Shoel's Story

Chapter Twenty-Four: Morning and a Dragon-Blanket

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


When Shoel woke, feeling far more rested than she should have, the first thing she realized was that the sun was up. In fact, she realized as she squinted across the smoking remains of their fire at the dozing four-foots, it had been up for a good while. Hemlock was nowhere to be seen, but his sword was still stuck in the ground where he'd put it before she fell asleep. Surprised, and a little worried, she came instantly fully awake and tried to shift to sit up-- and found her legs pinned in place by a heavy weight she hadn't, at first, noticed.

Her first impression, when she gave a startled twitch and looked sharply down at herself, was of black, like the shadowy wraiths or like a Shadow Hand, and her first instinct was to draw quickly out from under whatever it was. Then came the realization that it was quite solid, and that it was... asleep. That was when she realized what had happened to Hemlock, and she relaxed, though she'd relaxed into a smile that was both annoyed and amused. The necromancer-turned-dragon looked oddly at ease, even sweet, draped across across legs as he was, with his head laying on forepaws in a rather doglike manner. He was laying partially on his side, revealing the silvery sheen along his underside, and both wings were partially spread out, some of the claws at the tips of the tines hooked into Shoel's blankets. Despite that fact that she had been moving quite obviously, he was still asleep. He obviously hadn't woken her for her watch; had the idiot been up all night, then? No wonder he was still asleep.

Shoel shifted carefully underneath him, trying not to wake him but wanting to sit up. It took her a minute, but she managed it; he was very deeply asleep. Once seated, with the dragon practically on her lap, she considered her options: stay still and let him sleep, and possibly loose time though letting him recover from being up all night; try to get up without waking him and get ready to break camp, to give him a little more rest; or wake him now and deal with his foul temper the rest of the day, but not loose and travel time. Decisions, decisions.

She ended up choosing the middle path, trying to ease her legs out from under him, carefully. Try as she might, though, the black dragon was somewhat heavier than Shoel had anticipated. With the way he'd laid across her it was almost impossible for her to get her feet out from under him, at least without a lot of effort. "Charter take it," she muttered, then resigned herself to waking him and whatever consequences that might bring.

At least she could try to wake him gently. Leaning over-- though out of the way of his horns, should he jerk his head up-- she blew gently into his ear. "Hemlock...."

The dragon's ear flicked at that, and he opened one eye, staring blearily at her out of the golden slit. "What?"

"You should have woken me for my watch, Hemlock."

"You need your sleep," Hemlock said with a yawn, standing up and stretching, catlike to his otherwise doglike posture. He shook his head, then unfurled his wings and flapped them a few times, sending up a cloud of ash and leaves, before refolding them. Shoel poked a finger at the tip of his muzzle lightly.

"And so do you. You'd better wake me, tonight, I don't want to think of what your temper will be like on another night without sleep." She rose, staggered a bit when she found one of her legs had decided it needed sleep, too, then shook it out with a frown.

Hemlock smirked draconically, lip curling to show a couple teeth in a manner that was somehow not threatening, before he trotting over and rubbing against the her leg-- thankfully not the one that had been asleep, since it was exploding in pins and needles-- again rather like a cat. "Tonight's your watch."

"You think I can stay up all night and still be able to walk straight the next morning?" she retorted. "Think again." She softened the jibe with a scratch between his ears, around the base of his horns, as if he were the feline he looked like.

And, again like a cat, Hemlock started to purr, leaning his head into her hand in a surprisingly affectionate gesture, making her smile. "No, but tonight I'll do less watching and more sleeping."

"Good, that's all I ask." She kept it up a moment more, liking the sound of his thrumming, before giving him a final pat on the neck and straightening up, ready to break camp. "I thought you didn't like to be touched."

"Not suddenly," he replied, frowning slightly. It was a somewhat strange expression on his long muzzle. "But now you don't seem particularly intent upon killing me."

"No," she agreed, crouching to reroll her bedroll. "I suppose I'm not." The dragon didn't answer, but instead prowled around the side of the clearing until he arrived back at his sword. Once there he sat back on his hind legs, his form becoming strangely blurred as his skin lightened then wings, tail, and muzzle retracted and the rest of him reshaped until he was once again human, seated but now rising, fully clothed and armored as he'd been the night before. Shoel watched, fascinated, but he just stifled a yawn and pulled his sword from the ground, sliding it back into its sheath.

"I'll take care of the horses."

"All right," Shoel said, shaking herself out of her staring and rising to scatter the remains of their fire and make sure the ashes were no longer burning; she didn't imagine a rainforest would so easily catch flame from such a small thing, but it didn't hurt to be careful. By the time the horses were brushed off and their tack back in its proper place, she'd pulled out two small biscuits of journey-bread and a piece of fruit for them to share as breakfast, and had peeled and quartered the fruit. She offered half of the meal to him, already chewing on the hard bread, herself.

Hemlock looked at the food that she held out to him with distaste then shook his head. "No thanks." Then, after a moment, he added, "Do you think you could lead Vesper for a while?"

Remembering her suggestion that he hunt while she traveled, Shoel nodded. "Of course." She could snack on the rest of the fruit while she rode, and the journey-bread went back into the bag from whence it came. That, she tied back in place on the avicorn's saddle, adding her bedroll again-- and Hemlock's, to Vesper's, since he'd never even used it. What if he decided to sleep in dragon-form every night? He might not need it, at all.

When she turned back to him, popping one of the quarters of fruit into her mouth, Hemlock was shifting again, his form becoming blurred, this time going in reverse of what she'd seen before; she watched with just as much curiosity as before. Oddly, his sword and armor just seemed to disappear when he changed. The dragon looked up at her and tilted his head, almost seeming amused at something. She arched a brow back at him, but he just said, "If you need anything, just whistle or call or something."

"Oh, no, you don't. One more thing before you go." And then she bent down in front of him, reaching swiftly into the Charter to trace the marks for purity and health again on his forehead, this time just in front of his horns. "Better. Every morning and evening, or it might not be strong enough when we need it."

He snorted at that, pawing at the ground and extending the claws on that paw. "I hope you remember, then, because I certainly won't."

"I hope so, too." She did the same to herself, felt the flare, then shook her head vigorously. "All right, go on. Don't get lost, or anything."

Hemlock stuck his forked tongue out at her, squinting his golden eyes. "Don't you get lost, I don't want to have to come haul your butt out of a dangerous spot."

Chuckling, Shoel gave his muzzle a brief scratching; he was much less formidable in this form. "As long as the maps were correct, I should be all right." The dragon snorted at her touch, sneezed, then turned and trotted off into the brush swinging his tail behind him. Before he disappeared completely he turned and looked back at her, then was gone, faded into the shadows of rainforest.


Chapter Twenty-Five



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

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