I note the servant’s position, harvesting carrots in the small plot I built. Not much of our soil is rich enough to support food, but I’ve been rotating the crop across a few different sections of garden. Min is already on duty, holding a woven basket, his thin arms shaking under the weight. Even from here, I can tell he wants to drop the basket, but he will not. I would set the basket down, take a break, but sweet Min can deny himself every comfort if he believes someone else will benefit.
They are engaged in the harvest, and I slip through a hole in the hedge, branches scraping across my gown and snagging on my cloak, until I’m in Mother’s sanctuary. If anyone remembers this small, hidden garden is here, they’ve not said as much. I’ve not seen a soul here after Mother passed away. The fountain is green with algae, but this sanctuary has the only blossoming flowers that remain. Violets and Bleeding Hearts. They come each spring, and I think Mother is still here somewhere, willing them to sprout.
Ivy tangles around the dirty birch trellises. A thin floral scent lingers, barely detectable, but enough to dredge up the fragile memory of Mother’s skirt folds. The overgrown greenery reminds me, despite stagnancy inside the castle, life marches on.
I pull my cloak tight around me, like an embrace, and sit on a stone bench to wait.
A few moments later, the tall outer hedges rustle and then a whisper:
“King Jasper, King Luca, Queen Wen in a trance...”
I smile. It is Diana. I whisper back my half of the rhyme. “Ate all of the banquet and split down their pants!”
We stifle our giggles. It’s immature, at our age, to delight in such drollery, but there’s little amusement to be found elsewhere. My hand finds hers through the prickly hedge, and we link pinkies. Her skin is velvet against mine. The first time we held hands, when we were younger, I washed ten times. I thought I brought plague into the castle, and I was up all night, watching for fever or skin lesions or ragged coughing. But now I trust Diana.
Anyway, we’ve never spoken of plague. She doesn’t ask why I’m behind these walls, and I don’t ask why she comes to visit me. I know when she first found the hedge and heard me crying in Mother’s sanctuary, she envied me for living in a fairy tale. I envied her adventures. We wove our experiences together and built beautiful stories through the hedge. Faraway lands and brave knights and lost girls.
“I thought of you yesterday,” she tells me. “I swam at Cherry Lake and anchored myself behind the waterfalls. The mist sprayed my face. I remembered what you said about missing the rain.”
“Father doesn’t like us to get cold and wet. After Mother, he worries,” I say absently as I try to imagine Diana in the lake. It’s been so long since I’ve seen waterfalls, but I can still picture them – rushing water, sliding around rocks and flinging itself off cliffs.
It’s Diana I can’t picture.