Chapter Twenty-eight



The men slowly drifted out of the mess hall. Breakfast was over and the council’s weekly planning session had ended. As usual, most had stayed behind to discuss the results of that meeting and vote on the suggestions brought forth. Over the past month, this schedule had become an accepted part of every Sunday morning.

Looking forward to a work-free day, a few of the younger men had developed the habit of escaping as soon as they’d finished eating, relying on someone else to keep them informed of the latest news.

This morning the final plans for setting up a school had been decided upon. It had been brought up on more than one occasion since arriving on the island a number of weeks ago but with the focus on extending their food supply and obtaining proper housing before the winter months set in, it was not a top priority and therefore never went beyond the discussion stage. Now, with the planting and tree cutting nearing completion, the council felt it was time to establish the often talked about educational program.

Troy felt that with the a bit of input from a couple of the other men, he could probably teach three afternoons and possibly even a couple of evenings each week. “We have had a few of the men show an interest in furthering their education,” he’d informed the council. He was still planning to do his share in other areas during his free time when he wasn’t teaching or preparing the lessons.

“I don’t think there will be enough to keep me fully occupied with lessons. As far as the school goes, I was thinking there could be one smaller class of just the few students who needed more help learning to read and write. Even if they are all on different levels, I can manage it pretty easily,” Troy repeated what he had mentioned at an earlier meeting.

“I was also thinking there could be some classes that are practical in nature. As we seem to have a number of city boys, I thought we’d benefit from classes on what kind of plants to avoid; how to recognize edible plants; where to be the most cautious of finding snakes; what the tracks of certain predators look like and other such points of interest. There are a number of nature-smart people in the group, and I am hoping they would be willing to come and do special lectures. For instance, Brock could come and show different animal markings and how to recognize them. Lakota could do one on plants. Of course many other subjects could also be made available. Basic math would be a good class, but I don’t think it needs to go any further than very basic algebra, since it just wouldn’t be applicable for our group. History and literature may also be of interest to some,” the tutor finished.

And so it was finally agreed upon that a schedule would be worked out over the next couple of days and classes would start a week from tomorrow.

Thad approached the community’s head chef as the last of the men left the tent. “Ah, can I talk to you about the school, Walker?”

“Certainly you may, Thad. What do you say to us having another cup of coffee while it is still reasonably fresh?”

“Sounds good!” Thad hurriedly put away the last of the washing up equipment. He grabbed a couple of clean mugs, sat down and watched the older man pour hot liquid into them.

Placing the coffee pot back on the stove, Walker then took his seat and patiently waited for the younger man to speak.

“I understand academic classes as such will not be starting for another couple of weeks or more, but I was hoping to attend at least one of them. If you think I can be spared for an hour or so every Wednesday afternoon, I’d like to take part in the literature course Brodie will be teaching.”

“Thad, you don’t need my permission you know.” Walker smiled at the younger man and wondered what this conversation was really in aid of.

“I am aware of that but for some reason I felt the need to obtain it.” Thad blushed and looked over the top of his mug to study the handsome face before him. “Um, Walker, can I ask you something else?” he quietly inquired after a moment’s hesitation.

“Of course! Ask away!” Walker leaned back casually but his eyes were alert and took in every expression that ran across the other man’s face. 

“Jordan and I were wondering…that is, we were speculating about there being anyone here you were interested in…..” Thad squirmed awkwardly and sighed. ‘This was a dumb idea to begin with and is a lot harder topic to introduce than I thought it would be,’ he silently berated himself for even bringing up the subject that had been on his and Jordan’s minds for quite some time now.

Deciding to rescue the young man from further embarrassment, Walker leaned in and responded conspiratorially. “Actually, I have had my eye on a couple of young men since shortly after we landed on the island.”

Recognizing the curiosity he saw in Thad’s eyes along with the uncertainty of how to find the answers he sought, Walker mildly continued. “Both have been my right-hand men here in the mess hall since day one. I wouldn’t be able to prepare food for this gang without them. Unfortunately for me, they appear to be attracted to each other.” He smiled as comprehension dawned and Thad eyes widened in surprise.

“Yeah, well, it’s true about Jordan and me getting closer.” Thad paused and gathered up his courage before asking rather apprehensively. “Hmm, you know Aiden, Larry and Spyke are a threesome. Do you think that’s kind of weird?”

“Not at all!” The older man was starting to enjoy himself.

That was exactly what Thad was hoping to hear. He briefly hung his head, closed his eyes and blew out the breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding in.

“Jordan and me don’t think it’s weird either,” he assured the older man as a happy grin spread across his face. “Fact of the matter is we’d really like to be partners with you. We’ve both been drawn to you since first laying eyes on you. It’s why both of us wanted to work in the kitchen to begin with and be your assistants.”

Keeping a straight face, Walker calmly inquired, “I see, and did the two of you happen to give any thought as to who would be at the head of this little family of ours, if we were to become one that is?”

“Uh-huh, you! And I should warn you of something. Jordan has no intentions of attending school even though he can hardly read or write. He figures if he’s gone this long without being able to do so then he can keep doing so without it.”

Walker raised his eyebrows. “Really? Well, I guess we’ll just have to change his mind, won’t we?” With a chuckle, Walker got to his feet and walked over to the sideboard to rinse out their coffee mugs. “Would you two be interested in the three of us going off somewhere private this evening and talking about the possibility of a partnership?” Getting an enthusiastic nod, he smiled and suggested, “Fine then; in the meantime we better get that picnic lunch packed up like we promised and meet up with the others at the swimming hole.”

“What about those who choose to hang around the campsite or the beach?”

“It’s our day of rest as much as theirs. They are all grown men. There are leftovers and they are more than capable of fending for themselves, don’t you think?” Walker asked with a quick wink which sent Thad’s heart thumping.

“Raythe, come for a walk with me.” Brock issued the invitation as he approached the other man who was securing the gate to the livestock enclosure.

“Alright!” Raythe excitedly answered in anticipation of the other ‘walks’ they’d had in the past.

Brock smiled at the enthusiasm but inwardly groaned his reluctance at the thought of the upcoming conversation. He was a little apprehensive as to how his partner would react to the subject he was about to introduce. Taking Raythe’s hand, he led him into the forest to a small grove where he felt safe from prying eyes and listening ears.

Stopping in the shade of a large oak tree, the mountain man turned to his companion. “Tell me, boy, can you read and write?” Brock was pretty sure it was unlikely but wanted to test the subject waters, so to speak, before jumping in with both feet.

“Of course I can! Ya think I’m stupid or something?”  Raythe spat, his body stiffening into combat mode.

“I simply asked you a question, boy.” Brock pulled a leather-covered note pad out of his pocket and handed it to Raythe. It was a list of his findings since landing on the island. Brock was a conservationist and keep detailed accounts to maintain a balance with nature where wildlife and game were concerned. “Read the first page out loud for me, please.”

Grabbing the book out of the big man’s hand, Raythe quickly scanned the perplexing scribbling. “Ah, these are mostly numbers,” he bluffed and shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

“What words do you see, Raythe?” Brock asked patiently. He watched as Raythe’s fingers tightened their hold, fully aware of having backed the younger man into a corner. After waiting several moments and resigning himself to the fact that he was not going to receive a reply, he gently pried the small book from Raythe’s clutches and returned it to his pocket. “You can neither read nor write, can you?” he softly questioned as he reached to pull his partner into his arms.

Raythe tried to pull away and gasped when a large hand landed painfully on his thinly clad backside. He blinked back tears at the unexpected swat and rubbed at the heat it left behind, before melting into the welcoming embrace of his lover. “Sorry!” he mumbled. He had been promised that exact retribution every time he attempted to avoid physical closeness even though Brock realized it would take time for him to overcome his fear of learning to trust and to care for someone.

Leaning against the tree, Brock lovingly drew Raythe closer and smiled when the younger man nestled into his shoulder.

“There is nothing shameful in not having had the opportunity to attend school, boy. And it is highly unlikely that you are the only one here to have missed out on getting an education. I would not be at all surprised to learn there are several young men in our community who have little or no aptitude for reading and writing.”

“Why are we even discussing this? You’re ruining a perfectly good Sunday morning, ya know.” Raythe griped, glaring up at the older man.

Brock let out a long sigh before continuing the conversation. “Well, being as you didn’t hang around the mess hall after breakfast, you missed hearing about the council’s latest plans. Troy is going to be holding classes beginning next week; possibly Monday, Wednesday and Friday from one o’clock until three. But first there will be survival instruction for a couple of weeks before any scholastic lessons begin.”

“So what’s it to me?” Raythe asked belligerently, having a good idea of where this was going.

“I would like you to attend.”

“No way, Brock!” Raythe struggled to get away only to receive another painful smack where the first one had landed, causing the burn to return.

“Listen to me, boy!” Brock insisted, giving his partner a firm shake. He waited until he had Raythe’s full attention. “I think it is important for you to do this. Education is a gift a man gives himself; it rarely benefits anyone else more than the person who has it. Learning to read can give you a sense of freedom. It allows you to travel, visit other times, places and people.” He watched the changing expressions on Raythe’s beautiful face as the words sank in. “It provides one with the rare opportunity to see the world through another’s eyes.” Presently, Raythe’s eyes were showing his growing interest.

“Will you be going to any of the classes?” Raythe’s voice held a note of pleading.

“I was giving serious thought to attending the history sessions. It was always one of my favorite subjects.” The rough-appearing mountain man smiled and quietly inquired. “What do you say, my boy?”

“Okay, I’ll go to school!” he blurted out, a little begrudgingly. He still had reservations about the whole idea.

“Promise?”

“Alright, I promise.” He bowed his head and let out a groan of defeat.

“Keep in mind, boy, now that you’ve committed to do this, you’re playing hooky will result in trip over my knee. As will any future lies you tell me. Understand?” Brock sternly stared into Raythe’s widening brown eyes.

“Yeah, I understand. You’re giving me boundaries, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am. How do you feel about that?”

“Safe,” Raythe whispered and borrowed into the buckskin clad chest. With a reminder of the discomfort Brock’s big paw could inflict still lingering on his butt, Raythe vowed that nothing would cause him to miss a class.

Raythe was brought out of his musings by the feel of Brock’s hands moving slowly down his back to massage his nether cheeks. He sighed contentedly as he was pulled against his lover’s hardening erection and his own answered the call.

Meanwhile, a number of other men were discussing the school with their partners and meeting with varying degrees of acceptance or resistance.

“I told you before I got enough book-learning,” Spyke reminded his partners as he tramped behind them along the path next to the river that led to the waterfalls. It was further away from camp than the usual swimming hole but more than worth the longer walk if one was seeking privacy. They planned to spend as much of the day away from the others as possible.

“We’re no arguing about it, laddie. We’ve already discussed it.”

“Two sentences don’t make a discussion, Aiden, especially your ‘tough shit’ kinda of response.”

“I dinnae recall ever having used such an expression, Spyke.” Aiden glanced over his shoulder and frowned at the other man’s choice of words.

“Well, maybe not verbally, but that raised eyebrow of yours said as much.” Spyke was bound and determined to quarrel until he got his own way.

“Maybe we can talk about this later,” Larry suggested. He could sense his younger partner getting himself in trouble.

“Aye,” Aiden agreed, thinking the water could help cool tempers as well as bodies. “Ye best hush yer noise now, laddie.” He smiled to himself as he listened to his youngest partner’s continued grumbling under his breath.

“Now can we talk about it?” Spyke asked the moment they arrived at their destination and began removing their clothing.

“Ye’d already know about it if ye had paid attention at the meeting, lad.” Aiden patiently point out. “But instead, ye clamped those wee ears of yers shut the second ye heard the word ‘school’ mentioned.”

“Aiden’s right, Spyke.” Larry added his support to the older man’s opinion.

“Yeah, well I didn’t want to hear about it then but now I do.” Spyke pouted up at the taller men who he felt were ganging up on him. He followed them into the water but, as overly warm as he was, his temper prevented him from appreciating its’ cooling attributes.

“Tis not like a regular school, lad. Among other things, lessons in survival will be taught.” Aiden smiled when this latest bit of information caught his partner’s attention.

“There will be several instructors besides Troy,” Larry explained, “including me.”

Spyke threw himself at his biggest partner. “Tell me all about it, please?” he begged as he wrapped an arm around Aiden’s neck, pressed closer against the huge man’s body and teasingly nibbled at his smiling lips while reaching out to pull Larry towards them. 

The two older men eagerly gave themselves up to enjoying the younger man’s successful attempt at manipulating them.

“We b-better get going, Thomas, if we’re gonna catch up w-with the others,” Galen insisted as he pulled on the bigger man’s sleeve in an attempt to hurry him along. “Jordan, B-brodie and Yancey have a good head start on us.”

Thomas smiled at the enthusiasm. “The swimming hole won’t dry up before we get there.”

“I know that; I just don’t w-want to m-miss any of the fun.” Galen grinned up at the older man whose friendship and guidance he had come to depend on. The young man looked forward all week to this one day when they could spend most of it together instead of meeting up only for mealtimes and the evening campfires. He slowed his pace as per Thomas’ hint, changing the subject as he did so. “Is it true that a school is starting up, Thomas?”

“Yes, Troy will be in charge of most of it, but a number of the other men will be teaching things that they are knowledgeable of.”

“Good! It’s alright if I attend, isn’t it?”

“Well of course it’s alright, Galen. Everyone who wishes to can attend any of the classes being offered.”

“Well, I’ve got p-plenty of schooling. It’s just that I hardly ever got the chance to go to school ‘cause I was m-mostly home-taught. I kinda thought…..” Galen shrugged his shoulders and blushed, suddenly embarrassed by wanting what he had missed out on while growing up.

“Kinda thought it would be nice to join in with the others while learning something new?” Thomas asked.

Galen nodded. “So you don’t think I w-will be taking space and time from someone who m-may need it m-more?”

Thomas stopped and turned to give Galen a smile of reassurance. “Galen, you are equally as important as anyone on this island and you are not taking anyone else’s space. I feel very proud of you for showing so much interest in furthering your education.”

“Thanks, Thomas. It’s going to b-be hard w-waiting until next week.”

“I’m glad you’re looking forward to it. Now let’s go get that swim, okay?”

It didn’t take much to hasten Galen’s footsteps.

“Wayne!”   

Samuel’s voice brought his partner to a stop. Wayne looked back at Samuel inquiringly. He was impatient to join the rest who had moved on ahead.

“I don’t think you should go in the water today.”

“Why not?” Wayne scowled.

“You are still looking tired,” Samuel observed. His young partner had just recovered from a nasty cough which had kept him, along with the others in their tent, awake most of the last few nights. So he decided Wayne didn’t need to be swimming just yet.

Wayne moved his head away as Samuel tried to feel his forehead. “I’m fine,” he muttered.

“You are certainly better, but cold water right now is not going to do you any good. No swimming!”

Wayne reluctantly capitulated. As disappointed as he was, he respected the older man too much to openly defy him. 

They walked slowly towards the creek that emptied into the pond they swam in and sat down to watch. A number of men were splashing about and taking advantage of their one day of rest. Others, like Samuel and Wayne, sat on the banks and either chatted idly or took a nap.

Samuel reached over to pull his partner closer to him and was relieved when Wayne settled against him. He knew the younger man was disappointed and had been prepared for more of an argument.

“So, Minx, am I correct in assuming you have no desire to involve yourself in the new school?” Nathan asked as he and Wes leisurely strolled hand-in-hand. Like many of the others, they too were headed towards the swimming hole.

“Don’t see the need to. Wayne and I attended the town school right up to graduation, so why would we want to go back again?”

“Well of course there’s no obligation for you to attend classes and I certainly have no intention of making you do so. It is for you to decide, my love. However, I strongly suggest you attend the survival lessons if you harbor any desire at all of participating in the exploration of this island of ours.”

Wes gasped. “Exploring? Finally! I want to be part of that! Wayne would too; I know he would. Well, I don’t mind the survival lessons then. That’s not the same as book learning, is it, Nathan? It won’t be like regular classes, will it?”

“Not quite. Those particular lessons will last for two weeks before regular classes are set up. If I understand correctly, Lakota, Brock, and Larry will be providing the instruction; then Troy will be offering academic courses with help from Brodie and Kelby.” Nathan smiled as he sensed his partner’s original objections slowly shifting direction.

“Great! Wayne and I will attend for the two weeks. But only right up to when Troy takes over.” Wes screwed up his nose.  “I’ve discussed this with Wayne before. We agreed that if Troy ever teaches, we don’t wanna be in any of his classes!” He dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “He’s so damn strict! Is that okay with you, Nathan?”

“That’s perfectly fine, Minx. However, there is no need for you to rush your decision right now. After all, you have until next week to make up your mind. And just think, not attending classes means you will have more time to help with the stitching and I know how much you enjoy that!” Nathan chuckled at the exaggerated gagging and eye-rolling that greeted these last remarks. 



TBC….

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