Yarrain waited for the heir to the throne. She would officiate the central part of the new queen’s coronation by value of being the senior Gardener. Her family had tended to the Throne of Thorns for untold generations, and she had been instructed in its care since she could walk.
Thanks to a long stretch of peace, this was only the third coronation Yarrain saw. At the first one, she had been a girl yet. The second she had led. Now she could not help but miss the late queen. Experienced, firm, but kind, having strengthened the peace with the neighbouring realms, living up to the respect and love she had earned would not be easy for her successor.
Particularly since her successor was young, and had only been fourth in line for the throne until the collapse of the roof of the summer palace had claimed the royal family.
The gates to the courtyard opened. The heir stepped out, naked as the day she was born. Courtiers spilled out like ants from a pierced nest while she climbed the hill with measured strides. She took Yarrain’s offered hand, but never looked at her, her eyes fixed on the throne atop the hill of roots, at the base of the trunk of the Heart of the Realm. Her face glowed with joy and pride as she murmured her parts of the recitation that Yarrain began.
The tree in truth consisted of several different plants wreathed together, the trunk a giant rope twisted from wood, some smooth, some rough, some studded with thorns. The throne was shaped from a species with gently puckered bark. It was always framed by bulging roots, and now also by green scions of many kinds.
Yarrain led the heir to the seat. The crown waited to her right, but first, the Gardener picked up the pitcher from the left, which was said to be as ancient as the tree.
“May the new monarch serve the land. May the land welcome the new monarch.” With the simplest and oldest of recorded prayers, Yarrain poured water on the bases of the scions, and the feet of the heir. She stepped aside.
The new queen stared ahead wide-eyed, breathing deep, still beaming in a way that Yarrain thought improper for someone who had lost family recently. The Gardener watched the plants instead.
The still-green scions writhed slowly, climbing up the sides of the throne and touching the heir. They grew with preternatural speed, making Yarrain proud. At the last queen’s coronation, they had ended spanning the throne in a beautiful arch.
This time, a switch of thorns whipped into the heir’s face. She called out in surprise and pain. A vine curled around her wrist, preventing her from protecting her face against a second strike. With a sinuous movement, the vine pulled the woman forward, off the throne. She landed on hands and knees, panting.
Every person in the courtyard seemed frozen, until Yarrain remembered that there were traditional words for this case, though they had not been needed in centuries.
“The land rejects this would-be monarch. Children of the land, we shall seek another to speak for us.”