Interview With a Gardener

About a fortnight after Jevan Auvray’s unexpected arrival, Old Rivens made his way down a cobbled path to seat himself in her ladyship’s herber. He began spring the same way every year: sitting on a garden bench, pipe in hand, looking out over his domain and formulating his plan of campaign. He had prophesied the remarkably wet spring, and had been proved correct. Now he fretted over the green shoots that refused to arrive. He loved training up the young sprouts, shielding them from wind and nurturing their growth; they were like his children. For half an hour he sat puffing purple rings of spoke, and he had almost resolved upon a series of drainage ditches when he caught the sound of footsteps. He turned around and saw a dark figure coming through some trees, walking in his direction. Rivens squinted until the figure resolved itself into the young master himself. Rivens hastily knocked out the pipe and adjusted his brown cap (resembling a squashed mushroom) atop his thinning white hair. The young man came closer and turned onto the cobbled path, clearly aiming for Rivens’ seat, and Rivens leapt up to give a bow. “Morning, Master, is there summat I can do for ye?”
charles thomas of camp tuffit, a photo by aroid on Flickr.

Master Auvray was looking particularly carefree and dashing this morning, with a lock of hair drifting across his face just so, and a winning smile. “Yes, in fact there is, cotter. Please, don’t mind me, have a seat.” A slightly bewildered Rivens sat down again, and Auvray dropped down onto the bench next to him. “I have noticed that you are often in the company of a certain…young woman….” He raised his eyebrows as if waiting for a reply.

“Aye, sir. There are many young lasses about the place.”

“Yes, but this one is different. She is easily the most beautiful woman in the entire village, worth all the others put together. I’ve noticed her in several different places, but mostly in your company. Can you tell me her name?”

Rivens hemmed and looked down at his boots. “Well, ye must be thinkin’ of Cessy Lockton, Alis Lockton’s girl.”

“Can you tell me anything about her?” Rivens chanced a look and saw both interest and determination in Auvray’s face.

“Oh, aye, Master. She’s been helping me in the garden for quite a few years now, e’er since she were a little ‘un. Might I ask, sire, what ye need to know?”

“I’m interested in knowing something of my uncle’s subjects, that is all. This woman has caught my attention.” He paused, then started again. “Perhaps you can tell me something of yourself. Are you the head gardener here?”

“Name’s Rivens, sire. Been head gardener fer about thirty years.”

“I admire your work. It must be difficult to manage the maintenance of an estate as vast as Granton.”

“It’s work, to be sure, but we’re all glad to serve his lordship in any way we can.”

“The work seems more suited to a man’s strength than a woman’s. How is it that Mistress Lockton is laboring out here as well as the kitchens?”

Obviously the young man was rather intent on his purpose. “She can’t be kept indoors for long. Cessy’s a spirited girl who likes thinkin’ and creatin’ things, and the kitchens and laundry aren’t the place fer that sort.”

“I imagine that she’s something…special.”

Rivens straightened his back a bit and lifted his chin higher. “That she is, sire. We’ve all got our faults, God in Heaven knows, but she’s a good girl, when ye get right down to it.”

Auvray’s smile dropped away into a more open expression, less like a mask. He leaned close and looked into the gardener’s eyes. “I’ve no doubt of that. Thank you, Rivens, I am much obliged to you.” He stood and began to walk away, but a a word from Rivens stopped him.

“Ye’ve been doin’ a bit of hunting by yerself, have ye not? Up in the hills?”

Auvray nodded. “Yes, I am quite passionate about hunting. Unfortunately I have yet to track anything larger than a hare.”

“Not that I know anythin’ about hunting,” Rivens coughed into his shirtsleeve, “but there’s talk of a hart o’ ten been sighted feeding in the Eastern meadows.”

After a few moments of silence, Auvray grinned. “I will have to ride that way soon, then. Thank you again. Good day.”

Rivens watched the young man as he wound his way through the hedges, and brought the pipe back to his mouth.   

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Constructive criticism is welcome! Please remember, though, that nearly every excerpt posted here is my first rough draft.