Elf Boy's Friends - I
The next morning, as the three friends took breakfast together. Finn asked the twins about their improved pie tin. Jemsen explained that its bowl was rounded and the edges curled over for a better grip. Also the toys were decorated with a spiral design in blue or red.
The twins had originally hoped their design might qualify for an inventor's license from the commonwealth which conferred exclusive rights for a period of time to commercially exploit a new device or process. Upon taking legal advice they learned that to qualify for a license, the device had to be original, not obvious, and useful, none of which was true of their pie tin. However they were told that they could procure a trades-mark by giving their toys a distinctive name and appearance.
The problem was that the twins were stumped on the name. Variations on Randell's name just did not work. Neither did cutesy names like Whirlo or Spinno. No, they needed a name that was distinctive, descriptive, and cute, a name that promised fun. It was less a toy than a piece of sports equipment for all ages, so the name could not be anything childish.
"I understand," the young giant said. Finn turned his attention back to his breakfast. After a bit he asked:
"Say Karel, the rolls at your end of the table are out of even my reach. Could you zing one down to me?
In a flash of inspiration, as the blond boy tossed him a sweet roll, Finn blurted out:
"That's it. A Zinger!"
"Yes, of course! That's brilliant, Finn!" Karel chimed in. "Thanks. Zinger it is."
Finn saw the quick minds of the twins as one of their most attractive characteristics. There was a lot more to those two blond beauties than pretty faces and sexy bodies.
Klarendes got the young emissary of the Frost Giants his meeting with the highest authorities. He presented the young giant to the Ruling Council. Also present were the Chief Hand plus Artor and the twins, the journeyman Hand in his silks and the twins in color coded sarongs, Jemsen in green and Karel in blue.
Klarendes and the Chief Hand, Baron Jarmond, had known each other for years, so before the meeting started the count asked why his son Artor was there. Jarmond shrugged.
"He was due for a new assignment. This is it. Oh and the Council is going to ask you to be part of the peace delegation. The Frost Giants respect you. I am sure you can figure out why I brought the twins into this."
"As guides, obviously."
"And mapmakers too."
The twins had already mapped much of the Hot Lands on their expedition with Balan years earlier and had cross the Western Plains too though only west to east not north to south. Nevertheless, their magical gift of unerring direction would get them through. They would map the route of march across the Western Plains. The standard maps of the area were woefully inadequate.
At first things did not go well.
"How can we make peace with a people who allied themselves with those horrible centaurs who devour human beings and other sentient races?" complained one member of the Ruling Council.
"Not to mention the Dark Prophet with his intolerant religion or that life-leach Urloch who militarized and industrialized the heartland of the barbarians. Balandur, Rolf, and Arik destroyed their power center just in time to save the world from the reign of perpetual evil."
Finn's counter to those points was to explain that the Frost Giants never really allied themselves to the centaurs. The had been kept in the dark by their employers. Then one day, the centaurs showed up at the military base and supply depot which the giants were paid to build for Urloch.
The truth is that the giants did not like or trust the centaurs who looked like a cross between a reptile and an insect if such a thing can be imagined. As a precaution the giants secretly constructed a redoubt within their precincts and stuffed it with provisions. A deep well provided water. When the centaurs ran amok, the giants fought them to a standstill and finally killed them all.
Finn pointed out that the Frost Giants had not acted militarily against the Commonwealth except for the participation of four of their number in the raid on Elysion aiming to kill Balandur. Urloch's emissary had demanded their participation and the four giants who went on the raid were a double brace of hotheads no one missed. Finn also noted that, as individuals, hundreds of thousands of Frost Giants lived in peace within the borders of the Commonwealth, had done so for centuries, working like everyone else, paying taxes, raising families, and not making trouble. Frost Giant males trained with the local militia in units of auxiliaries made up of their own kind.
The Ruling Council grudgingly accepted the sincerity of their offer of peace but intended to drive a hard bargain on where the Frost Giants might settle. The Commonwealth would use the giants for strategic advantage. Now the homeland of the centaurs lay to the southwest beyond the Western Plains. Quite a few centaurs still roamed there, those which had not migrated at Urloch's behest. So the first task of the giants would be to clear them out, which was quite a tall order.
Finn did not know whether his people would take the Commonwealth up on its offer. His people had sought peace after a long war but the peace offered by the Commonwealth came with a new war attached. Nevertheless he agreed to guide a delegation to his people.
Artor's role was to represent the Hands and the Commonwealth and to lead the long march. Also to employ his firepower at need. Jemsen and Karel would act as guides. Klarendes and Aodh would travel with the Commonwealth's peace delegation for their meeting with the Frost Giants. Once the alliance was forged, Count Klarendes would take leave of his son and his friends the twins and yes now young Finn too and return with Aodh to Elysion. Such was the plan.
The peace delegation traveled north by riverboat. The head of the delegation was Lord Zaldor, a member of the Ruling Council who traveled with just a bodyguard, a single servant, and surprisingly light baggage.
During the trip upriver the other members of the delegation pretended not to notice the sounds of lusty sexual congress resonating from the cabin shared by the twins and the young giant. Talking with Klarendes, Lord Zaldor did wonder aloud whether is was seemly for the twins to consort with the enemy. Klarendes allowed that they were only establishing amicable relations with the Frost Giants on a personal basis as a prelude to a general peace. Zaldor conceded the point and said no more about it.
Once they reached the head of navigation the route led overland across the Eastern Mountains via the (formerly) secret tunnel which the Entrapment Army, as it came to be called, had passed through years earlier to attack a horde of 90,000 barbarians which was trying to break through the defensive lines of the Army of the Plains. The two armies attacked their enemies from both sides. It was more than a victory. It was a battle of annihilation.
Zaldor requisitioned mounts and an escort of twenty troopers from the garrison at the mouth of the great tunnel, just enough to uphold the dignity of the delegation but not so many as to present a threat. The delegation started on the long slog northwards at an easy pace to accommodate Aodh and Finn who were afoot.
"If only I were full grown, Aodh, I could carry you on my shoulders."
"That would be a switch, me mounting you!"
The twins were in their riding silks from their days as army scouts, their quarterstaffs, unstrung bows, and kukris in saddle scabbards. Artor also wore his silks and a weapons belt bearing war axe and kukri. Aodh was still in the nude and carried no weapons. He himself was a weapon, his claws always at the ready. As for Count Klarendes, a sword hanging from a baldric slung over his shoulder sufficed. He was a firecaster after all.
Along the way the twins checked and updated the maps of those regions that Balandur and Arik had made on their scouting expedition so many years before. Finn asked how they happened to have maps of the area. Klarendes provided the explanation and mentioned how Balandur had killed a Frost Giant in unarmed single combat.
"So that is what happened to Tilber Bjarnson. We always wondered at his fate. Scouts did not find his body for some weeks. There was no sign of who had killed him."
"There wouldn't be. Not with Balandur."
The twins expressed surprise at how well Lord Zaldor put up with the primitive accommodations of an army camp. He smiled:
"I wasn't always a noble. I started out as a soldier, a ranker, won a battlefield commission then worked my way up the ranks in wars fought before you younglings were born. I retired as a colonel then went into politics."
"It's been downhill ever since!" he added with a chuckle.
Just before they arrived at the stronghold of the Frost Giants, Aodh wrapped a sarong around his narrow hips. For him that was the height of formal wear.
Upon arrival they were shown to quarters which the giants had built years earlier for a barbarian army that never arrived. The delegations broke bread that evening in an open air pavilion leaving formal negations for the next day.
The leader of the Frost Giants was Oddr Bjarnson, brother of the late Tilbur. Over dinner Finn related his fate. Klarendes expressed his hope that this would not cast a pall over the negotiations.
"Nay, Lord Klarendes. I know now that my brother died honorably. It is only unfortunate that it was in a war we did not want. We were gulled into taking the job of building this staging area. We never knew the ultimate goals of the Dark Prophet nor of Urloch. Had we known, we would never have thrown in with them. Understand, we Frost Giants are a civilized people. We are not barbarians and we have good relations with our neighbors. Indeed we sometimes intermarry with humans. Balandur was one such hybrid."
"Oh, I know that we Frost Giants sometimes come across as arrogant or even overbearing. Our detractors complain that we look down on the other races in more ways than one. I will admit that there is some truth in that. Still most of us do realize that while we might justly be gratified to be so big and strong it makes no sense to be proud of it. Our size and strength were none of our own doing, just nature at work."
"Indeed. Your mention of that old friend of mine just now puts me in mind of what Balandur used to say about the Frost Giants. He acknowledged that you were neither evil nor barbarous but he allowed as how you weren't fully house-broken either."
That produced nods and self-deprecating smiles from the giants. Oddr said that more than a few giants had known old Balandur back in the day and had befriended him. That was why only four could be persuaded to go after him on that raid.
"We got the story from the retainers left behind at their last camp. They observed the debacle and brought the news back with them. They told of how nimble boys slung small glass globes filled with an inflammable oil at your enemies. At the apex of their flight, you Count Klarendes ignited the oil and rained liquid fire down on them. Clever that, using ranks of boys as a multiplier for your fire casting. Later, once the centaurs broke through your lines, you tossed great balls of fire which clung to them and cooked them like lobsters in a pot."
"The magical gift of firecasting runs strong in my family. My son Artor is a powerful firecaster in his own right."
"Did you take part in that battle young Klarendes?" Oddr asked.
"Only briefly. I was in my teens and only just coming into my powers, so I could not help much in the clash of arms. Instead I was put in charge of the defense of the manor house which sits beyond the village so it a kind of back door. Sure enough a couple of centaurs tried to get in. Only one centaur at a time could fit through the stone vault that led to the gate. One of our retainers put a bolt into him with his crossbow. That just made the creature mad. He slashed at us through the bars and roared in anger. As he took a breath, I saw my chance and flung a bolt of flame down his throat and burned out his lungs."
"The second centaur dragged his dying comrade out of the way and looked to give it a try himself. Well, by then, I had pretty much shot my bolt and was dizzy from my effort. Nevertheless I stood my ground and tried to look cool, crossing my arms and tilting my head to one side. Then I spoke ever so casually saying: 'Plenty more where that came from.' The centaur must have understood our speech or maybe just my body language. He turned tail and stalked away."
"Bravo! You showed courage and good tactical sense, young Klarendes. I take it then that your powers are now fully developed?"
"Father, permission to show off?"
"Go right ahead Artor!" he grinned.
The young firecaster gestured dramatically though that was entirely for effect. Firecasting is an act of will. The lanterns and camp fires began to go out in a wave that centered on Artor and spread to the farthest reaches of the holdings of the Frost Giants. Artor gave it a few seconds then snapped his fingers. The flames returned everywhere instantly.
The next day at breakfast Lord Zaldor and Klarendes discussed the impending negotiations.
"We have made a good start by establishing amicable personal relations with the Frost Giants. And did you notice how after your son's demonstration of his powers he was no longer addressed as 'Young Klarendes' but as Lord Artor. He has won their respect, which he will need on the long march ahead."
Despite all the good feelings, at first the Frost Giants reacted badly to the Commonwealth's peace terms.
"By the gods, we just barely survived one war with the centaurs. Now you are asking us to march halfway across the continent and start another war with them. Are you trying to send us to our doom?" bellowed the war chief of the Frost Giants one Harald Sigurdsen. Oddr Bjarnson nodded his agreement.
"We number only eight hundred or so, all but eighty male. True we won our war here but mostly by fighting from fixed defenses. What you propose is the conquest of a considerable country by an army entirely too small for the task. And we would have to fight on foot in the open against cavalry. We could never bring them to battle save on their own terms. "
"We do not expect you to do the job by yourselves. Far from it. The Commonwealth army will contribute much larger forces than your own contingent. Our cavalry will flush the centaurs from hiding and drive them onto your shield wall. Together we will crush them hammer to anvil. Between your swords and our lances, we will annihilate the foul creatures."
"Well that is more like it." the Frost Giants admitted. "How large a force do you intend to put into the field?"
"Two regiments of two thousand soldiers each, a road building battalion, and various commissary, quartermaster and other support units. Five thousand in all.
"Five thousand sounds like overkill. Do you intend these soldiers to garrison the newly conquered lands and lord it over us?"
"Nay. Once our joint conquest is complete, most of that army will push on to the flatlands beyond. You see, trouble is brewing in the far west of the continent. A militaristic state has arisen that threatens the peace of that region. Should they consolidate their power and take over those lands, in the long run they might threaten the Commonwealth. We have no intention of allowing a military peer to develop on the continent of Valentia."
"The problem is those lands are politically fragmented, at odds with each other, and militarily weak. They have petitioned for annexation as associated states. Now the Commonwealth has long traded with those lands via the Great Inland Freshwater Sea or navigable rivers that flow into it from those lands. Our navy dominates the Inland Sea, but annexation is unthinkable without a land link. That is where the centaurs come in."
"Or go out!" one Frost Giant quipped which produced a rumble of agreement. Zaldor continued.
"The Commonwealth will build military and trade roads across your new country. We still station only a small garrison of battalion size there to show the flag, to patrol the roads, and to protect the road builders. Together our two peoples will assert title to this territory by rights of conquest and of occupation. That is where you giants come in. You will earn your new country with your blood and your sweat."
"That sounds much better." Oddr allowed but now let us turn to political matters. We want to be under our own laws not those of the Commonwealth proper."
"Not a problem. The Commonwealth is flexible about law codes for the sentient races. Your own laws will prevail in your land just as those of the elves prevail in their secluded vales and those of the dwarves in their subterranean labyrinths. You will have to adopt our commercial code for dealings with the rest of the Commonwealth."
"Fine. What about tariffs?" Oddr asked.
"The Commonwealth does not levy tariffs on exports, only on imports. Since you would be within our customs union, you would not pay any tariffs on your trade with us. Indeed, once those threatened lands to the west are absorbed by the Commonwealth, you could trade freely with them too."
"Fair enough, but what of other taxes."
"We will grant you a tax holiday for twenty-five years. The Ruling Council realizes that, with your small numbers, the tax yield would be insignificant to us but perhaps a burden on you as you struggle to build a country from scratch. No, the only taxes you will pay for the next quarter century are those you levy on yourselves."
"Since this will be a second homeland for Frost Giants, we need to be able to restrict immigration so we won't be overwhelmed by the vast numbers of the population of the Commonwealth."
"Agreed. Though you cannot bar your fellow citizens from traveling freely there you will decide who may settle among you."
"Can't complain about those terms."
"One more thing," Klarendes added. "There is no reason why you should not augment your numbers from among those of your kind who live in the Commonwealth. Those who join you might double or triple your numbers, bring skills you currently lack among your small population, and provide brides for lonely bachelors.
"Now you are talking!" one of the younger giants remarked to general acclaim.
"In that connection," Oddr began, "Can you arrange for a supply of those depilatories the elves export from their vales? One treatment every three months is so much more convenient than daily shaving. We want our young swains to look their best when they go courting. Beards may still be in fashion in the old country but nowhere else Frost Giants live, not with all this heat and sweat."
"Though finances might be a problem." Klarendes continued. "You will need to import all sorts of manufactures including farming implements and machinery for your industries like sawmills, quarries, or shipyards. The land of the centaurs is mountainous in the north then dwindles to low hills. The headwaters of the rivers run fast and will provide hydropower for mills. The lower stretches are navigable all the way to the Inland Sea."
"Actually money will not be a problem." Oddr announced with a self-satisfied look on his face. Our stronghold was where Urloch's paymasters kept their gold. It is ours now. All of it."
"I think we are in agreement then on the terms of the peace." Zaldor concluded. "Tomorrow we meet in a council of war as allies. Till then, let us celebrate the peace and our new alliance."
That sentiment was shared by all.
After the feast held to celebrate the accord Finn and the twins went off to celebrate in their own inimitable style. For that matter, so did Klarendes and Aodh.
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