The Ogre Wars

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Izzy looked down from the summit of the city walls. ‘I hate waiting,’ she said, pacing impatiently up and down. ’Why don’t they just get on with it? It’s been two days, and all they do is sit there and look at us. Sure, they fire the odd catapult rock and we return the favour; but, seriously, what are they waiting for?’

‘Probably supplies,’ Cameron replied, grinning, knowing how frustrated Izzy was. ‘And still trying to round up their mounts, no doubt.’

As Cameron said this, three elephant riders rode forward, one holding a white flag.

‘These guys do love to talk, don’t they?’ said Izzy, wasting no time as she left the wall to join those who would go and meet the ogres.

The gates closed behind Dougal, Niamh, Izzy, Sir John and the three esprit follet princes as they re-entered the city.

‘It’s always the same, isn’t it?’ grumbled Dougal. ’The big threats of leave now or die. I don’t know why they bother. They know we’re not going to simply give up and go away. It’s all just a waste of time.’

‘It’s their attempt to frighten and unsettle us. We used to do it all the time,’ Sir John replied. He had fought in King Rupert’s army, of which he was not proud. It did, however, teach him how the evil and greedy thought.

‘As if the sight of thousands of ogres camped outside our gates wasn’t enough to do that,’ Niamh laughed.

’You’re just getting soft in your old age,’ laughed Izzy.

Sir John looked at Gaston, who rode beside him. ‘Actually, apart from the leprechauns, she is younger than any of us here.’

The follet prince looked at the wizard, and not for the first time wondered how she had obtained so much power by such an early age. Gaston thought that had she been Auvergnen, he would have been able to reunite the three esprit follet nations under not only one flag, but more importantly one king.

Gaston wasn’t like King Rupert, or even the ogres. He didn’t dream of ruling the world; he just wanted his people united, and if he was their king, all the better.

The prince’s gaze rested on the leprechaun he had come to despise. How old was he? Looking at him, he realised Dougal looked more a boy than a man.

He can’t be twenty, the prince thought to himself. He is brave for one so young, but when this is over, he will still have to pay for the dishonour he’s brought me.

‘Here they come!’ a loud voice shouted from the city walls, shaking the prince from his musing.

Llewellyn, and two hundred of his best ellyllon longbowmen, watched as the first lines of ogres started to advance. The archers were positioned immediately behind the spikes and were well camouflaged by hooded cloaks specially developed by the fairy druids. According to Liam, the cloaks worked like the skin of animals, blending into their surroundings, making the archers almost invisible to predators.

‘Steady,’ Llewellyn ordered. ’Wait for my order and make every arrow count.’ He raised his right arm and waited until the first line of ogres marched into range, then dropped his arm and screamed, ’Fire!

Two hundred arrows thudded into the first row of ogres before they saw them coming. Seconds later another volley was let loose.

The archers watched with satisfaction as their arrows hit their intended targets, but, disappointingly, many bounced off the heavily armoured ogres, doing little to slow their march.

Llewellyn waited until the ogres were almost on top of his men before ordering them to fall back. On his order the longbowmen turned and headed for the secret doors that would grant them entrance to the castle.

When the ogres reached the spikes, they stopped, poured oil over them, and set them on fire before returning to camp.

‘That’s our first line of defences brushed aside,’ said Dougal. ‘Let’s hope their whole army isn’t wearing that much armour.’

‘They’re not regulars,’ said Izzy, frowning. ‘They must be members of the king’s personal guard. I doubt we’ll even see them in battle again.’

‘Still, I was kind of hoping Llewellyn and his archers would’ve been able to hold their ground for at least a couple of days. They are our best archers, after all.’

‘They did – with the help of the spikes – bring us another day to prepare for their attack,’ said Izzy. ‘And every day makes us stronger.’

The drums began before the darkness of night gave way to the searing rays of the burning sun. A steady thud, thud, thud echoed in rhythm. The ashes from the spikes were a charred reminder of where they had stood; now nothing stood between the ogres and the city walls.

‘Send in the towers,’ King Teutates ordered.

Vercingetroix nodded his head and fired a flaming arrow into the sky.

On cue, ten giant siege towers, each pulled by ten heavily armoured elephants, trudged towards the high walls of the enemy city.

‘I want those gates destroyed,’ the king shouted.

‘It’s already underway,’ Brennus replied.

‘Sound the alarm!’ cried Izzy. Although she couldn’t see the siege towers, she could hear the dry wooden contraptions creak and groan in protest at the pressure of being dragged.

Bells tolled all along the castle walls, sending the message they were on the verge of war. Soldiers frantically ran to their posts, picking up their bows and loosening their swords in readiness for battle. They knew this was it: the inevitable time had finally arrived.

A quarter of the city defenders manned the walls, while the rest moved to their appointed positions. Some waited behind the main gates in case of a breach; others stationed themselves where they could rapidly replace any who fell on the wall. Full buckets of water were lined and ready to douse any fires the ogre artillery or arrows might cause, and for every five buckets there was a soldier ready and waiting to act.

Liam stood staunchly on the walls, sword in hand, while the other druids waited at the hospital to treat the wounded.

It was only a matter of seconds after Izzy sounded the first warning that the sky danced with magical balls of light sent skyward by Niamh’s wizards. The bright orbs hung in the sky like a diamond necklace around a slender neck, showing no signs of fading.

Dougal, Turloch and Fearghus stood together on the gatehouse tower, longbows at the ready, with Llewellyn and one hundred ellyllon flanking them on either side.

Behind the archers, Derry and Niamh gave orders to the runners, who ran in all directions, carrying out their commands.

Of the three esprit follet princes, only Gaston stood ready to fight. The others remained with their men, cowering, hidden behind the walls. The last of the commanders on the gatehouse was Sir John.

The yumboe pashas waited with their warriors, all mounted on camels and horses, ready to ride out and attack the ogres at the first opportunity.

Fairies, and the few brownies that had defied the orders of their king to join the fight, manned the wall to the left of the gatehouse, while at the centre stood Adam, Dylan, Izzy and Cameron, armed and ready. Esprit follet and pixie troops held the right wall.

All were prepared for the ogre approach.

‘We’ve got to stop those towers before they reach the walls,’ said Gaston, breathing heavily as he drew his bow and took up a position on the wall alongside the leprechauns and ellyllon longbowmen.

‘Aim at the elephants!’ shouted Dougal. ‘If we stop them, we’ll stop the towers.’

As Dougal said this, two gigantic elephants, completely covered in plate-mail armour, came into full view, carrying a giant battering ram that was heading directly for the main gate.

‘I was hoping we’d be able to attack under the cover of darkness,’ Teutates said, wringing his hands in frustration.

‘I told you not to underestimate them,’ Brennus replied. ’I doubt even the Dark Queen could do that.’

’Don’t be a fool. The Dark Queen has more power in one of her delicate hands than every wizard behind those walls combined. You’d do well not to risk her wrath. You never know where her spies are.’

Brennus nervously looked over his shoulder as the king said this.

‘Now’s not the time for this conversation. It’s time for our artillery barrage to begin,’ said an agitated Vercingetroix. He pulled a whistle from his pocket and blew three long shrill blasts.

Jonty watched from his high vantage point on the wall as the catapult rocks flew towards the city. The first barrage hit magical unseen walls, falling harmlessly to the ground, and the few projectiles that weren’t stopped by Niamh’s wizards landed in wide-open spaces.

The fairy prince waved a red flag, signalling for his catapults to return fire. Then he ordered his ballista crew to aim at the two large elephants carrying the battering ram.

Dougal drew back the string of his bow, closed his left eye and took aim just as the siege towers stopped their approach. He lowered his bow and turned to the towers as dozens of menacing ogres loomed, their eyes bulging with rage.

‘The towers!’ he shouted, warning the others.

The ogres had already fired their first volley, sending many of the wall’s defenders to their deaths below.

Fearghus was the first to react, instantly returning fire, sending arrow after arrow at the enemy on the closest tower.

Gaston threw his bow from the wall in disgust. ‘This is useless,’ he barked. ‘My bow can’t even get close.’

‘Here, take this!’ shouted Llewellyn, handing the prince the longbow of a fallen ellyllon archer. ‘He has no use for it now.’

‘I will use this to avenge his death,’ Gaston replied solemnly.

Whether it was fate or coincidence, the first ogre to fall to the prince was the one who had killed the bow’s former owner. A truly remarkable weapon, Gaston thought to himself as he watched the giant ogre fall from the tower, the arrow protruding from the creature’s ruptured chest.

As the longbowmen battled the ogre archers, the battering ram and siege towers edged closer and closer to the walls.

Niamh, Derry!’ Dougal screamed between firing. ‘You have to stop the battering ram!’

‘The ram’s not the problem – it won’t break through the magical bonds. It’s the towers we have to stop!’ Niamh shouted back.

‘Hold your fire,’ Adam ordered his men. ‘Don’t waste your arrows until they can reach the enemy.’

The fairy veteran knew that the elephants pulling the siege engines would be in range of his archers within minutes. He prayed they would be able to stop them.

Seconds later, he cried, ’Now!

Hundreds of bows fired as one. The majority bounced off the elephants’ armour, doing little damage; some embedded themselves into the wood of the towers.

‘Aim at the elephants, not the towers!’ he screamed in frustration, sweat running down his face.

A second and third volley of arrows followed. Finally, the first elephant fell; a large grey armoured mass lay in the yellow sand.

By this time, dozens of fairy archers had also fallen. All along the lines, druids tended the wounded, carrying the worst of them to the hospital. The slightly injured were bandaged where they stood and then sent back to their positions on the wall. It was a disheartening and bloody mess.

A brilliant flash lit the area as the first tower suddenly erupted into flame, followed closely by the second. Niamh was working her magic, but it still wasn’t enough. Four of the siege towers reached the city walls: three on the pixie side, one on the follet. Gigantic ramps dropped down. They smashed onto the ramparts, obliterating them on impact and crushing several defenders in the process. Hundreds, if not thousands, of ogres surged forward, carrying huge ladders towards the castle.

Dougal and Gaston ran side by side to where the main attack was taking place, sheer grit and determination on both of their faces.

Dougal screamed as he drove the first rank of ogres back, adrenalin pumping, fuelling his anger. ‘Die!’ he yelled, as the ogres fell to their deaths on both sides of the rampart.

Esprit follet soldiers rallied around, the sound of metal on metal ringing in the air as swords clashed in the deathly duels. The soldiers began to drive the ogres back onto the siege tower.

Gaston slipped as he fought and went down heavily. An ogre swung a mighty sword towards him. At least I will die a hero, he thought.

‘Oh no you don’t!’ a voice cried as a black-bladed sword decapitated the ogre, its head rolling like a giant bowling ball.

The prince didn’t have to look at the holder of the sword to know who it was. ‘I would’ve let you die,’ he said to the leprechaun.

‘I don’t think so,’ Dougal replied, holding out his hand to help the prince to his feet.

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