Hazel and Holly — Through the Keyhole, Part One
Previous: Chester’s Field Day
Just as Hawthorn let down his crystalline wall and retrieved his jacket, a carriage came rattling down the road behind them, headed their way. The carriage slowed as it approached and Tum scowled down at them from his perch next to the driver.
“You think you can just ditch old Tum? Placate him with some dolls and leave him in the cellar? Not nearly enough beer to ditch me in a place like that. So if you want to keep on my good side, you’d best think again the next time you’re of a mind to be playing your tricks.”
“We weren’t trying to trick you, Tum,” Holly said. “We meant to come back. We–“
Tum put up a hand. “Tricksters’ tongues wag only lies. Old Uncle Tid told me that one. You calling my uncle a liar?”
“Get in the carriage and let us be done with it. I’ve still words to share with Miss Hazel, so lets go find her before my mood changes.”
Holly frowned at him as Hawthorn opened the carriage door. A rotten draft of air wafted out as he did, and inside on the floor was a heap of Francis’ wheat dolls. A few tumbled out and landed in the dirt.
“Ugh, what’s that smell?” Holly called up to Tum. “And where are we supposed to sit?”
“You should have thought of that before you crossed me.” He thrust a finger in the air. “Never cross a cellar gnome. Not if you want to live to tell about it.”
Hawthorn covered his nose with a handkerchief and took a step back. “The only thing threatening our lives is the stench emanating from my once pristine coach. Did something die in there?”
Tum sniffed. “I may or may not have broken a jar of those pickled eggs in the coach. Not that it should matter. In my day, we were lucky if a jar of bad eggs broke on our heads, and then, if we were really lucky, we got to eat the glass afterwards.”
Holly stared up at him. “That makes no sense.”
Tum waved his hands. “You coming or not? Time’s wasting, it is.”
She glanced at Hawthorn and he nodded, so they both clambered inside. Hawthorn shoved most of the dolls out on to the road, ignoring Tum’s shrieking protests. Then the carriage started moving, and both Holly and Hawthorn unlatched the catches on the windows and stuck their heads out into the cool, clean air.
Hazel and Hemlock hurried along the road. They had managed to escape the town undetected with the help of a few well-timed spells that had diverted unwanted attention. Well, from the people that had remained behind, anyway. Hazel kept a sharp eye out for the mob that had left in case they came back.
So when she saw a pack of people on the road ahead, she grabbed Hemlock’s arm before he had a chance to react, and they both darted into a field and flattened themselves in the tall grass. They remained there even after the shuffling footsteps and collection of voices faded in the distance.
“Well, that was–” Hemlock began but Hazel clamped a hand over his mouth as she strained to listen.
“I think a carriage is coming.” She removed her hand and they both, very slowly, peeked up over the grass in time to witness their carriage rattle along the road while Holly and Hawthorn both hung halfway out of the windows.
“Do they think they’re on a joy ride?” Hazel said as she got to her feet and ran to the road to catch them.
“Would that surprise you?” Hemlock said as he followed her.
“Hazel!” Holly shouted as they rolled by. “Tum, stop the carriage!”
“Tum stops for no one!” he shouted back.
Hazel could only stand there and stare as the carriage careened down the road. There were some unintelligible shouts, and the carriage stopped. Then it slowly turned around and headed back towards her and Hemlock.
Holly hopped out of the carriage before it stopped and ran over and hugged Hazel. Then she pulled away, put her hands on her hips, and scowled at her. “What were you thinking with that stupid plan of yours? What was your plan for when it didn’t work out? Because it didn’t work out, did it?”
“It didn’t work out because I don’t know when to keep my mouth shut,” Hazel said.
Hawthorn left the carriage and stood next to Holly. “Shocking. Perhaps you should stop putting yourself—and all of us—in situations where keeping your mouth shut is imperative.”
Hazel scowled at him, but before she could say anything, Holly grabbed her arm and pulled her towards the carriage. “We’d better get out of here before the townspeople come back. They got a good scare with the voles and weasels, but I doubt it’ll last long.”
Hazel frowned. “What?”
“I’ll explain later. Come on!”
“We need to go back to Emmond’s house,” Hazel said as she freed her arm from Holly’s grasp.
“Um, no?” Holly said. “We need to leave. Right now.”
“Listen to your sister,” Hawthorn said. “At least one of you has sense.”
“Hazel,” Hemlock said as he frowned at Hawthorn. “I don’t think going back would be a good idea.”
“It’s a terrible idea!” Hazel said as she threw up her hands. “But we still need to do it. There’s something there connected to Father. I know there is.”
“Ah, yes,” Hawthorn said. “Your ‘vision’ from a necromantic potion. It’s not enough for you to dabble in the dark arts, now you feel compelled to drag us all into the mire with you?”
Holly scowled at him. To Hazel, she said, “You don’t know it’s the same place.”
“I know it’s the only place we’ve come across that resembles what I saw. We have to go back.”
When no one said anything, Hazel lifted her chin and stiffened her back. “Fine, I’ll go back myself.” She started down the road but Hemlock stopped her.
“Nobody’s going off alone. We’ll go with you.” He looked at the others. “Right?”
Holly wrung her hands, but she nodded. “Right.”
Hawthorn remained distinctly silent. Holly swatted him on the shoulder and he sighed and said, “Right.”
They all headed towards the carriage. Hazel covered her nose. “Ugh. What’s that smell?”
“Your charming gnome had his way with the carriage,” Hawthorn said.
“It’s not too bad if you stick your head out the window,” Holly said.
“I’m not sticking my head–” Hazel began but then her throat clenched shut when Hawthorn opened the carriage door and the smell of vinegar and sulphur hit her like a wall. “Show me how.”
What a sight they must have been, Hazel thought as she leaned nearly halfway out of the window. Four adults hanging out of a moving carriage like drunken revelers.
Hemlock smiled at her as the carriage rattled along. “It’s rather refreshing, don’t you think?”
“Oh, yes,” Hazel said. “Very refreshing what with all the gnats and flies bouncing off my face.” She grimaced. “I think I even swallowed one.”
Hemlock laughed and closed his eyes as he lifted his face towards the sun.
Thankfully, the trip back was blessedly short. For once, Hazel didn’t wait for the carriage to stop and hopped out once it had sufficiently slowed. Holly yelped and clapped and then did the same.
Hazel looked around. None of the townsfolk were in sight, though she imagined they’d show up soon enough. Whatever Holly did to scare them away had bought them time, but who knew how long it would last? She walked up the steps and, holding her breath, eased the door open.
She poked her head inside. The room stood quiet and dark, save for the diffused streams of sunlight filtering through the linen curtains.
“Hello?” Hazel called, but no answer came. She stepped inside and looked around. The room looked exactly as it had when she’d been there last. There wasn’t much to look at, either. The room was sparsely furnished, lacking cupboards and drawers that might hide any kind of information. So she headed into the cramped little room where Emmond had taken her and Hemlock and proposed his ridiculous plan.
She opened one of the desk drawers and rifled around through sheaves of paper. She glanced at a few of them, which looked to be nothing more than bills and invoices and various inventory lists for nearby farms. She opened another drawer and found an array of steel-tipped pens and sealed pots of ink. Another drawer held a bundle of Francis’ dolls, and Hazel slammed the drawer shut a bit harder than she intended. The desk held nothing of interest that she could find, so she turned her attention to the cabinet instead.
She opened the cabinet doors and found an array of little pots and jars, similar to the ones lining the shelves along the walls. None were labeled, though, and Hazel frowned. How was anyone supposed to find anything if nothing was labeled? She took out a narrow, cylindrical jar about as big around as her thumb and twice as tall. She pulled out the cork stopper and sniffed the contents and nearly dropped the thing when her eyes stung and watered and she staggered back in a fit of coughing.
“Careful,” Hemlock said as he stood at the door’s threshold.
Holly poked her head in. “What’re you sniffing at?”
Hazel wiped her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t know. You’re the Hearth witch, maybe you’d do a better job going through all this stuff.”
“Maybe, if I knew what I was looking for.”
“Yes, well, unfortunately we don’t have that luxury.”
“Then what’s the point?”
“The point is to find something that stands out that will hopefully give us a hint to where Father has gone.”
Holly’s mouth hung open as she stared at Hazel. “You do hear yourself, right? You do realize how nonsensical that sounds?”
Hazel snorted. “You’re the queen of nonsense. This should be your area of expertise.”
But Holly was not amused. “There’s nothing here!” she shouted.
Everyone turned quiet. Hemlock, flanked by the sisters, tried to press himself into the door’s threshold as he studied his feet. Hawthorn stood out in the main room, shaking his head as he otherwise pretended not to notice their argument.
Hazel tightened her jaw as she stared at Holly. Holly’s cheeks had turned a deep red, but she stood her ground and glowered back at Hazel.
The silence broke when Tum came tottering inside the house. “Hate to break up the party, but we got a band o’ those townsfolk coming up the way, so we might want to skedaddle, if you catch my meaning.”
“We need to go, Hazel,” Holly said.
“Excellent idea,” Hawthorn said and followed Tum out the door.
“We can come back later,” Hemlock said. “After they leave.”
“You mean after they ransack the place?” Hazel said. “I don’t think so.
“Hazel, please,” Holly said.
“You can leave if you want. I’m staying here.”
Holly planted her hands on her hips, but before she could say anything, Hemlock took her by the arm and led her out the door.