Clemnilshala’s markings kept her awake all through the night. Her head sagged as she rested her eyes at the very least. Footsteps of a dwarf’s gait roused her attention. She maintained the appearance that she merely slept, hunched over her stag. The soft footfalls ceased, bringing a cloud of painter’s oil in the air. Then, much to her surprise, scratching sounds that she could not hope to place.
The noise bored itself into her bad ear as much as it did her good one. She rose her head opening her eyes to find, lo and behold, Mr. Samythiel scratching a picture with a leather awl into a piece of tree bark. His face twisting and growing pink, then turning red as it dawned on him that he had been caught by the subject of his sketching.
“Have we started tae move again?” she asked at first, looking up through the shy branches of the mossy woods. Impossible to tell the time but from the sounds of the animals rustling it couldn’t be too late.
Samythiel pursed his mouth and straightened his spectacles.
“Nae, they’re tearing down the camp and could use some help. Seemed intent that ye came tae their aid” he stuttered at last “we will be moving out soon, ye better come get some breakfast at least.”
Clemnilshala nodded along, lifting Rigmol’s head from her lap he complained as his joints popped and crackled. Only to be soothed by the prospect of eating. He rose and stretched and shook moss from his fur, allowing his companion to tighten his tack, straightening the bit in his mouth and the reins around his head. She shooed away a bird who seemed intent on building her nest in his antlers.
Samythiel discreetly continued his sketching.
Clemnilshala had never seen such elaborate tents in the camp. City tents had wings like dusty old manors. Pseudo rooms for each inhabitant, how baffling. She crossed around to the sides of these canvas structures and, with the picks at the front of her hoofplates, she helped untie the knots around stakes and bring them down. She’d had the rams packed and tacked and went to stand outside the great red gate. Other eynnil joined her shortly. The very eye was electric, she cleared her throat and looked over her shoulder making a brief second of eye contact with Samythiel. She bucked her chin and beckoned him up to the front of the party. Amongst the great eynnil.
Samythiel gulped at their rammish horns as their blue and black and amber eyes dragged sideways toward the one horned thorn in their side. She got down on one knee and laced her fingers together, aiding Samythiel onto Rigmol’s back. “The pack rams are in good hands lad, why doon’t ye ride up here with us?”
Lavia leaned forward from the other end of the line. “Yes, it can help with your painting. We will be crossing a sacred place. Maybe the Anghniel will grant you inspiration.”
Samythiel nodded slowly. Taking the reins from Clemnilshala and turned his attention to the crimson doors. The other eynnil, filled with their holy magic, set golden flames upon the rope lock. Clemnilshala’s face went paler than ice. She did not participate. Her hand instead going to her side to nurse a dull ache under her leather gear. The light of pure flame drew itself closer to her, floating along in ribbons away from the rope lock. She hardened her abdomen, as though she stood near a nest of bees and prayed that she wouldn’t get stung. Such is the intelligence of holy flame, as alive as the wasp, it burned the rope to cinders. It slithered in the remaining smoke and struck with a great hood. The flame burrowed between Clemnilshala’s fingers and met the seam of her scouting gear. She shied away, leather couldn’t be flame resistant forever.
“The door’s unlocked, lads” her voice shook. The flame reared back and dove through her leather, colliding with an unfortunate scar upon her side. Blinding heat filled her to her shoulders. She hissed as her knees buckled and crumbled beneath her. Her voice splintered in the traditional way that eynnil spoke.
“<<I said the door is open!>>” she snarled through the smoke that erupted from her side. She got back to one knee and lunged, thrusting her shoulder into the door and throwing it open. She returned to her knees as the flame faded away. She stunk like a family roast. Her breath stuttered as she was passed by the others. She caught Lavia’s eye as she strode onto a wooden path just before Rigmol and the rest of the party. The wooden path was like a dock placed over an endless expanse of still river water.
Lavia stopped and lit a candle. Singing verses announcing to the Weilvog and Anghniel that they had arrived and merely intended to pass through. To ask the lord of this garden to not hold their travel against the impure and to instead inflict its just wrath upon the loyal servants of Brinorion City’s Lanh.
“’Shala” Rigmol said, bunting his nose on her shoulder. “Hop on, I can carry you both through”
Clemnilshala’s ear flicked, she peered forward at the other eynnil and back at the humans and few dwarves of the company. She lowered her head and hissed to herself, turning her cheeks side to side. She took a hold of Rigmol’s antler, peeling her leather from her numbing side as she stretched upward. She muttered that she couldn’t afford to be weak in a water lord’s garden. Not here. Breathing musically, she gave her best effort to stiffen her legs and walk.
Samythiel’s grip on the reins tightened as he watched the mountain scout’s gait. She may have thought that she looked as normal as any other eynnil but she nearly hung like a rag from her stag’s neck. Samythiel’s brow furrowed all the more as she began to speak to the stag in breathy whispers. While he couldn’t hear a reply uttered, the old stag walked on, lowering his great crown of antlers. His body vibrated and changed in subtle positions that perked Clemnilshala’s ear.
“Stubborn girl, at least take my aid, I will protect you from this place.” He had said to her unbeknownst to Samythiel.
“Too dangerous old friend,” she breathed. “I have protection from them but nae from the lord of these waters. Anghniel will smell me stink in its domain and I doon’t want tha”
“Water lords?” Samythiel asked aloud to a chorus of hushes and hisses. He sucked his lips into his mouth and chewed on them. Clemnilshala looked around and up at the painter. She gave a wink as her face seemed so white in the floating orbs that danced in these mists. The lights washing out the colors from the party like stains out of filthy laundry. The veins in her neck seemed more pronounced, dark under her skin. She held her breath and, quietly, she would sigh and gasp for air. Her gaze pulled to the waters. Invisible fingers drummed their nails on her skin, tickling the thin peach hairs up and down her arms, around her sides. These same prickly things squeezed and dug in clear down to her aching rib cage.
She was not welcome here. Something stirred in the silvery grey water, just beneath the lily pads and their flowers. The wooden path and bridges creaked under the weight of the company.
Lavia began to sing songs about service to the powers that laid here and of being deserving of the blessings of the overseeing things that crept upside down just beneath the steely still water’s surface.
Samythiel watched Clemnilshala’s face twitch with the movements of her ears. She had a scent to her, past the smell of smoke on her skin. And alarm, a warning to others of her kind that she sensed danger here. Much like young griffons made when they were training without their sires to teach them. It was as strong as the smoke. Something about the shattering of the scout’s stoicism turned his stomach to knots. He reached forth to pet Rigmol’s head and whispered under his breath to the stag. Straining his ears for any sound in reply.
“Sah, how do I make us slow down?” He listened for anything. Alas no sounds came though in the garden of a water lord, the sweat beading on Samythiel’s brow pulled an idea like a vision of a fine painting. He bunted his knuckles on the side of Rigmol’s neck. “Sah, I have an idea”
Rigmol pricked an ear, listening to the dwarf. Within moments he reared and bucked, groaning loudly and raising his tail like a flag. Clemnilshala’s head snapped to attention as the other eynnil cast their disdainful gazes upon her aching shoulders.
“Whoa beasty….whoa. Yer okay beasty” Samythiel called loudly. The traveling company halted with no end to the garden in sight. Clemnilshala jumped to action.
“Lad! The reins, the reins!” she shouted, “Hold his antler!”
Samythiel tossed the leather reins into her waiting hand.
“Rigs! Rigmol! What’s wrong old friend?” she pulled on his reins, taking her other hand from her side her fused gear pulling away from burned skin.
“Say that I need water. Now” Rigmol hissed his ghostly sound in her ear. “You’ve gone and forced my hand, girl. Do it or else I throw the dwarf into the water.” His smooth voice became like sand.
Clemnilshala grit her teeth, the eynnic commanders demanded an explanation for this disturbance.
“H-he saw something in the garden. He’s spooked and all he needs is some water and he’ll be right” she said, sliding her hand up the reins up under Rigmol’s chin controlling his head. “He won’t go forth without cruelty, if you deny him water…eh…sir”
Clemnilshala dropped her gaze from the large Eynnic Commander. Their hand immediately went to her chin and pulled her head to face them.
“Make him go forth, exile. Any means necessary. We surely can heal any damage you do to your own companion.” Said the commander. Clemnilshala looked between them and her stag. Her teeth tasted like incense. She pushed their hand from her jaw and stamped her hoof on the wooden path.
“Ye doon’t want tae be fixin’ a great stag like tha after the kind of viciousness it takes to get him moving forward without water.” Clemnilshala tugged the reins.
“I’m sorry.” Muttered Rigmol as he bucked Samythiel from his saddle and into the garden’s water. Samythiel flailed, the water, warm, tender, soaking his clothes and hair. The water grew thicker, making it harder for him to continue splashing, no doubt attracting the attention of the water lord of this garden. He sunk like a stone.
Clemnilshala looked to the commander. They didn’t move an inch. “Yer useless!” she shoved the commander aside and tore her cloak from her shoulders and cast it to the path.
“Wait! No!” shouted Lavia. Too late, Clemnilshala had already opened the top of her jumpsuit, exposed the markings of her upper chest, and leapt into the impossibly deep water. Her hooves found nothing to stop her velocity. When she’d bobbed back up Samythiel was no longer in sight. She splashed and kicked, taking a great breath and going under the surface. She swam downward. The water began to take a more crimson hue.
Lavia shouted after her. “No no you can’t!” her tongue a disjointed song. The surface, within moments, was inundated with a smoky mist.
The same water awoke every pain filled memory that Clemnilshala’s body had. Under the surface her head was blinded, her jaw opened, and a cough of her breath escaped her throat. Water filled her nose as she forced one of her eyes open in the reddening muck. A flash of blonde sinking ever deeper. A fiery tickle came to her lips as something took her by the neck and dragged her headfirst after Samythiel. Down, down, down, the deeper she got the more her skull felt as though it had been split with a rod or beaten against the mountain. Her fingers came around a shirt’s collar, she forced her eye open again and for just a moment she saw him, his face covered, his head sagged in this bottomless aquatic funeral. Clemnilshala kicked her hooves and wrapped her arm around his broad chest. He was warm.
It’d be impossible to numb the pain of her flesh as it remembered the way it felt to get these patterns, words, and runes put on her skin, her other arm came up and drew her knife. She made a great war cry. She hung her head and kicked her legs, swimming upward against the pull of the unseeable hand around her throat. She expelled the breath from her lungs. The claws of whatever she fought tightened. She slashed at it, forcing herself up, up, up. Until her head burst through the crimson water’s surface.
“Rigmol!” She whooped and hollered seeing nothing but red all around her. Rigmol came at attention lowering his rack of antlers. Sinking once more then using the force of her breath, Clemnilshala thrust herself upward again and cast Samythiel into the open crown. Rigmol stamped and bucked his head to catch the dwarf. He reared up and twisted weaving his clothes and limbs into his antlers and bringing him up to the path. Samythiel was dragged away from the water Clemnilshala was pulled under once more. The water turned viscous and became dark. Clemnilshala took in mouthfuls and tasted only blood.
Lavia pulled up her robes and rags and plunged her hand into the bloody garden. Squeezing her fist around Clemnilshala’s remaining horn. She set the air alight with her elementalist’s magics. A pulse of her beating heart forcing the assailing water away.
“Commander! Help me!” she begged.
“Let the exile drown in the garden” they turned their nose in the air.
“My word is that of your abbess now you get her out before the Water Lord comes for the rest of us for bringing this impurity here!” Lavia shouted, electricity brimmed in the air. The commander, at last, went to their knees, wrapping his tail around Rigmol’s leg he ripped the mountain scout from the thick garden. Humans flocked ahead to bring care and blankets to Samythiel. Clemnilshala was dumped on her side like a sack of vegetables.
She coughed and hacked up bloody liquid from her lungs. She wheezed and pulled another button of her gear open with a heaving chest. Her under shirt stained red, her green leather turned rusty brown, her hair, her skin, even her eye was doused in crimson. She crawled, her nerves alight with the tens of thousands of needles she knew so well, toward the barely conscious dwarf. The evil color of the garden not evident on his clothes or face. He was sitting upright with a warm blanket over his shoulders.
“Earthenboot! Earthenboot can ye hear me!” she shouted before her blindness faded. She blinked the garden’s water from her trembling cheeks. He looked over and wrung out his beard. Before anything else could be said Clemnilshala was pulled away by the shoulders. The commander jerked her by the arm and knelt her before Lavia and one other Golden-eyed priestess.
Canisters of lamp oil were poured over Clemnilshala’s head, the great blessing of the Lanh. A match was struck, and the oil ignited over Clemnilshala’s body. She was not burned; the water protected her skin as the bloody rage of the water lord was immolated and purified. The holy flame attacked her burned side. She bit her tongue. She was only extinguished once her clothes were clear of crimson sludge and her skin no longer smelled of rotted iron.
Lavia, once the flames died, thrust herself to her knees and put her clean hands on Clemnilshala’s face, she turned her head side to side.
“Oh I’m so happy you’re safe!” she pulled the exile into a tight embrace and wriggled.
Clemnilshala squirmed in her arms, pulling away to cough clean water out of her lungs. She surveyed her inflamed skin, pulling her arms out of her sleeves and tying the top of her jumpsuit around her waist.
“Och” she sputtered, her tattoos were raised angry, blistered, welts. As though they were as fresh as the day she got them. The Golden-eyed priestess whispered to the commander, holding her hand up to her mouth. The commander received a prestigious blessing for helping and handling an exile. “Och where’s Rigmol” Clemnilshala wheezed. Her voice hoarse from stinging intrusions of smoke into her chest.
Rigmol wasn’t far, he was laying with the rams and drinking, as was demanded of his handler. Clemnilshala, completely doubled over, on one hand and knees, dragged herself amongst the pack beasts. He looked up to face her. “’Shala” Rigmol’s head swung. “Are you finally ready to receive my aid?” He turned his head to Samythiel who limped over with a blanket.