Elf Boy's Friends - VIII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 2

What Next?

"So that was when Sir Willet suggested I talk with you about how I might use my powers constructively."

Axel was explaining to Drew about his recent bout of despondency and how Sir Willet had counseled him to find a constructive outlet for his powers and talents.

"Sir Willet is right about that. I've been to war more often than I care to remember. It comes with the territory as a war correspondent. That's a job somebody has to do to keep the public informed, and since I am good at it, it might as well be me, and that's no brag. I don't sugar coat the brutality of war in my reportage, something my public respects me for."

"Besides all that, I do like to think I have made a positive contribution, not only with my journalism and my best selling books, but also with with rescue work. You get a lot of satisfaction saving victims of earthquakes and floods. When you free a mother and child from a collapsed house that might have become their tomb, well it gets to you. Or even lifting a mama cat and her kittens stranded in the loft of a barn by a flood."

"Most of all I am proudest of being named a Peacemaker. As you know the twins and Finn and I were the catalysts for the process which produced lasting peace and prosperity in the Far West. Our efforts helped prevent a nightmare scenario of decades of war, insurrection, slaughter, and destruction that would have taken hundreds of thousands of lives and left millions destitute amid the ruins."

"You're can be proud of being a Peacemaker yourself, Axel. You were a catalyst for making friends with the brontotheres in New Varangia, the Medkari in the Hot Lands, and the orcs in the Eastern Mountains and now with your brontothere allies against the trolls in the campaign to save the Amazons. So never doubt that you are a good person or that you haven't made this troubled world of ours a better place for good people to live."

"Thanks for that, Drew, but what's next? I'd like to do something positive as with your recurring call-ups for rescue work, only I have no idea what. Any suggestions?"

"Nothing specific, only that I don't think the civil authorities really need a Jumper. These days rescue workers can get to the scene fast enough in autogyros flying from the many airfields that have been built during the last few years, not just for the military but for air mail, passenger air lines, and air freight."

The autogyro had revolutionized aviation. No longer was flying the exclusive province of the military and civilian enthusiasts. The postal service used autogyros to distribute a premium class of mail between between regional distribution points. One very long route linked the Commonwealth proper with New Varangia and the Far West. A much shorter route over the the Great Inland Freshwater Sea served the Scilly Isles, while a third route hopped over the northern end of the Eastern Mountains to the town of Harben, an important terminus of iron-roads.

Stretch versions of the autogyro with broad wings transported eight passengers on flights that cut the transit time to a fraction of its normal duration. More recently companies had used the transports to offer freight service for lightweight, high-value, and time-sensitive cargo.

One example was cut-flowers and starter pots of medicinal and culinary herbs difficult to grow from seed. The elves had created an industry to supply blossoms to the major cities. Flower shops were no longer limited to what grew locally but could offer exotic blooms nurtured by the Green Thumbs elves were famous for. The elves consigned their flowers to auctioneers and florists. The culinary herbs were sold to wholesalers who in turn sold on to green groceries and such while the local Associations of Healers handled sales and distribution of medical herbs, some of which were not only hard to grow from seed but had to be fresh rather than dried.

"Meanwhile" Drew continued, "let's go out for a run. All right we work in offices but that's no excuse to slack off and not keep fit. You never know when we might be sent out to the field again."

"Nor has it escaped my attention," Axel observed shrewdly, "that a run through the park would give you a chance to show off that trim and taut body you love to flaunt."

"And who would know better than a journalist like myself that it pays to advertise?" Drew gave back.

"Which is why onlookers so often conclude that you are a rent boy trolling for custom." Axel said.

"I'd make a good living at it, if I were. You have to give me that, Axel."

Axel just shook his head at his friend's brazenness, but then that was part of his charm, wasn't it? No one ever called Drew Altair a shrinking violet.

With that the boys took off, running slow and easy as they warmed up and then picked up the pace. It was a fine day for a run, sunny but not too hot with a pleasant breeze blowing. The runners loped along the running paths of a nearby park, arms pumping, legs scissoring metronomically, sweat glistening on their glabrous skins. Axel always liked to feel the kiss of the sun's warmth on his bare bum. It made him feel that much more naked and sexy.

The two runners made a striking pair: short, slight of build, boyishly cute, lithe, clean-limbed, hard bodied, and evenly tanned from much time spent outdoors in the nude. Both were red-heads, Axel a copper-top and Drew an auburn haired beauty. Thanks to the druidical healing magic which had enhanced their constitutions the boys practically glowed with good health and sex appeal. They turned heads as they ran past. Both guys and gals did double-takes asking themselves how anyone could be so good-looking much less two someones.

Drew and Axel took that as no more than was their due. It wasn't mere vanity to acknowledge the simple truth that they were extraordinarily cute and sexy. They both would admit to being shameless show-offs, but where was the harm in that? Boys with their sort of good looks practically had a moral obligation to share their physical beauty with the world at large, or so they maintained, only half in jest.

The pair recognized a trio of elven runners they encountered as the wine boys from the Sign of the Whale. Wine boys ran regularly not only to keep their bodies pleasing to customers but also to troll for custom, though only to advertise. When accosted they just told their admirers to come by the restaurant to arrange a tryst.

Wine boys would never do anything so low-class as to duck into the bushes with chance-met males. That sort of thing was for boys of the street. Wine boys were near the top of the hierarchy of rent boys which ran, in ascending order of exclusivity, from street boys, who were often amateurs, to professionals like brothel boys, called boys, wine boys, and kept boys, with elf-boys outranking humans in each stratum since they would stay young and cute and sexy for centuries. Itinerant entertainers like minstrels and acrobats and jugglers who also rented themselves out as a sideline fell somewhere between brothel boys and called boys in the hierarchy.

Like Drew and Axel, the trio of wine boys loved to show off their sexy bodies, which was not surprising. Wine boys were nearly as dedicated to a skin-clad existence as elf-boys and this trio was both. Which was why they didn't own a single item of clothing, and why no one had ever seen them clothed or was likely to. That thought gave their clients an extra frisson of naughtiness, thinking how utterly naked these bodies they grappled with were.

The two groups of runners waved as they ran past headed in opposite directions. The wine boys knew that Drew and Axel were not the competition; indeed the pair would always direct anyone who asked them for an assignation to the Sign of the Whale.

A little while later even while the sun shone bright a gentle rain began to fall. The boys laughed as they ran through the sun shower enjoying the cooling effect of what was only a drizzle. Axel's runner's high had brightened his mood as Drew had hoped. He looked over at Axel and said:

"Don't you just love the feel of the rain on your body? I know I do. It's practically erotic, flowing over me, touching me everywhere at once like a lover with a hundred hands, and making me feel so very naked."

Axel shook his head.

"Shameless!" he chided facetiously.

"Utterly!" Drew agreed, a big grin on his face.

The next day Axel consulted the wizards and mages who worked at or visited the Institute of Wizardy and Magic but were not actual war wizards. These wizards and mages focussed on practical applications for magic in other fields from agriculture to transport to communications. It was this group that had thought of using infrasound for long distance communication and devised the aural version of the code employed by heliographers.

The wizards often trained the delvers who worked for the civil authorities. Anyone intending to excavate in the big cities for foundations or to dig up the streets needed a permit which included an on-site inspection by a delver so the digging would not damage underground utilities or weaken the foundations of neighboring buildings, etc.

More recently air wizards had teamed with industrialists to use air mirrors to generate intense heat for metallurgical and alchemical processes. A parabolic air mirror with a surface as shiny as a mirage could concentrate the heat of the sun onto a very small target.

Solar firing was clean. It generated neither ash nor smoke nor dust and left no alchemical residue behind. It provided steadier heat than that of even a powerful firecaster, and it could be turned on and off with the blink of an eye. If guided through a slit or hole in a refractory shield, the narrow beam could cut shapes out of a steel plate faster than machine tools. The steel plate itself likely had been forged in a crucible heated by sun mirrored solar power.

Air wizards also aided navigation on the the Great Inland Freshwater Sea. Normal winds filled the sails to provide the push to move the vessel, but a jet of air from the port or starboard quarter helped steer it on a more direct course, or bent the course closer to straight when tacking left and right against the wind. That got ships to their destinations faster and let them keep to a published schedule of arrivals and departures, something practical in the past only for ferries across rivers, lakes, or bays.

The Navy recruited air wizards to help steer their vessels tactically in combat or training exercises, giving it yet another qualitative advantage over any potential adversary.

Axel learned a lot about how magic was being used for civil purposes, but Jumpers were rare. Moreover jumpers could only reach points they could actually see, including through a far-viewer. Jumping beyond the horizon took a series of hops between visible landmarks. A truly long-distance jump could be only to a location the jumper himself had once arrived at via a space portal.

But the use of portals was very new. No other jumper had trained as Axel had with war wizards, traveling via portal to dozens of strategic points around the Commonwealth. So only Axel might conceivably set up an instant transport business, but that was not the kind of positive contribution he hoped to make.

A couple of weeks of consulting and research in the Institute's library eliminated a lot of impractical or unappealing possibilities in Axel's mind, but he still had not hit upon a really good idea, the kind that jumped out at you and made you wonder how you had not thought of it right away.

In Axel's case he got that idea from the twins. They suggested that Axel's talent would be ideal for exploration. Jemsen pointed out that there were areas on the continent of Valentia about which little was known except for travelers' tales and sketchy maps. Karel picked up on his idea about exploration.

"Exploration by autogyro! That's the answer to Axel's despondency and to Jemsen's and my wanderlust. Remember we two started out as hunters and explorers. Then, after we hooked up with Balandur and Dahl and Aodh, we crossed much of the continent and later the Hot Lands. And we two lead the epic Long March of the Frost Giants to New Varangia."

"And since those early days," Jemsen continued, "there were our expeditions to the Far West and later to the Barren Lands now called South Varangia. You were with us Axel on that one. And more recently the war wizards took you through a whole bunch of portals, which would provide us a wide choice of jumping off points, you should pardon the expression, for a venture into the unknown. How about it Axel? Are you game? And what about you Finn?"

"Count me in!" Axel enthused. This would be history's first exploration via autogyro and with a jumper along as well, though I am not sure just what my role would be."

"First off you would transport the whole team, the autogyros, and the supplies to the er, jumping off point, again no pun intended." Karel said. "Also you can jump anyplace you can see, right? We won't always be able to land our autogyros every place we want to examine close as in dense forest cover. So you could jump yourself and maybe another of us down to the ground. Also a series of short hops would make it easy to thoroughly examine an area much faster and without effort or sweat. And your powers would be handy in a tactical situation to jump us out of danger. Look how effective your powers were against the trolls."

"Count me in too," Finn said, "One benefit of being a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth is the leeway we have to pick our own assignments. Many of them anyway. This is just the kind of off-beat job we Hands relish. These days Jarmond pretty much gives me a free hand."

"My presence will make the expedition an official venture letting us charge expenses to the state exchequer. True, the cost would be trivial compared to the financial resources any one of us commands, but an official expedition could enlist the aide of officials and let us use public facilities like airfields and hangers, visiting officers' quarters, local transportation and so forth."

"I trust nobody will object if I appoint myself the commander of what we should call our Corps of Discovery."

They all shook their heads. Finn was a natural leader and more important, their leader. And didn't he look the part. Physically imposing, he stood eight feet tall and weighed six hundred pounds. And despite his well-deserved reputation as a trencherman, none of that was fat. And thanks to his enhanced constitution and the strength he could draw from lightning, he was three times stronger than normal. Finn might not be the largest of the Frost Giants, but he was far and away the most physically powerful.

Jemsen pointed out that there must be unsuspected mineral resources out there which just begged to be discovered by an enterprising delver. And wouldn't you know it, one such was one hand, or rather an earth wizard, namely himself. His powers could not only find and identify buried ore bodies but bring samples up to the surface for proper analysis later, in an alchemical laboratory. And since Axel knew his way around an alchemical lab he would analyze the samples.

Travel by autogyro would also let the team map and sketch the landforms from their vantage point in the sky, dropping down from time to time to survey the underlying geology.

The twins also realized that the maps and terrain sketches they would draw during the expedition would allow them to expand the geographical coverage of their successful line of maps and guides for commercial travelers and tourists, a steady moneymaker over the years.

They might even gather enough material for another one in their popular line of field guides. Published under their imprint Gemini Field Guides, each volume described some aspect of the natural world. So far the imprint had issued guides on land navigation, tracking, landforms, tree identification, song birds, raptors (eagles, hawks, and owls), social insects, and edible wild plants. The subject of the most recent guide was the identification and care of ferns, cycads, and bromeliads, decorative plants near and dear to their hearts.

Written and illustrated with maps and drawings by the twins, the field guides were printed on sturdy linen rag paper for durability but with soft covers and in a small format that let readers slip them into a pocket or pack. In a sense the guides were the fruit of the endless questions the insatiably curious twins had plied their sometimes exasperated interlocutors with over the years, offering the excuse that questions where how you learned things not written down in books. Now they were, at least on the subjects covered by their field guides.

The twins were the only members of their circle without a formal job. Nevertheless and despite their wealth they had no use for idleness. Leisure, fun, and frolic were all part of a good life to be sure, but they needed to be balanced by work, accomplishment, and adventure. In between their many expeditions and missions they worked long hours in their study at compiling, writing, drawing maps and illustrations, and revising galley proofs. In between such short-term writing projects they continued gathering material for a biography of their mentor the late great Balandur. To do him justice would take more than than a single volume to relate his many adventures during a life that spanned a millennium including four centuries as a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth.

Finn raised an issue no one else had thought about, pointing out that their company of adventurers would share the standard ten percent royalty for any mineral rights discovered on public lands.

"Friends, even with only one part in ten divided among all of us, there are fortunes to be made out there! We'll all be rich!"

"We already are." the twins chorused. "Or hadn't you noticed?"

"Our team should do more than just explore for minerals." Finn continued. "This would be as much a diplomatic mission as an exploratory or mapping expedition. We should visit the Medkari in the Hot Lands, a number of elven vales, the caverns of dwarves, and the League of Independent Towns strung along the Trade Road in the northwest. We might even push all the way to the shores of the Northern Ocean."

"And as usual," Drew noted, "I'll do double duty as the keeper of the expedition journal and as a reporter for the Capital Intelligencer. When we get back I'll write a book about our adventures. I'll use your phrase Finn as the title: Corps of Discovery, which not doubt will be another bestseller and make us famous!"

"We already are." the twins chorused. "Aren't we celebrated everywhere as the famous twins Jemsen and Karel?"

"Not quite everywhere, not where we three have just been." Axel reminded them. "Or is that memory just too painful to recall?"

Abashed, the twins fell uncharacteristically silent.

"Oh? Would one of you three care to explain?" Drew asked. "I sense a story here."

"All right", Axel agreed. "I'll tell you how the famous twins got taken down a peg, but only if it's not for publication."

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