CHAPTER 23 KING TEUTATES
Izzy and Niamh looked down from the wall of the newly built keep and watched the swarm of activity below.
What had been a small port several months ago was now a bustling, thriving city, home to many different races. Soldiers from nations, who normally wouldn’t tolerate each other, worked tirelessly shoulder-to-shoulder building houses and barracks to accommodate the ever-growingarmy. The keep had been built as added fortification. But it wasn’t just soldiers who arrived into the booming metropolis. Day by day, hundreds of merchant stalls, bakeries and taverns were springing up, as armies needed supplies and men and women needed food and drink, as well as clothing, shoes and other necessities.
‘I never thought I’d be fighting in an army that contained more pixies than brownies,’ said Izzy. ‘It still makes me a little uncomfortable.’
‘I know what you mean,’ replied Niamh. ‘But look how well they’re working together. I was in one of the new taverns last night having a meal with Adam and Dylan. There was a table of five next to ours, and not one of them was the same race. They were drinking together like they were the oldest of friends. All were veteran soldiers, Izzy; some must have fought against each other in the last war. The old scars are healing thanks to pixies like Sir John, fairies like Amber, and most of all brownies like you.’
‘Yes, Izzy, like you. Caledonia isn’t even fighting in this war, but here you are risking your life. I know you’ve been exiled, but that doesn’t mean you have to fight our fight.’
’I would never abandon my friends.’
‘These friends are fairy, leprechaun and even pixie, are they not?’
‘Yes. Your point?’
Niamh smiled. She gestured at an area in the distance. ’Look at Adam drilling the new recruits from Sarasidhe.’ She handed her spyglass to Izzy.
‘He’s a far harder drill master than I ever thought he’d be,’ Izzy observed.
‘But they’ll be ready when the time comes.’
‘How are your new charges coming along?’ Izzy asked, referring to the three hundred fairy and pixie wizards who had arrived recently and were now under the wizard’s command.
‘I’ve only just managed to split them into six detachments, based on individual ability, so I know where to deploy them. I don’t know if I could’ve done it without the help of Derry and Bridie.’
‘So, who’s the hardest taskmaster out of those two?’
‘Bridie, and she loves it,’ Niamh laughed. ‘She claims she’s only teaching them the way I taught her. As for Derry, she’s working with the most experienced wizards, so for her it’s more a case of battle tactics and what spells to memorise. Derry gets stronger every day. Even I find it hard to believe that she’s only been using her magic for the last two years.’
‘She had a good teacher,’ Izzy said, smiling.
‘I started her lessons, but that’s all. All she had when she left us two years ago was a few spell books that I had given her. I didn’t think she’d be able to understand even the intermediate spells, but when she returned, not only had she been able to read the most complicated spells; she could also cast them.’
’Wow – this is something. She seems to have impressed the great Niamh Donegal,’ Izzy teased.
‘If you refer to me like that again, I will forever refer to you as Princess Isabella,’ Niamh replied, giving as good as she got. ‘But, yes, you’re right: Derry is far more talented than any fairy mage I’ve ever met.’ Niamh changed the subject. ‘I told Liam I’d inspect his new infirmary. Do you want to join me?’
‘I believe he calls it a “hospital” – and, yes, I’d love to.’
’You’re right. He learnt the word “hospital” from that druid ghost of his.’
‘I bet if we had his ghostly friend here now, we’d be able to get that ogre to talk,’ Izzy muttered as she climbed down the stairs of the keep.
Liam and Cait were tending to patients who were suffering from various degrees of sunburn or injuries that they had sustained from the training fields, when Niamh and Izzy arrived at the hospital.
‘Welcome to our hospital,’ Liam said proudly as the two women entered a sparse white room, which had many other rooms equally as white and sparse leading off it.
‘Liam, this is very impressive,’ Niamh said, genuinely astonished by what she saw.
During the planning of the hospital, the fairy druid had insisted on a building large enough to cope with the numbers that would undoubtedly be injured in the upcoming battles.
’Cait, can you cope here while I show our visitors around?’
‘Of course, Liam. Go – enjoy.’ She smiled warmly at the three of them.
‘Our first stop will be the main laboratory,’ Liam explained as he led the way through the sterile white hall. An unfamiliar herbal scent wafted through the air and invaded their nostrils.
Izzy was intrigued. ‘What happens in there?’ She had never been in such a place before.
As they entered the laboratory, dozens of Liam’s apprentices worked, some over burning cauldrons adding ingredients to bubbling liquids, others casting spells over vials and bottles of various colours and sizes. A third group of druids ladled ingredients into the final potion containers.
‘We’re preparing healing and other potions – some that have never been created before, but will no doubt be needed in the coming months,’ Liam said.
‘I can have some of my wizards assist,’ Niamh offered, but Liam politely declined, explaining, not for the first time, that druids’ magic didn’t work in the same way as hers did.
They left the preparation room and entered the storage room, where blankets, bandages, completed potions and other equipment was housed in neat and orderly rows.
‘We’re almost ready to start distributing the healing elixirs to the soldiers,’ Liam went on. ‘We hope to be able to supply two of each vial to everyone, as well as assigning a druid to as many detachments of troops as possible.’
‘You’ve done a tremendous job, Liam, you really have.’ Niamh was both pleased and proud of her learned friend and knew she could learn much from him.
Finally, he took them into a scrolling room. Ten druids were each sitting at a wooden desk, copying words from books onto small, specially prepared pieces of parchment.
‘Anyone can drink the potions, but only the druids can use the scrolls. The scrolls are much more powerful than the potions and will only be used on the most seriously injured,’ Liam explained. ’This is where your wizards will be able to assist, Niamh. Their experience will be invaluable.’
Wizards had copied spells for as long as paper had existed; they knew the importance of copying a spell exactly, for in the past, failure to do so had cost more than one mage their life.
‘I will send my best scroll writers to you at once,’ Niamh told him. ‘They will be at your disposal.’
After an hour of touring the hospital, Niamh and Izzy said their goodbyes, leaving the druid to his work. Niamh went to organise the scroll writers for Liam, while Izzy went to see Cameron, who had taken command of what was now being called the Brownie Voluntary Army, or BVA for short.
Vercingetroix went down on his right knee, his head lowered; he could feel the eyes of every ogre in the room burning into him. Twenty-four guards lined the walls of the room, all standing as still as stone statues in their gleaming golden armour. They each had a golden scabbard concealing a beautifully constructed long sword strapped to their thick waists, and all carried a spear in their right hand and a golden shield in their left.
The blood-red carpet that covered the floor was bordered on both the left and right by three rows of white marble pews, each higher than the one before. On each pew sat ten ogres. The front row wore robes that were the same colour as the carpet. The ogres in the second row wore robes of forest green, while those in the third wore robes of sky blue.
Vercingetroix cared nothing for the guards, or for the senators, for that matter. They all feared him far more than he did them. He could have rightfully donned the red robes that were worn by the highest ranking, but even they were weak, and he wanted nothing to do with them. They were figureheads and nothing more. True, they had a vote in all the important matters of state, but no one ever voted against the ogre directly before him.
At first glance, King Teutates’ throne appeared to be made of solid gold. However, embedded in the gold were millions of small red flecks that danced in the light of the hundreds of candles that lit the grandiose room. According to legend, the ancient throne was made at the command of an ogre king who had captured a young fairy dragon prince and had the dragon’s scales removed one by one while the dragon was still alive. He then had them set inside the throne.
The king looked to be past his prime but looks can be deceiving. He wore a loosely fitting, fine scarlet robe with golden lining and a matching cape. Under his robes, he wore a suit of impossibly thin magical chain mail. It was said there wasn’t a weapon made that could pierce it.
The king was not large by ogre standards – in fact, he was almost dwarfed by Vercingetroix – but there was little doubt who was in control.
’I gather you’re not here to tell me you’ve driven the insects back into the sea, Vercingetroix?’
The ogre captain looked his king directly in the eye. ‘No.’
Several senators gasped, shocked by what they believed to be a complete lack of respect shown to their king.
The king kept his smile to himself. He, like Vercingetroix, despised the senate and only kept them for appearances as long as they didn’t oppose him.
‘Why have you failed me?’
‘I don’t believe I have,’ replied Vercingetroix, who then added, ’My Lord,’ more for the senators than the king. It wasn’t that the ogre soldier didn’t respect his king; he simply wasn’t one for niceties, and knew Teutates, his closest and oldest friend, respected this.
‘If you have not failed me, how is it that the invaders are still occupying my port?’ Teutates said, more coldly than Vercingetroix would have liked.
‘I believe it was more important to inform you of the true situation, my king.’
‘I didn’t send you reinforcements by sea for you to return without taking the port.’
‘They never arrived, your highness.’
‘What?’ he barked.
’The troop ships were sunk by warships that were escorting those bringing thousands more enemy soldiers – and there is more. When we arrived at the port, we faced an army consisting of mainly fairy and yumboe. The soldiers onboard the ships were fairy, pixie and follet.’
‘So, the races have joined together in a vain attempt to defeat us?’
‘Yes, your highness, but there is more. When I gave them a chance to surrender and serve as our slaves, a shoemaker confronted me. Although he was young, he carried himself with a regal air and didn’t appear to be in the least bit frightened of me.’
‘Something you are unaccustomed to,’ Teutates said grimly, not happy about this latest development. ‘Did you see others?’
‘I saw one other: a wizard, I believe. She was without doubt the shoemaker’s sister.’
‘A regal warrior and a wizard? Perhaps the old shoemaker prophecy is coming to pass.’
‘If it is, it doesn’t concern us,’ said Vercingetroix. ‘But I doubt there are many shoemakers. None of my scouts reported seeing any.’ The captain paused before continuing. ’There is, however, one more thing I have to report. I was woken in the night by what I first thought was Ambiorix sleepwalking, so I followed him. He appeared to be talking to himself as he walked out into the desert, where he collapsed, as if struck by a heavy object. Before I could reach him, he was lifted into the sky by something unseen.’
‘Not unless he was two hundred feet tall.’
‘Then the rumours are true.’
‘I believe so.’
‘At least one fairy dragon remained.’ The king was now smiling. ‘I want it taken alive. It’s about time I had a new throne.’
King Teutates then addressed the rest of the room. ’I want everything Vercingetroix has told this gathering about the dragon and the shoemaker kept within these four walls. Anyone who disobeys will die by my hand – and that includes even the highest-ranked of you.’
Vercingetroix looked menacingly around the room, taking in every face. ‘I will personally bring anyone foolish enough to disobey your order directly to you, my king,’ he said solemnly.
Teutates turned to the senate, eyeing them all with undisguised contempt. Then he addressed Vercingetroix. ‘You were right to return and inform me of these developments. It’s decided, then. The senate has just voted unanimously,’ he said in a matter-of-fact tone that left no room for debate. ‘We mobilise the entire army and march. We’ll destroy the fools now that they’ve so kindly gathered themselves together in one place. Now that we don’t have to build an armada to get to them, this is going to be far easier than I imagined.’
No one in the room dared question the king.
‘We’re finished here. You’re all dismissed,’ Teutates said, waving his hands to discharge those seated in the pews. ‘Not you, captain. I want to talk to you privately in my chambers.’
As the senators and guards filed out of the senate, the king stood up, removed himself from his throne, and walked over to a huge tapestry, one of many that hung on the senate walls. The tapestry was beautifully hand stitched in vibrant silk cottons. It depicted the scene of an ancient ogre king standing over a cowering fairy dragon, a mighty sword raised high above his head. The eyes of the dragon were made from black onyx that enhanced the terror in the creature’s eyes. There was no doubt the poor beast knew it was about to suffer a slow and painful death at the hands of the king.
Teutates pushed aside the heavy tapestry, revealing a secret door. He took a key from deep within his robe and unlocked the door.
The king led Vercingetroix down a mutely lit narrow corridor that led into a small room on the right-hand side.
The room was elaborately decorated with plush velvet furnishings and fittings, some a darker shade than others, but all the colour of violet.
‘Sit,’ the king said, pulling out a cushioned chair from the aubergine-coloured table. ‘Would you like something to eat or drink?’
Vercingetroix took his seat. ‘No, Teutates. I do not require anything.’
‘Good. Let’s get to the point, then. How soon can you get the army moving?’
‘The army is almost fully mobilised; they should be able to march within a week. It will take us two weeks to reach the port.’
’This is all happening far faster than I intended. I didn’t expect the lesser races tounite like this. I thought we would have been able to build our fleet and then pick them off one at a time.’
‘It will make little difference, Teutates. Their only hope was the element of surprise, and they’ve lost that. All they’ve done is help us end this quickly.’
‘I’m sure you’re right, my friend, but we’ll leave enough of my army here to defend our city, in case they have a second army.’
’A wise precaution, although I doubt, they even know our city exists.’
‘They found our docks,’ countered the king.
‘The fairy dragon must’ve followed one of the raiders.’
‘He could’ve followed you.’
‘I hope he did.’
‘Because if he did, and if he flies back to the others, they might march on our city, and then we’ll be able to catch them in the open without any defences. They’ll be like lambs to the slaughter.’
The king nodded. ‘I want the dragon taken alive.’
‘He will be my gift to you.’
‘A gift I will gladly accept.’
Almost three weeks had passed since Phil had left his friends, scarcely even saying goodbye. He couldn’t bear the thought of having to answer questions they would inevitably ask. He would have wanted to defend his father, but deep down he knew the fairy-dragon king cared little for the fairies he promised to protect.
Phil tried to understand the reasons for everything that had unfolded in the past, but he didn’t like the conclusions he came to. He remembered the day his father had caught him in his private library as if it was yesterday; it was the beginning of the breakdown in their relationship. Phil wished he could remember more of what he found in the room, but his only memory was a picture of a beautiful fairy creature with wings.
The fairy dragon was shaken from his thoughts as the gates that separated the jungle from the city opened. The first of the ogre soldiers marched down the paved road, followed by the rest of the giant army. Phil took to the sky to avoid being trampled.
He circled for two hours as the army spewed out of the city. Finally, he had seen enough. He flew off, knowing he had to warn his friends as soon as he could.