Telenstil coughed. He'd wrapped a wet cloth around his nose and mouth to help keep out the smoke, but the wind had turned and the thick clouds blew south across the packs lying on the roof. The last pack he had to drag, what was light to Harald was heavy to any normal man or elf. The map still floated near the chimney top. The rain beat down, Telenstil was loathe to bring the map out from its safe, dry, place beneath the covering stone, but it would not float forever. He could cast another spell, but to use so many within such a short space of time, it bothered him. He left it where it was and used his ring; the last such use till another day at least had passed, and dropped down slow to the chimney hearth.
"Telenstil!" Talberth called. He rushed over to greet the elven mage.
"Is all well, everyone ready?" asked Telenstil. "We should depart in haste."
"Harold is wounded, but Gytha healed the worst of it," reported Talberth.
"I'm fine," the halfling said. "Telenstil, there is treasure below, maybe more of what you search for..."
"You've seen such?" the mage asked with a trace of suspicion and looked the halfling in the eye.
"Well... no, but I have seen the glint of gold, and a trap beyond what these giants are likely to have set. Put both together and it spells some other hand than Nosnra's. Protecting what, I ask?" Harold said, he spoke quickly and with an excited rising voice. "That wall of yours will hold," he nodded toward the sealed door, "give me another chance... and a little help to slay the manticores..."
"Manticores!" Telenstil almost laughed but the thief was serious and the elf respected his skill.
"Just a few, and iron bars, heavy but nothing more," Harold explained. "There is something there that we should find."
"No. We will return. This map, it is too important to be lost," Telenstil said loud enough for all to hear. "I have bad news. The wards that I have set are gone. The giants must have found the cave."
"What!" came a shout, the mercenary scouts both exclaimed as one.
"My horse!" Gytha cried. The ranger shook his head and Ivo frowned. Henri stepped back and cleared his head. He took a moment to commune with his jealous god.
"I set a ward as well," said Talberth, "and a trap among my things."
"They are all gone off, I do not doubt," Telenstil shook his head. "Another reason for us to leave as quick as we can."
"No, no, " Harold spoke up. "We should stay and find this treasure. We can hide. Will they search for us here, or think we have fled once more? Telenstil, you have means to return this map, some spell, I have seen such in Greyhawk that the city wizards use. Tell me you do?"
The elf stood silent for a moment. "Yes, but it is not a spell that I have mastered. I can send the map back, and one or two of us if any would like to go, but it will cost us our means of talking to our leaders, and an item of great power that I have been only loaned."
"Come, come," the halfling cajoled, "isn't the map worth the sacrifice?"
"What say you all?" asked Telenstil. "Shall we stay? Do any wish to go? Harold's points are true. This map is what I came to find, what those who sent us hoped to see. Our supplies are gone. Our work will only grow more difficult from here," he paused and no one spoke. "I think we need to send the map back, our job here is not quite done, and I see no other way to keep it safe. But tell me what you think."
* * *
The wolves all howled. Nosnra walked slowly back to the steading with Engenulf's lifeless body in his arms. Behind him the subdued warriors made no sound. They did not rush, but marched home in silent respect. The quickest two of Nosnra's clan had been sent out, running at a steady pace for Karnash's land, Nosnra's cousin who had a hall further up into the hills. Nosnra's mind was blank, he felt as if the ground beneath his feet had dropped away and now he walked upon a cloud. The land had changed as well, these fields which he had run and played upon in his youth, Engenulf always at his side, this land no longer felt the same.
* * *
"I say send the map away," Ivo spoke up first. "I will stay. These giants are the enemies of my kind. I will collect a debt that's owed before I leave."
"Yes, that's the spirit," Harold clapped the gnome upon his back. Ivo rolled his eyes.
"Stay," the ranger said. "I came to fight these giants, not run away."
"If the map is delivered safe my duke will be pleased, but I will not abandon those who are my companions," Gytha looked at all those gathered round. "I will stay if any others stay. Send the map back safe, most certainly, but let us do as master Ivo says. I would deal with them as they have dealt with mine."
"Talberth, what of you?" asked Telenstil.
The tall wizard remained silent, he stared at his shoes and only after a moment's thought did he look up. "Stay, yes stay. But I did not think they could find the cave. I do not know how simple hiding here will be."
"Edouard, Derue, what do you wish to do." Telenstil turned to the silent pair.
"We go or stay as our employer commands," said Edouard. "Good Master Henri, we have sworn to serve."
"Where is Henri?" asked Harold looking around.
"I am here," spoke up Henri in a strident tone. He stepped from the doorway of the smaller room which contained the stairs. "These giants have done as you have said," He spoke to Telenstil, ignoring all the rest who stood nearby. "They have desecrated that place which I had blessed in the True God's name. The map does not interest me, but my superior so commands that any information found should be returned quickly and safe. These giants are beyond the True God's grace. I will smite them down," he nearly yelled, his voice shook with anger and contempt. "They are not fit to walk the Oerth; I will cast them into the outer dark."
Harold would have cheered, he was happy to have the whole group stay but the haughty cleric's angry words did not encourage mirth or glad replies.
"Then let us fetch the map and be on our way," said Talberth. "That iron wall keeps out the smoke and flames but it will bring the giants down upon this room."
"Talberth, can you ascend and collect the packs, I will bring the map down and send it to my queen," Telenstil did not wait for a reply but went to the chimney and lowered the rolled map down. It drifted slowly as a feather for most of the flue's length then twenty feet above the ground the magic faded fast, the bundle dropped and sent out a dark choking cloud of soot.