Elf Boy's Friends - V
After the forest rangers had patrolled their assigned sectors for six months, patrol headquarters had the rangers switch with their neighbors so they could become familiar with the terrain on either side. Brandon and Aodh were sent to the patrol post south of Elysion while Garret and Lorn went north. The following year they would do it the other way around.
Their new sector ran all the way to the rift in the mountains through which a winding road ran from Bled in the Commonwealth proper to the army town of Dalnot on the Eastern Plains. That road marked the southern boundary of the New Forest.
The mountains in their new sector rose up to ten thousand feet and were fairly steep and forested all the way to the top except for a few rocky outcrops where an old wildfire had burned off not only the plants but the soil itself. The forest was aware of this scar upon the land and intended to rehabilitate it in coming years, as its powers grew.
Brandon and Aodh met their new colleagues at their patrol post, a sturdy log cabin sitting all by itself in a clearing at the foot of the mountains. A former hunting lodge for a local nobleman, its door could be double barred against marauding bears and its windows were narrow, like embrasures for firing arrows. No one wanted to wake up with a hungry bruin or wolf pack in the cabin with them.
Their new colleagues were an odd couple. Dylan was a young elf who had recently left the sylvan vale where he had grown up to seek adventure, though not so much adventure that he was ready to join the armed forces and march off to war. Cheery and friendly, it seemed he would make a good companion.
His partner was something else again. A ruggedly handsome human looking to be no more than thirty with brown hair and a physique like Finn Ragnarson's only scaled down to six feet, this Madden Sexton was powerfully built and massed two hundred fifty pounds of muscle and bone and sinew. Definitely a tough customer, he was a man who could clearly hold his own in a fight. He allowed that he was not native to the Commonwealth or even to the continent of Valentia, but was otherwise vague about his origins.
"An international man of mystery, then," Aodh suggested with a grin.
"Something like that, kitten." was his reply.
"Kitten?" Dylan asked.
"Our new friend here is not only a twink of surpassing loveliness he is a wir, a tawny panther I would guess from his size and feline features."
"Good guess," Aodh said, "though my animal form is that of a black panther, which is much more intimidating and stealthier at night. What is your animal form, Madden?"
"What! Now you're a wir too?, Dylan asked."
"Not just now; all my life actually." Madden joked.
"Nobody tells me anything!" the young elf complained to no one in particular.
"Care to guess what my form is, Aodh? I'll narrow it down for you. I am neither feline nor canine."
"Hmmm, you are too small for a bear and too large for a lynx or even a giant otter. And you gotta be a mammal — wirs never morph into reptiles, fish, or birds. Not much is left. Okay. I give up."
"In that case I'll show you."
Throwing off his clothes, Madden invoked his innate magic and transformed into a wolverine, a stocky muscular carnivore with short legs, a broad and rounded head, small eyes and short rounded ears all of which made it resemble a bear more than its relatives in the weasel family. Armed with powerful jaws, sharp claws, and a thick hide the wolverine was a solitary hunter with a reputation for ferocity and strength all out of proportion to its size, capable of killing prey many times larger than itself. Only instead of a body of fifty pounds, this wolverine massed five times as much.
"Whoa!" the others exclaimed.
"Remind me not to get you mad at me" Dylan asked the wir wolverine. Still in his animal form, Madden nodded.
"I'll second that," Brandon said. "I have heard that a wolverine can take down deer or elk."
Shifting back to his human form, Madden told him. "I've actually done better than that. I once killed a white bear of the polar isles in single combat, though the human in me has always regretted having to kill so magnificent a creature."
"And the wolverine in you?" Brandon prompted.
Madden answered with a predatory grin which said it all.
"So why did you two take jobs as a forest rangers, and why do you think they hired you in particular?" Brandon asked.
Dylan answered first:
"Elves make good forest rangers. As everyone knows, our woodcraft is unsurpassed. We live close to nature, typically in sylvan vales where we dwell in tree houses. Many of us who leave the vales work as hunters or trackers or hire out as scouts for the military. Most of our farms are really orchards of fruit or nut trees or mulberry groves whose leaves feed our silkworms. "
"I personally have the gift of Unerring Direction which helps not only with land navigation but also with my archery. I can pretty much put an arrow where I want it. Then there is my gift of empathy which is a big help to anyone who works in law enforcement. Even if a suspect refuses to talk he cannot help but react to questions put to him. A shrewd interrogator can ferret out the secrets of the most closed-mouth of men, and I was trained by my uncle, our local shire reeve."
Madden nodded. "Those talents are very good reason, why they appointed you as a ranger, Dylan. And as my partner you have shown that you are an easy fellow to work with. I am sure Brandon is going to like being partners with you as much as I have."
"Thanks, Madden and let me return the compliment. I have seen for myself that you too know your way around the woods, and now I know why. A wolverine. Whodda thunk it?"
"Actually it is not so unusual. There are half a dozen of us wolverines working as forest rangers in the Great Southern Forest though I am the first to work here in the forest's new exclave. Also as a long lived shapeshifter, I bring centuries of life experience to the job. You name it, I've been there and done it." Madden affirmed.
"It is only my natural modesty that keeps me from bragging about my mighty deeds."
The others chuckled at the wolverine's twisted humor.
As for Brandon, his archery and woodcraft and elven heritage on his father's side were factors in getting hired as a ranger. He could see in very dim light, like a cat only better. For archery at night, he was your man.
Dylan announced that after supper that he was moving his things into the other sleeping chamber which he would now share with his fellow elf, Brandon. Madden could share the other chamber with his fellow wir. When Madden looked into their room later that evening, he saw that Brandon and Dylan had pushed their bunks together. He clued Aodh in with a tilt of his head then rolled his eyes. Aodh grinned.
Besides the two bed chambers the cabin had a basic kitchen, a dining area, a sitting area with comfortable chairs, and three shelves holding what was mostly Madden's collection of books which included poetry, plays, and adventure novels plus non-fiction.
"Have you read any of this fellow Drew Altair's books?" Madden asked, pointing to the shelves. "He is my favorite among the newer writers. Young though he is, he writes with authority since he was often at the center of action himself. His prose makes the scene come alive like you were right there with him. No wonder he was won three Writer's Prizes."
"Actually he just won his fourth prize in five years for a book about the Pioneers of Flight. And yes I have read all of them. It so happens that Drew and I are good friends, very good friends indeed, if you take my meaning. You'll even find some of my own adventures related in his book about the elf-boy cum Druid Dahlderon and the wars for the Eastern Plains."
"You were in that book? Wait a minute. The cute shapeshifting minstrel who journeys with the elf-boy, the unicorn, the famous twins Jemsen and Karel, and Sir Balandur, the Dread Hand of the Commonwealth. That was you?"
"The very same."
"But as I remember it he had an odd name spelled A-O-D-H which sounds nothing like your name. How do you spell "Eh" anyway?"
"A-O-D-H. Not at all phonetic, I know, but there it is."
"So, we have a celebrity among us. This calls for a celebration."
"As do so many events with you." Dylan observed wryly.
Reaching into a storage cabinet Madden produced a bottle of the potent apple schnapps for which Frost Giants were justly famous plus four small glasses. A mere sip of the golden liquid brought tears to Aodh's eyes.
"Drink up. It'll put hair on your chest, little one." Madden assured him.
"Not if I have anything to say about it." Aodh countered. "And as a wir, I do."
He managed to get it all down but passed on a refill. One small glass was enough to set his head spinning. Fortunately he woke up the next morning with a clear head and set off on the first of their regular patrols.
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