Fall From Grace: The Story of Queen Zeal Chapter 4
The Royal Gardens
Twelve years later...
Ceres trimmed the dead branches off of a rose bush, quietly humming the tune of Arachnae Scytha, closely followed by a small, jade-colored orb hovering in the air. She had been apprenticed to Mnaed, the Head of Horticulture, when she was nine due to her remarkable ability to make things grow.
The Royal Gardens were a busy mess of other gardeners, sculptors, fountain plumbers, bonsai artists, animal keepers, and a group of silly gossiping women that were disturbing the quiet peace as they fit together a floor mosaic. It was extremely large, about twice the size of Kajar Square, and filled with all manner of life.
Plants grew abound in this paradise, from ferns, orchids, and ivy growing as they pleased in a few areas that were allowed to grow wild, which were preferred by King Pharos, to neat, well trimmed bonsai and roses near the spotlessly clean fountains in the center, Queen Xatya's favorite place in the garden.
The king was also an aspiring zoologist in his spare time, an excellent one in his opinion, although he barely new the difference from a toad and a lizard. Therefore, upon his order, the gardens boasted parrots, monkeys, silkworms, butterflies, iguanas, a leopard, and goldfish in the reflecting pools.
As for reflecting pools, there were quite a few, along with about a dozen fountains and three times that many statues. Few commoners ever received a glimpse of this agricultural and artistic masterpiece, but those who did never forgot the sight.
She eventually came to the next rose bush, brandishing her trimmers. She noticed that it looked a bit weak, with it's drooping leaves and dried brown color.
"This one could use a little sprucing up." she said to herself. She grabbed the green orb, ready to hurl it at the rose and gently heal the plant.
"Stop!" yelled the bush.
Ceres jumped up, almost dropping the orb onto her own foot. Her surprise turned into annoyance when the bush transformed into the familiar shape of Mune.
"What are you doing?!" she hissed, releasing the green orb. "I almost gave my feet a growth spurt."
"I dunno." he responded. "I was bored, and decided to see how long it would take for you to notice that there was never a rose bush there before."
A few people stared at the two companions. There were still some people that were unable to adapt to having Doreen, Masa, and Mune in their world, even after a dozen long years. There had even been a sort of a witch hunt lead by the semi-senile Head of Philosophy, Tlacal, who had made the mistake of thinking that they were Mystics one late night after a little too much wine at the Harvest Moon Festival last year. Tlacal was one of the stare-givers, as he had held a slight grudge against the strange beings ever since that event.
"So, now you've taken to harassing gardeners, eh Mune?" Tlacal asked haughtily.
"Oh, go persecute somebody, Tlacal." Mune answered, irritated. As Tlacal indignantly walked away, Mune started to mutter. "Big-headed old bully..." He snatched Ceres' healing orb and started to toss and catch it as he reclined on a rose bush, oblivious to the thorns. The ball slipped out of his hands, and fell on a patch of lichen that had been growing between some bricks. In a matter of seconds, it covered a ten-foot radius.
"Oh, great." scowled Ceres, giving Mune an evil look. "A giant fungus growing in the middle of the Queen Xatya's rose garden. This will look just lovely on my report." From a distance, they could both see Tlacal smiling with glee at Mune's accident, while other gardeners gave Ceres a stare.
"You can feel free to grow up any time now." she said, hacking away at the lichen with her trimmers.
"Why?" said Mune, suddenly taking on an oddly mature tone. "If you had the option of remaining forever young, wouldn't you take the chance? As a youth, everything is carefree and innocent. I don't know about you, but I enjoy it that way."
"You have eternal youth?" Ceres asked, intrigued.
"If I want."
"I wish I could."
"You might someday..." Mune said.
Ceres gave him a glance as she started to burn the lichen away. "You are so... strange." As she said this, Mnaed walked up.
"What in the name of... whatever... do you think you're doing?!" he screeched. "The King and Queen are coming to have tea in this part of the garden in ten minutes, and you're cultivating fungus? Are you insane?"
"I'm sorry, my friend here was-"
"I don't care. You just get rid of the horticultural monstrosity before I fire you!" Mnaed said, knowing that he himself could lose his job.
"Yes, sir." Ceres answered, frantically scorching the lichen and cutting it away.
Five minutes later, the royal family could b seen walking out of the palace into the gardens.
"They're early!" wailed Mnaed. "Ceres, you're... just put the fire out!" Ceres did as she was ordered, as the leaders of Zeal came closer, followed by friends of the family, including an old companion of Ceres', Sadani, whose family had suddenly been thrust into nobility when her father struck a dreamstone mine a few years back.
All the nobles were chatting with each other, not paying attention to the enormous lichen nor any other part of the garden. Queen Xatya was having a conversation with Sadani's mother, Jhana, and was not watching where she placed her foot.
In a few seconds, Xatya's foot sank into the lichen, with a horrible sweltch sound. The fact that it was damp after having the fire extinguished didn't help. The queen shrieked, and as she tried to pull her foot out, it only got tangled up.
"Oh... how revolting!" she moaned. "Someone get me out of this... thing!" she started to flap her hands in the air as she yelped, panicking, and accidentally smacked Jhana, who fell face-first into the slimy mass.
"Get me out! Get me out! It's eating my feet!" Upon this, the queen fainted, and was caught by her son, the Crown Prince Arturex before she hit the ground., while Mnaed pulled Jhana out of the lichen. Her entire body was gray-green and oozy.
Right then and there, Mnaed walked up to Ceres, his face red as a beet with obvious anger. "This is all your fault! You're-"
"Promoted!" Everyone looked back to identify the source of the bellow. It was King Pharos himself, and he was chuckling heavily.
"P, promoted?" Ceres and Mnaed stuttered at the same time.
"Yes! I haven't had that good of a laugh in years! Besides, if someone can do this to a fungus, imagine what they can do to a real plant!"
"What's wrong with my lichen?" muttered Mune. Ceres slapped him behind her back.
By that time, the Queen came to thanks to some gentle healing magic from her youngest son, Matraym.
"Did he just promote the girl that did this?" she asked another noble.
"But... why? Pharos, are you crazy?" she whined.
"Probably. Anyway, young... what is your name, dear?" he asked.
"Zeal, your Majesty." she said nervously.
"Well then, Zeal. I appoint you Co-Head of Horticulture." the king said. After that, the entire royal party walked away to another part of the garden, but Queen Xatya could still be heard complaining about what an idiot her husband was. Mnaed walked away also, unable to think of anything to say to Ceres in the ways of a congratulation and his disappointment in having to share his power.
Ceres resumed cutting away the lichen, but she felt a shadow fall across her. She looked up to see Crown Prince Arturex standing over her, digging the tip of his foot in the fungus.
"Congratulations on your new position." he said.
"Thank you, your Majesty. I wasn't quite expecting it." she said in response.
"Oh, Father is very fickle. You'll be demoted tomorrow for making the roses bloom."
"Thank you, your Majesty... I think." Ceres said.
"Enough with the 'your Majesties'." said Arturex. "I get enough of that in court. Art will do for me."
"Well, then, Art, I suppose that Ceres will do when addressing me." she replied, suddenly noticing that she had stopped trimming the lichen. It then struck her that she was the Co-Head of Horticulture. She didn't have to get rid of the slimy gray eye-sore! She placed her scissors down, looked it over, and said "You know, I think I might just leave this here. I... kinda like it."
"Really? Well, it will certainly provide amusement around here every time mother gets her foot caught in it." Art said.
They both laughed. Art then happened to glance upon a nearby sundial.
"Oh. Well, it's time for my fencing lessons. I have to go. I'll see you some other time, I guess." he said.
"Yeah... Good-bye." Ceres said, waving. She then picked up her trimmers, and resumed taking care of the roses. She didn't mind being the Co-Head of Horticulture and trimming roses. It was just trimming lichens that got to her.
Mune suddenly reappeared. "Well, I believe you have something to say to me." he said.
"Is it 'Go away'?"
"Hmph. I was thinking of something more along the lines of a gracious thanks, you ingrate. I just got you promoted and caused you to forge a beautiful friendship with the prince of Zeal." he said, hovering in the air.
"Fine. Thank you for indirectly causing a flood of fortune to wash over me."
"I'll be content with you just deciding to stop nagging me about my being young and immature."
Ceres threw down the scissors. "You just said that you wanted me to verbally thank you!"
"So? It'll be real nice if I can act like m'self without you botherin' me 'bout it." Mune chanted.
Lilith leaned over the railing of the balcony looking over the gardens. "I told you that the potion would work!" she said, nudging Asmodeus with her elbow.
"Fine. Lilith was right." he mumbled.
"Won't Lavos be pleased with me!" the Guru of Time said in a sing-song voice.
"Asmodeus helped make the potion! He deserves some credit, too!"
Beelzebub then walked out. "Silence. The two of you are acting like children. I'm sure Lavos will reward all three of us as soon as the proper day arrives."
"What day is that?"
"Have you been listening at all for the pst few years. Or are you just simply a ninny, Asmodeus?"
"Asmodeus just hasn't been told everything. He has work to do in the workshop. He can't just sit around and listen to Lilith read." the Guru of Reason retorted.
Beelzebub made an indignant face. "Well I never... Anyway, you-know-who has no more than eight years to live."
"Oh! Asmodeus understands. And that will leave her as the-"
"Excuse me, Guru Asmodeus." Belthasar said, coming onto the balcony. "We need help in the workshop. Someone accidentally detonated your gas bomb."
"WHAT? Asmodeus spent months working on that thing! They're going to get a good dismembering is they don't have a good reason." the Guru stormed off, the treasure decorating his robe clanking as he stepped.
"Eight more years, Beelzebub... and immortality will be ours." Lilith sighed.
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