Elf Boy's Friends - II

by George Gauthier

Chapter 4

Making Plans

The next day, all five of them sat down together to breakfast the twins sitting directly on the bench with Drew sandwiched between them. Thanks to their slender builds there was just enough space for the three of them on a short bench intended for a single giant, though their proximity left the

twins pressing their nude flanks against the boy in the middle. But that suited Drew and the twins just fine. They welcomed tactile contact with cute guys any way they could get it. And if the table was rather too high for convenience, so be it.

"What is that light scent?" Arn wondered, sniffing.

"Rose water", Karel replied. "We splashed some on after our morning ablutions." the blond boy explained. "And if that makes us smell like one of your rent boys, so be it. After all, as I have admitted on more than one occasion, been there, done that," he remarked with an unrepentant toss of his head.

Drew smiled then popped his own question:

"What do we do about transportation to the West? Are we traveling all that way on foot? Why not ride or take a coach. You twins took the mail coach from the capital, didn't you? I wish you had invited me to come along with you."

"No need for hurt feelings on that score, Drew,"Jemsen assured him. "All that running we had you do was to build your stamina, just as we told you. Also to indulge your exhibitionist streak too. Karel and I remembered how you envied us for traveling in the rude nude for months on end when we made the Long March with the Frost Giants. So we gave you your own chance to do much the same."

"Anyway, to maintain the highest levels of fitness, all three of us will be running much of the way. Bare-assed of course. Barefoot too, the way we usually do thanks to horny calluses that protect our feet as effectively as moccasins. We will take off on foot down the road early each morning, let the coach catch up, then hop on. The coach will transport our clothing, weapons, and other gear."

"I am fine with that coach transporting me too." Finn asserted. "I don't need that kind of exercise. I am in fine shape, thank you, what with all the tramping about the woods I've been doing to select stands of trees or particular ones for felling. I didn't get these broad shoulders only from working at the forge, wielding a hammer. These days I also swing an axe as a lumberjack. Though I no longer to earn my bread as a blacksmith I do fire up the forge once or twice a ten-day to repair or replace metal parts of the sawmill mechanism and fittings for wagons, bang out crampons the jacks use to climb trees, and that sort of thing."

With a smile on his face, he added:

"So no thanks to all that walking and running you have planned. No, best I ride in the coach and thereby husband my strength, as it were, for the trials that no doubt lie ahead." Finn claimed deadpan. Then added:

"Now I don't want to come across as mercenary, but it would only be fair for the Commonwealth to cover our expenses. It's not that I really need the money; it is the principle of the thing. I am in business now, after all."

"You can count on expenses plus a salary that will match what our little red-haired friend here earns as a reserve ensign in the army."

"As much as that! Don't spend it all in one place, Finn." Drew warned sarcastically. Then added:

"Actually I am getting paid twice for the same job. Thanks to the generosity of my publisher, I will continue to collect my salary as a reporter for the Capital Intelligencer while gathering material for articles to be published later."

"His publisher is his father." Karel reminded Arn.

"OK we run or take a coach to Lord Zaldor and General Urgaart at their headquarters. How do we travel from there?" Drew asked the twins.

"It's Marshal Urquaart now. Our old friend now commands both the Commonwealth and Allied military forces in the region." Karel noted.

"Fine, what about it?" Drew persisted.

Jemsen responded.

"We will take a pony to carry our gear. Our travels around the Far West will be made on foot, walking and running while leading the animal."

Finn wondered:

"Why travel the slow way? With my long legs, even at a walk I could keep up with a trotting horse."

"Who said anything about going slow?" Jemsen replied shaking his head. "Remember, our strength and stamina is at least double the norm thanks to our magically enhanced vitality. Any of the three of us can run all day long and keep that pace day after day. If anything slows us down it will be the pony packing our gear. Besides, we cannot very well keep a pace count from atop a horse, now can we?"

"Without horses we will be less conspicuous, something not very easy to achieve for humans as memorable as we three are. I say this with no false modesty, you understand. Toss in a Frost Giant and three mounts or maybe six with remounts, well you see the problem. Also we will often be passing through rough country, which is fine for sure-footed pack animals but you wouldn't want to be perched atop a mount. Which reminds me, are you any good at climbing, Finn?"

"I can clamber up hills or scale cliffs or rocks given decent hand and foot holds. We do a lot of climbing in the mountains of the old country. I know all three of you have made a sport or game of climbing walls and towers and structures in towns and taking to the rooftops. In forests you can take to

the trees to throw off pursuit. All of that is quite beyond me."

"Fair enough. I expect you will get back to mountain climbing as this mission progresses. Drew you wrote us that you had developed new climbing techniques?"

"Actually, it wasn't me but a Fetcher who lives in the Eastern Mountains. He sent a contribution in to my newsletter, the Transactions of the Confraternities of the Gifted."

"Not a very catchy title." Arn murmured.

"Be that as it may, Arn, this Fetcher is a natural philosopher who is surveying mineral deposits and the geological structure of the mountains. For easier access to uplifted strata he threads ropes through holes in special spikes called pitons, then raises them high and drives them into the rock face. Easy enough then to haul himself up by main strength or with a pair of pulleys for mechanical advantage. You see, for a Fetcher it is simple to lift gear or supplies or these ropes and pitons. We just invoke our gift. The one thing we Fetchers cannot Lift is our own bodies. No one knows why. Nothing happens when we turn our gift on ourselves."

"Another thing." Jemsen added. "Clothing. Public nudity is less usual in the Far West especially in the larger towns and cites where nudity taboos linger from the old days maybe because folks live packed closer together than in the countryside and so many of the people one meets on the street are strangers. Except for nudity in exercise and sports, prancing around as we usually do in the rude nude would get us taken for country bumpkins, peasants stripped off for sweaty work in the fields and too poor for more than one set of clothing."

"Or, with your epicene looks, you three would be taken for rent boys out on the streets trolling for custom." Arn observed.

Drew shook his head.

"Only a single set of clothes! I didn't know that such poverty existed anywhere on Valentia except among the eastern barbarians. Not with the price of cloth so much lower than in the past thanks to advances in the mechanical arts and the switch from cottage industry to central

manufactories."

Karel explained the situation.

"Jemsen and I had a chance to read Lord Zaldor's reports. The Far West is economically, politically, and socially backward. The region is a congeries of political units of all types. Oligarchies control most city-states except for a couple of the maritime republics. More than a few principalities are ruled by haughty and in-bred aristocracies of the blood, allowing little room for men of talent and enterprise to rise to the top. Their societies are handicapped by rigid social and political hierarchies."

"There are even a couple of theocracies, ruled by priests who claim to speak for their gods. In one of them the chief deity is an earth goddess. Procreation is their chief sacrament. Fertility and fecundity the chief virtues."

"Sounds daft but harmless," Drew observed.

"Not exactly. Same gender sex is deemed unnatural because it is sterile, hence both sinful and criminal. In other places slavery is still legal. In most areas, peasants are serfs owing feudal obligations to landowners. The directorate which rules the single strongest state out there calls its realm the Despotate of Dzungaria. It has risen to power by fomenting revolutions in no less than five formerly separate states which it has absorbed."

The next day Jemsen and Drew arranged for exclusive service by mail coach for just the four adventurers. It would leave the next day. Drew wrote a short letter to his father, letting him know of their plans.

Before the twins showed up, Drew had gone on walkabout both in town and in the country wearing one of his trademark sleeveless tunics made of white silk. In town he visited the docks, the shipyards, the central market, the monument to the fallen during the Second Centaur War, the fort built next to the town, and other points of interest.

Everywhere he went Drew was recognized. The arrival of the famous blond twins and the plucky young Fetcher was news. A story about their reunion with Finn and Arn appeared in the local news-paper. The publications were now called news-papers instead of news-sheets since they had gone from a single sheet to eight pages. In a reversal of roles for once the young journalist sat as the interviewee rather than the interviewer. Even folks who might have missed the story in the paper recognized the tattoo marking him as a Giant Friend or had seen Arn's paintings at the Wayfarers' Inn.

The young journalist interviewed both ordinary folks and prominent figures like Oddr Bjarnson, the Frost Giants' long-time political leader and currently the elected governor of New Varangia under the suzerainty of the Commonwealth. Harald Sigurdsen, their former war chief, was now commanding officer of both the mounted constabulary and the Fyrd of New Varangia, their militia.

"We have made a solid start in building a second homeland for us Frost Giants. Would you believe our population has risen to over fifty thousand, virtually all of it from immigration, given our slow rate of reproduction. Frost Giants have moved here from both our original homeland and our diaspora. In twenty years, we might number half a million and still not be crowded like we were back home." Oddr said proudly.

Sigurdsen nodded, adding:

"Those numbers plus our political, military, and economic ties to the Commonwealth augur well for both our security and our prosperity. You and the twins played a big role in making this possible."

"As I remember it, I was just one of a thousand who fought in the Battle of the Ravine against the Centaurs. You were there too. When the battle was over, both you and Oddr were covered with blood, fortunately mostly not your own."

Major Ter Horst commanded the fort outside the town and the battalion of Commonwealth cavalry that patrolled the roads which the Commonwealth had built across the land of the Frost Giants to connect the lowlands of the Far West to the rest of the Commonwealth. A man in his thirties and of middling height but powerfully built, he too was a veteran of the Centaur War, a fact which helped promote a productive relationship with his counterparts.

In fact Drew had watched Ter Horst's battalion swoop down on the right wing of the centaur army and annihilate it. That happened right after Drew and Artor had teamed up to blunt the attack of the centaur wedge that threatened to destroy the Commonwealth cavalry force, which the centaurs had brought to battle alone without the support of the heavy infantry of the Frost Giants.

Drew handed over a copy of the orders that activated his commission as a reserve ensign in the Commonwealth Army. The orders also required civil and military officials to expedite his and the twins' travel to the Far West. From the major Drew wanted an extended interview about conditions in

New Varangia, What he got was an invitation to dinner that evening in an atmosphere more congenial for an informal talk than the major's busy office.

"Hmm, aren't you out of uniform, Ensign Altair?" the major challenged Drew. "I'll allow that that white silk confection flatters your physique better than any uniform could, but still...."

Drew could see that the major was not serious. Though the officer kept a straight face, merriment danced in his grey eyes.

"It's mentioned in my orders. Major. that I am concurrently on assignment as a journalist for the Capital Intelligencer. Here in Flensborg, I do not have any official duties to perform, so I dress in civilian garb."

"Just so you know, young man, that if we ever run into each other when both of us are in uniform, I will expect a salute." the major added with mock severity.

"Aye aye, sir!"

"And do try to remember, Ensign, that you are in the army not the navy."

"Yes sir."

"Now on your trip out West? Will you travel in uniform or in white silks?"

"Neither, actually. We, that is me and the twins, need to keep up our stamina, so we will cover much of the ground on foot, setting out early each morning before the mail coach leaves and letting it catch up to us, then hop aboard for the remainder of that day's journey. Since it is just the four of us, so except for Finn Ragnarson, we three will run naked the whole trip."

"The whole trip, eh? Stark naked."

Drew shrugged.

"Why not? It's how I got here from the capital, running the whole way without a stitch on, leading a pony with my gear."

"Did you really? You must like being naked. A bit of an exhibitionist, maybe?"

"No maybe about it, and more than a bit, I'll admit." Drew conceded with a laugh. "What can I say? I am beautiful. The gods or nature, if you will, have graced me with physical beauty well beyond the norm. In my view, that makes it my duty to share my, er, youthful male pulchritude with my fellow citizens of the Commonwealth." Drew opined blandly.

"Right! Oh I can see you are a sexy little thing, but understand that my own tastes do not run in that direction. No offense, Ensign Altair, but I consort exclusively with the female half of the species."

"Good luck with that, sir!"

"Impertinent scamp!" the major exclaimed, a feigned scowl on his face. "Now be off with you till later."

The major suppressed a smile long enough for Drew to close the door behind him. No, he did not fancy pretty boys but how could anyone fail to respond to the intelligence, good will, and cheery insouciance embodied in the young officer.

"That lad could charm a gold piece from the death grip of a miser!", Ter Horst thought to himself, then added a prayer: "May the gods watch over you, young Ensign Altair."

Drew also visited Ragnar Svenson, the shipper who had lead him to the Wayfarers' Inn. On a day trip out of town Finn's brother Holgar showed Drew around their operation both at their lumber yard and at their sawmill upstream.

In the countryside Drew saw that the Frost Giants harnessed the huge aurochs, cattle standing six feet tall at the shoulder, to draw their plows. New Varangia would never be self-sufficient in grain and really had no need, not with ready access to the flourishing grain trade around the shores of the Great Inland Freshwater Sea and up its tributary rivers. Close to town, farmers devoted their acres to vegetable gardens, orchards, and dairy operations. Farmers also grew special strains of wheat, barely, and hops, ingredients for the potent beers quaffed by the Frost Giants.

Two days before their departure Drew wrote up his impressions of Flensborg and New Varangia and sent a pair of articles off to his older brother, the editor of the Capital Intelligencer. Now he was free for pleasure.

As a journalist, author, and omnivorous reader of books, Drew was as devoted to the life of the mind as any young male whose juices were flowing could be. But he knew that a life lived to fullest had to have time for the pleasures of the table, of the glass, and of the bed.

Drew enjoyed the first two in moderation, steering a middle course between self-indulgence and abstemiousness. In Drew's view, outright gluttony was reprehensible while even gourmands who did not overeat devoted entirely too much time and energy to the subject of food. And fasting was both folly and its own well deserved punishment. Same thing applied to both drunkards and wine connoisseurs on the one hand and teetotalers on the other.

For Drew, food and drink were among life's principal pleasures though they were always enjoyed in moderation. The young human ate till he was full but not till he was stuffed. Same thing with drink. Beer and wine went fine with a meal, but a tankard of beer or ale or a couple of glasses of wine were plenty for him. His small body simply could not tolerate any great quantity of drink.

Drew weighed only one hundred pounds, whereas a giant like Finn could indulge himself as both trencherman and imbiber since his huge muscular body already weighed four hundred pounds though Finn was not yet fully grown. Their host Old Arn was taller but with a rangy build and weighed six hundred. Either could drink little Drew under the table just wetting their whistles. Drew know that and restricted his consumption accordingly. So did the twins who weighed only a third more than Drew.

Drew's idea of a fun evening started with a three course dinner at the restaurant washed down with a mug of Arn's best brew, the one he had trademarked as "The Same". It was his best seller even though it cost more. Folks would order it as a joke, just to be able to say "I'll have The Same." They almost always ordered another; it was that good.

Dinner was followed by an evening of music and song and dance in the common room of the tavern. Drew paired with each of the twins in energetic pas de deux and somewhat awkwardly with Finn. During Drew's and Karel's gyrations on the dance floor, a hand reached out from a table and snatched the sarong right off Drew's hips, rendering him naked instantly.

Whistles, hoots, stomps, and thunderous applause greeted this development. The pair paused in their dancing. Drew's eyes twinkled naughtily as he said to his dance partner:

"If that's the way they want it, let's really give the crowd something to remember!" Drew snatched the blue silk sarong off Karel's hips and tossed it to Donnar.

"I know it was you, Donnar, who did the honors for me just now. So hang on to both of these, would you?"

Donnar nodded, a big grin on his face. He held the garments to his face and sniffed, taking in their scent.

"Attar of roses!" he announced. "We all know what kind of boy uses that scent."

As the crowd nodded and chuckled, Drew lead his dance partner through erotically charged dance steps, a routine that could only be described as foreplay. At the finish of their number the dancers' slender athletic physiques gleamed with perspiration as they breathed hard, looking like lovers who had just climaxed in sexual congress. Taking his cue, Drew kissed Karel long and hard. Their hands roamed... In no time, their young manhoods rose to half staff.

"Get a room!" Someone yelled.

"No! Let's watch them do it right here on a table." Another enthusiast suggested.

"Sorry fellas, but we are taking this upstairs."

As Drew and Karel turned toward the stairs, Jemsen retrieved their sarongs from Donnar and followed the boys and Finn upstairs where they all fell into bed together.

The rest of their evening was spent in an noisy, sweaty, and energetic celebration of same gender sex.

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