Elf Boy's Friends - XI

by George Gauthier

Chapter 5

Poachers

"Listen kid, we three don't have to explain our presence in the New Forest to the likes of you. We go where and when the mood takes us. We certainly don't answer to a couple of bare-assed pretty boys. Why you two look more like rent boys trolling for custom than the forest rangers you claim to be."

The cousins Leon and Brand could hardly dispute that point. Snow elves who went into the trade were the elite of rent boys commanding fees even higher than those of the usual sort of Sylvan Elves. Both sorts of elves tended to be tall with lissome builds with glabrous skin, but differed in coloration. Sylvan elves were raven haired, had green eyes, and almost always a Green Thumb. Snow elves were called that for their alabaster white skin, shoulder-length ash-blond hair, and icy grey eyes. Despite their pale skin they never tanned nor burned. Hence the name.

As for their nudity, as shape shifters snow elves had even less use for clothing than their sylvan cousins. The males of both sorts preferred to go about in the nude or sky-clad, as they called. That went double for shape shifters for whom clothing when in their animal forms was an intolerable encumbrance.

"Anyway that little green tattoo of a leaf on your shoulder sure ain't no lawman's badge. No uniform, no badge, no warrant, so no search of our pack animals. There ain't nothing suspicious about pack animals bearing packs."

Actually the youths had a perfectly legitimate reason for want to check the load the three hunters had on their pack animals. A pack train was for hauling supplies into the New Forest. You weren't supposed to carry goods out: no game, no trophies, no skins or furs, and especially no gems, gold, or silver, in short nothing of commercial value. These three and their mules with full loads were definitely outward bound and very close to the hawthorn hedge which delimited the border of the magical forest. Beyond that lay the Eastern Plains with its towns, highways, and iron roads and its many ranches and farms. That was highly suspicious.

It was true that Leon and his cousin Brand were not in uniform. As shape shifters they were wir leopards and normally went about in the nude. That was why they had those tattoos: to show that they were indeed auxiliary forest rangers or forest-friends as they liked to say.

So far the three humans had not reached for weapons. All carried large hunting knives at their hips. Scabbards on the mules held air rifles though these were not quite within the men's reach.

"No way you're going to get a look at what's under those tarps, kid. No way no how,"

Meanwhile Brand had edged closer to one of the mules. Morphing just his right hand into a paw he ripped the tarp open with his claws. It happened so fast none of the three men quite saw what he did it.

"Furs and skins," Brand reported. "Contraband."

"Hey, how did the kid rip open the pack without no knife in his hand?" the leader asked the others.

"It doesn't matter how. What matters is what I found there," Brand told him flatly.

Leon nodded. "You three are under arrest. You'll be turned over to the constabulary to be held for trial. Your goods and animals are forfeit."

"The hell you say!"

The leader went for his knife while the other two who stood closer to the mules reached for air guns, but Brand unobtrusively snapped a single electrum spark at the croup of each mule startling the animals into a short stampede which put their air guns temporarily beyond the reach of the two henchmen. So they too drew their blades holding them in an underhand grip showing that they knew how to use them.

"Big mistake kids. Bad mistake. No one crosses us like that and gets away with it. Besides we can't leave any witnesses behind, now can we?"

"You don't have to do this. So far no one has gotten hurt. Keep it that way. You'll get a fair trial."

The leader shrugged.

"What good is a fair trial to the likes of us? We are guilty as hell. Caught red-handed you might say, though I am sure our hands will get much redder very soon now. Heh, heh."

"Poaching is one thing, a crime against property really. Murder is something else. It's a capital crime."

He shrugged again.

"We crossed that bridge long ago — all of us. For what we are about to do, I can honestly say that I am sorry, kid, though only for the waste of prime boy flesh. Fact is I am going to enjoy this."

At his signal his men spread out so as to come at them from three directions at one. The leader grinned predatorily.

"Three of us against two of you and we all grown men, not kids still skinny from their growth spurt. We are armed. You alas are empty handed. Bare-ass too and barefoot. All we'd have to do is stomp on you toes to hold you in place while we gutted you. You could try to run, but we would recover our air guns before you got out of range and drop you"

"I guess that is clear enough, Brand. We gave them every chance, yet they mean to kill us. So let's not hold back or try to take them prisoner."

The leader sneered again.

"Big talk. Do your worst." he challenged.

Brand shook his head.

"It won't come to that. Our worst is what we reserve for tough opponents. You three are easy prey."

Left unsaid was that in a confrontation with truly formidable opponents both wirs would have started the fight by snapping double handfuls of electrum sparks which delivered both a burn from the heat and a jolt from the charge of static electricity. No one on the receiving end could possibly fight effectively whether on offense or on defense.

With that the wirs transformed into leopards and attacked the leader's wing men. The poachers had had no idea that the cousins were shape shifters and were dumbfounded by their transformation. With the advantage of surprise the boys pitted their claws and fangs against the men's blades. Leon and Brand each weighed about one-forty and had the advantages of faster reflexes and doubled strength thanks to their magical nature.

In their attack the cousins did not fight as the men might have expected normal leopards to do by rearing up on their hind legs to get at the chests, neck, or faces of the poachers. That tactic would only have exposed their heads, chests, and bellies to their foes' knives. Instead they came at the men on all fours keeping low to the ground, hence much lower than anything on two legs would or could. For starters Leon and Brand clawed at the fork of their legs. The intense pain from damage to their manly parts took most of the fight out of them, making it easy to finish them off.

The leader held his hands up in surrender. To his relief the cousins let him live, not so much from mercy but so he could answer questions about his middlemen and about where the poachers had set their traps. He gave his name as Otto Marin.

Leon did take a stab wound to his left shoulder, and the other man's blade laid Brand's scalp open to the bone but the boys healed their wounds when they transformed back into their two-legged form.

Leon had the leader load the bodies on the mules which were only lightly burdened by the furs and skins then tied his hands in front of him to let him walk better. Under the watchful eyes of his captors who had armed themselves with the air guns he lead them through the area where the poachers had set their traps. They were easy to find since the poachers had blazed a mark on the nearest tree. They piled the traps atop the uncharacteristically uncomplaining mules then passed through the hawthorn hedge onto the plains.

As they set forth Leon reminded Marin of what he himself had told them earlier.

"No way you can run fast enough or far enough to get out of range before we drop you. We both have the gift of Unerring Direction, so we are dead shots."

That was a pardonable exaggeration. The gift alone was not enough. Marksmanship took practice. The cousins had trained with air guns only long enough to familiarize them with the operation of the weapons. Sure shots they were not.

They marched cross-country to the the town of Three Forks, the closest county seat with a constabulary station and jail and a district court which might conduct a proper trial.

The little procession attracted notice as it passed down the street: two incredibly sexy and totally nude snow elves, their hapless prisoner, and three mules loaded with two dead bodies and a whole set of animal traps plus whatever was under the tarps. The constabulary station was clearly marked. Looping the lead for the mules around a hitching post, the boys marched inside with their prisoner.

The grizzled human sitting at the desk was clearly the duty sergeant. His nameplate said: Sergeant Waldron. He asked their names and what their business was. Telling them to wait a moment he stepped into an office marked Commanding Officer. The long-serving commander was an elf named Captain Galathil.

Galathil listened to their story and took charge of the situation. He had Marin put in a cell and the goods in the evidence locker. A constable took the mules to their own stables. Based on what the boys had told him he wrote up the charges, had the boys check the document for accuracy, then offered to put the boys up in their barracks until the conclusion of the legal proceedings. The accommodations were dormitory style so although Leon and Brand were lovers, they didn't engage in sex but simply slept together, their limbs and bodies entwined like a couple of kittens.

The trial was held three days later to give the defendant time to consult with an advocate. To maintain the dignity of the proceedings the cousins wore sarongs borrowed for the trial. They testified that it was the New Forest itself which had used its psychic link with shape shifters to draw them to the poachers. The prolonged agony which their traps had inflicted on the animals they snared alerted the forest that something very much out of the ordinary was happening. With normal predation, kills were mercifully quick.

In his testimony Otto Marin tried to turn the tables. He claimed that having been caught with the goods he and his men had dutifully surrendered, expecting to get off with a fine or maybe a term of public service in road work or the like. Instead they became the victims of an unprovoked and murderous attack born of the blood lust in the hearts of the wild beasts the shape shifters had transformed into. Only after their thirst for blood had been quenched had the forest rangers accepted his surrender, not out of any sort of mercy but only from expediency.

Unfortunately for him the judge was an empath. He rule the main's testimony to be untruthful and his claim to be a lie. That meant a new charge for perjury, itself an aggravating factor for sentencing. The law was clear that at trial a defendant did not have to testify. He could remain silent, but if he did testify, he must not lie on the stand.

The court ruled that the auxiliary forest rangers had acted within their authority when they checked the packs for contraband and then had acted in self-defense when the malefactors tried to murder them.

The judge found Marin guilty on two counts of attempted murder under aggravating circumstances namely that the intended victims were law enforcement officers attacked during the performance of their duty. Added to that were two counts of felony murder. The onus for the deaths of his accomplices was on Marin himself for enticing and involving them in his murderous conspiracy.

The Commonwealth operated no prisons, only jails for short-term confinement. Sentences for minor offenses crimes included fines and forfeiture of goods or funds, or public service. Major crimes might draw temporary or permanent exile, sometimes with the outlaw mark which made them fair game if ever again found with the country's borders. Crimes like treason and murder including felony murder drew the death penalty, usually from a firing squad armed with bows or air guns.

The next day Marin was bound to a stake with his back to a wall as a squad of five constables took aim and fired. They aimed true. All five bullets hit him squarely in his center of mass, so he died instantly and almost painlessly. No need then for a coup de grace to the head. The boys served as official witnesses. Executions in the Commonwealth were never open to the general public lest a holiday atmosphere prevail, but there had to be witnesses.

Now the poachers were the very first sapients the wir leopards had killed, and though the planet was better off for their passing, Leon and Brand had misgivings about how much the killings had appealed to their feline natures. Leon ventured to say:

"I know that killing them was a moral act. It was they who forced us to fight for our lives. They set the rules of engagement as our friends who are combat veterans would put it. Yes we might have just captured them, but the attempt would have exposed us to greater risk. We did not owe them that, and we did owe it to ourselves and to our law enforcement mission to preserve our own lives."

"Yet Otto Marin hit close to home with his point about our savagery and blood lust, at least when we are in our predatory forms. I certainly experienced those feelings during the fight."

"So did I Leon, but it wasn't blood lust that drove us to kill. It was self-defense. It was our duty to stop a trio of men who had murdered before, were trying to murder us, and undoubtedly would do so again to others in the future. Regardless of our feelings, we didn't do anything wrong, exactly the contrary."

"You are right of course, but I would also like to lay this before our protectors. I don't know any beings whose moral sense I trust more."

"Indeed."

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