Shoel's Story

Chapter Forty-Six: Fever-dreams


Watching someone who was usually so feisty and sullen be dull and listless was almost heartbreaking. Shoel managed to bully Hemlock into eating a little the next morning, but other than that, he did nothing at all but lay curled on his side on the top of his bedroll. He only occasionally spoke, and he wavered between petulantly telling her to leave him alone, which of course she didn't do, and actually being childishly sweet in letting her check his temperature with her fingers and bathe the partly-healed slice in his arm. There was nothing he could do about letting her tend him, after all, though he put up token protests now and then.

For the most part, he slept. Shoel was all right with that; sleep was healing, and it gave her the chance to work on repairing their leather pieces-- bridles, saddles, her bandolier-- as much as was possible, fish and gather what plants seemed edible and which Hemlock, during a rare lucid-and-awake period, told her could be helpful for fevers. He didn't seem to think it would help him much, but she was determined to do everything within her power to help him, and though she'd never been able to heal illnesses with her magic, herbs she could handle.

Seeing Hemlock weak, sleepy, and shivering with fever was bad enough. Then the hallucinations began, on the second day of their rest, and that was even worse.

Shoel had been fishing for that morning's breakfast and steeling herself for trying to convince the sick necromancer to eat again, when his voice, hoarse with fever but raised to an odd pitch, caught her attention. She abandoned her pole on the bank and hurried back to the diamond of protection, which she'd left closed for Hemlock's own safety. He was standing up, which surprised her some given how he could hardly sit up without getting dizzy when she'd left him dozing against a tree-- albeit with a hand against a tree to steady himself, which made it a little more feasible. His gaze was fuzzy and unfocused, fixed somewhere past her.

"Left flank, pull in; send the order already!" he was saying firmly, which made no sense at all to Shoel.

"Hemlock?" she said warily, approaching him.

His gaze fell on her, though she had the impression he didn't really see her. "Captain, get to it! We haven't got all day!" he rasped. "The Empress' forces will be here within the day, we have got to be in position!"

"Empress'-- what? Hemlock, there's no army here. Are you all--"

Hemlock had started to turn away, tone changing as he staggered to another tree, closer to her, within the diamond's protection. "Fine, fine, that will be fine, Aurelia. Just be careful, and try to stay back from the front lines, all right?"

Hallucinating. He said something about hallucinating. Oh, Charter, his fever must be horribly high, if he's having delusions. Shoel let him keep babbling to someone named Aurelia while she momentarily took down the Southmark and slipped inside the diamond before drawing it back up. Hemlock didn't seem to have noticed, until she made her way over to him to put a hesitant hand on his shoulder. Even though the cloth, she could tell he was burning up.

At the touch, Hemlock jumped, and blinked blearily at her. "Aur-- no, you're not Aurelia...."

"I'm Shoel," she told him gently. "Remember me?"

"Shoel?" he repeated vaguely, blinking.

"The stupid human, remember? Come sit down, Hemlock, you're sick."

"No, I-- there's the war--"

He couldn't resist her as she drew him away from the diamond's wall, though he did try, feebly. "Someone else will give the orders, all will be well," she promised.

"I'm the General," Hemlock insisted weakly, "who else is there?"

"I don't know...."

He didn't seem to hear her, pulling his arm from her grasp as she was easing him down onto his bedroll again. He was staring past her, expression horrified. "Oh, gods, they're here--"


He didn't hear her, and shook off her anxious hands, still staring. "There's even more than-- damn that Reshi Arcoli, he didn't say there'd be this many--" Without warning, he reached for a sword that wasn't there and tried to surge to his feet. Shoel held him down firmly, fighting against panic, as he roared hoarsely, "For the people!" and waved a fist at something only he could see.

That seemed to take the last of his fevered energy, for he went limp again, sagging against the tree trunk his bedroll had been laid out beside and panting. "They're everywhere, they're-- oh gods--" The battle-anger went out of his voice, leaving behind a dreadful emptiness. "Aurelia...." Shoel eased back a little, and Hemlock didn't try to move, didn't even seem to notice. He was staring at nothing and, to her shock and dismay, she saw tears start to roll down his face. "Aurelia, you... no, this can't..."

"Shh, Hemlock, it's all right," Shoel tried to soothe, but her voice shook. She'd never seen him cry-- and she expected she never would again. He didn't hear her, he just curled up on his bedroll, oblivious, and wept for something Shoel couldn't see or understand. She watched helplessly for the scant minutes it took for him to drop back into restless, fevered sleep again.

Shoel didn't dare leave him for long, after that. She raced back to collect her fishing pole and line, the small bundle of herbs she'd collected while watching the line, and the two small fish she'd managed to bring in before the hallucinations started. To her relief, he was still sleeping when she returned, rather than awake and dreaming-- or remembering, if that's what he'd been doing. The smell of cooking fish didn't rouse him, and it took quite a shake to his shoulder to wake him enough to force a few bites of it down him. Not that there was more than a few bites on each fish, they were so small. But a few bites, and more than a few sips of sun-warmed, herb-treated water, were better than nothing.

"At least it'll be over, and then I'll never have it again," he'd murmured boyishly once she let him drift back to sleep again. Shoel wasn't sure whether he thought he was telling his mother this as a child, or if he really had seen her this time.

She answered anyway. "Even after this, I bet you'll be immune all over again."

"Hope so... so tired."

"Then sleep," she told him gently.

Then he was out again, leaving Shoel to watch him worriedly and dab his face with cold water from the falls. His fever was frighteningly high, and if it didn't go down by that evening, drastic measures might have been in order....

Hours passed since Hemlock's first bout of hallucinations, and Shoel had actually started to relax and focus on her book again, when his feverishly rough voice made her jump.

"You're supposed to be dead." He hadn't moved, but he was watching her through half-open eyes, slits of gold in the afternoon shadows.

" ... What?" She blinked at him in surprise. Dead? No, she wasn't....

"I saw you... saw them cut you down... you're supposed to be dead."

"I think that was someone else, Hemlock," she suggested tentatively. "I'm very much alive."

"I don't know, it looked a lot like you...."

Then he was asleep again, leaving Shoel to wonder if he knew who she was, or if he thought she was someone else again. Maybe I should dump him in the stream, she thought vaguely, maybe that would bring down the fever some.... That would require hauling him over to the bank, though, and probably get unintelligible curses rained down on her, so she'd wait. If he got difficult, or if the fever got worse. At the very least, it ought to wake him up out of whatever waking dreams he might fall into.

There was no fresh meat for dinner, since Shoel didn't leave the diamond of protection for more fish after that morning's difficulties, so she just fixed up some of their provisions and tried to coax a little into Hemlock. He woke up enough to try and protest the idea of eating-- and she thought he recognized her and knew where he was, too-- but didn't have much strength to protest with. In the end he not only ate a third or so of what she put in front of him, but she got a whole canteen full of herb-treated water into him before he fell asleep again.

It was nearly an hour and a half later when his sleep got restless again. He didn't get up and move around, but he did shift on the bedroll and mutter in his native draclin tongue, which Shoel didn't understand a word of. There was only so much Shoel could do to soothe him that, even sleeping, he would allow, and the option of dunking him in the stream was getting more and more appealing by the minute. That would have to break the cycle of nightmare, and possibly even fever entirely. The water was certainly cold enough.

Even so, that didn't seem to be necessary, for he quieted again right about when Shoel was getting tired of trying to keep him calm. She should have known it was too good to be true. She'd actually crawled into her own bedroll in a half-hearted attempt to sleep, herself-- was, in fact, halfway there-- when he quite suddenly sat up, expression sullen in the firelight.

"I don't see why you need me," he grumbled hoarsely.

"What?" Shoel mumbled, opening one eye tiredly at him. Who would have thought it would be tiring to be the one not sick?

"You're better at this sort of thing than me," Hemlock continued as if she hadn't spoken, and pushed himself shakily to his feet. "Can we just get this over with?"

"Hemlock, sit back down," Shoel groaned. He was hallucinating again-- she'd hoped he was through with that!

"No, I will not," he growled, quite possibly at her, though she wasn't sure. "You deal with the spirit part, I do not do that kind of necromancy. I'll handle your body-raising."

What's he dreaming this time? Shoel though, this time her groan purely mental as she slid out of her bedroll to catch his arm before he could walk into the fire. "Oh, no, you don't. You're staying here."

"Where are we going again?" Oblivious to her, though at least subconsciously obedient, he stopped walking, and held up a hand to touch the air. There was a spark of something silver, but then he wavered on his feet and it disappeared. Shoel had to catch him before he fell.

"Thank whatever gods you pray to that you're light," she snorted at him, covering anxiety with irritation. What did he just do, try to cast a spell? Though at least he didn't seem to have the energy for it, just the thought of a fevered necromancer trying to use magic made her feel cold.

"All right, all right, you do the spell..." he was muttering as she eased him down again. "You know where we're going, anyway."

"Nowhere at all," Shoel said firmly. He ignored her and staggered to stand again, using the tree behind his bedroll for support.

"Here? What are we doing here?" he said, frowning darkly. "You can't mean to be raising one of them...."

"What are you seeing?" Shoel asked with a frown of her own, not expecting an answer.

"I'm still in, I just... hadn't expected... this." He was walking again, though not towards one of the near walls of the diamond, thankfully. "Which one are we doing? --Not Galarin, you can't be-- agh!"

He'd splashed into the water, barefoot, and was now stepping back, shaking his wet and probably quite cold feet. "How did that... where?" He looked around with a dazed expression.

He'd been dreaming about raising Galarin? Shoel was glad he'd woken himself up. If that was what he did. "Hemlock?"

This time he focused on her, and blinked blearily. "What-- first I'm dreaming, now I'm seeing ghosts...."

"No, you're seeing a worried travel companion. Come on, Hemlock, back to bed."

"Myokan," he corrected with a frown, obviously trying to think, or remember, and not doing a very good job. "I never went by Hemlock, not with you, not then."

He obviously didn't recognize her for who she was, this time, either. "Whatever you want me to call you," she agreed, "just come lay down again." He let her draw him back to the bedroll, but then didn't let go of her hand once she'd gotten him there.

"Aurelia... it's... good to see you. Even if you are just a ghost."

"I'm not Aurelia," Shoel reminded him. "You're still dreaming. Go back to sleep, all right?"

"All right...." He rested his forehead on her fingers a moment, making her stare at him uncomfortably, before releasing her and curling up on his bedroll again and falling almost instantly asleep.

If he does this again, he is so going into the river, Shoel grumbled to herself before climbing down into her own bedroll in an attempt to get a little more sleep before he woke again.


Chapter Forty-Seven



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

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