Metal collected a coating of rust easily and quickly in the damp environment of the steading. Hardly a day went by without a light rain or a cloudy mist sweeping across the hilltop, and the air within the hall always had the smell of damp earth, firesmoke and mold. The hinges on the giants' door were eaten with the stuff, dull red on grey-black iron. They ground open with a banshee's cry as Talberth pulled the door aside. The mage had to lean and put his shoulder against the edge and strained to open the door wide enough for the party to pass. Harold put his hands against his ears and clenched his teeth at the sound. Surely any passing monsters would hear that noise like the warning cry of some undead guardian, thought Harold.
Talberth peered down the corridor revealed by the open door. There were torches set beside it and another pair much further along where the passage narrowed, between them the hallway was dim, but also empty, much to the mage's relief. To his left the hallway turned and went around a corner, he took a step outside the kitchen and crept toward the turn. A small hand pulled at his robe and Talberth nearly jumped.
Harold put a finger to his lips then gestured for the wizard to stay back. The little thief took a small wooden pipe from his pocket and lowered himself to the floor. Creeping on hands and knees he dropped flat at the corner then placed the pipe to his eye. Inside were set small mirrors that let him scan the corridor around the corner without putting his head at risk. A quick check and Harold was on his feet, he looked back toward the mage and waved for him to bring the others, the way ahead was clear.
"The hall is clear," Talberth said to Telenstil.
"Good, then let us be on our way," the elf replied.
He left the pantry followed by the gnome, behind him came Harald and Gytha then the orc called Boss by his fellows. Four orcs followed, they held the senseless Derue on their shoulders. They'd tied him to a pair of spears and carried him like a carcass being taken home to the tribal cooking pot. Last came the shadow of an orc, a thin emaciated runt, called Little Rat by his brethren. The orc was but a child, grown old in the slave pens of the giants.
There was a door along the bottom of the turn, but no other nearby, only a huge set of double-doors at the north end of the corridor.
Harold listened at the nearby door, he heard nothing, the passage was silent, but the smell of smoke was stronger, and high above the little thief there was a growing haze, dark near the upper beams, still clear at a human's height, but drifting down, a dark cloud descending. He waited till the others appeared, then spoke in a hushed voice to Telenstil. "I'll go on ahead, you might as well follow, no place seems safer than another and I may need you if there are giants behind that door."
Telenstil nodded to the thief, Harold set off, the three mages, human, elf and gnome right behind him. The passage was long, but they were eager to be free of Nosnra's hall and soon were standing at the door. Harold listened, he could hear some sounds, but distant, not just shrouded by the wood but loud voices and noises that were far off, or so he thought.
"Talberth," Harold said to the mage, "you need to get the latch."
Talberth felt his mouth go dry, they had run into few giants within the hall, they must be somewhere, maybe behind this door, the thought went through his head. It felt like the world had stilled as he reached for the latch, the click it made was like the clash of swords, and as he pushed against the wood, the hinges screamed, the banshees howled again.
Svar jangled the bone dice in his hand, his cousin Dazh laughed, but Dajd, Dazh's brother looked anxious. They had been sent with a score of orc slaves to empty the giantesses' quarters. The three ogres had the orcs hard at work but did nothing but gamble themselves.
"What-ja worried about, Dajd. we're supervisen'," Svar said and rolled the dice.
Dazh laughed again, a deep bass rumble.
"Any of them find us here and it'll be our arses," Dajd said and kept looking at the outer door.
The orcs had just left with another load. They'd kept the door to the yard open to make it easier for them to go in and out and save the ogres the trouble of getting up from their game.
"Their nibs is all too busy," said Svar as he rolled two skulls, two shields and a severed hand.
Dazh cursed and picked up the dice. It was a hard roll to beat.
"They'll want their stuff and them orcs, they aint gonna get half of this trash outta here before the fire eats it," said Dajd.
"You worry too much," Svar told him.
Dazh shook the dice in both hands listening to them rattle back and forth then tossed them into the circle they'd traced on the floor. The bones turned, one skull, then a second, then a third, Dazh couldn't believe his luck, then a shield and the last die came to rest with a grinning skull face up.
"Read em and...." Dazh started to say with a deep laugh, but as his words came out a groaning creak brought his head up and froze the rumble in his throat.
"Bloody Hell!" cursed Dajd.
Svar swept the dice aside with the back of his hand and stood up. He grabbed the wooden chest he'd been using as a stool and made a bee line for the outer door, nodding his head respectfully to the giants coming in from the kitchen passageway. He'd taken only a step or two before he stopped and with a start turned back to face the door.
Talberth pushed the door inward, but not full open, just wide enough to slip inside. He leaned his head around the edge and glanced back and forth, giant beds he saw, huge chests, a table big as a wagon, an ogre carrying a wooden box, it gave him a respectful nod... The mage almost nodded back.
Talberth's eyes went wide; the ogre turned its head away and took another step. Behind it came another and a third which walked straight into its companion's back when the second ogre stopped suddenly in its tracks and stared wide-eyed at the human staring back. When Talberth pushed the door aside Ivo walked past and into the room beyond. He'd barely turned his head when he heard Talberth draw his breath in a whistling stream. Ivo glanced up and followed the direction of Talberth's eyes, then saw the ogres standing frozen in the middle of the room.
Ivo had kept a spell prepared, a crystal rod, inside, the tails of a hundred fireflys, and as he waved it in the air the rod began to glow.
"Stay back. Do not look," Ivo said in a muffled voice and began to weave the rod in an endless loop. The greenish light began to leave a glowing trail, an ouroboros, a snake of light that went on and on as it ate its own tail.
The staring ogres froze in place. Svar dropped the wooden box. It crashed to the floor with a bang and the sound of breaking glass. Dazh had his mouth half open, a long drop of drool hung down from his lip, it stretched halfway to the floor before it broke. Dajd wiped a hand across his eyes, but he too became enraptured by the twisting glow, he lost his balance and sat down on the floor, but never took his eyes away.
"Quick!" Ivo called to the others behind the door. "They are powerless while I weave this spell."
* * *
"Keep your eyes to the ground!" Ivo shouted at the others.
Harold slipped around the door and stood behind him; with his head lowered he could see the edges of a glowing whirl and the movement of Ivo's hand.
"Stay behind me, I'm going to move forward," Ivo called without looking. He took slow careful steps, all the while moving the glowing wand in its twisted pattern that drew the ogres' dazed attention.
Telenstil and Talberth came next, but the elf turned his former apprentice back to face the others coming through the door.
"Have them keep their eyes to the ground," Telenstil said, relaying Ivo's warning. "If any do become enmeshed in Ivo's spell you must block their sight to free them." The elf put a hand to his forehead to shield his eyes, then followed the path that Harold took, going wide and steering clear of Ivo's spell. When he passed the ogres' he let his glance rise up and watched the outer door.
Harold went over to the open portal. He crouched low and stared out into the night. An orange glow lit the door and the room was slowly clouding with smoke from the burning hall. Outside, the yard was filled with yelling giants, the crackle of the wood being eaten by the flames and shadows dancing back and forth. Harold could see no-one nearby. The fire burned the eastern wing, a hundred feet away or more, and the giants, their slaves and allies were surrounded by the smoke and flames.
"Harold, what do you see," asked Telenstil. "Our little wall of sparks has grown and it is keeping the giants busy."
Harold told the mage, "I can see the outer gate," he pointed to his left. "I could hit it with a knife from here."
"Very good," said Telenstil. He glanced to his side, an ogre was only an arm's length away, but still mesmerized by Ivo's swirling spell. "Harold, help me bind these brutes."
"Why not just cut their ugly throats?" Harold asked.
"We should, but I am sick of this killing," Telenstil replied. "We can bind them easily and be gone before they are free."
"If that is how you feel, you're the chosen leader," said Harold, "but I say take a knife to them now and we will not face them later."
"Let us try it my way for now. Later we will see the result," Telenstil said. He drew a length of cord from his pouch and used a small knife to cut off several lengths.
"What is going on?" asked Gytha.
Telenstil had not heard her approach, or the ranger who came stomping by, the chain, his sword and pack weighing him down.
"What is going on?" Harald asked coming near to Telenstil and Gytha.
"I just asked that," said Gytha with a laugh.
"Harold and I are binding these ogres," said Telenstil. "The door is open and the outer gate just outside."
"We'd better hurry. How long can Ivo keep them bespelled?" asked Gytha.
"I will check the gate," said Harald. The ranger did not wait for a reply but went to the open door.
"Long enough I hope," said Telenstil. He nodded to the thief. "Can you help Harold?"
"Wait," said Harold. "You help tie these ogres and I'll check the gate."
"No, no," Gytha waved her palm toward Harold. "You are good with knots, and I think I can be more help with the gate. I'll take these orcs with me."
As they spoke the first of the orcs crept across the room.