For several days did Clemnilshala consider going to her childhood home, while the markings stung her skin and created pain that seeped down into her bones. What she would not have given for one last taste of fried blossom or pork or anything her mother made. She craved the touch of her mother’s hand on her cheek or her father’s hand patting her between her horns. She stood at the top of an ashen hill and looked down at her old house, a barrel shaped monument to her ignorance of her superiors.
She could not go there.
She turned her back to her house so many times. And always turned around to look at it once more. Just one last time. But how many times would a last glimpse turn her to face the antique windows and the glass skylight. There were more than eleven ‘one last time’s in the days that followed her exile. But the day that the eagles came, the day that they circled the house, just as they always had when there would be a visit from the golden eyes and the other guards. Coming for food and hospitality by Hashala. The day that the eagles circled the house, Valthran was amongst the guards that came. They were never just mere visits. No matter how much Clemnilshala denied it to herself saying that they were just seeing if she was a good prospective guard, if her home life would mean that she could practice justice under the Uluur banner and see through glittering golden eyes. So many visits to other houses were for the same reasons. But they must’ve known, if just a little, about what really lay in the upstairs stable, what would probably remain there for as long as Selmnilor lived. She could not go home.
The day that the eagles were frantic over her house was the day that she truly turned her back to it for the last time. Chirping and squeaking and making the sounds that eagles do make while they circled the house like crows over a dead carcass of an old pig or a mounting beast that never came back from the fields.
She went west.
She went west away from the morning sun, west with her back to the wind, her tail coiled up against her leg while she walked. Ash stuck to her hooves, seeped into the little cuts around her ankles while she passed into the valley where exiles had formed a colony of their own. She lowered her head, looking upward at their moving bodies, o! how it looked like they writhed under the weights of their crimes left upon their skin. A figure stopped her, he blocked the space between two jutted out, sharp, rocks at the base of which were the yellow and brown pools of exile’s leftover infections. He had spectacles upon his face, cracked and chipped all over.
“Well well.” He said with his arms crossed over his chest “even the mightiest among you fall.”
“Mmh” Clemnilshala bent at the waist, knelt, then put her head deeply under her body so that her chin bored into her sternum. She stretched her hands out in front of her.
“There is no place for you here. We know your face. We’ve known your cruelty, how many scars are on our necks from when you cut us huh ‘Shala? How many children did you take from mothers out here, in the Ashes and wakes, and place into Uluur’s orphanages?” He said. “How many of us did you hold down and watch the needles be driven into our skin. How many of us were shepherded by your own mother yet you looked down on us like refuse?”
Clemnilshala’s stomach filled with vinegar.
“I must have a place, I am marked just as you are” she said, holding up her arms in her nudity as though the ones on her chest and core did not matter.
“Do you know what else has markings? Barn cats. Children of the city spend their play time cursing cats for exile! You have no place here!”
“I will duel you for a place here” she took a stance. “I will fight to belong here.”
“Why bother? You’d overpower any of us in heart beats you beastly woman.” He cut his hand through the air and turned his back “Leave us, ‘Shala. You have no place here.”
He hung his head, pointing away. He would not offer safe passage through the valley of ashes. She went around the perimeter where ash still stuck to her skin and infected her markings with pustules of yellow.
She went west. More west than she had ever seen. One night, when she had come to a muddy patch. She heard the paw-beats of the mounting beasts and she cast herself into the mud and attempted to bury herself into a place of safety. Up to her nose where, should a mounting beast step on her, she could harden her core while they go past. But these mounting beasts were well trained, she didn’t think that every beast had been trained to drag exiles out of the mud by the hocks and shaken side to side. She flopped about like a rag doll.
Their beaks put creases in her skin, holding her up high, upside down while she held her arms around her head and neck as the patrolling guards poked and prodded at her flopping form with bars and whips. She clawed and smacked at their sticks while they continued to deliver righteous beatings upon her aching skin. The mounting beast, one particular time, had dropped her. Ahh yearlings they were so silly and so in tune with the feelings of their prey. Pigs, grass cats, other creatures. Ahh mounting beasts with carnivorous beaks, trained to eat of the soil and land and not of the flesh. Yet she could still feel their barbed tongues running up and down when she bled while she was caught.
With a limp she made it to the western forests, safe areas where pilgrimages of exiles went to find their way. Clemnilshala followed this path until she came to a cottage deep within the woods. Nude and swollen she sat herself at the doorstep of the building and leaned her head upon the pink wooden door. Rest found her in the outside world until a hoof came to her hocks and woke her again. She hadn’t the time to begin dreaming when she was stirred by a face that she could swear on everything that she had seen before. A marked man, his marked and pregnant wife. From where did she know this face.
“You again” he said “Have you been sent by your people to give us more trouble then?”
His wife moved to protect her belly from the disgraced Clemnilshala, the man held his arm out to the side. Clemnilshala brought her hand to her arm and rubbed at the yellowed rings around her markings.
“Were you followed”
Clemnilshala shook her head. The man looked at her tattoos.
“What, did they take your tongue out too for your blaspheming?” He asked. Clemnilshala shook her head again.”How old are you?”
“Ninety two.” She rasped. “Old enough to know the consequences of my actions.”
“Ahh, stop sulking. Why don’t you come in? I think we can spare a few days in our stable for you while those heal.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “I am Rewwer, this is my wife, Mamala.”
Mamala lowered her head and raised it again. Rewwer pushed past Clemnilshala and into his house, taking Mamala by the hand and it was only after she was seated before an iron stove where she began to shell beans, did Clemnilshala enter the house and haunt a corner. Mamala kept stealing glances at her while she dropped beans into a bucket, rocking back and forth gently and humming a song that many mothers sung to their lambs. Rewwer had gone into the back area to tan leather and hang it up on frames, out of ear shot.
“W-what will it’s name be?” Clemnilshala croaked aloud, nodding to Mamala’s belly.
“Her name will be Hinala.” Said Mamala, extending a hand to Clemnilshala. “Cannot imagine what has my husband wanting you in here, but I hope that you will not betray his trust and help us around here.”
“I did not expect to find this place.” Clemnilshala’s tail coiled up against her leg. “I no longer mean your kind any harm”
“Is it because you think you’re one of us now? Is that it? You have an awful night and you turn your back to everything and think that you can join into a colony or a family unit? How daft of you. But, ah, I suppose I can spare at least some clothing for you, no matter how little you deserve it.”
It was not cruelty that Clemnilshala found in Mamala’s voice, instead she was repeating aloud every thought that filled her head for the past several days. It, in a sick way, soothed her racing mind.
“You were such a promising member of society but you take one wrong move and they cast you out. Pity pity.” Rewwer came and rubbed Hashala’s belly “You’ll learn soon enough, the life out here is better than the life in there. My daughter will know only true freedom.”
He had only a smile on his face.
“Because your mother and father raised you in the hopes you’d find freedom.”
“That I’d be exiled?”
“No, that you’d find your path whichever way you saw fit. It used to be…what…judging by your posture you’d be a guard or warrior of some sort. You must’ve been real promising. It’s too bad that you didn’t achieve it. Too bad.” Rewwer said, kissing Mamala between her horns which had been decorated with jewels and metal ornaments from Uluur. “Come, we’ll get you clothed and you can help me with supper.”
In the back room there was a chest of clothing.
“Well, go ahead, take something that fits you.”
All of this clothing was smuggled from Uluur, or built up by the scraps left behind and thrown away. Pieced together items. There too were fine furs not from any nation that Clemnilshala has seen, made up by Rewwer. How peculiar that his exile had not maddened him but caused only innovation.
“Why? Why the kindness”
“Because your father and mother showed me, and later Mamala kindness.”
“No other reason?”
“What do you want to hear, youngling? That I don’t want you to hold us ransom with that warriors build? No no, kindness has kept us safe so far, we don’t have the numbers of colonies to protect ourselves on our own. And I do not want to show my daughter the horror that I know that we have both seen time and time again. Look, youngling, abandon everything, hope of returning, abandon your name and choose a new one.” He pulled a grey and blue dress made of the canvasses of market awnings. “This should do. Very becoming. At least you won’t be naked and wild.”
Clemnilshala took it from him. It draped over like tents meant for creatures far larger than she, but the feel of cloth on her skin soothed the sting and ache of the markings. The canvas at her shoulders even had a hood that covered over her horns. Lines of fur were at the bottom hem.
Rewwer smiled and cocked his head to the side reaching and very very gently putting his hand between her horns. It was subtle, the wet feeling on the inside of her head that ran like water through her neck and down her spine, the feeling of magic used by those with prophetic gifts. Blue and yellow tears rimmed at the corners of Rewwers eyes, spilling down his cheeks like ink. She struck his wrist with hers. “No magic.”
He rubbed at his eyes, his magic tears binding his eyelashes in wet points that jutted up toward his eyebrows. Clemnilshala helped cooked beans and potatoes and mushrooms for dinner that night.