The Hermit’s journey, part one

You are the Hermit. You’ve been in this Arcanum for at least a year, though you’re not counting. You meditate, scrawl notes with berry juice and spindly twigs that hurt to use, forage what little food you eat. You are lean, but not physically very strong. That is not what this Arcanum is about.

After a long period of introspective contemplation in your cliff-side cave, you determine you require belladonna for a task you seek to accomplish.

You search the cave, the cliffside, and the surrounding area, but there is no belladonna to be found.

You know the plant well, having grown it for years before your hermitage, having worked with it extensively when you were a priestess. But you don’t know the landscape, having found this cave after an arduous, blindfolded chariot ride. You don’t know where in this realm you might find what you seek.

After climbing down, you see a path and start walking. After a while, you encounter a gardener.

“Excuse me,” you ask. “Do you have any belladonna?”

The gardener holds up a hand, then hurries to their shed. Your heart lifts. They come back and forcefully press a 30-pound book into your hands, which are cramped and weak after such a period of quiet, solitary living.

“Recipes,” they declare with an air of satisfaction. “Some of them include belladonna.”

You quietly leave the massive tome on the ground as soon as they’ve turned their back. You stretch and massage your wrists and fingers as you continue on your path.

You come across a pilgrim kneeling at a shrine.

“Excuse me,” you ask. “In your travels have you come across any belladonna?”

The pilgrim turns and grips your still-tender wrists in large, calloused hands.

“Belladonna? You seek belladonna? No, no! People try to avoid belladonna. Here.”

The pilgrim reaches those calloused hands into a satchel, then presses barbed wire into your own small, blistered palm.

“This will keep the belladonna away.”

You take in a sharp breath and peel the barbs from your skin, cutting your other hand in the process. You drop the wire and hurry on.

The afternoon grows hot as you reach a river. You sit down to clean your cuts and sip some water. Someone approaches and sits next to you.

They ask, “What business brings you out today, traveler?”

Your heart flutters a bit as you respond with trepidation, “I am seeking belladonna.”

They laugh. “Surely not,” they declare. “You only think it is belladonna you seek. Here.”

They pull out a rough deck of sharp-cornered tarot cards.


You hold up your hand in a ward and open your mouth to protest. Only a dehydrated squeak escapes your lips before they press the cards firmly into your hand and say, “Shuffle.”

You begin to shuffle. They press their hands firmly on your weary knees and say, “Show this traveler what they truly seek.”

You stare and open your mouth, but they shake their head. You set down a card. The Hermit.

They smile and nod, closing their eyes. “Of course,” they say. “You seek solitude. You have been among people too long. It has been many years since you were alone. You must not rely so heavily on other people.”

They go on and on for some time. They don’t seem to notice when you finally wriggle free of the pressure they’re putting on your knees and start walking away.

The sun is setting when you spot a small cottage. As you approach, you see that herb bundles hang from the ceiling and amber glass jars line the shelves.

An apothecary! you think with relief. You hurry forward and knock.

The proprietor greets you and ushers you in. “Have a seat! I’ll make some tea.”

They begin to shuffle about as you pull out a splintery wooden chair and gingerly lower yourself to sit.

“Thank you,” you say. “I begin to grow weary. The day grows long, and I seek belladonna.”

“Ahh,” the apothecary says with a nod. “I have what you need.”

They pour and serve the tea, then begin to shuffle about. You sip with relief.

A few minutes go by and you realize they’re still shuffling about. This seems a strange amount of work for one bit of inventory, you think with a frown.

You turn your head to see and realize you’ve grown dizzy.

“What a fragrant tea this is,” you observe politely. “What does it contain?”

“Proprietor’s secret,” they say. “It would require extensive training and fair compensation to begin to teach you that.”

Your vision blurs. “Please,” you go on. “I have a strong base of herb knowledge and some contraindications. Please tell me what lies beneath the strong, fragrant mint.”

“Come now, don’t be rude,” they scold. “Am I not doing enough for you already?”

They approach the table, this time carrying a backpack. The straps are long and the pouch wearing thin. It clinks and there are visible lumps.

“Everything you need is inside,” they assure you.

“That seems a lot of belladonna,” you observe. “I hope you haven’t emptied your stock?”

“Belladonna? Oh, no, no,” they say dismissively. “You don’t need belladonna. I’ve given you cinnamon, monkshood, basil, oleander, coriander, valerian, jimsonweed, and damiana. That’s all you need, I assure you. After all, am I not an apothecary, and you merely a traveler?”

One of your shoulders twinges sharply as the apothecary shoves the straps unceremoniously onto your arms.

You push back from the table, stagger out the door, and stumble as quickly as you can down the path in your increasing delirium. You pull out your water skin and drink, realizing you’ve almost run out; you never refilled it at the river on account of your tarot-wielding visitor.

The path forks and you choose a direction in the dark of night, brain in a fog, using nothing but your hazy intuition. The path meanders and winds. You’re relieved to finally encounter a large, hollowed-out tree. You curl up in the trunk to rest.