Elf-Boy and Friends

by George Gauthier

Chapter 29. R&R in Elysion

After succeeding at his second challenge, the journeyman druid Dahlderon returned from the southern isles of the Great Inland Fresh Water Sea to vacation in Elysion. The raven haired elf-boy was welcomed to the home of his friends, Count Taitos Klarendes and his young lover, the sloe-eyed beauty and wir-panther, Aodh of Llangollen.

[Which, for the benefit of the uninitiated, or as a reminder to the forgetful, is pronounced like the vowels in "veil"]

Dahl really needed the peace and quiet of the secluded valley and the support of friends, while he recovered from his physical, psychological, and sexual ordeal in the lands of the Amazons. It had been a close thing whether the young druid would manage to escape his captors at all and return to civilization, much less complete his mission. So far that was all his friends knew about his mission. They would expect Dahl to share the full tale with them during his visit.

That afternoon, at the manor house, the count played host to an event to which all of Dahl's friends had been invited, an art exhibit.

"Gentle beings, please join me in a toast to my eldest son, the handsome and talented Artor, the apple of my eye and artiste extraordinaire, whose fine drawings are now going on exhibition in the public access hall of the manor, alongside the painted portraits of my ancestors. Instead of noble countenances and stern visages and powerful bodies garbed in sumptuous robes or armor, this new exhibit is a tribute to the band of heroes that came together about two years ago to help the Commonwealth and the druids in their endeavors."

"I refer of course to those intrepid adventurers who stand here among us: Dahlderon of the elves and now a journeyman druid, Meirionnydd a prince among the unicorns, Balandur part giant, part human, all soldier and a Hand of the Commonwealth, the human twins, Jemsen and Karel MC, hunters, scouts, archers, mapmakers, and, almost unique in the history of the continent, ennobled as both elf-friends and dwarf-friends, which takes some doing, as you can imagine."

"Then there is their friend and companion, the incomparably lovely elf-boy Ran or Randell, note the emphasis on the last syllable, and please, never call him Randy, even though he often is just that. Cute, courageous, sexy, and well-known for his trademark impertinence, this lively poplet is both a master of the martial arts and a jack of all trades. As handy with a kukri or sling as with a frying pan, quite a combination, don't you think? And if he has more than his share of mischief in his soul, it is the sort that makes you want him around. He is good company."

"And lastly, though not part of their expeditions, at least not yet, is our local lad, Arik, the skilled carpenter whom Ran asked be included in his formal portrait and a good neighbor who is always welcome in this house."

"As you will see, each personage is depicted in two drawings, one a formal head and shoulders portrait, the other a full-length image of its subject engaged in some notable action. I think you will agree that the sore muscles you got from holding your poses for so long was worth the trouble. I did make one stipulation to Artor when he first broached the idea to me. No silken robes or armor, please. The subjects of these pictures were to be shown in all their glory, a fancy way of saying naked. Which is only realistic given how little time any of them spend clothed. Much to the delight of their hordes of admirers, I might add."

"Our good friend Balan, characteristically modest that he is, allowed Artor to depict him bared to the waist but dressed in trews and sandals. I think the artist captured the musculature of his upper body quite well, but you must judge that for yourselves."

"So gentle beings, raise a glass and join me in congratulating my son on his artistic achievement. As a father, I don't mind admitting that I was gratified he found something to distract him from his many girlfriends. Not that I begrudge him his amorous adventures, not at his age. At seventeen, my heir is still too young to settle down with one girl and produce his own heir and a spare, as I did in my day. This is his time, his salad days. The juices are flowing, so let him make the most of it and us of him and his talent. I give you, Artor Klarendes, future Count of the Eastern March, though hopefully not anytime soon."

This essay at humor drew polite chuckles.

"Wow, your father really got going, there, Artor" the young wir whispered. "What was that he once quoted to me, something about 'orotundity of speech'. Now I know what he is talking about."

"Yes, Father can get carried away while in full oratorical mode. He is a judge, after all, and a politician too, though he would never admit it. Still, his words were well chosen."

"Indeed."

Artor had depicted his father in the act of using white fire to blast open the overflow tunnel at Stone Mountain. The artist had drawn Aodh crouched behind the count in his panther form, which was simply not true, and distorted the geography to get one of Stone Mountain's soaring peaks into the frame. Everyone agreed that made it a better composition, regardless.

Klarendes' oldest also took artistic license with a comical image showing Ran carrying dispatches during the battle at Stone Mountain, with masses of soldiers locked in a death struggle behind him while an enemy arrow was caught in flight, just as the arrowhead grazed his bare bum, drawing a red streak across his left cheek, and causing the startled elf-boy to yell out something like "Yikes!" To Ran's raised eyebrow, Artor explained blandly:

"OK, maybe this scene isn't exactly true to life either. He did take two arrows during the battle, but neither to the rump. Still I like to think that my picture was at least inspired by true events and is an oblique allusion to Ran's love life, if you take my meaning."

For the twins, Artor created a diptych, the left side showing Jemsen and Karel poring over their maps, the right panel showing them wielding kukris in hand-to-hand combat, the muscles of their slender nude bodies straining with their efforts.

Dahl was shown gesturing dramatically while the vines he commanded wrapped themselves around the necks of human soldiers and strangled them to death, making their tongues protrude and their eyes bulge out horrifically. Here was yet another picture more "inspired by true events" than by literal accuracy. He had wrapped vines around their legs and ankles to immobilize them while the dwarves shot them with their crossbows. At the battle Dahl had worn a druidic tunic and cloak and had not been completely naked as Artor had depicted him, but here the artist's eye had the truth of it. If ever a boy deserved to be portrayed in the nude it was lovely Dahlderon.

Balan had not been at Stone Mountain, so Artor showed him in action against the dark riders of the western plains. He was on foot, they were mounted, at least till swept out of their saddles by mighty blows from the giant's quarterstaff. Here again Artok had taken artistic license. Balan had used his sword in that fight, swinging with one hand a brand any lesser man needed two to wield effectively.

Finally there was the dramatic depiction of the dwarven druid Xebrek in close combat with the enemy wizard, caught in the act of smashing a blow with his maul to his opponent's shield, staggering his foe with his tremendous power.

Behind him was Merry caught impaling a foe with his horn, blood streaming from his own wounds. What few knew, and what Artor could not have shown very well in an image anyhow, is that the unicorn had called upon one of his hidden powers, his so-called killer neigh, during the fighting at Stone Mountain.

Really an intolerable screech much like the one made with fingernails drawn across a slate only far worse, it startled, pained, and distracted his foes. Men recoiling like that cannot handle their own weapons effectively. They put their hands to their ears, making them vulnerable to the unicorn's natural weapons, his horn, hoofs, and teeth, not to mention his sheer bulk. A simple enough power, but surprisingly effective in battle for both defense and offense.

After everyone had oohed and ahed at the artworks, the count lead his guests to the west parlor, the most comfortable room in the manor. Servitors brought in light refreshments.

Also joining them, inevitably, despite the lack of an invitation, was the true mistress of the manor, the ginger cat Esmeralda, still sleek and lovely at five years of age and despite four litters now. For the occasion, she ensconced herself on the mantlepiece, just behind and looking over the good count's left shoulder, assuming, justifiably from her point of view, that she herself was the real center of attention. And it was true that Esmeralda had only to turn on the charm to get anyone to do her bidding. Whether she was truly psychic or not, they were all in her thrall. Look how she had charmed Artok into adding her picture to the exhibition.

For a change they came dressed for the occasion instead of running around in the nude as was their wont. Though bare to the hips, the human youths wore white linen kilts, while those of more exotic stock preferred silk sarongs. All went barefoot, the soles of their feet so callused from criss-crossing the continent to be as good protection as moccasins.

The guests included the twins Jemsen and Karel, still nineteen, if just barely, of fully human heritage, medium height, slender, crowned with cornsilk blond hair, and incredibly cute and sexy. Characteristically cheerful and optimistic, hardworking and amiable, the twins were very easy to like, except maybe by persons of a taciturn disposition who found them to be a bit much. It would be fair to describe them as incessant chatterboxes with an insatiable curiosity, forever asking questions about, well, just about everything.

Their sometime runner in the army scouts, their Man (or was it Boy) Friday, and jack of all trades, was the lovely elf-boy Randell (accent on second syllable), or Ran for short. Which he was. Short, that is. Barely seventeen and the youngest of them except for Artor, Ran was just five foot tall, lithe and svelte, his dark blond hair was evidence of his one-quarter human heritage.

The unicorn Meirionnydd or Merry for short was also there in support of his protege and sometime lover Dahl. Also present was the giant Balandur, the unicorn's long-time ally and friend, on leave from the secret service of the Commonwealth of the Long River. Standing seven and a half feet and powerfully built, red-haired Balan was one of the Dread Hands of the Commonwealth one of the chief trouble-shooters for the state

Perhaps the most exotic of those attending was the boy who made his home at the manor house with the count, the shapeshifter Aodh. Not only could the dark haired youth morph into a black panther, the magical process of transformation healed all wounds and injuries and kept him perpetually young, looking no more than sixteen or even a year younger though he was actually eighteen. Of a height with Ran, which made him just an inch shorter than the other elf-boy Dahl, he was a boy so beautiful he took your breath away. Impossibly pretty, he was a melding of the innocent and the wanton, the epitome of a boy in the full bloom of his youth.

The host of the affair was the handsome nobleman in whose manor house all the guests were staying, even Ran's old boyfriend, the brawny local youth named Arik, who always shared his bed during Ran's visits to the secluded valley.

Dahl's mentor, the senior druid Owain, another lover, had sent his regrets. He had welcomed the elf-boy to the home of the druids in the Great Southern Forest, and helped him recover well-enough to continue on to Elysion. As one of the most powerful magic wielders on the planet, he was the master of plants and animals and of the elements. He could call the winds and even levitate. Though he could not fly like a bird he could send part of his mind to meld with an avian aloft to see through its eyes, giving him literally a bird's eye view.

With only seven full druids on the continent, Owain simply could not get away from his other commitments. As ever, the druids had their hands full countering the machinations of their adversary and his Dark Prophet as well as handling natural disasters That was why, more than a year ago, they had recruited fifteen apprentices, all of whom were now journeyman druids, except for the dwarf Xebrek, Dahl's close friend, who had fallen at the battle for Stone Mountain, losing his own life while destroying an evil wizard.

Klarendes announced that Dahl had recovered enough to give an extended account of his recent misadventures. The elf-boy piqued their interest by mentioning every so casually that the climax of his tale was the charge of a herd brontotheres lead by a naked teenage druid against an army of Amazons. Very likely the first such event in history.

Having hooked his audience, Dahl started off by explaining what originally drew him to southern isles of the Great Inland Fresh Water Sea, and specifically the Ashokan Archipelago. It had all started when alarming reports of the depredations of an invasive species called the Emerald Ash Borer reached the druids, along with a plea for help. The islanders depended on their forests, composed mostly of ash and beech trees, to protect their watersheds.

Careful of chopping down their forests and thereby denuding the land like some islanders had unwisely done in the past, the good folk of Ashokan imported much of the timber they used for construction. Unfortunately, with the logs or planks in the cargo holds came the creature that looked likely to make their continued tenure on their islands impossible. In no more than ten years, the forests that shrouded their hills would be gone. The sun would beat down and bake the earth, the rivers and stream dry up, and dust would blow where currently lush croplands supported a population of tens of thousands on eight close-set tropical isles.

The druids dispatched Dahl, this time alone, to face the second of his three challenges as a journeyman druid. With all his training in biology and ecology and agriculture and forestry, the outline of a solution was obvious. Import a biological control, a species that had co-evolved with the borers and kept them in check in their natural environment. The problem lay in identifying the origins of the borers and the control species. The control had to be inimical to borers but to little else, lest the islanders exchange one plague for another. As the number of borers fell, so too should those of the control species.

So Dahl had sailed forth, young and eager and full of hope, confident that, even going it alone this time, his growing abilities, physical, magical, intellectual, and interpersonal would let him resolve the problem. Perhaps he was overconfident, but then he was barely eighteen. He can be forgiven a young man's optimism.

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