CHAPTER 15 CLASH AT SEA
Dougal watched as the last of the ships sailed out of the fairy harbour. Even from this distance, he was sure he could feel Gaston’s piercing gaze upon him, and he had to admit to himself that he was glad the prince had left.
‘Dougal.’ He turned at the sound of Cait’s voice.
‘We sail in the morning.’
Dougal placed his hands protectively on Cait’s shoulders, and affectionately squeezed them. He looked deep into her beautiful blue eyes, eyes he still found himself lost in. ’Cait, I want you and Fearghus to stay here.’
‘This situation is far more dangerous than I first thought. When Derry and I were last here, apart from the odd pixie wizard, we were never really in any danger, but this time it’s different. These ogres are twice the size of our friends, and there could be thousands of them. I would never forgive myself if you were hurt.’
Cait put her arms around Dougal’s neck, and hugged him tenderly. She whispered into his ear. ‘You’re not going anywhere without me.’
Dougal was about to argue but saw an Izzy-like determination in her eyes and knew it was pointless. ’That means Fearghus is coming as well. Who knows how much trouble he’ll get into if we leave him behind?’
The two leprechauns looked at each other and laughed with the deep affection enjoyed by soulmates.
Cait then took Dougal’s hand, and they went to join their friends for the final preparations for the upcoming journey.
Clouds billowed, the heavens rumbled, and rain fell heavily from a black sky as the newly named Menanan Mac Lir sailed out of Clonakilly harbour.
‘Shall I have the colours raised, captain?’ a follet sailor asked.
‘Aye,’ Tyler replied.
‘Raise the colours!’
Deep pride swelled in Tyler’s chest as the green flag with a golden harp at its centre made its way up the flag post.
’Niamh, it’s simple magic. You don’t have to watch over me.’
A small fairy, with a round face and rosy cheeks, smiled at Niamh. She had deep brown eyes and light brownhair and looked more like a child than a woman.
The wizard looked at her most promising apprentice. ’I know, Bridie, but I have been a poor tutor lately, and I would like to spend more time with you. Haven’t you heard the saying;a teacher is only as good as her students?’
‘Ha, I always thought it was the other way around, but don’t worry, I’ll keep up my studies when I’m not on duty.’
‘If I had believed anything else, Bridie, you wouldn’t be here now. Make sure you get enough rest. This is going to be a dangerous mission, and none of us can afford to let our guard down. If you need any help with your studies while I’m on duty, Derry will be able to assist you with all but the most complicated spells.’
‘I didn’t realise any of the giants were wizards?’
‘All leprechauns have a small amount of innate magical ability, but Derry has a magical talent that is rare, even by fairy standards.’
‘I will seek her out the first chance I get,’ said Bridie, who always enjoyed meeting a fellow wizard.
‘Good. I shall grant you your wish and leave you to your duties. Call me if you require any assistance.’
Niamh left her young apprentice and headed off to find Izzy. The wizard had not had a chance to talk to her brownie friend since the council meeting two days prior and was worried about her.
She found Izzy alone in the captain’s cabin, studying a large map.
Izzy looked up and smiled at Niamh as she entered the oval-shaped room. ‘Between Phil and your mapmaker, this is going to make planning our attacks far easier.’
Niamh glanced at the map. ‘Have you decided where we will make our first strike?’
‘I have my preferences, but it’s not just my decision to make.’
‘True,’ Niamh agreed. ‘I’m sure the generals will want to have their say. Have you eaten today?’
‘Then I believe it is time for you to take a break.’ As the wizard spoke, a large tray appeared in her hands. ‘Roll up your map so I’ve got somewhere to put this.’
Izzy promptly did as she was told, realising just how hungry she was.
Niamh placed the platter of meats, fruits and breads on the mahogany desk, and then sat on a wooden chair opposite Izzy.
They ate in silence for a few minutes as Niamh decided the best way to question her friend.
‘Izzy –’ she finally said, but the brownie stopped her before she could go any further.
’I’m fine, Niamh. You don’t have to worry about me, honestly.’
‘I wouldn’t be fine if Strahan had exiled me, and to be honest with you, he would most probably be sitting on a lily pad right now.’
Izzy laughed. ‘It’s not Robert I’m worried about. I’ve always known he was threatened by my popularity, and I can deal with that. The real issue I have is that Liz is in control of my country. But now’s not the time to settle personal scores.’
‘Liz taking control of Caledonia is bigger than you, Izzy.’
’That is why I’m not going to confront them now. For the moment we must give our full attention to stopping the ogres. If we don’t, it won’t matter who rules Caledonia, because if our combined armies can’t stop them, no brownie army will. The best thing I can do for my people is to forget about Robert and Liz and finish this mission.’
Niamh nodded at her friend.
’And,’ Izzy continued, ’Liz will be expecting me to strike now, but I’m not quite as impulsive as everyone believes. I only do things when no one is expecting it. I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but for some things, I am prepared to wait.’
‘I’m glad I’m not Liz,’ said Niamh, knowing that one day the traitorous Liz would find Izzy waiting for her when she least expected it. The wizard doubted that even her vast magic could save her if the resourceful brownie wanted her dead.
Dougal stood at the bow of the ship and stared out at the vast horizon. It seemed endless: no beginning and no end; a promise of hope, but also the threat of despair.
‘There’s a ship heading this way,’ Bridie called from the starboard side of the ship.
Dougal shook himself from his thoughts and hurried to the ship’s wizard’s station, where he found Niamh and his sister. The two wizards were looking intently at a large dark screen. There was a dim yellow blip as the machine identified an object on its course.
‘It’s got to be an ogre ship,’ said Derry. ‘It’s too large to be anything else.’
Niamh was more cautious. ’That’s if we’re reading this correctly. Dougal, can you get one of the follet sailors?’
The leprechaun was gone before the wizard had even finished speaking, returning less than a minute later with a sailor Niamh recognised.
‘Pierre, can you read this?’ she said, pointing to the blinking screen.
Pierre looked in astonishment and drew a deep breath. ‘That has to be the largest ship I’ve ever seen, and at the speed it’s travelling, it will cross our bow in less than an hour.’
Niamh looked at the unsettled sailor. ‘Pierre, get Captain Tyler. He’s in his cabin filling in the ship’s log.’
‘Do you want to engage them, or avoid them?’ Tyler asked.
‘Can you avoid them?’ Niamh replied.
‘Easily. It’s a large ocean, and we have the advantage of knowing exactly where they are.’
‘If that’s an ogre ship, we have to stop it,’ Dougal said.
‘I don’t think we can risk it, Dougal,’ warned Niamh. ‘Our mission is far too important.’
Dougal was quick to respond. ‘More important than the innocent villagers that will lose their lives if the ogre ship reaches its target?’
Niamh remained quiet for a moment, and then nodded slowly. ‘Tyler, are your men ready for action?’
Tyler’s reply was prompt and confident. ‘Absolutely.’
With the help of the experienced follet seamen, Tyler had spent his entire time in Clonakilly training his sailors for such an eventuality.
‘Tyler – if it is an ogre vessel, and we do manage to sink it, we can’t stop to pick up any survivors,’ cautioned Niamh.
Tyler looked as if he was going to protest, but then saw the sense in what the wizard said. ‘I understand your reasoning,’ he said, ’and you are right: we don’t have the room for any passengers. Even if we did, this ship isn’t built for anyone as large as an ogre – if it was, you wouldn’t have had to shrink your giant friends.’ Tyler then turned his attention away from Niamh. ‘Pierre, sound general quarters – it’s time to see what this ship can really do.’
Bells pealed all over the vessel, officers began to bellow orders, and the deck became a boisterous hub of activity.
Dougal took his place alongside Adam, Dylan and the rest of the ship’s marines, leaving the three wizards to organise the ship’s magical defences.
Below decks, the ballista crews – some with excitement, others with trepidation – loaded their weapons.
‘Bridie, do you think you’re ready to take control of the ship during a battle?’ Niamh asked the fairy wizard.
The young wizard looked at her, disappointedby the question. ’As I have said before, it’s hardly complicated magic, Niamh.’
‘Good. Follow Tyler’s commands. Derry and I will take up a position to cast our spells.’
Bridie nodded in reply, and then turned the ship directly towards the approaching vessel.
‘Ship ahoy,’ cried a sailor from the crow’s nest.
Tyler drew his spyglass from his belt and scanned the horizon. Straight ahead was the largest ship he had ever seen. ‘It’s definitely ogre!’ he yelled. ’And it’s sailing directly at us, and fast!’
‘Incoming!’ screamed the sailor from the crow’s nest.
Niamh looked up at the sailor’s warning and saw three balls of vivid glowing flame.
’Contego ager,’ she uttered, hoping there would be enough time for the spell to protect the vessel.
Seconds later, the first of the balls sizzled as it crashed into the water only a short distance away; the second sailed harmlessly over her head. The third fiery ball was heading directly for the ship’s deck.
All eyes watched in horror as it started its descent. Some of the crew ran for cover, while others stood their ground. As the lethal fireball was about to smash onto the wooden deck, it exploded in a spectacular display. Niamh had managed to erect an invisible wall around the ship.
Tyler breathed a huge sigh of relief as he watched the ball explode. He turned around and was surprised to see Niamh and Derry running towards him. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘The spell I cast to protect the ship works both ways,’ Niamh explained. ‘As long as I maintain it, we won’t be able to attack the ogre ship.’
Several metal, stone and fiery balls hit Niamh’smagical barrier, disintegrating on impact.
‘How long will it hold for?’ asked Tyler.
‘Until I release it.’
‘How long will it take you to dispel the barrier?’
‘A simple wave of my hand.’
‘Good. At least we’ll be safe until they’re within range of our weapons.’ Tyler turned to the seasoned sailor beside him. ‘Pierre, go down to the ballista crews and tell them to hold their fire until I give the order. Tell them to make sure of their targets, because they will only get one shot. I want every third crew to use bolts dipped in pitch and set alight as they are fired.’ He looked at Niamh. ‘I’m going to sail up alongside the ogre ship. When I give the order to fire, I want you to drop the shield.’
‘Do you want me to replace the shield once the ballista crews have fired?’ Niamh asked.
‘No. I want you to hit them with every offensive spell you have, because if we don’t stop them, there’s a village out there about to disappear from the map. It could even be mine.’
The ogre ship got closer and closer, until it was so close that Dougal could see the ugly faces of the ogres onboard. The leprechaun knew it would be only a matter of minutes before the two ships would sail directly past each other. He drew an arrow from his quiver and picked out his first target, a large ogre holding a particularly nasty-looking spear.
Dougal watched the activity onboard the ogre ship. He was both amazed and fascinated by the sheer discipline and order of the sailors. Although the ogres had long since stopped firing their catapults, it was obvious this enemy was not going to avoid a fight.
Then it struck him like a bolt of lightning. ‘They’re going to ram us!’ he screamed.
At that very same time Dougal heard Tyler scream, ’Fire!’
He did as instructed, and fired at the ogre target he had selected, only to watch his arrow harmlessly bounce off the ogre’s armour. ‘Damn,’ he swore, praying his sister’s magic would be more effective.
Below deck, Jonty looked over at his ballista crews, who were nervously awaiting the order to fire.
The fairy prince couldn’t believe his excitement. He had been hoping for this kind of encounter ever since he had boarded the ship. He always wanted to join the infantry and be just like his older brother and hero, Finn, but had been forced to join the artillery because it was considered a safer option, as at least one heir to the fairy throne had to be kept safe. But now, for the first time in his life, he was going to be able to put his life on the line for the sake of his people.
He walked amongst his crews, reassuring them, calming their nerves. There wasn’t a single ballista crewman, fairy, esprit follet, sailor or artillery soldier who wouldn’t willingly follow the young prince into battle.
And then the order came.
Forty ballistas fired at once, ripping into the side of the ogre ship. The ship, however, was so large they had no impact whatsoever, and the ogres sailed past as if nothing had hit them.
Niamh heard Tyler’s order, and dropped her defensive shield. She watched as the archers’ arrows bounced harmlessly off the ogres’ armour.
The wizard looked on in dismay as bolts from the ballistas hit the side of the huge ogre ship, failing to do any real damage. She watched the ogre crew ready themselves to fire a catapult full of molten metal. Before the wizard had a chance to react, the catapult erupted in a ball of flame.
‘You were right,’ said Derry, smiling. ‘That spell did come in handy.’
Tyler felt the intense heat as another catapult exploded, the fourth to be destroyed by Niamh and Derry. He was relieved the wizards were on his ship. The fairy sailor had to give his grudging respect to the ogre seamen, who quickly and efficiently doused the fires.
‘Pierre, tell the wizard Bridie to make sure she keeps the ships apart. If they get close enough to board us, we’re finished.’
The follet sailor stopped short in his tracks as Tyler cried after him, ‘Belay that order, Pierre – tell her to follow them.’
Pierre looked over to the ogre vessel as it began to turn away, sailing back in the direction from which it had come. ’Aye aye, captain,’ he replied.
Cheers from the crew echoed all around.
‘We’re never going to catch her,’ sighed Tyler, as he wistfully watched the enemy ship sail away. ‘She’s just too fast.’
‘At least we’ve saved a village somewhere,’ replied Niamh. ‘For the time being, anyway.’
‘More than that,’ said Izzy. ‘We’ve had our first victory over the ogres, and we didn’t lose a single sailor.’
‘It was hardly a victory, Izzy,’ said Cameron. ’Apart from the damage done by Niamh and Derry, we were little more than an irritation to them.’
Izzy remained upbeat. ‘They’re the ones running away.’
‘True,’ Cameron replied, ‘but I’d be far happier if she was sinking to the ocean floor rather than sailing away to fight another day.’
‘More importantly,’ said Tyler, ’we’re not sitting on the ocean floor.’