Elf Boy's Friends - VII
An Appeal for Help
"Pardon me sir for interrupting you at dinner, but a dispatch rider has just arrived from Army headquarters in Dalnot."
Taitos Klarendes, Count of the Eastern March, accepted the letter proffered by his steward. As he scanned the document, the diners seated around the table held their peace though consumed with curiosity. The Count was not long back from the war in Amazonia. Surely he would not be recalled to the colors, not so soon.
"It is not addressed only to you my lord; the dispatch is addressed to all of you: Sir Aodh, Lord Artor, and the three druids as well."
"Gotta be bad news then." Aodh affirmed, a sentiment which was seconded by the count's first-born son Artor.
The three druids, Dahlderon, Owain, and Meirionnydd were seated opposite Klarendes, while his son Artor, and the elder Klarendes' shapeshifter spouse Aodh flanked him. They had all just sat down to a big meal. Among country folk, the midday meal was called dinner and was always the most substantial meal of the day. Supper was typically a light meal of cold meats, cheese, sliced bread, with dried fruits for dessert.
Having just finished martial arts training and practice bouts the druids and Aodh were still nude or skin-clad, their hair wet from a quick shower. Outstanding exemplars of youthful male pulchritude, the boys practically glowed with physical fitness, good health, good looks, and sex appeal.
Even more than most young males in the Commonwealth of the Long River where nudity taboos were weak to non-existent, both elves and shape shifters typically went about skin-clad. More than just a way of dealing with the tropical climate, in their secluded vales the practice kept young elven males readily available for sexual congress with older males. For shape shifters it was really a matter of convenience. They never had to worry about where they had left their clothing when the shifted to their animal forms, not when they were naked to begin with.
The steward threw an appreciative wink at his employer's tiny spouse. Standing five foot zero and weighing only a hundred pounds, Aodh was small, skinny, and smooth muscled. Impossibly pretty, he was a melding of the innocent and the wanton, the epitome of a boy in the full bloom of his youth with ivory skin like porcelain that never tanned or burned in contrast to the young druids who were uniformly bronzed from constant exposure to the sun.
Though Aodh seemed utterly fragile and vulnerable, the epicene youth was actually three times as strong as he looked thanks to his innate magical nature and the help of the New Forest. Large green eyes dominated the stunning face of the androgynous youth which tapered from a wide brow down a pert nose to a narrow chin.
As for the druids, they hardly looked like three of the most powerful wielders of magic on the planet of Haven. Short and slightly built pretty boys with the sculpted musculature of athletes, dancers, or acrobats, they could easily pass for a pack of rent boys on a day off.
Only they weren't really boys, not chronologically. Dahlderon was the youngest; the raven hair elf-boy was in his twenties though he looked to be more than a decade younger, say sweet sixteen going on seventeen. Next came Owain; the diminutive strawberry blond human might look no more than eighteen, but he was only three years short of the two century mark. Merry was the most senior by far, over a thousand years old most of it passed in the form of a unicorn during his second life till his transformation a decade ago back into the elf-boy he had been in his first life. His hair was white as snow, the same color his coat had been as a unicorn.
Klarendes scanned the brief document, then looked up at those seated at the table.
"It seems the Army wants all of us drop everything and go to the capital. We are being sent to Amazonia to deal with a problem, though what just what kind the dispatch doesn't say." Klarendes told them, passing the document around for all to read.
"Why so mysterious?" Aodh asked.
"What other reason than security?" Artor answered. "A dispatch may pass through many hands as it is carried by heliograph and courier."
"All right, but why call on us druids to deal with it?" the elf-boy cum druid Dahlderon complained. "However long it takes, the Commonwealth and its allies are sure to win a prolonged war in Amazonia. The Commonwealth can raise armies from a population of one-hundred thirty millions counting its new dominions in the Far West and allies. That allows the High Command to rotate new regiments to the front indefinitely."
"The trolls in Amazonia number about three million counting females and whelps, and they are cut off from the far-off oceanic archipelago from whence they came. Meanwhile the anti-fertility plague which we druids unleashed there will, in time, drastically reduce the population from which they might draw reinforcements, eventually ending the threat permanently. We druids took care of the long term problem with trolls. Dealing with the problem in the short and medium term is the province of the military."
Owain seconded that sentiment, saying:
"Surely they don't expect us druids to join the forces at the front? It's the job of war wizards not druids to serve as force multipliers for conventional military forces. And these days the wizards have the help of numerous mages the Army and Navy have recruited: fetchers, water, air, and earth wizards, firecasters, and so on. We helped there too, enhancing the vitality and longevity of many to give them long life and careers and thereby increase the cohort of war wizards."
"Besides, the allied contingents under General Urqaart seemed to have things well in hand at the end of our recent tour of duty." Aodh noted.
Urqaart commanded an army drawn from the lands in the Far West recently annexed to the Commonwealth plus its allies on the shores of the the Great Inland Freshwater Sea. Over half of these formations were soldiers trained to Commonwealth standards by the Army of the Far West and the professional army of the former Despotate of Dzungaria. Mercenaries too were deployed but behind the lines in garrisons and to protect lines of communications.
Operating for the first time on the same side rather than as foes and flying the flag of the Commonwealth of the Long River, the forces from the Far West had given a good account of themselves against the trolls whose attacks on their territories had provided the final reason for the former enemies to bury the hatchet. That had accelerated political, social, and economic reforms which laid the foundation for a permanent peace, mounting prosperity, and their accession to the Commonwealth.
An expeditionary force drawn from the orcs of the Eastern Mountains but trained, equipped, and paid by the Commonwealth had also joined the fight. The orcs had been promised an independent country of their own to accommodate their growing numbers in lands they might conquer from the trolls. Their ranks had been augmented by orcs emigrating from the territories of the eastern barbarians attracted by the dream of a land of their very own.
Klarendes and his spouse Aodh had recently thrown their powers into the fight in support of Urqaart's offensive which drove the enemy out of the western third of its conquered territories. Time after time Klarendes had destroyed enemy fortifications and shattered shield walls enabling breakthroughs which lead to encirclements and battles of annihilation which destroyed two entire field armies. Talk about acting as a force multiplier! Urqaart had nominated the count for the second highest military decoration, the Shield of the Commonwealth.
Klarendes was one of those with the rare ability to throw white fire [the subatomic plasma at the heart of a star] and to keep at up again and again. War wizards could throw white fire too — but only two or three times before they had to rest for a day to recharge their magic.
Aodh's service had been noteworthy as well. While attached to the command group, the shapeshifter had thwarted a suicide squad of fifteen trolls who had laid an ambush for Urqaart and his staff. In his human form Aodh unleashed his sonic weapon to incapacitate the trolls then morphed into a black panther armed with poison claws and killed every one of the fifteen would-be assassins as they staggered about, their hands over their ears, dizzy and disoriented from the intolerable screech Aodh had directed at them.
"Anyway, why did they ask for me?" Artor wondered. "We Hands are not in the military at all. Our job is criminal investigation and law enforcement and general troubleshooting."
Klarendes shook his head. "The dispatch offers no specifics about the problem which prompts this summons. It might not even be military in a narrow sense, though obviously connected with the war there. That could explain why they asked for you, Artor and why it is signed by the Chief Hand himself, Baron Jarmond. After all, you Dread Hands are the designated trouble shooters for the Commonwealth and endowed with plenipotentiary legal powers. Solving problems is just what you Dread Hands of the Commonwealth are for. "
"Tomorrow is more than soon enough to find out." Owain opined. "First we druids have one last section of the New Forest to visit as part of our annual survey of its health and development. If we leave right after dinner we can open a portal, step though, check around, and be back in time for a late supper."
His colleagues nodded, with Merry saying as they walked out: "See you guys later."
After breakfast the next morning, Owain opened a portal to the capital. The group stepped through it then sought out the headquarters of the Dread Hands of the Commonwealth, to give them their full title.
"Thank you gentlemen for coming so promptly." Jarmond began. "No doubt you have been wondering what problem could possibly need the talents and powers of two firecasters and a shape shifter, plus three of the most powerful magic wielders on the planet, four counting Count Klarendes' capability with white fire."
"Make that five of us." Sir Willet Hanford said as he stepped into the room in the company of his young aide, Sir Axel Wilde. "We war wizards are no slouches in the magic department either, as you know very well Baron Jarmond."
Jarmond inclined his head to concede the point. Druids and wizards were both gifted with an ability to wield many sorts of magic, though the two orders of mages took different approaches to the magical arts. The magic of druids was oriented toward the living world, while that of the wizards more toward inanimate physical reality with some overlaps such as control of weather.
Jarmond picked up where he had left off.
"It seems that the Commonwealth has received an appeal for help from a most unlikely source a woman who calls herself the Queen of the Amazons. She asked for you by name, Lord Dahlderon."
"That wouldn't be Lady Seerah, would it?"
"Yes, that is the name, Queen Seerah."
"When I knew Seerah she was first among the five on their ruling council. So she has taken a crown, eh? Very likely it's a political tactic to prop up the regime so as to cope with the revolution I unleashed on her society. Which should make me the very last outsider she would want to return there."
"What can I tell you Lord Dahlderon? Desperate times make for strange alliances," Jarmond said. "When an enemy is at the gates, especially one like the trolls with genocidal intentions, then past differences can be overlooked. That is the way I read it."
"Very likely you are right, Jarmond."
"The puzzled look on Axel's face prompts me to remind him and everyone else about what happened back then" Dahl continued.
"To make a long story short, Axel, years ago, when I was only a journeyman druid, I traveled far up the Amazon River in search of a biological control to stop an invasive species threatening to destroy the forest cover and watersheds of the Ashokan Archipelago."
"I found it too."
"It turned out to be a climbing vine, an epiphyte, a plant which merely clings to its host trees for support and access to sunlight but is not parasitic and draws no sustenance from them. In its native habitat the epiphyte kept the Emerald Ash Borer in check so it was only a minor pest, not a plague as it became in the islands. Once transplanted to the Ashokan Archipelago, the epiphyte saved the forest cover and watershed of crop lands that supported a hundred thousand people. They were a decent and peaceful folk I came to know and like until the trolls exterminated them as if they were vermin a dozen years later."
Dahl explained that the land of the Amazons was then a country oppressed by an unnatural, cruel, and alchemically maintained social and political order. The women used a concoction of herbs during pregnancy to ensure that females were born much larger than their diminutive male counterparts
The herbs delivered powerful drugs via the mother's placenta to the growing fetuses which kept males not only small but youthful and under-developed. The males could perform sexually well enough to procreate but they never really grew up or filled out, remaining boys on the cusp of true manhood. For instance, Amazon males never grew a beard. It was an example of neoteny, the retention of juvenile features in an adult.
Hence the males were kept in a state of political, social, and sexual subjugation, virtually enslaved, though they could not be sold as chattels, and kept perpetually naked, their genitalia ringed to prevent unauthorized erections and sexual contact.
In the dozen years since then a slow but inevitable revolution had started which, over three generations, would re-make that country, letting all its inhabitants, both male and female, live their lives without the unnatural sexual dimorphism that had led to so much coercion, oppression, and inequality.
"That was what you hoped would happen, Lord Dahlderon," Jarmon said. "But now the trolls are pressing against their borders. So far it's just reconnaissance in force, but a full invasion must soon come. Hence Queen Seerah's appeal for help."
"There is a vast hostile territory and three million trolls between our armies and the country of the Amazons. What help can they expect from us?" Klarendes asked.
"Not large military forces, obviously. "Jarmond replied, "No, what they need is combat magic, something they are sorely lacking."
"Of course!" Dahl said in sudden realization. "Gifts useful in combat are much more common in males than in females. By stunting the development of their males, the Amazons deprived themselves of potential war wizards, firecasters, fetchers, and so forth."
"Almost certainly by intention." Sir Willet pointed out. "Males with powerful magic gifts would never let themselves be controlled by non-magical females, whatever their comparative size and strength."
"So when do we go?" Axel asked,
"Since I have been to the land of the Amazons, I could open a portal and take us all there directly." Dahl said.
Jarmond shook his head. "You first need to check in with Urqaart at his headquarters. That is also where you will collect the rest of your party, namely the twins and Count Klarendes' nephew Corwin, who is there as a war correspondent. He will keep the journal of your expedition as well as report for the Capital Intelligencer."
"Just as he has been doing for Urqaart's campaign." Artor pointed out.
"Corwin's reportage is a must read." Axel enthused. "He often inserts himself into the action, fighting alongside the soldiers whose exploits he portrays."
"Headstrong and reckless that boy may be, but he is also courageous and very effective with his ball lightning. A natural horseman from growing up on the Eastern Plains, he often rides with the cavalry. In one fight the battalion of lancers he was with got cut off from the main body by enemy cavalry. He used his new explosive technique to blast a path through the enemy then lead a headlong charge to get them into the clear. That earned him a Mention in Dispatches."
After further discussion, the party of mages dispersed to equip themselves for their expedition to Amazonia, which would leave in two days' time. It was agreed that Owain as the senior druid would be in charge. Artor might be a Hand of the Commonwealth, but Amazonia was out of his jurisdiction. Not so with the druids whose jurisdiction was global.
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