Disheartened expressions melted away and both blue ladies beamed up at him with pearly-white teeth.
“You will?” Aoi asked, her expression brimming with hope.
“But what of Lord Azamont?” Bleu asked, excited. “They are in his possession, after all. He’s the most powerful noble in the land. And the most dangerous.”
At that moment, Arwin didn’t give a damn. “No one man can own flowers. That’s absurd. They are things of nature and beauty and therefore belong to everyone. I shall liberate them for you from his garden prison.” Arwin wasn’t sure where this dashing dialogue was coming from but he felt energized at the prospect of tackling this problem. It felt good to have a goal after weeks of malaise. Perhaps his recent misery was making him reckless. Maybe his boldness was because these girls were so attractive. Either way, it felt like the right thing to do.
“Oh, thank you!” Bleu cried, clasping his hands in her own. “You’re so brave. We shall have to reward you for such gallantry.”
“With a kiss. Or two,” Aoi added with a smoky blue gaze that ignited Arwin’s imagination, making his heart beat twice as fast.
“Or three.” Bleu gave him a look that cubed Arwin’s courage.
Arwin headed off in the direction of the ringing bells, feeling like he could take on the world. He slid between dense thickets of trees and climbed a short rise. He quickly found himself standing before a tall brick wall that was just slightly higher than he could reach. Huge flowers the size of dinner plates, each with large but dimly-coloured petals, grew directly out of the wall itself. Most seemed to avoid any direct rays of light, almost as if they were shy. That puzzled Arwin for a moment, but he soon got it. “Wallflowers.” He chuckled. He stepped back, tensed his body, and then stepped forward, launching himself up towards the lip of the wall.
“Hey! Watcha doin’ there, sunny?” a voice shouted.
Arwin, surprised, slipped back down from the top of the wall and landed hard on his bottom. He scrambled up and spun about, looking for the source of the voice.
“Don’t turn yer back on me when I’m talking t’you!”
Arwin jumped in alarm, then turned about. He scanned the top of the wall but saw no figure there. Who was talking?
“Eyes front, young man. You daft or somethin’?”
Arwin lowered his gaze. Then he dropped his jaw.
Eyes and a mouth had appeared in the face of one of the wallflowers. That’s who was speaking!
“Um-um…” he stammered.
“Yes, Erysimum,” the flower spat. “Erysimum Wittmanii. That’s my name.” The eyes narrowed. “Watcha doin’ here? You know somethin’ about gardening?”
Arwin put on a confident air. “Yes. Actually, I’m Azimunk’s new gardener.”
“You mean Azamont?”
“That’s what I said.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Exactly.” Arwin nodded.
“Ah.” The wallflower sympathetically nodded. “Sorry to hear that.”
The flower’s eyes became suspicious once again. “Hey, if yer Azamont’s new gardener, why you climbin’ over this wall?”
“Faster than going all the way around, isn’t it?”
The wallflower tried to give that some thought, but flowers probably weren’t especially intelligent. It nodded. “Can’t argue with that. Very well. Carry on then.”
“Thank you, good sir.” Arwin leaped up and caught the edge of the wall. Gracefully, he pulled himself up and peered over the top.
A display of botanical wonder lay before him. Flowers of every shape and size could be seen, from pinhead dots of red on carpeting moss to giant blossoms the height of a man. Beyond the garden stood an orderly row of trees and a huge, three-story chateau rose beyond those. The aged edifice was formed of heavy, pale stone and sported blue roof tiles. Like the dresses worn by the blue belles, the building had a French Renaissance feel to it, with white-framed windows and black-iron balconies, flowery etching in the walls, and plenty of ornament.
The air carried a host of enchanting perfumes from the garden. It also carried the sound of bells. Arwin saw no-one else in the garden just then: the cobblestone paths were empty. He heaved himself over the wall and dropped down the other side.
Following the tinkling sound, he cautiously wormed his way through exotic foliage. He passed a trellis of grapes. On the ground rested a bucket full of picked grapes marked FOR WINE. Next to it stood a rack on which lesser fruit dried into raisins in the sun.
One of the sad, leftover raisins wined as Arwin passed, “Aw. I guess I’ll never achieve grapeness.”
Arwin followed the edge of what appeared to be a crop of riding whips. They were made of actual braided leather! Then he ducked under a palm tree. He had to move fast because the hand-shaped leaves tried to grope him. He came upon a stream babbling through smooth, water-worn rocks. Not wanting to get wet, he climbed a tree on the bank, went out on a limb and then branched out until he was able to drop down onto the opposite bank.
He found himself in a vegetable patch. Weeds smouldered between neat rows of planted foliage. He thought he recognized the leaves of the latter as potato plants. Taking a step, his toe nudged a mound of dirt, dislodging it.
A potato looked up with red, blurry eyes from where it had been unearthed. “Hey, dude. Like, watch where you’re going, man.”
“Oh, sorry.” Arwin apologized. Evidently this was a baked potato. Ah, from smoking weed.
He walked by a fenced-off square with a quaint stone well. A dying tree drooped over both the well and some colourful flowers within the fenced-off section. A brown leaf, long dead, broke from the branch of the dying tree and gently fluttered down. The leaf landed on a bed of white carnations.
Arwin leaped back in surprise as the leaf transformed into a honeybee. It hovered in the air a moment as if confused, then it shrugged and began tending to the flowers. When the bee touched the blossoms, nothing happened to it; there was no further change. Arwin realized it was because the bee was alive and the leaf hadn’t been. Those were no ordinary carnations. They were reincarnations! Arwin’s mind spun.
He continued. All of his attention quickly diverted to rows of completely nude, life-size women growing out of the ground. Their shapely, sexy, bare flesh was dark green, turning brown at the ankles where their legs entered the soil. Their breasts were a delicate, pale violet, though their nipples turned dark enough to rival black. The women possessed various shades of purple hair that curled in gentle points about their luscious bodies, falling like petals all the way past their wide hips. Each had golden eyes and golden lips that sweetly smiled. The women beckoned Arwin into their soft embrace.
Arwin tore his eyes off the plant-women long enough to read a small, black sign at their feet, er, roots?
(aka. Belladonna or Naked Ladies)
Reluctantly, he redirected his mind back to his quest and cautiously continued down the stone path. Still looking back over his shoulder at the ladies, he failed to notice the patch of flowers growing on the edge of the path and bumped into some. They shouted up at him in response.
“Hey, clumsy! Begone, yuh!”
“Yeah, go away. Begone, yuh!”
Arwin danced away from the pesky little flowers barking at him. Be-gone-yuhs.
He ducked out of the reach of some adorable snapdragons who blew fire at him and snapped at him with toothy little petals. Feeling hungry, he sampled fresh buttercups, spreading the butter over cornbread growing hot and warm on tall stalks. He washed the snack down with edelweiss beer drunk from tall, white flower pods. The dirt below a few was wet and the whole edelweiss patch smelled of hops and barley. Satiated, he moved on, admiring birds of paradise blooming high above him, careful not to come within reach of their long, sharp beaks.
Little blue flowers tugged at his jeans as he passed and begged him to “Forget me not!” He guessed their name readily enough.
A beautiful, black fox slunk through a hole under the base of the outer wall. It paused for a moment to regard Arwin with shrewd eyes, but apparently found him no threat. Then it proceeded to place its paws into two flowers, fixing them on like purple mittens: foxgloves. Nodding with satisfaction at its new attire, the fox trotted back through the hole into the forest.
Arwin wondered what a fox needed gloves for. Perhaps it was just a very fashionable vixen.
Gladiolus blooms filled Arwin with a wave of gladness. It was very refreshing after the melancholy of the blue forest. He admired a patch of beautiful lady slippers. They grew next to a bench where one could sit and try them on for size, for they were, of course, real footwear, from pumps to heels to slippers.
For a few minutes, Arwin stopped and marvelled at the wonders around him. He could never have imagined such a place. It was totally unlike anything he’d ever experienced back home. For the first time in too long, true excitement welled up from within him and he felt happy again, thrilled to be able to experience something like this. And grateful that something could take him away from the horrible depression he’d been submerged in for so long. He moved on with a skip and a jump of joy.
At last he came to the bluebells. Their stems emerged from clumps of broad leaves and stood about half a meter tall. All up the stem dangled delicate blue bells, their petals metallic-looking, as if they were shiny little Christmas decorations.
He bent to pick a couple and then stopped. He could pick the flowers and carry them back to the belles, but that would really only be a temporary gift, wouldn’t it? They’d soon die. The larger problem, that of this Azamont jerk having the only bluebells in the area, remained. What Arwin really needed to do was to dig up some of these plants and carry them back over the wall where they could be replanted and left to spread naturally. Then the belles and everyone else could enjoy them freely.
He eagerly rubbed his hands at the idea and cast about for tools. From a dilapidated garden shack, he armed himself with a trowel and a burlap sack. He went to work. In the span of fifteen minutes he’d dug up a dozen full plants. All were superb specimens. He picked the first one up to put it in the bag. The bells jangled harshly, completely breaking their natural rhythm. He looked towards the chateau with concern. If he handled the delicate flowers roughly, the ensuing cacophony would surely raise someone’s unpleasant attention.
He waited, but it seemed that no-one had noticed his first blunder. He moved the plant very slowly and gently as he placed it within the burlap sack, roots and all, laying it down so that the bells stayed silent. Very carefully, he did the same with each of the other plants. He tied the sack shut with a length of twine and quietly slung the bag over his shoulder.
“You there! What are you doing?” a voice shouted.
Arwin whirled. An arrogant-looking, aristocratic man stood at the garden door to the mansion. He was tall and reedy and immaculately dressed in a half cloak, long-skirted tunic and tights. Like the belles, his heavily-embroidered clothes were in the Renaissance style and his skin was blue. He bore a thin moustache and pointed beard and glowered through small, wire-framed glasses. Two gentlemen behind him were dressed similarly, looking a bit like actors from a Shakespearean play. One had a sword belted at his waist and wore a monocle over one eye.
“You’re not one of my gardeners,” the lead man exclaimed. “How dare you pilfer from my garden, thief?”
That must be Azamont. Arwin recalled all that had been said about him and the blue bloods and how people like him caused pain in the world around them. Bastards. Arwin flipped him the bird, not caring if the hand gesture was unknown here, then spun and sprinted away. He paid no heed to the angry shouts behind him and dashed back through the exotic plants towards the point where he’d entered the garden. The naked ladies he only spared the briefest glance or, like, seven at the most, as he tore by. This time he leaped the stream at full speed, just clearing it. Then he was at the wall.
This felt just like an event he had recently been practicing for with his good friend back on Earth: Storming the Wall. Only this wall was a little shorter and he could climb it without help from a teammate. He timed his jump perfectly. One foot landed between two wallflowers who cringed and tried to lean out of the way. Despite the vertical grip, Arwin pushed off the wall and was able to propel himself further upwards. His free hand grabbed the top of the wall. Pulling quickly while he still had upward momentum, Arwin managed to get his other foot cleanly on top of the wall. He looked behind him, the bag of stolen bluebells slung over his shoulder.
The three aristocrats skidded to a halt on the path behind him. Azamont turned and pushed the other two men back towards the mansion. “To the horses!” he cried. “We’ll ride the bugger down!”
Arwin turned and lowered himself down the wall on the forest side with one hand, then dropped to the ground.
The wallflower he’d spoken to earlier must have heard a tinkle coming from Arwin’s sack as the young man landed. “Are those bluebells in there?” it archly asked. “Watchya doin’ with ‘em?”
“Just taking them for a walk,” Arwin answered innocently. “Show them around the forest. Trying to cheer them up so they aren’t so blue anymore.”
“Hmm. Oh. Ok.” The wallflower nodded. “Carry on then.”
Arwin grinned and hurried through the forest. In moments, he arrived in the little clearing.
Bleu and Aoi smoothly rose to their feet at his approach.
“Arwin!” Bleu cried.
“Be not blue, blue belles for I have your bluebells.” Arwin opened the bag and revealed the contents.
“You’ve brought the entire plants!” Aoi gushed in surprise. “You brilliant man! Now we can plant these anywhere.”
“And enjoy them anytime,” Arwin agreed.
“You have more than earned your reward,” Aoi breathed happily, dragging him towards the bench and pressing her plush blue lips to his.
“And three times that reward from me!” Bleu exclaimed, tugging Arwin away from her friend. She gave him a kiss with three times as much passion as Aoi had given.
Not to be outdone, Aoi pulled him back to her and kissed him even more deeply than before.
Arwin’s head spun and he found all kinds of splendidly soft womanly parts pressing onto him from both sides. Giddy with happiness, he completely forgot all about the pursuit until a shout jarred the two girls from their lusty endeavours.
“You there! Thief! Stop and prepare to die!” Azamont shouted from afar.
Arwin took a moment to refocus because little blue hearts now danced in his vision. He blinked, thinking them part of his imagination, but no, they were real! They popped like bubbles and vanished. He saw Azamont and his peers emerge from the forest on steeds. They set about whipping the latter.
The foxy, black vixen with the new gloves exploded from a patch of brush and tore off across the meadow. She barked and startled the horses and riders, causing them to pull up in confusion, giving Arwin valuable time.
“Why, those are our belles!” exclaimed one of the men as he fought to control his mount, his face livid. “And he’s kissing them!”
“Fiend! Death to the fool who dares touch our property!” bawled the man with the monocle.
“Death because I stole some flowers and kissed a couple of girls?” Arwin asked rhetorically. “Are you nuts?” He scrambled to his feet. “And who are you calling property?”
Aoi and Bleu rose, panic in their eyes.
“You must flee!” Aoi pleaded.
“Run!” Bleu begged at the same time.
Arwin took a half step, then paused. “I’ll lead the nobles into the forest. Take the flowers and hide them away.” Then he dashed off towards the trees.
A scream caught his attention and he looked back over his shoulder as he ran.
Bleu and Aoi lay on the ground, trampled and bloody, the nobles running their horses over the young women. While Azamont continued straight for Arwin, the other two took the time to have their horses stomp all over the belles, brutally injuring them, if not killing them outright.
A cry of anguish caught in Arwin’s throat. He felt a mixture of anger and guilt. The urge to turn and help almost brought him around, but Azamont was nearly upon him and the other two nobles left their victims behind to rejoin the hunt. Fighting off tears, Arwin plunged into the forest, hoping the girls would survive.