Elf-Boy and Friends
Chapter 17. Preparedness
"You know, Taitos. I have been reading in your library. Military history and tactics mostly. According to the best writers, you have the ideal force structure and equipment given your militia's defensive role. Particularly clever is the way the militia men in the galleries along the entry road don't have to lean out to shoot at their foes, which would expose them to return fire. Instead they shoot left or right through slots slanted into the living rock, taking the enemy from the side in a crossfire that is impossible to return. Or they throw out clay jugs of flammable oil onto the road which burst on impact to be set afire with torches. Quite well thought out."
"Thank you, but it was my father who came up with most of that. The magical gift skipped his generation, so he found other ways for us to employ fire in our defense. He also set up that pair of catapults you saw the other day atop the Stone Castle, positioned to throw jugs of oil with a burning rag as a fuse. The weight of jug and oil gives the missile enough heft to fly quite a way down range."
"Right. Well the catapults gave me an idea of my own. A way to increase the effectiveness of your little army in open battle, if it comes to it. You know how you deploy the slingers on the flanks of the shield wall? Now it has to be that way for slingers to sight on their targets and sling their lead bullets. They also help guard the flanks. But what if you had an alternative formation, a second string for your bow, so to speak. Give the slingers a second pouch of glass balls filled with flammable oil. Each sphere should be small enough to close the hand over.
"The boys can't throw flaming projectiles." Klarendes objected.
"They won't have to. They just fling the glass globes. Igniting them is your job. On command their formation unleashes volleys of projectiles. Just as a volley arrives over the heads of the enemy, you yourself ignite them in mid-air, making them explode and shower anything or anyone below with liquid fire. That way you won't be using your gift to attack or kill directly.
The rain of fire will spook horses. And whether it singes their hides or sets fires around them, the confusion will become total. As you well know, once you deprive a cavalry charge of its momentum, it loses all shock effect. Against infantry, my technique will also be effective, burning them directly, their flesh and their uniforms. And the flames could set fire to the grass or the brush swordsmen are marching through. Just distracting swordsmen would help too. Make them raise their shields overhead at the very moment your axe-men slam into them."
"Excellent! This could make a real difference, Aodh, a sort of force multiplier for my firecasting, deputizing the boys as junior firecasters. That will at least double our effectiveness. As you know firecasting is one of the rarer magical gifts.
I don't have to tell you that the reports coming in from all over confirm that the barbarians are gathering their strength. Next time they march it won't be to raid but to slaughter everyone and to seize the plains for themselves. A dark prophet has stirred them up, promising them an empire if they would only seize it. That sounds like an existential threat to the Commonwealth itself. We have to prepare. That is why I am so grateful for your idea. It will make our valley that much more secure."
"Glad to help Taitos. Elysion is my home now too. And there's another advantage I just thought of. Right now you always station yourself up front, on foot, in the middle of the shield wall. That lets you hurl fire, yes, but it also makes you a prime target for the enemy. With this formation, you would be stationed behind the shield wall either on a horse or portable platform flanked by the bugler, messengers, and the reserves."
"Yes, I can see it myself. Behind the wall, mounted on a horse for a better view of the battle field instead of being on foot and maybe distracted by personal combat with a single foe. More like a general then than a war chief, seeing the bigger picture like that, I could see the best time for the boys to sling their glass globes or to commit the reserve foot or to lead my personal squadron of mounted armsmen in a cavalry charge, lances leveled at the foe.
The count suddenly chuckled.
"A bit silly, that. Calling my clutch of personal retainers a squadron when they really constitute no more than an oversized squad. Still the men are used to that grande appellation. It helps their morale, which is why I have never changed it from the old days."
"The valley folk sometimes wonder why I keep any arms men at all. It's not like the days of yore when nobles needed protection from their downtrodden serfs and had to keep armed men around to intimidate the lowly lest they rise in rebellion. And it is true that my armsmen seem to sit around much of the time with little to do except to train.
Actually they help sharpen the skills of our axemen as well. In weapons practice and in our war games, they play the bad guys with swords ranged against our honest yeoman militia. Also one of them is always in command at the Stone Castle. They also act as constables when someone needs to be arrested or escorted to a court of high justice, and they maintain decorum during proceedings in my courtroom. Few in number, they are all tough soldiers, mostly local lads back from a stretch in the army, but landless as second or third sons of their families. And they are loyal to my house. Besides, the council of elders can hardly complain about the expense, which I meet from my personal resources."
"You should have heard them moan and groan when I asked them to keep at least two militia men up in the hidden overlook at the eastern edge of the gorge. From that high vantage point, watchers can give early warning of the approach of any hostiles. I pointed out that doubling the overlook watch was a lot cheaper than increasing the garrison at the Stone Castle. No need to go on a war footing just yet.
And if, really when, war breaks out, I expect the army to send a company of regulars to stiffen our defenses at the gorge. I have arranged an expansion of the barracks at the Stone Castle for just that purpose. I am covering one-third the cost, the village the rest. It is being tricked up to look weather beaten and ancient the better to fit in with the architecture of the Stone Castle, the quaint structures at the honeymoon resort, and the ruins of a cultic temple constructed of huge standing stones set in a circle. A mystery left over from the dark ages, no one really knows much about it."
"Now Aodh, thinking over your suggestion, I realized that for your idea to work, we will need to practice volley fire. I'll ask the bugler to devise a distinctive call. And I'll set the glassblowers to making up a goodly supply of projectiles."
"Sounds good, Taitos, but I do wonder, after your burnout as a young man, can you keep it up, setting fire to a continuing rain of projectiles?"
"What? Oh I understand. You think my 'burnout' as a youth weakened me. Just the opposite in fact. It opened up new channels in my mind for the magic to flow through and made me many times stronger. I found myself able to cast white fire [i.e. a jet of subatomic plasma]. Actually it doesn't burn so much as consume anything it touches, disintegrating it and making it part of the conflagration. No fortification or armor can withstand it. If I swept white fire across a battle field, I could wipe out an army in one fell swoop. Of course, the psychic backlash from so many deaths would likely kill me, so I am saving that one for a final strike. If that is what it takes to protect our beautiful valley and the good people in it, then so be it."
"I once wrote about my new-found ability with white fire to the college of war wizards in the capital. They told me to mind my own business and to keep my mouth shut. So much for my amateur enthusiasm."
This last observation was punctuated with a wry grimace.
"And while I am thinking about our slingers, maybe it is time we equipped them with bucklers. We recovered plenty of those from enemy dead on the battlefield fifteen years ago. You know what those are, Aodh, small lightweight circular shields covered with hide and worn on the forearm, leaving both hands free. That will give our youth more of a chance if infantry closed with them or got in amongst them. We really don't want boys armed only with a long knife to trade blow for blow with heavy infantry. They would be overwhelmed. But bucklers could help them cut their way into the clear so they could take to their heels, get away, then re-form at a rally point."
"Of course it is different fighting with a buckler than with just a knife. Still a lot of fluid movement but more of that defensive moves. It would take retraining. Worth it though."
Aodh smiled, warming with admiration and respect to see the experienced soldier mull over the implications of the boy's original brainstorm, extending the basic idea to make it work even better but still keeping it simple. No military razzle-dazzle, thank you. Klarendes knew that real soldiers held such nonsense in contempt.
The young minstrel was particularly pleased that this veteran soldier has not just dismissed his suggestion of oil filled glass globes as a harebrained notion of a wet-nosed kid, a mere boy who had been in only one stand up fight in his life and even there he engaged his enemies as a beast rather than as a soldier. What could he know of organized warfare?
How could Aodh not love this fine man, so caring, so thoughtful, so well-meaning, not to mention so good looking and so very sexy. Now a man like Klarendes, in his early thirties, might, to an ordinary seventeen year old boy, seem the next thing to a graybeard, but Aodh knew better. Klarendes had not aged at all since his mid-twenties, thanks to his strong admixture of elf-blood. He had retained his youthful good looks. His face was unlined, his body strong, and his virility unflagging, as the young minstrel could well testify. How many mornings had he awakened, sore down there from repeated enthusiastic couplings.
One night, as the lovers lay in post-coital lassitude, with Esmeralda at their feet, the boy mentioned how glad he was that they would both keep their youth and good looks for a very long time, centuries at least for the nobleman, indefinitely for the wir.
"Yes, though I can expect in later years to develop laugh lines at the corner of the eyes and maybe even a bit of gray around the fringes. Would you still love me then, my dear kitty cat?"
Smiling wickedly, the young wir answered:
"Of course I would. In fact, sir, I think you would look even better than you do now," adding facetiously:
"There's nothing like a touch of gray at the temples for that 'distinguished look'".
"I'll give you distinguished, you little scamp." Klarendes growled with mock umbrage. "Bend over and take your punishment!"
As the big man twisted his much smaller lover across his lap in preparation for a playful spanking, the boy wailed and kicked his legs ineffectually, making a pretense of trying to get away. He never minded whenever Klarendes chose to bring a bit of color to his rump before a shag.
Abruptly Esmeralda jumped off the bed, getting out of their way, lest she be unceremoniously bounced off like the last time these two had played disciplinarian and naughty boy. She could not help being a bit cross that once again her humans were letting their roughhousing disturb her nap, going at it like that.
Not for the first time she wondered why those who walked on two legs spent so much of their time and energy trying to make kittens. Things were so much more reasonable with cats, weren't they: brief periods when their urges came upon them, and the rest of their time sensibly devoted to hunting, playing, eating, and sleeping (plus getting into mischief when no one was looking).
Anyway it was quite beyond her how two toms expected to engender offspring no matter how often the big male mounted the little one. It just wouldn't work, not with two toms. Yet these two kept trying, and one of them, the smaller one, was half feline himself and should know better.
Then again there was so much else that struck Esmeralda as odd about the two legged creatures she shared her home with. All of which she overlooked for the sake of friendship.
The happiness of the lovers in this period after their union wasn't so giddy as during their short "honeymoon", but this was when the minstrel boy stopped being a visitor and the valley became his home.
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