Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 38

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 38

"There is good mixed with the bad," said Telenstil.

Harold snorted.

"No, it is true. We came to hurt Nosnra, and that we have done," said Telenstil. "We have done much."

"We need to do more," the ranger spoke up. "If those giants have gone for help, and I am sure they have, we should stop them."

"They may just be scouts in search of us," said Harold. "Let's confound them. Let's be gone and not let them find us."

"We can't take the chance. They may just be looking for us, but if not..." said the ranger shaking his head, "but I do know that they are passing by us and quick. Telenstil..."

The elf held up his hand for silence but paused for only a moment, looking out over the cliff's edge. "I think we have strength enough. We will strike again. Harald, you and I will go."

"Just us?" asked the ranger.

"We will need to make haste," said Telenstil. "The others can set off in search of a better camp while we hunt down at least one of these giants."

"Telenstil, this is foolishness," Ivo shook his head. "We need Harald to guide us, and these are giants, the two of you will be hard pressed against them."

"Every moment takes them further from us." the ranger said impatiently.

"Good," burst out the thief.

"How will you overtake them?" asked Ivo.

"That is why only Harald and I will be pursuing them," said Telenstil. "Harald, we will be flying once again."

"Ha," the thief laughed out and looked up at the ranger. "Still want to go chasing giants?"

The ranger looked grim, but still determined.

"Then cast the spell," said Harald.

"Ivo, search out a place at least more defensible than here. Let Harold scout ahead, he has a good eye, even in these wild lands," said Telenstil.

"How will you find us?" Ivo asked.

"Take this," Telenstil took an amulet he wore around his neck, green stones set in silver, shaped like an elven horse, and handed it to the gnome. "This I can always find."

"What goes on here?" Talberth called to them. He left Gytha and Ghibelline preparing Jalal's body to be carried in a cloak and joined the others at the cliff's edge.

"Telenstil is running off to chase giants," the thief told him in a disgusted tone.

"What?" Talberth exclaimed with alarm.

"It is not so dire as our thief makes it sound," laughed Telenstil. "Harald and I will take great care and will return as soon as may be. Talberth, keep your eye on the orcs. Ivo will lead while I am gone. Harold, you scout ahead. Ask Ghibelline to help you, but do not let him tax himself to greatly. Now all is said, set off, find a good camp and we will join you there."

"What!" Talberth said again.

Telenstil brought forth the orb he had used the day before. He drew breath and blew upon its surface, quietly letting the word of power, "Xsurjere", escape his lips. The orb began to glow, and gleaming with a white radiance floated upon the air. The ranger reached out and grabbed the orb, Telenstil did the same.

"Xsurjere-sublem!" he cried, and they rose into the air as if a rope that none could see pulled them up with haste into the sky. "Kon-istare!" Telenstil called out as the floated high above the ledge where their companions stood. "Which way?" he asked the ranger.

Still gripping the orb with whitened fingers, his hand clenched like a vise, and his jaw as well, Harald pointed to the north-east with his free hand.

"Good, Vol-atel!" the elf called out and the pair took flight, two wingless birds, their hands locked on the glowing orb, sailing across the sky. 


The land below them was passing in a blur. It took only a few moments to reach the valley where Harald had seen the three giants. "Can you slow us down!" the ranger shouted out.

"Elente-senzim!" Telenstil called and they began to slow. "Klaudere," he said and they halted in mid-air.

Harald gulped, terrified at their magic flight. He found that floating motionless high above the ground was worse. "Thhheerree!" he stammered. "Down there," Harald pointed to the valley floor far below, as he managed to control his voice, but had to shout; there was a wind that struck them and swept their words away.

"You have good eyes," shouted Telenstil.


"Good Eyes!" Telenstil shouted again. "Which Way!"

Harald held up two fingers and pointed to the north where a small stream flowed through the center of the valley, then held up a single finger and pointed to the north-east. A beaten trail could be seen, even from the height at which they hovered. It ran along a hillside and up, then over its top, disappearing out of sight down the far side of the hill. Telenstil pointed to the north and Harald nodded in agreement.

"Vo-aire," the elf shouted and they were sweeping toward the north, fast as a hawk again.

* * *

"You two, pick up this chain," Talberth told the pair of orcs. Boss scowled and Meatstealer looked toward his leader before bending to lift the black metal links.

"That one has the death magic," said Meatstealer. Boss grunted and hung his end of the heavy chain across his shoulder. His handful of followers bore the body of the human who had used the flaming sword, the orc leader would have given the chain to them if he could, but the squirming man took all six orcs to control.

"First chance, then we go," said Boss.

"We live, escape from giants," Meatstealer said. "These humans, they powerful."

"Stinking elves," muttered Boss, "slave to giants, now slave to elves."

Meatstealer just shrugged, he had served his orcish chief, the ogres and giants of the hall, at least these elves did not use the whip.

* * *

Harold walked with Ivo as they left the camp. Behind them the others were all loaded down with the bodies of the scout and dead Jalal. Only the small orc, Little Rat, was left free of heavy burdens. He kept pace with the halfling and the gnome. The pathway before them was not steep. It must have seemed no more than a narrow ledge to the giants, but the party found it a wide and easy trail. It took them along the south-side of the hill, rising up and to the east then switching back upon itself. Their going was slow. Never strong, Talberth tired easily, and Ghibelline's strength came from his will, his body was worn out. The orcs would gladly have slung both the chain and the scout over the edge of the cliff, but they carried them with care due to the dread in which they held the mage.

"I'm going to scout ahead," Harold said to Ivo.

"Be careful, these are not the streets of Greyhawk," Ivo told him.

"I've been outside the city walls before," replied Harold, "but I'll take care."

Ivo shook his head as the thief ran off. They'd lost their scouts and their ranger guide. He gave a shout as the small orc chased after, "Hey! Stop! Where do you go!"

"I go help," the little orc called back. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 37

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 37

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. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 36

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 36

Ivo put his book away. He closed it with a snap then rubbed his eyes. He would be better for a few hours sleep, but instead he stood up and walked over to the mage. The ranger had just settled down with his pack beneath his head, he was asleep before his eyes closed. Ivo had listened to the talk he'd had with the elven mage then waited for him to sleep before rising himself.

"Telenstil," Ivo said quietly as he approached. "You keep your Queen's instructions well."

"You have large ears my friend," said Telenstil cheerfully.

"Oh I listened in," said Ivo cheerfully. "You two weren't exactly whispering. "Impolite I know, but these are perilous times, and a perilous place in which we find ourselves."

"In some ways things have gone far better than I had imagined they would," said Telenstil.

He kept watch over the steep slope that was the only approach to the ledge where they camped. Ivo sat down next to him, the old gnome let his feet dangle over the edge of the rock and wished he had not left his pipe back at the camp the giants had destroyed.

"I've no fondness for those orcs but they are a improvement over that cursed priest," said Ivo.

"I regret the loss of Henri and the scouts," said Telenstil. "Henri will be missed. We will need the powers he possessed, I do not doubt. It is that map I am pleased with. It showed plans that Nosnra or any giants would undertake. They are not subtle, but whoever is behind them, they are subtle planners indeed."

"They weave a tight web, I agree," said Ivo.

Telenstil did not reply but looked down at his friend with an eyebrow raised.

"We delve deep beneath our hills, and we live close enough to your lands to know your tales," said Ivo. "And we have cousins, gnomes who never see the light of day, but talk of a world beneath ours, where many creatures of brightness have turned dark."

"Maybe you know more of this than I," said Telenstil. "What are these stories that your cousins tell?"

"They are like those that you tell your children when they are bad," Ivo said. "And we held them in as much regard. Not enough it seems."

Telenstil laughed very lightly and quietly. "It seems you also have your secret councils my friend."

"I am like you. I wait to find out more before I put my faith in children's tales," said Ivo.

"We have both come far to seek these answers. Talberth too has traveled far, and our halfling friend, who has big ears as well."

Ivo leaned back and looked at the top of the ledge where a shadow was disappearing back behind the rock.

"Why don't you come down Harold, if you are not going to sleep?"

The little thief came sliding down the wall of rock, then when he was a man's height from the ground, he jumped and landed lightly on his feet.

"You're the one with big ears old gnome," said Harold but in a friendly voice.

"I see it is time for our own council," said Telenstil. "Perhaps we should wake the others."

"Let them sleep," said Harold. "You two want to talk around this business and not through it. All this hogwash of children's tales. My own directions were simple. He called me in..."

"Caught you I believe it was," said Ivo.

"That was simply a misunderstanding. In any case, he said 'Find out what you can,' I'm known for gathering information." the little thief related, his voice growing deep when he mimicked what he'd been told. "About what? I asked. 'About anything' which is usually what his wizardly mightiness commands."

"So what have you found out?" Telenstil asked, his ears perking up with interest at what the halfling might say. 


"I've found out to be more careful around this old gnome," Harold nodded toward Ivo. "I've been doing a lot of listening, ever since we left Greyhawk, I wish I was back there now. I've been listening. We are a strange bunch. I know why that old ranger and Gytha are here, but the rest of us..." Harold shook his head. "We have come a long way to fight giants."

"But what have you found out my friend?" asked Ivo. "Have you noticed anything that we have missed?"

"I can only guess what it is that you two know but won't even tell each other," said Harold. "I don't know giants or these mountains..."

"Hills," Ivo interjected.

"Hills, Mountains, a couple feet of rock and dirt. What do they matter. You want to listen or do you want to argue," the halfling said firmly. He looked from Ivo to Telenstil, but neither did more than smile. "Like I said, I don't know giants but I know locks and I know traps. Down there in that dungeon, those weren't made by the hands' of giants. That secret door, that lock which held it, those were some type of gnomish work. That trap, the one that brought up the gate which held the manticores, and the one before it that I disarmed, those weights and balances, that looks like a dwarven trick, and that treasure. I couldn't tell you how they magicked those traps, but that was a fair piece of work I'd say, magicwise that is." he paused then looked at Telenstil. "Are these giants that spellcrafty? Can they wield the magic that fools the eye and mind like master gnome?" he asked turning to Ivo.

"No," Ivo replied. "I don't believe that they have such craft."

"I think they are aided by someone," Harold went on, "Evil dwarves or gnomes gone mad. I mean what gnome with any sense would aid giants?"

"You feel that it was a gnomish mind behind the traps?" asked Telenstil.

"The work is very fine. I would have liked to take that lock away with me and... Curse me for a fool!" the halfling growled. He grabbed at his wrist and felt the two empty sheaths in the set of six that he wore upon his arm. "Hells!"

"What is the matter?" asked Ivo, alarmed.

"I've left two of my magic spikes behind. One in that ogre, the other in the wall of the garbage chute." said Harold. "I'll never find their like again. Curse that Henri. I would have drawn up that rope if not for him. And curse my bad memory."

"That was a hectic moment, be glad that they served you well," said Telenstil. "They were spent in a good cause."

"We will be going back won't we?" Harold asked, cheered slightly at the thought.

"I will, even alone, but we will need to discuss our plans together," Telenstil said. "I cannot speak for any of our companions."

"I will be going along," answered Ivo, "but we will need to get rid of those orcs, and what are we going to do with our captive scout?"

"We will have to do many things before we return to Nosnra's steading," said Telenstil. "We will need to find a better camp for one."

"I thought our last camp was good," said Harold.

"As did I," Telenstil agreed, "but I underestimated the giants. Our camp should have been further off, and a smaller place found nearby where we could retreat to."

"Yes," Ivo agreed. "Several small camps, things like this ledge... Well better than this ledge," he said after looking around. "But many small hiding places where we would go to once then abandon."

"What is done is done," said Telenstil. "I placed too much confidence in magic wards and spells, and thought the giants' shaman just an unlearned practitioner of the arts. Now we may have to raid the steading for supplies and not just for revenge or answers to our questions."

"Speaking of questions, did you get any answers from what I've seen?" asked Harold.

"Only more questions my friend." laughed Telenstil.

* * *

Nosnra returned. His pace did not quicken at the sight of his burning hall, he had strength enough only to put one foot before the other, his warriors were twice as weary. Some fell along the way and were left lying in the dirt. They would make it back on their own feet or die where they had fallen. The wolves were scattered, a few had died, their spirits shriveled at the cave where the witan was destroyed. Only a young wolf called Harechaser kept up with the staggering line of giants. The canine was of a simple mind, the chaotic torment of the magical and unholy backlash had made it cower, its head buried beneath its paws, but it had passed the ordeal unscathed.

When he saw the fire from the far hill, Nosnra's heart sank, he misstepped and nearly fell but caught himself and shifted Engenulf's body in his arms. Behind him he heard a groan, too heartworn and bone weary to raise a shout or cry, the warriors stumbled to a halt. Nosnra stopped himself, below him the path lead down, a narrow valley, a small stream then the final slope.

There was a gasp, a sob, with a flash of angry strength Nosnra spun around. "Who are you!" he shouted. A wave of dizziness and nausea swept through the giant chief, a dark curtain came down across his eyes, but he fought it back. "I do not know you. You are not my kin. What are you, those feeble children of the lowlands, human scum? You are too tired, you moan and cry because the kindred calls us to their arms?" he shouted at his warriors. "Stay here and die, or run, or swallow your fear and swear an oath. I will find the ones who have brought this doom on us; I will have vengeance no matter what the cost!" Nosnra shouted at the night.

A giant forced himself to walk forward and face the chief. "I swear, my chief, I swear my life, my blood and my strength. Vengeance." the giant placed his hand upon Engenulf's brow and swore. One by one the others came forward as well. A knife was drawn; each gripped the blade and swore again with blood, then painted their faces red, first across their brow, then across the cold lifeless witan's head. 

NPC - The Prophetess of Sutek

NPC - The Prophetess of Sutek

Before Sutrek she was a slave. Now she is the bringger of death and despair. Only those who worhsip Sutek will be spaired and then only till the Ancient Master is freed. There will be power in this life while it last and then sweet oblivion.

The Prophtess brings visions of what is to come. The devastation and desolation. The torturous pain that can only be temporarily abated whose surcease is the blessing of death and death is Sutek.

She wears long gloves of red because the touch of her hands is death. Flesh burns beneath her fingers, food rots, metal turns to rust. Her ungloved embrace will quickly kill a common man or woman but a hero could break free, though wounded. She is immensely strong and she is constantly surrounded by the ever growing followers of Sutek. So far they have been chased into the deserts of Zeif but she is smuggled into to towns to grant her visions to the new believers.

The bounty on her head is great but none have survived to collect it.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 35

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 35

"You two, follow me," Gytha commanded the orcs. She started toward the door, but neither followed. "What are you waiting for?"

"They've looked at the gnome's charm," said Ghibelline. The elf walked slowly, half carrying Jalal, he'd drafted the aid of a small orc to help.

"Great," Gytha shook her head. "Harald don't go just yet."

The ranger was happily letting down the heavy chain. As the last links fell from his shoulder he stretched out his arms and groaned. "Gytha, it is best if I check the gate alone," said Harald. "Too many of us might alert the giants."

"Don't take any risks," Gytha called to him.

"Just being here is risk enough, do not worry," Harald said to Gytha. He peered around the corner of the door then slipped outside.

"Ghibelline, help me with these orcs," said Gytha.

"You hold up my friend here, understand?" Ghibelline asked the small orc.

The orc runt called Little Rat gave the elf a nod and braced its arm around Jalal's waist, holding up the frail old man alone.

* * *

Outside, the giants had dug great pits and trenches across the yard near the burning walls. Already the blackened embers that had been the chief's private hall were cooling beneath the dirt and the drizzling rain. The fire had not yet died. Its red tongue had licked the beams of the great hall and still danced along the inside of the roof. A huge timber that spanned the ceiling had fallen, smashing tables and benches beneath it, and leaving a long splintered swath of smaller beams above. The hall roof began to sag, but the supporting columns, mighty tree trunks still round but shaven of their bark, kept it from falling while any of the beams still held. The walls had fallen, from the hidden stairs beside Nosnra's private eating hall where the company had first descended, to the chieftainess' chamber at the far end of the trophy hall, the furthest eastern edge of the steading.

Estrith, the chieftainess, had her maids and the orcish slaves struggle the hardest to save her rooms, but to no avail. They put out the fire but Estrith's chamber was lost, three walls and the roof collapsed. The trophy hall was gone, the western passage burnt away and the doors leading to the childrens' room and the maids' chamber blocked by falling half-burnt beams.

To the north, among the ruins of the chief's private chamber, the giants were just stumbling across the huge iron wall, created by magic and left fallen across the floor when the walls came down. The giants still fought the blaze using shovel-loads of dirt, long spears and axes to push and chop the fiery wood away from the unburnt walls and roof. None of the giants, the ogres or their orc slaves noticed the lone human who opened the northern gate then ran back inside through the servants' door.

* * *

"Come quick!" Harald yelled to them. "The way is clear. The gate is open, come." He glanced into the room and caught a glimpse of the whirling pattern that Ivo weaved. Harald turned away but had to shake his head and rub at his eyes to clear them of the mesmerizing gleam.

"You can cease your weaving, my friend," Telenstil called out to Ivo.

The mage had bound the ogres with the assistance of the thief, tying their hands and ankles tight with stout cord and gagging them with rags. The group gathered at the door and waited for the word to make their escape from the steading. Talberth, Gytha and Ghibelline shook the orcs free from the grip of Ivo's spell and then helped get them across the floor keeping their eyes from the tantalizing glow.

Ivo let his arm slow to a stop, the magic died, and he put the crystal back safely in his vest. His arm ached, to keep the ogres mesmerized he could not stop or even slow the twisting pattern that had formed the shimmering hypnotic web. While he had been busy weaving his spell he had not felt the strain, but now it came rushing along his arm, it made him gasp.

Suddenly the ogres came alive, they pulled against their bonds, two had been standing, now they fell, trying to free their feet they'd lost their balance. One smashed down face first and lay senseless, not dead, but he would wake with a bruise and a lump the size of a fist atop his head. The other landed with a painful crash, wrenched his shoulder, but still rolled back and forth. The cord was stronger than the thick muscles along the ogre's arms and back, they cut into its hoary flesh, digging bloody grooves deep through its skin.

Harold brought his dagger up and then slammed it down, reversing it in mid-air so that the pommel cracked against the ogre's skull. The monster slumped, its writhing ceased, eyes rolled up to show the yellowish whites, it lay stunned like its companion. The third ogre, the more thoughtful of the three, dropped back and shut its eyes as well, feigning death or sleep. It did not struggle against its bonds as the others had once it saw their fate. The little thief shrugged, he'd have cut their throats and have done with them if he'd had his way. Across from him, Ivo secured his pack and ran over to where Harold stood.

"All ready?" he asked.

"I'm done here," Harold answered him. "Let's go."

"Yes," said Telenstil. "Let us be far from this place and quickly."

* * *

Dark shapes ran out into the night. They left the steading behind and followed the foot trail north, but had nowhere to go. The ranger pushed the gate closed behind them, muttering under his breath at the weighty chain he carried on his shoulders.

"Cursed wizards' toy," he said.

They crossed the hill. There was no cover except for the wild weeds and grass that grew chest high where they had not been beaten down by the passage of the giants. To the south were the lowlands and the way they had come. All around them the mountains towered above the hills; the land became all wild valleys and steep slopes, filled with monsters, home to the giant clans which owed their allegiance to Nosnra, the hill giant chief. 


They'd not gone far, just down the giants' hill, through the valley to the north and up a steep cliff. There was no shelter, simply an overhanging ledge of rock that kept the heavy rain off their heads, though the wind swept the mist and droplets beneath their stony roof and slowly soaked them to their skins. Their perch looked south. This hill, a young mountain, was taller than the one that the steading sat upon, but their temporary camp was well beneath the steep summit which looked down upon that hill. Out over the narrow valley a dark smoke could be seen coming from the steading. It stained the early morning sky.

"I am glad for the place to rest, but we are too close," Harold said to Telenstil.

"I know," the elf replied.

The two stood on a sharp-edged rock that jutted out from the hill. Behind them their companions huddled beneath the little shelter that the overhang provided. Most were asleep. The orcs were clustered in a group like a pack of dogs, sleeping side by side for warmth. They had brought no cloaks or blankets and were unprepared for life outside the steading or the dungeons where they had been kept. The elf Ghibelline rested with eyes closed, his friend Jalal lay next to him, the old man slept, but restlessly. Gytha and Talberth slumbered as well, they had meditated when they first made camp then weariness overcame them. Ivo was just as weary as his human friends but he could not sleep. His bones and joints ached; the hard rock and the cold rain made him feel his years. He studied a book made from thin metal plates where he had his spells inscribed; no rain could dampen the silver sheets. An enchanted stone that burned endlessly with light held in a metal sphere lit the book. When turned, the sphere twisted to reveal a hole which could be widened, letting out the light in a thin point or a wide beam. Their companion Derue, now their captive, was awake. He fought his bonds and would have yelled and screamed but they kept him gagged. The spirit which enslaved his mind still bound him tighter than the cords around his hands and feet. Above the ledge the halfling had found a small cave, once the den of some wild animal, it was warm and dry, but not big enough for any others, except the gnome. Ivo had declined. Harold's snores echoed faintly from the walls and drifted down to the others who remained awake below.

"At least someone is sleeping," said Harald. "I can keep watch, you should sleep as well."

Telenstil nodded toward their makeshift camp. "I am tired but I cannot sleep."

"Don't you need to rest, even if you do not sleep my elven friend."

"I will rest," Telenstil replied. He watched the smoke drifting in the breeze; it was still thick and black. "I think we are safe for awhile. The fire still burns. Will there be any steading left for us to search I wonder?"

"Wouldn't that be for the best?" asked Harald.

"Eventually perhaps, but there are questions that have not been answered," said Telenstil. "It is Nosnra and his warriors that are the danger, not his hall."

"Better to fight them in the open," Harald laughed. "I know, I know, there is no good place to fight giants."

"The open is better," said Telenstil. "I don't want to be trapped within the hall fighting at close quarters with a dozen giants all around, but there is more here than Nosnra, more that I was sent to find than I have found so far."

"That map, it didn't answer your questions?" Harald asked.

"It answered some, but raised even more," said Telenstil. "You know some of this, the giants of the ice and snow; they are part of this as well."

"I came across them raiding the lands of the Duchy," said Harald. "They are strange allies, they have far to come and they prefer their chilly climes."

"Yes, it is a strange alliance," Telenstil said thoughtfully. "I see signs in this of a darker force at work, one which I cannot name till I am sure."

"What mystery is this? I was told little. I do not think that even the Duke himself knows much more, but you seem to have some idea," said Harald.

"There are things which I suspect, but they are farfetched," said Telenstil, "Stories which we tell our children when they misbehave. When I know more, when I know that these suspicions are more than stories, I will tell you. For now it is Nosnra that we must fight, but I would like to search his hall."

"If any of it still stands," Harald yawned. "Now I will rest. Wake me after a few hours have passed. I will take the next watch."