Flash Fiction: Grow In The Dark

This scene came to me while I was thinking about human beings figuring out, through historical trial and error, which mushrooms and fungi are edible. I can only imagine the process would be even more, uh, exciting in a magical world.


Grow In The Dark

by Heidi C. Vlach

This was putting him behind schedule, thought the delivery boy. He held his tongue and ducked under yet more stiff bundles of dried herbs, holding his pocket cloth over his mouth to defer all the dust. When an elderly woman of great repute — such as this Madam Korozie des Florelle — invited one inside for tea, there was no polite option but to accept.

And so he followed the Madam through her cluttered storage closet of a home. All of the furniture was old, and some of it antique. Books and other treasures stood in off-kilter piles. The Madam herself was unknowable under her layers of skirts, cloaks and wraps, though he could definitely discern a hunched back and tawny skin spattered dark with age spots.

They talked about the recent rainstorm, of all innocuous things. He agreed, politely. And he sat under the stares of polished skulls and painted sigils, taking larger sips of his odd-flavoured tea until he was sure he liked it.

The Madam’s smile began to worry him, though. Knowing even for an elder, with her night-dark eyes pinched delighted at the corners.

The delivery boy was trying to muster another banal statements about the town aquifer, when the Madam cut in asking if he knew who she was.

Sick of the lump in his throat, he replied yes, he did. She was the first Grand Magus to ever dissent with the King.

Her gaze changed mercurially; he was holding the gaze of a rook, a wildcat, the heart of the whole enormous world. And, she said?

And what? What was he supposed to think of someone risen and fallen while he was still yet to be born? The delivery boy set down his suddenly flavourless cup and said that he was not present when she was Magus, good Madam. He tried not to pass judgement on such things.

Smart boy, she said on a flick of a laugh. Tell her the truth, though: what did he know about Madam Kororzie?

And, as was polite, he answered the lady’s question. Madam Korozie des Florelle was the first female foreigner ever to become a Grand Magus. She developed many of the standard healing spells still used to this day. She disagreed with the kingdom engaging in a war not theirs. And, the delivery boy added on a spur of drunken fear, the good Madam now foraged wild herbs for a living.

A harsher flick of laughter from the Madam, a shaking within her fabric coccoon. Just gathering herbs, she cried? A dotty old woman picking some bits and pieces for her dinner? No, dear boy, she said as she pushed herself up from the table — and she stopped to spear her gaze into him again. What was his name, again?

She had never asked for it. He was Santis Fowlue of Dunmore, he said, that dull name that was plain and sad and his.

Santis, the Madam confirmed.

Her accent leaned hard on the second syllable, which was wrong but at least interesting.

Well, Santis, she went on, she had been keeping busy since her Magus days. She focused on mycosis, the study of mushrooms and the many ways they could enhance a person’s magic. They could also poison a body and kill them quicker than a wink, the Madam gravely added — but anything on this earth worth doing was risky. Had he also heard of the dragonstooth toadstool?

Madam Korozie was shuffling now to a dust-coated cabinet, removing something that Santis couldn’t see past her hunched, cloaked back. It was still unclear whether he ought to be here; he tamped down his nerves and said no, ma’am.

If he had, she added, it would mostly be stories of fools trying to earn riches.

He was sorry, ma’am, but he hadn’t.

She hummed. She was at the hearth now, bending over one of the pots Santis had assumed to be simmering dinner. The dragonstooth toadstool, the Madam told him, was said to have sprouted from a shed tear from one of the gods. That fact had been translated ten times forward and back. Left out to go rusty in the rains of time. But if it was true, and if the toadstool could be picked, it could raise some brave human to their fullest potential.

Madam Korozie was still bent, working with the pot’s contents. Scraping echoed up into her chimney while Santis shifted in his groaning old kitchen chair.

So, Santis ventured, did she find it?

The Madam laughed. Not a flick of a laugh but the whole mirthful thing, the sound of a wise woman who understood the entire joke.

Santis shouldn’t have come here, he tried to suppose. He was already behind pace on his afternoon assignment. But in this strange, cosy home, he asked his elder, so, ah. It was worth the search, then?

Madam Korozie turned and approached him, a shuffling mound with smile-cornered eyes and a teaspoon held before her. A teaspoon full of meat broth — no, it was a magic potion. No meat made a liquid that deeply coloured, like saffron except oilier.

The Madam held the spoon out at Santis between her trembling, expert fingers. Held it out like a mere sip of soup and she said, why don’t you tell me?


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