Hazel and Holly — Finding Forgiveness
Previous: Hallowed Hearts
Hazel and Hemlock walked down the streets of Sarnum, heading towards an inn that Hawthorn had recommended, and that they were now trying to find. Apparently, after Hazel had run off to the field, Hemlock had sent the others away, and Hawthorn had said they would wait at the inn until she and Hemlock arrived.
Though, as they turned down one road and then another, passing shops and doors and people disinclined to meet her gaze, Hazel wasn’t sure she and Hemlock knew where they were going, despite the instructions Hawthorn had given his brother. Then again, Hazel wasn’t sure she cared.
They walked in silence, sidestepping oncoming people and the occasional dog. Even through all the bustle, Hazel had to keep reminding herself not to smile like a moon-struck idiot. Especially when Hemlock would take her arm and guide her away from stepping into a filth-laden gutter or—when she was looking up at him—from walking into a lamp post. She suddenly felt so foolish around him and yet, somehow, that foolishness was wonderful.
Not that he was faring much better. In the reflection of a window, she saw his gaze fall upon her just as he walked headlong into a man wearing a cape of a brilliant, shimmering material that would likely make Hawthorn blanch with jealousy. Hemlock murmured an apology, but the man just huffed, swept his cape over a shoulder, and strode away.
Hazel bit her lip, but it wasn’t enough to suppress a giggle. Hemlock smiled. He took her hand, and they continued on.
The chill morning waned into warm afternoon, finally taking on a semblance of summer. And though Hazel was reluctant to admit it, Sarnum really didn’t seem so bad in the daylight. They passed jewelry shops with amulets that had been wrought into twining serpents with crystalline scales that sparkled in the light. Pastry shops boasted layered tortes and columns of cookies bundled together with colorful ribbons. A tobacco shop sent an earthy, sweet scent wafting into the air, mingling with the smell of onion and meat, beer and char that came from elsewhere on the street. They even passed a dressmakers shop, displaying an elaborate gown in the window that had so many frills and flounces that Hazel could practically hear Holly squeal with delight.
The thought of her sister, and what Hazel had said to her, made her grimace. She needed to make it right, though she wasn’t sure how. By the time they finally found the inn–The Backwards Buck–Hazel was exhausted and filthy from the blood and dust that clung to her dress and she could think of little beyond a bath and going to sleep, despite the early hour.
They stepped inside, and Hazel hesitated at the threshold as she waited for her eyes to adjust. Her heart quickened, sweat stinging her cut palm as memories of Baern’s dark home surfaced, and she clutched onto Hemlock’s hand. But then Hazel’s eyes took in the flickering blue light from the sconces, and the dim interior of a common room came into view.
The room was expansive, littered with tables around which numerous patrons sat hunched, talking over mugs of beer or playing at cards. No one looked up as Hazel and Hemlock passed, even as she studied them with an intent gaze as she looked for Holly and Hawthorn.
They came to a counter, behind which stood a disinterested woman, her brown, greying hair pulled back into a single frizzy braid. When Hemlock enquired after Holly and Hawthorn, the woman raised her eyebrows and shrugged, and moved her gaze elsewhere. When they remained, the innkeeper sighed, murmured some roome numbers as she waved a limp hand towards a set of stairs, then moved further down the counter.
Hazel and Hemlock headed upstairs and found one of the rooms the woman had mentioned–the other one further down the hall.
“Is this Holly’s or Hawthorn’s room?” Hazel said.
“I don’t know. The woman wasn’t exactly forthcoming with information.”
Hazel knocked on the door.
“Go away!” came Holly’s reply.
“Well, I guess that answers that question,” Hemlock said.
“I should talk to her alone,” Hazel said.
Hemlock nodded. “I’ll go find Hawthorn.” He squared his shoulders and straightened his jacket. “This should be bracing, as always.” Then he walked to the other door down the hall.
Hazel eased Holly’s door open and slipped inside, not wanting to make too much noise. Holly lay on top of the bed, her back to Hazel. Hazel walked up to her and said, “Holly?”
Holly turned and looked at her, scowled, then turned back around. “What do you want?”
“To say I’m sorry. I had no right to speak to you like that. I’m sorry, truly.”
“You’re always sorry, but you keep doing it anyway. I’m not a toy for you to kick around, Hazel.”
Hazel sat on the edge of the bed behind Holly. “I know. I was scared and hurt and confused, and… I know that’s not an excuse–I’m not trying to excuse it–but I just don’t deal with all that very well. Sometimes I just need time to think, you know?”
“No, I don’t know. Why don’t you just say that? ‘I need time to think.’ It’s not hard.”
Hazel swallowed. “It shouldn’t be, but it’s hard for me.”
Holly said nothing.
Hazel wrung her hands as she stared at her sister’s back and her mess of golden hair spilling over the pillow. Hazel opened her mouth but then snapped it shut. Then, gathering her courage, she said, “Hemlock and I kissed.”
“No, you didn’t.”
Hazel blinked a few times. “Well, I suppose it’s more accurate to say that he kissed me, but it happened.”
Holly shook her head, an awkward motion as she lay against the bed. “You want me to think you did so I’ll forget about what you said. But I won’t forget. Not ever. Not this time.”
“I don’t want you forget, Holly. I hope you’ll forgive me, but that’s not the same thing. I’m not lying though. I…” She took a breath. “I think I might love him.” Hazel stared at her hands as Holly sat up and studied her. Then, before Hazel knew what was happening, Holly embraced her in a crushing hug.
Tears filled Hazel’s eyes and she smoothed Holly’s hair as she hugged her sister back. They stayed there for a time until Holly finally pulled away.
Holly grinned. “Now are you going to get married?”
A short laugh escaped Hazel as she wiped at her eyes. “I don’t know. One step at a time, all right?”
Holly pursed her lips but she nodded. Then she frowned. “Let me see your hand.”
Hazel let Holly take her hand, wincing as Holly poked at the wound.
Holly screwed up her face. “Why’d he cut you? He sick or something?”
“Probably, but he did it to make this.” Hazel fished out the bloodied bone from her pocket and set in on the bed.
They stared at it, as if the bone might scurry off the blanket and cavort about the room.
“W-what are you supposed to do with that?” Holly said.
“Find Father, apparently.”
“But you’re not a necromancer.”
“Baern wasn’t too concerned with that detail.”
Holly stared at her, but Hazel kept her gaze fixed on the bone.
“What are you going to do?” Holly whispered.
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe if we returned to Elder…”
Hazel shook her head. “I think we’ve gotten all the help we’re going to from Elder. And I’m not sure I’d want his help anyway, even if he offered.”
“But what choice do we have? You can’t do necromantic magic, Hazel.”
Hazel said nothing and continued to stare at the bone.
She looked up and met Holly’s puzzled gaze, then forced a feeble smile. “I’m sure we’ll think of something.”
Holly frowned, but before she could say anything, Hazel swept the bone off the bed and returned it to her pocket. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Let’s go get something to eat.” Hazel hurried out of the room, leaving her silent sister behind.
Holly scowled at Hazel’s back as she followed her sister down the hall. This was all wrong. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. They were supposed to find their father, yes, but not with necromancy. Hazel couldn’t possibly be considering it, could she? Holly wanted to believe that, but there had been a look in Hazel’s eyes. A look of… resignation. Holly almost wished that the look meant Hazel was giving up, that they’d soon return home and everything would go back to normal.
Except it wouldn’t be normal–it hadn’t been normal for a very long time, only Holly had been too preoccupied to see it. It seemed so frivolous now, all her fussing over dances and making the perfect dress. What did dresses matter when the person you loved most in the world was probably in trouble?
Holly had been so happy letting Hazel shoulder the burdens of their life, while Holly did nothing. She had told herself that’s the way Hazel wanted it, but now Holly wished she had done more. If she had, maybe they’d have found another way–maybe Hazel wouldn’t now be walking with a bloody bone in her pocket as she pondered unthinkable thoughts.
Hazel made her way downstairs, but Holly lingered on the landing as she looked down. In the common room, Hemlock and Hawthorn sat at a table. Hemlock waved Hazel over and she joined them. Hazel looked back at Holly and, not knowing what else to do, Holly followed and sat next to Hazel and Hawthorn.
Hemlock and Hawthorn were eating pies stained with thick dark gravy that had bubbled over the crust. A serving girl came and gave Holly and Hazel pies of their own. Holly poked at hers. She wasn’t hungry. It probably had meat in it, anyway.
Holly studied Hazel as she and Hemlock talked. Her sister looked different. There was color in her cheeks, a brightness in her eyes. It should have made Holly happy seeing her like that, but she only felt sad. She couldn’t let Hazel ruin everything now, not after her sister finally found happiness. And how could Hazel’s life not be ruined where necromancy was involved?
Holly murmured a half-sincere apology as she got up from the table and headed upstairs. Returning to her room, Holly went to the trunk housing her good dress and unlocked it with a key she kept around her neck. She rifled around the layers of taffeta and mismatched beads–why had she brought the monstrous thing, did she expect to go dancing?–finding underneath the fabric a narrow wooden box.
She pulled out the box and opened it, her heart thumping a little harder as she peered at the clear liquid in the little crystal vials that Odd had given her. Before, Holly had been so eager to try the mysterious potions, but now she wasn’t so sure. Now she was desperate; she didn’t know what to do. It was hard to be enthusiastic feeling like that.
Holly put the box in a dresser drawer next to the bed, ready for when she might need them, though she didn’t know when that would be. Hopefully never, though Holly doubted it.
Next: Dark Decisions