Elf Boy's Friends - V

by George Gauthier

Chapter 15

Friends

Finn Ragnarson woke up late one morning and propped himself up on an elbow to admire Drew's nude physique in the light streaming through the window of Drew's bedchamber. The couple had been up late, first going over in Twinkle Town for drinks and dancing and then in Drew's bed making love, likely their last chance to do so quite a while. Finn would be heading back that day to New Varangia, taking a street car to the river port to catch a southward bound riverboat. His stay had been fun, but he now had to return to Flensborg and take up his duties once again as a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth.

During a late breakfast they sat around the table with Drew's roommate and lover Axel Wilde and their neighbors down the hall the twins Jemsen and Karel plus Corwin Klarendes who had spent the night with Axel. Drew's and Axel's third roommate the war wizard Liam was on duty with the fleet aboard the frigate Petrel with his good friend Nathan Lathrop, though they were expected to return to the capital in the near future. Drew started the conversation by saying:

"I'd really like to tour New Varangia and see all the changes since we were all together there during our exploration of the Barren Lands."

Finn nodded then said:

"These days we are calling that area South Varangia. It is barren no longer, not with so many settlers moving in and laying out farms and villages. The settlers are mostly Frost Giants of course but a considerable portion are our fellow citizens among the other races: humans, elves, and dwarves."

"The population of South Varangia has risen to forty thousand, which combined with those dwelling in the former lands of the centaurs gives us a total of four hundred fifteen thousand, not so far short of the half-million mark we have been aiming at. Centaurs and trolls be damned. Now no force on the planet could ever dislodge us from our new homeland. Especially since we would not stand alone but with the rest of the Commonwealth at our side."

"We still call the southern coast the Barren Coast, since it is all low cliffs without decent harbors. The only truly barren part of the country is the area swept clean by the gigantic wave raised by our water wizards to smash the colony and military base the trolls were trying to plant there."

"And what about those execrable roads westward from the escarpment across the Flatlands?" Karel asked.

"Gone. In their place are three modern Commonwealth highways, giving us a solid land link east and west all the way across to Cymru and the maritime republic of Jenova member states of the Confederation hence part of the Greater Commonwealth."

"And likely to get still greater once we conquer Amazonia." Karel pointed out.

"Not conquer, liberate. And then repopulate it with our own citizens since the trolls have exterminated the original populace of those lands." Jemsen pointed out. "Just as we already have done with the Ashokan Archipelago in the southern reaches of the the Great Inland Freshwater Sea."

"And the Scilly Isles which are now not just a naval base, but a prefecture with a growing civilian population of fishermen, sponge collectors, and specialty farmers. The soil on the islands is amazingly well suited to huckleberries. And thanks to ice lockers, they can be shipped fresh almost anywhere."

"Yet another use for the ice business: shipping fresh foods great distances, especially out of season when they fetch premium prices." Axel pointed out. "Berries are very popular these days particularly as ingredients in home made iced-cream. Of course the tastiest iced-cream is made with strawberries."

The twins shook their heads. "Blueberries!" Karel opined.

"Wrong! Raspberries." Jemsen corrected.

"Cherries!" Drew offered.

Corwin Klarendes objected that the cherry was not a berry at all but a stone fruit, that is one with a pit like olives, peaches, and plums. His choice was the blackberry. Drew countered, pointing out that although botanically speaking aggregate fruits like raspberries and strawberries, and blackberries were not true berries, at least they were called berries, which was more than you could say for the cherry.

"Aha!" Karel cried triumphantly. "Then I win, for blueberries are not only called berries, they are in fact true berries, neither aggregates nor fruits with pits."

"Gentlemen" Finn intoned in his deep bass voice, "I must now invoke my authority both as a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth and as a Frost Giant to overrule you mere humans and your misguided preferences. I speak also as the avatar of Thor, the Thunder God of the Norse, the remote ancestors of us Frost Giants."

"It was we Frost Giants who invented iced-cream in the first place. So, no my friends, forget the technicalities of botany and your personal preferences. The best of the berry flavors is unquestionably boysenberry."

"It is all just a matter of taste, isn't it?" Axel suggested placatingly.

"Indeed," Finn rumbled in an authoritative tone which brooked no contradiction. "And it is boysenberries which taste best. So let it be written, so let it be known," he intoned, more than half seriously for Finn was indeed inordinately fond of boysenberries, and for him that was that.

Superficially it was just a silly wrangle over nothing, but Corwin realized it was a bit more than that. Jokes and pointless arguments were among the ways young males bonded with one another. This business about berries would likely turn up again in jokes and remarks. Just another aspect of the life experience shared by those in the same circle of friends, a circle Corwin considered himself privileged to be a member of.

"To change the subject. it is likely most of us will reunite for the campaign in Amazonia." Drew noted. "I understand that the first wave will be drawn from the armed forces of the Commonwealth itself. Later waves, under the command of Marshall Urqaart, will be drawn from the armies of the Despotate and the Confederation plus mercenaries recruited for occupational duty and as escorts for supply convoys and trains. The campaign will take several years, with regiments rotating out to rest and refit. No regiment will be committed more than twice so that the risks will be shared by all the field armies plus the naval infantry. The army is training more flyers too."

"What about the druids and their portals?" Axel asked.

"Just what I asked Liam the last time I saw him." Finn said. "Liam told me that the druids had already trained some of the war wizards to create portals though it turned out that the skill does not come easily to all of them. Liam himself can open a portal only for himself or a very small group but not long enough for a column of troops. He expects to fully master the skill in time."

"Meanwhile a team of druids and war wizards has returned from an expedition to the homeland of the trolls with the aim of forever removing trolls as a threat to civilization. The powers of the wizards allowed their ship to approach their oceanic archipelago unseen under a Concealment, stopping at half a dozen islands. We won't have to worry about successive waves of invaders from their archipelago in the Southern Ocean."

"I am not sure how moral it is to unleash a plague on anyone, even trolls." Axel ventured.

"The infectious agent the druids have created won't actually kill anyone. It is a disease aimed at the fertility of troll males, reducing their fecundity below the levels necessary to maintain their population. It propagates with no discernible symptoms which might signal its spread which means that it will be years before the trolls realize their plight. And without healing magic or a knowledge of natural medicine beyond what prevails anywhere on Haven today, they can do nothing about it."

"After several centuries their population should stabilize at perhaps a tenth of the current level, if that much. You understand some trolls will have a natural resistance to the infection, so we are not contemplating actual genocide of a race of sentient beings."

"I realize that Karel. I just hope the surviving trolls will someday have a change of heart and abandon their fanatically murderous religion which impels them to slay anyone with the potential for magic. Else they will forever remain exiles, quarantined on their remote islands as too dangerous for contact with civilized races of beings."

"Even fanatics eventually have to face reality, especially when it kicks them in the face as it soon will. I don't think any faith can survive the defeats which we and the druids are about to inflict on them. Who can continue to believe that the gods are on their side when we destroy them militarily in Valentia while their population plummets in their homeland? Perhaps some new prophet will arise among them and proclaim those afflictions as condign punishment for their earlier presumption in believing the gods were against magical gifts in mortals."

"Let's hope so, but their own lack of magic will always make them jealous of those who can wield it and susceptible to extreme views about magic itself."

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