Chapter Thirty-Six: Wounds Mended
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
Shoel didn't sleep well. She didn't know whether it was Hemlock's continued silence-- he ignored her for the rest of the day and night, just as she ignored him-- the general discomfort of their camp, how disgusting she felt-- she was unable to do more than brush the mud off once it started to dry, though she positively ached for clean water and a place to change her clothes-- or the growing dread that the constant sense of Dead instilled in her. Maybe it was all of it. With probably less than two hours of solid sleep behind her, she still woke before dawn and was too restless to go back to sleep, so she set about organizing their belongings into what they'd need for the next twenty-four hours and what they could leave behind on this island to pick up on the way out. If they ever came out again.
"Couldn't sleep?" Hemlock asked from where he had been laying the entire night, head down on his forepaws. He'd managed to at least clean the mud out of the bite wound, and looked like it was healing cleanly: it had grown a scab over night. He smirked a bit, adjusting his position on the ground. "You look nervous."
Words, at last. But words that were still hurtful. Shoel ignored them, sorting out her leather-cleaning supplies and their food. Just enough for breakfast and lunch, and the rest to leave behind. "Fine, don't talk to me," the dragon said with a yawn, rolling onto his back and wincing as he moved bruised muscles. "All the less I have to worry about later."
She tossed him his share of dried meat and journey-bread without looking at him. She couldn't not talk to him at all, because there were still things she needed to know, but if she kept things business-like, maybe he would return the favor. "I'm going to need to know exactly how you raised Galarin before we face him," she said coolly. "King Drakonus didn't tell me very much, and I'd like to have some idea what I'm facing."
"It doesn't matter," Hemlock responded, rolling his eyes. "There's nothing I can do about it, whether there's something you can do only you know."
"I'd say it matters quite a bit, actually. You changed him, that much I know, and I need to know how."
"Magic," Hemlock hissed cockily.
It was very tempting to hurl the thick, horsehair brush at him, but the lingering pain in her hand stopped her. She just didn't answer, hoping that what she knew already was good enough, and carefully stowed the brush with its lighter partner in its bag with her leather supplies. The armor she'd have to wear, but she could leave the cloak behind.
"I guess we'll see just how useful your bells are," Hemlock said dryly; she didn't look at him. "I wish you luck."
I'll need it. "Are you still coming with me? Or have you washed your hands of me for good, now?" The question came out more bitterly than she would have liked; she steeled herself again against it.
"I already told you, my magic is no good against demons or undead," Hemlock said again, exasperated. "I'd just be a nuisance more than anything."
"And I thought I made it clear that I don't want you along for your magic." She gave her grimy clothes one last regretful look before starting to suit up in her armor.
Hemlock mumbled something before continuing on, his tone still dry. "In case you haven't noticed, I don't use a sword in this form; and in my present mood it would be all too tempting to let something eat you."
It was no more than Shoel had expected, but there had still been that small ray of hope that he might hold to his promise to protect her. Now that hope was gone, and she still felt cold at the certainty that she would be walking into Galarin's host completely alone. She took a slow, calming breath to settle herself, shutting her eyes a moment, then went back to her armor. "Then I suppose I will see you past the Ninth Gate, whenever the River finds you. I hope you make good use of your sword; please return Steady to Drakonus with my thanks for all his help."
If she was lucky, she would be be able to take Galarin with her when she went.
Hemlock didn't say anything, but she thought she heard the snap of his jaws. Probably pleased to be rid of her. She hefted her breastplate and buckled it in place, reaching for her bandolier to fit over it. Her sword came next; though she didn't see how she'd be able to use it, expecting her hands to be full of bells, it still felt comforting to have it hanging at her side, just in case.
Just as she was rising to tend to Steady for the last time, Hemlock broke the silence. "Do you enjoy making people feel guilty?"
"I suppose I wasn't aware you could feel guilty. But if I'm making you so, I'm sorry. I don't meant to."
Hemlock paused again, then breathed a long, drawn out sigh. "Sorry for biting you."
"Are you?" she asked dully, looking out into the swamp, out at where she'd have to start trudging soon. It didn't mean as much as she'd hoped it would. Maybe it would have the night before. "I'm sorry for slapping you. I lost control of my temper, I suppose. I seem to do that a lot, with you."
Grumbling to himself, he put his nose between his paws, looking up at her. This time she looked back. "Do you think you can heal this wound and still have energy to go undead hunting?"
"It's not a very bad bite, and it's healing well," she answered, not daring to hope. Not yet. He couldn't mean his own, not after all the trouble he'd made about it less than a day ago. "I ought to be fine."
" ... I meant on my tail," the dragon explained hesitantly. "If I shift without it healed up I'll have a big wound on my back, it has to go somewhere."
"Oh. Of course I could; it isn't really all that bad, either, it just looks ugly." Clanking a little, she approached him slowly, half certain he'd change his mind and go feral on her again. He shifted his jaw a little, but remained crouched there on the ground, head still on his paws. She crouched down beside him, pulling off one gauntlet to free up her fingers; she could have cast through the metal and mesh, but she always preferred actual skin contact for healing spells. Taking a breath, she drew the warmth of the Charter into her fingers and touched them to the edge of the crusted bite. Marks flew through her, washing over the wound and speeding up the healing until there was nothing left of it but a few thin lines that would probably fade in time.
"Thanks," Hemlock said, low and awkward.
Shoel wanted to ask him why he did things like this, why he kept hurting her and hurting himself. She wanted to hear him purr at her, like he had the time in the forest when he'd let her pet him. But she had no words, and he would probably just duck away if she tried to touch him, so she just rose with a little nod. If they survived this, she could ask him, then. At least now she had a chance to do so.
As soon as she'd backed away, he rose and returned to his human form. She drifted back to Steady, scratching his ears and hugging his neck fondly, and Hemlock, untying the packs containing his armor, asked, "I suppose we're leaving the horses here, then?"
"We might as well. It's only a couple miles, and they'll be safe here. When we come out again, they'll be fresh, so we can leave right away." If we're in any shape to leave right away, ourselves. But she didn't say that.
"If we live," Hemlock said darkly, sliding on the chain mail over his filthy clothes.
"If we live," she agreed vaguely. "But at least now we have a chance. Thank you."
"Not anymore of a chance than you had without me," Hemlock grumbled. He was nearly done with his armor, being quite a bit quicker about it than Shoel was even after the practice she'd had, and, unlike Shoel, chose to wear his cloak: the black one instead of the dark green and silver one. If she had a plain black cloak, maybe she would have, too. "You probably have less of a chance now."
She chose to ignore that, because that was his opinion, not hers. All she said was, softly, "At least I won't be alone."
"Suit yourself," Hemlock answered gruffly. From one of the packs he pulled out a small leather wristband and a pouch, and he laced the band around his wrist. From the pouch withdrew a handful of bone shards, sliding them into the slits on the band while Shoel watched with amused incredulity; he wasn't supposed to have anything like that, though she had to admit it made her feel a bit better, especially since she knew what he could do with them. Firsthand. He caught her watching and added, "I hope you're not going to tell Jasien about this."
"Not a word," she promised.
"Good," Hemlock responded, sounding relieved. He bent down, examined the ground briefly, then picked up a large stone from the ground. From a pouch on his belt he withdrew a tool and carved a rune on it before putting both into his pouch. "Just in case...."
"What does that one do?"
"Stone golem," came the answer, followed with a slight smirk. "Different than the iron one, but not too bad."
"I'll keep my bells away from it this time," she answered with a little smile of her own. "Ready?"
"Well, it's not like there's anything to lose," the necromancer answered pessimistically. "At least on my part. You however.... Only reason I'm going. Damn you, girl." He smiled, though, and somehow she felt better.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.