In the upper ridge of the Chelcian Mountains south of Graburg, Elder Cale Barnside and his footman, Shup Heerset, walked around a tarn several miles across, cliffs on one side and the narrow edge of the plateau on the other. It took them most of the morning to get past the narrow part, continuing further on across the meadowland toward the Steps of Eramiet.
Here and there Cale pointed out a plant or bug and conveyed his basic knowledge about them. When Cale asked him to review, Shup waved him off, saying he would study when he’s back in school at the Estherine.
“Okay,” said Cale.
As they passed through a field of many colored, dazzling blooms, Cale’s legs began to tingle, and before long he sensed the mystical Vine reaching up to him, playfully swishing and flicking at him. He stopped and grinned.
“What’s it?” asked Shup.
“This is a bonded garden,” said Cale.
“What do you mean?”
“These flowers have all been bonded to the Vine, each kind of flower in their own way.” Cale probed through his own bond to the Vine and found thousands of tiny channels feeding the Vine’s vitality into the surrounding flora. Cale laughed. “An elder—who knows how long ago—bound a few to the Vine and they have passed those bonds to their seeds, now grown and spread across these meadows.”
“That’s nice, I guess,” said Shup. Cale pushed his shoulder. “Stop that,” said Shup.
“Every kind of flower here does something magical,” said Cale. He bent over and plucked an orange tulip. “Check this out.” He shoved the flower in his mouth, bit it off, and chewed.
“Nice trick,” said Shup. “Want to see me eat a cricket?”
“Wait for it,” said Cale. He watched Shup’s face suddenly burst with a grin. “What’s it doing?”
“Your color’s changing. You’re blending into the sky. Your clothes, too, but not your staff. Wait.” Shup moved to the other side of him. “Now your blending into the cliffs! Rot my eyes, it’s turned you into a chameleon. How does it work?”
“I’m sensing a strange connection to everything around me, as if the Vine shared my space with everything else’s,” said Cale. “That’s about all I can say about it.”
“Can I try one?”
Cale fanned his arm across the meadow. “Help yourself, but I would advise you to avoid the purple ones. They’re more potent than all the others.”
Shup picked a yellow daffodil and ate it. “Whoa,” said Shup. “I think I could lift a jackass. Unfortunately, it’s too hard to see him right now.”
“Careful, pal. Why don’t you try that boulder over there.”
Shop trotted over to a rock the size of a grown pig and pulled on it. He was able to pivot it and turn it around without assistance. “Pretty good,” he said, though Cale thought he sounded disappointed. “I couldn’t have done that before.”
“Interesting. I have no idea how that works,” said Cale. “The garden elders claimed that some of their plants could increase the power of their bonds, effectively making their magic much stronger.”
“No way,” said Shup. “I could become a true elder?”
“Maybe. For a time, sorcerers sought to use them to become invincible,” said Cale. “But it is imperative to keep a pure bond for the growth to remain, and that’s relatively impossible for a sorcerer.”
“I doubt purity is compatible with an obsession for great power.”
“Only in the rarest of cases,” said Cale. “You’d need some powerful bonding for that to happen, though.”
“Let’s try another,” said Shup.
“Go ahead.” Cale bent over and picked a white daisy. Shup plucked a blue gladiola. They both ate and waited.
“Ah. Here you go,” said Cale. “His hands started to glow. He brought them together, forming a cage of fingers. A ball of light within blanched their surroundings.
“Wow!” said Shup. “I can see everything.”
“I can see the tiniest things as far as my line of sight goes,” he said. “See that boot-shaped bush with three thousand four hundred fifty-six leaves on it?” Shup pointed toward the cliffside. Cale couldn’t see any bush at all. “I see a mustard beetle chewing on one of its leaves.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Hah,” said Shup. “I’m not. But the flower did enhance my sight. I can truly see the swallows flying around their nests on the cliff.”
“Fantastic,” said Cale. “Let’s collect a bunch. The Vine’s vitality should keep them alive for a while.”
They wrapped the flowers in a cloth and slid them into Shup’s travel sack. As they walked, Shup started to gasp and his face turned red.
“Are you okay?” asked Cale.
“Yes,” Shup said. A few more steps and he said, “No. My mouth is aflame.”
Cale stopped and smirked, fists on his hips. “You ate a purple one, didn’t you?”
“I hoped it would increase my power in the Vine, like you said.”
“Interesting idea, considering I didn’t say it was strong in the Vine. In fact, it barely has any bond at all.”
Shup looked at him, not comprehending.
“I said it was more potent than the others. Meaning it’s hotter than the spiciest pepper I’ve ever had.”
Shup groaned and waved at his mouth. “Do you have anything for it?”
“I think so,” said Cale. “He reached in his sack and pulled out some thick leaves. He broke one, and it oozed a milky juice. “Here.” He handed Shup three of them. “Chew light and slow.”
Shup shoved them in his mouth and chewed feverishly. “This use the power of the Vine?” he asked.
“Nope,” said Cale. “I just know a thing or two about plants.”