Lithe, pale fingers were wrapped around an open book. Morning sunlight collected halo-like about the reader's hair and face, illuminating a dress the same deep green of the grass upon which she sat. Her posture was peaceful and enwrapped, the silence around her more like a comfort than a deprivation.

Horvath was loath to interrupt Veronica's solitude. The scene was a picture - one he wanted to capture and treasure, yet he knew no such spell. The simple incarnations Merlin had taught him so far were hardly going to impress the girl before him, who was already as, if not more, proficient than he.

Veronica shifted to brush a strand of dark hair out of her face. Horvath watched her movements intently. Her eyes fascinated him. He would gladly stay to study her all day if he could. No time less than centuries seemed sufficient to admire every individual part of her. Standing in the shadow of the garden, he began to do just that. Yet he was not to be given time.

A figure entered the circle of sunlight. Veronica glanced up sharply at the sound of approach and her face broke into a smile bright as the morning itself.

'Balthazar.'

Horvath shrunk even further into the shadow at her voice but he didn't leave the garden. Balthazar crossed the grass in a couple of long, light strides and dropped down at Veronica's side. He flicked her gently on the nose by way of a greeting. Veronica's surprised laugh carried clearly to Horvath's hiding place.

'What are you reading?' Balthazar asked her. Horvath could hear the smile in Balthazar's voice, even though the other boy's back was to him.

Veronica hesitated. She handed him the book but as soon as it left her hands Balthazar was on his feet, out of her reach. Veronica narrowed her eyes at him and he just grinned. He began to read from it with mock solemnity. Leaping to her feet, Veronica started after him with a cry for him to stop. He evaded her expertly. She stamped her foot in frustration but was biting her lip to keep from joining him in laughter.

Balthazar waved the book at her tauntingly. She rolled her eyes and made a show of turning away from him, murmuring something under her breath and making a quick hand gesture. Frowning, Balthazar made a move to follow her but tripped and fell forward. His shoelaces had become tied together.

Veronica laughed out loud and flopped down beside him, taking the book out of his surprised hands. Balthazar stared at his shoes and then burst out laughing.

'You have the victory,' he told her gently.

Veronica smiled. She smoothed Balthazar's shirt down as it had become creased by his fall. When she looked back up from her fingers, Balthazar's face was inches from her own. Neither spoke but their expressions conveyed more than words could.

Horvath turned to leave, stumbling in his hurry. He pushed against a branch, snapping it. The couple on the grass broke apart at the sound, staring into the shadow.

'Who's there?' Veronica called.

Horvath stepped into the light, unable to refuse her a reply. His face was tense. Veronica relaxed when she saw him.

'Horvath,' she said, her happiness undiminished.

'Help me?' Balthazar appealed to his friend with a light laugh, indicating his shoes.

Horvath stared at the pair, a taut expression on his face.

'I have no time for playing,' he said at length.

He turned and strode out of the garden. Veronica and Balthazar stared after him with identical expressions of concern on their faces. The light in the garden faded as a slow cloud passed over the sun.

...