Elf Boy's Friends - IV
Another day, another outdoor meal with many of the same participants except for the Klarendes clan who were still at work. Grouped around a picnic table under a pergola festooned with climbing vines in the patio of the residential hotel where they all lived were the twins, Axel, Drew, Liam and their guest Sir Willet. Axel and Sir Willet had run into the others just as they left the Institute of Wizardry after work. The twins and Drew and Liam had been tossing a Gemini Zinger around in a nearby park and were headed back home. One way or another everyone had worked up an appetite and since Sir Willet was at loose ends with his cook cum housekeeper away visiting her family, they invited him over for supper.
In such an informal setting it was only natural for the young athletes to remain in the nude as they had been for their game, taking just a moment to stand under the outdoor shower and wash the salt and sweat from their bodies. Even Axel threw off his sarong and moccasins, joining them in what was their natural state of undress. But then the twins had been elf-friends half the lives and all their adult lives so going skin-clad was normal to them.
As for the others, clothing was often optional for young males of the Commonwealth and almost everywhere else on the continent of Valentia save in the the original homeland of the Frost Giants which experienced a complete cycle of four seasons including winters cold enough to freeze still water. That was also true in the chthonian depths of the dwarves which were cool at best and often chilly, so the notion of going around in the nude had never caught on among the dwarves.
Only Sir Willet remained fully dressed in a loose fitting silk tunic and moccasins.
The war wizard was gratified to have both members of his official family, his aide Axel Wilde and his wizardly protege, the journeyman war wizard Liam, back in the capital. Liam had just returned from weeks in the port city of Alster, the Commonwealth's chief naval base on the the Great Inland Freshwater Sea. With a twinkle in his eye Sir Willet said:
"It is good to have you back with us Liam. I know just how much Axel missed you when you were stationed at Alster and how happy he is to have you back. That goofy grin on his face is a dead give away."
Axel beamed. He did not mind anyone knowing he was happy to have his lover back with him. Absence can make the heart grow fonder, as it had in their case.
"We are making up for lost time," Liam assured his mentor. "Can't let Drew and the twins have all the fun with my charming boy with the heart-melting dimples."
But then all of them were extraordinarily pretty each in his own way. The blond twins were rambunctious palomino colts whose tanned and toned bodies practically glowed with good health and sex appeal. Axel and Drew were a pair of cute red-heads, the one a copper-top the other an auburn haired beauty. They might be short in stature and slightly built, and Axel extremely boyish looking, but physiques like theirs were more about quality than quantity.
More like the twins in stature, Liam stood just under medium height. He was on the slender side but with a strong upper storey with the wide shoulders and muscled arms he had originally developed from handling teams of four for a living and now from hauling himself up a line into the crow's perch of the Petrel, a navy frigate. Liam was a raven-haired pretty boy with the physique of an acrobat.
Though very much a ladies' man himself, Sir Willet could appreciate their extraordinary physical beauty, in an aesthetic sense at least. These were boys who turned heads of both genders, no two ways about it.
Today's treat was sweet corn-on-the-cob, the ears dropped into the pot straight from the garden, boiled, then served piping hot, slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt to taste.
Now in the eating of corn-on-the-cob there were two irreconcilable schools of thought, exemplified, as it happened, by the twins themselves. Jemsen preferred to chew row by row, starting at the pointy end and working his way to the blunt end, rotating the cob a bit then starting again at the point. Karel preferred the rotary lathe method, turning the cob while harvesting the kernels with his incisors in a narrow band before shifting his efforts one bite's width over to the right.
Each technique had his supporters. During a meal one of the twins could be counted upon to gaze at his brother's culinary faux pas, look over to an ally for support, and shake his head or roll his eyes. With the twins this was a very old joke and a regular part of their schtick.
Imagine the twins' consternation then as they watched Sir Willet eat corn on the cob with knife and fork. Standing the cob on its flat end he sheared the kernels off with the blade. Having done so he raised the loose kernels to his mouth with his fork.
The twins shook their heads, the pained expressions of both their faces indicating that for once they were in agreement on how NOT to eat corn on the cob.
"Now boys." Sir Willet admonished. "No need to look aghast — what you are witnessing is an example of table manners in polite society."
"Sir Willet is the second son of an earl." Axel supplied helpfully.
"Actually it is my mother who insists on our eating corn this way. If my father and I had had our druthers, we'd likely just pick up the cobs with our fingers like everyone else. Still by now I am used to eating corn-on-the-cob this way."
"Actually sir," Karel ventured "when you think about it, it isn't corn-on-the-cob at all…"
"It's corn-off-the-cob!" Axel finished for him. Karel frowned then asked of no one in particular.
"Don't you just hate it when someone else jumps in with the punch line you have so carefully set up for yourself?"
Sir Willet smiled at their chatter, thinking how lucky he was to have such great kids in his life. Smart, witty, energetic, and good hearted, their company kept him from isolating himself in his work, burying himself in his magical studies, which was all too easy for wizards to do. Magic was the consuming interest in their lives, which was why Sir Willet's long neglected wife had finally divorced him.
On an afterthought he added:
"Someday I'll show you how my mother has us eat bananas at the dinner table."
"Surely you don't mean with knife and fork?" Karel asked, appalled and not daring to believe it.
"I do. She maintains it is the only civilized way and dismisses eating bananas with the fingers as the table manners of monkeys."
"Anyway could you pass the platter of cobs?" Drew asked the twins. "Somehow it has wound up all the way down at your end of the table."
"Tut tut," Karel admonished. "At the picnic table the rule is boarding house reach and every man for himself. It's not our problem if your arms are too short."
Invoking his telekinetic gift, Drew slid the platter toward him then made a production of selecting his second cob. Satisfied, he made the platter slide back, this time to the exact center of the table. Fair was fair.
"For a fetcher nothing is ever out of reach," he remarked with a provocatively smug smile on his pretty features.
For Axel the sight of the platter carrying the cobs with it as it slid down the table triggered a thought.
"Of course! Why did't I see this before?"
"See what? What are you talking about Axel? Liam asked.
"This business with the platter. It's put an idea into my head. A way for fetchers to fly a freely as birds."
"Like birds? Tell us how!"
"Well as you know those with the fetching gift can now lift themselves by their sandals. That was a trick the twins thought up and Drew pioneered. Now that technique works well enough, and it will always be useful for impromptu surveys of terrain or to fly out of harm's way, but it takes practice and is a little risky. Lose your balance or your concentration and down you go. Most important of all, you mostly just go up and down. You cannot fly where and as you will."
"That is all very true, Axel. So what is your idea?"
"Fetchers should strap themselves to a mobile apparatus, say the wooden yoke which stable hands use to carry buckets, and lift that yoke into the sky. You can make the yoke go wherever you want: up and down, left and right, forward and back, fast and slow. And it is safe. You don't have to worry about your balance when you are securely strapped to a yoke."
Sir Willet and the others were stunned by the ingenuity of Axel's conceptual breakthrough. For centuries true flight was something men had only dreamed of.
"By the gods, Axel, you are right. The means of turning the dream of flight into reality was always there, but we fetchers were too close to the problem. It took someone with a perspective at one remove to conceive the solution."
"This is the start of a new era in history, the Era of Flight. Just think of the potential!"
Jemsen picked up that thought:
"Aerial scouts could fly patrols ahead and to the sides of a column of troops, reconnoitering, observing converging forces or enemy reserves masked by terrain, or troops lying in ambush. They could recon terrain our scouts on the ground cannot get to easily or at all, like on the far side of a swamp, the reverse slopes of a range of hills, or maybe across a fast flowing river."
"That's right Jemsen. Not surprising that with your history as an army scout you would see that as the first application." Drew said, "but there are others".
"A scout could hang a supply of fire globes at the ends of the yoke and drop them on enemy columns or fixed positions. You would rig the globes so that they fell one at a time or all at once along with banked coals to ignite them.
"Or maybe caltrops, Axel added. "like we were talking about at the barbecue." He continued with:
"Think what would happen if aerial scouts spotted hostile cavalry maneuvering to charge our own forces. Unseen by the enemy the scouts swoop ahead and strew caltrops in front of where the cavalry will deploy from a column into a battle line for their charge."
"Just as the charge gets up to speed their mounts run onto the caltrops. Crippled horses fall taking their riders with them. Those riding behind cannot pull up in time and join the deadly pile up. Instead of the panoply of a grand cavalry charge there is nothing on the field but broken bones, screaming horses, and crushed riders. For the coup de grace, after the field is swept clear of caltrops, a counter attack by lancers wipes out the survivors. Or if they don't have a master of magnetism, then we counterattack with horse archers."
"Scouts might act also as couriers where communication by heliograph or dispatch rider is impractical and timing is critical." Karel pointed out.
"That's right." Liam agreed, adding:
"And it is not just the Army that could use flyers. Caltrops and fire globes are fine on land, but at sea you want to drop incendiary kegs on enemy ships. Caltrops and fire globes are area weapons. A keg is a precision weapon. A fetcher doesn't even have to fly directly over the ship or even particularly near it. Just release the keg and guide its fall to intercept the enemy vessel, all the while staying out of range of arrows, quarrels, or ballistas."
"This will revolutionize naval warfare! We could deploy a new sort of vessel with cabins and berths for thirty or forty flyers and lots of kegs in their holds. Aerial attack would totally neutralize the boarding tactics of the trolls since our carriers would not close with the enemy at all but stand off from the enemy fleet."
"And I'll bet the commandant of the naval infantry General-at-Sea Sir Deane Chard would love to have flyers for a campaign in the Amazon basin. I know that he is planning to take naval infantry into that river country rowing captured longships. Some have been equipped with ballistas or catapults. Think of it, naval infantry armed with bows and blades, longships with naval armaments, war wizards and other mages plus flyers serving as aerial scouts and providing… er what shall we call it anyway."
"Why not call it 'close ground support'" Axel offered.
Sir Willet sat back in his chair, his mind churning with the possibilities.
"Anyone looking at five of you lounging in the nude would see shameless pretty boys showing off their sexy bodies. I see young men with minds just as extraordinary as their physical beauty. Boys, let's go to my offices where Drew and Axel can write this all up. And if anyone has another idea, speak up. I'll make sure all of you get credit, with the lion's share going to Axel of course."
Sir Willet set the artificers and harness makers to work to devise a standard yoke and strap system for flyers. The team found that the familiar wooden yokes used in stables were perfectly suited to this new purpose, except that instead of a man doing the lifting it would be the yoke lifting the man.
Grooms used yokes to carry water in buckets from a well to a horse trough. It was actually easier to carry two buckets at a time using a yoke across the shoulders than it was to lug a single bucket by its handle. Two buckets balanced each other, and the yoke put the weight on the shoulders and hips and legs rather than on the muscles of arms and shoulders.
The artificers affixed hooks with quick release mechanisms at the ends of the arms for the various loads: kegs and nets of fire globes or caltrops. The flyer's strap system was based on mountaineering gear.
Then came the day for field trials. All of them were properly dressed for the occasion, Sir Willet and Axel in Army greens, Liam in naval blues, Drew in his expeditionary outfit of short trews, sleeveless shirt and sandals, and the twins in sarongs.
Drew went first. Needless to say he was eager to become the very first flyer in the history of the world. The idea was Axel's, but the doing of it would be his, just like with the twins and their earlier breakthrough about Lifting via sandals.
Sir Willet stood by, ready to break any fall, but he did not expect anything to go wrong. Flying with a yoke took just a fraction of the concentration needed with sandals. Drew strapped himself into the harness then double checked the buckles, explaining: "Safety first!"
Then Drew took off and soared into the sky. Giddy with success he zoomed and swooped and power dived at his companions only to pull up at the last minute, grinning all the while, clearly having the time of his life. After a while aloft Drew settled down, remembering he had a purpose beyond showing off and went through the agreed upon test maneuvers. He eventually came back down, setting himself gently on the ground, amid the cheers of his companions. Drew had a big grin on his face, the grin of a boy immensely proud of himself, as well he should be.
Drew's flight had been spectacular. Anyone could see the potential. The observer from the High Command proclaimed the dawn of a new age when men with the fetching gift would fly. As an army officer the colonel could appreciate the military uses the group had outlined in its report to the High Command.
Sir Willet gave Axel a thumbs up then told him to get himself ready. He and Drew would now test the tandem rig.
"The tandem rig? What is that, sir?"
"It is our little surprise, Drew's and mine. Since true flight was your idea, it is only fitting that you go up too. Just from watching Drew it looks like a lot of fun."
The tandem rig had two sets of straps for two flyers, or really one flyer and his passenger who hung just behind and a little higher than the flyer the better to see over his shoulder and talk to his pilot.
Drew had no trouble lifting both of them at once. The yoke was made of sturdy oak and easily able to bear the weight of two slightly built youths. And since Drew was powerful enough to lift a brontothere into the sky, lifting two boys was no strain at all.
For Axel it was the most thrilling ride of his life, this first flight of many he would take with his friends and lovers at the helm, so to speak. Next to go aloft were Sir Willet who flew solo and Liam who gave Jemsen and then Karel flights with the tandem rig.
At one point the passage of the wind tore Karel's sarong from his hips. It flapped and fluttered like a great blue heron. No problem. Liam turned back and swooped like a hawk on the runaway garment. Karel snatched his sarong out of the air to the cheers of the watchers below.
By the time the last of the flyers landed a crowd had gathered in the courtyard of the Institute. Amid tumultuous welcome, the intrepid explorers of the aerial realm took their bows, big grins on their faces. The flyers put Axel front and center. Flying was his idea, after all. Sir Willet beamed:
"Axel, flight is such a stupendous achievement that I am going to nominate you for both a knighthood and the same druidical healing magic that has enhanced the vitality of the others. I feel confident is telling you that you can count on approval of both. That means you can look forward to centuries of youth, strength, beauty, and good health. How does that strike you, my young friend?"
But Axel said nothing; the boy was literally struck speechless.
"His silence says it all." Drew noted with satisfaction.
Drew finished the last few sentences of the draft of his article describing how human flight had been achieved. The background paragraphs describing the origin of the technique and the equipment had already been set in type at the Capital Intelligencer. Drew rushed his final copy over to their offices and handed it to his editor, his older brother Heflin who told him:
"Great stuff, Drew. Your friend Axel is about to become famous the world over. You too."
"Oh? And here I thought that, as a renowned war correspondent and best selling author, I already was!" Drew quipped.
The Capital Intelligencer rushed the story into print, scooping the other news-papers whose reporters were still interviewing onlookers who really had little to tell them other than the bare fact that men had flown like birds. No one involved in the project would talk with Drew's rivals, giving the Intelligencer its scoop. The headline read: Men Fly Like Birds. Lots of folks bought two copies, one to read, the other for a keepsake.
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