Mark of the Shadow Part 18: Working Herbs
We were eating lunch by the stream. Nice piece of meat with a crisp loaf of bread that Cezary had just baked. I was sitting on a fallen tree my feet dangling free above the ground.
I wasn’t sure how my training was going. I was learning things and Rolph was encouraging enough but my fighting skills left much to be desired. I’d yet to pass Rolph’s five minute test at holding the pistol and as yet had not fired a single shot. I wondered how long we could stay here. Weren’t there shadows, and soldiers out their fighting a war?
Rolph taught me how to tie various knots and how to set up some basic traps, we even caught a wild rabbit that we gave to Cezary. There was hardly any meat on the bone.
Cezary’s research continued making the cabin smell of rotting flesh. Some nights I slept outside curled up next to Rolph for warmth and comfort. We all smelled terrible at some point though. The infrequent baths in the stream we made could clean us temporarily but a thick stench was never far behind.
“How will we find her?” I asked Rolph at lunch not wanting to say Maria. It was only a suspicion after all.
“I don’t know what this woman wants with the cure. If it is Maria, then I suppose she’ll want to cure herself,” he replies unenthusiastically. “In which case she’s probably already done so and we are out of luck. If that’s not the case then we still have time. If we can explain that Cezary may be able to create more…perhaps we will be able to get out of this without more death.” He doesn’t sound very confident. Right now I’m about sick of training, and the shadow inside of me isn’t helping. Any strain on my body gives it more leeway. At least it feels that way. Rolph says as long as nothing drastic happens I will be OK. I just have to keep my necklace with me at all times. As if I could forget.
He’s been teaching me meditation. The act of losing your mind in your body. Thats how he describes it. I asked him if the Indians taught him this, and he laughed and said, “Yes, but not the Indians your talking about.” I was confused. I supposed he meant a different tribe then the ones I’ve met but I ain’t so sure.
In and out, relaxed. Feel the breath take you in, and leave you. Really simple if you ask me. But it is harder than it looks. Took me a couple tries. Finally one of the things I can get right. Losing myself in the sounds of the forest is a pleasant thing. Nothing like what I used to do with Daddy, but I was learning there’s lots me and Daddy never did.
Rolph left me meditating and when he came back hours had passed. Rolph had caught a deer. Now that would feed us for days. He asked me what I’d thought about, but I didn’t know how to respond. That seemed to satisfy him.
“Meditating,” he told me on the trek back to the cabin, “is about reclaiming your body. Your mind loses track of it through the day to day dealings of life. If you lose track of your body the shadow has an edge over you. And if the shadow as an edge over you, your mind and spirit won’t be yours for long.” He smiled but I could see something in his eyes. Some doubt, some worry. I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask.
“What is it Rolph?” He looked at me, his eyes stone.
“Nothing. I just haven’t been feeling great lately.”
I decided not to continue asking. If I’d learned one thing about Rolph its that he won’t answer questions he don’t want to.
Dinner was quite that evening. Rolph went to bed early, and I followed suit. I suspected that Cezary would be staying up though. He didn’t like to do his messy work around others. Fine if you ask me.
I woke up early and saw through the open cabin door that Cezary had passed out in a chair. He’s still holding a bloody knife. Rolph was lying curled up on the ground. I’ve never seen him so vulnerable. I moved into the cabin and quietly close the door. I decide to look around since there’s no one around to keep me company. I grabbed a piece of dried apple from the kitchen and make my around the house. Sure to be quiet. I started absent-mindedly opening drawers and cabinets. There isn’t much stuff I notice. Cezary’s possessions are few and focused around his areas of work.
But I do find something that catches my eye. A small golden globe smaller than my fist tucked away behind a drawer full of old clothes I’d never seen Cezary wear.
“What are you doing?” came Cezary’s voice. It was harsh. I’d never heard Cezary sound scary before, but this scared me. I whipped around to face him sure to raise my hands. See their empty I gestured. “What gave you the right to go snooping through my things?” he accused.
“I’m sorry Cezary, I was certain that-” I started.
“What’s going on here?” said Rolph still half asleep.
“Nothing,” I was quick to say. “Nothing, let’s go back to training Rolph.”
Cezary watched me closely as I moved towards the doorway. His eyebrows crooked up but his gaze softened telling me that whatever foul emotion had given way to his outburst would be gone in a moment. He slid over to the open drawer and closed it with a snap. He gave me one last look, that I tried to return with an I’m sorry before I was out the door.
“What am I learning today?” I asked standing one legged on the fallen log by the stream.
“Eager are we?” he asked. “Well, since you seem rubbish at anything physical, but you fell into meditating so naturally I thought we should move on to how to work the herbs.”
The herbs. I’d only seen Rolph use them a few times. Minor tricks and enchantments. I jumped down from the log and sat on a flat boulder.
“Now magic is tricky,” he said. “She won’t always do what you want. Like a horse, you have to learn how to work with her.” Funny how magic was a girl. Maybe girls are better at magic then, I thought. “There are three components to any workings with the herbs. One,” he lifted up a solitary finger, “your state of mind. The most important thing in any spell. How you feel about yourself, and the magic you are conjuring.”
Rolph took out a small pouch with drawstrings. He held it up and then placed it before my feet. I dared not reach for it.
“Two. The herbs themselves. Make sure you pick the write plant for the job.”
“How will I know?”
“Only through time. Experience and learning. Eventually you will know what herbs respond to your touch well in different emotional states, and you will know which herbs are best suited to the task at hand.”
“Sounds complicated.” I said.
“It is, but only if you make it.” Rolph bent down and reached for a branch. Willow, I knew because Daddy always pointed out how beautiful they are. He walked ten paces down the stream and dug a small whole with his hands. He then placed the branch into the whole and pushed the dirt back into the hole making sure the branch was facing upward and in the light of the glowing sun. He then walked back towards me and picked up the pouch.
“Three. The words. The words themselves don’t matter. It’s the idea behind the word. In fact its best if you say the words in a language your unfamiliar with. It keeps unwanted ideas to a minimum. Your brain will focus solely on the idea and the way the words wrap around your mouth.”
Rolph paused. Then reached his hand into the pouch. He pulls out a pinch of dry almost white herbs. He sprinkles them over the branch and says, “Sechosida,” quickly almost too fast to make out.
The cut up and dried plants drift listlessly to the ground and nothing seems to happen. I find I’m holding my breath waiting for a sound, a sign.
Then it happens. Slowly the branch moves, as if stretching after a long sleep. The wood arches backward and sprouts up an inch. It’s subtle but it’s there. This branch is now a tree. I give Rolph a huge smile, delighted at what I just saw. He looks happy as well.
But how will I do that I think. He made it look so easy.
“Remember, if you don’t have one of those three things, the magic will fail. Undoubtedly it will fail.”
I swallowed. “Do I get to try?”