The Rose Tender
by Raven O’Fiernan
Lord Sirio looked over his landscape to make sure everything was as it should be. He was hosting his daughter’s coming out gala in a fortnight, and it was essential that nothing be out of place. He turned his gaze to the south, where a row of poplar trees grew, creating a natural fence and backdrop. Then he looked back at the design of Fortunato’s line of trees. No, as he suspected, the trees were not right. They were too tall and skinny, and there were too many of them. He’d only planted the twelve indicated on the garden plans, but there were, he counted, nineteen now. Some of them must have put up shoots in the early days. He’d told the gardener to uproot them, but apparently the man hadn’t gotten them all. That was the problem with having an ordinary gardener instead of a Botanist. A Botanist could have used magic to make the change at any time, but now, if the gardener removed any trees, it would leave unsightly empty gaps. But after his brother had bankrupted the family coffers, Sirio could not afford to hire a Botanist, so he had to make do with the gardener. He hoped the other nobles wouldn’t notice the differences.
The line of trees wasn’t the only area of concern. To the east was the rose garden, patterned after Lady Emilia’s exquisite garden. It wasn’t quite right even from the beginning because some of the varieties of roses had been impossible to find, so he’d had to settle for similar varieties. It was a disappointment, especially since the new varieties didn’t bloom at the same time as the originals, and some of the roses, whether new or original, were susceptible to bugs. Some were even dying and the gardener said he didn’t know if he could save them. The man said that certainly a Botanist could cure them, but not a common gardener.
At least in the north and west, Sirio had obtained a measure of success. The south was an orchard of peach and pear trees. Those at least were perfect, exactly as the late Lord Francesco had recommended. And the west was empty — just rocks and sculptures reminiscent of the poet Gregor’s collection. It was all ready for the gala.
He sighed, looking again at the line of trees in the south and the imperfect rose garden where the gardener was weeding. It would have to do. If Rochesa was going to get married, it had to be as good as possible, and he’d invited all the eligible men in the realm. If they weren’t impressed, if they saw the imperfections, it could affect her happiness, and that wouldn’t do.
He called her out: the gala was two weeks away, so they still had time.
“Yes, father?” she asked.
Sirio frowned at her. Her hair was too light to match the painting he had bought of the Black-Haired-Irina, and her eyes were blue instead of black. He’d tried to make her into the old beauty, but nothing seemed to take.
“Go to town. Go see the magician,” he told her, handing her some coins, hoping it would be enough. “Ask again about the hair. And the eyes.”
“Yes, Father,” she said and left.
A palpable emptiness spread over him. Something was wrong. Was it the trees? He looked again at the poplars and back to the design. He’d talk to the gardener. Maybe there was still something to be done. Maybe the man knew a Botanist that would be affordable.
As he turned to the south to approach the gardener, he saw that his daughter had not followed his instructions. She was bent over the roses with the gardener, who had his hand at the small of her back. As he watched, she reached out a hand, and one of the dying roses suddenly bloomed, fresh and new. She clapped her hands and let out a gale of laughter as the gardener spun her around.
But what Lord Sirio wanted to know was: when had his daughter become a Botanist?
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