“Lily!” Reed laid down his fishing rod and jogged over to his daughter, who had just stepped out of his hut. She smiled weakly as he put a wiry arm around her shoulders. “How are you feeling?”
“Good,” she said. “Have I missed much?” Reed rolled his eyes.
“Oh, just the usual nonsense. Moss nearly blew himself up tinkering with the grill. Said it was an ‘important project’, but wouldn’t tell us what it was.”
“Oh dear,” said Lily. “Is he OK?”
“He’s fine, just a little singed. It nearly gave Oak a heart attack though.”
“Oh my!” They turned the corner and approached the main hut. Holly was grilling a veritable mountain of fish, apparently testing the newly repaired grill. She turned around briefly and gave a her sister a hearty wave. Lily waved back. Out of the door came Larch, looking a little harassed and carrying a pile of books. Upon seeing Lily, he proceeded to drop them exhaustedly, a wave of relief washing over his face. Reed chuckled.
“Ah, yes. Willow’s had your young friend here filling in for you as Nurturer.” Lily nodded and swallowed a smile. As much as she loved Larch, she couldn’t deny that the idea of someone so blunt and hot-headed as Nurturer made about as much sense as Moss performing an operatic aria. Larch frowned.
“All right, I wasn’t that bad. Oak’s alive isn’t he?” Whilst he was saying this, Larch attempted to catch Lily’s gaze, but she couldn’t quite meet his eyes. He could lie until his tongue turned black, and Reed would never suspect a thing, but Lily wore her emotions on her sleeve and was always far easier to detect. She decided it would be better to avoid talking to Larch until they were alone. Luckily, he seemed to get the hint, and busied himself picking up the books.
“He’s done very nicely on only a day’s training, thank you very much!” came a call from behind them. Willow appeared and put her arms around Lily and Reed. “And you were very kind, lending a hand like that. No-one else would have carried two patients to the spring and back every day. I’m very proud of my garden of Roses.” She pinched her nephew’s cheek and winked. Reed scowled, his cheeks glowing a little. Willow laughed at his childishness. Reed never did like it when a flash of good nature shone through his prickly armour. She turned to Lily and embraced her.
“Welcome back, my darling! It’s good to see you looking well.” Lily hugged her back.
Oddly she couldn’t help feeling that Willow was holding her in strange manner, although she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. Perhaps it was simply because her stomach was still sore. “All the same, though, I would like Oak to give you a quick check over as soon as possible please.” Lily’s heart began to beat a little faster.
“But really, Willow, I assure you I’m completely fine. I wouldn’t want to inconvenience him after he’s been ill himself.”
“No buts,” said Willow firmly. Then she smiled. “Sorry, but I have to take precautions. If you’re still contagious it could put the whole forest at risk.” Lily nodded and started off towards the elders’ hut, reminding herself that whatever notions may enter an old man’s head, there was no record in any medical book (for she had read them all during her training) of her condition to reference.
Later that evening, Willow and Oak held a private meeting in the Orchard. Oak had a handful of complicated notes scribbled in his cursive script. He leafed through them, a frown creasing his heavy brow.
“Well, there’s no sign of any disease, so whatever she had has gone completely. It looks like we needn’t worry about any further infection.”
“Good,” Willow nodded. “And were there any symptoms, any clues to what was wrong?”
“Not really,” said Oak shrugging his shoulders. “She has put a bit of weight on, which is unusual after a blight, but not unheard of. There is a type of fungus that can do that, if I remember correctly. Shall I get Holly to scrub out the spring?”
“Yes, that sounds like a sensible precaution. Moss?” Willow looked over at her son.
He was staring up at the stars, eyes and mind wandering as they always did. Who knew what went on in there, Willow thought. It always pricked a little at her heart to think that she’d never quite managed to close that distance between herself and her son. His thoughts were simply written in another way to his fellow Roses.
They could stare up at the night sky, watch a cluster of dancing stars and remark on the beauty. It would take Moss until the dawn to squeeze out the words, but he could talk that joy into the plants and produce the sweetest fruit in the world, or see inspiration for some marvellous contraption which within a season would be built and sparking around the forest. At least, that was what she was relying on. Gently, she nudged his shoulder.
“Moss. Is it finished?”
“N-nearly. I d-don’t want you to u-use it though. Pl-please Willow. I-I sh-should, I-I’m younger.” His eyes filled with worry and his fingers jerked more than ever. Willow gave a nod.
“Ok,” she said. “Don’t fret, dear. I don’t suppose we’ll need it too soon anyway.”
A Garden of Roses Chapters
- The Spring Council
- Overheard Words
- A Little Mistake
- By the Lake
- Something Much Worse
- A Midnight Arrival
- Back to Normal?
- Bad Omens
- Willow Explains it All
- The War of the Roses – part I
- The War of the Roses – part II
- A Garden of Roses
- Epilogue – The Summer Council