Silver rillue vine trailed down the stone walls that had been darkened by air exposure and algae, the supporting roots making a fretwork across the stone above adult head level where they would be undisturbed and could absorb moisture from the air and the surface to which they clung. A row of lemon trees, neatly spaced but of differing ages, some being truly venerable, marched beside the southern wall while leaving enough room for the espaliered berry bushes with their ripening fruit: grand whortle; grouse currant; blackenberry; marsh remp; golden creckle berry; blue henbane; lesser mistberry; and purple dwort. On the opposite side of the garden, tea trees and ti trees thrived in the shade of the northern wall, trimmed back so they did not exceed its twelve foot height.
Dried snail or slug trails on the stone walls glistened silver or iridesced like tiny rainbows. Common white, citrus, and blue triangle butterflies, some glowing when they ventured into the shade, danced over beds of common, rare, and semi-mythical herbs. Bees buzzed as they went about their business. In the midst of this, facing each other on two wooden garden seats, were the garden’s owner and her guests.
Withemistress Jidah Wheale sat confidently in the middle of one seat, her hands folded in her lap over her skirts and apron. She was not a small or bony woman and with her golden fawn skin, light brown hair, and dun dress she looked all of a piece. Opposite her sat two other women and three children who were all around the age of ten. Both of the other women were dressed in darker colours than the Withemistress; Heirou Galoum’s dark green attire set off her fading red coiled bun of hair and Beppilar Ramoud’s sepia skin let her choice of reddish purple glow in contrast.
The Withemistress listened to Beppilar’s pleasant alto voice explain her visitors’ problem, and then she replied with a smile, “Yes, I can see why you’re concerned but I can’t see why the children’s current state is my fault.”
The children, separated from each other by the two women squirmed uncomfortably, The Withemistress noted that not only did the children glow, but when mildly stressed they emitted a faint mist of light.
The middle child, who was one of Beppilar’s nieces and shared her dark hair, said in a guilty voice, “We wanted to make lemonade, but no-one else had any lemons left and Papa always tells us that taking fruit from a neighbours’ tree is alright if you only take one or two of many….”
“Your father’s stories of our childhood are somewhat exaggerated,” said Beppilar firmly. “I will remind him of a few things he seems to have conveniently forgotten when he and your mother get home from their voyage.”
“So you wanted to make lemonade,” acknowledged Withemistress Wheale. “Why today? It’s been hot all this week.”
The child with short red curls sitting next to Heirou piped up, “One of my name sponsors, the Trader Alzool over on Lime Alley, promised us a jug of ice to go with our afternoon snack.”
“A serious consideration,” agreed the Withemistress. “So you waited until I went out, found a way over my garden wall, took some of my lemons and got out again?”
The children all nodded vigorously. The one that hadn’t spoken yet added, “With the oak tree outside and the wisteria, it wasn’t that hard, and we had a rope.”
“Indeed,” said the Withemistress. “And then you made lemonade and drank it all yourselves, just the three of you?”
Children nodded again. “It was really good lemonade,” offered the middle one.
Heirou asked, “So, what will happen to them Withemistress? When will they stop glowing? Will it do anything else to them?”
Jidah said carefully, “My garden has twelve foot high walls around it for a reason. Many of my plants are poisonous, others are extremely rare, and others are magical either by their very nature or because they are unusual, like these lemon trees or that rosebush.” She pointed to the western end of the garden to where a blush-flowered rosebush grew within a cage. “The oldest of those lemon trees was collected by my great grandmother after the battle of Gerhengdas when she dug up and brought home a broken magical stave that had taken root. Apparently she was quite surprised when it turned out to be a lemon tree.”
The Withemistress paused as if to allow for questions but although the other two women looked at each other in a speaking manner no-one else said anything.
She went on, “As the magic in the trees comes from a weapon of unknown ability, we’ve never used the lemons for anything people take internally.” Jidah made a small gesture with her hands as she explained, “I normally use the juice in certain magical inks or for some etching purposes. The zest is useful too for a number of things like ointments and candles, but I’ve never fed anything from the tree to a human.”
Beppilar put a protective hand on each of the children beside her and asked sharply, “What have you fed it to then, Withemistress?”
The calm, prosaic answer was, “They're lemon trees, and things eat them all the time. I don’t think it likely that the continuous diet of lemon leaves eaten by a caterpillar or a stink bug’s siphoning of sap are going to be quite the same as one or two glasses of lemonade drunk by a child on one occasion.” The Withemistress frowned and added honestly, “The truth is that although I expect the glow should fade with time, I don’t know if it will and I don’t know how long it will take if it does. Whatever happens, we are all going to learn something.”
The child with red hair, her inherent glow rendering her skin tones undiscernible, asked carefully, “So you’re not going to punish us?”
“Well, not the way Withemistresses and masters in old stories punish people who steal from them,” said Jidah Wheale cheerfully. “I’m going to give you each a notebook and a pencil. Each of you is going to write down for me exactly how you remember the three of you making your lemonade. Then you’re going to write down what happened after that – drinking the lemonade, the onset of your glow, and anything else that happened. I will probably ask questions,” she added happily.
“That’s schoolwork,” said the middle child accusingly.
“Yes,” agreed the Withemistress, “but just think what else I could have done to you.”