Elf-Boy and Friends
Chapter 7. Across the Plains
One evening as he sat around their campfire, Karel jotted down an account of the largely uneventful day in the journal he was keeping "for posterity" as he put it. Shaking his head, he grumbled for the umpteenth time:
"I still don't understand how a name like a "Eh" can be spelled A-O-D-H. That is so wrong; it offends my sense of order, every time I write it down."
<If strange spelling is the worst that befalls you on our mission, count yourself lucky, young Karel.>
Aodh ignored the blond twink's by-now familiar complaint. Was it his fault that the orthography of his native tongue was not phonetic? At least the young human had stopped trying to correct the young wir's use of the 'v' sound in naming his own people, the wirs.
Besides, Aodh was enjoying himself just then, snuggled in Balan's lap, left side against his broad chest, as the giant stroked and petted him, running his big hands along the chevron of the boy's ribs, fingering the sharp hip bones, sliding down the smooth skin of his thighs then back up to fondle his buttocks. The cat in Aodh loved the attention and the petting. His supple body was meant to be touched and stroked.
Even in human form, Aodh could purr softly when contented, as after sex or a good meal. It was one of his most endearing characteristics. In panther form, he would curl up next to the campfire, the very picture of a kitty cat at a hearth, as he listened to the conversation.
Aodh and Balan were something more than casual lovers. The giant had grown attached to his new boyfriend. The wir youth was just right for him: short and slight of stature -- even petite, a physique some might call skinny but which Balan preferred to call fine-boned, svelte and sleek. With his delicate features Aodh was cute as a button, soft and cuddly but wild and wanton and loud when aroused. Like any young feline, the wir-boy was frisky, playful, and delightfully naughty. Just now he was content to suck on the finger the giant had slid between his lips, working it as if it were a teat or a cock, a promise of things to come.
Balan toyed with the boy's ball sac, rolling the small spheres between his fingers squeezing suddenly as he made his point:
"I've been meaning to ask you, little one. Your face and skin are even smoother than the elf-boy's, and you are even shorter than the elf-boy. There is no sign you will ever sprout a beard or body hair. Is something wrong. Aren't these spheres working properly?"
Aodh winced slightly more from the question than the minor pain. Patiently he explained that his people were naturally smooth skin and that as a wir he had long since suppressed the growth of all hair in his human form except where he wanted it: on top of his head, eyebrows, and eyelashes. That was it.
"And before you ask why I always smell sweet not matter how much I perspire in this heat, the answer is much the same. Humans have two kinds of sweat glands. Most exude only perspiration to cool the body. That is the only kind I have. The other kind causes body odor by excreting oils that turn rancid in a day or two. Which is the last thing a predator needs when stalking prey, a distinctive spoor."
Aodh and Dahl were the only two boys alive who could actually take all of the giant's virile member. You would think it would be too much for a little guy like him, and so it would be if he were human. As a wir, Aodh could morph his innards, lengthening the rectum to accept even a monster cock like Balan's. He fit himself around a cock like a velvet glove, only moist and warm. With his instinctive awareness and control of his musculature, Aodh had absolute control over his sphincters. Rings of muscles ordinarily employed to push out simply reversed their action to pull a cock inward, to squeeze and massage and milk it to climax. So Balan never had to worry about thrusting too far or too hard. This boy could take it all and ask for more.
That said, Balan did have to be careful with his size and weight so as not to smother the minstrel or crush him. Very often Balan lay supine and let Aodh straddle his hips and sink onto his shaft, then rise and fall, internally stroking his lover to orgasm. Or Balan would have the boy sit in his lap, facing away,feet braced on the floor to control the action. He also liked to sit the boy facing him, lifting Aodh bodily to work his cock in and out of the boy's ass. Most of all Aodh loved to get fucked on all fours. Half quadruped that he was, he readily sank to knees and elbows and wiggled his butt at the entranced giant, the very picture of a cat in heat.
And if the others watched their foreplay, well Aodh wasn't the shy sort, was he? It wasn't as if the others weren't all intimately acquainted with his body, with the exception of the unicorn, who was too much the equine to tolerate the touch of a cat.
Aodh was willing enough to take his place in the rent boy rotation, but had insisted on a new deal. From now on all of them would take coin as well as room and board in recompense. As a result, the common purse Balan carried for them was bulging. Balan did set aside Aodh's earnings as a minstrel. In solidarity with the other youths in the group he now always performed in the rude nude, having retired his only garment, the sarong.
"So what happens when we run into these nomads you spoke of, Merry?" Karel asked.
<I am a unicorn, so they will greet me with open arms. You two-legs will be lucky if you don't wind up roasting on a spit.>
"Very funny, Merry, but seriously."
<Usually they levy a modest toll on travelers who cross their lands. A couple of silvers apiece. For each tribe, of course. So passage all the way across might cost us ten or twelve silvers. For that we get not only unhindered passage but also their hospitality meaning food, drink, and the safety of the camp.>
"They weren't always so accommodating. In ages past they lived by raiding as much as by their herds and flocks."
<That was before the towns we passed through on the Trade Road put up wooden palisades and trained militias to defend themselves, making raids unprofitable. The nomads finally settled down into fixed territories after the armies of the Commonwealth of the Long River made it clear that they would no longer tolerate raids and tribal warfare.>
"Hmmn," Balan began. "Nomads are not vegetarians. Their diet is big on meat and dairy. Would that be a problem for you Dahl? You are pretty much a vegetarian."
"Not entirely. I eat fish and eggs and cheese too. Besides, if worst comes to worst I can always boil up some of Merry's oats."
"Seriously Balan, I like cheese and even that koumiss of theirs."
"What's koumiss?" inquired Aodh.
"Fermented mare's milk."
"And here I thought all kitty cats just loved milk!"
Aodh gave Dahl a supercilious look by way of reply.
"Would they sell us mounts or a pack animal?" Jemsen wondered. Now that we are off the trade road, we cannot put up for the night at inns or buy meals at taverns. So we will have to load up on supplies and equipment."
Balan answered him indirectly.
"All we need is a single pony to carry our supplies. No mounts though. We should all stay on foot. I am too big for a horse, Merry already has four legs, and Aodh can always switch to all fours, if need be."
"Leaving the rest of us dragging behind, eating everyone's dust!" Karel complained.
"Think of it as strolling down the trail we will have broken for you. Besides, none of you kids has any experience mounted. Your longbows and staves are of no use from horseback. And look how our march along the trade road has toughened you, doubling your stamina, which you need to keep up. Also a group on foot can take cover more easily and leaves much less of a trail."
"I have to stay on foot, regardless." Aodh added. "Horses can't abide a wir. Even when I travel with a caravan I toss my pack into a cart and walk alongside."
The country wasn't all grassy plains by any means. Scraggly trees lined the swales, brush and thorn bushes formed thickets. Patches of scrubby forest sprang up at the base of rocky outcrops to take advantage of the runoff. So there was wood for a camp fire. All the more since, on the plains, the tribes did not burn wood. They were leery of open fires, cooking the meals with solar heat on folding stoves and broilers.
All the while weapons training continued under Balan's watchful tutelage. These days the kids could give a much better account of themselves, relying of speed and agility to counter the giant's unbeatable strength. They also learned simple unit tactics such as the hasty ambush, the deliberate ambush, and defense of the camp, and how to stand watch inconspicuously and to preserve their night vision.
One sunny afternoon they crossed the trail of one of the nomad tribes and followed it for a couple of hours. Just before the trail reached the nomad camp it led past a reedy pond where a half-dozen youths riding both bare back and bare ass were just then easing their ponies into water up to their bellies. Sliding off their mounts, the boys scrubbed and brushed their animals, then left them to graze as the boys swam and wrestled and dunked each other, all accompanied by much laughter, loud talk, and a good deal of totally unnecessary splashing and grab ass. But then such is the way of young males. And as long as they got their chores done, the elders did not care that they made a game of it.
The scene brought smiles to the faces of the travelers. The frolicking boys were completely at ease riding around buck naked, but then, that was how one bathed ponies and horses the world over, whether it was by stable boys, young cavalrymen, or apprentice teamsters. The mounts didn't wear clothes to the bath, why should the boys? Of course, for any extended riding, the boys slipped into trews to prevent chaffing. In the tropical heat, no one wore anything above the waist except for wide-brimmed straw hats.
"Balan," Dahl asked, "I saw some of those boys pair off for a shag among the reeds. I take it then the nomads have no problem with same gender relationships?"
"Yes and no. Youthful exploration is expected among them, but they don't encourage boys to pair off permanently. Their technology and way of living requires the labor of both males and females in a household. There is simply too much work, too many different tasks for boys alone. So most males do marry, their wives ignoring occasional outside attachments with other males."
At the encampment, horse traders were happy to sell the travelers a pony to carry their packs, foodstuffs, oats for Merry, Aodh's mandolin, and even the twins' quarterstaffs so they could run unencumbered. Dahl kept his staff and the twins their bows and quivers. When they asked Aodh why he didn't carry a weapon, the wir smiled slyly, held up his left hand, and let it morph into the paw of a cat, claws fully extended.
"My weapons are always to hand. I am also expert in two styles of martial arts, so I can fight effectively unarmed in human form without having to change to a panther. Also, as a lefty, I baffle most opponents with my stance and defensive moves. Don't worry, either way I can hold my own in a scrape."
As for Dahl, his strength and speed had been magically doubled through his couplings with the unicorn. That would catch an opponent by surprise. And with Balan's training, his quarterstaff had become as effective a weapon as any spear, sword, knife, or axe.
"Oh, oh", Jemsen said one afternoon while they were on the march. "I don't like the looks of that," he added, pointing to a bird high in the sky, a raven by the look of it, circling their position.
"I think our old enemy is spying on us again."
<Will he send more Trackers, do you think, Balan?>
"No, not this time. More likely those dark riders the nomads mentioned."
It seemed a troop of mounted soldiers had been seen crisscrossing the grasslands. Forty strong and well-armed and protected by boiled leather armor, they kept to themselves, going about their business, neither molesting the nomads nor seeking anything from them but also arrogantly refusing to pay for passage across tribal lands. The nomads avoided a confrontation giving the mysterious riders a wide berth. No tribe dared charge them for passage. No point risking casualties for a few silvers. The only good news was that the centaurs were also nowhere around, the climate being too hot for their bodies and alien metabolism.
By the next morning it was clear that the raven had vectored the riders towards the travelers. The riders themselves had done their best to remain inconspicuous while drawing closer to their prey, but Dahl's preternaturally keen eyesight spotted their formation as it crested a ridge line a league to the west. That was fairly close for cavalry in pursuit of foes on foot. Things looked bad. Dahl and his friends had no hope of getting away. Better to find defensible ground and ambush the riders, bleeding them enough to discourage pursuit.
They forged ahead looking for a place to make a stand. Balan finally picked a place for their ambush, half a league so beyond a place that actually looked even better.
"Why didn't we set up back where the track ran through those big rocks? It looked like it was perfect for an ambush." Dahl asked.
"Yes, that was the problem. It was too perfect. That sprawl of boulders had ambush written all over it. Our enemy would have approached with caution, sending flankers or kept a reaction force back from the main body. As it is, in their arrogance, they will see no threat here. They will advance in a single body, no scouts forward nor flankers to the side. So this is where we will face them. They should arrive just before sunset."
Balan had chosen ground where the track wound through a patch of thorn forest. The trees were spaced enough apart to allay suspicion, but they would still restrict the mobility of cavalry. The twins were stationed beyond the trees, on either side of the track. At the right moment they would rise from concealment in the tall grass and loose their arrows at the front riders or better their mounts, bringing them down. With any luck, those cantering behind would crash into the downed horses and riders, creating a chaos of broken limbs, screams, and dead or crippled horses and riders. That would bring the entire troop to a halt in a confused muddle, depriving the riders of the shock effect that a cavalry charge derives from its forward momentum. With the rest of the riders milling around, unsure of what was going on, Balan and Dahl would wade in for close combat, going for their commander, with the twins moving up with their staves in support.
Merry would watch the backs of the others, using mind speech to shout warnings and to coordinate the various attacks, and would act as a reserve force ready to intervene as required. Meanwhile Aodh in his panther form would attack their baggage train, slashing water bags open, clawing the bellies of their pack animals, roaring and screeching, scattering them in panic. The big cat would then join the others in the melee, stalking soldiers in the dark. Mindful of their weapons and armor, he would pounce from concealment, slashing their eyes to blind them or clawing at their groins.
A cruel way to fight, yes, even a vicious one. But as the wir-boy had said, felines have a cruel streak in them. And his tactics were a good way to take the heart out of a foe.
The ambush went even better than expected.
The twins were magnificent, blond godlings standing shoulder to shoulder, blocking the way, shooting arrow after arrow into the bunched-up riders. Exhausting their quivers, the twins abandoned archery and advanced with their staves while Balan and Dahl waded in from one side. A sweep from the giant's sword took the head of the captain of the riders. Dahl downed their sergeant, first unhorsing him with his staff then scrambling the soldier's brains with a nasty whack to the head. Balan raised his war cry and laid about enthusiastically, cutting off arms and legs with gusto. Dahl saved his breath and energy, relying on his nimbleness to keep from being trampled even as he unseated riders and made horses rear up and dump their riders.
At the first alarm, three of the riders, had called light. Three balls of blue-white light sprang into existence, ten feet above each of their heads. Now one light or even two would have been useful. Three was really too many, creating confusion as multiple shadows ghosted across the battleground, shifting position with every movement of their riders. Though it was one of their magical gifts, neither Balan nor Merry called light during the attack. No point giving the enemy a better look at him or at his allies fighting in the shadows.
At one point the unicorn single-handedly headed off a breakout by three riders, rearing up and neighing, intimidating their horses to a stiff-legged halt. A few moments later, he made his only personal kills of the night, driving his horn into the back of a big soldier who had knocked the elf-boy onto his butt then kicking out at another soldier on foot. All told a dozen riders were killed or left dying plus several others severely wounded.
The good guys did not get through unscathed. In areas not protected by his leather armor Balan added new scars to his collection. The twins and Dahl had scratches aplenty from thorns. Jemsen sported a nasty bruise on his left leg where a horse had kicked him, and Dahl had his scalp laid open by a blade while mixing it up too close with one of the soldiers. That wound required stitches courtesy of Balan and a follow-up visit to a healer with the next tribe.
Aodh's wounds would have been serious for any of the others: a sword slash parted tendons in his left leg and a solid kick from a pain-maddened pack horse broke two ribs, but his innate magic came to his rescue. After consuming the haunch of a dead horse for its nutrients and energy, he healed when he magically transformed from panther to human. The bleeding stopped, his wounds closed up, and the torn flesh knit. For those reasons, Aodh was the last to reach the rally point, his belly suspiciously full, raising eyebrows.
"Just horse meat," he volunteered to head off lurid speculation. "I don't eat anything with two legs that doesn't have feathers."
With a mischievous smile he added: "So don't any of you take me literally if in pillow talk I say that I find you delectable!"
As for the enemy. After the attack, confused, angry and frightened, their supply train run off, the dark riders were in no position to keep the heroes from escaping into the night. With nearly half their number out of action, the soldiers were suddenly vulnerable to the tribes. They had no choice but to withdraw from the grasslands. Word of the ambush spread. The grateful tribes now provided the travelers hospitality without the customary toll, glad to see the back of the dark riders of ill-fame.
Karel had plenty to write about in his journal the next day. He gave due credit to the grown ups, Balan and Merry, but did not hide how very proud he was of the part played by the younger set. The twinks had come a long way since that first fight with the Trackers. As hunters, the twins were no stranger to bloodshed, though these were their first human kills. With his predatory heritage, Aodh had no trouble with his conscience. Indeed he would not have been chosen and sent out on his scout if he had not already demonstrated his willingness to take life at need. That left Dahl, a boy with a gentle soul and practically a vegetarian. What troubled Dahl was not that he had killed but that they had forced him to do it. For that he blamed the evil forces that had sent its agents against him and his friends.
A few evenings later found Karel updating his journal again, this time scribbling about nothing more consequential that their unfortunate encounter with a swath of sword grass that blocked their advance. They had tried to push through, but had retreated rapidly, blood oozing from dozens of shallow cuts on chest, limbs, and even their manly parts. It was not just the shape of its blades that gave sword grass its name. The blades were sharp enough to cut human skin, their edges keen from embedded grains of sand the plants took up to discourage herbivores. Elven herb lore soon provided a salve to soothe their hurts.
The next day's journal recorded a scary event. It seems the twins doubted Dahl's weather prognostication after breakfast when he had predicted rain would fall at long last on the parched plains. At mid-afternoon without a cloud in sight ahead of them, Karel turned to Dahl and said with a smirk:
"So much for your vaunted elven weather sense, Dahl. Didn't you tell us that a big storm was headed our way. Well just look at that: Blue Sky!"
The words were no sooner out of his mouth then: KABOOM!
A terrific peal of thunder sounded from above. They all turned and looked up at the sky, horrified to see that a rain front had rolled in from the west behind them. From one horizon to another the sky was a roiling mass of black clouds punctuated with flashes of lightning. Its powerful gust front nearly knocked them off their feet. A second thunder clap was the signal for a deluge. Rain came down in sheets; in an instant they were drenched to the skin. Not much of an inconvenience really since they were buck naked anyway, but this rain was cold.
Lightning bolts struck all around. They knew better than to lie down flat. Instead they crouched, keeping as low as possible while minimizing contact with the earth. Arms pressed tight, teeth chattering, shivering from fear and the cold rain, they flinched at each bolt and clap of thunder. To add to their misery, hail the size of pigeon's eggs fell on them, stinging and bruising their unprotected hides.
It was Balan and Merry to the rescue. Balan threw his cloak over the twins and covered the minstrel's head with his buckler. Merry sheltered the minstrel with his own massive body. The two leaders steadied the boys with their calm demeanor and reassuring words. As quick as it started, the storm was over. The sun came from behind the clouds and warmed the relieved travelers. Karel spoke for them all:
"Thanks, Balan and Merry. You were our saviors. Sorry friends. This was all my fault. Me and my big mouth!"
He was relieved when Dahl hugged him; then both boys joined the others in nervous laughter.
The next afternoon, as the company strode along, Dahl sidled up to Aodh and said.
"I have been meaning to ask. Why are you so pale instead of sporting an overall tan like the rest of us naked twinks?"
"I cannot really say. It's just the way we are, my people I mean, not just the wirs among us. We neither tan nor sunburn. That said, I am partial to golden boys like you and our blond friends," punctuating his remarks with a gentle kiss. "And this evening, I will show you all just how partial I am."
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