Chapter Forty-Five: "Thanks."
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
It hadn't taken very long to haul up a trio of fairly fat-looking fish-- that all looked quite healthy, as well, and they couldn't possibly have come in contact with the plague itself-- but even so it was still full dark. At least the fire was still going when she got back, so Hemlock had probably managed to stay awake the whole time. "Dinner," she said lightly as she approached. "Real dinner this time. Do you feel up to cooking, or shall I subject you to my attempts at it?"
"The seasonings are in the pack with my other herbal supplies," the necromancer said in reply, though he was once again sitting dormant, settled much closer to the fire now. "As long as you know how to clean fish and don't burn it, it should be okay. If you burn it I think I'd rather eat it raw."
"I'll try not to," she agreed, and set about trying to make something halfway decent that Hemlock might consent to eat. She didn't do too badly, she thought, though she'd had to clarify with him just which little pouch was the right seasonings, and she wasn't really sure if she'd cooked it enough, but at least it wasn't burned. "This agreeable?" she asked offering him one of the fish in the cool pan.
"If I had any appetite it would be," he said after opening his eyes to look at what she was holding out to him. He took it without really bothering to check if the pan was cooled, rather indifferent to whether she'd cooked it enough or not. Instead of eating right away he held it with both hands, forearms resting on his stomach though he was being careful not to touch the fish to his tunic or vice-versa.
"Well, at least it's not burned," she told him, sitting back with her own blessedly fresh meal, rather more hungry than he was. "You'll feel a little better with something in you, I expect." Unless whatever the plague was, it would end up upsetting his stomach and he'd not keep it down. She hoped not.
"Doesn't help," Hemlock mumbled softly in reply. "I had this before, when I was much younger. No appetite, dizzy spells, hallucinations, no energy to speak of, and a really high fever. Worse if it's a foreign disease, I suppose."
"Oh...." Well, at least he knew what to expect. And now so did she. "How did you get it?"
"It wasn't uncommon for pups in my-- my society to get it," Hemlock explained, looking down at the fish in his hand without eating it. "Like it's not uncommon for human children to get mumps and the like. More proof that I'm getting too old, heh. Natural immunities wear off over time; most didn't live long enough to see that, though. I suppose it's harder on adults."
"But you think you'll be all right, anyway?" She couldn't equate herself with the idea of going through all that with him, only for him to die on her in the middle of nowhere just after they'd accomplished their goal.
"I hope so," came the reply, which wasn't exactly reassuring. "Even though I'm a lot older now, I have still had it before." There was an uneasy pause in which the necromancer took a deep breath before continuing. "The... dragons, like Galarin, had never been exposed to it before we came."
Shoel blinked at him for a moment before that registered. "Oh... oh, how horrible." It was horrible, but at the same time she was sympathetic. The draclin'geyar must have felt terrible, watching a plague they'd brought wreak havoc on the peaceful dragonic population.
Hemlock nodded in silent agreement before tossing the fish back into the pan and getting up. He'd hardly touched it, and she wasn't sure whether to feel annoyed that he hadn't eaten any or sorry for him because he felt too sick to eat any. "Can I take a look at that cut Galarin gave you?" she asked hopefully. "That, at least, I might be able to do something about."
The necromancer didn't seem too thrilled with the idea, managing a partial scowl at the proposition, but then, she'd expected that. "Might as well, I guess," he sighed anyway, sitting back down and running one hand over one of the tree's moss-covered roots. "Just be warned I don't appreciate being poked."
"Yes, I know," she nodded, scooting over to settle beside him and unwrap the bandage. "I'll be careful not to poke at it." Surprisingly, the wound didn't look any worse than earlier-- perhaps a little better, even if the edges were greenish. The salve the necromancer had put on it, however, had turned an even worse sickly shade of green, as though it had drawn some unknown poison out of the wound. "Can I wash this off? To rebandage it with something clean? Or would you rather do that?"
"Go ahead, I don't care," he replied blankly, mumbling something to himself after the fact.
Not about to let an opportunity to do something go to waste, Shoel got to it. The remains of the tepid water from her canteen and the cleanest part of the bandage got the poison-filled salve off, at least, and she did her best to be as careful as she could about touching the cut itself. It was, of course, unavoidable, but she hoped Hemlock would understand that and not try to bite her head off for a little discomfort. He didn't seem to mind, only wincing now and then, but keeping his tongue in check. She fished out another bandage to rebind his arm, fixing small, helpful Charter marks into the weave: marks for healing, restoration, purity, and health, in the hopes that they would be an acceptable substitute for a real healing spell, or the salve which she couldn't find any more of in a cursory search.
"Thanks," Hemlock said quietly, moving his arm to check how well she'd done. "Better at first-aid than me, it seems."
"I've had a lot of practice," she said, settling down by the waterside to wash out the old bandage in the current; it was still in good enough shape to re-use. "My brother wasn't really one for first aid, and my aunt made people uncomfortable, so before people realized just who I was, I helped out whenever I could after battles."
"From what it sounds like to me you would have been a better 'Abhorsen' than your brother," the necromancer half-growled, giving his head a slight, dazed-looking shake. "Then again, I don't really know much about the culture or position...."
"Maybe," she shrugged, wringing out the light weave. "It's just a lot of fighting, all the time, with the Dead and Free Magic creatures. Capsen likes that more than I do; it's a duty for me, but not necessarily a pleasure." She smiled some, setting the bandage cloth out with her spare clothes to dry and returning to the fire. "To be honest, I was happier at the House, in the library."
"I thought you said the rest of your family was more the scholarly type?" He smirked slightly, eyes closed. "Sounds to me you are a bit moreso."
"My sister was more like me, and my parents. Chlorr probably would have been, too, if she hadn't been the Abhorsen. Capsen's a bit of a black sheep."
"How is that?" Hemlock asked, changing position and opening his eyes so he could look at her. Even in his half-asleep state he seemed to be fairly interested in what she had to tell, even though he'd probably heard a lot when she'd been drugged on tea. She knew most of her rambling had been about her family, largely because her life since then hadn't been particularly noteworthy. Even so, she didn't really mind talking about it. It was something to do.
"He was always more adventurous than the rest of us," she explained, folding her arms on her knees and resting her chin on them. "He probably would have been happy in the Royal Guard, but he had the talent for necromancy, so he was designated Abhorsen-in-Waiting. He's a good six years older than me, and by the time everyone knew I had the same talent, it was pretty fixed who was who."
"I see. A shame, really," he said thoughtfully, slouching back against the tree again and closing his eyes, taking a few deep breaths before he opened them again. "In the shadow of an older sibling, though from what I've seen you're extremely talented. Moreso than you give yourself credit for, I think. Skill isn't everything, after all: in order to be an effective adventurer, you must also have wits and a sense of strategy or planning. It's a number of factors that keep you alive, and from what you've told me you're much stronger in certain areas than your brother was." He sighed, running his hand over the bandage on his opposite bicep and Shoel was glad for the dim light of the fire, because she thought she was blushing. "A shame Mixed Media's in such disarray, really."
"Mixed-- oh, wait, I remember hearing about them. What about them?"
"Heh," Hemlock said, smiling faintly. "What would you like to know about them?"
Shoel hadn't actually thought much about the Mixed Media. From what she could tell, they were an interspecies vigilante group of some sort. She frowned a bit, freeing one hand from under her chin to comb her fingers through her rapidly-drying and still-loose hair. "What do they do, exactly?"
"Hm, they're what's called freedom fighters or sometimes adventurers. Some call them terrorists, but those that do are generally undesirable company," he explained, slowly and with a few pauses to catch his breath. "Almost all are mages, or at least psionics. They basically do whatever they feel needs done that they have the ability to accomplish. At times they behave like mercenaries, others demon hunters."
About as she thought. She nodded thoughtfully. "Are they all dragon-bonded?"
"Very few are, actually," Hemlock said with a slight frown. "Nowhere near the total number are at RoF."
"It sounds like a pretty big organization."
"Estimated around fifty members. There used to be a roster, but if it still exists I don't have access to it. It's growing all the time, anyway. There's members in a lot of militaries that do intelligence work and similar."
"Really? For some reason I thought it was bigger...." She shrugged lightly, and winced as her fingers caught a particularly bad tangle. Feeling too lazy to hunt down her comb, she just worked at it as she was.
"I don't know how big it is anymore," Hemlock said with a slight shrug of his own. "There's not enough to be an actual army, if that's what you're thinking. Closer to a mercenary group."
She nodded again. "I know the previous Firelancer was one... is Jasien?"
"No, he's really too young to have any actual experience with that sort of thing. They've been inactive for a while."
"Oh?" she asked, glancing over at him. "Why's that?"
Another shrug. "Mostly at peace, I guess. The last involvement of any of the members that was obvious was on Tris'Hath, and that really had more to do with the non-member riders than the actual members. If you want to talk to some of the members I know of, though, there are several senior ones at RoF."
"Oh, I don't know... after all this, I might want a year or two to recover on Atu. After the hatching, anyway. Mmm, I hope it hasn't happened yet... we've been gone almost a month."
"Would you be sorely disappointed if you did?" Hemlock asked, giving her a focused stare, one of the most lucid he'd given her since the day before.
"I don't know," she answered honestly. "If any of the hatchlings are like the Willowwhisps... maybe. At least this trip has done that much for me: I can't imagine the Ring of Fire making me uncomfortable anymore, not after facing down all the really bad Dead with Galarin." She smirked a bit at herself. "I never really thought of myself as bonding material for a dragon, so I never bothered at Star City or Atu, but I suppose it would be company."
"It's the dragon that chooses, ultimately. They say there's a love interest for everyone, so there's probably a dragon for everyone," Hemlock said, giving her a smile past half-closed eyes. "Just like humans in some ways, after all."
Shoel snorted back a laugh. "Love interest for everyone", indeed. "I know it is," she said instead. "I just never thought about it, I suppose. Star City doesn't really... look for candidates. They just volunteer themselves. I didn't even know what Jasien was doing, at first, when he invited me here; it took me five more minutes into the conversation to realize I'd been Searched, or whatever you call it here."
"Searching is generally done by dragons, not the Firelancer," Hemlock said, sounding a little puzzled through his daze. "I don't really know what you'd call that, I suppose seeing potential in someone and making a special request. Not quite 'Searched', though. Generally dragons do some mental prodding for that."
"Hmm, well, whatever it was... I'm still glad he did it. Dragon or not, at least I've been able to do something good here."
"You already have done something good," Hemlock said softly, gently. "For Drakonus, the planet, and for me. I think we're all in your debt."
She was blushing again; he got a lot nicer when he was sick. She reached over to pat his arm. "I'm glad I could. Did some good for me, too. I don't want to kill you anymore," she added with a smile, remembering his jibe hat before they'd even left the Ring of Fire. "And I think Yureith is safe from me, too."
"Yureith is very forgiving, and she trusts the Firelancer not to let anything happen to her when she can't take care of it herself," he replied, turning slightly red. "I was messing with you...."
"I know. I probably deserved it. I was horrible to you, and not much better to anyone else."
"I deserved you being horrible to me," Hemlock said, sounding a little spiteful. "Though you could have really been nicer to Jasien."
"I didn't mean to be," she admitted. "Well, that's not true, I meant to be for about two minutes when I first met him, because I didn't like what he'd assumed about me. But he doesn't seem like a bad fellow, really, just a little naive sometimes."
"He's only twenty-three."
"I didn't know that when I first met him. I didn't know anything except he was treating me like I was ignorant-- which I suppose I was-- and weak-- which I rather like to think I'm not."
"It's a failing of all sentients," he answered understandingly. It was getting rather hard to tell if Hemlock was being nice just because he was sick, or if he really wanted to be nice and thoughtful. "It's not a reason to be immensely ashamed. No one's perfect." She smiled a bit over at him, grateful either way.
"I still feel kind of bad. But at least I won't do that to him again. I know he's been through a lot; I wouldn't want to be in his position."
"Nor I," Hemlock said with a soft sigh. Using the tree for support he got to his feet and went over to set up his bedroll. "Tired yet?"
"Mmmhmm. Traveling all day after taking on a Greater Dead and all his minions isn't particularly refreshing." She checked absently to make sure she'd remembered to put all the points of the diamond back up-- it was a fairly large one today, covering their whole side of the pool and about half of the pool itself-- and was relieved to note that she had. "Don't even need to ask if you are." She uncurled and rose to do the same, pulling her bedroll from under Steady's saddle, where she'd left it.
Hemlock had already made himself comfortable, more or less, on his bedroll with one arm draped over his head. "Shoel?"
"Mmmhmm?" She padded back with her own and set it out.
"Just... thanks, I guess." He was oddly silent after that, perhaps pretending to be asleep.
Smiling a bit as she crawled into her bedroll, she said, "You're welcome." And then she left it at that.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.