In the Gardens: Part Seven

With the scales dropped into the bowl that had once been a gaunt’s skull, clearly taken in its infancy, the deal was done. Ilzenor at first had believed the witches, but then the old adage of his estranged aunt rang in his ears. A witch is never to unmake their hex. To barter for a curse removed is to only worsen the effects. And by all means, that withering old woman, her face turned orange as a gourd, had been entirely correct. This was not what Ilzenor had intended and now it was too far along to turn back. They had him now, and that was that.

Almost leaping from the water, Leura came up in the pond of the Gardens anxiously peering about for Ilzenor. Any fear that the witches may have done him in or perhaps demanded an absurd payment for their curse lifted had left her. Had she considered that notion, Leura’s heart may have broken before she even reached the Garden. Whirling about as she was doing, a cold chill began to run through her, unable to find the knight anywhere. Yet, as she spun to face where the man had been that day he pitched every last of his coins into the pond, Leura met a wet snout. 

Paddling back, Leura found on a hound, enormous and gray, laying its muzzle on the lip of the pond, misery in its eyes. Coming to the far edge of the pool, Leura began slowly towards the mutt, using the stone lip as a railing. She whistled for it and called attention to herself, but the wolf only moved his eyes, they were still set with a despondent cast. Finally, as Leura came close enough to touch the wolf, she noticed an anomaly on its left side. Fur had been ripped away, and shards of a green gem had been embedded into the flesh there. They were still small as they had been on Ilzenor, but there was no way Leura could mistake those marks.

Shock overwhelmed the mermaid, causing her to reel back a ways before she swam up and wrapped her hands around the hound’s muzzle. Quietly she whispered, “Ilz? Ilzenor, is that you? Please tell me this is some trick.”
“A trick? She thinks its a trick!” an old creaky voice howled with laughter that put a frozen spike in Leura’s spine. Turning her gaze to the far end of the pool, Leura found that horrid witch cackling there. 
With a growl, she shouted, “Why have you done this to him?! He was… he wasn’t… he was so good. He wanted to lift your hex and mend the damages. He would have given you a hundred whips to replace that one that I destroyed. And he would have done it all just out of his own kindness. Why have you do this to him, you horrible old monster!” 
“Cause I don’t take back hexes, fool child. And this is what he asked for! ‘I want to be with the mermaid for all time, I want to be changed, I have these scales can you change me?’ Bah! Well, he’s changed all right, should have been more clear. And to think that fool boy tumbled out of my own. Bah! Must be the old man’s blood makin’ him such a bled fool,” the hag laughed, ignoring the baneful look Ilzenor gave her. 
Growling the way the hound should have, Leura shouted back, “Then what now! What do you want from me to change him back?! I don’t care if I have to return to this pond and stare at your ugly pumpkin mug every day until I die, just give him back his life!”
“What life? He’s a fool boy off to slay the dragon for the Barren King. It’s a wasted life. But I will tell you this much, deary, I’ve got a plan for you,” the witch finally took on some air of seriousness. 

Taking from cloak a vial containing a tincture that was not wholly liquid, the witch proved she was not half so old in the body as she was the face. The throw she made reached across the pond allowing the glass container to shatter on the stone lip of the pool just between the wolf and mermaid. Leura did not feel or see the effect at first, then she noted Ilzenor’s paw grow grayer than it had been a second before. Not only did it turn in color, but the texture vanished, replaced by what looked like elegantly carved lines in a statue. He was being turned to stone, and as Leura looked to her chest and hip fins, she saw she too was becoming solid rock. The weight began to pull her down, but Leura clutched tight to the hound’s head. She brought herself closer to his muzzle, not wanting to fall into the depth as a stone figure. Ilzenor made a quiet but sorrowful whine before the stone began to envelop his head just as it crawled up to Leura’s neck. Giving her love one last kiss on his brow, Leura and Ilzenor became fully encapsulated in stone. And like statues set in undisturbed temples or that had fallen to the depths of the sea, the two lovers remained eternally locked in the Gardens of Everlasting Summer. 

He collected her scales as he was told
That enough would allow him to break the mold
Soon he did find he baited more than he could catch
The wizened woman said he was better at fetch
So the wolf did cry for that lost bride
Unable to truly be at Leura’s side
And so they fell into a wakeless slumber
There in the Garden of Eternal Summer

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