Elf Boy's Friends - IX

by George Gauthier

Chapter 13

Travels

"So Corwin, by now you must be halfway through your course of study at the Healers Collegium." Finn asked.

"That's right, Finn. It takes twice as long when you attend classes part-time, as I have been doing, whereas Matt has finished his studies and is already certified to wear the green armband. He left last month to return to his sylvan vale and embark on the career he had dreamed of."

Drew nodded. "Matt's a good kid. More power to him. And to you too, Corwin. You'll get an armband of your own soon enough."

"Actually I already wear one as a combat medic. When I am certified as a Healer, I will be proud to wear both."

"Right you are!" Axel enthused. He too was a combat medic and rightfully proud of the lives he had saved.

"So Finn when do we leave for the Northlands?" Eike asked. "I'd like to get away before Admiral Van Zant changes his mind about letting me off the reservation."

"In three weeks' time." Finn told him. "Don't worry about the Admiral. This is one assignment the Navy cannot refuse you, despite their understandable reluctance to risk the well-being of their most promising naval architect not to mention the most prolific inventor in the Commonwealth."

What Eike had asked about was the trip Finn was organizing to return to the Northlands to implement the plans made during the expedition of the Corps of Discovery. On this trip less than half of its complement would be returning: Finn, Liam, and Drew plus Eike and Nathan. The twins and the forest rangers Madden Sexton and Dylan were staying put in the New Forest, and Axel had other plans.

The first phase of the new trip was to provide the Medkari with autogyros so they could inaugurate civil aviation in those parts. Their friends Raqqub and Kyle had devised a business plan satisfactory to the wily dwarf Lennart who served as the business agent for the circle of friends. Raqqub was based at the oasis of Amity in the Hot Lands while Kyle lived on the shores of the Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea.

They and their friends were fetchers who would pilot the five transport autogyros and offer scheduled flights to their destination cities and towns. Finn and Drew had purchased the military surplus autogyros at a discount. The aerocraft would constitute their investment in the new company, giving them a fifteen percent interest.

The Medkari youths had also recruited mechanics who, like the pilots, had trained in the Commonwealth. The trainees included Petr Shoskov, a former bicycle messenger from Waypoint, the headquarters for the League of Independent Towns. He and Finn had had a brief summer romance. Now it was time to get the new business off the ground. As one of the pioneers of flight Liam was their technical advisor. He would open a space portal to let the aerocraft roll through to their destinations with their pilots and mechanics stepping close behind.

Civil aviation was an important part of the Commonwealth's strategic plan for what the High Council called the Greater North Valentia Co-prosperity Sphere, a loose group of independent but friendly states linked by communications, trade, investment, travel and tourism, and cultural exchange.

Aerocraft would carry both mail and passengers among the various lands including the League of Independent Towns in the northwest all the way to a city on the northern coast called Nordstrand. The plan was for that city and its two satellite towns to become a center of manufacture of autogyros, using technology transferred by the Commonwealth in exchange for their own advanced naval technology.

It was true that both the Commonwealth and the Frost Giants in New Varangia built fine ships, but good as they were for navigating the Great Inland Freshwater Sea they fell short of what was needed for the mountainous seas of the southern ocean. The agreement provided that the Commonwealth would send a team of naval architects and shipwrights to learn how the build the ships and both naval and commercial officers to learn to sail them.

Now young as Eike was, he had earned a reputation as an innovative naval architect and inventor. He was a protege of Admiral Van Zant, Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Ships. So it was only natural that Eike be included in the delegation. Up and coming naval officers like Nathan Lathrop with long careers ahead of them had been hand picked to learn to sail the sturdy vessels which the northerners built for navigation on the tempestuous outer ocean.

"I just hope the ocean swells don't make be seasick." Nathan admitted. "And this business of ever changing tides adds an unwelcome complication to navigation, especially when berthing or navigating shallow waters close to shore. Anyway, we'll all be leaving with Finn soon. This will be my first assignment away from the capital where I won't be leaving Eike behind. And even though we will be traveling on official business, there is no reason we cannot have fun too."

"It will be like a second honeymoon!" Eike enthused. "And Liam will be with us as well to make it a threesome."

Nathan and Eike had become lovers nearly two years after Nathan and the Confederation Ship Petrel had rescued the orphaned castaway, then only fifteen, from Huckleberry Island in the Scilly Isles.

Growing up on the island alone from the age of ten to fifteen, Eike had been innocent with no understanding whatever of sexuality whether for pleasure or fecundity. Nathan had protected the naive youth from the kinds of sexual advances a cute blond boy with his looks would be expected to draw and ensured that Eike got a chance to develop at his own pace and to make his own choices, which ultimately turned out to be for Nathan himself.

By contrast to the slow buildup of Eike's relationship with Nathan, Liam and Nathan's relationship got going full blast the moment the two youngsters had met on the deck of the Petrel and been thunderstruck by an instant and overwhelming physical attraction, which soon developed into a life bond as the two comrades in arms stood side by side in mortal combat against the genocidal trolls.

You have a trip planned too, don't your Axel?" Nathan continued.

"That's right, Nathan." Axel said, "I'll be setting off for my annual visit to the new homeland of the orcs at about the same time you leave, and, though the distance is about the same, I expect that my transit time will be rather shorter."

"How droll."

Actually Axel could teleport himself instantly to any place he had once reached via a space portal or those he could see either with the naked eye or through a far-viewer. Once Axel's neural circuits invoked his gift, transit was instantaneous, which was why he liked to say that he could travel at the speed of thought.

The orcs would welcome Axel not only as the only living orc-friend but as an informal conduit to influential circles in the Commonwealth. Relations between the orcs and their former foes turned allies were cordial, and the leadership of the orcs wanted to keep it that way. If nothing else the outcome of the war with the trolls proved to the orcs that the Commonwealth was generous with its friends and allies but implacable with foes who spurned efforts to make peace and resolve differences by negotiation and compromise.

Besides, Axel was an nice kid and very easy to like, even if his human proportions look odd to the gangly orcs. It did not hurt that more than a few orcs fancied Axel for his pretty face and sexy if exotic body type. Indeed Axel had engaged in a couple of brief but torrid affairs as he traveled about, serving as a personal ambassador of good will, as he liked to think.

That left the twins and Corwin at loose ends. Jemsen spoke up and made a suggestion.

"How about the three of us, me, Karel, and you Drew start planning the next expedition for the Corps of Discovery to someplace we have not been to before."

"Like where?" Drew asked.

"Maybe to the lands on the west coast of Valentia, beyond the Western Dividing Range or maybe the far northwest of the continent, the region from which we ourselves hail and Dahl too though we knew only a very small part of that region when we grew up there."

"Isn't it early to be making grand plans?"

"It doesn't hurt to daydream, and it will be fun. Come on Corwin. You aren't working on a book these days. The one you wrote about the troll war came off the presses last year and was another best seller. It also won you another Writers Prize, your second, I believe."

Corwin nodded as Jemsen continued:

"We might have to fund this expedition ourselves, not that the cost isn't well within our means."

Indeed. Through shrewd investments the twins had multiplied the modest fortune they had inherited from Balandur many times over. Now they were not merely comfortably well-off, they were wealthy by anyone's standards. Besides his original fortune from his street lighting business Axel had built a second fortune from a shrewd investment in the manufacture of pencils. Liam had throw in with Axel so he too was very well off indeed. Indeed all of them, for one reason or another, were persons of means.

The twins and Drew had not got very far mulling plans for the next adventure of the Corps of Discovery before the day arrived for Axel to leave for the new settlements of the orcs in northeastern Amazonia.

The next week Liam opened space portals to deliver the autogyros to the Medkari and return the newly trained pilots and mechanics to their homes. Finn and Drew engaged their gifts to propel their personal aerocraft through the opening.

The plywood fuselage of Drew's autogyro was shiny red on top but blue grey below to make it harder to pick out against the sky. Its streamlined body and sleek lines showed it was built for speed.

But it was Finn's aerocraft that was really special. Custom-built and sized specially for him, the first frost giant ever to take to the air, the autogyro had a steel frame and a cockpit large enough to accommodate even Finn's eight-foot height and six hundred pounds of mass plus a passenger. The wings and rotors were longer and stronger too as well as the control surfaces at the end of the tail which controlled pitch and yaw.

Like all personal autogyros theirs were two-seaters though the separate wells for pilot and passenger had been replaced by a single cockpit with a closed canopy made of safety glass to deflect the flow of air and fend off rain and hail. The nose of Finn's autogyro was decorated with a heraldic device consisting of a shield with a hammer dexter and a lightning bolt sinister to proclaim the aerocraft as the personal transport of Finn Ragnarson, avatar of Thor Odinson, thunder god of the Norse, the remote ancestors of the Frost Giants.

Liam would pilot one of the transport aerocraft through the opening with Nathan and Eike as passengers to give Eike the chance to visit the Hot Lands and the Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea via portal and then to fly the rest of the way via autogyro. The rest of the Commonwealth contingent would travel directly to Nordstrand.

Ordinarily a war wizard would not take part in a commercial transaction, but fostering civil aviation in the Northlands was in furtherance of the Commonwealth's policy of establishing a Greater North Valentia Co-prosperity Sphere. Raqqub and Kyle's operation would connect the Commonwealth with the four Medkari zones of settlement: the Hot Lands, the ranches on the tall grass plains, the Salt Lake, and the Vale of Asshur on the shores of the Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea. It would also fly east and west to serve the League of Independent Towns.

Its northern terminus would be the rapidly expanding settlement of the Guardians at the Stone Ring. That locale would also be the southern terminus for flyers operating out of Nordstrand, though they would mainly serve routes running east and west along the coast of the Fiordland and even out to sea. The scenic Loften Islands, with its peaks just visible above the horizon were famed for their mountains, sheltered inlets, and a deep water coral reef rich in sea life.

The next day, with all parties assembled, Liam opened a portal to Nordstrand in Fiordland. First to pass through were a team of naval architects and shipwrights whose job was to learn how to build ships sturdy enough for the tempestuous outer oceans. Then came a dozen naval officers who would learn to sail ocean going ships.

The final group was comprised of skilled workers and aeronautical engineers drawn from companies which built autogyros. They would help the northerners create their own autogyro industry. The end of the war with the trolls had left their companies with few other business opportunities, since their home market was temporarily saturated with surplus autogyros originally built for the military. True they were fostering a competitor but one whose natural market was very far from the Commonwealth of the Long River. Besides, the way aviation was taking hold, it would not be long before the market for new autogyros picked up again.

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