"She's All That Matters"

Now Briar made himself look at the mute. He had killed the man, after all; he owed it to him to face his work. There was little of the mute to see. The thorns and vines had covered him completely, gouging him in a thousand places and sprouting through his flesh, holding him in a massive, woody, bloodstained sheath. Briar nodded to his creation, his mouth trembling.

It was him or me, he thought, turning away. I knew he could kill, and he was going for me.

Evvy, he told himself. She's all that matters. (excerpt from "Street Magic". I didn't write it!!)

Briar Moss stirred in his blanket as he heard his teacher's wake up call coming through the tent flap.

"Get your lazy bottom out of bed this instant boy!" Briar groaned and rolled over.

"Two more minutes...." He murmured. Rosethorn, hearing this, thrust her head through the tent's opening.

"NOW!!" she yelled. Briar jumped at the sound at the sound of her voice. Quickly rolling off of his cot he started to get dressed.
"I'm up, I'm up!" he shouted back. Pulling on his right shoe, Briar muttered, "Seems to get more crotchety each day...."

"I heard that," Rosethorn growled outside. "Just for that charming comment, you have breakfast cleanup duty." Briar gritted his teeth and violently pulled on his left shoe.

Once Briar had finished dressing, he stalked outside to find Evvy crouched near the fire watching a pot boil. Her head was rested on her palms in a sulky scowl.

"She's only grumpy because of me," she said glumly, still gazing at the pot.

"Now why would that be?" Briar asked.

"Well, Rosethorn's been teaching me how to cook, but I keep getting the stupid measurements wrong," Evvy said, this time turning to look at him. Briar planted himself on the spot next to her. Glancing in her direction, he spotted a smudge of white powder on Evvy's nose.

Flour, he thought, grinning. No matter where she goes, she gets dirty. He reached his hand out to brush it away. Seeing her questioning expression, he replied, "... flour on your face."

"You know, I could get that stuff off by myself," Evvy declared defiantly. She swatted Briar's hand away and tried to rub it off using her palm. After several fruitless attempts, Briar lost patience.

"Oh, stop fussing." He grabbed her wrist as she attempted to try again. "Just let me do it." Briar carefully brushed the spot away with his fingertips.

"Still coulda done that on my own," Evvy muttered under her breath. Standing up, she stated, "I'm gonna go wash up," she glared at Briar, "unless you think that I can't do that by myself either."

"You do tend to miss that spot around your ears though," he said thoughtfully. Evvy sniffed indignantly and stuck out her tongue. Briar only chuckled. At hearing his amusement, Evvy rolled her eyes and stalked off.

Briar grinned after her and stared at the fire as Evvy had before.

...massive, woody, bloodstained sheath...

He frowned. What could this mean? Sure he had dreamed about the strangled corpses rotting in Lady Zenadia's garden from time to time, but never about the mute he had killed. "Strange," Briar whispered aloud.

"Now, I plan on reaching Summersea by tomorrow, so we best start cleaning things up." Rosethorn emphasized this by dropping a pack at Briar's feet. "Clean the pots in the stream and pack them in here."

"Sure," he said solemnly, slinging the dropped pack over one shoulder.

"You're sure acting quiet..." Rosethorn remarked with an arched eyebrow.

Briar replied, "Eh, just tired I guess," and went off into the forest in the direction of the stream. She let him go, knowing that her student obviously didn't want to discuss whatever was bothering him at that time.

"I'll get it out of him later." Rosethorn said matter-of-factly. She turned and walked toward her tent to ready her things.

It just doesn't make sense, Briar thought, pausing every now and then along the path to stroke an attention-seeking plant. I guess there's no point in worrying about it now. Whatever it wants to make clear for me, I'll know soon enough. In spite of his thoughts, however, he could not stop thinking about the mysterious dreams until he got to the stream. Once Briar got there, he set the pots he was preparing to clean on the bank. Suddenly, he felt the unmistakable presence of someone behind him. The sneaker was just a few steps behind him now; Briar felt his knives slide along his palms. Whoever had snuck up on him would be sorry. He whirled around, wrist knives ready in his hands.

"GAH!!" Evvy yelped, dropping a basket full of clothing. Once she recovered from the initial shock, she pointed at the daggers in Briar's hands. "What are those for?!" she exclaimed, her eyes wide under her recently washed hair. "What's the big idea, pulling those things on me?!" she said, forgetting about the scattered laundry. Briar blinked, and then sighed.

"Sorry Evvy," he said, his voice low. "You just spooked me, that's all." He stooped to pick up the clothing Evvy had let fall in her scare. She stared at him.

Whoa, Evvy thought. He's being so...so...weird. He didn't even say anything about sneaking up on him or anything. She frowned. He's not acting right, she decided. Crouching, Evvy put a hand on Briar's forehead. "Are you sick?" Evvy inquired.

"Hm?" Briar grunted, not paying attention.

Evvy sat on her knees. "Well you're just being so, so..." she paused, trying to think of the right word. "...reasonable."

Briar's head snapped up. "Reasonable?! Since when am I not reasonable?!"

"Like now." Evvy replied coolly, looking at him under her lowered eyelids. "Hmm. Guess I'm wrong, you're acting just fine now." She turned to the laundry, "Unless you wanna say something else...?"

Briar scowled. I hate it when she does that. He, too, turned to his chore. Impudent brat.

As they set about doing their tasks, Evvy asked, trying to stir conversation, "So, why were you acting so...not yourself?"

"Eh, Evvy, I don't want to talk about it," Briar said. He kept his back turned, busy scraping off a bit of petrified food from a pan. Evvy furrowed her brow and bit the inside of her cheek to stop her aggravated reply. Instead, she took her anger out on the laundry she now washed.

Fine, she thought, violently scrubbing a pair of leggings with her hands. That's just fine. Be that way. Don't tell Evvy whatever you're hiding, after all, she's only trying to be helpful. She wrung the cloth extremely tight, having pleasure in imaging it as Briar's neck.

She was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't notice Briar staring at her. Evvy jumped when he finally said, "Uh, Evvy? Is something wrong? You've been squeezing those things for ten minutes now." Evvy dropped the clothing and turned to face him, hands on her hips.

"I don't wanna talk about it. How about that?" she declared, trying her best to imitate her teacher. When he didn't say anything, she prepared to get back to work by reaching for the throttled leggings. She'd almost grabbed it when she realized Briar had said something. "What?" she asked.

"You're really that worried?" he questioned.

"Who said I was worried about you?" Evvy shot back. She then mentally punched herself for saying those last two words.

"Indeed. Who did?" he smirked. Now it was Evvy's turn to scowl. Ha, Briar thought, Got her back. "Well, if you really want to know, I've just been...nervous."

Nervous? Evvy's eyebrows snapped together. Nervous? Pahan Briar...nervous?

Briar sat on the bank, leaning backward on his hands. "One reason I've been quiet today is because I'm anxious about tomorrow." He rotated his head toward Evvy and asked, "You do know we're meeting Duke Vedris, right?"

"Yeah, I can't wait!" Evvy cried, starting to bounce. At seeing her reaction, Briar's grin spread.

"Yep. Glad you're thrilled. Anyway, I was thinking about Sandry-"

"Ooh. The noble girl you've been telling me about?" Evvy interrupted. Her eyes started to glitter with excitement. She had heard loads of stories from Briar about the kind and brave Lady Sandrilene fa Toren. At first, Evvy had been reluctant to believe the tales, devoutly believing that nobles could not be trusted. But when Rosethorn, whose compliments where almost as rare as diamonds, had spoken well of Lady Sandry, it occurred to Evvy that Briar was indeed telling the truth and not some exaggerated tale.

"The very same. Me and the girls were like family back when we all lived in Discipline. We shared just about everything, even sometimes, our minds. I've been worried lately. It's just that, now that we've been away from each other for so long and the fact that we've all been through new experiences," Briar tugged Evvy's nose, indicating his experience with teaching. Before she could fight back, he continued, "I think we may have grown too far apart to ever go back to that close friendship." Briar sighed and looked up into the cloudy sky. "I mean what if she turned into a snooty good-for-nothing Bag girl while I was gone?" He turned to look back at Evvy. Despite the smile he wearing, she could detect the sadness in his eyes. Evvy knew the best thing to do in this situation was to comfort the sad person, but living alone or with people who didn't usually need comforting throughout her life had made her very inexperienced in the matter.

"Um," she began awkwardly. "Look, Pahan Briar," Evvy started. "Lady Sandry has been a noble all her life, right?" she inquired. Briar nodded. She went on very quickly, "And you met here when she was like ten or eleven and she was nice then and she coulda turned nasty any time before that but she didn't so what difference would it make now since you've been gone only a couple of years?" Evvy stopped and caught her breath. Briar raised his eyebrows in both surprise and confusion. At seeing his bewildered expression, Evvy remarked sullenly, "I never was any good at this kinda thing." She drooped her head. She started to get up, but an arm stopped her. Briar had slid an arm around her shoulders to prevent her from moving.

"Please keep going, I think you were onto something there," he said encouragingly, a kind smile lighting up his face.

Evvy, not sure what to think, stuttered, "Eh? Oh, uh....ok," she sat back down on the flat river rocks. She touched one of the cold, smooth stones underneath her palm to calm herself and regain her train of thought and scratched her head. "Well, uh, what I was trying to say was Lady Sandry lived a long time as a noble, even before you met her, without becoming a snotty brat face, so, I was thinking, what would a few years do to her?" Evvy said, hoping that was the right thing to say.

"You know, that is true," he said. He was starting to feel a lot better about the situation.

Evvy brightened when she heard his response and said, "And, from what you've told me of Lady Sandry, she don't seem like the kinda person who would do something like that."

"I think you're right, Evvy," Briar announced. "I shouldn't worry." He smiled down at Evvy, and she grinned back. "You know what? Talking to you is almost as good as talking to Sandry herself."

"Really?!" she exclaimed. Her eyes started sparkling again.

"Really," Briar answered, ruffling her hair.

Evvy hit his hand and glared. "I hate it when you do that."

"I know you do," his kind smile turning wry.

"Whatever." Evvy said, and with that they set back to doing their set tasks, Briar, conveniently forgetting to tell her about what else was bothering him.

Little did they know of the figure standing in the trees a few feet behind them. Rosethorn stood, hands crossed over her chest, watching them from the shadows of an oak.

"Hmph," she grunted. "He won't tell me, but he'll tell the skinny brat. Oh well, I'll give him hell later." She turned and walked away. In spite of her harsh talk, Rosethorn fought to keep a smile from creeping onto her face.