Elf Boy's Friends - VIII
"Axel, you're back!" Drew Altair cried happily as his roommate, friend, and lover walked into their suite of rooms at their residential hotel in the capital. Seated at his desk in his study, proofing the galleys of his latest book, as always when he was at home Drew was in a state of nature, putting his trim and taut body totally on display, a sensual combination of intellectuality and physicality.
"Hello Drew. Yes, I'm back though it's just me and the twins. Corwin is still in Amazonia. The other three members of the Klarendes clan are in Elysion along with our druid friends. And Sir Willet is resting at home."
"You look like you could do with a good rest yourself, Axel. You are as worn out as I have ever seen you."
"That's true enough, but it is less a physical exhaustion than a tiredness of the soul."
"The horrors of war, eh?"
"Exactly, and I don't just mean the terrible things our enemies did but also what we did. It is worse when you are not just an eyewitness but a participant. I know we had to do those things, and that we are the good guys, but all that killing and destruction isn't easy to live with. Anyway, what have you been up to lately, Drew? Besides working on your book."
"Taking flying lessons."
"Huh? You can fly just fine already with one of those yokes."
"This is with my new autogyro. I am putting it through its paces. The latest model has a stronger rotor and wings for greater lift. The Army Air Corps lets me keep my autogyro at a landing field not far from here so I can use it on official business such as when I am called to duty with the reserves for relief work in earthquakes and floods. Flying gets me to the scene so much faster than conventional transportation. Sure I could fly with a yoke, but that would tire me out just getting to the scene."
"I also bought one of Eike's new model bicycles for local travel for visiting or for fun, but I also ride to office and when on assignment around the capital. It has an improved chain drive, though I can roll it along telekinetically. The twins of course will have to pedal theirs. Yours is stored next to mine on the ground floor, a present from your father."
"Sounds good. You'll have to take me up in your aerocraft. With your strength in telekinesis I'll bet it can go really fast."
"That's true, though I won't use it for anything as frivolous as racing. Like the bicycle my autogyro is a means of transportation, not a toy, a much better way of getting around than on horseback."
Axel nodded his understanding.
Drew was only passable as a horseman. Riding always made his short legs ache from having to stretch them around the barrel of his mount, even with ponies. The fact is that Drew simply did not like horses. They smelled, they sweated, they made the rider work at posting when in a trot, which unfortunately was the gait horses used to cover any real distance. And horses had minds of their own, and dim ones at that. They might startle and rear up, dumping their rider butt first on the hard ground or take the bit in their teeth and go haring off at a gallop leaving their hapless rider hanging on to the saddle horn for dear life, though a fetcher like Drew could always Lift himself out of the saddle telekinetically via the wooden yoke built into his leather cuirass. Bicycles and autogyros were far superior as personal transportation.
Smiling slyly Drew added:
"You'll never guess who is taking flying lessons with me. Two someones actually."
"It can't be Liam. He is on duty with the Navy and Nathan. And Eike may have invented the autogyro, but he cannot propel it. OK, I give up. Just tell me."
"The first flyer is none other than our friend and lover Finn Ragnarson!"
"Finn! A flyer? How is that even possible? Finn's no fetcher."
"Finn uses his control over the planetary magnetic field to push the steel frame of his autogyro. As you know his magical powers have grown stronger over the past few years. And he is physically stronger too now thanks to Dahl and the New Forest."
"Before they left on campaign the druids helped a chosen few establish a psychic connection to the New Forest which changed their constitutions much as with Aodh and Madden Sexton only the Forest and the druids worked most of the magic. These changes include tensile fibers to make bones stronger, denser muscles, more resilient tendons and ligaments, sharper sight and hearing — the works. Finn's not any bigger, mind you, just stronger, able now to draw even more physical power from lightning without overtaxing his constitution."
"No poison claws or sonic weapons, of course. Finn is plenty formidable already as a Frost Giant cum avatar of a thunder god especially since he can now throw lightning bolts directly at a target not just rain them down from the sky."
"Oh and Thor — I mean Finn — has a new war hammer too. It was a gift from the dwarves of New Varangia for services to their community. Finn tracked down renegades who were raiding and looting their caverns. The dwarves forged the steel hammerhead from an ultra-alloy of meteoric iron which they named Uru in keeping with the legend of Thor. It's twice the weight of the old Mjolnir though shaped the same with octagonal faces. The haft is part ironwood for strength and part ash for flexibility."
"What's this about a new hammer?" Jemsen asked as the twins walked into the room. Having dropped their soiled army uniforms in the laundry basket, the twins had showered but hadn't bothered putting anything on afterwards. They weren't particularly trying to be sexy. Jemsen and Karel simply preferred going around skin-clad as their good friends the elves called their clothing free life style.
So Drew had to go over everything again, just as for Axel.
"It looks like all of us roommates can take to the skies, one way or another. Drew and now Finn too can propel an autogyro; Drew and Liam can fly with a yoke, I can fly too, though only clumsily with the aid of those bat wing extensions to the yokes, and Jemsen can Lift himself by countering the force of gravity. While he cannot fly hither and yon, the ability to Lift yourself out of trouble can come in handy."
"And I," Axel noted, "can Jump anywhere not already occupied by something solid, like up in the air."
"I wondered about that." Jemsen said. "So on your arrival your body just pushes the air out of your way?"
"Actually I don't push the air aside mechanically with my body as you thought. Instead the magic displaces the air from where I am arriving to the void I created when I teleported. Which is why it all happens so quietly. There is no tattletale sound to give me away, which is important to an army sniper."
"You never said who else was taking flying lessons with you. And no I won't even try to guess."
"OK, Axel. I'll just tell you straight out that it is Finn's boss, Baron Jarmond.
"Baron Jarmond, the Chief Hand of the Commonwealth?"
"None other. He's a fetcher too, you know."
"Actually I didn't know."
"So fellas, why not come with me to the airfield tomorrow morning? Oh and we'll bring Eike too. He is always happy to explain how his inventions work."
"Fine," the three returnees said, "but why isn't Finn staying here with us?"
"Because he's been Baron Jarmond's house guest during their flight training. If you can believe it those two are getting quite chummy. I am sure though that Jarmond will understand if Finn wants to bunk with us from now on."
"Bunk with us?" Karel asked. "You mean punk us. Don't you?"
Jemsen rolled his eyes while Drew and Axel shook their heads. That was Karel all right, always ready with a quip or a bad pun. And when he wasn't ready then Jemsen was.
The next day the boys rode out to the airfield on Eike's new model bicycles which featured two wheels of the same size, a horizontal frame, and a drive train where the pedals drove the rear wheel rather than the front via a toothed belt which engaged both the drive sprocket under the down tube and and the hub of the rear wheel.
Having the pedals under the saddle allowed for an upright posture which let the rider stand up on the pedals and put his weight on them when climbing steep slopes. Also with the chain drive the pedals stayed in one place compared to pedals on a front wheel that turned left and right when that wheel turned to steer the bicycle.
The residential streets along the way were lined with sturdy stone-built town houses and brick tenements three or four stories high. Shade trees grew out of tree boxes or the larger patches of ground called rain gardens, built and planted to absorbed rain water. Flowers in window boxes and planters were ubiquitous.
A system of aqueducts, sewers, public and private latrines, and storm drains kept the paved streets dry, clean, and mostly odor free, especially since the sharp decline in animal drayage due to the prevalence of bicycles, tricycle cabs, push carts operated by Frost Giants to deliver ice or as ambulances, and delivery vans, canal barges, and street cars powered by fetchers.
Canals and tributaries of the Long River crisscrossed the city dividing it into districts connected by bridges. A short sets of steps at each end indicated a pedestrian bridge while the strongest and widest bridges were for wheeled traffic. Every so often the network of residential streets was interrupted by tracts set aside for amenities like parks, public gardens, schools, palestra, athletic fields, and temples to the various pantheons. Often situated nearby were the red brick dormitories called youth lodges where the town's youth dwelt till they came of age.
Nearly half of the capital's inhabitants were of mostly human stock with complexions ranging from pearly white through peaches-and-cream to light olive though many were tawny from constant exposure the sun, especially the young males. The rest of the populace were elves, dwarves, and giants who resided either in their own districts or in dwellings or at least in homes with furnishings sized to match their dimensions but otherwise intermingled with the other races.
Axel and his friends passed happy school children skipping their way to class, groups of bare-ass youths at the athletic fields engaged in scrimmages or flinging the Gemini Zinger around, artisans and clerks commuting to work on foot, by bicycle, or by fetcher powered street car. Frost giants pushed ice delivery carts. A crowds was gathered at the weekly farmers' market in one district while an election rally filled a square in another.
It was just an ordinary morning really, but it reminded Axel that the Commonwealth was a decent society, one where ordinary people could lead good lives, raise families, and realize the potential of their gifts, natural and magical. It was a society worth fighting to preserve. Seeing all that helped put the horrors of war in perspective.
At the airfield Drew got to show off his brand new autogyro. Its plywood fuselage was shiny red on top but blue grey below to make it harder to pick out against the sky. Its streamlined body and sleek lines showed it was built for speed.
But it was Finn's aerocraft that stole the show. Custom-built and sized specially for him, the first frost giant ever to take to the air, the autogyro had a steel frame and a cockpit large enough to accommodate even Finn's eight-foot height and six hundred pounds of mass. The wings and rotors were longer and stronger too as well as the control surfaces at the end of the tail which controlled pitch and yaw.
Like all personal autogyros it was a two-seater with separate wells for each passenger open to the sun though with a windshield of safety glass to deflect the flow of air. The nose was decorated with a heraldic device consisting of a shield with a hammer dexter and a lightning bolt sinister to proclaim the aerocraft as the personal transport of Finn Ragnarson, avatar of Thor Odinson, thunder god of the Norse, the remote ancestors of the Frost Giants.
"It cost twice as much as Drew's new autogyro," Eike explained. "Though a government grant covered only the price of an ordinary model, Finn chipped in the rest."
"That's right." Finn confirmed. "I may not be as wealthy as you guys, but I am a person of means and that's without counting the handsome salary we Hands are paid. With this aerocraft I am as mobile as you humans are riding horses only faster."
Frost Giants were much too large and heavy for horses. So they had to go on foot all the time or ride in a conveyance.
To get around Finn might ride in a coach driven by a human teamsters but no frost giant ever handled the team himself. It made no sense for a giant to be a teamster. That was simple economics. A team of horses could haul only so much weight, but the driver himself was deadweight, neither a paying passenger nor profitable freight. Better then that the driver be a lightweight human or possibly an elf massing only a quarter or a fifth of a giant, thereby increasing the payload.
That was how Finn and Drew and the twins had met Liam who had started out as as a coachman, a coach-boy really, in New Varangia. The frost giants had invited humans from the Western Plains to settle among them to care for and drive the teams of horses which hauled freight and passengers on the new roads the Commonwealth had built across their new homeland. The nomads of the Western Plains were born to horses.
The only teams frost giants themselves ever drove were the aurochs who drew their plows.
"The only time I was ever traveled mounted was in New Varangia atop that friendly brontothere we named Tyr after the smaller of Haven's two moons. Now there was a mount. Talk about heavy cavalry!"
Karel brightened. Here was a chance to tell his "lancer" joke again, but a small shake of Jemsen's head warned Karel to curb his enthusiasm for the lame quip out of consideration for Axel.
"Finn is getting to be a pretty fair pilot." Baron Jarmond assured them, "though he'll never be able to match the acrobatics of the picked team of the Army Air Corps. Now those boys can make one of these beauties loop the loop!"
"It sounds like you yourself are really enjoying flying, Baron Jarmond." Axel enthused.
"Son, flying is the most fun I've had wearing clothes in… let's just say in more years than I usually care to own up to!"
That brought a chuckle from Jarmond's interlocutors. You didn't often get to see the Chief Hand of the Commonwealth in so informal a setting or with him in so relaxed and jocular a mood.
Tall and lean and with a stern no-nonsense look Jarmond was ordinarily not the most congenial of men though that was partly by design. It went with the job. Jarmond could be friendly and talkative when he allowed himself to be. It was a mark of Jarmond's trust and confidence in Finn that he had set aside the mask he usually presented to the world.
"My powers as a fetcher are modest. I am just strong enough to get myself into the air and fly with one of those yokes, but it is not easy for me. This autogyro lets me fly long and far without exhausting myself."
"Mind you, my powers were always formidable enough in combat. It doesn't take much strength in telekinesis to yank eyeballs out of your opponent's skull or to grab the blade out of his hand to disarm him. And once I learned how Drew whirled a pair of steel spheres as weapons, I added a pair to my own armamentarium. I also like having the ability to soar out of harm's way or zip along the nap of the earth far faster than I can run or a horse can for that matter."
"Now we have three pilots and three aerocraft" he continued. "So who wants to go up for a ride?"
They all did, and so they did, and a good time was had by all. Who doesn't enjoy the thrill of flight, the speed, the acrobatics, and the feeling from on high that you are the lord of all you surveyed? The flight of an autogyro is quiet and smooth and pretty much always on an even keel. Pilots pitched the aerocraft forward only during acrobatics or for an emergency descent. And you never banked an autogyro with ailerons as you would one of the rigid wings which the Navy used for long range patrols. The stubby wings of an autogyro were strictly for lift. They didn't even have ailerons.
Afterwards all of them except Baron Jarmond repaired to one of their favorite restaurants in Twinkle Town, where Konrad Quentin the proprietor welcomed the party of regulars to the Sign of the Whale. In honor of Axel's and the twins' safe return from the war he sent a couple of bottles of sparkling wine to their table, on the house.
Despite his proportions Finn had no trouble finding a seat. Quentin catered to all races, and all that a giant really needed was a larger and sturdier chair. The tables might be a tad low for them. Humans and elves found them a tad high — that was all. Dwarves found the tables just the right height since they perched themselves atop tall stools. High chairs made for human or elven toddlers were too flimsy for the heavy boned and strongly muscled dwarves.
As always Finn lived up to the Frost Giants' reputation as trenchermen. Which was why restaurants had to charge higher prices for servings sized for giants. Nobody overindulged in alcoholic beverages. Much as Frost Giants liked to cite their hoary proverb that cold beer was surely proof that the gods loved us and wanted us to be happy, that was mostly talk. With their size they could put it away and not show it or even feel it really. Beer was drunk not the effect but for the taste , to complement a meal.
Little guys like Drew and Axel really had to watch how much they drank, especially when the Frost Giants ordered the potent peach schnapps for which they were justifiably famous and which could affect even them.
As they toasted their good fortune, Finn lifted his glass of schnapps and assured his friends that the fiery libation would put hair on their chests and maybe elsewhere.
"Gosh, I sure hope not!" Karel wailed facetiously.
Everyone knew that the healing magic which had prolonged their lives and their youth had permanently suppressed the growth of beard and body hair. All of them prized the smooth and glabrous look everywhere on their bodies, not only on their chests and limbs, but even at the fork of their legs.
That evening Finn brought his gear over from Jarmond's place. He would bunk with the twins. Drew spent the night in Axel's bedchamber. The reunited couple had a lot of time to make up for. Aside from Liam, Drew was Axel's closest friend with the twins not far behind. All of them were lovers though each had other close attachments as well such as Finn with the twins and Drew, Drew with Corwin Klarendes, and Liam with Nathan and Eike, and the twins with Aodh and Dahl.
Axel's and Drew's lovemaking that night was less about lust and sexual release and more about companionship and physical and emotional closeness. Drew might be a social butterfly with many casual lovers, but no one knew better than he the difference between mere recreational sex and the kind of romantic love, the true love they all shared.
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