut would be a comfort to her, but there it was.

The door clattered closed in a flash of deepest black and curdled white.

The Reaper was messing with me! She fumed, gasping for breath as the cold froze it in her throat.

But the cold wasn’t as severe anymore. The yew trees had all but vanished. Sheep’s tremble had eased.

It was in the brief silence before the world realised the threat was gone that she heard the soft rumble of a person snoring.

She seemed too still, even as the world sat frozen. Her sandy hair poured across her knees in it’s typical curls from where she hid her face in her arms.

She was hardly dressed for the weather. Leant up against the rotting wooden wall of the hut with her knees to her chest and cloth-clad arms wrapped around her head, her long white nightgown had fallen away to expose her legs to the cold.

When sound broke back into the atmosphere, Bluebottle ran to her side, pulling off her coat without a second thought to wrap it around Wormwood.

In an instant, she was sat beside her, pulling her closer.

Agonisingly slowly, the girl roused, limbs twitching back to life.

Waking, she bore the innocent uncertainty of a child, not the leader of a rebel organisation.

“Bluebottle?” She did not raise her head, only turned it slightly so one eye became visible.

“What are you doing out here?” Bluebottle didn’t mean to scold, but her worry got the better of her, “You’ll freeze! How long have you been sitting here?”

She blinked as though the question didn’t register.

“I don’t remember.” She turned her face downwards again. “I went to bed but I couldn’t sleep, so I came out here.”

With small grunts she flexed her blue fingers and began to fumble with her skirt, tugging the hem downwards until it covered her legs again.

“Are you okay?” Bluebottle’s brow creased. How could she not have noticed her earlier?

Briefly, she raised her head. A tremor ran along her lower lip, also blue.

As though unseeing, she gazed ahead at the trees.

Then, in one quick movement she adjusted her position so that her elbows rested on her knees and her hands around her neck.

Still she gazed.

“Khat’s angry at me.”

That wasn’t what Bluebottle was expecting, somehow. Still, she supposed it was credible.

“You know Khat. She’s honest about her emotions, but smart enough to not hold onto them too long.” Bluebottle patted Wormwood’s shoulder. “She’ll figure out a way to move past it.”

“Will she?” The question was barely a whisper, and Bluebottle got the feeling that it wasn’t being put to her.

But, then, to whom was it being put?

Bluebottle couldn’t ask. Wormwood had done things Bluebottle could never fully understand, and Bluebottle suspected something related to that was eating Wormwood besides. As everyone in the Serpent knew or would learn - there were some things you didn’t push at, and Wormwood’s childhood was certainly something you didn’t push at.

“She’s mad because you decided to attack the Hand.” Bluebottle turned the conversation back to it’s original topic.

Khat was a pacifist. She always had been. Her power lay in her words and emotions which, to some, would seem wild but in reality had been carefully practiced since she was very small. Her control over her emotions was caringly crafted, she had utmost trust in what she could do with them.

It was her decision to not control them, even when it would benefit her.

Violence where it was not impossible to avoid angered her like nothing else.

Wormwood buried her face again.

“That’s not the only reason.” The murmur was muffled, but Bluebottle heard it well enough.

Again, the world seemed to still.

There was some gravity in Wormwood’s words that Bluebottle didn’t entirely understand. She supposed it could only be as she suspected – Wormwood’s childhood eating at her - but even knowing it wasn’t something to push, Bluebottle didn’t know exactly what happened to Wormwood in her childhood to not push.

She was loud, and spontaneous, and the best liar Bluebottle had ever met.

Which made her vulnerability even more unsettling.

Bluebottle had only just opened her mouth to speak again, when those hazel eyes rose once more, now focused and stern.

“Bluebottle.” Her voice was demanding. “Go inside.”

Without a thought, Bluebottle was on her feet and facing the door.

It was rage that forced her to stop.

She spun again.

“I didn’t even ask!” She growled, “And I told you-!”

“I’m tired.” Wormwood’s voice had no emotion. “Don’t ask. Go inside.”

A tremor in her voice.

Bluebottle found she couldn’t make herself speak, but neither did she feel compelled to go inside.

Wormwood’s hands curled into fists, clumping the hem of her nightgown together.

“Stop!” Bluebottle managed to gasp out.

Hair bouncing, Wormwood rose to her feet, an angry glare blazing in her eyes.

“Go inside, Bluebottle!” She repeated, more forcefully.

As Bluebottle turned and opened the door, she caught sight of red fading in Wormwood’s skin, from her jaw to her collarbone where her fingers had been.

Then she was inside.

Wormwood’s magic had beaten her will again.

 

~

As she’d thought, the day had been long, and spending time with Yerba and Holly had hardly helped to ease her fretting.

Holly had been excused from her private classes more frequently as of late, and Yerba’s joy was clear in the sparkle of his eyes.

With each page he completed, he would take the opportunity to lift his gaze from his book to his sister.

But Holly was looking wearier than a 10 year old should have any need to be, and didn’t notice or didn’t care about her little brother’s adoration.

Bluebottle was almost thankful when Alder returned for lunch and Holly shied away to her room with an armful of fruit.

When Bluebottle went to place Alder’s lunch before him, and he caught her hand with gentle fingers, a flush of hot thrill ran up her spine.

“Bluebottle,” His voice was a stream in summer – warm and clear as it trickled softly from it’s source. “It occurs to me I don’t know much about you.”

She pulled away reluctantly, pressing at her skirt with flustered fingers.

“There’s not much to know, sir.” She replied, trying to level her breathing.

“But it would be nice to know.” His smile was a spring breeze – sweet as though thick with pollen. “Will you sit with me whilst I eat?”

She couldn’t refuse. Professionalism might insist, but her heart just would not listen.

She sat, trying her hardest to feign modesty and hesitance where there was no trace of it in her mind.

“You’re of the Herbs?” He asked first.

So ablaze were her thoughts it took her a moment to process his question.

“I don’t know if I would say that, sir.” Her shoulders were stiff. She wondered if her cheeks were bright red. “My parents were Herbs, but I grew up in an orphanage.”

It occurred to her to wonder if someone in Alder’s position would understand the idea of an orphanage, but he nodded as though he did.

“So, where do you live if you are of varied class?”

Where were his questions leading?

“Outside of the town.” How much should she tell? “In a small house past the trees.”

“Is that not dangerous? There must be some risk of attack when travelling to work.”

Her heart seemed ready to leap from her chest. She placed her hand on the table to steady herself.

“Not really.” She could barely speak. “Well, nothing I can’t deal with.”

His lips pressed tight.

His hand shifted from his lap, across the table, and rested on top of her own.

With those gorgeous blue eyes he gazed firmly into her dark brown ones.

Would he ask what she had hardly let herself dream of? If he did, could she accept?

“Tonight…” He began. Her heart leapt into her throat. Then his gaze faltered, his comforting hold became looser. He drew back slightly, “I hear there is likely to be a freeze. Try and stay indoors where it’s warm.”

He withdrew from the kitchen without another word, taking his lunch with him.

Bluebottle was left in her disappointment.

 

With the disappointment still wriggling under her skin, the night seemed colder than it really was.

The street was dark within and without her hiding place. In the alley, she was not the only one lying in wait. She was surrounded by thieves and others with records of murder.

She had told Alder that there was no danger she could not handle – but she could not tell him that there could be no danger when those he considered dangers in the streets and forests were the companions with which she would that night find herself camped.

In silence, the dangers of the streets and forests awaited the signal. In their huts and nooks the Weeds waited too.

When the moon was at it’s peak, those still at the Serpent’s Nest would signal, and the movement would begin.

Medlar, thinking he was funny, suggested that they should tell the Weeds ‘Death Shall Come’ after the proposal that they should use Death’s Weight as a distinct signal.

That had been the final call (after refusing Medlar’s suggestion) on the idea that, even though the Serpent members wouldn’t be affected, it would be clear when the effect took hold on the Weeds and allies.

But now the moon was at it’s peak, and despite her having sub-consciously steeled herself for it, Bluebottle couldn’t see or feel signs of the Weight at all.

Around her, the allies were getting restless. Whispering began in earnest. As the only member of the Serpent in that area’s group, Bluebottle was pestered by questions that she couldn’t answer.

In a wave, all suddenly fell silent.

And in another, signs of the Weight still absent, the Weeds and the allies began to move.

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