Elf Boy's Friends - VIII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 24

The League of Independent Towns

For the return journey, instead of simply reversing course the Corps of Discovery flew southwest toward the League of Independent Towns. Anxious to get home and to find out what had happened in the war against the trolls while they were away, they stopped only long enough to rest and obtain supplies at one of the secluded vales of the Sylvan Elves, though not the one which Dylan hailed from. They were received cordially and much was made of them in their brief stay of only two days, but then it was time to push on.

The headed straight for the Leagues of Independent Towns, bypassing the lands in between. Finn persuaded the others to leave those regions for follow-up expeditions once an aviation infrastructure was in place.

The League of Independent Towns originated as an alliance formed to build trunk roads between the major towns strung out linearly for eight hundred miles. It started in a town north of the channeled scablands that impeded communications with the Commonwealth's new dominions in the Far West. In the east it ended at a turning circle in the town of Zeebring, a port on a canalized river just short of the Western Plains.

The headquarters of the League were in the town more or less in the middle called Waypoint. With twenty thousand in the urban area but twice that in rural areas, its population was about average for these towns. Like all the towns in the League its prosperity was built on trade, commerce, light manufactures, and providing services to outlying ranches and farms.

Rivaling the Commonwealth own trunk highways as a marvel of engineering the Trade Road had been laid along a properly surveyed course, abandoning the earlier haphazard routes and rights of way inherited from the past. Stone-paved and cambered for drainage, its main carriageway was flanked by footpaths, bridleways and drainage ditches. The road occasionally cut through hills or was carried by stone or timber bridges over rivers and ravines A few sections were supported on pilings to carry it over marshy ground.

The loosely organized League provided basic government services for the region including militia, law enforcement, and commercial courts. The timber palisades they had built around the easternmost towns had helped put an end to raids by the formerly predatory nomads of the Western Plains, which was now a land at peace under the tutelage of the Commonwealth.

The writ of the township governments ran not only in the towns proper but also into their surrounding agricultural lands. In those small but prosperous republics political factions made up of yeoman farmers vied with small ranchers and both contended for preeminence with factions of merchants, artisans, and workers in manufactories and service businesses in a lively but always non-violent wrangle of local politics.

The League had no army, only local militias and a small constabulary to patrol the roads and spot check that tolls had been paid. It helped that the League had no external threats on its borders nor any territorial ambitions of its own. No army had ever marched along the Great Trade Road. All of which inclined Finn to believe that they would fit in well with the Council's scheme for a Greater North Valentia Co-prosperity Sphere.

Coming in sight of the trade road from the northwest, the flyers turned and flew west following its course. All manner of travelers and conveyances moved along it. Those traveling by shank's mare kept to the footpaths while riders guided their mounts along the bridleways. The main roadways carried the heaviest traffic. Much of it was traditional freight wagons drawn by teams of horse or mules. Less common were the trains of four or five freight wagons linked in tandem and pushed down the highway by a fetcher seated up front. An aerodynamic cowl on the first wagon reduced wind resistance from the fast moving freight wagons. Stage coaches, many of them propelled by fetchers, provided passenger service and carried the mail.

Thanks to the ease of movement along pavement bicycles were ubiquitous not only on the trade road itself but also on the paved streets of the towns. Most riders worked the pedals, but many called on their magical gift, either telekinesis or mastery of magnetism, to move their bicycles along effortlessly and at high speed. Here too then as in the Commonwealth Eike's inventions had effected a revolution in personal transportation.

Too bad off road transport on land was still so difficult. At least they had autogyros which could set down virtually anywhere.

A little after noon the expedition arrived at Waypoint, the seat of government for the league. The crisp smell of the tree lined streets and the window boxes full of pretty flowers reminded them of the clean cities in the Commonwealth.

As their autogyros approached the town from the northeast the travelers were greeted by an extraordinary sight: a misshapen mud volcano two hundred feet high. Unlike an igneous volcano it produced no lava. Instead it continuously exuded a slurry made up of earth, hot water, and dissolved gasses. The temperature of its exudate was far below than that of lava though still fairly hot, about twenty degrees below boiling.

The stinky mud had spread over many hundreds of acres covering dozens of formerly prosperous truck farms and dairy operations. In time it might even encroach on the built up area of the town.

Finn had the autogyros settle onto the vacant fairgrounds north of the city. As his cohorts gathered around him Finn remarked that it looked like once again the Corps of Discovery might be in a position to help folks out of a jam. Before they took any action they had better clear it with the city fathers and mothers. The headquarters of the league could wait till later. Finn asked the boys to change out of their short shorts into their uniforms. Meeting with the city council was official business and they had better look the part. Time to make their fashion statement when they got back to the capital.

Liam reminded Finn that the first order of business was for him to create a portal for Axel to stop through. Once that was done they they took a side street that looked like it lead to the center of town.

At the next corner a comely youth with close cropped sandy hair got off a bicycle, took off a crash helmet, stripped off a pair of white silk shorts, and kicked off his sandals before stepping under a public outdoor shower to wash the salt and sweat off his now naked body. About Liam's height and with much the same build and with features that evidenced an admixture of elf blood in his ancestry, he had the slender physique of a bicycle racer: taut and tight and with virtually no body fat. His skin was glabrous and bronzed from constant exposure to the sun.

He went about his ablutions unselfconsciously lathering up with a bit of liquid soap, running his hands over his shoulders and along his corrugated chest and shapely limbs. Bending over to do his lower legs displayed the tightest set of buns any of them had ever seen. When his hands moved down to lave his manly parts, Dylan expressed the wish that it were his own hands that were doing the honors.

After rinsing off the boy stepped back toward his bicycle but did not mount, ostensibly waiting for the sun and the breeze to dry him off but really just as much to pose his exquisite body for lustful males to ogle.

Finn stepped up to him and asked:

"Excuse me son, but while we are waiting for a circle of admirers to gather around you, could you tell me the way to city hall?"

The boy came back with:

"Is that the real reason you are chatting me up, Big Boy, or do you fancy me for a tumble? I ask only since so many do, and you are not the first to use that line or one very like it."

"Actually we are not from around here, so we really don't know our way around. Perhaps you spotted our autogyros overhead just now?"

"That was you guys? Cool! Listen my name is Petr, Petr Shoskov. I am a messenger boy for the heliograph service. That's our logo."

The logo on both sides of the crash helmet featured a silhouette of a slender youth pedaling a stylized bicycle with speed lines to suggest fast motion. The unbroken lines of the youth's silhouette suggested he was nude but in fact all the messenger boys wore the hip-hugging mid-thigh length bicycle shorts which were becoming increasing popular as protection against chafing.

"Anyway what should I call you, stranger?"

"Finn Ragnarson."

"No way! Can you really be The Finn Ragnarson? And is that hammer really Mjolnir the Mountain Crusher"

Axel nudged Drew and predicted: "Here he goes again."

But Finn simply answered: "Yes to both questions."

"Wow! Wait till the other guys hear about this!"

"And city hall?"

"Right. Go straight for a block, turn left and its two streets down. Look for the red brick building with the clock tower."

"Thanks."

And with that, Finn hauled off and gave the kid the big kiss he was obviously angling for, leaving the messenger boy with even more of a story to tell the other guys.

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