Elf Boy's Friends - IX

by George Gauthier

Chapter 5

The Hill Station

"Another heat wave!" Drew Altair grumbled as he and his friends sat down to their evening meal. Except for Finn Ragnarson, all were dressed in the square-cut short-shorts which the boys had recently made fashionable plus moccasins. The shorts the twins wore were color coded, green for Jemsen and blue for Karel. Drew, Liam, Axel Wilde, Corwin Klarendes, Eike Thyssen, Nathan Lathrop wore white which contrasted nicely with their tanned torsos and limbs.

"The heat and humidity outdoors are truly oppressive. It is tolerable here indoors only because of the modern cooling system in our hotel."

The three storey hotel building used wind catchers to direct the airflow downward and through one of the city's underground aqueducts where the warm air gave up its heat to the cool earth and subterranean water. Natural air pressure then forced the flow back up into and through the buildings. No machinery required. It helped that awnings blocked direct sunlight from window openings which were not glassed in but set with wood lattices that afforded privacy without blocking ventilation.

"I sometimes think the Frost Giants have the right of it, living in a temperate climate where they enjoy four distinct seasons during one of which it actually gets cold enough for snow and ice."

"True," Finn Ragnarson rumbled, "though in high summer our weather is nearly as hot as your year round tropical weather here in the capital."

"I just wish we could get to some place cool for a while, at least till the heat wave breaks." Drew told him.

"Oh, oh! Here we go again." Karel warned, only half in jest. "Both times you inveigled us to travel to a cool clime we got into trouble."

"Right!" his twin Jemsen chimed in. "That first time, we found ourselves in a war with the orcs, and on the second occasion we had to fight a dragon. I shudder to think what might happen the third time out."

"Ah, but the third time is the charm, my friends," Drew asserted airily. "So who wants to decamp to a hill station in the eastern mountains where cool weather prevails thanks to the altitude? In fact we should all go back to the Sign of the Bow only this time for a full three weeks."

"Wouldn't that be tempting fate, Drew?" Karel teased.

Oh, I don't know." Axel ventured. "I'd could combine a stay at the Sign of the Bow with a past due visit to the orc enclave to see how things are going."

"The Capital Intelligencer has commissioned me to write a series of articles about the way of life of the orcs. It's my first venture into journalism, not that I plan to change careers, but I would like to promote greater understanding among all peoples."

"Already some of the orcs are liquidating their assets in preparation for their pending migration to Amazonia. I'll travel there too next year and the year after that taking advantage of the fact the Sir Willet once opened a space portal for me and the orc inspection team."

Axel's gift of teleportation allowed him to Jump directly to anyplace he had once reached via a space portal. Alternatively he could jump to any place visible to him including through a far-viewer tube, which meant that trips over the horizon had to be done in long hops of twenty or forty miles or more.

Finn nodded. "Sounds like a plan. You can count on a significant readership since your name is already well known to the public thanks to your exploits, chronicled so ably by Drew and Corwin."

"A visit to that hill station appeals to me too. Firstly, I'd like to see the site of your battle against the orcs. Second, this hot weather bothers me much more than any of you, slender as you all are. Even with two auxiliary hearts to circulate my blood and help me shed body heat via vasodilation I am really feeling the heat."

Frost Giants had a pair of two-chambered hearts low in the trunk which pumped blood from the legs up to the heart and lungs and head. That kept their blood pressure within safe limits. The dilation of the blood vessels just under the skin not only decreased vascular resistance, it carried more heated blood to the skin, where it could be more easily got rid of by convection, radiation, and perspiration.

"Er what about you Corwin?" Axel asked. "Would it be too much, going back to the scene of hard fighting so soon after Amazonia?"

"I think I'll be all right, Axel. Better to be with all my friends than moping around here alone, all by myself, with only my job to keep me occupied. And I actually found it cathartic to write my book on our campaigns in Amazonia. I've finished it and will look over the galleys when I get back."

"Good!"

"So how shall we travel: by coach, autogyro, or space portal?" Eike asked.

"Travel by space portal is much too quick." Jemsen objected. "Getting there is half the fun. You see what lies between, and the time it takes to get there provides a sense of separation from your normal haunts."

"In that case," Liam began," lets go by autogyro. Finn can take the twins up, as he did on our expedition. Drew can take Axel, and I can carry the rest in one of those big transports like the one I flew before. We'll borrow one from the Navy and take it out for what I'll call a shakedown cruise. After all, two of us now work for Admiral Van Zant, Eike as a naval architect and Nathan as a member of staff. I am sure it will be all right with him. Eike is the apple of his eye."

A few days later after making reservations via the heliograph line the Army had put in while the resort was used as a military base, they boarded their three aerocraft and flew northeast, passing west of the walled garrison town of Bled, the starting point for the winding road which threaded the mountains and debouched on to the Eastern Plains. In time they neared the highest part of the mountain range where some peaks rose above two miles.

The hill station which was their destination lay at seven thousand feet. A rambling low-slung marvel of rustic architecture, it was built of wood and stone atop a saddle-back ridge which connected two prominent peaks. The main house faced east with outbuildings mostly to the west including the stable. Toward the south were a pond used for swimming and boating and ornamental gardens which included two hedge mazes, the smaller for kids and the larger for adults and courting couples.

The damage the main building took during the fight had been superficial and quickly remedied. The outbuildings which the defenders had set on fire had been completely rebuilt by the Army.

"Now this is more like it!" Drew enthused. "Feel that cool mountain air. And look, no one is sweating. I am so looking forward to the next three weeks."

The nine friends settled their kit in their rooms and joined the other guests on the dining terrace for a mid-afternoon snack, which was a light meal of finger foods and hot and cold beverages the hotel offered to its guests to tide them over till the evening. The Sign of the Bow was an upscale establishment where everything was included in the price. Its rates were steep, but all of the nine were quite well off.

These days even Liam was flush thanks to going in with Axel when his business agent Lennart suggested investing in the pencil business, which turned out to be big success. The innovative production lines of its two manufactories turned out more than a million pencils yearly which were sold both domestically and abroad.

The proprietor Rayburn Bullock greeted them warmly, seeing their return as an augury of good fortune. Not only was it good publicity to host national heroes in his establishment, but this bevy of clean limbed youths in their oh-so fashionable short-shorts, their hard bodies bared to the hip bones, were fetching eye candy, just perfect for guys or gals who liked to ogle sexy young guys, especially when they went for swim in the pond and engaged in the horseplay of which young males were so fond.

"As you can see, once again the Sign of the Bow is a sylvan paradise where guests can enjoy fresh air, dramatic landscapes, scenic wonders, leisure, good company, fine food and drink, and the quiet of the wilderness far away from the clamor and bustle of the big city."

"Not that our guests are completely cut off from the course of events. These days the businesses situated along our access road maintain the two heliograph stations that the Army built to connect with the military and postal heliograph lines that run parallel to the mountains."

"Fine," Finn nodded, "but with a war wizard who can open space portals, a jumper who can teleport directly to the capital and many other cities, an air wizard who can employ infrasound for long distance communication, and three autogyros, we have our own ways of staying in touch."

The nine friends visited the scenic wonders of the region taking tours conducted by wilderness guides. In a gorge at the foot of a waterfall they a fully circular rainbows form from the spray of the spectacular cataracts into a river flowed into deep pools perfect for swimming. In one vale stood groves of forest giants rising to the sky like the pillars of a vast temple to the gods of nature.

When they ventured underground to tour limestone caverns the boys dressed for the cool climate below, putting on shirts and trews and stout sandals to protect their feet. Finn also donned his flying helmet to protect his head from low ceilings. The tours were led by guides who could Call Light to create cool blue-white globes of illumination which hovered overhead.

The boys took in weird formations which looked like curtains of stone or the pipes of an organ. One oddly shaped boulder looked a giant frog squatting on a lily pad. A section of wall farther on looked like melted wax. Stalagmites rose from the floor to join with stalactites growing from the ceiling to form natural pillars. A smooth walled gallery could carry whispers a hundred yards.

Here and there deposits of fluorescent minerals glittered like gemstones. Their colors were due to the ability of certain minerals to absorb the ultraviolet component of the light of a globe and retransmit it as light at a lower energy level, hence in the range of the visible spectrum.

Beyond the fluorescent rocks lay an underground lake. No wind, not even the slightest zephyr disturbed its surface. The dark mirror reflected the globes of light the guides had called and the faces of the tourists sitting in the flat-bottomed boat which the guides poled across the shallow waters. After fair warning the guides extinguished their lights to let the passengers appreciate how utterly dark it was underground. Actually the guides kept it dark a little longer than Axel was comfortable with so he Called Light himself.

"Afraid of the dark?" Karel teased.

"No, not of the dark itself," Axel countered, "but I am afraid of what might be lurking out there. Or have you already forgotten how that dragon rose from the inky depths of another labyrinth of limestone caverns?"

"Not to worry Axel," Nathan assured him. "Both Jemsen and I can delve or sound our surroundings. Nothing can creep up on us no matter how dark it is. As a naval officer I automatically sound any body of water I am sailing over, so even before the lights went out, I sounded the inky depths around us."

"Me too." Jemsen added. "Ever since our encounter with that mosasaur, I delve any body of water I am crossing."

"Good. Still it would be better if more than one of us could call light to let the others see too." Axel countered.

"You wish is my command!" Corwin declared gesturing expansively. "These days my ball lightning delivers more than an electric charge and intense heat. It can also light up an area. I have been practicing forming a single ball only a foot across and having it hover ten or twenty feet off the ground. So that makes two of us who can call light."

"Three actually," Finn began: "I too have been practicing a lighting technique of my own devising. Behold:"

Raising his mighty war hammer Mjolnir, Finn invoked his magic to cause small lightnings to crackle around the hammerhead thereby turning it into a torch of sorts. It did not provide anywhere near as much light as a globe or ball lightning but it was certainly enough to see by.

"Behold?" Axel asked. "Isn't that a bit much? Why not simply ask us to watch?"

"It is all right for a mere mortal like Finn Ragnarson to ask folks to watch, but for Thor, an avatar of a god, the locution must be something grander, hence 'behold'. Get it?"

"Sure Finn — I mean Thor!" Axel said with a wink.

Finn clapped him on the shoulder.

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