Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 2

Westward Ho!

Over the next two days the six members of the corps readied their autogyros and their personal equipment. Finn wanted everyone except the young druid to carry an air gun slung on his shoulder. Dahl would bear just his quarterstaff and a brace of ironwood throwing knives. As he himself had put it not very long ago, he did not need a stand off weapon because he himself was one, able to immobilize or kill foes or put them to sleep with a thought.

The locals in the mountains would probably still be using standoff weapons like crossbows or longbows or slings plus sword and axes and maces for close combat. Superior technology like autogyros and air guns was an impressive display of power that would keep the natives respectful without the explorers having to reveal their magical gifts, keeping them as their hole cards.

The Corps was not looking for trouble, theirs would be a diplomatic approach, but misunderstandings and fear of strangers might arouse hostility. In any initial confrontation the Corps would rely on their physical gifts and skills including their magically enhanced strength and speed and reflexes to extricate themselves with minimal damage to the locals.

The twins and Drew were more than twice as strong as they looked. Corwin was closer to triple strength while the druid was four times as strong as his size and musculature suggested. His reflexes were so fast that he could snatch an arrow out of the air then use it to bat a second one away. To counter a whole volley of arrows Dahl would raise his missile shield, turning the shafts of enemy arrows into dandelion seeds, a trick which deprived the arrowheads of both momentum and guidance.

Finn was by far the strongest. He packed six hundred pounds of muscle and bone and sinew on his eight foot tall frame and had triple normal strength which made him by far the strongest frost giant on the planet though nowhere near the largest. Also he could draw on lightning and have it crackle all over his body and his armor making it perilous for foes in close combat.

Finn was the only one who might overawe those they encountered with his obvious size and strength. The others were slightly built twinks -- pretty boys who did not look the least bit dangerous. The twins were the tallest and even they were only of middling height. The other three ranged from Drew's five foot zero to Corwin's five four.

None of the five smaller guys looked liked tough customers -- just the opposite. Their slight builds and the delicate features of their pretty faces made them look like a pack of rent boys trolling for custom. They would have to work around that.

Besides air guns everyone would carry a blade of some sort, usually a bent-bladed kukri. The fetcher in their group Drew Altair would also be armed with a pair of stainless steel spheres about the size of a peach plus a keen edged discus. Maneuvered telekinetically at high speed, the spheres could smash through an enemy's shield not to mention his skull or his body. The discus was originally designed by the navy to cut the rigging of enemy vessels, but it could also serve in the antipersonnel role to decapitate, amputate, or cut through the spinal cord. Other weapons included a box of double-pointed dowel nails, and darts coated with a soporific drug. Corwin Klarendes was both a magical healer and a combat medic so he brought that kit with him.

Finn would bear his great war hammer Mjolnir which meant Mountain Crusher in the language of the ancient Norse, the remote ancestors of the Frost Giants on Old Urth. Like the buckler Finn favored against blades it was hung from his belt to be right at hand if need be.

On the evening before jumping off Eike observed:

"It's going to get lonely around this big place with only me and Axel knocking around in it. I am going to miss you guys."

Corwin grinned.

"In that case we had better make this last night with us a memorable one."

And they did.

Came the day and the Corps of Discovery went out to the military airfield where they were privileged to park their personal autogyros. It was a privilege because privately owned aerocraft were usually banned from military fields, even those aerocraft owned by persons who worked on that airfield. Private aerocraft might not be flown in or out, or parked, or undergo repairs or refurbishment.

Finn himself was not in the military. As a Dread Hand he was a civilian law enforcement officer. Drew did hold a reserve commission in the forces and from time to time got called up mostly to help the civil authorities with rescue work after natural disasters like floods and earthquakes. He also got called to active duty whenever he went out as a war correspondent.

The Army Air Corps had extended them basing privileges in recognition of the use of the personal autogyros for public missions including that of the first Corps of Discovery. It did not hurt that Finn and Drew were both Pioneers of Flight and famous for their many exploits.

Not long before the departure of the second Corps of Discovery the officer newly placed in charge of military airfields in and around the capital had noticed Finn's and Drew's autogyros. Somewhat intemperately he inquired of the officer in charge of that airfield what two civilian speedsters were doing on an Army Air Corps base.

This colonel whose name was Konnor was told that it had been done as a courtesy to their owners. The autogyro sized for a frost giant belonged to a Dread Hand. Its owner could have simply ordered airfield personnel to accommodate his steel framed personal aerocraft. Instead he had asked politely. As for the smaller speedster, its owner was not only a reserve officer and a hero in a dozen engagements but also a famous war correspondent and author. Also, not insignificantly, both were proteges of General Urqaart's. Had Colonel Konnor not considered that banning those aerocraft would surely irk Urqaart?

Konnor blanched knowing that that officer was his ultimate superior, at the very top of the chain of command. Just recently Urqaart had been elevated to Commanding General of the Armies of the Commonwealth on the strength of his success as the commander of the allied forces fighting in Amazonia against the trolls. Konnor not only dropped his objections, he made a point of being on hand the day of their departure to see them off and to wish them well.

Finn rolled a push cart with their gear out to the nearby airfield. Finn was in uniform though without the standard kepi which he disliked for its short bill which did little to protect the eyes from the sun or the face from the rain. Even Baron Jarmond was having second thoughts about the cap. Its crisp lines looked sharp. That worked fine in town. Out in the field a kepi was pretty much useless.

Finn preferred a hat with a wide brim all around to shade the eyes and to keep the rain off his face and from running down his collar. His came with a cork and steel liner to protect his head from blows.

Drew Altair was in his standard expeditionary outfit of short trews which reached past mid-thigh and a short-sleeve shirt slashed at the sides for ventilation, both made of dark green silk plus a pair of the same hobnailed sandals which the infantry wore. Corwin followed suit. Dahl wore a silk tunic and sandals leaving off his cape which would be too cumbersome in the confines of the passenger cabin.

There was no going sky-clad on this trip. The twins wore silk riding trews. For a top they wore travel vests with pockets of varied dimensions holding extra ammo for their air guns, a coin pouch, pencil and paper, and a burning glass. Jemsen's vest had a pocket dimensioned for a far viewer tube.

Dahl had never been out to the Commonwealth's new dominions in the West so it fell to Merry to open a portal to Flensborg in New Varangia. Druids and wizards might open portals only to places they had been to or at least could see either with the naked eye through a far-viewer. Now in more than a millennium in three incarnations Merry had been almost everywhere, one exception being the western coastlands.

Porting to Flensborg would let them skip past the familiar territory of the Commonwealth proper, past the Western Mountains and the monotonous terrain of the Western Plains and halfway across New Varangia the second homeland of the Frost Giants. They might have gone farther on that first leg, but Finn wanted to visit his brother on the way west. His duties had kept them apart for quite some time.

Anyway flying over New Varangia would give all of them a chance to see the progress the frost giants and the other races had made since its conquest from the centaurs. A carnivorous race which had lived solely by the hunt and were willing to kill and eat sapients, the alien centaurs had had no civilization to speak of. The twins, Drew, and Corwin were all gratified of the part they had play in making that foul race extinct.

At the air field they loaded the supplies and equipment plus tools and spare parts for the flying machines. For this first leg via a portal they did not suit up or settle their weapons around their persons. They just ran a final check on their readiness and equipment and weaponry. Drew Altair didn't even suit up with the yoked armor that would let him fly on his own. Then the pilots ran one final check of their machines.

There was not much that could go wrong with their autogyros, but the rotor bearings need to be oiled every other day and the wheel bearings greased. They also checked for broken spokes in the wire wheels and loose cables, screws, and fittings.

Rolling the autogyros onto the field, Drew invoked his telekinetic powers and Finn his control of planetary magnetism to push themselves and their passengers through the portal to the main airfield serving Flensborg. Everyone waved to Merry and then the portal blinked out of existence.

Corwin was familiar with the airfield in Flensborg. Not so very long ago he had helped his friend the fetcher cum minstrel Loren purchase a transport autogyro. Loren would use it not only as personal transportation to get from gig to gig but also to hire out as an air taxi or tramp cargo carrier. The term "tramp" was not pejorative; it simply meant a cargo vessel which carried goods to many different points rather than sailing a fixed route on a fixed schedule.

After a two day visit the Corps of Discovery took off. There would be no more travel via portal. The rest of the journey would be made by flying though at the end of the mission the return trip would be via a space portal directly to the capital. The pilots impelled their aerocraft down the field for the short take off run typical of the autogyro. Those machines couldn't rise vertically or hover. The rotor of the autogyro was not powered. It turned freely, spun by the force of the wind created by the forward motion of the autogyro. Both rotor and stubby wings generated lift.

Pointing their aerocraft westward the aerocraft climbed to a cruising altitude of two thousand feet, so well above local air traffic. You wouldn't think the sky could get crowded, but with tens of thousands of autogyros in use across the Commonwealth a flyer might find himself sharing the local airspace with postal autogyros, passenger carriers, cargo carriers, military flights, air taxis, ranchers, sightseers, and joy riders.

They headed west not needing to rely on anyone's gift of Unerring Direction or even a compass. They simply followed one of the trunk highways which the Commonwealth had built to the Far West. To the South a double tracked iron road paralleled the highway. The towers for the parallel postal and military heliograph lines had been built considerably to the North to take advantage of the higher relief there.

These days a continuous line of iron roads ran all across the Commonwealth. It started in Dalnot on the Eastern Plains and ran west through a gap in the Eastern Mountains, across the great alluvial valley of the Commonwealth proper and then, in succession, the Western Mountains, the Western Plains, and New Varangia. The western terminus was at Caerdydd, capital of the land of Cymru, now one of the Commonwealth's constituent states. The strategic east-west line connected with north south lines on the Eastern Plains and on both sides of alluvial valley of the Long River. Short hauls lines everywhere connected mines and manufactories to riverboat and barge ports.

"Turn about is fair play." Karel remarked to Finn. "Last time we covered this ground we twins and Drew did it on foot, running half the distance each day. You were the lazybones of the group and rode the coach the whole way. Now we get to ride while you do all the work, propelling this aerocraft."

On their first journey west the trio of runners had taken off early each day, bare-ass naked of course, and loped along the highway to the halfway point of the mail coach's daily run then rode it the rest of that day once the coach caught up with them. The purpose of that exercise regimen was to get them in shape for the rigors of their mapping and reconnaissance mission.

The coachman or rather coach-boy for the seven day run of the mail coach to the western escarpment had been a promising lad of seventeen named Liam. It was during that week that he had manifested the first evidence of his wizardly powers, the so-called moon glow which let him see in the dark.

"We gotta fly high like this more often!" Jemsen enthused. "From up here you can see for a hundred miles in every direction!"

Jemsen himself never went so high when he used gravitational repulsion to levitate. Anyway levitation would not take you from place to place. Mostly it was up and down, a way to get safely out of the reach of enemy arrows, wild animals, a flood, or whatever. It was also a handy way to scale a cliff or a wall.

The next day, four hours after take off Dahl tapped Drew on the shoulder and pointed at the approaching weather system.

"Maybe we should set down for a spell and wait out the blow on the ground rather than try to fly through the gust front of that line of thunderstorms ahead. On your first trip you had a full-fledged weather wizard with you to keep you safe. That is not longer the case. We druids have some considerable control over meteorological and atmospheric phenomena but less than that of the stronger sort of weather wizard."

Stormy weather was the only real threat to an autogyro in flight. The machines were inherently safe unless the pilot flew it into a mountain hidden by clouds, fog, rain, or darkness. Even if the pilot took sick and could no longer push the aerocraft forward, the rotor would nevertheless spin freely as the autogyro dropped to the ground. The column of air it passed through would spin the rotor blades just enough to slow its descent and allow a rough but not a crash landing.

Drew nodded and looked for a place to set down. Meanwhile Dahl used Mind Speech to alert Finn of the change in plan. Drew sighted a hamlet a little ways north of the trunk highway which they had been using as a guide. Too small to be called a village, the hamlet was a cluster of four farmsteads set close together with their fields spreading out from the built up area.

A single farmstead might have a dozen separate structures: main house, bunkhouse, barn, stable, granary, workshop, equipment shed, hen house or turkey run, rabbit hutch, etc. Clustering farmsteads was a way to counter the isolation of rural life by promoting social contact and mutual assistance among four extended families and their hired help.

The two aerocraft settled next to a barn and negotiated with the farmer to use it to shelter their aerocraft from the storm. The farmer would not take payment.

"Just take my family and me up for a ride after the storm passes. That is all the payment I seek for so minor a service as sheltering your marvelous machines till the storm passes."

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