Shoel's Story

Chapter Forty-Eight: The Ups and Downs of Co-Ed Bathing

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


Getting organized didn't take too long, and directions to the inn's bathing house were among the things already in the room, so Shoel decided that a bath was in order. A real bath, with hot water and soap that wasn't trail-soap and actual towels. So she gathered up her spare clothes and headed for where the directions said the bathing house would be.

The bathhouse was rather nice, actually. A large stone basin with cascades of hot water for rinsing or just the pleasure of it. Unlike the Abhorsen's house, it didn't have the sulfuric smell so the water must have been heated by the people themselves, whether via boilers or magic. More plants lined the outside of the basin, in actual soil rather than pots. It reminded her of a slightly more "civilized" version of the baths at the Ring of Fire, and it looked positively heavenly.

There was only one problem: there were people in there, of both sexes. Shoel was torn between staring in shock and averting her eyes, but neither one was conducive to getting clean, so she had to actually step inside sometime. Or she could come back at midnight and hope it was deserted then.

The people didn't really seem to be paying much attention to Shoel-- at least the older ones; they seemed more interested in talking to each other, or washing. A few of the younger males, however, had their eyes on her, rather like the stable-boy had. It was disconcerting. You've faced down a plague-ridden Greater Dead, spent a month in the sole company of an old bastard of a necromancer, and jumped out of a tree into nothingness. And you can't face a room full of people without any clothes on. Charter take me, I am a coward.

Keeping her eyes on the ground, Shoel finally made herself go on, heading towards the most empty part of the communal pool and picking up towels and one of the lightly scented soaps on the way. Maybe they'd all just ignore her, if she didn't look like she wanted company.

It didn't take long, however, after Shoel had slid into the water and self-consciously started soaping up, for one of the young men-- boys, really-- decided to take his chances. She had noted the sound of his friends' laughing, felt the faint ripples in the water that heralded his approach, but hadn't paid it much attention until the sudden "Hello" made her jump and very nearly loose her soap. Ducked down embarrassedly in the water, she turned to look, and instantly looked aside with a light blush. The young man was completely nude-- though she really couldn't see much below the waterline, to her great relief, it was more the thought that he was naked, and so was she, that was embarrassing-- and trying to offering her a bow that he obviously thought was elegant or polite or... something.

" ... Hello," she murmured.

"You know, I've never seen a human woman before," he began, looking her over scrutinizingly; her blush deepened and she ducked down further, all the way up to her chin in the warm water. Was this polite behavior in his culture? All she had to go off of was Hemlock, and no one else in the room seemed as body-shy as he was. "Don't really look too different from our women, I guess. Kinda big, though."

Polite or not, she did not like his attention. "Big enough to throw you halfway across the pool if you keep staring at me like that," she growled.

"Calm down," the boy said, throwing his hands up as if to ward off her words. "I can't appreciate a well-built woman? All of ours here are so thin." In the background, his friends were laughing even harder. Shoel wanted badly to disappear, or make good on her threat to throw him halfway across the pool-- actually, given how little he was, even more of a lightweight than Hemlock and certainly shorter, she expected she could throw him halfway across the pool.

"Not like that you can't, boy," she retorted, putting extra emphasis on the last word. Charter, but this was embarrassing. "I doubt even your own women enjoy being looked at like a piece of meat."

"Yeah, well our women aren't racist pigs," the boy snapped back, jabbing her in the collarbone. "So I guess that would make you a piece of meat, eh? Oink oink!"

"Racist pig?" she snarled. After putting up with Hemlock-- not that it had been that much of an ordeal, lately, at least!-- and spending the poor man's money just to stay here, she was not going to put up with being insulted. Forgetting about modesty, she surged up from the water, grabbed the boy forcibly by the shoulders, and literally threw him several yards away from her. With the help of the water in half-floating him into her grasp, it was rather easier than she'd even imagined it. "Charter take it, can't someone try to get clean without having to put up with snotty adolescents!"

The boy landed with a splash, struggling to right himself before coughing out water. His friends waded over to him, the little group erupted into chatter. The older draclin'geyar, however, simply rolled their eyes and went back to what they were doing; maybe this was some kind of regular occurrence. There was one, however, with shoulder-length, silvery-white hair, that appeared to be chuckling at her. She shot him a disgruntled glare, as well, and dunked under the water to rinse off what soap she'd managed to apply. There was no way she was staying here, now. She'd come back later at night, when there would hopefully be fewer people, or at least fewer teenage boys!

"Don't let them get to you," she heard as she resurfaced. "No matter the culture teenage boys seem to behave badly." The silver-haired one had moved closer-- though he was obviously being careful to focus on Shoel's face and trying not to make her nervous. He himself, in fact, was actually wearing breeches. It was a nice contrast.

"I suppose that's true," she admitted reluctantly, shooting the knot of boys another nettled look. "The ones where I'm from are just as bad."

To escape, or not to escape. She didn't want to be here any longer, but neither did she want to be rude, and whoever this was, he was at least being kind. And polite. With a little sigh, she retrieved the soap and, still feeling very self-conscious, started lathering up her hair.

"Where you're from?" the man asked, quirking a curious eyebrow. "First time here, I'd presume?"

"Yes. I don't know the name of my own planet, we just went by nation names. But I've only been on Pre'Mian for about a month and a half."

"Well, I can't be much help then," he said, looking a little embarrassed. "I've only been here a week."

"That's all right," she sighed, dunking under to wash some of the soap out of her hair. She thought it might need a second wash, it was so filthy. When she came up again, blinking water out of her eyes, she continued, "I'm here with someone who used to live here, he says he knows it well enough."

A nod. "Probably a good idea, since draclin'geyar can be obnoxious to outsiders."

"Don't I know it... I was stared at by everyone on the street, all the way into the city," she grumbled, attacking her hair again, but her mood rather abruptly lightened when she caught sight-- and faint Sense-- of a small light at the side of his head, casting a glow on the blue runes on his cheekbones. "You have a Willowwhisp!"

The draclin'geyar man gave a start, but then turned to look as the faintly glowing point of light floated out in front of him. "Oh, yes. He's been with me for years. You're familiar?"

"Just as of a couple weeks ago," she admitted, smiling and holding out her hand for the spirit. "We ran into some in the marshes, the poor things."

"Oh." He watched as the spirit lit on Shoel's hand, smiling happily. "Seems to like you. Marshes are the most common places they pop up in, for some odd reason...."

"Hmm." She could tell him exactly why, for the marshes she was in, but she wasn't sure she wanted to get into it. Instead, she sat back in the water, the whisp on her palm, and rubbed the top of where its light ended. "They were the first Dead things I've ever actually liked."

All that got her was a blink. "Eh?"

"Oh, I'm sorry... um, I'm a rather odd sort of necromancer. I battle Dead things-- the undead, you call them here-- and lay them to rest, where they belong. I'd never really thought they could be good or gentle, not really believed it, until we met the whisps in the swamp. They were very friendly, even helpful. I was a little sorry to send them on, to be honest."

"I see," he replied, looking amused. "Hmm, well the whisp seems to like you, so I suppose you're not too bad of a necromancer." He chuckled. "Probably honest, too."

Sending the whisp back into the air with a little sigh, she went back to her hair. "I'm Shoel. Shoel Devaut. What's your name?"

"Juinyiir," he said, scratching his head. "Though presently my last name eludes me. Phah."

Shoel caught herself before she'd gotten to the point of staring. How could someone forget their own last name? Not even Hemlock didn't know his own last name, and he was positively ancient. She gave herself another dunking, a slightly longer one to make sure she had the soap out of her hair, and came up reaching for the towel. Just how she was going to get out and stay modest, she had no idea. "Well met, Juinyirr. Well, sort of well met. If you can call anything involving those children 'well'." She looked over at the knot of boys, which had moved off a ways, to make sure none of them were going to be oggling her this time.

"A pleasure," he said with a slight smirk and a chuckle. "Well, I suppose I should let you finish up and go get dressed. A pleasure, lady Devaut."

I'm not a lady, she thought with a purely mental sigh, and gave him a wan smile, instead. "Thank you. Have a good evening, Juinyiir, sir. And you, too," she added, catching the whisp briefly with a finger in farewell.

With that, Juinyiir waded across the pool and climbed out to dry himself off. The boys had started their talk again, pointing and laughing and making Shoel want to wring every single one of their necks. That was, until Juinyiir shot them a glare, which was far more effective than one of her own: they lapsed into uneasy silence, and said nothing more-- that she could hear, anyway-- while she found a way to wrap up in the towel just as she climbed out, herself. I wish I could be that intimidating, she thought wistfully as she wrung out her mass of hair. I also think I need a haircut.

Getting dressed was almost more awkward than getting undressed, but she managed it somehow, and she managed it a little more dryly than she'd been forced to in the wilderness, at least. And she had a towel to wrap around her hair. And she was wonderfully warm without feeling sticky. All in all, not too bad, for the price of being horribly embarrassed and throwing a rude young man across the bathing pool. She went back up to her room feeling like it hadn't been a total disaster; at least now it was over, and she'd remember to go much later, or much earlier, next time.


Chapter Forty-Nine



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

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