Friday, February 19, 2016

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 142

Soon a fire blazed again within the pit at the center of the camp. The giants formed two half-circles about it, their arms outstretched to the sky. In their hard tongue they chanted together, calling for the fire to send forth its light. 

At the edge of the camp Ivo felt the touch of power reach out and contest with his magic spell. Heavy and solid, the magic of the giants was crude but filled with strength. The witans of many halls, magician-priests like the cold Suel-barbarian skalds of the east, had cast many enchantments on this spot. 

Fjolver, the old giant, was no doubt something of a witan himself, or so Ivo sensed. The power drawn from the chanting of the giants seemed to feed into Fjolver and out into the fire. The flames danced and roared as if in reply to the giants' words. It appeared to Ivo as if he could see the faces of many giants in the flames. A long wavering hand pointed toward him, reaching out as if to tear the illusion of his spell apart in its fiery grasp. 

Old words, that came from the depths of the past and the oerth, came to Ivo's lips. The secret tongue of gnomish magic. Centuries of skill wove the soundless words into a shield, a net, a covering like the dirt that filled a grave, and the faces within the fire wailed and went out. Only the dim embers of the fuel were left at the bottom of the pit. 

"Ahhhhh!!!!" moaned Fjolver and clasped his hands to the side of his head. The wolves lifted their voices and muzzles to the sky and howled. 

* * * 

Orc bones cracked within the hands of the Keeper. The undead giant had wormed his way through the small caverns that had been home to the rebellous orcs. In desperation a handful of those who had taken part in the Keeper's death had turned and struck at him. Gaping wounds were half-closed on his cold, unhallowed flesh. The blades of weak and frightened orcs had not saved them from the vengeance of the giant. All had died. Most within the depths of caves whose floors were traps of mire and unseen falls into the depths. Some had been eaten by the great blind lizards which dwelled near the fast subterranean stream that ran beneath the steading. The last, those too scared to run or a few brave enough to fight, had been torn to pieces, their bones snapped and crushed, their bodies shredded against the rough stones of the cave. 

"Come...!" hissed Ardare in the giant's mind. "Come... stop your play. Vengeance! Vengeance!" "Vengeance," the Keeper repeated the word, grasping at it with his spirit, feeling a fiery power flow into his chill body. 

"To Kalfashow, to my brother," the red snake that filled his mind spat out. "Command, I command. To Kalfashow, the surface." 

"Vengeance," growled the Keeper. "Kalfashow and our vengeance." 

Ardare agreed. 

The Keeper began to pull stones away, still on his belly and crawling like a snake. A great fall of rock was between him and the passages beneath the steading. The undead giant worked with strength greater than he had possessed in life. He did not pause, but wormed his way forward, oblivious to pain, though more rock fell on top of him and shards of stone stabbed at his hands. 

* * *

"Fjolver!" several giants cried out, seeing the pain that had overcome their leader. Those that had blades drew them, while the others turned this way and that, hands clenched into massive fists. But Hlebard glared at the embers of the fire, then looked slowly about the clearing with a knowing look in his eyes. 

"Bolthorn," Hlebard said to one of his warriors, "take some of the wolves and have a walk around." 

"Yes Hlebard," answered the giant, and he whistled. Several of the greys pricked up their ears, stopped their howl and trotted after Bolthorn. 

"This fire-ring's been broken," moaned Fjolver. 

"Hear my news then, Fjolver. Something killed our kin as they drove cows meant for Nosnra," said Hlebard. "Killed them with fire." 

"Some beast?" asked one of Fjolver's band. 

"A beast yes," said Hlebard. "Men or maybe elves." 

Fjolver spat into the fire and the embers hissed. "Elves," he said as if the word were a curse. "They must be near. Magic-users, cursed spell-casters, dweomencrafters." 

"Maybe," Hlebard glanced around the clearing again. "Maybe they cursed our camp, left us a trap." 

"Maybe they are here," said Fjolver. As he raised his head a long red trail ran down his cheek. His eyes bled. 

"If they are, then the wolves will find them," Hlebard said firmly. 

"Bring wood! Bring wood!" Fjolver called to his kin. "Bring that dwarf. We will see if a sacrifice of one of the hairy swine will break this curse upon our fire." 

"A dwarf?" asked Hlebard, looking toward the cloth sacks. 

"Costly sacrifice that." 

"This one is trouble," muttered Fjolver. "Cost Sokkmimir his hand and killed three wolves. Hjalm dropped him with a rock to the head. No smith this one, but a warrior." 

Hlebard nodded agreement. "Best for the fire then. Why did you bring him?" 

"Gift for Nosnra," said Fjolver shortly. "Where is that dwarf!" 

Two giants of Fjolver's band had gone to the sacks and begun to empty them. They rolled the contents out upon the hard stone. Food, and cloth, and the clatter of weapons. 

"Not that one!" reprimanded one giant. "It's the dwarf we want." 

The giant, a young warrior barely past the rites of adulthood, tossed what was near at hand back into the sack he'd emptied. 

"Leave it," said the other giant with disgust in his voice. "Find that dwarf. Who carried him? I know he wasn't in my baggage." 

"Here," said the young giant with relief. He upended another sack and a dwarf fell free. "Got 'im." 

"Ha!" snorted the older giant. "You got nothing. That's not him. They left the mail on that one so Nosnra could skin him. Well now we can cook him in it." 

The dwarf fallen from the sack was bound and gagged. His long beard and hair were tangled with the ragged strips of cloth that the giants had used to tie him. Bruises covered his face, black and purple. He looked out toward the edge of the camp as if he could see beyond the magic veil of Ivo's deluding spell. 

* * *

Ghibelline stared at the face of the dwarf and muffled a cry of shock and recognition. He'd watched the approach of the giants with growing anger, tinged with fear and memories of pain. Two bright lights had he found in the darkness of Nosnra's dungeon. Two friends, Jalal, the old Baklunish sage who had survived only long enough to breath free air again, and Ginnar, a captive dwarven warrior-smith who had been left behind. They had been closer than kindred to Ghibelline and it pained the elf to know that Ginnar was trapped in darkness while he had escaped into the light of day and open sky. This dwarf had the look of Ginnar, and at the first glance it seemed as if it was his friend that lay upon the stones at the giant's feet. But it was not so, and Ghibelline sighed, relieved and ashamed at his relief. 

"Is this one him?" asked the younger giant. He pulled out another dwarf, his large fingers wound into a dark mass of hair, and lifted a short, squat, struggling figure from a cloth sack. 

"Watch..." the older giant started to say. The dwarf was tied with thick rope. His arms wrapped tightly to his sides, but they had only bound his legs with a cord knotted about the dwarf's booted ankles. At some point, and through joint tearing twists and wriggles, the dwarf had slipped this cord, though not the rope around his arms and chest. His legs were free, and as the giant lifted him from the sack and bent to peer down into the dwarf's face, an iron-nailed boot-sole lashed out. Blood splashed out from the giant's nose, now broken, smashed like a ripe fruit falling from high onto a stone. The giant howled and dropped the dwarf, both hands held to his wounded face as if to protect his now ruined noise, but the damage had been done. 

"Don't let him get away!" yelled the older giant, but blood was in the other's eyes and he was blind with more than pain. Iron nails snapped sharply against the stones. The dwarf hit the ground and ran. Giants were after him and his short strides had not taken him far before a hand was sweeping down to strike him aside. 

Large as a barrel's lid, the giant's hand seemed like it could not miss, but the dwarf dropped and rolled to one side. The giant stumbled forward, and the dwarf was on his feet again. Wolves were running loose about the camp, and a call from several giants sent the pack leaping after the dwarf. The giants could be avoided, the dwarf had leapt between the legs of one that blocked his path, but the wolves would surely have him. Three of the quick, black-haired monsters were almost upon the dwarf. He'd nearly reached the edge of the camp, only a few strides before the place where Ghibelline watched from the hiding place created by the power of Ivo's spell. 

Spinning round to face them, the dwarf braced himself, ready to die kicking out at the jaws of death that pursued him. The wolves were near, more were behind them, and the giants came on as well. 

"Stop!" bellowed Fjolver. "Take him alive!" the giant ordered. 

The wolves skidded to a halt and snarled. One snapped its teeth an inch before the dwarf's large nose. The other two circled to either side. The black-coated wolves were well trained and quick to obey. Ghibelline was not so quick. He heard the shout and saw the wolves obey, but he had rushed forward with his sword drawn and could not stop himself as he broke the weave of Ivo's magic spell. 

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