Chapter Four: Rosebush
Gyre did not appear to have expected that question. For a long moment, he didn't reply.
"Is it?" Ehail asked again.
"Do you want it to be?" he asked tentatively.
She fidgeted. "Is it one?"
"I hope I didn't mislead you," Gyre sighed. "It doesn't have to be a date if you don't want it to be one. But that is what I had in mind, yes."
Ehail sank down onto the picnic blanket and drew her knees to her chest. "Oh."
"I never meant to make you uncomfortable, or unhappy," Gyre said. He looked like he might want to touch her, but he didn't approach any closer.
"I know. You wouldn't do that." She sighed. "I don't know what I would have said, if I'd known."
He sighed and flopped onto the blanket to look up at the brightening sky. The sun would be completely up - well, down, but they were down - in a few degrees. "Fair enough."
"Why?" she asked, and then realized that this wouldn't be a clear question alone. "Why do you want to go out with me?" No one ever had, or she might have ever thought about the possibility before, and then this would be so much easier.
"I've never met anyone like you," said Gyre.
"That's because we're not from the same world," Ehail said. "I'm not actually interesting. There are a lot of Elcenians you could meet who would be more interesting than me."
"Would lots of them be just like you?" asked Gyre skeptically.
"Some ways," Ehail said. "I know of another shren who looks just like me - there are certainly more dragons who look the same. There are a lot of wizards. I'm not the only person in the world who doodles."
"That's not what I mean," Gyre said. "I mean - your demeanor. Your personality."
"I barely have a personality," objected Ehail.
He sat up at once. "You have a personality!" he insisted. "You're shy and lonely and selfless and diligent and sweet and that's just what I've been able to learn having met you a handful of times."
"I only do my work, and what I need to do my work," Ehail said. "You can put words to that but that doesn't make it interesting."
Gyre inhaled, like he had an angle-long speech ready to refute her, but she met his eyes and he deflated. "I don't want to argue with you," he said, almost too low to be heard.
Ehail picked up her forgotten cake and took the last three bites in silence. Gyre didn't seem interested in his anymore.
"I don't know if you can get all of the scales in the picnic basket," she said finally. "I know where your shop is. I can just bring them to you after I know how much they cost. And I may as well figure out the exchange rate. It's bound to be awful between Aristan and with the circle in Esmaar and my house in Petar but we sometimes work in foreign currency for some things... I can talk to all the moneychangers more easily than you can, or get help from the house accountants."
"If you'd be willing," said Gyre, glancing up. "I'd appreciate that."
"It shouldn't take more than a few days," Ehail said.
"Then I'll see you then," he said with a watery smile.
"Do you want me to teleport you to the circle?" Ehail asked. "Or to Rhysel's tower? Are we supposed to leave the illusion here?"
"Rhysel's coming back to get the crystal in a few divs - angles? - in a while. She didn't think anyone would be apt to steal it, down here, and I suppose the same will go for the silver. The circle would be good," Gyre said.
Ehail held her hand out, and he hesitated, but touched it. She brought him to the circle complex, fumbled at saying goodbye, and teleported back home.
It took five days in all before Ehail had finished running between all of the businesses she needed to visit in order to get hold of a piece of paper Gyre could sign to pay for her scales. Various financial outfits had pounced rabidly on the opportunities afforded by the summoning circle, but they were still working out all the details and the exchange rates were fluctuating wildly. She wound up figuring the worth of the silver via Pleian currency exchanges, which often used raw ingots, and adding fifty percent to that and allowing a Paraasilan moneychanger to handle the conversion to emarks at what was probably an obscene markup.
Eventually, she had something that she thought would work, and she got an old rice sack from the kitchen to collect the scales in. They all fit, but they were quite heavy. She picked them up to teleport them to the circle, but set them down to buy her ticket, and dragged them into the area of the enchantment. When she was across to Aristan she hauled the sack over her shoulder and turned into a bluejay to complete the trip.
At the door of Gyre's shop, she transformed again. He was behind the counter, twisting copper wire around a rod. "Ehail!" he exclaimed, standing up and dropping the tool and the spool of spun metal onto his worktable. "I was beginning to think you'd run into some serious trouble."
"It was tricky," she said. She let the scales down onto the floor with an exhalation. "Here they all are. I don't think any were disturbed or taken." She fished around in her pocket for the slip of paper with her compiled instructions on how to send the right sum to the Keppine House, and passed it to him over the counter.
"Thank you," he said, picking it up and peering at it. He walked around the counter to take the sack, seeming surprised at its weight. "I really appreciate your going to the trouble."
"The house can always use the money," Ehail said. "And I asked if you could buy the babies' scales, too; you can. They have a lot of them, in a box in a closet. I don't know how much you're willing to pay for them, though."
"I'm not sure what the non-metal scales are made of, so I'm not sure what would be fair. You can't sell them for anything there?" Gyre asked.
"No. They're just scales, and not even a metal - they'll work like it to a point, but they won't melt properly."
"Well, then I guess I'll buy those at whatever the rate for the copper ones shakes out to be - half again the value of the plain metal," Gyre said. "Do you only have time to talk business? How have you been?"
"Busy," she said. "I was able to get some help from the house accountant, though. Since you're interested in the babies' scales too, and that isn't a secret." She realized that this was business. "And," she added, reaching into her pocket, "I kept a drawing for you like you wanted."
Gyre took the paper, handling it delicately as he unfolded it. It was a closeup of a bonsai orange tree, blooming but not fruiting. "My word," he said. "How long did this take you? It's so detailed..."
"I don't know. Five degrees at a time, over a couple of weeks, I don't know how long in total."
"You drew every vein on every leaf," Gyre said.
"I know," Ehail said.
"Can I keep this?" he asked.
"I don't see why not." She would have thrown it away, otherwise. "It's not good, it's just complicated. The leaves aren't layered like real ones because I just draw whole leaves where there's room and then partial leaves behind them, and the tree is cramped on the page because I didn't make it the right size to begin with, and -"
"I still like it," Gyre said. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Ehail said.
The bell on the door jingled, and an old human man walking with a cane inched into the shop. "Excuse me," said the old man. "My granddaughter is getting married this afternoon. I need a wedding gift."
"Certainly, sir - do you want my help choosing something?" Gyre asked, all customer service. He whispered to Ehail, "You can have a seat in the back if you like - you must be tired from lugging the scales -"
Ehail opened the door behind the counter. There was a modest little apartment there, and she sat in a chair not far from the door to the shop. She could still hear Gyre and the old man through the wall; the former had to speak up to be heard, and the latter seemed to think Gyre had a comparable ailment. "Something significant, something large," the old man said. "Won't do to be outshined by someone on the groom's side..."
"Of course, sir. A necklace? Perhaps something with emeralds she can wear immediately after you give it to her, to match the spring green?" Gyre said.
"No, large," said the man. "Don't you have any bigger statues in here than this sort of thing?"
Gyre paused, but then said, "I do have one, sir, that might be what you have in mind. Let me get it out of my workroom." A door opened, light footsteps went one way and heavier steps the other, and there was a thunk. "Would this suit?"
"Yes, perfect. Carry it to the wedding hall for me, won't you?"
"Can't you see I'm an old man?" said the customer. "Look! I have a cane! It's only six blocks, a strong fellow like you can manage."
"Of course, sir, I can carry it for you," Gyre said hastily. "Just a moment, please." He opened the door to his apartment and looked beseechingly at Ehail. "I'm never going to get rid of that ugly old statue if I don't sell it to this fellow, and I went and made the thing out of mixed metals - But you're welcome to stay here, and it shouldn't be too long," he said. "You can look around at the stock, or sit back here, or - whatever you like."
"All right," Ehail said.
Gyre flashed a smile at her and left the door open a crack, turning back towards the old man. "Oof - all right, sir, which way?"
Ehail crept out of the apartment into the storefront to look at the jewelry as Gyre flipped his sign to closed and locked the door behind him. She didn't feel as self-conscious about admiring the wares without Gyre looking over her shoulder, waiting for her to evaluate his skills. Waiting for her to ask for a gift.
The stock hadn't changed much since the last time she'd been in the shop. She was reasonably sure she'd seen everything, and wasn't sure if Gyre would like her to go into his workroom. But there was a work table, just behind the counter, where Gyre had been making the copper coil. She could look at that, she was fairly sure.
Tucked under the lip of the counter, next to the till, was a tiny metal rosebush, thornless silver stems and leaves couching a dozen half-open flowers of rose gold.
Tied to the trunk of the bush, which connected it to a silver base, was a paper tag that read Ehail.
Ehail reached out and cradled the rosebush in her hands, lifting it up to eye level. She didn't think Gyre had meant for her to see it, at least not without him even in the room, but she preferred it this way. If she wanted, she could put it back and pretend not to have come across it, but she wouldn't have to decide how to react on the very spot when he gave it to her.
She was still holding the rosebush when the key turned in the lock and the bell jingled. Ehail looked up, expecting Gyre, but the bearer of the key was a woman Ehail had never seen before.
The woman - who seemed as surprised by Ehail as Ehail was by her - was a brunette elf, wearing what Ehail might have unkindly chosen to call two-thirds of a snug red dress. The elf's eyes were gold - and her eyelids were lavender and her lips were frowning crimson. "Well," said the newcomer, speaking first. "Who are you? How did you get in?"
"Gyre let me in," Ehail said, blinking. She opened her mouth to ask who the elf was, why she had a key, but was interrupted.
"He's in, then? I thought he might be," cooed the elf. "No matter what the sign says. He'll always talk to me. He's probably mentioned me to you if you've spent any time with him at all... I'm Arylla. Who are you?" she repeated, more sharply.
"Ehail," said Arylla scornfully. "And what's that you're holding?"
"A silver rosebush," Ehail said.
"I mean - wait - what does that tag say?" asked Arylla suddenly, squinting at it and taking six fast steps towards the counter.
"It says 'Ehail'," Ehail murmured. "I think he made it for me."
"Made it for y-" snapped Arylla, eyes flying wide, head tilting back. "Don't be stupid. I don't know why your name is on there, but he wouldn't make you something so nice. What in the world did you do to your hair to get it that garish color?" came an abrupt change of subject.
"N-nothing," admitted Ehail, wishing again she'd dyed it. Although if she had, she'd have dyed it brown, and the idea of having anything in common with this elf didn't appeal to her.
"You're a nasty little liar, aren't you. You probably put that tag on the rosebush yourself," hissed Arylla. "You probably broke in here to do that so you could pretend you've got Gyre to yourself, pretend he'll give you expensive presents, because you know he'd never touch anyone as mousy and sneaky and... and short - as you. Well, smarten up and get lost, shiny-scalped miss, you don't have a rat's chance in a kennel - he's going to be mine - make no mistake."
"I didn't," said Ehail helplessly. "I - I didn't."
"I didn't, I-I-I-I didn't," mocked Arylla nastily. "Put the rosebush down and walk out of here and maybe I won't tell Gyre you broke into his shop."
"I didn't break in," Ehail said. "He let me in. He was here a little while ago - he -" She wondered if Arylla would follow her back into Gyre's apartment. Probably. Would Gyre be unhappy if she left the shop, like Arylla wanted? Probably. But he would be back soon.
"The door was locked, Gyre's nowhere to be seen, you've got your grubby little hands on merchandise drastically beyond your obvious level of taste that ought to go for scads of emarks, and I've never heard of you in my life," Arylla said. "I can add, precious."
There was a sour taste in Ehail's mouth, and she felt cold, but Arylla was between her and the exit. Cornering herself in Gyre's apartment didn't seem like an improvement either.
The bell jingled.
"Arylla, what are you doing here?" Gyre asked, shouldering his way through the door.
Arylla was instantly all smiles as she turned. She leaned towards him. "Gyre! I just wanted so much to see you. It's been forever!"
"It's been a tenday," Gyre said neutrally. "Ehail, I hope I didn't leave you too long. I guess you found the rosebush... I was trying to think of an appropriate way to give it to you..."
Ehail glanced at Arylla, who was looking daggers over Gyre's shoulder, but shivered and looked back at the halfblood. "This is fine too. It's beautiful," she said, trying to forget that the elf was present.
Gyre turned back to the brunette. "Well, Arylla, I'm afraid today's just not good timing. Maybe later. If nothing else I'm sure I'll be at your brother's sooner or later." Everything was cordial, almost the customer-service voice but chillier. Ehail didn't have the impression that Gyre liked Arylla, which was... preferable, but he was clearly unwilling to dismiss her directly.
"Oh, but Gyre, I'm sure now she's got her little present there, Ehail won't mind if you and I go off somewhere nice and secluded and catch up a bit," purred Arylla.
"Sorry, Arylla." He didn't sound it. "I'm sure there will be some other time. Later."
Arylla pouted, but Gyre didn't relent. She sighed theatrically and ran her fingertips from his shoulder to his wrist, inspiring no reaction from the jeweler, and let herself out. "Let's see each other again real soon, Gyre," she called.
He waved, noncommittally, and finally Arylla was out of sight.
"She's your friend?" murmured Ehail.
"No," said Gyre firmly. "I have to put up with her - and the key she copied by swiping mine - because her brother is the only affordable lapidary in the city who'll work with hard gems. She doesn't steal things, or even leave the place unlocked. Just lets herself in uninvited, tries things on, puts it all back. If I changed the lock, she'd know I don't like her doing that, and complain to her brother, who might make it hard for me to get diamonds and rubies and sapphires - I'm sorry she bothered you."
"Why does her brother decide who to sell things to depending on what Arylla says?" Ehail murmured.
"I'm not entirely sure, but it happened to a woman I apprenticed with - she annoyed Arylla, and now she has to buy diamond and corundum from somewhere else at a higher price if she wants any at all," Gyre said, sighing in frustration. "I wish she'd leave me alone. I'm sorry, Ehail."
"It's okay," Ehail said, squirming. She was still holding the rosebush. It had made prints in her hands, she saw, when she set it onto the counter. "The rosebush is so beautiful."
"I'm glad you like it," he said, smiling. He looked relieved. "I know you're fond of plants. I can't make you a live one, but I can make one out of silver and gold."
"I'll put it next to my spider plant," she said. "In my office."
"I was worried you wouldn't take it," Gyre admitted.
"It has my name on it," Ehail murmured. That wasn't why, that wasn't even half of why, but she wanted the rosebush and he was offering and she could imagine how it would catch the sunglow that lit the little room.
He smiled at her. "So have you gotten to do anything else in the last few days besides run around talking to currency exchange clerks?"
"A few chores," Ehail said. She listed them - ordinary, simple things, but they seemed to fascinate Gyre. He had questions about the underlying magic, about the people in the house, about every bit of daily life. She answered him, her answers gradually lengthening as it came to be obvious that he really did want to hear them. He chimed in with corresponding information about Barashi, when he had it - showed her how the sink in his apartment worked when she asked why pipes had anything to do with water. ("Conjuring water is an old spell," she explained when her confusion puzzled him. "It's been around since before I hatched!").
Another customer came in at length. Ehail slipped out of the shop while Gyre was occupied rather than muddle her way through an awkward goodbye.
She flew back to the circle, and went back to Elcenia, and teleported home.
On Rhysel's next visit, Ehail had a question for her. She'd considered asking Gyre directly, or even one of the moneychangers, but decided she'd rather not talk to a moneychanger about this particular issue - yet - nor turn up at Gyre's place with nothing but a silly inquiry. Rhysel it was.
"Do you know," Ehail asked, while she assembled her translations, "whether it's legal on Barashi to sell conjured gems?"
"Perfectly," Rhysel said. "Why?"
"I just wondered," Ehail murmured.
Rhysel didn't pry any further, but gave Ehail a quizzical smile as she left the office, and seemed to notice the glinting rosebush in its place beside the spider plant.
Finding the spell was unexpectedly difficult. It wasn't unlawful to conjure the gems, as long as one only kept them or gave them away. People could have decorated with fabricated tourmalines and beryls all they liked. But scarcely anyone did; glass was nearly as pretty, and worthless conjured gems didn't show off wealth to the neighbors very effectively. Certainly Ehail hadn't cast the spells before; decorations were spare in the house, and certainly nonessential, not worth the only wizard's attention.
Eventually she went to the University of Esgan, on the mainland, which let the public visit its library without too much fuss and had a decent wizarding section. An angle's hunt found her an old book on conjuring, including a set of spells for gems. Cut gems. Any type she liked, as many as she wanted.
Ehail got another book, about gems themselves, and looked up diamonds and rubies and sapphires.
It wouldn't do to miss a color or a shape.
She took detailed notes, returned the books to where they belonged, and went home to work.
Two days spent conjuring with neatly diagrammed spells, working in bursts between her other work, saw Ehail in possession of a small heap of gems, every hue. She'd almost forgotten that diamonds weren't all ice-clear and sapphires not all electric blue and was glad she'd checked; rubies did turn out to be consistently red. They were shaped like everything from cushions to teardrops. Hopefully the shapes used in Barashin jewelry were the same as the ones Elcenians used. They looked similar to what she'd seen in Gyre's shop.
There was no reason to wait.
She folded up the gems in a square of old fabric, tied the corners, and teleported to the circle.
It was evening in Aristan, but the gaslight in Gyre's shop was still on, setting the jewels aglow. He was talking to a customer - thankfully, not Arylla - but when Ehail opened the door and the bell sounded, he glanced towards her and lit up.
She waited in the corner of the shop, looking at some earrings that hadn't been there before, while Gyre sold a fellow halfblood a bracelet and boxed it for him. "Ehail, hello," he said, once the customer had left. "What brings you here? I was going to give you a bit longer before asking if you wanted to... see me again."
"I have something for you," she said, holding up the pouch she'd fashioned. Gems clinked together inside of it.
Gyre, puzzled, went out from behind the counter to come closer and take it from her hands. He set it over the till and untied the corners.
The heap of jewels flattened when he freed it; one red faceted square skittered off the edge of the cloth and onto the floor. Ehail picked it up and put it back with the others.
"What are - are these - is that a ruby?" Gyre stammered.
"I think that's a ruby. It might be a red diamond, though. There are a few of those too. I can't really tell them apart now - if you don't know how to tell and you need to know, I can bring them home and check by magic," she murmured.
"I can tell rubies and diamonds apart," Gyre breathed, still staring in amazement at the gift. "This is - I don't - how -"
"I made them," Ehail said.
"You can make gems too?"
"Too?" She realized a moment late that he meant the silver. "Oh - not the same way. I conjured them."
"Conjured them," he said, seeming to be less stunned, if only by a fraction. He looked back at her, finally tearing his eyes off the stones. "With wizardry?"
"Yes. It doesn't get done much. On Elcenia you can't sell conjured gems, only natural ones. But..." She shifted her weight, trying to find a way to stand that would make him stop looking at her so preposterously reverently. He averted his gaze and started sifting through the heap gently. "I asked Rhysel and she said you would be able to sell them just fine."
Gyre nodded slowly. "Do you want me to send the house another -"
"No - this is just - it's for you, it's a gift," Ehail said, twisting her hands together behind her back. "I would have brought the babies' scales in the same trip but Ilen wants to go through the couch cushions again and make sure he's not missing any."
"This is amazing," Gyre said, picking up what was either a sapphire or a blue diamond and holding it to the light. "Thank you. I don't know what to say - it's a spectacular gift."
"Diamonds and corundum," Ehail said. "I can make others if that's important but - you mentioned - that - those are the ones you got from Arylla's brother -"
"Yes," Gyre murmured. "Yes, they are. And now I don't have to tolerate her another day, and I can change the lock, and - thank you, Ehail."
"I'm glad you like it," she said. "I - I like my rosebush. Very much."
Gyre smiled at her warmly. "I'm glad." He hesitated, then tied up the gems in their cloth again and locked them in the till. "I'm about to close up for the night," he said. "Do you want to come with me to the locksmith, and get some pastry twists to celebrate?"
"Yes," said Ehail.