Snow was falling as she stepped out into the gardens. Already in covered the ground in a thick blanket of white, and still more fat flakes were drifting down, sparkling in the light of the lanterns.

She left her retainers at the door, striding slowly along the paths. The cobblestone mosaics were hidden under the snow, and the sweeping hem of her robe didn’t move nearly enough to make those patterns visible again; still, she had walked these paths more times than she could count, and in snow or summer, under sun or moon or stars, she could always find her way.

Beyond the stone walls, the city never slept. Here, though, all was tranquil and still. Not even birds disturbed the perfect silence of the night.

Some pious soul among the staff had kept the brazier at the shrine burning; she didn’t even need to break the silence with a flint striker. Slowly, carefully, reverently, she lifted a few nodules of incense from their box and scattered them amongst the coals, drawing in a deep breath of aromatic smoke.

Tomorrow was soon enough for what must be done; she could leave aside worrying over the lives her decisions would touch, until then. This, here in the gardens, was her time; time to seek peace and serenity, time to pay her quiet respects to her predecessors. May she learn from their folly and take forward only their wisdom.

Moment by moment, breath after breath, the night crept by. The snow stopped falling, save for tufts of it dislodged from tree branches by an errant breeze. Then even that breeze ebbed, and for a few exquisite moments, all was still.

She stood there at the shrine until the incense had been wholly burned and the coals were starting to cool, and only then, reluctantly, did she break the silence to stoke the brazier again. With the embers fanned back to life, she continued her walk.

She passed by the pond, its surface long frozen. It, like the paths, was obscured by snow, but she could see the shape of it in the absence of arbours and trellises. She passed vines that, not so long ago, had been heavy with flowers, but now stood brown and barren, dormant, waiting for the warmth of springtime. She passed under an arch that, in the summer, had never wanted for songbirds to perch upon it, lending colour and sound to their surroundings.

All was quiet and still, now; all was dull where the snow did not cover. But it would be a profound error to call it lifeless. Roots and seeds waited under the snow; beneath the ice on the pond, small creatures took shelter in the mud, and they too waited for warmer seasons.

The garden was not dead; it merely rested. This was its proper season for tranquillity.

Her troubles, too, would pass. Happier times would come like the spring thaws. Perhaps even with them.

She came back to the door, pausing on the threshold to admire the moon, in full view now that the snow had stopped. Its gentle gleam spilled over the land, soft and beautiful.

Bowing her head to the Mother Moon, she passed indoors to seek her proper rest at last.