Shoel's Story

Chapter Nineteen: Apology via Armor?

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


An hour-- and much cursing and frustration-- later, Shoel was sitting on the floor, in the middle of a ring of metallic objects of various sizes, taking a deep breath to calm herself and put her mind back in order for another try, when there was a timid knock on her door. She rose with a sigh and picked her way through the pieces to answer it, expecting the innkeeper, or maybe one of the king's messengers-- she was supposed to have an avicorn now, after all, or maybe he would want to make sure everything fit.

She had not been expecting Hemlock. Certainly not Hemlock dressed in his full plate armor, looking more than a little uncomfortable and shifting from foot to foot with a repetitive clink of metal on metal. "Hemlock." She blinked at him, then smiled a bit. "You look important like that."

"Like I shouldn't," the necromancer snapped, following it with a low curse. "You wanted to see it-- so here, see it?"

Somehow, it didn't seem so offensive this time when he snapped at her; she even smiled a bit more. "Thank you." And she was making use of the view, looking the metal over as closely as she could without actually getting up in Hemlock's face. "Would you like to come in for a moment? I won't make you stay long, I just want to see how these connect here."

Hemlock stepped inside stiffly, but it wasn't the armor that made him so obviously uncomfortable. It couldn't have been: she could see, now, how it was meant to be put together, and it looked surprisingly unrestrictive. Was he just so uncomfortable giving in to her? Or was there something else bothering him? "I hope you're happy," he grumbled.

"Very," she told him, trying to look grateful and reassuring together. "Do you mind if I come up close? I need a look at the buckles and things."

"Go ahead," Hemlock said permissively, following it with an irritable sigh. "I didn't put it on so I could look like a museum display."

"No, you put it on to take pity on a poor, uneducated off-worlder who doesn't know the first thing about plate armor," she answered soothingly, leaning over his shoulder to see how the breastplate connected to the chain mail, the only part of the armor she had been able to figure out. "An off-worlder who is very grateful."

The necromancer fidgeted visibly. "Feh, you don't even have any idea what I'm doing for you."

"Well, I'm still grateful," she murmured absently, bending over a bit and carefully touching his arm where the vambraces were buckled together over his arm. "So that's how it goes... it is the same for the bottom?" She dropped to a crouch to investigate the greaves, as well, probably making him even more uncomfortable.

"I feel like the walking dead," the necromancer said obliquely, tone sour. "I'm about ready to let you bind me and banish me."

"Hmm, bad idea. Aldyss would be very put out. By the Charter, but those gauntlets look uncomfortable." She rose again for a look at the helmet, how exactly it was supposed to fit.

"The bone gauntlets are more uncomfortable." Hemlock shifted position, twitching his fingers at his sides. "I'd still rather be wearing my bone armor, though, rather than this."

"Why? It doesn't look nearly as bad, to me. More coverage, and not nearly as grotesque."

By then the necromancer was gritting his teeth, attempting to focus on the wall. "You wouldn't understand."

"You could always try me," she said dryly, stepping back from him again. "I might understand more than you'd think. But if you don't like it, why did you take it back?"

"Because I didn't have any other armor to wear?" he snapped in exasperation, rolling his eyes. "Last time I wore this armor I was general for the draclin'geyar. When I gave it to Drakonus I expected to never put it on again, never to return to the Alliance. As far as I was concerned, Myokan Bleedingheart was dead. I'd lost everything else, I wished to finish out that life."

"Maybe Drakonus things it's time for Myokan to come back," she said gently. "But if it bothers you so much, I'm sure he'd be able to find you something else."

"Myokan is dead, Shoel," Hemlock snarled, and she flinched just a little; that was apparently the wrong thing to say. I've never been good at this kind of thing. Next time I'll keep my mouth shut. Rather than explode further, however, he shook his head. "No, I'm too tall to wear any armor made here. Their helmets are all the wrong shape; anyway, it would at least be a few more days we don't have."

"Well, you can take it off now," she said. "I think I understand how it works, now."

Right then and there, Hemlock began to strip off the armor, beginning with the helmet. He tossed that onto the bed then began to work on undoing the buckles that held the various plates and the chain mail together. "Gods, I wish Jasien hadn't taken my bone armor."

Shoel bent to help him, crouching down and unbuckling the greaves on one leg. "Well, maybe he'll give it back, if he knows what you need it for?" she suggested.

"Not likely, and I'd rather not ask." He pulled off the vambraces and chain mail sleeves, tossing them with the helmet before unbuckling the breastplate; Shoel wasn't as fast as he was, and had only just gotten to the buckles on his other leg. "He's never been particularly forgiving; I'm just glad I didn't have to see that bitch Bekira again. Just yet, anyway."

"Bekira?" she asked absently, setting the greaves aside, more gently than Hemlock had treated the rest of the armor. She didn't bother pursuing the thought of getting his bones back, though she expected that Jasien would relinquish it if she asked. She didn't like the feel of it, and she did expect Drakonus to have ulterior motives in providing Hemlock's old things.

"Daughter of Lord Bekirol, head of Arx Atra Mons," Hemlock explained with some chagrin. "Bonded a Matriarch-level Kirintor at the Summer of Flames clutch. Gods, I hate her. Ever since she came to RoF she's picked on me, treats me like a pet or something and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Especially not since she and her little entourage of guards bonded."

Shoel had no idea what a matriach-level kirintor was, though she knew of the Summer or Flames clutch, but she didn't bother asking. "Well, you'll have at least a month or two without, then. If I'm not so bad of company as to make it seem worse, anyway." She rose, dusting off her leggings, though there really was no need to.

"You haven't done anything like Bekira yet," Hemlock assured her, looking towards the ceiling and mouthing who-knows-what in his own tongue. "Nor do you have four men bigger than me constantly following you around, with swords."

"Well, that's a point in my favor, at least," she said with a sideways smile.

"Well, you could always find a few if you wanted to, I suppose," he said with a slight smirk. "Shouldn't be too hard."

Shoel wrinkled her nose at the thought. "No. Like I said, I prefer to fight my own battles."

At that Hemlock smiled, oddly without any of his usual sarcasm, hostility, or maliciousness; it looked good on him. "I'm glad to hear it."

She smiled back, then chuckled, "At least it won't be any sword-bearing hulks to draw weapons on you." Even as she teased, she was giving her own littered armor another thoughtful look. She thought she knew how it worked, now, at least, but one could never be sure until one tried.

"No, just one girl who could kill me easily." He shook his head at that, but he was at least amused rather than bitter this time; she honestly didn't think she could, given her actual victory over him was something of a fluke, and she hadn't even known it was him. "Going to try it now?"

Glad to be distracted from something that could easily become uncomfortable for both of them, Shoel shrugged. "I might as well. If you promise not to laugh at me when I make mistakes."

"I can't make any promises," Hemlock said, holding up a hand, and she nodded ruefully. "I'll try, though, and do what I can to help you-- if you don't mind my touching you, probably more."

"I'll take all the help I can get," she answered; the sendings at her aunt's house had been rather ruthless in "helping" her get dressed, she didn't think Hemlock could be any worse-- though she supposed she could at least kick him, if he was. "And I can't imagine I won't embarrass myself in front of you many times in the next month or two, so I might as well start now. --What part do you usually start with, or does it matter?"


Chapter Twenty



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

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