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Probably because of the way airplanes work, it's often the case that magical flight in medieval times was faster than traveling by horse, making it incredibly useful as a form of transportation. Also, the use of a giant deadly animal to achieve such results (for example, a dragon) often has added benefits, such as the ability to burn one's enemies alive from the sky.

But what I want to know is what benefit flight would have when it's stripped down to its bare essentials: imagine that flight is done via a spell that takes as much concentration and is as physically taxing as walking, and provides just about as much speed. So while you can fly, you can at most achieve a sprinting speed, and even then not for too long. Also, as it is magic, it takes some time to learn, so only trained wizards or a lucky few naturals can manage it.

I want to know, how would such a power be used? And would it provide much use at all?

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  • $\begingroup$ How long is the flight effective for? Can I stay in the air for an hour or just a few minutes...or as long as I can concentrate on it? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Mar 24 '15 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth It's about as taxing (maybe a little more) as standing. Thus, it'll get uncomfortable to float in one spot for too long, but it's certainly doable. Note that you cannot sit down when flying, so there's no way to rest in the air. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Mar 24 '15 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ the mages could have a home on an island with no bridges leading to it, so only mages can reach it easily. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 24 '15 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh Since you mention dragons, your wizards may want to watch out for the FAA, which is, after all, run by dragons. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 24 '15 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ You could rest your legs, though, right? Just not whatever you use for flying. So switch between walking and flying to avoid blisters. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 24 '15 at 20:30
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If flying doesn't have benefits of speed or efficiency, and doesn't allow you to transport more than a single person can carry, that leaves one main advantage that I can see: the ability to avoid obstacles on the ground.

At it's simplest, this type of flight could allow you to move more quickly over especially rough terrain, like mountains or thick forests. However, that's probably not enough to justify the difficulty of learning the magic. If you increase the danger and/or importance of the mission, though, it would be important.

For example, you could use a few skilled fliers to transport food and other supplies to a beseiged castle or city, allowing them to survive and withstand the assault. By the same token, they could be effective at damaging enemy supply lines. Fliers could also be used as messengers in wartime, traveling on foot and using their flight to evade capture if necessary. Depending on how high they can fly, they may not need to even worry about arrows at all, or they could protect themselves with a lightweight shield, like one made of rawhide or wicker.

Of course, flying will probably make people more visible, so messengers would need to travel a path that is hard to follow on foot when escaping, crossing rivers and ravines or going up or down cliffs to put distance between them and their pursuers. There are situations where the visibility is an advantage, though.

When in battle, your officers could use flying men as signallers. Being airborne, they would be even more visible than they would be on a hill or ridge. Allowing your generals to communicate orders more effectively is a boring but very significant military advantage. From an altitude, the fliers would also have a larger field of vision, so they could be used as scouts. Having a better view of the battlefield allows the commanding officers to make more informed and better tactical decisions, another boring but substantial advantage. Of course, depending on what other magical capabilities there are, they could just drop fireballs on the enemy formations.

People with the ability to fly could also put their skills to use in construction. Cranes existed in medieval times, so they would only be of marginal use in building tall structures, but they could work on them more safely, or do minor repairs without needing to build scaffolding first. They would be more useful in bridge-building. It's a lot easier to transport materials for a bridge across a river or ravine when you don't need the bridge to do it. A single flier could probably build a simple rope-bridge in less than a day.

Overall, the limited type of flight that you describe has limited, apparently mundane, use. However, in a medieval society, the advantages that it provides would still be very useful.

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  • $\begingroup$ I stopped writing my answer. Yours does nicely. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 24 '15 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ Everything here covers what I would write. Just to stress it...medieval generals were very much blind in battle and a birds eye view of the battlefield is a huge tactical boon. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Mar 24 '15 at 18:25
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  1. Military: This would instantly render walls obsolete, or force defenders to cover any defended structure with sharp spikes.

  2. Transport: Just float up 100 meters or so, where the winds are almost always stronger, deploy your sail and off you go.

  3. Multi-use tool: Can always get to those pesky apples at the top. Also easy to get away from simple bandits, cross rivers, always be able to tell the time and the cardinal points, overlook battlefields, etc. The possibilities are endless.

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While it could be used in a myriad of ways, probably the single largest impact will come from Military Intelligence and Communication.

Being able to fly over an enemy army out of arrow range and get exact counts and enemy locations is incredibly beneficial. It would give an army with a wizard a tremendous advantage over one without - good intel is a Force Multiplier, and would let smaller groups defeat larger armies.

Nearly as important (moreso in some circumstances) is good communication. Being able to send a Wizard flying to pass a message - meaning that it can't be stopped or intercepted - could be incredibly valuable in a battle, especially for timing. If you have multiple wizards, they could fly high up and use flags of some sort as a sort of signal chain. Also useful would be Wizards in a siege, because they could communicate with allies who are outside, bringing and coordinating with friendly armies.

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I would say it's primary use in traveling would be in either rough terrain or in escape.

Bandits coming after you? Fly to the top of a tree. Fly over the impenetrable brambles putting it between you and your pursuers.

Or come to a flooding river? Fly across. A deep gorge? fly across. Come to any very rough terrain, fly across it for a while, save you from twisting an ankle.

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