Elf Boy's Friends - V
A belt of hawthorn had sprung up around the edges of the forest its branches intertwined to form a hedge. It was not so much a physical barrier as a clear and unmistakable border which left openings for game trails which the rangers would follow on their patrols. The corps of forest rangers patrolled all the way from the ridge line which marked the watershed of the Long River to the transition zone to the east where the forest left off and the Eastern Plains began.
Four forest rangers operated out of a cottage in the village: Aodh, Brandon, Garret and Lorn. The rangers initially paired off with Brandon and Aodh taking a section of the forest south of the vale of Elysion while the brothers Garret and Lorn took the area to the north.
The ranger post at Elysion was one of nine such stretching the length of the new exclave of the Great Southern Forest. The rangers did not keep a fixed schedule, varying the number of days they were out on patrol and the routes they took. The only constant was that when they reached the ridge at the other side of the forest, they spent a day or two at a cabin built for them just outside the hedge, drawing supplies from a nearby mountain resort. From time to team the teams switched areas and even team members. Perhaps one day they might even switch ranger posts with their neighbors.
The rangers' uniforms covered much of the body — full trews and shirts with long sleeves that could be rolled down to protect their arms and legs from thorns, thistles, brambles, and such. Rising seven thousand feet above the lowlands to the east and west the mountains had a climate considerably cooler than their location in the tropics would suggest. Both rhododendrons and azaleas flourished there adding seasonal color highlights to the green landscape.
By contrast with army greens, the color scheme of their uniforms was inspired by Sir Willet Hanford's research on camouflage — brown with large green and black splotches and slashes. Sturdy sandals and a voluminous camouflage cloak completed their ensemble.
While shape shifters generally preferred to remain nude while in their human form, Aodh realized that while on duty and working with a partner he would have to wear the uniform that went with the job. Needless to say he looked very good in it. The lightweight silks did little to hide the lines of his trim little body.
While the human rangers were issued ordinary camouflage cloaks, Aodh's cloak was infused with druidical magic a gift of his druid friends. The shapeshifter's own transformative magic could trigger the magic of the cloak and make the cloth change its colors and patterns according to the background. Normally not employed while the rangers were on the move, the cloaks were most effective when their wearers held still, so not quite so effective as the magical Concealment a wizard could raise.
The human rangers were armed much like army scouts with bows, quarterstaffs, and kukris. Aodh was no archer and contented himself with staff, kukri, a sling, and his natural weapons, which in his case was saying something.
"You do realize that a sling does't have much range or stopping power." Brandon pointed out.
"In my hands it does." Aodh told him, loading a lead bullet and slinging it into the dead stump a hundred yards away that the archers had used for target practice. The bullet penetrated the thick bark and buried itself in the heartwood next to one of their arrows.
"Now imagine that was the head or chest of an enemy or a hostile beast." Aodh told him.
"I see what you mean. Your strength is phenomenal, especially for such a little guy."
"Wirs have strong constitutions to begin with, at least twice what you might expect due to stronger bones, ligaments, tendons and a dense musculature. Thanks to the Forest, my strength is considerably greater than before. "
"Whatever the cause, you looks scrumptious in that uniform. So I have to ask, does a patrol count as a walkabout? I mean, could the two of us… "
"Sorry Brandon, but really I have to say no, much as I enjoyed our tryst that time on walkabout."
"Can I ask why not me when you sometimes share your charms with that elf-boy Dahlderon. I am an elf too, half an elf anyway."
"That's different. Dahl and I were lovers before I ever met my spouse Count Klarendes. Same with the twins."
"That would be the famous twins Jemsen and Karel I have heard so much about?"
"The very same."
"All right. I know when I am out of my league. No hard feelings, Aodh."
The two rangers grasped wrists to affirm their friendship.
Although his patrol duties took Aodh away from home, it made the time he spent in Elysion that much more precious to him. One of the garden spots of the continent, Elysion was a bowl at the edge of the mountains about eight miles across. Woods and sheepfolds and vineyards covered the gentle slopes while the flats held the village, the manor, the pastures, fields, and gardens. It was the very picture of peace and prosperity.
And it was the home of the people Aodh most cared about, starting with the Klarendes family, father and sons and the villagers who had taken Aodh into their hearts since the day he rescued a six year old boy from a dire wolf, a feat which had nearly cost Aodh his life. Add to that it was now the home of three druids: Dahl, Merry, and Owain, a trio of lovers themselves though only Dahl was Aodh's lover as well. And the twins and their friends were frequent visitors.
Life was good. Even better now that Aodh once again had a proper job which made him feel useful. Patrolling the forest was the perfect job for a wir panther. Even in his human form Aodh had a psychic link with the sentient forest, a link Dahl had forged for him. As yet it was weak and would stay that way till the forest grew stronger. Even so it made Aodh feel secure knowing that the forest was watching over him and in times to come would be able to warn him of dangers or problems it wanted him to resolve.
"Let's head that way, Brandon," Aodh told his partner during a patrol. "I have a weird feeling that something is not right. I think the forest is trying to tell me something."
Sure enough, the rangers came upon five miners, big brawny men stripped to the waist, who had built a dam and sluices to harness the water of a mountain stream for hydraulic mining, High pressure hoses fed by gravity directed jets of water against the sandy banks, washing away an entire hillside. Utterly illegal and environmentally destructive in the extreme much like strip mining, it destroyed the land in a greedy search for placer gold in gravel and sandy soil. With all the top soil washed away, a site mined hydraulically would never recover on its own.
When the rangers showed themselves and demanded that the five surrender and submit themselves to the justice of the courts, the miners dropped their tools and picked up the swords and bucklers they kept handy.
"Now what are you going to do?" the leader taunted the rangers. "It's five grown men against one man and a boy. Tell you what, you there with the bow can either stand your ground and be killed or just clear out. Either way you leave the boy here for us to play with. After weeks out here in the woods we are as horny as can be. As for you kid, I hope you like it rough, because we sure do. We are going to ream you out so hard your ravaged quim will bleed. If you pleasure us well enough, we won't kill you right away but keep you around for a while as a sex slave."
Aodh turned his body and whipped his sling around to send a lead bullet into the man's brain. Bucklers were meant for fending off blades and offered little protection against missiles. Against arrows or bullets you needed a full-sized shield.
"I make it four to two." Aodh opined blandly. "Do we have to whittle you down some more or will you surrender?"
The miners brandished their swords and charged. Brandon's bowstring twanged twice while Aodh cut loose with two more lead bullets. That made the odds zero to two. Brandon stepped forward and used one of their discarded swords to finish off a man with an arrow in his belly and another with a bullet wound under his breast.
The rangers buried the bodies in the sediments the miners' filthy work had left as a sort of fertilizer. In time the forest would become strong enough to repair the ravages to the land the miners had made. After that the rangers destroyed the dam and burned the miners' mining equipment. Their swords were cached for pick up on the return trip and turned over to the local militia, most of who wielded axes since swords were so expensive to make. As for the miner's camp, they left their lean-to standing as an emergency shelter for hunters or travelers lost in the forest.
The miners' hoard of gold dust and nuggets would be converted into coin and deposited with the treasury to the credit of the Forest Patrol. As his prize money Brandon kept a sizable nugget for a souvenir which he hung on a cord around his neck.
In another incident they came upon a wilderness guide in the company of a a natural philosopher who was botanizing in the forest, collecting specimens for the herbarium in the capital. A lanky extroverted and garrulous man of middle years, he entertained the rangers with stories of improbable adventures botanizing in many lands. But then telling tall tales was an accepted pastime around a camp fire. No one cared if the factual basis for many of his stories was thin or even non-existent. A tall tale had value in its own right as entertainment.
Aodh had his own repertoire of adventure stories, which in his case were fact not fiction. He talked of his origins in the land of the wirs and of rides he took on friendly brontotheres, of his spy mission to the barbarian lands, and of his fights against the black riders, a dire wolf and a frost giant.
A few days later the rangers rescued a pair of teenagers, a couple of city boys who had slipped away from a mountain resort for a tryst in the "forbidden forest" and gotten themselves lost. Cute kids with coltish builds dressed only in breechclouts made from a panel of buckskin flipped over the leather thong around their hips which bared most of their scrumptious bodies, they had nothing with them but hiking poles and water gourds. Having consumed the bread and cheese they had brought with them for lunch, they had been forced to spend the night in a cold camp hungry and feeling sorry for themselves. By the time the rangers found them, the youths were looking pretty woebegone though they perked right up after a hot meal.
Even Garret and Lorn who were immune to their physical charms could see that these were nice kids, good kids on the cusp of manhood. Sure they had been careless going off like that on their own, but at their age — they were fifteen — and with their juices flowing, a certain lack of wisdom and forethought was only to be expected. The rangers escorted the youths back to their folks who were so relieved that they were safe they forget to be cross with their wayward offspring.
Halfway through each patrol the four rangers rendezvoused at a cabin on the far side of the woods, which stood next to a pond forty yards across and about eight feet deep which made it just fine for swimming. Brandon and the brothers liked to float on their backs but Aodh's strong bones and dense musculature made his body slightly denser than water so he had to scull his arms and legs to stay afloat. Despite that handicap, Aodh was a strong swimmer and liked to swim and to horse around with his friends. Brandon especially was fond of their grab ass games in the water, which was the only way he was going to get his hands on the taut little body of the pretty boy toy he worked with.
Seeing them playing in the pond Garret observed.
"And here I thought kitty cats didn't like water."
"You're thinking of house cats, Garret." Aodh corrected. "Big cats: jaguars, panthers, lions, and especially tigers love the water. Cats play and even hunt in rivers and lakes."
"For instance. To get away from a hungry tiger an elk jumps into a river or lake and tries to swim to safety, but its skinny legs make poor paddles. A tiger plunges in after it. Its strong limbs and big paws make good paddles. It reaches the elk and clambers aboard its back then bites the spine or throat for the kill. The moral of the story is don't jump in the water to get away from a big cat."
"Right, Garret. You should climb a tree instead." Lorn advised his brother.
"Well that would help against tigers which are too large to be good climbers. Also against boars or bears or wolves which don't have hooked claws," Aodh conceded, "but jaguars and panthers are better climbers than anything that goes on two legs."
"Then what should you do against a big cat?"
"What else but fight or die? Don't try to run. Cats love to pounce from behind."
"On that encouraging note," Brandon observed wryly, "it is time for supper."
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