“Come on, Rosethorn. The early bird catches the worm,” Lark remarked with a touch too much patience. She was walking down the path in front of Discipline, half dragging her shorter friend.
“But the early worm gets eaten,” Rosethorn retorted with a snort, stumbling down the path to the front gate. She fingered through her stubborn auburn hair, sure she would bend it to her will by the time they reached Hub. “I feel more the worm than the bird presently.”
“Then I’m the early bird and I’ve caught you with every intention of brining you to the Hub despite the hour,” Lark replied with a small smile tugging at her lips. The conversation only served to increase her gait and thus her disgruntled companion’s.
“This—,” Rosethorn stated with a small frown, “—is a lose-lose situation.”
“I don’t see it that way,” the optimist responded simply. Rosethorn groaned.
“Goose,” she said with a glare toward Lark. Her eyes were sleep-filled. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes with her fists, she asked, “Why are we going to the Hub so early, anyway?”
“We’re having a visitor,” Lark replied swiftly, dragging her friend out the gate before closing and latching it shut behind them. When she saw the look on the other Earth Dedicate’s face—a thoughtful frown followed by a glare—she went on. “Willowwater is coming by.”
“Willowwater comes by weekly with the dim-witted mistakes of the Water Temple residents. What makes today feast-worthy?” balked Rosethorn, miffed. She crossed her arms over her chest as she was further dragged down the winding path of Winding Circle Temple’s namesake. “I don’t see why we couldn’t wait until breakfast to have this conversation with Gorse. He’ll be busy, today of all days.”
Lark just smiled. “I wouldn’t have had time to get the food just before Willowwater comes; if I had ordered it from kitchen last night it would have gone bad by now. Besides, Willow didn’t set an exact time. She’s just coming ‘around breakfast’.”
“Very like her,” Rosethorn remarked gruffly, huffing once and scowling the rest of the journey to the Hub. The sun was hours away from rising.
When the two Dedicates reached the Hub, Lark instructed Rosethorn to wait outside and she was happy—or, less vexed—to do so. She settled a few yards away from the main entrance, sitting with her legs out straight and her back against the wall. With her last thought of the tents and tables rising with the diligent work of the Dedicate and Novice volunteers, she began to nap.
[ --- ||| --- ]
“I have a short period when I’m not busy directly after lunch. Most of the kitchen staff get an hour-long break to visit friends after we serve lunch. I’ll make you your feast then,” Gorse said, leaning against one of the kitchen walls. He was smiling down at Lark. He winked before continuing, “I’ll even deliver it myself, after I wrap up dinner. The Novices are serving so I’ll be free ‘till cleanup. How young will she be?”
“Thirty. I’m quite sure she’s forgotten it’s her self-proclaimed birthday altogether in our hasty awakening, so this could work. She’s probably napping outside as we speak,” Lark responded with a wide smile. “Thank you for the help! I couldn’t pull this off without you.”
“She deserves it,” the large man stated, turning around briefly. After some shuffling he faced Lark again, two large baskets in his grasp. He made them look weightless. “Shall I call for a Novice to help you?”
“No, thank you. I’ll recruit Rosie to help me carry one; you need all of your staff to prepare for the upcoming day,” Lark answered firmly, taking a basket in each arm. She kept the strain from her features; the baskets were indeed heavier than Gorse made them appear. “Again, thank you. I’ll return the baskets before lunch.”
Gorse smiled reassuringly down at Lark. He placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently before letting up. “Don’t worry about it.”
With one last smile toward the generous man, Lark left the kitchen. Ahe scanned the area as she walked out the main entrance. At last she found what she was looking for: the rolled up form of Rosethorn as she slept soundly. Lark smirked as she sauntered over and carefully settled the heavy baskets next to Rosethorn on both side.
“Wake up, love. It’s time to go home,” Lark cooed, caressing the plant mage’s cheek gently with her thumb. Rosethorn stirred, yawning and rubbing her eyes. After a proper stretch she opened her deep-mulch eyes and gazed directly into the Lark’s chocolaty gaze; Rosethorn temporarily forgot her upset.
“Mmm…that was quick,” she announced sleepily. It was then she noticed the rather large and hefty-looking baskets. Her face fell. “I suppose you want me to—,” yawn, “—carry those?”
“Just one. I’ll hold the other,” Lark answered as she picked up the basket to Rosethorn’s right. “Watch out: they’re heavy. It’s all of the food for breakfast and lunch.”
“I noticed,” Rosethorn commented with a scowl directed toward the food-filled basket in her arms. Before she could ask, ‘What about dinner?’ Lark was already speaking.
“You know, you really do look like an adorable little bear when you’re sleeping,” Lark teased, inertly sighing of relief that she had stopped Rosethorn from asking the obvious question. She had to be more careful with her speech.
“I do not. Bears are fierce and strong, and so am I,” the ‘bear’ retorted, making a face and growling. The two dedicates laughed as they continued down the path.
“Well, you certainly don’t look adorable when you do that,” Lark remarked, still grinning—and fibbing. This was the Rosethorn she loved to be with most. The plant mage wasn’t known for being much of a jester, but she did have a sense of humor, albeit a dry sense. Lark loved it when her friend joked.
“Good. I might just have to keep that face so you remember,” Rosethorn replied, walking closer to Lark. In an instant the shorter woman stood up on the balls of her feet and pecked Lark on the cheek. Neither woman was sure exactly why, but they did know that there was an infectious good mood in the air. Lark blushed and smiled; Rosethorn returned to her normal character.
“In the words of one Dedicate Rosethorn, ‘Goose.’” Both friends chuckled at that.
[ --- ||| --- ]
It was an hour after breakfast at the Hub that there was a knock at the door. Both women looked up from where they were setting the last parts of breakfast. When they glanced at each other Lark nearly cringed; Rosethorn had a look on her face that clearly screamed, ‘She’s your problem: you get the door.’ Lark did so without hesitation.
Before Lark could even utter a greeting, the visitor—the water Dedicate Willowwater—spoke in an excited tone: “I have excellent news!”
“I’m glad. Please come in,” Lark replied with a smile and opened the door further. Willow nearly skipped inside. When she saw Rosethorn’s expression and noticed that one could nearly see her steaming, the water Dedicate asked her question in a whisper.
“What’s got her water in a whirlpool?”
“I didn’t tell her you were coming until I woke her abruptly early this morning,” Lark whispered back. When she received Rosethorn’s enraged glare for being kept out of the conversation, Lark coughed nervously. In her customary, lithe voice she added aloud, “Breakfast is ready.”
Rosethorn brought the last plate of food—small pastries glazed in a honey and cinnamon sauce—to the table. “This—,” she said and pointed to a chair at the end of the table, “—is my chair.”
Lark sighed and showed Willowwater to her chair. Rosie and Willowwater had never been remotely companionable, and their strained acquaintanceship had worsened as of late. Rosethorn hated Lark and Willow’s past, while Willowwater envied Lark and Rosethorn’s present.
Silence followed the blessing of the food as each selected what to put on her plate. Having had enough of the silence, Lark spoke. “So, what was that good news you spoke of earlier, Willow?”
The water Dedicate swallowed the sausage she had been chewing and gazed up at Lark. Willow’s eyes sparkled. “Dawnmist asked me to be with her! She said she had been waiting for Mi—,” she stopped abruptly. Lark had kicked her under the table.
“That’s excellent! She’s been talking about you nonstop for months,” Lark responded with a smile, ignoring the puzzled frown or glare Rosethorn must have been sending her over the table. “Isn’t it, Rosie?”
Rosethorn smirked and stabbed a blueberry with her fork. “Yes, indeed it is. Now you’ll be off Lark’s back.”
“Now Rosie, don’t be hostile. Willow is overjoyed; we don’t want to spoil her mood. She doesn’t deserve your thorns on such a happy day,” Lark scolded. Rosethorn looked down at her plate, mumbling. She clenched her teeth and Lark continued. “I hope you two weave a very happy life together, Willow.”
“Yes, happy life,” Rosethorn grumbled to her plate, not looking up.
“Thank you, both of you,” Willowwater said. She smiled at Lark and then turned to Rosethorn, glaring. “I wish the same for you two, as well,” she added in a grumble similar to Rosethorn’s.
Hours later Willowwater was gone, browsing the festival with Dawnmist. The Discipline women were still doing dishes, Rosethorn scowling at the plate in her hands. When she spoke, it was to her plate. “I don’t like that woman.”
Lark held a scowl that matched Rosethorn’s, a rare occurrence. It surprised even her. She spoke in an enraged whisper, “Why, Rosethorn? Is it because she had my love before you?”
Rosethorn winced visibly. That much was true, but she wouldn’t admit it so easily. This was a topic she hated arguing, even with her love for debates. “She’s a flake: she doesn’t use her head,” she replied at last. There was pain in her eyes; she looked away from Lark.
“You know that isn’t true. She is a Great Mage, same as yourself; you know that one cannot gain the title with magic alone: it takes intelligence as well. Why do you really hate her, Rosethorn? Why?” Lark pleaded, walking to Rosethorn. She could tell her friend was upset, and Lark was no longer angry.
Lark pressed her front against Rosethorn’s back, wrapping her arms around the shorter woman’s waist. When the plant mage sagged back against Lark, she rested her cheek against the back of Rosethorn’s hair.
“That is it, isn’t it? Rosie, I don’t love Willowwater the way I love you. Yes, I will always carry the tiniest of torches for her, as you do for Crane. But you, Rosethorn, have my heart and protect it gallantly with your thorns. I love you Rosie, always,” Lark whispered into Rosethorn’s hair, her breath warm and ticklish.
A tear trickled down Rosethorn’s cheek, dropping onto the plate in her hands. She put the plate back in the sink and impatiently wiped the tearstain away. For a moment she stood there, gripping the sink until her knuckles were white.
At last she turned in Lark’s arms and embraced her. Rosethorn rested her head against Lark’s collarbone. Lark ran her fingers through Rosethorn’s beloved chestnut hair and held her close, one arm around her waist and the other around her shoulders.
Rosethorn sobbed out a long-due release, her broad shoulders shaking. The dampness of her tears collected on Lark’s habit. Lark hummed in a low pitch, making her chest area vibrate. “It’s okay, love. Let it out.”
Rosethorn quieted and rested against Lark, wanting her warmth and support. After a few moments she spoke in a whisper, her voice compressed by the tightness of her throat. “I don’t want any more feelings for Crane—that arrogant dolt. I just get so worried you’ll go back to Willowwater. I’m still not used to love, not used to having it or receiving it; I’m used to battles of wits and lust based on egos. I love you, Lark. More than I’ve ever loved anything; it frightens me. All I’ve ever had to truly love were my plants and my birds. Now that I have you to love, I don’t want to lose you.”
“Shhh, shhh. You’re talking nonsense now. I wouldn’t dream of leaving you. Especially not for that fidget Willowwater. She is intelligent, but Mila is she ditzy. She has nothing on you,” Lark consoled, stroking Rosethorn’s cheek with her fingertips.
Rosethorn grinned at that, nuzzling into Lark. “And Crane can’t even get close. No comparison,” she said, her voice closer to its normal pitch.
They stood there for a long time, each too comfortable to part. Eventually, Lark whispered into Rosethorn’s hair, “How about we go and enjoy the festival, love?”
Rosethorn just nodded and reluctantly stepped out of Lark’s embrace.
[ --- ||| --- ]
The festival continued throughout the day; Lark and Rosethorn mingled through most of it. They never left each other’s sides and were nearly always found clasping hands. They took a break for lunch and ate a picnic up on the wall next to the sea.
The Discipline women were at one point cajoled into a dancing competition. Despite Rosethorn’s annoyance at being forced—as she saw it—into the competition, the couple did quite well. They beat Niko--visiting for the week—and Moonstream; Rosethorn couldn’t but brag about that.
The rest of the evening followed pretty uneventfully, give or take a few outbursts and arguments. At dinnertime Lark and Rosethorn made their way back home.
“When are we eating dinner?” Rosethorn inquired, lacing her fingers with Lark’s. They still hadn’t discussed their dinner plans.
“You’ll see,” Lark replied nonchalantly and continued walking, smiling over at Rosethorn.
“Oh, you,” the plant mage remarked, but for once did not question further.
When the two Dedicates reached Discipline there was quite a large gathering of Dedicates and even a few of the Novices—those who didn’t fear, and possibly admired, Rosethorn. Amongst the Dedicates were Willowwater and Dawnmist—who were busy flirting—Crane, Frostpine, Niko (an honourable mention), Moonstream and many others. Lark and Rosethorn mingled with each group.
One particular Novice seemed to follow the birthday woman around, though not in an entirely obvious way. She always seemed to have something to do, no matter where she migrated. Lark smiled tenderly at the thought.
A half an hour into the party, Gorse arrived with a large bundle of deliciously-scented food. He had multiple main courses and something for everyone to try. He could only stay a short while before returning to the kitchen. Soon after that, Moonstream departed with Niko, as she had to prepare for the Midsummer midnight service. It was usually very popular.
For the most part the party consisted of the Dedicates and Novices conversing. At one point speeches were made, and even Lark took to the stage made of one of Rosethorn’s workshop benches.
Lark’s speech commenced with, “I feel as if I’ve known Rosethorn all my life.” It went on to explain what she loved about Rosethorn, each trait paired with a humorous and sometimes embarrassing anecdote. It finished, “I’m sure that the minute you were birthed, wherever I was, my heart sang with pure ecstasy.”
By the end of the speech Rosethorn was blushing ferociously and almost in tears. It was the combination of the good humour of great memories, the sheepish grins of embarrassment, and all the love she held for the woman before her. Rosethorn stood frozen for a matter of seconds, paralysed by her overwhelming feelings for Lark. At last she jumped forward and threw her arms around Lark before kissing her gently on the lips.
The crowd, even Crane, gasped at that. It was rare to see Lark and Rosethorn even touch in more than just subtle ways when others were around. Lark smiled tenderly and rubbed Rosethorn’s back in circles for a moment. The two rejoined the crowd to hear a few more speeches.
After the speeches there was more social time; the guests started to fall away one by one. Eventually only Lark, Rosethorn and her Novice admirer were left. The three chatted for a while and the mood was giddy.
The Novice stood and bowed her head an inch or two before speaking. “I wish you a pleasant birthday eve. I must be going: I’ve got studying and practice that regrettably require completion. Thank you both for your hospitality.” She left them with a smile and a small gift.
“I never did catch her name,” Rosethorn commented as she began to clean up.
“I didn’t, either. She doesn’t share it often. I did hear from another Earth Dedicate that the girl wishes to be dedicated as ‘Crocus’,” Lark replied and assisted with the cleaning. Rosethorn smiled, but Lark went on. “Did you know that her peers call her Rosethorn-in-training?”
Rosethorn came to a punctual halt, puzzled. “Why’s that?”
Lark grinned as she answered, “Because of how much she admires you. She mentions you and your accomplishments frequently. From what I’ve heard and seen, she’s not too far off you, with observable differences of course.”
The shorter woman continued cleaning silently, digesting those words. She had never felt like much of a role model, yet there had been someone who looked up to her with such extreme admiration here at her surprise party.
The thread mage noticed the lack of response and walked to Rosethorn, taking the plate she was holding and setting it aside. “Come, love. We can clean the rest in the morning,” Lark murmured and grasped one of her hands.
Lark led Rosethorn up to the attic, where Rosethorn looked around quizzically. Lark gently squeezed the plant mage’s hand and indicated for her to look up.
“But we haven’t been up there in years!” Rosethorn exclaimed as she stood unblinking. They hadn’t been stargazing together since they were both assigned to Discipline years before.
Lark just smiled knowingly and arranged the ladder. She climbed up and opened the trapdoor before turning and signalling for Rosethorn to follow. Lark then pulled herself onto the roof and smoothed the skirts of her habit. Before Rosethorn reached the top of the ladder, Lark reached over and plucked a small, wrapped gift box from the thatch by the chimney.
Rosethorn hauled herself up and positioned herself next to the other woman. Lark pressed the package into the plant mage’s hand and kissed her at the corner of her lips. “Happy birthday, Rosie.”
Rosethorn grinned and gently unwrapped the gift, pocketing the ripped material. When she got to the small, mahogany box inscribed ‘Rosethorn’, she unlatched and opened it with care. Inside was a silver chain necklace with the charm of an amethyst in the shape of a crocus. Under it lay a silk cloth with an indigo background, velvet red roses, green stems and white thorns. It was delicately sewn and in the lower right corner, ‘With love from Lark, forever’ was stitched.
The birthday woman was speechless as her heart increased and she was overpoweringly aware of Larks presence besides her. Lark picked up the necklace and reached over to set it around Rosethorn’s neck and connect the ends. Rosethorn grasped Lark’s arm with a feather’s touch and kissed the smooth, golden skin so comparable to the silk Lark worked with.
Rosethorn pocketed the handkerchief and smoothly but forcefully pushed Lark back into the thatch. She rested her head on Lark’s stomach and lay there a moment. The Discipline women watched the dark, sparkling sky; Lark ran her fingers through Rosethorn’s hair.
“Thank you. I love you, Lark,” Rosethorn said at last and nestled into Lark’s warmth. She could almost feel Lark’s smile.
“I love you too, Rosethorn,” Lark replied as she stroked Rosethorn’s cheek. Chores were easily forgotten on birthdays, and rightly so.