Surely the king had heard about my reputation with plants. In all my sixty-two years, I hadn’t kept one alive. Nevertheless, I found myself duty-bound that spring, for the tangled mass of vegetation otherwise known as the flower garden.
In our land, those in mourning were required to report to the king. He would assess the situation of the mourner and assign them a new position. For some it lasted months, others years.
Edmund’s death was unexpected. One day he was tending the vineyard, the next he was in bed, and then he was gone. Just like that. I still expected to hear his boots scraping against the doormat at noon. In forty-three years he'd never been late for a meal.
It'd only been a month since Edmund died and I still hadn't sorted through his belongings. I didn’t expect the summons so soon, much less an assignment to the most spectacular botanical catastrophe around.
But I knew better than to argue with the king.
So when he looked at me with those big brown eyes and said, "Esmeralda, I know you're still grieving. You're just going to have to trust me on this. Go out to the garden, find Joshua, and he'll show you what to do. You're to go back every day until the job is finished."
He sunk into his upholstered chair, laid his head back, closed his eyes, and let out a deep, satisfied sigh. He was done, but I wasn’t.
I cleared my throat. "Any idea how long this task might take?"
I knew it was impertinent to ask, but I couldn't help it.
His head popped up again, "It'll be finished when it’s over.” He grinned. The king was known for his sense of humor.
"Fine," I scoffed. "I'm going. I'm going."
I found Joshua bent over behind the garden fence. He was pulling weeds.
“Joshua,” I called out. “The king sent me over. I’m supposed to help you.”
Joshua stood and arched his back. His wiry white hair dipped and turned in thick waves over his head. The late morning shone through his straw hat, leaving sunlit and shadowed freckles on his face. His tall and burly stature didn’t match his gentle disposition. I liked Joshua. If I was going to be stuck here, I couldn't have better company.
It started out agonizingly slow. We began in square inches not feet. Hunched down, inspecting every leaf. Joshua pointed out the differences between those plants that would grow into flowers and those that were weeds.
“The beginning is always difficult,” he said. “Summer has this way of helping the weeds flourish, which crowd out the flowers. It’s our job to identify the plants, rid the garden of what’s not needed, and nurture the soil, so that the garden can be beautiful again.”
By the time the sun began to crawl under its earthly covers, my back was full of ache and my fingers felt thick and clumsy. But there was something cathartic about yanking out the ugly things. There was something healing in the slow pace, the recognition of good and bad, and in feeling the stings and scrapes. These things were temporary, they hurt badly now, but in time, restoration would take its place.
It wasn’t until winter that I could rest. Take stock of what I’d done, and be proud of the new calluses I bore.
Over the cold months, I finally put away the rest of Edmund’s things. I rearranged the bed to sit under the window, something Edmund wouldn’t have done. I took in one of the barn cats, and invited one of the neighbor girls over for cooking lessons. She was about to be a bride.
On the first warm day in spring, I made my way over to the flower garden. As expected, Joshua had beaten me to it.
The view beyond the gate was spectacular. It wasn’t the manicured lawns of the palace, or a field of bright tulips. No, these were just sprouts. Tiny green shoots glistening in the dew under a new season’s sun. It was a glimpse of the beauty that waited.
I felt an arm around my shoulders, and I looked up to see the king’s face smiling back at me. Pride lit in his eyes.
“You’ve done well, Esmeralda. I’m proud of you.” He squeezed my shoulder.
“I couldn’t have done it without Joshua.”
“He couldn’t have done it without you.”
“I guess you’re right.”
We both smiled at the sight.
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