Hazel and Holly — Shadowed Dreams
Previous: Shadowed Depths, Part Two
Holly tried to keep her breathing even and calm as she lay in the enclosed box. She wouldn’t panic. If she panicked, she might suffocate, and Holly would rather that didn’t happen. She clenched her eyes shut, bracing herself against the jostling of the box to keep her head from getting any more lumps. Breathe in, breathe out. Nice and even; nice and slow.
Her thoughts turned to Hazel. Would she ever see her sister again? A lump formed in her throat that, in the close air, threatened to choke her, so Holly tried to put the thoughts out of her mind.
But the thoughts didn’t want to go. Instead, Holly recalled a time right after their mother had died. Holly had just become a Wild witch, but her sorrow for her mother’s passing had kept her from practicing any of her new spells. She hadn’t wanted to do much of anything, and if it hadn’t been for Hazel, Holly probably would have gone days without getting out of bed.
It was on one of those days that Hazel had made Holly get up and dressed and took her out into the woods. Neither sister said anything as they walked, not even after they stopped in a little grove, in the middle of which grew a great oak tree.
Hazel had taken Holly’s hand and held it in her own. The tenderness of the moment had brought tears to Holly’s eyes, but she was so tired of crying and had tried to pull away. Yet before she could, Hazel had pressed a coin into Holly’s hand.
“Your grief is your own,” Hazel had said. “Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve. Not me, not anyone. But don’t let it overtake you. Don’t fade away just because Mother is gone. She wouldn’t have wanted that.”
Holly had wanted to nod—Hazel’s advice was sound and reasonable—but the gesture had seemed beyond her. “What’s the coin for?” she had said instead.
Hazel shrugged. “I found it with Mother’s things, though I don’t know where she got it. It’s not like any coin I’ve seen. I thought maybe you’d like to have it, to remind you of her.”
Holly’s eyes had filled again with tears and she rubbed them away before they fell. One side of the coin was engraved with a birch tree, the other side with a wreath of ivy. The silver was tarnished and in need of polishing, but the beauty of it had remained intact. “Thank you,” Holly whispered.
They remained in the grove a short while longer. When Hazel suggested they return home, Holly had said she wanted to stay. Alone. Hazel had been reluctant, but she relented and had left Holly standing by the great oak tree, staring at the coin in her hand. It was lovely in its own simple, unaffected way—just like Willow.
Holly missed her mother. Painfully. But she was also tired. Tired of grieving, tired of having to bear the weight of life so keenly upon her shoulders. Hazel was right, she couldn’t let it bury her.
Holly rubbed her fingers over the coin, recalling some of the moments Holly treasured most. The cups of warm milk and honey her mother had always made whenever Holly had had a bad dream; sitting next to her on the sofa as she sewed, while Holly poked at her own swatch of fabric with a needle and thread; the time when Holly managed to grow her own herbs in the garden, and she and Willow distilled them into Holly’s first potions.
Holly rubbed each memory into the coin, as if she could preserve each thought within its tarnished silver surface. Then, for the first time since her dedication ceremony, Holly worked a spell and a magpie flew down from the branches of the oak tree.
She held out the coin, and the magpie took it in its black beak.
“You keep that safe,” Holly said. “Put it somewhere nice. But don’t let me know, all right?” She took a deep breath. “I don’t want to know.”
The magpie took flight and disappeared over the tree tops. Holly had cried as the bird flew away, but once she had calmed, she felt strangely relieved. After that day, whenever she had felt the crushing sadness settling over her, she would think of the coin, imagining it out in the world, holding her memories and love for her mother. It brought her happiness to know it was out there, somewhere—maybe by a majestic waterfall or a beautiful rose garden. In a way, it was like her mother lived on in the coin, and somehow that had made everything bearable.
Holly’s breath caught in her throat as she recalled the memory. She had almost forgotten it, the simple tarnished coin that had helped her out of the impenetrable darkness of grief. She missed Hazel terribly just then, as sharply and keenly as she had ever missed her mother. If Hazel was gone—well and truly gone—Holly didn’t think she’d recover again. This time, her heart would break beyond repair.
Panic flared in Holly—the air was too stifling and close. She needed to get out. Right now. She was about to kick at the box again for everything she was worth when a warm touch brushed against her hand.
Holly froze. Had she imagined it? She didn’t think she had—it had been distinct enough to kill her outbreak of panic. But surely she must have imagined it. There was nobody here.
The hair on Holly’s neck stood on end. She couldn’t explain it, but she suddenly felt like she was no longer alone. She summoned another flame in her cupped hands, relaxing with relief when the light showed that no one was there.
The feeling that she was not alone stubbornly persisted. Holly’s heart quickened and her palms began to sweat. What was happening? Was she losing her mind? It was certainly starting to feel that way.
Holly clenched her eyes shut and forced herself to breathe and, as she calmed, her mind drifted back to Hazel.
Her sister stood in a moonlit field, silhouetted by the dark shadows of a distant forest. Pale blue orbs of light floated around her head, drifting away on their own courses only to return to her before drifting off yet again. She raised a hand and one of the lights came close to Holly, and as it did, Hazel transformed.
Her hair had grown long and wild, swinging past her waist in a wind Holly couldn’t feel. Woven in her locks were shards of bones and broken raven’s feathers, and sprigs of yew with their bright red berries. Upon her head she wore a tall, jagged crown of blackthorn adorned with apple blossoms, wormwood, and broom. She wore a long black dress, full in the skirts and high in the neck, that had been sewn together with silver-spun thread. The material shifted in its darkness. One moment it looked gauzy and sheer, the next a mass of impenetrable shadows that even Hazel’s light couldn’t touch.
Neither sister said anything as they watched one another. Then Hazel frowned and took a step back, and a mist rose from the grass that shrouded the field in a murky haze.
Holly’s box jolted, bringing her attention back to the present. Had she been dreaming? She hadn’t realized she had fallen asleep. The box jolted again, violently, and Holly cried out as she braced herself against the box’s walls. One more strong jolt, then the box stilled.
Holly continued to brace herself against the wood as she caught her breath. When the wood cracked beneath her hands, Holly yanked them back. Then, before she knew what was happening, the entire box broke and shattered shards of wood fell on top of her.
Shaking, Holly pushed them aside and crawled away from the ruined box that lay in the middle of a wide dirt road that wound through a grassy field. A little further down was a crashed wagon, its axles broken. Holly pushed herself to her feet, looking back at the ruined box that had been solid and whole just a few minutes before.
“Stupid necromancers,” she murmured. The day had faded into dusk, and the sinking sun captured a distant forest in a soft, golden light. Holly stared at the trees, remembering her odd dream about Hazel. Then, from the wagon, there came a pounding noise, and distant, muffled shouting.
Holly ran to the wagon and found a pair of long wooden crates still intact in the wagon’s bed. From inside both of them, someone shouted and pounded.
“Hemlock? Hawthorn?” It had to be them. She hoped it was them.
“Yes!” came a muffled reply from one of the crates. Though whether it was Hemlock or Hawthorn, she couldn’t tell. “Do you know what sap does to clothing? Get me out of here, now!” Holly smiled. Hawthorn, then.
She tried lifting the lid off the crate, but it wouldn’t budge. She kicked at it, but that also didn’t do anything. “Hang on!” she said, and then worked a spell of fire against the wood. But, just as before, the fire wouldn’t take, and the box remained intact.
“Stupid necromancers!” she shouted. Holly rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand as she looked around. In a corner of the wagon was an overturned chest—it looked a lot like her mother’s jewelry box, only twice as big and not as finely made. She turned it over, unlatched the iron clasp, and found within a mess of tools. Among an array of loose nails she found a hammer and chisel. She grinned and took the tools back to Hawthorn’s crate.
It took a while, and Hawthorn’s continual complaining didn’t help, but Holly at last was able to wedge the chisel between the wooden slats and pry the crate apart. Thankfully, Hawthorn took over to let out Hemlock. By the time they were done, night had fallen.
“Where’s Tum?” Holly said. “He wasn’t in with you guys?”
“I should hope not,” Hawthorn said.
“What happened to the driver?” Hemlock said. He was right: the driver of the wagon was gone, as were the horses.
“Unbelievable,” Hawthorn said. “They box us up and cart us off to the middle of nowhere, then leave us to die on the side of the road.” He straightened his jacket and smoothed his hair. When he saw Holly and Hemlock watching him, he added, “It’s rude.”
“Something might have happened to him,” Holly said. “Both him and Tum.”
“Hopefully a pair of broken necks,” Hawthorn said.
Holly slapped him on the shoulder.
“We can’t really worry about Tum right now, Holly,” Hemlock said. “Hopefully he got away. Right now, though, we need to figure out what we’re going to do about us. I think at this point we can work under the assumption that Hazel wasn’t at the Shrine and has gone on to the Sea of Severed Stars instead. We need to figure out how to get there.”
Holly pursed her lips and took a deep breath. She nodded. “All right. We’ll look for Tum later.” She waved a hand towards the front of the wagon. “And I think I might know how to find the horses.”