Shoel's Story

Chapter Fifty-Four: The Charter

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


"Sorry," Hemlock said quietly, running the hand that wasn't on Shoel's shoulder through his untidy hair. "Old friend, seems he's as strange as ever."

"He's the one I met in the bathing house, with the whisp," she told him, a little vaguely, frowning faintly. "So he's usually like that? He seemed a bit more... clear, before."

"I don't know," the necromancer answered sheepishly. "Was pretty clear, though a bit excited. Sorry you couldn't understand what we were saying, then it might have made more sense. Or if you knew more, perhaps...."

Shoel shook her head shortly, shaking herself out of her confusion at the same time. "It's all right, not your fault. Who are Danaus and Fresia?"

"My brother and sister."

"Ah, all right." She knew that tone, and she knew that subject. She wasn't likely to get anything more out of him without really trying, and right now, she wasn't going to try. Someday, maybe, after they'd known each other longer than a month and a half. Instead, she hooked her arm through his and started determinedly towards the city square. They passed the time walking with bickering, as usual, and when it got too tense-- particularly his grip on her hand, with which he seemed to be taking his his frustration with her-- Shoel made a point of changing the subject. 

"Are you still interested in learning about the Charter at all?"

His grip relaxed a little, and thus, so did she. "Learning, yes. I don't know if I want you to mark me, though."

"Well, you hardly know enough to even know what that means, anyway," she said. "So I didn't really expect you to-- I doubt I would until I were sure you knew enough to be making an informed choice. But I'll certainly tell you about it, without actually linking you to it."

"Maybe we can talk after we eat," Hemlock said after a moment, eyes scanning the market place they'd finally arrived at. "So where to this time?"

"Hmmm." Shoel looked around, as well, moving them expertly, if slowly, through the crowd towards a different sector than they'd visited the night before. "That one, the one painted with the little gold rosettes, looks rather like the buildings in Phoenix Rose. You don't suppose it's the same kind of place, do you? Serving Arliingran food?"

"Possibly," Hemlock answered with a slight frown, looking at the building. "If you like more vegetables, we can eat there."

"They serve meat, too, especially if you ask for it," she pointed out. "They did when I was in Phoenix Rose, anyway. I'm hardly a vegetarian, either. Besides, you said I could pick," she added with a grin, and drew him that way.

"Stubborn broad," Hemlock protested, but let her lead him. "And of course they serve meat, too, the natives are dragons!"

"Stubborn broad"? Don't know if I like that one. Probably accurate, though. "Then what are you frowning about?"

"Arliingran food." He stuck his tongue out at her, scrunching up his face. "You and those dragons."

Forgetting the slight, Shoel snickered behind a hand at his expression. "It's in a draclin'geyar city, Hemlock, I can't imagine it'll be that bad."

"Rabbit food," he mocked, putting his free hand up in the air. "Do you want to turn into a rabbit?"

"I'd probably make a pretty bad rabbit," she retorted. "All big and gangly. I'd have to be a hare, instead."

In response Hemlock poked her in the side, which she twisted a little in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid, and made a 'hmm' sound. "I guess you're right; but do you have big enough feet?"

"I could step on you and you could find out." Since she couldn't get away from his poke, he certainly wouldn't be able to avoid hers-- so she return-poked.

"I'm afraid you'd squish me." Instead of counter-poking again, he actually pinched her on the arm. Not too hard, of course, but enough to be annoying.

"Ow, hey!" She swatted his shoulder-- not too hard, either. "No pinching. Or I will step on you."

"But you're so pinchable!" Hemlock said in a mock pout, and of course did it again. "Nice and soft."

"Shit, ow, stop that!" She ducked free of his arm and pushed him lightly ahead of her, into the door of the Arliingrad-style building. To her surprise, he very nearly fell, staggering through the door of the cafe and just barely managing to catch himself.

"Hey now," he growled. "None of that!"

"I'm sorry," she apologized, coming in after him to catch his arm and help him keep his balance. "I didn't think I'd pushed you that hard."

"It's all right." He gave her hand a pat, and she looped her arm through his again.

"Don't think I won't do it again, later, if you keep pinching me, though," she warned cheerfully, looking over the small establishment-- less crowded than the Laughing Owl had been, and decorated with a motif of flame and feathers-- for an out-of-the-way table. There was actually a corner one empty, and she angled for it.

"Flame and feathers," Hemlock said, stating the obvious with a smirk. "Phoenixes."

"A little bit of home, I suppose," she chuckled, and freed his arm to slip into the bench-like seating for this particular table. He dropped down across from her to wait to be noticed by one of the servers. It was going to take a while; though less crowded than the Laughing Owl, this eatery was larger, and there didn't seem to be as many people on duty: after all, it wasn't really time for dinner yet. They passed the time talking about phoenix lore, about which Shoel found she knew very little, particularly since the bulk of it came from a place called Earth, which she'd heard of but never visited. 

Then Hemlock changed the subject, probably because he'd run out of information on phoenixes. Or he was just impatient. "You said you wanted to talk about Charter magic?" He leaned forward, both eyebrows raised in a curious expression. "While we're waiting we'd might as well talk about it."

"We don't have long to wait, I think the proprietor finally spotted us," she said, catching sight of one of the dragoniod people emerging from the kitchen. "But we'll have time while we wait for the meal."

"All right," Hemlock replied, looking just a little disappointed.

"It'll only be a minute or two," she reassured him with a smile, reaching over to squeeze his folded hands briefly. That he was looking forward to learning something about her own world and magic was heartening.

That was when the dragon man reached them. He was a much quieter-looking fellow than their cheerful tender of the night before, a calm shade of blue with his wings folded demurely over his shoulders and black, star-strewn eyes. "Welcome to the Rising Phoenix," he said, voice as gentle as his manner. "What might we serve you tonight?"

"Hm, well, if I remember right the fish stew in Arliingran is good," Hemlock said to the waiter. "I think I'll have that, just with water. Thank you."

"Very good, sir," the dragonan smiled, turning to Shoel, who knew exactly what she wanted.

"Bread pockets with fish and vegetables, and some of the Arliingran peach cider." She'd discovered those at her stay in Phoenix Rose, and had rather liked them. Particularly the peach cider. Not that it really tasted like the peaches she knew, it was just the best translation they had for the fruit name.

"Excellent choice," he approved. "I will bring you your meals shortly." With a little bow, then, he scuttled back to the kitchen.

"Seems you'd been poking around a lot," Hemlock said, raising a brow at Shoel. "Enjoyed Phoenix Rose, did you?"

She smiled back at him. "I did, actually. Especially the peach cider. Though the sculpture was beautiful, too."

"Quite different here, isn't it? Not really as laid back or comfortable as Phoenix Rose. Heh, at times I can't stand it here."

"There are a lot more people," she admitted. "Though I haven't really explored, either, so I can't say much about anything else. I was too content to stay in and relax this afternoon."

"Where no adolescents harass you because you're a human woman?" Hemlock chuckled.

Shoel laughed. "That, too. Though if they'd tried again, I'd actually leave marks, I think. --Anyway, you wanted to hear about the Charter?"

At the mentioning of the Charter again, the necromancer looked at her intently and gave a solemn nod. "Yes, please."

"All right, then. Well, I think you referred to it once as a plane, without really knowing-- but you were partly right. It's like another plane of existence, filled with light and Charter marks. It's got something of a mind of its own, like almost anything magic from my world. I suppose you could call it the closest thing to a religion we have, in the Old Kingdom."

"I see," Hemlock mumbled, still looking intent. "I would ask you where it came from, but I don't think that you could answer that. So go on."

"As far as we know, it has no beginning or end," she shrugged. "There might have been a beginning, at one point, when the Great Charters were instated and the Wall built, but I don't know anything about how exactly that came to be. Mmm, the Great Charters. There are five of them, actual sources or continual connections to the Charter itself. Two are the great stones, under the palace itself. One is in the royal line, one is in the line that keeps the Dead down-- the Abhorsens. The last belongs to the Clayr, who see the future in the northern Glacier."

"Seers," Hemlock snorted. "I never saw much need for them, they can't tell the exact future and are so-- paranoid. Hm... Abhorsens...."

"The Clayr are helpful at times," Shoel defended them lightly. "And I've never actually met one who was paranoid.... But I don't suppose it matters, it's not like I'll ever see them again. So there are the magical bloodlines and the Charter source stones. Then there are Charter mages. They are people who can dip into the Charter through their baptismal mark, and draw the Charter marks out and into spells. All Abhorsens and most kings and Clayr are Charter mages of some sort, though some are better than others."

"Useful," he grunted in dry response. "I know at least a few of those spells hurt."

"The ones that are actually dangerous are usually the hardest to cast. The more powerful a spell, the more powerful a mark you need-- and the more powerful marks are hard to summon. You saw how exhausted I was after forcing you off me, and trying to heal you, on top of it. --I do have to admit, though," she added thoughtfully, "that it's been easier on this particular trip to reach the Charter and cast through it than it's been in years, even more than in Phoenix Rose. So far from home, the Charter is usually harder to reach, but it hasn't seemed as far away lately."

"Magical buffer zone," Hemlock said in simple explanation, looking thoughtful again though his mind still remained mostly towards what Shoel was telling him. "This planet is in a particularly powerful one. In addition, this realm isn't as sealed off as the one Star City is in, so it's easier to reach to other planes of existence."

"Perhaps so," she agreed. "I'm just glad of it, no matter what the reason; otherwise, I probably couldn't have cast that fire spell in Galarin's place."

"Well, I'm glad you can reach the Charter more easily here, then."

"Hmm, what else can I tell you.... Most people in the Old Kingdom are baptized into the Charter at birth, and thus bound into the magic of the land. It doesn't really do much except give minimal protection from loose Free Magic, unless you have a gift for magic-- but it does a lot, then. Between Charter mages, you can use another Charter mage's mark to identify them, to sense their affiliation with the Charter-- you can corrupt the connection, too, and corrupt Charter Mages are dangerous, as well. If you're really close to a person and very close to the Charter, you can sense things like mood or energy, how tired you are, or if you're sick. I was never particularly good at that, but my sister could just about read your mind through the Charter."

That didn't seem to agree with Hemlock, he scowled. "I'd rather not have my mind read...."

"Well, since the only other Charter mage you're ever likely to run into is me, you won't have to worry about it. Besides, it only works if you're touching the other person's mark, and they, yours. It's easy to avoid."

"So what's the point to all this? Why would someone want to become connected to the Charter?" Hemlock questioned, frowning. 

"In my world, because it's the only way to do magic that isn't harmful or corrupting. Though there are other reasons." She smiled some, touching her own mark lightly. It responded with a rosy glow, and she felt a little of the warmth of the Charter flow through her. "The Charter is like... a comforting presence. I said my bells are like old friends, but the Charter is like... everything. Everything good in the world. It keeps you steady, protects you when it can, comforts you when you feel alone... connects you to Life, when everything else around you feels like Death."

"Seems like a lot of nonsense," Hemlock responded dryly.

"Well, I suppose it might seem so, since you're not a part of it, and it's so new to you...." Frowning faintly, unsure how she could convey the importance of it, she thought a moment, but then shook her head and went back to the conversation at hand; if there was a way, it would come to her eventually. "Well, there is the benefit of working magic, of course. Are you still interested enough to hear about how that works?"

"Yes, actually. Though I'm not sure I'd be able to use it."

"I expect you could, if you decided to let me baptize you. But the Charter itself appears to a mage like nothing but a never-ending flow of marks, like on my sword, my forehead, and like you've seen me trace in spells or in my diamonds of protection. They are almost exactly like runes in that they each have meaning, or even multiple meanings, and can be read if anyone would care to write in them. They each have names, as well, but learning the names and meanings takes actual study. Some mages have an instinctive grasp of the Charter and let it guide their spells as needed, without recognizing the marks themselves, but those are rare. Most of us study. That's what that book of mine I brought with me is on, older and more powerful Charter marks."

"Like the marks you used to protect against disease and heal my tail?"

"Mmmhmm. The ones against disease were for health and purity, respectively. The first, for health, is called Ahern. There are other marks that mean the same thing, of varying strength; Ahern isn't particularly powerful, but it also didn't take much energy on my part. That's why I layered it, marking us every morning and night."

"I see. I think I understand a little of what you were trying to tell me, as well," Hemlock said with a slight nod.

"Which part?"

"About the feeling when sensing the Charter, I guess."

"Mmm, that's good. Though I expect it will actually take experiencing it to fully understand... it's not exactly an easy concept to accept." She smiled a bit at him, trying to imagine what it would be like to never know the Charter, and failing.

"You have to remember, this is a different world," Hemlock sighed, propping his head on his arms. "It's strange to me to think of such magic."

"Everything here seems so... sterile," she agreed. "The magic. Magic in my world has personality, sometimes a will of its own. I describe the Charter and a mage's connection to it like a religion, as much as a plane of existence and a source of power, because sometimes people understand it better that way."

Hemlock gave Shoel a strange look. "Here where magic has its own will or personality you want to stay away."

Shoel chuckled. "I'll remember that. But I promise, the Charter is benevolent, whatever it is."

"I don't know if I want to be part of it," Hemlock murmured, moving one hand from beneath his chin to idly toy with his fork. "It seems so strange to me."

"There... might be a way to show you what it's like, without actually marking you permanently," Shoel said slowly. "It's right on the edge of my thoughts, it just isn't coming to me right now.... At any rate, it isn't as if you need to decide now. If ever. It was just a thought, in case you wanted to."

"I don't know," the necromancer answered, picking up his fork to twirl it between his fingers. "If you remember how to show me, I suppose I will let you. No guarantees, though."

She smiled some at him. "I wouldn't expect any."


Chapter Fifty-Five



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

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