Elf Boy's Friends - I
Finn thanked his lucky stars that he had become good friends with the twins. Jemsen and Karel had put themselves in deadly peril to save his life. They might have left him and run away leaving Finn to distract the second slash bear. Two slender nude youths challenging a monster while armed with nothing more than a pointy stick was distinctly bad odds. Finn had seen fear in the twins' eyes but their faces had been set in the calm of veteran fighters, warriors who had learned to clamp down on their emotions during combat to focus on what had to be done and how they were going to do it. Yes, these twins might be impossibly cute and boyish, but they had grit.
That night, as usual, the twins snuggled up to Finn. Maybe Finn could not put his weight on his injured leg but everything else was in working order. Yet their lovemaking that night was tender and gentle, more about love than lust, more about touching and physical contact than orgasms, and more about contentment than excitement. Finn loved to stroke, pet and hug the hard bodies of young males in preference to the soft voluptuous physiques of females. He particularly loved waking up in the morning to find the twins asleep in his bed, their bare limbs entwined with his, their angelic faces relaxed in sleep.
Finn realized that what had started as infatuation had turned into something more serious. The two humans had become close friends, people he wanted to spend time with and not just to make love. The twins were good people.
On another such night Karel laid his head on Finn's chest, listening to the beat of the strong heart of the young giant.He suddenly sat up with an uncertain look on his face:
"Er... Finn, something is wrong. Either your pulse is irregular or I am feeling two heartbeats."
"We Frost Giants actually have three hearts. For starters we have the same four-chambered heart as humans lodged in the middle of the chest. We also have a pair of auxiliary two-chambered hearts much lower down in our pelvic region which help pump the blood from the legs up to the main heart. That way we prevent dangerously high blood pressure."
The trek grew easier as the giants were now in a gentler land, one still fairly hot but nothing like the Hot Lands.
"How far now to the rendezvous, Karel?" Oddr asked one day.
"It should be just over the horizon, sir."
"Look there. Such an odd bird! Finn remarked pointing a bit west of south.
"Oh, that is not a bird. It is a box kite. Army scouts ride kites to get a better view of the terrain from on high."
"What kind of reckless fool would soar into the sky on a kite?"
"Fools like Jemsen and me. We did that as army scouts. And for your information, once you get over your fear it is a hell of lot of fun. There you are two hundred feet up, riding the winds like a hawk, soaring above earthbound mortals, master of all you survey."
"That's fun? I am sorry sir. Did I say reckless? I meant crazy." Finn pronounced.
"Well, we were very young in those days. Artor, why don't you signal that we have seen them. I know they will have seen us."
"Good idea." Suiting action to his words, the young firecaster hurled a decent sized fireball into the air."
Oddr gave the order to halt while they waited for riders from the army camp. The twins wrapped sarongs around their hips, formal wear for them. Within the hour a small escort lead by an underofficer rode up. He saluted Artor as a Hand of the Commonwealth. Then said:
"Lord Zaldor sends his compliments, sir and to those two two young colts as well, though I cannot tell which one is Sir Jemsen and which is Sir Karel.
"Thank you," Artor said. "Jemsen is the one in the green sarong and Karel in the blue. Let me introduce you to the leader of the Frost Giants, Oddr Bjarnson and their war-chief, Harald Sigurdsen."
That brought another sharp salute. The officer added:
"Gentlemen, I don't want to spoil the surprise, but I am sure you will be pleased with what you find ahead."
True to his orders, he could not be drawn out but turned his mount to lead the column, a procession really toward the encampment which lay in a wide fold in the terrain. To the left was the army camp, laid out with military precision. Every camp of the army on the march was laid out the same way to prevent confusion whether setting up or defending against attack. Next to it was another camp, quite neatly laid out too though not to the fussy standards of the military. These tents were much larger than army tents.
"By the gods," Oddr Bjarnson muttered. There must be many hundreds of Frost Giants in that camp. How did they all get here?"
"I expect, sir, that Lord Zaldor will explain things."
Lord Zaldor did explain things. The Commonwealth had used the increasingly popular news sheets with their burgeoning circulations as a channel to put the word out about the plan to settle the land of the centaurs as a second homeland for Frost Giants. The story went out over postal heliograph to the main towns. Small town papers reprinted what the city papers published.
The story caught the imagination of the public. All races wished the giants well. They had been good friends and neighbors. The government was candid about the risks, but had no trouble finding volunteers who would travel under army escort. The army insisted that volunteers be properly equipped and have the right skills to start life in what was essentially a wilderness. There were no towns or cities, no farms or industries in the land of the centaurs who lived exclusively by the hunt. The Dark Prophet had induced them to migrate to the Eastern Plains promising them the herds that ranged those lands. As for the ranchers and farmers already there, they would continue to work at animal husbandry but as slaves or better yet, domesticated animals, of the centaur race.
The volunteers in the camp were only a first contingent, the bravest, most adventuresome, or most reckless, take your pick, but they had come, some fourteen hundred of them, more than a few of them young lady giants hoping to find a husband and start a new life in a new land, their own land. They arrived in the as yet unnamed town about a week before the Frost Giants from the North.
"I can see that the Commonwealth has done right by my people." Oddr said. Our joint conquest of these new lands will cement our friendship."
"Well said! This is an exciting new chapter in the history of the Commonwealth. I am glad to be a part of it. But what is this? Do I see fresh tattoos on the shoulders of the twins? By the powers, are they now giant-friends too? Unbelievable!"
He beckoned the twins over. "So just what have you two young whippersnappers been up to?"
Jemsen smiled and told him of their adventures and more generally about the long grueling trek.
Zaldor had long taken an avuncular interest in the proteges of his old friend Balandur. Watching their animated faces and ready smiles as they spoke about the Long March, Zaldor was confident that Balandur would have been proud of the two young men his boys had become.
"Boys, I believe you know General Urqaart. He is in charge of the military campaign. My job is to handle the politics and to forge an alliance with the threatened states in the flatlands beyond."
"I don't envy you your job, Lord Zaldor" Urqaart remarked. "It will be like herding cats."
That brought a chuckle, but Artor, who had caught the remark, disagreed.
"People always say that but it is really quite easy to herd cats. You cut up tasty fish filets and put them in a bowl. Hold the bowl high and call out: 'Here kitty, kitty.' They will flock to you then follow wherever you lead them. Of course you have to toss them a bit of fish now and again to hold their interest."
"That is actually an apt description of my diplomatic strategy." Zaldor said ruefully.
Finn made another point.
"This looks to be more than a temporary army camp. I saw builders laying out permanent building lots. Folks look to be settling in for the long haul."
"Very observant of you, young Finn." Zaldor said. "Yes the Commonwealth has leased these lands to build a town. All races will be welcome to live here, though I expect it will be largely a human settlement. It will serve as a way station for road builders and for the travelers and merchants who will one day use this road. A line of heliograph stations is being set up along the route as well."
"You are leasing the land for the town from the nomads?"
"Not only the town site but also the right of way for two roads across their lands. The Western Plains lie within Commonwealth's political boundaries but outside the realm of the commercial code. That protects the nomads from the land grabbers, predatory lenders, and unscrupulous businessmen of the settled lands. The nomads are allowed to follow their roving ways without formal administration by us. They hold their lands in common and trade their beef and mounts for our manufactures and luxuries. Hot heads who hanker for adventure can no longer go on raids, but they can and do join the Commonwealth cavalry which thereby serves as a productive outlet for their rambunctious impulses."
"We Frost Giants have always encouraged our restless young ones to leave our crowded homeland and to seek their fortune in the wider world." Oddr observed.
Letters arrived for the twins from their business agent, a dwarf named Lennart whom Klarendes had recommended for his shrewd business sense. With the trades-mark in hand, Lennart had gone ahead with production and distribution of "The Gemini Zinger". He had modified the design to add a decal in the middle of the bowl depicting a pair of nude archers in green silhouette with the words "Gemini Zinger" arcing above.
The new version of the pie tin toy was a sensational success, helped by advertising in the new sheets which ascribed the Gemini brand name to the Zinger's inventors, the famous twins Jemsen and Karel. The ad copy boasted of the Zinger's better grip and "superior aerodynamic lift". Lennart had kicked off a marketing campaign that included distribution of free samples to youth lodges in several major cities and contests at country fairs pitting the Zinger against ordinary pie tins. Sales were phenomenal with profits pouring into their coffers.
As the host of the dinner to mark the success of the Long March of the Frost Giants, as the episode became known in history, Lord Zaldor sat at the head of the table with his counterpart Oddr in the place of honor at this right hand. General Urqaqrt sat at the foot of the table with Harald Sigurdsen at his right. Also seated at the table were Artor flanked by the twins, and several military officers, a lady of human stock, and a giantess.
Finally, across the table from Artor sat a really cute young fellow in a sleeveless tunic of white silk that displayed and flattered the trim and taut body he had obviously just recently grown into. He had spiky auburn hair and narrow sideburns reaching below the ear lobe plus straight eyebrows with almost no curve to them. They framed a cute face with a high forehead, chiseled jawline, and a perky nose slightly turned up at the end. He introduced himself as Drew Altair, a journalist dispatched by his news sheet to cover the impending war.
"This is my first assignment as a war correspondent. As a journalist, I am just getting started in my career."
"How then did you land such a desirable assignment? Surely more senior journalists angled for the job?" Artor asked.
"They did, but none of the others were their publisher's second son!" he answered candidly, an embarrassed grin on his pretty features.
"So why not his first-born?"
"Oh he's the editor, and our uncle owns the print shop that runs off the copies."
"Which news sheet do you write for anyway?"
"That would be the Capital Intelligencer."
"Ouch! We take a local paper out of Dalnot, but when my father is in the capital he always reads the Intelligencer even though he grumbles that its very name suggests a breach of security. But then he had been grumbling about news sheets and war correspondents since the last Plains War."
"Tell me about it. Before I came out here with the army I interviewed your father at Elysion about his participation in the peace talks with the Frost Giants. Oh, he was very gracious, but he did use those very words with me."
"Luckily I had brought along a copy of my recent article on the brontotheres recently installed on the plains. Such magnificent creatures, looking like armored one-horns or rhinos, only as high at the shoulder as giant. Unlike the rhinos, their two horns point forward and are composed of bone and are set side to side. Bizarre in the extreme. The charge of a herd of brontotheres is unstoppable."
"They have become a minor tourist attraction. Folks pay for admission to their range and also the privilege of feeding sugar beets and cabbages to the beasts. It helps defray the costs of the state-owned farm which provides the produce."
"The brontotheres sometimes take people for a ride sitting astride their necks, though they are not biddable, simply going wherever they please, so sometimes riders have a long hike back. Still they haven't lost a tourist yet. Though there was this one fellow who came close while I was there. Once he got astride the neck of the biggest one, the matriarch of the herd, he dug in his spurs. Big mistake. Their skin is so thick it like armor. The spurs just annoyed the matriarch not from any pain but from the indignity of it all. She lowered her head then whipped it up again real fast tossing the miscreant into a swamp. Oh he wasn't hurt; the reeds, the water, and the mud cushioned his fall, but he was a frightful mess. I laughed so hard it hurt my ribs."
"As you know your father's spouse, Sir Aodh, grew up with brontotheres in the far-off land of the wirs. He said the matriarch was an old friend named Manda. Our shared enthusiasm for brontotheres recommended me to them both. Gosh but Aodh is so darn cute and sexy. I think he liked me too, but since I was there on business and not making a social call, I kept things between us strictly professional. Ah, the things we correspondents do for our art!"
"You know, Karel and I have a standing invitation to Elysion. How about tagging along with us on a visit?"
"I'll look forward to it. Funny isn't it the way Aodh spells his name when it is pronounced like the vowels in vein."
"Don't my brother started," Jemsen said with a cautionary glare at Karel who countered with an air of offended innocence.
"I am sure I don't know what you are talking about, Jemsen."
"You know, Drew, you remind me a lot of an old friend of ours. Oh he was three-quarters elf and dark blond, but like you he was a little guy, call it five foot zero (152 cm) and one hundred pounds even (45 kg). You have the same a wiry physique with a well-defined musculature and a strong upper storey."
"Actually your father told me about him too. Ran or Randell was his name. You father described him as an irrepressible scamp who was impossible to dislike. I understand he died a hero, saving forty schoolchildren from a marauding centaur."
Drew saw the pain in their eyes as they recalled brave little Ran's sacrifice.
"Yes, our Ran was beautiful, courageous, and well-loved."
After that, the conversation turned to other topics. All four young men had taken an instant liking to each other. Without anything specific being said, they knew that they would seek out each other's company often in the months to come.
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