Haden looked at Kalisa fingering her sword and surveyed the group. Talan was gripping his own swords, while Sheen was glowing slightly, ectoplasm sheeting off her skin. Only Mal appeared calm, but he didn’t seem too conscious of what was happening. “We need to try and negotiate with these giants,” Haden announced.
“What, have you lost your mind?” Sheen demanded instantly.
“The last person who tried to negotiate didn’t do very well,” Kalenthor commented. “He escaped, the fink, but just barely.”
“We should at least try,” Haden said, directing his words mostly at Kalisa. “We’ll have a devil of a time getting Joris out of here before the other giants show up.”
Talan shook his head. “We can try, but we should be prepared just in case.”
“Of course,” Haden said. He began casting a defensive spell. Kalenthor waved his hands in an arcane gesture, clearly intending to assist.
“Lead on, bold . . . sir,” the elf said. Haden raised a skeptical eyebrow at Kalenthor, then shrugged and started walking, a look of suave confidence settling onto his features. He stopped a good distance short of the giants, concentrating to amplify his voice.
“HAIL, OH MIGHTY AND FEARSOME WARRIORS!!”
“What, more little pinkskins?” the biggest and strongest giant demanded faintly. Even speaking under its breath, the voice was loud enough to be clearly heard.
“I am Haden, and I beg your indulgence for a moment.” Talan nervously eyed another giant who was rummaging in his sack for a throwing stone. The leader waved a hand and it stopped.
“YOU ADDRESS ROGNVALD, THE SERVANT OF MIGHTY GERTI ORELSDOTTR!”
Haden’s grin was somewhat manic. “Truly I am awed, sir, for your renown is great!”
“THEY DO SING OF MY DEEDS AT THE SPINE OF THE WORLD. ONLY A FILTHY LIMERICK COMPARED TO THE FAME OF MY MISTRESS, BUT STILL I AM KNOWN! HAVE YOU HEARD OF ME IN YOUR LITTLE CITY ON THE RIVER?”
“Goodness, no!” Haden replied. “I am a . . . skald, I call no city home!” Talan shot Sheen a questioning look.
“Don’t ask me,” she whispered, “I have no idea what he’s doing.”
“Shh!” Haden hissed, then addressed the giants. "Once again, I am awed! I had thought the day a waste, yet here I am, speaking to a legend!"
"Playing to the brute's ego. Clever.” Kalenthor murmured.
"AND WHAT BUSINESS BRINGS YOU TO OUR JARL'S MOST RECENT ACQUISITION?" Rognvald demanded.
"I had heard of a mighty wizard travelling in these parts, and I sought him out to witness his deeds." The giant issued booming belly laughter, glaring at his cronies until they joined in. Haden copped an astonished expression. “Whatever is so funny, Great Rognvald?”
“THERE WAS A LACKSPELL WANDERING THESE MOORS, BUT WE SENT HIM ON HIS WAY.”
“Incredible!” Haden gushed.
“Lackspell,” Kalenthor remarked. “I’ll have to remember that.”
The giants boomed more laughter. “BUT NOT BEFORE HE PAID US A HANDSOME TRIBUTE. HAVE YOU ANY TRIBUTE FOR MIGHTY ROGNVALD, LITTLE PINKSKIN?!”
“Tribute?” Haden asked. “Like this statue here?”
Rognvald paused and looked down at Joris. “HE SAID IT WAS VALUABLE TO SOMEONE IN SILVERYMOON. SEEMS RATHER ORDINARY TO ME.” Kalisa hissed through her teeth.
“Are you collecting figurines, oh Mighty Rognvald? A pursuit for old ladies, I believe.” Haden said mildly.
Rognvald roared. “DON’T DARE TO TELL ME MY BUSINESS, SKALD!! ONE GIFT DOES NOT MAKE A COLLECTION!!”
Haden cringed, a bit more than was strictly necessary, perhaps. “I beg your pardon, Mighty Rognvald! It hardly seems like tribute worthy of such a mighty warrior!”
Rognvald snorted, but subsided a bit. “TRULY, IT IS LITTLE ENOUGH WHEN COMAPRED WITH THE LIKES OF THIS!!” The giant hefted a shining mithral helmet with broad, sweeping wings. Haden made appreciative noises. “A FINE PRIZE FOR THE JARL. SHE WILL REWARD ME TWICE OVER FOR THIS!!”
“Perhaps I can do you a service, Mighty Rognvald!” The giant eyed Haden curiously. “Your lady Jarl needs adornments worthy of her station, this I can see!”
“AYE,” Rognvald said, a touch wistfully.
Haden nodded. “And I happen to know a collector of such ‘figurines’ who would offer me a fine price indeed.”
“Let us offer you a better tribute for your lady and take this awkward chunk of rock off your hands. You will be spared the trouble of dealing with it. Yea, your renown can only grow as you tell the tale of how you made foolish travelers carry the useless thing away.” One of the other giants bent and whispered in Rognvald’s ear. Haden looked back at the group. “Get ready to turn out your pockets, guys.”
Sheen glanced over her shoulder at Kalisa and cocked an ear for a second. “Oh dear,” she said. “The reinforcements are arriving.”
“LET’S SEE THE COLOR OF YOUR MONEY, THEN,” Rognvald interrupted.
“He’ll turn on us as soon as we pay him,” Kalenthor said quietly. “That’s what happened to Arivargus.”
“Then we fight,” Sheen said, “But I’ll bet that Haden is a good deal more convincing than your wizard.”
Haden dug a few items from his backpack and proceeded to sell them to the giants, along with a good helping of plain cash.
“VERY WELL, WEE SKALD, I ACCEPT YOUR TRIBUTE. TAKE THE STATUE AND BEGONE!! BUT IF YOU PASS THIS WAY AGAIN, I EXPECT A SHARE OF YOUR PROFITS FROM THE STATUE!”
“Truly Rognvald is magnanimous beyond measure. I will spread word of his fame throughout the land!”
“All right,” Sheen said, “Everyone grab the statue and let’s see if wee can actually move it.” Rognvald gathered up his crones and started off toward the north. They hauled Joris out of the ground and began dragging him awkwardly, not turning around until they were out of sight behind a rock outcrop.
“Whew,” Kalenthor said. “I could teleport now. Back to Silverymoon, I mean. Then I can get a scroll to fix his condition.”
Kalisa scowled, then sighed. “All right. Please hurry.”
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