Elf Boy's Friends - X
Flensborg, New Varangia
"Pardon me, Sir Giant. Could you direct me to the Wayfarers' Inn?" Corwin asked.
The huge townsman peered quizzically at his diminutive interlocutor, a cute blond youth whose green eyes and fine-boned features suggested a considerable admixture of elfin and human blood in his ancestry. Even for a human he was short and slight of build, standing but four inches over five feet. Which made him quite the little guy in a town mostly inhabited by Frost Giants, who might reach nine feet in height.
"Hmm, I did hear that Old Arn had a notion to hire another wine boy to serve drinks and to entertain his customers upstairs. I suppose you might be him, small though you are."
"What makes you think I'm a wine boy?"
"Well, for one thing, here you are running around town stark naked. Not that I object, mind you, quite the contrary. You are a cute little thing to be sure, but while casual public nudity is common practice for youths in the Commonwealth proper, out here on the frontier and in a town inhabited mostly by Frost Giants it is not. And even dusty and sweaty as you are, I can see that your sexy little body is bronzed everywhere from the constant kiss of the sun, as such bare-assed boys are wont to be from almost constant exposure."
"In both senses of that word." he added smiling.
"Also your skin is utterly smooth -- with nary a feather anywhere -- not even at the fork of your legs. Throw in that impossibly cute face of yours with its delicate features and the sum of it is that you are likely a rent boy and a supremely desirable one at that. Now I usually prefer to consort with the female half of the species, but I do make an exception now and then if a supremely cute boy crosses my path. What do you say that once you get settled in, I call on you at Arn's place? Uh, no offense if I have jumped to the wrong conclusion about you, pretty one."
"None taken, Sir Giant. Actually I get that a lot from strangers, so I have learned to expect it. I am acutely aware that with my slight build, androgynous looks, and glabrous skin, I fall considerably short of normal male standards in height, muscular development, and secondary sexual characteristics like beard, body hair, and voice register. And that goes double around Frost Giants."
"But no, I am not a rent boy, nor even truly a boy anymore, not chronologically anyway. Despite appearances I am of age, and I am as fully grown as I will ever be. I realize that I might look to be no more than sixteen, but I am actually in my twenties. And yes at home I often in the nude for exercise, training, or relaxation, though I do dress professionally when on assignment."
"What sort of work would that be, young one? From my years in the Commonwealth, I know that most young humans and elves strip before sweaty work if they aren't already naked to begin with. They don't dress up for labor."
"That is true, but in my case I work with my head not my hands or my back. I am a journalist and war correspondent for the Capital Intelligencer, the most prominent news-paper in the Commonwealth, My byline is Corwin Klarendes and my beat is national news and special features. As a journalist, I always wear a tunic and sandals for interviews and public events, professional garb which helps me be taken by my interlocutors as a serious journalist rather than be dismissed as a nosy bare-assed kid who asks too many questions."
"And for your information, I got to town only a little while ago, which is why I am all hot and sweaty and dusty and in the nude. I ran the last dozen miles of my journey after being dropped off by an autogyro. I like to keep in shape, you see."
The giant nodded.
"That kind of strenuous exertion explains the sculpted musculature on your wiry physique. Your stamina must be phenomenal too."
"I expect that is the case. And the way to Old Arn's, if I may remind you, sir?"
"Yes, well Arn's place lies just down the street and around the corner. I am heading that way myself so you can tag along with me. How do you know Arn, if I might ask?"
"He is a friend of good friends of mine, folks you may have heard of: Finn Ragnarson, Drew Altair, and the twins Jemsen and Karel."
"Indeed. Those are famous names among us Frost Giants. You come well-recommended, young Klarendes."
Arn's place was located on a sunny square with a public fountain in the middle. Awnings and half-grown trees shaded the entrances to the shops and taverns that lined the square including the two-storey building with a sign proclaiming it to be the Wayfarers' Inn.
"There's your destination, youngling. My own business takes me farther down this street. Good day to you."
"And to you, sir."
The common room at Arn's place was full of giants, all of them in a genial mood and neatly if plainly dressed in linen or silk trews and shirts. As Corwin stepped through the wide open double doors, the buzz of conversation faltered as all eyes turned toward the newcomer. The faces of the patrons were friendly enough though most registered surprise at the appearance of a small, nude, and impossibly comely human youth in their favorite tavern. Others leered at him, obviously taking him for the new wine boy they had heard about.
"You sure know how to pick them, Arn." one giant told his host. "I'd gladly pay a whole silver for a tumble with this new lad of yours. Pretty, petite, blond, and green eyed, he's an exotic and arousing mix of human and elf."
"Yes, he is all those things, Donnar, except this blond beauty is no wine boy. No, he is a paying guest so mind your manners and watch those roving hands of yours. Fair warning to any of you who might be tempted to aggressive tactics, this lad may not look like he can take care of himself, but he is a powerful Healer whose magic can stop any or all three of your hearts with a thought."
Frost Giant had two auxiliary hearts low in their trunk to raise blood from the legs to the main heart and head while keeping blood pressure within the safe zone.
"Oh I wouldn't do anything so drastic to an importunate suitor, Arn." Corwin assured him. "I'd just disable his soldier, if you take my meaning."
Even Donnar joined in the chuckle which Corwin's remark provoked and asked good-naturedly.
"At least set the boy atop a table where we can all get a good look at him."
At Corwin's nod, Arn pulled out a chair to let him step easily to the top of Donnar's own table which brought a big grin to his friendly face. Corwin rewarded him with a wink.
He didn't mind showing off the taut and trim and tanned body he was so proud of. Maybe he wasn't quite the shameless showoff that Drew Altair was, but he did like people to admire him and to desire him, and here he was in a roomful of giants, all fully clothed while he stood atop a table stark naked for all to ogle. Corwin couldn't help but shiver deliciously with the frisson of his own naughtiness.
Donnar's drinking companion Otho Strahl shook his head, telling his friend:
"I just don't get all this romantic fuss which fellows like you make over pretty boys, no offense to either of you."
"None taken." Corwin allowed. "Most guys are like you; they fancy girls. Many others fancy boys, and more than a few fancy both. One's orientation is just something boys discover about themselves as they grow up."
"What brings you to town, then?" Donnar asked.
"I am a journalist on assignment for the Capital Intelligencer. I am to report on the progress you giants and the other races have made in settling and developing New Varangia."
"What! You are a journalist and a Healer both?"
"Yes, I am, plus a combat medic and sometime soldier too."
"Corwin is a war hero, a decorated combat veteran of the Lightning War against the eastern barbarians and of two campaigns in the war against the trolls and the author of best-selling books on those campaigns. He also fought the orcs in that brief war in the Eastern Mountains and against a ring of slavers in the capital." Arn interjected, then let Corwin continue with:
"Anyway I am here to follow up on reporting which my colleague Drew Altair started years ago. He thought I should take the assignment for a change."
"Oh yes, the Drew Altair whom we all know as the Brave Little Fetcher who stood with Old Arn and Young Finn in the Breach. In fact, Otho and I were in that battle too and like those more famous three we are depicted in the commemorative paintings which grace the walls of Arn's place."
At the Battle of the Ravine the Frost Giants had fought the centaurs, carnivorous alien monsters with six limbs that resembled a cross between an insect and a reptile, if such a thing can be imagined. During the battle, the press of the centaur attack opened a breach in the shield wall of the Frost Giants. Had they broken through in strength, their horde would have turned both flanks of the line held by the giants and rolled it up.
At that crucial moment Arn and his protege Finn Ragnarson, still a teenager, surged forward using their shields and bodies to block the centaurs. Wielding their twelve foot spears they had stabbed and slashed at their enemies for all they were worth. The pair held the breach long enough for others to rally to them including Donnar and Otho. Their stand went down in history as that of "Old Arn and Young Finn in the Breach".
A series of three dramatic paintings portrayed the action. In the first picture, giants and centaurs in the front line go down in a tangle of flailing limbs and weapons, opening the breach. In the second picture Arn and Finn fight nearly alone in the breach. The blades of their spears decapitate and eviscerate their enemies, holding them back by sheer courage and ferocity.
Even so they likely would have gone under but for Drew's help. As shown in the second picture Drew has taken a position directly behind Arn and Finn and stands in the path of the centaur breakthrough. He wields steel spheres about the size of a peach telekinetically with an unusual up and down or 'pile driver' motion to prevent potential fratricide among his allies. The motions of his fists help him concentrate as he smashes the death-dealing steel through the bodies of the centaurs and into the ground only to raise them high again for the next strike with an uppercut motion.
Just behind the right end of the shield wall and up the slope of the ravine, two splendid human youths, the twins Jemsen and Karel, send arrow after arrow over the shield wall to pick off the unit commanders of the centaurs, identifiable by the insignia painted on their chitinous armor, throwing their attack into disarray.
In the final picture, with the integrity of the shield wall restored, Drew goes back to controlling the flight of his spheres with his trademark 'shadow boxing' technique, sending them whirling through the heads and upper torsos of the foul creatures. The disheartened centaur horde shows the first signs of the panic that transformed an army into a disorganized mob that the giants and their allies, the Commonwealth cavalry, soon cut to pieces.
"See," Donnar said pointing at the second painting. That's me the fighter with the blond braid. A centaur sword had knocked my steel cap off my head. Before he could finish me I lobbed a clinging ball of fire at him, engulfing his upper torso and head, cooking his brains in his skull. And Otho is the fighter next to me throwing a levin bolt at another centaur."
"My bolts were not strong enough to blast a centaur apart so I aimed at the sabers they wielded in either hand. Steel makes an excellent conductor of electricity. My bolt would hit the blade then traverse the barrel of its body into the ground, stopping its heart and cooking part of its innards."
"And Otho and I also fought at the battle of Flensborg again the trolls. That was the day that Finn Ragnarson transformed into the avatar of Thor and inspired us all. What a thrill that was! Arn was saying just now that he had commissioned a pair of paintings of that battle for the other wall."
"I was surprised to hear him say that you were a soldier yourself, Corwin. No offense, but small as you are you don't look like you could hurt a mouse."
"You'd be surprised, Otho. My small size can actually be an advantage. For one thing I offer a much smaller target to missile weapons than a Frost Giant does. And I am quick and agile. That plus my training with a kukri make me effective in close combat, one-on-one. You are right though that a little guy like me has no business standing in a shield wall and trading sword or axe blows with centaurs, trolls, orcs or humans."
"Besides my physical abilities, there is my magical gift of ball lightning which is more powerful and more flexible than either of your gifts. Lightning bolts and fireballs are well and good, but they are all offense and offer no defense. Ball lightning serves as both sword and shield. A lightning ball three or four feet across can stop bolts, fireballs, arrows, slung bullets, and even a charging horse and rider. Also with my explosive technique I can take out a whole squad at a time. Finally ball lightning can light up the night much like a ball of cold light though admittedly less effectively."
Otho nodded and conceded: "The boy does have a point. Fighters come in all sizes."
"On that note of agreement let me get my guest settled." Arn told them. "Corwin, the folks at the airfield sent over your kit which I had put up in your room. One thing more: the washroom is through that green door. So get cleaned up, and I'll see you at supper."
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