Chapter Sixteen: Reversal
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
A few more hours hadn't made Shoel's plans for the next two months until the hatching any clearer. They had, at least, made her room a lot neater. She'd repacked her own belongings, gone through the chests to remove anything not part of the armor set, notably the sword Drakonus had provided for Hemlock, and repacked the remaining items as efficiently as she could. After that, though, she couldn't think, because she had nothing left to do with her hands but sharpen her sword, and it really didn't need sharpening.
So, when the knock sounded on her door, surprising her, she'd been doing nothing but sitting glumly on her bed, staring at the thin blade resting on top of the nearest chest. She blinked at the door and sat up fully, swinging her feet to the floor. "Who is it?"
"An old bastard," she heard, and she blinked again. Did he actually sound... sorry? Couldn't be.... "Open the door."
At least I'm not angry with him anymore, she thought tiredly. Though I wouldn't be surprised if I end up mad at him again. Old bastard... heh. Straightening her shirt, she stood up and crossed to the door to open it. There stood Hemlock, actually looking a little abashed, not meeting her eyes. Instead, he peered past her into her room. "Giving up that easily?"
"No matter what you may think," she sighed, holding the handle and leaning her head on the warm wood, "I'm not suicidal. I couldn't possibly go after Galarin alone."
"A shame, really," the necromancer said, but without his usual bite and still not looking at her. "I was hoping you were more thick-skulled than that. I suppose it's good you're not out to just get yourself killed, though."
"You were awfully adamant about not coming," she pointed out dully. "And I don't know anyone else who's free to do something like this. So, it's pretty much not happening."
At last, he looked at her, silent a moment before heaving a heavy sigh and saying, reluctantly, "Don't send everything back just yet, I'm going to come with you...."
Shoel blinked at him, straightening up against the door again with shock. "What? But you said it was suicidal, that you'd never...."
"It seems never has come," Hemlock said emotionlessly. "Not like I have anything to lose, anyway."
"Hemlock, you--" Speechless, the apathy fading into relief and, surprisingly, gratitude, Shoel did what she rarely ever did, and acted on impulse. Her arms were around his neck in an enthusiastic hug-- one that, if she'd had time to think about it, she would probably never have given. "Thank you!"
The necromancer went rigid, and she hastily let him go, blushing brightly at the completely shocked expression on his face. "You're... welcome?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't think. But-- but thank you, Hemlock. I didn't know what to do with myself, this was the only thing-- thank you." She stopped herself before she started babbling, and suddenly her mind was working again, now that it had something to work on. "Come in, come in. I got your sword out, but it needs some work. I went through all your armor, but I left it in the chests, since I didn't think you needed it. We can move it to your room, if you like."
"Anywhere is fine, I guess," Hemlock replied vaguely, sounding like he felt awkward now-- looking like he felt awkward now. She shouldn't have hugged him, she figured, but it was too late now; at least he didn't have a trace of his normal hostility or arrogance about him. She stepped further in, beckoning him after her, and moved over to where the sword lay, picking it up and offering it, hilt first, to him.
"The king said you might like one of these thin blades," she said. "Will this one do? I could always still send it back and request a different one, if you don't like it."
Hemlock took the sword once he was near enough, examining it blearily for a moment before setting it back down. "Fairly standard, but better made. It should hold up, so it will do fine."
"Good, good... I'd hate to waste time waiting for another." She smiled at him, feeling worlds better now. Even if she was heading into dangers unknown and trials unnumbered, at least she was doing something. "It's always better to be doing something," her mother had always said. "We might as well move your armor to your room; I'm supposed to be getting some of my own soon enough." She paused, then, and said, a little abashedly herself, "I'm sorry I was being such a bitch about not letting you have it, before. I was just angry."
Hemlock shrugged indifferently, still not being entirely responsive. "Not like I didn't deserve to be bitched at."
Either I really startled him, he feels worse than I thought about saying no to me, or something's wrong. Lofting a quizzical brow at him, she poked his shoulder with a finger. "Are you awake in there? I never thought I'd hear words like that come out of your mouth."
"Dazed, but more or less awake, yes," Hemlock responded quietly, looking over the chests and the sword. "If you're worried I'm going to keel over, I doubt I'm that likely to die. At least, not until after we've gone undead hunting."
"Wasn't worried about it," she answered, still a bit confused, but deciding not to question it; if he was going to be docile for a while, she'd just do her best to take advantage of it. "Just curious, that's all. It's a bit unusual, for you. Want to help me carry your armor to your room? I've never seen armor quite like it."
"It's unusual for you to be hugging me when you want to kill me," the necromancer muttered, though it was still lacking his usual bite; he sounded more bewildered. Even so, he still did as she'd suggested and moved the sword onto her bed so he could lift the chest it had been sitting on. She followed suit with the chest behind it.
"Well, I can't exactly be killing you if you're supposed to be keeping me alive, now, can I?" she pointed out with a smile. She didn't really want to admit it, not to him, but she wasn't sure she could even try to kill him anymore: she knew too much about him, and right now she was feeling especially charitable. Maybe the next time he made her mad-- this mood of his couldn't last forever-- she could reconsider the possibility. But not right now.
"Never stopped you from trying before." That sounded a little more like the Hemlock she was used to, dry and sardonic, but... still without anger. Even while it was bizarre and unfamiliar, it was at least a welcome change.
"You weren't going to be coming with me to battle a Greater Dead before," she grinned, nudging the door open further with the edge of the chest and trundling out with it. "Besides, keep being this friendly, and maybe I'll forget about it entirely!"
"I'm a bitter old man, I can't keep being this friendly," the necromancer pointed out sourly, following the her into the hall and then down it, towards his room. "Especially not around you, child."
"I do have a name, you know."
At that, Hemlock was unusually and uneasily silent. He pursed his lips, looking down the hall a moment, then continued on their previous topic. "You try living three thousand years, losing everything, and then let's see how friendly you are."
Shoel shot him a sympathetic look. "The king told me about that... I'm sorry."
The necromancer looked thoughtful, idly drumming his fingers against the side of the chest before he set it down on the floor to open his own door. His room was every bit as neat and tidy as her own room, though he had different things to arrange than she did: there were herbs hanging to dry and a few homeopathic tools sitting on the desk, compared to her own bells, books, and random weapons. They both carried their wooden burdens in, and then Hemlock finally spoke. "Hm, probably about time he did, I suppose. Trust him and the last Firelancer to keep promises until they feel they need to be broken, I suppose."
Well, at least he wasn't angry with her again. "He'd promised not to tell anyone about all that?"
Hemlock heaved a sigh, looking towards the ceiling. "It's a touchy subject, as I presume you can imagine. He and I were friends for a long time before that happened, I think he's probably one of the few that didn't think I was an absolute lost cause." He gave a bitter laugh at that. "He and the old Firelancer. Even my children thought I was."
"He said he still considers you a friend," Shoel said quietly, setting down the chest lightly beside his bed.
"Oh, I know," Hemlock said, turning his face away. "Some friend I've been, though."
Sympathetic, she reached over to pat his shoulder. "Maybe you can make it up to him." He fidgeted at her touch, and she hurriedly dropped her hand, unable to tell exactly what he meant by the movement but not about to push it.
"Oh, I could," he said, "if I could ever speak to him about the situation again. Heh, either my pride or conscience would get in the way."
"Helping me with this, that might be something," she suggested with a hopeful smile. "Finally laying Galarin to rest."
Hemlock shrugged, ducking his head a little as he went to return to Shoel's room to get the last chest. "Maybe, maybe not. I think you really have a lot to learn about amending things, girl."
"It's possible," she admitted, following. "But I think he'd be willing to put things behind you two, no matter what."
"He would, doesn't mean I would." Hemlock scoffed slightly at that. "I've never been one to forgive and forget, not even where it involves forgiving myself."
That one, she had to give him. She pushed the door to her room open again for him. "Hemlock," she began thoughtfully, "why do you never call me by my name?"
There was another long period of silence as he turned away from her, his hair hiding his face, to pick up the third chest and cart it past her. And this time she noticed it. She had a sneaking suspicion.... "Nice weather, eh?"
"You don't even know my name, do you?" she said slowly, torn somewhere between amused and offended.
There was another long pause as she trailed after him back to his room. " ... No," he finally admitted, ducking his head again in a display of embarrassment.
Humor won out, especially since he was embarrassed about it. She chuckled. "Shoel. My name's Shoel Devaut."
Immediately he flushed, and Shoel blinked at him. "Thank you. I never really thought so; it's not nearly as lyrical as my sister's or my mother's."
"Why, what are their names?"
"My sister is Anahalae," she answered, leaning against the door-frame as he so often did. "My mother is Sorael." She chuckled, then. "At least I don't have a name like my Aunt Chlorr."
"I like your name the best," Hemlock said, oddly hesitantly. "It has a nice sound to it, fits your face."
"Well, thank you," she answered, smiling. "I think that's the nicest thing you've said to me yet."
"Savor it, then, you won't hear it a lot." He set the chest down with the others, opening the top one and beginning to rifle through the items inside it. His face was still red, and Shoel was torn between feeling sorry for him and wanting to laugh. It wasn't often she'd ever made him uncomfortable. Feeling sorry for him won out, so she kept her laughter entirely to herself and tried to think of a way to politely excuse herself while he sorted through pieces of armor.
Hemlock ended up solving her problem for her. "You know, I'm not doing anything horribly interesting. Just looking over a few old things. I think we'd both be happier if you went back to your room; I guess if you're wanting to see how the armor looks when worn I can show you later."
"I'd like that," she agreed. "I'm curious how it all is put together. But I'll let you come get me when you're done inspecting it and the like." She smiled at him. "Thank you again for doing this."
Hemlock shrugged indifferently at her thanks and, accepting that as the best she was going to get, she inclined her head to him and turned to leave. As the door was swinging closed behind her, though, she thought she heard a faint, "You're welcome." She smiled again, shook her head, and made her way back to her own room.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.