Chapter Seventeen: An Abhorsen's Armor
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
The next three days were spent alternately in a blur of activity, or in hard, tedious labor. Shoel was often running in or out from trips to buy, or even just investigate, supplies they might need. Just as often, she was sitting in her room, furiously studying Charter marks that she might need, maps of the areas she thought they might be searching or traveling through, or working on Hemlock's sword. She'd cajoled him into adding a spell or two of his own-- rather than the bullying she'd half-expected she'd need to do. He'd been uncharacteristically quiet, not exactly sociable but hardly hostile at all, and Shoel wasn't entirely sure whether to be worried or relieved. To be honest, he hadn't even been around all that much, and he certainly hadn't shown her what his armor looked like all in one piece, actually on his person. Shoel half-suspected he was just embarrassed, but there was always the nagging doubt that whispered that she shouldn't trust this docility; his true self would emerge again eventually. She tried to ignore that whisper and focus on her preparations.
On the afternoon of the third day, the innkeeper knocked on her door again-- he'd had to relay several messages from the king, and it was starting to fluster the poor man. This time the message was that three more chests had arrived for her, and she immediately put down the item list and got up to follow him back downstairs, eager to see what her own armor looked like.
"I really don't know what you're doing, but I will say I've never seen the king take so much interest in a patron before," the innkeeper said quietly, rubbing his eyes as if he was tired. "Hm, draclin'geyar emblems on both sets of chests," he commented as they reached the bottom of the stairs, revealing said chests. "What have you been doing?"
"I'm sorry," Shoel said apologetically, "but we're not really supposed to talk about it. I can tell you that we'll be gone again the day after tomorrow, so we won't be bothering you with all our comings and goings and mysterious messages." She smiled a little abashedly at him, aware that he was probably not happy with all the commotion she and Hemlock had been causing since their arrival.
"Maybe then things can get back to being quiet," the innkeeper said, sighing heavily. "Honestly, it's one or the other of you two going out to who knows where at all hours of the day and night! While one's sleeping, the other's leaving."
"Hemlock's been busy, has he?" she said wryly, inspecting one chest a moment before hefting it experimentally. Getting a firmer grip on it, she offered the innkeeper another apologetic smile. "We don't mean to be trouble-- well, I don't, anyway, I won't try to speak for him."
"He hasn't really been any trouble," the innkeeper responded with a blink. "Never says much, not even where he's going. It's just keeping track of the two of you that's getting to me."
"You don't need to bother, honestly," she assured him, rather relieved that Hemlock had been keeping out of mischief, at least according to the innkeeper. "Especially since it's such a trouble. If we need anything, I'm sure we'll know where to find you." She started back up the stairs with the first chest of armor.
The innkeeper merely shook his head. "I will be at the desk if you need anything, young lady."
"Thank you!" she called over her shoulder, trudging up the stairs with her burden and nudging the door to her room open with her hip.
"Armor finally came, eh?" Hemlock's voice called from down the hallway, the necromancer's head and upper body could be seen poking out of his room. She paused and leaned back just enough outside her own door at the sound. "Need help?"
"If you're offering, sure," she said. "There's two more chests' worth."
Hemlock ventured out from his room-- the first time she'd seen him do so in the past three days-- and came pacing down the hall towards her, hands in his pockets. "If you don't expect me to get them both, I suppose I can help."
"Of course not. You'd overbalance and fall down-- which, though amusing, would probably not make anyone happy-- or take too long." She was so cheered by the arrival of the armor, at last, that she was even teasing him. "I'll come with to get the other one. Let me just put this one down." Somehow, during all the busy-ness of the past few days, she'd managed to keep her room neat, though she wasn't entirely certain how she'd done it. So, there was room for the chests against one wall, which was where she deposited hers before turning back to the door and Hemlock.
Hemlock had his head cocked to one side, watching her in a curious manner that many of the planet's residents seemed to display. "Well, glad to know I'm not traveling with a slob."
"What, you were worried?" she chuckled, heading out past him and down the stairs again. "No, I'm actually a bit obsessive about it. My brother used to call me compulsive."
"Could be worse things to be obsessed with," the necromancer said darkly, following. "A lot of worse things."
"I know," she answered simply, reaching the bottom of the flight and crouching to lift one of the remaining two chests.
Hemlock did likewise, hoisting the other chest from the floor with a grunt. "Guh, heavy... wonder if he sent anything extra."
"I don't know.... It might just be that I'm bigger than you, so it takes more metal." She rather hoped that was the case; armor was a big enough expense, and he'd already helped out with providing funds for some of the foodstuffs-- what else might he have decided to pay for, for her? She headed back up the stairs again with her own of the pair, wondering herself, now.
"Does it make you feel important somehow, that you're bigger than me?" Hemlock half-growled. "You seem to bring it up a lot."
"No," she answered honestly, "I didn't realize I did." In fact... she didn't think she had, more than once or twice, and always in relation to something else important, like heavier armor or carrying him in dragon form or something. "Does it bother you that I am?"
Hemlock snorted, but there was a pause after he did so. "I'm fairly tall for my race," he admitted, a bit awkwardly: it did bother him, if just a little. "The women are generally quite a bit smaller than you, as our human forms reflect our dragon forms. So we never get very big, though there are a few males that get closer to your size."
She took a moment to digest that, then shrugged as she turned into her room again. "It's not as if I'm any taller than you," she pointed out, setting the second chest next to the first and getting out of Hemlock's way so he could do the same with the third. "Just heavier. Probably just comes from working out so much; the rest of my family is actually rather slender, more like you, and they're almost all scholarly types."
"Even the combatant-types don't get very big," Hemlock continued, setting his load down atop Shoel's. "If you had seen Reshi years ago, you'd know what I mean. He was actually built about like I am, though his dragon form is a lot bigger."
"Huh." She shook her head. "Once we're done with this whole thing, I'm getting myself a whole set of books on this world and reading them. For now, though, I'm finding out what this armor looks like!" Since it was on top, she unlatched Hemlock's chest to investigate the contents.
The armor in the chest was the largest piece, the breastplate. It was really almost a duplicate of what Hemlock's armor looked like, though of course larger. Where his was embellished in dark green on steel gray, this piece was a much lighter shade of silver, almost metallic white-- she thought, actually, that parts of it might actually be silver-- and the ivy-like embellishment was deep blue with pristine white augmenting it in places. On the front of the plate was emblazoned a dove on a blue field. Shoel leaned back on her heels, taking it in, impressed and a little embarrassed that the king had gone to so much trouble to make, and pay for, such high quality armor. That dove wasn't normal, was it? It hadn't been on Hemlock's breastplate; there hadn't been anything on it, actually, as she recalled. "It's lovely," she said at last, feeling rather silly that, that was all she could come up with to say.
Hemlock leaned over Shoel's shoulder, looking down into the chest past her. "Hmm, Empress Minaia's seal." Which didn't really explain anything. "Well, rather the Alliance's seal now--" Which explained a little more, but Hemlock interrupted himself: "What's this?" He reached down, pulling up something from beside the velvet blue, silver-lined cloak-- Charter, it's gorgeous, it's expensive, and it's going to get ruined.... Then the necromancer held out what he'd seen, distracting her from silently bemoaning the fate of all that high-grade material. It was a sword scabbard, delicately embellished with random designs and what must have been runes. "Useful."
"It'll even fit my sword," she said, a little blankly. "How in the hell did he know what kind of sword I carry? He never saw it. --Charter take it, never mind. He's a king, I'm sure he's got ways." She shook her head, still a little overwhelmed, and took the scabbard from him to examine the rune-markings curiously: she didn't know them, they weren't Charter marks. But did they do something, or were they just for decoration?
Apparently her expression was as curious as her thoughts, because Hemlock spoke up. "Magical containment wards. I'd assume it's made to contain the energy your sword gives off a little better. Probably would've tried it with the bells, but at least the extreme majority of us here have never seen such things before."
"I'm glad he didn't; I'd never be able to get them out fast enough, I'm too used to the bandolier. But-- by the Charter... this is-- well, it's more than my people ever even thought of! It's wonderful. I'm glad I mentioned it to him."
"There's still more chests, you know. Gods only know what else he put in them," Hemlock said, eyeing the chests.
"Hopefully just armor," Shoel answered, a little anxiously. "He's being generous enough, as it is." But she turned and set the scabbard down on her bed before crouching beside the first chest she'd brought up, the one with nothing on top of it, and lifting the lid. In that chest there was significantly less blue, with no more fabric and only a few plates of embellishment on a helmet that matched the breastplate. Lifting that out, she found a set of lightweight chain mail that went where the plate pieces weren't-- and a large, strange pendant in the shape of a water lily blossom with more runes etched on the leaves. Shoel frowned thoughtfully at it, then lifted it out for Hemlock to see. "And what does this one do?"
Hemlock smiled, shaking his head. "Smart of him to think of that, probably figured I didn't have the materials to make one. Using that you can call up a shield spell to add protection on top of your armor, though it's limited to about three times a day. Wears off over time, and takes time to recharge."
Shoel felt her jaw drop, and pulled it back up hastily. "That's... going to save me a lot of work tonight," she said vaguely, then explained, "I was going to add some protection of my own, like I did to your sword-- it's done, by the way-- but if he already did that...." She shook her head again. She could ask more detailed questions later, like how long it lasted and how to activate it, once everything had settle down in her mind-- right now she still had another chest to sift through, and hope it held no more surprises.
Setting the pendant down on her bed beside the scabbard, Shoel lifted the chest with its breastplate and cloak contents down to investigate the final one. The last chest was a little larger than the others, but when it was opened there was nothing unexpected: greaves, vambraces, gauntlets, and a pair of metal-shod boots all matching each other. She sighed with some relief, sitting back on her heels and looking around at everything Drakonus had sent her. "You know," she commented, if just for something to say, "it's a good thing I'm strong. I haven't worn armor in years."
Hemlock had made himself comfortable sitting on the bed, legs crossed. "It's not that heavy, really," he assured her. "Made to be fairly light and not to restrict movement too much. Of course, any armor would restrict movement."
"Mmmhmm," Shoel agreed. "At least we'll have time for me to get used to it before we actually get where King Drakonus says we should look." She sighed, running a hand over the crest of the helmet in the still-open chest beside her. "Almost ready to go." One more day, one more full day, before they'd be leaving. That was a little scary-- but it was always better to be doing something, even if it was futile. She just hoped this wouldn't be futile.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.