Hazel and Holly — Pyrus and his Particular Price, Part One
Previous: Hawthorn’s Help
Hazel, Holly, Hemlock, and Hawthorn sat in an ornate carriage as it rattled down the road. Holly stuck her head out the window, grinning as the wind buffeted her face. Hazel closed her eyes as she tried to keep her stomach from lurching in time with the coach.
“How is it that you know Pyrus?” Hemlock said. “Better yet, how is it that he owes you a favor?”
Hawthorn waved a bejeweled hand. “I know it’s sometimes easy to forget, but I am older than you.” He narrowed his eyes. “Honestly, Hemlock, would a simple glamor be too much to ask? People are bound to think you’re my father rather than younger brother.”
“Answer the question.”
Hawthorn sighed and fiddled with the purple velvet curtain hanging from the window. “He is an old friend of Father’s. As I am the eldest, Father introduced us, and not you.”
Hemlock tightened his jaw. “And the favor?”
Hawthorn chuckled. “Because of me, he found Shirley and Shiela.”
“Who are they?”
“The two great loves of his life.”
Hemlock frowned, but he said nothing. Hawthorn smiled and returned his gaze towards the window. He sighed.
The rest of the journey to Pyrus’ home was spent largely in silence. On occasion, Hawthorn would break the quiet with a heavy sigh, or with a comment on the beauty of the summertime woods, which he would then equate to a sunset or a still pond or a moonlit sky. Whenever he did, Hemlock would close his eyes and shake his head, seemingly putting great effort into keeping his breathing even.
When the carriage at last slowed, Hemlock opened the door and jumped out before it had a chance to stop. Holly squeaked and clamped her hands over her mouth, but when she saw he was all right, she smiled and giggled.
“Me too!” she said and, before Hazel could stop her, Holly launched herself out of the carriage after him. She landed in a cloud of dust, stirred up from the carriage and her own clumsy landing, but she seemed fine as the carriage moved on and left both Hemlock and Holly behind.
Hawthorn sighed. “Barbarians,” he murmured. Then, glancing at Hazel, he put on smile, showing his overly whitened teeth. “I mean that in the most affectionate way, of course.”
Hazel scowled at him. She had no desire to speak with Hawthorn and his affected buffoonery. Being alone with him in the carriage was almost enough to make Hazel pitch herself out the door after Holly, but then the carriage turned into a manicured rotunda and stopped at the steps of a great brick home.
Holly and Hemlock came strolling down the road to meet them. From within the house, dogs barked.
“No,” Hemlock said as they approached, “I don’t usually jump out of the coach like that. Certainly not while it’s still moving. I… just had an urge.”
“If I had a coach,” Holly said, “I’d make the driver drive me around every day, just so I could jump out of it like that. Bet I could get real good at it. Don’t you think?”
Hemlock smiled. “I’m sure if you practiced, you’d become exceedingly talented in the art of jumping from speeding carriages.”
The sound of barking dogs grew louder and, when the door opened, out raced a pair of greyhounds who ran up to Hawthorn and jumped around and on him, nearly knocking him over.
Hawthorn gave a nervous laugh and stiffly patted one on the head. “There’s a good girl, Shiela. Or is it Shirley?” He looked to a rumpled butler standing in the doorway, but the butler just sighed and shook his head.
Holly, upon seeing the dogs, yelped and joined them in jumping around Hawthorn. The dogs seemed to sense her enthusiasm, and were soon jumping around her instead, tongues lolling like pink ribbons. One of the dogs barked, and Holly laughed and clapped her hands.
Hazel backed away. She’d rather not have a dog pouncing on her, thank you very much, and if it happened, she didn’t know if she could remove herself from the situation with any grace–and the last thing she needed was to offend Pyrus by yelling at his two beloved dogs.
“Shiela! Shirley!” said a stern voice from within the house.
The dogs calmed and trotted back towards the door where they met a man in a long burgundy robe. The material was smooth and shiny that rustled when he moved, and Holly both gasped and sighed.
“Pyrus,” Hawthorn said and smiled. He walked towards Pyrus and shook his hand. “It’s been a long time.”
“Not long enough,” Pyrus said. “The girls still remember you. Fondly, it seems. You know I don’t like competition.”
Hawthorn smoothed his hair. “The ladies often find it difficult to forget me.”
Pyrus smirked. “I imagine they do, though perhaps for different reasons than you think.”
Hawthorn’s smile wavered, and his eyes looked a little puzzled.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Hemlock said, his voice tight.
Hawthorn sighed and rolled his eyes. He waved a limp hand. “This is Hemlock, my brother as you undoubtedly know.” Before Hemlock or Pyrus could say anything, Hawthorn rushed on, waggling his fingers towards the sisters. “And that’s Hazel, and that’s Holly. Two witch friends of Hemlock’s.” He sniffed.
Pyrus smiled and gave a slight bow to the women. “Charmed.”
Holly put a hand to her cheek and giggled.
Hazel frowned. For a man that was supposedly one of the oldest warlocks alive, Pyrus looked deceptively young. His curly, shoulder-length hair was still mostly dark brown, showing only streaks of grey at the temples. As was the case with his beard–bearing stripes of grey along his jaw, but the rest was dark. What was with these warlocks and their glamors? She wondered if her father was the same way–projecting an illusion of vitality that hid a frail truth.
“And to what do I owe this pleasure?” Pyrus said.
“I’m told you know my father,” Hazel said.
Pyrus’ eyebrows arched upwards, and Hawthorn emitted a nervous laugh. “There’s a proper time and place for all things, Hazel, and this isn’t it. We haven’t even had tea yet.” Hawthorn scoffed and flipped a lock of his glossy hair.
Pyrus remained silent, watching Hazel with shrewd, grey eyes.
“Shall we go in?” Hawthorn said and, without waiting for a reply, wandered into the house.
“The dogs certainly think so,” Hemlock said just as two wagging tails disappeared into the house.
“They’re off!” Pyrus said and went into the house after them.
Hazel glanced at Hemlock, and he shrugged and gave a lopsided smile.
“Come on, Holly,” she said. “Let’s see what this warlock knows.”
Pyrus’ home looked much like Hemlock’s and Hawthorn’s with vast, dimly lit hallways of wood paneled walls adorned with painted portraits. In the brothers’ house, the portraits seemed to be of ancestors, but in Pyrus’ home, they were all of himself. Or of his dogs. Or both. Mostly both.
There was a painting depicting a striking landscape with the dogs running over grass-covered hills beneath a sky filled with roiling clouds. There was another painting with Pyrus carrying ropes of link sausages, leading the two dogs to a distant, sunlit land. The most disturbing one was of Pyrus wearing nothing but a torn white toga that barely covered his tan skin and bulging muscles, while Shirley and Shiela flew around him on white, swan-like wings amid a flurry of colorful butterflies.
Hazel stopped to stare, but Hemlock nudged her and gave her a pleading look as he nodded towards the room into which the others disappeared. Hazel followed and stepped into a parlor with walls painted a burgundy color similar to Pyrus’ robes. A great stone fireplace dominated one of the walls, over which hung a trio of paintings: Pyrus in the middle, holding a thick book and wearing a black robe adorned with brightly colored gemstones, while the other two paintings featured Shiela and Shirley respectively, each sitting obediently while gazing towards the center portrait of Pyrus.
“You really like your dogs, don’t you?” Holly said.
“They are my children,” Pyrus said, “and what father doesn’t love his children?” He patted one of the dogs’ head, who lay upon a plush pillow in a corner of the room.
Holly’s expression turned solemn and she sat down on a chocolate-colored leather sofa across from Hazel. The butler came in–his suit still rumpled and his hair in disarray–carrying a tea tray. When the dogs saw him, they got to their feet and ran towards him. The butler cried out and hurried to a table and set down the tray as the dogs yipped and pranced around him, nipping at his coat tails and at the cuffs of his pants.
Pyrus laughed. “They are such playful creatures, and they just love Cheswick. Isn’t that right, Cheswick?”
“Y-yes, sir. Their, uh… love… knows no bounds.” Sweat ran down Cheswick’s reddened face, and he looked at the doorway as he wrung his hands. “Will there be anything else, sir?”
“No, thank you, Cheswick. That will be all.”
Cheswick let out a ragged, heavy breath. “Very good, sir.” He all but ran to the door, slamming it behind him before Shirley and Shiela could follow.
Holly helped herself to some tea before topping a biscuit with jam and stuffing it into her mouth.
Hazel closed her eyes and sighed. “Good grief, Holly. Can’t you ever wait to be invited before you start gorging yourself?”
“What?” Holly said, biscuit crumbs tumbling from her mouth. “They put out the tray. That is being invited. Waiting for the words seems awfully repetitive.” She ate another jam-topped biscuit, scowling at Hazel as she chewed.
Glaring back at her, Hazel said, “I apologize for my sister, Pyrus. Our mother died before Holly could be properly house-trained.”
Pyrus nodded. “House training is a tricky business. Not all animals are suited to the task. It requires a keen mind–of both the trainer and trainee–as well as mutual respect, and a natural inclination towards cleanliness.”
Holly licked her thumb and rubbed it on her skirt as she tried to remove a glob of jam. She looked up, finding everyone was watching her. “What?”
Hemlock cleared his throat. “So, Pyrus, how long did you know our father?”
“I met Lupinus when he was a boy and I was a young man about to attend my first Conclave. My father and Lupinus’ father–your grandfather–were friends, and so they thought it prudent their sons also become acquainted.”
“But what about the dogs?” Holly said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“The dogs, where did you get them? That’s what I want to know, not stuffy old warlock history.”
Pyrus leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin. “Well, the two stories are intertwined, in a way. Stuffy old warlocks like their customs, you see, and a custom was established when my father and Hawthorn’s and Hemlock’s grandfather introduced their two eldest sons to each other. To keep up the custom, Lupinus introduced his eldest son to me, given I don’t, nor will ever have, any sons of my own. Hawthorn, seeing I was childless, gave me a gift of two puppies, and my life has been blessed ever since.”
“That’s really nice,” Holly said, gazing at Hawthorn.
Hawthorn smiled and smoothed his hair. “Yes, well, I do try.”
“Though,” Holly said, sounding thoughtful, “if introducing your sons is a custom, and your dogs are your children, does that mean Hawthorn will introduce his future son to your dog’s eldest puppy?”
Hemlock choked on his tea. He set down his cup. “Excuse me,” he wheezed.
“You all right?” Holly asked.
Hemlock removed his glasses and dabbed at his watering eyes with a napkin. He smiled. “I’m exceedingly well, thank you, Holly.” He reached over and patted her on the hand. “You dear, dear girl.”
Pyrus gave a wry smile. “I think it means that this particular custom has reached its end, and that Hawthorn has paid proper respect to it with the gift of the dogs.”
Holly slumped as her face fell. “Oh.”
“Since we’re on the subject of fathers,” Hazel said, leaning forward. “I’m told you know ours.”
Pyrus fixed her in a level gaze. “Yes, Ash. I remember when he first joined the Conclave. Curious fellow. Asked a lot of questions.”
“What kinds of questions?”
“He mostly questioned our schools of magic, their uses and limitations. He didn’t seem content to focus his efforts on one or two disciplines, as I’m sure you know is customary. He wanted to know everything about all of them. And yet, even then he seemed discontent with what he found. Or, perhaps, with what he didn’t find.”
“Why? What was he looking for?”
Pyrus spread open his hands. “I couldn’t say. All I can say is the man seemed restless, and that kind of restlessness can make a man unpredictable. Reckless, even.”
Hazel studied him. “Do you know, then? That he turned to necromancy?”
Pyrus chuckled. “Oh yes. I knew Ash was headed towards necromancy almost as soon as I met him. I knew he would never be content with the permitted disciplines alone. Men like him never are.”
“What? Why didn’t you do something to stop him, then?”
Pyrus laughed again. “My dear woman, you are talking to a warlock who has tried to convince the Conclave to allow necromancy as a permitted discipline.”
The room grew silent as everyone stared at him. Even Hawthorn seemed uneasy as he shifted in his seat.
“You’re a necromancer?” Holly asked.
“Hardly,” Pyrus said. “As a young man, I focused on the Wyr discipline, like so many others. Now, though, I practice primarily Hearth. But whether we like it or not, necromantic magic exists, and I believe willfully ignoring it is a grave mistake.” Pyrus chuckled. “Grave.” He rang a little bell, and Cheswick poked his head through the door. “Cheswick, I made a pun. And you said I lack a sense of humor.”
“I’m sure I never said that, sir.”
“Oh? Then who did?”
“I believe it was the witch Lobelia, sir.”
“Well, then, send her an invitation to tea. We’ll straighten her out. Right, Cheswick?”
“Of course, sir.” Cheswick disappeared again.
Pyrus tented his fingers as he stared off into the distance, his lips quirked into a small smile.
Hazel cleared her throat, and Pyrus refocused his attention on her.
“What was I saying?” he said.
“You wanted to make necromancy a permitted discipline,” Hazel said.
“Ah, yes.” He waved his hands. “As I was saying, necromancy exists, and as a result, there will always be those who practice it–with or without our approval. By making necromancy a permitted discipline, we can at least monitor its use, guide those practicing it in the hopes of keeping them from doing something too… unsavory.”
The room grew quiet once again. Hazel wondered if Pyrus would consider trapping a person’s soul in a geas “unsavory.” She was afraid to ask. Instead, she said, “He had to learn necromantic magic from someone. Where did he go?”
Pyrus rubbed his chin as his eyes took on a distant, unfocused look. “Trying to find teachers in necromancy is a line of questioning I’ve never dared undertake. I do, however, have my suspicions of whom Ash might have sought. But they are only that–suspicions.”
“Who is it?”
Pyrus watched her a long while. “Before I tell you, I think we need to have a word in private, first.”