Hazel and Holly — Enshrined, Part Two
Previous: Enshrined, Part One
Hazel waited in a dark, well-appointed chamber without any windows. She sat on a plush, deep blue velvet sofa, eyeing the blue and green flames that flickered behind glass sconces on the stone walls. The lights dimly illuminated tapestries woven into scenes of star-studded night skies, which gave the room a feeling of openness that Hazel had not expected. It was strangely comfortable there, and that made her uneasy.
The door opened and a man wearing a black robe embroidered along the sleeves and hem with glimmering silver thread walked in. “So. I’m told you want to become a Necromancer.”
Hazel stood and regarded him. His features were shrouded within his robe’s hood, so she couldn’t get a measure of him. She clasped her hands and straightened her back. “That’s right.”
She blinked a few times. “I’m sorry?”
The man chuckled and lowered the hood of his robe. He was younger than she’d expected–perhaps a little older than herself–with wavy brown hair and kind eyes. “What’s your name?”
“Like the tree? You must be from the Grove.”
Hazel stiffened her back a little more. “Does that matter?”
“Not really. But it does make me question your motives. Necromancy is forbidden in the Grove, disdained by its people. It makes me wonder why you are here, saying you want to take up the practice.”
Hazel’s mind whirled. She didn’t know what to say to him. She didn’t want to become a necromancer–she just wanted to find her father. Should she tell him that? He seemed kind, maybe he would help her. But then again, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d throw her out and she’d have squandered her one chance in finding Ash. “I’ve told you my name, what’s yours?”
“Have you ever been to the Grove, Verrin?”
He inclined his head. “I have not.”
“It’s a beautiful place, lush with trees and flowers. Life flourishes there, and I’ve always thought it well that necromancy was forbidden.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“But we’re a peculiar people,” Hazel continued. “We’re set in our ways with customs that don’t always make sense. Men and women largely live separately, for example. Even if married, they don’t necessarily share their lives together.”
Verrin folded his hands. “Fascinating.”
Hazel gave him a level look. “What I’m trying to say is that I haven’t always agreed with how life is lived in the Grove. Perhaps change… could be good for us.”
Verrin narrowed his eyes. “Are you saying you want to take Necromancy to the Grove?”
“No… I… nothing that drastic.”
“Becuase you still haven’t told me why you want to become a Necromancer at all.”
Hazel sat down on the sofa and buried her face in her hands. She let out a long, heavy breath. “I’m looking for my father, Ash. The trail has led me here. And so I want to become a necromancer to find him.”
“Now that,” Verrin said, “is much more interesting. What trail, exactly, led you here?”
Hazel told him about the bloodied bone and the potion she made from it and drank; of the little box with the lock of hair bound with the ribbon with the scrawled message.
Verrin smiled. “One moment, please.” He gave her a short bow then left the room.
Hazel took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing, fluttering heart. What did it all mean? Was he finding some men to throw her out? Was he preparing whatever ritual she’d need to do to become a necromancer?
He returned a few minutes later. “Please, follow me.” He headed back out the door. Hazel hurried after him.
They walked down a long corridor illuminated with cool, sapphire light.
“Where are we going?” Hazel said. “What’s going on?”
“Don’t you know? It’s why you came here.”
Hazel swallowed. “Is it a ritual of some sort? What will I have to do?”
Verrin chuckled. “Ritual? No. I thought you wanted to see your father.”
Hazel stopped walking and Verrin turned to look at her.
“You know where he is?” she said.
Hazel stared at the man, making a conscious effort to keep her mouth from gaping open. “And you’re just going to take me to him?”
Verrin frowned, looking puzzled. “Would you prefer we did something else?”
Now Hazel’s mouth did hang open. “No, I… I just thought I’d need to become a necromancer for any information about him.”
“We do not accept initiates into the Shrine who come here out of desperation. But your aptitude is real, and your presence expected. Perhaps you will join our ranks after you meet with Ash.” He turned and kept on walking.
Hazel hurried to keep alongside him. “What do you mean my presence was expected?”
Verrin smiled at her. “You might want to keep some of your questions for your father.”
They came to a door, and Verrin opened it and gestured for her to step inside. Hazel studied him a moment longer, then walked over the threshold.
The room was vast, and much colder than the Shrine she had just been in. Sconces of blue light pushed some of the darkness back, but most of the room was nothing more than dense shadows. Within the light, however, sat a black lacquered coach embossed with ornate silver scrollwork surrounding a skeleton dancing amid a curtain of stars. Two robed initiates–Hazel assumed they were initiates as they lacked the silver needlework adorning Verrin’s robes–were busy hitching two black horses to the coach. A man dressed in a black coat, breeches, and top hat sat in the driver’s seat.
“Your ride,” Verrin said, extending a hand towards the coach, “to the Sea of Severed Stars.”
Holly had to sit on her hands to keep herself from wringing them. “I don’t think he’s going to be happy to see us,” she said. “Elder, I mean.”
“His happiness does not concern me,” Hemlock said.
“Well, no, I don’t mean that.” She scratched her nose. “Just that he’s creepy and he might try his creepy necromancy on us again.”
Hemlock said nothing as he stared out the window.
Holly sighed, then clenched her hands and put them on her lap. “Well, he’s welcome to try. Right, Hawthorn?”
Hawthorn cocked an eyebrow and gave her a look that suggested he was questioning her sanity.
She elbowed him and he rolled his eyes and said, “Yes, quite right.”
She smiled, but Hemlock never pulled his gaze from the window.
The carriage slowed, and once again they pulled in front of Elder’s house. A pang of sorrow stabbed at Holly. The last time they’d been there, Hazel had been with them. She’d been the one to knock on the door and lead the way.
Hemlock hopped out and strode up the door and rapped with the knocker in several quick successions.
The moments stretched on, but no answer came. Hemlock knocked again.
The door opened a crack and Elder’s round face peered out at them. “You again? Are you people incapable of calling at a decent hour?”
“We need to get into the Shrine,” Hemlock said. “And we need your help to do that.”
Elder fell into a raucous laugh. “Oh, that’s a good one.” He turned towards the hallway and shouted, “Augustus! Augustus my lad, did you hear that? They need to get into the Shrine!” Elder leg go of the door and it swung open wider as he rested his hands on his knees, laughing.
“It’s really not that funny,” Holly said.
Elder straightened, chuckled some more, then wiped tears from his eyes. “Oh, my dear. Yes, it is. It’s quite hilarious. Not only your audacity in coming here, asking for my help, but in also thinking that I would actually help you. And with a matter that would be considered sacred among some.”
“But not to you,” Hemlock said. “It’s not sacred to you.”
Elder’s mirth faded. “Highly irrelevant, either way. Even if we were good friends, which we’re not, I still wouldn’t take you into the Shrine. The Shrine is for Necromancers, and you’re not Necromancers.”
“Hazel’s gone there to become one,” Hemlock said.
Elder snorted. “The one that got so riled up over Necromancy? There’s hypocrisy for you.”
“We need to stop her.”
Elder eyed Hemlock a long while. “I’ll admit, I’m not too excited over the prospect of having her in the club, so to speak, but that decision isn’t mine to make. Isn’t yours, either.”
“But if I get to her in time, I might be able to talk her out of it.”
Elder shook his head. “If you’re here and she’s there, then it’s probably already too late.”
“What do you want?” Hawthorn said.
Everyone turned to look at him.
“I beg your pardon?” Elder said.
Hawthorn folded his arms. “You’re a warlock of the Grove that came here to practice necromancy. I imagine quiet and solitude are important to you.”
“Oh no,” Elder said, waggling a finger. “That threat isn’t going to work on me twice. If dealing with the Conclave is what I have to do to be rid of you folks, I’m beginning to think it will be worth it.”
“It’s not a threat, it’s an offer. Sarnum’s all well and good, especially for those inclined towards necromancy, but don’t you miss the quiet of the forest? Don’t you miss the way the air changes as the sun sets and the ground cools? Don’t you miss the whispered hush of the wind rustling the trees? You might have solitude here in Sarnum, but you don’t have quiet. I—we—can give you that.”
“I can’t go back to the Grove,” Elder said. “That bridge is burned and buried.”
Hemlock said, “But maybe we can bring the Grove to you.”
Elder narrowed his eyes. “How?”
“An atrium!” Holly squeaked. “A garden inside your house, all quiet and cozy.”
Hemlock nodded, “I was thinking more of a garden extension, but, yes, an atrium would work.”
“With an area for a library within it,” Hawthorn added.
“I have a library,” Elder said.
“But not a library in a miniature forest, I bet,” Holly said. “Wouldn’t it be amazing, to be at home reading, but to also be sitting under a tree with the sun shining down on you.”
Hawthorn nodded. “A glass roof is a must.”
“And,” Holly said, “since the garden would be protected, you could grow all kinds of things you normally can’t around here. Like orchids and orange trees.” She sighed, turning wistful. “I wish I had an orange tree.”
Elder frowned and pursed his lips. “I’ll admit, an orange tree would be an enviable item, but—“
“Imagine what Abby could do with all those oranges,” Hawthorn said.
“Orange juice for breakfast,” Holly said.
“Remarkable for the constitution.”
“And orange tarts!”
“Orange beer!” Holly giggled. “Tum would love that one.”
“Orange blossom tea,” Hawthorn added. “That’s an expensive import around here. And you could have your very own supply.”
“Ooh, and orange cake!”
“Yes, yes,” Elder said. “It would all be quite wonderful, I’m sure. But I don’t see how any of this is feasible.”
“We would build it for you, of course,” Hemlock said.
“That would cost a small fortune.”
“I don’t have a fortune, but I do have some money set aside from my father’s inheritance. It’s all yours if you help us.”
“As is mine,” Hawthorn said. “I believe our combined inheritance suffices as a small fortune.”
Hemlock turned to stare at him. “Hawthorn, I…”
“And I can grow the garden,” Holly said. “I’m a Wild witch. I can make just about anything grow with the right materials. You’ll have the most beautiful garden in short time and without having to do anything at all.”
Elder studied them for a long and critical moment. “All right. Come in and we can discuss it.”
Holly squeaked and hopped up and down.
“But,” he added, “I make no promises.”
“I never trust anyone who does,” Hawthorn said.
Next: The Sea of Severed Stars