Elf Boy's Friends - II
"Nice digs!" Finn observed to the others as they settled in to the guest quarters at Government House, a former palace since converted into offices for provincial officials. The colonel had said it would be four or five days before the First Despot arrived, ostensibly on an inspection tour to protect the secrecy of their meeting.
"I could get used to this." Drew averred. "It's better than my own room at home."
Drew was still living with his folks, never having moved out to a youth lodge with his contemporaries.
"I suppose it's comfortable enough," Jemsen allowed, not terribly impressed. Back in the capital the twins leased a suite of comfortable rooms in a residential hotel. Chamber boys took care of the housekeeping, and meals were provided at the restaurant on the ground floor.
Their corner suite on the second story featured three sleeping chambers opening onto a bright and airy sitting room which had a balcony that overlooked an herb and vegetable garden. Pipes in the bathing chamber provided not only cold water but also solar heated warm water. The jakes too were modern, sanitary, and odor free. Water flowed constantly under the two seats, carrying away bodily wastes.
"If you guys don't mind me jumping the queue, I'll take a bath before I do anything else" Drew said stripping off his expeditionary outfit.
Just then a strikingly good-looking boy in his mid-teens and dressed only in a linen kilt hung low on his hips entered the suite with an armload of fluffy towels. Slender and comely and with hair the color of straw, he bore more than a passing resemblance to the twins. Catching sight of Drew's naked body he stopped short and stared, instantly smitten.
"Like what you see?" Karel asked impishly.
The boy turned red and stammered:
"I, uh, um, that is... Sorry.
"There is nothing to apologize for," Karel continued blithely:
"You are not the first boy to be entranced at the sight of young Drew Altair in a state of nature. Our auburn-haired friend has a legion of admirers stretching across the continent of Valentia. Quite the social butterfly, he is, isn't that right, Drew?"
"Don't tease the chamber boy." Drew scolded. "What do they call you anyway, Blondie?"
"The name is Dewi, Sir, and I am not really a chamber boy. I am an assistant gardener. I'm just helping get this suite ready for visitors."
"Dewi then, and my name is Drew, not Sir. Just place those towels in the bathing chamber, would you?
"Of course, and would you like me to draw your bath as well?"
"I would, and could I prevail on you to help me bathe, to fetch sponges and soap, scrub my back, shampoo my hair, that sort of thing?"
"I am entirely at your service, Sir, I mean Drew. "
"At his service indeed!" Karel quipped, drawing a sharp look from Drew. Jemsen rolled his eyes.
"While that white kilt of yours is quite flattering, Dewi, contrasting so nicely with your sun-bronzed physique, there's no point in getting it all wet and soapy, is there? Why don't you shuck it and join me in the bathing room?" Drew suggested helpfully.
"Why not? This kilt wasn't my idea in the first place. The majordomo told me to wear it. I always do my gardening in the nude."
"You see, with the climate so hot here in the north, boys and young men rarely bother with clothing. You'll find lots of naked youths out and about on the streets, unlike Down South where casual public nudity in town is less usual. Besides I like the way the sun kisses my back and bare bum and confers a golden patina to my skin."
"And to very good effect indeed, Dewi. Your sun-bronzed body and yellow hair make you a Golden Boy of Concupiscence, whom all desire."
"Does that include you?"
Needless to say, the sounds that emerged from the bathing chamber indicated that more than hygiene was on the agenda.
When the bathers finally emerged they were arm in arm and chatting away like old friends till Dewi said he really had to get back to work and left Drew with a parting kiss and a promise to return later to "turn down" Drew's bed.
Of course, when Dewi showed up late in the evening he did much more than turn down the bed. He slipped into bed with Drew for an energetic frolic.
Despite the noisy proceedings, the lovers did not keep the others awake thanks to the thick walls. Finn took one bed chamber and the twins the other. For all three this was a night for rest and repose. After so many weeks on the road, they were bone tired, and welcomed the chance to just sleep in soft beds.
When Dewi and Drew woke up the next morning, their bed was a mess, the sheets sweaty, askew, and bearing stains from bodily fluids.
No problem. Dewi gathered up the soiled bed things, added the travelers' dirty clothes to the bundle, and took them away to drop the whole bundle off at the laundry room.
That was not the last they saw of him that day for Dewi was soon at work in the garden below the balcony. In the nude, of course. It wasn't long before Drew joined him. After all, they had nothing to do for the next few days but wait and after being on the road for so long, they liked the idea of staying put for one day at least.
Growing things was not just a job for Dewi, it was his calling. His magical gift was a Green Thumb. Now he couldn't just command plants to grow the way druids could, but his magical aura, his instincts, and his training made everything flourish under his care. He never applied too much or too little water, turned the soil regularly to aerate it, could identify developing blight or insect infestations by sight and smell before any of the other gardeners.
As he told Drew, at one time this plot of land was a garden of ornamental flowers, topiaries, gravel paths, statues and fountains, all for the delight of a pampered aristocrat. The revolutionary government changed all that, stripping away the fripperies and uncovering a sizable patch of some of the most fertile soil in the district.
Now these acres produced herbs and vegetables to promote the health and well-being of the populace at large. Theirs was the very freshest produce available anywhere in town. They sold directly to a green grocer, thereby cutting out the middleman. Everyone gained from the arrangement. The citizens got fresh produce at competitive prices, and the grocer and the garden split the profits.
Here was the Revolution in a nutshell. Dewi considered his work to be his particular contribution to its success, loyal and grateful son of the revolution that he was.
Dewi was especially proud of his celery despite the extra labor involved. You had to pack earth around the stalks as they grew, leaving only the tops and leaves green, to turn the stalks white and crunchy. So what if his hands, knees, arms, legs and even his brow got streaked with dirt and sweat. It was good dirt, topsoil, mother earth. Anyway it was easy enough to wash it off along with the sweat and salt at the end of the day.
Usually he worked alone, a slender nude youth, bent over at his labor, planting, weeding, and hoeing. On that day it was the two of them together, Dewi and Drew, two bare-assed youths kneeling on the ground, brown cheeks resting on their heels, lithe torsos leaning forward, genitals dangling between slender thighs, ribs and spinal bumps prominent as, trowel or short handled hoe in hand, they bent to their mundane tasks, firm muscles playing under their skin. Just two naked youths exuding wholesomeness and vitality, fine specimens of the human animal, bronzed and beautiful.
Dewi told Drew that he was happy with his situation there. He had arrived in Junction four years earlier an orphaned war refugee who had lost his home, his family and friends, and all his neighbors when his village had been put to the torch. The lone survivor, twelve-year old Dewi had fled for his life. He had passed through the city gate hungry, dirty, penniless, empty handed, and stark naked.
The revolutionary committee found him a situation as helper in the garden where he shared a cozy room with another boy and took his meals in the staff dining room, just off the main restaurant. Recognizing his potential, the head gardener, old Justin, a holdover from the old regime, had taken Dewi under his wing and soon promoted him to assistant gardener. Things had worked out for him.
With two pairs of hands, the youths were finished the work by early afternoon. The head gardener gave Dewi the rest of the day off to spend with his new friend. Dewi was his favorite, talented, conscientious, and hard-working. He deserved some free time with the exotic visitor.
The next morning, Drew asked Justin if they could borrow Dewi for the next few days to guide them around their town. Colonel Ifans had told them that they had the freedom of the city.
"Why not? You are the guests of the Despotate, aren't you? Just don't be surprised at the attention you draw. On the streets men and boys and more than a few women swivel their heads at the sight of Dewi, walking wet-dream that he is. Five of you at once, three blonds who look enough alike to be brothers and a Frost Giant side by side with a diminutive red-head. You'll cause quite a stir, I am thinking.
Drew caught the mischief in Karel's face as the head gardener mentioned him and narrowed his eyes in warning. Though he kept silent, Karel did mouth the word "diminutive."
"Yes, a real stir," the gardener continued, "with all of you but the giant in the nude."
"Wouldn't we be selfish not to share the beauty the gods have graced us with?" Karel asked rhetorically.
"Besides, the male anatomy is no more a mystery to city dwellers than it is to country folk. Cities all over are dotted with statues of male nudes, some of heroic proportions commemorating great soldiers and rulers, while others are more realistic and depict gods and demigods, famous athletes, or allegorical subjects as comely youths and young men."
The inhabitants of the planet of Haven had never conceived of artistic fig leaves. The very notion would have astounded them.
With that, their party of five set out to explore Junction.
Dewi pointed out that the old palace was used not only for offices and guest lodgings but provided other services as well. The kitchens operated as a restaurant serving meals to the officials and to locals in the grand dining chamber. The former count's library was now open to the public. Most books could be borrowed for a term though certain rare books could not leave the premises. Next to it was an public art gallery, though many of the choicest pieces had been sold abroad with the proceeds deposited in a provident fund reserved for fiscal contingencies. A health clinic offered both magical healing and natural medicine for a modest charge, enough to cover expenses, to fund a rural outreach program, and to provide a decent living for its staff.
The city was crowded and noisy but not smelly. Even the side streets were paved and provided with storm drains and containers for refuse which Dewi said were carted to the garbage dump after close of business. Public latrines took care of the bodily wastes of humans. Draft animals were not allowed on the streets except for two hours a day, and drivers had to remove their droppings to designated drop off points and composting sites. The house fronts and shops were not as trim and tidy as comparable quarters in cities in the Commonwealth, again an indication of the general impoverishment of the region. At least the shops on commercial streets were fitted with awnings or sunshades to provide shade.
It seemed that a freak funnel of wind had carried away a number of awnings just recently. Two young men, siblings by the look of them, were at work replacing torn out frames. Their job involved drilling out what remained of the old fittings and putting up new ones in their place with fast setting cement. Like many young males in the city they worked in the nude except
for ankle-high work boots and leather aprons which left their bums uncovered except where the ties dangled over their shapely buns. Both boys ignored the stone dust that mixed with their hair and the sweat on their tanned bodies. A bit of mess came with the job. Both stopped work when they caught sight of the group of five.
"Hi there, big boy!" the taller one greeted Finn.
"Hello lads, how's it going?"
The youth shrugged:
"Pretty good for my brother and me, thanks to all the work the vortex brought us. It's like that old saying: 'It is an ill wind that blows no one good'. Bad for the shopkeepers, good for us."
Nodding toward the others, he continued:
"Fine company you keep. Beautiful boy flesh and none of them shy about displaying himself. Are they your harem?" he asked with a wink.
"In a manner of speaking, yes. All but one of the blonds."
"You lucky dog!"
Dewi was recognized in the red light district. As they passed a pleasure house Finn overheard a pretty courtesan tell her friend that if the strangers were in the company of "that blond tease" they wouldn't be interested in their services.
"What a waste!" was their judgment.
"I see that you are known around here." Finn remarked.
"On my days off I work as a rent boy in a pleasure house on the next street over. It's just as a sideline though several clients have asked me to move in with them full-time as their kept boy. I wasn't interested."
"Why not? Surely it would be more lucrative than grubbing in the dirt?" Finn asked, testing the boy.
"But Finn I like grubbing in the dirt. It is the work I was born for, what with my Green Thumb. Sure I could become some rich man's pampered catamite for a few years, ten at the most since I'm sixteen now. Then what would happen? I'd be tossed out and find myself on my own without a job, or a trade, or any prospects."
"I am sure you would still be very attractive in ten years' time."
"Yes, but as a good-looking young man, not a cute boy-toy."
"Almost everything I earn as a rent boy goes into savings. One day I will be able to buy a plot of land for a truck farm. That's the plan, anyway. I hope you don't think less of me because I let men plow my ass for coin."
"Not at all, Finn replied, "Some of my closest friends have worked as rent boys."
"He means us." Jemsen interjected. "Karel and I financed our first journey across the continent that way."
"That was before we were rich and famous." Karel explained.
"You don't say!"
The next day the boys spent a several hours leafing through the collection in the public library. There was something for every taste and cultural level. The library offered serious titles from the original collection as well as popular fiction for a newly literate citizenry.
Here was a chance to catch up on the reading the had forgone during their long trip. All four read books regularly for both pleasure and instruction and Drew was a bona fide bookworm, not to mention a prize winning author. With more practical ends in mind, Dewi studied a volume on topiaries. Old Justin was planning to restore a couple of those living sculptures as a public amenity.
There weren't enough chairs so the five of them found a vacant corner and parked themselves on the carpet, one arm to the floor for a prop, legs extended and ankles crossed, with their chosen volumes resting atop their thighs. At one point, Karel stretched out on his front, upper torso raised on his elbows with the book he was reading propped against his brother's
Library patrons stared at the young beauties in their midst, eyes dwelling on the curves of the lovely blond boy on his stomach, from his rounded shoulders to the swale of the lower back and the twin globes of his bum, with the spheres of his manly parts just visible in the spread of his slender but muscular legs.
Regardless of their leanings, all were struck by the contrast between intellectual endeavor and the sensual display of bare bodies. All five of them: Finn, Dewi, Drew, and the twins were visions of youthful male pulchritude. Finn excepted, they were utterly unselfconscious about total public nudity. The twins had lived skin clad from the age of fifteen. As a youth of the Commonwealth Drew ran around town much of the time in the nude, disdaining as entirely unnecessary the genital pouch or the loincloth he might have worn. Dewi had arrived in Junction in the nude and pretty much stayed that way the whole time.
The four young nudes were not trying to tease or titillate. They were simply reading books. If someone had remarked on their unclothed state, the boys would have been astonished at any suggestion that reading a book required anything more than hands and eyes. What did clothing have to do with it?
The markets were busy and offered all manner of merchandise. Commerce had flourished once the political power of the landowners was broken. The commercial classes had supported the revolution wholeheartedly. They were gratified when the new regime swept away the aristocrats' former immunity from taxation. Now everyone was liable to taxation. With the tax base so much larger, the rate of taxation fell considerably.
The biggest change was that taxpayers actually got something for the taxes they paid. The government spent its increased revenues on internal improvements. It paved the streets in the towns and installed sewers and storm drains. Out in the country it built all-weather roads and culverts and bridges to aid land transport. To benefit waterborne commerce they dredged channels, cleared streams of snags, and blasted underwater boulders that created impassible rapids. They raised water levels with weirs, and built inclines next to the streams to by-pass them. Major engineering works like canals and locks were as yet beyond their means. All these measures extended the range from which the towns could draw supplies and gave many more farmers access to markets.
Perhaps most important of all the new regime replaced the debased coinage with sound money and instituted a standard system of weights and measures, copying those used in the Commonwealth.
Folks seemed content and healthy though not really prosperous. No amount of land reform and sweeping away of wasteful and outmoded institutions could remedy the underlying problems of poor agricultural productivity and remote location. The territories of the Despotate had only one major line of communications down the River Conwy. A vast range of mountains cut their territory off from the western coastlands of the continent. To the north lay impassable channeled scablands, scoured down to bedrock thousands of years earlier in an flood of gigantic proportions.
"What's with the big hammer?" Dewi asked Finn pointing to his side.
"I carry a hammer because I am, or rather I was, a blacksmith. These days I own a timber business and sawmill with my brother. We left our weapons in our quarters as a sign of good faith, but a hammer counts as a tool. It does make a good weapon though, if you know how to use it, and I do."
Proportioned for a Frost Giant, the hammer's hardwood haft was nearly as long as Drew's whole arm and thicker than he could get his small hand around. It was made of resilient ash which was wrapped with straps for greater strength. The head was as heavy as that of a sledge but with cheeks that tapered to small faces front and back to concentrate the force of the blow.
"You always hang a hammer by its head, which is how I carry it on my belt. The loop at the end of the straps lets you swing it as weapon, giving you the extra reach you need to hold off foes armed with swords. Usually you hold the haft near the heel and smash left and right, up and down."
"A hammer is strictly a close-in weapon though I once heard of a smith who threw his hammer at a fleeing felon and took him down. You wouldn't want to try that except in desperation. Throw your hammer away, and you've disarmed yourself."
"Unless you can Fetch it back to you," Drew commented smugly.
"With your strength to wield it, Finn, it'd be a fearsome weapon all right," Dewi enthused. "Hit a man on the head and he's finished.".
"It wouldn't be pretty," Finn confirmed. "with brains, blood, and bone chips splashed all around."
"You should see what I can do with a couple of steel spheres the size of apples." Drew said confidently.
"Hey guys, we just ate lunch!" Karel protested.
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