The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 33
"Can you walk?" Gytha asked Jalal.
The old man still lay on the floor with his back propped up against a wall. He breathed deeply and seemed asleep till Gytha spoke, but then his eyes opened, lively and bright.
"I don't know," he said. "I will try."
With a groan he shifted onto his side and got to his knees, Gytha reached out to help, but Ghibelline put his hand on her shoulder and drew her back. Jalal's bones creaked as he stood, and he used his hands braced against the stones so that he could straighten up, but when he faced them it was with his shoulders back and his pride in place.
"We must go," said Telenstil.
"I have a friend here..." Jalal began.
"I am sorry, we have also lost companions, the one who was left here and another, but we cannot stay." Telenstil explained.
"There are places we could hide, and the orcs, they are in rebellion, we could enlist their aid," said Jalal.
"I am afraid that we have had a confrontation with the orcs. They will not help us," Telenstil told him and shook his head sadly.
Jalal sagged a bit at the news, but caught himself and addressed Telenstil once more. "I cannot abandon my friend."
"We may be able to return. I had not planned to leave entirely, but this foray, we have stayed much longer than I had thought to." said Telenstil. "Come with us now and we will try to help your friend and rescue our companion."
"I will come. You promise to return?" Jalal asked.
"I can only promise that we will try," said Telenstil. "I cannot even promise that we can escape."
"Come Jalal, we cannot leave you here. We will do all that we can," said Ghibelline. "That I promise."
"Then we had best leave," said Jalal.
"Is there another way out of here?" asked Gytha.
"No, there are tunnels that have been started and a warren of caves where the orcs hide, but the stairs are the only way that I know of to leave the dungeons," Jalal told them.
"Harald," Telenstil called to the ranger as they left the cell. "We are taking Derue, please help him up, but be careful. I think he is awake, but pretends to still be senseless."
"If he is dangerous, why not leave him here?" asked the thief.
"He is not himself," Gytha said. "There is a spirit within him."
"How do we know?" Harold asked, still questioning the sense of dragging the scout along. "He has always been a suspicious sort. I have never trusted any of them, him, his brother or that priest who employed them."
"And now they are all gone or mad," added Talberth.
"I would suspect them more if they were still here or if they had showed us a pleasant and friendly face at the start," said Telenstil. "They have been honest with us, I feel. I did not like them, but they did not break their faith with us, at least not till they found those weapons that the giants hid."
Harald went to retrieve Derue and he found the scout still out cold and breathing stentoriously through his open mouth. The ranger reached down and grabbed him by the belt, hauling Derue up into the air. As his feet left the ground the scout spun and placed a kick against the ranger's leg, just missing the knee.
* * *
Harald dropped to the ground as Derue's kick sent his leg out to the side but failed to break the thick bone. The ranger let himself fall forward. He slammed Derue face first into the stones and brought his other knee down hard against the scout's back. Dazed, the scout moaned and tried to wriggle free. Harald grabbed a handful of his hair and bounced Derue's forehead on the hard rock, knocking the man cold.
"You were right," Harald called to Telenstil. "This time I'm tying his feet. I'll have to carry him."
"Are we ready?" Telenstil asked.
There was a murmur of assent, the little thief started off first through the vast and almost empty hall. The orcs had gone, but they had left the bodies of their dead behind, several dark lumps of flesh and cloth left lying by the walls and a carpet of dead, the bodies thick, one against the other, where Talberth's magic bolt had slain them by the score. The group stayed together, Harald carried the scout like a sack of grain across his wide shoulder, Ghibelline and Gytha helped Jalal keep the pace, the old man had his arms around the elf and cleric's necks. They half carried him, but Jalal barely weighed a thing, he was only skin stretched over bone. Before they reached the stairs Harold came running back, he waved to them to stop and rushed up to Telenstil.
"There are orcs ahead, a small group waiting on the stairs," Harold reported. "They didn't look threatening. They look more like a group of beggars in a marketplace."
"Let us proceed with care," said Telenstil.
"Let's get out of this hall," said Talberth, "and up from this dungeon."
The ranger unslung Derue when they reached the arch before the stairs, leaving him leaning against the wall.
"Ho there!" he called in the orc tongue, but he received a reply in the common traders' language used across the Flanaess.
"You there," the voice called out. "We wait for you. We had deal. You lead us out."
"I had no deal with you!" Harald called back.
"Not so loud!" the voice hissed back. "I come down, you no kill." The orc dropped down the stairs and walked into the light. He was the one called Boss, but his followers had almost all deserted him, a bare half-dozen remained waiting up the stairs.
"I deal with that one," Boss said pointing to Derue. "He make deal. We help, you help."
"The orc is correct," spoke up Jalal. "Your companion promised to help them, as he promised Ghibelline and myself."
"Then we will accept their help, and help them as well," said Telenstil.
"Help these monsters?" Harold spoke up surprised.
"There are worse than orcs about, and they are no friends of the giants," the ranger said.
"Come, we delay ourselves for nothing," said Telenstil. "We will honor our companion's word. Let us be out of here."
The ranger nodded to the orc. "We will help you. Carry this one," Harald said pointing to Derue. "He made the offer. He is your burden."
The orc beckoned to his companions and the other orcs came down the stairs. They waited for the Telenstil and the others to climb, following last carrying the still unconscious body of the scout.
A swirl of smoke rose up from the steading. Inside the thick, dark cloud sparks danced, the fragments of cloth and hide lifted up by the heat burning to charred fragments and falling down like a black snow across the fields. The light rain that fell ran into the gullies and fed down into the stream below the hill. The waters were stained and filled with soot washed from the grass and weeds.
At the steading a wall crashed in with a roar, a red eye winked up at the clouds which hid the stars, but the rain closed it with a lid of steam and smoke. In the sudden flash of the wooden beams, dried out by the heat and now burning deep orange-red to the heart of each trunk, the giants, their allies and their slaves could be seen fighting to save their home and kill the fire which consumed it. Scores of orcs wielded shovels or even lengths of wood, scooping wet dirt upon the fire. They worked so close to the flames that their skin was blistered and their bodies painted black with dirt and ash. Beside them were ogres and, careless of where they trod, the giants went back and forth, some with shovels of their own throwing heaps of oerth and others with buckets the size of tubs or kegs, big enough to hold a man, filled with water from the well. Many orcs died that night, lobbed into the flames by a giant lifting both oerth and orc, or crushed beneath a careless foot. The keep itself was half empty, the great hall deserted, the barracks abandoned now, but nearer to the fire there was a frantic haste to rescue possessions from the chambers of the chieftainess and lead the young and babes safely from their rooms.
Only the giants' kitchen showed signs of life. A smattering of orcs, most in ones and twos ran loose. Some fled into the great hall, but it was thick with smoke and the northern wall was ablaze, dark clouds billowing through cracks where the logs had split. From here they made their way down the long hall and out into the entrance way, only to be swept up into the frenzied retreat. Ogres and giantesses threw piles of cloth, handfuls of possessions, or sacks almost as big as the orcs themselves, into their arms. These orcs who had rebelled against their masters, slain the keeper and his bestial pets, were made to haul and carry what they could from the burning rooms. Once outside they threw down their burdens by the growing heap and, unnoticed, slipped away. The kitchen grew quiet again, the frantic haste inside the eastern most part of the hall still unburnt began to lessen, and finally, from the stairs inside the giants' pantry, a small group crept out.
* * *
"I'm not taking that chain," said Harald.
"It might be important," Ivo told him.
The ranger shook his head in disgust. He was tired, perhaps more than any of his companions. Though he was a man stronger than most any other, he had done much this night to drain his strength and now his muscles burned and ached. He wanted rest, even without sleep he wanted just to wrap himself in a warm fur and stretch himself out on the ground. Instead he carried a heavy pack, and his weapon, which he bore with a loving pride and joy, was a heavy blade as well as cumbersome. The chain weighed as much as a man. It lay there looking twice as heavy with its thick black links coiled one on the other in a heap.
They stood within the giants' pantry, not so exposed as they had been in the great chamber below, but a perilous place where enemies could rise up from the stairs or come walking through the door. The little thief expected such. He stood by the half open pantry door and kept watch, but his ears listened for the tread of feet on the stairs or a shout from his other companions that enemies had caught up with them again.
* * *
"The air is thick," said Ghibelline.
"Yes," replied Ivo. "It is worse now, the fire must be spreading. It was not this bad downstairs."
"Could be that they are putting out the blaze," said Harald. "Fire smokes the worse when it is being killed." The ranger felt his muscles pull as he lifted the chain from the floor and wrapped it across his shoulders and behind his neck. "You owe me for this wizard," he said to Talberth.
"It will prove its worth. I have no doubt," Talberth told him smugly.
"What is the best way out of here?" Gytha asked Telenstil.
The elf had taken out his small map again and poured over it thoughtfully.
"We are not going to trust that map again are we?" asked Talberth.
"It has its inaccuracies, Talberth," said Telenstil. "But it has also proven true in some regards. There should be a hall beyond these doors and at its end a large room that has access to a wide yard, and beyond that a gate."
"What about the kitchen?" asked Gytha. "Those chimneys, they are wide enough to drag up a horse. We could climb them. The rope should still be hanging down that shaft we climbed before."
"Not more climbing," said Harald.
"I like it better than walking into a room full of giants," Gytha replied.
"Well let's do something," Talberth said impatiently, growing tired of all the talk, and nervous, standing in the giants' pantry.
"We will try the door and the gate to the yard," Telenstil said firmly. "We can always come back, but you are right, we had best make our escape now while we have the strength and some magical resources still left to us."
Harold heard what was said and drifted outside the door, checking the corner of the kitchen where the exit to the passage lay. The massive portal was shut, it stood next to the half-open entrance to the pantry but the halfling could not reach the latch, let alone budge the huge wooden door. "Here," Harold called to the others as they began to assemble setting packs on their shoulders and making sure their weapons were at hand. "I need one of you tall ones to check this lock or help me up so I can check it."
"Ok," the ranger answered, but Talberth stepped forward instead.
"You keep hold of that chain," said Talberth. "I can help open a door or even lift up our thief."
"How about you carry the chain?" the ranger answered back.
Talberth ignored him and went to help the thief. The others stayed just inside the pantry, both Ivo and Telenstil now peering out, while Talberth and Harold examined the door which opened onto the hall. The little thief was pressed against the wood, a small crystal cup held up to his ear.
"Do you hear anything?" asked Talberth.
"Shhh!" Harold hissed then listened for a moment longer. "Nothing but you, me, and that gaggle in the pantry."
Talberth reached up. The latch was higher than his head, but not out of reach. It was a simple affair, just a metal bar with a handle that fell in place between a bracket set on the frame. When Talberth pushed it up, the door was released, the hinges gave a long groaning creak and it swung a bit toward them, opening into the kitchen.