“You’ve the makings of a fine herbalist, lad,” said the Irish Brother Nolan as he introduced Lukas to his herb garden. “It’s practice and book learnin’ that’s all you need, and you’re plenty apt for all of that. Try not to step on the garlic, it keeps the bugs away.”
Lukas nodded. He recognized parsley from his time in the kitchen, then quickly realized Brother Nolan was continuing on his tour without his student. “We’ve milfoil, mullein, comfery, St. John’s Wort—don’t touch that, that’s nettle—and try to keep them all straight.”
“Why do we grow nettle?” Lukas asked.
“The sting’s worth the relief it gives from arthritis,” Nolan said. “It also cures coughs, runnin’ noses, and kidney stones. And then here’s burdock, calendula….”
Brother Nolan breezed through the rest of the garden so quickly that Lukas’s head spun by the time he was finished. He was no more acquainted with the herbs than before his tour. He was beginning to think an apprenticeship under Nolan was a bad idea.
“Now, do you know what parsley’s good for?” Brother Nolan asked.
“Seasoning chicken, sir.”
“I know, but besides that. Parsley makes things come out of yer nose and chest,” Nolan explained. “A tea from the leaves will cure any blocked nose.”
“Could you teach me to make that?” Lukas asked. “Brother Cormacus—one of the men I share my cell with—has a terrible cold. None of us can sleep at night fer his snoring, and he won’t stop complaining besides.”
“I’ll certainly teach you, lad,” Brother Nolan said. “Parsley is simple. It’s the leaves you use, just as if you’re cookin’ with them. They’re stronger dried.”
Lukas learned how to pick the parsley leaves, then wash them and bundle and dry them. Then, they picked some milfoil and calendula flowers and dried them in the herbalist’s shed. On his way back from the mid-morning prayer service of Nones, Lukas finally received permission to make some parsley tea for Brother Cormacus.
“Some tea was made for medicine, not pleasure,” Brother Nolan said. “Steep it a good ten minutes, and be sure you strain the pieces out well. Cormacus isn’t easily pleased.”
Just as ten minutes had passed, and Nolan had watched Lukas strain the tea to his satisfaction, Brother Gerard limped inside, having been kicked by one of the yearling donkeys he was trying to train. Brother Nolan lost no time in gathering herbs and poultices and bandages. Lukas felt out-of-place and underfoot. Quietly, he took his tea and left.
Brother Cormacus was an artist, and a skillful one at that. Lukas found him in the scriptorium, decorating the beginning of a chapter in the Gospel of Mark. Lukas knocked quietly at the door.
“I’ve brought ye tea, Brother Cormacus,” he announced, knowing that Cormacus would never bother to look up from his work. He was honestly glad of it. He set the tea on the desk, conscious of a mild scowl in his direction. “It’s fer yer cold.”
“Oughtn’t ye be working, foundling-boy?” Cormacus snapped.
“I am working.”
“Any fool can make tea. Go do something useful.”
Lukas had learned long ago not to listen to anything that Cormacus said, but ignoring his sharp words was easier said than done. He left for the herbalist’s shed and got there before Nolan had even noticed he was gone.
Nolan put Lukas to harvesting St. John’s Wort, and he worked diligently. He loved the soil. He might enjoy being an herbalist, after all. Suddenly, he saw Brother Cormacus’s hunchbacked frame walking towards him, as determined as a man so stoop-shouldered could be.
“Worthless swine!” he shouted. “Learn yer craft, or go back to the ocean ye came from!”
Nolan looked up sharply from where he was harvesting a few comfrey blooms. “What happened?” he asked.
“I gave him tea!” Lukas said. “He needn’t be sour about it.”
“Hot parsley tea?”
“Is there any other way to drink tea?”
“There is,” Brother Nolan said, sighing. “Parsley tea taken cold is good for a cold. Parsley tea taken hot stimulates urination. I’m sure Brother Cormacus needs no help with that.”
Lukas stifled a laugh, but then he paled. “Suppose I had given him the wrong medicine,” he said. “What then?”
“Then you admit yer wrongdoing and take responsibility for yer actions. You’re only human, lad. You’re not expected to be perfect.”
Lukas looked down at his soil-stained hands. If he couldn’t make a tea the right temperature, he had no business taking lives into his hands by making medicines that could destroy them.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.