The dinner was every bit as awkward as Hawthorne had expected – Morgyn being their usual chirpy self, her mother throwing death glares at them, and her father trying to keep the peace while staying out of it… in other words, a disaster.
She wasn’t sure why her mother insisted on hosting these Winterfest dinners. It wasn’t exactly like they were a foodie family. Sitting around a table and staring at a turkey she had no interest in eating was such a non-event. And the atmosphere was worse and worse each time.
But the one year Hawthorne had suggested visiting Morgyn for Winterfest separately, perhaps the day after or the day before, her mother had completely lost it. And so here they were, each year. Shame. Hawthorne would have liked to know what the magic realm was like at Winterfest.
But it wasn’t all an awkward nightmare. Dandelion was there, after all. Not only did he not bring up their last encounter, he even helped diffuse the tension.
Hawthorne wasn’t sure if that was entirely intentional on the elf’s behalf or not – for whatever reason, Dandelion was not much of a fan of Morgyn’s – but he kept asking about Hawthorne’s time in Britechester, something that everyone at the table was keen on hearing. Obviously, Hawthorne thought.
“Hey Dandy, can I speak to you for a bit, in private?” She pulled the elf aside once they were finally done with dinner.
He seemed relieved when she said that, and with a nod, he followed her upstairs to her room.
“Thank fuck that’s over with,” she mouthed as soon as she shut the door behind them. “Nothing ever changes around here, does it?”
“You think?” Dandelion shrugged. “I’ve seen plenty of change, not always for the better…”
Was this a start to yet another ‘I’m so much older than you’ speech, Hawthorne wondered? Thankfully, he changed the subject. “Anyway, I’m glad you wanted to talk. But we’re ok, you know.”
“I know we are.” She smiled at him, plopping herself down on the bed. “Wasn’t really what I wanted to talk about.”
“Oh.” Was he disappointed?
“Are you actually saying we’re not ok, Dandy?” Hawthorne frowned. She really hoped they could just ignore their awful goodbyes in the past and move on.
“We are. But maybe it’s better to talk these things out, so that we stay ok?” He sat down beside her.
Hawthorne wasn’t so sure she agreed. Weren’t they bound to just rehash the same exact conversation if they got into it again? The way she felt about him hasn’t changed, if anything, the boys in Britechester made her like him even more. And she wasn’t ready for him to tell her that his feelings hadn’t changed either. Rejection was the one thing Hawthorne didn’t know how to handle.
“Totally,” she told him. “But first, there’s something else, something important. Have your sprites been around any less lately?”
He gave her a funny look. “How did you know that?”
“They’ve been showing up in Britechester.” Hawthorne explained. “Which makes sense, they’re from there, right?”
“I guess that’s true. But why would they suddenly go back now?” From the expression on his face, Hawthorne could tell she got his attention, the topic of their fight successfully dodged.
“It’s to do with me. Or more specifically, with this key mum gave me.” She corrected herself. “The sprites… they led me to a door that this key actually fits in.”
“Really?” The elf tilted his head, curious. “What door? What does it go to?”
“I don’t know. Couldn’t open it.”
“But you said-“
“There’s one more key it needs.” Hawthorne took her time, looking into his eyes as she spoke.
He understood straight away. “The key Lulu has looks an awful lot like Cordie’s. So you think…”
“That it’s not just a coincidence?” She finished his sentence. “That’s exactly what I think.”
“That makes no sense though. They never knew each other, before Cordie came to Glimmerbrook.” Dandelion shook his head. “And I don’t think Lulu’s ever been to Britechester either.”
“Doesn’t change the fact my mum’s necklace and the key match hers, though.” Hawthorne pointed out. “There has to be some kind of an explanation… One I was hoping you could help me find.”
“Lulu never liked her. Your mum.” Dandelion admitted. Hawthorne didn’t get the impression there were many people L Faba did like, but she didn’t interrupt him. “She never told me why though. Just gave me excuses.”
Perfect hook. Hawthorne could barely contain her excitement. “You deserve much more than excuses. There’s something she’s not telling you, and you deserve to know.”
“If she hasn’t told me in all these years, I doubt she’ll tell me now.” Dandelion sighed.
Not if you give up this easily, Hawthorne thought. But what he said worked to her advantage.
“I agree.” She nodded. “Which is why you need to take matters into your own hands. Just… get her to give you the key, and come visit me in Britechester. Then we can go see for ourselves.”
He hesitated. “I don’t know, Hawthorne.”
“She’s hiding something from you, you know that.” Hawthorne continued prodding. “I’m not sure what’s behind the door, exactly, but you can bet your ass that it’s some answers. L Faba, mum, and the sprites… it’s all connected somehow, and we can actually find out how. Are you telling me you really don’t want to know?”
Cordelia cursed herself. These Winterfest dinners were harder to bear each year. But what was the alternative? Letting Morgyn steal Hawthorne for the holiday? Especially now, when she’d been away at university for so long? No, she needed her home. Even if that meant having to look at Morgyn’s stupid face.
As soon as the meal was finished, Hawthorne and Dandelion seemed to have slipped away somewhere. Fair enough, Cordelia thought. They were close friends, of course they’d missed each other. But where the hell did Micah disappear to? She found herself alone with the sage. Something that hadn’t happened in years.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” She looked at them impatiently.
“I still haven’t given Hawthorne her present.” The sage replied, infuriatingly calm.
“You can leave it. She can open it in the morning with the rest of them.” Cordelia willed them out of the door in her head, but Morgyn didn’t seem to be in a hurry.
They gave her a strange look, as if to examine her face. “You’re starting to get wrinkles. I could help, you know.”
The nerve. “You planning on sharing your moisturiser with me?” She retorted.
“You know what I mean, Cordelia. I could prolong your life. Like I have done mine. With one simple spell, performed once a year, you could live forever.”
“And why would you do that? So that you can feel like my saviour, pat yourself on the back for how gracious you are?” Cordelia spouted at the sage.
“What makes you think this is about me?” The sage asked.
Cordelia scoffed. “Please. Isn’t everything?”
“Not on this occasion.” Morgyn gave her one of their irritating smiles.
“I’m simply making you a friendly offer. You can only gain on your end. All it would take is seeing me once a year, which you already do. May as well perform the spells at these dinners. A Winterfest gift, from me to you. Or are you saying slowly dying year by year is somehow preferable?”
“I’m just fine the way I am, thank you very much.” She put an end to their pompous speech.
“You don’t look fine.” Morgyn said quietly.
How dare they? “What, because of a few wrinkles?”
“I’d much rather live a regular life on my own terms then be in your debt for eternity.” Cordelia interrupted them, standing up from the table. She had no interest in what lies the sage was trying to sell this time.
Still, she couldn’t resist final jab. “Besides, no one should live forever.” She told them. “Just look in the mirror.”
“I do so frequently.” Morgyn replied with a smirk. “And I see myself fresh-faced, just as I was 30 years ago. I fail to see how that’s somehow a bad thing in your eyes. Almost nobody can live forever, but given the choice, why in the world would anyone say no?”
“I don’t expect you to understand.” Cordelia managed to get a handle on her voice, her words were no quiet, but filled with disdain, to make sure Morgyn got the message. “You’re terrified of death.”
“Scared of death, me? Do I need to remind you I’ve been there?” Morgyn asked.
“You want to go there? Fine.” Cordelia’s eyes narrowed. Perhaps this time alone with Morgyn wasn’t so bad after all. Perhaps she could finally throw all these things that had been brewing on her mind into their wrinkle-free face. Perhaps this was long overdue.
“Of course I remember your death.” She continued. “How guilty I felt over it for the longest time. But I was a dumb child back then. You know what I think? I think you always intended to die in those ruins.”
Morgyn did not say anything. A rare silence from the sage. Had to mean she was right.
“You brought me with you because you knew I was so head over heels with you I would do everything in my power to bring you back to life, once you did… whatever you wanted to do while you were dead. You thought of everything. Brought a damn glimmerstone for me to get back. There was no need for that, if you thought you were coming back with me. Could have just teleported us out of there. But you knew it would just be me.”
The sage was still silent, but Cordelia had no intentions of stopping anyway. Not now.
“You never shoved me out of the way of that arrow for my benefit, it was for yours. It wasn’t to save me, it was to get what you came for. I was just the pawn to bring you back. You even slept with me the night before to make sure I was completely under your spell.”
“That is not true.” Morgyn finally spoke. “Not entirely true, anyway.”
“Don’t patronise me.” She folded her arms. “Not entirely true? Sounds like mostly true to me.”
“It’s not that simple.” For someone who loved the sound of their voice, Morgyn was suddenly uncharacteristically stingy with their words. Told her all she needed to know.
“I think it’s simple enough. That whole trip was always about you, about you getting more power in that temple, through dying, for whatever reason. It was never about the sprites.” Cordelia finished listing it all.
“Why does it always have to be a case of one or the other with you?” Morgyn asked.
“I may have had personal gain in what went down.” The sage admitted. “But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to help you at the same time. I didn’t lie to you. I told you I didn’t know if the temple would hold answers for you, just that it may be worth a try. Besides, the sprites are no longer a concern for you, aren’t they?”
Typical, trying to spin things to distract from the truth.
“Not thanks to you. I’d still have them following me if it wasn’t for Dandelion.” Cordelia pointed out. “You’re claiming the trip wasn’t self-serving? You never tried anything else when the temple turned out to be a dead end.”
“I ran out of ideas.”
Cordelia was dumbfounded. The Morgyn she knew would never admit to anything like that… which meant it had to be a lie.
“I bet it hurt you to say that out loud. Or would that only be the case if you actually believed that?” She shook her head. “Don’t answer that. I don’t care.”
“A lot of accusations about a past long gone for someone who doesn’t care.”
The audacity. “Just get out of my house.”
“Very well.” Morgyn walked towards the door, only to turn back. “You were not just a pawn.”
Cordelia felt the urge to throw one of the empty plates leftover from dinner at the sage. “Am I meant to be grateful for that? That I was mostly a pawn, but not quite just that? Never good enough for the glorious Morgyn… But you know what happens when nobody’s good enough? You end up alone.”
The sage hesitated. “Micah is good enough.” They said finally. “Maybe you should listen to your own advice.”
The door closed behind them before Cordelia had a chance to respond. She suddenly regretted missing the opportunity to throw that plate at them while she had the chance.