Elf Boy's Friends - VII
General Urqaart frowned skeptically as Owain outlined their plans.
"Do you really think a bunch of women soldiers can stop the trolls?" he asked pointedly.
"I am the only one who has seen them fight," Dahl said. "Don't sell the Amazons short because of their gender. They are big and tough and well-trained and well-lead with officers who know what they are doing. Also they will be defending familiar ground and will have had plenty of time to prepare for the onslaught."
Owain argued that they had no choice but to try. At the very least the Amazons would divert some of the military forces now facing the Commonwealth and make their own advances easier. At best, both forces might actually put the trolls into a squeeze play.
"Our party numbers only eleven, but that includes six of the most powerful magic wielders on Haven: three druids, myself, Meirionnydd, and Dahlderon, Count Klarendes and his son Artor with their demonstrated mastery of white fire, and Sir Willet, one of our strongest war wizards."
"Then we have the war mages: the twins Jemsen and Karel, earth and air wizards respectively. Aodh is a master of close combat thanks to his sonic weapon and poison claws. Finally Corwin Klarendes has proven how effective he can be with his ball lightning."
"Where are the twins anyway?" Axel asked. "I thought they'd be meeting us here."
"Held up somewhere, I imagine." Urqaart said. "I'm sure they'll be along very soon now." then suddenly added: "In fact, here they come now."
"As I live and breathe," Aodh said, as the twins breezed into the room, "it's the famous twins Jemsen and Karel, in the flesh!"
"Hey, that's my line!" Karel protested but with a big grin, then embraced his friends.
"Ahem! I'm here too, if anyone cares to notice!" Corwin grumbled, drawing winks from his uncle Taitos and cousin Artor.
"At least you blond boys are at full strength. I only wish I had the support of my fellow red-heads, Drew and Nathan." Axel said plaintively.
Axel was a boyishly cute copper-topped lad with heart melting dimples, Drew Altair an auburn haired beauty, and Nathan Lathrop a true carrot-top with the lissom build of an elf though he was of entirely human stock.
"It's my turn to be the war correspondent for the Capital Intelligencer," Corwin pointed out. "And Nathan is back on the Petrel which is currently in Alster. And Liam is there with him on rotation back to the Navy and to the comforts of civilization."
After acknowledging the byplay, Sir Willet made a further point:
"There is one mage you have overlooked, which is not surprising since his existence has been a closely held secret for the last few months. Sir Axel Wilde is no longer just my aide, he is now a powerful war mage in his own right. Repeated passage through space portals stimulated the manifestation of a very rare magical gift."
"Axel is a Jumper."
"A Jumper?" Urqaart asked. Sir Willet nodded.
"Axel can teleport himself to anywhere he can see, whether with his own eyes or through a far-viewer. With repeated jumps between hilltops he can cover hundreds of miles in a matter of hours. He can also jump directly to any point, no matter how distant, which he has previously reached via a portal. That is why my colleagues and I have been opening portals for him to strategic points around the Commonwealth: Grayling, Dalnot, Bled, Alster, the Western Plains, Plainsville, Flensborg, Caerdydd, Junction City, Jenova, Brax, and so forth. Axel can now jump directly to any one of those places then make further visual jumps from there."
"All right, but what can he do once he gets wherever he is going?" Urqaart asked, ever the pragmatist.
"Why don't I let him answer that? Axel, my boy, you're on." Sir Willet said warmly.
Axel smiled and launched into a description of what he could do with his new powers.
A jumper made the perfect assassin, able to pop into existence next to an enemy general, kill him, them jump to safety before his guards or soldiers quite realized what was happening, though for safety he would wear light armor. Axel carried a vial of Aodh's poison to coat the blades of a pair of push or fist knives, a weapon with a T shaped handle attached to a very short triangular blade. One small cut would deliver enough poison to kill a troll twice over.
A jumper was even more effective operating at night, which would mask what was happening and generate terror among the enemy. He could even peek through a window and jump into a room or tent to kill his target then jump away, leaving the enemy's servants to find him dead in the morning.
Also a jumper could carry others along with him. A simple touch on the shoulder would establish a connection which let him carry a small group with him. And it worked not only for those he himself touched or who touched him but for those in contact with them. (After that the connection was too weak.) Thus a jumper could deliver a raiding party anywhere he himself could jump.
Or Axel could jump behind a foe, touch his shoulder, jump a thousand feet into the air and let go, allowing his enemy fall to his death while he himself jumped to safety. And as with fetchers like Liam, in naval combat he might drop boulders to hole enemy vessels or incendiaries to fire an enemy fortress.
"How much weight can you lift?" Jemsen asked.
"It is not really weight so much as size. At the upper limit I can jump with something as big as a house. Understand, I don't really lift against gravity. One moment something is one place, the next moment someplace else."
"And it doesn't matter what it might be connected to. As long as I visualize a clean break in my mind it just separates and jumps with me. That makes for another form of assassination: just tap the head of a foe and jump a foot or so away and let it drop, then jump into the clear, leaving head and body behind as a gruesome reminder of what it means to attack the Commonwealth of the Long River. For extra effect, sometimes a decapitated body stays upright very briefly and even staggers about, as the heart pumps blood from the jugular arteries. Talk about terror tactics!"
"Whatever happened to that gentle boy we all knew and loved, Axel the Peacemaker we called him?" Karel asked only half-facetiously.
"I could answer that it was war and adversity, but it was not only that. Actually what I described just now I got out of books and reports in the Institute library. I haven't had to use such grisly tactics. Not yet. Anyway, you and Jemsen and the twins are also Peacemakers, but that hasn't made you any less effective on the battlefield. And what was that you once told me when I felt uncomfortable about how easy killing seemed to come to you? You told me it was OK because we were the good guys. Now in this war the trolls we are definitely the bad guys."
"You've made your point." Karel conceded. Axel then added:
"I would also like to use my powers in civil rescue work like jumping persons trapped by fire or flood to safety. With my gift I would be the first responder, able to get to disasters faster than anyone else. Even if my own powers are not particularly well suited to the particular rescue I could bring others such as fetchers and firecasters with me when I jump to the scene."
"Oh, and don't forget that Axel can Call Light to englobe the head of a foe and scramble his brains. He has saved my life twice doing just that." Sir Willet added.
With that kind of endorsement, Axel sat up straighter clearly proud of his gifts and what they could do to support the cause.
"And let me point out a new or rather a strengthened ability of my own," Sir Willet said, "I have trained with Sir Angus McFarden's techniques to increase my control of magnetism. It is now easy for me to sweep caltrops off a field much as we saw that cavalry rider do in that demonstration of the close ground support several years ago."
"Now I don't have anything like the sheer power of a true master of magnetism like Sailing Mater Crawley of the Petrel. Did you know that he once sank two troll longships by tearing the nails out of their hulls? The vessels fell apart and the trolls manning them dropped into the sea to be dragged under by the weight of their own armor."
"And not to brag, but, as a war wizard, I am also a powerful fetcher, which lets me wield steel spheres to deadly effect and to fly through the air plus I am a weather and water wizard, and a firecaster with mastery of heat and flame. And I have acquired magical skills like Concealment, long distance communication with infrasound, and the ability to open portals."
"He throws white fire too." Axel offered.
"And what can we expect from you druids. I've never seen any of you in action."
"We have. That is Axel and Karel and me and Sir Willet." Jemsen said. "During our expedition to the Barren Lands or South Varangia, as the frost giants are calling it now, we came upon a dreadful scene of a company of trolls tormenting a small group of brontotheres, one of which they had butchered for its meat."
"Now all of us took part in that fight: a score of frost giants, half as many human archers, a war wizard, a druid, and even an avatar of a thunder god, but that was by courtesy of our druid who could have killed the trolls all by himself."
"Which would have been selfish and unsportsmanlike of me." Dahl pointed out. "The others would have felt left out if I had just exerted my will and made the trolls deathly allergic to the brontothere flesh they had just eaten."
"We druids are strongest with life magic and our control of the living world. We can flash grow vines and motile runners and creepers to wind around the lower limbs of our foes and hold them fast or around their necks to strangle them. This was a variation on the very trick Owain had used so long ago against rogue Frost Giants. Alternatively we might create thorn breaks between their vanguard and their main body to facilitate defeating a foe in detail. Druids can blight crops and forests and poison any creature with the contents of its own stomach."
"For a less lethal approach we can put enemies to sleep or calm the fiercest beast. Indeed we can control animals and set them on our foes. Nothing like a pride of lyons or a pack of dire wolves to take the heart out of your foes."
"Don't forget brontotheres," Artor reminded him. "The charge of a herd of brontotheres is nigh unto unstoppable. It is not for nothing that they are called the juggernauts of the jungle."
"I could hardly forget my first time as a rider of brontotheres, when I, a naked teenage druid, rode the matriarch of the herd in a charge against an army of Amazons. We druids are also good at reconnaissance. We can project a portion of our consciousness into the minds of eagles or any other creature which let's us see what they see and hear what they hear."
"Also any druid worthy of the name has a command of earth and weather magic plus Mind Speech, quadrupled strength and stamina, keen senses and super fast reflexes. We can actually snatch an arrow out of the air, or, against an arrow storm, create a kind of missile shield whereby we transform the wooden shafts into dandelion seeds. And we can open space portals."
"Oh, and besides his druidic powers, Merry retains some of his unicorn powers such as extremely powerful Mind Speech, Calling Light, Kindling Fire, and unmatched stamina, though he no longer has that killer neigh of his."
"Don't worry." Aodh interjected. "I've got that covered", which was a reference to his own killer screech.
"Aren't you druids fetchers as well?" Karel asked. "What I mean is that we have all seen that you can levitate just like Drew or Sir Willet. Which suddenly makes me wonder why you cannot also fly like them by Lifting a wooden yoke the way Drew or Sir Willet or Liam can."
"Oops! It looks like we might finally have to confess our innocent bit of misdirection, Owain," Dahl said.
"All right. The fact is that we druids are not fetchers at all. And for the record we never actually said that we levitated by lifting our sandals. That was your idea, Karel, yours and Jemsen's, and an inspired idea it was too — for fetchers. No, we druids use an aspect of earth magic when we levitate."
"Earth magic!! Jemsen said, astonished. "I myself am an earth wizard, but I haven't the faintest idea how to use my gift to lift myself into the sky, which seems entirely backwards, for an earth wizard, I mean."
"That's no doubt the reason you never thought of it. It's like this," Owain explained. "Fetchers lift themselves by pulling upward on their sandals. We druids, push the planet away from us to with a force you might think of as gravitational repulsion. Naturally the planet is too massive to budge. Instead we rise into the sky because we are pushing against the planet with greater force than its gravity pulls us toward it."
"Wow!" the twins breathed. "Does this mean Jemsen could do it too?"
"Er… maybe. When we have a moment, let's get together and give it a try. For druids it's not so much a learned skill as an instinct."
"All right!" Jemsen exclaimed, driving a fist into the air.
"Good luck brother, but don't forget I can take to the air too, whether inside an whirlwind or calling a jet of air to push those batwings, however clumsily."
"And you both can run like the wind pushed by a jet of air at your backs called by Karel's powers as an air wizard." Axel said. "Me too. I can go along for I have the doubled strength and stamina and fast reflexes of a druidically enhanced physique, and I have practiced running with you. Do the rest of you know that we three can sustain a pace of a mile a minute for half and hour or more?"
"I'll keep that in mind." Owain said. "Our diverse capabilities will surely prove useful in meeting the challenges we will face in stiffening the army of the Amazons in their defense of their embattled homeland. We'll keep in touch with you General Urqaart via Mind Speech. Dahl and I can reach clear across the continent while Merry can reach anywhere on the planet as long as it is someone we know."
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