Elf Boy's Friends - III

by George Gauthier

Chapter 20

The Conference

"The Institute of Wizardry will soon reorganize into two equal branches: a College of Wizardry and a College of Magic." Sir Willet announced. "under two chancellors, myself for the wizards and Sir Angus for the College of Magic. Sir Dieter will remain in overall charge as Chairman."

Sir Willet went on to explain that the new College of Magic would become the organizational hub for the Confraternities of the Gifted. Since Sir Angus was taking the new post as Chancellor of the College, Drew Altair would step up to become the head of the Confraternity of Fetchers.

The Institute also wanted to fold Drew's newsletter into its publications program. For several years Drew had published a newsletter that covered the world of magical gifts. Just recently he had changed its title from 'Transactions of the Confraternities of the Gifted' to something much simpler: 'Magic'. The Institute's long running companion publication would be renamed from 'Quarterly of the Institute of Wizardry' to simply 'Wizardry'. Both would be published bi-monthly and printed with moveable type.

The publicity program was an outgrowth of developments in recent years where the Commonwealth government had taken a more active role in mobilizing the magical talents of the population for both defense and civilian affairs. The Institute's new role was to be the incubator and disseminator of new ideas, especially those applicable to civilian life. The Commonwealth itself would continue to promote the application of magic to defense.

Drew's family news-paper, the Capital Intelligencer, had been the test platform for the new technology of printing with moveable type which was small bits of metal with the letters and punctuation marks cast in reverse in high relief. The type for each mark would be selected from bins by a typesetter, slipped into a slot, and locked in place in a metal frame then inked, pressed, and printed. It was much faster than the old style of wood-block printing and the type could be disassembled afterwards and reused.

The inventors were brothers, provincial printers who needed backing from the Altair family to commercialize their invention. The Altairs, that is Drew's father and uncle, put up serious money to get the ball rolling. Once moveable type proved a success, the Altairs got the government to buy all rights from them and the brothers and to put the invention in the public domain.

The Altairs stood to make another fortune from their foresight in sponsoring the new technology. In anticipation of a vast increase in printing and publishing in the coming years and decades they had established technical standards, built type foundries, and bought land for plantations to supply paper made from wood pulp instead of rags.

Sir Angus's iron rails were not only successful with heavy freight like iron ore and coal but now with passengers. Count Klarendes had been an early investor in the heavy freight line and likewise with the street cars. So too was Aodh who had a considerable fortune of his own as one of the heirs of the late Sir Balandur. The twins too had invested in the street cars. The twins were on their way to being fabulously wealthy and not only as heirs of Balandur but also from shrewd investments in emerging industries. The twins were also the owners of two successful businesses, one producing Genuine Gemini Zingers, which they had invented, and the other producing maps and gazetteers for commercial travelers.

The latest commercial exploitation of magical gifts was street lighting, a venture in which the Institute itself had invested. Sir Willet's aide Axel Wilde had inspired a whole new industry and provided an important public amenity.

It had all started one gloomy evening over in Twinkle Town. Named for the cute twinks who were its chief denizens, Twinkle Town was a district or rather a cluster of drinking and dancing establishments favored by those who fancied pretty boys and by pretty boys who favored being fancied. With overcast skies and both moons down, the oil lamps on the streets could do little to dispel the gloom. That gave Axel an idea.

Now Axel was unusual in manifesting several magical gifts, though all of modest proportions. Like many persons Axel could Call Light, but his balls of illumination persisted for hours without his attention and would hover where he set them even after he moved away.

So Axel talked to the proprietor of one the largest and most popular clubs in Twinkle Town and made him an offer. In exchange for a modest fee, Axel would light up the street in front of his place every evening. The proprietor just needed to set up a few nets on poles which would contain the balls of light so they would not drift away with the wind.

The proprietor did Axel one better, suggesting that Axel sign a contract with their business improvement district to light up the entire area. Now Axel liked the idea but ran it by the twins first. They put him in touch with their business manager, a wily dwarf named Lennart. He thrashed out a much better deal than Axel would have made on his own.

In exchange for a percentage of the profits, Lennart handled everything: contracting, setting up light posts, and the hiring of a corps of lamplighters, mostly his fellow dwarves, to light first Twinkle Town, then other entertainment districts, and in time the high streets of the entire city pursuant to a contract with the city government.

More than any of the other sentient races on Haven, dwarves had the gift for Calling Light. Dwarves lived in natural caverns underground so that particular gift was of great value to them. Those with the gift of persistent light lit up their caverns to help those among them who could not call light for themselves.

Most dwarves with the gift were happy to work for wages rather than try to set up a competing business on their own, which would involve drumming up clients, getting standard lighting fixtures built and emplaced, contracting, etc. No much easier for dwarves to take a part-time job whereby they did their rounds each evening perhaps on their way home from work, lighting up the streets they had been assigned. Lennart persuaded the Institute and Drew's family to advance funds to cover start up costs in exchange for a modest interest in the firm.

And it had worked out splendidly. Axel no longer made the rounds himself and as majority owner of Capital Lamplighters was well on his way to accumulating a moderate fortune of his own. As a bonus, Axel never had to pay a cover charge in Twinkle Town. Things had worked out so well, Finn's brother Hrolgar had started a street lighting operation on a much smaller scale in Flensborg.

Liam had even suggested how Axel could use his gift to protect himself were he ever to find himself on a battlefield at Sir Willet's side. Calling a ball of light to englobe the head of a man or a troll would scramble his brains and might even kill him. Or to simply incapacitate him, pop a ball right in front of his face, temporarily blinding him.

"I will now call on Count Taitos Klarendes to explain his idea for a whole new industry, something he calls refrigeration."

"Thank you, Sir Willet. Lately Aodh and I have been spending about a third of our time in the capital, staying at a house Artor has leased in one of the leafy upscale residential neighborhoods. Finn is a frequent visitor. He himself has been living in the capital while he trained for an appointment as a Hand of the Commonwealth."

One day my son Artor and I got the idea for a new industry which we call refrigeration. Finn was telling us about how the Frost Giants harvested ice from frozen ponds every winter, cutting the ice into blocks and storing them in ice-houses dug halfway into the ground. The roof and walls are insulated with sawdust and sod."

"Now some ice-houses are used for food storage. Others supply blocks of ice every week or so to households in the neighborhood, where the individual blocks are placed in boxes large enough to hold the ice and perishables like meat, fish, and milk and butter. That slows spoilage even in the warm summers. Households don't have to go to the butcher or fishmonger every day to ensure fresh and healthful meats and fish. Milk does not turn sour. Even things which don't need what we call refrigeration taste better cold."

"Beer for instance!" Finn volunteered.

"Really?" Angus McFarden asked. "Cold beer? Leave it to Frost Giants to think that one up."

Artor shook his head.

"It's not just Frost Giants. Judge for yourself this evening at our place. We are putting on a big feed, a cookout in the garden. The staff is working to prepare a stick-to-the-ribs meal of grilled and roasted meats, roast tubers, biscuits, steamed vegetables, and other foods you can bite into. And nothing goes better with food than cold beer."

"Amen to that!" Finn affirmed. "We Frost Giants have a saying: 'Cold beer is surely proof that the gods love us and want us to be happy!'"

That drew an amused snort from his interlocutors.

"Thank you for sharing that with us, Finn. Anyway, getting back to our project, it all started when Artor realized that we firecasters could bring the benefits of ice-houses and ice-boxes to the Commonwealth. Creating the ice itself is not a problem, not for powerful firecasters like ourselves. We just draw the heat out of a shallow basin filled with water and disperse it into the air. Why don't you tell the rest Artor?"

"Thank you, Father."

"Now any strong firecaster can create a big block of ice, but then what does he do with it? No, what you need is a business that stores ice in quantity in ice-houses and distributes blocks of ice to households either on demand or even better by subscription, which produces a reliable revenue stream. As for the ice-boxes, we will sell them cheap, recouping just our costs and even give them away at first as a promotion. Let me show you want we have in mind."

Artor left the room briefly and returned rolling a cart with a large wooden box on top. Below were what looked like a set of thick boards.

"This is an ice-box, as designed by Justin our master joiner back in Elysion based on specifications from Finn who is our technical adviser and part owner of the company. It is nearly a cube just over a yard in all dimensions. It is double walled and insulated with sawdust, though cork would do as well, and has three shelves and a door in front for ready access. The really clever feature is the lockable door in the rear so we can install them in a cut through the kitchen wall. That way the ice-man can make his deliveries without ever coming inside and the meltwater drains outside. Two locks inside and out will discourage entry by burglars or just food thieves."

"Another feature is that we ship them unassembled. The components can be massed produced at any suitably equipped manufactory. If I may demonstrate."

Setting aside the first ice-box Artor demonstrated how quickly and easily the six main pieces of an ice-box snapped together. The only tool needed was a mallet to knock in the pegs that held it together. Then you slid in two metal grates for shelves.

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