It was a very old tradition, dating back to the days of the Syrisian Empire. Sammel heaved his rucksack over his shoulder and plodded to Max's house. Max was not his best friend's given name, for he was a dwarf. His real name was Grimaeks. The two had known each other most of both of their lives. True, dwarves were long-lived folk, and Max had been almost eight when Sammel was born. However, at this point in their lives, with Sammel finally coming of age, they were as similar in age and temperament as they would ever be.
Growing up on the Windy Isles had been a trial for poor Max, isolated from his own people and living among humans and even elves, which grated on his nerves endlessly. He was not overtly 'friendly, ' as such, being a dwarf. And it had taken years for them to forge their friendship. But one thing dwarves know how to do is forge things well, and their friendship was ironclad. Max's parents had protested his taking to the 'wandering' as the Windy Islanders called it, saying it was not their way. Max had said to that: "If ye were so concerned for 'our' ways, then mayhaps ye should'na raised my arse amongst the humans, eh?" They had protested further, but Max laid it down, that he was going to do this thing, and they were not to try to prevent it.
So, as Sammel stood outside the forgehouse and waited for Max to appear, he was very agitated and eager to begin. As the tradition went, they were to leave their homes and make their way for two years, and to see what became of them. If the family approved of what they had done and how they had managed, they were accepted back in as full adults of the family. Or, they could opt to tell the youth to return to his wanderings until he was ready. Or, as a last option, they could disown them, though this was exceedingly rare for anyone except the most inept of people.
Max came out of the house, looking angry. But then again, he always looked a bit miffed about something. He smiled upon seeing Sammel standing under the elm, though, leaning against the tree and flipping a large copper coin in his hand. "You got your ten?" Max asked.
"Of course. You?" Sammel replied. Pocketing his tenth-mark coin.
Max chuffed at that and patted his coin purse. "Naturally." He said. He hefted his own knapsack onto his shoulder and cinched his belt up a bit. He came up to Sammel's chest in height, and was just as broad, if not slightly more so. His short legs made keeping up with the youth difficult on short walks, but on long treks, as they planned now, his superior endurance made up for the human's longer gait.
They grinned at one another and started walking north. They had planned this leg of their journey months ago, and did not need to speak of it yet. The island they dwelt upon, Keronglee, was long and somewhat narrow, but the long direction had a lot of room in it from Sindport, where they were now, almost a hundred miles, according to the maps at the city hall.
They planned to go first to Iplestowne, and there find some light work for a few days and save up money, then move north more, working their way up the island until they reached the large city of Rendis. Rendis was where they hoped to have enough money to book passage, or better yet, working passage to another island, to be determined later.
The walk to Iplestowne was two and a half days, and they had memorized the path to there on the map. Neither had been farther out from their home than the outlying hamlets of Harrowfield and Morgan's Cross, but they were confident. There was a road after all, and the road was well-traveled.
A few younger children came to the road as they walked, and waved goodbye to the pair. Generally wishing them luck, though a few, mostly those that Max had bested in tussles, just glowered at them.
As they left town, Max said. "Well, we are of age now, and we seek our fortunes."
Sammel nodded. "It is so, my friend." He said, looking down at his lifelong companion. "You and I are going to come home rich."
Max mumbled something, but said nothing out loud. "We can hope so, for then perhaps my parents' wroth will be lessened."
Sammel had only met Max's parents a few times in their long years of association, and mainly only his father, working in the forges. His mother was elusive, staying inside their closed home, where the low ceilings and dark rooms kept most people at bay without actually telling them not to come in. He had met her once, and she looked so much like his father that he hardly could have told them apart.
They had only approved of their friendship due to the fact that there were no other dwarves within any reasonable distance of Sindport.
As they walked, they slowed to a manageable pace, and plodded along. They planned to march through the day and stop at a known camping site some fifteen miles up the road.
After the march of the day, they came, finally to that spot. A clearing in the stately elms and oaks of the wood, with a large mortared fire pit and small slabs of paved stone for tents to be erected upon. There was supposed to be a small lake nearby, as well. Travelers in the tavern had said so on many occasions. After they had made camp, Sammel said. "I'm feeling sticky and grimy with the day's walk, my friend, lets go jump in the lake."
Max regarded him with glaring eyes. "I think not, friend. Dwarves do not relish large bodies of water."
Sammel had never noticed that before. He had been so happy when spending time with Max that he never realized they had never frolicked in the ocean or streams together. "Why is that, Max?"
"We float poorly, and lack the height to keep our head above many more waters than humans." He said, glancing at the glinting lake east of the camping area with wary eyes.
"Well, then you can sit and glower while I bathe." Said Sammel, grinning.
Max's face showed discomfort at going so close to the lake but slowly nodded. "Allright." He said.
They wandered to the lake and Sammel slipped off his shirt and carefully hung it on a bush, then kicked off his low boots and placed them under the shirt. Finally he unbuckled his belt and dropped his trousers off. He was a young lad, not nearly to his full growth of body, but he was reasonably well built, with broad shoulders and very tight muscles covering his frame. He turned to Max. "Are you sure you wont..." He stopped at seeing the dwarf turn away quickly. "What's the matter, Max? Have you never seen a human naked?"
Max shook his head. "No, I haven't, and did'na wanna start now." He said.
Sammel chuckled. "Well, you can be all grimy and sweaty all you want, but I'm having a bath." He then ran and splashed into the lake. He swam about for a while, and declared it 'perfect.'
Max finally turned about and sat upon the bank of the little lake.
The lad turned to face his friend. "Max? What is the matter now? You look like you want to come in." Max tried to remove the longing look in his eyes as he looked at the blue, very cool-looking water.
"I wish I could, but my fear overrides that desire." Max said quietly. Sammel knew that even the admission of fear was a indicator of how much Max truly liked him, for a dwarf would never admit that to any one save their closest comrades.
"Come on. I swim well, I won't let you drown." Sammel said. "I can even pull your weight in water."
The dwarf shook his head and glowered. Sammel walked up out of the deeper water until he was just barely to his waist in it. "Look, we've but one tent, and I'll not have you smelling it up tonight because you won't bathe." Max was staring at him, and looked upset again. Then Sammel realized Max was staring intently at his penis, bobbing and floating on the surface of the water. "You've NEVER seen a human naked before?" He asked.
Max broke his concentration and looked up at Sammel's eyes. "No. I apologize, as I said, neve."
Sammel laughed. "Well, if we're going to spend the next two years together, I'm sure you'll see my willie a hell of a lot of times, so no need staring at it." He said. "Now get into the water."
Max stood up. "You must turn around." He said. "Dwarves aren't so comfortable being seen unclothed as humans."
Sammel said. "Whatever you wish, just so you bathe." He turned about and faced the far side of the lake. A few moments later he heard a quiet splash as Max entered the water.
A moment later, Max said. "Okay, I'm in the water, happy?" He had waded until only his head and sparse beard rose above the surface.
Sammel turned about and gaped. It is a little known fact that dwarves and humans have slightly different ranges of sight. In the area of blue-green, the color of lakewater, dwarves are near blinded, and cannot penetrate it with their vision. However, humans, having a bit more of a aquatic tendency can see through several feet of blue-green water. He looked at Max and said. "Oh by the One."
Max looked very concerned for a moment, then settled his face back into a glower. "What?" he demanded.
Sammel turned away and swam a small distance away. Then said "You've got tits!"
The dwarf panicked and ran from the water, splashing to the surface and grabbing his clothes. As he turned to pick up his trousers, Sammel realized that there was no 'he' to Max, either.
Sammel looked after his friend, then it hit him square in the head. Max's mom looked just like his dad. Dwarven women looked just like the men. He swam to the bank and quickly dressed, still dripping water, and ran to the campsite. Max was there, dressed in wet clothes as well, stuffing her gear into her rucksack.
"Max, what are you doing?" Sammel asked.
Max looked at him with angry eyes. "Packing my stuff, what's it look like to ya?"
.... There is more of this story ...