Juniper smiled. “Could be. Anyway, thank you for breakfast. Is there anything I can do to thank you before I go?” She looked at Mia. “I’m sorry about the bed. I’m afraid I can’t “ungrow” a tree, but I can pay for damages.”
“What’s up with the bed?” Faolán wanted to know.
Mia grinned. “Go see for yourself. Don’t worry about it, girl. It’s a conversation piece now. But if you’re serious about helping out, maybe you could look into the back yard. It’s a sorry bit of concrete, and we could use a tree or something for shade when we grill.”
Juniper followed her outside and surveyed the back lot. It was a cracked bit of concrete with weeds growing in the cracks and a couple of rickety wooden tables and lawn chairs, surrounded by a battered wooden fence. She nodded. “I can do something with this. Did you have anything in particular in mind?”
The crew looked at each other. “Nothing too high maintenance,” Karl suggested. “Maybe a tree and some grass or something.”
“Can you put in some herbs? I love rosemary,” Mia added.
“No problem. Let me get my seeds from my pack. You can go about your work while I do this, and I’ll show you what I’ve done when it’s finished.”
She was saddling Twix when Lt Bjorn entered the stable. Thankfully the crew had grabbed her tack and saddlebags when they finished with her tree last night, or she’d be riding bareback. It was less than a mile to the park, but a saddle was welcome.
“You did the back yard,” he said with a tinge of admiration. “I had no idea it could look so good.”
She smiled. It hadn’t been hard to line the lot with hedges and sprout a climbing oak. It had a branch that would be perfect for a swing, and she’d made a bench project from the trunk. The lot was now lined with a sturdy hazelnut hedge and she’d used the roots to break up the concrete into pavers. Grass grew thick and green in the cracks. She’d planted an herb garden and cherry tree, too. “It was my pleasure.”
“You’re leaving?” He walked her out of the stable.
“Yes. I need to get to work.”
He was silent for a moment. “Karl said you had some ideas to make the tree safer.”
“Yes.” She hesitated. “The first steps are still dangerous, but I have to start somewhere.”
“Do you think you can do it?”
“Yep.” She mounted up.
He looked her over thoughtfully. “Will the tree be done today?”
She shook her head. “It will be two days at least, but it will be easy to close the holes in the tree today. I’ll have some protection while I work.”
“All right. Do me a favor; sleep here tonight. I’d rather not be called out to the Burn again.”
She looked away, considering it.
“You more than earned it with the yard work. Beside, you’ve given the crew something to talk about, and you already marked your bunk.”
His smile made her heart beat faster, but she didn’t need romance right now; too much to do. She tried to sound casual. “Okay. Just for tonight. I won’t need it after that. I appreciate the offer.” It would be good to have a place to rest tonight, and she would be dog tired.
“Cool. See you then.” He stepped back and let her ride away.
The gangs watched her as she trotted up to the Burn, and this time the neighbors stared, too. She kept an eye on them, but her senses were busy on the tree and the immediate vicinity. The tree rustled with pleasure at her approach and assured her there were no monsters inside. She hurried past the burned carcasses and into the tree, sealing the door. The first thing she did was help the tree repair the bark so she could work safely, though she wouldn’t take that safety for granted. The Bramble had taught her an important lesson, and she would watch her back.
She settled Twix in his sandy stall and helped the tree “breathe” away the smoke stink. She didn’t want to be distracted while she worked.
The next bit was harder. She stood in the center of the floor and thought about her battery. She knew the theory of how to make one, but she’d never had access to a power source like Bramble Burn before. It took a river of power to make, and it was dangerous. If she got cocky, the battery could explode, taking her, the tree and Twix with it.