Hazel and Holly — Spoil Sport
Previous: Dinnertime Drama, Part Two
“They’re up to something,” Holly said to the young doe grazing among the herb garden at the cottage. “But they won’t tell me what it is.” She poked a needle into a skirt lying across her lap and pulled the thread through. “I don’t know why. Either they think I’m stupid, or… or I don’t know what.”
The doe poked her head up and peered at Holly as she chewed on a mouthful of sage, her long ears twitching.
Holly waved a hand. “That’s enough of the herbs, go move on to the carrots or something.”
The deer moved away on long, thin legs over to where the vegetables grew.
Hazel came home along the woodland path, a basket slung over her arm. The deer bounded away and disappeared among the trees.
Hazel stopped, narrowing her eyes. “Was that deer grazing in the garden?”
Holly slumped as she focused on her sewing. “No,” she said, unable to keep her voice from sounding sullen.
Hazel pressed her lips into a thin line.
“What?” Holly said, growing annoyed. “You think I’m hiding something from you? Bet you wouldn’t like how that feels, would you?”
Hazel let out a heavy sigh. “Not now, Holly,” she said and walked into the cottage.
Holly shook her head and continued sewing. Not now? Not ever, it seemed. What were Hazel and Hemlock doing, anyway? They met from time to time, talking in hushed tones whenever they thought she couldn’t hear. And then, when she walked up to them, they’d put on those creepy fake smiles and talk about the weather or who might win the Honey Tankard for best mead during the Haernan Festival.
Of course Hawthorn never came by, much to Holly’s disappointment. They had had a real connection during the party, but then Hazel had been Hazel, and Holly hadn’t seen Hawthorn since. She sniffed. Hazel was always scaring the men away.
She finished the last stitch in her sewing, tied off the thread, and cut it with her teeth. She stood and held up the skirt to examine her work. She’d sewn the hem of the skirt together, so that the garment was no longer a skirt and more of a sack.
“Mighty fine work there, missie,” a man’s voice said.
Holly spun around, finding a short little man that was about as tall as her knee. “Who’re you?”
The little man gave a short bow. “Name’s Tum. Say, you going to do something with that bag of yours?”
Holly narrowed her eyes. “Why?”
“Bags are for keeping, and I’ve got bits that need to be kept.”
“Oh? What kind of bits?”
Tum waved a hand. “A bit o’ this and a bit o’ that.” He grinned.
Holly pursed her lips. “It’s not for secrets! Well, not your secrets anyway.” She raised her chin and said, “Good day.” Then she walked off, heading towards the woods.
To her dismay, Tum scampered after her. “Where we going?”
“I’m going gathering. You’re not invited.”
“Don’t be hasty, young miss. You’d do worse than having a cellar gnome help you gather.”
“If you’re a cellar gnome, why aren’t you in a cellar?”
Tum grinned, showing rows of yellowed teeth. “Currently between jobs. Say, bet you can help me with that. I’d make it worth your while.”
Holly stopped and peered down at him. “How so?”
“I seen you with your mouse, the one with the vest. I can fetch bits just as good as him, only the bits I fetch’ll be bigger.” He winked at her. “Bigger, right?” He cackled.
Holly frowned, not getting the joke. “And what do you get out of it?”
“I get a cut of the spoils, a spot in your cellar, and beer twice a week.” He paused. “Three times a week. Plus, I’ll look after your underground space. Won’t have rats causing any mischief without my say-so.”
Holly gave it some thought. Rats were such filthy creatures, and they never listened to her, always doing as they pleased no matter what she said. “All right, Mr. Tum, you have a deal.”
“Ho, ho, and off we go!” Tum said. He held out his hands. “Gimme the bag.”
Holly frowned and clutched the bag against her chest.
Tum waggled his fingers. “Come on, now. Can’t go gathering spoils without a spoils bag. Simple laws of nature and all that.”
“That’s true,” Holly murmured. “But I’ll make those same laws of nature turn you into a stunted little tree if you cross me!” She twisted her face into what she hoped was a frightful countenance and handed over the bag.
Tum chuckled, and Holly’s heart sank.
“Fair enough,” he said. He held up the bag as he looked at it and whistled. “Fine material, this. Where’d you get it?”
Holly drew herself up. “It’s the skirt of my old festival dress. Got myself a new dress, so I don’t need it anymore.”
“Must be fine times you’re living in if you’ve got no need of material like that. Fine times, indeed.” He lowered the bag and peered around. “Right, so where we spoiling?”
Holly scratched the back of her head. “Well, it’s not really called spoiling, is it?”
Tum screwed up his face as he stared at her. “Gathering fish is fishing; gathering mushrooms is mushrooming; gathering spoils is spoiling.” He shrugged. “Pretty obvious, really.”
Holly shook her head. “Fine, whatever.” She also looked around. “I’m really not sure where to go. Normally I’d head over to Zinnia’s, but she’s still pretty angry from last time.”
Tum gave a sage nod.
“Other than her,” Holly continued, “I’m really not sure where to go.”
“Well,” Tum said, “If you could go anywhere in the world–anywhere in walking distance, that is–where would you go?”
Holly started to give it some thought when Tum leapt towards her.
“Answer quickly,” he said, waving his arms. “No time to think. Quick! Quick!” He poked her in the leg with a stout finger until Holly, backing away while swatting at him, finally said, “Hawthorn’s! I’d go to Hawthorn’s house. Now leave me alone you vile little beast!”
Tum ceased his poking and nodded. “Well, all right, then. Hawthorn’s it is.” Bag in hand, he headed off into the woods.
Holly squeaked and scampered after him. “No no no no, I didn’t mean we’d go to his house to go gathering. We can’t do that!”
“Because you’re sweet on him?”
Holly’s face flushed hot. “What? No!” She tried to laugh but only managed to snort while inhaling a bit of spittle which then sent her into a fit of coughing. She doubled over as she tried to catch her breath and managed to wheeze, “Not sweet.”
“Right,” Tum said, his voice flat. When Holly had recovered, he said, “You know, it’s a well-known fact that men love women with proper spoiling skills.”
Holly wiped at her watering eyes with a sleeve as she peered at him. “What? Really?”
Tum gave another sage nod. “Oh yes. Has to do with providing for the home. Everyone knows that a woman who can gather her weight in spoils has the makings of a wondrous wife. A real ünderwench, as we gnomes like to call it.”
Holly stared at him. “You have a name for it?”
Tum drew himself up as tall as his little frame would allow. “Of course. It’s not proper unless it’s got a proper name. Everyone knows that.”
For someone that lurked in cellars, Tum seemed to know an awful lot of the world. Holly nodded, feeling ignorant and unable to argue against such sophisticated wisdom.
They headed over to Hawthorn’s and Hemlock’s estate and came to the tall wrought iron fence.
“Well, now, that’s a problem,” Tum said.
“Can you squeeze through?” Holly picked up Tum by the collar of his shirt and thwacked him against the bars.
“Hey!” Tum said, flailing. “I’m not made of clay, you know. You can’t just remold me however you like.”
Holly dropped him on the ground. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
Tum frowned up at her while straightening his shirt. He turned back towards the fence and kicked at it. “This thing got a door or something?”
“Down that way,” Holly said, nodding to the left. “It’s usually guarded, though.” In a whisper, she added, “Stupid guards.”
Tum shook his head. “Nope, don’t do guards. Next idea.”
“What? Why not?”
“It’s inefficient, and they got grabby hands.” He scowled at her. “I don’t like grabby hands.”
“Well, how else are we going to get in there?”
Tum gave it some thought, and then stepped inside the bag and pulled it up around him.
“What are you doing?” Holly said.
“You’re gonna have to fling me,” Tum said.
“That’s right. I sit in the bag, and you fling the bag over the fence. Easy.”
“But… you’ll get hurt!”
Tum scoffed. “Hurt? I think not. Just dirt I’ll be landing on, and no dirt ever hurt any cellar gnome, not ever. It’s in our bones, you see. Now water…” he clicked his tongue, “now that’d be a different story.” He settled himself deeper within the bag. “Come on, now. Time’s wasting. Up and away.”
When Holly still hesitated, Tum waved his arms and shouted, “Away!”
He kept on shouting until Holly, fearful he’d attract the guards said, “All right! Shoosh!” She grabbed the ends of the bag and lifted it up, bundling Tum inside.
“Now, give it a good fling,” Tum said, his voice muffled from the fabric. “Don’t hold back.”
Holly gently swung the bag from side to side, testing the weight.
From within the bag, Tum shouted, “I said, give it a good fling!”
“All right!” Holly shouted back. To herself, she whispered, “Crabby monster.”
“I heard that.”
“Good!” Holly said, though her cheeks flushed. She spun around with the bag, gathering speed until, fearful she’d lose control, she lobbed the bag over the fence and went tumbling backwards.
The bag arced over the iron bars and rustled through a patch of leaves from a low-hanging branch before landing on the grassy ground with a hollow thud.
Holly held her breath as the bag lay motionless. Then, after a moment, the fabric moved and Tum crawled out. He waved.
Holly waved back, but then her heart sank. How was he going to get out? She opened her mouth, about to shout her question, but then Tum grabbed the bag and scampered away out of sight.
Next: Hawthorn’s Help