CHAPTER 24 OGRES ON THE MARCH
Hundreds of large elephants, each dragging artillery of every shape and size, were accompanied by thousands of ogres marching proudly to war. They were followed by ogres riding smaller elephants.
‘I believe it’s time for us to mount and head your army,’ Vercingetroix said to the king.
Teutates nodded and climbed onto his elephant. ‘It’s been too long since I have ridden,’ he said, settling himself into position.
‘War elephants are truly magnificent beasts, are they not?’
‘That they are. I can see our enemy running from them in terror.’
‘I hope you are right, but I fear our enemy is made of far stronger substance than we had expected.’
‘You give them too much credit, my friend,’ said the king.
‘Again, I hope you’re right. If not, our victory will cost us more than we first anticipated.’
’Is reclaiming our birth right not worth any cost?’
‘Of course. I would gladly give my life to reclaim our heritage.’
‘I would rather the cost be paid by them than us,’ Teutates said soberly. ‘Will we be clear of the jungle by nightfall?’
Vercingetroix looked at his friend and said, ’If we march without stopping, we will.’
Phil saw the lights from the port before him. He had flown for nearly three days, only stopping to drink when he passed an oasis that had fresh water. All he had eaten was a couple of lone sheep that he found drinking at one of the waterholes.
He was surprised at the changes that had been made in his absence. He had been gone less than a month, in which time the port had grown into a well-walled, fortified city. He could sense that magic had been used to build the new walls, and he knew it wasn’t fairy magic alone. As he flew closer, he saw that the ramparts and turrets were manned by hundreds of soldiers.
He arrived at the city and wasted no time in searching for Niamh. He found her with Derry, working with over a hundred wizards to magically strengthen a newly completed section of wall.
’Niamh,’ he said, appearing before the wizard. ‘They’re coming.’
Niamh looked up in surprise. ‘Where have you been?’
’I followed the retreating ogres back to their city, and then I watched and waited. Three days ago, their army left. I believe they’re coming here.’
’At least fifteen thousand, of which some of them are mounted on elephants with very nasty-looking tusks.’
’Derry, go and get Dougal and Liam. Phil, you get Izzy and Cameron. I’ll gather the pixies, follets and yumboes. We’ll meet in the council chambers in one hour. Hurry.’
‘We should ride out and meet them in the desert,’ said Prince Clotaire, the Merovingian commander.
‘I agree,’ said the Carolingian commander, Prince Pipin.
‘You are both fools,’ Prince Gaston spat. ‘Why would we leave the most defendable place in this cursed desert, leaving our supply routes behind?’
‘We outnumber the ogres,’ Pipin argued. ‘And we need to crush them quickly.’
‘We don’t outnumber them enough,’ said Dougal, hardly believing he was supporting Gaston. ‘We should stay here.’
‘They will lay siege,’ Clotaire countered.
‘Let them,’ said Izzy. ‘We can pick them off one by one. We control the sea lanes, so we won’t run out of supplies.’
The council was about to hold a vote as to what action to take when the doors to the chambers opened. Two fully armoured pixie knights entered.
’I thought you were staying in Tudorland?’ said Izzy, instantly realising who it was.
‘I’ve left Sir Oliver in command,’ Sir John replied.
‘Is it safe for you to be away?’ Niamh asked. ‘Will those who oppose you not try and take advantage of your absence?’
‘I think that even those who want to return to the old ways fear the ogres too much to strike now.’
’She has returned to Sarasidhe until this matter is over.’
‘Her father will be pleased to see her. He misses her greatly,’ Niamh replied.
Gaston interrupted, ignoring the fact that they were in the middle of a conversation. ‘How many men have you brought with you, pixie?’
’One hundred knights, all with mounts, and another five hundred-foot soldiers.’
‘Is that all?’
‘There are already over five thousand pixies here with more still to arrive, but many will remain at home in case we fail here,’ John replied calmly. ‘You can’t tell me your entire army is here?’
Gaston looked at John, ignoring his question.
Niamh filled the knight in about the advancing ogre army and the discussions that had taken place moments before. ‘You have arrived in time to vote,’ she told him.
Of all those present, only Pipin and Clotaire voted to take the attack to the ogres.
‘It’s decided, then,’ said Niamh, standing to leave the room. ‘Go and tell your commanders of our decision.’
The allied army, now close to twenty thousand in number, spent the next week finishing off the city defences and making the final preparations for the impending battle.
The ellyllon miners and pixie engineers, with the help of Dougal, Fearghus and Turloch, spent their time burying row after row of large logs deep into the desert sand. The ends of these poles had been sharpened to a deathly point and spaced at intervals that would allow the smaller races to slip easily through but would be almost impassable for the ogres and their elephant cavalry.
Dougal wasn’t sure if they’d be able to secure the poles in the soft sand, but any problems they encountered were soon rectified by a contingent of pixie and fairy wizards.
As the last pole was being lowered into the sand, Phil landed beside his friend. ‘Dougal, they’ll be here in three days – four at the most.’
‘And we’ll be ready for them. I can’t believe what we’ve achieved.’
‘We couldn’t have done it without the hundreds of wizards that helped,’ Turloch said, wiping the sweat from his brow with his dirty sleeve.
‘And don’t forget the twenty thousand workers,’ Fearghus added.
Dougal looked fondly at his friends. ‘I’m still amazed, and I think the ogres will think twice before they attack the city.’
‘They’ll still fancy the odds,’ said Phil. ‘The walls and spikes will certainly give them pause, but they’ll still think the numbers are in their favour.’
‘It will be good if they do underestimate us,’ said Llewellyn. ’Overconfidence can be your greatest enemy. The longer we can hold out, the more it will affect their morale. However, it’s just as important we don’t start to believe our defences are going to hold them out forever. They’ll eventually breach our spikes and maybe even our walls, and we need to be ready and organised when they do. If we panic, all could be lost, and our homelands could ultimately fall.’ He paused. ‘I will die before I see my people slaves again.’
Brennus watched from the desert as his enemy turned what had once been a tiny, insignificant port into a major city. He watched the leprechaun, fairy wizard, small blonde brownie and newly arrived pixie knight oversee the building of the defences, as well as organise the ever-growing army. He knew his army had to somehow kill or capture the enemy leaders and reduce them to little more than a rabble so he could sweep them effortlessly back into the sea from which they had come.
But there was a prize even more inviting. The ogre had watched his enemy for well over a month, and in that time, he had seen the one thing he never dreamt he would see. Deep down he admitted it had frightened him, but it excited him far more. It had been over a thousand years since one of his kind had seen the great enemy, and on that occasion, things had not ended well for his people. But here they faced the lesser races that would fall before the ogres like crops at the harvest. The shoemakers would fight well, but there were not enough of them to make a difference. As for the dragon, the great enemy, there was but one. He would have the honour of sending it to meet its ancestors in the knowledge that the ogres had returned to take back the world that was rightfully theirs. Yes, he admitted to himself, the dragon terrified him, but that fear would only make him stronger.
Teutates and Vercingetroix rode side by side at the front of their imposing army. The ogres marched in groups ten wide by ten deep. An ogre officer who wore a golden cape signifying his rank led each group; an unarmed soldier who carried a standard accompanied him. It was considered a great honour to be a standard-bearer. The right was normally granted to heroic warriors now past their prime, or sons of important ogres. Every unit had a slightly different standard, and it was King Teutates who personally presented them.
The army had marched at an impressive rate and was now less than three days from their destination.
‘The advance guard should’ve already reached the port,’ Vercingetroix said to the king as they rode.
‘Are you sure they can remain unseen? We don’t want to let the enemy know how close we are.’
‘I picked my best scouts for the job. They’ll be able to observe the enemy unseen – of that I am sure. As for us, however, they probably know exactly where we are and what our number is already.’
Teutates looked at his friend in shock. ‘How?’
‘The dragon. He could be watching us now and we’d never know. If I had an advantage like that, I’d use it. The shoemaker and the fairy wizard are not stupid; they’ll make use of every advantage they have.’
‘Will they leave their defences and attack us while we march?’
‘No. If they were going to do that, they would’ve done so already.’
‘Do they stand a chance behind their walls?’
‘Not with our numbers and siege equipment, they don’t.’
‘So, if they have no chance, why have they come here?’
‘Because it’s preferable to waiting for us to go to them. Mind you, I think if they had realised our numbers, they may have changed their minds.’
The ogre army advanced until nightfall before taking their rest.
The king sat on a throne behind a large trestle that was laden with the finest of food and wine. The silk-lined marquee was lit by dozens of candles casting a warm glow, sending shadows dancing on the sandy floor. Teutates may have left the city behind, but he brought as many of his luxuries as possible. It took ten large elephants alone to carry his personal equipment, but he was determined to at least be comfortable by night, if not by day.
The king was finishing his second gold- and diamond-encrusted goblet of red wine when a guard entered the tent. ‘My Lord,’ he said, as he bowed his head in servitude. ’Vercingetroix and Brennus reporting, your highness.’
‘Send them in.’
The guard bowed again before leaving the marquee.
‘Eat, drink,’ ordered the king when Brennus and Vercingetroix entered. ’There is plenty for all, and you look as if you haven’t eaten a real meal in weeks, Brennus.’
’Thank you, Teutates. It’s true – it’s been a while since I sat at a table like this, and I am sick of raw desert rat. It will be good to taste cooked food again.’
‘I’ve always said you were too soft,’ Vercingetroix chided. The ogres all laughed at the friendly banter.
‘So, my friend – what have you learnt about the enemy?’ the king asked, once all plates and goblets were full.
‘They are well organised, well led and work hard. Since you left, they have turned their semi-fortified port into a fully fortified city,’ Brennus replied.
‘How is that possible?’
‘Magic,’ said Brennus. ‘And almost twenty thousand soldiers working night and day.’
‘Even so,’ said Vercingetroix. ‘I find it hard to believe.’
‘Had I not seen it for myself,’ Brennus responded, ‘I wouldn’t have believed it, either.’
‘Bah,’ dismissed Teutates. ’Their walls cannot stop us. We are ogres.’
Vercingetroix and Brennus exchanged a knowing glance. They had fought those behind the city walls and knew better than to underestimate them.
Dougal, Phil, the other leprechauns, Niamh and six other wizards, who could all make themselves invisible, went out into the desert to investigate their opposition. They weren’t intending to confront them – just to cause a little mayhem.
Dougal crept towards the first line of ogre sentries. Derry, Dougal thought, knowing his sister was reading his mind. Tell the others to stay where they are until I take care of the sentries.
Are you sure you can take them both? Derry replied.
I’ll be fine. It’s quite an advantage when you’re invisible and much bigger than your prey.
Just be careful, warned Derry. Don’t take any stupid risks.
Derry watched, as seconds later two ogre guards seemed to voluntarily bang their heads together before slumping into the soft sand.
Are they dead? she asked her brother.
No. I didn’t hit them hard enough.
What are we going to do with them? If someone finds them, they’ll know we’re here.
It would be more obvious if they found two dead guards. But don’t worry – I’ve got a plan. Dougal took a skin of wine from his backpack and tipped it over the unconscious guards until they smelt like a brewery. When they’re found, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. Drinking on duty is an offence in any army, let alone the strict ogre one.
They’d most probably be better off dead, thought Derry, feeling a little sorry for the unconscious pair.
Derry. This time it was Niamh’sthoughts that probed the young leprechaun’s mind. Tell everybody to gather by the fallen guards. It’s time to decide exactly what we’re going to do here.
The leprechaun wizard did as requested, and within minutes the invisible group had gathered.
‘What do we do now?’ Bridie asked.
‘I think that now we know where they are, we should go back and warn the others.’ Fearghus moved his weight from one foot to the other anxiously, a pensive look on his face.
’No, not yet,’ nodded Dougal. ‘We need to do something to them, even if it’s only a token gesture.’
‘I wish Izzy was here,’ said Derry. ‘She’d know what to do.’
‘This is one time we don’t need Izzy to stir things up,’ said Niamh. ‘Here’s what we’ll do. Bridie and I will burn a few of their tents to create a distraction while the rest of you destroy as many of their supplies as you can.’
Phil and the leprechauns left the wizards and entered the ogre camp. Even though they were invisible, they kept to the relative safety of the shadows as a matter of habit. It took them a little over half an hour to find the supply wagons, the gloominess of the cloudless night hindering their speed.
’Imagine if they lived in our world,’ Fearghus gasped, as he saw what the yumboes called elephants for the first time. ‘They’d be gigantic!’
Derrytell him to shut up, Dougal communicated telepathically to his sister, as he scanned the area to make sure no ogre had heard his friend.
I already have, she replied.
Good. Tell everyone to get ready. We’ll give Niamh ten minutes; then, while you’re using your magic to destroy the supplies, the rest of us will try and scatter the elephants.
Minutes later, the wizards set the ogre tents alight. The black sky soon took on a whitish tinge as flames leapt and danced to a rhythm of their own. Confused by the sudden inferno, ogres, including the guards who were protecting the supplies, started to run in all directions.
‘Derry, now!’ Dougal ordered.
Derry and Phil piled up the supplies so that they could destroy as many as possible. The heat got more intense and the smell of scorched canvas and wood filled the air.
Phil lifted entire wagons, two at a time, placing them on top of each other, while Derry used her magic rather than strength to do the same.
As the dragon and wizard worked to destroy the supplies, Dougal and the other three leprechauns headed for the elephants.
‘Dougal,’ whispered Turloch, who no longer had Derry to relay his messages in silence. ‘How are we going to get them to move without us being crushed?’
‘Let me try,’ said Cait. ‘Liam has taught me how to talk to birds, so maybe I can talk to elephants.’
Dougal was hesitant, but only for a moment, knowing full well how headstrong Cait was. ‘It’s worth a try, but please be careful. Leave as soon as it gets too dangerous.’
Cait took a deep, steadying breath, and then moved towards the huge beasts, careful not to alarm them. Even though she knew they couldn’t see her, she reasoned they could probably sense her presence. She kept her eyes on the animals in case of an attack.
As she reached the first one, she stopped to make sure the elephant was calm. She rested her hand on its trunk, stroking it lightly, then made her way to its large floppy ear.
‘Go home, my friend, and take your friends and family with you,’ she whispered in a quiet, soothing tone.
The elephant seemed to understand. It nodded its enormous head up and down before raising its trunk, letting out a loud, trumpeting sound. It then lowered its trunk, swung it from left to right, turned its colossal grey body and lumbered off.
At least half of the other elephants followed, linking their trunks around the thin tail of the elephant in front, until there was the most spectacular sight of a convoy of the animals.
Cait smiled contentedly as she walked over to the remaining elephants to talk to them, but before she had a chance to do so, Derry pitched a fireball into the supplies and warned the others telepathically that it was time to leave.
‘How much damage have they done?’ Teutates snapped in irritation as he ran his hairy hands through his mottled hair.
‘Little,’ Vercingetroix replied. ‘Far more an inconvenience than a setback. The elephants will be recaptured within days, and the supplies will be replaced when the next wagons arrive.’
‘And the guards who were drunk?’
‘They have been dealt with,’ replied Brennus. ’They will never drink on duty again. Actually, they’ll never do anything again.’
‘Good,’ said Teutates, feeling somewhat appeased. ‘Now, is there any sign of the raiders?’
‘A few tracks in the sand,’ Brennus answered, ‘but most have been covered by the wind.’
‘I want them found,’ the king said forcefully.
‘Then go to their city, because that’s where you’ll find them.’
The king looked at Brennus, surprised by his confidence. ‘You think you know who it was?’
‘Of course. It was the shoemaker and the wizard,’ Brennus replied. ’You remember the shoemaker, don’t you, Vercingetroix?’
‘Yes,’ Vercingetroix replied. ‘He is a worthy foe.’
’And the first I’ve ever met who doesn’t fear the mighty Vercingetroix.’
‘Oh, but he will, my friend,’ said Vercingetroix. ‘He will.’