Elf Boy's Friends - VII
Search for a Spoor
That night Aodh joined the elf-boy cum druid in his bedchamber in the eastern wing of the manor house. Aodh and Dahl had been lovers since before the young wir ever met Klarendes and the count indulged his spouse's continuing liaison with their mutual friend the druid. The nobleman knew that Aodh's relationship with the elf-boy in no way diminished their life bond. And there was no denying that the two made a lovely couple.
Standing five foot zero and weighing only a hundred pounds, Aodh was small, skinny, and smooth muscled. Impossibly pretty, he was a melding of the innocent and the wanton, the epitome of a boy in the full bloom of his youth with ivory skin like porcelain that never tanned or burned. Though he seemed utterly fragile and vulnerable, the epicene youth was actually three times as strong as he looked. 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, the wir's eyes were shaped like almonds and slanted faintly upward above prominent cheekbones. His eyebrows bent in a angle rather than a round arch. From a wide unlined brow his face tapered to a small mouth with pouty lips just begging to be kissed and a sharp chin. Dark hair worn in a shaggy cut with bangs and tapering sideburns framed a face as cute as a kitten's.
The elf-boy was another walking wet dream. Preternaturally lovely, lissome, and gracile and a vision of youthful male pulchritude were phrases that hardly did justice to the raven-haired elven beauty. With his delicate features, chiseled jawline, and killer cheekbones shielding lovely green eyes, his was the sort of youthful male beauty that turned heads and took your breath away.
The raven-haired elf-boy stood only an inch taller than the wir and weighed five pounds more. He had a surprising strong upper storey for one so slight of build and sported corrugated abs and a well-defined Adam's girdle. Thanks to druidical magic, the elf-boy was four times as strong than he seemed to be.
Physiologically Dahl and Aodh were still the youths they had been when they had met as genuine teenagers. Aodh was perpetually sweet sixteen Aodh while Dahl looked to be a stripling you whose age you would put at seventeen. Thanks to their magical natures, elves and wirs retained the strong sex drives of their teenage years during their entire lives.
Dahl lay down beside the wir, already halfway aroused by his proximity to his friend and lover. The moonlight streaming in through the open window bathed the wir's slender body with a pearly effulgence making him seem an ethereal being, rather than a flesh and blood boy. Only his breathing and the scent of the rose water Aodh had splashed on himself testified to his physicality.
Dahl reached out to caress Aodh's face, grazing the smooth cheek then stroking his pouty lips with his thumb. Eyes twinkling mischievously Aodh took Dahl's thumb into his mouth and sucked on it suggestively.
"Naughty boy!" Dahl scolded.
But Dahl was intent on a bit of naughtiness himself. He laid a first kiss on the young wir's lips then held his next kiss longer. He smiled then shifted his kisses to Aodh's nose and chin and cheeks before skipping down to the wir's tiny red nipples which he favored with both kisses and gentle nibbles. Aodh's nubbins stiffened.
Aodh giggled and ruffled Dahl's raven locks. Dahl's kisses trailed lower, down the mid-line of the chest to the navel and then to the corners of Aodh's narrow hips. A stirring of Aodh's manhood showed the kisses were having their intended effect.
Not surprisingly, one thing lead to another. With limbs interlocked their kisses and caresses grew more ardent, even frenzied. They rolled on their sides and turned top to tail and pleasured each other orally, hands roaming all over their rumps, touching, stroking, probing. Foreplay have given way to full arousal and then an explosive orgasm.
Their ecstatic cries were a paean to life and love, to the powers of generation, to the continuity of the flesh and the great chain of being, and, supremely, to the beauty of the sexual male. The climax was a catharsis for them both and a chance to forget their cares and the duties that would soon take them north into danger.
The next day the rangers and the elf-boy cum druid saddled their mounts and lead them through the space portal which Dahl opened for them in the forecourt of the manor. The horses shied at the shimmer in the opening. They definitely did not like the brief sensation of falling, which was why the riders lead their steeds instead of riding them.
Once safely through the gate they mounted and settled their weapons about them. Except for Aodh all of the rangers carried bows: Dylan, Brandon, Garret and Lorn, and even Sexton. For his distance weapon Sexton was usually content with throwing stars, but this time he had brought along a powerful recurved bow. Just like the one he had used in the defense of the mountain resort, this one was really a dismounted naval catapult minus the cocking mechanism. Only someone with the strength of a Frost Giant could draw it.
Aodh's tripled strength made his sling nearly a match for the long bows the other rangers carried in range and penetrating power. All six bore kukris in scabbards for close in work. Dahl brought his quarterstaff and a brace of ironwood throwing knives.
This was Aodh's first extended journey on horseback. In the past horses would not tolerate the touch of the wir black panther. No longer thanks to the changes in his physical constitution inspired by the New Forest.
Not too far ahead of them a herd of forty brontotheres browsed on tender shoots of the spring growth. The beasts watched their approach with interest but without fear. Humans and horses were familiar sights in their range which was the transition zone between the grassy plains to the east and the forest to the west, which allowed the beasts to both browse and graze.
Standing as tall at the shoulder as a Frost Giant brontotheres looked like armored one-horns or rhinos. Unlike rhinos, the two bony horns of the brontothere emerged from the forehead not the nose. They pointed forward not upward and were set side by side. The brontotheres stood on legs like pillars which ended in thick pads to distribute their great weight. Their gray skin was thick and hung on their frames in folds, serving as living armor which might be pierced only by arrows driven by the most powerful of bows. All of which explained why they had no natural predators.
Bizarre in the extreme brontotheres were highly intelligent, nearly sentient in fact, and generally of placid temperament. But if they perceived a threat or they got angry, the charge of a herd of brontotheres was virtually unstoppable. It was not for nothing that they were called the juggernauts of the jungle.
"I am glad to see that our horses are unfazed by the presence of these gigantic beasts," Sexton observed. "That is quite different from the attitude of equines to olifants. Unless specially trained for it cavalry cannot face the gigantic beasts. Both their smell and their trumpeting cause horses to panic and run away. Years ago I relied on that fact to help win the final battle of my campaign in Sogdiana, whence my title of Conquering Lion of Sogdiana."
"That's got me thinking." Dylan said. "The brontotheres aren't the least bit wary of horses either. That suggests that the poachers did not ride up and attack them from horseback. Lord Dahlderon, you never did say just how the poachers killed their victims."
Dahl shook his head.
"Sadly they did it in the most heartless way you can imagine. The poachers offered the brontotheres cabbages and watermelons and sugar beet mash mixed with ground glass which they did not notice while eating the treats. During digestion the glass lacerated their stomach and intestinal linings and made them bleed internally. They died hard: slowly and in agony. The poachers had only to wait for their victims to die and for the rest of the herd to abandon them after a short period of mourning. Brontotheres are social creatures and share memories of the deceased via projected mental imagery."
"Could it have been an inside job?" Aodh asked the druid who told all of them:
"That is precisely what I want you to find out first. At the edge of the range the brontotheres roam across lies a farm contracted by the government to provide the brontotheres with vegetable treats like cabbages and beets. Every week the farmers take cartloads of fruits and vegetables to the brontotheres. That keeps the beasts from raiding farms outside the reservation, none of which are protected by ditches as in true brontothere country."
Sexton nodded. "Sounds like the right place to start our investigation."
"Not only that," the druid replied. We can use the farm as our initial base of operations. I'll commandeer some of the accommodations provided for visiting tourists. City folks vacationing at the dude ranches on the plains often stay over for a day or two to view, feed, walk with, sketch, and even ride the beasts who are quite friendly and tractable though not biddable as their riders cannot tell them where to go."
"But you can." Aodh pointed out. "As during your expedition to the Barren Lands."
"Yes, I can command animals, but with brontotheres I always ask rather than compel. I have a special bond with brontotheres."
"And once we settle in at the farm," Dylan added, "I'll invoke my empathic gift and informally sound out the staff about the poachers without revealing that we are investigating them as well as any strangers thereabouts."
The farmstead was laid out as an octagon a mile across though only part of it was currently under cultivation. It served a population of some two hundred brontotheres, with plenty of acreage for expanding the cultivated area as the beasts increased their numbers.
The octagon was surrounded by a ditch whose outer wall sloped gently up to the surrounding plains. The inner wall was vertical and made of fuzed earth. The barrier was the result of the joint efforts of an earth wizard and firecaster. It kept the brontotheres out, but the outward slope meant they could not hurt themselves falling into the ditch. Humans crossed the gap over footbridges too weak to support the great weight of a brontothere. A swing bridge allowed passage for wagons and coaches and riders.
The farmers were happy to put the rangers up during the investigation. The brontotheres were their friends too, and they had taken the losses personally. After and evening and a morning at the farm Dylan reported that he had detected no deception from any of the cadre at the farm. So no leads, but at least the rangers had eliminated the farmers as possible culprits or accomplices.
On the second day the party of investigators rose an hour after dawn then bathed and dressed before sitting down to a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, ham, sausage, hash brown potatoes, toast and jelly, and kaffay. They were still sipping from their mugs when a sergeant from the local constabulary station showed up to take them to the scene of the recent crimes.
The sites of all the the killings were about six miles from the farm, much farther out than the four points to which the farmers transported their produce for the brontotheres' weekly feedings. There were four such sites about a mile north, south, east, and west of the farm which wagons visited in rotation.
"What a sad sight it was to see such magnificent creatures laid low by so vile a tactic as ground glass in their food." Sergeant Craven said, shaking his head. "If you catch these foul poachers, save one for me."
Dahl nodded his understanding rather than his agreement to turn over a prisoner. He knew the good sergeant was just venting his anger.
The bodies of the brontotheres had been left for nature to dispose of in her own unsentimental but necessary way. Still it was hard to look at a corpse of a brontothere after scavengers had been at work. Given their thick skins, only the eyes, ears, nostrils, and openings at the ends of the alimentary canal offered access to their bodies, so it was the smaller scavengers from insects up to the size of jackals who got the meat first, eating the beast from the inside out till the process of decay gave access for larger scavengers. It was not a pretty sight or smell. Dahl used earth magic to bury the carcasses.
The rangers followed a spoor made by five individuals from the killing ground to a flat rocky area where the trail ended. No matter how they cast about they could not pick up the spoor again. The way the trail ended so abruptly baffled both the visual tracking skills of the rangers and the olfactory tracking skills of the wirs even in their animal forms of wolverine and black panther.
Sexton and Aodh resumed their human forms and climbed back into their clothes with the latter winking at the appreciative looks he got from the elven kind in their party: Dahl and Dylan who were the full elves and Brandon, who was half-elf.
"It's like the poachers vanished into thin air." Sexton observed, shaking his head.
"Just like at the other sites." Sergeant Craven added.
"Maybe that is exactly what did happen." Aodh answered. "Vanishing into thin air, I mean."
"How is that?"
"My guess is that the poachers are either fetchers themselves or men working with fetchers who can take to the skies just like the flyers in the Army Air Corps, lifting themselves and confederates by a wooden yoke. I'll bet this flat rocky spot was where they left their yokes and gear and approached the brontotheres on foot, with baskets of adulterated foodstuffs."
"If the poachers can fly, how can we capture them even if we catch them in the act?" Garret asked.
"Put arrows into them as they take to the air." Lorn answered his brother, still angry at what they had found at the killing ground.
Dahl shook his head.
"Dead men tell no tales, and these men are not under sentence of death. Better we track them by surveillance from birds then pounce on them through a portal and catch them on the ground. Here's how I think we should do it."
In a few sentences, Dahl outlined his plan. He himself would circulate among the brontotheres to warn them of the threat, keeping in touch with the rangers via Mind Speech at least once a day.
Now the brontotheres lived dispersed in half a dozen small herds so it would take several days for Dahl to get around to all of them. Communication was not a problem. Brontotheres did not have the power of speech, but they did communicate among themselves with projected mental imagery. Using his gift of telepathy which was usually referred to as Mind Speech Dahl would project imagery to caution the brontotheres to take food only at the familiar feeding points and only from the farmers they recognized.
Meanwhile, the rangers paired up into three teams: the brothers Garret and Lorn, the lovers Dylan and Brandon, and the wirs, Madden Sexton and Aodh. Their assignment was to ride the circuit of the ranches and farms in the region to ask about anyone who showed signs of new-found prosperity, especially fetchers. The brothers rode north, the lovers turned south, while the wirs headed east. No ranches were to the west where lay the hawthorn hedge and the New Forest.
[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.]