The Mad Herbalist

The Mad Herbalist

A Chapter by YouoweYoupay

Love your enemy.

15. The Mad Herbalist

I breathed shakily as I prepared to knock at his door.

I will only ask him about his health, ask him about his friend's home and I will then turn around and run down the hill before he could cook me for dinner.

The door thundered open and the chill along my spine turned to frost.

"Who dares to knock at my door!" Obi Ginnar roared, searching until his eyes landed on a small boy. He studied me with an amusement that rapidly fell apart into disappointment. His shoulders slumped as he leaned by the doorway, his mouth retreating behind his thick white moustache, "Your friends sent you, didn't they?"

I shook my head.

"You're not playing a trick on me, boy, are you?" he said in a low suspecting voice, his eyes darting here and there, "Has anyone followed you?"

I shook my head.

"Memah Takhmeen sends you her regards." I blurted out. He blinked at me, "And she --" 

Obi grabbed me by the arm, pulling me inside his house and slammed the door shut.

"Well, well...WELL." His lunatic, wide eyes burned into mine and his disheveled cotton-white hair fell on his face as he shook his head, "Aren't you a brave little squirrel… You came all this way to deliver a message? Are you out of your mind, boy? Have you not thought this through?"

My heart hammered in my chest. But I said nothing. I had to remind myself that Memah Takhmeen had called him an old fool. She did not see him as a man who had lost his wits. 

"Don't you hear what they say about me....boy?" he growled, greedily grinning, a few cracked teeth showing under the moustache, "That I like feasting on small ones, tender and naive! You will cook nicely with cumin and parsley! And cauliflower! And-and perhaps some potatoes on the side...Yes, that would be good." He nodded greedily, clasping my arm. His voice dropped lighter with a bit of a stutter, "What, aren't you gonna piss your pants, boy?"

"I'm not afraid of you!" I yanked my arm away, "And there is nothing wrong with pissing your pants! It just means you were trying to face your fears."

But he was right, I almost wet myself. And I wanted to cry. I should not have come.

Obi Ginnar almost fell backward as he laughed from the pit of his belly, the evil guffaws breaking into a fit of coughs.

"Good gods!" he pointed at me in between the wheezes, "I haven’t spoken to anyone in years! I like you, boy! For that, I won't eat you."

I breathed in relief, my shoulders and neck relaxing against the cold brick wall.

"And you're absolutely right." He put an arm around my shoulders, raising a lecturing finger, "You don't become a man without pissing your pants at least once in a lifetime. Come, boy. Be my guest. Go sit over there, on the back porch. Go through that door. Go on, now, don't be shy.. Would you like some cardamom milk? Nice and warm on a cool spring night. Eh?"

"No." I refused firmly.

"No? You don't like cardamom milk?"

"I do, but I wanted to ask you abou-"

"I'll make you cardamom milk." He nodded enthusiastically.

I sighed in defeat.

The unlit interior of his hut breathed with the scent of lavender and citrus fruit. Beneath the modest light of the moon through the lone window, a chaotic mound of mail sat on top of the table, accompanied by an oil lamp and a fountain pen. The anxiety with which the letters piled made it seem as if the sender had been begging for a response.

When I pushed the backdoor of his kitchen, the world disappeared and only the night sky remained, a blanket of startling lilac freckled with stars, contrasting the dark silhouette of a bare willow tree.

Obi Ginnar had a goat he named Yara. And whenever she grew cross with obi, she would not give him the best milk. And he begged my pardon, in case I sensed any bitterness as I sipped from my cup. But I did not complain. The milk was sweet and a little tangy. The piney taste of cardamom waxed in my mouth just as a shooting star trailed through the bruises of deep purple and ink blue.

"That old hag, she sent you?" Obi Ginnar's eyes smiled affectionately as he took a sip from his cup, "Is she well?"

"She's well, obi. She said she would like to speak with you again someday."

A pause.

"What do they call you, boy?"

"Beya." I fiddled with the ear of my cup. Obi Ginnar's moustache twitched in contemplation.

"Beya. Beya." my name rolled in his mouth as he eyed his cup, perhaps hoping to find the meaning behind it in the contents of the milk, "Beya. Beyarn-nok. Beyarnok, is it not?" He turned to me.

"Yes." I answered rigidly, but no embarrassment this time, different from the expression I used to have prior receiving the gift from Jaraan and his mother. My heart smiled at the memory of the wooden wolf figurine. The prince of wolves. Protector of promises.

"And your parents named you this hoping you'll grow up to be what? A wolf... or a prince?" he chuckled at his own joke.

"Neither." I shrugged.

Obi Ginnar slurped his cardamom milk noisily, swallowed loudly and released a powerful, refreshed 'ahhh'.

The incomplete moon climbed our sky and every minute that passed brought me closer to midnight. There was no time to explore the whereabouts of Memah Takhmeen. The boy-eating wolves would not politely wait in their dens until I've safely returned home.

“Why do people believe you’re a madman?”

“And you believe otherwise?” he feigned a sad expression, “You hurt my feelings, boy.”

“You only pretend to be bonkers."

“That’s what they want me to be!” he exclaimed, mouth pursed beneath the snow moustache and eyes wide in bewilderment.

“But why?”

“Because, Beya,” his voice trembled, “I loved my enemy. And he loved me.”

I did not speak. The starlight was not enough to show me the shape of Obi Ginnar’s eyes. Despite myself, my head hung low and my stomach clenched, two cardamom seeds floated in the last drops of milk.

"What was his name?"

“Noras." he revealed in a brittle voice. It meant: the seagull that roamed the skies freely, “His mother sat him down, put some sense into him. My own father sat me down, put some sense into me. The goddess created the Ulians with a compassionate, pure soul, while everyone else walked upon this earth with no soul, his mother would say. My father would tell me I could never be friends with him until I have cleaned my heart to match the cleanliness of his."

  "But we refused this separation. Fought against it with all our might. I was banished, and so was he. Letters and letters we wrote. Until he stopped. But my own pen kept scribbling. And scribbling. And scribbling. To this day, Beya.”

It reverbed in my memory, the mountain of envelopes and scrunched paper on his writing desk. They were all Obi Ginnar’s letters to Noras. Letters that returned to him with no answer. An echo.

It slowly unveiled itself to me, like the moon from behind the clouds, this gratitude for being able to walk with Jaraan to school every morning, his dimpled smile, his earnest caution in turning his gaze away from the girls in our school 'because the gods are watching', and his eagerness to tell apart spices and flavors.

© 2020 YouoweYoupay

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Finally, the Mad Herbalist. This was a satisfying chapter to read. partly for the character himself, partly for the reveal at the end of his struggle to connect with his Noras and how it mirrored Beya's own struggle with Jaraann. Masterfully done. I really liked your descriptions of people and their mannerisms. It is inspiring to read!

Posted 2 Months Ago

This chapter represents some of the best command I've seen any writer have over dialogue & dialogue tags. You have created a long intriguing commanding back-and-forth between this old herbalist & the boy in which the reader can see & hear & feel & taste & imagine all that's going on. This back-and-forth is so dynamic & lively, the reader is captured by a spell. To me, the best long stories read like watching a movie . . . this is that way . . . so animated & full of imagery for all the senses, it's like we're watching & hearing & experiencing this back-and-forth (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 5 Months Ago

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Added on December 5, 2020
Last Updated on December 6, 2020
Tags: Short novel



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