Elf Boy's Friends - VIII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 10

The Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea

The next day, as their autogyros soared high above the border of the Hot Lands, Jemsen looked back from Finn's aerocraft at the nine oases strung out like pearls along the line of the trade road which continued northwards to connect with the territories beyond the Hot Lands.

"You know Karel, I was pretty much left out of the fight against the locusts. There was not much an earth wizard can do to against a cloud of bugs. So I was glad that by sponsoring students for training in delving I too could contribute to the well-being of our friends the Medkari. They are good people."

"Yes they are. You're not such a bad sort yourself, dear brother." Karel said ruffling his twin's hair.

"I am glad that on our mission we have been able to make a positive contribution to the lives of those we have encountered along the way. First they were the folks at that river town suddenly left high and dry when a bank of clay slumped and dammed the flow. Then there were the dwarfs trapped in the mine. And now our Corps of Discovery has helped the Medkari in two different ways."

"Right. And we are just getting started on our explorations. I look forward to what lies ahead of us, especially with you and all our friends along to share our adventures with. I gotta admit that life is looking pretty good these days. The war against the trolls now seems very far away and a long time ago."

"Good. And I think that it is especially true for Axel, in case you haven't noticed."

"I have. Axel is almost his old self again. He is such a sweet kid, isn't he."

"He is that and more. Our Axel is one of the finest people you could ever meet."

Karel nodded, then with a mischievous grin on his face added:

"Did you notice how sleepy Axel was this morning? You would think he hadn't gotten a full night's sleep last night even though he slept in his own bed at home back in the capital."

"I can't imagine why that might have happened." Jemsen said dryly.

With that the twins resumed their aerial survey of the terrain below, making preliminary terrain sketches which would help them draft maps later on.

Late that afternoon the salt lake Dayyub had spoken of came into view. It lay in an endorheic basin, meaning that it had no outlet but maintained its size, within modest fluctuations, by balancing evaporation against the inflow from an intermittent river, flash floods, groundwater seepage, and direct precipitation.

The Corps of Discovery stopped briefly and were told by the manager that the Medkari installation was an outpost of the colony in the Hot Lands. Workers harvested salt from evaporation pans built at the southern end and transported it to both the Hot Lands and the Medkari settlements around the Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea.

The country north of the salt lake Lands was higher in elevation so it got more rain. Short grass prairie yielded to tall grass prairie which supported a cattle industry. Roads radiating from a palisaded settlement piqued their curiosity. They landed and were told that the wall encircled the headquarters of no less than six ranches, whose lands were outlined by the radial roads. The concentration of homes and bunk houses, barns, storehouses, and corrals made it easier to protect everyone from bandits, raiders, or rustlers. In the event of an incursion a reaction force of militia could quickly form up and ride out to confront the threat.

One of the ranchers told Finn that quarterly cattle drives to slaughter houses near the lesser Inland Freshwater Sea supplied beef to the Medkari colony around its shores. Invited to stay overnight, the explorers were treated to the best beef dinner anyone had eaten in a long time.

The next day, as the flew northward the scene changed from tall grass prairie to a tropical dry forest of teak and mountain ebony, also called the orchid tree for its beautiful flowers. Both species were deciduous in the dry season, when they dropped their leaves to conserve moisture. Trees on better watered sites and those whose roots were able to tap ground water were likely to be evergreens like the showy flame-of-the-forest.

Finally the travelers reached the body of water the Medkari called the Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea.

Cradled by a range of hills to the east and south and roughly trapezoidal in shape with the short side to the east, it stretched one-hundred ten miles at its greatest dimension south to north and forty miles west to east. The indented shoreline featured peninsulas, bays, coves, inlets, and canals. An archipelago filled much of the southern zone near the mouths of the three rivers which emptied into the lake. At the northern end a gallery forest marked the course of the lake's only outlet, an rocky creek whose waters ultimately drained into the northern ocean.

The lake waters teemed with fish mostly introduced by the settlers centuries earlier with the help of a druid who had ensured an ecological balance of plants and animals. Fish also abounded in the tributary rivers and were also raised in fishponds while huge flocks of aquatic birds nested in the marshes and many islands, only the largest of which were inhabited.

The farmers lived in villages strung along the river valleys. Crops grew in the fertile bottomlands which were never built upon. The higher ground was devoted to roads, vineyards, orchards, and workshops while houses either stood on piles over the water or floated on the water. Fishing villages lined the lakeshore and were set on some of the larger islands as well.

The inhabitants were Medkari but their way of life was not at all like that of their friends back in the Hot Lands. These folk depended on rainfall agriculture and on fishing and light manufactures to provide their livelihoods rather than irrigated farming and trade. These Medkari did not use draft animals or mounts except for external trade. Practically everywhere was accessible by water. Boats propelled by oar or sail were everywhere, their crews wearing only the skimpiest of loincloths and often nothing at all. No long robes for these Medkari.

Dayyub always said that it was their adaptability which had allowed the Medkari to settle distinctly different lands scattered around the continent, always in unclaimed lands without threatening neighbors. Each enclave or colony was independent of the others but link by bonds of kinship, culture, and language plus a diplomatic alliance for mutual defense.

The language of the Medkari was virtually impossible for outsiders to master with its many homonyms differing only in tonal values and hard to articulate consonant clusters. However, of necessity all Medkari learned the common language of Valentia and were fluent in what for them amounted to their second tongue.

The autogyro attracted everyone's attention as the Corps of Discovery flew along the shore and out over the lake and the fishing fleet some of which seemed to be propelled by fetchers rather than by sail or oars. Obviously none of these folk had ever seen a flying machine, but that did't mean that none of them could fly.

A young fetcher strapped to a short yoke designed only for flight not for carrying a load flew up to meet the visitors and directed the Corps of Discovery to a sizable town built at the mouth of one of the tributary rivers, the buildings were strung out along the distributaries and canals rather than clustering in a densely built up center.

As the autogyros settled to the ground, the fetcher dropped down next to them. He was a fine looking sandy-haired youngster with hazel eyes, no more than seventeen. Standing just under middling height and with a slender build smooth musculature he had delicate features including finely arched brows. The boy was comely enough to give Drew or Axel or any of the other twinks in their party a run for his money.

Unlike most of the fisher men and boys in the boats who were nude, he was dressed, if you can call in that, in a pair of square-cut low-rise short shorts made of white silk which contrasted nicely with his tawny skin. Bronzed from constant exposure to the sun his skin was smooth and wholly free from body hair, much like an elf, though this boy's heritage was entirely human.

"We come in peace" Finn called out as his autogyro rolled to a stop in little more than their own length.

"Then in peace we welcome you, we the Medkari of the the Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea. My name is Kyle."

"And I am Finn Ragnarson. No offense young Kyle, but you hardly look old enough to speak for your people. Not that I find anything displeasing about your looks. Far from it." Finn added with a wink which brought a saucy grin to Kyle's pretty face.

"Oh, I am not our spokesman. That duty falls to my uncle Farhad who is our senior headman. I work for him as a messenger boy. I can run like the wind and fly too, which is why he tasked me to bring you to him. Now where you set down is as good a place as any. Your machines and effects should be safe enough left here. So if you will all follow me. You can make the introductions when we get to the Assembly."

By this time the other members of the expedition had gathered around Finn so they joined him and their guide for the short walk through town along streets clearly restricted to pedestrians and push carts and graced with a line of shade trees down the middle.

"What kind of pavement are we walking on?" Jemsen asked.

"Rectangular blocks of teak sunk perpendicularly into the sandy soil and bonded together with a paste more akin to an organic glue than a mineral-based mortar. It provides a hard smooth surface that lasts forever. The roadway does get slippery in the rain, but that is better than mud."

Many of the buildings were built of bamboo though the more substantial ones were framed in the local teak. Regardless they were airy structures whose shaded porches, decks, and verandas showed that these folks like to sit and socialize out in the open in the fresh air rather than behind walls.

Kyle led them to one of the few two storied structures in the center of a town where would be met by the town's headman. The walk gave the travelers a good look at Kyle's bum, outlined so revealingly by the shorts which molded themselves around and barely covered his pert buns which twitched fetchingly as he walked ahead of them.

"I think I am falling in love!" Drew declaimed with only half-feigned fervor. This Medkari youth really appealed to him.

"Hands off, Drew." Finn warned in mock jealously. "I saw the boy first."

Kyle turned and grinned at their banter. "You guys won't have to contend for my favors. I am not exclusive that way. As anyone around here can tell you I am quite the social butterfly."

"They say that about me too." Drew remarked grinning. "It's fitting that we have that in common too, beside our magical gift, our pretty boy good looks, and our obvious attraction to each other."

That provoked the twins to roll their eyes while Finn shook his head at his auburn haired friend's brazenness.

When the reached the Hall of the Assembly, Kyle unstrapped his harness and hung his flying yoke on pegs just inside the doorway. He walked over to a lanky man of early middle years who was standing across the room studying a large map of the region hung on the wall. Comfortably dressed in a dark green sarong and buckskin vest with sandals on his feet, the man slipped the small magnifying glass he had been using into a pocket of his vest as Kyle said:

"Uncle — I mean Headman Farhad — this is Finn Ragnarson and his party from the Commonwealth. I didn't get all their names so they will have to introduce themselves."

Finn made the introductions. The headman nodded and acknowledged having read of their exploits in Drew's best sellers. The Medkari imported printed books of all sorts from the Commonwealth for their lending libraries.

"Gentleman welcome to the Vale of Asshur, as we call this land around the Lesser Inland Freshwater Sea. Your fame proceeds you, and your reputations reassure me as to your good intentions. What can we Mekdari do for you?"

"We are on an expedition to explore the northern regions of the continent. Most recently we stopped at the Hot Lands where we lent a hand against a plague of locusts. I think these letters from Dayyub and young Raqqub will explain things."

After the headman had read the letters he smiled.

"You come well recommended, especially after what you did to save our oases in the Hot Lands. Dayyub has the respect of all Medkari, and young Raqqub was the very first of us to learn to fly with a yoke. He is entirely self-taught by the way having got the idea from your first visit. Raqqub taught several of our younger fetchers to fly including my nephew here."

"Now as to arrangements, let me extend to you the hospitality of the largest tavern in town of which I am the proprietor."

Finn shook his head. "We certainly appreciate your offer, but it is only right that we pay our way. The expense of lodgings is negligible to us since we are all quite wealthy. Well maybe not the elf-boy."

"Definitely not." Dylan clarified. "Not that I am complaining. I get by just fine on my salary as a forest ranger."

"Ah, and you would be this elf-boy Dylan who wants to train under our beast master Padraig. I shall send for him."

"Why don't you all get settled in. My staff will be happy to exchange your gold coins for our local coinage in orichalcum to facilitate purchases around town. Let's plan to meet again before the evening meal with an assembly of local notables plus the Beast Master Padraig. You can tell us how you help defeat the plague of locusts and of your adventures of your Corps of Discovery so far and where you plan to go from here. Kyle will see to the arrangements."

"Now just let me scribble the names of those I'd like you to meet."

Pulling a small pad from another pocket of his vest and a pencil, he wrote down a dozen names.

"There you go Kyle. First see to the visitors then the conferees."

"You got it uncle." Kyle said cheerily. "Now gentlemen, if you will follow me, it is this way.

While Kyle arranged for their accommodations and took them around to their rooms Drew chatted him up, clearly smitten by the sexy young fetcher.

"I love those white shorts you are wearing, Kyle. While baring most of the body, they cover just enough to preserve a sense of mystery while hinting at what lies beneath the thin fabric. I'd like to buy a couple of pair while I am here."

Kyle's square-cut shorts rode low on his hips, had less than an inch of inseam, and were split a third of the way up the sides. More of a fashion accessory than a garment, they left just enough to the imagination to tantalize the onlooker.

"No problem. Tomorrow I'll show you the best places to shop for everything."

"Kyle isn't a Medkari name, is it?"

"No, it is the name of a famous druid, an elf who helped us settle these lands centuries ago. Every generation each village christens a boy with that name to keep the druid's memory alive. We Medkari cherish those who have aided us like the druid in the distant past and now the Commonwealth."

"No long robes on anyone. No clothes at all on many of the young males in the fishing fleet or in the streets. Why is that Kyle? Inspired by this elven druid?"

"Actually we don't bother with clothes much for the same reason that the elves and the younger males of the Commonwealth don't — namely a tropical climate with a lot of rain except during the dry season. Unlike with the giants or dwarves who live in chilly if not downright cold climes, young Medkari males get by just fine going around skin clad or in skimpy shorts, which for us constitute formal wear."

"Practicality aside, you rather like the chance to show off that trim and taut body you have so recently grown into and are so proud of. Isn't that right?"

"Only too true. Most of the time I go around starkers. The truth of the matter is that I am a shameless showoff. Gosh, does that make me a bad person?"

Drew smiled.

"No, not in my book. It makes you a boy after my own heart."

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