The Observatory lay just outside the fortified town, but the monks had erected their own grand wall complete with spikes and a guarded gatehouse. Before the gate Leanna pulled Prickle to a halt, the reigns jingled and the bird honked in protest. Her eyes grew large and her breath stilled in her chest.
The first thing she noticed was the water. There were pools and steams everywhere inside the walls. Insects the colour of precious stones buzzed lazily from pool to pool in the fading evening light. The grass was a short and neat carpet of green spears. Only walkways of bright white stone broke the ordered green perfection.
Small bushes immaculately pruned, grew around the edges of the pools and grass. One or two took pride of place in the middle of the lawn. These shrubs had leaves of deep red, orange and purple.
Insect wings sang and blended into a harmony with the songbirds twilight song.
Fish, some bigger than she would find in her father’s nets, glided beneath the surface of the water. Their ghostly white heads occasionally broke the surface to snap at the bright creatures that flew too close.
The humid air was heavy with the scent of the white globe-shaped flowers that bloomed on many of the bushes. Here and there artfully scattered, were moss covered rocks and stones. Some were as large as the passhara Leanna sat astride.
The place seemed to have an aura of peace and ease about it.
At the centre was a domed building of white stone that almost glowed in the dwindling light. The dome was rather like an upturned eggshell. Perfectly smooth, with not even windows to mar its flawlessness.
“I am willing to wager,” said Frez’s voice from behind her. “That you have never seen a pleasure garden before?”
Leanna did not bother to reply. She was watching a tiny frog that had just leapt out of a pool. It shuffled its webbed feet, blinked its golden eyes twice then puffed out its throat to sing the most extraordinary song.
She laughed at the frog, delighted.
“What is all this for?” she asked, gesturing to the garden.
“Relaxing in,” said Frez, now standing alongside her bird. “These gardens grow no food. They are to make people smile.”
Leanna beamed down at the top of Frez’s shaggy blond head. The gardens were truly remarkable and were pleasing to her northern eyes.
“You will see plenty of such when you get to the palace,” said Frez with amusement. She guessed her reaction was probably endearing to one who had been in the empire for cycles rather than the few short subs she had spent as an imperial. “If you think these gardens beautiful, you will be enchanted by the ones in the palace.” He suddenly tipped his head up to fix his blue eyes on her. “It is considered rude to talk to someone who is on foot while you are mounted,” he scolded.
Leanna added this to her growing metal list of things that offended Imperials. Once dismounted one of the novices of the order moved gracefully up a path towards them. Her white garments and elegant carriage reminded Leanna strongly of the fish in the pools.
“I’m a baymans daughter,” she thought to herself. “Everything for me will always be about pissing fish!”