Elf Boy's Friends - VIII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 22


Once again, though for the last time, the Corps of Discovery flew north in their three autogyros. Drew Altair's red racer was the speediest and most nimble, impelled by the telekinetic force of a fetcher powerful enough to lift a couple of brontotheres into the sky bodily. Finn Ragnarson's larger aerocraft feature had a steel frame which let him propel it magnetically. Though not so fast nor so nimble as Drew's red speedster, it outclassed the third aerocraft in both respects. That was a big transport aerocraft which Liam had borrowed from an air freight line in keeping with the civilian nature of the expedition. The company had long-term contracts with the military and so was happy to oblige the well-connected members of the expedition.

The autogyros had to rise nearly a mile to clear the high ridge of the coastal mountains. Beyond lay a landscape such as none of them save Finn had ever seen before. Short rivers ran through incised canyons then fell vertiginously off the cliffs of a coastline deeply indented by sounds and fjords. Out to sea stood a line of low islands stretching east and west to the limit of vision.

The aerocraft dropped lower flying between the steep walls of the fjord and over a flotilla of fishing boats till they saw a largish town built on a sloping shelf near the mouth of the inlet. An impressive cataract fell to the top of the shelf and then ran down to the fjord, supplying both a spectacular visual accent plus an ample supply of fresh water. A couple more towns stood on smaller shelfs of land across the inlet on the western shore.

The inhabitants looked up as the three autogyros orbited overhead looking for a place to land. The rotors of autogyros were not powered and spun merely from the passage of air across the blades. Hence autogyros could not hover but they could execute slow tight circles, a maneuver which helped pilots to choose a landing ground.

Finn was trying to decide where to set down when a flash of light reflected from a mirror signaled where the inhabitants wanted them to land: the grassy commons. The crowd pressed back along the sides to give them plenty of room to land. Once the rotors stopped spinning they surged forward for a closer look at the visitors. Only about a third were human. The rest were Frost Giants. The crowd seemed friendly so the Corps of Discovery left their standoff weapons in the aerocraft.

"We come in peace." Finn assured the townsfolk."

A giant standing a foot taller than Finn and sporting the kind of close-trimmed beard no longer fashionable in the Commonwealth or New Varagnia stepped forward. He was flanked by two other bearded giants who were nearly as large plus a human of middle years who were clearly not guards.

"You come among us unarmed, so in peace we welcome you. My name is Thurig Karlsefni, I am the mayor of Nordstrand. These three are Councillors Herjulf Eriksson, his father Erik Svenson, and Ward Barrow. Now who might you be, and why have you come here in such wondrous flying machines?"

Finn had barely introduced himself when Erik interrupted asking:

"Can this little fellow really be the legendary Finn Ragnarson? The avatar of Thor is supposed to be a giant among giants with thrice the strength of any of us. Pardon a bit of skepticism, but why should we believe that you are he?"

Finn grinned as he drew his war hammer from his belt.

Axel nudged Drew and warned sotto voce. "Here he goes again."

Sure enough, Finn raised Mjolnir and cried:

"By the power of Thor!"

The clear sky answered with a clap of thunder and a bolt of lighting which struck the hammer. With nothing nearby to smash, Finn discharged Mjolnir into the ground. Raising it once again he held on to the haft as he levitated above the crowd to fifty feet then set down again.

"There, is that tall enough for you?"

That brought laughter and cheers especially from the giants, happy to have the greatest living hero of their people walking among them.

They were even more pleased when they realized that three giant friends were members of the Corps of Discovery.

"So you would be the famous twins, Jemsen and Karel." Herjulf said clapping them on the shoulder.

"In the flesh." Jemsen acknowledged.

"And this auburn-haired lad with you certainly lives up to, or should I say down to, his billing as the brave LITTLE fetcher who stood with Old Arn and Young Finn in the Breach."

Drew grinned. He didn't mind being called a little guy. He always maintained that physiques like his were more about quality than about quantity anyway. And if the locals could call Finn little, well, what did that make him?

The Mayor asked Finn to address the crowd and explain why he and his friends had come to visit. Finn's remarks were brief, to the point, and well-received. He even took a few questions. Then the mayor and the councillors lead the Corps of Discovery to a conference room in city hall for an extended discussion. They wanted to know what to expect from their visitors and what their visitors might expect from them.

Finn explained that they had a two-fold mission: firstly of exploration, mapping, and discovery and secondarily of fostering aviation in the Northlands in furtherance of improved communications and commerce and cultural exchange with and between their countries. In addition, the Commonwealth was interested in the shipbuilding techniques needed for oceanic travel. Frost Giants were well-known for building the stoutest vessels, ones that could safely brave the tempestuous northern ocean.

"Now the Commonwealth has no naval ambitions on this ocean, so far from its heartland, only for the southern ocean which is much closer to the territories it is acquiring in Amazonia. And yes the giants in New Varangia build fine ships. Good as they were for navigating the Great Inland Freshwater Sea they fell short of what is needed for the southern ocean."

Finn pointed out that the enclave of Frost Giants settled in the Northlands was far closer than their original homeland which lay in the far northeast in the temperate zone. That was why he had been sent to them to seek their collaboration with their Navy's own naval architects.

In return the Commonwealth would share its aviation technology, not only selling them autogyros but showing them how to build them. Once they got set up, about the only things the giants would need to import would be wire wheels for the tricycle landing gears.

The three towns on the fjord had a total population of forty-six thousand, the equivalent of a middle size city, large enough to have the range of skills and business enterprise required to become an industrial and communications hub. Their location on the coast was ideal with sea lanes along the coast east and west and north across the ocean. Aviation would give them access to all points south. Nordstrand would be the northern anchor of the route system.

"As one of the major shipbuilders here in Nordstrand," Erik began, "I think it is safe to say that all of us in the industry would welcome such a collaboration. Aerocraft building and transportation services would create two new industries for our folk, joining fishing, shipbuilding, and naval stores as the mainstays of our economy."

"Naval stores?" Dylan asked.

"Ah, you would be a landlubber then, young Dylan."

"Naval stores are resins used in building and maintaining wooden sailing ships. That includes cordage, mask, turpentine, rosin, pitch and tar. You see, ships made of wood require a material which is insoluble in water to seal the spaces between planks. Pine pitch is often mixed with fibers like hemp to caulk spaces to prevent leaks. The term naval stores sometimes includes timber products like masts, spars, staves, and sawn lumber, which we also produce."

The mayor also mentioned that an airfield would provide autogyros for aerial search and rescue when ships or fishing boats went missing or were just overdue after a big storm. A shipwrecked crew might be stranded on a skerry for many days. The weather and starvation were not the problem, which was thirst, though that might be relieved by a timely rainfall.

"Of course. The ocean is all salt water. Landlubber that I am I do know that much." Dylan offered.

"And we have tides," the mayor added, "which run up to six feet in places. With two moons in the sky the tide table is complicated. So it is easy to get hung up on rocks and reefs. Much of our fishery depends on the fecundity of the coral reefs at the mouth of the fjords, but a reef can tear the bottom out of a boat."

The mayor went on to explain that the line of skerries created a sheltered inner passage along the coast which was safe for fishing boats and coastal craft. Only stout oceanic vessels ventured beyond those sheltered waters even unto the Polar Isles. Jemsen asked about maps and charts of the area and was told that those would be provided.

"We don't actually know how deep the fjord is in most places. We do know that its bottom is well below sea level, about two thousand feet. A sill at the mouth of the fjord blocks much of the interchange of waters so the hydrology was complex, with layers of salt water below and brackish or fresh water on top, in various proportions depending on whether it was the rainy season or the dryer season plus prevailing winds and currents."

The mayor accepted Jemsen's offer to delve the fjord during their stay.

"Actually you sound rather than delve water depth." Liam pointed out.

"So speaks our naval person in his naval lingo." Finn explained. "Sir Liam is a war wizard and warrant officer in the Commonwealth Navy."

"Oh, have you see much action young man against the trolls?" Ward Barrow asked.

"I'll say he has!" Axel exclaimed loyally. "Liam won our nation's two top medals for valor: both the Sword and the Shield of the Commonwealth."

"Most impressive!"

"Thank you, but my friends are all heroes in their own right whether against trolls, centaurs, orcs, or ruthless criminals. One of the reasons we all took on this mission is to get away from warfare and all the terrible things that come with armed conflict." Liam admitted.

"If we are proud of anything it is how often we have been able to act as peacemakers." Drew noted.

"Five of us bear the formal title of Peacemaker: the twins, myself, Finn, and Axel, but the others have also contributed to improved relations with other peoples. Axel is the only person alive who bears the tattoo of orc-friend on the strength of his bringing a peaceful end to the Commonwealth's recent and mercifully brief war with the orcs of the Eastern Mountains. Dylan and Maddon Sexton have also helped us cement good relations with the Guardians of the Stone Ring and the Snow Elves."

"Snow Elves? Surely they are legendary, some kind of ghost or perhaps wholly mythological creatures." the mayor objected.

"Not at all." Madden Sexton countered. "They are as real as you or I. Snow Elves are the shape shifters born of Sylvan Elves. We took our leave of a family of them just before coming here."

"Are they close by?"

"Not any longer. We got them out of a jam that would have ended up with them killed, and before you ask, we can only tell you that they headed south. Snow elves are fine folk but reclusive."

"And what of these Guardians of the Ring? How did you yourself contribute to good relations with them, Lord Sexton?"

Sexton grunted then said. "The usual way for me, by killing their enemies, in this case vicious beasts called reptilian raptors. Don't get me wrong, I am all for peace, but in my long career it has more often come through victory rather than palaver. It is not for nothing that I won the title of Conquering Lion of Sogdiana, the land where my armies overthrew a vile regime that had preyed upon its neighbors and oppressed its populace for decades."

"Lord Sexton is understandably more bloody-minded than the rest of us since he is a particular kind of shapeshifter himself, a wir wolverine." Finn said, "but he is a good man and a good friend."

"And the mentor I hadn't realized I needed till we met." Dylan adding his endorsement.

Sexton's demeanor softened as he nodded his acknowledgement to the elf-boy who had become like a kid brother to him.

Asked whether fetchers or masters of magnetism would make better pilots, Liam said that there was little to choose between the value of the gifts for powering aerocraft. What did matter was that all commercial pilots be human. Frost Giants were too heavy weighing six or seven hundred pounds. That added five hundred pounds or more of dead weight to the load and subtracted the same from what the team could haul with a human pilot, whether in freight or paying passengers.

Finn indicated that it would be a year before aviation services could be set up to link the Northlands to the Commonwealth. In the meantime, when Finn got back to the capital he would have the authorities dispatch a delegation of naval architects and aeronautical engineers to get things rolling. One of the experts would be both a naval architect and the inventor of the autogyro, namely Karl-Eike Thyssen or Eike, who was best friends and roommates with most of the Corps of Discovery.

"Let me guess," Herjulf ventured. "This Eike would be very young and slender and cute and the sort who fancies other boys."

"Does he ever!" Liam declared fervently, which brought a chuckle all around.

Ward Barrow then asked about the short shorts which Drew, Axel, Liam, Dylan, and the twins were wearing. Humans living in Nordstrand dressed much like the giants in shirts and trews and sandals.

Madden Sexton explained that the shorts were not the usual garb of young males in the Commonwealth. When youths weren't running around sky-clad, which was rather too often in his opinion, they might wear no more than a modesty pouch or breechclout as casual wear while tunics, trews, and sarongs served for more formal occasions. These shorts were an innovation, a fashion statement, if you will. The boys hoped to set a trend when they got back home.

"It's not from just vanity and comfort." Karel pointed out. "Among our interests is an investment we made three years ago in a chain of smart shops offering the latest in fashion to a discriminating youthful clientele in the capital and two nearby cities. That's rags for rich guys in fashion parlance. So if we can set a fashion trend and be first to the market with the goods, we stand to clean up. That will definitely prove that the wisdom of this, our first venture into retail. We took a minority interest in the chain as a passive investment. Now it is going to pay off. Axel would have been in line for a windfall too, but no, he had to go and invest in a graphite pencil manufactory."

"Ah, pencils!" the mayor exclaimed. "Simple, convenient, and cheap. It is the best way to write. No messing with ink or pen nubs. Bless whoever invented them and those clever pencil sharpeners too which use a thin blade to shave and sharpen the point of the implement."

"Actually it was a guy who approached Axel's family for backing for a venture in writing implements. No one in the trade would give him the time of day, but Axel saw the possibilities and has profited handsomely."

"I had good advice." Axel pointed out. "Our business agent is a wily dwarf named Lennart who specializes in business innovation. He insisted that I not pass up this golden opportunity."

Herjulf nodded. "None have business acumen to match the dwarves." he affirmed.

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