Frosting Stew and a Good Night’s Sleep

The sky was darker now. It was completely night the clouds had cleared away, overhead there were night birds like owls that blocked out swaths and splatterings of beautiful stars of every color. Clemnilshala had never seen so many.

In thirty years she had grown a horrible seed of contempt for the outside, then for other people, then for living itself as she learned of evil exiles, fell from grace, and into the grave that was this basin. Yet in three days, being unable to hide, being unable run away, the hard crust of bread that had grown around her heart, the stale hatred that pierced everything inside of her, rubbing along her other soft and tender natures such as her stomach and her throat. This crust, this rind, she could almost feel the moment that perhaps just a small crumb had chipped off. The air felt nice in her ear. Though a night time breeze hit her broken off horn and she stopped to cover its tender cuticle with her hand, warming it.

“Hurts a little” she said as Folruth stopped. “I will be good.” She took another step forward toward the dancing flame lights of the town just ahead.

“Iffin ye say so, let’s get tae Milgan before these winds pick up more.” Folruth said as he pushed ahead, lighting a lantern on the way and hanging it from Rigmol’s antler letting their movements show the town that they were coming up. There were cloaked dwarves here too, they rushed into the night with shouts and hollers once they’d met Folruth and Rigmol they started to take the things from the sled. Some spoke the strange tongue, some spoke like humans do. Clemnilshala could pick up on her own name in the all of the commotion, and the questioning words of who was she, what she wanted, what will happen now that she is here. Folruth did his best to explain what he could as Clemnilshala shied away from these questions.

Rubbing her broken off horn she uttered simple words that were sure to not offend anyone.

“Do not fear me” she said to the dwarven people that rushed and crowded her. There were hands, so many hands, examining, pulling and giving firm pats to her legs. “I’m not going to hurt you.” Her shoulders rose up to the bottom of her jaws

“What do you want?”

“More soup?” She said, to find that there was a new roar of laughter of people patting one another. Folruth among them as he helped unhitch Rigmol from the sled and send the stag into town. He raced after the people, excited to get into a pub and dry his socks. Clemnilshala stayed behind for a moment, closing this blanket cloak around her front just a little bit more and holding onto its fringe from the inside.

“Clear means cold, deary” said a dwarfess. “Come now ye’ll catch yer death out here.”

In the inn there were lofts and levels of wood where people would sit with their plates of food to talk to others down below. Here there were also humans and shiftlings as well. Shiftlings she’d never seen before, such as fox head shiftlings who wore their heads while they ate with their mouths wide open. Of all the folk that were here, there were no eynnil. This drew away more of the burning discomfort from Clemnilshala’s stomach. Folruth waved from a stool in a cluster of dwarves, bidding her to approach.

“What do ye think lads” he said, making sure to speak in the human tongue.

“I didn’t know they got so big! Those couriers seem so short and tiny!” sputtered one woman while she hung her cloak on the wall. There were cloaks littering the walls all over this place.

“Surely you’re the biggest of yer kin eh lass?” said another woman before she tore a piece of fowl meat from its bone to eat it.

Clemnilshala looked to Folruth in quietness, he opened his hand and bucked his head.

“What is kin?” she said at last, shifting her weight from one hoof to the other. Thoughts flowed into her head. A fifth person joined their party, a human in priestly garb.

“Means the family yew come from” Said the human. “I have been wanting to practice my eynnic. Never come across an eynnil willing to share with me.”

“Mmmh, I’m no eynnil. No more eynnil” she sounded out, “But I know how to speak it” She rubbed her arm up and down. He seemed tall for a human.

“If youre no human what do yew call yourself?” asked the human. “What are yew?”

“<<Exile>>” She uttered, taking a step back, speaking her mother tongue. “<<Exile.>>”

The human drew back as well.

“Oh. <<I see. How long ago?>>” he asked

Clemnilshala did not answer.

He straightened his glasses trying with a different dialect. Trying other accents, repeating himself. With each attempt she shuffled back a little more, until a piece of bread flew from across the room from another table.

“Let it go Pimilf! The lady doesn’t want to talk to ye!” shouted a dwarfess “Yoo get yer nosy hiney back tae yer study books before I put et there myself.”

“Yew don’t tell me what to do ma’am, only my master tells me”

“Hoow about I haul yer master from his bed and show him yer constant harassment of any traveler tha comes through those doors eh?”

The human shied away from Clemnilshala, he hung his head yet kept glancing at the tattoos he could see on her legs.

“<<two years ago.>>” She said bluntly, before closing off her eynnilsong for good. A potato sailed across the room and connected with the side of her head

“An’ don’t you encourage him!”

Over supper there was indeed a new kind of soup, a dark brown soup, that one spread on bread with a knife it was so thick. Someone called it “<<frosting stew>>” in their dwarvish tongue, Clemnilshala repeated the word whenever she could much to the sprouting smiles of the other dwarves at the table. This soup was the flavor of the earth, like eating dirt spread on toast. Though she wolfed it down as though someone would steal it from her hands if she took too long. This taste of dirt was not unpleasant. There was a bowl on the table surrounded by ravenous dwarves.

“Wha an appetite ye have lass, looky ye go!” Said the lady scout.

“Tha’s wha happens when ye don’t eat or drink for five days!” Folruth smiled and patted Clemnilshala on the back. Clemnilshala winced and shrunk away. “Wha’s wrong lass?”

She shook her head.

“Ehh, tired, where do you sleep here?” She asked aloud

There was a great rustling of fabrics and leathers of the surrounding dwarves as they pointed toward the staircase that lead to the basement where the inn was. It was more or less a pile of cushions and blankets in the middle of a great wide room with a quietly crackling fire. Anyone who came in could take what they needed and find a space and sleep. Clemnilshala studied it, it was so much like the stables of her house. She understood this much. She found herself a spot beneath a window, cooling her hooves on the stone while the moon in the sky fell on her cheeks as she huddled under the station’s blanket.

Folruth came down far later, he’d taken bread and butter from the kitchen down into the inn to find a sleeping eynnil curled up like a <<sweet ring>>. He put it at her head, and leaned up against the wall near her hooves. He watched for a time as they would twitch and scrabble on the stone and mortar. He watched her sleep, the furrow of her brow was not so evident for a time. She held her arms close to her chest, holding her blanket closed. Small sounds came from her throat, remnants of eynnilsong that had not left yet. Watching her, he too fell asleep as the end of her long tail thumped quietly on the wooden floor.

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