Chapter Forty-Seven: A Draclin City
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
Hemlock's stream-water bath came the next morning, when he was lucid enough to actually know who she was. He didn't remember what he'd dreamed-- or at least, whether she knew what he'd dreamed, whether he'd spoken to her, or any of his dream-people, or just thought he did. Shoel didn't ever let on that he had; she expected he would be too embarrassed, especially since she had a few guesses as to who "Aurelia" was. At any rate, after a shivering few minutes under the waterfall, the fever was broken and he was on the road to recovery. Not exactly hospitable-- though hardly rude-- but still, recovering.
The illness itself had set their travels back three days. On the fourth day, though, he said he felt much better and had insisted they continue. Even though he was able to travel, though, he was still quiet and often dazed, and still let her tend him without too much argument when she thought he needed it. It took another week to reach the province they had been traveling to. By that time he was much better, but still seemed a little ill and unusually docile-- but, she thought as they moved further into the province, that not have been entirely because of the disease.
Unlike Arliingran, the draclin'geyar province was a lot more like what Shoel might have expected. They passed through actual towns with more obvious buildings as the forest thinned while they neared the coast. As usual, Shoel's necromancer companion drew some dirty looks, though no one approached him directly. Shoel had to wonder just how many people he'd managed to offend in his long life. They were finally confronted when they reached the actual capitol, and a figure in simplified plate armor marched right up to them at the gate.
"Sorry, if you're looking to attempt to kill Representative Aricoli again he's out on business," the armored woman-- it was definitely a female voice-- spat at Hemlock.
"I know, I was with him," Hemlock said, forcing a smile. It looked rather mocking-- or maybe dangerous. It had been a while since she'd seen him look like that.
"Is there a problem here, lady knight?" Shoel asked politely.
"There is no problem," Hemlock told Shoel, before coldly turning back to the knight. "If I'm not mistaken, I still have the freedom to come and go; and if you wish to dispute that I will gladly take it up with your superiors."
At that the guard was dead silent. She slowly moved out of their path, though from the position of her visored helmet it could be told she was still watching as Hemlock urged Vesper through the gate. Shoel and Steady followed, catching up after a few paces, and Shoel asked, "What was that about?"
"You should know by now I'm not very well-liked," Hemlock said shortly. "My reputation precedes me."
"Oh, Charter, what did you do to these people?" Shoel groaned. Even when he was good traveling company, he still ended up causing problems.
"Tried to kill their representative, that's all," Hemlock said with a sigh. "Well, not exactly tried. If I was really trying he would be dead."
"How long ago was that?"
That made Hemlock pause, thinking even as Vesper continued onwards. "Three, four years?"
"And they're obviously still angry... what did you do a thing like that for, anyway?"
"He's an idiot."
Shoel snorted with a repressed laugh. "That's it? That's all he did? Be an idiot?"
The necromancer stared straight ahead, on the street before them, but after a moment of hesitation he did answer her. "I told you about him before, Reshi Aricoli."
Shoel blinked, the desire to laugh gone now as she remembered. "Oh. Him. All right, I suppose I can understand that. You certainly waited a while."
Hemlock just shrugged, lowering his head a bit without further response. Shoel let the subject drop, instead looking around. In truth, despite the dirty looks they'd received in the more outlying districts and the guard's gruff greeting, it seemed like most of the people of the city seemed relatively indifferent to them. Or at least to Hemlock. Shoel they looked at with curiosity, as though they'd never seen a human before. They probably hadn't, but it didn't make her feel any more comfortable with being stared at, and before long she felt quite red in the face. "Do you have someplace in mind for us to stay?" she finally asked, "Or should I be looking?"
"I know this place," he replied, still subdued and a little hesitant. "I lived here for quite a while. Gods, I remember when it was built...."
That was a somewhat overwhelming thought, so Shoel decided not to think about it. "So you know where we're going?"
"I just said that," Hemlock half-snapped, but then stopped himself with a tooth on his lower lip before continuing more calmly. "Yes. A nice inn closer to the shore of the beach, but far enough away that it won't be taken out with high tide."
"All right." She thought she had enough coin left for a few nights and some reprovisioning; Drakonus had helped a great deal in his own city of Phoenix Rose, but she hadn't been able to hoard everything for later. "I hope we get there soon," she murmured, looking sideways at yet another draclin'geyar whose eyes had been following her for the past minute or so. "I'm getting tired of being stared at."
"They're just curious." He rolled his eyes slightly. "You've got a funny-looking pair of ears, after all."
"And here I thought yours were funny-looking," she drawled, and made an effort to loosen her hair from its tie just enough to try and cover them and partly shroud her face. She couldn't help that they didn't stick out so, like the draclin'geyars', but maybe if they were less noticeable.
The necromancer snickered at her, and she shot him a little glare. It didn't really seem to help, because she still got stares, but it was the best she could do. "Most humans don't come here because they're afraid of us," Hemlock explained. He turned Vesper onto the steep path leading down a mid-sized hill they'd come to, and Steady automatically kept pace.
"Why?" she asked, mildly surprised.
"Long story. If you get a history book it will probably explain it," he said, sounding a little dismayed. "Most of the humans we know are racist, I guess you'd say."
"Oh...." Sadly enough, she could believe that. She might not hold his species against him, but she certainly had held his occupation against him, for a while. "I didn't think there were many humans on Pre'Mian, anyway."
"There aren't," Hemlock agreed with a slight nod. "Only one I can really think of is Mitchell, one of the Searchriders for RoF. Not a bad kid, a bit strange though."
"Can't say I've met him. Well, at least I'm not afraid... maybe if I came here directly after being-- mm, exiled, I might have been. But not anymore... I just don't like being stared at!" she added in a grumble, catching yet another pair of eyes on her and giving their owner an embarrassed, irritable glare. The draclin'geyar quite suddenly looked equally embarrassed and hastily turned away, trying to look interested in whatever he had been doing before instead of the uncomfortable human. "Hmph," she said, focusing on her mount's ears and horn, trying not to look at anyone else for the rest of the trip through the city.
"Here we are," Hemlock said at last, not long after the road beneath the equines' hooves had turned to sand. The inn was situated on the edge of town, overlooking the surf. It looked rather airily built, with many terraces and lots of potted plants. "Stables are that way." He waved a hand towards the buildings off to their right, and Shoel nodded, shaking herself out of the intense focus of "not-looking" to head Steady that direction, dismounting with far more grace than she had a month ago, when she'd first gotten the avicorn. Hemlock was close behind, swinging off Vesper's back before removing the packs and allowing the stableboy to take the stallion's lead.
... the stableboy who was giving them much the same look as everyone else had, except he showed even more interest in Shoel. Flushing a little under the youthful attention, she tried to ignore him and haul down Steady's burdens: armor, clothing, and supplies.
Apparently, the stableboy's attention did not go unnoticed by Hemlock, either. With a half-shout in a language she couldn't understand he cuffed the boy over the head, the latter quickly scrambling away and babbling something that sounded like frightened apologies. Shoel stared a bit, herself. "What did you say to him...?"
"I told him it's impolite to stare at ladies like that, and if he didn't want to find out what it was like to be permanently celibate, he'd better stop," Hemlock replied crossly, shouldering Vesper's packs. Shoel nearly choked, halfway between a laugh, a malicious snicker, or a groan of sympathy for the poor boy. "Are you done?"
"Um, yes," she said, still on the edge of laughter and hefting her things. Getting the armor packed into something possible to carry had taken some doing, the first time she'd tried it, but it wasn't as awkward as it could be. Hemlock lead the way across the sandy lot to the front of the building, momentarily holding the door open for Shoel to enter. She stepped a brief, amused little bobb of a curtsey, grinned at him, and went on through. Hemlock followed, simply dropping his share of the packs to speak with the clerk once past the entry and inside the lobby. Shoel waited, looking around at the room and wondering just how much this place was going to cost.
The two draclin'geyar were speaking in their own language again, completely leaving Shoel in the dark as to what they were saying. It didn't seem very friendly, though, and after a few exchanges Hemlock just slapped a gold coin on the desk and stalked back to pick up the packs.
"Someday I'm going to have to learn more languages," she muttered to herself.
The clerk heaved a sigh, then, and turned to her. "Can I help you, madam?"
"Yes, please... just a room. For however long he said he's staying." She pointed after Hemlock. " ... Preferably not a particularly expensive one," she added with a little embarrassment.
The clerk blinked, seeming a little confused. "Miss, all our rooms are the same price."
More embarrassed, she shrugged. "I've, um, never been here before, I didn't know. Just a single room, then, please."
The clerk nodded, marking down something in his record book. "That will be 75 silver, please."
Shoel very nearly squeaked, and it was only will-power that kept her silent. "For how long would that be?" she managed, some how not sounding too overwhelmed.
"A week," the clerk replied, now staring at Shoel icily. "You do have enough money, right?"
What was she supposed to say? What the hell was Hemlock thinking?? I'm not rich! I'm hardly above poverty! "I'll get back to you on that," she answered, just as frostily, and turned on Hemlock, half exasperated and half pleading. "Hemlock," she began softly, almost a hiss, "I could only just afford the rooms in Phoenix Rose-- after supplying us for this trip, there's no way I can afford this place. Maybe a single night. Maybe."
Rolling his eyes slightly, Hemlock took her hand and pressed a gold coin into it before hissing in her ear: "If you need something, just ask."
Shoel blinked blankly at him, suddenly wondering just how much money someone as old as him could amass, if he could give away gold coins just to stay at a nice inn. " ... Thank you."
Hemlock shrugged, looking rather indifferent. "You're welcome."
Not only am I traveling with an old bastard, I'm traveling with a rich old bastard, she thought, Wonderful. Returning her attention to the snobby clerk-- no wonder Hemlock was short with him, he wasn't exactly friendly-- she set the coin on the counter. "There. Where am I going?"
The clerk sighed, snapping his book closed and retrieving twenty-five silver from his money pouch, placing it before Shoel. As she scooped it into her own purse, he said, "Third floor, eleventh door to your right."
"Thank you, sir." With a sigh of her own, she returned to Hemlock and her own packs, lifting them with a little groan. "I hope this place is worth it, Hemlock-- though I don't suppose it matters, if you're paying."
"If you want more money, I have more; I don't use it much," Hemlock said in answer, still rather indifferent towards the topic of money. "I think it's rather overpriced myself, but so are the rest of the inns in the city." Then, as they passed a window, he added, "Besides, I like the ocean."
Shoel shook her head. "I'm traveling with a rich and strangely generous old man. I had no idea. Thank you." Peering out the window, herself, she added, "I don't think I've even seen the sea in a few years...."
"I wouldn't call myself rich," Hemlock said with a blink. "Well, not anymore. What I've saved over the years I haven't had much use for, since I make most of my things myself."
"Compared to me? You're rich."
"Well all you have to do is ask," Hemlock said with a deep frown. "As long as you're traveling with me I should make sure you're well taken care of."
That was a far cry from Phoenix Rose, where he'd gruffly told her he hoped she could pay for her own room, but Shoel decided not to comment. "Well, I'm grateful. We might need it, to afford supplies to get back to the Ring of Fire-- or inns now and then, if there are any," she added wistfully. Though she was a perfectly capable woodswoman, she still preferred a real bed, food that wasn't dried or she didn't have to catch herself, or both.
"Or maybe a halfway decent dinner we don't have to cook ourselves?"
"Or both," she agreed. "As good at cooking as you are, I wouldn't mind a change. ... Just how big is this place?" she asked as they reached the landing of the third floor at last.
"Five stories." He started off down the hall, mentally counting doors until he came to the ninth one on the left, opened the door, and disappeared inside.
"Five stories," she repeated to herself, then shook her head and went two more doors down on her right and went in, herself. The room was not as cozy as the ones back in Phoenix Rose. It was built of wood instead of stone, and painted white. There was, however, a rather nice rug on the floor instead of bare, cold wooden planks. Light-colored but heavy drapes hung over a mostly glass door that lead out onto a terrace. Other than that, though, there wasn't much else save for the bed, a bedside table, and a body-length mirror. Plastered along the ceiling as a border were seashells.
"Definitely overpriced," Shoel muttered, then set about getting her things in order.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.