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A Seed in the Ground

Shannon Fay is a Clarion West graduate and 2013 winner of the James White Award. She can be found online at ayearonsaturn.com and on Twitter @shannonlfay. A collection of some of her published short fiction, Clever Bits, is available.

I was the one who told Rhiz about the Folx bush.
"It flowers in the spring, little pink blossoms that sit on thick, knobby branches," I said, placing the seed in Rhiz's hand and folding her fingers over it. "When you try and trim it, it just grows back stronger. Tearing one out of the ground is like trying to rend a full-grown oak. It's hale and tough and beautiful, just like you."
Her gaze went from our hands to my eyes, as if trying to see if I was serious. Still searching for confirmation, she leaned in for a kiss. She must have found it because when we pulled away hours later she agreed to be my wife and to take me as hers.
Years afterwards I watched her give a Folx seed to a new recruit, another idiot willing to throw their life away to take down the Tzari. Rhiz extolled the Folx bush's virtues just as I had. But she added one more:
"It will make a good grave marker," she said to the newcomer. "Should you get caught and buried in a ditch somewhere."
Rhiz had her Cause, her lifelong oath to kill the Tzari and install some new order by the people. I had my gardening business and our daughter, Corma.
Despite the unrest business was good. Aside from advising farmers I was often called upon to look after the gardens of the aristocracy.
"Aristocracy originally meant 'rule by the best,'" Rhiz said during one of her visits home (she was often away for months at a time, fighting for the Cause). She was sitting at the head of the table. Corma was next to her, rapt. "I can't think of any word that has drifted further from its original meaning."
"Working for them puts food on our table," I said. "You'd know that if you actually stuck around."
Rhiz mussed up Corma's hair. "The Tzari's still strong in the North. When he's gone, things will be different."
She didn't sound especially impatient. Even if her side were to triumph she'd find some other excuse to drift away from us, a seed on the wind.
The Tzari came back hard, crushing rebellions in the East and West. As I traveled I started to notice juvenile Folx bushes sprouting in fields, in the woods, in ditches.
I would take Corma with me on my jobs. She had a gift for working with the earth: She could make flowers bloom as naturally as stars emerging in the evening sky.
While she had my gifts she was still drawn to her mother's fight.
"Mom says it's wrong for the Tzari's advisors to have so much when people are starving." "Mom says this land could be used to grow food." "Mom said there used to be a whole city here before the Tzari destroyed it."
All the fighting meant there was an upwell of recruits. Rhiz was constantly hounding me for more Folx seeds. They had become a secret signal of the fight against those in power.
I went along with it until the day I found Corma in our garden, a Folx seed cupped in her hands like a jewel.
I grabbed it from her, causing her to cry out. I went to our front hall, where Rhiz was sitting.
"Did you give this to her?" I said, voice steady but my hand shaking.
Rhiz met my gaze. "She's always believed in the Cause."
"How could you give this to your own daughter? Accepting one of these seeds--it means you've accepted death. It was supposed to be a symbol of our love...."
Rhiz said nothing.
"The way you come and go, it's like you don't even love us," I said, not looking at her.
"I do love you, Cormi," Rhiz said, her voice oddly subdued. "I've given you more than I've ever willingly given anyone."
"It's not enough." I put the Folx seed down hard on the table. "If the fight is what you want, go. But don't come back this time."
She left. Our daughter hated me for it and ran off a few years later. I kept gardening, trying to coax life out of the ground, ignoring the pink flowers blooming in the spring.
It was ten years later when the Tzari himself sent for me. His advisor brought me to one of the Tzari's hunting grounds.
"Cormi, what can be done about this?" The advisor swept an arm out towards a large field of Folx bushes. I had never seen so many in one place. It had always just been one or two: there were easily a hundred in front of me. "It's interfering with the Tzari's hunting."
Up until I had seen the field, I had always thought my wife and daughter would come back to me. Only too late did I realize then I should have gone to them.
My mouth was dry as I spoke.
"They need to be taken out by the root."
Naturally, I was put in charge of the project. I hired people I knew had been with the Cause or had lost loved ones to it. When we uprooted the first bush we found a rib cage, a femur. When we uprooted the second one we found two skulls. Each bush yielded more remains.
We were already armed with chains and pickaxes and shovels. Word spread about the mass grave on the Tzari's estate and more people joined us as we marched onto the castle.
In my pocket I had a Folx seed. We all did. It was a sign that we were ready to die fighting. But for me it was also a memory of a night long ago, the night I won the heart of a hale and tough and beautiful woman.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 21st, 2017

Author Comments

I've always liked the image of plants as burial markers, and liked the idea of using them to call attention to something that the powers-that-be would prefer to stay buried. It was fun to write a story with a gardener as the main character, as I myself can barely keep a small tomato plant alive.

- Shannon Fay
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