The Ogre Wars

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Phil struggled as he made his way across the desert. The intense heat of the sand burned his claws while the searing sun scorched deeply into his scales. He was almost at the stage of passing out, only sheer will and determination kept him going.

As he looked into the distance, he saw a watery haze and the shape of what looked like a forest. He didn’t know whether it was another mirage or real – all reality was now becoming muddled in his mind. He knew his friends needed him to return as quickly as possible, but the pain in his wing had now become so bad he could only fly for short periods of time before he had to land and rest.

The fairy doctors who had treated him after the battle against the pixie army had warned him against using his injured wing too much, telling him he risked losing the use of it altogether if he wasn’t sensible. They had been particularly clear on how he needed to rest it – not flying long distances being one obvious piece of advice. Yet, for weeks now, Phil had ignored their warnings.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, for the last four days, he had lived on a diet of only snakes and lizards, and these did little to sustain the dragon. He hadn’t found water in two days and was now parched to the point of desperation. Phil knew that if he didn’t find water soon, the last thing he would need to worry about was his wing.

His mission had not been in vain, however. He had discovered several ogresworks camps on the border between the huge desert and the forests of the untamed lands. Each had hundreds of ogres, but what he found most interesting were the thousands of slaves that were being forced to cut down large trees, while others felled trees into timber that was obviously destined for ogre shipyards.

The slaves were a silver-haired race that Phil had never seen before. The majority had pearly white skin, but several them had hard, leathery-looking skin of a dark olive colour. They looked as though they were descended from many generations that had been exposed to extreme heat and harsh conditions.

Phil had tried to get close enough to talk to the slaves, but they were too well guarded for the fairy dragon to do so safely, even while invisible. He knew he wasn’t in a fit state for a fight, and so he decided to return to the others and tell them of his discovery.

The dragon was just about to test his aching wing for flight when he caught the faintest smell of cooking meat. The succulent tang teased his nostrils and caused a deep growl in his stomach.

The cooking fire could be miles away, he argued with himself, but if there is food, there must be water, and I need a drink.

The famished and dehydrated dragon followed the aroma. An hour or so later, he was standing at the edge of a small forest of palm trees.

Phil stood and took stock of his surroundings. He realised it was a town, as opposed to a forest. At its centre was a large lake, which was a clear crystal blue and looked as though it was fed by an underground spring. Hundreds of the olive-skinned people roamed the oasis, some tending flocks of goats and sheep, others guarding the perimeter of the camp.

Phil invisibly made his way to the edge of the lake, careful not to encounter any of the tribesmen. He lowered his burning, throbbing head into what he expected to be warm water, but to his great delight found cool and refreshing, as if it was from a Sarasidhe stream in autumn.

With great effort he slid his aching body into the bracing water, savouring its cooling effects. The iciness numbed the pulsating pain in his wing. As he revelled in the heavenly sensation, several bells started to sound. For a split second he thought he was dreaming, but he soon noticed that the town was in an uproar.

Leaving the sanctuary of the lake, Phil followed a group of twenty men, all carrying long swords with wickedly curved blades that glinted in the sun. As they reached the outskirts of the oasis, there was a small army manning well-constructed camouflaged defences.

The dragon looked out into the desert, and even with his sharp eyes, he almost missed two men who were crawling towards the oasis. He looked around the edge of the camp for a sign of the settlement’s leader, and promptly located him. The commander was surrounded by fifteen men and was dressed in a flowing white linen robe with matching trousers underneath. He wore a white linen turban with a large ruby in its centre. His skin was the colour of coffee, and he had a black beard and black stoat-like eyes.

‘Pasha Ali,’ said one of the men, bowing deeply to his superior. ‘There is a patrol of ten ogres on the other side of the sand dunes, and they are heading directly towards our oasis.’

‘Are they part of a larger force?’ the pasha asked, slightly concerned.

‘It does not appear so, oh great one.’

The pasha turned to the man at his left. ‘Ahmed, take forty riders and make sure no ogre escapes to give away our position. Burn their bodies.’

Phil listened intently to the exchange. He heard the figure who was standing to the right of the pasha speak.

‘Master, we are not alone,’ he said, pointing directly at the dragon.

The pasha’s guards drew their curved swords and moved towards Phil, closing in quickly.

Dougal put down his hammer and took a long drink from his water skin as he wiped the sweat from his brow. The day was hot and arid; he wasn’t used to such severe heat and was finding it hard adjusting to the climate. His clammy shirt was clinging to his body and his hair was dripping wet; beads of sweat were running down his back.

He watched as the ogre prisoners dug a large trench that now surrounded the entire town. In the week since they had captured the port, they had worked day and night to turn the area into a fortified encampment.

While the ogres dug the trenches, Tyler’s sailors and Jonty’s men removed the ship’s ballistas, repositioning them in defensive positions. Adam, Dylan and their marines, along with the male leprechauns, repaired many of the destroyed buildings and then built fortifications behind the trenches and around the artillery. No one knew when, or in what numbers, the ogres would come; they just knew they would. Dougal and his friends planned to be ready for them.

As Dougal was about to return to work, he saw a curious sight. There appeared to be a vast wall of sand moving directly towards the town – not like a tornado, but more like a great tsunami of sand. Unsure what this strange sight was, he sounded the alarm to warn the others.

Izzy lowered her spyglass. ‘Well, they’re not ogres.’

‘What are they? How many of them are there?’ asked Cameron.

‘Hundreds – and they’re riding the strangest animals I’ve ever seen.’

Phil appeared beside Izzy. ’They’re yumboes. They call themselves the people of the sand, and they ride the strangest-looking beasts. Large hairy creatures with a hump and long spindly legs. Their faces are narrow, and they always look sleepy, or bad tempered, or both. I believe these creatures are called camels. They are certainly not regal, as we dragons are.’ Phil puffed out his scaly chest.

Izzy had not even flinched when the dragon materialised. ‘Are they friend or foe?’

’They hate the ogres more than we do. Their people have been fighting them far longer than we have; many of their kind have died, with many more taken into slavery. The ogres are using yumboes the same way Rupert used your people, Izzy. I have just seen large work camps at the edge of the untamed lands.’

‘Vengeance makes for strange allies,’ said Cameron.

‘And it is also a strong motivator,’ added Izzy. ‘It motivates me, anyway.’

‘How many are there, Phil?’ Adam asked again.

‘Five hundred, with hopefully more to come. They are a nomadic people made up of many different tribes. They live off the land, moving from oasis to oasis and even sometimes into the untamed lands. Pasha Ali has sent riders to other tribes, asking them to bring their warriors here to make a stand against the ogres. Unfortunately, the tribes have a history of internal fighting – blood feuds, and stealing food, horses, camels and even wives from each other – so there is no guarantee any others will join us here, but the pasha believes that their hatred of the ogres will force them to overcome their petty differences.’

A week later, over two and a half thousand yumboe warriors stood alongside those of the Menanan Mac Lir, behind the port’s newly completed defences.

‘Five hundred,’ said Phil to the small assembly that consisted of five yumboe pashas, as well as Izzy, Niamh, Dougal, Derry, Adam and Prince Jonty.

‘All warriors?’ asked Niamh.

‘No, it’s a supply caravan,’ replied Phil. ‘There are about fifty guards, but most of the ogres look to be labourers. Even so, they will be tough to stop.’

‘How long will it be until they get here?’ Izzy asked, more than ready for a battle.

‘They don’t seem to be in any hurry, but they’ll be here within the hour. On the brighter side, we outnumber them by five to one, and they still have no idea we’re here.’

‘My men will ride out and massacre the infidels,’ said Pasha Javid, the last of the yumboe leaders to arrive.

‘No, my men will take the glory,’ Pasha Amir argued back.

‘I have this under control. I will take charge,’ countered Pasha Javid, standing up.

At the same time, Amir stood up, blocking Javid’s path.

‘I suggest you let me pass,’ Javid said in a threatening tone as he pushed the other man aside.

The non-yumboe members of the small council looked on nervously as the two men began shoving each other.

Pasha Ali positioned himself between the two men and pushed them apart. ’Enough, you fools! This is not about glory; it is about our survival. Our only chance is to stand together; and, even then, without the help of our new allies, we have little hope. They have allowed us to share their defences, so I believe we should take our lead from them.’

‘Pasha Ali speaks wisely,’ said Pasha Yusaf. ‘My men and I will follow the outsiders.’

‘As will mine,’ Pasha Imram agreed. ’They took this town from the ogres – that is something no yumboe tribe has been able to accomplish.’

The fighting pashas took a step back from each other and nodded their heads in agreement, but not before they gave each other a suspicious look.

Ballista bolts, catapult rocks and arrows rained down incessantly on the unsuspecting ogres. Chaos erupted throughout their supply column. Panicking ogres ran in all directions as the bodies of their comrades lay bleeding and dying.

Seven hundred yumboe warriors, riding a mixture of camels and horses, emerged from behind the town’s defences. Niamh gave the command of the yumboe forces jointly to Amir and Javid to try and placate the two men. They had been ordered to make sure none of the ogres escaped, as Niamh didn’t want the main ogre army attacking before the reinforcements arrived.

The captain of the ogre guard lay motionless, half of his face covered by the burning sand. The battle had finished hours ago, but for the ogres, it was over before it had begun.

Half his men had fallen to the archers and artillery, the others to the yumboe raiders who had killed them with relentless fury. Cries of pain and angst hung heavy in the air as ogres were brutally killed.

‘He’s another dead one,’ a yumboe warrior said, kicking the unmoving ogre hard in the side and then poking him with his sword.

It was only his years of training as a warrior in the Ogre Elite Guard that stopped the captain from groaning as acute pain shot through his badly damaged body.

‘Has he a full purse?’ a second voice asked.

‘The heaviest so far,’ came the reply.

The ogre felt his purse being ripped mercilessly from his belt. He deftly opened the lid of one of his eyes – wide enough for him to see the yumboe warriors, but not wide enough for them to notice. He committed their faces to memory. He would make them pay should their paths ever cross again. He then closed his eye and waited for night to fall.

‘Are you sure none escaped?’ Niamh probed the pashas, needing to be certain thattheir mission was successful.

Pasha Javid nodded, a cruel smile on his face.

‘How many of your men did you lose?’ the wizard asked.

’I lost eighteen, Amir twenty-two – a small price to pay for five hundred ogres. We were lucky your artillery killed most of the armed and armoured ogres. The tradesmen were hardly a match for my mounted warriors.’

‘What have you done with the prisoners?’ Izzy asked, not liking the malevolent tone in his voice.

‘We do not make prisoners of those who would make slaves of us,’ Javid stated bluntly.

‘What about their wounded?’

‘They were lucky; we ended their suffering quickly. It was more than they deserved,’ replied Javid so coldly it sent chills down Derry’s spine.

Dougal heard Derry’s voice penetrate his mind. I don’t like or trust this man.

Neither do I, Dougal replied. I think we should all keep a close eye on him.

Derry nodded to him, confirming she had read his thoughts and agreed.

‘He’s as bad as the ogres,’ said Izzy, throwing her arms in the air. ‘I think we’re better off without them.’

‘I agree,’ said Niamh. ’Javid and Amir could be trouble, but the others, Pasha Ali especially, seem to be good and wise men.’

‘Three wise men may stand beside us,’ replied Izzy, ‘but what about the other two? I think they would happily cut our throats while we sleep.’

‘I doubt anyone could cut your throat while you slept, Izzy,’ said Niamh with a chuckle. ‘And he will stand beside us as long as we both fight the same enemy.’

‘But what happens when we defeat the ogres? Will we be friends, allies, liberators, or just another foreign invader of their land?’

Niamh was unmoved by Izzy’s questions. ‘They know we are not invaders – and, even if they thought we were, when the rest of the army arrives, there’ll be too many of us for them to fight. Anyway, once the ogres are defeated, we’re all going home.’

’We don’t know how many yumboes there are out there, and if the slaves we free are more like Javid than Ali, we could be in for another fight before we get a chance to go home.’

‘I agree with Izzy,’ said Derry. ‘I don’t trust Javid. Something about him reminds me of Rupert, and I’m sure he will try and turn this whole war to his advantage.’

Niamh looked at the others. ’I agree – he could be dangerous. But we can’t throw him out of the town without risking a civil war between the yumboes or, worse, a war between us and the yumboes. That aside, we need every sword we can gather if we’re going to defeat the ogres. If it makes you feel better, Izzy, keep an eye on Javid and Amir, and do whatever it takes to make sure they don’t destroy our alliance or turn against us.’

‘Okay,’ said Izzy, ’but the first thing we have to do is get rid of the bodies, and quickly. In this heat the smell will soon be unbearable. Buzzards are no doubt circling already.’

‘Yes, you’re right,’ the wizard agreed. ‘Adam, Dylan – have your men pile the bodies into large mounds as soon as possible. Bridie and I will take care of the rest.’

Phil was curled up like a giant red sleeping cat when Liam found him in a clearing east of the camp. His long scaly tail was wrapped around his whole body, and his head was tucked underneath his claws.

The fairy druid, famous for his tracking and forest skills, also had the incredible ability to read a creature – be it fairy, brownie, pixie, bird, or any other living being for that matter, including a fairy dragon – and he knew Phil wasn’t asleep.

‘Phil, we have to talk.’

The dragon remained still and silent.

Philproinnsias, I know you’re not sleeping, and what’s more, I know why,’ he said, more forcefully.

‘I am exhausted, Liam, and would find it far easier to sleep if I was left in peace,’ Phil grumbled, annoyed he was being disturbed.

‘I know about your wing.’

‘My wing is fine.’

‘You were warned by the fairy physicians not to overdo it.’

‘What do you expect me to do?’ snapped Phil, quite out of character. ‘Leave my friends to fight these ogres without my help?’

‘No,’ replied Liam evenly. ‘Of course not. But I want to examine your wing. I know my order is young, but we have discovered – or rediscovered to be more correct – things while you were in the leprechauns’ world.’

‘Minor healing potions will not help my wing, but don’t worry; I still have four healthy legs.’

‘Let me heal you now, Phil, before it’s too late,’ said the druid, getting increasingly frustrated by the dragon’s stubborn behaviour. ’Don’t let your doggedness leave you crippled for life. I know that a dragon who can no longer fly is no longer considered a dragon by other dragons and, even worse, is refused entry to MorSliabh,’ Liam finished, hoping this would change Phil’s mind.

‘You seem to suddenly know a lot about my kind.’

‘As I said, my order has learnt many things. Now, please, Phil – let me look at your wing.’

Philreluctantly unfurled his injured wing, and as he did, pain shot through his entire body like a red-hot poker being forced into his heart. It tookallhis considerable self-control not to cry out in pain.

‘Have you discovered where my father took my people when they left this world?’ Phil asked, trying to take his attention away from the unbearable stabbing pain.

‘No,’ Liam lied, as he gingerly took Phil’s wing and began to examine it.

Liam wanted to tell Phil everything he had learnt from his ghostly druidic teacher, but knew his friend was not yet ready to face the truth. He knew where the fairy dragons had gone, but he did not know why; the phantom had kept that information back.

’This is far worse than I expected.’ Liam was genuinely surprised that Phil could even move his wing.

‘I told you your potions and spells wouldn’t be strong enough to heal it,’ Phil said. ‘And even if they were, I’m a fairy dragon, and immune to magic, even if it’s cast to benefit me.’

‘Druidic magic is different from that of the mage,’ Liam explained. ’We draw our power from the essences of nature itself. No living creature is immune to its benefits, and that includes stubbornfairy dragons.’

They remained in an awkward silence for the next few minutes, until the dragon felt a deep, warm sensation creep into his wing. His head grew light, and then suddenly there was darkness.

‘Are you sure he’s okay?’ asked Dougal, looking at Liam and then back at Phil. ‘He’s been asleep for over forty-eight hours.’

‘The damage to his wing was almost at the point of no return,’ Liam replied. ‘I’m not even sure it would’ve survived one more flight. It was only his incredible strength and willpower that kept him going.’

‘When will he wake?’

’He sleeps a sleep of healing and will not return to us until his wing has fully recovered,’ Liam explained.

‘How long will that take?’

‘I can’t say for sure, but don’t be concerned. I won’t leave his side until he does.’

‘Neither will I.’

Dougal be sensible. You are needed elsewhere. Don’t worry – Phil will recover fully, and I will send for you when he returns to the land of the living. You have my word.’

The fairy dragon slept for a further two days. When he woke, Dougal was at his side.

‘Welcome back,’ Dougal smiled, quietly relieved that his friend was conscious.

‘How long was I asleep for?’

‘Almost four full days.’

Phil couldn’t believe he had been out for so long, and immediately started to get up. He was pleasantly surprised to find there was absolutely no pain in his wing.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Liam asked, giving him a look that suggested he had better stay where he was.

‘I’ve been unproductive long enough, Liam. I have to help fight the ogres.’

‘Phil, you need to rest for another week to ensure a full recovery, and then you can do whatever you need to do. It’s a small price to pay for a wholly healed wing that you will have for the rest of your life.’

For two long, gruelling weeks, the ogre captain staggered and crawled his way through the deep sands of the desert, the extreme heat never giving him a moment’s relief. He survived from what little water he managed to salvage from the discarded water skins of his dead companions and ate anything that crossed his path, his survival instinct at its height as he fought to stay alive.

He knew he was close to Mar Makadi, an ogre outpost where convoys restocked their water supplies on their way to the other ogre ports. He also knew that once he reached it, he would find food, water and a healer, and would be able to send word to the ogre high command of recent events. He would then have his revenge, and would not rest until every man, woman and child in that small port were dead.

At the same time as the ogre captain arrived at Mar Makadi, Izzy was standing on the pier, looking out over the clear blue waters of the Albaranian Sea. She realised that they had made a terrible mistake.

‘If they attack from the sea,’ Izzy said hurriedly, ‘we are defenceless; we’ve left ourselves wide open. All our defences and artillery are facing the desert. How could I have been so stupid?’

‘I see your point,’ Tyler replied. ‘But if we close the port off, how will we get our army ashore when it arrives?’

‘We’ll have to build a fortified wall with a series of well-protected gates.’

‘Out of what?’ Adam asked, as he looked at both Izzy and Tyler. ‘We’ve used all the wood and other materials we had building our desert defences.’

And,’ said Niamh, ’we don’t know how the yumboes will react to us building a castle in their desert.’

’They can have it once we’ve defeated the ogres. I don’t know who’s worse – the ogres or the yumboes,’ Izzy snapped, annoyed that their supposed allies seemed to be of little support.

Derry looked at her brownie friend, fully understanding the frustration she was feeling. ‘I’m sure if we explain the situation to Pasha Ali, he will be able to make the other pashas see our reasoning,’ she said.

’Pasha Imram and Yusaf, anyway,’ agreed Cameron.

‘If the other two don’t, they can take their men and leave,’ said Izzy angrily, her face getting redder and redder the more she thought about the situation. ‘Let them face the ogres alone.’

’I don’t think Javid and Amir will be too hard to convince,’ said Dougal. ‘As soon as they find out we’ll be leaving them a castle to act as a capital for their future empire, they’ll probably order their men to help us build it.’

‘We don’t want to leave a civil war behind us once the ogres are defeated, though,’ said Derry.

’With or without a castle, I think the only way that’s not going to happen is if the yumboes choose a strong leader who can unite the different tribes. Javid and Amir are strong leaders now, but once we have freed all of the yumboe slaves in the ogre work camps, that may no longer be the case.’

‘I think you’re all getting ahead of yourselves,’ Adam piped in. ’We’ve got nothing to build a castle with – unless you can magically produce one out of thin air, Niamh?’

‘Not in the time we have available to us,’ she replied, shaking her head.

‘I’m sure I can help with this,’ Liam said.

All eyes turned to face him.

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