Ingigerd was taking too long to die.
Estrith looked down upon the ancient crone and wished she could take the bony old throat between her hands and be done with her here and now. They had moved the dying giantess into a barrack's room while the giants fought the blaze that consumed Nosnra's trophy hall. The chieftaness had ordered the slave pens emptied below and now crowds of half-starved orcs ran about and filled buckets with sodden oerth. All the steading's inhabitants now battled against the fire. They threw buckets and spadefulls of mud onto the blaze. As it spread Estrith had warriors take axe to walls and create a break, keeping the wood from becoming more fuel for the smoking flames. The steading groaned, there was a booming crash that rang throughout the hall. Estrith ran from the room to see what had occurred. Some part of the roof must have collapsed, she thought. It was time to begin removing things from the hall to a safe distance beyond the walls.
"Alditha!" Estrith called to a young maid.
"Yes," the young giantess replied meekly.
"Come with me," the chieftaness commanded.
"But I am to..." began Alditha.
"You are to come with me," Estrith said with finality.
"Yes," Alditha acquiesced.
They made their way down the smokey corridor and stopped before the door leading to the childrens' creche. Inside they could hear the sounds of playful games, shouts and laughter muffled by the thick wood. Estrith opened the door and the wave of noise washed over them like a flood. She had to shout at Gundrada, the matron of the nursery, to be heard over the rollicking group of giant young.
"Gundrada! GUNDRADA!" Estrith roared.
The children were cowed by the loud angry shout.
"Estrith, what is wrong?" Gundrada came dashing over, a look of concern tinged with fear on her face.
"It is time to move the children to a safer place. I will have someone sent to help you, but prepare them. We may have to leave the steading," Estrith told her.
"Leave!" Gundrada could not believe her ears.
"Yes. Do I need to tell you twice? Prepare the children," the chieftanness turned her back and strode from the room her duty completed.
* * *
"I'd rather not go back in there," Harold said and rubbed at his arm.
"The manticores are dead," Gytha told him. "Do not worry."
"What do you need me in there for then?" the little thief stood in the corridor and peered round the door into the cavernous room.
"The other gate is shut. We need you to find a way to open it," Gytha put her hand on Harold's arm, he flinched.
"Still hurts?" she asked.
"No." Harold put his left hand against his right upper arm where the manticores spikes had pierced. "No it feels fine now, but it's like the spikes are still there, sometimes, when I don't think about it."
"Hmmm... your wounds should be healed," Gytha looked at him. "But I see that you are serious about this pain. Harold, the Saint has healed your wounds out here," she gave his arm a pat. "You do not have the faith so the pain remains in here," she tapped his chest over his heart. "I suspect that when the time has passed that would have seen nature heal your wounds then the pain you feel will pass as well."
"Oh wonderful, you fill me with hope and joy when you tell me things like that," Harold complained.
"Harold," the ranger called. He came from the room beyond the destroyed bars and looked down at the halfing. "Come on, Telenstil has cleaned out those beasts good and proper. We need a way into their pen if we're going to escape from this dungeon."
"Stop pestering, the both of you," Harold glanced from the ranger to Gytha. "Let's see this gate that needs lifting."
Inside the room Ivo and Telenstil were in deep conversation pacing across the floor. The two scouts stood near to the southern gate and Edouard used his newly gained spear to prod the black charred bodies of the manticores through the bars which blocked off the two rooms. Henri sat crosslegged in a far corner of the room, his face to the wall, meditating, or simply ignoring all the others.
"Telenstil!" called Harold. The halfing ran over to the mage.
"Harold, good, we need your skill," said Telenstil. "Let us see what we can do with this gate."
"Raise it hopefully," mused Ivo.
They walked over to the southern wall and had the scouts stand back.
"Ye gods this place stinks," said Harold.
Ivo sniffed the air. "It is more than just burnt flesh. What was this? The giants' midden pit?"
"Perhaps," said Telenstil. "Look toward the center of the room."
They peered through the metal bars. "That is definitely a midden heap. The manticores have smeared it across their floor."
"I've never heard that they were over clean," said Ivo, "but this is a sorry state for any beast."
"Come then," said Harold. "I want to make this quick. Telenstil do you have some magic to take away this awful smell?"
"Here," said Ivo, "take this." He handed the thief a brightly colored handkerchief.
"Is it magic?" Harold held it carefully.
"No but I kept some herbs in it. Tie it around your nose and it will distract you from the other smells."
Harold took a cautious sniff and sneezed. "I don't know which is worse," then he caught the scent of the rotting garbage on the floor, "you're right, that room is worse." He tied the cloth around his face.