Prologue

All it would take, I realized suddenly, was a strong blow here or a sharp weapon there and the human could die. Easily.

But I. I was different.

My stone body, both beautiful and artistic, was not so easily injured. Yet a simple fall would crush it beyond recognition.

I realized that the young human boy would be killed if that big human boy did actually stab him with the knife.

"HEY!" I shouted, standing in front of the oh-so-familiar younger human boy to protect his weak body from the sharp blade. "What do you think you're doing?"

Thankfully my paint had been realistic enough and the artist hadn't made my hair green or else it would have been most difficult to explain my appearance. As it was, I looked normal enough.

The human boy, the one holding the knife, paused. "You little idiot, I'll do what I'll please on my own turf! Now back off!" He menaced me with the blade.

I laughed, truly tickled at the idea that he meant to hurt me. "You can't harm me." I said, crossing my arms.

"Oh really?" The boy sliced at my face with the knife and the sound of stone dulling iron screeched and squealed.

All I had was a small- hardly noticeable- scratch.

"Come, come, and is that the best you can do?" I teased, laughing at him harder.

He stared at me, dumbfounded. But then his anger returned. He lifted the blade again and stabbed with all his might. Again, the screech of blade upon stone reached our ears.

I sighed in mixed sorrow. "You try so hard but only to kill. What a pity." I pivoted on my heel and smashed my foot into his face. He went down and fell flat.

He didn't rise.

I turned to the human boy, who was standing behind me in shock. "What are you?" He asked.

I realized what I had done. I couldn't believe it. I had shown him what I really was!

I turned and ran. I ran and ran and ran, despite the danger of falling. I had to get away. He couldn't see me again. Not like this.

Unfortunately for me, the human boy did know where I lived. Naturally he would, he also lived in the same house I did.

But I lived in the garden. And a beautiful garden it was too.

It was full of life- plant, animal, and live beings. The fish in the fountain that swam with the little nymphs that talked to me at night, the birds that shared the trees with fairies, the little glass men that turned funny colors when they changed emotion, dragonflies that were a hassle to the fairies- what with the fairy/dragonfly war that had been raging for years but was now only tradition rather than warfare and the fact that the dragonflies only bothered the fairies when they were bored- and the resident gnome that resided over the garden kingdom.

I was no ordinary statue, mind you. I was different from my cousins the gargoyles that guarded the fine castle walls and terraces; I was stuck in my garden without seeing what happened during the day. I was alone, in my own little world.

Sure, the other creatures could talk and move about, but few of us wanted to go outside the walls. Only the gnome and dragonflies went out.

As the guardian over the peaceful little garden, I was honor-bound to remain there.

But I tired of standing in the same position day after day, week after week, month after month. So that was why I had followed the young heir to the garden, as well as the house connected to the realm I presided over, outside into the city.

And I had saved him. But what to do now?!

I went to my pedestal, under the fairies' tree, and took my position, gazing out at the general area of the garden.

I had just returned to my position when he burst into the garden.

He ran up to me and stared hard. He just stood there, staring. I give him full credit; he almost did as well as I. But I had more practice. Twenty years in the same position is a hard record to beat. (Unless you were a dead human and I was a statue. I could beat any human.)

I had watched the heir grow, every year. I remembered the first year, when he was still a small little bundle of chubby legs, rotund body, and round face containing a snub nose and big round eyes. Then there was the second year as he stumbled around and ate the grass. I almost had a heart attack when he stuck our gnome, Groff, into his mouth. Thankfully Groff didn't hurt the young master, simply wriggled around and yelled until the young master put him down amidst a pile of shrubs and ash.

His third and fourth years were similar, only he had taken a liking to me. He found my calm and quiet presence comforting and would play at my feet. The glass men, having seen Groff's education, stayed away but the young master had learned enough to not do anything so silly and watched over the garden with me for another two years.

His sixth year, though, he took an extreme liking to books. He would read on the terrace, his brown hair almost hiding his blue eyes from me as he deciphered the words on the page.

Sometimes he would look at me, as though he knew I could understand, but then he would smile and return his attention back to the book.

Other days he would talk to me. He would tell me all about his books. "This book is my favorite, Statue." He would say and show it to me. Then he'd sit on the ground and read it out loud to me.

One day, though, he decided that Statue was not good enough a name. "What do you want to be called, Statue? It doesn't fit!" He said firmly.

I almost smiled at his words, what a struggle it was to keep my face fixed in my normal expression.

"I think I shall call you Rhyme. For the heroine in my book." He said, smiling. "She was awful pretty and awful smart. Just like you. I bet you're as brave as she was." He said leaning against my knee.

What a dear little boy he was. His name was Gregory.

Then he went to school. I didn't see him many days, only every five days and then only a few occasions would he be able to spare a moment to come and play in the garden. His visits grew slow and my days as supreme guardian and friend to him faded in comparison to the world that lay before him.

So I started to make quiet journeys into the city myself, to see what it was that kept my dear master away. It was a shock, I can tell you, seeing how many people there were in the world outside of my garden.

I wandered around and found my way back to the garden by nightfall but only Groff had noticed my absence. "Rhyme, where were you?" He asked, quietly. It wouldn't do to wake the young master.

"I went into the city, Groff. You wouldn't believe how many people are out there! It's amazing!" I whispered, excited.

But Groff's face had grown stern in the moonlight. "I have seen the city, Rhyme, and it's not our place. Our place is here, in the garden. We protect the creatures and the children as they grow up here. Once they are out in the city, they have grown up. They don't need us." He said, sadly. "You must stay here. Our young master will grow up, he will go find himself a wife, become the master, and then there will be a new young master to take care of. That is our life, Rhyme."

I looked down at my friend, sadly. I knew he was right.

Yet I had gone and followed Gregory. The whole knife and alley scene was undoubtedly real.

Now, I stood under the young master's gaze. Motionless.

"Rhyme?" He whispered, his brow hiding his eyes from the moonlight. Yet I could see my reflection in them. "Was that you?" He whispered.

I wanted to move, I wanted to do something. Anything.

He turned away. "No." He said, shaking his head. "It couldn't be. You're a statue!" He turned back to face me, hesitant.

I almost smiled. Yes, I was a statue. But I had a heart. I had feelings. I cared for my young master.

Then he threw up his hands. "I'm just scared, that's what it is! Just scared out of my mind!" He walked to the fountain, put his hands in,- no doubt scaring both the fish and nymphs, they'd let me know about that before he was out of earshot-, threw water into his face and he sighed.

He looked up at the sky, closing his eyes. "I need to go to bed." He muttered.

I watched as he turned and left. I sighed as he turned and headed towards the house. But then he stopped.

He turned slowly, walking deliberately towards me. He got up close, so close that I could see every inch of his face. Then his eyes went to my cheek.

I almost winced. There was a faint scratch of gray beneath my paint.

Then he looked at my neck, where the splinter had been gouged out by the knife. His finger traced it reverently.

"Rhyme, I know you saved me. I don't know how, I don't know why. But thank you." He said, softly. "You can understand me. I know you can. I always knew it. As a child." He stepped back, a bit.

I knew that I should stay still. I should. But I couldn't. I turned and looked at him. He stood there, his eyes wide in wonder. "How?" He asked, softly.

I shook my head. "I don't know, young master. I don't know."

"Why haven't you moved before?" He asked.

"Because I didn't want to scare you." I said, looking down at my feet. "I know that you are human and I a statue, but I watched you grow up. I wanted to see what the world had that I didn't. And I saw. I saw it all. It's so beautiful and scary." I said, sadly.

I sat down and wrapped my arms around my legs.

Gregory sat down next to me. "Rhyme, I left the garden because I am growing up. I have to learn how to make my own way in this world so that the garden is here for you. Do you understand?" He asked.

I nodded, sadly. I knew what he was saying, in his own way. The young master was saying goodbye. I felt a stone tear roll down my face to shatter on the ground like my own heart. "I understand."

Gregory put his hand on my shoulder. "I will always visit you, Rhyme." He leaned against me, the way he used to. "I promise."

"And you'll talk to me?" I asked, swallowing more tears.

"I will. Every chance I get."

I nodded. "Good. You better. Or else you'll have to find another statue to watch your stinky garden." I sniffed, wiping at my face.

"As if you'd leave." Gregory chuckled, putting an arm around me.

I laughed with him. We both knew I could never leave. He kissed my forehead and stood up. "Thank you, Rhyme." He said again, helping me stand. "I won't forget it."

And then he was gone.

The years went by. Gregory kept his promises, he came and visited me every chance he could. Then his father died and Gregory became the master. Then I got to meet his wife. Gregory made a special visit to the garden with her, to propose.

My young master had grown up.

More years went by and before we knew it, there was another young master.

He was small at first. A small chubby round bundle of big brown eyes, tiny feet, little hands, and dark brown hair. Then he grew.

And sometimes, when he was playing in the garden with his dad, he would look at me the same way his father had before.

One day, when the young master was six years old, he asked his father a question. "Dad, do you think Rhyme can understand us?" He asked, looking at me.

Gregory, now much older and much wiser, cocked his head. "Why do you ask, son?"

"Because sometimes I think she's watching us. Does she know what we are talking about?" He asked.

Gregory looked at me, smiling. "I like to think she does. What do you think?"

The young master nodded. "I know she does."

And you know, I understood every word they did and didn't say.