The party was afforded an hour to rest and recuperate. Clemnilshala took a blanket and ruffled it over her hair. Drying it until it stood on end in a thousand different directions. A little bit of red came forth from inside her hear canal. She shuddered, shivering with a thin tickle. She held onto Rigmol’s antlers, a warmth, filled her stomach like a good meal. Rigmol hummed a song to himself as his fur bristled. He gave his aid freely to Clemnilshala whose splitting head ache dulled to a soft roar in her ears.
“That is all I can offer you now.” He said, leaning down to sniff at her wrists. He gave the palms of her hands a gentle lick.
She rubbed his ear with her thumb. “ets more than enough, old friend. Will ye be able tae pack and walk?”
Rigmol stayed his breath for a second before he could say anything else. The order came through the company to pack up and continue to make their journey to the sea or at least to the brother gate to release themselves of this garden before nightfall.
The party walked on, hunched back and hanging heads. The true danger of the water lord fresh in the minds of the humans . Samythiel took a riding ram as Rigmol’s joints and bones crackled like a camping fire.
Clemnilshala took his reins and lead him along, her eyes were cast to the ground as the chorus of footsteps and hoof falls thumped on the wooden path. She came alongside the commander. She leaned ahead, their ears were cropped, she leaned back, their tail had yet to be docked short. they pursed their mouth and let their teeth creak.
She looked at their armor, high rank, even amongst the class of commanders, Clemnilshala snickered to herself, their eyes turned sideways. They likely wondered what amused her so much. She ruffled her own hair as they stalked down the path together. Their hand hovered around their sword, waiting for any moment for her to strike. She did no such thing. Only leading her precious stag along. The commander looked at her too long and she took the moment to direct his attention to Rigmol whom she fed a slab of preserved meat to. The commander turned his gaze to the sky.
“Doon’t worry, it wasn’t anyone ye knew” snickered Clemnilshala, the commander rubbed their head in response as she continued. “I ain’t goin’ tae hurt yet laddy. Et’d be unnecessary. Besides your rank is higher than mine was back in th’day”
“O-oh is that so?” The commander’s hand landed on the molded head atop their sword’s hilt. “How old are you now?”
“Three hundred and forty-four cycles, lad” she took amusement at their eyes turning as wide as dinner platters. Her giggles and snickers turned to a tired laugh. “Old world, aye, wha ye cannae be older than eighty.”
The commander shook their head, a mild breath escaped their nose, almost a laugh all their own. “Will you please cover those up?” their eyes traveled along her markings to the tips of her fingers.
Clemnilshala cleared her throat and, moving to untie her jumpsuit from around her waist and pull it back over her shoulders. She kept her gloves off, they had yet to dry enough.
“Och still wet” she shuddered “Cold….cold, be I shoulda thought of that before I became exiled”
The commander pursed their mouth once more. “Impossible to know when you’ll find yourself in the garden of a water lord this powerful. Especially when you’ve picked up such an accent”
She shook her head, tugging on Rigmol. “What’s yet name lad? I promise I cannae use it fer anything diabolical” she bumped her shoulder on the larger male.
They didn’t say anything. Only placing their hand back at their sword’s hilt. Clemnilshala hook her head at him. She looked up to Rigmol and let the old stag sniff and nibble at her flopped over ear.
“Bah, maybe I’ll duel ye fer it one day” How much laughing had been uttered from her chest? She bunted her stag with a firm “yess yes I know that ye can just tell me that but, och wha’s the fun really?”
Clemnilshala gave Rigmol’s antlers a tug and helped the stag start on ahead. The path wound and twisted and curbed. They came to a place where they could leap across the water with some difficulty otherwise the path turned backward and wound around itself in a spiral.
The party continued, the commander amongst them. Clemnilshala stopped while they gladly and blindly walked on without her. Clemnilshala put her pack onto Rigmol’s saddle, strapping it down twice, tugging on her few remaining belongings. Something glinted in the water between the planks of the wooden path.
Clemnilshala knelt, wrapping her fingers over the ledge, a brief thought came to her wondering if she truly saw and envelope of bronze laying atop a pile of stones under the water. With the party’s backs to her she took a deep breath and rolled her sleeve up. She nearly broke the surface of the still water’s surface stopped by the fluttered beat of her own heart. She looked one last time for someone to catch her as her marked and scarred hand plunged into the garden of magnificent silver.
A slow groan uttered from her nose; she chewed the dead skin of her lip. No tenderness found her. Her long tail coiled up against her leg. She leaned further over her face coming close to the surface. The taste of iron filling her teeth. A lazy ribbon of brown and green and red emerging from the twinkled, seam-like, scar that traveled around her wrist like a bracer. Her veins showed through, varicose, the very scent of the water reminded her of rain and of ash. She squeezed her eyes shut.
Invisible hair wrapped around her fingers, bringing sensations to her callouses. She hummed a song instead. Getting lost in the garden’s waters. Ever so close to the prize. Counting to three she plunged her head in and relaxed, certain that was what the problem was not hours ago. Upon touching the bronze item and pulling it from its pile of stones, a cloud of silt plumed like smoke. Dread welled up in her eyes, her cheeked warmed with tears, she couldn’t see but still sensed a deep evil here. Before she’d known it she was pulled by her underarms back onto the platform. She opened her eyes to find Rigmol, his antlers holding a faint circle of the sun.
“Not. Worth. It” he said “these waters will sooner kill you than let you take a bath” he knelt down. “Now hop on, I can’t let you anywhere near these waters it seems.”
Clemnilshala mounted Rigmol, shivering cold in her gear and hiding her pride.
“Now what caught your attention that you would nearly drown yourself in the garden of a water lord?”
Clemnilshala produces a roofing tile “It looked like my painting from up here. I suspected the ragling of throwing it away.” She turned the terracotta slab over in her soaked and wrinkly hands.
Rigmol reared up and leapt across the board of the path, skipping the spiral altogether. The old stag mention that they, the rest of the party, had been walking for one and a half hours in circles.
The party took yet another lap as she looked down at the mystery of the wooden planks. They willingly walked in circles at the behest of Lavia’s song.
“Ye’d think ye cannae see the way out.” Scoffed Clemnilshala to her companion, she bucked her head at a golden eye’d priestess whose gaze drooped upon making eye contact with a lowly exile. “There’s nae an exit tha way. Come, jump across, the brother gate cannae be too far from here. This water lord’s tricks are becomin’ more elaborate, perhaps we shouldae called ‘im a lord of beurocracy.” She snickered to herself, squinting at a patch of mist that seemed to be taking a most curious amount of life and color from thin air. The lily pads became grey before turning a color that can only be described as mildew. Clemnilshala took a step, making a bridge between the path and the wooden spiral, and reached out with both arms to offer aid. The golden eye turned her nose up and stalked on. Lavia, poor insipid, intrepid, Lavia stopped and looked at the gap between the surfaces.
“Lass are ye goin’ tae go fer another round or are ye goin’ tae make some progress with me eh?” She squatted down low, ready to receive the railing, Lavia. Lavia who looked to the golden eye, then to the commander. The commander stopped in their path as the golden on walked on.
“How long have we been on that path” Lavia asked, reaching her youngling arms out, allowing Clemnilshala to take her waist as soon as she answered with a count of ‘one, twuh, an’ hunh!’ Lavia’s ribs were cloaked in a thick layer of skin and muscle. She didn’t feel like a ragling should have. She wasn’t starved or nutritionless.
“You are far mightier than I gave you credit for miss mountaineer” Lavia mumbled. Clemnilshala cleared her throat and bent to slap dust and dirt and various blackened refuse from the bottoms of Lavia’s clothes.
“Please, Clemnilshala is m’name. M’name is fine from yer mouth, assuming’ yer nae goin tae sell it tae anyone.” She offered her hand out, jerking it through the air as though to cut the conversation at the knees. She opened and closed her fingers at the commander. “The strict traditions ain’t goin’ tae work where we are goin’. Methinks the Water Lord wants us tae state here as long as it can be keepin’ us. I doon’t like it” She pursed her mouth.
Lavia shuddered as the Commander took their own sweet time to decide that they were coming over too. They kept between the paths, the humans were short to follow. Planks were taken from the carts and placed like bridges so the rams and horses could pull wheeled platforms of supplies. The Water Lord was unavoidably given a parchment-wrapped lump of jerked meat.
“It cannae be helped” Grumbled Clemnilshala. A time came where the opposite gate was reached, the mist all around gave the wood a pearly sheen. From inside the garden, the gate opened almost effortlessly, pulling inward and allowing the trespassing party out of the realm of the water lord.
The only thing left behind was a displaced roofing tile that better served as a shelter to a little white frog against the wood of the gate than as a keepsake.