Elf-Boy and Friends
Chapter 25. Journeymen Druids
"Ah, there you are. I was wondering where you had gone off to." Owain remarked as he approached Dahl and Xebrek who were sitting in a gazebo, its airy structure overgrown with vines bearing the blue and pink blossoms of the morning glory. Not intended for outdoor dining, the gazebo was a place for conversation and relaxation out of the sun and in the breeze. The chair occupied by the stocky dwarf had its legs cut down to accommodate his proportions. Though much the same height as the dwarf, the elf-boy managed with a regular chair, thanks to proportionally longer legs.
"Why didn't you ask your bird friends to look for us?" Xebrek asked.
"As a matter of fact, that is just what I did. What is the point of druidic powers if not to make things easier for yourself?"
As a senior druid Owain was the mentor of the two journeymen druids. A diminutive strawberry blond human with sky blue eyes, he looked like a cute teenager though he was nearly two centuries old. He was dressed in the green tunic and sandals of his order.
Owain noted that the dwarf Xebrek still wore leather trews though without the usual matching vest. The elf-boy, as was his wont, was entirely naked. Indeed, as a juvenile elf he had never worn clothing, not even the briefest of loincloths, though that was about to change, very likely much to his annoyance. Level headed though he was generally, Dahl was vain about showing off the trim taut body he had so recently grown into. Nor was he bashful about displaying the manly parts from which he derived such exquisite pleasure. An exhibitionist then, if the truth were known, but then he had a lot to exhibit, though his petite physique was more about quality than about quantity.
Though they were about the same height, the dwarf carried three time the mass of the slender elf-boy on his massive big-boned frame. Strong-featured was the kindest way one could describe the squat dwarf, though a keen intelligence shone from under that beetled brow. He had a wry sense of humor, and when he smiled, his whole face lit up, belying the gruff exterior.
As for the elf-boy, lithe, preternaturally beautiful, gracile, and comely were words that hardly did justice to the raven-haired elven beauty. With his delicate features, chiseled jawline, and killer cheekbones shielding lovely green eyes, his was the sort of youthful male beauty that would take your breath away, or would make even the most committed celibate cenobite reconsider his commitment to his calling.
Or inspire jealousy among the pleasure boys on the staff of the most exclusive boy brothel in the richest city in the world. Indeed Dahl had financed his long journey across the continent partly by selling his charms. But he had nothing of the hardened rent boy about him. Blessed with the youthful longevity of the elves, he was as sweet and innocent as the fawn he so very much resembled.
"Dahlderon, Xebrek. As newly promoted journeymen druids, you will be expected to uphold the dignity of the Druidic Order. For you Dahl, I am afraid that means wearing clothing on formal occasions. I realize that juvenile elves remain nude for their first century, at which point they may take to wearing a loincloth, though many chose not to. At your young age, you're only eighteen, the touch of clothing might feel bizarre. Up to this time, perpetual nudity has not been a problem. You could prance around in the nude anywhere -- even in large cities -- without raising an eyebrow. Especially in the Commonwealth p ublic nudity is common for boys your age Nevertheless, sometimes we druids need clothing to maintain the dignity and decorum of the order."
"I am sure you understand. It might help to think of it this way. Your elevation to journeyman status marks the the end of your period of training and maturation not only as an apprentice, but also as an elf, as a transition from boy to adult. Officially you are a man from this day forward, though you still look like a lad no more than sixteen, if that much. Being nude as well would give others the wrong first impression. No one listens to someone they perceive as a bare-assed half-grown kid. Believe me I know this from experience."
"Now you have some choice as to what to wear when not in formal robes. I strongly recommend that you wear a sarong, or take one along on your journeys. You will find it to be the garment that flatters you best, clinging to your slender physique. In the back it outlines that pert rump of yours, in front, down there, it is loose enough to allow for the swing of your manly parts while preserving some modicum of modesty.
Moreover, a sarong is light weight, flexible, folds into a tiny packet, feels smooth next to the skin, comes in a variety of colors, and has a dozen other uses besides."
"Other uses? Like what?"
"A sarong can serve as a wrap for the body, a groundsheet, a canopy, a signal flag, a towel, a privacy curtain, an improvised back pack or stretcher, and even as a weapon."
"A weapon? How?"
"In a fight, use it to create a distraction. Whip it off your hips and throw it over your opponent's head. Then move in for the kill while he is disentangling himself. Or run away, if that is the better move.
"One more thing. Silk is a surprisingly good defense against arrows. Arrowheads will not penetrate silk, which just wraps around as the arrow pushes into the flesh, making it easier to draw out even if barbed. So if you must take an arrow, take it in your rump, not in your chest. Also a freely hanging sheet of silk is an effective shield against arrows. The arrow loses its momentum as soon as it hits the silk then slips and slides along as it pushes the fabric out of its way. Hard to believe but true."
"I'll do that, sir. Choose the sarong, that is."
"Fine. Plus for tactical use you should also take along the camouflage cloak you yourself charmed as a final test for your promotion to journeyman."
"Now you Xebrek, I suppose you would look best in a druidic version of your traditional trews and vest -- only green instead of that dun color you are wearing. Your maul will be your emblem of office. Our tailors can provide you with a finely-tooled black leather belt with a silver buckle and a holster for your maul to keep it handy. For you Dahl, your quarterstaff will be your emblem of your office, your credentials so to speak. If anyone doubts that a mere slip of a lad like you is really a druid, plant the end of your staff in the ground and make it sprout greenery in his face."
"How do I use my maul for that same purpose?" Xebrek asked, brow furrowed. The senior druid smiled and replied.
"You dwarves are well-known for taking the direct approach. Anyone gives you a hard time, just thump his skull with your maul. That will establish your bona fides."
They all chuckled. Later on, talking with his dwarf friend, Dahl sighed:
"Finally we are journeymen. Quite an accomplishment since neither of us is really a man, strictly speaking."
"Aye, an elf-boy and a forty-one year old Stone Mountain dwarf. We make quite a pair, don't we, Dahl?"
"What say ye we adjourn to the tavern for some celebratory refreshment."
<That includes you, Merry. We'll take an outdoor table.>
<Equines do not imbibe alcohol, as you know very well, my young friend.>
<True, but I can ask the stable hands to bring over a half-bucket of that sugar beet mash you like so much.>
"Merry has a sweet tooth," the elf-boy explained needlessly.
<Count me in then.>
"Sounds like a plan." Xebrek agreed.
So off they went to carry it out. After his second tankard of ale, Xebrek leaned back in his chair and belched contentedly.
"The thing I love about this place is that they never charge me for anything. Everything is on the house." he added expansively.
"Actually you do pay for it. The cost of whatever we consume is notationally deducted from our bank accounts."
"We have bank accounts?"
"Indeed, clerks credit our accounts with our monthly stipends or deduct for purchases. Didn't you read about all this in the recruit's handbook?"
"I skimmed it, that's all. Lot of boring stuff about organization and rules and official policies. I must have missed that part. So you're saying that they deposit money into notional bank accounts and then take the money out again. And we never see so much as a copper."
Dahl sighed. "All transactions are merely annotations on paper."
"A great system. I love it." the dwarf said sarcastically. "Er, Dahl. I don't want to come across as the mercenary of our little group, but what if we really do need some walking around money, the kind you clink together, like when we travel?"
Dahl rolled his eyes.
"I am sure any bank will let you withdraw gold or silver coin as needed anywhere we travel, armed with a letter of credit."
That answer seemed to satisfy the dwarf.
A formal ceremony and celebration for all recruits who had progressed to journeymen level followed a few days later. It also marked the end of their first year as druids. As yet four recruits were still at the apprentice level, though giving every indication of imminent advancement to the next level.
Afterwards the newly minted journeymen would be assigned an important task, a mission that the senior druids simply had not been able to turn their attention to for lack of numbers. Successful completion of three such missions would advance the journeymen to the status of senior druid.
The Druidic Council always sent their journeymen out in pairs for their first test. Each team would travel with a unicorn or a wizard seconded from the Commonwealth along to evaluate their success. For the mission Dahl and Xebrek were going on, the magical equine was not to take the lead or even volunteer much information, though he would answer questions. The journeymen might make mistakes, but they would be their own mistakes, from which they would learn. Merry would step in only if absolutely necessary. So when the three friends met at the tavern, their conversation naturally centered on speculation about their first mission. If Merry knew what was coming he did not say.
"We are sending you to Stone Mountain." Owain revealed the next day. "Trouble is brewing there, a race war. The last thing we need is a racial war breaking out, but that is what the Dark Prophet is stirring up. Your job is to maintain the peace between the races. Now across the continent, the races usually get on well. If there is a flash point it will be at Stone Mountain where dwarves and humans from the maritime republic of Brax dwell in proximity.
Xebrek, you will be in charge of dealings with your own people but, Dahl is in charge of the mission to demonstrate even-handedness. There are also small communities of elves and a few giants thereabouts, but those you can ignore."
"We are not diplomats." Dahl pointed out. "What can we say that will convince them to keep the peace?"
"That is precisely what we are sending you two to find out. If we already knew, we would tell you and them. Find some way to harmonize their interests. Show them that they would be better off working together to build a peaceful future than by taking up arms against one another."
"A mighty tall order. I am not sure how tractable my own people will be." Xebrek said.
"Then knock a few heads together till they are!" the druid replied testily.
Shaking his head, Owain apologized. "Sorry for my outburst just now. If you only knew the strain we are all under, building the barrier. Oops, forget I said that. Anyway, the seven full druids on this continent face so many challenges. When we aren't training you, we are running hither and yon putting out fires. Which is part of the Dark Prophet's strategy, I suppose, to exhaust us, maybe even catch one of us out. Alone, even a powerful druid might be overwhelmed."
For a moment, the optimistic mask the pretty blond magic wielder usually presented to the world slipped, and the duo saw how weary he was in body and in spirit. Owain struggled visibly to regain his equanimity.
"We won't let you down, sir."
"I know you will do your utmost. I have trained you the best I know how. And you two are the most level-headed duo we could have sent, regardless of Xebrek's race. We are counting on you to succeed and on you Merry to bring you back alive."
<Will do, Owain.>
Dahl spent that last night with Owain, making sweet gentle love and easing his worries. Who knew when or if they would next see each other? The older druid had challenges of his own to face, ones he could only hope he was up to. Or he might leave his sexy little body rotting on some forsaken field. What a loss that would be for their threatened planet and to Dahl personally.
That night was not their usual boisterous coupling, but it was the most emotionally satisfying tryst ever during their entire relationship. There was more stroking and petting and kissing and less acrobatics and acoustics. They slept spooned together and woke up the next day refreshed and wholly committed to the struggle against the darkness.
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