Elf-Boy and Friends
Chapter 16. The Wir
"The boys are out playing with the Molossian hounds, Aodh. Care to join them?"
The young wir was in panther form stretched out on the bearskin rug, with Esmeralda snuggled up close. Disinclined to disturb her snooze, he shook his head then gave his feline friend a companionable lick from head to tail.
The wir and the Klarendes trio had been back in the valley for four ten-days and everyone was settling in to the new arrangement. The "boys" as they were always called collectively at the manor, respected their father's choice of partner. If the two shared a bed, who could fault them? Anyone could see that this was a love match between two males who expressed their feelings physically. The boys did give thanks for the manor's thick walls, deeming it not really proper for offspring to hear sounds of lusty sexual congress emanating from the bed chamber of a parent.
Aodh and Klarendes' boys got on famously. The three were near in age, all with exuberant personalities, very physical and athletic in their pursuits, and remarkably good natured with a keen sense of humor. And like the minstrel, the boys had little use for clothing while at home in the valley. That was for going to town. Really why would anyone so cute and sexy as themselves want to cover up in the first place?
And in coming years, when courting time rolled around, as it inevitably would, there would be no surprises for the local females who would have had a multitude of occasions to see potential mates in the nude, training or working or just rough housing around. In short, casual public nudity was a fine way for a youngster to display the robust good health requisite for a successful match.
Whatever their differences with Aodh, they "boys" did agree on that much. They thought nothing of working in the kitchen garden, kneeling on the ground, brown cheeks resting on bare feet, lithe torsos bent over, ribs and spinal bumps prominent, genitals dangling between slender thighs as, trowel or hoe in hand, they worked at their humble tasks.
Both boys helped the cooks in the herb and kitchen gardens. Artor was proud of his celery though its cultivation was tiresome. To blanch the stalks celery was planted in deep trenches then earth was mounded against the stems. Everyone agreed that Artor grew the crispest stalks around. Eborn gave special attention to his favorites, radishes and scallions. Klarendes and Artor tolerated his dietary foibles, drawing the line only at lima beans. The count sometimes wished for the powers of the old aristocracy, so he could banish that vile tasting vegetable from the entire valley. Just the smell of lima beans from someone's kitchen would turn his stomach. In his estimation whoever originally domesticated the lima bean had a lot to answer for.
Of course there was that one essential difference among the three young males at the manor house. Klarendes' sons liked girls and only girls. Oh they knew that some males were attracted to those of the same sex. They could appreciate youthful male beauty, though only in aesthetic terms. Artor and Eborn had no problem with casual public nudity and regularly joined Aodh's martial arts classes with other nude youths. But the bare bodies of boys did nothing for them sexually. There was just no "spark".
As Artor admitted one day to Aodh:
"You have been just great for my father and have made him very happy. And anyone with eyes can see how terrifically cute you are, so don't take this the wrong way, my friend, but … I just don't get it. For the life of me I cannot understand all the fuss made over pretty boys, yourself included. No offense."
"None taken, Artor." he smiled" After all, if males didn't mostly fancy females, the world would come to an end in three generations. Which is why, in the fullness of time, you will go on to create your own 'heir and a spare'. And yet some males do like only boys, while others seek out those of both genders."
"So Aodh, I don't expect you ever bedded a girl, have you?"
"Actually I have. Three of them. At one go, in fact."
"Did you really?"
Aodh went on to explain how his people would not let him go off on his mission until he had taken steps to preserve his wir bloodline.
"So how was it for you?"
Aodh made a face. "I got through it. That's the best I can say for the experience."
That set Artor to laughing.
"Three girls at a time, a teenage boy's wet dream, and you make a sour face!"
"At least you cannot say that I don't know what I am missing."
"Ouch! Point taken, but I can hardly experiment with my father's lover, now can I"
"No, but what about the other boys? I am sure Arik would be glad to volunteer."
"Don't remind me. Arik has been panting after me the past couple of years. When he gets me pinned in wrestling, my rump pressed to his groin, he sometimes wriggles against me. Of course it is all in fun; he would never force me nor anyone else for that matter. He's a decent guy under all that macho assertiveness."
"Yes. I quickly realized that myself. I was wrong at first to think he might be a bully."
"So, if it's all right with you, I'll go my way, you go yours, and neither tries to convert the other.
"Fine. This is one area where we must agree to disagree without being disagreeable, Agreed?"
Aodh, Artor, and Eborn were all quick of wit and as formally schooled as their societies deemed necessary. The Commonwealth expected its citizens to understand and appreciate the world around them. That meant reading, writing, basic maths, geography, and the outline of history and natural philosophy.
Much as the three enjoyed reading serious books as well as lighter fare, none of them had any interest in further formal schooling. Indeed very few persons in that day and age went on for study beyond age fourteen. At which time the system of free but not compulsory schooling ended anyway.
Their society had few occupations that required professional training, and not all of that was done in classrooms. The armed forces' own academies supplied civil engineers and regular military officers. Attorneys read law under an established practitioner, in a form of apprenticeship. As yet the flourishing mechanical arts had not become professionalized. Manufactories had to hire un-credentialed and self-taught tinkerers, inventors, and designers to build machine tools and production lines, their only credentials being their results. Factories did provide hands-on training for machine operators and mechanics.
Would be healers studied theoretical and practical medical care at teaching hospices at no cost, though they had to demonstrate the magical gift for healing. Priests enrolled at the greater temples of their cult. Paying for it was your own problem though bursaries were available from a variety of sources.
And since most of those who married held off till their mid-twenties, that left the best years of their lives for young people to explore their options (and not so incidentally to sow some wild oats). Some boys shopped around, trying out different lines of work. Some sought their fortunes in the big cities. Some went into the armed forces which were glad to have a steady supply of unmarried recruits. Many apprenticed out, saving most of their wages, looking forward to the day they could start their own businesses or households. About the only thing was not tolerated was sitting on your duff doing nothing. Their society prized industriousness and expected everyone who was able to contribute to the functioning of that society. They had no tolerance for a class of idlers made up of over-schooled young men and women with too much time on their hands and nothing to do but to get into mischief.
For his part, Aodh quickly became popular for his role in training the young men in hand to hand combat and for his talent as a teacher. He showed the youngsters in the village school that maths could not only be interesting but actually fun. He introduced mathematical recreations and games and competitions to the stodgy curriculum. His maths students were soon taking up their slates with genuine enthusiasm. The minstrel also entertained in the taverns, drawing on the considerable repertoire he had picked up in his travels. Any coppers or silvers he collected went into the village welfare fund.
Aodh won the hearts of the entire village when he saved a young boy from a dire wolf, though it very nearly cost him his life. The six year old had skipped off to pick huckleberries but went a little too far into the forest. Suddenly the lost child came face-to-face with a near-grown dire wolf. The last of the cubs from the litter Klarendes had destroyed months earlier, it had escaped out a back exit when Klarendes had fired the den. The little boy reached temporary refuge up a tree. But he was too far away for his cries for help to be heard. The wily dire wolf waited patiently, knowing that sooner or later thirst would force the the child to climb down.
Aodh joined the search, traveling in panther form where others could not easily pass, crawling on his belly under thorn brakes or slipping between jumbled boulders, or taking to the trees for a better vantage point. He found the lost child just as it had climbed back down to earth, driven by thirst to find water. The sly dire wolf had retreated into the bushes just far enough to fool the boy into thinking he was gone. Thee great beast had emerged from hiding and now slunk toward its helpless prey, jaws slavering in anticipation of a feast of human flesh.
Aodh did not hesitate but threw himself between the dire wolf and its intended victim. Quick on the uptake, the boy recognized that the black panther couldn't be anything but the count's wir boyfriend. Even at six he knew their valley was not panther country. When Aodh pointed a paw toward a game trail, the boy understood, by that very human gesture, that the wir wanted him to follow the trail and get away, maybe even bring the help that Aodh was likely to need. The sleek panther was clearly outclassed by the huge dire-wolf.
Satisfied that the boy was out of immediate danger, the wir-panther turned his full attention on his foe. Aodh chose not to receive the dire wolf's charge but took the initiative and attacked the creature. With a swipe with his front claws Aodh took out the dire wolf's right eye. From that point on the panther kept trying to attack from his foe's blind side.
Theirs was a hard-fought struggle to the death, with no-quarter-given. The dire wolf was larger and much stronger than the panther and had a powerful bite that could shear through fur and flesh and bone. The panther had the advantages of speed, agility, fangs and sharp claws on all four paws, and perhaps just as important, combat experience. This was not his first duel to the death, not by any means.
The fight went on for some time. For the dire wolf, it was more than a fight over stolen prey. This was a grudge match. He had caught the scent of Klarendes and his Molossian hounds on his foe, the very creatures who had wiped out his litter mates and parents.
Meanwhile the lost boy met a search party a ways down the trail and pointed them back to the scene of the action. The noise of the death struggle of the two antagonists guided the villagers to the spot. They arrived in time to see the black panther with his fangs locked on the dire wolf's throat, holding on till it stirred no more. The dire-wolf's innards glistened in the sun. Aodh's rear claws had disemboweled the beast.
Nevertheless, with their blood up, the searchers made sure the evil creature was dead. Boar spears stabbed down time and again as the men growled "Die, Foul Beast, Die!". One villager used his axe to behead it. Another skinned it. The men then burnt the carcass on a fiery pyre constructed of fallen timber atop a rocky outcrop nearby.
Meanwhile other rescuers had taken Aodh into their care. His panther form was covered with blood, much of it his own. The flesh was torn in a dozen places, and one ear hung loose. Near death and too weak from loss of blood to transform, Aodh was carried on a litter back to the village infirmary.
There the healer invoked her magic to stop the bleeding, block infection, and to keep the wir from going into shock, but she was unable to fully suppress his pain or to mend his wounds. That were limits on what she could do for a panther. Her magic worked best on humans. The healer sewed and bound Aodh's hurts and reattached the almost severed right ear. The nobleman and the healer took turns nursing him through terrible pain for days and tending his other needs, sometimes spelled by the Klarendes boys.
Meanwhile, relays of mothers from the village knelt in prayer below his window. No one cared about which god his neighbor prayed to. If there truly were benign gods up there in the heavens, surely they would listen to an honest prayer, no matter to whom it was addressed, a prayer offered in behalf of a brave youth who had risked his life to save a child.
A despondent Esmeralda kept vigil at the foot of Aodh's sickbed, saddened that she could do so little for her wounded friend. Several times she approached Aodh to lick his wounds, trying to help them heal. That is just what she had always done for her own hurts or for her kittens. Klarendes was touched.
"I know how you feel, Esmeralda. I feel so useless, unable to help our boy. It seems that there is little we can do now for our friend but to let nature take its course."
The ginger cat seemed to understand him or maybe she just knew that the man needed consolation. She clambered over and settled onto his lap, staying there for the longest while before resuming her vigil at the foot of Aodh's bed.
After eight days the minstrel opened his eyes and looked around confused. The healer explained his situation and that she had done all she could for him in panther form. Now it was his turn. He must try to invoke his magic and transform back to human. Aodh nodded then concentrated. It took longer than usual to get back to his human form, and his wounds were only partially healed, but that was good enough. Able at last to work her healing magic on a human body the healer unleashed the pent up power she had been accumulating for days. A glowing nimbus surrounded them both as she completed Aodh's healing. In moments the now human boy was fully healed, though utterly exhausted and very hungry. It would be some days before he regained his strength, but soon he was up and about.
The village held a festival to celebrate both the rescue and the count's civil union with Aodh, for Taitos had decided to take Aodh as his spouse. Their legal bond in no way infringed on the rights of the count's biological sons but did ensure that, as a member of his family, Aodh would be provided for in the event of the count's demise.
The festival expenses were shared by the village council and the count. For the special occasion Aodh wore a sarong purchased from a shop in Dalnot. It was the first time anyone in the valley had seen him in clothing. Atop his head he bore a sort of crown or headdress woven from white flowers with a matching floral bracelet on his left wrist. Their scent was sweet but subtle, in keeping with the boy's tastes.
First there were speeches. The rescued boy spoke a few words and was presented with a rug made from the hide of the dire wolf. Happy applause. The head of the village council made another speech, not short at all. Polite applause. The count made a very short speech, which won enthusiastic applause. Finally Aodh made a speech which received wild applause though he didn't really say very much, but then he could have recited the alphabet and gotten the same clamorous approbation.
Then came the brief civil ceremony where the two lovers pledged themselves to each other. Simple and dignified, it brought tears to the eyes of all who watched. Next came the feast.
Prime victuals were laid out on trestle tables. The taverns around the village green opened their shutters to better pass mugs of free brew to the thirsty crowd. Servers also circulated through the crowd with trays of food and drink.
Next there was dancing. For a dance floor they used the threshing floor, an open air expanse of paving stone next to the village green, with music provided by the town band. At first it was just the two of them as Klarendes whirled Aodh around to a lively number. Then Klarendes waved to the crowd and it was everyone's turn to crowd onto the paving stones and dance and dance and dance.
During a break from the feasting and the dancing, the villagers gathered around a pile of wood stacked for a bonfire. With a flourish, the count set the wood aflame, the initial whoosh sending sparks high into the air. Combining alchemy with his magical gift, the count threw powders of mineral salts into the fire that turned the flames first green, then blue, then bright violet. The best part came when the flames returned to their normal hue. That was when Klarendes really showed his mastery of fire.
Invoking his magical gift, the count morphed the flames into a pantomime depicting the boy's rescue. His characters were half-sized, rendered in three dimensions, and instantly recognizable,. First was the little lost boy himself, looking visibly forlorn with shoulders slumped. Next the vile dire wolf whose appearance brought hisses from the onlookers. Next the panther sprang between the wolf and the boy and sent him running off to safety. Then the two flame beasts reenacted their savage fight, leaving the victorious panther prostrate from his wounds. The pantomime skipped the boy's convalescence, instead showing him and the count in a warm embrace. Finally the couple made of flames reenacted the dance the flesh and blood couple had just performed on the paving stones.
From then on, as the village hero, Aodh could do no wrong. The cooks pretended not to notice when he filched late night snacks for himself and to share with his faithful friend Esmeralda. And so what if he occasionally dozed an extra hour in the morning instead of bouncing out of bed bright eyed and bushy tailed. Level-headed boy that he was, Aodh never abused his privileges.
All the children loved him. Even in panther form they were never afraid of him To them, he was just a big old kitty cat. In whatever form, he was their friend and their protector. Their parents looked on indulgently while he played horsey for their toddlers. Everyone agreed that the young minstrel was the best thing to happen to the valley in a very long time.
Everyone included Klarendes, who was so relieved that his young lover was back with him, hale and hearty, with his health and beauty intact, not to mention ready, willing, and able to join him in bed. Their first night back together, their lovemaking was tender and sweet and gentle, less about sexual attraction and physical release than about sharing themselves, their love, and their happiness over Aodh's virtual resurrection. The following nights they were back to exciting, lusty, and noisy sex. Good thing for those solid walls.
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