Authors: Troy Denning
The Ogre’s Pact: The Twilight Giants
Book I (Forgotten Realms: The Twilight Giants)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (May 3, 2005)
OCRed and proofed by Dreamcity
Ebook version 1.0
Release Date: June, 27, 2009
The hill giant waited behind the portcullis, scowling as the blast of trumpets heralded his arrival. His hulking figure, with stooped shoulders and gangling arms, filled the archway almost entirely. A child could not have squeezed between his rotund torso and the granite walls of the inner gate, while the crown of his pointed skull came close to scraping the vaulted ceiling.
“It appears Noote passed the winter safely enough,” observed Camden. The king was watching the giant from the window of the royal library. “He’s as plump as ever.”
“He’s also eight hours early.” griped Bjordrek. The chamberlain was a gray-haired man with a slender nose and a pointed heard. “Perhaps I should send him away for a few hours, Your Majesty.”
Camden shook his head. “Let’s be happy he managed to arrive on Brianna’s birthday. That’s doing well for a hill giant.” Though the king tried to sound cheerful, his words seemed hollow and melancholy-even to him. Hoping to do better. Camden leaned out the window and called, “Raise the gate for my friend!”
The portcullis began to rise, the muffled clatter of its hidden chains rattling across the expanse of the inner ward. While he waited. Camden surveyed the preparations for the evening’s celebration. From the spire of every tower waved a pennant of purple or gold, while the standards of the royal guard hung over the interior wall, spaced at even intervals so each company would know where to stand. Dozens of servants wandered about with brushes and pails, scrubbing indiscernible bits of grime off already clean surfaces. The cobblestones, scoured three separate times during the last tenday, shined like silver.
Still, the king was not satisfied. “Bjordrek!”
The chamberlain scurried to his side. “Yes, Your Majesty?”
Camden pointed to a section of yellowed tapestry that could be seen through a window across the courtyard.
“Did I not say that everything visible from the inner ward was to be fresh and clean? The evening must be perfect for my daughter!”
Bjordrek’s face reddened, whether with embarrassment or anger the king could not tell. “I shall reprove the Sergeant of the Gate myself, Your Majesty.”
Camden made no reply, for Noote had ducked under the portcullis and was now striding across the ward. Fresh bearskins covered the hill giant’s chest and loins, and a satchel of untanned deer hide dangled from his shoulder. He wore his coarse, black hair cropped short and ragged, while his tiny round ears seemed out of place on a head so large and lumpy.
When Noote saw the king watching him, he took the satchel from his shoulder and raised it into the air. “Noote bring present!”
Camden forced himself to smile, trying not to think of what the satchel might contain. “That wasn’t necessary, my friend.” he called. “Your presence will be gift enough.”
The hill giant returned the smile, revealing a set of jagged gray teeth filed to sharp points, and stopped outside the king’s library. Though the second floor of the High Keep was nearly twenty feet off the ground. Noote had to lower his head to peer inside. He opened the satchel and withdrew the half-frozen carcass of a snow leopard, its head smashed to a gory mess.
“Brianna like?” The hill giant displayed the dead beast by its tail. “Kill myself.”
“Certainly.” Camden had to fight to keep his nose from wrinkling at the odor. “It’s-well, the pelt is really quite exquisite, isn’t it?”
“Good.” His eyes twinkling with delight, the hill giant dropped the carcass back into its sack.
“The king eyed the satchel, imagining how his daughter might react when Noote dropped the squalid thing across her lap. After a moment, he returned his gaze to the giant’s face and, still smiling, suggested. “Perhaps Bjordrek can take your gift and have it prepared.”
Noote frowned, puzzled as to what preparations might be necessary. Nevertheless, he readily nodded. “Don’t lose claws.” he advised. “Make good wolf collar.”
The hill giant stuffed the malodorous satchel through the window. Camden quickly stepped aside to let his chamberlain accept the gift.
“I’ll take this to the tanner immediately.” sniffed Bjordrek, reluctantly wrapping both arms around the heavy bag.
“Yes, that’s good.” agreed Camden. Although it would take much longer than a day to prepare the pelt properly, the chamberlain would have little trouble securing a suitable replacement from the royal tannery, “Perhaps you could have it made into a nice cape or shawl-or something.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” The chamberlain went to the door, but hesitated there. “Before I go, is there anything I can do to help you relax?”
“What do you mean by that?”
Bjordrek winced at the king’s tone. “Forgive me for saying so,” he said timidly, “but you seem rather upset.”
“If I am disconcerted, it’s because of your woefully inadequate preparations,” Camden snapped.
The king made no attempt to conceal the exchange, for he knew that nothing upset Noote more than being excluded from a conversation. Besides, over the years, Camden and the hill giant had developed a peculiar camaraderie, sharing with each other a great many things more personal than the king’s feelings toward his chamberlain.
Bjordrek stood in the doorway, a resentful spark flaring in his eyes. He bowed and began to hack away.
“Wait.” The king’s tone was gentler, for he could see that he had pushed Bjordrek to the breaking point. “You’ve done well. If I’m tense, it’s because I worry about my daughter.”
That much, at least, was true,
Bjordrek nodded sympathetically. “Then Brianna hasn’t told even you whom she’ll choose tonight?”
The chamberlain sighed. “Let us hope it won’t be the scout,” he said. “It wouldn’t do to have the princess marry a commoner-especially that one. Can you imagine what the earls would do if a firbolg were to become king?”
“The one thing I do know is that Brianna won’t marry Tavis Burdun.” Camden’s voice was as morose as it was certain. “You and the earls may rest assured of that.”
The chamberlain cast his eyes toward the heavens. “At least we can thank Stronmaus for that much.”
Bjordrek bowed again, then disappeared into the stairwell.
Noote cursed in the rumbling language of his race. “Noote not expect wedding!” he grumbled. “Only bring one present.”
Slowly, the king turned to face the hill giant. “There’s no need for concern, Noote,” he said. “You know as well as I do Brianna isn’t going to marry anyone.”
The hill giant furrowed his heavy brow, then rubbed his leathery knuckles across his chin; His gaze grew sad and dropped toward the ground.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Noote forget about that.”
The Weary Giant
Through the open window of the enormous hall rolled a series of distant bellows, rumbling like muted drumbeats beneath the melody of the lodge musicians. Tavis Burdun rose from his seat and raised his palm toward his performers. The fipple pipe squealed into silence and the tambourine crashed to a stop, bringing the dance of the fire giant to a jumbled, stomping halt. From the streets outside came the slap-slap of a flat-footed runner. The lumbering gait was distant and erratic, too heavy for a human foot, each step echoing slightly louder as it rebounded off the rough-hewn walls of the Weary Giant Lodge.
The dancer cast an impatient glare down at the banquet table. Dressed only in a tunic and loincloth of red dragon hide, the fire giant was a lanky figure with thin legs resembling barren sumac boles, long spindly arms, and skin as black and shiny as coal. His blocky head loomed among the murky rafters more than twenty feet above, his scarlet hair and orange beard reminding Tavis of a fireball bursting high in the night sky.
“I’ll finish my dance,” the fire giant demanded.
“Of course, Kwasid. But give me a moment-please.”
The innkeeper knew dancing was sacred to fire giants, put Kwasid would have to endure a short interruption. Tavis did not like what he heard outside, and with Princess Brianna among his guests, he had no intention of letting something unpleasant develop on the grounds of the Weary Giant.
After listening to the distant steps for a moment longer, Tavis said. “There’s a verbeeg loose in the village.”
“Verbeeg!” The voice came from two seats away. There sat Earl Ruther Dobbin, lord mayor of Stagwick, with a pitcher of ale and a pile of goose bones before him. “A verbeeg in my village?”
“I’m afraid so.” Tavis answered. Verbeegs were one of the races of giant-kin, cousins of true giants. They were notorious thieves, for they believed that all things belonged to all people. “And it sounds as though he’s heavily loaded.”
Earl Dobbin considered this, his round face slowly stiffening with tension. Finally, he scowled at Tavis. “Phaw! You can’t know it’s a verbeeg! Why not a hill giant, or even an ogre?”
Either option would have been preferable to a verbeeg. Hill giants seldom stole anything valuable, and if they did, their chieftain, Noote, forced them to return it. Ogres were even less cause for concern. Though they were the most savage of giant-kin, for some unknown reason no ogre had committed a crime within the kingdom of Hartsvale in twenty years.
Unfortunately for Earl Dobbin, Tavis was sure of what he’d heard. “If a hill giant were running through Stagwick’s narrow streets, he’d be knocking huts down with every step.” the innkeeper explained. “And ogres have high arches. They move on the balls of their feet, so their soles don’t slap the ground.”
The earl’s cheeks reddened. “I’ve killed an ogre or two in my time,” he said. “I’ve seen nothing strange about their feet.”
“Then you never looked, as I’m sure Tavis has.” The retort came from Runolf Sacmon, who sat on the other side of Tavis. A tall, wiry fellow with a hooked nose and pale eyes as blue as mountain columbines, Runolf was the only man in the room who could chastise the lord mayor in such a manner. As Sergeant of the Northern Frontier, he commanded a full company of the Border Guard, and not even Earl Dobbin would risk the king’s wrath by speaking lightly against such a man. “Before Tavis came to look after this inn, he was the best scout in the Border Guard.”
Tavis felt the heat rising to his cheeks. The compliment did not embarrass him, for he was well aware of his reputation. But he found it disconcerting to hear his fame vaunted by the man who had taught him everything he knew. He turned to his mentor and said, “If that’s true, it’s only because I had the finest teacher in the kingdom.”
“Your admiration for each other is most touching,” sneered the lord mayor, “but it fails to convince me you can learn so much about a marauder from his footfalls. Even if he’s a verbeeg, how can you know he carries a heavy load?”
Before Tavis could point out the unsteady rhythm of the marauder’s steps, Princess Brianna said, “I’m sure Tavis is a better judge than you of verbeeg gaits.” Seated between Tavis and the lord mayor, the princess had endured their debate with atypical patience. “If you don’t believe him, perhaps you should run along and see for yourself.”
To emphasize her point, Brianna glared at the earl. From what Tavis gathered, most humans did not consider the princess beautiful. She was extremely tall for her race, with a frame as sturdy as a man’s and a height just a few inches shy of seven feet. But to the former scout, a firbolg who stood over eight feet himself. Brianna was the picture of elegance. She had a striking face with clear skin, a dimpled chin, and sparkling eyes as purple as the flowers in her hair. Her long tresses were as fine as spider silk and more yellow than gold, while her figure was distinctly feminine, with long graceful limbs and gentle curves.
Earl Dobbin finally withered under the princess’s stare and looked away, glancing around the hall with an air of distaste. “I wouldn’t dream of leaving you in this inn alone,” he said. “My guards are quite capable of dealing with the marauder-whatever his race-without my supervision.”
“I’m sure that’s true, but I still don’t want him trying to hide in the Weary Giant.” Tavis glanced down the table, where eleven orphans of various ages sat gathered around the end. All residents of the Weary Giant, they were the reason the firbolg scout had left his beloved Border Guard to become an innkeeper. “Avner, go and close the courtyard gate.”
A sandy-haired boy of fifteen rose from his chair. “I’ll close the gate,” he said. His eyes were steely gray, much too hard and cunning for his years. “But that won’t slop a thief. Hell just slip the bar or climb the wall. I would.”
Tavis gave the boy a reproving frown. “Not anymore, I trust,” he said. “Besides, with Earl Dobbin’s guards after him, he won’t have time for that.”
Avner rolled his eyes. “Those oafs never stopped me.”
“Now, Avner!” Tavis snapped, grimacing. No good could come of reminding the lord mayor that most of the Weary Giant’s orphans had lived as street thieves before coming to the lodge.
With a cavalier shrug, Avner went to the door. The boy had not even stepped outside before Kwasid’s voice pealed down from the rafters.
“Now I dance?”
The scout nodded, drawing an ivory-toothed grin from the giant. Against the dark background of the roof, the smile looked like a crescent moon that had slipped and fallen on its back.
The musicians, a brother and sister whose parents had perished in a blizzard, raised their instruments and once again the melodies of the fire giant’s fervent song rolled through the chamber. Kwasid stomped in a circle. Each time a foot struck the ground, sparks of orange shot from beneath his ironclad boots, and platters and mugs jumped off the surface of the banquet table. The entire hall resonated to the giant’s performance, the rough-hewn posts and timber rafters all shuddering in time to the beat.
Kwasid’s eyes glazed over. Wisps of fire flickered upon his ebony fingertips, then he spread his arms and began to spin. Ribbons of golden flame arced through the hall’s murky heights, licking at the gray rafters and roof planking. The giant’s mouth opened, and he sang with the voice of fire, filling the hall with a crackling chant more eerie than it was beautiful.