Hazel dreamed. She was warm again, and the smell of crushed mint filled the air around her. Gentle arms picked her up and placed her on something soft, stroking her hair before withdrawing. She saw her father, raging at her, and the safe, happy dream became a nightmare. Things threw themselves at her, and her father’s angry face loomed out at her wherever she turned. She screamed, thrashing, as water covered her head. A door slammed in her face, leaving her in the pitch dark in the water.
Alex woke up with a jerk. Behind him, Hazel thrashed in her sleep, crying. Sitting up, he took the little girl in his arms, shaking her a little to wake her up. “Wake up, Hazel. You’re having a bad dream. Sh…it’s okay. You’re safe.”
Her eyes shot open, pupils dilated as she started up at him, panting. She’d stopped screaming and wriggling. For a moment, she didn’t recognize him, but as he rocked her, she remembered. He’d chased her from the fountain, said he wouldn’t kill her, picked her up. She’d fallen asleep then, and didn’t remember anything else. “A…Alex?”
“That’s right. It’s okay. Do you feel better now?”
She nodded mutely, reaching a hand up to touch his face. He flinched slightly, but let her. “Are you real?”
“Of course. Did you think you imagined me?”
She shook her head. “Father has a girlfriend who makes me see things. She’s the one who made him throw me out.”
Alex hugged her close. “I’m real, just as real as you are. Just as real as the lilies you made in the fountain.”
Her face closed in on itself. “I’m in so much trouble.”
“No, you’re not. I told you, Synara is a magi’s city. There are lots of magis here. You’re not the only one.”
“What’s a magi?”
“A magi is somebody who uses magic,” Alex explained softly. The other two were snoring softly, and he didn’t want to wake them up. “Usually they have magic connected to one of the four elements – air, earth, water, or fire, but there are other types of magic out there, like ice and sorcerer’s magic.”
“I have earth magic?” It was a question, not a statement.
Alex nodded, shifting her in his arms. “How long have you been able to grow things?”
“Ever since I can remember,” Hazel answered, sitting up. She wriggled her way to the floor, kneeling there with one hand against the dirt. For a moment, nothing happened, but then a green shoot appeared, growing steadily. A bud formed on the top, and burst into a colorful, many-petaled flower. Hazel plucked it, showing it to Alex as the rest of the plant withered and withdrew.
He took the flower and tucked it behind her ear. “Can you grow anything?”
Hazel thought. “I used to work in the gardens. The gardener said to grow something, and I would do it. I don’t know. The cook said my tomatoes were better’n the ones she got at market. That was before she got fired for talking to me. Only the gardener was allowed to talk to me. He was an old man, and when he died, nobody could talk to me.”
So she can grow flowers and fruits and vegetables, thought Alex. There’s a point in her favor. We won’t starve if she can grow food. “I’m sorry. You know you can talk to us, right? The red-haired one in that corner is Kyle. He’s eight. How old are you, by the way?”
“Six,” Hazel answered, playing with the hem of her dress. “Who’s’at?” she asked, pointing at the dark figure of James.
“That’s James. He’s thirteen, and he doesn’t like girls or magi, so I’d stay clear of him.”
“How old’re you?” she asked, looking up at him.
“Twelve. Where’re you going?” Alex hissed, alarmed. She got up and walked gingerly towards the sleeping figure of James. Placing a hand carefully on the ground by his head, she grew some sort of plant with thick, fleshy, fuzzy leaves, which supported his head and smelled like lavender. She did the same for Kyle. “What did you do?” Alex asked.
“They can use it for a bed. I don’t know what it is.”
“You mean you just wanted to grow a plant like that, and you could do it?”
Hazel nodded innocently. “Could you make a plant that glows in the dark?”
The golden-haired girl frowned. “I can try.” She put her hand on the ground and concentrated. A delicate white flower bloomed under her care, glowing a bluish white. She squealed and clapped her hands happily. “I did it!”
Alex dug the young plant out of the ground and replanted it in the corner where she’d slept. “That’s amazing.”
“What the heck?!” James sat up, staring at the leaves he’d been using as a pillow. “What are these?”
“I made them for you. You didn’t have anything to sleep on,” Hazel said innocently. She reached out a hand to James, who flinched away. Yellow trumpet flowers suddenly bloomed from the ceiling, spreading a sweet smell throughout the shack. “You like honeysuckle?” she asked, surprised.
“How did you know?” James whispered, terrified of this little girl, half his age and height. “How could you know?”
Hazel bit her lip, tears welling in her eyes again. “Please don’t be afraid. I used to help the gardener’s grandchildren when they couldn’t sleep. I’d just let a plant grow, and it’d be their favorite. It would soothe them.”
“She can make anything grow, even things that don’t exist,” Alex said quietly to James, who was staring at the honeysuckle.
James turned to the little girl. “Thank you,” he said softly. He crouched down in front of her. “What’s your name?”
“Hazel,” Hazel answered. “Why are you scared of me?”
A shadow crossed James’s face. “Let’s just say I haven’t had the best experience with magis, okay? What time is it?” he asked Alex, who stuck his head outside. The rain had stopped, and the sky was a dull gray.
“I’d say about six or seven in the morning.”
“Wake up Kyle, then.” James crossed to the fire and lit another, boiling more water. “Are you hungry, Hazel?”
She nodded. Then her face lit up as she had an idea. Crossing to the unused corner, she crouched, plants climbing into existence under her hands. Vines wrapped themselves around tall, straight stems of a plant the boys did not know the name of, supporting tomatoes and other vine-fruit. Strawberries blushed red under their leafy veils.
James and Alex looked at each other while Hazel finished her little garden. She pulled up a plant, and showed the boys the tuber. It was a large golden potato, like the ones the high born ate. “It’s safe to eat,” she said softly. “If you’re gonna help me, I need to help you.”
“Aren’t you…tired, Hazel?” Alex asked with a curious frown.
She shook her head. “Not really. We had a huge garden that…” She shut her mouth abruptly. “Never mind.”
Alex shook Kyle awake. “Wake up, Kyle. We’ve got a good breakfast here.”
The redheaded boy yawned and sat up, staring at the mini garden next to him. “What..how?” he floundered. When he saw Hazel watching him fearfully, hands clasped in front of her, it dawned on him. “You grew that, didn’t you?”
Alex pointed behind him. “She grew that, too.”
“That’s…amazing.” Kyle said, getting up. He stared at Hazel, awed.
Hazel blushed. “It’s not that special.” She pulled the tomatoes from their vines, carrots and onions from the ground, and handed them to James silently. “You can make stew for breakfast.”
“We don’t have a pot,” James said, shaking his head. “We can roast them…” He trailed off as Hazel handed him a pot. “Where did you…?”
“I don’t know. You needed a pot, and then I grew one.”
“But pots…pots aren’t organic…” Alex floundered. Who was she, and how did she have such amazing powers?
“They come from the earth, though. Maybe she isn’t just a plant-grower,” Kyle suggested thoughtfully.
Hazel hid in Alex’s corner again, afraid she’d done something wrong. “Please don’t be scared,” Alex murmured, picking her up. She hid her face in his shoulder as he carried her back to the fire. He put her down by the pot. “Try making a ladle.”
“What’s a ladle?” she asked, confused.
“It’s sort of like a bowl connected to a long handle with a hook.” Alex found a stick and drew one in the dirt.
“Oh!” Hazel said happily. “I recognize it!” She closed her eyes and reached towards the ground. This time, they could see the iron pooling beneath her fingers, seemingly moving of it’s own accord to form a ladle. Finally, it stopped moving. Kyle picked it up.
“It’s warm,” he said, surprised.
“So our little plant-grower is definitely an earth magi,” James said, much happier than yesterday afternoon. “Maybe she can help us.”
Hazel nodded eagerly. Then she pointed at the stew. “It’s gonna boil over if you don’t stir it.”
Alex took the ladle and stuck it in the pot, stirring the stew. Kyle brought out the three cups, and then stopped. “We only have three of anything.”
Hazel’s eyes lit up again. “Can I try something, Alex? Please?”
He smiled warmly at her. “Go ahead. You don’t need to ask permission, Hazel. We’re all equals here.”
In a few minutes, she had a tin bowl, a wooden spoon, and a tin mug. She clapped her hands. “I can do it!”
“Alex, can I talk to you for a minute?” James asked. “You too, Kyle. Go ahead and eat, Hazel.”
The boys huddled against the wall of the shack. “Who’s child d’ye think she is?” Kyle asked. “She’s too powerful to be a run-of-the mill orphan, ain’t she?”
“You’re right,” agreed James. “Maybe she wasn’t thrown out. Maybe she’s a runaway.”
“You suggestin’ we turn her in?” Alex asked dangerously.
“Come on, you can’t be that attached to her already. She might bring us enough gold to live comfortably for once.”
“If she can grow us food and we can sell the food, we can still get gold. She trusts us, James. You can’t break that trust to a child.”
James crossed his arms and glared at Alex. “You really like the chit, don’t you?”
“I do. She’s so innocent, James. You can’t turn her over to somebody who doesn’t care about her!”
“Who wouldn’t want her? She’s a magi, and a powerful one at that!”
“Shh, she’ll hear us,” Kyle cautioned.
“Not who wants her, James. Who cares about her. Can you honestly say she’s been loved before? She doesn’t act like it, yet she’s helping us. We haven’t done anything for her yet!” Alex said fiercely. “You said you’d give her two days, James. You gave your word.” He turned and went back inside, spooning out three more bowls before moving the pot off the fire. Hazel was playing with a butterfly, with iridescent wings that reminded him of the stained glass windows of the high born. “Where’d you find that?” he asked her.
She looked up, startled. “She came to me. She like’s honeysuckle too. I think James should meet her.”
“She can talk?”
“No, but she was hovering over them and sittin’ on them when I saw her.”
The other two boys came in. James was glowering, and Kyle was deflated. It looked like James had won whatever argument they’d had. “James, James! Lookit! She likes honeysuckle too!” Hazel held the butterfly out to James.
He backed away, putting up his hands. “It might be poisonous.”
“She’s not,” Hazel said, pouting. “She hasn’t bit me once.”
“You’re a magi. I’m not.”
Hazel frowned, then dropped a mess of honeysuckle vines on his head. “Stubborn meany.”
Alex grinned silently, finishing his stew. “Thank you, Hazel,” he said, patting her head as he went to wash out the bowls. Stacking them in the cupboard, he told her to come with him. “There’s a place outside where you might grow a bigger garden, if you want.”
She looked back at James, who was throwing off the vines, flustered. The butterfly hovered near him, landing on his arm. He froze, and in that moment, the boy and the butterfly became fast friends.
Hazel spent the better part of an hour making her garden. Tall, thorny brambles ringed the garden and the shack, parting only for her and the boys. Within the wall, slim branches grew in strange positions, forming a fence around the plot of land. More of the tall sticklike stems grew from the ground, forming lattices. Burrowing vines made neat rows before withdrawing, and fruits and vegetables blossomed quickly. Despite the gray sky, hummingbirds and butterflies came to the garden, flitting from flower to flower. Alex watched on, amazed, as a bountiful garden emerged in front of his eyes. “You’re really powerful, Hazel. Aren’t you tired yet?”
Hazel brushed a strand of honey colored hair out of her eyes. “Sort of.”
Weak sunlight poured through the clouds, and she smiled in the sudden warmth. The sun caught her hair, turning it gold, reminding him of James’s prediction that there would be a reward for turning her in.
James appeared, staring at the garden. “Wow,” he mumbled. “Alex, it’s time to go. The stablemaster said if we did a good job on the stables, he’d give us ten gold pieces.”
Alex looked up and nodded. “Let’s go, Hazel. We’ve got to go clean out some stables.” The little girl left her garden, trotting eagerly to the bramble wall. She held up her hands, and they parted, letting the four through.
“What can she do, though?” James hissed, gesturing to the wide-eyed little girl waiting for them on the other side of the brambles.
Kyle shrugged. “Mebbe she c’n feed the ‘orses or summit.”
“She’ll find a way to be useful,” Alex said. “She loves being useful.” The three boys stepped through, and the brambles closed up behind them.
“They can’t be chopped down,” Hazel said triumphantly as they trekked back towards the center of Synara. “I was ‘sperimentin’, and I put iron in the wood while it grew.”
“Can they be moved by other magi?” James wanted to know. Alex hid a smile. For all his tough outer show, James was warming to the little girl, like a drop of sunshine.
She shook her head. “I don’t think so, but I can’t ‘speriment with it ‘cause I don’t know any other magi.”
Hazel was lagging behind – the boys were all much taller than her, and she trotted to keep up. Abruptly, Kyle picked her up and put her on Alex’s back. “You’re too small,” he teased her.
Alex adjusted to the new weight, looking over his shoulder at her. “Are you okay, Hazel?”
“I feel tall,” she said, awed. Alex chuckled, and they made their way to the stables.
Sorry these chapters are so long
I didn't realize. This one was actually six pages long, but I managed to cut it in half
I need one piece of criticism before I post the next chapter. I know Hazel seems like a Mary Sue, but her weaknesses aren't showing up yet, that's all. I'll give you a hint. Her father used to own a pack of direwolves, for one, and her stepmother often makes her see things.