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A Single Drop of Sunlight

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It started with a flower.

When I was a girl, I was an avid nature lover. I would spend hours climbing every tree and looking under every rock. As I grew older, such things became not only my passion, but my livelihood. Like my mother before me, I became a healer - I inherited her book of recipes, an old tome full of arcane herbs and spices, teas and poultices, when to use them, how to apply them, what remedies they could provide. I suppose you could call it a book of spells - certain potions did seem to improve when you sang out the right words, but whether this was magic, or just that little additional bit of concentration one got from focusing entirely on the brew, I was never sure.

The flower was definitely magic.

I found it one day when searching far from my village for a few of the more obscure plants that only grew near the cliffs. It caught my eye first because it was beautiful, and second, because I did not recognize it. It had been a long time since I'd not recognized a plant - I was old, at this point. Or at least, I considered myself old at the time. By my reckoning now, I was still quite young.

Out on a cliff edge, a brilliant gold with a slight purple sheen. The only one of its kind anywhere near, perhaps the only one of its kind anywhere at all. I knew better than to simply pluck it to learn its properties - the best remedies often come off of a still living plant. And when a plant is rare, it's better to take a clipping home and leave it there to grow then to destroy it and hope to find it anew another day - a lesson many could stand to learn. Indeed, I often took samples of plants to see if I could grow them myself, so that I needn't depend on chance to find a critical ingredient. I had a beautiful garden, the finest in my village.

Later in my investigations I noted that the grass surrounding the beautiful flower was fuller, lusher, greener than grass that grew further away. But at first, I simply knelt down to observe. I took a small clipping - just a leaf or two, a small sliver of a petal, and a sample of the root. I noted that when I did so, the leaf I'd cut seemed to lose much of its luster, as did the petal, but I didn't think much of it at the time. Once at home, I studied the clippings intently. I dried the leaf, ground it, and followed my usual procedure in testing new potions. I kept a few mice, lizards, insects, and other small creatures to test my mixtures on before I tried them on people; but whether I fed the flower to them or applied it to small wounds on their outside, there didn't seem to be any effect. Eventually I dismissed the plant as unusually beautiful, but without much practical use. There were a few more things I could try, but nothing that was immediately applicable.

But I couldn't escape my fascination with the flower. I found myself visiting more and more often just to gaze on it. I did not risk transplanting the flower - its roots grew too deep for me to be sure it was safe. And I could never make any root or cutting sprout and regrow elsewhere, either - once removed, it was a dead thing.

It was an accident, the first time I realized there was something truly unusual about the plant. I'd scratched my hands on the thorns of a rosebush near one of my favorite groves as I gathered flowers to sell at the market. I'd decided to visit the beautiful flower once again, to admire it on my way home. I was humming to myself, as was my habit at the time. I've since stopped humming so mindlessly, since I've now learned that thoughtless songs can have unexpected power. One never knows what might happen. I approached the flower, humming softly, only to see the flower glowing. I did not attribute this to the humming immediately, but when I stopped in startlement, the glow abruptly abated. When I began to hum again, more cautiously, the glowing brightened as well. I tried varying the tune slightly, noting when the plant grew brighter or dimmer. It was not until I was halfway home that I glanced at my thorn-pricked fingers and found them completely healed. From then on, I visited the flower daily, experimenting with words and tunes, playing endlessly as I found those to which my flower responded best.

It was years before I realized that healing was not its only effect. That on days I visited the flower to test its healing properties I felt younger, better, stronger. That my aging had slowed, and seemed to almost reverse itself. Eternal youth. A cause worth dying for. A cause worth almost anything. If one could replicated this effect, it would change the world.

I very, very quietly bought the land which housed the flower. It was a mostly empty area: the cliffs, some beach, a stretch beyond into the forest. You couldn't farm there - no one wanted it. I had a cottage built there, moved my things. I still went to the village to pedal my remedies. As I aged - or rather, as I didn't - I varied where I traveled. Twenty years here, fifteen there, just long enough that my lack of aging would go unnoticed, returning only once I had been forgotten by living memory.

I wandered far and wide, returning every so often to visit my flower, to renew its spell. That's how I found the tower. I did not build such a thing, it was already there - an ancient ruin from a forgotten age. But I made use of it. I enjoyed the privacy the hidden grove provided. I grew some of my more valuable and rare plants there. It was where I had intended on replanting the flower, if I ever felt I could safely move it. A home near town was private enough, and I was generous with my remedies and stores, but there was always the occasional thief of lettuce or greens. The extra temptation of rare and valuable plants was something that nobody needed.

My reputation in any town was usually favorable, for I knew many cures, and with my longevity I learned even more new methods for healing. But occasionally there was a person I could not heal the usual way. A child, near death from drowning. A woman, an ever growing lump within her breast. A man, delirious with fever. And I, with my most secret remedy. I could not hold it back. I suppose that was my mistake, but I was always, in my heart, a healer. How could I not save someone when I had a cure?

I took them to my cottage, swore them to secrecy. But I should not be surprised that it got out. Whispers of a magic flower that could hold back death itself. And when these rumors reached the royal family... well. What royalty wants, they take.

They ripped it from the ground, those short-sighted fools! Had they but asked, I would have provided them a cure...! They didn't need to dig it up, to take it away. To brew it into a single potion, one. The only one of its kind. A song would have been enough, and the flower could have continued providing for the health of many. But they didn't ask. They simply took, spent that golden opportunity to save one woman, simply because she was royalty. Had they only asked...

I won't deny I acted wrongly. But they didn't know what they were squandering! Centuries of research, gone! What heartbreaking waste...

I did not know whether any of the properties of the flower would remain in the child or the mother. I simply had to see, had to try and rescue something, anything, from that theft. A simple lullaby was enough to prove that some of the power remained in the girl. But like a clipping from the flower itself, the hair, once removed, was useless. And so I took, as well.

This time, I learned. This time, I hoarded. There were lives I could have saved, but I was playing to save the lives of everyone. Sacrifices must be made. No matter how severe the illness, I could not risk any rumor of my new flower spreading, to have it taken away and ruined once again. She would stay with me until I found a way to transfer or reproduce the power. No matter the time. No matter the cost. And one girls life? Meaningless, considering the stakes at hand. I tried to keep her happy. I grew to love her as a daughter. But I knew that she was nothing, nothing compared to what she meant for the world. A gift like that, it has to be protected.

I pretended not to know about her little pet - it's good for a young girl to have her secrets, or think that she has them, anyway. (She sang to that damned lizard all her life. It's no wonder it was far more intelligent than its brethren. And longer lived.) I gave her everything she could desire, and more. I wandered far, in my search for information and magics that might lead to breakthroughs for my flower, and I brought her gifts from all over the world.

But in the end, it was not enough. A girl is so much harder to control than a simple flower. A flower, one must only protect from the elements, and from thieving hands. A girl, one must protect from herself. When her lover cut that priceless hair, I screamed. It was not just the agony brought on by the years suddenly returning, but the anguish of seeing all that promise gone. Lost. Forever. I would die, yes. But so would she. My flower would fade away - will it ever occur to her that in stealing that choice from her, her lover stole her immortality, as well? And from her children, and her children's children...?

As I fall, I hear her voice above me.

Flower, gleam and glow
Let your power shine
Make the clock reverse
Bring back what once was mine.

What once was mine...