The Wizard and the Torch

by Flaulus

Chapter 6

Captain Gesteny was worried. Loading his ships had been a compromise between the number of men he could take, and the supplies they needed. Adverse winds were understood, and he planned for them, but they had still swallowed up his reserves. He should have landed his men easily, and they could have foraged for food as they caused mayhem. Landing against a disciplined and superior force would have been suicide.

His men would have surrendered, knowing that life as a slave here would be better than their existence back home. Allowing them to eat what they could steal and allowing them to keep at least some of their plunder, were the only incentives the captain had. Although unaware of Gene and his gadgets, he had been startled by the smoke signals, and the arrival of his enemy in force before he could even land.

His supplies were low enough for him to be concerned, sailors had reported a distant buzzing, and some claiming to have seen a giant insect watching them. He had no idea what it might mean except it was a bad omen. He was committed now to taking the village of Marne. His orders were to draw Droyskova's army to the south, and he was succeeding, but his superiors would not care whether every man died and every ship was sunk, and Captain Gesteny wanted to live.

"Insects cannot see in the day and in the night." he said to his subordinate just loud enough for nearby sailors to hear, "Whatever sailors thought they saw, it will be gone until morning. We'll land at dawn and be ashore before the enemy sees us. We can eat our fill and gather enough supplies for the journey home. Not even Droyskovans will be merciful when they see what our men have done. We'll get them back on board easily enough."

"Yes sir. It's a good plan. Let's hope there're no more surprises."

By the pirates standards, Captain Gesteny was a fair man. He never killed a man until he had heard his version of events and sometimes, if he was in a good mood, let him go. The rest would have their hands held until a noose was put around his neck, and he was pulled up to stand on tiptoe when his hands would be released. Then he would be hoisted high, struggling to support himself by grabbing the rope. Some even managed to get free from the noose, but mainly they hung until they were exhausted, more and more of their weight supported by their necks until they suffocated. Some did drop into the sea, while one man managed to pull himself up the rope a little, only to face a sailor sitting on the yardarm, sword ready to chop at his fingers.

Captain Gesteny had other advantages: he was an excellent sailor and navigator, he insisted his crew were well-fed, so they respected him almost as much as they feared him. H e often led raiding parties so far, without a scratch, and so he was seen as something of a wizard himself but for once, he was uncertain.

How had Droyskova's army reached the coast so quickly? How did th eir forces know of his first landing place? Lighting bonfires was a good way of sending a warning, but the timing was still wrong, so could the bonfires be hiding something else, but what?

He turned to his first lieutenant again, "I want you to lead the landing party. I'll be on the last boat. If all goes well, and you land then you know what to do. If there's trouble, I want to be able to direct operations or at worst, direct a rearguard action while you escape."

"Yes sir, but they don't know we're coming, and they won't see us until dawn. We'll be fine."

Meanwhile, Yousif was explaining his own plans to Gene.

"Unless there's a last minute change in direction, they're heading for Marne. I'm going to station troops along the breakwaters and have another force on the beach. There'll be a time when the lead boats will be caught between them. The stragglers will be outside the seawall unable to help. It's splitting our forces as much as theirs, but they'll be in the open while our men can find protection."

Gene nodded, "I'll leave it to you. Are you sure you don't want me to stay?"

"No! I want to be the victorious general, not the wizard's assistant. Even if I fail, we'll kill a lot of them, and it'll be up to you to come up with some magical plan to defeat them."

Gene did not sleep much that night. He sent the drone out on battery power to monitor the fleet and even if he was miles from the action, it was his first battle, and he was nervous. He sat on his sleeping bag allowing Malcolm to lay close and wrap his arms around him while Trey knelt waiting to serve them both.

Captain Gesteny's navigation was perfect, and a morning mist helped to hide them until darkening shapes in the mist solidified into the breakwaters. The ships anchored, and the raiding party set off in the ship's boats. The first of the boats slipped through the gaps in the breakwaters and Captain Gesteny breathed a sigh of relief. There was still no alarm.

It was a shock to see arrows rising from the breakwaters, but it was moments before screams rent the air. Already a second volley was on its way and nearly all had hit the boats. He yelped as an arrow pierced his shoulder. He pulled it out, but the shaft pulled free leaving the head embedded, leaving him to face a slow agonising death as infections and gangrene set in. The boats around him were slowing, some already turning. The crew of his own boat were looking to him, but he had been driven by greed and now, the only booty he wanted was a physician skilled enough to save him. He just sat, as his little flotilla descended into chaos as it turned trying to get to safety.

Inside the harbour, Lieutenant Duraf heard the screams from beyond the breakwater. It puzzled him for the harbour was deserted, but the village beckoned, and so did the girls. He sat, driving his rowers on until an arrow thudded into a rower's back. The soldiers were kneeling between the rowers waiting for their chance to land. The screams now came from the rowers around him. He looked around to see where the arrows were coming from only to see his boats turning from the beach. When he looked towards land, he saw soldiers lining up, preparing to fire.

"Keep going, you cowards," He screamed, but it did no good. His rowers had also looked over their shoulders and stopped rowing. For a moment, nothing moved, everyone waiting.

As Lieutenant Duraf stepped towards a rower, raising his sword, so the sailor swung his oar, catching Lieutenant Duraf on his side, knocking him off balance. A second sailor thrust with his sword piercing the lieutenant's midriff with such force, the tip stuck out of his back. He fell overboard, already dead. The crew began throwing their weapons overboard and immediately, the other boats followed suit.

Yousif was not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed. The pirates had managed to fire a few badly aim arrows in his general direction but not a single soldier had been hit. It was a great victory, and his plans had worked brilliantly but still, he had not been tested in battle. However, battles were not only measured by casualties. The number of slaves taken was impressive.

While Yousif considered his victory, the captains of the fleet discussed their options. Captain Gesteny was ignored. He was fatally wounded and no longer feared. He along with the other wounded were given a choice; climb aboard the ships unaided or get thrown in the sea. He nearly made it but as he gripped the rail to haul himself up with his good hand, so the boat moved under him, and he slipped. Weakened by loss of blood, he could not hold on, and he fell into the sea. He was a strong swimmer, already the tide was carrying him towards the breakwater, and it was his last hope.

What was left of the able-bodied crew, transferred supplies out of ships into the ones that would sail home. The empty ones were burnt.

Yousif saw the smoke and watched as the remnants set sail. He was deflated feeling a little lost. Gene's magic was proving to be strong and powerful so it would be unwise to make an enemy of him. Maybe he should invite Gene to share in the victory. Meanwhile, he could savour the congratulations of his men.

Gene's arrival raised a cheer, but it was muted. It was Yousif who had stood with them even if, deep down, Gene was just as popular. Yousif took Gene to see the prisoners.

"A few will die, but we've got a good haul."

"What about your men?"

"A broken leg and a cut arm on the breakwater. They'll both heal if infection doesn't set in."

"I want a field hospital set up, and I want all wounded men transferred to it. I want to try some ideas, and the more we save here, the more we'll save after the battles up North. Ivgee, what's the first thing I want?"

Ivgee grinned, "Firewood and lots of boiling water. Can I set some of the prisoners to collecting it?"

Yousif was annoyed, not sure how Gene was taking control, but was a little mollified when Gene asked, "What do you think? Can we trust them?"

"The young ones, yes. Take what you need."

"OK Yousif. How do you think the prisoners will react if we save any of the wounded. Will they think, we're helping their comrades?"

Yousif's frown turned into a grin, "It'll make heroes of us. We'll be the most popular generals ever."

"A man covered in blood and wiping his hands on a filthy blood stained rag approached."

"They've all got arrow wounds. We'd have to cut the heads out, stitch them up and prevent infection. It's impossible except for arm or leg injuries when we'd have cut them off. Who wants a one-armed slave?"

"For a start, burn that rag then clean yourself up. It's not healthy for you to work naked but for now it helps. Wash yourself clean after every patient, then dip your hands into water as hot as you can take. Anything you've used, must be boiled for at least five minutes."



"Wizard Gene has shown me how tiny animals live in water. He says that some even smaller cause infections. I don't know if I understand or believe it all, but I've seen enough not to argue for now."

"He's bewitched you."

"It's not wizard Gene's way to trick us. If it was, we'd all be kneeling at his feet."

"No-one else does this sort of thing."

"I'm going to try it out." Gene snapped, "If I fail, what does anyone lose? If I do save lives what are people going to say about people who refused to help?"

"So what do you want me to do?"

"Get clean and stay clean. Stop anything spreading from one patient to another."

"Next, blood tranfusions. Volunteers donate blood to patients to build their strength up."

"I thought you knew everything. It can't be done. Sometimes it works, mostly it doesn't or are you suggesting they drink it?"

"There are different types of blood. One type can be given to anyone. Does that fit in with what you know?" Gene asked.

"And how do we tell which one is which?"

"Yousif. My magic will run out. I can use it to get things started but to keep it going, we'll have to work out what we can do here."

"You can save lives, you can tell what's needed to continue, but we must help. You're not the sort of wizard who can do everything. I understand, and I'll help if only because I'm sure you'll fail at something you do, and I want to watch."

"Ivgee I'm glad I brought you along because I need …?"

"Boiling water. You'll be known as Wizard Boiling Water if you're not careful."

Gene grinned, "I've been called worse. I need a volunteer to go first. Malcolm, I'm glad I've got a slave."

"I thought I was your friend. What torture do you wish to inflict?"

"First, kneel at my feet, slave. Scratch an A, a B and an O in the dirt. We'll have to invent paper one day, but for now we have to manage with what we have."

Malcolm grinned and did as he was asked.

"Good! Just to be sure, try AB."

Malcolm obliged.

"I'll explain positive and negative in a minute."

When the swap-shopkeeper mentioned a safari kit, Gene had assumed it was for the car but when unpacked, it proved to be a survival kit for him as well. It could equip a small field hospital, but why did the kit go so far? There was something not right about the shop, but it was not the time to worry about it, because something was driving him. Everyone else was relaxing, enjoying their victory. Why could he not do the same? How come he was not sick or fainting at the sight of so much blood? How come he could take a sterile needle out of its pack and prick Malcolm's finger? In his time he stumbled across an idea still in development where a drop of blood could be smeared across a test paper to match it, and now he was using a fully developed version. He picked up a pen and wrote B- on Malcolm's chest just above his left nipple. Malcolm had gone from nervous to relieved, to being as puzzled as the rest of the onlookers.

"This needle must be boiled for at least five minutes before it's used again." Gene said, "The next part is volunteer only, including you Malcolm. If a wounded man needs blood, and his blood is also B- Malcolm could give him some. I'd like all soldiers to be tested so if they're wounded, we can quickly find a comrade willing to donate blood. Malcolm, you were watching carefully, you do the next one. Ivgee how's the boiling water doing?"

"Yes Master." Malcolm replied, "Our leaders should set an example. Hold out your hand."

For all his reading and planning, Gene quickly discovered something he had forgotten. Anaesthetics, but the safari kit had supplies. He quickly learnt to control his gag reflex as he looked closely at some gruesome wound, and he hurt the first prisoner he injected. It was the surgeon who was amazed that, seconds later, he could dig around in the wound to remove the arrowhead while the prisoner chatted unconcernedly as he sewed up the wound.

Gene was exhausted by night, but the surgeon was already talking about how much better some of the wounded were, but he was waiting for the real killer: infection. Gene slept that night, cuddled up to Malcolm, wanting reassurance more than anything.

The following day was easier. Malcolm was confident enough to send the drone to look for the ships, Ivgee made sure Gene's orders were carried out, and the surgeon continued to wait for the first cases of dysentry and infections. Yousif trained his troops.

Gene was still tired and content to be held by Malcolm, though when he took a break, Malcolm spoke to Ivgee.

"Master knows he's losing his powers, he's involved himself in our war and now he wants to save as many as possible." Malcolm said, "I can't understand how it all affects him."

"He might be a wizard of knowledge, but he's also a youth like you. Tell him to report to me for sword practice."

"I cannot order my master like that." Malcolm gasped.

"You do it all the time, but you have your own ways. I'll train you as well. I know, slaves are not allowed to carry weapons, and it'll be your master's right to chop off your hand, but do you think he will?"

Malcolm grinned, "He might if I hold back for him. He's not like other masters."

"He'd prefer to marry you, but wives have to be dutiful and husbands forceful. You'd make a terrible wife, and Gene would lose too much status if he became yours. Get him to sword practice."

Sword fighting would be a novel form of exercise, so Gene was more willing than Malcolm expected, and it became part of his routine for the next few days. Without realising it, Ivgee eased him into all sorts of combat and Gene relaxed as physical tension eased away. As it did, so Malcolm found himself offering relief in another, far pleasanter way in the evenings and sometimes during the day.

Everyone was waiting, Yousif and Gene were waiting for another attack while the surgeon continued to wait for infections to spread. One of the prisoners died, but it was something internal. A 21 st doctor would have said organ failure due to shock and internal bleeding which no-one had spotted. There were also breaks in the routine.

Captain Gesteny was found washed up on a breakwater. He was delirious, dehydrated and for once, the surgeon recognised the inflamation, redness and smell of a badly infected wound.

"He's beyond even you, Wizard." the surgeon said to Gene, "Best put him out of his misery before gangrene sets in."

"No." Gene snapped, "At least let's try. I've got something I haven't needed yet. Let's try antibiotics on him."

"If you can save him, you become surgeon, and I'll be your assistant."

"You can anaesthetise him while I give him a shot of this. Then he's all yours. Get the arrow out and clean out any dead flesh. You're the expert there, but keep everything sterile."

The surgeon nodded. He worked quickly and even Gene was satisfied about how he kept everything clean. By evening the Captain's temperature was approaching normal, and the inflammation was visibly reduced. The surgeon knelt down in front of Gene.

"I'm yours to command, Master." he said.

"No. I can't do this too often, and you know how to operate. Just remember. Nothing may pass from one patient to another. If you like, that is my command."

The surgeon grinned, "I'm not used to a modest wizard, nor one who knows anything if it comes to that. Your orders will be obeyed."

Gene spent one nervous morning when Malcolm drove Yousif to see his father, but he need not have worried. Both were cheerful when they returned. That evening Malcolm described the visit.

"To hear Yousif, he learned about the fleet in his dreams and divined what they would do. The victory is all his. When he spoke of you saving prisoners lives, he spoke of you experimenting on them to save thousands of our soldiers. You're known as the great healer."

"I didn't like trying things out on prisoners, but I suppose it showed they work." Gene said.

"The prisoners love you." Malcolm said, "They're well-fed, well-treated, and the wounded are not being left to die. You should claim some."

"I'm used to you and Trey but I'm not sure I want grown men, especially killers."

"Leave it to me, Master."

Gene looked at the line of boys who were all watching him warily. The wariness turned into fear in the boy Gene beckoned forwards.

"You don't have to be scared of me, if you tell the truth." Gene said, "Malcolm chose you because you can learn our ways the most easily."

"Yes Master. How may I serve you, Master?" the boy intoned. It was a standard response, and Gene could see it in his eyes. Gene turned to Malcolm.

"Down boy. Show some respect to your master."

Malcolm immediately dropped to his knees and bent forwards, so his forehead touched the ground.

"Do you think he's an obedient slave because he's scared of me?" Gene asked.

"Yes, Master. That's how it is," the boy replied.

"No. Look how he's got his arse as high as he can. He's hoping I'll tell you to fuck him."

Malcolm wriggled his arse. At any other time, he could have been just trying to get more comfortable, but with the timing, and his arse cheeks far less clenched, the message was obvious. The boy managed a nervous chuckle, and a couple of the others grinned.

"You may as well as stand up, Malcolm. No-one is going to believe you're an obedient slave." As Gene hoped it produced even more chuckles and smiles, "Remember, the only time you'll need to be scared of me, is if you lie."

A boy stepped forward, his voice a challenge, "We thought Malcolm was our friend, yet he'll kneel before you like any other slave. He said you wouldn't force us, so we can leave. I bet you've got troops ready to kill anyone who does."

"I wouldn't kill you because you'd be worth something to the mines. Why didn't I just send you there? Tell me Malcolm, does he sound disobedient and insolent, so should I punish him?"

"If you were a normal owner, then you wouldn't even ask, Master, but if you did, I would have just said, 'Yes Master', hoping it was the right answer."

"And you'd also hope I wouldn't punish you for criticising me." Gene said, "Now listen, all of you. I'm tired of being told it isn't the way we usually do things. I'm hoping you boys don't know the usual way of doing things, so you'll do them my way."

Gene pulled Malcolm back into his chest, wrapping his arms around his slave's waist then continued, "Malcolm is more than just a slave, I love him. He'll never admit to being anything more than an obedient slave, but be warned. If you do cause trouble, be more scared of him than of me."

He bent his head and kissed Malcolm's cheek. In his turn, Malcolm turned, and they kissed on the lips, the boys watching, awed. Gene had wondered why boys as young as ten had been on the raiding party.

"They were expendable. They would lead and draw fire. Their soldiers would know where ours were hiding."

"I hope we don't do the same."

"No, we don't think our enemies are so stupid. They can tell the difference between untrained children and armed soldiers."

Gene understood that age was unimportant here. No-one thought it odd such young children would be used as soldiers. There was no age of consent or any other child protection and Malcolm suspected Gene was unhappy at the idea. He'd said enough about his world, and although Gene sometimes said something to justify his compassion, Malcolm was not fooled.

As the days passed, so Gene felt more at home. A rumbling jealousy emanated from Yousif, but it was not surprising. Gene was a threat to his leadership, and he would be welcome by Yousif's father. They expected Gene to be a fake, to be killed when he was no longer useful. Instead, he was delivering far more than anyone could have expected, and the men loved him as they loved Yousif. Malcolm was proud to be Gene's favourite slave, even happier that Gene only ever wanted him in his tent at night. Sometimes, Gene was tired, they would just talk for a time, then fall asleep.

"How's everything going?" Gene asked one night.

"You're still soft, so I doubt we're going far, Master but you meant outside the tent." Malcolm replied, "Be careful of Yousif. He's content to be seen as a great general, but he still doesn't like sharing with you. The surgeon has changed. He's stricter about hygiene than you are now. Some have given blood and everyone is waiting for the prisoners to die, but many are believing it's going to be a long wait. The men complain about boiling everything, including their food and are waiting for the first cases of sickness to prove you wrong. No-one is becoming ill, so they also complain if someone gets careless."

"OK! It's been a fantastic adventure for me, but a part of me says I've done everything I can, and I should go home. What do you think?"

"I'll miss you, Master. I've tried not to, but I love you."

Gene kissed him on his lips, "And you know I love you. Supposing I stay. You know I'm no wizard. I rely on things made in my world. What happens when I can't get any more?"

"People call you healer and teacher, and you could still be both, and I'll tell you something that is magical. You've impressed Ivgee. You've made so much progress in just a week."

"It doesn't feel like it. Yousif likes to show how quickly he can beat me."

"Of course he knows more tricks, but your instincts are good."

"I left home on Saturday evening. When I get back it'll still be Saturday. If I choose to be gone for a few days, could you stand in for me?"

"I understand your wishes better than anyone, and you have taught me a lot. I'm still looking for a guide across the mountains, so I can spend time looking."

"I'd forgotten about my idea of a raid." Gene said, "I suppose you'll have a different boy in here, every night."

"May I have someone to empty my balls, please Master. I do love you so my arse is yours and no-one else will go there."

"But you're my slave, not my friend or my wife. Slaves should be able to go with other slaves."

"Only if their master approves. You forget, they own everything."

"Don't get too fond of other slaves. I might relegate you to putting on a display while I have Trey."

"Yes, Master. It would be your right, and it could be fun, but may I make a request?"

"Go on."

"During the day you're my master, and you should use me as you like. At night, may we sleep alone and together."

"OK and the same rule applies while I'm away. Play around during the day but wait for me at night."

"Yes Master. I like that. Thank you. Rules only apply to slaves. Don't forget masters can do as they please."

"My life's complicated enough. I reckon I'll be saving it all for you. I need to do some magic chants so see I'm not disturbed, please."

Once alone, he rubbed the torch.

"How long can I use you to travel?" Gene asked.

You must complete your quest.

"What quest?"

To find your destiny. You have two choices and each one has multiple possibilities. Some include your death, others a long prosperous life.

"It's more likely to include my death if I stay here."

Is it? Man decides it may be safer to stay at home. He dies in a gas explosion and does not get dream job. Man goes out, remembers to turn off gas, and is hit by a bus. I believe that is 21 st century analogy. In a moment's carelessness what will be, will be.

So I could go home and get run over, but if I'm careful I'd be better off here."

Or, you understand risks at home, but not here. It must be your decision and your responsibility. Explain reason for journey home.

"I think I'd like to get more supplies. You say I can't visit that swap shop again, so I'll see what I can do there. I could wish for a bank account with funds."

Wish granted. According to tradition, you have two left.

"I thought I'd already used two."

Definition broad and open to interpretation. Understand you were pushed into new experience. Tolerant approach.

"OK! I'll go tomorrow night and arrive Sunday night. I might go to school next week. It's something I'm used to, so it'll give me chance to think."

Beware, danger is where you least expect it.

"OK! Is that a warning? What's so dangerous about going to school? Detention?"

Beware, danger is where you least expect it. Felton your nemesis.

"Craig Felton. I'm used to him. He thinks I'm gay because he doesn't like me, not because I am."

Beware, danger is where you least expect it.

"So you keep saying. I try to avoid Craig anyway, so don't worry. I'm more worried about being able to travel, and I wish you'd answer yes or no."

Travel is a gift, not to be taken away as long as you use it benignly. Beware, danger is where you least expect it.

Despite the torch's warning, Gene's return was depressingly normal, starting with his mother's greeting.

"I met a perfectly charming couple at the Help-The-Aged bazaar. Their daughter is about your age, and she would make an excellent girlfriend. Why did you have to go off like that? It's so inconsiderate."

"Did you have a good time, son?" His father asked.

"It was amazing, Dad. We camped near a waterfall and swam in the lake."

"We?" His mother interrupted, "Who did you go with?"

"No-one you know, Mum. He's just a friend."

"Just a friend, indeed. Since you're being so secretive, I assume he's some riff-raff from a council estate."

"Actually his parents are farmers. They do very well out of it."

"Really? Where did you meet him. We must invite them all to dinner."

"Give me a break, Mum." He groaned as he headed for his room. Had he lied, he asked himself. No, Malcolm's parents were successful farmers, he just missed out the bits about slavery. Malcolm was far more of a friend than he'd admit to, so that was all right. He had learnt it was better to let his mother think what she wanted to think, and it was better to stick as close to the truth as possible. It was easier to remember what he had said. He was already missing Malcolm's acceptance of who he was.

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