The Ogre Wars

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CHAPTER 27 GOBLINS

What the hellare they?’ Izzy gasped, her mouth open wide as she stared at the unsightly creatures.

‘I don’t know,’ nodded Niamh. ’But they have to be the ugliest things I’ve ever seen and there are thousands of them.’

Dougal too was staring in bafflement at the bizarre creatures that were lined row after row. ‘I’ve never seen anything like. Maybe Liam will know what they are.’

‘It’s certainly worth asking him,’ Niamh replied. ‘He does seem to know everything these days. Sometimes I think that ghost of his is still with him; it’s just that the rest of us can’t see it.’

Niamh sent a runner to fetch Liam from the hospital. He was doing an inspection, as it was now almost empty, with most of the wounded being healed by the druids’ magical spells and potions during the two-day lull in the battle.

The grotesquely disfigured creatures ranged in height, some a good foot taller than others. They were a yellow-green colour and had pointed features; their wiry little bodies were covered in fine hair.

Liam looked at the horrifying sight, a quizzical frown creasing his brow. ‘How long have they been there?’

‘They were there at dawn,’ Niamh replied, ‘all lined up like tin soldiers. Do you know what they are?’

‘My best guess – and it’s only a guess – is that they’re goblins.’

Izzy shook her head. ‘Goblins? How do you know these things?’

‘It’s unusual to see so many of them in one place; normally they live in small tribes or even smaller groups. They fight well when cornered or if they find a victim weaker than themselves.’

‘Why are they here,’ asked Niamh, ‘and where are they from?’

Liam chewed his bottom lip. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ’What I do know is, they’ve never lived in, or for that matter stepped foot in, Connacht, or in any connecting world as far as I know. They have a reputation for being crabby and mischievous with little common sense.’

‘They’re not from this world?’ Dougal asked. ‘I wonder if they know anything about the home world of my people?’

‘Only they know the answer to that, my friend,’ Liam replied. ‘I’m sure you’ll have a chance to ask one before this is over.’

‘So why did the ogres attack us before the goblins arrived?’ Cameron mused. ’They’re obviously going to use the goblins as a screen. Why waste so many ogreslives needlessly in the first attack?’

‘It’s almost as if the ogres didn’t know the goblins were coming,’ Niamh reasoned.

‘I’m going to talk to our prisoner again,’ said Dougal. ‘Make sure I’m called when they attack.’

Ambiorix wore a twisted smile. ‘Ah, Do-Gal – it’s been so long since you came to see me, I was starting to think my brothers had killed you and deprived me of the pleasure.’

‘Several have tried,’ Dougal smiled back. ‘And no doubt others will, too. But I will do my best not to let them rob you of your pleasure.’

‘You are too kind, Do-Gal. But enough of the pleasantries – why have you come here?’

‘I want to know about your little friends. What are they, and where do they come from?’

Ambiorix looked at Dougal blankly for several seconds. ‘I thought you would have realised by now, shoemaker, that I will not betray my people by telling you anything.’

‘Your silence has told me everything. It’s obvious you know nothing of the goblins. Could that possibly be because you’re not important enough to know?’ Dougal taunted his captor, but silently thought to himself that there was more to this.

‘So, we still know nothing,’ said Izzy. ’Just as we start to get the better of one enemy, another appears. Why do they just stand there? Why don’t they attack?’

‘What’s important is not where they came from, but that they’re here. As for why they’re not attacking, maybe it’s an attempt to intimidate us?’ Niamh replied calmly, trying to placate her impatient friend.

‘Or maybe they were building more siege machines,’ Dougal said, pointing to the enemy lines, where there were at least two dozen of the giant towers.

‘I was hoping we’d destroyed most of them,’ Cameron sighed.

‘Maybe these ones came with the goblins?’ suggested Dougal.

‘It doesn’t matter where they came from,’ said Izzy, urgency in her voice. ‘We have to return to our posts, and quickly.’

Hundreds of goblins fell to the pelting of arrows that pierced through them, but still they continued forward.

‘This is almost too easy,’ said Izzy, as she eliminated another goblin.

‘It doesn’t stop them, though, does it?’ replied Cameron, almost sickened by the huge loss of goblin lives. ‘And it won’t be long before we’re fighting hand to hand again.’

‘These ugly creatures will never break through us.’

‘Izzy, you know as well as I do, they’re not meant to. They’re simply being used to waste our arrows and exhaust us so that when the ogres are ready, they can enter the battle against our weary troops.’

Izzy gave Cameron a confident look. ‘And when the ogres come, we’ll dispatch them as we have done before,’ she said.

Andre stood over the battered dead body of Clotaire, the Merovingian prince. ‘Do you think he would have appreciated the irony?’

‘What are you talking about?’ asked Gaston.

’If Clotaire had been fighting beside us, instead of hiding behind the city walls like the coward he obviously was, he might still be alive.’

Or,’ Gaston countered, ‘he may have been the first to fall to an ogre arrow. Either way, it matters little. The only important thing now is that I’ve been able to convince that idiot who replaced him to release five hundred men to replace the ones we’ve lost.’

‘Are you really happy they’re finally joining the battle, or is it because you’re about to command Merovingian soldiers, giving you the opportunity to –’

‘Don’t even say it. Now is not the time for personal ambitions to surface.’ But even as Gaston spoke, the idea of ruling over a united follet nation brought a smile to his face.

‘Snap out of it, Gas.’

’How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that, Lord Capet?’ he replied.

‘Sorry, your highness. Fatigue and hunger make me forget myself.’

Gaston ignored his oldest friend’s sarcasm.

Andre yawned. ‘I’m too tired to eat. I’m just going to get some sleep.’

‘I’ll have a goblet of brandy for you, then, my friend.’

’Here they come again, boyoes,’ Llewellyn said, as he signalled the start of the fourth day of the goblin and ogre attacks. ’It would seem as if they just can’t get enough ellyllon wood and steel.’

The miner fired his bow, felling a goblin, the first of many that would fall to the archer that day.

Cameron was exasperated, and it showed in the lines of her tired face. ‘For every tower we destroy,’ she sighed, ‘two more seem to appear.’

‘Siege towers aren’t much good without soldiers to man them,’ Izzy replied. ‘And we’re the ones being reinforced daily, while their numbers are visibly dwindling. There’s no way they can possibly keep this up for much longer. The next couple of days will decide this battle, and for the first time I think we’re actually going to win.’

‘I only hope I live that long.’ Cameron heaved a deep sigh as the ramp of a siege tower crushed into the rampart less than twenty feet from where she stood.

‘As if a goblin could finish off the mighty Cameron MacTaggart!’ yelled Izzy, sprinting towards the breach.

Cait’s blood ran cold; it felt as if it was frozen in her veins, and as if time had frozen with it.

Eight druids struggled to carry a heavy stretcher with a badly wounded man into the ward. There was so much blood seeping through the blanket covering the prone figure, it was impossible to see who it was.

‘It’s not him,’ she told herself, tears welling in her eyes. ‘It can’t be him.’ But the more she let her mind think about it, the more afraid she became. It was more than she could bear, and she had to find out who it was. The “would be” druid took a deep breath as she rushed to the side of the fallen soldier, carefully pulling back the blood-red blanket to reveal who was beneath.

She let out a sigh of relief as she realised it wasn’t Dougal, the leprechaun she loved.

Thank you, God, she silently prayed, closing her eyes as she fought back tears that threatened to break free.

Cait,’ said the old druid who ran the ward. ‘He’s too badly hurt for you to be able to help our brave young friend. I’m not even sure I can, but I’ll do my best to stabilise him, and hopefully I can keep him alive until we fetch Liam.’

Cait looked down at the broken and shattered leprechaun, tears brimming in her eyes, as the bloody face of Fearghus stared vacantly back at her.

Whawha–what happened to him?’ She felt sick to her stomach at the amount of blood that was seeping through the crude battlefield bandage, his left arm lying limp at an impossible angle.

’Apparently, he threw himself between an ogre blade and the leprechaun called Turloch,’ said one of the stretcher-bearers. ’If he hadn’t, Turloch would be dead.’

‘Damn,’ swore Gaston as he slipped on the damp, sticky blood that stained the rampart.

For the third time that day, he owed his life not to his bodyguard, but to the giant who carried his former sword. The follet prince wasn’t sure whether he was more annoyed by the indignity of falling again, or by the fact that he owed the cursed leprechaun his life for the umpteenth time.

‘Giant, the archer is in trouble!’

Dougal looked over to where Gaston was gesturing and saw dozens of goblins swarming onto the battlements, cutting off Llewellyn and three of his archers. The leprechaun and follet prince charged towards the miners, killing anyone that stood in their way.

Llewellyn began to sing a stirring song about the land of his fathers at the top of his voice to inspire the warriors who fought bravely beside him. He charged, thrusting himself into the amassing goblins, using his sheer size to cut, throw and punch the enemy out of his way.

The goblins attacked with mammoth vigour, leaving no room for survivors.

It was over in less than a minute. The heroic miner stood surrounded by his fellow ellyllon, who had been mercilessly slaughtered at the hands of the enemy. As his time ended, he began to sing louder. He watched as his young leprechaun friend ran towards him. He smiled, even though he knew his rescuer wouldn’t arrive in time, and as a wickedly barbed goblin spear pierced his stomach, he gave one final salute with his sword to his friend.

Dougal lashed at the remaining goblin that stood between him and his fallen friend with such force he completely severed its small body, ripping through its ribcage as if it was made of twigs.

Nothing gets past us!’ Gaston ordered his men to form a protective barrier around Dougal to shield him from the goblin army.

Dougal knelt and cradled the blood-soaked miner in his arms. ‘Don’t worry, my friend. I’ll get you to the druids.’

Llewellyn made a gurgling sound and then coughed up blood. ‘I’m afraid it’s too late for healers,’ whispered the dying miner. ’I’m ready to meet my ancestors and –’ He coughed again. Blood filled his lungs, making it almost impossible to speak. ‘Because of you, Dougal, I die a free man.’ The miner’s face contorted in pain. ’Promise me one last thing: don’t let them bury me here. I want to rest beneath the green valleys of Gwyllion.’

‘I promise, my friend,’ Dougal whispered, tears welling in his eyes.

Llewellyn smiled a crooked smile as he coughed one last bloody cough, and then lay still in the leprechaun’s embrace.

John ran his fingers vigorously through his hair. He spoke hurriedly, anxiety in his voice. ‘If that tower isn’t stopped, we could lose the left wall, and if that happens, it’s all over.’

Derry looked at the gigantic siege machine as it lumbered towards the wall. She knew Sir John was right: the tower had to be stopped. An overwhelming feeling of wretchedness washed over her as she thought about the day’s events – Fearghus who was so badly injured, and Llewellyn was dead. Something snapped within the young mage. Derry closed her eyes and focused all her mental energy as she pictured the wooden structure in her mind’s eye.

Aboleo -ere -evi -itum,’ she whispered, and then slumped to the ground.

Niamh instantly felt the power of Derry’s spell and watched as the top of the tower exploded, sending wood and goblin body parts flying in every direction.

‘By Seamus, what have I done?’ gasped Derry, sickened by how easily she had killed so many.

‘Saved the entire left flank,’ replied Sir John as he helped her to her feet.

And,’ added Niamh, ‘sent a warning to whoever it is that is watching us.’

‘Someone is watching us?’ John asked, surprised by Niamh’s statement.

‘Yes. There is a wizard out there somewhere, but I don’t recognise their magic. I’m not even sure whose side they are on.’

Flamnach had watched the battle rage for days now. She had seen brownies, pixies, yumboes, esprit follet, ellyllon and fairies fall, but in nowhere near the same numbers as the goblins and ogres.

It was already clear to the duan fairy, if not to the ogre king, that the city would never fall. It was true the ogres and goblins still outnumbered those within the magically constructed walls, but numbers were not always the most important things on the battlefield. The ogres could not, and would not, win this battle without magic to counter that of their enemy and magic was the one thing they didn’t possess.

It was true she could have helped, but she had been sent here by the Dark Queen to observe the fairy wizard, not help the ogres in their war.

She immediately recognised the wizard called Niamh, even from her safe and somewhat distant vantage point. Niamh stood at the very centre of the city’s defences, but it wasn’t that that made her stand out so clearly; it was the way in which she moved. Although she was obviously a mere wingless fairy, she carried herself with the grace and poise of a duan, and the power of her spells was frightening even to Flamnach, who was a powerful mage herself. And there was something else: Niamh had a strange familiarity about her, something that reminded Flamnach of her queen. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was, but it was there.

As Flamnach watched the conflict between the nations, she thought to herself, the wizard Niamh has strange yet powerful friends.

She watched as the shoemaker rallied those around him, his sheer size and strength driving back ogres and goblins alike with relative ease. Then there was the shoemaker’s wizard, who looked almost identical to him; her power was second only to Niamh’s on the battlefield. Flamnach had watched in surprise as with one spell she had blown the top completely off one of the siege towers, taking at least a hundred goblins with it.

There was the small blonde brownie and the taller dark-haired brownie that fought at her side. They too stood out on the battlefield, as did the two fairy captains and the gallant-looking pixie knight. But of the five she observed, it was the short brownie that had captured her attention the most. Her skill with the blade was unlike anything Flamnach had ever witnessed before, and she had seen the best in the Dark Queen’s army of many races. The more she watched the brownie, the more uncertain she was of whether the warrior’s reckless bravery made her vulnerable or unstoppable.

And what is this strange magic?Flamnach wondered, intrigued by the olive-skinned fairy. He had the look of someone who had spent most of his life outdoors. He radiated magic, but it wasn’t a magic the duan understood, and she believed she understood all magic. She had watched the fairy as he killed with his blade, and then healed fallen warriors with his hands. But there was something else about this fairy: it was as if he was accompanied by an invisible presence. Flamnach couldn’t pinpoint what type of presence it was, but she could feel it.

As individuals they are indeed all impressive. But as a team, they are almost unstoppable, the duan fairy thought as she decided that now was the time to relay to her queen what she had observed.

Flamnach believed this new force would need to be divided if they were to be conquered, and she was sure Queen Mallaidh would agree.

Dougal wiped the blood from the cut above his left eye and then applied some of the salve cream Liam had given him to stop the bleeding. His body ached; he was tired and hungry and needed sleep. He waited for over half an hour to make sure the ogres had withdrawn for the day and then went, as he did every night, to meet with his friends and make the necessary preparations for the next day.

He was as always, the last to arrive. He pushed open the door and walked into the sparse room, casting his eyes around to see if all his friends were still alive. Much to his relief, they were all there, including Fearghus, who had discharged himself from the hospital despite the druids’ protests.

Dougal took his seat beside Cait at the large wooden table. She smiled warmly and handed him a bowl of steaming stew and a mug. Dougal pushed aside the stew and picked up the mug, inhaling the familiar aroma. ‘Where did you get this?’

‘It arrived today with other supplies,’ Cait replied.

‘I can’t remember the last time I had a cup,’ Dougal sighed. His mind wandered back to more than two years ago, when he sat overlooking the church in CaerGorias, daydreaming, as he drank his beloved dandelion tea.

He realised that was the day this adventure had really begun. It was the day he had decided that he needed to leave CaerGorias. He briefly wondered what would have happened if he had stayed at home. Would Llewellyn, and so many others, still be alive? Would any of this have happened? Would all those lives have been spared?

He shook the thoughts from his mind and turned to Cait. ‘Thank you,’ he whispered, and then silently toasted his fallen friend.

Of those gathered, only Cait, Derry and Niamh had come through the battle without any physical injuries. The wizards did their fighting from a distance, and as they were fighting an enemy without mages, their only real risk came from weapons, and so far, none had come their way.

However, in many cases, the physically injured healed far more quickly than those affected emotionally. Niamh was worried about Derry; the young leprechaun had only been using her magic for two years. One of the reasons Niamh was so powerful in the magical arts was that she understood it in ways no one else did. She knew that whether you used it or not, it grew inside you, and it was the power you possessed that mattered. A novice like Derry, and if truth be told herself, would be far more powerful than the likes of Mazarin, or even the pixie wizard William, no matter how much they studied the art, because both the leprechaun and the fairy were born with a magical essence far greater than any she had seen before, and whether they used their magic or not, it continued to grow.

For some reason – a reason Niamh didn’t understand – she and Derry had been born with more magic than any other wizard. Unfortunately, though, Derry still saw herself as a beginner, not a powerful mage, and so was not always prepared for what her spells could do. The goblin siege tower had been one such occasion, and Derry hadn’t recovered from the devastation she had caused. It was one thing to kill an enemy in battle; it was another to take away over a hundred lives and to do so with seeming ease. Niamh tried to explain to Derry how many lives she had saved, but still the leprechaun had not forgiven herself.

Niamh glanced around the table. Dougal sat directly opposite her, sipping his tea. Although he had been in the thick of the fighting, his only visible injury was the cut above his left eye, but she could see by the sadness in his eyes that Llewellyn’s death was weighing heavily on the leprechaun’s heart.

Next to Dougal, as always, sat Cait. She had proven herself invaluable throughout this battle, working tirelessly day after day, tending the sick and dying, being their angel of mercy.

Niamh smiled as she cast her eyes to Fearghus and Turloch, the latter bearing a purple bruise on his right cheek and a long, deep gash on his right arm. However, everyone knew that had it not been for the bravery and selflessness of Fearghus, Turloch would have been dead.

Fearghus was a hero. Niamh almost laughed out loud at the thought. The ever-complaining leprechaun certainly showed his true colours and deep friendship when it mattered most.

Niamh.’

The wizard’s thoughts were disturbed as Izzy prodded her in the side. Niamh looked round. ‘I’m sorry, what?’

‘They’re finished. We’ve broken them. I don’t think they have anything left to give,’ said Izzy.

‘I think she’s right,’ said John. ’They’ve lost nearly all the goblins and many ogres. They can see that we’re being reinforced and resupplied daily; so, while their numbers are decreasing rapidly, ours are still growing. They’re finished unless they’re reinforced, but even then, I don’t think they’ll attack again.’

‘If they are broken, surely now is the time for us to attack?’ Turloch reasoned.

‘No,’ Adam replied. ‘My men are exhausted. If the ogres do attack in the morning, I’m not even sure they’ll have the strength to repel them.’

John had a confident look on his face. ‘They won’t attack tomorrow – not unless they’re reinforced in the night. And if they are, Phil would’ve seen the extra soldiers coming and warned us by now.’

‘How can you be so sure?’ Derry asked.

‘Because I’ve been in enough invading armies to know when one has been beaten.’

Of all those gathered in the room, Sir John was the only one who had ever fought in an army that had invaded another country. He had seen more action than the rest of them combined, except for Izzy and Cameron, but even then, the brownies’ experience had been gained in defending their homeland in hit-and-run warfare.

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