8. THE HERB GARDEN

8. THE HERB GARDEN

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
"

There is news that an army is on the march, Northwards.

"

There was nothing more beautiful than the fragrance of the herbs and winter-flowering roses that hit the nostrils of Jackiss, Mirelin and the queen Amyheart (disguised as a world-weary widow) as they stumbled through an ancient and rotting wooden door, going instantly from the seemingly endless darkness of the underground passage into the bright light of an autumn day.

“Beautiful,” sighed Amyheart as she gazed about her. And it was. There were beds of herbs growing as if it was a late spring day, filling the air with a myriad different fragrances, and around the edges of what was a perfectly tended garden there were climbing roses, still in flower despite the lateness of the year.

“This is the place that inspires me more than any other,” whispered Mirelin as he somehow and certainly magically changed the heavy staff he was carrying, with its glowing tip, into a wand which fitted neatly into a pocket in his wizard’s cloak.

“How did you do that?” asked Jackiss, who thought he knew everything there was to know about his old friend.

“It comes with the territory, darling,” smiled Mirelin.

“Don’t call me that!” snapped Jackiss.

“Now then, now then, now then, who’s bringing tension and anger into my garden?” cooed a voice from behind a wall of crimson roses.

The creature who stepped from the verdant shade of the bower where she had been sitting on a throne of intertwining green fronds that were more alive than anything in the nearby castle was alive, smiled at them, and Jackiss couldn’t help drawing his breath in sharply.

Never had he seen so beautiful a creature. Clad in sheer silk of colours that changed and rippled with every move she made and wearing a crown of what just had to be diamonds set in a circlet of pure rock emerald moulded in the shape of living, growing orchids, she moved like an angel might move until she was standing before him. The frown on her face struck deep into his heart and for the first time in his life he was aware that he was in the presence of real power. King Jasper, he thought, was nothing despite the finery he adorned his world with: this woman in stark contrast was everything.

“Your majesty...” he found himself spluttering.

“Yes?” she asked, still frowning, the lines on her face contrasting bitterly with everything else about her.

“I am a fool,” he sobbed. Yes, sobbed, real tears forming and spilling from him as he realised the depths of his own heart.

“You are a man,” she said simply, and she turned to Mirelin. “You have brought this man and this woman to me,” she said, slowly, “and it is only right that you have. For great deeds are preparing for the future, outlined by the stars in the night sky for those who can read them to learn from, and I foresee the time when the simple folk of the Northern lands choose a queen to reign in opposition to the king who condemns this land to his misery.”

“I have seen the shadow of such a thing, dear witch,” he said, nodding, “but we are far from there and have only just exchanged the darkness of the castle depths for the light and sweetness of your garden. Yet great things are in the wind, methinks, and I seek now your aid that the future may be brighter than the past.”

“Your heart is in the right place, Mirelin,” she smiled, “but your choice of companions is strange. What do we have here? A fairy queen in widow’s weeds and a one-armed warrior with blood on his hands?”

“I never killed...” put in Jackiss quickly, “I went to the wars and lost my arm, but I never killed a single foe!”

She turned back to him.

“But in the Northern lands you did,” she said, and before his very eyes her shape altered, the fragrance that was part of her beauty departed, and she became a vision of ugliness with a sallow grey face and a beaked nose that could have detected a single breath of bitterness a thousand miles away.

Oo0oo

Meanwhile,

there was a great deal of sudden coming and going to the crude wooden cottage that Gymboy called home, and everyone noticed it and stood around in odd corners, shaking their heads and asking what might be up.

For something was most certainly up.

And then, when the coming and goings had seemed to cease, Gymboy called a meeting of all the villagers, and even the children, some of them babes in arms, were expected to attend.

“It is important,” was all he said when folks asked him what the meeting might be about.

It was dark when they all gathered round what was becoming a traditional meeting place, with a great bonfire once again blazing away in the centre. But the year was growing old, and as it grew older it grew colder.

“I’d be best between my furs with my woman,” moaned Kevvy to whoever would listen. But he was well known as a moaner and few took any notice of him.

But a younger man sparked up, “with any man’s woman you mean,” he muttered, “seeing as your own passed away five years back.”

“Any willing woman is my woman,” came the cryptic reply, but before a row could break out Gymboy called everyone to attend to his words.

“I have bad tidings,” he said.

“And what are they? Worms in your gut?” cracked Kevvy.

But Gymboy, besides having youth on his side also had wisdom, and he let it pass.

“There is news,” he said, “and I am assured there can be no doubt. The King who dwells in a southern castle made of stone, with more rooms than we have hovels, has set out for war. And his war, it is said truthfully, is against Northern folks.

“We are Northern folk and he is making war against us!”

“He don’t know we’re here, even,” sneered Kevvy.

“Shurrup!” snapped a more sensible oldster.

“I have it from several of the folk you have seen calling on me,” replied Gymboy, “and the story is this: the King gave these lands, which he claims are his to give, to the one-armed bully who came this way several weeks back, and who slaughtered our best leader, the glorious Dodson. And that one-armed bully has displeased the king and made free with both of his wives, so Jasper the wimp, that is the king, is coming this way to wrest these lands from him and slaughter all who live here. Therefore we have a choice. We either flee or leave our possessions, our ancestors, everything we treasure, behind, or we stay and fight.”

“We must flee!” exclaimed Kevvy, “If what you say is true, of course. Have you proof?”

“I have a token,” muttered Gymboy, and he held aloft a human foot, the flesh still clinging to it. “This foot belonged to a witch doctor who healed wounds in one of the villages not so far south from here, and it was hewn off by the King himself, as a warning to the rest, not to fight but to allow him and his thousand men safe passage!”

There was a great deal of shuddering and whispering, and Maggida, mourning woman of the glorious Dodson, stood up.

“We remain,” she said with a strange finality in her voice, “We stay and fight to the last man, the last woman, even the last babe in arms. These are our lands, and we defend them with everything we have.”

“Like sharpened sticks with feathers stuck to them,” muttered Kevvy.

“We stay and fight,” chorused everyone else, “to the last breath in the last body,” they added as one.

And so intent were they in defending their homes that not one of them noticed how Kevvy slunk away, moving from the warmth of the fire to the darkness of the forest.

“Fools,” he said, “darned fools! As if we have a chance in a thousand against a thousand, who have their spears and axes and all they have are arrows that are as twiglets in a forest of mighty oaks!”

© Peter Rogerson 24.11.18




© 2018 Peter Rogerson


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Added on November 24, 2018
Last Updated on November 24, 2018
Tags: garden, witch, beauty, ugliness, war, thousand soldiers


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing