An explosion, long about midnight, kicked Clemnilshala and Samythiel out of their deep sleep. It was once she’d become aware of the world around her that she found her arm was a voice holding Samythiel to her side. She squashed his shoulders until there would be an audible crunch. Vocal apologies could never hope to drown out the ringing in their ears nor the ache in the dwarf’s torso. Rigmol and Magga came a-bursting through the scrub of the seaside forest, their shadows dancing upon the canvas of the medical tent. Magga’s cackles restrored the energy lost from being awakened so suddenly.
Rigmol’s laughs, his staggish calls, were almost an ass’s bray. Clemnilshala leapt from her cot and peered outside into the night to find the two dancing with deep bows and high knees. Magga in particular wielded and animal’s skull and pelt, traces of her elementalism dripped from her shoulders with small embers that faded on the rocks of the beach. There was a collective groan racing across the encampment.
Samythiel wove past Clemnilshala’s side into the night, she followed behind at his heels, holding her aching arm.
“Mags” Hissed Samythiel “Are ye daft? ‘t’s the middle of the night!” He took his sister’s arm and tugged her along down the rocky shore. Clemnilshala stayed behind and embraced Rigmol’s head against her chest. She pushed her forehead into the space between his antlers.
“Och! <<I was so worried for your return>>” She whispered.
“Bah, I’m not going anywhere, smelly shirt,” Rigmol slurred. Spittle, drool, and foam uttered down her undershirt. Thoroughly drunk on forest mushrooms.
“<<You tell me that when someone turns you into a nice venison dinner, eh?>>” She swayed side to side under the stag’s sheer mass on her injured side. Various bruises she knew about and neglected reminded her that they would not be ignored with this much strain. She eyed a patrol and figured it safer to speak in the common tongue of the humans.
“C’mon nae, let’s get ye tae the stables, get ye some smoke meats”
“I want your tobacco” he huffed with musty breath. His voice but a groan to the patrolling officer.
“Sure, old friend, whatever ye want” Clemnilshala buckled under his weight and half carried him down the beach which his voice brayed and chuckled. She hid her amusement, recanting how many times he and Folruth or Hjomnir had to drag her to a comfortable sleeping spot after a night of songs, swings, and mashed liquor after the last war ended. The springtime when the autumnal fruits had fermented into sweet and pungent jellies.
Samythiel and Magga were joined by Anfia the griffon, the creature landed less than gracefully and squawked as she skittered on the uneven rocks and dodged the two dwarves by a small margin. She rolled over and knocked over a soup pot on its stand and spilled broth into the sea and spread the extinguished pitch of the cooking fire. Each in their own time the five convened in the makeshift stable tent with the horses and the riding rams and swine. The ground bound griffons and their cubs protested being awoken by such rambunctiousness.
Samythiel was in the next animal stall aiding Magga out of her boots and muttering soothing words, as Clemnilshala brushed Rigmol through his mewling about how much he’s like to be laying down at the stable in Milgan, So much hair came off of Rigmol’s pelt, most of which was singed and did not belong to him. Ambers, blacks and browns of other animals. She aided him to lay on his side and fetched fruits from the smoldering campfires, finding only bananas that had been fried in oil. Pats of butter, too, had been left out, she scavenged them s well, wondering the last time she’d eater anything. Raw potatoes, left unattended in a basket, found their place amongst the eclectic meal.
By the time she’d returned, Samythiel was sitting out from by himself, rubbing his fingers together to make a diminutive spark in a lantern. Fatigue sunk his eyes into dark circles as he looked up at the stars, slowly being eaten by night time clouds. He nodded to Clemnilshala as she passed by. However the dwarf had gotten the bread in his hand was more a mystery than how Rigmol was fast asleep she returned to his space. She held the stag’s heavy head in her lap, his eyed remained closed as she fed him those fried bananas and pet his ear. His eyed remained closed. Smashed, chewed, fruit escaped the corners of his mouth and dribbled down his cervid chin into his beard. He muttered and muffled about how he liked Magga and wanted to wear feathers in his hair and rings in his ears like a ‘real body’. Lamenting something about wanting to wear robes and a heroic mantle. Clemnilshala often heard this dream of his to be human.
Verbally she made promises to find a way to get him the robes and mantle of his dreams. Though this night these promises let him distraught rather than comforted. His stuttered breath grew softer as he drifted back to sleep.
How long was Samythiel standing there? Impossible to tell, he’d torn off a piece of bread and offered it to her as he, too, came to sit up against the stag’s side. Clemnilshala offered him a raw potato and some of the other foods on her person. Smiling and muttering that raw potatoes had a lot of of things that are good for a scout. After a bite she shuddered, potatoes so fresh that they tasted like the bitter dirt.
“Why doon’t ye cook it?” Samythiel laughed and patted his knee.
“I aint cold, b’sides, what would I cook it with?” Clemnilshala replied with a yawn, mirrored by the expanding of Rigmol’s deep breath. Strange quietness was a blanket. Samythiel’s brow furrowed as his attention fell down to the bare puncture hole from the arrow the day before.
“How’s the arm?”
“Ah, I doon’t think I’ll be doin’ much with it fer a few days..” Clemnilshala replied, rubbing the wound. Samythiel held out a hand and took her forearm gently into it.
“Means no brawlin’ with that big Vulac fella” Samythiel looked up at her from the side of his eye, looking for a reaction. Her face only hardened. “Quite the hit ye landed on the lad, Magga was almost impressed.”
“Ehhh, fer as good as it felt I doon’t like something that lurks in those woods. The woods made me do it, and nae I may have made a lot of things undesirable.”
“I don’t understand”
Clemnilshala sighs and waves her good hand. “Please doon’t worry about it. I believe I’m still adjusting to these woods. There’s more trees here than the mountain tops.” She scooted to one side and patted her hip and leg, offering Samythiel a space to rest his head for the last few hours before morning would break over the far horizon.
‘You lied’ came something in her throat, in a voice that only she could hear, unlike that of Rigmol. The same rising instinct that she blamed for her violence, rather than the same failures in self control that lead to this moment. She studied the scar on the back of her hand, banishing the thoughts and memories. She put her gentle, aching, arm around Samythiel once more.
She must’ve drifted off to sleep for, within several blinks of the eye, she was having her hoof kicked repeatedly by Vulac with a swollen cheek. Their jaw hung a little lower on that side. She closed her eyes again, feigning more sleep and fooling no one.
“Ye have me apologies, lad” She groaned simply, stretching upward, leaning further into Rigmol’s plush side.
“You’ve lost me my signet ring, Exile” They replied
“I’ll be havin’ ye call me Noblehood at the very least, Commander Vulac.”
“You’ll give me your service until a new one can be made, or my old one can be found” They produced a document with the stamped mark of Valthran of Brinorion. Clemnilshala turned over on her side and coiled her long tail around Samythiel whose eyes remained closed. After all, what good could a piece of parchment do if she no longer heeded the command of the eynnil people?
Vulac thrust the document to the ground, where she then picked it up and remained surprised that she could read the old runes still. It stipulated a summons of the very same Valthran should the old signet ring not be found. She grimaced and scratched at her neck.
“Well played, lad” she said “Put the exile on probation, it’s like I’m part of the family again.” She laughed to herself, the stutter of her belly shook Rigmol and Samythiel awake. The old stag complained of how much his head and body hurt.
Come breakfast Lavia had joined Clemnilshala with those big wet eyes of hers. She reminded her of all the dietary restrictions of the unexiled. The “normal” ones she said off handedly. Those who remained faithful to the light of the Weilvog.
Clemnilshala pursed her mouth and sat behind a long table and began to serve plain eggs and boiled grains to these “normal” eynnilfolk who furrowed their brows at her hands. She shook her head at them, nodding toward Lavia who, even as a ragling, put the guardians and the warriors at ease. She recoiled as eyes fell on those two scars on the backs of her hands, her long tail laid like a snail’s shell on her leg and when they were permitted to eat she slithered away to find a spot where she could enjoy a meal in solitude. Taking a basket of untouched tomatoes and a length of bread with her.
She was unable to be left alone for long; a hand came to her shoulder. Her surprise inspired an assault of tomato seeds into her wind pipe. She coughed and doubled over until clear red refuse stained that same scar on her hand. She was quick to wipe it off on her kilt.
“Et’s jus’ me, lass” said Magga. “Sammy asked me tae keep an eye on ye.”
“Ah it’s yoo” Clemnilshala wheezed.
“Bet ye thoought I was tha big ol blighter, eh?” She smiled in return “Naw, we woon’t let ‘im anywhere near ye. Though tha other one, the scrawny one, she’s goin’ tae be here too. I jus’ couldn’t shake her”
Clemnilshala cringed and shuddered her shoulders. As though Magga were a prophet Lavia cleared her throat, alerting them to her presence.” Clemnilshala busied herself with bread, spreading her fingers wider as to touch as much of its hard crust as possible.
“Persistent aint ye?” Magga took a seat with a sandwich.
Lavia nodded in return. “I must be, I need to remember my mission. I don’t want to disappoint my master.” She scooted closer to her exiled charge and reached gentle hands to touch her scars.
“How did you get these?” She asked sternly “Certainly there must be a good story behind them. Did you do something heroic? Like you did with the yeti and the….the….the things in the tunnel?”
Clemnilshala shook her head, the stink of these trees approached the corners of her patience. She remained quiet a moment, sifting though every word she understood in the common tongue of the humans.
“Cowardice” she said at last, beginning to shake her knee, bouncing it up and down. “I tried tae escape from m’shackles before, well, yoo know. The markings. Figured iffin I could go intae hiding, I could come back one day.”
Magga coughed once or twice. “Whaa? Yoo did these? Did it hurt at all?” She leaned way over, the tendrils of her beard tickled what sensation remained in the backs of her hands.
Clemnilshala jerked away and breathed a chortle. “Och, oh yes it hurt worse than anything I’d ever felt before. Then again, nothin makes one lose their hope faster than squirmin’ in the mornin’ mist and seein’ their own bones.
Lavia’s face turned as pale as dusty porcelain.
“Then again,” the exile blustered, “They couldn’t compare tae these marks….or the, hm, the unforgivable crimes I committed back in the day. Och I wonder, um, how many people must’ve hurt because of my insolence” She took another bite of her bread, the woods’ stink returning to her throat.
Magga sat enchanted.
“Wha et’s no wonder Duster wants tae be around ye so much.”
In unison the two eynnic women lifted their heads for clarification. Lavia mouthed to Clemnilshala that she didn’t understand, who in turn rose and lowered her shoulders. In quietness they individually returned to eating. Magga boasted about her younger brother.
Clemnilshala tightened her jaw. The forest whispered her own lies back into her ears.