“Here take this.” Augustus pressed a venti into the palm of her hand. “It’s the required donation to enter the garden. I’ll have to pay the same.”
When they came to the entrance of the temple, rather than an impressive and imposing structure like the temple of Aurelia, they were present with an ornate metal gate. To its sides were hedge two stories tall. Attending the gate were two colourfully robed men, wearing white masks with expressions painted on and slits just big enough to show their eyes.
“Hand them the venti then say ‘May we be blessed by Ophelia’,” instructed Augustus as he exited the carriage. He grasped her hand while helping her down the steps of the carriage and led her to the guards. “Heratio and Gillivan won’t be joining us, they will stay with the carriage until we are done.”
“May we be blessed by Ophelia,” said Marielle as instructed, handing over the venti to one of the masked figures.
“Ophelia blesses all who seek beauty,” responded a feminine voice from behind the mask. Augustus did the same and the lady opened the gate.
Marielle was stunned at the landscape she was immediately presented with. An impressive collection of plants and flowers were shown through the entrance. They entered, Marielle completely in awe at what she was seeing. There were trees with blue leaves that weren’t incredibly tall, but their trunks had a girth that could swallow the carriage they came in. In the shade of the blue leafed trees were leafy bushes that had shoots with weeping white flower bulbs. Along the path were red and yellow flowers mixed over a bed of green grass that went up to Marielle’s knees. Behind the flowers were layers and layers of flowers she didn’t recognize.
“This is amazing,” Marielle gawked. “I’ve never even heard of trees with blue leaves before.”
“This is just the entrance, let's explore the garden a bit.” He took her hand and they walked together along one of the branching paths. “I can’t tell you much about the plants here, other than that they come from all over the world. The priests here carefully tend this garden, they change things now and then trying to make it prettier than before.”
Over the path they chose, the branches of the trees touched each other, granting a reprieve from the glare of the sun. But still, there was a plethora of undergrowth. There were red and purple mosses hugging the trees, and shrubbery with a coating of what looked like blue fur over the green leaves. The leaves above changed from blue to white to rose coloured where the ceiling opened up to the sky again. Ahead was a pond surrounded by benches and the two sat down together.
“How big is this place?” asked Marielle.
“There are several, I guess you could call them rooms, that are separated by trees. You could see all of them in a single evening if you wanted to.”
“I feel like I could spend an entire day here, not just an evening.” She looked out over the pond at the tops of the strange trees.
“They don’t allow visitors during most of the day,” said Augustus. “They start allowing guests in the late afternoon, and we are only allowed to stay until a bit after sunset.”
“Well, I’m glad you decided to bring me here,” Marielle said with a smile, now looking into Augustus’ brown eyes. “Was it just for inspiration for my work in our garden?”
“Not just that, but it’s part of it.” Augustus smiled, then looked as another pair of guests, dressed in colourful clothing, arrived in the area and sat down at a nearby bench. “The garden can get busy, but they put a limit on how many visit the garden each day. That limit applies to the people that just show up for the show near dusk too. Some people will come by and reserve their spot, then go off to have dinner elsewhere, returning to watch the show.”
After spending a bit of time at the pond, they got up and continued to wander through the garden. Every so often encountering another couple or even a group of people. Marielle would sometimes stop to closely examine a certain arrangement, making a mental note of some new flower she just encountered.
“Are all these flowers available for purchase?” asked Marielle.
Augustus showed a worried look on his face and said, “Of course. But right now we need to work within our budget, which isn’t as generous as it will be later. For now, work on doing the best you can for the least cost.”
They found the artificial stream that was surrounded by rocks cut to look like it was natural and followed it knowing it would lead to the temple building. Along the banks of the stream, the theme was white flowers. Various species of predominantly white flowers with small blue, gold, and orange flowers sprinkled in tastefully. Eventually, they came to a crowd outside the unimpressive temple. Marielle saw and likened the design to the temple of Cyril she had visited. Even the scale was similar, which meant it was just ordinary. Marielle surmised that to the worshippers of Ophelia, the actual temple was a mere afterthought.
The crowd stood around, all guests of the garden, and were slowly making their way into seats that were set up and raised in a way to give everyone a view of a stage that was set up in front of the temple. “It’s almost time for the show, let's take a seat.” The sun was low, and the sky close to the horizon had begun turning orange.
They stepped through the crowd and climbed the seats to find a good place to watch the show, as they did some people saw Augustus and waved excitedly. Augustus just waved back meekly, declining to start a conversation.
The sound of drum beats was heard, and the crowd moved more quickly into their seats and settled as four priests walked out of the temple. All dressed in the same colourful robes as the two at the gates and wearing the same white masks with painted on expressions. One, whose robe was mostly green, constantly beat a large drum that he had strapped to himself. The others carried torches and they began lighting the torches around the stage along with two giant braziers that were filled with wood that ignited quickly as if they were doused in some oil. Then they all went up onto the stage.
The drummer was off to the side with another priest, who wore predominantly orange robes. The other two priests, one with robes mainly of purple and the other of yellow, had set their torches into wooden holders at opposite ends of the stage and then stood in the middle. The orange priest spoke, “Welcome, to this magical time of day. Where in this dying light we will show you a tale you all already know. The story of our goddess of colour, Ophelia.”
The purple priest lay on the ground and the yellow priest casually walked about the stage. “There was always land, there was always sky, there was always day and night. There was always Manas wandering the lands,” said the orange priest, his cadence matching the drumbeat that never stopped. “Manas went from land to land, and found the other gods, but eventually always wandered alone.” The yellow priest kept walking randomly about but his path crept closer and closer to the purple priest lying on the ground. “Manas came to a desert, and buried in the sand found Ophelia.”
The yellow priest was now next to the laying purple priest. He bent down and grasped the purple priest's hand and pulled her up. She slowly rose. “Ophelia opened her eyes, but could not see, for she could not understand. She had spent an eternity buried in sand, an eternity wrapped in darkness. Manas made gestures that had no meaning, said words that had no meaning.” The yellow priests acted it all out, it was in fluid motions that looked almost like a dance, but the purple priest just stood there motionless. “Manas walked the desert with Ophelia.” They began walking together randomly around the stage, with purple closely following yellow. Purple started to walk in step with yellow, and a yellow looked back in annoyance, then purple looked back in annoyance at the empty space behind her. Yellow started making exaggerated movements, then danced and purple quickly mimics whatever yellow would do.
It was then that Marielle realized something, the painted expressions on their faces were changing. For a second the view of their mask would be obstructed by either a robe of the other person on stage and the expression would change slightly, from a smile to a frown, to angry eyes, to neutral. Orange continued the story, “The two wandered the desert together, Ophelia slowly learning to see and hear. But then it was time to leave the desert.” Two trap doors on the stage opened up, and slowly up came two set pieces, each with lush flowers and vegetation. They formed a semi-circle, and from the view of the audience, the two performers were now surrounded by a beautiful garden. “And they came to a meadow. To Ophelia, who only knew darkness and the desert, it was a feast for the eyes. She celebrated the beauty she witnessed.”
The two performed a choreographed dance, but this time, fans had appeared in their hand through some sleight of hand trick. Now the face changes became more apparent for purple as before it was just expression changes. Now the masks would change to different colours with intricate designs of gold leaf or feathers. The orange priest threw some sand into the brazier and the flame turned green for a moment, then another handful of sand and it turned purple, then another and it turned a fluorescent red. “On that day in the meadow, she became the goddess of colours!” On that beat the drum struck loudest, then all four priests bowed in unison. “We thank you for witnessing our humble play today and paying your respects to your goddess Ophelia. If you wish, you may take a stick and light it in this flame, to carry with you as you walk home in the dying light, draped in the same wonder that Ophelia felt in that meadow.”
The audience started lifting from their seats and lining up to take a stick and light it in the flame. Marielle was awe-struck by the performance so was slow to rise, but did so eventually at Augustus’ pull of her hand. They lit their torches and followed the crowd to the front gates.
Once outside, they found Heratio and Gillivan playfully sparring with wooden swords. “We’re going to walk back. Follow in the carriage.” The two bodyguards got on the carriage and followed as the married couple walked through the streets holding their torches.
The sky was a bold pink and purple and the streets were lined with a few lit lamps spaced about a hundred arms apart. Augustus knew the directions and walked at a brisk pace.
“That was amazing!” said the excited Marielle, staring at the striking sky. She quickened her pace and turned around to look Augustus right in the eyes. Her smile was ear to ear and her gaze was intense. “I’m so happy you brought me to see that, I’ve never seen anything like that! How did they change their masks?”
“I don’t know. I think they keep that a secret,” said Augustus with a smile just as big. “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. I had a similar reaction to you the first time I saw that.”
“It was magical, how did they make the fire change colour like that?”
“I think that’s another secret.” Augustus laughed. “You're going to trip, or bump into someone.” Marielle just continued walking backwards, but then her expression changed for a second. “What was with that face?”
She turned herself the right way around, now walking in the same direction she looked. “It’s nothing. I just thought I saw something.”
“What did you see?”
“A man I saw at the market today. At least, I think."
Augustus’ face changed to seriousness as he looked over his shoulder to see who was around. “Which man was it? Don’t point, just describe him.”
“The freckled man with the scar above his eyebrow.” She said without turning her head.
Augustus turned his head to look back to check but didn’t see anyone that fit the description. “We’ve walked enough today, let's ride home in the carriage,” he said.
Augustus whispered something to Heratio then the couple entered the carriage together.