Snowy Ground: Chapter 3 part 9

Meanwhile, the rest of the party was welcomed into the Fox-Eye tavern, half-buried in snow that rained down. Rocks pelted the roof as the fight raged on a cliff’s edge overhead. This place with crawling with all sorts of humans, shiftlings, and dwarves alike. The eynnil of the group huddled together and rattled their hooves and fine clothes free of ice and snow. Their ears twitched as they tried to make heads or tails of the conversations happening all around them. They were offered milk and toasted bread with preserved cheeses, the food went untouched and sat upon a lonely countertop. Expeditioneers were more than happy to partake in warm meals and libations. Many of the mountain scouts lived in this tavern and had accrued stores of food which they shared with the travelers that came through Fox-Eye.

Samythiel’s attention remained on the door even as he was given a fine brew of barley and a hot meal of stewed grains. He awaited the door to burst open and there she might be. Instead, the door remained closed for the time and he had to sit near the other, far jumpier, eynnil. His own blonde hair and painter’s clothes stood well apart from the humans, dwarves, and wolfs-head shiftlings of the room. The room, outside from the blotches of red, yellow, and silver garb, was washed in hues of green, white, and shades of brown. Beside a modest fire was a rack of silk or wool shirts drying as momentous to the mountain scouts hard work and the rest that they had earned. These same scouts leaned back in chairs, played card games at tables of varying heights, and relaxed.

Brinorion clad eynnil nearly kept from their skin as a blubbery grey streak toppled straight down, bouncing off the roof of the tavern and landing just outside the window. In moments flagons and cups were put aside and a throng of dwarvish scouts bounded outside with their firearms, bows, and cloaks in tow. Few had the time to dress themselves in the protective layers of their undergarments let alone button the tops of their jumper suits before they swept Samythiel along like a great green river, Lavia too was a ragged little leaf who stumbled along to see the commotion outdoors.  The mountain scouts held their hands up to the beast. Thrusting their hoods over their head sporting clacking antlers, hooves, and teeth like crowns. A cascade of powdery snow fell over their shoulders. A sound. A song. A loud yodel came with it.

“Avalanche! They cried to one another with the name Noblehood. The Eynnil who belonged to the name tumbled down the mountain her voice cracking and uttering the same sounds the whole of the way. She hit the roof shoulder first and rolled end over end. Down she came, Clemnilshala, She planted both of her hooves into the shoulder of the yeti shoving him over the edge down into the valley basin. At the sight of Clemnilshala, the mountain scouts burst into a kind of laughter calling and yodeling down the mountain that they had something coming in hot. Clemnilshala caught herself with the use of a kite’s rope and her trusty skinner knife. The other scouts waved their hands herding the outsiders, Samythiel and Lavia, back into the tavern leaving Noblehood to take care of preserving her balance on her own.

A cheer was shared around the room. Just as quickly as the mountain scouts had dressed to go out into the bitter cold they returned to a state of rustic leisure. They removed their damp shirts and hung them by the fire with care once more. Setting aside boots and embroidered socks to dry.  Lavia pulled her head back, pursing her mouth at how simply they moved together. She muttered to herself more than anyone nearby that it seemed almost second nature for them to return to their chairs and games. She was only interrupted by the clap of a hand on her shoulder and a sprinkling of snow down her front.

“A bit like the Lanh eh?” Noblehood grinned with a shiny new bruise on her cheek compliments of Thagrim the yeti. She pushed her hood off her head and let her gaze travel around the room. She took a deep breath and got a soft smile on her face. “They don’t bite y’know. And the eyed of the Lanh cannae hurt ye here. Go ahead, recover lass”

“Recover?”

“Aye, relax, rest yer bones, I’ll go tae see if anyone of me spares are here” she guided Lavia to one side before cantering inward with wide-open arms. “Oh! An’ if someone offers ye something called a hearth flare, don’t drink it, just give it tae me”

Lavia followed Clemnilshala to the doorway of the cookery. Through a curtain of wool and chair Clemnilshala tread and left behind the ragling. She conversed with the dwarf in charge of rationing food into dishes. She rummages a trunk for spare cloaks speaking in the impossible to decipher the language of those who lived in the mountain the entire time. The sounds reverberated in Lavia’s ears and made her head hurt.

Clemnilshala pilfered five mountain scout’s cloaks meant for trainees and greenhorns. Digging in her pockets for the last of her money she went about taking warm meats from the food warden.

Lavia was diverted yesterday a human with a smile and a cracked front trot her. He kindly offered her one of the two wooden mugs in his hands. She took it into her own hands. He said it was egg cider that the fox-head shiftling that started this establishment taught him the recipe. Before she could taste its spicy scent nor thin soupy consistency, a golden-eyed priestess placed her hand over the top.

“You would do well to not adopt any of those behaviors. As soon as we arrive at the sea you will return that item and turn that exile back to the woods where she belongs.” The priestess dropped her gaze. “Unless you, of all people, can convince her to return to the Lanh as our Abbess requested.”

Clemnilshala put her head through the curtain Several lengths of twine hung from her good horn. She grinned downward at the ground and blinked several times. “Y’know, I could take me envelope back ad go right back home and let Hjomnir over there and the other scouts take ye through the mountains.”

 “Better than your ilk,” the priestess said “ your ways have loosened my tongue enough to” she looked to Lavia before turning her well-decorated back to weave into the crowds of scouts and expeditioneers to huddle up with the rest of the eynnil of the group.

Lavia pursed her mouth again. “You can have your envelope back if you’d like.” She moved her shoulders as she spoke, Clemnilshala held her hand out, opening and closing her palm for her beloved envelope. Lavia’s heart jumped into her throat for a moment before sinking into her stomach as she bucked her head for Clemnilshala to follow her outside. The mountain scout held up her bundle of cloaks.

“Why don’t ye run along and go get it, one of these is fer yer shoulders and neck. The cold will hurt ye looooong before ye feel it. At least it does out here.” She shifted her cloaks to one arm and pulled one that she muttered looked ‘right handsome’. White and brown with grey dust stains along the bottom. “I think this one is an antique. Belonged to an old training mate of mine.”

Lavia, having a cloak tossed on her, fastened it. It was awfully warm, she took the others from Clemnilshala and strode out onto the cart. Somehow, perhaps the scent of egg cider and drunken mountain scout had distracted her long enough, the sky had turned darker under clouds that threatened to bring down a light snowfall. She went rummaging in the bags and scraped, blindly patting around. Her fingers chilled and grew stiff while feeling for an envelope made of bronze. Only her shoulders and back were protected from the cold. A voice stopped her, then a light. An elderly dwarf with an eyepatch and a lantern.

“Ye must be shivering, child.” He said, “Ain’t safe tae be out here with the sun getting ready to go down.” He set the tallow lantern on the back of the cart.

Lavia shook her head. Although her body vibrated she did not visibly shiver and preferred it that way. She merely continued her search for the item. She’d found I at last when the light bounced off its hammered, dented, and well-loved surface. Her neck ruffle from the Lanh had gotten tangled and frayed in its metal hinge.

“Ohh, Noblehood’s painting. Good that ye found it”

“Hm? You know what it is?”

He nodded “Got her crest right there. That girl’s damned near useless without it.”

Lavia’s eyes fell as she looked at its surface. She hadn’t opened it, not through the whole journey. Though in the moment, here in the cold, she felt tempted to peek. The dwarf shook his head and lowered his hand over hers. He muttered that it’d be best to just return it, no matter how it got lost or found, and gave her arm a tug.

“You eynnil folk have some of the most resolute minds tha I’ve ever come across. Yer sort works like rams and horses when ye have the right kind of carrot” He bucked his head along and escorted her back into the tavern building. Lavia resented the statement. She never liked carrots nor any other sort of root vegetable.

Back indoors she found one Samythiel Earthenboot with a sketching book in his hand being given a glass of milk by Clemnilshala NOblehood, the eynnil scout. She sported a smile and relaxed shoulders. Lavia had never seen an exile so calm in public, especially dancing round and round with her markings, vulgar to the senses of the eynnil, on display. She sang songs and made her way back to a table where she harmonized with two scouts. Her blue-eyed gaze fell onto Lavia, she reached out and opened and closed her hand for her precious bronze envelope. Upon giving it, Lavia got her thumb scratched, she jerked back in surprise.

Clemnilshala took the brief break in time to pull Lavia up under her arm.

“– –aaaaand this fine lass has been savin’ me behind from perilous creatures tha so happen tae share me face” she shouted aloud. She shook Lavia by the shoulder and wriggled sideways, her long, undocked, tail wagged like that of a miserable street dog being given table scraps for the first time.

“Ayeeee” Growled Clemnilshala “Aye me lads! Wha I was caught in nothin but me wickwear and was taken by two….nae…ten! Armored guards in tae the city. The human city! She freed me from shackles!”

A cheer resounded from all around, humans, dwarves, and shiftlings raised their mugs of frothy drink. Lavia covered her cheeks, warming on the inside. The fire from the hearth couldn’t match the rising steam from her stomach that turned her cheeks and the tips of her ears bright red. Clemnilshala lifted a mug of egg cider and pushed it up under Lavia’s chin.

“Oh, it’s on me, enjoy” this fiiiiine elementalist saved me hide from a bear’s head shiftling to boot! Wha she set an entire marking on fire and put it out with a rain!  First-rate elemental user!”

Lavia took the mug and finally took a sip of the sweet beverage. Like thick cream with sugar in a cup but with the funniest feeling of butterflies tumbling down her throat. She was met with another loud cheer, Clemnilshala took a spoon and ate from a dish of a dark brown substance. Her own cheeks turned a dark color as she lightly touched her bruise.

“’Spose it’s safe enough to mosey along? Ain’t windy enough tae hurt anyone. Just cold. Got tae get these finely dressed folk out tae sea.” Clemnilshala pondered with a spoon sticking straight out of her mouth.

“Are ye kiddin? I thought ye hated the eynnil, mizzus Noblehood.”

“Heyyy come on, I doon’t hate anyone. We jus’ don’t get along” She moved her shoulders nearly up to her ears. “b’sides, they’re gonna pay me handsomely, nae tha they dunnae have anything tae hold over me head. Tell ye what, when I get back I’ll bring yoo an’ the missus some real fine spices.”

“Can’t stop ye can I? Are ye at least goin’ tae write Hjomnir before galivantin’ off intae the wild blue yonder?”

Clemnilshala got real quiet, burying her lip in the drink she had been sipping from the whole time.

“Ehhh, no need, I just say him go outside, I can track him down an’ talk tae him” She jumped from her chair, letting it creak behind her and clattered to the front of the room. She bumped into Commander Vulac. They grabbed her by the shoulder and said something, waggling their finger while Lavia looked on. Meanwhile, the two dwarvish scouts bunted their wrists on one another. Speaking of how the scholars’ library had been real lonely. They laughed and laughed, taking bets. On whether or not Noblehood had been studying.

Across the room, Clemnilshala spoke with the very same eye-patched man that had intercepted Lavia outside. She returned with a  sheepish grin on her cheeks. The corners of her mouth dragged outward.

“Ehhhh, next round is on me if fin I can convince ye tae write a letter forrrr me” She laced her fingers under her chin. The two laughed together and exchanged money between their hands. They agreed to write for her so long as she dictated it in her own words and signed it. She also promised to return to ‘lessons’ when she came back from the sea.

They reminded her that she has to actually return, she just can’t run away on a paddle boat to avoid ‘lessons’

Just as Clemnilshala was given the pen and scrawled her family crest into the corner of the page, signing her name, Vulac approached the table and bucked their head.

“We go.” They said, “And for the love of the Weilvog will you please cover up that filth?”

Clemnilshala cleared her throat and stood, bowing her head to her peers, talking to them about how many stories she will have for them when she returned. She went on to refer to Vulac with a word that sent the two scouts tumbling in laughter. They covered their eyes and said that she better take up praying that they never find out what that word was.

Rigmol waited outside, a lantern hung on the front of his tack. To light the way through a dangerous combination of snow and fog was a noble task given to the Great Stag. To an eynnil, the snow ahead was knee-deep, to the dwarves in the party the snow was clear up to their shoulders, they remained at the back to traverse the trenches left behind rather than create those trenches at the front. Night fell halfway through the basin, Clemnilshala helped light the way, forging through clear up to the mountain gates over which the sun rose by the time the party arrived there. She muttered a good morning to Khalenglough the Great before leading the travelers into the city of Khalenthel.

First came complaints that the roads inside the mountain would damage their hooves, then a greater resistance rose when Clemnilshala told them that they would have to ‘snooze’ on these same roads lest they risk damaging personal property of inns and taverns.

The Eynnil collapsed at the side of the road, bundling themselves together in a shadowy overhand over which was a shop selling magic wears. Clemnilshala was summoned by a forge worker to aid in cleaning a chimney. Her face became hard and worried as she followed along to duty.

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