Elf Boy's Friends - II
Over the next several days Chief Border Captain Kwill's new chief of Scouts settled in and got to know his scouts. Meanwhile the young soldiers four studied Captain Dentzer's maps in preparation for their mission. It was not all work and no play. Drew and Ian Dentzer had plenty of quality time too.
For their last dinner before shoving off, the generals invited the four to break bread with them. Joining them at the round table was the commander of a battalion of cavalry newly arrived from Flensborg in New Varangia.
"Ensign Altair," Urqaart began, "I understand you have already met Major Ter Horst."
"That's right, sir. I met him in Flensborg nearly a month ago now and interviewed him too."
"He gave me a good write up in his paper." Ter Horst agreed. "He did me the courtesy of letting me see his copy before he mailed it to his editor. Ensign Altair, your recent articles on how things are developing in New Varangia were most informative. You serve your readers and the Commonwealth well, both in uniform and out."
"In his case, it's often out of uniform, if you take my meaning," Karel noted eyes twinkling merrily.
"Says an elf-friend who went around 'skin-clad' for months on end during the Long March." Drew countered.
The generals smiled indulgently at the banter of their proteges, which set the right tone for this send-off dinner from which discussion of official business had been banned in favor of small talk and light humor. The senior officers allowed their juniors to lead the conversation, contenting themselves with an occasional nod or comment. The smiles on the open faces of the junior officers exemplified one of the more pleasant aspects of life in the military: the comradeship it forged.
Rising to his feet and lifting his glass, General Zaldor offered the first toast:
"Gentlemen, I give you the Profession of Arms!"
Marshal Urqaart offered the second toast. Nodding toward Jemsen and Karel and Finn and Drew he said:
"Gentlemen, I give you our Young Soldiers Four!"
By tradition, the third and final toast was offered by the youngest person at the table, who was Drew, though younger than Finn by just a whisker. In a light tenor voice which carried across the room he offered:
"Gentlemen, the Commonwealth of the Long River!"
The toasts marked the formal end of the dinner. Everyone rose as the generals left the dining room. Most diners left then though a few sat back down for a final drink or two before adjourning to their quarters or to the officers club for a brandy, a pipe, or a friendly game of cards.
The senior officers took comfort in the thought that if they had gauged things rightly, then the mission was not particularly dangerous. The gods forbid that ill befall these great kids. True, anything might happen on the road from bandits and such, but these four had proved that they could pretty well take care of themselves.
The next day found the Young Soldiers Four plus Ian Dentzer heading north from Caerdydd. They loped along at an easy pace through the manicured countryside. This was long-settled country, the prosperous farms neatly separated by hedgerows or rail fences. Grain fields and orchards alternated with truck farms and pastures for horse and dairy farms. Some holdings were worked by their owners, others by tenant farmers but none by serfs, not in Cymru anyway. The people seemed friendly, healthy, and contented. Many of those working in the fields waved to the travelers.
The travelers walked rather than rode with one of the twins leading a pony with their gear. To pose as civilians, they had left their uniforms behind. Drew wore his expeditionary outfit of short trews and shirt of green silk slashed at the sides plus hob-nailed sandals. Finn was in his usual trews and shirt plus sandals. The twins contented themselves with colorful sarongs and went barefoot.
Ian Dentzer was the only one in uniform, proudly displaying the insignia of his new rank. He would travel with them only for the first stage of their journey, as a guide to the baseline the twins would use for their first triangulation.
The pony carried their heavier kit including their climbing gear and the packs that the twins normally carried slung from flat hooks at the end of their quarter staffs. These they retained as walking sticks. With no reason to expect trouble the twins let the pony carry their unstrung bows and quivers keeping only their staffs and their kukris to hand. To a Frost Giant like Finn, the weight of his weapons was negligible so he bore sword, kukri, and hammer with his buckler hung from his belt. His twelve foot spear served as his walking stick. Drew did not bother with a staff, contenting himself with a kukri and the belt pouches holding his steel spheres and soporific darts.
"Even clothed you and the twins look incredibly scrumptious." Ian said to his auburn-haired lover. Both your expeditionary outfit and your white tunics are tailored to display the clean limbed body you have so recently grew into and are so proud of. And the sarongs on the twins sheath their slender bodies and highlight their curvaceous rumps."
"You have a good eye for the male form." Finn rumbled, "but then, what else could one expect of an elf. Alas, in a week you will return to headquarters leaving me to carry on alone trying to satisfy the carnal appetites of three over-sexed young males. It's a tough job, but I believe I am up to the challenge."
"You lucky dog!"
The morning sun was warm though not yet hot. Besides the trees along the right side of the road cast the roadway into shade. For a while the only sound they made as they walked along was the slap of their sandals or bare feet on the ground and the tap of their walking sticks. It was Karel who broke the silence:
"I wonder how Liam is doing?" Karel asked aloud. "By now he will have reached the capital, settled in to our digs, and started training as a war wizard."
At Ian's quizzical look Jemsen explained.
"Your predecessor in Drew's bed, or rather he in his. Liam is only seventeen and refreshingly innocent. He was the teamster who drove our stagecoach from Flensborg to the border. A really engaging fellow, bright and easy to talk to. We all came to know him and like him. Of course it was Drew who got to know him best. A case of mutual attraction at first sight."
"It wasn't just a physical attraction." Drew protested. "He is a likable guy and not lacking in the brains department either. From the beginning I sensed hidden depths in young Liam, and I was right, wasn't I?"
"Liam's magical gift started to manifest during the trip. His eyes shone with what war wizards call their moon-glow. Drew sent him for training under a war wizard he knows, one Sir Willet. He will be staying in the guest room of the twins' suite in their residential hotel in the capital. The arrangement includes meals in its restaurant."
"I hope Liam will join us in future adventures. Wouldn't that be great?" Drew enthused. "It's too bad it will be six months before we get back and know how things worked out for him."
"Meanwhile, we are here and it is now." Jemsen noted. "So let's attend to the business at hand."
"Always the level-headed one, aren't you Jemsen?" Drew said.
"Are you saying that Jemsen is level-headed and I am not?" Karel demanded
Finn supplied the answer. "You, my friend, are the comic relief."
Seeing the hurt look on Karel's face Finn instantly regretted his flippant comment. The younger twin looked close to tears. Somehow Finn's innocent remark had cut Karel to the quick. The giant started to apologize, but Jemsen cut him off.
"I'll handle this Finn." the older twin said in a tone that did not brook contradiction.
Jemsen drew his brother off a ways, out of earshot. The others watched as Jemsen tried to soothe his younger sibling's hurt feelings. At first Karel would have none of it and shook his head. Jemsen gradually brought his brother around. Finally Karel nodded and the twins embraced. Jemsen came back to the group to explain.
"Not really your fault, but your words hit a nerve. All our lives, people who don't know us have taken us for a pair of airheads just because we are young, blond, beautiful, and yes, incessant chatterboxes. A couple of dumb blonds is how they judged for pestering them with endless questions as if we didn't know anything, but questions are how you learn what isn't written down in books."
"It's a stereotype yes, but it hurts. Karel doesn't just want people to like him or to lust after his body, he wants their respect. It doesn't help that we are far too pretty for our own good, prefer other males in bed, go around stark naked much of the time, and don't have a feather on our bodies anywhere, not even at the fork of our legs."
"The fact is that both of us equally smart and both have a wicked sense of humor. Sure, I let Karel deliver most of the quips and punchlines, but they pop into my head just as fast as into his. Lots of times we chime in together with the very same words or one of us finishes the other's sentence. It's like we were mentally linked though not through mind speech. We don't hear fully formed words in our heads. Rather it's as if we can sense the thought processes that create the words we speak."
"And all of you have seen how cool and level-headed Karel can be under fire. In battle he clamps down on his fear and excitement and concentrates on what he has to do and how to do it. Just like me. Exactly like me. And Karel is real smart. Remember it was Karel who had the insight that showed Drew how to Levitate, something that had eluded generations of Fetchers. He is as much the inventor of contour lines as I am, and don't you forget it."
Jemsen's spirited defense of his brother ran out of steam just then. Leaving the others to ponder his words, Jemsen went back to his brother. The pair walked off a ways and sat in the shade of a tree, keeping each other company.
"Jemsen is right." Finn admitted. "It is too easy to see only the flashy surface and miss the hidden depths. That is a mistake I will not make again. And not just about Jemsen and Karel."
"Nor I" Ian agreed.
No more was said about it, though when Karel rejoined them, they all nodded to him in a gesture of support. The party of five was soon on its way. Within the hour, Karel was at least outwardly much his old self, though he waved off any attempt by Finn to explain or to apologize.
The travelers took lodgings in a country inn, the twins and Finn in one room (and bed) and Drew and Ian similarly situated in the other. During pillow talk Ian referred to the events of the morning, saying:
"I envy the twins. Their bond is so strong and so close, I'm not even sure what to call it. Is it the life-bond which love poets write of? Do they share a soul the way they seem to share a mind?"
"That psychic link was news to me. I knew they were identical twins, lovers, each other's best friend, and comrades in arms, but this? Though looking back now, I can see it in the way they have always interacted with each other and other people."
"Poor Finn," Drew continued. "He feels so bad about hurting Karel's feelings. Not his fault, really, but he blames himself for the misunderstanding. He said that he of all people should have known better. There are stereotypes about Frost Giants too. 'Dumb Ox' is only one of them."
"Yes, I've heard that one myself. The Frost Giants are large and laconic. For some folks, it is all too easy to jump from slow in speech to slow in thought."
In the other room the twins and Finn shared a bed though intimacy was out of the question. Lying close in the dark, Finn wanted to talk to Karel, but the aggrieved twin had laid himself on the opposite side of the bed with his brother between them and even rolled onto his side, presenting his back to the young giant, though not as an invitation. So when Finn finally did speak up he adopted the ploy of addressing his words to Jemsen.
"I wish I could express to Karel my regret for my thoughtless remark today. I meant it as innocent banter, but I hit a nerve and he took it amiss."
"Er... Now that he has had time to cool off, I am sure Karel realizes that maybe he over-reacted -- not to what was said but to the fact that the person who said it was someone he respects and trusts. Still, he might have given you the benefit of the doubt and realized that you would never intentionally injure him by word or deed. I mean, with the three of us being such close friends and all, lovers, and comrades in arms, and with so much history together... "
"Thanks Jemsen. I'd like you to be my ambassador to Karel and put in a good word for me. Explain to Karel how deeply I care for him and how much I respect his courage and intelligence. Also tell him how impressed I was that he held his temper and his tongue. A real class act your brother is. And I'd say that to anybody."
"You can tell Finn," Karel said "that I do realize I might have handled that better and given him the benefit of the doubt or at least a chance to explain. And I am not really mad at him, not any longer."
"Uh, Finn, Karel just told me that realizes that he might have handled things better and given you the benefit of the doubt or at least a chance to explain. And he is not really mad at you, not any longer."
"I feel so much better hearing that."
"I guess I'll have to relay that to him too, since you guys are still not on speaking terms."
At that point Karel rolled his eyes and shook his head at the silliness of their three cornered conversation. The stratagem that Finn had used to talk to him without talking to him was utterly transparent. As was the way his twin had instantly fallen in with the scheme to serve as Finn's sounding board.
"All right, all right. Apology accepted, Finn. And I love you and respect you too. So can we cut out the ricochet palaver and get some sleep already?"
"You got it, Karel. Finn said, eyes glistening.
"Karel can't reach you, so I'll do this for him." Jemsen said as he kissed the young giant, adding:
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