Elf Boy's Friends - V
On his return to Elysion Aodh found that old friends had come calling, the druids Dahlderon, Owain, and Meirionnydd.
The druids were the chief defenders of the biosphere of the planet of Haven, powerful magic wielders who could work many forms of magic, much like war wizards did, though the powers of the latter focussed more on the physical world. Aodh was happy to see his old friends and sometime comrades in arms, and in Dahl's case an old lover. Count Klarendes indulged Aodh's relationship with Dahl and the twins though he himself was not interested in other partners, being of a monogamous bent.
"Big changes are in the works, Aodh," Dahl told him. Taitos has turned over to us the little used east wing of the manor. The rooms will serve as our residence and local headquarters. Our order is establishing a permanent presence on Commonwealth territory.
"Here? Why not in the capital?" Aodh asked.
The druids visibly shuddered. Merry answered for them:
"A big city is the last place that a druid would care to call home. Aside from public parks and gardens, it is all stone and brick and noisy crowds. Elysion is a much more congenial environment. And these days the capital is just steps away anyway."
"Oh? How so?" Klarendes asked, shrewdly sensing a secret.
"Er, forget I said that, will you. Anyway it is not just a trio of druids and our servants who will be taking up permanent residence in the Commonwealth, but the Great Southern Forest itself. We are here to help the forest do just that, to nurture and defend it while it establishes itself."
"The Forest? Here? How? Why?"
Dahl explained that the forest would occupy the eastern slopes of the mountain range, a region the Commonwealth had never really settled or exploited for timber or minerals. There was no way to get logs or ore across the mountain nor were there navigable rivers east of the mountains nor any sizable markets there for that matter.
Though somewhat in the rain shadow of the mountain range, the eastern slopes nevertheless got enough precipitation to support dense woods. Instead of exploiting the mountains directly, the Commonwealth would let the Forest safeguard the region as the watershed that fed the streams and rivers which flowed onto the Eastern Plains and provided ranchers and farmers and townsfolk with water for livestock and domestic use. Therein lay its true economic value, and even more in coming decades as the forest became powerful enough to change the weather and increase rainfall on both the eastern slopes of the mountains and on the plains themselves.
Extending the Great Southern Forest would strengthen its magic and enhance its consciousness and influence. More than just billions of trees, the Forest was a self-aware entity, a million square miles of green sentience. This expansion was only a first step towards a global system of magical forests that would remain forever wild, preserving biological diversity, protecting watersheds, and generating life-giving oxygen for the entire animal kingdom.
Situated just west of the Eastern Plains, the new forest would eventually form a barrier to possible incursions of the eastern barbarians who seemed to be stirring once again. The eastern slopes were gentle and easy to ascend. While the western part of the range was steep and rugged, good roads lead from it to the Commonwealth proper, which lay in the great alluvial valley of the Long River. In time the brontotheres who occupied the transition zone between forest and grasslands would constitute another barrier but at present they numbered only a little over a hundred though their population was rising fast in the favorable conditions there.
The Army of the Plains was the first barrier and stronger these days with a corps of magic wielders and support from the Army Air Corps. But should it be defeated and be forced to retreat to its prepared redoubt in Elysion, the Commonwealth would be vulnerable to invasion by that route. Dahl explained why:
"Once we invade Amazonia the regular armed forces of the Commonwealth will be overstretched and will likely stay that way for several years to come. We have to maintain a field army in the Far West as the core of the army of the new confederation plus a reinforced garrison on the Western Plains and another in New Varangia while devoting a field army to the campaign in Amazonia Also, the conquest will take most of our riverine navy and virtually all of our naval infantry. And the Navy will also be busy guarding the movement of troops and supplies and in occupying the Ashokan Archipelago. Then we would have to garrison the whole area to protect the resettlement and reconstruction effort which could take decades.
"Have you brought magical seeds which your druidic magic will flash grow into a new forest?" Aodh asked.
"Not at all. The existing forest will be incorporated into the consciousness of the Great Southern Forrest. Toward that end, we druids will emplace three power foci, living crystalline matrices infused with the consciousness of the Forest. Their influence will spread over the trees and all the other plants and animals down to the tiny critters that live among the leaf litter and join them to the greater unity though at first only weakly. We druids will tend the forest like gardeners during this period of awakening and initial growth, its time of maximum vulnerability, which is why we druids are establishing a second stronghold in this exclave of the Forest."
"That is incredible. How long will this all take?"
"About two months for the first phase which will knit the trees and plants and animals into a seamless whole though it will be two centuries before this new forest has anything like the power of the original, after new growth replaces the old. The quickest turnover is among the tiny scurrying critters of the forest floor which most folks don't think about much, and admittedly they look very creepy-crawly, but they are part of the forest too." Dahl told him.
"The Commonwealth has agreed to recruit a force of rangers to patrol the forest and protect it from interlopers. The consciousness of the forest is vast but its thoughts are slow. Hence the need for a force of rangers to deal with loggers, charcoal makers, prospectors or settlers looking for free land though hunters will be permitted in the outer zones of the forest. We expect that half the rangers will be humans though the Forest would prefer elves and wirs with whom it can forge a psychic link. The job comes with a handsome salary, two hundred silvers a month."
"Hmm, I recently met three professional hunters who might be interested, two humans and one half-elf. They are all sensible fellows who impressed me with their fieldcraft and camp discipline. They would make good rangers. If you OK with that, I'll write to them and ask. Since they live on the western slopes of the mountains, it might take two weeks to get a reply."
"No problem. By all means write to them, Aodh. And how about becoming a ranger yourself?" Dahl asked.
"Me? I am not looking for a job. I certainly don't need the money. As Taitos' spouse I have no real expenses here in Elysion. And though I do not have a regular job I do work part time auditing our financial accounts and I sometimes teach maths at the school. Besides, I am already wealthy in my own right."
"Ah but the Forest can make you much more formidable in combat, something you would need should you join Taitos on campaign in Amazonia."
"Oh. I thought you had not yet made up your mind about that Taitos."
"I hadn't before you went on walkabout, but I have done so now, pledging my powers to the fight against the trolls. I see it as my duty. Not only am I a powerful firecaster, I have a nearly unique ability to throw white fire repeatedly, whereas war wizards can manage it only two or three times a day. Now a black panther is not much use in a melee. To cover my back in an all out war, you would need greater abilities."
Merry answered for the druids.
"That is really for you to say, Aodh. You and the forest will collaborate in your transformation. You certainly can expect to be stronger and faster, maybe even fast enough to snatch arrows out of the air the way we druids can. Think what speed like that means in a fight."
"That's pretty vague, but I am for anything that makes me better able to protect Taitos." Aodh agreed.
"In our own case, in collaboration with the Great Southern Forest we druids recently enhanced our physical powers. We can now recognize any toxin by odor or taste so as to avoid ingested poisons. We also don't have to worry about poisons coated on blades or arrowheads. Our bodies instantly identify the toxin and flood our blood streams and the wounded area with the antidote."
"That is all well and good, but also something of a distraction, wasn't it? What aren't you telling us? Merry let slip something about being only steps away from the capital as if it were just a matter of passing through a doorway." Klarendes asked the druids.
"I am sure we don't know what you are talking about." Owain offered blandly.
Aodh picked up the thread.
"Obviously it is something our friends don't want us to know about, Taitos, something that would put the capital only steps away… as if through a doorway… Now what could that be, I wonder."
The druids looked at each other nervously. Taitos and Aodh were getting entirely too close for comfort.
"I've got it, Aodh. You could call it a doorway or even a gate, but it really is a portal like the star gates that brought us to this planet ages ago. Am I right?"
"Merry! You and your big mouth!"
"Sorry Dahl. It just slipped out. Anyway you were the one who showed off your space portal trick against Sir Janus."
"I wasn't showing off, Merry. I was trying to stay alive." Dahl pointed out.
"Maybe so, but you did it in front of witnesses."
"Now it all makes sense." Aodh as realization dawned on him.
"Liam and Nathan have told me about training with those three regiments of naval infantry the Commonwealth has raised from the Frost Giants]. The longships drill constantly in a odd naval maneuver called threading the gate. A regiment lines up its longships in a rectangular formation five ships wide which makes for a dozen ranks of five. At a given signal the first rank peels off one at a time and rows as fast as it can between the buoys, the gate as they call it. As each ship moves out, the one behind moves up and takes it place. By the time the fifth ship is through the gate the next rank is ready to peel off one by one and so forth. I keep asking myself why they call it a gate."
"Because the buoys represent the gate or portal that will deliver the shock force of Frost Giants behind enemy lines."
"Damnation. You've figured it out. All right you guys have to swear to keep this secret. Even the Frost Giants don't know why they are practicing that maneuver. You see it is one thing for a druid to step through a portal the size of a door from Elysion to the capital but quite another to create a gate wide enough for the sweep of the oars of a longship and to hold it open long enough for dozens of such craft to pass through. So they practice doing it as fast as they can."
"Portals will give us unmatched strategic and tactical mobility. When the army and regular naval infantry face off against the trolls, we druids will ferry regiments of Frost Giants behind the troll lines to attack them from the rear. Taken by surprise they will be crushed hammer to anvil. Magic wielders of all types will go along in support. This tactic can reduce our casualties to a fraction of what frontal assaults would cost. And trap any trolls who seek to escape."
"Like our colleagues the war wizards, we druids prefer to act as a force multiplier for the military for jobs too big for magic alone." Owain explained.
"Ingenious and fiendish." was Klarendes judgment. "I approve wholeheartedly," which brought grins all around.
After his absence on walkabout, Aodh and Taitos were anxious to get together so they retired as early as the obligations of hospitality allowed. Already nude, Aodh watched his lover take off his comfortable silks to reveal the hard masculine body he was so familiar with, even the scars from his old war wounds which he had never allowed the healers to remove. Salutary reminders he called them.
Klarendes stood a little over medium height so he towered over the diminutive wir. He was handsome, hale, and hearty from an outdoor life as a gentleman farmer, and though he was a man with sons in their twenties he looked to be no more than that himself thanks to the generous admixture of elven blood in his heritage.
Klarendes counted himself one of the luckiest men alive. Disconsolate after the loss of his wife, his first true love, he had found a second love in Aodh. Spouses, lovers, companions, best friends, and comrades in arms, they were complementary in every way: temperamentally, intellectually, and definitely sexually, the older male the dominant partner and the younger a natural submissive.
The lovely wir-boy and sometime minstrel was a vision of youthful male pulchritude. Dark haired, short and skinny, he stood five foot zero and weighed 102 pounds (45 kg) looking like a barely legal street urchin, maybe fifteen or sixteen, an epicene gamin. His petite physique was a visual delight. Taut skin covered a hard body though the boy's musculature was smooth rather than defined. He had a good bone structure with narrow shoulders, slender torso, and sharp bladed hip bones.
The wir's complexion was very fair, with skin pale and pearly white and as smooth as any milk maid's and entirely without body hair. Large green eyes dominated the stunning face of the androgynous youth which tapered from a wide brow down a pert nose to a narrow chin. Adding to his fey look his eyes were shaped like almonds and slanted faintly upward above prominent cheekbones.
As a lover the young wir was exciting, energetic, athletic, physical, and vocal. Good thing for the thick walls of the manor house. The count relished the way his wiry boy-toy squirmed in his arms, twisting and straining that tight body of his. Slick as he was with sweat, it was hard to keep a grip on Aodh when Taitos wanted to roll the boy onto his belly or flip him onto his back. Grabbing the boy's ankles, Taitos opened the slender legs like a wishbone in preparation for an assault on his boy hole. His cock thrust into the welcoming orifice. The nobleman relished the way the boy's innards clutched and sheathed and kneaded his virile member.
One of the sexual roles they like to play was the stern disciplinarian punishing the wayward schoolboy. This time Taitos bent Aodh over his knee and spanked him for being away for so long. An old game of theirs Aodh wailed and kicked his legs ineffectually, the very picture of the naughty boy who needed to be taught a lesson.
After the spanking Aodh dropped to his knees between Taitos legs and serviced him orally. He looked so cute down there, his pouty lips pressed tight around the cock he was sucking on, his right hand working his own cock while his left reached around so he could work a couple of fingers into his hole and finger his joy spot until he orgasmed. The body of a wir is not anything if not supple.
Two months later Dahl took Aodh into the woods to the site of the closest power focus. He told the young wir to assume his panther form and to lie down and close his eyes. With the druid's help Aodh established a psychic link with the Forest's consciousness and under its guidance his own transformative magic went to work to rebuild his body, to make it stronger than ever.
Aodh woke up an hour later with a skeleton reinforced with tensile fibers and a denser musculature which raised his strength almost to the level of a druid, more than three times what his size suggested. In his human form only the very strongest of humans or dwarfs or trolls could match him and only Frost Giants surpass him. The advantage this conferred was not so much that he could overpower his foes as surprise them with unexpected strength and the uncanny speed that came with it as he flashed his kukri. And as a master of the martial arts, Aodh would be virtually unbeatable in unarmed combat. Also his enhanced reflexes would let the wir snatch an arrow out of the air and bat away others shot at him.
Aodh had also enhanced his animal form, growing poison glands in his front paws which fed ducts which seeped venom onto the backs of his claws. The glands would release the poison only when he wanted it. Otherwise his paws and claws would function normally. The poison was as potent as that in the spines of the dreaded stone fish. Even a small dose could induce the worst pain a living being could endure without dropping dead from shock. A full dose would kill. Either way, one scratch and a foe was out of the fight. The venom was effective against all living creature except wirs and druids.
Another enhancement was a stand-off weapon effective against a group of foes. It was an intolerable screech much like the sound of fingernails scraping on a slate only far worse. The sound could rupture eardrums and induce pain, temporary deafness, and dizziness, making it easy to close with and kill enemies as they staggered about with their hands over their ears. The screech was highly directional, strong in a conical zone in front but negligible to the sides or behind.
The wir did not need even to transform completely to use these new abilities, just change his hands and wrists to engage the poison claws and just his throat for the screech. So these new weapons took less than a second to bring into play. Finally he knew these changes were not locked in; he could always revert to his previous template.
With all these enhancements Aodh had become an effective if unconventional combatant who could protect himself and his spouse Taitos Klarendes in the battle. To maintain the element of surprise, only Aodh's's closest friends were told of this.
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