Shoel's Story

Chapter Eighteen: Of Strange Creatures, Avicorns and Burstlings

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


Shoel spent a few moments sorting her armor out of its chests and into neat piles to investigate more closely, and Hemlock remained quiet on her bed, for all intents and purposes ignoring her, leaving her to what could quite possibly become a rather gloomy train of thought. Before it could get too dark, though, he commented, as if thinking aloud, "Good ole Drakonus. Would always do anything for anyone valiant. Sends you officer's armor...."

"Officer armor?" she repeated, looking over at Hemlock with a blink. Well, that would explain why it looked so well-made and expensive... but why would he do that? She was hardly in a position to be commanding anyone except Hemlock, and she highly doubted he'd take well to being ordered around.

"Well, it is better made, probably wants you to be safe," Hemlock mumbled. "Though I can't see why anyone would want that."

Shoel chose to ignore that, instead giving the greaves at the top of the pile of metal before her a closer look. "I suppose so," she murmured, tracing a finger along one of the inlaid lines of white. "Now all that's left is a horse...." She could do that tomorrow, had planned on it actually-- though without having to spell the armor, she wouldn't be so tired, and would probably find some better horseflesh.

"What's wrong with Vesper?" he said, sounding a bit annoyed at that as he stretched out across the bed. "Better trained than most horses."

"Vesper's wonderful," she said, blinking over at him. "But he's yours. I can't deprive you of your own horse for something like this." She'd realized that little point only a day or so ago, when she'd been thinking about traveling and horses in general, based on the way Hemlock had acted towards and around the stallion.

Hemlock was quiet at that, looking down at his hands. "Well, I suppose Drakonus will be able to provide a mount for you," he said at last, then paused again. A wry smile spread across his face. "You are a virgin, right?"

Though she'd started to protest that she didn't want any more gifts from Drakonus, his question stopped her cold. She blinked at him, so surprised that she forgot to be offended. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Haven't you heard the old stories?" Hemlock replied off-handedly. "Only a virgin can ride a unicorn or other such beast."

Shoel stared at him. "He wouldn't. He couldn't. I couldn't ride one of those-- they're-- they're-- well, for one thing, they're too big! And for another-- you can't ride a unicorn into battle with the Dead! Can you?"

"Oh, of course you can," Hemlock said, waving a dismissive hand. "Drakonus's people do it all the time. Well, the virgins at least."

At his tone, Shoel gave him a hard look. Was he-- "You're teasing me again, aren't you. Drakonus would never give me one of those. They're probably horribly rare and horribly expensive."

"Not here, they breed them."

"Charter...." She put her head in her hands for a moment. If they only took virgins, well, she could ride one, but that didn't mean she would! Drakonus had given her so much, she couldn't take anything more from him. Maybe, though, she could afford to buy one... thinking over what coin she had left, though, she doubted it. "How much do that cost? Do you know?"

"No need to buy one, he already has one for you. I told him the other day when I went out."

"You didn't!" she exclaimed, looking sharply up at him. "Hemlock, I can't possibly-- he's given me too much, already!"

Hemlock shrugged indifferently. "Better to have than some untrained, moronic horse."

He was, of course, right. With a groan, she dropped her head back into his hands. She couldn't in all honesty afford a good horse, and was pride enough reason to turn down yet another gift? Hemlock probably would, but she didn't want to be anything like Hemlock. Speaking of which.... "The king might know what kind of sword I carry, but he couldn't possibly know if I'm a virgin," she told him shortly. "You were lying about that, weren't you."

The necromancer snickered, all the answer she needed. "Drakonus has a daughter, Atma is his mount. Do you think he's a virgin?"

Shoel glared at him but didn't bother to reply. "So I have a horse, then-- or a unicorn. Or whatever those things are called. I guess tomorrow I don't really have anything to do, then." She supposed she could actually attempt to relax....

"Could always keep me company," Hemlock said, grinning. "Or something."

"You haven't wanted my company for three days, I can't imagine that will change now." She brushed her hair from her face and looked around the room again before settling on Hemlock with a faint frown. "What have you been doing all this time, anyway? Other than telling the king to lend me one of his unicorns."

"Avicorns," Hemlock corrected. "And what I've been doing really isn't much of your business."

"Avicorns," she repeated, fixing the word in her memory. "Right. Well, I assume you must be done, then, if you're suggesting I keep you company."

Hemlock coughed. "Actually, no.... But I can't very well bring it with me."

She blinked at him. "What is it? Or is it still 'none of my business'?"

The necromancer hesitated, idly tapping his fingers, and she frowned at him, a little confused. "Well, remember the Mayonaka hatching...?" he finally asked.


"Well, one of the burstlings decided it wanted to come along with me, though I don't really know what to do with it."

Shoel put a hand to her mouth to cover the sudden, amused grin that sprang up there. "Oh. Oh dear. I'm sorry. That must be-- Charter, those things grow awfully fast, Hemlock. We might come back to find it all grown up."

"Yeah, and it likes to play 'annoy the hell out of the necromancer'. Geh.... Aldyss was never that bad." He glared up at the ceiling, putting his hands back behind his head.

"Aldyss isn't a xenodragon 'burster," Shoel said dryly. Actually, he was very sweet, for a Dead dragon whose bond she had been trying to kill. "They're known to be obnoxious, when they're not being violent. I knew someone back at Star City who had one, one of the nicer ones, actually. It was kind of like a big puppy dog-- except when it thought someone needed protecting or driving away, of course."

"Heh. I haven't let it around anyone except Aldyss, and the first thing it did was bite his paw."

"I hope it settled down some...." Poor Aldyss! Dead or not, having to deal with a xenodragon burstling, particularly the kind that couldn't speak, well.... She shook her head. "And I hope Aldyss doesn't mind watching it for a while. You're right, trying to take it with us would probably... be bad."

That earned her a snicker. "If it didn't attack you first, it would at least make a lot of ruckus. I doubt your skin is as thick as Aldyss's."

"If I had all that armor on, it'd be thicker," she pointed out. "And you know, you still haven't shown me how yours looks on you!"

"What do you care?" Hemlock snapped. "It's armor."

"It's a kind of armor I've never actually worn before," she answered coolly. "At home, we mostly had scale mail and chain mail, not plate. But I suppose I can just figure out how it goes by myself, don't you?"

"Yes," he responded dryly. "Try it on yourself."

Shoel gave an exasperated sigh; he was back to his old self again, that's for sure. "If that's all the help you're going to be, you do have your own room, you know."

"Why, kicking me out?"

"It's certainly a suggestion. You can take your sword, I'm done with it."

Hemlock pushed himself up on his elbows, looking straight at her with an expression she couldn't read-- or maybe just no expression at all. "And what if I want to stay?"

She gave him a speculative look. "I suppose I could lift you and bodily throw you out," she mused. "Though why you'd want to stay is beyond me. You're going to be stuck with me for a month, probably two, and it's not as if you like me."

"Was wondering if I could watch you change into your armor, though," he responded, amusement in his voice. "Might be a sight."

"Ooooh no, you don't," she said, rising; he actually grabbed the coverlet on the bed, as if that might anchor him in place. "It's going to be hard enough trying to figure it all out without you making snide comments. Out!"

"It's not like I have anything better to do!" he said, sounding remarkably like a petulant child.

"Nothing better to do than make fun of me, is that it? Well, find something! Out!"

"Come on, I'm sure you have no reason to be ashamed of your figure."

"Lecher. I'm not even taking my clothes off, you don't wear armor naked. By the Charter, can you imagine how much that would hurt?"

The necromancer made a snorting sound like contained laughter. "I'd rather not. Heh heh-- lecher."

Flushing, she snatched up her own blade, slipping it from its own scabbard and leveling it at him. "Unless you want to be pushed out against your will, I'd suggest that you leave. Now."

That seemed to do it, for Hemlock finally let go of the coverlet and got up-- though it didn't stifle his amusement, because he was chuckling as he headed for the door. "Fine, fine, fine, I'm going. So feisty." He was still snickering as he left, and Shoel shut and locked it behind him.

"Old bastard, indeed," she muttered, then, with a sigh, got to work trying to figure out her armor.


Chapter Nineteen



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

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