Rosethorn had the itching urge to hang someone up by their toes in her well. It was the only the thought of her plants that would be watered from that well that stayed her hand—though just barely.
No, perhaps she could build a deep hole in the ground just for that purpose…
The sunlight was rapidly fading—it was Longnight, after all—and yet the cursed Water dedicates had Rosethorn running around fetching them plants and powders for Mila-knew-what. “Can’t you wait?” she had snarled at every single one of them. And oh did those dedicates quivered in their blue-touched robes. But yet, somehow, they had insisted and so Rosethorn had, in bad humour, completed their hare-brained tasks.
All too soon, all the fires in Winding Circle would be doused and the whole-night’s-shift of prays would begin. Rosethorn could feel it, the sun, just about to go down, in the winter and evergreen plants around her.
“I’m so sorry,” the Water dedicate cried, hands pressed together. “But please, Dedicate Rosethorn, we urgently require a rose.”
“It’s out of season!” Rosethorn growled.
The Water dedicate bit her lip. “Perhaps—Dedicate Crane?”
Rosethorn stared at her. “What? Get it yourself!”
“Oh, I could never go into Dedicate Crane’s greenhouses!”
The thought that the dedicate feared Crane more than Rosethorn twinged. Perhaps she should hang someone by their toes in her well. It had been much too long—
“Oh, please, Dedicate Rosethorn! You’re our only hope!”
Rosethorn pinched the bridge of her nose. “Fine,” she bit out.
Even in the fading twilight, Rosethorn knew the way to Crane’s greenhouses—all those plants, warm and out of season.
There was light, and movement, through the fogged glass.
Rosethorn scowled. Clearly, not only had Crane decide to twist the nature of plants, he had also decided to light in Longnight. Any more, and he’d be renouncing his dedicate vows, Rosethorn thought sourly.
She entered the building, not at all quietly. The heat buffeted her immediately. But she didn’t plan to stay long at all, so did not remove her outer robe.
“Ah, Rosethorn,” came the sound of Crane’s voice. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Rosethorn stalked towards the sound of his voice. “Some cursed Water dedicate—”
The light was not from flames, but rather glowing rocks, arranged by the dozen around a large square of cloth that looked suspiciously like a picnic blanket and cushions scattered on the outer edge.. The items on top did not dissuade the notion: there were multiple plates of food, and a carafe of drink, and a woven basket.
But no, what surprised Rosethorn the most was the fact that Crane was sitting on that blanket—on the ground. What surprised Rosethorn the second most was Lark, who was rising gracefully to her feet straight from her seated position.
“Rosie,” she said warmly, nimbly stepping between stones of light. She leaned down and pressed a kiss on Rosethorn’s cheek.
“Lark,” Rosethorn said. “What is he doing here?”
Crane immediately flushed. He struggled to his feet, more like a waddling duck than a crane. “This is my greenhouse!”
Lark laughed, the sound of it easing Rosethorn. “Oh, Rosie,” she chided. “Play nice. Happy birthday.” She caressed Rosethorn’s arms, and helped Rosethorn take off her warm outer robe.
Rosethorn grimaced. “We celebrated it just six months ago—”
“Well, this is your real birthday,” Crane said with a huff. “I told you she won’t appreciate it!”
Lark clasped Rosethorn’s hand and led her onto the picnic blanket. “Sit,” she said, eyeing both Rosethorn and Crane.
Crane sat back down, muttering. Rosethorn decided to sit down with much more poise.
“What about the prayers?”
“The plants know well that the sun will rise again tomorrow,” Crane muttered.
Rosethorn shot him a look. “Why are you a Dedicate again?”
Crane glanced at her, and flushed even more.
“Don’t worry,” Lark said, patting Rosethorn on the thigh. She let her hand rest there, warm and close. “We’ll do so, together, after we celebrate your birthday. Especially due to your hard work today!”
Rosethorn stared at Lark, betrayed. “That was—a wild goose chase? A distraction?”
Crane huffed, long arms and fingers sweeping over their surroundings. “Do you think this simply fell out of the sky, ready for you?”
“So that water dedicate didn’t want a rose—”
Crane cleared his throat. He reached into the sleeve of his robes and drew out a deep red rose, complete with its thorns. “Happy birthday, Rosethorn.” With a flutter of fingers, the rose floated over to Rosethorn.
“...You’re not even the tenth person to give me rose thorns,” Rosethorn said, shaking her head. “You’ve lost your sharp mind, Crane.” Nonetheless, she took the rose. It was clearly tricked to bloom in the winter night, but it didn’t know any better, the sweet poor thing.
“I know winter’s always hard on you,” Lark said quietly. “But don’t you feel better here? And with us?”
Rosethorn stared down Crane.
Crane looked away, and then glared right back. “This is a celebration!” he scowled. “Because we’re both so happy that you were born, you prickly woman. But I’m starting to wonder why I ever liked you—” he added darkly.
“I should hang you in my well.”
Crane raised one eyebrow. “I’d like to see you try.”
“Rosie. Crane,” Lark said. “You can deal with this tension after we have Rosie’s birthday dinner.”
“Heh.” Rosethorn relaxed—or rather, gave in. “Don’t expect me to do something like this for your birthday, Crane.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Crane drawled. He clapped his hands. “Now, Dedicate Gorse has truly outdone himself when we requested this for you.”
Lark patted Rosethorn’s thigh. “Let me,” she said, preparing a plate for Rosethorn. She grinned. “The least I could do after all your hard work today.”
The food was good, of course. But Rosethorn had to laugh at Crane, prissily eating out of the plate balanced on his lap.
“How did Lark ever convince you to do this?” Rosethorn had to ask, smirking. “I would have thought that you would order your dedicates to drag a full dining table in here.”
From how Crane stiffened and reddened, he had clearly wanted to do so. Rosethorn laughed.
“She convinced me like how she convinces everyone,” Crane said. “And this is for you, unfortunately.”
Lark caressed Rosethorn’s face. “When you love someone...”
Rosethorn glanced to Crane. Crane’s face had softened, and it felt as though his eyes were caressing Rosethorn’s face too. She wouldn’t put it past Crane to somehow command the wind to do so.
Rosethorn’s heart did not swell up, and her chest did not tighten. “I see,” she said gruffly. “I can’t stop you from making this a habit, can I?”
“No, you can’t,” Crane and Lark said simultaneously.
Rosethorn sighed. It came out more fond than she wanted. “How did you ever get all those Water Dedicates into your plan?”
Lark’s eyes sparkled. “Hmm, how did we, Crane?”
Crane straightened up. “Well,” he drawled, “you see, I am Dedicate Crane, Great Mage—”
Rosethorn snorted, laughing a little, leaning back to hear their tale. The circle of lights was small and cosy, the heat welcoming, the plants soothing (not that she’d ever admit that).
But most of all, the well of affection she felt for Lark and Crane filled her with warmth.