Spilled Milk

Nimue and Agravaine had just been put down for their nap, so it was time for Dindrane’s daily walk. A warm breezed wafted through the gardens, bringing the sweet smells of flowers and trees and turned earth up the many steps to the Orkney keep. There was no need for her to wear a cloak or hood. It was unfortunate, for with her milky skin, dark red hair with silver headdressing, and bright teal gown, Dindrane made a striking figure.

Yet the servants were used to Dindrane’s gown, the pallor of her skin, her customary way of dressing at her hair. If the gardeners and milkmaids did more than glance up at her and nod, tipping their hat or curtseying, it was not because they found her a strange vision, a personification of Spring come to walk among them. No, it was because Dindrane, sweet Lady Dindrane, was frowning.

There was something on sweet Lady Dindrane’s mind. But what? It wasn’t anything to do with the little ones; news of sickness among the babes  would have spread through the staff of the Orkney keep swifter than fire through the stables. Perhaps something to do with her own family, the Gwynedds? But what? The head gardener sent off his smallest and youngest apprentice to the Gwynedd keep, to see what he could find. The head dairywoman sent off her plainest and quietest milkmaid to sit quiet in the kitchens, to see what she could hear. Whatever it was, all the servants were sure, they would find out eventually. The servants found everything out, eventually.

They did not know that what brought the frown to sweet Lady Dindrane’s face involved devices they would call abominations, deeds they would call blasphemies. They did not know that with every step she took with her feet, she retraced a step in a complex process in her mind. They did not know with what disappointments she struggled.

They did not know the question that ran through her mind: Where did I go wrong?

Dindrane lifted up her skirt, ever-so-gently, as she walked down the steps. She was not the first to grow the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii. She was not the first to use the Elixer of Life to heal various ills. She had done her reading; she had asked her questions; she had considered every possibility. She had even managed to conduct her experiments without causing permanent harm to any other Sim — which was surely a first in the history of the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii!

So what had gone wrong? Why was Lot not better?

The first thing she considered was the dosage. Perhaps the fact that she had not milked the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii completely had something to do with Lot’s refusal to heal. She had only milked about a fifth of solution from the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii‘s udders. There was no point, to her ever-practical mind, in milking more. Lot had a year ago passed a threshold of aging from whence there was no return, even with the Elixer of Life. If a full dose turned back the clock five years, then a fifth of a dose should turn back the clock one year. And one year was more than sufficient. Lot had only had his spell six months ago!

Furthermore, she knew that splitting doses worked — in her reading, other Sims had done it, splitting doses in half, into quarters, even once, into tenths! And the math worked out perfectly. Moreover, when she had given Lot his potion, she had watched him closely. She had seen the wrinkles vanishing away, had watched his skin grow more smooth and supple. Yet despite the changes that occurred with his physical body, his mind stubbornly refused to follow suit.

To say that she had been disappointed with those results was a disappointment, to say the least.

Dindrane had, however, already given herself four-and-twenty hours to wallow in her anger and disappointment. Further inactivity would help no one, least of all Lot.

She had to think. She had to retrace her steps. It wasn’t the dosage, or at least, she didn’t think it was the dosage. There was only one place where her procedure differed from that of the wise Sims who had tread this path before her.

Neil Porter was once again alive. Perhaps, somehow …

Dindrane’s stomach churned, but she forced herself to complete the thought. Perhaps, somehow, his still being alive had affected the potion somehow. Perhaps it had made it less potent. Perhaps it had made it only amenable to surface changes. Perhaps, when she brought Neil back, it had somehow removed from the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii the life force so necessary to the Elixer of Life.

It was possible. She had scoured the accounts of Sylvia Marie the Mashuga, to determine just what had happened when she brought back an unfortunate Sim from the dead. She had even managed to dig up the testimony from her trial for heresy — not that that was so hard, for the trial itself was a textbook case, and the testimony had been carefully written down, made to be remembered. Scores of witnesses had claimed that the graves of the recently revived Sims would cave in, and their gravestones disappear. The lawyers on the side of the Church had twisted this testimony to point toward fraud, claiming that Sylvia Marie and her followers had dug up the graves and removed the bodies — even the tombstones! — to further her claims. But since Dindrane was working from the position of having found either Sylvia Marie’s device or one very similar, she was not sold on the claim of fraud. It was possible, of course, just possible that Sylvia Marie and her followers had dug up the bodies themselves … but she doubted it.

After all, if creating a zombie resulted in an empty grave and a vanished tombstone — the whole kingdom of Albion knew this by now — and if there was one unfortunate soul who had, early in the course of Sylvia Marie’s work, found himself resurrected as a zombie, then it stood to reason that the people who were most completely resurrected left behind empty graves and no tombstones.  So it was more than possible that removing Neil’s body from the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii before it finished its digestion was what had led to her problems.

Dindrane sighed and brushed back a lock of hair. If this was the case, what was she to do about it? How could she hope to create Elixer of Life, without blood on her hands? She was fond of Lot, but Lot’s quality of life was not worth destroying innocent lives.

Perhaps if she had waited longer … perhaps if she had given Lot the Elixer, and then resurrected Neil, it would have worked. She had resurrected Neil first because she had been, frankly, too worried to do anything else. She had not wanted to experiment then. But she knew that time dead was no impediment to a successful resurrection. Why, Sylvia Marie the Mashuga had brought back a man — boy, rather — twenty years dead! Surely, if he had been dead that long, there couldn’t have been much left of him — surely, there couldn’t have been much more left of him, than there would be left of any Sim eaten and digested by a Laganaphyllis Simnovorii and then drunk and digested as the Elixer of Life.

But what if she did that and then Lot relapsed? What if the deceased had to stay dead in order for the Elixer of Life to work?

No, no, that couldn’t be it. The Lady Morgan, Dindrane knew, somehow managed to make Elixer of Life without any bloodshed. If someone could make the Elixer of Life without resorting to violence at all, without killing anyone, then surely the Elixer of Life, once created, did not lose its potency simply because the person killed to make it returned to life … surely the two events were unconnected …

Surely, surely …

Dindrane walked up the last of the packed-earth path, her gaze watching the clods of earth and stone move beneath her feet. Her hand instantly reached for the gate. It opened at a touch. Perhaps she had been using the gate often enough so that it was getting used to being open and closed again. Perhaps —

Dindrane turned her thoughts away from the gate and back to her problems, even as she lifted her gaze from the ground and to her creation.

The Laganaphyllis Simnovorii turned its head — flower? — to one side and glanced at her with what Dindrane could only call curiosity. That was odd. The Laganaphyllis Simnovorii had been much more sluggish since being fed, truly fed. It was amazing how much energy it could regain just by losing a fifth of its load.

Except —

Dindrane gasped.

“Missing something?”

Dindrane spun around and gasped again. Morgause stood before her, that horrible cat-ate-the-canary grin spread over her face. Her hands were placed neatly on her hips, her nostrils flaring a little with every breath.

Then, as Dindrane put her hand over her heart and tried to quiet that overly beating organ, Morgause tilted her head back and laughed. It reminded Dindrane of nothing so much as the laugh her own mother would pretend to laugh, when she was telling her children a story and an evil witch somehow figured into it. It was so cliché that it almost calmed Dindrane.

Almost — for as Morgause laughed, she turned her face full to the sun, and gave Dindrane every opportunity to see that she had no more wrinkles.

“What have you done?” Dindrane shrieked.

“Done?” Morgause replied. “Done? I simply borrowed a few seeds from your overgrown bush here.”

The Laganaphyllis Simnovorii seemed to snarl a little, and Morgause glared at it. “You — watch it. I’ve heard tell that a single exposure to magic can make your kind shrivel up and die.” She flexed her fingers, green sparks dancing along the tips and down to her palms. “Care to see if that’s true?”

If a plant could yelp and try to hide its head in the dirt, the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii did just that.

Dindrane knew hardly from whence the strength came, but she grabbed Morgause’s elbow and dragged her away from the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii. But not too far. It would do neither of them any good if they were to be heard. It would do them both a great deal of bad to be seen arguing.

For, somehow, Dindrane gained the presence of mind necessary to ask, “Do you have the least idea what you’ve done?”

“What I’ve done? My dear, you make it sound like such a crime. Why, I thought for certain you were done with it! It doesn’t keep forever in there, you know.”

Doesn’t keep forever? Certainly not forever, but Dindrane was sure she had more time —

“Besides,” Morgause continued, “I did give you a day.”

A day! She had taken the first fifth of milk from the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii just over a day ago — had she gone down the steps a little faster, she might have stopped Morgause! What had she been thinking?

“Although,” Morgause remarked, “perhaps a day is exaggerating things … I’ll admit that I was impatient … and when you brought the two little ones into Lot, like you always do, I realized you were going to be in there for hours and hours and hours — and I’m afraid I just couldn’t wait any longer! But, really, even if you are a bit upset, I’m glad I did it. I look wonderful, don’t you think?”

Dindrane could not speak. She saw, in her mind’s eye, Morgause descending the long stone steps that led from the keep to the gardens. Or — no — she would not walk. That was not Morgause’s style. She would simply wish herself there.

And then, Morgause would walk up to the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii — Dindrane’s Laganaphyllis Simnovorii! — and she would reach her hand forth. The Laganaphyllis Simnovorii would be sluggish — it would not recognize the touch of an unfamiliar hand —

She would milk it.

And then she would drink the potion she had milked.

There had been a faint blue glow when Dindrane had given Lot the potion. Of course it would be stronger when Morgause quaffed her potion. It was four times as potent. Four years of aging shaved from Morgause’s body.

Imagining Morgause’s triumphant laugh almost made Dindrane sick.

“I did not work and slave over this — this creation so that you could use it for your personal beauty regimen!”

You worked and slaved? I think not,” Morgause snorted. “The soil had to prepared, did it now? And who did that?”

“I did! I! I dug, and I sweated, and I –”

“I don’t mean putting the seeds — or whatever it was that you used — into the ground and watering and what not. Though I don’t know why you would do such a thing, something any common gardener could do. Especially since I can only imagine how damaging it would have been to your hands …” she murmured, surveying her nails.

“My hands? You’re worrying about what it might have done to my hands?”

“Considering with what powers you have meddled, you mean? I should be more worried about damage to your soul? Is that what you’re saying?”

“My soul is none of your business!”

“You’re quite right. All of this, my dear, is neither here nor there. I speak of preparing the soil. You know what I mean, do you not?”

Dindrane felt herself inhale by means of a gasping hiccup.

“After all,” Morgause mused, “the cowplant can only grow on blood-soaked soil, can it not?”

“That — that’s just — just a myth –”

“Don’t play dumb with me, sweetheart. You’re a horrible actress even when you attempt states of emotion that are not entirely foreign to psyche. Besides, if it was just a myth, why did you choose the very ground upon which poor, dear Accolon was killed and buried?”

Morgause laughed, and Dindrane could only gulp.

“Do you know why he was killed and buried on the same spot, instead of being moved to holy ground?”

“Because moving him to holy ground would have spoiled all of your plans?” Dindrane managed to spit.

“Nonsense. The mumblings of Churchmen can have no effect on the workings of true power,” Morgause replied. “No, my dear. Accolon was buried here because, when I was done with him, there wasn’t enough left of him to move.”

Dindrane shuddered.

“I know you won’t share this bit of information,” Morgause said, laying a hand on Dindrane’s shoulder. “I mean, it’s in confidence. From one murderess to another.”

Dindrane slapped her hand away. “I am no murderess!”

“Oh, really? You think because you killed for science or –”

“If I harmed anyone, it was to help your husband!”

Morgause blinked. Dare she hope? Dare she imagine that she had gotten through to this witch?

Morgause started to laugh. “Oh, you poor fool! You thought that the Elixer of Life could have helped Lot?”

“It could have, had you not drank the rest!”

“And it was so good when I did,” Morgause sighed, rubbing her stomach.

“You think this is funny?”

“Oh, it is, from where I’m standing!” Morgause laughed again. “So naive! Tell me, child, imagine you gave a full dose of this Elixer of Life to man who had lost an arm in battle two years — nay, not two years, two weeks ago. Do you think that his arm would grow back?”

“I –”

“If you do, I have news for you: it would not. I don’t know if there’s any magic, or non-magic, that could restore a lost limp. Not reattach a limb, mind, restore one that was gone. And if such magic existed, it would not come from bloodshed.”

“Lot has not lost a limb!”

“No, he has not. Instead, he has lost part of his mind.”

“He has not lost his mind!”

“You fool, I didn’t say his mind, I said part of his mind. It is as dead and gone to him as if it were cut from his skull and thrown away.”

Dindrane stumbled back. “You — you’re lying.”

“No. No, I am not. Ask my sister if you do not believe me. There are some things Elixer of Life cannot cure. Unfortunately, Lot was stricken with one of them.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Dindrane demanded.

“Because you have something I want,” Morgause replied. She jerked her thumb backwards. “That. And you cannot use it in the way you intended to –”

“If you are not lying!”

“I am not lying. So I am prepared to bargain with you. You cannot help Lot with your cowplant. Presumably, you have no further use for it. I have plenty of use for it. I have, you see, some more effects of aging that I should wish to be rid of –”

“I will not let you murder another person in order to — to get rid of wrinkles!”

“My dear, I should like to see you try to stop me. But as it would so happen, I have no intention of feeding someone to your cowplant, if that is what you fear. All of the people whom I would like to destroy are, alas, beyond my reach.”

Dindrane almost sighed in relief.

“However, that does not mean that you cannot be of use to me. I want cuttings.”

“C-cuttings?”

“Of your dear plant. You see, I think it most unfortunate that witches and wizards cannot make use of this … most fascinating creature. I wish to change that.”

Dindrane hesitated.

“If you do not give me the cuttings, then I shall inform the proper authorities that you killed someone.”

“You can prove nothing.”

“Spoken like a true murderess!” Morgause chuckled. “But that means nothing. If I cannot prove that you killed someone, I am more than capable of finding some other hapless fool, feeding him to your plant, and blaming the whole thing on you,” Morgause pointed out. “And you would be responsible for that death, you know. It is your cowplant.”

“I would destroy it before I let you hurt anyone else with it!”

“Destroy it if you please. Just get me cuttings first.” Without another word, Morgause slipped past her. “And don’t think, even if you destroy it, that I won’t find some way to have you framed — or brought to justice, rather — for murder. Arthur will only let this family get away with murder once.” And so Morgause sashayed away, her hips wiggling with every step.

And Dindrane could only stand there, and wring her hands, and think of the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii in the garden, and the resurrection device in the abandoned cottage that Morgause was passing just now, and she could only wonder, Oh, Wright, what am I going to do now?

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9 thoughts on “Spilled Milk

  1. Oh, oh no! Not only did Dindrane’s attempt to cure Lot fail, the only one who got something out of it is Morgause. 😦

    And that black-mailing, cold hearted bitch… She ought to be roasted on a stake–or thrown into volcano. I’ll have to concoct some special tortures for her in Otherworld. And PLAID shall be involved.

    I mean we shouldn’t expect her to be anything but bad. I mean look what she did to Garnet and Lamorak. But still. I hope, I hope this is going to lead to her downfall, though. She’s not smart enough to get away with this…

    She’s cunning and cold-hearted, an utter toxic waste Popsicle, but she’s not that smart.

    Although if it went up between Arthur trusting Morgause’ word and trusting Dindrane’s, I think Dindrane would at least get the benefit of the doubt…

    I hope though that she trips up and soon all the little school children are skipping around singing “ding-dong the witch is dead.”

  2. … Well. I hate to say it, but she did grow her cowplant on that wicked witch’s property. … Uh. Actually? Doesn’t the cowplant taking root there sort of… prove Accolon’s murder? Does dying in a house fire cause ‘blood-soaked ground’ the way being immolated by a witch does? Otherwise you’d have cowplants cropping up wherever somebody died accidentally or of old age (when all the other conditions are right, okay, okay). And Morgause DID just vanish her wrinkles.

    Dindrane’s reputation has been sterling. A little cold and cerebral, perhaps, but she has been an obedient daughter, a dutiful wife, and a doting mother– and a loyal nurse of a daughter-in-law. A perfect lady, unimpeachable. If somebody’s going down for the cowplant and the Necrotelecomnicon so handy to the zombie’s old house, the actual known witch and suspected murderer makes for a much, much better suspect. (Granted, so does Mordred. But Mordred’s illicit hobbies include a mistress and her little’uns, while Morgause has the time to pursue meddling in that which man ought not meddle.)

    … You know?

    I feel kinda bad for the cowplant itself. It didn’t ask for any of this. (She didn’t?) It just grew where it could grow and is doing what it does. What Wright intended for it to do. It’s got no choice whether or not it wants to be a piece in these noblewomen’s games.

  3. Hat brings up a good point. The presence of the cowplant in that spot could potentially be damning evidence in the Accolon case. I wonder if that will play into Morgause’s downfall at all. In any case, I can’t imagine Arthur would trust Morgause’s word in any murder case, especially since the person she would be accusing is a model citizen.

    What a monumentally selfish woman Morgause is! I hope she spends her afterlife as a decrepit old crone surrounded by mirrors.

    I can understand why the elixir didn’t help Lot, but I still have some tiny amount of hope that he might get better, if only because it could really mess with Morgause’s head.

  4. You all bring up some really good points, so I think I’m just going to try to respond to all of them in one big long comment, rather than to try to untangle my thoughts and post them into three little comments.

    First of all, blood-soaked ground does mean somebody had to die there, violently. So if Accolon had just died in an accidental fire, the ground would not count as blood-soaked … for his death. If other people had died violently on that ground, Accolon dying there accidentally certainly wouldn’t cancel it out. (Of course, we all know that he didn’t die there accidentally, but that’s neither here nor there in terms of what the characters know.)

    There is every chance that that ground could be soaked with other people’s blood. Albion has spent the last several hundred years being a bloody borderland between Glasonland and Reme. And, I haven’t mentioned this in the story yet — I should have, but I haven’t — but the castles and such that the Pendragons, the Orkneys, the du Lacs, etc., are living in are not new to them. They were there beforehand; between Reme and Glasonland, Albion has quite a few fortifications. What the Pendragons & co. did were take castles and modify them to suit their tastes and needs.

    So, that being said, all of the castles have changed hands between Glasonland and Reme several times over their history — usually violently. Where the Orkney castle’s gardens are now used to be trenches and tents and battlefields. And cowplants have been grown successfully on battlefields before — sometimes battlefields hundreds of years old. Dindrane probably could have put that cowplant anywhere in the gardens, and it could have grown. The spot where Accolon died just suited her purpose best.

    So, in other words, having the cowplant grow there doesn’t prove anything. Is it one more thing to tip the scales in Arthur’s mind against Morgause? Oh, hell yes. But he’s known for years that Morgause killed Accolon. He can’t do anything, because he can’t prove it.

    As for whether Dindrane would get the benefit of the doubt, like you all point out … you’re right, and she certainly would at first. Arthur wouldn’t believe that Dindrane killed someone, if Morgause told him that. Pellinore certainly wouldn’t believe it! But I think Arthur would have to investigate the cowplant. And while he was investigating the cowplant, he might take the opportunity to investigate what else Morgause has gotten up to …

    And unless Dindrane knew they were coming ahead of time and was able to hide it, they would probably find the Resurrect-O-Nomitron. And THAT, I think, would get her into a lot more trouble than the cowplant.

    Because the Church would go BALLISTIC if they found out about the Resurrect-O-Nomitron. Even though Dindrane has not gone public with her discoveries, I don’t think the Church would care. They’d have her up for heresy and blasphemy and demon-worship and anything else they could possibly throw at her. And there is no way she would escape from them unscathed. Arthur and Pellinore might — might — be able to protect her from getting killed, but at the very least she’d be exiled and excommunicated.

    And I think that Dindrane has very good reason to believe — despite Morgause’s proclivities for meddling in what man ought to not meddle with, as you put it, Hat — that the R-O-N would eventually be traced to her. Dindrane has a known and stated interest in the occult. There are those books under her bed. Those are rare books, if they were found (and they probably would be), they would be easy enough to trace … back to her professors at Camford, who know about Dindrane’s interests. I can’t imagine that those professors would be willing to risk their lives to protect Dindrane. She’s a brilliant student, but she’s not that special to any of them. Plus, the professors at Camford are all Church members themselves — if they got wind of what Dindrane had actually done and found, they would probably throw her over in self-righteous horror.

    After all, it’s one thing to debate about whether Sylvia Marie the Mashuga meant to destroy the Church over dinner and wine, it’s quite another thing to go hunting for her R-O-N, FIND it, and USE it!

    Whereas Morgause, though she is a black witch and she has brought back a zombie from the dead, doesn’t have the same interest. I doubt she even knows or cares who Sylvia Marie the Mashuga was — if she does, it’s something she learned about when she was in school and promptly forgot about as soon as the test was done. She doesn’t need either a cowplant (or she didn’t, until she started getting wrinkles) or an R-O-N. She can fake the effects of both with her magic.

    Now, I’ll admit that, if this weren’t Albion, and Arthur weren’t king of it, Morgause probably would get blamed for all of the above reasons. But Arthur would be very, very hesitant about bringing up Morgause on capital charges (heresy, blasphemy, murder). There is an unspoken assumption in both Reme and Glasonland that the nobility are allowed to get away with murder, so long as the victims are commoners. Of course, there are shades of this. The more powerful you are are, and the less powerful the commoner is, the more likely you are to get away with it. But a murder like Morgause’s of Accolon? Morgause is the King’s own sister and a great lord’s wife. Accolon was a peasant, and worse, a peasant indentured to her husband. Also, he knocked up the King’s other sister. I think what was most shocking about the whole affair to observers in Glasonland and Reme, other than the zombification, was that Arthur so publicly sided with Morgan and Accolon. If King Vortigern had full sisters, and the indentured peasant of one sister had knocked up the other sister, and the first, non-knocked-up sister killed the peasant, Vortigern probably would have thanked her! Heck, if the exact same scenario, with the exact same people involved, had gone down in Glasonland under Vortigern’s watch and not Arthur, Vortigern still would have thanked Morgause! (Er … well, maybe not for the zombification. Unless he saw it as giving him the chance to kill Accolon himself.)

    There is also the issue of wizards and witches in Albion generally. Arthur has sworn to protect them when they are peaceable. He’s got personal reasons for this — his daughter, his sister, his nieces and nephew — and political reasons for this. (If witches and wizards from Glasonland and Reme choose to emigrate to Albion, this gives Arthur an edge militarily.) If Morgause is accused of this, and found guilty, the Church — and its international backers in the form of Glasonland and Reme — is going to be howling for the blood of every witch and wizard in Albion. Arthur does not want that.

    So, with all that crap going down internationally, Arthur would want to get every last scrap of evidence he could against Morgause before he charged her with anything. And that evidence would eventually lead to Dindrane … who is conveniently not a witch, and not really related to him. I don’t think Arthur would hesitate to throw her under the bus, especially since, um, she is actually guilty of heresy and blasphemy and all the rest of it, as the Church would define it. Arthur might work to keep her alive, but he would let her take all the blame.

    So this is what Dindrane has to fear. And while, like you said, Andavri, Morgause isn’t smart enough to figure this all out (she doesn’t even know about the R-O-N! She just thinks Dindrane was really good about picking a victim and chose someone nobody would miss!), I think Morgause is banking on her experience in all matters of blackmail, murder, and assorted douchebaggery vs. Dindrane’s inexperience, and Dindrane’s guilty conscience and fear, to win the day for her. Besides, this is just Morgause’s opening sally. If Dindrane stands up to her blackmail, she’s got other plans. 😈

    And I almost just typed “other plants” … *headdesk*

    Anyway, I hope this made what I was thinking clearer. And I hope I got most of your points! If there’s something I missed, poke me until I answer it!

    (Oh, and Van? I think I might have to steal that idea for Morgause’s hell, should I ever show her in it.)

  5. So there’s no time limit, or no known time limit, on how far back the violent death needs to occur for a cowplant to grow?

    And… well. Why wouldn’t Dindrane hide the ROM? I’d hide it. That thing should be hidden, preferably only somewhere a witch or ninja could get at it. The cowplant isn’t damning evidence for Dindrane at all, the books under her bed could maybe explain her lack of fear at the appearance of the cowplant, but the phone? Is ruinous. Or easily could be. I guess I sort of assumed the first thing she’d do would be dig a hole and bury that sucker.

    Because even with the heresy and blasphemy and demon-worship set aside, one, if it’s well-known that a presumably-evil witch can raise the dead as zombies without the direct aid of the Grim Reaper, the phone is damning to one of the non-magical people in the house… and there just aren’t that many of those. Two, unless it’s well-known that evil witches can only raise zombies and good witches can only perform resurrections, the bone phone is circumstantial evidence that at least one murder could have taken place and been covered up specifically by a non-mage. (Is the phone useful to witches? Yes. If an evil witch wants someone perfectly resurrected and can’t have a good witch do it, she can pay the Reaper for it. If a good witch, for some reason, wants a dead Sim raised as a zombie, she can underpay the Reaper for it. But if the limitations of the magic aren’t known, then the ROM is easily considered useless to witches.)

    Without the phone, all Old Bessie growing where she did means is that someone once died violently there. Could be Accolon. Could be anyone, if there’s no expiration date on blood-soaked ground.

    With the phone, it doesn’t matter that there is no direct evidence of murder; the phone itself is proof that a murder could have been committed, for whatever reason, and then undone. Untraceably undone.

    So. Hide the phone. And tell at least Arthur, Mordred, and Pellinore about the cowplant. About what a fascinating opportunity for study it is. About its astonishing intelligence. About how easy it is to keep it well-fed without allowing it to consume anyone– how it seems perfectly content with animal flesh. And maybe about how she really does need a few stout, fearless men to help her build a fence around the thing, so she can be sure no one’s dog or wandering pig falls accidental prey to the thing. And what can the Church say about a cowplant? Is it an abomination? Maybe, but it’s an innocent one, growing where it can grow, doing what it does to survive, like any wild beast– only more stationary. If the Church in Albion has to put up with Morgause and Morgan and Mordred and Garnet and Ravenna and George and Merlin and Nimue and their school and Ash and Marigold and Mirelle and Accolon, then how can they really speak out against a weird-looking, legendary plant that can’t go to church and is only dangerous to a complete and utter idiot (first, to go tresspassing onto Orkney lands to poke at it, second, to get past the fence Dindrane should be responsible enough to see built, and third to grab the cake), and even then, only if its care is neglected?

    Because on its own, the cowplant is less dangerous than… let’s say, a bear. Which is a large, intelligent, carnivorous animal that has been known to kill and eat people. A bear, however, is less easily exterminated by magic than a cowplant, and much, much more likely to wander near human habitation to find food.

    Unless of course a cowplant is considered demonic, too, in which case… well, what can you do? The ground was blood-soaked, these things happen.

    But for crying out loud, hide the phone. It’s the only really incriminating thing on the whole lot, especially if politics and custom allows nobles to do whatever they want to peasants.

  6. Oh my goodness. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you (and to anyone else who might be reading this). I moved out of my apartment, so had a VERY busy and brain-deadening weekend.

    But I’m back now, and can comment!

    There is no known time limit on how long can pass before a cowplant won’t grow on blood-soaked ground — it depends on a lot of different circumstances. The general rule of thumb is, the more people who were killed in a particular area, the longer you have to grow a cowplant. So a battlefield will be good for several hundred years — an individual murder scene will only last for a generation or so. 🙂

    Dindrane sort of does have the RON hidden; it’s not likely to be found casually in Accolon’s cottage — you’d really have to be LOOKING for it in order to find it. The problem is, of course, that people who were to search the estate would be really looking for anything out of the ordinary, and so they would find it. Dindrane needed it to be someplace relatively easily accessible for her experiments. If she needed it hidden really well, she couldn’t access it (i.e. she would have to bury it or something). If she had some kind of warning that the place was going to be searched, she’d hide it really well in a heartbeat — the problem is, I’m saying that the stand and phone are rather heavy and a bitch for a young woman, especially a noblewoman unused to physical labor, to move alone. (She needed help to get it to where it is now — she paid for some unscrupulous fellows to help her, and they don’t know what it was they moved or where it is now.) So she won’t be moving it in and out of a secure hiding place as long as she needs to use it.

    However, now that Morgause has spooked her, it’s probably going to go into a secure hiding place and stay there until Dindrane feels safer. 😀

    As for whether people know that an RON is borderline-useless to witches, that’s not generally known. Arthur and Pellinore certainly don’t know that off the top of their heads. However, it would be very easy for them to find out. Arthur could ask Morgan or Jessie, or more than likely, if news of this sort of finding got out, Merlin would come to Arthur and explain that this sort of thing wouldn’t necessarily be useful to a witch or wizard. It hasn’t come up yet in the story, but Merlin is big on witch and wizard solidarity.

    You’re right that the phone is proof that a murder could have been committed and undone. But I think the key term, as far as the law is concerned, is “could have been.” Would the phone make Arthur and Pellinore suspicious, even without the church nonsense coming into it? Hells yeah! (Poor Pellinore would probably have a heart attack if he knew half of what Dindrane had been up to.) But it’d be incredibly hard to prove anything, especially if Dindrane denied everything and Neil denied everything. (That’s assuming Morgause could even recognize Neil at that distance.) Even if they didn’t … I don’t know if what happened would necessarily be murder … if you induce someone to commit suicide for X consideration, is it murder? And of course, the fact that Dindrane brought Neil right back complicates things even more. I doubt there’s anything the law of any country that accounts for that!

    Of course … if Person A were to murder Person B, and Person C were to bring Person B back without A’s knowledge/”permission” … that might be a little bit different. 😉 Certainly they’d be able to get an “attempted murder” charge to stick in that case. You could argue that it’s exactly the same circumstances as if A tried to murder B and C somehow stopped them.

    But I’m not saying anything more about that. ;;)

    Telling Arthur, Pellinore and Mordred about the cowplant probably would be the smartest thing to do (though I wonder about Mordred. He’d probably insist that it be destroyed — his family has come way too close to being in trouble for murder for him to want to take those kinds of risks right now). Arthur and Pellinore probably would let Dindrane keep it, if they made it very clear that she’d be responsible for any deaths that occurred because of it. And Father Hugh, who’s the member of the Church in Albion to worry about, might forget himself enough to react by saying, “OMG REALLY?? Can I see it? Er … after it’s been fed, of course?”

    (Brother Tuck would not be so enthusiastic, but he’d be overruled by Father Hugh. Mother Julian’s response would be, “And you would want that growing in your backyard, why?” but would figure that as long as it isn’t hurting anybody, it isn’t her problem. Sister Margery would probably feel quite faint at the prospect and have to sit down for a bit, but wouldn’t get involved unless she absolutely HAD to.)

    The phone will be hidden, believe me. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Dindrane won’t give in to Morgause’s blackmail … after all, one should hope for the best (that Morgause keeps her mouth shut), but plan for the worst.

  7. Congratulations on your new place! I hope it’s nice.

    Mm, so there’s no real guarantee that Accolon is why the cowplant died there. But still, that’s good to know– and gives me such interesting mental images of the sites of old battlefields covered with waving, snapping cowplants…

    Straight trippy on hiding it. Aside from all the questions of murder and not murder and blasphemy the dang thing raises, Morgause. Hide everything from her. The bone phone, your boyfriend, the good chocolate, everything.

    And good for Merlin, although I will say it’s interesting to see a group that by and large has the power to effectively defend themselves being persecuted.

    *writes and then erases long-ass comment about circumstantial evidence* Dindrane technically is guilty of either manslaughter, negligent homicide, or even second-degree homicide– my brain wants to try and come up with something wrapped around ‘wrongful death,’ but at the very least she’s guilty of conspiracy to committ a crime.

    Mordred might want it destroyed, but telling him is still important– it’s on his property, after all. The point of telling the king and the lawman– in this situation– is remaining above suspicion. Skipping out on telling your husband that you’ve grown an abomination in the corner of his garden does not keep you from looking suspicious. Also? Father Hugh is theoretically adorable in this situation. (I guess in my head I’m comparing keeping a cowplant to keeping any large carnivore, like a tiger or a bear, with the added bonus that if the cowplant flips out and decides to maul somebody, its range is very, very limited.)

  8. Er … reading your replies, I don’t think I was quite clear about something. Cowplants don’t randomly grow up on blood-soaked ground — you have to plant a seed. And if the conditions aren’t perfectly right, they’re very tricky to grow. Dindrane, way back when she first saw the cowplant, was surprised to see it because she’d been unable to get out into that portion of the garden for a few days (it was raining cats and dogs) and assumed that it wouldn’t have grown very much without her there to tend to it.

    Obviously, she was wrong, and the cowplant only needed a little bit of water to go from a calf-plant to a “Whoa mama!” cowplant. 😉

    But you’re damn right about hiding everything from Morgause! I shudder to imagine the amount of havoc she could cause with a bone phone. … Though, you might want to let her have the good chocolate every once in a while. If you give a dog a bone, it won’t feel the need to gnaw your leg off, you know? 😉

    I think the witches and wizards are in an in-between area as far as being able to protect themselves from persecution is concerned. The really powerful ones, like Merlin and Naomi, Morgause, Morgan, etc., can certainly keep themselves safe from torch-carrying mobs. But there are other witches and wizards, who are less powerful or less well-trained or just younger and can’t defend themselves as well. And they’re the ones who take the brunt of any witch-burning frenzies that come over the population. Some witches and wizards, like Merlin and Naomi, will try to keep a lid on things in order to protect those other witches and wizards. Others, like Morgan, will keep a lid on things because torch-carrying mobs tend to rip up the front yard as they riot and she really doesn’t want to have to deal with that. And others, like Morgause, couldn’t care either way and will gladly let the little guys take the fall for her. If all the witches and wizards were completely united, they would easily topple anyone who tried to wipe them out. But, at the moment, they’re not united and that tends to cause them problems in other countries.

    You’re right that Dindrane is guilty of something. Maybe whatever doctors who help patients commit suicide are guilty of in states that don’t allow assisted suicide. Maybe some kind of attempted murder, since Neil sort of is still walking around and going about his business. But I just think it would be hard to get a charge to stick without finding a body, or a missing person, or … something. You know?

    I think the cowplant to tiger/bear comparison is very apt. And cowplants are a good deal tamer than lions and tigers and bears, oh my! As long as you feed them once every twelve hours, they’re pretty much harmless. 😉

    I’ll think about having Dindrane tell Mordred. I really will. Obviously it’s the smartest thing to do. But at the moment … I don’t know, I just find it really hard to imagine her having the courage to actually tell him (and the King, and Pellinore) about the cowplant. She might be very book-smart, but somehow, I don’t know if Dindrane is quite that brave.

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