Elf Boy's Friends - VIII
The Corps of Discovery planned to traverse the Hot Lands by stages, stopping at three more of the nine oases strung out along the trade route that ran from the border of the Commonwealth to the ridge that marked the northern edge of the Hot Lands. At each stop Jemsen would delve for minerals.
Jemsen knew that he would have time for only a preliminary geological survey at each stop. So before he left on his survey he conferred with Dayyub and recommended that the Medkari recruit their younger delvers, those of apprentice and journeyman rank and send them to the Institute of Wizardry and Magic back at the capital of the Commonwealth for professional training.
These younger delvers, being in their teens and early twenties, both youths and young ladies, would be of a more flexible mindset than their elders. And since these younglings had already mastered the basics of delving for water, their training would be expedited.
Jemsen explained that the course of study the Medkari cohort would undertake would cover all of the earth sciences including geology, mineralogy, soil science, and seismology. The Institute did not charge tuition. Instead it was supported by an annual government grant plus operating funds drawn from its endowment which was continually augmented by bequests from former students and gifts from living well-wishers.
With Commonwealth training, the Medkari delvers would be able to do more with their gift. Instead of using it just occasionally to locate sites for drilling artesian wells at new oases or finding the best building sites for their underground dwellings, they could search for minerals like cinnabar and antimony and feldspar under the Hot Lands. A proper survey would take decades, providing all of them with a career. As Jemsen explained:
"I expect some of your young delvers are actually earth wizards who can use magic to bring ore bodies or at least sample right to the surface for easy mining. Also with delvers raising ore bodies to the surface your miners would never be in danger of the kinds of accidents that can happen when tunneling through the earth, something which we ourselves witnessed early in our expedition when we helped save dwarves trapped by a cave-in at a tin mine."
"Revenue from mines would let the Medkari purchase manufactures from the Commonwealth."
"Like autogyros!" Raqqub enthused.
The young headman was a fetcher of moderate power and had flown with both the yoke and a rigid gliding wing imported from the Commonwealth by which he flew long distance past the large salt lake to the north all the way to the Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea to visit family. And after Drew took him up for a couple of flights in his racer, he wanted an autogyro of his own in the worst way.
Dayyub smiled at the young man's enthusiasm.
"Or more prosaic items like the solar stoves which let us cook without fuel and the insulated boxes which let us chill food with ice made by our firecasters, iced-cream makers, and even clever new toys for the children. And yes, autogyros would indeed be useful. If we built an airfield halfway across the Hot Lands it would support not only our own machines but also postal autogyros to speed the mail from the Commonwealth to the lands to the north. And eventually we might start passenger service as well."
"Just how long would our students be away?" Dayyub asked.
"No more than six months, Dayyub and maybe as little as four. That's not so very long, is it?"
"It's not how long they would be away, my friend, but whether they would all still want to return here to the Hot Lands after seeing the bright lights of the big city."
"You have a point," Jemsen conceded, "but in my experience country folk often find the city is not for them, and six months or even four is long enough for boys and girls to get homesick."
"I suppose we can only trust them and hope they make the right decision at the end of their training. Anyway, where would they live, and how much would that cost?"
Jemsen explained that the students would reside at a dormitory on the grounds of the Institute which could host as many as fifty students at any one time and seldom had much more than half that many. As for living expenses, there was usually a modest charge for room and board. However these expenses could be waived and covered by a bursary.
"I am not sure we Medkari should accept charity, however well intended."
"Not charity. We consider bursaries to be an investment in the future which will likely be repaid many times over in bequests and donations to the endowment of the Institute. Also consider that a fully trained cohort of delvers will doubtless open up a trade in minerals beneficial to both our countries."
"Can you be sure our students will be awarded bursaries?"
"Count on it. Bursaries are awarded on on the recommendation of those well thought of at the Institute. It just so happened that the Sir Willet, the dean of the Institute of Wizardry is a mentor to Drew, Liam, and Axel as well as the twins. Drew is the dean of the fetchers and the editor of their professional journal 'Magic.' He is also good friends with Sir Angus Mcfadden the head of the Institute of Magic. Drew, Axel and the twins are themselves generous donors to the Institute. Finally the recommendation of a Dread Hand of the Commonwealth cum avatar of a thunder god carries great weight."
"Yes, I can see that. One more thing. It is a very long journey to the capital of the Commonwealth…"
Before he could continue Axel shook his head.
"Not far at all if I Jump them there."
"All right. You have persuaded me. I'll send out word via our infrasound messaging network and have our students ready for pickup at their oases in, shall we say, ten days' time?"
"Fine. We'll collect them in the transport aerocraft as we fly back from the northernmost oasis where the rest of our party is laying over. That way the flight to Amity will give them an overview of the whole of the Hot Lands. After we get to Amity, Axel can teleport them in an instant to the capital."
And so it was settled.
Once again Dayyub reflected on how lucky his people were to have such good neighbors and friends as the Commonwealth in general and these fine young people in particular. And who knew what mineral wealth lay beneath their feet?
Dayyub had always known that the few delvers the Medkari had were specialists trained mostly exclusively in locating underground aquifers and streams. (Delving building sites was much easier so required little training.) Their gift allowed them to tell the drillers what kinds of soil and rock to expect at depth and how far down they had to sink their shafts. Locating profitable ore bodies had always been beyond their training and experience but not beyond their capabilities according to Jemsen.
Jemsen had explained that though an earth wizard might locate bodies of iron ore and copper and raise them to the surface, the mining of bulk metals like iron and copper would never become a major industry in the Hot Lands, not without a goodly supply of water for the mine. Nor did the Medkari have a way to ship heavy loads long distances. There were no iron roads or rivers or canals in that arid region of mostly short grass prairie. Nor were there markets or customers close enough to ship to.
The Medkari should look to develop an export trade in lighter minerals. There were significant deposits of cinnabar located around alkaline hot springs. That mineral could be processed into elemental quicksilver or into the brilliant pigment called vermillion which would fetch good prices anywhere. Similarly certain compounds of the metal antimony were an important ingredient in cosmetics.
Came the day, and Liam flew the transport autogyro to Amity with all five student delvers aboard who were to have some final words from Dayyub. Two of the students were brother and sister, good looking red-heads about seventeen. Beside the sibling there were another girl and two more boys all of them a year or two older. Needless to say the eager kids were just bubbling with enthusiasm.
Clearing his throat to get their attention Dayyub told them:
"You five are about to embark on the first great adventure of your young lives. It will be a formative experience both professionally and personally. Now you will be away from home without any chaperone other than your companions. So look out for each other. We expect you to work hard to learn as much as you can of delving and the geological sciences. But a focus on your studies doesn't mean you should not have fun too. This is your time, the juices are flowing, so it is only natural that you enjoy yourselves and perhaps find boyfriends or girlfriends.
At this point, the three males among the five shook their heads and said in union,
"Forget girlfriends. Bring on those boyfriends!"
The red-head's sister rolled her eyes: "Boys!"
Dayyub chuckled. Young Medkari males often dallied with those of their own gender till it was time to marry and settle down which virtually all of them did. Among the Medkari the family wasn't just a social unit, it was the smallest practical economic unit as well.
The red-head turned to Axel and asked it were true that boys in the Commonwealth ran around in public without a stitch on. Axel explained that, yes it was true, with nudity taboos virtually non-existent, young males always exercised in the nude whether on the running tracks in the parks, at swimming pools, or while playing games on the grass like tossing the Zinger. And few males bothered with clothing for any kind of sweaty work.
"All students are expected to take part in physical training to keep themselves fit. So you too could find yourself running around in public bare ass naked."
The red-head shrugged.
"Not a problem. It will be a relief to get out of these long robes which we adopted to deal with the hot dry climate here not because we are body shy. Back where we came from, the shores and islands of a large freshwater lake, boys often run around in the nude. And even in the hot lands you will frequently see nude Medkari boys swimming in one of the recreational pools in the center of the oasis."
"And not so incidentally showing their sexy bodies off to potential boyfriends." His sister observed. "Their rambunctious grab-ass wrestling and dunking is just thinly disguised foreplay, if the truth were known."
"Now sis, come clean. It's not just potential boyfriends who ogle our sexy bodies. The girls' clubhouse has a clear view of the boys' pool. Did you really think we boys didn't know about those far-viewer tubes you girls keep handy for a discreet look-see."
His sister blanched at the realization that her sisterhood's supposedly covert surveillance of naked boys was common knowledge.
"It's so unfair," the girl complained. "Around the shores of the Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea boys hardly bother with clothing. The older generations of girls didn't have to sneak peeks the way we do now that boys hide their bodies under those robes."
Dayyub's and Raqqub's eyes twinkled with merriment.
"A word of advice about boyfriends." Axel interjected. "There are cute guys everywhere in the capital, but the very best place for you to meet them is in Twinkle Town."
"Twinkle Town?" the red-headed boy asked.
"Named for the twinks who are its chief denizens Twinkle Town is a district or rather a cluster of dining, drinking, and dancing establishments favored by males who fancy pretty boys and by pretty boys who favor being fancied. You'll fit right in."
"You bet I will!"
Dayyub gave each of the students a pouch of silvers to cover incidentals during their stay. The oldest boy also got a letter of credit for contingencies.
With their carryalls in their left hands, the five stacked their right hands atop Axel's who instantly jumped them to the capital and made the introductions. Sir Willet took the students in tow and got them settled. Over kaffay and cakes with his mentor, Axel brought him up to date on the activities of the Corps of Discovery.
Afterwards, Axel went over to the Bureau of Ships and found Eike was testing his latest invention at the naval proving grounds, something of a misnomer since it was really a small lake. Eike was standing at the end of a pier, his attention fixed out on what was happening in the water so he was unaware of Axel's approach.
The young naval architect was barefoot and wore only a skimpy loincloth, a panel of buckskin passed between the legs with the ends flipped over a thong tied low around his narrow hips. For Eike, a boy who had spent five years stark naked as a castaway, that was practically formal wear.
Standing on a pier and intent on what was happening on the water, Eike was unaware of his friend's approach till Axel deliberately scuffed his feet on the planks. Eike spun around, exclaimed happily, then threw himself into Axel's embrace.
They made a cute couple.
Slightly built, slender, and smooth muscled with blond hair the color of corn-silk, Eike looked to be no more than sixteen though he was nineteen going on twenty. He would stay that way for centuries thanks to druidical healing magic. Far prettier than any boy rightly ought to be, Eike had a flawless complexion and fine boned features including a broad brow that hinted at his intellect, high cheekbones, a straight nose, plus subtly pointed ears and chin which gave him an elfin appearance, Large green eyes were set wide apart under finely arched brows, their lashes too long to have ever have been meant for a male.
Axel was of an age with Eike, along with Corwin Klarendes, they were the youngest of their circle. Unlike Eike and Corwin, Axel was a red head with hair the color of copper. Short, slightly built and boyishly cute, with fair skin, his face was dominated by large green eyes set over heart-melting dimples.
"It's been too long, Axel."
"Only a few weeks, but I know what you mean. Anyway what is this new invention of yours?"
Eike had created an anti-ship weapon which he called a torpedo. Made of wood and steel, tubular in shape with a blunt streamlined cap, it was two feet in diameter and ten feet long.
"It neither sinks nor rises maintaining neutral buoyancy by balancing water ballast against the buoyancy of an air tank. A fetcher stationed on a mother ship can push it along at the surface or even underwater for a stealthy approach to its target. When it hits, the incendiaries in the warhead go up with a whoosh and set the vessel on fire with flames that cannot be doused by water It can also be used against piers and docks. And as with my autogyros, it does not take a really strong fetcher to push the torpedo through the water. Which means, as the admiral likes to say, you don't need a thunder god to deliver shock and awe."
"How will this help us in our war against the trolls?"
"It won't. It's a weapon for combat at sea, whether the Great Inland Freshwater Sea and some day even the outer ocean. Admiral Van Zant wants to get the Navy ready for the next war before it starts."
"The next war? Against whom?"
"Who knows? In this tempestuous world of ours there is always going to be a next war."
"Such cynicism does not become you, Eike."
"I'm not cynical at all, Axel, but I am a realist."
"The difference being?"
"A cynic believes that people are selfish and motivated purely by self-interest, that they never act for honorable or generous reasons. As a realist I know that is simply not true, that there are plenty of good people in this world who often act for honorable or unselfish reasons. People like yourself and our friends. But as a realist I also know that not everyone is a good person. Sometimes you have to fight the bad guys. That is why we have an army and a navy in the first place."
"I can't argue with that."
"Anyway, what have you guys been up to on your grand expedition?"
"Why don't you wind this up and knock off early? We can head over to Twinkle Town for some food and fun, and I can tell you about our adventures to date. You'll read the details soon enough in the Capital Intelligencer. I dropped off Drew's reports at their office before I came over. And more good news: I plan to spend the night here before jumping back to the Hot Lands."
"Excellent. We are almost done here anyway. But before we leave what say we go for a swim?"
"After the Hot Lands the lake water sure looks tempting. As do you yourself, Eike, running around in next to nothing like that."
"Next to nothing? I can do better than that!"
Suiting his actions to his words, Eike loosed the knot of his thong at his hip and let the loincloth fall to the planks rendering him entirely naked.
Axel was so eager to get his clothes off he fumbled with the buttons. In frustration he tugged the last one off by main strength, though he was conscientious enough to stick it in a pocket. Once Axel was naked, the boys embraced warmly then dove into the water.
What ensued was more like foreplay than normal grab-ass water sports as the eager boys wrestled and dunked each other. Drawing Axel to the shelter of a stand of reeds along the shore, the boys clambered up on the bank and made love right then and there under the open sky.
By then Eike's assistants and the fetcher who had operated the torpedo had long since absented themselves, taking the torpedo with them, giving the lovers the privacy they needed to fully express the passionate love they felt for each other. For the next hour the lovers joined their bodies as lusty lads will, in a tangle of limbs and thrusting hips, hungry kisses, heavy petting, and words of love and less articulate sounds expressive of their joint passion.
Later they had dinner in Twinkle Town at the Sign of the Whale and spent the night making love in their suite of rooms in their residential hotel. The next morning Axel teleported himself back to Amity.
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