The Evergarden

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


A short about a boy, a garden, and what they have to do with dragons.

Submitted: September 17, 2018

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Submitted: September 17, 2018

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The Evergarden

 

 

 

Even though the laughter was a of good natured sort, the child had never understood why his relatives would laugh at him when he told them he'd seen another dragon enter the castle in the clouds. He didn't understand why his teachers heaved one exasperated sigh after another when he related to them his latest biology homework – the pupils kept journals of flora and fauna they saw on their homeward walks – when he jotted down the exact time, place and appearance of each dragon he spied between the school and the house where he lived with his mother. “You need to record real things, boy,” the biology teacher always told him. What did he mean, “real” things? The dragons were as real as the birds. Did his relatives and the teachers think there was something wrong with his description of the cloud-castle, was that why they laughed? Had he made a mistake in jotting down his notes of the dragons and drakelings he saw in the woods and by the old bridge that crossed the river?

It made no sense to him, no sense at all. But then again, adults seldom did. They told him to study and read, yet scoffed at him when he would rather spend time in the study in his home, where books of all sorts and kinds had been gathered by his mother, his mother's mother, and his gramma's mother before them, or so his mother told him.

One day, late in the autumn that was soon to turn into a bitterly cold winter, the child spied another dragon cresting the snow-white clouds above the Blackhead-mountain, the sole landmark in the region. The dragon circled the peak twice before landing within the clouds that hid the castle in the sky.

The child opened his journal, wrote down the time that the dragon dove into the clouds, and closed it. He'd have to make sure he had his times correct, or the sighing would never cease.

Next day, after third period – biology – when the rest of his classmates were lining up for lunch by the cafeteria, the child made his way to the only person at school who took him seriously: the principal, an old acquaintance of his gramma's.

He knocked briskly on the door to the principal's office and, as he was constantly reminded to, waited those five long seconds before the principal's dry voice bade him enter.

The cold grey light of early winter filtered in through the large window behind the principal's desk, opposite the door. The principal's withered frame was a dark, barely distinguishable shape against the first, shy snowflakes falling from the iron-grey clouds that covered everything but the Blackhead, and the castle in the clouds.

“Ah, Roan. What is it, son?” the principal smiled.

“Hello, auntie,” the child answered, making his way through the forever cluttered room. There seemed to be books, statuettes, carvings, pens, papers and things the child had no name for, stacked on every available surface, including the floor. “It's about... about my journal.”

“Ah, the dragons then?” the principal said, the smile reaching her eyes now. “Come, come, have a sit. What have you seen?”

The principal leaned so far forward over her desk her chin almost touched the well-burnished wood. The child pulled a stool from the wall and plopped himself down, withdrawing the journal from his satchel. “Here, auntie,” he said, handing it over.

The principal's eyes glimmered as she went over the pages for the past week. “Ah, I see, I see,” she muttered, eyes flickering over each page and scribbled note. The child had always wondered how the principal, looking as old and dry as blackened bark, had no need of glasses. Even some of his classmates had glasses, and they were none of them yet to see their eleventh summer!

The child fidgeted while the old woman read and his eyes found their way to the painting that hung above the fireplace to his left. They always did.

Three dragons stood, flew and lounged in the background of the painting, set against a starry sky where the two moons hung, one waning, one growing. Despite the night-time, the dragons were depicted in fiery colours, as if sunlight played upon their scales: crimson, emerald and obsidian. On the foreground, a woman cradled a child against her bosom, and the dragons were all gazing down at it with something akin to benevolence.

The painting had always given the child a curious feeling, as if the dragons were giving the mother and child in the painting their blessings. He'd asked the principal about it, many times, but the old woman always brushed it aside with a good-natured laugh. “A fleeting fancy from my youth,” she always said and the topic was dropped. Somehow, it never seemed forced, yet the child, whenever he visited the office, knew his eyes would seek the painting and the question would form again in his mouth, only to be laughed at gently and made to seem unimportant.

For some reason, when the principal laughed at him and his questions, it never irritated him. Maybe because the principal believed him.

“Auntie, who painted that?” he asked, again, for the thousandth time.

“Oh, I'm not certain anymore, son. It is but a trifle from when I was young. I forget,” the old woman laughed, handing the child back his journal. “It has been a while since I was young, after all.” The old woman's eyes twinkled.

“You can't be that old, auntie,” the child protested. “My gramma is barely seventy. That's not so old?”

“Oh, you're a good boy, Roan,” the principal laughed. “But you should run along now, or you'll miss lunch.”

“Yes auntie,” the child said, hopping off the stool and heading for the door.

“And Roan?” the old woman called after him as his hand touched the doorknob. “If you ever need help with something, you know where to find me. I did promise your mother's mother, after all.”

“Yes, auntie,” the child said obediently and closed the door behind him.

 

And so his everyday life carried on: woken up early but his mother, walking to school through the snow that seemed to pile ever higher day after day, daydreaming through the lessons, hearing the sighs, walking back home while keeping an eye on the Blackhead and the castle hanging above it. In the next week, he saw a dragon three times, one once and another twice. Never at the same time, though. Dragons seemed to avoid each other, unlike other things that flew, like birds, that always flocked together.

After school, he would be doing his homework in the study. The problems the teachers handed out were simple, and he took no joy in completing them. After he was done with the assignments, he would pull out a book from the shelves and immerse himself in it, until his mother would call him to supper.

His mother spent almost all her days at home. She enjoyed reading as much as he did, and wrote quite a bit herself. The child often spied her responding to letters, but had never managed to see who the letters were from. He had never caught a glimpse of anyone delivering them, either.

On one such evening, as they sat around the table in their kitchen, a fire roaring inside the hearth, his mother asked him the usual questions that had become a ritual of sorts.

“How was school today, Roan?” his mother was ladling out the heavy, creamy stew that had been on the hearth since morning.

“So-so. It's boring.”

“And your homework? Anything you need help with?”

“No, mom.”

“Not even maths?” his mother smiled, the wrinkles in the corners of her eyes deepening.

“No. Its easier than what you taught me last year.”

“Oh?” his mother raised her brows before ladling out some soup for herself. “What about the dragons, then? Are you getting into trouble over them, still?”

“No. Auntie has been reading my reports. Only she and you believe me, mom.”

“People only believe what they can see, Roan,” his mother sighed as she sat down.

“Why can't they see them, then? I've tried showing them to the teachers, but they just ignore it even when I point them out.”

“People would rather ignore some things, even if they do see them, Roan. It's nothing to commend them for, but you shouldn't blame them, either.”

“Yes, mom.” They had been through this so many times he'd lost count.

His mother smiled knowingly. “What have you been reading, today?”

The child brightened immediately. “I was reading Markrow's History of the Continent again.”

“And what do you think of it, this year?”

As always, the rest of the evening passed in conversation, his mother correcting the child where needed, then asking questions to prod him to think further. Afterwards, they washed the dishes together and the child was told to go wash up, before he would clamber into his bed, under thick furs with a book, reading until he fell asleep. His mother always told him not to sleep with a book, lest he ruin them, but the child could not help it.

It was one snowy winter morning when he had to wake up by himself, to a cold room and a cold house. He debated whether to stay in bed, under his warm blankets, but a nagging feeling that something was wrong bade him rise and make his way to their small kitchen. The fireplace was dead, yesternight's coals frosty within the hearth. The pitcher of water left on the table had grown a crown of ice, and the child scratched his head, trying to figure out how he could pour himself a glass. His throat felt parched.

It took a while before he realized what was bothering him: this was the first time, on a morning that he had school, that his mother had not come to wake him up with a mug of warm milk. The patter of his running feet on the planks of their house echoed in the silence of the frozen morning as he ran to his mother's bedroom.

He found his mother tossing in her sleep, with a fever so high her skin burned his hand as he lay it upon her head. The child tried to wake her, but to no avail. His mother would not stir, yet she kept on muttering in her sleep, words of a language the child had never heard before.

The child thought hard about what to do, then. Go look for help in town, from their neighbours? Certainly, but he could not remember his mother ever inviting anyone to their home. To him, it was a sacred place, a house for only him and her. Nobody should come there. Then, he remembered that the principal had been over for tea, once, years ago. Surely, he could ask the principal for help?

Before he could reach a decision, his mother turned again in her sleep, tossing aside her blanket, revealing something he had been taught one should never sleep on.

Clutched in her mother's feverish arms was a book the child had only ever seen once, for it was usually tucked into the locked armoire in the corner of the study, where his mother kept the books she said were not good for little boys to read.

He told himself he should take the book away from his mother, the way she was tossing in her sleep. It was a heavy, leather-bound tome that could be dangerous if she kept on turning as she slept. He should pull it away and leave it at his mother's night-stand, then go look for the principal.

Before he could do so, his mother turned again, and the book fell to the floor, opening at a page that had been marked by a sheaf of brown paper.

The child knelt to pick it up and close it, but the words on the page caught his eye:

The Evergarden and the Moon Flower, the book read.

With a look towards his mother, he sat down and pulled the book to him.

“The Evergarden,” it said, “is said to exist in many places and nowhere at all, only visible to those of a proper lineage, or those otherwise granted the permission to witness and enter it. It is said to be a large castle located near a river between mountains, a library built upon the delta of a distant ocean, a garden that was lifted to the sky to escape a great calamity that consumed the land. It is said to be these and many other things, yet no one knows if it is any of them. The only thing known for certain is that it exists, as accounts of visitors, who could have had no knowledge of each other, have been and keep being written to this day.”

The child leaned back, eyes wide. The book was just fairytales. He had read many, there were at least four books full of them in the study. He'd never liked them that much, but had read them as he went through the shelves.

His brows furrowed as an idea struck him. It was just another book of fairytales, so why had mother hidden it away with the other grown-up books?

“There are many things and stories associated with the Evergarden, tales of elves, stars, time-travel and dragons, but the one myth always told, no matter which corner of the world you ask, is that of the Moon Flower.

The Moon Flower, sometimes called the Skyflower, the Celestial Flower, or the Seed from the Firmament, is always told thusly: within the Evergarden, there grows a flower the colour of the night-sky. It is a flower no larger than your common orchid, yet it seems to grow larger the longer one gazes upon it. The flower is always said to have the same special characteristics: it never wilts, requires nothing but light to sustain itself, and it never seeds. It is said to be many other things as well, but these vary from region to region: a miracle cure, the fountain of youth, the seed of knowledge; it is told to grant anyone who either eats or possesses it health, knowledge and eternal youth, sometimes many boons, sometimes merely one. What is notable is that the Moon Flower has no curse associated with it, no trade required, as is common with many other such myths.

What is for certain, however, is that the Moon Flower, should it truly exist, is within the Evergarden. It is uncertain whether or not it grows anywhere else, as all accounts of it are from people who have, or claim to have, visited the Evergarden, no matter where they claim to have found it.”

The next page had two pictures on it, one of a large building with walls of glass, titled “The Evergarden”, the other a picture of a flower of a dark blue colour with a leafless stem, titled “Moon Flower”. Both were in lustrous colour, which the child stared at in wonder. He had only seen coloured pictures at school, in the principal's study. It made sense that mother had this book hidden away, it must cost a fortune!

His mother tossed again in her feverish sleep and the child closed the book hastily, placing it on his mother's bedside. He had reached a decision, while reading: he had to get the principal. She was someone his mother trusted, and the principal had said to go to her if something happened, hadn't she?

 

The snowfall was heavy enough to limit visibility to less than a hundred meters in the early morning gloom as the child made his way towards the town, wrapped in his furs. He tried to keep to the path that led from their house to the road, but went astray a few times as it had been covered in fresh snow, cutting his shin on the frozen crust of snow on the side as he stepped through it. Cursing, he inspected his leg, but he had merely skinned a bit of his ankle. Grimacing, he rubbed some snow on it and resumed his walk.

He was halfway to the town before he realized he had no idea where the principal actually lived. He had only ever seen the old woman at the school, or that one time at their home over tea. His feet halted and for a moment he stood perfectly still, bewildered by his own stupidity. He could always go to school and wait for the principal to arrive, but school wasn't scheduled to start until noon today. Maybe somebody at school could tell him where the principal lived. With that thought, he resumed walking. It never occurred to him that there might not be anybody at school before noon at all.

Lucky for him, as he neared the school gate, he saw the janitor ploughing the courtyard, clearing a pathway to the door through the snow. The child stood by the gate for a moment, unsure how to address the man. The janitor solved the problem for him as soon as he noticed the child leaning on the gate, fidgeting.

“School's not on till noon, boy,” the man shouted, wiping his forehead with the back of his gloved hand.

“I know,” the child answered, then remembered his manners. “Sir. I'm sorry sir, but do you know where the principal lives? I need to speak with her.”

“The principal? She lives here, in the old building. Her rooms are around the back.”

The child sighed in relief. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” the janitor shrugged and resumed his work.

The child made his way to the plowed path and begun making his way around the school. The janitor had not yet plowed behind the school and he had to wade through the piling snow again. His ankle stung, and by the time he was standing in front of the old school-building, he was breathing heavily. He knocked and waited. Then, after a moment had passed, knocked again.

Nothing. Was the principal out? In this weather? The child looked around, then, hesitantly, tried the handle. The door opened with a creak.

The boy peeked inside, but couldn't see far. The rooms were gloomy, the curtains in the windows drawn. With one last look over his shoulder, he stepped in and closed the door behind him with a click.

The principal's personal rooms were a stark contrast to her office. Instead of the clutter and chaos, the child was presented with rooms so clean and clear they bordered on ascetic. The only furniture in the corridor further in from the door were a small table – on which nothing sat – and a coatrack which held an array of coats, robes and scarves. What little light filtered through, down the corridor, cast no shadows, making the corridor seem almost surreal in its bare-bones, wooden floor-wall-ceiling appearance. The child swallowed, took off his shoes and walked further in.

“Auntie?” he called. “Hello?”

The first room after the corridor looked like a sitting room, as austere as the corridor: a single, wooden armchair sat before a hearth in which a small flame spat and sang. Open doorways stood both to his right and left. A bookshelf stood on the wall opposite the fireplace, next to a large, curtained window. On the wall above the fireplace, a nail was driven into the wood, from which nothing hung. The boy wondered about it as he walked to the window and pulled aside the curtains.

The iron-grey light of winter spilled in, making him blink. He turned and called out again. “Auntie?”

Hearing no response, he walked to the doorway to his right, peeking into the dark room. It looked like a kitchen, with a long wooden table set against the wall next to the door. A pantry stood open and empty next to a stove that was cold, over which hung a kettle without a lid. A wooden barrel stood in the corner, a ladle standing atop it's cover. The boy approached in wonder, only to see that the ladle was not standing up but hanging from another nail set in the wall behind the barrel.

He retreated from the kitchen and crossed the sitting room to the other doorway, which gave into another corridor. On the opposite end, two doorways waited, one open, one closed. The boy tried the closed one, but it was locked and, calling out again, peeked into the open one.

A small bed sat in the huge room, opposite a fireplace. Another curtained window shut the light out. A large chest sat at the foot of the bed, the lid too heavy for the child to lift. Scratching his head, he opened the curtains and walked back to the locked door. He knocked on it. “Auntie?”

Just then, a shadow flew past the window behind him, and as the shadow passed over him it left him gasping for breath. He rushed to the window but saw nothing. Then, from the sitting room, came the sound of wind and flapping of the curtains.

“Is someone here?” came the principal's voice. “Hello? Who is it?”

“Auntie?” the child called, running to the sitting room. “I'm sorry auntie, I didn't mean to-”

“Roan?” the principal blinked. “Is everything alright, son?”

The boy opened his mouth but fell silent. A painting hung from the wall now, the same one he had so often seen in the principal's study. The three dragons and the woman with a child seemed strangely out of place yet more fitting in the empty room rather than the cluttered study. Here, the painting was the only adornment, and it deserved it. The child nodded to himself.

“Roan?”

His head snapped around. “Mother's sick, auntie. She's got a fever and won't wake up.”

The old woman froze. “When did her fever rise?”

“Last night,” the child said. “I think. She looked fine when I went to bed.”

“I see,” the principal sighed. “I suppose it was time.”

“Auntie?”

“It's nothing. We should hurry. Lead the way, son.”

“Yes auntie!” the child ran out of the room.

The old woman took a long look at the painting on her wall before she followed the boy out.

 

They found his mother tossing in her bed, her fever still rising.

“This isn't good,” the principal muttered, the back of her hand against his mother's forehead. “She's burning up. If we don't do something, she won't last the day.”

“What? But, what, we must, I mean-” the child babbled, panicked.

“Take a deep breath, Roan,” the principal said, her eyes twinkling in his direction. “Tell me, how was she when you woke up?”

“I, I, um...” The child spun in place, pointing to the book and the bed.

“Roan, deep breath.”

He halted and sighed, drawing in a deep, long breath. “She was tossing in her sleep, cradling that book...” he pointed towards the book on the side of the bed. “Auntie, it's a book about the-”

“Evergarden, I know, son.” The principal sighed. “I gave it to her, after all.”

the Moonflower! Auntie, it can cure all illnesses, it-”

“Calm down, son. It's a fairy-tale, nothing more.”

“But the castle in the sky is real, it has to be the Evergarden.” The child rushed to the window, pointing. “There, auntie, see? It's hidden in the clouds again, but it is there, I swear!”

“I believe you, son, but we can't take your mother there like she is now. Besides, how would we ever get there?”

The wind escaped the child. “But...”

“No buts, Roan. Now, go and get some water. We need to cool your mother down.”

“Its frozen solid.”

“Then break the ice. Go, son. Now!” the principal's voice turned hard, a tone the child had never heard her use. He was out of the door, running to get an iron poker from the hearth before he knew he was moving.

As he was hacking at the ice on their water barrel, he again felt that curious shadow pass over him and looked out the window. He saw nothing but a glimmering black and stared. Then, the blackness moved and he could see it was a giant leg. A dragons leg.

“Auntie!” he screamed as he ran back to his mother's bedroom. “Auntie, auntie, there's a dragon outside...” he faltered at the doorway, looking into the empty room. Neither the principal nor his mother were there. The window stood open and the linens were gone from the bed. The precious book was open on the floor by his feet. For a reason he wasn't certain of, he grabbed it and tucked it inside his shirt as he ran to the door, not bothering to put on his shoes.

When he burst out of the house, the dragon was already unfolding its great wings. It stood taller than their house, blocking out the winter sun. The child stared in open-mouthed awe until he saw a linen-wrapped bundle clutched in the dragons claws.

“Mother!” he screamed, running at the dragon. Just then, the giant took off, jumping off the ground, accompanied by a stroke of its wings. The gust almost blew the child off his feet, but he managed to stay up, charging towards the dragon's tail that still hung upon the ground. With a final leap and a reach, he coiled his arm around one of the spines near the very tip of the black, scaly tail.

And then they were aloft, rising through the bitterly cold winter morning. The child would probably have fallen off but found out that the arm he had clutched around the spine was frozen to the scales of the dragon. What little moisture had been on him from breaking the ice in the barrel had now frozen his bear-skin coat to the great black beast he was hanging from, securing him tight. At that moment, he did not have the presence of mind to realize his fortune as he was busy taking in the sights.

Beneath his feet that hung above a great lot of nothing but air, his house was quickly diminishing to the distance. The rational part of his mind told him that he should have been scared stiff off falling, but he was too excited to listen. He could see the school, the old bridge, the woods stretching away from the town, the large river that cut off the road ever since the bridge had fallen in the flood two years ago. Then, clouds covered all that, chilling him to the bone. He had never known that clouds were wet. They looked so warm, floating in the sky. Like bird down, fluffy and soft.

Reality was different, he noted to himself, teeth clattering, and tried to pull his journal out from his coat for notes. Instead, his hands found only the tome about the Evergarden. He froze. His mother would scold him like never before if he got it wet.

Then they made it through the clouds and he could see the castle in the sky. Only that it was not a castle of stone, but a giant building wrought from glass, reflecting the sun above. As he marvelled at this revelation, he noticed something else that was out of place: the air around him was getting warmer. Hot, even, as hot as a mid-summer's eve.

Around the time he realized this, another problem presented itself: as his coat shed its covering of ice, his grip on the dragon was beginning to slip. The great dragon was circling the glasshouse, lower and lower with each revolution towards a field of greenery that surrounded the building.

Just as he was gaping again at the house built of glass, his coat completely melted and suddenly, he was left hanging solely by the grip of his fingers on the spine they could not reach around. He was about to fall, he knew, looking below himself. The dragon circled lower, crossing over the building. With a swallow, the child knew what he had to do. If he fell when the glasshouse was not below him, he was dead. If he let go now, above it, he might survive the fall.

Gripping the book, gritting his teeth, the child muttered a prayer and a curse and let go of the dragon's tail.

The wind whistled past his ears as he fell, not longer than a second or two, before his feet made contact with the glass roof of an outer wing of the Evergarden. The glass gave way, as glass is wont to, and he fell further, the shards reflecting the sunlight around him. His fall was softened by the branch of a flowering tree that broke beneath his weight and finally stopped by a bed of grass and blue flowers.

He lay on his back, confused, breathless, but alive. The book was still clutched in his arms, undamaged.

Or not, he realized with a start. A shard of glass protruded from the leather cover, breaking the sunlight into myriad rainbows that bore into his eyes. He reached to pull it out, cutting his finger in the process. Cursing, he sat up, tossing the shard aside and putting his thumb into his mouth. Tasting blood, he looked around the Evergarden.

A narrow, hand-dug channel of water flowed around him, filling the room with the sound of running water as it irrigated the various beds from which all manner of flowers sprouted. He did not know the name of a single one, and he had studied everything that grew around his house in detail. The sun spilled in through the glass walls and ceiling, and the room was as warm as mid-summer, filled with the earthy smell of new growth and the sweetness of opening blooms. The child marvelled at the sights around him, peeling off his jacket, the tome firmly against his chest.

As his gaze wandered around the sunlit room, the sound of approaching footsteps interrupted his reverie.

“And what in all the worlds is going on here?!” a voice cried out.

The child looked to his right, towards the source of the cry, and saw a man of unidentifiable age. He was balding, but his face was smooth and bereft of wrinkles. Dressed in a grey robe open at front, grey linen trousers and no shirt, his bare, fit abdomen pale in the sun, the man looked very strange to the child's eyes.

As the child was trying to decide whether to hide or speak up, the man's eyes drifted from the broken glass in the ceiling, down to the shards on the floor and flowerbeds, and from the flowerbeds to him.

“You!” the man screamed, setting a brisk pace towards the child who stood frozen, too surprised to move. “What have you done?” the man kept screaming, his finger pointed at the child's chest.

“I, uh,” the child stammered, “I'm sorry, but, I, uh, fell off the dragon.”

The dragon? And which one might that be?”

“Uh, the black one, sir,” the child said, shrinking back and looking down.

“The black one, the black one,” the man screamed, before blinking and quieting. “Black one?”

The child looked up. “Yes?”

“Black one?” the man asked him.

“Yes, I rode it here,” the child answered, confused.

“Black one...” the man muttered. “Black? Black...” His eyes widened. “Black!” And he ran out of the room.

The child stared after him, the book clutched against his chest. “...What?”

He took a look around himself, the glass ceiling, the hole in it, the flowers and trees surrounding him, the canal watering them, looked down at the book in his hands and figured he'd be better off following the man than waiting there for whatever might come.

The corridor from the part of the garden he had landed in to the next one was a scary affair. He had not realized it from the air, but the Evergarden was a group of glasshouses floating in the sky, connected by walkways that, while seemingly sturdy, were entirely made of glass. Even the floor was transparent. The child had to swallow a few times before he could set his foot onto the glass, peering through it into the clouds swirling below. One hand on the glass wall, he began the long walk towards the other end of the corridor.

Just before he was half-way through, a gust of wind shook the corridor and the glasshouse he had left behind, lifting it higher. The child yelped, pressing his back against the glass of the wall, clutching the book in both hands. After a moment, the wind quelled and the shaking stopped. It took another moment before the child could force his legs to move again.

Once he made it across, his feet squarely upon the tiled floor of the next glasshouse, the child turned around to look at the corridor. It looked all but invisible in the sunlight, the smaller garden at the other end like a portal separated from him by a bridge of glittering light. Shaking his head, the child turned and walked into what seemed to be the central part of the Evergarden.

He stepped into a corridor that circled around the glasshouse, the walkway behind him and another doorway ahead. To his left, through the glass, he could see another separate glasshouse floating in the air, connected by another glittering walkway. After considering for a moment, he decided he should probably check the main building first.

Before he could step into the doorway ahead, a familiar voice carried into his ears.

“Whatever took you so long, master Keeper?”

The child blinked. The voice belonged to the old principal, but her tone was unlike anything he had heard from her before. It was almost... regal.

“The Evergarden is honoured by your visit, She-Whose-Name-Is-Sung-And-Whose-Eyes-Glow-As-Stars-In-The-Dark. Whatever you wish for, name it and I shall do my utmost to deliver.”

The child peeked around the corner. Although the walls were glass, the greenery within the glasshouse proper acted as sort of a wall, preventing one from peering inside. The inner garden was a huge, circular room, lined by miniature waterfalls and fruit-bearing trees. Within the inner circle of the trees was a small square, lined by armchairs woven from vines under an opening in the glass roof. A refreshing breeze circulated around the garden.

Inside the room, the earlier robed man was bowing deep before the withered form of the principal, on whose shoulder leaned his mother. From the shaking of her legs, it was clear she was anything but well.

“I wish for the flower. Fetch it,” the principal barked, easing the child's mother onto one of the chairs.

The robed man straightened, obviously shocked. “But, your grace, I-”

“Yes. I know what I am asking. Fetch it, and I will show you.” The principal's back was towards the child, and he could not see her face. The robed man's face, however, was clear to him, and it turned ashen as he watched.

“I- of course, your grace.” The man bowed again, before hastening out of the central room through the corridor behind him.

The child made a split-second decision. While his rational mind was telling him he should step forward and show himself to the principal, the instinctive part of him was reluctant. Something was very wrong about how the robed man had reacted to the principal. He had seemed wary, afraid, even. What was that name the man had used? And how was she here in the first place? Had she flown on the dragon, too?

He realized that he had to follow the man. Now.

Backing away from the doorway, the child began running through the corridor that circled the inner garden. He passed two walkways on his left before he arrived to another that sat opposite a doorway. Looking around the corner to the inner room, he saw the principal kneeling before his mother, holding her hand in both of her wrinkled ones.

The child swallowed and turned away, up the slightly slanted walkway to another floating glasshouse. The corridor shook as another up-draft took to it, but the child did not have the time to be afraid, not now.

He burst into the room and caught the robed man on both knees, in front of a lone flower in the middle of the otherwise sparse garden. The flower was of a dark-blue colour, almost black, and as soon as the child lay his eyes upon it, it seemed to take root inside his irises, growing larger and darker the longer the stared.

“What, who is-” the robed man uttered turning around. “You!”

The child blinked and the flower returned back to its original size and colour, only to start growing again. He took a step back as the robed man approached him, but to his surprise, the man bowed.

“I did not realize you came here with She-Whose-Name-Is-Sung-And-Whose-Eyes-Glow-As-Stars-In-The-Dark. I apologize for any offence I've caused you, your grace.”

The child stared at the bald spot on top of the bowing man's head, unsure what was going on now. “It's, uh, no matter,” he managed to stammer.

“Oh, thank you,” the robed man straightened. “I am sorry, but is there something you need of me? The great one has called in a favour which I must carry out. Can you wait?”

“Actually,” the child spoke, addressing the man as he would have one of his teachers. A plan was falling into place within his mind. “She needs the flower for my mother, whom she brought with her. I wish to take it myself,” the child lied through his teeth, playing along. This man obviously mistook him for someone else, but... If he could make do, he would.

“I... see.” The robed man rubbed his chin, thinking. “That does place me in a bit of a bind, your grace. You see, I owe her a favour which I must fulfill, and she's called it in. If you do not-”

“Whatever it takes, I will.” The child said with confidence that surprised himself.

“I see. What are you willing to give for the flower to bloom and bear seeds, then?” The robed man's eyes narrowed. “Might I ask for your name, your grace?”

The child blinked and looked down to dodge the man's eyes. His eyes settled on the tome he was still holding against his chest and pulled it out of his furs. The robed man's eyes widened as soon as he saw it.

“But, that is...” he stammered. “How do you have that?”

The child ignored him, leafing through the book to the picture of the Moon Flower. He read the description again, and frowned. The flower was supposed to bear no seeds, nor was a trade required, it said, yet the man asked for something in return.

“Are you lying to me,” he said, looking up.

The man took a step back. “I- I do not know what you mean,” he stammered.

“I am under the impression that the flower is freely given. That no trade is required.” The child was surprised at how steady his voice was. “Am I wrong?”

“No, but, you see, your grace,” the robed man said, wringing his hands. “What you're asking for means my death. Am I wrong in trying to prevent it?”

“What?” the child asked despite himself.

“Yes, your grace. For the flower to seed, something of equal value must be sacrificed. A life, a gift, an item of exceptional value or power. Anything that the flower deems worthy.” The robed man leaned forward. “I'm sure you've something that-”

“And whatever might be going on in here,” a voice rang out.

The child and the robed man spun around to face the principal as she glided into the room, her glittering eyes cold as black flint.

“I- Your grace, I'm sorry, I will-” the robed man stammered and was cut short.

“Silence,” the principal said without looking at him, her eyes on the child instead. “Roan, what are you doing here. How are you here?”

“I'm sorry auntie,” the child said, eyes downcast. “I flew on a dragon that came here. How are you here, auntie?”

“On a dragon?”

“Yes, auntie, a black one. I got hold of its tail.”

“Hold of its-” the principal mouthed and blinked.

For a moment, silence held. Then, the old woman burst out in a roaring laughter so loud the child would not have thought it possible for such a great sound to come from her withered frame. He shared a confused look with the robed man.

“I see, I see,” the principal said after catching her breath. “And whyever did you ride the dragon here, Roan?”

“I read about the flower and the garden, and thought we could use them to save mother,” he answered honestly, lifting the book. “Even though you told me not to, Auntie.”

“I see,” the principal nodded. “So, you rode my tail here in order to help your mother, is that it boy?”

“Yes, I-” the child froze. The principal had just said something completely unimaginable, had she not? “Your tail, auntie?”

“Yes.” The principal cocked her head. “What, did your mother never mention it?”

The child shook his head mutely, prompting another roar of laughter from the old woman.

“Well then, Roan,” the principal said after a moment, “it seems we had the same idea. Which brings us back to you, master Keeper.”

The robed man seemed to wither under the old woman's gaze.

“What were you up to with my great grand nephew?”

The robed man's eyes opened wide as saucers. “Your great...” He fell on his knees. “I am sorry. I apologize, I had no idea he-”

“Save it,” the principal said mildly. “Tell me, what were you talking of?”

“Oh, simply the flower and how it needs sustenance to bear seeds,” the robed man babbled.

“Roan?” the principal asked.

“He was telling me how we'd need to use an item or a life in order to make the flower bloom, and how he was sure I had something of value enough, auntie.”

The robed man grew paler and paler as the child spoke, wringing his hands almost in spasms. “I, no, I never-”

“I see,” the principal said, turning her now dark eyes back towards the robed man. “What have you to say for yourself, master Keeper?”

The man opened his mouth but nothing came out.

“I see.”

At her words, the robed man hung his head, dejected. Then, he got up and approached the flower at the centre of the glasshouse, his steps slow and dragging.

“What's he doing, auntie?” the child asked.

“Enriching the flower, Roan, as he is supposed to,” came the answer in a flat voice.

“Why's he looking so... listless?”

“Because it's going to cost him his life.” The same deadpan tone.

“What?” the child yelped, taking another look at the robed man's back. “He's going to die?”

“Yes, Roan, he will die, as all living things do.”

“But... Can't we-”

“No, Roan. He has a pact to keep. One he made with me that saved his life, before you were even born.”

“But...”

“Roan,” the principal sighed, placing a hand on his shoulder. “You are a kind boy, which is commendable of you. But that kindness is misplaced here. The Keeper of the Garden knew this day would come. He's been prepared for it for a long time. Let him have his dignity in following through on his word.”

“But...” the child muttered, clutching the book. An idea struck him. “Gardener,” he shouted, halting the robed man in his tracks. “What would it take to make the flower bloom? Is this tome of value enough?” he asked, raising the book.

“Roan?!”

The robed man looked over his shoulder, his eyes sad. “I appreciate it, your grace, but the book alone would never be of equal value to your mother's life. It is something I wrote, after all.”

“To lure unsuspecting victims here?” the principal asked, voice dark.

The robed man merely shook his head.

“What would it take, then?” The child asked, taking a step forward.

“I-” the robed man's eyes unfocused. “With the book, it would take a blessing, a gift of an origin not from this plane, the life of someone accursed, another instrument of great power, a ritual of forbidden knowledge, or...” the man closed his eyes. “As always, as was intended, my life.”

The child thought furiously, his mind swirling in circles, his thought like ants in a disturbed hive, with no idea where to go but certain they had to run about. Then he remembered. He looked down at the closed tome in his hands and the sentence jumped at him:

 

The Evergarden is said to exist in many places and nowhere at all, only visible to those of a proper lineage, or those otherwise granted the permission to witness and enter it.”

 

“Why can I see this place, auntie?” his voice asked.

“Roan, you should not-”

“Auntie?”

Silence fell. Another up-draft shook the walkway that connected the garden of the Moon Flower to the central one. The robed man stood stock still, his vacant eyes staring at the old woman and child who were debating his fate.

“Roan...” the old woman finally spoke. “You can see this place because the blood that flows through your veins is not entirely of this planet. It gives you the ability to perceive things not of this place.”

“And this ability,” the child said, “is a gift, is it not?”

“In a way,” the principal hesitated. “Roan, I know what you're thinking. You mustn't. It will only-”

“But auntie, if I do not, someone has to die. Its just... wrong.”

“Roan. If you do this, you will never see your mother again.”

Everything froze. The child stared into the dark eyes of the old woman, who was a dragon, who was related to him, who was the principal of his school, who had always looked at him with kind eyes and an understanding smile where everyone else merely laughed.

“What are you saying, auntie?” His voice shook.

“The flower is not all powerful,” the principal said, voice grave. “While it can cure your mother, the power it has is limited to the Evergarden. If your mother wants to live, she can never leave the garden, or she must go to where the flower and the garden originated.”

“Where is that?” the child asked. He was delaying, he knew he was delaying, but he could not help it.

“Far away, son. So far you would not be able to imagine. In another world of worlds, beyond the sky and the sun and stars.” The principal sighed. “I should have taken you both there before any of this happened, before staying on this world aggravated your mother's illness this far.”

“You can still take us after-”

“No, Roan. If you forfeit that part of you, you will never leave this world. You will be bound to it, forever. Alone.”

The child quieted, looking at the tome in his hands, his own small fingers, the hole in the leather cover of the book.

“Roan, think. Is the life of a stranger of such value to you that you should sacrifice your own future for it? The life of a stranger who tried to trick you?”

“He only wanted to live, auntie. Can you blame someone for not wanting to die?”

“Death is inevitable. We only choose the manner of ours, be it noble, wanting, or pitiful.”

“Even so, Auntie. I would not want to die. I'm sure he would do the same thing for me.”

The principal turned her dark eyes towards the robed man who merely looked away.

“Roan,” the old woman said, kneeling in front of the child. “What you're thinking is noble. I commend you for it. But I must ask you, are you prepared for what you're suggesting? A lifetime, alone. You will never see your mother again. The garden will disappear from the sky for you. You will never-”

“I'm sure, auntie.” The child said, looking the old woman squarely in the eyes. “It is the right thing to do.”

A moment passed in silence. Then the old woman sighed and stood up.

“THEN LET IT BE SO!” her voice suddenly boomed in the glasshouse, shaking it, shattering several glass-panes in the walls and roof. “LET IT BE KNOWN THAT ROAN, SON OF MY KINDRED, PAID THE PRICE FOR SOMEONE UNWORTHY. LET IT BE KNOWN AND NEVER FORGOTTEN.”

The robed man took a jerky step forwards, taking the tome from the child's hands. “Thank you,” he muttered, eyes bleary. “Thank you.”

The child could only nod and watch.

The robed man, the Keeper of the Garden, walked to the flower, the book in his hands. He set the leather-bound tome in front of the flower before grasping the stem gently in both of his hands. He spoke words in a tongue the child did not know, then looked over his shoulder.

“Your word, Roan,” the principal said, her voice raised but sad. “The contract cannot be fulfilled without your agreement.”

The child swallowed. He'd known this was coming. “I give freely what is required of me.”

Immediately, he felt a pit opening within his gut, the same feeling as when the dragon – his auntie – had taken flight earlier. Something was being torn away from him, taken away, and he was falling, falling. He could not see anything, only glittering rainbows and a pair of dark eyes and a dark, dark blue that threatened to blot everything else out.

Then, there was a warm touch upon his cheek. A hand, a gentle hand, that remained for a short while.

Then it was gone, and he was falling, falling down. Towards nothing, there was nothing beneath him, only the cold, white world of winter, where nothing awaited him but-

 

 

 

Roan jerked awake in his cold room, under heavy blankets, inside the cold house where he lived alone. He stared at his hands, almost numb from the cold. Unwillingly he got up and pulled his feet to the kitchen, where he broke the ice on the water-barrel for a sip to drink. The hearth was cold, but he did not have the time to light it for a warm breakfast. School would start in less than half an hour. He had to dress up and get moving.

 

The walk to school was as dreary as always. He managed to keep to the path but that did not stop the snow from getting into his boots. He paused at the old bridge, gazing up to the everlasting cloud bank above the Blackhead, but could see nothing within it. The Evergarden had been gone from him for the past few years.

He looked at the water running under the bridge, too swift to freeze over in the late winter. He would be graduating today, ready to move to another school in the capitol. His tuition had been paid by someone unknown, whom he presumed to be related to the Evergarden. Maybe even the Keeper. He'd not seen the man since, but food and fresh water had kept on appearing inside his kitchen ever since that day he visited and left the garden forever.

 

As he neared the school yard, the janitor called out to him.

“Roan! Roan!” the man waved at him from the doorway that led to the kitchen. “Over here boy, the wife's got some eggs and bread ready for you.”

Roan could not help smiling as he walked into the warm room and sat himself at a table. The janitor's wife, who ran the school kitchen, placed a platter of rye bread and eggs in front of him, accompanied by a mug of hot milk.

“Here you are, sonny,” the janitor's wife said, patting Roan's head affectionately. “I still tell you, you should come live with us. Now that Caler's moved out, we've nothing but room. We could fit you easy, at least until you have to move to the capitol, you know?”

“Thanks again, but no, Michelle,” Roan answered with a smile. The janitor and his wife had been trying to get him to move in with them ever since his mother and the principal disappeared.

“Well, we'll still keep you fed, boy,” the janitor said grabbing a chair opposite him. “And not because the principal told us to, mind you. You're practically kin to us by now. There's no need to-”

“Thank you, truly.” Roan bowed his head. “But I do not wish to leave my home. It is...”

“I know, boy,” the janitor sighed. “I know.”

 

They sat in the classroom for a few minutes before the teacher called them into the assembly hall. They walked into their predetermined seats in the front rows, waiting for the principal to appear and present them with his speech and their scrolls that served as proof of graduation.

Roan snoozed through most of the ceremony, only woken up when the girl sitting next to him elbowed him awake. It was his turn to get up on the stage and accept his scroll and funny handshake.

When he left the assembly hall, scroll in hand, again wrapped in his furs against the wind, he nodded and shared a few handshakes with his classmates before trudging towards the back gate of the courtyard.

The janitor and his wife caught him there, teary eyed and arms open. Roan could not refuse and sank into their bear hugs.

“Promise me,” the wife slurred, “that you'll at least write us, Roan. I'll worry otherwise.”

“I will.”

“Boy,” the janitor said, shaking his hand. “Know that our door is always open for you. If you find yourself in a spot where you've no way forwards...”

“I know,” Roan smiled, getting teary-eyed himself. These people had received nothing from him, yet...

“We'll come see you, once you're settled in,” the janitor said. “Until then, boy. Keep well.”

“I will,” Roan affirmed, shook the offered hand again and turned away, towards home, an empty house.

 

He stopped at the old bridge that crossed the river that refused to freeze, as had become his habit.

He put down his bag from which the scroll protruded, opened his jacket and pulled out his notebook. He turned his eyes towards the Blackhead and the eternal cloud bank. For a long time, Roan stared, never blinking. He stared, until his eyes began to sting. He stared until he could not keep his eyes open without forcing them with his fingers.

Still nothing. The Evergarden was gone.

He swallowed the sigh that tried to escape him. He figured he had been standing on this bridge too often, sighing, lately.

He pulled his watering eyes away from the sky above the mountain and penned in his daily note.

Just then, suddenly, a gust of wind picked up, sending his coat flaring and the pages of his notebook turning. A shadow passed over him, and as it did, it left him gasping for breath. His eyes flashed to the sky, but all he could see were the clouds above the mountain slowly thinning as they swirled, until he could see into what lay within.

Nothing. Nothing at all.

A giggle escaped his mouth, stolen away by the wind that did not seem about to falter. It pushed away the clouds above him but left the cloud bank above the mountain undisturbed.

Roan smiled and ripped off a page from his notebook. His report for today. The wind tore it from his fingers, sending the page with his neat handwriting soaring up towards the empty skies above.

 

 

The bird that never learned to fly...

The bird never forgot the sky.

Because the sky belongs to no one.

Because the sky exists solely for being alone.

The bird never forgot this,

and so it never took flight.

The bird never wished to disturb the sky.

 

 


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