The Great Staircase

Come morning,  Folruth was awake with the sun shining over his hair. The inn upstairs smelled of freshness. The sounds of coins rained down, certainly the day had come where the waxing scouts would return to their homes and the waning scouts would emerge from the mountain. The full moon would be upon the basin this night for all who would celebrate in its radiant light, for all the world to see. The scouts and travelers here began to stir and rise with the sun coming through the window, tripping over one another so that they can have first cracks at the wash basins upstairs.

He leaned over to wake the eynnil who remained coiled up, her hands were laid over her horn, protecting her head from whatever else was in her dreams. He watched her for a time, while she breathed through the nose that carried a little whistling song while her eyes darted back and forth behind her eyelids. It was here that she looked about as small and in need as she did at the base of Thamdül. Folruth looked left. And then he looked right. With no one around he nudged her hands away from her broken off horn with a piece of straw, tickling her wrists so that they would move. Contemplating how she got the two perfect half oval scars on the backs of her hands.

What remained of her horn, why they were the rings of the trees, spongier and more delicate looking the closer to the center he examined. The jewel in the very middle was the bright pink cuticle, like the sensitive quick of a dog that hates his nails being trimmed. The border was all but splinters with jagged little pieces sticking out they presented themselves as the crumbling leaves of the hearty herbs of the basin. This was no thing medicine could fix, no magic could make this feel any better for long. The dried up herbs from Ferynia’s kitchen must have all but worn off by now.

For now he would let her sleep. Perhaps the pain wouldn’t penetrate into her dreams. He went upstairs into the galley where scouts paid off their dues with the clinking of precious chips. The scouts would put their cloaks back over their shoulders having washed their faces and dried off, and begin the perilous journey up the mountain. While Folruth let the eynnil sleep he bartered with whomever remained for their medicinal herbs. The ones that quelled the pain and shriveling from the cold of the basin that bit their cheeks.

“What if I hurt myself on the way up the mountain” asked one as he clutched his bag close to his chest.

“Folruth, we take ram horns and they turn out just fine.” Said another

“You’ll learn one day that every hurt animal you find is not as much in need as you think you green horn” Said a third while she traded her bag and threw her hood over her head. Perhaps this time he was right and she was wrong but those words would stick with him while he pilfered a hot sanitation table for warm water and what not. Finally the fur of a rabbit that had been left behind in the flurries of dwarves and men going back into the cold. The race was on to get back Khalenglough. Folruth lingered behind and, in the shaded arena of the basement inn he approached the sleeping eynnil. Minding her hoof and dew claws. To set down the warmed basin of water by her head. The ladle clattered on the ceramic of the basin. It woke her.

She sat right up and looked around, speaking a language that wasn’t eynnic but wasn’t the tongue of men either. Her head swung around before she hissed to herself and held her head to rock back and forth.

“I, eh, brought ye some more medicine. Here, let me help ye with tha.”

“Why?” She demanded.

“Ets wha good scouts do. I aint going to hurt you.” He took his own handkerchief and soaked it in the warm water and brought it up to her head. He soaked away the dried out leaves. Picking them off while taking the moment to observe an eynnil up close. To his surprise her long hair had the same texture as that of a boar, coarse and thick and strangely sharp. The cloth of his handkerchief came to the tender cuticle of her horn and she drew back. She scrabbled her hooves on the floor and went on a mad scoot backing into the wall.

“Sorry lass, tha was a bit rough huh?” He cocked his head to the side and approached again. “Yer almost done here, he dried it with his own beard. Some of his shed fibers getting left behind and stuck underneath the mash of bitter yet frangrant herbs. Kinds of mints and other scents were in this pouch, perhaps they would help. The red fibers of his beard were further trapped underneath the rabbit pelt that he would tie over her broken horn. Folruth searched the floor for string. Patting around. Nothing. How to make it stay the whole journey up the mountain? The winds were enough to blow unsuspecting children over the edge if they weren’t careful enough to mind the zephyrs and gusts. His eyes fell to his own person. Like the scouts always taught, remember where you are. He took the lace of his own boot, a cord of rope fiber and sinew, and tied down the rabbit pelt.

These herbs were older, not as strong. It showed in how she washed her face and hair. She winced nearly the entire time she dabbed his handkerchief behind her ears. She observed her reflection in the torrential ripples of the water, staying still for several moments to look at what remained of her torn away ear, it stood high now like that of a human’s or, forbid he thought of it, an elf’s. She dabbed at that as well.

She had more strength this morning. She ate soup, showing pains in her face as she attempted to chew the pieces that floated inside.

“Doon’t worry, we’ll get ye some better herbs in the mountain.” He reached to touch her hand. She pulled it away.

The way up the mountain was as perilous as it always was. The cracking sounds of ice shelves under the weight of the snow on the side of the great staircase up to the great city was like thunder. Folruth thought each time that it was the mountain crumbling, or that something would fall and squish him like a beetle. This Clemnilshala followed just behind him, and soured her face against the winds that pushed then pulled them. Then there was a great cracking that startled Folruth.

A cracking greater than usual. The eynnil overcame her nervousness of the stairs in a silent effort, she crouched low and opened her arms wide as though she was meaning to wrap them around him. Her mouth made a shape that he hadn’t seen on her before. An impossible shape that was between the baring of teeth and a pained grimace. The steam of her breath traveled out of the corners of her mouth in a way she looked a bit like a dragon. With the wind whistling in his ears he could not tell at all what it was she muttered in that moment. Muffled in the down of his hood and carried away by the wind.

The staircase was slick, Higurna and Bosh couldn’t think to have made the entrance to the mountain at her base, closer to the basin? Instead of looking out over the basin’s majesty from a balcony boot-print laid before him that could only be seen from the ledges. That was the thoughts he kept to himself that would wash away when he turned around at the top, like nearly every scout did, and looked out over the lowering sun. This was indeed the perfect place for Higurna and Bosh to put the gates to Khalenthel. Clemnilshala kept walking, hunched over and eager to get into the gates of Khalenthel, it wasn’t hard to blame her. But Folruth stopped her, pulling on her tail and releasing a surprised bleat from her throat. She turned about on her hoof and frightened him with a hateful glare.

“Don’t touch the Eynnil, brother” said Rigmol before he turned and bugled into the valley basin below, causing an avalanche on Alfgorn’s face.

“<<But brother, she tried to protect me,>>”

Rigmol looked between Folruth and the Eynnil as she lingered near the gate entrance, intimidating a guard.

“No, I don’t think that is what happened at all.” Rigmol shook his head, dislodging snow from his fur. “It wont be safe for you.”

Folruth walked ahead, and ensured he wouldn’t touch Clemnilshala while he spoke with the guards. That this eynnil was severely injured and would only be seeing the benefit of the city until she was healed. Promising for her that she would work to pay off the debt to the king that would come of his benevolent generosity. The guards looked between one another. And stood to one side, allowing Folruth to pass through. One pointed his sword at her.

“If you touch one hair on our people’s head then you will be turned to this snow quicker than you can sing fer help, eynnil.” Said the guard.

Clemnilshala leaned down and took hold of the guard’s sword and brought her face close to his.

“You will not touch me.” The sharp blade pressed her palm yet she sustained only a small scratch as she pushed the sword to the side.

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