Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 15

Alarums of War

The next morning the explorers sat down to a tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs, shredded hash browns, bacon, sausage links, and toast served with the best kaffay any of them had ever tasted.

"The quality derives from the perfect growing conditions on the plateau," Burk told him. "For cultivating kaffay we Sun Dwarves practice companion planting, growing kaffay bushes under the canopies of old avocado trees. You see avocado trees are easy to grow. They require little water or fertilizer and almost no maintenance since avocado trees are never pruned. Hence older trees have dense foliage, which actually decreases yield in older trees, but does provide perfect shade for kaffay bushes which grow best in dappled rather than direct sunlight."

"The avocado trees also act as trellises for passion fruit vines whose mingled roots aerate the soil while the shade from their foliage conserves water. Dragon fruit trees and finger lime bushes are also interspersed among the cherimoya and avocado trees to help the other fruit crops to grow."

"Our best variety of beans has a distinctive earthy scent like that of topsoil and new spring growth. Another variety has a light and fruity flavor combined with low acidity while yet a third has a hint of the taste of chocolate. We are quite the aficionados of kaffay, we Sun Dwarves are."

"And there is your likeliest export to pay for manufactures from the Commonwealth." Axel told him. "Fine beans fetch premium prices in our great cities where folks not only drink kaffay at home but in cafes and restaurants. Some overly enthusiastic drinkers are kaffay snobs -- very much like wine snobs."

"You Commonwealth people are amazing, Axel. You introduced us to the mechanical and magical wonders of the modern world and then showed us a way to pay for everything. I wonder too if we could export cherimoya fruit. Is there a market?"

"I cannot answer that myself, but I will ask our business agent, the wily dwarf Lennart. He has helped make most of us rich."

As the boys sat back and sipped their brew Burk looked on indulgently and turned to Finn and said:

"Among those boys I sense friendship, comradeship, and a deep and abiding love for one another, one that is expressed physically. Am I not right. "

"Indeed we are lovers, all of us: me, the twins, Corwin Klarendes, Drew Altair, and Axel, plus a naval officer, a war wizard, and a naval architect cum inventor. The naval architect is the only one of us who is not a professional adventurer of one sort or another. The nine of us live together in a residential hotel."

"I take it then that you have been through a lot together."

"Indeed we have. And Ifans and Borden are old friends too and comrades in arms, as is the druid. You could not ask for stouter companions."

As they were eating a messenger hurried in bearing a note which he handed to the councillors. Finn caught their reaction.

"Trouble?"

"Oh it is trouble all right -- bad trouble," Zebrek said. "There has been a vicious attack on outlying farms in the foothills of the northern mountains. Seven marauders of evil mien bearing bows and axes ruthlessly slew all who came within reach. They killed nearly a score before they were stopped. Though our people were unarmed they overcame the killers by Calling Light to englobe their heads. A sparkler helped by flinging electrum sparks to distract them and even blinded one of them. Two of the fiends got away clean and headed back into the mountains."

"I take it these marauders were not dwarves."

"Correct, nor were they humans, elves, orcs, or giants. We don't know what they were. Here is the description: six feet tall, three hundred pounds, solidly built almost like us dwarves but hairy and ugly in the extreme, with a sort of facial muzzle and upward pointed tusks."

Finn paled as the realization sank in.

"Trolls!" he growled, unconsciously invoking his gift to cause a clap of thunder to sound to punctuate his exclamation.

That caught everyone's attention.

The three councillors looked transfixed.

"Trolls? You mean the genocidal fiends who sought to exterminate the races which use magic?"

"Yes, the very same."

"Where could they have come from?"

"They are likely the survivors of a great naval battle we once witnessed years ago on the Great Inland Freshwater Sea. A portion of their invasion fleet must have fled westward and made a landfall on some deserted stretch of the shore and marched toward the mountains in search of defensible ground and a place to hide. Now that they have discovered your plateau they will try to kill you all and take it from you."

"And we cannot stop them! We have no army not even a militia and few weapons of war. Only the gods can save us now!"

"Only they won't -- the gods, I mean. They never do. You must rely on yourself. Learn to fight or go under." General Ifans interjected.

"The first step is to form an alliance with the Commonwealth and authorize us to send an army against the trolls in the northern mountains to destroy their army before it can descend on you. We likely have some time while the trolls gear up an all-out invasion. That should give the Commonwealth time to mount a campaign. In the meantime you must see to your defenses, to protect yourselves till the Commonwealth arrives in force."

"But your Commonwealth is so very far away. How can they even get here. Your autogyros cannot transport an army."

"Let me answer that," Dahl interjected.

"The war wizards of the Commonwealth can open space portals through which an entire field army and its logistics train can march, bypassing the entire distance in between. Portals can also be used tactically to put blocking forces into place or to facilitate attacks on an enemy's rear and flanks. Now I am no military man, but General Ifans is. You should listen to him."

"Thank you Lord Dahlderon. Now as I was saying, your problem is that you have no soldiers, no organization, no weapons, no leadership, no training, and no experience in armed conflict. Your population of nearly a million outnumbers the trolls, but your people are spread all over the plateau while the trolls will concentrate for their attack."

"On the plus side, despite the difference in size your physical strength is about equal to theirs, and you have magical gifts useful in war: telekinesis, fire wizardry, levin bolts, electrum sparks, light globes, and especially earth magic. The infrasound network that your weather wizards operate will let you coordinate your efforts."

"We in the Corps of Discovery stand ready to help. I am professional military man, and I offer you my services as your trainer. My role will mostly organizational, to muster and train your forces. Now I have only a few soldiers of my own, but the scouts are armed with a dozen air guns and a pair of swivel guns. They can be delivered via autogyro to any threatened point to stiffen your defense."

"Finn Ragnarson and his friends have powerful magic gifts. Finn can both throw lightning bolts from his hammer as well as rain bolts out of the sky on an enemy force. He can counter an arrow storm to make the arrows fall short. In close combat he is unstoppable, blessed with tripled strength which makes him the strongest frost giant on the planet."

"The twins are earth and air wizards. Jemsen can train your earth wizards to fight with earth magic while Karel can deflect arrow storms with a shield of hardened air. His sun mirrors can incinerate an entire regiment, while his air blades cut through anything and anyone."

"Drew Altair is one of the strongest fetchers on the planet. He can teach your fetchers his trademark shadow boxing technique which helps a fetcher concentrate. He too can raise a missile shield, though his is of a different sort. Corwin Klarendes wields ball lightning against which nothing can stand. One swipe can wipe out a shield wall while his explosive technique can kill an entire squad at a time. He is also combat medic and a magical healer."

"Axel Wilde can teleport himself and others and their equipment anywhere on the battlefield. He is a sniper and assassin who can take out the enemy's leaders whether from afar or close up. I will let the druid speak for himself. Dahl..."

"You can count on me too. I will throw my powers onto the balance during the defensive phase of this war. After that the Commonwealth's war wizards will provide magical support to the Army's follow-up campaign to root the trolls out of their mountain hideouts."

"To assist in the defense I have summoned via Mind Speech the beast master Sir Dylan of Reading to help with surveillance. Accompanying Dylan will be my nominee for commanding general of the dwarves forces, Lord Madden Sexton. With all respect to General Ifans, he has mostly served in counter-intelligence. The highest level of command he had exercised on the battlefield was over a cavalry squadron, the equivalent of an infantry battalion. Lord Sexton has led great armies to victory and is a proven battlefield commander, as Drew, Corwin, and the other can testify from their own experience."

At a council of war, the councillors provided maps of the plateau for planning purposes. The maps did not depict relief with contours but only with hachures, but they did note the distance between pairs of towns and indicated which areas were farmland, which forest, and which were grasslands. Besides the towns they showed the location of logging camps and sawmills at the foot of the northern mountains.

Lord Sexton and Ranger Dylan arrived later that day via space portal. A ruggedly handsome human and powerfully built much like Finn Ragnarson except on a smaller scale, Sexton stood six feet tall and weighed two-hundred fifty pounds. He looked to be no more than thirty but was nearly three decades past the three century mark. Sexton was a shapeshifter whose animal form was that of a wolverine, just about the fiercest carnivore in the forest. With tripled strength like Finn's he was as strong as a normal Frost Giant. Formidable fighter though he was, Sexton was there to offer his services as commander of the dwarven forces in the field.

Dylan was a slender pretty boy with the willowy physique, dark hair, and green eyes typical of his race, the Sylvan Elves. He and the twins had been a threesome for several years. Beyond the sexual attraction Dylan and the twins were just the same sort of people. The elf-boy cum forest ranger had bonded quickly with his fellow hunters and woodsmen Jemsen and Karel. Dylan after all was an elf while the twins were elf-friends with all that implied: going around sky clad as often as possible, same gender sexual orientation, and a physical beauty beyond the norm.

Dylan and Sexton had a strong though quite different bond of their own. Sexton served as a mentor and role model for the young elf whom he had come to regard as the younger brother he had never had. They had become close during the previous mission of the Corps of Discovery to the Northlands.

Later they had gone to the rescue of over a hundred frost giants whose sea-going ferry had capsized. The commotion had attracted the attention a deadly sea monster, an aquatic but air breathing reptile called a mosasaur. Working together the pair had killed the monster, earning the tattoos of a giant-friend.

The next day Drew flew Dahl and Axel to the four county seats of the counties bordering on the range of mountains then did the same for another five further toward the center. Axel stepped through short-lived portals at each location. Henceforth Dahl would be able to open portals to all nine towns, and Axel could teleport himself and his friends who would serve a magical shock troops.

Word went out via the infrasound network for dwarves with strong magical gifts to report to their county seats. Axel jumped Drew, the twins, Corwin, and Eborn to each location to train the locals in the use of their respective gifts.

The fetchers did not have time to learn to hold a missile shield which was a mental discipline as much as it was a use of an innate gift. They did have time to practice Drew's trademark shadow boxing, pile driver, and whirling shield techniques though not with military grade steel spheres. Instead they had to make do with horseshoes and other ironmongery from their local blacksmiths. One tactic they learned was to fling a double handful of ten penny nails at the faces of a squad of trolls. Masters of magnetism picked up that trick too.

Drew cautioned the fetchers to be careful of fratricide during battle at close quarters. Better they concentrate on disarming the trolls by yanking their axes up and away to disarm them at the worst possible moment. Another trick was to yank the eyeballs out of their skulls. Even a very weak fetcher could keep at it for hours.

Lightning casters learned to target axe heads rather than the trolls' own center of mass. That way their bolts would jump from one axe to the next and the next then down through their arms and bodies and into the ground, thereby electrocuting several at once, not just a single foe.

Jemsen emphasized the importance of defensive earth works such as berms and ditches to counter the arrow storms for which troll were well known. Also the ditch in front of the berm would put assaulting trolls below the defenders more than cancelling their height advantage though not their longer reach.

Among dwarves there were few air wizards, and those were too weak for the more destructive techniques like sun mirrors and air blades. Still jets of wind could disrupt arrow storms while land spouts and dust devils would discommode and disconcert enemy formations.

Eborn showed the local fire wizards a bunch of tricks they had never thought of. Sure they all could shoot streams of flame and great clinging balls of fire, but those techniques were exhausting if repeated time and again. Eborn reminded them that fire wizards controlled heat as well as flame. With much less effort a fire wizard could kill a whole company of trolls by heating the air by twenty or thirty degrees to make them woozy. Some might well keel over from heat exhaustion and possibly heat stroke. All these results would make the trolls vulnerable to being finished off by dwarves with improvised weapons.

As to providing weapons to the dwarves, the plan was to simply slay the enemy scouts, skirmishers, and vanguard and seize their weapons and turn them on the main body of the enemy. Now long bows were not much use to those not trained in their use, but anyone could handle a long-handled axe and shield.

The vanguard of the enemy showed up ten days later. Watching through the eyes of eagles the young beast master watched as two battalions with twelve hundred trolls marched on each of the four county seats, burning the outlying villages they passed through and killing those inhabitants who had not had time to flee. The weather wizards pass the word over the infrasound network.

The dwarves had fortified each town with a berm and ditch and took station behind their earthworks. The trolls tried to burn the town with fire arrows and catapults throwing incendiaries, but the troll fire wizards easily extinguished the flames. The trolls took heart from that initial small victory. Maybe they could stop these trolls after all without having to call on the heavy hitters in the Corps of Discovery.

The trolls marched closer intending to take the berm by storm. That was when the dwarves' earth wizards sprang the fiendish trap devised by Jemsen. Pulling water up from the water table below they created a quagmire through which the trolls could hardly maneuver. Their heavy bodies made them sink into the mud halfway up their shins. Now the mud was not quicksand. With time and considerable effort they could extricate themselves, but the dwarves did not give them the time. Their earth magic drained away the water while their firecasters directed heat at the mud, drying it out and turning it a clay nearly as hard as concrete. The trolls were stuck, held fast. Even with their axes they could do nothing to free themselves.

The firecasters also heated the air around the closer trolls weakening them with heat exhaustion then lobbed great clinging balls of flame into their midst. Other dwarves attacked the trolls who had been on the edge of their formations by Calling Light to englobe their heads and scramble their brain circuits. Meanwhile the dwarven infantry closed with the enemy formation behind improvised mantlets made from barn doors and fell upon them.

The hapless trolls could only watch helplessly as the angry dwarves swarmed and overwhelmed their comrades. Armed with the trolls' own shields and axes, the dwarves repeated the process with the next ranks in. Defeating them in detail was what Lord Madden Sexton called the tactic. And it worked. The dwarves took casualties all right, but every single troll died while many wounded dwarves survived thanks to their magical healers.

At one town two companies of trolls had avoided the trap and maneuvered to attack the dwarves from behind. Unfortunately for them the elf lord Dahlderon was on the scene. He stepped forward boldly, deliberately attracting their attention. Heedless of their arrow storm which Dahl countered by turning the shafts into dandelion seeds. He then gestured dramatically as if to cast a curse on the enemy while invoking his gift of life magic. The trolls stopped their attack, clutched at their bellies and howled from intense pain. Taking his cue from a facetious remark of Finn's, the druid had transformed the contents of the trolls' stomachs into spiny sea urchins.

Turning to the main body of the enemy the druid blinded those in the front ranks by the dozens, doing it time and again. Yet fearsome as these tactics were, the truth was that he and the others in the Corps of Discovery were holding back, husbanding their magical strength for the main event.

Behind their main attacks on the towns a squadron of troll cavalry roamed far and wide attacking hamlets and villages that had not been on their line of march. Dwarves armed with hatchets or slings or quarterstaffs were no match for the invaders. The news was passed via infrasound messaging to Sexton's headquarters.

"I can handle this," Dylan told him. "but I'll need Axel to jump me there."

"No problem," Axel announced. "I have all these towns staked out for direct jumps."

"Fine, Dylan, just what will you do when you get there?" Sexton asked.

The elf-boy shrugged.

"I'll make their mounts panic and charge headlong toward drainage ditches and break their legs and necks to create an almighty awful pileup of dead and broken bodies, both equine and troll."

"Sounds like a plan." Finn rumbled with approval.

The thousands of troll corpses close by their towns were a heath hazard so the dwarves threw straw and hay and scrap wood over the corpses to build four huge funeral pyres. Then, when the wind was blowing from the right quarter, that is blowing toward the mountains, the dwarves set the pyres alight hoping the stink of dead troll would give the main body of their army a foretaste of the fate which awaited them.

Still the dwarves knew that they desperately needed that field army from the Commonwealth. The Sun Dwarves may have proven that they were no pushovers, but defeating the enemy vanguard was one thing. A whole army of trolls was something else, perhaps even too much for the heavy hitters in the Corps of Discovery.

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