"I see problems with that plan," said Harald. "They will simply think us rebellious slaves."
"You just don't want to look like an orc," Harold laughed.
"It seems that we are at least all agreed," Telenstil broke into their friendly banter.
"We go round and round, a lot of words, but saying little," complained Harald.
"Then we had best break camp and talk again later when we can make more detailed plans," Telenstil answered.
"Let us be gone from this place," Ghibelline agreed.
"You have been quiet," said Gytha.
"When I can be of help I will speak," said Ghibelline.
"And there is much that I wish to speak with you about," Telenstil said to Ghibelline. The elven mage then turned to the young wizard. "Talberth, please go wake the orcs and have them prepare to leave."
"Harald, will you help me with the chain?" Talberth asked.
The old ranger scowled and looked toward Telenstil without answering.
"You are right, Talberth," said Telenstil, "Harald, please, I bow to Talberth's instincts. We may need the chain.
"Talberth's instincts don't have to carry the thrice-damned thing," muttered Harald, but he turned and began to wrap the dark links about his shoulders.
"Little enough to prepare," Gytha shook her head thinking of all they had lost at their old camp.
"Yes, we will need to resupply ourselves," Telenstil looked over their bare camp, only the small packs and cloaks that they had taken with them to the steading.
The circle broke apart. Harald grumbled again as he shifted the chain on his shoulders.
"Don't complain," Talberth said to him, "I am sure we will need it."
"Then you should be the one to carry it," Harald told him.
"Now you two," warned Ivo, "none of this now. On the run from giants is no time to be arguing."
"Who's arguing," Harald snapped.
"You both are." Ivo said bruskly.
They weaved their way across the hilltop as they talked. It was not so round and flat as the giants' hill to the south, but long and rough, all stone and rock cracked and uneven.
* * *
The northern edge of the hill ended in a sudden drop, a sheer cliff that fell off into a deep ravine. Harold walked along the edge then climbed the outcropping of rock to the east. It overhung the slope below, like the lip to a mug of ale.
"No way down," Harold shook his head. Nearby him Little Rat craned his neck to see over the edge. They followed the eastern edge, checking the overhang and the slope below. Toward the center the peak began to rise and just beyond its crest he found a crevice in the rocks, a chimney of stone.
"Stay here," the small thief told the young orc. "No following me, no falling on me either."
"I stay, I stay," said Little Rat brightly, but Harold glared at him till the orc sat down and appeared to stay still.
Harold began a slow descent bracing his back and legs against the walls of the chimney. It took him down thirty feet or somewhat more, he sat below the overhang, at his feet, the steep slope of the hill at the end of a short drop.
"This will be a hard path down," he said to himself, "or a quick one." Harold eyed the slope, this far up the hill it was all scrub brush and jagged rocks. Lower down he could see a line of bushes, thick and clinging to the boles of fir trees, their lower branches brown, strangled by the climbing vines. With effort Harold made his way back up the crevice using his back and legs to climb the chimney in the same way he came down. He pulled himself up over the edge and lay on his back for a few moments, sweating heavily in the bright sun though the day was cool.
"Where is our ranger?" Telenstil asked the returning pair.
"He has gone ahead to scout," Ivo called out as he approached the camp.
"He took off as soon as we found a hiding place," said Talberth.
"As have our small thief and his little apprentice," said Telenstil, "We are ready here, but I left it for Talberth to wake the orcs."
"So they are my pups now," Talberth shook his head, "I could do without the honor."
"They fear you, Talberth," Telenstil patted the mage's shoulder. "That display you put on in Nosnra's dungeon was quite something. It has made a lasting impression on these orcs. Besides they would not like to be commanded by an elf, while humans often have orcs to serve them."
"Evil scum," Talberth said distastefully. "Harold might be used to dealing with such, but I..."
"It is no reflection on you my friend," said Telenstil, "but only necessity."
"I will go wake our sleeping charges," Talberth held up both hands palms out. "But orcs, this quest of ours has created a strange alliance. I do not like it." Talberth left them to wake the orcs walking over to where they slept. He passed both Gytha and Ghibelline who carried the meager supplies they had taken from the steading.
"He is right," said Ghibelline. "We cannot trust those orcs."
"You have good ears, Goblinkiller," laughed Ivo.
"Goblinkiller, Ivo what do you mean?" asked Gytha.
"Why, it is his name," Ivo looked surprised. "Gytha I thought you knew something of the elven tongue."
"Why yes," Gytha thought for a moment, "it is very much like the old tongue. Ghibelline, yes I see it now."
"A respectable name for a warrior," said Telenstil.
"I have always strived to be worthy of it," Ghibelline said quietly.
"I just wish you were called giant slayer." Ivo laughed again.
* * *
Harald whistled; a short exhale over his teeth. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand then with the same hand shaded his eyes. This peak he stood upon was half again the height of the giants' hill, but looking to the north he could see the mountains rising up, dwarfing all the surrounding hills and ridges within sight. These giants lived among the hills and valleys, the mountains were too harsh and bare. No fields for their cattle to graze, no woods beyond a certain height, poor hunting too, no place for a Hill Giant to set his hall.
"North," Harald muttered. That would be the way for them to go, Harald thought to himself. Move beyond the hills up into the crags among the nearby mountains where the giants would find it hard to follow. The ranger continued south. He checked the rocky lip of stone for another crack or some trail carved out like the pathway along the southern slopes but he found nothing safer than the chimney-like crevice at the crest of the eastern ridge.
"Noise, chief. Noise up there," Little Rat whispered to Harold. The small orc and the halfling had climbed up to the ledge above the camp and kept watch.
"Hey!" shouted out the thief. "I see you have gone out scouting as well."
The ranger pulled himself up the ledge and eyed his friend and his small orc companion wistfully. "We aren't on the crowded streets of Greyhawk," Harald said to them, "no need to shout, a good deal of need not to be heard."
"Bah!" grunted Harold. "I haven't seen anything up here but some birds and rabbits. Besides, my shouting is particularly quite."
"Well, I didn't see anything besides birds and rabbits myself," agreed Harald, "but caution is best served by silence."
"Bah again," laughed Harold. "I'd rather be shouting to you on Scriverner's Crescent on my way to The Dryad for some cold ale and pleasant company."
"You will have to take me there someday," Harald replied.
"You will buy the first round," Harold laughed again.
"And the second, my friend, but for today we'd best get back to camp and get everyone moving."