Once there was an alchemist who was scanning through the real estate listings hoping to find the perfect home. Apartment buildings are not really well-suited to alchemy. People kept knocking on his door and interrupting his experiments to say things like,
“Can you stop all the sulfur smells and explosions? I just got the baby to sleep.”
He needed to get away from all the sleeping babies and grumpy telecommuters so that he could get back to his life’s work. And, if there was room for a garden so that he could save money on ingredients, that would be even better. He circled the most promising listings with a smile.
It took weeks of touring homes and meetings and paperwork, but finally the alchemist had a new home with a lovely yard that bordered on the forest. It was far from the center of town, and there were no neighbors close by to be disturbed by silly things like smoke or smells or loud noises. It was perfect.
Except that the previous owners said that deer lived in the forest and would probably come eat his garden. Luckily, he had a solution. He would grow a magic hedge around his property. The deer would be repelled by the magic in the hedge and stay far away from his garden.
During the terrible drudgery of house-buying, the alchemist had spent many hours concocting an extra rapid plant growth solution for his garden. He bought the seeds for the hedge from his favorite apothecary before he left town. Before he unpacked a single box, he dipped the seeds in the potion and planted them. He had a tall magical hedge in place by dinner.
The next morning, the hedge was gone. The alchemist raced outside in his slippers and pajamas and crouched down in the empty space, looking for clues. The hedge had been chewed to the ground.
Deer were supposed to be repelled by magic hedges. He must have been sold nonmagical seeds. What an outrage! He called the apothecary and complained just as loudly as a neighbor who was woken up at 3am by an explosion of twenty glass beakers.
Within an hour, he had new seeds, guaranteed to be magical. He dipped them in potion, planted them, and his hedge was in place by lunch time. In the morning, it was gone.
Perhaps it wasn’t the seeds, after all.
He used the last of the seeds to plant a third hedge. Then, that evening, he waited out by the hedge in the dark. When he heard chewing sounds, he shook the corked vial of light solution. It glowed brightly, showing his hungry visitors. They were much larger than deer.
Dragons? Why were dragons eating his hedges?
He went inside and pulled a few books off the shelves to read in the morning. The next day, after a lot of reading, he learned that dragons liked to eat magical hedges. Of course. It would have been nice to know that before spending a fortune on magical hedge seeds. But, how was he to know that there were dragons in the forest? The previous owner never mentioned that.
He hired someone to build a non-magical fence out of wood. The deer and dragons had plenty of wood in their forest to eat, so they certainly wouldn’t go out of their way to eat his fence. Sure enough, the fence was there the next day. And the next. And the next.
Once he was certain that the fence was going nowhere, the alchemist planted his ingredients and set up his workshop. He had so many ideas to try! It would take months just to go through the first pages of his notebook where he jotted down ideas.
The garden grew quickly and well. It grew so well, that he had more ingredients than he expected. The magical beets were especially prolific, and he had more than he could turn into potions or eat. He developed a new potion that turned beets into chickens. Soon he had a yard full of chickens that all wanted to eat his garden full of potion ingredients.
He hired someone to build a chicken coop. The garden recovered, the chickens laid boiled eggs, and he was able to get back to his notebook. The alchemist had time to experiment as much as he liked.
And then winter came. The garden stopped growing. The hens stopped laying eggs. During a particularly long storm, the road to town was blocked for weeks.
Deprived of the sun, the chickens finally turned back into beets. The alchemist ate them. It was a nice change from eating canned food and food substitute potions. When he ran out of firewood, he burned the coop. Then the fence.
Finally, the storm ended. Winter ended. The alchemist stepped into his backyard and looked around. No plants. No chickens or coop. No fence. He was back to the beginning.
Yet, he wasn’t. Not really. He had survived the winter. He knew what to expect. And, he knew what to do next.
He hired someone to build a non-magical fence out of wood. Then he called the apothecary to order some more seeds.