The valley stream was cold, the runoff of mountain ice mixed with the almost daily fall of rain. The orcs had lain upon their stomachs and drank their fill, but the others used their canteens. They refilled them with the cool, clear water and added a few gallons worth to a huge waterskin that the ranger had taken from the giants' hall. There had been some talk at the water's edge, but the sound of something crashing through the trees nearby had silenced it.
They'd made good time, stirred on by a tang of fear, the orcs hadn't even complained. It took an hour to reach the valley's end, the trail diverged, one path heading north straight up another hill, a second heading west along a path cut through the trees and rocks across the slope. They'd passed the bodies of the giants slain by Harald and Telenstil. Ravens, black as night, sat upon the rocks and stared down at the wolves which worried at the corpses of the pair. Harald shouted, the wolves growled but slunk away when the others came along the trail. Their eyes could be seen catching the light while they hid behind the cover of rock and tree. As the last of the party moved beyond the bodies of the giant dead, the wolves came swiftly back to stuff themselves on the cooling flesh.
"Which way now?" asked Harald.
Telenstil pointed to the north, "To the mountains."
"Both ways seem traveled well enough," said Harald. "You know that those giants were headed for these trails."
"Yes, remember what we overheard them say," Telenstil reminded him, "a day's travel at least, at a giant's pace, we should be safe enough."
"You hope!" the ranger exclaimed.
"I do hope, yes I do." said Telenstil. "Every choice is a risk. If we are not attacked tonight then we will be doing well indeed."
"Are we to walk up to the nearest giant's hall and ask to spend the night," joked Harald.
"Perhaps Ivo could make them think we were giants as well," Telenstil smiled. "But I do not doubt that you will find us a place to camp."
"Maybe I should bespell some giants and let them sleep outside," said Ivo coming up to the mage and scout.
"Another night out under the stars."
"Maybe I can find you a cave," laughed Harald.
"You are fonder of the rain than I," said Ivo.
"The Oerth Mother's tears," Harald nodded. "They can make sleep difficult, but I think we can find some cover, or make it."
"Then let's be on our way," said Ivo. "I'd like to find a place to camp before full dark."
"The moons will give us some light," said Harald.
"If the clouds don't cover them," Ivo objected.
"Come then," Telenstil told them both, "to the north. Harald please see if you can find a side trail. We are between Nosnra and his allies, no use running from one to the other."
"I'll find us a place to sleep," said Harald. He jogged up the northern trail.
Telenstil turned and waved for the others to follow after. The orcs had settled themselves underneath the trees and it took another command from Talberth to get them on their feet and moving once again.
* * *
"Off the trail, off the trail!" Harald came running back down the path calling to the others in a hoarse, whispered shout.
"What is it, what is the matter?" Telenstil called back.
"Something is coming, off the trail," Harald told him in a gasp.
They had come up the northern slope, a long slow rising path, and just stepped upon the hilltop. It dropped down suddenly then just as suddenly rose up again. Below them there was a deep bowl cut from the hill, an old pond perhaps, long since dried out with trees grown thick and tall within. The trail ran down the center of the bowl and to either side the trees pressed against the bare oerth seeking to close the gap which cut the woods in two.
Harald waved them to the west. He wanted to have the setting sun at their backs. Long shadows were already being cast, but dark would come quickly. The mountains would steal the last minutes of the day and bring on an early night. They hid themselves easily among the bushes and the trees. Telenstil waited beside the trail for Harald, the pair stood looking across the bowl to its northern edge.
"Did you see what it is?" asked Telenstil.
"No, I heard the sound and felt the shaking of the ground," said Harald. "Many feet and the noise of cattle on the move."
"Maybe, this is their land, who else would be on this trail?" Harald wondered aloud.
"Giants most likely then," said Telenstil.
"Look!" hissed the ranger. He pointed to the northern end of the trail.
A monstrous wolf was silhouetted alone at the far end of the bowl. Its head was turned away. Telenstil could see it give a yip, though he could not hear the sound. Two more wolves joined it, they circled each other head to tail for a few moments then one froze and laid its nose against the ground.
"Uh-oh," said Harald. "They probably have my scent."
"They will find us then," Telenstil glanced over to where the others hid.
"We're not likely to ambush them either," Harald agreed.
"Then we will fight them," Telenstil said firmly. "Get the others. We will fight them as they come up the slope. Height will be at least some advantage. Perhaps we can surprise them as well."
"I'll get the others," Harald ran into the woods beside the road.
The elven mage checked his belt and the pockets sewn cunningly within his robe. He drew out a crystal rod and prepared to cast a powerful spell that would let him wield the lightning of a storm. In a pouch at his side he had more crystal rods and in another, small brown-yellow stinking globs. He thought for a moment then put the rod away and drew out the other pouch.
"Cattle," he said to himself. "They will not like lightning but fire should be much worse."
"Telenstil, what is going on?" asked Talberth.
"Wolves are coming quick, and perhaps giants behind them," said Telenstil.
"Can Ivo hide us?" Talberth asked.
"I can make us appear as a grove of trees, but not perhaps the orcs, and not our scout if he resists my spell," Ivo declared. "I can fool their eyes even so, but their noses, I don't know."
"We can strike them down when they come upon us," said Gytha.
"Yes, but they will warn those behind them," Talberth said to her.
"Gytha, can you silence them?" asked Telenstil knowing the answer.
"I can with the Saint's help," she replied.
"Hurry then, they will soon be upon us."
Telenstil backed away from the trail and motioned for the others to join him. Gytha was behind a tree. She stepped out and cast her spell.