“Mama? Mama, what do you think of this one?”
A young girl, blonde hair cascading in waves down her back and torso, sat in the middle of a white clover patch. In her small hands were bunches of the ivory weeds, clenched to near to pulp, except for one: standing bright and happy between two fingers, the child held her latest find upwards like a trophy. A middle-aged woman, brown hair pulled up in a tight bun, smiled. She sat on a stone bench, about a yard away from the enthusiastic florist, a book splayed idly on her lap; open only to the second chapter, the woman didn’t really have enough focus – or desire – to read. The spectacle before her was far more worthy of her attention.
“I love it.” Closing her book, she picked herself up off the seat only to slide into the grass, easing her older body nearer to the flowers. Gently, she took the girl’s petaled prize as it was offered to her. “A real beauty. By far the best one yet, I’m sure!”
She meant it, too; she didn’t like to make a habit of fibbing to her daughter, however harmless it may be. Trust was important, and she liked to think that her only child trusted her – no doubt the girl was reserved, more so than other children her age, but she always seemed to speak up when she needed to. The woman watched as the little girl smiled her mild, crooked smile.
“I think so too.” Gently, the child stroked the leaves, gazing at the delicate plant a moment before setting it to the side. There were a few other flowers there, organized in a line; the biggest and the brightest. Once the most beautiful had found its place among them, the blonde immediately began her search anew, scouring the patch for more worthy candidates.
“Who are these for?” the mother inquired.
Silence followed – the girl was preoccupied, her lithe hands tearing through the blossoms, plucking one by one and examining them. The older woman laughed quietly to herself before reaching out to nudge her child's arm.
“Hattie?” Tilting her head, she leaned in a bit to peer at the pile of flowers she had set aside. “Who are the flowers for?”
Looking up, the blonde child paused temporarily in her work, seemingly taking a moment to process the question. “No one,” came the answer eventually, though from the way the child’s eyes shifted the mother could tell this wasn't an entirely honest answer.
“No one?” A laugh escaped her, and she shook her head. “Oh, come on. Surely you have someone in mind. Is it a boy?”
Hattie, quiet once again, gnawed on her lower lip a bit before exhaling. “Okay,” she said, casting her gaze to the side as she twiddled her thumbs. “Well, see, the thing is, I wouldn’t normally say anything, but since you think I’m doing this for some boy… they were going to be for you.” Sighing, she shifted a bit to cross her legs, challenging her mother with her eyes. “No way they’d be for a boy. They don’t even like flowers. If anything, I would be receiving flowers from a boy, not the other way around.”
The woman laughed outright. “A bit old-fashioned, don’t you think?”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing!”
“Mm. You’re right, you’re right – I suppose being old-fashioned isn’t so bad, huh?” Reaching out, she took the little girl into her arms, placing a gentle kiss on the crown of her head before continuing, “After all, you’re old-fashioned, and you’re the most wonderful child on the face of this earth.”
“Other moms would probably disagree, you know.”
“Well, other moms don’t know. I doubt their kids have ever invested time in making a beautiful bouquet for them.” She reached out to squeeze the small hand of her child. “Thank you. And I’m sorry I spoiled the surprise.”
Hattie shrugged, a subtle smile tickling her face. “It’s okay, Mama. You would have to find out eventually, after all.” Taking the flowers she had gathered, she began to bunch them together in her hands, taking a string from a pocket in her patched-up dress and tying them together. “Here you go.”
“Thank you so much.” The mother took the little bundle, clasping it both of her hands. “I will treasure this forever, I really will.”
“Until it wilts.”
The older woman laughed, shaking her head to herself. “Alright, until then, I suppose.”
“Should we go put it in a vase? They’ll probably last longer if they have some water.”
“Yes, absolutely.” Gathering the skirts of her dress, the woman grunted her way to her feet. Hattie gathered the other mashed-up, discarded flowers into a pile before popping onto her toes. Ah, to be young again.
“Did you feed Anne?”
“Yep, fed her.”
“Good. What about watered?”
“That too. And I fed and watered Shep, and Daisy.”
“Ah! You’re really on top of it today, huh?”
The two of them walked arm in arm back to their humble little cottage, leaving the comfort of their small but quaint fenced-in yard. The sun shone brightly through the trees that ran along the side of their property, speckling the ground with the shadows of leaves, ever shifting in the wind. The white clovers scattered across the grass as a breeze gusted by. And, in their midst, there was a crumpled piece of parchment.
A hand reached out from behind the fence, grabbing the paper as it was rolled forward. A few of the weeds came with it. The hand cradled the blossoms in its fingers.
>o> whole lot cheaper than buying one.
“You’re fine!” answered the woman, taking the copper token as it was handed to her. Taking a step back and ducking a bit behind the front counter, she tucked a strand of orange hair behind an ear. “I just wanted to make sure you were still there… I called on you probably three times without an answer!”
Pulling a thin rope upward, she set it on the wooden surface before him. She looked like a genuine person – eyes wide with sincerity, and a happy twinkle in her features, Lin didn’t really doubt that she had all the best intentions in pointing out his mental distance. He just wasn’t entirely sure how to respond. “Uh… yeah,” he replied at last, averting his gaze as he took his purchase from the table. Upon viewing it, he frowned. Not really the quality he’d wanted for the price, but he figured it would do. “Happens a lot.”
Taking the rope and coiling it around his wrist and palm, he began to step away.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve really seen you here before!” The woman seemed to not notice his apparent desire to leave, and when he turned to look at her, she seemed genuinely interested in talking to him. He wanted to be irritated, but found that he really couldn’t be to such a good-mannered person, so with soft exhale he turned fully to face her. “We don’t see strangers around here very often. What brings you –?”
A loud blaring interrupted her inquiry. Lin’s hands flung to his ears and he turned, facing the direction of the populated streets. The masses were parting. Confusion rippled through his chest and he stepped back, exchanging a glance with the merchant woman before turning back to the sight beforehand.
“Make way!” A man with armor that glittered like diamonds stepped into the empty space, holding his arms out to each side of him. The townspeople, shocked at such a disruptive entry, looked like they couldn’t quite get a handle on what was happening. The man spoke anyway. “Make way for his Highness! Make way for his Excellency! Make way for your King!”
The King? Lin didn’t even have time to process what was being said before horses pranced forward, their hoofs hitting the dirt with hard thumps and sending clouds of dust sparkling upwards. Behind the horses was a carriage. Lin’s eyes hurt just from looking at it. Compared to the mucky, dirty, very much brown scenery around him, the gold that lined the satin-white walls seemed to shine as brightly as the sun.
“The King?” the woman beside him seemed as bewildered as he was.
What business did the King have here?
“The King has an announcement!” The man with the armor, once the entire square had cleared and everyone was cramped at the edges of the broken-down buildings, took a scroll from one of the horses’ riders. Unrolling it, he cleared his throat.
“The Daughter of the King, the dear Princess of this Beautiful Land, is missing!”
Murmurs. Lin furrowed his brows. He wasn't really focusing on what was being said.
“If anyone has seen her, report to the King immediately! If this is the result of kidnapping, assassination, or treason, the perpetrator and the perpetrator’s family will be condemned as Traitors to the Crown, and hanged for their crimes!
“If anyone discovers and returns the King’s daughter, the King will reward you handsomely!
Long Live the King!”
The scroll was returned to its original form and given back to its holder, and it wasn’t long before the carriage lurched forward. Again the man marched forward, parading his arms and screaming “Make way!” like a madman, leading the brigade slowly farther with each of his steps.
Lin had forgotten that he was even remotely close to another human being, and when he turned, he saw the orange-haired merchant looking a lot paler than she had earlier.
“It’ll turn out okay,” Lin said, but there wasn't much life or sincerity in his words. His eyes were trained on the place where the carriage once sat.
He’d seen him. He’d seen the King. While the armored man had been talking, Lin had seen a glimpse of the regal man’s face through the window. Their eyes had met. He’d seen behind them.
Fear was a potent emotion, and even from that distance, Lin had seen it – like light through a mosaic, its presence was obvious. Familiar, even. He knew exactly how the King felt. He’d experienced it before.
The woman inhaled slowly, and reality slapped Lin in the back of the head. When he shifted a bit to look at her, she was shaking her head. “I hope so,” she said, and went back to her dish scrubbing. “I surely hope so.”
“Yeah. Well.” Lin bit his lower lip. “Let me know how it goes. I have a rabbit to catch.”