The first time Ambrose heard the true meaning of his name, it had been the night of first snowfall. Leaves swaying louder than his spirling thoughts as a deafening cry sliced through shadows and echoed off the trees before snuffing itself in the wind.
His curious mind stepped off a path he undoubtedly would never walk upon again. And so it was true, the boy had been warned not to succumb to the voices of the forest, but Ambrose was lonely, which he had often mistaken for bravery.
Slashing down overgrown bushes with his sword he made his way down a furrowed game trail, His heart banging against his chest as the voice spun to delicate sobs, the sound only enraging his stammered motions. He moved in swift thoughtless strides, the moonlight no longer there to guide him under the thicket of branches and snow.
Extensive roots drew over the forest floor causing him to lose his footing. Clouded by panic he found himself lying on dirtied snowflakes, holding his head as warm blood trickled between his fingers.
Upon opening his eyes, a single daffodil stared at him, their eyes leveled as he lay on the ground beside her. Fresh snow rested on her petals. Small lips formed at her center, a whisper breaking through the silence, “help me.”
Eyes wide, Ambrose lurched back, bloodying the snow beneath his hands. His throat dry with uneasiness he asked, “Are you okay?”
Her words were louder now, but still faint, “I’ve not spoken to a single soul—since my keeper planted me here.” A soft cry emerged from her voice, “I fear I will die here, for my kind are not meant to withstand seasons as cold as—” she paused for a moment considering her words.
“As cold as winter?”
“That’s the one!” she seemed pleased for a moment, and then fell silent, eyes heavy.
Ambrose thought of nothing but the peculiar plant beside him. Pulling a great deal of items from his pack, he started to build a small fire.
Once flames illuminated the darkness, he crouched beside her, “My name is Ambrose, how may I address you?”
She hesitated at his words, looking up at him, “Ambrose...” she whispered to herself, so faint it was near impossible to hear. Her face fell to his feet, and for a long uncomfortable silence Ambrose hadn’t dared say anything at all. The two lost in an ocean of thought, currents moving in opposite directions.
Past the stillness, she spoke. “I am a daffodil, you may address me as such, for I have no other name.” Though her voice was full of sorrow, Ambrose’s mouth formed a grin.
The two shared each other's company for countless hours that night. Ambrose told many tales, and in turn, daffodil did the same. They listened intently to one another, curiosity bubbling above the surface with each word they spoke, their friendship growing under snowfall, accompanied by the warmth of fire tickling their skin.
And so the two had only known each other for a short time, their silence grew comfortable and their words stayed true.
“Ambrose?” Daffodil whispered, her voice fading into the distant chirp of crickets.
Ambrose rolled to his side to look at her, noticing how the flames caught her sun-touched eyes.
“Do you know the true meaning of your name?”
A curious expression reached his brow, “I’m afraid not.” propping himself upright, he watched her curiously, before asking, “why do you ask?”
“Daffodil is my name, for I believe names give power and their meanings even more so. Both through wildflower and in title, I am Daffodil. I symbolize rebirth and new beginnings.” she paused for a brief moment before continuing, “Your name, however, is—interesting.” Daffodil’s silence was contagious, for Ambrose was too, at a loss for words.
“Well—” she said, shaking fresh snow off her petal, “if what I heard is true, it is said to embody immortality.”
“That’s rather odd,” he said crisscrossing his legs and leaning in closer to her, proceeding in a softer voice, “but if, what I heard—is to be true—a single daffodil can foretell misfortune... Or ill-luck.” He held his breath, studying her face, but when she hadn’t even flinched at the notion he fell back to watch the sky, a sense of easiness falling over him once more.
“Perhaps my misfortune ceased the very moment you came to view.” her vague words dissolving into the stillness of the night.
It wasn’t until the sun rose above the trees and the birds sang in the distance, that Ambrose noticed Daffodil’s fallen petals. Each one putting a strain on her already soft voice. “What can I do to help you?” His voice now as soft as hers, trying to push down a lump in his throat.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing you can—” Her eyes suddenly sent daggers through his. “Perhaps if you—” then whispered to herself, “The enchanted stream that runs through his forest.”
Enchanted stream? He thought, then asked, “The Grove Keeper’s stream?” Connecting the dots of the talking flowers, tales of the grove deep in the woods, with six silver you’d be able to send a whispered message through his most trusted flowers.
“If you take me back to the grove and help me to drink the enchanted water that runs through his forest, perhaps I could withstand the winter. It’s a day’s walk, deep into the woods, that way.” she extended a small green leaf from her stem as far as her roots would allow her. “I’m afraid it’s not connected to any path I’ve seen, but this is surely the quickest way. Will you take me there?”
Without a second glance, Ambrose gathered his belongings and potted Daffodil in a small cup. Her roots sent shivers against the cold metal.
The two fell deep into the woods, Ambrose listened carefully to every word Daffodil spoke.
She told him all she knew of flowers and their temperaments.
Her brothers of marigold petals who symbolized cruelty, grief, and jealousy.
Of her best-friend, a poppy so brilliantly colored Daffodil swore she was bright enough to spark flames, day or night. She mournfully explained how she’d been stolen away from her by the Keeper to be planted on his lost daughter's grave, for they symbolized peace and death.
Of geraniums who had been gullible enough to believe every word her brothers conveyed.
And of the roses she envied, every word she spoke of them snaked off her tongue like barbed wire.
And though Daffodil’s words spoke true as to where the grove lay, Ambrose never questioned why she had been left to die in the forest, surrounded by snow.
The hours strung on as they grew nearer to the Grove, but Ambrose kept a quick pace maneuvering around many of the forests’ obstacles with little difficulty, being sure not to lose his footing against the slanted forest floors. He stopped often being sure to ask Daffodil if they had still been on the right track, however, he had found it tremendously difficult to focus on anything but the rapid acceleration of his new friends’ fallen petals.
All the while, Daffodil talked as long as she could, taking frequent breaks to regain her energy. She spoke of the game of whispers. Of passing travelers who had been too spent, begged to send their messages through wildflowers, for they were free of will. Daffodil explained her cluster best she could, their varied temperaments causing her to grow agitated with each word, “Oh how rare it is to get a message from one end to the other without my brothers twisting it to a riddle!” continuing, Daffodil sighed, “Even I have never successfully deciphered one of their riddles, for they were made to be outrageously absurd. Regardless, it will never matter how simple the message may be, my cluster will always lose the words in translation—through one passing whisper or another...”
It seemed to Ambrose that Daffodil envied most flowers she knew.
How she spoke of the Grove keeper and his love for the roses. Hours would drag on in her pot waiting for him to return as he accompanied them in the grandest part of the grove. It stretched on for miles and miles until eventually, it reached the king's road. She told him of the tales he used to tell her before there seemed to be no time for visits. She assumed he grew bored of traveling up the tower day and night, beneath the barred windows and locked door. Now he’d only shared with the roses, accompanying them with his fiddle. She often heard them singing together in the distance while she sat on a perch in his sacred garden. “He even fed them more!” exclaimed Daffodil with a trace of bitterness only she could achieve.
It took them many hours to reach the edge of the forest where the grove lay, by the time they made it, Ambrose's legs wilted with cuts and bruises from the sheer weight of thorns the trails had bestowed upon him.
Great cobblestone walls rose above the ground, tracing the entire grove, protecting the stream and every plant within.
Just before the two reached the wall, Daffodil turned to look at Ambrose, “Ambrose, you have done much for me, I feel as though I must give you something in turn.”
“Please do not feel obligated.” He abruptly stopped to gaze at her eyes once more, “It has been a long time since I’ve spoken to a true friend. You do not owe me anything.”
Daffodil, warmed by his words, only urged her more on the matter. “I shall grant you a wish, though I cannot personally grant it, I know of a flower who can.” She signaled him to move closer to the wall, so he may peek above the mossy cobblestone.
Everything within the walls remained untouched by snow. The Grove had been far more beautiful than Ambrose ever imagined. Even the moss-covered walls pulled a string in his heart, longing to live in such a place. “This—is—” Speechless, his mouth fell open, eyes reflecting the unimaginable beauty. His glazed eyes reflected an exaggerated glow of enchanted mushrooms, all shimmering in various colors. Tall gumwood trees stretched their branches, casting numerous shadows over the Grove.
Ambrose spotted the stream almost immediately. It emanated the clearest blue he’d ever encountered, “This is the most extraordinary place!”
Daffodil smiled as she perched comfortably atop the wall, “See that over there?” she pointed in the direction of a slanted, cobbled tower, covered in vines that spread around the entire building, leaving the only visible window illuminating the soft glow of a candle. “That window there, climb to the third floor and speak to the dandelion, her name is Jinnee, tell her Misfortune the Daffodil sent you. She is true to her word and will grant you a single wish.”
Together Daffodil and Ambrose climbed over the wall, landing firmly on soft grass. From the moment Ambrose’s feet connected to the earth, he felt the overwhelming surge of magic feeding everything that lay within the walls. Skipping to the stream Ambrose was filled with intense euphoria, immediately wanting to explore every nook and cranny of the Grove.
Daffodil sat patiently beside the edge of the water as Ambrose cupped the warm liquid of magic dripping between his fingers. Upon pouring it over her, without delay her frail petals sprung to her side, warming her yellow pigment once more. Her effortless smile projecting to Ambrose’s.
While the sun faded and the Grove came to life in the darkness, the two sat, their backs against the cobbled wall, quietly bantering with gleaming hearts, resting from their onerous trek.
“I will miss our time together.” Said Daffodil in her softest voice, as they watched the colored mushrooms cast their radiant light within the shadows.
Alas, Daffodil insisted Ambrose walk up the tower's stairs and find Jinnee. He hadn’t needed much convincing but was rather reluctant to leave Daffodil at the wall, as she insisted on staying and watching the land she once called home. He knew she missed it, and perhaps that had been why she envied most flowers she knew.
Ambrose made his way across a long field, passing many trees and sleeping flowers; some softly whispering as he walked by. He tried to stay silent for fear the Keeper would ask questions he wouldn’t be able to answer.
Approaching the leaning tower rapidly the cobble was cracked, thick moss growing along the hinges of the door. He reached for the knob. Upon the harsh click of the rusted strike plate, the door swung open with a great force, nearly knocking him to the ground.
An overwhelming aroma of flowers and potting soil filled his lungs, soothing his shaky thoughts. On squeaking floorboards, he made his way up three flights of stairs before he turned to a small room. Shelves lined the stone walls, riddled with countless bugs. What an odd spot for a beehive, thought Ambrose, pulse racing.
His eyes barreled over several pots of sleeping flowers, each one different from the last. He studied the room until his gaze met a curious, open-eyed Dandelion, the window resting behind her. A young Pappus stemmed from her right side, her petals protective over it as she studied Ambrose.
After a long unbearable silence, Ambrose spoke. “I was sent by—a friend of—ours, Misfortune the Daffodil.”
Without hesitation, she countered, “I assume she has sent you with the promise of a wish.” authority blooming within her voice.
“Oh yes, I don’t mean to burden you—I could come back another time perhaps?”
She seemed pleased by his words, “And what is it you wish for?”
He fought his cluttered thoughts, unsure what had willed him to open the door.
With immortality still fresh in his mind he blurted out, “Is immortality achievable?”
In a hushed tone, Jinnee kept the flowers resting beside her undisturbed, “‘Tis, Is this what you wish?”
Ambrose’s face turned as he contemplated his future. “This is not what I wish for.” He stepped closer, lowering his voice to match hers, an idea grabbing his heart in an aspirated thrum. “I wish to stay here, and if possible, with Misfortune the Daffodil.”
At that Jinnee leaned forward and did as all flowers did. She whispered, “Think of your wish, wholeheartedly, and only then, with all the air resting in your lungs, blow your last breath upon my sweet Pappus.”
Ambrose did as she instructed, leaving him heaving and red-faced.
The seeds of her Pappus lifted into the air, clustered together as they hovered for a peaceful moment. Ambrose, watched in amazement as each one carried themselves out the window, chanting something inaudible. The peace broken by the now distant voices woke the flowers resting in their pots, they too joined the chanting. Ambrose listened as they grew louder and louder until it seemed every plant in the grove was crying out into the night air.
Heart pounding he turned to stairs when he heard the sound of the door creak, followed by heavy-footed thumps. The keeper, he thought.
Within seconds the keeper appeared at the stairs, only a foot away from Ambrose, blocking him from the only exit. He stepped back, grazing his shoulders against the shelves, as the whispering grew. Crying out held his ears in an attempt to stop the searing pain that hammered at his eardrums.
The Keeper grinned widely, displaying his rotting teeth against cracked lips. In a swift wave of his hand, the whispering ceased. Dirt clumped beneath his cracked fingernails, as he tapped the surface stone. “A whisper told me you wish to live here.” his voice ghastly, a deathly smirk planted on his face.
“Sir—I did wish for—” he turned to gaze out the window and saw Daffodil sitting atop the wall.
The Keeper stalked forward, gaining ground upon Ambrose’s turned head. “You poor thing,” he looked down at Ambrose’s bloodied legs, “I would offer to heal them, but I'm afraid you won't be needing them.”
Ambrose lurched back, banging his head sharply on a flower pot.
The man was much taller and far stronger by the looks of him. Just when he thought the Keepers grin couldn’t grow anymore, it had, ear to ear it grew, revealing infected gums, and a paralyzing stare.
“What is it you want!” Ambrose screamed out, terror overtaking him as warm tears escaped his eyes. “I wish to leave!”
The keeper was now standing so close he could spot bugs squirming between his teeth. As a beetle crawled up the side of his cheek, he hissed in a bone-shaking sound, “I’m afraid your wish has already been whispered—it shall be granted.”
With that Ambrose's vision became blurred until there was nothing but darkness and the pulsing hammering in his ears.
Upon waking up Ambrose’s eyes adjusted rapidly. Gazing down at the floor, sunrays snuck through the window, moments passing before his memories came flooding back. Panic bestowed upon him, but his heart did not race, and the goosebumps he once remembered had not emerged. Stuck in place he noticed a lifeless body lying on the head of the stairs. Hysteric screams flooded the room as he realized it was his body lying lifeless atop the stairs.
The only repose, a faint giggle emanating beside him.
Ambrose turned his eyes with great effort. Beside him Daffodil smiled a large open mouth smile, so close he could see every detail of her face and petals. “OH, how joyous this is!” exclaimed Daffodil, projecting her voice out the window into a song.
Ambrose rotated his head distressed as he glanced down at the stem deeply rooted in the dirt right beside Daffodil.
If he still had a heart, it sank, and perhaps it would never stop, for Ambrose was now potted with his new friend, Forever living in the enchantments of the Keeper’s Grove.
For wildflowers tell a great many lies.
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Very imaginative and with a surprising ending. :)
Its an amazing story!!!
thank you so much, i’m glad you liked it
Awesome story. Quick question: how many fantasy/fairytale books have you read?
Thank you! Fairy tales are actually something I recently became obsessed with, and Fantasy has always been my favorite genre, I rarely read anything else :)
This gave me bedtime fairytale vibes, and I'm here for it. It was tender and heartfelt, until it wasn't. The title is great! My mother used to read Aesops Fables to me as a child, and they were dark yet twisted with the temptation of prettiness. I genuinely think you achieved that here!
Thank you so much for the feedback :) That’s exactly what I was aiming for!
Fun story. There are a few punctuation/capitalization mistakes in the beginning (probably from some edits), but overall this was good. Once they started their journey, the action was fast paced, and you've achieved a nice balance of specificity without drowning the reader in detail. Good writing!
I really appreciate the feedback, truly. This is actually the first piece of writing i’ve ever finished. I’m definitely seeing the errors now! Thank you so much! :)
Congratulations then, that's a huge accomplishment! I'm honestly feeling secondhand excitement for you about that lol. I hope you keep writing