Tavias and the Singing Garden
It's about life, it's about death - and coming back to life again

CHAPTER ONE

    He was a humble gardener searching for a place to plant his precious seeds. One day he found exactly what his heart desired; a barren, parched plain of nothing that absolutely no one else wanted. But he was a very skilled gardener and that seemingly worthless piece of ground was the perfect canvas for his masterpiece.
     As he stood before this vast expanse of nothing but dry, caked soil, he reached down into the sack he carried and withdrew a handful of seeds. He cast them out across the land with a great shout and the sound of his voice broke the surface of the soil and the ground suddenly opened itself to welcome the shower of seeds.
     Again and again the gardener shouted with joy as he flung his seeds across the land until all of them were safely cradled in the earth’s embrace. Then as the gardener stood in the midst of the plain, he began to sing, and the soft gentle words of his song fell like rain upon the dry earth’s soil. The ground glistened, softened and melted at the sound until the seeds were saturated with music.
     Then all at once the earth began to tremble to the rhythm and one by one the seeds started to sprout like notes in the gardener’s song. Green began to clothe the naked brown soil like a verdant robe and flowers erupted like fragrant volcanoes for as far as the eye could see.
     The gardener watched with great delight as his blooms multiplied and multiplied in response to his song. “Oh, this is music to me!” he said, as his garden sprang to life at his feet.
     There were acres and acres of vibrant colors, every shade and kind of jubilant flower to grace the mind. Petals long and short, stems of awesome height, sunflowers and bluebonnets, roses and orchids, daisies and gladiolas, every flower that could ever be came to life by the gardener’s melody.
     As he looked with satisfaction at the garden he had sung, he watched the colors glisten in the light of his eyes.
     “I have sung you into being,” the gardener called, “now I need you to sing to me.”
     He really didn’t have to coax them, for the flowers were so happy to be alive, the song that sprang forth from the depths of their blooms was spontaneous and thankful. They all sang with different voices, some high and some low. The songs they sang were vastly different, yet the sound of them was the same, for each flower was singing the gardener’s praise.
     The gardener smiled as he listened, and he rejoiced in the view he had made, the wondrous garden he created out of nothing. Then he sang with it too, wonderful words of blessings, a shower of sun and rain to nurture his beautiful flowers through all of their days.
     Contented, the gardener sighed with pleasure, and when night arrived to blanket the garden with its rest, the gardener lay down among his creation, one with them. And the flowers that surrounded his bed wrapped their stems around him to cover him as he slept.

     One day some travelers were making their way through the wilderness on the other side of the low hills that sheltered and hid the garden from casual view. They had stopped to refresh themselves for a while and as they sat looking up at the sky, they thought they heard the sound of gentle voices singing in the distance.
     “That’s odd,” one of them said. “Who would be singing way out here in the middle of nothing?”
     “Maybe there’s a town on the other side of those hills,” another answered.
     They listened a few minutes more. One of the travelers was a little man named Tavias. He loved music and he had never heard anything like the sounds he was hearing. Something in the music began to draw him, so he turned to the others and said, “I think we should go and see where it’s coming from. I think it’s important.”
     “We don’t have time,” was his answer. “We have schedules to keep and quotas to fulfill. If we get behind we’ll never catch up and all that’s not worth risking just to go and listen to some music. There is music in the city, go and listen to it there.”
     And with that, the other travelers rose to their feet, threw their bags on their shoulders and started to leave.
     Tavias looked back at the hills and felt a yearning in his soul he didn’t understand.
     “I’m going to see,” he said to the others. “I won’t get that far behind if I do. You go on then, and I’ll catch up with you later.”
     His companions looked at him as if he had lost his mind. “You don’t want to make R.W. mad, Tavias,” one of them said narrowly. “You know what can happen.” When he made no reply, they just shrugged their shoulders and walked off without him.
     Tavias picked up his sack from the trail and briskly strode off toward the hills in the distance. He walked for a great while and with each step he took the singing in the distance gradually became louder. He felt his heart beating with a strange sense of anticipation as he climbed to the crest of one of the hills. When he reached the top, he stopped suddenly for he could not move another inch forward. He had simply become frozen with awe.
     There before him, unveiling itself for as far as he could see was the most breathtaking sight he had ever witnessed; miles and miles of dazzling, radiant colors moving and swaying, accompanied by the delicate singing of thousands and thousands of tiny bell-like voices.
     At first Tavias thought he was beholding a dream. He had never seen anything so beautiful. The garden’s fragrance was enveloping him, filling the air about him with the most delightful perfume. As he inhaled it he felt so peaceful and joy filled his soul. The heavy sack he was carrying fell from his shoulders and a great sense of freedom he had never experienced before wrapped itself around him like a long lost friend. He suddenly felt like a little child and all he wanted to do was run and leap for joy – but he couldn’t move. Instead he remained in one place staring with wonder at the view below him, listening to the delightful music and trying to figure out where the sound was originating.
     Then he noticed an ordinary man in workman’s clothes moving among the flowers. Wherever he went the music intensified and the flowers surrounding him would sway as if they were being moved by the wind, even though the air was completely still.
     “Could it be?” Tavias thought. He listened intently. “Could it be that the flowers are singing?”
     The multitudes of exquisite, jewel-like voices tinkled like glass, intricate harmonies, delightful melodies, matched to words of love – it was a love song being sung. To whom? The man in the work clothes?
     “I am beholding a miracle,” Tavias thought. “This is a garden of living blooms singing a love song to their gardener? I am beholding a mystical dream, and yet, it is real.”
     He immediately felt an urgency to share the dream, at least file a report to someone. But would anyone believe him? This was all so wonderful to comprehend. How could he describe the beautiful music, the words of love, the elegant poetry coming from the mouths of millions of flowers? What words could he find to convey the miracle, how could he describe the fragrance so rare, his feelings of peace and delight? He would try.
     So reluctant to leave, but he knew he must, Tavias pulled his sack away from the ground and flung it over his shoulder. The weight of it shook him. Then with one last look at the glorious, singing garden, he turned away and hurried toward his destination with his heart joyfully clinging to a miracle.

CHAPTER TWO

     The gray city that was Tavias’ home was called Emeradus. It was a major city, a center of commerce, the capital of the realm and home to the Ruler of the World who was known to all his constituents simply as R.W..
     No one liked R.W., but none would dare to admit it. It was far too dangerous. If R.W. found out someone had said something bad about him...well, they would never be able to say anything bad about him again, or anybody else for that matter. They just sort of – disappeared.
     That kind of discipline kept things in order and everything running smoothly. The gray smoke stacks kept puffing, throwing their black clouds onto the horizon creating a hazy fog over everything. That was R.W.’s favorite view. If the sky over the city wasn’t gray enough, then R.W. knew that the factories weren’t producing fast enough and he would send his soldiers to make sure the people worked harder and longer hours. This is why Tavias’ friends were in such a hurry to return to their jobs, for no one was willing to incur R.W.’s wrath by not laboring hard enough.
     Tavias knew he had taken a risk by remaining behind to find the garden. But he knew he had found something so wonderful, that R.W. might even reward him for bringing such terrific news back to his kingdom.

     Tavias quickly walked up to the city gates. The little red light that was embedded in the metal, clicked its recognition and the gates swung open and Tavias entered Emeradus.
     Tavias hurried across the cobbled pavement. His apartment building was only a few blocks away. He could see its orange peaked roof that was supported by an assortment of gray cubes stacked upon each other at different angles. Each cube had one large round window that was difficult to open in the summer time.
     Tavias was soon bustling to the door. He stuck a pointed cone into the lock, the doors slid open and as soon as he stepped across the threshold the doors automatically slammed shut behind him with a loud clank.
     Tavias hurried over to the staircase and began the long, plodding hike to his apartment. Along the way he nodded his hellos to the sullen figures that were hunched on the steps at intervals. These were the older ones who lived on the uppermost floors. Apartments were assigned on a first come, first serve basis and because of the housing shortage, the citizens of Emeradus had to take what they could get when it was available. It was either climb a mountain of stairs or sleep in the streets. So some of the older ones camped out on the staircase rather than finish a long climb and then have to do it all over again when it was time to get groceries. Needless to say, there was an odor.
     Some of the newer buildings had elevators, but those apartments were much more expensive and the elevators were very slow as they had to be run by a long pulley attached to an elephant on the ground. To go up, the elephant would walk along a painted chart on the concrete labeled second floor, third floor, etc., all the while pulling a cable that was attached to a wire cage in the building. As the elephant pulled the cable, the cage and its passengers would go up and the elephant’s attendant would stop the animal at the proper markings on the concrete.
     It was an ingenious system, but not without flaws. Once in a while the animals would get stubborn and refuse to move, sometimes trapping people in the cages for hours. And there was at least one incident when an elephant panicked for no apparent reason and charged off the concrete path as fast as it could go snapping the cable. Fortunately no one was killed, but Tavias preferred the security of his own two feet moving him upward, and besides, his apartment was only on the seventh floor anyway.
     He quickly entered his little room, threw some water on his face and swiftly pulled on a fresh tunic before he bustled out again. “What’s your hurry, Tavias?” one of the staircase lodgers called after him. They had never seen him so excited. But he was in too much of a hurry to answer. The doors slid open for him and he charged out of the building. He quickly followed the curving road until he saw the tall outline of R.W.’s palace in the distance. It was almost nearly impossible to get an audience with him on such short notice, but Tavias had to try. His heart was burning within him as he ran up to the drawbridge. The guard looked out as he approached.
     “What do you want?” he said gruffly.
     Tavias was out of breath and it was hard for him to answer.
     “I have to see R.W., it’s important. I have discovered something that is vitally wonderful to the welfare of the whole realm. Please let me in, it’s an emergency!”
     The guard looked at him suspiciously. Then he picked up a cylinder with a wire attached to the wall. He pushed a button then spoke into the cylinder. “I have someone at the gate who has an emergency message for R.W.; what kind of mood is he in today?”
     The guard listened for a moment, and then he smiled. He set down the cylinder and looked at the funny little round man with wild hair and enormous ears. Then he put his hand on the lever that would open the gate. “R.W.’s in the mood to be entertained,” he said with a smirk.
     Tavias wasn’t sure he knew what that meant, but when the gate opened for him so he could enter the palace, he didn’t hesitate.

     R.W. was squatted upon his regal throne looking much like a bored toad staring off into some unknown horizon. His jewel-bedecked fingers drummed on the elaborately carved arm of his seat. His other jewel-bedecked hand supported his head. A little bell rang, signaling the entrance of one of his attendants. A tall, thin man quickly bustled into the enormous room and scurried over to the throne where he bent over in a gesture of humble submission to the point where his forehead actually touched the floor. He remained in this position as he announced, “There is someone here to see you your highness.”
     “Oh, really,” R.W. replied. “Who?”
     “I don’t know your royalness. He is a peasant, I believe, with an urgent message of some sort.”
     “Do I really feel like talking to a peasant?” R.W. mused. “Oh, well, I’ve nothing better to do.Let him in, Gout. I won’t kill him.”
     “SEND IN THE STRANGER!” Gout shouted at the top of his lungs.
     “For crying out loud, Gout, don’t yell. Go get him!”
     “Um, I’m sorry, your royal majesty, but my back is out again and I can’t stand up.” Poor Gout remained with his head touching the floor. “But I’ll try to find him for you, sire.”
     With that Gout turned and walked to where he thought the door was, even though he couldn’t see a thing but the ground. R.W. watched with amusement as his servant shuffled across the floor bent over like a horseshoe. Gout’s instincts were good and he reached the door, banged into it once and it opened suddenly as Tavias stepped eagerly into the throne room, inadvertently tipping Gout over on his side. Tavias didn’t see him as he reverently walked over to the throne and genuflected before The Ruler of the World.
     “Your majesty,” Tavias said reverently. “I have some wonderful news for you and the entire realm.”
     “Oh, really,” R.W. answered as he studied the funny little round man with the wild curly hair and large ears. “On a scale of one to ten how would it rate?”
     “A definite ten, sire.”
     “Then proceed to thrill me,” he replied drolly.
     Tavias took a deep breath and a wondrous smile enveloped his face as he spoke. “I was on my way back to Emeradus from a fact finding survey for the realm, I work in the quota department, taxation and revenue, when my companions and I stopped for some rest in the hill country. We suddenly heard music coming from somewhere in the distance. I thought it was important for me to find out the source of it, as it was so unusual for music to be playing out there in the middle of nothing, so I decided to search for its origin. My companions returned to the city and I was alone. I traveled for a short distance and upon coming to the crest of a great hill I discovered to my utmost amazement, a valley of flowers. They were blooming as far as the eye could see. I could still hear the music, and it took me a little while before I realized that the music was coming from the flowers.”
     Up until that point R.W. had been listening with a certain amount of boredom. Upon the mention of singing flowers he thought within himself, “Oh, no, a nut case.” He began to slowly raise his hand to summon one of his guards.
     “I was totally astounded at the phenomenon, sire.” Tavias continued. “It seemed as if the flowers were singing to a man, their gardener, for whenever he walked among them the singing would grow louder and more exuberant in its praise to him.”
     R.W.’s hand stopped in mid-air. “Singing praise to someone other than myself? These flowers were singing praise. Are you serious, or are you crazy?”
     “Oh, sire, I know it sounds bizarre, and I know what you’re probably thinking that I’ve been studying columns of figures for far too long and it has affected my reasoning, but your greatness, I have truly seen and heard all that I’m telling. I have witnessed the miraculous. There truly is a garden of singing flowers that has not yet been discovered until now. I beg you, your majesty, please send a delegation with me and we will find the garden again so you may have others to testify to what I have seen.”
     “Hmmmmm....” R.W. was thinking, and then he said. “Yes, we shall send you back with a portion of my royal guard. If you find the garden you will live. If you do not then you will experience the exact opposite. Are you still willing to attest to your discovery?”
     “Yes, your majesty. I attest that what I have seen is true. And I shall find it again with the help of your army.”
     “It must be true then, you are not willing to die for a figment of your own imagination,” R.W. replied. “It will be done! Guards!”
     Immediately some soldiers seemed to appear out of the walls, although there was nothing magical about it, they had been there all the while disguised in camouflage color outfits that matched the stonework. Tavias suddenly found himself surround by soldiers, all of them eyeing him warily. He wasn’t nervous and his confidence surprised him. His desire to witness the miraculous garden once again was so strong, it overshadowed any notions of fear or uncertainty.
     R.W. stood to his feet and commanded his army to accompany Tavias on his quest to find the singing garden. Then he looked at the little man and said, “You will find it and bring a portion of it back to me and lay it at my feet. I will hear these flowers sing my praises.” He finished with words that were encased in solemn authority.
     “It shall be done, for thee, my noble potentate,” Tavias replied bowing before R.W..
     There was a sudden groan coming from the corner of the room where Tavais had entered. Gout was still lying on his side unable to get up. “Oh, Gout,” R.W. sighed. Then he addressed the soldiers, “Two of you go get him, carry him down to the dungeon and see if you can’t straighten him out on the rack. We’ve got to do something about that back of his!”

CHAPTER THREE

     A procession of the king’s solders moved through the cobblestone streets. The clacking of the horses’ hooves told everyone within earshot that something was up and faces peered out windows and doorways to see what was going on. Tavais rode proudly ahead of the troop, feeling so important. They passed the department where he worked and he saw his companions and coworkers staring at him enviously through the rows of oval windows.
     “It’s Tavias!” one of them said in surprise. “He’s leading R.W.’s army!”
     Smiling smugly, Tavias gallantly led the soldiers through the gates of Emeradus and into the distant hills.
     They traveled for many miles as Tavias anxiously scanned the landscape looking for the familiar pattern of hills that hid the garden from view. Nothing looked the same to him, and he was beginning to get a little nervous. What if he couldn’t find it? He knew what the consequences would be if he didn’t. He was so confident he would have no problem locating it again, now he wasn’t so sure. They had been riding for hours and he was beginning to get a little saddle sore.
     The soldier who was riding next to him finally asked him gruffly, “Where is this place you’re taking us? How far is it?”
     “It’s around here somewhere, Commander Treadmill.” Tavias said. “It’s just off the road. There were these hills that made a pattern in the distance, like uh, up and down, up and down, then they leveled off and rose again, like notes in a song. That’s what I’m looking for.”
     Commander Treadmill peered at the hills. They stretched out in a monotonous even pattern for as far as the eye could see. “We’ll be riding for days,” he grumbled to himself.
     Then they rounded a corner at the base of one of them and suddenly the landscape had changed. The hills were in front of them instead of the side and some of them rose up and down then leveled off and rose again like a song.
     “There it is!” Tavias shouted with joyful relief. He wasn’t going to die after all. “It’s there. The garden is there, just over those hills!”
     Then he kicked his steed mightily and the horse and Tavias charged off with the soldier’s horses galloping behind him.
     They reached the crest of the hill and stopped suddenly. The soldiers and Tavias gazed out over a valley of breathtaking splendor. The colors of laughter sparkled for as far as the eye could behold. Sweet perfume clung to the air; its fragrant whispers caressed their senses immediately softening the hardest souls.
     Some of the soldiers found their eyes were welling up with tears for no apparent reason, and the sound of soft voices singing the loveliest melodies wafted toward them as the breeze tossed a welcoming bouquet of music in their direction.Tavias stared with wonder at the garden, once again feeling the peace and refreshment that was so new to him. For a while no one could speak or move, as the color, the music and the perfume embraced their senses and held them in a profound stillness.
     Finally the commander of the army broke the silence. “The singing, where is it coming from, there are no people here.”
     “I told you,” Tavias answered. “It’s coming from the flowers. The flowers are singing.”
     In the distance they noticed a lone figure moving among the blooms. Beyond him was a small, vine covered shack.
     “That’s the gardener,” Tavias said pointing in his direction. “The flowers are singing to him.”
     Even though the soldier was seeing and hearing all the evidence before him, he had to say, “I don’t believe this.”
     “Truth is a song that is believed by only a few,” Tavias said, not realizing that he had spoken anything.
     “What?” Treadmill snapped. “What did you say?”
     Tavias was startled. “I don’t know, I said something?” He was feeling very strange and the commander was looking at him warily.
     “We have to bring some flowers back quickly to R.W..” Tavias said to avert the soldier’s angry glare.
     Treadmill looked beyond Tavias and stared at the gardener menacingly. “He’s no match for us,” he growled. “But we’ll wait until dark. There’s no point letting him know our business here. We’ll shed no blood unless it’s necessary.”
     Tavias was relieved. “Good. We’ll wait for nightfall.”

     The darkness arrived like a cloak to hide the shadowy figures moving among the flowers. Shovels lifted clump after clump of the blooms away from their home and deposited them in a cart in uneven rows. When the cart could hold no more, a gruff voice said, “Enough, let’s go!” Wheels turned and the horses’ hooves plodded through the soft dirt drawing their load of captives after them, trampling the remains of petals and stems into the ground.

     The morning dawned solemnly, shrouded in a gray mist. The gardener stood in the doorway of his shack looking out over his creation. He knew something was wrong. In the distance he could see the brown, empty space where part of his garden had been ravaged. His tears fell like a gentle rain as the sky mirrored his sorrow in the gray. As the rain fell, the flowers began to sing again; for the music was the only comfort they knew. Praise filtered through the gloom, as the sunrays of hope promised healing.
     The gardener reached down and touched a flower by his feet. As his fingers brushed its petals gently, the bloom trembled on its stem and it grew, slowly, determinedly until it was several inches taller, several inches grander. The gardener smiled through his tears as he watched all the other flowers in his care do the same, and as the garden rose to another level of glory, the song they sang grew stronger.

CHAPTER FOUR


     There was a triumphant reentry into the great city of Emeradus as Tavias led the soldiers back through the city’s streets, coming home again with their mission victoriously accomplished.
     As the cart rumbled through the city, the people stared at the breathtaking beauty of the captives, for the flowers continued to bloom exuberantly, even though their roots had been cut and some petals were severed. They carried a fragrance with them that reached out to the passersby, turning heads even if just for a little while.
     The procession continued up to the gates of R.W.’s palace. A trumpet was blown to announce their entry. R.W. heard the sound and quickly stopped what he was doing, threw his rubber duck back into the water as he scrambled for a towel, all the while yelling for Gout to quickly fetch his royal robes. This Gout proceeded to do as swiftly as he could, even though the flapping chains around his back brace kept getting in his way.
     Tavias and the soldiers waited in the throne room, the cart of flowers centered in their midst. Eventually the door burst open and Gout scurried out ahead of his master announcing R.W.’s regal entry.
     “His highness, The Ruler of the World!” he shouted.
     R.W. strode past him as all heads were reverently bowed. Then R.W. took his seat and stared out at the entourage.
     Tavias was grinning proudly as he watched R.W. behold the floral splendor before him. The fragrance was gradually perfuming the enormous throne room, impressing everyone – except R.W. who responded with a violent sneeze. Gout was immediately present at his owner’s side with an elaborately embroidered handkerchief.
     “So, I take it your mission was successful,” R.W. stated calmly as he was wiping his nose. He was looking at Tavias as he spoke. “These are the flowers that you claim can sing?” Then he looked at the army’s commander. “Treadmill, is it true, did you hear these plants singing?”
     Treadmill stepped forward briskly. “Yes, sire. I have to admit I heard music coming from the garden with no apparent source other than these flowers.”
     “Hmmmm,” R.W. hummed. “Then I shall hear them sing for me.”
     He rose from his royal seat and demanded, “Roll that cart to my feet!”
     The soldiers pushed it until its wheels stopped against the first step leading to R.W.’s throne. R.W. looked down at the flowers that were blooming so magnificently in their captor’s presence. Then the Ruler of the World commanded in a voice that was loud and demanding, “Sing for me, sing! Sing my praises!”
     There was a calm, defiant silence.
     “Sing!” The ruler’s voice erupted and echoed through the halls with the roar of a tornado. “Sing my praises, attest to my glory with your song!”
     In the moments that followed the command, the flowers trembled slightly, even though there was not a breath of wind in the quiet hall. Everyone noticed the movement; still there was not a sound from the flowers.
     “Sing!” The command exploded over and over again. “Sing for me and you shall live in my garden. Sing or you will die!”
     R.W. came down the stairs slowly. “Sing, sing, sing!” he cried with each step. He finally stood directly above the cart. He reached down, grabbed one of the flowers in his great fist and with a sudden jerk of his wrist, tore the flower’s beautiful head from its stem. R.W. crushed it in his massive hand and the petals fell in pieces through his fingers back onto their companions in the cart. Petals and leaves seemed to be reaching out to catch the remains of their fallen companion.
     “You will sing or you all will die!” R.W. raged.
     Tavias’ eyes began to fill with tears. “Oh, sing,” he breathed softly, afraid to let R.W. overhear his plea. “Please sing. You are so beautiful, please, don’t let him destroy you.”
     The silence in the throne room made its statement. In response, R.W. slowly reached down and removed his sword from its sheath. He held it out above the flowers’ heads, and instead of shouting, R.W. said very softly, “Sing.”
     He only waited a moment, for he sensed what his answer would be. His face was a strange combination of joy and rage. Then in an instant, the sword fell across the blooms, once, twice, then again and again, tearing the life from their stems, ripping, shredding, rending, sending their remains flying across the room until the floor was littered with dismembered petals and the cart was emptied of life. All that remained were some shredded stems and mud and silence.
     Tavias was doing all he could to keep from sobbing out loud, but his fear forced him to remain silent.
     R.W.’s gaze suddenly found him, piercing him like a hawk. “These flowers are not singing my praises, Tavias. If they will not sing, then you will die – now!”
     Tavias felt terror rise up into his throat. He couldn’t speak, but his mind was racing. Then the cleverness that had gotten him his well salaried job in the realm, began to work for him again. It surfaced through the whirling sea of his emotions until Tavias was finally able to remark, “R.W., sire, I believe there must be something organically wrong here,” he found himself saying, even though he wasn’t quite sure where he was going with it. “After all,” he stated as calmly as he could, “these flowers have just been forcefully uprooted and haven’t really been given enough time to adjust to their new surroundings.”
     That sounds good, he thought to himself. He could see R.W.’s rage was turning to thought, so he continued quickly.
     “Sire, remember when you imported that rare pair of antheraxamas to your zoo and they wouldn’t come out of their transport cages for days. They wouldn’t eat or make their famous trumpeting sounds until they finally got used to their new environment. I think, your highness, that’s probably what’s happening now. I suggest that we get more of the flowers, bring them back here, and then put them into your garden. Nurture them for a while. Speak kindly to them like you did to the antheraxamas. Remember, sire, you actually got them to eat out of your hands?” (Tavias was speaking swiftly as he watched R.W.’s face suddenly soften at the memory.) “Take time to get to know them, and let them get to know you. Water them yourself. I’ll bet they’ll be singing for you in no time.”
     Tavias was smiling confidently, successfully camouflaging his terror as he looked at R.W. .
     “Yes,” R.W. responded almost warmly. “Yes, I think that’s it. Bring me more, double the amount. Take two carts with you this time. They are beautiful. I shall enjoy nurturing them into my service. I will hear them sing my praises yet.”
     Tavias took a deep breath to express his relief. His words had just bought him some time, how much he didn’t really know.
     R.W. was looking at the mess he had made across the throne room floor.
     “Gout!” he shouted as he turned to leave. “Get this garbage out of here!”
     Gout had already anticipated his master’s request and was shuffling across the room with a broom and a dustpan.

     The flower’s remains were deposited in a heap near the trashcans in the backyard by the kitchen door. They lay there for days and days, forgotten by everyone in the realm, except for Tavias. The memory of their beauty would not leave him alone.
     Then on the day he was to leave on his mission, he found himself returning to the spot where the flowers had been laid to rest. He expected to find them brown and wilted for so much time had passed since they had been severed from their stems.
     He rounded a corner with his hat respectfully held in his hand. Then he stopped in amazement. Instead of a pile of brown, withered flower corpses, Tavias found himself staring at a brightly colored mosaic pattern laughing up at him from the ground. Not a shred of petal had lost its color, but was glowing just as brilliantly in death as they had when they were in full bloom. Now they shouted their victory like rainbows across the cold hard ground.

CHAPTER FIVE

     Tavias and the soldiers were seated on a hill overlooking the valley of flowers waiting for night to camouflage their thievery. Tavias watched the gardener walking among the flowers as music accompanied his every move. Who is he? Tavias wondered to himself. “Where did he come from, why are these flowers singing to him and why is he out here all by himself?”
     Treadmill was sitting nearby chewing on a blade of grass with an intense, irritated expression on his hard worn face. “This place gives me the creeps,” he said.
     Tavias looked over at him. “Why?” he asked, bewildered.
     “I feel too good here. Something’s wrong.”
     Is it just because where we live is so wrong, Tavias thought, that this place makes us see the difference and we’re bothered? He couldn’t say this out loud, especially to one of R.W.’s top soldiers. Tavias was already in enough trouble.
     Tavias looked back at the garden, enjoying it with all of his senses. He was trying to ignore the fact that now once again part of it would be destroyed because of him. He was feeling guilty, so when evening finally arrived to cloak their deception, Tavias chose to remain where he was and wait for the soldiers to return with their booty.
     The gardener had returned to his shack. Candlelight was shining from the windows and Tavias could see his shadow moving around inside as he prepared his evening meal.
     “I’m sorry,” Tavias whispered under his breath.

     In the soft, morning light, the gardener stood weeping over his lost ones. He looked at the empty soil, at hollow caverns where the roots of his treasures were once safely sheltered. He knew the ground would remain empty for a long time. Even though he had sung them into life, nothing could take their place. They were all one of a kind.
     He looked back at the ones who remained and he felt their sadness. “Wait,” he said softly. “It’s all for a purpose.”
     The sound of his voice coaxed a song from the sorrow, as a bell-like voice began to rise in an exquisite solo until one by one, the fragrant choir added their voices filling the gardener’s heart with the comfort of their melodies.

     A shot rang out, followed by the explosive sound of jubilant applause from the spectators.
     “R.W.’s made a ball-in-one!” someone shouted.
     “Again,” R.W. finished proudly as he looked out over the pulf course. “Send another, I’m ready!” he ordered. And he raised his weapon to his shoulder steadying himself for the next round.
     A driver, a young man of about twenty, stepped up to a ball that was suspended on a line that was attached to a wire cable that stretched out from one end of the pulf course to the other. The driver raised his bat, and with all the skill of one in his coveted profession, slammed the ball with all his might. The ball shot out over the course with a loud “pulf” sound (hence the name of the sport), and R.W. tensed. Then at just the right moment, with his weapon aimed at the line that was attached to the swiftly moving ball, he pulled the trigger. The line was deftly severed by the blast and the ball dropped down to the concrete field below, landing only within a few inches from a small hole in the cement.
     A scurry ran out onto the course, another young man whose job was to see exactly where the ball had landed and tally the score from the numbered lines painted on the concrete. “Four!” he shouted and the crowd roared. Some numbers were flashed on a wall exhibiting the total score.
     “I think I’ve won again.” R.W. said smugly. He was having a good time and wasn’t in the mood to be interrupted, when Gout shuffled over to him with a brief announcement.
     “The flowers have arrived, sire,” he said quickly.
     R.W. turned to look at him with a wild, gleeful look in his eyes. “Stop the game!” he shouted. The drivers and the scurries suddenly froze in their positions. “I’m going to go play in my garden!”

     Tavias and the guards were waiting in the courtyard. They had been informed that R.W. was in the middle of a rousing game of pulf and they all knew what that meant, they would be waiting for quite a while depending on what round it was. So they were all quite surprised when R.W. came bustling out to them almost immediately, eager to begin his new hobby.
     “Ahhh, there they are!” he bubbled exuberantly as soon as he saw the flowers. “Welcome, welcome, my little friends,” he said as he came forward and took one of the leaves between his fingers and shook it gently. “Welcome.”
     Then R.W. turned to the soldiers and instructed them to move the carts into the backyard behind the castle.
     “I will plant them myself!” R.W. chortled. “I’ve been so looking forward to this!”
     Tavias watched R.W. as he began his new role, pretending to be a friendly gardener, and he wondered if the flowers were going to buy it.

CHAPTER SIX

     Tavias sat at his desk looking sad and dejected. His thoughts had been trying to calculate how much time he had left to live on the planet. He had been receiving reports that R.W. had been diligently nurturing his garden, hovering over the flowers daily with his wide-brimmed straw hat and an apron with large pockets containing spray bottles filled with fertilizer, (an expensive custom blend) and other delicacies that were of interest to flowers. So far, the flowers had not sung a note. Tavias knew that he could be summoned to the castle at any moment and the stress was beginning to get to him.
     He glanced up for a moment and noticed that Katie was watching him from across the room. She had a most sympathetic look on her face and to his amazement she began to walk over to him. He always liked Katie and had tried to get her interested in him in the past to no avail. Now to his great surprise, she seemed to be drawn to his depression.
     “Hi, Tavias. Are you okay?”
     “Uh, well, yes, no. Maybe.”
     “Something’s bothering you, I can tell. You haven’t been yourself for weeks.”
     He looked up into those gorgeous blue eyes of hers and mumbled softly, “I have been on sort of a mission for the realm and it’s been consuming me, I guess.” He wanted to impress her and make himself sound real important. Then he thought, what’s the point? He needed someone to talk to, to confide in. “Actually, it’s not going very well,” he continued slowly. “If it keeps going the way it is, R.W.’s going to kill me. I mean, literally kill me. He’s going to be very mad.”
     “Oh,” Katie’s eyes suddenly began to fill with tears. “Tavias, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say. This is ...awful.”
     Tavias sighed, “It is life in the realm.” He thought about the garden, and then he looked at her with a sudden flicker of hope in his eyes. “Katie, there’s a garden in the hills, a place that’s so peaceful and safe. It’s so different there than it is here and beautiful beyond anything you’ve ever seen. I’d like to take you there to see it with me, if you can come....”
     Before she could answer, there was a sudden stirring in the room as a door opened and a small battalion of soldiers entered. Treadmill scanned the rows of desks until he found the one he was searching for. Tavias looked up and the soldier was soon looming above him.
     Tavias’ heart began to sink to his knees and Katie backed away slowly as Treadmill commanded, “R.W. requests your presence at the palace.... now!”

     Tavias was escorted into the throne room. He had his briefcase with him and he was doing everything within his power to try and remain calm. R.W. was sitting in his usual regal position eyeing him like a hungry cat.
     Tavias genuflected before the ruler, then spoke as cheerfully as he could, “Greetings, your absolute majesty. How has it been going?”
     “The flowers have not sung a note for me,” R.W. answered coolly. “I have been nurturing them now for weeks and it’s killing me. I cannot continue this course of action much longer. It is not in my emotional make-up to be this nice to anyone or anything for so long. I hold you totally responsible for my disappointment and I must remain true to my vow to have you eliminated to compensate me for my inconvenience and extreme discomfort I have experienced because of these wretched flowers.”
     “I understand, sire, and I am truly sorry, but if you could just spare a few moments of your time, I have something here that you really should see.”
     Tavias quickly opened his briefcase and in a few moments he had assembled an easel with a presentation upon it showing graphs and numbers that were too small for R.W. to see in any detail from where he was sitting. Then Tavias swiftly began an elaborate sales presentation on what could be achieved financially if singing flowers were properly marketed in the realm.
     “The uses for these wonders are positively endless,” Tavias exclaimed. “How about a live gladiola singing you awake in the morning? Daisy doorbells, tulip timers, the list goes on and on. These flowers can make everyday chores a song!”
     He began throwing out some astronomical figures, projections of possible sales figures, waiting hopefully for a positive response from R.W., straining to see the familiar greedy light that usually lit up his face when presented with some new money making idea. The faint fiery hue of covetousness was indeed beginning to emerge upon R.W.’s countenance and Tavias hurriedly continued to fan the flame, hoping it would ignite into his deliverance.
     Then R.W. suddenly raised his hand in a gesture meant to silence the sales pitch. Tavias stopped in mid-sentence and paused tensely.
     “Your concepts are brilliant, Tavias, but there is just one thing wrong. WE CAN’T GET THE FLOWERS TO SING!”
     “That was my next proposal, sire,” Tavias spoke cautiously. “I have an idea. I have given this much thought, and I believe that it is the only other possibility we have.”
     “And what is that?” R.W. asked as he scrutinized the little man with all the malice of a cobra ready to strike.
     “The flowers’ gardener is the one who really knows how and why these flowers sing,” Tavias answered. “I propose that I attire myself in the clothes of a common street peasant. I shall visit him under the guise of needing a meal and a place to rest for several days. I will become his friend and learn his secrets. I will find the answer to this mystery, sire, and I will return with the truth and you shall hear the flowers sing for you yet!”
     Tavias finished with all the confidence he could muster.
     Gout was standing by R.W.’s throne. R.W. leaned over to him and asked discreetly, “What do you think, Gout?”
     “He is a clever little fellow, master. I think he might be able to pull this one off. I’d let him go, under surveillance, of course.”
     R.W. nodded. “Treadmill,” he said as he directed his gaze to the soldier, “accompany Tavias on his new mission and make sure he returns.” Then he turned his attention back to a relieved Tavias. “I give you one month to discover the secret that will make these flowers sing. One month, then it’s over. I’m through with this, and I’m through with you. Do you understand?”
     “Yes, sire,” Tavias replied as bravely as he could. Then he bowed again, just to give himself a break from the murderous glare in R.W.’s eyes.

CHAPTER SEVEN

     Tavias and Commander Treadmill rode together in silence for most of the journey back to the valley of flowers. Treadmill wasn’t a great conversationalist anyway, so remaining silent for long periods of time came naturally for him. Tavias, on the other hand, being an out going sort of fellow, normally would have been chattering on about something as he had on their previous excursions. This time he rode quietly, subdued by thoughts of the consequences if he failed in his mission.
     Treadmill noticed the difference in him. After a few more miles he asked, “So you think you’re really going to find out what makes those flowers sing?”
     “I’m going to try,” Tavias replied.
     “Try or die,” Treadmill smirked.
     Tavias winced, then he countered with, “I didn’t know you were a poet. That was a good rhyme.”
     Treadmill even laughed. “I have to admit,” he said smiling, “I admire your spunk. You’ve done a pretty good job stalling R.W. from doing what comes naturally for him or you’d have been dead a long time ago. I was just wondering how long you were going to be able to keep it up.”
     Tavias was wondering the same thing. He’d even considered trying to lose Treadmill and disappear into the hills somewhere. Finally he said with a great deal of determination, “I’m going to get to the bottom of this mystery, Treadmill, even if it kills me.” Then he looked at the soldier with a twinkle in his eyes. “C’mon, let’s race!”
     He kicked his horse and he was off with the startled soldier following in his wake.

     Evening was resting on the valley of flowers like a gentle blanket. Candlelight shone from the gardener’s windows lighting the path to the front door. Tavias approached cautiously. He took a deep breath, and then he knocked several times.
     The door opened and Tavias looked up into the smile. It embraced him immediately and Tavias was cradled in the warmth that mirrored the soft firelight that was reaching out to him from the hearth. Tavias was enveloped by the presence of love, although he didn’t know what it was at first. He’d never experienced anything like it before and he had no point of reference.
     He was about to begin his fabricated explanation for his being there, but before he could say a word, he was welcomed in and invited to sit in a warm, comfortable chair by the fire. He was handed something hot to drink, and a footstool was moved into place for his feet.
     “Thank you,” was all Tavias managed to say, as he watched the smiling stranger move about the room tending to his needs. Tavias quickly relaxed in the warm, inviting atmosphere of the little sparsely furnished cottage, as all the stress that had gripped him so tightly for so long, abruptly let go and he slumped into a drowsy euphoria.
     The gardener was speaking to him, telling him how he was feeling, ministering to needs deep within his soul, comforting him with a depth of understanding that was phenomenal. Suddenly Tavias felt like a small, dependant child, nurtured, cared for and safe - and all this was happening to him within minutes of his knocking at the gardener’s door.
     “Rest here as long as you need,” the gardener said with his soothing voice.
     There was only one cot in the room, and despite his protests, Tavias was invited to sleep there, while his host settled himself on the floor.
     “The bed will be vacant all night if you don’t rest there,” the gardener said with a smile as he rolled over on his side.
     Reluctantly, Tavias took his place on the bed, and instantly retreated to a deep, comforting sleep.
     The next morning Tavias awoke to the sound of gentle flower voices singing. The sweet fragrance of their breath drifted in through the open window by his bed. He looked across the little room. The gardener wasn’t there.
     “He must be making his rounds,” Tavias thought, as he listened to the lilting crescendos of praise rising and swelling in the garden.
     Tavias noticed a table set with food. He rose from the bed and walked over to behold a morning feast; biscuits and fancy breads with honey and jam, a plate of sumptuous fruits and a steaming bowl of sweet porridge. There was a little note that said simply, “Come and dine!” Tavias smiled, and he sat down to eat. He looked out the window and saw the gardener moving among his blooms. The flower-covered vines that were framing the window were humming sweetly in time to the breeze that was softly fluttering their leaves.
     Tavias ate slowly; relishing the peace and comfort he was experiencing that temporarily suspended his thoughts from the burden of his mission. It could all rest for a while as he enjoyed his breakfast.

     It was well into mid-morning when Tavias finally wandered out into the sun-blessed landscape. He followed a mulch covered path between rows of fragrant roses until he came to the place where the gardener had stopped to admire a small patch of frilly looking blue blossoms. They were singing mightily in the gardener’s shadow.
     Tavias didn’t know what kind of flowers they were. For the life of him, he could not remember ever hearing or reading anything about a species of flower that could sing. These flowers defied description, a wonder that was beyond anything that had previously been recorded anywhere in the world – and Tavias was beholding the miracle of it right before his very eyes. It filled him with such joy and awe. And it made him think, Everything is so beautiful here. Why can’t the whole world be as wonderful as this?
     “Good morning,” he said to the gardener who immediately turned to smile at him.
     “Good morning,” he answered cheerfully. “How did you sleep?”
     “Very, very well, thank you. I needed the rest.”
     “I know you did,” the gardener responded with caring concern.
     Tavias was grinning. “Your garden is absolutely breathtaking. I’ve never seen or heard anything like it. What makes these flowers sing?”
     The question just bubbled out of him. He’d planned on waiting a bit before he asked this most important of questions, but at the moment it seemed a natural thing to inquire about surrounded by a multitude of joyful voices bobbing their petaled heads in the breeze.
     The gardener only smiled at him and said, “Let’s go for a walk and I’ll show you the rest of my garden.”
     Tavias began to follow the gardener down flower-lined paths of wonder. He was slightly disturbed that the gardener had not answered his question, and he began to chasten himself for being so hasty in his approach.
     As they walked under a singing arbor of morning glories, Tavias’ thoughts were busy trying to come up with a solution. Maybe it’s the soil? He mused. He could possibly bring back some samples for R.W.’s scientists to analyze. That would buy him some time.
     Tavias and the gardener climbed a little singing daisy strewn hill. The daisies were all sopranos and they were doing intricate arias in a language he didn’t understand. A breeze caressed his thoughts, and sprang another possibility into his mind.
     Maybe it’s the air, he thought. The air is so clean here, not like the dirty air that permeated Emeradus. Maybe it’s the air that makes the flowers sing?
     They wandered into a delightful flower carpeted meadow that surrounded a beautiful pond that was filled with multi-colored blooming water lilies. The lilies were singing a mellow chorus suitable for a water view. It had its own flowing melody that was different from the songs the other flowers were singing.
     Maybe it’s the water here that makes the flowers sing?
     There was a charming gazebo that was built out into the water with an open deck that offered an unobstructed access to the water. The roof of the gazebo was covered with brilliant red blooming voices and Tavias followed the gardener under the canopy. They stood together looking at the swans that were floating languidly among the lilies.
     There were chairs and a small coffee table made of woven twigs and vines that were arranged to face the water. The gardener invited Tavias to sit down and relax. The he excused himself promising to return in a little while.
     Tavias eased himself into a chair that he assumed the gardener had made himself. The chair was very comfortable and Tavias quickly followed the gardener’s instructions to relax. He gazed out over the splendor of the lilies, the swans and a glorious willow tree that was swaying on the opposite shore of the pond. A tiny head suddenly popped up out of the water nearby and Tavias realized with delight that it was a turtle. Tavias could see the outline of its shell just beneath the surface of the crystal clear water. The turtle eyed him briefly for a few moments, then swam gracefully back down out of sight into the depths of the pond.
     Tavias heard a splash and looked up as ring of ripples circled outward in the wake of something that had announced itself then disappeared. He was disappointed he missed seeing whatever it was, when a silver flash broke the surface in another spot and a large fish leaped up into the air for joy and splashed back down again. The rhythm of the ripples it created moved in time to the music that was emanating from the lilies on the water and the vines on the gazebo above Tavias’ head.
     As the sun sparkled on the pond’s surface, an elegant white shore bird just happened to stroll by only a few feet from where Tavias was sitting. He could have reached out and touched it as the bird calmly walked past him and Tavias grinned like a little child thrilled to be entertained by the nature show.
     He heard the gardener’s footsteps padding softly on the path behind him. Tavias turned around and beheld the gardener carrying a tray with a teapot, two cups and a plate filled with small multi-colored sandwiches.
     “It’s time for brunch, don’t you think?” the gardener said with a smile as he stepped into the gazebo and set the tray down on the coffee table.
     “Oh, you certainly didn’t have to go to all this trouble just for me,” Tavias said as he looked with delight at the food.
     “It’s no trouble,” the gardener replied. “I’m pleased to be of service to you. You’ve been needing this time for quite a while, haven’t you?”
     “Uh, yes, I guess I have. It’s been hard. Thanks for understanding.” Tavias felt a bit guilty attired in his street peasant costume. It was evoking a lot of care and sympathy he felt he didn’t deserve.
     The gardener sat down in the chair next to him and poured tea into the cups. Then they both relaxed looking out over the pond’s glimmering jewel-like surface. The swans began to make their way across the water to the gazebo. The hills in the distance were bathed in a pastel glow from the sky, almost as if the colors from the garden were being reflected outwardly to immerse everything around it in floral hues.
     “I wish the whole world could be this beautiful,” Tavias sighed wistfully. “Where I come from it’s so drab and depressing.” He paused to listen to the flower’s perfect multiple counterpoints. Then he looked at the gardener and said, “I would love to take what I have seen and heard and share with the ones who need to see and hear it. Will there ever come a time when I will know what gives these flowers the wonderful ability to sing?”
     “Tavias, you will know what makes these flowers sing when the time has come to reveal it,” the gardener said solemnly.
     Tavias’ eyes widened with hope. “You mean there will come a time when I’ll really know what makes these flowers sing?”
     “You’ll know before you are ready to leave.”
     Tavias felt his soul melt with relief. Maybe he wasn’t going to die after all.
     “How long may I stay?” he asked.
     “As long as you need to.”
     “Thirty days? Can I stay at least one month?”
     “Yes, of course,” the gardener answered warmly.
     “Then at the end of thirty days I’ll know what makes the flowers sing?”
     “You’ll know by then as surely as the sun rises and sets upon this garden. You will know what makes my flowers sing.”
     Tavias was smiling with joy.
     A swan glided up to the edge of the gazebo to take the piece of bread that the gardener was offering. Then the gardener stroked the bird’s long, graceful neck. The swan remained with its head cradled in the gardener’s hand in a state of peaceful repose that mirrored the tranquility that had come to rest in Tavias’ soul.

     The days passed slowly for Tavias and he gratefully soaked up all the peace and rest he could hold. Each hour brought a fresh revelation and unveiled a new wonder as he followed the gardener while he tended to his blooms. Tavias even found himself singing along with the flowers on occasion. It seemed such a perfectly natural thing to do in the miracle of the gardener’s loving presence.
     And when the end of the thirty days was drawing near, and the time for Tavias to leave the paradise of color, light, and joyful song that had blessed him so wonderfully; when the time to depart had finally come, the dawn of knowledge had invaded Tavias’ heart and had quietly instructed the little man in the remaining hours he had spent by the gardener’s side.
     Lying on his little cot on the eve before he was to leave, Tavias stared at the ceiling as his eyes filled with tears. He had learned the secret of the singing garden; he had learned it all too well. Now the knowledge that he thought would bring his reprieve, was the knowledge instead, that would seal his doom.
     The next morning Tavias stood in front of the little vine covered shack facing the gardener, the quiet, giving man in the workman’s clothes who was looking at him now with so much understanding.
     “I hate to leave,” Tavias stammered. “It’s meant so much for me to be here. I’ve never experienced anything so wonderful in my entire life.”
     Tavias felt like he was about to breakdown into a fit of tears. He wanted to share what was facing him, to unleash the burden in his heart. He wanted to cry out his future to this one who cared so much. He knew he was going to be put to death very soon, he knew now there was no way to get around it anymore. He was about to mention something about not having a whole lot longer to live, when the gardener reached out and put his hand on Tavias’ shoulder. The stormy seas that were churning inside the little man’s soul suddenly melted into a peaceful calm.
     “Tavias, do not be afraid, child. Walk into your future calmly and with confidence. You will have new courage and in it you will be protected. Do not fear what you believe is going to be your doom...”
     How did he know? Tavias wondered in astonishment.
     “...Trust, that you will have everything you need to endure what is facing you.” Then the gardener paused and added with certainty the words that would accompany Tavias all the way back to Emeradus. “Everything is going to work out for your good.”

     Tavias found Treadmill where he had first left him, sitting by the door of his tent in front of a smoldering campfire.
     Treadmill saw Tavias’ solemn expression as he approached. “I was about to come searching for you,” Treadmill said as he studied him. “I take it by the look on your face things didn’t go that well. You didn’t find out what makes those flowers sing, did you?”
     Tavias looked at him and replied simply, “Yes, I learned what makes the flowers sing.”
     Treadmill was surprised. “Then what’s the matter? Why look so down then?”
     Tavias paused before he said quickly, “What I learned isn’t going to save my life. C’mon, let’s get back to Emeradus,” he stated resolutely, “I want to get this whole thing over with.”
     Then he turned abruptly and marched over to his horse.

CHAPTER EIGHT

     R.W. was perched in his regal seat as a small entourage of soldiers, which included Commander Treadmill and a solemn Tavias, entered the room. Tavias was led to the foot of the steps that ascended to the throne. The soldiers were clustered around him like a wreath of thorns.
     “Well,” R.W. uttered the word coolly, “have you succeeded in your mission, Tavias? Have you discovered what makes the flowers sing?”
     Before Tavias could answer, he heard a familiar phrase echo through his brain. “Everything is going to work out for your good.”
     The encouragement contained in those words caused him to answer boldly, “Yes. I have discovered what makes the flowers sing. I’ve learned the secret.”
     R.W.’s eyebrows suddenly rose with new interest. “Really? Well, I didn’t think you were going to pull this one off, Tavias. Tell me then, what is the secret of the singing flowers and I will have Gout here write it all down. Gout!” R.W. called to his servant and Gout was there almost immediately with pen and scroll in hand.
     Tavias took a deep breath and swallowed hard before he spoke.
     “What makes the flowers sing? – Love. They were created by love, they are nurtured by love and it is love that makes them sing to their gardener who has bestowed it.
     “You cannot love, R.W., you are incapable of truly loving anything and this is why you will never hear the flowers sing to you.”
     It was as if the warmth of Tavias’ words had clashed with the evil cold front in R.W.’s heart. The resulting tornado churned R.W. into a deep, jealous rage.
     Tavias was prepared to die, but he did not expect the storm to take the deadly course it was to follow.
     “You will die!” R.W. shouted. “But not before you have witnessed the destruction of this gardener and all his miserable, insidious singing flowers!”
     “No!” Tavias screamed. “You can’t do this!”
     He started to rush toward the throne and he was instantly restrained by several of the soldiers.
     “R.W., please! You don’t know what you’re doing. Kill me, but leave the gardener alone. He is only good. The garden he’s created is the only beautiful place that exists in the whole world. You can’t destroy it! Please, R.W., do anything you want to me, but please leave the garden alone, let the gardener live, please!”
     Tavias’ words were merely captured by the rising storm and heartlessly cast away to oblivion.
     Then R.W. began hurling commands at his soldiers.
     “Prepare my carriage. I’m going to oversee this myself. Bind the peasant and bring him along!” R.W.’s eyes were ablaze with a fiery hatred.
     He stormed out of the room and quickly strode to the garden behind his castle. He paused for a moment to look at the gardener’s flowers. Then with a vicious joy, he was upon them, ripping them apart with his bare hands. He was halfway through the flowerbed when he stopped suddenly. A new light of inspiration flickered in his yellow eyes and he immediately began pulling them out by the roots leaving the flowers intact. He gathered all that remained into his arms and gleefully headed for the pulf course.

     “Driver!” R.W. shouted as he raised his weapon to his shoulder. The driver stepped up and propelled the ball out over the course. A flower had been tied to the wire above the ball, and as a shot rang out, the flower disintegrated into flames. One by one the flowers were destroyed as their remains fell back upon the concrete covering the painted numbers with ashes.
     “I’ve won!” R.W. bellowed in triumph, as the last flower disappeared above the pulf course. “Talley the score!” he commanded with an evil fire in his eyes; “the fun is just beginning!”

CHAPTER NINE

     The workers gathered at the windows of the offices that lined the street, watching a procession of soldiers that were riding by.
     “I wonder what’s up?” one of the workers queried. Nobody knew, so he received no answer.
     Then someone shouted, “Hey, look! There’s Tavias!”
     Now instead of riding triumphantly at the head of R.W.’s army, his horse was being led by one of the soldiers with Tavias immobilized by the chains that bound him.
     As his horse passed by the window, he looked over and saw Katie watching him sadly from the other side of the glass. She began to raise her hand as if to wave a solemn goodbye, then she stopped with her hand in mid-air. Was she wondering if it was the right thing to do? In the kingdom of Emeradus, if someone was in disfavor with R.W., sometimes that person’s associates could come under judgment as well because there were so many guilt by association clauses that were built into the laws.
     Suddenly, the workers began to pull back from the windows in a frantic effort to appear industrious as R.W.’s carriage rolled past the office. He looked over at the flurry of activity his presence generated and he smiled with amusement. Then he turned his gaze away and stared straight ahead as his black and gold carriage, drawn by a team of six, jet black horses, bore him out beyond the gray gates of Emeradus.

     Tavias rode the whole distance in misery. An unbearable cloak of sorrow pressed him like a vise. He hoped that Commander Treadmill who was leading the troop, would not be able to remember the pattern of hills that would guide him to the garden’s location, for Tavias had vowed to himself that no matter how heinous the torture, he would never be the one to lead them there.
     Treadmill had unfortunately been very observant on his previous trips to the garden, and to Tavias’ anguish, the way was remembered and it wasn’t long before the army was lining the crest of the hill that overlooked the valley of flowers.
     R.W.’s carriage was centered in the midst of them and from where he was sitting he had an unobstructed view of the garden and its splendor. The flowers were humming a sweet, background melody that accompanied the glory of a rainbow tinted sky.
     It was as if beauty was a thing to be despised. R.W. immediately began shouting orders to his soldiers and a group of them quickly broke away from the others and galloped down the hill toward the gardener’s cottage.
     Tavias watched with tears cascading down his cheeks as the gardener was pulled out of his home by the soldiers and cast roughly to the ground. They began to beat him brutally as they had been instructed. R.W. was watching with great satisfaction and the sound of Tavias’ sobbing merely became an appropriate accompaniment to the Ruler of the World’s entertainment.
     The gardener fell unconscious to the ground beneath the heavy round of blows to his head and stomach. Then one of the soldiers retrieved a handful of spikes and a large mallet from the sack that was tied to his horse’s saddle.
     The soldiers lifted the gardener away from the ground and propped him up against the side of his shack. There was the sound of heavy pounding as the spikes were driven into the gardener’s wrists, impaling him to the wall. The gardener awoke to consciousness with an agonizing cry as the spikes severed the nerve endings sending shock waves of indescribable pain up and down his limbs. The soldiers finished the job by securing his feet in the same manner.
     Then the soldiers returned to their mounts and galloped back up hill leaving the gardener writhing in agony behind them. R.W. had left his carriage and personally led Tavias’ horse to a spot where he would have a better view of the gardener’s suffering.
     “You were absolutely right, Tavias,” the evil mocked, “it is a beautiful view.”
     The flowers had long since stopped their melodies and their lovely heads began to droop with sorrow. Blood was flowing freely from the gardener’s wounds in scarlet rivulets that fell like tears to soak the soil at his feet.
     “I am so sorry,” Tavias heaved between sobs, as he watched the gardener, his gentle, humble friend writhe against the wall of his home.
     R.W. was studying the scene as if he was an artist, cocking his head, trying to figure out what needed to be done next to complete his masterpiece of destruction. He snapped his fingers and summoned another battalion of soldiers.
     “Dismantle the shack,” they were commanded. “Leave only enough wood to support the victim and pile the debris in the garden.”
     In a moment, the sound of wood being torn and ripped filled the valley. Boards and furniture were smashed into pieces or hacked apart, then tossed in a heap crushing the flowers. Axes swung to their own frenzied rhythm and in a very short while the cottage had been totally dismantled. All that remained were a few beams that formed a cross to hold the gardener’s hands and feet.
     Then the battalion once again returned to their positions on the hill above the carnage.
     “Very good,” R.W. chortled his approval. “It’s getting better all the time, don’t you think Tavias?” He looked at the sobbing little man and grinned. “It’s almost time for you to contribute to the project.”
     R.W. turned to several of his soldiers and instructed them to dig a grave in the garden near the heap of debris. Tavias watched the soldiers as they worked, assuming that they were preparing his final resting place. He knew he deserved whatever it was about to befall him. Because of him, death had entered the garden and destroyed the only perfection he had ever known.
     By the time the soldiers had finished digging the grave, the gardener had ceased from all movement. His head sagged forward limply. One of the soldiers took a sword and jabbed it into the gardener’s side to see of there was any response. It had taken several hours, but Tavias knew that the gardener had finally succumbed to death. For a brief moment, Tavias experienced a limited amount of relief knowing that at last the gardener’s suffering had come to an end.
     It was nearing the beginning of a long, dark night that Tavias assumed would be his last. When the soldiers had finished digging the grave, Tavias was surprised when they began to remove the gardener’s body from the cross. They placed it into the grave and swiftly concealed the corpse with the soft soil of the gardener’s beloved garden.
     R.W. looked at Tavias menacingly. “So you thought that grave was to be your tomb, Tavias? Not so. Guess again.”
     Tavias looked at the empty blood soaked cross and felt a gripping terror seize his soul. He had been made to watch the horrendous suffering of the gardener’s death. Was he going to endure the same agony?
     R.W. looked up at the darkening sky. “My, my, what a wonderful night for a bon fire!”
     He’s going to burn me alive, Tavias thought, with almost a slight sense of relief. Death by fire would at least come quicker that a long, slow impalement.
     The pyre was ordered to be lit, but Tavias was kept on the back of his horse to watch as the flames were coaxed by the soldiers to consume the entire valley of flowers. Inch by inch, foot by foot, Tavias beheld the magnificent garden’s destruction. Flames dissolved the arbors, the benches, and the beautiful gazebo. Flames began to encircle the pond, and the swans flew away in a terrified frenzy.
     And when the fire had satisfied its appetite and there was nothing left for it to consume, when all life had been reduced to ebony ashes, when every bit of color that remained on the land had disappeared into black smoke and soot, the soldiers even entered the pond and began tearing out the lilies casting them onto the smoldering shore where their wet remains exploded into steam.
     Tavias numbly watched the beauty that had been before him dissolve into a smoking, dark nothingness.
     “Come, Tavias,” R.W. said as he began to lead his horse down the hill. “It’s time to relocate you into your new home.”

     The air was thick with smoke and Tavias could hardly breathe. The soldiers roughly pulled him from his mount. They unlocked his chains and they fell from his body. Then Tavias was shoved down onto the smoking, hot soil. Long stakes were driven deeply into the ground around him. There were four of them, one for each hand and foot. Tavias was made to lie on his back. The soldiers spread him out like a wheel and his hands and feet were chained to the stakes.
     As one of the soldiers was tightening a chain around Tavias’ wrist, Tavias turned his head and looked up into the soldier’s face.
     “Sorry,” Treadmill said. He hesitated a moment as if he wanted to say something more, then he turned away briskly. Then a black shadow took his place and R.W. was looming above him.
     “I thought that since you enjoyed it here so much, that this is where you should remain. Goodbye, Tavias. Enjoy your stay.”
     R.W. smiled with an evil satisfaction and then he turned and marched away into the darkness. Tavias listened as the horses galloped away into the night. Then silence enveloped the valley once again, leaving Tavias alone with his tormenting thoughts.
     A long, slow death. Why not? Nothing ever came that easy for me anyway.
     He turned his head and realized that he was lying near the mound of soil that marked the gardener’s grave. The sight of it made him want to cry again.
     “I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. I deserve this, I know. If only I hadn’t told R.W. about this place you’d still be alive and your beautiful garden would never have been destroyed. What was I trying to do? Impress, R.W.? Get a little recognition for myself in the realm? Be a big shot? Now look at me. I’m going to be turned into a pile of compost!”
     The night progressed very slowly and with every wrenching moment the regret in Tavias’ heart increased its torment miserably until the dawn. The sun rose, and the shadeless heat could not match the burning intensity of Tavias’ regret. It continued to torment him through the long hours more fiercely than his hunger and thirst. Each and every ‘if only I had’ or ‘should have been’, notched another crater of remorse deep into his soul, making him writhe in the agony of his own thoughts.
     Regret pinned him and held him tighter than his chains, it tortured him, clawed him, stabbed and mutilated his being, twisted his heart and taunted his soul.
     The only relief came when his thought patterns switched briefly to contemplate how many hours between each sunrise and sunset would he have to endure before his life finally found release in death. How much longer would he be forced to endure the torture of his own self-condemnation?
     It was on the morning of the third agonizing day, as the sunrise tried to coax his attention to something brighter, as his crusted eyelids began to flutter open from a brief, nightmarish sleep, his thoughts once again immediately resumed torturing their victim.
     “If only, if only, if only, if, if, if...”
     “Shoulda been, shoulda been, shoulda been...”
     “My fault, my fault, my fault....”
     Regret relentlessly continued to sting him like a torrent of vengeful bees. His head rolled from side to side in response to their torment. Then he was suddenly riveted by another thought that was so out of context to his pattern of tortured thinking. The thought plummeted through his brain like a comet scattering the ‘might have beens’ and the ‘if only I hads’ into oblivion. Tavias’ mind had suddenly been cleared to ponder just one sentence that was spoken by the gardener’s voice, somehow so alive in him.
     “Tavias,” the voice said his name with a gentle bouncing lilt, and the words that followed were gift wrapped with comfort. “One heartfelt ‘I’m sorry’ was enough. I forgive you. Tavias, my child, I have ordained everything for your good.”
     Startled, Tavias thought, where did that come from?
     Before he even had a moment to question, to ask how anything good could come out of his present situation, before he even had a chance to consider if he was possibly being mocked by his own imagination, the ground began to tremble slightly. What’s happening now? He wondered.
     Then another thought fluttered into his heart like a butterfly sent to herald a brand new beginning. “It’s only the Seed coming to life, Tavias. The earth must roll and part to make a way for it.”
     Then Tavias turned his head to look at the gardener’s grave. Dirt was tumbling down the side of it as the mound slowly began to rise as if something large was moving beneath it.
     Three days without food, water and very little sleep is making me hallucinate, Tavias thought. I’m not really seeing this light that’s all over the place, almost blinding my eyes!
     It was as if Tavias was staring into the sun. Everything had suddenly become obliterated by a glorious white cloud of light. Then out of the light, a man’s figure was rising above him, and Tavias found that he was gazing in bewildered wonderment at The Smile.
     “Nothing ever dies in My garden, Tavias. Not even you.”
     There was laughter in the voice and the sound of it broke the chains on Tavias’ hands and feet. He lay there stunned, not realizing that he had been set free.
     Then the Gardener reached down and lovingly gathered Tavias into his arms as if he was a tiny child.
     Tavias beheld the glory; he saw the glimmering golden crown above the familiar, tender face. Tavias started to tremble in the presence of royal splendor. In spite of himself, he began to rise with it as the Gardener set him upon his feet.
     Tavias could not remain upon them very long and in an instant he had dropped to his knees. He was stammering, blubbering as he beheld the gardener king, clothed in regal robes and majesty, towering above the empty hole that had once served as his grave.
     “I don’t understand,” Tavias blurted. “You’re alive!” He began to sob with awe and joy, unbelieving, yet, believing, trying to comprehend that what he was seeing was real. “But I saw you die in agony, how can this be?”
     “Tavias, understand,” he was told as a majestic hand reached out from the light of the Gardener’s being. He touched Tavias’ shoulder and the warmth of that touch traveled throughout the little man’s body and settled like a dove into his soul. “My death has been ordained from the creation of the world,” the Voice spoke softly. “I knew you would fail, along with everyone who had ever lived in the realm of Emeradus. My death and resurrected life was the provision for all of humankind’s redemption. Now the plan has been completed. Because I live, there is hope for the prisoners of Emeradus. And I have called you, Tavias, for the purpose of making My glory known to them.”
     Tavias was struggling to comprehend what he had just been told.
     “But because of me your garden has been destroyed, how could you have wanted it to be this way?” Tavias cried.
     “What evil has accomplished for a moment will be forgotten in the limitless fathoms of eternity. Behold, I make all things new!”
     Then the Gardener King waved His hand across the horizon. New life suddenly began to sprout upward through the blackened soil. The shoots continued growing swiftly, triumphantly. Soon the resurrected blooms once again covered every inch of the valley. Even the barren spaces that had been robbed by R.W.’s army were now teaming with the joyful songs of the flowers that had been miraculously restored to life and returned to their original places in the garden.
     Tavias heard the singing and turned his head to behold the miracle. The garden had been instantly restored as if no devastation had ever taken place.
     “It’s all back! all the flowers, everything!” Tavias exclaimed with joy. Even the swans were swimming peacefully among the singing water lilies.
     Tavias sprang to his feet to get a better view of the miracle. Then he whirled around to face the Gardener. In a moment he was on his knees again overwhelmed with awe as he exclaimed, "Who are you?”
     “I am the Son of the Creator who lives in Me. I and My Father are One.”
     Tavias had been raised in a world where R.W. had been proclaimed as the only being to be worshipped. It had never occurred to Tavias or anyone else in the realm for that matter, that the earth beneath their feet or the sky above their heads with all its wonders of the sun, moon and stars had any originator other than chance. Tavias was astounded.
     The Gardener was smiling. “Tavias, you are part of the plan, child. You may question how and why it has all come to be, but some things you are not meant to know in their entirety. You must accept what you do not know by faith.”
     There was a rumbling sound in the distance. Tavias turned from the splendor of beholding the Gardener’s glory to stare in awe as the hills in the distance began to melt into the ground. Above them a golden halo opened in the sky, and a city began to emerge from the atmosphere, a glorious golden city with walls, turrets and gates that were sparkling with jewels. The city floated down and settled in the place where the hills had been. Tavias had never beheld anything so wonderful.
     “That is your new dwelling place with Me.” The Gardener’s voice told him. “You will live there with the others who will follow you here from Emeradus.”
     Tavias looked at Him again. “I have to go back to Emeradus?”
     “The message I give you is their only hope,” the Gardener spoke solemnly. “The Kingdom of Emeradus is going to be destroyed very soon, Tavias. You must bring as many of them as you can to Me before it is too late.”
     “Emeradus is going to be destroyed?” Tavias repeated. “Even Katie...?”
     “Tavias, go tell them there is hope. The ones who believe will be saved.”
     “How much time do I have?” Tavias stammered. “How will I know when the end is coming?”
     “The sky will begin to turn green, and then the red eye will become visible shortly afterward.”
     “The red eye? What’s that?”
     “The instrument of destruction. Nothing will remain in its wake. Now go,” the Gardener told him. “Be wise as your enemy, and harmless as a dove. Do not be afraid of what you will encounter when you return to the Ruler of the World’s domain. Remember,” the Gardener finished with a twinkle in His eyes, “everything has been ordained for your good.” Tavias was beginning to believe it.

CHAPTER TEN

     Tavias hid in the bushes just outside the gates of Emeradus. It was early evening and he had been sitting there in the darkness a long time, pondering a way to avoid the observant red light in the door that had been programmed to recognize and report all who entered the city. He was wondering how long he was going to have to wait before he could find a way to slip in without being detected, when he heard the sound of an approaching caravan. Soon a procession of horses and wagons with their accompanying merchants was filing past him on the road.
     When the caravan stopped to wait for the gates to open, a little round shadow emerged from the bushes and glided up alongside one of the wagons unnoticed. The gates opened and the entourage began to move into the city without any further delays. The procession passed safely into the market square and in the shadows, Tavias disappeared down an alley.
     He remained in the alley and rested until the first light of morning began to push its way into the sky. Eventually Tavias heard footsteps coming down the narrow passageway. He remained hidden behind some tall containers that were used to store refuse.Then the figure stopped at a door in the wall and was about to insert a cone into the lock when Tavias emerged from the shadows.
     “Katie, don’t be afraid, it’s me!”
     Startled, Katie whirled to face Tavias and stood there with her mouth open, but unable to speak for a few moments as she stared at him.
     She finally was able to squeak, “Tavias, is that really you? I thought... we all thought you were dead!”
     “I’m not.”
     “How?....I don’t understand any of this,” she stammered. Then her face suddenly contorted with fear. “If R.W. ever finds out you’re here, if he ever knew I was talking to you he’d kill me too!”
     “Katie, listen to me, this is very important. Emeradus is going to be destroyed very soon. The Gardener sent me to warn everyone. He’s provided another place for us to live, Katie. It’s wonderful. I’ve seen it! You’ve got to come with me when it’s time!”
     “But I just got a new apartment with brand new furniture,” she said with a spacey expression on her face. “It’s all pastels...”
     “It’s all going to be pastel ashes, Katie.”
     “Emeradus is going to be destroyed?” she repeated, trying to comprehend the enormity of what she had just been told. “How do you know, Tavias?”
     “Katie, the Gardener is the Creator of the world. He’s the one R.W. wanted to destroy but he couldn’t. Everything R.W. did only helped to fulfill the plan. The Gardener let Himself be killed and come alive again so He could redeem us from R.W’s kingdom. I don’t understand it all, either, Katie, but I know it’s true. I saw the Gardener die and come back to life. And He sent me back to Emeradus to try and rescue as many as I can before it’s too late. Please, Katie, you’ve got to believe me and accept the truth for yourself!”
     He paused to look at her, to study her. She had a blank, vacant gaze on her face.
     “Tavias, I’m going to be late for work. I have to prepare the office before anyone else arrives. If I don’t I’ll get into trouble.”
     “Katie, I’ll come back when it’s time. Please believe, if you don’t you’ll be destroyed with the city,” he pleaded earnestly. “Please, Katie, listen to me. There’s going to be a sign, the sky is going to turn green...”
     Katie began fumbling with her cone and she quickly stabbed it into the lock.
     She thinks I’m crazy, Tavias thought in despair.
     “I’ve got to go, Tavias,” she said quickly as the door to the office slid open. She looked at him briefly, then with sudden concern she said, “Be careful, Tavias.” She hesitated again, then reached into her bag and withdrew her lunch packet. “Here,” she said, “take this. You must be hungry.”
     She handed him the food just before the door closed behind her and she was gone.
     “At least I got to tell her.” Tavias whispered. “Oh, Katie, please believe!”

     In the daylight hours Tavias rested and at night he would wander the city streets speaking to as many souls as he could find. Some would listen, others just walked away in disbelief.
     “How could Emeradus be destroyed?” someone mocked. “Emeradus is indestructible!”
     Others who were as miserable as Tavias had been, listened with hope in their eyes as Tavias described the Gardener and the wonderful home He had prepared for them all by His sacrifice.
     Soon Tavias was meeting secretly in people’s homes to share his message with all the needy souls who were willing to listen. And the number of converts to the truth began to grow.
     Tavias continued to move under the cover of nightfall from house to house sharing a message of hope before the coming doom. Gradually, word of the impending destruction of Emeradus began to spread around the city, weaving its way inevitably into R.W.’s palace.
     Gout was serving his master his evening meal, when the helpful servant casually mentioned a rumor that was circulating around the city that Emeradus was about to be destroyed.
     R.W. roared with laughter and merely commanded Gout to bring him another bottle of wine. The concept was so preposterous...and yet...when the laughter finally dissipated, and serious thought began to surreptitiously take its place, R.W. grew pensive and muttered out loud, “Is someone trying to undermine my authority in the kingdom?”
     “That could be a possibility, sire. It’s originating from somewhere. It would behoove you to find out where, or from whom it’s coming from.”
     “Hmmmmm,” R.W. thought with his cup aimed toward his narrow lips. “You’re right, Gout,” he concluded. “I must send spies amongst my people and find the source of this rumor. Be on the alert yourself, Gout!”
     “I shall, Master.” Gout bowed and R.W.’s view of his servant’s face disappeared behind the silver cup as the Ruler of the World threw the liquid down his throat and swallowed hard.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

     Several months had passed since Tavias had returned to Emeradus and he was pleased with the following his message had garnered. He knew when the time came many would follow him to safety. But his heart yearned for the one who he wanted to convince the most.
     One day he saw her in the marketplace. He was watching from a window in one of the houses where he had been given refuge. It was broad daylight and he knew he was taking a risk, but he couldn’t stand to miss the opportunity to speak to her again. He pulled his cloak up over his head to conceal his face, and pretending to be a poor cripple, he hobbled out among the merchant booths.
     In a moment he was close enough for her to hear his course whisper. “Katie, it’s me, Tavias. Can I talk to you a moment?”
     She turned to look at the little figure that was standing beside her with his hooded head facing the ground. She was holding a pomegranate and when she saw him she dropped it and it rolled away down the aisle.
     “Tavias! You shouldn’t be here, if anyone saw me talking to you I’d be in very grave trouble, not to mention what would happen to you!”
     “Katie, listen, I just had to talk to you one more time. I’ve got to convince you that I’m telling the truth. There are many now who believe me, Katie. They hate their lives here in Emeradus and they want something better. They know there’s more to this life than what they can see and they have the faith that will save them when the time comes. Please believe Katie! Time is so short. Did you see the sky this morning? There was a slight green cast on the horizon. It’s coming soon, you’ve got to be ready!”
     In his exuberance, Tavias had lifted his head to try and see if his words were getting through to her. The pomegranate that she had dropped had finally rolled to a stop at someone’s shoe. A hand reached down and picked it up.
     “Here, miss, I believe that you dropped this,” a familiar voice said.
     Tavias suddenly found himself looking past Katie into the face of R.W.’s faithful servant, Gout. Their eyes met briefly and Gout’s gaze suddenly flared with recognition.
     In an instant, Tavias threw his cloak over his face and swiftly turned back into the crowd in the marketplace, disappearing into the masses.
     “Who was that man that was talking to you?” Gout asked Katie politely.
     She looked at him with all the composure she could possibly fake.
     “I haven’t the faintest idea who he is, a beggar perhaps? He was scaring me.”
     That part at least, was the truth.

     “Tavias is alive!” R.W. roared from his throne. “That’s impossible, Gout!” he yelled as he leaped up from his seat and came marching down the steps to confront his trembling servant. “I’m positive master. I was only a few feet from him and I got a clear view of his face. Also, the distinctive nasal twang in his voice was unmistakable. He was speaking to a young woman, who claims not to know who he was. He was dressed like a beggar and she seemed to be genuinely afraid of him. But it was Tavias, sire, no mistaking...unless he has a twin we didn’t know about.”
     R.W. looked at Gout, whose reliability was something the Ruler of the World never had to question, and so in a few moments R.W. was summoning the commander of his royal army.
     Treadmill was informed that someone bearing an uncanny resemblance to the “should have long been deceased Tavias” was seen in the city. Treadmill was ordered to find him and deliver him into R.W.’s presence.
     “Search the city,” he was ordered. “Every office, all the factories, every square inch of Emeradus is not to be left uncovered!”
     Orders were given that the gates to Emeradus were to be sealed until Tavias was captured and no one was to enter or leave the city. This meant that trade would slow; incomes would be declining adding momentum to the search within Emeradus’ population. In other words, in a very short time, everyone would be eager to find a little man named Tavias.

     The soldiers moved from house to house in the early evening hours as the search intensified. Treadmill stood in the street looking up at the rows of lighted windows that filled the city. It was hard for the soldier to believe that it was really Tavias they were looking for. Treadmill was almost certain Tavias had perished long ago. But he was a spunky little man. Could he have freed himself from those chains? Treadmill had fastened them himself. “No way,” he thought. But deep inside, the possibility that the little guy had somehow survived, made the soldier smile in spite of himself.

     Tavias was packing some supplies into a sack as an assortment of converts from the meetings watched him sadly. They hated to see their teacher, their bearer of hope and good news leave them.
     “Are you sure you have to go, Tavias?” an old woman asked anxiously. “I can hide you here. The soldiers will never find you.”
     Tavias looked at her and smiled. “Where would you hide me, Rose, in the laundry bin? These apartments are so small they’d find me in an instant and you and Alfred would be in danger of losing your lives on account of me. No, I won’t put my friends in jeopardy. I have to leave now.”
     Tavias threw on his cloak and hauled his sack on his shoulder. “I’ll be okay,” he assured them.
     He looked at their faces. They had become like his children, birthed into the faith by the seed of his words. They watched him sadly and he scanned their faces; Rose and Alfred, the elderly couple that had taken him in; Kranston and Agabar, Jasper and Alfonso, Elly May and the others, just the few of many throughout the city that had responded to the Truth.
     “Keep the faith,” Tavias exhorted them. “Time is growing short. Soon we’ll all be free.”
     He grinned his confidence, then leaned over and gave Rose a kiss on her wrinkled brow. She threw her arms around his neck and whispered, “You have given us all hope with your words. We have a paradise to look forward to now.”
     The others nodded. Tavias thought he was going to burst into tears. The sound of R.W’s army clattering through the streets jolted him to the door.
     “Be careful, Tavias,” one of the men said softly.
     Tavias had his hand on the door handle as he looked back at the room filled with the sad, concerned faces of his friends.
     “All things work together for good, for those who believe,” he said.
     Then he was gone.

     The search for Tavias continued for weeks and as each day progressed the sky was turning a little bit greener. The populace was growing restless, for by now all had heard the rumors about the impending destruction of the city. The green cast in the sky was beginning to lend some credibility to the story. Conversations and all the local news broadcasts centered on the hunt for Emeradus’ prophet of doom.
     R.W. was the most disturbed of all. Peering out his window one afternoon as he was watching the sky, he instructed Gout to order all the factories to turn up their smokestacks so no one could see the sky at all. “And keep it that way until we find the little scoundrel Tavias and we get to the bottom of this miserable development. When he is removed from the picture, we’ll invent another explanation for the sky and continue on as usual. And forget all this nonsense about the destruction of my kingdom. It and I are invincible!”
     “Of course, master, that goes without question.” Gout agreed, and quickly shuffled off to do his master’s bidding.
     R.W.’s orders were followed to the letter as usual and soon the city had grown dark with smog and the sky above it could no longer be seen. People were coughing all the time and were walking about with handkerchiefs tied over their noses to help filter out the pollution. If Emeradus had been a miserable place to live before, it was worse now. Crime was increasing and and fear followed in its wake threading itself through the population like an evil serpent. Only those who had listened and believed Tavias’ message had peace.
     Tavias was surviving on the streets disguised as a street peasant, those neglected rejects from Emeradus’ society. They were, for the most part, avoided by everyone, so as long as Tavias kept his face hidden by his cloak he felt safe enough. He slept in the daytime in an alley with his face turned to a wall and no one ever bothered him. At night he would roam the streets under the cover of darkness, keeping a careful watch for R.W.’s soldiers.
     It bothered him that he could no longer see the sky. He knew the greener the sky became, the closer they were to the end. How would he tell when it was time to call the people to leave? And how much time would he have to sound the final alarm before he was arrested?
     Somehow he knew the Gardener was in control and Tavias could only trust and pray that somehow the clouds would blow away at just the right time.
     One day he was shuffling down an alley when he saw another down and outer leaning on the wall. He was slumped dejectedly staring at his thumbs that were hooked around an empty bottle. He had a dirty, wide brimmed hat that covered most of his face. His clothes were torn and ratty. Immediately Tavias felt compassion for this lonely looking stranger and wanted to share with him the hope of his message.
     Tavias slowly walked over to him, slid his sack off his shoulder, and then sat down next to the stranger.
     “Excuse me,” Tavias said, “are you hungry? I have some bread and cheese here I’d be happy to share with you.”
     The stranger only grunted.
     “You look so sad and worn out,” Tavias continued. “I know how that feels. But you don’t have to stay this way. There is hope. I know a place that’s been prepared for us. We are loved and there is Someone who loves us so much he was willing to die for us so we could have hope and live forever in His kingdom.”
     “Yeah?” the voice said from under the hat.
     Tavias was encouraged and he continued his story from the beginning, how he had found the garden of singing flowers, how it had been destroyed and how the Gardener who had been viciously murdered, came back to life and set him free. He told how he had been sent to give the people of Emeradus His message of hope before the city was to be destroyed. He went on to explain about the sky turning green, that it was a signal that it was nearing the time of the end, but all the people who believed would be given a chance to escape.
     When Tavias was finished, he looked at the stranger and said, “ Do you believe? If you do, you can be saved.”
     There was a moment of silence, and then the voice said, “That’s a pretty good story you’re tellin’. Must be some truth to it, or you wouldn’t be here.”
     Then the man lifted his hand to the brim of his hat and tilted it so Tavias could see his face.
     “Treadmill!” Tavias felt his heart surge with fear.
     The soldier looked at him with a half-smile on his face. “I’ve been workin’ undercover like this for over a month now. Glad it’s finally over.”
     He moved so fast, like a python with a mouse. In an instant Tavias felt the handcuffs slap on his wrist and he and Commander Treadmill were chained to each other, wrist to wrist.
     “Sorry, kid. I gotta take you in. It’s my job.”
     “Treadmill, everything I told you is true. The city is going to be destroyed. You’ve seen the green cast the sky is taking. We don’t have a lot of time!”
     The soldier looked at him. Treadmill’s never- reveal- what- I’m- thinking expression wavered only slightly.
     “I left you chained to the ground and now you’re here looking me in the face when I thought you’d be a skeleton. I don’t know how it happened, but you gotta understand, I’ve been trained to do what I’m told and that’s it. And I’ve got a boss that’ll kill me without thinkin’ twice about it if I don’t. I gotta look after my own hide and that’s the way it is.”
     “But does it have to be that way, Treadmill? It’s all coming to an end. Your life here is going to be over very soon unless you’re willing to flee Emeradus when the time comes. Treadmill, you’ve seen the garden, you know how beautiful it is. But there is more, a grand city of hope. It’s waiting for us all. You’ve got to believe me, Treadmill. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done to me or anyone else. The Gardener will forgive you as long as you repent....”
     “Repent....” Treadmill repeated the word as if he didn’t know what it meant.
     “All the Gardener wants is for all of us to be humble enough to admit that we’ve done wrong things and we can’t save ourselves. Believe that He died so we can live. There’s hope for us all, Treadmill, believe it!”
     Treadmill stared at the little man who could have almost been his friend if things had been different. Treadmill had the key to the handcuffs in his pocket. He could set Tavias free in an instant and no one would ever know...
     “Commander Treadmill!” a voice suddenly boomed down the alley. “What have you got there?”
     Treadmill turned to see a group of his soldiers standing in the entrance of the alley watching him expectantly. He had no other choice but to rise to his feet pulling his prisoner with him.
     “The search is officially over,” he said with a tightness in his throat. “Tavias has been captured.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

     The Gardener stood in the doorway of His mansion listening to His blooms sing to Him their early morning serenade. He smiled and re-entered the palace. He walked past the endless dining hall with its table that was just as long. It was formally set in anticipation of a great feast. Then he walked into each one of the elegantly furnished suites inspecting every detail. There were comfortable places to rest, all adorned with the most fabulous fabrics and appointments; crystal ceilings and gold, resplendent floors. Jewels were imbedded in walls of pearl and sparkled a welcome wherever the Gardener walked by. He was pleased with the home He had created. There would be room for everyone.
     He stepped out onto one of the balconies that overlooked the garden and the playground that flowed among the hills for as far as the eye could see. It was a playground of delights for all ages, filled with animals and fountains, swings and slides that floated in the air. He could hardly wait until His playground was teaming with the joyful sounds of a multitude of souls set free.
     All things were now ready. It was time.
     He moved back into the corridor and soon He was standing in the enormous entry hall looking out the door in Emeradus’ direction. He smiled and raised his hand as if to blow a kiss. He breathed a breath that was so gentle, it floated up into the sky and gradually gained momentum as it moved toward the city.

     Tavias had no choice but to follow Commander Treadmill back through the city streets. A gentle breeze had started to blow, gathering papers and refuse, casting them out of his way as they went.
     Tavias looked at the faces that were watching him and he felt a power rise into his breast like the wind that was cleansing the path before him. He began to speak boldly as he walked and Treadmill did not forbid him.
     “The time is coming to flee the city!” Tavias called. “It’s time to make the choice to leave this world and flee to your new life in the Gardener’s Kingdom! If you remain, you will die! Repent and be ready to escape when you see the green sky!”
     He didn’t know why he said it. How could they know when to flee when they couldn’t see the sky at all because of the gray clouds of smog above the city?
     But he kept calling anyway as he was compelled, exhorting them to believe in something better than what they could see with their eyes.
     He marched through the streets a seeming prisoner, but he had never felt so free as the words continued to tumble boldly out of his mouth. And with every step he made, the wind grew slightly stronger escorting him fearlessly toward the gates of R.W.’s castle.
     In a very short while he was standing next to Treadmill at the foot of R.W.’s throne waiting for the monarch to make his entrance. Treadmill reached over and unlocked the chain that was connecting him to his prisoner. Tavias looked at him with a certain measure of surprise.
     “Remember, if you try to escape I can run faster than you can,” Treadmill said with a slight twinkle in his eyes that left Tavias a bit perplexed.
     Then R.W.'s entrance was announced by Gout’s quivering alto. The potentate made his usual pompous entrance from the side door to his throne. He sat down and stared in unblinking malice at the prisoner.
     “It looks like Tavias,” R.W. sneered. “But Tavias is supposed to be very dead.” He paused briefly before he asked menacingly, “Is that really you Tavias? If it is you must give me an explanation for your existence.”
     “Yes, it is I, R.W. I have been set free.”
     “By whom!” the voice demanded. “Someone rescued you in the wilderness. Tell me!”
     Tavias felt no fear. He realized he was being given the opportunity to testify before the Ruler of the World, the one who thought he owned everything, when he possessed absolutely nothing, who had brought such misery to so many people for so long. He was about to be dethroned verbally and Tavias was going to enjoy every moment of it, no matter what the consequences.
     The words began to pour eloquently out of the little man’s mouth as he painted a verbal picture to describe the Gardener’s death and His glorious resurrection. He told of the hope and provision that He had secured for everyone in R.W.’s kingdom who would have the faith to believe.
     Tavias watched the jealous flame in R.W.’s eyes ignite into rage as he listened to words that stung his very being. And when Tavias was nearing the end of his soliloquy, he paused briefly, then stated with regal authority, “R.W., I have witnessed the Majesty, the Glory, the Power of one so possessed by love, that His brilliance outshines every living thing, every object of adoration that mankind could imagine. He has stripped away the facade of what you regard as wealth and revealed it to be mere dung compared to His brilliance.
     “You, who reign in the beggarly ashes of pride, are nothing by comparison, for you, R.W., are merely the ruler of this world,” Tavias paused relishing the punchline, “But the gardener is the King of the universe!”
     The evil writhed under the blow of words. Then the fire of his rage commanded Treadmill – “You will take your sword and run him through before my eyes – now!”
     Treadmill looked at R.W., then he turned to face Tavias. Treadmill’s hand slowly moved toward the sword that was sheathed to his side.
     Tavias looked back at the soldier with a courageous boldness, this little one who had feared death so mightily was now standing defiantly in its presence.
     The wind outside had begun to blow fiercely. As it tore through the sky above Emeradus, it challenged the gray smog with its power and overcame it immediately, casting the dismal clouds aside to expose a vibrant glowing green sky. As the glorious emerald hues abruptly colored the entire city with green, all the people suddenly stopped what they were doing to look up as Tavias’ prophecy was fulfilled before their eyes.
     “Tavias was right!” someone shouted. “Emeradus is going to be destroyed!”
     The people began to run through the streets. Tavias was still staring down Commander Treadmill wondering about the lack of brutal malice in his eyes that should usually accompany an act of murder, when Gout made an announcement about the green light that was suddenly spilling into the room through the windows.
     “Master, the room is turning green and the people seem to be running wildly through the streets,” he said as he peered out the window. “What should we do?”
     R.W. looked at Gout craning his head over the sill and heard the sounds of the people yelling outside.
     “Send out a command!” R.W. shouted. “Tell them all to get back to work immediately!” Then he skewered Treadmill with his gaze. “Kill him you idiot! Kill him now!”
     Treadmill turned to look at R.W., at a face that had turned green in the light, at eyes that were shining red with rage. Then Treadmill looked back at Tavias and said simply,
     “C’mon, let’s split.”
     In an instant the space where they had been standing was vacated.
     “NOOOOOO!” R.W. roared as he quickly withdrew his own sword and flung it after the fleeing men. They bolted out the door just as R.W.’s weapon slammed into the archway behind them. Then R.W pitched after them propelled by an insane rage.
     Tavias and Treadmill sped down the hall.
     “He’s gonna pull the drawbridge, hurry!” Treadmill shouted.
     The two men flew out of the huge hallway and exploded out of the castle. They could hear the little bell jingling in the tower ahead, which was the signal that the drawbridge was about to be raised. Tavias saw the bridge slowly begin to rise and his heart raced, as he wondered if he would be able to make it in time.
     Treadmill was way ahead of him and he reached the edge of it first. He leaped out into the air and landed with a heavy thud on the opposite bank, the heel of his boot sending clumps of earth back down into the water of the moat below.
     The bridge continued its ascent and the pitch slid Tavias out over the side and he fell, missing the embankment by only a few feet. He landed in the water with an enormous splash, and then resurfaced sputtering. He looked up and saw Treadmill standing above him with his sword drawn as if he was about to impale him.
     “Don’t move!” the soldier commanded. Then the sword flew out over Tavias’ head and landed with a thud onto something behind him.
     Tavias heard a gagging roar. He whirled his head around and gasped as he beheld the crocodile. Treadmill’s sword was sticking out of the creature’s gaping mouth as the animal writhed.
     “Tavias!” Treadmill roared, “MOVE!”
     Tavias quickly made a few clumsy strokes, then he felt Treadmill grab his arm and he was quickly hauled onto the shore.
     They raced away from the castle as the sound of R.W.’s bellowing mirrored the dying grunts of the crocodile.
     There was pandemonium in the streets as the people panicked. Tavias and Treadmill stopped and watched terror propel people into each other like a vengeful demon, making them scream and fall to the ground.
     “Stop!” Tavias shouted. “Listen to me! There is hope! Follow me to the hills!” He began to push his way through the crowd.
     “It’s the prophet Tavias!” someone shouted.
     A sudden calm began to settle on the people.
     “There is a place prepared for you!” Tavias shouted. “Believe everything I’ve told you about the Gardener and His kingdom. It is all true! There is hope for all who are willing to repent and believe! Follow me and I will lead you to safety!”
     The people made a way for him and Commander Treadmill to pass through. Then they followed Tavias like a throng of frightened children.
     He began to lead them swiftly through the maze of streets to the gates of the city, which had been securely shut. The keeper of the gate looked down from the tower above it and watched as the people gathered below.
     “I have orders that no one is to leave the city,” he bellowed.
     “Break them!” Treadmill commanded with all the military authority he could muster. “If you don’t we’re all going to die, including you. Move it soldier, get those gates open now!”
     Tavias looked up and saw a bright red spot in the sky above them. It was very far away, but he could tell it was moving closer.
     “The red eye,” Tavias muttered. Then he yelled up at the guard, “I am Tavias, the prophet. Open the gates! The prophecy of Emeradus’ destruction is about to be fulfilled!”
     The keeper of the gate looked up at the green sky and the strange red dot that had suddenly appeared above the city. Then his hand slammed down on a lever and he bolted for the stairs as the gate swung open.
     The people spilled out like a living river weaving and flowing their way to freedom. The farther the human river traveled from Emeradus, the eerie light grew fainter until the people had completely moved away from its shadow. They ran toward the hills and didn’t look back for there was no desire to return to the past, for these ones who believed had learned to trust a future they couldn’t see through the testimony of one faithful little man.
     When they were safely away from the territory of Emeradus, they finally stopped to rest on the grass in the hill country with a safe blue sky smiling above them.
     Tavias looked over the crowd, scanning each face for the one he desired to see the most.
     “Katie!” His face glowed when he recognized her bright red hair and the long braid that made her stand out from all the others.
     “Katie, do you believe now?” he asked as he reached her side.
     She turned to look at him with her large, questioning blue eyes.
     “Tavias, if all that you have said is true, then I really don’t have to be afraid anymore, do I?”
     “You got it!” he bubbled, grinning.
     “I don’t have to worry about losing my apartment?”
     “Not a bit.”
     She paused and thought for a moment as she gazed at the beautiful hills and listened to the sound of exquisite music in the distance and saw the glow of a glorious new home rising above the horizon. Then she turned to him and said with a wondrous smile on her lovely face, “I’m not going to have to get up and go to work in the morning, am I?”

     R.W. stormed into his throne room that was now bathed in a reddish green glow that had enveloped the castle. He spotted Gout sitting on the steps of the throne. He had a complacent, almost peaceful look on his face.
     “Well, Gout, are you going to leave me, too?” R.W. shouted.
     Gout looked up at him with an expression of almost surprise. “Oh, no master,” he replied softly, his pale, wizened skin looking even stranger and more drawn in the odd light. “I would miss what I’ve been so used to. I’ve always found it hard to change. The concept is quite frightening to me, actually, getting used to what I don’t know. So I’ll sit with you, if don’t mind, sire, calmly lick the ashes from my fingers and contemplate my doom.”
     A wild, almost gleeful light surged into R.W.’s eyes. “That’s the spirit, Gout!”

     The red orb that had been birthed in the deepest recesses of the galaxies had been traveling for uncounted centuries. Like a magnet pulling it to its destination, every lie, every evil deed, every murder, theft and sin that had been perpetrated within the gates of Emeradus kept drawing the red eye onto its present course. Now it was only several miles from its target. The enormity of its size suddenly pitched a dark ominous shadow over the city and soon the green reddish light had given way to total darkness.
     The few souls that had remained behind in the city, the mockers, the revilers, those whose beings had become possessed by and mirrored R.W.’s desires so accurately, never really knew what hit them.
     The orb slammed into the city with a tremendous roar and shoved Emeradus and all the evil it contained beneath it. The entire planet pitched and rocked as it was jolted out of its orbit. It began to careen wildly into space, gradually dissolving into flames.
     The souls who had escaped into the Gardener’s peaceful hills were not touched by the devastation of their old world, for the ground they now stood upon had been preserved by the Gardener’s purity and set apart into a dimension that was reserved for the moment when all else would fall away. They never felt the ground sway, or the planet vibrate under the weight of the judgment that had befallen it. They only felt the peace that enveloped them the moment Tavias led them into the garden, the realm of the true King.
     In a beautiful serenity that none of them had experienced before, they followed Tavias as he led them down a sparkling golden path that shone in the glow from the gates of a breathtakingly beautiful jeweled city that was their new home for eternity; a home where death could not enter and life would reign forever.
     Standing in the entrance to that world, stood the humble Gardener who was the King. As He opened His arms to welcome them as a loving father, he gazed at the multitude of faces that were etched with wonder and awe. And the King thought with joy in His heart how much fun it was going to be to teach them all how to sing.

     And we know that all things to work together for good to them who love God, and are the called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28

copyright 2009 by H.D. Shively

If you have enjoyed this story, please help us to continue sharing it with a love offering of any amount. Thank you and God bless. - H.D.

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