Harold walked over to the wall and began to search for handholds to pull himself up.
"You couldn't cast a spell and help me to the top?" he asked the mage.
"I could Harold, but I have had no time to rest and gather my strength to cast such spells again. What strength I have left I am conserving. Do you need my help?" Telenstil asked the thief.
"No, no, I'll just hang from my toes," Harold complained.
"Really?" said Ivo. "This I want to see."
Harold grumbled but did not reply. The stones were old and damp but rough. Deep grooves separated block from block and Harold climbed these like a ladder. Quickly he ascended to the arch over the gate and found an opening above the bars. The thief secured himself with spikes which magically whirred into the space between the blocks, then took a stone enchanted to glow with light, one side painted black, from a thick pocket on his belt. The bars had come down a long narrow shaft, a metal plate ran across the top and each bar was slotted through a hole along its length. Harold saw the metal chains which were bolted tight, his small hand and arm fitted through the narrow gap between plate and wall, he reached up and touched the metal links. It took him a few minutes to take out the magic spikes and climb back down the wall. The two wizards watched him expectantly, they had been joined by Gytha and the old ranger. The two scouts had wandered off while the others waited for Harold to descend.
"It's fantastic the way he can climb those walls," said Gytha.
"I don't know. I've seen some fat little squirrels that can do the same," the ranger told her.
"What did you find Harold?" Telenstil asked.
"This gate is on a chain. It can be raised somehow, but I could not see very far up into the shaft," Harold pointed to the arch high above.
"Could it be in the other room?" asked Ivo looking toward the filthy pen where the manticore bodies lay.
"It could," said Harold. "It was impossible to tell."
"Telenstil, I will pray to the Saint for guidance," offered Gytha.
"Please do," said Telenstil. "Harald," he spoke to the ranger. "Can you go collect Talberth and that magic chain?"
"Sure, I'll go get him now," Harald replied and ran off.
Across the room the two scouts, Edouard and Derue, eyed the piled treasure that lay untouched. A coffer was overturned, its glistening contents spread out over the floor. One large gem, its facets throwing off a rainbow of light, was thrown further than the rest. Derue reached out to nudge it with his foot.
Gytha cleared her mind and removed a small pouch from her side. She took out a set of sticks, the barkless twigs of a hornwood tree, each cut a different length, and cast them on the ground. "By a heart that is true, Cuthbert grant me this boon and guide my way." The sticks struck the ground and fell into an arrows shape that pointed to a blank space on the eastern wall.
The gem rolled beneath Derue's foot, he dragged it away and reached down and picked it up. There was a flash, so brief that it was just a streak of white faded to purple in the scout's eyes. A thrumming sound began and a loud click. The sticks suddenly began to swivel and turned about, no longer pointing east but south. There was the sound of clinking chains and a hum from above the gate. The metal bars quickly rose up into their track. A manticore was dragged up with them then fell before the startled thief. Harold jumped back, the black, charred body suddenly animate, he threw his hands before his eyes and let out a scream.
* * *
"Ahhhh!!!" the halfling screamed. The southern gate rattled up into the wall, the bodies of the manticores lay beneath. One fell almost at the halfing's feet.
"Calm down, Harold," Gytha told the thief. "This manticore is dead."
Harold peered out between the fingers of his hand. "Are you sure?" he asked.
Gytha nudged it with her foot. "I'm sure," she said.
"What happened here?" Telenstil looked toward Gytha. "Did your spell somehow activate this door?"
"I don't believe so," said Gytha. "I have asked the Saint for this boon before and he merely points the way, not opens doors."
"It was that cursed treasure," said Harold. "Hey there!" he yelled to the scouts. "You touched that treasure didn't you!"
Edouard gave his brother a glare and Derue scowled at the halfing thief.
"It does not matter," Telenstil made a casual gesture with his hand as if wiping the incident away. "Gytha's Saint points to this room as our way out."
"It pointed to that wall as well," said Ivo.
"Yes," said Telenstil. "That is worth a look, but, though unappealing, this cage, it rings a bell." The elven mage pulled a map scroll from his pack. He unrolled it and examined it with care. "Yes." he said again. "Yes. I know where we are."
"Really?" Ivo was not entirely convinced. "Telenstil I think you put too much trust in that map."
"Ah yes, I know, the trophy room," the elf said whimsically. "I am sure this time. That trash on the floor, I believe we will find that its source is a passage back upstairs."
Telenstil and Ivo walked into the manticores' pen with Gytha and the reluctant thief following close behind.
"Gracious!" exclaimed Gytha. "This place smells worse than a village midden."
"It is," said Telenstil turning to the cleric, "the steading's midden."
The floor was layered with bones, rotting vegetables and dung. It smelled with a power that took the breath away and brought tears to their eyes. Harold kept Ivo's cloth in front of his mouth and nose but the others had no such protection from the stench.
"You elves are made of sterner stuff than I," the cleric gasped. "I'm going back for a torch."
"A fire would be a good idea. It will take some of this smell away," Ivo agreed.
"If I am right the smell of fire might bring unwanted attention from above," said Telenstil.
Harold laughed, muffled by the cloth he held. "The stairs are blocked by a burning room and you're worried that a torch or small fire will bring the giants' notice down here?"
"If it wasn't for this stink it would be smoke we'd be smelling right now," Ivo agreed.
"You are right," Telenstil shook his head. "The fire had slipped my mind."
Gytha came running back with a small torch, its oil-soaked head wrapped in thick burlap. She pulled the wrap away and set some twigs of lilac among the cloth, then with a spark from flint and steel she set the torch ablaze. The lilac scent fought a losing battle against the rotting stench.
"Here," the cleric said, she waved the torch back and forth through the air, but it merely gave the stench a burning scent. "Take this torch for a moment," she said to Telenstil. Gytha took some small green leaves from her pouch and crushed them in her hand. She ran the sap beneath her nose and did the same for Ivo and the elven mage. "
Oh!" said Ivo. "Mint! What a good idea."