“Simon, I have errands to tend to in the village this morning. I’d appreciate it if you’d cut the basil and sage while I’m gone.”
“Yes, Brother Haelan.”
“And, perhaps, you could strain some of yesterday’s rainwater into clean flasks.”
“Absolutely, Brother Haelan.”
“Make sure you cork them tightly.”
The apprentice watched intently as the tall friar sniffed the contents of several pouches of herbs and powders, fastened them carefully with leather strings, and stashed them in his satchel.
“I shall return before noon, Simon,” continued Brother Haelan, “but if you complete the tasks I’ve given you, make yourself busy in the herb garden and apothecary.”
Taking up his bag and cloak, Brother Haelan swung open the heavy door and gave Simon a quick touch of farewell before entering the silvery dawn. Simon watched him walk away from Heavensbrook Abbey, crossing the bridge, becoming smaller until he disappeared from view around a bend.
Simon got the broom and swept the room; it was redolent with the fragrances of ointments, oils, and tinctures. Dry bouquets of herbs hung from the blackened ceiling beams, and bottles and pots lined the shelves.
When the sun dried the dew on the herbs in the garden, Simon snipped sage and basil, bound the bunches carefully, and suspended them with the others. He cut dead flowers and twigs from shrubs and bushes, gathered the rubbish, and tossed it on the compost heap. Finding squares of clean linen, Simon strained rainwater into rinsed flasks. He was corking the last bottle when there was a knock on the door.
It was Mistress Jenett, a woman from a nearby farm, and in her arms, a moaning bundle. “I need Brother Haelan,” she cried. “My boy, Oswoulde, is sick.”
“Come in.” Simon made way for her, showing her the comfortable bench Haelan had for his patients. “Brother Haelan isn’t here. He’s gone to the village.”
Jenett pulled back the blanket to reveal the child’s flushed face. Oswoulde whined piteously and burrowed his head closer to his mother, and she rocked him, crooning softly. Simon took up the stoppered bottles of water and put them away.
“Would you like a drink of something hot while you are waiting, Mistress Jenett?” he asked.
“Oh, yes, thank you. How long will Brother Haelan be?”
“Before noon.” Simon stoked up the fire and set the kettle on the flame. He filled a cup with a mixture of rose hips and berries while waiting for the water to boil. He looked on with pity as Oswoulde coughed, his tiny cheeks crimson with fever.
“What’s wrong with the lad?”
“Fever, cough. He’s limp as a rag.”
Simon poured boiling water into Jenett’s cup and set it on the worktable next to her. Jenett took a long sip. Simon thought quickly.
“I’ve been apprenticing with Brother Haelan, Mistress Jenett. I could make wee Oswoulde a tea for bringing down his fever right away.” Simon scanned the jars on the shelf until he found what he needed.
“Chamomile, laurel, feverfew.” He pinched out a few leaves of each onto a piece of muslin, then twisted and dropped it into a clean cup. He poured water over it, then searched the shelves for the honey. Squeezing out the herbal sachet, he spooned in the amber liquid.
“Do you think Oswoulde will drink this?”
Mistress Jenett propped up Oswoulde who immediately began to cry. Tears poured from his red-rimmed eyes, and his sobbing was broken by sputtering coughs. Simon squatted in front of him, cup and spoon in hand and spoke in a gentle voice, “Taste, Oswoulde. You’ll feel better.”
Oswoulde turned away from the steaming spoon, hiccuping and weeping. Mistress Jenett tried to coax him with promises of barley cakes, but Oswoulde would have none of it. The tea grew cold, yet still Simon sat near Oswoulde, hopeful the child might take a healing spoonful.
When Brother Haelan returned, he examined the child, then reached for the cup and smelled the concoction, frowning. He made little envelopes of herbs, giving them to Mistress Jenett with brewing instructions. The woman thanked him and left with her sleeping child.
“Simon, do you know what you did?
“I made a healing draught.”
“You used foxglove. It’s next to the feverfew. If Oswoulde had taken the tea, he’d have died. God has been merciful.”
Simon’s eyes widened.
“It’s not your time to heal yet. But you will. You have the heart.”
Brother Haelan smiled kindly. God had been merciful, indeed.
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