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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32. Chapter 31 - Mistletoe

Mistletoe was frustrated. Two days trapped in the house. Two days!

She had missed Wormwood’s speech, too, though she never thought she would hear it. She had to return to her house in the Rose Garden.

Medlar had held her up initially, and upon entering her house she had been met with unexpected bluster.

“Mistletoe!” Her mother had leapt at her entry, “Where have you been?”

Mistletoe’s initial thought had been that her mother had forgotten her excuse, but the panic in her face said otherwise.

“In the library.” She replied, still alarmed.

“In the library! And yet not in the room you had arranged for!” Her mother turned in fluster. “In fact, I was told you had never arranged for a room!”

Mistletoe blinked.

“You looked for me?” She asked, disbelieving.

Her mother turned back to her, face taut.

“Of course I did! There is a rebellion happening, Mistletoe! I feared you had been caught up in the tumult and harmed. Or captured!”

Mistletoe blinked again.

Footsteps thudded hurriedly down the stairs, and her older sister burst into the room.

“White!” Her sister stormed up to her, though her face betrayed some of her relief at her sisters return.

Mistletoe grew more shocked – White was a nickname Mistletoe’s sister hadn’t used for her since they were small children, before her sister started her Gardener training. It referred to her full name Whiteberry-Mistletoe. It was easier to call her Mistletoe, such that her mother – whose full name was simply Mistletoe – referred to her thus.

But her sister called her Whiteberry, and she had always referred to her sister as Juniper rather than Juniper-Mistletoe.

But they had not had cause to refer to each other by name for a long time.

“Juni…”

“Mother was worried sick!” She crossed her arms, “She could not stand the thought of you in danger!”

Juniper glanced at her mother, and then back to her sister, who now stood half a head taller than her.

Mistletoe looked back and forth between her mother and sister, whose dark, smooth faces both frowned with lingering worry.

Worry.

Mistletoe touched her fingers to her chest.

“You were worried about me.”

“Yes!” Juniper sighed, exasperatedly. “We have to stay together now, White! There are so many things-!” She turned abruptly to their mother, cutting her sentence short.

Their mother took a deep, shaking breath, and stepped closer to her youngest daughter, taking her hands in her own.

Mistletoe suddenly noticed the veins just becoming visible as dark streaks beneath her mother’s skin. When her mother looked her in the eye, she saw a weariness she’d never spotted before.

“I am so glad you are safe.” She squeezed Mistletoe’s hands tighter, “I truly am, Mistletoe.”

Mistletoe found herself cringing, uncomfortable at this unfamiliar situation.

Her mother was showing her affection – this had not happened for a long time. Never. Not one occasion of love could Mistletoe remember ever since she had revealed herself to not be magical.

But this… yes, this… must be motherly love.

Mistletoe couldn’t decide how she felt.

She watched her mother’s hands carefully. As though they could turn to claws at any moment and tear her to pieces. Like they had been waiting to do for years.

Like Mistletoe had been sure they had been waiting to do.

“I know I have all but neglected you these past few years.” Her mother confessed. And true guilt creased her face.

Mistletoe gasped. It was not her mother who had been wishing to tear her to shreds – she had been the one growing claws.

She had never expected this from her mother.

No, she had expected the opposite.

She had been so ready for the opposite.

“I am so sorry, Mistletoe.” Her mother had breathed out an exhausted sigh. “These years have been so terribly trying, and it seems I had forgotten your needs. No more. No more, Mistletoe.”

Mistletoe looked up, met her mother’s dark eyes, saw the silver now creeping through her platinum hair.

Coiling like frost on the road in moonlight.

“There will be no more struggling. We are family. I will not forget again. Our trials are over, and I will make up for all the time I have forgotten to give you your share of love.”

“Mother…” Mistletoe pulled back slightly, flustered and confused. “What…?”

But her mother was shaking. She released Mistletoe’s hands to press her fingers to her lips.

“But, for now,” She mumbled, voice quivering, “Please excuse me.”

She motioned to Juniper.
“Juniper, if you could, please-”

“Of course.”
Their mother fled the room, and Juniper turned back to her sister. She breathed steel into her gaze and reached a hand out to her sister.

Mistletoe’s fingers twitched uncertainly, not sure whether to take it.

Or run.

Run away to the Serpent and not have to deal with this.

What was coming?

Her image of her family had been tipped on it’s head in just a few short minutes. Must there be more?

She thought of her room in the Serpent. She thought of hiding there without listening to what her sister had to say, pretending none of this ever happened, and living in blissful hate whilst she and the rest of the Serpent knock the Garden to bits and rebuilt it from the ground up.

Juniper stretched her hand wider, imploring.

Mistletoe took it and let herself be led.

 

Lay in her bed in the night’s darkness, Mistletoe laid a hand across her eyes, seeing her sister in the parlour explaining what was going on.

Her thoughts swirled with images of her mother in the past years. They forever echoed behind anything else she tried to think.

Had her mother been holding back her fear all along and Mistletoe had never noticed it? Had Mistletoe ignored it, pushing herself through with her hateful rhetoric?

She warred with herself.

Part of her wished she had known sooner so that she could have helped her family. Part of her wished she could run away right now and barrel on through the plan, acting ignorant of these troubles.

Only her indecisiveness stopped her from escaping through the window.

They are one family of Roses, she tried to tell herself, not a population of a thousand neglected Weeds who deserve a better life.

But they were her family.

She sat up in bed, staring out of the window.

She hated these feelings. For a long time she had been constructing an image of her family that told her how and why to hate them.

In one fell swoop – one conversation – her sister had knocked that apart.

“We have all but been legally declared less than Roses.” Her sister had explained, solemnly watching her fingers as she picked at the splinters of a chair in the salon. “Our yields have largely failed for the last ten years, and now we have used up our provisions. We are reduced to doling out grain to our workers, and they are finding better offers elsewhere. We have no workers, White. Soon, we will have no status.”

Her sister had gazed out of the salon window, eyes hazy. Her hands clenched with anxiety.

“We will have to leave this house and move into a smaller one in the Herb Garden.”

“But the Gardeners have not legally declared it! And you are still in line to take mother’s place. You are still training.”

Juniper smiled weakly and shook her head.

“I have only been attending mother for a few years now, trying to help her employ workers.” She held out her hands. Mistletoe saw they were dry and calloused. “Occasionally, I have been forced to work the fields myself.”

Mistletoe thought of her own hands, still soft and undamaged. She clenched them where they sat in her skirts, rubbing her knuckles with her thumbs.

“White, I have been working the fields to save mother the shame of having to do so after your information failed to be our saving grace.”

The steel rushed back into her face as she met Mistletoe’s wary gaze with enough force to make Mistletoe lean back. “Half the workers do not know my face. I do my best to hide it however – I am not without shame, after all. Even staying away from conversation, I have heard the workers talk, White.”

Mistletoe leant back further, a nibbling fear in the pit of her stomach.

“I have heard them plan. I heard them speak of the Serpent.” Her gaze was firm. Mistletoe could not look away, breath held. “I heard them talk about certain Serpent members they have heard about, and the coloured cloth they must look out for.”
Her stare was pointed at Mistletoe’s lapel, where a green band of cloth still sat, sewn on and forgotten.

As though she could hide it now, she had reached to cover it with her fingers.

She realised her shoulders were stiff with tension, and tried to breath, tried to force her muscles to relax.

Her sister huffed a sigh and sat back in her own seat.

“It is dangerous territory in which you are playing.” She crossed her arms across her chest, “Mother would be horrified.”

Mistletoe tried to swallow her trepidation.

“So why…” Her voice came out as a hiss from the back of her throat. She cleared it. “Why have you not reported me, then?”

Juniper rolled her eyes.

“If we were not ruined already, we certainly would be then!” She all but yelled, then straightened her white dress as though to settle herself. “And because you are my sister. For all I have ignored you, it is not for lack of desire to bond as once we did. I have lived a challenging life. I had to go through training, just the same as your beloved Wormwood.”

This struck Mistletoe.

Of course. Of course Juniper had done the training.

And yet Mistletoe had never thought of her sister doing it with any other image than in the cruelty of torture. Which had never much occurred to her on Wormwood’s behalf.

Mistletoe had never really thought about the challenge that the training would have posed her, as it had Wormwood.

“I’m sorry.” Mistletoe muttered, averting her gaze.

“Why?” Her sister asked, sniffing dismissively. “I have emerged perfectly well. Other are not so lucky.”

“Right.” Mistletoe said, awkwardly. She cringed. “Good.”

“I know other are not so lucky, White.” Juniper repeated, “I have heard the Weeds, previewed the extent of their tiresome works. And so I understand, White.”

Mistletoe looked up again.

“Sorry?”

“I understand why you assist those rebels. There are faults in our system, that is true.”

Mistletoe’s heart fluttered-

“But I cannot support you.”

-And fell flat again.

“Mother has tried so hard, with only father and I for support, and I cannot abandon her now.”

“You may be at risk.” Mistletoe was alarmed to find herself worrying over her family. “We- I mean, the Serpent… In just a few days-”

“You will attack, I know. We have received word of it.”

“You… received word of it? From whom?”

“I am no informant, White!” Juniper huffed, crossing her arms again. Then flicked the question aside with a hand. “Besides, the note was anonymous.”

Mistletoe brought her thumb to her mouth, nibbling at it in anxiety. Her head raced with suspicions.

“What I want you to understand, White,” Juniper put extra force into Mistletoe’s name to command her attention, “is that I would not do anything that would put you in harm’s way. I would never reveal you. But if another opportunity arises to save our status, I will take it – for mother’s sake.”

“Even if you get hurt?”

“We will only be hurt if you let us be.”

“That is unfair, Juni! There are those who are inclined towards violence! I have no control over their actions.”

Juniper sniffed and waved the thought away again.

“Well, we likely shan’t be in the Chapel of Law anyhow. I shall be sure to put mother and father into hiding.” She breathed out as though releasing stress, and swung to her feet, “And you do your best to achieve your own goal. Just be sure there is a place for us in your future.”

Juniper moved to leave but hesitated as her fingertips brushed the door handle.

“Can you do that?” She asked, uncertainty in her tone, not turning around.

With great surprise, Mistletoe found herself completely sure.

“Yes. Yes, I can.”

Then Juniper looked back, and her eyes seemed to glow with joy.

“I cannot wait for us to be a family again, however it happens.”

Then she left, leaving Mistletoe alone with her thoughts.

 

Eventually, she had moved to her room.

And there she had lay until deep darkness, busying herself with her thoughts and stresses and regrets.

Not only about her couple of days’ absence from the Serpent, but her affections’ absence from the family.

She removed her arm from it’s position across her eyes.

For the first time in a long time she sympathised with her sister, and her heart swelled with excitement.

She could not wait to be a family again, either.

But she was certain that her route, the Serpent’s route, would provide the best future for them.

In one smooth movement she rose to her feet and strode to her window.

She gazed at the ground, mere metres below her – but still too high for her to avoid harm.

But there was no other exit – this was the only way her mother would not see her leaving by.

After two days trapped within the house by her mother’s new loving gaze, she feared if she saw it again she would never leave.

But she had to fill her mind with other thoughts – with Wormwood and the Serpent and that sweet future they aimed for.

She needed that future.

She glanced about below her window.

A trellis was nailed to the wall hardly two feet below and to the left.

Tapping each foot against the floor softly, she wondered whether the trellis would hold her long enough for her to lower herself to a more reasonable height.

She could only try.

Without another thought, she pushed her window as wide as it would go, settled on the sill, and swung her legs around so that they hung into thin air.

Then she started to push forward, lowering herself with shaking arms and shaking breath, straining against her own weight.

If she could just get her foot onto the trellis-

She kicked out, reaching with her toes to find a grip.

Anywhere there… She must be close.

Bending her leg backwards a little further than was comfortable, she found it!

She risked a glance down and saw only space hanging between her and the cobbles. She swallowed and forced herself to look for her foot on the trellis, but it was hidden behind her body.

This would have to be a guess.

Her fingernails grated painfully against the concrete of her window ledge as she tried to turn, upper arms screaming with the effort. Praying no one saw her, she risked putting more of her weight on the wooden trellis.

And felt it crack beneath her.

With a yelp, she realised she had unknowingly let her arms relax, and now she was falling.

As she left the windowsill, the rough concrete scraped at the cloth of her dress, grazing the skin on her back.

Splinters drove into her ankle, which twisted uncomfortable as it struck the ground first, ahead of the rest of her.

Water in her eyes, she bit back the pain, forcing herself to stand.

Her ankle gave way in a flash of white pain and she collapsed again, catching herself with her hands. A burning sensation thudded into her palms.

Fearing she had already been noticed, she forced herself to breathe slowly, forcing back the pain, thinking of the Serpent, of Wormwood, of the family she would have another chance to enjoy.

With those thoughts, she rose and began to limp down the cobbled street, resisting crying out with every step.

It took far too long to reach the Herb garden, and far longer until she glanced back for the final time at her home before it disappeared over a bump of the hill.

For just a moment, she paused, breathing and reminding herself of those images that sustained her.

“I have to get the Serpent.” She heaved away another bout of pain and hobbled onwards.

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