Chapter 5, Part 5

There were no dairy cows here, no sheep, and milk of a ram was…unwise. With the boiling cauldron on her back, thoughts of milk soup, the sort with mushrooms and pieces of unidentifiable mean (but was always assumed to be mutton for some reason). The weather down in this space was dry and warm, too warm again for her full gear. The thought of her restitched gear was the ghost in her haunted mind for the day. Rigmol, who pulled the cart of preserved food goods chided her to swallow her pride lest she break her other horn off on one of the hidden path stones that lay in the grasses. These deep grasses like the tall grasses just outside Uluur. Perhaps this place was not a good idea.

“There’s no time for doubting.” Rigmol rested his chin between her horns and purred for a moment. “And just think, the mountain is right there for if you decide you want to go home for good.”

After ducking into a house that had been burned out and was stained black in all its stones, old dwarvish children’s figurines still lay by the hearth with the tattered remains of a blackened rug, Clemnilshala changed into sensible gear. The air on her legs was freeing, with the protections of the abbess. Although the stories that she’d painstakingly embossed in the leather were tattered up and shuffled about, the chaotic new stories that appeared had somehow grown on her. She picked up the children’s toys and set them on the damaged mantle in the brightness of a sunbeam. A sweet shine of a jeweled eye on one figurine was a new star in this great dark that these toys had no doubt seen for the past centuries.

Upon exiting the house, with her hooves covered in ancient soot, and her fetlocks getting dirty she found a gaggle of clean-skinned eynnic trainees wrapped in blankets around their shoulders; standing, waiting for her. Rigmol chuckled at their attempts to have cloaks of their own. This collection of ill matched eynnil clung close to their partners and, with some amount of eagerness, awaited Clemnilshala’s words. They were dirty, the longer she looked at them, with ratty tangled hair. What ounces of pity she still had for these poor younglings only made her want to command them to bathe and nap in the sun. Her brow came to a furrow as she reflected on this strange pity and hardened her core under her gear. She could feel their eyes on her, her markings and callouses as she clapped and opened her stance.

When it came to instruction of young eynnil she had as much knowledge as a fawn.

“Well, eh, I’ve never had a group of green-horns all my own tae guide and teach. So I won’t blame ye if ye clear out nae. I will only test the mettle of those who…eh… truly want tae protect yer kin.” That surely was something that Daniff and Hjomnir would say. Certainly it would catch the attention of these younglings. Could one even consider them younglings anymore? With the Vaniaal dead, their homes in Brinorion in cinders, sent to writhe in the muck of the world outside of the walls of the Lanhs and Uluur, could Clemnilshala look at their young, round, faces and see adults?

No one departed.

“Very well then. Er, I want each of ye tae stand with yer partner” She straightened her posture and waved a pointed finger about. “Great, Nae separate. The way I came tae be, well, me is by training alone to protect my own self.”

“Because you’re in exile” Asserted a young female. “You have no right to a partner.”

“Right ye are lass, my partner of many years ago is no longer a part of me. I have no right to one here. But you are also wrong. I’ve come to find a kind of partnership with others outside of the eynnic ilk. Take Rigmol fer example.” She patted him on the neck. “My oldest friend he is and still, if we are both in a bind, I don’t think he is going tae sprout thumbs and pick up a sword tae help me out. Where I come from, if yer in trouble, then its yer duty tae get yerself out or else yer blood will be on yer own sorry tail.”

Rigmol stamped his hoof and proved no ability to sprout thumbs nor any other body part from his legs or otherwise.

“Eh, look, I understand that we’re nae each other’s favorite sort of people. None of ye chose tae be taught by an exile but I’m afraid I canno change that. But that’s what we’re goin’ tae do. I’ll wager ye have questions, and I won’t lie tae ye, but I will nae be pulled about like a dog either.” She exhaled and steadied her breath. “I’m sure we have studies tae do as well, so we will do this…We will see each other every third day in the morning and in the evening. That will give you all ample time tae be good citizens tae yer kin and test the new skills I’ll show ye.”

From there she took them on an expeditionary hike across the fields, with Rigmol right at her side reasoning that it was only a four-day ride to return to Fox-eye. Her students, her trainees. She had trainees now. They clumped together and whispered amongst themselves over what their parents might say. Some responded in disgust  orthers said nothing. Some were most likely orphans taken from their exile parents and taught in eynnic colonies. She could almost taste their silence as they wandered, listening to the fortunate few parrot their parent’s thoughts.

 These grassy lands were vast and fitting of the generous collections of horse herders, their alliance with Khalenglough scouts would be greatly rewarded. Rule number one, know your surroundings as you know every inch of yourself. Rule one, something easy, walk about and learn the land. Humbleness found the group when the ground gave way under Clemnilshala’s hoof and she fell down a hole trap created to catch unsuspecting animals that would be used for meat. She hit the ground with a hollow thud and the rustle of leather. Bells rung and bones crunched under her weight. Thankfully these bones were none of her own.

Rigmol bucked and brayed at the edge of the trap. He called harder, growing louder and more panicked. Only a snort, followed by a great boisterous, howling, laughter came from the bottom of the hole. Only then, on inspection by her young students, of their teacher rolling and cackling at the bottom of a dirty, bone filled pit, Rigmol was calmed. She lay there, kicking her legs and thumping her tail on the ground, and took her time with her humor.

“Well.” She picked up her bow “et’s just as my own teacher said tae me, ‘<< You never know how unskilled you are until you try and show someone how to do it.>>’”

“What does that mean?” Asked the precocious female as she lowered a hand into the hole to aid in fishing her free by the one end of her bow. Her partner pulled with her while the dirt under Clemnilshala’s cleated hoofplates crumbled in the scrabbling of her way up.

“Means I can bounce back from my mistakes when I’m on the mountain, but I have tae be extra careful tae teach ye the right way.” She patted herself down for her prized belongings and shook the twigs and rocks and grass from the split in the inner shield of her bow just as Lavia and Vulac came to observe the lesson. “Ah my scribe! And a guard too no doubt. I’ll get ye trained up no matter, always room for one more.”

Vulac took several steps back. “Well I’d never-“ He was quick to huff off to bother someone else.

Lavia was ready with her parchments and her plume, to take note of just what Clemnilshala would be working with. So many of these younglings were on the path to becoming flail masters. They were incredibly skilled at such young ages with their training whips, able to wrap the fronds around Clemnilshala’s arm. Were there hooks she could imagine seeing her own bones again. These younglings were a budding danger to the world around them.

Without the dwarves around, Clemnilshala seemed to fall seamlessly back into an undeserved rank across the course of the afternoon. She barked orders, and told Lavia to take note of this and that and the other thing while Lavia did exactly as instructed. Warmth came to her belly when she saw Lavia mimicking hoof placements and wriggling her shoulders in the style of someone pretending to use their arms. She could almost smell the breaths of Uluur’s streets. That is…until meal time.

Lunch was brough by dwarves, doubt sunk into Clemnilshala’s stomach with brothy soup and sandwiches toasted over fiery wood. Everything here was made up of safe-foods for the clean eynnil. That and plenty of tomatoes which brought back old memories, tainted in the flavor of oils. She’d only been made aware of her becoming lost in thought when a youngling aved their hand in front of her face ash she’d been staring with strange intensity at the precocious female youngling. She apologized profusely to Clemnilshala for whatever it was that was giving her such a grim face.  Poor girl offered her hands for lashes and seemed ready for verbal assaults. Clemnilshala delivered neither, instead she prepared and lit a smoking pipe of Hulce’s blue and calmed her torrential thoughts. She muttered an apology in return to the youngling.

“You smoke too?” Asked a young man “That’s a terrible habit, my mother said.”

“Lucky fer ye you have a mother.” She exhaled through her nose, a sense of mischief rose in her belly. “Some of ye are exile born…I can smell it.” She sniffed at the air like the librarians did when they performed “The Brave Swine” for children during Harvest time. She sniffed at the air, where there were faint scents of horse and farmer and the incense of the Lanhs while they ‘purified the lands for their consumption’ but eynnil, all eynnil, seemed to smell the same now.

“Are you going to teach us anything else?” asked the precocious female at the pushing behest of the other students in her midst. “So far all you have done is fail at what you’re supposedly good at and we cannot protect our people with just your demonstration alone.”

“Yer a ‘right now’ sort of person aint ye?” She leaned forward and opened her hand “I’m learnin about ye so tha I ain’t going tae teach a pot tae mill grain.”

Lavia scribbled notes on a list of idioms she’d bring the abbess in the hopes of aiding communication.

“Why should we have to learn anything about you? When you’re done with us you will just abandon us again” Pressed the youngling “You continue to act like those dwarves when you are free from your exile right now. Don’t you want to return to the open arms of the Weilvog?”

 “Desertion was not the charge fer my exile, young lady. Can’t ye read?” She put her fingers to her tear ducts and thought for a moment, muttering to herself. “Here, c’mere, I want ye tae hold something of mine.”

She stood up, setting Rigmol up with the remainder of her pipe so that the embering leaves would not go to waste. The young lad commented how, of course, the stag smoked. She beckoned the female forward  and places her great longbow into her hands. The shield shifted with a quiet rattling as her arm buckled and shook.

“Why am I holding this? It’s heavy” She looked to her peers for help, they did not move nor speak, only looking on with their wide cervid eyes.

“My father was a shield master tae that Vaniaal himself. He once let me hold his shield. Ye see, fer him and later me, the shield was his strength. Et’s our strength. My strength and dedication tae my people and my mountain is this shield. And the bow is my yoke.” She shook the shield on the youngling’s arm and waggled the bow. “And the way fer me tae best serve my people is tae serve you and yers so that ye’ll stop bothering us.”

Clemnilshala sniffed proudly, petting Rigmol between the antlers.

“Your people…the Dwarves?”

“Aye lass, the Dwarves of Khalenglough Basin.”

A third trainee stood up and held his hands out to hold the bow as well. He had the build of a promising, yet still fledgeling, Shield Master. Why he had fronds and a flail was lost to Clemnilshala. The sun passed over the sky while she asked the younglings about themselves, many of them were winterborn, gentle in spirit but strong of mind and ready to adapt to whatever is needed of them. She could count on one hand how many were summerborn like her. Summerborns being broad and wild, quick to learn new things but slow to change and rigid in their routines. Winterborns were tempered like bread but burned brighter than hot iron. She took back her bow and lowered her head. In three days time, they would meet again and begin things differently.