Chapter Seventy: Just Rewards
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
They'd spent a comfortable few minutes just like that, arms around each other in a companionable silence, when someone knocked at the door. Shoel twitched a little in surprise, but Myokan released her instantly, as if she'd suddenly grown to hot to touch, and almost before she could release him, in turn, he'd slipped off the bed and onto his feet. Shoel had to catch herself with a hand and a blink to keep from tumbling face-first onto the blankets as the support of his shoulder disappeared.
"Sorry," he mumbled, red-faced. Then he turned to the doorway and called in a louder voice, "Yes?"
"There is someone waiting for you down in the lobby," came the innkeeper's voice. "Sorry to disturb you."
"Must be Drakonus' messenger. --Thank you!" she called out to the innkeeper, following Myokan and standing up. "Charter, I didn't think he'd have time for us quite so soon." She had no idea what to do with the hatchling, still snoozing obliviously inside her tunic-- which was still unbuttoned. "Next time I find myself new clothes, I'm getting them with pockets," she grumbled, scooping the lightly-glowing blue creature out so she could at least make herself presentable, rebuttoning the tunic one-handed. The hatchling himself just gave a little peep of protest before snuggling down again against her palm.
" ... I hope he didn't get the wrong idea," Myo mumbled, sitting back down on the edge of the bed.
"The wrong idea?" she repeated, a little amused. "What is it with you and people getting 'the wrong idea'?"
" ... Are you too innocent, or what?"
"I know exactly what you mean." She paused a moment, then tucked the tiny whisp-flit into her collar, where it nuzzled into her neck, making her twitch, before settling down to sleep again. "I just don't think even a kindly innkeeper might imagine us going from hating each other and shouting at each other all the time, to being lovers, in the span of not even two months. And even if he did, so what?" Crossing the room, she opened the door with a half-grin at him. "It's not like it's true."
"You are an idealist," he mumbled, following her.
"Never claimed not to be," she agreed, letting the door shut behind him and padding out into the hall, for the stairs.
"There are those people that would be... agh... from hating each other, without even learning to get along." He shook his head, repressing a shudder. "My reputation is bad enough already."
"Hush. You look even less rumpled than usual. No one would even think such a thing, and if they did, well, I could always pull a sword on them for you?"
"There's no need for that, and defensiveness makes them think it more."
"I wasn't really serious, anyway." She touched floor at the bottom of the stairs, stepping out into the lobby and looking about for the king's messenger.
A dragon stood by the door, taller than any of the others she'd seen so far: Shoel thought she actually had to look up to meet his eyes, for the first time in quite a while; everyone on this world was so short! He was black-hided with a scaly underside, leading her to guess he might have been a mixed breed of some sort, and dressed in light armor with a teal cloak. He gave a deep bow when he saw her, flicking his antennae back. "Miss Devaut, Master Bleedingheart."
Automatically, Shoel returned the bow as a greeting, though not quite as deeply. "Yes."
Myokan also bowed, a little surprisingly. "Good to see you again, Thorn."
The dragon smiled, carefully showing as little fang as possible. "Likewise. I hear you two banished old Galarin to the next life? I was a bit surprised at first, though I suppose I can see it."
"It wasn't easy," she assured him. "But I was glad to see him released, poor man." Dragon. Whatever.
"No, I mean most would want to stay far away." He cocked his head, looking at them both with sharp, green eyes-- not starry and black like the other dragonoids here. More proof that he was not wholly of that species. "Truly an act of valor."
Shoel shrugged, a little uncomfortably. "It's what I do, that's all."
"Well, not many would do it," he answered, bowing his head a little. "But I will let the king speak on that, as it's really his business. If you would follow me, he is awaiting your company."
Charter, immediately? She'd been expecting a "come at this time", not a "follow me". I'm still dressed in my old clothes, and I don't even have my bandolier.... "Ah... pardon me, sir, but would this be a formal or informal meeting?" Myokan's opinion or not, she wanted to be sure.
"Informal, of course," Thorn answered, looking at her quizzically.
"Just making sure... he is a king." Well, she supposed she could go in slightly-faded blue. He'd seen her in just her white linen shirt, last time they'd spoken. "Lead on, then, friend."
Thorn nodded and turned, going out the door, Shoel behind him. Myokan trotted just behind her, leaning forward to whisper in her ear, "Well aren't we little miss glamorous."
Shoel responded by elbowing him lightly in the stomach.
"So worried about formality or informality," he continued, blowing lightly in her ear.
She elbowed him again, a little harder. "It's habit, all right?" she hissed softly.
"You look fine the way you are." He blew on her again, this time just ruffling her hair.
"Not to go before a court, I don't," she grumbled quietly, hunching her shoulders a little.
"A court?" he raised an eyebrow, and she felt him gently tickling the back of her neck, beside the tail of her hair. She hunched a little more, swallowing a giggle and earning a sleepy peep of protest from the hatchling she nearly squished.
"I don't even know if the king has one, but most kings do. Throne room, nobles, fancy guards, and all that." She picked the faintly-glowing flit from her collar and tucked him into the crook of one arm, to keep from forgetting he was there again.
"Oh, he does, but I doubt he'd summon us before them. It will probably be his private thanks."
"Just like you thought, before," she sighed softly. "I just wanted to make sure."
"Disappointed?" He tilted his head, gently poking her in the side.
"Yes and no," she admitted, trying absently to catch at his poking finger; she missed. "No, because I expect it would have been uncomfortable; I've never much liked courts. Yes, because it's still probably going to be uncomfortable. But now I won't have any reason to wear my formal tabbard, either, and I actually brought it." She might not look good in a dress, but she did like her formal wear.
"We can probably find an occasion for you to dress up later, if you want to," he told her, smiling slightly. "Or at least an occasion to wear a dress to."
"I told you, I don't own one, nor do I look good in one," she repeated. Still, every once in a while it did feel nice to dress up, at least a little. I may be unwomanly most of the time, but I'm allowed to like pretty things, she thought, a little sourly, and they left the inn, starting out across the city, towards the palace.
The palace itself was not immensely different in style from the other buildings in Phoenix Rose. It was airier, and in lighter colors, but not nearly as glaring as the inn rooms in the draclin'geyar province, seeming peaceful and pure rather than too bright. There were a number of tapestries and rugs, decorated with pretty, abstract designs similar to the ones Shoel had seen on the sarcophagi. It didn't seem to be overdone, rather just being a tasteful touch. Shoel thought she rather liked it-- but then, she liked most everything about Phoenix Rose, so how could the palace be any different?
Thorn lead them through several different rooms, occasionally greeting other guards but not pausing for any chatter. Shoel just inclined her head quietly at who they passed, fingers idly stroking the sleeping flit. Myokan continued to leave her alone, though he walked close enough to bother her again, if he'd wanted to. She was just glad she had no reason to scold, squeal, or even be annoyed at him in the middle of a foreign seat of rulership.
After some weaving through rooms, though the palace wasn't all that big, Thorn lead them out into an open courtyard at what must be the center, or close to it, if Shoel had guessed right about their positioning. It was shaped like an orchard, in a way, with a fountain in the center like the heart of the flower, portraying a two-tailed dragon not looking unlike one of Drakonus's people, or a draclin, or both. "Please wait here," Thorn said, bowing as he turned to them. "I will go inform the king of your arrival."
"Thank you," Shoel answered, inclining her head and smiling some. She hoped she hadn't made that poor of an impression on him; he seemed like a good man. Dragon. Yhanvi, she remembered belatedly.
Thorn bowed again then turned away, disappearing back through the arched doorway. Once he was gone, Hemlock poked her again-- only this time it wasn't to annoy her, for he pointed at the fountain when she turned her attention to him. She probably would have looked there, anyway: it was lovely. "So who, or what, is this?" she asked curiously.
"Bladerunner, or whatever you want to call him. His real name is unpronounceable verbally, it seems to be spelled out in magic," he frowned, striding past her to the edge of the basin.
"Bladerunner," Shoel repeated, following him to inspect the fountain. "I remember that name... you told it to me once. Who is it, again?"
"The spirit of this planet," he answered, looking up at the stone sculpture. She stood beside him, doing the same. "Patriarch spirit of the Yhanvi, Yuraodru's son."
"Oh, yes, I remember. One of the Great Spirits."
Something flickered at the head of the fountain, and Shoel saw what seemed to be a dark eye with a four-point ice blue star around the pupil open. She stared as it winked and closed again, looking almost like it had never moved at all. Myokan, oblivious, nodded in agreement. "Yes, a bit of a strange one, though."
"Did you see--" She blinked and shook her head. "Never mind." Of course he didn't, or he would have said something. For all she knew, she'd imagined it-- she didn't think so, though. "What do you mean, strange one?"
"Well, he is an earth and water spirit," the necromancer said thoughtfully. "A life spirit, if you will; but he has a temperament like a fire one. --See what?"
"Nothing...." She peered curiously up at the statue's face again. "Is he-- does he like to startle people?"
"Yes, at times. Are you certain it's nothing?" He followed her gaze, leaning forward and putting his hands on the lip of the stone basin.
"Well, no. I just-- I think the statue of him just winked at me. Am I seeing things, or is that normal?"
" ... Did you see the eye?"
Apparently it was normal. "Yes. It had... like... a light blue star in it."
Or not? "No, it's not normal," Myokan said, looking a little confused, then actually giving a little laugh. "It seems like you got a friendly greeting from Bladerunner."
"A friendly greeting," she repeated dryly. "At least I'm not seeing things."
"He's generally pretty friendly, unusually curious for a Great Spirit," he explained, still smiling slightly. "Probably curious about you, especially since you banished quite a few undead that were roaming around in his territory."
"I hope that's something he approves of," she commented, though she guessed it probably was, since he hadn't done anything but wink cheerfully at her. "How strange...."
"Oh, he doesn't mind." Shoel turned at the sound of the voice, finding Drakonus standing not far behind them. "He's actually relatively indifferent towards them unless they are being troublesome, and I believe an undead of his child race qualifies as such." It seemed he was rather good at walking quietly; neither she nor Myokan had noticed his approach. Then again, she'd been rather distracted by the statue of Bladerunner.
In sharp contrast to the work clothes he had been wearing when Shoel had first met him, what Drakonus wore now made him actually looked like a king. The silver Yhanvi was dressed in a knee-length white tunic with golden embroidering at the hem. over matching, loose-hanging breeches that came to his digitigrade heels. The tunic was tied at the waist with a golden cord, and over all of it was a long, teal-green vest embroidered with silver roses in an vine pattern along the edges. Where his hair had been loose before, it was now held back with a simple golden circlet. Around his neck he wore a star-shaped pendant, suspiciously like the eye of Bladerunner. Now she really did feel underdressed, but she simply bowed, careful not to dislodge the still-sleeping flit.
Myokan followed Shoel's example, staying quiet in an awkward way. Drakonus bowed elegantly in return, giving the necromancer a quizzical look. "It has been a long time, old friend. I'm glad to see you recovered well from your illness, I did not wish for the next I saw of you to be your gravestone."
"Thank you for your concerns, I suppose..." Myokan answered, still awkward. "And it has been a long time-- filled with transgressions, I'm afraid." Drakonus bowed his head slightly, and Shoel was tempted to put a hand on him, on his shoulder, but she didn't think he'd appreciate it just at that moment.
Besides, the dragon-king had then turned to Shoel, holding out a package bound in hide with a coin pouch sitting on top. "For you, Madam Devaut. For showing bravery and succeeding where many would quail."
"It's not really necessary," she murmured in faint protest, but accepted it, anyway, one-handed. "Thank you, Majesty-- Drakonus, sir," she corrected, remembering his dislike of titles.
"I thought you could use it," Drakonus mentioned, his eyes glittering in what she guessed to be amusement; it was hard to tell, behind all those stars. "I believe you will agree."
"I, ah, confess to curiosity," she replied quizzically, looking between him and the package half-supported on her hip. She wondered vaugely if it would look too greedy to open it here, or if she should wait until later.
"You can open it and check, if you want to," he chuckled.
Well, that solved it. "With your permission, then, sir...." She sat down on the edge of Bladerunner's fountain, tucking the flit back into her collar. He peeped at her softly, as if in protest, then went back to sleep. I wonder how long the little thing is going to sleep, she thought, settling the package on her lap and, after setting the coin purse on the edge beside her, opened it-- to reveal the cover of a book.
"The History of Fantasa from the Mystic Wars to the Continuing Threat," she read aloud, then chuckled. "Definitely useful. Thank you, Drakonus."
"You mentioned before being interested in the history of this realm," Drakonus said, smiling at her and fluttering his wings a little. "I thought it would be nice for you to have, rather than seeking out a worthwhile one yourself. I apologize for not giving you more coins, I considered the silver-plated armor among part of the payment."
"You don't need to apologize, sir," she protested, looking back up at him. "I never set a price, and you have done so much for me, already-- armor, protection amulets, scabbards, an avicorn-- I could hardly even ask for payment, after all that."
"I did not send the amulet and scabbard," Drakonus said, seeming a little surprised. "Myokan ordered those for you, didn't he tell you?"
Shoel blinked, and turned to look at the necromancer who, at the time, had hardly even liked her-- and had, she seemed to recall, implied that both had come from Drakonus. "No, he didn't...."
Myokan said nothing, simply turning away to look at the fountain while Drakonus and Shoel both looked at him. "Well, he came to speak to me after you told him your plans," Drakonus explained. "I told him how you said your magic affected anything machine-made, so he put in an order for the scabbard. As for the amulet, he felt you could use the extra magical protection and did not have the supplies to make one at the time."
"And here I thought, at the time, he wouldn't have minded if I'd ended up dead." She leaned over to catch one of Myokan's hands to give it a brief squeeze. "Thank you."
"I don't wish people dead just because they're ignorant," Myokan mumbled, pulling his hand away; she dropped her own again.
Drakonus looked at the necromancer, tilting his head to one side and folding his four-fingered paws behind his back, then he addressed Shoel, instead. "Madam Devaut, you have my eternal gratitude, and much of the people's. You will always be welcome in Arliingran, and I hope that we will be seeing more of you in days to come."
"Well, if I bond at the hatching in a few days, I'll be here for a few years yet, at least, and I'll be sure to visit" she promised, re-wrapping the book lightly and rising with it and the money purse. "You have a beautiful city, after all. Thank you so much for all of your help, Drakonus, sir. --Mm, a question?" She looked at him a little hopefully. "Was the avicorn a loan, or may I keep him? I'm afraid I've gotten a little attached...."
"You can keep him," Drakonus answered, hooding his eyes and leaning his head back a little as he chuckled. "They tend to get attached to their riders, as well. It is never a good idea to loan a young avicorn to someone unless you plan on letting them stay together. So he is yours."
With a relieved little sigh, she smiled. "Thank you, sir." She gave him another careful bow, this time having to make sure not to dislodge flit or coin pouch on top of her new book.
"You are also welcome to come to the palace," the dragon king said, continuing on the previous subject. "Just ask for the captain of the guards-- the one who escorted you-- and he will let you pass."
"If you have free time for the occasional visitor," she answered, a little shyly, "I will try."
Drakonus chuckled. "If I'm not free at the time, you are welcome to stay a while." That said, he straightened up a little, his tone becoming just slightly more serious-- though without displacing his general manner in the slightest. Shoel had to wonder how he managed to keep that complacent air about him at all times. "I have spoken to the Empress about your achievements, perhaps in time she may be able to offer you a job or a position."
"Oh, Charter...." She blushed some, and put a hand to her cheek as if to hide it. "You did?"
"I did," Drakonus assured her, gently amused at her reaction. "You told me before you were looking for a job; I really do not take care of issues concerning the whole planet."
"Well, that's true," she admitted, still embarrassed but actually rather relieved that if she ever did want to approach the empress-- for a position, to request her instatement as Abhorsen, as Myokan had suggested, for anything at all-- at least she wouldn't be a complete unknown. "Maybe someday... once I actually know something more about this world." And after the bonding, if that occurred.
"That is fine," was the dragon king's simple answer, his face still showing amusement. "I wanted you to know the opportunity was there. I'm sorry to cut this meeting a little short, my dear, but I have a request."
"Of course." She nodded.
"If you wouldn't mind, I would like to speak to Myokan alone. You are free to go, or you can stay and explore the palace if you like."
"Oh." She glanced over at Myokan, then nodded. "All right." She actually expected it would be uncomfortable to go wandering around in the palace not only dressed in shabby clothes, but with a pouch full of coins and a history book. "Thank you, again, Drakonus, sir," she nodded, smiling. "I hope to see you again soon."
"As I do, you," he answered sweetly, taking one of her hands and kissing it gently. She smiled, back. "Until we meet again, Madam Devaut."
"Until then," she agreed, bowing slightly in respectful farewell. Then, with another glance at Myokan-- and then the fountain with a life of its own-- she slipped out of the courtyard to make her way back through the palace, to the street.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.