Hazel and Holly — Fountain of Sorrow
Previous: Elder Dawn
They all left Elder’s house after they finished breakfast. Hazel clutched a slip of paper in her hand on which Elder had scribbled Baern’s address. Holly and Hawthorn clambered into the coach. Hazel was about to follow them, but hesitated.
“Is everything all right?” Hemlock said.
Hazel shook her head. “I… I don’t think I can face this man. Not yet. Not after Elder.”
Hemlock watched her a moment before stepping into the coach and murmured something to Hawthorn. Hazel closed her eyes, trying to gather her nerve to follow him in, but before she could, Hawthorn hopped out and walked around to talk to the driver.
Hemlock poked his head out the coach door. “Come on. We’ll go somewhere else.”
“Hawthorn apparently knows of a place.”
Hazel hesitated a little longer. Visiting a location known only to Hawthorn wasn’t exactly compelling. Especially in this town. But then, anything had to be better than visiting a known necromancer. She stepped into the coach and sat next to Holly.
“Where’s Tum?” Holly said. “We can’t leave without him.”
“I haven’t seen him since last night,” Hazel said.
“Well, we need to find him. We can’t just leave!”
“And we can’t stay here, either. We’ve already overstayed our welcome. Do you really want to go poking around and upset Elder even more and quite possibly his neighbors as well? Who might be necromancers in their own right?”
Holly shrank into her seat a little. “No, but we can’t leave him behind. What if something happened to him?”
Hazel rubbed her eyes. “I don’t know, Holly. I’m doing my best to make sure something doesn’t happen to us.”
Holly wrung her hands and stared out the window. Hazel nodded at Hemlock, and he rapped on the roof of the carriage, and the carriage started moving.
Everyone remained silent. Holly continued to wring her hands as she stared outside, and Hazel closed her eyes and tried to convince herself she was doing the right thing.
Sarnum was an improved sight during the day, but not by much. Dark stone buildings topped with black slate roofs, surrounded every which way by cobblestone roads darkened by morning dew. The lamps that had flickered with blue and green flames now stood cold, the glass surrounding them crystalline and unsullied by smoke stains. At least the hedges were nice in their tall and full way, trimmed and shaped and well maintained. It gave Hazel a measure of comfort to know that something natural at least was cared for here.
The carriage continued on, eventually turning onto a tree-lined avenue of tall cottonwoods. Then the carriage slowed, and they rolled to a halt alongside an expanse of manicured grass, broken only by an occasional tree, and an overly large copper fountain that had turned green. Further on, a pond glinted in the morning light as a collection of ducks glided across the smooth, placid surface.
“A park!” Holly said and jumped out of the carriage. Hawthorn climbed out after her.
Hazel raised her eyebrows at Hemlock, but he just smiled and shrugged and followed the others out.
As Hazel stepped onto the grass—soft and spongy in its thickness—a rustling came from the coach. She turned in time to see a rumpled gnome fling himself from the top of the carriage and down to the ground below.
“Tum!” Holly said, grinning. Then she grew serious and put her hands on her hips. “Where have you been? We thought we left you behind.”
Tum drew himself up and smoothed his shirt. “Tum’s never left behind.”
“But where did you go?”
He wrinkled his nose and waved his hands. “Oh, you know, here and there. This place is an odd bucket o’ gutted fish. They got shamblers here that come out at night. Shamblers! Don’t they know shamblers will muss the lawn?” He peered at the well-manicured grass with narrowed eyes.
Holly cringed and took a step back, as if Tum might turn into a little shambler himself.
“And where were you all night?” Hazel asked.
Tum beamed at her. “I burrowed into one of your trunks, seeing as the luggage was left out. No reason to let a perfectly good bed of dresses to go to waste.” He thrust a finger into the air. “Especially when there’s shamblers about.”
Now it was Hazel’s turn to take a step back. “You were in my luggage?” She’d need to find a laundress to wash all her clothes. Either that or burn them.
“Aye. Figured it’d be a nice change from Miss Holly’s trunk.” Tum wrinkled his nose again. “But I was wrong.” He looked Hazel up and down. “A little finery wouldn’t hurt, you know.” Then he wandered off.
“I… I should keep an eye on him,” Holly said as she watched him go. “Make sure we don’t lose him again.” Without waiting for Hazel to answer—or even looking at her—Holly followed after him.
“Father told me of that fountain,” Hawthorn said, nodding towards the great copper sculpture. “He told me that if you throw a copper penny into the water, then the two metals would bind together, making the fountain grow ever taller. Left behind would only be a memory of the coin, which you could then exchange for a wish.”
“What would happen if you didn’t exchange it?” Hazel said. “If you made no wish at all?”
Hawthorn shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know; I never asked.” He wandered over to the fountain. Hemlock and Hazel followed.
The basin of the fountain, though massive, wasn’t all that impressive. It was of simple design, lacking any decorations or flourishes that Hazel would have expected for such a large structure. The single column that rose up in the center of the basin bore some wave-like embellishments, most of which were situated underneath the two smaller basins that the column supported. A thin trickle of water bubbled from the top of the fountain and drizzled downward, drip-dropping into the large basin below that was mostly empty. A few lilies floated on the surface of the meager water, amid a thin film of algae that hid the glint of copper pennies below.
The three of them stood there as they stared at the stagnant water.
“Well, that’s disappointing,” Hawthorn said.
“Do you have a penny?” Hazel said.
Hawthorn arched an eyebrow at her as Hemlock rooted around in a pocket and pulled out burnished copper coin. He handed it to her.
She tossed the penny into the fountain, breaking a hole in the algae and sending a lily rippling backward. They all leaned forward as they stared at the fountain. Hazel realized she was holding her breath. She sucked in some air, hoping her foolishness didn’t show.
Hawthorn harrumphed before turning on a heel and heading towards a bench underneath a honeysuckle tree. Hazel and Hemlock lingered by the fountain.
“Did you make a wish?” Hemlock asked.
“Why would I? It’s all nonsense.”
He smiled and shrugged. “You never know.”
Hazel stared at the water, the layer of algae so thin it almost looked like paint. What would she wish for, if she believed one would be granted? Would she wish for the restoration of her mother’s soul? It felt like an odd thing to spend a wish on, as her mother would likely depart from this world for good, never to be seen again. But it was what she had been working towards. It was the natural way of things; it’s what was right, even if the thought of it left a painful lump in Hazel’s throat. Wishes were meant to be spent on something one desired, not obligations—however well intended. So what did Hazel want?
She stared at the water, swallowing as she realized she couldn’t answer the question. No one ever asked her what she wanted—she never even asked it of herself. Her life seemed to have been a long string of duty and obligation, to be the will that kept the family together and safe. To be responsible and strong. To simply be there, no matter what. To be what her mother and father had never been.
Hazel had never wanted such a life, but it was the one she had taken upon herself to live. She had always thought it noble of her, but maybe she had just been afraid. Afraid to relinquish this illusion of control she clung so tightly to; afraid to be nothing more than a lonely leaf tumbling on an errant wind.
It all seemed so fragile, this flawed life of broken promises and tenuous illusions, of duty and heartache and lonely nights. It felt as if even a simple thought of a wistful wish would be enough to shatter it all, leaving her with nothing but cold and bitter regret. This life, such as it was, was all she had. Without this, she was nothing more than a hollow shell, a shadow left to shamble along darkened streets, dragging her sorrows behind her.
Unable to to look at Hemlock, unable to answer him, Hazel returned to the carriage and sat inside. She folded her hands neatly on her lap as she stared at the empty seats across from her, waiting for the others.
Waiting until this dull pain that had blossomed in her heart ceased to ache.
Next: Bones and Blood