Their voices, high and fluting then low and secret. Words cupped behind leaves, sepals curling with glee.
And their eyes.
Bright and knowing. Watching her. Waiting.
Gwyn curled her fingers into her fist, one by one as she stared back. For one breathless moment, she envisioned herself gripping slender stems and tugging upward, hard and sharp. Exposing root to sky, scattering the daisies’ secrets on the wind along with wishes and petals.
But the beastly things were sentient, and she was not a murderess.
Not yet, anyway.
She’d only taken her gloves off for a moment, just to feel the fresh air and sunlight on her fingers. Her only crime had been in not following the Ruby Queen’s orders to the letter. But here, in the Garden, that was enough.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Gwyn said, tugging at the cuffs of her gloves. Her punishment would be swift and sure, and already her stomach was curling along the edges at the thought of it, but she couldn’t regret her one small rebellion.
Not when the sunlight had warmed her fingers to the bone. Or when the wind had wound itself across her hand like a ribbon she could almost see. Standing in the sunshine, fingers peeping out at the world, she’d felt as radiant as the water glimmering down the rocks of the waterfall on the south end of the Garden. Vibrant as the petals of the flowers softly perfuming the air. And as big as the sky.
For the first time in a long time, she’d felt alive.
But now, right now, she was back in her seed. Crushed into a small space just large enough to hold her. She ached to stretch out and unfurl herself once and for all—with the promise of never having to go back.
But there were the daisies to contend with.
Them and the Red Queen.
And Gwyn was the smallest in the Garden, and not even a flower at that.
The tight, cramped space inside her chest constricted a little more.
“Did you hear that?” a daisy said, her voice high and piping. She elbowed her neighbor, a crafty gleam in her eye. “The girl says she did nothing wrong.”
“Nothing?” another echoed with noble hauteur as she peered up at Gwyn, her eyes narrowed with disapproval.
“Nothing whatever,” another daisy said, giggling into her leaves.
“IF you did nothing wrong,” a heavier voice, like a pebble in your shoe, cut through the light-headed antics of the others, “then you have nothing to fear.”
Gwyn pressed her lips out of a scowl as the head daisy managed to look down at her, even though the daisy was at least three feet shorter. This particular daisy had always disliked her, and had a knack for passing on the exact sort of information that would infuriate the Ruby Queen.
A robin sang out above them before it landed on the smooth stone path in front of Gwyn, saving her from having to answer an unanswerable question. It ruffled its feathers until it had shivered out of them, and her cousin stood before her.
“Robin,” Gwyn said, nodding. She wanted to hug him, but he liked being touched almost as much as she enjoyed the Ruby Queen’s attention. She couldn’t, however, stop the relief spreading across her face until it pushed the corners of her lips up into a smile.
He gave her a sideways look, still more bird than boy. His eyes were like green lanterns, and rivaled the daisies’ for being able to pick out the smallest of details.
Details he could turn to his benefit later on.
His tunic was a little more ragged than usual, and his trousers had a few more patches than she remembered, but his bright red scarf was still brilliant and clean about his neck.
Strange how red on Robin meant life and something bigger than all of the Garden, and yet the same red on the queen meant clipped wings and barred windows.
“Another happy gathering, I presume?” he said. His voice was light, and yet grim laughter hovered along its edges. Robin always had a smile lurking at the corners of his lips. Always.
The daisies sized his up, debating silently among themselves, root to root, petal to petal.
“Rules is rules,” one of them mumbled, hiding her face in her leaves.
Robin gave them a dangerous smile. Sharp as thorns, sure as summer. Gwyn took a step back. She’d learned long ago that when Robin had that look about him, Things Happened.
And Things usually got her into more trouble with the queen. Robin, not being of the Garden, could flit off without a moment’s thought. But Gwyn had arms, not wings, and feet that were bound to the Garden as surely as though she’d been planted there.
And, in a strange way, she had been. A wayward seed on a meddlesome wind.
Robin’s grin widened until the tips of his teeth gleamed in the sunlight. “Are they?”
“They are,” the head daisy intoned, wrinkling her nose and folding her leaves. She tossed her head back, the petals of her hair purer and whiter than should have been possible.
Gwyn frowned. The head daisy was one of the Ruby Queen’s favorites—when the queen deigned to notice her at all—and Robin, undoubtedly, knew it.
She had to do something to distract him. To show him that she could handle a clump of gossipy flowers on her own.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” she repeated, glowering at the flowers. So far as she was concerned, daisies were little more than weeds. Weeds with a penchant to gossip from sunup until sundown. The greater the trouble they could cause, the greater the enthusiasm they had in spreading the tale. She couldn’t believe she was trying to protect them from Robin.
“And you’ll be telling no tales,” Gwyn promised, her words bright and chipped as the stones lining the walkway and the flower beds. She fingered a pebble she’d put in her pocket earlier for no other reason than it had caught her attention and she thought she might need it later on.
Unfortunately, she had been right.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2015 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.
Author’s note: Not all daisies are evil. In fact, some are rather delightful when they aren’t trying to choke you on pollen or tattle on you to petty tyrants who rule with the faerie equivalent of an iron fist. Yep. Not evil. O:)
Join me next Tuesday to see why this particular stone is so special and if Gwyn is successful in preventing her cousin from . . . gathering a bouquet. >:)
If this is your first time visiting, check out the first installment of this episode. Feel free to gather round the hearth and read the other stories that are going on too. The more the merrier!