William frowned, “Is this… an exact copy of the child’s testimony?”
Jordan nodded, “That is what I was told.”
“Well… alright then.”
“On the thirteenth day of the month, I was out at the coast playing with the creatures in the tide pools. Perhaps my slight figure blended into the rocks, or the ship did not care… but regardless I witnessed an attack by a foreign ship on a merchanter carrack. The merchanter was just at the horizon, and so was the foreign ship.”
At that point in the account came a note from the agent. “The next section had more detail than seemed plausible. However, upon doing some visual tests with the child I found he could read standard sized handwritten text at over a dozen yards, and had a keen eye for other details. Thus, though the following might be just a child’s fantasy any difference between reality and the report will not be related to problems of visual acuity.”
“The foreign ship spewed black smoke from a large vertical pipe, quickly gaining on the merchanter- though it had no sails. As it passed by the merchanter, it seemed as if arrow fire was launched at the foreign ship- but then the merchanter exploded. I could see additional pipes on the side of the foreign ship, and these leaked a small amount of black smoke after the explosion, likely connected. The foreign ship continued attacks until there were no more sailors from the merchanter surviving in the water, before turning away without even attempting to search the rubble for loot. From the back I saw a large series of paddles turning, seeming to propel the ship. (Diagram to arrive later).”
William sighed, “Dammit. Someone has steamboats and cannons.”
“A steam… boat?”
“They use internal combustion to heat up water, creating steam to power turbine engines to turn some sort of propulsion mechanism. At least, that’s the general idea.”
“Fire on a ship sounds… dangerous. However, that doesn’t seem simple to build.Could it be Eclea?”
“I hope not.” William shook his head, “Actually, maybe it would be nice if it was them. However, this happened on the west coast, did it not? It would have had to travel all the way around the continent without it stopping in our territory. It could have gone around the human lands for much of it I suppose- see if we can get any reports of that- but this seems different.”
“Of course. I’ll have people look into it right away.”
“Oh, and the kid. What’s his name?”
“Right. Send him an invitation to study at the Ducson Academy of Magic.”
“Umm, what if he isn’t talented in magic? Headmistress Lorenz would likely do you the favor of taking care of him but she can get rather testy with… some people.”
“How old is he?”
“Six? Seven? Certainly no more than eight years old, though the report didn’t say exactly.”
William grinned, “Then, I don’t care if he’s the most absolutely useless wizard, incapable of any sort of magic besides lighting a fire. His observation skills and intelligence will be enough.”
“What if the report- what he said he saw- is fictional?”
“Well, I’d have to see the actual diagram he drew… but if he can imagine up something that sounds like a steamboat with cannons, we still want him. If he doesn’t accept an invitation from the academy for some reason, send him one from me.”
“What if he refuses that?”
“Then I’ll go see him in person- but I’ll be very grumpy about it. I’ll cover his expenses at the academy for a year- and if Headmistress Lorenz really finds him to be useless after that I’ll give up. However, I think it’s worth the gamble of a small bit of funds.”
William wasn’t exactly comforted by the news that Eclea had nothing to do with the steamboats. It was nice to know that they weren’t attacking gevai ships and killing everyone, but someone still was. Unfortunately it wasn’t humans… and it wasn’t gevai.
Eventually there were more witnesses of the attacks, and some survivors. They found it harder to describe the ships that they hadn’t seen before, but once everything was said and done they corroborated what Theo had seen. There was just the addition of who was on the ship.
Dwarves. At first, people were reluctant to say it, but they fit the descriptions from the legends, though William knew that at least the existence of dwarves was true. Dwarves and elves had been driven from the continent- from the very lands he now controlled and called Cruoria.
It seemed they were still rather unhappy about it. So far, there had been no attempts to communicate. William did hear reports from human ships- the dwarven ships would get just close enough to see individual figures, then pull away. Perhaps they had forgiven humans for their complicity in the exile from the continent… or perhaps they only wanted to start a war with one race at a time.
William ordered a stop to all shipping on the western oceans- not that he needed to. Merchants knew the risk was too high, even with the probable increase in profits as the only ships travelling the seas. All ports were on high alert, but none of the dwarven ships approached- though they were occasionally seen on the horizon.
William had the other ports and ships be cautious as well. After all, nothing said the attacks could only happen in the west. Though the seas to the north were sometimes frozen, they were navigable for most of the year.
While it seemed like the dwarves could come from anywhere, William knew that wasn’t the case. There was one large limitation on steamboats that sailing vessels didn’t have. They needed fuel- and even if such fuel was abundant and cheap for the dwarves there was a limit to what could be carried on a ship. Plus, the ships had to stop to reload sometime.
That meant there had to be islands to the west- unless there was another continent much closer than William could have possibly imagined. However, islands were more probable. It wasn’t like there had been no exploration into the seas, but every small increase in distance carried a large danger with it from storms and monsters. Obviously the dwarves had figured out a way to handle that danger, or at least reduce it.