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The Wildmother had distilled something in Fjord when she chose him as her champion that he never had before, and that was a new love and appreciation for the natural world.

Before, he wouldn’t have thought twice about the wind blowing through the leaves of a tree or the sounds of critters in the underbrush or the sight of growing plants after a drought, but since she chose him, he realized that these things, all the small things about the world... were beautiful in ways beyond compare.

He appreciated a cloudless sky on a summer’s day. He enjoyed the smell of ozone just before a storm. The feeling of fresh grass under his toes. The taste of crisp water straight from a rushing river. The memory of the waves back home crashing against the rocks during a hurricane. It all had such new meaning to him now that he was almost overwhelmed with it all. He wondered if this was how Caduceus felt all the time.

Something he took the most joy out of, however, was the wildflowers.

They were everywhere- little orange buds bursting through the tough soil and emerging into the daylight after an eternity underground to be blinded by the sun. Fjord was enamoured by them, to the point of Beau and Jester laughing at him about it. Caduceus seemed to understand.

He was not the gentlest of people. His hands were clunky and his fingers clumsy, but slowly, carefully, he plucked those flowers from the cold hard ground, thanking the Wildmother for such beautiful gifts, and took them with him.

The pale orange was startling against his sickly green skin.

Now that he had them, he wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them. They were in his hands, yes, and he thought they held a beauty that words couldn’t describe, sure, but what was he going to do with a bunch of flowers?

Nott liked flowers, right? She braided them into Caleb’s hair for luck. Caduceus liked them too, obviously, he had some growing out of his staff. Yasha liked flowers, but she wasn’t here. He knew he was going to save some for her, for when she came back to them.

For a while, he considered giving them all to Nott and telling her to go buck wild with them, but that didn’t seem right, somehow. Caduceus was watching him, as if watching to make sure he made the right choice, as a test. Handing them to Nott seemed too... impersonal. He needed something better.

He took the final watch with Caduceus that night. Caduceus made two cups of tea, placed one before Fjord, and acted like he was alone for the rest of the watch. Fjord watched him for a moment- was this the test?

But if he was going to do it, Caduceus was the best person to do it in front of. He wouldn’t judge, only encourage. So, slowly, Fjord pulled out his large bundle of flowers from his satchel and laid them out in front of him. There was plenty- so many that the green grass under him was coated entirely by pretty orange buds. He picked out the worst ones- the ones with the wilted petals and dark bruises of decay and snapped stems from where Fjord’s fingers had been too clumsy, and put the best ones a safe distance away.

When he was sure that Caduceus was too busy with his watch to pay attention to Fjord, he slowly, carefully, began weaving the stems of the wildflowers together.

It was slow going, at first. He wasn’t very good, and the brittle stems snapped under his fingers, and he wounded the delicate petals in more ways than he was willing to admit, but eventually, he had one circlet of pretty orange flowers, and he was very proud.

The second one went easier and looked much better in the end, and soon the third followed, then the fourth. In the end, he had managed to weave only four crowns that looked relatively decent, not including the first test run, and he had them all laid out before him.

There weren’t enough crowns to give to every member of the Mighty Nein. But Beau probably wouldn’t want one, and Fjord defiantly didn’t want one, and Yasha wasn’t here to give one to. So that left Caleb, Nott, Jester and Caduceus, all of which would probably love a crown if it was offered, and so Fjord set off trying to make them perfect.

He approached Nott first and held one out to her while she was considering adding another liquor to her endless flask. “Here,” he said, a little awkwardly. “I uh, I made this for you.”

Nott looked at him like he had just lost his mind, and slowly took the flower crown. “What’s the catch?”

“There is no catch,” Fjord shook his head. “I just thought the flowers were lovely and I know you thread them in your hair for luck so... I just thought you’d like one. If you don’t, I could take it back...”

No,” Nott clutched it protectively to her chest and looked a little surprised that she did so. She eyed him, wearily. “I can’t take you seriously with that accent,” she said before placing the crown over her head and scurrying away. Fjord tried not to smile as he walked away.

Jester was the easiest to find, sitting on a tree branch munching down on the last of her muffins, looking both euphoric and disappointed. “Hi Fjord,” she grinned when he approached, smiling down at him. “What do you need?”

“Oh, I uh, I don’t need anything,” Fjord rubbed the back of his neck as he brought the flower crown out from behind his back, and Jester gasped. “I just thought that you might like one of these, is all.”

Making grabby hands for it, Jester almost slipped off her branch in her haste to get to it. “Gimmie,” she said, as Fjord held it out to her. She plucked it up and placed it carefully over her horns and grinned. “I love it!” She squealed. “Did you make it?”

“I did,” Fjord offered shyly. “It uh... it looks good with the blue.”

Beaming, Jester bent down from her branch and gently placed a delicate kiss on Fjord’s forehead, the soft petals ticking his skin. “Thank you Fjord, I love it.”

Next was Caleb, who was a little trickier to find because he wasn’t in any place Fjord would expect. He was sitting under the shade of a large oak tree, his back against the trunk, writing in a book Fjord didn’t recognise. He quickly closed it and tucked it away when he saw Fjord approach. “Oh, hello mein freund. How could I help you?”

“I made you this,” Fjord said without preamble, shoving it into Caleb’s surprised hands. Caleb cradled gently. “It’s not a big deal. I just thought you would like it because Nott is always putting flowers in your hair. That’s all.”

And then he walked away to spare himself any more embarrassment, his face already flushing a deep red, but with his back turned he didn’t get to see how gently Caleb was holding the tangle of flowers, or the slow but genuine smile that crawled across his face.

Fjord found Caduceus last, sniffing at a cup of tea as the smoke curled into the sky. “Uh, hi,” Fjord announced his presence as he approached.

“Hi there,” Caduceus said in that slow way that he did, a big dopey smile on his face and Fjord couldn’t help but smile along. He nodded at the final flower crown that Fjord held in his fingers. “What’s that you got?”

Licking his lips, Fjord sat down on the ground beside Caduceus, and it almost felt like the grass and the soil were welcoming him back. “I made this,” he said quietly and held it out for Caduceus to take. “I suppose it isn’t much of a surprise to you. But I just thought you would like one.”

“I would love one, thank you,” Caduceus took the crown from Fjord’s hands and had the decency not to comment on the way they were faintly shaking. He looked it over, turning it this way and that in his huge hands, the petals comically small. “You did a very good job on this. I mean, I watched you make them the other night, but I wasn’t so sure how well you actually did. Very well, I realize now.”

“Thank you,” Fjord felt himself flush with pride, and that warmth he loved so much fell over him again. It felt like a blazing furnace on a chilly winter’s night. “You could say that I was... inspired to make something. I never realized how beautiful flowers were until I saw them start to grow.”

“That’s the power of the Wildmother,” Caduceus chuckled as he placed the flower crown on his head. It was a little wonky and didn’t quite fit him, but it went well with his colour scheme anyway. “She makes even the littlest of things the most beautiful. The bugs and the critters and every blade of grass bask in her love before being born into this world, and that’s what makes it wonderful. I, in particular, am partial to the wildflowers. I was very pleased when you felt the same way.”

Fjord nodded. “They were lovely. Seeing them on the side of the road... I couldn’t just leave them. I couldn’t just ignore them and pretend I hadn’t seen them. They were too beautiful to forget.”

Caduceus laughed that deep, homely laugh of his that felt like being wrapped up snugly in a blanket by someone who loved you very much. “And that, my friend,” he reached a heavy hand out and placed it on Fjord’s shoulder. “Is the true power of the Wildmother.”