Elf Boy's Friends - II

by George Gauthier

Chapter 10

Cymru

The travelers resumed their journey by the next coach and arrived eight days later at the city of Caerdydd, capital of the land of Cymru, headquarters for the Commonwealth's mission to the Far West.

"Funny, isn't it?" Karel said. "The locals spell the name of their country with a 'u' at the end but pronounce it as an 'i'. It's 'Cymru' rather than 'Cymri'. Actually 'K-I-M-R-I' would be more like it. And why does the name of their capital city end in two d's? Surely one is enough."

The blond shook his head as he continued:

"Sadly, the orthography of names of places and persons in these benighted regions is anything but phonetic. Centuries ago great minds devised the 42 letters of the alphabet, one letter for each sound in the common tongue, to make it easy to acquire literacy, but these contrarians throw it all away."

"It's an old story, Karel's complaining about spelling, I mean." Jemsen noted to the others.

"Well it offends my sense of order." Karel explained defensively.

For once the four were dressed in their military uniforms complete with rank insignia and decorations. All wore full-length trews and loose shirts, vented at the side. The twins even wore sandals like those Drew and Finn wore. A good idea as it turned out, given the griminess of the streets.

Not expecting trouble, they carried their weapons packed for travel not held at the ready. The twins carried their quarterstaffs over their shoulders along with their unstrung bows and quivers while the scabbards of their kukris were hung from their belts. Drew wore his utility belt with pouches for his steel spheres and soporific darts plus his blade in the scabbard at his back. Finn dragged a borrowed travois with their packs and the heavy stuff including their climbing gear plus his twelve foot spear, sword, and buckler.

The lapel of Drew's shirt sported the badge marking an award of the Military Cross for Valor, belatedly conferred on him after he took a commission in the reserves, in recognition of his actions during the Second Centaur War. Each of the twins sported two such badges, the first earned for their role in the battle of annihilation during the most recent war for the Eastern Plains. Their second Military Cross was earned at the Battle of the Ravine. Finn wore his regular shirt and trews with the brassards of his rank in the Fyrd of New Varangian. The Frost Giants did not have any use for military decorations. One's reputation was deemed to be enough.

Commonwealth headquarters lay across the city from where the coach dropped them off. The four youths did not mind the walk. It gave them a chance to see the city.

A large city, it looked nothing like the main cities in the Commonwealth, Caerdydd was laid out without a plan. It was a warren of narrow streets and anes, bustling with humans. Only a few dwarves or giants or elves were on the streets, though perhaps they lived in districts they bypassed. Only the public buildings in the civic center were at all impressive.

Many soldiers were out and about engaged in the usual pursuits of off-duty troops with time on their hands and money to spend. The variety of uniforms indicated foreign contingents from the countries which belonged to the alliance against the Despotate.

While Finn stepped up to a carry-out counter to buy them a snack to quiet their growling stomachs nine soldiers with stubbly faces and grubby uniforms marched by. They noticed the twins and Drew who were quenching their thirst at a public fountain.

"Well, well, well", one of them began in a falsely hearty tone. "What do we have here, three cute soldier boys all decked out in Commonwealth uniforms. Their Army must be recruiting them young these days."

"Nay, not soldier boys but boy soldiers, kids playing at soldier, parading around in their daddies' old uniforms, would be my guess." another corrected.

"Boy soldiers? You mean toy-soldiers, don't you? And look they're all sporting badges for military decorations. Unless my eyes deceive me, those badges proclaim these kids to be holders of the Commonwealth's Military Cross for Valor. The blonds have two of them, each. Now how likely is that?"

The leader swaggered forward.

"The truth is that this trio of phonies are't even toy-soldiers. They are boy-toys, cute rent boys decked out in those uniforms to pique the interest of real soldiers like us. And coming in from three weeks of maneuvers, we all have an itch to scratch. I'm right, aren't I pretty ones? No doubt you are longing for strong men to take charge of you and put you through your paces. It is what boys of your sort were born for."

"You might as well peel off them uniforms before the military police see you and arrest you for impersonating officers and for wearing unauthorized decorations. The Army of the Commonwealth is touchy about such things. Otherwise, before you know it, you'll be spending your nights locked up with the hard cases in the stockade. And you know what happens then. Things can get rough behind bars. And no coin in the bargain for your trouble."

Drew straightened his shoulders, looked him right in the eye and said evenly:

"You just want us to strip and submit our bodies to your lusts. That is not going to happen. No offense, Sergeant, but you and your men are not our type. Besides there are rules against fraternization between officers and those of other ranks."

"Harrumph. Men, what we have here is a barracks lawyer. We'll soon set him straight, won't we."

That brought a rumble of assent from all but an older man in back, a corporal by his insignia. He shook his head, but kept his peace, for the moment anyway.

"Look," the sergeant went on. "We all know you kids aren't really no officers or even genuine soldiers, so you gotta get out of them duds anyway. Before you get into trouble. Besides we're not such bad fellows, me and my men, and we clean up pretty good too. So come along to the baths and we can all of us get squeaky clean and have some fun too. Food and drink are on us on top of what we'll pay you. What do you say?"

"Not interested."

"Now look, we did ask nice. Don't make us insist."

Drew just shook his head. "You are making a mistake. Back off."

"Ooh! A real tough guy. The little red-head has me quaking in my boots!"

Just then Finn stepped out from the shaded portico, his hand resting conspicuously on the hilt of his kukri.

"Do we have a problem here?"

"None that calls for bared steel, stranger. No one is looking to draw blood or to really hurt anyone for that matter. The worst these rent boys face is some bruises if he have to hold them down while we have our way with them. Oh, and likely sore bottoms in the morning, but they should be used to that. It goes with their line of work. Anyway, what business is it of yours."

"Those three are not rent boys, but they are friends of mine. Move along now before any unpleasantness ensues."

"Who are you to tell us to move along, big boy? This is our country, not yours. Too many foreigners around these days, damnation!"

"Uh, Sarge, maybe we should back off and let these boys go. Our regular girls and joy-boys are ready and willing."

"Same old, same old, Fychan. I'd like some fresh meat for a change."

"Better listen to your corporal there." Finn advised.

"Huh. Nine of us pitting our fists against one half-grown Frost Giant and three skinny kids. Think about those odds."

The corporal shook his head. "Sergeant, you may not know who those guys are, but I do. They're famous. I read about them in that book I passed along to you. The blonds are the deadliest archers on the continent. The Frost Giant is that Young Finn, the one who stood with Old Arn in the Breach. And the little red-head is the most dangerous one of them all. He is that deadly Fetcher. Just by himself he could take us all out without breaking a sweat."

"No way."

"Look for yourself. Anyone can pin a badge on a lapel, but no one is crazy enough to wear a Friendship tattoo if he isn't entitled to it. The elves, dwarves, or giants would burn it off or slice it off his shoulder. See there, the little red-head is a Giant Friend. The blonds bear the tattoos of Giant-friends, Elf-friends, and Dwarf-friends. Put it together: two beautiful blond boys, identical twins, archers, three tattoos. The only humans like that alive are the famous twins Jemsen and Karel of the Commonwealth."

"In the flesh!" Karel confirmed with a outward sweep of his arms. "And it's Captains Sirs Jemsen and Karel, but you may call us Sirs for short."

The sergeant and his men blanched, suddenly realizing they had overstepped.

"We are on our way to Commonwealth headquarters." Drew continued smoothly. "Perhaps the good corporal could show us the way?"

"The sergeant nodded at Corporal Fychan and told Drew: "I am sure that he would be happy to guide you. Uh, no offense, sir, about anything that might have been said before."

"None taken, Sergeant. So let's us be on our way and you and your men on yours."

As the soldiers trooped off the corporal walked over to Drew.

"Thank you sir, for defusing the situation and for letting us off easy. Don't get the wrong idea. Sergeant Powys is a good soldier and a good non-com, the kind who looks after his men. That is all he was doing just now. When he saw you on the street, three walking wet dreams, he wanted you for his men as much as for himself The Commonwealth forces ran us ragged on maneuvers these last few weeks. Good training, sure, but a whole lot of marching and tramping through rough country. All of us needed bucking up."

"So Corporal Fychan, you mentioned you had read my book."

"Could hardly put it down, sir. It is a real page turner. You are a terrific writer, Ensign Altair."

"I know it was a best seller, but I never saw any sales figures for the Far West."

"You wouldn't have. Most who read it probably did what I did, rented a copy from a circulating library. Anyway it was an edition put out by a local publisher.

"No wonder I didn't see any royalties from those sales. These lands are not under the copyright laws of the Commonwealth. Not yet anyway."

"Sorry, sir."

Not your fault. Not anyone's really. Maybe I didn't make money out here on that first book, but now my name is known to the reading public. Let's hope they flock to buy my future books after they join the Commonwealth."

"Glad you are taking it philosophically, sir. While you are in such a good mood about it, I might as well tell you that the same publisher put out an edition of your second book, the one about the wars for the Eastern

Plains."

That brought a rueful smile and a shrug.

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