Why art thou blooming now

It was well after midnight, but Esparei was used to their late night chats, sitting by the fire with drinks and a bite to eat. Tonight, it was tea- fine Capacian tea from her own personal collection- and toasted bread with the last of a jar of marmalade. She set the tray next to Ragnar and arranged herself on the cushion across from him.
“What is this, my Lady?”
“You like jam?”
The Njord gave her a wide grin.
“Oh yes!”
“This is like jam, but orange.”
“I see!”
He slapped a hearty dollop onto some bread while she poured them both tea. And ate half in one great chomp.
“Mmmm! Yes! Very good!”
Esparei giggled and passed him a cup.
“I’m glad you like it. I’ll have to get it more often. How are you feeling?”
“Well enough- why?”
“We did just have…quite the time. You almost drowned, you were almost executed, the fire went out…”
They both shuddered.
“Lady Esparei, we are up against much. And I am more active than most. But I am fine, as you can see.”
“But the oath-”
She fidgets with her cup, anxious.
“…Do you resent me for it?”
“No. Why would I?”
“Some might think you’re my loyal dog now. Or a servant to my House. It’s wrong, of course, but-”
Ragnar patted her shoulder, gently, with his free hand.
“Lady, I understand why the decision was made. And I understand what my role is, yes? You told me your grandfather- Lord…Lord…”
He clutched the teacup with both hands and made an embarrassed grimace in the general direction of the fire.
“I cannot speak it. Please repeat it for me?”
“Lord Aram.”
“Close enough.”
She giggled.
“Your grandfather, Lord Ahhhhram, has a group of his most loyal around him. And surely you are doing the same.”
“I’m trying…my retinue’s delay made things…harder.”
“How so?”
“I wanted to have extra hands to help make the work go a bit smoother. And to watch over those of us doing good work- that’s the purpose of the oath! My duty is to nurture the garden and oversee as it expands and diversifies, and I cherish every Rose we’ve ever inducted into the House. We have many more in Capacionne, obviously. But you have the distinction of being our very first Njordr Rose.”
“Ah yes, a wild thing that grows in an unforgiving land-”
Ragnar’s tone is tinged with dramatics, but there’s a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. Esparei smiled back.
“Wild but enduring, no matter what. That’s what I find so unbearably lovely about this place.”
“Do I make a point of lying to you, Ragnar Stoneskin?”
“No, no, you do not. I just- even I have a hard time seeing my homeland as lovely. Why do you say it is so?”
“There is beauty in something that endures. That says ‘here I am, my roots are deep, and I will not be moved by gods or man’. That speaks to a strength and love in the land I can’t put into words. Not adequately. I think only a skald could- it deserves to be spoken in the tongue of this land, not my clumsy attempts at it.”
Ragnar was silent for a long moment, then he took a careful sip of tea and tried to speak.
“Lady Esparei-”
“Please call me Esparei when we’re not in public. Don’t stand on ceremony when we’re sitting cross-legged on the floor while you’re eating marmalade with your fingers.”
“Ah you caught me! But Lady- Esparei- you speak of my home with such love and care. And you are not of this land, but you do not come here and try to force it to change for you.”
“That’s how you ruin your garden.”
“I see.”
“And I would be a poor guest indeed if I came into a home that was not mine and moved everything around to MY liking, eating all my host’s food and smashing up their belongings.”
“That is a very good way of putting it, yes.”
“My purpose here, which the Saenger Lords know, is to uplift and enrich the community. Working with the Church and the common folk. Tending to the space we seek to command, or we’ll be left with a patch of sour earth and an empty garden. I’m no great commander, no hulking brute with a sword or an economy minded fellow with every last vegetable priced to the stalk. They have their place, and their purpose, to whatever end that is. I know I couldn’t do their jobs. But I do know I can do mine best serving the people, as a Highborn should.”
“You spoke to Brother Erasmus about this most passionately, I remember.”
“I did. And I meant every word.”
“I know you did.”
Esparei finished her tea, deep in thought for a minute.
“I still need to learn Njordr, don’t I.”
“Ha! Yes, yes you do!”
“Then I can speak to the Avalanche and give him marmalade too, and make many friends.”
“Oh no- we may have to fight over the orange jam, it is very good.”
“There’s enough to go around, you menace!”
They dissolved into merry laughter. By the time they finished the tea and toast, it was late. Ragnar slept by the fire, in Esparei’s reading chair, axe across his knees. And Esparei, in her bed, hair falling over the pillows like so much spilled coffee, dreamed of flowers growing in ice and songs in the dark.

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