“You really bought Bramble Burn?” The medic chatted while Juniper was loaded into the ambulance for the ride to the station. “You do things like that often?”
“First time for everything,” Juniper mumbled. She was so tired. Maybe she’d been overconfident. Obviously she needed to tweak a few things. If she wanted to anchor the park, she’d need a safe place to crawl home to at night and a way to keep from draining all her energy. She couldn’t afford to be weak, or the Burn would eat her.
The station was stark outside, from what she could see in the dark, a brick building on a city lot. It was clean inside and furnished with Government Issue furniture and castoffs. She walked in under her own steam and nearly fell into one of the kitchen chairs. The pair of F &R guys with KP looked at her uncertainly.
“She needs to eat and crash,” Bjorn said, placing a bowl of steaming stew in front of her. “It was that or arrest her crazy self so she wouldn’t get killed in the Burn.”
Juniper ignored him. The stew fortified her enough that she helped coax Twix into a box stall, calming his furious protests. He’d followed the ambulance on his own, but they wouldn’t let him hang out on the street, scaring pedestrians.
“Quit, old man. They aren’t going to eat either of us,” she muttered, rubbing his neck. She was tempted to lie down in the hay, but Lt Bjorn was watching. If she looked too weak, he might decide the hospital was the place for her.
She showered, but it took all she had. The bunk in the woman’s dorm was clean, and she collapsed on it gratefully. She had a thousand things to do tomorrow, and she couldn’t wait to start the day.
“What did you do to the bed?”
Juniper opened her eyes and peered at the woman frowning at her. It took a moment to remember attack, fire, rescue. She sat up and looked at the bunk bed, then hopped off for a better look. “Holy cow!” The bedposts had sprouted into saplings, rooting into the floor as she slept. The branches formed an arch over the top bunk, and the only thing missing was a flock of little birdies.
She looked at the fire fighter, dumbfounded. “That never happened before.” Did it have something to do with Bramble Burn? She could sense the park, even from here. Had the tree done something to tune her senses to the park’s power? The tree was supposed to anchor the magic, to be the first of many “fence posts”. She’d never dreamed that the wild energy might change her, too.
The woman snorted. “The guys are never going to believe this. Come on, let’s get breakfast.” She waited while Juniper brushed her hair and changed into jeans and a t-shirt, then led the way downstairs, chatting as she went. “I’m Mia, by the way. Word has it Kjetil picked you up from Bramble Park. You know, we were on the roof yesterday watching that tree of yours grow with binoculars. You’re the talk of the town. No one knew if it was some kind of new monster.” Mia had short, straight black hair and was built small but sturdy.
“Cher-til? Is that Lt Bjorn’s given name?”
“Yep. He’s one of the Norse wolves. The local pack likes to keep an eye on the city, and wolves like action, so we’ve got a couple on staff. Hope you like cinnamon rolls.”
Mia handed her a plate and introduced her to the day crew. There were four on duty, plus Mia, and all of them had questions.
“How did you grow a tree that big, that fast?” a large black man, Karl, wanted to know. He was responsible for the cinnamon rolls, and he had a southern drawl.
“Did you know you were on the news?” Faolán, an Irish man with black hair and a neatly trimmed goatee wanted to know. He waved a hand at the TV. “Not many tree mages out there.”
“I’m not a mage,” Juniper protested. “More like a farmer.”
“That’s a bloody big tree, farm girl,” Faolán remarked. “But you can’t mean to go back there?”
“I do, yes. I need to fix my tree.”
“Now that’s crazy talk,” Karl said. He set his coffee aside and leaned closer over the table. “You’ll ruin all of Bjorn’s hard work. What are you going to do the next time a mutant woodchuck sets your tree on fire? You can’t count on rescue every time.”
Juniper nodded. “Good point. May I have some paper? I need to add it to the list.” She took a pencil and busily began making a tree diagram. “You’re an expert on safety. What do I need to plan for?”
Mia leaned closer to view her sketch. “For starters, you need to plan for fire. Second, you need something stronger than wood to keep the critters out. You’ve already proved that they think of giant trees as chew toys.”
Juniper drew a picture of a tree burning and stick figures running around, arms in the air. She drew a slash through it. “Tougher skin. I think I can do that.” She thought about all the junk cars and made scales on the trunk. She had plenty of metal to work with. She sketched in rain water collection tanks that would be hidden in the walls of the tree and added a greenhouse on top.
“What’s that?” Karl asked.
“Greenhouse. I need to grow some herbs and stuff,” she said absently.
“What kind of herbs?” he asked suspiciously.
She laughed. “The legal kind. Saffron and chocolate, for one. I need to make money, and I need to eat. A garden won’t be safe on the ground at this time.”
“You can grow chocolate?” Mia asked with interest.
“It doesn’t matter. It will be too vulnerable. You’ll have giant grasshoppers trying to break in,” Karl warned.
“Bullet proof glass and protective shutters,” Juniper added to her list.
“What’s to stop something from eating you when you’re leaving your tree?” Faolán wanted to know. “That’s when you’ll be most vulnerable.”
“Defenses, very important.” Juniper drew a ring of thorns around the tree and studied the picture.
“You know Bramble Burn is in the middle of a tough neighborhood,” Mia said seriously. “You can be mugged or worse.”
Juniper met her eyes. “I could be. Twix is dangerous, but he could be shot. I could be shot. I’ll have to take steps to prevent that.”
“Kevlar,” Faolán suggested.
“Bodyguards,” Karl grumped.
Juniper cocked her head. “Tenants,” she said thoughtfully.
Karl guffawed. “You think you’re going to get renters in Bramble Burn? You’re crazy, girl.”