I gasped, dropping the basket of food onto the stone path. “I can’t believe it!” My hand flew to my chest as my eyes took in the sight of my garden.
They darted in all directions, trying to get a good look at everything at once, following the revitalized stone path until they couldn’t see around the flowers in full bloom. I inhaled the pungent peppermint aroma as I knelt down to trace the stem of a blue orchid.
“Zinnia?” When no response came, I kept wandering.
I counted the stones as I stepped from one to the next, tracing the edges of the garden. My fingertips grazed the leaves the of mint plants as I counted more flowers than I could name from carnations to lilies to roses to daisies and more. I smiled at the ring of hawthorn trees shedding their leaves to start a spring in petal snow. My eyes landed on a crater edged in a path of stone, and as I neared it, I found a silhouette lying on the steps leading down to the middle of the crater. Those raven locks were unmistakable.
“Zinnia!” I raced to her body, dropping to my knees beside her. “Wake up, come on, wake up!” I grabbed her shoulder, snatching my hand back from the icy touch that plagued her skin. “Helena, help!”
In moments, footsteps echoed as the crashed on stone, and Helena found me in the center of the garden, cradling Zinnia’s head in my lap.
“What happened?” She knelt to Zinnia, checking her pulse. “She’s alive, your majesty.”
Tears rolled down my face as I lifted her into my arms. “Let’s get her to her room. She’ll warm up sooner.”
Helena offered to help me carry her, but I shook my head, holding her closer.
“What happened, your majesty?”
“I- I don’t know. I found her like this.” I bowed my head, looking at her still features. “She’s so cold, Helena.”
She nodded, swinging Zinnia’s door open. “I know, dear, but she’s alive.” She readied the bed for Zinnia. “That’s what matters now.”
I nodded as I laid her down, tucking the covers around her. I brushed a strand away from her face as I sat on the edge of the bed beside her, taking her hand in mine.
“Fetch the doctor. Tell him she needs attention right away!”
Helena bowed, racing out the door. I ran my thumb over the back of Zinnia’s hand, cupping it in both of mine. A minute later, a chill still plagued the touch of her skin, but my attention turned to Helena and the doctor as they entered the room.
He listened to her heart, placing his hand to her forehead. “Her pulse is strong but erratic and her temperature is far too cold. Do you have any other blankets to cover her?”
I nodded and gestured to my room. “In my wardrobe, I always keep a couple extra ones.” Before I could make another move, Helena disappeared into my room.
For a moment he watched her chest rise and fall, nodding his head. “Her breathing is labored. Did she have any injuries when you found her?”
“No, not a scratch.”
He hung his head as he continued to watch her. “A heart condition, perhaps?”
I shook my head. “She never mentioned anything to me, and she’s gotten through hard days of work perfectly until today. Well, there was that incident-”
“The nurse told me, but she also informed me Zinnia was healing much faster than expected.”
He drew the covers back to expose her arms and stomach. The doctor slid her sleeve up, revealing her arm without so much as a scar. We exchanged looks before he moved to the largest wound she’d gotten.
When he folded her apron and shirt back to find nothing but a faded scar, he stopped, turning to stare at me. “That’s impossible. A gash like Andrea described couldn’t have healed in a matter of days.”
My eyes shifted to Zinnia. “What about her condition now?”
He sighed, pulling the covers back over her as Helena entered the room with extra blankets folded and piled in her arms. “With what you’ve told me about her health and no physical injuries to tend to, I’m afraid there isn’t much I’m able to do.”
I blinked back tears. “That can’t be true! You said-”
“Her pulse and her breathing resemble something after extreme physical labor, but the temperature I can’t explain, especially with the weather we see now.”
I gripped her hand as the doctor stood up. “Please, doctor, isn’t there any explanation, some instance of this before?”
He hesitated before speaking again. “I’ve seen similar cases before when the king had me examine a few of the prisoners of war. But those people possessed-”
“Magick.” I turned away from him, taking a blanket Helena offered to layer it over with the covers.
He froze. “You mean-”
“Yes. But that does not leave this room. That’s an official request of both of you. Do you understand?” My eyes lifted to both of them standing at the foot of the bed.
“Yes, your majesty.” Helena spoke for both of them, gripping the doctor’s shoulder as she glared at him.
He dropped his arms to his side, nearing us. “As you wish, your majesty.”
I nodded, turning back to see Zinnia’s chest rise and fall with less effort. “Good, now, how do we help her?”
He shook his and head. “I’m afraid in a case like this, there’s still not much more I can do but monitor her.”
My heart lurched. “But the other cases-”
“Your majesty, I’m not a sorcerer, and I don’t fully understand how to deal with cases involving magick.”
“What happened with the people you did see?”
“Fortunately, with the others, it seemed much like a case of extreme exhaustion. None ever lost consciousness like this, but many of the symptoms remain the same.” He took one last look at Zinnia. “It’s as she’s in a deep sleep to recover. For now, someone should monitor her at all times. Keep an eye on her breathing and her heart.” Before I could say another word, he held up his hand. “If there are any serious changes in her condition, call for me or Andrea right away.”
Tears streamed down my face as I watched Zinnia breathe in and out. The doctor left without another word, and his footsteps clacked down the hall as if to tick away Zinnia’s time.
Helena rounded the bed, taking me into her arms as I started to tremble. “Shh, dear, everything will be alright.”
I shook my head as I buried my face in her shoulder. “This is all my fault.”
“How could this possibly be your fault?” She cupped my face in her hands, thumbing my tears away.
“She told me. She trusted me, and I turned her away! The garden… she did that, all of it.”
She smiled, grasping my shoulders. “Then Zinnia did a magnificent job! She used her ability for something beautiful. I’ll bet she was trying to show you she had only good intentions with magick like that.”
I shook my head. “Don’t you see? She almost killed herself trying to do that for me! All because I was so afraid… of magick, of what that might mean.”
Helena led me around the bed, sitting me down on the other side. She sat next to me, forcing my attention away from Zinnia’s still form.
“Let me ask you, has Zinnia hurt you since she’s been here?”
“No, of course not!”
“Are you afraid of her?”
I paused. “Helena you must remember the horror stories my parents used to tell me. All the chaos from those sorcerers-”
She shook me. “No, no, child, you didn’t listen. Are you afraid of Zinnia?”
I tried to look at her, but Helena wouldn’t allow it. “She has magick-”
Helena sighed. “Dear, you’ve got to judge each person on their own instead of putting ‘em with a group. Judge Zinnia based on what you know about her, not what you’ve heard about others that share one trait with her, okay?” She embraced me one more time before heading for the doorway. “I’m going to clean the mess outside and tell the chefs to change dinner. I’ll leave you to keep our patient company.”
I smiled and nodded, turning my attention back to Zinnia as the door clicked shut. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m right here. I won’t leave you, not until you wake up.”
I laid my head over her heart and closed my eyes as it pounded against my palm. I laced her fingers in mine, laying down beside her.
“The garden is beautiful, Zinnia. It’s perfect! You don’t have to work so hard anymore…”
Tears pricked at my eyes when her heart didn’t slow, streaming down my face when I heard her breath catch for a second. I touched her forehead again, choking back a sob when my hand landed on her death-like skin.
“I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t have been so cold to you.” I wiped at my tears, squeezing her hand. “You’ve been nothing but kind and generous the entire time you’ve been here. You saved my life, and I couldn’t even look past this.”
I laid back against the pillows, letting tears roll down my face. I let the sobs out, heaving and trembling as I cried. I kept a grip on her hand, trying to rub warmth back into it. This time, the cold let up by a mere fraction, and I squeezed her hand again.
“Helena was right. I let those tales get to me. I should’ve judged you for you, not those horrible rogues.” I brought her hand up to my lips, pressing a kiss to it. “Please, come back to me, Zinnia.”I crawled under the covers of my side of the bed, shifting to pull her in close to me.
I wrapped my arms around her, cradling her form as best I could while her breathing steadied. I listened to her heart once more, and it didn’t hammer in her chest any longer. Rather, it lulled me to sleep with the sound of a drum as I kissed her forehead.
“I trust you, darling…”