The Wizard and the Torch

by Flaulus

Chapter 9

For once, Gene was wrong. Soldiers know they could be killed and accept it, so a general who achieved victories without massive casualty lists was one to be looked after. They were also beginning to see how little illness there was in the camp and how few of the wounded pirates were dying. Gene's standing was steadily increasing and there was an uneasy feeling he might choose to return. Even Yousif accepted his own reputation relied on the teamwork between them.

As one soldier put it, "General Gene knows where to fight and General Yousif knows how to fight."

With Trey flying regular patrols looking for pirate ships, everyone was relaxed and enjoying some 'easy soldiering'. Even the captured pirates were willing to carry out routine jobs in exchange for a far more comfortable life. If Gene was a powerful wizard, then his father must be an even more powerful one. It followed, if he ordered Gene home, Gene would have to obey. It also followed, any father would be pleased if his son was honoured and respected. Craig was the first to understand what was happening when he kept being asked about Gene's father and how he should be treated.

"I don't know. He wants to know Gene is safe and well." Craig replied.

"Yes, but he'll want to see what a great general and healer he is."

"It's not what he's expecting, he's expecting Gene to be looked after."

"And will even Yousif have to bow at his feet?"

"No. He'll probably want to greet you by shaking hands like this." Craig said as he held his hand out.

Craig watched as they tried. Soldiers from where he came from would offer up a smart brisk, crisp salute and here, their efforts at handshaking reminded him of home as they tried to make it a military greeting.

"No." Craig tried to explain, "Anyone can shake hands. It's just trying to be friendly. Let me show you."

As he held out his hand, soldiers gasped at a slave offering a greeting but one nodded and accepted.

"You see, it's just friendly." Craig explained, "Instead of kneeling and bowing, one of our soldiers would salute like this, but don't you try it. I'm just saying we have different greetings but this visit will be informal."

Craig's demonstration would have had any sergeant-major fuming, but the soldiers nodded as if they had learned some profound secret, but he raised some chuckles when he added, "I bet Malcolm does it his way though."

For the next few days, everyone wanted to practice shaking hands. Yousif also spoke to him.

"Should we send for some of father's best wine? Has Ivgee been warned there's no weapons practice that day?"

"No. It's how we live day to day." Craig replied, "If Master Gene and I are practising, I'll still do my best to beat him, so it's normal food and normal routines."

"You are a slave, so you should not embarrass your master."

"Master Gene's father will want to see him doing his best and fitting in. He won't want to see him being spoilt or just tolerated."

Yousif nodded, "Put like that, I think my father would be the same."

Craig was fascinated at how Gene's father's visit was turning into a major culture clash and such an important event, especially when Yousif added, "My father would be disappointed if he did not meet such an important visitor."

"Why is it so important, Master? Master Gene is just trying to make sure he can move here without leaving any unfinished business back home."

"Yes, perhaps neither you nor Gene understand the soul of the matter. You understand how our enemies tried to split our army. You do not understand how we dreaded it because we knew we could not win. Do you think either my father, or I would have accepted him if we were not praying for a miracle? Spies are warning us Starislav is nearly ready to march. Thanks to Gene's … your world's talking boxes General Blyne will be able to intercept them in hours rather than days. They turn our little force into a second army just as big as his. That is why it is so important. Your Master has turned despair at approaching defeat into hope of a grand victory."

"Gene will complain if you make a big fuss, but if his dad orders him home, he might go. It'll help if Gene is happy here and has a future, but not if he just gets treated like a god for no real reason."

"If Gene was to leave before the battle, it would be despair again. We'll talk again. You may go."

Tom, Gene's father, was not sure what to expect as he set off. He had a vague idea he would be visiting a hippy commune intent on sending supplies to some war-torn country. His instructions led him to a country lane that seemed to lead nowhere except for a couple of houses surrounded by farmland. As he turned into the lane, so an impossibly thick mist developed forcing him to stop. The mist disappeared just quickly leaving him to stare at the landscape. Gone was the narrow lane bounded by high ancient hedgerows. Gone were the oak and sycamore trees that also line the road. Most importantly, the road was gone. Instead, he was parked next to another car on the edge of a camp where men in little more than loincloths were engaged in various tasks. He saw one sharpening a sword. The soldier looked up, put down the sword and hurried over.

"Are you Wizard Gene's father? Welcome."

Tom smiled his thanks while modifying his ideas to a cos-play event. Except, where was the road, and would any event allow so many players to be naked?

"Thanks. Where's Gene?"

The man chuckled, "Proving he's not all powerful. He has a lot to learn about sword fighting. I'll take you."

The soldier was relieved the orders he had been given orders worked. It was obvious, Gene's father was a powerful wizard and demanded respect. To be so casual had seemed to be all wrong, but it seemed true wizards were indeed modest.

Tom paused to watch the training from a distance. Sword fighting meant masks and protective clothing not being naked. It was the widespread nudity that convinced Tom something had happened. The disappearing road could have been some optical solution, and he had driven into a field. Whatever it was, his mind searched for a logical solution, and such a lack of even basic clothing was hard to explain.

He watched as Gene and Craig fought. To Tom's inexperienced eye, they were both good, and the fight lasted until Gene sliced down on Craig's arm. A real sword would have sliced Craig's hand off, but he still dropped his own sword and nursed his badly bruised arm. Another youth stepped forwards and Gene stood ready. This time, Gene was badly matched, and he doubled over in pain as the sword thrust into his navel. Tom was worried but Gene straightened up, rubbing his own bruise. All the boys stopped, listening to the trainer who seemed to be explaining something to the victorious youth.

"The trainer doesn't seem pleased." Tom said.

"No! Yousif knows Gene is inexperienced, but that's no excuse. He left himself exposed. In a battle, you don't have that information so all enemies are a danger. Wizard Gene improves all the time and will soon take advantage of Yousif's sloppiness."

"Shouldn't their faces and necks be protected?"

"Some agree, and some say a little danger makes it more real. Longer, lighter swords would make attacks to the face easier, but they're too fragile for battle. Ivgee stops them if one goes down and makes the head more vulnerable."

Tom headed down and as he neared the group, Gene saw him and ran towards him, wrapping his arms around his father in a hug. Gene's mother considered such public displays of affection as unseemly, so Tom was unused to them, and ever conscious of the lack of dress was uneasy wrapping his arms around a naked youth. However, he relaxed, just pleased to see Gene so well.

Malcolm also hurried over as they separated.

"You must be Malcolm. I'd recognise those manacles anywhere."

Malcolm immediately briefly dropped to his knees, forehead to the ground before standing up again.

"Master Gene dislikes me remembering I'm his slave, but I can't respect my father without respecting his." Malcolm held out his hand, "I believe this is acceptable to you."

Tom took his hand, and they shook.

"The rest of you will have to excuse us, but I need to have a long talk with my son." Tom said, "It's nice to meet you all, especially Malcolm but I want to know what's going."

"That's going to be a fun conversation." Craig said, "Does anyone know what's going on?"

"Surely the wizards do." Yousif said.

"I've been thinking." Craig said, "There's something not right. Gene was expecting him this afternoon, but he arrived this morning. It's not important except it fits in with what we were saying about showing Gene's life here and not Gene's idea of a quick visit."

"What are you saying?"

"Nothing. It's working out the way we want, but it's a bit too easy, that's all."

"Maybe slaves should stick to their duties and think less, but stay alert."

Meanwhile, Tom was slowly accepting what was happening.

"I understand why you're so happy. I can hear it every time you mention Malcolm. Doesn't living in a slave society worry you though?"

"All my slaves volunteered. Spend some time with Malcolm, then explain it to me because I've never figured it."

"All right, I understand. Historians and archaeologists are accepting ancient civilisations could be far more complex than they realised. I never expected to be living it, so how about Craig? I take it you're friends now, but is he all right?"

"I gave him Milo as a servant. Milo's about thirteen, survived by hustling until we captured him and is so horny, he wears Craig out."

"And we're back to slavery or is it complex attitudes? I don't know. I can't take any of it in."

"Yeah, I know. It's all crazy. I was hoping I could explain why I need all those medical supplies, but now you're here, I don't know where to begin."

"I was starting to think you were some sort new age traveller, sending supplies to the third world, so I made some enquiries. You know I work in the purchasing department. OK, so it's a supermarket chain, but they're being very helpful. They can be seen as supporting the father of a gay son who's been forced into running away, and it helps their tolerance credentials so unless it costs them money, they'll help. Antibiotics are a problem because you can only get them on prescription. You might get a licence to export them, but I've no idea how to apply for one. One of my colleagues has done this sort of thing, and he reckons you're on the right lines with clean water, and the rest."

"What about anaesthetics?"

"Same thing. Look it sounds to me as if you're trying to do too much. Does this place have chemists, alchemists or anything?"

"I don't know."

"Start with that. Explain what you need and pass on your ideas. Don't try to do everything yourself. Ether has been around for a thousand years but knowledge was uncoordinated. Find out what local knowledge they have, and use that. I know, I work in an office, so I think spreadsheets and databases, but focus on information technology. It's still a broad subject, and it'll keep you busy for years."

"You're talking as if I'm staying."

"I love your mother, and you have to admit she does look after us. I don't like her snobbery or many of her friends because when it comes to nosiness, they make the CIA look like rank amateurs. Since she hates golf, I've become a keen player, well I'm an ace at propping up the bar and playing the odd game. You get the idea, and you take after me because young Malcolm reminds me of her. He'll run your life, make sure you keep up with Joneses, and it might be irritating at times, but he'll provide a wonderful home. You've got an advantage over me because Malcolm tries to impress you and not your neighbours. What I wanted for you was a good wife, a secure career, a future and getting on in the world, and you've got variations of it all. I need time to get used to it, so I'd like to go now. Is there any chance of me coming back, next weekend? It'll make a change to the golf club."

"I'll let you know." Gene replied, hugging his father, "Thanks Dad. I'm glad you understand."

"I don't understand any of it and if you're going to keep hugging me, could you find something to wear."

No-one took much notice when Tom drove off and vanished. It's what wizards do and when they're around all the time, it stops being unusual.

Instead, even Yousif became an excited teenager clustering around Gene with the others.

"He was impressed and wants to visit again." Gene said, "Yousif, you wanted him to meet your father. Maybe next time. Could he also visit Malcolm's?"

"How did you know … Craig. Father could be offended, but Malcolm looks after you, so your father wants to know about him. It will be well."

"If everyone has finished fussing over Dad's visit can we get back to the war?"

If a wizard can appear and disappear it follows he can make anyone disappear. Everyone was more cautious of Gene except of course for Craig and Malcolm. They gathered in Gene's tent that night. Gene sat on cushions so Malcolm lay, head resting on Gene's thigh inches from his cock. Craig just sat on more cushions watching.

"I wish I could bring Milo or Trey with me, but they're terrified of you now." Craig said, "I wish I knew why."

"They've got good lives. Master Gene gave it to them, and he can also take it away." Malcolm replied, "As he gets more powerful, so they feel smaller and can be just brushed away more easily. Aren't they scared of you as well?"

"I suppose they are a bit, and I get it with Milo. It's how the pirates think."

"And our people do as well." Malcolm said, "Remember, Trey's family lost everything and Trey ended up a beggar."

"OK, but you don't think like it." Gene said.

"Maybe I will after you sell me, and I end up working in the fields for some bully."

"But you don't think Master Gene will sell you, do you?" Craig said.

Malcolm gently licked Gene's manhood before replying, "I'm reminding him why he should keep me."

"How are your feet doing, Craig?" Gene suddenly asked.

"Hardening up. I can run a fair distance without trainers now."

"OK, start your morning runs again. You're to get up at dawn and take Trey and Milo with you. Just don't get pissed off because they can run further than you can. When you stop for a rest, ask them how I should punish Malcolm."

"Eh? Why are you going to do it?"

"He knows I don't like people bowing like that, and he knows the entire camp knew not to bow to my dad, but he did it anyway. Get them thinking how I could have been furious and just stabbed him in the belly."

Craig smiled in understanding, "I get it. Make them think about it all. Slago's punishment affected them, and they think he got off lightly, so it helped a bit."

"Trey does a good job. The drones are always ready to fly, and he's got a couple of other kids doing a radio watch. Let him know I appreciate it. Now I've got a slave anxious to show me why I shouldn't sell him. Who's waiting for you, Milo or Trey?"

"Both." Craig smiled.

The next morning, Gene was straddling Malcolm who was gently bouncing his hips when Ivgee burst in, taking in the scene.

"Hmm! I'm glad to see the slave on the bottom," he grunted, "Starislav's army is on the move. It's amazing: it would normally take three days before we heard down here and General Blyne could intercept. Instead he's watching them on one of your bird's eye pictures. He didn't completely trust your talking boxes and had regular scouts as well. They're being hunted by advanced troops who are ignoring boys watching them go past. It's General Blyne who's got the element of surprise and is picking the battlefield. Normally he'd have little warning and information could be slow enough for him to be waiting on the wrong side of a hill. Who do you need? I'll send for them while you finish here."

"If Malcolm can keep it up while we talk, my first question is: how come you're telling me? Where's Trey and the others?"

"Trey and Milo have gone off with Craig. The boy listening for messages did all the right things, but he's too terrified to disturb you, so he came to me."

"I'll need the surgeon and Yousif. You've listened in on enough of our plans so just get started."

"Yes sir."

Gene looked at Malcolm, "It takes more than that to put you off, doesn't it? I've gone soft."

"Slaves don't have privacy and as long the master is happy, so is the slave."

"I'd believe it with any other slave, but not you. You just like showing off."

"True, Master." Malcolm bounced his hips and grabbed Gene's cock, adding, "You sure recover fast, or are you in a hurry to get on with the war?"

Gene pinched Malcolm's nipples, so he winced.

"Just shut up and fuck me." Gene snapped.

"Yes, oh Cruel and Harsh One."

Gene pinched his nipples again and Malcolm's bouncing turned into a violent bucking. At the same moment, Gene tensed, and they came together. Gene slid off Malcolm to lay next to him, quietly content, but they did not doze for long. Craig arrived with a terrified Trey hiding behind him.

"Did you have a good run?" Gene asked.

"Yes, thank you, Master. I got almost as much as exercise as you did."

"You've heard the war's started as well."

"Yes, Master. Trey's worried he wasn't at his post when we got the news."

"Yes, he was. He was serving you, and he did his job in the radio tent. The boy on watch knew what to do, and I got the message. Trey, it's going to be a busy day so get something to eat then make sure the rest of your team are fed as well."

"Y — yes, Master. I'm sorry I wasn't there for something so important." Trey stammered.

"Yeah, I'd be sorry if I missed out as well. Still, at least we know your team is on the ball so well done."

Gene knew it was not what Trey meant, but Gene was not sure how to put the boy at ease. He seemed to succeed though for Trey was calmer as he hurried off.

"Malcolm, you'd better organise our breakfasts before anyone else arrives. Craig lay out a map by the radio tent and see if you can plot everything from the radio reports. Once Trey gets the idea, let him take over."

Even as Malcolm hurried off, Yousif and the surgeon arrived, neither concerned their commander was still lying naked on a sleeping bag.

"I suddenly wish we had two drones." Gene said, "I'd send one to General Blyne, but we need to maintain patrols at sea."

"Agreed," Yousif replied, "Honestly, I don't think General Blyne needs one. He still doesn't trust your radio boxes."

Gene turned to the surgeon, "Do they need your help?"

"Yes sir. They do. I've been thinking about what's happened, and it is magic. Only a handful of soldiers have come down with dysentery or anything, and none of the wounded prisoners died of infections. Most have recovered enough to be useful, and I tried training them as assistants. It worked better than I could have expected. They're eager to keep their good conditions and seem to think their training assures their future."

"How about supplies?"

"Limited. More will die without them, but I understand. Kill the tiny demons that infest food and water and don't let them travel from one patient to another. You understand, we'll save our soldiers first. Prisoners can have whatever's left over."

"I don't like it but I understand. Malcolm can hitch up the trailer and take you all. The trailer won't be very comfortable but at least they won't have a two-day forced march." Gene paused, "Let's plan our raids. Let's remind them our army is still here."

Yousif grinned, "Confusion to our enemies."

"Let's live long and prosper." Gene replied.

Captain Gesteny looked at the stars, satisfied they were on course. He was a prisoner in chains but had been promised his freedom when they landed. Since they were taking him home, he had agreed to navigate. He had also promised not to speak of their plans, and the fools had trusted him. As soon as he could raise the alarm, he would raise a force to crush them. His guards had been careless, so he had learned a lot. A couple of fishing boats could not carry many men so mopping them up would be easy.

Craig, their leader, was the biggest fool of them all. Wizard indeed! Still, he knew how to behave like a man, unconcerned his slave was weighed down by the bags he was carrying: a typical Droyskovan who could not go anywhere without his comforts. And he was a slave. What right did he have to sleep in the cabin when he, a captain, slept on deck. Craig would be better killed than captured because Captain Gestny was looking forward to breaking him. The crew were all slaves, turned from their masters by good food. They would learn too when they were nailed to crosses.

It was dawn as they landed in the harbour of a small fishing village. True to Craig's word, he was bundled away to the outskirts by four men then his chains were removed.

"Good luck, Captain." Craig said, "Just keep moving, and we'll honour our bargain."

Captain Gestny nodded. He needed troops, and the nearest garrison was half a day away. He made good time, once stopping to see smoke rising from the village as the invaders forgot to be kind and burnt boats and stores, leaving the villagers to starve.

He had no qualms about taking food and water as he passed farms and hamlets but at least he knew how to treat peasants.

"You say they're coming this way?" The garrison commander asked when he reached the troops.

"They intend to burn as many ships as possible to prevent us raiding again."

"Don't they realise the only ships big enough are in the city harbour?"

"Oh yes, but they've got a crazy plan. No, not crazy but wild. They intend keeping a few boats and loading them with tar and oil. When the tide is right, they'll set fire to them and let them drift into the harbour."

"I heard your raid was a failure. It sounds as if their entire army is here if they can afford operations like this, but thanks to you, we can stop it. I'll call assembly, and we march."

An army is slower than a man alone. Scouts had to be sent out to ensure Craig's men had not swung towards the city, but there was no sign of them. Peasants had seen nothing and there was no sign a raiding party had passed by. By dawn the next day they could see the village where the raiders had landed. Fishing boats were leaving on the tide, and the only fires were where villagers were cooking. There was no sign of a raid. Puzzled the troops entered the village to be greeted by the headman bowing to them.

"Where are the raiders?" Commander Garrick asked.

"They left as soon as they lit the bonfires. They asked the young men to join them, and many did."

"Is that all they did?"

"Jarim was sick, and they gave him medicine. They unloaded supplies from their boats."

"Fetch this Jarim."

A boy of about eight arrived with his mother whose nervousness turned to horror as the commander drew sword and thrust it into Jarim's chest piercing his heart. The boy was dead before he could jerk his swords free. He turned to his men.

"Kill all the men of fighting age." he ordered.

The men rushed forward, and the commander listened to the screams. Some tried running, but they were chased down. It was a bloodbath. His bodyguard had not moved, so he turned to them.

"Take Captain Gestny."

"You can't do that." Captain Gestny yelled, but it was a mistake for he lost his chance to run.

Commander Garrick looked at him and drove his sword into the captain's belly. Captain Gestny screamed and doubled over grasping his stomach.

"You two, take him to the captain's council. Explain how he betrayed us in payment for being healed. Tell them how he brought our enemies here. We could have cut across country and intercepted them if he hadn't lied to allow them a head start. He said there were two boatloads of soldiers, now it's just one boatload and supplies. I don't care when he dies but make sure his head is recognisable when you show it."

The commander beckoned the headman over.

"The next time our enemies arrive, you don't get friendly with them, you kill them. You don't take gifts offered, you take them by force. Did their medicine work?"

"Yes Esteemed One. Jarim's fever broke not long after they left."

"Let the boy be a lesson. When they return, make sure you take their supplies."

The commander waited until his soldiers returned.

"There's still plenty of women left. The soldiers can have their fun before we march north. We'll move fast, and they're loaded down with supplies."

Captain Gestny was in agony, and the soldiers soon wearied of his screams, but there was little they could do. They gave him water but dare not treat his wound. The soldiers were hauling him on a frame covered with a piece of fishing net and every jolt was agony, as he was dragged to something worse. He had been stripped naked, so he could not hide a weapon, and his hands were tied. As they crossed a bridge over a small but fast moving river, he saw his chance and using the last of his strength, managed to stand and jump over the side. He was in no state to fight the current, and he was carried down stream. The soldiers ran along the bank looking for him, but it took them an hour to find his body. He had been swept into a rock, and his face was covered in blood from a bad cut to his head while his eye was badly bruised.

"Do you reckon we can clean him up?" One of the soldiers asked, and the other shook his head.

"His face had to be recognisable, and he's too battered, so we've disobeyed orders. Commander Garrick likes his crucifixions, and we'd be in trouble if we'd got a scratch on his face. I'm heading north."


The soldier hesitated, "I don't know really. Starislav isn't much better than our lot, but with Droyskova's army in the south guarding against us, they'll have an easy win. They might be in a good mood."

He hesitated again, "This raiding party of theirs doesn't make sense. They treated that village pretty well. How would they treat us? It's either that or be crucified. What are you going to do?"

"Kill you and say it was your treason that got his face smashed. I don't reckon it'll save me though. I'll come with you."

Craig was coming to the conclusion soldiering on a campaign was less about excitement and more about fear and hard work. Without radios or drones he felt blind worried there was an army round every corner ready to attack them.

His army was swelling with each community they visited. The ex-prisoners they had brought with them proved to be excellent recruiting officers. Everything was going according to their main plan. If it had failed then they would have headed for the mountains.

Milo was never far from him and was beginning to understand. The less fear he showed towards his master, Craig, the more confident the villagers felt in talking to him. Ivgee was also with him and was training volunteers to be soldiers. Like Gene and Yousif, Craig understood their plans better while Ivgee was the real soldier. Craig was aware of how much he had changed. He was content to be Gene's slave so remained naked except for his collar, yet he was entitled to wear a commander's sarong. However instead of imposing his will on his soldiers, to be the bully he used to be, he was content to advise Ivgee and stay in the background. Ivgee and the raiding party treated him with respect, yet villagers could greet him and treat him like an equal. They knew they were all getting more food thanks to him and thanks to him, villagers were not being raped. It paid them to keep the soldiers happy, but they didn't get beaten up and at least fathers could protect their daughters.

"Scouts say we're being followed." Ivgee said, "We've also got reports from men who had the sense to hide before the pirates got there. They've burnt two villages where men joined us."

"How's the training doing?"

"I'm sticking to bows and arrows for now. If it gets to close quarters, we'll be massacred. You're no swordsman either but volleys of arrows will make the pirates scatter, then we can pick them off. Most of the survivors will join us."

"How come? Aren't they pirates?"

"They've got their captains and commanders and you never see them starving. We're showing them something different, and I'm surprised at just how well it's working. Feeding them makes all the difference."

"And there're no problems?"

"Not what I'd call problems, but you would. It's all very well recruiting pirates into our army but one or two of them liked running a village a bit too much and there's a few old scores to settle."

"You're talking about their soldiers stationed in villages. Should I hold trials and deal with them? Send for the headmen of the villages and bring the pirates along as well."

"When they were alone, Milo said, "You're making a mistake. You're going to have to kill prisoners, and you don't want to do it."

"For once, Milo, shut up. I know, but I've got to be tough to keep control. Let me think."

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