The muscle in Clemnilshala’s neck was tigher than ever, her vision was as blurry as those old days when she learned new things. This all was new too. Just one hoof in front of the other. The bottom of this gear resembled the kilts of the shepherds from the southern prairies, stopping a hair above the knee. The sewn seams around her torso were comfortable in their own way, her sleeves were nowhere to be found; first rate craftsmanship of course but this leather would never do in the snowy elements of the mountain. No protection from the elements nor the other Eynnil. Perhaps she could put her convictions aside and take Valthran’s ring.
“I’ll take my chances, huh” She muttered aloud, staring at her reflection in the water bucket. After a long drink she couldn’t stand to be so sedentary any longer. She peeled open the tent flaps and strode with shaking steps out into the sunlight. She feigned confidence in the air touching her bare skin, shielding her eyes with her hand. Invisibly, however, she had all but retreated into her carcass and remained terribly aware of every line, dot, and word etched into her flesh. The wind on her arms chilled her, she pretended to not understand the language of the eynnilfolk she passed on her way to find a friendly face. Only those of the Vaniaal’s sect knew that she could make sense of their songs.
Four minutes. It took four minutes before she heard those specific words from their mouths. “<<Oh the poor thing>>” they’d say saying she was <<misguided>> and <<A product of a poor vision of the world>> or <<miserable in that form>>
‘turned out to pasture’ she merely thought to herself, ‘’cept Ramling ain’t coming back.’ She banged her leg into a wheel barrow, a trickle of blood ran down the front of her shin. Stopping by the ocean water and rub her shins, she pondered whether or not she could commandeer some guards or other armor pieces to cover up as many of these marks as possible. She breathed curse words like magic spells until she was stopped by the crunching of bootsteps behind her. Clemnilshala’s flopped-over ear twitched and excess cartilage papped her in the cheek. Samythiel, whose those big dark eyes traversed her swaths of exposed markings, offered a smile that made the sides of his mustache stretch sideways. He wrung the hem of his shirt as he stammered and tripped over his words. Clemnilshala’s cheeks warmed, wasn’t this new gear supposed to keep her from getting so sweaty? She wasn’t even wearing gloves when did her palms become like a misty morning? She jerked her head to the left and turned her attention to the cloudless sky, focusing on a dot in all this blue that simply wasn’t there.
“D-does it feel better? Tae not be slicker than a snail?” He mustered together,
“Don’t look at them, they might put a curse on your children.” She replied, thinking of something, anything, to fill the silence. She refused to look at him.
“I, eh, didn’t see anythin’ when ye went down and we had tae get ye out of that cold weather gear.” He nodded at her legs. Clemnilshala snorted, what a terrible liar he was. Something in his voice told her so. Then again he likely thought the same thing of her blether about curses. Splashing her hands in the water and chasing a wee silver fish for a few moments, hiding how sweaty they were. She finally stood back up and waved her hands in the breeze, dried them out, and touched Samythiel on the shoulder. She made sure to show him her smile.
“Are we digging holes today?” She asked.
Samythiel shook his head in return. How many teeth did eynnil have? She looked starkly similar to Vulac again, with the way that only half of her face moved when she smiled. He put his hands in his hair and petted his pony tail.
“Nae, lass, the expeditioneers want ye with me tae care for the griffons. They don’t want ye doin’ hard labors until you’ve got all yer water back.” He said “My sister’s griffon came in just this morning.” He put his hand over his shoulder and opened and closed his fingers, beckoning Clemnilshala along.
On the way they passed Rigmol and Vulac, Vulac was making desperate attempts to put tack onto the great stag and Rigmol was having none of it. Bucking his head and complaining, slinging fighting words and saying that he should throw the commander eynnil to the shiftlings in the wood. Clemnilshala put a hand on Samythiel’s shoulder and made a brief detour into the fray of leather straps and harnesses. She picked up her effects from the pile, her shielded long bow, her beast whip, a green apple from Vulac’s plate.
“Och, laddy, laddy I was goin’ tae help ye tack ‘im up right. But nae he’s yer problem” she patted Rigmol’s flank.
Their eyes on her as she left that spot was as uncomfortable as hundred-legged bugs crawling up and down her arms, but at least her bow had a shield. No protection but the ones she came upon herself. The safest spot amongst griffons in a pulled-together tent meant to be a stable. Up close these magnificent animals were far more daunting. Perhaps that is how it felt to be a boar on the slopes of the mountain boarders. One day minding one’s own business then being snapped up by a creature with a bird’s tenacity and big-cat’s ferocity. A great jingling of buckles and loops on their specialized tack. Crests of all sorts of families on medallions upon the fronts of chest guards, the same crests branded into their hindquarters.
A flash of dark hair, hair decoration, and the scent of woodsmoke flung herself past Clemnilshala and pounced on Samythiel, knocking him back a few steps until he was halted by a young griffon who squawked in protest. He swung her around in a circle and put her down, holding her at arm’s length. She too had no sleeves and tattoos all her own. They were awfully pretty. Clemnilshala excused herself back a few steps and busied herself with taking saddle blankets and petting the heads of the riding griffons.
“Ahhhh ye finally made it ye wee duster. Sammy Sammy where have you been we were expectin’ ye aaaaages ago!” Shouted the lass whose hands met Samythiel’s shoulders. She shifted him leftways and rightways, looking at the forming bald spot on his head with a great smile and shiny boot button eyes. “Look at ye, finally comin intae yer own boots, lookin a lot like dad!”
Samythiel merely laughed “Magga, is it the updrafts that gets yer beard this messy or did ye just forget how tae take care of it. Ma’ said that ye’ll never find a husband with such unkempt locks” he gave her beard a tug. Ahhh so this was the sister.
“Can’t find what I ain’t lookin for” she punched Samythiel in the shoulder. “C’mon, got yer ol’ hammer with me. The shiftlings in them woods are nightmares if they see ye wanderin’ around on their land.” She turned around to get a look at Clemnilshala, who was putting left over refuse from the morning meal into the troughs before the grand griffons and snacking on the tomatoes that warriors picked out of their food. She approached the eynnil, and cleared her throat.
“Doooo ye want tae pet her? She’s real docile, reckon she’d let ye in exchange fer some of them tomaters that you been sneaking.” Magga said, giving breathy laughs. The griffon, Anfia, chirped and ate from her trough. Clemnilshala gazed at the torn right ear of her birdish head, reaching out to give her feathering a long stroke as though she were spending time with Rigmol. Anfia didn’t seem to mind, only making eating sounds as she went about her business.
Samythiel set about raking the sand and stone of the beach, washing his face in a bucket and shaking out his hair, how long was it since he was last called ‘duster’. She swore to never bring it up again. Though seeing her after half the year apart allowed the embarrassing memory to slide along, especially with Mrs. Noblehood, perhaps they could bond over their inky skin. Caring for griffons lead his mind to a comfortable blankness so that he could focus more on the scenery around him. Was he ever going to finish that painting at the Lanh? What even were the values of the Weilvog and the Anghniel that they wanted represented in their order? He couldn’t make heads or tails of it. His vision blurred feeling the rhythm of the rake in the substrate, he listened to the ground, some small portion of elementalism that he had to himself. Many prairie Dwarves were gifted with some sort of elemental connection, though some stronger than others. The Earthenboot family used their gifts to become one with griffons and the sky. The best Samythiel could do was make sparks of flame on his own and harness weak gusts of wind. Not enough to clear the dust of the tall grasses on the back of such magnificent creatures. What would the Lanh have to say about that? ‘Duster’ how nostalgic.
Mrs. Noblehood smiled and rubbed her broken horn, petting Anfia as Magga talked at length. Likely about griffons and how Elementalists get them airborne while carrying heavy cargo. She swooped her hands up and brought a gust of air along with it, ruffling Anfia’s feathers. Anfia, in return, stretched out her wings exposing the fractal lines of a lightning strike she’d experienced as a cub. Mrs. Noblehood laid her hands on the griffon’s side, tracing the electric scar with a great gentleness. She said something about Rigmol liking girls with scars. Magga cocked her head to the side and opened and closed her hand for Clemnilshala’s hands. She turned them over and over and traced the parabolic lines on that stretched from the sides of her littlest fingers, down the sides of her hands, around the backs of her wrists, and clear up to the first joint of her thumbs. She asked about what happened here. Clemnilshala’s shoulders arose, and she tensed again. She muttered something about being silly when she was young. She turned side to side and looked at someone, Vulac, at the edge of the tree going to investigate whatever they were there for.
Magga turned to Samythiel.
“Was it somethin’ I said?” Magga asked. Samythiel shrugged in returned to his raking.
“Can’t really tell with tha one. I s’pose its best tae say tha she doesn’t like tae talk about herself all tha much.” He replied, spilling everything he knew barring the knowledge of exiles and such. What business of it was his to talk about that? He leaned to one side, finding the good mountain scout had turned her back to the stable and was shifting away with Vulac at her side. She had her hand hovering for that beast whip of hers. Samythiel hung the rake up on a post to find the wry smile of his older sister, stroking her beard.
“Oh?” she said “There’s nothin’ else ye wanna tell me duster?”
“Bahhh. Why doon’t ye go take water eh? Soak yer head” He returned her punch to the shoulder much to her joy and laughter. He rubbed his eyes and cheeks and made himself scarce as he trailed them into the woods.
They stopped before a cave in front of which was a smattering of broken seashells. Theses shells crunched under their weight and their hooves. The trees all around were eerie, the feeling of so many eyes on them it was unsettling. Vulac crossed their arms, removing their hand from their sword.
“Iiiiii s’pose tha a “thank yoo” is in order, eh?” Clemnilshala went first, taking her hands away from a position where she could get her weaponry quickly and folding them in front of her. “Guessin’ ye have a favor over me hm? Soo out with it, what do ye want of me eh?”
Vulac looked about, they then made motions with their arms in silence.
They shushed her in a hurry. They made another attempt at silence language, moving their arms in demure movements, not at all fitting of a commander. Clemnilshala watched closely. Her eyes darted side to side making sense of it all.
“What?” she hissed to another flurry of shushing. “Yoo want me to find people for ye? Do I look like a colonizer eh?” her long tail whipped sideways and back.
“Will you please be silent? These trees have eyes and ears, I don’t want to end up-“
“Dead; you dense <<miscreant>>” they hissed before returning to their silence language. To Clemnilshala they spoke of their three brothers in exile, they were in Valthran’s company back in the day and she may have known them as there were considerable age gaps between them and Vulac. That they believe that they can be put into the protection of the Lanh considering what the Abbess had said to the commander when he spoke of their brothers. Boy this Abbess has been making a lot of promises and yet somehow Clemnishala found that she was charged with keeping them. Vulac went on to say that last they heard, their brothers had gone to a colony and that if she could just tell them what she knew of the exile groups that she must have been in before going to the mountain. She put her hands at her waist and burst out laughing in these woods. It echoed through the trees.
“Gimme yer signet ring, lad.” She said, holding out her hand. She took it. Vulac lowered themself to their knees, and put their fists to the ground. “You’ve just told me a whole lot about yerself aint ye? Confided in a filthy exile about the dirt ye hide under yer rugs huh? Who’d ye train with if not Valthran eh? Senaar perhaps? He’s too good fer you.”
“I don’t have to ask you, exile.” Vulac replied. “I can command you to take me to them, at sword point if I have to”
Clemnilshala crouched real low, coming to Vulac’s side and laying a hand on the back of their neck. Pushing their head to face the ground. Her hair stood on end and it was almost as though she could hardly help herself. The word ‘revenge’ stamped itself into her focus in the shapes of the markings on her arms, in the shapes of the two scars that split the markings of her hands. ‘how easy would it be’
“Tell me.” She said, hardening her stomach as her fingers grew tighter on the back of Vulac’s neck. “Talk tae me, do I look like a colonizer tae ye? Yer sinkin’ pretty low fer a commander. Careful if you come dancing in the rain. Ye may just wake one mornin’ buck naked, in the wilds of who knows where, with naught but infection to yer name and colors like these stuck to your form for life.”
“So long. So long as I can see my brothers, exile. I’m not afraid of you.” Vulac jerked their head to face her, rising and taking a hold of her jaw. “Now will you help me willingly, or will you come by force?”
The howl of revenge was deafening in her ears, she held their ring in her fingers, squeezing it. The bruise that had formed that morning on her leg ached. She wrenched herself free of Vulac’s hold and tore her grasp from the back of their neck, falling onto her backside. Vulac leapt to their feet and drew their sword, holding it in defense and taking a few steps back. She threw her arm overhand and opened her hand, sending their signet ring sailing on the air into the deep thickets without a sound. The cries and shrieks of revenge rattled in her ears as she got to her hooves. Clenching her teeth till they creaked, she unraveled her beast whip. Stopped only by the snapping of branches and a streak of blonde running through the bushes back to camp. Only then did the impregnable sound subside. She lowered her head.
“Look, lad, I doon’t know much about colonies. I’ve got my duties tae return to.”
“This isn’t over!”
“I’m sure it ain’t” She turned her back to Vulac and started for camp. She stopped again, something in the corner of her eye, the bone white branches of the trees moved about. And the bodies they were connected to certainly were not made of wood. There was the glint of an arrowhead, and a gentle creak on the wind. Clemnilshala turned back to Vulac, and before she knew it, her hoof had left the ground.