Liavan was starting her garden from scratch. She'd marked out where she wanted the beds to be, and now she was lifting the sod from the first one. That wasn't all it took, of course. The sod was couch, which showed that someone else had lived here once even if there was no sign left of any habitation. The sod was going out along the track verge that led past where she had erected her little house, all four rooms plus the attic, water tanks for rain collection, the outhouse, and the simple, low fence with her carefully stored up hoard of magic. It hadn't been easy, but she had done it. The hardest part of it had been gathering together everything she needed in the face of people, particularly her family, not understanding why she needed things. She had lived in dread of her mother finding her thimbral, the round piece of lead crystal that she stored her magic in, and deciding that it was an ornament that ought to be displayed openly on a shelf in the family's parlour where she couldn't use it.
No-one, especially her mother, understood why she thought that she could be a withemistress. The idea had been dismissed out of hand and ridiculed every time someone had come across Liavan writing out her observations. The notebooks had survived Mother's zealous clearing hand because lemonade recipes, notes on nursing various illnesses, and diagrams of how to make patterns for new clothes adjusted to individual size were useful things, and if there were magical notes in there too, it was easy enough for Liavan to make sure that the notebooks never fell open at those pages. Labelled packets of seeds had been fairly easy to tuck away out of sight in with her socks and underthings, but little pots of cuttings that she was trying to strike had too often found their way into the rubbish. After all, withemasters and withemistresses were persons of importance and Liavan Haucmel was never going to be important. Neither was she going to have her own garden, because she was going to be the one to stay at hand to mind her parents' old age - her mother, grandmothers, and aunts had decided that the day Liavan was born, or so she was told.
To be fair to her mother, Liavan was fairly sure that Withemistress Penden of the enormous black and purple flowered hats and fur-trimmed cold weather coats didn't dig her own bean patch. From the turf. Being fair to herself in turn, Liavan pointed out to herself that Withemistress Penden was the fourth generation of her family to live in the comfortable townhouse with the extensive garden on Elster Street. The house probably hadn't been that comfortable when it was built, and Liavan was sure she remembered her great-grandfather saying that Elster Street had been a lane between cow paddocks when he was a boy. The Pendens back then probably hadn't gone in for big, fancy hats.
The first bed took most of the day to cut the turf, break up the soil a little, wish she had compost (not that wishing did any good), erect the support poles and tie strings between them. Finally, she added water and planted her summer beans. Ideally there would be succession planting but Liavan only had enough seed for the double row in this first bed and she knew that she had at more than one strain of the climbing bean mixed in her handful. That was what came of trading for what you could get, and it meant that she would wind up with something different from any of them, but that might not be a bad thing. Of course, summer beans were practically magic in themselves, the first seeds on this continent having been traded across the southern ice from far off, mysterious Tlacatan only a few decades ago. Liavan finished by adding nasturtium seeds to each end of the bed. Satisfied with her work, she put her tools undercover beside the back door, and went inside to prepare her evening meal.
It was her second night in the house her magic had built and the novelties of having four rooms to herself and being mistress of the kitchen had not worn off. The house was still sparsely and simply furnished, and the food was plain, but it was all hers. Tomorrow there would be more garden to create. Liavan slept well and dreamed of her garden.
Morning dawned fine again and Liavan's mind was torn on that point. Fine weather would let her get more outdoor work done, but rain would fill her water tanks. She ate and did her indoor chores, then went out to make more garden beds. First, she looked at what she had marked out, considered the plants that she had, and decided to deal with the fruit trees first. She had successful orange and lemon cuttings, so they went in a row along the back fence, leaving room for the gate she planned to put in one day. The removed turf went out the front to build the trackside verge up, and the small plants were carefully watered. Liavan considered the day and picked some bracken fern to put over the cuttings to stop them getting sunburnt and dried out before they'd adjusted to their new positions.
Next was a herb bed, and Liavan resolved to research a sharpening spell that she could use on her spade. Or buy a good whetstone. This bed was going to be for the cuttings, roots, and dug up small plants that needed to go in the ground as soon as possible. That included three field memorazes, a plant with a number of uses, and several grass orchids that had been growing where Liavan erected her house. The new bed was much the same size as the bean bed, but Liavan seemed to have gotten the knack of lifting the sod more easily now and the business went faster that the day before. It helped, too, that there were no poles to put in or support strings to tie. The water loving plants went at one end of the bed, and the ones that would die with that much water at the other end. She was just deciding where to put the field memorazes when there was a hail from her front gate, such as it was.
"Hulloo!" A tall woman in a black tunic over a purple dress, and with an enormous black hat festooned with purple roses stood there waving. "As it seems we're going to be neighbours I thought I should drop over and introduce myself. I quite understand if you don't want to ask me in, I'm sure that you at least feel like you're at sixes and sevens after moving."
Liavan froze in shock. It was Withemistress Penden at her gate. She recovered herself, stood, brushed her hands, waved back in friendly acknowledgement, and walked over to her gate. "Good afternoon, Withemistress Penden. I'm afraid I wasn't expecting you. I had thought that I had found a place that wouldn't intrude upon you and your responsibilities." She gave a short, polite afterthought of a curtsy.
"You did, my dear, and I do appreciate it." The older woman smiled. "I'm Elvie Penden," she held out her bare hand over the gate, "and you are?"
Liavan took it and shook. "Liavan Haucmel, ma'am."
"You're that girl who sells cough mixtures at the weekly market in the square, aren't you?" It seemed to Liavan that the older, black-haired withemistress was looking at her approvingly. When Liavan nodded, she added, "I'm glad you've come to this." She looked at the house behind Liavan, "And all your own work too. The trouble some people go to steal magic to do this, you have no idea yet."
"But then someone else has a hand in your work," said Liavan, "and if they want to change it then all they have to do is tweak." She made an expressive gesture with her hand. "If they were stronger or more cunning than you, they could even take control or possession." She frowned. "Leaving yourself open to that sort of thing doesn't seem very wise."
"Many of those who take that path aren't," admitted Withemistress Penden. "I'm surprised that you think that it would be easy to change another's spell." She raised a well-shaped eyebrow and waited for Liavan's reply.
"Well, if they've used your magic for it, then you're already involved in the spell, aren't you?" Liavan shrugged. "I mean, even if they've put wards up, if they've used your magic to do it, then you might as well already be inside them."
Withemistress Penden gave her a penetrating look. "Who was your teacher again?"
"I didn't have one," replied Liavan directly. "I had some of the notebooks that one of my great aunts used to put her observations in, and a copy of Goodbody's Physic that she used to use."
"There are a lot worse places to start than Goodbody's," remarked Withemistress Penden. "In my position, the content of your great aunt's notes might be more worrying on the matter of...ethics."
"I don't believe that great-aunt was unsound," said Liavan carefully, "but she did want to know what the answers were, as opposed to what people said they should be."
"I don't have a problem with that," replied Withemistress Penden, "as long as we aren't talking vivisection or human sacrifice."
"She was more interested in the phases of the moon, planting cycles, and treating nasty coughs," answered Liavan. "There's also some gossip."
"And you've managed to work this out from that start? You have been busy." Withemistress Penden gave her another penetrating look, then she smiled and said, "Well, I believe I approve of you. Do you have your licences?"
"Yes, ma'am." Liavan smiled shyly. "One from the bishop and one from the duke. I don't need one from the town or the baron because I paid my crown for a plot out here."
"Well," agreed the older woman, "you're well out of town out here, and I happened to notice that none of the baronies claim this spot."
"There aren't any villages out this way," agreed Liavan, "so the barons aren't that interested, and once you get a few miles back into the woods you run into the royal preserve."
"So, you really are trying not to upset those of us already in the profession, aren't you?" Elvie Penden shook her head and the great purple blossoms on her hat shook too, shedding fragrance as they moved. "You are allowed to make a push for you own interests, you know."
"My current interests, ma'am, are to have my own space to work in on my own interests." Liavan folded her hands in front of her, school girl fashion. "I've my cough mixtures to brew, and a few things that I want to perfect before I try to start selling them. A work space where everything will stay as I left it is something that I have been looking forward to."
"I won't offend you by offering money or magic," said Withemistress Penden, "but would you like a golden creckle berry bush? Mine decided to layer its lower branches under the mulch last winter and now I have more than I need."
"Only if you'll take a field memoraze and a grass orchid in return," said Liavan promptly with a smile.
"Oh, I certainly will," replied Withemistress Penden with a smile. "I took the liberty of bringing the bush with me." She bent down and picked a pot up from beside her feet.
"I'll just go and get your plants," said Liavan, and she turned and walked briskly back to her where she'd been walking to get a memoraze and a grass orchid. She didn't pick the best of the plants, but she didn't pick the worst either. Then she went back to her front gate to exchange them for the small golden creckle berry bush.
"Thank you," said Withemistress Penden sincerely. "I do appreciate this, and I do hope that we can be on good terms. I find that creckle berries do well with full morning sun and afternoon shade - they're one of the fruits that do best after a frosty winter."
"I'm afraid that the best I can do is tell you that I found the memorazes and the orchids growing where I put the house, in among the couch and the clover," answered Liavan. "In case it's important, there were last year's lies-a-bed stems there too, but I only picked the pods instead of digging them up."
"They could be companion plants," agreed Withemistress Penden. "It would explain why memoraze is so difficult to grow in a garden. Anyway, I must be getting along home. It's been a pleasure meeting you and I hope everything goes well. Please drop in for a cup of tea next time you're in town, perhaps after the market closes?"
"Thank you, I would like that very much indeed," replied Liavan. "I hope you have a safe journey home." She gave no indication, she hoped, that she had no idea how the older Withemistress had gotten to her front gate without a vehicle, riding mount, or companion, and in her town street boots too. Liavan had walked for three quarters of a day to get here, so she was certain that the Withemistress hadn't done the same thing in those boots.
Withemistress Penden said judiciously, "I generally find, when I travel in these parts, that I am the most dangerous thing on the road, but I thank you for your good wishes. Goodbye." She offered her hand again, Liavan took it, and the two solemnly shook again for just the right amount of time before letting go. The older woman turned and walked back down the track towards the road that led back to town. Liavan watched her for the few minutes it took her to get to the dip in the track where it went across the top of the gully that dug a deep fold into the side of the hill further down the slope. Withemistress Penden reached the edge of the shade cast by the trees in the gully, and then she was gone. Liavan got the faintest whiff of the fragrance that had come off the flowers on that enormous hat, but she had no idea what the other woman had done, although she was certain that by some means Withemistress Penden was now well on her way back to town.
Liavan went back to getting her plants in the ground. With the welcome extra bush to dig a space for, it was almost dark by the time she finished and put everything away. She made a quick meal, cleaned up, and then wrote about Withemistress Penden's visit, the plant exchange, and the invitation to visit for tea in her notebook. Then she went to bed.
Back in town, which was known by the name of Market Cranebourne, Elvie Penden had said good night to her youngest children and left the older girls sewing in the sitting room while she went into her library to talk with her husband and their father. Elvie was wearing a more faded purple dress than the one she'd gone visiting in that afternoon, and she had a sun-bleached, undyed cotton up-and-over apron over the top of it. Her husband was as tall as she was and wore his silvering dark hair pulled back in a single braid. He looked up from the account books he was working on when she walked into the room and smiled. "You want to tell me about your trip this afternoon, don't you?" He smiled at her.
"Of course I do." Elvie threw herself down in a chair. "She seems a perfectly nice girl. All the magic up there is her magic, nothing stolen. I don't know if she's done much gardening before this, but she'd making a reasonable fist of a start of it. The magic surge I felt the other day must have been her putting up her house. She's polite. Good at holding boundaries. Good at respecting them, too. Do we need to worry about her upsetting the status quo? Only if we think the local status quo can't cope with expanding. She's practically in the royal preserve, so she won't be neatly slotted in under one of the barons."
"And she's far enough out of town that she's not your responsibility either, " pointed out her husband. "If she does go bad, then it will be up to the duke to call in someone to deal with her."
"We traded plants and I invited her here for tea next time she comes to town," admitted Evie. "That will give me a chance to know her better. I suspect that selling her cough medicines is her only income for now."
"Will it be enough?" He put down his pen. "She has to make enough feed herself and cover both her license fees and the annual crown."
"It's been enough for her to put together things she needed to strike out on her own, and now she won't be paying rent or board." Elvie frowned. "If you hear that anyone is complaining about a lost daughter or one that's run off with the family funds, can you let me know? I suspect she's left somewhere that was less than accommodating." She sighed. "If people would just come to me when their child starts showing power, or aptitude, or interest, it would be so much easier. Instead they think I'm going to be mad or eat the poor thing, or something!"
"Withemistresses and withemasters do have a reputation for holding on to what is theirs," pointed out her husband mildly. "All the best stories tell us not to steal from one."
"Stealing is not the same as building almost the same thing by your own efforts," pointed out Elvie. "Besides, I go out of my way to avoid entrapping people. Gingerbread houses and unseasonal fruit in plain sight just scream out 'looking for a victim' in my opinion."
"This new withemistress has made her magic-built cottage out of gingerbread?" Her husband smiled and sat back in his chair with his hands in his lap.
"Of course, she hasn't!" Elvie stopped and looked at him, "I'm beginning to ramble again, aren't I, Lubric?"
"Possibly, my dear. In your most charming fashion. I understand though, that you think the girl will do?" He looked serious again.
"Yes, I really think she will." Elvie sighed. "The world is changing, Lubric, and the way it's changing is mainly people and the number of them. While that's happening, we need to keep up the proportion of people who do unusual things, and we're not. We need more clergy. We need more scholars. We need more smiths and craftsmen. Not everyone can go down the mines or into the foundries."
"Or be cheap labour for these manufactories that Blace and his cronies want to construct," agreed Lubric, gesturing at the account books on the table. "Now we've identified the problems of the world, if the girls are all busy or in bed, can I interest you in some snuggling on that comfortably upholstered sofa in front of the fire place?"
"Lubric Blackshift, I believe I married you because of your sensible suggestions, and that sounds remarkably sensible." Elvie Penden held out her hand to him and added, "Yes, you may interest me, sirrah. Please, lead on."