Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 13

Sun Dwarves

As the expedition flew southward the front range of the mountains petered out, giving way to an escarpment running northeast to southwest for what looked like two hundred miles. The escarpment marked the edge of a great plateau. From the edge of the escarpment ran a gorge with vertical sides a hundred-fifty feet high which lead back to a spectacular waterfall shaped like a crescent and measuring three hundred yards across. It was fed by the great river which collected the drainage of that whole region.

From their vantage point aloft the roar of the falling waters made conversation impossible so the expedition set down a mile away to discuss what they had found. Their two earth wizards, Jemsen and the druid Dahlderon put their heads together and told the others what their magical senses had revealed. Dahl started off:

"Many centuries ago the waters fell over the front edge of the escarpment, but in time the river cut its way upstream forming this gorge."

"How so?" Axel wondered. Jemsen answered:

"The plateau is composed of two layers of rock. The upper layer is limestone whereas the bottom layer is shale which a much softer rock. The churning water at the bottom of the falls erodes and wears away the soft shale, undercutting the hard cap-rock, which gives way in great chunks and falls into the river below forming rapids downstream. This process has been repeated countless times, eventually carving out the gorge leading to the falls."

"Sightseeing is all well and good," Finn began, "but we need to overfly the plateau and see who lives there."

The four autogyros rose into the air and flew two thousand feet above the ground to get an overview of the plateau. The landscape atop the plateau was mostly subtropical dry broadleaf forest whose trees were deciduous during the dry season. Such trees dropped their leaves seasonally to conserve moisture allowing more sunlight to reach the ground. That is turn promoted the growth of thick underbrush. Broadleaf evergreen trees grew on sites which got more rain or had better access to ground water.

The land was thinly settled with fields and villages many strung out along rivers and streams whose waters served for irrigation, domestic purposes, and transportation. Boats and barges plied the waterways. All weather gravel roads linked the towns. Unlike the villages, the streets of the towns were laid out in regular grid with two-story townhouses which were mostly half-timbered though some were built wholly of brick.

The dimensions of the houses indicated that they had been built for dwarves whose dwellings had six foot ceilings, two feet lower than the eight foot ceilings usual in dwellings occupied by humans or elves. Frost giants needed no less than ten feet of clearance though many preferred eleven foot ceilings.

The streets were paved with stone blocks, the roadbeds cambered to direct rainfall to channels along the sides. Fountains fed by an aqueduct connected to a tributary of a nearby river provided clean water for the inhabitants.

The expedition headed toward the largest town in sight. Just outside the built up area, downstream and downwind, were a tannery, a smithy, and a slaughterhouse. At the docks a barge carrying bricks was on its final approach, moving under the telekinetic power of a fetcher as smaller craft powered by oars or sails yielded the right of way. The fetcher was clearly strong enough to overcome the current and control the momentum of the heavy load as he laid the barge gently by the pier.

The expedition set down on the outskirts. As a sign of their peaceable intentions Finn ordered everyone to keep their weapons slung or in scabbards. They all watched while the townsfolk mustered, armed with improvised weapons, merely taking up whatever was at hand: a blacksmith with a hammer, a carpenter with a wooden mallet, while others held a quarterstaff or a hatchet for chopping firewood. A disorganized crowd rather than a militia, the men did not form up in lines or collect in separate units. They held their ground and sent a delegation of three to talk with the expedition.

Ifans spoke to the others.

"That has got to be the most pathetic excuse for a militia I have ever seen. They're not even lined up properly, not organized into units and no leaders, and armed with only improvised weapons. Still with my empathic gift I don't sense any real hostility, just a considerable wariness about armed strangers arriving in their midst. Also they are intensely curious about our autogyros."

The delegation from the town approached to within ten paces then halted. Their spokesman, a grizzled dwarf of middle years stepped forward. Finn did likewise and signaled his peaceful intentions by holding up an empty right hand. His interlocutor did the same. Finn greeted them in the common tongue which drew blank looks. Motioning the twins forward Finn asked them to translate. As dwarf-friends twice over Jemsen and Karel had made a point of learning their language. Although a dwarf-friend himself Finn's command of dwarfish was still halting.

The grizzled dwarf nodded:

"That is much better. I see no dwarves among you, so I am impressed that at least two of you have taken the trouble to become conversant in our tongue My name is Krekor, I am called Count Krekor, but my title is that of the chief official of a county; we have no titled nobility. This town is called Aspen; it is the county seat of Aspen County which is one of fourteen on the plateau, all under the very loose oversight of our central authorities in the capital, which is a town called Farnham's Ferry which does not belong to any county."

"My name is Sir Finn Ragnarson and I am the leader of a Corps of Discovery on a peaceful mission of exploration. The war hammer I carry was a gift from a clan of dwarves who forged its steel out of meteoric iron and imbued it with earth magic making it virtually shatterproof. Instead of the usual shoulder tattoo, they inscribed the head of the hammer with the same device to show that I was a dwarf-friend."

"Two others in our company are dwarf-friends. Let me introduce the famous twins Jemsen and Karel. They wear color coded sarongs to help others tell them apart. Jemsen is the one in green and his twin Karel in blue."

Krekor frowned.

"You said they were famous. No offense, but might I ask what for?"

In answer the twins turned to show the small blue tattoos on their left shoulders which proclaimed the twins as dwarf-friends twice over. Two more tattoos showed that they were also giant-friends and elf-friends. The friendship tattoos meant that persons of all three races would automatically extend them hospitality and protection.

Krekor shook his head in admiration. "Hard to better those bona fides," as Finn continued.

"The twins are famous first for being the only living humans on this continent to bear friendship tattoos from three different races. Their other deeds include leading the Long March of the Frost Giants and acting as peacemakers in two wars. I am sure the twins would be happy to share with you something of their adventures. Incessant chatterboxes that they are, the problem would be getting them to stop!"

A wink to the twins took any sting out of the remark. Continuing the introductions Finn added:

"That cute little red-head over there is Drew Altair and the short blond boy with him is Corwin Klarendes. They are scribes and authors, and both are giant friends."

Speaking in dwarfish Dahlderon introduced himself as the Druid Lord Dahlderon.

"And just what is a druid?" Count Krekor asked.

Axel jumped in with the answer. Dahl let Jemsen translate for Axel.

"Druids are an ancient order of the most powerful magic wielders on the planet. They can invoke many sorts of magic including earth magic, life magic, healing magic, and weather magic, as well as learned magical skills like opening space portals, concealment, and levitation. As the protectors of our planet's biosphere druids are a major force for good in our world."

Jemsen noted that Axel himself was an orc-friend.

Krekor nodded "All very impressive."

The young druid had deliberately avoided mind speech, which might be resented as a mental intrusion, as indeed it had been with the orcs. Nevertheless, he monitored Count Krekor's surface thoughts long enough to be satisfied that the man, or rather the dwarf, was not deceiving them. General Ifans gave him a nod to second the motion.

The principals and the delegation sat down to a large trestle table in the public square for formal talks in full view of the populace. Krekor started off:

"We call ourselves the Sun Dwarves since we live under the open sky and not in caverns as dwarves usually do. In lands closer to the equator dwarves seek the cool of underground labyrinths as a counter to the oppressive heat of the tropics. With solid physiques designed during the Galactic Empire of yore for life on high gravity planets, we don't shed body heat as well as the other races."

"Understood. In the Commonwealth of the Long River most dwarves live underground though many populate our cities and towns mostly in districts constructed so as to lower indoor air temperature using ventilation via wind catchers which direct the flow of air through underground aqueducts whose waters absorb much of the heat."

The first thing the locals asked about was their autogyros. Finn explained that though telekinesis or magnetism moved them forward it was the rotors and wings which lifted them into the air.

Krekor told them that they were their first visitors in generations. Overland travel to the plateau was hindered by formidable geographic barriers: an impassible range of mountains to the West, rugged mountains and cliffs to the North, and the escarpment to the East and South.

Isolated as they were and self-sufficient in all things, the folk of the plateau had been content to keep themselves to themselves. They had lived atop the plateau in isolation for over two centuries. They knew nothing of the Great Inland Freshwater Sea. As the Corps later was to discover the river which went over the falls did not connect to the Great Inland Freshwater Sea but flowed directly into the Southern Ocean. Also, because of the rapids its gorge was not navigable, so there was no commerce and no contact with folk downstream.

Nor had the locals ever heard of the Commonwealth of the Long River. Finn explained that the Commonwealth was a vast land of peace and prosperity which occupied the South Central part of the continent of Valentia. It was a land at peace with no hostile neighbors, only friends and allies and trading partners. Its intentions were benign and pacific and the Commonwealth was entirely without territorial ambitions.

The purpose of the expedition was primarily geographic discovery and exploration, and the promotion of trade with the peoples of the Western Dividing Range. Through trade the inhabitants could share in the benefits of an industrial revolution which had merged mechanical and alchemical innovation with magical powers. Their autogyros were a good example of that.

Finn nodded. "I will grant that you can satisfy all your basic needs with your own resources, but the Commonwealth of the Long River can offer superior manufactures of every sort from simple things like pencils, hand tools, and farm machinery to technological wonders you have never even dreamed of including mechanical clocks, fine porcelain, pencils, printed books, refrigeration, solar stoves and ovens, autogyros, iron roads, street cars, and forms of personal transport like bicycles, tricycles, and skimmers."

"The main impediments to commerce will be distance, transport, and the commodities you sun dwarves might offer in trade. Autogyros can transport light cargo, but weighty goods require trade roads, or iron roads probably connecting to a port on the Great Inland Freshwater Sea. The closest connection would be to the Northeast at the maritime republic of Brax, a city whose neighbors are the Stone Mountain Dwarves. The nearest air field lies in the land of the orcs nearly two hundred miles to the North."

The locals listened with great interest as Finn described some of the technologies he had mentioned. Refrigeration was a technology which the locals could adopt for themselves. They only had to be shown how to do it. There was no need for exports to pay for manufactures as with autogyros.

Guest quarters were in a meeting hall which had ceilings high enough to accommodate even a frost giant. The Corps used their own bedding. Beds built for dwarves were of no use to humans or elves much less a frost giant. Despite the friendly reception their own guards remained with the autogyros if only to keep the curious and/or mischievous kids away from their aerocraft.

The next morning Finn made good on his promise about refrigeration. The evening before Dahlderon had contacted Eborn Klarendes via Mind Speech and arranged for him to travel via a space portal which the druid opened to the capital of the Commonwealth.

(Axel Wilde made sure to step through the portal and back. Axel's magical gift let him teleport himself to any point he had once reached via space portal or was in line of sight.)

Eborn and a crew of ice-makers stepped through rolling two ice-carts with several kits for ice-boxes and blueprints for ice-boxes, ice-carts, ice-houses, and cutting tools, plus specifications for the ponds in which firecasters would make ice. As one of his own crew translated into the dwarf tongue Eborn demonstrated how easily the pieces of an ice-box could snap together

Since the local ponds were filled with weeds and fish, Jemsen used earth magic to shape a basin, filling it with water raised from the water table below. Invoking his family's gift of fire magic Eborn drew the heat out of the upper layer of the pond and dispersed it into the atmosphere. His crew drew blades across the ice to score it and cut it into cakes which they floated to the side of the pond. In practice the ice cakes would be slid up a ramp into the ice-house for storage. His family's firm Frost Giant Ice sold ice to customers who signed up for regular periodic delivery. The firm's subscription model was so lucrative they gave away the ice-boxes as a loss leader.

The townsfolk resolved to adopt this technology whatever the results of talks at the capital.

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