Elf Boy's Friends - VI

by George Gauthier

Chapter 2

Sparring

Sparring wasn't just for the wizards' aides. Mages too had to cope with foes wielding powers different from theirs, like an air wizard facing an earth wizard or either of those against a fetcher. The twins faced off, air magic against earth magic, though at very low levels of power to prevent injury. For safety everyone was not only in uniform but also in light armor with helmets and goggles as well. Anyway, Sir Willet or Liam refereed the bouts and were always at hand to Lift either of the opponents out of danger.

In their initial bout Karel struck first and trapped his brother within a dust devil which Jemsen countered with a wall of earth ten foot high which disrupted and blocked the flow of air at ground level. Going on the offensive Jemsen tapped the water table to turned the ground under Karel's feet into a quagmire. The young air wizard sank in soupy mud to his ankles but before the earth wizard could turn it into hard clay and trap him, Karel called a jet of wind which pushed him aside, sliding him out of the danger zone. His clothes were a muddy mess, but he was in the clear, though not for long.

The earth suddenly fell away beneath him, dropping him into a hole deep enough to trap a bear though without the sharp stakes of a bear trap. Karel called up a powerful land spout which sucked him right out the the hole and set him safely atop rocky ground Jemsen could not easily excavate. Earth flows easily but rock only breaks with great effort.

The brothers also faced Liam's and Drew's fetching powers. Liam attacked Karel with a half dozen dried corn cobs instead of a pair of steel spheres. A couple of the cobs got past Karel's shield of hardened air when Drew sent them all the way around to smack Karel from behind. Karel countered the tactic by extending his shield into a cylinder. Drew's fast moving corn cobs made no impression whatsoever against the wall of earth Jemsen raised as a defense. When Jemsen dropped Drew into a bear pit, the fetcher lifted himself out with his sandals, the technique he had pioneered.

Liam and Drew faced off in aerial combat.

Now flyers could engage in two kinds of combat — either direct attack or ambush. In direct attack the flyer wielded a short spear with a leaf blade, good for slashing or stabbing. The haft was equipped with a nasty spike at the other end. The spear could inflict wounds or block the whatever blades the opponent wielded. It wasn't just physical strength and skill with weapons that decided the outcome. Flyers directed their telekinesis at each other, trying flip their foe around to present a vulnerable side to their attack.

For standoff attacks the flyers employed practice versions of the steel discus the Navy used against the rigging of enemy ships. Made of rattan and lacking the hard steel edge of the real thing, the practice discuses were safe to use in mock combat.

Direct attacks often lead to a tug of war for control of the flying weapons either to neutralize the enemy discus or even better turn it against him. Victory did not always go to the fetcher gifted with the stronger telekinetic power. Nimbleness in aerial maneuvers and speed also counted, and two flyers might gang up on one.

With ambush a favorite trick was to dive at top speed out of the sun or from within a cloud or from atop a cliff, hoping to be upon the foe before he could react. One sneaky tactic was for a flyer to conceal himself on the ground and let the enemy fly past him then send a discus whirling at the enemy all unseen from behind and below. A careless flyer who failed to maintain an all around missile shield would be shot from the sky.

A variation of this attack was while the fetcher was airborne, sending a discus ahead of him very low and skimming the nape of the earth only to turn it back to strike the enemy's rear when he closed to meet the feint posed by the flyer's direct attack, never realizing that danger came not from the opponent up in the sky with him but from what might be coming up from behind and below.

The air combat trials made the Army Air Corps realize that if they ever faced enemy flyers, then some of their own should fly unencumbered to protect the slower less nimble bombers burdened as they were with their loads of bombs, whether fire globes or incendiary kegs. From this evolved the conceptual difference between ground attack flyers who engaged enemy infantry and interceptors who fought to maintain air superiority over the battlefield.

The aides too faced off under Sir Willet's watchful eye.

Now none of this sparring was battle drill which was training to inculcate specific tactics responses to given situations. Battle drill took over automatically and governed the soldier's actions, but the sparring between the aides was more about developing a habit of mind, to develop tactical flexibility that would let fighters prevail against any unfamiliar threat.

Nathan had agreed to play the aggressor for the next few training sessions. Nathan would not only wield a blunted naval cutlass but would also fling electrum sparks at his opponents. These tiny balls of static electricity weren't fatal in themselves but they delivered a nasty jolt and burns that were impossible to ignore especially when they came at you five at a time. The distraction made it easy to take out your foe with your chosen weapon, whether sword, knife, spear, or quarter staff.

For the first bout, Nathan squared off against Sir Willet's own aide Axel Wilde, who had set aside the ensorcelled amulet that protected him from magical attacks. Physically they were evenly matched thanks to druidical healing magic which made them twice as strong and as quick as normal human youths. Axel's speed and short reaction time would be critical in fending off Nathan's sparks.

Now Axel could not very well use his kukri against electrum sparks. Its steel blade was a conductor and would only carry the charge to his arm, likely numbing it and making him drop his weapon. So Axel has strapped a buckler to his left arm. Just a small round shield, it was normally used to counter enemy blades and was of little use against missiles like arrows and crossbow bolts. Sparks however were slower, still pretty fast, but slow enough for his quick reflexes to counter.

"I hope this works as we hoped." Axel told Eike. The talented inventor had attached a grounding chain to Axel's buckler to carry the electrical charge harmlessly to the earth. A fishing weight gave the chain just enough heft to deploy with a casual toss to Axel's left while its twelve foot length gave him room for footwork.

The two youths squared off, Nathan's naval cutlass versus Axel's kukri. Their fighting styles were very different. The naval cutlass was a short sword with a single edge — one well suited to the cramped conditions of combat aboard ship, but it was mostly a slashing weapon. The bent bladed kukri was double edged and could be used to slash, chop, or thrust. With his opponent having plenty of room to maneuver, Nathan was at a disadvantage with his cutlass.

For a time the chain frustrated Nathan's efforts to disable his opponent with his sparks, conducting their charge harmlessly to earth. Then Nathan got sneaky and snapped a handful of sparks at Axel's shins and scored hits which disrupted his footwork. Nathan moved in and tapped Axel on the neck with the flat of his blade to mark the kill.

Chagrined at how he had been outfoxed, Axel thought hard about how he could turn the tables. Then he got an idea. Facing off again he grabbed the chain and swung it low entangling Nathan's legs. A hard yank put the young naval officer on his back on the ground with Axel's kukri held to his throat.

Sir Willet was proud of both of them.

"Excellent work the way you both adapted your tactics to deal with the unfamiliar."

Another guest aggressor was Drew who literally disarmed his opponents by pulling their blades right out of their hands and throwing them over his shoulder out of reach. Eike got clever again and fixed a strap to the handle of Axel's kukri, so when Drew tugged on the Axel's blade he pulled his opponent right up to him with Axel's left hand pressing a push knife against his ribs. That was ruled a draw since Drew's blunted kukri was pressed against Axel's belly.

None of the aides could cope with an air wizard like Karel who could raise a dust devil to distract and blind an opponent or call jets of wind to bowl his opponent over. Nor could a blade get past his shield of hardened air. Eike himself was fresh out of ideas, but on their second bout Axel realized his opponent was Karel himself, not his powers. He flung his blunted weapon at Karel's head to make him concentrate on using his shield to block it then lunged forward and grappled with his opponent, putting him in an arm lock.

Admittedly that was a tactic you could use only once against a foe. When Sir Rikkard's aide tried the same trick he found himself held fast by a cylindrical shield of hardened air formed all around his body.

Corwin's ball lightning was too deadly to spar against. Instead he gave the aides riding lessons. Corwin had grown up on the Eastern Plains and could ride as well as a nomad of the Western Plains like Liam. Under his tutelage even Drew who didn't like horses very much developed a better seat.

One problem for little guys like Drew was that their legs were too short to stretch around the barrel of their mounts. So Corwin told him to ride a pony instead of a full-sized horse. That helped. Drew would never be a great horseman, but he no longer dreaded long rides.

Still for all that Drew preferred to ride one of the newfangled bicycles wherever there were decent roads, which pretty much meant within the Commonwealth itself. He didn't even work up a sweat. His telekinetic power would simply push the cycle down the road. Of course bicycles were not much good off road, where the going was rough and slow and effortful. That was when you wanted a horse.

"I haven't had so much fun in ages," Axel said sarcastically after one particularly grueling sparring session, inventorying his latest set of bruises.

"I'm really sorry, Axel." Karel said. "I got carried away there playing the aggressor and pressed my attack harder than I should have."

"Apology accepted. Anyway, I'm up for a swim. The creek will cool me off and soothe my hurts as I float effortlessly upon the buoyant face of the waters."

"So says our wounded warrior waxing poetic. It's a good idea however you put it. Let's go!"

The swimming hole at the south end of the campus of the Institute of Wizardry and Magic was never as crowded as the public pools in city parks. It was about fifty yards long, half that in width and ten feet deep in the middle. Stonework lined and stabilized the banks making it almost an artificial structure though it started out as simply a wide spot in the creek which ran through the property.

That afternoon there were just a couple of other swimmers so plenty of room for all eight of their circle: the twins, Drew and his roommates Liam and Axel, plus Nathan and his roommates Eike and Corwin.

The swimmers stopped by the outdoor shower heads and flushed the sweat and salt and dust off them, emerging squeaky clean. And what a stunning group they were.

Jemsen and Karel were a brace of palomino colts, energetic, rambunctious and cheerful, fond of jokes and pranks, a pair of incessant chatterboxes with an insatiable curiosity, always plying those around them with questions — in short a delicious combination of brains, good looks, and sex appeal.

Drew Altair was considerably shorter, standing five foot zero and weighing maybe a hundred pounds. He had spiky auburn hair with narrow sideburns reaching below the ear lobe plus straight eyebrows with almost no curve to them. They framed a cute face with a high forehead, chiseled jawline, and a perky nose slightly turned up at the end. No slouch in the brains department either, he was the wordsmith of the group, a journalist and author with half a dozen best-sellers to his credit.

Liam was a well-set up lad with a fine healthy body. Just under medium height and on the slender side but with a strong upper storey he was a raven-haired beauty blessed with chiseled features.

His roommate Axel Wilde was short, fair, with hair the color of copper, and extremely boyish looking. Intelligent and somewhat reserved, he was perhaps the least confrontational and assertive of the group and the most conciliatory.

Another walking wet dream was Nathan Lathrop who stood just a shade under Liam's height but with the willowy build of an elf though he was fully human. Nathan was boyishly cute, a freckle-faced carrot-topped youngster who looked much too young to be a lieutenant in the Navy of the Commonwealth. His body was whole once more. The druids and healers had regrown the lower power of his left leg severed by a troll axe two years earlier in a battle at sea.

Eike Thyssen was the youngest of the group and still a true teenager. Blond, slender, and smooth muscled. Slight of build and with a face far prettier than any boy's rightly ought to be, he had a flawless complexion and fine boned features including a broad brow, high cheekbones, straight nose, and chiseled jaw line. Slightly pointed ears and chin gave him an elfin appearance and his large green eyes were set wide apart under finely arched brows, their lashes too long to have ever have been meant for a male.

Only a few months his senior, Corwin Klarendes was another teenager. Blond, clean limbed, slight of build, and standing maybe four inches over five feet, he had fine-boned features which suggested a considerable admixture of elfin blood, as was characteristic of the whole Klarendes clan.

The others were no longer teenagers chronologically but physically they were still the youths they had been when their constitutions were enhanced by druidical healing magic which conferred on them longevity, perpetual youth, greater healing powers and resistance to disease as well as doubled strength, stamina, speed, and reflexes plus keener senses. They all retained the sex drive and adventurous spirit of their teenage years though tempered by as much as an extra decade of life experience.

Nude though they all were at the pool, no one was really thinking about sex. In the pool they were just a circle of friends lolling around or floating and sculling desultorily. It was a fine afternoon to be lazy and chat.

Later the eight stretched out on the grass for more than an hour talking about their interests and their jobs and what the future might bring. Drew was basking in the success of his latest bestseller, the tell-all book about the mission of the Young Peacemakers Four to the Far West.

He had recently received a letter from a boy he had befriended years earlier in the town of Junction in the Despotate of Dzungaria, an assistant gardner named Dewi. The personable youth had been their guide about town. Through him they had come to understand why so many folks out there supported the Revolution which had swept aside the old landowning elites in the five lands the Despotate had liberated.

Demi had written to say that he was now a prosperous market gardener. He was in a long term relationship with a fine young man his own age. And he was thrilled to find himself mentioned in Drew's book as one of those who had helped bring about the lasting peace that now prevailed in those formerly war torn lands. Indeed, Dewi had become something of a local celebrity on the strength of Drew's write up. Finally he said that he had always had fond memories of their brief time together.

Eike talked about the new chain drives for bicycles which made pedaling easier. He had some ideas of his own on that score. Some tinkerers were experimenting with gears for hilly areas, but a single gear was just fine on the flat terrain of the Commonwealth proper.

Their naval contingent, namely Nathan and Liam, would soon be taking part in the invasion of Amazonia. A major limitation on portals was that you could not open a gate to someplace you had never been or at least seen from afar as from a mountain peak or through a far-viewer tube. That was why someone first had to go there and open a gate to the capital.

Liam himself could not yet open space portals large enough and hold them open long enough for the passage of whole regiments of Frost Giants each with two thousand soldiers who were the shock troops of the allied forces, but he could open a small gate to the capital to bring in a few of his fellow war wizards like Sir Willet and Sir Rikkard who could hold a large gate open for a long time.

For his part Sir Willet was happy to be spared the sea sickness which a long sea voyage to the scene of the fighting would have inflicted on him. Chronic seasickness was the reason he served in the Army not the Navy.

Drew would join the expedition as a journalist while the twins and Corwin would sit out the first stage of the invasion in the capital. Their time would come later.

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