They'd not gone far, just down the giants' hill, through the valley to the north and up a steep cliff. There was no shelter, simply an overhanging ledge of rock that kept the heavy rain off their heads, though the wind swept the mist and droplets beneath their stony roof and slowly soaked them to their skins. Their perch looked south. This hill, a young mountain, was taller than the one that the steading sat upon, but their temporary camp was well beneath the steep summit which looked down upon that hill. Out over the narrow valley a dark smoke could be seen coming from the steading. It stained the early morning sky.
"I am glad for the place to rest, but we are too close," Harold said to Telenstil.
"I know," the elf replied.
The two stood on a sharp-edged rock that jutted out from the hill. Behind them their companions huddled beneath the little shelter that the overhang provided. Most were asleep. The orcs were clustered in a group like a pack of dogs, sleeping side by side for warmth. They had brought no cloaks or blankets and were unprepared for life outside the steading or the dungeons where they had been kept. The elf Ghibelline rested with eyes closed, his friend Jalal lay next to him, the old man slept, but restlessly. Gytha and Talberth slumbered as well, they had meditated when they first made camp then weariness overcame them. Ivo was just as weary as his human friends but he could not sleep. His bones and joints ached; the hard rock and the cold rain made him feel his years. He studied a book made from thin metal plates where he had his spells inscribed; no rain could dampen the silver sheets. An enchanted stone that burned endlessly with light held in a metal sphere lit the book. When turned, the sphere twisted to reveal a hole which could be widened, letting out the light in a thin point or a wide beam. Their companion Derue, now their captive, was awake. He fought his bonds and would have yelled and screamed but they kept him gagged. The spirit which enslaved his mind still bound him tighter than the cords around his hands and feet. Above the ledge the halfling had found a small cave, once the den of some wild animal, it was warm and dry, but not big enough for any others, except the gnome. Ivo had declined. Harold's snores echoed faintly from the walls and drifted down to the others who remained awake below.
"At least someone is sleeping," said Harald. "I can keep watch, you should sleep as well."
Telenstil nodded toward their makeshift camp. "I am tired but I cannot sleep."
"Don't you need to rest, even if you do not sleep my elven friend."
"I will rest," Telenstil replied. He watched the smoke drifting in the breeze; it was still thick and black. "I think we are safe for awhile. The fire still burns. Will there be any steading left for us to search I wonder?"
"Wouldn't that be for the best?" asked Harald.
"Eventually perhaps, but there are questions that have not been answered," said Telenstil. "It is Nosnra and his warriors that are the danger, not his hall."
"Better to fight them in the open," Harald laughed. "I know, I know, there is no good place to fight giants."
"The open is better," said Telenstil. "I don't want to be trapped within the hall fighting at close quarters with a dozen giants all around, but there is more here than Nosnra, more that I was sent to find than I have found so far."
"That map, it didn't answer your questions?" Harald asked.
"It answered some, but raised even more," said Telenstil. "You know some of this, the giants of the ice and snow; they are part of this as well."
"I came across them raiding the lands of the Duchy," said Harald. "They are strange allies, they have far to come and they prefer their chilly climes."
"Yes, it is a strange alliance," Telenstil said thoughtfully. "I see signs in this of a darker force at work, one which I cannot name till I am sure."
"What mystery is this? I was told little. I do not think that even the Duke himself knows much more, but you seem to have some idea," said Harald.
"There are things which I suspect, but they are farfetched," said Telenstil, "Stories which we tell our children when they misbehave. When I know more, when I know that these suspicions are more than stories, I will tell you. For now it is Nosnra that we must fight, but I would like to search his hall."
"If any of it still stands," Harald yawned. "Now I will rest. Wake me after a few hours have passed. I will take the next watch."