When Larch awoke, the morning sun was tickling his face. He opened his eyes and found that he was still lying in the spring. He smiled to himself, confused but content, before sniffing and noticing that he’d been lying there so long that the water had begun to smell
faintly of tea. Running his hands through his ruffled and slightly wilted leaves, he gathered up his clothes and began to dress. There was no sign of Lily, not that he gave that much thought. After all, he’d see her around. Returning his flute to his inside pocket, he whistled his way back to the orchard to see what work he had to avoid.
Over by the lake, Reed was fishing, naturally, and Holly was sitting in a chair, poring over the books she’d been given. They’d been passed through the family for generations; nobody could remember exactly when or how they’d got hold of them, but their wise words had birthed every healthy young PlantSim in the garden. Although she was undoubtedly one of the Roses’ sharpest thorns, academics had never been Holly’s strong suit and she was finding some of the archaic volumes very heavy going.
“Did you have to read all this rubbish?” she called over to Reed. He nodded.
“They’re not rubbish really. Do you more good than harm in the end.”
“If you say so.” Holly fingered the spine of the worst offender and just for a moment, the thought of sending it soaring into the water crossed her mind. As if she’d read her mind, Willow called out from behind the hut:
“Don’t even, sprout!” She walked slowly round to join them. She was on her daily rounds of the garden, checking up on her children and making sure everything was in order.
“Of course not. Who am I, Larch?” Holly smiled and gestured to the chair beside her. Willow sat down and looked over the shimmering water. She leaned back and took the weight off her aching legs.
“That chair’s creaking,” remarked Holly. “Another thing to fix, and no time to fix it.” She looked mournfully over at the pile of books. Willow tutted and ruffled her great-niece’s leaves.
“Don’t worry, it’ll make a good first project for junior. Or you could teach Larch.” Reed snorted, flicking his line out further and, if in his own inimitable fashion, managing to fish sarcastically. Willow frowned, deepening the wrinkles in her forehead. Uncomfortable thoughts had begun to take root in her mind and, try as she might, she couldn’t dispel them. Once again, the ever-warming sun was itching her to step out of role and give her nephew a sharp clip on the ear, as if he were still a seedling.
“You’re too soft on that kid.”
“On the contrary, I don’t think I’m soft enough.” Willow sighed. She was feeling guilty for yesterday, when she’d punished Larch for calling his father ‘twitchy’. She knew that it wasn’t right for a leader to lose her composure in that way. Although she never spoke of it, everyone knew that her son’s problems were a thorn in her heart, still so sore that no one dared touch it. From the moment Larch was first handed to her, quicker perhaps than with her own child, Willow knew what Larch needed. She had always tried to counsel him, to sway rather than push him into the right action and had always been his advocate in a dispute, much to Reed’s displeasure. But recently her patience had been wearing thin, and it became easier and easier to snap and reprimand him.
“All plants grow differently Reed. Some, like you, grow with the storms. Others, like Larch, grow with the sun. It is – good grass, what’s that!” Suddenly, a strange sound came from within the hut. Holly shook her head and put down her book.
“It’s poor old Lily. That’s the second time this morning she’s thrown up like that. I think she caught a blight from sitting out all night.” The two women rose and followed
the sound inside, wearing worried expressions on their faces.
“That’s right, change the subject,” Reed muttered to himself. “But I tell you, keep being a softwood and he’ll bring you something much worse than a spiteful tongue.”