24th of Rose Moon, in the year 1036 KF
Briar Moss, who was not often a boy that could be described as high-strung, battled tears of frustration as he stared at his teacher’s herb garden. It was the rest period hour just after lunch, and Briar should’ve been lazing on the roof, or taking a jaunt down the cove just outside the temple city of Winding Circle, as his foster sisters were doing at this very moment. Instead, he was fighting Rosethorn’s bleat-brained mint plants.
Dedicate Rosethorn, a renowned green mage and Briar’s teacher, who was exactly as bristly as her name suggested, was on a trip to the farmlands surrounding Summersea. Several farmers had requested the aid of the temple to fight a blight in their lentil plants, and Rosethorn, along with several other temple folk who served the Living Circle gods of the Earth, had gone to tend to this year’s crop. Brian had nearly pleaded to go along, stopping only when Rosethorn had threatened to tie him by a rope to her workshop, one just long enough to allow him to weed her garden. He had still tried to insist, but her weakness after her sickness the previous winter was all but gone. Only a slight slowness in her speech marked what a visit in Death had taken from her. Still. Briar worried. He knew that without him, and without Lark, his other sometimes-teacher, she wouldn’t take care of herself properly, and that was his responsibility.
But he had his marching orders, and so each day, without fail, he tended to the garden with as much vigor as he could muster, hoping to make her proud when she returned, one week hence.
It had started with a precious few mint plants straying from their strictly-marked territory. He hadn’t even noticed, focused as he was with convincing Rosethorn’s cherished tomatoes to grow strong instead of quickly, as they were disposed to do without a gardener’s attention. Four days after Rosethorn’s exodus, the mint was totally out of control. The plants were huge, woody, and putting out shoots and seedlings faster than he could cut them back. He spent an entire afternoon trying to calm them down, but nothing seemed to help. It was as if someone had dumped a bucket of quick-grow potion on them in the night. When Briar touched them with his magic, he felt the plants burning with the ecstatic joy of growth, and the stinging, itching not-pain that was what his teacher called “the dark side of the Green Man”—unrestrained growth.
Sturdy, frothy-white blossoms had started to overtake the crop, which Briar knew meant that the plants were putting most of their energy into making seeds, rather than working on the leaves, and the precious, sharp-scented oils therein that Rosethorn and Briar used in their work. Not that Briar particularly minded the fact that the mint wanted to make seeds; it was just far too early in the summer for them to be doing so.
Sweaty and exhausted, Briar thumped to the ground in despair. Rosethorn would most certainly hang him in the well, a threat she hadn’t made good on in the year he had lived with her. Despite that, he fully believed her capable of doing so.
“And wouldn’t I just deserve it,” he mumbled, looking at the mess of herbs. The marjoram and oregano were at least behaving, barely. He could feel the oregano wanting to spur into the same kind of riotous growth, but its sun was being stolen by the vagabond mint leaves.
A familiar “Hmph.” made him spring to his feet with a speed he hadn't needed since his days as a pickpocket, more than a year gone. He turned. Rosethorn stood there, tapping her bare foot in consternation. Briar had made a study of Rosethorn’s foot taps for a calendar year, and this particular rhythm did not bode well for his fate as a boy not decomposing in a compost heap.
He didn’t even try to defend himself, but hung his head in defeat. “I tried to make ‘em behave, honest,” he mumbled. “They just…got away from me. I couldn’t make ‘em listen.”
Rosthorn, still wordless and wearing a minor frown, approached the disorganized herb garden. She kneeled and touched a few leaves, deep in thought. A moment later, she crooked her finger at the frozen boy, who despite his misgivings, immediately kneeled and joined her. “Tell me the use of mint in spells and potions,” she demanded. As if by clockwork, Briar sat up straight. “Mint is used to strengthen and fortify other plants and enhance their effects. It’s used in spells of cleansing, purification, and healing, and also is good for drawing money into the home, bringing luck, and ensuring safe travel.”
“And the medical uses?” she said.
“Infusions of mint leaves in boiling water, when inhaled, can strengthen the lungs and are useful for combating asthma and head colds. When made into tea, it can ease headaches. As a poultice, it can st-stim-stim-u-late the veins of the body to help blood move better and ease pain. It also tastes pretty good.”
Rosethorn arched an eyebrow at him, but the shadow of a smile played on her mouth. Briar shrugged impishly, as if to say ‘Well, did you expect me not to think with my stomach?’ It seemed as if his teacher wasn’t going to maim him for tending to her garden improperly, so Briar thought that it must not be that bad, after all.
Rosethorn stood and crossed her arms. “Good. So with all that in mind, what would you say the primary quality of mint is?”
“The most important. The first quality. Mila bless us, you know this. Think, boy.”
“Is it…strength? Because it’s used to make things stronger, like other spells, and lungs and veins?”
“Exactly.” She snapped a leaf off of a woody stem, crushing it in her fingers. Briar could smell its sharp, clean scent wafting towards him. “Mint sometimes doesn't understand that it can overwhelm everything and everyone in sight. Remember when you stuck your nose in my jar of mint oil?" Briar grimaced. He hadn't been able to smell right for a week after that. "It’s strong, but it doesn’t know it. If you don’t know how to gentle it, it can get out of control, and you can’t make it listen. All it wants to do is grow, and grow, until it takes over everything in sight.”
“So…how do you make it listen?” Briar asked.
“Treat it like a young steer.” Rosethorn yanked up a seedling. “If you try to coax and wheedle it, it’ll run you over. If you bear down too hard, it’ll rebel, or worse, give up entirely. Here,” she took his hand and placed it next to the roots. “Tell it where it’s allowed to grow. Be firm, but let it know that you still want it to be strong.”
Briar was confused, but surely Rosethorn knew what she was talking about. He drew clean, sharp-scented lines in the dirt where he knew the mint was allowed, and told it that it needed to behave. He tried to channel his mother, who sometimes teased him to do his chores or she would send him to bed without supper, which nearly always worked, despite the fact that there had never been much supper to share. He imagined that the mint was just a kid, just trying to grow, and encouraged that in the plants, but reminded it to mind him, and to mind the giant pillar of green power that towered beside him.
He opened his eyes. Though a few blossoms remained, and he could still feel the mint fighting to grow, the patch had returned nearly to normal. The marjoram sighed in relief. It had been fidgeting with worry, as much as an herb can fidget, that the mint would take it’s spot in the dirt as well.
Rosethorn nodded, and wordlessly went to tend to the rest of her garden. Briar, knowing what he must do, stayed with the herbs, weeding and reminding the rest of them that they didn’t get to slack because he was focused on the mint.