Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XIII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 19


At the next commander's conference Dahl reported that while their mainland informants had held some things back they had told the truth as they knew it. Dekker was inclined to believe them so he postponed Nathan and Drew's planned recon by submersible and directed that a second party check one of the offshore islands to learn the viewpoint of the raiders.

One problem with the reco was that both moons would be up that night, one early and the other late. The islanders would likely spot an approaching autogyro silhouetted against the moonlight sky or the phosphorescent waters or might come upon it after it landed. So Drew, Nathan, Dahl, and Liam went in by submersible. In a sheltered cove Liam surfaced just long enough for the other three to slip out of the submersible and swim ashore. He then let the submersible sink so that its deck was a dozen feet below the surface to await their return with just the snorkel poking above the surface invisible in the dark.

The druid's assignment was to investigate how the raiders subsisted on their sandy islands. If the druid could find a way to increase their food supplies, then the raiders would not need to steal from the mainlanders. Calling up an orca, Dahl held on to its dorsal fin as it swam along the coast, much of which was an estuarine environment with islands and peninsulas partially enclosing shallow bodies of water such as bays, bayous, coves, lagoons, inlands, sounds, and marsh. Red and black mangroves lined the shores.

Hardly any of these waters were exploited, as the druid learned by listening in on stray thoughts of various inhabitants. Fishing was an afterthought, deemed suitable employment only for boys with fishing spears. Instead the raiders farmed the higher ground inland.

To Dahl this was a mistake born of transplanting the farming practices from their old country to quite a different environment. Their food crops were simply ill-suited to the sandy soil and the oceanic environment of the islands. Instead of living in semi-starvation the raiders should have exploited the estuaries which were one of the most fecund and productive ecosystems on the planet. A hundred species of fish such as mullet, skipjack, sea trout, and redfish swam above thousands of acres of sea grass meadows in search of prey like crabs, shrimp, and smaller fish. Everywhere were beds of oysters, scallops, and clams, there for the taking.

Instead of crops the islanders might rely on fish and shellfish. If they changed their practices, they would not need to raid the mainland for foodstuffs, which was the main though not the only motive for their depredations. The question was how to motivate such a drastic change in their way of living. Clearly stopping their raids would be the first step, but the druids had to give them an alternative way of earning an honest living.

Nathan and Drew's job was to eavesdrop on the locals. Nathan and Drew weren't sure how the locals dressed so they went in naked, figuring that would let them pass for rent boys. They certainly looked the part, a pair of slender youths totally glabrous with nary a feather on them anywhere. Both were impossibly cute red-heads: Drew with auburn locks and Nathan a carrot top and both looking to be no older than their mid teens, a pair of walking wet dreams.

The boys carried their weapons on a strap held low in one hand so as to be inconspicuous. Nathan was armed with his naval cutlass. Drew's strap had three pouches, one with a pair of steel spheres, the other with three glass globes packed with finely ground chili pepper, while the third held a supply of soporific darts to put foes asleep instead of killing or crippling them. After so much experience in combat, both were heartily sick of killing and hoped to avoid it if at all possible. After all, the raiders were products of their culture, which did not necessarily mean that they were evil persons as individuals.

Their recon went off almost without a hitch. The boys listened outside a local tavern as rowdy Sea Wolves in their cups bragged about their raids. Some were proud that they had counted coup, merely stunning enemies rather than killing them out of hand. One raider told the story of how he and his band had helped put out a fire started accidentally by the mainlanders themselves, then withdrew, leaving the locals unmolested except for the loss of a few chickens. The raiders after all were after loot. Killing and wanton destruction would serve no purpose.

Older raiders complained that the hunting had not been so good since the mainlanders had invented their infernal cannon. Many a raid had had to return empty handed with half their canoes and crews lost. The younger sort were turning to fishing rather than raiding for a vocation. Their chatter essentially confirmed the Severnans' version of events.

The pair retreated toward the shore but ran into a trio of three rough looking types clearly the worse for strong drink.

"My oh my! What do we have here? A couple of naked beauties out for a stroll. You must tell me where you two work. I'll be sure to come by during working hours."

He companion scowled.

"Has it escaped your notice my friend that it is during hours right now?"

"Now where do you two mainland boys think you're going? Your evenings should find you on your backs or knees or all fours in a brothel or upstairs in a tavern entertaining a lusty clientele."

"Maybe they're a pair of lovebirds who are just slipping off for a private tryst. Is that it boys? Not to worry, I'd not begrudge you a bit of joy in your lives, but make it quick or you'll be in trouble with your masters."

The third guy was a little less under the influence and spotted the scabbard of Nelson's cutlass which he had been trying to keep out of sight behind his legs.

"By the gods, these boys are armed!"

The trio pulled out wicked looking dirks and spread out the better to come at the boys from three sides, but Nathan snapped a single electrum spark at each of them, distracting them long enough for Drew to get his soporific darts into play. The boys left them sleeping where they had slumped to the ground though Drew did adjust the posture of the kindly raider to make him comfortable during his drug-induced slumber.

With his gift of sounding Nathan had no trouble locating the Albacore. The boys swam out and tapped on the hull to signal Liam to surface and take them aboard. Moments later Dahl used Mind Speech to let Liam know he had finished his mission. The trip back to the flotilla was uneventful except for Drew and Nathan's celebratory victory shag.

Following a shower, a meal, and a good night's sleep, the recon party made their report which confirmed Dekker's earlier understanding of the situation. At another conference he explained what he intended to do about the raiders.

"This is not our war, but even without taking sides we ourselves inevitably would come under attack by raiders. An eastward course would find us running a gantlet between the warring parties, so we will not be heading eastward. Instead we will strike out across the open ocean in a northeasterly direction and see what lands lie between the new found continent of Sarmantia and the South coast of Valentia."

"Still I intend to make the mainlanders a gift of a single military technology which would help them counter these never-ending raids, a technology that is within their technical capabilities. Anyone care to guess what that is?"

The twins frowned.

"Hmm, it wouldn't be autogyros. These folks don't have the industrial base and precision manufacturing techniques to make airfoil rotors and wings, wire wheels, bearings, and so forth."

Liam nodded.

"Their cannon are clumsy but they do a reasonable job of defending their coasts. Without a sea-going navy they don't need magnetic cannon which they could not produce anyway, especially the precision elevating and traversing gear."

"It's flying wings, isn't it sir?" Nathan asked.

"That is an astute guess, Captain Lathrop. You are correct."

"Flying wings would let airborne scouts bring early warning of raids, making the defenders' task that much easier. Early warning would greatly reduce the likelihood of successful raids which depend on surprise."

"This means that we will have to reveal ourselves fully so we can contact their political and military leaders. So we might be on this coast for some weeks while we set things up for the technology transfer. During that interval we will send our aerial scouts as we always. If we see raiders heading toward the mainland we will inform the local authorities and let them handle it. We ourselves will not give battle."

The flotilla approached but lay offshore rather than under the guns of the fortress while Dekker made the arrangements with Captain Darrow. It was arranged that in a few days they would sail to the headquarters of the coastal defense forces.

Meanwhile the young soldier Danny got his tryst with the exotic shapeshifter he fancied. Danny proved to be a fine lover and an all around nice guy. No wonder he was popular.

After a few days the flotilla sailed to a broad bay fifty miles to the East. The flotilla chose an anchorage well out of range of the guns of the twin fortresses guarding the military headquarters for that whole stretch of coast. The next day Dekker sent a trio of flying wings aloft to demonstrate their utility for scouting.

Since Nathan was the inspiration for the flying wing, he briefed the leaders on its construction and use. Even artisanal manufacturing techniques were capable of turning out perfectly good aerocraft using Commonwealth blueprints. While local manufacturing geared up to produce scout planes, their fetchers went through flight training under the guidance of Navy flyers. Over the next few weeks the locals proved themselves ready to stand on their own two feet. It was likely that in a matter of months the raiders would realize that further raids were suicide missions and cease.

Meeting with the leaders of the mainlanders, Dekker told them that once the sea lanes were cleared of raiders, then merchants could establish commercial ties with the Benign Coast, represented by councillors Nottmeyer and Ulliel. The Commonwealth had shown them the way around the Northwest Cape. The future looked good for all the lands the Corps of Discovery had encountered on its long mission to the Southern Ocean.

Before the flotilla left for Valentia Dekker staged the firepower demonstration which the mainlanders had asked for. They wanted to see how magnetic cannon compared to their own guns. Sailing his ships in line of battle the flotilla blasted away at a tiny islet with both shells and bombs from aerocraft. The locals were duly impressed.

Dahl spoke of future years when the islanders would finally accept that they had to change their ways and allow the druids to help them transition to a new economy which would end food shortages by exploiting the estuaries which could supply all the food the islanders needed. The druids would also introduce crops which would do well in their sandy soils.

In the fullness of time, the Corps of Discovery pointed its bows in a northwesterly direction. They sailed through largely empty waters and discovered nothing they had not already seen, finally reaching the shores of Valentia at a point just beyond the Eastern Dividing Range. It was time to return to their home port, so Liam opened a space portal to the naval base at Southport.

Mission accomplished.

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