Elf Boy's Friends - IX

by George Gauthier

Chapter 15

Mission's End

One evening Eike went down to the docks to greet Nathan when he returned from a six-day cruise out on the ocean. They reunited couple ate dinner at one of the better seafood restaurants in town as Nathan related his experiences. Their training ship had sailed past one of the big mother ships which served as a floating base for a flotilla of catcher boats which might stay out for weeks at a time. Two refrigerator ships shuttled the catch from the mother ship to the fish market ashore. The operators of these deep sea fishing fleets were also in the market for autogyros which would let them spot schools of fish from above.

Afterwards Nathan and Eike strolled hand in hand, a pair of happy lovers, enjoying the cool night air as they strolled through the darkened streets of the town with only the light of the larger moon to guide them. Eike had just remarked that the lack of proper street lighting suggested a commercial opportunity just begging to be exploited when the couple encountered a rather odd group who did not seem to belong in that upscale district.

Too roughly dressed to be residents, the seven of them looked more like workmen except none such would still be about nearly three hours after sunset. Also they were all armed with long knives which were weapons rather than the smaller sailor's knife which Eike carried at his hip, which was really a tool not a weapon.

Out of curiosity and from a sense that something was wrong, Nathan invoked his gift to delve the cargo bins of their three large push carts. Two were loaded with what could only be the loot from the burglary of a well-appointed mansion: jewelry, a strongbox full of coins, gold and silver plate, fine china, other objects d'art, paintings cut out of their frames, and rolled up carpets and tapestries. The third held an older human male, blindfolded, gagged, and bound hand and foot. Not just a burglary then but also a kidnapping in progress.

Unfortunately the surprise on Nathan's face gave him away. At a signal from their chief, the seven of them fanned out and surrounded them, blocking their escape. All of them were big men, not full-blooded Frost Giants but definitely of mixed blood and armed with cold steel. They had the air of men who knew how to use their blades and were not particularly squeamish about spilling blood.

"I don't know how you cottoned to what we were up to kid, but it's too bad you did. Now that you've seen our faces, we cannot let you live to set the town watch on us. Nothing personal of course."

Nathan shook his head.

"Nobody has to die here tonight. That man in the box is still alive, so your lives are not forfeit for murder or even attempted murder. Not yet, anyway. Surrender and throw yourself on the mercy of the court."

"Surrender? To a pretty boy in a sailor suit and his catamite? I don't think so. The odds are even worse than seven to two since any one of us outweighs both of you little guys put together. Numbers, strength, weaponry, and reach. That is what's on our side. What's on yours, beside that naval cutlass and your boyfriend's sailor's knife?"

"On second thought, we might let you live a while longer if you throw down your pitiful weapons and surrender to us for a night of fun and frolic. Who knows, you two are so cute and sexy, we might even take you on an extended ocean cruise. What do you say, Red?"

The boys' response was to stand back-to-back, braced to defend themselves.

"Nathan, I can handle these three," Eike told him. "Watch my back and take out the other four."

The gang leader snorted derisively but then yelped as Nathan snapped handfuls of electrum sparks at him and the other three foes he faced. Balls of static electricity the size of a grape, even a single spark delivered an electric jolt and a burn which were impossible to ignore. That made the thugs vulnerable to a fighter ready to exploit the opening his sparks gave him.

Nathan came from an old Army family and had grown up with a saber in his hand, a slightly curved blade much like the naval cutlass he had wielded so effectively against humans and trolls alike. Also, thanks to druidical healing magic, he was more than twice as strong as his size suggested and had faster reflexes.

With the four thugs spread out the way they were to block him, Nathan could have taken them down one by one even without his sparks, he was that good with a blade. Before the bad guys could move closer enough to support each other, Nathan surged forward, blade flashing and slashing and stabbing into throats, belly, or groin with deadly effect.

Finished with his four, Nathan whirled to check on Eike only to see that his lover had put his own three out of action. Invoking his gift of Shaping, Eike had reshaped the handles of their knives, loosening the grips and stretching the tangs into extremely sharp blades which cut their fingers off. As they howled in pain and chagrin, Eike had relied on his enhanced agility and speed to dart forward and sever a tendon behind a knee to immobilize them, but then had darted away, too cautious to stay at close quarters to finish them off.

By this time the noise of the fight had raised the alarm. Rapid footsteps down the street signaled the approach of the town watch. Eike Shaped the lock of the box open so Nathan could free the captive, an elderly man who explained to the boys and the watchmen that his name was Evander Molson and that he was the owner of the big house at the end of the lane which lead off the square. The home invaders had killed his valet when he tried to sound the alarm then locked the other servants in the basement while they systematically stripped the mansion of valuables.

"I am a widower living in a house much too big for my current needs. Most of it is unused and closed off though the rooms are still full of the valuable collections which my late wife and I had built over a lifetime of acquisition. She was especially fond of larger cameos carved from agate and onyx and seashells which depicted not just a head but a whole scene. I live simply these days and no longer entertain so I have only a small staff. The valuables in my mansion and its isolated location made me an easy mark for this gang of cutthroats. They left a note on my bed demanding a ransom, though I supposed they would have slit my throat even if my firm did pay it."

An ambulance escorted by two watchmen took the three wounded thugs into custody and removed the bodies of the four others. Two men of the town watch inventoried the carts as evidence then returned the goods to Molson's premises and freed his servants while the proprietor himself ministered to the body of his slain valet.

Later Finn remarked: "I never knew that your gift could be used in self-defense."

"It's something Axel helped me research in the Institute library just before we left on our journey. Until today only he and Nathan knew what we found. I didn't want to bring it up because my soul cringes at the thought of graphic violence, necessary as it sometimes may be. Even though I work for the navy I myself have always been at a remove from combat. I also didn't want it to look as if I were bragging about my powers. Shaping can be useful for self-defense, but it doesn't make you a heavy hitter — not like a war wizard or a thunder god or a fetcher."

"So you turned their own blades against them. Any other tricks up your sleeve?" Liam asked.

"Yes, but some of them are rather gruesome."

"Like what?"

"Well for starters I could flatten a man's skull and crush his brains to mush. Admittedly flattening a skull is a messy way to kill a man. Blood and brain matter get squeezed out of the cracks and the nostrils and ears, and eyeballs pop out too. Still the sight would dishearten any confederates. Or I could force the bones of his eye sockets to extend over the orbits, blinding him. Another trick is to stretch a man's ankles so thin that they crack under his weight."

"I am sorry now that I asked." Liam remarked ruefully. ""Whatever happened to the gentle Eike we all know and love?"

"Oh I am still here, or at least I like to think so, but necessity and adversity are hard task masters which sometimes make us do things we would rather not. When your life is on the line, it's no time to be squeamish." he opined philosophically.

"Understand, I am not like you guys — I am no adventurer nor a born fighter. I don't sail in harm's way or go looking for trouble as a war wizard or a war correspondent or a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth might. But I won't let myself be a victim either, not if I can help it, and these days, with a better understanding of my gift, I can."

The criminal court later sentenced the three captured thugs to be weighted down with chains and tossed off a dock to drown and not fished out till they were good and dead. Later their bodies were taken beyond the line of skerries and tossed into the ocean for the sea monsters to devour. Nothing could be definitely proved against the rest of the crew of the ship the thugs had arrived on, but they and their ship were banned from ever returning to Nordstrand.

It took five months for the Nordstranders to get their companies up and running, first the autogyro manufactory Northlands Aviation and then the Northlands Air Service to transport mail, passengers, and freight. Meanwhile the Commonwealth delegation of naval architects and shipwrights had picked up the tricks of the trade from their counterparts. The same was true for the naval and commercial seafarers. It was time to return to the capital.

Liam opened a portal to the stretch of the Long River just off the docks of the naval shipyard. Through it passed the two ships purchased at Nordstrand bearing all of the Commonwealth folks except the two pilots Finn and Drew who flew in their personal autogyros. After Admiral Van Zant and the staff of the Bureau of Ships got a chance to inspect the vessels, Liam would open a portal to the new naval base at Southport which the Commonwealth had built on the shores of the Southern Ocean. The cadre aboard those two training ships were the nucleus of the Commonwealth's new ocean going navy whose mission would be exploration and discovery rather than purely military operations.

The shipwrights and naval architects left the ships at the capital docks to return to their homes and neighborhoods, their jobs and their families and friends. The plan was for future ocean going ships to be built at existing yards on the Long River and the Great Inland Freshwater Sea then sent via a portal to the coast. The small shipyard at Southport would be used for repairs only, not for new construction.

That would minimize disruption to shipyard operations, maximize the Navy's huge investment in its shipbuilding yards, and keep the workforce of naval officers and civilians contented, letting them live where they wanted to be, in the Commonwealth proper, rather than in a raw town on the faraway oceanic frontier.

The two personal autogyros passed through the portal then took off for a short flight to the military airfield where Drew and Finn kept them. Axel had long since returned from his mission to the land of the orcs which meant that all nine roommates were reunited once again in the capital. No one was interested in planning another expedition for the Corps of Discovery. With centuries of youth ahead of them, they were in no hurry. Besides, their personal histories had shown that they did need to go looking for adventure. Adventure often came looking for them, sometimes as a crisis and sometimes as a welcome change of pace from their quiet pursuits at home.

Time would tell.

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