Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XIII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 6

Land Crabs and Other Creatures

Their camp was pretty basic; they had to make do with lean-tos rather than tents. Made of tightly woven fabric that would shed rain, the lean-tos had a pitched roof and three walls, with the open side facing away from the prevailing wind.

The boys retired early, pairing off with their lovers: Nathan with Liam, Drew with Aodh, and the twins with Dahl in a threesome. The three older males sat around the campfire and talked shop, politely ignoring the barely suppressed sounds of sexual congress coming from the lean-tos. To be fair, the lovers tried to be less vocal than usual, but there was no doubt about what was going on behind the fabric walls.

Suddenly the night was pierced by a shriek and then a curse as three land crabs got ejected telekinetically from the lean-to shared by Drew and Aodh. Naked, tumescent, and trembling with anger, the diminutive red-haired stalked into view, shaking his fist at the other lands crabs infesting the camp. He seized one with telekinesis and tore it apart, then flung away every one he could see away in an orgy of disgust and anger.

"Someone ought to tell these infernal creatures that three is a crowd. We just got things going nicely, me and Aodh, when these things clambered onto our bed roll. One of them got between my legs and pinched my butt. I was just lucky that was all they pinched, if you take my meaning."

"It's just outrageous having all these infernal land crabs crawling about. The damn things are everywhere. And they are not just underfoot. They will steal anything edible. At supper I set my tin plate down for an instant only to have a damn crab snatch a portion."

Evander Blok nodded.

"That is why they are called the robber crab or the palm thief. Their normal diet is fruits, nuts, seeds, and the pith of fallen trees though they will consume carrion or even each other opportunistically. Don't worry though. They don't hunt game so you won't have to worry about land crabs swarming all over you hungry for your flesh."

"What a dreadful image to put into a guy's head! I'll be afraid now to go to sleep tonight lest I be haunted by horrid dreams. Anyway, you'd think the things would give us a wide berth, big as we are compared to them. Instead they seem fearless."

"It's little wonder that they are fearless, Drew," Blok told him. "While juveniles use gastropod shells for protection the adults have no natural enemies, big as they are, generally a yard across and weighing as much as eight or nine pounds. They are the largest terrestrial arthropod reported in the zoological literature."

"The adults are completely adapted to life on land. They breathe with lungs of a sort and will actually drown if immersed in water for too long."

"Then it looks like the only way to get away from the pestiferous things is to shinny up a palm tree," Drew suggested.

"Sorry, but that wouldn't help, Drew," Blok replied. "Land crabs can climb trees too. The little ones do it to escape predation and the bigger ones to escape cannibalism."

"Can't you do something Dahl? You're a druid. Command them to leave us in peace."

The druid shrugged.

"Crabs don't have much in the way of brains. Sure I could order them to move away, but they would soon forget why they left and resume their wanderings which would bring them back here before too long."

"I've got this." Karel asserted confidently. "I'll surround our camp with a persistent wall of hardened air. Sir Willet applied his insights as to why globes of light can persist for hours to my own gift of air wizardry. So now I can make my walls of hardened air last for several hours even when I am not thinking about them or when I fall asleep. I will have to wake up during the wee hours to renew it."

"Just make sure the top doesn't have a sharp edge." Jemsen warned him. "We don't want your wall slicing folks in half like it did those reptilian raptors a while back."

"Very funny. I'll make it eight feet tall. As for the crabs caught inside the wall when it goes up, just police them up and toss them over to the other side."

"Better leave that job to me," Drew said. "They cannot pinch my fingers if I lift them telekinetically. I'll just chuck them over. Problem solved."

"Not quite." Evander Blok told them. "Land crabs live in burrows. Some might tunnel right under your wall."

"Damnation!"

"Don't sweat it, Karel." Jemsen told his twin. "I've got this. Once you put up your wall, I will form the sand and soil below to the consistency of concrete down say five feet. Will that be deep enough, Tutor Blok?"

"It should be."

"Just listen to ourselves," Aodh chuckled, "We have come up with a solution to a problem that requires the combined magic of an air wizard, an earth wizard, and fetcher all for a job well within the capabilities of non-magical carpentry."

"What do you mean?"

"I predict that those who eventually stay here to study the island will simply build their dwellings on posts protected by concave metal shields to keep the crabs from climbing up."

"What if the crabs climb the stairs?" Karel wondered.

"So? Raise the stairs like a drawbridge."

The others shook their heads ruefully.

"That's what we get for being so magically talented. Everything looks like a problem for magic to solve instead of just applying common sense."

"Crabs aren't all bad," Blok told them. "Every environment needs scavengers to recycle nutrients to new generations of creatures. Besides crabs are good eating. You should try boiled crabmeat, Drew. The white meat comes from the claws and legs, the brown meat from the body. It's delicious drizzled with drawn butter."

"No thanks. Crabs and lobsters just look too much like bugs. I won't eat the flesh of anything with more than four limbs."

"Oh?" Karel teased, "What about those fried locusts served by the Medkari? You downed them readily enough."

"Only after coaxing and just to be polite. I haven't had them since."

The next morning the boys went for a swim in the lagoon. There was little danger there from sharks or barracuda, and anyway marksmen watched from the rigging of their ships.

What a bevy of youthful beauties they were, slender, clean-limbed, hard-bodied, glabrous, and bronzed evenly by the sun, all except the wir, of course. Anyone with an eye for a pretty boy would thanks his lucky stars to watch them as they swam and wrestled and joked and splashed, more in good clean fun than with any lascivious intent for all the display of pretty faces and pert rumps.

It was purely a personal choice as to which of these young males was the loveliest. The shape shifter was the most exotic. It wasn't only that his skin was pale rather than tanned. His features and the way he moved hinted at the black panther he could transform into. Though quite short for an elf-boy, the druid was otherwise typical of the Sylvan Elves with his raven locks, killer cheekbones, and green eyes. Auburn-haired Drew was the impertinent scamp of the bunch and even more given to mischief than the twins, which was saying a lot.

If anyone stood out from this group it was Jemsen and Karel, twins so identical in looks that only their closest friends could tell them apart when they weren't wearing color coded sarongs: green for Jemsen and blue for Karel. Taller than the others, with tanned bodies and close-cropped hair the color of corn silk, they were a pair of rambunctious palomino colts who virtually exuded good health and sex appeal.

The waters of the lagoon were much warmer than their pool at home which was fed in part by a spring. This swim was less for exercise than for enjoyment and relaxation. They lay back in the weightless aqueous environment and floated as best they could though they really had to scull lazily, keeping their limbs moving since physiques like theirs, all muscle and bone and sinew, made their bodies slightly denser than water. Despite the handicap of negative buoyancy, the boys were all strong swimmers and very much enjoyed the water. They also liked to horse around and engage in the grab ass games of which young males were so inordinately fond.

Professor Scolari later told Aodh:

"It surprised me Aodh to see you plunge right in like everyone else. I thought cats didn't like the water."

"Ha! There's a botanist for you," Evander Blok chortled. "Any zoologist could tell you that it is really just house cats who avoid the water. All right, lions too. The other big predatory species such as jaguars and tigers love the water. They play in it and even hunt in it. That's true of panthers too, isn't it Aodh?"

"You got it sir!"

Indeed, the very next day during his morning swim Aodh hitched a ride on a hawksbill sea turtle he found swimming on the surface. It was a big specimen which easily outweighed the boy.

"What a magnificent creature!" Aodh exclaimed. "Now watch as I take it for a ride!"

Aodh grabbed the forward edge of its shell. The turtle continued paddling along, little caring that the boy had latched on to him. His slight mass and the hydraulic resistance of his slender body meant nothing to the powerful sea creature. Aodh had a lot fun sluicing through the water effortlessly, letting his legs trail behind, all while going faster than he could swim himself.

The blue of the sky, the green of the waters, and the white of the clouds and the sandy beach painted the scene with a vivid palette of colors, one he would never forget as long as he lived. Finally the turtle tired of the sport and dove for deeper water staying down for so long the boy had to let go and swim up to the surface for air.

"I am so glad no one thought to hunt that sea turtle for the pot." Aodh later said.

"Just as well they didn't." Blok told him. "The sea turtle feeds on sponges and jellyfish whose bodies contain poisons which do not bother the turtle at all but could sicken anyone who ate of its flesh and might even prove fatal."

"And here I had always heard that turtle soup was a delicacy."

"It is -- if it is made with fresh water turtles."

"Oh."

The next day the boys and the natural philosophers swam with the dugongs. To maintain their dignity the three older males wore silk drawers and wrapped diving belts around their waists from which depended the scabbards of diving knives, short handle rakes, collecting nets, etc.

Dugongs were fully aquatic mammals which inhabited swamps, rivers, estuaries, marine wetlands, and coastal marine waters. Of medium size they were about ten feet long and weighed up to two thousand pounds. Lacking any dorsal fin their bodies were shaped liked cylinders tapered at both ends with a downturned snout at the eating end which gave it an endearingly homely countenance. The creatures were herbivorous, harmless, gentle, and slow moving.

As Evandor Blok had told the boys:

"The manatee and the dugong are both fully aquatic mammals but belong to the order of Sirenians rather than Cetaceans, that is the whales. You can tell the dugong from the manatee easily enough. The dugong is equipped with a tail fluke like that of the dolphin, whereas the fluke of the manatee is shaped like a paddle. Sirenians are often called sea cows because their diet consists mainly of seagrass though they occasionally eat fish, jellyfish, sea squirts, and crustaceans."

Under the watchful eye of the philosophers, Aodh did not try to hitch a ride on a dugong -- not that he missed much of a thrill. Dugongs poked along often stopping to vacuum up their fodder.

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