CHAPTER 22 THE INTERROGATION
When Ambiorix woke, he found himself alone, in total darkness, and securely tied to a wooden chair. The ogre had no idea how long he had been unconscious for, or for that matter where he was. His first thought was that he had somehow upset the spirit and was now being punished. He tried desperately to loosen his bindings, but they only seemed to tighten with each agitated wriggle.
As the first signs of daylight crept through the only window of his room, he anxiously looked around, surprised to find he was a prisoner in a small cell. He furrowed his brow as he assessed his situation and decided it would be highly unlikely that a spirit would lock him in a prison such as this.
Who are my captors? he wondered. He felt his courage returning. He was far less afraid of the living than he was of the dead. ‘Who are you? What do you want?’ he shouted.
The door to his cell creaked and groaned on its rusty hinges. Ambiorix smiled when he saw Dougal, who was followed into the room by Izzy and Niamh.
The leprechaun was surprisedby the grinning ogre; he was expecting him to be terrified after Izzy’s earlier description.
‘You seem to have regained your wits,’ Izzy said, also somewhat surprised at the ogre’s self-assuredness.
The ogre was still grinning from hairy ear to hairy ear when he said, ’So, the spirit of my ancestors appears to be a little brownie girl. I guess I’m fighting in the wrong army,’ he added sarcastically.
‘You seem to have found courage I didn’t believe you possessed.’
’It would seem my learned friend Vercingetroix was right: the old ways and fears are best left in the past.’ He looked directly at Dougal. ’You remember Vercingetroix, don’t you? He’s the one who offered you a way out of this. But I doubt you went to all this trouble to get me here to discuss such things. Why don’t you get to the point and tell me what you want?’
‘We want you to tell us why your people have made war on us,’ Niamh said, moving out from the shadows.
‘We are only taking back what is rightfully ours.’
‘Yours? We have lived here for generations and none of us knew you existed. You abandoned your homelands, so we had every right to claim them for our own.’
The ogre and the wizard eyed each other, neither breaking contact.
‘What you believe matters little to us,’ dismissed Ambiorix. ‘We will reclaim what is rightfully ours. There is nothing you can do to stop us. If you leave our lands, I assure you we will let you leave in peace.’
‘We’re not going anywhere,’ Izzy retorted.
‘That’s a shame. I like you, little brownie. You are brave. I will almost mourn your passing.’
‘How many of you are there?’ asked Niamh before Izzy could reply.
‘More than you can count.’
‘I believe you underestimate my intelligence,’ Niamh replied calmly.
‘I think I will leave our number as a surprise for you. Unfortunately, it won’t be a pleasant one.’
‘You can answer my questions freely or I will resort to more drastic measures.’
‘I’m surprised. I didn’t think you would resort to torture.’
‘Torture?’ Niamh was offended at the mere suggestion. ‘We would never torture a prisoner.’
Ambiorix laughed out loud at her reaction. ’So, you’re going to get me to talk with kindness then?’
‘I am a mage. I have spells that will force you to answer my questions.’
’It will take more than your spells to make me talk. I am an ogre.’
‘One who’s scared of ghosts,’ mocked Izzy.
’I respect the beliefs of our elders, little brownie, but you have helped me see the error of my ways.’ He fidgeted. ‘I’m growing bored with this. Cast your spell, wizard, and be done.’
Niamh smiled and uttered, ’Loquorverum-I,’ waving her hands in a sweeping motion.
The wizard then started with her first question, but, much to her frustration, an hour later, when Gaston and Mazarin entered the small cell, she still hadn’t received a single answer.
‘What have you learnt, wizard?’ Gaston asked.
‘Only that this ogre is resistant to mind-control magic,’ Niamh replied.
‘Maybe you’re not as powerful as you believe,’ scoffed the prince. ‘Mazarin, make it talk.’
The follet wizard looked at his master doubtfully, then cast a spell of his own and began questioning the ogre. Ambiorix looked at Mazarin and laughed even louder.
‘So, shoemaker, did your ancestors run away or stay behind?’ Ambiorix said to Dougal when the frustrated wizards had left the room.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Ignore him, Dougal,’ said Izzy. ‘He’s just trying to bait you.’
‘You’re not the first shoemaker to walk in this world, Do-Gal,’ said Ambiorix, mispronouncing his name. ’Legend has it that generations ago, a shoemaker led his people through this world while running away from a great enemy. Are you a descendant of one of those who ran away and left others behind?’
‘I am a direct descendant of Seamus O’Farrell, the founder of my homeland, the greatest hero of my people. Stop calling me a shoemaker; I am a leprechaun.’
’Do you leprechauns not worry about those you deserted? I would’ve thought a heroic shoemaker like you would have been trying to find the ancestors of the ones O’Farrell left behind, rather than dying fighting someone else’s war.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
’Think about what I’ve said, Do-Gal. You are obviously brave, and if you’re so intent on dying, wouldn’t it be better saving your own people than dying here? Because if you stay, you will die.’
Dougal couldn’t get the ogre’s taunting words out of his mind and was perturbed by what he had suggested. He called the other leprechauns together to discuss it.
‘I know the basics of Seamus’s story,’ he said to them, ‘but I don’t know why he led our people to our homeland. Do any of you?’
Turloch, Cait and Fearghus all shook their heads.
Derry looked at her brother in earnest. ’I vaguely remember ma telling a story when I was little about how Seamus, and someone called Máire, or something like that, saved our people from a great evil and led them on an immense journey to safety. She said she would tell me more when the time was right, but she never mentioned it again. I guess I had forgotten about it until now.’
’I wonder why your mother only told Derry and not you, Dougal – nor, for that matter, anyone else in CaerGorias.’
‘I don’t know,’ shrugged Dougal. ’Remember ma wasn’t from our village, maybe where she came from, they had more stories of their past than we did. What I want to know is why she never mentioned it, or anything else she knows for that matter.’
‘I guess the time wasn’t right,’ said Derry, ‘but I think we should ask her as soon as we get home.’
‘I wonder what happened to those that didn’t get away?’ Cait mused.
‘We have to find out,’ said Turloch.
’Don’t worry, Turloch,’ said Dougal. ‘We will as soon as we can. In the meantime, I’ll try and find out how much the ogre really knows.’
’How are you going to make him tell you anything he doesn’t want to if Niamh couldn’t?’ asked Derry.
’I think he’ll tell us what he knows to get us to desert our friends. I’m willing to let him believe he’ll succeed if it means we’ll learn what he knows. But, just to make sure, I’m going to take him outside and introduce him to Phil.’
‘How will that help?’ asked Fearghus, who up until now had kept silent.
‘Haven’t you listened to anything since we’ve been here?’ snapped Turloch. ‘The ogres were driven into hiding by the fairy dragons in the first place, and they’ve only returned now that the dragons have departed.’
‘So, seeing Phil will hopefully unsettle the ogre enough to make him talk.’
’Dougal, you should take Niamh and Izzy with you too,’ Derry said. ’Turloch’s right. Phil could shake the ogre up enough to make him talk, and, as important as it is to find out what he knows about the leprechauns, at the moment the most important thing is to find out about the ogres we face and what their plans are. We can only find the original home of our people if we live through this battle.’
‘We could do what the ogre wants,’ suggested Fearghus. The other four leprechauns looked at him in shock.
‘How could you even suggest we abandon our friends in their greatest hour of need?’ gasped Cait, stunned that Fearghus would even make such a suggestion.
’They’re not my friends,’ Fearghus bit back. ‘And you can’t tell me Gaston would risk his life for any of us. In fact, the way he looks at Dougal, I half expect him to attempt to kill him in his sleep.’
‘Gaston will put the good of his people ahead of our personal differences,’ Dougal replied confidently.
‘What happens if we defeat the ogres and he and his wizard come after you?’
‘I’ll cross that bridge when, and if, it comes to that, but I won’t put my safety before that of my friends.’
’So, why am Iputting my life at risk for your friends?’
’Because,Fearghus,’ Turloch shouted in an irate pitch, ’you insisted on eavesdropping on your friends, and we knew that if we had left you behind, you would’ve told the whole of CaerGorias about Connacht!’
‘Who would’ve believed me? And what harm would it have done if they had?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Dougal, trying to remain calm and diffuse the situation that had been brewing since they first started out. ‘But some things are better kept secret, and if you had kept Derry’s and mine, you would be safe and sound at home right now, no doubt wondering where we both were.’
Fearghus’s cheeks started to burn as he realised what they said was true. ‘Haven’t you got an ogre to talk to?’ he said contritely.
‘That I have,’ said Dougal. ‘That I have.’
For the second morning in a row, Ambiorix sat alone on the bare mattress, staring out of his tiny window and watching the day come to life.
‘Well, I wonder what today will bring?’ he muttered to himself as his cell door flew open. His eyes went wide as Dougal stormed into his holding pen, almost ripping the door from its hinges.
Dougal drew a knife from his belt, smiling as fear flickered across the ogre’s ugly face. ’Don’t worry, Ambiorix. I haven’t finished with you just yet.’ He cut the ropes that bound the ogre and dragged him out of the room.
Ambiorix tried to break free from the much larger leprechaun’s grip, but with no effect.
Dougal laughed at his efforts. ‘Where do you think you’d go even if you did manage to get away? Past the thousands of highly trained soldiers, many of whom have lost family members in ogre raids? Where are you going to go? It’s a desert out there; you have no food, no weapons and more importantly no water. I doubt you would last a day, but feel free to try.’
‘I will make you pay for this, Do-Gal shoemaker,’ Ambiorix spat, realising his captor was right.
Dougal laughed again, wondering who would be the next to make that threat – one he was starting to hear on a regular basis.
‘When King Teutates brings forth his army, he will drive you and your friends back into the water, where the lucky ones will drown.’
‘From what I’ve seen,’ Dougal countered, ‘ogres fight well against old men, fisher wives and children of the small races. But when it comes to fighting trained warriors, I haven’t seen a single ogre put up much of a challenge. It wasn’t that long ago you and your two friends were telling the same story and then,’ he paused, ’you ran away. So, you’ll understand why I find it hard to take your threats seriously.’
‘We didn’t run. We saw what we came to see, and my comrades will now inform my king of the numbers so he can decide how best to deal with you.’
‘You’ve seen only our advance force, a small fraction of the army he will face.’
‘And our numbers will be the least of his surprises,’ said Phil, appearing out of thin air.
‘You look surprised to see my friend,’ said Izzy, stepping out of the shadows of a nearby building that she was taking cover in. ‘You didn’t think I carried you back to the camp all by myself, did you?’
The ogre was quiet for some time. ’So, you have a rogue dragon in your ranks. But one dragon will hardly stop an ogre army, now, will it?’
‘What makes you so certain that I’m the only one?’ asked Phil.
‘Because I know that, even if you don’t, the other dragons fear the dark ones more than they hate my kind, and they are truly wise to do so.’
’Who are the dark ones?’ asked Izzy.
But no one answered her question.
‘Fairy dragons fear nothing,’ Phil told the ogre.
’Then why are you the only one left in the world your kind lived in for more generations then the little brownie’s people can count?’
‘Again, I ask you: what makes you think I am the only one?’
’Because if there had been more rogues like you, they would have defended the fairy villages my people destroyed.’
‘What do you know about my people’s departure?’ Phil went on, desperate to discover what happened.
‘More than you, it would appear,’ replied the ogre, knowing he was in control of this exchange.
‘Who are these dark ones?’ asked Niamh, who had been standing unseen behind the ogre.
The ogre completely ignored Niamh and did not take his eyes off Phil. ’Where were you when the dragons ran away?’