“Crisis averted, I got rid of the spiders!” I swept the legs and guts into the dust pan, discarding the curled carcasses in the trash bin by the door. “You can come in now, Alexandra.”
She peeked around the doorway, clutching a book to her chest. “All gone?”
“Dead and buried in the trash, your highness.” I saluted her.
The queen heaved a sigh as she crossed the threshold. “Thank you very much, Zinnia. I know it must seem childish-”
I put my hand up. “Not at all. Everyone’s afraid of something.”
“Oh really? Well, what is the gardener afraid of, can’t be pests, can it?”
I bowed my head. “Actually I’m not too fond of snakes. They’re good for keeping rodents away from the garden, but there’s something menacing about them.”
Her eyes widened. “There aren’t any snakes in the garden, are there?”
“No, no, it’s too barren for them now. You’re welcome to come and check for them, though.”
She shook her head, gripping her book as she walked passed me. “I’d much rather not be poisoned if it’s alright with you.”
Heat rose in my cheeks. “I’m sorry, that was rude of me. I’ll see if my tools are cleaned up yet, and then I should get started.” I bowed to her as I stepped out of the library.
I hurried down the corridor to the last room on the right. I slid into the room before locking myself in and slumping against the door.
“God, I’m a fool.” I pressed my lips into a thin line, shaking my head.
I picked myself up and grabbed the first tool in the line, raking my fingers across the vinegar-coated shovel. When my fingers turned orange-brown, I grabbed the nearest brush and took to scrubbing away the rust. I smiled when I revealed the iron underneath, cleaning the shovel until the last of the rust was gone. I dried the tool with a towel, moving down the line to clean the rest of them. When I finished, I wiped down the work bench, tossing the dirty rag and brush into a bucket by the door. I gathered the tools in my arms, arranging them in a pine box before heading out.
I took a deep breath at the sight of the dead and dying. Bare trees drooped, and flower corpses littered every path. Weeds overtook most of the plots, but even they didn’t seem too thrilled with their predestination. I knelt down to the cracked stone path leading into the rest of the garden, bowing my head and folding my hands.
“God, help me restore this place of death and ruin to one of life and peace, amen.”
I jumped, whipping around to see the queen standing in the doorway to the castle. “Y-yes.” I held up one of the tools. “See? Good as new.” I cocked my head. “Well, maybe not new, but useful.”
Alexandra chuckled. “Are you sure you don’t want new ones?”
“As long as they stay in one piece, I should be fine.”
She nodded, closing the gap between us. “Then, how can I help you?”
“You don’t need to. I mean, it’s my job, and I’m sure you’d rather be reading-”
“Nonsense, I told you I wanted to learn.”
“I’m afraid the first part won’t be fun. All the dead stuff has to go.”
She plucked the shovel from my hand, smiling. “Where do I start?”
“Well, you could help me dig up all the dead flowers.”
“Consider it done.” She wandered to the corner nearest to the doorway, breaking into the cracked earth.
I picked the hoe and the shears from the box and set and empty one between us. “Put everything in here, and I’ll use it for compost.”
She nodded, cringing as the stem snapped at her touch. “Such a waste, letting this place go.”
“Nothing a little effort can fix. Before you know it, this place will be vibrant again!”
She dug up more flowers and weeds, tossing the plants into the box as I hacked at a dead bush with the hoe, breaking branches off.
“Your highness?” A guard peered around the corner at us from the doorway. “What on earth are you doing?”
She dropped the shovel to the ground, standing and dusting herself off. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Isn’t the gardener capable of doing her own job or must you help her?”
I bowed my head, digging the rest of the bush up without a word. Alexandra stalked up to the guard.
“I wanted to learn, thank you very much. I believe you’d find it best to hold your tongue if you plan on speaking ill of one of my staff members.”
I cleared my throat. “Your highness, perhaps it’d be best if I did this part of the work. I wouldn’t want you getting injured. I have to chop the dead trees and dig up the broken stones…”
The guard smirked when the queen had her eye on me. When she nodded, I turned back to the line of death, hacking away at yet another bush.
“I understand. Now, what is it you needed me for?” Her voice faded as she ventured back into the castle.
I sighed, tossing my tool aside. I clawed at the nearest dead flower and ground the stem in my hands. “God, I am a fool.”