“I have a plan,” she signed as she worked her way along the shelves, dragging her finger across the lettering on the spines of the old books, rubbing dust off of some to read the names, blowing at cobwebs that formed in the corners. Every so often, she pulled one down and dropped it with a thunk on the table. She read every title, one by one, starting at the top shelf, which stood about a foot over her head, but within reach. There were dozens and dozens of books on each row down, some skinny, some fat, but all examined with care before pushing it back into place or thudding it down on the table. I knew better than to ask if she needed help. She did not. Whatever plan she was working on, it was best that I leave her to it for now, so I took to the kitchen to make a simple dinner, knowing that whatever she had planned would require strength of mind and body.
When I returned with our potato soup, my mother had most of the books open on the table, some on top of each other, some overlapping. I handed her the bowl of soup, but we stood with our bowls over the table and books. Each was open to a different herb, the ancient drawings and markings defining each one’s symbolism, uses, cautions, and warnings.
“Are we going to make something?”
My mother smiled and returned her spoon to her bowl and perched it on a bookshelf.
“Not me,” she said. “You.”
I circled the table, looking at each book, but some of the herbs were familiar to me, while some of the flowers were foreign, coming from remote parts of the world.
“I can’t make an ointment or potion or anything without ingredients.”
“Make them,” she signed. “Make them grow. Pull their roots to you from wherever they grow.”
“I can’t do that! I mean…I’ve never done that. Is it even possible?”
“For the strongest of green witches, yes, and you are incredible.”
“But I haven’t ever done it before, and it’s getting dark already, look!” The window, although facing east, showed an evening blue on its horizon.
“Your job is to pull in the plants using all of your magic and willpower. When you begin, the Darkness will awaken, and in the cover of night, it will threaten our borders, but you must not stop until every last plant is pulled in, grown tall and fruitful in our own garden. You must not stop, do you understand?”
I nodded. “But what about the man?”
“I will deal with him,” she signed.
What else was there to do? It was the only plan we had, and my mother seemed very sure of herself and of me, although I didn’t share her convictions of my talent or the ability of us to overtake the man and the Darkness in the same night. I couldn’t allow myself to worry, so I began eating my soup again although it had grown cool and reading each entry in the books, one at a time. After I read them all initially, I recited the names of the seven plants my mother had chosen for me to pull. I knew it wouldn’t do to write it down. I needed to commit them to memory - each name and use in the Craft - so I could call on their roots.
“Laurus nobilis for the gift of sight,” I recited as I walked my bowl back to the kitchen and placed it in the white sink. “Salvia for healing, obviously. Basil for sympathy. Valeria for amity. Ti-na-tsa-li to heal the skin. St. John’s Wort to protect against evil. Hazel for calming the passion and hatred of men.”
I had no clue how it would help or what my mother was trying to do, but I knew she was right about spending my energy where it didn’t belong. When I was satisfied in belief that I would not falter on the names of these herbs, I followed my mother into the back garden. The night was young, the faintest of blues still seen in the west, chasing away the vibrance of day.
My mother closed her eyes and a light breeze blew her long salted hair over her shoulders.
“He’s coming,” she signed. “He will wait until it’s fully dark. If we wait too long, the plan won’t work. If we work too soon, the plan will falter. How long will it take you to conjure up a single plant?”
“Considering I’ve never done it, I have not a clue. You mean this whole plan of your is contingent on my ability to do something I’ve never done in perfect timing with a man showing up here who wants us hanged?”
“Since I haven’t a clue, can I start now?” I asked.
She closed her eyes, and when she reopened them, she nodded. He was close enough that she could read his intentions. I didn’t ask how far away he was or how much time I had. There was no point.