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MynameisMargaret,Maggietomyfriends.Ispendmostofmydaystendingto
theEmpresssRoseGardensinthenortherncourtyardsand

Maggiepausedwritingandliftedherquillintheairtogentlybitedownonthetip.
Itwasanannoyinghabitthatshedhadfromchildhoodthathermotherwas
constantlyonhertobreak.Pursingherlipsinconcentrationasshelookedback
downattheletter,shecontinuedwriting.

Iwouldbe

Hergreeneyessquintedandshescowled.No,thatsnotright,Maggiemuttered
whilescratchingalinethroughthelastthreewords.Thewordswerentassertive
enough.IfthiswasgoingtobesenttotheHeadGardenershehadtobe
forthright.

Iamagreatgardener.Better.AssuchIamapplyingforthenewpositionof
AssistantGardenertotheImperialgreenhouse.

Shelookeddownatthehalffullsheetofpaperfilledwithblottedoutlinesand
unfinishedsentences,andsighed.Worstofallitwasduetoday.Butshewouldget
itdoneandperfect.Therewasonecovetedpositiontotendtoexoticmagical
plantsinthegreenhouseandshewantedittobehers.Determinedtofinishthat
letter,shebentbackdownoverthescarcepieceofpapershedfoundforthe
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purpose.

Thenextminuteaknocksoundedonthedoorofthesmall,crampedshedshesat
in.Theechoesvibratedthroughthewoodshedlikethepoundingofhorsesracing
throughthecobblestonestreetsofthecity.Itdidnthelpthatthestoolshesaton
wascloseenoughtothedoorthatshefeltlikeadrumhadbeenbeataninchfrom
herhead.

Scramblingupfromtheoverturnedbucketthatactedasherdesk,shegrabbed
theedgeofthewallinfrontofherinhaste,pushingthemakeshiftdoorbackto
seewhowasthere.Staringupindreadshealmostshutthedoorrightbackinthe
personsface.Maggiesworstnightmarestoodscowlingdownather.

Hadiene,thegardenerfortheEmpressskitchens,glaredather,cheeksflushed
redinangerandsweatbeadingonherbroweventhoughacoolsummerbreeze
waswaftingintheair.NervouslyMaggietriedtokeepagrimaceoffherface.
Insteadhermouthfrozeinagapingsmileandshelookedpained.

Hadiene,howareyou?

HowamI?camethesplutteredreply,Yousithereonyourrumpdoodling
awaythedayswhileyourblastedrosesencroachoncemoreontomygardens.

Hadiene,Ijustclippedthemyesterday,theycantbe,protestedMaggie.

PokingherfingerintoMaggieschestinaccusation,Dontyoutellmewhatthey
canandcantbe,missy.Thefactofthematteristheyare.Thewomanstood
overherbreathingheavilyasshepracticallysnortedlikeaboarinanger.

Illtakecareofit,Hadiene,Ipromise.

Whenthewomansglareonlyintensified,Maggiehastenedtoadd,today.
WhenHadienedidntmove,Now?

AtthatthelargewomanshuffledasideandMaggiegrabbedherletterandsatchel
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oftoolsandhastilybeatafastretreatbacktohergardens.Rushingawayfromthe
toolsupplyarea,whichincludedshedsforseedsandfertilizer,sheheadedoffto
theoffendingpatchofgardens.Maggiewassuretherewasnothingtoworry
about.Shekeptafirmeyeonherplants,checkingandsnippingthemeveryday.

Maggiewasrelievedtoseethattheentrancewasempty.Sometimespeople
cameforliaisonssincethegardenswereabandoned.Shetriedtokeepthemout
oftheareaasmuchasshecould,butitwashard.TheareawascalledtheRose
GardensbutanameliketheEndlessRoseMazewouldhavebeenequally
accurate.FirstgrowntwentyfiveyearsagoasahavenduringthereignofPrince
Sebastiansmother,theEmpress,maysherestinpeace,therosegardens
remained,ignoredbythegardenersexceptforthemaintenanceofthehedges.
TheEmpresshadlovedthecolorsandsmellsofbloomingrosesandhadbecome
fixatedonthemafterhermiscarriages.

TheEmperorhaddonehisbesttoappeasehiswifeslongingfortheflowersand
orderedayearroundgardenlaidout,withrosesthatwouldbloominallseasons
andattendantstocareforthemasneeded.ForatimetheRoseGardenshad
beentheprizedpossessionoftheEmpressandvisitingthemwasanenviedtreat
shebestowedonherfriendsandwellconnectedcourtiersoftheImperialCourt.
AftertheEmpresswasmurderedintheveryplaceshefoundpeace,theRose
Gardenswereabandonedandtheirallurehadfaded.

AsMaggieputasideherletterinthesmallcubbyatthebaseoftheentrance,she
kepthersatcheloftoolswithher.Maggiesupposedthatthegardenershadbeen
luckythattheEmperorhadntdecidedtoburntheRoseGardenstotheground.In
hisanguishhedmadeitclearthattheplaceremindedhimstronglyofthe
memoriesthathesharedwithhislatewife.Thatswhyhekeptthemaround.He
wouldntcomeneartheRoseGardensbuthedidntwanthismemoriestoperish
withiteither.Andsoanofficialdecreehadbeenpassed.TheRoseGardenswere
tobeclosedandtheEmperordidntwanttoseeanotherroseanywherenear
him.Initiallyitwasanalmostimpossiblefeatforthegardenerstocullallofthe
thousandsofroseswhichblossomed.DuetothemagicthatsustainedtheRose
Gardenstherosesgrewandbloomedinallfourseasons.Themageshadbeen
forcedtodrainthemagicreservoirscompletelybeforeitresumedamorenormal
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growthcycle.Stilltherosesappearedyearround;justwithouttheoverwhelming
numberofblossomsthathadcomebefore.

ItwasMaggiessoletaskandhadbeenforthepasttwoyearstocuttheroses
awayanddisposeofthem.Nottoprune.Nottoenhancetheirbeauty.No,she
wassenttodestroyeverybloomthatappeared.Asshewentfromhedgeto
hedgewithherclippingshears,shehummedalongtoherself.Shedidntlikethat
hersoletaskwastokillthebeautifulblooms.Morethananythingshewantedto
beatruegardener.Onewhocaredfortheplantsandbroughtouttheirvery
best.Notkillthemintheprimeoftheirlives.

Butatleastherrolewassomething.Insideanactualgarden.Butsometimesshe
gottheweirdestfeeling,asifthegardenwaswatchingher.Shewouldsee
branchesmoveoutofthecornerofhereye.Orwhispersofrustlingleavesaround
thecornerthatlookedundisturbedwhensheventuredthere.

Assheclippedthefewbloomsthathadappeared,shenotedthatmostwerejust
buds.Theyhadntevenopenedtheirpetals.

SowhywasHadienesoupset?shewondered.

SheknewMaggieworkedhardtogettoeverybudbeforeitopenedandsofar
shedachievedthatinagardenthesizeofacityblockwiththetwistsandturnsof
amaze.Shewouldhavegottentothosesmallbudsbytheweeksend.

Maggiecarefullyputeachbudinapouchatherwaisttobeburned.Asshe
walkedinthemaze,thetwistsandturnsetchedinhermind,sheturnedtowards
theedgeoftheRoseGardensthatborderedthekitchengardens.Itwasarounda
sharpcornersoshecouldbeforgivenforbeingsostartledthatshedroppedher
clippingshearsinsurprise.Thefallingclippersalmosttookoffherbigtoeasshe
hoppedbackhastily.

Eyeslargeandwideingapingdisbelief,Maggiestaredatthefullybloomingwall
ofrosesbeforeher.Theyhadgrownsomuchonthehedgethatmarkedthe
borderthatshesawmorerosered,thevibrantdeepredcolorofaroosterstail
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feathers,thanthedeepgreenofthesurroundingleaves.Itwasimpossible.Shed
justtrimmedthatparticularhedgetwodaysago.Shehadascheduletoproveit.
Shewenttospecificpartsofthemazeonspecificdaysoftheweekandkeptthe
rosebudsculledinanorderlyfashion.

Bitingherlipanxiously,sherushedforwardwithherclippingshearsasifshewas
goingintobattleandattackedthehedgeswithaferocitythatheldatwingeof
fear.IthadbeentwentyfiveyearsbuttheEmperorsdispleasurewiththeRose
Gardenswasstillwellknown.Ifwordgotoutthatshehadlettherosebudsgrow
thewholeofthegardeningcommunitywouldbefuriouswithherbecausethe
Emperorwouldbefuriouswiththem.Shemovedatasteadypacealongthe
hedgeclippingthebottomrowwithangrystrokes.Shefeltaminutetwinge.A
feelingasifasparkofenergywasjumpingtoherfingertips.

Itwasntverybigandittookherawhiletonotice.Butwitheveryclipofher
shearsandthefallofaroseshefeltthesparkagain.Resolutelysheignoreditand
keptgoinguntilshehadclearedalloftherosesfromthebottomandmiddleof
thehedges.Forthetopshehadtomakeatripbacktothetoolsupplyshedfora
ladderandthenbagupthefallenrosebloomshourslater.

Shedjustbeenluckythatthebloominghedgeshadntextendedtotheotherside
andintothekitchengardens.Thankgoodnesstherewasaspellthatkeptallof
therosesconfinedtotheinsidefortheviewingpleasureofonlytheEmpress
andthosetowhomsheextendedthefavor.Hadienehadprobablyseenthetips
peekingoverfromherdomain.Wipingasweatybrow,carelessofthegreensmell
anddewonhergardeninggloves,Maggiesighedinrelief.Theywereallgone.
Everysinglebloomsatinthreebagsatherfeet.Shejusthadtohaulthebagsto
thefirepitnow,onebyone.

Theymaybelightflowersbutgettingeachbagtothefirepit,ontheothersideof
thekitchengardenswhichshecouldntgothroughonlyaround,wouldtake
forever.Ithadbeentheearlymorningwhenshedbegun.Andthesunhad
alreadyrisenatthepeakofnoonday.Shehadotherareasofthegardentotend.
Thisonehadntevenbeenonthedayslist.Sheneededhelp.Hopingthehawker
wasnearbysheletoutapiercingwhistle.Andletitoutagain.Sheheardhiscall
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back.

ShepeeredupandsawahawkwingingovertheRoseGardens.Quicklyshe
startedjumpingupanddowntogetitsattention.Ithadtobehishawk.Asifit
wererecognizingandacknowledgingher,thehawkscreechedanddippedlow
nearby.Minuteslatertheboyappeared.ShecalledhimHawkboybecauseshe
hadyettolearnhisname.Hedidntspeak.Ever.Shedthoughthewascreepy
whentheydfirstmet.Hemadenoefforttocommunicatethroughlettersor
miming;hehadjuststared.Eventuallyshedgottenusedtohimandovertimea
trusthadgrown.Hehelpedherdisposeofrosebudsinthegardenandshepaid
himinvegetablesthatshescavengedfromthekitchengardenwhenHadiene
wasntlooking.

TogethertheygotthebagsofrosestotheothersideofthegardensandMaggie
handedhimherlaststashofcarrots.Shedidntwaittoseetherosesburn.She
neverdid.Theonlytimeshehadstayedtowatchitfeltlikedarknesswas
engulfingherbody.Theboyshawkswoopeddownwhentheywerecomingback
aroundthekitchengardenstograbanerrantharerunningthroughthepatches.
Hadienewouldbepleased.Shedsetouttrapsforthatpeskyrascaldayafterday
withnoluck.Grinning,theboygrabbedtheharefromwherehishawkhad
depositedthebleedingcorpseathisfeetandcheerfullywavedgoodbye.Maggie
wentbacktohergardens.Shehadtwomoreareastocheckandclearbeforethe
daywasup.Butbeforethenshewouldbreakforasnack.

Asshesatontheedgeofanoldwaterfountainthathadlongagobeenturnedoff
shefinishedherletter.BytheendofthehouritwasreadytobesenttotheHead
Gardener.Shemunchedonacrispappleasshelookeditoveroncemore.Tracing
eachwordwithherfingertipshehopedtheHeadGardenerwouldconsiderher
serviceintheRoseGardenspositively.Itwashardworkwithverylittlereward.

Letterstowedsafelyinherapronpocket,shepaused,whensheheardafaint
rustlebehindher.Frowningshedidntturnaroundshefigureditwasjustthe
rattleofdryleavesontheground.Shestoodandgrabbedhertoolsatcheland
headedbackintothemaze.Toolsinhandagain,shewenttoadifferentpartof
themaze.Thereflectingpool;agianttriangularshapeddepressionintheground
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whichhadlongagobeendrainedofwater,restedforlornlookingbeforeher.

Assheclippedthebudsofthesurroundingyellowrosesthatweretryingtheir
verybesttobloom,shehummedalongtoherself.Itwasaballadshedheardat
festivaltheyearbeforethathelpedhergetaclippingrhythmgoing.Andthenshe
heardtherustleofdryleavesagain,behindher.Shewhirledaroundtoseeasmall
amountofleavestwirlingonthewindinthedrypoolbed.Shruggingatthesight
shewentbacktoclipping.Soonshemovedontotheareaofthegardensknown
fortheTreeofManyBlooms.Itwasherlaststopoftheday.Asshewalkedthe
mazeshereflectedonwhatwascomingahead.

Thetreehadthreespecialbloomsofrosesgraftedontoitwithloopingvinesand
trellisestokeepitwellshaped.Purpleofthemidnightmoon,redofthedarkest
blood,andorangeofthebrilliantsunwerealltogetherononerootstock.Three
oftheEmpresssfavoritecolors.Asshewalkedintotheareawherethegianttree
stood,itsbranchesarcingtothesky,Maggiewouldhavegivenalottoseethe
bloomingtreeinitsglory.

Todayitstooddryandbarrenwithdesiccatedvinesloopingallarounditanda
stonebenchplacedbeforeit.TheTreeofManyBloomshadbeenamongthe
hardesttokeepfromblooming.Thegardenershadfinallydepriveditofallwater
anddepletedthenutrientsinitssoil.Theywerenotallowedbydecreetochopit
down.Soinsteadtheyhaddoomedittoaslowdeath.

TrailingherfingersoveritsdriedvinesMaggiespoketoit,IwishIcouldhave
seenyouinyourprime.Shecontinuedtalkingtoitasshewalkedupthepathof
stairscarvedintothetrunk.Thetreewassohugethatittookupthespaceofa
smallcastletower.Overtheyearsithadgrownsomuchthatthefourwallsof
hedgesencasingitlookedliketheyweregoingtocrumbleunderthepushofits
roots.

Butyouwontlastforeverwillyou?Maggieaskedsoftlyasshewentinand
clippedtherarerosebudsthatshesaw,distractingthetreewithwordsand
murmursasshewent.Pursingherlipsshewonderedaloud,Itsbeenfifteen
yearssincetheydrainedthemagicfromyouandhaltedthewaterflowingtoyour
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roots.Howmuchmorewaterdoyouhavestoredinthere?Teasinglyshe
knockedherhandonthebarkofitstrunkandstuckherearclose.Sheheardthe
hollowringofitsemptyinteriorringingbackather.Notmuchleft,she
murmuredknowingthatthelouderringmeantlesswater.Backathertasksshe
occasionallyfeltthewindpushagainstthetreemakingevenitsmightylimbs
shudderasifitweretryingtoshakeoffthecold.There,shesaidinasatisfied
toneonceshehadclimbedover,onandunderallofthebrancheswithpeeking
blooms.Shebegantomovebackwardonthelastbranchinordertoclimbdown
andgetbackontheloopingstairs.

Andthenshesawit.Abloomabright,orangebloomnestledinaholeinafar
offbranch.Itmusthaveescapedhernoticebefore,beingpracticallyhiddeninthe
foldsofthebranch.Maggieedgedbackoutonthelimbonherhandsandknees.
Carefullyshestooduponthetreelimbthatwasnobiggerthanaplankofwood
andreachedwithherhandsforthebloominthebranchhole.Ifshecouldjustclip
itthenshecouldgoonwithherevening,delivertheletter,andgetoutofthis
blastedserviceintheRoseGardens.

Strainingwithherlimitedreach,evenwiththeclippingshears,shefeltthe
musclesinhershouldersandbackbegintopain.Stillshereachedsomemore,
tryingtostretchoutherlonglimbs.Shebarelybrushedthepetalsoftherose,but
thistimeitwastoomuch.Shefeltherselfbegintofallandtherewasnothingbut
airanddyingvinesandbranchestostopherdescent.Droppingtheclipping
shearsasshefellscreaming,shedesperatelyreachedforthesurrounding
branches,hopingtogripontosomethingstrong,anythingthatwouldstopherfall.
Timestoodstillandshewascuriouslyawareoftheairaroundher,thesunshining
downandthesmellofthedriedoutbarkasshefelldown.

Sheknewshewasgoingtodie.Shewastoofarupfortheimpactwiththeground
tobeanythingbutdeadly.WhatshedidntunderstandwasthenatureoftheTree
ofManyBlooms.Itwasmorethanaproductofnature.Itchosetoact.Amighty
branchswungaroundtowardsherbody.Withatwistandcreakingwoodthat
threatenedtosnapundertheweightoftheunnaturalmovementitcaughther.
Herbreathwhooshedoutofherbodyasherchestimpactedthewood.Herlungs
cavedinwardsandherbreastsfeltliketheydbeenpushedintoavice.Butshe
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wasalive.Sheclungtothemightybranch,stunned,asitmovedbackintoits
originalposition.Minuteslaterwhenshefinallyfeltwellenoughtoreleaseher
clawedholdonthebark,sheclimbeddownthetreeuncertainly.

Backingawayfromitslowlyshelookedatit,waitingforanotherbranchtomove.
Nothinghappened.Thenshewenttograbherclippingshearsandtheearth
aroundtheTreeofManyBloomsswallowedthem.Thatwasit.Shehadhad
enoughtoday.Therestofhertools,lyingthereinhersatchel,wereabandonedas
sheranbacktothegardensentrance.

Grabbingattheletterinherpockettomakesureitwasstillthere,whileignoring
herdisheveledappearance,sheracedtotheHeadGardenersoffice.Therewas
nowayshedidntdeserveanewplacementafterallofthis.Rushingintothe
buildingandovertohisofficeshewasmetbyacloseddoor.Puttingherearto
thedoorshelistenedforvoices.Thensheknocked,andknockedagain.No
answer.Practicallyjumpingaroundinanxietyshelookedoutofthesmallwindow
totheleftandtherehewas,bendingovertotendtosomeverylarge,andvicious,
snapdragons.Youcouldntgonearthosewithoutthickglovesandahealthydose
ofantivenom.Theywerepoisonousontopofbeingjustplainmean.Itwasthose
typesofplantsthatshewasmeanttoworkwith.Notdesiccatedtrees.

Onceoutsidesheedgedforwarduntilshewaswithinhearingdistanceofthe
HeadGardenerandwelloutofreachofthesnappingplants.Glaringatthe
snapdragonsastheyhissedandlungedathimhemuttered,Youdthinkwe
didntfeedyouwithallthatsnapping.

Totherumpdancingaboutinfrontofher,theownersheadleaningdownatthe
baseoftheplants,shesaid,SirSirmaywespeak?Hestoodupslowlyand
turnedaround,adjustinghisgogglesonhishead.Thenheremovedthemto
adjusthisglassesunderneaththegoggles.

Margaret?hesaidconversationally,Lovelydayisntit?

Yessir,itis,shesaidwhilefidgetingwithnervousnessuntilshefinallythrustthe
letterintohishands.Heraisedhiseyebrowsinsurprise.
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Myapplication.Youexplainedintheweeklymeetingthatallthosethatwanted
toapplytothegreenhouseneededtosubmitaletter.

Hmm,soIdid,hesaidasheunfoldedtheletter.Ashereadhemumbledalong,
Yes,yes,verygood,verygood.Finallyhelookedup,WellthenMissMargaret.
Yourehired.

Maggiecouldntbelieveherears.Really?shesaidindisbelief.

Henodded,IveseenyourprogresswiththeRoseGardensandhadhopedyou
wouldapply.Itsagoodopportunityforyoutogainmoreskillsbyservinginthe
greenhouse.

Yesitis,shesaid,faintlystilldazed.

Wellthen,hesaidwhilehandingbackherletter,Turnyourtoolsinandwell
getyousetupinthegreenhousetomorrow.

AssheturnedawayshehesitatedthinkingbackontheRoseGardens.Whowill
takecareofthem,Sir?

Them?

TheRoseGardens?

Ah,nottoworry.Wevegotanewrecruitthatwillpruneit.

Shealmostflinchedatthewordprune.Thedescriptionwasnowherenearapt.
Butshewasntgoingtoargue.Todaywasherlastday.Butsheneededhertools.
Thetoolsshedleftatthebaseofthatblastedtree.Thetreethathadsavedher
life.

Asshewalkedthroughthemazeshenoticedacuriousthing.Roseblooms.White
oneswheretherehadbeennonebefore.Theyleftabeautifultrailstraightback
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totheTreeofManyBlooms.

Whenshegotbacktothetreeitlookedthesameasithadbefore.Herclipping
shearshadmagicallyappearedonthebenchwiththerestofthetools.Andshe
suspectedtheorangerosebloominthehiddenholewasstilluphigh.Walking
forwardshegrabbedhersatchelandherclippingshears.Thenslowlydriedleaves
ofthetreebegantofallallaroundher.Aninvisiblewindpickedthemupandthey
swirledsoftlyaroundhergentlytouchingherskininwhispersofpromises.
Promisesshecouldntaccept.Heftingupthebagshefeltlikesayingsomething.
Shefeltlikewishingthespiritofthetreethelastholdoutinadyinggarden
well.Butsheknewthateventhatwouldbegivingitfalsehope.Thenewrecruit
wascominganditwasdoubtfultheycouldstoptheadventofdeathonthe
horizon.

PerhapsbeingSorrywasenoughonbothoftheirparts.Shewalkedoutofthe
mazewithoutanotherword.
Terah Edun

Terah Edun lives in Georgia and enjoys traveling, writing, and music. She has published two
series set in the Algardis Universe Courtlight and Crown Service.

"The Rose Hedgewitch" blends Edun's interest in coming of age and women & girls with her
love of fantasy.

Copyright 2014, Terah Edun. All rights reserved. Do not redistribute.


Find Terah at www.facebook.com/TerahEdunAuthor.