Elf Boy's Friends - I
Riding northwards on dirt roads, the expedition finally reached the zone the centaurs had claimed as their new hunting grounds. The column reined in outside the gate of a large ranch. Artor, Lieutenant Gern, and Drew rode through the gate up to the front porch of the ranch house.
"Welcome, strangers," a grizzled rancher greeted them. "My name is Tham Berro. This is my ranch. By your uniforms you must be the help we sent for to deal with these murdering centaurs. Killed two herd boys, they did, as well as a passel of livestock."
Artor introduced the three of them and asked about using the ranch as their base camp. Berro was more than willing. The number of livestock their efforts would save him dwarfed the expense of putting sixteen men up for a few weeks.
Berro showed them to an empty barn for a roof over their heads against the rain. Considerable rain fell on the the extensive grassland but mostly in the rainy season, turning the flat landscape into a temporary wetland and making the region unfit for raising crops. The rainy season was nearly upon them, which was why the hunters had pushed the pace on their way north.
Berro's spare barn had a corral and its own well, hand pump, and horse troughs. His ranch hands brought in clean straw, hay, and oats for their horses. The lieutenant had his men settle in with the intention of resting for a day after their long journey before going hunting.
Nearby was one of the continuous flow latrines so typical of the Commonwealth. A diversion from a nearby stream fed the constant flow of water under the seats. A trickle ran in a small trough behind the footrest. You did your business and wiped your butt with a fresh-water sponge on a stick. Then you rinsed the sponge in the trough and hung it where it was exposed to the sun which dried and sanitized it for the next user. The waste was flushed by gravity into the stream lower down. Hence no odors and no flies. The three holer had four walls, but the sloping roof covered only two thirds of the space enclosed as shelter from wind and rain.
The men also hung a portable shower, which was nothing more than a canvas bucket with a wooden shower head attached to the base. Hungry eyes feasted on the nude form of the young journalist as he performed his evening ablutions, the water streaming down his belly and back, sluicing through his rear cleavage and parting around the prow of his cock.
"There's a real beauty, Lord Artor," the ranch owner observed to his guest. "Young Altair has one of those physiques that is more about quality than quantity, petite but with a wiry musculature. His skin is smooth and entirely glabrous which looks good on a lively lad. The lad's prettier than any girl I ever lay with, that is for sure."
"I am aware of the effect that the boy's physical appearance has on many males though not on myself. To be candid, I have never really understood all the fuss some men make over pretty boys."
"I take it then that you are entirely conventional in your tastes. A pity. For myself, I take beauty where I find it, in the male as well as the female."
Drew stepped away from the shower and dried off in the late afternoon sun, electing to stay naked until supper. That was not just for comfort. He knew he was under scrutiny, and here was his chance to display the trim and taut body he had so recently grown into. All right, maybe he was being a show-off, but if there was ever a time for it, surely it was when you were young and beautiful and desirable.
Supper was a hearty meal for once rather the the usual light fare in the evening. The hot food went over well with the hungry travelers. As the men consumed the filling country fare, the rancher noted:
"I saw that four of your men are lancers, Lord Artor. Good. That is exactly what is needed against these creatures. Three of my own men wield the lance, all veterans of the Army of the Plains who fought at the Battle of the Great Entrapment. They know the lay of the land hereabouts and would like to help as guides. One of them is the father of one of the herd boys killed by the centaurs."
"We are happy to have them. My personal retainers have also killed centaurs. That was during a raid on Elysion some years ago."
"I see, but those four are the only lancers among you."
"My constables are our trackers and night guards and camp factotums." Lieutenant Gern explained. "Three of them can call light so nothing can sneak up on us or our remuda out of the dark."
"Besides, two of our number have powerful magical gifts. Lord Artor is not only a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth, he is also a Firecaster. His friend Ensign Altair is a Fetcher who can fling steel spheres around with deadly effect. Both fought valiantly in the recent war against the centaurs."
"Of course! I knew I had heard those names before. Ensign Altair, would you oblige me by autographing my copy of your book."
"Happy to, sir."
The next day the hunt began. The hunters were in a race against the oncoming rainy season which made travel across the flooded or at least spongy landscape difficult. Once the rains fell, the livestock would be herded to areas slightly higher than the water-logged lowlands.
Berro's guides led the hunting party to the site of the killings of the herd boys. It was far too late to track the marauders back to their nest, but the guides pointed out what they had found at the time, how the centaurs used the patches of woodlands to hide their approach then rushed upon the hapless youths.
"Why kill a couple of skinny kids when there were all these fat steers around?" The lieutenant asked.
"Centaurs prefer the taste of human flesh to beef." Drew replied, drawing on what he had read in the only two scientific monographs ever written about the beasts, both published posthumously from reconstructed drafts and field notes. His remarks brought looks of grim determination on the faces of the entire hunting party.
Two days later, guided by the trackers, the hunters crested a ridge and spotted a pair of retreating centaurs in the open the better part of a mile a way, too far for Artor to throw fire either as a stream or as a great clinging ball of flame. Drew called a halt then dug a pair of glass globes out of his saddle bag. They held the dark oily liquid, the one that clung to its target.
"Artor, can you set oil aflame from this distance?"
"That I can do. So if you would be so good, Ensign Altair..."
With a jaunty salute, Drew flung the globes at the retreating centaurs in a high ballistic arc taking close control only as they neared their targets. As the glass globes struck the backs of the centaurs and shattered, Artor invoked his gift and set the oil alight. The centaurs writhed with pain, unable to continue their flight. Four lancers, two ranch hands and two of Klarendes' retainers charged the stricken centaurs and drove their lances deep into their bodies, killing them.
"This was a good beginning, with honors all around to our guides, trackers, lancers, and those with magical gifts," the lieutenant observed.
That set the pattern for the next two weeks. The hunters sometimes returned to camp with nothing to show for their efforts, but most days they killed one or two centaurs who lived scattered across the region. The Molossians proved their worth again and again as they flushed centaurs who had concealed themselves in thick brush.
Eventually the hunters found the nest or rather the nursery, for the eggs of the centaurs had hatched. With disgust on his face at the sight of the foul younglings and their dam, Artor invoked white fire [subatomic plasma] so that nothing would be left of the monsters, not even charred bits or ashes.
Centaurs were finally extinct on the continent of Valentia and good riddance.
On Artor's recommendation, the ten constables and their officer were later decorated and awarded a handsome bonus. Drew had his own bonus and the salary he had earned while on active duty turned over to the ranch hands who had taken part in the hunt. For the young journalist, the adventure itself was compensation enough, not least because once again he got to put his byline on a scoop published by the Capital Intelligencer.
Perhaps best of all was the welcome Aodh gave Drew when he and Artor returned to Elysion.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]