There she was. She sat idly beside a table with food, in fine clothing, holding in one hand a swaddled dwarvish infant who seemed more than content to wriggle in safety and make noises. The tassel at the that hung from the bottom of the baby’s blanket flopped side to side as the imprisoned child bucked their little legs. Clemnilshala was smiling in the way that she did, her cheek filled with food making the corners of her eyes crinkle like thin paper. After another bite of food, she shakes her finger in front of the baby’s nose, giving it a gentle touch.
Samythiel wrung his hands around the handle of the knife he found. Perhaps he should’ve gotten it sharpened before meeting her here. Before he had the opportunity to approach, he was intercepted by the bride adorned in coins and jewels and gifts from her guests. She embraced Samythiel with a great grin and several welcoming pats to the back. The mountain woman leaned from side to side babbling about how happy she was to have a plains style wedding. The style where the celebration was open to anyone who happened to walk in. He gulped a breath and turned his hip away
“Please, please, help yerself tae anything here. I insist!” Said the bride with her husband’s dark red jewel gorgeously placed at the top of her sword’s scabbard on her waist. The furs around her shoulders contrasted in color and texture against her hair and the golden ornaments in her beard. As quickly as she found Samythiel she flittered away across the room to Clemnilshala’s side, trading smiles, and took her baby from her. She offered her a chance to dance in the revelry. Clemnilshala merely shook her head and took a bite of her food, the songs and clapping and the sounds of dancing feet drown out what they truly said to one another.
The husband joined them while Samythiel shuffled along to look for the wedding portrait that was nowhere in sight. Was he here so early? The baby exchanged hands again back to Clemnilshala as the wife and husband returned to their party. The crowd moved like grass on a windy afternoon, as with the reeds and grains of the plains from which Samythiel hailed, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched by something. The hairs at the back of his neck stood on end. From side to side he looked until he came upon them, the sea, staring at him as a cougar stalks the plains. The line of her mouth was short as she brought the bundled baby to her lap before she brought a tomato to her mouth. Politely she cleaned her cheek and turned her attention to the baby, glancing up at Samythiel a great many times. Samythiel lowered his head and and pulled her knife from his belt to which Clemnilshala’s eyebrow raised. She bucked her head and invited her to join her.
“You have a baby” he said at last, having crossed the room once more to be at her side. “I’d’ve never asked ye tae leave yer child behind if I’d known” He knew he was wrong. But something, anything other than an apology, was good enough for him.
Clemnilshala’s cheeks puffed, she lurched forward carefully and laughed. Laughed louder than anyone here as she threw her head back. She heaved breaths between fits of chortling, in the midst of making sure that the baby was safe in her lap.
“Nae nae nae, lad, this is the bride’s daughter. I’m jus’ watchin’ over her fer a time while she sleeps. She said, leaning an elbow on the back of her chair. She spent minutes leaned over. A sigh came through her nose. She clutched the baby closer and reached out to touch his shoulder.
“Yer as honorable as Amryth was.” She gave his shoulder a squeeze. “And I missed seein’ ye. Please, forgive me fer leavin’ ye in that place”
The bride came back and took her baby from Clemnilshala. “Why don’t ye take a break, deary? They’ll be revealin’ the painting soon” she put a hand to her knee. “And I was so hopin’ that ye’d tell the story of how you and Folruth pierced the hide of Nahchog!”
Clemnilshala shook her head. “Nay lass, it’d be bad luck tae speak of my late husband at your wedding. Ye look lovely, and I wish ye every blessing the Open Sky and the Wild Things can offer ye. Et seems as though I have some unexpected business.”
“Noo noo don’t worry, Let’s talk next time. I have plenty of things tae do anyhow” Samythiel waved his hands in front of his face. He put her knife back onto his belt and gave a smile. “Until later then?”
He, too proud to linger, scuttled from the wedding hall and wove through corridors and passageways. He hid from the glimpses of Lavia and Xirril and huddled away into a street food alley where such incredible scents surrounded him. Imported and preserved alike the food offered to passerbies with jubilant barkers. They advertised with their ragged voices both to the foreign and the familiar, among their wares was pollen crusted bread and a selection of cheeses. A snack that reminded him of home where the stars were as numerous as the gems that were lodged in the ceiling of this contained city. He made his way farther along the back toward the lodging he was afforded by the king’s guards when he first arrived in the mountain. Someone was there, sitting at the end of a bed. They hummed a song and enjoyed tea in their privacy.
Samythiel approached the bed where he used to sleep and patted around to look for his belongings that he’d left behind. The someone turned the page int heir book that they now read. Samythiel did not recall them having a book but perhaps it was in their lap.
“<<Ye won’t find yer things there. Every week or two they clear out the old belongings>>” Said the dwarf before taking another sip of his tea. “<<Lucky for you, I managed to save some of your wares should you come back>>”
They folded down the corner of their page and snapped close the book while Samythiel approached. The stranger wore his glasses, not his own glasses but those which belonged to Samythiel in the first place.
“<<Wares? Do you mean to sell it back to me?>>” He muttered, balling his fist and steadying his gait as not to stumble nor snatch the glasses from his face. They smiled with a gold tooth.
“Oh I guess in a certain kind’a way ye can say that. I just want tae know where ye went and what the world looks like outside the basin. I’ll trade yer things fer yer stories.”
So Samythiel told him the whole story, from the very beginning like a ruptured floodgate that could not be stopped. From the plains of his home to living in this forsaken mountain for six months. The uncertainty for his mother and two sisters, clear until this point now. The man just listened and hummed occasionally.
“That explains all the brushes and paints in this crate. These as well.” He pulled a bundle of Tondrüd’s feathers. “So tell me then, when did yer life become all about this Noblehood lady?” he asked brushing his fingers through the loose fibers of his dark black beard.
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe ye need tae set back and watch, or yet better do somethin’ about these worries. Ah I don’t think yer meant fer a life of a shoulder ghost.” He pulled out a roll of poor paintbrushes. Samythiel didn’t recall asking for advice though joy filled his heart at the sight of his brushes, thank the Open Sky that they were not lost here as his others were lost in Brinorion’s fire.
“Well yer things and stuff is yers again. Give yer lady my best” he gave a wink “By the matter, yer goin’ tae need more yellow and gold, yer almost out. Good luck find ye, Earthenboot.”
The man rose and grew older as he walked away. He disappeared into the cage around the hearth that glowed with the strong heart of the mountain. Samythiel took off his shoes, warming his feet on the floor near the hearth and stove, and packed his belongings. He knew what he had to do, the method of his new friend’s departure into the huff-huff-huffing sigh of the mountain. Spirits, they continued to baffle him, but Magga said that they were as normal as strangers.
He grabbed what remained of his supply and, with a bolt of inspiration, set out to continue the painting of the bird and think. This purpose revealed itself in the canter through the grand halls he passed back through. Passing a library he slowed his gait to glimpse the young children with their wispy babyish beards dragging their fingers over open readers while a small play was staged by adults. They held their hands up to the sides of their heads while speaking in their wild verses the story of the mighty, cowardly, heroes Higurna and Bosh. Samythiel smiled as he passed, unnoticed by the educators.
The mountain breathed and hummed her tune to the plains elementalist. Her voice was as deep as her caverns and the forges warming her citizens. Very much unlike the voice of the plains. The only thing in common was how they whispered stories passively. Offering nothing but supple ideas for paintings like the ones displayed in the great commons that he looked upon while preparing his smoking pipe while he walked and held it in his mouth. Occasionally someone would stop and offer to light it for him while they too strutted about and smoked like chimneys. He refused each time. There was a mountain scout’s hall where people entered and left. A wife grieved with her four children gathered around at her apron while, inside the hall, a brown and white cloak decorated with iron thorns and horse hair at its hem was hoisted up among the many others like it. Many wives and friends gathered in this funeral. Those who also came to mourn their own dearly passed. Those cloaks close to the floor were the most faded when the folk would approach and touch their foreheads to the suede and leather and fur. By the Open Skies there were so many cloaks aside from a large open space on the left side of a middle row. Samythiel offered his handkerchief to the grieving wife while the see-through black veil was released to cover up the cloaks and spirits of the dead dwarves of the mountain face. The scouts. The unplated warriors. As exalted as they were unthanked. The wife and her eldest daughter and son could not keep their hands away from their freshly cut hair. They wondered if the air was always so cool without their long plaits.
Mountain scouts did not get jewels implanted in the ceiling of the city. Scouts did not join the false stars in rainbows that watched over their kin. But the cloaks here watched over their families and their countrymen. Their wives and husbands and children as well. He stopped and considered the decorations behind the see-through silk that billowed to a close. More than several of Family Skipflock were here. Rows upward there was a familiar crest. How was it he always came back to the outdoorsy side of the Noblehood bloodline, why could he not continuously run into unexpected paintings of Amryth and let the others have their peace?
Samythiel turned away from the memorial wall, the black haired man has to be wrong. He hung his head and listened to the mountain and wished it was the windy breath of the plains and the beach. His stride was stopped at the bumping into a living scout.
The eye patched dwarf stamped his feet and shook the snow from the furred shoulders of his cloak.
“We’re all kin here, and we all go out together. Yer with that hodgepodge company that was at Fox Eye a couple’a weeks back ain’t ye. Lost us a fair scout, I assume yer goin’ tae let her return tae her job?”
“Ehhhh, nae quite. There’s more that we have tae do.”
“What are ye doin’ here then?”
“Got lost, was going to the portrait hall.” Samythiel pulled his bag over his shoulder. “Came to honor the passed, the work you folk do its noble and just”
“What’s yer name, lad? Where ye from?” He picked at the bark rune charms at his shoulder before taking the whole cloak off. By the Open Sky, mountain dwarves are nosy. He kept it short, turns out the man before him was the Commander Hjomnir Sheltereye who had extended family in the area near Samythiel’s home village of Aff. He didn’t stick around much longer at the sight of Lavia and Magga walking along outside. He ran to catch up with them until they’d turned the corner to go to the public baths. He halted and returned to the wedding hall.
The wedding was stifled, the music no longer played, the bride and groom cowered in the shadow of the great large eynnil with scars on his face and chips in his horns. Valthran had followed them to Khalenthel. Clemnilshala stood just behind the bride, hunched forward with a waning stoic and aggressive scowl that unraveled at the crows feet around her eyes. Xirril crossed her arms over her chest.
“I will make this plain for you” she said. “You will return to the sea with us and you will obey the Abbess Superior and the traditions of the Land. In return you will be allowed to make demands to accommodate your services to us. We will not leave you until you return with us.” Xirril narrowed her eyes with steady breath.
Valthran pulled his war hammer from his back, his glare found Samythiel who haunted the doorway. Clemnilshala found him too, her teeth bared with a risen lip.
“How impolite of yoo…yoo…<<villains>>.” Tae crash intae a lovely wedding like this.” She pushed herself from behind the bride and turned her back to Valthran. “M’warmest wishes on yer marriage. I hope ye have every blessing this mountain can offer.”
She turned to Valthran and Xirril.
“Come, let’s discuss this elsewhere.” She passed Samytthiel and ran her fingers in his hair on the way before jerking her hand away. “Och lad, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean tae do tha.” She turned her face to the ceiling and was quiet a moment “Wasn’t thinkin.”
Valthran shoved her forward, she stumbled a few steps into leading them away from the wedding hall to the tables of a pub. Redness filled her cheeks and forehead as her head swung side to side, thoughts of how she’d blundered in touching dwarf hair without the familiarity she shared with Folruth.