Chapter IV.

25 Jul

The pair in flight woke up in the hoop wagon while it was still pitch dark, hours before the heliac was due to bring brief daylight. Like all people in the belowlands, the bulk of their waking hours had to be spent in some variety of darkness. That was the major factor of life in the valleys. It determined what could be done.

Joa was quickly learning how the inhabitants of the lowlands balanced long periods of darkness with the few heliac hours that Tegumen made available for them. She realized how necessary it was for her to adjust to this pattern of living so new to her. This was not at all an easy thing to do.

Yie spoke in a worried, troubled tone to his companion.

“I have to inspect these cave facilities in order to estimate what their productive possibilities are. So far, it is only an uninformed hope I have that the needed equipment can be created here. All there is to go by are the antique drawings and illustrations in the early folios that I came upon in the depository. They may prove useful, if I can accomplish what I have in mind.

“In the final analysis, though, it may prove impossible to duplicate what was planned by the first pioneers to our planet. It is hard to visualize why they themselves failed to construct a system of complete lighting and energy for the deep valleys of this world of ours. We depend upon oil lanterns and muscle power, for the most part. Not much can be produced under these conditions, not much at all.”

Joa thought of an answer to him. “Perhaps it all resulted out of fear,” she told him.

“Fear?”

“The Red Hats have dreaded loss of dominance over the Yellow Hat population that settled in the lower elevations. Therefore, they deprived them of the use of iotic power. The purpose was to keep the belowers weak and helpless.”

“I hate to think that was the reason for abandoning technical advances,” frowned her companion in flight.

“So do I, Yie,” she said, feeling a sense of shame over what her ancestors had done eons ago to subjugate the inhabitants of the valleys.

The two of them were interrupted by the return of Gev, the Tinker.

“Get up, my friends. Today we climb up to a smaller cave where iron and tin are produced from mountain ores. There is a lot for the two of you to see up there. Let’s start ascending at once. We have no time to lose.”

Nomb Aacn could count on the fingers of one of his hands the number of times in his long life he had come down into the valley zone of Tegumen. He remembered how unnaturally strange the land below had always seemed to him, so unfamiliar and dangerous. Now, as he met with his Red Hat cohorts in Canara, the Hegumen had a choking sensation in his throat, feeling a strangling closeness in the denser atmosphere far below the mountain summits he was familiar with.

“So, we have some information at last?” he managed to say, glaring at the subordinates assembled about him in the dorp schoolhouse that the Brothers had taken over for their own use.

One of the pursuers elected himself group spokesman and gave a report.

“Yes, we succeeded in convincing a drunken dorper to talk.”

“What was it that you learned?” impatiently commanded the Hegumen.

“The pair we are seeking are continually moving about, making it very difficult to locate or follow them. They have united with a peregrinating tinker, who takes them here and there with him. Their mobility has made them nearly impossible to find or capture. They slip around as they wish. There is no clear, defined route that we can follow.”

“Can’t we set up a trap for them somewhere, at a spot where we think they will soon be passing by?”

“That is an almost impossible thing to anticipate, sir, except for one specific location that we are certain they will reach. It is the central depot where all these tinkers obtain their wares. It is the hub of their lives for them.”

The Hegumen, growing excited, began pacing past his investigators.

“Do we have any idea where they may be?” he demanded, his voice sharp and harsh.

“Caldaria Mountain, sir,” said the subordinate, trembling a little.

“Send Brothers there at once to learn if they are concealed anywhere in that area,” ordered the Hegumen. “Such a place may be where I shall finally find my lost daughter and the criminal who abducted her from me.”

Gev led his two traveling associates up a steep, inclined beaten path to a level ridge, then up a second hill to a hidden mountain fold. Whiffs of dark smoke came out of holes in the ground, as if from the mountain’s interior.

“We must descend by steps built into the soil down to the forges below,” said the tinker, pointing to a large round hole visible in the grass.

The cavern was a dark region lit by the several incandescent fires within the furnaces. The shapes rushing about to service them looked like dark ghosts of some sort, slaves to some burning divinity within the forges. The sight was an uncanny one. It made the refugees feel lost and disoriented.

Gev gave an explanation of the internal process of production going on.

“Wood charcoal is mixed with ore from a mine higher up the mountain,” he told the fugitives. “The heat goes on for hours at a high intensity. Every so often, whenever needed, more fuel is added. A great blast of air is propelled into the furnace using the bellows you see on the side, keeping the temperature of the fire as high as possible. That is a necessity in order for the whole process to be completed with success.

“The ore will become like a sponge made of molten metal. The charcoal ash and the clay of the ore will form a slag that will seep through the sponge and protect the newly produced iron from chemical change of any kind.

“When the operation appears to be finished, the furnace door will be opened and the glowing ball of iron pulled out. While it is still white hot, the forgers can hammer the mass so as to expel most of the slag and shape the malleable metal into whatever form is desired.

“If we wait a little, we can see this done at once at the furnaces ready to be emptied out. It is fascinating to watch and observe. The spectacle is an impressive one indeed.”

“Then, you will have a wrought form of iron,” surmised Yie, smiling.

“Correct,” grinned Gev. “Now, let me show you the tin forges down at the other end of the cave. I believe they will be of great interest to you.”

It was Yie who was next to speak, asking a question.

“What are the metals smelted at this end?”

“Several. For instance, copper and tin are combined into bronze.”

Into the mind of Yie flashed what he had read in the depository documents at Zeviv Claustrum about metals on Tegumen.

“That is interesting. But I wonder about one thing: do the metalworkers here have the capability of producing alloys with silver?”

“Silver? It is not too available. What were you thinking of as the other metal to be alloyed with silver?”

Yie, with some trepidation, gave the answer sought for. “Platinum,” he whispered in a cautious tone.

Gev had no ready reply to this.

“That is hard to give an answer to. As far as I know, those two metals have never been combined much, mainly because there is no demand for it. I could also say there is no need for it, not within my memory.

“It is something of a riddle that you have asked me to answer.”

Yie suddenly turned silent, saying no more at that moment.

Then Gev led the two out of the cave, back down to his hoop wagon.

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