CHAPTER 6 UNKNOWN TERRITORY
Izzy led the others out of the cell and into the tunnels of the dungeon.
The leprechauns made themselves invisible to avoid detection, which also meant they could rescue their friends if they were recaptured.
Without the skilful brownie adeptly leading the way, they would all have become hopelessly lost. The passageways of the fortress’s dungeons were a complicated maze of caverns, tunnels and steps, and there was little light to guide the way.
Izzy stopped, and the others followed suit. ‘There’s a guard station around the next corner,’ she whispered. ’Dougal, Derry, see how many guards there are and whether you can take care of them. Take Turloch with you.’
Dougal started to nod in reply, then realised it was pointless, as no one could see him.
Hoping his sister and friend were behind him, he rounded the corner. ‘There are six. Can we take six?’
’Of course, we can. I’ve got the two on the right,’ Derry said quietly.
’Okay, they’re yours. Turloch, you take the two in the middle.’
Turloch took a deep breath and followed the twins.
The follet guard dropped his mug; it crashed on the stone floor, making a deafening echoing sound. He watched aghast as two swords rose by themselves from the weapon rack that stood beside him. He was about to call out but was struck on the back of the head by the pommel of one of the swords.
The guard slumped to the ground unconscious, his armour scraping against the stone wall of the passage as he fell. Before any of the guards had a chance to react to the noise, two more dropped to the ground, victims of Derry’s magic. The second floating sword felled a fourth guard. Unsure of what was happening, the remaining two guards drew their weapons and backed towards the corridor wall.
‘Drop your weapons,’ Derry ordered, her voice reverberating in the cavernous area.
One of the guards took half a step in the direction of the sound, a look of malevolence on his face.
‘Don’t even think about it. You’ll be dead before you take another step,’ Dougal said coldly. ‘So far nobody has been badly hurt – don’t be the first.’
The other guard immediately dropped his weapon, not needing to be told twice, but the other who had advanced towards the voice did not give in so easily. He carefully placed his sword back in its scabbard and stood his ground.
‘Put it on the ground,’ Dougal instructed again, slowly and threateningly.
The guard hesitated, and then eventually undid his belt, placing the scabbard, complete with the sword, reverently on the ground.
’Turloch, get Niamh and the others,’ Dougal said as he materialised before the guards.
He walked over to one of the fallen guards and took the cell keys from his belt. He then bent and picked up the sword and belt and tied it around his waist.
‘Put my sword down,’ the follet guard ordered coldly. He sounded so menacing; Dougal almost obeyed him.
Dougal walked to the nearest cell, unlocked and opened the door. ‘Get in while you’re still capable of moving,’ he said.
As the guards walked into the cell, the owner of the sword hissed, ‘I will hunt you down for this and kill you. You will pay for my dishonour with your life. If you leave my sword, I will make it easy for you, and kill you quickly. If not ...’ he finished ominously, leaving the rest to Dougal’s imagination.
As Dougal closed the cell door, Turloch and the others returned. Niamh immediatelycast a spell to silence the guards now locked in the cell. Adam and Dylan took weapons from the weapon rack and handed them out.
By the time they left the dungeon, they all carried long swords. Dougal, Adam, Liam and Dylan were also armed with crossbows and two full quivers of bolts.
Izzy again led the way, stopping when she reached a closed door. ‘This door leads into the main courtyard,’ she said. ‘Dougal, Derry, we need you to scout ahead and find us a safe passage out of here.’
‘We’ll be back as soon as we can,’ Derry said, shimmering from sight.
‘Shouldn’t I be going with them?’ Turloch asked.
‘No,’ said Niamh. ‘We can’t risk you getting separated out in the open while you’re invisible. If you do, we may never find you again.’
‘But what if Dougal and Derry get separated?’ asked Cait, her concern obvious.
‘Derry has a spell that allows them to see each other, even when they are invisible, and another that allows them to talk to each other telepathically.’
The twins moved through the stronghold and soon found the well-guarded main gates.
Dougal heard Derry’s voice penetrate his mind, We’ll never get out that way.
No. We’ll have to try and find a side exit somewhere; Dougal replied.
It took them another twenty minutes to find a small unguarded door that led to a stream. Dougal guessed this was the stronghold’s main water supply.
Derrywait here while I go and get the others.
Hurry. There can’t be more than four hours till dawn.
I will, said Dougal, running off to fetch his friends.
Half an hour later the escapees knelt by the stream, filling water bottles they had taken from the follet guards.
‘Do we make for the coast?’ asked Cameron.
‘No. That’s the first place they’re going to look for us,’ replied Izzy. ‘We need to head inland and put as much distance between them and us as possible. We can always head to the coast in a couple of days, and hopefully find a fishing village where we can acquire a boat. Then we can decide then what we are going to do from there.’
’Niamh,’ said Dougal, ‘I think now would be a good time to return us to our proper size. We’ll cover far more ground if we carry you.’
Niamh nodded in agreement, waved her hand and uttered, crescere in magnitudine.
Dougal smiled as he bent down and gently picked up Niamh and Izzy.
‘North or south?’ he asked.
‘South,’ replied Niamh. ‘That’s the direction the ogres were heading.’
‘South it is, then.’
He jogged off, followed by Turloch, who carried Dylan and Liam. Fearghus carried Adam and Cameron, while Cait carried the fairy sailor, and Derry, Sir Arthur.
Phil woke to the sound of bells ringing from inside the fortress; he cursed himself for falling asleep. If his friends had escaped in the night, he had no way of knowing in which direction they were heading.
The dragon took to the sky after making himself invisible, flying towards the fortress, intent on finding out why the stronghold’s alarms were sounding.
He landed on a vacant section of the fortress’s inner courtyard wall, next to three-dozen esprit folletsoldiers all standing beside saddled horses, while an extravagantly dressed man ranted and raved about the damage the fairies had caused to his reputation by escaping.
He listened as the man demanded the capture of the escaped prisoners and then finished off his tirade by adding that he wanted the wizard and brownie princess taken alive.
One of the horsemen walked forward and bowed to the man, who was obviously the commander of the fortress.
Even with his acute hearing, Phil had to strain to hear the follet horseman.
’I will bring you the brownie and the wizard, marquis, but the one whostole my sword is mine. I will deal with him as I see fit.’
’Do as you please, Prince Gaston. As long as I get the wizard and princess, the others matter nothing to me,’ the marquis replied.
As the prince returned to his horse, he silently cursed his father for making him serve in the Auvergnen cavalry like a common noble; and to make matters worse, now that he had lost his sword, the Sword of the Dauphin, his idiot younger brother Louis had as much claim to the throne as he did.
Ooooh, he thought to himself angrily, I’m going to make him pay for taking my sword.
Phil studied the prince intently, as the man mounted his horse and signalled to the others to follow him out of the fortress. He was young, mid-twenties at most, with raven-black shoulder-length hair; and very handsome. He carried himself with regal grace, even though he was dressed like a common soldier. Even from a distance, Phil could see the condescending way he looked at those who surrounded him. For the briefest moment the prince reminded him of Rupert, despite the young man’s obvious better looks, but there was something in Gaston’s dark-green eyes – a ruthless determination and intelligence– that gave him the potential to be far more dangerous than Rupert could ever have been.
The first drops of rain began to fall as the escapees stumbled across an abandoned farmhouse and barn.
‘This looks as good a place as any to rest for a few hours,’ said Niamh. ’We’ll use the barn; it looks large enough to fit us all.’ She then chanted, ’Parvus minor minimus,’ and instantly the leprechauns shrunk to the size of the fairies.
‘What did you do that for?’ Fearghus whined.
‘Do you want to stay outside in the rain, or inside the dry barn?’ asked Niamh, who was growing annoyed by the ever-whining leprechaun.
‘Inside,’ Fearghus replied petulantly.
‘Well then, you’ve answered your own question.’
‘I’ll see if I can find something for us to eat,’ said Liam.
‘Cameron and I will go with you,’ offered Izzy, as they headed off.
Inside the barn, Dylan spied an old hay bale and made himself comfortable. ‘It seems solid enough,’ he said.
‘Shall we light a fire?’ Adam asked Niamh.
‘We’ll wait and see if the others bring us anything worth cooking first.’
‘I’ll get some wood ready just in case. There’s plenty of dry wood inside the barn.’
‘I wonder why the farmers left?’ Cait mused.
‘Who knows?’ said Niamh. ‘Dylan, why don’t you check out the farmhouse?’
Ten minutes later Dylan returned, holding a couple of large iron cooking pots. ‘Apart from these, the place is virtually empty. There is some good news, though. It’s pouring out there, so the rain should erase any trace of our passing.’
Soon after, Liam, Cameron and Izzy returned with four large rabbits, mushrooms and root vegetables.
As soon as Adam saw the rabbits, his eyes lit up. ‘Now, about that fire,’ he said, the thought of hot food too much to resist.
Dougal woke as he felt a hand gently shake his shoulder. He looked up to see Liam standing over him.
Dougal got up from his hay bed and walked over to the barn window. The rain was beginning to ease.
‘Let’s hope it stops completely before we set out again,’ Adam said.
They pulled over a couple of hay bales, positioned themselves so they could see if anyone approached, and sat down.
‘You really upset that guard when you stole his sword, didn’t you?’
‘Stole is a bit harsh,’ chuckled Dougal. ‘All I did was pick up a sword that someone had carelessly discarded. But you are right – he wasn’t happy about it, was he?’
Dougal drew the sword from its scabbard for the first time since he had put it on.
‘And I can see why,’ gasped Adam, transfixed by the beautiful ebony blade. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it before.’
Dougal examined his new weapon. ‘What’s it made of?’ he asked as he passed it to his friend.
‘It feels like steel, but I’ve never seen black steel before. As for its balance, it’s unbelievable. Did you see the runes?’
Dougal took a closer look at the sword’s blade. It was finely engraved with red runes that flickered like flames.
‘Can you read them?’ he asked Adam.
’No. It’s written in follet or some other language, but I’m sure Niamh will be able to translate it. What I can’t understand is what a mere dungeon guard was doing with a sword like this.’
Dougal and Adam showed Niamh the sword.
’Can you read it? Is it follet?’ Adam asked the wizard excitedly.
’Yes, I can read it – and, yes, some of it is written in follet. This bit here,’ she said, pointing to several runes, ’translates to the Sword of the Dauphin. Do either of you know what that means?’
Adam shook his head and looked at Dougal.
‘Hey, don’t look at me,’ said Dougal. ‘I’m not even from your world.’
Niamh smiled at the young leprechaun. ’Sorry, Dougal. Sometimes I forget how new to our world you are. The Dauphin is the title given to the heir to the throne of any of the esprit follet nations; normally it’s the king’s eldest son. But that’s not all. See these runes?’ she said, pointing to the pommel and blade. ‘These are magical. They protect the sword’s wielder, as well as increasing their chance of hitting and injuring their opponent. I have heard of swords like this but have never seen one. To be honest with you, I never really believed they existed.’
’What was the heir to the Auvergnen throne doing there?’ Adam asked.
‘Finn and Amber are treated the same as other fairies,’ said Dougal.
‘Follet royalty are more like pixies than fairies,’ said Arthur, joining the others when he saw the sword. ’It is very rare for classes to mix. I don’t know why the prince was there, but what I do know is that he will stop at nothing to get his sword back. The embarrassment of losing it aside, without it, he loses his direct right of ascension to the throne. Legend has it that there are three such swords. They were forged over a thousand years ago using the combined magical energy of the most powerful wizard from each follet nation, alongside each nation’s greatest weapon smiths. It was a rare moment of cooperation between the follet nations.’
The more Dougal heard, the more he wanted to know. ‘Are the swords identical?’
‘In everything but appearance,’ Arthur replied. ’All have the same magical offensive, defensive and follet runes, but the Auvergnen sword is a black long sword, as you have seen. Carolingia’s sword is a sapphire-blue bastard sword, and the Merovingian sword is a golden two-handedblade.’
Adam was fascinated by the pixie knight’s explanation. ‘Why are they so different in appearance?’
’That I can’t tell you, but if the other follet kingdoms hear about the sword’s loss, they could even view it as a sign of weakness and invade Auvergne. The prince will follow us to the end of the world to retrieve his sword.’
‘With that in mind, I think we have been stationary for far too long. It’s time to leave and keep as much distance between the prince and us as possible,’ Niamh said.
’We could leave the sword here?’ Adam suggested.
Arthur smiled a knowing smile. ‘Even if the prince found it here, he’d still come after us. Taking the sword was only one way we embarrassed him. We have also escaped on his watch, and if I was him, I’d take that personally – very personally indeed.’
’So, Niamh, do we head for the coast and borrow a boat?’ Dougal asked.
’No. I’ve been thinking about how the admiral found us at night and have concluded it had to be with magic. I don’t think we will be able to sail in their waters without them finding us again.’
Dougal pondered this for a moment. ‘How do you think the ogres did it?’
‘I don’t think they did. I think either the navy let them pass because they were too scared to confront them, or they are working together.’
‘Then we should head for the coast,’ reasoned Adam.
‘Why?’ asked Dougal.
‘It stands to reason,’ he replied. ’If the ogres and follet are working together, the ogres could be using a follet harbour as their base.’
‘Sounds logical,’ replied Niamh, turning to Arthur. ‘How well do you know this area?’
‘I’ve seen the odd map, and might be able, with a bit of luck, to find the major towns. But to be honest with you, this country is as foreign to me as it is to you. I’m not even sure how far we are from the coast.’
The lead rider raised his right arm, his fist clenched, signalling for the riders behind him to stop.
’Mazarin, attend me now!’ he yelled.
The follet rider was immediately at the prince’s side. ‘I am here, Prince Gaston.’
‘Where are they?’ Gaston snapped.
Mazarin pulled a map from his heavily brocaded robe, unfolded it, and pointed to a small red dot. ‘They are on the move again.’
‘Damn it, mage,’ spat the prince. ‘Where are they headed?’
‘It looks like they have changed direction and may even be heading towards the coast,’ Mazarin replied.
‘How did they get this far so soon?’
‘Perhaps they stole some horses.’
‘No, there were none taken from the fortress and I doubt whether there are more than half a dozen other horses in this region. We haven’t got time to discuss this now.’
The prince signalled his men to ride on.
‘The men and horses need to rest,’ Mazarin said.
‘They will rest when I’m ready,’ Gaston replied, ‘and not before.’
Phil watched from above as the follet wizard and prince talked. He hadn’t originally intended to follow them, but two hours earlier he had sensed the use of a seeking spell and decided to find the spell’s origin.
Phil watched as the wizard pulled out his map, instantly feeling its magic. He flew as close as he dared to get a closer look. Even though he was invisible, Phil’s sharp eyes enabled him to read the map from what he considered a safe distance. He saw the red dot that the wizard pointed to on the map and knew without a shadow of a doubt that it marked the location of his friends.