Shoel's Story

Chapter Forty-Three: Fond and Not so Fond Farewells

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


Shoel hadn't ever imagined that sleeping on the ground-- dirty, bloody, sore, and cold-- could possibly be restful, but she'd been so exhausted when she could finally collapse that she hadn't cared about any of those things.

The trip back to their camp was spent largely in silence, unless one counted the squelching of mud or the occasional curse. As expected, taking down and replacing the Southmark very nearly made her pass out, but she'd managed to at least get out of her armor and some of her clothes, and into her bedroll, before actually doing so. Hemlock hadn't been in much better condition, and she actually thought he might have been asleep before her, given he'd been even faster at getting his armor off, and was curled up in his own bedroll before Shoel had even finished de-suiting and setting down her weaponry. She'd only had a few moments to give Steady the instruction to watch, Vesper's muzzle a reassuring pat, and the whisps suggestions for staying within the diamond and waking her, before she, too, was asleep.

She didn't know what time it was when she woke, but she thought it was still too early, whenever it was. She hurt, her head was pounding, and she didn't want to move. At least she wasn't cold; Steady had settled down beside her, and a few of the whisps were snuggled against her neck and face. She could hear movement, faint, but enough to tell her that Hemlock had woken before her and was already up and about. Or at least up.

Hugging her blanket to her-- she had gotten her tunic and shirt off the night before, automatically and without any conscious thought on the matter-- Shoel sat up a bit, using Steady's warm wing beside her for a little leverage. The avicorn whickered softly and nuzzled her hair, apparently not caring how disgusting it was. She could see, over his broad back, Hemlock sitting up on his own bedroll, applying some kind of salve to the wounds he'd received. A twinge at her neck told her that her own Galarin-inflicted injury had closed, or crusted at least, but was most assuredly still there.

"Finally awake?" Hemlock asked drowsily. "Was wondering how long you were going to sleep. We should probably head out today."

"I'm surprised you're not still asleep," she retorted lightly, then covered a yawn with her hand. "You were every bit as tired as I was, if not more, with all that magic you did." Babbling. She stopped. "Are you all right?" She squinted across Steady at his arm, where Galarin had clawed him and where Hemlock was trying to bandage himself. Not particularly well, either, seeming a bit awkward, how he was doing it. From what she could see, it looked a bit green around the edges. "That doesn't look good."

"No, it doesn't, seems your spell didn't hold," Hemlock sighed.

"I was afraid of that," she answered, coming more awake, certainly awake enough to worry.

Hemlock was attempting to tie off the bandage and rip it-- but instead it slipped off, the whole roll of bandages falling into his lap. The necromancer huffed in annoyance, baring his teeth. "Gods...."

"Let me. That's an awkward angle for you." She started instinctively to get up, then remembered she was only in her underthings. "Oh, Charter take it, I am not putting that shirt back on. It's disgusting. Either wait a minute for me to find my spare, or come over here so I don't have to move."

"I don't particularly care what you're wearing as long as you don't," Hemlock told her, sounding drowsy and bored. "I really couldn't hardly care less."

Shoel eyed him. He'd been so careful the whole trip to not be around whenever she was bathing, and certainly wanted her looking the other way when he was bathing. So either he was still half-asleep and didn't care, or he'd suddenly changed his mind. Not that she was particularly comfortable with the idea of being mostly nude around him, anyway, so she didn't suppose it mattered. She'd never been particularly body-shy around her family, but changing in front of her brother was one thing, and being largely naked in front of Hemlock seemed quite another. "It's sort of chilly, anyway," she said, and reached over Steady for the pack with her spare tunic and fishing it out.

"Whatever," Hemlock mumbled, laying down on his side on the bedroll, eyes closed. "I still say you have no reason to be ashamed of your figure, though."

That time the look she gave him was surprised, even though he couldn't see it. Since when was he complimenting her on her figure? Or anything at all, for that matter? Come to think of it, when did he accept help without a fight? She pulled both shirt and tunic on over her head, then climbed out of the bedroll, barefoot and pants-less still, but at least decent, considering how long her tunic was. "Are you feeling all right, Hemlock?" she asked, concerned, as she knelt down beside him and gathered up the bandages.

"Fuzzy-headed and fighting a headache, that's all," Hemlock mumbled, rolling over to face her. "Probably just a side-effect from overusing magic, but at least I didn't pass out." He looked up at her, giving a lackluster smile.

"That's something," she agreed, frowning still, but taking his wounded arm carefully into her lap to start wrapping the bandage around it again, more securely than Hemlock had been managing it. "If I thought I could manage it, I'd try healing this for you... wounds given by the Dead can be slow to heal and quick to rot, in my world. I can't imagine it's any different, here...."

"Heh, the blade was enchanted," Hemlock told her, closing his eyes in a slight wince. "The wound on your neck looks okay, so I'd assume it wasn't made by the sword."

"Even worse, then. Besides, he didn't get me too badly, and I had a complete protection spell...." If only he'd let her heal him after the Kelpie's bite, they wouldn't be having this problem now! Too late, now, I suppose. I'll give it my best tomorrow, when I'm feeling more alive; no point wasting the energy now.

She tied the bandage off as gently as she could without making it so loose as to be ineffective, then rose. "Have you eaten yet?"

"I'm not hungry," Hemlock replied quietly, pushing himself back up into a sitting position with a small amount of wincing. "If you are, then eat so we can leave. I don't really want to be here much longer." Groaning slightly he got to his feet, stretching stiffly before he began putting Vesper's packs back on. It rather seemed he planned to just go ahead and wear the same mud-encrusted clothing as the day before.

Something wasn't right here, but Shoel couldn't put her finger on what it was. "Hemlock, you should eat... or at least change. I know you have an extra set of clothes in there."

Hemlock paused, then hesitantly dug out his spare clothes from a pack he'd already put on Vesper. "If you don't mind getting a look at more of me than you'll probably ever see again."

"Oh, so I'm allowed to wander around half-naked, and you're not?" she chuckled. "If it makes you feel better, I won't look."

In response Hemlock just hung his spare clothes over Vesper's back and began to yank off his tunic. That he threw off to one side before replacing it with the other, not bothering to adjust the laces at the neck. "I would prefer that you turn around for a moment now, yes."

Obligingly, Shoel turned to Steady and her own final articles of clothing, finding her leggings and pulling them on while Hemlock changed behind her. She'd dropped down to put on her boots-- the only part of her attire for the day not wonderfully clean-- by the time he was finished, now and then absently stroking the Willowwhisp clinging to a strand of hair as she did so. Hemlock had stretched himself out on his bedroll, looking half-asleep again when she finally finished struggling with the crusty boots and looked over at him. "I'm ready to leave whenever you are," he said without opening his eyes.

"I have a promise to keep, and armor to load up, and you have a bedroll to put away," she answered. "But then we can go." She rose, slipping her much-abused bandolier over her shoulder and looking around at the starry Willowwhisps perched or floating within the diamond around them. "You know, I'll miss them...."

"Me, too," Hemlock mumbled vaguely, as if he didn't quite know what she was talking about. She cast him a concerned glance, but at the sound of their voices, the whisps seemed to become a little more excited, spinning around Shoel's head like miniature comets and catching her attention again.

"But you're ready," she said with a sigh to the little spirits, "and you have more than deserved your rest. Thank you for everything."

And she pulled out Ranna and Kibeth, the bells that seemed most appropriate for sending on bodiless spirits who needed the peace of true Death; it didn't seem right to actually bind them, after all they'd done for her and Hemlock. Still, the combined cheerful notes and sweet chiming was more than enough for such small, eager souls: one by one, laid to rest by the Sleeper and moved to the River by the power the Walker, the lights winked out.

Hemlock broke the moment of silence after Shoel slipped the bells away. "Well, I hope they're happy," he mumbled from where he lay, one forearm over his eyes. "At least they won't be stuck in this swamp forever, I guess. Supposing the afterlife is any better. Heh."

"It's not bad," Shoel murmured, looking around the swamp a little sadly. She'd never been sad to banish anything before.

Sighing, she knelt to roll up her own bedroll and gather up her armor, to load on Steady. The avicorn stood still for her as she fixed things in place on his saddle, and Hemlock finally got up to put away his own bedroll. Vesper wasn't as stolid as Steady, snorting uncertainly, and Hemlock said, "Well, are we ready?"

Reaching over to stroke Vesper's nose soothingly, Shoel nodded, "Yes." With a final look around, she swung up into Steady's saddle, and the diamond of protection flickered and faded out as she drew back the marks almost without thinking. Hemlock hauled himself a little unsteadily into the saddle, giving the stallion's neck a reassuring pat when he stamped lightly.

Instead of taking the lead like he usually did-- even though Shoel was the one with the maps in her head-- he reined the horse in close to Shoel and Steady, stopping him at their side. "We can't go back to Arliingran," he pointed out after a moment. "There's not really any provinces further west, so it would probably be best to head east and attempt to avoid the desert."

Shoel frowned a bit. "I didn't get much information about that direction, though I think I remember the maps well enough. What's out there?"

"The other provinces, if they're not as wary as Drakonus is. Not that I can blame him," Hemlock answered, his voice unusually quiet. "Elven, Animagi, Katri, and Draclin'geyar. So take your pick, I guess."

Running over what she remembered of the area in her mind, she nodded. "The draclin'geyar province should be closest; we'll head for there, for now, if you're all right with that."

"It doesn't matter to me as long as we don't have to pass through that gods-damned desert again," he muttered in response, eyes closed again. "Well, lead on."

Brows creased with mild distress, but unable to think of any words to describe her vague concerns, Shoel nudged Steady into motion, starting off again. She just hoped the bog wouldn't take too long to get through... she wanted a real, honest-to-goodness bath!


Chapter Forty-Four



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

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