Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 9

Peace Talks

Four orcs stepped into the middle to confer with Dahl, Finn, General Ifans, Axel, and Sir Willet. The colonel in charge of the regiment of frost giants stayed with his command, sending over a captain as liaison.

Their orc interlocutor gave his name as Soren. He was the headman of the nearby village. The orcs with him were their war chief Rohm, a member of the ruling council named Forten, and their shaman Ridley, the lightning thrower.

With Axel translating Soren said:

"So you are telling us that after a very brief war, the orcs of your Eastern Mountains threw in with the Commonwealth and joined them in a cataclysmic war against a common enemy."

"Exactly," Finn told them.

"The trolls were the enemy of all races which can use magic. They invaded Valentia intent on exterminating humans and elves and dwarves and giants as well as orcs. Fortunately we won and they lost. For now the trolls are confined to their original oceanic archipelago where their population is in the process of crashing to a much lower level."

"That was our doing, we druids," Dahl admitted.

"We visited a plague on them, one which did not kill anyone but which reduced the fertility of their males to below replacement level. Now some of them will be naturally immune, so this was not an act of genocide. Trolls will not die out but their numbers will be very much reduced. We hope that in a century or so they will have thrown off their intolerant and crusading religion which propelled them to their bloodthirsty wars of extermination. If so we would welcome them among the nations."

"Would you then restore their fertility?"

"No need for us to do anything. Natural selection will do that for them. Those immune to our plague will be the progenitors of the trolls of the future."

All four orcs were astonished to learn that their hidden land did not shelter the only population of orcs left on Haven. They were but an offshoot of a thriving population of orcs numbering in the millions. That made them one of the great races of mankind on their planetary refuge.

The orc shaman Ridley offered an apology.

"Sorry about that attack just now with a levin bolt. I am just glad it was blocked by that pretty blond boy."

Axel smiled.

"As Corwin always says, powerful as they are, lightning bolts are all offense but offer no defense, whereas ball lightning serves as both sword and shield."

Left unsaid was that, as the avatar of a thunder god, Finn would have caught the bolt with Mjolnir and thrown it back twice as hard, but Finn wanted to defuse the situation, not escalate it. Just as well they targeted him instead of the druid. His ensorcelled amulet would have protected him for hostile magic, but at the cost of giving away one of their hole cards. Axel too wore such an amulet.

"So the trolls lost the war, and our own people the orcs won a new homeland for themselves. This I would like to see with my own eyes." Forten told him.

"You wish is easily accommodated, gentlemen." Sir Willet assured them. "Axel here can escort a delegation to visit the new homeland of the orcs."

"Would we be traveling through one of your incredible space portals?"

"No, but by a different means entirely. Of those here only the druid and myself can open portals. Axel has a different gift, that of teleportation. He can instantly jump your delegation to Amazonia to meet their leaders, take a tour, then return."

"How does it work?"

Sir Willet let Axel answer:

"I can transport not only myself but anything or anyone I touch both physically and with my mind. The transfer is instant and effortless. I like to say that I can travel at the speed of thought."

"Would these Amazonian orcs welcome us to settle among them?"

"Assuredly, they have welcomed nearly half a million orc migrants from the Commonwealth and the lands of the eastern barbarians. There is land aplenty for farmers and employment opportunities in the growing towns whether in commerce, transport, or in manufactories."

"Your folk will find a warm welcome and plenty of opportunity there. And for those who would stay behind, as I expect many will, they will no longer be isolated and out of contact with the outside world where so much has been happening."

Ifans commented:

"I'd expect that within a very few weeks an air service will link the Flatlands to this hidden land of yours, especially if an airfield here serves as a base for further exploration and as a nexus of trade and cultural links, not only to the West but also North and South. The Western Dividing Range is practically a subcontinent unto itself, and it is the focus of our initial exploration. We are leaving the coastlands for later."

Finn nodded.

"Our first job is to explore the whole length of the Western Dividing Range to look for routes through it instead of just penetrating on a narrow front. The Coastal Lands can wait for that later expedition our High Command has planned."

In the end, it was decided that Councillor Forten and the shaman Ridley would visit the new homeland of the orcs. Meanwhile Headman Soren and War Chief Rohm would spread the word about the opportunity suddenly opened up by their visitors. Final arrangements depended on what the delegation found there and what assistance the orc government there would offer new settlers.

As a sign of good faith the frost giants and Sir Willet returned to the Commonwealth. Before the war wizard left, Corwin and handed him a hastily written article describing their encounter with the orcs. It would be just the latest of their continent-wide scoops. Chagrined competitors had long complained about the pair's uncanny gift for being on the scene of the action.

Corwin's and Drew's attitude was that if they were where things were happening it was only because they themselves sought adventure, went on important missions, battled foes, or rescued disaster victims. The competition should just go off on their own adventures and find their own stories instead of waiting for scoops to drop into their laps.

Forewarned by Mind Speech from Dahl, the orcs in Amazonia did indeed welcome their long lost brothers with all due ceremony including a military honor guard. Councilor Forten was impressed that their soldiers all carried modern air guns like those borne by the soldiers of the Commonwealth. The chief councillor of the orcs, Janne Saari, assured him that the orcs and the Commonwealth were not only military allies but now partners in the development of a new continental order, a modern world that the orcs were now an important part of.

Saari gave the delegation the grand tour of their new land. Like their own hidden land it was a blessedly cool region of highlands and plateaux lying between two parallel mountain ranges. Forten and Ridley were impressed by the sheer numbers of orcs and the energy and prosperity evident everywhere they went.

What made an even stronger impression on them was touring the country via autogyros flown by the orcs themselves. Everywhere they heard stories of the recent war and of how the orcs had raised an expeditionary corps armed, equipped, and paid by the Commonwealth. In exchange for their servie, the orcs got first pick on the conquered lands.

"We can thank Axel for our initial aviation assets after the conquest. It was he who suggested that the Commonwealth donate autogyros made surplus by our joint victory in Amazonia. Now we are not yet building them ourselves, but we use them not only for our postal service, rescue work, and our small military establishment, but also for moving passengers and freight north and south quickly against the grain of a land where the rivers and ridge lines mostly run east and west. We are building roads and bridges, but that is a monumental task which will take decades."

For the return trip Axel suggested two stop overs. The first was the orc enclave and entrepôt at the mouth of the great river which drained their lands and where sailing ships transshipped their cargos onto river boats. The orcs exported food, fiber, metals, naval stores, and dyestuffs, chiefly indigo, and took in a wide variety of manufactures from the Commonwealth including books printed with moveable type in the orc language, mainly translations. Printing and book publishing were still in their infancy in the orc homeland.

After that the delegation stopped over in the capital. There they would see what the Commonwealth could offer to its friends: a chance to join the modern world, with new knowledge and technology and an ongoing industrial revolution. The various races circulated and intermingled harmoniously on the city streets: humans, elves, giants, dwarves, and orcs.

Iron roads carried passengers and goods long distances. Street cars offered speedy transit in the cities. Trunk highways and canals linked major centers of population and production. Autogyros flew overhead carrying mail, passengers, and air freight. Heliograph lines flashed messages the length and breadth of the land in a matter of minutes. For personal transport there were bicycles and tricycles rolling on wire wheels plus skimmers. At night cool globes of light illuminated the streets letting the inhabitants circulate easily to restaurants, and entertainment venues or go in pursuit of more sensual pleasures.

On successive evenings Axel took them to dinner at the Sign of the Whale and then to one of the better establishments offering their own garlicky cuisine for which he himself had developed a taste.

"Now this is more like it." Ridley said of the cuisine at the orc restaurant. "I didn't want to say anything to our hosts in the new homeland of the orcs, but they use rather too much garlic in their food."

"Indeed" Soren endorsed. "With food flavorings the rule should always be: 'A little more than a little is by much too much.' That is especially true of garlic."

Axel told them that in order to appeal to a wider public than just orcs, the chef used less garlic than was usual. Orcs were known for their love of garlic, as well as for the garlicky breath it left.

Soren shook his head. "That is not so among our folk. Why rely so much on a single flavoring when there are so many to choose from? My favorite is lemon grass, which has a much more subtle taste."

"And mine is paprika." Ridley told him.

When the proprietor realized that his guests were the delegates from the hidden land in the Western Dividing Range he tore up the bill, telling everything was on the house, including a premium after-dinner liqueur he had brought out.

The visitors were really won over when Axel introduced them to ice boxes and refrigeration. Its practical use was obvious. Ice kept meat, fish, and dairy cold and retarded spoilage. Ice was also essential to two of the pleasures of modern life: iced-cream and cold beer.

Printed books were something new to the visitors. Axel took them to a bookstore where he bought all of the twins' successful line of field guides, newly translated into the orc language and reissued as a set.

Published under their imprint Gemini Field Guides, each volume described some aspect of the natural world. The imprint had issued guides on topics like land navigation, tracking, landforms, tree identification, and avian raptors.

Written and illustrated with maps and drawings by the twins themselves, the field guides were printed on sturdy linen rag paper for durability but with soft covers and in a small format that let readers slip them into a pocket or pack.

In a sense the guides were the fruit of the endless questions the insatiably curious twins had plied their sometimes exasperated interlocutors with over the years, offering the excuse that questions where how you learned things not written down in books. Now they were, at least on the subjects covered by their field guides.

To the twins' guides Axel added translations of Drew's and Corwin's best selling books of reportage and history. These would help bring the orcs up to date on what had been happening in recent years in the wider world.

Too bad that perpetual best seller, the Compendium of Knowledge, had not yet been translated into orc. It offered an encyclopedic exposition of what was known in the natural sciences, medicine, history, geography, technology, and literature.

On their final day in the capital Axel took the delegates to the offices of the Capital Intelligencer for an interview where they described their reaction to what they had seen and their hopes for the future. So the news-paper got another scoop though this time the byline was that of the editor, Drew's brother Heflin.

Heflin raised an eyebrow when Axel asked him to mention the two restaurants by name. The Capital Intelligencer did not usually print shameless plugs for commercial establishments, but agreed to make an exception just this once. After all the dinners were a part of their visit, and the delegates had themselves spoken of how good the food was in both.

Afterwards Axel teleported the delegates back to their hidden land. The friends of the delegation were mightily relieved to see them back safe and sound and listened incredulous as they related the wonders they had seen.

The books they brought back with them got passed around so much they practically fell apart from so much handling. Many who read the twins' field guides wanted copies of their own and could hardly wait for the promised trade route to open up to supply printed books of all sorts.

Corwin's and Drew's reportage and history told of the recent history of the Commonwealth of the Long River and its successful wars against barbarians, centaurs, and trolls. The orcs of the hidden land realized how reckless they had been to provoke so mighty a military power, one capable of projecting whole field armies through space portals to strike a foe from any quarter.

Just the Corps of Discovery or even single members could have defeated them militarily. One twin could create sun mirrors capable of incinerating a whole cavalry regiment. His brother could make the earth yawn and swallow them up. The frost giant could rain volleys of lightning bolts down on them, etc. Even the pretty blond boy could have swept his ball lightning along their battle line and incinerated every one of them. Instead he had exercised restraint, merely absorbing the levin bolt aimed at Finn and checkmating their shaman without harming him.

The most enlightening of their books was Drew's account of the first Corps of Discovery. It was a terrific page turner, an exciting tale of action and adventure with its young heroes battling a dragon, a plague of locusts, reptilian raptors, a mosasaur. and even a mud volcano. It also told of an act of high statecraft.

The orcs came to understand that the ultimate purpose of the expedition was not simply exploration and discovery but the formation of the Greater North Valentia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a loose group of independent but friendly states linked by communications, trade, investment, travel and tourism, and cultural exchange. They read how the Commonwealth shared its aviation technology with Nordstrand in exchange for their techniques for building ships capable of navigating the outer oceans.

The orcs realized that the Commonwealth was not only the benign hegemon of the continent of Valentia but also the chief defender of civilization on the planet. It promoted modernity and the commercial and industrial revolutions which underpinned it.

How lucky then that they themselves now had a chance to become a part of this civilization yet on their own terms and under their own laws whether in the hidden land or the new homeland of the orcs far to the East. Some might even take up residence in the Commonwealth itself. A whole new world beckoned.

With visions of a brighter future ahead there was no holding the orcs back. Nearly a third at least talked of emigration, disproportionately younger sons and daughters. The older and more established folks were content to stay where they were and let the modern world come to them.

In time their hidden land would accede to the orc homeland as an exclave in otherwise un-demarcated territory. The Commonwealth had no territorial ambitions in the mountains. It was content with its stewardship of the center of the vast continent of Valentia which stretched east to west more than a quarter of the way around the planet.

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