CHAPTER 11 ALL AT SEA
Every muscle in Phil’s left wing ached. It had been badly broken in the battle two years earlier and was still exceedingly painful.
He had been flying almost non-stop now for days, and it was only through sheer determination that the valiant fairy dragon remained airborne. He wouldn’t rest until his friends were safe. Twice Dougal had saved him – the second time from certain death. He would happily die before he saw his best friend harmed in any way.
The dragon sighed with relief when he eventually saw the coast ahead of him. He picked up speed, and then dived into the dark water below. The ice-cold impact of the water had an immediate soothing effect on his damaged wing, bringing instant relief. He swam north for fifteen minutes, benefiting from the numbing of the pain, before returning to the sky.
He soon saw lights shining in the distance and, within seconds, realised he was approaching a major port. A dozen ships, numerous smaller boats and four large warships were anchored in the harbour.
Phil flew over the area, committing the position of both the port and the warships to memory, before flying off to tell Dougal.
The sky was beginning to turn from black to blue. Dougal walked over to wake the sleeping dragon, giving him a gentle shake.
Phil leapt up so quickly that he knocked Dougal off his feet. ‘I’m awake, I’m awake,’ the dragon exclaimed.
’I can see that,’ said Dougal, brushing newly acquired dirt from his clothing. ’Turloch tells me you’ve found a suitable ship.’
‘Several, actually, and only a couple of hours away. I think one of them is the one that sank your fishing boat.’
‘If it is, that’s the one I’m taking.’
‘Dougal, it’s too large. There are three smaller warships, and even those are going to be hard enough for the five of you to sail.’
’Both Fearghus and Turloch are capable sailors. Anyway, I think it’s only fair we take the ship that sank our boat as reparation, don’t you?’
’Dougal be reasonable – you can’t take that ship. It’s simply too risky.’
‘Let’s not worry about what ship we take until we reach the harbour. We can decide when we’re there.’
As Dougal said this, he thought, I’m taking that admiral’s ship if it’s the last thing I do.
Three hours later, Dougal and the others stood on a small hill that overlooked the harbour. Of the dozens of vessels Phil had seen anchored the previous night, only a handful remained. Most of the fishing boats had headed out to sea well before sunrise, and several large cargo ships had sailed for troll cities. Two of the warships had also departed.
Dougal smiled as he looked at the two remaining warships. ‘We’re going after the one with the four masts,’ he stated.
‘It’s too big. We’ll never be able to sail it,’ said Fearghus.
’Use your eyes, Fearghus,’ sighed Dougal. ’Not only is the smallest too close to the other boats; its deck is covered with sailors. The large ship is closer to the shore.’
‘I never thought I’d say this,’ said Phil, ’but I think Fearghus is right. That ship is too large.’
’We don’t have a choice. If the smaller ship has a full crew, we’ll never be able to take it without alerting every follet for miles. We can’t sit here waiting for its crew to come ashore, or for a new ship to arrive, while half the Auvergnen army hunts down and kills our friends.’
Derry agreed. ‘He does have a point. It’s only a matter of time before the others get caught.’
‘I still don’t like it,’ Phil said bluntly.
‘What other choice do we have?’ asked Derry.
‘None. We have to take the admiral’s ship,’ said Dougal. ’If we’re lucky, there’ll be enough sailors still aboard to act as a temporary crew.’
‘They’ll never do it,’ Fearghus argued.
‘You would if it meant staying alive.’
Cait was somewhat surprised by Dougals’ abruptness. ’You can’t treat the sailors like slaves,’ she said.
‘I don’t intend to treat anyone like a slave,’ Dougal responded. ’I’ll release any prisoners we have as soon as we pick up the others, even though it’s more than they deserve. Remember, they did murder Eoughan, and left us in the water for dead.’
‘All right,’ Phil reluctantly agreed. ’If we’re going to do this, then the sooner we start, the sooner we finish. You’re going to have to swim. Give me your weapons, so they don’t drag you under.’
Dougal immediately started to unbuckle his sword belt, and the others followed.
The five leprechauns all made themselves invisible before plunging into the freezing water. Dougal was first to reach the warship, and almost instantly realised the flaw in his plan.
He had initially intended to climb the rope ladder and board the ship, but as soon as he saw the size of it, he realised his mistake.
As Derry reached her brother, she trod water long enough to catch her breath. ‘Dougal, what’s wrong?’ she asked.
‘We can’t get aboard. The ladder’s too small.’
‘Don’t worry, I can fix that.’ As Derry bobbed up and down in the harbour’s gentle swell, she uttered her strange words of magic and waved her right hand in the direction of the ladder. The ropes immediately started to grow. Derry smiled. ‘We need to get out of the water before we all freeze.’
‘Are the others here yet?’
Derry was the only one who could see their invisible friends.
‘Good, I’ll go first,’ said Dougal. ’Derry – when I’m halfway up, send Turloch, then Fearghus, and finally Cait.’
Dougal climbed the rope ladder, quickly reaching the top. He pulled himself over the steel railing and surveyed his new surroundings. He was pleasantly surprised by the sheer size of the area. There was room for well over a dozen leprechauns, but they wouldn’t be able to go below deck; they simply wouldn’t fit.
Ten or so sailors were scrubbing the wooden deck, curling ropes, and carrying out general maintenance.
Dougal heard Derry’s voice enter his mind. How many sailors are there?
At least a dozen, he replied. We’re going to need them to help us sail, it’s far larger than I realised. I hope you’ve got a spell that stops anyone from the other boats or ships knowing what we’re doing.
I may not be Niamh Donegal,responded Derry, but I’ve got a few tricks up my invisible sleeve.
Moments later, Dougal heard a loud thud, followed by an even louder cry of pain, as Fearghus slipped and landed headfirst on the deck. Every sailor immediately looked up from their chores to see what the unexpected noise was.
‘What’s going on?’ a lone voice asked.
Dougal knew the voice and saw the follet admiral appear on deck.
‘I don’t know,’ replied a sailor.
‘Well, find out, man!’
The admiral stopped less than ten paces from where Dougal stood.
Derry whispered to Dougal, ‘Move quickly. I’ve cast an illusion spell on the ship that will hide anything we do, but I don’t know how long it will last.’
Dougal reacted quickly to his sister’s prompting, deciding the best way to take the ship was to take its commanders.
‘I would do exactly as I tell you if you want to live to see another day, Admiral Navarre,’ he said, materialising before the commander.
Navarre composed himself as much as he could after seeing a giant appear before his very eyes. ‘Who are you, and what are you doing on my ship?’
‘What? You don’t remember me?’ Dougal sounded hurt.
‘If I’d met a giant, I think I would’ve remembered,’ the admiral spat back.
Turloch appeared, holding an armed sailor. ‘Tell your men to stand down. I’d hate to have to hurt someone.’
The admiral completely ignored Turloch, never taking his eyes off Dougal. ‘Who are you, and what are you doing on my ship?’ he repeated.
’My name is Dougal O’Shea. Last time we met I wasn’t quite myself. I looked like a fairy, and travelled on the small fishing boat you sank, in the process murdering an innocent fisherman. I’m here to take your ship in reparation, and you along with it.’ Before Dougal had even finished speaking, the admiral drew his sword and charged at him, his weapon raised, poised to kill.
Dougal shimmered, vanished and stepped aside, before striking Navarre in the side of the head as he ran past, sending him crashing to the deck.
Without so much as a second thought for Navarre, Dougal turned his attention to the sailor in Turloch’s care. ‘How many sailors are onboard?’ he asked.
When the sailor refused to answer, Dougal took him by the scruff of the neck and dangled him over the side of the ship. ‘I won’t ask again,’ he said, as he rocked the sailor back and forth in a pendulum-like motion.
‘Don’t drop me,’ begged the terrified sailor. ‘I can’t swim. Pull me back – I’ll tell you anything you want to know.’
‘I’ll pull you back when I’m satisfied you’ve answered my questions truthfully.’
‘Thirty, including the admiral,’ blurted the frightened sailor.
‘Is that enough to sail this ship?’
‘Only with a ship’s wizard, and not if you want to use the ship’s weaponry.’
‘You,’ said Dougal, pointing to the nearest esprit sailor. The colour instantly drained from the other’s face. ‘I want every sailor on deck in five minutes. Don’t make me come after you.’
Without a word, the sailor turned and sprinted below deck, fearing for his life.
‘Now,’ said Dougal to the sailor he held firmly in his right arm. ‘Show me the ship’s wizard’s station.’
Thirty minutes later, Derry’s spell faded. Fortunately, by that time, they were well out to sea. Phil returned the leprechauns’ weapons to them, and then flew off to tell Niamh and the others that a ship had been secured.
When Navarre regained consciousness, he found himself tied him to the main mast. Derry performed the duties of a ship’s wizard, while F earghus and Turloch put their sailing skills to good use, ensuring the sailors worked constantly, keeping the decks and sails in order.
Cait played good giant to Dougal’s bad. She kindly talked to the sailors, empathising with them, while at the same time finding out all she could about the admiral and his ship.
They all gathered around Dougal.
’We have to go back to Sarasidhe and get a full crew,’ he warned them. ‘If we don’t, we’ll be a sitting target if we’re caught by another warship.’
‘Dougal, we don’t even know if there are enough sailors in the whole of the fairy kingdom,’ Derry pointed out.
’They don’t all have to be sailors – less than half the crew do any actual sailing. The rest of the men operate the ballistas, or are what the crew call marines, which I think is some type of ship-borne infantry.’
‘But it could take weeks.’
’Well, it’s time we need to take; we need to be more prepared. We all overestimated our ability, and it nearly got us killed. We’ve been lucky so far. If it had been the ogre ship, we had run into, and not this one, who knows what might have happened?’
Derry looked at her twin brother, trying to disagree, but realised she couldn’t. ’All right – I’m convinced. But it’s ultimately Niamh’sdecision to make, not ours.’
’They’re less than three miles behind us,’ said Phil.
‘How many are there?’ Izzy asked calmly.
‘Too many to fight. There are at least three hundred horsemen, and I sensed five wizards.’
‘Our horses are almost dead on their feet,’ said Liam. ‘We have to rest them very soon.’
‘We’re only an hour or so from the coast,’ the dragon replied. ‘We’ll have to pray the horses last that long, and the others are waiting for us when we get there.’
‘I could try and lead them away,’ Izzy suggested.
‘No,’ said Niamh, in a tone that made it clear to everyone that was the end of the matter.
Everyone, that is, but Izzy. ‘I’ll be fine. It’s you they want dead, not me. Worst-case scenario is, I get taken prisoner, they lock me up, I break out and ...’ Izzy didn’t get to finish her train of thought.
‘Now is not the time for recklessness,’ Cameron cut in firmly.
Izzy looked at the apprehensive faces that stared back at her and said, ‘All right, all right. The beach it is.’
Phil flew ahead of the group with the intention of causing as much disturbance and delay as possible to their pursuers. He reached the rock quarry he had passed earlier that morning, picked up the largest rock he could carry, and headed in the direction of the follet horsemen.
Much to his dismay, he found them less than a mile behind his friends. Hovering invisibly overhead, he dropped the rock. It landed close enough to the horsemen for them to see it, but far enough away to make sure no one was hurt.
Phil then flew directly to the front rank of riders, and materialised before them. Much to his surprise and annoyance, the horsemen showed no sign of panic.
‘Crossbowmen to arms!’ he heard someone yell.
Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, the dragon vanished once more, veering sharply to the right. He felt pain shoot through his left wing. His first thought was that a bolt had hit him, but he quickly dismissed this notion, realising a single bolt wouldn’t have been anywhere near as painful. Hoping he had done enough to slow the horsemen down, he flew back to where the others were waiting, moving as fast as his damaged wing would allow.
‘So, what do we do now?’ Phil heard Dylan ask as he arrived at the small bay.
‘Swim?’ Adam suggested.
The dragon appeared beside them.
‘Phil, how long have we got?’ they asked.
‘Twenty minutes – half an hour at most.’
Izzy looked at the tired dragon. ’Phil, can you take Niamh to the ship? She’s the only one at any immediate risk.’
‘No, Izzy,’ Niamh said firmly, before he could answer. ‘I won’t leave you all in danger to protect myself.’
Izzy was about to argue when she heard Adam shout from atop a large sand dune, ‘I’ve found a rowing boat, and it’s big enough for all of us!’
‘Brilliant,’ said Dylan mockingly. ‘Adam’s going to row us to safety.’
Adam shot Dylan an acerbic glare. ‘Or we could just sit here and build a giant sandcastle to hide behind until we’re rescued,’ he replied sarcastically to his brother.
‘Settle down, you two,’ said Izzy, who normally enjoyed, and even encouraged, the brothers’ squabbling, but knew now was not the time for such entertainment. ’We just have to row out of the range of theircrossbows, and then wait to be picked up.’
‘We’d better hurry. I think I can hear horses!’ Liam shouted.
The small party used all their combined might, dragging the rowing boat into the frothy green water. When they were waist deep, the boat bobbing happily on the shallow waves, they hoisted themselves into the craft. Adam took up one of the two oars, and Tyler the other. They began to row as swiftly as they could.
They were less than fifty feet from the shore when Dylan cried, ‘Faster! They’re here!’
Without looking up, Adam snapped, ‘If you can do better, feel free to take over.’
‘There are hundreds of them!’ shouted Arthur, as the first crossbow bolt tore into the water behind them.
Niamh knew she couldn’t stop the soldiers, as there were too many of them, so she quickly cast a defensive spell, finishing seconds before the crossbows found their range.
Dylan looked up in horror as a bolt headed directly for his head. He ducked to try and avoid being speared. The bolt hit Niamh’sinvisible wall, disintegrating into a mass of tiny splinters.
’Great spell, Niamh,’ gasped the fairy, relief obvious in his voice.
‘It won’t last for long, but it should hold until we’re out of range.’
Liam pointed to the south, a look of uneasiness on his face. ‘They’ve got boats.’
His friends looked over to where he was pointing, and saw four large rowing boats, each with a crew of at least a dozen men.
‘Damn,’ swore Niamh. ‘We’ll never be able to out-row them.’
‘We won’t have to,’ shouted Izzy excitedly, looking out to sea. ‘Look!’
A huge warship was sailing in their direction, making a mockery of the distance between them. Seconds later, several rocks were fired from the ship, aimed directly at the follet rowing boats.
Within minutes, volley after volley of rocks were hitting their intended target. Screams were heard over the crashing of the missiles as they smashed in the water. One of the boats, complete with its crew, was sent to the bottom of the sea.
Adam and Tyler rowed with renewed vigour, and fifteen minutes later the small party from the rowing boat stood on the deck of the warship, sailing out of the bay and into the open sea.