Shoel's Story

Chapter Thirty: After Izrask

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


The sound of the bells wavered, then died, and she dropped her hands, metal hitting sand with barely a shiver of sound. Instinctively, she let them roll free, because if she'd held onto them, her shaking hands would have rung them poorly. Everything was shaking in the aftermath of battle and her burning, throbbing head. Hemlock still had his arms around her, completely silent but for the soft puffs of breath in the her ear that she hardly noticed.

Izrask was gone. She'd banished a demon, but for how long, she didn't know. Surely they were safe, for now. Surely they were safe for the night; they had to be, because she didn't have the energy to even lift a bell, much less ring it. Still shaking, she drew her hands up to her face to blot out the horrible sight of the barren desert, the scorch marks, the faint reflection of glass on the sand where Izrask had stood and blazed at her. She couldn't blot out the memory of everything he'd said and done to her, the weakness that had almost killed herself and Hemlock along with the Hound.

"Are you all right?" Hemlock asked gently after a moment, right next to her ear. He no longer held her down, but was still embracing her, rubbing her sides gently. "You're shaking...."

"No. No, I'm not all right," she said through her hands. "Charter... he was-- he was-- I can't describe it. I never imagined-- I'm sorry I ever doubted you, when you said-- when you told me about demons. Demons are-- they're horrible. He-- he almost made me kill you, sacrifice myself and take you with me--" She broke off and shuddered, even stronger than her reaction-shaking. "And he said he'd come back--"

Hemlock snorted softly, but belied the sound by holding her a little tighter and rocking gently. She tried to relax, but couldn't stop trembling. "You learn to get used to it after a while," he sighed. "There are worse things out there than Hellhounds."

"I never, ever, ever want to meet them," she whispered, succumbing to the soothing motion and resting her head back against his shoulder. "Thank you for-- for helping me... I might have done it, if you hadn't got my attention, reminded me you were there...."

"Wouldn't be a terrible loss," Hemlock said quietly, resting his head against hers.

"Yes, it would have been," she told him, just as quietly, finally able to shut her eyes and drop her hands. They found his arms and rested there. Hemlock just sighed in response, not trying to argue with her, though she thought dully that he might have at another time. Charter, he's worse than me....

But, since she didn't really want to argue, either, not even about Hemlock's sense of worth, she just let him hold her and rock her. For someone she'd hated with holy passion less than a month ago, it felt nice just to sit in his arms and let him comfort her. It had been years and years since she'd had anyone to comfort her, she'd almost forgotten what it felt like.

"We should probably go back to sleep," Hemlock said after some time had passed, though he hadn't changed position at all. "Still have to travel tomorrow, hellhound or not."

Since by that time Shoel was half-asleep already, her first response was a sleepy, "Hmm?" Then, as his words registered, she sighed and nodded a little. "If I can move... by the Charter, I hurt...." Though at least she'd stopped shaking, at last; the tension had been aggravating her headache-- if that strange, hollow, burned out feeling could be called a headache.

In response, Hemlock loosened his arms a little and reached for the bells to pick them up for her, taking them by the clappers, fingers inside to keep them from ringing. She was mildly impressed, and certainly pleased, at his care. Carefully he put them back in Shoel's bandolier, where they belonged, rather than on the ground where one of them could hit them. She fitted the binding shut on each one, then carefully extracted herself from his lap, though the most she managed was sliding forward and taking a seat on the sand, herself. Thankfully, her bedroll wasn't far. "Thank you...."

"It was nothing," Hemlock said, frowning. "I really wish I could have done more, actually helped.... Do you need any help?"

It must have been hard, she realized, watching her fight Izrask and being unable to do anything to fight, with her. But sometimes... sometimes there were more important things to do than fight. Breaking the Hound's spell on her, keeping Kibeth from walking her straight into Izrask's claws, just... being there. If she were honest with herself, though, she knew that wouldn't be enough for her, so how could she expect it to be enough, for him? Sympathetic, she reached over and gave his hand a squeeze. "I'll be fine. I think... I just need to get back to sleep."

Getting up was obviously not going to happen, but she only had a few steps on her hands and knees to get to her bedroll, and it didn't take too much energy to wriggle back into it. A moment later, she heard Hemlock do the same thing, but then she was asleep, and didn't hear anything more.


Chapter Thirty-One



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

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