Elf Boy's Friends - XI
The New Forest
Deep in forested mountains the wolverine stalked its prey, a dappled antelope. It had passed on a fat bustard which it had chanced upon earlier, not wanting to bother with all the fuss and feathers of a bird. True the antelope was considerably larger than itself, but that would not present a problem.
Wolverines were among the fiercest predators on the planet. Stocky muscular carnivores with short legs, broad and rounded heads, small eyes and short rounded ears, they resembled a bear more than their relatives in the weasel family. Armed with powerful jaws, sharp claws, and a thick hide the wolverine was a solitary hunter with an outsized reputation for ferocity and strength, capable of killing prey many times larger than itself such as deer and elk. Only instead of a normal body weight of fifty pounds, this particular wolverine massed twice that.
That was because this particular specimen was a shapeshifting elf in his animal form. Among the elves shape shifters were called Snow Elves, named not for their preferred climate but for their alabaster skin, shoulder length ash-blond hair, and icy grey eyes. They generally stood an inch or so under six feet with the willowy physiques and lissome bodies and glabrous skin typical of elves. This particular snow elf, Gulo by name, was about half a foot shorter than usual.
Intent though it was on its chosen prey, the carnivore always maintained situational awareness, lest it be taken unawares. Slash bears and packs of dire wolves just might attack a solitary wolverine if only to remove a competitor from their range.
Sensing danger it flattened to the ground and crawled to cover. A hunting arrow zipped through the space it had just vacated and disappeared into the brush. Gulo ducked behind the trunk of a fallen forest giant and peered from around its root ball to assess the situation. He saw a tall raven-haired human youth dressed in greens and browns stepping forward warily with bow drawn, looking for the wolverine it had targeted.
Changing into his human form, Gulo called out
"Hello the hunt!"
Startled to hear a human voice the hunter called:
"Who is there? Stand forth and declare yourself."
"Willingly, once you stop shooting arrows my way."
With that the archer relaxed his bow and held it down to his side in only his left hand.
Gulo rose from behind the fallen tree and walked up to the hunter.
"As you can see I myself am unarmed."
"Not only unarmed and empty handed but stark naked. Where are your clothes and gear?"
"I prefer to travel light."
"Light? That's putting it mildly. You're out and about in the woods bare-assed naked and without a weapon in your hand or a pack on your back. Not that I am complaining. With those exotic looks of yours you are easily the loveliest boy I ever laid eyes on. But a little guy like you shouldn't be tramping about these woods alone and unarmed."
"Why just now I took a shot at an oversized wolverine that would have made short work of a defenseless boy like you. I thought he was stalking an antelope I had tracked, but now I have to wonder if its intended prey might have been you instead. He was practically on top of you. You popped up less than ten yards from where he disappeared."
"Thanks for your concern, but I am not as defenseless as I might look, and that wolverine was no threat to me. None at all."
"Oh? How can that be?"
"Simple. I am shapeshifter, and that wolverine you shot at just now was me in my animal form. Anyway my name is Gulo."
"Oh, right. We did forget to introduce ourselves. I'm Roland."
"I am sure glad now that my arrow missed, something which doesn't happen very often because of my gift of Unerring Direction. I can also throw electrum sparks in self-defense, as I had to do a couple of times when I hired on to guard merchant caravans. Not that I fought road agents, nothing of the sort, just thieves who snuck up at night to steal from the cargoes I guarded."
"Unerring Direction is a gift all of us snow elves have. And a couple of my brothers can throw electrum sparks as well. Their value in combat is often underrated but the jolt of the electric charge and the burn from its heat are impossible to ignore, especially if you can throw sparks by the handful. And the gift lets you help your comrades as well, distracting their foes at just the worst moment."
"Indeed. And sparks are an incendiary as well and an easy way to start a cook fire."
Gulo nodded. "Tell me about it. My own magical gift is kindling fire. I'm not a firecaster. I cannot hurl streams of flame or great clinging balls of fire or freeze water into ice, but I can set anything combustible to burning if it is nearby.
"Uh, no offense, Gulo, but here you are parading around these woods all by yourself without adult supervision. Where are your folks?"
"Far far away. As to my age, I know that I look to be only fourteen or maybe fifteen tops, but I am actually nearly nineteen, having reached my full growth a couple of years ago."
"I'm eighteen too but my own growth spurt ended quite recently. Maybe that is why I stand half a foot taller."
"I might not be as tall as a six footer like yourself, Roland, but we wirs are preternaturally strong. Our innate magic makes us easily twice as strong as we otherwise might be."
"You don't say? Knowing that you are a shape shifting elf, I can understand why you go around naked. Elf-boys typically go sky-clad anyway, and that would go double for shape shifters who would lose their clothes every time they took on their animal forms. Still if you run around fully exposed to the sun all the time, why is your skin so pale?"
Gulo explained that like all shape shifters snow elves never tanned nor burned despite nearly constant exposure to the sun's rays. Roland was right though about the inconvenience of clothing. Shape shifters spent nearly as much time in their animal forms as in their human bodies so garments were an unnecessary encumbrance.
Roland's presence in the New Forest was easily explained. He was one of a pair a wilderness guides escorting a party of natural philosophers who were surveying the the region as the lifeforms evolved under the guidance of the magically self-aware woodland.
"So Roland if you were just hunting fresh meat for the camp, why did you take a shot at a wolverine?"
The young hunter looked embarrassed and admitted:
"You are right, Gulo. I really should not have shot at the wolverine. It was unworthy of me. At first I was miffed because it was about to snatch away an antelope which I had tracked for twenty minutes. Then I realized that the wolverine was a giant more than twice the size of any wolverine ever seen. It might well be a whole new species which the natural philosophers would name after me if I 'collected', that is their word for it, the type specimen."
"Collected eh, as in killed, skinned, and stuffed."
"Though taxidermists mount a skin on an armature rather than simply stuff it with straw. Anyway that is how and why I got here. What's your story, Gulo?"
"I am one of six shape shifters who live together as a family on permanent walkabout. At the invitation of the three druids who reside in Elysion we have roamed the New Forest these past three years. We are also friends and colleagues of the regular forest rangers, some of whom are shape shifters like us. This tattoo of a green leaf on my shoulder marks me as an auxiliary ranger."
"Watching over us are our two protectors. Like us they are magical creatures, namely sapient Kodiak bears the ursine equivalent of unicorns hence their white coats. Their magical powers are similar to those of unicorns including a form of mind speech which links us together. We can communicate with each other silently and over a considerable distance, up to four miles."
"But there will be plenty of time for conversation later, around your campfire. What we need to do now is finish the hunt. I figure helping you will earn me a share of supper. I don't mind admitting that I could do with some cooked food for a change. I have been eating my meat raw for a week now ever since I separated from my brothers. You see, though I do frequently hunt with them, by nature we wolverines are solitary hunters. So sometimes I just have to go off by myself and do just that."
It didn't take long for the pair working in concert to track down a deer. In his wolverine form Gulo roared at the animal and chased it toward the hunter who was waiting in ambush and took the easy shot. They dressed the carcass, leaving the guts for scavengers and making it lighter and easier to carry. Roland settled it on his shoulders but switched off every so often with Gulo. The wir might be just a little guy but his magical nature made him incredibly strong for his size.
Halfway to the campsite, with Gulo trailing behind the wilderness guide with the deer carcass slung across his shoulders he suddenly called out a warning.
"Beware Roland. We are being stalked."
"What do you mean."
"The scent of our kill masked its approach, but I am now sure that a slash bear is hunting us. Look here it comes."
Sure enough, a slash bear had emerged from the brush. He fixed his gaze on his prey and charged. Roland cursed as he saw how fast the bear was closing on them. He dropped his burden and started to nock an arrow, but by then the bear was practically on top of them. Roland knew his own gift of flinging electrum sparks would not discourage a charging bear.
It was up to Gulo though the bear must have outweighed him six or seven to one. The young wir invoked his magical gift of kindling fire to set alight the fur on the animals hindquarters. The beast roared in surprise and pain and anger, momentarily turning its head away — a fatal mistake, as it turned out. Gulo launched himself at the bear, first attacking its eyes to blind it and then its throat, which he tore out with both fangs and claws. Even as it died he kept at it, continuing his attack on the chest and belly, venting his fury and blood lust on his enemy.
Gulo finally broke off his attack and backed away, breathing heavily. Roland watched warily as the wolverine's killing frenzy ebbed. In moments, the wolverine shook himself then transformed back into a lovely snow elf.
"Whoa! Remind me never to get you mad at me." Roland joked. "And hey, why aren't you covered in the bear's blood?"
"One of the benefits of being a wir is that is so easy to get clean. When we transform we leave behind all the dirt and blood and sweat. See that spot on the ground where I changed back into my two-legged form. That's where I dropped all the blood and gore from my kill."
"Not that I don't enjoy luxuriating in a warm soapy bath, especially when I can share it with a pretty youth my own age."
"Is that a hint?"
"You'd better believe it."
Taking that for an invitation, Roland embraced the nude youth and kissed him long and hard. The press of their bodies left no doubt about their ardor. Unfortunately the amorous pair had to break off the pleasantries and to push on, to distance themselves from the bloody bear carcass which was bound to attract scavengers and to carry the meat which they had harvested to the camp of the natural philosophers.
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