Chapter II - Nine Against The Giants
The cave was cold, no matter what that pious, pompous, Pholtite said to the contrary. Harold Goodwine shivered though he was wrapped in a thick-furred blanket of a cape. The halfling was not used to these damp and freezing climes. He had been born in Geoff but raised in the hub of the Oerth, the gem of the Flanaess, greatest of cities, Greyhawk. Eating a hot meal in a warm house was what he should be doing and where he would rather be on such a day as this.
"Watch that cape, and your feet. You'll have them in the fire next!" A deep bass voice called. Harald Hardhand towered over most men but he was a true giant in the eyes of the other Harold.
The two were as different as they were fast friends. The halfling, painfully thin, by his standards, small even according to his people, no warrior but a sneak thief, an unrecognized master of his craft. He dressed in the most appallingly garish colors, and, besides a desire for wealth, had an overwhelming fondness for jewels and gems of all sorts.
Harald was broad, almost of dwarven build around shoulders and chest but on two tree-trunk legs. He was a head taller than the wizard Talberth, a skinny youth, at least as viewed from the distance that thirty or so years had put between them, but the young mage was tall and thin as a sapling. Harald's hair, what was left of it, was brown with thin lines of silver-grey running through. He had it pulled back in a long tail and tied it with leather cord. His whiskers and drooping mustache were streaked with age among the reddish-brown. A long white patch went through his beard. It followed the course of a scar that ran from edge of jaw to top of hairless pate. His other scars, a crisscross of old wounds, did not show. He wore a dark brown-green pair of trews, a brick-red stripe edging the tartan blocks. A wondrous silver-metal shirt of chain, enchanted with a smith-wizard's spell, he hid beneath a much patched tunic, a grey-green cloak thrown over both.
"At least I'd be warm for a change," the halfling grumbled back, but pulled his feet and cloak away from the smokeless yellow flame.
Across the fire sat another unlikely pair. An ancient gnome, his long broad nose projecting from a face hidden in a thousand wrinkled lines of flesh. Bushy brows over deep set eyes, a wave of long white hair sprouting from beneath a metal cap; Ivo of Pondsend, a magician of great power. He talked in earnest with a red-haired warrior-maid, a cleric of staunch faith who wielded a stout length of wood, her patron's choice and talisman. Gytha Fireheart, St. Cuthbert's loyal shepherdess. Beyond them the holy priest of Pholtus, Henri, blinded by his God's shining light but gifted with a blank-faced sun-rayed mask that let him see among the realms of men. He sat still and silent, communing with his deity. To his side, near the far wall, a stable had been improvised; a line of horses, a small pony, and some hearty mules exhaled steaming plumes of frigid air and huddled in the cold. Two wizards, cloaked and robed in black with silver edge, both appearing young, the one from lack of years upon the Oerth, the other a high-elven face that looked both youthful and ageless, no mark of passing time but a sense of sorrow that time can bring even to a carefree heart. Talberth, young but of some renown, a human mage, he rested a long-fingered hand upon a shivering horse's flank. With a small spell, a cantrip of no note, he sent a pulse of warmth from his palm and soothed the wordless plea for heat. Telenstil, a high-elven wizard, pale-haired and fair, he stood at Talberth's side, his head reaching only to the shoulder of the young mage, they talked of the past night's work.
"That was Nosnra, I am sure. We could have killed him there, Edouard should not have fled," Talberth complained.
"I disagree, my friend," the elf began. "Nosnra it might well have been, but he is no easy one to kill. I have met him before and I will meet him again, but with all that I have learned, what deadly spells and charms that I have here, I would not face him alone, not by choice. Our brave scout would have been slain to no effect, had he summoned our help, so the giant chief would have summoned his, and it is no pitched battle that we have come to fight."
"You are my master and I but your apprentice," Talberth humbly bowed.
"Come now, no need for false humility. I taught you well, but that was some years ago, you are your own master, and though I lead this expedition you are a colleague and partner, an equal among our group," Telenstil waved a graceful arm to sweep across the room.
Talberth could not help but glance, he saw them all, the two Harry's, Henri, Ivo, fair Gytha, his heart gave a trembled beat, and the albino twins, their scouts, Edouard and Derues. An angry thought stirred within him at the sight, he had a strong dislike for the white-skinned, pink-eyed pair.
"We are nine against a giant brood," Telenstil continued. "We must stay together to face their strength. It will take our united skills to accomplish what we must."
"I would see them dead, but I know as well as you that we seek a cause for their newly well-thought-out attacks, their gathered strength and cautious raids. These are not the giants that I was taught of in school."
"We are far from the Grey College's halls," Telenstil said smiling. "There is much that a book or scroll will say that is no more than the guesswork of some nameless sage. Here we will see what is not and what is said to be. Prepare yourself, and because I have seen these things before, please watch where I may lead."
"I will, have no doubt," said Talberth, "but what have we learned that was not known before? They bleed, a torrent in fact, a sharp blade can end their life as easy as any man's."
"An unlucky stone thrown by a passing cart can end the life of most men," Telenstil replied, "Those two last night, they died beneath a magic blade, drunk and spelled to sleep, a prayer of silence surrounding all that transpired. Had they woken it would have been a fight worth telling of when we return to civilized lands. No, last night we had the Lady on our side. It took just minutes for the alarm to sound and the entire steading to be roused and set to search."
"We saw only the entranceway, their tower and a few feet of that monstrous hall. I do not feel the Lady looked at us in kindness," Talberth shook his head.
Telenstil laughed, light and mild, a cheery pleasant sound, "Oh youth, you expect too much. We came, we went, and no one died; no injuries, not even a pursuit of any kind. That is kind fate indeed. I will not argue that we could have discovered much more, but what we saw, it proves our information right. The map that we have, it tallies with what we have seen. And of much more import, we worked well together. Look at us," he waved his hand again. "A Cuthberite sits near a praying Pholtus priest, a city bred halfling thief, a hero of renown, a pair of mercenary scouts, a gnomish master of deceiving spells, you and I, what an unlikely gathering."
"Working for an alliance of kings," Talberth said with a doubtful tone, "we are a mismatched group as you say. I for a duke, you for your queen, though her interest here seems far astray from her own lands."
"We elves have eyes that see quite far," came Telenstil's good-natured reply. "Or didn't they teach you that in school?"