Elf Boy's Friends - I
The Long March
The Hot Lands were a vast grassy basin lying near the equator much lower in altitude than the stretch of country abandoned by the giants. What little rain fell there mostly sank into the sandy soil or drained along ephemeral streams till it reached sinkholes or evaporation ponds. The twins' maps marked the few perennial watercourses. Waterholes dug years earlier for the centaurs were lifesavers. Surface water sources could never had provided for eight hundred Frost Giants.
To cope with the oppressive heat the column traveled from dawn to mid morning then from late afternoon into the evening. The straw hats perched atop the twins Jemsen and Karel might have looked silly, but they did the job. Soon the lady giants were at work plaiting the native grasses into reasonable facsimiles of the twins' headgear.
Just behind the vanguard marched the command group: Artor Klarendes, journeyman Hand of the Commonwealth, Oddr Bjarnson, civic leader of the Frost Giants, and Harald Sigurdsen, their war chief. They did not anticipate danger, but if a threat emerged, Artor would stand on the raised shields of his two guards to survey the situation and direct streams or balls of fire at the enemy.
During the midday layovers, crews stretched white tarps between the supply carts. Spears stuck into the earth propped up the sunshade high enough for the giants to stand. That afforded welcome protection from the sun while open sides let breezes in. During their halts Artor invoked his powers as a firecaster to chill the water in the butts the giants drank from, dispersing the extracted heat to the atmosphere. Cool water gave everyone on the march a psychological lift. The water carried in their personal gourds was wet but warm.
From long experience in their travels across the continent the giants were aware of the dangers of dehydration and elevated body temperature. They paired off in a buddy system to watch each other for signs of heat stress.
Even the twins wilted, though they were much better able to shed heat thanks to their slender bodies and their superb conditioning. Marching skin-clad or in the nude as they did let the winds reach every part of their sweaty skin promoting cooling from both evaporation and vasodilation.
Near the midpoint of the crossing they came across a well with a wind powered pump that drew sweet water from an aquifer far below. The giants refilled their water butts, bathed, washed clothes and rested for two days, glad for the break and reluctant to push on past this veritable oasis.
"Our trek this time is easier than our last in these parts," Jemsen observed to his identical twin. "Back then the only shade we had was our sombreros or a sarong rigged as sunshade during a halt."
"By the way, how are you doing, there Finn. You looked a little green about the gills there before the halt."
"Yes, the heat really got to me this morning. When will we leave this green hell?"
"I think I can say with complete confidence that we are more than halfway across the Hot Lands. And since we are on a course southwestward, moving away from the Equator every day, temperatures should start to fall. Help is on the way. Hang in there Finn."
The young giant sighed. "You really know the heat is getting to you when it just too damn hot at night to make love to boys as sexy as yourselves."
Just then Oddr, the leader of the Frost Giants, upended his water gourd over Finn's head remarking:
"Anyone who would turn down boys as exquisite as Jemsen and Karel must be going soft in the head."
"Thank you, sir. I really needed that. I had already drunk my own gourd empty but was reluctant to step into the sun to go over to one of the water butts."
"Now that your head is clear, why don't you refill both our gourds?"
As Finn bestirred himself to do just that, Oddr hunkered down to confer with his guides. Their assessment of the progress of the march was heartening. It really looked like they would get through virtually unscathed thanks to their preparations, their equipment, their march discipline and camp organization, and the maps and guidance from the twins. Credit was due to Finn too since he backed the twins up on their scouts, the trio sometimes getting out of sight of the main body due to terrain.
"We are obliged to Lords Zalor and Klarendes too. Old campaigners both, they gave us good advice on organizing the march, setting up camp, field sanitation, and distribution of supplies among the carts. We look like a proper little army on campaign."
"You can also thank Finn for tinkering with that water pump to reengage it with the windmill." Jemsen pointed out. "The centaurs undid the linkage deliberately when they left so as not to waste water pumping away to no purpose. They may have expected others of their species to follow in a second wave."
"Anyway, with so much water available we had a chance to clean up and to get the stink out of our clothes. As you know we Frost Giants are fastidious about hygiene. Comes from living in closed up houses during the winters in our homeland. Going about naked as you do means no sweaty clothes to launder, not even those sarongs, but I noticed that even sweating freely as you do, you never smell of it. I have to wonder why."
"I can answer that sir," Finn remarked returning with the refilled water gourds. "I noticed that myself, living as close to them as I do. It seems that when their friend the druid Dahlderon used healing magic to extend their lifespans and their youth, he turned the sebaceous glands in their bodies into ordinary sweat glands, which produce only water and salt and none of the oils that can turn bad and smell sour. So, like the elves, the twins always smell sweet."
"Having so little body odor also makes us hard to track by smell." Karel noted. "That is handy for guys like us who have faced the Dark Prophet's Trackers twice now. They never give up once they catch a scent."
"Trackers?" Finn asked.
Oddr spoke up. "I have heard of those foul creatures, Finn. Trackers are dire wolves turned into demon-spawn by dark magic. Reputedly very hard to kill."
"To deal with trackers we coated our arrowheads with a silver lacquer which burns their ensorcelled flesh. I once killed a Tracker outright by putting an arrow through his heart, but that was partly a lucky shot."
"Partly?" Finn asked.
"What I mean is that even with all his dodging and jinking I was sure to hit the creature but just where the arrow lodged was a matter of luck. Now if he held still, well I would have sent my arrow through his eye into his brain. And that was before druidic magic strengthened our unerring sense of direction. So we don't miss though we do have to practice like anyone else. Also the magic doubled our strength so we can pull a more powerful bow with greater range and punch."
Eventually the column reached the norther tip of the Western Mountains and made camp near a spring of cool water, runoff from the mountains. Artor ignited the watch fires with a gesture after making sure they had been laid within wide circles of scraped earth to prevent wildfires. True, he could always snuff out a runaway fire if it came to it. But there was no sense though in tolerating sloppy field craft. He might not always be at hand.
Besides, Artor liked to circulate, to get to know some of the huge folk he was escorting to their new land. He wanted them to get to know him too. Artor had a gift for putting people at their ease just by being himself, without the false camaraderie of those who only played at being leaders. Yes, he was in overall command of the march but he hoped people would do what he told them because they themselves wanted to do it. Just by being himself he won their trust. Like his father Taitos, Artor Klarendes was a natural.
After a stay of three days at the spring, they set off again. The twins decided to dispense with the sombreros which went into a baggage cart. That actually helped those at the head of the column to keep the scouts in sight. Nothing stands out against a landscape like the cornsilk yellow of a blond boy's hair. Just as well; their tawny hides, so much like that of the tawny panther that dwelt in those regions blended in with the grassy terrain.
The going got easier as temperatures fell from next to impossible to merely oppressive. The ground underfoot was firm enough for the baggage carts but not baked hard by the sun. Unlike the Frost Giants who wore sandals, the twins went unshod as well as bare-ass naked, but the calluses on their soles protected their feet nearly as well as moccasins.
With cooler weather, the mid-day breaks became a time for fun as well as rest and shelter from the burning sun as the twins and Finn flipped their toy, the so-called Zinger around. The game or sport might have been invented to display the delectable body of the youthful human male at its kinetic best, as the boys ran around, jumped, dodged, stretched, reached, and tumbled across the grass, their sweaty nude bodies glistening in the sunlight, the energetic activity accompanied by smiles, laughter, and general grab-ass silliness. To their audience under sunshades the effect was totally erotic.
"Anyone else but the twins carrying on like that," Oddr observed, I'd call them a pair of cock teases, but not those two. Your cock tease has a mean streak in him, and those two definitely do not. They're nice kids. Good kids. Terrific kids. Impossible to dislike."
Heads nodded. Harald added. "It's almost like they have a second magical gift -- irresistible charm."
"Even if it not magical it is indeed a gift."
"I'll say. Those two twinks can charm the trews off me any day!" a voice called out. "Walking wet dreams, the both of them."
"Don't be daft, Arn. You're much too big. Given their narrow hips you would rip their quims to shreds."
"There are other ways to swive a boy than penetrating his holes. Poking between the thighs for instance and some forms of oral service. Nothing keeps you from petting and feeling and caressing a boy either or pleasuring him in other ways and vice-versa."
After the game the trio joined their audience in the relative cool of the shade. Finn plunged his whole body into the lower pool to cool off. (The camp drew its water from the upper pool.) The twins simply poured water from gourds over their heads, letting it run down from the crowns of their heads, down their backs and bellies, to sluice through rear cleavages or divide around the prows of their proud cocks. Looking around twins only then realized that they and their game had been the center of the crowd's rapt attention.
"What did I tell you." Oddr said. "They were playing with that toy out in the sun purely for the fun of it, not to titillate an audience. Sexy, funny, brave, and beautiful. What is there not to like about these kids?"
Quick on the uptake and taking Oddr's remark for his cue, Karel swept his hands down along his body and quipped: "All this and brains too!"
"Ha! Just look at those open and honest faces -- so utterly without of guile."
"Well I wouldn't go that far." Artor said. "Look, I know what you mean, and the twins and I are very good friends, practically family. In fact the twins have a standing invitation to Elysion. We are always hanging out together -- we and bunch of other great guys like Dahl and Aodh. Jemsen and Karel are good people, the very best I know. Person to person, what you see is what you get: friendly, cheerful, loquacious, inquisitive, not to mention sexy, if that is to your taste. But don't take the twins for a pair of innocents."
"They are no strangers to cunning and guile when hunting big game or fighting enemies. Just two instances: the twins ambushed the Dark Riders, killing the mounts of the riders in front causing a pile up of crushed and broken bodies both human and equine which the twins pin-cushioned with their war arrows. Another time, they picked off the officers in the army that the city of Brax had sent against the Stone Mountain dwarves."
"Your point is well-taken."
One day the main column briefly lost sight of their scouts. As twins and Finn circled a knob hill, Karel stopped short having come face to face with a tawny panther. No wir, this was a pure predator. With his bow unstrung all Karel had was his kukri.
Finn took charge.
"Boys, fix your gaze on the cat. Stare it down. Now sidle over towards me till our bodies nearly touch. Draw your kukris and hold them at the ready. Try to look as large and imposing as you can. Let's see if we can bluff our way out of this. When I start, join me in roaring and waving your arms and stomping your feet, but don't get any closer to the cat."
Their bluff worked. Startled, intimidated, and chagrined, the cat snarled, turned, and ran off. The theatrical roars of the trio turned into genuine laughter. Oh the three of them would surely have killed the panther with their blades, if it had come to that, but at the cost of nasty wounds from claws or fangs. The Giants had Healers among them, but their magic was weak. Frost Giants are the least magically gifted of the sentient races on Haven. Just as well then that the creature ran off. Besides, panthers were as beautiful as they were deadly, and it so happened that the twins were best friends with one.
As the column headed southwest across the plains they encountered the nomads. Now by heliograph and riders the Commonwealth had sent word ahead that the Frost Giants had no intention of settling the Plains and would pay a reasonable toll for crossing their lands, trampling their pastures, drawing their water, and, despite good march discipline, generally making a big mess at their camps. Eight hundred Frost Giants will do that.
As the column reached each new tribe, Artor stepped forward, looking official in his silks and leathers and weapons, and triggered the small magic that identified him as a Hand of the Commonwealth. News of their march traveled ahead of the column so none of the tribes was surprised and all were gratified by the generosity of the giants. Maybe Frost Giants weren't fully house-broken, but they weren't stingy either.
One day, as the column lagged behind, the trio of scouts approached a water hole at the base of a steep hill. Unfortunately they were not the only visitors. A pair of slash bears, young males from the same litter and nearly full grown, had got their first, drunk their fill and settled in the tall grass. Now slash bears are fierce, ill-tempered, territorial, and they just don't share well. So the bears got to their feet and roared at these two-legged interlopers.
Alas bruins do not bluff at all; they would take a bluff as a challenge. (If all else fails you might try to play dead. Bears do not eat carrion.) That was not an option in this case. The trio, with Finn in the lead, had nearly stepped on the pair of bruins. True to their name, the closer bear slashed Finn's right leg out from under him. He fell heavily losing his grip on his spear. The bear reared on its hind legs, looking fierce but unthinkingly exposing its vulnerable vitals. The twins strung their bows and drove arrows into its heart dropping it. The second bear stayed on all fours and charged. Knowing their arrows would just bounce off its skull or get lodged in its shoulder muscles, Jemsen grabbed Finn's spear.
"Karel, brace the butt of the spear on that boulder. We'll let the beast run onto it."
Now facing the charge of a slash bear with only a pointed stick in your hands is usually not recommended. It worked for the twins only because their unerring aim did as well with a spearhead as with an arrow. The boys stood their ground as the beast surged forward, roaring its hate at the humans who had killed its litter mate. Thanks to his speed and quick reaction time, Jemsen was able to keep the spearhead centered of the bear's chest. The impetus of the beast's charge drove half the shaft into his body, stopping only when the spearhead lodged in one of its vertebrae, ending its forward motion. The slash bear sank to the ground dead.
"Whoa! That was too close, Jemsen."
"Tell me about it, Karel. I was up front, you know," quickly adding. "But I couldn't have done it without you, brother. It took the both of us. "
"Uh, fellas, I don't want to interrupt your mutual admiration society, but I am bleeding rather badly over here. Can I get a little help?"
"Oops, sorry Finn. I'll use your belt as a tourniquet while Karel runs back for a Healer."
It wasn't long before help arrived. The Healer could not restore full function to the badly torn limb but her magic did well enough that, in time, the leg would heal as good as new. Meanwhile, Finn would ride a cart.
The giants made camp around the water hole, dragging the bears away to be skinned. Bear meat is actually quite tasty when roasted and with two carcasses, most of the giants got at least a bite. The skins would be turned into rugs. Artor was proud of how his friends had saved the day.
"You two are quite the heroes, you know."
"Affecting a blase attitude, Karel said.
"Sure, sure. Been there; done that. Heroics is what we twins do for a living."
"Get serious, Karel. The giants mean to make you their Friend."
"Giants have Friends?" Karel blurted out.
"I heard that," Finn growled with mock severity.
"No, no, I meant the institution."
Smiling reassuringly Finn added:
"I know you did, Karel, and yes, we do have the institution of Friendship, as you call it. I think you and Jemsen are going to be the first humans ever to bear tattoos as elf-friends, dwarf-friends, and giant-friends, all three. You'll go down in history!"
"I think we already have." Karel quipped.
"Ha! Now you are just joshing. Seriously, this is a distinct honor."
"Indeed it is." Oddr added. "And quite a rare one."
"Probably because we Frost Giants seldom need anyone else's help." Harald Sigurdsen observed blandly, which drew a genial chuckle from all within earshot.
After that came a simple ceremony with speeches mostly in the common language for the sake of the twins. Oddr explained that the honor was being conferred not only for their bravery in saving Finn's life but also for their key role in the Long March. As guides and scouts the twins were always out in front constantly exposed to danger.
"Constantly exposed is right!" Harald quipped. The war-chief had a knack for one-liners.
The giants had a unique approach to tattooing. With their big hands they could not do it the usual way one prick at a time. Instead they used a kind of cylindrical stamp armed with many pins at the end and dipped in ink. Pressed against the flesh, all it took was a single thump with a mallet to incise the design into the left shoulder of the heroes.
"Yikes!" the twins yelled, but the Healer soon put things right, a task well within her power.
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