Elf Boy's Friends - IX
Behind the Klarendes manor house in Elysion, two splendid youths grappled and twisted as they sought advantage in a practice bout, the sweat on their nude bodies glistening in the bright sun of early afternoon. Both youths were well-trained in unarmed combat, a traditional sport for the people of the secluded valley of Elysion and of the original homeland of the smaller of the two.
The taller of the combatants was Artor, first born son of the local nobleman, landowner, and district judge Lord Taitos Klarendes. A good looking lad in his twenties with his father's sandy hair, Artor stood above medium height and was blessed with the deeply tanned athletic build of a swimmer: narrow hips, strong shoulders, and large hands.
His opponent Aodh was a much smaller youth, one who barely reached five feet in height and weighed only a couple of pounds over a hundred-weight. Small, skinny, and smooth muscled, comely as an angel, with skin like porcelain which never tanned or burned, the raven-haired beauty looked utterly fragile and vulnerable. In actuality the epicene youth was easily three as strong as he looked to be thanks to his magical nature.
Aodh was a shapeshifter or wir, which in his case meant he could take on the shape of a black panther. The magical process of transformation also healed wounds, injuries, and disease and kept him perpetually young, looking no more than sixteen though chronologically, if in no other way, he was not far short of thirty.
The foes separated to catch their breath. Artor shook his head.
"How can such a tiny body could be so strong! Father, I find myself to be even more overmatched than in the old days before the New Forest strengthened his skeleton and muscles to an ever greater degree than before.
His father laughed.
"Indeed Artor, Aodh's petite physique is much stronger than it looks, but the greatest advantage conferred by magically enhanced strength is the element of surprise, which should no longer apply in your case. By now, you should be thoroughly familiar with all his moves. Anyway as a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth, aren't you supposed to be an expert in all forms of combat, unarmed as well as armed?"
"Training goes only so far, Father. It cannot entirely overcome Aodh's advantage in speed. His tripled strength and faster reactions let him move his limbs much faster than I possibly can."
"Oh come now Artor," the young wir teased. "A fine strong fellow such as yourself shouldn't have any trouble taking on a little bitty kitty kat like me, and here I am not even using either claws or fangs."
Just then Klarendes steward approached escorting a visitor, a pleasant looking human male who stood nearly six feet tall He nodded to the youths then addressed the count.
"Good afternoon, Count Klarendes. My name is Stefan Dellane. As you can see from my uniform and rank insignia I am a lieutenant in the rural constabulary."
Unlike the patrolmen of the City Watch, the Constabulary operated in rural zones and in the wilderness areas which was why its constables were recruited from country lads who were good riders, scouts, and trackers. Quite a few also had the gift of Unerring Direction.
"It seems that an autogyro went done in the New Forest yesterday afternoon. Actually all we definitely know is that it is overdue. It was a large passenger transport used for sightseeing tours originating in a resort on the other side of the mountains. Flying overhead is the easiest way to tour the New Forest which has no real roads, only game trails. In any event seven passengers and the pilot have gone missing."
"Why have you come to me?"
"Headquarters in Dalnot wants to enlist not only your aid, that is yours and your Molossian hounds, but also the help of the druids and through them the Forest Rangers and perhaps the Snow Elves who have taken up residence in the New Forest."
"By all means then let's go talk to them."
In the east wing of the manor house Lieutenant Dellane met with the druids Dahlderon, Owain, and Meirionnydd plus two of the forest rangers who had been gearing up to go out on patrol: Maddon Sexton and the beast master Dylan. The lieutenant told them what he knew, which was not really all that much, though the staff of the resort was still being questioned about the itinerary of the sightseeing tour. It was known to range widely over the mountains. The best estimate was that the aerocraft had gone done in a rectangular area running northwest for sixty miles starting ten miles from Elysion.
"My Molossian hounds, Aodh, Artor, and I can be ready to leave within the hour. I propose one of you druids open a portal to the southern edge of the search area. From there we will sweep north. My hounds are excellent trackers. Do the same for the forest rangers only they should start at the northern edge and sweep south. Dylan, you can enlist the animals of the forest to scout for you, can't you."
"Indeed. I'll set every critter within my range to looking for the crash site while I myself look for it through the eyes of an eagle soaring overhead."
"The autogyro is painted bright yellow so it should be easy to spot against the green of the forest." Dellane noted.
Owain nodded. "That sounds like a good plan. In addition we druids can contact the Snow Elves via Mind Speech. If they are anywhere near the search area we can set them to looking for the crash site. Between them the six shape shifters and two Kodiaks can cover a lot of territory. Er Aodh, you look like you wanted to add something."
"Just this. Our friends from the Corps of Discovery are staying at that hill station on the other side of the mountains, the one they once defended from the orcs. They flew there in their autogyros. So let's get them involved in the aerial search too."
"Good idea. Dahl, contact Finn Ragnarson via Mind Speech and ask if he and the others can help."
We druids will remain here in Elysion to coordinate the search via Mind Speech. Remember we can also relay messages between groups of searchers. Every hour we will contact one person in each group very briefly to check whether you have anything to share. Any other ideas?"
No one had anything to add.
It took little more than an hour to get things rolling. Merry contacted the Snow Elves who agreed to join the search since they thought they might be in the general area. Dahl got the Corps of Discovery involved while Owain opened space portals for the three members of the Klarendes family: father, spouse, son, and the hounds then did the same for the two forest rangers.
The search was on.
[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.]