Garden of Lilies

I was once told of a boy who aspired to be an artist. He was born to a noble house, and fit the bill for one of the gentry – tall, thin, timid, and aquiline. His hair was the color of a raven's feathers, but did not shine like they did, instead it was matte black – murky some said. It set the precedent for the rest of the boy. In everything he was always something almost grand, but in the end dull.

Unlike the rest of his noble house, the boy was not a warrior. He had grace and potential, but no talent. His father was a general, as was his father's father. Even the granddame of the house was still a famed hero throughout the land. All of his four eldest brothers were skilled to varying degrees and employed in the king's army. Torson's Horde they were called – with the exception of the boy who wanted to be an artist.

All the proper relatives of Torson's Horde possessed glossy black hair, and clear blue eyes, and skin that tanned well in the sun's rays. Torson's Horde wore their colors of gold and olive well, unlike any other.

The boy always appeared sickly in his finest clothes – as such, he tended to borrow servant's clothing at every chance. He appreciated how the clothes draped, and did not cling, how they might be not soft, but they never required many hours being stuck by incompetent seamstresses. The colors, earthen tones of browns and creams and various dark blues were also very well suited to him.

Needless to say his parents did not approve, and that disapproval spread down the ranks, until only the littlest sister, of the incorruptible age of 5, would smile at her brother. And the boy expected that to change any year, but still he was to her what he wished the rest would be to him – simply a brother. A doting, loving, family member.

His intelligence did not lie on the battle field, but in the ways of the mind and heart – in wisdom. His understandings lead him to question fighting, to question the honor of killing and maiming and reveling in bloodshed. And for that, he was ostracized further. Now, I tell this story particularly, because this boy had a twin. The boy's twin, a girl, was his complete opposite.

And she, more than any of Torson's Horde was embarrassed by her brother. Their antagonism was so sharp, that often as not, they would lie carefully at night, lest the other seek to ruin something during the night. It was during these years that the boy learned to sleep lightly, and that the girl learned to disapprove of shadow-sneaking (because she could not do it to any degree of success).

And the rest of the family watched with amusement as the boy had his canvases slashed and the girl had her weapons coated in pitch.

It was fun, a joke that ran through the house with the ease of a rumor that spoke truth and was the more amusing for it. Until one night, when the girl took things far too far, and her family began to realize the severity of the rift might not be so comical. Might not be so worthy of laughter.

The littlest sister was poisoned. The twin had ordered a servant to bring the boy wine, and in it, was enough poison to incapacitate her twin, but nothing more. What the girl had failed to think of beforehand was that often as not their littlest sister shared the boy's company and evening drink before they went to bed. Because the littlest sister inconceivably continued to love the male twin who did not fit in, even as she grew.

The littlest sister, the only to inherit their mother's golden crown, pale skin, and delicacy; she was a flower among grass. Not as tough, not as hardy, but infinitely more pleasing. Unique.

That night, her life was crushed, as all weak flowers are eventually, trod over by an unsuspecting and uncaring enemy. Pale lavender faded to white, as the littlest sister faded from life in her brother's shaking arms. She had drunk the wine meant for the boy. She had drunk the dose of poison meant for an adult.

The servant who had served the poison came foreword almost immediately of his own volition, out of a sense of honor and extreme guilt. He was killed. To his family went a penance, because he had come foreword himself. But the news he brought with his confession is what set the house truly on fire – the girl had been the one to order the poison. Not a foreign enemy that could be cut down, but a snake in the backyard.

Curled around the neck.

The parents were besides themselves with shame. For the dishonor such a foolish mistake had cost – the cost of life unjustly taken.

But also, said some, those who thought that Torson's Horde need not loose its star pupil – it was the boy's fault. After all, it had been wine, the girl had drunk. Anyone knew that children were not to be allowed such drink in a casual setting.

The parent's did not want the burden of the decision, and so the Granddame of the once-noble house suggested a contest. It was to be between the children-twins now adults. To each of them she charged a task that only they could perform, but did not tell them what it was. The eve of the beginning of the three months had the brother kneeling before a statue of Ezghai, the patron of the arts. The eve of the beginning of the three months had the sister kneeling before a statue of Zudumxe, the patron of war.

Her chosen task was to eliminate a monstrous threat that had been reported several day's right to the East.

His chosen task was to paint. A lily. For which his sister had been named.

Her task was easily outlined and easily accomplished, the travel part anyways – for she had spent all of her life preparing for war. And now she considered herself riding towards it. She was confident in her respectable skill, that she could slay a demon.

His task was not so easy, even though some would think it might be. The nonbelievers, the ones that wished him to fail, so that the star of Torson's Horde was not lost, spread vicious gossip.

The real challenge was where to find a lily to paint when true winter would be upon them in a matter of days and every bloom worth painting had already died of frost.

The first two months, the brother despaired. He tried repeatedly to draw a lily from memory – he had painted the littlest sister with them many a time. But not matter his attempts or style or strategy, it would not be right. An entire room was devoted to these scraps, and the servants took to calling the room "the garden." The garden of lilies.

The Granddame watched patiently, already knowing there would be no winner.

Every morning, regardless of any other duties he might have need to see to – regardless of the weather, even, as the snow worsened – the brother went out tramping across the fields to where he had picked lilies before with his sister. Always he was careful where he walked, in case they had spread. A white lily would not be particularly obvious against several days snow fall. White blanketed all.

It was during one of these walks, more accurately the return from one of these, that the brother found his bloom. The servants came to him in a flurry, anxious over something, they told him to hurry, and the commotion of their passing disrupted many. They took him to the garden room.

He was saddened to go into that room, for what it meant to him, for what it reminded him of. But the servants went to the window on the far end of the rectangular room, and to him the pointed out a spot in the courtyard. It was the bower's yard, where the littlest sister had spent much of her time playing, while her brother watched.

To his amazement, from the new vantage point he could see a single lily blossom blooming in the center of the yard. Standing tall among the snow. Dazedly, the brother ordered the servants to clear the snow around the bloom – but to be careful not to touch it, nor to disturb it in any way.

From that very hour, he set up his easel, and the boy who had aspired to be an artist, who had grown into his talent, painted. He sketched first, but there was not much to do – he had his model, his example, his colors, and time.

At first, the brother remembered to eat. Remembered to sleep occasionally, if not for long, but his routines began to be disrupted. Servants ordered to bring him meals by the Granddame reported they heard him talking to himself – talking as if to the littlest sister. What time the brother was not painting, he was watching the lily.

Remembering.

He cried as often as he was talking to air when the servants came in to bathe him, feed him. A bed was set up in 'the garden' room, but it was never used. The brother wasted away, but with each day, the painting seemed to gather on new life – it was of a simple lily bloom among a field of snow, but every day the servants would swear it was a portrait of the littlest sister.

Only the servants had seen it, only they would the brother permit. They and his mother came to admire his painting. His mother had turned from the art of Torson's House, with the death of her daughter. Her daughter, who the mother had prized above all her other children, above her own life and the tradition of her House.

At the end of the month, the brother called his painting done just as a scout announced the sister's return, with none of the eighteen men she had left with and a strange unknown horse.

The Granddame welcomed her granddaughter home, and asked where was proof the monster was slain – and the sister said there was no monster to begin with. She had been chasing tails, and had found nothing else worthy of her time in the East.

In fact, if she had been worthy, she would have realized that the orphan she had encountered in a village had been a charge. In fact, if she had been ready, she would have seen the smoke rising in the forest as a sign of trouble and ridden to a village's aid. In fact, if she had been honorable, there were numerous occasions. Instead, she had killed all of her men and their horses by overworking them.

The Granddame went next to her grandson.

She found him passed out on the window sill, and paid little attention to him, her eyes captivated by the painting of a lily. Not just any lily, their Lily. The Granddame swore she could hear the littlest sister laughing, as she had been wont to do in the very courtyard the lily had bloomed in, during the middle of winter. It brought tears to her old eyes.

"My grandson, you are indeed innocent…The spirit of our Lily has proven it such." What the Granddame failed to notice in her detached authority, was that her not quite-beloved grandson lay not asleep at last…but was resting on a far more eternal field.

The moment that the brother had felt his brush move last across the painting – the moment that the sister had returned and the three month contest ended – he had felt his breath slip away with a smile on his face. He heard her laughing, felt her smiling, and reveled in the thought of having her back, of being with the one sibling to love him. It had been a wish, and he thought, it had been granted, when he had felt cool hands tug at him. Away, he walked with grace.

The paintings were formally hung up, with the one the brother had painted of the littlest sister as the main piece – for countless generations the room remained, and remains to this day, still named the Garden of Lilies.