Lili looked over her shoulder before cutting the white rose and stuffing it, thorns and all, under her jacket beside her heart. It was forbidden to cut white roses if they bloomed in the winter. And it had already snowed. It wasn’t technically winter by the calendar, but she didn’t want to have that argument with the Queen’s security forces.
She doubted they would consider the calendar reading valid.
She scuffed her footprints as she made the return journey. She pulled her scarf tighter around her face as the wind bit and caused the tree branches to claw at her as she passed. Lili didn’t curse the wind though, not this time, it would obliterate any trace of her trespassing before dawn. Perhaps sometimes even the bitter wind was kind.
It was a fifteen minute walk to her house. It took her twice that long as she slid into the shadows and held her breath not once but three times, avoiding the notice of the night guards. Their scarlet capes flapped like angry birds wings in the wind and they muttered to each other, as if they had caught a scent but could not find it again.
She did not bother opening the gate. It always creaked in the cold. Instead she vaulted over the wall surrounding her neighborhood’s houses and scrambled up the trellis on the side of the building until she came to her window. Its hinges glistened with oil and slid open on a whisper and closed on a sigh.
Though she was eager to finish her work, it would have to wait. Not even a god could cause a plucked rose to dry before its time. So she tucked the rose underneath one of the loose floorboards beneath her bed and tried to fall asleep as she listened to the coughing in the next room.
“One more and done,” she said before she fell asleep, but only the moon heard.