There are days when she can be easily distracted from despair, when a smile from Frederick can delay the darkness encroaching on her thoughts. There are moments when he notices the sudden stillness, the slow fall of expression, and can easily head it off until it’s gone. But there are times when he isn’t quick enough, or doesn’t notice the heaviness settling over her until it’s too late; sometimes not even his comforting embrace can head off the surge of emotions that flood and overwhelm.

In those moments, she tries to smile despite welling tears, squeezes his hand, and slips off before the tears threaten to fall. He never wants to let her go, but he does, and she is grateful, as she slips away down to the gardens, to the backmost corner and the locked door that hides amongst the ivy.

Only in this locked garden does she give in to despair, to the crushing weight in her heart that she can’t fight, especially now, especially cursed. Here, she’s safe to let loose everything she can’t fight, take these chaotic emotions and funnel them into action and growth, amongst sobs and tears and heartbreak.

Her fingers run over the closest rose bushes, the oldest ones, the established ones. Each trellis holds its own variety; each rose plant the finest she can find, the rarest she can source from around the city, and some, appropriately, appropriated from the most select gardeners who wouldn’t share otherwise.

This one, well established and thriving, she calls Felice. Though the weather fades to winter with each passing day, this one still clings to its blooms, a vibrant merlot that fades to violet by the ends of its petals. Soon it would be time to cut them down, prepare them for winter’s bite, but its flowers still retained some scent. Its branches mingle amongst the rosebush to its side, petals that would be Helouise’s pink, if any blooms remained.

Beside it, a newer plant, yet to bloom this year, that she calls Sylvia. She had made space for it beside Felice, and in time perhaps the two plants would intertwine as the pink did, create new colours and hybrids. But Sylvia had some catching up to do, before it would reach Felice’s heights. She clips the last of the dried cream blooms from Faustino, and checks that Polly’s stems are secured to the trellis, growing straight and proud. She prunes back Ysabel’s vibrant green leaves, and checks that Alesso has enough room to grow for the next year. Kayne’s roses, a snow white variety, would bloom throughout winter, as hearty as its namesake, but soon they might start choking space from Tilly and Lyn’s plants. Idoya’s roots never took well to this soil, it might not last through winter. Hansel was demanding, always needed watering.

She moves along to the cleared wall, old ivy torn away to make room for new growth. This was a wall for the red roses, each a different shade, each a different variety, each named after the Briar that had gone before. But they’d be together, a wall for all the Thorns in the Varushkan red they loved, and never anyone mind the solid-cast rabbit figure that nestled amongst the thorns and new growth. Nevermind that this wall was the shaded wall that would miss the full-sun, and might end up only being thorns and not blooms.

She sits down amongst the wet mud, picking up from where she left off. Trowel to hand, unwrapping the hessian sacking from the roots of the next bush to be planted. This new one, going beside Calista’s miniature roses and their delicate yellow-russet petals that littered the ground, and between Andrea’s Holberg Crimson, so red the blooms were almost black at the edges, this new one would be called Robbie. This one she hopes will be orange, but she won’t know for certain until next summer.

The thorns prick her wrists as she sets the bush into the soil, presses the roots deep into the ground and buries the roots. With each sob, each wail and tear, she tends her garden, until the cold starts to nip at her fingers, and the mud is smeared up to her elbows, and her blood drips into the soil that feeds the living memories of all she’s lost. When it’s finally passed, when there are no more rose bushes to plant –for this season, at least– she wipes her face, and lets her emotions burn out, then heads inside to Lord Frederick. He’ll tend to her scratches, and dry her tears, and one day soon, she’ll share her garden with him.

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