"Harold, can't I leave you on your own for a minute?" the ranger said quietly, standing over the small sleeping thief.
"He will be fine," Gytha put her hand on the ranger's arm then leaned her head against his shoulder.
"He fell?" asked Harald.
"He has gained an apprentice it seems, the little orc. The orc fell and both tumbled from the rocks up there," Gytha pointed to the sheer wall of stone that rose up above their heads.
"Where is this orc?" Harald asked in a slow and dangerous voice.
"Now Harald, the little fellow meant no harm," Gytha said and held tightly to the ranger's arm. "He has become quite attached to our halfling friend. I talked with him, he feels very bad. He told me that Harold saved his life up there."
"I do not trust orcs," said Harald. "Even little ones."
* * *
Midday, the sun was bright overhead and the company found themselves still camped atop the hill. With the aid of the ranger's skills and the gnome's illusions they were safely hidden from all but arcane sight. The orcs slept, they hid their eyes from the sunlight laying themselves face-down on the stones and hard-packed oerth. The others were awake and all but the scout Derue were gathered about the body of Jalal.
"Will this work?" asked Gytha.
"Talberth and I have studied this spell, it will work," Telenstil replied.
"Ghibelline, it will provide a safe resting place for his body," she said to the elf.
"I wish I knew the customs of his kind," said Ghibelline sadly.
"His body will be safe, hidden and encased in stone," Telenstil said calmly.
"Will he rest, or will his spirit be trapped here as well?" asked Ghibelline.
"I think he will rest," said Gytha. "We all wish him peace."
"He died free," Harald said. "He escaped from that hole of Nosnra's. I think he will rest. It is a beautiful place this land, even the nearness of the giants cannot take that away."
"They are a blight," muttered the little thief, "they should be wiped out."
"Harold, I am glad to hear you speak," said Telenstil.
The halfling had been quiet and withdrawn since he had awakened. He had overjoyed his companions when his eyes first opened, but his words were dark and he had not smiled, a great change for the small thief.
"Be assured we are not finished with the giants yet."
"And they are not finished with us," said Ivo.
"Yes. We need to speak of this, but now let us put Jalal to rest," said Telenstil.
"I will carry him," the ranger said.
"No," Ghibelline spoke up. "No, I will."
"Let us help you," said Gytha. "The ground is rough, we will lend a hand."
Ghibelline and Gytha held the dead man's shoulders, while Harald lifted his legs. They carried him across the hilltop to a place near its center where a large patch of stone lay bare of oerth worn smooth by the wind and the passing years. Carefully they placed him near the stone. Ghibelline removed the cloak which he had taken from the steading and wrapped it around Jalal then Harald tied ropes around the legs and chest of the shrouded form. They stepped away, all bowed their heads and said silent prayers or words of farewell, then Talberth and Telenstil motioned for the others to step back.
"Sax-Am Va-Ere K-Am," Talberth intoned. He threw a thimble made of raw wet clay that held a clear drop of water, it struck and seemed to melt then the stone rippled like a pool of water in the rain. Ghibelline reached out and clasped Gytha's hand in his own.
With the clay that Talberth had used to form his thimble, Telenstil fashioned a miniature bucket and a tiny spade. He held these in his hand and spoke a single word. "Fo-Dere!" he commanded and the mud became a pit, the edges piled high with the wet oerth, thrown out evenly by the magic spell.
"Quickly now!" Talberth called out.
Gytha and Ghibelline lifted the rope tied about Jalal's chest while Harald and Talberth raised the body by the rope around the legs. They stumbled across the slick oerth and half carried, half dragged Jalal over to the muddy pit. Ghibelline swore beneath his breath at his awkwardness, while Gytha mouthed a prayer. The walls of the pit caved in and fell upon Jalal, the sudden weight pulled the rope from their hands almost dragging Talberth down beside the body of the dead man. Ghibelline stood ankle deep in mud. He looked down at the mire of Jalal's grave and said goodbye.
"Farewell my friend, rest now. I will find your kin one day and repay the debt I owe you, my freedom and my life," the elf knelt down in the mire and with his hands began to push the piled mud back down into the pit.
Gytha knelt as well, then Harald, then the other Harold, no longer grim but with eyes as wet as the muddy oerth.
"Come, it is only the fair oerth, no shame to have on your hands or your clothes," Ivo said to his fellow mages. The old gnome joined the others then both Talberth and Telenstil sank down on their knees and helped. A small figure looked on, and quietly crept beside the thief. Little Rat had no qualms about sinking his hands into the mud. They were a filthy mess when they backed away. Telenstil made sure that no one would be affected by his spell, then spoke the words and threw a piece of stone and a handful of water on the mud.
"K-Am Va-Ere Sax-Am," he said, and the mud froze to stone again.