Shoel's Story

Chapter Forty-Nine: The Laughing Owl

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


Hemlock was actually waiting for Shoel in her room when she came back, sitting on the edge of her bed. She blinked at him in mild surprise. "Have a good bath?"

Recovering her surprise and setting the bundle of her dirty things beside her packs, she shrugged. "It, ah, had it's ups and downs. I didn't realize the bath houses here were co-ed."

"Was the co-ed part the up or down?" Hemlock asked dryly, raising an eyebrow and looking at her with an expression somewhere between curiosity and seriousness.

"Mostly the down," she admitted irritably. "Some bratty little adolescent decided to come and appraise me like I was some kind of prize mare, and when I told him to back off, he called me a racist pig. So, naturally, I threw him across the pool. I did meet a rather nice older gentleman with a Willowwhisp, though," she added, giving her hair another squeeze with the towel before discarding it, as well, over the footboard of the bed.

"Threw him across the pool?" Hemlock asked, looking something like he was trying hard not to smile or laugh. She couldn't really blame him; in hindsight, it was kind of funny....

"Well, maybe more like halfway or so, but yes." She fished through her packs a moment before producing her brush, and started working through her tangled hair. Hemlock shook his head, still amused. He looked like he'd washed, too, though he hadn't been down at the bathing house. She squinted at him suspiciously; did he have somewhere else he could go? Or-- a private bath? Oh, if he had a private bath, she was so going to bully him into letting her use it--

"So are you ready for dinner?"

Shaking aside the interrupted speculations, she gave the comb a final tug through her hair and eyed her bells speculatively. She couldn't imagine needing them, but she didn't like the idea of leaving them behind. After a moment of her hand hovering over the bandolier, she finally gave in and slipped it over her head. "Don't even start," she told Hemlock. "It just doesn't feel right without them."

At the warning he closed his mouth, swallowing the half-formed objection. "All right, bring them," he said off-handedly, though it still sounded a little sour. "At least no one knows what they are."

"It's not as if I'm going to use them," she shrugged, slipping outside and tugging on a strand of still-loose hair. "I just... feel safer, I suppose. And besides, leaving them behind in an unguarded room makes me nervous."

"Not that anyone here knows how to use them," Hemlock grumbled in response, following her out and closing the door behind him. "Unless you're not the only one here from your realm, they'd be ignored."

"So I'm irrational," she grumbled right back. "So what?"

"Makes two of us," Hemlock said, with a slightly bitter chuckle. When he reached out and tugged a strand of moist hair at her back, Shoel jumped in surprise and stopped walking, blinking over her shoulder at him. He blinked back, folding his arms. "What?"

Shoel frowned faintly, then shrugged. "Nothing, I suppose... I just wasn't expecting that." She gathered her hair up a little self-consciously, just to get it back from her face, then let it fall again and resumed walking. He fell into step behind her, but this time didn't tug on her hair again. "So where are we eating at?"

"I don't know, maybe a cafe or something." The words were followed by another light tug on a strand of hair, a little harder but not enough to hurt.

She stopped again, this time arching a brow at him, unsure whether to be amused or annoyed. "Are you having fun?"

Hemlock gave a shrug, looking up at the ceiling. "I don't know, I guess?"

"You," she said firmly, though not exactly seriously, pointing a finger at him, "are a strange, strange man."

"Dragon," Hemlock corrected with a slight smirk. "Well, a little of both, really. If you want me not to touch you, though, just say so."

"It... doesn't really bother me," she said, almost surprising herself. "I just couldn't figure out what in the world you were doing."

"Playing with you," he answered with a slight shrug.

She stared at him a moment. "Playing with me."

"Yes," he said with a blink, tilting his head in that habitual way of his. "Why?"

"I just... never figured you for the playful type." Obnoxious bastard, protective warrior, reluctant friend, sick little boy, and now playful. The man-- dragon-- whatever was just plain confusing. At least he wasn't rude. She shook her head, smiled a bit, and started walking again.

Hemlock snorted softly, falling into step behind her again. "What, you think all I do is kill things and harass people?"

"No, I've just never seen you be playful before, that's all. You can be... not-playful without doing nothing but killing and harassing people." Her Aunt Chlorr was very good at it, actually. The Abhorsen had to be the least playful person she'd ever known, and would ever know again.

"I am sometimes when in a good mood," the necromancer said, flushing a little and folding his arms tighter. "Probably schizophrenic or something, heh."

"Schizo-- what? Oh, wait, never mind." For a moment she hadn't recognized the term, but then she remembered reading something about psychological illnesses once she'd arrived at Star City. Interesting reading, if she remembered rightly. "I doubt it. Just a moody old bastard, that's all," she said with a half grin of her own over her shoulder, trying her hand at teasing him.

"Depends on what you mean by bastard," Hemlock replied, smirking back and tugging at her hair again. She retaliated by grabbing for his hand, without really expecting to catch it. To her surprise, he actually let her, though he certainly would have seen it coming. "I hope you're not going to cut that off, you know."

"Do you see any daggers coming out?" she retorted lightly. She just gave the hand a mock-slap before releasing it and turning around again; they were at the bottom of the stairs by now, and she started across the lobby. "Besides, how would you get any use out of that sword I spend hours on without your sword-hand? That would just be a waste."

"Oh, so I'm nothing more than a bodyguard now, am I?" Hemlock said, mock-hurt. "And here you called me your friend!"

"Pure magical and economic sense, my friend," she chuckled, crossing the lobby and opening the door for him with a little flourish. Well, if he could be playful... so could she? "Can't let good spell-casting go to waste, now, can I?"

Of course, that was when he decided to be obstinate; he stopped behind her with his arms still folded. "Ladies first," he said curtly, emphasizing the 'ladies'.

Shoel rolled her eyes. "I'm hardly a lady, Hemlock," she protested, but went through, anyway, to forestall an argument.

The necromancer followed after her, chuckling. "Oh you're not? Why not?"

"I don't like dresses, I sword-fight, I swear, I eat too much, I'm too muscular, I can't stand cosmetics, embroidery drives me absolutely crazy, and I don't let the boys rescue me or win." It was a familiar litany, and she counted each trait off on her fingers. "Oh, and I wield bells."

"I'd like to see you in a dress," Hemlock said thoughtfully, making her brows shoot up as she glanced at him. Then he smirked, laughing a little, and countered nearly every one of her points: "You do not eat too much, you let me practically rescue you, never trust someone who doesn't swear, there are high-ranking women who sword-fight, you're a mage that uses bells, and do you mean wearing embroidery or doing it?"

Shoel couldn't help but start laughing. "Doing it," she managed. "I like your take on things better than those annoying boys at home!"

"The world would be boring if everyone was the same," Hemlock mumbled. "I prefer people with character, myself."

"I do, too," she agreed, laughter dying down to a chuckle and a grin. "Yet another thing to make me unlady-like!" She rolled her eyes.

"You mean yet another thing to make you a deep person?"

"It amounts to about the same thing, I suppose," she told him cheerfully. "I may not be ladylike, but I never really wanted to be, either."

Hemlock just shrugged in response, unfolding his arms again. "I'd still like to see you in a dress."

She arched a brow back at him, still grinning. "Why? So you can see me fall on my face when I trip on the hem? I look awful in dresses, all out of place; you're not missing anything."

"I bet you look fine," Hemlock reassured her with another shrug.

She gave him a skeptically amused look, but shrugged, herself, and directed her attention to the road. They were back in the city proper, now, with cobbled roads instead of sand. "So where is there somewhere good to eat? Do you remember anything in particular?"

"Hmm, there's the city square. Several cafes, and the pavilion to sit and eat in," Hemlock answered, flicking at her hair. She shook her head reflexively, sending the whole mass of it swinging.

"Was that the largest square we passed through to get to the inn?" she asked; they were heading that way, so she guessed it probably was.

Hemlock nodded in agreement. "That would be it. Rather nice place, if you don't mind a lot of people."

"Well, with my hair down, I don't think there's any way for them to notice I'm human, unless they get close up in my face. The whole mess of it would even hide your ears." She pulled a black strand into her face, sighed a bit at it, then brushed it back again. "So I suppose I'll be safe from too many stares."

"Be less obvious if you had worn a cloak," Hemlock grumbled. "Though I guess it only really is your ears that gives you away as a human. Heh."

"It's too hot for a cloak," she pointed out, wrinkling her nose a bit, but when she glanced around, she was rather relieved to find that she was not being stared at. Well, maybe by one fellow, but he quickly looked away when she caught him, and she smiled with relief. "So where did you get to wash up? I didn't see you in the bath house?"

"I paid extra," Hemlock said, sounding a little annoyed. "I don't like bathing in front of even you. Cultures change. My time was more-- private."

"At least you wouldn't get obnoxious teen-agers calling you 'well-built', and then calling you a racist pig when you don't approve," she retorted dryly.

"You're welcome to use it," Hemlock said with a shrug. "And I know how to deal with teenagers if you want to call me...."

"I can fight my own battles," she reminded him. "Next time I might bring my sword-- but if you really don't mind, I'd rather there not be a next time. Thank you."

"Just warn me before you walk in, at times I don't like to be interrupted."

Shoel shot him a brow-quirked look. "As if I'd ever barge in without knocking. Who knows what kinds of things you get up to when you actually have privacy?"

" ... I hope you're not implying again that I'm a lecher," Hemlock answered dryly, unamused.

She blinked at him blankly. "Of course not. For all I know, you have a-- a rock collection, or something, or you mix up poisons in your room, or who knows what."

"I haven't been mixing poisons, lately," Hemlock sighed, defused. "Should probably mix some more salve and different painkillers again, though...."

"Well, we've paid for a week, you've got time. Hmm, I should find some parchment and ink; I need to send messages to Jasien and Drakonus, so they know we're still alive and well." Since they were just entering the square, she eyed the nearest shop-- which didn't happen to be stationary-- but she was more hungry than in need of message-making materials, anyway, so she went back to trying to pick out a good eatery from the jumble.

"We can shop if you want, might as well put this money to use."

"Aw, how sweet," she chuckled, patting his arm. "Spending your money on me. What next? --Hey, is this place any good? Do you remember it?" She motioned to a smaller establishment, not out in the middle of everything, but actually kind of out of the way. It was well-painted but not new, with a sign painted with a creature that looked something like an owl, but might not have been. There was writing on the sign, as well, but she couldn't read it.

"Laughing Owl," Hemlock murmured, reading the wording on the sign. "Hm, personally I like the small places like this better. Gems in disguise, should be fine."

"Good, I am absolutely famished."

She made a bee-line for the building, weaving through the crowd easily enough. People largely got out of her way, seeing as she was taller and heavier than the bulk of the crowd, and she had learned crowd-navigation skills long ago. It wasn't until she'd nearly reached the Laughing Owl that she realized Hemlock wasn't right on her heels again, and turned to find him just now catching up with her, looking out of breath. "Gods," he panted.

"Are you all right? -- Oh, Charter, I'm sorry," she interrupted herself once she realized what must have happened. "I've spent so much of my life in crowds, I forget not everyone's as good at them as I am...."

Hemlock mumbled something and straightened his clothes. "It's alright, I guess," he said, slightly annoyed. "Anyway, shall we go in?"

"Of course," she agreed, stepping inside the little building.


Chapter Fifty



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

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