CHAPTER 12 A COMMON FOE
‘We have to set them free,’ Niamh insisted.
‘But if we do that, we won’t be able to sail the ship,’ Izzy argued back.
‘It’s not the fairy way,’ Niamh said firmly. ‘We don’t keep slaves, or force people to work against their will. After what Rupert did to your people, Izzy, you more than anyone should understand why we can’t force them to serve us.’
‘What if they choose to sail with us?’ suggested Dougal.
‘You can’t bully them into helping us, Dougal,’ said Niamh.
‘I won’t have to,’ Dougal replied. ‘None of the sailors on this ship are volunteers. They’ve all been pressed into service.’
Niamh looked at him. ‘What do you mean?’
’According to the follet sailors, whenever the Auvergnen navy need new recruits, they send out what they call press gangs. Their job is to enter taverns, round up the drunk and disorderly, and hand them over to ships’ captains.’
’So, you’re telling me these men are all slaves?’ Niamh was shocked and appalled at the thought.
‘No, they’re not slaves,’ Dougal assured her. ‘They’re all paid and fed well enough; it’s just that they weren’t given the option of not joining the navy.’
Izzy was beginning to get impatient. ‘But how does that help us?’
‘We’re going to give them two choices. They can either take the lifeboats and continue to serve Admiral Navarre, or they can freely join the newly formed fairy navy.’
‘Why would they do that? And even if they did, who’s going to take command of the ship?’
’They all hate Navarre. We’re going to feed them better and pay them more. They will also be free to leave the ship and return to their families whenever they choose. As for the ship’s new captain – Tyler’s been at sea most of his life. I think he would be an excellent choice, don’t you?’
’As long as they know it’s their choice and they can leave our service when and where they choose,’ said Niamh.
‘That bay looks as good as any for releasing the admiral,’ said Tyler, lowering his spyglass. ‘Are there any towns nearby?’
‘Aye, captain,’ answered the sailor manning the ship’s wheel. ‘There’s a farming town within a league of the bay.’
‘How close can we get?’
’In a ship as large as this, not verysir.’
‘Then I guess they’ve got a long row ahead of them. Drop the anchor.’
Tyler went over to join Dougal, who, along with the other leprechauns, had been shrunk back to fairy size. Izzy and Niamh were discussing their next move.
’So, it’s time to say goodbye to the admiral, is it, Captain Tyler?’ said Dougal.
‘Yes, sir,’ he replied.
’Just call me Dougal – none of this “sir” nonsense. Now, who wants to help me say goodbye to the good admiral?’
‘I’d love to,’ said Izzy, a little too enthusiastically, as she started off in Navarre’s direction.
Izzy cut Admiral Navarre’s bindings far more roughly than necessary. ’If it were up to me, I’d take you back to Sarasidhe where you would be tried for the murder of the brave and gallant sailor who died when you sank our boat.’
‘You’re nothing but a pirate,’ Navarre spat back at her, ’and I won’t rest until I see you all hanging from the yardarm, especiallyyou, giant!’ he finished, glowering at Dougal.
By the time they led Navarre to the side of the ship, a rowing boat had already been lowered into the water, along with five sailors, the only ones who had chosen not to join the crew.
The admiral angrily climbed down the rope ladder and into the rowing boat, immediately snapping commands at the small crew. Dougal wasn’t surprised to see that Navarre didn’t take up an oar.
‘Shall I set sail for home?’ Tyler asked, as they watched the rowing boat begin its journey to land.
Niamh looked at Dougal. ‘All right, Dougal, you win. Take us home, captain.’
Tyler immediately began giving orders, and from all directions the well-trained, disciplined follet sailors leapt into action.
Izzy smiled. ‘I think he’s going to enjoy his new command.’
‘What sailor wouldn’t? This ship is amazing,’ said Adam, joining his friends. ’You three should see below deck. Dougal’s right – even with the follet sailors, we’re going to need an army to crew her. Come on – let me show you around.’
‘Captain Tyler,’ said Niamh. ‘We’ll be below deck if you need us.’
‘As you please, milady,’ Tyler replied, now fully ensconced in his new role as a naval captain.
’According to the sailor who gave me the grand tour,’ Adam began, ’this is the largest warship ever built. It has eighty heavy ballistas; we don’t have that many in allSarasidhe. There are also four light catapults on the main deck and sleeping space for over five hundred sailors. This is more like a floating city than a ship.’
‘Did he tell you anything else about their navy? For instance, are there any other ships as large as this one?’ Izzy asked.
’He told me everything – and no, not yet, but there’s another being built. It will be finished next year. They currently have one with sixty ballistas, three others with forty, and seven with twenty. Apparently, they started building the fleet at the request of Rupert, who also financed it. He was seemingly planning to search for new lands to conquer after he had defeated us.’
Izzy began to get excited. ‘Once we’ve dealt with the ogres, maybe we should take this ship and find out what’s out there ourselves.’
‘One mission at a time, Izzy,’ said Niamh. ‘One mission at a time.’
‘Land ahoy,’ cried a voice from the crow’s nest.
Dougal pulled a spyglass from his belt and studied the approaching land. ‘He’s got sharp eyes; I can barely see the coastline, even with this. How long will it take until we reach the shore?’
‘Three or four hours,’ replied Tyler. ‘I just hope we can sail this ship close enough to use the rowing boats.’
‘Why would we do that?’ asked Fearghus.
‘No ship this size has ever anchored in a fairy harbour before.’
‘What about the ogre ships?’
‘They never get closer than half a mile or so, and that’s a long way to row for a fairy.’
’Have you ever sailed into Clonakilly before?’ asked Fearghus, who had not been present when the decision to sail to port had been made.
‘Only once,’ Tyler replied, ’ten years ago. But if we can’t get this ship into the largest harbour in Sarasidhe, we aren’t getting ashore anywhere.’
‘Then what do we do?’ Fearghus asked, the usual whine in his voice.
’We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, Fearghus.’ Dougal, like the rest of them, knew they would have no trouble sailing the ship close to the shore, but they thought it would be far more fun teasing Fearghus.
The warship sailed gracefully into the harbour, drawing stares from the growing crowds on the docks.
‘It’s just as well we’re not an ogre ship or they’d all be sitting targets,’ Adam stated, amazed at the gathering mob.
’I guess they believe Clonakilly is too large a target for the ogres,’ Dylan reasoned.
‘You two aren’t the most observant of military men, are you?’ Izzy said. ‘Look over at the warehouses to the left.’ The brothers saw six well-concealed, fully primed catapults aimed directly at the warship. ‘There are six more to the right,’ Izzy continued, ‘but they’re better hidden.’
Tyler turned to Niamh and said, ‘I think we should drop the anchor. It will be safer not to spook the catapult crews.’
‘On this ship you’re in command, captain. You don’t need to explain your decisions to anyone – not even me.’
Tyler nodded, and then left to attend to the anchoring of the ship.
’You do realise you’re no longer in the army, Niamh?’ said Adam. ’So you don’t actually have the authority to promote anyone.’
‘Who’s going to argue with her?’ said Izzy.
‘No one I know,’ conceded Adam.
‘Can we trust them?’ asked Dylan, as the rowing boat neared the docks.
‘Better we find out now than in the height of battle,’ Niamh replied.
‘But we could lose the ship.’
’We won’t lose the ship; the follet sailors have nowhere to go. If they go home, they will more than likely face execution for treason or desertion. If they stay with us, at least they know they will be well treated.’
‘Izzy’s right,’ agreed Arthur. ’The follet mercenaries in Rupert’s army stayed as long as he continued to pay them, and they had homes to return to.’
They pulled the rowing boat onto a small sandy beach to the far side of the docks, on the outskirts of Clonakilly.
‘Tyler,’ said Niamh, once they had secured the boat. ‘Are you sure you’ll be able to recruit enough sailors for us to have a full crew?’
Tyler remained confident. ‘If we can’t do it here, we won’t be able to do it anywhere. Don’t worry – with what you’re prepared to offer, by the time you return with the foot soldiers and artillerymen, we’ll be ready to sail.’
Niamh had intended to keep a low profile but soon realised this would be impossible. Before they had even left the beach, the crowd that had watched their ship sail into the harbour had made its way from the docks to the beach.
A tall, thin balding man detached himself from the throng of people and walked over to Niamh. ’Greetings. I’m GearoldCibhlin, Mayor of Clonakilly. Who might you be?’ he said, offering her his right hand.
Niamh shook the man’s outstretched hand and introduced herself and her companions. She explained their plight and told him that lives were at risk, and that they were determined to do what they could to stop further death and destruction.
After hearing Niamh’saccount of the seriousness of the situation, the mayor was only too happy to supply such important visitors with horses and any other items they required for their journey to the fairy capital. He also promised to assist Tyler in any way he could.
An hour later, Niamh and the others were riding out of the city, fully equipped for their gruelling two-day journey to Sarasidhe.
When they reached the fairy capital, they found the city in an uproar. King Strahan had, only that morning, publicly announced his intention to abdicate as soon as the arrangement for the transfer of power could be made.
‘So, she’s finally made up her mind,’ said Izzy as they rode towards the palace.
’So, it seems,’ replied Niamh. ‘Strahan was always going to retire as soon as she’d made her decision.’
‘What do you think she’s going to do?’ asked Cameron.
‘I guess we’ll find out soon enough; we’ll be in the palace before you know it.’
Word of their arrival had, as always, preceded them. They were greeted by two of the king’s personal guards, one of whom addressed the wizard. ’ Niamh, the king requests your presence post-haste,’ he said.
’Only Niamh?’ asked Adam, obviously annoyed.
‘They are my orders, sir,’ replied the guard, somewhat uncomfortable.
‘We’ll wait for you in my chambers,’ said Izzy. She turned to the guards. ‘Could one of you have some hot food sent to us?’
‘Of course, ambassador.’
The ten friends sat around the large round wooden table Izzy used to entertain visitors to the Caledonian Embassy.
They waited, and waited, and then waited some more.
Finally, over two hours later, Niamh entered the room. ‘I hope you’ve saved something for me,’ she said, smelling the aromatic food as she took a seat next to Izzy.
Izzy smiled and lifted the lid off a terracotta bowl that sat on a wire frame above a small candle. She scooped out a large serving of rich venison and root vegetable casserole and passed it over to the wizard. She knew Niamh would not talk until she was ready.
‘This looks good,’ said Niamh. ‘Is there bread and wine to go with it?’
‘Here’s some bread,’ said Adam. ‘But you’re not getting any of this particularly fine wine until you tell us what’s going on.’
Niamh looked at Adam impishly. She clicked her fingers and wine appeared in one hand, a crystal goblet in the other. ‘Really,’ she said, laughing, as she filled the goblet and then took a sip. ‘Amber’s marrying John.’
‘Pay up, Adam,’ said Izzy, slapping her thigh. Adam pulled a coin purse from under his tunic and reluctantly tossed it to the brownie.
‘Is she in the city?’ asked Liam.
‘No,’ Niamh replied. ‘The news arrived by messenger two days ago.’
‘How did Strahan take it?’ asked Dylan.
‘Reading between the lines, he didn’t take it at all well, and I believe that’s the reason he summoned me alone. He’s going to announce tomorrow morning that Finn will officially take the title of Crown Prince. Strahan will rule in name only until one month after the wedding.’
‘When is the wedding?’ asked Adam, who always liked to keep up with the latest gossip.
’As soon as this ogre threat is put to rest – and it seems highly unlikely she will return to Sarasidhe before it. Now, speaking of ogres, and more importantly our mission, Finn will meet us here at dawn tomorrow to make plans for the return to our ship. The king has already sent a letter of protest about our treatment to the Auvergnen king.’
‘What does he think that will achieve?’ Izzy’s tone made it obvious that she thought the king was wasting his time.
‘I have no idea,’ replied Niamh, shrugging and yawning at the same time. ‘But I’m off to get some sleep on a real bed with feather pillows. I’ll see you all in the morning.’
The twins were the first of the leprechauns to wake. They dressed and headed to the embassy, leaving the others to sleep. Izzy, Cameron, Arthur, Niamh, Adam and Dylan were already there.
As Derry entered the room, she noticed the druid was missing. ‘Where’s Liam?’ she asked.
‘He’s attending to matters of his order that have arisen during his absence, and to make sure his followers are prepared for his impending departure,’ Izzy answered.
‘He is also going to select two of his most skilled healers to accompany us, as well as gathering as many healing potions as the druids can spare. With a crew as large as ours, we’re going to need all the medical supplies we can muster.’
Finn arrived at the meeting accompanied by a stranger. This fairy was not like the others; he wore black leather armour, not the silver chainmail worn by members of the king’s guard. His cape was gold instead of red, as were his trousers – not the blue worn by the fairy infantry. Although he was nowhere near as large as Finn, there was an obvious family resemblance.
Dougal glanced over to Izzy with a look on his face that said, do you know him? The brownie shook her head to indicate she had no idea who the fairy was.
Finn, seeing the exchange between the fairy and brownie, smiled. ‘For those of you who have not met him, this is my brother, Jonty. He arrived in the city two days after you departed to take up a commission in the artillery.’
‘I didn’t even know you had a brother, Finn,’ Cameron said.
’After the situation with Amber and Rupert, it was decided to keep the location of my brother and sister secret until we were certain that Sir John had everything in Tudorland totally under control.’
‘You have a sister as well? Where is she?’ asked Cameron.
’Holly is safely tucked away at school in Caiseal, well away from prying eyes.’
Arthur gave Finn a puzzled look. ’Why is Jonty here now? We’re still a long way from identifying the trouble causers in Tudorland, let alone dealing with them.’
’Because,’ Jonty replied, ’no one asked me how I felt about being “hidden” away. You should have seen Uncle Strahan’s face when I arrived.’
‘Why didn’t he send you back, then?’ Adam asked.
Finn laughed. ‘He tried, but the only way my little brother was going home was tied to a horse.’
’And,’ interrupted Jonty, who was now smiling broadly, ‘it’s bad form to tie a prince to the back of a horse. Anyway, they knew I’d come straight back; so here I am, an artillery lieutenant third class.’
‘Now to more pressing matters,’ said Finn. ‘King Strahan has passed the responsibility of your mission over to me.’
’So, you’re coming with us this time?’ asked Dylan.
’Unfortunately, not. I have far too many duties in the city these days. However, I’m sure that, with your expertise, I won’t be missed. Niamh, you’re officially back in the army. Your new rank will be Wizard Commander of Sarasidhe, and although the current High Wizard retains his position and responsibilities, he nowanswers to you.’
‘Finn, I don’t want this,’ Niamh said firmly.
’I know, Niamh, but, as you’re on a military mission, you need to have a rank. It won’t just be other wizards under your command – Generals Adam and Dylan and their men will be also.’
‘Tell me something we didn’t already know,’ said Adam, in mock disgust.
’Niamh, how many wizards do you need?’ Finn asked.
’I have an apprentice who will make a good ship’s wizard, which is all the magical assistance Derry and I will need.’
‘Good.’ Finn then addressed Adam and Dylan together. ’I want each of you to pick your fifty best archers, as well as an equal number of swordsmen. How many ballistas does the ship carry?’
‘Eighty, as well as four light catapults,’ said Adam.
‘We don’t have anywhere near enough trained men to man that much artillery,’ said Finn. ‘It sounds more like a city than a ship.’
‘How many men can you spare?’ Niamh asked.
‘A hundred – and even that’s more than we can really afford.’
‘It will be enough,’ Niamh assured him. ‘How soon will they be ready to leave?’
‘I can have my men ready in two days.’
‘Good. That will give them plenty of time to practise. We won’t be leaving the city for at least four days. It will take Captain Tyler that long to recruit a crew. Hopefully you and your men will be able to train enough of the sailors to use a ballista before the ogres return.’
Gaston, with Mazarin to his right and Andre to his left, rode through the main gates of Fontaine, the Auvergnen capital, at the head of his army. He went directly to the palace, dismounted and stormed into his father’s council chambers. All eyes turned toward the haughty prince.
’Father, I demand you invade Sarasidhe,’ he barked.
The Auvergnen king, a handsome man in his late forties,but still in his physical prime, shook his head and sighed. ‘There are matters far more pressing than your vendetta, my son.’
‘The fairies have stolen my sword!’ screamed the prince in an almost uncontrollable rage.
His father remained calm. ‘It’s only a sword, Gaston.’
’Only a sword?’ the prince repeated, exasperated by his father’s words. ’It’s not just a sword; it’s my birth right. And if you don’t attack the fairies, I will!’
Before the prince could finish his threat, the king rose from his throne and then drew his sword in one fluid motion. ‘Don’t be a fool, boy; there are far more pressing issues than your pride. It’s not as if you’re the first prince to lose a sword of the dauphin. The original sword was lost hundreds of years ago. I already have my personal armourer and wizards making you a new one; it will be finished within a week.’
Gaston could not believe what he was hearing. ’My sword is a fake?’
’It is – as is Merovingia’s golden sword. They lost the original less than a hundred years after the swords were forged.’
‘But what of the conditions attached to carrying the swords?’
’You mean, for instance, that if you lose the sword, you lose the right to rule? That was just a way of trying to teach ouridiot heirs some responsibilities,’ the king laughed heartily.
‘But I thought that’s why you sent me to De Medicis.’
’No, son. I sent you to De Medicis because I didn’t trust the man, and I was hoping you would uncover any treasonous or illegal activities he was engaged in. Unfortunately, you were too busy feeling belittled by having to serve alongside men you considered beneath you and therefore were of no use to me. Luckily, while you were running around the countryside, the marquis’s brother sent word to me detailing his activities, which included kidnapping knights of Tudorland’s ruling council and holding them for ransom. The good marquis is being transported to the city in chains to face trial as we speak.’
‘If I had known what my mission was, it would’ve been far easier for me to complete. If De Medicis is a criminal, there is a good chance that Admiral Navarre is as well. The two men spend a lot of time together.’
’A good king needs to be able to see such things for himself. As for the admiral, I am well aware of his activities. Fortunately for him, he is by far the best sailor I have in my navy and is far too valuable to lose under the current circumstances.’
As unhappy as it made the prince, he realised it was his father, not him, who was in control of this meeting. His time to seize the Auvergnen throne had not yet arrived.
He looked his father straight in the eye, bowed slightly and asked, ‘So what are our current circumstances?’
‘Our coastal villages are being raided.’
‘By ogres,’ Gaston quickly put in.
‘Yes. How did you know?’
’The fairy wizard told De Medicis about similar raids in Sarasidhe.’
The king nodded, as if he wasn’t surprised.
‘So,’ said Gaston. ‘Where do we go from here?’
King Louis hid his smile, not wanting to antagonise his son and heir any more than he already had. ’By the week’s end, our friend Navarre will have set sail for Sarasidhe in his new flagship. He is carrying a dispatch with my personal seal, offering an apology for the treatment the wizard, and her companions, received at De Medicis’ hand. It also offers them the ship they used to gain their freedom as a token of my respect.’
Louis watched as his son’s cheeks flushed but was pleased the prince retained his composure.
’I have also assured them that De Medicis will be punished for his actions. If they are not happy with this, I will hand him over to them, if they would rather deal with the matter themselves. I have also informed them of the ogre attacks on all three esprit follet nations and explained that we believe it will take an alliance of as many nations as possible to defeat them. I have suggested we hold a summit meeting in Sarasidhe three weeks from now. I want you to join me there, my son.’
Gaston gasped in astonishment at what his father was proposing. ‘The Carolingians and the Merovingians will never agree.’
’They already have. Six days ago, two hundred Carolingian villagers were killed in a single raid without the loss of an ogre. Our cousins realise that none of us are strong enough to defeat the ogres on our own. I pray that the fairies, pixies and brownies do as well.’
‘You are right, father. Auvergne’s problems come before my own.’
It was obvious to the king that his son was sincere.
‘But once we have dealt with these ogres, I will have satisfaction,’ Gaston added.
‘And as long as you do it with honour, Gaston, you will have my blessing.’