The wall curved and the floor began to slope. As Talberth neared the far end of the hall he'd found a passage leading down. The floor and walls showed the scratching that they'd seen in the first passage. Here though there had been no mosaic on the ground, just rough stone that provided firm footing as the decline of the slope increased.
"Do you think the orcs went this way?" asked Talberth.
"I see no signs, but picking out one set of marks among these others is impossible," said Harold.
The sloping passage sank beneath the floor of the hall as it curved near to the far end. It became a tunnel cut into the ground with walls and ceiling no wider than Talberth's outstretched arms. He could place his palm flat upon the ceiling and let the fingers of his hands brush both walls at the same time. Soon the slope leveled out and the passage crossed another, they could proceed ahead or turn to the left or to the right. Each way was dark, the walls were chipped and scarred, the floor marked by countless claws.
"Which way?" asked Talberth.
"Which way for what?" Harold replied.
He stepped between the passages into the small open area where all four ways met. Harold peered down one way, turned and checked another till he had looked into each of the passages that lay ahead.
"There is nothing, no difference that I can see. No sign of the orcs."
Talberth huffed; he'd been hoping to find something right away. Time was passing, they had little to spare; he hated to waste it marching down empty corridors.
"Blast the orcs," Talberth spat out. "Let's go to the left."
"That seems like a good choice to me," said Harold. "Straight ahead and I bet we find ourselves back in the hall with pillars. To the right and it's that pit with the openings in the side."
"I just thought left looked good," said Talberth.
Harold smiled and took a small cloth from his vest. He unwrapped a piece of coal and made a mark at the corner of the wall near the floor. "Just in case," he said.
"In case of what?" asked Talberth.
"We get lost," spoke up Little Rat.
"Correct," Harold said, pleased that the young orc knew enough to mark his trail. "I always like to know where I've been."
* * *
"How did it go?" Harald asked the two mages.
Telenstil and Ivo found the ranger sitting by the fire, he'd fed it a few dry sticks and kept it burning low.
"We are moving to the other room," said Telenstil.
The ranger raised a brow and gave the elf a quizzical look.
"As safe there as here, perhaps safer," Telenstil told him.
Harald shrugged. "I'd sooner be gone from here," he said and brushed the wounds that covered his arms. "Those gibberling pups made me lose my taste for staying."
"I hate to wake her," said Ghibelline.
"She sleeps," said Telenstil, "good. But I feel it will be better if we move down the hall. I will wake Gytha; she can sleep again in a few minutes."
"Sometimes sleep is hard to recapture," said Harald.
"I will wake her," Ghibelline volunteered.
"Then help me carry Derue," Harald told him.
"Come then, Ivo and I will start bringing the packs and the supplies," said Telenstil.
* * *
Gytha yawned and put the back of her hand to her mouth. She'd sprang awake when Ghibelline had spoken her name, but relaxed when she'd seen that it was only him, reassured that nothing was wrong by the wistful smile on his face.
"We are moving to another room," Ghibelline told her.
"That's good," she yawned again, "wake me when you're done."
"Gytha, Gytha," Ghibelline gave her shoulder a shake.
She didn't reply but rolled onto her side then pushed herself to her feet. "Which way?" she asked still half-asleep.
Ghibelline took a handful of burning sticks from the fire, they provided a feeble light. The elf had no need, but Gytha was blinded by the dark.
"This way, it's the only way," he said to her.
"Don't wake me," she mumbled.