Hazel and Holly — Roadside Meeting
Previous: Cold, Quintessential Comfort
Holly hopped off the back of the wagon and dusted off her hands. “Right, then.” She peered out into the nighttime gloom, looking for the runaway horses or Tum, but she didn’t see either.
“Could we hurry this up?” Hawthorn said as he pulled off his necromancer’s robe and dropped it on the ground. “There’s a chill out, and I’m not dressed for cold weather.”
Holly eyed him. “Well, you could start with keeping your robe on if you’re so cold.”
He drew himself up and looked down the bridge of his nose at her. “That threadbare sack couldn’t keep me warm in the middle of summer. If I’m going to die of exposure, I’d rather not do so in shabby raiments.”
Holly rolled her eyes.
“It is cold out,” Hemlock said and blew on his hands.
“Well, if you two would give me a chance to think, then I could do the spell.” She picked up Hawthorn’s discarded robe and thrust it at him. “And you keep that. You can bear looking shabby like the rest of us for a little while.”
The brothers fell silent. Hemlock folded his arms and hunched his shoulders, while Hawthorn frowned at the robe as he held it at arm’s length.
“Right,” Holly said. She spoke a Calling spell then waited, holding her breath as she listened.
“Well?” Hawthorn said. “Did it work?”
“I don’t know. Animals have minds of their own. I can’t make them come over. They have to want to, and I don’t know if two necromancer horses will want to come over. Or even if they’re close enough for the spell to work.”
“So, what are we supposed to do in the meantime? Stand here and freeze?”
“Good grief, I’ll make a fire. Just help me with the wood.”
They gathered some of the broken parts of the wagon and put them in a pile. Holly worked her spell and the wood flared alight into a crackling campfire.
Hawthorn sighed as he warmed his hands by the flames. Then he said, “I suppose we’ll have to spend the night here.”
“Don’t start,” Holly said.
Hemlock squinted as he peered down the road. “Is someone coming?”
“Hopefully someone with a carriage who’s fond of making a little coin,” Hawthorn said.
Holly looked down the road, but she couldn’t see anything. She held her breath to listen and made out a faint thumping sound of galloping hooves. “It’s the horses.” She moved down the road. By the moonlight, she was able to make out the silhouettes of two horses, and…
“There’s a man on one of the horses.”
The brothers joined her. Hemlock summoned his fairy pocket watch light. Hawthorn conjured a goose with ivory feathers that glinted gold and silver.
“A goose?” Holly said.
“Geese are vicious,” Hawthorn said.
“Hawthorn got bitten by one when he was a boy,” Hemlock said. “He’s never gotten over it.”
“Yes, well, our friend approaching here isn’t going to get over it either if he means to cause trouble.”
Hemlock sent out his fairy, illuminating two black horses, upon one of which sat a rider tugging frantically on the reins.
“By the Nameless One, stop!” the rider cried as he and the horses drew closer. But the horses didn’t stop until they reached Holly. One of them nudged her with its snout. She smiled and petted it.
The rider slid off the horse and ran a hand over his flushed face. He wore a black robe of a Shrine necromancer. He eyed the robes Hemlock and Holly still wore with a dubious expression. “Who—”
“Attack!” said Hawthorn, and the goose honked and pecked the necromancer on the thigh.
The necromancer cried out and tried to back away, but the goose had his robe in its beak. They fell into a bout of tug-of-war before the necromancer remembered himself and began a spell.
“No!” Holly said. One of the horses head-butted him and knocked him down. The goose honked again, flapped its broad wings, and pecked at the necromancer as he lay on the ground.
The necromancer cried out and curled into a ball, covering his head with his arms. “Get it off me!”
“We need to tie him up or something,” Holly said.
Hemlock ripped off the hem of the necromancer’s robe. But between the goose’s flapping wings and the necromancer rolling around, he couldn’t do much else. “Could you ease up on your feathered terror?”
Hawthorn examined his fingernails for several moments before he released his spell. “Told you they were vicious.”
With the goose gone, the necromancer scrambled to his feet and tried to run, but Holly tackled him to the ground. “Get him, Hemlock!”
Hemlock tied the necromancer’s hands as Holly sat on his back. She got up, and Hemlock pulled the man to his feet.
“What did I ever do to you people?” the necromancer said.
“You put us in boxes!” Holly said.
“And left us here to die,” Hawthorn said. “In the cold.”
“Where’s Hazel?” Hemlock said.
The man blinked. “Hazel? I don’t know any Hazel. And I didn’t put you in the boxes. I was told to deliver the crates to… well… somewhere. And so that’s what I was doing.” He sniffed. “It’s a thankless job a man has when he finds himself attacked by wild animals.”
“And tackled by young women,” Hawthorn added. “Yes, you bear a heavy burden in life. Where is this ‘somewhere’ you were taking us?”
The necromancer lifted his chin. “I can’t say.”
“It wouldn’t be the Sea of Severed Stars, by any chance?” said Hemlock.
The necromancer’s brow furrowed for a moment before he composed himself. “No.”
“You’re a terrible liar,” Hawthorn said. “Why were you taking us there?”
“I told you, I wasn’t—”
“Yes, yes, you know nothing of The Sea of Severed Stars. If we must play this game, fine. Why were you delivering us to this secret location then?”
The man straightened his back and put on a defiant expression.
“Maybe you should bring the goose back,” Holly said.
The necromancer flinched but he remained silent.
“No,” Hemlock said. “It doesn’t matter why. If he was taking us to the Sea, then we need to continue on and see if Hazel’s there.
“But what about Tum?” Holly said.
“What about him?” said Hawthorn.
Holly ignored him and turned to the necromancer. “What did you do with Tum?”
“Yes, Tum. Cellar gnome, about this tall. Kind of obnoxious.”
The necromancer’s mouth hung open as he stared at her. “What’s a cellar gnome?”
Hawthorn snickered. “For once I envy a necromancer’s ignorance.”
Holly sighed. “Never mind. Let’s just go.”
Next: Crossroads Conundrum