Letter 3 - Kei to Gin

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Dearest 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 
my imaginings.

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 
for ages.

Your affectionate,

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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