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Garden of Stars

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Alma looked at Cabanela’s garden with a faint frown; she recognized all the flowers, of course: sand rubies, lilacs, others that she knew represented the rest of the group that had, a year ago, saved the world. It was a beautiful, impossible garden; none of these things should have been able to grow together but it was evident he’d taken much care and worked as tirelessly as only Cabanela could to create this miraculous blooming. It was a glorious garden, but she couldn’t help but notice that the lilies that she knew he loved were planted so meticulously far from everyone else.

She cast a worried glance back at the house, but no, after the first flush of alarm and then the inevitable teasing he’d agreed to come back with clear love and relief. It was clearly not that he didn’t want what she and Jowd had to give, but more, perhaps, that he’d told himself he couldn’t have it so often that even his garden now mirrored it. Well, he was packing his belongings right now, giving that the lie, but the garden was a trickier proposition. He’d blithely assured them he’d bring cuttings and seeds, and start all over again, but it was a pity to leave such beauty unseen in such an out-of-the-way place.

She thought a moment, imprinting the view of the garden on her memory, then strolled in thoughtful silence back to the house to help with the preparations and make a few plans of her own. She would ask Memry to make a special run to Narshe, after they were back to the castle, and pick up some things from the artisans that were slowly repopulating the area.

The festival was in full swing. No one had asked Cabanela to judge anything this time, but the King of Figaro was much taken with the ceremonial things that Alma gladly delegated to him this year after so many years of doing it herself. Alma, on the whole, was enjoying monopolizing Cabanela’s attention as they walked arm in arm through the crowds. A group of children ran past, laughing and holding sparklers; Alma noticed Cabanela’s eyes catch on them with a wistful glance.

“Would you like some?” a shopkeeper inquired from his stall, smirking at what he probably thought was an easy mark until Cabanela turned to him. The shopkeep blinked, then realized to whom he was speaking and promptly held out a double handful of sparklers. “Free of charge to the savior of Figaro, sir!”

“Hey maaan, I don’t--” Cabanela began to protest, but Alma leaned around him and smiled, forestalling his protest.

“Thank you, Elwyn, you always have just the things we need.” She winked at him, and Elwyn winked back.

“Absolutely, your majesty! Anytime! I take it you’re ready?”

She nodded and drew Cabanela on before he could demand more information.

Cabanela shot her a sidelong glance as they walked on toward a less-crowded spot on the outskirts of town. “You’re lookin’ awwwfully pleased with yourself there, baby.”

“Am I?” Alma favored him with a mysterious smile. “Maybe I’m just enjoying our time together. Nooothing like it!” She pulled a flint and steel from her pockets. “Want to light some of those up?”

Cabanela grinned at her imitation of him but shot a suspicious glance at the flint and steel. “That was handy.”

“It was, wasn’t it!” Alma’s smile broadened. “Here.” With a few quick strikes, she managed to light a sparkler and handed it back to him, and then lit a few more and twirled in the dimming twilight. “It can’t match up to you, of course, but it’s a start!”

Cabanela grinned and took a few too, and for a few minutes they whirled and danced like children around each other, trailing sparks like ribbons. The sparklers eventually dimmed and flickered out as the sun slipped beyond the horizon, and Alma heard the sound she’d been waiting for.

“Look!” She pointed up, just as the whistling stopped and a boom shook the air around them, raining tiny blue and gold sparkles.

After an uncertain flinch, Cabanela stared up, his mouth open. “How?” He managed.

“Narshe can do some impressive things with gunpowder, these days,” she said. “And of course, we must support our local communities. Noblesse oblige and all that.” She waggled a finger at him, then gestured to the waiting area she’d prepared earlier, complete with all the requisite supplies for an evening picnic.

He raised an eyebrow at her, but shrugged, sitting next to her and turning his face to the sky. The fireworks lit his eyes to dazzling stars and he squeezed her fingers as Alma took his hand. The show intensified, the sound pounding all around them. As the show reached its heights, the Vanguard soared overhead, trailing something that could barely be seen in the dim light until it lit up the night with an enormous bouquet of flowers that seemed to appear from nowhere. Sand rubies. Lilacs. Lilies. Tied together, their stems braided. It flickered for a few moments, then seemed to fall apart, sparks raining down from the frames like petals from a thrown bouquet. After a moment, more fireworks blossomed as the show resumed.

Cabanela turned to Alma, stunned for once into silence. She held out a bouquet of the same flowers, stems tied and braided, and her smile was soft. “My heart couldn’t give you up,” she said. “Just a reminder that you belong with us, come what may.” Her lips trembled slightly, then firmed. “Per sempre ognor…

Cabanela finished the lyric, “…qui a me, t'attenderò.” He took the bouquet and smiled down at it in a besotted manner. “Are these myyy flowers, baby? From my garden?”

Alma nodded. “I hope you don’t mind…”

Cabanela flourished it with a grand gesture, holding it high so the bouquet was kissed by the moon, then pulled her from her seat and into an embrace, stroking her hair with long, clever fingers. He kissed her like the sun, outshining the fireworks, and let that be his answer as their garden of stars blossomed all around them.