CHAPTER 9 A CHANGE OF DIRECTION
Phil reached his friends in a fraction of the time it would take the prince and his army.
Niamh listened to Phil’s report with growing apprehension. ‘Is it the map or the wizard that allows them to track us?’ she asked when the dragon had finished speaking.
‘I believe it’s the wizard.’
‘What’s our next move Izzy?’ Niamh asked.
‘The first thing we have to do is change course,’ the brownie replied. ‘If their wizard has correctly plotted our course, they’ll probably know the most direct route and, more importantly, the best place to ambush us. We have to try and confuse them.’
’We could head for Theria?’ Adam suggested.
‘No, that’s no good,’ said Arthur. ‘The duende dons would hand us over to the prince.’
‘Who are the duende dons, and why would they do that?’
’The duende is the race that inhabits Theria, and the dons are their leaders. For well over a hundred years Theria was part of the pixie empire; it wasn’t until we defeated Rupert that the pixie occupation army was withdrawn and the duenden were given their freedom. They suffered greatly under pixie rule – Rupert’s in particular – and would most likely kill on sight any pixie they found on their soil. They are also worried about losing their newfound freedom and would happily hand you over, so they don’t upset their more powerful follet neighbours.’
Izzy thought about what Arthur had said. ‘We still have to head for the coast,’ she said. ‘We have to convince those who are following us that we’re heading somewhere else.’
‘Where?’ asked Adam.
‘We could split up – that should confuse them,’ suggested Dougal.
‘There’s strength in numbers,’ Arthur cautioned.
Dougal thought about this. ’Only if it comes to a fight. Cait, Derry, Fearghus, Turloch and I will keep to our current course, while the rest of you head toward the coast further south. Phil can act as our eyes and see how our pursuers react to us dividing. He can also fly between us, so we know where we all are. The first group to reach the coastline steals a boat flying an Auvergnen flag and sails to where the others are waiting. Once we are reunited, we can continue our search for the ogres.’
‘If I don’t shrink you, you’ll never fit in a fishing boat,’ Niamh said.
‘Well, we’ll just have to steal a large enough ship, then, won’t we?’ said Derry, who had already decided she liked her brother’s plan.
‘This all sounds far too dangerous to me,’ grumbled Fearghus.
’I hardly think it’s going to be dangerous for us, Fearghus,’ snapped Dougal. ’Even if we do run into the follet prince and his men, five invisible giants can do an awful lot of damage, especially when one of them is a wizard.’
‘We’ll get separated and end up lost,’ Fearghus whinged.
’Fearghus,’ said Derry, taking a deep, steadying breath. ‘I have a spell that lets me see things that are invisible, and I can talk to you without speaking out loud.’
No, you can’t,Fearghus thought to himself.
Yes, I can, and I can also read your thoughts.
Fearghus was about to argue when he realised Derry hadn’t spoken out loud but had sent her voice directly into his mind. ‘I still think it’s going to be dangerous.’
‘If you hadn’t been so keen to find out all Dougal and Derry’s secrets, we wouldn’t be here now,’ Turloch reminded him.
Fearghus glared at Turloch as he thought about what he wanted to say.
’Fearghus, that’s not a very nice thing to think of your best friend,’ Derry said, reading his thoughts.
The poor leprechaun turned bright red, and everyone, including Turloch, burst into laughter.
Mazarin was studying the map. ‘Prince Gaston!’
‘What is it?’ the prince answered irritably.
‘They have split up, your highness.’
‘They have split up,’ the wizard repeated calmly.
‘Are you certain?’
‘Yes, your highness,’ said the wizard, patiently showing the prince his map. ’They have divided into two groups. Fourof them have kept to the original course, heading directly towards the coast. The other eight are heading south in the direction of Theria.’
‘Where is the fairy with my sword?’
’As I have already explained, your highness, the sword protects its wielder from any type of magical scrying; he could be with either party. However, what I do know is that the wizard is heading towards Theria.’
’So, Mazzy, what do you think? Do we go south, or keep to our present course?’
‘Obviously they know we are following them, and you did make it abundantly clear to the fairy who stole your sword that you would hunt him down.’
‘That I did, Mazarin – that I did.’
‘Logically, the sword bearer would remain with the wizard and the largest party. They would deduce we would assume this, so I think we should do the opposite, and keep to our present course. If we are wrong and the sword bearer is heading south, the Dons will hand them over to you – once they have dealt with the pixie knight, that is.’
The prince remained silent for a moment, considering the wizard’s advice. ‘Yes, I believe your reasoning is sound. West towards the coast it is. However, I will send six-dozen light horsemen and a handful of wizards after the others.’
‘The wizard could take out that many men herself with hardly a second thought, My Lord.’
‘I will give them orders to observe, not engage. I want to be certain that the thief is not amongst them. However, to be on the safe side, I will let you choose the wizards.’
‘Send Andre’s wizard; he’s almost adequate. I’ll give him a communication crystal so he can keep us informed of their situation.’
’It’s not like you to risk losing one of your magical trinkets, Mazzy.’
‘There is little risk of that, Prince Gaston. The crystal will magically return to me the instant its bearer’s life ends.’
‘I still think we should have stayed with the others,’ moaned Fearghus for the hundredth time since they had parted company with their friends only an hour before.
‘Derry, haven’t you got a spell that will take his voice away?’ sighed Turloch. ‘Even if it only lasts for ten minutes.’
‘As tempting as it is, I would prefer to save my magic until I really need it.’
Derry turned to Fearghus, giving him a stern look. ’I’m sure Fearghus has finished voicing his opinion on this particular matter – haven’t you, Fearghus?’ she said. It was a rhetorical question.
Fearghus bravely looked Derry in the eye, but let the matter drop.
Without their small friends slowing them down, the leprechauns covered the miles with ease. They stopped only to drink from the numerous streams and rivers they passed along the way and ate whatever fruits and vegetables they could find.
Late in the afternoon, they came across a small herd of cattle. Derry told Dougal, Turloch and Fearghus that if they all caught one, she could magically cook them so they would be able to eat a hot meal without risking a fire.
By nightfall they had travelled almost twice the distance they had in the previous few days, and even Fearghus was starting to believe they would reach the coast well before the follet prince found them.
Unlike the leprechauns, Niamh and the others were not finding the going so easy.
Two hours after they had gone their separate ways, the small party found themselves at the banks of a deep, swiftly flowing river. Even if the river had not been so rapid, it was unlikely they could have crossed with their horses, as it was at least fifty feet wide, and the far bank was ten feet high at its lowest point.
‘We could wait for Phil to return,’ Dylan suggested. ‘I’m sure he’ll have no trouble getting the horses over to the other side.’
‘No, it wouldn’t work,’ nodded Izzy. ‘It would terrify the horses; plus, we don’t know how long it will be before Phil returns. There is only one question to be answered, and that is, do we travel inland or towards the coast? You seem to know more about this land than us, Arthur. What do you suggest?’
’I’m afraid my knowledge of Auvergnen geography is somewhat limited; I don’t think it matters in which direction we go. I’m guessing a river this large, and this far south, must be the Cottian; I never realised it was so vast. There must be towns and villages nearby, so there should be several bridges or ferries across it. The only problem is that it’s going to be almost impossible to get to the other side without being seen.’
Hours later, Tyler spotted a boat tied to a pier on the far riverbank. The brave sailor volunteered to swim across the river and row the boat back to them, but Niamh and Izzy thought this was far too risky. Even if he were successful, they still wouldn’t be able to get the horses across.
‘What we need is a ferry large enough to carry us, including the horses,’ said Izzy. ‘We need to look for one.’
Finally, theirperseverance paid off, the problem was, it was on the far side of the river and guarded by a follet knight and a dozen follet foot soldiers, all carrying crossbows and short swords.
‘Are they waiting for us?’ Adam asked from the relative safety of trees.
‘It’s possible. If their wizard is powerful enough to track us as easily as he has, he may be able to communicate with wizards in other parts of this kingdom,’ Niamh replied.
‘I’m going to find out,’ said Izzy.
‘How?’ asked Dylan.
As he said this, Cameron buried her face in her hands, and shook her head. ‘This can’t be good,’ she sighed.
’Niamh, can you make me look like a follet noblewoman, like you made Liam look like Arthur when you were in Tudorland?’ Izzy asked.
’Yes, I could, if I knew how a follet noblewoman dressed.’
‘Have you seen the riding clothes John gave Amber for her birthday?’ Arthur asked the wizard.
‘Yes, I have. Why?’ Niamh was surprised by the strange question.
’They were made in Vosge, a Merovingian city. Hundreds of nobles from all follet nations go to its markets to obtain fabrics and clothing. They are exactly what I would expect a follet noblewoman to wear.’ Arthur was struck by a thought and continued. ’You will also need to disguise me as a follet knight, as no noblewoman would ever travel unguarded.’
The plan was agreed, and Niamh performed the necessary spell to transform the appearance of Izzy and Arthur.
’Vicissitudotuiperlustro,’she said twice, and they instantly took the form of a nobleman and noblewoman, completely unrecognisable to how they looked only minutes before.
They mounted their horses. ‘Sorry, Izzy, it’s side-saddle for you, I’m afraid,’ said Arthur, smiling.
Izzy was outraged. ’What?’
’No follet noblewoman would ever be seen riding any other way.’ Arthur laughed when he saw the look on the brownie’s face.
Izzy did not know what to think. ‘You are kidding, aren’t you?’
‘No, I’m not.’
‘Who would be a noble?’ she grumbled, as she mounted her horse.
‘Actually, you would,’ said Cameron, smiling broadly, despite Izzy’s withering glare.
As they set off, Izzy turned to Arthur. ‘Let me do the talking,’ she said in such a manner that it left little room for debate.
’Be careful, Izzy. Most follet woman are – how should I put this – let’s just say, they’re not quite as forthright as you.’
‘I will be a model of poise, charm and dignity. I did grow up in a palace, you know,’ she replied haughtily.
Arthur looked at the small, fiery brownie and shook his head. He could imagine how she must have driven every member of the Caledonian royal court mad with her stubborn, impatient and often-reckless behaviour. Not one of her friends believed she knew what either fear or caution was, and they supposed one day it would get her killed.
They haltered their horses when they reached a small dock.
‘Ferryman,’ Arthur called out in fluent follet. He looked at Izzy and said, ’You do speak follet, don’t you?’
’Don’t worry, ye of little faith. Niamh’s spell has taken care of that.’
Izzy and Arthur watched the ferry as it crossed the river towards them.
‘How does it work?’
‘The ferryman will be a lowly wizard,’ explained Arthur. ‘He uses his magic to guide the ferry across the water.’
The ferry, which was more a flat raft than a boat, berthed at the dock.
Izzy and Arthur dismounted their horses and were ready to lead them onto the small vessel, when a woman called out., ‘One gold piece for you two, and three for each of the horses.’
The ferryman, as Arthur had called the ferry’s master, was in fact a young woman.
‘Eight gold pieces to cross a river?’ he objected. ‘That’s highway robbery.’
‘I don’t care whether you cross here or take the bridge a day to the south – it’s your choice,’ the woman replied, nonplussed.
Arthur was about to remount and ride away in protest when Izzy replied, ‘Of course we will pay you the levy – and here are two more gold pieces as an apology for my guard’s lack of respect.’
‘Thank you, milady,’ said the woman, bowing slightly.
As she returned to her post, Arthur whispered, ’Where did you get Auvergnen coins?’
‘I helped myself to the purses of our kind and generous former host Marquis De Medicis and several of his guards,’ Izzy replied with a quick wink and a mischievous grin. She never failed to amaze the pixie knight. The brownie then turned her attention back to the ferrywoman. ‘It will be dark within the hour. Is there a tavern nearby where my guard and I could find accommodation this night?’
’Yes, milady – the Chateau De Font-Marie is but five minutes from the dock. They do a particularly good lobster mornay and have just this morning taken delivery of a shipment of fine sparkling wine from the north. If you tell Madam Anatole, I sent you, she will see to all your needs.’
‘Thank you, I will.’ Izzy smiled.
As they approached the halfway point of the river crossing, Izzy asked the ferrywoman about the crossbowmen she could see. ‘Do they guard this ferry?’
‘No. They are the local militia on a training exercise, playing soldier I suspect. I’m sure they won’t bother you, milady.’
‘Men and their games,’ laughed Izzy.
‘Don’t you mean boys?’ replied the ferrywoman lightly.
‘You’re right. They never grow up, do they?’ As Izzy finished her statement, she felt the ferry gently bump into the pier. ‘Thank you,’ she said, pressing two more gold coins into the young woman’s hand as she disembarked.
‘It was my pleasure, milady.’ The ferrywoman beamed with gratitude. She was not used to either the courtesy or the financial reward Izzy had given her.
Arthur nodded respectfully to the knight as they rode past. He seemed to ignore them both, but Izzy could feel his eyes boring into her back.
‘Well, what’s next?’ Arthur asked, once they were well clear of the dock area.
‘I don’t know about you, but I think that lobster sounded pretty good.’
‘What? Are you serious?’
’Absolutely. We know there are crossbowmen present, so we can’t just turn around and go back. We’ll have to wait until dark, and I can’t think of a better place to wait, can you?’
’No, I can’t. You do have enough of those coins for both of us, don’t you?’ he laughed.
‘And plenty more,’ answered Izzy, jingling the unseen purse.
Two hours later, Izzy pushed back her chair, and said loudly enough for the few remaining patrons of the tavern to overhear her, ‘I’m going for my nightly stroll.’
‘As you wish, milady,’ said Arthur, rising to his feet.
Izzy smiled at anyone who so much as glanced in her direction. She and Arthur walked out of the tavern into the quiet, dimly lit main street. It was a foggy night. A damp mist hovered and clouded the lanterns, casting eerie shadows along the path. They headed in the direction of the dock.
The ferry sat silently on the water, shrouded in fog. It looked like a ghost ship, completely deserted and abandoned.
‘How are we going to get the ferry to the other side?’ asked Arthur.
‘I saw a small rowing boat in the bushes not far from the ferry dock.’
‘We’ll never get the horses over the river in a rowing boat.’
‘I wasn’t planning to,’ said Izzy, hoping it wasn’t too dark for Arthur to see the you idiot expression on her face.
She knew that Arthur was anything but an idiot, but found it frustrating that,apart from Niamhand Cameron, few could keep up with her rapid thought processes.
‘It’s too risky to steal the horses in the stables, and even if it wasn’t,’ Izzy continued, ’there still aren’t enough for all of us. We’ll row over to the other side of the river, pick up Niamh and bring her back. She can then use her magic to pilot the ferry.’
‘It’s a good plan,’ said Arthur, ‘but I think you should wait on this side of the river, just to make sure we’re not surprised on our return.’
‘All right. I’ll whistle if it’s unsafe for you to return.’
Izzy and Arthur dragged the rowing boat into the gloomy, muddy water. It slid in easily; the only sound was the slight splash as the boat broke the water’s surface.
She watched as Arthur urged the oars into the water. The boat bobbed along slowly at first until he gained momentum. He disappeared; visibility on the water was almost non-existent.
Izzy hid in the shadows while she waited for Arthur and Niamh to return. It was cold and dank, and time seemed to stand still.
Some twenty minutes later, they arrived with Adam.
Arthur and Adam carefully returned the boat to its original position, trying to ensure no one would know it had been moved. They then joined Izzy and Niamh, who were already on the ferry.
‘Can you control it?’ Izzy began to ask but stopped as she felt the ferry move beneath her.
It took only half an hour to pick up the other six and the horses and return to the far side of the river.
‘Now, which way do we head?’ Dylan asked.
’We have to bypass this town. I think we should make it look like we are heading directly towards Theria,’ Niamh replied.
‘Arthur and I have to retrieve our horses from the stables,’ said Izzy. ‘It won’t take us long. We’ll meet you a mile to the south of the town.’
‘Be careful, Izzy. Try not to take any unnecessary risks,’ warned Cameron, knowing her friend far too well.
‘Me, take a risk? Never,’ Izzy replied.
‘They should’ve been here by now,’ Cameron said anxiously. ‘If they’re not back in five minutes, I’m going to go and look for them.’
‘Izzy and Arthur can look after themselves. Anyway, if we don’t wait for them here, we could miss them and waste the next couple of days trying to find them,’ Niamh replied logically.
‘Don’t worry, Cameron. You know Izzy,’ said Adam. ’She’s probably been side-tracked.’
’That’s exactly what I’m worried about.’
‘I don’t think that’s the case,’ said Dylan, pointing. ‘Two riders are heading this way.’
Cameron scolded Izzy as she and Arthur pulled up. ‘What took you so long?’ she asked crossly.
’What makes you think I caused the delay?’ Izzy replied innocently.
‘Because it’s always you,’ answered Adam and Dylan, both laughing. The fairy brothers deeply admired the small brownie’s spirit, cunning and, most of all, skill.
Winking at the brothers, Izzy turned to Cameron. ‘Are you hungry?’
‘We’re all hungry,’snapped Cameron. ‘We’ve eaten nothing but fruit since this morning.’
‘Good,’ said Izzy, throwing a large sack to her friend. ‘I would hate to see these go to waste.’
As Cameron looked in the sack, Izzy dismounted her horse and removed two more sacks from its back.
‘What’s in it?’ Liam asked Cameron.
‘Lobster. At least a dozen lobster,’ she exclaimed.
‘What’s in the other sacks?’ Dylan asked, his stomach grumbling loudly at the thought of food.
’Breads, cheeses, venison stew and roast pheasant – enough to last us for at least three days.’
‘What are we waiting for?’ said Adam. ‘I’m famished!’