CHAPTER 16 MAURETANIA
‘Drop the anchor,’ ordered Tyler, his voice barely a whisper.
Several sailors echoed the fairy captain’s order, and moments later the ship came to rest in the calm waters of the Albaranian Sea.
‘How far away from the coast are we?’ asked Dougal, looking at the twinkling lights in the distance.
‘Less than a mile,’ confirmed the captain.
‘Perfect,’ said Niamh. ‘Tyler, if we need to get out in a hurry, we’ll signal for you.’
A tawny rope ladder dangled over the side of the ship, leading to a rowing boat that lingered in the still water. Dougal was the first to mount the ladder and start his descent, followed closely by the others.
As the last member of the small assault force sat down in the boat that was now rocking back and forth with its load, Dougal, Turloch, Adam and Dylan sliced the water with their oars and began rowing towards the shore.
The lights got brighter as they reached the inlet, and they could hear the guttural, drunken accent of the ogres.
‘Take us away from the voices,’ whispered Niamh. ‘If they see us before we reach the shore, all is lost.’
The rowers changed direction, and several minutes later they pulled the rowing boat onto a tiny sandy beach that was surrounded by sand dunes and scrub.
’Abeonavisnavis.’ Derry cast a spell, and the small boat vanished.
‘Beats hiding it,’ smiled Izzy.
At the same time, Niamh castthespell that returned the leprechauns to their full size.
’Derry, Turloch and I will have a look around and see if anything has changed since Phil was here,’ Dougal whispered.
‘Where is Phil?’ asked Dylan.
‘He’s gone deeper into the jungle to see if he can find out where all the ogres are coming from. He’s going to meet up with us as soon as he can.’
The three leprechauns then vanished and headed towards the lights of the ogre outpost.
Minutes that seemed like an eternity dragged by before Dougal and Turloch heard Derry’s voice enter their minds. There isn’t a single guard on duty, she said.
They have no idea we’re here, and even if they did, I doubt they’d fear anyone living inConnacht, thought Dougal, knowing his twin would read his thoughts.
Let’s give them a bit of a shake up, then.
We’ll set fire to the ship in the dry dock.
Dougal smiled, and then thought, Izzy would be proud.
The three invisible leprechauns crept towards the dry dock that housed the enormous half-completed ship. They climbed aboard and began the search for an appropriate place to set the fire.
This thing is bigger than the one we fought on the way over, thought Turloch, who still wasn’t used to communicating without speaking.
Much, replied Dougal. I think it must be some sort of troop transporter.
Which means they’re getting ready for an invasion, said Derry. The sooner we destroy this ship and outpost, the better.
Look what I’ve found, communicated Turloch. He was bent over, looking intently at six wooden barrels that were all filled with lamp oil.
Perfect. Quick, tip oil over a couple of the barrels, Derry instructed.
Why don’t you just start the fire with the spell you used in the sea battle? asked Turloch.
Because I want it to look like an accident, in case they manage to put it out.
So how are we going to set the oil alight?
Now that we have the oil as a flash point, I can use a spell to set it alight, Derry explained. We’ll have to hurry if we’re going to get off the ship before it turns into an inferno.
They sprinkled the flammable liquid over two of the barrels – just enough to ensure they would ignite.
The three leprechauns then went back to where they had first entered the ship, and Derry cast her spell. ’ Exterminonavisaduro,’she chanted.
The oil burned slowly at first, but then there was a bright flash, followed by a loud brash boom, and the ship became engulfed in a torrent of flame.
Cries of alarm began to sound from all over the ogre port. The first ogre to arrive almost ran headlong into the invisible Dougal, who deftly sidestepped the charging figure.
Ogres appeared from every direction, carrying anything that held water. Several ogres hollered as they threw what they believed to be water onto the flames. To their despair, the liquid only aggravated the fire, making it flare violently. They all ran for cover.
From the relative safety of the beach, Niamh and her companions watched as the glow of the fire lit the sky like a bonfire, casting a warm red glow over the entire area.
‘Someone’s coming this way,’ Adam warned the others.
As he spoke, a pair of ogres appeared over the sand dunes and stomped down onto the beach before them. The ogres were heading towards the fire but stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the fairies. Quick to act they drew their swords and charged. Neither made it halfway before they were struck, and felled, by perfectly aimed arrows.
‘I’m glad his weapons return to full size when he does,’ said a relieved Dylan, as Dougal appeared on one of the sand dunes, his bow still in his hands.
’Where are Derry and Turloch?’ Niamh asked him.
‘Waiting for us – they’re close enough to the burning ship to make sure the ogres can’t put it out.’
‘How many of them are there?’ Izzy asked, as she searched the dead ogres.
‘No more than a hundred, and most of them are shipwrights and carpenters.’
‘So,’ said Niamh. ‘Phil, as usual, was right; this is only a small outpost.’
‘Izzy, did you learn anything from those two?’ Niamh asked the brownie as she finished searching the bodies.
‘Only that they are no match for a skilled leprechaun archer,’ she replied, winking at Dougal. ‘They’re carrying fairly full purses, but the coins are made from some sort of hard wood, too large and heavy for me to carry. Neither of them had any papers or anything of importance on them. I think they must be a couple of low-ranking guards.’
Niamh nodded. ‘Let’s go and see if we can be of any help to Derry.’
‘What about the bodies?’ asked Izzy.
Niamh walked over to the fallen ogres, placed a hand on each body, and uttered, ’Abeodiscedoproprius.’ The remains were enveloped in a fiery blaze that was over almost before it began. The flame from the wizard’s spell was so intense it left nothing in its wake, not even ash.
Adam bent down in disbelief, looking for any trace of the two ogres, but all he could find was a few strange specks of glass.
‘Look at this, Dylan,’ he said, rubbing his thumb and index finger together. ‘The heat from the spell has turned the sand to glass.’
‘I’ve said it before,’ Dylan replied, ‘and I’ll say it again: I’m glad she’s on our side.’
Izzy and Dougal took the lead as the group made their way over the dunes.
‘Keep to the shadows,’ Izzy instructed. ‘I’m not sure we are a match for a hundred-plus ogres – not all at once, anyway.’
When they reached Derry and Turloch, the ogre port was in a state of pandemonium. The fire had now spread from the ship to the dry dock, as well as several buildings close to the harbour.
‘How did the fire reach those buildings?’ Dylan couldn’t understand how the fire had jumped over the dry sandy road, especially on a night with no wind.
‘I’m sure Derry had something to do with it,’ Adam said, smiling.
Niamh looked at Izzy. ‘I think it’s time to add to their worries.’
‘Great idea,’ Izzy replied. ‘Let’s start by burning down their tavern.’
‘After you’ve looted it, no doubt,’ said Cameron, shaking her head ruefully.
‘Only if there’s something worth pillaging,’ grinned Izzy.
The small party crept through a deserted part of the town, where they came upon an empty tavern. They pushed open the old wooden door and walked inside. It was tired and run-down and had a musty smell from years of drinking – a stale smell of ale and beer.
While the others broke the decrepit wooden furniture that stood like ghosts in the vacant room, Izzy explored both floors of the inn.
‘Anything good?’ asked Niamh when Izzy returned.
‘Yes. There’s a map and a journal upstairs – third door on the left – but they’re too large and heavy for me to take.’
‘I’ll get them,’ Dougal said, putting down the chair that he had been about to break over his knee.
‘Be quick. We’ve spent too long in here already,’ warned Niamh. ‘Izzy, did you find any other exits?’
‘There’s a door in the kitchen that leads outside.’
‘Anything good in the kitchen?’ Adam asked, his stomach rumbling loudly.
‘Only the door,’ replied Izzy.
Dougal returned, carrying the journal in one hand and a rolled-up map – which looked large even in his giant hand – in the other.
When everyone was well clear of the large pile of wood and other combustible material they had placed in the centre of the room, Niamh raised both hands, and waved them in a wide sweeping motion.
To the surprise of everyone, nothing happened.
’Niamh, are you okay?’ Dylan asked worried.
‘Of course. Why?’
‘I’ve never seen one of your spells fail before.’
‘Don’t worry, my friend,’ said Niamh. ’My magic has not deserted me. I cast a delay spell, so we don’t get caught in a burning building. Let’s leave before the delay is in vain.’
Several hours after Derry had set the first fire, the ogres finally doused the last of the flames. The air was heavy with the smell of charred debris, and a thick grey haze hung over the area, making visibility poor.
The tavern and several of the buildings close to the dry dock had been burnt to the ground – only cinders remained. The ship under construction was now a burnt-out husk and would never make her maiden voyage. They had managed to save the dry dock, and even though it was obvious it would take a lot to repair, it could be salvaged.
As Izzy watched the tired and weary ogres, she noticed one particularly plump one buckle a long sword around his thick waist. As he did this, he issued orders to at least half a dozen other ogres who were doing the same.
‘We need to get out of here, and quickly,’ she said, pointing in the direction of their foe.
‘I think he’s guessed the fires weren’t an accident, then?’ quipped Dougal.
‘I suppose we did make it a little bit too obvious,’ Izzy admitted. ‘I think it’s time we headed back to the ship and planned our next move.’
Cait was livid. ‘Dougal, I didn’t come all this way to be left behind whenever you think it’s too dangerous! I could’ve been useful if it came to a fight.’
’We needed you to make sure Fearghus didn’t do anything stupid.’
‘What was he going to do out here – whine the entire crew to death? If you’re that worried about him, lock him in the brig – or, better still, throw him overboard!’
Dougal tried to remain calm. ’Cait, only our most experienced fighters and wizards went on this mission.’
’When did Turloch become so experienced?’
’He’s one of CaerGorias’s best hunters; you know that as well as I do. He might even be better with a bow than I am.’
Cait shook her head. Dougal wasn’t sure whether she was angry or frustrated, but it was clear she wasn’t happy. She stormed out of the cabin, slamming the door behind her.
‘What did we really achieve, apart from putting them on their guard?’ mused Niamh.
’We rattled them, and destroyed the ship they were building,’ said Izzy.
‘But they’ll be ready for us next time, for sure,’ Niamh countered.
’Then we’ll have to be more inventive,’ Izzy replied. ‘Any ideas, anyone?’
‘I thought you were the expert in hit-and-run warfare,’ Adam said to the brownie.
‘I’m just giving someone else a chance to shine.’
‘Did you see any catapults or any other artillery?’ Tyler asked.
Izzy shook her head.
‘Good. I think we should sail into the harbour,’ Tyler continued, ‘and attack the town with our own heavy weapons.’
‘What do we do if we drive the ogres out of the port?’ asked Turloch.
Dougal came up with a plan. ’We dig in and hold the town until the rest of our army arrives. When I say we dig in, I mean you, me and Fearghus.’
‘Any objections to the plan?’ Niamh asked the group.
‘No objection from me,’ said Izzy. ’Just an addition. I think Niamh, the leprechauns, Adam, Dylan, Liam, Cameron and I should go ashore and stop any of the ogres escaping. We don’t want them bringing an army of ogres against us before we are ready.’
‘And if there is any artillery in the town, we’ll take care of it before the ogres can use it to damage the ship,’ added Dougal.
‘So, when do we attack?’ asked Turloch.
‘Dawn,’ Izzy replied.
‘Why dawn? Why not while it’s still dark, when they won’t see it coming?’ Turloch asked.
‘We need to see what we are firing at,’ Izzy explained, ‘not only to do the maximum damage, but to save as many buildings as we can to use as shelter against the sun.’
‘I think she should come with us,’ said Derry.
’So, do I,’ agreed Izzy.
‘I think it’s up to her, Dougal, not us,’ added Niamh.
Dougal was getting more and more upset with the way the conversation was going. ‘It’s too dangerous,’ he said firmly.
‘No more dangerous than it is for the rest of us,’ pointed out Derry.
’She hasn’t got your or Niamh’s magic, or Izzy’s skill with weapons,’ he argued.
’Neither did we when we first arrived in Connacht.’
‘We were fighting pixies then that couldn’t really hurt us – not ogres.’ Dougal’s voice was beginning to get high pitched as he argued with the three women. ‘They managed to hurt Phil. If they could do that, then they could certainly have hurt us.’
‘Dougal,’ said Niamh, trying to pacify him. ’If Cait decides to come with us, I’ll make sure she’s protected.’
Dougal knew he was losing the battle, so reluctantly agreed. He also knew deep down that Cait would only come to resent him if he held her back.
Derry also realised this and said to her brother. ‘I think you should be the one to ask her if she wants to come.’
Prince Jonty chatted casually with the ballista crews, fairy and esprit follet alike. The fairy crewmen were used to royalty and subjects mixing freely, but the follet sailors weren’t. They had never seen a prince – even one not destined for the throne – who did not hold himself above others. They were happy to follow Jonty’s orders.
‘To your weapons, men,’ cried Jonty. The willing crew sprang into action at his words. ‘But hold your fire, until I give the order.’
‘Aye, sir,’ came the collective cry.
Jonty felt the ship come around, and then heard a splash as the anchor hit the water. He waited until the ship came to a complete stop and then cried, ‘Fire!’
Dougal and the others watched from behind the shrubbery as Jonty and his men fired large metal bolts from the ballistas, followed by sizeable rocks from the small deck catapults, relentlessly pummelling the buildings of the town.
A dozen large ogres, all wearing heavy plate armour, ran past their hiding place towards the shore.
‘Where do you think they’re going in such a hurry?’ Dougal whispered to Izzy.
‘I don’t know, but I intend to find out.’ She waited until the last ogre was well out of sight before she took off in its direction.
‘I’ll go with her and make sure she stays out of trouble,’ Dougal said to the others.
‘Let me know if you need any help,’ Derry replied.
He soon caught up to Izzy, and within minutes they found what they were looking for. ‘I guess they’ve got artillery after all.’
Izzy and Dougal stared at three of the largest catapults they had ever seen.
‘I’ll go back and get the others,’ said Izzy.
‘No need – I’ve already told Derry telepathically. They’re on their way.’
‘Let’s hope they get here quickly. If they get those catapults working, one direct hit could do some serious damage to the ship.’
Tyler watched as the first salvo of ogre crossbow bolts fell harmlessly into the water. He turned his attention to the devastation his ballista’s were doing to the town and was pleased with the progress.
It was almost the last thing he ever saw, as a crossbow bolt missed his head by only a matter of inches and thudded into the mast behind him. To his right, a follet sailor took a bolt to his chest. The force carried the unfortunate sailor clear off the deck, and into his watery grave.
‘Catapults,’ cried the fairy captain. ‘Silence those crossbows!’
The catapult crews turned their weapons towards the ogre marksmen and fired. The rocks fell just short of the target, and before they could reload, the enemy disappeared into the ruins of a nearby building.
The ogres continued to fire at the ship, attack after attack, in what seemed like a never-ending stream.
‘How long have we got before they’re ready to fire?’ Turloch asked Izzy, urgency in his voice.
‘Minutes – and it’s up to us to stop them.’
Turloch was concerned. ‘How?’
’Cait, can you use a bow?’ Izzy asked.
’Yes, at least as well as Turloch,’ she replied, looking at Dougal, almost daring him to disagree.
’Excellent. Cait, Dougal, Turloch – pin them down while Niamh and Derry use their magic to destroy the catapults.’
‘What are we going to do?’ Adam asked the brownie.
‘We’re going to take out any ogre who tries to escape.’
‘We’re going to fight the ogre’s hand to hand?’ Dylan gasped; his eyes wide in amazement.
‘We’ve got to start some time, so it might as well be now. Besides, if soldiers with our experience and ability can’t fight an ogre one on one, what chance does our army have?’
‘She’s right,’ said Adam. ‘And they’re not that much bigger than a troll.’
‘I think the time for talk is over,’ said Niamh. ‘Unless anyone has a better idea than Izzy’s, we should attack now.’ When it was clear no one was going to speak, she continued. ’Dougal, Turloch, Cait – give us two minutes, and then open fire. Derry and I will hit them from the rear. The rest of you wait here and make sure no reinforcements get through and no survivors get away.’
Dougal drew back the string of his bow and picked out his first target. He waited a few heartbeats, and then released his arrow. Not even looking to see if his arrow had found its mark, he selected his next target, sending a second arrow on its way before either of his friends had time to fire their first.
Both his arrows found their mark, and two ogres were dead before the others even realised, they were under attack. Cait’s first arrow struck an ogre in the shoulder, while Turloch’s hit another in the thigh. Two more fell victim to Dougal’s deadly accuracy.
One of the ogres rang a large bell, warning the others to take cover from the deadly barrage.
‘Damn!’ swore Dougal.
Derry and Niamh also heard the ogre alarm as they positioned themselves for their attack on the catapults.
‘I think we should return to the others,’ said Niamh. ‘They may need our help if that alarm brings too many reinforcements.’
Derry nodded, and the wizards retraced their steps, arriving as six ogres closed in on their friends.
‘Keep them pinned down behind their catapults,’ ordered Dougal. He dropped his bow, drew his sword, and rushed to join the others.
Izzy, Cameron, Adam, Dylan and Liam had positioned themselves to face the approaching ogres. By the time the wizards got close enough to attack the advancing ogres, the enemy swordsmen were too close to their friends for them to use their magic.
As Dougal faced the first ogre, he silently wished his friends shared his size advantage over this monstrous enemy. He put his thoughts aside as he concentrated on survival, parrying his opponent’s first thrust.
The large ogre that faced Izzy was unnerved by the confident smile on her face and the obvious eagerness for battle in her eyes. The small brownie easily avoided the brute’s first swing.
‘You’re not fighting a fisherman or a fishwife now,’ she scoffed. ‘Let’s see how good you cowards are in a real fight!’
The ogre replied with a deep grunt, showing rotten brown teeth as he attacked with increased vigour. The beast had strength, size and reach advantage over her, but what she lacked in size, she more than made up for in skill and determination. Izzy was light and quick on her feet, and her diminutive size compared to that of her opponent meant she could easily duck to avoid being hit.
She countered every thrust the ogre made, and within minutes, blood flowed freely from half a dozen wounds on the monster’s legs and torso. The ogre’s attack became more and more desperate; Izzy saw fear and panic in the brute’s eyes.
‘So, I was right – you are a coward.’ As she said this, she dodged a wildly swung sword that, had it made contact, would have decapitated her in one foul swoop.
Izzy turned on her heels and thrust her own sword through a small gap in the ogre’s armour and into its unprotected kidneys. The creature fell forward and hit the ground, giving out a deathly scream. It convulsed a couple of times, and then lay dead.
The brownie turned to find her next target, her fallen foe forgotten, just as Dougal dispatched his second victim. Now the three remaining ogres found themselves facing two highly skilled and very determined enemies.
One of the ogres decided it was time to vacate the battlefield, and turned and ran, but as soon as it had broken free of the melee, Niamh, who didn’t want it to bring support, sent four magical arrows directly into its back, killing the beast in mid-stride.
‘Let’s finish off these catapults before we’re overrun by ogres,’ Izzy shouted. ‘I think it’s time for a frontal assault.’
‘If they have archers, we’ll be cut to pieces,’ said Adam.
’They haven’t fired a single shot yet. Turloch and Cait have them pinned down.’ Without waiting for a reply, Izzy charged towards her adversaries, followed closely, if somewhat reluctantly, by her friends.
’Aduroinfinitas.’ Niamh cast a spell that sent a magical ball of fire at the closest catapult. On impact it burst into an angry orange flame, causing the ogre who was taking cover behind it to run.
Of the ogres that ran for their lives, most didn’t make it. They were felled either by leprechaun arrows or by Derry and Niamh’smagic. With the first catapult now thoroughly destroyed, they turned their attention to the second.
Once again, Niamh sent a magical fireball, but something astonishing happened. A dozen ogres threw down their weapons, raised their hands, and walked into the open. They stopped halfway between their former shelters and their attackers.
Izzy looked at the others, shocked by this unexpected turn of events. ‘What do we do now?’ she asked. ‘We can’t take any prisoners, but we can’t kill them in cold blood.’
Before Izzy had finished speaking, Niamh pulled an organza sachet from a concealed pocket in her robe. Inside was a bright yellow powder. The wizard opened the pouch and threw its contents at the ogres. They all fell immediately to the ground.
‘Don’t worry – they’re not dead,’ Niamh said. ‘I’ve just sent them to sleep.’
‘How long will it last?’
‘Not long enough. We will have to tie them up, and hope no one finds them until we’ve secured the town.’
Dougal and Turloch immediately set about binding the sleeping ogres and tying them to nearby trees. While they were doing this, the others finished disabling the two remaining catapults.
‘Don’t forget to gag them,’ said Izzy, joining the leprechauns as soon as the catapults had been disabled. ‘We don’t want them calling for help.’
As they were making their way back to the port, Cait looked on in horror as she noticed their ship was under attack.
‘Dougal, look, someone’s firing at the ship!’
‘The ruins over there,’ she replied, pointing to a group of crumbling, dilapidated buildings.
’The ship’s under attack! Charge!’ Dougal cried.
Swords drawn; they ran towards the ruined structure as it was hit by a series of bolts from the ship’s ballistae.
‘We can’t risk trying to stop the ogre bowmen while the ship’s firing on them,’ Dylan yelled.
‘I’ll stop the ballista bolts,’ said Niamh. ‘The rest of you take care of the ogre archers.’
Not waiting to see what the fairy wizard had planned, the others charged into the rubble. The firefight was over almost before it had begun; the ogre crossbowmen never saw them coming. Niamh stood and looked at the carnage all around her, and decided it was time for the rest of her army to come ashore.
Tyler saw Niamh’s ball of fire light up the blackened sky.
‘To your boats, men!’ he ordered.
All around him, sailors and marines stopped what they were doing and proceeded to the side of the ship. Within minutes, a dozen boats were rowing towards the shore, each carrying a score of warriors.
‘What are we going to do with three-dozen ogres?’
Izzy asked the question everyone was thinking as they all stood inside one of the undamaged buildings of the port.
‘We could hold them in the hull of the ship,’ suggested Dylan.
‘Too risky,’ replied Tyler. ‘We only have a skeleton crew aboard. If any of the ogres managed to escape, we could lose the ship.’
‘I think we should put them to work,’ said Dougal.
‘What will we do if they riot?’ asked Adam.
‘Most of the surviving ogres are shipwrights and tradesmen,’ Dougal explained. ’I doubt they have any fight left in them. But, to be on the safe side, we’ll always have two archers per ogre guarding them. We don’t know how long we have until the ogre command find out what happened here. The sooner we get our defences in order, the better.’