Mal’s brushes with death had gained the qualities of a recurring gag she shared with Baba. A joke, if you will. See, she was outside the mistress’ garden to see the germaniums. Or gentians. Or garden flowers. Nobody around her knew what they were called, but she elected to call them berry spines. A violent violet burst contained in a singular stalk. Baba worked here, and every so often, he’d come home with a few flowers tucked into his worker’s brown-stained outfit. The ones in his pocket were so trampled that Mal never got to see them in full bloom.
Right now, the guard, who usually stood at the bend where the garden fences curved away, had apparated like a Jinn behind her and was holding Mal up by her shirt. He shook her in the air as he’d empty a bee hive. She looked at the horizon beyond the garden, a peach line she could see clearly from her elevated position. Baba was right. Her luck was absolutely terrible.
She’d be soon dragged to the estate manager, and he’d have her hung for trespassing or thievery, whichever got her a more severe sentence. Nobody that worked for a noble was soft or forgiving. She looked at the guard whose lip was twisted in anger.
“Please let this one go, I meant no harm to your masters, ” Mal said and brought her palms up to rub them together.
“The butler will decide that,” he put her down but didn’t let go of her collar, “even the Royal Family is forbidden from the Madame’s Gardens, didn’t you know sprite?”
“I didn’t know, I swear!”
“Let her go, Tamran.” A woman stood behind them and without any fancy vocabulary, Mal could only describe her as beautiful and expensive. Her wealth cascaded down her white silk in delicate gold ribbons like a vase bound by kintsugi.
“Madame, she was trying to steal -” The Mistress, Mal realized, put a hand up. The guard let her go immediately.
Like a deity, the mistress glided closer to Mal and hooked a narrow finger under her chin. She studied Mal’s face for a moment before murmuring, “You look like someone I should’ve known.”
Mal didn’t speak, there was little to be said now that she didn’t have to defend herself.
“Come,” the mistress motioned. Mal went.
There was a entrance to the garden further down the path, with a real door and a real lock. Mal couldn’t believe how her day had turned out. The mistress didn’t look back to see whether Mal followed her, and Mal only hesitated for a step before craning her neck far enough that she fell inside.
If the mistress was beautiful, the garden was just as alluring. They were both ornaments to each other’s beauty.
The flowers were an overwhelming palette of colour. Each petal bloomed in competition from the pollen on the teeth of a bloody hibiscus to the sheltering broad stroke of a white orchid. Their shiny olive stalks were wrinkled like skin. But the violet berry spindles, defined the scene. They were everywhere, but especially in the center like performers on stage.
A swing was placed for the audience, to hear the flowers sing.
“Wow,” Mal whispered under her breath. The mistress heard her and chimed into a soft laugh.
She took her seat on the swing while Mal wondered if she was being hired as a gardener or was to be tasked with pushing the swing.
“Come,” the mistress said again. And like the first time, Mal obeyed.
They sat in scented silence for too long for Mal to reliably estimate. Then, the mistress broke the silence but the words were too quiet to hear.
“Pardon, My Lady?” Mal asked.
“I buried my baby here,” she said again, tired like the words were exhausting to repeat. “All this beauty is only a gentian grave.”
Ah, Mal thought, these flowers were called gentians.