At first impression, Oleander thought that Hellebore was an army general.
As soon as she’d seen him enter the kitchen, she’d closed the book she’d been reading and prepared herself to scold him and send him back to bed, however when she’d started to do so Pennyroyal had woken up in the other room with a loud snort and a squeal of happiness and almost fallen out of her chair in her eagerness to get to Hellebore.
Bombarded with a small girl in a wheelchair attempting to get a hug, she became somewhat happier - her face broke into a grin and she lifted Pennyroyal into a hug like she weighed nothing at all.
Once in her arms, Pennyroyal dropped into unconsciousness again, but had caused Hellebore’s mood to calm down; she no longer had the heart to yell at the boy.
However, it wouldn’t have mattered - whilst Hellebore tucked Pennyroyal back into her chair, Oleander escaped back to the bed, terror creeping through his bones at the sight of the blood-covered woman from his dreams.
When he woke up again, she was stood over him, gently murmuring that it was time to wake up.
In panic, his leg collided with her chest.
“Ouf.” She gasped. “Calm down. Calm down. I’m not ‘ere to hurt you; I’m ‘ere to wake you up for breakfast.”
Her voice wasn’t at all like he’d expected it, and he realised he hadn’t heard her speak in his dream - her voice was jaunty, like she was prepared to make a quip at any moment and spent her days bathed in sunshine, though her pale skin implied otherwise. It seemed like it should belong to a different countenance than the graceful one before him.
“Hellebore?” A drowsy voice murmured from the corner of the room. Pennyroyal stretched and wiped the sleep out of her eyes, blinking to clear her vision. “Hellebore!”
“Good morning, chick.” Hellebore smiled brightly, and moved closer to Pennyroyal to stroke her dark hair.
“What is the weather like?” Pennyroyal burst out immediately, “Is the sky blue? Are the trees covered in green leaves?”
“Let’s get breakfast, and I’ll tell you.” She glanced back at Oleander, who was still watching quietly, unsure how to respond to the woman - he was apprehensive, remembering the demonic appearance of her in his dream, how she’d shared the same outfit as the faceless ones and stepped out of the calloused hands that he recognised. “Come when you’re ready, but once it’s gone it’s gone, sapling.”
He wanted to protest against the nickname - she didn’t even know him - but slowly he followed, and took a seat by the table, where Pennyroyal was sat on a regular wooden chair, her wheel-chair positioned just behind.
In the daylight he could see the room more clearly - it was very similar to the bedroom in that the floors were made of green wood and the walls were a strange, scratched grey stone.
There were two small windows, one of which was over the basin, both of which were covered by the same ugly mustard curtains as in the bedroom.
The round table was smooth, but chunks had splintered off around the edges.
There were strips of white with writing on that hadn’t been there last night.
Hellebore had her back to the two children, rummaging through cupboards and chopping whatever she brought out on the oddly covered surfaces. The knife unnerved him.
Oleander took the opportunity of Hellebore’s gaze being averted to turn to Pennyroyal and try out his movements.
He tapped the table to get her attention.
Why is this place so rough? He attempted to sign, roughly.
Pennyroyal creased her brow in concentration, trying to recall what each movement meant.
“Please can you do it again?” She asked, voice barely a whisper.
“ ‘Why is this place bad?’” She asked.
Oleander wobbled one hand, shrugged and nodded to signify that was pretty much what he said.
Pennyroyal made a face like she was thinking hard. Oleander was suddenly conscious of Hellebore watching over her shoulder, cutting movements slowed.
“I would not say it is bad.” Pennyroyal said slowly, “It is heaven to me, but the only other place I have ever known was... worse. You know.” Her voice wavered, she glanced down. “That place.” She looked to one side and up, like signalling a direction, trying to imply somewhere that he should know, but he didn’t understand.
As his eyebrows knitted in question, hers did, too.
Hellebore wore a similar look.
“What’s with that look?” Hellebore broke in to the conversation, “First you offend Poppy’s ‘ouse without usin’ your voice, and then you make a face like the sentence confuses you.”
With no particular movements to respond the way he wanted to, Oleander merely nodded.
Yes, he was trying to say, it does.
“It... It is not the kind of think you forget.” Pennyroyal’s voice had gotten quiet, and shaky. She avoided his gaze like it could hurt her.
Hellebore’s stare just became more intense.
“It might be.” She muttered, and glided over to the table, sliding into a chair. “Oi.” She snapped her fingers under Oleander’s nose to get him to look at her.
He sneered at her.
If she wants me attention, he thought, she should ask nicely.
“I know you’re probably not up for more questioning,” She started, confusing Oleander further. More questioning? “But I need you to answer me... as best you can: Where were you before ‘ere?”
It felt like an easy question, but as soon as he started to think about it, he couldn’t form an answer.
His mouth opened to answer, and closed again as he remembered he couldn’t speak. He lifted up his hands, but then dropped them when he remained blank.
Eventually, he dropped his head and shook it sadly.
“You don’t know?” Hellebore asked, and added something under her breath like, “...too much.”
The room fell completely silent. Hellebore gazed at him, he stared at his legs, and Pennyroyal was wide-eyed and looking at the wall.
The tension started to press against him.
Then the door slammed open, throwing his heart against his ribcage. In a flash, Hellebore had jumped to her feet and flew across the room; he noticed her hand hovering over a thin slat of marble on the worktop that wasn’t connected to the rest.
Obscenities blasted from a voice in the doorway and Hellebore’s tense body immediately calmed down; her scowl matched the one that had appeared on Oleander’s face.
“‘Ey up, tiddly-winks!” Poppy cried from the door, big dark bags hanging under her cloudy eyes, “Mummy’s home!”
She slung herself into a chair, one of her long, slender arms hanging over the back, legs wide.
“And she wants some absinthe.” She chortled, but stopped abruptly when she noticed the wrinkled nose of Oleander and the rage that was emanating from Hellebore.
“Daddy’s back, too.” She mumbled, then pushed Oleanders nose, making his yell in protest. “And the son and his voice are out of bed, a family reu-”
She quickly cut off.
Her wild eyes had become still for the first time, and had settled on something. Hellebore and Oleander followed her stare.
Pennyroyal had held her position - she was fixated on the wall, eyes filled with exhausted terror; a small had settled on the scarred side of her face, brushing hair out of the war to reveal her entire cheek and around her eye was mottled pink flesh, her eyelids so close that only her bright iris and flickering pupil were visible.
“Grab her!” Hellebore cried at Poppy, but it was Oleander who flew forward and wrapped his arms around the little girl. Without hesitation, Hellebore continued, hurrying to the two children and fussing around them, “Get her to the bed, quickly! Quickly!”
She didn’t wait - she took Pennyroyal off him and rushed into the other room, closing the door behind them and leaving Oleander alone in the kitchen with Poppy.
When the room was silent again they could hear upset screaming from the little girl, hushing from Hellebore.
Pennyroyal called a name, called for someone to go back and save him, too.
Oleander didn’t know who it was.
Whilst Oleander stared intently at the flaky door, willing it to open and reveal a smiling Pennyroyal- apologising even though she didn’t have to-, Poppy reached across the table to a red-bound book and wriggled the book-mark out.
“I thought so.” She mumbled, “A letter. For Pennyroyal.”
She slid it away, and then fixed her eyes on Oleander. They seemed to stare through him more than at him, and a shiver ran up his spine.
“So, you brought it up, eh?”
He frowned and shook his head.
“Then Hellebore?” He nodded. “I see. She should know better. Make sure the kid’s away when you ask him, I said.”
Oleander raised an eyebrow.
“When she asks you if you remember, I mean.” She sighed, “I thought you wouldn’t. You don’t, right?” She almost smirked triumphantly. “You’re lucky, but it’s better to know, so I’ll tell you.”
She took a deep breath. Her dirty fingernails scratched idly at the remaining polish on the table.
“You were in the government dungeons.” She grimaced, “A captive of the gardener’s.”