CHAPTER 21 AMBIORIX
’We have to drive these ogres away,’ said Adam, pacing up and down in frustration. ‘We need more space to house our army, and they are in the way.’
‘And we have to do it sooner rather than later,’ agreed Izzy. ‘We’ve hardly enough room to house the troops we have here now, and in days to come we could have thousands more.’
‘Can we be ready at first light?’ Niamh asked.
‘My men are ready now,’ Dylan replied.
‘My warriors are always ready to fight,’ Pasha Ali added.
Prince Gaston looked at his new allies. ‘Your soldiers have been in the field a long time. I believe my troops should lead the attack.’
Niamh hesitated, but only for a moment. ’Yes, of course. Your fresh troops should lead the attack, with fairy and brownie troops on the right flank, and yumboe troops on the left.’
Izzy was about to object but saw the look on Niamh’sface, her eyes saying what words did not.
The officers left to make the necessary arrangements for the following morning’s attack, leaving the two of them alone.
Izzy waited patiently until she was certain everyone was out of earshot. ‘Why would you let him lead the attack?’ she asked, dumbfounded.
‘Partly for his ego, and partly because he’s right. His troops are fresh. But mostly because we’re in for a long fight and we need to keep tension to a minimum.’
’So, we bow to his highness’s every whim,’ Izzy said. She was walking in circles, unable to contain her agitation.
‘Only when it doesn’t matter,’ replied Niamh. ‘One way or another, we have to remove those ogres. I don’t care how we do it, or, for that matter, who gets the credit.’
‘I know. It’s just that I struggle to think of him as an ally. I just don’t like the man.’
‘Neither do I, but Dougal’s right: we need to stand as a united front. It’s the only chance we have against the ogres.’
Brennus watched the last of his army disappear into the black soulless night. The ogre officer had decided he wasn’t going with the rest of his detachment; instead, he would stay behind to observe his surprisingly organised enemy. It was clear that he and his fellow ogres had underestimated the lesser races. He had been taken by surprise twice now and was determined not to let it happen a third time. He knew it would be risky, but it was a risk the brave ogre would gladly take.
‘Is everybody in position?’ Niamh asked.
‘Yes,’ replied Derry. ’Gaston’s runner has just arrived, and he was the last.’
‘Good.’ Niamh pulled her arm forward from beneath her long robe and clicked the middle finger and thumb of her left hand. A flashing red light beamed high into the black sky, lighting it up like a vivid firework display. Seconds later, the sound of firing catapults broke the stony silence.
‘They must have pulled out last night,’ said Izzy, disappointment evident in her voice.
‘Do we go after them?’ Adam asked, looking from Izzy to Niamh.
‘No,’ nodded Niamh. ‘We don’t. It could be a trap to draw us out from behind our defences.’
‘Or they could be running because of our increased numbers,’ Izzy replied.
Niamh agreed, up to a point. ‘Perhaps they are, but we can’t take that chance. We have to remember our first role is to hold this town until the rest of our army arrives, not to engage the enemy.’
‘So, what, we just let them get away and tell their commanders all about us and what we’re doing here?’ Izzy started pacing around, as she always did when she became frustrated.
‘I don’t like it either, Izzy, but there’s nothing we can do about it.’
‘I could go after them with Pasha Ali and his mounted warriors.’
‘There are too many ogres for that to be anything but a disaster. I know you hate sitting back and waiting, but sometimes it’s the best thing to do. I’ll send Phil to follow them. At least that way we’ll know what they’re up to.’
‘Can you at least make me invisible so I can go with him?’ asked the brownie.
Niamh hesitated for a moment. ’I could,if Liam believes Phil’s wing is strong enough to carry you. Phil would have to agree, and you would have to give me your word not to do anything that could put Phil in danger.’
‘So, it’s okay for me to get myself killed, then?’ she said, smiling for the first time since the conversation had begun.
’I’ve given up trying to stop you from taking what I would call extreme risks with your own life.’
’You’re not exactly “Miss Cautious” yourself.’
Niamh laughed, knowing that both she and Izzy, more than anyone else in their ever-growing army, could afford to take a few risks.
‘I don’t know why Niamh insisted we had to wait until nightfall to leave,’ said Izzy, who found the day was one of the longest she had ever known.
’I don’t know, either,’ replied Phil. ’But don’t worry – we’ll catch up to the ogres in no time. I move much faster than they do – even faster than a yumboe warrior on horseback through the desert.’
‘If that’s the case, we could’ve been back by now, rather than being about to leave.’
‘If you’re worried about being out after dark, I can always leave you behind and go by myself.’
‘Sorry, Phil. You know how impatient I get.’
’Everybody knows how impatient you get, Izzy. What I don’t know is why you insisted we come out here to see where the ogres are.’
‘I want to see if they’re trying to lure us out of the relative safety of our encampment to ambush us out here in the desert.’
’No, you don’t; I could’ve done that by myself. You’ve got something planned, and it will be far safer for me if you let me know what it is now, so I’ve got time to prepare for it.’
‘I haven’t got anything planned,’ she insisted.
’Izzy, if you don’t tell me, I’ll turn around and tell Niamh my wing is not up to carrying any passengers.’
‘You wouldn’t dare,’ she said, staring at the dragon, calling his bluff.
Without speaking, the equally stubborn fairy dragon turned and headed back in the direction from which they had just come. When it appeared to Izzy that Phil was indeed going to fly home, she let out a loud huff. ‘All right, all right – I do have a plan.’
‘And what would it be?’ asked Phil, still not turning around.
Izzy paused for emphasis. ‘I’m going to capture an ogre officer. Then, we’re going to carry him back to camp and find out how many of them there actually are, and what they have planned.’
’When you say we, you do realise you mean I will be carrying the ogre and you all the way back to camp?’ said Phil, as he gracefully changed direction, now heading after the retreating ogres. ‘And how do you plan on kidnapping an ogre?’
‘I have a plan in progress. I’m just working on a few minor details.’
’You do realise this isn’t like fighting pixies in a place that you know, and they don’t. These ogres are twice your size, and while you may be able to hold your own against one, one on one in battle, you won’t be able to take on an entire encampment of them.’
‘I have no intention of fighting my way into the camp, taking a prisoner by force, and then fighting my way out again. I’m not some sort of reckless fool, you know.’
‘Fool, no – reckless, yes.’
‘I notice you haven’t turned for home.’
‘But I will if I don’t think your plan will work.’
‘My plans always work. Now, stop distracting me. I need to think.’
The pair continued in a comfortable silence as Izzy racked her brain for a solution, she hoped Phil would find suitable.
After a lengthy pause, Izzy finally spoke. ‘Phil, are ogres superstitious?’
‘In what way?’
‘Do they believe in ghosts?’
‘From what I remember from my history lessons as a young dragon, I believe they seek guidance from the spirits. I think they use cards or boards to communicate with them.’
‘Perfect. I have my plan.’
After a minute’s silence, Phil finally said, ‘Well, are you going to tell me or not?’
’All right. I’m invisible, so I can walk around the ogre encampment without being seen. All I need to do is find the command tent and convince an ogre officer that I’m a ghost and that he must come with me. I lead him to you, you knock him out, and we – sorry, you – carry him back to camp, where we can interrogate him. I’m sure Niamh’smagic will get us all the information we need.’
’That just might work. How long did Niamh say the invisibility spell would last?’
‘At least a week, or until she removes it.’
‘Okay, then – I’m satisfied. We’ll try it, but at the first sign of trouble you have to promise me you’ll get out of there.’
‘Don’t worry. You know me, Phil. Caution first,’ said Izzy, an impish grin on her face.
‘It’s because I know you that I do worry.’
Izzy walked through the ogre camp with little difficulty. The ogres were finishing their nightly meal, leaving the area relatively empty.
As she looked for larger tents that would house the officers, she was distracted by a strong voice saying, ’Twentyone – twenty two.’ She changed direction and headed towards the voice, arriving at a large clearing as the counting reached fifty.
‘Cut him down,’ the booming voice ordered. ‘Bring the next prisoner forward.’
Izzy stopped and stared at a giant of an ogre who was standing on a wooden podium. The ogres that were present had their eyes fixed on him.
This must be the ogre Dougal confronted. Their leader, thought Izzy, watching two guards lead another ogre prisoner forward.
’Gobanitio, you are charged with being late to sentry duty. How do you plead?’ demanded the giant ogre.
‘Guilty, My Lord,’ replied Gobanitio, a resolute look on his face.
’Is there anything you wish me to consider before I pass sentence?’
‘No, My Lord.’
’Gobanitio, because of your record as a fine soldier, and because it’s your first offence, an offence you take full responsibility for, I’m going to be lenient with you. Twenty lashes – ten for each minute you were late – as well as the forfeiture of a week’s wages.’
’Thank you, Lord Vercingetroix. I will not let you down again.’
Izzy watched as Gobanitio walked over to a catapult that had two looped leather straps attached to it. He placed his large hairy arms through the loops, then wrapped the ends around his wrists and took a firm hold. He waited for his punishment to be carried out.
Vercingetroix started counting. With every number came a harsh crack as the ogre’s exposed back was whipped with a birch rod.
Izzy winced with every lash.
Once all twenty lashes had been inflicted, Gobanitio calmly withdrew his hands from his leather bindings. His back bled profusely from open wounds, and some bruising was already beginning to form. He walked over to Vercingetroix, bowed to his commander, and left to return to his post.
Izzy had to admit a grudging respect for their discipline and control. She had seen many things in her relatively short life, but the idea of punishing a soldier in such a way left her speechless. She respected the ogre for the way he had taken his punishment, but twenty lashes for being two minutes late seemed extreme. Not even Rupert had been that hard on his men. To her surprise, rather than looking at his commander with hate, she could see nothing but respect and loyalty – maybe even devotion – in Gobanitio’s eyes. She hoped that this discipline wouldn’t go against her and her friends in the battles that lay ahead.
With the punishment complete, Izzy followed Vercingetroix and a smaller ogre to the command tent.
The ogres entered the tent through two heavy flaps that were each guarded by a sentry. Izzy stopped for a moment, knowing she could walk past the sentries easily enough, but was slightly concerned she couldn’t enter the tent without pushing the flaps aside and alerting the ogres.
Oh well, she thought, as she headed towards the tent. I guess it can’t be helped.
‘I said we were not to be disturbed,’ snapped Vercingetroix, looking toward the tent’s entrance at the sound of the flap being pushed back. Seeing no one, he muttered, ‘Humph – must have been the wind.’
‘Or a spirit,’ suggested the other ogre, a little unsettled.
’How many times do I have to tell you, Ambiorix? There areno spirits!’
‘That’s not what the old ones say.’
‘The old ones are wrong.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘Because I don’t look to old shamans’ reading cards and bones to dictate my actions.’
‘But that has been our way for thousands of years.’
‘And look where it got us: defeated by our greatest enemy and driven into hiding. It wasn’t until King Teutates turned his back on the old ways that we were able to crawl out of our holes and begin to take back what is rightfully ours.’
Izzy took this moment to unsettle Ambiorix, as he seemed the easy target. She studied the inside of the tent until her eyes rested on a couple of candles that were dancing happily in the still air. She smiled, and then blew them out, one at a time.
‘Did you see that?’ Ambiorix almost squeaked.
’Ambiorix, you are starting to annoy me.’
‘But the candles went out by themselves,’ he continued in protest.
Vercingetroix was losing his patience. ‘It was the wind.’
’What? The wind blew out both candles? There is nowind.’
’Ambiorix … I won’t tell you again. Let it go.’
Ambiorix clenched his fist in a tight ball. Deciding he was more afraid of Vercingetroix than of some long-dead ancestor, he let the matter rest.
Izzy waited for the ogres to turn in for the night before she made her next move.
She walked over to Ambiorix, who was now sleeping soundly and snoring so hard she was amazed anyone could possibly sleep with such a noise.
She leaned over and whispered in his disfigured ear. ’Ambiorix,’ she murmured, in what she hoped sounded like a ghostly wail.
The ogre stirred but didn’t wake. She did the same again, this time a little louder, praying she didn’t wake Vercingetroix.
‘What is it?’ mumbled Ambiorix, sleepily swiping a hairy hand over his ear.
‘I’m your spirit guide, and I have come from the spirit world to speak to you on a most urgent matter.’
The terrified ogre sat bolt upright, turning a dirty white with fear.
It took all Izzy’s self-control not to burst out laughing at the sight. ’Ambiorix, there is no need to fear me. I have come to advise you, not harm you.’
’Wha–wha–what do you want?’ he stammered.
‘We cannot talk here; we are in the presence of a non-believer. Follow me,’ she ordered, in a hushed voice.
‘How can I follow something I cannot see?’
Izzy walked over to one of the candles she had blown out earlier, relit it, and then lifted it out of its holder. She walked to the tent’s entrance, looking back to make sure the ogre was following the light.
Izzy made her way out of the tent and then stopped to gather her bearings. The ogre was following so closely he almost stumbled into her.
‘Have you no respect?’ she rasped, stepping aside just in the nick of time to avoid being crushed by the giant of a beast. ‘Keep your distance, or I will curse you, and your family.’
‘I–I–I’m sorry …’ Poor Ambiorix did not know what to do or say. ‘I didn’t mean to offend you, mighty spirit.’
‘Follow,’ Izzy commanded.
So that is exactly what the half-terrified ogre did, all the while praying he was doing so at a safe and respectful distance. Izzy, all the time invisible, held the candle, and led Ambiorix through the last perimeter of the city. They travelled in eerie silence; not even the wind made any sound.
Finally,Ambiorix gathered enough courage to speak. ‘Where are we going?’ he asked, in a terrified voice.
‘You will find out soon enough.’
He continued to follow blindly until his world descended into unforeseen darkne