Since time unremembered, Iorgas has lived a life of simple labor, tending the garden of the gods which lies between all things. But after his maker, Oikus, asks him to consider the question of his own contentment, he finds a longing nothing seems to quench. When he spies beautiful Antipone reading the poetry of his work in a way no other spirit has, he is transfixed, but he also discovers the source of his disquiet. Iorgas sets out to win her hand, but it remains to be seen if he can stand out among Antipone’s other suitors, the likes of which include the great Pan himself.
The Garden Between is a short literary fantasy from Erik Wecks, author of He Dug the Grave Himself, and Aetna Adrift. Consider it the perfect romantic appetizer.
the Garden Between
“Are you content, Iorgas?” Until Oikus had asked, Iorgas had never really considered the question, but now that he had taken it up, it felt difficult to put down. He felt entangled with it, like a bur that had become embedded in the blue of his cowl.
“I want you to be content, Iorgas, not simply ignorant. I wish for you to know something of desire and fulfillment,” he had said.
They had been walking at the time–Oikus with his curly red hair and thick beard, dressed in white, and taking long thick strides. He towered over his three-foot-tall creation, Iorgas.
Iorgas didn’t look at Oikus when he answered him. Instead, the deep buried sparkle of his eyes turned away and sought solace in the living things he tended, as they often did when confronted by the great ones. The only thing which extended beyond the decorative stitching on the edge of the cowl was the protrusion of Iorgas’ gray nose. In his usual quiet and reserved voice, Iorgas answered, “Yes, I am content.”
But now, some time later, he wasn’t so sure. Now it appeared to Iorgas that the asking of the question had been like the planting of a seed–or perhaps the germination of a seed already implanted. For a while, it seemed as if nothing had changed, and then, slowly at first, Iorgas experienced a longing which he had not previously known.
Iorgas had no doubt this was exactly what Oikus had intended. Oikus was one of the great spirits who rested awhile in the garden before traveling onward through the gates to places and times Iorgas could not imagine. Charged with the care of all plants and forests, Oikus was ultimately responsible for the upkeep of this place. He had created Iorgas to be its tender.
Iorgas had tended the garden between the worlds for a time beyond times. In every moment he could remember, he had been a gardener, in love with all things which grew from the soil. For as long as he had known life, he had been content to trim, to tend, and to reshape the garden around him.
There was never a shortage of things to do. As far as Iorgas could tell, the garden was infinite. Over each rolling hill, there was always something else to see, another grove to order, another pond to put right, and another grand vista to overawe him.
Now, it didn’t feel like quite enough. There was in Iorgas a noticeable lack. Iorgas couldn’t have told you what he needed, but he knew he needed something–something that he did not possess.
And so it was that a while after Iorgas recognized his longing for he knew not what, he found himself tending a small part of the garden near a great stone arch, a gateway to a different time and place with wrought iron bars. Through the arch he could see a dark forest, a kind of forest he did not know. In that forest, things unwanted might dwell.
Occasionally, Oikus told him about such places, and the adventures he had in them. Iorgas had no desire for such dangers. His sense of adventure was sated by the challenge of ruling the more aggressive plants of his world between worlds. That was enough adventure for his small spirit.
At that particular moment between times, two great worlds hung together in the sky above him, and overhead, Zephyr passed by in billows of white, bringing with him the tang of the sea, which Iorgas had never seen but always hoped would be over the next hill.
Iorgas was at work fine tuning the height of the cattails around the ornate stone bench near the pond when he saw a soft light in the forest through the gate.
Trembling, he hid.
With the exception of Oikus–with whom he still felt incredibly insecure–Iorgas never felt safe around the spirits and their attendants. In their presence, he always felt an outsider, intruding on matters far beyond his capacity to comprehend. Quiet and nimble, he most often hid from them when they passed by.
In this instance, he stepped behind the nearby gate, allowing the lithe, incandescent maidens to step into the garden of their rest without having to gaze on his gray and homely form.
As they entered, Iorgas peeked out from behind the cool gray stones. There were at least twelve of them, not including the goddess from which most of the radiance emanated. They twittered a little as they walked, giggling about this or that.
As they entered, one of the last noticed the bench. “My lady. Shall we not rest a while here by the water? The wind has the taste of the sea. The air is cool, and we have been long at our labors.”
The goddess turned. “Sweet Antipone, how quickly we forget your suffering on our behalf.” She smiled then. “Yes, we shall rest here and allow this wholesome place to heal the wounds you have taken.”
The party stopped and, not far from Iorgas, sat upon the grass, their white dresses flowing around their lovely forms.
Antipone seated herself a little apart, wrapping her hands around her knees and pulling them toward her chest. She looked younger than the rest and troubled. Iorgas couldn’t help wondering what could trouble that beautiful face.
While the rest of the party laughed and giggled, Antipone looked around. From his hiding place, Iorgas watched her brown eyes take in his world. As they did so, they seemed to soften, and she breathed a little easier.
He watched as they followed the dance he had been creating for himself with the cattails. Moving through the reeds, following their path until they came to the little pile of round stones he had placed at the water’s edge. Her eyes twinkled with delight, and she smiled softly.
Iorgas’ heart beat faster. Never before had one of the great ones read his designs–not even Oikus. Oh, they knew the quietude they experienced in this place. Instinctively they felt its healing rest, but never before had one of them taken the time to so carefully read the lines of his poetry, the music of his sphere.
Iorgas stared at the slender neck and upturned chestnut hair. He knew what he desired.
Oikus laughed as he and Iorgas walked together. The full open sound cascaded down onto Iorgas from above. Eyes twinkling, Oikus said kindly, “I’m sorry, Iorgas. I cannot simply give her to you. She’s not my property, and even if you summoned up the courage to ask Dierdree, I doubt that she would compel her either. Besides, would you truly be happy with that? Don’t you want Antipone to choose to love you?”
Iorgas looked down at the grass below his feet. He didn’t know what to say. It had taken him more time than he could count to work up the courage to ask Oikus his question. He felt embarrassed. They walked in silence for a minute.
Oikus looked sideways at him, thick, hairy arms tucked behind his back. “Iorgas, you have to win her heart. You won’t be happy otherwise.”
“How?” In his frustrated longing, the question came out of his lips before he really intended. Now that it had escaped, there wasn’t much that he could do about it, so he spoke the thought which most vexed his heart. “I don’t know how.”
Oikus’ tone turned serious. He furrowed his brow and leaned down a little as he answered more quietly than usual. “Now you are asking the right question, Iorgas, and perhaps it is here that I can help you the most, but remember, love is wary prey. It is at best a difficult thing, and when you seek intimacy–not merely conjugation–it can be elusive in the extreme.”
Seeing the look of despair on Iorgas’ face, he leaned in further, almost bending in half and lending himself a conspiratorial air as he spoke with unusual solemnity. “Do not lose heart, Iorgas. You say that she read your work, that her eyes unraveled the poetry of your garden in a way which no other had done before. Then I say, tell her you love her with your garden. Write her love letters with its music. If she can read it, she will.”
At the hearing of Oikus’ words, Iorgas’ heart conceived–a spark of hope, innocent and clean. Vistas opened to him, possibilities. He would tell Antipone that he loved her with the work of his hand.
From that day forward the garden began to change, subtly, slowly at first, and then growing to a flood. Messages crafted for discerning eyes appeared, written in the leaves of a tree or hidden in the scent of a flower.
And unbeknownst to Iorgas, Antipone’s stature in the celestial realm began to grow. Among her own, she became an archetype of beauty, a paragon among paragons. Suitors arose, professing great love and doing amazing deeds, all to win Antipone’s hand.
All of this remained hidden from Iorgas, who avoided direct contact with Antipone, trusting that she would read his love letters, too shy to profess his love directly or even allow himself to be seen.
The legend of the beauty of Antipone traveled so far and wide that eventually the great Pan himself left Arcadia and came to the garden to woo her.
A brother of sorts to the shy Iorgas, Pan and he were as opposite in their behavior as water and earth. Pan loved the rough and tumble of the wild. Iorgas craved the gentle tenderness of the garden.
Pan in the garden meant weeks of work undoing the mess he created in his wake. Nymphs had to be consoled. Brooks had to be re-taught to burble instead of roar, and in general, a sense of serenity had to be restored. Whenever Pan entered the garden, Iorgas found himself compulsively following in his wake, trying to mitigate the damage.
Now, Iorgas sat huddled behind a tree, watching Pan sit on a bench, wondering what could have brought him here. When Iorgas saw Dierdree and her party coming, he truly began to fret. He hadn’t been this close to Antipone since the day by the pond. It frightened him and made him feel giddy all at the same time. He wanted to run, but he stood there rooted to the spot, intoxicated by her beauty.
Not even in his deepest fears had he imagined what followed next.
Pan began to play one of Iorgas’ favorite melodies on his flute–one that Iorgas had written into the sighing of the reeds for Antipone to find.
Astonished, it took Iorgas a few seconds to recognize what was happening.
Antipone stopped and turned toward Pan. “Tell me, why do you play that song?”
“Is there another melody so perfectly crafted to capture the beauty of your form, sweet Antipone?”
Antipone paused, surprised but wary. “It was you who taught all this garden to sing my praise?”
“How could this garden or any living thing not sing your praises, oh fairest of the fair?”
“But did you craft the melody or are you but another of its supplicants?”
Holding out his hand to Antipone, Pan answered, “If my answer will turn your heart to me, oh sweet child, then, yes, I did hear this song sighing in the leaves and brought it forth for you to woo.”
Slowly, as if unsure, Antipone reached up and took Pan’s hand in her own.
Despair, the likes of which Irogas had never known, drowned his soul. He felt a fool. He had placed the melody in the trees and now the uncouth hand of his brother held the hand of the one he had hoped to woo for himself.
He turned away, fleeing down the small hillock on which he sat, unable to watch any more. At the bottom, he hid himself underneath the fig tree planted there. Time had little meaning in the garden between worlds, and Iorgas didn’t really count time himself. It might have been a minute, maybe a few hours, or even an eon that Iorgas lay under the tree at the bottom of the dell, feasting on the dark of his soul. To Iorgas, it felt as if he had been feeding on his own innards for all eternity.
Later, the sound of someone quietly weeping startled Iorgas out of his black reverie. He looked up. Sweet Antipone stumbled through the bushes and came to rest on a bench across from the tree under which Iorgas hid.
Shocked, Iorgas didn’t know what to do. He looked at her, overawed by her beauty, and yet distressed to see her weeping. Her sadness pierced his darkness and set his heart longing once again. Almost whispering, he spoke, standing and stepping into the light. “Sweet Antipone, what is the matter?”
Startled, Antipone looked up, wiping her eyes and looking at him curiously. “Who are you?”
He answered simply, “I am the gardener.”
“The gardener?” She looked at him a minute, puzzled, and then said, “Then it was you. You are the reason my life has turned to misery. Who put you up to this cruelty? Who has told you to mock me so?”
Antipone’s words shocked poor Iorgas. Momentarily stunned, he had no answer.
Antipone found her voice first, anger rising. “Who told you to mock me in your work and so teach the whole of the celestial world to make sport of me?”
“No one, my lady. I have written only of my own accord.” Desperate to be understood, he looked Antipone in the eye. Finding there curiosity and little disdain, he found the courage to speak again. “I wrote that I might tell you how much I love you. I wrote in secret that only your eyes might see. You alone have been able to read the poetry of my garden, and so I wrote for you.”
It was Antipone’s turn to be surprised. She looked at him keenly, appraising him anew. “Oh, nature’s muse, what is your name?”
Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke again. “Iorgas, poet of poets, that which you wrote in secret, only I alone may have read, but all who dwell in the garden received its message! I have become like Helen, despised by my mistress and hunted by men and gods alike. I am miserable. I beg of you–stop. Your words are an enchantment over all who pass through this place.”
A lump rose in Iorgas’ throat, “Of course.” He looked again at the ground. “I never wanted to cause you grief.” He stood there, sullen for a moment, wondering if he was fated to mourn.
Antipone spoke again, this time her voice filled with amazement. “Did you truly reshape the whole of this garden for me?”
Iorgas nodded, still looking at the grass and Antipone’s feet. He had never considered the grace of her feet before. Then despair washed over him again, and he looked away.
Antipone quietly sang, “Your eyes have a beauty…”
Cautiously, not daring to hope, Iorgas answered, “…for which the mourning doves may pine.”
He felt Antipone’s astonished gaze upon him. In wonder, she said, “Pan knew the melody, but he didn’t know the words.”
Iorgas looked up. “That’s because my brother didn’t write the song.”
Antipone got up from the bench on which she sat and placed herself on the turf next to Iorgas. She tipped back his cowl, revealing the shock of black curly hair which he fastidiously hid and stared at him.
She looked into his eyes, past his skin, and gazed upon his soul.
Iorgas almost flinched. He wanted to look away, to hide himself again, but something in the curiosity of her look wouldn’t let him run. His heart beat so fast, he wasn’t sure he could breathe.
“You may write me poetry with the work of your hands any time you will, oh, poet of poets. Here in this garden,” she lifted her hands and gestured to the world around them, “here in your bower, I have known a peace which at times makes me cry for the joy of it. You have the power to heal all my hurts, oh, greatest, but I would rather you used your gift to speak about the beauty of the world than have the world speak of me.”
Iorgas nodded, silent for a moment–overcome. Then, with newfound assurance, he looked in the deep well of Antipone’s eyes, and said, “My heart is bursting with gladness, my lady. To tell you stories–to write music with my hands–will bring me a joy that at one time I did not know I wanted. I will go about my work from this moment forward at peace. I will tell you poetry with the reeds, the trees, and the land beneath. You shall read my words, and so I will heal all your hurts.”
Antipone reached up and, putting her hand on his cheek, touched her lips gently to his. When they parted, Iorgas found that he no longer felt any need but to live in this moment.