A young lord was enjoying an afternoon stroll in the woods when he happened upon a clearing he had never encountered before. Sunlight danced through the wind-rustled leaves, butterflies sprinkled the air, the gentle hum of bumblebees rang through his ears, and flowers arrayed in every color filled the hidden retreat with the sweetest smells he had ever encountered. Had he not just drawn blood on a thorn, the Young Lord might have suspected he was dreaming.
Nearly struck dumb by the sheer perfection of this clearing, the Young Lord wandered into the middle where he found a bed of soft clovers. It seemed as though the spot was made just for him, a seat from which to observe the theater of nature before his eyes. He sat and admired the performance until the sun grew longer and longer in the leaves. He knew not how long he had been there. Hours, surely, though it felt like minutes. The Young Lord decided that he would return the following day, but such bliss shouldn’t be kept all to himself. He would bring his Intended on the morrow, so the splendor could be shared. He knew only his Love could appreciate the magic of the Clearing the way he did.
As he stood to leave, the Young Lord decided to take a small token to both entice his Intended as well as to give a small peak at the experience to come. He scanned the numerous beds of flowers surrounding him, before settling on a curious golden flower. What made it curious was the fact that it was nearly identical to his Beloved’s eyes.
That was the first thing he noticed when they first met, those hazel eyes so bright that they shown gold in the light. The second thing he noticed surrounding those golden eyes, was the most luxurious black hair he had ever seen in his life. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch the silken tresses, but he was almost afraid that he would wake from the vision before him. The third thing he noticed was the presence of the kindest heart he had ever encountered. The Young Lord knew by the end of their first meeting, that he never wanted to be separated from this perfection of a being ever again. To his deep shock, the Young Lord found his feelings reciprocated, and matched to the intensity of his own.
The Young Lord smiled as he bent to retrieve the bloom, knowing the enticement it would offer his Beloved. The instant he plucked the flower, everything changed. The sun disappeared from the leaves and the soft buzzing of the bees was replaced by an almost deafening wind that carried the heavenly smell away with it.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” bellowed a voice the Young Lord could not locate. It almost seemed to harken through the air as well as emanate from inside his own head. The pain was so great it caused him to fall to his knees.
“P-please! I meant no harm. I only wanted to bring a flower to my Betrothed.” The Young Lord cowered as he frantically looked about him to find the gardener he had so offended.
“AND WHO GAVE YOU THE RIGHT TO PLUCK ONE MY PRECIOUS CHILDREN?”
“Forgive me! I did not know they were spoken for! I sought only to give my beloved but a small glimpse of this haven.” He clung tighter to the ground, the wind blowing so furiously he couldn’t bare to keep his eyes open.
“YOU DARE CALL IT A HAVEN WHEN YOU HAVE SOILED IT SO? WHAT DO YOU KNOW OF PERFECTION? OF TRUE BEAUTY?”
“I know only of my Beloved.” A small warmth grew in his stomach as the face of his Love appeared in his mind. “Such a being of great perfection I have never encountered before, save for this garden. It was this flower that so matched my Intended’s beauty, that I thought it only fitting to unite them.” The wind brought such a cold air that the Young Lord’s tears were freezing to his cheeks.
“DO NOT INSULT ME WITH YOUR PATHETIC EXCUSES!” The earth trembled with the Voice.
“Please, is there anything I can do to make amends?”
“WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE IS A TRUE SIN AGAINST ME AND MY GARDEN AND MUST BE REPAID IN KIND!”
“Anything!” The Young Lord attempted to look up to prove his sincerity. “I would do anything to make things right!”
“ON THE FIRST LIGHT OF MORNING, BRING THE MOST PRECIOUS FLOWER IN YOUR GARDEN, YOUR BELOVED, AND A FLAGON SO THAT YOUR TEARS OF PENETANCE MAY WATER MY CHILDEN.”
“Yes, yes of course, I shall return with all that you have asked. Thank you.” And with that, the wind ceased.
The Young Lord looked about and saw that the garden had returned to its previous state, as though nothing had occurred at all. The only difference was that a small patch of blackened grass surrounded the ground where he picked the flower.
He wasted no time, traveling immediately to his Betrothed and related all that had transpired. His gracious Beloved not only believed his story, but also agreed to walk his garden to help choose the flower would best please the mysterious Voice. They eventually decided on a beautiful purple iris, as the Young Lord could not recall the garden having any irises, and made plans to meet just before dawn. His Love also decided to wear the flower that started it all, as maybe it would help convey the sincerity of the Young Lord’s original intentions.
The next morning, just as the sky began to lighten to a soft grey, the Young Lord met his Intended in the garden. They carefully dug up the chosen iris, so as not to harm the flower, and transplanted it to a small pot that his Beloved carried, while the Young Lord carried his flagon. As they walked through the woods, the Young Lord couldn’t help but admire how the golden bloom sparkled against his Love’s onyx curls. He had spent the whole night in a nervous condition, fearful of the events to come, but with his perfect Betrothed by his side, the Young Lord felt as though he could conquer the world.
It wasn’t long before the pair fell upon the clearing once again. Tears filled his Beloved’s golden eyes as the perfection of the hidden garden opened up before them.
As they entered the haven, the air changed and the Voice returned.
“HAVE YOU BROUGHT MY OFFERING?” Though the ground no longer quaked at every word, the Voice remained as omnipotent and as powerful as it was the day before.
“I have.” The Young Lord dropped to his knees, his Intended following and reverently placing the potted flower before the center of the clearing. “I present to you the most precious flower from my garden.”
“EXQUISITE. TRULY EXQUISITE. A MOST PERFECT FLOWER INDEED. FINISH YOUR PENANCE AND YOU SHALL BE FORGIVEN.”
The Young Lord smiled as he raised his head from the ground. He reached his hand out to his Love, only to be met with the soft petals of a flower. It looked similar to the one he had picked the day before, but something was different. This bloom had an oil black stem and leaves, and slightly darker petals; hazel in the shade, but seemed to shimmer golden in the sunlight. It took only a moment for the Young Lord to realize what had transpired. The most precious flower from his garden, his Beloved. He would have no sooner plucked a hair from his Beloved’s head, than the Presence of the garden would have picked a flower. At last, he understood. He had tainted perfection, and only perfection could make right his wrongs. The world seemed to drop out from beneath him, and the Young Lord collapsed to the ground, weeping.
“PERFORM YOUR PENANCE AND YOU MAY GO.” The Voice repeated, as cold and as powerful as before.
The Young Lord suddenly felt the weight of the flagon in his hand. It took all of his might to will himself off the soft ground next to his Flower, and shed his tears, his very soul, into the large flagon. The Young Lord cried and cried until there was none left in him. He went numb. With what little strength he could gather, the Young Lord stood. He raised the flagon, heavy with his heartbreak, and began to water the flowers in the garden. He saved the last for his Flower, his Beloved, forever-blooming Flower.
“YOU MAY GO.”
Without a word, the Young Lord turned to leave, the flagon hanging empty at his side.
By the time the Young Lord returned to his house, his numbness gave way to a far worse feeling; emptiness. He felt as though his chest had been opened and everything scraped out with a rough chisel. His Intended was no longer his Intended. They would nevermore be betrothed. They would be forever separated. Eternally his Beloved, but never His. The Young Lord suddenly found that he wasn’t empty; he had more tears to give and he knew exactly whom he could give them to. He brought the flagon once again to his face and filled it within minutes.
The next morning, at first light, the Young Lord returned to the clearing, carrying his weighted flagon. He found his Beloved Flower and knelt before it.
“My Love, my Perfection, my Beauty, forgive my sins. My first and last tears shall always be for you.” And with that, he reverently watered his flower and the ground around it, so that his Beloved would want for nothing.
Once the flagon was empty, the Voice filled the clearing, “YOU MAY GO.”
The Young Lord rose to his feet and left, only to return at the next first light, flagon once again filled to the brim with his sorrow. Once again, he kneeled before his Flower, “My Love, my Perfection, my Beauty, forgive my sins. My first and last tears shall always be for you.” Once again, he watered his Beloved and the ground surrounding it.
And once again, the Voice rang through his ears, “YOU MAY GO.”
Day in and day out the Young Lord returned to offer his love to his Flower. Always ending with the Voice allowing his leave.
As the days turned into years, the Beloved Flower grew and spread. By the time the Young Lord had grown into an Old Lord, his Love had spread across the whole clearing, all the golden petals blinding in the sunlight.
It eventually came to pass that the Old Lord was finding himself more and more tired. The walk to his Flower was growing longer and longer as his legs were not what they once were. The aged flagon seemed to grow heavier by the day. His gnarled, misshapen hands could no longer hold the cask alone. He had long since fashioned a belt to help carry it, but even that was failing now. And, worst of all, his eyesight was beginning to fade. He knew the path to his Beloved by heart, but with every journey, those satin golden petals and gossamer, black leaves, grew dimmer and dimmer.
One morning, as the Old Lord woke, he knew that his next pilgrimage to his Beloved would be his last. He tethered the tarnished flagon to his belt, passed through his empty corridors, and hobbled down the long worn path to his Love.
After what seemed like hours, the Old Lord reached the hidden clearing. As he passed through the shadows to the speckled, sunlit center, a sense of calm washed over his being. The garden of his Love had long since become a second home to him, if not his only home. The collection of stonewalls and lineage that made up his estate, had lost their worth to him the instant he no longer had his Beloved to share them with. Where his Love, his Heart was, that was his home. And it warmed him that he was coming home for the last time. He found his clover patch with ease, as it was the only spot in the whole garden that the flowers never grew on. He never quite knew if it was because he trod there every day, or if it was his Love, leaving a place only for him. The Old Lord bent and twisted his aged bones until he was seated as comfortably as his frail body would allow. As he knew this to be his final visit, The Old Lord thought to make the most of it, and staved off his flagon of tears. Instead, he reached out to the nearest bloom and held its silken leaf in his hand.
He thought to his youth with his Beloved and reminisced on life they would have led together. He spoke of the songbirds in the garden that they enjoyed so much. He spoke of how they would have etched notes on the cold windows in winter for the other to find. He spoke of how he would have cherished just sitting near his Love in the library, frittering the hours away over old tomes. He spoke of how they would have walked through the woods every day and admired their hidden floral paradise. He spoke and spoke and spoke, until he had regaled their entire future that would never be.
When he had no more stories to tell, the Old Lord knelt before his Flower, and raised the flagon with the last of his strength, and said his penance one final time, “My Love, my Perfection, my Beauty, forgive my sins. My first and last tears were, and shall always be for you.”
He stood and emptied the flagon on the flower as well as the surrounding ones, then fell back to the earth under a swell of exhaustion. As he allowed sleep to gently consume his body, he felt the wind gather and the light change around him. In a quiet voice that enfolded his body like a warm bath, the Presence returned, “YOU HAVE COMPLETED YOUR PENANCE. YOU ARE FORGIVEN.”
And with that, the Old Lord was no more. The flowers were no more. In their place, grew a luscious English Ivy with golden blooms. It engulfed the clearing, climbing every tree and rock, until the entire haven glistened once again in the flickering sunlight. The garden became a vision of gilt and green, of ivy and bloom, of lover and loved. And there they have remained ever since.