Linda Wojtowicz

THE MAGICIAN'S GARDEN

The king died on a day when the sky was gray and the clouds fat with the promise of rain. His son, Vakeus, hair black as a starless night, eyes blue-grey like the Aritis flower that blooms before winter’s first snow, was rumored to have studied magic. 

     When he appeared before his subjects, for that is how he thought of them, he removed one of two gold rings from the middle of his left hand and sent it swirling above his black curls. The gold band expanded and from it eight tapered points appeared before settling comfortably on his head.

     The old king had not much bothered them, but Vakeus, slipped into their dreams.  Dreaming with them he listened to their hopes, their desires, their strengths and their weaknesses. Then slowly, he began to breathe into them his desires. "Bring me the chestnut colt your mare bore last night." "Gather the blueberries from Farlegut Forest."

     The baker was first to complain. His heart pounding, the words catching in his throat he went to the king, the smell of freshly baked bread clinging to his clothes. "Your majesty, if I give you the loaves you ask, the village will be without bread. We have no flour ‘til Thursday next."

     Vakeus sat on his throne, his ermine and purple garments wrapped tight about him, leaving bare only his wide-palmed hands.  Unsmiling, unresponsive, he let the baker continue -- couldn't he perhaps take half, he could send the rest when the new flour was ready.  Still, the baker's words were met with silence. Exhausted, his arguments ceased. The magician commanded, yet again, "Fifty loaves and twenty cakes tomorrow."

     "Your majesty, please reconsider." With a wave of his hand the baker was dismissed but Vakeus could hear his anger - how unreasonable, how unjust, he would not do this thing.  Before he reached the gates to the castle grounds, the baker felt his feet grow cold his blood turning to icicles. He looked down to see them encased in stone, and the stone like a living creature crawling up his body.

     Worried, the wife came seeking her husband. She found him before she found the magician, and even as the curses reached his ears; she too was turned to stone. 

     In time, the villagers learned not to argue with their king but not before many hardened into statues or sunk into the earth where their feet became the roots and their bodies the plants that grew wild in Vakeus's garden.

     While the villagers felt they could do nothing against such power, they talked often of how no woman would marry him and have his children. It was a light in the darkness for them. "Perhaps, we will not be free," they would comfort each other, "but our grandchildren's children will not live under his rule or that of his heir's."

     To stop these voices, one night, Vakeus sent his desire forth with a single command and purpose -- find a bride. It reached out and found beauty, yet always intermingled with fear. Then Vakeus remembered a woman at the edge of a crowd, hand clinched in another’s, straight, not cowering. This, rather than her mass of russet curls and her green eyes drew him to her. Her name was Anaah (A-Neigh-A).

Chapter 2

     Spring had not yet settled. The winds still brought a slight chill. They flattened the grasses, and pulled at wisps of hair Anaah had not managed to capture in her kerchief.  She was planting late blooming flowers among those of tulip and daffodil when Vakeus found her.

     She felt the magician’s presence, and he, her anger.  " What is it you want?" Anaah demanded, patting the last bulb into place and wiping the earth from her hands.  “We've given all you've asked. Is there still more?"

      "I've taken as king, what is mine to take, he replied," and paused.  It was the pause that told Anaah, Vakeus meant to change her life - the life she loved.  "You are younger and braver than most.  A king needs heirs and the people a queen. In three days you will come to the castle.”

     Anaah scrambled to her feet. The trowel she’d been holding thudded to the ground.  Her face flushed, she shouted in the direction from where the voice came. "You cannot tell me who I should marry!  I’ll not marry you. You can’t make me. Do you hear? I won’t marry you!"  But there was no reply.

     It was a foolish challenge, and she later wondered where it had come from.  Of course, as king, he commanded obedience.  But she did not have to accept or agree.  She had objected.  Still she lived.  Her breath was unsteady and her heartbeat was rapid, but she also felt her determination filling her with inner strength. He had not turned her into a statue immobile until they wed, nor thrown anger back at her.  He had put up with her defiance.  She had three more days to be at home, in the garden, and with Salarius.  She would go to the palace as commanded, but not marry the king.  How this was possible her mind could not say, yet her heart was resolved.

     Each evening Anaah sat on a small painted stool by the side of the road waiting for Salarius.  He was a shape on the horizon, when she recognized him by form and movement. The closer he came the more closely the picture in her mind merged with that of the man framed against the blue sky and the open fields. Anaah rose to meet him, the wind pushing her forward, until the face she loved clearly emerged. She stood, watching him approach.  Salarius was thinking about crops and work unfinished. His eyes were cast on nothing in particular his mind in thoughts rather than what surrounded him, so he did not see Anaah. But his footsteps, firm and directed, were bringing him to her. She watched him push against the same wind that had moved her forward. Brown cloak thrown across right shoulder, a leather satchel looped over his head resting on the other, and hair like the ginger sprinkled in cakes and cookies, in a loosely bound plait. Anaah waited for that moment of awareness when he knew she was there. When it came, he looked up from his musings, and smiled, and she could not help, for all her concern, but return it. Reaching Anaah he bent and kissed her. His touch was light and feathery. He smelled of the wind and the earth that clung to him. Putting his arm around her, together, they walked home. In time, the arm slid down and looped around a hand cooled by spring breezes and his fingers intertwined around hers.  A small almost inaudible sigh escaped from those delicate nostrils. He turned and looked at her as only one who loves can.  Anaah not ready to speak, extended the space a while longer, where only the two of them existed. Then she gave a slight tug on this hand, “Salarius, let’s sit for a moment.”  She knew what she would say would destroy their peace, so for a while she waited her head leaning against his shoulder. “The magician was here today and he demanded I marry him. I am to leave for the castle in three days.” The slapping and whirling of the wind concealed the words that followed, but the trees saw the anger and the heated discussion that followed.

     For three days Salarius’s arguments continued, but Anaah refused to agree. On the evening of the third day they waited together. Salarius stoked the fire while Anaah looked on, the flames patterning the floor and walls of her cottage. They were silent, yet each held the same hope, that perhaps Vakeus had forgotten his promise. They had eaten and were sitting by the fire when the wind blew a white paderia blossom into the room. It rolled across the floor and stopped at Anaah's feet. Salarius did not see her stoop to pick up the delicate blossom so unusual for the early spring. But as its fragrance filled the room he turned to see her stroking the petals. She heard his warning from a distance, but the petals had been touched and Anaah found herself in Vakeus's castle.

     She was dressed in silks of emerald green trimmed in gold and intertwined within her hair were several white paderia.  Around her neck teardrops of moonstone ands rubies hung along a chain of finely worked gold. The magician sat before a blazing fire legs outstretched toward their warmth, like anyone at the end of a day, she thought.

     Vakeus rose from the chair where he was sitting, when he felt her thoughts on him. Her eyes followed. Perspiration formed on her brow, and her reflection in the mirror, pale as the paderia that adorned her hair.

     "I am not so unlike my subjects Anaah," he said answering her thoughts, "Except I have power and knowledge to take what I want.  As my queen, you would be comfortable, and all would respect you."

     "I was already comfortable before you pulled me from my home. What value respect, when there is no love?"

     If her defiance displeased him, he didn’t show it.  His mouth changed from sternness into a smile, and he looked at her their eyes meeting. She held his gaze, but stepped back from his amusement and appraisal. "I'll not rush our marriage, Anaah, but neither will I change my mind."

      With those words he left, his steps echoing and filling the room.  Anaah shouted to the closed door and the magician beyond that portal, "I'll not marry you Vakeus! I'll never be your bride!" Grabbing a pillow from the bed she flung it across the room. Two more followed before she plunked herself in the chair that faced the hearth. She sighed, took a deep breath, slowly exhaling. For now she was alone and there was time - time for something other than a marriage she hadn’t chosen.

     The next day and for many thereafter Anaah wandered exploring the castle.  It seemed strange to her that there were no other people, yet meals were served, dresses laid out, lights extinguished, and everything clean and orderly.  Most of the time she was left on her own, and this was a relief.

     One day, pushing open a small oddly shaped door she found herself staring out onto trees and plants twisted and bound to each other. With the wind on her cheeks and the sun flitting in and out of the trees, she took a tentative step forward. Each additional taking her away from the door where she had so recently stood.  Drawn by momentum not her own, one foot moved obediently in front of the other.

         Pushing aside vines that swung from trees and moving in and out of puddles and splashes of sunlight, Anaah stepped over plants wrapped around each other, and hurried past statues of children, adults, and animals frozen in stone. Some she recognized - the dairyman, who had refused the king the last of his milk, the child who had dared call the king cruel, but others she did not.

    Finally, she stopped beneath a tree whose trunk was as wide as five pairs of arms tightly stretched and linked. Anaah looked up searching for blue sky and white clouds, but saw only bare intertwined branches, and high above, a canopy of green leaves -- no sky, no birds, no nests or spiders spinning webs, not even one ant scurried along the crevices of bark.     

     Beneath the tree stood the statue of a man. He was clutching a fiddle in his left hand.  His right was clenched in a fist at his side. The statue was worn, the hands nicked and gouged.  Involuntarily, Anaah looked at her own hands, smooth and soft. She raised them to her cheeks, remembering the natural blush the wind gave. "How would it feel," her thoughts asked, "if instead, the wind did not redden, but wore away your cheeks?  Or if you fought for sunlight and room to grow?" She stooped, unaware that her body had bent to caress the dried brown leaves of a plant growing at her feet.

     "If you continue to refuse me Anaah, this garden could become your home."

     She pivoted, her heart beating loudly, expecting to see Vakeus, but no one was there, only, the same whispered words repeating in her head, “this garden could become your home.”

     Placing her hand on her heart to still it; Anaah sank to the ground. Pulling her knees toward her chest, her hands resting on top, she bent her head, tucked into the fear she was feeling. The fragrance of earth and its support beneath her soothed, and in time, she stretched and opened.  She realized Vakeus could use fear to bend her resolve.  Even now, though he said nothing, she could feel him watching, waiting.  What had he told her that first night, “I will not rush our marriage, but neither will I change my mind.”

     Placing her hand on the fiddler’s clenched fist Anaah pulled herself erect, then turned to gaze at the man, rather than his stone encasing. She didn’t recognize him, probably from another village or town, now trapped against his will. Did he have family who loved and missed him? "We are kin," she whispered. "You too defied Vakeus.  If this garden is to become my home,” she told him, “I will know it better.” So as spring ripened and mellowed bringing with it warm days and gentle breezes, Anaah spent most of her time in the garden among the statues and plants.

 

Chapter 3

     At the end of each day, if Vakeus had not come to ask for her hand in marriage, Anaah murmured her thanks. She felt at peace and secure in the garden as she slowly began to clean and care for the statues, and after speaking with Vakeus, trimming the plants.

     "Trim the plants if you like," he’d said.

     "What about the people?" It was not an easy question to ask, but she had to know "the people, will they bleed and die?"

           "I wouldn't kill my subjects, Anaah, only have them obey."                    "You would do better if they loved you, then you’d have more subjects and less statues and plants," she’d replied, before she could stop the words.

He’d looked at her with scorn. "And what do you know about running a kingdom, ruling a land, having the things you require?"

     She leaned over and plucked five grapes from a bowl on the table beside her, and held them out on the palm of her right hand. They waited, their plumb insides pushing against their burgundy skins. "What can you do with them?" she challenged him.

     Without hesitating, Vakeus replied, "Eat them, make wine, feed them to you." He stepped closer. Anaah backed away, the grapes jostling lightly one against the other. "She stopped; they nestled comfortably, next to one another. Then in a quick motion, she clamped her hand around them. One escaped whole. The others lay squashed or bruised. "Now what can you do?" Glaring at him, she turned and left.

                                                   . . .

     When Anaah had vanished, Salarius had not stood long with his mouth open and his heart pushed tight against his chest. He had gone to the villagers seeking help. Though they sympathized with his sorrow and understood his fear, their replies were the same.

     "You must accept your loss and Anaah her fate."

     "The magician can't be thwarted."

     "I lost a husband."

     "I a child"

     "We are powerless against his spells of change."

     Salarius pleaded with them, "Together, we can think of a plan. Before, each went alone, so they returned without hope."

     "We cannot defeat the magician," said the miller's wife. "There's no virtue in all of us becoming plants and statues. Now we live in fear and sorrow, but at least we live.  Someone must till the fields, feed the animals and bless the dead. Each house has lost someone.  At least Anaah will not be changed to stone and with time, you will learn to love another.”

     Discouraged, Salarius returned to Anaah's cottage. The villagers had expected them to marry. Yet, now that the magician had taken Anaah, they urged him to forget her, find another, as if love could be untethered like an ox from a cart.

     So while Anaah walked with her thoughts in the magician's garden, Salarius sat or worked in Anaah's garden, both searching for an answer.       Each day Anaah wandered further into the garden. Spring was giving way to summer, and while flowers bloomed outside, in the magician’s garden, there was no riot of color. Only the undulating warmth of the days told of the change of seasons.

     On one of these days as she walked, the trees began to thin until they were no more.  Anaah found herself facing gates that led out of the castle grounds. She had never before thought of escape; she knew Vakeus would find and bring her back.  But today facing the gates, the thought of walking through them filled her heart with a yearning for village and home. She stepped toward the tall ornate bars. They were like two huge windows.  Once opened, they could banish confinement and bring freedom.  The nearer she came the feelings intensified, as if the entire garden was filling, pushing it’s own yearnings into her.  The nearer she came the yearnings of the entire garden.  Her hands stretched to touch the cool narrow bars, but instead, broad palms with fingers like iron grasped her. She tried to pull away, but Vakeus held tight. "This is your home Anaah. You have no need for others. You will be my queen. Others will come to you at my bidding, but you will never go to them."

     Anaah pulled hard against Vakeus's grasp, until he let her hands slip free. The red imprints of his fingers remained, bright like the berries the villagers used for dying cloth. "I’ll never marry you," she shouted. "I’d rather live in the garden as statue or plant."

     Her words surprised him. Defiantly, she stared into eyes without compassion, without emotion, and he stared into ones fiery and fierce, and found himself, yet again, drawn to her. He stepped forward to try again to explain his position, but Anaah backed away, keeping her distance, mindful of his power. "Have I not been patient, given you time, waited for you to be ready?  You cannot win in this matter Anaah." For the first time his voice was without threats, so she put aside her anger in the hope of his understanding. "I do not wish to be queen. I do not want to be forced to marry when I have already made my choice."

     "I hoped with time your choice would change. There are advantages to being queen."

     "Then chose someone who wants those advantages," she replied.

     "The people know and love you, Anaah. They do not disapprove of my choice," he responded, beginning to tire of the conversation, for it was a repetition of the one he constantly faced. He listened to her tell him again of her desires, her resolve.  He could wait. In time, everything became his.

                                                .  .  .  

     In Anaah’s garden tightly shut buds waited next to petals already open. The lower blossoms of the rose bush leaned into the violets growing beside them. They formed a purple trail to the bulbs Anaah had been planting when Vakeus found her. Tulips and daffodils huddled together, their cupped faces turned toward the sun.

     Salarius pruned and weeded. Like the dry earth without rain, Anaah’s absence was a desert in an ocean of flowers.   He missed her, longed to find the way out of their problem.  He was used to solutions, to moving obstacles. Yet, neither reason nor force provided an answer.  

     "We can tell you," whispered voices,  "we can tell you." Salarius saw the

flowers bending and swaying.  “Yes,” they softly chorused, “listen to us, to us, we can tell you. Closer, come closer.”  Salarius leaned forward, "You can offer what the magician does not and the villagers will not because of fear.   You can offer love.  Serve the magician, and you serve Anaah."

     “Would serving his enemy help Anaah?   It was hard to imagine such a thing, but he had come up with nothing.  Standing and whipping his earth-blackened hands on his trousers, he told the flowers, "Tomorrow I’ll leave," and they nodded in agreement.

 

Chapter 4           

     Anaah was in her favorite part of the king’s garden weeding and pruning, wishing she had seeds. Seeds would bring new growth, perhaps flowers. She had become use to Vakeus’s abrupt appearances, so was not surprised when she looked up to see him.

     "This place pleases you?" he asked.

     "It’s the one thing that brings me pleasure,” Anaah answered.

     "I'd have your day filled with queenly duties, Anaah. When will you give up your resistance?  When the spell is lifted, there’ll be no garden. My gift to the people will be to restore their loved ones to them. Only you can make this happen. I've waited patiently. I'll not wait forever.” And he asked the question Anaah always dreaded hearing.  “Will you marry me, Anaah?"

     She straightened and faced him. "Vakeus, you may ask a thousand times, yet my answer will always be the same. I will never, never marry you."

    “Then I won’t bore you with the question," and he raised his right hand, palm outstretched. "Perhaps in time you'll prefer your human form to that of a flowering bush. Be beautiful. Dazzle the senses with the sweet fragrance of flowers you’ll bear."

     Then turning his outstretched hand until the palm faced her, Anaah became a flowering paderia bush. Clouds gathered rains fell soaking the ground, drenching people and animals.

     When Salarius reached the castle the storm had subsided.  The gates separated, opening wide, then closed behind him. The fragrance of rain dripping from plants and the sweetness of the saturated earth, mingled with the warmth of the day and rose to greet him.

     From the castle Vakeus watched Salarius kneel by a stream to drink, then rest beneath a towering oak.  He saw the white paderia blossom that came to rest at his feet, and hands hardened by work, browned by sun, stretch to cup the flower. Then he watched as the wind tossed and turned, pushed and shoved more blossoms.  Salarius followed this trail to the garden, to Anaah.  Only then did Vakeus rise to meet Salarius.

     The ground was strewn with paderia, and the bush from which they drifted, heavy with blossoms. Salarius stood staring at the flowers, and Vakeus at Salarius. 

     "She's as lovely as when she graced silks and satins, yet I prefer her human form, don’t you?"  It irritated, as it was meant to.

      His muscles tighten, but Salarius forced himself to temper his words before responding.  "You see outward beauty and inward strength and bend it to your will."

     "A king’s subjects are meant to obey," Vakeus said, shrugging, waving away a criticism that never made sense to him, no matter the form or the deliverer.  The people see her beauty and already they love her, for she is one of them.  This will make their lives easier.  A small sacrifice, don’t you agree?"

     The magician’s words made him hesitate. Was their love more important than the lives of their friends and family?  If this marriage would indeed make those lives easier, should either of them oppose it?  But the thought he voiced was truer, greater than the magician’s. "The sacrifice is not small," he told him, "for the people hide their love and give you fear, and you will never know love for you rule through fear.  But Anaah does not fear you, and neither, Vakeus, do I."

     What did it matter what others thought?  A king must see beyond the small. This marriage would secure the kingdom for his heirs, stop the people’s wagging tongues and perhaps create a new beginning. "Stay here, then," Vakeus said, irritated. "Let this be your home.  Prepare the garden for a wedding, plant seeds and flowers that will bloom and flourish. What do I care about fear and love? In time, Anaah and I will wed.  She is beautiful and unafraid, with strength and grace.  She will come to accept her responsibilities." Vakeus looked deep into Salarius’s eyes.  "I’ve chosen well. You cannot but agree." Salarius’s emotions collided as he struggled for words he couldn’t refute.

     "The gates will open to let you out in the evening and in each morning." Vakeus turned to leave, tired of opposition.

     Salarius had wondered how he’d care for the garden. Now he had been commanded to stay.  His success was bittersweet.  He would serve and see if his service would unravel Vakeus’s plans.

     That evening, Salarius carried a white paderia in his pocket, a gift from Anaah.

     It was late when he arrived in the village; still he stopped to buy seeds for the garden. The elderly couple that opened the door had known him as a boy and knew of his love for Anaah.  As they sat, steam rising from tea cupped in their hands, they stared in disbelief as he told them his story. "It's said, no one argues with the magician and returns," said the old man.

     Salarius pulled the paderia blossom from his pocket, still fragrant and fresh.  Paderia wait for summer’s heat before opening their blossoms and releasing their perfumed fragrance into the late summer air.  Even though summer was just beginning, their fragrance filled the room.  They would have Salarius's seeds by the end of the week.

     The days fell into a pattern.  Salarius worked until the sun stood directly overhead.  Then he would sit beside the paderia, eating his lunch, talking about work in the garden or of the statues, or gossip in the village.  The paderia at those times smelled sweeter to him, and the branches wavering in the wind an acknowledgment of his words.

     Sometimes they could feel the magician's presence.  Salarius would continue speaking, unwinding and unrolling the story of his day.  In this way replacing the magician's thoughts, woven to catch and engage Anaah's fear. 

     At the end of the day she would give him a flower from her branches. Then Salarius would walk back to the village tired, but never discouraged or disheartened. He did not have the magician's knowledge of spells and bindings, but felt he was creating a spell of his own.  In tending the garden, slowly it was beginning to change.

     The elderly couple had invited him to share their home.  One night, Salarius shared that he had found their daughter and her family. They formed a tableau under a low hanging willow.  The couple gave him pansies and buttercups to plant beneath the feet of their child and their grandchildren, along with profuse apologies for not accompanying him.

     When the people of the village heard this, there was not a night when someone did not knock at the couple's door to ask Salarius to search for family or friend who’d never returned. As the requests and gifts became more his time with Anaah became less, but the garden flourished and brightened. There were days when Salarius only greeted Anaah, stopping at the end of the day to receive the flower she always gave.

     After several weeks Salarius called the villagers together. "Why not come yourselves to search for your loved ones? The garden is large and the king will not mind more help."

     But the villagers demurred.

     "We're not as brave as you," said one.

"Obviously the magician prefers you, for he allows you to work in his garden," offered another.

     "We'd not give you more statues to tend," he was told.

     “While Vakeus might allow one to enter,” they said, “he'd not welcome us all."

     No matter how he tried reasoning with them, they would not come, but they were glad to have him as messenger, and he could not deny their requests.

     As the weeks passed, the villager's messages and gifts increased, Salarius's work in the garden progressed more slowly.  A day, maybe two might pass when he did not see Anaah.

 

Chapter 5           

     Salarius was seated in the moonlight, the cart already filled with gifts waiting for the morning. "If they would only come," he told the moon, "the magician won’t harm them. He cares only about power and obedience.”  Every day the garden was changing, but there seemed to be no progress in his and Anaah’s situation.  “I serve the magician,” he explained to the moon,  “take the flowers given me to the garden, yet no one is brave enough to help.  My time with Anaah has decreased while my time serving has increased."  The moon smiled down on him bathing the land in brightness, and behind Salarius a door softly closed.

     The next morning, the couple was seated in the cart. The reins rested in the husband’s hands. The man turned and smiled at Salarius’s surprise, saying by way of explanation, "A voice that carries to the moon also carries to other places.  If our lives are to end, well, we’d rather it be with our children and grandchildren. Perhaps our help will give you back your time with Anaah."

     When they reached the gates, the woman huddled close to her husband.  He sat straight the reins clutched tightly, a look of concentration on his face.  Vakeus saw the fear.  It pleased him, and he had their service as well, so when the old man slapped the reins to move forward, he did not hesitate to let them enter, and the cart rumbled through the gates.

     That night the villagers lined the street to watch the cart bump home emptied of their gifts.  That evening, the house was more crowded than usual, as people pushed through the door and hung over the windowsills to question them.

                                                 .  .  . 

     Summer had finally arrived, but the villagers continued to refuse Salarius's invitation.  Sometimes, the curious came to the gates. Grasping the bars they’d peer in, their faces resting against them.  The gates would release and the person would flee. This game amused Vakeus and was one he never tired of.

     One day a girl of eight with auburn curls walked to the magician’s gates with a bouquet of pink, yellow, and violet meadow flowers. For a while she’d listened to her mother chat with a neighbor about statues and flowers, and how Salarius planted and pruned, and left gifts at the feet of loved ones.  Ena remembered sitting on a blanket, blue, faded and comfortable.  Next to her was a woman with green mischievous eyes, weaving a necklace of flowers.  Finishing, her grandmother had placed these around her with a hug and a kiss.

     Ena gave the gates a push and hurrying forward, led by innocence and intention, she quickly found her grandmother frozen in stone.  She set the flowers in her arms then gave her a warm loving hug. 

     Ena was sitting with legs curled under her, head tilted toward the statue speaking of this and that and pausing as if for reply when she heard her mother calling.  Running happily toward the voice, she was scooped into arms fearful for her.  Squirming loose, Ena grabbed her mother’s hand and pulled.  “I have found grandma, come, and she tugged again and the mother could not resist the pull.

     There stood her mother, hardened to stone, sparks of anger frozen in place, and her determination etched into her stance.  Resting within her folded arms, a bouquet of flowers. One had slipped to the ground and the mother bent to pick it up. "Did you do this Ena?"

     Instead of answering she asked, "Can we help Salarius? Can we? Grandmother wouldn’t be lonely with flowers.  We could come every day? Can we?  Please can we come?"

     The mother was fearful, but she could see her daughter’s desire and determination.

     Salarius says, "It’s all right. The king won't harm us."

     “How do we know this Ena?”

     “Salarius promised. Please, please can we come?”

     So once a week, Ena, her mother, and father came to the garden to plant and weed.

     Hearing this tale, timorously the villagers began to arrive in twos and threes, in their hands baskets and pots of flowers, in their pockets seeds. 

Vakeus watched tossing out small bits of magic to see what would happen – pots broken, seeds disappearing, then reappearing, or the sound of footsteps when no one was near.  But still they came.  

     The garden was nearing completion and Vakeus sent his thoughts out to Salarius. "Your work almost finished, brings my desires closer.  Soon Anaah will be my wife and my queen."

     That night while the villagers dreamed and snored, Salarius, his mind filled with the magician’s words, found himself at the castle gates. At his touch the gates opened, and he entered into moonlight and silence.  Like a pearl in the sky the moon glowed and the statues sparkled like snow newly fallen.  Flowers hung their heads sleepily or closed their petals tight against night breezes. 

     Salarius moved slowly and cautiously towards Anaah through a profusion of mingled fragrances.  Restlessness had brought him to the garden, along with an inability to sleep.  He hoped Vakeus in sleep, was disconnected from magic.  Soon the garden would be complete and Anaah, a bride, reluctant, but bound, waited. Only Vakeus seemed closer to having what he wanted.

     As Salarius stepped into the garden where the paderia grew, Vakeus turned in his sleep, rubbed his hand across his forehead and slipped back into dreams.

     Moonlight encircled the paderia.  It shimmered and rippled and where there had been a flowering bush Anaah now stood.

      "The garden is the key,Salarius, it will awakened only when the statues and plants return to true form.  Vakeus’s magic is unwinding; you gave life to this possibility.”  Her image faded before Salarius could respond, and she again became a bearer of flowers.  He lay on the ground beside her and closed his eyes. What had the flowers said?  “By serving the magician you serve Anaah. You offer what the magician cannot and what the villagers will not. You can offer love.” 

     His thoughts traveled back to leaving one garden for another, to seeds, and clearing and pruning.  To the couple who gave him a home, and were the first to come to the garden, so he might be with Anaah.  There were gifts and finding family and friends.  Ena’s innocence brought her parents and finally the villagers.  He heard Anaah whisper to him, “Love conquers fear. There is no fear where love resides.  You planted those seeds.” Opening his eyes he stood to leave, and for an instant instead of statues, he saw the garden filled with people.

                                                                                                        .  .  .

     By the middle of summer there were so many helping that had the plants and statues returned to their original form, the castle grounds would have been crowded with humanity.  Flowers and trees burst into bloom -- fuchsia, plumeria, pansies, and hollyhocks, zinnias in yellows and pinks and reds.

     Vakeus, strolling through this profusion of flowers, looked upon their magnificence and thought, "Surely no other ruler has such a garden nor holds people so bound by his power." Only Anaah opposed him.

     As Vakeus approached the paderia its flowers were pungent, caressed by morning dew, the day clear with only blueness of sky.  As he neared, where a bush had been, Anaah now stood, placid, serene, waiting, with paderia adorning her hair. She was to Vakeus, like the garden, more beautiful than before. "Three months have passed, Anaah, will you accept my proposal?" It was a gentler request than the others, yet still haughty and demanding.  "I will not marry where there is no love, nor, yet, a space for it to grow."  Vakeus blanched, and with a downward sweep of his hand a bush again stood rooted to the ground.

     “You will marry me Anaah! I have waited long enough. The garden is finished, and in truth, your consent was never necessary."

     In a fury Vakeus turned from her.  Raising his hands above his head, he sent a binding spell to the gates. Today no one would enter, and if they had already come, they would now have a permanent home. Then he looked back at the paderia.

     "Power binds the people to me as it will bind you and make you my bride, Anaah. Let any who have entered cleave to the earth, their feet roots that clutch the soil.  Their body’s stems supporting leaves."  The spell careened through the garden but captured only one, a child with auburn curls.  Ena's mother watched as the gates closed, separating her from her daughter.  The magic turned and twisted Ena into a plant with dark purple leaves, and thorns an inch in length. But then to the mother's surprise, along each thorn a lavender flower sprouted. No plants except the ones the villagers had brought had ever flowered!  As she pressed her head to the bars willing them to separate, flowers began popping out, unfolding on every plant. The air trembled, and the statues shimmered and rippled. They softened then hardened. Standing between sadness and wonder, transfixed by what she saw, Ena’s mother turned and fled toward the village to tell the story. 

     The garden was large and the change was measured and gradual, so when night fell Vakeus was still unaware of the miracle. But that evening when he listened to the villager's, they spoke of nothing else. “Never,” they said, “had flowers bloomed at will.”  Vakeus heard their awe and disbelief and rushed to the windows overlooking the garden.  Everywhere flowers had burst into bloom, moving in waves toward the castle walls.

     “Pursing his lips, he sent a cool breeze to seek and destroy them. But instead, frost formed around their edges, preserving them until morning’s sun.

Enraged, Vakeus sent thoughts of fear and doubt, but only wonder, surprise and concern for the garden and the child echoed back to him. The miracle had warmed them, like hot food seeping through a cold body on a winter's day, and they no longer remembered their fears.

     "Tomorrow we will go and see for ourselves."

     “But what about the magician?" asked the cobbler?

     "We'll go together."

     "Yes," said another, "He can't turn us all into statues. Who would he rule?

Who would tend his garden?  Who would obey his commands?"

     As Vakeus listened to these words bolts of lightning sprang from his hands, pushed open the windows, stung the clouds, wounding, enraging. The sky darkened and for three days and nights torrential rains fell, the thunder so loud the villagers stuffed their ears with pieces of cloth and pulled their hats about their heads. Lightning illuminated the darkened sky, as Vakeus sought for a way to break this new magic.

     Then, on the fourth day, the sun shone and there was silence. The villagers came with shovels and buckets of water to clear the mud and sturdy the plants bent by rains.

     The gates did not yield at first, for Vakeus stood on his balcony binding the lock with spells. But as he looked down into the garden, he saw the statues begin to quiver and vibrate. Summoning all his magic he struggled to hold the garden in place. "Perhaps, I can still pull back to me what has been lost." He rushed outside but when he opened the door, where statues and plants had been, people now stood, awed by their change and the realization that the magician no longer had power over them. Stretching, bending, flexing their stiffened limbs, they felt life flowing through them; then headed toward the gates.  Only Anaah remained.

            The two stared at each other, Vakeus angered beyond fury, she silent, composed. Anaah stepped forward, and Vakeus took a step back, but she continued until she stood before him.  Cupped within her hands was a fine white powder, which she blew softly, scattering the particles into Vakeus’s face.  They smelled of paderia and the cool moist earth, of tears and love, and the warmth of flames on a cold winter night.  And Vakeus could not help but breathe in the fragrance. He felt it move through his body like the heat of a warm summer day.  Rushing to his heart it pulled and tugged at memory, until the sensations were so overwhelming he collapsed in a heap of purple and ermine robes, fast asleep, emotions playing upon his face. 

     Reaching in the pocket of her dress, Anaah pulled out two paderia.  They were dried, but still held their delicate shape.  These she crushed and again blew the dust over the sleeping king. Then she sat and waited, and he drifted into a deep sleep filled with dreams and sorrows and memories of bindings of the heart.

     When Salarius found Anaah, in her arms was a child, gathered in robes of purple and ermine.  "Someday," she told Salarius, "he will be a benevolant and compassionate king." The baby kicked and gurgled. The flowers had been right, thought Salarius, he had served, and love had found the way.