Roquana


by
Robin Gordon



Auksford crest: a great auk displaying a book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
Auksford 2013

© Copyright Robin Gordon, 2013

Auksford index  --  Index to Robin Gordon's works  --  Index to Roquana


Book I: Savark Court
***
Chapter 3: The gardener’s boy

    Franette was right about the amount of free time Roquana was given, and, by some strange coincidence, her free time coincided with that of Tommuz.  They were able to meet every day and stroll in the extensive and very beautiful gardens that surrounded Savark Court.  Sometimes they were free in the afternoons and could wander about in the warm sunshine, for Sunday’s star was an exceptionally well-behaved one, neither too close nor too far away for comfort, and not inclined to send out sudden violent storms of ultra-violet, X-ray or other dangerous particles, or, if it did, they were deflected by the planet’s magnetic field.  At other times they strolled late into the evening under the light of the stars and the reflected sunlight from Sunday’s smaller twin, Monday.
    Tommuz found it strange that the grounds were not better protected from marauding Tohu, till Roquana told him that Mrs Broyn had explained that the Tohu were frightened to approach Lord Savark’s property because they knew his guards would kill them.  Even so it was a surprise that the gardens were surrounded, not by electrified fences but by picturesque ruined walls with charming gaps through which the wider countryside could be seen in romantically framed views.  A friendly gardener explained that, though the forests might be swarming with vicious Tohu, they would never dare cross the cordon sanitaire of open, closely mown meadowland that separated His Lordship’s demesne from the wild and untamed virgin woodlands outside. 
    “You’re safe as long as you stay within the walls,” he said, “but it would be foolish to go out onto the meadows, except with armed guards as the mowers do.  A couple wandering out there on there own could easily be snatched and carried off to be eaten by those horrible creatures, but they won’t venture across.  Oh no, they’ve had more than a few tastes of how lethal human weapons are.”
    Roquana and Tommuz saw a gang of mowers in the distance.
    “They mow part of the meadows each day,” the gardener told them.  “When they’ve finished it’s time to start again at the beginning.  We call them meadows, but their really just patches of rough grass.  All those mowers do is keep the grass and weeds down to a few inches.  That’s not real gardening like we do.  Ours is a skilled job.  Why, I may look simple, but I can probably name every plant in this garden – and not just the common Unglush names, I can tell you the botanical names too, and not only that I can tell you how big they’ll grow, when they flower, and whether they’re hardy in this climate.”
    “How many gardeners are there?” Roquana asked.
    “Dozens,” said the gardener.  “Dozens of gardeners like me, maybe a dozen senior gardeners, all working under the Head Gardener and his two assistant head gardeners, then we have under-gardeners and garden boys who are learning their trade.  There’s my boy now – that is he’s apprenticed to me and he does the routine weeding and digging and cleaning tools under my supervision, and I train him in the arts of gardening so that one day he can be a full gardener.  Come here, Moiku.  Come and meet the young lady and gentleman from the house.”
    “I’m only a maid,” said Roquana.  “I’m not a lady.”
    “And I’m just a footman,” added Tommuz.
    “I know that,” said the gardener.  “I’m not so stupid I don’t recognise your uniforms – but I also recognise a real lady when I see one, a nice lady that doesn’t look down on horny handed sons of the soil just because our hands are always dirty.”
    “Like this,” put in Moiku, demonstrating hands stained by soil.  “I’d rather be a gardener out here in the fresh air than working in posh drawing rooms and wearing white gloves.”        
    “So would I, actually,” said Tommuz.  “There are dozens of us footmen, far too many for the work to be done.”
    “Ah,” said the gardener, “wait till His Lordship has a party.  That’s why he has all these maids and footmen, so his important guests can be served properly and promptly.  That’s why he has all us gardeners, so that the grounds look beautiful for all these high-ups from New Jackrusselham.  If it was just His Lordship’s family there be only a hundredth of the number.  They all live in that house over to the side with its own grounds walled off from the rest of us.  Only their personal servants ever go over there, and when they do they have to go through a special tunnel so they don’t disturb His Lordship’s family if they’re sunning themselves in the garden.  Even us gardeners aren’t allowed in unless we’re sent for.”
    Just then they heard a loud voice from the kitchen door calling “Yoo-hoo!  Come and get it boys!  Lots of treats for you-oo!”
    Moiku started up.
    “Don’t” said the gardener, but the boy was already away.
    “Mrs Bonpoint there,” said the gardener.  “Always coming out with little treats for the garden boys.  No good will come of it, you mark my words.  Not that I can say anything, o’ course, but I wish Moiku would stay away, I really do.  Well, I hope I see you round the garden again, me dears, but now I’d best get on,” and he picked up his spade and set off into the middle of a congested border.
    Roquana and Tommuz walked on, enjoying the fresh air, the warm sunshine, the beautiful flowers and their scent, the sound of birds in the trees and the sight of butterflies around the flowerbeds.
    Several more days passed and Roquana and Tommuz fell into a routine: mornings were spent with their supervisors and colleagues, learning the duties to which they were assigned, but most afternoons and evenings, apart from communal mealtimes, when they ate with their respective work-teams, they were free to stroll in the gardens together, indeed it was almost as if the senior staff were encouraging their friendship by synchronising their free times.
    Several times they spoke with the friendly gardener, and they often met and talked with the boy, Moiku, who showed them rose-gardens, secluded dells and places where it would be possible to leave the grounds and wander out into the meadows and the woods beyond if there had been no danger from the lurking Tohu.  A couple of times Moiku left them to run and answer the summons from Mrs Bonpoint, the cook, offering pastries, cakes and other sweetmeats to whichever boys came at her call.
    News began to filter down that Lord Savark would soon have another of his famous parties, when the cream of Sunday society would attend, all the lords and ladies who made up the richest and most influential stratum of our new world and set the prevailing tone for its ethos of moral irreproachability which so distinguished it from other recently colonised planets.  I admit to some curiosity and a desire to witness the highest levels of our social aristocracy at play, but increasingly I felt that I had already devoted too much time to Roquana.  She was innocent of any criminal tendencies and there could be no further justification for watching her.  Even to have come so far and to have experienced with her an introduction to a life in service at one of the greatest houses in the world might be thought an intrusion too far into the privacy of our rulers.  The time had come, I decided to withdraw and to leave Roquana to her own devices, to a happy life as a maid with prospects of marriage to Tommuz and promotion within the hierarchy of Savark Court.  I might have left her the next day but for the occurrence of a disturbing event which I felt could not be left univestigated.
    Roquana and Tommuz were strolling in the garden one afternoon when we heard someone crying in the shrubbery.  We went over to see and found a young kitchen maid, face down on the grass and sobbing as if her heart was broken.  Roquana bent down to comfort her, but the maid pushed her away and fled.  Roquana looked shocked.  Tommuz helped her up.
    “I don’t know what’s happened,” she said, “but that was Moiku.”
    “Moiku?! – But it was a kitchen maid!”
    “Let’s find old Wullum.”
    Old Wullum, the friendly gardener, was pruning, but unfortunately Stonlu was with him.  They hesitated.  Stonlu was a crude and sarcastic fellow whom they preferred to avoid, but they had to speak to Wullum.
    “I told him to stay away from Mrs Bonpoint,” the old gardener said.  “She bribes ’em with cakes and sweets and they never learn, then she chooses one of ’em for the kitchen, and that’s the end of him.  She doctors him.”
    They looked puzzled.  Stonlu guffawed.
    “She cuts his balls off!” he chuckled.  “That’s what old Wullum means, only he’s too mealy mouthed to say it.  She cuts his balls off and fries ’em up for Lord Savark.  He reckons eating young boys’ balls’ll keep him young and virile.  Then the youngster becomes a kitchen maid until they send him off to New Jackrusselham to join the Guild of Eunuchs.”
    “Couldn’t you have warned him?” Tommuz asked Wullum.
    “He could,” jeered Stonlu, “but only if he wanted to join the Guild himself.
    “Tis true,” said Wullum.  “We know that one of them will be chosen, but we dare not warn them – and this time it was my boy, Moiku.”
    “There’ll be more boys coming in from the orphanages soon,” said Stonlu, and they’ll flock around Mrs Bonpoint and no-one will warn them.”
    “It can’t be true,” said Roquana.  “Lord Savark is the President of the League of Purity.”
    “What better way of concealing his depravity?” murmured Wullum.
    “You’re lucky you passed your puberty before you got here,” said Stonlu to Tommuz, “or Mrs Bonpoint would have had your balls and fried ’em up for his Lordship.”
    “I can’t imagine any woman ever doing such a thing,” gasped Roquana.
    “Who said anything about a woman?” Stonlu replied.  “Mrs Bonpont’s a eunuch, in fact she’s pretty high up in the guild.  You’d best stay well away from her, young Tommuz.  His Lordship likes his victims young, but she’ll cut anyone – specially a nice-looking lad like you!”
    Roquana and Tommuz hurried away with Stonlu’s laughter ringing in their ears – and I decided to stay with Roquana and investigate further.  Was this some elaborate joke perpetrated by the gardeners?  I had little inclination to believe anything that Stonlu said, for the man was a crude, unpleasant boor, quite capable of slandering Lord Savark in the most shameless fashion purely for the pleasure of embarrassing Roquana and Tommuz, but old Wullum was a different sort altogether, and, had he not been in the company of Stonlu, his words would have carried conviction.
    Was it possible that Lord Savark, Chief Executive of the Sunday Development Corporation, Chairman of the Monopolies Control Commission and President of the League of Purity could really be the depraved monster portrayed by Stonlu?  Given that the simplest explanation is normally the correct one, it seemed far more likely that Stonlu had somehow bullied old Wullum into supporting his unpleasant tale, and that Moiku had similarly been compelled to dress up as a kitchen maid and put on an act of desperate weeping.
    Clearly Stonlu had threatened violence towards young Moiku to force him and Wullum to take part in the charade, and, from what I had seen of Stonlu, it would not have surprised me to learn that the threatened violence was of a sexual nature.  His twisting of the situation he had manufactured to include gratuitous references to Tommuz as a nice-looking lad who might lose his testicles to Mrs Bonpoint showed exactly what sort of mind he had.  I had little doubt that the next day we should see young Moiku back in his shirt and breeches, sweeping, weeding and pruning, exactly as he had always done, while the vile Stonlu jeered at Roquana’s and Tommuz’s gullibility.

Please remember that this story is copyright.
See Copyright and Concessions for permitted uses.

Roquana:  Index.  --  Chapter 2.  --  Chapter 4.

Auksford index.  --  Index to Robin Gordon's works.

Send an e-mail to Robin Gordon