Elf Boy's Friends - VII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 18


At their meeting the next day Merry wondered:

"So what happens next?"

"Something we won't expect, I expect." Sir Willet offered, then frowned at his own unintended play on words.

"Excuse me, Sir Willet, but bad puns are really my department." Karel joked.

Playing along with the gag Sir Willet soothed:

"That was entirely accidental on my part, my young friend, not an intentional infringement on your acknowledged prerogative as our resident jokester."

Jemsen grinned, ruffled his twin's hair, and gave their mentor a wink.

At their meeting the senior druid went around the table giving everyone a chance to state his ideas briefly, but barred criticism or discussion until each conferee had put his ideas on the table. Only then would the group critique the suggestions in the light of all the proposals.

It was an effective way to run a meeting. Unfortunately none of the participants guessed what the trolls would do next. The trolls just gave up.

The next morning, the allies saw that the trolls had worked all night to dig defensive earthworks, deep trenches which were wide and deep enough to stop a brontotheres charge. The trolls knew that the beasts could not jump the trench. In fact they couldn't jump at all. Brontotheres were too massive to get all four feet off the ground at once, the way a horse could, if only briefly, in a gallop. So a trench too wide for a brontothere to step across and too deep for it to step into and climb out of was an impassible obstacle. The trench was much more work than a flimsy wooden barrier like a cheval de frise and you couldn't take it with you if you moved, but it worked.

With the trolls having clearly abandoned their offensive and gone over to the defense, it was time for the Amazons and the brontotheres to stand down, to take a few days to resupply, to sharpen their weapons and refurbish their kit, and more generally to recoup their strength, catch up on lost sleep, and take a moment to mourn the fallen.

As herbivores the brontotheres needed down-time too, time to graze and browse and thereby replenish the energy they had expended in such prodigious amounts in maneuvers and close combat. The druids helped out by flash growing acres of high protein crops like soy beans, amaranth, and quinoa. They also grew alfalfa and nutritious grasses for the draft animals that drew the supply wagons. Plus tasty berries and fruits for the two-legged fighters.

"I didn't know that there were seeds of such crops lying dormant in the ground waiting for you to awaken them." Corwin remarked.

"They weren't till a few days ago when we sowed seeds against just such an eventuality." Merry explained. "When on expedition we druids take along a kit of starter seeds. They take less effort to grow than local seeds which we would first have to transform before flash growing them into the plants and foodstuffs we need."

The stand-down gave the trolls the opportunity to pack up during the night, break contact and retreat to the west, abandoning the laboriously excavated trenches which had served their purpose as a signal of intent to the allies. The trolls recognized that as a military barrier a trench could be flattened by earth magic invoked by druids or earth mages.

Amazon scouts followed the trolls but kept out of contact while the druids observed through the eyes of avian servitors. The Amazons sent scouts in autogyros just to observe. No bombing. The remnants of the troll invasion force traveled without much worry about the allied forces which were not in a position to constrain their retrograde movement and probably did not really want to. Having won, the allies would not put their soldiers further at risk.

"Can't we block their march by transporting the Amazon army through a portal?" Corwin Klarendes asked.

His uncle shook his head.

"It wouldn't do any good, nephew. The trolls would just circle around whatever blocking position the Amazon tried to hold. It was different when the trolls were on the offensive and deliberately attacked the trench and berm which Jemsen created. On the retreat as they are now, they have no reason to assault entrenched lines and every reason to detour around them."

The council of war decided to let the shrunken troll army withdraw. Once a numbering just over one-hundred thousand, they now mustered barely thirty thousand.

The brontotheres were at least as glad as the Amazons to see the back of them. The trolls did not only kill brontotheres; they ate them, which was an intolerable reversal of fortune for a species with no natural enemies. Brontotheres had nothing to fear from predators which is why they had always considered themselves to be at the top of the food chain.

Queen Seerah asked the druids to convey to the brontotheres their promise that the Amazon state would declare an internationally recognized protectorate over the entire region inhabited by brontotheres. As a wildlife preserve it would be closed to hunting or settlement whether by either Amazons or outsiders.

The Amazons themselves would claim only the lands along the banks of the Long River out to a distance of ten miles. They fully expected that waterway to become a major artery of commerce thanks to the new canal through the sea of reeds, which gave riverboats and barges unimpeded access to the upper basin of the great river.

The queen was concerned that once the druids left, humans would no longer be able to communicate with the brontotheres except through signs and gestures, a clumsy and imprecise process at best. What if an illness struck the herds and the brontotheres needed the help of Amazon healers and veterinarians? It was true that Healer's magic worked best on humans but it was easily up to tasks like closing wounds, preventing or clearing infections, knitting broken bones, and the like.

As a sign of their good will the Amazons were willing to build bridges to provide the brontotheres with easy passage over the many ghylls, the deep wooded ravines which criss-crossed the country. Ghylls were formidable obstacles: deeper and wider than the trenches the trolls had dug to stop the brontotheres, their bottoms were strewn with boulders and their slopes encumbered by thick timber. The dissected terrain forced the brontotheres to go miles out of their way to get where they wanted to go. But where would the beasts want the bridges built? Only through Mind Speech could they tell the Amazons.

Finally if humans and brontothere ever again had to ally against a common foe, how would they coordinate their efforts as the druids had done in this conflict?

The queen realized that the gift of Mind Speech rarely manifested in human females but it might in their new generation of human males. Under the old dispensation, the matriarchy had stunted not only the physical growth of boys but also the manifestation of their magical gifts. When the queen asked if the druids would help to train males with the talent Dahl assured her that they would. The druids promised to return in a few years to check whether any of the new boys were suitable candidates for training in Mind Speech.

Owain cautioned that even in human males Mind Speech was quite a rare talent. Some war wizards had the gift either naturally or acquired it through wizardly training. Most war wizards lacked the ability and relied instead on infrasound messaging for long distance communication though that method could not reach anywhere near as far. Mind Speech was strongest among unicorns with the druids not far behind. All druids acquired the power of Mind Speech even the elves to whom it came less easily.

Dahl promised to periodically check in with the queen via Mind Speech and to travel there through a space portal to lend assistance if necessary. Otherwise the best he could suggest was that their government try to hire a few humans with that gift. Hiring notices could be posted in the journal "Magic" published by the Institute of Wizardry and Magic. Its circulation reached the whole commonwealth.

In the future Amazon males would develop strong gifts like those wielded by their allies. Their society would more closely resemble the outer world in that respect where, in a parallel to the sexual dimorphism of their physical forms, magical gifts were apportioned differently between the genders.

Gifts useful in combat manifested almost exclusively in males. These included the ability to cast fire, lightning bolts, or ball lightning. The ranks of weather, water, air, earth wizards, and fire wizards or firecasters were almost exclusively male. That was even more true of druids and war wizards, the two orders of mages with the most flexible magical gift of all, which gave them the ability to wield many forms of magic.

By contrast the most common gifts among women were healing, a Green Thumb, the empathic sense, eidetic memory, delving, electrum sparks, calling light, and kindling fire. The last meant that they could kindle a bonfire or set the fuel in a stove alight but not actually throw flame. Some females could manifest warrior powers like firecasting, lightning bolts, or fetching though at lower power levels than males. Similarly some gifted females could sense and predict weather though not control it.

Afterwards Lady Vannsetta spoke privately with the queen.

"So my queen, you didn't tell Lord Dahlderon about your son. His son."

"No, I didn't. Let's keep quiet about that till Dahl returns in a few years to test our boy for magical gifts. Time then for the son to meet his father."

Lady Vannsetta nodded.

"I agree that that is for the best. It would be awkward admitting now how you misappropriated his seed to engender a child. And as your druid himself admits, he wants no part of fatherhood, neither the engendering nor the raising of children. Fine young man though he is, he would be a failure as a father. Better wait till your son is on the cusp of manhood himself to introduce them to each other. I expect the druids will take him and others of our most promising males into the outer world to become the sort of men the Commonwealth breeds. And let's hope that elf-boys and druids breed true."

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