The Ogre Wars

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CHAPTER 10 THE CONFRONTATION

‘Dougal, wake up,’ said the fairy dragon, prodding him in the shoulder.

Dougal sprang to his feet and drew his sword in one fluid motion.

‘Settle down, my friend – it’s only me,’ said Phil. ‘I’m surprised you haven’t set a watch. It’s a dangerous world for the complacent.’

‘We did set a watch,’ said Dougal angrily. He walked to the edge of the campsite and kicked Fearghus, who was sound asleep.

Ouch.’ Fearghus rubbed his shins. ‘What did you do that for?’

Dougal showed him no sympathy. ‘Are you trying to get us all killed? If you were a soldier in the pixie army, you would’ve been executed for sleeping at your post.’

‘Well, I’m not in the pixie army, or any army for that matter, and we’ve left that prince well and truly behind us.’ Fearghus sounded like a petulant child.

Phil cut in before there was any further arguing between the two leprechauns. ‘Although you’ve covered a lot of extra ground since you parted company with the others, the course you have travelled has actually led you closer to your pursuers. The prince and his men also continued well after nightfall, and they’re now less than ten miles behind you.’

‘How many are following us?’ Dougal asked.

‘All but three dozen. They were sent off to make sure you weren’t with the others.’

’Good. They’ll have no problem handling thirty-six soldiers with Niamh’s magic.’

‘We should wake the others so we can get out of here,’ said Fearghus.

‘I’m sick of running.’ Dougal’s tone was defiant. ’I think it’s time this prince and I had another word – but this time, it will be on my terms.’

‘Are you insane?’ exclaimed Fearghus. ‘We’ve put as much distance between them and us as possible, and now you want to confront them?’

’Now that we’re back to our full sizeI doubt they’re carrying any weapons large enough to any real harm – and if they are, we can vanish before their very eyes.’

Fearghus was still not convinced. ‘What about the wizard?’

‘Derry and I can handle the wizard,’ said Phil.

’If it’s such a good idea confronting the prince, then why have you waited so long?’ Fearghus asked Dougal.

‘I had to make sure our smaller friends were safely out of the way,’ he replied. ‘You can stay invisible the whole time if it makes you feel safer.’

‘Don’t you worry,’ said Fearghus. ‘I fully intend to.’

Phil gave the cowardly leprechaun a friendly warning. ’Remember, I can see you even when you’re invisible. If you try to run away, I’ll have Derry turn you into a frog. Did you know frogs’ legs are a follet delicacy?’

Fearghus ignored the question. ’Derry would never do that.’

‘I would,’ she said, as she walked up behind Fearghus. ’If you ran off and left us in trouble, I’d happily cook you for the follet prince myself.’

‘You’re all impossible. I’m getting something to eat,’ Fearghus groaned, sauntering off in a huff and leaving the three of them alone.

Derry looked at Dougal and said, ‘Do you think he’s learnt his lesson?’

‘No. He just can’t help himself. He’s got Izzy’s curiosity, but unfortunately not her bravery or the ability to back it up. Phil, you’ll have to watch him. There’s still a chance he might run off and get himself lost or, even worse, killed.’

’I bet he wishes he hadn’t been so keen toknow all your secrets now,’ said Phil, laughing.

’Not Fearghus,’ said Derry. ‘As Dougal said, he can’t help himself. He’d do it all over again, no matter what the consequences.’

‘I’ll keep an eye on him,’ Phil assured her. ’Don’t worry about that. What plan do you have in mind, Dougal?’

‘As soon as it gets light, I need you to find a suitable location for us to ambush the prince. It needs to be somewhere they can’t use their numbers against us. I need to be able to talk to the prince and convince him it will be in his best interest to let us leave peacefully.’

‘I don’t need to wait until sunrise,’ Phil responded. ‘There’s enough moonlight to guide me. I’ll try to be back by dawn – have the others ready to leave by then.’

‘Prince Gaston,’ Mazarin said excitedly. ‘They are no more than a mile ahead of us.’

‘Where are they?’

’They’ve stopped somewhere in the Bangeres Gorge.’

‘It’s a trap,’ said Andre.

‘What are four or five fairies going to do, Andre?’ Gaston had a mocking tone in his voice. ‘Climb sheer walls and then throw stones at us as we file past?’

Andre remained concerned. ‘What if the wizard is with them?’

‘It would take more than one wizard – even Niamh Donegal – to even the odds.’ Gaston turned to Mazarin and winked. ’Mazzy, I never thought I’d see the day that Andre was frightened of a woman, did you?’

’I am not afraid of the wizard, or of anyone else, for that matter. I just believe that there’s no harm in being cautious, that’s all.’

’A fair point,’ concededPrince Gaston. ’Mazzy, can you cast a protection spell on the three of us?’

’I did that long ago,’ the wizard replied.

Prince Gaston, Mazarin and Lord Andre rode at the head of the column as they entered the gorge.

Mazzy,’ said the prince. ‘Where are they now?’

‘I can’t be exact,’ Mazarin replied, ‘but they’re very close.’

‘I think it’s time you did more work on your spell. It would make things far easier if you could pinpoint our prey precisely.’

‘It’s not my spell that’s the problem – it’s the map.’

‘The map? How can you blame a map?’ Andre snorted.

Mazarin remained calm. ‘There’s not enough detail on it.’

‘Then get another one,’ Andre said impatiently.

‘There are none better.’

‘I’ll try and convince my father to commission his finest cartographers to draw a series of more detailed maps,’ Gaston replied sarcastically.

‘That would be most helpful,’ Mazarin replied, ignoring the prince’s mocking tone.

Twenty minutes later, the small Auvergnen army reached the narrowest part of the gorge. Gaston was about to tell his companions to be on their guard, when a giant figure appeared before him. It took all his considerable horsemanship to keep his panicked steed under control. Several of the mounted knights, including Andre, were not as successful, and were either thrown from their mounts, or forced to hold on for dear life until the horses became calm.

Dougal looked on, waiting patiently for the prince to control his horse.

‘Prince Gaston, I am tired of this,’ Dougal said eventually.

Although Dougal had been invisible when he had taken Gaston’s sword, the prince immediately recognised his voice. ‘You seem to have me at a disadvantage. Although we have never met, you seem to know me.’

’Come now, Prince Gaston. You know exactly who I am, although I see you’re somewhat surprised by my size. You are, however, right in the fact that we haven’t been formally introduced, so allow me to do that now. I am Dougal O’Shea of CaerGorias. My companions are my sister Derry and my friends Cait, Turloch and Fearghus. We are here in Connachtto assist our friends in their battle with the ogre raiders.’

‘Enough of this ogre foolishness!’ screamed the prince. ’Return my sword, tell me why you are really here, and I might let you live.’

‘Don’t dare to threaten me. If you hadn’t wrongly imprisoned us in the first place, you would still have your precious sword.’

’Wrongly imprisoned you. You were lucky we didn’t execute you on the beach! Firstly, you violated our territorial waters; then, when we asked you to leave, as is our right, you returned under the cover of darkness like spies, leaving us no alternative but to sink your craft.’

’We were chasing ogres who raided Sarasidhe coastal villages. What would you have done in similar circumstances?’

‘If ogres existed, I certainly wouldn’t chase them in a fishing boat!’ yelled the prince.

Dougal stared at Gaston, not blinking an eye.

‘Return my sword, Dougal O’Shea. If you don’t, I won’t be held responsible for the diplomatic consequences.’

‘What diplomatic consequences?’

‘What you and your friends have done could be considered at the very least as an act of hostility – maybe even war.’

As much as Dougal wanted to argue with the prince, he knew the only way he could prove the truth would be to capture an ogre, and the only way he could do that was to get away from this current situation and finish what he and his friends had set out to do. ‘You don’t intend to let us go, even if I return your sword.’

The prince raised his right arm and motioned downwards. Instantly fifty crossbow bolts hurtled towards Dougal.

Gaston cried out in rage as the bolts deflected off an invisible wall two feet in front of the leprechaun.

‘My sister is also a wizard,’ Dougal said proudly.

‘Mazarin!’ shouted the prince.

‘I’m already working on it,’ replied the wizard. ‘I will have it destroyed in minutes.’

‘You don’t have minutes,’ Dougal warned him, menace in his voice. ‘I have given you a chance to end this peacefully, but you have chosen to reject it. Next time we meet, it will end with bloodshed, and it won’t be mine.’ Dougal drew the sword from his belt. ‘As for your sword, I’m afraid that when I was returned to my full size, I was holding it. I can tell by the look on your face that you have seen the result.’ Without any further words, Dougal turned on his heels and ran down the gorge.

‘How long, Mazarin?’ screamed the prince.

‘A matter of seconds.’

Before he had even finished speaking, tons of rocks came crashing down towards the prince and his army.

It took several minutes for the dust to clear. The area was in absolute chaos. Gaston’s men had been thrown from their spooked horses and trampled as the animals stampeded. Some lay on the ground, wailing from the pain of their broken bones, while others didn’t move at all.

The prince and Mazarin – thanks to the wizard’s quick thinking – were the only members of the follet army still mounted.

‘Can you move that rock?’ barked the prince, furious at the events that had just unfolded.

‘Even with my magic, it will take time, My Lord.’

The wizard silently prayed that the prince would not lash out at him in anger over this recent setback.

Gaston saw the look of fear on his face. ’I don’t blame you for any of this, Mazzy.’

The wizard was relieved. ‘Thank you. But I should’ve been able to destroy the magical wall and retrieve your sword.’

Gaston answered with remarkable calm. ‘If you had, they would only have started the attack earlier. Anyway, my sword is no longer of concern; I now have more important matters to deal with. Firstly, I want you to contact Andre’s wizard and give him new orders. Tell him to gather all his men. I want the fairy wizard killed on sight. The others are to be taken directly to the capital where they are to be tried as spies and executed, with their heads sent to the fairy king.’

‘Your father will never approve,’ said Andre, who had joined the two men as Gaston mentioned his plan to kill Niamh.

The prince waved away Andre’s objections. ’He has no choice. The fairies and their giant allies have committed several acts of aggression against the Auvergnen nation.’

‘How’s that?’ asked Andre.

’By stealing one of the three swords of the dauphin. The giant has insulted the very foundation of all three esprit follet monarchies.’

‘I can understand your reasoning,’ said Andre. ‘But I still can’t see your father doing anything other than sending a formal protest and maybe a request for the return of your sword.’

The prince was quick to correct him. ’It’s not my sword; it belongs to our people. As the heir to the throne, I am privileged to carry it for them.’

‘You surely don’t believe that?’

‘You’d be amazed what I’d believe publicly if it suited my purposes. As for my father – if he doesn’t do as I say, he will simply have to be removed from the throne.’

Andre smiled. ‘I’m glad to see you are finally seeing things my way.’

‘I think it’s highly unlikely I’ll have to have him murdered, Andre. I believe he will abdicate if he can be made to believe the nobility will support our call for action. There is a chance of a revolution if he opposes us.’

‘Without the sword, your brother has as much right to the throne as you do,’ Mazarin reminded the prince.

Prince Gaston’s response was dismissive. ‘In these troubled times, no one would put a fool like my brother on the throne. And if by some miracle they did – well, I never said I wouldn’t have him disposed of as well, did I?’

‘The prince is right, Dougal,’ said Derry. ‘He can easily argue that what we have done is an act of espionage.’

‘What else could we have done?’ asked Cait.

‘Nothing,’ said Dougal, ‘but Derry’s right. This prince is far more intelligent than I gave him credit for. I’m not yet sure how, but he’s going to use this situation to his advantage.’

‘I guess it’s true,’ said Turloch. ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’

‘Just give him back his sword,’ Fearghus suggested.

‘I’m not convinced it has ever been solely about the sword,’ Dougal replied, ‘and if it was, it certainly isn’t now.’

As Dougal finished speaking, Phil materialised above them. The fairy dragon had witnessed the entire conversation between Gaston, Andre and Mazarin, and relayed everything he had heard to Dougal and the others.

‘So, he’s using us to become king. Phil, you need to warn the others. They need to know what Gaston has planned for them.’

‘Who’s going to warn King Strahan?’ Cait asked.

‘I will,’ replied Phil, ’as soon as I reach Niamh and tell her what is happening. I should be able to fly to Sarasidhe and return in about three days. I can also see if there has been any more ogre activity. If I’m lucky, I might find something that will prove to the prince that we are being truthful about our mission.’

‘For all we know, he’s working with them,’ said Derry. ’How else can the ogres pass through follet waters without being detected?’

‘Maybe they only pick fights they know they can win. I know I would,’ griped Fearghus.

‘That does make sense,’ said Dougal. ’We never stood a chance against the admiral’s ship, but it would’ve been an even fight between him and the ogres.’ An idea struck him, and his eyes lit up with excitement. ‘I know what we’re going to do. We’re going to steal one of their warships,’ he said, a huge grin crossing his face.

The look on her brother’s face reminded Derry of Izzy when she was about to do something reckless.

‘We don’t even know where they are,’ complained Fearghus. ‘We’ll get captured, or worse.’

Cait looked at Fearghus, annoyed by his continual negativity. ‘We’re invisible giants,’ she said. ‘They can’t capture what they can’t see.’

‘As soon as I warn the others, I’ll find a ship, Dougal,’ said Phil.

‘We’ll head directly west and wait for you on the coast,’ Dougal replied.

Without another word, the dragon flew off.

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