The sun was tucked behind the mountains and, as though walking through a gauze curtain, a great fatigue fell over the party. The commander dropped to a knee, placing their hands onto the dirt, and panted.
A new rope lock was fashioned, wrapping fibers around themselves through the handles of the gate. Tied round and round like a noose and collar. Lavia looked at her hands, manifest with a dark sludge, her brow furrowed at the sight. Clemnilshala took to her side and shook her head quietly. The same way she might have once upon a time. She pulled her cloak to one side and draped it over Lavia’s shoulders and pulled out her water skin. Her broad form loomed over the ragling.
“Here lass, gimme yer hands.” She touched her bare fingers to the back of Lavia’s hands, holding them upward and held them steady. Deftly she dumped the contents of this water skin into her palms, a spiced liquor, cheap, its scent burned their noses both. Clemnilshala set to work rubbing her thumbs in the gunk of Lavia’s hands, washing it away. Like a mold or a slime of sorts it fell to the ground in long blackened strands. Barely a mouthful of liquor remained by the time her hands were finally clean.
“Lightin’ these up would only burn ye, figuring hoow ye were already purified in there. Hate tae see blisters on these little hands, elementalist .”
Lavia nodded, her shoulders shook as she lowered herself to the ground, coming to rest as lockweavers concluded their noble work. Clemnilshala’s abdomen hardened to help her stay upright, aiding a complaining Rigmol to a comfortable spot of soft moss.
“Och, feels like I haven’t slept in days” Samythiel muttered to the agreeable nods of the humans and other dwarves.
Clemnilshala could see them from across the marsh that blended into a field of flowers following a clear boarder of a stream. She knew this field so well, she stumbled over her steps to the stream in these marshlands to seat herself down. The pollen of the flowers was already a yellowed cloud in the air, a fantastical golden mist that beckoned her closer. O! These flowers scented savory how she had forgotten how much she’d missed them. Removing her cloak, she rolled it up and tucked it into it’s own hood, laying it at her side. A perfect spot to watch the sun go down with the soft loaf of leather and fur under her neck. She regarded the early sunset over the petals almost within reach. A desire to delay the party here gripped her heart with a gentle warmth. Ah but the scenery could wait. A lump of crumpled parchment bounced off the back of her head.
It was decided by the others that they would rest here the night. Expeditioneers were directed to make camp. Even in the fading daylight the danger of fatigue only multiplied the possible hazards of the swamp woods to their backs and the mountains that they had yet to arrive at. Tents were raised with the help of the mountain scout after it came out that someone had lost two precious stake-beating hammers. The expeditioneers were forced to take the reluctant aid of the commander eynnil in their glittering armor. They leaned over Clemnilshala with their cropped ears and perfume. To watch as she used the base of her skinner knife to give the first hit upon each of six stakes meant for these fancy Brinorion tents. She worked in circled followed by an expeditioneers with the ropes to tie down the tent canvas. Upon a second lap in the circle she stamped the stake in place with her cleated hoofplates.
The commander followed suit, jamming the point of their bare hood into a stake. A soft curse word escaped their throat and a quite sigh of pain, alerting Clemnilshala’s bad ear to twitch.
“If ye keep doin’ it like tha ye’ll founder” she called over her shoulder.
“I foundered when I was a boy. I can handle this” they snapped in return, much to Clemnilshala’s indifference. She merely shrugged and hummed a note.
She went to aid another tent at the edge of the march. Rigmol was there, communing with the toads and the mushrooms. Clemnilshala chuckled a bright from her nose as a toad croaked and took a stick into its hand. It waved its arm in a meager attempt to intimidate the great stag. It’s little arm stuttered before going around again. Rigmol knelt his crown before the creature. The toad ‘king’ and three of his friends hopped aboard his head as before he stalked into the marshes, surely to return after grazing on a rare treat of minastrill mushrooms. Clemnilshala kept an eye on the swamp, the trees that grew there were as close as those of a forest. Soft grounds, a grey atmosphere, mist that coupled around the ankles of those who knew well enough that, like water lords, swamp spirits were not to be trifled with. And not knowing their particular temperament could prove fatal. Convening with locals could often give an idea to the kind of swamp spirit that dwelt in the softened muck. One truth remained, however, that no intelligent being lived in the swamp without the spirit’s consent. A consent that could, and often was, withdrawn without a moment’s warning. The right of the rejected water lord.
Clemnilshala kept her attention divided between the sounds of the swamp and the sight of the sun sinking lower and lower under the clouds. Past the mountains. She abandoned the camp until the sun might rise later and took her spot near the edge of the stream. With loud crashes and crackles Rigmol burst through the trees. Salivating all over his furry cowl, intoxicated on mushrooms, he thanked the swamp and went to sleep off the sensation.
Meanwhile, the dinner bell rang, to the howling roar of the swamp spirit that laid just beyond the boarder. Samythiel observed a raised welt on his arm, comparing it to the similar blisters one got when young griffons got ‘nippy’. Lavia aided in serving sustenance a broth of sorts made of the dried meats left on the cart as well as root vegetables. The water from the stream was purer than the water inside the garden. She added in dozens of eggs as soon as the water came to a boil. Instinctively she hid her palms from the others, rubbing salt and spice over her hands to mask the scent of alcohol and sweetness. She dodged the sideways glances of the golden-eyed priestesses and threw more carrots into the traveling pot. Ladling it out into the bowls and canteens and flagons of the humans first then the dwarves. The other eynnil and the toadlings had separate food according to their traditional diets.
She sat with Samythiel with a bowl of hard boiled eggs, the saltiness of the broth permeated through the shell and flavored the egg’s flesh. A permissible amount of flavor for those of the Lanh. She ate the eggs in a few bites at a time, muttering that they would probably taste better between bread with oil and vinegar. Samythiel shook his head, eying the passerby commander as they went down to the stream.
The Commander came to join Clemnilshala at the edge of the stream, eying it and scratching their cropped ears as she was leaned forward removing her metal earrings and replacing them with ones made of thread, stone, and wood.
“Why did you pierce your ears? Wasn’t the needles of your skin enough to stop you perverting yourself?” They asked aloud.
Clemnilshala snorted a breath through her nose. The maddening light of the moon reflected from the waters surface made her look to be a monster.
“Why did I pierce em? Why’d ye cut yers off hm?” She said simply. “Least I chose this fer meself. I didn’t want this one to flap in me face while I was out in the wind. These earrings here, they were gifts from my late Folruth, they just weigh ‘em down, understand?”
“You had one of them cropped didn’t you?”
“Nae, got it torn off by a yeti. Me horn too, wasn’t found fer, wha, perhaps a few hours. A little goatherd and his flock saw me markings in the snow.” She looked to them, they winced at the idea. In reality it was likely as painful as they were imagining. “My turn, wha’s yer name lad?” Clemnilshala laid her weight on her knees and washed off her metallic earrings in the water of the stream. Least her ears wouldn’t be bitten by frost and ice when they’d arrived. When she’d put them away she rubbed her broken off horn idly. The scar over the back of her wrists shining about as bright as the commander’s armor. She could feel his eyes on them. The question never arose, nothing was said about these scars. Then again, the story was not a happy one, a story that didn’t have any place in the the calm of the road ahead.
The commander shook their head heedless of how he was going to need to utter it, their name, sooner or later. Swallowing down the burning question about how two lines like the ribbons of a lady’s gloves ended up there. Instead they got up and lowered their head in a gentle bow. No other words were said as they clattered in their armor to get dinner for themselves. The moonlight blanketed her shoulders as she laid over on the rolled up cloak she’d left behind. The fur of her hood tickled her cheek as her eyes fluttered closed. Her skin and muscles sore and fatigued. Sleep found her easily, as did a song easily found in a tavern, and of course the wall-eyed stare of a lowly catfish