Tea in the Garden of White
The moonlit path led deeper and deeper into the ever thickening wood, as young Carol, a girl no older than fourteen years of age, ran as fast as her legs would carry her. This was especially difficult, as the long, green hoop skirt dress she wore made her able to do little more than shuffle briskly. And her long, flowing red hair created some degree of wind resistance. But on she went, as the tiny pixies in front of her beckoned for her to follow them, deeper and deeper into the wood.
And as she proceeded down the softly lit dirt path, she could make out glowing fungi and tiny animals scampering into the brush at the sound of her approach. On and on she went, deeper and deeper into the wood, her tiny guides continuing to beckon her. And as they beckoned her they darted about, like so many fireflies in the night. In the distance she could make out a clearing. Hurriedly she rushed toward it, certain of what awaited her there.
As she approached the air became increasingly heavier with the sweet perfume of flowers, blooming in the night. Faster and faster she ran, eager to arrive, and closer and closer the clearing became. Despite her great exertion, she felt not the least bit tired, nor even slightly out of breath, and as such she continued on, till at last coming to the opening of the clearing.
As soon as she arrived at the entrance, the pixies which had so faithfully led her dispersed in all directions, leaving her to gaze in awe at the scene before her. The clearing was somewhat large; at least twenty yards in diameter. Spread all atop its grassy floor were hundreds, if not thousands, of luminescent white roses, which seemed to shine so as to replace the non-existent stars in the sky, and to keep company with the lonely looking full moon.
But more than all else, her green eyes were drawn to the small table in the middle of the clearing, a white tablecloth hung over it, and two chairs set at it. In one of these chairs sat a rather queer looking gentleman. He had fair skin, which seemed to shine in the moonlight, as did his silky white hair, which (despite its clean appearance) was not well combed and hung every which way, the bangs even covering part of his face. He wore a bright lavender jacket with another white rose attached to the lapel which, while fitting him well otherwise, had sleeves that were several inches too long and as such even when he raised his hand to wave to her, the end of the sleeve still hung limply over it. She waved back at him and, upon reaching the center of the clearing, took the chair opposite him.
"Hello Carol, how are you this fine evening?" The gentleman asked.
"I'm quite well, Horace," she replied.
"May I offer you some tea?"
And with that Horace motioned off into the distance. A few seconds later, a group of pixies approached, carrying teacups, saucers, and finally a big teapot. First the placed the saucers down and then the teacups onto the saucers, but as the teapot approached, Carol could not help but notice the five pixies carrying it seemed to strain under its weight. When at last they reached the table they struggled to pour Horace's cup, and then as they were pouring Carol's, one of the pixies strength simply gave out and it let go, knocking the teapot off balance and causing the others to spill onto the fine white tablecloth. Almost immediately the other pixies set the teapot down on the table and proceeded to fly around clumsy one, scolding it in their inaudible pixie tongue.
Carol could not help but giggle at the scene, but quickly covered her mouth with her hand so as not to offend. The pixies likely did not notice or did not care for soon they flew off again, seeming to argue in their inaudible tongue. And with that Carol turned back to Horace who, after taking a long sip from his tea, put his elbows on the table, his hands atop one another and leaned in so that his chin rested upon them. And, as all this happened, not once did his trademark grin leave his face.
"So…tell me all about what happened today." Horace insisted.
Carol did not immediately respond, she was too busy sipping at the tea she held, ever so carefully, as she had seen the noblewomen of court do so often before. The tea was neither too hot nor too cool, it was the perfect temperature, and it had the slightest hint of mint to its taste.
"I love mint!" She exclaimed.
""I'm most delighted to hear that," Horace responded, "the Pixies worked ever so hard on it. Now if you would be so kind as to respond to my inquiry…"
"But of course!"
Carol set down her teacup and sat up straight in her chair, as a lady should and, clearing her throat, proceeded with her tale. As she did, Horace's eyes grew wide in curiosity. His face was no less strange than the rest of him. Well he had the figure of a man; his features were smooth, almost like those of a woman. And his voice carried with it a certain flamboyancy, which was only reinforced by his strange dress. But rather than being odd or frightening, Horace's eccentricity seemed to be part of his charm. It was a friendly strangeness that invited the imagination and feelings of curiosity.
"Well," she began, "you know Mrs. Welchett?"
Why, yes, you've mentioned her, she sounds like a most nauseating old woman."
"She most certainly is, why just the other day she happened to spill flour all over the floor, and when the head of the staff came she blamed it on me."
"How utterly vile!"
"I know, right. But just today, a big bag of flour fell off the shelf and onto her head, turning her white as a ghost."
To this Horace laughed and replied: "What sweet, poetic justice. But, do continue."
And so Carol proceeded to tell Horace all about what had happened since last they had met, and as she did so the night grew older and older, and the moon sank lower and lower, till at least the grey haze that proceeded the dawn began to settle in. And as this happened, both Carol and Horace knew what it meant.
"I'll have to leave soon, won't I?" Carol seemed dismayed.
"Alas, tis plain truth, milady." He replied.
"I don't want to go."
"It is most unfortunate."
As the sun began to rise over the horizon, its beams slowly spread across the earth toward where they sat.
"Promise me you'll never leave me, you're the only friend I have," Carol pleaded.
"Dearest Carol, I would never leave you, lest my name is not Horace Milfred III. "
And with these words he granted some degree of ease to the girl's troubled heart. The sun's light was nearly upon them now, and Carol got up to go. But before she could step away from the table, Horace spoke one last time.
"Farewell, dearest Carol, and fear not, I have a feeling something very special will happen soon."
She turned back to him, confused by his final remark, but before she could upon her mouth to speak the sun's light reached her, and the whole world turned a bright white.
* * *
Coral, shifted about in her bed, sensing an intense light trying to disturb her slumber. As she stirred restlessly she heard a familiar voice.
"Carol…Carol! Get yer lazy boot outta bed an' hurry up, today's the big day."
The voice belonged to Mrs. Caberton, the head of the kitchen staff. Doing as instructed, Carol opened her eyes and, after adjusting for a few seconds, gazed upon the familiar stone and woodwork of the pantry in which her bed lay. She sat up and stretched herself out, much like the cat who shared the room had done so many times before her, though he seemed to be put at the moment. Mrs. Caberton placed her hands on her big wide hips and sighed.
"What am I gonna do wit you?" She sighed, "Maker knows you sleep mer then the dead."
She turned to leave, telling Carol to get dressed and come out as she shut the pantry door behind her. Carol grumbled slightly, still wanting to get a few more minutes of sleep, but nonetheless dutifully obeyed. And so, removing her white nightgown, she proceeded to put on the black dress and white apron so typical of the staff in the royal household. Her red hair she tied up into a nice tight bun and placed a white bonnet atop it. As soon as she was ready she hurried out the pantry and into the already lively kitchen, which, as well as preparing the morning breakfast, was also busy prepping for the large banquet later that evening.
Carol quickly set to work, helping in whatever way she could. She was by no means the best servant, she could be clumsy and her overly naïve and optimistic personality lacked the dignity and refinement expected of most of the serving staff (and thus she found herself working in the kitchen) but no one dared question her hard work and commitment. It was for these reasons Mrs. Caberton had given a mere orphan living on the streets a job in the royal household, a better fate Carol could not have imagined. And so she swept the floors and cleaned the dishes, dusted the shelves and peeled the potatoes.
Minutes turned to hours and the franticness only seemed to escalate as the appointed hour approached. But on the weary kitchen staff did work. Working with a precision and commitment which few workers may ever know or show, so dignified and privileged was their work; they wore it with the same pride the old soldier wore with his medals. And despite the seeming chaos, everything was going seamlessly, that is until, it came time for afternoon tea.
"We need someone to take this tea up to the young master," Mrs. Caberton called out in desperation.
No one volunteered, they were all too busy. The kitchen was too busy prepping for the banquet, and the serving staff were all gone off on other assignments. Mrs. Caberton however, knew the importance of this task, and faced with no other options, entrusted it to her last choice.
"Carol, take this tray up to the young master's quarters," Mrs. Caberton commanded, "And try not to drop it."
"Me!?" Carol was most perplexed by this order, to be entrusted with serving anything was a rarity for her, but to deliver something to the man of the evening himself. It filled her with both pride and a sense of dread.
"Stop askin' dumb questions and just do it."
Coral quickly obeyed, picking up the metal tray with tea set and cakes atop it and hurrying carefully out of the kitchen, nearly bumping into another servant on her way out. Mrs. Caberton simply placed her hand against her face and sighed.