Snowy Ground: Chapter 3, Part 2

River mist was a problem come the quiet morn. Impenetrable, spooking most animals of short stature such as the riding goats and swine. Clemnilshala didn’t sleep an inch the moment she could smell the air growing damp. She felt like a duck. Sloshing about in the pig pit, certain that the caravans wouldn’t be so silly as to go continuing on their journey as the sun rose ever higher.

Through the trees other guards loomed silent threats as thick as the mud. A barrel of libations sloshed on Rigmol’s flank. Something else was in these woods, watching them closely. The hair on the back of Clemnilshala’s neck stood on end. Bristlier than the mane of a boar. The native eynnil tongue being sung by that insipid ragling certainly was no help. She sang of reincarnation, thanks to the incorporeal body of the Weilvog.

Clemnilshala tightened her fingers around her leather reins that nudged Rigmol forward.

“Do not by brash, girl” Rig’s voice was as ghostly as the wind, carried by leafy cradles through Clemnilshala’s short hair. No one else could pray to hear it.

Clemnilshala said nothing at first, her gaze shifting to the side. The divided voice of the traditional tongue of the eynnil, two, three, four pitches from one throat in perfect harmony. Clemnilshala, prohibited from singing those songs and using the voice of ‘these’ people, merely sat back and chewed a piece of dead skin on her lip. Rigmol’s own voice soothed her raining mind.

He was careful to keep his head movements to a minimum, towering over the king’s horses with a great wreath of antlers cavalry and steed alike grew all the jumpier.

“Pull these reins tighter. I suspect these horse riders trust in me about as far as they can throw you. Why don’t we move to the front of this caravan?” his voice was still the wind’s soft whisper.

“Ye said tha ye doon’t like the bit in yer mouth” Clemnilshala replied aloud. Horse riders lifted their eyes, she looked back, rubbing the brass cap over her broken horn. Others always acted so odd when they heard someone so in tune with their riding companions.

“Et’s like they never seen a bond like ours, old friend” she waggled Rigmol’s reins and patted him on the neck, sending the great stag forward. His shaggy mane getting mussed up as his nimble hooves hopped from rock to rock on this path. Bringing down a rain of flowers and little golden leaves that brought back such nostalgia.

“You should see your face”  Rigmol had a breathy laugh while his staggish face didn’t move more than a shaking of the head. Clemnilshala put her fingers in her hair, brushing leaves from behind her ears. Others in the caravan glanced at the eynnil and her great stag. Why wouldn’t they, they couldn’t hear what he was saying. How could they stand to be in the presence of such a magnificent creature.

 They likely thought her completely loony, carrying on a conversation aloud.

It even attracted the attention of Samythiel. He strained his ears to try and hear something, anything. All there was to him was the disjoined laughter of the mountain scout’s layered voice. She laughed and laughed and reached into her pocket to take a piece of smoked meat that she’d bought in town and bite half of it off. Offering the other half to the stag.

“Bah quit bein’ so picky. Et’s good eatin’ I swear yer as fancy as the day I met ye””

Over the course of the day Clemnilshala and Rigmol went back and forth. To her he tried to explain that having a pallet for meats that aren’t drier than the trees in a desert was nothing to sneeze at. They came to a split in the path. The sun was high in the sky, the horses needed water and to wind down before going onward.

Buckets were passed around from a pack cart. Barrels of water from town were opened. Samythiel set about to bringing water to the rams, petting their heads. Lavia stood over his shoulder though she did not focus on what he was going. Not on the cheeks of the great horned cart ram, instead her eyes followed the mountain scout as she shifted about the trees, pulling down the broad leaves and cupping them in her hands. She walked with high knees over gnarled roots of the trees and returned to her great stag. She chewed the leaves into a wet mash in her palms and rubbed the green and red over his mighty antlers.

“There ye go, old friend, should make em less, eh, itchy” she raised her head and peered around. Lavia was sure that she’d been spotted by the scout. Clemnilshala said nothing to the ragling.

“Ye wont get spotted by no unsavory sorts when yer lookin’ like such a yearling- och yer soo pretty”

The stag looked less than amused but he didn’t move his great head away from the exile as she sat down and guided the stag’s head downward to funnel clean water into his mouth from her personal water skin. Not a precious drop was spilled. After he’d had his fill she took a long drink of the same flagon. She shook what remained next to her flopped over ear and listened.

Rigmol bunted his nose on the bottom of her water skin and splashed her over the head. Wrestling between the two insued where Rigmol ‘old friend’ the stag reared right up and swiped at Clemnilshala with dew claws as she rushed his exposed belly. She shouted how soft his tummy had become over the years; that his softness must have been from eating so much smoked meats. She smacked his ribs with loud pats and flopped to the side. They fell to the ground, rolling over and over again, Clemnilshala cackled as Rigmol kicked his legs and flailed about.

“Doon’t this remind ye of the boar hunt? In the winter bitter some years ago?”

Lavia approached, speaking the native eynnil tongue. Like choir music coming from three voices through one mouth.

“you talk to that animal as though he can hear you” she sang, holding her palms up to the sky. As though she were calming a dangerous beast. Though, Clemnilshala knew that this ragling wasn’t wrong.

“Well lass” replied Clemnilshala in her accented tongue of the dwarves. “That is because he has two ears an’ speaks back tae me”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand”

“I have been friends with this ol’ geezer fer, wha, eighty one years” she allowed Rigmol to roll over and greet the Raggled little eynnil. Though only Clemnilshala know his sound did not mean anything sincere. Lavia couldn’t hear the stag’s ghostly voice. Lavia only shifted her rammish eyes between the exile and her companion.

“Stags don’t live that long”

“Perhaps a rare breed, lass”

“it’s just you and I in this forest. I won’t tell the Lanh if you speak your mother tongue. You, of all people, would know the old forms.” Lavia lowered her head, bowing deeply, tugging on one of her three braids that held tightly against her head between her horns.

“I’m sure ye won’t but, I’m nae eynnil anymore. Far easier tae enjoy wha yer kind gave me. Iffin ye’ll excuse me” Clemnilshala tossed a piece of smoked meat to Rigmol. She offered her hip to the old stag so that he could get up comfortably.

“Wh-“ Lavia started

“Because we are nae the same. Ye may be on thin ice, lass, but yer elementalism is what yer goin’ tae fall tae. Air smells different around ye. I doon’t want ye coming tae me when the hammer swings” Clemnilshala put her fingers in the water. “Only a matter of time”

“I disagree”

“Then yer blind, lass. As blind as I was. <<I was as you are. I am, you should prepare to be>>” She spoke the native tongue, her song disjointed and wild. Out of harmony that all that came from Clemnilshala’s gullet was noise. Lavia cast a look upon Clemnilshala

“Well, lass, poison. That, was why I doon’t speak yer language no more” Clemnilshala cleared her throat.

Lavia shook with fear. Her little shoulders shuddered as her ears laid backward against her head.

Clemnilshala, the exile, mounted up on Rigmol. She gave a chortle at something he’d said. She winced as her hoof plates scraped something wrong on his stirrups. Finally she hissed something in dwarvish.

Drawing her head back as though Rigmol had said something mean, she opened and closed her jaws.

“Aint fightin words iffin nae one can understand em” she wriggled his reins sending him forth through the stream with great splashes. Water soaked the hems of Lavia’s clothes. The last thing Lavia, the ragling, heard from this place was Clemnilshala’s disappearing voice stating that even raglings needed to learn that the outside was not to coddle her. She assured the woods that she was not being excessively cruel. Clemnilshala was being exactly as cruel as she meant to be.

Lavia went back to warm herself Clemnilshala made laps in the woods. She squinted at some guards as they debated going forward or directly to the right. After dismounting once more she came to lean over the humans. They barely reached her chest up close. Why they couldn’t be more than 17 hands tall. Clemnilshala, however, stood 22 and a half hands. Her eyes darted along the report missive, the lines on the map and its enchanted runes. She extracted her own maps, tracing similar lines with her fingers.

“Goin’ tae the right will take us through the marshes. Bog monsters, nasty business. Why would the king want ye going tha way eh”

An old grizzly jawed warrior looked up at her. His attention traveled along her arms clear up to her head. “A bog beast do that?”  he pointed to his head, the side of her broken horn. “Going ahead takes us into the mountains, it’s cold and many of aren’t suited for it”

“How many mountain scouts are here with ye lad?” she held up one finger, ready to count more. Though rare, scouts have been know to lend aid to the kind of the humans. A lad with abnormally large ears and curved lines at the corners of his mouth shook his head.

“You’re a mountain scout? I thought one of those dwarves would have been the scout” he’d said.

Clemnilshala threw her head back and laughed. “Aye lad, us eynnil folk are in all kinds of business nae.” She gave off a playful wink, a line she’d given to children and adults alike.

“I’ve become a mountain scout and that’s that. I can get us intae the access ways and we can walk right through the mountains on me honor”

She tapped her family crest, the hat, mountain and upward facing arrow drawing a bow. Something that she often had to remove and leave with other dwarves. It afforded the privilege to access secret passageways.

The guard looked side to side, as though he expected the human king to burst through the trees foaming at the mouth.

“Can you allow this whole party to travel through these mountain passages?” asked the lad. He tugged his plate armor at his chest.

Clemnilshala nodded. “Shave four days off yer march tae the ocean by thunder. Ye can linger in towns longer iffin ye find some lass ‘er lad ye fancy more than the others”

Clemnilshala’s smile brightened the blushing man. He scratched the back of his neck and took a moment to look at his superior who continued to survey the maps.

“Show me” said the grizzle jawed superior showing the king’s map of the continent to the exile.

Clemnilshala reached into one of the pockets of her cloak and pulled out the book containing the rest of her scouting maps bound together with strings against a measure of leather. She traced her finger along the aged buckskin that she’d pulled previously, rearranging it back into the book. She showed them a thick grey line that wove through the mountains like the lines of gunpowder used to clear rock slides.

The warriors looked to one another, the one with big ears leaned to one side and studied something off in the distance. He tapped on Clemnilshala’s map.

“She did say to get there as fast as possible” said the grizzle jawed veteran.

“Let us take the path through the mountains. Forward it is.” They clanged their hands on their armored abdomens molded with shingles that looked like the muscles of the stomach when one allowed themselves to starve and dehydrate. “Please mountain scout”

Clemnilshala nodded, her cheeks warmed, although the others wouldn’t much like going through the miles of tunnels for days and days on end, a lowly exile would be leading the party and somehow that filled her stomach with pride.

They returned to the crossroad. There was no post, no sign, to say where they were going. Rigmol waited with a stick held firm in his mouth. Clemnilshala drew runes and pictographs in the dirt with her finger so that other passersby would know what awaited them in these woods.

She mounted Rigmol and dug her hoof plates into the stirrups of his saddle. Rigmol strode ahead to the front of the party. Lavia, by stroke of bad luck, was there waiting to aid in leading. The warriors had told the guards who told this impetuous little ragling what the new plan was. Clemnilshala took the stick from Rigmol’s mouth and used it to help guide him. Tapping his rump and back legs to keep him moving forward.

The boggy ground had spread from its banks and softened the ground of the path on which the party walked. From under her arm Clemnilshala drew her skinner knife and returned it to its sheath just as quickly. She looked over her shoulder at the dwarfish painter, Mr. Samythiel, who didn’t seem to mind the soft grounds. The hills and highlands were close to here, perhaps he lived close to this bog.

Vines and moss stuck itself and got wound around Rigmol’s antlers as though the flora reached out for the blood of its grounded brethren by the streams. The party halted by grey stones and a crimson wood gate. Lavia sucked in air. This was a place of purity. Clemnilshala could feel it, the eyes of the woods, no the eyes of the eynnil bristling the hair on the back the back of her neck. A place where the Weilvog could reside. In the mists beyond this lovely land-bound gate. only the pure could pass through here. Only the clean unmarked hides of those deemed worthy to remain within the Lanh. Clemnilshala’s skin vibrated, enchantments on the door. She was not permitted here.

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