Elf Boy's Friends - XI
A Good Deed
"It's nice that we can follow this game trail instead of forcing our way through the understory. Understand, running around sky-clad as I do, I don't have any protection from thorns or nettles or the like." Gulo observed to the wilderness guide Willem.
"What if you run into poison ivy or poison oak? The itching can drive you crazy."
"Not a problem for me. We wirs are among the lucky few whose skin does not react to the chemical those plants secrete to protect themselves from predation. I and all those of my kind can roll around in the stuff and never take any hurt."
"Lucky you." Willem observed sardonically. "I always keep a sharp eye out for that stuff myself. I am one of the unlucky many."
"Say Gulo, I've been wondering… " Willem ventured, "have you ever encountered a lady wolverine of an amorous disposition, and just how did you handle it? Is your four legged form just as same gendered as your two legged one? From a moral perspective would mating with a female wolverine constitute bestiality on your part or just normal sex for you in your four-legged form? What are the mating habits of wolverines anyway? Loud and noisy and rough like cats only far worse, right?"
The young shape shifter snorted. Clearly Willem's inquiry was not inspired by scientific interest. He was just trying to yank Gulo's chain. The best way to handle this was to play it straight. In his most professorial tone, dropping his voice and mimicking Scolari's professional intonation, Gulo told him:
"Among wolverines it is ever the male who initiates mating — never the female. The male relies on olfactory cues to detect whether a female who interests them is in estrus and so might be receptive to his advances. Wolverines are known to mate for life. Males form relationships with two or three females whom they will visit from time to time. Hence most males can never find a mate and are condemned to lifelong bachelorhood."
This recital of zoological facts was a pardonable exaggeration on Gulo's part. Evander Blok, the zoologist in their company, threw him a discreet wink to indicate his silence and his support.
"The mating habits of wolverines are just fine by me. I am now and will ever remain a virgin as far as the female of any species is concerned. Besides shape shifters always mate or have sex in their two legged forms. After all, I am an elf with an alternate form as a wolverine, not a wolverine with an alternate form as a elf."
"Er… thanks for clearing that up." Willem replied lamely, disappointed in not getting a rise from the youth.
From time to time Professor Scolari would call a halt while he collected mushrooms.
"Is that specimen as yet unknown to science? Do you intend to describe it in a mycological journal?" Gulo wondered.
"Not at all. This species is well known. It is the tasty yellow chanterelle. We are having them tonight with dinner. The chanterelle It is one of the best and most easily recognizable of the mushrooms. Mind you there are poisonous species which resemble it. You need to be familiar with the chanterelle's identifying features to tell one from the other. Some mushrooms such as the false morel are poisonous if eaten raw but may be safely consumed when parboiled. Earlier today I collected specimens of the saffron milk cap. Cookie can use them tomorrow morning to make a breakfast omelet."
The trail to their final campsite led past an airfield close by a scenic outlook where tourists who had signed up for an all day aerial tour of the region via autogyro could stop to admire the view, eat a picnic lunch, and use the sanitary facilities. Indeed a group of eight were at the picnic tables when the company arrived.
Unlike a resort the site provided no overnight accommodation — only a picnic shelter without walls — just a roof covering a pair of rustic picnic tables and benches set on a wooden floor.
Water for drinking, cooking, and washing up splashed into a basin from a pipe made of hollowed logs which brought water from a nearby stream. Placed a strategic distance downstream from its intake were the sanitary facilities, a pair of the continuous flow latrines common in the rural areas of the Commonwealth.
A diversion from the stream fed the constant flow of water under the seats. A second flow or rather a trickle ran in a small trough behind the footrest. You did your business and wiped with a fresh-water sponge on a stick. Then you rinsed the sponge in the trough and hung it where it was exposed to the sun which dried and sanitized it for the next user. The waste was flushed by gravity into the stream lower down. The latrine had four walls, but the sloping roof covered only two thirds of the space enclosed as shelter from wind and rain and for privacy. Hence no odors and no flies.
Now running water and a water closet were the first signs of civilization the company of natural philosophers had seen since they had passed through the hawthorn hedge that delimited the New Forest. They had had to make do with a slit trench at their campsite. So all were grateful for the facilities at the picnic grounds.
Just as they concluded their business, a commotion broke out among the picnickers. It seemed a couple of children: nine year old Hans and his six year old sister Gretchen had wandered off and could not be located. Their parents were worried since a hasty search of the immediate area had turned up nothing. They were trying to stay calm, to not dwell on all the unpleasant possibilities. Unfortunately all the adults were city folks with no fieldcraft whatsoever.
The tour guide said that he and the pilot would go up in the autogyro look for the missing children, though two small kids would be hard to spot if they were under the forest canopy.
The company offered their help with a ground search and split into three teams each with a natural philosopher paired with a wilderness guide or with the wir. Gulo teamed up with Professor Scolari who unlimbered the airgun which he normally kept slung over his shoulder when they were on the march. Gulo shifted into his four legged form. It would be easier for him to find a spoor with his eyes and nose close to the ground. Scolari was a tall man so it fell to him to scan the area visually for both the lost children and potential threats.
There were no tracks to follow. The ground was hard and the kids so lightweight as to leave no impression on the ground to mark their passing. Grassy areas alternated with brush, and the land sloped away from the picnic area which was soon out of sight. That made it likely that the kids had got turned around and hadn't known which way to walk to bring them back to their family.
As luck would have it, Gulo's was the team which came upon the children. They had been treed by a hungry dire wolf on the prowl for a meal. Safe for the moment ten feet up but getting thirstier by the minute, the boy was doing his best to instill confidence in his little sister, assuring her that help would no doubt reach them soon.
Hans spotted Professor Scolari and called out to him and waved his straw hat to get the man's attention. That was when the rescuers saw the wolf at the foot of the tree. It turned to face them and snarled at the two interlopers.
"I could shoot the wolf easily enough, and I am sure he would be no match for a ferocious wolverine, but I would rather drive it off. After all, the creature is not evil, just doing what its nature drives it to do. Besides we would not want children of tender years to witness such graphic violence, would we?"
Gulo wasn't so sure about the children — the boy at least. Nine year old males reared on tales of action and adventure and derring-do might actually want to witness a real fight — at least from a safe distance, like up that tree. The little girl probably would not.
Unable to speak without transforming, Gulo simply nodded his agreement. Together the wolverine and the human advanced on the dire wolf, Scolari shouting and brandishing his air gun while Gulo growled and made his fur stand out to look even larger and more formidable. The dire wolf did not care for the odds, and the teaming of a human and a wolverine utterly baffled him, so he turned away and ran off. Scolari helped the kids down from the tree and let them drink from his water gourd while Gulo transformed.
"Wow! You're a shape shifter. Cool! I wondered how a wolverine and a human could possibly be working together." Hans told his rescuers.
"As well you might, young man." Gulo told the boy. "Now I expect that you kids are tired, so while the good professor carries your sister you can climb up on my shoulders, and we'll have you back with your folks in no time."
Once they got back to the picnic area, the boy slid from Gulo's shoulders and ran over to his father.
"I'm sorry Papa. It was all my fault that we got lost. Gretchen chased after butterflies, and I followed to keep an eye on her like you told me. When we headed back I somehow had got turned around and wound up headed the wrong way farther into the woods."
"And then that nasty old wolf showed up," his sister added, "but Hans boosted me up the tree and climbed up afterwards and helped me hold on. I could see that we were safe for the moment but I was still scared. And I really had to go to potty but just couldn't."
The father hugged his son and told Hans that he was proud of him, how he had kept his head and got them both to safety up that tree and waited for adults to find them and chase away the wolf.
"Actually I'm kind of disappointed that I didn't get to watch the professor shoot the wolf with his airgun or the wolverine tear it apart in a knock down fight. That would have been something!"
"Boys!" Gretchen chided in her most lady-like tones, nose in the air.
Gulo didn't say anything, but he mentally filed the incident under the label: Suspicions Confirmed and cross-filed under Boys Will Be Boys.
The children's parents expressed their gratitude to the rescuers. The father shook their hands while the mother embraced each in turn and kissed them on the cheek which provoked a joke from her husband.
"I am trying manfully not to be jealous. The last time my Caroline kissed a nude young man was back in the day when we two would go off into the woods!"
Instead of being embarrassed, his wife smiled at his joke, and reminded him that their assignations were what led to their marriage and ultimately produced their first born.
Gulo told the family that if they ever spotted two giant white Kodiak bears they should not to be frightened. They were no threat but benign magical beasts who were the ursine equivalent of unicorns.
With that the tourists climbed into their autogyro and flew away. The company decided to stay over at the camp grounds since the hour was late, and Gulo smelled rain coming. He predicted that it would rain during the night, as indeed it did and all the next day. No matter the roof kept them dry except for when they took showers standing in the rain, soaping up, and letting the falling waters rinse them clean.
"So how did you know it was going to rain so hard?" Roland asked him
"Gulo tapped the side of his nose and said with a wink: "The nose knows."
"Meaning he smelled the ozone made by lightning upwind." Scolari explained.
The following morning, the sun came out in a blue sky and the company moved on to its final campsite of their expedition. After they finished there, they would head to Elysion with Gulo peeling off at some point to rendezvous with his family. Since the Snow Elves had a standing invitation to visit Elysion the whole family just might swing by for a big get together. The Klarendes clan loved to receive and entertain visitors.
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