Elf Boy's Friends - VI

by George Gauthier

Chapter 3

Hill Station

"Even with the modern cooling system in our hotel, the nights are often uncomfortably warm." Drew complained.

An abnormally severe heat wave had left the capital sweltering. Their hotel's cooling system could not fully cope with the heat.

Their building used wind catchers to direct the airflow downward and through one of the city's underground aqueducts where the warm air gave up its heat to the cool earth and subterranean water. Natural air pressure then forced the flow back up into and through the buildings. No machinery required. It helped that awnings blocked direct sunlight from window openings which were not glassed in but set with wood lattices that afforded privacy without blocking ventilation.

"Liam you are a weather wizard. Can't you and your colleagues do something about this usual spell of hot weather?"

Liam shook his head.

"We dare not exercise our powers to tamper with a continent wide weather system like this, which in turn is driven by powerful periodic weather cycles in the outer oceans. It is just unfortunate that the cycle is peaking just when the planet is closest to our sun."

Seasons on the planet of Haven were caused both by its modest axial tilt of ten degrees and by the considerable eccentricity of its orbit.

"So what good are you." Drew grumbled. Liam shrugged. He knew Drew was just letting off steam. It really was uncomfortably hot these days and likely to stay that way for a couple more months.

"Say, maybe we should recruit a firecaster to our circle to cool the air in our rooms with magic." Karel suggested.

"I don't see how that would work," Jemsen countered. "Compared to metal or stone a given volume of air holds relatively little heat energy so our rooms would soon be hot again."

"So? He should draw the heat from the masonry walls till they were cold as ice. It would take a long time for them to heat up again."

"Meanwhile, we would have to wear furs or shiver. No thanks. I don't care to live in an ice box." Drew countered. Suddenly he had an idea.

"Say, why don't we all go on vacation to a hill station, one of those resorts in the eastern mountains where cool weather prevails thanks to the altitude?"

"I really like the idea of a vacation in the cool mountain air. I am sure Sir Willet will let me get away for a while." Axel said.

"Easy enough for you to say." Nathan objected. "Must I remind you that am at the beck and call of the Navy."

"I really don't see the problem, Nathan. Put in for leave. After all that sea duty, you must have a lot of vacation time coming to you. Things aren't so busy now are they?"

"Actually you are right. In fact my assignment here in the capital is winding down fact and I am not due to rotate back to the Petrel for a couple of months. So yes, I could get away. OK guys, let's make this happen!"

A fortnight later after making reservations and dressed in silks or sarongs they boarded a riverboat for the trip north to the town where a main east west highway lead to the walled garrison town of Bled, the starting point for the winding road which threaded the mountains and debouched on to the Eastern Plains.

Instead of following that familiar route to Dalnot and Elysion, they took a coach along a secondary road northeast into the highest part of the mountain range where some peaks rose above two miles.

The hill station which was their destination lay at seven thousand feet. A rambling low-slung marvel of rustic architecture, it was built of wood and stone atop a saddle back ridge which connected two prominent peaks. Rhododendrons and azaleas added a welcome color accent to the stunning mountain scenery.

"Now this is more like it!" Drew enthused. "Feel that cool mountain air. And look, no one is sweating. I am so looking forward to the next three weeks."

"I wonder what the food is like." Eike remarked.

"It'll be good. The food here is a big part of their reputation." Drew assured him.

"I read up on this place. The resort is called the Sign of the Bow, which explains that logo we saw on the turnoff back a ways. The chefs prepare scrumptious meals from wild game actually shot and trapped in the surrounding forests. Plus they take fish from the lakes and streams of the district and grow vegetables in their own kitchen garden."

"Just thinking about food is making my stomach grumble."

Their coach had pushed straight through on the second day not stopping for lunch but only long enough to switch their team of horses.

The eight friends settled their kit in their rooms and joined the other guests on the dining terrace for a mid-afternoon snack, which was a light meal of finger foods and hot and cold beverages the hotel offered to its guests to tide them over till the evening. The Sign of the Bow was an upscale establishment where everything was included in the price. Its rates were steep, but all of the eight were quite well off.

The other guests, mostly older couples with kids and teens in tow, numbered some nine score. As the twins went back to the buffet table for seconds one of the guests, a man of middle years asked:

"I saw when the coach drove up that you brought bows with you so I wondered what kind of game you were after. You do realize that the Sign of the Bow is not really a hunting lodge."

"Actually we are not here to hunt at all. We just like to keep our weapons handy, my brother and me. Just in case."

"Expecting trouble?"

"Not at all. We just like to be ready for trouble if it happens. It comes with the territory."

"Oh, what do you boys do for a living that makes you so vigilant?"

"Long story. Let's just say that we are professional adventurers and leave it at that."

"Your friends too? You all arrived armed."

"Them too."

"My but you are slow on the uptake today, Edmund," the man's friend chided him. "not to recognize these boys by their tattoos which proclaim them elf-friends, dwarf-friends, and giant friends all three. Only one pair of humans is currently so honored. These can only be the famous twins Jemsen and Karel."

"In the flesh!" Karel conceded.

"Are any of your friends celebrities too?"

"Well the auburn haired twink in white is the celebrated journalist and author Drew Altair, who is not only one of the Pioneers of Flight he is also a five time winner of the Writer's Prize. That cute blond with him is a one time winner, Corwin Klarendes. The raven haired beauty with the strong shoulders is the war wizard Liam a naval hero decorated with the Shield of the Commonwealth. Three of us were designated Stalwarts of the Commonwealth in recognition of our role as peacemakers, namely Drew and Jemsen and myself and several of us are also Pioneers of Flight. Finally the short blond standing next to him is the inventor of the wire wheel used in millions of bicycles."

"You left one out: the copper-topped youngster."

"That would be Axel Wilde, a wizard's aide. He has made his mark as one of the Pioneers of Flight and has also parlayed his gift of Calling Light into a fortune in the street lighting business in the capital. He has several other gifts besides his good looks and intelligence."

"And what of your own gifts? I myself can only snap electrum sparks, but my friend Edmund here can throw weak lightning bolts, strong enough though to numb a sword arm or even give a foe a heart attack as he once had to do with an armed robber. I'm Rayburn Bullock, by the way."

"You are awfully inquisitive, if you don't mind my saying so."

"I like to get to know my guests, I am your host, the owner of the Sign of the Bow. I am sorry I was not able to greet on your arrival."

"I see. Well, Rayburn Bullock I am an air wizard; my brother is an earth wizard; and Liam is a war wizard. We call Nathan Sparky because, like you, he snaps electrum sparks. Corwin wields ball lightning, and Drew is a fetcher powerful enough to lift a brontothere into the sky."

"Isn't that just an expression, about the brontothere I mean?"

"In Drew's case no. I have actually seen him do it. Now with Liam, the best he lift is a horse."

"Weapons aside, it's unlikely you will have to invoke your powers while you are staying with us. Nothing untoward happens in this sylvan paradise. It's all about good food and drink, fresh air, leisure, marvelous scenery, good company, and the quiet of the wilderness far away from the clamor and bustle of the city.

"Well said, Rayburn. That is why the wife and I come up every year."

"Edmund is a regular here and an old friend. And before you ask, he is in textiles, so don't get him started."

"Hint taken. I do have a tendency to go on at length about the business," the textile magnate conceded. "Though there is a lot more to textiles than most folks realize." he added defensively.

The next few days passed pleasantly enough relaxing, swimming, hiking, and just taking in the scenic wonders of the region on tours conducted by wilderness guides. Spectacular cataracts emptied into deep pools perfect for swimming. Groves of forest giants rose to the sky like the pillars of a vast temple to the gods of nature. There were limestone caverns with what looked like curtains of stone and columns made from the joining of stalagmites rising from the floor to join with stalactites growing from the ceiling. A natural echo gallery in a cavern carried a whisper a hundred yards.

Hung above the bar was a huge reflex bow big enough for a Frost Giant though their traditional distance weapon was the sling, not the bow. Unstrung, its limbs curved away from the archer, opposite to the direction in which the bow would flex when strung and drawn. A brass sign promised ten silvers to anyone who could string and draw it."

Liam titled his head studying the bow then nodded as he realized why it look familiar.

"Er, Goodman Bullock, that bow up there looks suspiciously like one of our new compact naval ballistas minus the mechanism used to draw and lock the bowstring."

"You are right, of course, but please keep it to yourself. For the edification of our visitors we have spun a tall tale, telling how that bow was borne by a mighty hero named Persang during the wars against the orcs. This was once all orc country."

"There is still a remnant colony of orcs in the mountains to the north. They supply timber from their forest lands to a sawmill I operate at the foot of the mountains. Don't worry. They never come here. Few can abide their presence for long."

Orcs were tall and gangly, their limbs disproportionate to the length of their trunks, compared to humans and elves. Their faces were all planes and angles so the effect was disconcerting. Orcs were not ugly, but when all was said and done their proportions and features looked all wrong. Their creators designed them to be strong without inflicting on them the metabolic penalty of sheer size as with the Frost Giants. Orcs relied on the leverage of their long limbs for strength.

Though stronger than humans they were not quite so clever or inventive nor as gifted in magic. Orcs were also clannish and did not mix much with the other races or hand't for a very long time. Perhaps that is why the clung to old habits and seldom bathed. Everyone agreed that orcs used entirely too much much garlic in their diet. You could smell it on their breath. Between unpromising looks, standoffish dispositions, body odor, and bad breath, there was little to recommend them. Definitely not the convivial sort

"They don't cause any trouble these days and keep themselves to themselves in something like an enclave of dwarves or elves but without a formal recognized legal status. They trade timber, latex, and native copper for what they cannot produce for themselves including livestock and grain. No one is sure how many of them live there, for they do not allow visitors but from natural increase their population must be in the tens of thousands and maybe much more though still far less than their original population when the numbered several million and occupied most of these mountains."

"The close of the Formation Wars saw the orcs overwhelmed by the huge armies of the period. Except for the colony around their sacred peak, the orcs been driven from the mountains which were resettled, to the extent that they have been, by humans, elves, and dwarves. That includes the vale of Elysion which lies about seventy miles to the northeast."

"Though the bow was not his, there really was a Frost Giant named Persang who became famous fighting the orcs, and he did wield a great bow."

"Next time, I think we'll bring along our friend Finn. If anyone can string and draw that bow, it would be him." Jemsen said confidently.

"Oh, what makes you so sure he could do it?"

"Finn Ragnarson is a Frost Giant who stands eight feet tall and weighs six hundred pounds. He is not the largest of his kind but by far the strongest with double his natural strength from the power he draws from lightning. You must have heard of him. He has quite a reputation as an avatar of the Norse Thunder God Thor."

"Oh that one. Who hasn't heard of his exploits?"

With such celebrities in their midst it was no wonder that their fellow vacationers sought out their company for casual conversation or drinks or extended invitations to the dinner. Among the eight were all of the Pioneers of Flight, three of the Young Peacemakers Four cum Stalwarts of the Commonwealth, half a dozen decorated war heroes, two best selling authors, and four innovative entrepreneurs with businesses as diverse as street lighting, maps and travel guides, and the wire wheels which had turned the bone-shaker bicycle, formerly a toy, into personal transport for the masses.

A veteran diplomat sounded Drew out about the peace process in the Far West. An army major asked intelligent questions of combat veterans like the twins and Drew and Corwin and told of his own hard fights as a young man before he went into the logistical arm of the service. He was also curious about Liam and Nathan's experience in naval warfare since a cousin of his served as the captain of a frigate in the High Seas Fleet. An aged firecaster named Baldur recalled his long career in the fire department of a major city and the many people and structures he saved with his powers, which alas were now on the wane.

Baldur explained that he didn't do it all by himself. Sure he put out the flames, but that was far from the end of the fire. To make sure the fire stayed out, his crew used their pike poles to tear the smoking structure apart, uncovering hot spots and smoldering embers. They then directed their hoses to play water on the debris and cool the formerly burning materials below their kindling point, lest the fire spring up again when their backs were turned.

The eight caught the eye of some of the younger males on the premises, both guests and staff, but only the twins and Drew and Corwin were at all interested in extracurricular adventures. Nathan and Liam and Axel and Eike were not interested in suitors. They had each other.

Ever the social butterfly Drew attracted those who liked little guys taking up with a cute pastry chef. At seventeen Corwin's appeal was that of a boy in the first bloom of his youth. He made up in enthusiasm for what he lacked in technique. Two guests in their late teens, brothers though not twins, paired off with Jemsen and Karel. There was nothing serious about these casual summer romances.

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