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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 50

Ralt closed the mirror-phone. Aram had called with news of Storm and Lorelei’s progress and also to fill him in about the one flesh paradigm covering those who followed the Lord of Light. Ralt had never heard of such a thing which wasn’t surprising since he hadn’t bothered to learn much about the Lord of Light prior to meeting Storm. Since he and Missy had been married according to the same ritual as Storm and Lorelei, he wondered if the Lord of Light saw them as his and would afflict them with the same sharing of power that seemed to be happening to his friends?

Missy was intrigued with the possibility but was more interested in the news that Gerald was coming with new crossbow bolts for fighting the giants. She was also extremely proud of the two mithril sheath daggers she’d forged. She’d been one of the first dwarves to forge mithril, using the forges in the Fire Cavern. They were balanced for throwing, razor sharp, and perfectly fitted for her hands. She had bârâ’d them to harm any creature they were used on.

All week, the dwarves had been hard at work forging mithril. Purple flame had been carried out to the dwarves camped in the valley and the ring of mithril hammers on metal echoed the sounds coming from the mines. Everywhere there were forges burning with purple fire as the newly reconstituted Shokirin turned out mithril knives, spears, swords, hammers, maces, arrows, armor, bracers, and shields. Working around the clock, they had produced hundreds of mithril weapons. Durin spent his days going from one forge to another, advising them on the correct ratio of ores to use, coaching them on smelting the ores, purifying the ore with purple fire, praising those who got it right and slapping them on the head when they errored.

Their sense of pride and accomplishment increased with every mithril item they forged. In addition, they also made broaches, pendents, rings, jewelry, cups, picture frames, hunting horns, buckles, and dozens of other small ornamental items for sale or trade.

A separate group of dwarves were hard at work making a full suit of mithril armor for Durin. The Shokirin wanted their new king to shine when he stood before them. Ralt was watching them fit it to him when a runner came in to announce the appearance of two pegasi in the sky, approaching fast. There was a rider on each.

Ralt beat Durin to the front porch due to the simple fact he had longer legs, but Missy beat Ralt because she was faster.

The winged steeds landed on the valley floor and started up the path. Ralt arrived at Missy’s side and saw Thomas leading Gerald. Both pegasi were loaded down with long bundles, carefully tied back out of the way of their wings. Missy elbowed him excitedly in the ribs. “More of his magic crossbow bolts.” She was practically jumping up and down with anticipation.

Durin heard her as he finally puffed into view. “Aye, lass. And dis time we’ll make better plans on ‘ow ta use ‘em. Hail and well met,” he bellowed as Thomas and Gerald reached the top.

Thomas grinned as he slid off his mount. “We arrive bearing gifts, O’mighty king,” he play-acted in his best hick accent.

“Mighty king, nuthin’,” Durin muttered. “It’s bad enough I gotta put up wit dat from dem,” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the assembled dwarves, “but I ain’t takin’ it from ye, ye grinning monkey! Me father was de king.”

Gerald took his time dismounting. “Indeed he was, past tense. Now, whether you like it or not, you’re the king. What this popinjay,” he shot a look at Thomas, “meant in jest, others will intend with honest sincerity.” His expression was heavy. “You best get used to it.”

Durin sighed. He glanced at Ralt. “Now I see where ye git it.”

Gerald perked up. “Has my young friend been giving you wise counsel?”

“‘Grim’ be a better word fer it,” Durin grumbled. “But aye, wise counsel.”

“Good.” Thomas had been busy unlashing the bundles from their pegasi. Gerald touched one with his staff; the straps untied themselves and the wrappings flew open. Crossbow bolts spilled out. “A full dozen in each bundle,” Gerald told them. “Each with a darkness spell cast on them.”

Ralt counted eight bundles. He frowned curiously. “That’s 96 bolts. Where did you find time to cast 96 darkness spells?”

Gerald laughed. “There are young wizards withering away in Zered who need work before they starve or turn to evil.” He leaned on his staff. “All you need now is some good planning on how to put them to use.”

“Aye. Planning we ‘ave dis time,” Durin returned. He proceeded to explain.

The dwarves would trail march up the mountain, walking out of step with each other to avoid shaking the ground and alerting the giants. Approaching at night until they were within one or two leagues of where they’d been ambushed last time, they would fan out in a long line, three ranks deep with 20 cubits between each dwarf. When the giants threw boulders, they would be able to scatter from the impact point without tripping on each other, but they’d still be close enough to quickly come to each other’s aid or collapse in together to attack one of the giants when they were blinded by the magic crossbow bolts.

Missy would lead a group of 12 dwarves, each with eight of the magical bolts. They would be spread out in the back rank furthest away from the giants. Mithril crossbows had been forged and bârâ’d to give them extra range and penetrating power. Since the darkness spell was cast on the head of each bolt, they wanted them buried as deep in the giant’s bodies as possible to keep them from pulling them out or perhaps causing them to break the shaft in the attempt. That way they couldn’t escape the spell.

The rest of the back rank would be composed of dwarves carrying crossbows firing ordinary bolts. The middle ranks would be armed with long spears, three times longer than the dwarves were tall. They would protect their fellows from the giants reaching down to grab them. Finally, the front ranks would be those doughty dwarves who would confront the giants in person. They would be covered in solid plate armor and wielding heavy axes to chop the towering monsters down to size or mighty hammers to crush bone and cripple the fierce creatures so they could swarm over them for the kill.

Gerald nodded sagely. “A good plan,” he opined. “Just pray the giants don’t have a good plan of their own to counter it.”

“We could use yer help,” Durin suggested.

Gerald shook his head immediately. “Impossible. Tensions in Zered are sky high with everything that’s happened. My presence on the Council, along with a few others, is required to keep them from doing something stupid to make matters worse.” He patted a pocket on his robe and the crinkle of parchment could be heard. “I have a Word of Recall inscribed on here. If I get a call on my magic mirror, I’ll use it to get back home instantly.”

Durin was stricken. “Ye didn’t have to come. Thomas coulda delivered da bolts in yer stead.”

“No, I have something for Ralt and it has to be done in person.” He gestured at him. “Let’s go somewhere private.”

Ralt bowed slightly. “This way.”

* * * * *

After an hour or so, the two wizards reappeared and Gerald and Thomas headed back to Zered. Missy watched them winging their way through the sky. “A short visit,” she said to Ralt.

He nodded absently. “The City Council in Zered is unpredictable at best. They’re even worse during the summer when Count Draven goes off hunting for weeks at a time. Gerald really does need to get back to keep an eye on them.”

“What did he need to see you about?”

Ralt wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “He taught me a new spell to help fight the giants.” He gave her a wicked smile. “Using Shadow Flame, I can pull the ground right out from under their feet.”

Missy’s laugh was clear as a bell. “And down they go!”

* * * * *

She wasn’t feeling quite so confident the next day as they stood on the mountain in the early morning mist preparing for war. The dwarves had marched all night in their eagerness to avenge their last battle with the giants, which had been more of a rout than a battle and they were understandably nervous as well as determined. She clasped and re-clasped her crossbow, one of Gerald’s mystical bolts cradled in it. Ralt have her a final kiss then moved to join the king.

Durin’s battle armor was so well made it moved without making a sound. All the dwarves had been careful to oil their armor. They didn’t want any betraying noise to give them away until they were in position. The king nodded at Grior who raised the standard and circled it overhead in the signal to start spreading out. Other standard bearers further back echoed the signal down the line and the dwarves began fanning out, taking their places in the ranks as they did.

Ralt stared morosely at the bloodstains left on the surrounding boulders from their last encounter with the giants. Despite his title as Giant’s Bane, he knew as well as anyone his killing of the cave giant in Ingold had been a one-in-a-million shot, born of his being in the right place at the right time. He’d get no such opportunity here. The frost giants here were also taller and stronger than the cave giants. Durin’s plan was their only hope of prevailing against them.

The dwarves finished spreading out and Durin had Grior signal the advance. The sun began to peak over the horizon behind them as they started cautiously up the slope. At least the light would be in the giant’s eyes when the fighting started.

They made it over halfway toward the giant’s position before they were spotted. Ralt saw one of the giants looking down at them and slammed the butt of Shadow Flame on the ground. The resulting thunder was the signal to start the attack.

A mighty war cry erupted from the throats of 5000 warriors and the dwarves charged up the mountain, closing with the giants as quickly as they could. Attacking an enemy who commanded a higher position was always fraught with danger but particularly so against giants. They had to close the distance and attack hand-to-hand if they were to succeed.

It took the giants several moments to rouse themselves and assemble for war, precious moments the dwarves used to get close enough to bring their crossbows to bear. Ragrak blew a blast on his horn and all the crossbowmen stopped, took aim, and fired. Hundreds of bolts darkened the sky.

None of the bolts individually were enough to kill a frost giant, but dozens hitting each of them was enough to cause severe injury and pain. Globes of darkness suddenly erupted around some of them as the enchanted bolts hit and did their work. The dwarves raised a triumphant yell when they saw it. Their plan was working!

The giants reeled from the unexpected onslaught, allowing the dwarves enough time to unleash a second volley before the monsters could regroup and fight back. Boulders the size of sofas began raining down on the attackers. The dwarves watched the soaring boulders then scattered once they ascertained the point of impact. Most were successful but some weren’t and they began taking casualties.

The front ranks reached the giant’s line.

Durin gave a huge bellow as he brought Fenris Fang down on a giant’s ankle, tearing a huge gash in it. The great wolf came boiling out of the axe and added his teeth to the fray. Ralt was right beside Durin and he brought Shadow Flame down on the injured giant’s leg. Thunder rocked the ledge as the leg bones shattered and the monster let out a deafening roar of pain. It staggered and crashed to the ground. Dwarves swarmed over the lip of the ledge and fell on it. Within moments it was reduced to a pile of bloody flesh.

Elsewhere, up and down the line, the same tactic was being employed against the giants whose chests and heads were surrounded by globes of pitch black. Blind and helpless, they were easy prey for the much smaller and faster dwarves.

Occupied with fighting the dwarves at their feet, the giants weren’t able to hurl boulders at the crossbowmen. They halted their advance and began concentrating their fire on the giants. More globes of darkness erupted on them as the dwarves firing the magical bolts aimed at those who could still see.

Ralt saw two frost giants running out of a cave and put Gerald’s new spell to work. He muttered the spell then channeled it through Shadow Flame to enhance its power. There was a rumble from the ground and suddenly four cubits of rock and dirt shot out from under their feet as if someone had pulled a blanket out from under them. The giants crashed to the ground with stunning violence, then the rock and dirt, confined by the cave, rebounded from the ceiling and walls to come raining back down on them. They were bruised and bloodied before cheering dwarves ran up to attack with their axes and hammers.

Durin saw it and laughed hugely. “Well done, lad! We’ll make a real giant killer outta ye, yet!”

Ragrak echoed him. “Emrys the giant killer!”

The dwarves around him took up the chant.

Ralt grinned at them and spun Shadow Flame in the air. He grounded his staff and looked around. There was still a lot of fierce fighting going on but it looked as if Durin’s plan was working. We’re winning, he thought triumphantly.

As if to prove him wrong, a monstrous roar, a dozen times louder than anything the frost giants had made, ripped through the air. The ground shook from thundering footsteps, shaking rocks and dust loose from the mountainside.

Ralt spun around, crouching with Shadow Flame in his hands. Durin and Ragrak were poised tensely as well, searching for the source of the unearthly noise.

“Up there!” Missy pointed above them to the left.

Ralt didn’t have time to wonder how long she’d been there. The monster emerging from the huge cave above them was one no one had seen for thousands of years.

It was a Titan, a Storm Giant!

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