Spring had come in the usual course of time to the Southern Plain of Gallifrey. The days lengthened and became warmer. The snows had retreated. The grass was green and lush across the whole plain. Later in the hottest part of summer it would be browner and dryer.

The first spring Marion spent on Gallifrey she had felt that it was the closest season to any she knew on Earth. She remembered walking in Birkenhead Park with the blossom on the tree and compared it favourably with walking in the meadows and coppices of the Lœngbærrow demesne.

Now she didn’t have to compare it with anything. It was her home. She had seen the Cúl nut trees blossom year after year. She knew which flowers would be carpeting the ground she walked upon. She was familiar with the scent of them and loved it.

This was a gloriously bright day in Melcus. Marion was wearing a new spring dress of light fabric patterned with yellow flowers. Rodan was wearing a dress in matching fabric. Both of them had wide brimmed light straw hats. Rodan was especially pleased to be wearing a ‘grown up’ hat that was identical to the one Marion was wearing. They were walking along the edge of the long coppice that formed the western border of what was known as the ‘Dower Lands’ – the part of the Lœngbærrow demesne that belonged with the Dower House beside the river Bærrow.

Aineytta de Lœngbærrow, mistress of the Dower House, was with them, of course. She, too, was elegantly dressed in a new spring dress and hat. Marion thought they all looked like characters out of a Jane Austen novel in the long, slender lines of this year’s gowns. It was a fashion coincidence. The seamstresses of the Capitol who decided that waistlines would be high under the bosom this spring were surely not that not familiar with Earth literature even with the Free Libraries that had been established.

“Jane Austen?” Aineytta smiled indulgently when she said as much. I think I have heard of her. Lady Arpexia reads her novels.”

“Yes, she does,” Marion remembered. “I had forgotten. I haven’t seen Lady Arpexia for… a long time. The reading circle had to be closed because of the quarantine. And then….”

“Don’t think about it Marion,” Aineytta told her. “That is all in the past, now. We all have to look to the future.”

“I am,” she said. “But some things… sometimes… I can’t help remembering the darkness we have all come through. I think about Christian sometimes. My baby… I can’t just forget him. I don’t want to forget him. I want to think of him sometimes.”

“And so you should. But it’s a beautiful spring day and you have a beautiful little girl to look after.”

“Yes.” Marion smiled as she watched Rodan walking along in her little girl’s grown up outfit. She was carrying a small basket that Aineytta had given her and was picking flowers to put into it. This wasn’t just an idle collection of pretty spring blooms, though. Aineytta the Gentle, known throughout the Southern Plain for her skills with herbs, had set the child a task. She was collecting flowers with special properties. Every so often she ran back to her foster-grandmother with her basket and showed her what she had found.

“Well done, child,” Aineytta told her. “That’s exactly what I needed, the yellow-headed star-flower. Those are beautiful specimens. See the six perfectly symmetrical petals and the white-pink anthers in the middle, full of pollen. The nectary is beneath, full of precious liquid. We’ve stolen these from the ????? that flies from flower to flower collecting nectar to bring back to its hive, but there are lots more flowers for it to visit, still. We would never collect so many that the insects lose out. These are enough to make a delicious nectar syrup to go into a growing little girl’s bedtime drink. The pollen is used in a special preparation of my own, and the petals will distil into an astringent that is good for the complexion of grown up ladies.”

“What about the leaves and stem?” Rodan asked. She was clearly familiar with all the parts of a flower. “Can they make medicines?”

“The green parts of the yellow star-flower make a different sort of medicine,” Aineytta explained to the child. “Boiled in a certain way the liquid is a poison that makes people very ill. But if they have already swallowed a poison, drinking the liquid will make the two poisons bind together and when they are sick both poisons will come out of their body and they will get well.”

Rodan nodded in understanding.

“Preparing that liquid and storing it safely in special sealed vials is the work of an experienced herbalist,” Aineytta added. “So is the special preparation using the pollen. But making the syrup and the petal astringent is something that a clever little girl could learn this afternoon when we are finished with our walk.”

Rodan’s eyes widened with pleasure at the prospect of an afternoon as an apothecary’s apprentice.

“There is one more flower I need you to find, yet, child,” Aineytta said to her. “It is called the ????? ?????? in our language, or in Marion’s, the Glory of Morning. It is almost noon, now, so it will be hard to find. The flower only opens its petals in the early light when the dew is on the ground. Later when the sun dries it, the petals close, trapping the moisture inside. Look, my dear child.”

Aineytta held her hands out in front of her and produced a hologram in the air. The flower known as Glory of Morning started in the early dawn as a dark green stem with a tight bud at the top. It was almost indistinguishable from the ordinary grass. Then it opened its blush red petals into a cup shaped flower that retained the cool dew within. Later as the rising sun fell upon it the petals closed. The green sepals covered them protectively. It became a hidden treasure again.

“I want four of them,” Aineytta said. “Can you find them? Remember to pick carefully, pinching the stem an inch or so above the soil and not disturbing the roots. Tomorrow another shoot will come up and a new flower will bloom as long as the root is not damaged.”

“Yes, Grandma Aineytta,” Rodan answered. She went off with her flower basket in search of the Glory of Morning.

“What is that used for?” Marion asked.

“The dew mixed with the nectar from that flower has a very interesting property,” Aineytta answered. “It is the basis of the love potion I am reputed to have seduced my beloved Moony with.”

“Really?” Marion half laughed. She had heard that rumour more than once. Kristoph and others close to Aineytta made light of the idea that she used any kind of preparation to attract her husband. Those who were less well disposed to her said it in an accusing way.

“I didn’t need it,” she added. “Not when he first began to notice me as more than his sister’s lady’s maid. I DID use it on our wedding day to make the honeymoon night special. That’s why I’m collecting it today, for a young woman in the village who is getting married, soon.”

“You didn’t….” Marion began. “When Kristoph and I….”

“I doubt if my son needed any encouragement in that way,” Aineytta replied. “Moony was always a little shy and reticent about such matters. I think he would have spent our honeymoon night on the roof watching the conjunction of two stars if I hadn’t helped keep his mind on other conjunctions.”

Marion laughed. She thought of her father-in-law, a very likeable man, a great patriarch to a noble family, retired now from his work as Gallifrey’s foremost astronomer. She couldn’t quite imagine him as a young man who needed to be encouraged to consummate his marriage, but if Aineytta said it was true, then it must be so.

“That’s why they thought I must have seduced him with witchcraft, of course,” Aineytta told her daughter in law. “He was so ‘married’ to his work before then. But he is a man, with a man’s ordinary passions beneath those for identifying distant pinpricks of light. And after all, we have four children as testament to those passions.”

“And thirteen stars, a comet and a black hole named by him as testament to his other passion,” Marion recalled.

Aineytta laughed again. That was certainly true. Then while Rodan was still a distance away, singing a little song as she searched for the rare flowers, she bent and picked bunch of small blue flowers.

“These have a property that is most sought after, too,” Aineytta said giving the bunch to Marion. “By married women who feel the need for a little refreshing of their love life.”

“Refreshing? How?”

“Bruise the petals and soak them in boiled water. When it is cool, apply a few drops of the liquid as you get ready for bed. When your husband comes to you, it will feel just like your honeymoon night all over again.”

Marion took a few moments to realise how the few drops were to be applied and how they could achieve such a wondrous effect, then she smiled.

“It might be an interesting idea,” she said. She noted that Aineytta made up several more bunches of the same flowers. “You use them yourself?”

“Now and again,” she answered. “Moony enjoys remembering what it was like BEFORE we had produced four children. Lily asks me for a posy now and again. Since she is a widow that is a secret known only to a few, of course. But her visits to Li are always pleasant ones. Other women come to me regularly, but it would be a betrayal of confidence if I told you whom.”

“Of course,” Marion agreed. She was always amazed how intimate conversations with Aineytta could get. There was very little she didn’t know about affairs of the bedroom. On Earth she might have made a fortune giving advice to the lovelorn and frustrated, though her herbal aids might have been investigated by Health and Safety, or possibly the drugs police.

“Drugs police?” Aineytta caught the end of her thought and was puzzled. Rodan came from her hunt with the prized flowers, though, and they left it there.

Later, in the kitchen of the Dower House where Aineytta prepared her medicines and remedies, Rodan learnt how to make and bottle nectar syrup and carefully watched as many other interesting things were done with nearly every part of the flowers she had picked. Some of the recipes had benign uses, like the sweet tasting infusion that took the place of tea in Aineytta’s home and the sticky red-yellow candy with flower petals in the middle of each piece that Rodan was allowed to take home at the end of the day.

Some were less benign. Many parts of a quite ordinary looking flower had uses that would surprise unsuspecting men, and were very much sought after by women.

Then there were other concoctions that Aineytta prepared by herself while Rodan, on a separate table, under Marion’s careful supervision, learnt how to make bite sized candies by dropping the mixture from a spoon onto a sheet of rice paper. Aineytta put those preparations in bottles marked with a skull and placed them in locked cupboards. She had already indicated one use for the poisons. Marion was certain there were others that didn’t involve murderous intent or any kind of what was called ‘black magic’ both here and on her own world.

“I look like the witch they call me when I make such bitter medicines,” Aineytta admitted. “Yet they come to me in their dark hours for the bitter pills. It isn’t all aphrodisiacs and love potions.”

Marion’s imagination couldn’t completely encompass the reasons for making the ‘bitter pills’. Aineytta locked the cupboard and washed her hands, then came to watch Rodan’s efforts. She considered the matter as closed as the cupboard.

“Well done, child,” she said. “I think you would make a good apothecary one day.”

Rodan beamed at the compliment and let Marion take her to freshen up in time for tea outside in the garden of the Dower House with the river, in full flood after the spring thaw in the Mountains of Solace and Solitude, rushing past noisily. Rodan was a clever girl, now, aware of the dangers of the tempting water, but even so a maid watched her at play in case she ventured too close.

“Do you think that might be a career for Rodan when she is older?” Marion asked her mother in law as they sat together. “An apothecary, like you? It… seems a role that commands respect.”

“It does, yet it also commands controversy and invites criticism,” Aineytta reminded her. “I think the child would benefit from knowing something of the arts. But it isn’t her future occupation.”

She said that with the sort of conviction that reminded Marion that Aineytta was also a powerful seer.

“If I asked you what her future is, then, I don’t suppose you would tell me?”

“It wouldn’t do you or her any good to know,” Aineytta answered. “I can tell you that she will be a singular young woman who will rise above her humble station, and not just by marrying into an Oldblood House as I did. She won’t need to seduce a man with or without love potions to succeed.”

“I’m glad to know that,” Marion said with absolute sincerity.

“So am I,” Aineytta added. “But let the far future look after itself for now. You have the chance to be her foster mother at a delightful time in her childhood. Enjoy it.”

“I will, Marion promised.