Part 4 of 4.
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The girl’s braid was nearly twice as long as she was tall, and it was loose around the top. She sighed at it, and tied it in a knot to take up some of the slack.
“Be welcome in my home,” she murmured formally. Her rose hedge parted before her, and she stepped out to greet them, offering Jeri her hand. “I’m Vin.”
“Vin?” Jeri shook the girl’s hand.
“Vinegar. My sister, my twin, she was Wine.” She makes a tired, irritated gesture. “She died a long time ago. She got all the power, you see.”
“I…” Jeri shook her head, looking at her friends. Clarence shrugged; he didn’t get it either.
“There should be food in the kitchen, and wood in the woodshed.” Vin brushed past them. “I generally wake up for a little while every summer and get the place in shape, then sleep through the winter. I can live on almost nothing that way. It’s almost a superpower.”
Hearing the tired bitterness in her voice, Clarence began to understand her name. “How long have you been here?”
“I lost count a long time ago.” As she said that, she paused by an interior wall, her hand on a series of hashmarks. “For a while, I’d wait until the longest day of the year passed, and make another mark.”
When her hand moved, Clarence counted the marks. Ten, twenty… “You’ve been here longer than eighty years?”
“How long ago was the War?” she asked vaguely. “Do you still remember the war?”
“Remember?” Jeri choked. Darrel had been reduced to staring in awe. “It’s been over eighty years since you came here!”
“No, no, not you personally. I mean, do people still talk about it?”
“Oh!” Jeri nodded, q quick, nervous, rapid movement. “Sort of, I mean. Ther was a war. Bad stuff happened. There were faeries and gods, but they all left or died.”
“Or went into hiding,” Vinegar agreed. “Back then, people would kill fae on sight, because the people who started the war had been fae.” She pulled piles of clothing from a cupboard. “If you stand there in wet clothes, you won’t warm up. Change into something dry, and I’ll start the fire.”
“So you went into hiding? Couldn’t you just… pretend not to be fae? You don’t look like a faerie,” Darrel grumbled.
“I don’t age. I don’t change. And, back then, people didn’t move towns all that much.” She set wood in the fire and started it, Clarence noticed, like a normal person, with flint and steel. “It was very obvious what I was. And nobody cared, that I couldn’t have done those things. That all I could do, the whole of my magic, was to make roses grow. So I came here, and I made the roses grow.”
“Briars and Vinegar,” Darrel muttered. “Sharp and bitter, and so much longer lasting than flowers and wine.”
If Clarence hadn’t known better, he’d have said that his friend was in love. And from the look on the girl’s face, she was, for the first time in a very long time, contemplating something sweet.
“I do store well,” she allowed, her lips finally curling into a smile.
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