When the adepts ousted Eldreath twenty years ago and replaced the sorcerer tyrant with a council of learned men of science, the people of Sevrin readily agreed that magic was dangerous and should be outlawed.
But no cultural change is quick or absolute.
Country folk, and quite a few villagers and city dwellers, have long depended upon the skills of green witches, woman versed in herbal cures, midwivery, and the treatment of injuries. Though the adepts of Sevrin have outlawed the making and selling of herbal potions–the better to ply their own alchemically created medicines–people are still in the habit of consulting green witches, though neither witch nor customer would dare use that name.
Even the adepts concede that herbalists must be allowed to practice their trade, for herbs have many uses. They add flavor to soups and stews, discourage fleas that might otherwise take up residence in straw mattresses, fill rooms with a pleasant scent, and are still used by alchemists who create potions and poisons. So herbalists grow and sell useful plants, but they are not allowed to create and sell combinations. They can, however, offer clients hospitality, and many a tonic has been dispensed in a tankard of ale or a kvani cup.
In fact, some green witches–most of them young women who were still children when the adepts ousted Eldreath and proscribed magic–work as tavern wenches, the better to ply their trade. Complaining of a sore head or aching joints to the right wench will ensure that your tankard is filled with a pain-soothing willowbark tea rather than ale. The innkeepers, of course, know nothing of this practice and would be shocked–shocked!–to learn that herbal cures were being dispensed at their establishments.
One of the primary preoccupations of alchemy is a universal panacea, a remedy that will cure all ills. In Sevrin, that search has taken a rather unusual tangent, yielding elixers that, though not by any means a panacea, contribute to the vigorous health and long lives of the islands’ inhabitants.
The primary ingrediant in these elixers are berries. These fruits grow in great variety and abundance on the islands of Sevrin and in the mainland meadows and forests. It was, ironically, the toxic nature of some wild berries that led to the development of elixers.
Alchemists spent considerable effort trying to isolate and identify the substances that made some berries deadly poison, with the goal of transforming a life-taking substance into something that had equally powerful life-giving properties. Though mishaps occurred along the way, they have achieved some successes. In the process, they have bred a wide variety of berries previously unknown to the people of Sevrin.
The belief in the efficacy of berries is a central part of Sevrin’s culture. Children are given daily doses of berry elixers. Decoctions of healing herbs are frequently mixed with berries, as are the medications alchemist create. Certain astringent berries are crushed and mixed with distilled berry wine to make a solution used to clean and treat wounds. Most parents keep a jar of this remedy on hand to dab on small skinned knees. Craftsmen of all kinds keep a jug to treat workshop injuries.
Berry farming is a common occupation, and even the smallest gardens–including the patches of land around in-town homes–contain at least one berry bush, a dwarfed tree, a vine-covered trellis, or a few ground-hugging plants.
Berry wines are common, as are berry-fortified meads known as kvani. Many households put up a small barrel of their own kvani, and unwritten rules of hospitality demand that hosts offers their guests berry wine or mead in tiny pottery cups called kvanimar. Even in this purely social setting, alchemists and the search for panacea is acknowledged. Kvanimar usually have colorful glazes that represent the four elements or the four humors, or they might be hand-painted with elaborate designs that incorporate alchemical symbols and imagery.