Rose squinted through the haze as they turned off Imperial Way, riding towards Clay. The sign for Lone Pine Road was ahead, it looked like it had been painted recently and a ring of stones was placed around the base. A mule brayed in the distance and she remembered the first time she had met Emily. She wondered idly if Farmer Bobbins had ever recovered, then recalled the many times that Mistress Bobbins had come to Annie's cottage for poultices and gossip. Shaking her head at her memory, Rose looked up again as a familiar cottage came into view.
"Hold a moment, Janna." she said, tapping her friend on the shoulder.
"What is it?" Janna asked.
"That's my teacher's cottage, I want to say hello." Rose replied, looking at the house, a well-tended garden of colorful flowers and bright green herbs spilled past the white fence that surrounded it. Looking past it to the house itself, she marveled at how it seemed so small. It seemed like there was barely enough room for one old woman, much less an idiot girl just past her Ceremony. As Janna stopped the horse in front of the gate, the front door opened and a man, wearing a wide brimmed hat and a patched red tunic, walked out carrying a basket over one arm. He closed the door behind him and started walking down the path to the garden.
"Bernard!" Rose called, excited. Throwing her leg over the horse's back, and barely avoiding kicking Janna, she slid down and ran to the gate. The man looked up at her call, at first confused but then smiling broadly as he recognized her.
"Lady Rose!" he exclaimed, setting his basket on the ground, "How are you?"
Rose pulled at the gate and it did not open. She looked at it and a wave of nostalgia washed over her. This was where she had talked to Emily that time. She tried to tell me, she thought to herself, I wouldn't listen.
"Sorry, it's a bit rusty. There's a trick." Bernard said, wiggling the latch. Rose turned as Janna walked up behind her, holding the horse's reins. The horse lowered his head to nibble at a few plants growing between the slats of the fence.
"Janna this is Bernard," Rose said, turning to introduce her friend. "He came from Albion to help Annie before I left." She turned back to Bernard, who had finally mastered the latch. "How is she? Is she in?"
His face fell, "I'm sorry Lady Rose," he said, "she died last fall."
"Oh." Rose said, suddenly sober, "What happened?"
"She caught a bad cough after the Mother's Feast. She couldn't shake it off. I did everything I could, but it settled into her lungs and she never recovered."
Rose looked down, saying nothing.
"I'm sorry," he said again. "She always talked about you. She was so happy you survived those pirates." He opened the gate and stood aside. "Won't you come in? The weeds can wait until later. I'll put some tea on. You must have learned so many new things in your travels, I'd love to hear about them."
Rose looked up at the mid-morning sun. "Thank you, but we should be going. I need to get home to the farm."
"Of course," Bernard said, sympathetically. "I heard about your mother. Please come by if you need anything. I've been experimenting with some exotics, I think they show a lot of promise."
Rose thanked him again and turned back to the road.