I am getting ready to publish this short story, and I don’t have a name for it. Well, I do, but I don’t like it. I’ve been calling it the Smith and the Gardener. Which is accurate enough, I suppose, but cumbersome, and vague. So far the suggestions from beta readers have been good. I’m leaning toward the Dwarf’s Dryad, or the Garden Thief. I’m putting a snippet of the story below, so you can get an idea of what it’s about…
The blacksmith first met her in his shop. He had not seen her come in, hidden in the shadow of her Lord. The burly noble towered over the smith, and had a nasty habit of looking down his nose at the smaller man. He held out a scrap of paper.
“Make me this. When can you have it done?”
The smith took the paper and walked over to the window. He studied the drawing for a moment, and then looked up. “What is it for?”
She stepped out of the shadows, and with a sidelong glance at the Lord, answered, “It is a device for controlling my climbing ropes. Please, it must be as smooth as you can make it.”
The Lord cuffed her and she flinched back into the shadows. The smith held his tongue. Literally, between his teeth. He loathed the way women were treated in this country, but until he was free…
Between gritted teeth, he addressed the shadowy girl. “Lady, it will be smoother than glass.”
The Lord raised his brows. “Lady? Hah – call her Gardener, more like. When will it be done?”
He boldly turned his back on the big man, ostensibly to study the drawing once more.
When they had left the shop, he sighed and set to work on the design, deceptively simple conjoined circles, but with a little set of horns projecting at the rear… In the heat of the forge and the familiar rhythms of his work he finally relaxed again. His day passed pleasantly, and he had all but forgotten the mysterious woman.
He was seated at the table below the window, working in the last light of the sun, when a tap on his shoulder startled him. He whirled, knocking over his stool, to face the Gardener.
“I am so sorry.” She was pale, one hand to her throat in her surprise.
He caught his breath and straightened from his half-crouch. “My fault, Lady. I was thinking of other things.”
She regarded him for a moment, and he wondered what she saw. She was caught in the light from the window, and the setting sun gilded her hair and reflected from her eyes, like a fire was lit in her brain. She smiled, finally.
“Thank you for your words, Smith. I am rarely acknowledged, much less addressed.”
“Women in my country are not treated like animals,” he replied stiffly.
“Oh, it is more than that with me.” Sadly, she smiled at him. He realized that they were eye to eye. He had gotten so used to craning his neck to talk to anyone, men and women alike… He looked her up and down, from head to toe, and the warmth in her cheeks had nothing to do with the sun’s light.
He turned and picked up a package from his worktable. “Here you are.”
She took it from him, and with a shy look through her lashes at him, opened it. She pursed her lips and slid her hand through the larger opening, feeling the smooth finish. He noticed for the first time that her hands were rough and cracked.
He turned back to the table, and picked up what he had been working on when she entered and scared the living daylight out of him. “Lady…”
He turned with it in his hand, but she was gone. He sagged back on his stool. Why had he thought of her, with this gift? He’d been paid for the climbing device, but the second item had been for her. She was the Lord’s thief, sent to take what was not his. Tonight she had been sent to steal rapunzel from the witch’s garden, he was sure. The witch and the Lord were allies, but in their twisted power games, minions were disposable. They often tried to get one up on the other, and the rapunzel’s healing powers would be an asset to the Lord.
That this slight woman would attempt the witch’s walls… That was the only house he knew of with walls that would require the kind of gear she was using. He’d known what he was making. The high mountains and sea cliffs of his home often required such things for those who kept themselves safe with ropes on their way both up and down.
Rumor in the village had it that she was a vampire, from her pale skin and infrequent daylight appearances. He had never seen her until today, and now the Smith thought he knew better. She worked in the Lord’s great garden, and her lack of color was from the shrouding robes she must wear, or burn herself in the sun. And what kind of thief always left flowers to replace the taken items? Even in winter, delicately fashioned wood flowers had been found.
With a deep sigh, the smith stood and pulled his heavy tunic over his head. He still clutched the lady’s gift in his fist. The witch was a formidable opponent. He would see what he could do. He’d spared some magic in the making of this bauble, of what little he had left.
He walked out into the night, softly and surely taking the right path in the dark. His father’s blood ran in his veins, and he could see like a cat in the dark. He found her at the foot of the wall, near a tree. He actually found her by the sounds of her whispers.
She was dressed in black, in men’s clothing, and already the ropes were twisted in an elaborate harness around her, but she was leaning against the tree, one arm thrown around it, as though she were embracing her sister, and whispering to it.
“Lady?” he spoke very softly, not wanting to frighten her. Her eyes flew open, and she looked at him.
“Smith? Why are you … here?” she stumbled over her words.
“You left before I could give you this.”
He held out the bracelet in the palm of his hand, and her fingers grazed his skin as she took the delicate links. He saw the pleasure on her face at the beauty of the little thing, and then she sighed and put it back in his still outstretched hand.
“I cannot. I have no way to repay you.” She met his eyes fiercely. “I am no thief of my own will.”