The wolves began to give barking yips as they ran, their tongues lolling from their mouths, flicking in and out as they opened and closed their jaws. Gytha called down the power of the Saint. She waited for the wolves to close with her. As they came up the trail she could see the feral gleam within their eyes and hear the low growl beginning in their throats.
"Sainted one, let not these evil hounds give voice, let not their warning cries be heard, I ask of thee for calm, for blessed silence, now."
A buzzing like a thousand bees sprang up. A swarm of white-golden lights swirled around the wolves and dissipated in a wide circle about the forest and the trail. The wolves snapped briefly at the lights, their ears rose and they began to bark and howl. They jumped in a frenzy, their voices mute, their ears that could hear a leaf fall from a tree, now deafened by the silence called into place around them.
Talberth and Telenstil stepped onto the trail. They raised their hands together.
"Noituus Istaa," intoned Telenstil.
"Zimee-ari-Kno," Talberth voiced beside him.
Bolts of blue magic light shot from their hands springing from the fingers of each mage. Telenstil's struck one wolf about the head and neck, it leapt and fell in a crumpled heap. The bolts from Talberth's hand brought another low, one burnt into a leg and the wolf tumbled forward as it ran, a glowing greenish ball whizzed by and struck it as it tried to rise, Ivo had used a magic sling that threw enchantment as a normal sling would throw a stone. The last wolf charged with its mouth gaping wide, determined to sink its teeth in one of these who had slain its mates. Telenstil sent out another set of magic bolts, the beast shrugged them off, hurt and badly so, but with both a will and fierce anger driving it on.
Talberth was roughly shoved aside and Harald met the wolf with his claymore stabbing like a spear. The steel point sank into the wolf's chest, through its lung and out its bowels till it dug into the ground. The beast was mad with pain. It blew out a bloody froth and bit at the blade which impaled it to the oerth. Harald drew his knife and put his foot upon the snarling head. With a flashing sweep he cut its throat, the wolf's legs pawed briefly at the air, then relaxed in death. The ranger drew out his blade and wiped it on the dead wolf's coat of fur. He opened his mouth and said something that none could hear.
"...off the road," Harald called to the others, stepping beyond the edge of Gytha's spell.
"What?" asked Gytha.
"What were you shoving me for?" Talberth asked angrily.
"We need to get them off the trail," said Harald, "and cover up the blood."
"Quick now!" Telenstil ordered. "Pull them into the underbrush, someone sweep the road, grab a branch."
"I could have been casting a spell!" Talberth went on, but Harald had turned away.
The ranger grabbed the wolf he killed and slung the body over his shoulder and back heedless of the flowing blood which poured from the gaping neck. With a few steps and a mighty heave he threw the body off the trail. It crashed into a thick bush and disappeared among the brambles and the vines.
Ghibelline cut a branch free with his sword, he used the leaves to sweep dirt over the blood and obscure the trail. The bodies of the wolves were dragged away, the orcs had just run behind the trees when the sound of many feet came drumming from the far side of the trail. From where he lay within the underbrush, Harald could see the top of a giant's head rising into sight. It was a youth, half-again the height of a tall man and thin as a pole. This lanky giant held a wooden staff, the bole of a tree stripped down, big enough to hold up the roof of a peasant's hut. He put his hand to his mouth and called out to the wolves which had run ahead, but received no reply. He shook his head, shouted something to those behind him and waved back toward the way he'd come. Another head appeared, this one was wide and brown, and a pair of horns wider than Harald's outstretched arms was on the set to either side.
The giants raised beef, but an ancient breed of bull and cow, larger than any that man would think to tame. As they watched from the southern edge a small herd of these cattle were prodded down the trail. There were at least two dozen of the beasts, and three more giants moving them along, though these were not so young, each was old enough to be the father of the boy. The last greybeard might be his father's father. Each bore a staff of wood such as the youth possessed and used them to guide the cattle, but the herd was calm and walked at a steady and unhurried pace. The boy called out again as he passed the bottom of the slope. He stopped and stared up at the southern edge, Harald felt the searching eyes pass through him and move on. One of the older giants gave the boy a shout and jabbed him with his wooden staff. The youth turned and yelled back and shook his fist, the giant struck again, this time a strong stab to the gut and the boy was doubled over. A huge foot swung up and none to gently rolled him aside. The boy fell into the bushes.
"Told ya not to bring the fleabags," the giant laughed and the other two joined in. "When you've got yer wind back you can run after us or run home."
Harald crawled backward till he was out of sight and edged over to where Telenstil crouched beside a tree. "Do we take them or let them pass?" asked Harald.
"I would let them go," said Telenstil, "but when they find the bodies of those other two, Nosnra's messengers, they will either alert Nosnra or their own chief and maybe both."
"Good," Harald smiled, a cruel unfamiliar look came over his face. "I will enjoy cutting these monsters down."
Telenstil grabbed the ranger's arm. "Now I wish we could let them pass. Harald, do not enjoy this. That is how these giants think. That is why they are monsters, and why we are here."
The smile passed from Harald, "I will keep what you say in mind, but my heart cries out for vengeance."
"Did you hate those wolves?" asked Telenstil.
"No, you are right." said Harald. "No use hating wolves or giants, it's like hating time for making you old, or a rock for tripping you while you walk. They are near, what is your plan?"
"We are well dispersed," Telenstil looked over his shoulder to check on the others in the group but most were hidden even from his sight. "I will throw fire into their midst. It should at least scatter the herd. We will only close after our magic is spent. If they should charge, then you and the others will hold them off or bring them down."
"Do the others know this plan?" asked Harald.
"Yes, Talberth commands the orcs," said Telenstil, "Gytha and Ghibelline are prepared as well."
Harald was watching the trail as they spoke, his hand tightened on his sword-hilt as they giants approached. "Here they come," he warned.
Telenstil stood and cast his spell, "Pall-Ot-Ull," he intoned and flung a small brown-yellow glob. It began to burn, flying through the air fast as an arrow, straight into the center of the herd. It exploded into flame, a huge sphere of yellow-red burning hot as a blacksmith's forge.