Whenever Julrane harvested the produce from her garden, the procedure was for her to take the baskets in a certain part of the Citadel to be inventoried by Aliphaz, the manager of the King’s house. She had to wait in the storehouse with him while he made sure everything was in order.

He held up a fig and polished it with his lengthy, greying green beard. “To think it took the Ancestors nearly a decade and a half to breed varieties of this fruit that could grow in their new environment. Can you fathom having to return to the surface every time you wanted a fruit?”

Julrane closed her eyes and shuddered. “I’d have to adjust to life without fruit.”

Aliphaz hummed. “So would I.” He put the fig down and inspected a basket of grapes. “You do still have the scrolls explaining how they finally achieved their horticultural goals, yes?”

Julrane sat up straighter. “I thought you meant me to shred those.”

Aliphaz’s body went rigid. A small fire lit behind his eyes.

Julrane forced herself not to laugh. “The scrolls are all in a nook in my reading room. I would have hoarded them there even if you had told me to shred them.”

Aliphaz relaxed, but the fire in his only dimmed. “I would ask you not to joke about such things. As the Citadel’s gardener you bear…”

“…The full responsibility not only for the foliage but also the knowledge that enables its existence. My trees are my family; to me the scrolls that explain their creation are sacred texts.”

“No one but you would utter such a phrase, my child, and that is why I refuse to have any other gardner but you.”

That was not news to her—he had said it countless times—but every repetition thrilled her as much as the original statement.

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