Snowy Ground Tales: The Two Golden Priestesses

Isuuga and her sister Kasuuga departed the party with their arms linked together like the thin chains that adourned their hair. Isuuga patted her younger sister’s arm and offered her a calming smile, a tickle in her heart almost felt like affection. It couldn’t be anything but her body remembering times before she had become one with the golden light of the Anghniel. It has been well documented that those who passed through the Weilvog and returned with eyes the color of the sun were without emotion.  Something that they often mentioned that they were glad to give up in passing jokes. Isuuga swallowed some air and looked about the city, the upturned eyes of the strange little people with beards sent a shiver down her spine. The men, the women, even the children all had facial hair of some sort or another. If she were a person that could still feel, then she would be gripped with a kind of fear that she stood as a danger to the dwarves. That she may injure their feet underhoof or knock them down if she wasn’t diligent in keeping track of where they were at all times. She muttered soft prayers that she wouldn’t bring harm unintentionally on their way to find the halls that housed the Lanh of Khalenthel.

Kasuuga seemed to share a similar sentiment, reaching up with her other hand to itch the scars of where her ears had been cropped, something she did when she feigned nervousness. She hadn’t become accustomed to this sort of body yet, it felt too light, as though she’d float away if she so much as breathed in a bizarre way. She kept her eyes downturned as they passed in front of the gates of Khalenthel they used to come into this pile of rocks. So many rocks around, she wondered if the ceiling of the mountain with vertical lines of white sediment dotted with gems would collapse and come crashing down. She could almost see it happening, like a stage play in smoke. See-through dwarves running like scuttering ants as see-through boulders crashed down atop of them. She closed her eyes a moment and shook her head, keeping this vision to herself. Imagining that her sister didn’t know her secret.

But with all sisters, secrets seemed to speak louder than confessions. Isuuga did not pry and instead let Kasuuga daydream along the walk, saying nothing to one another. Together they came upon a doorway with a red striped curtain held open by a stone hook in the shape of a ram’s horn. They prodded their heads into the lodge-like room with a hearth and several cloaks on the wall hanging over pairs of musty old boots. It reminded the two of them of the tavern they had just left the night before. Almost in a place of honor there were rows and rows of hoods without cloaks beneath them, many of which were made of fur and dagged at the edges with tears and ornaments of bronze upon each, held behind yet another curtain. A glassy black curtain of a sheer delicate silk with trim along the floor and embroidered runes that made words. They dare not enter the room. They nearly fled for propriety when their eyes shifted to a hook with a fur cloak that was far wider and far longer than its brothers. The spare of that wretched exile they had to put their faith and trust in in order to gain safe passage to the sea. Why the beautiful Abbess had called for her by name, and said that at the half moon, five days from this moment, that exile would be integral to the survival of the eynnil people.

The Abbess, the alabaster Abbess, with an apron studded with jewels that may as well have been made of pure starlight, gifted with prophecy, seemed to follow in spirit with this party. Isuuga could almost hear her breath, muttering to herself about the half-moon day. What would she say, if she saw them there? In the dusty mountain amid the soot-stained folk born of rocks. What would the Vaniaal say, the leader of all faithful eynnil in this world, who has prophesized every major event in this lifetime and was so close to attaining the great age of 2500. His health had been stronger than ever, yet the Abbess spoke grimly of his death, always. Isuuga suspected her sister to have the gift of prophecy from a young age, how she’d stare at walls and at clouds and seem thousands and thousands of meters away. Should the Vaniaal pass into the next life, would Kasuuga be next to be chosen? It was said that the Vaniaal came into his good power after having a dream the exact moment his predecessor passed. Modern Lanhs would hand rear children gifted with prophecy, who could turn their eyes to the future, and lead the eynnil people into enlightenment. Isuuga kept something close to excitement to herself.

From the mountain scout’s hall they walked on, passing no shortage of food service slots in the wall. Taverns and eateries, bakeries and markets, places where people traded their wares. They smelled fresh bread together and reminisced of times long ago when their mother would give them herbal oil on toast as a treat. Through the legs of people, a gaggle of children scampered and played with wooden swords. They were so puny yet had whiskers on their cheeks. They knocked over a barrel of milk and nearly spilled it in the middle of their play. Their caretaker bounded after them, holding up their apron of ruffles and stripes threatening to curse them with silly-shoes if they didn’t settle down.

The child at the head of the group raced headlong into Isuuga’s leg. They fell back with an oof while Isuuga stumbled in her path. She glanced down her cheeks at the child missing both of their front teeth. The child laughed and laughed, waving their sword and making lunges and jabs at Isuuga and Kasuuga, who failed to see the humor in their style. The matron caught up with the leading child, making the other children scatter like little bugs, she picked them up and said that their misbehavior would get them another four hours of cleaning up the school room. She turned to the two priestesses with a sheepish smile and beads and ribbons in her beard, apologizing to them and attempting to reason that they were just orphans. Perhaps she thought that they would be annoyed, or even angry, but the only thing that coursed through either of the priestesses was indifference to them. They merely exchanged words, accepted an apology from the child who now had their ear held by the orphan matron, and left the food hall. Quietly counting the number of taverns, they saw along the way. Too many, nearly double the number in Brinorion.

At the edge of the food hall was another group, a group of women who fawned over an item belonging to their friend. A medallion with a gleaming red stone in its center. They squealed and sang little songs together. She boasted that she would be wearing flowers in her hair upon the day of their ceremony, and that this stone of hers would be adorning the hilt of her sword next time she was called to war. Her friends took turns touching her midriff and asking about her imminent babe. She seemed all the more excited to speak of her child who felt as strong as oxen and that there may yet be another warrior in the mountain. She grinned with all her teeth and even offered the priestesses a nod in greeting.

Kasuuga couldn’t help herself but to stop amongst the group of women and crouch down at their level, Isuuga permitted her younger sister to flutter away and even give a blessing upon the bride and mother to be that her life will be long and her child healthy and mild of manner. They thanked her with stuttering words but whispered amongst themselves how a dwarven child of good parentage could ever be mild. They sat together and, with combs and great smiles, brushed the pregnant woman’s hair. Isuuga called her sister back so that they may leave this area and walk on. The Lanh, much like any touch of the light of the Weilvog, was as hard to find as a flea in the sand.

Farther down the corridors they came across a procession of sorts, a great ladder was stood almost vertical, and a woman clad in mourning clothes ascended toward the ceiling with a jewel not unlike the one set to adourn a bride’s sword. The tears that rolled from her cheeks had an ever-increasing distance to fall as she climbed higher and higher. Set beside the ladder was a handled platform, carried by laborers, upon which laid a lump under a sheet. The cloth over his face was bright and patterned. Passersby would lean in near the laborers and study the cloth. Some shook their heads, some offered condolences to the immediate family. Evidently one of the laborers was his daughter, the other his brother.

Isuuga assumed to herself that the woman climbing the ladder was his wife. The presumed wife had a hammer on her belt and proceeded to affix the jewel into the night sky made of stone hanging over the city. Each jewel a symbol of someone who lived and passed here. Clusters belonging to families sat close together like night pictures. It was only in passing that Isuuga and Kasuuga saw this, though the last thing they laid their eyes on, as they glanced over their shoulders at what was undoubtedly none of their business, was the wife returning to the ground and letting her braided hair down and cutting it off at the nape of her neck. Kasuuga mentioned something about funerals, Isuuga forgot about it as quickly as she had heard it.

Through a pale archway was a far more tempered and more beautiful place in this city. Nobility dwelt here. Homes bursting from the walls with pillars and columns like the rays of the sun. The ground was a mosaic and well kept. Yellows and whites and blues inlaid in the floor made of glass that felt as though it would crack under the priestesses’ weight. The rays created by these homes, stacked up atop one another with arguably handsome, if simple, dwarves living there, converged around a great blue and white arch. The arch stood before two identical armies of guards in plate armor, with shields and weapons all their own. They protected a throne upon a platform whereupon there stood the king of Khalenthel with his family. They also engaged in play, his numerous children had toys and figurines, some showed off to the guards, one in particular was being picked up and swung around by his father. They lingered here to watch and only departed once they had attracted the sideways glance of a guard who cleared her throat and brushed her fingers in her beard.

Immediately outside of the nobility’s district was a great band of ratty old homes with ratty sorts of people living here. Isuuga disliked this band shaped ring around the king’s neighborhood. Yet the end was in sight, there was a beautifully crafted sign at the end of this corridor lined with folk playing card games for money. The Lanh of Khalenthel was here, standing proud with beautiful flags and curtains. Surely the Abbess here would accept the two priestesses in for the night. Give them a bed to sleep in so that they would not be forced to sleep upon the same floor where these dirty folks sat and sniffled and brushed the dirt from their hair. Their skin was sickly pale, nearly as colorless as the white stone which built up the noble district. With their eyes downturned Isuuga and Kasuuga wove amid their games and their bodies. Being stopped along the way by hands touching their robes and pulling on them asking for alms. The priestesses did not oblige for they had no pockets inside of which to keep things that they may just give away. They weren’t that sort of priestess. The only one that had successfully made them stop and listen for moments was a human child with a bruise on his cheek. All he asked of them was for them to look at his riding swine figurine. They obliged and studied it, giving kind enough words that it was a fine figurine. They did not mention its missing leg or how it was pocked with holes as though a dog had been chewing on it.

While they were used to upturned eyes upon them from children, they could not wait a moment longer to move inside of the Lanh of Khalenthel. They were greeted by another woman, who looked strikingly like the orphan matron. Curled hair around her cheeks, a short beard, and eyes like shiny boot buttons. She didn’t have the same accent as nearly every other person that they had seen that day. She sounded as though she’d come from somewhere near the ash lands. Kasuuga looked to her older sister and quietly wondered if there were any settlements of dwarves in that area. They were allowed to bathe and eat, being afforded fine wine made of honey, bread with oil and more honey. They performed ceremonial processions throughout the almost alarmingly small Lanh, helped clean windows, swept down the stairs, and even scrubbed the dust stained curtains before they were shown to a room of floor cushions and blankets where they sat against the wall and feigned that they were asleep.

A long quiet “night” of meditation, interrupted once by the Dwarvish Abbess who had peered into the room to say goodnight, passed by. The mountain rumbled and breathed her hot air down their necks and made the entire stay terribly uncomfortable. How any other Eynnil could sleep here was a mystery. But no one from the traveling party came to this place. Isuuga and Kasuuga only assumed that they had followed the poor examples of the sordid scout and slept outside of one of the many taverns and eateries in this city. They returned to the party after the morning bells had rung, with rations of safe food made by the Abbess’ skilled hands. Along the way, they were joined by the exiled scout and a strangely familiar-looking eynnil who seemed to get it in her head that she was joining this company. The clothes she wore were of this mountain. They did not trust either of them.

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