Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 6

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 6

Chapter II - Nine Against The Giants

The cave was cold, no matter what that pious, pompous, Pholtite said to the contrary. Harold Goodwine shivered though he was wrapped in a thick-furred blanket of a cape. The halfling was not used to these damp and freezing climes. He had been born in Geoff but raised in the hub of the Oerth, the gem of the Flanaess, greatest of cities; Greyhawk. Eating a hot meal in a warm house was what he should be doing and where he would rather be on such a day as this.

"Watch that cape, and your feet. You'll have them in the fire next!" A deep bass voice called. Harald Hardhand towered over most men but he was a true giant in the eyes of the other Harold.

The two were as different as they were fast friends. The halfling, painfully thin, by his standards, small even according to his people, no warrior but a sneak-thief, an unrecognized master of his craft. He dressed in the most appallingly garish colors, and, besides a desire for wealth, had an overwhelming fondness for jewels and gems of all sorts.

Harald was broad, almost of dwarven build around shoulders and chest, but on two tree-trunk legs. He was a head taller than the wizard Talberth, a skinny youth, at least as viewed from the distance that thirty or so years had put between them, but the young mage was tall and thin as a sapling. Harald's hair, what was left of it, was brown with thin lines of silver-grey running through. He had it pulled back in a long tail and tied it with leather cord. His whiskers and drooping mustache were streaked with age among the reddish-brown. A long white patch went through his beard. It followed the course of a scar that ran from edge of jaw to top of hairless pate. His other scars, a crisscross of old wounds, did not show. He wore a dark brown-green pair of trews, a brick-red stripe edging the tartan blocks. A wondrous silver-metal shirt of chain, enchanted with a smith-wizard's spell, he hid beneath a much patched tunic, a grey-green cloak thrown over both.

"At least I'd be warm for a change," the halfling grumbled back, but pulled his feet and cloak away from the smokeless yellow flame.

Across the fire sat another unlikely pair. An ancient gnome, his long broad nose projecting from a face hidden in a thousand wrinkled lines of flesh. Bushy brows over deep set eyes, a wave of long white hair sprouting from beneath a metal cap; Ivo of Pondsend, a magician of great power. He talked in earnest with a red-haired warrior-maid, a cleric of staunch faith who wielded a stout length of wood, her patron's choice and talisman. Gytha Fireheart, St. Cuthbert's loyal shepherdess. Beyond them the holy priest of Pholtus, Henri, blinded by his God's shining light but gifted with a blank-faced sun-rayed mask that let him see among the realms of men. He sat still and silent, communing with his deity. To his side, near the far wall, a stable had been improvised; a line of horses, a small pony, and some hearty mules exhaled steaming plumes of frigid air and huddled in the cold. Two wizards, cloaked and robed in black with silver edge, both appearing young, the one from lack of years upon the Oerth, the other a high-elven face that looked both youthful and ageless, no mark of passing time but a sense of sorrow that time can bring even to a carefree heart. Talberth, young but of some renown, a human mage, he rested a long-fingered hand upon a shivering horse's flank. With a small spell, a cantrip of no note, he sent a pulse of warmth from his palm and soothed the wordless plea for heat. Telenstil, a high-elven wizard, pale-haired and fair, he stood at Talberth's side, his head reaching only to the shoulder of the young mage, they talked of the past night's work.

"That was Nosnra, I am sure. We could have killed him there, Edouard should not have fled," Talberth complained.

"I disagree, my friend," the elf began. "Nosnra it might well have been, but he is no easy one to kill. I have met him before and I will meet him again, but with all that I have learned, what deadly spells and charms that I have here, I would not face him alone, not by choice. Our brave scout would have been slain to no effect, had he summoned our help, so the giant chief would have summoned his, and it is no pitched battle that we have come to fight."

"You are my master and I but your apprentice," Talberth humbly bowed.

"Come now, no need for false humility. I taught you well, but that was some years ago, you are your own master, and though I lead this expedition you are a colleague and partner, an equal among our group," Telenstil waved a graceful arm to sweep across the room.

Talberth could not help but glance, he saw them all, the two Harry's, Henri, Ivo, fair Gytha, his heart gave a trembled beat, and the albino twins, their scouts, Edouard and Derues. An angry thought stirred within him at the sight, he had a strong dislike for the white-skinned, pink-eyed pair.

"We are nine against a giant brood," Telenstil continued. "We must stay together to face their strength. It will take our united skills to accomplish what we must."

"I would see them dead, but I know as well as you that we seek a cause for their newly well-thought-out attacks, their gathered strength and cautious raids. These are not the giants that I was taught of in school."

"We are far from the Grey College's halls," Telenstil said smiling. "There is much that a book or scroll will say that is no more than the guesswork of some nameless sage. Here we will see what is not and what is said to be. Prepare yourself, and because I have seen these things before, please watch where I may lead."

"I will, have no doubt," said Talberth, "but what have we learned that was not known before? They bleed, a torrent in fact, a sharp blade can end their life as easy as any man's."

"An unlucky stone thrown by a passing cart can end the life of most men," Telenstil replied, "Those two last night, they died beneath a magic blade, drunk and spelled to sleep, a prayer of silence surrounding all that transpired. Had they woken it would have been a fight worth telling of when we return to civilized lands. No, last night we had the Lady on our side. It took just minutes for the alarm to sound and the entire steading to be roused and set to search."

"We saw only the entranceway, their tower and a few feet of that monstrous hall. I do not feel the Lady looked at us in kindness," Talberth shook his head.

Telenstil laughed, light and mild, a cheery pleasant sound, "Oh youth, you expect too much. We came, we went, and no one died; no injuries, not even a pursuit of any kind. That is kind fate indeed. I will not argue that we could have discovered much more, but what we saw, it proves our information right. The map that we have, it tallies with what we have seen. And of much more import, we worked well together. Look at us," he waved his hand again. "A Cuthberite sits near a praying Pholtus priest, a city bred halfling thief, a hero of renown, a pair of mercenary scouts, a gnomish master of deceiving spells, you and I, what an unlikely gathering."

"Working for an alliance of kings," Talberth said with a doubtful tone, "we are a mismatched group as you say. I for a duke, you for your queen, though her interest here seems far astray from her own lands."

"We elves have eyes that see quite far," came Telenstil's good-natured reply. "Or didn't they teach you that in school?" 


"How did you cause Edouard to change into that giant's form," Gytha asked in a light, alto voice.

"It was the simplest of spells," answered Ivo with pride, replying in a deep grating rumble, each word a rocky sound, but clear and sharp like the edge of fresh cut stone. "Back home, among the hills, we live by such masking spells. Our warriors are doughty but our enemies are large and many. Such illusions are but a word, a gesture and a speck of colored dye."

"They are a wonder to me," she said wide eyed. "I have a simple faith, and with the Saint's boon I am granted such answers to my prayers as he deems me worthy to receive, but I have never seen the like of spells such as yours."

"Have ye not?" the old gnome asked surprised.

"Oh," she laughed, "I have seen mage's spells before, and druids' cause the oerth to rise and take on human form, but not these magics which trick the eye or blind it. And more, I do not trust my senses now that I have seen you cast your spells."

"Hey there!" called Harold from across the fire. "Don't let him deceive you with his simple talk. I've seen him on a midwinter night casing spells from upon a stage set at the center of Greyhawk's High Market. He lit the sky with colored lights that swirled and changed, then came alive. First monsters walked from roof to roof, great dragons danced in pairs above then a rain of sparkling mist chased them all away. Next a land formed, the empty curve of the Selintan before a brick or stone was laid, then against the river a small wooden house, a wall of wood then stone sprang up around it. Then a castle keep, and like a season's growth of grain shown from seed to harvest in a moment's time, the city grew and grew until mirrored in the sky above were all those below upon the ground." The halfling gasped for breath and laughed at his memories of such a spectacle. "Then it all changed and there was Zagyg's face, laughing down at us, he blew us all a kiss and stuck out a tongue that could have lapped the river dry. Oh what fun it was, the Fool was crowned and the mad night begun."

"Now, now master Harold," the old gnome almost blushed at the praise, "no need to tell old tales."

"You need some of that gnomish stonesweat brandy you drank that night," Harold laughed.

"Just a small drop is all I had, to keep out the night's chill," Ivo replied.

"A small drop for one of these giants, maybe," Harold turned to the Cuthberite priestess. "I take it you have never seen the grandest city of the Oerth."

"Oh, I've been to Gorna," Gytha answered innocently.

"Gorna, oh you poor, untraveled lass," Harold cried in a pitying voice. "Greyhawk would fit a dozen Gorna's within its walls and have room to spare."

"I've heard bard's tales of course, but a city's greatness is more than just its size," she replied.

"Well said," Interrupted Ivo. "Greyhawk holds many wonders, but the hills of my homeland are much more dear in my eyes than any of the city's halls or palaces."

"Oh, the shame, that such a wonder worker as yourself fails to recognize the greatest wonder of the Oerth!" Harold despaired.

"That's enough of that," Harald's bass voice declared. "Pardon this little Harold's unrelenting love for his adopted home. He was born in Geoff, same as you and me," he told the red-haired cleric. "North of the Hornwood, was it not my friend?"

"I was but a lad. I had no choice!" the halfing Harold replied.

"Careful there!" The bigger Harald warned. "You do not say that Geoff is a birthplace to bring on shame!"

"No, no..." Harold stuttered, raising his hands in mocking fear to ward off his old friend's wrath.

"Yes, you were too young to be taken away from such a noble place of birth. No better land to raise the young exists," declared Harald.

Gytha laughed. "No wonder such an unlikely pair as these two are such friends. You are as just as bad," she waved a playful finger at the greying hero. "What can master Ivo here think of us; I'm sure his own Kron Hills are just as fair."

"My apologies, Master Gnome," Harald gave a deep formal bow.

"And mine as well," the halfling stretched out a leg and doffed an imaginary cap, in a graceful gesture of respect.

Both Ivo and Gytha laughed at the ridiculous sight of the huge ranger and the tiny halfling thief bowing together like the most unlikely twins.

Clark Ashton Smith - Some Ideas and Descriptions from his Stories 1

Clark Ashton Smith - Some Ideas and Descriptions from his Stories 1

If you have not read this story TURN BACK NOW! or risk losing forever the unspoiled appreciation of Clark Ashton Smith's prose.

Originally Inspired by the rules and setting of the Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyberborea boxed set and the discussion of the same on the OD&D Forum I started sifting through my collection of Clark Ashton Smith for ideas but Im currently gearing up for Greyhawk.

The Abominations of Yondo
(This story first appeared in print in the April 1926 issue of Overland Monthly but the typescript is dated February 5th 1925)

Cactus-Forest [WD]
Fungi, Monstrous [MON]
Insects, Long-Legged [MON]
Lake, Weird [RVR]
Monstrous Thing [MON]
Ong (Lion Headed) [Deity]
Ong, Inquisitors of [ORG]
Vipers, Pale-Green [MON]
Yondo, Desert of [PLC]

Ong, Inquistors of

"It was noon of a vernal day when I came forth from that interminable cactus-forest in which the inquisitors of Ong had left me, and saw at my feet the grey beginnings of Yondo."

Yondo, Desert of

"The sand of the desert of Yondo is not as the sand of other deserts; for Yondo lies nearest of all to the world's rim; and strange winds, blowing from a gulf no astronomer may hope to fathom, have sown its ruinous fields with the grey dust of corroding planets, the black ashes of extinguished suns. The dark orb-like mountains which rise from its pitted and wrinkled plain are not all its own, for some are fallen asteroids half-buried in that abysmal sand. Things have crept in from nether space, whose incursion is forbid by watchful gods of all proper and well-ordered lands; but there are no such gods in Yondo, where live the hoary genii of stars abolished, and decrepit demons left homeless by the destruction of their antiquated hells."

Fungi, Monstrous
Vipers, Pale-Green

" that fantastic wood, I had found no token or memory of spring; and the swollen, fulvous, dying and half-rotten growths through which i had pushed my way, were like no other cacti; but bore shapes of abomination scarcely to be described. The very air was heavy with stagnant odors of decay; and leprous lichens mottled the black soil and russet vegetation with increasing frequency. Pale-green vipers lifted their heads from prostrate cactus-boles, and watched me with eyes of bright ochre that had no lids or pupils. These things had disquieted me for hours past; and I did not like the monstrous fungi, with hueless stems and nodding heads of poisonous mauve, which grew from sodden lips of fetid tarns; and the sinister ripples spreading and fading on the yellow water at my approach..."

Insects, Long-Legged

"I went forward, sinking at each step in a loathly softness, and followed by certain long-legged insects that I had met among the cacti. These insects were the color of a week-old corpse, and were as large as tarantulas; but when I turned and trod upon the foremost, a mephitic stench arose that was more nauseous even than their color."

Lake, Weird

"Topping one of the any mound-like ridges, I saw the waters of a weird lake, unfathomably dark and green as malachite, and set with bars of profulgent salt. These waters lay far beneath me in a cup-like basin; but almost at my feet on the wave-worn slopes were heaps of that ancient salt; and I knew that the lake was only the bitter and ebbing dregs of some former sea. Climbing down, I came to the dark waters, and began to lave my hands; but there was a sharp and corrosive sting in that immemorial brine, and I desisted quickly, preferring the desert dust that had wrapped about me like a slow shroud."

Monstrous Thing

"It was then that I heard a diabolic chuckle on the hillside above me. The sound began with a sharp abruptness that startled me beyond all reason, and continued endlessly, never varying its single note, like that mirth of some idiotic demon. I looked up, and saw the mouth of a dark cave, fanged with green stalactites, which I had not perceived before. The sound appeared to come from within this cave.
...with all the rapidity of nightmare, a monstrous Thing emerged. It had a pale, hairless, egg-shaped body, large as that of a gravid she-goat; and this body was mounted on nine long, wavering legs with many flanges, like the legs of some enormous spider. The creature ran past me to the water's edge; and I saw that there were no eyes in its oddly sloping face, but two knife-like ears rose high above its head, and a thin, wrinkled snout hung down across its mouth, whose flabby lips, parted in that eternal chuckle, revealed rows of bat's teeth."

In the few short pages of the Abominations of Yondo there is much more about the desert and its horrific denizens. Asteroid pits, ruined cities and ruined temples, mausoleums broke and surrounded by rotting cypresses. Shadow creatures, beckoning statues, vapors with the sickening odor of corruption, empty suits of armor marching across the desert, mummies of ancient kings ridden by ape-like demonic beasts with distorted bodies.

An obvious scenario idea is for the players to be driven through the mutated cactus-forest with the desert their only means of escape, but Yondo can be the setting for many adventures. The story is a description of Yondo's horrors but it hints at greater terrors and perhaps great rewards for those who would dare explore its shattered fanes and ruined necropoli.

My current inclination is to use this for inspiration with a Sea of Dust setting. I keep seeing the Sea of Dust as pure desolation, but this gets  me thinking of a horrible poisoned land with fearsome abomination and bizarre ruins. Something with a great CAS or Lovecraftian influence. 

NPC - The White Horseman

NPC - The White Horseman

Near the hills of the Fals River as it winds its way into eastern Ket is a recent battlefield between an army of marauding creatures and Kettish warriors. The bodies of the dead still rot in the fields. Spirits roam the land and none more prominent than The White Horseman. Still in his armor and carrying lance and shield he rides the edges of the field, terrifying local farmers and hunters, as the Kettish are reknowned for their dread of ghosts and spirits.

A delegation of clerics is due from Lopolla to cleanse the battlfield and put to rest the spirits but as with all things except business in Ket the delegation is slow to arrive. The battlefield, after all, will still be there so the clerics take their time.

The White Horseman is actually part of a group stripping the dead of their valuables. He is normally either Burc, Rifki, or Ferda (two brothers and a sister) dressed in white on a white horse with clay on their face and paint or white cloth on their weapons and shield.

There are seven of them in their family lead by their mother Savina. She has been going over the bodies with a fine tooth comb with an eye out for the commander of the Kettish force who wore a ruby ring of particular note. So far she hasn't found him (as he survived and has been taken prisoner by a handful of escaping hobgoblins).

Greyhawk - Letters Patents from Ivid to Baron Asperdi

Greyhawk - Letters Patents from Ivid to Baron Asperdi

Letters Patents from Ivid to Baron Asperdi

His Celestial Transcendacy, the Overking of Aerdy, Grand Prince Ivid of the North, Archduke of Ahlissa, Idee, and Sunndi, Suzerain of Medegia; Commander of the Bone March, Lord of the Sea Barons; Protector of Almor and Onnwal; Hetman of all the Aerdi; To all to whom these articles shall come, Greeting.

Be it know that We have given and granted, and by these articles do give and grant for us and our heires, to our welbeloved Sancius Foy, hereafter Baron Asperdi, and the heires of him and his other Barons, full and free authority, leave and power to saile to all parts in the Islands of the East, under our banners and ensignes with ships of what burthen or quantity soever the be, and as many mariners or men as he will have with him in the sayd ships, upon his own proper cost and charges, to seeke out, discover and finde whatsoever isles they be, and wheresoever they be: We have granted him, the heires of him, and his other Brons, have given him license to set up our banners and ensignes in every village, towne, castle or isle of them newly found. and that the aforesayd Sancius and his heires and other Barons may subdue, occupy and possesse all such townes, cities, castles and isles of him found, which he can subdue, occupy and possesse, as our vassal and lieutenant, getting unto us the rule, title and jurisdiction of the same villages, townes, castles, and firme land so found. Yet so that the aforesayd Sancius, and heires, and other Barons, be holden and bounden of all the fruits, profits, gaines, and commodities growing of such acquisitions, as often as the shall arrive at our port of Winetha (at which port he shall be bound and holden onely to arrive) all manner of necessary costs and charges by him made, being deducted to pay unto Us in wares or money the fift part of the capitall gaine so gotten. We giving and granting unto him and his heires and other Barons, that he shall be free from all paying of customes of all and singular such meerchandize as he shall bring with him from those places newly found. And moreover, we have given and granted to him, his heires and other Barons, that all the firme lands, isles, villages, townes, castles and places whatsoever they be that he shall chance to finde, may not of any other of our subjects be frequented or visited without the license of the foresayd Sancius and his heires, and other Barons, under pain of forefeiture aswell of their shippes as of all and singular goods of all them that shall presume to saile to those places so found. Willing, and most straightly commanding all and singular our subjects aswell on land as on sea, to give good assistance to the aforesayd Sancius and his heires and other Barons, and that as well in arming and furnishing his ships or vessels, as in provision of food, and in buying of victuals for his money, and all other things by them to be provided necessary for the sayd expedition, they do give him all their helpe and favour. In witness whereof We have caused to be made these Our Letters Patents. Witness, Our self at Rauxes the fift day of Coldeven, in the elventh year of our reigne.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Project - Languages of Oerthly Magic - Burning Hands

I have to sit down and work out what earthly languages I based these on. Latin for Suel I seem to remember. Elven might be Finnish...

This helps me when I'm writing Greyhawk fiction but it also adds a little detail to the game. I like to have cards for each spell memorized and the player turns them in as he casts them. His spellbook is a deck of cards and he chooses which ones he memorizes from the deck including duplicates of spells. I have the spells vocal component written out at the top of the card in the language of the spellbook. Players in tournaments and long term campaigns seemed to like it.

Languages of Oerthly Magic - Burning Hands

2). Burning Hands

Amedian - Moto Mikono (Mo-To Me-Ko-No)

Bakluni (Ancient) - Eller Yan (El-Er An)

Drow - Kezeben Yg (Ke-Ze-Ben Eg)

Dwarven - Barende Haende (Bar-En-De Ha-En-De)

Elven - Potava Kaes (Pa-Ta-Va Ka-Is)

Flan - Lama Do (La-Ma Do)

Fruz - Breande Haende (Bre-An-De Ha-En-De)

Giantish - Brende Hade (Bre-An-De Ha-De)

Gnomish - Barende Haende (Bar-En-De Ha-En-De)

Oeridian - Zaen Ruke (Za-En Ruk)

Olman - Kayel Erem (Ka-Il Er-Em)

Suel - Arden Manus (Ar-Den Man-Us)

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 5

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 5

"Arise!" Nosnra commanded the assembled clan, "Arise and look upon your slain kin!"

A feast was laid out in the Great Hall. Above the roasting pit was spitted a monstrous aurochs bull, now a well carved skeleton charring slowly over the open fire. Barrels of ale, larger than a tall man, stood at head and foot of every table. Huge slabs of bread, served as edible plates set before each feaster, were buried beneath thick-cut hunks of meat, burnt crisp along their edge, but at heart raw red and dripping blood. Tubs of cabbage mixed with pickled dwarven heads, clean shaved, a rare delicacy among the hills. A dozen separate dishes, some hot and others cold, but most a charnel horror of sentient flesh, human, elven, dwarven, all fair game and sustaining meat among the giant-kind.

At the chief's command each giant rose, benches scraped back across the floor, then every eye, sad and with deep respect, turned toward the pair of dead set before the thegn's high table.

Huon's wife had brought their wedding shield, a huge kite of painted hide and wood, and placed it on his arm. Young Eadnoth had found no mate, instead his brother gave him a wanderer's staff, no runes carved upon it, his betrothal quest unlived, no tale ever to be told. A bread-plate of food was set for them, a huge flagon of ale beside their hands. Their bodies had been washed of blood, their wounds sewn tight and hidden, bloody clothes cut away then taken and soaked in oil. A torch would be made of these rags, wrapped round the wood then set aflame, a kindling wick to light the funeral pyre.

Then each giant was dressed again in their best finery and laid out with reverent care. Each member of the clan, from eldest, Ingigerd the ancient crone, to the youngest suckling babe, paced by the bodies of the dead; They stopped and took a bite of food or sip from flagon or snip of cloth, binding some fragment of their slain kin to the whole of the living kindred.

Engenulf approached them last. He placed the flagon to their lips and poured a tiny sip within, then took a pinch of bread and meat and put it on their tongues. He gently closed their jaws, reached up and shut their eyes then turned to face the gathered crowd and spoke the final words.

"They Sleep!" The witan proclaimed. "Eat, now that they have tasted their last food, drunk their final drink. We celebrate their life, and in their death they become one with all the kindred. All who have lived, all who live now, all who will one day come."

A roaring cheer erupted from every throat; it shook the rafters and the roof, and echoed down the hall. The feast began, the giants set to and soon there came first chortles then choruses of merry laughter. A snippet of a song erupted, flagons filled and emptied quick, a fight broke out, a drunken brawl, a table was overturned, a dozen meals upset.

Nosnra smiled at the sight, his people at play. It warmed his heart. This wrongness he'd felt was gone for now, the dead at rest, all was set aright.

* * *

The morning sun rose over the lowland forests. Its rays burnt away the mist rising from the damp valleys and steamed the fields around the steading dry. Smoke drifted lazily from the open gaps above the great hall and the smell of roasted meat wafted across the hill. Outside, a pack of dire wolves ran free then a trio of giants rounded the far corner wall, one stopped and called to the wolves. They bounded and frolicked, joyful in the warmth of the cloudless day.

Inside the hall the feast was done, the tables cleared, old sawdust and debris swept up and dragged away. A score of orcs, skeleton thin and showing signs of recent wounds, tossed a fresh layer of sawdust across the floor. Those giants who had not been conscripted for patrols or forced to help with morning chores had quickly fled. Most slept, but others readied weapons or dragged out bits of armor; rough hammered grieves, chain shirts, and brightly colored shields. The entrance hall had been washed clean, but up the stairs the dried black pool of Huon's blood was left, a grim reminder for unwatchful guards. Each gaping tower window contained attentive eyes, for now at least, unblinking in the morning light.

* * *

"Ver-find-ingan," Engenulf began his chant, crosslegged, upon the feasting table. Beside him Huon's body lay; one last service to perform. "Ver! Ver!" the magician-priest called forth. He drew a cryptic sign in Huon's blood, first on the dead giant's head, then another on his chest. "Sprek-ver!" the command came harsh and clear.

"I slept," the sepulcher voice exclaimed. It came from Huon's bloodless lips, no muscle stirred, no breath, just a distant speech summoned at the witan's call.

"Ver!" demanded Engenulf.

"I drank, I did not watch. They came... small, children... humans, olven, dwarf... two, three... two, then two, they came... the pain, pain, can't breath... cold, dark... Ogiva, Ogiva...." the voice gave one last plaintive moan and then was silent.

"Rest now," Engenulf kindly said and closed the staring eyes. "You heard?" he asked but did not turn.

"I heard," Nosnra replied. "It's as I thought; the human scum, olves, those foul dwarves from down below... They have killed us in our own hall. Our dead are dishonored."

"No, they died. That is all," Engenulf moved to face his old friend and looked him in the eye. "They are not dishonored in this death."

"I feel it here," the chief pounded on his chest. "The foulness of these creatures, it has washed over them. Their deaths were bad."

"Do not do this..." pleaded Engenulf.

"They cannot rest, they did not watch in life, the will keep guard in death. We will bury them just beyond the outer doors. Come," Nosnra yelled and several warriors appeared. "Take them to the entrance hall, bring picks! And Engenulf... prepare yourself. They will earn their rest, but you must wake them first."

"I obey. No pyre for them yet," Engenulf replied, shaking his head sadly.

* * *

Eadnoth and Huon were not buried deep. Instead they were set beside the wide dirt path at the crest of the hill. The lowlands lay below them, a forest that spread out far as the eye could see, but beyond the trees, the human lands. These two failed watchers would now keep a ceaseless vigilance.

"Nen-slfen, nen-rast, nen-friden," Engenulf cried aloud. His face was drawn and gray; this rite sapped at his spirit and blackened his soul. His voice started high and clear but fell to no more than a whisper. He set upon each grave a brazier filled with a powdered bone, a sliver of flesh cut from each dead giant's hand and marked with a drop of their own blood. As his voice began to fade, a magic fire, white-hot and shooting high, burst forth. It consumed the powdered bone, flesh, blood and braziers too. The flame burned deep within the ground, burned its way into each giant's chest and from the burning hole arose a spirit-cloud that swayed above their shallow graves. A soft whispered moaning word upon each ghostly lip and then as if some breeze took hold, though no wind was blowing across the hill, each wavering form turned into a thinning mist, and then was gone.

"It is done. They guard," Engenulf said and swayed upon his feet. His strength was gone, run out into the spell.

"My friend..." Nosnra said, and reached out a supportive hand, but a howling angry voice broke in upon his words.

"Nosnra! Nosnra! What have you done!" Eadwig came running toward them, a small crowd of giants following close behind.

"Eadwig!" Nosnra shouted back. "Do you command! The right of life and death are mine to choose!"

"My brother, you have dishonored him. Engenulf how could you curse him so?" Eadwig fell to his knees before his brother's grave.

"I, Eadwig, I had no hand in his dishonor. You step too far, your grief is no excuse," The thegn was in a rage. "Your brother died beneath a human's hand. He failed, he slept, like Huon there, he brought his dishonor upon himself!"

Eadwig flushed, his face went pale then suffused with red. His anger was so great he could not speak; a vein pulsed along his neck. He breathed great painful, sobbing heaves. A wordless scream broke from his tortured throat. It hurt the ear to hear. He stood then threw himself at Nosnra.

The chief screamed back. He charged as well and crashed head to head with Eadwig. They collided with the sound of bone on bone, like two proud horned-rams upon a mountaintop.

Eadwig won that first encounter; he knocked the thegn from off his feet and sought to crush his head beneath his broad iron-nailed boot. Nosnra rolled aside and grabbed him by the ankle, then made a sudden twist that tore muscles with a popping sound. Eadwig yowled in pain and fell hard upon his side, but as Nosnra crouched, preparing to rise, Eadwig summoned up more strength from rage, and, with his uninjured leg, sent out a kick that caught the chief across the face.

Nosnra coughed and spat out blood. He shook his head to clear it and the time it cost let Eadwig close, and with both hands he grabbed Nosnra by the throat.

The stunning blow had left him dazed but at the grip of Eadwig's choking hands Nosnra's mind was clear as crystal. He saw a look of manic glee behind his sub-chief's eyes, but with both hands he struck a hammer blow that cracked against the temples of Eadwig's head. The look of glee was wiped away; the crazed eyes rolled up and showed bloodshot whites, the strangling hold was broken. Nosnra struck again, his knuckles thick with scars broke tooth and nose, burst forth in blood themselves as stone-hard skull and jagged teeth rocked beneath the chief's relentless fists.

Eadwig, stunned and gushing blood from mouth and swollen eyes, struck back, but his force was spent, the chief now had the upper hand. Nosnra stood, with two bloody hands wavering above Eadwig's prostrate form, but he did not stop. He used his feet to kick in ribs, break hands and head, till his breath was gone. He paused. Engenulf came to his side.

"Enough?" he asked.

Nosnra spat red frothy blood. He let his breathing calm. "Enough," he answered back. "Does he live?"

"Yes, thegn, but he is badly hurt."

"Take him to the Keeper," Nosnra said in a raw growl.

A pair of young warriors grabbed Eadwig beneath the arms and carried him away.

"He will live or die as fate decrees."

"It is sad work done this day," said Engenulf, watching as Eadwig, still senseless from his beating, was dragged off to a dark bare cell.


"It is evil that has come among us," Nosnra stated flatly to his witan. "It is evil that breaks Eadwig's spirit. You are strong Engenulf, and you know much, but you are not your father." he caught the angry flash in his friend's eye. "And I am not Tofig, but I tell you, he would have done as I do now, and Engulfen would have stood beside him."

"I stand beside you." said Engenulf.

"No my friend, you obey me," Nosnra said sadly, "There is a great difference." He cast a lonely eye across the hilltop. The crowd of warriors had dispersed. The majority followed the pair that carried Eadwig to a cell. They were young, as was Eadwig and while loyal to their thegn, the sub-chief was as an older brother to them. Nosnra did not doubt that had the fight gone against him it would be his body, lifeless most likely, that the warriors would be dragging away.

The steading looked peaceful enough; no harm had come to the walls or roof, or to most within, just two of his kindred dead, like his own sons that he could not allow to rest.

* * *

Once again the chief's hall was filled, but a sober calm had silenced the gathering. Word of Huon's and Eadnoth's fate had spread, as well as the tale of Eadwig's fight, defeat and imprisonment in the dungeon of the Keeper.

The chief saw defiant looks here and there, but these were an older bunch than those who lionized his sub-chief. Many here could have been Eadwig's sire, but even those, older in years, had a fondness and respect for their youthful leader. Few male giant young were of the sub-chief's age, a sickness had come that defied the spells of the aging witan, Engulfen, and babes and mothers both had died. For five seasons young brides had joined the ranks of kindred dead, the pyres burnt on and on. Yet matrons who had birthed before survived, and girl children lived, though only one in three, but each year would pass and not a single son would see an hour's span upon the oerth.

Engulfen aged a year for every kindred dead and in the end he set a pyre, he offered up himself, his life, so that one son might live and break the curse. A wailing babe was born that day, Eadwig, Tostig's son, though he soon became the son of all the clan. His birth saw the end of the deadly spell. Engulfen's sacrifice had proved its worth.

 * * *

"Yes," said Nosnra to the leaders of the clan. "Eadwig has fallen too."

"But chief..." a bald greybeard began.

"There is nothing to be said. It's done, his fate is set. He lives or dies, but his time among the clan is over."

"Exile!" cried Engenulf.

"Had I lost and lived, such would be my fate," Nosnra replied. "Enough! He will be given time, but when he rises and walks again, he leaves."

"But..." Engenulf sought to change his old friend's mind.

"No!" His voice was harsh. "I said enough, I will not hear more. Those who wish may share his fate. Speak now and leave this hall, or raise their hand against me. Who challenges my right to rule?"

He faced them all, defiant and without fear. No voice called out, no giant moved, though some lowered heads or looked away, torn at heart between thegn and kin.

Thiodolf spoke up, "Thegn, none stand against you here," he turned and glowered at some who could not meet his eyes.

"Engenulf," Nosnra called to the witan, "tell of what you have divined."

"Yes, my thegn," he said quietly. Then in a louder voice began his tale. "Human, elf and dwarf, have come among us. Yes, this most of you will already know. I saw nine crows fly past the steading's walls and the spirits of those who died cried out as they went overhead. There are only nine who come against us, nine, but not farmers or herdsmen, not the weak children we have raided and brushed aside. Three crows called out to me and one disappeared. Then another turned into an eagle, then a mighty dragon, and then I saw Eadnoth's face before it too was gone. The last spoke in an eldritch tongue of power and cast a bolt such as a storm cloud makes and burnt at me though only in a vision. Behold!" He held out a black-streaked arm, blistered from palm to chest. "Such power is very great to reach from that spirit realm where visions walk as we do here on oerth."

"What of the other birds?" a wide eyed warrior called.

"Two others called to me and it seemed that each was carried in a great and mighty hand, one blazed with light, a white hot blinding fire that did not scorch the feathered wings it held aloft. The other was a plain sturdy fist, a hand of flesh and bone, but strong and rough, this bird cawed and screeched as any of its oerthly brethren might. The final four were a varied lot, one old, but large, the mightiest of its kind that I have ever seen. A warrior spirit I have no doubt. Two others that wore the shape of the crow but at heart bore a serpent's soul, their tongue and eyes were red as blood. Before they passed out of sight I saw them both set upon the elder bird and strike him by surprise. They fell, all three in a tangled heap beyond the horizon's edge and then they too were gone."

He paused and drank deeply from a pot of ale set by his side. "The last was small, full grown but stunted or from a smaller breed of crow. It weaved and wheeled across the sky, sometimes it lead the flock then fell back and hid behind the others. It was last to disappear but in its beak I saw the glitter of some gem or jewel, and my vision ended there."

"What good does hearing all this do?" asked Gosfrith, keeper of the wolves. "We waste time sitting here."

"You ask such questions?" Nosnra said, "I thought better of our huntsman."

"Huntsman, yes, and that is where I should be, not wasting precious time..." He paused then bowed his head to Engenulf, "I ask your pardon, witan. I mean no disrespect, but the trail goes cold."

"Your wolves found no scent upon the hill, these foul, human scum have hidden their tracks well, ensorceled them no doubt. They're put to better use as guards than running blind down valleys and over hills."

"We will find their scent," Gosfrith said. "Hidden trail or no, I do not believe they have covered every track. My pets will sniff them out if you will but allow it!" His voice ended in a shout.

"Watch your tongue! My patience is worn thin. I have had enough rebellion for one day," Nosnra shouted back. "Hear what Engenulf has said. This was no flock of birds that sit and peck upon a field of grain. He has all but named them. We know their number and have heard and seen something of their strength. Wizards, yes, and servants of some mortal gods it sounds, and warriors, brave and bold enough to hunt us in our own domain. They have killed by stealth and dweomencraft, I have no doubt that they will come again, and soon. I will not have you chasing rabbits when you should be here."

He stopped and watched the faces of his warriors. In some he saw his words sink in but others looked incredulous or showed sour disappointment. "Some here have fought such as these before down below in human lands. Some have broken dwarven halls and squashed the burrowing rats beneath your feet, but also felt the stings of spears or lost a finger, toe or hand to an axe's edge. I have seen them call upon their stunted gods or summon powers of the oerth or walking walls of fire. Yet many here have never faced the like and cannot know the strength within these tiny childlike beasts."

"Listen to your thegn!" Engenulf said, commanding their obedience. "This gap between the young and old, between those who fight now for the first time against a dangerous foe and those of us who have bled beneath a human's sword or elven spear or been cut down by a dwarvish axe, this disunity must end!"