The Ogre Wars

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CHAPTER 20 SHIPS ON THE HORIZON

The days that followed were uneventful for the defenders of the harbour town. The ogres had begun firing the odd catapult salvo over the city walls, but the fairies and other soldiers were so well protected behind their defences, not a single warrior was injured.

‘We should start firing back,’ Jonty said.

’No, not yet,’ replied Niamh. ‘We can’t afford to run out of ammunition.’

As the words left the wizard’s mouth, a sentry called from his station, ’Sails ahoy!

‘They’re definitely ogre ships,’ Izzy said, lowering her spyglass.

‘How can you be so sure from this distance?’ Adam asked. ‘Even with a spyglass, they’re little more than specks.’

‘The front ship is the same type as the one we tangled with on the way over.’

Niamh assessed the situation. ’Jonty get as much ammunition to the harbourside artillery as you can. We must stop as many ogres from reaching the shore as possible. Izzy, how long have we got?’

‘Two hours – three at most.’ Izzy took another look through her spyglass. There were dozens of ships on the horizon.

Navarre studied the twenty or so ships that were now less than a mile away. The follet admiral decided what he was going to do and smiled to himself. He may not have been popular with the men who served under him, but they all knew there was no better sailor in any of the three follet navies, and therefore in all of Connacht.

‘First lieutenant,’ he called out.

The lieutenant stood to attention. ‘Aye, sir.’

‘Signal the fleet. I want all the warships to follow me in an attack formation.’

‘Do you think it’s wise to leave the troop and supply ships unprotected, sir?’

‘Do not press your luck, lieutenant. No one questions my orders – not even you. Not unless you are planning a return to the ranks, that is.’

‘I will signal the fleet at once, admiral,’ said the sailor, not needing to be told twice.

Navarre waited until the signal flags were raised, and then ordered his wizard to magically increase the speed of the ship.

First Lieutenant Devereux was not happy about leaving the rest of the fleet unprotected. However, he sounded general quarters and watched with pride as the highly trained and disciplined esprit follet sailors bound into action. He then returned to his post beside his commander.

‘Your men are well drilled, lieutenant,’ said Navarre. ‘I might make a captain out of you yet.’

Thatha–thank you, sir,’ stammered Devereux, quite shocked by the uncharacteristic compliment.

Navarre laughed at the lieutenant’s reaction. ’Don’t worry, Devereux – I assure you my reputation is well deserved, but if you continue to serve me well, your life will not be difficult.’

‘I do my duty to the best of my ability, and hope I continue to please you, sir,’ he said, lowering his head in respect.

‘See that you do,’ replied Navarre, ‘see that you do. Now, let’s send these devils to the bottom of this sea.’

‘Look!’ Dougal shouted, pointing out to sea.

Izzy’s heart sank as she saw dozens of ships on the horizon. For the first time in her life, the brownie felt more fear than excitement at the prospect of a battle. It wasn’t fear for herself, but for her friends.

‘We can’t stop that many,’ she said. ‘We just can’t.’

‘We don’t have to,’ Dougal said. ‘Take a closer look.’

Navarre’s ships tore mercilessly into the almost unarmed ogre vessels, sending half the fleet to an instant watery grave. Those that survived turned with lightning speed and fled back in the direction from which they had come.

‘Why aren’t our ships following them?’ asked Jonty.

’Their job is to protect our troop ships, not chase the ogre fleet around the Albaranian Sea.’

It wasn’t just Dougal and his friends who witnessed the short and violent sea battle. Pasha Javid wondered whether he had left the camp a little too early but decided he hadn’t. The pasha wasn’t concerned about who won the war between the ogres. All that mattered to him was that those who were left would be weakened enough for him to drive them from this land so he could take his rightful place as the sultan of all the yumboes.

Vercingetroix, Ambiorix and Brennus looked on in absolute dismay as the sea war quickly turned against them.

‘It would seem we have underestimated our foe,’ said Vercingetroix. ’Brennus, if you want to stay here and fight for your lost honour, that’s up to you. I’m returning to the king to make sure he knows exactly what we face.’

’My duty to my king is foremost, so I will have to satisfy my honour,’ he replied.

‘We can’t withdraw our men in daylight,’ Ambiorix said.

‘I doubt they will attack us, even if they have reinforcements on those ships,’ Vercingetroix replied. ‘And even if they do, it will take them days to organise themselves, so we will pull out half our troops tonight, and the rest tomorrow night.’

’Which one of us stays until tomorrow?’ asked Ambiorix.

‘I will,’ said Brennus. ‘I brought us here, so I will be the last to leave.’

‘We’ll wait for you at the oasis, two days’ march to the south,’ said Vercingetroix.

Ambiorix needed more answers. ’Who goes with us, and who stays with Brennus?’

’Every second man comes with us – the rest stay with Brennus, if you’re happy with that, Brennus?’

‘It is the way it has always been done,’ the ogre replied. ’It only matters if they come out and fight. I agree with Vercingetroix. They won’t attack us.’

Lieutenant signal the fleet to break off the attack,’ ordered Navarre.

’Aye aye, admiral,’ replied Devereux, wondering why his commanding officer wasn’t going to destroy the ogre fleet while he had the opportunity.

Navarre, seeing the unspoken question in his first lieutenant’s eyes, explained his actions. ’It’s one thing to engage an enemy fleet, but another entirely to chase it to somewhere they know far better than we do. No, first lieutenant – our real job, as you so aptly put it earlier, is to protect our troop ships. But rest assured, as soon as our entire army has landed, I will destroy the ogre navy.’

Less than an hour later, the first of the esprit follet soldiers came ashore. Niamh and Izzy greeted them.

‘I never thought I’d be happy to see him,’ muttered Izzy, as three figures walked towards them.

‘Izzy, don’t start,’ Niamh said sternly, even though she agreed with her friend.

Before Izzy could reply, the three follet men closed the gap, and Prince Gaston said simply, ‘Wizard, princess.’

‘Welcome, Prince Gaston, Lord Mazarin,’ replied Niamh. She turned to the third man. ‘I am sorry, My Lord, but I do not believe we have met.’

‘Only because we couldn’t catch you,’ he replied. ‘Please, allow me to introduce myself. I am Lord Andre Capet. But please, Lady Donegal, call me Andre.’

Gaston rolled his eyes to the heavens. ’For goodness sake, enough!’ he barked. ‘Take me to my quarters!’

’Don’t you mean us?’ Andre asked.

‘No,’ replied the prince. ‘I do not. I want you to make sure all the troops make it ashore tonight. Mazarin will come with me.’

‘I’m afraid your new accommodation will not be to your normal standard,’ Niamh said, as she and Izzy walked with Gaston.

‘You forget, wizard, that whether I like it or not, I am a soldier first and a prince second,’ Gaston replied. ‘Wherever you put me will suffice.’

‘I meant no disrespect, your highness.’

‘Then none is taken, and I see no need for titles when we are not in the presence of my future subjects.’

‘How many men do you have with you?’ Izzy asked.

’Over two thousand – mainly esprit follet, but we are just beginning.’

‘How many more are coming?’

‘There were over ten thousand when we set sail, with hundreds more arriving daily.’

‘So, we will have well over thirteen thousand men when they all arrive,’ said Izzy, thinking to herself that this must be the largest army Connacht had ever seen.

‘But you don’t have three thousand men now?’ asked Gaston, confused.

Yes, we do,’ replied Niamh. ‘We have found a new ally. It appears we are not the only races the ogres have upset.’

‘I thought this was an uninhabited wasteland.’

’I think that is what the yumboe tribesmen wanted us to believe. In the past, they have always hidden when anyone from our lands has explored Mauretania, leading us to believe there was nothing here.’

‘I can see the wisdom in that,’ the prince said. He pursed his lips. ‘However, their self-imposed isolation seems to have left them rather vulnerable.’

Niamh nodded in agreement. ’The ogres have been using captured yumboe tribes as a workforce for years.’

‘Ogres, Rupert’s pixies,’ said Izzy sadly. ‘Different names for a very similar evil. Sometimes I wonder if it will ever end.’

‘Let’s just worry about the ogres for now,’ said Niamh, placing a hand tenderly on Izzy’s arm.

Gaston, Mazarin, Andre, Izzy and Niamh were sitting around a large table, finishing their evening meal, when Dougal and Llewellyn entered the room.

Gaston stiffened as soon as he saw Dougal. Giant,’ he seethed.

‘Prince Gaston,’ replied Dougal, far more confidently than he felt. ‘It’s good to see you.’

’Do not patronise me. We may be on the same side for now, but as soon as we have defeated the ogres, I will settle things with you.’

‘Agreed, I took your precious sword, but you need to get over it.’

’How dare you speak to me like that!’ shouted the prince. He leapt to his feet and drew his sword.

Dougal eyed Gaston and said frostily, ‘Don’t be a fool. I beat you when we were the same size. What chance do you possibly think you would have against me in my present form? You couldn’t hope to compete, even with your wizard to assist.’ Dougal waited for the prince to sit down before he continued. ‘I’m sick of your pettiness. You wouldn’t have lost your sword if you hadn’t tried to keep us in your dungeons.’

‘I was only obeying orders,’ the prince replied. ’And they were not my dungeons.’

‘Were you ordered to chase us halfway around Auvergne?’

‘No, but by then it was a matter of honour.’

‘So, you only obey orders when it suits you.’ It was a statement of fact, not a question.

‘I didn’t know who you were. All I knew is that you were escaping from the dungeons.’

’And I didn’t know who you were when I disarmed you. The only reason I took your sword was because I needed a weapon. I would return it, but since it was magically altered when I was returned to my true size, I doubt that you would be able to lift it, let alone use it in battle.’

‘Now is not the time to discuss this any further,’ Gaston replied firmly.

’Now is exactly the time,’ Dougal countered. ‘Any day we could be fighting shoulder to shoulder; our lives may be in each other’s hands. If I don’t think you have my back, I certainly won’t have yours.’ Dougal then shimmered and disappeared, reappearing directly behind the prince. ‘I think it’s more likely it will be you who needs my help, don’t you?’

Gaston looked at Dougal, weighing up his situation. ’You have my word that while we fight the ogres, I will put our differences aside. My word is my bond. But as soon as we have defeated the ogres, I will have satisfaction.’

‘I accept your guarantee. Now, if you will excuse me, Derry and I are going to have a look into what the ogres are up to.’

As Dougal said this, Derry magically appeared beside him, leaving Gaston in little doubt that when he did eventually confront the leprechaun, he would have to make sure he had Mazarin in a position to take care of the giant wizard. But for now, he had given his word, and he intended to keep it.

‘Izzy, Cameron!’

The two brownie women who were taking their positions on the frontline turned at the sound of the familiar highland brownie accent.

‘It’s Duncan!’ cried Cameron in delight, hugging him tightly as he reached her.

‘Has Robert changed his mind?’ she asked, releasing him from her embrace.

‘Sadly, no,’ Duncan replied. ‘But when I heard what he had done, I went to Archie, Malcolm and Monty. We briefly considered a rebellion, but decided the country wasn’t strong enough for another war, and we’re not willing to kill another brownie. We also thought it would be unfair on you and Izzy.’

‘Why would it be unfair on Izzy?’

‘Because she is the only alternative to Robert that anyone would accept as monarch.’

‘So,’ said Izzy, joining in the conversation. ’The four of you joined the follet army, and here you are?’

’Not exactly. We decided there needed to be more than two brownies fighting in a coalition against a foe that threatens all the free races of Connacht. So, we gathered up everyone we trusted and formed what we call the Free Watch. We are your new bodyguard, Izzy.’

‘How many of you are there?’ asked Cameron.

‘Just under two hundred.’

‘Thank you,’ said Izzy, who was touched by the gesture. ‘But I don’t need a bodyguard. We do, however, need as many men as we can muster. Duncan, I will be proud to lead the Caledonian Free Watch into battle.’

Cameron smiled. ‘So, Duncan, how is life for the average brownie under the rule of Robert?’

‘Far better than it was under Rupert,’ he replied. ‘Most eat well enough and are free to hunt, fish, and farm their fields. The taxes have been raised, but for the most part they can be paid. So far, he seems to have his subjects’ best interests at heart – ifthey don’t inconvenience him, that is.’

‘What about Liz? Any idea what she’s up to?’ asked Izzy through clenched teeth.

‘You mean apart from the fact that she is turning the king, and anyone willing to support you, against you? No. Nothing is known about anything she’s planning. No one actually knows when she even returned, or how she gained the king’s ear.’

‘If she moves against our people, we will deal with her; if not, then we’ll leave her alone,’ Izzy said. ‘Right now, we need to find some quarters for you and your men.’

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