The cherry trees needed extra buds plucked and the wisteria needed trimming; the dwarf willow in the tiny garden needed to be convinced back from the bench and the tomatoes in the vegetable patch needed weeding.
Damkina was humming. If the rain held off until past noon, it would be a good day.
Gardens, like people, came and went, Damkina had long since learned, albeit in a slower, more vegetal manner. This one was young, not even a century old yet, and the people who believed they were employing her to maintain it had no idea who she really was.
That was fine with her. She preferred anonymity to notoriety.
She had some of the latter, of course. From time to time, other Ellehemaei — especially and for a while, exclusively, Grigori — would come to ask her advice, because she was one of the oldest, if not theoldest of them all. For a while, it had suited her to give gardening tips in lieu of what they had come for, until she learned that they were taking her planting primers as metaphors.
“I read your Treatise on Weeds and Clutter,” one particularly eager young Grigori had told her, “and I’ve cleaned out everything I don’t need from my life, but I still can’t find beauty.”
Or, more worrying, “In Caron’s Notes on the Damkinian Gardens, you said that we should learn to tell the difference between that which had been bred to serve a purpose, and that which has simple bred itself. Do you mean that we should get rid of the half-breeds? I have a plan for, ah, an herbicide of sorts that will not target Grigori but will-”
That time, she’d shut the door in the offender’s face quite violently.
And then she’d had to leave her gardens to track down Caron’s Notes on the Damkinian Gardens and get every extant copy burned.
That had been before the advent of digital media. Now, she was a little more careful about what she said, and a lot more careful about who she said it to.
Mostly, she lived incognito working for places like this, a museum that liked such things, and hoped nobody found her to ask her for awful advice on living or housekeeping or, the departed gods forfend, on killing off half-breeds.
A young man appeared on the edge of her attention while she was weeding the tomatoes. “Ms. Kina?” he asked politely. She looked up at him. He looked to be about twenty, and he looked like a college student of this modern age trying to dress up.
“That’s me,” she agreed. “I didn’t think I was getting an intern this year?”
“Oh, you have an internship program? That would be great. It was just, sa’Damkina, I wanted to ask you some questions?”
She shifted her vision in the way she’d learned long ago, and looked at the true shape of him. Pointed ears, green-tinted skin, a long whiplike tail. She sighed. “I don’t do that anymore.”
“It’s just..” He took a step forward, entreating. “They say you’re the best gardener in the world. Could you teach me how to garden?”
She found herself smiling. “I have been waiting a very long time for someone to ask me that, son. Come on in and grab a pair of gloves and an apron.”