"Fotia-ena!" exclaimed Talberth and threw the small pellet from his hand. It flew like a crossbow bolt and erupted into flame, then burst amidst the onrushing giants in a ball of magic fire.
Telenstil did the same, "Tuli-pal!" he spoke and another line of fire swept up the hill and slammed into a giant's chest. He blazed like a man of straw, a wick for the burning flame. Around him other giants danced and rolled, but still two made it through and charged with smoldering hair and clothes. A pair of arrows shot out and struck each giant, and then again, the mercenary pair, Edouard and Derue, they'd used their bows to good effect, but such pin pricks did not even slow the giants down. As they neared Ivo, the wizened gnome, unnoticed amongst his companions, tossed a sparkling handful of colored sand into the air. It turned into a rainbow fan that dazzled the eye. It struck like a boxer's fist and stunned one giant who stumbled and fell. The other giant simply shrugged it away and came on, bellowing a challenge all the way.
Harald had unsheathed his sword, a great claymore, he wielded it in two hands, but it looked oddly small in his huge ham-like fists, and against this foe it seemed no more than a knife. The old hero ran to meet the giant's charge and struck first as they met upon the sloping hill. The long two-hand sword passed completely through the giant's side, opening a gash waist high, a rush of blood and ale poured out and the giant howled. Its own swing went wide and twisted it around. An arrow sank into its neck; another glanced from off its slab-like brow.
The halfing Harold ran to aid his friend but was nearly crushed beneath the other giant's rolling body. He leapt aside, then, when it came to rest face down upon the oerth, he drew his long-bladed knife and stabbed it in the back. It groaned but did not move, its shoulders shrugged. He stabbed again, then it shook and a wave of fear struck Harold as this mountain rose with him atop. With desperate strokes he stabbed it again and again.
The crystal rod in his hand glowed with light, Telenstil could feel the heat beneath the snip of fur he held it in, and with a word, "Sa-la-ma," it flashed out, a bolt of lightning that might streak across a stormy sky. It touched on three giants rising from their bath of flames. Their hair shot out and for a moment they were linked in a nimbus of pale blue glowing light. They shook like those fevered with a blistering plague and smoldered anew from this electric jolting flare.
The ranger struck again, this time low across the giant's huge and bony knee. He could feel the bone split beneath his blade and then lock down tight pulling it away. The giant fell, not dead, not yet, but with mortal wounds of bowel and a crippled leg. Harald grabbed the twisting hilt, the giant rocked in pain, he pulled but the blade was firmly stuck and then a flailing arm lashed out and knocked him down the hill.
Nearby, the mountain rose upon its hands and knees, the halfing whined a wordless fearful plea, and struck a final killing blow, his knife slipped in above the neck and deep into the brain. A quick and painless death released the giant from its life. It thudded to the ground. Harold bounced and fell off still clutching the deadly blade.
"Let us be off!" called Telenstil. "There will be more to follow these."
"Stand still all!" yelled Ivo, shouting to be heard. "I will hide us from their eyes, and our own, close together now," and then he said some words masked in the gnomish tongue or hidden by his illusionist's art. A glob of some sticky gum he tossed into the air and when he did it came apart then disappeared. One moment all nine stood almost hand in hand and then in a wave of the gnome's old hand they vanished all at once.
A bodiless voice called out, "My sword!"
"Leave it!" Telenstil commanding voice rang out from nowhere. "We have no time."
"My sword!" Harald called again, but above the hilltop's edge a wild baying pack was heard, the wolves unleashed. No sprinkling of a pepper bag would halt these. The ranger turned his unseen head and ran.
* * *
Ansgar watched from the tower. His eyes felt heavy with sleep and he would, every now and again, pour water from a jug and wash them clear. No more ale in the watchtower on pain of exile or death, Nosnra's promise to any who would transgress his word.
The night had been without event and it seemed to drag slowly on; still two more weary hours before he could go back to his bed and rest. Ansgar watched the southern approach while, nearby, Hugolin watched the east and Atheling watched the west. The sloping roof that peaked over the great hall would have blocked any view to the north and no window had been cut along that face of the tower.
The night had turned clear, the rain had stopped, but the field was lit only by the stars. Ansgar saw nothing, just wished he could close his eyes...
"Ansgar!" yelled Atheling, "What was that!"
His eyes snapped open and his drooping head shot up from where it had fallen against his arms. "What.."
"Were you asleep!" Atheling said in a shocked accusation.
"No! I..." Ansgar began, but then a groaning wail reached his ears and sent shivers down his spine. "What was that?"
"That's what I want to know," Atheling stepped over to the southern window.
"Get back! Watch your post!" Ansgar commanded; glad to criticize and shift the talk from his moment's dereliction. "I'll call out what I see. Hugolin do you see anything?"
The wolves outside the wall began to wail, and then were shortly joined by those within. A drifting, glowing cloud rose from the southern road and then a second mist tagged after the first.
"I know not what that is, but it is strange," Ansgar said half to himself.
"Sound the alarm!" Atheling cried. "The wolves are roused. Nosnra will have our hide if we are slow."
Hugolin turned away from his post and grabbed an iron hammer and rang the metal bar with deafening blows.
Engenulf took a secret stair and pushed open a hidden door. He passed through the chief's private meeting room and out into his trophy hall. "Nosnra!" he called and Thiodolf ran from Nosnra's door.
"He's putting his boots on," said Thiodolf. "He'll be out in a moment."
A pair of elder warriors came down a northern corridor. The outer door let in a rush of cold night air and a blast of noise from howling wolves.
"Enemies are near!" yelled Engenulf, "Set the wolves loose, let the entire pack give chase."
"Gosfrith has been given word. He will be leading them out even as we speak." said one.
"Good!" A voice called from nearby. Nosnra stood bleary-eyed but steady on his booted feet. "I hear the alarm sound. The steading is roused again, another sleepless night. Thiodolf take charge. I will follow Gosfrith and the wolves. What of you Engenulf?"
"I will come with you, my friend," said Engenulf.
They passed through the northern door and out into an empty yard, a length of open ground within the walls where the wolves and children played in quieter times. A dozen giant warriors had gathered there and waited for word from their thegn on where to go or what to do.
"Eight of you come with me. Breme, you pick four and stay behind, Thiodolf is in charge till my return." said Nosnra to a balding, heavy, warrior.
Two ran and opened wide the eastern gate that lead from yard to fields beyond, but as they passed through Engenulf gave a terrible cry and clutched with both hands at his eyes.
"Engenulf..." Nosnra grabbed his friend and held him up; the witan groaned and sagged at the knees. Nosnra lowered him to the ground. "Engenulf..." he said again, and the witan's face ran red with blood-like tears flowing from each eye.
"I live, the spell has passed. Here," he said to Nosnra, "Help me to my feet.
"Your eyes!" Nosnra said, "Can you see?"
"They bleed, and they hurt, but I can see." Engenulf wiped a ragged cloth across his face and dabbed gently beneath his streaming eyes.