Spells releasing. Realigning. Triggering other spells.

The complexity of what was under their feet staggered her.

Or maybe the staggering was simply because the texture of the ground was changing. Or because of what she sensed.

“Cassie?”

“It’s alive,” she said. “Whatever is under this tree is still alive.”

They looked at each other.

“It’s your family, Gray,” she said. “It should be your choice.”

“Theran,” Ranon said, making a “come here” motion with his hand as he continued staring out an upstairs window. “You need to see this.”

Joining the other Warlord Prince, Theran watched Gray and Cassidy rock the dead honey pear tree. Then he swore. “What in the name of Hell are those two doing now?”

Wood that had been impervious to ax or Craft crumbled under their hands as she and Gray used Craft to float the remains of the tree out of the way. When they set it on the ground, its own weight broke it up even more.

We’ll have a nice pile of wood chips for mulch, Cassidy thought as she and Gray hurried to the shed for picks and shovels.

“You wash off that slice,” Gray said. “You don’t want dirt getting into it.”

She didn’t argue, since he was right. It stung when she washed it at the pump, but she made sure the slice was clean before she called in her own little jar of healing ointment and slathered some ointment on her finger before running back to the spot.

She had to put two shields around her hands and then gloves, as well as promise to let Shira see her finger, before Gray handed her one of the shovels.

“The ground has changed,” Cassidy said as she started shoveling.

“Good potting soil,” Gray said, working swiftly but carefully.

She was so focused on the ground in front of her, she didn’t notice Theran until he was almost on top of them.

“What are you doing?” he roared.

“Digging,” Gray snapped. “Theran, you take the other shovel. Cassie’s already done enough.”

“There’s something buried under the tree,” Cassidy said, seeing Theran’s eyes blaze with fury as he looked at the crumbling tree that had been his family’s symbol. “Something is alive down there.”

His face was wiped clean of everything but his fury. Then he seemed to absorb the words. “Alive?”

She nodded.

Gray hadn’t stopped digging. Now Theran threw himself into it.

Cassidy looked toward the terrace and sighed when she saw Shira, Ranon, Powell, and a few others, including several servants, heading toward her to find out what was happening now.

More often than not these days, she felt like a one-woman drama society. It seemed like she never did anything without an audience.

“Can’t they use Craft to move the dirt?” Shira asked.

Gray and Theran both stopped digging and looked at her.

Cassidy stared at the hole for a moment, then closed her eyes. Blood to blood. But this didn’t start when she sliced her finger just now. This started when she had worked her hands bloody trying to run from the pain caused by Theran’s words.

Her blood had smeared on rocks, had mixed with the soil.

A Queen’s power connecting with the land.

If they tried to do this without sweat, without toil, they would find nothing worth having.

“We can’t use Craft,” she said.

Theran and Gray went back to digging. The ground kept crumbling, so they had to widen the hole. Ranon got the wheelbarrow and another shovel in order to shift the dirt. Other members of the court joined them, along with servants and men from the stables.

But it was Theran and Gray who dug.

And it was Theran and Gray who found the old locked chest and dragged it out of the hole.

One blow of a shovel broke the lock. Theran opened the chest, then sat back on his heels, his face filled with disappointment.

Cassidy picked up one of the pieces and felt the preservation spells begin to break.

“Why would anyone go to this much trouble to preserve some pieces of fruit?” Theran said.

Because they’ll grow, Cassidy thought.

“Those are honey pears,” Gray said, one hand hovering over the other pieces in the chest.

“Not like any I’ve seen,” Shira said. “There are a few orchards left on the Shalador reserves, but the trees are dying off, and the fruit is small and hard.”

What grows from these will have the taste of memories.

The preservation spell suddenly broke, and the fruit in her hand felt pulpy, already decaying.

“We have to plant these now,” Cassidy said. “Give them soil, give them care, and new orchards will come from what’s in this chest.”

“Mother Night,” Gray said as he picked up a handful of soil. “This is perfect.”

Cassidy looked at Gray. “Hurry. I don’t think there’s much time to get them into soil once the preservation spells break.”

“Pots,” Gray said. “We’ll start them in pots so we can put them on the terrace, where they’ll be more protected.” He sprang to his feet. “There are pots in the shed.”

The pear she held turned to lifeless mush.

Theran stared at it for a moment, then swore and raced to catch up to Gray, followed by Ranon and Shira.

They each ran back hugging a pot.

Cassidy stripped off her gloves and dropped the shields around her hands. She needed a connection to the soil and the pears, without barriers.

“Gray, you and Cassidy should do the planting,” Theran said. “You both seem to have a feel for this.”

What was in his voice? Cassidy wondered. Annoyance? Bitterness? It would take years for these trees to grow and bear fruit, but wasn’t a living symbol better than a dead one?

She didn’t ask. Didn’t really care. What mattered was not wasting what someone had gone to great lengths to preserve.

Gray filled pots with soil as Cassidy held each pear at the right depth, releasing the fruits gently one by one until there was only one left in the chest that hadn’t turned to mush.

“One more,” she said.

“No more pots,” Theran said.

“There has to be something.”

“We got twelve planted.”

But there’s still one left.

She ran to the shed, probably pissing him off because she didn’t take his word for it, but she couldn’t care about that.

Something, she thought as she searched under the potting bench and then the rest of the shed. Anything.

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