The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga Part 2
The Great Hall was empty, though it had rung with peals of hearty laughter, choruses of song and the clash and clatter of good-natured rough-housing late into the night. Now an icy wind blew in from the wide ventilation slots in the roof above the central firepit; a massive circle of stone filled with bones and ash.
Nosnra's footsteps echoed across the hall as he followed Ursoth's snuffling path. The bear padded slowly on all fours nosing among the sawdust liberally thrown over the floor to soak up spilt ale as well as spilt blood, and stopped from time to time to swallow some tidbit left by the now slumbering revelers. The pair made a slow, directionless journey, the bear at its own pace and following only its nose, Nosnra walking behind, uneasy but distracted by stray thoughts and half remembered dreams from his interrupted sleep.
The hall appeared to him layered in memories of the past; His father, Tofig, sitting at the high table while he, a mere boy, carried forward the body of a centaur warrior and placed it before him; His father stepping down and proudly cutting the heart from the beast, placing it into his youthful hands then marking him with the centaur's lifeblood, placing on his brow the symbol of adulthood. Engulfen, his father's witan, a priest, wielder of magics and advisor combined, stood at his shoulder.
Laying his hands upon the heart Engulfen summoned the power of the kindred, living, dead and yet to be. There was a burning that passed into Nosnra's outstretched hands then the heart began to beat. It pulsed with an eldritch life and burned at his mouth and tongue as he bit and chewed the tough flesh.
"Now the beast's strength is yours!" Engulfen said to the crowded hall. "Now the strength of the kindred is yours!" he called out. "Now your strength is one with the kindred!" he shouted.
Tofig stood before his son and held out a knife, its blade made of jagged rock, its hilt carved from the horn of some ancient beast. "Now you are a Warrior!" he called out, and his voice rang with the pride that was his renown. "Take this warrior's blade," he said to Nosnra, "as my father gave it to me, and his to him, as the first father gave it to his son in the dawn of days when the kindred were born."
Nosnra reached out his blood-covered hands and took the blade reverently from his father. The dagger felt alive in his grasp, like an extension of his own self, and for a moment he felt the presence of each hand that had held it as he did now, a line disappearing into the distant past. Kneeling he severed the beast's tail then stood, feeling taller than any other within the hall and held it for all to see. The cheer that met him almost knocked him back; it roared till the rafters shook then faded into the grey mist of memory and times past.
Nosnra stood alone amid the Great Hall, but for his bear Ursoth. The wind blew a bonechilling stream and moaned a sad wordless tale that he could not understand.
They passed the firepit. Ursoth quickened his pace, finding scant morsels not rendered tasteless by a covering of wood shavings, and was making a beeline for the large western doors that sat opposite the kitchen. He well remembered the larder and the many treats hand fed to him by his master. His paws were ringed with sawdust, as was his muzzle, and he gave a great sneeze, then stopped and sat. With both forepaws he wiped away the shavings from around his ticklish nose then gave a wide yawn. His jaws closed with a snap and he dropped back to all fours. As he did so an errant breeze trailed a beckoning finger of a scent before him. He rose, then stood high on his hind legs, his front paws dangling half-bent at his chest, his nose twitching as it sought the elusive spoor carried by the current of air. At first it played a game of there-then-not. Ursoth's head weaved a pattern back and forth as he tried to catch it, only to lose it many times.
The wind, flowing across the hill and over the roof and down through the hall shifted and the scent came once again. This time Ursoth caught it true and followed its course back toward the dimly lit entrance of the Great Hall. He breathed it in, drawing a deep lungful, and it set his fur to rise. A growl began, sonorous and low, then erupted in a harsh plangent roar. He smelled the scent of man and he voiced his displeasure.
* * *
Nosnra started at the sound. He had been lost in a fragment of his past, distracted once again. Ursoth cried out afresh and began a stiff-legged march toward the long entranceway.
"Ursoth!" Nosnra called out in command. His voice stopped the bear in its tracks but its eyes still sought out the origin of the scent and its nose pointed compass-like down the hall. "What is it boy?" Nosnra called to his pet, "What do you see?"
Ursoth replied with a growl, but he obeyed and moved no further.
Nosnra, his wandering thoughts recalled and his memories shut back into the past, stepped forward, pushing aside a long bench that, lying askew, blocked his way. It screeched with the sound of wood on wood leaving a fresh gouge among the old, a crisscross pattern etched into the floor. Down the hall some form in motion disengaged itself from the shadows. A hill giant or so it appeared. Nosnra squinted but could not clearly discern its features; the dark still hid the giant partially from view.
"Who's there!" he demanded.
The figure raised a spectral arm and waved a greeting then turned and slowly began to walk back the way it had come.
"Hold!" Nosnra shouted at the retreating figure. It heeded him not, only quickened its pace, though it did not yet run. The feeling of unease assailed him in a wave. This was no kindred, but an apparition of some sort. As the thought entered his mind, the figure wavered in form, became translucent with a small shadowy outline as its base, the larger shape projected outward. Then it solidified and was once again the retiring back belonging to one of his own kind. Nosnra raced in pursuit, upending a long table whose edge punched painfully into his hip and then the bench splintered beneath him as the stunning blow knocked him from his feet.
Ursoth galloped behind, torn momentarily between his master's command and the desire to be at his side. His desire was greater than his obedience. The bear harkened to the call of loyalty within him, no command would hold him, he would set tooth and claw against his master's foe.