Chapter Thirty-Two: An Abhorsen's Bells
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
Thankfully, no amount of Hellhound fire or medicinal tea could ruin Shoel's sense of direction, and they did, indeed, find the oasis she'd remembered after a couple hours of travel. By then, Shoel was starting to feel achy again, but also more like herself, and since it wasn't too bad yet, she didn't bother saying anything on the subject. At least the general babbling-- which had gotten worse over the course of the morning-- hadn't lasted very long; she was afraid she'd annoyed poor Hemlock with it, and didn't particularly want to annoy him more.
The oasis was one of the larger ones, which was why Shoel had made her comment about bathing. The past couple had been small, partially-muddy water holes, completely unsuitable for more than splashing one's face and refilling canteens. This one, though, had a nice coverage of trees, green grass, and a wide, clear pool, quite large enough for a bath. Steady probably could have even taken a bath, if he'd wanted to. As it was, he just wanted a drink, and she dismounted while he stuck his nose into the water.
Hemlock, beside her, let out what sounded like a relieved sigh as they entered the oasis, taking in a deep breath of the moist air. He dismounted, as well, leaving Vesper at the stream while he removed the horse's packs and tack; Shoel followed suit with Steady, setting the leather in the shade. She smiled as she caught him giving Vesper an affectionate pat, a far cry from the original attitude he'd shown her towards the stallion. "I suppose you'll be wanting that bath now, Shoel?" he asked, turning to look at her.
"Unless you want it, first," she deferred. "I can't imagine you feel any less disgusting than I do."
"I can wait." He turned back to his horse, stroking the creature's muzzle. Shrugging, not about to turn down generosity, Shoel dug in her packs a moment for the bar of soap she'd thought to bring-- one bar would have to last the whole trip, but given lack of properly large oases, she thought it would-- and her spare set of clothing. She could wash the clothes she wore while she washed herself.
With a self-conscious glance over her shoulder at Hemlock, making sure he was facing away from her, she quickly stripped down to underthings and sank gratefully into the water. It was warm on the surface, but the spring that fed it was cool and she could feel it along the sandy bottom of the pool. After four days without a bath, just the feel of the water was wonderful. Another glance proved that Hemlock was, indeed, not looking. In fact, he'd settled down against a tree with his hands laced behind his head and eyes shut, looking very much like he was just dozing. Relieved, she set about getting actually clean.
A good fifteen minutes later, still damp but dressed in clean clothes, Shoel settled down on the edge of the pool to wash her old clothes. "I'm done now, you can open your eyes," she called over to Hemlock.
"Mmmph?" came the Necromancer's response. "Oh." He sat up, stifling a yawn then looked at her. "Guess it's my turn now, eh?"
"If you don't mind me finishing up washing my clothes at the same time," she answered. "If you do, you've got a couple more minutes to sleep, if you want it."
"Oh." That idea seemed to make him uncomfortable, so instead he resettled back under the tree. "Wake me when you're done."
Mildly amused at his discomfort, but not about to nettle him about it since she could understand it, Shoel shook her head and hurried up a bit at the scrubbing. Her muscles twinged at her, reminding her of the Hellhound's fire, but she ignored them until she was finished and laying the garments out on the sand, in the sun, to dry. Then, she padded quietly over to Hemlock, paused a moment beside his tree, then reached over and ruffled his hair. The necromancer jumped, moving into a half-sitting position propped up on his arms, giving Shoel a glare, which she returned with a smile.
Sighing, he smoothed his hair back with one hand as if to put the perpetual mess back into place. "I suppose that means you're done?"
"It does," she answered lightly, and dropped down, herself, next to the tack. While they were here, she might as well treat it against the sun, again.
As she got out the leather-oil and dragged Steady's saddle into her lap, Hemlock got up and dug out a set of fresh clothes and soap for himself, then padded over to the pool. After a moment, she heard, "Wish you had a <u>female</u> companion, yet?"
"Why?" she called back, not looking up from her work, "Other than the possibility that I might actually understand another woman? Though even that's probably not likely; I'm not very good with people, in general."
"No, so it would be less awkward when we stop to bathe!"
"This is the first time there's been any problem, Hemlock. And besides, it's not as if I'm looking. Relax." He was worse than she was, for Charter's sake!
Hemlock's answer came in the form of a laugh. "Why, am I not good-looking enough for you?"
"What, do you want me to look?" she countered. "You look kind of feminine, anyway."
"Hey!" Hemlock snorted at that, and there was the sound of a splash as he ducked under. His emergence was marked by another splash and a sour, "Hmph." Shoel chuckled, shaking her head and grinning at the saddle rather than gracing Hemlock, naked and uncomfortable as he was, with the expression.
After a moment, though, she finally decided that a thought she'd had earlier wasn't a product of the tea or Hellhound aches-- which were starting to get uncomfortable again, to her dismay-- and called over, "Hemlock?"
She chewed on her lip a minute before continuing, face close down to the leather of the saddle. "Do you, um, want to know anything about how my bells work? I think it might be useful, sometime. Not to use them, or anything, I don't know if I could teach you how without the Book of the Dead, but-- I'm babbling again. But I think maybe you should know, if you want to."
"I'd like to know what you're doing, yes," he answered, accompanied by the sound of wading out of the water.
Obscurely relieved, though she couldn't say why, she settled back against her tree, pushing the saddle aside and pulling over her bandolier instead. "Well, there's seven bells. With most bells, they're entirely Free Magic based, but with bells of the Abhorsen's line also have Charter magic, to balance it. The house gave me my own set of Charter-spelled bells, even though my aunt and brother already had theirs; <u>it</u>, at least, knew I wasn't a danger to anyone...." She sighed a little again, this time in regret, then shook her head to put the past behind her again.
She could hear Hemlock wringing the water out of his wild hair. Maybe she should suggest that he tie it back; hers could easily be as messy, if she let it be. "And?" he asked, bringing her back to the subject at hand.
"Hmm." How to start... with the bells' names, she supposed. "The smallest bell is Ranna; a lot of the Abhorsen line refer to Ranna as a she. She's called the Sleeper, because she puts whoever hears her to sleep, unless they can resist it. She would have been no good against Izrask," she added a little sadly, brushing the tiny bell's handle with her fingertips before getting back to oiling the leather.
The necromancer was approaching, and she glanced over at him as he began digging through his packs again, pulling out his shaving supplies and a small mirror. He sat down not far from her, propping the mirror up on his knees, and she blinked at him a moment before getting back to her leather. "The next bell is Mosrael," she continued. "The Waker. The Abhorsen don't use it much, because it wakes the Dead and breaks bindings-- and it can send the ringer into Death, so that you have to find your way back out, again. I used Mosrael to break the connection between you and your... whatever that thing was, the first time we met. I also used it to give Skelemis the form he has now."
"Iron golem," Hemlock added in. Before she could nod and accede to the proper name of the metal creature she'd defeated, he suddenly he stopped what he'd been doing, lowering his razor, and slowly turned to look at Shoel. "Wait, what did you call that hellhound?"
Shoel blinked at him. "Izrask. Why, did you know him?"
"Shit," Hemlock spat fiercely. "I thought from the way you fought it it was just a normal one. Lani must have really hurt him for that old dog to have been banished...."
Shoel stared at him, now. "What are you talking about?"
"That was the same hellhound the last Firelancer fought," Hemlock replied, carefully going back to his shaving.
"The last-- what?" The sudden change of subject, to something she'd never heard about before, was making it hard to follow him. "Jasien's mother? But you said she was all right."
"She is, but evidently Izrask isn't. If he had been we'd both be dead."
"Oh." She stared at him a moment longer, gave a little shiver at the thought of a Hellhound more powerful than Izrask, and said, "I'll have to give her my thanks, if I ever see her...."
"I'm sure you will," he answered off-handedly, "as I said, she's quite fine. At least, she appeared to be when I saw her."
"Well, I mean, if she ever comes back. Or if I actually run into her on one of the rare times I go up to the station," she added wryly. Where else would he have seen her?
"I think you'd like her. Nice girl, but really stubborn," Hemlock replied, chuckling. "Smart, too."
"I suppose I would, then," Shoel said, a little vaguely; she actually expected she'd be overwhelmed, actually meeting someone who took on a more powerful Izrask and survived to weaken him so much. She shook her head again, and picked up the oil-rag she'd dropped, shifting her bandolier in her lap. "Were you still interested in the bells?"
"Of course, if you're willing to get back to the topic," Hemlock replied dryly, still looking rather focused on shaving off his whiskers before he got a beard. The thought of Hemlock with a beard made her grin; it wouldn't suit him.
"You're the one who changed it," she pointed out, but continued, anyway. "The next one is Kibeth-- I used that one on the wraiths so well. It's called the Walker, and it forces the listener to walk where the ringer wills. I use it to send the Dead into Death. It can also make me walk, if I can't concentrate on staying still; that's why I needed you to hold me down last night, Kibeth wanted me to walk."
"Sounds almost like those things have a mind of their own," Hemlock said, straightening up and looking at his now smooth face in the mirror.
"Believe me, they do," Shoel agreed, nodding, and giving Kibeth a look for trying to cause trouble. "They can be capricious, or vengeful, or mischievous. Kibeth is largely mischievous. It's been known to make the ringer dance, before."
Hemlock chuckled at that thought, setting his mirror down next to him. "Might be amusing to see."
"Keep following me around, and you might," she chuckled, too. "Hopefully not when there's something too dangerous going on. Anyway, the next bell is Dyrim, the Speaker. Sometimes the Dead can't speak properly, and Dyrim can give them their voice back-- or take a voice away, if it's dangerous to you. I've used it before on necromancers who cast with incantations and the like, to silence them so that they can't cast. --Don't worry, I don't intend to use it on you," she added, remembering then that he used incantations. "I've also seen Dyrim garble words, or translate them, but it takes a very skilled ringer to do that."
"I suppose you're not very skilled?" Hemlock asked, looking up at her.
"Not that skilled, I suppose," she admitted. "The Abhorsen could do it; I've never honestly tried."
Something about that made him shiver, possibly at the prospect of coming across Chlorr. He was right to think so, because Chlorr was even more cautious and less compassionate than Shoel was-- and that was really saying something. "Go on," he said.
"The next largest is Belgaer. I tried to use him on Izrask, but... he didn't work as well as I'd hoped, not even in protecting me from him...." She stroked Belgaer's handle, well aware that the bell had done its best for her; it was actually one of her favorite bells, getting along with her the best out of all of them. "He is the Thinker, he protects or harms the mind or mental powers. He can restore the thoughts and memories of the Dead to what they were in life, but he can erase memories, as well, or confuse. I also used him to clear Skelemis' mind after you fuddled it."
"Ah, the confusion spell," Hemlock supplied, straightening up his things. "Useful." Whether he was referring to his spell or Belgaer, Shoel didn't know, but she moved on.
"This one, the second largest of them, is Saraneth, the Binder. The most useful of them all, and one of the most powerful. It binds the Dead-- or the living, too, I suppose-- and Free Magic creatures. I've used it since you met me on every Dead thing we've met that wanted to cause us harm-- and you, once. I am sorry about that, by the way. I didn't know it was you." She wasn't sure if she'd ever apologized, but she supposed she might as well.
"No harm done, just a few nerves shot," Hemlock replied, without malice.
Smiling, glad there were no hard feelings, she nodded and looked back down at the bandolier. In her oiling and her telling, she had come to the last and most dangerous bell. "The last one, the largest, is the most powerful of the bells. Astarael. The Sorrowful, or the Weeper. She is the one Izrask wanted me to use, and it would have meant Death for us all-- literally. All who hear her are sent into deep into Death, at least past the Sixth Gate, often farther. No necromancer ever uses her, and an Abhorsen only rarely, when there is no other choice."
" ... I'm glad I noticed the peculiar look on your face, then," Hemlock said quietly after a short pause. "If you had used it neither of us would have lived, but the Hellhound would have."
"I might have," she admitted. "Though it would have been a slim chance. I'm familiar with Death, I know how to move through it. You, though...." She shook her head. "That's why I couldn't do it, what broke the compulsion. I knew you wouldn't stand a chance, since you've never tasted the River before. And with all your years on you, it would pull very hard, indeed."
"As I said, not a terrible loss," Hemlock retorted. Before she could protest, though, he'd pushed himself to his feet, collecting his shaving items and stuffing them back into their pack. "How do you feel?"
"Fairly rotten again," she admitted. "But not as bad as before, I suppose. I can still move around, at least, and it feels so much better to be clean."
"Do you need more tea? Cool enough?" He tilted his head to one side again, like he so often did when asking her a question. It was actually a rather endearing little motion.
"More tea and I'll be babbling at you again for the next few hours," she said ruefully. "I'm not sure how much more of that you'll stand before trying to wring my neck, or before I die of embarrassment. But I wouldn't mind more of that stuff you put on my mark."
"I only put it on your mark because your mark is on your forehead," Hemlock corrected, digging through his packs and pulling out the small canister of salve. She shrugged with a little grin. "And I think, my dear, it's going to take far more than drugged babblings to get me to wring your neck."
"Well, that's something of a relief, then. Though I still think I'll forego it, for now. I rather like being in full control of my tongue, it feels so strange to not be. --And that reminds me. I didn't remember the health marks this morning, did I?"
"No, you didn't," Hemlock said after some thought. He moved over next to her, kneeling down and opening the canister.
"Then let me do that first, so I don't get in the way of the salve, or the salve doesn't get in the way of the spell, or... whichever." The marks were already hovering in her mind, and she just had to sketch them out quickly, first on hers, then his. The finishing flare was getting brighter each time, now, as the magic accumulated. "There... it's getting strong enough to hold against most anything, now."
Hemlock shrugged, dipping out some of the salve and smearing it across Shoel's forehead. She shut her eyes at the chill and the flare of her own mark at the touch, then sighed a bit. Even without the tea, the salve alone still helped. "If we're continuing on, make sure you tell me if you're feeling badly."
"I will," she promised, opening her eyes to give the oasis a regretful look around. "I suppose we should go on," she said reluctantly. "We had to go a bit off-course to stop by here." Her only answer was Hemlock returning the salve to its pouch, though he did look around and sigh a little before moving towards Vepser's tack. "I don't suppose you'd like to rest for an afternoon, would you?" she suggested, a little hopefully. "Vesper's tack could use some oiling, too, before that crack in the bridle gets any bigger. We could probably make up the time, with a little extra rest...."
"As long as you're fit to travel, I think it would be a good idea to keep going," Hemlock responded, lifting the saddle from the ground. "Especially considering last night's occurrences."
"You're right, of course," she grumbled, and put her oil away, levering herself to her feet with the help of the palm she'd been leaning against. There were still a few more days of travel before they actually reached the places where she suspected they'd start finding the Dead, and even once they found and, hopefully, banished Galarin back into Death where he belonged, they still had to get back across the desert again, to come back.
Shoel managed to get over to Steady with his tack, though it was slowly, with a number of winces, and a single curse when she actually tossed the saddle into place, earning a startled snort from the avicorn and then a concerned nuzzle when she sagged briefly against him. She had to take a minute to rest after that, her arms trembling a little with remembered Hellhound fire, before setting about getting everything strapped into place and her belongings and armor tied where it should be. She thought she caught Hemlock watching her, and was determined not to look too sore. The thought of the scramble to the saddle was daunting, but she managed it. "Ready?" she panted from her perch, tugging free her sunhat.
"If you are." Hemlock easily mounted his own horse, pulling up the hood on his cloak: he didn't have a hat. If they were ever stupid enough to do this again, she'd have to get him one. Hopefully they wouldn't be stupid enough to do this again.
"Do you want my cloak, instead?" she suggested. "You're is awfully... dark, to be wearing out in the sun."
Hemlock looked down at his black cloak, scowled, then just shrugged it off. "I'm kind of use to it, but I suppose it couldn't hurt...." Shoel fished in her bags a moment, then pulled out the length of blue velvet, wincing a little again, as she always did, at the expensive material. She offered it over to him.
"It ought to fit well enough. Not as if you really need anything but the hood."
Hemlock took it, threw it around his shoulders and clipped it in place with his cloak pin. The black cloak he stuffed into one of the packs. "You're sure you're alright?" he asked once he was finished, eying her.
"Yes." She smiled a bit at his stern concern. "Just a little sore."
"You're certain you don't want more tea? I really don't mind the babbling."
She laughed, then, just a little. It was tempting, especially since looking out over the desert and the brightness was already starting to make her head hurt. "You sure?"
"As long as you don't drink too much and not be able to ride properly," Hemlock assured her with a slight smirk.
"I think I can tell when I've had too much," she shot back, lightly. "Although now you'll have to get down again, unless you've got some ready made."
"Seeing as I thought you might need it, I made enough for at least today." He turned in the saddle, uncomfortably, and dug an en-runed canteen out of one of the packs. Stretching, he held it over to her so she could grab it from his hand.
"How thoughtful of you." She wasn't even sure how serious she was with that, herself, but she took the canteen and took a swig. The relief was immediate, and she took another. "Can I keep this?"
"Don't drink too much." That was both a warning and permission for her to do keep it.
"I won't," she promised, and hung the canteen from the pommel, nudging Steady into motion and out into the sunlight.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.