CHAPTER 1 A CALL FOR HELP
Two years had passed since the O’Shea twins returned from Connacht, after rescuing the fairy Princess Amber from the grasps of the evil pixie King Rupert. Dougal and Derry had been instrumental in the success in the fairy victory over the pixies in the bloody war. The experience changed Dougal’s outlook on life forever.
In a stand for independence, he moved out of the family home, which caused immense friction between him and his father Connor, who was extremely unhappy that he had such a headstrong son. Connor liked to manage everything and everyone, and that included his family.
All who knew Dougal and Derry had noticed a dramatic change in their behaviour since their return. They had both developed into strong-minded, astute adults with maturity far beyond their years.
During the past winter, Dougal had taken his father’s seat on the CaerGorias council, as Connor had been too sick to attend. The council was so impressed by his input they offered him a full-time position, but Dougal politely declined. He believed that having a father and son serving on the council at the same time would not be right, as it would give one family far too much power. This decision however did not sit well with Connor, who wanted as much control as possible.
Dougal shared his home with his oldest friends, Fearghus and Turloch. They were all the same age and had known each other their whole lives. Although Derry still lived at home, she spent most of her time at her brother’s house.
On Friday and Saturday nights, they continued to entertain the patrons of The Harp and Hare, a long-standing tradition they had done for many years. Every night, CaitO’Shaunessy sat at the front table cheering them on.
Cait was Dougal’s long-time love. They were inseparable. He had been infatuated with her for as long as he could remember. Dougal believed she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. Her crown of flaming red curly hair framed her angelic face, and her skin was the colour of ivory. She had sparkling clear blue eyes and a magical smile that melted his heart every time he saw her. He truly believed she was an angel.
An air of mystery surrounded the twins. They had disappeared two years ago, only to return months later without a proper explanation. Even now, from time to time, they would simply vanish for several days at a time, returning just as mysteriously as they had departed.
Many of CaerGorias’s younger leprechauns often hid outside Dougal’s house hoping to follow him to see where he went, but no one ever saw him leave.
During their time in Connacht, Dougal and Derry, with the help of the fairy wizard Niamh, regained the innate leprechaun ability of invisibility. Apart from Cait, no one else knew their secret. They would use this power often to disappear, recently to visit Phil.
Phil, a fairy dragon, was an old and dear friend of Dougal’s that had almost died during the battle of Sarasidhe. It had taken him a year to recover from his injuries and to regain the use of his badly broken left wing. While they stayed with Phil, the twins were visited by several of their fairy friends, Adam, his brother Dylan, Finn and Niamh, who kept them updated with life in Connacht.
Sir John and his supporters had their hands full in Tudorland, but it wasn’t King Rupert causing the problems. The pixie king kept himself to himself these days and was seldom seen outside of his castle. He married the daughter of a pixie lord, at the suggestionof the knights’ council.
There were still a lot of knights and other high-ranking pixies who wanted a return to the old ways. No one openly challenged Sir John or the knights’ council, but they worked subtly to see its demise. In the last year alone, there had been two failed attempts on Sir John’s life.
The twins’ brownie friends, Izzy and Cameron, had lived in Sarasidhe for over a year. Princess Isabella, or Izzy as she liked to be called, had been appointed to the post of ambassador. Cameron, her best friend, was her assistant. Izzy had been sent to the fairy city as her reward for her role in freeing her people, but also to get her out of Caledonia.
Her cousin Robert, thenewly crowned King of Caledonia, rightly believed it would be easier for him to rule the country with the popular heroine well out of his way. Izzy knew this was the reason for her posting, but happily accepted it, nonetheless. She and Cameron had always planned to return to the fairy capital, and this way everybody was happy. She didn’t blame her cousin – he wasn’t a bad man – but while Izzy remained in Tantallon, he would have remained in her shadow.
As for their fairy friends, Princess Amber spent more time in Tudorlandwith Sir John than she did in Sarasidhe. She was apparently trying to heal the wounds caused by the war between the two nations, but her father, the king, had his doubts.
King Strahan had not abdicated on his fiftieth birthday as he had previously planned. He held himself partly responsible for not putting a stop to Rupert well before the pixie king kidnapped his daughter and then invaded his country. He no longer believed he had earned the right to retire to the countryside.
No one had seen or heard much from Liam, but believed he was busy organising his druids.
These days, Finn spent most of his time reorganising the fairy army along with his deputies Adam and Dylan. He had developed new military strategies; he was determined never to be caught off guard again like he had been against the pixies. Although the three fairies had not officially been in command of the fairy army during the pixie–fairy war, it had been them and Dougal, not the older fairy commanders, who had saved the fairy city.
Niamh spent her time training her new apprentices, focusing on one in particular: a promising young student named Bridie. She also developed new spells that would benefit her people, and taught Derry many of these when she visited the twins.
With summer fast approaching and bored with the monotony of day to day life in CaerGorias, Dougal and Derry regularlydiscussed the possibility of a return to Connacht. All they needed was a reason.
The spring evening was fresh and crisp; the smell of newly cut grass permeated the air, hinting at the promise of the summer to come.
Dougal and Cait, along with Derry and the other members of their band, were walking quietly home from The Harp and Hare, enjoying the clear starry night, when Fearghus broke the silence. ‘Do you think we need a change of venue?’ he asked.
Turloch looked at his friend, then at the twins. ‘It is getting a bit boring, isn’t it? We could do what you two did a couple of years ago and travel for a while?’
Dougal looked at his sister as he heard her voice penetrate his mind.
Do you think we should tell them? she asked telepathically.
I don’t know, he silently replied.
Derry shared her brother’s indecision over whether to tell their friends about their adventures from two years before.
After a short pause, Derry spoke out loud for all to hear. ‘We could all leave for a while – maybe take our show on the road, to the north this time. Then it would be new territory for Dougal and I.’
’We could go to CaerCollooney or even as far as Caer Carndonagh,’ Dougal said, with feigned enthusiasm.
‘Let’s do it!’ said Turloch enthusiastically. ‘We can start making plans as soon as we get home tonight.’
They w alked home, with Fearghus and Turloch babbling excitedly about the prospect of leaving CaerGorias for the first time. The twins laughed at their excitement.
‘Don’t think your leaving me behind,’ said Cait, determined to be part of the journey. If Dougal was going, then so was she.
Dougal and Derry had no intentions of visiting any leprechaun towns playing their music in taverns, they were returning to Connacht, the only question was, do they take their friends with them?
If it wasn’t for the fact that Fearghus couldn’t keep a secret, no matter what the circumstance, they would probably risk it, but Fearghuswasn’t known for his discretion. They all learnt from a very young age that if you wanted a secret kept, you didn’t tell Fearghus. There was nothing malicious in his actions; he was just one of those leprechauns who liked to gossip.
Two days later, as Dougal and Derry were in deep discussion debating what to do, Cait knocked on the door, entering the kitchen without waiting for an invitation.
‘You two need to keep your voices down,’ she smiled. ‘I could hear what you were saying from your doorstep.’
‘Could anyone else have heard?’ asked Dougal, obviously worried.
‘Only if they were standing outside, and there was no one there when I arrived,’ said Cait, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. ’Have you decided where we’re going yet?’
‘No,’ answered the twins in unison.
Derry hugged Cait and said, ‘I’ll leave you both to it. I have some errands to run. I’ll see you two tonight at The Harp and Hare.’
As Derry left, closing the door behind her, Dougal smiled and took Cait’s hand. ‘Would you like a drink?’ he asked.
‘I’d love one.’
‘Let’s go to one of the taverns in the square, then.’
Cait smiled as she linked her arm through Dougal’s, and they headed out.
The two leprechauns remained silent for several more minutes, making sure that the twins and Cait had left the house.
‘I told you this would be a good spot to find out what’s going on,’ whispered Fearghus from Dougal’s basement.
Turloch pushed aside the small wooden trapdoor, relieved to be free of the confines of the cellar. He had never been fond of small spaces, and it had taken all his self-control to stay put.
‘So, do we tell them what we know?’ Fearghus asked Turloch as they climbed the wooden stairs that led up into Dougal’s kitchen.
Turloch shook his head, still trying to take in everything they had heard. ’I don’t know, but if you tell anyone else about this, I’ll feed you to that dragon they were talking about myself. We can’t tell anyone Fearghus. Is that clear?’
Fearghus was about to make a flippant reply, but, seeing the look on the other leprechaun’s face, changed his mind. ‘Crystal,’ he said instead.
With each passing day, Turloch became more and more a nervous wreck, spending his entire time trying to keep Fearghus from telling everyone what they had overheard.
On three separate occasions, Fearghus had almost blurted it out, but Turloch managed to stop him. He was beginning to wish he hadn’t spied on his friends, deciding that ignorance was indeed bliss. Then, one day, as they were all having dinner, he uttered impulsively, ‘Derry, we know.’
‘Know what?’ Derry had no idea what he was talking about.
’About you and Dougal. Fearghus and I know everything.’
Derry shrugged. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
’We know about Connacht,’ he said bluntly.
‘How?’ demanded Dougal, dropping his fork on this plate with a clatter.
‘We overheard you talking about it a few weeks ago.’
’Fearghus has known for weeks?’ Derry cried. ’Half of CaerGorias must know by now.’
‘No one knows. I haven’t let him out of my sight since we found out,’ assured Turloch.
‘Good. Then there’s no need for secrecy between us then,’ boomed a voice from nowhere.
Turloch jumped at the sound, looking frantically around to see where it was coming from.
Fearghus too was startled. He went as white as a sheet, then fainted.
‘How many times do I have to ask you not to do that?’ said Dougal, exasperated that Phil never did as requested.
‘I can hardly make myself visible in the middle of a leprechaun town, can I, even at this time of night?’
‘Phil, why are you here?’ Derry asked the fairy dragon. ‘What’s wrong?’
’Niamh sent me. She, Adam and Dylan are waiting for us at the cave.’
‘I don’t know. She said she would explain everything when we returned, but I got the distinct impression it was urgent.’
‘We’ll meet you in an hour on the south road, just outside of the town,’ Dougal said, immediately taking control, as he bent down and tappedFearghus gently on each cheek, trying to shake him back to consciousness.
Fearghuswoozily opened his eyes and uttered, ‘It’s the ghost of the northern woods,’ and then passed out again.
The others all laughed at poor Fearghus’s fright.
Years ago, with the help of Phil, who was invisible at the time, Dougal had convinced Fearghus that the northern woods were haunted. To this very day, Fearghus still believed it, terrified at the thought of ghosts roaming the woods.
‘You have to take us with you,’ Turloch said adamantly, stamping his foot.
’We haven’t got time to discuss this, Turloch.’ Dougal said. ’Derry and I will go and see what Niamh wants, and then, if we need to, we’ll come back and get you.’
’I can’t watch Fearghus forever,’ grumbled Turloch. ‘And if you leave us behind, I’ll stop watching him completely, and we all know what that means, don’t we!’
Before Dougal could reply, Cait cut in, ’And don’t think you’re leaving without me. You were gone for months last time, and I’m not going to spend the rest of my life waiting for you to return whenever it suits you, Dougal O’Shea.’
’For Niamh to send for us like this could mean the fairies are in trouble, and I can’t ask any of you to put yourselves in danger,’ said Dougal.
‘You’re not asking us to do anything,’ replied Turloch.
‘And I’m going whether you like it or not,’ Cait stated emphatically.
‘So am I,’ said Turloch. ‘Never turn down a helping hand, Dougal, or it might not be there when you need it most.’
Fearghus, who had come around and had only heard the last part of the conversation said, ‘Since you’re so adamant, Dougal, and I think you’re right, I’ll stay behind.’ He didn’t like danger and didn’t relish the prospect of what might be out there.
Turloch looked at his cowardly friend and frowned. ’You’ll go where I tell you to. Had it not been for your dogged curiosity, we wouldn’t even know about fairies or dragons.’
‘Looks like I’m coming too, then,’ sighed Fearghus, his head bowed low. It was obvious he wasn’t happy about the decision.
Dougal knew it was pointless to argue with his determined friends and so resigned himself to the fact that they would all be leaving within the next twenty-four hours to meet Niamh.
He explained his plan to them – when they would be leaving and what they needed to bring – and then set them on their way to prepare for the journey.
Two days later, they arrived at the cave. Dougal had to literally drag Fearghus through the illusionary sheer cliff wall that was the portal to another world, his friend refusing to believe there was a cave on the other side, even after he watched the others disappear through it.
‘Watch where you’re going!’ screamed Dylan as he dived to his right, only just avoiding being squashed by Turloch, who hadn’t seen the fairy.
‘I’m sorry.’ Turloch had never seen fairies before and was surprised at how small they were.
Dylan rolled his eyes and huffed. ’Giants, umph.’
Adam patted his little brother on the shoulder and laughed. ‘Settle down, Dylan. It’s your fault for standing in the entrance.’
Dylan was about to reply when he heard an unfamiliar voice cry out. He looked up and saw another unknown leprechaun running towards Phil’s mound of gold.
‘Look at all that treasure!’
’Fearghus, put that diamond back,’ Derry reprimanded.
‘What diamond?’ asked Fearghus innocently, eyes wide.
‘The one in your pocket.’
Phil appeared, and used his most menacing tone to warn the leprechaun. ‘In case you didn’t realise, we dragons are very protective of the treasure, and have been known to eat those who attempt to steal it.’
Fearghus stood stone still. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a diamond that was almost as large as his fist.
‘I wonder how that got there?’ he said sheepishly, as he put the gem back on the pile, then moved well away from the dragon’s treasure.
’Where’s Niamh?’ asked Derry, realising the fairy wizard wasn’t in the cave.
‘Off looking for spell components,’ said Adam. ‘Apparently the size of the ingredients in your world adds to the power of her spells.’
’So, what was so important that she risked sending Phil into CaerGorias to get us?’ Dougal asked.
‘Ogres.’ Adam stated simply.
‘Ogres? Are you sure?’ Phil asked in astonishment.
‘Yes,’ said Niamh, as she entered the cave. ‘I found pictures in the dragon histories you gave me before you returned to your lair.’
‘What’s an ogre?’ asked Derry.
’An evil race that lived in Carolingia before it was settled by the esprit follet. Up until a couple of months ago, we believed them to be a mere legend.’
‘They are,’ said Phil, pausing as if to find the right words. ’They are the nemesis of my kind. For thousands of years we fought the ogres for control; our races were the original inhabitants of Connacht. Then, not long before the arrival of the fairies, and about the time the esprit follet arrived, their numbers began to diminish greatly, until finally they were gone. One explanation is that they retreated into the mountains, but that is only speculation. My ancestors searched for five hundred years, but no trace was ever found, which is why I find it difficult to believe you’ve seen them.’ Phil paused. ’Describe them to me, Niamh.’
‘Well, I haven’t seen any in person, but witnesses say they are twice the height of a fairy, and at least twice our weight. Their skin is a putrid yellow, covered in warts and sores. They wear helmets on their heads, and heavy black armour, and kill with ruthless efficiency, or so I’ve been told.’
‘That certainly sounds like ogres,’ agreed Phil. ’So, what are they doing here?’
’Two months ago, they began raiding isolated farms on the southern coast, and we’ve been getting reports from Tudorland and Caledonia about the same thing happening to their coastal farms and even some of their smaller fishing villages. So far, our losses have been relatively light, but the raids are becoming more regular, and the ogres are attacking in larger numbers. It’s only a matter of time before they start aiming at bigger targets.’
’Where are they coming from?’
‘We have no idea, and so far, we haven’t been able to capture a single ogre.’
‘From what I’ve read in the histories, I’m surprised they left any witnesses at all,’ Phil said gloomily.
‘They haven’t left many. The reason we’re here is to ask for your help.’ Niamh paused, realising for the first time that she wasn’t just talking to Phil, Dougal and Derry, but to three other leprechauns she had never seen before. ‘Who are they?’ she asked, pointing to the newcomers.
‘Friends,’ said Dougal. ’We’ll get to them in a minute. What you’re saying is that we need to go to Sarasidhe to help deal with these ogres?’
‘Yes. We’ve come to ask for your help. We need you. But I have to warn you: this is going to be far more dangerous than last time.’ Niamh spoke slowly and surely, conscious of the great favour she was asking of her friends.
‘Can you get us there magically, or do we have to walk?’ Dougal asked the fairy wizard quite matter-of-factly.
‘I can’t use magic to transport us between two different worlds, so it looks like we’re walking,’ she replied, a smile beginning to cross her face.
‘Right, that’s settled then,’ said Derry. ‘Now, time for introductions.’