Chapter Sixty-Nine: A Willowwhisp Flitter
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
"Charter," she sighed after the innkeeper had descended the stairs. "I must be out of practice with being gracious, I suppose."
"You did look awkward," Myokan agreed, giving her a poke, which she automatically returned. "Or maybe he just doesn't care."
"I hope not. I ought to be better for the king, that will probably be more formal... I can handle formal." It had been a while, but she could dredge up memories of court on her own world. If Drakonus even had a court.
"Too bad you didn't get a dress," he commented snidely, poking her in the belly; that time she swatted lightly at him, smirking. "So which room do you want?"
"I don't have money for a dress," she reminded him, "but I did bring my more formal tabard and embroidered tunic. --And I don't suppose it matters, really. This one?" She motioned to the one on the left with a shrug.
"Doesn't matter to me. I'd still like to see you in a dress, though." He reached up with a hand and tugged one of her round ears instead of poking her again. Well, at least he wasn't repetitive?
She wrinkled her nose at him. "Maybe someday. And then you can laugh."
"I won't laugh."
"But I'll look ridiculous," she snorted lightly, leaning back against the door to the room she'd randomly picked, still holding one of his hands. "The only thing that saved me, on my own world, was my mother working whatever strange cosmetic and hair-styling magic she has. I don't even have that here."
"I'm sure you'll look fine," he chuckled, leaning in to give her a light kiss on the corner of the mouth, surprising her and making her blush all over again, but smile, too. "You're just too nervous."
She chuckled a little. "The strange things I'm afraid of. Not Dead things, not demons, not Death-- but tall trees, people thanking me, and dresses."
"Well, I think you'd like the trees more if you didn't leap out of one into a bog."
"Or into anything," she agreed. "I'd be happiest just looking at tall trees from the bottom, thank you very much."
He took her other hand, as well, holding both up to his mouth and planting a kiss on top of each. She blushed a little again and squeezed his fingers gently. I wonder how long it will take to get used to so much affection... hopefully not too long, if he keeps it up! "Well, I can't hold that against you, I suppose."
"I appreciate that. At least you don't have any reason to-- I just hope I can get over it before I'm supposed to be learning how to fly with a dragon."
"Well, you rarely have to jump off a dragon's back," he said with a slight smirk, just faintly amused.
"But it's entirely possible to fall. Or for the dragon to fall, and you fall, with it."
"Well, unless the dragon gets shot or something, it's unlikely it will fall."
"I'm sure that's true," she agreed, "but I'll always worry about it, unless I somehow get over this." She pulled up a grin, and freed one hand from his to run carefully through a few strands of his hair. "Maybe I should just keep you with me to keep me distracted, again."
"On a dragon's back?" he asked with a small blink.
"Well, you fly, don't you?" she chuckled. "Besides, I'm sure there's more room on a dragon's back than on an avicorn's, and you fit just fine, then."
"If you wouldn't mind me being that close...."
"Why would I mind? It isn't as if you're a bad saddle-companion."
"It's harder to stay on a dragon's back in dragon form than a horse's."
"So don't be in dragon form?" she suggested, rubbing the back of his hand idly with her thumb, since she had yet to release him, and he had yet to release her. "I do know that dragons have saddles, or straps, or something suitable for more than one person."
Hemlock shrugged. "Still...."
"If you'd rather not, it's all right," she said. "It's not as if it will be a problem any time soon, and by then, maybe I'll be more comfortable with the idea."
"Hopefully, since they don't really allow that sort of thing in classes, anyway." He frowned. "Though later I wouldn't mind riding with you, if you still want me to."
"We'll see what happens," she nodded, starting to push up from the door. She stopped and bumped back again with a blink when she felt the warm little pouch nestled inside her tunic... twitch. That was the only word she could think of to describe it. "Myokan... when did you say that egg was going to hatch?" It did it again, and she put a hand to her chest.
"Two days, or so Dameon said. Why?"
"Because I think it's hatching now." She freed her hands to turn and open the door to the room behind her, striding in and tossing her satchel onto the bed. "Unless they have pre-hatching jitters." It actually tickled, a little, twitching and shivering against her shirt and bandolier.
Hemlock tilted his head and followed her in, closing the door behind him. "No, they generally only twitch when they're about to hatch."
"They're like dragons, right? Need to be fed right out of the shell?" She unbuckled her cloak, letting it fall for now without bothering to gather it up, and picked her bandolier off her shoulder and chest, pulling it over her head and dropping it beside the satchel. The egg's pouch rolled itself right off her bosom and down to catch against her belt. At least I've got another layer under this thing, hot or not; I can only imagine how embarrassing it would be to completely disrobe in front of Myokan.
"Yes, as do most babies to my knowledge," he said, peering at her curiously. " ... Where did you put it?"
"Inside my tunic. I don't have any pockets, and inside my satchel, I would have probably missed it deciding it wanted to hatch, and it would suffocate inside that pouch." She undid the couple of buttons holding her top layer shut and scooped the egg and bespelled sack containing it up from against her belt.
He turned away briefly, quite hoping she wasn't going to strip right there and turning a little red. "Probably a good idea, I guess... save for the obvious."
"Oh, hush. I dress in layers; it's habit, and really the way the tunic is supposed to be worn. There's nothing to see but white linen." The egg was really moving around in its confines now, and she sat down on the bed, untying the pouch's lacings and rolling it out onto her palm.
"Well next time warn me," Myo grumbled, sitting down next to her.
"I thought it was rather obvious," she said dryly, holding up her sleeve, with the bit of white sticking out past the blue. "But I will, if there is a next time. Whoops--" The egg nearly rocked right off her hand, and she had to catch it with the other. "There's some bread and smoked ham in my satchel... could you get it out for me?"
"Well, you don't really think about that when a woman starts unbuttoning her tunic," he mumbled in response, grabbing her satchel and digging through it until he found the paper-wrapped parcel she wanted, holding it out. "I wonder if Dameon got the color right...."
"You specified colors?" she asked, half curious and half distracted. She just barely managed to take the package and get it into her lap before the egg gave another convulsive spin and she almost dropped it again. How long do these things take to hatch, anyway? she wondered, not sure if even dropping it onto the mattress would cause damage.
"I told you I got it special, but evidently you still didn't read the flyers." He rolled his eyes slightly and laid back on the bed, laying flat a little moment before rolling to face her and propping his head on one arm.
"I didn't have time," she told him, eyes on the egg. She could see little cracks forming in the shell. "I went right to bed after you left last night, and was busy putting things together to leave again this morning."
"I see," he replied, not really seeming horribly interested in the rocking egg-- at least, not as interested as Shoel was. Well, since it was her egg, that was hardly unexpected. She dared drop one hand to start unwrapping the bread, meat, and bit of hard cheese-- If I'd known it was going to hatch now, I'd have brought it diced, or at least in strips, she thought irritably, but of course, she hadn't known. One of the cracks had widened enough for a bit more glow to escape-- apparently now only the shell glowed, so did the hatchling! Or, at least, something inside was glowing.
She'd managed to at least get the food unwrapped before the egg gave another lurch, right off the side of her hand. She dropped the bit of smoked ham-- or whatever the equivalent to ham was on Pre'Mian-- she'd been attempting to pull into smaller pieces with one hand, in an attempt to catch it. The force of it hitting her palm was enough shatter the shell, and a brightly glowing, baby blue little dragon spilled out across her fingers.
"So he did get the color right," Hemlock commented, sitting up and taking more interest. "Cute little thing."
It couldn't have been more than three and a half inches long, from nose to tail-tip, four at the most. She wasn't sure, under the slight stickiness from the egg fluid, just what it felt like, but beneath the glow she thought, a little surprised, that it might be furry. It was a soft blue in color, as was its little nimbus of light, and its wings were darker, patterned with points of light that looked like Willowwhisps, themselves. Its only adornment was a pair of antennae, with little points of light at the tips.
And as soon as it wriggled itself free of shards of shell, it started up a plaintive creel, flexing its baby-blunt wings and nosing around her hand with its eyes tightly shut, like a newborn kitten. "Loud, too," she commented, though not ungently, and found one of the meat scraps she'd managed to tear free on her knee, offering it up to the hatchling. It snapped it up immediately, nearly taking the tip of her finger with it. "And hungry."
"Careful he doesn't nip your fingers," Hemlock said with a little snicker, poking at Shoel. She arched a little in a vain attempt to avoid the poke, chuckling, and popped another morsel into the hatchlings mouth, as much to silence it as because she knew it was hungry. It hardly stopped to chew, and when she had to pause to break apart more of the meat, it fell back to squalling hungrily, as if now that she'd fed it, it was expecting her to continue.
" ... Hm ... "
"What, hm?" Shoel asked once she'd temporarily hushed the hatchling with a little piece of cheese, that it actually did stop to chew, giving her time to tear up a bit more meat.
"I was just wondering why its eyes are closed," he commented, knitting his brows.
"Because it's a baby?" she suggested, popping more meat scraps into its mouth once it was finished with the cheese. "It's furry, I think, and both kittens and puppies are born with their eyes closed."
At that the necromancer stared at the ceiling, rolling onto his back again. "Dameon changed it from the normal ones."
"Why would he do that?" she asked curiously. The little flit-- she could feel it more strongly now as something Dead, but only in that warm, harmless, even comforting way that a Willowwhisp felt-- was starting to slow down, now, taking the time to chew even the meat scraps and hardly making a sound between bites.
"I don't know, but I'm pretty certain he wouldn't do anything bad."
"Well, that's good," she chuckled a bit, taking a moment while the little flit chewed to stroke its head carefully with a finger. "It is cute," she agreed to his earlier comment. "I wonder how to tell if it's a he or a she...."
Hemlock shrugged in response to that, staring at the ceiling again. "I don't sex flits."
"I'll have to find someone who does, then," she nodded. Exhausted and full to bulging, the flit curled up on her palm with a little purring squeak and, as far as Shoel could tell, fell asleep.
"Does it really matter which it is?"
"Well, yes. How else am I going to know how to name it? Besides, it doesn't seem quite right to refer to it as an it all the time." She carefully settled the hatchling on her knee, so she could clean up the bits of eggshell, picking them from clothing and bedspread to pile them on the paper she'd wrapped the food in. Halfway through, she paused and leaned over to kiss Myokan on the Charter mark, brushing aside his hair with a finger; there was the comfortable rush of the Charter, and she smiled at him. "Thank you."
Myo stiffened at the kiss, looking at her with no little surprise. "Uh... you're welcome?"
"For the flit," she clarified warmly, going back to her clean-up. She didn't know the first thing about flits, even Dead ones, so she had no idea when hers would wake up and want more food. She'd have to keep something to feed it on hand, then....
The necromancer sighed and sat up. After a moment of looking into space he held out a hand, as though reaching for something. The air around his fingers shimmered in an unusual way, looking almost like mercury. Shoel, mostly finished anyway, paused what she was doing to watch curiously. After a minute or so the man shook his head, his hair falling back into his face; she was tempted to brush it back again, but refrained. "Since you wanted to know, it's a male."
"I thought you said you didn't sex flits?" she half-asked, blinking lightly.
"Undead ones I do, especially if they're not entirely in the physical realm." He shrugged and laid back again, closing his eyes.
"Oh... I hadn't even thought of that." Though she didn't know if she could do that, or not, actually. She looked down at the tiny creature, curled up into a ball even smaller than the egg had been, sides rising and falling gently-- it was Dead, but it breathed. He. Strange. "Thank you."
Bundling egg shards and some of the fluids from inside of it, off of her hand and a little bit off of the hatchling, in the paper, she crumpled it up and gave it a light toss into the little basket for trash by the small table on the opposite wall. The rest of the food she set onto her satchel to deal with later, then she scooted back to lean back against the headboard beside Myokan, fitting the flit back inside her open tunic for now, against her belt.
"Want me to leave?" he asked, not bothering to open his eyes. He knew where she was.
"You don't have to." One hand she kept against her belly and the flit, the other she dropped down to brush his hair from his face again. "I'm perfectly content with company."
"Well then, is there anything you wanted to talk about?"
"Mmm. Depends." Since he hadn't protested, she continued running her fingers over and through his hair, carefully working out a tangle here and there, making an effort not to pull. "Do you know much about flits?"
"Nothing," he said with a small smirk, still not opening his eyes. "The only one I had was skeletal."
"Hmm. What else...." She remembered something she'd commented on without really thinking about it, earlier. "Do you think Drakonus will actually see us formally, before a court, or do you think he'll be more informal?"
"More informal," he said, not bothering to think over it. "He's fairly good at reading people, so he'd probably understand neither of us would like a formal conference."
"All right... I suppose I'll still put on the fancier tabard, though. Otherwise I'll feel underdressed, next to you, in all that finery."
"Well, not exactly finery, I was teasing. But you do look quite a bit more dressed-up than usual."
"Only because these aren't clothes I wear to go trudging through swamp, decaying flesh, or anything of the like."
"Ah." Not only was he more graceful than she was, he dressed better. Maybe he should be the woman, she thought, amused, and went back to gently brushing out his hair with her fingers.
"Amusing yourself with my gray hair?"
"Yes. Though it's not all that gray."
"It's gray enough to be obvious in areas."
"Well, yes," she admitted, running her fingers through a patch of silver coming from his forehead. "But it doesn't look bad. Men can still get away with gray hair and be handsome."
"Didn't you say before I look like a woman?" Myokan asked with minor amusement, opening one wraith-gold eye to look up at her.
"I said you looked effeminate," she corrected; at least, she's pretty sure that's what she said. "Or, if I did, I was teasing. You really couldn't pass for a woman, slender and long-haired or not."
"Maybe an extremely ugly woman."
"Oh, hush, you're not ugly."
"I have a gigantic scar on my face."
"I don't think so. It's just a part of your face, that's all." She actually dared to touch it, tracing from his brow to where his hair partly covered it.
He fidgeted, and she fell back to stroking and untangling his hair. "Well, it wasn't always part of my face."
"It's all I know; I didn't see you before."
"Just as well, I hardly remember what I looked like before." He sighed at that, opening both eyes to stare at the ceiling. "Time either seems to pass too quickly or far too slowly."
Though Shoel could agree from her own experience, she expected she couldn't possibly compare to how much time Myokan had been forced to experienced. "How long do your people live?" she asked softly, resting her cheek against the headboard while she watched him, fingers still in his hair, idly moving.
"I don't know, really," he said with a small smirk. "Very few have even lived as long as I have, though by from estimation from my physical age I'd say about seven thousand years."
"Charter...." She shook her head a bit. I feel like such a baby to all these long-lived people....
"Physically we age about like humans, until where a human would be young adult. Then it slows down, I suppose."
That was when she remembered. She'd given him his birthday "gift" a day early, and now.... "I'm sorry, Myokan, I forgot. Happy birthday."
"Heh, not that it matters. Just another among countless ones."
"Well, it's the first of yours I've seen, anyway. Though I hope I'll be seeing more."
"Well," he began, smiling slightly; she sensed one of his random mood changes coming on. She was right, for he sat up and scooted back next to her, putting an arm around her shoulders. "At least I have good company for this one."
She smiled at him and shifted her cheek from the headboard to his shoulder, sliding down just a little to make it more comfortable. "I'm glad you think so."
"And I'm glad you agree." He put his other arm around her as well, giving her a slight squeeze, and she snaked an arm around his waist, behind him, to return it.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.