It was moon twelve when Leo returned to the Academy. Once again, the only person who ever bothered to make an appointment to meet him was the bishop.
Father Felacia was displeased.
More than half of the plants he and the agriculturist planted the other moon had withered. Dead plants had to be dug out and replaced with new ones. They could then be left to dry in the wind and turned into hays.
The bishop could not see the point but Leo could.
Hays were scarce even when the barns were empty. The horses and oxen of caravans that passed by the city consumed hays. The roofs and flooring of poorer homes were still made of hays. And if selling was not his thing, the bishop could still make bed rolls, winter hats and winter coats for the homeless who sought refuge in the church.
If the brittle corpse of a frozen rat was of any indication, winter this year had been most cruel on all kinds. As such, demand for insulators like straw bale was at all-time high. There were all sorts of uses for hays and the listing only stopped when Father Felacia frowned upon “make-shift burial shroud” idea.
But the point stood. As little of a demand for animal feed, there was a demand for hays. As long as demand exceeded supply, there would be scarcity. Where there was scarcity, there would be profit.
Under the glass roof and oil lanterns of the greenhouse, the agriculturist and the bishop had started grafting the first batch of Midnight Virgin from the seeds they got.
For the first attempt, they planted the seeds and grafted the sprouts onto a variety of host plants. It had been five moons since and not a single one of the shoots grew into a full stem. The hosts were killed as well.
“Rotten to the core…Inventor, your seeds are demon hell spawns. Rotten to the core! Rotten to the core!” grumbled the old agriculturist as she crushed a seed between her nails.
Granny Annabel was the grumpiest woman in Ironheart. Perhaps she was so grumpy, neither Death nor a gentleman would take her away. Like the wines brewed from her harvests, she aged well with time. She still walked upright and tilled the land herself. Her body had gotten shaky, though, and she could not scoop up fragile sprouts herself.
That was why she had Father Felacia help her in the garden. With a brass trowel in hand, the bishop dug into a rectangular tray of dirt and carried Midnight Virgin sprouts over to their new home. In front of him was a walled garden of exotic plants, behind him, some more stacks of the same wooden trays.
Grafting frozen stems was no more than a shot in the dark. Therefore, the agriculturist decided to leave them alone for the time being. According to Annabel, the idea of growing more stems by grafting a stem is ludicrous. It was especially true for herbs as she explained.
“They die after flowering, you idiot. Grafting a stem is the same as praying for a split and harvest the stems before they flower and die. And that you froze them didn’t help”.
In the second attempt, she would replant half of the sprouts and graft the other half onto other herbs. She had plenty of “champion” breeds—those that could survive the most blighted farms in Ironheart—but she would run out of Midnight Virgin sprouts soon.
For this next batch, she had ordered a wagon of soil from the fertile lands in Merlock at her own expenses. Water used in irrigation was alchemically treated until they glittered in minerals. She had gone as far as having a priest bless each and every plant in the garden every moon already, might as well go all-out hereon, so she said.
And that blessing part left Father Felacia exhausted every moon while that water part would take up most of Leo’s day every other moon.
But she made those seeds sprouted outside of the Dark Forest and that in itself is a remarkable feat.
“You can try grafting a stem anyways. A chance is a chance. You still get back the stem in the worst case scenario so it doesn’t hurt going for double.”
Annabel hissed. “I’m not doing it. You do it”, she snapped at him.
Leo shrugged. If it was the case, he would just make potions out of the stems. He turned on his heel and headed to the nearest exit.
“Where are you going? You are supposed to treat the water. This is your problem I’m solving, don’t you forget that!”
What an annoying woman.
“I’m getting reagents and tools,” he said.
“Use the alchemist’s quarter next door.”
“I don’t have the key, granny. I’m not the alchemist this week.”
Granny Annabel snorted. Posing a sneer, she informed:
“Son, I know losers don’t get a key. But frets not, Lilia is in there. Ask her to let you in.”