Elf Boy's Friends - XI
After supper the company sat companionably around the fire which they had built up the better to watch the flickering flames. This was a chance to get better acquainted. One by one the natural philosophers spoke of their work and their discoveries. The zoologist was named Evander Blok. His field was herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians. He reminded everyone to check their boots in the morning before putting them on.
Roland rolled his eyes. "He reminds us of that at least once a week."
"It's so you won't forget. Just turn your boots over and give them a good shake. See if anything falls out. Snakes and lizards like to curl up in a such leather caves and conserve body heat through the night. Spiders too."
"Luckily I don't have to worry about critters creeping into my boots." Gulo said smugly, wiggling his bare toes.
"Maybe not, but calf-high boots protect the feet and lower legs from snake bite. Going barefoot makes you vulnerable. Copperheads live in these woods, and they can be darn hard to spot amid the leaf litter thanks to their natural camouflage. Now their venom isn't toxic enough to kill an adult, but it will hurt a lot unless they deliver just a warning bite."
"A warning bite?"
"Generating venom is metabolically costly to the copperhead so it tries to conserve its venom for hunting or defense. If an deer or elk looks like it might accidentally step on a snake it strikes but injects just a small dose of venom to warn it off. Against smaller threats it might even resort to a dry bite as a warning."
"That is good to know, but I am pretty sure my magical constitution could shrug off even a full dose, painful though it might be for a short while till I transformed."
The geologist was named Johan Klutz. Contrary to what his surname might imply he insisted that he was a very well coordinated thank you, an accomplished rock climber who had worked as a circus acrobat in his youth. He was surveying mineral resources.
"But mining is not allowed in the New Forest, so why look for valuable minerals?" Gulo wondered.
"The rangers need to know where clandestine miners might try to set up. In time these surveys will provide map coordinates for likely spots which they should check on their patrols."
Willem explained that he had started out as a market hunter on the other side of the mountains, but had to quit in disgust at the phoniness of it all.
"What do you mean? You and Roland hunt in the New Forest. What's the difference?"
"Here we hunt for the pot. We kill and eat only what we need. In that respect we are just another kind of predator so we don't put much pressure on prey species. On the other side of the mountains, market hunters supply meat to the many resorts and lodges that welcome tourists and vacationers."
"The number of animals needed to supply that market far exceeds what could be replaced by natural increase so they ship in animals raised like livestock on game farms only to be shot in the woods at point blank range. It's animal slaughter like with beef steers or goats in an abattoir rather than hunting in any true sense of the word."
"To maintain the fiction that the meat is from wild game, resort operators sometimes have the hunters play act by staggering in to their premises with the heavy load of a carcass over their shoulders, pretending they had just bagged it and carried it for some distance. Even the butchering is part of the show. Entire families, kids and all, watch as the carcass is turned into steaks and chops."
"All part of the 'wilderness experience' don't you know." he finished with disgust.
Professor Scolari went last. He turned out to be an accomplished raconteur and entertained the company with exciting stories of improbable adventures botanizing in far off lands.
But then the telling of tall tales was an accepted pastime around a camp fire. A tall tale had value in its own right as entertainment. So no one cared if the factual basis for some of his stories was thin or non-existent, or whether it was really Scolari himself who had been the protagonist of the yarns he spun.
For his part Gulo described the six snow elves who, though they were not all related by blood, considered themselves to be a family. Besides himself there was a set of identical triplets named Lobo, Lupo, and Volf who could transform into dire wolves and the cousins Leon and Brand who were wir leopards. Though all had the alabaster skin of snow elves, in their animal forms their fur coats were colored normally: dark grey for the wolves and tawny and spotted for the leopards.
Scolari wondered why a shape shifter took on the particular form he did. For instance, why was Gulo a wolverine and not, say, a tawny panther. Gulo explained that the reasons were not fully known. It certainly wasn't a matter of choice. Your new form came upon you as a surprise at puberty. Transformations were known to be related to size. Someone like Gulo, five foot six and one-hundred twenty-five pounds, would never transform into a tiger or a bear though a tawny panther was certainly with the range of possibility.
Gulo also related some of their adventures including the time they were all nearly slain out of hand by a vengeful posse which had mistaken them for mankillers. At the last minute their lives were saved by the famous Corps of Discovery.
"You and your kin have a remarkable circle of acquaintance: the druids and the Klarendes clan at Elysion and the Corps of Discovery which includes Finn Ragnarson, the avatar of Thor, the famous twins Jemsen and Karel, the journalists and war heroes Drew Altair and Corwin Klarendes, Liam, the war wizard awarded the Commonwealth's top two decorations for bravery in combat… Er whom have I left out?"
"Axel Wilde, the jumper, the forest ranger Lord Madden Sexton who is a wir wolverine like me, and the Beast Master Dylan of Reading. Oh, and Corwin Klarendes was not a member of the Corps of Discovery. At the time he was serving as both war correspondent and war mage in the final campaign in Amazonia."
When the conversation flagged off Roland and Gulo walked over and sat on the grassy verge of the stream. Roland stripped off his trews the stepped into the stream which came up only to is waist and rinsed his trews to get the sweat out of them, finally setting them to dry next to his shirt.
He beckoned Gulo into the water. As the elf-boy came within reach Roland bent forward and reached down to grab the boy's legs pulling them out from under him. Roland chortled as Gulo fell backwards with a splash and submerged. When he got his feet under him again he came up sputtering and glared at the human youth.
"Oh yeah? Dunking is a game two can play! And remember I am at least as strong as you are thanks to my magical nature. My turn."
With that he launched himself at the larger youth and grappled with him, then used a hip throw to send him crashing into the water. When his opponent came back up, Gulo asked with studied casualness:
"Didn't I mention earlier that we snow elves were all expert in unarmed combat? It's because we never know when we might have to fight in our two-legged form, and since we go about sky clad, we seldom have weapons to hand."
Roland held his hands up in mock surrender.
"I can see now that I am overmatched. My body is yours to do with what you will", Roland declared.
"That's more like it."
Gulo and Roland wrapped their arms around each other, kissed, and drew together.
Now boys have hard bodies, all muscle and bone and sinew; they're not soft and yielding like those of the female of the species. That was what made it so much more arousing to wrestle amorously with another young male, grappling his strong body, so very much like your own, and to join with him in a passionate embrace. No wonder Roland's boyfriend back home was a bicycle messenger. Same thing for runners, swimmers, dancers, and acrobats.
Then too who could know the erogenous zones of the male body better than another male? Males know what they want to do and have done to their cocks and orifices in a way no female ever could.
With Roland and Gulo, one thing led to another and what started as fun and frolic and then heavy petting soon turned into full-fledged lovemaking climaxing in an orgasm of epic proportions. And then, in diminuendo, a second and a third not quite so energetic. The other campers politely ignored the unmistakable sounds of lusty sexual congress as the pair consummated their passion.
The next morning Cookie apologized for the monotonous breakfast of fried tubers and venison strips in place of bacon. They had run out of eggs and bacon and other perishables and would have to wait for the next pack train for resupply.
"This is just fine, Cookie. You can only work with what you have at hand. It is not your fault that we ran low." Scolari assured him to assenting nods from the others. Cookie had a well-deserved reputation which was why he was very much in demand for excursions and expeditions to the New Forest.
To Roland and Gulo he remarked:
"You are looking quite chipper this morning, and I have to say that you two do make a fine looking couple."
"Funny the way things worked out, isn't it? When you consider that I introduced myself to my new boyfriend by trying to skewer him with an arrow."
"And only hours later he skewered me with quite a different sort of shaft!" Gulo joked.
"Shameless!" Cookies chided, shaking his head as if scandalized at the young couple's brazenness. "Of course, you two will have worked up a good appetite from your er… exertions last night, so dig in."
With that Cookie heaped extra large portions on their plates which Roland and Gulo dug into with relish. They quickly found that Cookie had outdone himself despite the limitations of his larder, using spices and greens collected locally to enhance the flavor of his simple ingredients.
"So, Roland," his fellow guide Willem teased, "How is it that with your gift of Unerring Direction, you missed your target entirely? You didn't even clip him. What is that failure going to do to your reputation as a sure shot?"
But it was Gulo who answered.
"Actually Roland didn't miss at all. That arrow went right through the space I had been occupying an instant before. Roland's aim was true, but his target moved while the arrow was in flight. I sensed the danger at the moment of release and flattened to the ground. My magically enhanced constitution confers not just doubled strength but also keener senses and faster reflexes and speed."
"Even if it had hit me, I would surely have survived my wound and emerged unscathed after transforming. It is very hard to kill a shapeshifter. You have to destroy the brain or heart, or destroy the entire body all at once, otherwise we can regenerate from any injury."
"And yanking the arrow out would not inflict further damage. As you know, thanks to its barbs an arrow can easily do more damage going out than going in. That is why soldiers wear silk, which sheathes the barbs and won't let them catch in the flesh on the way out. My healing powers would do much the same thing. Even before I got the arrow out, my system would have clamped down on severed blood vessels to limit bleeding, rerouted nerve impulses, that kind of thing.
"You don't say." Scolari said in admiration. "I understand that you wirs don't have a specific lifespan. You might live on and on without end."
"Hardly. Our lifespan may be indefinite, but it is surely finite. Sooner or later, our existence comes to an end thanks to war, misadventure, or foul play. You can tangle with a slash bear and the like only so many times before your luck runs out. Having said that, a wir can normally expect to outlive even a Frost Giant."
"Whereas I can expect only the proverbial six score and ten." Roland allowed shaking his head, but then added philosophically:
"Well, as a wise man said it's not how long you live but how well you live, what you do with the time which fate allots you. Professor Scolari and the others have inspired me to enroll as a student at the Institute for Natural Philosophy back in the capital. That is, if they'll have me. You see, I want to do something of significance during my time on this planet. Contributing to our species understanding of the natural world is surely a worthy ambition."
"Roland is already a keen observer of the natural world, all of us agree on that. Like us he would make his mark with field work rather than sedentary labors in the laboratory or herbarium." Scolari allowed. "We have pledged him our support for enrolling at the institute though admission is not entirely up to us."
Gulo shook his head.
"I wish I could say I had such well conceived ambitions, but at eighteen going on nineteen, I have formulated no such clear goals. Perhaps one day, a life of permanent walkabout will pale, and I will look for something else. Time will tell."
Scolari nodded. "You show wisdom beyond your years. Both of you."
Days later as the expedition made its way through the forest the wilderness guide Willem pointed and wondered aloud:
"Now what can all that be?"
He was pointing to wreckage at the bottom of a steep ravine.
"This is where an autogyro went down about three years ago." Gulo supplied. "It was carrying tourists but crashed when it collided with a bird."
"It was a bustard, if I remember correctly, which is among the largest and the heaviest of flying birds. In full flight it crashed through the windscreen and killed the pilot outright. Broke his neck it did. Now with the loss of the pilot and the propulsion he supplies, the aerocraft was supposed to autogyro downward, its fall slowed by the whirling of the rotor induced by its descent through the air column. It would have landed safely if roughly, as they are designed to do, but the tail caught a tree branch and tipped it over, making it lose lift and drop precipitously killing several passengers."
"And you know this how?"
"I was one of the searchers, me and my whole family of Snow Elves plus our protectors the White Kodiak Bears Bjorn and Bjarni. This was not long after we took up residence in the New Forest. The Klarendes clan and the druids and the regular forest rangers were involved in the search too. Rescuers converged on the site. The kodiaks tore the fuselage open to give the medics access. Then the mage Axel Wilde teleported them to the hospital at Dalnot. It's one of the best staffed and equipped since it serves both the town and the army garrison."
"Back then I wasn't an auxiliary forest ranger, that came later, after we learned the way things got done both by the New Forest and the Commonwealth.
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