Letter 3 - Kei to Gin
I see my absence has not changed you in the least, except possibly to make
you more shrill. I'm sure your Mother thinks only to spare the Outside
from your outrageous demands, and if your last letter is any judge of your
behavior towards your elders, I must confess I agree with her. Your
parents should lock you away safely so that you are still alive upon my
return, and not strangled to death by beleagered philosophers who must
listen to all the many requests prompted by your impatient whimsy. Please
pass along my condolences to the Archprelate.
The reason, dear shrew, that I did not include any cuttings was that I had
not actually visited said gardens at the posting of my last missive. But,
as you are no doubt aware, having opened the sizeable package I sent
before even cracking the seal on this envelope (feign to deny it, you know
you did) I have, at last, visited the gardens, and therein lies a tale.
I woke early the morning after I posted my previous letter to you (well,
early by the court clock: it was midmorn ere I rose from my couch- truly,
a sluggard's paradise!) and essayed a trip out to view the gardens.
Particularly, I wished to walk through my garden, that is, the garden my
room overlooks, and perhaps peep into the stunning greenhouse that lies
Adda called for a page. The scamp that replied to the summons was truly a
terror. He reminded me an awful lot of you at that age. Needless to say,
we hit it off immediately. His name is Gavin, and he comes from someplace
northish. He wasn't too clear on geography, and answered only hazily the
questions I asked about his homeland and parentage. However, fortunately
for the intended exercise, he knew the palace and grounds better than the
back of his hand, and led me on quite a fascinating tour, editorialized by
such commentary that only 9-year-olds can express so brazenly.
>From Gavin I gathered that Our Prince is "not such an one for wonders,
like" but "fancies hisself a scientist, he do." That, more than anything,
earned Gavin a shiny tip once he'd deposited me a stone's throw from the
greenhouse. I shall not bother with _Eight Swallows on the Whitecaps_ as
you suggested (indeed, avoid all the greater storymyths for the nonce) but
begin with a battery of simple cantrips, particularly those that work well
in a logical context. From his response those, I will, no doubt, manage
to discern the Prince's desire in courting me hither.
I excused Gavin, and he rushed away beaming, clutching the silver fourbit
tightly. I was left alone with the green and the earth. And what green!
I've done some more nosing about, and gardens here seem to grow in two
species. The greater type of garden is the ornamental, filled with a
limited variety of whatever plants are poetic or fashionable or will grow
to cover an awkward space between buildings, usually planted at whim, and
pruned inexpertly and infrequently (as the overgrown look is considered
"romantic"). The lesser type is that of the kitchen garden or herbarium,
which is cultivated in neat rows, severely trimmed, and looking more like
razor stripes on a wadog than plantlife, when seen from afar, and
generally thin and pale and rather commonplace when seen up close. Many
of these kitchen gardens grow on exhausted land that abuts rich fertile
soil. Why they don't rotate their crop, I do not understand, but I
believe the excuse has something to do with ancient traditions enforced
with rigid authority. The tales I've heard make your Archprelate seem the
veriest kitten by comparison. Please remind me often that I do not want
to get on the wrong side of their hierophants.
But I digress. This garden was as unlike the other gardens as night is
unlike day. It appeared to be a test garden, of sorts, but unlike the
rigid crop furrows of "practical" gardens elsewhere on the palace grounds,
it was landscaped magnificently, plants grouped harmoniously in mutually
beneficial poses. And unlike the haphazard grooming of poetical
landscaping, this greenery was pruned with an expert hand. I followed a
meandering path, picked out in flat grey stepping stones, towards the
It was, of course, locked.
I moped a bit, peering in through steamy windows, pressing my nose against
the glass mournfully, until I was interrupted.
"Ahem," she said, without the slightest pretense of having to clear her
In a heartbeat I imagined her: lovely in the littlest detail, swathed in
rich draperies which swept with her as she walked swaying through the
garden, pinching a leaf here, dusting a stone there, a graceful study of
maidenhood gliding gently through this miraculous garden. She would evict
me forthwith, a cruel glance and the wave of a hand was all she needed to
dispatch such ruffians as yours truly. I was quite overwhelmed by
I turned, and found her quite plain. She had pulled her hair under a
turban, and even had she not been grubby and wearing a shapeless tunic,
her mannerisms were far too forthright to ever be considered "bewitching".
Her face was face-shaped in the ordinary ways, but she smiled wryly in a
way I found charming. In addition, I believe she is quite old enough to
be my mother. But she seemed to belong here, so I had to ask, and in the
palace, a question without flattery is like a meal of water: somewhat
"Are you the caretaker of this glorious paradise in the wilderness?"
She giggled. (And at her age, too!) "Yes, this is my puttering ground.
Do you like it?"
I gushed forth paeons of praise. Yes, you may take this to mean that I
babbled incoherently to the good woman for the better part of half an
hour, but she seemed to take a liking to me all the same. She unlocked
the greenhouse with a great steel key, and after much wheedling about a
dear friend back home (yes, you) she also gifted me with the prodigious
number of cuttings you now have in your posession. I trust you'll know
what to do with them.
She was quite modest about her accomplishments, insisting she worked for
love, and had she not a pretty little hobby? This, of course, elicited
more gushing, until the noon hour, and she bid me farewell to scurry
across the garden towards a building I have not yet entered. I spent a
few more minutes savoring the air, then I, too, returned from whence I
came. I had a hearty appetite for luncheon that day, let me tell you.
I didn't catch her name, but I saw her again last night. I almost didn't
recognize her, but for the wry twist to her smile. She is the Dowager
Princess Ralida. I am so doomed. To think I babbled like a schoolboy at
(arguably) the most powerful woman at court. Still, I'd like to think she
was amused by our interlude in the garden.
So, if you think you have difficulties, think on me, and be glad of your
state. I have made an unscheduled appearance on the radar of someone who
could pinch me from the tree of life with no more effort than you or I
would take to snap a twig. I am only grateful that my
enthusiastic raptures didn't lead me to spill anything that might have
been misconstrued. They are very serious about their religion, here, and
it would be all too easy to damn myself as a perfidous heretic, especially
given my affinities for the green world.
Still, it could be worse. I think she liked me. It would be useful to
have an ally in court. We'll see.
Give my love to your family, and remember me to Omin. I'm glad to see
he's starting to take his lessons more seriously. I despaired of that boy
p.s. I must laugh: "dear little Adda" my foot. He writes to my father
twice a week to inform on me. It would be horribly embarrassing if he
wasn't so up front about it. And, though he makes a magnificent valet,
he's neither "dear" nor "little." Dour and massive, perhaps... nothing
like you, little thing. Keep well. -k
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