Hair laid flat against Clemnilshala’s head as she worked, her tendrils stuck her to cheeks. Her mouth refused to be as wet as her skin had become. The others here were awfully persistent that she takes cotton clothing and spring forth from her leather. Someone even likened it to the metamorphosis of a butterfly. Her stomach turned in knots, flipping over and over again like the flips of a free griffon in the air. Yet bound to the earth unable to take off. Not with this much sweat. No sir. She instead dug holes for the tent poles as more of Brinorion’s travelers came.
More alarmingly, a horn blew in the trees and there marched ranked legions of Eynnil from Uluur, the Eynnic lands. Clemnilshala came from these lands. Warriors and priests came with banners representing the sects of Uluur, setting them down in the holes she dug early in the morning. Her eyes rested on a violet dyed cloth of the Vaniaal’s sect where she’d grown up. The Vaniaal was not with them, but his essence was with them in the glittering white armor, the well spun horns of the males and the females. Nearly undistinguishable from one another.
Clemnilshala lowered her head, pursing her mouth, she finished her current hole and thought that another tent should go as far from the tree line as possible. If there was any hope of her putting the white cotton on her body, it was long gone by now. She rested a moment by a water bucket, drinking from the ladle, while water workers separated the salt of the sea from the source of life.
“Would yew bring these to those travelers? When you’re done, bet yew would be happy tew talk tew your own kind, yes?” One of the water workers said. They scratched their neck and Clemnilshala’s gaze lingered on the other eynnil.
“Supposin’ I do et quickly I dunnae see why not.” She replied, whistling for Rigmol to come with her. Rigmol complained about a frog that tried to make its home in his ear as he supported his companion. He pushed her with his haunches as she slowed and resisted getting any closer to them. Her tail coiled up against her inner thigh.
They whispered amongst themselves. Their voices, oh what a music they were, split voices that only eynnil could have. Harmonious, they belonged with the tranquil sea. Yet Clemnilshala trembled, her knuckles turned white inside her gloves no doubt. Squeezing the bucket handle tighter and tighter. Her teeth and leather clothing creaked, strangely, in tune with their conversations with one another. She kept her gaze low, hiding as much of her face as she could in broad daylight. Nostalgia ate the tail of terror who, in turn, chewed the hindquarters of memories that she could almost describe as fond.
“<<Poor thing>>” they said. “<<Has the body for being a guard. Wonder what happened.>>”
Clemnilshala held her tongue, she was careful to not let her ears twitch, not to let them know she could hear and understand them. Instead, she whistled a passive tune and spoke strictly in dwarvish between her breaths. Perhaps a swim in the sea would be a good reward after serving these folks. She studied them from her curtain of sweaty fringe. Although her sweat stung her eyes, she sighed in relief that someone in particular was not there with them. The broad and imposing Valthran the great. Though, there Vulac stood, along the tree line, their eyes on her and their arms crossed over their chest.
“<<You will be needing to be fitted for cloth…it’s, um, hot out here. Probably hotter than where you’re from.>>” She mumbled with breathy words. “<<Hydration is important out here but so is conserving your heat energy.>>”
The travelers from Uluur looked to one another, whispering amongst themselves. Wondering which tongue she spoke. Answering one another that it was dwarvish. Asking one another if anyone here spoke dwarvish.
“C-common tongue?” Said a commander with long hair and bandages over their ears. Fresh crops? Here?
“Aye..Common tongue is good too.” She replied, repeating herself, hiding behind her thick accent as best she could. Building a fog to cower behind.
“Get a move on girl.” Rigmol interrupted her and bunted his forehead on her shoulder. She pushed him away for a moment where he then bit her arm.
“Ouch!” She exclaimed. “Right, right, er, my friend here is eager fer some exercise. The Colmillo lads will help ye get settled in. Welcome tae ‘the sea’”
Clemnilshala rubbed her arm and escaped that spot.
“You should mind your own wisdom, girl.” Rigmol said, walking at her side.
“Tha’s too dangerous.”
“They talked to you as an equal.”
“They will until, -unh-“ she stumbled in her steps. “Hot. Until they see.”
“You have that dwarf do you not? And you have me. Swallow your pride, girl.” Rigmol shook his head. “I said that we should return home, you have no place to be a coward.”
“What do ye suppose I do eh? Waggle-dance like a vulgar chump and wait for them to descend?”
“Just accept the clothes of these Colmillo people. It will at least protect you from the shiftlings in the woods. They aren’t happy that I am here.”
On their walk together they happened upon Samythiel who was boarding a rowboat out to the far rock. The expeditioneers invited Clemnilshala along, that their watcher could use a hand in keeping his head out of the clouds. Rigmol would have to stay behind and take to carting water barrels from one end of the camp to the other. Rigmol gave his blessing, indicating that he’d keep an eye on the Uluurite Eynnil.
Unfortunately, Clemnillshala did not make it past swinging one leg over the edge of the boat before her shoulders and body became too heavy to carry any further. The world went dark.
The sensation of hands. Here, there, concentrated at her head, shoulders, and legs. Inability to move about freely. Air on her wet skin. Her mind conjured the unpleasant memories, before the mountain, before Folruth. His face evaded her as she recalled it all. Dreams that repeated, slightly different every time.
She woke to lamplight and the sound of frogs from the woods calling to one another. Crickets singing soft melodies. Her mouth was sticky, she felt the way she imagined meat provisions that had been smoked and dried felt. Her joints crunched and crackled like the flicker of the flame in a kerosine lamp. It stirred other movement inside this tent with her. Her gaze snapped about, looking for a kind of darkness that was not like the night. The light of the lamp did little to bounce off of any intruder. Though she could feel someone’s eyes on her. Someone was here. She sat up in a cot, tossing an accompanying privacy blanket to one side. The night air was awfully welcome on her skin and there was no sign of her long-sleeved leather gear anywhere. She rested her hooves on the ground, the end of her tail bouncing on the thin bedding, humming to herself a song often heard in the early mornings in the forges, almost a ritual to cover up the effects of a long night of over-indulgence the night before.
The same someone stirred again, Clemnilshala rolled up the privacy blanket attempted to catch whoever was here, using the blanket like a whip. Missing every time, she rubbed her head. Grumbling that if the horses are out of the barn, then to just do what they had come to do and get on with it. Nobody answered, but a brush of air caressed her cheek as it passed through the door to the tent. Only the slightest movement in the canvas flap with no one there.
Her head wobbled in her search, landing on a water bucket on the floor, her beloved envelope which was slightly ajar, and a scroll of parchment set beside the kerosine lamp. Her ear twitched against her cheek in curiosity. Upon opening the scroll, it was headed with the “Earthenboot” family crest in the top corner of the page, it rested cleanly upon a note and a small collection of sketches. The parchment itself reached to her lap.
“<<Dear Mrs. Noblehood>>” It read. “<<You went down pretty hard, sounded like you might break that other horn of yours off. Your friend stag there was a great help in getting you to your feet. You are a skilled sleepwalker.>>” There was a feathery lined sketch of Rigmol, gazing at something off the page. Samythiel’s drawing added small items to Rigmol’s effigy such as feathers in his beard and chest, and earrings in his ears.
“<<For as much as I don’t trust that commander Vulac fella, they were quite worried about you. Miss Lavia looked like she might actually electrocute somebody with how she was wheeling around camp. They are meeting with the others that arrived just today. They are going to make sure that you won’t be endangered.>>” Next there were more drawings of a scene between abstract horned people. A notation of Uluur’s sigil. “<<They have been talking about opening a portal back to your homeland. They keep saying “Van-eel”, “Verbanner”, and “Anactee” You’ll have to tell me what all that means. But of course, when you’re back on your feet. I’m sure you’ve noticed that we took your clothes. Apologies for that. We provided a blanket to you. Don’t worry about water ration, you were pretty dehydrated. I’ll be outside the tent just knock a few times on the wall if you need me. Or at least to let me know you’re awake. Gave us (me) quite a scare.>>”
It was signed again at the bottom corner with the Earthenboot crest. How different could prairie dwarves be if their writing was so similar to those who dwelt in the mountain. There were small scratches on the sides of the parchment, sketches of birds overhead. A griffon. And an account of what dinner was supposed to be, fish and bread, and the rough lines of the eynnil eating around the fire. Clemnilshala’s chest warmed with nostalgia, at a memory of watching Amryth Noblehood sit with scrolls of parchment doing just the same thing. Watching the life around him and scribbling it down.
Clemnilshala looked about for a pen or something to write with. No such luck. Next, she draped the privacy blanket over her shoulders and crawled about on hands and knees on the rocks and sand of the beach protected by the tent. She peeped under the canvas at feet and long, dark, shapes of sleeping bodies. There was a tent across the way, with the Uluur banner illuminated by a torch in the ground. The lamps were bright over there, shadows of eynnil moving like the dancing of flames. On the opposite side of the medics tent, where she was, was a short leg, bent at the knee, with the torso of a dwarf sleeping quietly. He, Samythiel, smelled like seed oil, something that came through his clothes and through the tent fabric as he leaned his shoulder into it like a tight hammock. Whistling when he exhaled.
With the moon high it would only be rude to wake him up, so, instead Clemnilshala leaned her back on the protruding spot in the tent canvas. He stirred a moment before falling quiet once more. She dragged the water bucket closer to her, drank from the ladle, and wrapped herself in this privacy blanket. She would have much preferred her cloak but this did in a pinch. Hanging her head, she fell back to sleep.
Only to be awakened in the bright of day, the tent flaps were torn open, the sun shone behind the figures of an Uluurite, Vulac, and Lavia. Clemnilshala was on her hooves in half a breath, wobbly, immodestly dressed in naught but a privacy blanket.
“Mornin’” she mumbled. “Eh…sorry tae have been such a bother.” She continued. Strangely, this Uluurite was not Golden.
“<<You are the one called Noble hood yes?>>”
“Please, sonny, speak in common tongue.” She held up her hand, stopping the eynnil whom she stood eye to eye with.
“You, by the orders of the Brinorion Lanh, are indentured to this expedition.” Their eyes feel down toward her ankles, making a spiral pattern in their movements, reading her markings.
“Aye. Ehhhh, scout work really. Helpin’ a friend o’ mine tae find his mother and sisters out here. Figured I’d stay tae help find the star as well. A pretty fair thing-finder iffin’ I do say so m’self.” She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned on the tent pole behind her.
They turned their attention to Lavia with a look on their face. Lavia glanced between them and Clemnilshala. It turned out that Lavia spoke of the Brinorion Abbess who had been asking for Clemnilshala by name. They went back and forth while Clemnilshala looked on, wondering if it would get her a whipping if she got herself some water. After ages of going back and forth the Uluurite produced an item from a pouch on their hip. A signet ring with a great violet stone, engraved in which was the sigil of Uluur. It was old, old lands old. With gloves on, the Uluurite placed the ring in Clemnilshala’s hand and closed her fingers around it.
“You seem to have a friend in the Vaniaal. He’s bid his golden general to provide you with this, which, proves to the others here that you are under our watch. Only so long as you follow the old duties that you once held to our people. Do you accept these terms?”
“Ehhh…what’s the name of this general hm?” Clemnilshala turned the ring over and over, sick nostalgia welling in her stomach. “Indulge my curiosity if you will”
“General Valthran. If you do not accept this then your safety will be at the discretion of each individual. You will have no protections.” The replied.
Clemnilshala, whose heart fell into her stomach and burned, jerked her hand away. “Not of that name” She was careful to pronounce her words like a human would. She picked the Signet ring out of her hand, turned it thrice in her fingers to study its shine, and pushed it into the Uluurite’s chest. “I do-not want the protection of Valthran. I will take my chances, ye doon’t look like any kind of exile hunter, sonny.”
“So be it”
Hours passed after they, the Uluurite and company, turned and left Clemnilshala alone. She sat, her knee bouncing as she remained deep in thought. Who was this Brinorion Abbess, was this a sick joke? The sun was rising higher. At midmorning more bodies came into this medical tent, a group of dwarvish expeditioneers, plus Samythiel who had an envelope and a bundle of cloth. Clemnilshala took the envelope first, as it was pushed into her hand, and the bundle second.
Samythiel turned right around and held his hands behind his back. Looking up at the ‘ceiling’ of the tent. The note, from Hjomnir, brought to the sea via portal, was an official pardon of the alterations of scouting gear, and a personal addition mentioning that scouting gear was meant to always serve the wearer no matter the form. Signed with his family crest.
Clemnilshala gulped down a breath and unwrapped the cloth bundle. She could hardly recognize the green whatsit in her lap. Oh no. oh no this was arguably so much worse than heat exhaustion. But the deed had already been done. These alterations made her old jumpsuit, which had careful leather engravings of her hunts and stories she told as many scouts did to their own gear, had been taken apart and resewn together into a single piece of gear. The stories were all scrambled up, portions about her boar hunts were fixed next to the tale of her and the yeti. The top portion of her jumpsuit minus the sleeves. The bottom portion was fashioned into a prairie kilt. They even made her utility belt useful for this climate. The explanation: that there was truly no telling how long they were going to be here on the sea so one might as well get used to it now.
Oh yes, this was arguably worse alright.
“Blast” she muttered.