Chapter Fifty-Three: Tongue-Greetings and Old Friends
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
Waking up in an actual bed was almost as strange as falling asleep in one. More comfortable, though. Shoel found-- actually to her relief, after the restless night-- that she'd slept far later than was her wont. It took her a while after that to actually get herself out of bed and into shirt and trews. She gave herself a look in the mirror, frowned at her mess of curls and tangles-- even though she'd braided it back loosely before bed, most of it had come out-- and picked up the towel she'd stolen from the bathhouse the afternoon before. It was dry now, and she thought she'd take Hemlock up on his offer to let her use his private bath. It was the only way she'd ever get her hair anything resembling tame, again, and maybe it would be more relaxing than the brief experience in the bathhouse.
Towel and tunic over one arm, and brush and soap in hand, she padded barefoot down the hall just a couple of rooms and knocked on the one Hemlock had disappeared into the night before. "Come in," Hemlock called from inside, rather than coming to the door as he had in Phoenix Rose. She tried the handle, then swung the door open quietly and peeked in.
"Good morning," she said.
"Good morning," the necromancer replied. It seemed he'd been up for a few hours as he was sitting cross-legged on the bed, fully dressed with a book propped up on his legs. "Sleep well?"
"Mmm. After a while." She hid a small yawn with a hand and drifted in, trying self-consciously to smooth down her hair. "You?"
"Mmm, I guess." He closed the book and laid it on the bed, unfolding his legs so he could stand up. After a moment of looking at her, while she blushed just a bit and held down a particularly stubborn curl that seemed to want to stand straight up, he smirked slightly and asked, "Wanting to use the private baths, I suppose?"
"If it's not too much trouble. I don't know how else I'm going to get my hair to submit, and I didn't really take much time in the bathing house yesterday...."
"You let those stupid adolescents get to you too much," Hemlock chided, moving past her out the door. "If you want to use the private baths, though, it's no problem. If the bookkeeper wants to speak to me, let him."
"Thank you...." She followed him out, wondering just where the "private baths" were. She'd imagined one of the teapot-filled tubs inns on her own world had made use of, but if there was an actual place.... The private baths were in a different part of the building, spaced out with plants in between to discourage views. Like the main bathhouse, the floor was mainly stone but instead of one big pool there were many, much smaller 'tubs' fed by the hot water system. "Here we are."
"This is much better," Shoel sighed. "Thank you."
"As I said, if the clerk complains, then send him to me," Hemlock said, eyes scanning the room. "Need anything else?"
"Mm-mm, it looks like there's everything I need, here." Especially privacy! There didn't seem to be very many people here, anyway, much less people who could see her, submerged in the steaming water.
"I'll be in my room if you need me, I suppose."
"Mmhm. I'll see you later, Hemlock." She smiled at him gratefully, then made her way further into the room, towards the nearest unoccupied tub. Hemlock disappeared, probably back to his room, and she spent the next hour leisurely cleaning and soaking-- so leisurely, in fact, that she nearly fell asleep, submerged up to her chin in the comfortably hot water. She might have, actually, had the carved seat in the tub been made for someone as big as she was. As it was, though, she just felt happily lazy when she finally got out and got dressed again.
After a brief trip outside to a street-side vendor for a little something for breakfast-- or lunch, as it was just about noon by then, given how long she'd slept in-- Shoel spent the next few hours in her room. She spent a few minutes bemoaning the state of her bandolier before attempting what repairs she could, then poured over her book of Charter marks for a relaxing hour or two. By mid-afternoon, she was more than ready for a real meal, and some company, so she put her book away and went in search of Hemlock.
The first place she tried, of course, was his room. Minus bandolier, since it made him so nervous, and with her hair braided back and mostly tame, she knocked lightly on his door. "Looking for someone?" she heard-- not from the room, but behind her. She jumped, spinning around, and found a dog-sized black dragon standing there. Hemlock. He made a loud purring sound and proceeded to twine himself around her legs like an overly large, leathery cat.
"All right, so maybe I lied," she managed, laughing, once her heart had slowed down. "Now you really <u>are</u> acting like a cat, and I have every excuse for the comparison." She scratched behind one of his dragon-ears.
"Hmph, I bark, too," Hemlock shot back, mock-nipping at her hand before taking it gently in his mouth and curling his forked tongue around one of her fingers. She was so startled she tried to tug it back, in vain, laughing again.
"Hey, no chewing on my fingers."
"I'mf noff chewgin' on fem!" Hemlock grumbled, still holding on.
"Then what in the world are you doing?" she asked, amused.
Perhaps just deciding not the talk like that again, he uncurled his tongue and let her hand go. "Hm, I can't say I rightfully know. Being affectionate in my own twisted way?"
"It's certainly unique," she agreed, chuckling and stroking down the length of his neck. "Or, it is to me. I don't suppose other draclin'geyar hug people's fingers with their tongue, do they?"
"They do, actually," Hemlock responded with a wide-eyed blink. "We are both humanoid and dragon, after all. So naturally we exhibit both traits, even in interpersonal relationships."
"Interpersonal relationships". Charter, there's something I never thought I'd hear him say! Psychologist Hemlock, talking about interpersonal relationships. "I've actually never met a dragon who did that, either," she pointed out amiably, "but I might just not be on good enough terms with any."
"Or most are so big they'd just wrap their tongues around you, so don't do it," Hemlock said smugly.
"I never thought I'd be discussing affection via tongues with anyone, much less you," she grinned, flicking a finger at one of his ears.
"Well, humans french kiss, don't they?"
Shoel blushed a bit and put a hand to her mouth to hide the embarrassed grin, only to find her fingers still sticky with dragon-spit. Hemlock dragon-spit. That's just too strange. She wiped it off on her tunic, shaking her head. "I suppose they do, it's just... not quite the same, I think."
Hemlock shrugged his narrow shoulders, sitting down in a doglike fashion and flicking his ears towards her. "Well, of course not. French kissing is more personal since it involves the mouths on both parts. It's comparable to a hand-kiss, in a way."
"Hmm. That makes sense.... You learn something new every day, I suppose." She shrugged, too, and dropped to a crouch, since he wasn't wrapped around her anymore. It felt funny towering over him like that. "Interested in an early dinner?"
"I don't see why not." He reared back onto his haunches and braced his forepaws on her knee, reaching his head up to nuzzle her cheek.
Smiling despite her surprise, Shoel tilted her head into the touch and ran her fingers along the bottom of his muzzle. "You're certainly affectionate today."
"Should I not be?" he asked, nuzzling her neck under her braid. She giggled involuntarily and jerked back, falling onto her rear against his door.
"That tickles!" she chided, pushing his nose away. Rather than backing off, the dragon gave a wicked little chuckle, and actually climbed into her lap.
"Hm, don't like being tickled?" he purred, and before she could stop him, he'd rested his chin on her shoulder and licked her neck with that snake-like forked tongue of his. Shoel couldn't help but burst out into giggles, trying to shove him off again. "Hemlock!!"
The dragon allowed himself to be shoved off, getting back to his feet while she scrambled to her feet and caught her breath. He pranced a few paces down the hall before half-turning towards her and doing a play bow like a dog. "Well, you wanted dinner, right?"
Grinning, she started after him. "I do, indeed. You get to pick, tonight."
"Hmph, I don't care." He fell into step beside her, rubbing against her leg.
"Not at all?" she asked with a bigger grin, taking advantage of the nearness to scratch lightly between his horns.
"As long as it's edible, not really," he replied, rubbing his head against her hand and closing his eyes with pleasure. He really was quite cute, like that, but Shoel wasn't about to tell him so. He'd probably just be offended. Instead, she kept up the scratching; maybe he'd even purr.
"Just don't end up making me pick the locale every time we go out," she warned. "I'll run out of options. You're the one who knows the city, after all."
"You might not like where I pick."
"You might not like where I pick. But I don't really mind too much; I'm used to picking restaurants and taverns."
Hemlock just shrugged, rubbing against her leg again. "If I think of anywhere, I'll tell you."
Shoel had to take a step sideways to keep from being overbalanced-- not quite as dangerous as it might be if they'd still been on the stairs. As it was, she just had to be careful not to run into a potted plant in the lobby, on the way to the door out. "Careful, I might not be so inclined to pet you if you knock me over," she chuckled. "And all right, that'll be fine."
Hemlock shrugged again and abruptly shifted back to human form, returning to walking beside her. "Probably less inclined now, too, eh?"
A little disconcerted, Shoel blinked at him. "You don't... pet humans... or humanoids, I suppose... not unless--" She blushed a bit. "Well, not unless you're closer than we are, anyway."
Somehow what had been cute and playful had turned awkward and uncomfortable. Shoel self-consciously ran a hand over her hair, looking at the ground. "I'm sorry?"
"For what?" Hemlock blinked at her. "You didn't do or say anything wrong, I was just playing with you."
Torn between relief and annoyance-- This is why I don't like people... I can't read them at all, she grumbled to herself-- she sighed and dropped her hand. "All right." At the door, she pushed it open and stepped out into the afternoon sun.
The necromancer followed after, arms now folded. "Sorry if I made you uncomfortable," he mumbled to her sheepishly.
"It's all right. I just don't read people very well, that's all, so I thought you were annoyed when you weren't. At least, I think you weren't-- were you?" She looked side-long at him.
"Why would I be annoyed?" He tilted his head quizzically in response to her look.
"I don't know. I just thought you were. Like I said, not good with people." She offered him a lop-sided grin.
"My fault," Hemlock said with a little sigh.
"Misunderstanding," she corrected. "There's a difference."
Opening his mouth to reply, Hemlock was suddenly cut short as a call of, "Oi, Myo!" rang out in the street. At the familiar voice, Shoel turned in surprise, to see the white-haired man she had met in the bath house running up to greet them.
"Jui..." Hemlock replied, low and surprised, just as Juinyiir made it to them and gave him a firm shove, causing the slightly taller necromancer to stagger back a few steps. He began ranting off, in what was their own native tongue. Soon, the two were in an all-out argument. Shoel looked rapidly between the two draclin'geyar men, completely taken aback. Not only did they know each other-- they were arguing! In another language, no less, leaving Shoel behind to wonder what in the world was going on.
Well, she wasn't going to wonder for long. Taking a lung-full of air, Shoel bellowed with all her field-marshal strength, "Break it up!" She stepped forcibly between them, one hand on either chest, and shoved them apart-- not hard to do, given she outweighed the both of them, and was several inches taller than Juinyiir.
Juinyiir blinked in surprise, but Hemlock was still giving him a dirty look-- albeit a rather unreadable dirty look. She kept a restraining hand on his chest, just in case she needed to hold him back. "Um, is there a problem, miss?"
"I should say there's a problem!" she exclaimed. "What the hell do you think you're doing, running up here and starting a fight!"
At that, it was Hemlock's turn to blink. "We weren't fighting, exactly...."
"Sure looked like it, to me! Shoving each other and shouting in a language I don't understand, what'd you think I was going to think?" She dropped her hand with an exasperated huff. "Anyone mind explaining?"
The two men looked at each other, and quite suddenly burst into laughter. Shoel's anger rather abruptly deflated into irritated embarrassment. "He was yelling at me for the-- haha-- particularly horrible things I've done lately," Hemlock said, in between laughs. "Saying he doesn't know-- how I've changed so much for the worse since we were kids. --I was asking him where the hell he's been the past-- who knows how many years."
"You two know each other?" she asked, sure she sounded somewhere between incredulous and plaintive. "From when you were children?"
"We grew up together," Hemlock explained, putting a hand on Shoel's shoulder. "He's actually a few years older than me, was my best friend when we were young. The one I use to show off with Willowwhisps for."
Juinyiir nodded in agreement. "I always thought Danaus was the bastard, though; lately you've been doing a good job of making yourself look like one."
"I'm not power hungry like Danaus," Hemlock snapped in response, glaring at Juinyiir. "I thought I would like to lead, but after a while it became more and more evident it wasn't fitting. If any of us should have ruled, it would have been Fresia, not us idiot necromancers."
Shoel didn't know either of those names, nor did she know most of what they were talking about, but she did know that Hemlock wasn't like he used to be. "Hey, he's not so bad," she said defensively. "Everybody makes a few mistakes, it's allowed."
Juinyiir tilted his head back, staring at the sky rather than at her or Hemlock. "I suppose so. Hemlock, what the hell kind of name is that? You want to be a relative of barley?"
The necromancer gave him another, rather cross glare. "A necromancer's name, for one who uses poisons."
"Ah, I think we have a lot of catching up to do," Juinyiir said, sounding a little embarrassed. "Well, sorry for interrupting you; I'll talk to Myokan when he's alone." He gave what looked like some kind of salute, then a bow and turned to walk off, leaving Shoel to stare after him, feeling like she'd somehow missed something.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.