The party made camp for the night. The magic of the Weilvog hiding behind the crimson gate made Clemnilshala’s tattoos shake on her skin. Shuddering her shoulders. Instead of being able to sleep she consigned herself to squinting at the maps, wondering just when this gate showed up. It had to be after her time with her map book but before this new expedition’s. She twisted and turned in the moonlight. The celestial body rose higher and set her markings to twitch even harder.
Amid rubbing her flopped over ear she hardly heard the approach of hoofbeats. She nearly jumped out of her marked skin to see the moonlight reflecting off Lavia’s eyes. Why did they always look so wet? Like the lass would begin to cry at any minute. A thick mane of soot colored hair always so neatly braided and put away. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but, something about Lavia irked Clemnilshala and set her teeth on edge. It didn’t stop the girl from approaching.
Lavia sat beside her, extending her thin, dancerly, legs and rested her hooves in the dew of night. Too quiet. No attempt at conversation, polite nor otherwise, was made. She just breathed and glanced over the mountain scout’s shoulder; Clemnilshala did her best to ignore her. She sat too close.
Tracing her fingers over the map she grew vexed there was no two ways around it, from this point they would have no choice but to go through the gate. Lavia’s breaths tore at Clemnilshala’s focus like tiny claws of a mountain lion’s cub, what’s more the little lass’s nose whistled.
“Don’t spend too much time outdoors do ye lass” Clemnilshala said at last, snapping closed her map book in her great hands. She rubbed the top of her chest and soothed the sensations of thousands of threads snapping just under her skin. A nuisance to be so close to this pure ground.
“No” replied Lavia. “I once did, before my master took me to the Lanh”
“Oh? What were ye before the Lanh? Can ye remember those times?” Clemnilshala’s bad ear flicked.
“I do, faintly, my family was a long line of shepherds and were gifted with the Voggish intellect.” Lavia smiled faintly. “What about you? Can you remember your times before? Well, before you were cast out?”
Clemnilshala nodded. “Aye, I remember those old years” she pulled out her smoking pipe and prepared it. Muttering to herself in dwarvish. Lavia furrowed her brow in the moonlight. A sound escaping her nose like a frustrated child. The glowing embers of Clemnilshala’s pipe set her cheeks alight in orange illumination. “I never miss it anymore. That old life, how easily replaced.”
“You don’t miss it? Not even a little bit?” Lavia raised her head and pet her long braids.
“Nae even a little.” She snickered, exhaling little clouds of smoke. “I cannae expect ye tae understand but perhaps ye will.”
“Why don’t you help me to?” Lavia hugged her knees.
“It’d be an exercise in, how yoo say, ‘not going tae happen’ you can ask all the questions ye like but ye would have tae be like me, exiled, tae truly understand the warmth of sunrise”
“Tell me one thing then, exile,” Lavia’s voice hardened “If this is the game you will play, what were you before you became like this?”
Clemnilshala looked up, taking a breath of her pipe.
“I wasn’t very different from yoo lass. Destined fer a long, pale, snowy life, one day I’d’ve become golden.” She looked at the burning embers “Me own general told me so”
“I see. So why didn’t you take it all back? I’m certain they would’ve given you the chance” She extended a hand to Clemnilshala who jerked her shoulder away.
“I said what I said, and I thought it cowardly tae take it back then. I’d made me bed. I thought it best tha I lie in it too” she rubbed her shoulder and tapped out spent ashes on her hoof. She stood and took bread from her pocket and gave it to Lavia. “Ye can change wha ye say but ye cannae change who ye are at yer heart lass. Somethin in me stomach reminds me tha if I took it all back, then I woulda been got fer something else. What’s more, the Clemnilshala that lives now would never have been bore into this world. Ye cannae change wha I did”
“What if I could”
“Balderdash” Clemnilshala put her smoking pipe away on her belt.
“Then tell me this. What would you wish for if you could have anything in the cosmos? What is your heartwish?” Lavia hugged her knees and lowered her head. Attempting to seem less threatening.
“Heartwishes are balderdash as well. Mine already came true, least it did before ye came along.” Clemnilshala finished. Convincing herself to not stay a minute longer. Her hoof falls making dull thuds as she stalked along to find Rigmol.
He stood at the edge of the marsh, digging a hole with his hoof and whispering to himself. Fireflies flittered and danced revealing the moths that came to land on his antlers. His whispering persisted. Something at the edge of the trees stirred. A scent flittered upon the gasses of the marshes.
“Stop looking at me, don’t look at me. I’m like this now, I’m no longer of this tribe. Stop looking at me” said the great stag, repeating his words like a fire side prayer.
Clemnilshala squatted down by his head and gave his hackles a pat, giving care to his ears and pulling on his antlers.
“Hey…hey what’s out there? What’s going on old friend?” She soothed him, leaning to one side. His eyes were closed, the fur of his cheeks matted with a strange dampness, his persistent faun spots furrowed like eyebrows.
“I didn’t expect you to hear that, girl. Never mind me, I’m just an old man having a dream. Did you have a productive conversation with that ragged girl?” he whispered, the quiver of his ghostly voice fading with his words. “She was quite adamant that she finds you. Trying to speak to me like you do.”
He uttered a wet laugh, lifting his head to look at Clemnilshala who took a piece of meat from her side bag and gave it to the old stag. She didn’t press the matters of his tears before a bog.
“Do yoo think the wild things are there?” She looked out into the woods petting his head.
Rigmol quietly ate his meat, only making small sighs and hums between his breaths. A response akin to a “No”
“Now go on, the ragged girl, what are you thinking. Open-skies knows you can’t keep a secret”
“I won’t tell you. Not yet” Clemnilshala rubbed her broken off horn. “I merely came tae check yer tack. How are ye feelin?”
“Tired” Rigmol lowered his backside and knocked Clemnilshala over with his head. She pet his ears gently as he dozed off.