Breakfast was comprised of catfish and salted bacon and stale bread with old, dust-flavored, butter on it. Should teach the poor fish to stare from the safety of his watery cradle. He was made of food, and the expeditioneers were hungry. Clemnilshala stretched upward, her joints and knuckles crackled like the wet spots of wood in a cooking fire. The eynnil had fresh produce, root vegetables, and vine fruits to pass out to the rest of the party. The eynnil commander dropped a firm tomato into his hand and ignored his cringing. Samythiel put it away in his satchel hoping to find someone to trade it to later in the day. His loitering about nearly halted the traveling party. He aided instead in getting the carts across the streams and lined up their wheels with two, parallel, yellow sand paths. The eynnil folk shifted nervously. O wide fields of flowers brushing against the bottoms of Samythiel’s earrings. Soft rustling that calmed his tired eyes . Joined at his side was the eynnil commander, behind them standing knee-deep in the water of the stream was Clemnilshala beckoning her great stag. She hunched over and supported his weight by head butting him in the rib cage with a wide legged stance.
“Work with me, old man” she grimpled, “One, twuh an’ jump! Jump stag!”
Rigmol reared up with a bugle and a groan as his companion lifted him over head across the stream. She muttered about the water soaking her gear and leather. While Samythiel took Rigmol by the reins and lead him along. The crossing of the stream was perilous as a street crossing in a city.
Clemnilshala turned to find Lavia and robe wearing eynnil from the Lanh, standing expectedly, they all exchanged chances, the commander stepped into the stream.
“The ink from their robes will wash away, the water here will dirty their feet” Muttered the commander coding to a pair of priestesses.
Humans used the miniature bridges made for the carts rejecting the oddity of ritualistic motions of their traveling mates. Even dwarves took mens’ aid instead of either of the eynnil. Much preferring to not listen to the songs and apologies that emerged from the mouths of the traditional rammish folk. Toad kings took their sweet time in suede to bathe briefly and enjoy a short, cool break. Loose rams and swine were carried over by Clemnilshala, the exile, who was forbidden to touch the golden eyes. At last was Lavia, one of the last. A choice that defined her against her peers, her head darted back and forth between the open and waiting arms of the commander and the becloaked object of her mission. A human golden-eye pushed past the ragling and made the decision for her, she stumbled down the bank into Clemnilshala’s hands.
“Hup” Lavia breathed as her momentum was stopped. “<Thank you>” She sputtered in her mother tongue.
“Ehhhh, et’s nae a blessing” Clemnilshala turned on her hooves and tossed Lavia up onto the opposite bank. Yellow sand descended into the stream and washed away. Lavia scrabbled her hooves on the bank with a sigh through the nose. She furrowed her brow at Samythiel who helped pull her up onto the bank with the aid of another, very kind, dwarvish lad. She immediately got to her hooves and scuttled to familiar Samythiel’s side and wrung the water from the hem of her ragged robes.
Clemnilshala climbed out of the brook and rolled onto her back to scrape the sandy dirt from under her fingernails. She panted before turning over again.
“Tha water feel’s so good doon’t it?” She cackled, kicking her legs while remaining careful of the toad lungs that had yet to climb out with their webbed hands and feet. They followed last. Clemnilshala got to her knees and opened her arms wide, parting the flowers on two sides, and scooped all the fragrant ones toward her middle. She buried her face into their petals, taking yellow pollen onto her cheeks, eyelids, and forehead. She took a moment to hum a little tune, wriggling her shoulders before standing, strangely broader.
“Well c’mon then!” She shouted, waving to the others. “Welcome tae me own place of purity”
“An herb field?” chortled the commander.
“Says the lad who calls a swamp sacred” She snickered in response. The commander furrowed his brow. Samythiel came to their side, calling them lad, saying to not mind the iron language of a mountain scout. That scouts often came out to the plains and hills much like these to pick up health additives for their skin and body. Oh yes, Samythiel Earthenboot knew all about mountain scouts as they were as familiar as the griffons his family raised, or the other flighted creatures that used to nest here before the star fell. The nice things about flowers of this meadow was that they were as much a home to creatures of the open sky as they were to those who kept to the ground.
The commander raised a bow, itching their cropped ears . Their hand came to rest on their sword but their burning question remained in their throat.
Lavia walked just behind them, these flowers came up to her elbows, she could breathe easily here. This certainly was a good place, this field.
Clemnilshala walked a faster pace, her cloak flipped at the bottom as she broke into a sprint, the suede and leather went from one side to the other. Her hood, her noble hood, leapt just as much as she did. She dove head first and rolled end over end over shoulders over hooves into the fields. Grass and flower colors stained and soaked into her dyed-green leather. She laid out, the sun warmed her cheeks and a great smile came over her mouth. The birds, who had been away so long, harmonized their songs to the squeaking wheel of one of the carts being pulled. The far mountain wasn’t so far at all anymore. She figured she could catch up after some time later. She closed her eyes and relaxed, as though she could sink into the dirt and be one with the ground forever.
Well, later came sooner than she’d desired. With a loud clack the commander’s hoof bounced off of hers. She opened one eye.
“Lad, I knoow these fields better than yoo do. Let an ol’ lady get some extra rest eh?” She wriggled on her back.
Another kick to the hoof.
“Blast it all ye barmy little snot” she got up and straightened her cloak to find herself face to face with the commander. Samythiel took several steps backward. Clemnilshala’s fiery belly ebbed as quickly as it had flared. She stopped to looked at the flowers before stalking along, haunched over a bit. She shot a glance and crooked grin to Samythiel. A more sensible idea was to keep her head down just until she got to the mountain. She spent time snickering to herself and picking the yellow or blue buds and flowers and putting them in a pouch. Bidding the party to remain on the road while she remained the only one, eynnil or otherwise, permitted to disturb the surrounding flora with her careful step and gentle touch. The soft brushing of her cloak over their stems moved the pollen at her fetlocks. Little sticks and seeds got stuck in the cloven portions of her hooves even through well-buttoned plates. Flittering butterflies and small grasshoppers launched several meters into the air. Along the way she plucked several of the insects out of the wind and collected them as well, stating that in “thin times”, grasshopper was good eatin’. Lavia feigned a gag though her quirked eyebrow amused the exile far more than any other words on a string.
“Feels good tae be back with soo many flowers” she said softly, the wrinkles near her eyes crinkling at a fond memory. All the while a team of Pegasus flew overhead. Bleats and charms and equine neighs echoed throughout the meadow. The bright pinks and yellows of the flowers, as though the powers that be had drawn a line in the fields, became blues and whites. The blue green grasses became woody brown branches and stems as the party drew closer to the mountain. Yet at their back would remain a wide, beautiful Elysian of flowers and shrubs and creeping little bugs.
They came to the cliffs and stairs into the mountainous basin. Clemnilshala held her arms up and out at the base of the stairs. She regarded the flick face with a smile, as though she’d returned to find an old friend. She turned back to the party.
“Watch yer hands, heads, and hooves, lads. Mountain passings will nae return anything ye lose.” She rubbed at her broken off horn. “Trust me.”
With a wave of the hand they were along into long mountain tunnels lit by fiery torches. Clinks of clears, shuffling shoes, any sort of sound echoed down the dark corridors amid cave kisses of dew that fell upon the party’s heads. Impossible to tell time, here, when the sun was up or away with no windows to speak of one relief on their wits and the vibrations of the limestone. Occasionally there was a curse word as someone’s horn knocked against stalactites, quiet sighs here were as loud as service songs. Frustration of eynnil-kind, unfamiliar with life under the protective cradle belonging to those who dwelt upon the ground.
A hand came down upon Clemnilshala’s shoulder. The commander with pupils that nearly overtook the amber color of their eyes gave her a gentle squeeze as their head scraped on the ceiling once again. She laughed to herself, of all the folk in this tunnel it was the ungolden eynnil that seemed to harbor the most complaints about being in the dark. Even Samythiel found a certain comfort here. As though he could smell the way out despite the mountain basin being nearly half a day’s walk from here. In the dim light he kept an eye on how the commander’s gait shifted with the stone of the subterranean road. The commander knocked down a stalactite, his armor clattered as he could have easily leapt from his skin. Clemnilshala dodged it, jumping to the side, a second nature to her by now. The humans too seemed to sense it, the dwarves lead the toadlings around it.
The commander gave another tap to the shoulder, their guide just snorted and threw her head back with a boisterous laugh.
“Ye don’t need tae be using silent touch with me here. Never here.” she shoved the commander’s hand away. “Just say what yer meanin to be sayin, ‘specially if ye want tae be telling me yer name. Nae a single law in Brinorion nor the Lanh can touch ye here.”
The commander pursed their mouth. “Vulac, my name is Vulac, my mother’s name.”
“Ohhhh quite the name, so modern, two syllables just look at ye!” Clemnilshala patted them on the shoulder. “Great tae meet ye Vulac, m‘name’s Noblehood, Clemnilshala Noblehood.” She her bored half a mind to pinch their cheeks.
They didn’t say anything about the origin of their name.
“Me pap was Selmnilor, and me mother was Hashala,” She smiled brightly and clattered around, beginning to hum a song in the dark.
Every so often she’d slap a hanging cave growth until, of course, high pitched squeal and howl came from up ahead.