A thunk of an arrow lodging itself into the shield of her bow. Dropping her whip along the way, Clemnilshala crashed into Vulac, pinning her wrist against the side of her chest, she shouted for them to draw their sword. The stag’s head shiftlings had come for them. Rigmol knew all about the fellas and it was he who was missing, without his great crown of antlers to threaten and gore the attacking parties the two lone eynnil in the woods were on their own. Vulac did just that, thanking Clemnilshala for taking the arrow to her shielded bow. She asked them not to mention it while she took the arrow from her shield and threaded it on the bowline. She drew it and fired back at them a warning shot. Though when she went for where her arrow quiver normally was, and found nothing, she goaded them on to keep firing.
Vulac brandished their sword and turned their back to Clemnilshala’s, she leaned on them with uncertainty. Individually they searched the wood, looking for a number of folk that they would be fighting. These folk were tall, broad, much like Eynnil. They had hooves as many of the shiftling races that resembled beasts of burden did. Clemnilshala’s ears twitched and flopped side to side listening to the rustling in the trees, in dwarvish she counted them out. Vulac gave her a shove, they couldn’t understand her numbers anyway though their demands that she not cast curses was something of amusement. Vulac opened their mouth and bleated a war cry against these shiftlings before hooking their arms under Clemnilshalas and rushing the closest figure in the woods. While she was pulled along by the elbows she held her shield up. Clemnilshala’s arms were moved against her will as Vulac thrust their sword upward and made slashes forth against any shiftling he found to not have a bow or a rock in their hand.
Another arrow lodged itself into her bow shield, she was able to move faster in this gear. Somehow with the open air touching her skin it was easier to dodge and maneuver to protect her exposed arms and legs. Vulac pulled their arms away from her, stating that they counted eleven shiftlings in total. According to them, only one or two needed to be defeated in order to carry out a message to the others. Clemnilshala wasn’t so certain of this.
“Ye don’t think tha we should get back tae camp on our side of the trees? If anything there will be strength in numbers there.” She called back to Vulac who covered the ear she’d been shouting in. She shuffled back and yanked arrows out of her shield and fired them back, making connections with the bow line pulling arms of the shiftlings. Their shoulders just as well, they were forced to drop their bows and attack at close range. She grinned while Vulac rolled their eyes.
Her hand went for her underarm where her knife normally was on the old gear. Right, the old gear. It wasn’t under her arm anymore. She didn’t have time to block an attack from a swinging hammer to the cheek. She saw stars as she stumbled backward. Vulac blocked the bone club which put a chip in their sword. The shiftling they’d been battling sustained a gash to the thumb and could not hold the same club. They lowered their head and pushed off from the ground in an attempt to gore Vulac who did not back down. They met the charge and lowered their own head headbutting the shiftling with the reinforced bone between their horns. Their hoof ached, standing for so long with a founder. They turned and grabbed Clemnilshala by the shoulders and lifted her from the ground. They swung her around, she kicked the foremost shiftling and knocked them back.
There was a great crack and then there was pain. The sort that was reminiscent of a time that a bridge over Thamdül the Lesser’s pocked ledge breaking off in the tail end of an ice storm. Clemnilshala howled in surprise toward the arrow that breached her shield and buried its bone head deep in her forearm. It never got easier to fight the urge and instinct to remove the painful objects from the skin. She hardened her core and considered herself married to it, breaking its wooden shaft outside of the shield. Her hand went for her side, to grab her whip as these shiftlings closed in. Something else in these woods closed in too, something warm yet dangerous that snickered at the peach hairs of her ears. It cooed like a ghost that was just over her shoulder. Her hardened abdomen from the pain turned into a strong slate that filled with a kind of anger that she Though she’d forgotten about. The shiftlings spoke amongst themselves, shouting and whooping something familiar. If they weren’t going to play nice then she wouldn’t either. Her hand grasped at nothing on her hip. Her head snapped side to side looking for it, hiding not far away like a cobra snake in the woods.
“Lad we have tae go. We cannae survive with these folk on our tails” she fought the cooing violence that had made its way into a lump in her throat. It certainly wasn’t cowardice that dammed her breath to a slow stutter while the world around took a dark fog around her field of vision.
Vulac disagreed, they shoved her forth and caused her to stumble headfirst into a club. She hissed curse words as her composure faded into her own kind of ferocity, the same fires of the mountain forges ignited in her stomach and blinded her eyes with a brightness. Brighter than all the stars in the sky. Far more annoying than bellows ash or soot plugs following her into her home when she worked around the inside of Khalenthel. She spun on her aching leg to strike Vulac, who turned their back to her and searched for a way to achieve victory and come out of the wooded mess as a hero. Clemnilshala grabbed them by the horns, the place where they crossed over one another in their growth, close to the nape of the neck. She pulled them to the ground, losing focus on the shiftlings for a single moment to deliver a flying punch to their pompous cheek, assisted by the weight of her shielded longbow.
The dark fog around her vision flared and pulsed; she delivered a second one. The lump in her throat rolled downward into her lungs and heated her insides as water may cool the roots of a tree.
“I’m going tae leave ye here if ye doon’t hurry!” She shouted, taking another impact of that blasted club to her back. She shook Vulac about for a moment, unconsentingly protecting his head. “Do yoo understand?”
From out of the bushes came Rigmol with his head lowered and antlers at the ready. He bugled and pawed at the shiftlings, speaking their language, this language that Clemnilshala had only head him use when he was drunk on forest mushrooms and ale. He blethered chaotically, leaping over Clemnilshala and Vulac. He brandished his antlers with a bugle and a chuckle, calling forth more reinforcements that she was more than happy to see.
Samythiel, with leaves in his hair and paint under his eyes, came through the same underbrush. He stopped and looked at the situation, being followed by Magga, and finally Anfia the griffon.
Rigmol negotiated with the shiftlings, supposedly, between breaths he shouted for Clemnilshala to get up, silly girl, and prepare to either fight or flee. Magga shoved her brother into Clemnilshala’s side.
“Keep this duster safe eh?” She grinned as she unholstered a long-handled hammer. Samythiel gave a soft breath upon impact. She picked up her hoof and soothed the ache in her leg that he had nudged ever so much. Vulac scooted on their backside to get up and pick their sword up, the space of cheek under their eye swelled as did their hateful glare toward Clemnilshala that she returned.
Magga and Anfia joined Rigmol and faced down the shiftlings as Rigmol continued to make his unintelligible negotiations. She waved her free hand.
“She wants us tae get back tae camp, get the others incase they follow.” Samythiel said, inspecting red liquid on his hand as he touched Clemnilshala’s arm. “Get ye some medical attention…again..”
Clemnilshala pulled her bow handling arm away and reached out to touch Rigmol. She squeezed the leather wraps around her bow’s handle, the heat in her torso coming back up to her ears and accusing the great stag of being a thief of glory.
“Will ye be alright old friend?” She asked through her venomous thoughts.
“Just leave! We will be shortly behind” he replied. When Clemnilshala didn’t move right away he swiped at her with his antlers and shouted for them to leave if they knew what was good for them. Run if they can.
There was a great scampering of eynnil and dwarf alike before they’d attained a distance far enough away from the violence that they could return to a walk. Clemnilshala’s momentum was halted by a sudden jerk of her shoulder, spinning her around. Samythiel walked a ways ahead before stopping, worrying for his sister and his newfound loneliness some thirty paces ahead of the two eynnil.
“You’ve signed your death warrant, Exile” Vulac snarled. She raised an eyebrow, holding her aching arm across her abdomen.
“I thoought I’d signed m’death warrant more than 200 years ago. Yer kind doon’t frighten me anymore” She yanked her shoulder free and turned her back to them to attempt to rejoin Samythiel in worrying about the return of their loved ones.
Vulac’s vicious caprine eyes drifted down from the eynnil to the dwarf and back. Clemnilshala put a gentle, uninjured hand on his shoulder and said something in that unintelligible tongue that set their teeth on edge. She’d begun to engage in the habit of smoking from a borrowed pipe that the dwarf had on him and looked over her shoulder at the commander eynnil, she averted her gaze once more as not to linger on their eyes.
“<<If you will not answer me, I will force your hand in my favor, exile.>>” They bucked their chin at Samythiel, returning to the comfortable eynnic tongue. Their split and chaotic song caught her attention in a barbed net. Clemnilshala gently pushed her companion ahead thirty more paces and turned back to Vulac. She blew smoke through her nose and approached Vulac. She leaned until her forehead touched theirs, speaking in common tongue stained with the pitch of tobacco as not to be misunderstood. Though dwarvish idiom did not come across the same in the language of the humans.
“If yoo set outta line, lad, I will nae hesitate tae correct yer course.” She said, taking their shirt and pulling them closer. “I will eat yoo.”
“Am I clear, commander Vulac? Or will ye need a demonstration?” She kept her voice low. “If you so much as breath and disturb a hair on Rigmol or any expeditioneer here, then I will personally make Valthran the Great seem as gentle as a schoolteacher.” She pressed the bone mouthpiece of her borrowed pipe into their neck. “Do I make m’self understood?”
Vulac fell quiet. Clemnilshala sighed a quick breath through her nose, claiming her triumph. Samytheil took her by the wrist and pulled her enflamed forearm, leaving the commander to their own devices, as they made their way back to the beach. She stumbled a moment before conceding and following him the way back to the beach. Vulac followed at close range, having a silence about them that reminded the mountain scout of the way big cats stalked their prey. An eagle flew overhead chased by a juvenile griffon in a game of sorts.
Playing with the bottom hem of her mossy green leather she remained ever aware of every line, dot, and sigil on her legs and arms. Pulled like a leaf in a slow moving stream she was returned to the medic’s tent where a bear headed practitioner received them. She asked what had happened, rolling their thumb around the eynnil’s punctured skin. Samythiel took a seat by the side of the tent, watching closely, his eyes followed those lines that were halted and split by a small scar here, or there.
Clemnilshala explained her various injuries, where she’d been hit with a club and where she’d kicked the boat with her shin. Her eyes dragged to the entrance to the medic’s tent, her teeth creaked while the shiftling worked with her arm, droning on and on about how the stag’s head shiftlings often poisoned their arrows and she was lucky to not be reacting, though was advised to stay over night inside of the tent to make sure nothing happens. Clemnilshala shook her head, only asking for the poultice to ease the pain in her body. She became only firmer in her stance when the medic protested. How hard it was to convince a bear’s head shiftling to give up the herbs meant for healing, how tiring it was to explain one’s own self sufficiency for their own care. How many times could someone say the same thing again and again without mentioning that it was more dangerous for them to set about inside a tent for a night, especially with a commander afoot whom one had just threatened, than it was to be in the open near a smoldering bonfire. Clemnilshala gave in eventually closing off the canvas tent flap and setting on a cot, the medic took her leave and went out to get food. Her long tail twitched up and down as a long sigh escaped her nose.
With short movements she jerked open the button at the top of her new gear. Undoing many of the buttons and taking long deep breaths. She pulled on her undershirt and allowed heat to escape. Vulac’s shadow passed back and forth in front of the pale canvas of the tent, it grew ever darker as the sun rolled across the sky and sunk below the horizon. Rigmol and Magga had yet to return. Clemnilshala and Samythiel each took turns patting the other’s arm in comfort, neither saying a word about what thoughts were in their heads.
When the moon had rose, if only a little, a bear’s head medic peeked her head into the tent, before taking dinner back outside. Leaving a sleeping eynnil alone with her hand placed gently on the shoulder of a dwarf who laid his head in her lap.