Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 8

Orcs

After four days camped atop a butte overlooking a land dominated by avian predators, the Corps of Discovery pushed on. Their four autogyros rose into the sky and flew westward, passing over and beyond the open forest and meadow of the intermontane plateau.

Ahead lay a second range of mountains taller than the front range inhabited by the forest folk they had befriended. At the edge of the intermontane plateau a nearly sheer cliff rose for two hundred feet, an impassible barrier to the terrestrial birds of the plateau. Beyond that were forested mountains one of which was clearly of volcanic origin though the rest were the usual sort of folded mountains.

"No wonder the forest folk knew nothing of this new country we are flying over," Finn offered. "Given their reluctance to hazard the plateau filled with terror birds and the rock wall which the next range presented to them, there was little reason for them to venture this far."

The inhabitants of this region had real farms, with clear cut fields laid out around compact villages connected by graveled roads. Finn directed the aerocraft to land in a newly cleared but as yet unplanted field on the outskirts of one of the larger villages then waited for a delegation of locals to present itself.

He soon realized that their arrival had stirred up a hornets' nest. Signal horns sounded the alarm and the call to arms. In short order the village militia formed up and marched out to confront them. Their tall gangly physiques left no doubt. These folks were orcs.

The orcs were armed with shields and maces in the center, archers on either flank, all told numbering five hundred. Taking heart from their numbers they advanced at a deliberate pace, a drum beating the cadence.

The leader was an imposing specimen of middle years. He called out a challenge which none of them understood except Dahlderon who was listening not to his words but to his thoughts via Mind Speech.

<Since none of us speak your language I have resorted to telepathic communication. I am the Druid Lord Dahlderon and at my side stands our commander, Sir Finn Ragnarson>

Their leader spat.

<Your mental intrusion is just one more reason why you will die, foul interlopers. Prepare yourselves to receive our attack, and pray to your gods in the little time you have left to live.>

<We are flying the parley flag, or don't you know the significance of this green and white banner?>

<We know what it means but don't care. All who learn of our existence here must die lest they carry news to the outside world of this, the last refuge of orc kind.>

<You are hardly the last of you kind. Many thousands of orcs live among us in the Commonwealth of the Long River, and half a million more dwell in their new homeland in far off Amazonia.>

<Nay, we know full well that the Commonwealth wiped out the orcs in their Formation Wars. We are all who are left.>

Dahl shook his head.

<That is not true and easily disproven. Anyway, you are already too late to prevent news of your settlement reaching the wider world. As a druid, my Mind Speech can reach halfway across the continent to my colleagues in the Commonwealth and the Great Southern Forest. They are listening in even as we speak.>

At that point Owain and Merry joined the conversation, their mental "voices" distinctly different from Dahl's.

<Our colleague speaks the truth, not only about the news of your existence but also about your fellow orcs here and in Amazonia.>

<I do not believe you. This is some trick of mental ventriloquism.>

<The druids speak only the truth.> Finn declared over the shared mental link.

<Or the lies you command them to. You, sir giant, shall be the first to die.>

The leader turned toward a orc at his side who did not bear any weapon and gestured toward Finn.

Having read the man's intention the druid had alerted Corwin to be ready. The reason that particular orc did not bear arms was that he could throw lightning. He gestured dramatically and hurled a powerful levin bolt straight at the frost giant. Corwin blocked it with his ball lightning which shook and flashed blue as it absorbed the bolt then darted forward to a position only five feet in front of the orc mage where it hummed and crackled menacingly.

In the face of the obvious threat, the orc threw up his hands, turned toward his leader, and shook his head.

<No matter,> the orc leader sent. <Our archers will skewer you.>

At his command sixty archers loosed shafts at the small band of explorers fully expecting them to die or at least take grievous wounds from their arrow storm. Their efforts came to naught as the arrows or rather their arrowheads fell short as the druid turned the wooden shafts of the arrows to dandelion seeds which dispersed as loose airy puffs. Without the inertia of the shafts the arrowheads lost momentum and guidance and fell harmlessly to the ground.

<Your magic is formidable, but in the end our numbers will prevail. Even as we speak reinforcements from villages nearby are on the way. Very soon now you will face a thousand warriors.>

Finn shook his head.

<Even a thousand warriors could not prevail against just those of us here, for we wield formidable magic, but we do not wish to have to slay anyone to prove our point. Instead we shall stage a demonstration of the military might at our command, for we too can bring up reinforcements. Behold.>

A space portal opened up and onto the field marched a regiment of Frost Giants two thousand strong along with the war wizard Sir Willet Hanford and his aide, the war mage Sir Axel Wilde. The giants were all armed with the larger and more powerful type of air gun. Behind them rolled supply carts; some were filled with fire globes which they could hurl at their foes with slings.

By the time the giants had deployed from column of march to line of battle the orc reinforcements had arrived bringing their numbers to just over a thousand facing twice as many giants.

<Alas, it is as we always feared, that one day the Commonwealth would track us down and wipe out the last of the orcs. If we have to go under, at least we will give a good account of ourselves, our arrows and maces against those clumsy spears you all carry.>

<Ah, but these are not spears at all. The bayonets at the end of our air guns have mislead you to thinking that these are merely a close-in weapon. In fact our air guns can propel lead bullets for three hundred fifty yards and are uncannily accurate, as I am prepared to demonstrate. Axel, get ready and shoot at whatever target their leader designates.>

At that exact moment, as Dahl had arranged with Axel, a pheasant burst out of the brush and took flight. It was the orc leader's obvious choice for a target, so he took the bait.

<There's your target. Shoot it down if you can.>

Axel cooly took aim, lead his target, and fired. The bird squawked once and fell to the ground dead. In actuality the shot was easier to make than it looked. Axel knew when the bird was about to break cover. It had been under Dahl's control and had held still during the confrontation then took off at the druid's command and flew a straight and level course. For a sniper of Axel's skill it was an easy shot to make.

"That regiment of frost giants is armed with a more powerful version of this weapon and could unleash a hail of lead that would obliterate your assembled militia with a single volley. Yet we are staying our hand in the interest of peace."

<Nay, we cannot not trust your peaceful intentions. So it seems that the planet of Haven has seen the last of the orcs, and we shall all be slain.>

In their own language Axel shouted:

"No, you won't, not if you come to your senses. We will defend ourselves but shoot to wound rather than to kill. Whatever happens we will not attack your civilian population. No one will be harmed if you parley instead of attack."

"What? How is it that you speak our tongue, outlander?" he called back.

"How else? I learned it from friendly orcs whom I have lived among going back now for years, some of whom have taken me as a lover."

"Humans and orcs friends and lovers? I can hardly believe it."

"If it were not so, then how do you explain my fluency in your language, and what do you make of this blue tattoo on my shoulder which marks me as an orc-friend?"

"This I must see for myself. I will have our forces stand at ease. We shall honor your parley flag, for now. Let a small party advance from each side to meet in the middle between us so we can communicate without shouting. What is your name, orc-friend?"

"My name is Axel Wilde."

"Then Axel Wilde, I would ask you to translate between us so that the druid may drop his unwelcome mental contact. No one cares to have another read his thoughts, especially in a negotiation."

Dahl turned to Axel and nodded.

"Agreed."

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