Ingigerd's hand was big; it wrapped around Harald's neck and head, her little finger dug into his throat, but her thumb was high across the top of the ranger's skull. She squeezed, Harald pulled at her fingers and, blinded by her grasp, chopped without aim at her wrist with the edge of his sword. A pressure built behind his eyes. He could feel his sword jar against her bones but her grip did not slacken, if anything it increased. Her desperation was great. As she felt her life flow from her wounded side and arm her last wish was to take this human with her to the grave.
* * *
The lightning arced through the hall once more. The giants writhed and their beards and hair burned, their skin charred and finally they fell to the floor, twisted, blackened and contorted with pain. Dead they still shook, muscles drawing in, they curled into a ball as sleeping children would beneath the covers of a bed.
"Die... will you just die," Talberth muttered and put his wand back up his sleeve.
* * *
Ivo heard the yells of pain and angry shouts behind him. The young wizard seemed to have things well in hand down the hall. He gave the giants facing Talberth's lighting no second thought, but turned about and faced what trouble had caught them unaware. He saw an ancient giantess fall back against the wall, a younger maid moved like it was she who was old, slow and with great care. The elven mage shouted something that Ivo could not hear and a dull green ray shot out from his upraised palm and struck the slow moving maid, she seemed to sag and Ivo could see a look of dismay come to her eyes. As he watched, the old giantess, lying in a heap against the wall, suddenly came to life and snatched the ranger by the head, he gave a muffled shout, but the crone had silenced him with her wrinkled, massive hand.
Both elven mage and gnomish wizard cast their magic toward the ancient crone. Telenstil sent out a half dozen small bolts of blue glowing light, such as Talberth had used against the stag. They struck the giantess in a ring of burning blue across her chest and face, but Ivo's spell blotted her from sight. The gnome formed a globe of utter dark whose outer edge swallowed the giantess, leaving just her out-stretched arm in view. Her murderous grip was loosed and Harald fell back, his face beet-red and streaked with bruises bound to take on a darker hue.
"You lying hag!" Harald yelled and swung his sword to cut Ingigerd's hand from her ancient arm. She snatched it back as quick as she had lashed it out, and Harald's blade cut nothing but the empty air.
* * *
"Shut that door! I can spell it closed!" Talberth yelled.
Edouard picked himself up from where the giant's blow had landed him. He ran to close the northern doors. The blackened bodies of the giants lay astride the gateway.
"These cursed giants are in the way!" Edouard yelled back.
"Alright," Talberth shouted, "I see." He came running up and stood before the open doors.
Outside, the yard was wet with a light rain sweeping down, somewhere a giant howled out, mad with fear, but great shapes moved beyond the edge of a huge log fire. "They'll be coming soon enough," he said aloud. "Let them cross through this," he took a square of silver foil from his belt and pulled it apart, a yellow lump lay within. "Fo-Tia-Tikos," he intoned and threw the sulfur toward the door. It exploded into a thick sheet of fire that filled the open portal from frame to frame.
* * *
"Do not kill her!" Telenstil called to the angry ranger.
Harald stood near to the young giantess; she had dropped her brush and backed toward the now darkened corridor.
"I wasn't going to kill her," Harald yelled back. "But watch these," he waved his sword at Ingigerd and the giantish maids, "That old hag nearly tore off my head."
"Come, come," said Ivo, "we must away. This is no place to fight."
They stood at an intersection, a hub for several passages; toward the west the Great Hall, to the south both the corridor that the giantess had come from and the chief's trophy hall, and to the north the outer door into the yard that now was blocked with a wall of flame. There was another northern way, Telenstil's map, once twisted round, showed it as the chief's private room, a meeting hall, and his desire to examine it was even greater than his desire for escape.