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The Prince and The Gardener

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He wakes up to the throbbing pain in his left shoulder, an ache he has grown accustomed to but still isn’t able to ignore. It’s worse in the gloom of the night when the darkness has fallen and the sky has clouded over, hiding even the sight of the stars he so adores, sometimes spending full nights sitting by his window admiring them, studying them through his spyglass while the pain keeps him from sleeping and the sky is clear for him to observe it to all of his heart’s content. Now, however, the sky is morose and no matter how appealing stargazing is to him, the weather strips him of the chance of it even being a possibility. He sighs as he sits upon his extravagant bed, looking through the big glass doors leading to his own private balcony, facing the exquisite gardens outside. Getting up with some difficulties due to his tense muscles and stiff arm, he peers at the time from his pendulum clock that stands in the far corner, beside the entrance to his private lavatory, which holds the bath that he occasionally spends hours soaking in, taking in the warmth and letting his whole body relax and unwind.

He goes to the drawers, takes out some soft, light trousers, worn from wear and puts them on, again with some complications. Pulling them up his bare, somewhat hairy legs goes smoothly enough but tying them is another predicament on its own. Times like these, when his scarred left arm is stiff and painful to do anything with, even a chore as minimal as putting trousers on feels enormous for him. Adding the lack of sleep, it takes him some time to try and get the trousers to hang on to his hips securely. Finally, he grunts in his frustration and pulls the strings as tight as they go, stuffing them in the waistband of the old trousers and deems it good enough. Lighting the candle that he makes sure is always on his bedside, has become a habit of a sort and he manages this without any troubles; all these sleepless nights and the need for light has made him an expert in the art of lighting candles and lanterns only using one hand. He pulls the sleeve to cover his left arm completely, opens the massive doors, grabs the candle by its handle with his good arm and setts off into the silence of the halls after nudging the entry to his chambers closed with his hip.

The man has the layout of the castle memorised, he could walk the way to the library blindfolded if need be. Not many people use the library; it’s open to all of the residents and staff, but not many utilise it often. If they do, they just come in, get the books they need and leave just as quickly as they came. As he makes his way to the place that has become his safe haven, his eyes pay attention to the numeral shadows the thick candle makes on the floor and the multiple paintings that litter the walls and make the hallways seem even longer and emptier than they are in reality, making sure that his hearing hasn’t betrayed him and he is truly the only one wandering around in the late hour.

After a trek, lasting a few moments that felt like hours to him, the prince finally reaches the lofty doorway to the library. He turns the iron holder and steps in quietly, closing the hefty door behind him without a sound. Sighing in relief at the quiet he was able to maintain, he makes his way to the upper level of the monumental space to his spot by the windows, to a majestic but truly comfortable, deep blue armchair. He sets the candle in the small table that is situated on his left side, taking the book from it that he is reading into his lap. The Chemical Wedding is not the newest book but it’s so different from anything that Bucky has read so far or even has in his impressive collection. “Johann Valentin Andreae was truly a genius”, he thinks as he turns to the correct page that his bookmark is in between. Before he starts reading, he sets aside with the utmost carefulness he can manage the delicate, dried flower, a purple statice that he had pressed attentively between the biggest book he was able to find in the entire castle and now always uses as a bookmark. He had had the flower for what felt like ages; as he now looks at the fragile little thing, he remembers finding the single vibrant blossom in a small glass vase on this very same table that he now always keeps the books he’s reading at the moment on. He had just returned after the accident, been at home for a week at most and during that short time, he had spent almost the entire time in the quant library, finding solace in its absence of people; he didn’t want to see anyone and had refused to speak to anyone except his older sisters and of course, his doctor, for a full month.

Shaking the unpleasant time out of his thoughts, the royal tucks away his growing dark tresses behind his ear and continues reading the extraordinary tale. James Buchanan Barnes, Bucky as he likes to be called by the ones who know him, has always, for as long as he can remember, enjoyed reading. In his childhood days, the young royal had even written a few stories himself, entertaining his older sisters with his silly childhood rambles and imaginative characters. As can be seen, fiction has always been his favourite genre. Even though he doesn’t write anymore, doesn’t think he could even if he had the courage to try again, reading has always been an escape to him, especially after his injury.

Still in the recovery stage of his healing even though the incident, as he refers to it in his head, unable to think about the happenings intentionally, occurred several months ago, he had read every genre there is, from the history books and autobiographies to science and the fiction that he so loves. He even remembers skimming through a botanical book once, filled with interesting and some less interesting knowledge about the nature his home is surrounded by; the book even had chapters such as How the Nature Heals and The Meaning of Flowers You Don’t Think Twice About. Bucky had enjoyed the book only by the fact that it showed him a different vocabulary that he was used to; his interest in nature had never been the greatest, at least not when compared to his passion of all things unearthly; the sky, the moon and everything beyond.

He begins reading the page he started on again, now fully focusing on the exciting story, not wanting to read it without appreciating the excellence of the writer, but to fully immerse himself in the book and get lost in the new world it paints in his mind. The novel takes him on a journey of adventures and without his knowledge or permission, he finishes the final page of the saga. The young prince of 26 years lifts his head and squints against the bright sunlight that has been streaming from the large windows for a few hours now, perhaps two at best. Rolling his shoulders he puts the delightful book back onto the table and blows out the almost burnt out candle; he will have to remember to get a new one before dusk. It’s only dawn but Bucky can already hear some distant clanking from the kitchens that are directly below the splendid library. Taking one last look at his precious flower, he makes his way down the creaking stairs to the entrance and out to the lengthy halls, deciding to get some breakfast before checking the almanack made for him for possible additions to his days’ schedule which is to his knowledge blissfully empty unless you count the daily family dinner that all of the members of the close family always try, if possible, to attend. His oldest sister, Queen Rebecca should be returning from her travels around the kingdom today; he can’t wait to see her.

Bucky makes a stop in his quarters to place the spent candle with its intricate, copper handle on his dresser. Just before he makes his way to leave again, he realizes he is only wearing his soft, handmade wool socks and decides to grab his most simple and pleasant pair of shoes that he owns. As he’s stepping out of the entrance to the corridor, Bucky almost runs into one of the numeral servants that work in the castle.

“Oh!” Bucky explains as he tries to stable himself and the attendant who is stumbling his way through apologies, he notices that the young man is someone he knows, unlike most of the staff who are too intimidated by him to even be in his presence above any necessities.
“Peter. Are you hurt?” Bucky asks quietly. “No, Buー I mean Your Royal Highness. I-I’m perfectly okay. You know me, just being my clumsy self as usual”, Peter answers flustered. Bucky rolls his eyes fondly at the nephew of one of the cooks as he listens to Peter stumble his way through an answer. They’ve known each other for a while now, Bucky finding the youngster’s chaotic presence weirdly calming but mostly amusing as well. Also, Peter is one of the few workers that actually talk to him, not just tremble when they see him, immediately running away when they get the first chance to do so. “I’ve told you many times now that it’s okay to call me Bucky”, he answers Peter with a short chuckle. “Well, yes I know but aunt Mayー”. “Peter, I know that your aunt says that you should call us by our titles but I’m telling you that I want you to call me Bucky. However, not that you’re here, do you mind helping me with something quickly?” Bucky interrupts Peter gently. After Peter nods once with an understanding look in his eyes, they step back into Bucky’s abode that he is truly protective over. But the two unexpected friends have developed a routine of sorts that has made Peter a comfortable presence in Bucky’s mind with the help he has offered him when Bucky had felt the most uncomfortable.

“The black one today?” Peter asks as he reaches into the small wooden box that Bucky keeps on top of his dresser, where it’s convenient for Peter to look through. “Yes, thank you”, Bucky answers as he sits on a padded wooden stool. “You got it, boss”, Peter answers jokingly as he takes the black silk ribbon and a comb from the small box he had gifted Bucky the first time they talked. Bucky smiles a little, a private smile just for himself, as he recalls seeing Peter after his return home, Bucky hadn’t even said anything when the teenager had asked the youngest prince if he could help “Your Highness Roayl, I mean um Your Royalnessー no um sorry I’m really new at this Your Princeness” with his hair. Peter had seemingly noticed that no one except his family had really approached the prince that had returned from the fight ostensibly a different man; quieter, reserved and with a haunted look in his eyes and a left arm that didn’t work anymore the way it was supposed to.

The charming, social butterfly that had left them to defend his country and protect the ones he loved the most returned a war hero, a traumatised, injured war hero none the less. In his state of mind, Bucky had only been able to stare at the selfless boy in front of him who wasn’t, to Bucky’s surprise, scared of him, only nervous because of his status and Peter’s overall awkwardness that he couldn’t seem to shake. Finally, when Peter had started to visibly squirm under Bucky’s gaze, Bucky nodded stiffly, gesturing Peter into his room with a jerk of his head. Peter had gulped down his nervous rambling for a minute or so until he couldn’t help himself and started talking about nothing and everything; his aunt, starting to work in the castle while Bucky was gone and how he had noticed that dealing with longer than the usual hair might be hard if you couldn’t use both arms. Peter also talked in length how he had always loved braiding and playing with his aunt May’s hair, while at the same time trying to carefully comb through all the knots in Bucky’s hair without hurting him. Bucky had sat at the same exact stool he was sitting now, bewildered, not knowing how he should act. After he had returned home, he had forgotten to even think about things like his hair and couldn’t believe someone, a stranger to him, had cared enough to try and help him. Back then Peter had solved all the tangles of his hair that, admittedly, took a long moment to achieve and braided his hair in a short but neat braid that he had excitedly talked to Bucky about: “It looks so much better now Mr Prince! N-not that it was bad before or anything but I just meanー um yes.”

In the present, Peter had quickly gone over his flustered state and was now brushing Bucky’s hair, now much better looked after than it had been only months ago. Bucky disturbed Peter’s ramblings of he and his best friend Ned’s adventures for just enough time to ask for the specific thing he preferred Peter to do today. Confirming it, Peter continued to babble about how one of the stable worker’s had kicked the two boys out after they had disturbed the horses, Peter not agreeing with this: “We just wanted to pet them, I swear! They were so cute and lovable!” Unlike their first hair styling session, now Bucky was humming in the right places and asking questions when Peter had to stop talking for a second to breathe. Bucky felt grateful for Peter’s friendship, he couldn’t express it to Peter yet but he knew the kid had helped him through the darkest moments when he forgot to do anything except the bare necessities while lost in the terrors that he couldn’t forget about, pulling him back with his rants and his positive personality.

When Peter finishes tying Bucky’s hair in a beautiful but simple chignon, tying the ribbon into a sleek bow, he runs out the door with an “I have to go, Ned and I are going to feed the horses!” Bucky laughs out loud at his words, knowing that no one could stay mad at Peter for more than a few days, the horse caretaker must have forgiven the boys a long time ago. As the door slams shut behind Peter’s retreating back, still chuckling Bucky stands up and goes to the farthest corner of the room, to look into the bronze framed mirror which he has all but hidden. He doesn’t like admitting it but Bucky doesn’t feel comfortable looking at his reflection. The way the war had changed him, physically and mentally, still takes him by surprise, sometimes when he walks by reflective surfaces unexpectedly he is startled by the face looking back at him; his sullen eyes, now long hair and bigger, more masculine physique makes him think about the young socialite he once was, spending all his times in balls and outings with multiple people at a time. Now that the things he went through have changed him, none of those people cared enough about him to see how he’s doing; none of them were his true friends. Bucky has only now learned how uncaring people can be when he’s not the perfect aristocrat he used to be, when his reputation isn’t what it was because he risked his life for others and did what he had to to get home.

His eyes finally stop scanning his body and he turns his gaze to the handsome coiffure Peter had so kindly created for him. At last, he straightens out his clothes and makes his way to the halls, undisturbed this time, admiring the view from the numerous windows as he walks downstairs to the kitchens that are bristling with life. The first thing he had made sure when he came back was that his food was only taken to him when asked, he didn’t want the arrangement that he had before to continue, that someone would always come by and wake him up and that his food was always delivered to his quarters. Even though his sisters almost forced him to eat in the beginning, these days he can get his own food without worrying his older siblings; he knows he’s the lastborn, the baby to his sisters, and while he appreciates everything they do, he needs to feel in control of his life now, to choose what he eats, when he eats and where he enjoys his meals.

That’s why as he walks in through the double doors, he knows everyone at least by face and a few even greet him with a simple nod or a quiet “Good morning Your Highness”. Though the one he is the closest to is Peter’s aunt May, May Parker, perhaps the sweetest and kindest woman Bucky has met outside his own immediate family. Their conversation is short because of her unending hurry and his inability to still hold decent interactions while being comfortable, however, she manages to quickly point him towards the freshly baked scones that are cooling of in the racks by the wall. Bucky continues his new custom, taking out a metal serving tray that May always fills with the crockery he usually needs. Additionally, the tray always holds a flower, different almost every day. Bucky has never asked about the flowers, assuming that May just wants to brighten his day and picks a flower at random from the palace gardens, but appreciating the gesture all the same. He had gotten a flower daily from almost the beginning of their unspoken settlement. Bucky had saved every single one; first putting them in a dazzling glass vase while they’re fresh, presenting it in front of his in his bedroom. Then when the flowers start to wither, he dries them, displaying them on a parade place on one of the walls in his chambers. Grabbing two scones, some fruit and newly brewed tea, he settles everything he has on his tray, continuing his way out of the stuffy kitchen.

Back in the falls, Bucky makes a spontaneous decision to eat in the garden for once. It’s the beginning of summer, he knows it’s warm enough even in his unformal attire to enjoy a moment in the sunshine. Before he makes his way outside, he decides to go first to the library and take a book with him to accompany him while he eats. He does this almost daily, eating in the library or his room, the lack of books there not a problem in the least. In the library, he opens the door slowly with his elbow and setts the tray on a nearby table with care. He walks up the stairs second time that day and chooses one of the books on the table that he had taken wanted to read before, always keeping a small collection there where he can easily move on to the next book without pause. Taking another adventure story he had found intriguing, he carries it down normally and opens the door. Then he has to place the book between his bicep and his side, so he can situate the tray on his whole arm, from the elbow to the tips of his fingers. Managing this, he pushes the door closed with his hip as he leaves, finally able to go start the short journey to the extensive gardens.

Nearing one of the doors at the back of the castle, Bucky briefly wonders if he has to put everything down again to be able to open them, he knows that he could just shout and surely someone working there would hear him. He doesn’t really feel like that’s what he should do and thankfully he doesn’t need to worry about finding a table; just as he’s reaching the outside doors, a small figure comes from another hallway and exits the doors, leaving them open accidentally for just the moment it takes Bucky to slip through them. Signing in relief, he stops and takes in the sight, a vast sea of flowers of all colours, hedges, trees and gravel roads leaving deeper into the garden. There’s also a pond a little further, out of sight from where he is situated but he always likes to admire it from his spot high in the library. Unfamiliar with most of the garden, Bucky decides to step off in the direction of the large pond, knowing that there are beautiful trees he could sit under, spend the morning nibbling on his food and reading a hopefully another brilliant book.

as he ventures deeper and deeper into the depths of the well-kept nature, appreciating everything his eyes can see as he goes, Bucky spares a thought to the gardeners that must work hard to keep the space looking the way it is. He passed a few of them during his walk, all of them too busy in their toil to pay attention to a lonely prince walking by. Before, he didn’t care about quotidian things like the nature he has always been surrounded by, too busy thinking about everything and everyone else to spare it a second thought. Now though, as he sits down beneath a magnificent apple tree, its flower blooming bright white, equal to the colour of the flower on his breakfast tray, he couldn’t feel more at peace, his body finally relaxing, his mind at rest. Bucky settles the tray on the ground dropping the book in the process. As he makes himself comfortable on the cut grass, he lifts the book, placing the flower May must have picked for him ontop the novel. A gardenia, he remembers as he marvels at the pleasing simplicity the sole flower possesses. He smiles to himself and closes his eyes still holding the flower gently in his hand, he needs to get himself together and thank May for these little but surprisingly cheering gifts he has received.

Shaking the pleasant thoughts out of his mind, Bucky props the novel against his bent legs and starts eating his breakfast. The scones and the tea have cooled down a little in all of his hassles, but Bucky doesn’t let that ruin his mood, his left arm at last feeling more numb than painful and the environment, the smells and the peaceful sounds of birds, the wind and distant discussions making him relax even further against the old bark. Suddenly, he hears a sound to his left, his heading whipping in that direction as a reflect before his mind can even understand what it is that’s happening. Bucky scans the area with his eyes, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, only the same flowers, hedges and trees that were there when he arrived. Eventually, Bucky concludes that it must have been an animal, a rabbit or a squirrel perhaps a bigger bird of a sort. Consciously trying to relax his now tense muscles, he rolls his shoulders and continues reading, taking bites out his scones and sips of the vanilla tea while carefully making sure nothing drops or drips on the book.