Elf Boy's Friends - III

by George Gauthier

Chapter 22

Idle Chit Chat

"You know Liam, it's been nearly three months since that barbecue in the garden of the Klarendes' townhouse. I've been wondering what progress you have made in that time using Angus McFarden's training techniques to strengthen your Fetching powers."

The industrialist's freight lines and street cars were powered by fetchers who had been taught introspection and visualization techniques that stretched their magical gift and nearly doubled their strength.

"I am doing pretty well now Drew. I will never be able to lift a brontothere into the sky the way you can, but I can lift more than before, say a couple of ponies instead of a single full-sized horse."

Drew nodded, adding:

"Of course, even a much weaker fetcher can be effective in combat. It doesn't take a lot of power to yank eyeballs out of their sockets or to whirl small steel spheres with devastating effect. Where you really need raw power in naval combat is flinging ballast stones at enemy ships and the stamina to keep it up."

Now maybe Axel's gift of eidetic memory made him something of a literalist or maybe just a skeptic. After listening to their exchange across the dining table he snorted and shook his head:

"Has either of you ever actually lifted those animals into the sky, a horse in your case, Liam, and a brontothere in yours, Drew?"

"Well, no Axel." Liam explained patiently. "Those are just expressions we fetchers use to indicate the approximate magnitude of our gifts."

"Speak for yourself, Liam. I have actually Lifted a brontothere off the ground. It was years ago when I was just starting out as a reporter. I did a story on the brontothere reserve on the Eastern Plains. One of the farmers who grew vegetables for the beasts laughed at me when I used that very phrase. Just to shut him up, I showed him I could lift a brontothere off the ground though just a couple of feet."

"Why not higher, literally into the sky?"

"Perish the thought. Brontotheres aren't afraid of much, but like all creatures they know they are vulnerable to falls, especially with their great weight. I did not want to terrify the brontothere, just make a point. So I picked it up, spun it around and set it gently to earth once again."

"How did he react?"

"She. My test beast was Manda the matriarch of the transplanted herd, since she was by far the largest. Back then the rest were youngsters. As to how she reacted, it was as you might expect. She was confused, frightened, and angry. She looked around for someone to take it out on, but I had anticipated her reaction and was hiding downwind. I didn't come out into the open till she was a good way off."

"Brontotheres are not touchy or belligerent, but they do not suffer fools gladly either. Anyone who crosses them will soon be taught a lesson, the burden of which is: Don't mess with us. It is not for nothing that they are known as the juggernauts of the jungle."

"I guess when you stand as high at the shoulder as a Frost Giant and weigh up to ten tons and are armed with two forward pointing horns, you simply proceed as if you have the right of way." Axel conceded.

"And yet they are not belligerent. Their sheer size makes them immune to predators. With no natural enemies it is no wonder brontotheres have such placid dispositions. They can watch the world go by unconcerned that anything might harm them."

Drew was struck with a further thought:

"You know some brontotheres let people take rides on their backs in exchange for treats like sugar beets. Now the riders cannot bid the beasts to go where they will, but the brontotheres never hurt their riders. Brontotheres really like humans and elves and even Frost Giants."

"So?"

"Well, I was thinking. I know the druids can compel animals to do their bidding, though in the case of brontotheres they prefer to ask out of respect for their intelligence. Druids use Mind Speech to cast images into the consciousness of the beasts. I wonder if any of the young bulls in the reserve could be persuaded to hire out to Frost Giants as mounts or rather to form a partnership. I am not talking ownership. By law no one can own a brontothere. Given their near sentience, it would be tantamount to slavery."

"What would be in it for the brontothere?"

"Young bull brontotheres often go off on their own for a time to see new horizons, have adventures, and possibly find a mate, either by joining another herd or starting one of their own. Young bulls might welcome a rider who could provide a greater variety of foodstuffs, take care of their feet, scrub their hides, rid them of ticks, draw water from a well in arid country, that sort of thing."

"Just imagine a cavalry charge with Finn mounted astride a brontothere. war hammer raised high, lightnings playing about as he charges a gang of bandits or a band of trolls. The beast itself is a fearsome combatant with those two forward pointing horns and its bulk and strength. The folded skin of a brontothere is so thick it is like armor, able to shrug off arrows shot by puny humans. Now trolls do draw more powerful bows, but even their arrows won't penetrate to the vitals of a brontothere."

"True, but there is one weapon that could stop a brontothere charge," Axel pointed out.

"Oh, what weapon is that?"

"Caltrops. Armies deploy them against horse cavalry. With four prongs arranged in a tetrahedron, you can just throw them on the ground certain that one spike will point straight up. As with horses, the weight of a brontothere would drive the spike into its foot pads and cripple it."

"True. Scouts would have to recon the ground first. Or Finn could use his control of magnetism to sweep the caltrops out of his path. As could anyone with the magnetic gift. "

"It's an intriguing notion," Axel and Liam both conceded. "Let's run it by Finn and the next druid who visits the capital."

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