Hazel and Holly — Skyward Promises
Previous: Odd Possibilities
Hazel and Holly walked along the darkening narrow path as the chirps and croaks of crickets and frogs pierced the warm twilit air. Hazel carried a lamp, but it would need to remain unlit for the time being.
“Are you nervous?” Holly asked.
“Why would I be nervous?” said Hazel.
“You’re going to become a Wyr witch. That’s kind of scary.”
“It’s just a formality, it’s not like anything’s going to change right away.” She glanced at Holly. “And why is it scary?”
“No other witches practice Wyr except for Bellota, and she’s scary.”
Hazel tilted her head. “True.”
“I suppose that means you’ll have to learn from her.”
“You mean you won’t?”
“I mean I want to see how far I get on my own.”
They walked in silence a little longer, and then Holly said, “Are you excited, though?”
“I think it’s the right choice, if that’s what you mean.”
“But do you want to become a Wyr witch?”
“What I want doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me.”
Hazel sighed. “What do you want me to say, Holly? That I’m happy our father trapped our mother’s soul? That I’m happy I get to spend my entire life trying to undo his treachery? Because I’m not, but it doesn’t matter. I’m doing what needs to be done, and that’s all there is to say about it.”
“He already ruined Mother’s life,” Holly said in a near whisper. “You shouldn’t let him ruin yours as well.”
Hazel closed her eyes, letting her anger lessen. “He’ll not ruin anything, not if I can help it. Now, come on, or we’ll be late.” Hazel quickened her pace.
They followed the road until it narrowed into a winding path that then led into a circular clearing bordered with towering oak trees. Their thick, gnarled boughs stretched overhead, mottling the dark cerulean sky with their shadowed leaves.
A single torch burned at one end of the grove. Hazel walked over to it and used it to light her lantern. Then, from the trees, emerged a line of witches. They wore black dresses that matched both Hazel’s and Holly’s. Holly left Hazel’s side and joined the other women.
A witch stepped forward. “Who approaches the Circle this night?”
Hazel sighed. “You know it’s me, Aster.”
Aster raised her chin. “The Circle does not recognize this response.”
Hazel closed her eyes. Aster always was a stickler for the formalities. Taking a breath, Hazel replied, “The Witch Hazel approaches the Circle.”
The line of women moved around Hazel until they had formed a circle around her. Aster said, “The Circle accepts the Witch Hazel.” Aster took a candle and lit it from Hazel’s lamp. She then used the flame to ignite another witch’s candle, and so on until each woman held a lit candle of her own.
Hazel gazed straight ahead, letting the flames around her fade into a haze of gentle light.
Aster stepped out of the circle and walked towards the torch. She lifted it from the ground and spoke a spell that extinguished the flame. Then she thrust the torch back into the earth and, as she did so, spoke another spell that transformed the smoking branch into a tall, forked staff. She turned back towards the circle.
“The Witch Hazel will step forward.”
The women standing in front of Hazel moved aside, and Hazel stepped forward.
“Decree to the Moon and Sun, to the Trees and Sky, why you have come here this night.”
“I come here to dedicate myself to the way of the Sky, if she will have me.”
“Lady of the Sky accepts all who approach with humble hearts. How does the Witch Hazel approach?”
Hazel knelt on the ground in front of the staff. She held out her arms to either side, her palms facing upwards. “The Witch Hazel approaches with all due humility and respect, for the Sky and for herself, and for all her fellow witches.” Hazel felt ridiculous for referring to herself in the third person. She wished the Circle would stop insisting on these rituals. They weren’t necessary–not like this. Her choice of discipline was a personal one, and so any respect paid to the Lady of the Sky should also happen in private. Unfortunately, not many others seemed to share her opinion.
Aster said, “Then rise, Hazel, Witch of the Wyr.”
“Witch of the Wyr,” murmured the other witches and Hazel got to her feet.
Holly squeaked and clapped, but then stopped when she noticed no one else joining in the revelry.
The witches filed out of the grove. Hazel and Holly took up the rear of the procession.
“That went well,” Holly whispered. “You did so much better than me when I approached the Lord of the Trees. You didn’t seem nervous at all.”
“I wasn’t nervous.”
Holly blinked at her. “Really? I was so nervous, I thought I might throw up. But then we had cake and it all went away.” Holly pawed at Hazel’s arm. “Do you think we’ll have cake tonight?”
“Probably. It wouldn’t be a proper dedication ceremony without cake, and Aster isn’t one to deviate from propriety.”
Holly sighed. Then, sounding wistful, she said, “I still remember the carrot cake from my ceremony. Do you remember?”
“How could I possibly forget? It’s been three years since you dedicated yourself, and yet you still talk about that cake.”
“I like carrot cake.”
“You like most foods.”
“That’s not true.”
“All right, you like most foods without meat.”
Holly giggled. “Ok, that’s true. Though, there are worse things than liking something that keeps you alive.”
Hazel snorted. “Is that how you rationalize it? Because the amounts you eat go well beyond the need for survival.”
Holly raised her chin. “You never know when a famine will come, and you can’t let the food go to waste.”
“And what about taking food from a poor old woman trying to eat her midday meal? Because there was no famine, and it certainly wasn’t going to waste. So where does that incident fit in that perplexing mind of yours?”
Holly rolled her eyes. “That was one time, and she was rude. People that rude shouldn’t get delicious food to eat, especially not pie. They should get… lumpy porridge or something. Cold porridge. Served her right.”
The witches left the woods as they approached Aster’s house. They remained in an orderly line, however, and Hazel and Holly waited as each witch extinguished her candle at the door’s threshold, left it in a box on a chair, and then stepped inside.
The main room was snug with all the bodies by the time the sisters made it indoors. The air was stifling, despite the hearth remaining cold.
Aster appeared from the crowd and thrust a silver spatula at Hazel as if it were a source of despair.
“Chin up, Aster,” Hazel said. “The world’s not ending.”
“You need to cut the cake,” Aster said. “It’s almost nine.”
“Ah, yes, and the cutting of cake past the ninth hour is a dreaded ill omen.” Hazel waggled her hands. “How could I forget?”
“Do not make light of such things. This is a dedication cake. You need to cut it by a certain hour or it will lose its potency.”
“Its potency? What potency is that, exactly? Will the Lady of the Sky strike us with lighting? Will we all get a bout of indigestion? I’m curious.”
Aster narrowed her eyes. “Just cut the cake.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Hazel said and followed Aster through the crowd until they came to a table with a cake iced with a thick layer of whipped cream.
Aster wrung her hands as she watched Hazel. Hazel made a silent plea for rhubarb and then cut the cake, mildly disappointed when she found it was blueberry.
Aster exhaled a heavy sigh and said, “Let’s eat!” She even smiled.
Hazel found a chair in a corner of the room and sat down as she ate. She eyed the other witches, taking note of who attended and who didn’t. Zinnia wasn’t there, though that wasn’t too surprising.
Holly bounced up to Hazel. “Blueberry!” she said and gave a purply grin. “Not as good as carrot cake, but still yummy.”
“I was hoping for rhubarb.”
“Hearth witches sometimes get rhubarb. But usually lemon or orange. Sometimes raspberry.”
“Aster needs to re-think her cake themes. There’s no reason why a Hearth witch should get rhubarb and not a Wyr. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Holly shrugged and took another bite. “It makes sense to her. I just hope she doesn’t go back to her fish cakes for Weaving witches. That was gross.”
Hazel chuckled. “True.”
Holly grew silent as she studied her plate. “So do you know when we’re going to leave for Sarnum?
“I’m not sure yet. Soon, hopefully.”
“I can help, you know! You can’t leave me behind! I’ve got potions and everything, so you have to take me along!”
“I was never going to leave you behind, Holly. You’re a part of this, and a grown woman besides–however you might not act like it. I can’t protect you forever.”
Holly straightened and blinked at her. “Oh.”
“And what potions are you talking about?”
Holly poked at her cake and mumbled something incoherent.
“What’s that?” Hazel said.
“A gift from Odd.”
“Of course, how silly of me.” Hazel closed her eyes and shook her head. “Never mind, we can talk about it later. Apparently cutting cakes and conversations with my sister are two things that shouldn’t happen past nine.”
Next: Wyr Weariness