It was Rosethorn's birthday, and everyone was celebrating. Even Niko and Frostpine had come over to Discipline to have the party (even though Rosethorn insisted that she didn't need a party). The adults were laughing and talking in the living room, and the four young mages were in the kitchen cooking for the party and singing "Happy Birthday to You" over and over again, which was annoying Rosethorn.
She finally cracked. "Children!"
None of them answered.
"Briar! Daja! Tris! Sandry! Are you listening to me?" she demanded crossly. They kept singing.
"BRIAR!" Rosethorn shouted. Something crashed in the kitchen, and there came a muffled, "Oops," from Sandry. Then the youngsters came into the living room.
"What is it?" asked Briar.
"You know perfectly well what it is! That song is driving me up the wall! And now you've sung it so many times that you won't have to sing it for the Green Man alone knows how many years!"
"Thirty-two," said Frostpine, grinning, and held up a sheet of paper covered in tally marks. Niko roared with laughter, Lark smiled, Rosethorn glared, and the children looked sheepish.
"Thirty-two then!" said Rosethorn finally. "That's if I live that long!"
"All right, all right, we get it!" said Briar. "Come on, you useless skirts, we have to get back to decorating and cooking."
Tris looked indignant. "I am not a 'useless skirt'!
"Fine, whatever," Briar said, leading the way back to the kitchen. "Just come on."
They had a delicious birthday dinner for Rosethorn that night. After some coaxing and pleading from Lark and Briar, she agreed to open her presents.
Briar grinned and sat her down in a large armchair, which was behind a large pile of wrapped gifts. She sighed and picked up the first one. 'To Rosethorn from Tris,' it said.
"Hey!" said the boy. "Mine was supposed to be on top!"
"Yes, well," said Tris with dignity, "I thought it might be better for you to learn some patience."
Briar rolled his eyes and tweaked one of the redhead's braids, but said nothing more as his teacher opened the parcel to reveal a book on plants.
"Well," she said after looking at it for a moment. "I can use it for compost."
"Now, Rosie," said Lark gently. "Be nice."
"All right," said Rosethorn grudgingly. "It will be a helpful book, Tris. Thank you."
Tris smiled. "I hoped you'd like it."
Briar took an oddly shaped package out of the pile and handed it to Rosethorn. "Here. This one's mine."
She couldn't suppress a grin as she carefully ripped off the wrappings. There was a plant underneath, as was expected by everyone. However, it wasn't an ordinary plant. It had orange flowers, for a start…but a moment later, to the surprise of all present, they changed to blue—then purple—then pink—then lime green—then red…
"It's one of those Sregnach Roloc plants from the other side of the Pebbled Sea," said Briar proudly. "And don't look so suspicious," he added, for Rosethorn had indeed narrowed her eyes at him. "I bought it with my own money. Been saving for weeks."
"All right, then," she said after a moment. "If you didn't get it through your thievery…Now, let me see." She wrapped her fingers gently around the plant, whose flowers were now a bright lilac, and closed her eyes. Everyone waited.
At last she opened her eyes. "It has a lot of magic in it," she said. "And many special properties. Apparently each different color of flower has a different use for healing. I'm sure I'll find it very useful. Thank you, Briar."
He beamed. "You're welcome."
"My turn," said Daja. Then she turned to Sandry. "Unless of course you'd rather go first?"
"No, go ahead," said the noble. She was perfectly content waiting.
Daja pulled her own package out of the pile and handed it to Rosethorn. This one was also rather an odd shape, but no one was sure what exactly it was, until the dedicate opened it, revealing a prettily worked plant made of silver. It shimmered in the light, and its insides seemed to move, to live.
Daja grinned. "Watch this," she said then, and grasped the leaf of the plant, wrapping her warm hand around it. The leaf turned gold, then suddenly tried to jerk away from the girl. She let it go, and everyone watched as it squirmed for a moment, then settled and turned silver again.
"It responds to heat," the young smith-mage explained. "Hold any part of it long enough to warm it up, and it will move. Put it in the sunlight and it'll keep moving for as long as it takes to cool down a little."
The edges of the plant were turning slowly but steadily gold-colored again, and Rosethorn watched as they squirmed to life. To her surprise, however, instead of pulling away, as they had from Daja, they wrapped gently around her hands.
Daja laughed. "It likes you. I knew it would."
"Thank you," said Rosethorn. It's very nice."
The girl nodded happily. "Any time," she said, grinning.
Rosethorn turned to Sandry. "I suppose I'd better unwrap yours," she said to the noble, "before you explode with impatience?"
Sandry smiled. "I'm all right," she said. "But here it is." She gave the dedicate her parcel, which was in a cylindrical shape. Rosethorn pulled off the paper, and then tugged the lid off the cardboard tube that was underneath and tipped it upside down. Inside was a large tapestry, showing a garland of entwined flowers around the name, 'Rosethorn', which was in pretty curling script embellished with leaves.
"Thank you," said Rosethorn. "It's very pretty."
Sandry smiled. "You're welcome. I wish I could have thought of something more useful, but…"
Lark interrupted. "No, dear, I can tell by the look on Rosie's face that she likes it. You don't need to worry about it." Then she smiled too and got another package from the floor, handing it wordlessly to Rosethorn.
A woven blanket was inside, dyed a delicate shade of pink. At first the color looked solid, but as everyone looked more closely, they realized that it was actually made of posies, with lines between them that were just barely defined. Small green leaves made a secondary pattern over the top, interlocking with the flowers to form a weaving of plants.
"It's very nice," said Rosethorn, smiling at Lark. "Thank you."
Niko grinned and gave Rosethorn another parcel, the last one. "Here," he said. "Frostpine's is too big to wrap."
She shook her head, amused, and opened the gift. A small lantern fell out, with leaves carved into the sides of the metal. She looked at it questioningly.
"Light it," advised Niko, pulling a box of matches out of his pocket, then getting up to turn out the lights. Rosethorn did as she was told, then gasped. There were plants etched into the glass lenses and painted with transparent colors. When the flame shone through them, they appeared, dancing, all around her.
"That's beautiful, Niko," she said quietly, watching leaves and flowers all along the walls.
He nodded. After a moment, when no one had spoken, he said, "Now for Frostpine's gift."
The smith-mage stood. "Follow me," he said, and everyone trooped to Rosethorn's room. "Go on in," he told her. "But close your eyes first."
She did this, and stumbled into the room. Everyone crowded around the doorway to watch.
"You can open your eyes now," said Frostpine. She did, and immediately saw a pretty green metal bedstead, with the figures of leaves twining around its posts.
"Thank you," she said, running her fingers over the leaves. "I…"
A knock at the door interrupted her. Frowning slightly, she made her way back to the front of the cottage, with everyone else in her wake, and opened the door. A novice stood there, smiling and holding out another parcel.
"Hello, Dedicate Lark, Dedicate Frostpine, Master Niko, and, of course, Dedicate Rosethorn. And the four mage-children," she added. "A very happy birthday to you, Dedicate," she told Rosethorn, who nodded.
"Thank you," she said.
"As a matter of fact, this package is for you," said the novice, now holding out the parcel. Rosethorn took it.
"Who from?" she wanted to know.
The novice only looked confused. "I don't know," she said, "but I got it from one of the other dedicates, who said someone had given it to him to get to Rosethorn, and he was passing the job on to me."
"I see," said Rosethorn. "Well, thank you then," and shut the door behind the white-robed figure.
After a moment, everyone looked at each other. "Well, aren't you going to open it?" asked Briar impatiently.
"All right," she said, and ripped the wrapping off.
Inside lay a single rose, and underneath that, a card. Picking this up, she read it, studied it for a moment, and looked up, her face surprised.
"Lark?" she said. "Who did that novice say sent this?"
"She didn't," said Lark. "Why? Let me see it."
Rosethorn handed over the card. The other dedicate read it and passed it back. "That certainly is strange," she said. "Is it all right if I read it out loud? The others might know who sent it."
"I suppose," said Rosethorn. Lark took the card again and read:
'What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.'
Not that you need a different name. You are a very special person, and your name fits you perfectly. You have the beauty of a rose, with a thorny temper. May this birthday be wonderful, and may all your other birthdays be just as good, if not better.
Sincerely, a friend
"Does anyone know who might have sent that?" asked Rosethorn. Everyone looked at each other and shook their heads.
A little while later, Rosethorn went out to work in her garden. Briar would have come along, but she had assigned him to making another healing salve.
She was digging holes for planting later when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She whirled around. To her surprise, it was Dedicate Crane.
"What do you want, Crane?" she snapped.
"Can't a person just come by to wish you a happy birthday without getting their head bitten off?" he returned, amusement in his eyes.
"If I know you, you have some ulterior motive for coming," said Rosethorn
"Well, I will admit that I didn't come just to say, 'Happy birthday'," he said.
"Hah!" She sounded triumphant. "I knew it!"
There was a momentary pause, and then Rosethorn demanded, "So what do you want?"
"Well, I was actually wondering whether you got my gift."
"Gift? What gift?" she asked, sparing only a second to wonder why her heart was attempting to pound its way out of her chest before standing up and brushing herself off. Crane kept his hand on her shoulder.
"'What's in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other word would smell as sweet'," he quoted.
She started and then gaped at him. "You sent that?"
"But…but it was a rose!"
"And it was red!"
He smiled. "I see you're getting my message."
Any further protests were cut off when he leaned down and kissed her.
Briar was bored. He needed a break from the salve. He stood up, stretched, and headed toward Rosethorn's garden to talk to her.
When he got near, however, he heard voices. He ducked behind a nearby bush and prodded it with his magic to make a small peephole. Then he looked out.
It was Crane. What was he doing here? Briar almost leaped out and confronted him, but then he heard Rosethorn talking and paused to listen.
"Gift? What gift?" she was saying. Could Crane have found out about the plant Briar had given her? Could he be trying to make her give it to him?
"'What's in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other word would smell as sweet'," said Crane calmly.
The first theory that came to Briar's mind at these words was preposterous. Surely Crane couldn't have…?
Rosethorn voiced the same incredulity. "You sent that?"
"But…but it was a rose!"
"And it was red!"
"I see you're getting my message," he said with a smile.
"But…" Rosethorn said, as he kissed her.
Briar gasped. Sandry! Daja! Tris! he mind-called.
What? they chimed.
Come quick! To Rosethorn's garden!
A minute later he saw them coming. He beckoned quickly, before Rosethorn or Crane could see them, and they ducked behind the bush.
What? said Sandry magically.
Look! He gestured at the bush, and they all peeked through.
Sandry giggled. Shhh! Briar told her.
Rosethorn was talking again, but it was a little hard to hear. Everyone looked at Tris. She rolled her eyes.
Why is it always me? she asked, glaring. Nonetheless, she pulled a small breeze in towards them so that they heard Rosethorn.
"…don't know about this," she said.
"Well…what will Lark think? And the children?"
"Since when do you care?" Crane wanted to know.
"I…I don't know…" She sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. He slid his arms around her.
I think we should leave now, said Daja.
Yes, Tris agreed.
You're right. Come on, Briar, Sandry said.
Just a minute, he told them, concentrating furiously.
Slowly, plants began to grow into a sort of a trellis, up and over Rosethorn's and Crane's heads. They were mostly roses, but there were other flowers and pretty vines in it as well. As soon as Sandry saw what Briar was doing, she helped, weaving the plants more tightly together so that they would hold better. Then Daja joined in, bringing little bits of metal up through the plants' roots and onto their leaves to sparkle in the sun. Tris began to help, too, bringing cool breezes to twine around the flowers and the dedicates, stirring the leaves of the plants and giving Rosethorn and Crane a little relief from the hot day.
After a few moments, Briar sighed. All right, let's go, he said, and led the way back into the cottage.
When they got back in, Briar collapsed onto the couch, and the other three followed suit. No one spoke for a minute or two.
"I can't believe it," Sandry said.
Suddenly, Daja began to giggle.
"What are you laughing at?" asked Tris in surprise.
"Well…if you think about it…those two! Together! I mean…do you remember when Briar stole that shakkan from him? 'You're Rosethorn's spy!' They've always been rivals! She hates his greenhouse, and he's jealous of her tomato plants, and now we find out that they're in love!"
Slowly, Sandry started laughing, too, then Tris, and last of all, Briar. After a minute or so, Lark came in from her workroom.
"What's so funny?" she asked, looking bemused.
"Crane…Rosethorn…" choked Daja.
Briar stopped laughing long enough to say, "She means, Crane and Rosethorn are…are in love!" before collapsing backwards against the couch, quite overcome.
Lark looked at the four, in fits of helpless giggles, and said, "Oh, dear." Then she began to laugh as well.
So it was that when Rosethorn came inside a few minutes later, she found the other citizens of Discipline in the living room, laughing their heads off. She stood there for a moment, looking bewildered, then burst out, "Oh, enough already! What's so funny?"