"I see problems with that plan," said Harald. "They will simply think us rebellious slaves."
"You just don't want to look like an orc," Harold laughed.
"It seems that we are at least all agreed," Telenstil broke into their friendly banter.
"We go round and round, a lot of words, but saying little," complained Harald.
"Then we had best break camp and talk again later when we can make more detailed plans," Telenstil answered.
"Let us be gone from this place," Ghibelline agreed.
"You have been quiet," said Gytha.
"When I can be of help I will speak," said Ghibelline.
"And there is much that I wish to speak with you about," Telenstil said to Ghibelline. The elven mage then turned to the young wizard. "Talberth, please go wake the orcs and have them prepare to leave."
"Harald, will you help me with the chain?" Talberth asked.
The old ranger scowled and looked toward Telenstil without answering.
"You are right, Talberth," said Telenstil, "Harald, please, I bow to Talberth's instincts. We may need the chain.
"Talberth's instincts don't have to carry the thrice-damned thing," muttered Harald, but he turned and began to wrap the dark links about his shoulders.
"Little enough to prepare," Gytha shook her head thinking of all they had lost at their old camp.
"Yes, we will need to resupply ourselves," Telenstil looked over their bare camp, only the small packs and cloaks that they had taken with them to the steading.
The circle broke apart. Harald grumbled again as he shifted the chain on his shoulders.
"Don't complain," Talberth said to him, "I am sure we will need it."
"Then you should be the one to carry it," Harald told him.
"Now you two," warned Ivo, "none of this now. On the run from giants is no time to be arguing."
"Who's arguing," Harald snapped.
"You both are." Ivo said bruskly.
They weaved their way across the hilltop as they talked. It was not so round and flat as the giants' hill to the south, but long and rough, all stone and rock cracked and uneven.
* * *
The northern edge of the hill ended in a sudden drop, a sheer cliff that fell off into a deep ravine. Harold walked along the edge then climbed the outcropping of rock to the east. It overhung the slope below, like the lip to a mug of ale.
"No way down," Harold shook his head. Nearby him Little Rat craned his neck to see over the edge. They followed the eastern edge, checking the overhang and the slope below. Toward the center the peak began to rise and just beyond its crest he found a crevice in the rocks, a chimney of stone.
"Stay here," the small thief told the young orc. "No following me, no falling on me either."
"I stay, I stay," said Little Rat brightly, but Harold glared at him till the orc sat down and appeared to stay still.
Harold began a slow descent bracing his back and legs against the walls of the chimney. It took him down thirty feet or somewhat more, he sat below the overhang, at his feet, the steep slope of the hill at the end of a short drop.
"This will be a hard path down," he said to himself, "or a quick one." Harold eyed the slope, this far up the hill it was all scrub brush and jagged rocks. Lower down he could see a line of bushes, thick and clinging to the boles of fir trees, their lower branches brown, strangled by the climbing vines. With effort Harold made his way back up the crevice using his back and legs to climb the chimney in the same way he came down. He pulled himself up over the edge and lay on his back for a few moments, sweating heavily in the bright sun though the day was cool.