Harald came running back down the hall. Inside the room the others stood and argued about what next to do.
"Telenstil!" he called to the elf. "The fire has spread above us. The room where you found the map must be burning."
"That is good news," Telenstil looked pleased.
"What do you mean?" asked Talberth. "We are trapped down here then."
"Nonsense," said Telenstil. "My friend you have become gloomy and hidebound since we last met. There is that gate and beyond that some beasts which we can tend to. I feel sure there is some way out beside those stairs. And worse comes to worse we can use the magic chain that you have found."
"What is it that you want to do?" said Talberth. "It is this map, isn't it?"
"You read me like a scroll," said Telenstil. "Yes, now that we need not worry about giant visitors from above let us unroll this map and see what it shows."
Harald came over to the stone chest and looked inside. He lifted out the chain letting the cold links run through his hand. "Strange treasure this," he said.
"Careful there!" Talberth nearly shouted. "That's a magical device."
"Looks like iron mongery to me," the ranger said. He held the long chain in his two hands and put it carefully back into the box.
"Look at that," Talberth called to Telenstil. "He can carry that chain easily. We need not leave it behind."
"Yes, one forgets that heavy is a relative term," said Telenstil. "Harald, that chain, would it weigh you down?"
"That?" Harald glanced into the stone box at the metal chain. "Oh, it's heavy enough, but I can carry it if you like. It's magic you say?"
"So it seems," said Telenstil. "Harald, while you are there please pull out that map from the barrel next to you."
The ranger grabbed the tall barrel and pushed it to its side. It crashed to the ground and rocked back and forth. He pulled the map out, it was rolled up like a carpet, and spread it across the floor.
"What does this say?" Harald asked.
"I thought you understood the giants' tongue." said Talberth.
"I can understand, yes, but I only know a little of their writing. Some of this I can make out," the ranger pointed to a symbol here and there. "That means cold or snow, and that means bear, that's the symbol for guard, and that," he pointed to the center of map, "means big bug. It looks like some kind of valley with ledges and caves all around it. That symbol means slippery and next to it means ice."
"This is the home of a frost giant lord," said Telenstil pouring over the monstrous map. "A Jarl, Grugnur, lord of the north, it says. This must be Nosnra's ally to the north. Those giants you fought before, they must have been sent from him."
"This map, it is for Nosnra," said Talberth. "It's written in the hill giant script and there, look, it is a guide to guest's chambers and an audience hall, but it shows little else."
"It is disappointing," said Telenstil. "No need to worry about leaving it behind. Talberth, you have a good and steady hand, please copy what you can of this."
"But Telenstil, we do not have the time," the mage protested.
"We have a little time, and I will lend my hand to opening that gate across the way and putting down those manticores if need be. That will give you some time to make a rough copy of this map."
"All right. I have a charcoal stick and a blank scroll sheet in my pack," Talberth said and went to retrieve both.
Harald and the two scouts heaved at the gate but could not lift it.
"Is it locked in place?" asked Ivo.
"No," the thief answered. "It's just heavy as a horse."
"It's not going to budge," said Harold. The ranger stood up and stretched, they could hear the bones in his back give small pops. "Uggh! That's better, worked the kinks out at least."
"I see no other way than to use a spell. It is one of the most powerful that I know." said Telenstil. "Please stand back."
The others all moved away from the metal bars. Telenstil drew out a small dark stone from his belt and pointed it toward the gate. "Tee-Ja" he said and a pale green light shot out. It played against the bars and in an instant they were gone. Nothing remained but a purplish dust on the floor. A section higher than their heads and wider than a man lying on the ground had disappeared, destroyed by the mage's spell. "Now let us see to those manticores," said Telenstil.
"I've seen enough of them already," Harold replied emphatically and rubbed his wounded arm.
The room beyond was vast and dimly lit. Harold told them all he'd seen, the piles of chests and coffers against the western wall, the sign of traps his shaman's magic powder had revealed and the second metal gate closed along the southern wall. The manticores had sent their spikes from behind the bars and wounded him near to death.
"I'll go help Talberth with the map," he told them and slipped back across the hall into the hidden room.
"We may need him yet again," said Telenstil. "I will need to rest before I can cast that spell once more. If we are to enter into that southern room we will need to find a way to remove those bars."
"Shall I go and get him back?" asked Gytha.
"Not yet, we will deal with these manticores first... hmm..." the elf became lost in thought. "No... I can hold them frozen with a spell, I think, but only for a short time. There is no way that I know of short of slaying them outright. What of you? And Henri, is there any way to immobilize these beasts without harm?"
"Manticores, they are an abomination in the True God's sight. They can only be cast out and removed from their existence on the Oerth," Henri intoned.
"That would be a no, I'd say," said Gytha. "And I can do nothing that would keep them from harming us except to harm them worse."
"Henri is right," said Harald. "These are evil beasts, if I found one sleeping in the woods I would kill it quick before it could do anyone more harm."
Telenstil gave a sigh. "I have no love for such creatures myself, but I never kill unless I have to, I have seen too much death in my life already. But I have the means. I will try to make this quick. Stay here but prepare yourself, just in case my magic fails."
Telenstil removed a small turtle shell from his belt, he had the leather ringed with pockets; each held some component for his spells. "Em-En-Et!" he intoned and the shell became a mist which surrounded him then disappeared. He walked out to the center of the room and called to the manticores behind the southern bars. They howled and screeched and shot their spikes, flung from tails and barked out curses when they saw that they could not strike the mage. Telenstil approached, he saw that four of the man-faced creatures were within the room. They lined the bars; their lion-bodies flashed out razor claws and tried to reach beyond their prison door. The mage backed away and when he had moved far enough he drew out a small crystal rod, "Sa-La-Ma!" he said. The rod became a streak of blue, the air burned as it passed. The bolt was a wide blue-white, living thing. It struck the manticores and froze them to the metal bars. They crackled beneath the electric pulse and sagged as it flashed past. Their hair ignited into flame but before they could voice even a single howl the bolt came back. It struck the cold stone wall behind them and doubled round and lit them up again. Telenstil blinked and walked to the southern gate. Four burnt bodies lay against the bars. He turned and looked away. "Go get our thief. Tell him all is safe."
* * *
The hammer fell from Ansgar's aching hands. Atheling watched out the southern window and Hugolin had run down the stairs to get help, but Ansgar could ring the warning alarm no more.
"Atheling, take another turn," said Ansgar. "My arms are burning."
Atheling did not reply, Ansgar had to give him a shove. The giant turned and took two rolled up bits of cloth from his ears. Ansgar did the same.
"What is it?" Atheling asked.
"Take a turn at the alarm," said Ansgar. "My arms are about to drop off."
"I don't know why we are bothering," Atheling picked up the hammer with one hand and put his earplugs back in. "No one seems to be listening. Smell that smoke? The steading's on fire! What is going on down there?"
"I don't know," Ansgar shook his head. "Hugolin will be back to tell us, but the orders are to ring the alarm till we are told to stop."
"If that fire comes any nearer I'm not going to stand around banging on some metal bar," replied Atheling.
He raised the hammer and sent out the jarring sound again while Ansgar hastily filled his ears with rolls of cloth. Ansgar wondered what was going on as well. They had heard nothing since the maid Alditha had come to tell them of some disturbance in the hall. After the pretty young giantess had run off they had waited for some time then sent Hugolin out to find out what was going on.