by Tari Gwaemir
"At most, flowers."
Mistress Mary, quite contrary, grown ever more eccentric with age. As a young lady of sixteen, with her hair up and her skirts long, she insisted on muddying her boots and the hem of her petticoats while walking on the moors on a damp Sunday morning--"I forgot the smell of growing things," she informed her distraught maid--and on picking locks to closed-off rooms, a skill she had acquired under Colin's tutelage, who in turn had learned it at boarding school.
"Miss Mary," Colin said teasingly, as he walked into her sitting room--she was now old enough to have such little luxuries, although it must be admitted that she spent very little time sitting in it--without knocking. He hardly paused at the sight of his cousin sprawled out on the floor examining seeds with a magnifying glass. "I hear that you've taken up natural history."
"One would wonder at your lack of manners," Mary said absently, "in walking into a lady's room unchaperoned."
"You lecture me on etiquette?"
"Who else will be rude enough to tell you that you are being rude?"
"Touché. But tell me about this new project of yours. " Colin sat down and poked at one of the many envelopes lying scattered on the floor.
"Not new, but old. I've decided to return to gardening." She looked up at him and met his eyes, which were still large and gray and strangely luminous. An unspoken thought passed between them, and he nodded.
"When are you leaving?" she asked, bending her head over a packet labeled Rosa damascena.
"In a week. You shan't be lonely, here in the manor by yourself?"
"Don't be silly," she said. "And you?"
He laughed. "Why would I be lonely at Oxford?"
"Don't be silly," she repeated. She deftly wrapped up the packet she had been examining with a faded hair ribbon and handed it to him.
Beneath the packet, a heavy metal key. He touched its warm, polished surface. "Mary," he began, then halted.
"You once said you would become a magician," she said matter-of-factly. "A reminder to keep your promises."
He held the key, the small packet of seeds, tightly in his palms, against his heart.