Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 11

The Vale

"Good Morning Headman Soren" Jemsen began, speaking the orc tongue. "From the look of the sky we can expect rain later today."

"Indeed, and my compliments on your progress in learning our language. Your accent is quite good."

"Thanks but we have a long way to go, my brother and I, before we feel comfortable in orc and fluency will take even longer. That is why Axel is on hand to translate for us if we get stuck."

"What I wanted to ask is what can you tell us of your neighbors?"

"In a word, nothing; we have had no contact with those who dwell beyond our borders. There are three routes in and out of our hidden land and all are blocked. For centuries we have kept ourselves to ourselves even resorting to killing to keep our existence here a secret. We do know of the forest folk on the other side of the intermontane plateau but do not interact with them."

"All we have are oral tales of the time centuries ago when we settled these lands, taking them from a tribe of humans, mere hunter-gatherers who did not practice agriculture. We were physically superior and their war clubs and slings were no match for bows and weapons of steel. Even more important, as a civilized people we could field a proper army. The primitives had only loosely organized bands of nearly naked warriors who bore neither shield nor armor."

Some of that went over Jemsen's head so Axel translated.

"Is your conflict on-going? Do they raid into their old lands?"

"Never! We chased them off good and proper. I suppose we committed an injustice, but we told ourselves that they weren't using these fertile lands to their full potential. I know that's a rationalization, but there it is. Anyway what was done centuries ago is done for good."

"What was that all about anyway?" Axel wondered.

Jemsen told him that he and his twin were gathering material for their next book on the flora, fauna, geography, landforms, and peoples of the Western Dividing Range. It would be the next in their successful line of field guides.

The guide would complement Corwin's and Drew's the narrative of the expedition with a publication date some months later and into the next calendar year. That would make both books eligible for Writers Prizes without competing head on.

"We also plan to publish maps and a gazetteer for travelers but that will have to wait, perhaps for several years, till we find practical ways through the mountains. So far all we have found in our surveys are river valleys leading into the massif only to dead end in their source at a mountain lake or spring or cataract but with no mountain pass beyond. If there is a way through these mountains we haven't found it, but it is still early days."

Meanwhile a team had arrived by portal and autogyro from the new homeland of the orcs in Amazonia to work with the locals and organize an exodus of those who wanted to emigrate. When the time came, an orc war wizard would open a space portal for successive parties of orcs to pass through. The local orcs estimated that in the end fewer than a tenth of their population of some quarter million would emigrate right away. The rest would wait to see how things worked out for the pioneers.

Engineers and builders also went to work on an airfield to serve those who remained. They put up hangers, sheds, quarters, a transfer hall, etc. The airfield would facilitate passenger and air freight between the hidden land and the Commonwealth.

The orc domain had ideal growing conditions for the crocus which produced saffron, the costliest spice by weight. Once they expanded production, exports of saffron which go a long way toward covering the cost of imports of manufactures from the Commonwealth.

The orcs also intended to market fossil amber and their unique handicrafts and art, and perhaps their tasty pickled mustard tubers. The tubers were actually made from the knobby, fist-sized, swollen green stem of the mustard plant, which was first salted, pressed, and dried before being rubbed with hot red chili paste and allowed to ferment in an earthenware jar. The unique taste was a combination of spicy, sour, and salty, and the delicacy had the aroma of sauerkraut with hot chili paste.

Finn was dubious about the reception the tubers would get in the outside world, but General Ifans was enthusiastic.

"Don't worry," Ifans assured the orcs. "These will go over big time."

Finn rolled his eyes and with a twinkle in his eye said: "There is no accounting for taste."

The orcs later sought out Finn and asked to join the Corps of Discovery temporarily while they explored the region immediately around their own hidden land. Finn and Ifans had no objection provided they observed the principle of unity of command and followed Finn's orders. War Chief Rohm and five orcs militiamen flew in their own transport piloted by an orc from Amazonia.

"My title is really an anachronism," Rohm admitted to Finn. "We haven't gone to war since the conquest. I just command the militia during bimonthly musters for training and also when helping with disaster relief. We occasionally get earthquakes strong enough to collapse houses. Sometimes big storms will cause mudslides, bring down trees, or level houses."

The next people the Corps of Discovery encountered proved to be elusive. Practitioners of slash and burn agriculture, the inhabitants fled the village where the expedition landed. Finn tried to entice them out of hiding by leaving behind four steel knives and as many hatchets, tools which he expected them to prize. When he returned the next day, the tools were gone, but the shy folk stayed hidden, in no way coaxed by the gifts into revealing themselves. Figuring the same thing would happen at their other villages, Finn gave up and pushed on. If folks did not want contact with the outside world you could not force it on them and indeed should not.

As the aerocraft flew high above a river valley they spotted a rainbow arching over the pool at the foot of a cataract which plunged two hundred of feet from a slot in the side of a mountain. The narrow slot was the outlet of a stream which drained a trough shaped vale four miles in length. Invisible from below, it was walled by impassible cliffs which had kept out hunters and farmers.

This was virgin country untouched by the hand of men of any race. Streams threaded through the vale, spreading out in places to form small lakes. Meadows and glades alternated with old growth forest and dramatic rock formations carved by the elements into fanciful shapes which resembled a recumbent bear, a coiled snake, and a giant claw. Scenic cataracts fell vertically or in steps from the higher ground all around.

The long axis of the vale ran north to south, so it pointed toward the equator. Hence it was brightly lit all day till late afternoon when the sun sank below the western horizon. Its microclimate was comfortably warm but not hot. Everywhere were songbirds and butterflies and small mammals.

The only large herbivores were two species of ibex, the alpine ibex whose males bore large backward curving ridged horns and the markhor where both sexes had tightly curled corkscrew-like horns. The cliffs blocked access to their normal predators, bears and wolves but not the alpine lynx and the golden eagle, both of which preyed on ibex young, successfully enough to keep their numbers in check lest they overtax their range.

The expedition set down and made camp beside the outlet of one of the small lakes which had a tiny islet in the middle. It was an idyllic spot and perfect for relaxation, recreation, and fun. Even the scouts could devote themselves to leisure since there was no need to maintain a watch at night.

It was a fine day and the site so welcoming and the water so limpid and inviting that the circle of friends threw off their garments and dived into the water for a swim and a session of water play and wrestling and the exuberant grab-ass horseplay which young males were so fond of.

Afterwards the twins lay side by side on the grassy verge of the lake, the beads of waters on their tawny skins sparkling like diamonds. Lithe, boyishly handsome, and with close cropped blond hair the color of corn silk, they were utterly alluring with their slender physiques and youthful features.

Overhanging boughs provided enough shade to soften the heat of the sun, though not enough to entirely stop them from sweating. Propped up on an elbow, Jemsen chatted desultorily with his brother till he realized that Karel had dozed off, making for a one-sided conversation. Jemsen didn't feel like a nap himself, so he settled for watching the ever changing shapes of the puffy white clouds above, all the while studying the beautiful body lying next to him.

The twin of his own, Karel's was the ideal human shape: slender, tanned, toned, and taut -- all sculpted musculature with strong shoulders, well defined abdominal muscles, and narrow hips. No hair interrupted the flow of its faultless lines. Moreover the wounds they had taken in the wars had healed completely, leaving no scars.

Jemsen watched droplets of sweat form on Karel's smooth tanned skin, each drop glistening in the sunlight like a tiny diamond. Growing larger, the droplets broke the surface tension that had held them in place and slid downhill, merging and collecting in rivulets in the channel between the pectorals and at the bottom of the hollow between the rib cage and hips, pooling in the navel.

The first-born twin reached out to play with the sweat filling his brother's navel, tracing a circle with his index finger on that flat belly, finally bringing a taste of the salty fluid to his tongue. Next he pressed a spot on one side of Karel's belly to let the pool of sweat drain down his hip, only to watch the hollow slowly fill up again. This time he did not spill any of the salty fluid but lapped it up then kissed away beads of sweat on his forehead, cheeks, and the tip of the nose, ending with a light kiss to each of Karel's nipples.

Karel stirred a bit but dozed on oblivious of his brother's homage to his beauty, his comely face relaxed in sleep, like a slumbering angel, dreaming perhaps of love, his eyes twitching behind close lids. No one knew better than Jemsen what mischief could dance in those grey-blue eyes of his.

Jemsen sighed, content with life and happy to just be with his beloved brother. In truth, all their lives they had never been any real distance apart, spending virtually every moment within earshot of each other. And he wouldn't want it any other way.

Lying next to the twins and propped up on one elbow the better to admire their boy flesh was the elf-boy Dahl. Considerably shorter than the twins and darkly handsome he had the glabrous skin, lissome build, and smooth musculature of his kind. Green eyes twinkled over the killer cheekbones characteristic of his race.

The twins had been Dahl's first real lovers. Back then he had been a sixteen year old elf-boy who had run away from home at the behest of the unicorn Meirionnydd to train as a druid. Then they had run into their stout friend the late great Balandur and only days later the twins. Hunters, archers, and explorers, the twins had gone after an elk they had merely wounded, wanting to find the poor beast and put it out of its misery. However, their very first night together had been anything but romantic as they newly met allies battled a pair of evil Trackers, demon spawn versions of dire wolves.

The twins had come far in the years since then, though you would not think to look at them thanks to healing magic which kept them from aging, perpetual teenagers in every way except chronologically and in their acquisition of life experience.

Unlike the others who were on their backs, Drew lay prone the better to display his pert rump to advantage. He loved the kiss of the sun on his bare buns; it made him feel ever so naked. Drew never lost a chance to show off the trim and taut teenage body he had grown into and was so proud of.

As for his features Drew had spiky auburn hair and narrow sideburns which reached below the ear lobes plus straight eyebrows with almost no curve to them. They framed a cute face with a high forehead, chiseled jawline, and a perky nose slightly turned up at the end.

Finally there was Corwin. Short, slight of build, clean limbed, and standing a hand over five feet, he was blessed with fine-boned features that suggested a considerable admixture of elfin blood in his ancestry like all those in the Klarendes clan. As a magical healer he practically exuded good health and sex appeal.

"What we have laid out on the grass before us is nothing less than a vision of youthful male concupiscence." Finn commented grandiloquently.

General Ifans shrugged.

"If you say so Finn, you won't get an argument from me. Beauty, after all, lies in the eye of the beholder. Now while I can appreciate the physical beauty of boys it is only in an aesthetic way, as a sculptor or artist might look at his model. I just don't fancy boys the way you and so many males do. I consort exclusively with the female half of the species."

A half hour later the twins got up and started tossing around the Gemini Zinger. A more aerodynamic version of the inverted pie tin with which the sport originated, the Gemini Zinger had been a runaway commercial success since its introduction some years earlier. Profits from its sale contributed significantly to the twins' growing fortune.

Held face down and flung with either a forward or back hand motion, the disc would sail gracefully over to another player who had to snatch it out of the air and return it or pass it on to a third or fourth. The game required a lot of running, jumping, reaching, and stretching as well as speed and coordination, so it was good exercise as well as a lot of fun and a terrific way to display the youthful male body in motion.

Strictly speaking this was not a competitive sport. No one counted score and their were no winners or losers. Yet the boys did try to outdo each other with their acrobatics and flashy moves, running, leaping, and reaching out to snatch the Zinger before it touched the ground. They all relished the chance to show off their sexy bodies and their athleticism.

Soon Corwin, Dahl, and Drew joined in.

"Just remember," Finn reminded them. "No powers."

By way of explanation to Ifans, Finn added:

"Sometimes the mischief in their souls gets the better of them, and they are tempted to resort to magical trickery. I always warn them about not using their powers not out of any concern for sportsmanship but rather out of caution lest dueling powers get out of hand. Anyway there wouldn't be any point to tossing the Zinger around if they used their gifts."

"As a fetcher Drew could just stand still and use his telekinetic powers to draw the Zinger into his hand or make it zip out of reach of someone else. As an air wizard Karel could call air currents to push it where he wanted it to go. Axel wouldn't have to exert himself either, just teleport to wherever the Zinger was heading and snatch it out of the air. Jemsen could make the earth heave and trip a player as he ran to catch it."

"I see." Ifans allowed. "At least neither Corwin's nor Dahl's powers could affect the game."

"Don't be too sure. With healing magic they might worsen another player's coordination or simply make him dizzy. Remember, all these boys have been using their gifts for years, often coming up with clever and innovative ways to employ them. Look how Corwin devised his explosive technique with ball lightning or how fetchers now use their telekinesis to fly with yokes or in autogyros."

"I understand that you yourself Finn have found new ways to use your powers. You can now fly by holding onto Mjolnir and even use it as a torch as tiny lightnings play over the head of the hammer."

"With all the challenges we have faced and those yet to come, it is just as well that we have a whole deck of cards up our sleeves."

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