Bogged Down

Trudge, trudge, trudge. They’d come a fair distance from the grounds of the castle, a fair way out onto the moors, and Robbie was a bit bored. Oh, he’d welcomed the chance to get away from his regular duties. But this trek would have been far more entertaining if he had a fowling piece, or twine in his pocket to set some snares. Of course, he couldn’t do either, not with the good doctor along of his side. Poachers had to take care, and poaching Lord Madswitte’s game right in front of one of his guests would have been pretty daft. He wasn’t sure if the doctor was paying him any heed at the moment. But surely gunshot would have alerted the old fellow that something was up?
What they were after exactly was beyond Robbie’s ken. He’d just been asked to accompany the man and try to show him various native plants – God knew what for. He was also along to make sure the pale academic didn’t fall into a bog, and that made sense. The moors were notorious for trapping the unsuspecting and inattentive with its sucking mires. One minute you’d be on firm ground, the next you’d be up to your knee in the black, marshy peat. From the looks of him. Dr Dietrich seemed just the type to be so distracted by his goal that he’d not see where he was going until it was too late. It was never a good idea to let visitors roam about unattended out here.
The day at least was fine, though the wind was sharpish. Robbie pulled his jacket closer, and pointed out, with a servant’s politeness, ”That little one there, ‘tis called bog rosemary. My granny, she says ye can make a tea from it, but only by soaking of the leaves – in a jar in the sun like. Never boil, it she says,or ‘twill release the poisons.” The low growing plant sported very small, pale pink blossoms, like bells. Robbie looked concerned. He didn’t want to catch the blame if the doctor wound up making himself – or anyone else - ill somehow.
The bog mummy had been a fortuitous discovery. Whatever concoction of pete, water, mud and algae it had soaked it kept it remarkable well preserved. Compared to the embalming fluids he had been using to keep organs in, this offered some benefits. No need for toxic fumes, breakable jars if he wanted to study the construction of an organ again. The doctor followed Robbie out into the moors to collect samples of the local flora, to start deducing what properties enabled the mummification.

Dr. Dietrich knelt dowa fold of burlap. “Poison?” Oliver’s experience told him that poison could be medicine, if the dose was small enough. “Do you know if the tea has medicinal properties?” He asked. “Or what the nature of the poisoning? Vomiting? Rash?” He used the colloquial terms, unsure about how much Robbie knew about it.

Though his frock coat was already pretty dusty from his night-time grave digging,he wiped his hands down with all the attention and fastidiousness of a practiced surgeon. “Do you know anything about keeping plants such as these alive in a garden?” His experiment with the toxins on different plants yielded few results aside from confirming his own lack of a green thumb.
Robbie shrugged. ”’S’pose tha’s about right. Makes thee sick, ‘tis all I know my gran said. But if she makes tea from’it, must be a reason why. I dunno, but you could ask ‘her if you like.” The answer was not exceptionally useful, but it was honest.

Squatting down beside the doctor, he ran a dirty fingertip over one of the small, pink bells. ”Ain’t never seen it growed in the garden, leastways not around the castle.” He tilted his head speculatively. ”Reckon it’d do in a nice damp place. ‘Twould need a lot of water, but wi’ good drainage. You can see it likes its peat too.” He pointed out the obvious because the moor was replete with peat. ”Would kill it to be in anything heavy – more loamy soil would be better. ‘Twould do as a border, reckon.”

”Do you fancy a bit for takin’ back wi’ ye?” he asked, hand already moving to his pack, which contained a hand trowel and some small cloth sacks.
Dr. Dietrich nodded along, on board with most of the young man’s observations, but once he started getting into the more technical aspects of gardening, he didn’t quite follow. “Em, yes.” He agreed. “I am sure it must have some kind of unusual properties if it is poisonous under certain circumstances… and you think you can keep it growing?” He asked, just to confirm.

The doctor supposed he could always check the library to identify the plant in more scientific terms than a country granny’s tea. There certainly was a lot to study out here, and he had already settled on visiting the countryside more often, once he returned to Cambridge. It was easy to get caught up in their own synthesized solutions, when nature still had so many mysteries to unravel. The bog mummy for instance- he had spent quite a bit of monty buying up the complicated chemicals to preserve flesh, and here the bog had done so with no supervision. It was remarkable.

”Aye, I s’ppose,” Rob replied, willing to at least give it a try. He was already applying his trowel with surprising delicacy, uprooting a tangled specimen about the size of his hand. He repeated this, twice over, and wrapped each in a fold of wet canvas, soaked in a puddle nearby. These he tucked into the satchel he carried, and slung back over his shoulder as he rose, obviously ready for further instruction as to which direction the doctor wished to head.
The expression on his face shifted a bit, as his eyes scanned the horizon. He nodded, towards the east. ”Looks like we’un ha’ some company soon.”
In the distance, a lone figure walked, with an erect posture and slow but steady strides. From the zig and the zag, it seemed she knew her way around the treacherous, shifting bogs. It had to be a woman for the outline of her dress was clear, and her shawl, and the long, long hair that flitted fitfully about her padded shoulders, with the light gusts of breeze. Because of her less than straight trajectory, it was a bit difficult to tell – but it looked like she was purposefully heading their way.
Dr. Dietrich squinted into the fog until the outline of the figure materialized. The corners of his mouth twitched- if he didn’t know any better he might have called her a bog hag. Wild, and dirty, and probably wholly unpleasant. He did his best to try and ignore her, but it was becoming abundantly clear that she was heading right for them.

“Do you know her?” The doctor asked Robbie quietly before she could get much closer.
”Aye,” Robbie replied, his tone oddly acerbic. ”She be one o’them bog hags, t’ones tha’ ha’ taken t’livin’ out 'ere, som’ere. Gypsies they be – or worse.” He said no more as the woman came within speaking distance, but the look on his face was a dark one.

It was, in fact, a cover for the uneasiness he felt, being this close to one of the allegedly unholy bitches, while at the same time mixed with a man’s curiosity, for the woman was barely that – probably just out of her teenage years. And though her skin was dark, she had a sort of exotic comeliness to her face, and her wild, dark hair that danced about her. Her look, though, was not one to inspire a man to hope.
Marinette stopped several yards away from the two men, her arms dangling by her sides. Her big, eyes – the tannin color of the water that pooled in the bogs – took them in, and for a moment she said naught. Then, in a very unexpected, well modulated and almost upper class English accent, she asked, ”Are you here to pull more souls from their rest?”

The tone was not accusatory. If anything, it was overly flat, oddly dispassionate. Her expression too was neutral – inscrutable. Her reason for asking was at this point unclear.
The doctor rolled his eyes at the mention of a bog hag. Though he got that impression himself, he refused to entertain the idea that it was a possibility. “Don’t be rude.” Oliver chided the gardener, though it was a bit of a warning as well. No need to anger a stranger out in these moors, particularly one who knew her way around.

What the woman said, took Oliver aback. Did she know about what he had taken from the graveyard, or what she referring to the bog mummy? “We’re investigating local flora.” He explained before looking to Robbie to help verify the excuse.
Robbie was a man of his times, and he knew his place. Whatever the natural assets or deficits of the two men who stood watching the woman’s approach, he would defer to the doctor as one of his “betters.” He accepted the mild chastisement with resignation, and said no more, but a sullen look still turned down the corners of his lips and narrowed his eyes slightly.

When the woman stopped and spoke, he looked a bit confounded. He’d heard about the bog mummy – it wasn’t exactly a secret. But he knew nothing about the details of who had been present when it had been taken from the sucking, viscous water – beyond the doctor and the school teacher being present. He hadn’t heard about the dark skinned man, and so could make no connection there to this woman. So he was slow connecting the dots – that what she spoke of might have been in reference to that local happening.

But he also didn’t know what business it was of hers to question what they were doing, and when the doctor turned to him for confirmation of their mission today (he knew enough to know flora was a fancy word for plants), he nodded, vigorously, and said with a belligerent tone, ”Aye, tha’s right. Nothin’ that’ee need to consairn ee’self wi’. So be off wi’ee!”

Apparently, either he’d already forgotten Dr. Dietrich’s imprecation to be polite, or he had decided to ignore it, or maybe he felt what he’d said didn’t qualify as rude. He felt emboldened to be less than friendly due to the presence of the doctor, which lent a legitimacy to their rambling about on the moor. Besides, this dirty and downfallen woman should know better than to come disturbin’ the likes of a decent man like a guest of the Marquis!
Marinette regarded the men coolly. Whether she accepted the explanation for their tramp or not wasn’t readily apparent from her expression. Her light hazel-brown eyes went from the doctor, to the oaf, and back to the doctor, clearly dismissing Robbie as someone who merited none of her attention. She addressed Dietrich exclusively as she said in that same odd, flat tone, ”My brother told me it was you. You should have a care. These bogs are quite impartial as to who they clasp to their watery breast.” She might have been telling him the time of day for all the emotion she put into that potentially ‘spooky’ warning.

”I wish to see it,” she went on. Though she had not specified that it was the bog mummy that she spoke of, clearly that was the logical conclusion. ”Can you show me it?”

Her eyes dropped for a moment to the freshly dug bit of ground where Robbie had extracted the bits of bog rosemary from a larger patch of it. ”It’s poison,” she said with a nod at the plants. She then looked at Oliver with an almost knowing question in her eyes – as if she could somehow read his thoughts, or intentions.
Dr. Dietrich pressed a finger to his forehead, too busy rolling his eyes to reprimand the boy again for speaking in such a way to a lady. Well… a female at least. That said, Oliver would appreciate it anyway if she went off and minded her own business, so despite the delivery, he couldn’t argue the content.

The way the woman addressed him, however, unnerved him. There was something distant and inhuman about her unflinching voice. The doctor frowned, wondering if he ought to feel threatened. The frown deepened into genuine confusion. “See what?” Assuming she was talking about the plants, Oliver folded his arms. “It’s just a sample, there is plenty more all over the bog.”

A smug smile shifted over his face. “Poison is often just a matter of dosage, young lady.” That was something a scientist knew, but the superstitious folk of the moors wouldn’t bother to find out. “Do you know it’s effects?” He asked, curious if she’d have more information than the young man… if she didn’t deliver it in some kind of cryptic riddle.
Robbie continued to look both miffed and slightly uncomfortable, as the young woman ignored him. She was handsome, but he definitely wanted no truck with her or her kind. He listened to the exchange, and thought her impertinent to be trying to tell the doctor what he should or shouldn’t be doing. What did the likes of she know about the important work of learned men of science? But he kept quiet, trying to convey his own mutual indifference to her. He too was a bit confused as to exactly what it was she was demanding to see, but when she looked at where he’d dug up the rosemary, and pointed out the obvious, he did say, under his breath, ”No need t’be tellin’ me aught. I know tha’ ya bi***…” But it was said softly and only audible as an indiscernible  mumble.

He wasn’t at all pleased when Dr. Dietrich seemed to prick up his ears and take an interest in whether the woman knew anything useful about the plant. Robbie glared at her, but she seemed to be finding him invisible, which really irked him. He surely wasn’t used to young women treating him in such a way – bog hags or no!
Correct or not, Marinette took the man’s answer to her request as simple evasion. But she regarded him with a measured look, and then nodded, as if agreeing to something. ”I do,” she replied simply to his question. ”But I’ll only tell you if you take me to the body. The one you pulled from the bog.” Quid pro quo – even though she had no Latin, the young woman seemed to have a good grasp of the concept.

She waited, arms at side still, looking levelly at Oliver, her tawny eyes giving nothing away. If she took any notice of Rob whatsoever, it was not apparent. Neither was it clear whether or not she had any specific cause to delineate that the body she wanted to see was the bog opposed to perhaps...others?
Fortunately for Robbie, Dr. Dietrich did not make out the contents of his comments, only the tone. It still earned the lad a sharp glance, and the doctor started to wonder if he ought to pay his grandmother a visit after all, if not for the herbal knowledge, then to give her his two cents on her grandson’s attitude.

Dr. Dietrich blinked in surprise. “The mummy? Why in heaven's name would you like to see that?” Her odd behavior prevented him from getting too suspicious of less-than-savory motives. Or less-than-favorable knowledge, since she seemed to imply he had pulled more than one body out of the ground.

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