Hazel and Holly — Chester’s Field Day
Previous: Disastrous Discipline
Holly sat on the step of Emmond’s front porch, resting her chin on her palm with her elbow propped on her knee while Hawthorn paced back and forth behind her. Of all the stupid ideas Hazel’s ever come up with, this one had to be the worst. If Holly had tried such a thing, Hazel would have thrown a fit fierce enough to make her go cross-eyed. But when it was Hazel’s idea, Holly was supposed to go along with it and pretend everything was all right. It wasn’t, and Holly was getting tired of the game.
“How long is this thing supposed to take?” she said. “They’ve been gone forever.”
“They’ve been gone for an hour,” Hawthorn said.
Holly turned and squinted up at him. “Don’t tell me you’re taking her side.”
“Were we taking sides? I wasn’t aware. In that case, I’ll take my side and leave this place to find an establishment that will serve me a decent glass of wine absent of any local… flavor.”
“You can stop the act. I know you’re worried about Hemlock just as much as I am about Hazel, or else you wouldn’t be pacing like that. What I’m wondering about is why we’re just sitting here doing nothing while they’re getting flogged.”
Hawthorn stopped pacing and coolly looked down at her. “Pretend flogged.”
“Say that to me one more time and I’ll pretend-flog you.”
“What would you have us do? We have no means of transportation, having left our own carriage and driver at Francis’ house—a brilliant move in and of itself, by the way. Are you suggesting we take to foot and march down the road searching for them? We don’t know how far the town is from here or how long it will take for us to get there. So, if we’re lucky, it might only take us some hours and when we get there we’ll be exhausted and filthy and all the excitement will have long since been over. Marvelous idea.”
Holly scowled at him. “You got a better idea, then?”
“Other than waiting here as we all agreed to do? No.”
“Well, that’s just great.”
Hawthorn started pacing again and Holly resumed her waiting on the stairs when a man riding a donkey came trotting up the hill.
Holly got to her feet. “Is that Emmond?”
Hawthorn turned just as Emmond hopped from the moving animal and ran towards the cottage.
“Hey!” Holly said as Emmond bolted past her. She followed him inside. “Where’s Hazel and Hemlock?”
Emmond ignored her and walked into a snug room cluttered with a potion cabinet and desk. He rifled through one of the drawers, searching for something.
Holly marched up to him and slammed the drawer shut, causing Emmond to stagger back to keep his fingers from getting smashed.
“I’m talking to you!” she said.
Emmond jabbed a finger at her. “Your sister’s crazy, you know that? Has absolutely no sense of self-preservation, that one.”
Emmond threw his arms up into the air. “She blew the whole thing, that’s what! Why on earth would she tell Sid of all people that the flogging was a sham? She soft in the head or something?”
“Who’s Sid? What are you talking about?”
Emmond closed his eyes and took a breath. “Look, I like you. Honest, I do. You come here looking for your father, completely clueless about the kind of town you’ve stumbled upon. I get it. Really. But you people got to meet me halfway, see? Your sister getting a peek at the Witness was like her poking a hornets nest. Now, her telling Sid that the whole punishment thing was a fake, well, she’s done and taken that hornets nest, thwacked it against a wall a few times and then thrown the ruined remains at me. The townsfolk aren’t pleased. They aren’t pleased a mite. So, if I were you, I’d be scootin’ on out the door before they come here looking for justice.” He returned to the desk, rummaged around in the back of one of the drawers and pulled out a little black wallet. He held it up and nodded at Holly before he hustled back out the door, hopped onto his donkey, and disappeared among the grass and trees.
Hawthorn stood beside her as she stared at the road where Emmond had gone. “Why am I not surprised that your sister’s impetuousness has gotten her in trouble yet again?”
Holly glared at him, but before she could say anything, Hawthorn started down the road.
“Are you coming?” he said as he turned to look at her. “Or are you going to wait here for the angry mob to arrive?”
Holly grabbed her skirts as she ran after him. “What happened to ‘we agreed to sit and wait’?”
“I never agreed to get mauled.”
They hurried down the road in the direction Francis had taken Hazel and Hemlock only an hour or so before. They had no idea how far away the town was, or how long it would take them to get there on foot. Not to mention the tension of expecting an angry mob to come charging down the street at a moments notice. But so far, the way had been quiet. And while that should have been a relief, somehow it only made Holly more tense.
“Maybe we should get off the road,” she said. “Keep to the grass and trees.” She squinted at the surrounding farm fields and fallow meadows that, at best, boasted only a handful of trees. “Well, when there are trees.”
“Do you know how much this jacket cost me?” Hawthorn said as he smoothed the lapels of his coat. The jacket was longer than usual—reaching down to his knees—with gathered material in the back and wide cuffs, and dyed a purple so deep it looked black until the sun hit it. “You can’t get material like this in the Grove. I had it shipped from Sarnum, and the stars only know where they got it, given the price they charged for it. So, no, I will not go traipsing through mud and overgrown weeds to avoid a few toothless rustics and whatever pitiful display of pitchfork waving they have planned as a means of entertaining themselves.”
As if on cue, a group of people appeared on the road ahead of them and were headed their way.
“Well, that’s just wonderful,” Holly said. “If you want to stay here and debate the quality of fabrics with them, be my guest. But I’m guessing they won’t be nearly as impressed with your coat as you are, and that getting a little mud on your sleeve will be a lot better than whatever they have planned. Me? I’m not staying.” She headed into a field, but Hawthorn just stood there, stiff-backed and scowling at the distant group that was now getting closer. Holly didn’t care. She wouldn’t stop. If he wanted to be stupid and stubborn, well, that was his problem. She was leaving.
Holly stopped, closed her eyes, and sighed. She headed back to Hawthorn. “What’s wrong with you?” she shouted at him. “You can’t possibly think protecting a stupid coat is worth getting throttled?”
Hawthorn took off his jacket, folded it, and gently laid it on a thick patch of grass. He wore a white linen shirt under a vest made of the same material as his coat. He started to roll up his sleeves. “Look at them,” he nodded towards the approaching group, “frothing-mouthed lackwits out for retribution for catching a glimpse of a hideous, filthy mask. I mean, honestly. Ant colonies have a higher sense of purpose then these backwater, inbred dullards. So, no, I will not run. Not from them. We should have done this from the beginning, instead of going along with the ridiculous fictional floggings our wayward siblings so strongly advocated.”
He spoke a spell, and the air in front of him glimmered like sunlight reflecting off a pond. The shimmering glare coalesced into form, taking the shape of a hulking man wearing polished silver armor and holding a sword that looked like it was made of glass and sunlight.
Holly squinted as her eyes watered and soon had to turn away as the brightness emanating from Hawthorn’s conjuration was too much to bear. If they were going to face the townsfolk, then she’d better find a way to help. She reached into her pocket and pulled out Chester.
“I know you’re hungry,” she whispered to him, “but there’s no time for food just yet. I need you to find us some help with the people coming. I don’t think they’re too happy with us, so we might need a lot of help.” She put Chester on the ground and with a squeak he scurried away into the grass and disappeared.
The crowd approached, close enough now to catch snippets of their voices. Some were pointing at Hawthorn and Holly, others were taking measure of the hulking, shimmering sword-bearing man blocking their way on the road.
“Turn around,” Hawthorn called out as the crowd stopped in front of his conjuration. They were staring up at the shimmering man, some with gaping mouths, others shading their eyes. Most were eyeing his glass-like sword with open apprehension.
“I’m sure there is nothing of interest to you here,” Hawthorn continued. “So you can just scurry back to whatever hole you crawled out of.” When the crowd remained, Hawthorn waggled his fingers at them. “Go on. Shoo, shoo.”
A man in the crowd stepped forward and thrust a finger at Hawthorn. “You and your friends come to this town sullying our good traditions. You’re the ones that need to get.”
Hawthorn drew himself up. “Traditions? You mean the mask? You need better traditions, my friend. Horrendous thing. It’s not fit for the fire. It would’ve been a mercy to you all if I’d thrown it on the midden heap.”
Others in the crowd gasped as the man growled and took a step towards Hawthorn, but the armored conjuration touched his sword to the man’s chest and the man backed away.
Hawthorn smirked. “As I said. You’d better run along now.”
The group conferred among themselves. Then the man, balling his fists, said, “We’re not going anywhere.”
“Very well.” Hawthorn spoke a spell and the armored hulk swung his sword at the crowd, but everyone scattered and ran into the field, surrounding them.
“Hawthorn…” Holly said as she tried to keep track of everyone. “What now?”
Hawthorn spoke a spell and his armored conjuration split into three smaller, and less formidable, identical aspects. They chased the townsfolk into the grass, but there were close to a dozen people–if not more–and so they were well outnumbered.
Holly crept closer to Hawthorn as she watched one of the townsfolk dodge a sword jab before grabbing hold of the armored man’s arm. The light emanating from the conjuration faded as they struggled, and, when others joined in, the spell failed and the conjuration vanished.
Hawthorn sucked in a breath as the townsfolk, seeing their victory, swarmed upon the remaining two.
“Now we should leave,” Holly said.
“Never,” Hawthorn said and spoke another spell that brought up a crystalline wall as thin as paper that surrounded them both. It went up just one of the townsfolk bolted towards them. He ran into the wall and bounced off it with a bloodied lip and dazed expression.
“That’s nice,” Holly said. “But now we’re stuck here. I don’t think you really thought it through.”
“I don’t see you assisting in our current situation beyond suggesting we run and hide like a pair of willowy ladies.”
Hawthorn fixed his attention beyond her. When Holly turned to look, she saw Chester scamper out of the grass. She crouched down to pick him up, but her hand ran into Hawthorn’s wall.
“Let down the wall,” she said. “We can’t leave him out there.”
“Oh, no,” Hawthorn said. “No no no.”
“Oh, yes. You can’t just…” Holly trailed off as Chester scampered away and, behind him, a swarm of rodents poured out of the grass and onto the road. There were mice and voles, rats and weasels and blind little moles. There were squirrels, chipmunks, and wild jackrabbits with their long legs and longer ears.
“Lady preserve us,” Hawthorn gasped as he brought out a handkerchief from his pocket and used it to cover his mouth and nose.
Holly grinned. “Good boy, Chester!” she shouted, hoping he could hear her through the wall. The rodents moved in packs, looking like the earth itself shifted and moved within the field.
At first, none of the townsfolk seemed to notice them. But when weasels started twining around people’s legs, mice crawling up underneath pants and skirts, rabbits kicking at anyone who came near, and all the other rodents nibbling at whatever they could find–panic erupted. People started swatting at their legs and chests as rodents crawled up them. One man ran into Hawthorn’s translucent wall, his arms flailing as two squirrels clung to the back of his shirt. A woman tripped over her skirts and fell down on the road in a cloud of dust. The rodents swarmed over her, eclipsing her form under a writhing mass of furry little bodies.
One man ran away. When another tried to help the fallen woman, the rodents swarmed over him as well, and the rest of the group of townsfolk lost their nerve and ran down the road in the direction they came.
Hawthorn continued to press the kerchief to his mouth, his eyes wide and filled with horror.
Holly grinned at him. “What were you saying about me not contributing?”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Wild witches,” he said, turning to look at her. “Crazy like a pack of sodden badgers.”
Holly’s grin widened. “And don’t you forget it.”