Hazel and Holly — Helpful Hostility
Previous: Dark Deeds, Part Two
Holly awoke in the night to a darkened room. She put out her hand, but found only tousled blankets and an empty pillow next to her. Hazel was gone.
“Hazel?” she whispered, but no one replied. Holly spoke a spell and the candle next to the bed flared alight. The darkness crept back to the corners, but the room was empty save for the furniture and luggage.
Holly sat up and hugged her knees, staring at the monstrous shadow that was Hazel’s trunk. Maybe Hazel couldn’t sleep and stepped out for air. Holly wanted to believe that. She clenched her eyes shut and hugged her knees tighter, trying to make herself believe it. But it didn’t work. Hazel had gone off with that bone to do… whatever it was one did with bloodied bones. Holly didn’t want to think about it, but she had to. Her sister had gone off alone to work forbidden magic. What if she was hurt? What if she was in danger?
Holly rose from the bed, hastily got dressed, and marched out into the hallway and down to Hemlock’s and Hawthorn’s room. She rapped on the door. When there was no answer, she rapped again. She was about to test the knob and see if it was unlocked when the door opened, and Hawthorn scowled at her.
“Do you know what hour it is?” he said, cinching a silk robe around his waist.
“And how is that my problem? Why do you sisters always seem to think I know where the other one is?”
Holly scowled and pushed her way past him and into the room. But Hemlock wasn’t there either. “Where’s Hemlock?”
Hawthorn sighed. “How should I know? Perhaps he’s gone drinking. Perhaps he and Hazel escaped somewhere to be alone together, as men and women are wont to do.”
“You don’t care that he’s gone?”
“Of course I care. But he’s a grown man, and I see little cause to worry.”
“Even if he and Hazel left to do necromantic magic?”
Hawthorn’s cool expression turned troubled. “He wouldn’t do that.”
“He would for Hazel.”
Hawthorn frowned as he absently smoothed the silken fabric of his robe with a hand. “I’ll get dressed.”
Holly nodded. “I’ll find Tum. We’ll wait for you downstairs.” She walked out and headed down the hallway. Tum hadn’t told her where he’d be, but Holly suspected she knew. She went down into the common room that now stood empty save for a single man snoring while sleeping face-down on a table.
Holly found a door on one end of the room that, when she opened it, showed a tiny closet crammed with mops, buckets, brooms, and rags. She continued on. Under the stairs was another door, Holly tested it, but it was locked. So she knocked instead and called, “Hello?”
The man sleeping on the table snorted and started, and Holly froze as if she had been caught doing some terrible deed. But the man fell back into slumber, and Holly relaxed. She rattled the door again. For once, Holly wished she was a Weaving witch, then she might be able to pick the lock. She could always light the thing on fire, but that might burn down the whole inn, and that wouldn’t be good for anyone. She ran back upstairs and to her room, and went to the little nest of shredded paper and cloth that served as Chester’s bed, but the mouse was gone.
“Chester,” she whispered, somewhat forcefully so her voice would carry, but not too loud to wake her neighbors. She put her hand to the ground, and after a while Chester scurried out from the shadows and onto her palm. She pet him with a single finger over his back, then put him on her shoulder as she hurried back downstairs.
Holly returned to the door underneath the stairs. She tried it again, but it was still locked. Retrieving Chester from her shoulder, she lifted him up until his beady little eyes were level with hers.
“You go in and see if Tum is there. If he is, well, you make sure he comes and opens the door. However you can manage it. Bite him if you have to, I won’t mind.” Then she lowered the mouse to the floor and he scurried under the door.
Holly put her ear to the door as she tried to listen, but the wood was either too thick, or nothing was happening. Maybe the door didn’t lead to the cellar after all. Maybe it was a smoking room or who-knows-what. A brief flash of panic seared through Holly as she imagined Chester getting stuck in a trap, but she pushed it aside. Chester was smart enough to avoid most traps. He was, after all, very resourceful.
She clenched her hands as she fought down her bubbling impatience and was about to rattle the door again when she heard a faint yelp. She held her breath as she pressed her ear to the door. It was a yelp, wasn’t it? And sure enough, from somewhere beyond the door, another cry resounded. There was a flat shattering sound of glass breaking, and some sort of clanging that made Holly flinch, followed by a tromping of footsteps that got louder and louder right before the door swung open away from her.
Holly grabbed hold of the door jam to keep herself from tumbling over Tum and down a darkened set of stairs that led into a gloomy cellar.
“You!” he said, thrusting a finger at her. “You’re the cause of that little creature biting at Tum and ruining a perfectly fine evening. Look at what he did.” Tum–in his soft, cozy cellar clothes–thrust up his foot, showing a hole in his footed pyjamas that exposed a big, knobby toe. “Little blighter’ll give me the pox, that’s what. Then you’ll be sorry. You’ll miss old Tum when he’s gone and dead.”
Holly screwed up her face at him. “Chester never gave anyone the pox who didn’t deserve it, so don’t be so dramatic. Hazel’s gone. We need to go look for her.”
Tum drew himself up as he smoothed the pyjamas over his chest. “Miss Hazel’s capable. You don’t need old Tum wandering out there among the shamblers. Best if we stay here. We got beer and cider down there–all the good stuff. You can have the cider. We’ll weather it out, aye? She’ll be back in no time, you’ll see.” He started to head back down the stairs but stopped when Holly grabbed him by the scruff of his wooly pyjamas.
“We’re all in this together!” Holly said as she dragged him back up the stairs, ignoring his yelps and flailing arms. “So you either help me find her or you can find another cellar to take up house in. And if that’s not reason enough, then I’ll tell Gael at The Green Man to never serve you again.”
Tum froze, his mouth hanging open. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“So help me, I will. Just you watch.”
Tum waved his hands and gave a nervous chuckle. “What’s all this nonsense? We’re just talking. No need to start throwing threats around. Gimme a pair o’ seconds, and I’ll get dressed.” He thrust a finger in the air. “Isn’t proper going out in cellar clothes.” Then he scampered down the stairs and disappeared in the darkness.
Holly lingered by the door, wondering if Tum was making an escape through a different door down in the cellar. But after a minute or so he reappeared, fully dressed in his usual shirt and breeches, while pulling on his rumpled brown coat. Chester scampered up the stairs after him, and Holly scooped up the mouse and put him in her pocket.
Hawthorn stood in the common room, prodding the sleeping man’s ear with a finger. The man snorted and his shoulder twitched, but then his breathing turned even and his snoring resumed.
“What are you doing?” Holly asked.
“Men sleeping in common rooms are asking to be prodded. Everyone knows that. This one’s dedicated to the task. The amount of drool collecting on the table here is as impressive as it is disgusting.” He clapped the sleeping man on the back and the man started awake, blinked at Hawthorn a few times, then leaned back on the table, burying his face in his arms. After a moment, the snoring resumed.
“See?” Hawthorn said to Holly. “Dedicated.”
“You would know?”
He shrugged. “I’ve spent my share of nights in common rooms, yes.”
“And you didn’t mind getting poked at?”
Hawthorn grinned. “Not always.”
Holly frowned, unsure what he meant, and even more unsure she wanted to know. “We better go find Hazel.”
He swept a hand towards the door. “After you.”
Holly took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. Then, gathering up her courage, she walked outside and into the night.