Elf Boy's Friends - VI
Circle of Friends
"Up and at 'em!" Karel cried cheerily tugging at Axel's foot to get him up. He was prepared to drag the notorious slug-a-bed a bed right out of the tangle of sheets and limbs sprawled across a bed large enough for a frost giant. The limbs belonged to Axel and his roommate and lover Drew Altair.
"Come on sleepyhead." Drew chided, giving Axel's bare rump a smart slap. That got the carrot-topped youngster out of bed. Karel's twin Jemsen steered Axel to the bathing chamber where he first stood under the shower head and ran cold water to wake himself up. Only then did he mix it with solar heated hot water for a proper shower.
For his part, Drew took his cue and bounced right out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
"What's the hurry, Karel? This is a festival day. Everyone has the day off."
"Sorry, but we have orders for a command performance. All six of us."
That meant Karel and his twin brother Jemsen, Axel and Drew, and their neighbors down the hall Corwin Klarendes and Karl-Eike Thyssen. Actually a total of eight friends lived in three adjoining suites in an upscale residential hotel in the capital, but the war wizard Liam and Lieutenant Sir Nathan Lathrop were back in Alster with the Navy.
"What do you mean by command performance?" Liam asked.
"We have been called to a meeting with the High Command. Everyone will be there: the big brass in the Army, the druids and war wizards, plus Lord Zaldor, General Urqaart, and Baron Jarmond the Chief Hand of the Commonwealth."
"So why us?"
"We are what passes for resident experts at fighting orcs."
"Oh that. Haven't we done our share of that already?"
A ten-day earlier the circle of friends had helped defend the Sign of the Bow, a resort in the mountains, from more than a thousand orcs intent on reclaiming their ancestral lands. Instead of trying diplomacy, the orcs simply killed every human, elf, or dwarf they could get their hands on. During the Formation Wars centuries ago the four founder races of the Commonwealth of the Long River had driven the orcs out of their mountain fastness except for a remnant in an enclave surrounding their sacred peak.
As the six took their seats around a large conference table, Lord Rahnald Zaldor introduced them.
"For those who might not have already met our experts on fighting orcs, let me indicate the two blonds in sarongs who are the famous twins Captains Sirs Jemsen and Karel. Jemsen in green is an earth wizard and his brother Karel in blue is an air wizard. The carrot topped youngster who just sat down next to Sir Willet Hanford is his aide, Sir Axel Wilde."
"Next to him is the renowned journalist Drew Altair. Now before somebody complains about a breach of security from having a reporter in our midst, let me vouch for young Altair's discretion. As one of the Young Peacemakers Four he kept the scoop of the century under wraps for years from his publisher, his own father."
"The blond boy sitting next to Drew is his colleague at the Capital Intelligencer Corwin Klarendes, a decorated veteran of the Lightning War. Finally that really young looking fellow at the end is an journeyman naval architect named Karl-Eike Thyssen who in his spare time invented those wire wheels which let our bicycle borne dragoons get around so fast."
"They are here as civilian consultants today since we have not activated their reserve commissions in the Army, not yet anyway. I should add that the twins, Drew Altair, and Corwin Klarendes are all Holders of the Military Cross for Valor. Axel Wilde, Drew Altair, the twins, and Karl-Eike Thyssen are all Pioneers of Flight. Finally the twins and Drew are Stalwarts of the Commonwealth. So don't dwell on their youth or fact that they are reservists and only company grade officers. Believe me these young fellows have been around, and you could learn a thing or two from them."
Lord Zaldor then outlined recent events including the battle at the mountain resort, the battalion of Frost Giants sent to protect Elysion, and the mustering of forces from both the garrison town of Bled and the Army of the Plains stationed at Dalnot to cordon off and contain the orcs in preparation for a full-scale offensive to resolve the issue.
Since Madden Sexton was not there, it fell to Eike, who had acted as his aide during the battle, to describe and answer questions on his tactics and overall strategy. The twins and Drew described the use of magic by both sides, while Drew and Corwin recounted the climax of the battle and the collapse of orc morale after the reaction forces they lead drove back the only penetration they really made into the main building of the resort. Finally the dragoons arrived to rescue the besieged vacationers and the resort staff.
Zaldor then noted that the druids very much wanted to see a quick end to the problem with the orcs which they viewed as an intolerable distraction from the main effort against the genocidal trolls.
"Lord Dahlderon, you wanted to add something to that?"
"Yes. Baron Jarmond has learned from interrogating orc prisoners that it was the establishment of the New Forest by us druids on the far side of the Eastern Mountains which brought on this war. The orcs had long counted on ultimately expanding across the mountains to relieve the pressure of a rapidly rising population. In our complacency we had always supposed the orcs numbered in the tens of thousands at most. In fact there are almost six hundred thousand orcs in the mountains."
That brought alarmed looks from the High Command which had mobilized forces of only twenty thousand to contain the orc menace. One lean hatchet-faced general in the Army Air Corps rose to speak.
"They might outnumber us right now in the war zone, but our own population numbers in the tens of millions. Their numbers ultimately count for nothing except maybe as a problem of where to bury them."
Jarmond picked it up from there. "An orc who witnessed Liam's attack with white fire bragged that we would soon be getting a taste of our own medicine. It seems the orcs have at least one mage who can throw white fire."
"Bad news that." Sir Willet opined. "We had better be ready to counter it. Dahl let's put our heads together afterwards and work out a stratagem. This war is starting to turn serious."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves." General Urqaart said. "It may not be too late to negotiate peace."
"Negotiate!" the Air Corps general exclaimed. "After the orcs have killed two hundred in their recent rampage? Urqaart you've been basking too long in your reputation as a Peacemaker. This is a council of war."
"And so it is, General Keene" Lord Zaldor soothed. "If that is what it comes to. Remember we ourselves have already slain over a thousand orcs, a lesson which will not be lost on them. And yes while Urqaart and I are justifiably proud of making peace out West we are also proud to be holders of the Shield of the Commonwealth in his case and the Sword in my own, so we are no strangers to warfare."
That pointed reminder of his and Urqaart's sterling military reputations silenced the hawkish general for the moment.
"If overpopulation is their motive, I am sure we druids can fix their problem much as we fixed the trolls in the Southern Archipelago." Dahl asserted sounding uncharacteristically hawkish himself.
That threat to the fertility and fecundity of orc males showed that Dalhderon was at the limit of his patience with marauders of all sorts, whether eastern barbarians, centaurs, trolls, orcs or anyone else who always sought to take from others but not to build or to grow what they needed themselves. Enough already. And he wasn't the only druid who felt that way. His lovers Owain and Meirionnydd were on board with him too. After all they actually lived in the Commonwealth of the Long River.
"Gentlemen," Lord Zaldor said getting their attention. "Remember it wasn't so many years ago that we thought that a long ruinous war with the Despotate of Dzungaria was inevitable, yet we found a way to make peace. And now the Far West has joined the Commonwealth. And look how before that negotiations led to the alliance with the Frost Giants and the occupation and settlement of New Varangia and the Barren Lands."
"Or how diplomacy secured our northern border more recently." Axel Wilde noted. "We welcomed the arrival of the Medkari a friendly people who filled a power vacuum that might ultimately have put the Commonwealth at risk. Let's give peace a chance."
"The grizzled general shook his head. "Who is this stripling to lecture men such as ourselves on matters of war and peace?" he sneered. That got Sir Willet up on his feet.
"Must I remind you General that this stripling as you called him is my aide Sir Axel Wilde who was knighted for teaching men to fly. You owe him your gratitude for having an Army Air Corps in the first place. And just so you know, Sir Axel is under orders to speak up as the peacemaker in our councils of war. We soldiers sometimes get too caught up in the excitement of conflict and get to liking war too much or seeing it as the first resort rather than the last."
"Maybe so," Dahl conceded, "but we druids will not let the orcs settle in the New Forest which is now a sentient being, no longer just an ordinary stand of trees. Besides those lands must always remain a wilderness to protect the vital watershed of the Eastern Plains."
"So what can the orcs do Lord Dahlderon? They are already too many for the lands they occupy but they cannot expand into the vacant lands to their east. I am open to suggestions."
"Amazonia!" Axel shouted as he shot to his feet, energized by a sudden thought. Looking around at their puzzled faces, he went on to say.
"Let them settle in Amazonia after they help us conquer it. Don't you see? The trolls have already exterminated the humans, elves and dwarves who used to live in that vast country. So let the orcs settle there. It is a perfect solution to the problem of the orcs: a land empty of people for a people in need of a land!"
His interlocutors sat back, stunned by the scope of Axel's solution. Even grizzled General Keene seemed thoughtful.
That just might work." Dahl admitted. Nods around the tables indicated agreement.
"The quickest way to end this war is to turn our enemy into our ally." Urqaart noted.
"Even I can see the sense of that," Keene allowed, but how do we persuade the orcs?"
Zaldor smiled. "With diplomacy, which I like to define as the marshaling of threats and blandishments toward the resolution of geopolitical problems. Amazonia is so vast that even a quarter of it should satisfy the orcs. As for threats, that is why we have an army and war wizards. The orcs can choose to either to end a war they cannot possibly win or join us and fight in one where they are sure to be among the victors."
"And to further persuade them" Dahl began "We druids could threaten to set a blight on their food supply. That should force them to make peace on our terms."
"What are their food crops anyway, Lord Dahlderon? You cannot grow grain or maize in the mountains."
"Yet the orcs have managed to support a population of six hundred thousand up in the mountains without flat land to grow grain of any sort, not wheat, not rice, not maize, nor rye or oats. The small amount of wheat they import goes for cakes and muffins and confections of all sorts sweetened with beet sugar. The orcs aren't so different from us that they do not have a sweet tooth."
"Instead of grain, the orcs rely on two plants as their staples. First is the tuber variously known as the earth apple or potato. It rivals maize for the amount of food energy you can get out of an acre of land. The orcs also grow the breadfruit, a tree which they intercrop with the tubers. It is called the breadfruit because when the ripe fruit is cooked it has a flavor like that of freshly baked bread."
Dahlderon explained that the breadfruit was one of the highest-yielding food plants. A single tree could produce up to two hundred grapefruit-sized fruits per season with very limited care required. Breadfruit trees which grew to a height of eighty feet (25 m) also yielded latex, a milky juice, which was useful for boat caulking and was one of the orcs main exports, finding a ready market among the boatmen of the rift valley of the Long River with its many tributaries and canals.
The council decided to mobilize additional troops drawn from the other field armies in the Commonwealth proper and put General Urqaart in overall command. No one had more experience in commanding disparate forces. The peace delegation would be lead by Lord Zaldor and included the three druids, four war wizards two of whom were Sir Willet and Sir Rikkard, and five of the six friends.
A battalion of Frost Giants five hundred strong would provide an escort that was strong enough for protection and impressive enough to uphold the dignity of the delegation. The giants would also physically overawe and intimidate the orcs, giving the hostiles a chance to see what they would be up against.
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