The garden at the top of the nobles’ tower is a wilder and less formal garden than the queen’s garden below. Mountain-hardy wildflowers such as columbine and aster are grouped in attractive clusters, growing in large planters of varying heights, and a large bank of lavender thrives on the west side of the tower, out of the shade of the solarium to the southeast. There is a small raised pool in the center of the garden, full of enormous orange-mottled carp grown fat and slow and tame with daily feeding.
A circular stairway winds around the exterior of the pool, leading down into the tower, and a break in the crenellated wall on the northwest side leads to the queen’s garden. Standing at the east wall, one can see down into the inner ward, and the curve of the wall on the west side from south to north overlooks the castle grounds below. The mountains of Archenland rise over the castle to the immediate north, the range stretching away into the west.
A daughter of eve with dark skin and a no-nonsense demeanor stands outside the solarium, directing a couple of workers who are carrying what appears to be the top of a stone bench.
Lanisen ascends the steps from the nobles’ quarters, his hand on the pillar for balance. He shifts hastily to the side to let a garden worker pass, and stands at the top of the steps, trying to be invisible and out of the way. He has a having-second-thoughts look on his face.
Sareen speaks to the men. “In there, angled between the second and third pillars, next to the lemon tree.”
Lanisen watches. He rubs his elbow and draws a breath, then moves toward the outskirts of the activity: not interrupting or interfering, only waiting.
Sareen eyes their progress, offering an approving nod before dismissing them workmen.
Lanisen steps back to let them pass more easily, lowering his head until they have gone by.
Sareen’s eyes follow the two men, alighting on the newcomer. “Lanisen. Good afternoon.”
Lanisen, now well and truly on the spot, flushes and blanches and shifts his weight. “Afternoon, mistress,” he answers, crossing one arm across his middle. “I was– um, if…” He stops, swallows, and pushes on. “I was wonderin’ if, if you got a minute– if you’re not busy?”
Sareen looks mildly surprised, but inclines her head. “Of course. We’ve just installed a new bench in Lady Aravis’ Solarium, if you’d like.” She indicates the door with a wave of her hand.
Lanisen says, “Oh, um.” He glances around the garden with the furtive anxiety of somebody who is trespassing somewhere he ought not to be. “Um. All right.”
Sareen leads the way.
This is a large, circular room with enormous diamond-paned windows facing each direction. North, the solarium looks out over the castle’s rooftop gardens, while the south and west windows provide a beautiful view of Archenland’s eastern forests. By standing at the east window, one can see down into the wards of the castle. The large door to the northwest can be propped open on pleasant days.
There are a number of plants growing here, ranging from the practical to the delicate and exotic. Several potted banks of medicinal herbs share space with a small fruit-bearing lemon tree, and a Calormene jasmine plant has been trained up an ornamental trellis near the south window.
Sareen takes her seat on a bench next to a young lemon tree.
Lanisen follows her in, looking around the room with something approaching awe. He rubs his elbow and hesitates before taking a seat on the bench as well, darting a quick glance to Sareen’s face to make sure that this is correct.
Sareen smiles. “It’s a nice spot, this. So, what were you needing?”
Lanisen says, “I, um…” He falters, rubs his knees, and rallies. “Um, my, my friend, she was sayin’– do you take cuttings off the plants, sometimes, to make ’em grow more, is that…?”
Sareen says, “Hmm, I prune to shape the growing of a bush or tree. I divide other plants to keep their roots from becoming too dense. That’s important with things like daylilies.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.”
Sareen asks, “Why do you ask?”
Lanisen shifts. “If– I was gonna– if you throw things away sometimes, green things, I was– I wondered if I could… have ’em. I’d pay you for ’em,” he adds quickly, glancing at her face. “It’s only it’s– gettin’ hard to find flowers or green things, outside.”
Sareen tilts her head curiously, brows drawn together. “Why would you need…oh!” She brightens. “You’ve got a girl?”
Lanisen flushes, but by the slight stiffening of his shoulders it’s not the sort of pleased embarrassment that the statement would elicit if true. He doesn’t look at her, but he takes a breath, and his voice is quietly even when he says, “For my sister, mistress.”
“Ah, I see,” she says gently, apparently aware of his sister’s situation. “That’s nice of you. I’m sure something can be arranged. Certain plants, the tops aren’t useful once they’re harvested. I grow a lot of the medicinal things, you know.”
Lanisen raises his head to look at her searchingly, his eyes widening slightly with hope. He lets out a breath, and then another. “Really?”
Sareen says, “Yes. They normally go to feed the fire, so I’m sure no one would miss them.”
Lanisen exhales again, and breaks into a glad, relieved smile that changes his whole face. “Thank you, I’m– thanks, I only– I wanted somethin’ to cheer her up. I’ll, I’ll pay you, or, or anything you like. Thank you.”
Sareen shrugs this off. “You’re a sweet lad. There’s no need to pay for refuse. I’ll send a page with some next time we’ve got cuttings. Mind you, they’re not all going to be flashy, like roses and such.”
Lanisen says hastily, “No, no, ‘course not, that’s– anything’s fine, thank you, thanks so much.”
In spite of her words, Sareen rises and cuts a late-blooming bright blossom, clearly not from the herbs, and hands it to Lanisen. “Something to be starting with, until I harvest again.”
Lanisen’s face goes slack with unguarded surprise. He looks at the flower, then looks at Sareen, then reaches up hesitantly to take it. “Thank you,” he says softly. “She’ll like it.”
Sareen says, “You’re welcome.” She pauses a moment. “How are you doing, with all of it?””
Lanisen’s eyes dart to meet Sareen’s eyes, then skitter just as quickly away, down to the flower. “Oh– I’m– well enough, mistress, thank you.”
Sareen smiles gently. “Well, you ever need someone to talk to, you come find Sadie. I’m not just good for flowers.”
Lanisen glances at her sidelong again. He rubs his wrists absently and tugs his sleeves down. “Thank you, mistress.”
Sareen says, “Sadie’s fine. You have a peaceful afternoon with your sister.”
Lanisen nods. He stands, holding the flower carefully, and dips his head to her again in thanks before making his way toward the door.
Sareen says, “Set that in a bowl of water near a window. It’ll bloom for a couple of days.”
Lanisen turns back toward her to give full attention to these instructions. He nods again and murmurs another thank-you, accompanied by a small quick smile. He hesitates a second before slipping out the door.