A boy grew, betrothed, to a girl so vain and prideful. Their parents both of wealth, wed them in business, almost as a handshake, when the children were just fifteen.
The wife was Theodora, and her wedding band ensued a fearful pride in her. Her husband was Liam, and he was quite handsome. Mighty, chivalrous, Liam was of knightly physique, of a godly face, and of the kindest heart. Liam nor Theodora loved one another. She was a wicked girl, lusting after her husband and his perfection to bear her a child that she too might call her own; as a vein for her arrogance. Theodora did not love Liam as she loved herself. She wished to be a queen, and Liam was as kingly as they came. She truly was a wicked girl, envious over even his thanks to the servant women. Liam was too kind to his wife, who told him she loved him only to hear his false reply (after all, he was perfect).
They aged together to eighteen, and in three years and all of her feminine coaxing, Theodora could not convince Liam to bring her the perfect child. She grew hateful of the man she pretended to love, for she knew that the townspeople were sure to speak of this. “Why does he torture me thus?” she would complain, after finding him always asleep too early, and alone.
Liam, a gentleman, encountered his wife simply out of duty to his parents, whom he loved despite their injustice towards him. His absence from Theodora’s arm, she felt, even when they stood together at parties, linked by the elbow. She hissed at him on occasion, seething over want of a perfect daughter, but Liam only nodded decently each time, and ate his stew. She enjoyed the wealth they shared from their joining of two well-off families, and she took heavy pride in the garden that she had the servants tend to, massive and presented to those going by on the roads. Theodora liked to walk through the flowers, marveling at their beauty, and the tales they sung of her.
Theodora woke one lonely morning, after spending yet another lonely and bitter night besides her perfect and unattainable husband. She rolled to one side to stare at his bed spot in disdain, where each morning she stares while he had already left. His imprint more shallow than on typical mornings, Theodora wondered if it was a day for the hunt. She rises and dresses, stony faced, and starts for the cupboard for her breakfast.
By lunch, Theodora had yet to see Liam, which was quite normal. He usually returned from the hunt by supper time, surmounting the hill like a savior. Each time he returned, Theodora felt a leap in herself. He was too charming a sight for even her hate of him to prevent this.
Supper comes and goes, yet Liam was not home. This was odd, and though she loathed him, Theodora grew nervous. She would make a great widow, she ponders: so pitied, dutifully entertained by remorseful neighbors. She would show such sorrow at having lost the most handsome of heroes. Her friends would cry for her, they, who so envied her for her husband. But to be a widow wasn’t yet her aim; not without the most perfect child, derived from the most perfect man. The wandering mind of Theodora summoned Liam home, but to no avail.
And so she waited by the windows, frowning in her usual unpleasant manner. The sun fell, and still Liam did not return. The servants knew naught of where he went, or if they did, they did not reveal it. Theodora grew in anxiety, and worse, in anger.
Liam was away on this first night, and the next, and the night after this. “People are surely talking now,” Theodora worried. She bit her nails in hateful disdain, staring at the floorboards, numb and dissatisfied, when a rap at the door startled her.
Theodora approaches it, and opens the door to a man with his cap in his hands, his clothing tattered and torn. A gruff fellow, he bore Theodora’s vile stare steadfastly. His hair was long and brown, and his skin was fused with dirt.
“Hello, Madam Theodora, I am Phillip, a good friend of Liam’s,” he states. She kept her steady stare unpleasantly upon him. Theodora had never met Phillip, let alone even seen him. She was too detached from her husband personally to know of such a relationship. “Here is a note from your husband, ma’am. I am sorry to be the one to deliver it, but he felt it was right to give you some notice.”
The note read:
I am leaving you and I am so sorry. I know it was neither one of our decisions to be wed, and though I have fought to uphold our parents’ wishes these last three years, I simply cannot continue to. My true love lies with another, and I am leaving with her. All that once was mine is now yours, to compensate, though I deeply regret any misfortune I am causing you now. I am sorry.
Theodora read the notice but three times at her doorstep, and grew into a fervent panic. This man called Phillip was nowhere in her sight, having departed after delivering the letter. Theodora seethed. She raged inside of herself at her husband, who left her for another woman, after years of his wife’s patient tolerance. She lamented over the words to be exchanged by the women of the town, on how Theodora had failed to bring about a child from the most perfect man they had ever known, and how, even in his revered kindness, Liam found it within himself to leave her thus, and worse, for another. Theodora would be a laughingstock, she knew it. Her pride tarnished, her patience snapped.
Theodora retreated into her rage, her estate growing ungroomed, her servants fleeing from her in fear and repulsion. None dared to visit the bitter woman of the estate, for she had gone mad. Her young and attractive skin now clung to her. Her eyes depressed and indented, she lived in a poisonous and spiteful state, praying for her vengeance to make ready its path to Liam.
Liam rode by horse one night, finally attending to where he must go. Guilt surmounted in him for leaving his cruel betrothed, but the escape was too sweet to mourn for her. By midnight, he arrived to the cottage of the girl he loved indivisibly. She was called Eliza, and Liam loved her as the seas love the shore: he, tide after tide, crawled back to find her again. Eliza had bright eyes, grey as river clay, and hair as blonde as sunrise. Her smile was worn and honest, her words and hands kind. In secret Liam and she had loved one another since they were children. Their misery ensued when Liam was wed to the wretched Theodora, an evil girl of selfish desires. Liam tried in vain to abandon Eliza and his love for her, but, failing, spent each sunrise, and half of a day’s hunt, twice a week, with her. He felt immense guilt over his wrongdoings to Theodora, but Liam loved Eliza, and Theodora loved herself. Liam, when Eliza fell pregnant, chose to take her far away, and wed her as a good man should.
Eliza birthed a daughter, called Marigold. Marigold was the face of love in her parents’ eyes, who pulled them from three years of misery. Her eyes were wide as her mother’s, and her face as attractive as her father’s. Marigold brought joy to Liam and Eliza at each breath, and their new neighbors in their new, far off home, told Liam that his Marigold was simply perfect.
As darling Marigold grew, she grew kindly, and lived a charitable life with her parents. Lacking old wealth, Liam did well for his family, laboring each day. He loved his family dearly, and the girls loved him. Theodora lived a hundred miles away, in solitude, in shame, and in misery. Her estate grew unkempt and wild, and her once beloved garden withered at the roadside. Passersby marveled at its decline, and hurried away at the sight of a sour face betwixt the window panes.
Marigold, one morning, but a year old at the time, crawled in the grass as a babe would, towards the wildflowers, while Eliza washed cloth nearby. Red roses bloomed here, in this natural garden besides the glade, and Marigold reached out to touch them. Her palm was pricked by the thorns of the flowers, and she wailed as infants do. Eliza rushed over to console her, and held her hand to see the wound. A line of red blood cascaded down the little palm, but amongst the red were flecks of green. Eliza peered closer at the blood. Its stream let a drop fall to the earth, and, watching, Eliza saw a flower bloom where it landed. A second drop, a second flower. White roses these first two were, but the blood often changed. At three, Marigold, scratched by a branch, let fall blood that turned to tulips on the ground. At seven, when a cat had come to swipe at her, trailing behind Marigold’s chase of her were sunflowers, a head taller than the girl herself. Her blood brought on flowers, and though her green veins frightened both Liam and Eliza, Liam would sit his daughter on his lap, and caller her his “Girl of Gardens.”
Marigold was careful with herself, and even when her skin stood intact did flowers find her. She’d wander and discover groves of them: thousands of them, of different types and colors and shapes. She would pick them for her parents, and her neighbors in her small town, and they loved her for it. “The girl is the spring,” a woman once praised, tucking a daffodil behind her ear.
Theodora was aging poorly, a hundred miles away. She so loathed the judging townsfolk, and was sure of their spite for her and how even a man so noble as Liam had left her. Her estate atrocious, Theodora wished her runaway husband to be killed for his misdoings. One day, for a change, she ventured from her hovel, cloaked in black and in misery, and by her skin she was unrecognizable to those who once knew her. She was in search of a poison to off herself with, that wouldn’t bring so much pain, and that would allow her disfigured form to die intact with whatever remaining elegance it had. Not having found the right substance, she traveled by carriage a one hundred miles to a shop she’d heard was able to supply. She sulked into the building, a shop of wooden shelves and glass vials, and a thousand trinkets. She sat beside the counter, awaiting guidance from the shopkeep. Theodora, malicious and degraded, watched in annoyance the door swing open, with a child but twelve come inside. The girl was a light, a beacon and a smile, and Theodora hated her at once. Dare she think, “This child is perfect.” The girl walked light as a dancer, and had an easy smile about her. She was twelve indeed, and she spun from shelf to shelf with grace. The door opened again, and Theodora watched Liam enter the shop. Her throat closed for a moment, and her insides insisted that she leap as a lion to kill. The man whom she hated was rugged, and handsome more so that she recalled, for now he was smiling. Theodora hated his smile. She hated his perfect, snow-white teeth. She hated that Liam held the hand of the girl. She hated that he was a father, that the child was perfect, was not her own. Theodora hated most how Liam caught her eye, but did not even recognize her through her unwieldy and offsetting appearance. She watched him speak with the shopkeeper, as his perfect daughter roamed about. The girl found the wretched lady spying her, and said to her “Hello, madam,” with a smile. Theodora’s stare turned colder, yet Marigold noticed not, and danced away.
She spun and spun, and on a turn grazed her arm against a wooden shelf, which was splintering at the edges, scratching her thus. Thin blood pooled into a line on her forearm, and began to run. Liam took out a handkerchief upon his noticing, and pressed it to the wound, however a drop escaped the wrapping, and fell slow to the floor. A dandelion sprung up from the floorboards, to the astonishment of the shopkeeper and Theodora. Liam, in his nervous laughter, plucked up the flower and placed it into his pocket. The shopkeeper, and old friend now to Liam, spoke: “Marigold, Marigold, flower of the hills.” He laughed and bid farewell to perfect Liam and his perfect daughter, the Girl of Gardens.
Theodore left the shop soon after, abandoning her suicide potion, and she took home in an inn. She thought hateful things of Liam, and his perfect child called Marigold, with the blossom blood. Theodora seethed. She thought more of what he had left her with: a hideous estate and a blackened name, and a plan festered behind her brow.
She returned come morning to the store of potions and peppers, and bought instead a tranquilizer from the wary shopkeeper, “for a mad ox that I am just too fond of to off,” she excused. Her young yet unnatural body kept home at the inn for several weeks. This was a small town, and Theodora had come to know of Liam’s house and family life quite fast. She knew of Eliza, and the woman’s happy life with Theodora’s thefted husband. To none’s surprise, Theodora hated Eliza, as well.
Each day, at noon, Theodora would walk the outskirts of town, making course in the woods close behind Liam’s home. She knew that Liam worked each day, and that Marigold and Eliza ran errands, or worked at the house. Theodora would hide out in the woods, and watch Marigold live flawlessly beneath the same trees. The wicked woman loathed the girl who could have been her own. Marigold, she noticed, favored the raspberries beneath a great oak tree, and so early one morning, Theodora doused them in the paralytic potion, with her carriage not too far off and at the ready. Marigold routinely entered the woods, a labyrinth of pines and oaks and poplar trees, and plucked at the berries as she passed them. She ate them and melted to the earth. Theodora seized her quietly, and concealed her in linens, before placing her in the carriage, riding over a hundred miles home.
She stole Marigold not to have a daughter by Liam; it was far too late for this. Theodora took Marigold for her blossom blood, to curse the man who had cursed herself, and to bring back a plot of pride in her own hideous life.
For the first time, Theodora grinned. When she returned to her estate with the girl, it was dusk. Theodora wasted not even a minute, digging a cavern in her wilted garden. She unveiled Marigold, the young and sedated beauty, the love of her parents’ lives, and cut off each finger, and each toe for good measure, and fed the girl a poison that she created from her own miserable tears. They were strong enough to kill anyone so small in stature as the girl, or even a great lion. Theodora buried the body of fair Marigold, and scattered her fingers and toes as if she were feeding ravens. By morning, a crowd gathered at the roadside, marveling at the Garden of Theodora, revived and enchanting, with red roses catching eyes the most. The nursery sprouted from midnight to sunrise, and grew still. How rapidly, rabidly, Marigold’s blossom blood leaked into the earth, taking form in tulips and tiger lillies. Theodora’s lips curled in a smile from her window, as vengeance was delivered, and her name, for an instant, at least, was revered.
For half a year the garden flourished, and Theodora even ventured to boast of her blooming estate to the women she knew once to mock her. Her pride revisited, Theodora felt no remorse.
Her satisfaction lasted even through to the day when a horse rode to her front gate, and a man dismounted in haste. Liam opened the door of his old prison quietly, to see the woman of the shop six months before, the woman of his name thirteen years before, awaiting him there.
“Theodora,” he spoke, with eyes of steel and sunken skin from grief. It had taken him too long to think to search this place for his beloved daughter. He had spent the months calling her name, “Marigold, Marigold!” high and low in the forests.
“Hello, husband,” she replied, and cackled in her victory. Shattered, he pierced her in whatever heart she hath left, and sent her, slewn, smiling, to the floor. A perfect man broken, Liam ran to Eliza’s side, as she kneeled, sobbing into her palms, at the graveside of dear Marigold, whose blood had run dry, who after six months had finally died.