Hazel and Holly — Milled Messages, Part Two
Previous: Milled Messages, Part One
“Time for what?” Hemlock asked.
Hazel stared at the paper as a cold veil of realization settled over her. “It’s time to meet.”
“My father,” she whispered.
“How do you know?”
Hazel said nothing. She took the lock of hair and dropped the empty box on the ground. The hair was golden like spun flax. Just like Holly’s hair. Just like their mother’s. With shaking hands she untied the ribbon and pulled it free. On one side of the stiff fabric was a scrawling of writing in charcoal ink:
In the Star Shrine anchored beyond the Sea, a love tempered in death will bring you back to me.
Hazel felt lightheaded, as if all her blood had pooled in her feet.
A love tempered in death…
Suddenly memories of Willow’s sickness came back to Hazel. The way Willow had weakened until she faded away. The empty silence that followed. The itching that nagged in Hazel’s mind that took her to the tumbledown cottage on that first new moon.
…will bring you back to me.
Her father had trapped her mother’s soul, and now Hazel was holding a lock of her mother’s hair that had been bound in a ribbon that spoke of the deed. Was it part of the spell? Was this somehow part of the key of undoing her mother’s gaes? Or was it an act of pride that made her father pen these words in ink? For the first time in her life, Hazel wished she was a necromancer. So that she could understand. So she could undo what had been done.
Hazel’s hands trembled so much she nearly dropped the ribbon and hair. Gently, Hemlock took the ribbon from her, and she put the lock of hair in her pocket.
He read the writing and then, sparing a single glance at her, he turned and hurried back into the house. Hazel followed.
Hawthorn sat upright on the sofa, sipping a clear liquid from a little vial and wincing at the taste. Holly sat next to him.
“It’s disgusting,” he said.
“It’s willow bark extract,” Holly said. “It’ll help with your headache.”
He sipped more of the liquid when Hemlock walked up to him and handed him the ribbon. Hawthorn read it, then shook his head and looked up at him. “What is this?”
“You’ve been to Sarnum before,” Hemlock said. “You know the place. What is this Sea he’s talking about?”
“Who’s talking about what?” Holly asked.
“Father,” Hazel said. “About Mother.”
Holly’s mouth fell open and Hawthorn tightened his jaw. He read the ribbon again and then took a deep breath. “The only sea I know about around here is the Sea of Severed Stars.”
“I didn’t know there was a sea nearby,” Holly said.
“This is not a sea of water.”
Holly shrank back a little. “Then what is it?”
“There is a prevalent notion in necromantic circles of a connection between stars and souls. Both are objects over which the Shapeless One reigns. Some even believe stars and souls to be one and the same, and will use the words interchangeably. Which would make this sea…”
“A sea of severed souls,” Hazel said.
“Is that even possible?” Holly asked.
Hawthorn shook his head. “I have no idea. I certainly hope not. I hope it’s just a colorful name for a murky pond in someone’s back garden that has been embellished through stories over the years. But if I were to wager a guess in what ‘sea’ that note was referencing, then that would be it.”
“Where is it?” Hazel said.
“I don’t know.”
“How can you not know?”
Hawthorn gave her a sharp look. “This is a closely guarded secret that only practitioners in necromancy are meant to know. The only reason I know anything about it is that some necromancers’ tongues are too easily loosened when plied with enough wine. But even they would not reveal the location, not for any price or promise. If you want to find out where it is, you’ll have to become a necromancer.”
Everyone fell silent.
“How would I do that?” Hazel asked in a near whisper.
Everyone stared at her.
After an unbearably long moment of silence, Hawthorn said, “Necromancers have their own version of our Circle and Conclave called the Shrine. Perhaps if you appealed to them, they’d take you in.”
“This is madness,” Holly said. “You can’t become a necromancer, Hazel!”
“What happens if they do take me in?” Hazel said. “What will they do? What will they… want me to do?”
Hawthorn shook his head. “I have no idea.”
Holly said, “Hemlock, talk some sense into her!”
“We’ll find another way, Hazel,” Hemlock said.
“Like what?” Hazel said. “Tell me of this other plan you’ve devised that will lead us to my father, I’d love to hear it.”
When Hemlock said nothing, Holly said, “The potions!”
“What?” Hazel said.
“The potions Odd made, remember?”
Hazel rubbed her forehead. “How will those help us?”
“I don’t know. That’s why we drink them and find out. It’s got to be better than becoming a necromancer.”
Hazel sighed and, after a while, finally nodded. “Fine, but not here. I think it’ll be better if we return to Sarnum first. I don’t want to be here when the townspeople finally regain their nerve and come back.”
They took the tinctures and potions and carried them out to the carriage. The doors stood wide open, and Tum and the driver fanned the air with swathes of clothing.
“Is that my dress?” Hazel said.
“Dunno, maybe,” Tum said. “But that’s not the pressing issue, here.”
“Here we go.”
“The issue is that I haven’t gotten paid in… well… a while. I’m out of a jar o’ eggs, a pile o’ dolls, and there isn’t any beer to be found anywhere. What have you got to say about that?”
“Absolutely nothing. We have bigger problems than your sobriety. So you can either help us load up these potions or find your own way back to Sarnum.”
Tum stopped fanning and eyed her. “Potions, you say? What kinds of potions?”
Hazel thrust the drawer of tinctures at him. “Look for yourself.”
Tum grinned and tottered away with his newfound loot.
The egg smell clinging to the carriage had faded to tolerable levels and, once the driver had lit and hung the lanterns, they were on their way. The moon was waning, but even so it shone brightly above, washing the grassy hills in shifting shades of grey.
The night stretched on. Holly and Hawthorn slept slumped against each other. Hemlock dozed with his forehead resting against the window. But Hazel remained awake, watching as the whitewashed world rolled by and faded into darkness.
Next: Cats and Contemplation