Chapter 2 -The Princess in the Garden

Chapter 2 -The Princess in the Garden

A Chapter by Susanna F
"

Lara opens the book.

"

 

          I sprinted up the stairs to my room with the book in my arms.

 

Just a small corner of the upper story, the space was barely big enough for a twin bed and a dresser. The sheer sky-blue curtains and colorful quilt on the bed were familiar and comforting. I felt cozy here, despite the chill and the gray sky outside.

 

On the dresser were a crystal oil lamp and a small collection of figurines - a blown glass horse with gold trim, a porcelain cat painted with flowers, a pewter stag with delicate antlers and my favorite: a flocked brown bear cub that Paul had given me on my last birthday.

 

Tubes of water paints lay beside them, untouched since summer. Pinned all around the mirror were paintings, my amateur attempts at landscapes and portraits. They framed a face in the glass that I barely recognized. I had to stoop a little to see myself straight on. Awkward and gangly, that was me. My sandy hair was as frizzy as ever, just like Dad’s. It was shaggy now, in need of a trim.

 

Who was this person before me? I had always been “Paul’s sister” at school. He was the popular one, the important one. After news got around about his death, I’d had a month or two of awkward condolences and smiles from his friends. Later, it was back to being ignored or worse. One football player apparently had thought I was out of earshot when he told his buddies, “The wrong Sanders twin died.”

 

I wondered if my family felt the same way. Paul was outgoing, could cheer up a whole room. When I was helping with dishes or painting a picture, Paul amused Michael and Alan with silly rhymes or made Dad crack up with a funny story. It seemed long ago. Dad had hardly smiled since.

 

I shook my head, turning away from the mirror. “Enough of this. I’m on vacation, and I’m not going to think about this today.” I took a deep breath and sat on the bed, turning to the book in my hands.

 

          The title page of the clothbound sea-green book had ornate lettering, but was otherwise unadorned. "Baroëa" was the only word on the page. There was no mention of an author or illustrator.

 

The next two pages were covered with a larger picture of the garden. There were roses and lilacs, flowering vines and columbines. A white bench was cradled amidst the foliage, and a gray tabby cat was curled up in the sun on the lawn. Embedded in the picture was a verse in lovely white script:

 

          Come into the Garden of Summer and Spring

          Where the fruit grow with blossoms and strange birds sing

          Linger in sunshine with laughter a while

          In this, the Lady's fair domicile.

 

The poem barely drew my eyes from the mesmerizing vividness of the illustration. The picture was like a dream: almost too real.

 

          I sank into a reverie gazing at it, imagining the scent of the flowers and the warmth of the sun. The song of the colorful birds seemed almost audible in my daydream. I closed my eyes, and a warm breeze brushed my face. The sensation of the quilt faded from my shoulders. I opened my eyes and gasped.

 

          The Garden bloomed around me, warm and moist as a late spring day. I stood in the center of a circular lawn limned by a red stone border. All around it, blossoming bushes and trees clustered together while smaller flowers hid the soil below. Cobblestone paths led away from the lawn in different directions.

 

          "Hello?" I called. I hesitantly took a step, and then noticed a huge gray ring behind me, standing unsupported on the grass. I stood in its shadow, awed. Whether it was stone or metal was impossible to tell. Strange symbols and decorative etching circled it under the rose and blackberry vines that wound over its surface. I backed away from the beautiful thing, perplexed. Was it a doorway? Where was I?

 

          I surveyed the Garden around me. The fruit trees nearby had a strong, sweet scent, and ripe fruit hung from all their branches as well as blossoms.  It was just like in the verse from the book! Amazed, I reached for a purple pear hanging nearby.

 

          "That's my pear," a young voice said. I turned quickly, an apology on my lips. Behind me stood a little girl, her brown hair falling in long curls from jeweled barrettes. She looked about ten years old. The girl wore a lace dress of white and blue, and was so beautiful that she could have been a life-sized doll.

 

"But you may have it as a gift, if you'd like to be my friend." She laughed at my expression, obviously not angry.

 

          "Thank you," I replied, shyly taking the pear. "Who are you?"

 

“I am the Princess of this Garden, and everything in it belongs to me, except the cat. You may call me Princess."

 

          I looked around for a cat, but didn't see one. "Why not the cat?"

 

         "Inreith belongs to herself. No human can rule a cat.” Princess smiled. “What is your name?"

 

          "I'm Lara.” I paused a moment to bite into the deep purple pear I held. It tasted like the epitome of perfection that all fruits longed to be. I knew I had to be dreaming.

 

I thought of the verse that had brought me here. Was this girl supposed to be the “Lady” mentioned in the book?

 

“You must be part of the story I was reading," I said absent-mindedly, eating more of the pear.

 

Princess didn't seem to hear, or perhaps she misunderstood. "Do you like books? I have ever so many."

 

Before I knew what she was doing, she took my hand and led me running through the Garden. I tossed my core under a bush, hoping the seeds would sprout into more of those wonderful pear trees.

 

A curving path led away from the wall into the depths of the growth. We pushed aside massive jungle plant leaves, and then came to a tall hedge maze. Princess pulled me in, laughing. She must have memorized the way; there was no way of seeing through the tight boxwood. I was head and shoulders taller than her, and the shrubbery still towered over me. Each break in the hedge looked like a simple arch, all alike. Turn after turn I followed her lead, soon having no idea which direction I faced. Passing through a last archway, we were again in the open. There was the white bench from the picture in the book. And there was the cat.

 

          Princess let go of my hand and sat on the bench, picking up some books that lay on it. I noticed others scattered on a blanket under a mulberry tree. There were at least thirty or forty.

 

          "You must read a lot," I said, kneeling down to examine them.

         

          "Oh, I do. It's one of my favorite things." Princess began rattling off the titles of her favorites, none of which I had ever heard.

 

         We reclined on the blanket and flipped through story after story. The books were mostly old-fashioned, with illustrations of dainty fairies and children in clothes out of the early nineteen-hundreds. Some of them were collections of folktales from around the world, just the sort of book I loved. Inreith the cat was very affectionate, and rubbed her gray head against us or lay on the blanket as we read.

 

After a while, I looked up to see a small white table was set with tea and pastries near the bench. I thought it strange that I hadn’t noticed it before. Princess and I ate with gusto, and then lay on the grass watching the rainbow-colored birds and butterflies soar overhead. I felt so relaxed and safe. I wondered idly how much time had passed. The sun hadn’t seemed to move at all. But then, this was just a dream, after all.

 

Princess rolled onto her elbow, looking at me with a sparkle in her eyes. “Would you like to explore the Garden? It’s bigger than it looks.”

 

“Sure!” I eagerly got to my feet. ‘May as well enjoy this before I wake up’, I thought.

 

We trotted through the hedge maze and came out at one exit after another. The first opened onto a riot of purple rose vines growing up stately elm trees. The blooms were as big as cabbages, and smelled sweet but light, like apples.

 

Another way through the maze brought us to what seemed to be a cave made of ivy. The dark, glossy leaves had woven themselves overhead and created a dim hideaway for Princess. This is where she kept her toys and a few other knick-knacks. Fireflies flitted between the leaves, making it easy to see. We rested there for a while before running off again.

 

The Garden was just the kind of place I longed for �" somewhere the things I didn’t want to think about couldn’t touch me, a respite from the roiling uncertainty and pointless demands back in the waking world. Everything I saw, smelled and felt seemed to breathe fresh vitality into me.

 

Princess and I finally went back to the white bench to rest. There was no way I could read any more, though. Here I was in a place out of a fairy tale, and dream or not, it seemed a waste to sit under a tree all day.

 

I strolled around the rest of the clearing. It was grassy and flat, scattered with tiny white flowers. South, a high stone wall was nearly hidden by greenery. I wondered what lay on the other side.

 

As a breeze fluttered the leaves, there was a flash of white under the ivy. I went closer, peering through the dark green. There was a door in the wall. I pulled aside the vines that obscured it. The door was white with iron bands, and had a single strange symbol on it, a kind of four-sided knot with a ring woven through it.

 

          "What are you doing?" Princess’ voice was sharp.

         

          "What's on the other side of the wall?" I asked. "Do you ever go out there?"

 

          "No," Princess said, looking afraid. "Don't ask about it. It doesn't matter."

 

           I was surprised. Then I thought of all the fairy tales I'd read about princesses confined to gardens. "Don't you ever want to leave the garden and see what’s out there? Is someone keeping you here?"

Princess didn't reply, her eyes huge and scared. Finally, she spoke in a hushed whisper. “I don't know that place or wish to leave. The Garden has always protected me.”

 

“Never mind,” I said softly, sorry to see her so upset. “I won’t ask again.”

 

What was she so afraid of?

 

Princess looked relieved, and we talked and laughed for a while. But my eyes strayed back to the door over and over, almost against my will. As lovely as the Garden was, I had a feeling it was only the beginning of the wonders here. A deep yearning pulled me to that gateway.

 

The cat Inreith suddenly rose from where she watched us. She walked purposefully to where I sat on the grass, and looked deeply into my eyes. It was so odd I didn’t know what to do. “What’s wrong, kitty?” I said.

 

“You yearn to see the world beyond the door," Inreith replied. Her voice sounded beautiful and clear, and she blinked calmly at me. I stared with my mouth open.

 

“You spoke!” I gasped.

 

          Princess put down her books. “Lara, no! Please don't go. You won't be able to come back to the Garden for a long time."

 

          "What do you mean?" The cat was talking and now this dream had rules. Nothing was making sense.

 

         Inreith swished her tail. “Come with me.”

 

            I left Princess beneath the tree and followed the cat to the white door. Inreith stared at the symbol on the surface.

 

            “That is the symbol of the Four Worlds,” she said. “You just came from one of them. East lies the Land of Dream, the Gates of which are guarded by the Star Folk. Beyond this door are the hills of Baroëa, an outlying Kingdom of Faërie, and Threshold of the Seventh Gate to the Mortal Realms. Faërie is a changing, immeasurable, sentient place whose Heart cannot be approached unless it wishes. Humans rarely pass through there anymore, though a few who were stolen from your world and their half-Fae descendants still live. The dead have also been known to wander there on their way to the Spirit Realms.” She looked at me as this sank in.

 

Paul. He could be there.

 

Inreith went on. “Think. Consider carefully before crossing that threshold. There is no turning back to the Garden from the Lands of Twilight. But if it is your wish to explore those hills, then you must. You have to decide on a destination, and head toward a ring portal that will take you back home after each leg of your journey. You must complete the quest once you begin.”

 

            I shook my head, frustrated. "Why can't I just go where I want to?"

 

         "Baroëa is a magical place. Don't you know how magic works? You have to know your purpose. And Lara, it is beautiful out there, but dangerous, not like this threshold to your world. You must be sure of your direction before you go."  

 

         "I don’t know.” A burning desire to seek Paul was mounting inside me, but I had never faced danger alone before. How would I defend myself? But then, I wasn’t even certain any of this was real. “Can I have time to decide?”

 

           "Of course," said Inreith. "But don't be long."

 

           Princess took my hand, leading me back into the hedge maze. We took a different path, coming to the north side of the garden. The spot was wilder than the rest of the garden, untended. Flowers and fruiting vines grew in tangles over the trees, completely covering the wall. Princess stopped at a mass of shimmery silver leaves, and pulled them aside, revealing another ring portal. It was edged in red, with green vine carvings.

 

          "Here is your way home," she said. "You can't return the way you came in.” She flung her arms around me. “I hope you decide not to go through the door. Come back soon. I'll miss you."

 

          I hugged her back, touched. Princess was a little bossy, but her sweetness made up for it. I looked around one last time, realizing what a gift I'd been given just to see this place. Whether I ever returned or not, I would never forget it.

 

          I stepped into the ring, seeing nothing but the garden wall beyond. A rush of chill wind whipped my hair, making me shut my eyes tight. The quilt was around my shoulders once more.

 

           I opened my eyes.

 



© 2012 Susanna F


Author's Note

Susanna F
Revised for first person POV.

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Reviews

I like this story. It's a bit of a cross between The Secret Garden and The Never Ending Story. I can't wait to see how it plays out.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Certainly hoping to publish this one, but it's slow going since I work full time. Thanks for all the encouragement. Maybe I'll be done by the end of 2012?

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 7 Years Ago


This tale you weave is utterly addicting. It is my solemn hope that an agent will see the magic of this story and give you the means to share it with the world. Thank you for sharing it with me :) I have had a horrible day and it has brought me joy :)

Best,

CFB

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago


I liked it. Reminds me of Narnia. One of my favorites. I'm still reading.....got to Chptr 3 so far, but it's good. Are you trying to get published too?

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago



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Susanna F
Susanna F

Private, AZ



About
My name is Susanna. I love writing, and have written stories since I could spell. I write mostly fiction and poems, and have had several poems published. As a full-time working wife and mom, I hav.. more..

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