"Wait!" Telenstil yelled.
He called after Ghibelline and the orcs but they did not listen or heed his call. The young giant easily outdistanced his pursuers, though Ghibelline was fast the giant's legs were longer than he was tall. Up the path and over the ridge and gone, the elf stopped at the far slope, the giant was already nowhere to be seen.
Nearby the little thief snarled as he peered into the fallen giant's eyes and showed him the knife, an old blade as big as a sword in the halfling's fist. "I curse you and all your kind," Harold told the giant then with a careful skill he cut the monster's throat with less regret than a farmer had when he killed a chicken for the evening meal. Though slowed by Ivo's spell the giant's heart still beat strong and steady. The blood sprayed from the massive wound, it soaked the thief in a crimson flow, it pooled around his feet and from a severed vein it fountained out with every dimming beat as the giant's heart began to weaken and ceased to pulse. Its muscles were frozen stiff by magic but its eyelids fluttered and a whoosh of air escaped in a single gasp as it left the giant's lungs through a gaping throat.
"That could have gone better," said Ivo to Telenstil.
The mage looked down and shook his head. "That is an understatement. We had best find Gytha and have her see to Harald."
They watched the ranger work the blade from the giant's chest; he gave a few hard pulls then staggered back and began to work at the blade again.
"Where is Talberth?" asked Telenstil.
"Where is Gytha for that matter," said Ivo. "What is that thief doing? Harold!" he called to the halfling. "We want to talk with that... too late."
"What?" said Telenstil. He had turned back the way they'd come but swung around when Ivo shouted to the thief. "Ah, that giant lived."
"It did," said Ivo, "I have not the craft to kill one out of hand, but stop them, freeze them in their tracks; that I can do."
"More killing, I knew what to expect, I have killed many in my years, but after this..." Telenstil mused aloud. "Ivo there must be a better way."
"Not that I know of against such as them," the gnome nodded toward the bodies of the giants. "Look up there, our new companion returns without his prey, but with his pack in tow."
Ghibelline was coming back down the trail, much more slowly than he had run up. The orcs had followed him as he chased the young giant, now they followed him again, but stopped beside the burnt body of a cow. They attacked the carcass, cutting long strips of flesh away, digging into the cow's side to pull out raw and bloody gobbets then devouring them where they stood. The orcs began to laugh among themselves spraying out half chewed meat. One began to choke he laughed so hard, then spit out a huge lump of beef. He bent to pick it from the ground but Meatstealer handed him a fresh piece he'd just cut. The orc was right, there was plenty more, any of the giant steers or cows could have fed them all for a week or more. There were at least a score of the cattle scattered about the hill. The smell from the roasted flesh, half-cooked by Telenstil's spell, wafted across the hill and sent seductive tendrils out to the entire company.
"I must be hungry," said Ivo his stomach rumbling loud enough for Telenstil to hear. "Watching a pack of orcs eat and I'm not sick, I want to dig in as well."
* * *
"How are you?" asked Telenstil.
Talberth rubbed his head, his face was bruised, one eye black and swollen, his nose still grimed with blood. "I'll live," he said.
"He was badly hurt, trampled by that cow," Gytha told them.
"What a way to die... I came to fight giants," muttered Talberth. "How did we fair?"
"Ghibelline says that two of the orcs are dead," said Telenstil. "Harald was hurt. Gytha can you see to him? Does Talberth need your help?"
"I have called on the Saint, he will grow tired of my requests," she smiled. "I will go see to Harald." The cleric left them and quickly ran down the trail.
"I owe their church a tithe," said Talberth. "I'll end up owing them as much as our thief."
"You should give her twice what she asks," Ivo put a friendly hand on the mage's shoulder. "I am thankful to have her with us."
"We will need to be careful, now that Henri is gone," Telenstil mused.
"Good riddance, but we are putting quite a burden on Gytha," Ivo said.
"Those Pholtines usually have no problem with using their power to gain some coin," Talberth said, "but I didn't get that feeling from Henri. I think he'd only heal us if we swore some oath to that god of his."
"Perhaps," said Telenstil, "maybe we judge him wrongly."
"That's all broken and past mending," Ivo shook his head. "We will have to make do with what strength we have."
"What a waste of that strength," groaned Talberth. He pushed himself to his feet and waved away the helping hands offered by his friends.
"The day grows late," said Telenstil looking to the west. "We need to collect ourselves and be gone before more giants come."
"What happened? Did they get away?" asked Talberth.
"One did," Ivo told him.
"One is enough," Talberth agreed.
"Yes, things did not go well," said Telenstil.
As they talked the halfling wandered up to them, behind him stalked the young orc, Little Rat, chewing contentedly on strip of meat.
"Gytha said you got knocked down by one of those things," said Harold, "big as dragons, is everything that size up here? I'd hate to see the poultry."
"The giants would make short work of the cattle we keep," laughed Ivo. "Normal cows are big enough for me, my clan keeps sheep."
"I'm happy to let the Butcher's guild deal with all such business," Harold said.
"I see your apprentice has no such qualms," Telenstil gestured to the orc.
"That giant lad, he will bring back others from his hall," Ivo broke into their mild conversation. "Come, we must leave this place, we may have to keep traveling through the night."