CHAPTER 28 OGRES IN RETREAT
The next morning Sir John was proven correct. Not only had two thirds of the remaining army retreated in the night, but those that remained were left to simply guard the rear of their retreating army.
From the city walls the companions watched the last of the ogres make their orderly withdrawal.
‘We should go after them – finish them now,’ Gaston stated, ‘while we have a chance. Rout them once and for all.’
‘No, our soldiers are too exhausted,’ Izzy replied.
‘It could also be a trap,’ Sir John added.
Gaston looked at both Izzy and Sir John, a look of determination on his face. ’Nonsense. We have plenty of fresh troops. The yumboe tribesmen with their horses and camels have sat back and watched us do their fighting. I’m sure they’d love to have a crack at the ogres. And you said it yourself, Sir John – we’ve beaten them.’
Sir John scratched his chin. ’No. We may have broken their siege, but they’re not beaten yet. They’ve just realised they can’t conquer us here, in such a strong defensive position.’
’So, it makes even more sense to finish them here and now,’ Gaston suggested, ‘before they regroup and increase their numbers.’
‘Now’s not the right time,’ Sir John replied. ‘Firstly, our losses would be extremely high in an attack against the ogres’ best troops.’
‘But we would win,’ the prince argued.
‘Possibly, but at what cost? As I was saying – secondly, we don’t know where the rest of the ogre army is. I remember once, in what seems like a lifetime ago, I was in an army that lay siege to a city that couldn’t be taken by force.’ John looked over at Izzy and Cameron; the deep sorrow in his eyes was clear as he bowed his head. ‘But still we tried to take it, and after three weeks of failed attacks, we withdrew.’
‘Tantallon,’ Izzy murmured sadly. ‘I always try to forget you and Arthur fought there.’
‘Tantallon,’ whispered John, echoing Izzy. He genuinely wished he hadn’t been there, but the dreams that haunted his sleep would never let him forget.
‘What happened at Tantallon?’ Gaston asked, intrigued.
Cameron continued the story, as she could see John was far too upset. ‘The pixie army withdrew at night, and we stupidly followed them, despite a certain young low-ranking princess begging our commanders not to. Two days later we were annihilated by a pixie ambush, and within a week our war with the pixies was over. One of their generals had taken up residence in our royal palace.’
Gaston had been about to speak, but Dougal cut in. ’With all due respect, Prince Gaston, none of us here has the experience of Sir John, Izzy or Cameron. So, until we get word from Phil as to what the ogres are doing, I think we should bow to their judgement, don’t you?’
Gaston gave Dougal one of his now-famous glares. ‘So, we just sit here and let them walk away unopposed. Is that what you’re suggesting?’
‘For now, but not for long,’ Izzy replied. ’We have the advantage for the first time, and we have to make sure we keep it. I think it’s time for all of us to get some much-needed rest. We’re going to need all the strength we can muster when we next face the ogres. And rest assured, Prince Gaston – that battle will come sooner rather than later.’
‘Good – it’s settled then,’ said John, not waiting for Gaston to reply. ‘Now that we’ve decided to wait for Phil’s report, I’ll take my leave.’
Cameron looked pointedly at Izzy, and they both followed Sir John off the wall.
Izzy placed her hand on the knight’s shoulder. ‘John,’ she said softly. ‘What happened at Tantallon wasn’t your fault. You were just one soldier in the army of a mad king, and your actions have since more than made up for anything you did in your king’s service.’
John looked at the brownie, misery clouding his eyes. ‘If I hadn’t met Amber, I’d still be doing exactly what the king and his commanders told me to.’
’But you did meet Amber, and it wasn’t just meeting her that made you a good man. When Rupert ordered you to kill that man, you were forced to fight a duel with ...’
‘Yes, that’s it, Ferrier – and you refused. You refused a direct order from your king. It takes not only a good man to do that, John, but an incredibly brave one as well.’
‘It was only because Amber made me realise what I had become.’
‘John – if I, of all people, can forgive you for being in the army that conquered my homeland, don’t you think you should be able to?’
John gave Izzy a hug. ‘I hope that one day I can. Thank you, Izzy, but now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to spend some time by myself.’
As the knight headed to his quarters, he thought to himself, I wonder if she’d be so forgiving if she knew the withdrawal and ambush had been my idea.
The gates of Almoravid opened. This bustling city was proudly named after the once greatyumboe empire.
The enormous army poured through the gates and out into the immense barren desert that lay waiting for them.
Niamh and Izzy led the way riding beautiful white horses.
The leprechauns, who were riding the largest of the captured elephants the retreating ogres had left behind, flanked them.
The vast militia now numbered almost twenty thousand. In the week since Phil had returned with the news that the ogres were in full retreat, five more yumboe tribes had joined their ranks, with thousands of reinforcements arriving by sea.
Pasha Imram and his men stayed behind to man the city walls. Along with ten fairy druids, whose task was to tend to the two hundred remaining injured, they were the only ones left.
Pasha Javid had watched for over three hours, and still the army marched from the city. He was concealed safely in the small oasis as the army marched into the searing sands.
The yumboe pasha had not been dormant in the time since he had deserted what was then little more than an encampment. Over a dozen tribes had joined his cause, and now all he had to do was wait until the outsiders, and the tribesmen who foolishly followed them, were far enough away for him to safely take the city. He would have a capital for his new kingdom – a yumboe kingdom, free of outside influences where he, King Javid, would go down in history as the saviour of his people.
‘Pasha, we must go,’ stated a yumboe warrior who stood beside him.
Javid nodded, and the two men withdrew back into the desert as six yumboe camel riders who had been sent by Niamh to search the oasis headed towards them.
Vercingetroix led his elephant to the pond at the centre of the large oasis. He looked at the ogres he commanded, eight hundred from the king’s own bodyguard, and three hundred elephant mounted cavalry, all volunteers. He watched as they drank from the pool of cool water and prepared their nightly meal.
Their job was to slow the advance of the wizard’s army long enough for the king to reach their city in the untamed lands, and hopefully long enough for reinforcements to arrive.
Teutates had not wanted Vercingetroix to command the rear-guard, believing his friend was far too important, but the ogre had insisted it was a matter of honour. The king reluctantly agreed to his friend’s request.
‘We’ll make our stand here,’ he said to himself, believing he had found the best location to slow the wizard’s army.
‘They’re waiting for us at the next oasis,’ said Phil, landing beside Niamh, Izzy and Dougal, who had dismounted for the night.
‘How many?’ Niamh asked.
‘A thousand give or take.’
‘Can we take them by surprise tonight?’ asked Izzy.
‘They’re still three hours away, and there’ll be no moonlight tonight,’ the fairy dragon answered. ‘We’d need all four moons full to give us enough light to move freely through the desert, and we won’t have that.’
‘And even if we did, with that much light they’d see us coming,’ Izzy conceded. ‘Do you think they know how close we are?’
The dragon nodded. ’They know all right. I’m sure they’ve known exactly where we are from the minute, we left Almoravid.’
‘So,’ said Dougal. ‘We’ll double the guard tonight, and make sure we all get a good night’s rest.’
‘Hold your fire!’ snapped Vercingetroix, after a soldier to his right had sent an arrow into the air that landed well short of the advancing army. ‘The next man to fire without my command will be used as ammunition for one of our catapults. Is that clear?’
The ogres watched anxiously as the massive army advanced, every step bringing them closer to the thin ogre line.
‘Steady,’ cried Vercingetroix. ‘Steady. On my command … Ready, aim, FIRE!’
The ogres fought bravely, but the army they faced was too large to hold, and they were soon forced to give ground. For every ogre that fell, one of their enemy joined them.
Vercingetroix and the ogre cavalry, which now numbered less than two hundred, covered every ogre withdrawal. On two occasions Vercingetroix engaged in combat with Dougal, but in the confused melee, neither had gained an advantage. What Dougal gained in size advantage over the ogre, he lost due to his inexperience in riding the ungainly and temperamental elephant.
For six long days the ogres fought a series of battles that were all designed to slow the united army’s advance. As the sun set low in the sky on the seventh day, Vercingetroix knew his soldiers could fight no more. Only three hundred-foot soldiers, supported by less than fifty cavalry, still lived. They had done what they’d set out to do: the bulk of the ogre army was now safely behind Calètes’ mighty walls.
Later that night, under the blanket of darkness, the last remnants of the ogre rear-guard disappeared.
‘Your walls will not stop them,’ Flamnach said bluntly to the ogre king.
‘They are impenetrable,’ Teutates snapped back defiantly. ‘And even if they weren’t, it doesn’t matter – within a month we will be joined by tens of thousands of ogres. They have only seen my advance guard, which is a tiny percentage of my true army.’
The duan fairy smirked, an evil look in her cold eyes. ‘I have seen their magic, and there are not enough ogres in all the known worlds for you to defeat them. I’m not the only one who believes this. If my queen thought you had a chance, she would have offered you more assistance.’
‘I don’t care what your queen thinks.’
Flamnach looked wistfully around the room. ‘Careful, your highness. You never know – she might be listening.’
‘She told me she had dealt with the dragons,’ Teutates replied, a little nervously, looking over his shoulder despite himself. ‘But I’ve seen one with my own eyes. I’m starting to think she wanted me to fail.’
’If you fear a single rogue dragon, then you’re a disgrace to your race and don’t deserve to reclaim your lost empire,’ Flamnach sneered as she spoke her last words.
The ogre king drew his sword, but before he could raise it, the weapon disappeared.
Flamnach cackled. ‘Don’t be a fool, ogre! You are no match even for a novice wizard, and I assure you I am no novice. Even if, by some miracle, you did manage to get the better of me, what do you think my queen would do to someone who killed one of her envoys? I don’t believe it would be pretty, do you?’
The ogre king steadied himself. ‘Neither you nor your queen scare me. I’m prepared to listen to her suggestions, but I cannot guarantee that I will act upon them.’
‘She believes that if the lesser races are to be destroyed, we must separate the wizard and the shoemakers from the others. Her plans for the wizard are well advanced, but she needs this to be given to the shoemaker named Dougal.’ A large book magically appeared in Teutates’s hands. ’I’m sure you, or one of your commanders, know to whom I refer. My queen wants you to join her army when she unleashes it on the wingless ones and any who stand beside them.’
‘You mean she wants to use us as arrow fodder, as we used her goblins?’
‘We have enough lesser races to fill that purpose; my queen would not even use the disgusting bugbears in such a role. No, she wants to use your army as her personal guard – a role you will be well rewarded for.’
‘What would she give us in return?’
‘Your ancestral homeland.’
‘Under her supervision and terms, no doubt?’
‘The lands will be yours without condition. Once we destroy the wingless ones, we intend to leave this world forever.’
Teutates digested what the duan had just said. It shocked him somewhat, for if the duan fairies did leave Connacht forever after defeating the fairies and their allies, the entire world would be his. He liked this idea; he liked it very much, but not quite as much as defeating the other races by himself. ‘I’ll think about what we’ve discussed.’
‘Take your time, good king. All you need to do is call my name when you’ve made your decision. Do not forget that the book must find its way into the leprechaun’s hands.’
Flamnach vanished from sight well before the ogre king stopped hearing her voice.
’Well, Brennus, what do you think?’ Teutates wished that Vercingetroix was also present.
‘I think that the dark fairy is still here.’
‘No doubt she is, but we have to talk this through, whether she’s here or not.’
‘Then I think she gave us an escape clause.’
’Meaning if for some reason we can’t hold Calètes, we join the Dark Queen. Either way, you’ll always be remembered as the king who returned his people to their rightful home. However, if we do it without her help, you won’t be forever in her debt. If we take the wizard alive and make a present of her, the dark one will be indebted to you. A far better position for you to be in, don’t you agree?’
The ogre king smiled his approval and said, ‘It’s decided, then. We stand firm and wait for the bulk of my army to arrive.’