Elf Boy's Friends - XI

by George Gauthier

Chapter 11

The Faun

A couple of days later the snow elves encountered a trio of forest rangers: the tall raven-hired half-elf Brandon and two sturdily built human youths, the blond brothers Garret and Lorn. All three were full-time professional rangers not auxiliary rangers like the trio of Snow Elves. They were on a regular patrol in their assigned sector of the New Forest.

Quickly realizing that three dire wolves in the company of a unicorn could not simply be wild animals, the rangers did not reach for their weapons. After the shape shifters transformed Brandon greeted them.

"Hi guys, whichever one of you is which. Uh, no offense, but I still cannot tell you triplets apart in either form."

Lobo smiled. "No problem, Brandon. I'm Lobo" He then pointed out Lupo and Volf and finally introduced Derry.

"So you're that shape shifting unicorn I heard about. When did you link up with my colleagues here?"

Derry explained that they had been together for only a few days. The weather had been fine and the company congenial, and he looked forward to spending much time with his new friends.

"Are you having fun with your new boyfriend?" Brandon asked the triplets

"You better believe it." Lobo told him fervently.

That reference to same gendered sex caused Garret and Lorn to roll their eyes. Good guys though they were and close friends with Brandon, they had never really understood all the romantic fuss which some males made over pretty boys. Their own sex life was utterly conventional. They consorted exclusively with the female half of the species.

Since the rangers and the snow elves were all headed in the same general direction they stayed together. To snow elves on walkabout, the destination was almost beside the point. It was the journey that mattered, the journey and what happened during.

Brandon explained that they had been told to keep an eye out for a human youngster of fourteen. The boy wasn't exactly lost so this wasn't an all out search. A couple of days earlier he had deliberately crossed the hawthorn hedge that marked the boundary of the magical forest and gone on the first walkabout of his young life. His shape shifting gift had manifested itself only weeks earlier.

This boy Stefan had slyly persuaded his folks to vacation at a resort just on the other side of the mountains. The morning after their arrival the distraught parents found a note from their headstrong son saying that he planned to slip into the New Forest and go on walkabout. His folks were worried since Stefan was really a city boy with minimal field craft, just what he picked up in two seasons at summer camp. He had taken off with only a box lunch and a water gourd. They later found his clothes and gourd at the gap in the hawthorn hedge through which he entered the forest taking nothing with him save his flute which he carried on a sling.

"Why a flute?" Lupo wondered

Garret shrugged. "The kid is musical and fancies himself to be a magical creature, a faun — a free spirit of the woods. He must have read one too many fairy tales."

Brandon shook his head.

"The boy is more like a vulnerable fawn, F-A-W-N than a faun F-A-U-N. What makes a fool kid take off on his very first walkabout here in the New Forest so very far from his familiar haunts and without little to no field craft? He should have picked a city park for his first solo adventure. That way when he got hungry or tired or wet he could just walk home."

"He's very young." Derry reminded him. "Being foolish goes with the territory. The boy likely thought he could get by on instinct alone. Of course it does not work that way. Wild animals operate on more than instinct. Mothers of predatory species have to teach their young to hunt. Even then most hunts are unsuccessful."

"So what form does he change into anyway?" Lobo asked.

"A red wolf."

"A red wolf? They're not terribly large, are they? How big is the kid?"

"Ninety pounds."

"That puts him at the upper end of the range for red wolves which are intermediate in size between the coyote and the gray wolf and considerably smaller than dire wolves like ourselves."

Brandon nodded.

"Well it was his choice to take off. I just hope we find him, or he walks out on his own. Fourteen is way too young too die."

"We're keeping an eye and an ear peeled for him." Garret remarked.

"An ear?" Derry wondered. "Oh, you mean you are listening for the plaintive wail of that flute of his."

"Right and we are giving special scrutiny to thickets. Red wolves have a habit of concealing themselves in thickets."

"True, but does this boy know that?"

"Hmm, maybe you're right. Still it can't hurt to give extra attention to places he might lie concealed."

Derry suddenly had a thought. "You don't suppose the boy transformed into a red wolf and did know how to change back? Does that ever happen with shape shifters?"

"What an appalling though!" Lobo exclaimed.

None of them knew the answer to Derry's question, but next time they saw their protectors or the druids they would ask.

Their joint patrol turned up nothing over the next two days. On the fourth day of the boy's walkabout the acute hearing of the lupine element among them heard music, a melody that could only have come from a flute.

"A flute. So the boy must be in his human form. You need fingers and lips to play a flute." Derry noted.

Sure enough after following the sound a while the patrol emerged from the trees into a clearing where the disconsolate red-headed boy sat leaning back on a boulder, playing a sad tune, expressive of his mood. He was hungry, tired, and lost and just wanted to go home, or rather to his parents back at the resort.

Stefan started in alarm at the sight of the dire wolves who were in the lead but calmed down when the rangers came into view then sat back when the triplets transformed into Snow Elves.

"I am so glad you found me. I was at my wits end what to do."

Brandon was in charge so he started the questioning.

"Got lost did you?"

The boy nodded.

"I could tell by the sun and the stars that west lay that-away," he pointed, "but these mountains are a maze of peaks and ridges and ravines and valleys and defiles. You can't just pick a direction and maintain that heading."

"That's where the gift of Unerring Direction comes in handy for us Snow Elves." Lobo pointed out. "We always know our way back to any place we have been to."

"Are you hungry, Stefan?" Brandon asked.

"I'm starving! I did find a couple of plovers' nests. Those birds nest on the ground, so it was easy to collect them, and I didn't fall for the mothers' trick with a broken wing either. That's something I learned in summer camp. So I got the eggs, but I had to eat them raw. No way to build a fire, you see.

"Did you try to hunt and take game?" Lobo asked.

"Yes only it was harder than I expected. I thought I could count on the predatory instincts of my red wolf form, but hunting takes practice I've never had, not in that form or this."

"So you never made a kill."

"Only one. A rabbit. I caught it by the neck in my jaws and shook my head to snap its neck. Then I dropped it at my feet. Gosh, it looked so pathetic and peaceful, like it was asleep, only it was dead and I had killed it. I knew the next step was to tear it apart and eat its flesh raw, but I could not bring myself to do it. Some predator, eh? I'd hardly turned my back and walked away when a hawk swooped down and carried away my kill. He sure knew what to do with it."

"I did gather mushrooms and berries and nuts, those I recognized as safe to eat, but that is about all I've had to eat in four days. I even tried some grubs I collected from under the bark of a rotting log. Yuck!"

Garret reached into his pack and gave the boy some way bread and cheese.

"Eat it slowly or you won't be able to keep it down." he instructed.

"If only I had had fishing gear with me. I might have caught fish from a pond or stream. I've gone fishing before with no problem. Helped my dad clean the fish and cook them up in a fry pan. So I am not squeamish about fish."

"Just what I was saying myself only the other day about carrying fishing gear with us," Lupo averred.

"So aside from being tired, lost, and hungry, how was your very first walkabout?" Lobo asked.

Stefan's whole face light up.

"It was magical! In my human form I danced and played music just like a faun out of legend. As a red wolf I could run or rather lope tirelessly, the wind ruffling my fur, my nose detecting scents hitherto unknown. I chased birds just for the heck of it and later jumped off a high bank into a stream and literally dog paddled across. One night I howled at the moon. Thanks to my fur coat, I didn't have to worry about cutting myself on thorns or sword grass, and it made a good blanket at night too."

"Also my vision was different. It turns out that wolves have excellent visual discrimination and good crepuscular vision though with less overall acuity. And who knew that wolves were partly color-blind. What looks red to a boy looks yellow to a wolf. Is that ever weird? On the plus side their other senses are so much sharper both their aural and their olfactory abilities."

"Tell me about it." Lobo said dryly. "And since you are now a wolf too, you should say 'our' aural and olfactory abilities."

"Oh, right."

"Where do you get your vocabulary from, Stefan?" Volf asked. "You're like a walking dictionary."

"Ha! In a sense I am exactly that. My father compiles entries for dictionaries, both general ones and the specialized sort too. I sometimes help him transcribe the exemplars onto note cards."

It was getting late so they decided to camp right there. Whatever his limitations were in fieldcraft the boy had picked a good spot to camp. That evening, the lupine triplets talked with Stefan explaining some of the tricks of the trade for walkabout. Next time, and there would be a next time, Stefan should take more than his flute. He needed a topographical map of the area plus a pack with a compass, fishing gear, knife, burning glass, signal mirror, and salt.

"That's good advice, but I don't see a pack on you guys." Stefan wondered.

"We ourselves are just getting around to that. Normally our protectors carry the pack for the whole family."

Stefan marveled at the idea of a family of eight magical creatures namely six shape shifters and two giant white Kodiak bears.

"Three wolves, two spotted leopards, and a wolverine? And a pair of Kodiak bears who are the ursine equivalent of unicorns? Wow!"

No one, not even Stefan himself, was sure about his sexual orientation, nor did anyone try to find out, not with a boy of such tender years. It was only right that the youth first take up with boys or girls his own age. Anyway with the boy in their midst, its as no night was un and frolic.

The next day the rangers headed west to guide the youngster to his folks while Derry and the triplets headed southeast for their rendezvous with their own family.

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