Three days later, after long mornings of avoiding eynnil in favor of doing chores with the dwarves who were worked harder than anyone else in the village at the command of Valthran, after busy afternoons of bucking a scythe around the clear the fields for the establishment of a temple worthy of traveling and being temporary. An exile stands tall, showing younglings just what to do.
“Remember where ye are!” She’d shout, again and again, she personally adjusted their hooves as she demonstrated to the others. She hounded partners away from one another, isolating young eynnil for their own good. Dwarvish combat was all about self-protection, something even Clemnilshala struggled with some 250 years after meeting the dwarves and some 150 years learning their fighting style. She threw rocks at their hooves. The precocious female continued to block rocks from anyone around her.
“If ye don’t stop that, I’ll send ye tae train with the blacksmiths.”
“But they would fail without me!” She stamped her hoof and cut the air with her hand, standing proud between Clemnilshala and her peers.
“Then let them fail! If whatever attacked Brinorion comes for them, and you too, then who would ye rely on? Let them fail! Grow! If ye fail here we can try again! Learn from being knocked over!”
“That is wrong, Exile! It was once your duty to lay yourself down if it meant that your partner went home!”
“And what happens when you die, hm? What happens when ye’ve laid down yer life and now yer partner has tae protect themselves without ye there. And they cannae because they relied on yer skill tae make up fer their slack. It ain’t yer fault but ye got tae let yer partner and kin learn!” Clemnilshal tapped herself on the forehead as she spoke to, shouted at, the youngling. “Yer nae always going tae have someone lookin’ out fer ye and it’s fawn’s thoughts like that that get ye hurt.”
She softened her face to the youngling and reached to touch her shoulder.
“Yer nae a fawn anymore. Nor was I when I had tae learn. Nae remember where yer hooves are, buck up, and we can all try this again.”
There came a great bugling and Rigmol came a galloping. He wagged his head as he raced, speaking like a buck he barreled into Clemnilshala’s side and knocked her to the ground. With hysteria, he babbled about the unnatural knowledge of the Abbess.
“She laid her hands on me and spoke to me in my native tongue! It’s not right! It’s not natural! Her voice, it’s like tar and came from my insides! If she touches me again, if she touches you, I’ll kill her!” Rigmol huffed and panted his breath into her face. “Let her ghost go to the wailing towns of Rinth ar Alfgorn!”
Clemnilshala pets her stag on the neck, cooing soothing words to him in his panic. She forgot about training younglings, leaving them alone in the pasture for the remainder of the morning. The two of them felt the eyes of those trainees on their necks as they conversed and took the extensive break from new people. The younglings took to dueling, common practice in normal eynnil towns. They trained on their own while Clemnilshala feigned that she was watching over them in front of Valthran. Watching, while she and Rigmol smoked a pinch of Century tobacco and recounted the last time they last tasted this leaf and traded stories about Folruth while the midmorning sun beat down on their brows.
Until Y’luunara approached and sat with them. She smoothed her apron over her lap and offered a quiet greeting. She drew her hooves up and watched the smoke rise from Clemnilshala’s pipe like a chimney. Rigmol narrowed his eyes.
“Seems I may have given your friend quite the fright. I’m afraid I did not mean to. I merely wanted to know just what he wants, as I’ve taken him from his home.” She put her hands together, apologizing with the wordless slave language.
Clemnilshala lowered her head. “Bah he just don’t like ye lass. And I don’t think we have enough time tae get him tae like ye even a little. Easiest thing tae do is tae just keep yer distance and yer unnatural knowledge tae yerself.”
Golden gaze searched the exile who refused to meet her eyes. She craned and leaned and hunched.
“You don’t soften your words. How terribly honest of you. I have some magic I wish to show you, this evening why don’t you join me for a treat?”
Clemnilshala inhaled the smoke, mulled its flavor while moving her jaw about.
“I know, no magic, but I would love to share this with you, lady Noblehood. It would only help me help you.”
“Hah, help me what?”
“Discover your heartwish. Your heart has been closed to our people for so long. I’m afraid that the lack of one may hurt your trainees. I’d so hate to see them cast you. I promise that my magic won’t hurt you. I just want to learn more about you.”
Clemnilshala scooted into the safety of Rigmol’s neck, the space between his front legs as she contemplated the offer, mid-chew on her pipe. Rigmol’s wary voice neared the candor of a growl, warning over and over that the Abbess’ magic was unnatural so go at your own risk. With tremendous hesitation, she accepted the invitation and tapped out the spent ashes on her hoof.
She returned to the precocious youngling and the others, offering to train them one on one.
“I don’t want to knock your other horn off, exile.” Said the male youngling through the afternoon and well into the evening.
She took immense pleasure at redirecting sticks, swords, and flails to the tune of frustrated bleating. She resolved to them that she would continue to teach them no matter how long it took. Quietly thinking to try it the way she once knew until they decided to try it her way. Only when Xirril came to collect them did Clemnilshala pat the heads of her students and go to the edge of the plain’s cliff to the building the Abbess had taken for herself.
Samythiel was sitting with his head in his hands, his knee bounced as rapid as cloth under a river. His shoes sat at his aide. Clemnilshala looked down to him and sat a moment, putting off the ever dreadening visit to Y’luunara. He, without a word nor warning, leaned over onto her arm which became her side as she squirmed to accommodate the space he took up. She pulled him into her side as his soft huffs of a lonely cry fell through his fingers like sand through nets. What soft cry was this? What to do but think ‘oh dear’. Words caught in her throat and were all a tangle against the short-haired memories of dwarves long past on the steps of inns and taverns.
Never in her great many years did she ever figure out the puzzle of just what to say.
Only silence here on the steps was right. Silence took them until he broke it with a breath. He said he’d wait here for her to come back out. The Abbess commanded it of him only minutes before. He muttered of the ghost of Amryth that he’d seen in the mountain but here he promised to wait for the vision he’d seen but never spoke of with anyone else but Clemnilshala in his long years to come.
After a time she rose, and again like second nature her fingers idly found her way across his hair, she offered a smile to him and thought to herself that she would bring him a pint of something. He took a hold of her hand a bid her through furrowed brow and tightened jaw to be very careful inside the building. She patted his hand with the other, giving him a squeeze and a gentle bow of the head. Wariness filled her stomach which was as satisfying as starvation while on the mountain’s face. She hesitated at the door, her hand shook at the handle.
“Ma’am” she muttered aloud as she entered the building. There was deep firelight in a wild, decorative, hearth over which hung the mounted skull of an unknown beast. The more she looked at it the more it changed, at one moment it looked like a dragon and the next it resembled something close to a boar.
“How fascinating.” Abbess Y’luunara appeared from behind a dressing screen that was emblazoned with medallions belonging to mountain scouts. Her hooves were silent against the crackle of the fireplace and the floorboards the Clemnilshala knew by heart. The floorboards should have creaked here…and there too.
“What place is this?” She asked further, dusting off her pristine robes.
Clemnilshala knew this place, every splinter, every loose nail. It was ever so slightly different. there was the rug from her slot in the wall with children’s toys strewn about as well as Garuk’s workbook where he and she used to practice their letters together. Y’luunara, in an unseen movement, had her hand in Clemnilshala’s. Her golden eyes dances back and forth as a dull ache worked through Clemnilshala’s head.
“What place is this? I thought after so long in cruel exile that I’d show you your family home, or the streets of Uluur at least.” She squeezed Clemnilshala’s hand. “I need you to tell me.”
“This…ah…this almost looks like the training ground’s station back home. Well before it burned down. I’d take my Garuk there tae play when exile hunters would be snooping in the basin.” She moved forward and observed the items in the room, her hand leaving the Abbess’. “I used tae let him play with these weights and scales while the caretaker of this place, and I, made Chips together.”
Her hand came to her chest pocket where the currency settled with a softened jingle. She approached the illusionary window and looked out, no matter how much wind came to her hair it did not blow. No matter the prickling chill of snow on her cheek, no wetness came down to her collar.
“How are ye doing this?”
“Well, I’ve trained my magics far longer than any of the priests here, in Brinorion, and Uluur. I’ve learned how to unlock the secrets of how to bring life to the thoughts in your heart, your mind, and….hand? Is that where your dwarves keep their secrets? Is it that you wish to be one of them? I can make that happen you know.”
Clemnilshala shuddered. “What does this have tae do with my heartwish?”
“You-hoo-hoo would not believe me if I told you. I do this by seeing all of you, your secrets and memories as you looked upon the world before and how you see it now. I see the secrets in your hands, that you’ve kept from the others.”
“Hush, you” Clemnilshala’s free hand tightened near her chest. “What I’d asked, O! Abbess that addresses an Exile, does this displace have anything tae do with my heartwish, and what does my heartwish have tae do with…how’d ye say…what I wouldn’t believe?”
“Your heartwish will be granted in time but yours, I need yours to stop a threat that I’ve seen. This, this dark prophecy isn’t of you, mind you, but your wish will most certainly help prevent it. If it is the right wish. I’m willing to do anything in my power to make it so.” She moved her head dollishly to the side.
“So et’s nae just fer fawns is it?” Clemnilshala bit the inside of her cheek. “There is no force that can penetrate the mountain.”
“But what of the plains? What of your Samythiel? What of the river towns and oceans and lakes? Does your loyalty stop at the edge of your precious basin?”
Before Clemnilshala could reply, in the middle of her stammering, Y’luunara’s palm came to her forehead and the vision of the scout’s station was replaced by open sky doused in black clouds. Scores of dead griffons, their riders, eynnil, and rams. Veins of tarry residue so much like the soot plugs of the forges, like the garden of the water lord. Garuk’s children’s toys were replaced with flaked and splintered hooves and horns alike. Partners beside partners laid over one another like rag dolls.
“Feel free to run about, see what I have seen in your future should this dark prophecy come to pass.”
Holy magics, light golden blood mixed with the blackness that caused the streams themselves to flow backward and seated in all giantness was a mass, an elderly eynnic woman, and a young man wielding the broken remains of the late Vaniaal’s staff. The old woman wore His flawless crown. At their hooves were tipped over bankers’ carts, piles of chips and coins thrown to the ground and stacks of family crests collected from the king’s warriors.
There was resistance beneath her hoof, upon inspection, it was the neck of Rigmol whose eyes were as the Wild Thing of the seas side forest’s were. Scarred and scratched while his fur was worn away from his skin and the mantle he’d cried for in the night was not but tatters around him.
“I will not do this! This is not my wish!” She exclaimed, tearing backward with her eyes squeezed shut. “Set me free!”
The vision broke, she stumbled several steps further, knocking over a table and oil lamp along the way. It continued to burn as if it were normal. No fire broke out. She leaned on the wall and panted, holding her side. Sweat dripped into her eyes and blurred her vision as malicious anger filled her stomach like it did when she was thrown into exile. The image of the station, too, faded away to that of the dark, dank, building on the edge of a crumbled village.
“Go. Go then, like your friends, heal and return when you must.” Y’luunara put her head in her hands. “Your small wishes, I will grant them as best I can but I need to know the nature of your heart’s wish.”
“The hair. That which was once my birthright upon my body. I want it restored.” She glanced over her shoulder, meeting no golden eyes, only a sullen statue that contemplated the floor. “A small wish. I, eh, figured ye’d want tae know.”
Clemnilshala threw the door open and staggered out into the dark night. Where was her hood, her painting to bring comfort? Samythiel had not waited on the steps, he was back at the stables with Rigmol. He leaned on his belly. Rigmol didn’t seem to mind, he even rested his chin on his head and purred like he did with Clemnilshala. He held her beloved painting open, tracing his fingers over the lines of the cut-out canvas.
“Ah.” Clemnilshala started with a chest puffed full of hopes that better words would come. “Ye found m’greatest possession. I’m glad tae see ye here. I’d, eh, missed ye lad.” She came to sit at Samythiel’s side wherein he scooted to the left even more. He folded and returned her envelope-shaped locket to her hands.
He didn’t move any more past drawing his kilted knees up to his chest and run his fingers in the loose ends of his hair.
“When did it all go like this?” He asked. “How could I know I’d be shown such a future? She may kill me, kill Magga, if I don’t finish her painting.”
Clemnilshala drew her head back. Oh.
“May I?” She set an arm outstretched. He didn’t move away. She put her arm around his and pulled him closer, wrapping her cloak around his as she did with greenhorns just over the mountain pass. Ahh Samythiel, so young to be facing this kind of tragedy.
His eyes darted side to side as he focused on a piece of straw on the floor.
“I seem tae remember sitting, on a night very much like this one, howling at the moon and hiding from yer compatriots. Smokin and settling my own anxieties. Please let me do the same fer ye lad.”
“She said…she said something in the elements would go wrong, that it’d go after my sisters and leave them face down and bound tae the dirt. She made a face. Those eyes. I never want tae see that look again” He put his hand over his beard. “She spoke of yoo too, lass and this elemental threat that she was coming. That it will be a game, one tae be one, and ye get yer most wanted wish.”
“And you, Rigmol? What’d she show you?” She swallowed her fear and pride. Rigmol rested his chin between her horns and began his staggish purring again.
“You do not need to worry about that matter. We can talk about it when you run me in the pasture tomorrow.”
Barely a few months juggling humans and eynnil and for the first time in more than 250 years, Clemnilshala sat reminded of how small dwarves were. The feeling, this feeling, would always remain. Samythiel went to sleep, curled up against her side. The corner of his mouth twitched and turned upward when she tucked a loose piece of his hair behind his ear.