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.
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?