“These flowers are full of magic, for they were formed directly from your mother’s love for you. Carry this petal with you for three days. As the sun begins to set on the third day, place the petal on your tongue. Once the sun has set, your daughter will be renewed and your sacrifice will be complete. Good luck, my child.”
Over the next three days, Lily held her tiny infant daughter in her arms, telling her stories and singing her gentle lullabies. The thought of leaving Emilia was almost more than she could bear, but she felt peace in knowing that her child would grow strong and whole. Lily also received comfort knowing once she left this life, her mother’s confinement in the garden would come to an end. Roslyn would lose her daughter, but she would be gaining a precious new gift in the infant princess, her granddaughter.
Periodically Lily pulled the flower petal from her pouch, her finger tracing along the silky smooth exterior and around to the velvety red center of the petal. She thought of her mother’s heart being poured into the very petals of the plant, tinging them with her blood and her love. Lily wished that she could see her mother one last time to beg her forgiveness, to tell her that at last she knew what true love was, to say her final goodbyes, but the thought was impossible. Roslyn would only try to keep her from following through with her intention, and Lily could not afford to be stopped, not when her daughter’s life was at stake.
As the sun began to make its slow descent on the evening of the third day, Lily locked the door to her bed chamber and placed her mother’s precious petal on her tongue. It was sweet and seemed to flood her entire body with warmth. Gradually, however, tiny trickles of ice began to pour through her veins, starting from her neck and jaw and making its way down to the tips of her fingers and toes. Cradling the infant princess in her arms, she positioned herself where she could look out the window and observe the setting sun. Emilia’s pale skin began to flush with warmth and her chest rose and fell in deep, rhythmic breaths. Lily could feel her daughter’s fluttering heart beat under her skin, so much stronger than before. Her lips curved in a smile, even as a tear traced down her icy cold cheek.
Nona was surprised to receive a strange letter from her niece just as the sun was beginning to set. The letter was sealed in red wax with the royal crest emblazoned on it, with instructions written on the outside to open at sundown. An ominous premonition prompted Nona to open the letter immediately upon receiving it, for she knew that her niece’s infant daughter was gravely ill and Nona was concerned for Lily’s state of mind.
The letter instructed Nona to go to Lily’s bed chamber, where she would find her daughter alive and well. She asked her to take the child to her mother in the magic garden and release Roslyn from her imprisonment. Inside the letter was enclosed a key to Lily’s bed chamber door.
Fear sunk deep into Nona’s bones. She did not know what Lily had done, but she guessed it had something to do with magic. Without a moment’s hesitation, she rushed to the magic garden, determined to find the answer she needed to possibly save her niece’s life.
Roslyn was horrified to see her sister flying in through the garden door, her face filled with anguish and fear.
“What is it, sister?” she cried. “Is Lily ill?”
“Oh, Roslyn, it is so much more!” Nona then explained to her sister all the events which had transpired over the last two years. Lily losing a child, then conceiving again to only find herself ill and the infant even more so. She then showed Roslyn the letter which she had received that hour.
In a desperate cry, Roslyn called out for the white faery. She appeared at once, stepping out from behind the large clump of white lilies, which had nearly doubled in size over the last two days.
“Madame, my daughter…!” Roslyn burst into tears of anguish, unable to go any further in her explanation.
“Yes, I know of your daughter and the sacrifice she is willing to make,” the faery responded. At Roslyn’s request, she proceeded to give a full account of Lily’s visit two days before.
When she was finished, Roslyn burst in with her words, “The evening of the third day: that is tonight! And the sun has already began to set! We do not have much time! Madame, I must see my daughter!”
“You are of course free to leave at any time, just as you always have been,” the faery said softly. “But by your leaving, the magic which keeps your daughter whole will be reversed. She will no longer speak or walk.”
Roslyn thought for a moment. She could not bear putting Lily in any more danger than she already was in. What if the effects of the spell would be increased if her ailments were restored? Roslyn walked over to her white lilies, tinged with the red of her love. She could see new buds already forming right before her eyes, the plant was growing so quickly. Roslyn spotted the flower which had been damaged, the one which the faery had plucked a single petal from. Reaching out, she used her pen knife to cut the flower from its stem. Cradling it in her hands, she approached the faery.
“These twelve years have I labored in this garden. I have sweat and cried, bled and prayed every day to keep my daughter whole. Please, grant me this one last wish.”
Roslyn extended her hands to the faery, the lily cupped within her palms.
“Please, Madame, allow me to leave this garden, but leave my daughter whole. Let me bear the infirmity on myself instead.”
The white faery took the lily in her delicate hands and looked intently at it for what seemed like a long time. Finally, with a sad expression on her face, she handed the flower back to Roslyn. The red center had bled through to the tips of the petals, leaving the lily blood red.
“It is as you wish,” she said softly.
Nona helped her sister into the dusty old cart which still sat outside the wall of the magic garden. Roslyn could not help but think of the last time this cart had been used, transporting her Lily, once so tiny and frail. Now its wheels creaked as it bore a larger burden, but the cart held up well. Nona struggled to pull her sister along the pathway in the woods, but the urgency of the now almost setting sun gave her the extra strength she needed to get her sister to the palace.
Finally the sisters were at Lily’s bed chamber door. Nona pulled the tiny key from her skirts and unlocked the door. Lily was lying on the bed facing the window pointed toward the east, her daughter nestled in her arms. Lily’s skin was ashen gray, her sunken figure still and small in the large bed, but the baby was pink and wriggling happily by her mother’s breast.
Roslyn’s breath came out in an agonized, silent sob as Nona pulled her closer to her daughter. Gently, Nona took the baby from her mother’s lap and handed her to Roslyn to hold. She embraced her grandchild, holding her close and smelling the fragrant scent of rosewater on her skin. Emilia cooed and reached a grasping hand toward Roslyn’s face.
Lily slowly opened her eyes and witnessed the tender moment between her mother and daughter. Her heart was full. She had seen her mother one last time after all, and she had seen her child healthy and vibrant. She closed her eyes again just as the sun started to dip below the horizon.
Nona placed the baby back in Lily’s lap and helped Roslyn climb into the bed next to her. Roslyn watched her daughter’s chest rise and fall in painful, shallow breaths and knew that there was not much time left. She took the petal from between her daughter’s lips and placed it between her own. The results were almost instantaneous. Cold swept through her body like a frozen wind whipping through a narrow canyon. All energy now gone, her head fell limp against the pillow and she struggled to keep her eyes open. She managed just long enough, however. The last thing she saw was a rosy pink flush flood over her daughter’s face. Lily’s eyes opened in a startled moment of strength and clarity, just in time to see the horizon envelop the sun completely and hear her mother’s final breath.
After her mother’s funeral, Lily made her way one last time to the magic garden. Her daughter was now healthy and robust. Her delighted coos and giggles could be heard throughout the royal palace, and the kingdom rejoiced in the birth of a healthy heir. Although Lily was overjoyed with Emilia’s turn around, she greatly grieved the loss of her mother. The pain of losing her forever and knowing the depth of Roslyn’s sacrifice made her healing much slower than that of her daughter’s.
Lily brushed the thickly growing vines out of the way and slowly reached out to turn the intricately carved key still lying secure within the keyhole. With a small click and gasp of sweet air, the latch was released and the door swung open.
As before, Lily placed a tentative foot onto the lush green grass and stepped inside, finally allowing herself to be overcome with the scents and sounds of the vibrant garden. The exotic aroma swept around her, tickling her nose and sending pleasant tingles down the flesh of her arms. The feeling was the same as before, yet somehow it was different. Sadness overwhelmed her and she fell to the ground, realizing that the difference was the knowledge that her mother was no longer there. Was this why she had come back to the garden? Did she secretly hope that her mother would be here cultivating the flowers next to the pond, or watering the dragonflies underneath the ancient willow tree? Roslyn was gone, and Lily was overcome with the grief of her loss.
The tender touch of a slender, white hand raised Lily’s head up from the ground.
“Sweet child,” the low voice of the white faery said. “Your mother is still here, you have only to look.” She then pointed toward the clump of lilies which had filled nearly half of the garden. They stood firm and tall, their now blood red petals reaching toward the sky as though greeting the sun with a majestic nod.
Lily approached the flowers and admired the vibrant red carpet they formed in this section of the garden. Cupping the silky smooth petals of her mother’s flowers in her hands, Lily embraced the enticing aroma which filled her lungs, her head, and her heart. Her mother was here, and that was all she needed to know.