Nobody had said a word. I was angry and I was not alone. On our way out of the mountains we passed the dead troll and Reinn lost it at that point.
"This is all your fault!" He screamed it out as he ran up to the corpse and kicked the head clean off. I felt the same way. If it hadn't been for these trolls, we would have had the time to gather the things we needed before heading back and save our people.
We now stood empty handed. We had tried everything to persuade the dwarven captain to keep the cave open a little while longer. Reasoning, bribing, guilting, you name it. He wouldn't hear of it. As a last desperate attempt Sigmar even wanted to threaten the dwarves, but a warning from Svidi and I that the Consortium may never want to open the entrance again discouraged him from that.
Pieter finally offered to stay on the inside, and find another way out. Anders went with him knowing that Pieter would be terrible at negotiating anything for a reasonable price. A few of the others went with them too.
I think Pieter just really wanted to take a look at dwarven technology. And while the rest of them may have just wanted to get out of the cold, there is no doubt in my mind that they believed they had a better chance at helping our people by going into Keldagrim.
"I'll tell them that I left it outside." Some of the dwarves managed to sneak us some of their stuff. Vemund got himself a new axe, Armod and Hild got themselves a crossbow with some bolts, and Beigarth was now the proud owner of a metal shield that was really too small for humans. Fortunately, we also got some of their food. Unfortunately, it was dwarven food.
Reinn looked surprised as he saw the head bounce down the slope.
"Feel better?" Armod put a hand on his shoulder. Reinn looked at him and they started laughing. It was an uneasy laugh, but everyone seemed relieved that the silence was finally broken.
We were heading south, straight to the outlying villages of Kandarin. We still had to get the supplies needed, and the farmlands there could help to put us in the right direction.
Entering those lands would not be much of a problem, but we would have to be careful. If their king got wind of our people venturing in his land, he would not hesitate to have us checked out. By which I mean harassed and bullied until we'd leave again.
But we had more immediate concerns. We still had to get off of these mountains, and if the dwarves were right we'd still have to get past a swarm of trolls bearing down on this position. If they found out they could not get to their intended dwarven smorgasbord we'd be in the fight of our lives. No time to waste then.
"Keep your eyes and especially your ears open," Sigmar warned everyone, "In this fog we'd sooner hear their clumsy stagger than be able to see them."
His words turned to prophecy. Sigmar had barely finished speaking when an angered roar was heard some distance ahead of us. Armod went ahead to check out what exactly it was that we were facing while everyone else dropped their packs and readied whatever weapons they had.
A few agonizing minutes went by until Armod returned. "Well it's not as bad as I thought. There are more than a dozen, but it doesn't look like it's an entire army of them. They are, however, heading straight towards us on this path."
Sigmar sat there for a moment. "Get your gear." He tried not to yell too loud. "There's no way we can afford to fight them now."
I asked him if he had a plan. "Well, we can't turn back and we can't fight them. So we need a ruse to sneak past them, and fast. After that we may be able to outrun them."
I looked around. The ten of us couldn't possibly climb up the ridge fast enough. The drop next to the path wasn't deep, but we'd be sitting ducks for their rocks if discovered. The path itself was quite wide as this point, but the trolls would have to be distracted for all of us to be able to sneak past.
I hadn't even finished the thought until Freyleif had come up with the idea to use Beigarth's dwarven shield. "The trolls are looking for dwarves, right? So let's give them something they will recognize."
To make the distraction complete she had another idea. "Hold this here, please?" She had put the shield upright near the edge of the road against some stacked rocks witha rock at the front to prevent it from slipping.
I looked over in the direction where the trolls would be coming from. Armod, Vemund and Hild stood guard still with their weapons in hand, while the rest had disappeared further back around the corner.
"I'm done. Let's go." The five of us joined the others around the bend. Freyleif and Armod were in front, peeking around the corner with Hild and Vemund right behind them, just in case. We could hear the trolls coming.
Suddenly Freyleif lobbed a small rock into the chasm, followed by a silence-shattering clatter and clamour of the shield bouncing off of the rock face. I later learned she had tied a string around both.
"Quickly and quietly now." Armod whispered to us. Freyleif had already left.
I was terrified even though I was one of the last to have to sneak past. I was right behind Beigarth and only Armod and Signy were behind me. I tried to count the trolls, but I could only focus on not disturbing any of the pebbles beneath my feet.
I was finally past them and looked back. It was a bit hazy but I could see Signy being petrified and not moving at all. There was little time left. I beckoned and waved, and even saw Armod gesturing. She would not move.
"What are you doing?!" I would've yelled it out and doomed us all if it wasn't for my utter surprise. Beigarth was going back for them. Back past all the trolls, where he slung her over his shoulder and immediately started marching back with Armod in his wake.
This could not end well. I looked around and picked up the biggest rock I could throw. Hild, having observed it all from a distance had joined my side and quietly rested her armed crossbow on an outcrop. Vemund softly approached the troll closest to us. And then Beigarth stumbled.
Vemund saw this and immediately hacked his axe into the troll's leg. The scream following that must've been so loud they could've heard it back home.
All the trolls faced us now. This gave Armod and Beigarth the chance to get past the last few trolls. "Run! Run! Run!" Vemund shouted.
The second troll swung a club as big as a tree at Vemund, but it missed as Hild shot it in the shoulder. I lobbed my rock over Vemund, but didn't even bother to check if it hit anything. I threw another, and another.
Beigarth had not even put Signy down. He and Vemund ran past Hild and I and they didn't plan on stopping any time soon. Armod turned around and shot his crossbow. I had also fled the scene by then.
There's nothing that motivates a man like a troll that plans on eating him. We must've run through the mountains all night, only resting to light a torch or have a breather, but we made it to the tree line by morning.
Back in the mountains we were pretty sure that the trolls were hot on our trail, as there was little that could cover our scent. But the trees could slow their clumsy bodies down.
Unsure of the distance between us and the trolls, we decided to move somewhat deeper into the forest. If we kept going due south, they would have no difficulty following us.
It must've been in the afternoon when Sigmar decided to make camp here for the night. We would have plenty of time for each of us to get enough sleep, while still build some rudimentary defences, against trolls or otherwise.
I awoke before dawn and I was not alone. Reinn poked his head inside the tent I slept in and he was quietly waking everyone up, gesturing us to be quiet as well with his finger over his mouth. Freyleif and Sigmar had spotted the trolls searching the forest not too far from here.
Sigmar had told Reinn to break camp as quietly as possible, and that Svidi would know where to meet each other again. Sigmar and Freyleif were attempting to lure the trolls away from camp while we packed everything that we needed.
We were not far from the route between Rellekka and the mountain camp. Svidi and Freyleif both knew this path very well, so it seemed the perfect place to rendezvous.
"Here it is," Svidi said, as he sat down on a tree stump. "Did they say when they would be here?" Reinn looked up and down the path. "I don't even know which way they went." We all got comfortable and had ourselves some breakfast.
Svidi told stories of his time as a messenger between Hamal and Brundt. Obviously it wasn't the most rewarding job to do but he was one of the few people that was allowed to move freely between settlements, and had all the inside information. He told us he sometimes felt like a smuggler in his own lands.
He often arranged a pilgrimage for the more spiritual people of Rellekka to the Ancient Rock, a relic that once belonged to the Rellekkan people themselves. In return he asked for just about anything that could be needed at the camp, such as tools or food.
I wish I could've heard the rest of the story, but we were interrupted by Sigmar and Freyleif. They came running down the path and shouted that we had to get going.
I quickly helped Sigmar with his gear, and we set off towards Kandarin again.
"How far are they behind us?" Armod wondered.
"No more than half an hour, but they caught our scent again." Freyleif answered. "I think they know where we are going." I didn't. I had never travelled this far, not even during my trials.
We soon arrived at a river, but Sigmar looked worried.
"Something's wrong." He stared at the raging water for a moment. "Normally the river would either be frozen, or it would be a slow and steady stream. But not like this."
It was impossible to wade across. Not only because the waters were too wild and too deep, but also much too cold.
"It's a safe bet that the crossing will be washed away, so let's go upstream and see what caused the river to do this." Sigmar lead the way as he was one of the very few that had been this far south before.
In the waters floated the occasional chunk of ice, and as we progressed they became larger and more frequent. Sigmar slowly pieced together what must've happened. We arrived at a spot where the river originated. A huge lake would overflow into this river whenever the waters rose above a certain level.
Sigmar surmised that chunks of ice must have clogged up the river like a dam would, and that it had recently been broken through. All the excess water of the lake is draining away, causing the river to be unusually wild.
"We have to cross it somehow. Maybe the lake itself is still iced over." We all agreed, and set off towards the mountains again.
We came to a patch that seemed thoroughly iced over. The snow on top of the ice was still fresh. Beigarth volunteered to check it as he was obviously the heaviest of our group.
Reinn tied a rope around a tree and gave the other end to Beigarth. As he stepped on the ice you could hear it creak and crack beneath him. It sounded hollow.
"Come on in, the water's fine." Beigarth joked.
We would soon have no choice, as the trolls had caught up to us. We saw them coming towards us along the edge of the lake. Vemund swung his axe to cut Beigarths rope and lunged onto the ice.
"Spread out!" Sigmar shouted. I was lucky to have some momentum after a running start. Others were less lucky. One of the trolls swung its club on the ice which instantly broke.
Armod fired a shot. Hild was not so fortunate and could barely keep her balance as she slid from one ice-floe to another, trying to get away from the cracking ice.
A little further away a couple of the smaller trolls dared going on the ice as well. Beigarth had taken the rope that was still tied to him and thrown it at Hild, dragging her away from the water.
Fortunately, the lake was not as wide here as elsewhere, but we were only half way when everyone finally managed to get clear from any cracks in the ice, and three trolls were chasing us.
If you’ve ever walked on ice, you'd know how hard it is to get any speed. The trolls did not seem to have that problem. Their huge feet obviously had enough traction and they gained on us rapidly.
Finally Vemund was the first to reach the other side, quickly followed by Reinn and Freyleif. Reinn moved some distance away and tried to kick the ice in.
"Help me!" he shouted, and Vemund rushed towards him.
They dragged a large slab of ice out of the water and pushed it on the ice towards the trolls. I made it to the shore as well, and so did Signy and Svidi. The three of us made a human chain and dragged people off the ice as they arrived.
I heard a loud thud, followed by a crack and a splash. Success! One of the trolls had stepped on the slab and fell over, straight through the ice.
"One down, two to go." Reinn knew it was too early to gloat.
By now Armod and Hild also made it to shore, and had started to shoot at the trolls. They hit almost every single shot but a hungry troll is not easily slowed down.
Sigmar and Beigarth were still on the ice with only ten of yards between them and the trolls, when Vemund ran back on the ice with his axe and started hacking.
"Come on!" he shouted. "Break!"
Beigarth tossed us the rope and grabbed Sigmar.
"Pull!" Everyone gave the rope one good tug and the two of them flew to shore. Sigmar fell down along the way but he did manage to grab Vemund's leg, causing him to fall as well.
But that did it. He fell down and his axe hit the ice hard enough for it to crack. The two remaining trolls slowly disappeared with an ear-piercing roar.
Sigmar, Beigarth and Vemund were soaking wet and shivering.
Reinn and Signy gathered some wood to make a fire. I helped Freyleif and Svidi setting up a tent to shelter them form the wind, and Armod and Hild decided to stand guard at the edge of the lake a little while longer, just to prevent any unwanted surprises.
We decided to stay here overnight and gather our strength before setting off again in the morning. It started to snow again, but that did not dampen our spirits.
"Well done, people." Sigmar congratulated everyone. "We've been chased by trolls for almost three days through mountains, in forests and on ice. None of us expected to be here, let alone that we could work together like this. Yet here we are."
He paused for a moment.
"Here we ALL are. I just hope the others have it easier than we do." He stood up and looked towards the Kandarin lands. "I hope we also get it easier than we do now."
You can read the previous part of this series here.