The beginnings of a fantasy tale:
The gravel path winding up the steep slope narrowed. Our progress was further hindered by rivulets of rain. As the downdraft pitched toward its icy crescendo, I zipped up my parka and shook my head. The late autumn sky, a slab of blue grey shot through with pure white, promised worse to come. As we’d planned this essential research project more than two years in advance, I could only imagine how much Boreas, that cruel north wind, was enjoying his show.
“Atropa Belladonna, she is deadly nightshade,” droned our guide, a pimply-faced lad whose Latin was far better than would ever be his English. He pointed to a purple flower flapping like a flag atop a stalky green pole. “Here on left is Aconitum, he is wolf’s-bane, and if you drink his juice, you forever fall asleep, amen.”
As my colleagues inched forward, I held back. I was desperate to add a sketch of Aconitum to my collection. With a single sweep of my charcoal pencil, I captured the essence of the two upper petals peeking out from beneath their hood. From experience, I knew that at their crown was a hollow spur filled with ambrosia, their honeyed nectar. I leaned closer. Might I not just once break the rules and push back that damson-coloured cap to gain a better view? Reluctant to fall further behind in such bad weather, I elected, instead, for artistic improvisation.
By the time I’d caught up with the rest of the group, our guide was relating how the most dangerous of the ninety-six poisonous plants currently in residence at Hermaia Gardens were housed in giant cages made of a secret alloy of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Nothing could get in; nothing could get out. Voila, more or less instant immortalisation. There is, however, one drawback. From the myths of old, we all know that immortality equates to invisibility. The placard said the Cherry Laurel, prunus laurocerasus, in this cage was from Thebes in Boeotia. If we could see it, we’d fully appreciate that this specimen was more than two-thousand years old.
“It’s a lie.” Nychois, one of my least clever colleagues, pushed forward. “There’s nothing in there. It’s an empty cage.”
“It…it transparent”, stuttered our guide.
“There’s only one way to find out,” declared Exapatas. “Go ahead, touch it, Nychois.”
“No, not, touch,” shouted our guide. “It kill you!”
“I tell you there’s nothing in there but even if there were, we’re all botanists,” replied Nychois. “Not only are my gloves bullet-proof but we each carry every possible antidote right here in our bags.”
“This one old,” insisted the guide. “No cure.”
“Nonsense,” prompted Exapatas. “Go ahead, Nychois. I dare you.”
As Boreas kicked into gale force, my colleague knelt and rattled the cage. He turned to stone. Exapatas fainted. The remainder of our group turned and ran. Squeezing shut his eyes, guide stood tall, his hand clasped in prayer. Madly, I rummaged through my antidote bag for something, anything, that might counteract what I reasoned must have been a practical joke, gone wrong. Little could I have known that coming to terms with what had just happened would consume the next twenty-three and one-half years of my earthly existence.
(to be continued, maybe…)