The nights were always long for Ingigerd. She had a thousand pains that during the day she paid no mind, but when she tried to rest each stabbed at her with knives and teeth, they bit and jabbed within. Still she would lie quiet in her room, four giant maids at her beck and call, and close her eyes. And if she did not sleep, she dreamed of times when she was young, long ages past.
A young warrior, who never survived his betrothal quest, was pictured in her head. But she let him go and sat up and wiped away what might have been a tear. A far off noise came warbling to her ears. It rattled down the hall and even woke her lazy girls from their deep, snoring sleep. Shouts and screams, those heads that the old chief's boy had set upon the walls, the ugly things or though they seemed to her.
"Get up!" she ordered the four sleeping giant girls. "Alditha, go to the tower and have them sound the warning alarm. The rest of you, grab something and follow me."
"Grab something?" quavered Alditha, the youngest of the maids.
Ingigerd gave her a withering glance, "Not you, Alditha," she said. "You will go to the tower and tell them 'Ingigerd says raise the alarm,' those words exactly. Now go and waste no more time." She watched as the young giant maid ran out the door, barefoot and in her shift, and sped away down the darkened hall.
* * *
"It's dead, thank the creator," said Telenstil with relief. "This will not have gone unnoticed." He called to the others, "Quickly, down the northern corridor. Ivo can mask us once we are in Nosnra's private room."
The trophy hall showed the scars of the battle with the stag, but the giants' chairs and tables had passed through unscathed. The eastern wall could not say the same. Fire from the burning skulls had blackened great stretches, rising up and painting the roof with smoke, but the thick timbers had not caught the blaze.
Edouard and Derue led the way.
Harold ran to his friend's side and yelled at the old ranger. "What were you thinking?"
The ranger bowed his head, abashed, but he held tight to his ancient sword and a glow shown deep within his eye.
Gytha helped the injured Henri to his feet. He breathed in short gasps, winded by his fall then saw who held his arm. He pulled away and wiped his hands together and grimaced in disgust. Gytha rolled her eyes and laughed at the priest's discomfort. Life was too short to let such rudeness touch her heart.
A cold wet wind blew down the hall. Edouard froze in mid-step as a trio of giants came walking in. "Llerg, give me strength," he said then launched himself forward. Derue held a short thrusting spear, but he took a running start and threw it.
The giant Breme, swept up a blocking hand as the spear flashed toward him. The spear struck and pierced through muscle and scraped on bone.
Talberth, with a slight of hand that he had learned early in his youth, flung out his arm and flicked his wrist, and a wand was in his hand. "Out of the way!" he yelled at the pale-haired scouts. Overlooked but near to the door, master Ivo caught the eye of a towering giant with the quick waving of his hand. His voice was low and the mystic words he spoke reached far inside the inner reaches of the giant's soul. A misty beast solidified before it, some twisted nightmare out of its deepest fears. Ivo grimaced at the sight; jaws which reached almost to the floor, the melding of what was real and what were only half-formed noisome thoughts. The giant's pupils flashed open wide and its own massive jaw hung loose as it tried to scream but merely let out a squeaking sound. The giant turned and ran, but the lurching phantasm sprang after, appearing solid to Ivo, it passed like the ghostly stag through scouts and giants both.
"Out of the way!" Edouard heard the wizard's shout, but brought his sword against a giant's thigh. Breme felt the stinging blow and the warm flow of blood that trickled down. He lashed out and struck the scout brushing the man against the western wall. Telenstil stepped forward and spoke the word, "Az-Trapa," and a lightning bolt streaked out. A glowing nimbus lit Derue, he barely jumped aside, the bolt struck both giants and chased along the heels of the one which ran away.
Breme roared, his hair and beard stood on end then erupted into flame with a dark, black smoke. He coughed and a cloud of puffed out, his face was black with soot.
* * *
Harald ran past Telenstil and tried to join the fight, though Talberth seemed to have things well in hand. The mage used the power stored in his wand to cast another bolt of lightning down the corridor. His companions turned their heads away from the cyan flash, and Derue crawled across the floor, singed by the first electric burst.
Two of the giants were caught within the door. Smoke rose from their clothes and one had his beard aflame after the second bolt struck. A creak of rusty hinges brought Harald around as a passageway door swung open and an ancient giantish matron ran out. She bore a stout length of wood, a walking stick perhaps, but it could have been the crossbar that shut fast the doors of a manorhouse.
"Telenstil!" Harald gave a shout, trying to warn the mage who had not heard or paid heed to the creaking sound. The matron, Ingigerd did not hesitate; she struck the elven mage across the back and head. Telenstil flew off his feet, so powerful was the blow, and crashed against a giant chair within the chief's trophy room.
"Put down that stick!" Harald warned the giantess, he came here to fight the warriors of the tribe not their granddams. She laughed at him, and called back for her maids to attack as well. Harald could see a group of several giant maidens who had not left the safety of the passageway. Ingigerd swung her club and nearly brained the ranger, but he ducked and rolled beneath her swing. He brought his sword around, the blade bit deep and cut clean through her unprotected side. She gasped in pain, but swung again, heedless of the blood which flowed like a red river and poured across the floor. The maids shrieked and one dropped a metal pan and turned away, but another, braver than the rest, who held some fraction of Ingigerd's spirit within, stepped from the safety of the hall. She caught Harald across the shoulder; her weapon a long metal brush, it felt like a shovel flat and the giantess swung it like a mace. Harald's swing went wide, he cut the crone but with a shallow glancing blow.
Telenstil had risen while this fight went on. He saw the giantess strike at Harald, and now the ranger had two huge foes to face. Time was on his mind, each passing moment brought the giants closer and chances of escape further away. With that thought he cast a spell. "He-Das!" he cried and threw a piece of brown confection at the young giantess and the open door. The candy spread out and as it did it thinned into a mist. The brown drops spattered on the giantess with the metal brush and another who, undecided to fight or flee, stood just outside the open door. The brush she swung moved as if through thick brown mud, her head turned slow, the spell had worked and mired her in time.
Harald called again for the ancient one to cease her fight, but she just laughed and made a jab with the wooden club. "Old one, you have the spirit of a warrior," Harald called to her, and brought his ancient claidheamohmor down with a swing that started far back behind his shoulders. The blade was very long, its tip cut high into her shoulder and down across her upper arm, her wrinkled flesh and wiry muscles opened beneath the razor edge of the blade. Ingigerd gave a groan, her club fell from her hands, and she fell back against the wall. She left a bloody trail as she sank down and called to Harald in a weak and gentle voice.
"I die," she said and beckoned him to come, "You remind me of my son when he was but a little boy, come let me see your eyes."
"I did not wish this," Harald replied, and took a step to the old giantess. She smiled up at him and bared her teeth. Her left hand shot out and grabbed him by the throat.
"I wish this," she spat at him and squeezed.