The Ogre Wars

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CHAPTER 29 A WIZARD AT THE GATE

‘It’s an impressive sight,’ said Izzy. The giant walled city stood before her, a huge castle at its centre. ‘You have to wonder how they managed to build this in the middle of the jungle; it must’ve taken years just to clear the trees. I wonder why they built it here of all places?’ she mused.

‘Because somewhere behind those walls is a door – one that leads to another world,’ Niamh answered.

Derry said excitedly, ‘I can feel it, too.’

So, can I,’ said Liam. ‘It’s an ancient portal, but I can’t gauge where it leads.’

’It’s safe to assume it’s to the world the ogres have been hiding in since my ancestors drove them from Connacht,’ Phil said, but he was confused. ‘What I can’t understand is, how the three of you can sense it and I can’t. I’ve never encountered a magical essence that has escaped my senses.’

‘Maybe you have,’ Izzy teased, ‘but you just didn’t realise.’

Or,’ said Niamh, trying to protect the dragon from the brownie’s taunting, ‘the ogres have found a way to conceal it from the magical sensing abilities of their greatest enemy. Without their own magic, it would’ve taken decades to build this city. They must’ve been here well before the dragons’ departure, and they would’ve feared being discovered.’

‘That also explains why no explorer has ever returned from the untamed lands,’ Cameron added.

Derry looked at her friends. ‘Maybe the goblins helped them?’

Liam shook his head in disagreement. ’No, goblins don’t possess the intelligence. If the ogres had help, it came from a highly intelligent, magic-possessing race, and that’s a very frightening thought.’

‘Or, it was built by a race that has long since passed from Connacht,’ Niamh suggested. ‘Maybe it’s a natural portal and that’s why Phil can’t feel it.’

‘It doesn’t really matter either way,’ said Dougal. ‘All that matters is that we close it once and for all with the ogres on the other side.’

‘How are we going to do that?’ asked Izzy. ‘We’ve as much chance of taking that city as the ogres did of taking ours.’

‘Wrong, Izzy – our chances are far greater,’ Niamh said. ‘We have something they don’t. We have magic, and that’s something their walls, no matter how thick they are, cannot withstand. But enough blood has been shed; I think we should give them the chance to leave peacefully.’

‘Why should we let any of them get away?’ Gaston was appalled by the very suggestion. ‘Many of my people have died on ogre swords and they should be forced to pay dearly.’

‘At what cost, Prince Gaston?’ said Izzy. ‘For every ogre that falls, dozens of soldiers will also die. Is it not our responsibility to protect those who follow us – not send them to their deaths?’

‘We’re just wasting time,’ Gaston sighed in resignation. ‘They’ll never give up without a fight. But you’re right – we should at least give them the option.’

Dougal returned to the gathering, accompanied by Ambiorix. Even though the ogre’s hands were tightly bound, he walked freely at the leprechaun’s side. To the casual observer, it might have appeared as if they were two old friends happily walking and chatting, but in truth Dougal wished the ogre would stop his constant inane babbling.

‘I see our friend is in good spirits,’ Izzy teased.

’He’s been letting me know, in great detail I might add, what his friends are going to do to me when I’m taken prisoner,’ Dougal said, raising his eyes to heaven. ’Ever the optimist is Ambiorix.’

‘I don’t know why you didn’t kill him before we left Almoravid,’ said Andre, who had arrived before they did. ‘I would’ve happily done it for you; all you had to do was ask.’

‘You’d kill your own father for the right price,’ said Gaston, in a slightly amused tone.

‘Too late,’ interjected Mazarin, as coldly as he dared.

’Now, now, Mazzy – nothing was ever proven,’ Andre replied, a wicked gleam in his eye. ‘And you’d be wise to remember that.’

‘Of course, My Lord,’ said Mazarin, dipping his head. ‘I meant no offence.’

‘None taken,’ said Andre, a little too casually. ‘Now, Prince Gaston, would you like me to take care of the ogre?’

‘That’s not my decision. And even if it was, I agree with the wizard – the ogre still has his uses.’

‘You’ll find me of little use, I can assure you, and I think you should let your friend try and end my life. Even unarmed and with my hands bound, I doubt that little man would give me too much trouble,’ Ambiorix taunted the follet lord.

Andre sneered as he drew his sword and started towards the ogre.

Dougal quickly positioned himself between them. ‘If you take one more step, Andre, I’ll untie his hands and give him a sword.’

‘Do-Gal,’ Ambiorix exclaimed. ‘I don’t need a sword.’

‘If the two of them don’t shut up,’ shouted Izzy, ‘I’ll kill them myself!’

‘Andre, see to your men,’ Gaston ordered, attempting to defuse the situation. Andre hesitated, but only for a moment, as Gaston shouted, ‘NOW!’

‘I apologise for that unfortunate exchange,’ Gaston said once Andre had left. ’Lord Capet is used to being the one in control. It is highly unusual for an esprit follet lord to be in a position to take orders from anyone other than the royal family. It appears he is struggling to adjust to the situation. Rest assured that I will have a word with him in private. He will not embarrass himself or me again.’

An uncomfortable silence followed.

Niamh was first to break it. ’Ambiorix, we want you to take our terms to your king,’ she said.

‘The only terms my king will accept, wizard, is your surrender.’

‘Now you and I both know that’s not going to happen, don’t we?’ You will take our terms to your king, but how you do it is completely up to you. I’m perfectly happy to pin them to your dead body if that’s what you’d prefer.’ Niamh gave the ogre a chilling glare. ’We know that behind those walls is the portal to the world where your people have been hiding since they were defeated by the fairy dragons. We’ll give you until nightfall to agree to leave Connacht; then we’ll allow you two weeks to do so. If we hear nothing by nightfall, we will begin our attack at dawn. Let me assure you, ogre, it will be unlike anything you’ve seen before. You’ve seen first-hand the magic I possess, so you know I could easily tear down the city walls with little more than a word. And you also know I’m not the only one with the magic to do so.’

Ambiorix stared at the wizard. He knew it would be futile to argue. ’I will deliver your terms. But don’t expect a reply. So far, you’ve only seen a fraction of our army – little more than an advance guard. When the rest arrive, we will wipe you from the face of our world once and for all.’

‘We’ve heard these threats time and time again,’ Izzy said, shrugging her shoulders. ’And we’ve beaten back your every attack with little effort on our part. It is us who now besiege you – so go now, before I hand you over to the follet lord.’

Phil met with Niamh, Izzy, Dougal and the yumboe pashas to tell them what he had found.

‘There are twenty slave camps,’ he said, ’where thousands of both desert and jungle yumboe tribesmen are being forced to clear the forests and work the mines. In most cases, the camps have less than fifty ogres guarding the hundreds of male tribesmen. The women and children are being kept in camps several miles away.

’The yumboe warriors under the command of Pasha Ali have been given the task of liberating the slaves. Their orders are to return as soon as possible with anyone fit enough to fight.’

The deadline for surrender came and went with no word from the ogres. Niamh summoned every wizard in the army to join her in a large clearing a mile from the main encampment.

The wizards arrived in groups that comprised not of individual races, but a mixture of the magical races. The mage had instructed her wizards to learn from the other races as well as teach them what they knew; she was pleased to see they were all working together.

‘The time has come,’ she addressed her wizards. ‘You all need to know what is expected of you from here on in, and what spells you need to memorise.’

She went on to explain her plans for the morning, finishing with the importance of a solid night’s rest, as tomorrow would be both mentally and physically exhausting.

The ogre king and his three closest friends, who were also his most experienced officers, stood on the gate tower.

Below them, hundreds of wizards, led by the cursed fairy and shoemaker mage, began to march towards the city.

‘Crossbows at the ready!’ cried Teutates. ‘Fire on my command, not before.’ He paused before adding, ‘I’ll pay the man who kills the fairy wizard five times his weight in gold.’

‘I’m sure you promised the dark fairy that you’d take the wizard alive,’ Vercingetroix said wryly.

’I said I would try and take her alive,’ Teutates replied. ‘I can hardly be held responsible if a stray arrow kills her, now, can I?’

‘That stray arrow isn’t going to strike any time soon,’ Brennus interrupted. ‘Look – they’ve stopped outside the range of our weapons.’

A strange mantra could be heard from below, and it grew louder and louder with every chant.

Aboleo -ere -evi -itummaceria -ae f, aboleo -ere -eviitummaceria -ae f, aboleo -ere -evi -itummaceria -ae f.’

‘Send an artillery barrage at them!’ ordered the king.

On his command, several catapults fired, sending their deadly rocks into the air like a volcano spewing its molten lava. Before the ogre soldiers had a chance to reload, the wizards had unleashed their spell.

Teutates watched in horror as a giant ray of light hit the wall on his right and exploded into a huge fireball, sending rock fragments in all directions. He ducked but was too late. A jagged splinter smacked his forehead, knocking him to the ground. Ogres ran in all directions, trying to flee the attack.

The king struggled to his feet, blood gushing from a gaping wound. The dust, fire and smoke were already dispersing, revealing a hole in the wall that was so large it would be almost impossible to defend.

‘Look!’ Brennus exclaimed. ‘The wizard and shoemaker approach under a white flag.’

Teutates’ first impulse was to kill them, but he knew the fairy wizard wouldn’t have put herself, or the others, in such a precarious position.

Niamh, Dougal, Izzy, Sir John and Prince Gaston all stopped just outside the range of ogre archers. None were confident the ogres would honour their white flag.

‘How long do we give them?’ asked Izzy.

‘Until they try and kill us,’ John replied.

Dougal laughed half-heartedly. ‘Or we get bored.’

‘I don’t think either will happen,’ said Gaston, pointing to the city gates. ‘I believe our enemy is finally ready to talk.’

The gates drew open and four ogres rode forward on imposing war elephants.

‘They’re not carrying white flags,’ Dougal observed.

‘I doubt that four of them will try and take on our entire army,’ Izzy replied.

‘Why not? You would.’

‘Yes, but I’ve got powerful friends beside me. Plus, there are normally at least ten of us.’

John moved his hand to his sword. ‘I think it would be wise if we’re ready to defend ourselves none the less.’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Niamh. ‘I’ve already cast a defensive spell. We’re far safer than they are if they choose to fight.’

‘They seem awfully relaxed,’ Dougal pointed out.

The ogres appeared to be in casual conversation as they got closer.

‘They’re doing it for the benefit of their own soldiers, not us. A king who loses a war often finds himself without a kingdom, so it’s important he makes it look like he’s surrendering on his terms,’ John explained, not taking his eyes off the enemy.

Two of the ogre riders stopped fifty feet away. The other two continued forward until they were directly in front of Niamh.

‘I am King Teutates. Who is your commander?’

Niamh moved forward. ’I am Niamh Donegal, commander of the free races of Connacht.

‘What are your terms?’

’Did Ambiorix not relay our demands?’ she answered bluntly.

‘I do not accept relayed terms. If you have something to say, say it to me directly.’

‘It is very simple, ogre –’

’I am a king and I demand to be addressed with the respect I am entitled to!’

‘You’ll be given the respect you deserve and nothing more,’ Niamh snapped back. ’You are responsible for the deaths of hundreds – no, thousands – of innocent villagers. Women and children died during your raids, and if the free races hadn’t united, you would’ve picked us off one by one, no doubt turning any survivors into slaves. Now that you’re beaten, and you know you are beaten, you have the nerve to demand respect? Well, you won’t get any from me.’

‘Then we are finished here,’ Teutates said as he tried to turn his elephant, but to his dismay found he couldn’t.

Niamh spoke slowly and deliberately. ‘You will leave when I say you can leave.’

‘Need I remind you that we meet under a white flag?’ said Vercingetroix.

‘You carry no flag.’

‘But you do.’

Niamh dismissed the flag she held in her left hand and it instantly disappeared. ‘I believe your eyes have deceived you, ogre.’ Niamh spoke with such ruthless authority that shivers ran down Izzy’s spine.

‘What are your terms?’ the king yelled in anger.

’You have two weeks to leave Connacht.

‘And how are we supposed to do that?’

’Don’t play games with me, fool. I can sense the portal inside your city. I don’t know where it leads to and I don’t particularly care, but I do know it’s there, and I know it’s where your people have been hiding, grovelling in fear, since you were defeated by the fairy dragons.’

‘And if I do not accept your terms?’

’Then I will destroy your city brick by brick and drive every living ogre through the portal. Oh, and so that we are perfectly clear – you will not be one of the living.’

‘You speak bravely, wizard. But you are not the first to threaten my life. Others have shared your confidence.’

’Have the others placed a spell on you that will kill you if you don’t leave Connacht in fifteen days?’

Teutates’ face turned a shade lighter, his normally greenish features now a sallow yellow. ‘Your terms are almost acceptable, wizard. However, I don’t believe I can recall all my men from our smaller settlements in two weeks.’

’Don’t you mean slave camps? As we speak, twenty of them are being liberated.’ The fairy wizard paused. ‘How many others are there?’

‘If you’ve found twenty, then there are still another eight.’

‘Give me maps to their locations and I will see that as many of your people as possible are returned alive.’

‘They will fight to the death without my order to surrender. I must send messengers to bring them in.’

‘You can send two riders to each camp, but they will be accompanied by a detachment of my wizards, who will take immediate command of the camps and see to the requirements of,’ she paused for emphasis, ’the workers. If any harm comes to any of my followers, you won’t live long enough to return to whatever hole it was you have recently crawled out from.’

The look of absolute hate was clear as the ogre king eyed Niamh. ‘Then I have three weeks to withdraw?’

‘You have eighteen days.’

‘And your spell?’

Niamh waved her right hand dismissively. ‘You now have nineteen days to live in Connacht as long as you begin your evacuation at once. I will have invisible spies in your city. The dragon prince will also be flying overhead to make sure your men are leaving.’

‘Your terms are acceptable. The withdrawal will begin at dawn tomorrow.’

‘One more thing, ogre. Your life is now tied to mine. If I was to, let’s say, have a nasty accident because of my spell, you would share my fate, so it is in your best interest for me to be alive until you leave. Have I made myself clear?’

‘Perfectly.’

‘Good. Then we are finished. You are dismissed.’

As the two ogres turned their elephants to leave, Vercingetroix glowered at Dougal. ‘Things between you and me are far from settled, shoemaker.’

Dougal shrugged. ‘Take a number, get in line.’

Gaston laughed despite himself.

As the ogres rode back to the city, Teutates whispered to Vercingetroix, ’That one would give the Dark Queen a run for her money. If she had wings, I’d believe she was a duan fairy.’

Vercingetroix grunted. ’She is far more duan fairy than one of the so-called wingless ones, that much is true. Speaking of the dark ones – do we withdraw and join their ranks, or do we bring the bulk of our army into Connacht?’

‘It will take me months to fully mobilise the army. If it wasn’t for that cursed wizard, we could’ve closed the gates and waited, but she has removed that option. No, I would rather have conquered Connacht on my own. But what’s important now is that we reclaim our homeland – not how we reclaim it. There is also the matter of the spell.’

‘I could take the world in your name. Once the wizard is dead, you can safely return.’

‘No, my friend. I will not be deprived of the pleasure of retaking our homeland.’

But can we trust the dark ones?’

’The Dark Queen is driven by revenge, not the desire to rule this world. I believe that once she has seen the fairies and their allies destroyed, she will leave Connacht forever. Either way, I will be the ogre who led his people back to the stolen lands.’

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