Elf Boy's Friends - III
At the Rendezvous
"Hell's bells, Dekker. This report of your battle reads like an historical romance set during the Corsair War."
Commodore Van Zant, commander of the naval squadron of which Captain Dekker's own ship the Petrel was a part could hardly contain his delight. Seated at his desk in his cabin aboard the flagship the officer waved the report and continued:
"In the most remarkable single ship engagement in the history of the Navy you sank fourteen longships and damaged another and sent over a thousand trolls to the bottom of the sea. You also proved the value of infrasound communications in naval warfare. And if anyone at the Admiralty was still skeptical about war wizards on navy ships, you have taken the wind out of their sails. I'd love to watch their faces when they read your report. It sails with the hospital ship in the morning."
"Thank you sir, though I deeply regret the butcher's bill. Of our complement of seventy only twelve men came through entirely hale and hearty. Eleven were killed outright; three later died of their wounds; four survivors lost limbs; and everyone else was wounded in one way or another. Thanks to the assistance of the healers from the other ships of the squadron almost all the wounded, save the amputees, have returned to duty."
"I'll still need thirty replacements if the Petrel is to continue to operate with the squadron. And we really need those two squads of naval infantry if we are going to come to close quarters with the trolls again."
"You will get everything you need, Dekker. It is up to us to deal with the trolls till help arrives. The High Seas Fleet should have put out to sea by now, though we are too far from our base at Alster for even infrasound communications. Next time we will station ships to relay messages all the way to base."
"So it will be a week at the earliest before the Fleet can concentrate against the enemy. By that time I fear the trolls will have rowed those longships of theirs up the River Calyx which flows past Flensborg."
"Do we have any estimate of their numbers, sir?"
"At least five thousand, maybe six, all of them warriors. If this is part of a folk migration, their females and whelps are coming with a later wave. Now counting our sailors and the naval infantry we number fifteen hundred. So I am open to suggestions."
"Can we send warning to the Frost Giants?"
"Not by courier. The trolls are between us and our allies ashore."
"Could the weather wizards aboard the scout ships combine their powers to reach Flensborg?"
"Even if they could, to whom would they relay the warning? There has to be another weather wizard at the other end to receive it."
"There is. I happen know that many of their colleagues ashore have taken up new careers as local weather predictors. They have jobs on the staff of all the major news-papers. Flensborg has a paper and it does publish weather forecasts. I got that from my own war wizard Warrant Officer Liam whose boyfriend Drew Altair is a journalist and familiar with the town."
"Then let's get on it immediately."
The commodore gave the necessary orders. Soon all six weather wizards were at work sending the warning to Flensborg. At the speed of sound it would take the better part of an hour for their transmission to reach there and the same for an acknowledgement to come back. They would give it a half hour and resend their warning and keep at it till they got a reply.
Meanwhile Liam was aboard the hospital ship saying goodbye to his lover Ensign Nathan Lathrop. Liam presented his lover with a souvenir, the very same axe that had taken his lower leg off just above the ankle. The blade had been driven into the deck, and before the troll could yank it out, he had been killed.
Ironically, it was that very blade, pressing against the end of Nathan's wound that had kept him from bleeding out. It slowed his blood loss enough for their ship's surgeon, Warrant Officer Durban, to get to him in time to attend his wound. It was the surgeon who had retrieved the axe as a souvenir for his patient. He had served in the Navy long enough to know that it would appeal to the black humor that combat veterans develop as a result of their experiences.
"Just brandish this in the faces of the old Army fogies in your family. This and your Navy Cross. Black sheep indeed!"
"You sound madder at them than I am."
"For you, they are still family. For me, they are just' the Army."
"Now you sound like Captain Dekker."
"Seriously though, Nathan. Take care of yourself. I imagine that by the time I get back you will already be up and about, stumping around on your peg leg."
"A peg leg is for pirates in the old tales. These days medical artificers create prostheses custom fitted for each patient. My stump will fit perfectly in the socket and the base will be shaped just like a foot. I'll even be able to wear my regular boots. It will look perfectly natural, except I will walk with a limp since I cannot really flex the wooden foot nor push off with my big toe. Otherwise no one could tell."
"Except the lover who shares your bed."
"Yes. I hope you won't find my' well my loss a turn off. I understand that sometimes happens to relationships after crippling injuries."
"Don't worry about that. If it were not against doctor's orders, I would be taking advantage of you right now, as you lie there in bed helpless to resist."
"No you wouldn't. Not with the doctor himself standing right here. Isn't that right, Surgeon Durban?"
"Indeed it is. I am afraid you will have to curb your enthusiasm for a while, Liam."
"You know, Liam. I'll be spending my convalescent leave with my family in the capital and undergoing rehabilitation at the naval hospital there. We can see each other then."
"Sounds like plan. I love you, Nathan. Very much. And I won't love you any the less for your loss. Well, maybe just a tiny bit less. After all, there is a little less of you to love now, isn't there?"
"Liam, that has got to be absolutely the very worst joke you have ever laid on me. I have half a mind to take this axe to you and even things up!"
In response to his mock threat Liam bent down and hugged his friend.
"Mmm. That's better. I love the press of your body against mine, Liam. And your body warmth."
They kissed and separated. Just before he went through the hatch [i.e. the door] Liam half turned and with a cheery wave said:
"See you soon, Sparky."
He almost got away clean except Nathan caught him with an electrum spark to his tush, eliciting a cry of "Yikes!"
Surgeon Durban's own eyes glistened at this reaffirmation of their love. He had grown fond of them during their cruise, both the cute carrot-topped youngster in the bunk and the raven-haired beauty with wizard's eyes who was his lover.
"Ah Liam," Dekker said as the wizard returned to the Petrel. "Let's go to my cabin so I can brief you on the Petrel's part in the coming operation against the trolls and your own part in particular."
"So we are going after them sir, not waiting for the fleet?"
"That's right. Here, come inside."
They picked the thread up again in the captain's cabin.
"We cannot wait and leave the Frost Giants to face this threat alone. Their population of fifty thousand is spread across a large country. That means the trolls could overwhelm the various local militias that comprise the Fyrd and defeat them in detail. Flensborg itself has only seven or eight thousand inhabitants. Even drawing from the countryside out to a distance of say two days' march, the Frost Giants could assemble maybe fifteen hundred fighters in any one place on such short notice. They need us, our own fifteen hundred strong right arms and our two war wizards and our weather wizards. We can fall on the trolls from the rear."
"Also, and we cannot count on this, but Flensborg is linked by heliograph to the Army base at Plainsville. The Army would certainly help if they knew of the danger. Believe me, we could use several battalions of heavy cavalry in the fight that is shaping up."
"Your job, Liam, is to lead us up the River Calyx. We will need your eyes that can see in the dark to let us keep going even at night. The Petrel is the lead ship because it carries a war wizard, unlike the other scouts which carry weather wizards. Only the flagship bears another war wizard."
"You can count on me, sir. And by the time we get there. I will be back to full strength, magically speaking, and somewhat stronger than before from having made a maximum effort during the battle at sea."
A few hours later the weather wizards got through to the Frost Giants. And yes, Flensborg had passed the warning on to the Army at Plainsville via the heliograph. They had also alerted the Commonwealth headquarters in the Far West.
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