Chapter 1 Garden Mage
“Did you hear?!” My brother burst into the Queen’s Garden as if a battalion of Royal Guards were chasing him. Not putting it past him, I glanced behind him to make sure no one followed. I relaxed, glad that I didn’t have to aid him in getting out of yet another situation.
“Hear what?” I stroked my finger lightly along an Alia rose, named after the first Queen to rule this land, the most stunning woman alive during her time, Alia took the world by storm stepping into her father’s shoes and ruling the land with an iron fist and gentle heart, loved and renowned by all, Alia was the first in a long succession of Queens. She opened doors for women, doors that once took centuries to even find, flew open as the land flourished under her reign and so it was that the dragons made peace with the land of and a law was passed that every ruler there after must have a strong bond not just with their ruler but the entire race, our strength shared through generations to come.
Our ruler was not based on gender, but by some luck of the draw we’d been ruled by Queens for as far back as man could remember, the history books could remember further. No one understood the anomaly of it, and no one questioned it for every Queen was a good one. The Trials ensured it. The princess having just reached her twenty first sun cycle of life had gone through the Trials the night before, Trials that would decide if she succeeded her mother or if she’d remain a princess until married to some foreign dignitary. Everyone had an opinion on the matter, everyone but me it seemed, my brother found it immensely frustrating. I was his sister and should be willing to gossip with him or at least help him gain a bit of dirt on his many…many enemies.
“Rhyme!” He growled as I smiled down at the tittering roses completely ignoring his excitement.
“What?” I snapped back impatient to get on with my grooming. These roses would bring forth faeries. I could tell by the glow in the center of their buds, my mother often told me all the flowers I spoke to bloomed Fae. I told her not to mention that where others could hear, to most I was a gardener, to a select few a healer. Not many knew that I could see the spirits within the plants, from the small blades of grass to the most ancient of trees. I saw them, and sometimes they spoke to me. The faeries were the only ones that could be made visible to others. With a little coxing that is…
“Are you even listening to me?” Reason grumbled in exasperation. I listened to the whispering of flowers eager to bloom and I smiled broader still sure that the news they shared is what my brother wished to tell me, I decided I would not ruin it for him. I sat back on my heels and gave him my full attention, letting the murmur of the plants surrounding us fade into background noise.
“What news has you so excited that you’ve left your duties for the other stable hands to finish.” Reason snorted at the insult to his character. I chuckled as he puffed up with pride.
“You know damn well I would never be slack in my work; the horses love me as I love them. I’d never leave my duties to be finished by those I’m not sure could get the job done, no, the Guard Captain cut us loose a bit early today due to the news. Great for some and not so great for others.”
“The news brother before I die of old age,” he gave me a withering stare at my impatience, which I ignored easily. We’d known each other all our lives, that look hadn’t worked when we were but children, it certainly didn’t work now.
Reason heaved a heartfelt sigh, “I’ll never understand how you can be a gardener, dithering your days away in the dirt, but as soon as people come into your presence all that serenity goes out the window.”
“Plants know the sun, they know peace, they’re free of stress, lacking in the need to gain power. Plants are simple, their spirits are simple, people on the other hand, are complicated.” I countered without hesitation. “Also, I do not have to deal with stupidity when gardening.”
“I’m going to ignore the fact that you just subtly called me stupid…”
“Well if the boot fits,” I watched his nostrils flare in frustration, it was so easy to rile him up. I smiled softly waiting for him to tell me the news I already knew.
“Are you done now?” He questioned once he’d calmed down.
“I’ve been quite ready since you burst into the Queen’s Garden as if Royal Guards were chasing you. I haven’t been able to focus on anything since.” I stood dusting off my knees.
“You have a funny way of showing it,” I just smiled until he gave up and told me the news he was clearly still very excited about. “Her Highness will succeed her mother.” My lips curled into a grin as he deflated at my lack of shock or excitement.
“You knew!” Reason huffed crossing his arms over his chest petulantly. “You knew this entire time?”
“No. Not before you arrived. Sorry brother but the wind travels just a tad faster than you do and the flowers are even worse gossips.” I patted his arm consolingly.
“Well do you know that not everyone among the Council is rejoicing?” He asked after a moment of silence.
“There are those that oppose the Princess’ succession? Why?” I questioned brow furrowed in confusion. “She is kind, benevolent and hardworking…”
“Her image Rhyme, she is…on the larger side and some don’t think it becoming of a queen to be…fat.” He exhaled the last word seeing that I did not understand. The confusion cleared.
“Her Highness is not fat,” Reason looked at me as if I were speaking a blatant lie in respects to our future monarch.
I shook my head, “Reason to oppose the Princess for image alone is very…”
“Shallow minded.” He supplied.
“Human,” I finished dryly reiterating why I preferred plants to human company.
“Well yes that is a very human trait, but I’m sure the Fae could be said to have their fair share.” I did not disagree. It could be argued that the Fae had more than their fair share of shallow minded people. “Then you have those who hoped that the Prince would follow his mother.”
“He failed his Trials, he has not even the hint of a connection with the dragon ruler let alone the entire race. Sorel is hot headed and rash and yes, he is young, but I do not believe he will grow out of it anytime soon. We three are of the same sun cycle, just two older than the Princess herself and even though you are somehow always found amid trouble I do not doubt your maturity for I know it is of a level with mine when you wish it to be.” Reason stared at me as if I’d grown a second head. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You actually know things.” I gave him the look those words deserved. “What? As I said you’re always dithering away in your garden, not bothering with the outside world, of course I’m surprised you actually know about Prince Sorel and how he failed his Trials.”
“The flowers gossip worse than you do, the trees hold many secrets and the grass converses with the wind, all I need do is but ask and I’d know it.” I countered dryly.
“You could be truly powerful if you wished.” Reason gazed at me with new respect in his eyes.
“Yes, but I have never craved power.” I shrugged letting the moment of seriousness fall away, we did not often speak of our gifts, for both our sakes. It wouldn’t do to have others ask questions.
“Part of the Council is still in full support of the Prince; they want a male ruler back on the throne.” Reason snorted in disgust. “Those misogynistic idiots are living centuries in the past.”
“Why have they not been eradicated from the Council? Do they have any real power?” I asked in disbelief.
“Her Majesty keeps her enemies close. She has always been a very intelligent woman.” I nodded in understanding before he continued. “Those men are few and far between and not enough sit the Council to have real power. There are those other select few that support the youngest of the royal line, a sun cycle junior to Princess Adri, Princess Mariel who is the spitting image of her mother after all. Those members of the Council do not personally have qualms with Adri’s succession per say they just dislike the fact that she’s…”
“Her Highness isn’t fat.” My brother once more looked at me as if I were going above and beyond what was expected of a subject, even one whom worked in the Queen’s Garden, closer to royalty than most dreamed of experiencing in their lifetime.
“I take that back, you know nothing beyond your gardens and your flowers.” Reason shook his head at me in exasperation and I wasn’t up to arguing with him about something I didn’t fully understand.
“Do we know her connection? Has she accepted the crown? Have any suitors come forward?” I asked instead changing the subject to something different but no less important.
“I believe her connection is a secret, though there is talk that it’s stronger than her mother’s,” Reason gazed at me thoughtfully, glancing briefly around the Queen’s Garden before speaking. “Though probably not stronger than yours.” I didn’t acknowledge his words, he continued as if he’d said nothing at all out of the ordinary. “We’ll know if she’s accepted the crown this evening, who knows she might choose otherwise and then we’ll have to wait another sun cycle hoping and praying that Princess Mariel passes her Trials.”
“The land is tense Reason, I do not think another sun cycle of waiting and hoping would be good for us. As well Mariel may be the spitting image of her mother, but her work ethic is lacking. She is not one to get dirty. I haven’t ever found her in the Queen’s Garden.” My brother didn’t question me, after all I knew plants and dirt and he knew horses and tricks.
“Truly the biggest problem most people have with Princess Adri is that she’s fat.” Reason didn’t hesitate simply stating the facts he’d heard as he’d heard them. “As for suitors, none worth mentioning. The ones who have are after power and not truly interested in the Princess. It would be a sad day in history to not have a Queen’s Tournament soon after a Princess passing the Trials.”
I shook my head at the absurdity of it all turning back to my gardening, “Leave me to my flowers brother, though I had not mentioned it. I’m sure you could guess that flowers do not judge. After all every plant has a purpose.”
“For what it’s worth despite her size, I’m sure she’ll make a great Queen.” He mumbled softly after a moment of silence.
I listened to the flowers smiling softly as they rejoiced in discovering their most common visitor second only to the Queen herself would one day walk their paths carrying the title of Majesty. They could not think of one more fitting to rule than the Queen’s eldest daughter and neither could I. “She’ll surpass her mother by far and someone worthy of her hand will come forward regardless if it’s one or many, someone will come.” Reason bowed his head in agreement.
Reason opened his mouth to speak only to freeze at my up raised hand, I took in the excitement, the cadence of soft voices growing louder as we stood in silence. “We must go; her Highness Adri is coming.”
I turned from the path my brother had taken to arrive in the heart of the Queen’s Garden and I asked the flowers to part for me as I raced with the lightest of footsteps to the stone wall meant to keep out prying eyes. I ran up its face catching the edge with the use of long arms and slung myself over. “Hurry Reason, none should be caught in the Queen’s Garden save the Queen, or her children.” I breathed urgently while my brother stared in awe at the soil now free of roses.
He started from his stupor before racing forward running up the wall and catching the edge beside me, hefting himself up with a grunt of effort. We both dropped to the other side as the Princess raced into the Queen’s Garden like my brother had not long ago. Though I’m sure her haste was for entirely different reasons. I thanked the Alia roses for their aid patting the stone wall covered in slow growing moss soothingly in apology for disrupting its slumber. “When did that become a law?”
I turned to my brother as we strolled away from the wall following a path that would lead us to the Training Fields and the stables where Reason was usually found when not in some form of trouble or another. “It’s not, of course any Gardener can be found in the Queen’s Garden it’s our profession after all. I simply make it a point to not be found there.”
“Is there a reason for this?” We stopped by the Training Fields watching the Guard Captain and his Second as they instructed new recruits on fighting techniques.
“When we first arrived here,” I leaned on the wooden fence observing the lithe combative dance that would help them prevail in combat. “It was a game, to test my gift. I would do my work and listen to the green while trying not to become overwhelmed or distracted because unlike you I cannot turn it off. The plants, the trees, the flowers they never stop talking, there are sleepy murmurs even in the depths of winter, and even in the silence of night the trees sing to the moon. So, I practiced. I practiced every day since the first day of arriving in the palace. I practiced until I could speak with them individually, until I could distinguish voices, until the slow drawl of the most ancient of trees became second nature. I practiced and I listened so that when the Queen arrived I was nowhere to be found and in the beginning, it was but a game to help me practice. Now it’s a way to preserve their privacy, after all only the Queen may enter the Garden and those who have permission, her children and her Gardeners. They go there to escape from prying eyes and I do not want it ever said that my presence disturbed them.” I smiled as a young recruit was swept from his feet, the grass beneath our feet laughing merrily at his expense. “The Head Gardener often wonders if I actually do my job because save for you none have ever found me in the Queen’s Garden.”
“The plants do not warn you of my approach?” Reason leaned on the fence beside me our long hair mingling together between us his dark waves cascading into mine. Somehow despite that I often wore it up, my hair always somehow found a way to escape its leather binding. I caught the leather thong still wrapped in bits of my hair and tucked it into a pocket for later, it didn’t matter now. My work was done for the day. Though perhaps I would go back in the evening to see about my Were Lilies, named so because they were only found when the moon shone its full face…
“They speak of everything brother, but you are my blood and so why would I hide from you,” I gave him a look that justly questioned his intelligence.
He laughed loud and long before pulling me into a one-armed hug, “Never change sister. Never change.”
I wrapped my arm around his waist hugging him back, “I had not planned on it brother, not in the slightest.” He snorted softly trying to contain his amusement, but I could see the glimmer of it shinning in eyes.
“There will be a feast in her honor tonight.” My brother chuckled, “I get the feeling you’ll be nowhere to be found throughout the entirety of it.” I gazed at Reason through dark raven locks before turning back to the Training Fields ng my Were Lilies had suddenly become a priority.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about brother.” Reason snorted again squeezing me one final time before releasing me.
“I’ll see you at the celebration, it starts this evening and if Princess Adri chooses to succeed her mother there will be a greater one held in her honor a seven day from now.” I grimaced at the thought. “Do try to at least make an appearance.” He tossed over his shoulder as he walked away likely to find some form of trouble or another.
I drifted away from the fence bordering the Training Fields disappearing into a copse of trees that lined the wall shielding my beloved garden. I’m sure it looked a lot like magic as I asked the trees to aid in my escape from prying eyes. More than one servant around the palace thought me more than a little strange. I tried my best to encourage them, with the color of my skin and the magic so very different than any had experienced in this land my brother and I were never going to fit in. From the start, we’d decided to stand out, and yet at the same time hiding the most important parts of our gifts from unlikely enemies and even each other at times. I was sure that was genuine awe on Reason’s face when he’d witnessed the roses part for us with nary a word spoken. I grinned as I scaled the stone wall covered in slumbering moss trying to decide how much trouble I’d get in if I failed to make an appearance at her Highness Adri’s celebration.
I gazed down on my pride and joy, my whole world now filled with more flowers and plants than any normal person could think to imagine. My smile faded slightly as I took in the Princess sitting in the center of a place I considered a sanctuary weeping softly. I took in her appearance larger than her sister, but taller as well, though shorter than my near six-foot height she was not a short woman. Her hair was rich earth mixed with sand, if it were soil palm trees would grow there. It was messy more curls than waves, her skin was fair, pale cream to my tan. Her eyes were blue and purple an eternal twilight that could fascinate when filled with happiness or mirth and frighten when filled with frustration or rage. Some would argue it was her most notable feature. Others would disagree…
I took in her size, her face was free of baby fat, her jaw was a stubborn one, given to a woman used to fighting for what she wanted. Her fingers thick and long made for strong hands easily able to hold any weapon, though I knew she favored the bow, she was not afraid to get dirty. Her figure was all curves, I traced my eyes over the trim of her waist which would never be small, her wide hips meant for bearing children and enticing anyone willing to look below the waist, over thighs that could perhaps kill a man or draw him closer in the heat of passion. I took in her Highness, and decided that no she was not small, but nor was she fat. She was a healthy woman who enjoyed food, but I knew she ran with the guards, I knew she practiced on their training fields, bleeding, sweating, crying and laughing with the lot of them. I had seen her cooking in the kitchens, I had seen her mucking the stalls with the stable hands and washing clothes with the maids. I had seen her tenderly tend to my garden and talk politics with her mother. I had seen more of Adri than I had of either of her siblings and I knew more than anyone that she would be the best to sit the throne…if she accepted it.
I watched her Highness belt out her sorrows in the center of a garden that would one day be hers and I let the voices fade to indistinguishable murmurs around me. The flowers spoke of everything. Indeed, the lot were worst gossips than my brother, but unless requested, and I rarely made the request, their memories were short. I’d been giving the royal family their privacy for this long, not even such astounding news would change that. After a time, the Princess dried her tears, though she wore sadness like a mask etched into her features.
I glanced up at the sky slowly fading to darkness, before waving my fingers slightly at the patch of land where the Were Lilies would bloom, using my magic to coax them forth just a bit early. Her Highness Adri watched awe sparkling in her eyes as the flowers unfurled their leaves and white lilies bloomed, each of their hearts holding a different color, glowing softly in the growing light of the moon. She moved from her perch on the fountain, covered in vines growing in a spiraling pattern enhancing its beauty, to the patch of soil once covered in green sprouts now blooming a small army of one of the most sought after flowers in Angileri.
She kneeled on the ground not worried in the least about dirtying her trousers as she traced her fingers along each lily leaning into to breathe in a scent more heavenly than any rose. Her Highness sat in my garden for a long time after that, finding peace in the feel of soil crumbling between her fingers and the scent of flowers filling the air. I watched her for a while before quietly climbing back down the opposite side of the wall. While a princess could afford to be late to her own celebration. I do not believe anyone else on the guest list could do the same. Unless of course it was the Queen her own self. Though, as long as I’d lived in the palace Queen Servasli had never been late to any celebration held in her honor. There was her coronation, but that was long before I had come to live here.
I raced past the Training Fields hoping that my brother had thought to prepare my dress uniform, thankful in that moment that any servant to the Queen herself had the privilege to don the colors specific to their job title. It was considered an honor that I did not honestly care for, but it made it easier for one to get ready in a rush. I sprinted into the courtyard slipping and sliding through the procession of people whom had likely received their invitations moon cycles in advance to this monumental event to the servant’s door hidden around the corner. I ducked passed a tray piled high with food, before speed walking down a corridor lined with Royal Guards each giving me a curious look as I passed the throne room without so much as a by your leave. I was just rounding the corner leading to my quarters when my brother appeared eyes wide with panic.
He relaxed instantly upon catching sight of me, “Hurry Rhyme there are foreign monarchs and the Queen wishes to show case her garden.” I let him pull me into our shared suite getting ready with the haste born of long practice.
“Why must I hurry I am not the Queen’s Head Gardener; in all honesty, I am not even sure she knows I exist.” I pulled on a pale green undershirt while my brother laced up my trousers, as green as the grass grows, embroidered with leaves formed from golden thread.
“She wants you all there, Rosen impressed upon me that if she did not find you mingling among the guests that she would murder you with the raptor vines cascading from your windowsill and then bury your body in your beloved garden where nary a soul would dare to look.” I allowed my brother to help me into my shirt which laced up in the front much as the trousers did. He helped me settle the heavy fabric while I fussed with the cuffs of my sleeves.
“That’s a very graphic description,” I offered brow furrowed.
Reason stroked my hair from my face catching my eye with a serious look of his own, “She was very angry Rhyme, do not slip away until the Queen her own self has seen you among company. I’m sure Rosen will be one of the first to find you.”
“I am not looking forward to that conversation,” I grumbled turning my back to him so that he could do my hair up in the intricate warrior style bun he now wore his in. My brother would never admit it but he was almost as good as any Lady’s maid at doing hair.
“Yes, well I did not enjoy her threat to my manhood if I failed to locate you in time, but I dealt with it and you will too. Likely with more grace than I.” He finished softly the playful tug of my hair the signal that he’d finished.
“Likely,” I agreed turning to face him. He looked dashing in the military standard of green and black, though not a part of the Royal Guard he trained the horses and the soldiers that rode them into battle not as horse and rider separately but one unit. His training had spurred the rumors that we had centaurs in our midst. My brother was second to none in the stables, though he often played the part of a stable hand, for he would never shriek his duty, he was his Majesty’s Horse Master and would likely hold the title for the entirety of his life…if he could stand clear of trouble that is.
I straightened the broach pinned over his heart, a stallion in full rampant, a grin filled with pride stealing across my features. “That would be a great feat considering no flower I have ever handled would dare to harm me and I have handled near about all of them, though I would enjoy being buried in the Queen’s Garden when I am finally laid to rest.” I added as an afterthought as he pinned a golden Alia rose just over my heart.
While his dress uniform resembled the Royal Guard’s, mine was newer created in rein of our current Queen, beneath her the Queen’s Gardeners had become less of a joke and more of an honor. We donned the deep green of the forest and the yellow gold of the sun, with leaves of shimmering golden brown mixed with hints of jade embroidered in random patterns throughout the fabric. Many thought the Queen’s uniforms flashy, but anyone of her soldiers could easily tell you how practical it was to wear green, black and near golden brown when living in a country renowned for its forest and greenery. There was many a war that had be won simply because the enemy had failed to see us coming.
“Only you could counter a threat with cheek without so much as a change in expression,” I gazed back at him brow raised.
“Was I supposed to feel frightened?” Reason shook his head before turning me around and shoving me towards the door.
“Move along sister, my manhood and your life lay on the line. Though more importantly my manhood.” He ensured that our pace was anything but slow. I hooked my arm in his as we drew closer to the ballroom the cadence of voices quickly growing louder, unlike the voices of the flowers often soft and soothing besides. I could not let them fade to the background and ignore that they existed.
“Your manhood is more important than my life?” I asked after I finally realized what he’d said. I’d have given him the look that comment rightly deserved but we soon stood at the top of a wide staircase lined with green and black carpet used only for special occasions any other time it was red…any other time no one was announced into the room save for the Queen and her children. Important night indeed...
“As you said the plants would never lay harm to you making Rosen’s threat moot. Her threat to my manhood on the other hand, still stands and I would very much enjoy being able to have children in the distant future.”
I snorted softly rolling my eyes as our names and titles were shouted for the entire Queendom to hear and process. “You are lucky that we have a celebration we have no choice in attending or I’d make Rosen’s threat to your manhood seem like a child’s whimsical mocking session on the playground.”
Reason chuckled at my underlining threat whispered as we walked in time with the music down the staircase while everyone took us in murmuring about our unique features. “I am quite glad for this celebration actually it ensures that I will make it through the night alive.”
“Sometimes brother I wish you had been born a girl,” I offered back voice filled with mock exasperation.
“You say that but we both know you wouldn’t trade me for the world. We’re twins and that means something…to both of us.” I silently agreed though I didn’t give him the satisfaction of hearing it aloud.
“Ahh, I think I see the cook’s daughter Arian, and perhaps she’d be interested in bearing my children.” Before I could warn him of the danger my brother was off in pursuit of a woman he would never get, at least not beneath the watchful eye of her mother. I grabbed a flute of wine from a passing servant and took a carful sip while I watched the festivities around me waiting for the best opportunity to slip away.