The following fall Ferynia passed, Amryth followed soon after, their family jewels were implanted in the ceiling over the forges. Clemnilshala was confused, but it turned out that Ferynia was not a full scout but just a priestess that enjoyed time at the station healing with her magics. Folruth had gotten himself a cane after hurting his leg while he played with the children around the bellows. He’d slowed down so much, Clemnilshala would walk beside him, her tail would find itself wrapped around the small of his back while her hand hovered at his shoulder whenever he stumbled over the uneven floors. He took more breaks, and had ceased going out onto the mountain. At night he would breath words under his breath while he slept about missing the touch of the sky. The way the wind blew behind his ears and how the snow chilled his hands and dirt got underneath his fingernails.
It was here that Clemnilshala would fall to sleep.
One morning when she’d awoken, coiled around Folruth as she usually was with her knees drawn up, while his chest rose and fell under a field of silver. All the red had faded now, his face was filled only with peace, his dreams were not filled with longing, a warmth in her stomach took a grip over her heart. The claws she’d known for so long, when was it that they left her behind? When did she stop being so angry? She couldn’t feel anger. She hadn’t thought of Uluur, not as a home, not as anything but a spot on the map. She didn’t think of it the until couriers in the mountain whose hoofbeats echoed in the scholars district. Her anger had gone from her heart thanks to this man. It took so long and here he was, sleeping, the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen and yet his time was coming. Woe the day that it would come. When he’d awoken Clemnilshala had breakfast awaiting him, butter eggs and tomatoes that were sweeter than any candy. Joy only filled her face while she watched him eat his fill.
“I had an idea fer what tae do taeday, lad. Come with me” she smiled her very best for him, kneeling to wrap him in wools and leathers and place his cloak around his shoulders and fasten it for him. She slowed her pace while he hobbled along and leaned on her for support with his hurt leg that was acting up more than usual this morning. Time was running out but, this one place, she had to be there with him. Perhaps it was a selfish act, to take an old man out onto the treacherous winter mountain, to return to the burnt pitch where everything had all began. She hoisted him onto Rigmol’s back and lead them by the reins into the air of the outside.
Just outside of the gate his face brightened with the wind and the morning sunrise that shone over the decorations of his cloak. He remained turned toward the sky, looking at the clouds and the blue that reflected the gleam in his eyes. Still the same color as fire over oil. Rigmol was strangely quiet this day. He knew it. He whispered to Clemnilshala that he didn’t want to lose this moment. She did not either. They defended the great staircase and into the basin below, through Milan and through the woods where there were knives stuck into the trees wrapped in cloth as a graveyard to mountain scouts long passed. Together they reminisced about coming out here in procession to hunt down the mountain lions or wolves or yeti or what have you that killed the mountain scouts that were remembered here, to avenge their deaths to the cold and the wind and the sleet and snow by sacrificing rams and swine and making a great feast out in the night. Some distance from here was the spot, the place where it all began at the bottom of Thamdul. A burnt out camping fire built over and over again by other passerby scouts but as much a monument to when she met Folruth and the ice that had clasped her heart like a chest around a dangerous weapon had begun to melt.
She set Rigmol’s saddle blanket down for a place for him to sit and she built the fire for them.
“Do ye remember, lad. When you were here? And ye sat for so long. I canna thank ye enough, there is nothin I could ever give that could compare tae the wonderful gift you showed to me here in the mountain.”
“Lass, My dear Clemnilshala” he wheezed “Ye gave me the best things I could have ever asked for from ye. And look, I never had tae beg for yer love. Ye brought it tae me freely.”
He pulled out his smoking pipe and put it in his teeth, preparing it with century tobacco. The shaking of his hands stopped the matches from lighting the leaves for him to enjoy. She prepared her very own pipe and shared the moment with him, leaning back and allowing her mitten to absorb the cold of the snow. Folruth leaned into her chest and rested his head, remaining awake while he breathed in the smoke and exhaled clouds. Clemnilshala inhaled as much of these clouds as she could, they only brought rain inside her chest. If it wouldn’t be so much like a cage she’d keep Folruth forever, hidden away in her chest so that he would live in eternity.
But ah. That could never be. Mountain scouts were free creatures, not so much dwarf as they were a part of the land and the sky that they returned to. Grim thoughts plagued Clemnilshala through the day, but she kept them at bay while preparing a great meal in the outdoors and setting up an encampment in the path of any young mountain scouts who happened by to see the veteran eynnil cradling her beloved in the dark of the night while the fire burned down to embers.
They spent the night outside, camping just once last time out in the cold that nipped at their cheeks. In the throws of their arms wrapped around one another. Who could have ever asked for a better partner, ever in the history of the world that was ever written or was ever meant to be. Nothing. No thing. In the night his hand would come up and touch her face and she’d awaken to kiss him on the cheek as though it would be the last time.
The squealing roar of Nahchog the great swine that came down the cliffs with snow not as mighty as an avalanche. Nahchog, a herald of the birds in the sky, a Wild Thing, even He knew.
Woe the day came before she’d known it.
He was vibrant in the morning that she could almost see the redness of his hair return to him and she thought, for mere moments, that he could carry on while he took his stag down to the stream to water him, leaving her at the camp for her to clean everything up with a strange joy that remained in her heart and stomach. It wasn’t too much to put away the spoon, pan, and salt. As easy as child’s play to throw water over the embers, as Garuk had done so many times with a grin on his half eynnil face, in the powdery snow that blew on the wind she almost saw the child. Nostalgia was the ruler of the day. The journey back up the great staircase, with Folruth on Rigmol’s back, trading stories they knew from before Clemnilshala was even a part of their family, was slow. Stories of downing the bear Wild Thing Houtma, and the piercing talons of the oul. How it was the oul that Folruth fought to stand between Rigmol and death.
They ate at the pub beside the gate, the place he liked the best, where Fellfili, daughter to Amryth and Ferynia, wife to Ignar of Milgan whose name was the same as the fledgling king of the human city, worked her days butchering meat with mighty chops and skinning animals into shreds of sinew that was used by all kinds of medicine folk. They danced in the squares with the other dwarves, even wearing their horse hair decorations that flitted about with grace as the bellows were pushed to cool the humans and the plains dwarves who were not yet used to the stifling, stagnant, air of the mountain. Folruth danced for hours, and Clemnilshala could have watched him for days and days. It was as though his shoes were filled with hot coals the way he moved and skipped and hopped about. He laughed while Clemnilshala sat to the side clapping, and moved her head side to side. She could hardly keep up. Where did this old man get all of this energy all of the sudden?
When it was time to go home he leaned on her side, laying his head at her hip and used her for support to walk the short steps the way back through the halls and districts to their slot in the wall of the scholar’s district. She knelt to remove his shoes, and his decorations but he did not want to be free from his wool underclothes. He laid against the cushion and her arm. She lingered close to his mouth and felt his breath on her cheek. All night long she stayed awake, watching over him until a shadow from the fire, unlike the other shadows, passed about the perimeter of the room. A white shade that moved as cleanly as the snowy wind in the trees.
“Please. One more day.” Clemnilshala whispered into the dark.
No more days.
Folruth’s hand came to her cheek and a gallant smile came to his face.
“Yer the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen. Be good ye hear? Let’s do this again some day. And just ye remember, I love you, lass.”
Then whiteness filled him, his heart tapered and ceased and the pale color of his skin matched that of his hair. His hand fell, and she made sure to rest it on his chest, hugging him closer than before. If the white shade made deals she’d share half of whatever remained of her own life. But no. she would not keep him here like a prisoner as though he’d be indebted to her for her great wealth of years to come. Although she cried, and bleated into his chest in the night, where the moon was high outside and the wind was still, his breath faded. No one but Rigmol came to the window, it was so late that no one was in the streets anyhow. The folds of woolen fabric spilled through her fingers as she pulled him closer. His hair tumbled over his arms as his head lolled onto her shoulder. There were no more last breaths to feel on her cheek.
“Ah my girl” Rigmol said, huffing his nose. “You should lay him down, let him rest.” His ears pinned back. “And we should go get Hjomnir.”
A sniffle came to Clemnilshala’s nose. Taking in the last of his scent that she could before she rose and fastened her cloak around her shoulders over her night clothes. She didn’t feel right, just leaving Folruth here in his bed with his hands folded over his chest, deceased or otherwise. She made one last motion to pull his covers up to his chest, but not his shoulders, before she stepped out to the street. She could scarcely hear her own hoofbeats over the sound of her breath. According to Rigmol, she couldn’t decide whether to dally or to run all of the way to the scouts hall where Hjomnir and his mother lived following the passing of Dāniff.
Hjomnir opened the door to find Clemnilshala there alright, imposing and blotting out the light of the forges behind her as her form alone filled the space of the doorway. the corners of her mouth were dragged to the sides, everything in her face from the center of her forehead to her cheeks to her chin to her eyes was bathed in a grieving red shade. She clasped her hands at her chest and there were no words that could be spoken. Hjomnir knew, and bowed his head to the widow Noblehood and invited her into his home where his mother napped beside the fire in a rocking chart fashioned by humans.
Rigmol departed from the doorway back to the scholars district to watch over the corpse of Folruth so that no purse snatcher would come and ransack the place while his body lay there in his bed.
Mother Hjomnir awoke with a snort, and prepared a snack in the dead of the night of warmed barley wine and iylvienbol for a grieving widow.