Elf Boy's Friends - V
"I am so gratified, Count Klarendes, I mean Taitos, that you invited me and my aide Axel to vacation in your beautiful valley. As a man of middle years and weary after my fourth war against the eastern barbarians I welcome this chance to unwind and recharge in the country. As for Axel, the boy has weathered his first set piece battle better than I expected, which I attribute to the resilience of youth."
"I am not so sure it is just that sir," Axel ventured. "That barbarian was the first man I ever killed. It bothers me that it doesn't distress me as much as I think it ought to. I hope that does not mean that I am a callous person, indifferent to the loss of human life."
"It speaks well of your character that you are concerned about your muted reaction. A first killing affects some less visibly than others, but it always leaves its mark on your psyche." Sir Willet assured his young protege.
The druid Dahlderon nodded. "As an empath, I can gauge a man's character better than most. Sir Willet is right. You have a good heart, Axel."
Coming from two of the people he respected most, their words eased the boy's moral concerns.
Jemsen noted that when he and Karel had registered their first kills against the Black Riders on the Western Plains their reaction was similarly muted.
"Maybe it was because the Riders were so clearly the minions of evil. They attacked our party of five, me and Karel, Dahl, Merry, and Balandur and would have slain us out of hand, my brother and me, merely for being in the company of their true quarry. We were lucky to drive them off and come out of it alive. Everything happened so fast, Karel and I could not spare a thought for misgivings ahead of time. Afterwards what we felt mostly was relief at our own survival rather than regret at their deaths."
"If I have any regrets about killing it is for our part in the war between the Stone Mountain Dwarves and the humans of the maritime republic of Brax who were misguided rather than evil. On their army's march to battle, Karel and I picked off officers from ambush, decent ordinary men who had mustered with their neighbors in the militia and went off to fight what they had been told was a just war against aggression. I would much rather have put my arrows into the instigators and provocateurs who stampeded the good people of Brax into a wholly unnecessary war."
"The instigators did get their comeuppance in the end." Karel pointed out then explained what happened.
"Once the citizens of Brax realized how they had been deliberately used and mislead by foreign agents to foster a race war they rounded up the hotheads and outside agitators and gave them swift justice. Clever wordsmiths and orators, these men acted as their own advocates in court, hoping to talk their way out of trouble, but their self-serving pleas fell on deaf ears.
"Surely you cannot blame us?" they argued. "We have no man's blood on our hands. We are not men of the sword but men of words."
The judge turned their argument back on them:
"Yes, too many words and those ill-chosen. Guilty as charged. The sentence is death!"
"That swift judgment and equitable reparations for damages satisfied the dwarves and laid the basis for the peaceful coexistence and the resumption of the mutually beneficial trade that continues to this day."
"Anyway, Lord Dahlderon, that is, Dahl," Sir Willet continued, "I look forward to the day you teach me to create space portals myself. The campaign in the north showed how useful they can be in warfare."
"Be patient a while longer, my friend. Once we druids get the kinks out, we will train all of you war wizards in its use. Portals can make all the difference in our coming war to reclaim Amazonia from the genocidal trolls. They will save many lives in our own forces and those of our allies."
"I don't suppose there is any commercial potential in portals for long distance travel, is there?" Klarendes asked.
"Hardly," Dahl replied. "Portals are transitory, existing only while the druid or wizard actively engages his magic. Portals that occasionally pop up here and there are never going to replace reliable conventional means of travel and transport. Anyway as the network of iron roads stretches across the length and breadth of the Commonwealth, it will transport freight, passengers, and armies well enough. So if you are looking for another lucrative investment in an emerging industry, I am afraid portals are not it."
"Speaking of investing, Axel," Klarendes continued, "I heard from Angus McFarden that shareholders in a new company have set up a street lighting operation in his native town of Grayling. Your innovation is catching on all over. At least you got in on the ground floor in the most lucrative market of all — here in the capital."
"Not just the capital any longer but also the towns in the entire capital region." Axel corrected. "Our service was more reliable than that of some of our competitors so we won those contracts too."
"As a result the profits are considerable, and since I can easily get by on my salary as Sir Willet's aide, I have been building a tidy little fortune, which I am now looking to invest for the long term, given my own potential longevity. I may soon be asking you for investment advice, Count Klarendes, if that is all right with you."
"Any time, Axel. You'll want to keep a goodly sum handy in a savings account for liquidity and divide the bulk of your remaining funds into several investments rather than put your entire nest egg into just one. Diversification protects you against catastrophic loss if any particular investment goes sour. Not every venture succeeds. Also don't invest in anything you do not understand, especially complex financial instruments, which are definitely not for the unsophisticated and the unwary. I avoid them entirely myself."
"You certainly sound like you know what you are talking about sir."
"We like to think that a head for business runs in the family as much as our magical gift of firecasting."
"Anyway your street lights are not just a public amenity, they are a deterrent to crime. The city watch reports a drop in assaults and robberies and rapes which they attribute to your street lights."
"Not that street crime ever amounted to very much in the cities of the Commonwealth. What footpad wants to find out that the easy mark he has targeted has a magical gift that can kill him in an instant? There must be a dozen magical gifts that can be used in self defense, including Ensign Lathrop's electrum sparks. Even Calling Light can be fatal if you englobe a man's head."
"What looks like a helpless young woman on the street might be a magical healer who can stop a man's heart with a thought or a firecaster who can turn him into a human torch, or someone with control of magnetism who can snatch the knife out of his grasp and plunge it into his heart."
"Or" Aodh noted, "that pretty boy negotiating the streets of the capital on his way home from Twinkle Town might be a wir who could morph into a jaguar or a dire wolf and tear out his throat."
"You are sitting there looking puzzled, Lord Sexton. Klarendes observed.
"Please, just call me Madden. I was just wondering what Twinkle Town was."
"Ha! Why don't you tell him, Karel."
Smiling the twin told the ranger: "Named after the cute twinks who are its most notable denizens, and of whom Jemsen and I are prime exemplars, Twinkle Town is a district or rather a cluster of dining, drinking, and dancing establishments favored by males who fancy pretty boys and by pretty boys who favor being fancied."
"If you say so, my friend," Madden replied equably.
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