Shoel's Story

Chapter Thirty-Five: Wounds of Pride

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


Shoel stood, shaking with anger rather reaction, and slipped her bell away. "Too bad you only caught on when it was about to bite you," she heard, wheezed, from Hemlock, who had his wings extended to float on the bloody surface of the swamp-water. "They tend to like to eat people."

"Charter take it, how was I suppose to know!" It came out as a snarl, but she more angry at herself than him; she wasn't even angry with him at all. He'd saved her life and been injured for her sake. "I've never heard of anything like it! Even Steady knew something was wrong. I can't believe I was so Charter-taken stupid. I need a damned true-sight mark active all the time if I'm ever going to work in this place," she grumbled, and splashed out to meet him. "How badly did it get you?"

The dragon gave a small cough, laying his ears back and letting his head float in the mud-blood-water. "Took a chunk out of my tail and got me hard in the side."

"And it's all my fault. Hemlock, I'm sorry...." She reached him and lifted his muzzle from the water to stroke his forehead and ears apologetically. "Come on, camp isn't far. Steady can carry you. Hell, I could probably carry you...."

"I told you not to talk to every damn thing," Hemlock grumbled, splashing in the mire as he reoriented himself so he could move. "And I can walk."

"Not with broken ribs, you don't, which is what I expect you've got. Steady?" The avicorn, apparently forgiving her for being such an idiot and no longer refusing to touch the murky water, sloshed towards her with a wicker. "You saved my life; you're going to let me take care of you to make it up to you," she ordered sternly, and, before he could scramble away, crouched down, levered her arms under him, and heaved him as smoothly as she could out of the water, towards Steady's waiting back.

As she should have expected, he gave a yowl like a cat and hooked his claws into Shoel's clothes, rather refusing to be moved any further onto the avicorn's back. "Put me down!"

"'Fraid not," she answered, not bothering to try and tug him loose. She wrapped her arms securely around his little dragon-body, instead, starting to wade back the way she'd come with him in tow.

Hemlock began to wriggle, attempting to squirm out of her grasp, but when he manage to wrench his side he gave a whine and stopped. Instead he flicked his tail and let her carry him, looking rather sulky. She settled him more comfortably against her chest and shoulder while he complained, oddly child-like, "I don't need your help."

Smiling, she agreed, "Of course you don't. But I want to give it, anyway. Consider it repayment for the babbling-tea and cooling salve, if you have to, or just one friend helping out another, if you can."

Hemlock snorted. "You don't need to repay me for anything, you know. I didn't do it expecting or even hoping to be repaid."

She couldn't shrug without jarring him, so she settled for just saying, "I'd probably want to help whether or not you'd been so helpful when I was still hurting with Hellhound fire. I do rather like helping people, after all. Can't you just accept it for once, instead of complaining the whole time?" she asked, half pleading.

"What do you want me to do, roll over so you can rub my belly?" the black dragon replied sarcastically.

It was only the fact that she knew it was only wounded pride talking that kept her from dropping him then and there at his tone. She didn't bother answering, just continued trudging on, Steady trailing behind her. The camp was in sight, now, and she was close enough to take down the Eastmark again. It flared, then dimmed and died to admit them.

"Going to put me down yet?" Hemlock asked boredly. "This is degrading...."

"There's no one to see but me," she told him shortly, and set him down so he could make the climb over the tree roots himself; she didn't think she could manage it with him, anyway. "There, free. Happy now?" Hemlock looked up at her and snorted before attempting to scramble up and over the branches gracelessly. He winced very visibly every time he jarred himself, which was practically with every step, reinforcing the certainty in Shoel's mind that the Kelpie had broken ribs. Back in the camp he laid down gingerly in the driest spot he could find, stretching out on his uninjured side. I can't even be suitably mad at him for being such a bastard, she thought sourly, watching his labored breathing. Even if he didn't get it saving my life, he looks too pitiful.

"Drakonus said you work with bones," she stated, closing the diamond behind Steady as the avicorn picked his way through the tree roots, shaking his coat just a little en-route but thankfully not sending mud flying, to stand beside Vesper. "Does that mean you can put your ribs back together?"

"I can try," the dragon answered softly. "I've never tried to mend my own ribs before, it takes a bit of focus and knowing where the breaks and cracks are."

"Well, I've never tried ribs before, either, but I'll give it a go if you can't manage it," she grumbled, fishing out the horse brush again to tackle poor Steady, though she was half-tempted to use it on herself, she was so caked and splattered. "And don't think it's charity, either," she added irritably. "We're probably walking into a nest of Dead tomorrow, and I need you whole."

"I think you'd fair just as well without me," Hemlock grumbled. "Not like I have any magic that's particularly good against demon or undead."

"You have a sword spelled to the Charter and back against the Dead, protective armor, another set of eyes, another set of arms, and you can keep me from doing something stupid. Which is all it seems like you've done lately." She turned around to see him licking at the bite wound in his tail, and cringed. "Charter, Hemlock, don't do that. You'll make yourself sick."

Ignoring her, he kept licking. "If you had learned things aren't always as they seem and thoughts aren't always yours, you wouldn't have needed me." He paused a moment, spitting out some of the gunk he'd gotten off himself.

"You are disgusting," she answered, ignoring his comment in turn. There was nothing to say to it. With a sigh, she gave up on Steady with an apologetic pat, fished out the lighter brush, and prowled over to the dragon. "And unsanitary. This will work worlds better, and not counteract every last protection of health I've been putting on you for the past two weeks. I'm going to need to heal it, anyway, since we all know you can't handle flesh wounds."

"I'm a dragon, some species have been known to eat rotting things. Perhaps my own in the past," Hemlock hissed, watching her come closer. At least he'd stopped licking at his tail. "You're not going to leave me be until you're satisfied, are you?"

"No, I'm not. So you might as well stop being an ass and let me."

He snorted, giving her an ugly smirk for the insult. "Stubborn broad."

"You'd better believe it." She dropped down next to him, curling her feet under her, and set about carefully brushing the mud off of him. Tempting though it was to be rough, even if he was a bastard, she still didn't want to hurt him. The dragon necromancer flinched every time she touched him, occasionally accenting it with a growl. He did, however, stay still for her.

"I'm being as gentle as I can," she said softly, focused on the task.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked sourly, then as an afterthought, hissed maliciously, "Mistressssss."

"Call me that one more time, and I'll bind you and make it real. Just hold still and let me clean you off so I can close up that bite, and then I'll leave you alone, I promise."

"How about I give you one to match it?" he snapped, drawing his lips back from his fangs. "Maybe then you'll stop insisting on bothering me."

That was it. Here she was, helping him out, worried about him, cleaning foul-smelling mud off of him with more care than she'd give Steady, after he'd saved her life no less, and he was threatening her. It was quite possible to slap a dragonic muzzle every bit as hard as a human face, she discovered, even when sitting down; for a split second, he looked stunned. "How dare you!" she snarled, taking advantage of the brief silence. "What is the matter with you? Do you have some condition that makes it impossible to take help, even if you don't have to ask for it? Some madness that makes you want to hurt someone who's just worried about you? Or have you been playing the bitter old bastard for so long that you've turned finally into one?"

Stunned didn't last long. Rather than answering her, his head snaked out, and he actually did bite her. She yanked her hand back, clutching it to her chest and the muddy bandolier in shock. He hadn't gotten her hard enough to cause any real damage, but he'd certainly drawn blood. He drew back, laying his ears flat against his skull and gave her a low, warning snarl. Shoel slowly set down the brush and got up. "Damn you, anyway," she whispered, and turned back to Steady. Hemlock just muttered under his breath and went back to licking at himself, and she let him.


Chapter Thirty-Six



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

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