Harold lifted the ogre's blade. It was made for a human hand, a short sword or a long broad dagger, not what the halfling would choose to wield, but his own knife was gone. The sword's sheath was still on the ogre's belt, now lying down below where the monster's body had landed hard upon the stones. He had to keep the blade in his hand or leave it lying on the ground. He wanted to have both hands free, yet standing alone in the giant's kitchen he felt more secure with the hide-wrapped hilt grasped tightly in his hand.
"Little good you will do me against a giant or even another ogre," Harold told the blade. He paced the length of the large room, down its south-eastern arm, beneath the towering tabletops and out to the archway that opened on a long corridor and looked out across to a huge set of double doors. He peered down the corridor, looking south then north, but there was nothing but the tangy smell of smoke, distant noises like the creaking of old bones, and the dim glow of torchlight, the flames burning from sconces far off to either side. Back he went and then to the north and east, more tables, chairs, sinks and shelves, the room bent sharply to the north, a dead end, the kitchen larder. There was a doorway to the south, the way that Edouard went and Derue followed. Harold would not go that way alone, not if he had any other choice. From the chute he heard a banging sound. Harold ran over only to see the ranger Harald climbing up over the wooden lip.
"Harald! Brandobaris be praised!" the halfling cried. "Now don't you go running off."
"Harold, what has been going on?" the ranger answered. He smiled to see his friend, but quickly bent and began pulling up the rope. "Gytha!" he called down the chute. "Just hold on, I will pull you up!"
"Harald!" Gytha yelled from twenty feet down the chute. "You nearly shook me from the rope. Give some warning before you do something like that again."
"Sorry Gytha," Harald said sheepishly. The red-haired cleric let Harald pull her up the rest of the way as recompense. She grabbed the wooden lip and swung over the edge, tumbling ungainly to the floor.
"Are you all right?" the halfling asked.
"I'm fine," Gytha answered a bit quickly. "Just lost my balance there. That is quite a climb, even with assistance. How are you doing?"
"Better now that you two are up here. That crazy pair of scouts ran off," said Harold.
"Where did they go?" she asked.
"Around the corner," Harold pointed to the north.
Harald the ranger began pulling on the rope to signal for another climber to ascend, but they had let it go slack while he hauled Gytha up and no one below felt the jerking of the line.
"Harold," said Gytha, "do you have another pouch to drop?"
"I'll cut some of this sacking away and use it instead. I notice that you left my other pouch behind," Harold complained. He used the ogre's knife to stab a sack of grain, the large kernels poured out and piled on the floor. He'd cut low with a malicious intent, to add one more petty trouble to the woe that they had brought to the steading already.
"You nearly blinded me, man! What magic was that?" Ivo cried.
"None that need concern you, gnome," Henri replied contemptuously. "I came here to find some privacy, do not complain when your interruption might have cost you your sight."
"I came to tell you we were off, my mistake," said Ivo, "One which I will not make again." He left the room and Henri before he said or did more.
"Did you find our cleric?" asked Telenstil.
"My bad luck, I did," Ivo replied. "I told him we were leaving, maybe our luck will change and the arrogant so and so will stay behind."
"Don't count on it," Talberth agreed. He did not like the Pholtite priest or his hirelings, the mercenary pair. "What is taking them so long?"
"Talberth, please check the rope," requested Telenstil The young mage gave it a tug and was almost jerked from his feet by the reply. He pulled back and with a shout rose into the air then fell back and landed on the piled muck.
"Yuchhh!" he said and flicked brown viscous droplets from his hands. The rope continued to rise, then stopped and then the slack fell loose again.
"I see we have a small communication problem," said Telenstil.
Talberth pushed himself to his feet, his robe covered across the back with slime and rotting chunks of greens. He drew out a small handkerchief and tried to clean his hands, then tossed the fouled bit of cloth away.
"This is disgusting!" he complained to Telenstil
"Here," said Telenstil. The elven mage cast a simple spell and with a whistling breath and a circle in the air with his outstretched hand sent the mire flying from Talberth's clothes. "Now we had best have Harald draw another of us up. Ivo can you hold two packs while Harald pulls?"
"Give me two of the small ones. We don't want to overstrain our friend up there," laughed Ivo. "And thanks. I want to be away from that pompous popinjay before I test a bit of magic on him."
Telenstil went over and grabbed the rope. He tugged it with care this time and after two or three attempts reestablished contact with those above. They looped the rope around Ivo's waist then gave the line another pull. The old gnome laughed as he rose up the chute like a bale of hay being drawn up into a loft above a stableyard.
* * *
"Who you be, human?" an orc asked Derue. Its face bled from long deep cuts one of the apes had opened across its face.
"I am Killer of Giants, as you can see." he told the orc and spoke loud enough for the others to hear.
The crowd of orcs began to murmur. The one who had spoken stepped back and immediately began to shout down those around him.
Derue sheathed his blade. He breathed hard from the fight just ended, but felt in his heart that Edouard must be near. His brother must surely be injured. There was no time to wait for these orcs to decide if he was friend or foe. "Do You Challenge Me!" he yelled at them and drew his sword. The flames sprang out and ran along its length.
A hush fell on the crowd, the orcs were wild with rage at their captors and joyful at their victory, but they were unprepared to face Derue and the burning sword which had struck down the giant Keeper. Many orcs had died beneath that giant's massive foot, their lives crushed out upon the stones. None had thought to see him dead, not in their wildest dreams. They respected strength and felt a kinship of size, if not of kind, with the human, and none wished to face his magic fiery sword. The crowd backed away when Derue came near, only the one who had stepped up to him before approached him now.
"Killer of Giants," the orc said to him with respect but in broken common. "Leaders are dead, I follow you. They," he waved his arm at the gathered orcs, "follow me. What we do now?"
"My brother, another human like me, he was just taken, he is alive. Where would he be?" Derue asked the orc.
"We want to leave," the orc ignored his question or did not understand it. "You take us from this place."
A burst of red fury went through Derue, he backhanded the orc hard with his left hand. The meaty smack drew a babble of cries from the orcs. The orc touched the side of his mouth and spat out a gob of blood, he bowed his head and then held out both his hands, palms up, to Derue. "You obey!" Derue told him and put the edge of his blade to the orc's throat, close enough to singe the hair on its pig-like snout and head.
"I obey," the orc replied.
"My brother, where would they have taken him," said Derue, not asking a question but making a demand.
"There," the orc pointed to the eastern wall and a huge iron-bound wooden door.
"Open it," commanded Derue.
The orc nodded and without turning, Derue's blade still near his neck, its heat making his face burn worse than the slap, shouted to the other orcs in their own tongue. A dozen of them ran to the door and grabbed a metal chain. They hauled and, straining, pulled the door open with a rasping creak.
"Now what?" the orc asked looking up at Derue.
The mercenary lowered his sword and ran to the open door. The orcs had dropped the chain and milled about. Derue pushed them aside and jumped into the room. He felt the steel spikes from a morningstar leave gashes along his head as it whirled by. The spiked metal ball took a chunk from the wooden door, sending splinters flying.