Shoel's Story

Chapter Thirteen: The Dragon-King

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


On the last day she'd allotted to relaxation, Shoel decided to investigate the meadow she'd glimpsed off past the palace. She hadn't seen much of Hemlock in the past two days, which was something of a relief, but whenever they did run into each other, they did little but argue. To avoid him, she'd spent a lot of time in her room, and several hours out shopping each day-- not that she'd bought much. She'd visited the mausoleum only once more, thankfully without incident this time, then avoided the place. Now that she knew what had taken place there, it was no longer as restful as she'd imagined it at first. The meadows, though, she thought, would be a much more relaxing place to spend her last day of pure indulgence.

So, weighed down with her usual bells but only a lightly-spelled dagger instead of her more obvious longsword, and with her book on Charter marks and a book on native magic in her satchel, she headed out past the city proper, beyond the trees, and to the curious meadow. The trees had been cleared away, leaving expansive meadow spaces, alive with grasses, flowers, and the occasional field mouse. It was, exactly as she'd hoped, very calm and restful.

But, as she probably should have guessed, it was not empty. Mulling about the pasture were equine creatures, far larger than the horses the two necromancers had brought with them. By their appearance, they could have perhaps been draft horses with their hulking builds and huge, feathered hooves. However, the fact that they had large, feathered wings and single, delicately twisting horns growing from their foreheads were highly reminiscent of unicorns, mythical creatures Shoel remembered from childhood but had never seen. They came in a variety of colors, though the most stunning in the was a dappled gray and white, his slightly larger size and beard suggesting that he was the stallion of the herd.

There were no fences, though Shoel did look around briefly for one. She took the lack as an invitation-- or at least permission-- to investigate the lovely creatures, drifting across the meadow towards the nearest one, the stallion. He lifted his head from his grazing at her approach, still idly munching a mouthful of grass. He had big, blue eyes, watching her with a kind of benevolent curiosity, probably not familiar with humans. At least he didn't seem afraid of her. Taking another step closer, she offered a palm to him, wishing she'd brought something edible for a horse-- or unicorn-- to win him over with.

"Hello, beautiful," she murmured soothingly. The creature snorted and tossed his head, stamping his great hooves on the ground and flicking his long, leonine tail a few times, giving her a grand display of his strength before deigning to come and meet her with his ears curiously perked, snuffling against her hand.

"Well, aren't you a proud one," she teased gently, stroking the equine's cheeks and neck.

"Beautiful, isn't he?"

Shoel jumped a little at the chuckling, male voice, looking quickly and a little guiltily over her shoulder. Was she not supposed to be here? The equine snorted a little at the movement, ears twitching back and forth. One of the city's dragon-people stood there, behind her, silver colored but oddly grayed about the muzzle, as if aged. His eyes were more starry than any other she'd met so far. He was dressed simply in forest green and white, and he was smiling. "Don't worry about it, dear," he told her kindly, "The avicorns have a sense about people. Atma likes you, and I trust his judgment."

"Thank you, sir," she answered, smiling a bit and giving the equine-- avicorn, Atma-- another stroke along his thick neck. "Yes, they are beautiful. This one, his name is Atma, then?"

The dragon nodded, coming closer with easy strides. "Yes, my personal favorite if I do say so myself," he smiled warmly, taking in her appearance. He was, she realized with a little embarrassment, a good inch shorter than she was. "We don't get many humans around here," he continued amiably. "What brings you to Arliingran?"

"Is that where this is?" she chuckled. "My, ah, guide refused to impart any names. He likes to be difficult. I'm actually here for a clutch at the Ring of Fire, sir."

He raised a brow ridge at her with cool curiosity. "A candidate, you say? We don't really get many of those here, either," he commented thoughtfully, flicking his long tail. "Hmm.... --Yes, you are in the capitol city of the province of Arliingran, Phoenix Rose." He gave an elegant bow. "I am the present ah.. ruler here, Drakonus. Might I ask who your guide is?"

Sweet Charter, it's the king? "Ah... not someone you'll like-- highness?" she admitted with a little lilt of query attached to the title, as she wasn't certainly just how to address him. She fell to stroking Atma's neck again, taking comfort from the animal's acceptance. "I imagine you, of all people, ought to know him well. Hemlock Bleedingheart."

Thankfully, all the king did was snorted at the mention of the name, shaking his head regretfully. "Just call me Drakonus, if you would...." She nodded, and he continued, "And yes, I know him. Though I've never been one to call him by that name. A bit ridiculous, that."

"Myokan," Shoel murmured, remembering the name Saraneth had given her and nodding again. "Why in the world did he change his name?" she mused, not really expecting an answer.

The king shot her a surprised, questioning look. "Might I ask, young lady, how you came to know that name? Did he tell you? Since he changed it I don't recall him introducing himself as Myokan or Myo anymore."

"No, I...." Her voice trailed off, and she felt her cheeks growing a bit warm. "It's a long story... but no, he didn't tell me, my magic did."

"Your magic?" Though he didn't look any less friendly, with his head tilted to the side and fingertips folded under, knuckles tapping together absently, Drakonus did look a little stern.

"It was something of an accident," she admitted, the memory of it still irritating her. "I was wandering the city, and he followed me. I didn't realize it was him, we got into a bit of a fight, and I ended up binding him, thinking just to compel him to leave me alone until I got back to my inn." She brushed Saraneth's handle in the telling, and though he glanced at the bells across her chest, it was with little interest. "The binding told me who he was, and that was the name it gave me."

"I... see..." the old dragon said slowly, still tapping his knuckles, in the same repetitive fashion that Hemlock tapped his fingers. "Hmm, I don't believe you introduced yourself, young lady." His face lit in a pleasant smile, and she wasn't at all certain he'd understood her explanation, but she obliged.

"Shoel Devaut."

"A pleasure, Madam Devaut," Drakonus gave a little bow. "As to why Myokan would change his name, I'm afraid that's a bit of a long story."

"Well, if I'm to be saddled with him as long as I'm here," she sighed, "I certainly wouldn't mind knowing all I can about him, if just to keep ahead of him. Knowing that he has a true name is something, anyway."

"Keep ahead of him?" Drakonus asked, once again looking at her curiously. "And why would it matter so much what his name is?"

"Well, I don't know if it's the same here," Shoel explained, "but where I'm from, it helps immensely in binding or protecting one's self from the Dead or necromancers by knowing their true name. And since we seem to have a, ah, rather powerful mutual dislike, I'll take what protection from him I can get."

The king gave a loud 'hmm', tapping the end of his muzzle. "I'm not sure that's how it works here, most people change their names or go by aliases if they're trying to leave something behind or leading a double life. It may not be a needed question, but why do you dislike him?"

"Well, it was worth a shot," she sighed lightly. "Why do I dislike him? Why wouldn't anyone dislike him? He's rude, he's violent, he takes pleasure in frightening people, he's attacked me three times now, and he's a necromancer. Albeit rather a different sort of necromancer than what I'm used to."

"Attacked you?" Drakonus looked startled at that, and she blinked at him. "I'm surprised to see you standing! You certainly must be able to take care of yourself. Are you alright, my dear?"

"Well, yes," she said. "The first time the doctors at Star City healed me, the second time I he swears he wasn't being serious-- though he certainly looked serious to me-- and the third time, well, he did gouge me fairly badly, but it's nearly healed, now."

"Would you mind if I had a look?" the dragon asked gently, tilting his head to one side and tapping his claws together again. "I know a few things about healing."

"Oh, I'm all right," she assured him, "but if you're just curious, I suppose I don't mind. He got me here, and here," she touched her ribs below the bandolier, and her shoulder above it. "I think he was going for my bells, but when my sword hit him, he missed and got me. The shoulder ones are easier to get to." She arched her brows at him in askance, ready to tug her shirt's shoulder down to show him.

"Hmm, hmm...." the dragonoid's antennae flicked a few times as if he were thinking, but she had the sneaking suspicion that he really wasn't thinking too hard about it. "If you don't mind, I would still like to have a look."

"No, I don't mind." Since she wasn't bothering with tabbard-- which she hadn't quite finished repairing yet-- or tunic, because it was simply so hot here, all she had between wounds and air was the lightweight linen shirt. She pulled it down off her shoulder a bit, baring the red marks that were all that was left of her encounter with Hemlock three nights before: she'd done a little healing of her own on them, to speed things along so she would be whole again in time for hunting down work tomorrow.

The dragon cocked his head to one side, then the other. Gently, he reached out one four-fingered paw and touched one of the areas with the side of his claw. "Well, I could heal the rest of this, but I'm not sure it would be worth it," he said softly, still carefully examining the marks. "You seem to have done a fine job of healing yourself."

Shoel smiled, pleased. "Thank you.... I was going to go out looking for work tomorrow, and I wanted to be in shape."

"Work?" Both of Drakonus's eyeridges shot up, his head still cocked to one side and his palms and fingers now flat against each other. "Might I ask what kind of work you're seeking? Perhaps I could be of assistance...."

"Well, um...." The perfect opportunity to do what she'd hoped she could do, but faced with it, she wasn't sure if she could bring it up to the poor old man. "I suppose you could call me the opposite of a necromancer-- one reason I dislike Hemlock so much. I bind the Dead and lay them to rest again, for the protection of the living."

Drakonus was looking at the woman quizzically, still not having moved from his previous pose. He didn't seem to doubt her at all, but there was a certain air that said he really wanted to ask something. Yet, he was hesitating for whatever reason. "I... see."

Biting her lip a bit, she mentioned, almost nervously, "Hemlock told me about what he did... I even found the mausoleum."

Drakonus frowned. "It's not something I can very well ask a foreigner to do, especially someone new to the planet. It is very dangerous." He sighed sadly, doing something that could only be assumed was look towards the ground with his strange eyes. "Fighting an undead commander, especially one that spreads pestilence, is not the safest thing to do."

"I know. But...." She took a breath and tried to explain, earnestly, "It's something I can at least try to do. I came all the way out here because, at the Ring of Fire... there so much there that's Dead! And the Firelancer forbade me to do anything about it-- rightfully, of course, because most of the Dead there are so... not the kind of Dead I'm used to, the kind that needs banishing. This... this is what I know, and this is something I think I can do something about." She ducked her head a little, trying to catch his eyes. "Please, I would be honored if you would let me do this. I can't be all that bad, if I can defeat Hemlock, can I?"

"Something that has been raised by two necromancers, one partially demonic, is far worse than one deranged draclin'geyar. Even one fancied to be a commander," Drakonus responded, his voice raising in volume substantially though it still sounded rather soft. She hadn't been trying to say that, but since he'd made such a fuss over her surviving Hemlock's attacks, she'd hoped it might have made some impact on him. From his tone now, though, she was a little worried. Was he going to forbid her-- Then he continued, more calmly: "I can see, though, that you are strong of heart." She tried not to look too hopeful, but he said what she had hoped for, anyway: "If you wish to attempt this, I won't stop you-- but I must insist that if you go, you take Myokan with you."

"I don't know that I could stop him," Shoel sighed, relieved and pleased, and no little nervous. "He is supposed to be my bodyguard, of all things. Besides...." She trailed off thoughtfully, then added, "It might be good for him. I think he feels bad about what he did."

"I have no doubt he does," Drakonus said, his voice returning to its normal level. "There's a bit of a story behind it, and if you wouldn't mind walking with me I would be glad to tell it to you. That is, if you wish to hear it."

"Anything you can tell me will be helpful," she said fervently, giving the avicorn a parting pat, prepared to walk with the dragon king however far it took to learn this story, and glean anything that might help her stand against his father from it.

"Hm, actually I meant about Myokan, though I could tell you about my father as well," he chuckled, noting her enthusiasm and interpreting it correctly. "Sorry I wasn't more clear."

"Well, one has to do with the other, do they not?" she pointed out. "I will listen to anything you have to tell me, Drakonus, sir."

"Hm, I suppose so," Drakonus folded his four-fingered hands behind his back and set off at a slow walk, tail swishing behind him. Shoel fell into step beside him, keeping her normal brisk stride to his pace, ready to listen.


Chapter Fourteen



Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.

Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.