Written on July 19, 2019 (♋)

Author's Notes: I really like symbolic plants, okay. :P Also, I wanted to look at Alma and Ovelia's relationship at Orbonne, as we're told by Ovelia that Alma is her closest friend, but we never get a window into how the two of them interacted. Also, Simon is one of my severely ovelooked faves and I need to write more about him

“Look, I’m not stopping you all from planting as many ‘useful’ herbs as you want,” Alma said with a serene, almost cheerful defiance. “I’ve just decided that flowers are useful too, and I’d rather spend my afternoons walking back and forth to that stupid well for something that’s pretty.”

Several of the brethren murmured. Ovelia, who hadn’t suspected her headstrong friend’s plot until the first scarlet-tipped shoots pressed their way through the soil, tried not to show her discomfort, although if she had had the option to recede into the stone of the monastery walls and live out the rest of her existence as a stone saint or gargoyle, she quite possibly would have. The two girls stood on either side of the towering icon that dominated the chapel, their shadows touching its shadow as though they were strung on a black gallows.

“Do you think it unbefitting, Lady Beoulve, for a noblewoman to know her simples?” Simon asked calmly. “Do you think it good for a monastery garden to yield nothing more than nosegays for the soldiers passing back from Zeltannia in need of healing?”

“Is it unbefitting for soldiers to know their simples?” Alma asked petulantly. “They’re always the ones with bones to set or wounds to poultice or something. It seems a lot easier for them to figure it out on their own than wander all the way back here.”

Somebody suppressed a laugh by means of a cough. Simon started to say something, but evidently thought better of it, considering perhaps that explaining the complex particulars of what happened on the Zeltannian front was not the best tack to take with any ten-year-old—especially one hailing from her family.

“Lady Alma...” He eventually began. “You may take comfort to know that God made a great many things whose use is to be beautiful.”

She smiled.

“You must also know, however, that when we ask you kindly to help plant a new bed of fennel and you—in a scheme of your own devising—covertly pay some peddler to furnish you with some exotic and unfamiliar ornamental, fraudulently substitute one set of bulbs for another, and then carefully keep up a charade that you are obediently performing the duties expected of you...”

“Do you ever think you should do something more beautiful than your duty, Simon?” Ovelia interjected suddenly but softly, her eyes growing wide as she heard the words and realized that she had uttered them aloud.

There was an audible gasp as the brothers realized which girl was speaking, and all eyes suddenly turned to the princess. All save Simon’s, which looked to the ground as their owner’s withered fingers tightened around the leather-bound missal he held.

“Your royal highness,” he said quietly. “I think such thoughts plague us all. One’s duty, however...” He trailed off as he looked up to the outstretched icon and the girls standing under it, seemingly forgetting himself for a moment as the lecture faded away into an uneasy silence and Alma ran over to take her friend’s hand.

“One’s duty is… complex,” he finally continued, still somewhat adrift. “I shall write to Lord Beoulve and consult him about yours, Lady Alma.”

He turned to leave, and the sounding of the vesper bell left everyone with little time to question what exactly had just happened. In the days that followed, Lord Beoulve was surprisingly quick to correspond as regarded his daughter’s conduct, and while Ovelia never discovered what he wrote, Alma seemed reasonably content for the rest of the summer to haul every bucket of water the monastery and its gardens required. The illicit flowerbed stayed, and both girls wove garlands of bright red lilies until the cold of an early autumn killed their sport.