Hazel and Holly — Archived Amity
Previous: A Breath Before Dawn
Breakfast was a prolonged and uncomfortable ordeal. Between Hawthorn demanding his bacon fried to a certain level of crunchiness and a particular blend of tea brewed for a particular length of time, it was amazing they got any food at all judging by the looks the innkeeper gave them. It just about all went out the window when Holly began insisting on hot water to bathe Chester in. By the time she sufficiently convinced the innkeeper that, yes, the water was for a mouse and, no, she did not want him eradicated, they were receiving suspiciously scornful glances by everyone in the common room and Hazel just wanted to hurry up and get out of there.
But still they sat there, Holly poking at her lumpy porridge and sulking. “How hard is it to heat up water. I do it all the time. It’s not hard.”
“I don’t think difficulty is the issue, Holly,” Hazel said. “Rather the issue is of bathing a rodent on the premises.”
“I don’t see why. They’ve got all kinds of rodents running around. They should be glad I’ve a mind to wash one of them.”
“Not everyone’s so progressive.”
“And this porridge is gross. It’s all lumpy and bland.”
“Well, if you hadn’t made such a fuss about the water, I’m sure you would’ve managed to convince someone to bring better food before they were all sent away in search of rodents running around. Bathed or otherwise.”
“Well, Chester’s in my pocket, so they won’t find him.”
“I suggest you keep him there for the time being.”
“The quality of this bacon is immeasurably poor,” Hawthorn said, his voice carrying. “This was supposed to be an establishment that knew how to prepare its meats. This…” he waved his hands at the plate, “this is substandard.”
“What happened to meats of ill repute?” Hemlock asked.
“That was different. Back then we were roughing it in the wild. One must make allowances in such situations.”
“We were hardly in the wild.”
“Compared to where we are now, it was like the wart on Uncle Elm’s left nostril.”
Hemlock snickered and then sobered, as if realizing he was laughing at one of his brother’s jokes.
By the time Hawthorn, under protest, had eaten his bacon and Holly had choked down her porridge, it was nearly afternoon by the time they left the inn, got in the carriage and headed towards the archives.
The sky was overcast and drizzled a fine mist of rain, the air uncommonly cold for the time of year. The carriage wound along the streets, coming at length to a great stone building surrounded by an almost equally great stone wall.
“Well, this is it,” Hawthorn said as he hopped out of the carriage.
The others followed. Hazel craned her neck as she stared at the building. The thing was monstrous, made with massive blocks of stone occasionally interrupted by the placement of a window. It looked more like a fortress than a public building of information.
“Well, that looks formidable,” Hazel said.
“Knowledge is power,” Hawthorn said. “It must be protected from uppity rabble-rousers looking to drag us all into an age of ignorance.”
“What must be protected? The knowledge or the power?”
Hawthorn shrugged. “There cannot be one without the other.”
“We do just fine in the Grove without an archive.”
He arched an eyebrow at her. “Yes, but we have our libraries, some of which are restricted depending on the magic one practices. It is the same idea.”
Hazel frowned. She didn’t like it when Hawthorn was right.
They crossed an expansive stone courtyard before coming to the stairs that led to a wooden set of great double doors. They reminded Hazel of the mausoleum doors from the previous night. Hopefully all similarities ended there.
Pulling one of the heavy doors open, they walked into a darkened entry hall. A feeble stream of light filtered through one of the windows high up on the wall, illuminating a patch of the intricate, woven design on the parquet floor. Most of the light came from lamps that hung on the walls. The lamp shades were made of frosted glass that pulsed with a gentle red-orange light that waxed and waned like slow, steady breath. It made the room feel alive. It made Hazel uncomfortable.
Hawthorn led them out of the entry hall and into a vast room filled with desks and tables, each one illuminated with what looked like an oil lamp but that exuded the same unsettling living light as those in the entry hall. A row of shelves took up one part of the room, bearing massive tomes that looked nearly identical. A man perused the shelves, while a few others sat scattered among the tables, leafing through papers and books.
Nearby a man sat perched on a stool at a podium, peering over half-moon spectacles that rested upon his hawk-like nose. A lamp on the podium illuminated his face irregularly, shifting from shadows to light to shadows again as the warm light pulsed and faded.
Hawthorn strode up to him. “We need access to the city planning documents.”
The man shifted his gaze between them before finally picking up a pen and poising it over a ledger. “Name?”
“Warlocks Hawthorn and Hemlock, and Witches Hazel and Holly. From the Grove, but we’re currently staying at the The Backwards Buck.”
The man scribbled the information down. “Follow me.” He hopped off the stool and headed across the room and to a door near the shelves. He opened it and led them down a narrow hallway, into a smaller room with only a couple tables and more shelves along the walls. He pulled from one of the shelves a monstrous book which he set on the table with a resounding thud.
“This is the directory,” he said. “It will list out the different documents, and where you can find them on the shelves here.” He narrowed his eyes as he looked Hazel and Holly up and down. “And no silliness. I’ve documented your use here, so if anything is out of place when you leave, we’ll know. You don’t want to have a run in with one of our Collectors.” He turned on a heel and strode out of the room.
“Charming man,” Hazel muttered.
“Why’d he think we’re the silly ones?” Holly said. “Is there something on my face?” She prodded her cheeks.
“I think he’s used to seeing withered old men here most of the time,” Hawthorn said. “Young ladies undoubtedly ruffle his limited world view.”
“Maybe we should come here more often then,” Holly said.
Hazel frowned. “Or not.”
Hemlock rifled through the directory the archivist had left on the table. He ran a finger along the lines as he scanned the pages.
“Well?” Hazel said. “Any mills or houses built on hills?”
Hemlock shook his head. “I don’t know. These listings aren’t terribly clear. They’re arranged by year, then by district, then owner, then by types of buildings constructed. Land specifics aren’t mentioned here, so I expect we’ll have to consult the individual planning documents to see whether or not a structure was built on a hill.” He shook his head again. “Since we don’t know what district we are looking for, or when it was built, I don’t know how we’ll find it without pulling each document for a house or mill listed in this directory.”
“That’ll take ages,” Hazel said.
Hazel rubbed her eyes. There had to be a better way. “What about buildings outside of town?”
“I’m not certain that what I saw was inside of town. Perhaps it would be easier to search outside as I’m certain there will be less buildings to account for.”
Hemlock blinked at her a few times and then down at the ledger. He flipped towards the end of the book and scanned the pages. “I think this directory only lists buildings inside of town.”
Hazel walked over to the shelf where the archivist had pulled the directory and looked at the other books and ledgers. Most were labeled with enigmatic numbers and letters, probably in accordance to whatever was listed in the ledger Hemlock looked at. She continued to walk along the shelves, scanning the spines of books and the lables of bundled up papers for something that stood out. It wasn’t until she reached the corner of the room that, down on the bottom shelf next to the wall, was an old vellum bound book. It looked much older than any of the other tomes in the archive. When she pulled it from the shelf, numerous emblems in wax and tin dangled on strips of leather protruding from the bottom of the book.
She took it to a table and carefully opened it. The pages were handwritten in fading ink, the style overly elaborate and difficult to read. A reddish-brown wax emblem was affixed to the bottom of the page with a leather tab.
Holly, who had been playing with Chester, stared at Hazel. “What’s it say?”
Hazel squinted and leaned in closer to the book. “‘Wicke and warren byway af…'” Hazel squinted some more and tilted her head, “‘…Randal’s rue betwixt baine and barrough…'”
“What gibberish is that?” Holly asked.
“The Old Tongue,” Hawthorn said. “An earlier dialect of our current language.”
“It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Language, like all things, changes over time.”
“‘…Shall evermoore be hearthshippe, hearthwoorne, and hearthhallowed te ye fyne familyshippe af Austenwalde fromme this daye the Twelfthe af Descending Windren in the Twain-Hundredth and Eighty-Eighth Sycle.'” Hazel fell quiet as she stared at the page. “I think it’s a land deed. And almost seven hundred years old by the looks of it.”
“Fascinating,” Hawthorn said, “but I don’t see how it helps us.”
Hazel carefully turned the pages, looking for something that might be helpful, though she honestly didn’t know what. Combing through a seven hundred-year-old deed book was probably fruitless at best, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop. The feel of the leathery, yellowed pages; the enigmatic, scrawling handwriting. It fascinated her. It was like a piece of time sliced from the world and pressed into a book, existing only in this place of dust and forgotten documents.
She came to a page that had a twig attached to it instead of a wax emblem. The first part of the document had been faded from time, but the rest of it was fairly legible. “‘…do here and by avowe to relinquish the Northrend lands in to perpetuity, and that the Southron shall ne’er interfere, neither in governshippe, knowledgeshippe, nor in kinshippe, and that the Northrend lands of Forest and Grove shall here and by after be in accordance, and ne’er interefere with Southron governshippe, knowledgeshippe, nor kinshippe of the Flatlands, or the new and budding townshippe of Sarnum…'” Hazel trailed off and shook her head as she continued to study the page. “It looks like some kind of concord between Sarnum and the surrounding lands and… the Grove.” She looked up at Hemlock. “Have you ever heard of this?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Have you, Hawthorn?”
Hawthorn fidgeted with the cuff of his sleeve and shuffled his feet. “I may have heard something about it.”
Hazel raised her eyebrows. “Well? Care to elaborate?”
Hemlock folded his arms. “Yes, brother. Please do elaborate.”
Hawthorn glowered at them, then exhaled and looked resigned. “Very well, but not here. Breakfast was abysmal, and one shouldn’t tell long, complicated stories on unsatisfied stomachs.”