“What does it do? I don’t think we have it in the Natural World.”
“Odd.” Willow hums. “I thought all plants in Midscape were also in the Natural World. Perhaps you’re just not familiar with it?”
“Perhaps,” I say. But I doubt it. I’ve spent years learning every herb known to man. If I don’t know about it, I’m confident in saying no one knows about it.
“In any case, the leaves are used in a lot of antidotes to increase potency and how quickly they’re absorbed into the blood. But the bark, that’s the really interesting bit. You can use it to slow a person’s heart to almost nothing—the bare minimum for life.”
“Also used in poisonings, I’d bet.” He nods in affirmation of my suspicion. I can see how it would be useful to slow the spread of poison.
“It’s said the bark can also be used for memories…but that’s something not explored by many.”
“It’s more of a rumor than anything solid. ‘The heartroot remembers,’ is how the old adage goes. Though no one knows where that saying comes from.” Willow shrugs. “I’ve experimented, but I’ve never been able to find a way to bring out any kind of mental properties with it.”
“I see.” I reach out and lightly touch the smooth leaves of the heartroot. A vague sense of nostalgia overwhelms me.
I can feel earth, wet and damp all around me. I can almost see the outline of a woman wearing a crown of leaves. Her hands envelop me—safe. Then, darkness. I am buried. Deeper and deeper I grow as the earth shifts above me, thickening, hardening.
Memories, not my own but held somewhere beyond its ruddy base, swim in my mind.
Then, the sensation shifts. It becomes more of a tug. Two buds sprout and I quickly pull my hand away, holding it to my chest.
Willow stares in awe. “Don’t be sorry; this is magnificent.”
“Usually the plant takes three hundred years to mature. What you’re waiting for are the flowers. Those are what can cure any poison. Heartroot only produces them at a certain age.”
“This is magnificent.” He beams at me. Willow saw something wondrous just now. I saw yet another sign of my magic out of control.
“Does… Do other properties come out at a certain age?” I ask. “Perhaps the memory ones?”
“I doubt it. But we can test it.”
“No… I should go.” I push the phantom sensations from my mind and look at the plants sadly. If I had just been Luella the herbologist I would’ve spent hours in this place. But I’m now Luella the Human Queen who can accidentally make plants grow. Will they be good plants like the heartroot? Or nasty plants like the vines I made in the lunch nook?
I shouldn’t stay and find out.
“Wait.” Willow grabs my shoulder, stopping me from leaving. “There’s something else.”
“Willow, I’m sorry—”
“Journals kept by the past queens.” He beams, knowing that I’m certainly not going to say no to that. “Poppy told me about them when we were talking about your situation. I thought they could help make you feel more at home here…maybe even help with your magic?” He starts heading back to the laboratory as he speaks and I follow. Willow goes over to a bookshelf in the corner and retrieves a stool from between it and the wall. “Top shelf. Help yourself.”
I inspect the top shelf. There are twenty-five journals of all shapes and sizes with names written on each spine. Some names are duplicated with ordered numbers beneath them. The last one in the line has “Alice” scribbled in ink on it.
“Did you always know these were here?”
“Truth be told, I never look at that shelf.” He laughs. “But I was talking with Grandmother Poppy about you and she mentioned she was thinking of asking you to help us here. I wondered if Eldas would allow that…but she said there was precedent.”
“Precedent for the Human Queen to help?” I don’t dare get my hopes up. I’ve had them dashed too many times here already.
“It’s actually been rather common. Which makes sense, when you think about what the queen’s magic does.” Willow grins and it’s a bit lopsided. Just the sight of it tugs a smile onto my own lips.
“What would I be doing?”
“You could help tend the plants. Or mix things for us as you’d like and if we need.”
It’s a start. “Would I go into the city?”
“Maybe after your coronation.” His expression is now worryingly uncertain.
“Could I have patients?”
“I…doubt it.” He frowns and my expression mirrors his. I look back to the journals longingly. How were they happy here? Were they happy here? I guess there’s only one way to find out. But I can already tell that if my journal lines this shelf, it will not be filled with joy as long as my days are spent merely watering plants.
“Anyway, the other queens kept those records,” Willow continues. “You may find something useful somewhere in these journals that would help you get acclimated. Poppy gives her permission as well.”
“There are some queens missing.” Namely the first five.
“I guess the earlier ones didn’t keep journals? Or maybe they’ve been lost or destroyed. That was three thousand years ago. We’re lucky to have the journals we do.” He shrugs and starts for the exit. “It’s almost lunch time. I think I’ll go grab us food. Do you have any preferences?”
“Nothing spicy,” I say quickly. “Other than that, anything sounds good.” I hook my finger on Alice’s journal.
“Be back with food shortly,” he calls over his shoulder and strolls off.
As I slip the book from the shelf, the thought of taking it to Mr. Abbot crosses my mind. He would no doubt love to merely hold something his sister touched. I wonder if I could somehow get the book to him. The thought seeds an idea as I flip through the pages.
If I could go back… I’d do a lot more good in Capton. Spring is here in Midscape, the folk will be fine, and I’m sure Eldas can make himself look tough without me.
My fingertips tingle as though the book is giving me permission.
Alice arranged her notes neatly within. There’s the name of an herb at the top of every page with a gorgeous and meticulously detailed sketch of the specimen in question. To the right of the sketch are properties and preparation instructions.
Under all of the above, there are notes on magic—the queen’s magic—and how to use it. I set the book down on the table and begin eagerly flipping the pages, scanning the magical notes.
Focus on balance. Nature gives back what it receives.
This one stores magic well—can load with magic to be used for greater equilibrium exchanges.
Best to let grow naturally for greatest potency.
Easy to manipulate and sacrifice for larger exchanges of life to power.
Chew and spit out before making adjustments to weather patterns.
One after the other; it’s a treasure trove of information. I turn back to the bookshelf and grab another journal at random. This queen has set up her pages slightly different. The sketch of the herb is less skillfully done and it takes up the whole page. Each segment of the plant is noted directly over the sketch. Then, a page of additional information and some life anecdotes are recorded to the right.
I go back for a third journal. Yet more information awaits me. Personal notes line the corners of this queen’s pages as she waxes poetic about her situation.
Red rose. Properties: love. The king gave one to me on our fifth anniversary and I shall work to keep it alive so I might treasure the token of his affection forever.
I snort. At least some queen, sometime, seemed like she was in love with the king. Eldas clearly never heard this story. He has no interest in even being my friend, much less loving me.
“You find something amusing?” Willow has returned with a platter of food that he sets on the table between us.
“I did.” I set the journal down and move to get another. When I return to the table I tear off a hunk of rosemary bread and dip it into oil and herbs. “I have an idea.”
“These journals are a good start”—and much better than Eldas’s sorry attempt at training—“but I want to learn more about my magic, and the elves’ magic. I need a safe space to practice.”
“All right,” Willow says with an appropriate note of caution.
“I want to make this my training room. And I want you to teach me.”
“Tell me about elf magic and guide me as I work on learning my own.” I can’t count on Eldas.
“Please, Willow.” I grab both of his hands. “You’re the only friend I have here.”
He purses his lips, looking between our hands and my eyes. Finally, he says, “All right.”
While we eat, he tells me about the elves’ onomancy—the wild magic of names. Every group of folk in Midscape has its own unique wild magic. The fae have ritumancy—magic charged by rituals based on actions performed in set ways. The vampir have sanguinmancy—magic from blood. On and on…
I focus mostly on the elves’ magic, since that’s what I’m dealing with. Willow reiterates what Eldas told me about the Knowing and how elves use it to find a subject’s true name.
As long as the elf knows the true name of someone or something, they can manipulate that thing however they please. It’s as Eldas said: their limitations only come from their own imagination and the strength of their magic. Willow explains how some elves are uniquely adept at suggesting emotions, others can manipulate hair into beautiful weaves; they can levitate objects, summon memories, communicate telepathically, and more.
I am surrounded by people of immense power. I wasn’t born with magic, and I might never learn enough to stand a chance. The best and safest thing I can do is leave.