Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XIII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 10


Six days' sail beyond the alien looking island, the flotilla found itself in a northward trending ocean current, one which originated in the South Polar Sea hence the water was ten degrees colder than subtropical waters of the gyre. Nathan and Liam reported that the upwelling of water would bring nutrients to the surface to support plankton and fish populations which fed on the plankton.

That made for a prime fishing ground, so it was no wonder that fleets of fishing boats were working these waters. Yet the fisher folk fled at their approach, even cutting their nets loose in their anxiety to get away.

"Something is very wrong here." Dekker told Dahlgren. "Fisher folk do not abandon their catch and their nets unless they are very afraid of something."

"Perhaps they took us for pirates or slavers. Professional navies generally leave fishing fleets alone even when their countries are at war. There is just too much human capital tied up in the skills of the fisher folk to throw away. Fisher folk pay taxes like everyone else, and would also be a source of recruits."

"Indeed, we'll have to approach the inhabitants of this region very carefully. After all, they won't know what a magnetic cannon is, but it will be obvious from their placement that they are weapons of some sort and that ours are warships."

Sailing on for another two hundred miles they found themselves on the West coast of a substantial land mass, a small continent or a colossal island at the very least. The coast had a humid subtropical climate with lowlands well-settled with farms and agricultural villages. Fishing villages were sprinkled in coves and bays all along the indented coast. About seventy miles inland rose a formidable mountain range with snow covered peaks.

Flying wings scouted the coast, careful to keep the afternoon sun at their backs. The Navy wanted to keep the inhabitants unaware that they were even under observation. Even more important was to keep them ignorant of their full capabilities, especially about flight. Hence the next aerial survey was flown by Liam who flew much closer to the new found land while hidden behind a magical Concealment. To anyone on the ground, his aerocraft looked like a flock of sea birds.

The elf-boy Dahlderon flew with him. His Mind Speech would let him eavesdrop on the thoughts of the inhabitants of the town they overflew.

"What a magnificent setting for a town, in the crook of a large bay which largely shelters it from storm waves. It's a pretty town too, isn't it, Dahl? Airy with lots of trees and trellises and pergolas."

"Yes, but look there, Liam. The town has a newly built palisade and dry moat to landward, and the older harbor defenses are built of stone. These people have enemies."

"It is up to us to persuade them that we are not their enemy. Can we even talk to them?"

"Yes, the people are a mix of elves and humans with the elves outnumbering humans two to one. Virtually everyone speaks elvish, so communication will be easy. So many of us are elves or speak elvish as a second or third tongue."

"Right. Common tongue or no, many citizens of the Commonwealth speak more than one language."

Commodore Dekker dispatched a party aboard the sloop, the Sandpiper, to make contact. Her captain was a naval veteran, a solid officer with twenty-three years' experience. Ensign Anduriel was a mustang, an elfin recruit who had risen from the forecastle to the quarterdeck of a Navy ship of war. He had held a warrant for eight years as sailing master of a frigate before being awarded a commission for sterling service against the trolls. However small she was, the Sandpiper was an independent command, and she was his.

Now being an elf Anduriel hardly looked half his age, but he had earned the respect of everyone who had ever served under or with him. Anduriel took the sloop in under a green and white parley flag, though he had no guarantee that the locals understood its significance. Just in case, his magnetic cannon were manned and loaded.

Aboard the sloop were Dahlderon, Liam, the twins, Drew Altair, and Aodh -- Dahl went as a druid and an elf-lord, Liam for magical defense, the twins because as elf-friends they were so fluent in elvish as to sound like native speakers, Drew as the expedition's chronicler, and Aodh as their body guard whose tripled strength and speed, sonic weapon, and poison claws would come as a nasty surprise to anyone who made an attempt on the lives of the delegation. Dekker sent his chief of staff Commander Grayson to represent him.

On this mission Dekker wore three hats: commodore, expedition commander, and ambassador-at-large. The Commonwealth had few professional diplomats since it did not maintain permanent embassies in foreign capitals. Instead envoys might be current or emeritus members of the High Council or senior military officers double-hatted as ambassadors. Finn Ragnarson, though a law enforcement officer, had acted as an ambassador when in command of the two prior Corps of Discovery. His record of success spoke for itself.

The locals ignored the parley flag. Instead their militia mustered and manned the defenses. Guards in the two stone forts protecting the entrance to the harbor raised a chain to close it off. Floats gave the chain a slight negative buoyancy, which let it rest on the bottom till the slack was taken in and the chain locked into position. Crews atop the stone forts used catapults to lob rocks at the approaching vessel.

"This will be fun," Liam told the others confidently. "Watch me mess with their ranging shots. I'll do it so subtly that they won't catch on for quite some time."

Indeed, where a shot looked liked it would go over, Liam used telekinesis to make it fall just short, then, when the crew used greater tension to send the next shot farther, the next shot flew well beyond the Sandpiper. Shots which were aimed dead-on went wide. It was not long before the crews were shouting and shaking their fists, blaming their comrades for their erratic aim. Drew finally put an end to the farcical proceedings. Looking through a far-viewer, he wielded an edged disk to sever the twisted cordage which powered the catapults, pulling their teeth as it were.

"Spoilsport," Liam chided good-naturedly.

"Now that we have their attention," Commander Grayson began, "please amplify my voice Lord Dahlderon."

With his voice amplified by druidical magic, Grayson announced to the locals in elvish that their visitors were not pirates or slavers and had no hostile intent. The flotilla was not on a war footing but on a peaceful mission of geographical and scientific exploration and discovery and the promotion of peaceful trade. He asked them to lower the chain so that the sloop might enter the harbor and land a party for talks.

The answer they got was an arrow the size of a spear shot from a ballista. The shaft lodged in the hull of the Sandpiper with a thunk, a symbolic indication that the locals rejected the offer of talks. Drew yanked it out with telekinesis and sent it winging back to the ballista emplacement at high speed only to bring it to a sudden halt then dropping it at the feet of the crew. With Dahl amplifying his voice, Drew told them casually:

"You really want to be careful where you shoot these things. Someone might get hurt."

Now Grayson was not easily discouraged, and he had his orders. At his direction, Jemsen used earth magic to disintegrate the dozen central links in the chain which allowed the freed ends to settle to the bottom opening the way for the Sandpiper to slip into the harbor.

Presented with this fait accompli and realizing that their visitors would not take no for an answer, the local commander had his ballista crews point their empty weapons to the sky and stand down, signaling that the townsfolk were now willing to parley. The Sandpiper sailed across the snug harbor and drew up at a quay where a reception party of four was waiting.

Just in case the ship was rushed, the Sandpiper's cannon were manned and her crew went armed with personal weapons including air guns. The ship's bosun was a water wizard and was on station in the fire suppression tower. It was equipped with a water cannon, a brass tube four feet long which could direct a powerful jet of water driven by magic at a fire or to counter boarders.

The spokesperson for the town was a handsome elf of indeterminate age who introduced himself and the other three. His own name was Arielen and he was the mayor of the town which went by the name of Argyll. The militia commander was called Zanderel and was clearly of mixed human and elven heritage, while the other two were members of the town council, a human named Gaspard Nottmeyer and a full-blooded elf named Ulliel.

The captain and crew of the Sandpiper stayed aboard while Commander Grayson, Dahl, Liam, the twins, Drew, and Aodh walked the short distance to the town hall and into a meeting chamber. All were in uniform and carried personal weapons except Dahl who wore full druidical regalia and was armed with a quarterstaff plus a brace of ironwood throwing knives worn under his cloak. At his throat the druid wore an ensorcelled amulet which would negate hostile magic directed at him and alert him of the attempted assault.

The mayor started off by asking the visitors where they had come from and why had they come to Argyll. Commander Grayson repeated what he had said about their mission and told the locals that the flotilla had sailed from the southern coast of the continent of Valentia which was over fifteen hundred miles across the sea.

"We know nothing of this land you come from. We live in isolation between the Western Seacoast and the Snowy Mountains. The farthest we venture into the open ocean is to our fishing grounds in the cold current which lies to the West. Those adventurous few who have gone beyond found a largely empty sea with only a few uninhabited islands and those just specks of land."

"I saw that many of the crew of your sloop were elves, which speaks in your favor. You are an elf yourself Lord Druid, and even way out here we know of your order. Er... Lord Dahlderon your cloak appears to be changing color even as we speak..."

"Sorry about the distraction; the garment is infused with magic which makes it change both hue and pattern for camouflage unless I freeze it. There, that should do it."

The druid like to use the morphing effect to remind his interlocutors that he wielded powerful magic. That was just one of his minor stratagems. A second was never revealing the powers of the ensorcelled amulet to potential foes.

Addressing the twins the mayor said:

"The tattoos on your shoulders indicate that you twins are not only elf-friends but also giant-friends, and dwarf-friends twice over. You must have had many adventures."

"Yes, we have." Jemsen conceded. "You might say that we are professional adventurers though we are also much published authors, as is the diminutive red-head who travels with us. He is our official chronicler."

Jemsen did not try to explain what a news-paper was to these isolated folks.

"I see now that we were too hasty in assuming you to be hostile. Your ships and their armaments were unfamiliar, but even so we had to fear that you were yet another set of raiders like those who have plagued our coasts this past decade."

Grayson nodded. "Which is why the fisher folk fled when we approached."

"Indeed. In your favor was your restraint in dealing with our attempts to, shall we say, discourage you from landing. You hurt no one and did no real damage, all the while effectively neutralizing our attacks. One of you must be a powerful fetcher indeed to deflect boulders the way you did. And what was that weapon you used to disable the catapults?"

Liam shrugged. "Actually two of us are powerful fetchers strong enough to have flung your boulders right back in your laps so altering their trajectories was child's play. I'll let my colleague Drew Altair explain what he did to the catapults."

Drew removed his edged disk from its wooden holster and held it out telekinetically, cautioning the locals to be careful of its keen edge. He explained that the disk was used in naval combat to disable enemy vessels by cutting lines, cables, hawsers, and standing rigging to render them helpless.

Zanderel the militia commander nodded. "A humane sort of warfare, since it is obvious that the disk readily lends itself to the anti-personnel role. Yet you went out of your way to avoid bloodshed, merely cutting cordage."

Drew shrugged. "We had any number of ways to counter your catapults without hurting anyone so why would we? Jemsen could have burst the rocks apart into showers of sand, the druid could have crumpled the beams of the catapults into sawdust, and so on. You have a new trick too, don't you Karel?"

"Right. I am an air wizard. A shield held against an arrow storm must cover the entire front of the battle line since the enemy shafts are so numerous. So a shield against arrows is weak enough that boulders could punch through it. It takes another approach to stop boulders."

The militia commander shook his head. "I never realized that a wizard could harden air enough to counter the momentum of a boulder flung from a catapult."

"Boulders are large enough and few enough that I can visually track every single one and intercept its flight. I push against it with a very small but thick shield of hardened air. So what I counter is not its momentum but its inertial resistance to moving sideways."

Zanderel frowned. "Aren't inertia and momentum the same thing?"

Karel shook his head.

"They're not the same thing at all. Momentum is a function of both mass and velocity, inertia of mass alone."

"That's my brother all right, brains and beauty both!" Jemsen quipped.

Even Commander Grayson allowed a ghost of smile show on his normally grave mien.

"As one further indication of our good will there is the endorsement of your own empath," Dahl told them, pointing to Councillor Gaspard Nottmeyer. "He has just passed you the signal verifying our bona fides has he not?"

Nottmeyer and the mayor chuckled. "We stand unmasked. You are right, of course, but how did you know?"

<With Mind Speech.> Dahl broadcast to everyone. <I can read your surface thoughts quite easily, but I shall now withdraw from your skulls and allow you the privacy of your own thoughts while we resume sonic speech.>

Everyone relaxed, knowing that no one was plotting treachery.

The flotilla lay at anchor in the roadstead of the great bay with only a harbor watch mounted though most hands remained aboard ship. Aerial scouts patrolled the skies in case raiders approached. The scouts would bring enough warning for the flotilla to put to sea. Dekker was not looking for an engagement. Much as he sympathized with the locals, he had not been sent across the Southern Ocean to suppress piracy.

Shore leave was arranged for small parties. Sailors and naval infantry were warned to be on their best behavior. They were not to be on the prowl for fights, gambling, intoxication, or rough sex. Argyll was no raucous navy town for all that it was a seaport. It had only a few small houses of pleasure and half of those were staffed by pretty-elf boys who catered to those of their own gender.

Dahl, Drew, the twins, Liam, and Aodh plus the three natural philosophers took rooms at an inn on the edge of town. Alas Nathan mostly had to stay aboard his ship and was able to take shore leave only briefly. The proprietor was pleased that his new customers could pay with Commonwealth's silver coinage. It seemed that silver for coins was in such short supply that it actually crimped commerce and trade which perforce relied on weighty strings of copper coins for daily purchases and gold for big transactions.

Their inn was situated beyond the hastily constructed defense wall protecting the town center. It was two stories tall and overlooked the bay, though the boys took rooms facing the distant mountains. They took their meals either on the deck overlooking the sea or indoors if it rained. The chef was something of a local celebrity for his seafood recipes, but they were all tired of the catch of the day and preferred dishes of pork and lamb and beef.

Best of all were the cookies and cakes flavored with vanilla, an aromatic flavoring unknown on Valentia. The twins made a point of looking into its origins and found out that it was an extract of the pods of a particular kind of orchid. The druid investigated how the plant was cultivated and learned that the orchid was in a symbiotic relationship with a single natural pollinator, an endemic species of bee. That meant the orchid could not be propagated elsewhere, guaranteeing the people of the Benign Coast a monopoly of a potentially lucrative commodity.

Even in a town with so many good-looking young elves the visitors caught the eye of those who fancied their own gender. Not only were the boys walking wet dreams, they were exciting and exotic travelers from a far off land across the sea, inhabitants of a continent which the locals had not known existed.

It was said that they were great adventurers, explorers, and soldiers. For all that they looked like a pack of rent boys, they were heavy hitters who had thrown their magical powers onto the balance in wars against barbarians, predatory centaurs, and genocidal trolls. Moreover they had battled monsters like a dragon, a kraken, a mosasaur, a pack of reptilian raptors, and terror birds not to mention a plague of locusts, and a mud volcano.

Moreover the boys bore the friendship tattoos of the various races they had helped. The red-headed chronicler and the dark-haired war wizard were giant-friends, while the pale shapeshifter, like the twins, bore the silver medal of an Amazon-friend. Astonishingly the twins were elf-friends, giant-friends, and dwarf-friends twice over. And one of their own race, an elf-boy, was a member of the legendary order of the Druids of Haven.

Every morning the visitors went for a run, glad for a chance to work on their wind and their stamina after being confined aboard the Arctic Tern for so long. Understandably for a society more than half elven, the locals had no more use for nudity taboos than the youth of the Commonwealth, so the boys ran in the nude as was their wont back home.

The boys were all good runners, but it was the twins who had the true runner's build, lithe, slender, and clean-limbed. They ran smoothly, their legs scissoring metronomically as they carried the boys along. They breathing was deep, slow, and rhythmic, and timed with their strides. The boys loved the kiss of the sun on their bare backs and rumps. Exhibitionists one and all, it made them feel ever so sexy and naked.

Some of the locals were happy to pace them, running along and chatting them up, trying to spark their interest. Others joined them at the beach where they went for an easy swim after their run and engaged in the rough-housing and grab-ass horseplay beloved of young males.

The boys introduced the locals to swim boards and paddle boards. Swim boards originated as swim floats, a buoyant device to keep the upper at the surface while the swimmer kicked with his legs. Fetchers found a whole new use for it. They would propel it telekinetically, holding on by a grip at the rear, as they swim board tore through the water at breakneck speed. It could also dive underwater to let a swimmer explore that watery realm.

Paddle boards were originally conceived as a form of transportation by the Medkari of the Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea. They were flat boards with a round point about a dozen feet in length. The paddler might lie on it, kneel or stand atop the board and propel it with hands or scull or paddle or even telekinetically.

Shameless exhibitionists one and all, the boys mostly preferred to stand up straight, a posture which put their nude bodies on display for their many admirers. Their zoologist friend Evander Blok labelled it a courtship display, as indeed it was.

The boys also liked to toss around the Gemini Zinger a sport which could have been purposely invented to display the male form to perfection as players ran, and reached, and turned, and sometimes took a tumble. Soon the locals were using pie tins to play the sport.

Unfortunately for their suitors the boys made it clear that rather than play favorites among the locals they wanted to be friendly with all but would take no lovers, lest they incite jealousy.

Yet their reticence was due as much to their forebodings if not a sense of guilt for leaving these good people in the lurch, at the mercy of their enemies the raiders. Yet what else could Commodore Dekker do? His duty was to his mission and to his ships and his crews, not to these strangers, whatever his sympathies toward them.

Four days after their landfall, much the same landing party but with Commodore Dekker instead of Commander Grayson met with the local authorities for a full briefing on the coastlands including maps and charts. The locals called the western coastlands the Benign Coast. It was a collection of autonomous cantons which tended to their own affairs. A Cooperation Council provided a few common services like the post office, commercial courts, lighthouses, and standardized weights and measures.

The land was fertile and yielded bountiful harvests, partly because so many farmers were elves gifted with a Green Thumb. Farmers were freeholders with from one to two hundred acres. There were no large landowners and no gentry or aristocracy. Manufactures, such as they were, were produced by artisans in small workshops. There were no large manufactories as in the Commonwealth. All persons were free and equal before the law. Mayors and Councillors faced the electorate every two years.

The origins of the settlements in the Benign Coast were lost in the mists of time. Some held that their ancestors had simply sailed to the coast. Others believed their forebears had crossed the mountains, while a small group insisted that their ancestors had been among the original refugees fleeing the chaos of the galactic empire of yore who had simply stepped through a rift in space created by wizards.

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