This was yet another different station. By the time they had arrived day had turned to night, close to the opposite side of the basin, up the pathways of the mountain that seemed so familiar. It was here in the tavern, Fox Eye Station it was called, that Folruth was finally allowed off of Rigmol’s back and able to walk inside of the door on his own. He held his shoulder and leaned on the frame, panting. Clemnilshala looked to help further but a swath of dwarves jumped up in their varying states of relaxed undress to help their fellow into the station, calling for a medic and a hot meal. She stayed behind with Rigmol, unhitching herself and putting the blanket back over her shoulders before unhitching the great stag and pulling him by the reins.
“Care tae show me where you sleep hm? I bet you wont fit through those doors.”
Rigmol lead the way around the back of the station’s building where there was a brick and mortar stable with a fine fireplace indeed that stood unyielding to the mountain wind. The fire was getting low.
“Ye did real well, how about I get ye some extra bedding eh? Perhaps a bit of smoke fer ye?” She took up the pitch fork and pulled straw from the bale and spread it in an empty stall much to the ears-pinned-back confusion of Rigmol. He lowered his head and shook out his fur and sounded as though he sighed as he walked into the stall and stood there expectantly. Clemnilshala cocked her head at him, he huffed his nose at her. What else was she supposed to do? Before too long there was a feeling inside her head, it became more common and was good at suggesting what to do. Almost like words of a voice. The feeling was toward the brush and kit that lay on a stool beside the fire. How often did one have to brush a great stag? Mounting beasts of uluur were all skin and didn’t need to be brushed. She took it up, dragging the bristles through the fur on his neck and down his back. Shed, small pebbles, grits of sand and no shortage of pine needles fell into the hay beneath him. She only get to his back and the outsides of his legs before he knelt down with a sigh and laid back as comfortably as a stag could in the cold of Thamdul mountain.
Clemnilshala searched around for the smoking pipe that she’d seen Rigmol use on occassion but to no luck. Oats and grain did not interest him either.
“Food from inside huh?”
Rigmol bowed his head low and let her go forth, back around to the front of the building. The image through the window proved there were so many men without shirts, women without socks and pants rolled up to their knees Clemnilshala’s tail coiled up as tight as it would go. She reached for the door when a stirring in the dark caught her attention. A scratching and movement along the snow that had her worry that there was something dangerous like Rhinegrim out there beside the building. Her stomach flipped in knots thinking of how easily the yeti could take her other horn for a tooth pick if it wanted, yet she persisted and rounded the building to find that the wind was hitting the shutters and coming over the roof and pushing against the canvas that had been laid over the trade goods on the sled that she and Rigmol had pulled together. It began sliding more as the canvas became like a sail that pulled it close to the protected edge of the mountain. She bent at the knees and the hocks, she put the sides of her hands to her head as she looked left and right, shouting for help that the sled was going to go flying away. She took a hold of the mounting bar of the sled and dug her hooves into the snow to find no traction. She pushed against white powder only being pulled along by the sail just a little closer to the edge. She got up and took a lantern off the side of the station building and smashed it against the rocks for a sharpened piece of glass. Carefully, carefully in the dark with the ice and the wind blowing against her ear slapping her in the cheek and the eye she forced herself in front of the sled, cutting away at the ropes that held the canvas to the trade goods. She opened her mouth and shouted unintelligible nonsense, making as much noise over the wind as she could.
She was able to find a large enough boulder on the ledge to wedge her hooves into and push back against the hefty platform. She couldnt reach the other rope of the canvas while it flapped wildly and pulled to one side. With what strength she could muster she began to grab trade goods and throw them toward the building before the door to the station opened and a figure filled its light.
“Who goes there!” shouted a voice.
“I am here! I am here!” She called back. “This thing is getting away from me!”
The sled pulled further to one side, she shoved a barrel of lamp oil onto the ledge where it wouldnt roll away packing itself into the snow. Bolts of fabric. Bundles upon bundles of arrows and whetstones. The dwarf came out, holding his cloak shut until the cracking sound of one of the sled’s rails going over the rocks caught his attention and he came running. The door remained open, letting in the cold air as he bolted from the light inside.
He cursed aloud
“What did ye do now?” He shouted over the wind
“I was tryin’ tae put Folruth’s Rigmol away and this sled decided et wanted tae go fer an adventure”
“Why are you trying to stop it then!”
“Because Folruth cannae and no one was around!”
He began pulling on the rail that had stayed on the ledge stopped by rocks. Clemnilshala pushed with her legs, one of her hooves breaking a piece of ledge off and dangling over the side. She looked down into the deep black abyss dotted with grey pieces of fear and confusion that fell from higher up on the peak. The canvas continued to flap about wildly as other dwarves emerged with their cloaks in order to see and lend aid with shouts and whoops and hollers. Clemnilshala pulled her hoof up from over the side of the mountain and wedged it on the opposite end of the corner she’d been left as she’d been stretched out to the left straining to keep the sled on the ledge of the mountain. Someone held the waist of the first dwarf. There were shouts and chants of heave ho! But as the wind picked up and the snow continued to blow the goal stopped being to save the sled but to save as much supply as possible. The preserved meat, the bread, the butter, the tobacco, by open skies save the tobacco from a fate of plummeting to the ground below. Clemnilshala groaned aloud as the muscle in her arm continued to strain and vibrate with unknown endurance.
Then, she simply couldn’t hold on any longer. Her elbow buckled and the sled slipped from grasp. Pivoting around her and sliding over the rocks and off of the mountain, flying for a moment, gliding like a free bird made of wood and canvas into the darkness below. Disappearing from all sight. With it went polishing powder and tanning wax among other goods needed at the station for the weary traveler. Clemnilshala was hauled back over the edge as she scrabbled her way up she flopped over onto a rock that hit her stomach in such a way that it knocked the air out of her lungs and filled her cheeks with breath. Dwarves formed chains to pull her along as she clambered back up.
“What do you think you are doing all the way up here!” shouted the first dwarf again. “This place aint welcome tae yoo civil folk! Don’t ye see that yoo could be killed up here!”
A smile came to Clemnilshala.
“I’m alive!” she shouted, “Oh by everything around me I am alive!”
She scrabbled to her knees and took the first dwarf by the hand and shook it with great vigor.
“I could’ve died! Yet I have never felt so alive! Quick where is Folruth!” blood rushed and roared in her ears as she went about searching for the door.
“Excuse me madam! Just what makes ye think tha we’re just goin’ tae let an eynnil intae the trade station? Don’t ye have a temple tae go to?”
“No!” she shouted back with a great smile. “I’m no eynnil at all!”
“We cannae let anyone but Mountain Scouts in there! I’m afraid ye’ll have tae stay in the stable!”
“Then how do I become a mountain scout! Who do I pledge to? I must see my Folruth right away!”
“Who are you!”
“His Wife!” her face filled with valiant glee. They, with reluctance, lead her inside asking her to not say anything, not to touch anything, and try not to enjoy it too much. There was Folruth with a hand full of playing cards, lacking a shirt. Actually, many of the dwarves here lacked their shirts as they dried by the fire with socks and boots and cloaks.
“Folruth!” shouted the first dwarf
“Dāniff, what do ye need?” Folruth put down his drink and stood at attention, leaning over on the chair while the bandages wrapped around his arm and shoulder soaked with a thin line of blood as red as his hair.
“Yer wife came tae see ye”
“Aye sir, my wife brought me all the way up here. Probably a good thing lest I lose the arm.” Folruth rubbed the back of his neck. “I knoow tha I cannae bring people up here willy nilly but, well, call it good luck that she did eh? Dunno about yoo but I wont be much good as an archer without a pulling arm” he approached Clemnilshala and rubbed her arm.
“You brought him all the way up here? How did you know the way hm? I doubt the stag told ye.”
“He pointed the way while we pulled the sled”
“You did not pull the sled.”
“She did too pull that sled. I had a team of a stag and an eynnil pullin me up the mountain I was like the king himself!”
“I’m going to become a mountain scout!” Clemnilshala, filled with the drunkenness that comes with a near death experience and the thin air of a low altitude, bleated aloud.
“Well I’m gonna, I can start tomorrow!”
“Doont Worry Dāniff, I’ll take care of it” Folruth waved his hand at Dāniff and turned to Clemnilshala. “Lass, lass, ye really shouldn’t have left the mountain. Ye should’a stayed in the stable with Rigmol he said he’d look out fer ye. Ye cannae be a mountain scout here, nae over night. Yer actions were so admirable, and I’m proud’a ye but scoutin’ life aint valor and heroics from dawn till dusk.”
His brow was furrowed, the corners of his mouth were dragged to the sides as though he couldn’t hide a smile nor a frown.
“But yer a hero Folruth.”
“Aye, lass, yoo call me a hero, but being a mountain scout aint like bein a guard inside the mountain, yer used tae seein them. Scouts out here, this work is our life. This life shares us with our families, but ultimately owns us in a way.” He pulled her up into the loft where there were beds stacked over beds with hammocks like banners. Dwarves and humans and shiftlings alike slept here, snoring. They sat on the stair case. “Ye cannae just become a scout in the matter of the night, no matter how admirable yer intentions, no matter what feats of strength ye arrive with. Ye’ve been through soo much lass, I doon’t want tae see some of the things that this life on the mountain can do tae a person.”
He touched her cheek, brushing tendrils of hair aside behind her flopped over ear. With a cocked head he prompted a smile with all his teeth.
“Please lass? Fer me, at least. I doon’t think this life would be good fer ye, and had I met ye before I was a scout, then I’d never pursue it.”
“But et’s because yer a scout that we met in the first place.”
“And et’s because I’m a scout that I got my arm cut.” His thumb continued to brush over her cheeks. The half of her that normally melted in his hands like butter on toast, she took his hands and looked into his eyes, searching and searching. He searched as well, he broke the gazing first and looked down at the scars on her hands. “I cannae stop ye lass. I knoow I cannae. But if ye trust me, ye wont begin to travel toward that life quite yet.”
“How long must I give it?”
“You’ll know. And when yoo know…I’ll knoow.” He said, pulling her to him, touching her forehead to his while her tail coiled up against her leg.
Abruptly the subject changed with the wind being opened by Rigmol who nosed around for the food the Clemnilshala had forgotten to bring him. Folruth’s dower turned to laughter all the while he told stories to his peers other scouts of his mighty hunts for the wild boar Nahchog.