Elf Boy's Friends - I

by George Gauthier

Chapter 4

Council of War

At the council of war Lord Zaldor called on the twins to give a briefing on the geographic scope of the campaign introducing them by saying:

"Don't be fooled by the pretty-boy good looks on those two. Believe me the twins have earned their spurs as hunters, explorers, and in the wars as scouts for the Commonwealth army. As Sir Balandur's proteges, the twins marched over and mapped much of the route you would travel, both in the Hot Lands and the Western Plains. In their time they have crossed both eastern and western mountain ranges and traveled the entire navigable length of the Long River and produced excellent maps of those regions.

Their magical gift is that of unerring direction, which makes them ideal as guides and also makes their archery uncannily accurate. Furthermore, it was these ingenious fellows who developed contour lines to depict elevation and slope on maps. For that accomplishment they were knighted as well as inducted directly as Masters without ever having served as apprentices or journeymen into the Honorable Guild of Cartographers."

"For their selfless courage they were named both elf-friends and dwarf-friends. They also won the the Military Cross for Valor from the Commonwealth. They are, by my personal reckoning at least, two of the most valuable young citizens of the Commonwealth. Gentlemen, I present Sirs Jemsen and Karel."

With a bow of his head, Jemsen said: "Thank you Lord Zaldor for your generous remarks. I only hope my brother and I can live up to our billing."

As Karel posted a pair of maps on the wall, Jemsen launched into the briefing the two had worked out. With Karel indicating the various features with a pointer as his brother spoke, Jemsen noted that the spine of the Commonwealth was the mighty Long River which flowed due south in a great rift valley hundreds of leagues long and eighty wide. Ages ago geological forces had thrust blocks of stone up to create parallel mountain ranges, forcing the land between them to sink into a rift or graben. The flatlands of the graben were considered the Commonwealth proper. Its rich alluvial soil supported a population in the tens of millions.

The mountains facing the river were quite rugged but their outward flanks were much less steep. Few passes crossed these mountains. As the Commonwealth expanded, first by conquest and then by more or less voluntary annexation or accession of its neighbors during the Formation Wars, it occupied the mountains, not only for the sake of clear and secure borders but to obtain the resources of those lands from mines and timberlands, and such. Wise stewards of the land, the rulers of the Commonwealth conserved the forests to protect their watersheds.

Outward from the mountains were wide areas of plains. Those to the east had previously been uninhabited, a no man's land. Beyond them lay a huge area of rugged terrain, a series of plateaux and mountain ranges and basins with interior drainage occupied by millions of barbarians, a perpetual threat to the peace. To create a defensive buffer zone, the Army of the Commonwealth occupied the Eastern Plains and brought in settlers. Within a few decades the plains became a prosperous province of the Commonwealth, dotted with ranches and farms and the towns that served them.

The Western Plains were another story entirely. Long inhabited by nomads, the country wasn't all grassy plains by any means. Scraggly trees lined the swales; brush and thorn bushes formed thickets. Patches of scrub forest sprung up at the base of rocky outcrops.

In ages past the nomads had roamed freely and raided widely over the plains till the Commonwealth forced them into fixed territories, making it clear that civilization would no longer tolerate raids and inter-tribal warfare which always spilled over into settled lands. Although the Western Plains lay within the political boundaries of the Commonwealth including its customs union, the Government took a hands- off attitude toward their governance. The Commonwealth administration did not extend to that territory nor did its commercial code apply. The nomads ran their own affairs.

"As will we." Oddr Bjarnson noted

The lands of the centaurs lay southwest of the Western Plains. In furtherance of the campaign and the Commonwealth's strategic objectives, the army would build roads across the plains which would eventually traverse the land of the centaurs.

Now their job, his and Karel's, was to get the Frost Giants from their stronghold to the land of the centaurs, which lay diagonally across the entire Commonwealth. To get to their goal would require a march of nearly a thousand leagues along the shorter route. That route led southwest from the staging area across the low lying Hot Lands, around the northern tip of the Western Mountains and then diagonally southwest across the Plains. The alternate route was much longer: first due south in a march the length of the Eastern Plains to Dalnot, then west by road to the river, due south again by riverboat for a stretch, then another long march due west. The lines of such a march aligned along the cardinal directions and with the three right angle turns of the axis of advance made the total distance two thirds longer.

The twins strongly urged the Giants to take the shorter route. Yes they would have to cross the Hot Lands, but the Giants could use the waterholes that had been dug for the migration of the centaurs nearly a decade ago and likely refurbish some of their shelters. The maps the twins had made during their mission with Balandur also showed the course of perennial streams, seasonal ponds, and sweet water springs near the mountains. Also, the Ruling Council would much prefer not to have an army of Frost Giants march the length and breadth of its heartland.

"I can well understand their caution." Oddr allowed.

The council tabled a decision on the route to move on to other issues, logistics chief among them. As the saying goes, amateurs talk tactics; professionals talk logistics.

Next Klarendes questioned his new allies about weapons and armor. He was pleased to learn that the Frost Giants had standardized on weapons taken from the military stores at the staging area. No, they had no bowmen; their only standoff weapon was the sling. With their great strength a sling had the range of a bow in the hands of a human.

Except for scouts, the Frost Giants were all heavy infantry, each armed with an oversize spear twelve feet long, a sword slung on the back, plus a kukri in a scabbard at the hip. They wore scale armor though only on chest and back for freedom of movement.

On the march they slung their oval shields on their backs, making them look a bit like gigantic turtles walking upright on two legs. On this march through uninhabited country their shields would be transported on supply carts drawn by rotating teams of giants. They themselves would carry little besides their weapons and water gourds.

As for tactics, their war chief Harald Sigurdsen explained that the Frost Giants formed a shield wall, those in the front line brandishing swords the second line standing offset from the man in front, their spears held vertically by their side, ready to rotate to a horizontal position and thrust at their foes in the space between the men in front. Behind them stood two other ranked pairs of lines, ready on command to execute a passage of lines to let those in front retire to the rear and rest. Reserves mustered in a compact square and stood ready to turn toward threats from any direction then deploy into line.

The council of war ultimately adopted the shorter route the twins had urged. Oddr, Harald, Klarendes, and Zaldor worked out a timetable for preparations and set a date for the march to start. After farewells, the escort for the Commonwealth delegation formed up and escorted Lord Zaldor, Count Klarendes and Aodh back the way they had come. A week later, Klarendes and Aodh split off from Zaldor and his party and headed directly south, to traverse the length of the Eastern Plains. Zaldor had graciously lent them a pair of troopers as an escort to see them safely to Dalnot. This was more of a courtesy than a military necessity. A firecaster and a wir-panther could take care of themselves.

The giants set out with the twins and Finn in the lead. The twins had tossed their packs and quarterstaffs on a cart. They carried unstrung bows, their quivers of arrows slung over the shoulder, with a scabbard strapped to it for their kukris. Though bare to the waist Finn at least wore trews and sandals; the twins went unshod and sky-clad or nude as was their wont. That brought whistles from some of the younger giants. Kare responded, remarking blandly:

"Gentlemen, if you haven't noticed already, the weather in these parts is hot. And where we are headed, into the Hot Lands, it will only get worse."

Karel and his brother then perched straw sombreros atop their heads much to the amusement of the giants. Could anything look sillier: two preternaturally beautiful youths without a stitch on save a wide-brimmed straw hat?

More than one of the giants at the head of the column commented favorably on the sight of the twins walking just ahead of them, their pert buttocks dimpling and twitching provocatively with their movements. Nude boys look so cute to those walking behind them. Their firm round buns and the delightful crevice between delight and arouse males who appreciate a pretty boy. From the rear, the twins were all curves: the calves, the thighs, the globes of the buttocks, the shoulders and swale of the lower back. The effect was tantalizing.

Not expecting any military threat along the way, the giants marched without flankers, four abreast, in three detachments, with the last one, which included the lady giants, escorting the baggage train which was loaded down with food, water butts, armor and their shields, plus the gold hoard. They marched out heads high, singing old sea chanteys, on the march toward a brighter future in a second homeland for their folk and a second chance for themselves.

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