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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 52

The wisdom of the common folk confounds even the wise.
– The Proverbs of Shedey’uwr

Ralt’s unexpected victory over the storm giant and Durin’s war cry an instant later, unnerved the frost giants. The loss of their leader, for the enormous, powerful creature had to be their leader, left them at a loss for a course of action. The dwarves had them outnumbered but their sheer physical size and strength more than made up for the difference in numbers. They should have been able to rally and win the battle but instead they began retreating up the mountain.

Durin waved Fenris Fang like a baton over his head and charged after them, his troops hard on his heels, following their mithril-clad king into battle.

Ralt felt himself grinning like a fool at the overwhelming sense of joy from his victory over the storm giant and the turning of the tide of war. His smile faded as he looked in vain for Missy. She’d been on the same ledge he’d been on when the storm giant smashed it to pieces. Where was she?

His heart seized in fear and he went bounding down the mountain like a goat, leaping from boulder to boulder and sliding down loose rock. He barely stopped himself when he reached the site of the ledge. He couldn’t see her.



He spun around but didn’t see her.

“Up here, silly man.”

He looked up. Somehow she’d managed to climb the rock she’d been crouched behind and was comfortably sitting cross-legged on top of it, her crossbow cradled in her lap. He clutched his chest in thankfulness. “Don’t scare me like that!”

Her amused expression faded and her eyes softened as she saw the genuine fear in him. She leaped down to land gracefully in front of him. She wound her arms around his neck. “I wasn’t trying to scare ye.” She kissed him lightly. Then, an amused twinkle lit her eyes. “Just don’t let anyone know that Emrys Giant Bane is scared of losing his wife. It takes some of the heroism out of ye if they knew that,” she giggled.

He swatted her rear end and she yelped theatrically. “I don’t care who knows it,” he growled in her ear. “You are my wife and I couldn’t stand to lose you.”

The playfulness evaporated from her and she pulled him close. “And ye’re my husband,” she whispered back.

They kissed tenderly then broke apart to stare up the mountain where Durin and his dwarves were driving the frost giants back. Ralt frowned as he saw something behind the giants that looked like part of a crenelated stone wall. “What’s that?”

Missy stood on her tip toes. “What?”

He grabbed her hand. “Come on! I think I see part of a fortress.” He scrambled up the slope, pulling her with him. He headed for an outcropping of stone for a better view. The side of the outcropping was so steep it was almost a cliff but after spending two days and a night climbing an actual cliff (and sleeping on it!) last year with his friends, Ralt took it in stride, grabbing for handholds with reckless abandon. He mounted the outcropping and pulled Missy up beside him, then turned around.

His heart sank.

The frost giants did have a fortress on the mountain. The outer wall was constructed of stone blocks that were nearly 30 cubits on a side. Even the frost giants must have struggled to move such huge pieces of stone. The blocks were stacked three layers high, so tightly fitted and joined a piece of paper couldn’t be slipped between them. From where he was standing, it looked as though the wall went all the way around the peak it was situated on. There weren’t any gates, only a series of stone ladders leaning against the wall, the highest rungs sticking up over the top of it. Once the giants were inside, they could simply push the ladders away and their own weight would shatter them when they fell.

Durin and his dwarves couldn’t see it from where they were, but they were driving the giants directly toward a nearly impregnable redoubt from which they could safely withstand any attack. Ralt waved and yelled to get the dwarves’ attention but they couldn’t hear him over the noise of the battle.

Missy’s reaction was completely different though. She jumped up and down for joy, laughing and pumping her fist in the air in victory.

He stared at her in consternation. “You’re happy they’ve got a fortress?”

“Of course,” she grinned. “Once they’re trapped in there, we can tunnel under ‘em and attack from beneath. Our people have been doing that against giants fer centuries.”

He paused to consider what he knew of dwarven mining techniques, then eyed the bulk of the mountain. “That’s a lot of digging,” he countered slowly.

“Aye, but they don’t need to be perfect tunnels, they just need to be big enough for us to move through.” She leaned against him to kiss his cheek. “Ye may be a giant killer, Emrys Giant Bane, but we’ve been fighting their kind since the dawn of time. Watch and learn man o’mine, watch and learn.”

Missy proved correct.

Once the giants were comfortably and, so they thought, safely behind their stone walls, Durin threw a cordon of dwarves around the wall, just out of range of the giant’s boulders. The rest of his people, he pulled back down the mountain of their sight, then set them to digging. He grinned at Ralt and Missy as they arrived at his impromptu command post near the Storm Giant’s body.

“Didja see see der stinkin’ fortress?” he asked jovially. “We got ‘em trapped now!” For all the losses they’d taken, the dwarves with him were in high spirits. The sounds of mithril tools hitting rock echoed back from the mountains. Grior was directing a line of dwarves at a deepening tunnel not far away. As the dwarves inside it chopped rock out of the mountain, they passed it back to dwarves behind them who in turn passed it to still others, with the last in line tossing it unceremoniously down the mountainside. The small boulders bounced and crashed down the rocky slopes, creating an unending series of echoes and rumbles.

From either side, Ralt could hear similar sounds coming from other mining efforts. He gestured at Grior’s dwarves. “Are they doing the same thing all the way around the entire mountain?”

Durin nodded. “Jist the top o’course, but yeah. We’ll dig in ‘til we meet in da middle, den dig up, making tunnels wit steps in ‘em until we break through inside der fortress. After dat,” he licked his lip, “breakfast!” The dwarves surrounding him laughed heartily. To Ralt’s dismay, Missy seemed equally eager to dine on giant’s brains.

He tried not to let his reaction show on his face. “In the meantime, could you use some aerial reconnaissance?” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder at his pegasus. Once the fighting had stopped, it had begun cropping at new grass shoots coming up out of the ground in the early spring weather.

“Sure! Be careful ta keep outta der range though,” Durin agreed readily. “Dey ken throw further den ye might t’ink.”

He gave Durin a faint nod then headed for his pegasus. “Missy? Are you coming?” She smiled brightly and skipped after him. Moments later they were spiraling up into the air.

Ralt listened closely to his pegasus’ breathing and the flap of it’s wings. Missy noticed his concentration. “What are you doing?”

“I overheard Storm talking to Gerald about airplanes on Elder Earth and I remember he said something about the air getting thinner the higher you go. I don’t know how high a pegasus can fly but so far he seems to be breathing alright.” Ralt leaned forward to pat his neck.

“His wings are flapping faster than normal though,” Missy pointed out.

“That’s because he’s climbing,” Ralt argued.

They continued back and forth until the fortress was made tiny by distance. Ralt finally tapped his pegasus to glide in a huge circle over it. One of the giants hurled a boulder at them, nearly 2 cubits in diameter but it fell far short. Missy leaned forward to talk in his ear. “Is that really as high as they can throw or are they trying to lure us into flying lower?”

Ralt shook his head. “I was wondering the same thing. If I was by myself I might chance it, but I’m not about to risk you life. We’ll stay up here.”

Missy slapped his shoulder.


“You don’t have to protect me,” she exclaimed indignantly. “You can take any chances with me along that you would if you were alone.”

He shook his head. “Actually, I can’t. That’s why I asked you to come.”

She pulled his head back so she could look him in the face. “What?”

“If I was alone, I might take stupid chances trying to live up to that ‘Giant Bane’ thing and be a hero,” he said, looking her straight in the eye. “But I knew if I brought you along, I wouldn’t dare risk the woman I love on something idiotic.” He smiled ruefully. “You’re my insurance policy against my own pride.”

Her face softened. She clasped his face with both hands and kissed him softly. “There ain’t many men as would admit to something like that.” Her eyes shone with pride. “You’re a good man, Ralt Emrys, and I’m proud to be your wife.”

He kissed her. “And I’m proud to be your husband.” He turned forward before she could see his eyes misting. He cleared his throat. “Now . . . let’s see what those giants have up their sleeves!”

* * * * *

“Brown bears?” Durin frowned heavily.

Ralt and Missy nodded together. “Storm calls them grizzly bears,” Ralt added, “but yeah, they have a lot of them in there.”

Ragrak grimaced. “Frost giants use ‘em as guard dogs and der vicious. Fast too,” he emphasized. “Der close enough ta our size dat we can’t fight ‘em like we do da giants.”

“Aye lad, yer right ‘bout dat,” Durin agreed, remembering the life-and-death fight he and Storm had against one of them in the mountains of Ingold. The roaring bear had nearly been the death of them.

Ralt saw his expression and realized what he must be thinking. “Are you talking about that bear you and Storm tangled with that time?”

During nodded somberly. “Granted, we wuz half-frozen at da time, but dem beasties ain’t easy ta kill no matter wot.”

“Sire, ye don’t have ta kill ‘em ta beat ‘em,” Ragrak said.

Durin furrowed his brow. “Wot do ye mean?”

“Me people use pepper on ‘em. Grind it up fine as ken be, den blow it in der faces. It gets in der noses and drives ‘em crazy trying ta git rid of it.” Ragrak smiled proudly. “We used it lots o’times.”

Durin shrugged. “I’m glad fer ye but so wot? We ain’t got no pepper.”

“No, but ye got an elf-mage wit a flying pony. Send ‘em ta Far Point to buy a bunch of it.”

Ralt and Durin exchanged stunned glances. After a moment they broke into laughter. “The wisdom of the common folk confounds even the wise,” Ralt quoted.

Ragrak grinned. “Are ye claiming ta be wise, den?”

Ralt shook his head. “Hardly. Foolish, maybe, but not wise.”

Missy grinned suddenly. “Then let me make you feel even more foolish.”

Ralt paused apprehensively.

“Take some of our Mithril trade items and swap ‘em for the pepper. We get what we need to fight the bears and show the world proof we can forge Mithril at the same time.” She gave him a smug look, daring him to challenge her.

The three men stood as if pole-axed, staring at each other. Durin finally sighed in resignation. “Take her wit ye, lad. Take her wit ye a’fore she tries ta take over and steal me crown.”

Ralt tried not to laugh. “Probably a good idea, your majesty.” He grabbed Missy and tossed her onto his pegasus, for once glad her light weight allowed him to act the part of the strong man. She yelped in surprise then yelped again when he swung up in front of her with elven grace. He grabbed the reins and kicked his pegasus into the air. She had to grab his waist to keep from falling off. “See you in the morning!” he yelled over his shoulder.

She squeezed him until his ribs started to creak. “Ralt Emrys! What do you think you’re doing? Tossing me around like an old sack of grain!”

He winced at her grip then turned around to grin at her. “Well, number one, trading Mithril for pepper is a great idea, number two, I had to get you out of there before you started getting a swelled head, and number three, the Buffalo’s Head Inn in Far Point has some of the most comfortable beds this side of Zered.”

She softened her grip. “They do?”

His grin widened. “Yes they do – wife.”

“Hmm.” Her eyes turned smokey. “What a grand idea – husband.”

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