It is often said that characters in a story have a life of their own. This phenomenon can be startling to writers, myself included. Tansel first came to me in a fairy tale about a maiden whose love for her garden and a bad attitude towards wizards lead her to a remarkable discovery of her hidden power. But Tansel had more to say when her little story grew into an entire novel involving the forces of the Otherworld, two of the most powerful wizards in the land and a nasty family secret.
In the following excerpt, we are introduced to Tansel and the seeds of a shadow.
Some things did not stay well in gardens.
Tansel knew this, being a gardener like her mother, and her mother before her. She lived deep in the verdant, shadowy hills of Loralin Forest, in a one-room cottage made of river stones. Old clay pots of herbs and flowers crowded small windows with diamond-shaped panes. She owned one small table cluttered with plant stalks, dirt, pots and jars, a mortar and pestle, a knife with a stag-horn handle and a chair with an unraveling reed mat to sit on. She slept on a pallet by the hearth. Dominating the room, a rambling pantry held seeds, dried leaves, twigs, roots and bark in baskets, old cloth bags, stone and glass phials, jars, and wooden boxes. With these Tansel made a modest living.
Tansel loved her garden with all her heart. It surrounded the cottage and spread out beneath the edges of the forest like a wild thing, singing. She grew things for eating, seasoning and healing; things that smelled pretty, attracted butterflies, birds, bees, and cats; she grew things for the shapes of their leaves, the way the sun and moon shone upon a petal or a stalk, or the way one thing grew beside another, tangling high and low in arches, tendrils and delicate patterns. Some plants loved the high, bright sun; others preferred the shadows beneath evergreen trees, or water caressing their roots. Tansel grew things she simply liked the names of. Things no one knew the names of.
Few could have said exactly what grew in Tansel’s garden. Not even she knew, from season to season. The garden had a rhythm of its own, a balance that took care of itself.
Her mother had once told her, Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined. The cottage, the garden and that mysterious piece of information were the only things she had left her young daughter of twelve summers before running away into the lands beyond Loralin like a cucumber vine on a compost heap.
Seven years later, Tansel knew what stayed in her garden and not.
Tansel appears in “The Trouble with Tansy,” a short story in Wizards, Woods and Gods; and in The Winged Hunter, an epic fantasy tale of desire, lost innocence, and healing. Tansel is also featured in Monsters and Gardening.
© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.