Elf Boy's Friends - IV
The light of early morning streamed through the lattice over the windows of a room shared by Drew Altair and his lover Axel Wilde. The nude bodies of the two slightly built youths were almost lost in a bed sized for a Frost Giant. Which was fine when their Frost Giant friend and lover Finn Ragnarson slept over. Finn stood eight feet tall and weighed in at six hundred pounds.
Drew twisted and stretched as far as his diminutive stature allowed. Poking his bed mate, he said:
"Wake up sleepyhead. Your stomach is growling something fierce. Time to get up, shower, and go down to breakfast."
Axel rolled over, rubbed his eyes, and ran his fingers through his hair. "Is it morning already? I feel like I just dropped off."
Both youths were red-heads though of different hues. Axel's locks were the color of copper while Drew was a auburn haired beauty. Another difference is that one was a morning person and the other most definitely was not.
Axel was a slug-a-bed unlike Drew who was one of those insufferably cheerful sorts who bounded right out of bed chipper, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to face the day. Axel took a whole lot longer to get going. The first part of his morning ritual was to stand under the shower head and run the cold water to wake himself up. Only then did he mix it with solar heated hot water for a proper wash.
Axel had no sooner soaped up than Drew stepped close and pressed himself against Axel's back. The erection prodding Axel's cleavage evidenced Drew's state of arousal as he ran his hands over Axel's soap-slicked body and said:
"You don't suppose we have time to fool around a bit before breakfast, do you?"
Axel grinned and asked over his shoulder:
"Didn't you get enough last night?"
"That was then. This is now."
Just then Axel's stomach growled again, louder than before. Sighing, Drew conceded,
"I guess it is not to be. Just as with the heart, the stomach wants what the stomach wants."
"Is that a new maxim you just coined, Drew? Well here is one of my own invention: A rumbling stomach is just as much a call of nature as the other kind. Even more so, when you think about it."
"How is that?"
"Simple. Stomach rumbling is audible; the other is silent." Axel concluded, quite pleased with himself for getting the better of his professional wordsmith friend in a verbal exchange.
Drew rolled his eyes heavenward in a silent appeal to whatever gods might dwell on that plane. Meanwhile Axel returned his attention to his ablutions, which in their case meant simply a shower. Neither youth needed to shave.
Drew had no beard at all thanks to the same druidical healing magic that had enhanced his vitality, prolonged his youth, and doubled his strength, and enhanced his senses and reflexes. The magic had also permanently suppressed the growth of Drew's beard and body hair. He was smooth and glabrous everywhere, even at the fork of his legs.
Axel had achieved the same smooth look with an eleven depilatory applied every three months from chin to ankles. Anyway redheads tended to have very little body hair in the first place.
The two youths shared an suite of rooms on the third floor of a residential hotel in the capital of the the Commonwealth of the Long River. Along with their third lover the journeyman war wizard Liam, each has his own room though the boys seldom slept alone. They were spared household chores since the leases on their suites included meals in the ground floor dining room as well as housekeeping and laundry services.
Over breakfast Axel told his lover:
"I am really looking forward to the barbecue tomorrow in the garden of the Klarendes' townhouse. Give me a barbecue any day over a formal sit-down dinner. I never know what to do with those fancy table settings with two knives, three forks, and four spoons. It is so much easier to eat with just one of each plus my fingers for things like corn-on-the-cob, which is one of my favorites. "
"You have a point, Axel, but I learned about table settings at my mother's knee. She liked to entertain. The trick is to start on the outside and work your way in. The first fork is the one all the way to the left, the first knife, the one all the way to the right."
"Top to bottom."
"Thanks for the tip. I won't be so self-conscious next time." Then Drew added:
"What I like most about the count's barbecues is that his cook broils the meats just right: a little pink on the inside and almost burnt on the outside, and there is always a groaning board of side dishes like soups and salads and veggies and fruit plates. It makes makes my mouth water just thinking about it all. So much so that I'm likely to indulge myself in both food and drink, probably more than I should."
"So? Is there something wrong with indulging yourself?" Axel countered "Don't they say that a guest who merely picks at his food really insults his host? So by all means show your appreciation."
"I yield to your proverbial wisdom my friend. Anyway, as good as the food is going to be, I really look forward to the cold beer. It really hits the spot on a hot day and its taste complements a meal perfectly."
"I like a frosty mug or two myself, but these days you can get cold beer at any tavern. The proprietors have all put in ice-chillers to cool the beer as it flows to the tap."
"Yes, but they mostly serve mediocre local brews though they often hire a Frost Giant as bartender to suggest otherwise. Klarendes serves the real thing brewed by Frost Giants in Flensborg, And thanks to the low cost of water transport, it is only half-again as expensive even coming all this distance. They send it down the River Calyx by riverboat, then by sea-going vessels to the mouth of the Long River, then by riverboat again upriver here to the capital."
"It was our friends the Frost Giants who introduced both refrigeration and cold beer to the Commonwealth, so more power to them. They have an apt proverb which says that cold beer is surely proof that the gods love us and want us to be happy."
"Can't argue with that, Drew."
The next afternoon was sunny and hot, not very surprising given the tropical climate of the region. Still there was a pleasant breeze, and an awning and shade trees offered shelter from the direct rays of the sun. The guests seated themselves in comfortable rattan chairs grouped around a circular table helping themselves to the dishes spread out on a trestle table nearby.
The fire safety laws generally prohibited cooking with an open flame in multistory dwellings in the capital, but there was no problem with charcoal grills set on a flagstone patio of a garden and well away from anything inflammable. Charcoal burns with much heat but very little flame and almost no smoke. Besides all three members of the Klarendes family were firecasters who could invoke their magical gift to stop a conflagration in its tracks simply by telling the fire to go out.
The food and cold beer were just as good as the young lovers had expected. The flesh of the grilled fowl was practically falling off the bone, and the spicy sausages were literally bursting with flavor. The steaks and chops were brown on the outside and pink on the inside, so just right for everyone except Aodh who, for obvious reasons, preferred his meat as rare as human dentition allowed.
The count and his immediate family were all on hand: his first born son Lord Artor and the count's younger son Eborn, a young man in his early twenties though he still looked like a teenager thanks to the strong admixture of elven blood in the family tree. The older son Artor favored his father while Eborn took after their mother.
The fourth member of the family was the count's spouse Aodh, an impossibly cute twink and shapeshifter. That afternoon Aodh stayed in human form rather than morph into a sleek black panther. In that form, his dentition was up to any masticatory challenge.
Axel's boss the war wizard Sir Willet Hanford was the last arrival showing up right after the twins Jemsen and Karel.
For the occasion the twins were dressed in what for them passed for formal wear, sarongs, color coded as always with green for Jemsen and blue for Karel to let people tell them apart. Axel wore a patterned sarong plus the soft moccasins he favored in town. Drew was in his one of his trademark sleeveless white tunics which showed off and flattered the trim taut body he was so proud of, while Sir Willet and the three Klarendes wore tunics with half sleeves and sandals. The war wizard observed to his host:
"It is too bad that our good friends Lord Dahlderon and especially Finn Ragnarson aren't here with us. Finn was the inspiration for this whole refrigeration and cold beer business of yours. These days I see your firm's delivery carts everywhere on the streets. Clever idea that — hiring Frost Giants to deliver ice with pushcarts."
"It's all part of a carefully cultivated image for our operation. It is why I had our legal advocate obtain a trademark for the name of our company, Frost Giant Ice, and commissioned the distinctive silhouettes of a fully-armed frost giant on the side of our carts. We use the same pushcarts the giants use in Flensborg. They are so much more maneuverable than a horse drawn cart, and they are quiet thanks to rubber tires which make for a smooth ride over the paving stones."
"The giants are so big and strong they can push a cart on flat terrain all day long and can easily lift, carry, and insert blocks of ice from the alley straight through the wall of the kitchens of our subscribers into the back of our patented ice-boxes. And unlike with animal traction, our deliveries don't leave a smelly mess behind on the streets."
"Also our chillers have cornered the market in the taverns." Artor pointed out. "But the real money lies in subscription delivery of ice to homes and taverns which yields a steady and reliable income stream."
"The firecasters I hire like the fact that theirs is a part-time job. They show up, freeze the surface layer of the pond, then collect their fee and go on to other profitable endeavors. The time consuming labor is in cutting the ice into chunks and dragging them into the ice-house. The workers first cut a line of blocks across the pond leading to the foot of the runway. Once those blocks are removed the crew can float all the other blocks from anywhere in the pond to the runway and so into the ice-house. Pretty smart isn't it?"
"And as the auditor of the books," Aodh" confirmed, "I can report that we are operating at a healthy profit."
"Now on a tangentially related subject, we have something quite out of the ordinary for dessert: iced-cream," Eborn told the group. "That is what those small bowls and spoons are for."
"And just what in the world is iced-cream?" Karel asked. "It sounds like another import from the homeland of the Frost Giants."
"It is, Karel. Now watch how it is made."
Two of the staff demonstrated the process while Eborn kept up a running commentary on the use of the domestic iced-cream maker. It consisted of a pair of nested metal bowls, a large outer bowl and a smaller inner bowl with a mixture of salt and ice filling the space between. A hand crank turned a paddle to churn the mixture of cream, sweeteners, and flavorings in the inner bowl.
"The salt lowers the melting point of the mixture below the freezing point of fresh water. As the ice melts it absorbs heat from the creamy mixture in the inner bowl, freezing it into what we call iced-cream. Our first flavor was vanilla, but you can also flavor it with juices, berries or chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts."
"Why can't you just flash freeze the creamy mixture with magic?" Jemsen asked.
Eborn shook his head.
"No, the churning aerates the mixture so it freezes slowly but does not form ice crystals as would happen if it were quick frozen. The churning and slow freezing make the iced-cream taste smooth and creamy."
"Now all you can produce at one time is a small batch of ice-cream which has to be consumed right away. You cannot store it for later since it will melt even if placed in an ice-box. Also you have to replace the ice and salt mixture to make a new batch."
"Does iced-cream have commercial potential?" Jemsen asked.
"It sure does, though not as a confection. There is simply no way to keep the product properly frozen, not without a firecaster on hand to maintain the temperature well below that of an ice-box. However, we think people will flock to buy our domestic iced-cream makers to make their own iced-cream at home."
"We are working to perfect a design that can be churned out by the thousands in a suitably tooled manufactory. Even if we cannot obtain a patent for the device we can at least get a trademark for our machines. We are calling them Frost Giant Iced-Cream Makers. As the twins have shown with their Gemini Zinger, sometimes commercial success relies more on promotion of a brand than any genuine difference from competitive offerings."
"Father has put me in charge of the new company," Eborn said proudly. "So I'll be spending more of my time here in the capital, watching over our family's local business affairs. I've been selected since, as a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth, Artor is away so often on official business and Father and Aodh spend most to their time in Elysion managing affairs there and in Dalnot."
"Anything else on your plate?" Axel asked.
Count Klarendes answered.
"The Navy had ordered ice-lockers for its ships, but there is no profit to be made there, not in a one-time deal to fit out the sixty ships of the High Seas Fleet. Nor any continuing ice business at all since their own firecasters will make the ice. Still it is the least we can do in recognition of their great naval victory last year and the on-going naval war. We consider it our contribution to the war effort."
"It's starting to seem like the troll war is over." Sir Willet noted.
Drew shook his head and answered:
"On the broad waters of the the Great Inland Freshwater Sea that is nearly true except around the Ashokan Archipelago and the coast of Amazonia. As you know, most of the trolls have retreated up the basin of the Amazon River where they are establishing a colony beyond the reach of our High Seas Fleet. We will be going after them as soon as the Navy figures out how to get at them."
"I hope that doesn't mean that Liam and Nathan are going in harm's way again any time soon. Haven't they done their share already and more?" Axel asked, anxious for his lovers.
"I cannot tell you not to worry, Axel," Sir Willet soothed, "but they won't go alone, and I am sure they'd want to be in for the kill."
"As long as they are not the ones getting killed." Axel maintained stubbornly.
Everyone could see that there was no cajoling the boy out of his very real fears for those he cared about.
Sir Willet mentioned that he had heard army officers grumble that the Navy has garnered all the glory in the war against the trolls. The Army's only notable action had been the cavalry charge at the Battle of Flensborg. Klarendes shrugged.
"The Army has its hands full showing the flag and keeping the peace in the Far West. Not everyone there is happy with the new confederation. Some states are holding back on joining and border disputes have flared up which the Army had to slap down. And there is still the threat of the Despotate of Dzungaria, though that seems more a potential threat than an actual one these days: all posturing and saber rattling, and bluster but no aggressive military moves or instigated rebellions among the downtrodden. And as always the Army has to guard the Eastern Plains against incursions by the Eastern Barbarians. Nor can we be certain have we seen the last of the trolls closer to home."
"Anyway the Army needs to revisit its tactical doctrine to better counter the trolls. Finn Ragnarson showed the way in that fight during your expedition to the Barren Lands. The trolls deploy caltrops against cavalry. And it is not only the trolls. Lots of armies use caltrops. They are simple and cheap and can be deployed quickly. Why even our own allies the Frost Giants use caltrops though theirs are attached to cords for easy retrieval. So every cavalry regiment needs a soldier gifted with control of magnetism to sweep the ground clear for their charge."
"I entirely agree Taitos. I understand you recommended just such a change to the High Command."
"And got nowhere. It is the old story: Not Invented Here."
"Tell me about it!"
The war wizard's efforts to get the Army to change its camouflage from greens to browns had been rebuffed despite all of Sir Willet's carefully documented research. And he wasn't just any war wizard. He was the continent's preeminent expert on both camouflage and magical concealment.
"What you need to do Taitos is to enlist Marshall Urqaart and Lord Zaldor to champion your proposal to the High Command." Jemsen ventured. "Even better, get them to try the new tactic themselves in the Far West first. Prove its value in battle, and the High Command will have to change their mind."
"That is a very good idea, Jemsen. I have known Urqaart for many years. We go back a long ways to when I served in the regular forces. And I got to know Zaldor on our peace mission to the Frost Giants."
"And to make sure their staffs don't winnow out your proposal and not even let it get to their desks, we three, myself, Karel, and Drew will send a cover letter. Their staffs know that the four of us who went on that mapping expedition to the Far West are considered proteges of Marshall Urqaart and Lord Zaldor."
"Good idea!" Drew enthused. "Urqaart has a reputation for innovation. His was the first regiment to adopt stirrups. No reason he cannot recruit locally for those with the gift of magnetism. His own ranks probably have a few. Then there are the allied armies plus the millions in the general population out there. The Far West will become the proving ground for the new tactic."
Count Klarendes nodded. "As Finn would say were he here today: Sounds like a plan."
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