All sorts of people and creatures made their bed on the side of the street path. Shiftlings such as bear-heads and boar-heads and wolf-heads took corners beside stairways in front of businesses. The best spots, in front of the butcher’s shop, the bread shop, a handful of taverns, and the public food stores, had swaths of creatures squabbling so silently for corner spots. Each new addition would tip toe and crawl over the previous inhabitant to cram themselves into the corner. Vulac kept their opinions to themself. As the Exile and the ragling were lead away by a soot stained dwarf. Vulac turned his attention to Samythiel, raising an eyebrow.
“Will you not be following them?” they asked “Do you not have duties to complete while you’re in your home?”
“Oh nae, I dunnae live here at all.” Replied Samythiel, much to Vulac’s flattened expression. “I come from the plains and prairies. My family raises the very griffons the king has in his city. Yessir I was only here tae wait fer my mother and sisters tae return from the sea. They were among the first tae be sent tae retrieve the star you see.”
“Is that why you don’t speak like the funny little men here?” Asked a passerby priestess as she took the arm of her other golden-eyed companion. The pair of priestesses sauntered off to find a holy place to board themselves for the day.
Samythiel exhaled a hard breath, of course the dwarvish languages were almost universal, born of one base tongue, but the accent changed between the daughter dialects when the words from human mouths spread farther and wider than their original cities. He looked up at Vulac and gave a tired smile, asking the lad if they were as exhausted from all the travel, especially plated in armor for days. No, expressed the commander in not so few words. They seemed more interested in the worldly mountain city. Mentioning his commanding officer was wanting him to hunt for exile colonies while he was on this expedition.
Samythiel sucked his lips into his mouth and chewed on them.
“A grim task, I know, we could very well die along the way. Come, let us go resupply, the sea should be another three days trek from this spot according to the map” They pulled the parchment from their plated armor, giving the pieces near their neck a comfortable tug.
“What does the party need? I may jus’ be a painter but I know this city well enough nowadays tae find what we be needin’”
“I will accompany you to get first aid and medical supply while the others obtain food and blankets.” Replied Vulac “There is more I want to speak to you of.” Their hand fell to the hilt of their sword.
A nervous bubble rose in Samythiel’s throat. He couldn’t say ‘no’ in confidence, though he had a guess as to what Vulac was meaning to ask. Like a courier, he set about to giving tasks to any human traveler that would listen, Vulac called after them with the dietary requirements of the fine golden-eyed priestesses before turning back to Samythiel and bucking their head along.
They walked to a general store that stood as one of the minor pillars that held up the ceiling over the city. The same ceiling whose mineral deposits and ceremonial gems reflected brazier light and forge light alike, resembling the stars in the heavens. A procession emerged from a holy building to climb a ladder and add another stone and fitting to the expansive collection. Vulac stood still for a moment to listen to the words of the holy robed people. Lucidity only returned to them when a little street cat rubbed the side of her neck on the feathering of his hooves. Her meows brought a smile to his face that made him knee, pick her up, and hold her round tummy to his face wherein he gave her a nuzzle with his forehead in the space between his horns.
They spoke of how horse barns for the cavalry in the “Old Lands” used to be crawling with these little cats. Though nothing quite so docile crawled the ashes that bordered those lands, not then, not now. They went on a tangential lecture about how many children believed the swollen bellies of “Baby cats” were filled with mind controlling magic and thus young, Weilvog abiding, children were rendered petrified by cats for fear they would be made to misbehave. Vulac laughed about it, letting the little cat leave after meowing and whining. Her ears folded back when she reached the ground. She crawled along with her belly close to the stone before scampering away with thumpy little feet in the opposite direction.
Samythiel rubbed his neck behind his beard, he pondered to himself if he was supposed to share a superstition of his own or not. One foot in front of the other he counted the sighs of the commanding eynnil as they almost hit their head on hanging signs out side of stalls and slots filled with shops and places of trade. They turned down an alley like corridor lit by fire on oily wire set above naturally occurring sheets of crystal.
Craftsmen sat in the alleyway and demonstrated their talents, nodding and barking at their tables filled with wares. A toy maker sat beside his tables of rows and rows of wooden toys. He straightened his spectacles and glues horse hairs into an appropriate figurine resembling one of the human king’s cavalry. He’s painted it a little saddle through a curved gouge in the wooden beasts back. Vulac stopped, knelt down, and watched the dwarvish toy maker work. The toy maker turned his shoulders so that the imposingly large eynnil could look on without blocking the walk way. Samythiel almost danced as he dodged the flicking end of Vulac’s undocked tail and stood by, waiting for them to rise and stalk on. It took long until the toy maker had finished the horse and blow breath on the glue that held its tail in place. He gave the figurine to Vulac with a smile.
“I’ll bet ye got a youngin’ that would do somersaults fer tha.” He said, putting this smoking pipe in his mouth. “et’s all yers”
“Hhh, no, I don’t have children, but a young stable hand I once knew, she’d love it when I return” Vulac replied, he pulled a chip of silver to pay for the toy item and turned to Samythiel, muttering that they had to go on.
They walked in silence, before once more, the fragile serenity was broken by Vulac.
“Why don’t you say anything. Come now, ask me a question.” They said with a crooked grin. “You remind me of assassins.”
“Sah.” Samythiel sighed “I dunnae trust ye is all. I don’t want tae say anything that will bring hurt tae missus Noblehood or any other eynnic folk that are just like her is all.”
Vulac’s face twisted, his eyebrows rose in confusion. “I don’t understand. I don’t want to har your friend. I don’t believe I said I would. I was only tasked to find their colonies.”
Samythiel’s silence returned to his mouth.
“It’s my intention to mark where these colonies are so that we, my people, may avoid them. Your friend has no need to worry about my sword. One of it’s kind is far less dangerous than an entire colony of hunters or more.” Vulac offered a crooked smile once more. One strikingly similar to the way that she, Clemnilshala, did. With no more than half their mouth yet all the necessary sincerity in the apples of their cheeks and their eye. Their rammish eyes, with horizontal pupil, had as much personality as the griffons Samythiel raised.
“I doon’t trust that answer, but supposin’ that talking more wont hurt anybody.” Samythiel brushed his fingers in his hair. “My question is what doe ye already know about Missus Noblehood. Clemnilshala? Is there something I missed? I doon’t much like the way yoo or the others look at her. And fer that matter, why are youuuuu so bent on knowing her secrets eh?”
Vulac stopped in his tracks. “You seem to know a great many secrets”
“I’ll only tell ye what I know in exchange fer yer own secrets”
“I know that the exil-“
“Noblehood. Use a name, lad”
“Noblehood.” Their face twisted as the name was comprised of foreign syllables in their mouth. “Seven syllables in all hm. I know Noblehood was my rank when it went into exile. It’d trained with the great Valthran some centuries ago. It’d refused to crop its ears and remained my rank until it simply snapped and spoke vicious blasphemies. Valthran the great said that it was skilled and fought like a demon. Few were as promising, which perhaps is why Valthran’s company, their trainees in their care, have the highest number of trainees that go into exile.” Vulac muttered his reprisal of stories they’d heard of their commander. Samythiel shook his head at the tale.
“I’m nae sure that’s the whole truth, lad” Samythiel said, putting his hands on his sides and looking at his feet. He tapped his boot on a rock as he thought of what to say next. “The Noblehood I know, the one think I know is that she trusts that she knows whats to do. Heh, I’d only known he a few hours an’ she’d gone and thrust herself between me and a yeti. She sent me on her companion’s back while she fought it off. In a blizzard! As far as I know she’s been nothin’ if not honest with me. Why don’t ye just ask her yerself.”
“It’s against our customs for our kind to mingle with those who go into exile” Vulac excused, “It’s forbidden.”
“She may keep to herself, but I haven’t seen those tattoos of her get in the way” Samythiel put his hands behind his back and looked ahead. “Seems like the only ones stopped are you folk.”
“Very well then, how would you suggest I get it to share its information, hm?”
“Hm, Last I saw Noblehood was askin all about ye, why nae trade information in a neutral place. Or bribe her?” Samythiel began to walk again. What a stupid problem to have.
“How improper, it’s against tradition!”
What a stupid answer.
“Then a duel, a fight. If she fights like ye say then ye may just know how tae win.”
“Unless she swings first I’ll assume.” Samythiel said aloud. Almost immediately he wanted to suck the words back into his mouth for them to be destroyed.
Vulac’s ear twitched, his attention broken from what they were not allowed to do and charged to think of what they were allowed to do.
“Can you do that? Can you make her attack me?”
Samythiel closed his eyes, swallowing bile in his throat at such a request. He hid the rolling of his eyes, finding the politics of eynnil too taxing to think of rationally. Exiles, warriors, too many moving parts. Griffons and paint were never this complicated. He wondered if he’d squeezed too much paint out of a proverbial tube and would find it impossible to fix whatever he’d just broken simply with one color.
“I cannae make anyone attack anyone. Between yoo an’ me, all I can do is raise a griffon and make a real pretty picture. Which was what I was supposed tae be doin before I came on this crazy quest. I’m a painter, nae trained in espionage.” He said, prompting them to walk on. He stopped at a jewel crafter, looking at a table, the shine of bronze and silver attracted his attention. The jewel crafter, and his wife, stood by while similar smiles. One dealt in beautiful jewelry and the other assumedly dealt in enchantments if the colors of their clothes were anything to go by.
Samythiel lingered, he remembered her dancing at the grain festival only weeks ago. An ornament attracted his attention. One meant to be placed behind family crests, a wreath of small silvery flowers and little white crystal. Atop a bronze ring of asymmetrical wheat. It almost reminded him of the horsehair decorations that she wore at that festival. Perhaps it was an imp in his stomach, or the spirit of the mountain bellowing through him, but he couldn’t stay his hand from picking it up and trading away a good deal of silver chips. He asked for no enchantment, but the woman that stood at the end of the table who had a twinkle in her eye, didn’t offer to give one in the first place. They were shooed along by the jewel crafter upon the approach of another paying customer.
The crafter called him by name, a common name that many young dwarves had in this city, and delivered a piece of cloth into his hands. They spoke together of who the lucky recipient of this jewel will be. A fine red piece the size of an apple. The man beamed and boasted about a woman who was indeed carrying his child, and he wished her to share his house for eternity. The clink of money was exchanged, and the lad raced off, dashing between Vulac and Samythiel who put his new item into his pocket.
“Lucky lad.” Samythiel muttered under his breath.
“Why? Do you not have a love of your own? Is that not going to be gifted to the one waiting for you?” Vulac looked down his face as Samythiel rubbed his pocket and settled the item in. He spoke after several moments.
“Nae. This…may yet be an apology.”