B O R E A S I N T H E F I E L D
Written on September 21, 2019 (♍)
Author's Notes: OH MAN. Get read for more s y m b o l i c p l a n t s. The title is taken from William Hunnis' "A Nosegay Always Sweet," which is frequently glossed as the source of Shakespeare's floriographic meanings in Hamlet. I had Dycedarg dole out some fun Early Modern plant facts from John Gerard's Herball. I am in my symbolic-plant-referencing ZONE.
A key to the plant meanings not made explicit in the text is at the end, but I think it's more fun to try to look them up on your own.
Alma's hands trembled as she lost count of the prayer beads again, her gaze tracing the whorls of vines and hellbore on the green-gold altar cloth. The words she had been repeating skipped through her brain as if they had been written in water, leaving a ripple but no lasting impression. She looked at the unbruised spot on her arm where the man had grabbed her, still feeling the phantom sensation of his gloved hand. She thought again she was falling, as if she were in some alchemist's suspension preventing her from feeling the world around her. She tried to reach to God, to beg Him that none of this was real, to implore him to trace back time to the morning when everyone had been safe and everything had seemed sure. Her thoughts would not resolve.
There was the noise of soldiers and chemists and healers outside. She sometimes thought she heard the convulsive sound of tears or laughter, and she wondered if she had ever spoken to any of the five men who had died. Over and over now it played through her head: the improbable but awful reality that she would be alone. Her prayers failed her while that one morbid thought infested her brain. Dycedarg would decline. Ramza and Delita and even Zalbag would fall. And Tietra... Tietra who may well be gone already...
She thought terrible things—imagining that she already lived in an empty house with a name doomed to die. She spent the long night pacing the chapel as she had in nights past, sleepless and sick with nobody to scold her for having remained so long awake. When Ramza finally appeared, tattered and hollowed-eyed, she thought him a ghost, and wept to embrace him as if he were smoke between her arms. In his flurry of "I'm sorry"s and "goodbyes," she wasn't able to quite parse exactly what had happened, but when she finally fell asleep in his arms that grey morning, he had confirmed at least some part of her fears.
He was gone by the time she awoke, and as the halls around her echoed with the chatter and shouts of returning knights, she looked to the great roseate window of stained glass and saw no sun to lend it light.
When they all finally found one another, she was composed enough to already know what story they were about to relate. The moment Dycedarg began to speak, however, any calm she had found within herself fled, and she fell to a howling misery. She felt, in that instant, that all the devils and princes of hell might well be loose within her breast, and she hoped to give them vent that they might burn every tower of Igros to the ground.
Later, in the stillness of her chambers, she realized she had lost count of the days that passed since anyone with a claim on that silent manse had addressed one another. After all the high drama between Ramza fleeing and Zalbag returning, after all of her protests and shrieking and tears, after she had in some unthinkable frenzy run at the Savior of Ivalice with a pair of sewing scissors and everyone in an otherwise orderly house had fallen to disorder in stopping her—after all of that, it had somehow become a very mundane matter to live in the company of men she now hated.
For the longest time she laid in her chambers, unmoving and despondent as though she too had some injury more pressing than the quick and completely unprecedented blow that Dycedarg had struck her. One of the undercooks, a round-faced woman who had doted on both girls, came to bring her the food that would be taken away untouched the next morning and to cry in sympathy with her, but otherwise she saw no one. She assumed that her brothers did likewise. Both had more immediate and bodily wounds to nurse, and it had become clear in the midst of that day's pandemonium that they were not always of the same mind and purpose. As she had run down the length of the great hall, she had overheard a rather sharp exchange as regarded Zalbag's ability to get any number of people killed who were not Wiegraf Folles.
Time passed. She eventually found it in her to eat and—after that—to make a brief appearance before the rest of what now comprised her family as she left them to go walk somewhere as far outside the castle walls as she could manage. She could not tell, as she did not ask, but both of them seemed to be well enough on the mend to manage themselves without her sympathies. As she strode down through the rolling orchards and towards the muddy hills that stretched towards the Larner strait, she cried a little—feeling in some corporeal and drastic way the sensation of how her worst fears had been realized. She was now alone.
She returned sometime later with a fistful of purple flowers and branches hung with dark blue berries, which she arranged in a vase into an elegant a display as she could and set very gently on the table where her brothers ate. She turned silently and left when Zalbag addressed her by name, but she lingered outside the door.
"What do you make of it? I wouldn't think that..."
"This isn't an apology, if that's what your asking. They're perfectly edible, by the way, even if it's too early in the season. Some sort of vaccinium, I'd imagine whortleberry, which signifies 'treason' if your interest in them is of a poetic strain."
"Yes. It's rather the exact opposite of an apology." Dycedarg sighed. "I hadn't known there was any tamarisk nearby. Good for spiderbite. Staunches bleeding too if you ever find yourself stabbed near one."
"Does it... does it mean something as well?"
"Yes. It does."
Both she and Zalbag waited some time for an explanation that didn't come, and Alma left satisfied that her message had been received. She was in no higher spirits for the fact, but she had received no rebuke for or rebuttal to her accusation. She took that cold comfort with her as she continued to walk the Gallione countryside in the days that followed, thinking on how this silent protest gave her something to cleave to now that she had nobody to confide in. As she roamed about, looking at all the small and wild things she once would have pointed out to a companion, she thought it fitting that she could take some of it home to gall the murderers who lived under her roof.
A week later, she awoke to find a small bundle of red-starred hazel shoots outside her door, tied neatly with a crude twine of unwoven flax fibers. It puzzled her. She knew rather immediately that the hazel stood for reconciliation, but it was a mystery to her that it should be blooming in the middle of the summer—a greenhouse somewhere she supposed. The meaning of the flax eluded her and seemed the sort of obscure flourish that somebody would add to their out-of-season bouquet to underscore the great deal of effort they'd gone to.
Stealing into her father's former study, she consulted an old herbal, remembering very vividly him taking it down to quiz her during one of her fleeting visits home.
Flax, the lint thereof: I feel my obligations.
She frowned a little, fingers pressing taut into the vellum of the pages. She thumbed to the index until she found "Insincerity, plants signifying." Sometime later, one of the Duke's gardeners found one of his plots vandalized and Dycedarg spent another supper explaining the myriad properties of acanthus to his less-than-interested brother.
Time continued to pass. The summer mellowed, insects grew stupid, and flowers turned to fruit. She grew accustomed to solitude. She had not persisted in a perfect muteness as regarded her siblings, but the words they traded had been very sparse and very perfunctory. The silent game she played with her brother took much the course both of them ought to have expected, with him undertaking to present her with various over-elaborate arrangements calling for reconciliation and her repeatedly looking up an easily gotten plant with which to say no.
They might have carried on in such a manner until all the flowers in the countryside were dead, were it not that one afternoon she crept to the study and found it occupied. Seeing Zalbag sitting against the sunlit ledge of the window, herbal in hand, she considered a moment that there was no trace of a scar where she’d cut him. It occurred to her afterward that they hadn’t looked one another in the eye for months.
“So you don’t actually know how to do this without consulting a book, either?” he asked.
“I do,” she said slowly, “just not always.”
She considered, thinking on it, that it was unlikely anybody did always. The exception perhaps, would have been Dycedarg, whom she had long assumed to be on the other end of this game despite being a man savvy enough to change tack after it was clear he was losing. The thought that it had been Zalbag, running about with broken ribs and a scratched face in search of flowers of which he’d likely never heard, was almost enough to make her want to laugh again.
“I’m not asking for your forgiveness,” he said hesitantly, realizing that they seemed to be having a conversation of sorts.
“I won’t try to explain if you don’t…”
He closed the book, and looked ahead with a solemn expression she couldn’t quite read.
“I don’t want to persist like this.”
She sat down on the ledge next to him, looking out the window at where overgrown clusters of woodbine crept over the bright stone walls.
“I don’t know that we can.”
Black Hellebore (Christmas Rose): Tranquilize my anxiety; Tamarisk: Crime; Woodbine: Fraternal love.BACK