Elf-Boy and Friends
Chapter 33. Balan and the Twins
"Whew. You should have warned us, Balan, how much these Hot Lands would live up to their name." Karel complained. The blond archer added that he was feeling lightheaded and needed a break. Their party of four had been walking for three hours that morning. The sun was high in the sky, beating down, rendering even tawnier the bare skins of the three nude youths among them. Only the giant wore clothing, this time lightweight silks. All four travelers wore straw hats with a broad brim to provide shade, though they made the nude youths look ridiculous with so much hat atop so nude and slender a body.
Nevertheless the hats made a lot of sense. The treeless plains offered little shade except what you carried with you. Acknowledging the blond boy's needs, Karel's companions stayed their forward progress as the youth let the quarterstaff and unstrung bow he carried over his left shoulder slip to the grass. The pack and scabbard hung from the end of the staff went with it. Grateful for a chance to rest, Karel sank to the grass, crawling under the totally inadequate shade of a small bush, trying to stir the air with his hat.
The travelers would not be be stopping long enough to make it worthwhile for the youth to rig the sarong in his pack as a canopy or sunshade. That versatile rectangle of fabric actually had many uses besides serving as a garment. It could also be a groundsheet, a rain canopy or sunshade, a signal flag, a towel, a privacy curtain, an improvised back pack or stretcher, and even as a weapon -- when flung at an opponent's head as a distraction. The twins only rarely wrapped their sarongs around their hips preferring nudity, a practice picked up from the elvish clan they had been adopted into as elf-friends. Young elves typically spent their first century "skin clad".
"I mean, I usually handle heat well enough, slender as I am and running around in the nude as I nearly always do. But this climate is something else again. Tell me 'professor' Balan why it is so damn hot here." the youth, recently turned twenty, asked his giant ally.
"Son, if anyone has a right to complain about the heat it would be myself, even if it was my idea to come here. Try shedding heat when you stand seven-and-a-half feet and are powerfully built. I must outweigh you and your equally svelte twin brother put together twice over."
"Whereas you two, why just look at yourselves. The way you and Jemsen are built, medium height, very slender, with that wiry musculature you are so fond of putting on public display, and the high level of fitness you boys maintain from all that running and swimming you do, and your nudity as well, they all let you shed body heat easily enough. As long as you keep hydrated, you sweat freely so evaporation carries off most of your excess body heat. But your fitness also lets you throw heat off directly into the air, through dilated blood vessels under the skin, heat carried from your core by the circulation of the blood. Not to mention that the shade of your straw hat shelters much more of your slender bodies than mine does for me."
"You always seem to know everything, Balan. You are a natural philosopher at heart, trapped in the body of a giant warrior, bristling with weaponry enough for any three men. Maybe that is why Jemsen and I so frequently go along on your adventures, to continue our education."
Their good friend the giant knew that for the twins, continuing education meant endless questions from those incessant chatterboxes, both of them insatiably inquisitive. The twins were well read but always maintained that questions were how you found out things not written down in books.
Actually, the giant found their minds one of the twins' most attractive characteristics. There was a lot more to them than pretty faces and sexy bodies.
Not that the giant was indifferent to their physical charms. Like many males of the sentient species dwelling on Planet Haven, he had an eye for a pretty youth, and these two were among the very prettiest, with healthy boyish bodies, their heads crowned with cornsilk blond hair, cute fine boned faces. The total effect was very sexy.
Balan also had a lot of respect for the twins. Hunters, archers, and skilled map makers, the twins had been decorated for their service as scouts in the Commonwealth army during the Second War for the Plains. Both of them had been awarded the coveted Military Cross for Valor, which entitled them to append "MC" to their names. Their innate magical gift was that of unerring direction. They could sense the azimuth and elevation to any place they had ever been to or could see from afar, a great advantage for military scouts or the hunters they had originally been. More recently the twins had invented contour lines to depict elevations on topographic maps, for which the government of the Commonwealth had knighted them while the Guild of Cartographers had inducted them as Master Cartographers.
The small tattoos on their left shoulders showed they had been designated as both elf-friends and dwarf-friends for bravery and selfless service rendered to those peoples. Either folk would extend them hospitality and protection. Blest with good looks, brains, stones, and sex appeal, what was there not to like?
"As to why it is so hot hereabouts, the answer is simple enough. In these lands beyond the northern borders of the Commonwealth, we are pretty close to the Equator."
"And maybe I do 'bristle with weaponry', as you put it, but each weaplon has a purpose: quarterstaff, great sword, main-gauche, throwing knives, war axe, dagger, boot knife, even a simple cudgel. In combat you select the right tool for the job. It's not like the weight of them slows me down, strong as I am. I don't like word about this to get around, so you two chatterboxes had better mind your tongues, but one of my magical gifts is enhanced strength. Sure any foe can see that I must be strong, but they are not prepared for my immense strength, more than twice what they might expect from my size. I am actually as strong as a full-blooded Frost Giant."
"Which for a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth, comes in handy, with all the fighting I do in my line of work. Ah, so many bad people, so many heads to lop off!" he added with a facetious sigh.
Balandur's worked as a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth of the Long River, the benignly hegemonic state in the heart of the continent and its chief defender of civilization. The Hands were the trouble-shooters for the Commonwealth. As plenipotentiary agents of the state, their authority could override that of any civil official or military officer. They would identify themselves by holding up their right hand and triggering a small magic to display a glowing outline of a hand on their palm.
"I see you shaking your head and smiling, elf-boy. So what's so funny, Ran. Care to share with the rest of us?" the giant growled in mock umbrage to the last of the four companions.
This was Ran. An impertinent and irrepressible scamp, he had first served as a runner in the scouts for with the twins, as their Boy Friday and jack of all trades. The lovely elf-boy Randell (accent on second syllable), was barely five foot tall, lithe and svelte, his dark blond hair and blue eyes evidence of his one-quarter human heritage.
As an elf himself, Ran did not need the excuse of being an elf-friend, like the twins, to live as elves did, close to nature, entirely naked or "skin clad". After their first century of lives, older elves might take to wearing a skimpy loincloth, but Ran was only seventeen and had shed the loincloth he had sometimes had to wear while with the scouts. Oh he still carried it with him, as the twins did their silk riding trews. The only garment they found really useful were their silk camouflage cloaks, though theirs could not magically shift color and pattern like that worn by their friend, the young druid, Dahlderon.
Ran too was marked as a dwarf-friend, for his service with the twins at the battle for Stone Mountain. More catholic in his tastes than most, he fancied both pretty boys, like the twins, and pretty lasses as well, human lasses, which had raised eyebrows, to put it mildly, on his home turf. Alas, after cutting a swath through the young ladies of his homeland, Ran had been forced to flee a joint posse of vigilantes, both elf and human, and charged never to darken their doors again.
Never at a loss for words, the voluble elf-boy looked over at the giant and said.
"Much as I enjoy your lively banter, I do have a serious question to pose to you, Balan. Now, I don't want to come across as the mercenary of our little group, but with all the trouble you have put us through, I have to ask: are the three of us still getting paid? I mean, when we were with the scouts, we were on the Army payroll. Next is was the turn of the druids to pay us during our mission to Stone Mountain. I know that you Balan draw a salary from the Commonwealth and are paid very well indeed. What about us?"
"Hmmm. I have to wonder where you heard about my level of compensation. Might be a leak there to plug. It is true enough that I am well compensated for my efforts, and why not? Given our responsibilities, would you want us Hands to be vulnerable to bribery? Then there are the many risks involved. So I feel that I earn the coppers they pay me."
"Coppers? I happen to know that they pay you in golds, Balan, a hundred golds each and every month." the elf-boy replied, eyes twinkling mischievously. That provoked a guffaw from the giant.
"Ha! You have me there, you little imp! In my own defense, let me point out that my monthly stipend is actually modest compared to the comfortable income I draw from my estates. In my own country, we do not have a true aristocracy, thank the gods, but we do have hands-on gentry. I happen to be one of the landowners in the district. In my absence my brother manages my estates for me as well as his own. Which is why I turn my salary over to an institute in the Commonwealth capital that provides facilities and stipends for natural philosophers. Indeed I hope to get an appointment there myself one day, when I retire as a Hand."
"When will that be? I thought you giants lived a thousand years or more."
"We do and I am nearly there now. Despite my longevity I might get invalided out someday, with all the dangers we Hands face. It has happened before, especially if the disability were caused by magic. As for your own sorry self Ran, don't worry. You are still carried on the rolls of the druids though the exchequer of the Commonwealth compensates theirs for the use of your services on our missions together.
"By the way, Ran. How did you know about my level of compensation?"
With a sly smile the elf-boy replied:
"Naturally I cannot betray confidences, so let's just say that I have long ears and a wide circle of acquaintance."
"Circle of acquaintance, eh? I suppose that's one way of putting it." the giant conceded equitably. Ran was known for being generous with his charms.
That evening, Balan took Karel to his bed while Ran paired off with Jemsen. Long familiar with each other's bodies, the couples settled easily into the routines of love-making. Jemsen and Ran enjoyed an hour of enthusiastic and sweaty sex, with lots of laughter, rolling around, grappling, and thrusting of hips to drive rampant cocks into welcoming orifices. Both twins loved to make it with Ran. Cute, sexy, funny, versatile, energetic and acrobatic, what were there not to like about sex with the uninhibited elven poplet?
As always Balan was careful with his great size and weight with his partner lest he smother or crush the slender youth. Very often Balan lay supine and let a twin straddle his hips and sink as far as they could onto his shaft, leaving them in control of the extent of the penetration. He could never go all the way with the lads. He was just too big.
Ran and the twins also liked Balan to fuck them on all fours, their rumps presented temptingly to the giant. In that position too, since he controlled the degree of penetration, there was little chance of accident. Of all his boy lovers, only the shapeshifter cum minstrel Aodh and and the young druid Dahl, could actually take all of the giant's virile member despite being only about Ran's size. Their inherent magics worked in different ways to make that possible.
As the foursome resumed the march, the irrepressible Ran asked no one in particular:
"Remind me again, why we are on foot, instead of on horseback."
Karel supplied the answer.
"For one thing, if you are sitting on a horse you cannot use your pace count to measure distance which we combine with our sense of our azimuth of march in a simple technique called dead reckoning. Sounds primitive, but it is surprisingly effective, especially in flat country or on roads, in getting a good first approximation of distance traveled and your new position. From those we construct our sketch maps as we go."
"So speaks the mapmaker." Ran observed.
"Harder for anyone to track a party on foot or spot it from afar." noted Jemsen.
"So speaks the hunter." Ran added.
"And as rear guard," Balan said, "I get to ogle those taut bodies of yours, with their slender frames and sculpted musculatures, especially your delightfully tight buns clenching and twitching and dimpling.
"So speaks the lover of boy flesh." Ran finished.
Just then Balan glanced up at the skies.
"Too bad we don't have eyes aloft. It would make our scouting a whole lot easier. Alas, where is Dahl when you really need him?."
Druids like Dahl could send part of their consciousness into the mind of a hawk or an eagle and take control, affording them a bird's eye view of the surroundings. For that matter, so could their Adversary or his Dark Prophet, though they preferred ravens or rooks as their aerial agents of surveillance. But Dahl had returned to the Great Southern Forest for advanced training in druidical magic. There he would learn to levitate and to control the elements and other techniques.
Around the campfire in the evening, each of the companions turned their attention to his own tasks. Ran was their Boy Friday and general factotum. He had the knack for cooking up tasty meals whether in the kitchen or over an open fire. Balan attended to their weapons, checking for rust, honing blades, and also practicing his knife throwing. He and the twins often sparred with their quarter staffs, the weapon they had in common. Alternatively Ran trained the twins in martial arts, which had been the equalizer the tiny elf-boy turned to early on to compensate for his lack of size and reach.
Ran also practiced with his sling while on the march during the day. Every so often he let loose at a likely stump or rock and sometimes even brought down a hare or a partridge for their supper. But he also took a turn giving the twins lessons in close-in knife fighting at which he was a master, quick and nimble as he was thanks to his petite physique. Ran was ambidextrous and liked to switch hands to disconcert his opponents.
The elf-boy had always preferred the kukri. The weapon cum tool was just about the largest blade he could wield effectively. Its bent blade lent power to a thrust, but it could also slash and chop. Frankly Ran was too small and lacked reach to wield a sword and take his place in a shield wall and stand shoulder to shoulder against a foe. Shield and armor would only slow him down, so no sword or war axe for little Ran.
Karel and Jemsen jotted notes and observations in their journey books and maintained sketch maps of the country they had already traversed. Once they returned to civilization, they would produce finished maps. That was the purpose of their scout, to improve and update the Commonwealth's maps of a sparsely populated region long ignored and thought to be militarily, politically, and economically insignificant. Only it just might not be so in the future.
Dahl had once asked the twins if they could determine true distance as well as azimuth and elevation. Jemsen told him:
"Not with our gift alone, no, but we can do so in conjunction with our maps and mathematics. For distance, all that we sense with magic is a vague magnitude: close by, not too near, a good ways off, or far far away. Not very precise, I'll admit. Now our azimuth is a true heading. Sail a ship along an azimuth, a rhumb line, we give you and you will get there. It is not the shortest surface route, which lies along a great circle of the globe, but simply an unvarying course to the destination. We also detect the absolutely shortest direction, straight through the planet and out the other side."
"So which distance do you calculate, great circle or rhumb line?"
"Both of those plus the true least distance, as if you could tunnel straight through the planet. From our angle of elevation and the circumference of the globe, we figure where a line straight through would come back out to the surface. Once we have the least distance, we calculate the other two."
He went on to explain that their technique was related to that of surveyors who translated their observations in the field into calculated positions on a cadastral map. Both techniques required intricate and painstaking mathematics, using tables of values developed by the Commonwealth's natural philosophers that let one use simple addition and subtraction instead of error-prone multiplication and division to manipulate the tiny fractional values. [i.e. logarithms and trigonometric functions]
Professional surveyors also measured elevation or altitude above sea level, something their own techniques, applied to much greater distances, could not do. For that they relied on a recent invention, the box barometer, a device that actually measured air pressure which varied with elevation.
The twin also stated that making a comprehensive map of a territory was a job best left for after field work, in comfortable circumstances back at base. Still, if they had to, the twins could calculate true distances even in the field using worksheets and the logarithmic and trigonometric tables published on sturdy onionskin paper in a leather bound book which Jemsen carried in his pack.
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