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Tree Time

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They first met out in the forests of Fillory, Julia wandering in whatever felt the right direction at the time. Eliot scoffed at her for it, but Julia had never cared much what Eliot thought. Eventually she'd started doing some things just to see him roll his eyes. Janet too. The pair of them were laughable sometimes.

Julia stopped in front of one of the clock-trees still ticking away in the woods and watched the second hand as it made its way around and around. Out of curiosity, she tried a reversal spell, but the clock kept ticking, as if she'd done nothing at all. She tried it again, adding a little twisty motion she'd picked up from Quentin (though she'd never admit it) that was supposed to bolster effects against magical items. And still the clock ticked on.

Well. Now she was equal measures curious and annoyed. Going through her options, she decided on a freezing spell that had always worked to stop things like clocks and mechanical toys. There was a slight grinding sound and she was certain that the second hand paused just a little, but then it was moving again.

"It won't work, you know," a voice said from behind her. "They're warded against all sorts of tampering. Except axes, saws, you know. Non-magical tampering. You could probably bore into the tree and take the clock apart if you wanted, gear by gear."

Julia spun around, defensive spells out and ready. But the woman who'd appeared behind her merely waved her hand. And wasn't that galling? She didn't even use the fancy finger movements. Just a wave and there, done.

The woman smiled and dropped her hands, showing Julia her palms. "The clock-trees are mine," she told Julia.

"So you're the Watcherwoman," Julia said. "Jane Chatwin."

Jane did a little curtsy to Julia and Julia couldn't quite decide if it was mocking or respectful. Maybe it was somehow both. If anyone could manage both at the same time it would be someone like Jane Chatwin, who'd apparently lived many times over in the attempt to kill the creature her brother had become.

"And you are Her Highness, Queen Julia," Jane said. "One of the new royals."

"As opposed to ancient history," Julia quipped, not sure what to expect from this unknown quantity. Once, back when she was a child and had read and re-read the Fillory books over and over until she could recite them, she might have thought she knew Jane. As well as one could know a fictional character, in any event. And she even might have thought she could have guessed at some of the Watcherwoman's actions and reactions. But she wasn't a child and neither was Jane and the Watcherwoman had motives she'd never dreamed of in her juvenile imaginings about the books. About Fillory.

She wouldn't have guessed that Jane would tip her head back and laugh, deep and hearty and relieved.

"Oh yes," Jane sighed, her laughter still evident in her voice. "Definitely ancient history. Practically the stone ages around here. Now, tell me, what were you trying to do to the clock-tree?"

"Nothing, really," Julia admitted. "I was just seeing what I could do. Apparently it turns out I can't do anything." It was hard to keep the bitterness out of her voice, even now. But Jane was nodding sympathetically.

"I know. Disheartening, isn't it? To find you've worked so hard, lost so much, and there's still so many things you can't change? Can't fix?"

Jane was looking at her, steady and unwavering and Julia had the distinct impression that Jane knew more about her, more about her past and her future, than Julia did. Jane held out her hand and a little golden gear appeared, spinning in the air above Jane's palm.

"Here. Some time for you," Jane said. And then she turned and walked off into the woods, disappearing in the woods with only the sound of the clock-trees striking the hour to show her passage.

The little gear hung in the air where Jane Chatwin had stood and as Julia moved forward to inspect it, it drifted closer and then brushed her fingers and was gone in a puff of golden smoke.

*

They met again in the past, though Julia didn't know it. Jane sat in a safehouse, fingers busy with a complicated spell everyone in the room was working on. She'd mastered it years ago, but she worked on it just the same, crooking her fingers into tortured positions to produce the desired effect. She could have done the spell in her sleep, but she was watching Julia Wicker work on the spell, fumbling, then growing more and more steady the longer she worked on it.

They'd been at it for hours now. The rest of the people in the room were hopeless. Jane had inspected all of them when she'd first come in and proven her credentials. She'd been making the rounds of these little magic havens for decades and only once in a great while was there anyone worth her time. Usually it was a waste of a day or two. But not now. Julia was a little different. Her future stretched into fascinatingly unknown fractals.

No one was looking when it happened. Time stretched. Just a little. Just enough to give Julia an edge on her fellows. A blue vine burst from her fingers to twine around her hand and arm and she laughed, triumphant. It was all she'd needed, a little time.

*

The third time they met, Julia watched Jane from her tree, incorporeal and protective of not just her own tree but the ones around it. Jane was walking through the woods, fingers brushing the trunks of the trees, humming to herself. Julia waited, letting the trees Jane passed tell her where the Watcherwoman was. The trees liked her, all of them. There were no clock-trees on the Far Side of the World where Julia's tree was, but the trees there liked Jane anyhow. They rustled their leaves for her and Julia found herself smiling.

"Hello?" Jane called out, stopping just in front of Julia's tree. Julia considered ignoring her, just letting her go, but then decided against it. Jane had given her a gift once. She owed the woman something, at least.

"Hello," Julia said, stepping out around her tree. They didn't have to do it like that. Dryads could technically appear anywhere near their trees. It was just the sort of thing they tended to do. Kept people on their toes trying to guess if they'd been hiding or if they somehow lived in the trees. Which was silly, really. As if there was a hollow space in the trunk or something.

"Julia," Jane said, curtsying to her. And this time Julia was certain there was no mockery at all in the gesture. "I thought perhaps you'd be over here. If you were in the trees on the other side I would have seen you already."

"None of the clock-trees have dryads," Julia pointed out.

Jane shook her head. "No, they don't. That was on purpose. I'd hate to inconvenience a dryad with all that ticking."

Julia nodded, relieved. When she'd first become a dryad she'd thought a bit about the clock-trees. She'd had a hard time settling on whether she still liked them or whether they felt like an abomination to the natural order of Fillory. Except that the natural order of Fillory wasn't really all that natural or orderly. She'd decided to simply accept them. Now she felt she could go back to liking them. After all, they'd taken root here so easily.

"You gave me something once," Julia told Jane. "May I repay the favor?"

Jane shook her head. "It's fine," she told Julia. "Catch me some other day. Who knows when I'll need something only you can give me?"

That seemed wise, so Julia stepped back around her tree and faded away into her spirit form, allowing Jane to continue on, almost as much a part of the world as Julia was now.

*

It wasn't the last time they met, but the fourth time Jane and Julia met was at Jane's house in Fillory, Julia arriving fresh from showing Quentin the Far Side of the World and sending him on his way.

Jane was just putting on a pot of tea and smiled when she saw Julia. "Not just a one-tree girl anymore, are you," she remarked as she took down a second teacup. Not that Julia needed to drink anything, let alone tea, but Jane knew a goddess when she saw one and you had to be polite to goddesses.

"I think you need something," Julia told her as she came to sit at Jane's table. "And I need something too."

Jane took a seat across from her while the tea steeped. "And what is it we need?" she asked.

Julia held up a hand and above it floated a tiny green sprig, translucent and shimmery.

"You need something to do here. I need someone to keep an eye on this side of Fillory."

Jane reached out as Julia offered the sprig to her. "It's not much," she warned Jane as the sprig dissolved onto her hand, the green briefly making Jane's palm glow. "Just a little power. A tiny bit of divinity. You were already almost there," she admitted.

Jane cradled her hands to her chest, feeling the power Julia had given her bloom in her bones. It wouldn't stay green inside of her. It would be golden and hard, ticking softly. She could hear it already.

"Be a good caretaker," Julia told Jane as she disappeared. "Just as you always were."