Seed Ch. 04
After another rainy day spent almost exclusively in solitude, Suzette Plum began to settle into the routine of life at Periwinkle Place as smoothly as anyone could expect from an insecure high school senior who was otherwise unused to living in such fairytale luxury and privilege. Suzette quickly grew to appreciate the soothing quiet interrupted by a soft, silvery peal of chimes compelling her to rise from slumber each morning. Several minutes later, Niobe would arrive to help her get dressed.
Normally Lady Wilberforce was Suzette's sole dining companion. She stopped wondering about this when Niobe explained to her one day that Lord Wilberforce spent most of his time at an estate he maintained in Bond. Suzette was surprised to discover that her ladyship was actually a very pleasant—even fun—companion! In fact, Lady Wilberforce didn't act very much like Miss Larsson even though she could have been her identical twin.
And breakfast, though simple, was always very good: A thick, sticky rough porridge which tasted vaguely of almonds was served with a simple (sort of bland) wafer. On a couple of occasions, Lady Wilberforce offered her young charge a strange fruit called a sugarpig. It resembled a peach with the deep sunset crimson flesh and taste of a blood orange. The skin of the fruit dripped with clear, viscous nectar which Suzette discovered was very tasty and cut the tartness of the flesh itself quite nicely.
"But why is that?" Suzette asked. "These are so good—I could eat them every day!"
"It's just that, well...the kitchen staff has complained so many times about the nectar staining their clothes during harvest. It makes things rather sticky!"
Suzette favored her ladyship with a quizzical look which prompted his lordship to reassure the girl that in practically no time she'd remember everything and she'd be back to her old routine with the garden society.
"I shall take you into Covenant one day very soon and we shall catch up with our friends again." Lady Wilberforce replied. And just like that, she quickly changed the subject.
One morning Suzette was very bored. She thought about exploring parts of the house until she saw that Niobe and Marissa were getting ready to leave for a trip into Covenant to do some of the household shopping. She begged Niobe to take her along with them, but both servants just giggled nervously and lightly chastised the blond beauty. It was Marissa who gently explained that it was improper for a lady of her standing to ride into town with servants. She'd have to wait for Lady Wilberforce to accompany her.
The afternoon often meant leisurely walks if the weather was agreeable which it often was. The weather here was plenty odd to Suzette, although in a good way. Although Thatcher Blake was considered a reasonably prosperous and charming mid-sized city, a person usually had to drive out to Gates Preserve to experience the sweet cleaner air and quiet solitude often found in the country. But the surroundings and atmosphere here were sublime! From Suzette's perspective, it was as if she'd travelled a thousand or more years into the past. And the air outside was balmier too, even late at night.
But one lazy afternoon, Suzette decided was getting bored with her walks in the garden outside. Today she joined Lady Wilberforce in one of the large sitting rooms. The space they occupied was spacious and cheerful looking with muted mint green walls and pretty little watercolor pictures in pretty little frames hanging here and there.
After several minutes, their once lively conversation dwindled to almost nothing at all. Lady Wilberforce set her tatting aside now and produced a familiar object which caused the girl's eyes to widen in shock. It was a gym whistle, still attached to a red and black lanyard. Suzette wanted to speak, but she couldn't. Her breath caught in her throat while her eyes remained stubbornly glued to the whistle.
"What a curious looking thing!" She observed with a soft chuckle.
"A what?" Lady Wilberforce looked naturally bewildered.
"It's a gym whistle." Suzette said. "I was on a camping trip with my class and my teacher, Miss...Miss..."
"Come and sit beside me, dearest." Her ladyship said as she lightly patted the cushion beside her. "I'll just move my tatting aside...there!"
Now Suzette turned to face her angelic blond companion.
Lady Wilberforce cast her gaze to the floor for a second or two. She rubbed the end of her nose as though she was irritated by something. The awkward silence between them swelled and seemed to fill the entire room. It looked like the older woman was struggling mightily to form a credible explanation.
Now her ladyship covered her mouth with a visibly shaking hand. Her breath caught in her throat as she stifled a sob. Suzette lightly touched her companion's arm as she looked into those icy blue eyes.
An awkward second or two passed before Lady Wilberforce seemed confident she'd regained her composure. Her voice at first was soft, but gradually became louder as she told the girl about Lady Constance Troendle and the Covenant Garden Society. The older woman's words filled the quiet space they shared with a strange fullness of how the garden society harvests the seeds of a flower known as the Fiorinia Vopisca, of how there is a gate of sorts that opens in the woods outside Covenant, and how they send small parcels of seeds through the gate in the hope that those seeds bring new life someplace else.
"We had a terrible argument, you and I. You were spending so much time with Constance, following her around...and I was angry with you—jealous, actually. And when the gate opened in the woods, you took the parcel of seeds from Constance and dashed through it."
"No! You're a fucking liar! This is all a dream—it has to be! There are no such things as garden societies and stupid gates and seeds that create life wherever you throw them!" Suzette was shouting now and her fists were clenched so tightly, her knuckles had turned a ghostly white. She had a sudden brief flash of memory from the camping trip. "You kidnapped me! My gym teacher found me! It was Miss Treadway, but you took me away from her, you bitch!"
Marissa was often called in to assist with the more complicated tasks of brushing, curling, and securing Suzette's hair in this band or that fillet. Sometimes on orders from her ladyship, Suzette's hair was simply braided or left loose and flowing. The styles sometimes looked deceptively simple but they were always beautiful and very flattering. Suzette could not remember the last time she ever made herself look this good at home! And once she was properly dressed, Suzette would go to what Niobe called the morning room where breakfast was served.
Miss Larsson often behaved more like Miss Treadway; a curt sort of task master who occasionally seemed awkward outside of the gym and locker rooms. But laughter came easily for Lady Wilberforce whenever they talked. And in nearly no time at all, Suzette began to forget about that strange encounter she'd had with her.
Once when Lord Wilberforce joined them both for breakfast, he explained to Suzette that although sugarpigs are very common, they only serve them on occasion.
His lordship replied with a quiet chuckle as he cast a sort of side glance at one of the servants standing nearby.
"If you'd like, I could arrange for an outing in the future." Lady Wilberforce said. "There is a large grove of sugarpig trees about a mile or so outside Covenant. I'm not quite sure what our little circle of friends would say..."
"What is the garden society?" Suzette asked.
Mornings after breakfast were often tedious and boring as far as Suzette was concerned. She was usually left alone, free to do as she pleased, but there was not much to do. Niobe was always too busy even though her primary task was to serve Suzette and cater to her needs. Niobe had more pressing tasks to do like making beds and completing whatever sewing and mending needed to be done. But occasionally the servant would relent and play a few rounds of Vocula, a board game with small pieces made of bone. Suzette quickly discovered that it was a fancy sort of "capture the flag" type of game. She loved to play it, and was happy whenever the servant was willing.
The midday meal was always certain to consist of several mounds of good, rich meat and vegetables which Suzette always struggled to identify before reminding herself that she was no longer in Thatcher Blake. She'd wash up and sit down to it with fond memories of Sunday roasts eaten with the family or school lunches which were sometimes okay, other times questionable. She'd eat the dish empty, occasionally getting to savor a portion of that delicious kuget pudding, and then she'd forget that she was supposed to be homesick.
Perhaps Suzette was always meant to live here. It seemed as if a mold had been cast in just her size and all she had to do was fit into it, which she did in only a matter of a few days. After a week or so passed, Suzette stopped wondering anymore if a mistake had been made or if she even belonged here. Life at Periwinkle Place agreed with her quite nicely!
Her ladyship was busy with her needlework which she called tatting. She'd been working on a picturesque little scene with flowers and birds that Suzette had never seen before. One of the birds was a sort of iridescent cobalt color with a comically long jet black beak. She knew that the bird existed because she'd observed similar specimens flitting around the garden numerous times. Lady Wilberforce offered to show Suzette how to tat something of her own, but the girl declined. She wasn't very nimble with her fingers. Besides that, she preferred to watch her companion while they talked.
Her ladyship held the whistle up a few inches away from her face. She turned it a little between her thumb and forefinger. The afternoon sunlight caught the shiny metal object, causing it to flash hypnotically.
"It's a gym whistle." Suzette said.
She held the thing out to Suzette who snatched it up. The blond beauty's cheeks were flushed now. She knew she'd startled her companion. She didn't mean to, but the sight of this object, this sole connection to the home she'd left behind, brought an unexpected flood of memories. How did she get lost in the first place, and who brought her here?
Suzette's mind began to race, and she was doing her level best to stay calm. What's going on? Why can't she remember her teacher's name? Suzette continued with her tale as though nothing was wrong. Just the same, it was obvious that Lady Wilberforce knew otherwise.
Suzette took a seat beside her companion. She looked as if she'd come under some sort of spell. She continued her story: "Anyway, I asked my teacher, Miss...if I could go back to camp long enough to use the bathroom." Lady Wilberforce looked even more bewildered, as if Suzette was speaking to her in gibberish, but she carried on. "She lost her gym whistle. I decided to go looking for it, but I got lost when I stepped off the main path..."
"Who found me, Prudence?" Suzette demanded. "Somebody found this whistle around my neck. If it wasn't you or Ravid, then who was it?"
"It was Lady Constance Troendle who found you and brought you home. She and Patience Bellamy stayed behind in the woods to search for you. I'm so sorry, but after what happened earlier...I just couldn't stay. I was so certain that you were..."
"But what happened before that?" Suzette demanded. "I have to know, Prudence! Please tell me—I don't remember anything!"
Suddenly Lady Wilberforce stopped talking, but Suzette's attention was as focused as from the first phrase her companion uttered. A slight frown formed on her ladyship's lips. It softened her rather fay androgyne features into a look of something like tenderness, and then with a trembling voice she said:
Without any warning, a sudden burst of intense anger mixed with grief surged in Suzette's throat. She lost her head completely.