Lisnel ran through the forest, a huge book clutched tight to her chest. It was bound with straps and locked. She’d found it while going through a dusty chest in her father’s attic. She’d asked him for the key. He’d stared at her for a long time, then barked a laugh with no humor in it and took the book from her.
Lisnel spied on him as he sat by the fire in his study that night, shooting angry glances at the book and taking a drink each time he did.
“In the forest,” he muttered, glaring at it. Then he emptied the rest of his bottle and turned to the fire. When Lisnel heard snoring, she crept in and lifted the book off the table. She paused only long enough to put on her cloak, then ran. She didn’t know what was in the book, and if her father had shrugged, she probably wouldn’t have cared. But with a reaction like that, she had to know.
Lisnel didn’t have the first idea where in the forest she could find a key, though, and the heavy book dragged at her every step. She was about to turn around when she saw a glint in the trees. The key? She took one step toward it, then realized her mistake. It wasn’t a key. It was wolf. It gazed at Lisnel, then turned and looked over its shoulder. The glint, she realized, had come from its one blind eye. She followed it when it waited for her again.
“So,” said a voice. LIsnel looked up to see a crone standing in the doorway of a small cottage. The woman dug her fingers into the wolf’s fur. “What brings you out this way?” Lisnel held up the locked book. The old woman laughed and ushered her inside.
“Do you have the key?” Lisnel asked. The old woman pulled a seed from her pocket and folded it into Lisnel’s hand. “What’s this?”
“Plant it,” the old woman said.
“Will it grow a key?” Lisnel asked, full of wonder. The old woman slapped her in the side of the head, gentle but chiding.
“No, child,” she said. “It will grow roses. That book was my record of all the flowers I grew, and how I cultivated them. Your father—don’t bother to deny it, you have the same eyes. Your father stole it from me to try and learn my secrets.”
Lisnel thought of the other things that had been in the chest with the book: a wide-brimmed hat, a spade, gloves. She’d never seen her father gardening.
“Why give me this?” she asked.
“Without the book, the seed is useless. But if you’ll stay here, I’ll teach you all I know.” Lisnel hesitated, then nodded. She planted the seed, and watered it, and stayed with the old woman until she was ready.
She knocked on the door of her father’s house, uncertain after all this time whether she’d be welcome. Her father’s haggard face broke into a smile, first at Lisnel’s face, then at the armful of roses she carried.
“Are those…” he asked. Lisnel nodded. “How did you get them? Did you open the book? Did you find the key?”
“I found the author,” Lisnel said. “She taught me how to grow these and much besides.”
“How?!” her father demanded. “She never gave me anything.”
“You never asked,” Lisnel said. Her father hung his head. “Ask me.”
“Will you teach me?” Lisnel’s father asked.