The Fog of Severed Peaks part 09

    Una was staggered by the clarity and reason coming from a drunken gambler.

    “You might have a point, Orri, but what’s important right now is that we don’t get killed. Not by the King, and not by that big oaf.”

    “How are you gonna keep them from doing that? Cut off my head and show everyone who the backstabber is?”

    “It wouldn’t help us at this point. Your head is worthless, and we don’t have enough gold to pay off both the King and Hild.”

    “So what, then?”

    “I’ll come up with something.” She turned for the door.

    “I can’t believe you came here alone. You left yourself vulnerable if I felt like a fight.”

    Una called over her shoulder as she exited. “No, I didn’t.”

    Orri sat there, the hut quiet now that she had gone, when Inga emerged from the darkness behind him, scowling at him before leaving him there, alone.

 

    At the nursery, Signey and Wary paced, agonizing over the many unpleasant outcomes they were faced with when Una barged in. She emptied a chest and dug in the pile it left, finding a woven basket with its lid sewn shut.

    “What’s going on?” Signey demanded.

    “We need all the gold we can gather.”

    Una untied the lid and lifted it to reveal a pile of coins.

    “This won't be enough.”

    She looked to Inga.

    “Go down the market streets and explain to everyone that the King will unleash the giants on us if we don’t come up with enough gold. Ask for two coins each.”

    Inga nodded and was off while Una placed the basket into a leather pack.

    “Where are you going, then?” Wary asked.

    “To the farmers to ask for the same.”

    “So we’ll pay the King and tell him we aren’t trading anymore?”

    “No.”

    “You want to ask Hild to forgive us? I don’t think it’s wise to keep company with someone who’d just as likely murder us!”

    “No.”

    Wary searched for another option. “What are we doing then?”

    “The King will come for his tax either way, and Hild is going to threaten us until she’s got a better deal. We’re as good as dead when that happens, and it’s only a matter of time.”

    “That’s great!” Wary flopped his arms in the air and rolled his eyes. “There’s no hope!”

    “Oh, yes there is!” Una grinned.

    “Una?” Signey asked, curiously. “Who’s the gold for?”

    With a sarcastically comical expression, Una replied. “It’s for Hild.”

 

    “Ah! My favorite young merchants!” Hild declared as the twins arrived at her shop. “I hope you have some good news.”

    They couldn’t help but notice Ketill picking up a sword that looked more like a rusty sheet of metal with jagged edges.

    “Indeed, the traders have been found.” Una said, emphasizing the end her statement as if to conceal something.

    “Good! We can get back to business then.” Hild paused and thought about Una’s answer for a moment. “You did get rid of them, of course.”

    “Impossible.”

    “Ketill! Get over here.”

    The brute took plodding steps; they knew they could outrun him, but they’d be running forever. Una had one chance to convince Hild. She slung the pack from her shoulder and pulled out a bag. She bounced it in her hand, allowing the coins inside to jingle.

    “I can pay you to get rid of them, but it won’t be easy.”

    Hild raised her hand, signaling Ketill to hold.

    “They must be dangerous. You’re too ambitious to leave it for someone else.”

    “They are the King’s Giants. They invade our village and take what they want.”

    “Ketill is mighty big, but he can’t take down two giants. No deal.”

    “Hild, think about this; you get paid for this and the grains come again. You’ll make money on both ends.”

    “Can’t enjoy it if you’re dead, child.”

    “We’ll help, others from the village, too. We aren’t strong enough on our own, but with you, and especially Ketill, we can do it.”

    Una tossed the bag onto the counter, its contents resonating over the thud. It was heavy, nearly overflowing, and Hild wanted it.

    “Ketill?” She asked. “You wanna get in a fight?”

    He nodded and flicked the edge of his blade with his fat thumb. Hild crouched low to meet Una’s eye and smiled.

    “When do we leave?”

    “If we leave for Wilverth today, the giants will be there when we get back.”

    “Perfect. No use waiting around.”

 

    They made the hike to Wilverth, navigating the steep ridge that hung high above the village instead of taking the usual route that curved around a gentler slope. It was by design that they climbed down the jagged rocks; from there, they could watch the giants’ movements and lay out a strategy.

    The giants kept watch over Wilverth by posting on opposite corners of their small walls. It allowed them to see everyone coming and going throughout the village, and maintain a constant, menacing presence. It was difficult to catch them off-guard, such a feat would be mostly luck, except when they switched corners. About mid-day, the giants would pace along the wall to the vacant corner to continue their watch from a new vantage point.

    “You two hide along the wall and wait for my signal.” Una instructed. “We’ll go around and in through the gate. They’ll recognize us, so they won’t suspect anything.”

    “And what are you doing while we’re out here crouching behind rocks?”

    “We’ll get the others ready to take out the other one.”

    “Okay.” Hild said, with a flippant tone.

    “Alright, let’s move.”

    Suddenly, Hild grabbed ahold of Inga and held her back. Una nearly shouted, but quieted before she blew their cover.

    “What are you doing!?”

    “She stays and fights this one with us.”

    “We fight together. Always. We never split up.”

    “Well, this time, child, you’ll have to find a way. One of you is staying with us as insurance that we don’t get double-crossed.”

    “That wasn’t the plan. No way.”

    “Then the whole thing is off!” Hild growled.

    Una was breathing heavily, trying to think of an argument good enough to stalemate her. Seeing her struggle, Inga took things into her own hands.

    “Fine! I’ll stay!”

    And she wriggled loose of Hild’s grip.

    “No, Inga! I’ll stay with them.”

    Una put her hand on Inga’s shoulder and drew her close.

    “You know what to do. Just like we talked about.”

    With that, Inga began the climb up and Una led the party below, staying out of sight.

    Ketill added a level of difficulty that Una wasn’t used to. She and her sister were fast and small, and could easily find ways to sneak about. Ketill, on the other hand, was slow and enormous. It took them all morning, waiting for something to distract the giant and guiding Ketill to a boulder or a stump large enough to give him cover.

    They finally made it to the wall; Una and Hild knelt down while Ketill had to practically lie flat, and waited for Inga’s signal.

 

    “They’re out there, ready to go.” Inga told Wary and Signey.

    Signey watched as Inga stormed in, her emotions getting the better of her. She was snatching up her armor and throwing it on in a fit. Something was out of place.

    “Wait, where’s Una?”

    “She’s with them! It was the only way they’d do it.”

    “That doesn’t work! She’ll be caught along with them!” Raised Wary.

“We’ll make it work. Just get ready, there’s not much time.”

Inga ran through the streets, quietly alerting the villagers. It wasn’t long before everything was in place and all they had left to do was watch and wait.