The ball of fire roared out, it swallowed the giants near the center of the herd and set the trees and underbrush ablaze. Outside the confines of a room or a dungeon's narrow halls the spell spread out to its full limits, a huge spherical burst of flame. There was a second roar, this time from a score of voices and it went on and on. The giants swirled as if they were huge candles being spun like tops, their greasy hair and beards aflame. They screamed out a terrifying bellow of rage. The cattle were worse, they cried out in terror and in pain. Half had their hides ablaze, they gored those ahead and like a fan they left the trail running through the woods and underbrush, up the southern slope toward the places where Telenstil and the others hid. One knocked a twisting giant to the ground, another trampled him underfoot, a third was struck by a massive fist and fell, still afire it lay across him burning like a torch. They struggled together, the giant tried to rise and throw the huge steer from off his legs while hooves scraped and dug into his flesh. The two became a living pyre. Another steer crashed into them both and ran off, blinded by the searing flames.
The monstrous beasts came bellowing up the slope, tore bushes up by their roots and knocked down small trees. Up the trail ran a burning cow, its head blackened, eyes rolling wildly, a froth coming from its mouth surrounded by skin cracked and raw.
Telenstil cursed his spell, he'd thought to kill them all with a single strike and scare the rest. He stepped out into the road to meet the charge. "Az-Trapa!" the mage yelled out and sent a bolt of magic lightning booming down the trail. It struck a dozen of the cows and steers, a streak of bluish white that leapt from one beast to another. Many had been badly injured from the flames, the power of the bolt was too much, every beast it touched it killed. They dropped in a dreadful row; their cries were drowned out by the snap of thunder that accompanied the spell. Some fell to one side, others took a few steps, stumbling on legs already bereft of life, but Telenstil had not killed them all. Half a dozen of the beasts ran to the right, while two broke off through the brush that was on the lefthand of the trail.
Harold dived between the hooves of a cow that had come up on the lefthand side. He moved fast as any cat, faster than the cow or the stamping hooves. Once through he tackled the young orc who stood frozen before the second cow. They rolled clear, Little Rat breathing hard lying on his back still paralyzed with fear.
On the right Harald ran out and swept his blade low across the legs of a charging steer. The creature fell and with a quick and merciful second stroke the ranger killed the beast with a blow that would have pleased a master of the Butcher's guild. Talberth used his wand, drained a charge, the silver glow fading from a rune along its side. Three cows fell, but a forth brushed the mage aside. It flung him into a tree like a child's doll.
The orcs had been behind the mage, they ran as the two remaining steers came rushing on. One went down beneath the hooves of an enraged beast. Another lodged upon a goring horn and was carried off still yelling as the steer ran through the trees and out of sight. The remaining steer stamped the orc into a red and bloody pulp. Ghibeline ran up and stabbed it with his sword, it did not seem to feel the blow, but a second cut made it turn its head. Four of the orcs had not run, all were armed with weapons they had taken from the bugbear guards back in the dungeons of the steading. Boss, the leader of the orcs held a scimitar, Meatstealer had a rusted longsword, one orc held a ball and chain the other had a long-bladed axe. They charged the beast and struck it from horn to hoof, a weak swing of the morningstar barely grazed its flesh, while the axe clove deep and dropped the steer. The swords stabbed in and ended the poor creature's life.
Telenstil shook his head, their strength and power used against a cattle herd. Below him two of the giants survived. They'd beaten out the flames, burnt stubble all that remained upon their heads, and with angry shouts were charging up the slope as the herd had done.
* * *
Nosnra had not slept. His eyes were red, his face drawn and pinched. White streaks ran through hair that had been black and grey just a day before, his ruddy skin was burnt brown and the spare flesh on his ample frame was gone. The giant chief sat upon a rough built throne, his kindred had raised a frame and stretched a canvas overtop his head. He had not moved since the pyre for the dead had been lit. No one would approach him, not Thiodolf who spoke with Nosnra's voice, nor Estrith Nosnra's wife. A dozen warriors sat near to Nosnra's feet, they had returned with him the night before. They were just as weary but not all had Nosnra's strength, some collapsed, others leaned back and closed their eyes. As one would drop others would come and take them away then another would take their place. They were a grim spectacle.
As the sun reached its height a pair of giants came from the ruins of the hall. They stood taller than their rural kin, broad shouldered, thick thewed, skin like charcoal, hair orange as the embers of a blazing fire. One carried a sword that burned with flame; it looked like a dagger or a child's toy while it was held in the massive palm. The other giant lead a man, the scout Edouard, he was weighted down with chains roped over his shoulders and across his chest, but his arms were free. An iron collar was welded closed around his throat, a smaller chain stretched from below his chin to the giant's hand. Edouard walked like a man half-asleep, he tried to watch his step but his eyes kept drifting back to the sword in the giants grip.
The pair of fire giants approached the throne, the warriors sitting before their chief jumped up, some moved stiffly, still sore and strained from the power that had been unleashed when their witan died. They had taken a motley collection of weapons from the ruins the armory left untouched by the fire within the steading. Some held swords with blades ten feet long, or javelins that could have been ballista bolts, maces with heads like a blacksmith's anvil or axes that could fell a tree in a single stroke. "Turn back." called out one warrior
"Harthac, tell Nosnra we have brought him a gift," called back the giant with the burning sword.
"The chief is to be left alone," said Harthac, "he will call for you if he wishes, go back to your forge."
"It is cold out here, so I will speak to Nosnra now," the giant said and took another step forward.
Harthac placed a spear point to the giant's belt. "You will go back."
"This is foolishness," the giant swore. "Nosnra!" he yelled, Nosnra!!" his bellow hurt the ear.
"Speak," came a sepulchered voice. "Harthac stand aside."
Nosnra spoke but he did not rise. He turned his head and with eyes red veined but burning with an internal light he stared at the giant who approached.
"Nosnra it is I, Suttung, son of Gilling. I have brought you a gift. I return a treasure taken from your vault, and the one who took it and wrecked such havoc upon you and yours."
"Suttung, I will gift you with what you seek, the blade you desired shall be yours," said Nosnra. "Bring me this cur you have upon the chain."
"He is enthralled by the blade we brought for you," laughed Suttung, "It was meant for other hands." he said to Edouard. "The dark ones did not mean for their trinkets to go to one like this."
"Hand me the blade as well," commanded Nosnra. "Give me the chain that leads this dog."
Suttung stepped up to the throne and handed Nosnra the sword. Edouard moaned and ran for the magic blade as it passed from the fire giant's grasp. The other giant pulled back the chain and yanked Edouard from off his feet.
"Ylgr watch what you are doing!" Suttung yelled. "You'll break his neck."
"Bring him here," Nosnra told them. "I want this one to live."
Ylgr lifted the scout by the links across his shoulder and handed him to Nosnra like a butcher passing the carcass of a chicken over a countertop. Nosnra held the sword before Edouard's eyes and clasped his other hand around the man's collared neck. "You will serve me, you killed many of my wolves, human, you will take their place."