Mirabelle went to the garden often. When she was not there, she would think of it, visiting in her mind whilst her body went through the rituals of court and education. She had been sewing when a cascade of sparkling, golden light fell upon her, a shower of stars at the height of the day. She stood up and walked to the chamber window, watched the man kneeling on the ground. The tan planes of his back glowed like soft, golden fruit beneath the sunlight. His hat was in one hand, and from his head, flowed a mane of tousled, spun gold, glistening and sparkling in the light.
He raised up, looked around him
‘Boy, bring me a bouquet.’ she said.
He raised up and slipped the hat back on, tucking his hair away with a practiced sweep of his fingers before he reached to a crop of wildflowers, cut them with a clasp knife and tied them with a length of cord.
On the winding stone stairs to her chamber. Eilhu met the head gardener who pursed his lips and shook his head at the bunch of wildflowers.
‘Where are you taking those?’ he said.
Eilhu told him and he whistled, under his breath and went to take them from Eilhu. He stepped back.
‘The wild ones smell stronger. She will like them better.’ Eilhu said
He continued on, the head gardener watched him leave, amused by the boy and his certain manner.
Eilhu knocked on her chamber door. She called for him to enter.
She sat in a chair, facing the chamber window. Her auburn hair fell down between her shoulder blades and her long green robe shimmered, inset with garnets and flakes of gold. Her blue eyes fell to the flowers in his hand and she took in their scent.
Eilhu fought the stirring in his chest at the sight of her, the rich, sweet perfume of the flowers filling the room.
‘Who are you?’ she said.
Eilhu passed her the bouquet and bowed from the waist. Mirabelle chuckled at the formal gesture and held them to her nose, inhaled until her head swam from the scent.
‘I work here now, your highness.’ he said.
Mirabelle tittered and covered her mouth with her hand.
‘Aren’t you hot with the hat on?’ she said.
He frowned, touched the brim of his cap and lowered his eyes.
‘No your highness. My scalp, there’s a sore place upon it. It shames me.’ he said.
Mirabelle tilted her head to one side.
‘Take it off.’ she said
Eilhu shook his head.
‘I cannot, your highness.’ he said.
She was quick, motivated by amusement as she pulled the cap from his head. His golden hair rolled down, magnificent and fulfilling. He pulled away, eyes wide with fright but she took his arm and reaching into the purse at her belt, fed a handful of ducats into the pocket of his shirt.
He backed away. Mirabelle’s heart pounded, fierce and loud in her ears.
On his way down, he met the head gardener. Eilhu gave the ducats to him who took them with disbelief.
‘You could buy a lot with these, boy.’ he said.
Eilhu shook his head.
‘I have no interest in gold. Give them to your children.’ he said.
The next day, Mirabelle called for another bouquet and he took one to her. She did not wait for the door to close before she snatched the cap off. Eilhu caught it with both hands as the bouquet fell to the floor. She reached into her purse and gave him a handful of ducats. He walked away, putting his cap back on as he descended the stairs.
The gardener’s children enjoyed his gifts.
On the third day, she called him. They wrestled over his cap, but he smiled and snatched it from her grasp. They stood, inches apart from one another. She narrowed her eyes against the gleam of his hair, the warm determination in his eyes continued to hold her in place.
Her hand rose, fingertips brushing against the curve of his cheekbone before he stepped backwards, turned and left.
On the fourth day, she called and he did not answer. She looked down into the garden, and saw the head gardener, with his children assisting him in simple playful tasks. One of them gazed up at her, and she smiled at the ducats clutched in his hands.
It would be time before she saw him again.