Elf Boy's Friends - III

by George Gauthier

Chapter 2

The Intern

The new intern undertook his duties with good cheer, no matter how humble the task. He carried messages, swept and tidied up the offices, shelved books in the library, helped Axel file and retrieve letters and documents, and even watered and trimmed the plants in the widow boxes. Sir Willet was fond of morning glories. It helped that his windows faced east.

The wizard spent the better part of every afternoon testing and teaching his new student. As the former coach-boy quickly realized, for student wizards training meant individual tutoring, study of texts and manuals, and practical exercises rather than lectures. In the Institute library Liam pored over after action reports of situations where weather and water magic had been invoked. Each report ended with a section called "Lessons Learned."

Learning magic was the strangest sort of schooling Liam had ever known. In teaching magic, Liam's mentor often hinted at things or spoke elliptically, rather than stating something straight out, expecting the student to fill in the blanks in a flash of insight. Magic engaged the intellect and the emotions, but it also drew upon one's psychic connection to the energy field underlying the physical world of everyday life.

One memorable lesson from Sir Willet had him telling Liam:

"Use your inner eye, Liam. Perceive without looking. Feel without touching. Hear without listening. Grasp the physical world around you as a whole not as a jumble of sense impressions. Reach out with and for your magic. Touch the source of all magic with your mind. Let your thoughts and your feelings resonate with the emanations from the mighty transmitter the ancients buried deep in the planet's crust. Only then can you tap the underlying energy of the universe, which is what powers magic on Haven."

Liam didn't study just magic. Natural history was part of the curriculum especially geology, mineralogy, and meteorology, plus more theoretical subjects like mechanics and dynamics, forces and fields, theoretical alchemy but without the smelly lab work. Astronomy taught Liam what the lights in the night sky really were.

Under Sir Willet's guidance Liam's powers manifested slowly but steadily. He had nothing of earth magic, and it was soon evident that he would never be a firecaster either. He could not even light a candle. On the other hand, blowing candles out with a magical puff of air was easy, a sign that he would be a powerful weather wizard.

Not all weather wizards worked as war wizards. Without the versatile gift of the war wizard, they specialized in weather sensing and working. Weather wizards provided uncannily accurate predictions for the weather in their areas out to five or ten days. Many were on the staffs of local news-papers. Some made longer range predictions, say the weather for a whole season. Better than guesswork, but not really reliable.

Those natural philosophers who studied meteorology were envious of the abilities of weather wizards. All they had were instrument readings taken only at ground level and only in a hundred fifty spots around the territory of the Commonwealth. But temperature, humidity, and air pressure vary with altitude and weather systems generally travel from the west, beyond the network of weather stations. Weather wizards could actually sense weather fronts and air masses, winds and precipitation. And control them too.

After three months of steady progress, Sir Willet questioned Liam about weather wizardry:

"What do you think is the most important consideration in working with the weather?"

"Er, don't bite off more than you can chew?"

Sir Willet nodded.

"That is good part of what I am getting at, Liam. As you know, the power of planetary weather systems is immense. Don't try to do too much, or the weather will slip out of your control. The real danger is what happens after a weather working is finished, even if things turned out as you intended. For all their power, weather systems are in unstable equilibrium. A minor change can produce major effects, which is why we can work weather magic at all. But a careless feat of weather magic could lead to a major disaster like a flood or a super storm. That is why we never try to fix really big problems like a widespread drought. The aftershocks and repercussions could go on for years or even decades."

"So when you invoke your gift, exercise restraint. IF you have to, call up that tornado or hail storm and hurl it at your enemies, but let it grow only as strong as you need it, then disperse it and keep a weather eye out, you should pardon the expression, for repercussions. A hard rain will neutralize a force of archers by rendering their bowstrings wet and slack, and you don't have to kill anyone either. Remember, yours foes will mostly be ordinary people, young men induced by promises, the spirit of adventure, or inducted by force into the army that opposes you. Don't destroy them if you don't have to."

"The key is subtlety and what the military calls economy of force. Why blast a battle line with lightning bolts from a thunderstorm when you can just call up a windstorm to blow sand in their faces, while our own cavalry takes them in the flank. Faced with all that, they are likely to surrender, eventually to return to their families. Never forget the humanity of your foes, centaurs, barbarians, orcs, and trolls excepted. Though I say humanity I cannot imagine us ever in a war with the elves, dwarves, or Frost Giants."

"Calling a wind to propel a vessel is safe as long as you listen to your sailing master who will keep you from capsizing the ship or running it aground. Calling up a giant storm to sink a fleet would never be wise. Try a single waterspout to sink or swamp the enemy ships one by one, but don't get too close yourself. Waterspouts are twitchy things."

"Against a single ship, you might not need weather magic at all. Fling white fire, but not as a huge blast. That would empty your quiver, so to speak. Instead create a narrow stream of white fire. Sweep the enemy vessel from just above the deck to below the waterline, which will cut the keel in two. With the loss of her structural integrity, the wind, the waves, and her own weight will tear the ship apart and sink her to the bottom, taking all hands with her."

"Her?"

"Ships are always spoken of as female."

"Why"

Sir Willet shrugged: "Perhaps because ships are so fickle."

"So is the weather." Liam observed.

"Ah, but we do not personify the weather."

Liam nodded.

"I'll definitely keep that trick with white fire in mind, sir, but what really astonished me was to learn that besides controlling atmospheric phenomena a weather wizard can hear the infrasound a storm makes from hundreds of miles away. That means we can follow weather systems with both our magical and natural senses."

"Yes, the range of your hearing now includes the low frequencies made by storms, earthquakes, and even olifants as they communicate with each other across miles of veldt or forest. Fortunately you can tune all that out when you want to.

Moreover infrasound will let you communicate with other weather wizards over great distances. That is useful for coordinating the movement of converging columns in military operations on land. The Navy is currently testing the concept on the Great Inland Freshwater Sea.

You won't use speech to carry your meaning but coded bursts of low frequency sound. We weather wizards have devised a code of bursts, a mix of long and short ones in groups of three that spell out the 42 letters of the alphabet, the ten numerals, and punctuation as well. It is like our own own private heliograph system only with infrasound instead of flashes of light. Remember, anyone with the skill can listen in. In a military situation, you would have to encipher your coded message."

"My head whirls just thinking about it!"

"Ha, ha. Don't worry. You will soon get the hang of it. Even I, with my modest gift for weather control, can manage long distance messaging quite handily. Now our messaging capability is not really a secret, but we don't talk about it much to outsiders. We are not offering a public messaging service after all. We saw what happened with the Army. Their heliograph network was so successful it created a demand for a public system. The government had to set up the postal heliograph system."

Liam had only a moderately strong telekinetic or Fetching power. Strong Fetchers like his friend Drew Altair, could lift a brontothere into the sky. A horse was more like Liam's limit. From what Drew had told him Liam already knew something about using the gift they shared in combat. Drew had told him that when he fought armies of carnivorous centaurs he flung glass globes filled with an inflammable oil at them then watched as his friend the firecaster Taitos Klarendes ignited the oil setting the creatures ablaze.

When fighting alone Drew's standard tactic was to fling a pair of small steel spheres back and forth at very high speed using their momentum to smash through the bodies and heads of the centaurs, using his trademark 'shadow boxing' technique to keep the spheres under his mental control. Many fetchers had borrowed the technique after he wrote about it in his newsletter.

"I once asked Drew what he could do against a centaur or slash bear if he were caught empty handed without his spheres. He grinned evilly and told me he would just yank its eyes out. Is that gross or what?"

Sir Willet nodded.

"Gruesome, yes, but also effective. Mortal combat is not for the squeamish."

The former coach-boy was good at holding a so-called missile shield, which gave war wizards the ability to protect themselves from archers and slingers. When exercising the fetching power war wizards were always aware of the position of objects under his control, regardless of whether they could see them. The Missile Shield was an omnidirectional mental sphere of awareness of all objects around and especially moving toward them. Now the shield itself did nothing to stop arrows, quarrels, or slung stones. That took conscious use of the Fetching gift to deflect incoming missiles or even return them to sender.

"One thing Drew Altair could not explain to you Liam was the advantage of faster reflexes and reaction time. Drew never used the Missile Shield before the magic of the druids doubled the speed of his reflexes. You will see that even with your current ordinary reflexes, the shield is hard to penetrate. After the druids change you, your faster reflexes make the shield virtually impenetrable. Of course if the enemy catches you without your shield up or when you are asleep, then it is all over."

"Sir I don't understand. My fetching power is fairly limited yet I can call up a tornado or water spout. which are so much more powerful."

"The difference is that with Fetching you are supplying all the power. With weather you take advantage of their unstable equilibrium and just nudge cold and warm fronts and polar air masses and such to swerve this way or that and do your bidding."

Anyone with the gift of wizardry could acquire the ability to fling white fire. It was a learned skill rather than an inborn magical gift like true firecasting. Nevertheless firecasters were better at it for what the wizards believed were purely psychological reasons. Firecasters could fling clinging balls of fire again and again, keeping it up for hours. With white fire you got two or three shots and then that was it for the day. Maybe for a couple of days. Of all the wizards only Sir Janus could persist in flinging white fire. No one knew why. Only the firecaster Count Taitos Klarendes could match him that way.

White fire was a destructive force completely different from casting streams of fire or clinging balls of flame. White fire does not involve combustion at all. It is what moderns would call a stream of super-hot subatomic particles like the plasma at the heart of a sun. It disintegrates rather than burns. Nothing can withstand it.

For someone like Liam with only a moderate mastery of this learned skill, white fire was best reserved for single attacks like sinking a ship as Sir Willet had described or for self-defense, a last resort to cut his way into the clear to escape his foes. Or for a final strike, taking your enemies with you, literally going out in a blaze of glory.

Willet always stressed that war wizards were not expected to win battles by themselves. They were force multipliers for the infantry, cavalry, archers, and slingers. Their secondary role was to counter the magical attacks of the enemy. One of the reasons the Commonwealth was assigning three-man and soon five-man teams of magic wielders to its seven field armies was to be able to use magic to defend and counter-attack at the same time.

Liam's other major power was that of Concealment. He could not really make himself invisible but he could cloud the perceptions of others to make them take no notice of him or those with him. Sir Willet was very good at concealment and acknowledged as the very best of the wizards. Willet could march a company of soldiers past a crowd with no one the wiser or conceal an entire battalion hunkered down in the grass as an army marched past. He simply projected a feeling that there was nothing in that field but switchgrass, goldenrod and timothy. In other words: 'No one's here but us weeds'.

Concealment was subtle, even tricky. You had to make onlookers ignore all signs of the wizard and those with him. That meant not only their bodies, clothing, and equipment, but also shadows, footprints or mashed down grass, as well as sounds like footsteps, the crunch of feet on sand, the rattle of equipment, and so forth. It took concentration to address each and every likely clue to one's presence.

One mistake and the illusion slipped away from the minds of those you were trying to fool and there you stood, suddenly revealed at the worst possible moment. Unfortunately concealment could not make watchers tune out voices. That was why concealment of a body of men should only be tried with troops trained to keep their mouths shut.

Training for concealment often took all three of them out to the field, Axel included. For Liam's final test Liam would have to sneak up on both of them and snatch a small flag stuck in the ground. The flag was planted on a mound with a swamp on one side, a slow shallow river on another, and mudflats on the third side. Liam could choose any approach he cared to try. His green silks would provide natural camouflage,

Now Liam reasoned that with the swamp grass blowing in the wind, he would not have to worry about giving himself away by its movements or any swishing noises he might make as he threaded his way toward the mound. If he stepped slowly he could avoid tell-tale splashing. Also the strong smell of the swamp would conceal his own body odor. Who knew what olfactory abilities a war wizard could draw upon to detect his approach? It would be just like his mentor to have some trick like that in reserve.

The mudflats looked bad. They were too open, and his footsteps would stretch back the whole way, likely too far and too many of them to keep concealed. And his shadow would be really noticeable under the blazing sun. Then there was the sucking sound his feet would make as he got closer. The river looked good. It tempted him at first, but thinking about it for a while he realized the river approach was too open and much too obvious. The mud stirred up by his feet as he waded across would surely spread and slowly drift downstream. No, an approach across the swamp was the safest bet.

Liam was quite proud of himself for the way he crossed the swamp without giving himself away. He glided silently through the swamp grass and rushes and stepped carefully ignoring the squishy feel of the muddy bottom for he went barefoot the better to feel out the bottom. No sense relying just on magic to suppress the noise of his passage, not when the watchers were expecting him and they knew all about Concealment.

In the end Liam had just stepped onto the mound when Sir Willet observed casually to his aide.

"They always try the swamp, and the same thing always gives them away. Hello there, Liam."

With a thought the wizard raised a globe of water from the river and dropped it onto his hapless student, drenching him instantly.

Poor Liam! He looked so woebegone and bedraggled, like a kitten caught in a deluge.

Sir Willet and Axel burst out laughing. Seeing that the joke was on him, Liam joined in.

"All right sir, what gave me away?"

"Midges."

"And gnats" Axel added helpfully.

"And mites as well," Willet finished.

"Look!"

Liam looked out over the swamp to where Sir Willet had pointed and for the first time took real notice of the insect life. Tiny fliers were everywhere. He could even hear the faint hum they made. He had ignored them during his approach since there were no biting or stinging insects anywhere on Haven, none that would bother humans or elves or giants anyway.

"They were everywhere, weren't they Liam? Everywhere except where YOU were. Since they could not fly into the volume of space occupied by your body, you unknowingly created a void in the swarm of tiny creatures. A void which was painfully obvious to anyone watching for it."

"It was like there was a ghost out there in the swamp." Axel chortled. "It was all we could do not to look straight toward you and burst out laughing."

"So I failed the test." Liam said, shaking his head ruefully.

"Not at all," Sir Willet assured him.

"No one has ever figured out about the bugs. I certainly didn't in my day. No, this is not so much as test as a final lesson and a reminder of what can happen if you get overconfident. If it is a test of anything it is a test of character. Only someone who does not laugh at the outcome really fails the test. We don't want surly war wizards in our ranks. Too much power in the wrong hands, you understand."

Then he added:

"This calls for a celebration. As a journeyman wizard your stipend will double so the drinks are on you."

"You'll be making as much as I do now," Axel enthused.

Sir Willet continued:

"Now it so happens that one of my favorite watering holes is not far from the institute. What do you say, shall we repair there for a round or two of good cheer?"

"You're on, Sir Willet."

It had not been all work and no play till then. Axel and Liam quickly became regular visitors to 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.

They made a good looking couple on the dance floor. Liam was of medium height bronzed and slender with a strong upper storey. Axel was more than a hand shorter, slightly built, and boyishly cute, with fair skin and hair the color of copper. Which was fine with Liam who had a thing for red-heads.

Boldly challenging his dance partner to step out onto the dance floor in the nude, Liam paired with Axel in an energetic pas de deux, leading his partner through an erotically charged routine that could only be described as foreplay. At the finish of their number the dancers' slender athletic physiques gleamed with perspiration as they breathed hard, looking like lovers who had just climaxed in sexual congress. Liam drew Axel into a clinch, pressing their bodies together. As he kissed him long and hard the inevitable physical reaction occurred.

Someone yelled: "Get a room!".

So they did. That was when, after a couple of months of getting to know one another at work and on dates, they started spending their nights at each other's place.

Now for the most part, Liam was a conventional lover. Raised among the nomads on the Western Plains he was not particularly inventive in his approach to the amorous arts. Except in one respect: his fetching powers.

Now every generation of teenagers thinks it is the one which invented sex, but in this case Liam could fairly claim originality in his own use of fetching in lovemaking. Though he later learned he was far from the first fetcher to do so, Liam was inventive enough to come up with his techniques on his own. You had to give him that much.

Axel was the first boy Liam had made love to since coming into his powers so it was only natural that Axel served as budding wizard's experimental subject. Admittedly Axel did not exactly volunteer for the honor. But then when your lover Lifts you off the bed and holds you out of reach of the floor and all furniture there is not much you can do except yelp and flail your limbs helplessly as he turns and twists your body into all sorts of naughty positions.

For their debut Liam decided to mount Axel from behind, with the boy suspended in mid-air in front of him. Liam didn't even have to thrust his hips to sink his cock into Axel's gaping hole. He just pulled and pushed the levitated body of his young lover back and forth till he erupted into the slick moist hole.

At that point Liam almost dropped Axel, losing his concentration as his orgasm shook him and then left him weak in the knees. Axel reflexively put out his hands to catch himself on the floor as Liam held on to his torso then regained enough control to levitate him again. He flipped Axel onto his back and brought him to orgasm orally. Then he set Axel safely and gently back on the bed.

Once Axel got over his fear of being dropped, he found that making love with a fetcher can be a whole lot of fun. There were all sorts of possibilities, hitherto unthought of.

Now whenever Axel got his turn to top, their joining were much more conventional. Axel may not have been so inventive as his lover, but he made up for it in enthusiasm. After one particularly athletic and exciting bout of lovemaking, Liam remarked.

"You are certainly living up to your surname, Axel Wilde, for you are a real wildcat in bed!"

"Growl!"

When they started showing up to work together Sir Willet deduced a perfectly correct conclusion. The hickey on Axel throat was all the confirmation he needed that his protege and his aide were boyfriends.

Sir Willet had developed an avuncular interest in the two youngsters who worked for them. When he saw them together, so obviously a pair of lovers, he smiled indulgently. They were so young, this was their time. And they made such a cute couple. Anyone could see that they were smitten with each other.

Five months later, not long after Liam got promoted from intern to journeyman wizard, Drew and the twins returned from their mission to the Far West.

At first Axel felt like a fifth wheel. The twins were rich and famous, and anyway they had each other, didn't they? Drew had a prior claim on Liam's affections. And he was a powerful magic wielder to boot, just like Liam. What was there then for Axel, lowly wizard's aide that he was?

Much to his delight, the twins and Drew went out of their way to include both Axel and Liam in their circle. Drew reassured Axel telling him: "We little guys need to stick together". Then with a fist raised for emphasis Drew jokingly added "It's us against the world!"

In no time at all, Axel felt like he was one of the gang. He had never felt so welcomed in his life. With Sir Willet he had found his vocation. With these boys, he had found a circle of friends.

Life was good.

In the fullness of time, the three of them: Drew, Liam, and Axel moved in together, taking a suite just down the hall from the twins. Each boy had his own bed chamber. Sometimes they all slept in one bed. Sometimes they paired off. And sometimes, one of them, especially Drew, ever the social butterfly, brought someone else back with him from Twinkle Town.

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