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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 141



"Telenstil, can we fly from here?" asked Ivo. 

"Not yet," he shook his head. "Not all of us, no. I have the power for a spell or two but not the ring. I've drawn upon it too much, it needs to rest and recover its strength." 

"I will hide us then," said Ivo. "Do not leave the clearing, the spell is very powerful but it has its limits." 

"Not invisibility," moaned Harold. "Last time I was nearly stepped on." 

"Stop complaining," said the ranger, he gave the little halfling a small nudge with his boot. 

"I will weave us into the spell and make this camp appear as if we were not here and had never even passed this way," Ivo explained. "Now to the edges of the camp, move if you have to but stay as still as possible." 

"How long will this last?" asked Talberth. 

"As long as I wish," Ivo murmured already forming the picture of the clearing in his mind. 

The old gnome took a small crystal from his pack, uncut, its sides were rough and cloudy. He held it between both hands and rubbed it in his palms. There were words, but the others could not make out what he said, they came as if from far away like the echo of a voice heard faintly in a deep cavern. Ivo brought his hands up so that they were even with his eyes and still rubbing one against the other began to pull them apart. A glimmer of light appeared, he kept up the motion of his hands as if they were still one against the other but drew them away. The crystal had transformed, now it looked to be a glimmering cube, one corner pointing toward the oerth while it spun slowly like a top. 

In a flashing burst of light the crystal was gone, the clearing took on a double image for a moment. All was the same but layered over one with another, the same camp but empty, a blank space where each companion stood. This double vision sent a sharp pain through the viewer's eyes till Ivo approached and tapped them on the arm or side, one by one. 

"See what is true," he told them and the illusion disappeared. "Rest assured, the wolves and giants will see, smell and hear what I wish them to, all their senses will be deceived." 

"They better be," whispered Harold. 

* * * 

The first of the wolves reached the campsite all too soon. It was a large beast the size of a pony. One ear had been split, and scars and missing fur dotted its head and muzzle. The beast strolled into the camp as if it owned the place, lifting its leg and marking a large tree stump with its scent. Rounding the edges of the clearing it passed by first one then another of the group, close enough so that its fur brushed Talberth's leg. The young mage froze in place, his knuckles white on the hilt of a dagger in his belt. The wolf stopped and scratched at the spot where its fur had been ruffled then bent its neck back and worried at it with bared teeth. It rolled over like a puppy then and with legs in the air squirmed back and forth in the dirt. Rising, it shook itself, spraying its unseen foes with a shower of pebbles. With a large red tongue lolling from the side of its mouth, the wolf strode to the fire-pit. Snapping jaws tore ribs from the carcase that had been left behind. It settled down on its stomach, holding up a grisly bone between two paws and gnawed, stripping away what little flesh was left then grinding noisely till the rib cracked beneath its teeth. 

* * * 

There was a clatter on the stony path, half a dozen wolves came gambling into the clearing. They turned from the trail and crashed together, gangly as puppies, yipping and yowling, biting and nipping at one another. A deep-throated growl from the grizzled pack leader sent the others slinking and whining. One small fellow rolled on his back so that his white-haired belly was up in the air while his tongue lolled from the side of his mouth. The older wolf walked over, proud and stately as any king and placed his paw on the younger wolf's belly then opened his jaws wide and yowled. The whole pack replied and an answering cry came from above. The small wolf gave forth a gurgling response but the paw on his stomach hampered his attempt. A nip from the pack leader as he took his paw away sent the small wolf scrambling to his feet. All seven of the wolves formed into a semi-circle that faced the path, the largest, the old pack leader, at the center. 

More wolves came running down the path, but these turned gracefully and entered the clearing at a slow walk. These new arrivals were as black as soot and had eyes to match. None were bigger than the smallest of the grey-coated wolves, but there were a good deal more in number. Just one short of two dozen, the black-coated wolves filled the trail. 

One small wolf, half the size of the old grey leader, walked slowly into the clearing and stood facing the seven larger wolves. The pack leader of the greys slowly approached the small black wolf, then stopped suddenly, its muzzle only inches from the other wolf's nose. 

The two stared eye to eye for several moments while the wolves to either side swayed on their feet, some letting their tongues hang loose or turning their ears one way or another, but never moving from their place. Finally the black lowered its head and put its nose almost to the ground. The old grey put out its paw and almost seemed to tap, once, on the black wolf's head. The effect was like a thunderclap. The greys and blacks broke out into a jubilant cacophony of howls and barks. The two leaders sat back on their haunches while their packmates greeted each other head to tail then burst into races across the clearing. 

Hidden from the senses of the wolves the companions grimaced and clenched the hilt of a weapon, or muttered a prayer, or cowered slightly, (Little Rat was not alone in this) or kept the components of a spell at hand. All unseen, unheard and unsmelt. But only Ivo paid the wolves no mind. The old gnome kept up a sub-vocal chant as he weaved his spell. His thoughts enrapt with  what he wanted the spell to show and only vaguely aware of the wolves around him. The powerful illusion masked the humans, elves, halfling and orc, so much so that one wolf who skittered across the stones into the large ranger's legs, never even thought to look to see what it had hit. 

The wolves played, though fights of a more serious nature broke out here and there, only to be met with growls and snapping teeth from one pack leader or the other. Then without warning they all became still and silence flowed back into the clearing from where it had been chased by the rambunctious wolves. 

* * * 
        
Voices could be heard raised in song. Deep and booming, they
echoed down the hill, across the valley floor and reverberated from the stony slopes of the neighboring heights.

        "A snapping bow!" sang out a powerful voice.
        "A burning flame!" came the response from a dozen throats.
        "A grinning wolf!" the single voice sang back.
        "A grunting boar!" the chorus of voices replied.
        "A raucous crow!"       "A rootless tree!"
        "A breaking wave!"      "A boiling kettle!"
        "A flying arrow!"       "An ebbing tide!"
        "A coiled adder!        "The ice of a night!"

        Over the tops of trees and the edge of rock could be seen a
monstrous shaggy head. A giant with a mane of hair like a lion's and a beard that was long as any dwarve's, its end stuck in his belt. This giant was all red-brown and grey, his skin dusky like
oerth dried in the sun and his teeth broad and yellow. He opened his mouth wide and a rumbling bass flowed out.
        
"A bride's bed-talk!" he sang.

        More shaggy heads appeared behind him, though none as tall as their leader. Side by side in pairs they came, singing out a reply in chorus.

        "A broad sword!" they chanted back.
        "A bear's play!" the bass voice resonated through the air.

        The black-coated wolves came forward and the grey's drew back. Their leader paced across the stones and his pack followed. They waited near the entrance to the trail for their master's to arrive.

        A full dozen giants followed the tall elder warrior. He
carried an axe of blackened steel and iron, and swung it from
hand to hand as he walked, though its haft was the height of a man and the head heavy as an anvil.
        
Those that followed carried weapons in their hands. Axes like
that of their chief, swords with blades longer than the haft of a spear, spears tall as trees and hammers that no man could hope to lift. On their shoulders were set the ends of poles, linking one giant with his brethren following behind, the two in tandem. Heavy sacks bowed these lengths of wood, but the giants did not seem to mind their burden. Their voices showed no strain as they chorused their response.

        "A Chieftain's children!" the verse rang out, a dozen voices
strong.
        "A witch's welcome!"    "The wit of a slave!"
        "A sick calf!"          "A corpse still fresh!"
        "A brother's killer!"   "A hall half-burned!"
        "A racing wolf who has wrenched a leg!" the giant chief bellowed into the clearing, as he stepped from the trail. "Are never safe."

        "Let none trust them!" his dozen followers finished with a
shout.

        "Konig!" the chieftain called to the black-coated wolves.

        With slow and even strides, the packleader walked over to his master and lay down before the giant's feet.

        "I see that some of Karnash's pups have met you here," the giant said to his wolf. "Big." he commented in a loud voice, then turned his head to the giants behind him, "But stupid."

        *                       *                       *

"Ho! The camp! Hvedrung!" a voice boomed from the lower path. "Hvedrung!" 

The grey wolf bounded toward the entrance of the trail, the rest of the grey pack yipped and howled, but did not move. 

"What was that noise!" the deep, rough voice bellowed. "Fjolver! Is that you and your boys singing, or is that a moose caught in a trap?" a giant called, as he stepped into view from the lower trail. 

"Hlebard!" yelled back the old giant, the master of the black wolves. "Your pups have been waiting for you. But no need to worry!" laughed Fjolver. "My wolves have been keeping them safe." 

"Pups!" Hlebard laughed back in mock outrage. As he stepped from the trail a small group of giant warriors stepped up behind him. "You see the world upside down and backwards, Old One. Are those black-haired whelps of yours full grown?" 

Fjolver just laughed in reply, his sides heaving and his face going red. "What brings you here?" he asked when his breath returned. 

"Bad business," said Hlebard. His voice dropped to a growl and the laughter fled from him. 

"We have just arrived," the older giant swept his hand back toward his followers to show them standing with their burdens still on their shoulders. "You are welcome to come within our camp." 

"We offer our thanks," said Hlebard. "All blood-debt and hard words are left outside the ring of fire-light. Let they be forgotten in the dark." 

"Let them be forgotten," Fjolver and all his warriors replied together. 

The two leaders reached out and clasped forearms then Hlebard's warriors walked past the two and into the camp. The grey wolves ran to meet their masters. The giants kicked and swatted at them playfully as they went to greet their fellows from the west. Hlebard's and Fjolver's warriors showed no sign of any feud or ill-feelings that might have lain between them. Instead they seemed like old friends, meeting for the first time in several seasons. This was the way of the giants of the western hills and mountains. Campsites were sacred places. Only a renegade would bring or start a feud within the boundary of the fire's light. 

"Hlebard, your news?" asked Fjolver, "Do you have time to first break the fast of the trail? We have food and drink to share." 

"No," Hlebard shook his head. "We must first speak of these tidings." 

Fjolver turned toward his warriors and called to a large, red-haired giant. "The fire is cold. Svarang, you are the fire's servant for this camp." 

"Aye Fjolver," the giant bowed his head respectfully. He lowered the end of the huge pole that sat on his shoulder and as he did, the giant behind him shifted the ponderous weight off his own shoulder as well. The canvas sacks that were slung from the wooden pole smacked solidly against the stones and gave forth an audible grunt. Now the other giants began to drop their burdens as well, till they had piled them in several rows. 

Svarang led two of his fellows off to the edge of the camp. They passed close to the gnome Ivo. One huge foot seemed about to trod upon the small wizard, but the power of the spell turned the giants tread and the foot came down to one side, while Ivo kept up the weaving of his spell. 

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