CHAPTER 5 A FAVOUR RETURNED
Dawn found all but one of the crew clinging to the debris of the small fishing boat. As the ship plunged into the dark sea, fairies, leprechauns and brownies alike all jumped for safety. All made it except for Eoughan.
The brave fairy sailor remained on board to ensure everyone’s safety, the drag of the sinking boat finally pulling him under, bringing him to eternal sleep at the bottom of the ocean.
As Dougal clung to part of the broken mast, he saw a flock of seagulls in the distance, and realised he could see sand dunes beneath the birds.
‘I can see land,’ he cried hoarsely.
‘Where?’ Izzy croaked.
The brownie was clinging to the same piece of mast as Dougal and Cait.
Dougal lifted a weary arm and pointed to the shore.
It was a little over a mile to the land Dougal had spotted, and it took the twelve companions over two hours to reach it, clinging to the boat debris for buoyancy, sheer determination driving them forward as they paddled for their lives.
Cold, hungry and exhausted, they eventually managed to drag themselves ashore.
‘Do we risk a fire?’ asked Dylan, as he lay wearily on the sandy beach.
‘I don’t think we can,’ said Niamh.
‘But I’m freezing,’ moaned Fearghus, who couldn’t feel his fingers or toes.
As much as Izzy liked the sound of a warm fire, she knew the wizard was right.
’ Niamh’s right,’ she said. ’We have no idea where we are, or who’s looking for us. We have no weapons other than Niamh and Derry’s magic. What we do know is that the esprit follet admiral didn’t want us anywhere near Auvergnen territory, and he, or someone else, sank our boat to keep us away. We can’t afford to draw attention to ourselves by lighting a fire. It’s a warm day; we’ll be dry in no time. Now, we have to get off this beach and find cover before half the Auvergnen army arrive.’
As Izzy was speaking, Liam spotted dozens of esprit follet soldiers charging towards them. ‘Too late,’ he said.
‘Surrender now and you will not be harmed,’ a follet officer called out.
’Niamh, return us to our real size,’ Dougal urged the wizard.
‘There’s too many of them to fight, Dougal. I think we should keep that surprise up our sleeve for now.’
‘She’s right,’ said Izzy, raising her hands in surrender. Her friends followed her lead. ‘Don’t worry, there’s not a dungeon in existence that can hold me,’ the small brownie said cheerfully.
‘What about the one in Tantallon?’ quipped Dylan.
‘That was two years ago, and the damned pixies stole my lock pick. I’m far more prepared now,’ she replied, giving him a cheeky grin.
The heavy metal cell door scraped open, and a pair of armed guards entered.
‘You and you,’ said one of the guards, pointing to Izzy and Niamh. ‘Come with us.’
As Dougal watched the door to the large cell close, he heard Cait ask, ‘Where are they taking them?’
‘For questioning,’ Cameron replied.
’Why Niamh and Izzy?’
’Like the admiral, these follet obviously know who they are.’
’So, what happens now?’
’They’ll ask Izzy and Niamh why we’re here, but they won’t believe their answers. They’ll most likely question them separately. Finally, when the follet are convinced they won’t receive any information, they will most probably demand a ransom for their safe return.’
Fearghus sat rigid as he listened to what Cameron said. ‘What will they do with us?’ he asked nervously.
‘If we don’t escape, we’ll most likely be executed as spies,’ she replied bluntly. ’But don’t worry, Fearghus. Izzy will have us out of here by morning.’
The colour drained from his face. ‘I wish I shared your confidence.’
Ten guards led Izzy and Niamh through numerous dark, twisting corridors, lit only by wall-mounted hooded iron lanterns that cast sinister shadows.
Niamh was gagged and her hands were tied behind her back. The follet guards were taking no chances with the wizard.
At the end of the longest passageway, they arrived at two large black wooden doors.
Four guards stood in front of these doors, all wearing full-plate ceremonial armour, each armed with two-handed swords. Cold, emotionless eyes stared at the two prisoners.
One of the guards escorting Niamh and Izzy nodded for the doors to be opened.
As the guards roughly pushed the two women into the room, neither failed to notice that Niamh had six crossbows pointing at her, poised to kill.
Izzy studied the room intently. Twelve gold sculptured gueridons, each holding ten candles and standing twice the height of the brownie, lined the walls of the chamber. Huge, gold-framed paintings of every description hung from the lavish walls, and gleaming crystal and gold-encrusted chandeliers bedecked the ceiling.
As she walked down the luxurious purple carpet, she wondered how the man at the other end of the room had obtained so many treasures.
Niamh, although quietly impressed by the grandeur of the room, was more concerned about the man sitting on the golden throne, who was watching them closely.
He was a follet, in his late thirties to early forties, who obviously had a fondness for food and fine living. His hair was light brown. He wore several large, ostentatious rings and a long pale-blue coat that looked like it was woven from the finest of silks.
‘I have brought you the prisoners as requested, My Lord,’ said the captain of the guard, bowing his head.
’I can see that, you fool. Go back to your duties – I will call you when it is time to return our guests to their quarters.’
‘As you command.’ The captain turned and left the room.
‘Untie her, remove the gag.’
The second guard did as ordered.
‘You must forgive my brother; he does tend to be somewhat overcautious. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Marquis Chretien De Medicis.’ He paused. ’Now that I have introduced myself, perhaps – Princess Isabella, and Niamh ofSarasidhe – you would be so good as to explain what you are doing in Auvergne.’
‘I am not a princess,’ replied Izzy, defiance in her tone.
‘Did you not introduce yourself to Admiral Navarre as Isabella Wallace?’ the marquis asked with a sarcastic politeness.
‘No, I did not,’ said Izzy, pointing to Niamh. ‘She did. Yes, I am a Wallace, and the king of Caledonia is my cousin, but I am not a princess.’
‘Enough of this inane babble. Tell me what you are doing here,’ demanded the marquis.
‘We have already told your admiral,’ said Niamh, calmly looking her captive directly in the eye.
‘Ogres do not exist!’ he bellowed.
Izzy gaped in disbelief, a perplexed look on her face. ’Is your head buried in the sand? You must have heard reports of the raids on the Caledonian, fairy and Tudorland coastlines?’
’Esprit follet pay little attention to events beyond our borders.’
‘Enough to know who we are, though,’ quipped the brownie.
’Yes, but only because there were esprit follet mercenaries in Rupert’s army,’ replied De Medicis. ‘Let’s say you’re right, and you are chasing a ship large enough to carry ... how many ogres was it?’
‘At least thirty,’ answered Niamh.
’Right, so you’re chasing a ship large enough to carry thirty or more ogres, in a fishing boat with a crew of twelve. Let’s say I believe you; I don’t, but for the sake of an argument, let’s assume I do. How is it that a huge ship manages to avoid the entire Auvergnen navy when your tiny fishing boat couldn’t?’
‘It’s a large ocean,’ Niamh answered dismissively.
’Nothing enters Auvergnen waters without my knowledge.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
’Admiral Navarre found you in the dead of night and sank your boat before you even knew he was there,’ the marquis countered smugly.
‘Luck,’ huffed Izzy.
‘Luck had nothing to do with it. Our ships’ wizards scan our waters constantly; a small fish couldn’t escape their detection.’
‘Then someone in your fleet knows where the ogre ship is.’
‘Enough of this. You will tell me why you are here.’
‘Because, as you said, your admiral sank our boat,’ Izzy barked at the marquis.
De Medicis’ patience with the two infuriating women ran out. ‘Take them to the dungeon! Lock them in separate cells. Gag the wizard, and chain her to the wall.’
‘As you command, My Lord,’ replied one of the guards.
’And just to give you something to think about overnight, if you don’t tell me what I want to know by noon tomorrow, I’ll start executing your companions, one by one, starting with thepretty young female. If you talk, I will release them. You will be held for ransom of course, whether you talk or not.’
’My cousin would be more likely to pay you to keep me here,’ Izzy replied, as the guards lead her and Niamh from the room.
The marquis shrugged. ’Either way, I benefit. Remember, your companions’ lives are in your hands.’
Izzy sat alone in the darkness of her confined cell. As soon as she was certain the guards were gone, she pulled off her right boot and twisted the sole, revealing a secret compartment. Inside she kept several skeleton keys, a couple of six-inch-long lock picks, and several other small items she knew always came in handy at times like this.
She withdrew the lock picks, closed the compartment, and put her boot back on.
The near complete darkness of the cell meant it took the brownie several minutes to find the door’s keyhole. She positioned herself on the floor and began to work the lock.
‘Too easy,’ she smiled to herself, as seconds later she heard the lock click into place.
She slipped the picks into her pocket, took a deep steadying breath, and quietly pushed the heavy cell door open.
Torchlight flooded her cell, forcing the small brownie to squint and blink repeatedly until her eyes became accustomed to the light. She slipped noiselessly through the winding corridors; it was the largest dungeon she had ever been in.
She moved with the grace and stealth of a cat, her heart beating excitedly. The small brownie was in her element. Although she was alone, unarmed and surrounded by hostile guards, she wasn’t the slightest bit worried. Izzy had spent most of her life exploring the secret tunnels and catacombs of Tantallon and had developed the ability to instantly remember any corridor in which she travelled.
It only took her a couple of minutes to find Niamh’scell. Luckily for her, she saw the guard at her friend’s door as soon as she rounded the last corner. Izzy hastily retreated without being seen, scolding herself for her carelessness.
Phil’s sharp eyes saw the debris of his friends’ fishing boat well before he reached it.
He spent several minutes surveying the scene, looking for survivors. When he found none, he drew a deep breath, and dived headfirst into the murky water below.
He promptly located what was left of the fishing boat; it was sitting peacefully on the ocean floor. Phil swam over to the wreckage, hoping he would find it empty.
The fairy dragon was relieved when he found no one. He had almost finished his search, and was about to return to the surface, when he saw a dead fairy sailor pinned to the deck by a large chunk of the boat’s mast. The sailor seemed to have a peaceful look on his face.
Feeling a growing need to breathe, Phil returned to the surface. His initial reaction was to return to the wreckage, recover the sailor’s body and bury him, but he then reconsidered, realising the ocean would be a more fitting final resting place for the seasoned sailor.
As he broke the water’s surface, he sucked in a deep breath, returned to the sky, and headed for the coastline, all the while searching the ocean for any survivors.
Phil held Izzy’s sword in his right claw. He found it on the ocean floor and retrieved it, knowing the brownie would be devastated by its loss. Izzy had worn it proudly since the day she had stolen it from the evil pixie King Rupert.
Izzy stood and pondered her next move. Normally, she would take out the guard, but due to her current lack of weapons, she knew this wasn’t an option. To make matters worse, she heard the guard talking to someone in a language she didn’t understand.
She cautiously peered around the corner and saw a second guard pouring wine into the first guard’s tankard. She was about to head off in search of weapons when the voices of the two guards receded into the distance.
Izzy looked around the corner again, this time to find an empty wine bottle guarding her friend’s door.
‘I wouldn’t want to be that guard in the morning,’ she said to herself as she crept forward.
She pulled the lock picks from her pocket and went to work on the door. ‘I don’t know why they even bother,’ she grinned, as she pushed the door open.
Niamh was chained to the far wall, gagged, with both arms raised above her head.
‘That looks rather uncomfortable,’ Izzy joked, removing the gag.
‘You took your time, didn’t you?’ quipped Niamh. ‘Come on, let’s get out here,’ she said, as Izzy removed the chains.
‘You are good,’ said Niamh, as her manacles fell to the stone floor with a clatter.
’We have to find some weapons incase we have to fight our way out of here.’
Niamh followed Izzy through the dungeon’s dingy corridors. She was amazed by how easily the brownie could steer her way through any corridor, passageway or tunnel. Niamh never doubted Izzy’s ability to remember her way through mazes and fleetingly remembered a time when Izzy had arrived to take up her post as ambassador. The little brownie had insisted that Adam and Dylan lead her blindfolded into the deepest, darkest part of the fairy king’s castle. They then removed the blindfold, and Izzy led them out, not making a single false turn.
As they approached yet another corner, Izzy placed her hand on Niamh’sarm to stop her.
The wizard gave her a questioning look.
‘This is where the guard we passed was,’ Izzy whispered. ‘We need to find out who, or what, he’s guarding.’
Izzy gave Niamh a knowing look, then walked boldly around the corner and directly up to the guard.
‘Excuse me, kind sir. I seem to have lost my way.’
The follet guard stared at Izzy, momentarily stunned by her sudden appearance. He then realised she was one of the prisoners he had seen being escorted by a large detail of guards earlier that day. He reached for and drew his sword, took two steps forward, and then fell to the ground unconscious.
The guard had been so distracted by the brownie he hadn’t noticed as Niamh cast a spell sending him into a deep, magical sleep.
Izzy bent down and picked up the sleeping guard’s sword.
‘Well, at least one of us is armed now,’ she said, as she took her lock picks from her pocket. ‘Let’s see who, or what, is behind door number one.’
Phil passed two large esprit follet ships. He briefly considered approaching the ships and questioning their crew but decided against it. Instead, he continued until he reached the sandy coastline, where he spent the next three hours searching for his friends, or at least some sign that they had made it safely ashore.
The fairy dragon found dozens of tracks which led to an area of the beach that was littered with debris.
Studying the area carefully, he concluded his friends had made it safely onto dry land and had probably been led away by esprit folletsoldiers. What he wasn’t sure of was whether they had been rescued or captured.
Phil followed the tracks until just before nightfall. The trail ended at a fortress built on a hill overlooking the ocean. He stared at the fortress, contemplating what to do next. He had two options. He could either settle down for the night and see what morning would bring or enter the fortress and see if he could find his friends.
He pondered his predicament. He could only see one way that would enable him to enter the stronghold, and that didn’t sit well with the dragon. He would have to violate sacred fairy dragon law and use an innate magic that had not been used in over a thousand years.
Izzy turned to Niamh, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Shall we?’
The little brownie turned the handle and gingerly pushed open the cell door. Light flooded into the tiny room. As Izzy’s eyes adjusted to the light, she saw a single figure lying on a small bed, its back turned away from the door.
She took a couple of steps forward with the intention of waking the sleeping prisoner, but before she made it halfway across the stone floor, she was stopped in her tracks.
‘What the hell do you want? It’s the middle of the night.’
The two women instantly recognised the gruff voice.
‘We’ve come to rescue you,’ said Izzy, who added, ‘but if it suits you better, we can wait until morning when the place is full of guards, and you’ve had your beauty sleep.’
’Izzy? What the hell are you doing here?’
‘We’ll discuss it on the way,’ said Niamh. ‘We’ve got to get the others and get out of here before dawn.’
‘They’re going to kill us, they’re going to kill us all,’ moaned Fearghus, shaking his head so hard it looked as if it might fly off.
‘Well, if they don’t, and you don’t shut up, I swear I will,’ Turloch said to his annoying friend.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Adam. ’Niamh and Izzy will have us out of here in no time.’
Fearghus looked sceptically at the fairy prince. ’What if they’re already dead? I don’t know why we just didn’t try and break out of here before they took Izzy and Niamh away.’
‘Because they would kill us first,’ Cameron replied.
’Wha–wha–what?’ stammered Fearghus.
’Niamh and Izzy are far too important. Izzy is a member of the brownie royal family whether she wants to admit it or not. Niamh is the most powerful wizard in Sarasidhe, if not all of Connacht. They will be held for ransom; it won’t be the first time follet have done this.’
‘Izzy should have broken us out of here before the guards took her away,’ Fearghus snivelled.
’Dougal, Derry, are you sure he’s your friend?’ asked Dylan, rolling his eyes skyward.
As Izzy led Niamh and Arthur through the twisting, turning maze that was the fortress’s dungeon, the wizard explained to the knight how they ended up as the marquis’s prisoner.
‘So,’ said Izzy when Niamh had finished her story, ’how did you end up in a follet cell?’
‘I was on my way to attend an emergency council of knights in Trevena. There have been several attempts on John’s life, and there appears to be an increasing number of pixies that want to return to the old ways, so we were meeting to discuss the threat. We were camped one day out of Huntingdon, and it appears that half of my bodyguards didn’t exactly have my best interests at heart. While I slept, those who were disloyal dispatched the loyal ones. They then tied and blindfolded me and forced me to drink some sort of potion. The next thing I know, I’m waking up in that cell. I didn’t even know where I was until you told me.’
‘Didn’t you have a wizard cast a spell to check their loyalty?’ Niamh asked, amazed that such an obvious task wasn’t undertaken.
’Yes we did, but you know what they say – never trust a wizard.’ Remembering whom he was talking to, Arthur added, ‘A pixie wizard, that is.’
‘I wonder why they didn’t kill you,’ Izzy mused out loud.
‘I’ve been asking myself that same question.’
They walked in silence for several minutes, until Izzy raised her hand. ‘We’re here.’ She went to work on the lock and again had the door open in seconds.
Cameron smiled broadly as her friend entered the room. ‘What took you so long?’ she said teasingly.
’I got side-tracked, returning a favour,’ she said as she hugged Cameron.
‘What are you talking about?’
Arthur stepped into the room. ‘She had to rescue me,’ he smiled.
Those who knew the pixie knight were both delighted and surprised to see him.
‘No one is rescued yet,’ Niamh reminded everyone. ‘Getting out of the cells was easy. Getting out of this stronghold is going to be far more difficult.’
Cait looked at Dougal, slightly confused by what was going on. ’Who’s he, and what does Izzy mean about returning afavour?’ she asked.
‘He’s a pixie knight. Two years ago, he helped Izzy and Cameron escape when they were being held prisoner by the pixie king. He was their saviour.’