Seeds and Rosebushes
It was such a pleasant day that the governess had taken Cyndia outside for her lessons. In fact, it was such a nice day that lessons had been abandoned almost as soon as they had begun, and now the governess herself was dozing in the shade of a tree while Cyndia scurried around the garden, toddling from one flower bed to another and chattering to herself. Eventually, though, as the morning grew warmer, the little girl grew tired of her games and retreated to the shade of the tree. She picked up one of the books they had been looking at and began flipping through the pages.
"What's this word?" she asked, thrusting the book at her tutor.
The governess opened her eyes. "It says 'alive.'"
"What's that mean?"
"If something is alive, it means that it can get up and move around on its own."
"Oh," said Cyndia. She pondered that notion. "Am I alive?"
"Yes, dear, you certainly are."
"Are you alive?"
"That's right," the governess agreed. "And the birds and squirrels and the butterflies."
"Is the water alive?" Cyndia persisted, pointing at a fountain that splashed in the middle of the garden.
"No, honey, the water isn't alive. It doesn't move unless something pushes it," the governess explained patiently.
Cyndia considered a bit more, looking out at the garden as she assimilated this new information.
"The flowers aren't alive," she guessed.
"They are alive," said her governess.
"But they don't move," Cyndia protested.
"Not in a way we can see, but they do move," said the governess. "I'll show you. Let's go to the greenhouse."
She took Cyndia's hand and led her around to the side of the house, where a greenhouse stood glinting in the sunlight. Cyndia had rarely been inside it, and she stared wide-eyed and clung to her governess's skirt as she was escorted inside. The air inside was warm and steamy, with a strong smell of earth and green growing things. Plants grew everywhere, in pots or trays, spread out on tables or hanging on hooks from the ceiling. While Cyndia tried to look at everything at once, her teacher walked over to a flower in a pot.
"Might we borrow this for a little while?" she asked one of the gardeners. "It's for a lesson."
"Go right ahead," he said. "Just bring it back when you're done."
They carried the pot inside the house and left it on a sunny windowsill.
"You see," said the governess, "right now it leans towards us. But let's come back and look at it again in an hour or two, and we'll see if it's moved any."
So they went up to Cyndia's rooms and had milk and cookies and read a storybook, and when they had finished that, they returned to the window to have a look at their flower.
"It moved!" Cyndia exclaimed. "Look, look, the flower moved!"
And so it had. The flower that had been leaning towards them had bent its neck towards the warm sunlight. Cyndia clapped her hands, delighted at this discovery.
That was the first magical thing.
A few weeks later, Cyndia had gotten bored with her toys and had slipped out of her room to look for something interesting to do. Her father was in his office, talking on a telephone while swivelling in his big chair. Cyndia liked that chair, the way it went around and around, but she knew there would be no playing with it while her father was so busy. She found her mother in the library, curled up with a book, and all of Cyndia's entreaties were met with, "Hush, now, Mommy's reading. Why don't you go play with your toys?" Cyndia pulled books off the shelves at random and looked at them before putting them all back where she'd found them.
Where else could she go? Lacking any other ideas, she wandered downstairs and down one of the hallways she never used, one that led to the places where the servants did their jobs out of sight. She wandered around, peering through doors, but was disappointed to find that most of these rooms were full of grownups doing work. However, she eventually came to a room where it looked like people were doing something interesting. They busily chopped things up, or stirred them around in bowls, or put things in great boxes that blew gusts of hot air. Cyndia was fascinated. She had never seen anyone cooking before.
"What are you doing down here?" asked one of the cooks, looking down at her from where he stood chopping vegetables. "You aren't supposed to be here!"
"What are you doing?" asked Cyndia fearlessly. No one ever scolded her for anything. She was the master and mistress's only child, and she could get away with whatever she wanted.
"I'm making dinner," said the chef patiently.
"Can I see?"
The chef found a tall chair and pulled it up to the counter so Cyndia could stand on it and watch.
"Keep your hands to yourself," he warned, as he began chopping vegetables.
She watched him chop a while, fascinated by how quickly and neatly he worked. Then her attention span ran out, and she began investigating other things on the countertop.
"What's this?" she said, picking up a small stray object.
"What, that? That's just a seed."
"What's it for?"
"It's not for anything," said the chef. Then he considered and added, "Well, I suppose you could plant it and see if it grows into something."
"It will grow?" she asked, studying the seed curiously. It didn't look like it could do anything. It was just hard and dry, like a bit of wood. Not alive.
"It would if you put it in a pot with some dirt and watered it," said the cook.
She nooded. "Help me down, please."
The chef put her back down on the floor, and she ran off to her rooms with the seed clutched very tightly in one hand. Along the way, she ran into one of the maids.
"Goodness!" said the maid. "What's the hurry?"
"I need a pot, please," said Cyndia politely. "I want to plant my seed." She showed the seed to the maid.
"You could get that from the gardeners," said the maid. "Let's go check."
Within a few minutes, Cyndia was back in the greenhouse again, this time under the watchful eye of a gardener, who gave her a pot and showed her how to plant the seed and water it. She looked down at the damp soil that covered her newly-planted seed.
"When is it going to grow?"
"In a few days," the gardener told her. "Just give it a little water every day - not too much. Do you think you can do that?"
The gardener didn't think she could do that. She was just a very little girl, without much of an attention span, and likely to become bored with something as uninteresting as a seed in a pot.
But she did not lose interest. She took her seed back to her room, and dutifully watered it every morning under the watchful eye of her governess. For a few days, nothing of interest happened, but Cyndia was a trusting sort, and she believed that if she did as she was told, everything would work out.
And it did. One morning she got up to find that her little seed was poking above the surface of the dirt. She worried that perhaps she hadn't buried it deeply enough, and that all the watering she'd been doing had washed the soil away. When she checked it again later that day, however, she found that the seed was now perched on top of a tiny green sprout that was working its hardest to dislodge the shell with a few sticky new leaves.
"It's a baby plant!" she said happily.
And that was how she discovered the second magical thing: you could take a lifeless bit of wood, drop it in a pot of lifeless dirt, and pour lifeless water over it, and in a few days something alive would come out on its own.
A few days later, Cyndia's father said to her, "You know, you have a birthday coming up soon. Is there anything special you'd like as a present? You can have anything you'd like - just name it."
"Seeds," she said.
"What am I going to get you for your birthday?"
"I really don't need anything," Cyndia insisted. She smiled warmly at the boy who had asked her, with a spark of humor in her eyes. At twelve years old, Pegasus was still very much the gawky schoolboy. He still hadn't quite grown into his frame yet, but his face was starting to lose its boyish softness and begin to take on the shape of adulthood. His eyes were fixed on her with the look of puppy-like adoration she found so charming.
"I have to get you something," he insisted. "Even if it's something small. There must be something you want."
"I'll have to think about it," said Cyndia. She ran a hand through his hair. "You know you're all I could want. Nothing else could compare."
He blushed. "I still think I should get you a birthday present."
Cyndia nodded and turned her attention back to the rosebush she'd been admiring. It was the time of year when the roses were at their peak, and the ones in her garden were so prolific that there seemed to be more blossoms than leaves. The air smelled heavenly. It was Cyndia's favorite place in the world, and she and Pegasus had spent many happy hours there, chatting about everything that came to mind.
"Don't you love rosebushes?" she said. "I've been learning how to take care of them. Do you know how to prune a rosebush?"
"No," said Pegasus. He made himself a bit more comfortable, leaning forward and propping his chin on his hands, the better to be educated. "Tell me how."
"They cut off all the branches," she said. "Everything, all the way down until it's not much more than a stump. You'd think they were trying to kill it. But when spring comes, it leafs out again, and when it blooms there are more flowers than there were before. Isn't that amazing?" She paused a moment, reaching out to draw one of the flowers close enough to sniff it. "Flowers and plants have always been magical to me. They have a sort of life force that's so much stronger than anything we humans have. They're born from lifeless pods, they die every winter and come back to life in the spring. You could plan an acorn now, and the tree that would grow from it would still be here hundreds of years after we're both gone."
"I'd never really thought about that before," Pegasus admitted. "That's sort of beautiful."
"It is beautiful," she agreed.
Pegasus smiled, a glint of mischief in his eyes. "Perhaps I'll just get you flowers for your birthday and not worry about a gift."
Cyndia laughed. She knew perfectly well that given half a chance, he would spend a small fortune on her. He'd been doing so regularly for birthdays, Christmas, and Valentine's Day since the day they'd met.
"That's what I want," she said. "Roses will be fine." She thought a moment, and then added with a playful smile of her own. "Blue ones."
"There's no such thing as blue roses," said Pegasus. "Unless you dye them."
"You're always telling me you would do anything for me. You can't back down over a little thing like flowers," said Cyndia sweetly.
Pegasus thought about it for a moment. "All right. Blue roses. I'll get you some. Not dyed ones, either."
"Oh?" said Cyndia.
"It's a surprise," said Pegasus.
And that was all he would say about the matter. That afternoon, he went to a hobby shop and bought several tubes of paints and brushes, and a book on how to paint. Many drafts and a lot of wasted paper later, he appeared on Cyndia's doorstep the day of her birthday, proudly carrying a rough but still attractive painting of a vase filled with dozens of blue roses.
There was something wrong with the weather that summer. Days that should have been warm and sunny were instead filled with heavy gray clouds. It rained often, turning the earth to sloppy mud, and the temperature never seemed to go up the way it should have. The reporters on the news talked grimly about crop failures, and meteorologists argued with each other as to why Mother Nature was letting them down this way. Everyone seemed to be in a bad mood.
No one's mood was worse than Pegasus's. He sat in his workshop, curled up into a ball on the floor, not moving. His keen eyes, which had once been able to pick out every nuance, every line, every shade of what he was seeing, now remained fixed on the blank white wall in front of him, and saw nothing.
There were windows in the workroom, but he chose not to look out them. He knew what he would see if he looked. There was a view of the garden, but the cold, wet weather had seen to it that only the hardiest plants were managing to survive, their leaves wet and draggled. Only a few brave flowers managed to put out a few buds, which blackened and fell to earth without blooming.
The rosebushes, pruned for the winter, did not grow back.
A few people stopped what they were doing to stare. They couldn't be blamed for that - it wasn't very often that anyone saw a limousine in the parking lot of a gardening supply store, and this one was immediately recognizable. It was sleek and silvery, with the design of a pegasus rampant on one door and the I2 logo on the other side. Many people gathered around, craning their necks for a better look as the famous man stepped out of his car. He nodded graciously to them as he walked past, while his bodyguards patrolled the perimeter to keep his adoring fans from getting too close. Pegasus strolled undisturbed into the building to wander around and look at the wares. After some serious scrutiny, he selected a handful of goods and carried them up to the counter.
"I'd like to buy these, please," he said.
"Of course," said the cashier, trying very hard not to stare. She quickly rang up his purchases. "That will be ten dollars and twenty-six cents, please."
"That little?" said Pegasus musingly. "Strange, isn't it, how such important things can be bought for such trifles..."
There didn't seem to be any answer for that, so the cashier simply put everything in a plastic bag and handed him with an automatic suggestion for him to have a nice day. He waved distractedly and walked back to his car. The onlookers stood and watched as it glided serenely away.
Pegasus sat silently in the back of the car, watching the scenery roll by as he opened his packages one by one. Gradually, the city was replaced by greener spaces, and at length, they came to a wide open area, a pleasant-looking place whose grassy expanse was broken only by a few trees and neat rows of gray stones. The car parked at the front gate, and Pegasus got out and walked silently into the cemetery.
He knew exactly which stone he wanted. He had visited it many times before. Now he stood before it, smiling gently.
"Hello," he said. "Sorry I haven't been here lately. Things have been quite exciting lately - they've only just let me out of the hospital." He reached up with one hand, gently touching the place where his eye used to be. Even after a few days of treatment, it was still quite sore. "I hope you aren't too disgusted with me. I'll make it up to you, though. You'll see - I'll do better this time."
He stood a moment, thinking or perhaps listening. He had been thinking a lot lately, about the seed and the rosebush. People, he had decided, were not like seeds. Life didn't spring up from what was dead. Rosebushes, though... that might be different. Even if he'd been cut back until he was nearly dead, he had this chance to grow back into something better. He would do it. Cyndia had always loved rosebushes most of all.
"I brought you the kind of flowers you like," he said quietly.
And with that, he opened a bag and spilled a cascade of seeds onto the earth.