Shamus was having trouble with his new arm. Sometimes it itched unbearably and sometimes he could not feel it at all! There was a faint scar around the joint, where the new limb had started to grow, after Queen Mab had cut the old one off, because of the gangrenous development that had very nearly killed him. He had been scratched by a Banshee when carrying Tam O’ Shadow through the Shadow Lands in a travelling sack and the wound had soon turned septic.
His mentor Tam O’ Shadow had used the magic of time dilation and had nearly paid for it with his life, in defeating the Witch of the South. Shamus had carried him through the Shadow Lands, shrunken down, with the aid of Mog the Troll. They had travelled through the terrors of that terrible place, to get to Queen Mag’s aid. She had saved the lives of both of them by opening the dolmen portal and shrinking down the giant-sized Troll to get them through it into the throne room. Shamus had created a Wood-Sprite that had defended them along the perilous journey and it remained on guard, rooted by the stone structure just inside the Shadow Lands. It had been grown from a seed that the enchanted apple tree in Tam O’ Shadow’s garden had given Shamus in the form of a sack of bewitched apples. They had proved very useful in many ways and Shamus had learnt that he could speak to trees and get their co-operation when needed. This was also a useful attribute as the tree kingdom was not allergic to iron.
Only the faery races were hypersensitive to the effects of what they referred to as the poison metal. Only humans and goblins were immune. The mining of this metal and the working of it was forbidden. Only the sky-metal that fell through the heavens occasionally, was allowed to be worked by goblins. They were very careful not to allow the nickel-iron artefacts to come into contact with their magical neighbours. Unfortunately there was another race of beings that had their origins in the goblin history that were also immune to the adverse effects of iron and they were the Orcs.
Long ago a whole tribe of goblins made the mistake of settling in an area in which the plants grew strangely, but provided many edible fruits. Roots and seeds that were planted grew to monstrous proportions. At night when it was at the darkest hour, a glow could be seen around some of the extra hard, granite outcrops. These were broken up to make housing materials that could be turned into walls.
The goblins were totally unaware of the changes that each successive generation did, by the state of alteration of the children. They slowly grew more brutish and lost their green skins, trading them for a dirty grey as they grew larger. Their faces became ugly to other goblins that happened to pass that way. Sometimes the visitor would not be seen again as the new goblin-spawned, malevolent creatures, murdered those that were weak and ate them. Soon hunting parties would leave the city of the Orcs, as they became known, searching for unwary travellers for food or slaves. In the early language of the goblins, their word for anything bad or evil was to refer to them as Orc-eed.
To stop future invasions of any more lands, Queen Mab had placed an extended Geas that would turn any Orc to a figure of stone if they crossed the border into the faery lands. They had spread along the sea coast and pushing as far to the West as they could, tracking the border by the Orcs that turned into stone figures that would suddenly appear if they went too far. Mab had contained the Orc kingdom into a large half-moon portion thousands of miles to the East of her realm and here they had remained simmering with malice over thousands of years.
Now they were becoming a future menace to all who lived in the enchanted Lands. They had discovered a vein of the poison metal that was exposed to the air. A captured human had bargained his life for the knowledge of what the red material could be changed into. Now the Orcs were following the mineral into the ground, digging the iron ore and smelting it into manageable blocks that their smiths were forging into weapons. A raiding party moving through the woods happened to pass one of their kind, that had been turned to stone and realised that they had passed Mab’s boundary without any harm. When they circled the statue, the Orc came back to life, becoming flesh and blood as they watched. Fearing for his life, the Orc broke through the circle and ran further into the woods. Once he broke the circle, he returned to being made of stone.
Carefully the band encircled the enchanted Orc and watched as he came alive again, but this time they kept hold of him and dragged him to the other side of the boundary.
Drurk shouted to the captive Orc, “Stand still you fool. We have freed you from the stone curse. We did not do it to feast upon you! Do you see this?”
He held up a metal helmet taken from one of the others and placed it on his head.
“This is made of iron and it would seem that iron hates magic! The moment that we surrounded you, the stone curse was lifted. Stay here with Dromm and know that you are going home, while we seek out any more of your group and set them free.”
“I give thanks to ‘ee, master and will do as you say,” the Orc replied and watched as Drurk led his men into a circle around another stone figure and grabbed him as he transformed and they dragged him back across the boundary. They did this several times freeing fem-Orcs as well as more of the afflicted. None of the Orcs that had been turned to stone had any inkling of how long they had been statues, but by remembering key events of their time it seemed that they had been there over a hundred years. Drurk explained to them what had happened and what the captive human had given them as his legacy.
“Follow me back to the city and I will break the news to Gretch Fem-Orc that at last we have the means to turn off the cursed Sidhe magic. The time of slaughter has come. If we wear the shiny metal, they cannot control us. What we need is to capture an elf and see what the metal will do to him. So at the double all of you, back to Gunderstall and future glory,” the Orc yelled and led the way as fast as he could.
Thousands of miles away, Queen Mab had become aware of the breaking of the Geas and the returning to life of the group of Orcs. Also the area was getting more and more ‘foggy’ to her penetrating mind. There had to be only one reason, the Orcs were smelting iron ore into steel. Somehow they had gained the knowledge and were using it to make weapons. Orcs gained their food by using slavery to grow it, or by fighting, steal it and Mab knew that if they had iron, then they could easily break through the barrier that she had laid down long ago. It would not take them long before they would start spreading through the realm taking anything that they wanted. All they had to do was to break the skin with a steel weapon, of any of the faery races and they would swell up and die. Also large quantities of the poison metal would negate any magic in the area. Even close proximity of iron would plunge the faery races into a state of confusion and weakness.
After several months Tad and Shamus were beginning to feel bored once they had returned to good health at Queen Mab’s castle. They missed the company of their friends who had elected to stay at the chateau, Crispin Gate and live there. When Mab sent for them, they set off towards the throne room and met up with Mog the Troll who was clumping along in the same direction.
Mog grinned at Tam and asked, “Any ideas about what her majesty requires this time, old friend?”
“No, my stony friend,” Tam answered and added, “Whatever it is I can be sure that it will entail travelling to some forsaken place and risking our lives.”
Shamus laughed and said, “First a dragon, next an Ogre family and then a Witch to depose! What else lives in this world that is worse than them?”
Tan abruptly stopped and his face drained of colour.
“Orcs,” he said. “They are the mutated progeny of Goblins. Many centuries ago a tribe of goblins settled a strange land in which the plants grew abnormally and over the years so did the goblins. They became larger, cruel and changed colour from green to grey. A lot of them are misshapen, cannibalistic freaks that make your blood run cold when you see them. Like goblins they have no problems with iron and they have no magic. Because of this they hate us and have sworn to remove or enslave all of the faery races.”
The three of them stood in front of the throne and looked up at the incredibly beautiful creature that was hovering in front of them. Her eldritch beauty made them dizzy just looking at her. She was dressed in a white and silver toga that allowed her transparent, silvery wings to burst through the fabric at the back. Ebony hair framed her face and hung down to her waist in two plaits. A broad streak of pure silver divided her head into three locks of hair and was tucked back under her crown to cascade down her back between her wings. A large chain-linked golden belt was strung around her middle and pulled tightly above her hips. Inset to the belt were psychic enhancing crystals that augmented her power. These connected her to the earth power that ran through every living thing. Tam and Shamus could not look away and were bathed in a silver light.
The faery queen settled into her chair and said, “My dear friends something has come about that must be addressed, or all of those who live in the enchanted realm will lose everything we have. The Orcs have broken through the barrier I set centuries ago and they have iron weapons.”
Tam shuddered and his face went as white as snow when the reality of Mab’s words hit home. Even Mog was struck dumb as he explored every avenue that he could think of to defeat this ancient enemy.
Shamus was the first to speak and said, “We need to know a lot more about the properties of iron and how we can protect ourselves from its proximity. The goblins have worked the sky metal for centuries so they know more about its uses and its effects against us. All we know; is that it has a negative value against magic and drags the abilities out of any of the faery races that gets too close to a large piece of it.”
Queen Mab looked thoughtful and considered what Shamus had said before answering, “You have a point Shamus O’Brian and I think that I may have an answer. Some time ago a human found a way to enter this realm and stayed here to study magic. He has been here many years and has adapted to the powers that are part and parcel of living here. Like many of the faery race his lifespan has been long and fruitful, as he gained knowledge of our ways and applied them. He still lives and has a keep by a river not far from my castle using the Seven League Boots. His would be a way of looking at this world from a different viewpoint. If anyone could answer those questions it would be him. His name is Alexius Philomathes and he came over to this world from a place called Greece. He was a teacher and what the people called a Philomath (A seeker after knowledge.) with a wide circle of interests. We would call him a wizard. I have spent many an hour discussing avenues of knowledge with him. I will give you a token, so that he will know that you have been sent by me.”
She sent all of her knowledge of the wizard and where he lived into their minds, also telepathic bridges directly to her mind should it be needed.
Shamus stared at the Queen as all the implications raced through his mind and eventually he said, “I think the sooner that we made our way to this wizard’s keep and seek his advice the better.”
Mab vibrated her wings and rose above her devoted servants, becoming a ball of light. She flew through the walls and disappeared from sight, leaving the one instruction flaming in their minds, “Find him and ask him to come to me.”
The three friends made ready to leave the castle after replenishing their travelling sacks, but Shamus had a short errand to run. He activated the portal under the throne and passed into the Shadow Lands. There where he had left it, was the Wood-sprite rooted into the ground around the dolmen. The leprechaun put his hands upon the bark of the apple-being and bridged into the Wood-sprite’s mind.
“I need you to come with me into my world and be my protector there, as you were in this Shadow Land. Two others will need your protection also, but first I shall have to shrink you down to a size that I can carry in my pocket,” he projected into the mesh of woody thoughts.
The wood-sprite began to withdraw all of its root systems from the ground around the dolmen. It began to contract into a solid ball of woody stems, boughs and roots.
As Shamus shrunk the dryad down to the size of a plumb-stone he ‘heard’ his name, “I am Epimeliades the wood-sprite that you created. Call me Ep and I will respond to your call. Born of the Apple-tree and your will, I belong to you.”
When Ep became small enough to fit in Shamus’s pocket, he returned to the throne room. The other two gave him a quizzical look and he fished out the Wood-sprite and showed it to Mog and Tam.
“This creature saved our lives in the Shadow Lands and I thought that he would make a good insurance against anything that we might come up against. Remember that trees are not affected by iron. We might need that attribute in the future,” said Shamus and he put Ep back into his waistcoat pocket.
Once they were outside the castle Tam shrunk Mog the Troll down in size to fit in his waistcoat pocket and the two leprechauns turned to face in the direction that Alexius lived. After giving the command, ‘Stride’ the two of them set off across the countryside in twenty mile hops. This was good farming country and had been settled by goblins many years ago. Winding through the lush fields was a respectively sized river that dropped through a series of dams that turned water-wheels, powering flour mills. They followed the river upstream until they came to the wizard’s keep. It was obvious to both of them that this building had not been constructed as a castle to keep people out! It had a tower that gave a good view over the surrounding farmlands and had a walled courtyard at the top. Something had been built there and was poking up into the sky, when to their surprise it rotated around and lowered to point directly at them. They powered down the reach of the boots and made their way to the grounds at a slower pace. Extensive gardens had been laid out to grow vegetables and fruit. These were being tended by goblins and also gnomes who were digging and collecting produce.
They were given a cheery wave by the workers and one of the goblins walked up to the two leprechauns and said, “How can I help you. Have you come to visit the great teacher?”
Tam reached into his top pocket and put the Troll down on the ground and let him resume his normal size. Mog stretched his stony arms wide apart and stamped up and down on the ground to relieve himself of cramp. Although the goblin’s eyes widened with surprise he stood his ground.
Shamus bowed to the gardener and said, “Yes good sir, we have indeed come to see your resident wizard on a mission from the Queen. Would that be possible?”
“Of course you may. He welcomes visitors and any news from outside these lands,” he replied and led the way into the keep.
Mog elected to stay outside as he would not fit inside through the doors. Before Shamus entered the great hall he took out of his pocket the shrunken dryad and restored him to his natural size so that he could root and take on water by the doorway. He had told Ep to wait where he was planted and that he was in no danger. The Wood-sprite was so overcome by the tranquillity of the surroundings that he broke out in blossom.
This time what had occurred right in front of him, really took the breath out of the goblin’s chest and he staggered through the door to the safety of the inside with relief! When Tam and Shamus extended their bodies to match the size of the wizard’s helper rather than walk around at his waist high, he fell over his own feet and had to be helped up to a standing position.
“I did not mean to startle you, good sir, but it would be rude of us to remain small and not fit in to the furniture here! You react as if you have not met leprechauns before and I apologise for using magic that you are not used to,” Tam O’ Shadow said and shook his hand.
Stood in the sunlight blazing through a large glass window was a tall silver haired human who beckoned them inside.
“Show our visitors to a comfortable seat, Branch-et, and let me hear all the news from these amazing people. They have come a long way for just a visit, so sit down and tell me why you have come. My name is Alexius Philomathes and as you obviously must know, I am not from this world. I came searching for knowledge and your Queen Mab allowed me to stay,” the wizard smiled and waved them over to a set of padded chairs.
“As you say, Alexius, we have come a long way to see you,” replied Tam. “We too seek knowledge and our Queen believes that you may be able to aid us in a problem that will engulf the entire Enchanted Realm in chaos and bloodshed if we cannot stop it. I would like you to meet a great friend of mine who is waiting outside as he will not fit inside this hall unless I adjust him. I will fetch him to you and he will be able to transfer my thoughts to your mind so that you will know what it is that we are trying to stop.”
Tam O’ Shadow left Shamus and Alexius together while he retraced his steps guided by Branch-et to shrink the Troll down to a more manageable size.
Shamus looked at the white haired, bearded man and said, “Oh! You may call me Shamus and my friend is known as Tam O’ Shadows. We are leprechauns. The troll you are to meet is called Mog and I apologise for the lack of manners and introductions. Have you been here long, Alexius?
“Longer than I can believe Shamus. After the first century passed by, I kind-of lost count of the years, I have spent in this place. This land seems to have that effect on those who live here. During my time here I have learnt amazing things about this land and the laws of nature that apply here. I have no wish to return to the war-racked world of humanity. I hope that this is not your intention to return me to that mad place?”
“Those who Queen Mab allows to stay here do so with her blessing. Sometime she asks something in return for that boon,” replied Shamus. “I came from the human world to plunder and paid the price for that. I was given a chance to pay that debt by killing a dragon and Queen Mab re-created me as a leprechaun, but I still have some human characteristics. It’s a long story, Alexius, but so far it has had a happy ending. Ah! I see my friends are returning and you are about to meet your first Troll.”
Alexius stared at what appeared to be an untidy bunch of stones ambling towards him and then caught sight of the Troll’s eyes staring back to him. With this reference point established suddenly the rest of the Troll became visible to the human.
“You look as if you have not seen the likes of me before! I am Mog the Troll friend of these two adventurous idiots and servant of the Queen,” boomed out the heap of stones. “There’s enough room in here for me to be more comfortable, so I would be obliged if you would return me to my proper size!”
Tam did so and Mog expanded to stand twice the size of Alexius and sat back onto the flagstone floor with a grunt of satisfaction.
Tam turned to the wizard and said, “What I am about to do is to channel my thoughts through Mog and into your mind by placing my forehead against my friend’s finger and he will place his other one against your forehead. This will make a circuit that will impart my knowledge into yours. I must tell you that it is a two-way system and I will pick up some of your thoughts as well. It will not take longer than a few seconds, but will take longer for you to assimilate all that you need to know.”
Alexius nodded and waited for Mog to touch his forehead with his stony forefinger. It was as if a light-show of pictures and sound exploded in his mind when the Troll made contact. The Greek polymath sat ridged, as his mind tried to comprehend the wonders that he had seen and make sense of it all. The gaps in the esoteric knowledge were in applied physics and his agile mind began to sew all the pieces together. Iron was a poison to the faery races because the iron in their blood-streams was bound to other trace elements that built tiny mental transformers in the brains of certain types of people. It was this that enabled them to alter the density of flesh and as in the leprechauns become giants or dwarfs amongst other attributes. The proximity to iron disrupted this process and robbed the red blood cells of the ability to take oxygen around the bloodstream. A cut by an iron blade would quickly go septic and death would occur rapidly.
Over an hour went by as Alexius sat and assimilated what he had received from Tam O’ Shadow and his thoughts tumbled around each other as he reached for a solution and rejected it. Then an idea began to form in his mind as he relayed the information that Tam had about the Queen and her abilities. When he added that into the equation things began to fall into place.
Alexius stood up and began to mumble to himself and pace back and forwards around the room. He stopped in front of an ornate door and opened it, showing a staircase that led upwards to the observation tower.
“Come with me,” he said and motioned to Tam and Shamus to follow him, leaving Mog behind, still sat on the floor.
The two leprechauns followed the human up the stairs and were amazed to see glass globes that gave light as the wizard flicked a switch next to them.
He turned towards them and warned, “Be careful as you enter this room that has become my workshop. In my pursuit of knowledge I have worked with what you refer to as the poison metal and you will find that there may be enough up here to unsettle you. The goblins understand my interest in this metal and bring me what they call Sky Stones and I have made all manner of things with them. They are stored at the far end of the room and as long as you stay at this end, I can show you what I have in mind that should work against these Orcs. There is another force that can be harnessed safely in this realm. You see those glass containers with the rods sticking out? They are what I call power cells and can store a charge that I can put to use. I use the water wheel to turn a shaft that rotates inside a magnetic field. This sends power along copper cables to these cells and ----”
He looked at the bemused faces of the two leprechauns and shrugged his shoulders.
“I am sorry, good sirs, I tend to run off at the mouth when talking about my discoveries. I will show a practical example to you about what I have in mind to do. It will take some effort but if I can speak with your Queen and tap into her powers, I think that this will work?”
He placed a long tube tightly wound with copper wire and mounted on wooden feet onto his work bench. Connected to this were two lengths of copper fixed to a block with a switch. This was then connected to the power cells with more wire covered in what looked like bandages. Making sure that he did not get too close to the leprechauns, he placed a small block of the Sky Stone on the bench where Tam and Shamus could see it in front of the tube. He walked around the table and pushed the switch over. The lights dimmed and a wave of heat swept through the room and the piece of poison metal flew through the air and slapped against the end of the tube. When Alexius turned the power off, the metal fell to the floor as it bounced off the table.
There was a stunned silence from Tam and Shamus as they stared at the metal block on the floor as their minds added up the possibilities of what this could do. They began to understand the gulf of knowledge that the faery races needed to come to grips with.
“There is a problem with the use of this possible weapon and it is called the inverse square law! The further away from the device the weaker the pull, so we would need to build something a lot bigger and lots of them. There is something else that has occurred to me that could be done as a trap without using magic,” Alexius explained. “I want you to experience what it would be like to contact the power force. Now I promise that this will be very weak, but you will find it unpleasant! I want you to hold this copper rod in each hand and I will dial up a very low charge and slowly increase it. Which one of you will it be, or are you willing to hold hands and each grip a copper rod to share the experience?”
Tam and Shamus held hands and each gripped a rod in the other hand. At first they could only feel a strange tingling sensation. But as the force was increased the effect was unbearable and the two of them danced around until Alexius turned it off. Both leprechauns reverted to their normal size and found that their magical skills had disappeared. Slowly their abilities returned and they were able to increase their size to the human’s and were filled with respect.
“Can you imagine the effect of walking over a mesh connected to a much stronger power source? The more metal worn the worse the effect would be! I need to speak with our Queen. I have not spoken to Athena for many years and to do what I have in mind will take a lot of man-power and materials. There are many highly skilled goblins on this homestead that have been educated by me and will do much of the technical work. She must trust me to use her powers or all of this will be a waste of time. I came from a warlike world and have seen more bloodshed than I ever wanted too. That’s why I came here to get peace and solitude to study. This is my home now by curtesy of the Queen and I do not want it turned into a battleground,” Alexius sorrowfully said and sat back on a chair to hear their answer.
“We were sent here to meet you Alexius and to ask that you accompany us back to Queen Mab’s presence. What you have shown us gives us hope that we will be able to halt the advance of the Orcs and contain them,” Tam stated and asked, “I imagine that you will need lots of copper and other materials for you to build what you have in mind? Be assured it will be done. Anything that you ask for will be freely given to you for this purpose.”
Without giving it enough thought, Shamus wandered around the table until he reached the block of metal that had rolled off the table onto the floor. He picked it up with his newly grown hand and arm to put it back on the workbench.
Tam shouted out, “Leave it go Shamus. You have a block of the poison metal in your unprotected hand. Touch it and it will do you great harm!”
Shamus stopped and said, “Tam! I can feel nothing with this hand. The metal does not affect me as it should, but my other hand is reacting to the closeness of the block! I believe that my new right hand that Queen Mab regrew is human not leprechaun! I am indeed a hybrid creature part one thing and part another.”
Shamus put the block of iron back upon the table and walked away from the apparatus that Alexius had demonstrated.
Tam pointed to another doorway that led to the top of the tower and asked, “Can I ask what is the apparatus that is mounted on the roof? We saw you pointing it at us as we began to come into sight.”
“By all means, my emissaries from the Queen! I will show you my latest invention that has opened up the mysteries of the night sky and also can give warning of approaching visitors,” Alexius replied and led the way to the top of the tower.
When they got there they were amazed by the pipe-like contraption that could expand lengthwise or contract, mounted upon a swivel so that it could point in any direction. He showed them the eye piece after he had focussed the instrument at the edge of the distant fields at the small-holdings and got them to look through. Both of the leprechauns were struck dumb by being able to view the buildings as if they were close by.
Alexius pointed to the evening sky above them and said, “There are things in the sky that I need to speak to Athena about that could help our cause. I have discovered with my apparatus many wonders high up above us that might also be of use, so however you got here so quickly needs to be repeated in the morning. After we have eaten, Branch-et will take you to a place where you can sleep, but the Troll may have to sleep where he is.”
Tam laughed and replied, “Mog doesn’t actually sleep, Alexius, he just goes dormant until the sun rises again and gets up when he wants to! Shamus and I however will be pleased to take your offer of kindness and will see you in the morning.”
The two leprechauns followed the goblin through another doorway and found two beds ready for sleeping in, prepared for them. They got undressed and settled into the soft beds, but before they went to sleep they relayed all that they had seen to Queen Mab’s telepathic link.
But before he went to sleep Shamus asked, “Why does he refer to you as Athena instead of Mab?”
His mind was filled with tinkling laughter as she answered, “In his old world he saw me as a god named Athena who was their goddess of wisdom, justice and courage! He has I think a rare mind and that is why I have allowed him to live here. I have extended his life just in case there would come a time that we needed him. It would seem that this was an exceedingly sensible thing to do! Now sleep my dear friend and I will see you tomorrow.”
While the leprechauns slept Alexius laboured on in his workshop and built a portable demonstration model that he placed inside a wooden case. Satisfied he went to his own bedroom where his goblin wife, Flower-et waited for him.
The gobliness asked, “Will I be coming too? Is there room for me?”
Alexius kissed her gently on top of her hairless headand replied, “Oh yes, dear Flower you can be sure that my new friends will do just as I ask. Their magic will take us and I will show you the beautiful home of Athena and all the people that live there with her. Besides I will need you to help me set up my equipment. Now go to sleep and we will start our greatest adventure in the morning.”
Flower-et cuddled up to Alexius and pulled his arm over her green shoulders and shut her eyes. Soon all was quiet and just the sound of steady breathing could be heard.
By the time that the morning sun had broken through the cloudy start to the day, all those that were returning and visiting Queen Mab’s castle had eaten a good breakfast and were ready to go. There was one vital piece of Alexius’s equipment that was presenting a problem however. Somehow they needed to transport a small piece of the poison metal to demonstrate what the Greek had in mind. Everything else had been put into a travelling sack and reduced in size except for the small metal disk that would demonstrate the power that Alexius had discovered. He found that wrapping the disc in lead dampened the effect of negating the magic power that drove the Seven League Boots. Shamus picked the metal block up with his human hand and declared that apart from a slight tingle it did not seem to have the effect on him that it had on Tam O’ Shadow! While he sat down, Flower-et bound it to his wrist with an elasticated strap and they all went outside after Tam had shrunk Mog to the size that he needed to be to travel in Tam’s pocket. Once they were outside, Shamus asked the dryad to uproot and be shrunk down to travel with him perched upon his shoulder and tied to his hair. This amazed Alexius and Flower-et as the apple tree altered its form into its travelling mode. When everything and everyone was in place the leprechauns gave the order to grow ten times and ‘Stride.’
The view from the top waistcoat pockets gave Alexius and Flower-et a view of the surrounding countryside that was unique! The miles flew by in gigantic hops and soon the turrets of Mab’s castle came into sight. Alexius began to wonder if the Queen would agree to use his most radical ideas and allow him to use her as a conduit. For without her co-operation what he was going to propose would not work at all!
The two temporary giants unloaded their pockets and resumed a more normal size. Mog picked up the equipment that Alexius had stowed away and carried it gently into the castle. He was followed by the anxious scientist and his partner, Flower-et, as Tam and Shamus showed the way.
Queen Mab was waiting for them inside the great throne room and was hovering over her throne. The constant beat of her wings gave a cool draught across the chamber. She was outlined in a multi-coloured, shifting light that sprang from her body as energy from the enchanted realm, radiated from her aura. The sight was too much for the group and all of them fell to one knee and bowed their heads in supplication.
“Enough of this foolishness,” she said. “Most of you I count as friends and certainly as allies. In this coming conflict we will all need to work together, or we will certainly perish under the Orc’s onslaught. Come with me and we will sit and I will watch this demonstration that Alexius has put together. I sense that you have brought into my home a piece of the poison metal. Although the presence is weak I will keep well away from it. I bid you welcome, Greek scholar and your partner Flower-et to my home. Now, we waste time with these pleasantries! Show me something that will fill my heart with hope?”
The Queen had led them into a well-lit room with a large table running down the centre. Mog opened the sack and Shamus thrust his hand into the mouth and began to remove and reinstate the items to their proper size. When they got too heavy, Mog moved them to where Alexius wanted them to be. The human and the gobliness rapidly put the equipment together and soon had everything connected up.
Shamus went to the far end of the table and with the help of Flower-et they took the lead box apart that was strapped onto his wrist and placed the block of the Sky-stone on the end of the table. Alexius checked over the connections to the power-cell and to everything else. Both Tam and Shamus had seen the effect before, but not Mog, or the Queen. The long copper clad tube pointed towards the end of the table.
Alexius said, “Be prepared for the block of poison metal to move along the table. Do not approach the equipment until I switch it off again.”
Having said that he pulled the switch down to make contact and the block twitched. Then it slid faster and faster along the table until it smacked into the end of the cylinder. There it stayed until Alexius switched it off. This time it just dropped onto the table top. As soon as he switched the apparatus back on, the block rose in the air and once again was securely held tight.
Alexius donned a pair of heavy leather gloves and tried to pull the block away from the end of the copper wound tube. It took a great deal of pulling before the block would come away. He handed it to Shamus who put it back into the lead-lined box and closed the lid.
Queen Mab stared at the silver haired old man and said, “I need to enter your mind to be able to understand better what I have just seen, but I think that you will need something a lot bigger.”
Alexius nodded his head and suddenly found the Queen’s mind in his searching for explanations of what she had witnessed. Everything that he had thought about and also his discoveries were as an open book to her powerful mind.
She came out of his mind and remarked, “I was certainly correct in allowing you to come here to study and pursue knowledge. I would never have thought of the many different ways that might be used to defeat the Orcs!”
“You have seen my instrument that allows me to see things that are very distant,” answered Alexius. “I have trained this upon the night sky and found that there are chunks of something that orbit around this world and I think that they are parts of a comet that may have been captured by this planet. I would ask if it were possible to take my mind up there and use your senses to examine these large chunks and come to a decision about their use? Also is it true that you can control the weather and conjure up thunderstorms?”
Mab laughed and said, “Yes and yes to your questions. You Mog, catch him when he falls to the ground. We are going on a trip together so I too will need support in case I fall from this chair.”
She sat into a large chair, extended her butterfly wings so that she could sit back and closed her eyes. Alexius dropped into Mog’s ready fingers as if all of his muscles had snapped. Tam made sure that she did not fall and held her against the chair-back.
Using the knowledge that Alexius had gathered by sweeping the skies, she guided him out of the planet’s gravity well and the last molecules of air. He looked through her eyes and senses and soon found what he was looking for. In the blackness of space tumbling in a steady orbit were very large chunks of dirty ice. They were like giant snowballs that had rolled down loose scree on the slopes of a mountain. All of them were spinning erratically, spitting water vapour out while in the sun’s rays and solidifying on contact with the dark side of the chunk.
Alexius asked the Queen, “Can you slow them down? Is it possible that you could influence the direction of these great chunks of ice? I understand that in the past you have directed several iron-bearing Sky Stones to land in selected places in your realm to be used by your people.”
“I am sure that what you have in mind will be possible, but I fear that we need some time to accomplish what you will need. What horrifies me is that what you are proposing is nothing short of genocide!”
She cut off her thoughts so that Alexius could say no more in that intimate situation and returned them back to her chambers. As the Greek recovered from the incredible experience he shakily stood and faced the Queen.
Angrily he pointed his finger at her and loudly said, “It’s no good shutting me out of your mind, Madam! If you do not carry out what I have proposed, your reign will end and all who live in this enchanted land will either become slaves to the Orcs, or food! I do not carry this burden lightly and I know that this goes against everything that you stand for, but it must be done and without mercy. We have shared minds for long enough for me to be aware of what you can do and how I can link your powers to my ingenuity! You are Athena to me, goddess of all that is true. This world is in your keeping, so keep it! ”
She sat in deathly quiet and stared at Alexius, as she gave thought about what he had proposed and came to a reluctant decision.
Tam, Shamus and Mog were shocked at the candour of Alexius as he lectured the Queen on what must be done. Nobody to their knowledge had ever spoken to Queen Mab in such a way and gone unscathed. To their surprise she paid the slight no heed, as she considered what Alexius had said. She turned to face them and was aware of their discomfort and laughed at the expressions on their faces.
“My dear friends do you not know me enough to understand that I value truth above all else? What Alexius has proposed, may do more than just defend us from this threat. You do not need to know the how of it, just the method that will give me what I need. The first thing that we need is an abundance of copper and other materials. The goblins can manufacture under instruction of Alexius the equipment that we need. Trolls can build the apparatus when the parts arrive. Leprechauns can shrink it and bring it to my castle via the Shadow Lands. Worry not about what that infernal place used to be, as Shamus’s dryads have altered the makeup of the place. There will be less risk travelling through that place, now that it is swarming with Wood-sprites!
Mog, spread the word amongst your folk to link with the goblin artificers and tell them of our needs. Take from the mind of Alexius what he requires to be made and link him up to the leader of each goblin community so that he can inspect progress and direct it when necessary.
The first thing that Mog did was to connect his mind to every Troll across the Enchanted Land and tell them that the Orcs had enough poison metal to break through Queen Mog’ barriers and would be ravaging through the countryside very soon. As the days went by he organised a link up with the goblin settlements and told them that their services would be required to manufacture whatever Alexius needed. The threat of an Orc invasion would be enough to ensure their co-operation. Meanwhile Alexius commandeered paper and began to sketch the parts of the equipment that he needed to build.
Elves and gnomes would soon enter the edges of the great East/West road and make camps inside the forest and keep a lookout for any marauding Orcs. They would only take them out by bow and arrow if they were sure that the bodies were never found. Goblins would accompany them to strip the dead of any iron and bury it with the Orcs deep enough that it did not interfere with the magical abilities of the Elves and Gnomes. The loss of any Orcs that tried an explorative venture too far along the great East/West road would worry the Orcs back at Gunderstall, as they would just disappear without trace. This would be unnerving enough to keep the Orcs within their lands until they were absolutely ready for the main invasion. By then Alexius would have his answer to the iron clad Orcs in place and waiting.
Shamus and Ep, the Wood-sprite, would awaken the vegetative mind that slumbered in all the foliage. They would then spread the word that the Orcs were coming to chop them down and burn down the trees. This would protect the iron sensitive elves and gnomes from physical contact with the Orcs as they waited with their bows and arrows for any survivors from the first wave of attack.
Meanwhile in the grim Orc city of Gunderstall, the inhabitants had caught a handful of elves and brought them back as live captives. They took them to ‘The Place of Question’ where all prisoners were taken to have information retrieved before being eaten. Now the Orcs were very curious as to what the proximity to iron would do to the faery folk. They selected an adult male and stripped him, thrusting an iron bar close to his face and watched as he broke out into a sweat. Soon he began to struggle and vomit. Drurk laughed and swept the iron bar across the elf’s naked back and watched as it became a pool of festering boils. He left the poison metal in contact with the elf’s skin and listened to him scream. Soon the elf began to bleed from under the bar of metal, becoming weaker and weaker until at last he died.
Drurk stared at the twitching body at his feet and said, “It would seem my Lady that the poison metal causes the skin to become paper thin and they bleed as if cut deeply!”
Gretch Fem-Orc, leader of the Orcs said, “A good result, Drurk, but just how little iron would render these abominations dead?”
Drurk looked up from the fire and grinned.
“I have a small sharp knife that might give us an indication, my leader,” he replied and sank the knife into the upper leg of an elf-maiden held tightly by another Orc.
Within a few heartbeats she stiffened and died. They soon found out that if the elves were just stabbed and the knife withdrawn, the elf always died. They threw the bodies onto the roasting rack and enjoyed the feast. Now they knew that the slightest contact with iron would kill the faery people. A wounded elf was an elf that would die in a very short while.
Manufacture went rapidly from swords to arrowheads, breast plates and helmets. They soon found out that an elfin arrow would not penetrate steel armour so sheets of iron were hammered out to fit the barrel chested Orcs and heavy helmets strapped over their grey bald heads. Gretch sent parties of Orcs along the old boundaries, placing iron rings over the stone warriors, turning them back to angry flesh and blood, swelling her army even more. To feed these extra mouths she sent more whaling ships out to sea and they dragged the bloody carcasses back to Gunderstall. Every day the armies of the Orcs grew and grew, swelled by those who had remained as stone statues for eons.
As they ate and drank Orc beer, all they could dream of was the sweet meat of the elves and gnomes that soon would be theirs. Once again, enslaved goblins would be toiling in the fields breaking their backs to grow the food for them. The Trolls would become the heavy lifters and iron would ensure that they obeyed the Orcs in everything that they required. The only people that might present a problem were the magical Leprechauns and iron would soon shut them down and the Orcs would hunt them for sport as well as the hated fairies!
As the shrieks of pain echoed through the inquisitor’s rooms of question, Queen Mab was aware of every agony filled moment, until each elf’s mind shut off. She could not seal off her great telepathic powers and suffered with them. The pain cut through the iron induced mental fog surrounding Gunderstall like a hot knife through butter and burnt into her brain. Through gritted teeth Mab swore that there would be no mercy shown towards the Orcs on that day of reckoning.
Alexius soon found out how quickly the goblins grasped his requirements once they understood what was important and what could be improved upon. The first thing that they got to grips with was producing miles of copper twisted cable fully coated with insulation so that none of the copper touched itself, as it was wound around the wooden tubes. All across the enchanted lands, goblin artificers vied with each other to produce what was wanted and improved. These components were shrunken down and carried by leprechaun through the Shadow Lands without incident and stored at the castle. Soon there would be enough for Alexius to assemble the first test rig away from the castle and use the powers of Queen Mab to energise it. Only then would the Greek know how to adjust the amount of power to make it work safely.
Meanwhile Queen Mab was perfecting her skills many miles away from the castle and possible prying eyes. She used the Shadow Land portals to take herself and others skilled in the control of the weather, to where they could practice the finer manipulation of the elements.
Tam, Shamus and Ep had made their way along the East/West Road as close as they dared, towards the stronghold of the Orcs without being seen. They broke their journey by resting at Tam O’ Shadow’s house in the whispering wood. While Tam prepared a home-cooked meal for the two of them, Shamus walked around the cottage until he entered the leprechaun’s garden. The enchanted apple tree was already aware of him and the branches swayed with welcome. Ep stayed at the entrance to the garden and waited for the right moment to be introduced with typical Dryad patience.
The woody mind reached out to Shamus and a voice creaked around his mind and asked, “Tell me Sssshamus of your adventures and the use you made of my giftssss?”
The hybrid leprechaun/human sat down against the gnarly bark of the tree and told the Wood-sprite about everything that Tam and Shamus had accomplished and the help that the tree’s apples had been, in so many different ways. He then told the ancient apple tree about the coming threat of the invasion of the Orcs and the destruction that they would wrought wherever they went.
“What we are here to do is to awaken the group mind of the forest and show it what the Orcs will do. They will clear the forest and break the ancient covenant between the forest and the faery folk by burning green wood and dragging trees out of the ground, snapping their roots. This land will burn and bleed in a fashion that would become the worst of all bad dreams. Soon elves and gnomes will be entering these hallowed forests to stop them and they will need protection from the poison metal that the Orcs will be carrying,” explained Shamus to the Wood-sprite.
The tree embraced Shamus and gently held him within his branches and said, “You are more ssspecial than you know, young leprechaun. I will send a root message throughout the forest, informing all about the perilous times ahead. There are many thorny bushes and trees that will be very willing to teach these Orcs to keep out of our woods. By morning young Ssssshamus the group mind will be aware. Tell your people that they will be welcomed into our protection.”
Shamus pulled himself away from the tree, introduced Ep to his father and left the two Wood-sprites together with roots intertwined. Shamus’s protector busily recounted the adventures that he had shared with him and the difference that had made to the once so hostile, Shadow Lands.
In the morning Tam and Shamus awoke and ate a good breakfast before contacting the two dryads with the next item that they required. They re-provisioned themselves from the many travelling sacks that Tam O’ Shadows had stored away from previous adventures. These were stashed away in shrunken form and placed into the many pockets of their waistcoats. Once again Tam covered the cottage with poison ivy and dog-rose briers until it disappeared from sight. They walked around the well defended cottage into the garden at the back. The two Wood-sprites were immediately aware of them and began to stir as Ep began to withdraw his rooting system from his father’s connections with the rest of the forest.
Shamus placed his hands against the bark of the ancient apple tree and said, “Ancient one, there is something that we need that only you can provide.”
“And that issss?”
“A dead Orc in battle armour, delivered to the edge of the forest to be collected by goblins. Alexius needs one to test his weapon,” replied Shamus. “In fact several would be useful!”
A root tore its way out of the ground and wrapped around Shamus’s wrist, while another one did the same with Tam. Immediately they became part of a vast network of trees, shrubs and vines with interlocking minds. Hundreds of thousands of square miles of vegetal units became as one sentient being. It concentrated its powers of sentience to the East and the edge of the Orc dominated lands. It searched for a small group that were closest to where Shamus and Tam were situated and found a small observation post camped upon the old giant-built road, keeping a watch for any activity of the faery folk towards their lands.
Fruit trees located a short distance into the forest began to exude the aromatic scent of sweet juicy produce. Orcs have a great hunger for sweet things and will devour any fruit if given a chance to gather it. They do not willingly share, so only those who would venture into the forest would acquire the bounty. As the Orcs could see along the arrow straight road for miles and that it was empty, they decided to enter the forest and pick the fruit that they could see ripening in abundance. Some of the boughs were at breaking point and were almost lying on the forest floor weighed down by the abundance of the fruit.
Shamus and Tam watched through the forest’s senses as the Orcs began to stuff the ripe fruit into their gaping jaws. Almost as if the roots of the trees were being guided by the two leprechauns, they began to squirm out of the soil and cut off any retreat. Suddenly the greedy Orcs found themselves wrapped up in a wooden embrace unable to move arms and legs. They were lifted into the air and the vegetal mind took information from the minds of the two pixies and shaped a pointed end to one of the flexible roots. The Orcs began to scream in terror as one by one they were forced into opening their mouths wide and the sharp hardened root drove up through the roof of each Orc’s mouth and into their brain. The dead were then transferred to the tree-tops and were transported from ancient tree to sapling, directly towards the edge of the forest where Alexius was waiting for them with his goblin metal-smiths having been primed by the Queen, who had witnessed everything that had taken place.
They both heard her voice inside their minds say, “Well done my loyal warriors. I am well pleased. Now make your way along the road and seek ambushing areas where we can set our traps. I will see you later. I have much to do!”
Shamus and Tam found themselves no longer in physical contact with the ancient apple tree. The vegetal mind had left them and was busy with other matters, pertaining to remove any Orc that strayed away from his fellows. These would disappear without trace having been pulled into the forest and buried to be used as compost.
Shamus reduced Ep in size so that the dryad could ride upon his shoulders and using the Seven League Boots, they made their way towards the Orc City of Gunderstall.
Queen Mab was honing her skills and was beginning to be successful. In the thousands of years she had ruled over the Enchanted Lands the degree of accuracy had never been called for when she had nudged the occasional ‘Sky Metal chunk’ out of orbit and downwards for the goblins to use. Sometimes she took Alexius’s mind with her so that he could choose the pieces of ice to be put aside for later use. On one of these excursions they built several snowballs out of stray smaller chunks by Queen Mab’s powers and Alexius’s instructions, as to how to ensure that the snowball did not come apart too soon. These they dropped on the other side of the world, in the middle of an empty desert, aimed at a dormant volcano. To begin with, the fireballs missed by twenty miles, but as the days wore on, Queen Mab’s accuracy improved. Great lakes of boiling water formed and sank into the desert sands. Eventually she could hit the peak of the volcano every time. Now all she needed was an accurate view of the Orc city from one of the leprechauns to give her a direction and a place to send her answer to their threats.
During the days that he was not mentally joined with the Faery queen he fussed over the building of the giant electro-magnet proto-type. Once the goblins understood the principals of the arrangement they improved the design. One morning the forest spat out the corpses of the steel-armoured Orcs and the goblins collected them. They studied the armour and searched for any weak spots that could be exploited at long range with bow and arrow. Also the elves found out just how close they could get and still operate their magic. To their satisfaction it was well within bow and arrow range.
Alexius put the finishing touches to the apparatus and made sure that the copper pillars were well impaled into the ground. For the test, he had made sure that all the components were well away from the castle, so that when Queen Mab ‘called’ down the lightening it would not damage her home. He had the Trolls line up the bodies of the Orcs, fully dressed in their armour at set distances from the ends of the coiled tube. He had found out by experimenting that if the tube was bent around to a letter U and wound around the tube, over and over again, he could generate a greater attractive force. Since travelling with the Queen into orbit and seeing the world through her senses he had become linked mentally to her. Now he could converse with her mind to mind over quite a distance.
As he walked away from the tube he could feel the static electricity beginning to make his hair stand on end. Already Queen Mab was building a charge in the ground and creating a thundercloud high above them.
“Not yet! Everyone must get a good distance away from the area or suffer the consequences,” he panicked and broke into a run along with all the other helpers. “Try to keep it down in power to begin with. I have no clear idea just what will happen when the lightning strikes the copper pillars.”
Alexius pulled a collapsible tube from his pocket and viewed the equipment through the lenses bringing the dead Orcs into view.
“Now,” he told her and the faery queen reached down from the thunderhead and connected it to the two copper pillars.
The static charge swept through the pillars and through the wiring. There was a blinding flash and the whole apparatus melted like butter in a fire, leaving pools of molten copper dripping through the mounts onto the ground. When Alexius regained his sight, he swept the glasses back to where the corpses had been left. The nearest armoured Orc was welded to what was left of the end of one tube and several of the others had been dragged across the grass towards the equipment by the attractive force reacting with their armour.
The Greek Philomath hurried over to the wreckage and gloomily surveyed the damage. The wiring had burnt through the insulation and the copper pillars had melted during the lightning strike. The other thing that he became aware of was that all of the static charge in the area had vanished. Queen Mab had used up all the energy at once. The overpowering fact was that the attraction between the open ends of the U had picked up the dead Orcs by their armour and had the force lasted longer he was sure that all of them would have ended up stuck to the ends. Somehow he needed the Queen to engineer a slow release of energy so that she would have enough in reserve to fry the Orcs while their armour was stuck together. This would give her something that she could aim for, as it was evident that the more iron that was put together the more likely that the lightning would strike just where they wanted it. As the goblins collected the dead Orcs they noticed that now the armour had to be prised apart as if the metal was stuck together. This was an unexpected side effect and caused Alexius to think even deeper about what he was going to unleash in this world. During his experiments at his keep, he had constructed something that would detect the power that defused through the ground by accident. He had found that two very thin strips of gold soldered to a brass rod would pull apart if exposed to the charge in the ground. He had placed a bell jar around the rod and insulated it from touch. Just to be sure he had sealed the bottom of the jar so that nothing could make contact. On the top of the brass rod he had mounted a thin metal disk. He had noticed during a thunderstorm that the gold leaves that hung in a vee would push apart. When he had inspected the apparatus and the hair had started to stand out on his body the leaves had done the same, but more positively. He had stumbled upon a way of determining where a concentration of ‘Earth Power’ was stored in the ground. This could be very useful!
Alexius was busy investigating all the different ways that this new knowledge could be brought to bear on the impending Orc invasion. After the melting of the field generator, he had spent some time paired up inside Queen Mab’s mind and concentrated his understanding of the new electrical energy to her. Bit by bit they managed to slow down the discharge rate so that the generator no longer fused together and remained intact after use. Time and again they had the Trolls drag the armoured bodies of the Orcs into new positions and discovered the range of the generator. As each piece of armour was carried into contact with the ends of the generator, the effect increased and any other pieces of iron armour in the vicinity ‘glued’ itself to another part like bricks in a wall. The forest gave up more dead Orcs from time to time so there was no shortage of experimental ‘vessels’ to enable the goblin artificers to try improvements. Meanwhile as the generators were finished, the Trolls positioned them along ambush points that Tam and Shamus indicated to the Queen. Other leprechauns had used their powers to shrink down the equipment along with the building crews and transport it to where it would do the most good. Each ambush point was checked to find out if the area of the generator had a good charge of power locked inside the ground.
There was one natural phenomena that worked in the defender’s favour and that was, the East/West road like all the other main thoroughfares had been built by giants with interlocking slabs of stone. They were wide enough that forty men could march in line without touching the sides. In the midday sun these got very warm and made a lot of warm air rise up into the clouds above. A positive charge built up in the ground and was eager to escape through any tall object. Copper pillars sunk into the edge of the road made excellent lightening conductors. They shone out like beacons inside the Queen’s mind and made it very easy her to find and direct the energy build-up. The forest soon buried them underneath swaths of ivy, camouflaging them from sight.
The Trolls rapidly re-assembled the generators under instruction from the goblins in the centre of the giant’s road. The Orcs would have to pass them to get by. Hidden in the trees were elves, far enough not to suffer too much by the proximity of iron, they could direct the Queen when to send a bolt of lightning through the copper pillars. Those that survived the electrical onslaught would find another barrier across the road manned by elves with uncannily accurate arrows. After each skirmish the elves would retreat to the next ambush or just vanish amongst the trees, where the Orcs would soon find out if they followed them, would cost them their lives.
A long way from all this activity Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian stared down at the Orc lands with some dismay. They were well hidden up a large oak tree at the edge of the forest and had a commanding view. Shamus had been given a collapsible tube with lenses mounted inside by Alexius which enabled the person looking through, a close up view of what was being observed. He stared through the lenses at all the activity and wondered just what the outcome would be? The sheer multitude of the mutated goblins camped around the outskirts of the city of Gunderstall had to number in the tens of thousands. Even at this distance away from the city the painful effects of the sheer mass of iron made it difficult for them to concentrate and send a coherent picture to the Queen. The stench from the city made their eyes run with tears as the pollution from smelting the iron ore and the open sewage system that flowed into the sea mixed together.
He passed the ‘scope’ to Tam and said, “There are more of them than I can count. Look through the tube and see how spread out they are. We need to strike first or they will over-run us with the number of warriors that have clustered around their city. We need to capture one of them and prise the truth out of him before we alert the Queen.”
Tam put down the tube and asked, “What about the iron that they all carry? How can we get around that problem?”
“We pick off a lone Orc using Ep, as iron does not affect him. He can strip the iron from his body and hold him fast while we question him away from his armour,” replied Shamus and returned the Wood-sprite to his normal size.
The apple dryad expanded his branches and sunk his roots into the ground to replenish his energy levels. He also connected to the vegetal forest mind to seek what they needed. Within a short while there was a crashing sound as something came travelling through a network of branches towards the leprechauns screaming with terror! An Orc, fully dressed in battle-armour came hurtling down through the ancient oak-tree and was caught by the Wood-sprite before he would have hit the ground. Ep held him fast and rapidly stripped the Orc of every metallic thing and tossed them away from Tam and Shamus. He then wrapped some of his root system around the Orc’s arms and bound them to his chest so that he could not move. He then hung him up-side down with his head a few inches from the ground.
Tam walked into view and gave the Orc’s head a light kick to make sure of his attention. The Orc tried to spit at him and was rewarded by another kick on his ear.
“Tell me what you know about this impending war,” said Tam O’ Shadow. “When are you going to be on the move and start your expansion into our lands? I also want to know, where is the Iron ore mine located? Tell me all of this and I might just let you go.”
“Rot in your magical socks you misshapen dwarf! You will all soon feel the yoke of the Orc Empire as we spread through your lands killing and looting, with iron to protect us from your magic!” replied the Orc and wriggled, trying to get away.
“Magic, you say? You think that we just have magic to protect ourselves? We have much more than that, abomination! You see, every other living creature in these enchanted lands dislike your kind intensely, but would have left you alone if only you would do the same. Can you see the column of fire ants making their way from out of the forest? They regard you as food. And once they reach underneath your face, they will begin to make a living ladder until they can latch their front jaws into your flesh. Once they do that I cannot stop them from swarming up and spreading all over your body. It will be too late then to want to tell me what I want to know. Once you are just bones I can soon ask the forest to capture me another Orc. Sooner or later I will have the information that I have asked for.”
The dryad twisted the bound Orc so that he could see what was advancing across the ground towards him. The grass had turned into a red mass of ants surging towards his unprotected face. The column was wider than his leg and was being supplied by a living stream of tributaries oozing out of the forest and would soon reach directly underneath him.
Shamus walked carefully round the hanging Orc until he reached the pile of stripped off armour and using the arm that Queen Mab had regrown he picked up the sword in his human hand and carried it back to where the Orc could see him. He was careful not to get too close to Tam with it and poked the Orc in the stomach making him bleed a little. As the drops of blood dripped onto the grass the ants surged forwards and cleared up every drop in front of the terrified Orc.
Shamus knelt down, so that he could speak into the captive’s ear, “This is a good sword, made from good steel. I shall enjoy using it to cut my way through an army of your kind. Do not be so sure that what you have been told is true!”
“Lift me up. Please lift me up. The mine is in the city,” he gasped and Ep pulled him up several inches.
Now he could see the boiling mass of fire ants beginning to build a living tower of interlocking ants to reach him.
Tam moved away from the heaving mass of ants and said, “I believe you have some more to tell me? You see, I am a leprechaun and I will keep my word. Tell me what I want to know and you shall be set free.”
As the interlocked bodies began to surge upwards the Orc screamed in terror, “The attack will take place very soon. As soon as the last of the iron ore has been smelted and beaten into weapons we will be marching along the giant’s road towards you. There will be tens of thousands of us all armed with the poison metal and I promise you that all will fall before our forces.”
Shamus prodded the Orc with the sword again and showed him that it had not affected him at all. Droplets of blood fell into the grass and the fire ants boiled over it until it was all gone. They redoubled their efforts to reach the hanging Orc by building higher and the up-side down goblin began to scream as the tower of scuttling creatures were only a finger’s width from the Orc’s eyes.
“Throw him beyond the trees, Ep. Try not to break him,” said Shamus and watched dispassionately as the naked Orc was tossed out of the outskirts of the forest and down the grassy bank.
He threw the sword into the undergrowth and mopped his brow that was dripping with sweat. Both leprechauns moved well away from the seething mass of fire ants and also the discarded armour.
“I was beginning to lose it back there,” said Shamus to Tad. “I do have some immunity against iron, but not enough to hold onto that sword any longer. He will go back amongst his kind and tell them that iron is not poison to all of the faery people. It might help us if he spreads that false knowledge.”
“We do have some useful information about the Orc city from our reluctant informant and that is that the city is built around the mine and the smelting plants. I will contact Queen Mab and tell her that now would be a good time to drop something onto Gunderstall and put a stop to proceedings. Being this close to all that iron will take some extra effort to contact her. Hold my hands and give me your mental strength while I reach out to her.”
Tam sent his mind towards where he knew that his Queen would be and drew a blank. Shamus joined with him and still they could not break through the mental fog that shielded the Orc city. Another kind of strength reached out to the two leprechauns, as Ep folded his roots around them and plugged them into the forest vegetal consciousness. Now there were thousands of square miles of living plants lending their life energy and breaking through the mental fog.
The energy at Tam’s disposal broke through into Queen Mab’s mind and delivered the message to her. He was able to give her the co-ordinates of the city and the fact that inside, was the Orcs’ weapon-shops and smelting plants. The other piece of information of the imminent attack, once the weapons being forged now were sharpened and finished, made the destruction of Gunderstall imperative.
Queen Mab sat desolate as the implications of what she had to do sank in. In the many thousands of years that she had ruled the Enchanted Lands, she had not needed to kill anyone herself. If she did this awful thing she would be committing a sentence of death on thousands of sentient beings. The Sluagh Sidhe danced the dance of atonement around her head. The fleeting touch of butterfly wings against her face was not a touch of assurance. They were her people, these dancing points of light, these balls of glowing beauty. To protect them and all the faery folk, she would have to become the instrument of death, admittedly to a race of people that held her and all of her kind as an anathema. They would enslave everyone who had lived in harmony with each other under her rule and look upon the elves and gnomes as a food source. Iron would be their tool of submission and without the powers of magic all would be lost. She sat on her throne and wept.
Alexius and Flower-et were with the Queen when Tam contacted her. Because of all the close association together, Alexius felt the misery of her predicament inside his mind as clear as if she were weeping on his shoulder. He felt the anger of the Sluagh Side that he had intruded upon the Queen’s misery and speedily held her hand, bonding his mind to hers. All that Tam had ‘told’ her registered in his mind and he considered the information.
Alexius broke apart the barrier she had tried to place before her mind and said, “What you must do, we will do together. I will share this burden with you because of the love I have for this land and the love I have for you. It must be done or we stand no chance of survival at all!”
Alexius and Queen Mab worked as a team, with the human providing the knowledge and the elemental spirit providing the power. Reluctantly she bonded his mind to hers and ascended upwards until their twin minds were at the orbital distance where they had ‘parked’ the giant snowballs that were a mixture of frozen water and rocks held together by ice. Now that the city of Gunderstall had been seen and located by Tam and Shamus the pin-point accuracy that Mab had developed on the other side of the world could come into play. Gradually she began to slow the residue of the comet down so that instead of endlessly orbiting her world beneath, the balls began to fall. Thousands of tons of ice and stones began to catch the outer limits of atmosphere and parts began to melt as heat began to build up and it began to vent gas. Mab gave them a nudge to the East to compensate for the deflection. Several miles up from the planet below, it still held together and was still in a direct line for the Orc city. In the sky above Gunderstall several glowing balls could now be seen plummeting towards it.
At that moment, many miles from the city, a naked Orc was recounting his capture and what he had seen, whilst bound and hung upside down. Asoka, battle commander for the Orca hoard, listened to what he had to tell them with scorn and a disbelieving expression on his face. Gretch Fem-Orc stood by his side to listen to what he had to say.
Standing to attention, he begged, “I’m telling you, Master Commander that I was captured by a tree that could move around. It was with two leprechauns and did their bidding. It stripped me of my iron armour and I saw one of the little folk pick up my sword without being harmed by it. Can you not see the scars on my belly where the little shit cut me with my own blade? I swear to you that I have seen the forest trees move without any wind blowing the branches around. I had gone into the forest to have a crap when suddenly I was picked up by ‘something’ and taken through the tops of the trees. I was dropped through the branches until I was caught by this other tree-like thing and bound by its roots. They hung me over a fire-ants’ nest and wanted to know where the iron ore mine was. I told them it was in the city. I could not see what harm that would be, as they will never be able to get in there. They would have let the ants eat me alive, had I not told them what they wanted to know. My face was only a hands breadth away from the little buggers and every time a drop of my blood dropped on the ground they swarmed over it. They continually crawled over each other to make a living bridge to my face.”
“Why did they not kill you, soldier, when they had the chance? I would!”
“One of the leprechauns gave me his word that if I answered his questions he would let me go. He did. They have a strange sense of honour and their word is their bond,” replied the naked Orc and shuffled his feet in discomfort.
The Battle Commander sat back in his chair and asked, “What else did you tell them?”
“I stated the obvious, sir, that we were coming soon and I would be right at the front to see how they liked iron in their guts.”
“Go and get dressed, soldier and let me think about what you have told me. I will think about the information and may the devil chew your bones if you have been lying to me,” the commander replied.
Asoka gave some thought to how parts of the soldier’s story might fit in to information trickling in that Orcs kept going missing if they ventured into the forest. This strange problem he had discussed with Gretch Fem-Orc before he had interrogated the unhappy Orc soldier.
Suddenly the flap of the tent opened and a young Orc ran in and called out, “Sir, the sky in in flames! You must come and see.”
The Commander leapt from his chair and went outside where indeed the sky seemed to be on fire. Gretch pointed at the sky. In the centre of the flames they could see there was a huge glowing ball that was coming apart as they watched. They could feel the heat coming off the object in waves. A roaring noise filled their eardrums and in seconds it was directly over where they both knew the city was situated. A sonic boom shattered the day and a mushroom cloud rose into the heavens as many hundreds of tons, all that remained of the giant snowball hammered into the city of Gunderstall. Scalding water filled the fire pits of the smelting plant and an explosion of super-heated steam tore the industrial heart out of the city. There would be no more weapons manufactured here if ever. Hot rocks began to fall all over the tented encampment along with scalding rain.
From far above the twin minds looked down at what they had caused to happen, as they had followed the ball of ice and rocks all the way down to within a mile above impact. Even here the influence of iron was too unsettling to bear for long and they retreated with what they had seen. Gunderstall had disappeared in a glowing ball of steam and flames. Thousands of gallons of scalding water now filled the crater that was all that was left of the Orc city and major port. The armed camp pitched outside the city walls had also mostly vanished in the explosion. Now the army of Orcs had been cut to the bone. Soon food would start to run out, as the fallout from the crater had buried the arable land under piles of bricks and rubble. It would not be long before the Orcs would be fighting over every crust of bread they could grab. They would have to try their luck along the giant’s East/West road and invade the faery lands.
“My city has gone! Your soldier told them exactly what they needed to know,” Gretch screamed and slapped the Commander across his face. “Get your men together to gather what provisions they can find and march down that road towards Queen Mab’s lands. Do it, or we will starve in this death smashed place! We will slaughter every one of her people that we find. Dead elves will fill my troops’ bellies.”
Queen Mab applied mental pressure against Alexius’s desire to stay and watch. The two joined minds began the descent back to the throne room far below. In moments they were returned to their bodies and both sat quiet as they thought about what they had unleashed.
Alexius turned and faced the group that were waiting for news and said, “Gunderstall has ceased to exist! Where the Orc city was once, is now a water filled crater joined to the sea. All trace of their port has gone along with all of their ships. A great deal of the army perished along with the city, but a considerable number remain. What food they have will be minimal, so their only recourse will be to come at us down the East/West road.”
Suddenly the sound of sobbing rose to a crescendo as the Queen clenched her fists in misery. She rocked back and forth and tugged at her hair staring at Alexius in despair as the enormity of what she had done filled her mind.
“I stand for life! I have become the avenging spirit of death. I cannot do this again,” she sobbed.
Alexius took her hand and replied, “There are still thousands of them and only hundreds of us. You can and you will be our instrument of defence. Remember that they have brought this action against themselves. This is why you brought me here! I have given you the solution, but you have to me the means of delivering it.”
Mog gently held her other hand between thumb and forefinger, kissed it with his stony mouth, saying, “I came here prepared to die to defend all that has meaning and to keep you safe. Every Troll will go into battle knowing that iron-clad Orcs will do their worst to kill us should we be overcome by the poison metal and we are all that separates the forest from castle lands. They will come down that road with only one thing in mind and that will be domination. They will not stop until they fill the Enchanted Land with slavery and death. There will be time to rest and mourn afterwards about what we all must do.”
“I feel humbled by your reminder of my duty, Mog the Troll. I must live with what I have done and accept that the battle is not yet over. Alexius I am sorry for my outburst and, yes as you say they had a choice.”
The portal underneath the throne opened and a leprechaun stood before them.
“We have everything in place my Queen,” he said. “All we have to do is to wait for the first of them to start down the road and enter the first of the traps. The Shadow Lands have changed much since I was last upon that one time perilous maze of roads.”
Tam and Shamus had seen the horror that had been unleased upon the Orcs’ city and decided to make their way back to the great road. They climbed inside the safety cage that Ep constructed for them and the dryad forged through the undergrowth dragging them along with its roots. After a few moments the forest mind opened a through-way for the Wood-sprite to travel along. Inside the apple-tree both of the leprechauns felt safe and protected enough to go to sleep. Mile after mile the Wood-sprite cut through the densest of thickets as if they were made of long grass. Every tree and bush swayed to the side allowing Ep to forge a pathway through that filled in behind him. All through the dark night the dryad kept up its travelling speed, using its sense of spatial awareness to direct the forest to allow him to pass.
A few hours after dawn, the dryad stopped pushing through the undergrowth and halted in a clearing. It gently shook the two leprechauns awake and opened its roots and branches to allow them to alight. Tam and Shamus stepped out of the Wood-sprite and found themselves in the centre of a band of elves, gnomes and trolls. A small dead-wood fire had a pot hung over it and the pungent smell of a gnome’s wake up potion filled the air.
“You must be Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian,” the leader of the group said. “We heard the bang and the sky seemed on fire! Do I take it that is the end of the Orcs?”
“Not by a long chalk, group leader,” answered Shamus. “Their city ceases to exist and a great number of them perished, but be assured those that survived will be coming soon down the great East/West road with vengeance in their black hearts! So be ready to apply yourselves and show no mercy as they will show none to you!”
Tam spoke up and said, “First I would appreciate a mug of whatever is in that pot and then I would appreciate seeing the thing that Alexius designed that is supposed to take out any Orc that gets near to it.”
“Oh, they do not have to get near to it. Once Queen Mab calls down the lightning and energises the ‘Generator’ they will have little choice! The iron that they wear will be their undoing,” the leader said and grinned. “I have seen this apparatus in action and you have to see it to believe it and they are dotted down the road all the way to the castle. We also have in place markers and stops so that we know what distance we have to be from them, before the poison metal renders us useless.”
Shamus and Tam were handed a mug of brew and walked down the pathway to the road and were treated by a view that made little sense to them. The Trolls had built the ‘Generator’ in the middle of the road so that the Orcs would have to pass it to come any further and it was pointing towards the oncoming hoard. The two leprechauns had never seen so much copper in their life. Stood on the top of the apparatus were several gold statues in plain view.
Tam stood back and pointed at the ornaments, “What’s the purpose of the golden statues?”
“Oh that was an afterthought by Alexius. Orcs place great wealth in gold so it may make them storm the ‘Generator’ to grab what would seem to be easy pickings. It would seem that the more iron you can get within the range of this thing, the stronger the effect. I have seen this thing applied and Orc armour sticks to it like honey and flies! The more that gets captured the greater the attraction and the more get caught. Can you also see the area in front of the ‘Generator’ where the metal net is placed? Anyone stood on that will suffer the same fate as the ones stuck on the weapon,” the leader said. “Those that try to get by will be targeted by elfin bow-masters who will melt away into a very hostile forest as soon as the Orcs reach the limiting place markers. We now know how close we can get to an Orc without being affected by the iron. We will not engage them in open battle, but fight a continual guerrilla warfare right to the very gates of the castle if needs be!”
“Let us hope that it will not come down to that,” Shamus replied and finished his brew. “I would say that the Orcs are no more than two days from you so be ready!”
Tam and Shamus gave back the mugs and walked to the middle of the Great Road.
They gave the command, “Grow ten times,” and grew tall enough to see over the trees. After Shamus picked up the Wood-sprite and settled him on his shoulder, they gave the order, “Stride.”
The first group watched the two of them disappear west along the giant’s road and made their way back into the safety of the forest to wait for the first wave. It did not take Tam and Shamus long to traverse the hundreds of miles back to the castle using the magic of the ‘Boots.’
Along the route back to the castle they passed ambush after ambush laid out along the East/West Road. Some of the generators were situated on the edge of the road covered in leafy branches, donated by the trees. The goblins had pulled the iron shields back into the forest that had been stripped off the dead Orcs that the forest mind still continued to donate to the castle defenders. As the trees had no bother with the poison metal they used their great strength and deposited them next to the generators. The goblins then dragged them across the road making sure that they were touching each other and pegged them down. When the generator was activated the accumulation of iron would drag the armour the Orcs were wearing onto the line of magnetic flux. It was then that Mab would deliver the next example of her power.
Tam and Shamus at last caught sight of Mab’s castle and slowed the boots down until they came to the great door into the main hall. Shamus left Ep to root into the soil some way from the castle where he could recuperate. The usual buoyant activity seemed very muted and the assorted faery folk more than a bit downcast as they gained entrance to the inside.
“You there!” shouted Tam. “Whatever is the trouble? We have seen that the Orc city, Gunderstall has been flattened and their port destroyed. Many of them are dead, but still they will come with what is left. So tell me, master-at-arms what is the problem?”
“The problem is that the Queen is not made for death, delivered on the scale that we must experience. She languishes in her chambers and is struggling with her conscience over what she has to do in the near future,” the elf replied and pointed along the corridor to the throne room. “She will need your support Tam O’ Shadow and Shamus O’Brian to persuade her to carry out the next part of the defence of our realm. Go! Do not waste time here with me. She needs your attention.”
The crowd around the throne soon parted at the approach of the two leprechauns. Alexius, Flower-et and Mog the Troll were at her side giving comfort and gave way as Shamus pushed through. He laid his hand upon hers and was inside her mind in an instant.
“What ails you Queen Mab? I have seen what you have done and it was for the best. They had built their city around the iron ore mine and were turning out weapons made of the poison metal with a speed and efficiency you had to see to believe! Also the land stinks of pollution. The Orc we captured had enough iron on him for several soldiers and he was just an ordinary warrior. All ambush points are fully manned and as soon as they step within range of the generators, you must apply the power at your command or everything that you have brought to bear in The Enchanted Land will be for nothing,” he implored and kissed her hand.
It was as if he had touched the copper terminals on the cell that Alexius had shown him to demonstrate the power at his disposal. There was another mind inside his queen!
During the time that he had been in this realm he had altered a great deal. His telepathic skills had increased since he had communicated with the vegetal mind of the forest and also the times he had ‘spoken’ to his queen. Being mostly a clone of Tam O’ Shadow, had given him the many ‘gifts’ of the leprechaun and also his human side set him apart and had unseated several other ‘talents’ that had lain dormant. The other mind was tiny and mostly unformed, but Shamus knew what it was.
“You are carrying our child! I can feel his mind beginning to develop and grow. I do not need to know how you have managed to keep him in this state for so long, but I am telling you now that the time has come to let time resume in your womb and let him develop normally. Or what passes for normal in this place.”
“It shall be done, Shamus. All that I have learnt in controlling the weather I have now passed on to you. I cannot use my powers to kill again. I know that it would destroy the person that I am. It will take me a very long time to recover from the awful deed that Alexius and I carried out. I always thought that you were brought into this world for a purpose and the acts of bravery that you have done in my name make you the favourite to maintain this realm. I will continue my rule but you will figure in that imperative and will serve our people well.”
Shamus felt the blending of her mind with his and ALL the understanding of controlling the lightning entered his consciousness. Now not only did he have the will to kill, he had the means.
She vacated the throne and sat Shamus down on it, saying to the others, “This blend of faery, human and something else will do what is necessary to bring the Orcs to measure. It may be that he will sit my throne for several days. See that he is fed and does not go thirsty and attend to him as if he were me.”
Shamus sat and connected with the earth power that flooded into him via the throne that Mab had sat for thousands of years. He became aware of every living thing around the castle and felt the barriers go down until he became the Forest mind, the potential power in the ground, the negative power in the clouds, the living strength that flowed from all of faery into his reach. He sensed the approach of the thousands of orcs marching down the great giant-built road and the proximity to the first trap. It had been a hot and humid day and already the warm, wet air had risen from the ground carrying the ‘to be unleashed’ charge. It had begun to form a cloud and the tops of the cloud began to form ice crystals. They began to bump into each other as the thundercloud started to form and thousands of collisions begin to build an electrical charge. Shamus controlled the clouds and brought them closer to the tops of the forest. Rain began to fall upon the Orcs as they marched towards the generator and the waiting elves. Once the soldiers saw the gold statues on the top of the generator they broke into a undisciplined greedy run.
Shamus could ‘see’ this as if he were there. He allowed a trickle of the earthbound force to enter the two copper pillars and increased the amount. The nearest Orcs found that they could not stop running towards the strange thing dominating the road and some of them flew through the air towards the tubes facing them. The first wave found themselves stuck fast by their armour to the ends of the tubes. Soon many more of the Orcs became stuck onto each neighbour until hundreds were trapped in a writhing ball of super magnetised armour. The massive amount of iron collected together made the targeting so easy for Shamus and he began to build the charge.
Shamus could ‘see’ that the later ranks had drawn back, although some were still stood on the metal net spread over the road. Now would be the time to let the entire charge go. A massive lightning strike drove upwards to the sky through the driving rain and connected each soldier to his nearest iron breast- plate. The bright forks of the incandescent bolts shot from metal to metal either cooking or electrocuting every Orc that was in contact with another. Of the generator there was now no trace, except for puddles of molten copper running off the road edges. Now the elves came into play before any organisation could take hold. The range was perfect and as the Orc force behind began to surge forwards, the elves slowed down time. From the Orc’s point of view the elves moved around so quickly they could not see them clearly. Having studied the Orc armour they knew where all the entry holes would be. Now each elf with a bow and gnome with a crossbow could pick their target and make sure that each arrow counted, as they aimed for the eye slit. Their other attribute that the elves enjoyed was that each arrow loosed could be thought to its target. As the remainder stamped upon the dying front wave and passed the markers, the faery people melted into the forest and out of range of the poison metal. Those few Orcs that entered the forest found that the trees could move and their dying screams testified to that fact. Now an eerie silence hung in the air and the road ahead was empty.
Asoka and Gretch stared at the body count in horror. Some of the armour had melted into the flesh and the smell of roasted meat hung in the air. They turned round and walked back to the waggons that were being dragged behind them loaded with supplies. The rain had stopped as quick as it had started and steam was rising from the flagstones. Whatever had been dominating the road had disappeared completely. Only the stains on the giant flagstones remained.
Asoka asked, “What do we do now Gretch Fem-Orc? Whatever that thing was it made havoc with the armour. Maybe what that soldier said was true, that not all of the faery folk are allergic to the poison metal. He was certainly right about the trees.”
She stared at him and grabbed him by the front of his armour and replied, “We carry on. There is nothing left back in that tiny area that we were ‘allowed’ to live in for us to go back to. Delegate a scavenging party and collect the legs of the fallen, knee to groin. Have the cooks roast them and share out with the other troops. For one thing it will feed them without taking from the stores and remind them what will happen to them if they fall in battle.”
Shamus came to, whilst sat on the Queen’s throne. He was still connected through the magic of the throne to all the earth power at his disposal.
“Alexius, you are to be commended. The generator worked and worked well. I took out a huge amount of Orcs, but I must warn you that this is far from over yet. I will need to sit upon this throne and keep watch from this moment on and be ready for the next ambush.”
Tam O’ Shadow stared at his one-time protégée with astonishment trying to accept what the once human boy had achieved. He knelt down on one knee and bowed his head in subservience and was followed by all the others in the throne room.
Shamus gazed at the reaction of all who had heard the Queen’s statement and called out, “This is all very well, but I need your help and assistance while I put my mind elsewhere. Keep my body clean and each time I return give me food and water. While my mind leaves this earthly frame, strip it, wash it and care for it until my task is done.”
Having said what needed to be done, Shamus’s eyes closed and his mind went elsewhere.
Tam rapidly stripped his new King and dressed him in a loose-fitting toga that would allow him to defecate and be washed without disturbing him and organised what needed to be done to have fresh food and drink at hand.
Shamus however was elsewhere.
Once again he was at ‘one’ with the realm and began building more thunder-clouds, seeking out the location of the other ‘generators’ and priming them.
Gretch and Asoka broke camp at dawn and moved their troops further along the road towards Queen Mab’s castle carefully avoiding getting too close to the hostile trees. They quickly marched over the copper-stained, partially covered flagstones and soon left the carnage behind them, still confident that the overwhelming odds of their army would bring victory and the spoils of war.
Overhead thunderclouds began to accumulate and the front wave of Orcs began to get nervous, but as yet the road looked empty as far as they could see along the dead-straight road. Suddenly, boots hit metal as the soldiers marched over the jointed shields and breast-plates. The pressure from behind propelled the three front ranks across the metal obstacles. Until they all came to an untidy stop. Some were stood on the metal and some were not, but all were in range.
Asoka felt that something was very wrong and shouted out, “Those at the front, run! Those, this side of the barrier, pull back as fast as you can.”
Too late was the order given and Shamus fed a surge of lightning into the copper pillars that powered two generators, each side of the road covered in leafy growth. The magnetic field reached out, funnelled by the metal plates linked across the road and the Orcs were once again pulled into two balls of struggling limbs as the Orcs tried in vain to pull themselves off. Some were fixed along the chain of metal that joined each generator. Hail stones began to fall as Shamus ranked up the power and released a powerful thunderbolt from the super-charged ground. This time there was a blinding flash that seared the eyes of those who were facing the electrified soldiers. The air was full of the stink of roasting flesh and an increased humming that set the teeth on edge. The thunderclap that split the heavens above made the ears ring and a bitter cold heavy rain began to fall laced with hailstones as big as a fist.
Also some distance behind them a metal net connected to the device had fallen from the trees and dropped over more than a hundred terrified Orcs electrocuting them in their highly conductive armour. A rain of arrows and cross-bow bolts took out many, many more from vantage points, high up in the trees. This time none of the Orcs dared to enter and chance the hostile forest.
This time Gretch and Asoka got a brief sighting of the device that had fried their troops before it melted away into puddles of molten copper.
The few Orcs at the front that had made it beyond the killing chain found that elves suddenly appeared from no-where and let loose a deadly cascade of arrows that all found their mark. They were past masters at slowing down time and could only be seen if they allowed it. Once any of the surviving Orcs passed the pre-set markers the elves vanished into the forest before the iron took away their power. Now from the edge of the road came another foe that the Orcs had yet to meet except the one that had been captured and interrogated by Tam O’ Shadow. Dryads had ripped themselves from the ground where they had been content to grow for hundreds of years. They began to tear the dazed Orcs apart with their iron-hard root systems, ignoring the sword thrusts and chops that they attempted to injure the Wood-sprites. When something the size of an oak tree is bent on murder, there is little that an Orc could do, but die. Now, where there had been thousands of Orcs, now there were hundreds.
Shamus called a halt to the slaughter and sent a goblin to speak with Gretch and Asoka.
“I am the perpetrator of your defeat, speaking through this goblin. Do you wish to live? That is the only question that you may answer.”
The two Orcs faced the little green man and clenched their fists in controlled rage. They nodded.
“Should you harm this messenger I will send the lightning through your bodies. Be assured of that. As for your ‘nod,’ that will not suffice. I would hear you say it and mean what you say.”
“I wish to live,” Gretch Fem-Orc ground out and was echoed by Asoka, her commander.
“Right, now you will do as I say, or even I will not be able to quieten the free spirits of the forest. You will give up every iron weapon and pieces of armour until you have removed every last bit of the poison metal from all of you. Should you keep any of it back, the Wood-sprites will know and they will turn anyone with it into root-feed. Do it now and march down the road and keep going until you see Queen Mag’s castle. I will warn you now that there are more of these traps set along the road. You will meet me there and I will decide what I am going to do with you, but I guaranty that I will keep my word. You will be granted life. Now I will leave you,” said the goblin and walked away as Shamus left him.
Shamus opened his eyes and said, “It is done. I am sick of killing and I hope that I have made the right decision. What Orcs are left will be re-settled somewhere, where over time perhaps, the race of Orc will revert to that of goblin. We shall see as time goes on. I thank you all for your support and looking after this poor abused frame. It would seem that I shall be here for some time. I have a son to watch over and a secretive Queen to solve!”