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“You seem rather distracted today, Milady,” noted Lady Sigbeth, folding the book onto her lap. She was a thick woman of her fifties, with a pinched nose and beady eyes that seemed to know everything.

“Do I?” Sindire murmured, slipping her fingers to her cheeks. An image of intense blue eyes had made them heat up.

“Yes, well, I suppose you’ve received fairly monumental news this morning, haven’t you?” Lady Sigbeth hummed. “But you must always remember, Child, that knowledge is most important! Do not allow a man to distract you from your studies!” At the dreamy trance-like state still apparent in Sindire's expression, Lady Sigbeth huffed. “Do you understand, Milady?”

“Oh, yes,” Sindire vowed. “I will always continue my studies.”

“Good, good,” Lady Sigbeth leaned back in her chair. “As your tutor, I cannot allow you to simply abandon your quest for knowledge! As such, I am assigning you to read three books before our next juncture!”

Sindire smiled. “Yes, Lady Sigbeth.”

“And I don’t mean those nonsensical and silly princess novels you’re so fond of. I want you to read something informative, or genuine literature!”

“Yes, Lady Sigbeth.”

Sindire attempted to begin her assignment as soon as her lesson was finished. She holed up in her study, idly browsing her shelves for something that would hold her attention. Nothing did, save for a new addition, a gift, given to her by her stepfather. It featured a reptilian dragon on its cover, its long, snake-like body circling a castle tower. She cracked it open, despite her tutor’s request.

Unfortunately, not even the tale of a knight’s arduous journey could hold her attention. She found her mind drifting to thick shoulders, a strong bow of lips, and blue eyes topped by straight brows. Just sitting there, Sindire’s cheeks were flushed. She waved her hand in front of her face to cool her temperature, but it did not work. She was restless in her seat, shifting from side to side.

When she realized her eyes had glanced over an entire page without retaining any new information, she finally slapped the book shut and rose to her feet.

It had been quite a while since she had gone for a walk in the palace gardens. Now that spring had arrived the snow had vanished and the air had warmed to a comfortable level. Sindire decided that she could use the fresh air and began to head for the courtyard.

She had lived in the King’s palace since she was seven when her mother had remarried a Lord of the court. Ten years had given her plenty of time to explore and map such a remarkable and grandeur palace, and she knew it like the back of her hand.

The courtyard was a square, guest rooms and balconies encasing it on every side, ten stories high. Her own room was visible among them, on the second floor. Vines snaked up the walls, their heart the garden. It was thicker than a forest with delicate flowers and leafy, exotic ferns.

Sindire followed a stone path, one that she knew would eventually lead to a double tiered fountain at the very center of the plot. The air was still cool despite the lack of snow, and she found herself shivering and longing for a shawl, though she did not quite wish strongly enough to actually fetch one.

She stopped to admire a bush of peonies, impressed by how perfect they were and by how sweet they smelled.

A horse’s ninny caught her attention. Across the stone path, Sindire saw a dappled mare bending by a shrub, nipping at a leaf. A barrel was strapped behind it, and far as she could tell, it was filled with fresh dirt and shovels. The horse would have been pretty if it hadn’t been caked in mud.

“Stop that, now.”

Sindire jumped right out her skin as a large, weathered man appeared from behind the mare, grabbing at the reigns and yanking the horse away from the bush.

“You have hay in your stable.” He patted her on her rippling shoulder. From his leather gloves, a worn tunic, and unshaven face, Sindire recognized him as a gardener. His hair was almost as black as a raven, which was not a common coloring among her crowd. Most everyone Sindire knew had fair hair. She found herself watching the wind tousle it from across the path, fascinated by its foreignness.

The man was steadily heaving mounds of dirt onto plots of bare earth. Sindire began drifting closer, curious. Soon she was nearly hovering over the poor man’s shoulder.

When he finally noticed her hovering there he paused and a look of slight confusion crossed his face. “Can I help you, Miss?”

Sindire nodded at the pile of soil. “Why do you do this? Why cover the earth with earth?”

The man smiled, filling in lines on his cheeks that told her he did so often. “There are a couple’a reasons, Miss.” He stabbed the shovel into the soft sod at his feet, slipping one of his gloves off of his hand so he could run it through his hair. He was sweaty under his arms, and unshaven. “Now, if you look closely, you’ll see that what I’m shovelin’ here is a different color than what’s underneath.”

Sindire peered down at his work. “Yes, I see that now. But how can it be that earth is different?”

“That’d be because this,” he slapped the rusty wheelbarrow, “is from underneath an oak tree, and this,” he nodded at the plot of soil, “is poor for growing.”

Sindire’s brow furrowed. The man chuckled at her frustration.

“See, there are some flowers that prefer to be mothered by special soil, made from the leaves and droppings of other plants. This here plot needs Hummingbird Sage planted on it, and Hummingbird Sage grows best under oak trees.”

“Oh. I did not know that earth could be different - well, without minding mud and sand, I suppose,” Sindire said. “Oh, but why not just plant the Hummingbird Sage under the tree, then? I’m sure there are oaks in the courtyard.”

“Aye,” the man grinned, amused at something that Sindire could not identify. “There are plenty of oaks, but Lady Ouffa specially requested the Sage, you see, and this is the only spot where she’ll be able to see it from her chamber balcony.”

“Oh,” was all Sindire could respond with. Botany had never interested her before, and she found her lack of knowledge in the matter befuddling and unfamiliar. She did not enjoy the feeling.

The foliage beside her rustled as a boy clad in similar gear to the man emerged from the thick of the leaves. He must have been another gardener, she figured. He had a muddied shovel slung over one shoulder, and an arm around a thick roll of tarp, which she recognized as the preventative measures upon a frozen ground. In the winter, they were draped over the garden to keep the ground from freezing completely.

The boy marched straight up to Sindire, much to her utter disbelief, and stopped right at her feet. He must have been a few years older than she, for he towered over her. She nervously swallowed, wondering what he could possibly want from her.

“You’re in the way.”

Sindire blinked, replaying his words in her mind to verify that she had not mistaken them for something impolite.

“O-oh,” she said again, stepping further into the center of the stone path. The boy moved closer to the mare she had previously been blocking and swung the tarp onto its back. “S-sorry,” Sindire stuttered, choosing then to make an escape. She was much too embarrassed to be angry with the boy for disrespecting her. Had her mother been with her, she would have had him punished.

Sindire tried her best not to run, and soon she could faintly hear the soft song of trickling water.

When she reached the heart of the garden, she found more than just the fountain.

“Elwyn!” she exclaimed, quickening her pace. Her little brother shot forward to greet her with an embrace.

“Hello, Sister,” he sighed into her gown. Elwyn was still only twelve and was one of the few people Sindire was still taller than. Though, if he was anything like their father, the late Klay, his short stature would not last long. Elwyn already resembled him in the face, with pale green eyes, freckles, pointy ears, and a mischievous grin.

“How was your trip? Did you catch anything?” Sindire eagerly asked. He had been away for several long days on a hunting trip with several young Lords and, most notably, a member of the royal guard named Rhett, a long time friend of Klay’s. Sindire’s birth father had trained the man when he had first aspired to join the Guard. Rhett was extremely gifted in the way of the sword and had eventually surpassed Klay. He had recently been promoted to Lieutenant at the young age of twenty-five, a good ten years younger than her father when he had been given the position. Rhett would presumably be the captain one day when he was a tad older, a title Klay had never gotten the chance to don.

Thoughts of her father still saddened Sindire, but not as often as it once had. She supposed she had Time to thank for such relief. More recently than before, she had to deeply focus on her memories before she could see his face clearly. The thought of forgetting his face hurt just as well, but not nearly as badly as missing him did.

Elwyn released her from his tight squeeze. “We downed five stags, just me, Lord Pippen, and Rhett alone!”

“My goodness,” Sindire gasped with a little smirk. “That seems awfully greedy. Did you leave any for others to catch?”

Elwyn rolled his eyes, hopping down the path in the direction of their chambers. He still donned heavy chest plates that were undeniably too large for his scrawny frame, and he must have been planning to interchange them with the silks in his room. He must have been eager for the change, for he said very little to Sindire before he dashed off.

“Mother and her Lord are here,” she called at his backside. Elwyn paused and waved at her to let her know he had heard her. She noticed then the sloppy mess on his behind, feet, and hands.

‘That’s just like him,’ she thought, strolling out of the courtyard. Her steps echoed in the enormous halls, and she soon came to her study once again. It seemed much less threatening, and a great deal lighter. ‘He wanted to play in the mud before he said hello to me, and to blame the mess on his hunt so I couldn’t scold him.’ After all, Elwyn was not a boy who enjoyed the garden for its Hummingbird Sage.

Sindire glanced at her bookshelf, pulling one free and forgoing her progress on the Dragon story. Her walk had been very successful, and there was very little thoughts of distracting blue eyes and strong shoulders.

She cracked the new selection open: a piece on Botany.

Lady Sigbeth would have been rather pleased.

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