Elf Boy's Friends - VII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 15

Roundup

With the preliminaries over the druids split up, going off in different directions to enlist the support of the brontotheres. Axel took his leave of Sir Willet to partner with Dahl. One purpose of partnering with Dahl was that as the druid opened gates every such point would be one more locale Axel himself could Jump to directly with his gift.

Levitating by gravitational repulsion to five hundred feet for a bird's eye view of the northern sector of the brontothere range Dahl fixed several locales in his memory then dropped down to the ground and opened a gate to the farthest herd he would try to enlist.

Dahl and Axel stepped through to a grassy knoll only a couple of hundred yards from a herd numbering fifty beasts. More curious than alarmed given the differential in size and numbers, the animals studied the visitors calmly as two-legged creatures walked toward them.

"Magnificent beasts, these brontotheres of yours, Dahl." Axel enthused marveling at their sheer size. "No wonder you took them as your totem."

Magnificent was the right word for brontotheres. Quadrupeds built much like the nose-horn or rhino but as massive as an elephant, brontotheres stood eight feet tall at the shoulder and weighed up to nine tons. Remarkably placid in temperament though fearsome when aroused, they had no natural enemies, protected as they were by their bulk and strength and a thick skin folded to suggest a suit of armor. If they had to fight, both sexes were armed with two bony horns sprouting from the forehead and pointing straight ahead.

Living in herds of thirty or forty beasts under the benign rule of a matriarch, brontotheres were browsers as much as grazers, their preferred habitat the brushy transition zones between forests and grasslands. In the vast region west of the sea of reeds, they roamed at will and numbered in the thousands.

At first the brontotheres were wary of the mages who came among them. Humans were not the first two legged creatures to intrude on their domain. News of the depredations of the trolls had reached nearly all parts of their territory. The herds nearer the troll army had sent warning to those further on.

Brontotheres did not have the power of speech but at short range they could communicate via projected mental imagery. When linked together, a herd mind was as close to sentient as made no difference. This allowed the druids to "talk" with brontotheres using a visual form of their Mind Speech to project images into their minds.

Dahl explained the threat and how the druids and mages could counter and even nullify the trolls' tactical advantages, which would give the brontotheres a chance to wreak vengeance on the trolls who were butchering their fellows.

Dahl had to persuade rather than compel the brontotheres to join the cause. The intelligence of the brontotheres put them under the protection of the ban on the mental compulsion of sentient beings, something deemed both a crime and a sin among all civilized peoples on Haven.

Outraged by the murderous attacks of the trolls and frustrated by their inability to come to grips with the offenders against caltrops and fire and conscious of their vulnerability to attack by lancers, the brontotheres very much wanted a chance to get back at their enemies, but how could these humans counter the caltrops and the incendiaries the trolls could use to drive the brontotheres off and what of their cavalry?.

Dahl demonstrated some of his powers. As an examples of earth magic, he sank the earth to form a bowl in earth about twenty yards across then tapped the water table to create a spring-fed watering hole which saved the brontotheres the trouble of walking two miles to the nearest stream.

He then showed that he could create a deep trench, a barrier impassable for a brontothere being too wide for a brontothere to step across and too deep for one to step into and then climb out of. If it could stop them it would stop a cavalry charge. After closing the trench back up Dahl showed how he could accelerate plant growth and conceal a herd behind a screen of bamboo by making tiny new shoots grow to twelve feet in minutes.

The young druid told the brontotheres that he and his fellow druids could call thunderstorms to pelt the trolls with hailstones or blast them with lightning bolts. Vines and motile runners and creepers could be made to wind around the lower limbs of trolls and hold them fast or twist around their necks to strangle them. The threat from troll archery would be nullified by turning their shafts into clouds of dandelion seeds.

{Why dandelion seeds?} the matriarch thought to Dahl in pictures. He replied with pictures of his own:

{The feathery bristles of the tiny seeds will catch the wind, come to a halt, and disperse as loose airy puffs. Without the inertia of the shafts the arrowheads will lose momentum and guidance and fall harmlessly to the ground. Lancers too will be rendered empty handed as the shafts of their weapons came apart in a cloud of feathery bristles.}

Dahl reported that the matriarch and the members of the herd were impressed by what druids could do. The brontotheres were now willing to join in an attack on the trolls.

{Your powers are indeed impressive, but what we brontotheres find most remarkable about you is that you can totter around on only two legs without falling over!}

"Ha, ha, ha!" {and yes Great One, that sound I just made is how we two legs indicate amusement.}

"Wait till you see them charge, Axel. It's absolutely awesome. Their battle cry is so loud you'll have to cover your ears. Their footfalls shake the ground like an earthquake and rumble like thunder. And they cover ground fast. Before you know it, they will be upon their enemy, bowling them over, goring them with their horns, even rearing up to smash the full weight of their forequarters on their prostrate forms."

"That's all very well and good Dahl, but how can the two of us stay safe and out of harm's way amid hundreds of angry four legged giants who are charging about, goring and trampling everything in sight? Not to mention that the trolls won't take too kindly to our presence either."

"OK, I'll explain the problem to the brontotheres and ask them to let us ride them just as Finn and I rode those two friendly brontotheres in New Varangia, Tyr and Hodr. Thanks to their steady gait it's easy to ride a brontothere which is only walking. A charging brontothere is something else again. We'll need a harness and stirrups like those Finn and I used in New Varangia. That made it possible for Finn to stand up and brace himself when he flung his war hammer Mjolnir. As riders we would be safe enough in a charge."

The brontotheres were astonished by Dahl's request, asking:

{What a bizarre notion! Whatever made you think we would allow humans to ride us?}

Dahl responded with an abbreviated narrative of how the expedition of humans and Frost Giants to the Barren Lands had rescued five brontotheres trapped in an old open pit mine of the ancients. Later two young bulls shared their adventures, even letting Finn Ragnarson and Dahl ride them into battle against trolls who had killed a brontothere for its meat and held others penned up awaiting slaughter in their turn.

{We can see from the story you have related that it is only the hairy two-legs are our enemies. You other two legs with smooth bodies and flat faces and the bigger ones [i.e. Frost Giants] are our friends and should be our allies once again against the hairy ones with snouts.}

"The matriarch did wonder though how two little guys like us could clamber atop a brontothere. She supposed we would have to scramble up a tree like monkeys then drop onto the backs of our mounts from an overhanging branch."

"Monkeys, eh? They don't give us much credit, do they? All right. Let's show them what we are capable of, first with just our physical abilities then with our magical powers."

"That sounds good, Axel. What exactly did you have in mind?"

Dahl grinned as Axel explained his idea.

The druid asked a couple of brontotheres to stand normally though with their left front legs extended at an angle to their bodies. Starting from twenty yards away the boys ran full tilt at the brontotheres using their momentum to run right up the extended leg then perched themselves nimbly atop their mounts. To dismount the boys took a couple of steps along the brontothere's back then did forward flips and landed lightly on their feet, arms extended for balance. Finally they straightened up and took a bow.

Their acrobatic antics drew an appreciative rumble from the amused brontotheres.

<Oops!> Dahl thought to Axel on a private channel. <Our large friends just took our display of acrobatics as a confirmation of their own monkey hypothesis.>

<Oh yeah? Wait till they see what we do next!>

The boys stepped back from their mounts a good fifty yards. Dahl went first, levitating into place by gravitational repulsion then settling himself atop his mount. Then it was Axel's turn. One instant he was fifty yards away; the next he blinked into existence atop his mount. For the finale, Axel jumped himself and his mount back to where he had started. This time the brontotheres were really impressed, except for his own mount who was startled by the sudden displacement.

"The trolls are in for an unpleasant surprise the next time the brontotheres charge them." Dahl assured Axel, adding "And don't worry about archers. I'll turn any arrows shot our way into dandelion seeds. Besides you'll be wearing your leather cuirass and that steel helmet of yours."

"I can foresee what will happen." Dahl continued:

"Sir Willet's and Artor Klarendes' magic will sweep away the caltrops and and snuff the fires of their incendiaries. Thanks to Jemsen's earth magic, their own lancers will find that the ground they are charging across has suddenly become pockmarked with enough gopher holes to trip their mounts, break their legs, throw their riders to the ground, and crush both in an unholy tangle of broken bones, screaming horseflesh, and wounded and dying riders. And I shudder to think what Karel might do with a sun mirror or the Klarendes father and son with white fire."

Dahl set the first herd in motion toward their designated rendezvous. Three days would give them plenty of time to reach it even ambling along at an easy pace. The young druid wanted his heavy cavalry to arrive fresh and eager for the battle. Dahl and Dahl then gated to the next herd and then the next.

The results were the same. Leaving a matriarch and a couple of half-grown bulls to look over the younglings, the rest of the herd started toward their rendezvous with destiny. Actually they were early. It wasn't till a week later that enemy dispositions made it propitious for the druids and the brontotheres to launch their attacks.

At the rendezvous the brontotheres chose the mounts their two-legged allies would ride on campaign. Dahl's mount was the largest of the matriarchs while Axel's was a powerful bull. Fearsomely armed, its forward pointing horns were longer than Axel's arm and as thick at the base as his thigh. In a nod to Karel's silly joke about the brontotheres as heavy cavalry, he decided to name his beast Lancer.

The two brontotheres stood patiently while Dahl anchored a harness made of vines around their forequarters and the base of their horns. It provided stirrups and handholds though no saddle and certainly no bridle or hackamore or anything that might control the mount. No one controlled a brontothere, not even a rider. At best a rider might ask not tell their mount what they wanted them to do.

Dahl taught their mounts and Axel the verbal signals he and Finn had used in New Varangia to tell their mounts Tyr and Hodr where they wanted to go, when they wanted them to stop and so forth, always couched as requests.

Brontotheres are so intelligent as to be nearly sentient and could communicate via projected imagery. They also conveyed mood and intention by stance, body language and oral cues which facilitated their complex social lives. Axel's mount Lancer readily accepted the small human as a new friend. Maybe Axel couldn't project imagery but the brontothere could read the emotions underlying the human's gestures and utterances, undecipherable as human speech might be to a creature so different.

Dahl and Axel strengthened their bond with their brontotheres by providing small services for them. Twice a day they inspected the bottoms of their foot pads to remove bits of grit or sharp stones which might in time work their way deeper and trouble even these mighty beasts. Lancer rumbled contentedly when Axel used a stiff brush to scrub the spots on his sandpaper skin where it needed scratching or swabbed antiseptic oils on abrasions and small cuts. Not every part of a brontothere's skin was as thick as armor.

Axel couldn't help noticing how Lancer looked longingly at the immature tamarind pods hanging on the trees, obviously wishing they were ripe and would fall at his feet. Axel enlisted Dahl to invoke his druidical powers to ripen the tamarinds and fed the now ripe pods to Lancer who rumbled appreciatively for the great beast was inordinately fond of the sweet and sour taste of the tamarind pod.

Now Axel had a sweet tooth too. In particular he loved cherries. Through Dahl he asked Lancer for help in harvesting the wild cherries growing on a tree next to their camp site. Lancer was happy to oblige, bumping the tree trunk hard enough to shake loose a goodly number of cherries to the ground for Axel to gather and wash in the stream. Axel and Dahl then sat with their backs to the trunk of the tree and ate cherries, spitting the pits out as they went.

"Funny how Lancer isn't eating any of the cherries. There are still plenty of them strewn about."

Dahl concentrated for a moment, communicating with Lancer via mental imagery and told Axel.

"Brontotheres don't bother with wild cherries. There is just the occasional tree here and there, so not enough for a herd. Besides, cherries are tiny and as much pit as fruit. No our large friends leave cherries for the monkeys."

"So we're monkeys again, eh?" Axel chuckled.

With just the two of them, Dahl and Axel had to content themselves with only the most basic of camps. Dahl used earth magic to clear the ground for the campfire. Axel built the fire from dead wood he gathered, igniting the kindling with a small magic Sir Willet had taught him. It seems that those with the gift of Calling Light could more easily acquire the skill of kindling fire than most folks could.

Since it was the dry season, the campers did not need overhead cover though Dahl could always speed grow bushes and create a canopy from their interwoven branches. Rations were simple, whatever could be gathered locally, mostly greens and fruits plus tubers which could be buried in the sand under the fire to bake.

Druids were not vegetarians. They liked red meat and fish as much as the next fellow, but skinning and dressing a rabbit or some other critter and roasting it on a spit was just too slow and messy to bother with. Besides neither of them was much of a cook. They had always left that task to others.

Seated around the merrily crackling campfire afterwards the pair chatted companionably about everything except their mission. For one so young, Axel was extremely well-read, but then he was a denizen of the research library at the Institute of Wizardry and Magic. Dahl spoke of his travels all over Valentia and of the three years that he and Merry and Owain had spent on Karelia rebuilding the depleted cadre of druids on that continent.

Lancer was interested in everything his strange new friends did, watching attentively while they did surpassing things like strip off what he took to be an outer skin and a very thin one at that. It was just their silk uniforms which they washed in the creek and hung them on branches to dry.

Remarkably these two-legged creatures did not recoil from fire but deliberately set one to burning right in the middle of their camp.

"Funny isn't it," Axel observed, "how we have been friends for some years now but have never spent any real time together, just the two of us I mean."

With his druidical senses, Dahl knew perfectly well what the cute red-head was getting at. Axel fancied him. That much was obvious from the quaver in his voice and the scent of his pheromones and the way he kept looking over at Dahl's nude body.

Not that the young druid wasn't attracted to the wizard's aide. Axel was a real catch: a slightly built, copper topped, and boyishly cute youth with a sprinkling of freckles on his face and heart melting dimples. The boy had the hard body of an athlete or acrobat from regular exercise - his physique enhanced by healing magic with all that implied including a heightened sex drive.

Dahl spread his camouflage cloak as a ground sheet and indicated that Axel should stretch out next to him. Wordlessly, his heart in his throat, Axel lay down next to the scrumptious young druid. Dahl smiled at the way the youth trembled like the fawn he so much resembled.

"I don't bite, you know." he teased. "Well, not usually."

"Uh, Dahl, before this goes any further I gotta ask about Merry and Owain…"

"Don't worry. Neither of them is going to turn you into a toad just for alienating my affections." Dahl joked. "Anyway, what happens on walkabout stays on walkabout, as Aodh always says."

"So this is a walkabout then?"

"After a fashion. That doesn't mean I will drop you as soon as we get back to civilization. I really am glad we are taking our relationship to a new level."

Dahl reached out and stroked the silky skin of Axel's inner thigh. Axel went stiff, both in posture and otherwise.

"Now there's an encouraging sign. So with both of us raring to go Axel, stop stalling and kiss me already!"

The youths then joined their bodies in all the ways that active young males can, trading roles as top and bottom and also providing mutual oral service. For their third coupling of the evening, Dahl stretched out on his back with Axel astride him riding his cock for all he was worth. Reaching orgasm he growled and yelled and whipped his head back and forth just as his partner matched him and filled his quim with his seed.

At that precise juncture, Lancer stuck his head close and inhaled deeply to take in the scent of the mating pair.

"Hey, ya big lug! Don't you know three's a crowd?" Axel scolded the big animal good-naturally, giving his massive head a friendly slap and laughing at the absurdity of it all. There was no need for Dahl to translate Axel's words into projected imagery. Just from Axel's tone and manner Lancer recognized the humor in the situation and gave back the distinctive rumble which, for a brontothere, equated to laughter.

Meanwhile, from all across the vast flatland herd after herd gathered around their rendezvous spots, five watering holes nearest where the battle would be fought. All told they numbered sixteen hundred in three contingents, each under a particular matriarch. A single contingent of five or six hundred had greater shock effect than an entire cavalry brigade in the army of the Commonwealth.

In the fight that was shaping up the druid with each group would guide and support but not command the brontotheres. The lineup was Sir Willet with Owain, Artor Klarendes with Merry, and Axel with Dahl.

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