Excerpt – The Gardener
The white butterfly fluttered before her face. When she saw it, she reached out a hand and at once it landed on the curve of her wrist.
“Now there’s a fine omen for you,” she said. “Light knows we need one these days.” She whispered some words and the butterfly flew off across the courtyard and out over the castle wall.
A fine omen? Perhaps. But I’d learned to be wary. I stepped forward, scuffling my boots to make noise. She ignored my presence. Not until I was a pace away did she turn.
It was hard to say if she was beautiful or even pretty. Soil from the garden had splattered her cheeks and marked her forehead with a splotch that looked like a raven. A muddied apron hid her shape. But I took note of a glint in her gray-green eyes, as if the flowers had conspired to lend their color. And her mouth was a crescent moon upturned on its side.
The corners of the crescent twitched when she saw me but only for an instant. Then she went back to her work as if I were invisible. Her hands cradled each bloom as she sliced off the heads with a small knife.
“Are you spirit or demon?” I demanded.
She made no answer.
I drew my sword, relieved it slipped so easily from its scabbard, and stretched it in her direction. She watched the point from the corner of her eye but kept her head down and continued to work. Finally, I nudged her with the tip.
She let out a yelp. Only then did I realize I’d thrust too hard, and the blade had slit her garment. I backed off at once, ready to apologize, but then recalled my encounter with the assassin. I poked again, more gently this time.
“Why do you keep doing that?” she said.
“To see if you’re real.”
She stood and faced me, feet set wide and planted squarely on the ground.
“Why shouldn’t I be real?”
She was tall for a girl, her head rising above my chin, and had a bearing unlike a servant. When I continued to challenge her, she reached out and eased the point of my sword to one side.
“Would you put that silly thing away?”
I began to back off, then remembered the circumstance and held firm. “Why didn’t you say anything when I first approached you?”
“Because we servants aren’t supposed to talk to you royals.” She lowered her gaze and turned back to the flowers. “I’m sorry . . . Milord.”
“What’s your name?”
“Rebecca. My name is Frederick.”
She paled and then bent in a deep curtsy, her brashness collapsing into two whispered words. “The dauphin.” . . .
I wandered in a circle, hands folded behind my back, and inspected the flowers, unsure of what else to say. Then a thought occurred to me.
“Do you have roses in this garden?”
“No roses, Milord. I have asters and hydrangeas. Some fall crocus. And climbing the wall to the watchtower, sweet autumn clematis. A bit of monkshood underneath and tulips in the spring. But no roses.”
I must have looked disappointed. She came closer and reached out, but not enough to touch me.
“It must be lonely, Milord, a terrible burden. Every morning as I walk from my village to the gardens, I see the darkening clouds and wonder where my strength will come from. Then I remember. The dauphin will protect us. Save Him Oh Goddess, I pray. If only I could do something to help.”
I mumbled a thank you and turned to go, but stopped when I saw her examining her damaged apron.
“Are you here every day?”
“No, Milord, I have other gardens as well.”
“Come tomorrow, and I’ll bring you a new apron to replace the one I tore.”
She curtsied more deeply this time.
“I’d be so grateful, Milord, but I have nothing to give in return.”
“Ah, wait.” She took her small knife and clipped off a bulging blossom at the stem and handed it to me. “Now place it in water the first chance you get.”
I accepted the gift and admired her through its petals.
“Thank you,” I said. “Tomorrow at noon.”
As I walked away, I glanced over my shoulder to get one last look at the gardener. She was back at her work, resuming her song and snipping away, so light of hand and foot. As she blew away a curl that had drifted across her face, the summer dress rustled against her skin. I inhaled the scent of the flower and thought I caught the sun peeking through the clouds over Golgoreth.
And for the first time since my father died, goddesses seemed possible.
WINNER: Readers' Favorite Book 2013 Bronze Award Winner, Drama Category -Fiction
A Tragic Warrior Lost in Two Worlds...
The war in Iraq ended for Lieutenant Freddie Williams when an IED explosion left his mind and body shattered. Once he was a skilled gamer and expert in virtual warfare. Now he's a broken warrior, emerging from a medically induced coma to discover he's inhabiting two separate realities. The first is his waking world of pain, family trials, and remorse--and slow rehabilitation through the tender care of Becky, his physical therapist. The second is a dark fantasy realm of quests, demons, and magic that Freddie enters when he sleeps.
In his dreams he is Frederick, Prince of Stormwind, who must make sense of his horrific visions in order to save his embattled kingdom from the monstrous Horde. His only solace awaits him in the royal gardens, where the gentle words of the beautiful gardener, Rebecca, calm the storms in his soul. While in the conscious world, the severely wounded vet faces a strangely similar and equally perilous mission--a journey along a dark road haunted by demons of guilt and memory--and letting patient, loving Becky into his damaged and shuttered heart may be his only way back from Hell.
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Genre – Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy
Rating – PG
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