The pebble was, on its own, quite unremarkable. It was a smooth, anonymous dun color. The same shade the soil went when the sun and wind and rain had bleached the color from it. It was soft and smooth as sand, but for the tiny markings she’d carved into its surface.
A beautiful word. A quiet word. A word the flowers feared more than anything else. More than the gardner with his silver-bright shears. More than winter with her frost and chills. But not quite as much as they feared a queen with poppy-red skirts and a temper to match.
“Indeed?” The head daisy raised a brow, politely incredulous. “All in the Garden may speak their minds—”
Robin stepped forward, “I’ve a mind—”
Gwyn put a hand on his arm, her eyes on the daisy who was the grand duchess of this particular flower bed.
“—And when laws are broken,” the queen’s pet gave them a look so full of disdain that Gwyn could almost taste it, “the right authorities must be alerted.”
She shook her head. The stone burned cold and hot in her hand, aching to be used. That was the way of runes—invoke a power, even if only by scratching out the name of it, and it’s going to want to do what it was made to do.
A lesson she’d learned early on.
Proud, and a little ashamed, she pulled the pebble out of her pocket and held it out as though in offering. The daisies leaned forward to get a better look before snapping back as far away from her as they could.
“That isn’t what I think it is, is it?”
“How dare she! When the queen—”
Robin, despite himself, looked impressed.
Heartened, Gwyn straightened her spine. “Neither of us want me to have to use this. And I won’t, if you’ll stop trying to get me into trouble.”
The trick had been in getting the rune just right. Runes were like that—powerful, but persnickety. Don’t inscribe a line deep enough, long enough, or straight enough, and a rune meant to silence could do anything from cause a blizzard in the middle of the summer, turn everyone into pink hippos, or make the rune caster speak backwards.
If the Ruby Queen found out Gwyn was still trying to learn runes, she’d have her head. She hadn’t been happy when she’d learned that the small girl in her charge had taken to learning magic in the dusty corners of the library. Besides, the queen did not have a sense of humor, and she hadn’t appreciated the boar thistles Gwyn had accidentally conjured when she’d been trying to create a kindness rune for a particularly prickly patch of thorns.
The daisies paled, but didn’t say anything. They just hunched over and glowered at her.
Satisfied that she’d made her point, she walked down the path so the daisies could sulk on their own. Robin was here, and the queen hadn’t caught him yet, so maybe there was still time for a story.
“Something tells me they won’t be bothering you again,” Robin said, catching up with her. “For today, at least.”
All the tension and unease drained out of her. She’d made her point, crafted a perfectly good rune, and had kept Robin from causing trouble. A spark of triumph warmed her on the inside, but the rest of her felt drained. Tired. Restless.
“Sometimes today is all that matters.”
Robin gave her an approving nod. The edge of danger in his smile disappeared until all that was left was mischief. “Spoken like your mother’s daughter. Have you heard from her recently? She ought to have finished recharging her stone by now.”
“Stone?” Gwyn blinked, and Robin just smirked at her. “My mother makes runes too?”
She hadn’t seen her mother in what felt like forever, and Gwyn longed for the sweet tones of her mother’s voice. The kind understanding in her eyes. A sympathetic ear in a Garden run by a tyrant.
Someone to hold onto when the nights were dark and the days darker.
He winked at her like they were sharing an old joke. “Not exactly, but not far off either.”
“Robin,” she growled, knowing it was useless to prod him for details he had no intention of giving up.
“Chin up.” He plucked a yellow rose out of the air and handed it to her with a courtly bow that was ruined by his smirk.
Gwyn accepted the rose, bringing it to her face. The queen never allowed her to keep the flowers Robin gave her, which was probably why he continued to present her with a flower every time he visited.
They both liked to tweak the queen’s nose when they could, but Gwyn wished that she could keep the flowers. She liked the reminder that the Garden was not the world. That there were other flowers that grew in other places. Because maybe, perhaps one day, she might be able to see more of the world that wasn’t clamped in the fist of a single person.
“You’ll come again?” she asked. He only ever gave her something as he was about to leave. The child inside her wanted to scream and throw things, demand he take her with him. But she was eleven now, almost twelve, and too old for such displays of temper.
If only growing up didn’t mean relying on questions and small words to express what was written in her heart.
Robin laughed at her with his eyes. “Always. The Ruby Queen herself couldn’t keep me away.”
“Robin!” To speak the queen’s name aloud was to summon her. He knew that!
But he had turned into a swirl of brown and red feathers and was quickly devoured by the bright blue sky.
“What a lovely day,” a voice like pincushions and rusted hinges said from behind her.
Gwyn closed her eyes and pressed her lips together. Why had Robin done this to her?
“Which makes the news I received all the more distressing.” The Ruby Queen paused as if waiting for Gwyn to agree. When she didn’t, the queen pressed on, “Turn around and look at me when I’m talking to you, girl.”
Gwyn turned, stuffing her scowl away for later. For now, with the queen, she had to smile. So she did. A smile that would rival the sunshine itself in scorching brilliance.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The Ruby Queen narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips as though the sight of Gwyn was akin to biting into a lemon. A gleam like the edge of a knife brightened her eyes. “It seems I have a rebel on my hands. Wouldn’t you agree?”
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2015 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.
Family. Maddening, and yet so often the very thing that keeps us together in the face of tyrants and their pet flowers. Robin, though, has a habit of turning up where he’s least wanted–at least by the queen–and staying only half as long as Gwyn would like, though three times longer than is safe. Strictly speaking.
Join me next Tuesday to see how the Ruby Queen deals with rebels. She is extremely civilized, as you shall see. 😉
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!