Ben paused in his planting to wipe the sweat from his brow.
He could, he supposed, have caused the flowers to grow entirely by magic rather than the toil of his hands. But he had been a magician for such a short time. He had been in this land of Ingary for only a few short years… and yet, in some ways it had been an eternity.
“Blessed are you, O Lord, who sends us such fragrance,” he murmured, pressing the seeds into the earth. The soil of the Waste was dry – he would have to use his magic if the plants were to grow. And yet still he passed down the rows, the dirt grinding into his knees and his nails, lines of earth marking his hands and his face.
Years ago in Cardiff, his mother’s garden had been renowned. Ben had grown up with the constant smell of rain, and flowers blooming next to vegetables in their tiny yard. The other families at the synagogue had all had their own gardens – all his school-friends had as well – but none of them had been as fine as his mother’s.
Another seed, and another. Ben had walked to cheder after school finished for the day, passing garden after garden filled with fragrant herbs. The kosher butcher across the road had grown roses on a trellis; Ben had spent hours standing on one leg, bored and waiting for his mother and Mr Reubens to finish talking of plants.
The death of his parents had shaken him to the core – filled with rage, he had questioned and received no answer. And so, still a young man, he had turned away from his faith.
Not every seed will grow.
But some seeds wait, lying dormant until the conditions are right. And when Ben stepped through that doorway from Wales and found himself in a land of magic and enchantment – when he made the fateful decision to never return – he found himself yearning towards the faith of his fathers.
“I have been a stranger in a strange land,” he said aloud as the earth slipped through his hands.
In Kingsbury, it seemed, there were no Jews. People had heard, vaguely, of a country some way away where it seemed the people followed a similar faith. But not here: there are none in Ingary, they said.
Ben found it was easier to become semi-vegetarian for a time, rather than to try to explain his need for proper preparation and separation – although once he became known as a wizard, it could be explained away as magical eccentricity. All wizards were known to be a bit odd.
It was simpler when he began to grow much of his own food. The food his mother had prepared with such care was difficult to replicate – Ben had never been much of a cook – but he tried his best. He considered conjuring meals, but wasn’t quite sure how magic would affect the laws of kosher – would magically conjured meat count?
He had not had the slightest idea how to deal with the Witch of the Waste, but when the king had asked, Ben had agreed to try. Memories of his mother’s garden had come to him, and he had thought: perhaps, if the Waste were to bloom, the Witch would lose her power. It had been worth a try.
Now, here, in the stretching expanse of the bare plains of the Waste, he despaired at the magnitude of the task. The sun beat down, deepening the lines on his face, But still he moved methodically down the rows, dropping each seed and pressing the earth firmly down upon it.
One day, Ben decided, he would go and look for that country. For now, he was sworn to the king, and he was dedicated to his task. But after the Witch was defeated, he would find his people.
And as the sun set each day over the newly-sown fields, he spread his hands.
“Shema Yisrael,” he began, and felt faith and magic together fill him to the brim and overflow from his fingers.
And the seeds burst from the ground, and a little more of the Waste was reclaimed.