Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XIII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 13

The Benign Coast

The Commonwealth task force returned to the Benign Coast, stopping along the way at the more prominent towns like Rockport to convey the news that the threat from raiders was ended forever. The townsfolk of Argyll celebrated with a festival and lionized the sailors and naval infantry who had delivered them from certain death.

They were especially grateful and even stood in awe of the heavy hitters, the magic users from the Commonwealth who had fought with them against the land invasion. The druid Lord Dahlderon had single-handedly neutralized the enemy reserve of two thousand, after intimidating their foes with grisly individual deaths, and finally fought like a whirlwind atop the wall.

The tiny pale youth, the shape shifter Sir Aodh of Llangollen and Elysion, had executed those who had violated the sanctity of the parley then fought in close combat atop the wall, using his natural weapons as a black panther and then his skills in the martial arts, facing armed raiders while he was alone, outnumbered, empty-handed, and stark naked.

Those with him had remarked his aplomb when, just after the repulse of the enemy, Aodh took an impromptu shower to wash away the sweat, and dust, and blood, lifting and upending, apparently without strain, a heavy water bucket which must have weighed sixty or seventy pounds, which was quite a feat for a short and slightly built youth like him: all of five foot zero and weighing only a hundred pounds himself.

The war wizard Sir Liam had unleashed white fire on the enemy attack on the East wall of the town, disintegrating three thousand of the enemy. The earth wizard Sir Jemen had opened a channel from the dry moat to the ocean, drowning the assault force at the South wall. His twin Sir Karel had created sun mirrors whose heat beams turned the enemy into ashen simulacra of themselves.

In the naval battle just off Argyll, the powerful fetchers Sir Liam and Sir Drew Altair had flown out to the sloop Sandpiper then sunk enemy ships with their fearsome Long Lance torpedoes which were tipped with heavy barbed spearheads. Another team aboard the sloop had set ships afire with incendiary torpedoes while the ship's two magnetic cannon had sunk the rest. In the main action in the bay, the three heavy frigates Arctic Tern, Cormorant, and Gull had sunk many enemy ships with naval gunfire, though the honors really went to the air wing of the aerocraft carrier Sovereign of the Seas.

Finally, joined by reinforcements arriving from the distant Commonwealth of the Long River via a space portal, a naval task force had sailed south to the enemy's base and destroyed their offensive capability, burning their shipyards and warehouses of naval stores and killing the skilled shipwrights and carpenters who might in time have been able to restore their losses in ships.

At a conference with the city fathers of Argyll Commodore Dekker reported that the very next day his reinforcements would return to the Commonwealth via a space portal. His own reconstituted flotilla would also put out to sea and sail on to new adventures.

The mayor expressed his hope that trade relations might someday be established with the Commonwealth despite the great distances. The people of the Benign Coast had so much to learn from their new friends. From what they had seen for themselves and the stories told by the sailors of the Commonwealth, his own people now knew that there was a whole modern world out there across the sea which they would very much like to be a part of. Commodore Dekker held out this hope:

"It won't happen right away, but I am fairly sure that our fishing fleets will start to exploit the deep sea fisheries of the great gyre, establishing bases on the islands we have claimed for the Commonwealth. It will be on these islands that our fishermen preserve their catch by drying, salting, and refrigeration. Now our own shores and the Benign Coast are about the same distance from these new fishing grounds. And the species out there like tuna and hake are different from those your own fishermen exploit. Your country then would be a natural market for this new resource."

"I am not sure all our fisher folk would welcome the competition."

"Maybe not, but the population as a whole would have more choices and better nutrition. It has not escaped our notice that you do not have extensive grasslands on which to raise cattle. And imports from the gyre will help your growing population to avoid overexploiting your current fishing grounds."

"More generally there is the principle that free trade benefits everyone, else it would not exist. Where fisherman go, merchants soon follow. If you can develop an export trade you could pay for imports for modern manufactures, everything from inexpensive pencils to costly autogyros."

"Couldn't we pay for those things with gold or silver?"

Dekker shook his head.

"No, not in the long run. Your coinage was already hampered by a shortage of silver. The treasure we took from the Communalists should ease that problem for now, but if you have to pay for imports, your difficulties will recur."

"Coinage facilitates trade, but precious metals are mostly useless in themselves. You cannot eat gold or make tools from it, just decorative baubles. Silver is good for making mirrors and not much else. Trade ultimately depends on an exchange of goods and services, not precious metals."

"Look then for what the Benign Coast might offer the Commonwealth. A good place to start would be that vanilla flavoring of yours which the twins rave about. It should sell well abroad, likely at a lucrative price not short of what saffron brings. Why don't you send samples with the twins? Their commercial contacts could set things in motion."

"My government might be interested in berthing rights for our navy. Understand, we would not seek permission to build a naval base with all its own support services. Our ships would use your civilian ports and would obtain goods and services on commercial terms. That would create businesses and jobs in shipyards, chandleries, warehouses for naval stores and comestibles, dock workers, etc."

"Much depends on whether we and you really will want a naval presence in these seas. Only the future will tell. But don't worry. This is not the last you will see of ships from the Commonwealth. Now that we know who and where you are, further seaborne contact is inevitable. Remember, a naval task force won't have to sail for weeks to get here but can make the crossing in a single day thanks to space portals."

The next day Liam opened a portal large enough for even an aerocraft carrier to sail through. The carrier Formidable and her accompanying frigate and cargo vessel sailed through it back to their home station at Southport. The Sovereign of the Seas was to keep her full air wing aboard for the rest to their voyage. Who knew what foes the flotilla might encounter next?

The extra supplies she had offloaded for the strike against the enemy capital were loaded onto two of the enemy vessels which had been deliberately run aground and abandoned. Originally armed with of two catapults and a ballista, the new naval auxiliaries now mounted a pair of swivel guns. Both were crewed by local civilians, ordinary sailors but now proud to be considered explorers.

The inhabitants of the Benign Coast would thus have a chance to explore this continent of Sarmantia of which they really knew little. By staying in touch with the folks from the Commonwealth, the locals could learn much about their civilization and their technologies.

Before they set off into the unknown, Dekker drilled his crews. They practiced going to general quarters, recovering a man gone overboard, and fighting fires. A conflagration aboard a wooden ship was just about the worst thing that could happen to it, even worse that getting holed on a reef. Not every ship had a firecaster aboard, and for all their ability to put a fire out with a thought, fire wizards were only human. They might be laid low by enemy action or by injury or disease or by misadventure. The military always sought redundancy in its important capabilities.

The frigates and the sloop were equipped with a pair of human-powered pumps, one fore and one aft. Four seamen, two on each side, grasped the chest high handles and alternated their down strokes. The pumps were fully reversible. Hoses over the side could pull water from the sea to douse fires, or, in case of flooding below decks, water could be pumped out of the ship and over the side.

Amidships was a fire suppression tower ten foot high where a water wizard manned a water cannon, a brass tube four feet long with an adjustable nozzle. Equipped with elevating and traversing mechanisms, it could direct a powerful jet of water at a fire or at an enemy vessel to counter boarders. Driven by water magic instead of a pump, the jet was powerful enough to knock a man down and likely wash him overboard if he did not grab onto something. Alternatively it could clear a path for their own boarders when the mission was to capture an enemy vessel rather than sink it.

The last part of the leave taking was to bring several war wizards through a portal to Argyll so that they too might open portals from Valentia to Sarmantia if need be. Sir Willet Hanford and Sir Rikkard and their aides came through along with a couple of other wizards. Sir Willet was not entirely pleased to find that Liam's portal deposited him to the deck of the Arctic Tern which was anchored just outside the fortified port.

"Liam! Why in tarnation did you bring me aboard a ship? You know how horribly ill I get from seasickness."

"Yes, I do, Sir Willet, but not to worry. There is a dead calm today, so you won't have to experience the rocking of oceanic swells. Bringing you to this spot will let you open a portal for other ships to sail directly to the Benign Coast. Now we have a boat waiting to take you and the others ashore. If you will step over to the pilot ladder..."

"I shall do no such thing, my dear boy. If I am going to do any stepping it will be through a portal of my own creation to take me directly to that dock at the end of the harbor where I see that a reception committee waiting for us. Who is with me?"

Of course the entire party stepped through with Sir Willet. Why bother with a ship's gig?

From the point of view of Sir Willet's aide Axel Wilde the best part of the deal was that he got to spend three days with his boyfriends. Who knew when they might next have so much quality time? So they all made the most of their opportunity.

Now Axel Wilde had the gift of teleportation which could whisk him instantly to any spot he had once visited via a space portal. Drew gave him his latest reporting to deliver to the Capital Intelligencer while Commodore Dekker had him relay the flotilla's latest official dispatches to the High Command.

The twins explained about the commercial opportunities with vanilla and appointed Axel as their intermediary with their business agent, the wily dwarf Lennart whose job it would be to devise a plan to market this new flavoring to the mainland market. Now a wizard's aide would not normally get involved with a commercial venture while on duty, but promoting trade with the Benign Coast was deemed to be of strategic importance.

While Aodh and Lennart arranged things on Valentia the locals were to devise plans to ramp up production of the extract, depending on how long it would take to bring fresh plantings to maturity. There was little chance that cultivation abroad would produce vanilla. Without the bee, the only alternative was hand pollination, and anyway, the cultivation and harvesting of vanilla was a complex, tricky, and labor intensive business.

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