John W. Patterson
Word count:2,476

Deserted Gardens of the Heart

(Romance fantasy)

A calm sea cast azure echoes along the coastline of New Poseidonis, nets drying in the midday heat. Both the tide and fishermen had left the endless strip of sand and stone to the empty sky for safekeeping. A lone man remained, standing in the shade of Mirg pier. It was the storyman, the tale weaver.

He stood transfixed, a tall, thin line of white rooted among the barnacled piles. Long curls and waves of white fell to his broad shoulders and ending in the middle of his back. A closely trimmed beard sans moustache balanced his well-receded hairline. Covering his balding crown, there rested a skull cap of plain white, matching his ankle-length robe. His prominent forehead was deeply furrowed with endless years of musing. Dark gray eyes with flecks of silver-blue rimming the pupils looked beyond the visible. Lips full, usually pulled tautly with the corners turned upwards held an ever present near-grin.

Inner resolve and the quiet familiarity with a greater scheme of hidden things fed his aura. A countenance reflecting the unseen reality behind earth and sky was his inevitable inheritance. Carefully hidden was a soul welted with scars of deprivation, wounds of a silenced passion, and the chains of an unattained union. His faith in his dreams drove him on, a poised enigma.

A clanging tremor wafted down from the bone-white cliffs above. Anxious Largo, the well-fed opportunist, toiled as usual at the wind gong hanging in the Grotto of Disse. It was the hour of the summoning. Ascending the salted seawall, the tale weaver counted each hand carved step. He had memorized every timeworn crack in the bell-curved stones, each recalling his life's habitual predictability. Ennui weighted his stride. Time for inspiration had drawn to its close. Nearing the Gather Square, he rightly anticipated a tension awaiting him.

"Ho, here is the straggler!" cried Largo, keeper of the courtyard, tender of the shade grove, "You make our friends wait in the heat. They will go elsewhere! You are on my schedule--not your own."

"They wait, they buy more drak, you profit. If I speak not of my heart, my soul, the people hear words only. I rob them. They return to the drudgery of the day with nothing but a full belly. I come here when the lived words bring me--not before," answered the storyman.

Largo spun about exasperated, hands overhead, weaving his way back into the sea of faces, each, intent on the moment the familiar voice would quell the hubbub. That essential goblet of K'sim imported drak passed hand to hand over the heads of the throng. It found its way to the wearied storyman now seated on a stool beneath the Great Tree of Thanatos. He drank well of the cup, placing it on a nearby root knee. They refilled it before his hand left it standing.

"Story! A story! Passion and love! Joy and sorrow!" shouted the boisterous ones.

"Yes, wine, power, and death! Heroes and maidens!" cross talked another full of cheap local brewed drak and Tallis fish.

Largo's hand then raised high and silence swept across the murmurings. Elbows dug ribs and palms covered the mouths of babblers. The tale was near born.

Truth comes again in your midst as I have always promised you my friends. Listen and learn. Drink in my words and follow their path to that place in your soul where the gods dwell. Hear now of the beautiful Asudym, tall, sleek of body like the cheetah, long panther-black and rainbow-glinted hair. Her face--it glowed. Her eyes were full of mercy and the light of vision, of sheer joy. They exuded an excitement. Asudym's smile was a haven, an oasis of comfort to the thirsty soul. I could go on --there isn't time enough now. See with me now, her home on the long-vanished isle of Eaidaka, asleep beneath fathomless waters, a half day's sail from where the great Poseidonis once reigned in topaz and gold.

Whispers ricocheted, "He speaks again of Poseidonis. I wager fifty khezdriffs he hails from there." The interruptions grew, laughter rising, coins clinked tabletops.

"Save your gold, my friends. The storyman's greatest aged ancestors were mere babes in the days of Old Poseidonis," spoke Largo, calling for order to return.

"Friends, hear now and wonder later. The hours of labor return soon and I barely breathe my story," added the storyman.

Now Asudym was a wealthy artisan belonging to a guild of sculptors. They furnished the homes of Poseidonis' nobility and filled the temples with images of the gods and the powerful of that day.

Asudym also sculpted for her own pleasure and her gardens rivaled the finest of nearby Poseidonis. She was working one summer on the statue of a man. Days were slow for commissioned pieces for many regular buyers were on voyages to distant lands spending time and gold. Working long into many nights, stirring awake, and then working even more, Asudym nearly finished in a few days what usually took weeks. Exhausted the following day, she went to her bedchamber without finishing dinner. She told her servant not to wake her at the time of prayer. She would pray longer another morning. Looking down on the studio below her loft window, she vexed her tender soul with the unfinished, the incomplete man standing in moonshade.

Her sleep was more toil than rest. Her dreams were full of portent, premonition, and passion. She met the completed statue, as a living man, in a dream. His face took hold of her very soul. His image drifted just out of her full embrace, his lips barely touching hers as some greater vortex swept them apart.

"Ahh, the gods play havoc with even our freedom to dream joy," the tale weaver sighed, lifting his goblet to sip through a measured pause. Seeing the crowd eagerly lean forward around him, he spoke again.

Fair Asudym awakes covered in the sweat of confusion and disorientation. Only the visage of this nameless man remained clear in the fog of her wearied mind. She arises a driven thing, faltering down the steps to her studio, and looks at the faceless statue. She speaks to him and promises him a face before nightfall. Asudym strived for more perfection in those hours than ever before. More heart and more spirit moved her than she could ever remember. She wept as the chisel brought forth the strong chin, his high cheekbones, and rosebud lips. A few hours later she fell back into her chair and laughed to herself, tossing her tools to the floor. He was finished.

Asudym's finished work stared back at her. Deep satisfaction was sadly transformed in that moment. The nameless man of the world of dreams, now standing in the golden light of dusk had taken her unguarded heart. Asudym had fallen in love with the creation of her own hands, snared by her own dreams. He stood unaware, majestic, fantasies trapped in stone, cold and perfect. His unchanging gaze could not see Asudym's tears nor could he hear her cries of unbelief. Within her breast a warmth filled its heavings. Her throat tightened into a moan. Her wailing brought her servant who could not help at this time.

Asudym being strong of mind, composed herself. Over the next few days she had a private place prepared in her gardens and placed the precious sculpture there. She kept him shrouded and refrained from going near the spot. Busying herself with new pieces and travels, she kept her anguish in check. Men came and went in her life. Accolades and riches were her consorts. Still no one could get close to the place where the nameless man dwelt in her, in deserted gardens of the heart.

She finally went to him and slowly pulled back the shroud. As at the beginning, his face possessed her. She was lost in his empty eyes. Strength left her and she dropped to her knees, collapsing at his feet. Asudym wept bitterly for hours, at times smiting the statue's breast, and falling back to wrap her arms around his legs. She begged the gods to release her from such love, she begged them to give him life, even if he cared not for her.

Years fly away as the evening starlings.

Prayer upon prayer, the gods remained unmoved. Asudym kept her nightly ritual of visiting with the nameless man in her dreams after crying herself to sleep at his marble feet. Her servants on colder nights would enter the alcove and cover her chilled, slumbering frame with the silvery fur of the mountain ertung.

Seeking out wizards and sorcerers to change the stone to flesh upset those who caught wind of such madness. Asudym was beyond caring. She threatened death if any one of them so much as touched or harmed the stone image. Failure after failure left her with little hope for changing anything.

One evening as she sat with her silent companion, she heard a commotion coming from the edge of the garden. The servants were expelling a strange man insisting he must see Asudym. She stepped out into view and motioned them away, leaving only this man before her. Apologizing for the late hour, he explained a troubled journey to reach her from a far place. His ship was sailing for home within the hour. He told her that he had something designed for her alone. It could be her only hope. Asudym barely perceived points of blue fire sparkling in the man's eyes, hidden in the shadow of his cloak's lavender cowl.

Now Asudym began to ask him how much gold he wanted. He refused. He spoke to her of the stars and the planets being of an utmost favorable occultation. She was encouraged to implore in the temple of Poseidon this night and ask again for favor. He was almost certain the gods would judge fairly and grant her wish for the statue to live.

She laughed.

He handed her a vial and warned her that finally, if sorrow was killing her very soul, then to drink the liquid within. She would be assured of being with her nameless love forever even if the gods did not hear.

Taking the vial, Asudym was further cautioned to pray and wait. The effects of the vial's contents were powerful and irreversible. The stranger turned and quickly left the garden. Asudym went after him to ask of the vial, amazed to find no one in the street. She failed to notice the tip of a lavender cowl sinking into the cobbled pathway just outside the garden wall. A faint odor of sulphur hung in the dew-heavy night chill.

She voyaged to Poseidonis to pray. Returning home hours later, she ran to the garden, confident the gods had heard her cries. Breathless, she raced down the torchlit path of stone. The hedges, mazing about her, swallowed her footfalls' echoes. Reaching at last, the shrouded man, she yanked away the covering.

Stone, ageless, heartlessly perfect stone stood coldly as it always had.

Asudym fell to her bruised knees again, holding her hands to the heavens asking, "Why, why, why?" Sorrow overwhelmed her as great darkness. She felt the vial pressing against her thigh. With little hesitation, she quaffed the contents casting the emptied vial aside. Feeling nothing unusual, she wrapped her arms around the statue, falling asleep at his tearstained feet as always.

In the morning the Asudym's servants find the nameless man, alive, weeping in the garden holding fast to the cold and perfectly beautiful statue of a kneeling woman--Asudym!

The storyman was finished with his tale. A sorrowed silence and muffled gasps lilted under the Great Tree of Thanatos. He drank again of his goblet of warm drak.

"You say your stories are true but this cannot be so!" said a burly fisherman rising to his feet.

"People do not turn to stone nor stone live as a man of flesh," added another voice increasing the clamor. Largo stepped to the forefront as the storyman continued to empty his cup.

"Thank you for your company today. Everyone has heard a good tale so go on now and leave the storyman to rest," Largo spoke hoping to quell the rising tide of dissent.

The storyman rose to his feet. Turning to leave, he spoke, "Answer a riddle, those who doubt my truth and in its solution lies your proof." He stepped forward gesturing and began, "What was never born but loved and loves still? What was never alive but by the gods lives evermore? And what remains nameless among us yet known by all?"

With grunts and headshakings, none would answer. The storyman continued, "You cannot think for yourselves and know the truth and likewise I will not offer proof." Moving away from the dispersing crowd, he returned to the shoreline.

On the beach, little Celestia came running after him calling, "Master storyman, wait! I know the riddle!" Her head of dark curly hair tipped to the side, she paused, shading her eyes.

The sunlit tower of a man stopped and waited, not looking immediately back at her. Staring out to the edge of the sky and beyond the sea line he said, "Go on, Celestia, fair child. Catch your breath and tell me." He faced her now and knelt down, looking deep into her waiting eyes."

She began hesitantly, "Asudym loved a man never born and you love her still! The gods gave you life from Asudym's undying love and that love keeps you alive forever!"

He turned back now, away, a bit to the side, tears welling up and Celestia moved around to catch his eye, adding, "Asudym never named you and you have never told us your name old storyman. What is your name?"

"I have no name but storyman," he replied, tears lost in his beard.

Celestia's happiness at solving the riddle clashed in innocent contrast with the sorrow gripping the nameless storyman now. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a tiny and delicate flower of stone fallen from Asudym's hair long ago. He handed it to Celestia, clasping her soft little hands in his large, strong hands.

"You have reasoned well, Celestia. Keep this treasure little friend and remember me and Asudym. Hide the riddle's answer in your heart. Guard it and the treasure of your heart as well," speaking softly as he stood, overshadowing her. "Tell your father Largo, I must make one last pilgrimage to Poseidon's watery temple to pray. I will miss you little one. Celestia, you are Largo's new tale weaver."

Having said his goodbye, he waded out, disappearing into the sea.

E-mail me if you enjoyed this tale or would like to use it in any e-zine or hard copy publication.

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