Elf-Boy and Friends
Chapter 26. Journey to Stone Mountain
The first stage of their long journey to the far side of the continent wasn't difficult. The young druids had both trained to ride and had become reasonably good at it. The druids made good time atop a pair of tractable bay mares on the same road Dahl had traveled more than a year earlier. Merry kept up easily. This time, they stopped at the inns which had reopened since raiding had ended after the defeat of the barbarians at the Battle of the Great Entrapment.
As they approached the town of Dalnot, the chief army base on the plains, Dahl reviewed their prospects. At the very least, he hoped to recruit the human twins Jemsen and Karel, with whom he had shared many adventures. Maybe this new kid, Ran as well, an elf-boy who could handle himself, he had been told. As the home base for the army's civilian scouts, Dalnot was the place to look for them.
Also on the agenda was a detour to Elysion though really just to visit friends. There wasn't much chance that Aodh would abandon Klarendes and go haring off to parts unknown. And Klarendes' responsibilities would keep him at home, or at least close by Elysion. No hope for Balan either. No one but Merry could reach him with mind speech, and either Balan wasn't telling or Merry wasn't saying. Maybe both. Besides, stout-hearted Balandur was too much the take-charge type to follow the elf-boy's lead. The two journeymen druids had to meet this challenge themselves.
After taking rooms in Dalnot, Dahl left Xebrek with Merry and their equipment and went over to the barracks where the scouts stayed when in town. There he came upon a pretty little elf-boy at work sharpening three kukris, working with two small blades rather than a whetstone and strop to hone them sharp enough to shave with. Unselfconsciously nude like all young elves, he was like no elf-boy Dahl had ever seen, with his dark blond hair and sky blue eyes.
"You must be Ran." Dahl ventured.
The youth so addressed stopped what he was doing and smiled.
"Oh. What makes you think so?"
"Well for one thing, there are not many blond elf-boys on the whole planet. And these are the barracks assigned to Jemsen and Karel. I just put two and two together. Let me introduce myself. I'm… "
"Wait! Don't tell me. It so happens that I am pretty good at putting two and two together myself. Hmm, I see before me a raven haired elf-boy, impossibly pretty, a veritable vision of youthful male pulchritude, nearly a match for myself in comeliness, if that were possible, who is just my height, knows my name, and has come to these very barracks. That would make you the twins' good friend Dahlderon, the apprentice druid."
"Right the first time, though I am now a journeyman druid. Listen Ran, are the twins around?" hurriedly adding:
"They are not away on some mission, are they? I mean, if they are, maybe I could talk with, er… " pulling out a scrap of paper, he glanced at it and continued, "Sergeant Borden or Chief of Scouts, Wroclaw, is it?" pronouncing the name phonetically, provoking a wince from the blond elf-boy.
"Actually it's pronounced Vrot-swaf."
"Oh, he's not here either, the young minstrel, I mean." Ran quipped, playing on the pronunciation of the wir boy's name which was pronounced just that way.
"Right again!" Dahl chuckled, taking an instant liking to his interlocutor and his verbal games.
"Anyway, you can relax. The twins are around. They went for a run and a swim while I was working on our gear. Have to keep these blades sharp. You never know when we might be called out. Actually Jemsen and Karel should be back anytime now. Hey look, here they come now."
And indeed, seeing Dahl the twins hurried their pace, their naked bodies glistening in the sunlight, sun bronzed skins still glistening from their swim. They were of medium height, lithe and boyishly handsome. With their slight builds, slender physiques, and delicate fine-boned features, the twins might have been taken for elves themselves. They certainly had the cheekbones for it if not the pointed ears. At nineteen they were less than a year older than Dahl and were very blond. While Ran's shade was dark blond, the twins had hair so light it was nearly white. Some called the color cornsilk.
The twins' greeting was as warm as Dahl hoped it would be. Time and distance had not loosened the bond of affection forged in adversity and based on mutual respect, shared experience, and the strong romantic feelings they all had for one another.
"But Dahl, you wrote that you were now a journeyman druid. Yet here you are, still in the rude nude, just like us nobodies. Shouldn't you be wearing a full-length star-spangled robe with a pointy hat and brandishing an ebony staff topped with a ruby the size of goose egg so you can call lightnings down from the sky?"
"Very funny. That is the stereotype for war wizards, but from what Balan has told Merry who told me, war wizards really dress inconspicuously in plain soldier's garb and without insignia. They don't want to make themselves a target for arrows or enemy wizards. And they use no staff or magic wand or any instrument other than their hands. Anyway their gestures are just for dramatic effect. Now what you have called the rude nude, we of the, ahem, Exalted Order of the Druids of Haven, call Druidic Undress Uniform… pun intended."
Ran chuckled then said. "He's a druid all right. It's in his voice. You can actually hear him pronounce those capital letters."
Dahl explained the mission he was on. Before he could even ask, Jemsen forestalled him saying.
"Did you really think we were likely to say no? Of course we are in. Sounds like fun. Frankly things have been pretty tame around here lately. Oh, the scouts are a great bunch of guys, but continual arms practice, drills, patrols, and maneuvers gets old fast. The kite flying is a hell of a lot of fun, no doubt about it. I will miss it. But we are ready for a change. No one is going to attack, not here, not now, not any time soon. The plains are safe for the next few years, at least. And our Adversary's next blow will fall somewhere else."
"Count me in too." Ran piped up. "That is, if you'll have me?" the second part delivered in an anxious tone.
"An impertinent little scamp, our Ran is, but he grows on you. Handy too in a fight with hands and feet or knife or sling. He tutored us in the finer points of the blade."
"One thing though, and this might be a deal breaker," Karel added, eyes twinkling mischievously. "He likes pretty boys alright, but he has a secret vice. He fancies girls. Human girls."
"No!" Dahl exclaimed in mock horror.
That lead to explanations and much merriment, which broke the ice between them. In the end, Dahl simply said:
"Welcome aboard, Ran."
Dahl and his party spent a couple of days in Dalnot, resting up and giving the twins a chance to wind up their affairs and say their goodbyes, especially to Sergeant Borden and Chief Wroclaw. They resigned from the scouts, got a letter of credit for the savings kept for them at the quartermaster bank, and equipped themselves with a goodly supply of arrows and other gear. After quitting the scouts Ran went shopping for such gear as a burning glass, portable solar stove, and a short handled shovel for entrenching or digging holes in the ground for sanitary purposes, items he usually borrowed from the regimental supply train.
"As of today," Dahl explained, "all three of you are on the Druids' payroll. Now the disbursement officer won't chase you down every month to put silvers into your hands. Instead, your stipend is credited to your account and is held there for you."
"Minus deductions, of course." Xebrek grumbled. "No interest either."
"Oh?" Jemsen asked.
"It's all there in the handbook." the dwarf assured him, with an airy wave of his hand, which drew a snort from Dahl.
At night Dahl paired off with the twins, one at a time and had a lot of fun getting reacquainted with their boisterous style of lovemaking. Sexually ambidextrous, the twins could top as well as bottom especially when paired with a boy as bottomless as Dahl. As males, the twins liked to sink their turgid cocks into a firm round butt, to feel their members grasped and milked and massaged by the moist velvet glove of their partner's innards, to follow the instinctive drive of the male to penetrate, to thrust, and to ejaculate. And Dahl was the best ride they had ever mounted or were likely to.
The two elf-boys Dahl and Ran also joined forces, as it were, with equally joyous results. Dahl liked sex with pretty boys like himself just as much as with strong masterly types like Balan or Merry. Both types of lovers excited him, though in different ways. Sex with another boy was a delight. He felt energized as they jumped into bed and wrestled around in a contest of equals. He loved to hold on to the sweaty squirming tight little body of a youth much like himself. If he himself had the advantage and came out on top, all well and good. If the tables were turned and he found himself on the bottom, playing the submissive partner, why that was fun too.
Besides, sex with another elf-boy had a special attraction. There was never any body odor, meaning that sour smell of sweat gone rancid. Elves simply lacked the kind of sweat glands that exuded the sebaceous oils that could, in time, ripen into a less than pleasant odor. The sweat glands of elves produced only salty water, to help cool their bodies. Put simply, elf-boys smelled and tasted ever so sweet. Their skin might be salty from sweat but never with that off scent. What you got was just the smell of clean healthy boy.
By contrast, sex with a masterly sort like Balan was a craving, a need to be dominated and mastered. Dahl got all weak-kneed and submissive, ready to drop to his knees and worship, to take the largest cocks that would fit into his tiny elf-boy body and let them drive in and out, hitting his joy spot, till he climaxed explosively.
To Ran's intense disappointment, Merry turned him down flat. One elf-boy at a time was quite enough for him to handle, thank you. Ran had been hoping to try something new. And a unicorn was certainly that.
Then it was on to Elysion and a warm reunion with Aodh and Klarendes. After greetings in the main hall Count Klarendes led his guests to the best room in the manor, the west parlor. Merry stationed himself outside by a window giving on that room. Since it was only mid-afternoon the count called for ale and light refreshments to tide the travelers over till the evening meal.
Looking around him, he shook his head in wonder at all the lovely youth gathered on that one spot.
Setting Xebrek aside, a dwarf no one would ever call comely and looking all of his forty-one years, the other five youths were as lovely as a day in spring. Each was the epitome of his type.
Taking the non-humans first, Dahl, the elf-boy cum journeyman druid was the raven maned filly of the bunch and preternaturally lovely. Standing barely an inch over five feet, he was blessed with a beautiful body. Slender yet muscular, he had strong shoulders, a ripped torso, flat belly and narrow hips. He had one of those impossibly small waists you could almost put your hands around and a pert rump, with small but firm and shapely buns. Tanned, taut and toned, thanks to druidic magic, his strength was nearly triple what his size might indicate.
Next was Aodh, Klarendes' own lover and the second miracle of his life, after his late wife, Belinda. Impossibly cute, a sloe-eyed beauty with delicate features and blessed with the sleek and smooth physique of a dancer, the minstrel cum wir-panther was the playful kitten of the bunch and the only left hander. Aodh looked very young, like a barely legal street urchin, maybe fifteen or sixteen, an epicene gamin, short and skinny, standing about an inch below Dahl's height, so five foot even and weighed 102 pounds (45 kg). His petite physique was a visual delight and exciting to wrestle with. Taut skin covered a hard body though the boy's musculature was smooth rather than defined like Dahl's. His physique featured narrow shoulders, a slender torso, and sharp bladed hip bones.
The runner for the scouts, the elf/human hybrid Ran, was as diminutive as the other two. He was another little guy, smoothly muscled, with an epicene look about him. Ran stood no taller than Aodh and though short and slight of build like his fellow elf had a stronger upper storey. He resembled Dahl with the same pointed ears and glabrous skin, though Ran was darkly blond and had blue eyes. Visibly excited, fidgeting, and finding it hard to sit still, Ran was the eager puppy of the lot.
Finally there were the rangy scouts. Identical twins of middle height and with a well-defined musculature, they were hunters, archers, and trackers. Lithe and boyishly handsome and very blond, utterly alluring with their slight builds and slender physiques and youthful features, the twins might be taken for elves themselves. Incessant chatterboxes with an insatiable curiosity, they were a pair of palomino colts, boisterous and rambunctious, exuding good health and sex appeal.
None of them had any body hair, something Klarendes had always found rather off-putting in a boy. Their bodies look so much better that way: clean and smooth and wholly glabrous, without a single feather anywhere. On them their delightful cocks sprang directly from their bodies rather than from an unkempt tangle at the fork of the legs. The tactile sensation of petting their glabrous boyish bodies was so much better without coarse fibers sprouting here and there. Klarendes would concede that a light dusting of very fine hair on a the lower limbs of a youth could be attractive too. If the boy were blond and his skin turned tawny by the sun, the fine hairs were like spun gold set against bronze.
What a shame the twins' heritage was fully human. That meant a prospective lifespan of perhaps eighty or ninety years. Even shorter would be the bloom of their youth. Oh the twins might look young or at least youthful into their thirties. Right now that seemed like ages to boys on the verge of becoming men. But the years would pass quickly enough, and they would age like other humans. In seven or eight decades, if they were lucky, Karel and Jemsen would turn into gray-haired feeble old men. What a shame, the loss of such beauty and vitality.
All his other guests were long lived. Dahl and Ran were elves, who never aged so you could see it beyond their teens and might live five or six hundred years. His lover Aodh was a shapeshifter whose animal form was a black panther. Every time Aodh used his innate magic to transform, he not only cured any wounds or injuries, he returned his body to its youth, fixing his mind on a mental template that specified his physical state and health. That made his lifespan indefinite, though he could be slain. In other words, Aodh might be immortal but he was not invulnerable. With any luck, the young wir would spend untold centuries looking exactly as he did now, an epicene gamin in his mid-teens.
Klarendes had considerable elf-blood himself, enough to arrest his aging, though at a later point in life. Though he was in his mid-thirties, he looked like he was in his mid-twenties, and would stay that way for four hundred years at least.
The worst is that his longer lived friends did not appreciate how their longevity would inevitably separate them from the friends of their youth. Right now they not only looked young they genuinely were young, teenagers enjoying their true youth. The boys did not have the perspective of centuries of life. As their friends like the twins grew older and eventually succumbed to mortality, the elves and shapeshifter would stay perpeutually youthful, hale, and hearty. Would they dare make new friends among normal humans, unable to bear the prospect of loss time and time again?
In his military career the count had seen that combat veterans, after being blooded in battle, would almost never befriend new recruits assigned to their units as replacements. It just hurt too much to get to know someone, to like him, to respect him, and then to suddenly lose him, to see him trampled or cut down and turned into a smashed and bloody corpse.
Dahl took the floor and explained his mission, assuring the count and the elf-boy that he had not come to recruit them. Dahl was on a qualifying journey for the druids which was as much a test of himself and Xebrek as it was an actual mission. Too much extra help would invalidate the results.
Meanwhile the nobleman and his boyfriend spoke of their busy lives in the valley. The invasion alert had been relaxed, and the militia gone back to a normal level of preparedness, resuming their old training schedule. The only sour note was the continuing infiltration of dangerous critters like dire wolves and slash bears, which were huge beasts so named for their tactic of attacking with their claws. Perhaps they were clever enough to realize that trying to bite a foe made eyes vulnerable to their intended prey.
No one knew the reason for the sudden influx of predators, but the count suspected the machinations of the adversary. Klarendes was breeding mastiffs to meet the challenge, hoping to double his pack to ten before the year was out. Just as important was the time to train them to be loyal and gentle with humans but fierce with their prey. The count was planning a sweep of the border range with the Commonwealth's constabulary, though it couldn't get properly started till both sides had augmented their canine auxiliaries.
"Even after we put them down, I have a feeling others will replace them in an endless cycle. It is as if some force were pushing these beasts out of the wilderness, where they really do little harm, to wreak havoc on the settled lands."
The evening meal was something more than the simple supper country folk usually set out. Hot soup and a salad supplemented the usual cold meats and cheese and bread. It was the next midday meal that served as their welcoming feast, which gave the cooks time to do things right. Since this was something of a formal occasion, the twins were in their silks, Aodh and Dahl in green sarongs, and Xebrek in his green leathers.
After the meal, while sipping a digestif on the veranda, the count explained his latest project: a cadastral survey of all the property in the settlement. Surveyed property lines would replace the older system of metes and bounds. A professional survey team was already at work with their tapes and chains, levels and theodolites, and such.
Aodh was helping with the back end of the job, translating the surveyors' observations into calculated positions on a property map. This required intricate and painstaking mathematics, using tables of values developed by the Commonwealth's natural philosophers that let one use simple addition and subtraction instead of error-prone multiplication and division to manipulate the tiny fractional values. [i.e. logarithms applied to trigonometric functions]
Aodh had simplified the surveyors' worksheets and set his pupils to working them. Two boys worked each problem then compared results. It was a tedious process, but doing it on the scene sped things up. Xebrek took an interest in the work, explaining that fine survey instruments were often of dwarfic manufacture, though not by his own folk at Stone Mountain.
The count lifted his glass and asked everyone to join him in a toast:
"To success, love, friendship, and long life. And may all of you return safely from your quest."
That night, Klarendes graciously stepped aside, announcing that he would retire early and would see them all in the morning, including Aodh. Taking his cue, the young wir joined the twins in their chamber for a happy reunion. The next few days were a round robin tournament of bed hopping with Dahl and the twins sharing the attentions of the young minstrel. All parties were happy with the arrangement, including Esmeralda who was gratified to have her half of the feather bed back all to herself, if only for a short while. Not that she didn't miss her shapeshifter friend, twice slipping into the twins' room to wake Aodh up with a nip on the nose to attend her at breakfast.
Ran and his old boyfriend Arik had some catching up to do as well. No girls this trip for Ran. He had had plenty of those back at the garrison town. During their short stay in the valley, Arik kept him fully occupied. They made a fine couple, the diminutive blond elf-boy and the brawny sandy-haired local youth. By long standing preference both of them went around in the nude as did most young males in the valley. Arik himself had advanced from apprentice carpenter to journeyman, staying under the roof of the master carpenter he served, Master Justin.
That good man gave his protege time off for the duration, so the lusty youth stayed with Ran in his room at the manor. Good thing for its thick walls. When those two lovebirds joined in sexual congress, they were anything but quiet. Nor did they confine their amatory activities to within those walls. Ran insisted on dragging Arik back to the bushes by the training ground, to the very spot where they had originally consummated their physical relationship. They ignored the attentive audience of boys and youths who gathered to watch, take notes, and maybe learn something about male love.
Arik was very much a top and Ran very much a bottom, with males, of course. The prurient viewers got a good look at Ran's bottom and his heels as well when Arik put the youth on his back and draped the elf-boy's slender legs over his shoulders. He pinned Ran's wrists to the ground, establishing total control over the sexy body squirming under him.
Ran had time for only a single outburst of his trademark impertinence when he asked if Arik would still respect him in the morning. That was when Arik mashed their lips together in a hungry kiss. The poor elf-boy was helpless, as the brawny carpenter thrust into him suddenly, sliding smoothly all the way in for a total impalement. Soon Ran's small body was trembling with lust, his head whipping left and right, eyes rolled up, calling on his lover to fuck him, to conquer him, to make Ran his boy.
Arik obliged most willingly.
Came the day of departure, the travelers set out on horseback, now a party of six, to outward appearances two young scouts, two juvenile elves, a dwarf, and a unicorn. Looking at them, the count mused, you would not think that they were all doughty fighters. Still it did not pay to look helpless on the road. The dwarf carried a maul on his leather belt with a shield hung from his saddle. No armor for the elf-boys, just riding silks. One had a quarterstaff strapped to his saddle, the other a kukri in a saddle scabbard. The twins had their bows and could handle quarterstaff and their blades as well.
The journeymen kept their status as druids hidden. Time enough to don robes and declare themselves when they got where they were going. No point getting dragged into everyone's problems along the way, just because the locals thought a druid ought to take a hand in resolving their problems.
For this next leg, the travelers retraced their old route through the Commonwealth, west to the Long River where the took a large riverboat south to lands they had never seen, to where the river flowed into the Great Inland Fresh Water Sea. The twins and the elves went back to the casual practices of their last river voyages, happy to spend an extended period of time with neither clothing nor chores. With only males aboard the twins had no worries about persistent personages of the predatory female persuasion either. As passengers they had little to do though they did shoot at a target towed from the stern of the ship, losing very few arrows in the water, they were just that good.
At one stopover, the twins had procured maps of the area they were headed for, intending to update and correct them against what they found on the ground. By now Jemsen and Karel were proficient makers of maps. Naval charts though remained a mystery. What did they know of prevailing winds, currents, sandbars, soundings, and shoals? They were satisfied with an outline map of the Inland Sea showing its coasts and the adjoining lands.
The Great Inland Fresh Water Sea was an immense sweet water lake occupying a landscape drowned ages earlier as the waters of the river rose behind an ever rising chain of hills at the southern edge of the continent. The river ultimately cut a deep gorge in the hills and finally drained mint the Southern Ocean via a cataract whose roar could be heard on ships well out to sea. The lake was irregular in shape with vast embayments and islands that were formerly ranges of hills.
It lobes touched on the coastlines of many lands, not all of them entirely civilized. Still, with the pirates fleets cleared out, it was a highway for commerce and communication. Oh occasionally a ship down on its luck turned to piracy, but the journeymen druids had nothing to fear from pirates whose ships were made of wood. With a single thought, a journeyman druid could spring the planks in a ship's bow, opening a hole for water to rush in, fill its hull, and send it straight to the bottom.
Though storms could arise suddenly and toss ships around, the Inland Sea was usually a pacific body of water, far easier to navigate than the limitless outer ocean with its mountainous swells not to mention occasional rogue waves higher than a ship's mast. By preference, even lands with access to salt water preferred to ship via the Inland Sea even if that meant a roundabout route.
Their journey across the sea took a month, counting stops to drop off and pick up cargo. As passengers, they were all at loose ends. Ran caught the eye of the first mate, a handsome windblown sort in his mid-twenties. They often paired off to spend quality time in that officer's tiny cabin. Its single unglazed porthole let sounds of their lusty sexual congress carry to everyone on deck. Dahl and the twins slept together. Poor Merry was confined to a stuffy stall in the hold, an indignity which he bore stoically. At least he was a good sailor, never getting sea sick.
From time to time Dahl practiced his mind speech, seeing how far he could reach with it. It was easy with those around him. He could talk to anyone now, a skill that had been necessary to advance to journeyman level. Balan was still incommunicado, and he could just sense Owain but not communicate any meaningful message.
All manner of creatures lived in the lake's waters, from tiny fish and crustaceans to leviathans longer than their boat. A school or pod of the monsters would rise to the surface, flukes working to propel them faster than the ship could sail. These herd animals fed on the tiny plants and animals that floated on the surface, straining their food from the sea through bony ridges in their huge maws. Other leviathans were clearly carnivores with long underslung jaws and huge teeth. These we reputed to prey on the krakens of the deep.
Fortunately the big fierce monster fish of travelers' tales were rare, as any apex predator must be from the simple logic of its situation. Anyway, monster fish had better things to do than gnaw on wooden ships. Which was fortunate for the humans aboard since the leviathans mostly took little heed of druids and their powers. The journeymen could sense their minds and their emotions, but could not really control them.
In a confrontation, a druid would have to rely on his considerable physical powers wielding one of the wicked looking pikes and lances ranged along the starboard bulwark, which were normally used to repel boarders or to dispatch large fish the seamen had landed. In his hands, with his magically enhanced strength, speed, reflexes, and stamina, Dahl could take on a lake monster with some prospect of success. He just hoped Xebrek followed his lead with a second lance and did not try to brain the monster with that short-handled maul of his. That got him thinking.
"Hey, Xebrek. I was thinking about how I would cope with one of those slash bears we heard about at Elysion. To be sure I might strangle a bear with vines and such, but there is another way, simpler and less tiring. Bears are omnivores, right?. They eat fruits and pine cones and other seeds. To kill one, all I need to do is to make those seeds sprout in its gut and grow wildly, tearing its innards apart. The beast would bleed out, or rather inwardly, in no time."
"You, my young friend, have a fiendish imagination. Still it is a good idea with one important limitation. Your tactic won't work against pure flesh eaters. Even on land, once they get into a killing mood, they can be hard to turn away, at least for druids at our power level. No against an uncontrollable carnivore the best tactic is to coagulate its blood. That will kill it for sure."
"I myself work mostly with animals, so I am sure I could manage this trick myself. I can work with plants too, but it takes more effort for me than for you to get the same results. Which is why I prefer animals."
"True, though I expect a senior druid like Owain who can handle both plants and animals equally well and even control a herd of brontotheres would have little trouble with land carnivores or lake monsters as well. By the way, do brontotheres live in your part of the country?"
"Nay. We have little contact with wildlife in our caverns, just blind fish, bats, and such. The only animals we keep are cave cats, which are nearly twice the size of the count's Esmeralda, but with a less benign disposition. We are quite fond of them actually, though I am not really sure why."
"I sometimes think that felines have their own psychic powers. Look how Esmeralda charms everyone to do her bidding or the way she blithely clambers onto Balan's shoulders for a perch to survey her domain."
They smiled. Both had fond memories of the personable ginger cat.
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