"You two, follow me," Gytha commanded the orcs. She started toward the door, but neither followed. "What are you waiting for?"
"They've looked at the gnome's charm," said Ghibelline. The elf walked slowly, half carrying Jalal, he'd drafted the aid of a small orc to help.
"Great," Gytha shook her head. "Harald don't go just yet."
The ranger was happily letting down the heavy chain. As the last links fell from his shoulder he stretched out his arms and groaned. "Gytha, it is best if I check the gate alone," said Harald. "Too many of us might alert the giants."
"Don't take any risks," Gytha called to him.
"Just being here is risk enough, do not worry," Harald said to Gytha. He peered around the corner of the door then slipped outside.
"Ghibelline, help me with these orcs," said Gytha.
"You hold up my friend here, understand?" Ghibelline asked the small orc.
The orc runt called Little Rat gave the elf a nod and braced its arm around Jalal's waist, holding up the frail old man alone.
* * *
Outside, the giants had dug great pits and trenches across the yard near the burning walls. Already the blackened embers that had been the chief's private hall were cooling beneath the dirt and the drizzling rain. The fire had not yet died. Its red tongue had licked the beams of the great hall and still danced along the inside of the roof. A huge timber that spanned the ceiling had fallen, smashing tables and benches beneath it, and leaving a long splintered swath of smaller beams above. The hall roof began to sag, but the supporting columns, mighty tree trunks still round but shaven of their bark, kept it from falling while any of the beams still held. The walls had fallen, from the hidden stairs beside Nosnra's private eating hall where the company had first descended, to the chieftainess' chamber at the far end of the trophy hall, the furthest eastern edge of the steading.
Estrith, the chieftainess, had her maids and the orcish slaves struggle the hardest to save her rooms, but to no avail. They put out the fire but Estrith's chamber was lost, three walls and the roof collapsed. The trophy hall was gone, the western passage burnt away and the doors leading to the childrens' room and the maids' chamber blocked by falling half-burnt beams.
To the north, among the ruins of the chief's private chamber, the giants were just stumbling across the huge iron wall, created by magic and left fallen across the floor when the walls came down. The giants still fought the blaze using shovel-loads of dirt, long spears and axes to push and chop the fiery wood away from the unburnt walls and roof. None of the giants, the ogres or their orc slaves noticed the lone human who opened the northern gate then ran back inside through the servants' door.
* * *
"Come quick!" Harald yelled to them. "The way is clear. The gate is open, come." He glanced into the room and caught a glimpse of the whirling pattern that Ivo weaved. Harald turned away but had to shake his head and rub at his eyes to clear them of the mesmerizing gleam.
"You can cease your weaving, my friend," Telenstil called out to Ivo.
The mage had bound the ogres with the assistance of the thief, tying their hands and ankles tight with stout cord and gagging them with rags. The group gathered at the door and waited for the word to make their escape from the steading. Talberth, Gytha and Ghibelline shook the orcs free from the grip of Ivo's spell and then helped get them across the floor keeping their eyes from the tantalizing glow.
Ivo let his arm slow to a stop, the magic died, and he put the crystal back safely in his vest. His arm ached, to keep the ogres mesmerized he could not stop or even slow the twisting pattern that had formed the shimmering hypnotic web. While he had been busy weaving his spell he had not felt the strain, but now it came rushing along his arm, it made him gasp.
Suddenly the ogres came alive, they pulled against their bonds, two had been standing, now they fell, trying to free their feet they'd lost their balance. One smashed down face first and lay senseless, not dead, but he would wake with a bruise and a lump the size of a fist atop his head. The other landed with a painful crash, wrenched his shoulder, but still rolled back and forth. The cord was stronger than the thick muscles along the ogre's arms and back, they cut into its hoary flesh, digging bloody grooves deep through its skin.
Harold brought his dagger up and then slammed it down, reversing it in mid-air so that the pommel cracked against the ogre's skull. The monster slumped, its writhing ceased, eyes rolled up to show the yellowish whites, it lay stunned like its companion. The third ogre, the more thoughtful of the three, dropped back and shut its eyes as well, feigning death or sleep. It did not struggle against its bonds as the others had once it saw their fate. The little thief shrugged, he'd have cut their throats and have done with them if he'd had his way. Across from him, Ivo secured his pack and ran over to where Harold stood.
"All ready?" he asked.
"I'm done here," Harold answered him. "Let's go."
"Yes," said Telenstil. "Let us be far from this place and quickly."
* * *
Dark shapes ran out into the night. They left the steading behind and followed the foot trail north, but had nowhere to go. The ranger pushed the gate closed behind them, muttering under his breath at the weighty chain he carried on his shoulders.
"Cursed wizards' toy," he said.
They crossed the hill. There was no cover except for the wild weeds and grass that grew chest high where they had not been beaten down by the passage of the giants. To the south were the lowlands and the way they had come. All around them the mountains towered above the hills; the land became all wild valleys and steep slopes, filled with monsters, home to the giant clans which owed their allegiance to Nosnra, the hill giant chief.