Hazel and Holly — Tea with Tum
Previous: Pyrus and his Particular Price, Part Two
Holly bounced around Hazel as she left Pyrus’ home.
“Well?” Holly said. “What did he say?”
“He gave me a name of someone we can talk to that might know where one goes to learn necromancy. I’ve also decided to become a Wyr witch.”
Hawthorn snorted. “A Wyr witch?” He shook his head. “Perhaps it would be best to stick to Weaving, and leave Wyr to the men.”
Hemlock put a hand over his face, while both Hazel and Holly glared at Hawthorn.
Holly pulled a tiny pinecone from her pocket. “Maybe you ought to say that one more time, and leave the thumping on your noggin to the women.”
“Don’t bother, Holly,” Hazel said. “Save your pinecones for a more worthy head.”
Hawthorn straightened, looking offended. “What’s wrong with my head? Is there something on it?” He put a hand to his forehead and lowered it again, blinking at his fingers. “Hemlock, is there something on my head?”
“Yes,” Hemlock said. “You’d better go fix that.”
Hawthorn gasped and ran to the coach, squinting and squirming as he tried to view his reflection in the windows.
Hemlock shook his head. “Idiot,” he muttered. Then, to Hazel, he said, “It’s almost too easy.”
Hazel couldn’t help but smile. Hemlock smiled with her.
“Sooo,” Holly said, sounding impatient. “Who are we supposed to go talk to? You never said.”
“The man apparently calls himself Elder, though Pyrus suspects that might not be his real name. He lives over in Sarnum.”
Hemlock frowned. “That’s well to the south. What’s a warlock doing that far outside the Grove? And how does Pyrus know him?”
“He doesn’t, but he’s heard rumors. If they’re true, he thinks this Elder might be able to help us.”
“And if they’re not?”
“Then let’s hope the worst that comes out this is a wasted trip.”
They rode in the carriage back home in relative silence. Hawthorn, from time to time, would put a hand to his head, feel around, and then continue gazing out the window with a heavy sigh. They dropped Hazel and Holly off at their cottage, before the carriage rattled away again down the road.
“So,” Holly said as they walked towards the cottage, “when do we leave?”
“I don’t know. Not before the next Circle, and maybe not for a while after that. It depends.”
“Depends on what…?” Holly began, but trailed off as they walked through the door and found Tum and two other gnomes lurking inside. Tum was rifling through a dresser drawer, while another gnome sifted through the ashes in the hearth. The third gnome held a bundle of spoons, eyeing his reflection in one of them. As soon as Hazel and Holly walked in, all the gnomes froze and glowered at them.
“What’s going on here?” Hazel said as she glowered back.
“Nothing’s going on, that’s what,” Tum said.
“That’s what,” echoed the gnome with sooty hands.
“It doesn’t look like nothing to me. In fact, it looks like you’re robbing me.”
“Isn’t any robbing here,” Tum said. “Just taking what’s owed.”
“We entered an agreement, me and the miss. Beer three times a week and a cut of the spoils. Well, there hasn’t been any beer or spoils, so we’re taking what’s owed.”
Hazel glowered at Holly. “What’s he talking about?”
Holly wrung her hands. “I might have forgotten to tell you I hired Tum.”
Hazel closed her eyes and took a breath. Calm. She would remain calm. “Why?”
“Because I’m scrappy and resourceful, that’s why,” Tum said. “You’d do worse than having a scrappy cellar gnome.”
Holly nodded. “Yeah, that.”
Hazel tightened her jaw. “You forgot to mention why we need a cellar gnome at all. Scrappy or otherwise.”
“Well,” Holly said, still wringing her hands. “There’s the rats.”
The other gnomes murmured among themselves and nodded.
“The rats? What…?” Hazel’s temper flared and she closed her eyes again. “You know what? I don’t even care. We have more important things to consider right now. You figure out this problem with Tum’s payment. And, no, you may not pay him with our spoons.” She walked up to the gnome with the utensils. He tried hiding them in his pockets, but she yanked them away from him, ignoring his squawking protests.
Holly watched as Hazel marched up the narrow stairs to her room. A door slammed, and then all went silent.
“Well, someone’s a grumpy frump,” Tum said.
Holly put on the fiercest expression she could muster. “You shouldn’t have done that–bringing your friends here to take our stuff. You would’ve gotten paid if you just said something.”
Tum shook his head. “Nope. Been in too many cellars where the owners conveniently ‘forget’ my payment. Then, when I remind them, I’m booted out the door and the locks are changed. Now, I take what’s owed. You don’t like it, then you’d best pay me.”
“But… couldn’t you just pick the new locks?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Well, all right.” She scratched her head. “So, what is it that you’re owed? Some beer?”
“Yep, three bottles. Plus spoils.”
“We don’t have beer in the house. We have mead, though. Will that do?”
“Nope, don’t like mead. Too sweet. Needs to be beer.”
Holly scowled at him. “I don’t know why you should get paid at all. You haven’t been working for us for more than a day. How do I know you’ll keep your end of the deal?”
Tum straightened and smoothed his shirt. “I’m a cellar gnome. We always keep our end. And cellar gnomes get paid in advance, see? Too many mishaps otherwise, and I don’t abide mishaps.”
“But… if you haven’t done any work, then you’re not really owed anything. Why not just leave instead of robbing us? Wouldn’t that be more fair?”
“Don’t change the subject. You gave me a job, and I’m owed pay up front. Always been that way.” Tum put out his hands and waggled his fingers.
Holly sighed. Tum was a shrewd negotiator. “All right, fine.” She thought a moment. “We haven’t got any beer, like I said, but we’d probably be able to get some at The Green Man. I’ve even got some coin.”
“Well, all right, then,” Tum said. “Let’s go.” He started for the door.
“Wait,” Holly said.
Tum turned to look at her.
She waved towards the other gnomes. “Don’t forget to call off your cronies.”
The sooty gnome took on a wide-eyed and panicked look. He dove for the couch and tried to wedge himself under it.
“Go on, boys,” Tum said. “Catch you later, right?”
“Yeah, all right,” grumbled the spoonless gnome. He grabbed the ankles of the sooty gnome and pulled him away from the couch. The filthy gnome tried scrambling back towards his sanctuary when the other gnome shouted, “We’re going!”
The sooty gnome calmed and then, with a final glance at Holly, threw a handful of ashes in the air and then ran across the room and hopped out an open window.
“That was weird,” Holly said.
“Ben’s a little touched,” Tum said. “Good spoiler, though.” He gave a nod to the remaining gnome. “See you, Arn.”
“Tum,” Arn said as he strolled out the door.
With the gnomes gone, she and Tum left the cottage and headed for The Green Man.
“You’re awful quiet,” Tum said after they had walked for a while.
“Everything’s changing. Hazel’s going to become a Wyr witch, and then we’re going to leave the Grove and head south, looking for some creepy warlock that calls himself ‘Elder.'”
“And that’s a problem?”
Holly shrugged. “I don’t know. Part of me likes things the way they are. But then another part of me wants to help Hazel find our father. But if we do, then everything’s likely to change.”
Tum chuckled. “Everything changes regardless. It’s just it usually happens too slow for most people to notice.”
“Maybe,” Holly said.
They followed the winding dirt road until they came to a thatched stone hut nearly overtaken by ivy. Holly rooted around in the vines until she found the door and pushed it open.
Inside, the tavern was surprisingly bright, given that the ivy blocked most of the sunlight that tried to filter through the leaded windows. Instead, most of the illumination came from scores of colorful lanterns that hung from the rafters and painted walls. Misshapen tables of thick, polished wood dotted the room, all surrounded by chairs made out of bent branches.
A man stood behind a thick slab of wood that served as a counter, his face and arms tattooed with scrolling, intricate designs. His long brown hair was half braided and half tangled, the mess of which was pulled back in a monstrous tail.
“Haven’t seen you here in a while, Holly,” he said.
Holly smiled. “Been busy. It’s good to see you though, Gael.”
Gael nodded toward Tum. “Who’s your friend?”
Holly’s smile faded. “Not sure he’s a friend yet. Friend’s don’t rob one another.”
“Wasn’t robbing anyone,” Tum said. “It was fair compensation.”
Holly rolled her eyes. To Gael, she said, “Little monster needs beer.”
Gael nodded. “We’ve got plenty of that.”
Tum perked up. “Oh? What kind?”
“All kinds,” Gael said. “All kinds of mead, too, and all kinds of wine. You want the stronger stuff, though, you go to The Burned Man for that.”
“No, no,” Tum said. “Beer’s my only poison.” He propped himself up on a stool at the counter. “Let’s see,” he said, sounding thoughtful. “Been a long time since I’ve had some apricot beer, though I doubt you have it.”
“Got it,” Gael said. “Anything else?”
“What? What about lavender beer?”
“Got that, too.”
Tum drummed his fingers on the counter. “Rose hip beer?”
Gael straightened and folded his arms. “Yep. You going to pick one?”
Tum stared at him. “Say, you need a cellar gnome?”
“Hey!” Holly said.
Gael shook his head. “No gnome is setting foot in my cellar.”
Tum waved a hand. “I jest,” he said to Holly. He eyed Gael a moment and said, “I’ll have a cinnamon beer, then.”
Gael nodded, and Tum’s mouth fell open. “What’ll you have, sweetheart?” Gael said to Holly.
“Raspberry tea, please.”
Gael nodded again and disappeared through a door.
“Amazing,” Tum muttered.
“We’ll buy two for the road, and then we’re even, right?”
“Of course,” Tum said. “Well, except for the spoils.”
“You get a cut of the spoils when there’s spoils to be had. That was the agreement.”
Tum screwed his mouth to the side. “That’s debatable. However, since your payment in beer is of fine quality, I can make allowances.”
Holly rolled her eyes.
Gael returned with the drinks. Tum’s was a tall glass of rich amber liquid, with a bundle of smoldering cinnamon sticks resting across the foaming top. Holly’s was as she expected–a round white cup topped with so much cream that she couldn’t see the liquid beneath it. She took a sip, smiling as the sweet tart taste of raspberries filled her mouth, followed by honey and bitter black tea.
Tum removed the bundle of cinnamon and, with both hands, grabbed hold of the glass and took a swig. He wiped away the foam from his face and let out a loud sigh.
“Aye,” he said. “That’s the good stuff.”
“You happy now?”
“Gimme two more bottles of that and I’ll be happy indeed.”
Holly nodded and sipped her tea.
Tum eyed her and then waggled a finger. “It isn’t right, you being so glum in the presence of such fine drink. We need to fix that.”
“Go on now, tell old Tum what’s what.”
Holly shrugged. “It’s stupid.”
“Isn’t anything stupid that can put a smile on your face.”
She shook her head. “It’s not like that. It’s just… well… I know Hazel’s going to plan all sorts of things for our trip south. Not that she’ll tell me any of it–she never does. But I want to help. I can help. I just… I don’t know how, or to tell her I can.”
Silence fell between them.
“I told you,” Holly said. “Stupid.”
Tum clicked his tongue. “Stupid is letting that drink of yours go cold.” He waved his hands. “Go on, drink up.”
Holly took another sip as Tum took another gulp of his beer.
“As for Miss Hazel,” Tum said, “well, we’ll just have to think of something, now won’t we?”
Next: Odd Possibilities