Elf Boy's Friends - VIII
"We gotta fly high like this more often!" Axel enthused. "From up here you can see for a hundred miles in every direction!"
Axel was enjoying the ride in Drew's autogyro, a model custom-built for speed and acrobatic ability. Usually the three autogyros cruised at a humdrum altitude of only a few hundred feet to allow Jemsen to magically delve the geological structure of the ground they passed over, but every so often they soared up to a couple of thousand feet though never for long, just enough time to get a good look at what lay ahead of them.
Finn Ragnarson flew his own custom-built autogyro, but in his case it was designed for heavy lifting. Finn was a Frost Giant standing eight feet tall and massing six hundred pounds. Jemsen and Karel shared the back seat though together their weight added up to less than half of Finn's own. That was why his autogyro usually stayed at their cruising altitude.
Much the largest of the three autogyros was a transport aeroplane flown by Liam which featured a fully enclosed compartment for pilot and passengers. Freight was carried in two holds, one in the belly and the other in the aft section. Liam's passengers were the forest rangers the shapeshifter Madden Sexton and the elf-boy Dylan. Packed in the rear hold was the gear which the eight of them would need on their months-long expedition of exploration and discovery.
"I would start to worry about that weather front with undulating clouds moving in from the west if I weren't confident that Liam was keeping a weather eye out, you should pardon the expression, for stormy weather." Drew told him. "He is a weather wizard, after all."
"And several other kinds of wizard as well."
Liam was in fact a war wizard, one of a corps of powerful magic wielders who could wield various forms of magic, much like druids though the powers of war wizards focussed more on the physical world than the biological one. Liam was a fairly strong fetcher, able to lift or fling a draft horse or a good-sized boulder. Thus his telekinetic powers were easily up to the task of powering the autogyro. As he pushed it forward the air flowing through the rotor spun it around generating lift and as did the flow of air over the stubby wings, which also had attachment points for dropping ordnance letting it serve as a heavy bomber if pressed into service.
Actually with the short yoke built into his armor a fetcher like Liam or Drew could take to the skies and fly all on his own. Liam was also powerful in weather and water magic, could communicate long distance with infrasound messaging, and could wield white fire and open space portals. His mentor Sir Willet Hanford was the preeminent master of Concealment and had honed Liam in that magical skill as well.
Drew was right that Liam was aware of the storm front, but he knew that it was still a couple of hours away, plenty of time to find a good place to land, hopefully at a sizable town with inns that offered comfortable accommodations for travelers.
Stormy weather was the only real threat to an autogyro which was inherently safe (unless the pilot flew it into a mountain). Even if the pilot got sick and could no longer push the aerocraft forward, the rotor would nevertheless spin as the autogyro dropped to the ground. The column of air it passed through would spin the rotor blades just enough for a rough but not a crash landing.
The country they passed over was rugged highlands. Not mountains exactly. Those still lay ahead and to the east and north and at considerably higher elevation. The drainage off the hills and rolling plateaux of this rainy region supplied the headwaters of the Long River which eventually flowed into the Great Inland Freshwater Sea to ultimately reach the outer ocean through an impassible gorge.
The landscape was that of a long settled and prosperous agricultural region, all fields and orchards and vineyards dotted with villages and small towns connected by a network of farm-to-market roads. Even the tree cover was mostly woodlots rather than true forest. All in all a supremely civilized and tamed landscape.
More than a few of the buildings in towns and on farms were sized for frost giants indicating a mixed population of humans and giants along with rather fewer dwarves and elves who preferred their caverns and sylvan vales respectively though the main cities of the Commonwealth had large populations of all races.
Cyclists on their two wheelers sped down the roads breezing past slow moving farm wagons draw by mules or horses. Farmers out in the fields sometimes waved as the expedition flew over. A flight of three autogyros was still an unusual sight in those parts though the inhabitants likely had seen single autogyros flown by the postal service or passenger or air freight lines or possibly a flight of military aerocraft.
"The worst aspect of this expedition," Karel grumbled, "is that we'll have to be in uniform practically the whole time so we won't get to run around skin-clad as we usually do. What a bother!"
"I couldn't agree more!" Dylan affirmed. "But at least we can kick off our sandals while flying and flex our toes."
The twins and Drew and Dylan of course preferred the barefoot and clothing free life style of the elves, not least for the chance it gave them to display their scrumptious bodies to everyone they encountered. To their way of thinking, it would be selfish of them not to share with others the physical beauty nature had gifted them with.
All right, so these boys were more than a little vain about their sexy bodies, but then why shouldn't they be? Slender, hard-bodied, and with pretty-boy good looks they practically glowed with physical well-being and sex appeal, thanks in large part to the longevity and perpetual youth conferred by druidic healing magic for the humans or the innate longevity and vitality of the elves, giants, or shape shifters.
All except Sexton and Finn looked like scrumptious teenagers and in Sexton's case that was because he chose to look like a man a few years short of thirty though he had been born on the eastern continent of Karelia more than three centuries earlier. If Finn gave the impression of being a little older than the twins, Drew, Axel, Liam, and Dylan it was rather more from his size than from his still youthful apple-cheeked facial features.
"Hmmm, now that is odd," Jemsen told Finn as they flew along. "That river below us appears to have run dry just recently judging from the way those piers and docks and undershot water mills have been left high and dry. The riverbed is still wet and muddy with isolated pools in the deep spots where the water didn't drain off to the south and the lower portion of the stone pier of that bridge we just passed is still dark from immersion."
"Something must have blocked the flow upriver, maybe a landslide," Finn suggested. "We'd better check it out."
Finn waved a flag to the other pilots and pointed to where he wanted them all to go.
"Somebody really has to come up with a better way for pilots and flyers to communicate." Karel said. "Flags and shouts and horns are short range and work at all only because the autogyros fly close and operate quietly, with just that soft whoosh from the rotor."
"Too bad pilots and flyers can't all learn Mind Speech. That would be ideal," his twin answered. All druids and unicorns could use Mind Speech but few others, among them a minority of war wizards which is why the wizards developed their system of long-distance communication using infrasound.
The blockage lay just upstream of the next town where the steep clay walls of the valley had slumped onto the flats below, thrusting a huge lobe of mud across the bend of the river, damming it and causing a lake to rise behind the blockage.
A sports ground served for a landing field, and the explorers got out to talk with the town folks. Their spokesman, a large bluff human of middle years stepped forward and said.
"Welcome travelers. My name is Truro. I'm the mayor of Kaster. That's quite an assortment of autogyros you have there. We're used to seeing the weekly postal autogyro, but your machines look custom built."
"That's right." Finn told him. "Mine is the first one built for a Frost Giant. The little redhead had his built for speed and agility, while the third aerocraft is one of the new freighters."
"What brought you folks out this way, so far off the beaten track
Finn explained their mission of exploration. The mayor nodded then said.
"Let me offer you the hospitality of my tavern. It's the second largest on in town. Ours is normally quite a bustling town what with the river port and light industry and the district post office, and we serve the farmers hereabout. We hope to grow into a real city one day. As of the last census we numbered nearly fourteen thousand souls. Things are at a standstill right now for obvious reasons."
"Unfortunately you come at a bad time. We are not sure whether we shouldn't abandon the industrial and port districts along the river tomorrow or maybe the next day lest the rising lake break through the mud dam and send a flash flood rushing down the valley. Better to take the loss in property and equipment than to risk lives trying to salvage machinery in the riverside manufactories."
"Normally we could turn to wizards or mages to remove the dam, but so many of them have joined the army fighting in Amazonia. Everyone wants to help put an the end to the threat from the trolls. Their patriotism is commendable, but it leaves us short-handed. We had to plead with the local firecaster employed at the ice house to stay here on the job rather than rally to the colors. The ice-house in Kaster ships blocks of ice downstream for thirty miles to the villages and towns along the way."
"Have you sent for help?" Drew asked.
"Of course. We did send to the county seat, but it seems that the ranks of their own magic wielders were also depleted by the army call up. They have passed the message along to the governor at the regional capital, but there is no telling when he'll send us an earth wizard or maybe a water wizard all the way out here to remove the obstruction."
"Actually the solution to your problem is at hand." Karel told him, "My twin brother Jemsen here is a powerful earth wizard. He'll fix you up in no time, won't you Jemsen?"
Truro's raised eyebrows showed he had recognized the name.
"Of course! You would be the famous twins Sirs Jemsen and Karel."
"In the flesh!" Karel confirmed.
Truro gaze went to the three small blue tattoos on their left shoulders which marked the twins as elf-friends, dwarf-friends, and giant-friends, all three, the only living humans to be so honored. All three races would automatically extend to them their hospitality and protection.
"Folks will likely vie in offering you hospitality. We include humans, elves, giants, and a few dwarves among our populace."
"Are there any orcs living around here?" Axel axed, pointing to his own tattoo."
Axel is an orc-friend." Karel explained.
"I didn't even know that orcs made friends, especially not after that brief war they unleashed on us not so long ago."
"Tell me about it." Sexton said dryly.
"What Ranger Sexton means is that he commanded all of us in the defense of that mountain resort, the Sign of the Bow."
"Sure we all read about that fight in the news-paper. I even had the reports read aloud at my tavern door for those who maybe don't read so well or hadn't bought a paper. Their correspondent was an eye witness and a good fighter at least to hear him tell."
"That would be Corwin Klarendes," Sexton explained, "a great kid, a great fighter, and a great reporter."
"What about your friend the Frost Giant."
"Finn Ragnarson missed that fight. Too bad. We could have used him."
"Finn Ragnarson! I thought I recognized him," boomed the voice of a frost giant standing nearby. He turned to his fellow giants and said. "Friends that fellow is none other than the Young Finn who stood with Old Arn in the Breach in the Battle of the Ravine. Nowadays he is the avatar of Thor and a mighty fighter indeed."
Finn acknowledged his fans by brandishing Mjolnir and invoking his gift to have a mighty clap of thunder sound from above, drawing a cheer from the frost giants and many others.
"And this," Finn said putting a massive paw to Drew's shoulder, "would be the Brave Little Fetcher who stood with us in the Breach."
Truro looked at them admiringly.
"I can see badges on your uniforms for the Military Cross for Valor and even the Shield and Sword of the Commonwealth. That means every one of you is a decorated war hero and very welcome among us doubly so since it looks like Sir Jemsen it getting ready to clear the blockage."
"That is exactly what I am about to do." Jemsen told him. "First thought I'd better walk up that way and delve the ground. That big rock at the far side of the protruding lobe of mud looks like a good place to start. I need to know whether it is an outcrop of bedrock or just an erratic boulder."
"No need to trudge through through two hundred yards of mud to get there. I'll Jump us right to it." Axel told him. At Jemsen's nod Axel touched his shoulder and teleported them atop the big rock.
"Now that is a right handy way to get around!" the mayor said approvingly.
By then Jemsen had delved the dam site and signaled for everyone to step back from the riverbank while Drew flew off in his speedster to trace the length of the river and make sure the suddenly renewed flow did not catch anyone unawares. Between shouted warnings and simply Lifting stubborn or slow folks out of the way of the onrushing waters, Drew made sure that no one drowned, no sentients anyway. Waterfowl and livestock were another matter.
Back at the dam site the earth had trembled and split apart letting the waters of the lake pour through though in a controlled manner as Jemen slowed the disintegration of the blockage. It took a few hours to drain the lake and return the river to normal. As the flow subsided Jemsen excavated a new channel for the river, farther from the steep clay slopes that might well slump again after heavy rains.
Truro was the proprietor of the second largest tavern in town. With the town's main shipping route inoperative, business was slow leaving plenty of rooms vacant for the travelers.
The next day the townsfolk held a festival to celebrate their deliverance. Households vied to prepare the best victuals for their guests and neighbors and laid them out on trestle tables on the town common. With an eye to the coming election Truro had kegs of beer and ale brought up from his cellars. Everything was on the house.
Hoses from the kegs connected to large wooden boxes. Metal piping inside ran all the way around in a sort of square helix connecting to another hose at the top which in turn connected with the tap lever. The box was filled with a mixture of ice and freezing water so the beer would take the chill as it flowed through the pipe."
Taking a deep draught of his best brew the happy mayor smacked his lips and pronounced:
"Cold beer is surely proof that the gods love us and want us to be happy!"
"Tell me about it" Finn said dryly. As if a Frost Giant like himself needed to be told that.
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