Dawn came to the giants' hill. Smoke still drifted from the embers buried beneath the fallen beams of the great hall. Giants and ogres poured water over the splintered wood; others pulled away the charred rubble and stirred the ashes beneath. In the sodden field sat Nosnra, he'd had them drag a table from the ruined hall and benches too. Engenulf's body lay prepared before him, Nosnra used piled boxes and crates to form a throne, then set the table at his feet. They laid the witan down and placed the benches round the throne for Nosnra's warriors, those who'd sworn the oath of blood. The giants put down their buckets, their bars of iron, and their axes. They left the orcs and ogres to drown the fire out then filed past the body of their witan and their chief. They had no feast prepared; the words they spoke were all of vengeance and of blood, the ale they drank, the final toast to their lifeless kin, was thick and bitter from the fallen ash.
* * *
It was past midday when Harald woke. He'd slept since dawn; hours past the time he'd asked Telenstil to wake him. Everyone else was still asleep except for that other elf, Ghibelline, and even he leaned against the rock wall with eyes closed.
"Telenstil," he said to the elven mage who stood by the cliff's edge, "you let me sleep."
"You needed sleep," Telenstil answered him. He looked past the ranger at the others who lay crowded under the overhang of rock. "Everyone needed some time to rest."
"The fire is almost out," Harald said half to himself.
Out across the valley the thick black smoke was gone, only small wispy trails of grey were left, cook fires or a last few steaming embers somewhere within the ruins of the hall.
"Telenstil, we should be going. Soon."
"Yes, it is time to find a better camp," he replied.
"We could hide that magic chain somewhere around here," Harald suggested hopefully.
"I hate to ask you to carry that burden, but it is something of great value to Nosnra," Telenstil said to the old ranger, "at the very least I wish to deny him its use."
"If I find a deep enough pit it's going in," Harald told him with a firm nod of his head.
* * *
They could not wake Jalal. The old man was stiff, his limbs were cold; Gytha thought he might be dead, but a faint pulse still beat within his chest. She called upon the Saint. Cuthbert was the strong arm that supported the weak, that lifted the fallen, and struck against evil, but his blessing could not make the old young or move the final moment of life forward one fleeting second.
"You can't aid him?" Ghibelline asked her sadly.
"The giants have worn him down. He is not hurt," said Gytha, "just old and weak."
"Yesterday his spirit burned bright," Ghibelline put his hand on the old man's shoulder. "Worn yes, but... I know that for you he is old, but for me... we are of an age, and to my people I am considered young."
"You have not spent time with humans before?" Gytha asked.
"No, I am of the woods. Humans I have met, but passing through our lands," said Ghibelline. "I have seen death, but not like this."
"This is not a bad passing," she told the elf. "What pain he feels is like that in a dream. I think his spirit will leave him while he sleeps."
"Gytha, what is wrong?" asked Ivo. The old gnome knelt beside the dying man. All around them the others had risen and prepared to leave. The orcs had little enough to take. They dragged the captive scout to his feet and put a knife to the rope which bound his legs, but Talberth stopped them. The scout had proven too dangerous to trust even with his hands tied behind his back. The orcs would have to carry him again, they grumbled, but remembered the power of the mage and hefted the bound man up with ungentle hands.
"Jalal is dying," Gytha told the gnome.
"Telenstil will want to know. There are questions we wanted to ask." Ivo said.
"Is that your only concern," said Ghibelline sharply.
"I'm sorry for your friend," said Ivo. He'd just stood and taken a step away when the elf spoke. He turned back to face Ghibelline. "I did not know him, but what he knew may have been important to us, perhaps more important than his life or ours."
Jalal's lips were blue. His breath came in shallow gasps barely stirring the hair of his beard. The rise and fall of his chest was slight, he exhaled, a hollow sound, his mouth half opened but his eyes were closed. And then he died.
One moment a spirit dwelt within Jalal's thin and weary frame, then the body Ghibelline held was naught but a withered husk, a shell left empty by its guiding force. Gytha said a quiet prayer and placed her hand upon the cooling brow. Telenstil shook his head. Whatever answers that Jalal had possessed where now most likely beyond his reach.
"I am sorry," Gytha said to Ghibelline. The elf wiped at his eyes, then gave the cleric a faint thankful look. "What shall we do with him?" Gytha asked Telenstil.
He stood above them lost in thought.
"We can't leave him!" Ghibelline burst out.
"No, we will take him with us till we can bury him, or find him a proper resting place." Telenstil said calmly.
"What was his faith?" Gytha asked.
"I do not know," said Ghibelline. "He came from the west. He said once that I would not know his Gods."
The leader of the orcs, Boss, had wandered over. He listened to their talk and craned his neck, peering over the cleric's shoulder to see what drew the attention of the others. "Old man dead?" he asked. "That one good to work for, brought us drink and food. Back in cage," the orc nodded his head toward the steading, "we eat dead, remember before giants make us slaves. We put skull in cave of dead, just eat rest."
"Why you beast..." Ghibelline shouted at the orc.
"We do not eat our dead," said Gytha firmly.
Telenstil put his hand on Ghibelline's shoulder. It quieted the young elf. "Different people, different customs, he meant to honor your friend."
"We have plenty food," Boss said indignantly. The orc did not understand all that they said but he caught the meaning behind Ghibelline's words.
"I will help you carry him," said Gytha.
"I will help as well," said Talberth. He had approached quietly as they spoke. "Go ready your people," the mage told the orc.
The small group of monsters would do as the mage commanded, fearful of incurring his deadly wrath. Boss grumbled beneath his breath but took out his anger on his followers, pushing them into line. The thief called down to them a warning, his perch above the ledge gave him a far eye-view of the path both to his right and left.
"The ranger is returning!" he hissed.
"Probably wondering what is our delay." Ivo said to Telenstil.
"Perhaps, but he has returned sooner than I expected," the elf replied.
Harald came along the eastern path. They had followed the western trail up the hill the night before but had stopped at the first place that would shelter them, too tired to go on. Toward the east the trail went further up into the hills, they knew not where. Harald had left to see what lay ahead.
"Telenstil," Harald jogged up to the elf. "Telenstil, we had better get moving, there are giants up ahead."
"Coming this way?" Telenstil ask with some concern.
"No," said the ranger, "I saw three giants moving along a trail east of here. They are crossing through a path at the base of a ravine heading north, but one split off to the north east along a second trail."
"Scouts you believe?" asked Telenstil.
"No, I don't think so," said Harald. "My guess is that he is calling for help."
"We dealt him a serious blow," said Telenstil. "That is good and bad. It seems we have hurt Nosnra enough for him to set aside his pride and call for help. That is bad."
"What's the good part?" asked the thief.