[The palace garden was one of the few green places in the whole city.
Pete had agreed to plant some trees around the edges of the market district, and make room for a few city parks so that the town’s little ones could have grass to run on. The rich folks generally had bushes and flowers growing in urns in front of their fancy houses. Once in a while, you might see a well-to-do merchant with a weed growing in a pot hanging in front of a window. But for now, the palace garden and the little pasture next to the stables were the only places in the entire capital that looked like the real world.
Jess hung onto Pete’s arm as they strolled along under the old trees, just breathing air that wasn’t nearly as filthy as she had started to get use to. The fact that she had started to get used to it bothered her as much as the smoke and stink.
"Everything is looking good," Jess took a deep breath. "After last winter I’m never gonna take anything green for granted again."
"Nor I," Pete agreed. They followed the path out of the shaded area, past a miniature waterfall, over a tiny bridge, and down toward the central pond. "Thank the Ladies, it looks like this is going to be a bumper crop year. If next year is halfway decent the kingdom will be back on its feet again."
Jess leaned against his shoulder. "I’m thinking about the first time we came here."
Pete chuckled. "When you told me that the spell you put on me was going to be permanent? I was worried about you for a while. You looked like you were going to faint."
"Worried about me?" She straightened and stared. "You fool man."
"You have said that before," he reminded her.
"I’ll keep saying it," she said. "As long as you keep coming out with things like that."
Pete laughed and looked at the pond. "I’m glad that some wild ducks and geese came back to replace the domestic ones that the staff ate last winter. It wouldn’t look right without birds."
"No." Jess smiled. "A pond needs something in it."
The center of the pond surged upward in a rising dome. Spreading waves lashed out from the center, frightening the waterfowl into squawking flight. The dome grew to the height of a person and stopped. Then it parted and slid down into two halves, revealing Betra standing on the surface of the pond.
Hefran and Ildara were bracketing the royal couple, one with a drawn sword and the other with a necklace in her fist. Pete raised a calming hand and stepped forward.
"Welcome, Madam Betra. I am honored that you have seen fit to visit us. Please, have a seat and tell me how we may serve. Will you be willing to accept refreshments?"