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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15. Chapter 14 - Mistletoe

“She looked a lot like you.” Medlar nagged at her heels as she returned to her room. She had told her mother she was taking a trip to the library to study, and would stay there for a few nights in one of the prepared rooms.

That’s fine. Her mother had said, and then, Take some fruit from the kitchen.

That had surprised Mistletoe. She had expected a ‘no’ – there must be guests to entertain, after all, it seemed there always was these days – but her mother had accepted the trip without so much as a shrug. Even more so, she had not expected any concern over what she might eat – and an offer to take food from the kitchen?

That had never happened before.

“What?” Mistletoe frowned, stopping in her tracks to face Medlar. He stumbled into her back, then pulled away, wriggling his nose back into place.

“Snowdrop. She looks like you.”

Mistletoe snorted – no need for proper around someone like Medlar.

“She does not.” Mistletoe huffed, continuing down the corridor.

“Think about it!” Medlar insisted, pushing past Mistletoe into her room as the door opened, much to Mistletoe’s insult. “The skin colour-”

No one has skin like mine.” Mistletoe pressed her lips tight.

“Then the hair.” He rudely caught a few strands of her hair between his fingers.

Mistletoe pulled back and away, forcing him to release it.

“Her hair wasn’t pale like mine, it was… wiry. Like the white hair of an elderly person.” She wrinkled her nose with that thought in mind, and set about washing her hands of the dirt she’d accumulated in the woods.

“The eyes?”

“Hers were more grey!”

“But the brown is the same!”

“Lots of browns are the same!”

He sighed, and lay back on her bed – incredibly rude!

With a grimace, Mistletoe let him be. Better lying down and silent than sat up and pestering her.

On that thought, why had she let him into her room?

But before she could tell him to shoo, he was sat back up again, studying her face as soon as she turned back to him.

“The nose…” He muttered.

“Why is this even relevant?” Mistletoe put her hands on her hips. Mistletoe was starting to get the feeling this pointless train of thought was merely a means of wiggling his way into some other conversation.

“Because she was weird, wasn’t she?”

“I don’t want to talk about her anymore.” Mistletoe huffed, urgency creeping into her chest. “And you have no right to be in here, anyway. Get out of my room!”

“Indulge me.” His voice almost lowered to a growl. Mistletoe’s body froze against her will, and, shocked, she realised that she was scared.

“I-I’ve indulged you enough! Get out!” She tried, hurrying to the door.

He grabbed her wrist, pulling her back to sit beside him.

Mistletoe felt goose bumps rising along her arms.

“You owe me an explanation, after you agreed to the plan and let it fall through.”

She pulled away, but his arm was around her shoulder.

He was stronger than he had any right to be.

“It didn’t fall through! I did what you suggested!”

“Yes, you put it all into place as suggested, and then stopped the ball from rolling before they decided to attack!”

“We don’t need to attack that way! We have a solution – a good solution!”

She managed to wrench herself away, then, pushing with her arms and legs and using her height to her advantage.

“I thought what you said was good, I did,” She was alarmed by the tremble in her voice, “But they said something better!”

He rose, too.

Despite his size, he seemed intimidating in his anger.

“You agree with me that the Gardeners – the Gardeners living right now – have done enough damage, don’t you? You know they should suffer for it!”

“They should, I know they should, and maybe after we can figure out how, but at this time, I think you’re the only one-”

Us! Both of us!.” He stepped closer.

Mistletoe swallowed, leaning further away from him.

We’re…” She started, breathing quickening, “The only ones who want violence.”

He plunged his fist down onto the cabinet that sat at the end of her bed. Mistletoe keened away from the sound.

“We are not!” He hissed, “You heard the allies! They want it! We’re not the only ones!”

“Well, maybe some of the allies, but they’re the Serpent’s allies, and the consensus was… And, well, Wormwood-!”

Wormwood wants it!” A manic light blazed in his eyes as he stepped ever closer, “I can see it in her eyes – some need for violence! I will make her realise it, make her act on it! We can do it, together!”

Something snapped in Mistletoe.

She swung herself forward again, driving her forehead into Medlar’s with a sickening crack.

He stumbled back with a cry of pain, and suddenly Mistletoe was the one standing tall.

Don’t you dare!” She warned, voice low, “Don’t you dare! Leave her out of this!”

She grabbed his arm, making sure her long nails caught on his skin.

With the other hand, she tore open the door, and swung him out of it.

He wailed as her nails cut into his arm.
For good measure, she drove her heel into his retreating behind.

“I won’t have it!” She growled, finally, and slammed the door behind him.

 

~

 

 

That night, Mistletoe lay awake, unsettled.

She should have been happy to be at the Serpent’s Nest, but she just couldn’t be.

She felt like a traitor.

Medlar had annoyed her by suggesting that Wormwood should be manipulated to properly attack the Gardeners, but hadn’t Mistletoe already been a part of forcing Wormwood’s hand?

After all, Khat had been right.

For a short while… just one meeting… she had played double agent.

But it had been Medlar who came up with the idea!

Still, it was she who had pulled her mother aside and told her that she’d overheard Weeds talking in the alleyways near the market about a revolt being planned by an organisation hiding in the woods.

It had been she who, by doing so, had given her mother cause to bring it up to the other Gardeners in her meeting.

Had it been another family, a less trusted one – a family with less reliable history than the Viscas – it wouldn’t have gone very far on just a word. But it wasn’t. It came right from Mistletoe’s mother – from the head of the Visca family. More than a century ago now, Mistletoe knew one of her ancestors had been Head Gardener – the Messiah – and that history still garnered some respect for her family.

The Visca family was trusted enough for action to be taken just upon their word.

Therefore, was this whole mess not Mistletoe’s fault?

She had taken the message to the Gardeners and, before they had even decided on what to do, she had told Wormwood that they were mobilising.

And was not proven wrong – and she’d so hoped she would be proven wrong from that first look of horror in Wormwood’s eyes.

The Gardeners really were organising squadrons of troops to send into the forest surrounding the Garden armed with swords and crossbows- things the Serpent just didn’t have.

Mistletoe rolled over, squeezing her eyes tight to block out the images that flooded her mind.

She had to tell Wormwood. She had to let her know the truth now.

But-

But if she did, how would Wormwood react?

All of the trust Mistletoe had worked so hard to regain from her in the last few years would be shattered. She would be cast away! Wormwood would never see her as a sister ever again!

She felt her lungs compress, felt a tightness in her chest as panic flooded her.

She couldn’t have that, she just couldn’t have that!

Tomorrow… Tomorrow she would let Wormwood know she’d heard that Gardeners had started sending troops to scout the forest!

Screw Medlar’s schemes! Maybe Wormwood would stop the plan. She could have everyone moved out until there could be further arrangements made for the safety of everyone, like some of the priests suggested!

Or drop the plan altogether! Go back to being quiet and safe!

But even as the thoughts crossed her mind, Mistletoe knew none of that would work, not if the Serpent wanted to continue. She’d thought it herself – if they moved further away or stayed idle much longer they would lose their allies. The thieves, the priests, even the farmers would be too far away or too busy to negotiate or trade with secretly!

Not to mention the people of the Weed Pit would be left even more vulnerable!

Mistletoe froze, her mind buzzing, as though yelling at her that there was something she overlooked...

 

The Weeds!

 

She leapt from her bed, grabbing for a loose gown to wrap around herself.

Never mind them becoming more vulnerable, they were already more vulnerable than they had been!

She raced from her room, thundering down the corridor to the stairwell and keeping going, down, down until she approached the thin stairwell that led to Wormwood’s chambers and office.

I said I’d heard some Weeds talking! Her breath was catching in her throat.

People were emerging from their rooms behind her – members and allies who awaited the next instructions to act.

I said it was the Weeds, and I linked them to a revolt!

She took the stairs down three at a time, shoulders crashing into the walls as she swayed with ever step.

They’re going to be targeted as much as we are!

Her footsteps thudded loudly as she neared the black door of Wormwood’s room at the very end of the final, short corridor,

We have to protect them!

BANG BANG BANG

Her knuckles hit the door.

“Wormwood!” She cried, frantic, “Wormwood, it’s urgent! We must discuss this now!

She waited, bouncing impatiently, unable to calm her breathing.

“Wormwood, please, we must!”

But there was no answer.

And again, no answer.

Does she already know? Did Medlar tell her what I did?

She froze, knuckles hovering over the painted wood.

If she already knows…

“She’s not in.” The door swung open at last, but it was not Wormwood at the door.

Khat glowered at Mistletoe.

“It’s early morning.” Khat yawned deeply, picking at sleep in the corner of her make-up ringed eyes.

Mistletoe barely had time to register the day, set her mind straight remembering that even whores took days off.

No.

She couldn’t let her bitterness catch her.

“I know, but I have to talk to her.”
“She left earlier.”

“What? It’s early morning, where could she go?”

Khat shrugged.

“She walks, sometimes.” She started to push the door closed, “Talk to her tomorrow.”

“No!” Mistletoe jammed her foot into the doorway, yelping as it was slammed against by the door.

She took a moment to collect herself, to push away the pain.

“I have to let someone know, it’s urgent!”

Khat seemed to consider this, and pulled the door away from Mistletoe’s aching foot.

“The Weeds!” Mistletoe cried.

Khat frowned, eyebrows tight.

“I think the Weeds may be at risk!”

“Obviously!” Khat grumbled, patience lacking.

“More so!” Mistletoe put her hand against the door as a precaution, afraid Khat might try to close it again. “I have reason to believe that the Gardeners think the Weeds are planning a revolt with the Serpent! They are going to be targeted, too!”

Khat let go of the door.

“I don’t know where Wormwood is, she left, what do you want me to do?”

“We have to get them to safety!”

“I don’t have that authority!”

“Does anyone?!” Mistletoe was almost screaming.

Behind her she heard shuffling, and realised a crowd had begun to gather, listening in.

“We could plan an evacuation,” A Thief Lord began, thoughtful, “But we’d need Wormwood to confirm and organise it.”

“She’s not here!” Mistletoe felt tears beading on the lower lids of her eyes.

“And th-the Weeds won’t m-move tonight, anyway.” Poppy stepped forward, placing a calming, shaking hand on Mistletoe’s shoulder. “Th-there is nothing we can do r-right now. We sh-should sleep, and we can p-plan tomorrow.”

“It would be a big operation.” She heard a quiet voice suggest, “Everyone would need to be fully awake.”

And Mistletoe realised the conversation was dropped. She felt herself drop with it.

What could she do on her own?

Nothing, she realised, They’re right. Nothing can be done at this time…

Slowly, reluctantly, she was guided back up the stairways and corridors to her room.

Turning over in her bed once again, she tried to sleep.

She only felt slightly reassured.

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