Elf-Boy and Friends
Chapter 37. The Giant and the Carpenter
"So, Taitos, my old friend. It's just the two of us now." Balandur mused.
"Well three of us, counting Esmeralda there." the giant amended as the ginger cat climbed onto the nobleman's lap. She turned in a circle then settled down, curling up with her head on her paws, the very picture of feline domesticity. The giant smiled at the personable feline.
Balandur was sitting on the veranda with his host Taitos Klarendes, Count of the Eastern March. With brandy snifters in hand both men were swirling, sniffing, and slowly sipping the strong spirit, as brandy aficionados were wont to do.
"You must miss him terribly."
The count was roused from his brown study long enough to nod and give his friend a rueful nod.
"Aodh is the light of life. No offense to any of the other lovely youths whose presence has graced these ancient halls, but no one comes close to matching him in youthful male beauty. Sometimes when he is in this big chair with me, I look down at his comely face and that sexy body which he is kind enough to put on display at all times, and… well he just takes my breath away."
"Then, when the inevitable physical reaction occurs, when he feels my manhood pressing against his hip, he looks up at me with that naughty smile of his, a smile that promises such excitement and delight."
"It's a wonder I haven't taken him more often right here, out on the veranda. The only thing that restrains me is the knowledge that sounds of lusty sexual congress might reach the ears of my sons. Much as they accept the wir boy as my lover, I know they would prefer that such activities be confined to their father's bed chamber."
"Not that we always do so. We both enjoy making love under the open sky. Early in our relationship, we went swimming near that honeymoon resort by the scenic waterfall here in Elysion. We swam and canoed and made love right there on the shore, where anyone walking the circuit of the lake might see us. We did the same thing during our idyll at Stone Mountain, after the battle."
"All I can do now is wait here at home and keep myself busy. Work helps take my mind off a separation that weighs heavily after only two months. It seems more like two years. And this mission is dangerous. There is a real chance he might not make it back at all."
The giant nodded. He knew the count was using him as a sounding board. Fine with him. Quite aside from his sympathy for a friend, he himself was a sometime lover of the young minstrel cum secret agent cum wir-panther.
"You know Taitos, by the time I met you twenty years ago, I had stopped cultivating close friendships. With my longevity, I had often outlived the good people I met and come to like. Eventually I vowed to never let anyone get close. Then you came along, someone with a lifespan of centuries thanks to your elven blood. So I let our initial contact ripen into a real friendship. I am so very glad that I let it happen."
"I remember those early days too, Balan. It was right after the great battle, the one where I went kill crazy. The Army sent you to do an assessment of the military campaign, an after-action report you called it. When you interviewed me, you found me a psychological basket case. You could have moved on. Yet you were patient with me and spent time helping me get over the loss of my friends and neighbors especially the horrid death of my lover Ahndray. Soon we found we had common interests. So we became friends and remain so to this day."
"And it's not our friendship, Taitos. You were the catalyst for other recent friendships, notably with these fine youngsters who are now so much a part of our lives: Dahl and Aodh, Jemsen and Karel, Ran and Arik.
"Yes and history repeats itself. Back when I was their age, like them, I found myself recruited for your clandestine missions in far off lands. Which was just what I needed. Our adventures took me away from my old haunts and gave me something constructive to do. I got to see the world or at least a good deal of it. And we did have fun didn't we?"
"Didn't we ever! Remember that time you fell off a roof into a hog wallow. You landed with a big kerplop right in among the porkers. Then when you tried to get to your feet, the pigs bowled you over. I don't know whether they were just hungry or maybe trying to mount you."
"Oh, very funny, Balan. Thanks to those damn pigs, I got completely coated with muck, making me look like a man made from mud, and I reeked to high heaven!"
"Which is why you flash incinerated the clothes and muck right off your body. That left you standing there stark naked your skin coated in gray ash. You looked like a statue carved from granite by a talented sculptor. There you were: a vision of youthful male pulchritude apparently preserved in stone. Funny how despite your youth and attractiveness, we kept our relationship platonic. It was enough for us to be firm friends."
"Enough for us, maybe, but you Balan were the only one there who knew we were not lovers. Everyone else assumed that the two of us, the huge man and his companion, the slender pretty boy all of sixteen, had to be lovers. My ears burned at the cat calls and suggestions they taunted me with, especially pungent comments about our mis-matched proportions!"
"It did not help that I had also burned off all my hair. I didn't have a feather anywhere, not on the top of my head nor at the fork of my legs, not even eyebrows, which is damnably inconvenient when you sweat. My magical immunity to my own fire does not extend beyond my skin."
"I thought your plight was funny as hell. And so did you Taitos, in the end. Once it sank in how ridiculous the situation was, you burst out laughing. I knew then that you were on your way to recovery."
Klarendes nodded ruefully at the memory of that embarrassing moment, but the look he gave his old friend was one of gratitude. Balan had been there for him in his time of need, something he would never forget.
As it happened, Balan had resumed his recurring romance with Arik, the young carpenter whom Klarendes had graciously invited to stay at the manor while Balan was in residence. The three of them sat were in the habit of sitting around the supper table after the meal and chatting into the evening.
After one particular supper, as Balan stood up, he jostled the table causing his empty goblet to fall off the edge. He didn't notice it himself but Arik did. Though the big youth was in no position to catch it, he tried anyway extending his arm toward it as it fell. The cup stopped in mid-air then flew into Arik's hand who held it up looking at it flabbergasted.
"What just happened?" he wondered aloud. Balan answered him.
"It must be your magical gift finally manifesting itself, Arik. Yours would be the gift of Fetching. Actually you will be able to Throw and Lift as well as Fetch. You can move things just by thinking about it. Now nothing will ever be out of reach, whether succulent apples high in the tree or a tool hanging on the far wall of your workshop. You will never miss with your sling either. In fact you don't even need a sling any more. Just Throw the stone or lead bullet right at the hare or pheasant. You can adjust its flight as your quarry twists and turns, so you cannot miss. If an enemy raises his sword to you, Fetch it out of his hand then Throw it back to him point first."
"So I can Fetch and Throw and Lift can I." Arik said looking around for something to try it on.
"Whoa! Careful there Arik. With your gift you might bonk someone with a flying object or break something. Practice alone for a while in an empty field. Set up stones or busted crockery. Sharpen your control. Only then use your skill indoors and around people."
"That sounds like good advice. I will do that, and thank you Balan."
"One further note, Arik," the giant continued, "I am thinking that in combat you should carry a set of poison darts or better yet arrowheads. Fling them at a foe singly or in a bunch. You could bring down anyone or anything, even a Frost Giant or an aurochs. And another thing. Fetch the points back afterwards. Not only will you never run out of ammunition, you will leave your foes scratching their heads trying to figure out just how their fallen comrades were slain. Nothing like that kind of uncertainty to put fear into them."
Arik nodded, realizing that his gift was powerful indeed if used shrewdly. He decided he would carry his points in a wood lined pouch for safety. Arik couldn't help thinking that maybe now Balan would take him along on one of his missions. Arik's magical gift would surely come in handy on a reconnaissance mission. His magical gift would make him more of an equal partner with Balan rather than just a youth employed in his service. They might do great things together. Arik could take out sentries quietly or disarm opponents by Fetching their weapons from their scabbards. People often hung their keys on a nail or peg. Simple enough for Arik to have them jump into his hand.
Why, when he thought about it, his power could be used in dozens of ways. Which was great. Now he would be a real asset on future missions, with his Fetching and Throwing and Lifting plus his fieldcraft and skill with long knife. Admittedly he did need more practice with the quarterstaff.
When he broached his hopes to the giant, Balan agreed. He did need someone to travel with him on his new mission. It was always wise to have another pair of eyes to watch your back or simply to stand watch when you yourself slept. With the twins, Aodh, and Ran away on their mission, that left Balan short handed.
"So why are you so ready to take me along, Balan, me, of all people, a simple carpenter. Do I strike you as adventurer?"
"You are more of an adventurer than you give yourself credit for son, else you would not have volunteered as you did."
Arik rather liked thinking of himself as an adventurer. After meeting real heroes like Aodh and Dahlderon, the twins Jemsen and Karel, and even that little scamp Ran with his girl-magnet battle scar on his ribs, Arik realized that he hadn't done that much with his life so far, had not made his mark nor joined the fight against the common foe. Here was a chance to do something noteworthy.
A patriotic youth, he wanted to protect his homeland from its enemies. That meant not only Elysion but the Commonwealth at large, the heart and shield of civilization on the continent. Like many a brawny nineteen year old youth Arik had a head full of dreams in which he fantasized himself the hero in great adventures without really expecting to participate in one. Now he was about to set forth on secret mission with Balandur, a legendary Hand of the Commonwealth.
"Thank you for the endorsement, Arik, but being a legend is a handicap in my work. Too many people now know who I am and what I am. We Hands are not supposed to be public figures, after all. I can no longer go undercover as a mercenary, bodyguard, or caravan rider."
Balan later spoke to Klarendes.
"I have asked Arik to join me on this mission. He is willing but cannot just abandon his position as a journeyman carpenter. That would leave his master in the lurch. Could you have a word with the man. Ask him to release the boy into my service? I can authorize payment of funds to hire temporary help with something extra for his trouble."
"I don't see a problem with any of that. I will speak with Master Justin in the morning. Consider it settled."
"Can I ask where you are going, Balan?"
"Not only can you ask, this time I can answer you."
"Hallelujah! Will wonders never cease?"
"Come on, Taitos. I am not as close-mouthed as all that."
There ensued a pregnant pause during which the amused nobleman said nothing but simply looked steadily at his friend, one eyebrow raised skeptically.
"All right, all right. So maybe I am."
The two good friends chuckled companionably.
"We need to know what the Frost Giants are up to. Our scouts tell us they have dropped from sight. Large as they are even giants can hide under a forest canopy, maybe even camouflage themselves in open country with the right training. I hope they don't have magic cloaks like the druids, but who knows. So that's my job."
"What about the centaurs?"
"We know where they are encamped. You cannot hide the passage of an entire people across the open plains. We keep them under aerial or should I say avian observation thanks to a journeyman druid lent us by Owain, Dahl's mentor. They are still in the far north but no longer in the Hot Lands. The centaurs need a breather after the ordeal of their crossing. Their line of march is littered with corpses of centaurs overcome by heat and thirst. Two thousand of them and good riddance I say. I only wish more had died, but they travelled by night, from one fresh-dug waterhole to the next. By day they sheltered under canopies relying on the winds to carry off excess body heat. It bears out what you said about someone on the other side finally using his head. And providing the means, like those white canopies."
A few days later, the two adventurers set out on foot. It wasn't just that Arik did not know how to ride. It was easier to travel stealthily on foot. Horses are big and easy to spot in open country. Their riders make fine targets perched in a saddle. A horse's tracks are unmistakeable and a dead giveaway since horses generally did not run wild in those parts. Find a hoof print, you can expect a rider. Horses can be tracked by the piles of dung they dump along the way or near camps. The smell itself is a giveaway. Finally, horses have an annoying tendency to communicate with others of their kind with nickers and neighs, just when you are trying to avoid discovery by riders whom you would rather avoid.
For this mission, Arik set aside his habitual nudity for a modest loincloth that not only girded his loins physically and psychologically, but gave him a belt to hang the scabbard of his long knife plus the pouch of poison arrowheads. The rest of his kit went into a pack hung from the end of the quarterstaff which he rested on his shoulder, balancing it with his left arm. Arik's skills with a staff were merely adequate so Balan wanted to train him as they went.
Maybe Arik was just a carpenter, but his magical gift made him a more powerful ally than both the twins put together or even the young wir-panther for that matter. Of all their company only Dahl's druidic powers and Klarendes firecasting were more powerful than Fetching.
Nevertheless Arik did wonder if he were Balan's second or even third choice. So he put it to the giant:
"Would you have taken Aodh with you instead of me, if he were available?"
"Don't try to compare yourself to someone who isn't fully human. You have a lot that recommends you, Arik, your strength, martial arts training, your skill with a knife, and now there is your Fetching power. Anyway taking Aodh along was never in the cards. The only thing that could tear him away from Count Klarendes was his sense of duty to his homeland and to our cause. He will be back in your valley soon enough. That will make the count very happy. Those two lovebirds are an inspiration to all of us.
"Speaking of lovebirds, do you expect to take me to your bed tonight?"
"Now that is a clever transition to a new subject of conversation. Here is my answer: take you, no. Invite you to join me, yes. And no hard feelings if you say no."
They both grinned knowing that would not happen.
Now Arik was a big lad, but even he could not take Balandur's giant cock all the way. The giant was hugely endowed, even in proportion to his size. And he towered more than a foot and a half over the red-haired youth. As ever with all the youths he had swived over the years, Balan exercised great care lest he inflict injury with his dimensions, his bulk, and his strength.
Which is why he usually let his partners straddle him as he lay supine, letting them position their hungry holes over his rampant member, letting them set the rhythm and pace and control how far they would sink down onto it. Meanwhile Balan himself got to play with their tits and boy cocks, a fair arrangement in his mind. His boys seemed to agree. Many of them had kept coming back for more.
For all his vigor as a lover, the giant was not only careful but attentive to the needs of his partners. Sexual pleasure should be shared not just taken by one from another. The giant was fully aware of the virtues of foreplay, disdaining overly assertive males who seemed to reduce lovemaking to simple animal rut. Kissing, petting, murmuring sweet nothings were part of it too, and those who did not understand that, well more fools they.
Balan loved to watch the faces of the boys he was fucking, first that look of alarm as they realized the dimensions of their undertaking, so to speak, then the uncertainty and fear. Gosh a pretty boy could look ever so cute biting his lower lip nervously in anticipation. But a boy with spunk would soon exchange that pusillanimous mien for one of determination that showed that, no matter what, he was resolved to take it. And it made him shed his virgin's blood, well, what a way to go!
As the boy let his weight slip the head of that giant cock past his sphincters, his face would contort with pain while sweat erupted from his brow and ran down his brows and nose. Gulping at the enormity of the task before him, or wasn't it really behind him, the boy would grit his teeth and give the giant another inch of two then take time out for a breather, to let his body adjust to the intruder pushing into his guts. Once the lover moved past that stage, things would became easier. Pain receded, replaced by visceral pleasure. Soon a boy was delirious with lust, riding his lover to an eruptive climax.
Which was just how things went between the giant and his newest conquest, the handsome carpenter from the secluded vale of Elysion.
Ironically the first real use Arik made of his new found magical gift was to Fetch one of Esmeralda's kittens down from a tree. The runt of her fifth litter, the little ball of fluff had gotten himself stranded up an apple tree. Esmeralda had come up to Arik meowing, obviously wanting him to follow her and perform some service. He did so and found the treed kitten mewling piteously. Poor little thing. Arik Fetched it into his hands and held the warm little body to his face close enough to feel the beat of its tiny heart. Then using both hands he placed the kitten ever so gently on the ground in front of his mother who picked him by the scruff of the neck in her jaws and carried him away to her nest.
That earned him a nod of thanks from Lord Klarendes. Everyone knew how he and Aodh doted on the personable ginger cat. Folks said she was the true mistress of the manor. A pardonable exaggeration, though Arik himself was well aware of her imperious ways. And even one those occasions when her mischief got her into momentary disfavor, she soon got back into the good graces of whomever she had offended. After allowing her target enough time for his or her temper to cool she launched a charm offensive. Of course her targets knew they were being manipulated but that was no defense. If you weren't vulnerable to a feline charm offensive, you would not be living with a cat in the first place.
"So Balan. When are we going to see a Frost Giant. We have been on the trail for weeks now, and so far we have seen nothing."
"We will see them all too soon, I am afraid. I just hope they don't see us first."
"Where do Frost Giants come from anyway?"
"From a land far away, in the northern hemisphere actually. But they have the wanderlust and can be found almost anywhere on this planet, whether alone or in small groups. The often hire out as mercenaries, bodyguards, or caravan escorts. Many are adventurers and soldiers of fortune though most engage in ordinary pursuits."
"Actually we are practically neighbors, my people and the Frost Giants. Our lands lie on opposite sides of a mountain range running east and west. They live to the north, we to the south in a milder climate sheltered by the mountains. Relations are amicable and we trade peacefully and sometimes intermarry. The Frost Giants are not an evil lot, but they look down on other peoples as beneath them, and I don't just mean that physically. The Frost Giants might not be barbarians, but they are not fully housebroken either, if you take my meaning."
"Why the name Frost Giants?"
They live at the end of a broad peninsula that projects into the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere and atop a high plateau that allows snow to fall and accumulate in winter. It turns cold enough to freeze the still water in ponds though not the running water in rivers and streams. It is not perpetual winter like in the polar islands, but it gets chilly enough, believe me. Brrr."
"So why are the Frost Giants here in the tropics, and how many do you think there are?"
"If I knew that, I would never have undertaken this trek. No doubt our Adversary or his Dark Prophet has promised them something, gold maybe, or land, even commercial monopolies or the right to tithe trade caravans. A conqueror has many boons within his gift, if only he wins."
Suddenly a gigantic figure burst through the surrounding brush.
"Aha, interlopers, just as I suspected,. I spotted your fire from the fell above, probably from the only angle it was visible. You have good fieldcraft, I will give you that much. Now what would a human boy and a mongrel aspiring to be a giant be up to in these parts? Up to no good certainly."
The Frost Giant raised his horn to signal the rest of his patrol. Quick as thought, Arik Fetched it right out of his hand. Arik held the horn up and grinned at the Frost Giant's discomfiture.
"You would signal for help, would you?" Balan sneered. "Surely you aren't afraid of a puny boy and me. Does a genuine Frost Giant nearly twice our size really need help to handle a youth and a giant-human mongrel? Friend Arik, I think this over-grown fellow here might be a coward. On second thought, maybe he is not so stupid as he looks. Perhaps he realizes that he confronts a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth, and not just any Hand but the fearsome Balandur himself."
"Never heard of you, Dread Hand or not."
"So you pretend."
"What are you getting at?"
"A fair fight. We square off, bare-handed, just you and me. The boy stays out of it. If you win, you can question the boy and get from him what he knows. If I win, we smash your horn and you go on your way but do not track us yourself. The delay should give us time to go to ground or put some distance between us."
"What if I don't like that deal?"
"Then I attack before you can summon help, the two of us taking our chances in armed combat with the advantage going not necessarily to the strongest nor to the bravest, but to the one with the better weapons and with the advantages of skill and speed and agility."
"Which would be you?"
"Which would be me. Remember I am a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth. I do this for a living."
"Agreed, then. No tricks now, Balandur."
"You have the word of a Hand of the Commonwealth."
"That is precisely what worries me." the Frost Giant retorted.
The two of them dropped their weaponry and set themselves for a brawl. The Frost Giant topped Balan by more than a head and was broader. It looked like an unequal contest till Balan moved. He feinted left then spun to his right, taking his opponent from the side, kicking his left knee hard, breaking the joint and bringing his opponent down.
The giant let out a roar of pain as he fell to earth with a crash. As the frost giant struggled to right himself, Balan snapped a kick to his head, stunning him. Pouncing on his back, the Hand gripped the Frost Giant's hair and chin and rotated the head like an owl's. Only Frost Giants are not owls, and their heads do not rotate well at all. The neck bones snapped, and, as the Hand of the Commonwealth let go, his enemy's limp body fell dead against the earth."
"Wow! How did you do that Balan. You were so strong and moved so fast?"
"One of my magical gifts doubles my strength, which makes me as strong as most Frost Giants but with less bulk to move around. That is why I could move so much faster than he was prepared for. Remember too that regardless of size the knee is a vulnerable joint which shatters when bent the wrong way"
"But what if the Frost Giant had won?"
"With your gift, you could have taken the Frost Giant down yourself by Throwing a few of those poison arrowheads of yours into his body. I really like that tactic you invented for attacking from all sides at once. It's impossible to defend against. More power to you, Arik."
"Thanks. The idea just came to me one day during practice. I realized that if I first flung a few points in a high arc then Threw others straight at the target, I could simply let the second bunch proceed on their own, with the impetus I had given them, while Fetching the others back towards me with the target in between. No way any shield or armor can cover all directions at once. And to make it just that much easier, I could blind my foe right at the beginning by Fetching his eyeballs out of his head."
"Wicked. You are learning to think like a real fighter, Arik. Here let me take a look at that horn, will you?"
Arik smiled and nodded, pleased at the giant's endorsement of his abilities.
The giant examined the incised designs on the horn. He explained that he knew the signals Frost Giants used, which were the same the world over. The horn just might come in handy for misdirection. Not having a convenient place for it on his weapons belt he gave it back into Arik's safekeeping. The boy slung its cord over his chest and shoulder where the horn would be handy but out of the way.
They set off at a good pace though not at a run. There was no need to hurry and every reason for caution. Balan knew not to push his luck even it it seemed like it would be easy to elude any local pursuit from scouts as yet unaware that one of their own had been killed or that the enemy was on the prowl. The enemy patrols were carried out by more than Frost Giants. Humans from the barbarian lands were also in evidence. Fortunately their fieldcraft was poor and Balan's was excellent, and the enemy scouts were basically going through the motions, complacent about their security this far north.
During their reconnaissance Balan occasionally used the horn for misdirection, signaling all clear when he thought patrols might be closing on his and Arik's position accidentally. He was sure they were never actually spotted nor their spoor tracked.
Arik was impressed by the giant's field craft. For all his size he trod the earth lightly, nearly silently and somehow managed to push through tangled brush without making a whole lot of noise. Though there was that one time his foot dislodged loose rocks knocking them over the edge of a ravine. The giant grimaced at the sound the rocks would make as they bounced down the rocky slope or when they hit the bottom, but Arik's quick thinking saved the day. With his gift he snatched all the stones out of the air even as they fell and placed them gently and quietly on a mossy bed. That drew an approving nod from the giant. This young carpenter made a fine ally indeed.
Balan had Arik dig sanitary holes deep and cover them with earth mixed with strong smelling leaves to conceal the smell of their bodily waste. The second step was to sweep all traces away and lay twigs or leaves or other litter on the ground to match the surroundings. As the giant explained, their own poo smelled different from that of Frost Giants or even their human barbarian allies because of dissimilar diets. A scout could tell a lot from such a deposit, including not only their species but likely how long ago the deposit was made.
They often slept up a tree but not so far up that they could not climb down quickly and take off. Balan showed his young companion how to cut a vine loose at the roots and drag the end up with him into his lair in the trees. If need be, the boy could swing on the vine out of reach of anyone at the foot of the trunk, to later join up with Balan at a rally point. Too bad Balan could not use that tactic. Giants aren't any good at swinging from trees. He used a vine merely to keep himself from rolling out of the tree in his sleep.
Such security measures took time but were worth it. They let the scouts get a good night's sleep. Fortunately neither of them snored. The rumbling sound of a human snore is distinctive and it carries surprisingly far in the still of the night. They knew that they both were silent sleepers from their trysts at the Klarendes' manor house.
Each evening the giant went over the day's events with his helper, pointing out lessons in tactics and fieldcraft and surveillance. He reviewed what he had done wrong, what he had done right, and where he might have done worse or better. He was giving the boy a good grounding in the age old techniques scouts use to get the intel they sought and get back with it alive. One strict rule: don't write anything down. Memorize till you were safe and only then put it on paper.
Eventually after long wanderings in the Northlands, the Commonwealth scouts discovered that the Frost Giants were building a stronghold and staging area for great armies, both human and centaur. This would be the assembly area for the eventual invasion.
The decision to call in the giants was an inspired one. With their great strength the giants needed neither large numbers nor draft animals to carry the work forward, making it much easier to keep hidden. The enemy had started the project by planting a belt of fast growing birch and alder across the only sightline into the building site. Camouflage netting hid most of the construction from aerial reconnaissance, however unlikely that was this far north. The over-stretched druids could not spare more than one journeyman druid for the task.
From the pace of the work and its ambitious dimensions, it looked like it might take two years to complete even with a labor force of giants. Then would come the chore of stocking the installation with food and fodder and clothing in barns, storehouses, and granaries. Weapons and ammunition would go into the armories. The giants also built the workshops any army needs: forges for blacksmiths and farriers, leather works for tack and saddlers, woodsheds for carpenters, etc. It was a vast undertaking and all part of a long range plan aimed at the complete destruction of the Commonwealth.
Still, Balan could not help wondering what stroke the enemy was preparing against its other great enemy, the druids in their forest fastness to the south. It surely would not be another clumsy invasion. Balan was totally at a loss, but he had a very bad feeling about it. He only hoped the planners in the capital could devise a plan based on Dahl's intelligence whereby a strike force might decapitate the enemy state or cult or alliance, or whatever it really was.
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