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The Sleeping Garden

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Gritting her teeth, Talia gave in to the pain and lowered herself onto the garden bench. At least she was tucked out of the way where nobody could see her; the garden was out of season for blooming, and was currently little more than neat patches of grass and dead tangled bushes.

The garden looked about how Talia felt. She’d been married two months now and was just starting to get back on her feet—literally, of course, and figuratively too. She’d sat in on a council meeting earlier, and insisted on walking in under her own power. Insisted on wearing regular Whites instead of layers of warm robes. Dirk had fussed, of course, but at last given way.

Now she was paying for her stubbornness, she thought ruefully. Her feet ached, a slow pain—bearable, very bearable, but she was so tired of bearing things. She felt dormant. No longer dead, at least, but resting, and spring was a long ways away.

She heard footsteps crunching in the gravel, and looked up to see a cloud of brown curls and a pinched brow. Heard a satisfied call of discovery: “Talia!”

Elspeth. The Heir must need her for something. Talia straightened up on the bench and schooled her expression into what she hoped was a wise, sympathetic one.

“Oh, stop that,” said Elspeth, rolling her eyes.

Talia blinked. “What?”

“Your ‘Queen’s Own Face.’ Cut it out, will you?”

Talia blinked again, and realized that Elspeth, in addition to the cross expression, came with a bundle of blankets in her arms—and a cane. Talia slumped down a bit on the bench. “What are you doing out here, then?”

Elspeth shrugged, dropped the cane, and sat down on the bench. “Mother told me you walked into council today. She said you looked great, so I figured you probably felt like shit, actually.” She threw the blankets in the general direction of Talia’s shoulders.

Amused despite herself, Talia obliged and wrapped the blankets around herself. She felt as puffed-up as a fox in winter. As Elspeth kept talking about Queen Selenay’s inability to assess her councilors’ physical conditions, which segued into a general discussion of the other councilors’ inability to hide their hangovers, which segued into a hilarious recounting of that one time the other week when all the Herald-Trainees got completely smashed out in the Companions’ Field—

More than the blankets, Elspeth’s chatter left Talia feeling safe and warm. The cane would be for later, when she finally had to hobble back to Dirk. But for now, in the sleeping garden she could forget her bruises.