The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - part 69
"Telenstil, Derue, both of you come with me," said Gytha. She held up a torch freshly lit from the small fire and ran toward the center of the hall.
"I will cut you free," Telenstil said to Derue. "Please do not make me regret my action."
Derue remained silent but he bowed his head deeply as Telenstil passed his dagger's blade through the rope. The razor-edge split the cord as if it were made of straw.
They found them together, Gytha and Ghibelline, he seemed to breath easier but she had not called upon her Saint to heal him yet. His shirt was off, his side was black, the color stretching from his armpit over all his ribs on the one side and a handsbreadth below them. The skin around the elf's chest and stomach were a brownish yellow, painful just to see.
Gytha glanced up as Telenstil approached.
"It looks worse than it is," she said.
"It feels worse than you can imagine," Ghibelline complained.
"I can more than imagine," said Telenstil kindly, "I have been injured so myself, I can sympathize."
"Thank you, but sympathy does not lessen the pain," replied Ghibelline carefully. Just breathing made his ribs ache.
"No bones are broken," said Gytha, "I will wrap your chest tightly, you will hurt but it will fade." The people of her own lands, the wildland of hills and mountains that looked down upon the lowlands of Geoff, endured the pain of such small injuries with no complaint and little note. She felt for Ghibelline but saved the powers granted to her by the Saint for greater wounds.
"We came through intact then," said Telenstil. "Good."
"Why did the ground shake?" Gytha asked as she cut a hide shirt into long strips. With skilled hands she took the lengths of skin and wrapped them around Ghibelline's chest and sides. His arms were raised to shoulder height and they quivered from the strain. Old scars and wounds recently healed by Gytha's prayers crisscrossed the elf's back like a crude map, purple welts on pale fair skin.
* * *
The corridor was no shorter on their return, to the young mage it seemed that at least half of forever passed before they reached the ramp back up to the pillared hall. Harold rode on the bigger Harald's shoulder, the halfling happy as a child. Ivo sat upon one of the ranger's arms with his own arms folded across his chest, trying to retain a little dignity while the halfling laughed and joked. Talberth lead them, he was eager to reach Telenstil, tell the elven mage of what he'd found and return to the rooms beyond the mist-filled portals. He walked fast and Harald jounced behind him to keep up.
"Stop that!" Harald yelled at the halfling.
"I'll fall off," the halfling complained, "I need a saddle up here."
"Well stop pulling my hair, it's not a set of reins," grumbled the ranger. He slowed and the sharp tugging at his hair stopped.
"Put me down," Ivo said firmly. "I've had enough of this."
"I won't go so fast," Harald reassured the gnome.
Talberth halted but he didn't look back. "We are almost there. See," he pointed, "there, that is the way back up. I'll go on ahead."
"Talberth," Harald snapped. "Hey!"
"Let him go," said Ivo. "And put me down. He's right, let him go."
* * *
"I can barely breath," Ghibelline winced as he spoke. He had both hands on his ribs and inhaled through clenched teeth.
"But does it still hurt?" asked Gytha.
"Yes, well not as much," he admitted.
"Telenstil," Gytha called to the mage, "we have come through this, but what of the others?"
"They've gone exploring, and to find Talberth," Telenstil answered quietly. "I have lead our expedition badly, too many years I have spent accompanied by friends and companions of a hundred fights. We are all too independent and not yet attuned to each other, and I have been too lax."
"Telenstil you must lead us, you must not waver," Gytha told him firmly.
"I will," Telenstil said, "do not worry. Forgive my worries and lessening of resolve. I would that all of us were here, that our mounts and supplies had not been lost and that our mission was done. Instead we have paid for the wounds we have inflicted with wounds of our own. We may have to pay a greater price."
"Whatever the price," Gytha said, "I will pay back Nosnra and his kin for what he has done to mine."
There was a tap on Telenstil's shoulder and a gentle tug at his sleeve, Derue pointed across the chamber and cupped his hand to his his ear.
"Shh..." Telenstil hushed the others. "Yes, I hear it."
"What?" whispered Gytha.
"I hear it," Ghibelline said, "footsteps."
Derue disappeared behind a pillar, Ghibelline reached for a sword that wasn't there, he'd left it by the packs and Gytha held her torch like a club, prepared to fight. Only Telenstil did not reach for a weapon or draw back. He listened and a smile crossed his lips.
"I know the sound of those feet," he told the others. "It sounds like Talberth in a hurry."
"You have good ears," said Gytha.
The footsteps came hurrying across the floor, clapping on the tiles in a quick uneven cadence. Even Gytha could hear them, but to her surprise they seemed to pass them by.
* * *
"Talberth!" Telenstil called and the footsteps came to a sudden halt.
"There you are," the young mage called back.
They could see the light from his amulet shining between the pillars as he approached. "What happened here?"
"One of the golems began to come alive," Telenstil explained. "It would not obey my command."
"You destroyed it?" Talberth asked with respect tinged with regret. He shined the light of his amulet up into the hollowed pillar where the golem's upper body had been, then higher up to the ceiling. The roof was fractured like a window of thick glass that had been struck by a rock.
"More that it destroyed itself," said Telenstil. "Is Ivo not with you, and the others?"
"They are almost here," Talberth approached and gave a start as Derue stepped from the shadows.
"What is he doing loose?
"Derue has rejoined us," Telenstil nodded toward the man and he nodded back, "Gytha has freed him of the curse, and I detect no more evil within him."
Talberth rolled his eyes in doubt but said nothing.
"I am glad to see you safe," said Telenstil, "but it seems some ancient ward has been woken. It was that which tried to revive a golem. I am worried that the trap which captured you may have set something in motion throughout this ruin."
"Someone approaches," said Ghibelline. "He can hear it too," the elf pointed to Derue.
The scout nodded and casually pointed to the side of the hall.
"Is that singing?" asked Ghibelline.
"It is," said Telenstil with a smile. "Harold at least seems to be returning."
They did not have to wait long, the singing wavered and was replaced with a deep grumbling voice whose wordless complaints almost drowned out the much higher and lighter replies. Ivo lead them, walking a few paces in front, Harald still carried the halfling who sat behind his head and the young orc who was slung ungraciously over the ranger's shoulder.
"...get down and keep quiet," Harald said to the halfling.
"Ivo!" Telenstil went over to the gnome, reached down and clasped his shoulder. "Glad, very glad to see you and the others safe."
"We had our troubles," said Ivo. "It seems Talberth found his own way out, but we still had to drag him away."
Beside them Harald lowered Little Rat gently to the floor after reaching back with one hand and pulling down the thief. He caught a handful of the halfling's shirt and lowered him to the ground like a puppy clutched in its mother's mouth.
"Gytha," Harald said, "here, this one needs your help."
"He sleeps," she said examing the wounds on his head. "Not good," Gytha rolled back the orc's eyelids. "Harald, hold that light closer. Yes keep it above my head, but close."
"How is he?" Harold asked, concerned.
"He will need the Saint's grace. I will call for his aid," said Gytha.
"Do what you can," said Harold, "please."
"I will, do not worry," Gytha told him.
"Let her pray," said the ranger. He drew the halfling back and they joined the rest of the company where they had gathered near the shattered pillar. Man, elf, halfling and gnome sat or crouched on the ground in a rough circle. Nearby Gytha prayed for the gift of healing to be bestowed on the young orc. Telenstil smiled at the sight.
* * *
"Leaving!" Talberth cried. "We can't, there is too much here."
"Talberth, the danger outweighs the reward," Telenstil explained calmly. "We have rested, somewhat at least, now it is time for us to move on."
"We can't," Talberth waved his hand about trying to summon up the words that would convince them but he could find none, "I can't."
"Will you abandon us?" asked Telenstil.
"No, no," Talberth. "Of course not." The mage squared his shoulders. "But here, this place, it may contain magics that would destroy the giants completely."
"There is power here, yes," said Telenstil,"and I do not know. You could be right, but look around, the power is not ours to control."
"If we spent the time we could control the power," Talberth slapped his fist, "I know it."
"I am sorry Talberth," said Telenstil, "I do not agree. We will gather our packs and go. Come everyone, I wish that there had been more time for us to rest but we need to leave here now."
"It will still be dark out," Harald said.
"Better to be outside in the dark than in here any longer," Telenstil replied.
"I'll go see what it is like out there," the ranger volunteered.
"No," Telenstil shook his head. "No, we go together."
"Telenstil, a little scouting won't hurt." said Harald.
"It will no doubt help," said Telenstil, "it has helped, but not so far ahead. We will face what lies in wait for us together. Our strength is greatest only when we are not divided."
It was Harald's turn to shake his head, but he did not press his objections further.
* * *
"How is he?" Harold asked.
The halfling knelt beside Little Rat and watched the slow rise and fall of the orc's chest.
"Healed. Sleeping now," smiled Gytha.
"I brought your pack," said Harold, "you heard?"
"I heard," she yawned. "This one will need to rest, we will need someone to carry him. Where are the others?"
The halfling looked at her with a quizzical expression. His eyes widened and he slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. "The orcs!"
"Could they have escaped?" Gytha asked.
"I'd better go find Telenstil," Harold rose quickly, he scanned the room trying to decide where the elf had gone.
"Ask Harald to come here," Gytha called after him as the halfling took off at a run, "he needs to carry..." but Harold was already out of sight. Gytha busied herself with her pack, it contained little enough. With her horse and main supplies destroyed by the giants, the small bag she had brought with her on the raid of the steading was all that she had left. she would need to call upon the Saint's bounty for mere sustenance if they could not manage to supply themselves and this Gytha hated to do.
They'd taken hide pelts from the giants' hall and made crude sacks and cloaks from them. Beef cut from the body of giant cows, a herd slaughtered by magic bolts, filled some of the hide bags. The meat, blackened by fire, was wrapped in uncured leather, but it would not last. Already it had begun to decay, in a day the green rot would take hold if they could not spare the time to cook or cure the meat and then they would be left only with the crumbs of hard rations in the bottoms of their packs.
The smell from the hide sack she carried made Gytha wrinkle her nose and beside her Little Rat did the same. His eyes opened and he pushed himself up on his elbows. A long tongue licked thin lips and he yawned.
"Hungry," the young orc said. "What smell good?"
* * *
They looked like balls of fur, no sign of head, or legs, or even life. The gibberlings carpeted the floor of the passage, they were mere pups, but they would claw and bite if even the tiniest spark of life remained. Light was the only thing they feared. A torch would make them cower and run, and brighter light would freeze them in their tracks, drop them into motionless huddled shapes that would not move to save their lives.
Ivo and Telenstil were the last to leave. The elven mage had sent the others ahead to wait by the opening that had been clawed through the ceiling by the pack of gibberling adults. There had been forceful words spoken to Talberth, the young wizard hemmed and hawed and dragged his feet, not wanting to leave his friends, but desiring to stay and explore the ancient ruin. At the last Talberth turned his back on the chamber of pillars and monstrous golems then marched sullenly away.
"Look at them, the wee beasts," said Ivo.
"Amazing," nodded Telenstil in agreement. "At a different time I would stay here with Talberth and explore."
"I'd send for my cousins back home and look through this place properly," Ivo chuckled. "The things you find when you can't do anything about them. It reminds me of when I was young, long time ago now," He held a torch in his hand and lowered it to a pile a sticks and rags as he spoke. The flame leapt and danced among the tinder bursting into a blaze then dying low. "That should hold them," said Ivo. He left the torch atop the fire and retrieved a magic stone from the floor. "Don't want to leave this behind."
"We had best join the others," Telenstil said wistfully.
As Ivo put the magic stone away, placing it back within a metal sphere that he snapped shut with a loud click, the hall dimmed. Instantly the gibberling young began to move. Those furthest from the fire were partially hidden from its light. Some disappeared back into the pillared hall, most shifted but the flickering light from the fire was enough to hold them still. Ivo and Telenstil beat a hasty retreat down the passage and rejoined the rest of their companions. The fire would burn for some time, more than long enough for all of them to escape back to the forested hills above.
* * *
"There you are!" Ghibelline was the first to see their approach.
"Is everyone ready?" Telenstil asked.
"As we will ever be," answered Gytha. "Harald has been arguing with his little twin the whole time. We are going to abandon the orcs?"
"It is too late for them, as I said," Talberth spoke sharply.
"But did you see them..." Gytha went on.
"They wouldn't have survived, I wouldn't have either if I hadn't known the words to say and the language to say them in," Talberth replied. "They're gone."
"Let us be off then," said Telenstil. "Harald, can you climb up, is the rope in place?"
"I told you," the ranger said. He seemed to speak to all the others at once. "I can climb it, but I've been waiting here. Gytha insisted."
"She was right," Telenstil said quickly before Gytha could reply. The elf felt the tension which radiated from one to another. They had not found rest within the ancient ruins, and leaving it seemed to have brought out the strain that their flight from the giants' hall had set upon them. "I want us to stay together and not to break off into smaller groups or disappear one by one," he looked at each of them. "Harald you are our scout, but more caution is needed, and that means lesser distance."
"A scout is best left on his own," said Harald. "What good can I do if we all walk into a trap together?"
"Any warning will be of a help," Telenstil replied. "We will face any traps together, and our strength combined will overcome them. If a trap takes you, as this place almost did, then you will not be able to help us. I know you are used to scouting for your wildland patrols, but this is different, we are not scouts or soldiers, and we do not wish to lose you even to save ourselves."