Elf Boy's Friends - III

by George Gauthier

Chapter 14

Convalescence

The Naval Hospital in the capital of the Commonwealth of the Long River was a center for convalescence as well as acute care. One of the patients recovering from his wounds there was a young veteran of the ongoing war against the trolls: Ensign Nathan "Sparky" Lathrop of the warship CS Petrel, a schooner operating out of the naval base of Alster on the Great Inland Freshwater Sea.

Less than two months after being wounded in the first major sea battle of the war, the young naval officer was up and about, walking nearly normally. Only the lack of spring in his step showed that he used a prosthetic. A troll axe had severed his left leg just above the ankle. Nathan would have bled out had not Warrant Officer Durban, the ship's surgeon, invoked his gift of magical healing to render Nathan unconscious while he expertly tied off his major blood vessels and stopped the blood loss.

Nathan owed his life to Surgeon Durban's ministrations yet Durban would not have reached Nathan in time but for the heroic actions of Nathan's lover Warrant Officer Liam, the journeyman war wizard assigned to their ship. The sight of his lover falling to the trolls attacking the foredeck of the Petrel had driven Liam into a killing frenzy. Invoking his telekinetic power, which was called Fetching on the planet of Haven, Liam had whirled a pair of steel spheres about the size of a peach at high speed in a short arc back and forth, one high one low, normally a defensive maneuver called the Shield. In the close quarters of the fore deck it became a devastating offensive weapon.

Caught up in a killing frenzy beyond all caring Liam scythed his foes down, ignoring the cries for quarter that came from the last to die. He was not about to spare trolls who had cut down his Nathan. Not by a long shot. It was only when all the trolls lay dead at his feet that Liam's rage abruptly left him, replaced by concern for his lover.

Now they had come together again. Nathan's journey to the capital had been by hospital ship to Alster and later by coastal ship and river boat to the capital. Liam had traveled overland by stagecoach from Flensborg, capital of New Varangia, a second homeland of the Frost Giants under the suzerainty of the Commonwealth of the Long River.

Both were mere youths, for Liam was eighteen and Nathan still only seventeen, a few weeks short of his eighteenth birthday.

The boy outfitted in his Navy blues stood just a shade under Liam's height with the willowy build and smooth musculature of an elf though he was fully human. Nathan was boyishly cute, a freckle-faced carrot-topped youngster who looked much too young to be an officer in the Navy of the Commonwealth. A walking wet dream, that was the only way to described the scrumptious sailor.

Liam was a well-set up lad himself with a fine healthy body. Just under medium height and on the slender side but with a strong upper storey, he had wide shoulders and muscled arms from handling teams of four for a living. Liam was blessed with good looks too, a real raven-haired beauty though you would have to describe him as pretty rather than handsome. His fine-boned features were accented by a light sprinkling of freckles. His was one of those open and honest faces seemingly without guile, though he had the mismatched eyes of a war wizard: his left eye was blue and the right brown, and there was no doubt that his eyes shone with what wizards call their moon-glow.

Nathan navy blues were lightweight silk garments suitable to the tropical climate. On his collar he wore a badge indicating the award of the Navy Cross for Valor. Liam was in his formal army greens; his collar bore the badge for a decoration even higher in precedence, the Shield of the Commonwealth, their nation's second highest honor.

Both awards were for their heroic actions during the initial sea battle against the trolls, the most remarkable single ship action in the history of the Navy. A schooner with a crew of seventy had destroyed a flotilla of fifteen longships each with eighty trolls aboard. Between its ballistas, fire globes, and the cutlasses of its crew, the Petrel had accounted for a thousand trolls. For his outstanding direction of that battle, their commanding officer, then Captain-Lieutenant Jan Dekker, had been promoted two ranks, knighted, and decorated with his nation's highest honor, becoming Commodore Sir Jan Dekker, Knight Commander of the Inland Sea, and Sword of the Commonwealth.

The infrasound dispatch Dekker had sent just before the battle was classic. In the laconic style favored by the Navy he had simply stated: "To Squadron Leader from CS Petrel, Captain-Lieutenant Jan Dekker commanding. Enemy concentration at the Scilly Isles. Fifteen longboats with a thousand trolls aboard. Am engaging."

Dekker had had every right to avoid battle against so overwhelming a force to simply shadow it and report its position or to rejoin his squadron which was cruising some two hundred miles away. Instead his final two works had electrified first his commodore, then the squadron, and later the nation:

"Am engaging."

Indeed.

Helping to even the Petrel's odds in the battle were the magical gifts of her war wizard and her sailing master. With his Fetching powers Liam had dropped boulders from a hundred feet high onto four longships, holing them fatally. Then with water magic he raised a giant wave than overwhelmed two more, and then, at the very limits of his strength unleashed white fire to slice the bows off two more longboats. Sailing master Crawley was a Master of Magnetism as the journalist Drew Altair had dubbed him. He invoked his gift and ripped two longships apart by tearing the nails out of their planks. The trolls dropped into the water and were pulled under by the weight of their armor.

Nathan had only a modest magical gift but one he put to good use defending the foredeck, snapping electrum sparks at the trolls engaged with his men, distracting them at the critical moment of contact with the electric jolt and the burning heat of his sparks.

"I cannot tell you how much it means to me Liam to see you here today. Oh the staff here has kept me busy rebuilding my strength and stamina, deliberately not leaving me much time to feel sorry for myself, and they are all nice enough folks, but I have missed you Liam, you, your presence, your friendship."

"And my body too, I hope?"

"Definitely!"

They hugged as chastely as they could manage under the circumstances. With their bodies pressed together and only thin silk between them, their physical reaction to each other's presence was unmistakeable.

"Now I know for sure you still want me." Nathan said a little giddy with relief.

"I suppose a degree of doubt is understandable in the circumstances, but don't ever doubt me again, Nathan Lathrop. You and I are life-bonded. Should the gods preserve us through this damnable war, we will face the future together, even if duty frequently pulls us apart."

"Ah yes, duty. You know I am to rejoin the Petrel after a month's convalescent leave with my family here in the capital. You must meet them."

"Of course. I take it that you are no longer the black sheep of your Army family for joining the Navy."

"That's right. Six generations of military tradition had to yield to the Navy Cross for Valor. Captain Dekker's letter helped too, making my actions sound more heroic than I remember them myself. My folks are genuinely proud of me. It's a good feeling."

"Then it will be your turn Sparky to meet the boys I share rooms with, Drew Altair and Axel Wilde, Sir Willet's aide."

"Ah yes, you share not only their rooms but their beds. I shall strive manfully not to be jealous."

"You'd better not be. They are both great guys, as you will soon find out for yourself. Drew wants to interview you about the sea battle for a book he is writing. Oh and at some point you will also meet the Frost Giant Finn Ragnarson who likes to pretend to be fiercely jealous of everyone who even looks at Drew that way."

"I have read about him in the Capital Intelligencer. He is not one I would care to cross, being an avatar of a thunder god and all."

"Especially since your electrum sparks wouldn't bother him in the least. But not to worry. Any friend of mine will be a friend of his. He is really a terrific guy once you get past his intimidating size and that war hammer that flies back to his hand after he throws it, and the lightnings crackling about him when in battle array, and all the rest. I have to tell you that at Flensborg Finn was magnificent, throwing his powers onto the balance at just the right moment."

Liam went on to say:

"People focus on the result and overlook the fact that our victory was far from a foregone conclusion. The trolls might have defeated our three forces one at a time; first the giants, then the naval landing force, and finally the Army cavalry. Also the thousand trolls we sent to the bottom earlier might have tipped the scales at Flensborg if they had joined up with the rest. With seven thousand instead of six, the trolls might have won the battle and established themselves in New Varangia."

"Then it is a good thing, Liam, that the High Seas Fleet destroyed another invasion force of fifteen thousand off the Barren Coast. And the small naval squadron of the maritime republic of Jenova destroyed yet another flotilla while the Alliance of the Far West annihilated the infantry the flotilla had put ashore to invest Jenova from the landward side."

"I am sure this is not the last we will hear from the trolls. I only wish we knew what they were after. They seem to attack everyone they encounter, without preliminaries or parley. They depopulated the Ashokan Archipelago. It's as if to them we were not people at all but merely vermin who need to be exterminated."

Liam's dinner to meet the family was a success. Even Nathan's crusty great-uncle, retired colonel Tomas Lathrop had something nice to say about him. It didn't hurt that Liam was in his army uniform sporting the badge of the Shield of the Commonwealth. Nathan's two older brothers were deployed with distant field armies, but his irrepressible younger sister Tatiana livened things up with her charm and good humor. All in all it was an evening well spent.

And afterwards, no one thought it untoward that Liam stayed the night, sharing a room and a bed with his lover "Sparky", the cute pet name Liam had bestowed on his friend.

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