Hazel and Holly — Willowed Remorse
Previous: Zinnia’s Return
Hazel and Holly sat at the kitchen table, sipping tea as a lantern cast fitful shadows along the walls.
“Are we leaving soon?” Holly said.
Hazel closed her eyes. “For the hundredth time, no. It’s still too early.”
“It’s night outside. How is that too early?”
“I told you, we need to wait until past midnight.”
“Because that’s how this particular magic works, that why.”
“But why do we have to sit here, drinking tea? I’m bored. And tired.”
“Because it’s impossible waking you up early for anything once you fall asleep. And we’re sitting here drinking tea because I like sitting here and drinking tea before I visit Mother. It gives me a chance to think.”
Hazel sighed. “About how nice it is to have some quiet without my younger sister pestering me.”
“If you’d let me sleep, I wouldn’t pester you,” Holly murmured.
“No, you’d just conveniently oversleep until it was too late to visit.”
Holly fell quiet and stared into her cup.
Hazel glanced at her. “It’s past time you saw her, Holly. I’ve been keeping you away from this mess for far too long.”
Still staring at her cup, Holly nodded. “I know, and I want to. It’s just… what if she’s different?”
“She’s dead, Holly.” Hazel took care to keep her voice gentle. “Of course she’s different.”
“What if she doesn’t remember me?”
“She talks about you every time I visit. She’ll remember you.”
“What if it’s different this time? What if Zinnia did something to her?” Holly wrung her hands. “You’ve worried about that, haven’t you? That Brother Wolf or Zinnia did something to change whether or not she can come back?”
Hazel swallowed. “Yes, but I was being silly. I don’t think Zinnia’s capable of anything like that.”
“But you have worried about it.”
“I worry about a lot of things. It doesn’t mean you should, too.”
Holly nodded and took a deep breath and drank some tea. “Now is it time?”
Hazel sighed. “Well, let’s see. It’s been about three minutes, so… no.”
The night passed excruciatingly slow. Between Holly’s restless impatience and Hazel’s own worries, every minute that passed felt more like an hour. She almost cheered once the little clock on the mantle struck twelve. Holly had dozed off while resting her head against the table, and so Hazel shook her awake and pulled her out the door.
Arm in arm, they walked in silence as they made their way down the wooded path. Holly dragged her feet and made more noise than Hazel was comfortable with. Although she hated to admit it, she was glad Holly was there. It was nice not having to walk down the darkened road alone.
They came to the iron gate and Hazel unlocked it and pushed it open, cringing as the hinges squeaked.
“You really should grease those,” Holly said.
The bramble covering cottage seemed more overgrown than it had the last time. Hazel knew she should trim back some of the growth, but she never had. It always died off during the winter, but now it seemed to be growing more thickly during the green months.
They slipped past the water logged door and into the cottage.
“Go start a fire in the hearth there,” Hazel said, pointing. “I’ll crumble the cake.” She kept the lantern as she walked to the table with the basin; as a Hearth witch, Holly didn’t need it.
Hazel poured some water into the basin, and then pulled a cloth parcel from her pocket and unwrapped it. She broke off a piece of the rhubarb cake and popped it into her mouth. It was more tart than sweet–invigorating, really, which was welcome at such a late hour. She crumbled the rest of the cake into the water.
Once the fire was lit, Holly came and stood next to her. “Now what?”
“Now we wait.”
“For how long?”
Hazel shook her head. “I don’t know, Holly. It just does. Sometimes she’ll appear quickly. Other times she won’t. She’s trapped by a product of dark magic. It’s not exactly a specialty of mine.”
Holly tightened her lips and narrowed her eyes. “How did you know how to find her here? She got sick and died, Hazel. She should be gone. How did you know she wasn’t?” She waved her arms. “How did you know about any of this?”
Hazel swallowed and looked away. “I don’t know,” she whispered.
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
Hazel shook her head, still unable to look at Holly. “I don’t know. It was just a… a feeling I had that if I came here at a certain time and did a certain thing, that I’d see her again. I don’t know how it works, and I don’t know how I know, but I do.” She swallowed again and forced herself to look at Holly. “What does that say about me that I knew those things?”
Holly’s mouth fell open and she shook her head. “I… I don’t know. It doesn’t have to mean anything, does it? You’ve always been the smart one. Maybe it’s just you being smart, that’s all.”
Hazel shook her head. “I have a natural inclination toward Wyr magic. That’s what Pyrus told me. I’ve been practicing it at a rudimentary level without any training. That almost never happens.”
“Because you’re smart, that’s why.”
“What if it’s the same with necromancy? Our father’s a necromancer. What if I’m like him? What if I’m able to work this horrible, dark magic without any training at all?”
Holly looked away as she took a step back. She wrung her hands. “No. That’s not true.”
“Then why aren’t you able to look me in the eyes?”
Holly swallowed, but said nothing.
“Are you tormenting your sister again?” Willow said as she warmed her hands by the fire.
Hazel looked at her, and then at Holly who still had her gaze pinned to the floor.
Willow approached and reached out and touched Holly’s hair.
Holly jerked away. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at her mother, and then she resumed staring at the floor.
Willow moved over to the bowl and leaned over it as she breathed in. She wrinkled her nose. “Rhubarb,” she said, turning towards Hazel. “You know I don’t like rhubarb.”
“It was all we had, and you didn’t want honey cake, so…” Hazel shrugged. “It’s better than nothing.”
Willow looked at Holly, but Holly wouldn’t meet her gaze. She turned back towards Hazel. “So, how have the two of you been? Any exciting news?”
Silence hung between them as Hazel tried to think of what to say. Holly didn’t seem like she wanted to talk at all. So Hazel straightened her back and said, “We might know where Father has gone.”
Willow clasped her hands and tightened her jaw, her expression still. “I see. And where would that be?”
Willow’s expression remained cold. “I’ve heard that place is a sty. I don’t envy you if you go there.”
“You’re not at all concerned with the news that we might know where Father is?” Hazel said, raising her hands. “You don’t care?”
Willow fixed her in an intent gaze. “You know my thoughts on the matter. Do we really need to have this argument again?”
Hazel closed her eyes and shook her head. “No. I suppose not.”
Willow moved back to the fire and put her pale hands near the flames. “I want to know about the two of you. What have you been up to? Do you have any stories, Holly?”
Holly clenched her hands together, but she said nothing as she stared at the floor.
Crickets chirped and, in the distance, a frog croaked.
“I became a Wyr witch,” Hazel said.
Willow smiled, though it seemed weary. “Really? How nice.”
“I need to go,” Holly said and hurried out of the cottage.
Willow’s smile faded as she stared at where Holly had gone.
“Give her time, Mother. This was her first visit here. It’s difficult for her.”
“It’s difficult for all of us,” Willow whispered.
Silence lingered between them. “I should go. Make sure Holly is all right.”
Hazel took a deep breath. “I don’t know when we’ll be back. We’re going to be leaving for Sarnum soon. So…”
“Have a nice trip.”
“Is that really all you’re going to say?”
Willow continued to stare at the waterlogged door. “Be sure to throw out the cake crumbs before the rats come in.”
Hazel lifted her chin and set her jaw. Then she tossed the cake water out the window and walked out of the cottage.
Next: The Tiresome Trail