CHAPTER 26 FLAMNACH
Phil, invisible, flew high above the raging battle. Bodies of all nations were now strewn over the battlefield. His mission was to stop the ogre archers showering the city’s defenders with their rain of death, but unlike two years ago, this time he was determined not to get hit by a stray weapon. As large as he was, he was still dwarfed by the giant towers and was unsure exactly what he was going to do.
As he watched in despair at the death and destruction below, an idea suddenly came to him. I need rocks, he thought. He turned and headed back to the city, where he located a large pile of stones and rubble. He used his massive claws to push aside the unwanted debris until he found the largest boulder he could manage to carry.
He returned to the sky, flying well out of the path of arrows until he was directly above the first tower. Every muscle in his body screamed in pain, a burning sensation ripping through his shoulder with the sheer weight of the rock.
He forced himself higher and higher until he could manage no more, and then finally let the rock fall. He watched as the missile plummeted to the ground with enormous speed, hitting its target perfectly, crashing into the tower with devastating effect. A huge boom echoed on impact. Pieces of wood shattered and splintered in all directions, some firing themselves back into the air, others lodging themselves in the bodies of the enemy.
Izzy could only watch in frustration as the ogres carrying siege ladders surged towards her. So far, the brownie hadn’t been involved in any of the fighting, as none of the towers had reached her part of the wall, and there had been too many defenders between her and the ogres for her to take any action. Normally the first to enter the fray and the last to leave, she impatiently waited for the ladders to hit the wall where she stood.
‘Here they come, Cameron!’ she screamed excitedly, her pulse racing in anticipation.
’Just push the bloody ladder off the wall, Izzy. Don’t be a hero!’ Cameron shouted back above the clamour.
‘Not until the first ogre is at the top.’
Cameron shook her head in exasperation. She pushed the first ladder near her back into the mass of ogres below, sending them crashing to the ground.
Izzy scanned the battlefield and watched gleefully as a giant boulder fell from the sky, destroying one of the ogre siege towers. She smiled and quietly thanked Phil, knowing it was a victory, if only a small one.
Cameron continued to push back ladders and cut down grappling hooks as swiftly as she could, but eventually there were too many to stop, and the onslaught began. She and Izzy braced themselves for the fight.
The first ogre reached the top of the wall. Cameron stabbed him in the eye, thinking to herself, I’ve spent far too much of my life doing this.
Side by side, the two smallest defenders in the city held off ogres at least twice their size. The two brownie women had fought more battles than anyone else in this war, except for Sir John, and on nearly every occasion had been up against the most unfavourable odds.
As a particularly large ogre, a detestable look on his ugly face, lunged with all its might at Izzy, she adeptly stepped aside, causing the beast to fly off the wall and fall to the courtyard below, its sharp trill stopping abruptly when, on impact with the ground, its body burst like a ripe grape.
Cait stood beside the bed of an injured pixie soldier, the sound of the battle ringing in her ears. Even though the brutal activity had only been going for four hours, the hospital was already over half full. Her only consolation so far was that none of her friends lay in the clean white sheets that turned pink as soon as new bodies were placed on them.
She dabbed one of Liam’s salves over a deep laceration on a pixie’s shoulder and then gently reapplied his bandage.
‘You’ll be as good as gold in no time.’ She smiled reassuringly at the soldier, not sure if he’d ever be able to use his right arm again. However, without the magical spells, potions and balms of the druids, the pixie would have been dead already.
From the other side of the ward, an older, high-ranking fairy druid, one of the first to join Liam’s order, watched Cait as she worked.
If only we had more like her, he thought sadly to himself.
Although she’d only been working with the druids for a short time, her healing skills were astonishing. Liam had compared her natural ability for healing and earth magic to that of Derry’s for wizardry.
Extraordinary race, these leprechauns, the old druid thought as he turned his attention back to the esprit follet soldier he was attending. Unfortunately for the soldier, he was not as lucky as Cait’s patient.
Cait came to the last bed on the ward with a heavy heart; it was the one she had been dreading. The occupant had been brought in unconscious with a serious head wound and hadn’t woken since his admission. It was the third time she had treated the poor fellow in as many hours, each time having to send him back to the battlefield once he had been bandaged and mended. Every time the leprechaun sent one of the lesser injured back into the fray, she prayed she wasn’t sending them to their deaths, but with this brave fairy, she feared she had.
The ogre runner bowed to Teutates.
‘Well?’ snapped the king. ‘Spit it out. What news do you bring?’
’Lord Tarvos will arrive in two days, my king.’
‘How many soldiers does he bring?’ Vercingetroix asked.
‘Five thousand, My Lord.’
‘Only five thousand? My brother commands an entire army in the untamed lands. Why has he come with less than half of it?’
‘I–I–I don’t know, My Lord,’ stammered the messenger, whimpering at the fear of a lashing.
‘Get out,’ Teutates barked, dismissing the messenger, who didn’t need to be told twice.
The king was silent, an irritated look on his face. ‘How many did we lose today?’ he asked moments later when he was alone with Vercingetroix.
‘Four hundred dead, and another five hundred who will not fight again in this battle.’
’So your brother brings five thousand to replace nine hundred.’
‘Still – ten thousand would have been better.’
The flaps of the tent rustled as Brennus entered, followed by a tiny wingedwoman wearing a robe that covered all but her face. The robe appeared to be alive. It was made from a fabric that constantly changed colour and had the texture of snakeskin. Although neither Teutates nor Vercingetroix knew who she was, they instantly knew what she was.
‘Welcome, dark one,’ Teutates greeted her.
‘Greetings, ogre king,’ replied the duan fairy. ’I am Flamnach. I have been sent to you by my queen.’
Flamnach smiled as the three ogres all bowed their heads at the mere mention of the Dark Queen.
’We are honoured that the Dark Queen holds us in her thoughts,’ Teutates said.
Flamnach’s response was blunt. ‘Yes, you are. But I personally believe it’s far more likely it’s your enemy she’s thinking of, rather than you.’
The dark fairy paused to see if the ogre king would contradict her and smiled haughtily when he wisely chose not to. ‘However, it’s not my place to second-guess my queen. She has sent me to offer you a gift. It is one that comes with a condition – a condition that I’m sure you’ll be happy to pay.’
‘I am confident we can come to an agreement that will suit both myself and your queen,’ King Teutates replied, knowing full well that what he wanted had nothing to do with it when it came to the Dark Queen.
Flamnach smiled again, a smile that left the three ogres in no doubt of who was in control here.
’Queen Mallaidh’s gift to you is ten thousand goblins; they will be here in two days. I know they are little more than arrow fodder, but against a foe as weak as the wingless ones and their allies, they should serve you well.’
‘And in return?’ Teutates asked.
‘You hand over any fairy you take prisoner to my queen.’
‘Just the fairies?’
’The others mean nothing to the duan. Do with them as you please.’
‘And the fairies mean nothing to me,’ said Teutates. ‘I will take as many alive as I can.’
‘Then we have a deal,’ said Flamnach. It had not escaped her attention that the ogre king had not referred to the duan queen by name. ’There is one more thing. The fairy wizard, Niamh– she must be taken alive.’
‘And if that’s not possible?’
’For your sake it better be.’ And with that last comment the duan fairy shimmered and vanished before their very eyes.
‘I hate dark fairies,’ muttered Brennus.