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)


12. Chapter 11 - Henbane

The Serpent was in uproar – the chaos of children in the corridors, and a dog in a neighbouring room seemed nought compared to this.

For once, the bunker was packed full.

The rooms were stuffed with the children and families of the allies, but the allies themselves stood in Wormwood’s office, with every regular member of the Serpent. Even members she’d never taken much notice of were present, but she could name them all – Bluebottle, Medlar, Mistletoe, Pennyroyal, Oleander, Poppy, Hellebore, Laburnum, Khat and, of course, Wormwood.

Farmers stood with thieves, priests with killers, squashed between the wood-plated walls of Wormwood’s office, all pushing and yelling like true grown-ups to get closer to be heard by Wormwood at her desk.

Henbane’s curiosity was piqued, but still her fingers played over the old book pressed tightly against her chest.

Part of her mind sat back in her room, pen in hand playing over paper in scribbles and scratches.

But most of it was here, where the yelling raged.

“But what are they actually going to do?” One farmer demanded to know.

“Our priority should be the safety of the people!” A priest declared.

“Maybe send a negotiator?” A Thief Lord suggested.

Henbane wasn’t entirely certain of what was going on. The voices blazed around her, but none of them seemed to make any sense.

The Garden was preparing to attack the Serpent?

Sure, that would make sense by itself – the Serpent rebelled against the ways preached by the Garden, and the Gardeners didn’t like that threat hanging over their heads.

But it couldn’t have come to be without being accepted by the Head Gardener and Messiah – Mandrake Solana, her brother.

She knew he’d been intending to kill her – she overheard them telling him to do it – but to kill so many others?

No. She couldn’t believe her brother would do that. There was still good inside him – the demons couldn’t have consumed him all the way…

“Silence!” Wormwood called, and the sound dwindled away until, a minute later, her command was achieved. “I have told you the situation as it has been confirmed by both myself and my spies in the town, but if you require it from a different mouth- Mistletoe, can you confirm?”

Mistletoe stepped forward, her hair shining blue in the light of the room’s glits. Her skin was patterned in soft peach and peat brown. Her fiery brown eyes flashed with gravity. She was a tall woman, curvier than Khat, but still slim and smooth.

“I can.” Mistletoe nodded, flipping the pages of her notepad to the page she needed, “In a meeting of my mother’s, I overheard her talking of the Serpent by name. Both my mother and the other Roses present agreed something must be done about it. In a later meeting, they expressed relief that the Messiah, Mandrake Solana, had agreed to take action.”

Bluebottle stepped forward, then.

“I heard similar from the Gardener Alder Aquifolia. He speaks frequently of opposing the mobilisation of the Pesticide, but it seems he failed in his argument.” She bit her lip, and shifted in place, “But I don’t know about how far Mandrake agreed to this. Alder expresses concern over his health. The Messiah, apparently, often appears in the court seeming stressed and pale. It could be he’s being pressured into agreeing with this attack.”

Henbane’s heart skipped a beat.

She knew it-!

“Then-” She started to speak, almost bouncing on her heels.

“Then we may be facing the order of an organised – and not to mention foolhardy- coup!” Khat gasped, throwing her arms in the air, exasperatedly, “And not just the inexperienced commands of a young despot!”

“Yes! We are unprepared!” A priest agreed, “We should pull back!”

A few amongst them nodded along.

“I agree, we mustn’t be hasty, but our time may be short.” Wormwood sighed. White flicks of skin from chewing were visible on Wormwood’s fingers as she splayed them on the desk. Her nails looked painfully short. “It will take the Pesticide and the Gardeners some time to reach this place, but it won’t be too long before they garner the courage to push through Death’s Weight. We will take the time we have, but I don’t believe there is much of it.”

“Is the messiah’s life at risk?” Henbane asked, but her voice was quiet, it didn’t carry across the crowd.

“We have the means to make a hit now!” A Thief Lord exclaimed, “Send in my thieves and your best infiltrators this evening! The Gardeners could die in their beds by the dozens this very night!”

“No!” Multiple voices argued at once – aside from her own, Henbane heard Khat’s, Wormwood’s and Bluebottle’s, but they were not alone.

“Why not?” Medlar, a pock-faced young man with the eyes of a foreigner retorted, “It’s the quickest course of action! We could save so many people!”

“And kill so many people at the same time!” A priest clutched his breast, horrified.

“They’re hardly people – they’re monsters!” A farmer argued. “You know what they do in the Hand!”

“We mustn’t treat them all the same!” The priest warbled.

“They aren’t all like that!” Bluebottle raged at the same time.

Medlar drove his fist down on the desk.

“They all receive the training!” He growled, “They all have tortured and killed innocents! They are all the same!”

“I disagree.” Mistletoe wrinkled her nose, speaking calmly but clearly enough to still be heard above the racket. “But such sacrifices may be necessary to ensure the lives of the masses.”

“Is the messiah’s life at risk?” Henbane tried again, fearing more for her brother’s life – she could see people crowding in around him on all sides, knives in hand. “Is Mandrake’s life at risk?

She didn’t realise how loud she’d said it, but the room quieted around her.

All eyes watched her. She shuffled where she stood, feeling like the cool ocean blue of the lights had suddenly become the hottest part of a fire.

Wormwood pushed papers around on her desk, scanning them, and then glanced to Mistletoe and Bluebottle.

She met Henbane’s eyes.


“Then we have to save him!” She cried, pushing her way through to Wormwood’s desk, so that she stood directly opposite the leader. “He’s not evil! He wouldn’t do this of his own accord! I don’t know if it’s the Roses or the demons, but I know-”

“Demons?!” Someone squealed from the crowd, and the room roared into chaos again.

“What is she saying?”

“Demons?! But there aren’t any demons!”

“Who is this girl?” Someone yelled, fuelled by anger.

Wormwood put a hand on Henbane’s shoulder, and ushered her around the other side of the desk, where she was harder to reach, but easier to see.

“This is Henbane Solana.” Wormwood swallowed, glancing nervously at Henbane. Henbane felt like her legs were going to give out beneath her, “The younger sister of the Messiah, Mandrake Solana.”
“Keeping such a person in the Serpent’s Nest-!” A thief started to protest.

“She came here of her own accord, and has not left the premises since!” Wormwood assured them authoritatively, demanding silence again, “I know nothing of these demons, but be sure that Henbane is not any of the things you are currently thinking her to be, except our ally, and a member of the Serpent.”

“But what does she mean?” A red-haired farmer asked, brushing a thick-fingered hand across his sweat-soaked head. “Demons? They don’t exist. Do they?”

Wormwood looked to Henbane, and patted her on the back to continue.

Henbane’s heart leapt into her throat. She placed her hands on the desk to steady herself, and hoped it appeared more of a stern gesture than a scared one.

“My brother… has heard the voices of demons for many a year now.” She began, shakily, “They started talking to him not long after he became Messiah, and tried to control him. I believe he may have succumbed. I… I heard him talking with the demons, the night that I ran from our rooms in the Chapel of Law. They told him to kill me, and at that point I didn’t believe he had enough control over himself to disobey them.

“He’s not evil!” Henbane reiterated, “But the demons have sway over him! We must rescue him! I know he can be saved!”

The room fell silent.


“Certainly,” Wormwood began, with a cough to gather attention back to herself, not that it was necessary, “Having the messiah on our side may prove useful.”

“Who’s to say he would join us?” Chided a more sceptical priest. “I’ve seen the messiah. He is a harsh young gentleman. His are the beliefs of a strong Edenist.”

“And perhaps the… demons… are making it so!” Khat stepped up, arms crossed, “It seems to me it’s a less violent route, and even if we fail to convert him to a more Gardenist approach-”

“Or to disregard religion altogether-” Wormwood added, to the chagrin of Khat and several of the people present, including Henbane.

“- The rebels within will have to feign insecurity without the governmental leader until a new messiah can be appointed or risk facing the wrath of not only other Roses, but the Herbs, even some of the Weeds, who may be loyal to the rule of the Messiah!”

“So either they trip over their own feet, and give us more time to build our offenses,” Medlar simplified, “Or they don’t, and succumb to a revolt that we could take advantage of.”

“Right.” Khat nodded, and many around the room mumbled their agreement.

“I admit… It does seem like the best course of action right now.” Mistletoe piped up, almost seeming to cling to the idea. Henbane noticed Medlar glaring at her so hotly that he seemed to be trying to burn holes into Mistletoe’s cheek. Mistletoe ignored him.

“Then we’ll save him?” Henbane’s voice rang with hope. She felt tears building in her eyes as relief flooded her strained muscles.

“Yes.” Wormwood said quietly to Henbane, and then turned to face the crowd again.

She clenched her fist before her.

“We have decided!” She declared, voice booming around the room, clear for all to hear, “We will retrieve the Messiah, Mandrake Solana, and bring him back here to the Serpent!”

The office broke into cramped applause, which echoed in deafening rattles off the walls, making it seem as though the cheer came from three times more people.

“But how will we get to him? The Chapel of Law is well-guarded and nearly impenetrable.” Hellebore spoke, once the applause died down. Her voice was quiet, and shaky, but the question was soon taken up by those around her.

Wormwood raised her hand for quiet once more.

“Worry not.” She grinned, “I happen to be in contact with someone who frequents the Chapel.”

For a moment, further questions sat in people’s mouths like doubtful bubbles, ready to burst from their lips and shake the room again.

But everyone held their tongues, deciding they would wait and see the person Wormwood would summon before they made their judgements – after all, if this person was trusted by Wormwood, then there was little room to doubt their fidelity.

“I’ll contact you again when she arrives.” Wormwood rapped her knuckles twice against her desk to signal the end, “You are all dismissed.”

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