Elf Boy's Friends - III

by George Gauthier

Chapter 5

Perception is Everything

Early one morning some months later Drew, Liam, and Axel were sprawled out on the bed in Liam's chamber. No one was in any hurry to get up. It felt good just lying there in the relative cool of the morning, lazing about, rubbing the leg of your lover with your foot but not taking things any further than that.

Like the twins' own suite, their rooms were on the top floor of a three storey residential hotel and looked out over a leafy square in the capital. The builders had taken advantage of the flat terrain of the city and the prevailing south wind to cool the building. Wind catchers directed the airflow downward and through the city's underground aqueducts where the warm air gave up its heat to the cool earth and subterranean water. Natural air pressure then forced the air back up into and through the building. All done without machinery. Awnings blocked direct sunlight from wide window openings which were not glassed in but set with wood lattices that afforded privacy without blocking ventilation.

The hotel was the modern sort. Pumps driven by vertical axis windmills raised water to a water tower and a set of tanks on the roof. The tower served the water closets in each suite and provided cold water for taps and showers in the apartments below. Tanks painted black provided solar-heated hot water.

"Ah this is the life." Liam declared to no one in particular.

"Nothing like a soft bed, the hard bodies of your lovers lying next to yours, and all the modern conveniences close to hand: hot and cold running water, flush toilets, hot meals prepared just the way we like them downstairs in the restaurant. I think I will start today with pancakes then order scrambled eggs and ham. And kaffay. I must have my kaffay. I never knew what I was missing till I left the plains and discovered kaffay."

"Nah," Axel said. "I'll just have some oatmeal."

"Oatmeal? Just oatmeal? When you can have anything you want?" Liam protested.

"But I like oatmeal." Axel said defensively. "My mother used to serve me oatmeal. Nothing like it with a little honey on top."

Drew smiled at the byplay. Idle chitchat was also part of a lazy morning. And why not? They had the day off. If it weren't for the rumbling in their stomachs they could stay in bed till noon. Well, maybe not. The chamber boy would want to be let in to straighten up.

The trio of young lovers eventually did climb out of bed, showered and primped, wrapped themselves in sarongs, and went down to breakfast. The twins had preceded them there and were also in sarongs. As always Jemsen's was green and Karel's blue. Early on they had tried other colors for the sake of variety but found that their fashion statement confused everybody.

The twins were eating a huge breakfast: scrambled eggs, hash browns, toast with jam, ham, bacon, and sausage."

"Big day today." Karel explained to Drew's inquisitive look." The footrace. Remember?"

"Ah yes. The annual ten miler. Are you going after a second trophy?"

"No. We'll fade at the end and let someone overtake us and win the trophy. I mean, with our enhanced strength, speed, and stamina, it's really not a challenge. We just like to run out in front most of the way."

"Letting all the spectators ogle your splendid physiques all naked and gleaming with sweat."

"And why not? When you've got it, flaunt it, I always say." Karel affirmed with a nod. "Anyway a race is more fun than a training run."

The annual race was held in one of the large parks in the city. A winding course had been laid out along its footpaths and running trails and marked with flags and ribbons tied around trees. The thirty runners had to circle the course five times.

About four thousand spectators were on hand, some seated in the low bleachers by the athletic field, others scattered on benches along the course or on handy rock ledges or just seated on the grass. There was even a contingent of the twins' pals from Twinkle Town, many of them up and about uncharacteristically early since the race kicked off three hours before mid-day, before it got really hot.

At the designated time the runners lined up. An official dropped a flag. They were off.

Each time the twins ran by the bleachers their fans from Twinkle Town cheered them loudly for they were in the lead with the pack strung out behind them. The denizens of Twinkle Town cheered the rest of the pack too, aroused by the sight of all that scrumptious boy flesh rushing past. These were the best of the young runners in the city, their hard young bodies a feast for the eyes, virtual poetry in motion.

Palpitations!

As it turned out, the twins were having so much fun basking in the adulation of the crowd that they forgot themselves and nearly won the race unintentionally. They were so far ahead that they couldn't simply fade and let the next runner overtake them. It would look like they had deliberately thrown the race, which would spoil that runner's victory.

So Karel pretended to injure himself. A bone bruise to the heel was how Jemsen explained it as he helped his "injured" brother off the course and sat him down. Spectators clucked sympathetically but then cheered the new front runner as he flew past.

None were more pleased than the twins themselves when the official presented the trophy to the winner, a stunning flaxen-haired youth with a ready smile and flashing blue eyes. He blew a kiss at the twins before his friends hoisted him onto their shoulders and carried him off to a victory celebration.

"Quick thinking there Karel." Drew told him later back in their rooms. "You faked your injury so convincingly that I actually expected you to limp off the course and visit a Healer."

"Yes, well sometimes what matters is not what is real but what people perceive."

"Funny you should say that," Axel offered, "Sir Willet often says much the same thing. He studies how people perceive the world around them. For instance. Did you know that while some people are color blind all the time, all of us are color blind in dim light? That is why Concealment is easier at night. You don't have to worry that the wrong color will give you away. Anyway Sir Willet collaborates with a natural philosopher to better understand how we use our senses. All of them, not just the traditional five."

"We have more than five senses?" Drew asked.

"Of course. Ten at least, maybe a dozen, plus our magical senses. In addition to sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, we all have a sense of balance, don't we? And we can sense when he are hungry or thirsty. That's two more. We can sense temperature like the radiant heat of a fire or of the sun for that matter. And we can sense where the different parts of our bodies are in relation to each other."

"Huh?"

"It's how you can scratch the back your head or wipe your ass without looking."

"It is also what the town watch tests drunks for. You know, when they ask a man to extend his arms to the side, close his eyes then touch the tip of his index finger to his nose. It's that sense."

"Oh."

"Don't forget pain," Jemsen offered.

"Nor how we sense how heavy things are by hefting them." Karel added.

Axel nodded.

"Sir Willet is particularly interested in how our senses can fool us, like with optical illusions. The story goes that back in the day when he was only a journeyman himself, Sir Willet's mentor questioned his interest in perception. What possible use could the study of optical illusion be to an army in the field?"

Liam delivered the punch line.

"Willet replied that armies used optical illusion all the time, only they called it camouflage. His mentor laughed and gave him a free hand to study whatever he wanted to. Thanks to his researches, Sir Willet is the Institute's authority on Concealment."

Axel picked up the thread:

"Sir Willet is more than a little frustrated that no one has followed up on his finding that green is not the best color for camouflage. The Army dismissed his work out of hand. Plants are green, they said, and so is our camouflage, and that was that."

"If not green then what color would he have the Army use?

"Brown, black, and grey plus tan for grassland and sandy environments."

"Really? Why those colors?"

"Those are the colors that nature herself uses. You have your brown bears and otters and woodchucks and so many other creatures with brown coats. Also grey wolves, grey foxes, and grey squirrels, black bears, black panthers, and stripped and spotted cats and many others. But have you ever seen an animal with a green coat? Of course not."

"Birds don't count. Their bright plumage is a courtship display." Liam clarified then shook his head

"Unfortunately, the Army has a problem with 'Not invented here'. If it is not their own idea, it must not be any good."

They all shook their heads at this sad example of human and organizational folly.

Axel had a sudden thought.

"Hey! Let me show you something really nifty."

"He went off for a moment and brought back a sheet of paper with block printing on it. At first glance it looked like gibberish, but then it didn't. It read:

I CDNUOLT BLVEIEE TAHT I CLUOD AULACLTY UESDNATNRD WAHT I WAS RDANIEG. THE PHAONMNEAL PWEOR OF THE HMUAN MNID! AOCCDRNIG TO THE LEATST RSCHEEARCH, IT DEOSN'T MTTAER IN WAHT OREDR THE LTTEERS IN A WROD ARE, THE OLNY IPRMOATNT TIHNG IS TAHT THE FRIST AND LSAT LTTEER BE IN THE RGHIT PCLAE. THE RSET CAN BE A TAOTL MSES AND YOU CAN SITLL RAED IT WOUTHIT A PORBELM. TIHS IS BCUSEAE THE HUAMN MNID DEOS NOT RAED ERVEY LTETER BY ISTLEF, BUT THE WROD AS A WLOHE. AMZANIG HUH? YAEH, AND HREE I AWLYAS THOUGHT SLPELING WAS IPMORANTT.

"That is amazing." they all agreed.

Liam nodded then said:

"It is going to be hard to tear myself away from all the interesting stuff I have been learning. I never thought studying could be so much fun. You see they have scheduled me for my first deployment next month. I heard that we are being sent after raiders on the Great Inland Freshwater Sea."

"Anyway, can you believe I am to serve with the Navy? Me, a boy who has never seen a body of water wider than the Long River itself."

"You do know how to swim, don't you?" Jemsen asked.

Liam shook his head. "No. I've never gone in over my head."

"Then you better learn to swim. The Great Inland Freshwater Sea is deeper than that!" Karel joked.

"Since we are already naked," Jemsen said, "let's go to the creek out back and get started on your lessons."

And that was how Liam learned to swim.

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