Chapter 4 (part 2)

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Chapter 4 (part 2)

Gallen's mouth had fallen open again, and he stared at the ogre. Orick bent lower so that he could try to see the ogre's face, but the trees were in the way. Orick was tempted to come out of hiding, if only to see this curious beast, but fear made him stay hidden. Finally, softly, Gallen asked, "What is this woman's name?"

"Everynne," the giant answered.

"I saw her," Gallen said, "late last night, at the inn in Clere. She had dark hair, and a face so sweet and perfect that she seemed then to steal my heart." Orick wanted to shout, dismayed that Gallen would betray the strangers, but Gallen went on. "And I saw her with her companion again this morning, only an hour ago. They stopped in An Cochan to buy fresh horses, and they hurried off north."

Gallen pointed up the road toward An Cochan, and Orick felt his muscles ease in relief. He could always tell when Gallen was lying, and right now the young man was sending the ogre off on a mad quest.

The ogre tensed and rose on his tiptoes, anxious to head off down the road. Gallen said, "Sir, may I ask what they have stolen? Can you offer a reward if I regain the merchandise?"

The ogre hesitated. "She stole a key made of crystal, a key which opens gateways to other worlds. If you recover the key, my master will pay a generous reward."

"How much of a reward?" Gallen breathed.

"Eternal life," the ogre said. The creature straightened its back and shouted, "Vanquishers, all north!" Its voice rang out with such amazing power that the ground seemed to shake beneath Orick's paws. In the distant woods, dozens of other voices bellowed the message, "Vanquishers, all north!"

Orick could stand it no more. He knew that if he did not get a good look at the ogre now, he might never get another chance. He edged lower in his hiding spot, and his heart began pounding and he wished he'd never seen the thing: the ogre's head was enormous, and its hideous face was deeply creased, while a massive chin hung down like the arm on a sofa. Its lips were reddish brown, the color of burnished wood, and its large teeth were as yellow as pears. Its eyes were as huge as a stallion's testicles, and they were a bright orange. Scraggly brown hair hung limp from its head. All in all, the ogre was like no creature he had ever dreamed.

The ogre seemed to realize he had urgent business elsewhere. It loped toward An Cochan, back bent, head held peculiarly low, as if that enormous head were some great burden that it carried.

Gallen stood watching after it for several moments, an astonished expression on his face. He licked his lips and shook his head in wonder. He muttered to himself, "Eternal life, is it? What if I want a bonus? How about eternal life and a pair of laying hens? Or maybe eternal life and a sack of potatoes thrown into the bargain? Would your penurious master go so high?"

Gallen stared down the road. The sunlight still shone on the road, birds were hopping in the brush. A light morning breeze sifted through the trees, and Gallen shook his bandaged head, then stood with his mouth open as if he could not believe what he'd just seen.

Maggie stepped forward from the brush and whispered, "Gallen?" Orick followed.

Gallen saw her, then looked back up the road where the ogre had gone. He began jumping up and down and pointing. "Ah, Christ, you missed it!" Gallen said. "I just saw the most incredible giant! Come here! Hurry! I'll show you its tracks! I swear to God, it had green skin and teeth as big as shingles!"

"I know," Maggie said. "We saw it, too. Gallen, there's a bunch of those things in the wood. They came through town and murdered Father Heany. It was terrible!"

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