Clemnilshala took Lavia by the arm and pulled her along down corridors, spouting random nonsense about the city’s history and where some things were. They stopped in front of a little slot in the wall.
“And just where is this?” Lavia peered inside the building. Clemnilshala pushed past her and spread her arms and spun in a circle. She invited Lavia indoors and pushed a bundle of clothes up under her chin like an offering.
“Ets me house. M’clothes, yooooooooou may borrow them iffin yet doon’t want tae be in rags. We can get them cleaned when we return from the sea yes?”
“Iffin ye ask me, dirty clothes are as much an abomination as I am, lass” She waved her hands about. “Best way tae take care of it is by washing. Wha doon’t tell me that ye thought me hygiene was bad all the time” She laughed to her self and lifted a stone in the floor for a net bag and some money.
“And where are we going?”
“Nae nae nae, the baths, it’s a nice little ol’ place up that street there” she wrinkled her nose “ain’t rich enough tae have a whole bath tae m’self lass. But I do have a handsome washtub iffin ye’d prefer”
Lavia shook her head side to side, swallowing her words and forcing them to be burned in her belly’s fire. She took several moments before she could say anything to deny what must have been a very generous offer. Clemnilshala said something about how the public bath was their only choice, she pointed at a metal tub filled with broken pieces of leather, her various jumpsuits.
“Ye can stay dirty,” she said, “Or ye can come with me, fer what it’s worth the place we are going is one of the finest baths in all of Khalenthel. Right on the boarder of the king’s hall. There’s little fishes that tickle ye silly” She went on a long speech about the features of this fine bath house. Every so often she winked and added rocks and brushes into her bag made of net before taking a lump of clothing from the same washtub amongst her broken gear.
Lavia’s attention was taken with a rectangle on the wall where less dust had accumulated. She gazed around the home before she was whistled along out of the door. with Clemnilshala leading the way through thin hallways and corridors they came to a clean, well lit, bath house. The common language words were written in parenthesis, hung on a wooden sign like an afterthought. Indoors they were where there was a split in the path between two corridors. Clemnilshala went one way and hauled Lavia along. Bidding her to trust that she did not want to be going the other way.
She gave a brief explanation of the traditions of a public bath. That old clothes went here, clean clothes went there, take a cloth with you if you have one. Before entering the water room, like a clothesline had eloped from a courtyard somewhere, Clemnilshala held a scrap of cloth over one arm, out to the side and muttered that it was just in case the bath was too much. She scratched at her short, soot plug coated, hair and rubbed her thumb around her fingers before proceeding into the great room carved from the mountain. There was a pool wherein sat three other people.
Clemnilshala dropped her cloth and slunk into the water, becoming a cloud of sooty black. Lavia, just as the scout had guessed, was overwhelmed with the sheer size of the room and the fact that people just shared bath water. She immediately covered her eyes to preserve the shame of the other folk here but lowered her cloth after a moment or two. Clemnilshala splashed at her hooves, beckoning her closer to meet the eye of a little red fish that wove gently beneath the bathwater’s surface.
“Here, lass, let me unbraid yer hair. Least I can do” Clemnilshala pulled on Lavia’s leg, nearly dragging the scant ragling into the water. Only when she was joined in this water and acquainted with the fish did she offer Clemnilshala her hair. The scout turned her back to retrieve her brushes, much to Lavia’s personal surprise to find that the markings of exile covered the entirety of the one horned eynnil’s body. Arms, back, front, legs, clear down to the hocks and the sensitive cuticles around her hooves and dew claws. Lavia’s gaze lingered for too long yet it could not break for the life of her.
Clemnilshala said nothing about the state of her skin. Instead, she took Lavia’s braids in her hands, and unraveled them, muttering how pretty her hair is. Leaves and sticks, feathers and small chips of rock came free. She laughed a little, likening these braids to a bank of treasures before combing her fingers through her dark locks.
“Ye have hair like a doll, lass. Did it get like this by magic?” Clemnilshala asked, continuing to rake her fingers through the length of hair she had been presented with.
“Oh, not at all, my father had hair like this. Though when he brushed it he found it hard to be as gentle as you are:
“Thank ye, I’ve had lotsa practice.” She snickered, “though nae on meself.”
She set Lavia’s hair down for a moment and held her breath. She splashed her head into the bath and scratched out enough soot to attract a small company of fish to feed. When she came up for air she pulled long strings of that same soot plug free, it tangled around her knuckles.
“Och, I think I feel as unclean as yer Golden friends think I am” She shuddered once more and ducked beneath the ripples, becoming lost in a cloud of soot and swill. Little bubbles came from her nose. Lavia brushed through her own hair waiting for Clemnilshala to resurface. She gasped for air and coughed into a balled-up fist.
“I hope these little fish don’t mind that we are dirtying up their water” Lavia muttered,
“Bah, it’s like feedin hogs some gravy” The light, cold, wheat color emerged in Clemnilshala’s hair. She further removed the glimmering brass cap and set it in her woven net bag amongst a metal cleaning kit. She exchanged this cap for a set of stable brushes instead.
“So” Clemnilshala continued, as Lavia stared at a pair of curious scars that seemed to create parabolic lines on the backs of Clemnilshala’s hands. “How does a long family of priests and holy magic have an elementalist for a daughter? Tell me about tha”
Lavia lifted her head and itched behind her ear. “Well, none of us know for sure, but they found out when I was young, a school child, my legs were still so pudgy then. Some of my friends were playing by a gorge. Not exactly the wisest choice for a collection of younglings,” She laughed a bit, waving her hand beneath the water’s surface in a meager attempt to pet a fish. It sent a cloud of grey to one side and held it there. “I’d gone to join them and play a card game while they played ball to themselves. My instructor asked me you see.”
“Did ye fall in?” Clemnilshala interrupted
“Actually, I didn’t. A friend of mine stepped on a loose stone and missed the ball. So he got down on his belly and tried to retrieve it from the ledge where it’d landed. The bank of the gorge cliff gave out and he fell. I tried to grab him by the tail but I was a bit too late and from my fingers the wind heard my wish to save him and it blew and slowed his fall, lowering him to safety.” She swallowed and resumed combing her hair in her fingers, washing it in her palms. “My father and mother were so happy then, the did not care how I’d received these magics, they enrolled me in lessons instead to learn the elements.”
“Huh” Clemnilshala hummed. “Soo the rags then, yer a bad turn or two from being, well, like me”
“I’m well aware. I wasn’t made a ragling till, perhaps two weeks ago. I’d been squabbling with Xirril, a maid I learn with. She doesn’t like it that I, the elementalist, am the scribe to the Abbess. It’s the Abbess that protects me andis helping me to learn more magic of the base energies and the Weilvog’s ways.”
Clemnilshala hummed along, taking a stable hand’s palm brush and going in circular motions in her hair. Brushing out no shortage of blonde dirt and pine needles. Not being one to pry about what happens at the Lanhs of the world she instead boasted about how she used to believe this brush would make her hair curlier. Alas the stiff texture of eynnil hair was greatly similar to the bristles of a ram’s mane, it stuck up in as many directions. Coarse, hard to do anything with if one kept it short. Lavia would not allow the subject to be changed so easily.
“Abbess keeps asking about the Vaniaal. She’s always wondering if he is doing well, always sending letters, always making sure of his every movement for as long as I can remember. You haven’t plotted anything against him have you? She often speaks of you and him in the same breath.” Lavia’s words tumbled from her mouth without a possible way to control them.
Clemnilshala chose her next words carefully, with a shake of the head that nearly resembled the way Rigmol did it, she prepared to speak with a hand mirror in one hand and a nail file in the other. She set to smoothing out the needle like splinters of her broken off horn where the teeth of the protective cap were tapped into place.
“No.” she started, focusing on her accent. “When I’d……abandoned….that life of mine, I also abandoned my friendship with the Vaniaal. “ She leaned back on the edge of the bathing pool.
“Aye. Without tellin’ ye a sobbing story, I used tae live close tae his….ehhhh how did we call it. <<Prepared Sanctum>>?” Her voice slivered as she spoke her first language once again. Lavia cringed at the sound of Clemnilshala’s disharmonious voice. “I used tae play at his hooves and under his robes as a child, of course while he and my mother and father and my father’s two sisters spoke with dignitaries. I used tae be the most incurable little <<prankster>>. Once I’d pulled his tail and he nearly bleated before the Illurian King of the elves.” She laughed to herself, cursing at a sign on the wall between giggles. Lavia cocked her head, the action alone took the laughter right out of Clemnilshala’s lungs. She couldn’t read the language of the dwarves, and waited until, with a sheepish grin, Clemnilshala translated it aloud.
“Ah, right, this is, ehhhhhh, The Confessor’s Pool. Nae a law alive can touch ye here.” She muttered, reverting to speaking swift verses in the dwarvish tongue. She only spoke in the commonly understood language of these lands when Lavia feigned disbelief. “Please doon’t look at me like tha. I wanted ye tae tell me anythin’ ye might be hiding.”
“Confessors Pool? This was a trap?” Lavia covered her mouth, a wild flush fell upon her cheeks as the water warmed and grew a scent like frying vegetables.
“Hey hey hey, doon’t kill the fish please. This ain’t a trap, ye can keep all the secrets ye want, but things we want tae be saying, things you hold right here-“ Clemnilshala gestured to her stomach and heart “find it far easier to expel them. Like an oil bath, it….how would ye put it? It cleanses yer insides as much as it does yer outsides. Secrets are dirty things tae keep. I think it’s the fish that eat ‘em. These fish ain’t normal. Me Folruth took me here once or twice.”
“Folruth? What’s a Folruth? Is it a sponsor? To vouch that even though you’re in exile you can be of a different service?”
“It’s cracks like that that’ll put fish in yer guts, lassy.” Clemnilshala pointed her file at Lavia “Nae, me Folruth, is m’husband. Tha’s his name. Didn’t ye see my paintin’?”
“No I never looked. Is that the painting in your envelope?”
“So ye did see”
Lavia shook her head harder. Clemnilshala grinned and returned to snickering. She dried her hands and rummaged her bag for her ever present envelope. She popped open the metal seal on the metal surface, its hinge squeaked ever so meekly to reveal a folded piece of linen with a painting laid gently upon its threads. Clemnilshala, much younger, seated next to an elderly dwarf with cataracts in one eye. Lavia regarded Clemnilshala’s dress in the picture. A shine in this picture’s effigy, as thin as thread, still remained in the exile here.
“Our wedding portrait. But we was married in secret wha some seventy nine years before this was done.” She softly touched the surface.
“Was there a ceremony? Did ye speak union verses? Do it right?”
“Nae, it was a brew and grain market. I’d seen a golden warrior there and went tae hide behind a crate of fancy butter.” Clemnilshala scorned the sign once more. Confessional alright. “He took his crest from his very breast and pinned it tae me. He held me hand and even kissed it whenever we were close tae that eynnil.”
Lavia choked on any words she had to say about a marriage between an eynnil and a dwarf. Anywhere outside of this mountain, she supposed, this would be impermissible. Yet, all the same, a warmth welled in her throat and waited to burst forth. Clemnilshala put her painting away and splashed her again. Bidding her to ‘spill it’ that she’d make herself sick keeping secrets in this bath.
“I-I need you, well actually, um, we need you, my Abbess needs you, to come to the sea when it happens.”
“When what happens?”
“I don’t exactly know. Abbess said something is going to happen. I think it has something to do with the Vaniaal.”
“Did yer Abbess ask fer me by name?”
Lavia pursed her mouth, feeling sick to her stomach. Her skin brimmed with lightning. Clemnilshala sighed and sunk beneath the surface, scratching out soap and dirty refuse in her hair. Once she’d come up for air she mentioned the fish again to fill up the deadly silence. A deafening quiet cloud hung low over the two eynnil as less heated truth’s boiled in both of their throats. Forcing the two of them to expel something to the other.
“I’m only fifty-four.” Said Lavia.
“I never actually learned tae write. I cant make the pen go in the shapes that make letters.” Clemnilshala replied.
The two of them sat in fractured silence. Making cracks in an invisible barrier between them with small truths about themselves for the remainder of the bath. Each one casting passing glances at the other, almost daring the other to say something more. Lavia spoke no more about the Abbess as she took hair brushes and files, Clemnilshala spoke no more of her life before exile as she passed said brushes and stones and files. An equivalent guilt boiled in them to speak.
The air outside of the baths was considerably cooler in the roads and rocks of the rest of Khalenthel. Clemnilshala muttered something about needing new socks, sharing a long glance with Samythiel who walked past with arms full of bread and egg sandwiches from the pub. Lavia, petrified by Commander Vulac as their eyes fell on her wearing more ‘respectable’ clothes.