S&S: Guardians Of The Dead Part 6

The creaky-voiced old woman escorted the six Sleepers to the hibernation chamber, where the woman with the crackly voice waited for them.

Rorigg motioned to the clay pitcher she’d set on one of the seven altars. “The last of the softening oil. It will have to do for the bunch of you. There is no more.”

That was all she said. After she spoke, she left.

Ludyrr was the first to react. She removed the leather top and strap from the pitcher and looked in. To show the others, she put four fingers together at the pitcher’s base.

Elynir estimated it would not be enough. She walked over to the pitcher to see with her eyes. Ludyrr huffed at her, for not believing her measure.

Elynir had enough of those little huffs by then. She glared at Ludyrr to show her irritation. After the next huff, she would give the taller woman a good slap, she would. At the moment, there was the matter of the oil to worry about. Setting her hands into motion, she signaled to the Sleepers that they should only rub oil on their faces and hands, the parts that would be uncovered when they slept or went out.

When none of them moved, she started the task herself by motioning for Ludyrr to step closer. Elynir dipped her fingers into the pitcher, wetting up to her palms. The oil was thick and syrupy, mixed with honey surely, but she didn’t know what else. When she reached for Ludyrr’s face, the taller woman removed her cap and lowered her head with no argument. Perhaps her flesh felt as tight as Elynir’s. She rubbed the oil on Ludyrr’s face, through her hair to reach her scalp, and on her arms to just past the wrists, before she motioned for one of the others to have a turn.

Endieve came forth, bringing her daughter with her. She motioned that she would massage her daughter’s face and head, while Elynir worked on the hands and wrists. Elynir finished first, calling for Ibagghi to come next. She thought Endieve would only take care of her daughter, but she was wrong. She helped her with the rest of them.

Elynir measured one and half of another finger of oil left. She looked to Endieve, who pointed at her feet. It was a sensible idea, Elynir thought, if they were to travel their way down the tree soon. She went by order of tallest to smallest this time, having one woman sitting on the altar at a time, with their shoes off because the cold was growing something terrible now that the magic was fading. Endieve helped her again. That one, Elynir thought, was at least industrious.

Finishing again, Ludyrr went to tip the pitcher over, seeing only a handful of oil left. She came to hand the pitcher to Elynir, then motioned that she should rub the last of the oil on her. Ludyrr tapped at her shoulders, where she wanted the oil to go.

Elynir nodded and waited for the taller woman to remove her gambeson and shirt. Ludyrr took her gambeson off, then went to lean over an altar and pulled her trousers down to show her butt-end. She wiggled her butt with her hand as if telling Elynir to get on with it.

Of course, Elynir’s face reddened. She had a good mind to strike Ludyrr when the other women started laughing at her. It was a great joke, apparently.

Ludyrr held her trousers and straightened up, glancing toward the doorway.

Rorigg stood there, no longer entering as she had before. “Everything we can give, you have already. There is nothing else. You will leave in the morning. May the wind take you far.”

No food, thought Elynir, and no water. Had matters become so desperate as that? Were their bodies ready for that sort of exertion?

She looked at the others. They were as stunned as she. Afiruk, the small one, started to cry, huddling closer to Endieve when the young mother set her arm around her small shoulders.

Because of the cold, they slept in the clothing room. Most of them curled up with another: the mother and daughter, Ibagghi and Afiruk. Only Elynir and Ludyrr slept alone, with much of the extra clothes set in front of the doorway.

Elynir woke when Ludyrr shook her arm. She was warm many thanks to the blankets, and also had wrapped a thick shirt around her head, seeing and breathing through its neck-hole, but already she could observe her breaths coming out as white steam. Ludyrr grunted for her to get up, and she did.

They had slept in their undergarments, dressing quickly as the cold did all it could to sink its teeth into their bodies. Soon, their second layers were on, shirts and trousers, and finally their caps, gambesons and shoes. They were still cold, but the movement of their travel would serve to mend that.

Elynir went to wake the others. While she did this, Ludyrr started sorting through the clothing again. She didn’t understand at first why the tall woman was choosing the best of the garments, knowing they wouldn’t fit her. It came to her slowly that she was going to use them for trade, if they met anyone on the road down. Ludyrr bundled the items together with cloaks, one for each of them.

It was a good idea, so good that Elynir decided she should take extra weapons. The six Sleepers would have bundles at their backs and whatever arms they could carry in their hands. She wondered how much they would have to give up for food and water. It would take them a week, at least, to reach the bottom of the giant tree.

A tree no longer, she corrected herself, only a giant, rotting stump forgotten by god.


The mother Endieve and daughter Dinieve.


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