Lucy Lavender and the Topiary City, by Julie-Ann MacCulloch

Lucy Lavender and the Topiary City, by Julie-Ann MacCulloch (Fiction & Literature)

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'Well, it seems like a good idea Papa,' said Lucy hesitantly. 'But those are your dreams, they're not mine. I don't share your vision and I don't need any cut flowers!'
'But why not Lucy?' asked Yodel.
'Because,' she explained, 'we have been farmers for many years — this we know. But we don't know anything about fruit trees or flowers. This is dry land, and even the poorest farmer knows that nothing can ever survive without ... '
'Yes Lucy,' said Yodel, listening intently.
' ... without water, Papa,' said Lucy, uneasily.

Excerpt from Lucy Lavender and the Topiary City

 

Lucy Lavender is the lavender girl from the Village of Auld. A place where people have plant personas, and plants have people personas. When a relentless drought brings about a shortage of water, village life is changed forever. Falsely accused of a crime she did not commit, Lucy must learn The Art and fulfill her role as the caretaker of lavender and all living things to bring her accusers to justice.

It is a dry land where sunflowers thrive but even sunflowers are struggling to survive a drought. Enter Lucy Lavender who lives a carefree existence where her family live off the land producing lavender. When Lucy's father Yodel, dreams a dream to start a fruit farm, the seeds of greed are sown. The success of the fruit farm soon attracts the attention of Lucy's cousin, the ambitious and ruthless — Santolina.


Santolina quickly seizes control of Yodel's mind, the village and its people. But without sufficient water, the fruit farm is doomed to fail. Lucy's life is changed forever when she is falsely accused by Santolina of starting a fire that razes the village to the ground. In that fire, her father Yodel, perishes.


Lucy escapes the village but with the lavender gone, Lucy's spirit — her mauve — is diminished. Lucy mourns her beloved father's death, but unbeknown to her, the spirit of lavender has passed from Yodel to her — from father to daughter. So regain her broken spirit and rebuild her strength, she must. With the help of her friends Bungee and Harley, she learns The Art. The Art is not only a way of protecting herself and others from harm, but also a guide to spiritual well-being; building inner-strength.


Set to return to the village, Lucy meets Budwin, a dishevelled servant of the Queen of Roses. When Budwin tells his story of the Queen's disappearance, a strange woman who hungers for water and the arrival of strange lilies, the trio agree to head to the wasteland headquarters of the Arum King. There they find the Queen and attempt to return her to her land.


But meanwhile, Santolina has been putting plans into action. With the help of her designer friend Figgo, she has destroyed Cracklewood (the Queen's cottage), taken ownership of her land, and the water contained thereon and set the villagers to work; building the oppressive Topiary City, and for herself — a magnificent palace.


Soon, Lucy finds herself in a windowless room held captive in the Topiary City and about to be beheaded as she is still Wanted as the firestarter who razed the village to the ground. To prove her innocence, she must reunite with her friends Bungee and Harley, negate the maze that surrounds Santolina's palace and the creatures within it, and bring Santolina to justice.

Welcome to Lucy Lavender's planted world filled with sunflowers, roses, lilies, impatiens, a stoneboy, mad mascots, and much, much, more ...

From: Lucy Lavender and the Topiary City, by Julie-Ann MacCulloch

Chapter 1

1 The Purple World

LUCY Lavender buried her face deep into the bobbins of a lavender bush. She gave the bush a big hug as she inhaled its scent. As she did, a single bobbin broke from the bush and lodged between her fingers. She gently rolled the bobbin between her palms, and then tucked it behind her ear. She sniffed at her hands. The waft she got was like that of camphor and cloves, fennel and spices.

‘Mmmm lavender,’ she sighed. How its distinctive smell made her feel wholesome and good.

Like a neatly planted field, her hair grew in cornrows of braided lavender. She didn't wear clothes as such, just a lavender-style skirt and bodice. On the outside of her skirt hung a pocket. It was shaped like a small pumpkin and closed with a drawstring top. Bronzed and baked by the sun, her skin glistened in the heat like honey; buckwheat honey – a honey that looks black, but when held up to the light is purple.

Clapping her hands in time with a made-up chant, she extended her fingers out towards the surrounding fields and let them tremble – it was as if she were trying to receive some important spiritual message. From all around her, and as far as the eye could see, there were fields of lavender.

High up in the sky, a corpulent and shortsighted bee called Zzub Zzub looked down upon this strange purple world. He was happily surfing the airwaves when a tear in his wing forced him to make a landing. As the ground quickly approached, he looked down. At first the earth appeared all foggy – like the grizzly grey of an overcast day. But then the grey gave way to a baby blue, and the baby blue became a hazy hue, until it deepened and intensified and became amethystine – the colour of lavender.

‘Sweet bee-jee-sus,’ exclaimed Zzub Zzub, ‘it's bee-u-tiful!’

A heady fragrance filled his tiny olfactories. It made him feel cosy and warm, as if something nice had swallowed him up. Little did he know that he was slowly succumbing to the soporific effects of a special scent. It was a scent he'd never smelt before, and was quite unlike any other snuff. It was making him feel sleepy – so sleepy that he was in danger of falling asleep at the helm.

Lucy Lavender poked her tongue out at the sun in defiance of the relentless heat that had brought about a drought. She punched the air with her fists, jumped up high and shrieked out loud, knowing there was no one around to hear her. Then, laughing at her own silliness, she threw herself down between the rows of lavender and let the warm sun beat against her closed eyelids.

Slowly she fell asleep. That's when Zzub Zzub crash-landed smack dab in the centre of the firm rubber mattress that was Lucy's cheek. She'd been hidden by lavender as she lay sleeping, and he'd been saved quite by accident.

‘Wheee!’ he cried, as he bounced up into the air and onto the ground. ‘Where am I?’ he demanded, a little stunned as he nursed a bump to his head. ‘And who are you? Or more to the point – what are you?’ He immediately started bombarding Lucy with the sorts of questions that don't always get friendships off to a good start.

Lucy took no notice of the pushy little bee. She was slowly rousing from her afternoon siesta and yawned loudly, not bothering to put her hand over her mouth.

‘Oh, how rude,’ said Zzub Zzub, taking exception to her casual manner. ‘You must be to blame for this purple world,’ he said, waving his stubby arms around at the surrounding fields. ‘Anyway, I must be a bee short of a hive. Here I am talking to you – whatever you are – and … well, just what are you?’

At first, Lucy did not dignify the bee's bossy questions with a response.

‘Oh just forget it then,’ he said. ‘But I hold you directly responsible for me nearly falling asleep at the helm and being forced to land here. And for this …'he added, pointing to his head, ‘… this nasty bump to my head!’

Lucy flashed a look at the bumptious little bee. She stretched her arms up to the sky and then sprung to her feet.

‘Well, it wouldn't be due to the tear in your wing now, would it?’ she said, rising to the challenge. ‘And after all, you crashed into me. And to answer your other silly question, isn't it obvious? I'm a girl – a lavender girl.’

Zzub Zzub leapt back in fright at Lucy's response. It wasn't what he'd been expecting. He placed his hands on his hips (if you could call them that, because really, bees don't have any) and paced up and down.

What a strange sort of thing-a-me, he thought. And a girl!

What Zzub Zzub didn't realise was that Lucy was studying him closely and did not want to make friends quickly with a total stranger.

He decided not to give up and fly off just yet, and put a thoughtful finger to his black lips. He puffed out his chest and bravely extended his hand in an attempt to shake hers, but was still unsure whether he'd meet with a friendly response.

‘I'm Zzub Zzub,’ he said. ‘That's buzZ spelt backwards.’

‘Well, that's a mighty fine name for a bee. I'm Lucy Lavender and I'm pleased to meet you.’

Lucy selected a braid of her lavender-locks and bent very low to the ground to extend it to Zzub Zzub. He took it in his tiny black sprig of a hand and shook it.

‘Don't you love the Marshwood?’ she said. ‘It's a new sort of lavender. Not like the old, oil producing lavender of Auld, but pretty all the same, don't you think?’

Not wanting to disappoint his new friend, Zzub Zzub looked at the tear in his wing, and then did his best to fly onto a bush of Marshwood lavender. He pretended to take a keen interest.

‘They look like miniature purple pineapples. And they're soft and plump like caterpillars.’

Lucy giggled at Zzub Zzub's description.

Each mauve-coloured flower consisted of tiny bracts that overlapped towards the base like fallen dominoes. Each bract was shaped like a crown and was partnered by the tiniest trumpet-shaped petal.

‘I call them the Flower of Fours,’ said Lucy.

‘Why's that?’ asked Zzub Zzub.

‘Because,’ she explained, ‘each lavender bobbin has four rows of bracts, four veins that make up the fuzzy green stem and four feathers that stick out of the top.’

How fascinating, thought Zzub Zzub. Fancy that … a Flower of Fours. He'd never thought that deeply about flowers before, and discovered to his surprise that he found Lucy's description most interesting. An excellent choice of friend, he thought – and the whole thing had happened quite by accident. He pictured himself day after fabulous day, cruising the lavender bushes, gathering pollen, sleeping out on the bushes at night, too zonked to fly home, when Lucy burst out laughing.

‘What is it?’ asked Zzub Zzub.

‘You'd have to be one of the fattest bees I've ever seen,’ she said.

‘I'm cuddly,’ said Zzub Zzub. ‘And certainly not fat.’

‘You're so fat I'm surprised you can get off the ground!’

‘Am not!’ snapped Zzub Zzub. ‘Caterpillars are the fat ones. Bumblebees are jolly. All caterpillars do is eat and eat, until they're so fat that all they're good for is being a soft doughy treat for birds. Why do you think they call them caterpillars?’

But Lucy wasn't listening. She was looking around for her family. They'd been out working the lavender fields and had already made their way back to the village without her. She knew that her mother thought of her as – ahem – lazy and spoilt, displeasing and headstrong, and quite often the most difficult child, and wasted no time on her. But her father, on the other hand, had a soft spot for his youngest child. He saw her as playful and fun-loving, and thought her spirited nature was just a great love of freedom and the outdoors. But Lucy suspected that even he had resigned himself to thinking that she was a ne'er-do-well, and had all but given up on her.

Understandably, Lucy knowing that her family held little hope for her, made her less ambitious to want to prove herself. But she was inclined to forgive them, especially since she knew they were largely influenced by what she regarded as a force of nature, like an unpredictable wind roughing up a peaceful landscape – her cousin, the indomitable Santolina.

Santolina was a strong and wilful woman much older than Lucy, who regarded Lucy as nothing more than a mere anther of pollen. She commanded attention wherever she went and seemed to have everyone under her spell. It was as if she'd added something to the aulden peoples’ water, a sort of, “Do as I say” serum, or peppered their salads with a devotion potion as the villagers would corral around her, handing over their babies for a blessing, laying precious possessions at her feet, or sometimes even, just giving her whatever they had – be it only a meal of oil and bread.

Knowing this, Lucy promised herself that one day things would be different. That one day, she'd earn the respect of her parents, as what she suspected to be true - was true; that Santolina was a person to be feared – not followed.

As quick as a flash, Lucy caught a ripe tomato from a nearby plant before it hit the ground. The plant had self-seeded there and had become a jungle of hairy leaves and bulging fleshy red fruit. Lucy bit into it heartily, letting the watery juices run down her chin. When she had finished, she hurled the core away as far as she could. A group of little birds finished off the remains.

Skipping in and out of the lavender bushes, she began to hum a tune to herself. It was something she liked to do when there was no one around to hear her – except for Zzub Zzub that was.

But he was a bee, and so thought of humming as a most acceptable pastime. As he buzzed from bush to bush, accidentally flying backwards because of the tear in his wing, he made a low rumbling ‘zzub zzub’ sound – and that's the sound that bumblebees make when they're content and happy.

Lucy bobbed the heads of the lavender bushes with her fingertips as she skipped. They knocked together like chimes, alerting Zzub Zzub to the direction in which she was heading.

‘Lucy, Lucy, wait for me!’ he cried. He tweaked his antennae, tacked in behind her, and tried to keep up, despite the tear in his wing.

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