The Secret Garden: A Short Story

Once upon a time, far away from the people of Europe, far in the North, there was a little island. Surrounded by deep waters and engrossed by towering waves, hardly anyone knew about its existence. From time to time sailors and mariners crossed its way but thought it was dangerously enchanted and therefore did not stay for long. In a distant past there was a fair kingdom on that island but time erased the kings and queens and its people to leave only stones and ruins behind. Now the ruins cast shadows and the sailors are afraid of them. They have never looked beyond the shadow though, for there was the real enchantment of the island. Behind the shadows and between the ruins of the royalty of old there was a secret garden full of flowers. Flowers everyone knew about: lilies, roses, tulips more beautiful than any other that grew in Europe. Then there were other flowers as well. Flowers forgotten by mankind which used to be on the mainland when humans still believed in nature. There were golden flowers, silver ones, flowers that would shine in the moonlight. Others had the shape of triangles, wings or feathers. Flowers that looked so different from any you might know that their image simply must be made up. But they were all in that very secret garden. Most peculiar about these flowers was the fact that they were not alone. Every single one of them had a protector. In the shadow of every flower rested a little dragon. Not bigger than the size of a flower’s petal but strong and fierce within. Every dragon reflected the colour and the magic of its flower. And as every single flower was different so was every dragon. From time to time two dragons would fall in love and perform a dance among the stars. When the dance came to an end a new seed would appear in the garden and by next summer a young flower would grow and a young dragon would appear in the sunlight. Whenever this happened there would be a feast among the dragons. They invited their closest friends: birds, butterflies and ladybirds. Together they made music. The music of the dragons told about ancient times, the history of ruined kingdoms and long-forgotten kings and queens. Chivalrous knights, wise princes and fair mermaids were to be found in their stories. The music of the birds and the other animals were about the doings and events of mankind beyond the garden, the shadow and the island. This way the dragons would always know about the human world.

 

Then one fateful morning a cloud covered the sun and would not leave. The dragons were worried. Normally the sun was stronger than the clouds and would break through eventually. But this time the clouds remained and the shadow lingered. At the next feast the birds sung a different song. It was about war and despair. Atrocities and horrors the dragons have never heard of before, not even in their tales of ancient kings and queens. And after all some of their warriors had to fight demons and sea monsters.

 

Next morning the dragons assembled and the oldest and wisest dragon Ophilia spoke to the other dragons: ”My family! It is time to leave our secret garden and fly to Europe. We must end the war and assist humanity. Only then will the cloud disappear and the sun return”.

 
”But we have never left! What will happen to our flowers? They need us! We cannot leave!” Arias said, a dragon red as blood known for his smartness.

 
”Thousands of years ago, only I old enough to remember, there was another cloud covering the sun. My family made the same choice. They left and they returned. Though I must say not all of them”.

 
Ophilia closed her eyes for a moment and shed a tear. Then she spread her ancient wings, shone with a deep green radiance and rose into the sky. ”One dragon must remain and tend to the flowers. Auroris, I choose you to stay behind”.

 
Auroris, a purple dragon shimmering white and golden like dawn, looked up at Ophilia and said, “Thank you. This is quite an honour. I will take great care of all the flowers”.

 
”Do not thank me, for you shall carry the greatest burden of all”, Ophilia said. And with these words she flew over the shadow and the ruins and beyond the island. The other dragons followed her. The last one to leave was Mateus. A strong and wise dragon, he was the lover of Auroris. “I will return to you and tell you of the war”.

 
She kissed him good bye and she looked him into the eyes one last time, deep as a mountain lake. Then he spread his blue-green wings and followed the others.

 

Time passed and Auroris took very good care of all the flowers. But the cloud did not move. Summer elapsed into autumn and autumn changed into winter. Auroris grew tired and it was more difficult to take care of all the flowers. The winter became colder and colder and Auroris did not have the warmth to keep all flowers alive. One by one withered away. Slowly she began to realise Ophilia’s words.

 

When spring finally arrived only twelve flowers remained. Among them Ophilia’s, Mateus’ and Arias’. Now all the dragons were gone for a year and there was no sign of them. One time Auroris met a bird who told her that the war was growing darker and would last longer. A second winter killed five more flowers. And a third winter killed another four. Auroris looked upon the last three flowers: her tulip shone in purple, white and golden colours; Mateus’ sea lily glittered in all the shades of blue and green; and Ophilia’s deep green rose was rising above a hill, surrounded by dead flowers. Auroris realised her failure. The once-beautiful garden had withered away, never to return to its old glory.

 

Then a fourth winter came to the garden. One night a snowstorm raged like a fire among the flowers. Auroris tried everything she could to protect the last three standing flowers from the snow. Spells, magic, curses and dragon fire she sent against the cold. She thought she was winning but suddenly a shadow appeared and broke the green rose. Auroris cried full of sorrow. With her last remaining strength she spread her wings over the two remaining flowers.

 

Eventually, like every storm, it broke and spring arrived. The cloud parted and after four years Auroris could feel the sun on her scales. It was wonderful. But the sunlight also shone upon all the dead flowers. Like corpses they were lying motionless in the grass and Auroris began to cry. Now she fully understood what Ophilia meant. She was the last dragon. The one that had to remember all the glorious days that would never return. Yet she heard someone above her. It was Mateus who had returned from war. A lone survivor.

 
“Please, my darling dragon, stop crying. You did everything you could and sometimes it is not enough. The war is over and we can rest now”. Mateus kissed Auroris and together they lay down in the shadow of her flower.

 
”When will you tell me about the war? How did all the others die?”

 
”This is a story for another day”, he said. Auroris nodded.

 
She could not take in any more grief. When they woke up day had turned to night and night had turned to day again. They looked around and saw how all the dead flowers had disappeared and turned into fertile soil. Auroris and Mateus tended to their flowers and every night Mateus told her about the war. After a year he had finished his tale. Auroris looked at him and asked “What shall we do now?”

 
“We will remember them. They will become stories and shadows like the ancient kings and queens and their ruins”.

 
For a moment there was silence. Then Auroris said, ” Yes, that sounds like a good idea. We will think of them when we dance”.

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Fabian Sindelar

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