By T.K. Wilson (Rated G)
The white climbing rose that stood on the east side of Keep Meridian’s garden had many names. To rose fanciers, (who came from miles around to view her splendor) she was the Scimitar Rose. To the bards, she was the noble Queen of the Flowers. But to the Elves of Meridian, she was Akasma, or at least the only part of her that remained in this world.
In life, Akasma had been a dryad. The dryad of white roses, the Queen of the Flowers. Her husband was Lord Rhodon, the dryad of red roses, and the King of the Flowers. Aksama was long dead, killed in the Great War of the Darkness, leaving only the special rose that was her signature. The bereaved Lord Rhodon had been in self-imposed exile for many years and had only recently come out of hiding. He was a magnificent seven feet tall, great in dignity and wisdom, melancholic and romantic of temper. He lived among the elves of Meridian now, the master of their gardens. The elves acted like it was only his desire to have people admire his work, but everyone knew the unspoken fact; he wanted to be close to Akasma’s Rose.
Two elf maids sat in the garden of Keep Meridian doing needlework. One had golden hair, and dressed in green, the other deep brownish-black, dressed in pink. Nearby, on the grass sat a tall elf man with long moonlight-white hair, dressed in black. A harp sat on the ground beside the bench the two maids sat on.
“Fingal,” said the dark haired one. “Will you play for us?”
“Very well, sister.” Fingal reached for the instrument and set the harp against his shoulder. He began to play, drawing Rhodon out of the shadows. Fingal paid no mind to the dryad, who appreciated his privacy, and continued playing. Fingal’s sister, Maegan, sang as he played and she stitched; the golden haired elf, their cousin Goewyn, sang along as well. She looked up at Rhodon, nodding a greeting and then returning to her work.
Rhodon watched the elf-lad closely. Foolish to call him “lad”; he was well full grown, but everyone was young to him. The dryad knew Fingal was a deep thinker, a brooder, the sort that, in the days when Rhodon himself was young, would seek to gain honor and renown on the field or on errantry. Alas for him, though, the Otherworld was largely at peace, and every other day, it seemed that some young Lord So and So turned up asking for hospitality! “Too much honey spoils the hive” as his people said, and Fingal was too noble to vie with other warriors.
Fingal lowered the harp from his shoulder as the girls gathered up their sewing things.
“Fingal, you’re brooding,” observed Maegan. “What’s troubling you?”
“It’s nothing, Maegan.”
“You think you can hide anything from me? Have out with it, and be free.”
Fingal sighed, “You know how bothersome all these errants are, practically tripping over knights and lords and princes. Honestly, they ought to save some adventures for the rest of us!”
Rhodon chuckled and emerged from the bushes. “Never let it be said you did not speak your mind, Fingal Fiach Ban.”
The three elves bowed and curtseyed to him.
“Come, come now. How many times have I asked you not to do that?” pleaded Rhodon.
Goewyn laughed and reached out to Rhodon. “Then we’ll be friends, and not lords and ladies.”
She bounced on her toes and hugged her friend. Maegan joined her cousin, smiling and laughing. Fingal smiled at his kinswomen, but didn’t join them. It wasn’t proper for Lords to greet each other this way. Rhodon set Goewyn and Maegan down and adjusted his robes.
“Now, my ladies, I will require your help in the morning. It is time to gather roses to be made into oil, and though I appreciate the garden staff, you are the only ones I trust to tend Akasma’s Rose.”
Both blushed; the compliment was enormous. Rhodon usually tended Akasma’s Rose himself, not even letting the garden gnomes help.
“Of course we’ll come,” said Goewyn. “With great pleasure.”
A trumpet at the gate announced visitors. All three elves’ faces dropped, and Goewyn rubbed her eyes with one hand.
“Oh, bother, not another one.”
“Perhaps it’s not another knight-errant,” said Maegan.
“Sister, we’re not that fortunate.” sighed Fingal.
“You three must go; I will stay. I have no stomach for strangers currently.” said Rhodon.
The trio made their way down to the gate, standing at the front of the company to greet the newcomer. He bore the coat of arms of the King of Allemain, the crowned swan rising. He was a handsome elf, broader than Fingal, and perhaps a bit taller. He was dressed in blue, silver and white, golden hair spilling over his shoulders. Maegan, her parents currently out of the province, approached the knight. She gave a curtsey.
“On behalf of the Lord and Lady Meridian, I welcome you to Keep Meridian. I am Lady Meridian’s daughter, Maegan.”
The knight dismounted and kissed Maegan’s hand.
“I thank you for your welcome. I am Prince Anders, eldest son of King Abelard of Allemain.”
“Am I to assume you are here on errantry?”
“That is correct. I haven’t found any adventures, however.”
“Well, perhaps your luck will change!” said Maegan brightly, silently hoping that would be true and he would move on quickly.
Maegan motioned Fingal and Goewyn forward. “This is my brother Fingal and my cousin Goewyn.”
Anders exchanged pleasantries with the pair, then turned to one of the stable boys. “You, see to my horse.”
Fingal, Maegan, and Goewyn were taken aback, shocked by his rude tone. They exchanged looks, then Goewyn nodded at the boy to take the horse, and they went about their business of welcoming their guest.
Later that evening, the three Meridians walked with Anders in the garden. Goewyn, engaged in telling the Prince the history of various plants in the garden, noticed he was drawn to the rose bower.
“Oh, yes, I was coming to those. Our roses are very famous.” Anders reached out to touch one of the white roses. “Your Highness, I wouldn’t-”
A hand snapped out of the darkness, grabbing Anders’ wrist.
“You may look, but never touch.” intoned Rhodon stepping from the shadows.
Anders pulled free, rubbing his wrist.
“I was about to warn you, my Lord Rhodon is very protective of that plant. Nobody is allowed to touch her without his leave.”
Anders studied Rhodon. “I beg your pardon, sir. I was merely admiring it.” Rhodon relaxed a bit. “In fact I would like to have a cutting to take home to Allemain.”
Rhodon went rigid. “I am afraid you will have to be disappointed.”
“Come now, sir, would you truly miss a cutting? My mother is a cultivator of roses, especially white roses.”
“I will not part with any part of this rose tree.” Rhodon said quietly. Goewyn could tell this was not going well.
Anders reached into a pouch on his belt. “I would be willing to-”
“Hear this, Prince of Allemain,” Rhodon snapped. “I will not give any part of what is mine, nor can it be bought! You would sooner buy the sun and moon than buy any part of my love from me.”
Rhodon disappeared into the foliage, shaking with anger.
“I tried to tell you,” Goewyn said. “Do not fool with a dryad.”
A few days passed with no sign of the Prince of Allemain leaving. In order to get some peace, Maegan, Fingal, Goewyn, and Rhodon set out on an early morning ride. Rhodon walked, of course, but his stride easily matched the elves’ mounts. Fingal rode a black unicorn, Goewyn on a white unicorn of smaller build than Fingal’s stallion, and Maegan on a stag.
“I wish he would just leave,” Maegan burst. “He’s a boaster and a lout.”
“Believe me, I would like to try him on the field, see how well his mouth matches his deeds.” Fingal replied.
“But what can we do? We have no authority to send him away, and if we were to try, it would cause a diplomatic incident.” said Goewyn.
“I have had to set the garden gnomes to guard the roses,” said Rhodon. “He has not asked again, but I have caught him staring at me and Akasma. I do not understand why he is obsessed with her.”
“Probably because you told him “no.”” observed Goewyn.
Maegan dropped the reins of the halter. “I’m sending word to Father and Mother as soon as we get back.”
They were distracted by a sound in the bushes like someone in pain. Goewyn jumped off her unicorn and dove into the bushes.
“Ard Ri help us! Rhodon, come!”
Rhodon went to Goewyn’s aid, Fingal put his steed between the bushes and Maegan as Rhodon and Goewyn emerged. Rhodon carried a human girl in his arms, unconscious, but alive. She was pale and rail-thin; bruises and scratches marred her arms.
“We must take her back to the keep at once!” Goewyn climbed back on her unicorn. “Rhodon, give her to Fingal, he has the fastest steed.”
Fingal took the girl in his arms, balancing her on his unicorn’s back with one arm and holding on to the unicorn’s mane with the other. With a soft word, they were off like a shot.
Fingal trusted his steed to know the way home, and paused to look at the human he was carrying. She was daintily built, and fair with long black hair. The breeze blew her hair away from her ears, revealing the tiniest points; she was elf-blood. She squirmed and pushed back against him.
“Let go! Let go of me! Stop!”
The unicorn stopped immediately, while Fingal tried to calm the girl down.
“My lady, you are safe now, don’t be afraid.”
She opened her eyes and stared into Fingal’s. She stopped struggling and sat quietly.
“What is your name, my lady?” She didn’t speak. “Wise, my lady, those who know your name can control you.”
“I learned that the hard way…” she muttered, leaning her head on Fingal’s shoulder. For some reason, she trusted him.
“What should we call you?”
“Sera,” she murmured.
“I will have you safe in moments, Sera.”
The unicorn sped off like the wind.
Goewyn, Maegan, and Rhodon arrived soon after Fingal, who had taken the girl to the healers. Fingal himself waited inside the healer’s rooms for their return. Maegan ran to her brother and gave him a hug.
“How is she?”
“Hurt and heartsick, from all the healers can tell. She’s been on the edge of death for days; it’s a wonder she could walk at all.”
The healers came out and parted some curtains, revealing the girl, laying asleep and comfortable on the mattress. She was still pale, but having been bathed and her hurts seen to made her look much better. The medicine the healers had given her would make her sleep until at least the evening meal. Maegan looked at the girl and sighed.
“I wish we could stay and look after her, but we have Anders to consider. The healers will take care of her while we entertain our guest.”
It so happened that none of the elves could return to Sera until the next morning. When they got to the healing room, Sera was propped up in bed, eating toast, while Rhodon hovered at her bedside arranging white roses, Akasma’s roses, in a vase.
“Good morning, Lord Rhodon,” called Goewyn.
“Good morning, Goewyn,” Rhodon smiled. “Sera, I would like to present Lady Maegan and Lord Fingal of Meridian, and their cousin, Lady Goewyn.”
Sera bowed a bit from her bed. “Thank you for saving me.”
“You’re welcome,” Maegan sat on the bed and took Sera’s hands in her own. “Who did this to you? I know it may be hard to discuss…”
Sera shook her head. “I can’t talk about it. Not now.”
“That’s alright. Maybe later today you would like to walk around the garden? We would be happy to take you.”
“Don’t you have servants for that sort of thing?”
Maegan laughed. “You misjudge us, we have many in our household that do tasks for us, but we are no strangers to caring for guests and even working for ourselves.”
The tramp of heavy boots signaled the entrance of Prince Anders. He looked about, fixing his eyes on the vase of roses. His eyes darkened for a moment, then he looked at the other elves. He smiled somewhat pleasantly.
“Good morning, Lord and Ladies. I had wondered where you had gone.”
“Prince Anders, I would like to introduce another guest, this is Sera.”
Anders nodded once at Sera, then turned to Maegan. “My horse will need a farrier, see that he’s looked after.”
Fingal stiffened and stepped up to Anders. “Who are you to command my sister, Lady of this house?”
“Lest you forget, I am a Prince. I am of a higher House than you-”
“Aye, but not an older one!” burst Rhodon. “Leave. Now.”
Anders, caught between the dryad and Fingal, slowly left the room.
Fingal took a breath and shook himself. “I am sorry you had to see that, Sera. Prince Anders has been…”
“Naught but a thorn in our sides since he came,” muttered Rhodon, darkly.
“My Lord speaks sooth,” said Goewyn.
“I admit it was a little frightening, but you wouldn’t do me any harm,” said Sera.
“How do you know?” asked Maegan.
“I just do.”
Time passed peacefully. Anders actively avoided Rhodon and Fingal and seemed to be making preparations to leave, much to Maegan’s relief. Sera grew stronger and became an unofficial lady in waiting for Maegan, though she said nothing about how she had come to be in the forest. When she wasn’t in Maegan’s company she could be found under Akasma’s Rose. Nine times out of ten, Fingal would come find her, and play his harp while Rhodon worked and Sera rested. Rhodon imagined his Akasma smiling on the young pair, especially when petals from the flowers, shaken loose by the wind, landed in Sera’s hair. Fingal, for all his carefully crafted stoic exterior, was a gentle wooer, indeed, not even one of King Arthur’s knights could have done better. Though Rhodon was sure he was not intending to pay court to Sera… all the better!
Not all was well, however. Anders’ resentment grew. The dryad wasted his oh, so special flowers on that unspeakably common human girl. Flowers that ought to grace royal courts were given without price to Sera and Goewyn, but never to him. Well, it was time to take matters into his own hands. He would have those flowers, one way or another.
One night, there was a summer bonfire. Everyone, from the Lord and Ladies, to the garden gnomes were in the courtyard, singing, dancing, and feasting on summer delights. While the elves enjoyed their fun, Anders slipped away, making for the garden. Once he was there, he pulled out a pair of pruning shears.
Rhodon suddenly stopped dancing with Goewyn, grasping his chest. “Ah!”
“Rhodon?” Goewyn grabbed his shoulders. “What is it?”
“Something is happening to my trees.” Rhodon took off at a leggy run, Goewyn, Maegan, Sera, and Fingal just behind. With a gesture, Fingal summoned members of the guard to come.
Rhodon burst into the garden to find Anders stealing his roses. “You. How dare you?” Thorns sprouted from Rhodon’s knuckles. “How dare you touch her?! You had no right!”
“The flowers will grow back-”
“This is all I have left of my bride!” Rhodon bellowed. “Do you not understand?”
Anders narrowed his eyes. “Then, why do you give them so freely to those who little deserve them, like that insignificant little human?”
Sera flinched. Fingal saw red. Like lightning he pulled a guard’s sword from its scabbard and launched himself on Anders, holding the blade to his neck. He was breathing heavily, anger was all he could feel.
“Thief! Thief and traitor! You are without honor, Anders son of Abelard!”
Sera grabbed Fingal’s free arm. “Fingal, you’re better than him; have mercy.”
“He has gone too far, Sera. He has disrespected my kinswomen, my house, the Dryad King, you. He should pay in blood for what he did to Akasma alone!”
“Then challenge him the right way, according to your laws.”
Fingal backed away a step, dropping the sword and putting an arm around Sera. “Pack your things,” he snapped.
“What?” stammered Anders.
“Pack your things, I will have your horse prepared, and then you will leave this house. I will write to your royal father and tell him what you’ve done. He is better suited to punish you than I. If you appear in this court again, you will be challenged immediately and we will see who is the better warrior.”
Anders scurried off, overcome with gratitude and fear.
Rhodon gathered up the fallen flowers tenderly. “I will take these to the distillery. They shall not go to waste.”
Fingal sank down on his knees at Sera’s feet. He kissed her hands and pressed them to his forehead. “Thank you, Sera. You stopped what would have been a grave dishonor on my house and kinswomen. I name you elf-friend, and friend to our house.” He raised his head to look up at her.
Maegan came forward. “You have been our guest, but now you are our friend. Will you stay with us and be as a sister to Goewyn and I?”
Sera smiled. “I will. For a time, I will.”
Rhodon looked up at the trellis where Akasma’s Rose grew. Petals floated down, landing as soft as kisses on his face and hands.
“Do you see, my love?” he thought. “Still you make things grow and be at peace.”