203 (part deux): A Useful Deception

Murtagh has found diversion and finally something to like about Paris.

happy murtagh
Happy, happy Murtagh! / STARZ

Murtagh’s new situation benefits many, as no doubt Claire is grateful for any excuse to occupy herself with a visit to Master Raymond once more, this time in search of a contraceptive for Suzette.

claire looking up at raymond

Master Raymond notes the irony in Claire seeking a contraceptive for her maid rather than the other way around, and suggests Mugwort.

Mugwort / source

A member of the daisy family, Mugwort is said to derive its name from its use in flavoring beer and other beverages one might drink from a mug. Others theorize its name originates from moughte (a moth or maggot) as it was also used as an insect repellent. Medicinally, it has been used for gastrointestinal problems like colic, diarrhea and constipation. It has historically been used to stimulate women’s menstrual cycle and was used in the past to induce abortions.

As Claire browses the store, she is very alarmed as she pulls from the shelf a jar labeled “Aconitum napellus” or Monkshood.

poison bottle with text
Aconitum napellus / STARZ

Monkshood is a strong, fast-acting poison that affects the heart and nervous system, causing nausea, vomiting, dizziness, muscle spasms, hypothermia, paralysis of the respiratory muscles and heart rhythm disorders. It is so toxic that poisoning has occurred following picking leaves of the plant without wearing gloves. It has been used as arrow poison, including for hunting whales among the indigenous people of Alaska.

Monkshood / source

Master Raymond assures Claire he does not actually dispense Monkshood to his customers, but often provides them with bitter cascara when they are seeking to poison a foe.

Bitter in taste, the aged, dried bark of cascara stimulates the large intestine and has a laxative effect.  In larger doses it causes severe diarrhea, a well as abdominal discomfort and cramping.  It was available over the counter in the US as a treatment for constipation until it was banned in 2002 over safety concerns.

Cascara / source

Master Raymond sells this to unknowing customers as a “fake” poison – while long term use can lead to electrolyte abnormalities due to continued fluid loss by diarrhea, short term use will result in diarrhea and abdominal pain, but this will only be temporary.

“Yes, that’s right, cascara.  The rival will fall sick tomorrow, suffer visibly in order to satisfy the Vicomtesse’s desire for revenge and convince her that her purchase was a good one, and then she will recover, with no permanent harm done, and the Vicomtesse will attribute the recovery to the intervention of the priest or a counter spell done by a sorcerer employed by the victim.”

From Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 8.

Useful occupations and deceptions, indeed, wise Master Raymond!

Hmm, if the parritch doesn’t do the trick, Master Raymond may have another customer for that bitter cascara!

king on throne