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Lark was nervous as they road towards Winding Circle. It had been a quiet two-hour ride. How Vetiver had convinced her to come back to the temple for a talk, she would never know.

It had started seemingly enough. A green-robed Dedicate had asked about some of her cloth, they started discussing sewing, and now she was in an Earth temple wagon. The only thing Lark carried was all of the sewing equipment she owned in a bag, but she carried that everywhere. Things had the habit of disappearing in the Mire.

Winding Circle left her awed. Not because it was an amazing sight though it was very beautiful. It reminded her of a spindle where the Hub stood as the rod. But Lark had seen many beautiful things on her travels to Yanjing and back. Winding Circle left her awed because it felt like home the moment she rolled through the gates.

All throughout her journey to Emelan after the deaths of her loved ones, Lark had been certain the gods had been guiding her. Now she was even more certain it was the Living Circle gods because the moment she entered those gates, she knew she never wanted to live in another place.

Lark couldn’t take everything in. The sights, sounds, and people. For so long her world had been the Mire where it was gray and dirty.

Soon enough she found herself at the center of the temple, walking into the Hub. Upon entering her hands were shook and then filled with food by a Dedicate named Gorse. She tried to eat slowly but the food was far better than anything she had had since living with the Traders. Gorse wad delighted to learn she had been as far east as Yanjing and offered to make her a special, spicy dish before she left.

Vetiver lead her up the beautiful tower to an office. Seated inside was an older woman with skin darker than hers and a white, mustached man. Vetiver introduced them as the Dedicate Superior Moonstream and the mage Niklaren Goldeye. The pair of women joined them in sitting.

Vetiver started the conversation and got straight to the point. “Lark, something you made was brought to our attention a few weeks ago. Do you recall a novice purchasing a scarf of yours?”

Lark nodded. She remembered the sale and the food it bought. As she had weaved the fabric, she thought of how beautiful it would make the wearer look.

“Two other novices started a fight over the owner,” Moonstream stated. “It seems they thought she was so beautiful that they had to have her. Investigation showed your scarf to be the reason why the fight was started. The scarf held a type of magic similar to a love enchantment which is illegal in the realm of Emelan.”

Lark paled. “I never intended for that to happen when I made it. Please tell me everyone is alright.”

“They are and I’m sure you didn’t intend for that to happen,” Vetiver insisted. “But you need to work on your control next time. Weaving is making a pattern and patterns make magic stronger. That is why we must be careful as we work. It’s obvious you have a solid grasp on your magic. Where did you go to school?”

Lark tried to calm her panicked heart so she could focus. Finally she shook her head. “I was never officially trained. I just learned a few tips and tricks along my journeys. It’s just a dash of magic. I never thought I could do anything like that. Are you sure it was my scarf?”

The man spoke for the first time, “Yes. I checked the item myself. It clearly is your power on it now that I see you. You have more than a dash of magic. You are an ambient thread mage.”

Lark was stunned silent. She tried to listen as Niko explained what ambient meant but couldn’t.

Moonstream studied her for a long time. “It seems you are untrained then. We can’t allow you to live in the world untrained. We would like you to come to school here to study and learn about your magic. You needn’t enter as a novice of the Living Circle.”

“I would like to,” Lark spoke, awakening from her shock. “I want to join the Living Circle. I think the gods have led me here. I wish to enter as a novice.”

Moonstream nodded and graced Lark with a smile. “Then it shall be. Don’t let age worry you. Many enter as a novice later in their lives before joining a temple. What name do you wish to be called upon entering?”  

“Lark.”

“You can change,” Vetiver added. “You can become something new.”

“Lark is the name I choose to become anew. It’s the one I wish to stay with.”

The others nodded and went about arranging for Lark’s stay.

 

*

 

A few months later, Lark found herself back in Moonstream’s presence. Niko, the mage who had become her friend in his short stay at Winding Circle, had left on his many travels. She made friends easy enough with various people throughout the temples except with most of the Water Dedicates. Those from the Water temple could drive people insane. Moonstream was one of the few Water temple exceptions.

“Hello, Lark.” Moonstream greeted. “Have a seat.”

Lark obeyed.

“How are your studies going?”

“Well.” Normally, Lark was chattier but she was worried to as why she was called.

The Dedicate Superior nodded. “That is what I hear from your teacher. Vetiver and I agree that you should be able to receive your medallion within the year.”

Lark was surprised. She heard others talk about training for years to receive the title.

Moonstream saw her surprised look and explained, faintly smiling, “You are becoming well-disciplined and trained. You only needed to learn the bookwork side of magic as opposed to most mages who work for years with the application. They train for years to build up your amount of resources and control. However, I get off topic. That is not why I called you here. Others in your dormitory tell me that you often have nightmares.”

Lark flushed as she nodded. “I’m sorry, Honored Moonstream. I’ve tried different things to make them go away. They just happen. I’ve seen a soul-mender. She suggested time over magic.”

“And I would agree. But you do scare some of the younger novices. I have a suggestion. There is a cottage near the North Gate. The Dedicate who used to live there rejoined the circle of life a few summers ago. No one has lived there since and has been used for storage by the Earth temple. I think it would be the perfect place for you to live. The cottage is called ‘Discipline’. It’s a nice place. You would even have room for a workshop.”

Lark nodded her agreement. It sounded like a good idea. She didn’t want to keep waking the young children around her with her cries and she would have more room at the Discipline.

 

*

 

“Well I got my work cut out for me,” Lark said to herself as she evaluated the Discipline. The cottage needed to be cleaned and the roof needed fresh thatch. There were two, wooden workshops on either side of the house with stone supports that needed to be white washed. She already chosen the one of the left as hers and wondered how she could go about removing the walls and putting up weaved screens to let light and air in, but not bugs.

In time, Lark would make the Discipline a home. Over the next two years, troubled children would find their way to her. Most of them were mage-born who were having trouble fitting in. She received her medallion and nervously took on her first student, an academic thread mage. Lark worried constantly that she would mess Polinna’s training, but she had Vetiver to help guide her.

After her last two children had moved on, Lark was alone in the cottage for a month before two new guests arrived.

 

***

 

Moonstream sighed, “You both have been back less than a month from Lightsbridge and already I’ve had constant complaints.”

Rosethorn glared at Crane, who glared right back at her. Rosethorn knew better than to glare at Moonstream. She loved Winding Circle and didn’t want to be made to leave.

“Neither of you are fit to live in the dormitories at this time. Both firsts of the Air and Earth temples wish to get you out from under their roofs. My recommendation is Discipline.”

Both younger Dedicates froze, worried of their punishment.

Moonstream waved her hand, “No, not like that. It’s a cottage. Dedicate Lark lives there. She’s been taking care of troubled children the past two years. I don’t see why she can’t take care of troubled adults as well.”

Crane asked, “Dedicate Lark? Was she here before we left for Lightsbridge?”

“No. She arrived shortly after you left. I’m sure she can tolerate both of your companies. She has an excellent personality,” Moonstream said with a smile. She then added with a firmer look, “Of course you will try your best to get along with her.”

Both plant mages nodded.

“Now the cottage has land around it for gardens but I suspect it would be foolish to ask you two to share.”

Rosethorn and Crane had the grace to look ashamed for a moment but there was no denying the truth in the statement.

“And it would be unfair to leave a plant mage without a garden. So the first Dedicate of the Air temple and I have come up with a solution. In exchange for you being on your best behavior Crane, they have an area for a garden and workshop that’s never been used and are willing to let you work there. Rosethorn, you may have the workshop and garden at the Discipline. Can you both agree to this?”

Both Dedicates nodded again. It did sound like the best situation.

 

*

 

Rosethorn’s agreement to try her best to get along with Lark lasted all of three hours. The trio had introduced themselves and Lark showed them the available rooms. Rosethorn chose one on the bottom near her soon-to-be workshop while Crane settled into one of the rooms on the top floor.

There weren’t many plants or trees around the yard. There were a few herbs growing in a windowsill in the kitchen, ivy growing along one of the cottage’s fences, and a willow tree in the far back. All were well-cared for but needed a gardener’s touch, Rosethorn decided. She was outside, barefoot and daydreaming, and didn’t hear Lark’s first call for dinner.

Lark went and stuck her head outside the door. She said, “Rosie, I said it was time for dinner.”

Rosethorn stiffened and turned to glare at Lark. Both women heard Crane crackled at the table. “She hates being called Rosie.”

“No one calls me Rosie. That is not the part of my mage name that I take after,” Rosethorn barked, a warning in her voice.

Lark merely arched a brow and smiled. “Come inside to eat.”

Rosethorn waited a few moments to show she was in charge and then moved towards the cottage. Lark held up a hand to stop her, “Wash off before you come inside, Rosie. Dirt should stay outside.”

The plant mage flushed and could feel her tongue sharpening to cut the golden-skinned woman down. “I will…”

“There’s a well over there,” Lark interrupted and moved back inside, effectively cutting Rosethorn’s threat off.

She grumbled as she went to wash off, “I will hang you in the well.”

 

*

 

After dinner, the trio went over assigning chores for the first week. Crane balked at having to clean the privacy but the looks on Lark’s and Rosethorn’s faces warned him he should pick his battles wisely.

“Moonstream told me little about you two but from what I’ve observed these past few hours, I can make educated guesses about your relationship. I don’t care if you two bicker or have sex in this cottage. All I ask is you do not raise your voices in argument. I believe that arguing and shouting disrupts the harmony of the circle.”

An instant blush came to Crane’s face at the mention of his and Rosethorn’s sexual relationship. Rosethorn was impressed by Lark’s guess but refused to show it.

“And what do we get in return for this deal?” she asked.

Lark’s grin had a dash of evil and mischief that Rosethorn respected. “I’ll leave you alone.”

Rosethorn could live with that. As attractive as thread mage was, Rosethorn had a feeling they wouldn’t get along well.

 

***

 

Lark paused in her weaving to take a break. From where she sat, she had a view of Rosethorn working in newly dug up soil. She smiled, thoroughly amused, as Rosethorn worked barefoot but took such great pains to preserve her cream-colored skin from the sun. Not that Lark minded. She rather enjoyed looking at Rosethorn’s skin. She often filled her eyes with the image of a naked Rosethorn when they happened to be at the baths together at the same time.

Rosethorn knew Lark found her attractive and Lark knew that Rosethorn found her attractive as well. Yet looking was the extent of most of their interactions.

True to her word, she left Crane and Rosethorn alone as they adjusted to their new life. It was actually Crane who started conversations with her first, leading to a tentative friendship. She could see why others didn’t like him. It took a kind of flexibility to get around some of his rougher edges.

His life as the son of a noble was a cold and friendless one. Crane socialized constantly with other nobles’ children but he hated every minute of it. He preferred to work with plants and longed just to be left alone with them. His father tried to stop the growing affiliation with green things by taking out everything that grew in his castle, replacing green gardens with rock or sand gardens. Crane cried as he heard the plants’ screams as they ripped from the ground, and he ran away from home after.

He had plenty of money to travel as he had trusts and investments. When he joined as a Dedicate, he was required to give up any land holdings and investments. Dedicates are allowed to keep money but could only spend it on items relating to their area of magic or discipline. Winding Circle couldn’t afford to provide all the metal ores, exotic woods, rare fabrics, and other items their mages worked with. Dedicates had to earn money to pay for their own materials.

In privacy, Crane mentioned the desire to build what he called a greenhouse completely out of glass. Lark thought it sounded expansive, but she could tell it was something he truly wanted to accomplish. It was a fire in his eyes that she felt would be good for him and other Dedicates who might join him on his project. Passionate, brilliant, and snobby was easier to work with then just brilliant and snobby.

“Inside I could grow plants that are used to warmer climates, things that most Dedicates have never seen before. We could extract the materials and safe money from having to import them. It will be such a sight, Lark.”

They both decided it was a good idea to wait until the greenhouse was built before telling Rosethorn. Crane spent most of his money building it to install heating devices, sprinklers, and drains. It was going to be an enormous building, large enough to grow trees inside.

Lark stood and stretched before reaching for her habit that she had tossed aside as she weaved.

She turned when she heard a curse and saw Rosethorn hoping on one foot.

“You okay, Rosie?”

“Fine,” The other woman snapped and sat down to evaluate the toe she had stubbed. The rock had seemed like a good idea to use as a center piece for some flowers to grow around, but her toe protested having installed it now.

It was Lark’s fault, Rosethorn decided. If the woman wore a thicker shift, her breasts wouldn’t be perfectly framed by the soft, white fabric when she stretched. And if the thread mage hadn’t been stretching, Rosethorn would have been paying attention to where she was walking. It made sense in her head.

Stretching out her legs, she studied her pinkie toe. When she tried to bend the toe, it throbbed in pain instead.

Rosethorn jerked when Lark knelt at the end of her feet and took her injured foot in her hands. She softly probed the foot in a few places before a touch of the toe caused a hiss of pain. Rosethorn tried to jerk her foot away but it was held in surprising strong hands.

“Sorry,” Lark whispered, as she gently bent the neighboring toe.

Rosethorn snapped, “Are you a foot-healer mage as well as a stitch witch?”

“We all have our skills,” Lark replied, unfazed by the other woman’s sharpness. She then added, “Before my life here, I was a tumbler who traveled with a group of acrobats. We all saw our share of foot related injuries. This isn’t broken, just bruised.”

When Rosethorn arched a brow at her, Lark grinned. “Of course if you don’t believe me, I will be more than happy to escort you to the Water temple’s infirmary.”

Rosethorn glared at Lark. Both of them knew she would not go to the infirmary unless she had to.

“Are you going to let go of my foot or will I get a foot rub out of this?” Rosethorn drily asked.

Lark smirked and massaged the arch of her captured foot for a few moments. She took great care not to rub anywhere near the bruised part, and was rewarded by the flash of pleasure that crossed Rosethorn’s face.

She then stopped, placing the foot gently back on the ground. “You only get foot rubs if you’re good.”

It was on the tip of Rosethorn’s tongue to say she could be very good but somehow she managed to recompose herself. Lark helped the shorter woman up and into the house where Rosethorn could make herself some bruise balm.

 

***

 

“You kissed Willowwater?” Rosethorn gasped before breaking down into perils of laughter.

Lark tried to glare, “She kissed me last Solstice. I’ve been avoiding her ever since.”

“Oh Mila, help me,” Rosethorn cried, leaning against the table for help.

“I’m glad the story of my plight amuses you,” Lark huffed. “Well know you know why I don’t want to go met with her.”

Rosethorn had to sit down at the table. It took a bit of time to stop laughing because one look at Lark caused her to start again. Letting out a happy sigh, Rosethorn asked, “Do you want me to go with you?”

Lark arched a brow, “You want to go to a Water temple meeting with me?”

“I took a vow to serve people in need,” Rosethorn said, in her most regal voice. “It seems only right.”

“Just for laughing at me, I’m going to take you up on your offer. I shouldn’t suffer alone.”

 

***

 

“It’s relaxing to watch you spin,” Rosethorn softly said from the doorway of Lark’s workshop.

Lark waited until she was finished with the string before looking up at her housemate. As she wound the bobbin, she asked, “Do you know how to spin?”

Rosethorn crookedly grinned, “No. My brothers’ wives handled that stuff. My father wanted me working on the farm. My magic made him rich that way.”

Lark heard the hint of darkness in Rosethorn’s voice, but didn’t push the matter. She had dark things in her past as well. Still, she felt it only fair to share when Rosethorn did.

“My mother taught me the basics of spinning and sewing. I learned everything else as we traveled. I made my own gown when I married to my husband.”

“You were married?” Rosethorn asked, unable to stop the question from exiting her mouth. In one of their brief talks on the matter, Lark had stated she was gay.

Lark nodded as she stood and stretched. “I was. My family arranged for a clan to give one of their sons to travel with us instead of having me leave. Thinking on it now, I guess they wanted to keep my magic in our bloodline. I knew I loved women, but I felt a responsibility to my family. My husband and I had two children. Then a warlord attacked our caravan and most of my family died including my parents, husband, and children.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Rosethorn asked in a whisper, her heart bleeding for Lark.

Lark hadn’t meant to tell Rosethorn. It all just came out of her. “Because I wanted you to know. It’s the reason why I still have nightmares sometimes. I know you’ve heard them.”

Rosethorn nodded. She had heard them, but didn’t know what she should do. Finally, Rosethorn decided it was time to change the subject. “Anyway, I came over here because it’s late and you still haven’t eaten supper yet. Your project can wait until you’re fed and bathed so let’s go.”

Lark smiled and obeyed the order. Rosethorn moved aside to let Lark out of the shop and Lark paused in front of the shorter woman. She leaned down to brush a kiss across her friend’s cream-colored cheek. “Thank you for worrying about me, Rosie.”

She pretended not to notice as the cream-colored check turned crimson with emotion.

 

***

 

Lark beamed when she opened the cottage door to find Vetiver. She welcomed her teacher inside. “Vetiver, I thought you said you weren’t coming back here until a certain someone learned to control her tongue.”

Vetiver chuckled, “I decided I didn’t want to wait until the gods took me before visiting you again. Actually, I did come to talk to Rosethorn.”

Lark went to the real door and called, “Rosie, someone is here to see you. Don’t forget to wash.”

“I’ll do what I want, woman,” Rosethorn called back, irritated. “And stop calling me that.”

Vetiver said, sarcasm deep in her voice, “I see you two are getting along well.”

Lark laughed before going to make tea for all of them. “We actually are getting along well. It’s a little strange now that Crane has just left but we’re making it work.”

Vetiver didn’t comment but she was certain Rosethorn would track dirt in the house to be spiteful. She was surprised to find Rosethorn had cleaned up before entering the house.

“Vetiver, what can I do for you?” The plant mage asked as she sat down at the table with the first Dedicate of the Earth temple. Vetiver waited a moment as Lark placed mugs in front of all of them and started to pour out tea.

“Moonstream has brought it to my attention that you have grown over the year and that you should be re-welcomed back to the Earth temple dormitory. I can’t argue her opinion too much and you have improved, so I am here to welcome you back.”

Lark froze, just for an instant. She didn’t want Rosethorn to leave and the thought of it made her heart ache.

Rosethorn didn’t want to leave either and wasn’t about to. “Thanks, Vetiver, but no thanks. This garden wouldn’t last a week without my close attention. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into it. I’m not about to leave it in some stitch witch’s hands. I mean I just got a tomato plant to sprout.”

  Lark smiled, “She has made that garden in her image; so it does need constant attention. It would be best if Rosethorn was made a permanent resident, I think.”

Vetiver looked between both women, trying to decide if they were lovers. As a first Dedicate, she should scold them on falling in love but she didn’t have the heart. Dedicates were only required to serve the gods first and give up any titles or claims of the past. Lovers weren’t often looked upon in favor but they weren’t banned either. She knew both women were dedicated to the gods so she decided to just leave it be. Besides, she didn’t want Rosethorn back under her roof.

She would talk to Moonstream about making Rosethorn a permanent resident of the cottage as soon as she could.

 

***

 

Rosethorn would never, ever, tell Crane that the workshops in the greenhouse were amazing. When Mountainstrider came to Winding Circle with the proposal of discovering the essences of humans, both Rosethorn and Crane had gladly agreed to work on the project. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. Crane had volunteered his greenhouse as a place for them to work, and Rosethorn firmly believed he did it just to make her break her vow about never stepping foot inside the glass monstrosity.

On one of their breaks, she and Crane called a truce to eat lunch in his office. She would never admit it but she missed him a little now that he had moved back into the Air temple dormitory.

“So have you had relations with Lark now that I’ve left?” Crane asked, wiping his mouth.

Rosethorn goggled at him. She honestly was stunned he brought up the subject.

“Number one, it’s none of your business if I have,” She snapped, coming to her senses. “And number two; it’s none of your business.”

“Then, my dear, why are you blushing?”

“I’m not,” Rosethorn barked. She knew she was, especially by the way Crane grinned. They hadn’t had sex, but they had slept together once or twice in Lark’s larger bed. They had stayed up late after midnight services, just talking.

Crane shook his head at his friend. Lark and Rosethorn would make perfect lovers if only they would make that step forward. Both were polyamorous and willing to have an open relationship. Only the gods knew why they hadn’t moved forward.

 

***

 

Rosethorn frowned out her window at the blazing bonfire lit across in a field. Beltane wasn’t her favorite holiday even though it celebrated what she had dedicated her life to. During the day, people who hop across embers with prayers for good crops, plenty of rain, and good harvests. When evening fell, those embers were turned into great bonfires. The night of Beltane was entirely different from the day.

Rosethorn had only ventured out during the night of Beltane three times in her life. Once when she was little, she had snuck out to see what the adults of her village did when they had put all the little ones to bed. Sneaking down to the town’s square where a large bonfire blazed, she saw couples wiggling together on the ground and against trees and buildings. The village priest wandered through the couples, chanting and praying.

It wasn’t until Rosethorn grew older when she realized what she had seen that night. Couples would mate together in honor of the gods and in hope they would be blessed with fertility.

When Rosethorn had gone to Lightsbridge, the night of Beltane became less about being blessed and more about celebrating the gods, or just plain celebrating. While some of the couples who mated around the fires were indeed couples, most were people who came for a night of lovemaking. Strangers would meet, mate, and then go find another if they desired. She had gone once by herself. She had enjoyed the company of two men and one woman that night. The next year she had went with Crane or Isas as he had been known then.

She hadn’t gone down to the fires in three years. Last year she had still been living in the Earth dormitory and hadn’t felt like joining in the madness. This year, she just didn’t want to go. It didn’t matter than Lark had gone an hour ago.

Winding Circle encouraged people to honor the gods by participating, as long as they were of age of course. Dedicates and novices shed their robes and met around the fires to celebrate all of the Living Circle’s gods.

Rosethorn had absolutely no desire to go. She said so to the plants next to her window, “I’m not going.”

She allowed the plants to curl around her fingers, offering comfort. Plants weren’t as complex as beautiful Dedicates whose voices were like warm honey. Lark was complex and simple at the same time. The desire she saw in Lark’s eyes was easy to understand and if it was just desire, Rosethorn would have gladly given in. However there was something more between them. Lark knew it and Rosethorn didn’t want to admit it.

Love was painful and required trust. Everyone she trusted had always ended up hurting her in the end.

Crane was easy to get along with. They were always snapping at each other. They had bitterly argued the first time they met and had slept together the second time. It was a friendship she enjoyed though she would never tell anyone that. Especially him.

Lark was different. Lark had been able to get around her barbs and defenses, like a bird carefully landing on a thorny branch. Lark didn’t care about Rosethorn’s demeanor; it seemed to amuse her if anything.

“I’m not going,” She repeated to herself and the plants. “I’m not.”

 

*

 

Lark walked a good distance away from the bonfire. She had managed to avoid Dedicate Willowwater all night, and she politely declined all who came up to her. She honestly didn’t know what was bothering her. Beltane was one of her favorite holidays. She hadn’t participated many times but she always went to the celebrations.

In theory, the night should be a bitter memory. Her second child had been conceived on this night. She had been sipping wine and looking at a beautiful, female dancer most of the night. She had allowed her husband into her, something that didn’t happen often. Their marriage might have been a happier one if she had liked males instead of females. They managed well enough, especially since she allowed him to be with other females as long as they protected themselves.

Lark had decided long ago not to let the bitterness in her past to control her present so she enjoyed the night for what it was.

The men who asked her to join them were sent away with a smile and shake of the head, but they were few. Most people knew her taste for women. The women who came up to her were also denied but she gave many of them a long kiss on the lips before sending them away.

When an Air Dedicate approached her, Lark was prepared to send her away like the rest. That was until she noticed, in the firelight, the woman had chestnut hair and the shadows gave her the appearance of having dark eyes. Lark mentally struggled for a moment but gave in. She wrapped an arm around the woman’s waist and pulled her tightly against her.

Lark closed her eyes before she kissed her. The kiss was passionate, hard, and long. It left the Air Dedicate panting, but Lark only slightly breathless. This woman wasn’t who she wanted, and if she hadn’t started it because the woman looked a touch like Rosethorn, she would have finished it by celebrating the gods. Now the thread mage was just left with the awkward part of breaking it off with the Air Dedicate without hurting feelings.

 

*

 

No one who watching Rosethorn walk down to the large bonfire would think she was nervous. She walked firmly and steadily while she looked for a tall, golden-skinned woman with a cat-like face.  Rosethorn didn’t blink an eye as she saw Frostpine with some dedicate but she did blatantly stare in shock when she saw Crane with a woman. It took her weeks of preparation to get him to go to Beltane the first time.

Shaking the shock from her head, she finally spotted Lark kissing an Air Dedicate. She was about to walk away and let Lark celebrate when she noticed the look on her face. The thread mage was looking for an excuse to get away.

Rosethorn snorted. The Air dedicate was probably a lousy kisser. Mila and the Green Man knew how long it took her to get Crane to kiss right.

She walked over to the couple and placed a possessive hand on Lark’s arm, “Lark, you promised me the first round of the night.”

The plant mage saw a glimpse of relief in Lark’s face. The thread mage turned and said, apologetically to the Air Dedicate, “I did promise to celebrate with her first. Maybe I’ll find you again later.”

If the Air Dedicate wanted to argue, she changed her mind with the look Rosethorn gave her. Even she knew better than to take something Rosethorn wanted.

Rosethorn pulled Lark further away from the bonfire, closer to a cluster of trees. Only a few couples were near them but they were too busy to pay them anyway attention.

“I thought you weren’t coming,” Lark said, smiling as she noticed Rosethorn had still not let her go. Rosethorn smirked, “I’m not but I imagine I will be soon.”

Lark’s smile turned into a devious grin. “Why so forward now?”

Rosethorn shrugged, “I don’t mind sharing you, but I was kicking myself at not having kissed you first on Beltane.”

“You’ll have the first kiss from now on,” Lark promised. The promise was very loaded and they both knew it. Rosethorn accepted it by replying, “I better.”

Lark stopped walking to pull Rosethorn close. It was a moment that had been developing for a year and she couldn’t want any longer. They closed the distance between their lips and later they would both think it was one of the best kisses in their life. But later would come much later as they were both busy trying to feel as much of the other as they could.

Lark pulled away to catch her breath and she was awe-struck at how beautiful Rosethorn was in the fire-light. She moved her mouth next to Rosethorn’s ear and whispered so, “You’re so beautiful.”

She gently bit the fleshy lobe near her mouth before moving downward. Lark said as she rained kisses along Rosethorn’s neck, “You’re going to be flying when I bring you Healtouch’s pleasure.”

“Promises, promises,” Rosethorn said, breathlessly.

The darkness hid Lark’s smirk as she led the trembling Dedicate to a nearby tree. Pushing Rosethorn against it, Lark started her exploration. She always kept her promises.

Still raining kisses on Rosethorn’s neck, she slipped her hands underneath the plant mage’s tunic. Her traveling hands moved the tunic up, exposing skin to the fire-light, as she reached for the other woman’s breasts. Her hands covered them for a moment before she started using her fingers to tease them.

Rosethorn leaned her head back against the tree as she panted. She wondered why they had waited so long and when Lark loosened the string so her breeches, she no longer cared about why they had waited.

The sounds Rosethorn made caused Lark’s patience to disappear. She knelt, pulling Rosethorn’s breeches down with her. A quick pull to free one of her legs from the breeches, and Lark moved the free leg across her shoulder. Rosethorn pressed her head even harder against the tree and gasped when she felt Lark’s tongue, “Oh Mila. There! Ah, Green Man.”

Lark had learned a few things on her travels and she wanted to show them all to Rosethorn. All that would come later. Now, she just wanted to make Rosethorn celebrate before the gods and she moved her mouth over the full, bud of Rosethorn’s desire.

Rosethorn didn’t last long. She climaxed while crying out the name of Lark and their Earth gods.

Lark wiped her mouth across the sleeve of her shirt before moving back up to hold Rosethorn as the woman came down from her high. The rest period wasn’t long before she found herself pinned against the tree. She briefly wondered if the tree felt Rosethorn’s pleasure, but that thought quickly disappeared as Rosethorn’s mouth moved along her body.

Lark wasn’t much one for crying out to the gods but she did make these tiny whimpers that made Rosethorn’s inside tighten in pleasure. Rosethorn used her fingers to pleasure Lark for the first time and whispered why in Lark’s ear, “I want to taste you in our home. I want to see all of you laid out on your bed.”

With those words and the maddening way Rosethorn alternated between circles and strokes, Lark felt Healtouch’s pleasure. When Lark came, she brokenly whispered two words while tightly holding onto Rosethorn.

“Oh, Rosie.”

That sound caused shivers to go down Rosethorn’s spine. After straightening their clothes, they moved quickly back to the Discipline where they continued to make lover through the night. Rosethorn made sure that Lark called her Rosie, just to feel those shivers again. After that night, it no longer annoyed her when Lark called her Rosie.

 

***

 

It was the longest night of the year and all throughout the temple, all the fires and lights had been extinguished except at the temple of the Fire gods. There many Dedicates gathered to pray at the two flames still allowed to shine for Shurri and Hokkoi.

Rosethorn was not one of those who had gone to pray and neither was her lover. They both lay under a heavy, green quilt to stay warm on the cold night. It was still early for them to go to sleep since they often stayed awake for midnight services, but they had gone to bed anyway. Both were lost in their thoughts.

Rosethorn couldn’t believe they had been lovers for two seasons. They had made it through summer when they both got grouchy from the heat and through the busy harvest months.

They wouldn’t be alone this winter. Moonstream had informed them of a healer mage who was having troubling settling in. It seems he had anger problems that kept him from focusing. Rosethorn would be his teacher for medicine while he learned to control his temper and magic. Then he would switch to a healer for the rest of his training.

This would be Rosethorn’s second student. She wasn’t sure how it would go with a hot-tempered student and sharp-tempered teacher. Lark thought it would be a wonderful experience for both of them.

“Today is my birthday.” Once she said it, Rosethorn couldn’t believe she had said it. She had been friends with Crane for three years before she told him.

“I do believe we celebrated your birthday on Midsummer, Rosie. Quite energetically as I recall,” Lark replied, amusement flowing through her honey voice.

Rosethorn grinned at the memory. “That’s when I celebrate it but that’s not when it is. Tonight is the night I was born. The Gods’ own personal joke if you ask me.”

Lark laughed softly in the darkness. They so rarely shared things from their past since so many painful things lay back there. She decided to share as well. “Your mother and I share a common experience then. My eldest was born on Longnight.”

Rosethorn didn’t know exactly how to reply to that so she said the first thing that came to mind. “Did you use lights?”

Lark laughed again, “My mother and the midwife were never much for tradition so we did have lights to see by. Especially since it was my first.”

Lark never said the names of her family, children, or husband. Lark had never said her birth name either. Rosethorn had never asked. Not even when she had shared her own birth name. 

 

***

When Lark heard the news of Mountainstrider’s death, she left the looms immediately to find her lover. Yasey was in the kitchen when she got home and he pointed out towards the garden. He then stated, “I’m going to the temples to pray.”

Lark nodded her thanks to the young healer mage. Yasey had come a long way with controlling himself. Soon he would transfer his tutelage to a healer mage. Yasey’s skin was almost as dark as their new mage-smith friend, Frostpine. His arrival and dedicating to the Fire Gods had brought much renown to Winding Circle. Frostpine was on his way to being the greatest smith-mage of their time.

The thread mage went out into the garden where Rosethorn sat in the middle, seeming to be just mediating. Lark could see she was failing at the way tiny plants had sprouted up all around her, crawling on her robes. It was a habit that Rosethorn had that she couldn’t control when she was upset or anxious.

Lark sat near Rosethorn, careful not to sit on any of the new plants. Sensing her lover’s presence, Rosethorn opened her eyes. They were glassy with tears and those tears fell as she blinked. Lark reached forward to take Rosethorn’s hands in her own and held them.

Seeing the plants that kept them apart, Rosethorn thanked them for their kindness and used her magic to put them back in their original places. She then laid her head on Lark’s lap and cried. She cried like she had learned to cry as a child to avoid her father’s wrath, quietly.  

Lark tried to pass all the comfort she could onto her lover but she knew time would only heal. Her own eyes watered in sympathy as her lover heaved quiet sobs.

After a time, the plant mage’s tears slowed and then stopped. As Rosethorn sat up, Lark wiped away at her tears. Rosethorn sniffed, “I should go to Crane. He will need me.”

Lark nodded, “He will, my love. Go to him. Stay with him.”

Rosethorn nodded. She watched, envious, of how easy Lark rose from the seated position from years of acrobat training. She accepted the thread mage’s hand when offered and wrapped herself around Lark in a hug. After a few moments, they shared a long kiss before Rosethorn went to clean her face and go to Crane. There at the Air temple, they cried, made love, and argued about whether to continue the search for human essences. Rosethorn would push to keep them all moving forward because that’s what Mountainstrider would have wanted.

 

***

It was late, past midnight services, and both women were still awake in Lark’s room. Lark was only awake because Rosethorn would not stop pacing.

Rosethorn did not like being forced to share a room but as she took her vows seriously, they had opened the Discipline to the villagers as pirates attacked the coast line.

“You could sleep in your workshop,” Lark pointed out, softly as not to wake any of their guests.

“It’s too cold for that.”

Lark sighed. She was too tired to battle her lover’s anger and she lay down on the bed in her nightshirt. She and Vetiver had been working on bandages all day as they had run short in the Water storehouses.

“You could go sleep with Crane. He’s sleeping at the greenhouse. You’d have privacy there.”

“I would never give him the satisfaction of sleeping where plants aren’t allowed to follow their natural cycles,” Rosethorn sneered.

Exhausted and almost out of magic, Lark reached her breaking point. She snapped, “For Mila’s sake Rosethorn, I love you but you either need to settle down or go somewhere else.”

Lark would have laughed at the stunned look on Rosethorn’s face if she hadn’t been shocked by what she had just said herself. She knew a long time ago she loved Rosethorn, but she knew Rosethorn didn’t trust love. Certain her lover would leave, either out of anger or fear, Lark rolled over to face the wall.

“You love me?” Rosethorn asked. She had never felt so scared, happy, and angry all at once. “Is that anyway to tell someone for the first time?”

Lark thought of a dozen retorts but stayed quiet. She scratched the wall in front of her with a finger.

Both women stayed quiet for a long time. Lark was exhausted but she couldn’t sleep with this unsettled between them. Rosethorn finally changed out of her clothes and blew out the lights. She slipped into bed beside Lark and asked the question that was so much easier to ask in the dark, “Did you mean it?”

Lark thought of how to reply. A simple yes would work or she could declare her statement again. Instead she rolled over and moved closer. After almost two years with her lover, she could tell where any of Rosethorn’s body parts were in the dark. She moved so her mouth was close to Rosethorn’s ear and in a whisper told her lover what the names of her parents, husband, and children. She then whispered what her birth name had been.

Tears came unbidden to Rosethorn’s eyes. She had never cried from being happy before and the happiness made her take a risk she thought she would never take.

“I love you too, Lark.”

 

***

“By the Green man, that woman is infuriating,” Rosethorn fumed as they sat at the table. Lark was reading a letter Yasey had sent to them from on his travels. He was heading to Gyongxe. Lark was glad he was doing well.

She was proud that her own first student, Polinna, had received accreditation and she had taken the name Silkway. Her name was on the back of Silkway’s medallion to show the teacher-student connection.

“Dropglider?” Lark asked, refolding the letter to put away.

“Who else?” Rosethorn barked. “It is completely impossible to work with that Water Dedicate. Impossible.”

“You say the same thing about Crane and yet you manage to work with him almost daily,” The thread mage pointed.

The plant mage sniffed in contempt. “Don’t remind me.”

The golden-skinned woman rose from table and stretched, reminding Rosethorn of a cat. So often Rosethorn had wondered why the woman hadn’t taken on a cat-like name. It was probably for the best it was a bird-like name. She liked birds.

Lark smiled, devilishly, “Maybe you two would get along if you both gave in and slept together.”

Rosethorn balked, the look on her face causing Lark to break down into laughter. “I would never! Not with that woman!”

The thread mage laughed so hard her sides hurt. “Oh, Rosie. The look on your face.”

“I’m glad you’re so amused,” Rosethorn huffed. “You’d sooner sleep with Willowwater than I would with Dropglider.”

That sobered Lark a bit. “No need to bring up that subject. You and Dropglider need to finish this project and I really do think you too would work out most of your problems if you just slept together. Isn’t that what you and Crane do?”

Rosethorn let out a frustrated sound and retreated to her workshop.

The next day, Lark left her workshop to greet her lover who was returning from the infirmaries. She paused and then started to smirk as she noticed Rosethorn had obviously bathed before returning home. They almost always went to the baths together unless one of them had been with another person.

“I don’t want to hear a word about it,” Rosethorn firmly stated. “We did it only for the good of the project.”

Lark nodded, sagely, “I’m sure.”

Rosethorn didn’t complain nearly as much about Dropglider after that.

She would have relished the opportunity to give Lark the exact same advice, but the chance never arose. Lark got along with most people she had projects or assignments with. She needn’t sleep with other women to get any tensions out of the way though Lark did sleep with other woman.

The last had been a female potter from the Earth temple. That had actually caused a tiny mess as the potter had also been sleeping with a male tanner from the Fire temple. The male tanner had thought their relationship was more serious than it was and it all ended with Lark having to be her most Lark-ish and defuse the situation.

Rosethorn joked for weeks about how she couldn’t send Lark out for one plant pot without the woman causing trouble.

 

***

“It is with deep sadness that I report to you the passing of the first Dedicate of the Air Temple. Tailwind has rejoined the living circle.”

The room where the Winding Circle Initiate Council met was filled with whisperers and movement as many of the mages made the mark of the gods across their chest. They had known Tailwind was sick, but not so gravely.

Moonstream held up her hands for silence and she received it. “It is also with great sadness that I report Ravenfall of the Air Temple has also passed on.”

The council froze in a moment of shock before questions broke out. Ravenfall was to be next in line as the first Dedicate of the Air temple and had been perfectly healthy.

Lark shared a startled look with Rosethorn and briefly, they clasped hands.

Moonstream held up hands up again for silence, and she received it though it took some time. “Ravenfall had his magic attached to Tailwind when death took her. Initiates, let this be a reminder to you all. When death takes a life, it will take all that is connected to that person. If your magic is inside of someone who dies, you will go to death’s door with them and cannot come back.”

Silence continued over the council as each thought of the solemn words. Moonstream spoke once more. “With the passing of these two great mages and as this a fifth year mark that the council accepts Initiates as great mages, the number of new positions has moved up to five. Also with Tailwind’s and Ravenfall’s passing, we will need a new first Dedicate of the Air temple.”

The night passed on as votes and debates were had. Frostpine and Henna were named great mages of the council which surprised no one. The nominations of Rosethorn and Crane were argued but no one could deny their power. The two green-mages were elected as great mages.

The second-most heated argument was the nomination of Lark as she had been a mage the shortest amount of time. No one denied she was great mage material, only that she should be made to wait longer for the position. Rosethorn argued tooth and nail for her lover and Vetiver spoke highly of her student. It was Niklaren Goldeye’s testament which granted Lark her status as a great mage. While Niko wasn’t a member of the Winding Circle Initiate Council, he was allowed to sit in and speak when he was at Winding Circle. He was qualified to speak as he was a member of the rival council at Lightsbridge University.

The most heated debate was the nomination of Crane as the first dedicate of the Air temple. The council was allowed to vote on the matter and Crane won in the end by one vote. Rosethorn would swear later that she cast her ballad for the other guy, but Lark saw her write Crane’s name.

 

***

 

After ordering the children to their rooms, Lark went about making tea and starting breakfast. She set three cups on the table. Rosethorn and Crane glared at each other until she was seated with them.

“You simply expect me to give up a hundred and thirty year old shakken and disregard the abduction of my property for a tomato plant?” Crane asked, furiously but quietly so the children wouldn’t overhear.

“I expect you to realize that shakken is sick and that you should have asked for help a long time ago,” Rosethorn retorted. “How long has it been ill before it decided to pick a boy over you?”

“Really, woman, it’s not like I left the thing alone to wither. I have been trying but it seems to demand more attention than I have to give.”

“Then why not allow Briar to take care of it?” Lark suggested.

A new scold renewed on Crane’s face. “No. He’s a thief and I doubt he could properly care for it.”

“The boy has green magic as plainly as you and I,” Rosethorn stated. “And I would never let him kill a shakken.”

Lark could tell by the look on Crane’s face that he was still against it and she guessed why.

“You think he doesn’t belong here,” she commented softly. She continued when she had his attention, “Need I remind you that you had trouble settling in here as well? You did use to live here.”

Crane’s cheeks flushed. “That was a long time ago. I’ve obviously settled in or I wouldn’t be first dedicate of the Air temple.”

Lark nodded, “Because you were given the chance. This boy is the same. You despise him because you think him nothing more than a slum-born thief. A thief who has done things so bad that he shouldn’t be allowed here. I lived in the slum, Crane. I’ve stolen things to live. I’ve done things that I will never speak about. Do I deserve to be here?”

Crane flushed deeper in shame. After a moment he cleared his throat, “That is not what I intended when I spoke. Forgive me. The boy can keep the shakken. It shall be a good test for him. Rosethorn, I expect two tomato plants within the week.”

Rosethorn sipped her tea as she watched him leave. She then smirked, “You always did have a way to make him behave.”

“And you always did have a way to anger him. Go talk with Briar before he worries to death,” Lark ordered, good-naturedly.

 

***

 

“I saw Briar eyeing a few, female novices today,” Lark commented as she watched Rosethorn undress.

“Shall I hang him in the well?” The auburn-haired woman asked. Her speech was slow and drawled from her visit into the afterlife but she had grown used to it. There were still things to enjoy in this world. Such things like the sight of her naked, golden-skinned lover against the bright white sheets of her bed.

Lark laughed. It was a sound Rosethorn loved. “I was thinking you should have the sex talk with him.”

Rosethorn paused in taken off her shift and asked, “Isn’t that what we keep Frostpine around for?”

“You’re his teacher, Rosie,” Lark insisted.

“Mountainstrider never had the sex talk with me or Crane,” The cream-skinned woman retorted, pulling off her shift. “Did Vetiver have the talk with you?”

Lark smiled, “You know we were all too old for the talk by the time we became novices. Frostpine gave Daja the talk the best he could, Niko gave Tris a nice book on the matter, and I discussed it with Sandry just yesterday. It’s time for you to talk with Briar.”

Rosethorn made an exasperated sound as she climbed into bed. Lark grinned, devilishly, “Well if you have forgotten the basics of sex after we made love two days ago, I guess I can remind you.”

The plant mage smirked. “It couldn’t hurt to refresh myself.”

 

*

 

“What are some uses of red raspberry leaves?” Rosethorn questioned as she and Briar tied grape vines on trellises. Briar mentally rolled his eyes at the randomness of his teacher before answering, “Used to help stomach problems, increase sweating, and eases pains from womanly bleeding. Also increases fertility in men and women.”

Rosethorn didn’t correct him so that meant he had done well. He smiled to himself.

“Have we discussed droughtwort?”

The boy mentally flipped through his mind before shaking his head.

“It renders a man infertile for days after he eats about two tablespoons. It can be grown well enough in this climate,” Rosethorn stated. “I’ll show you what it looks like when we get back to the house. You’re old enough to start thinking about such things. I don’t care what you prefer when it comes to sexes as long as they are of age and consenting. You should know about anatomy and possible diseases.”

The fourteen-year old boy’s ears almost burned off his head by the time they were done with the vines and the talk. Rosethorn explained everything from how to check for lice and diseases to how to please both sexes in bed. He had heard far more vulgar things in his life before but hearing such things from the mouth of his teacher was embarrassing. He still engrained everything she said in his mind.

 

***

 

It’s time, Rosie. Let me go,” Lark ordered softly through their magic. Rosethorn simply held on tighter to Lark’s hand and shook her head. Lark coughed and spoke verbally, “Now.”

Rosethorn had never been able to adjust to how much their voices had changed as they aged but inside, with their magic, they still sounded like when they just met. “I stay with you, Lark. I’ve said my goodbyes.”

If she had had the energy to cry, Lark would have. She was where she had planned to be when she died. She was at the Discipline, in her bed. She never anticipated Rosethorn going with her. They had always insisted the other should go on.

Briar…” Lark started.

Will be fine,” Rosethorn said. “He’s nearly sixty and the girls are out there. We’re old, my love. I think I can go with you and not kick up too much of a fuss. I’m ready to see Crane again. Niko. Vedris. That stupid dog.

Little Bear.” Lark’s magic voice was all but a whisper now.

Rosethorn could feel Lark’s power slipping away and even though she knew what was coming, she felt fear. When Crane passed, she kept going because Lark was there. But she wouldn’t live without her lover and her best friend. Briar and the girls had cried, but they understood. The first Dedicate of the Earth Temple sat with Briar and the girls outside but Rosethorn knew ‘Evvy’ would always look after Briar.

Death drew them both away from their bodies. There was a brief moment of darkness before they reappeared. They looked at each other and saw they were young again. The world around them was green and lush. Lark kissed her lover with the vigor of youth and together, they set out to find their friends. Rosethorn was sure they had waited on them before accepting to be reborn in a new life.

“Well know that we’re dead, I guess I can finally tell you what happened in Gyongxe. It’s one heck of a story.”

 

The End is just a new beginning.