The Wizard and the Torch

by Flaulus

Chapter 11

Tom looked around and frowned. Near the entrance he picked up a rock and examined it.

"Do you know what this is?" he asked.

"It's iron ore isn't it? They say the iron is difficult to melt and there's not much of it. It's why the miners abandoned the shaft."

"You mean they found traces near the entrance but never found the mother lode."

"I think so. You use words I don't fully understand."

"It's not important because this isn't iron ore; it's reinforced concrete, and that is a real mystery."

"Why, Master?"

"Because this isn't a mine, it's a tunnel. It was built to allow people to cross the mountains. Now the question is, how long does it take concrete to crumble away into dust leaving just a few rocks." Tom crushed the rock with his hand, and the rock just broke apart, "You see? It's rotten."

"You're saying this tunnel was built a long time ago and then forgotten, but why?"

"I don't know. What do you know of time travel?"

"Master Gene talks about it. He says he could be one of my many times removed grandson. It's difficult to understand, but it explains how he has so much magic."

"Supposing you were our many times removed grandson, instead? Supposing there was a great disaster, and our world was destroyed. Supposing your people are rebuilding what we lost?"

"It would explain something that bothers Master Gene. Why does the all-knowing oracle, the torch, allow him to change history — but if it's not history then it doesn't matter."

"You're bright. I wish you were my younger son. I don't suppose you'd share your old man's interest in history and archaeology, do you?"

"I've often wondered about the wastelands. I hear stories of strange finds when they reclaim more land."

"OK! Now I'm worried. Should I be thinking of relocating my wife and me here?"

"And all this comes from that little rock, Master?"

"No. Haven't you noticed? Ever since that rockfall back there, we walked along an embankment. It's got a gentle climb and a gentle curve, so I'm sure it's man made. Do you see the little clusters of chippings. I'd say they were remains of a railway or rather, the ballast it rested on."

"I don't know what a railway is, Master," Malcolm said, "But I understand why it's important to you. It's going to upset Master Gene."

"I'd rather not tell him yet. It'll put you in a difficult position, but you're right, I'm basing a lot on very little substance. He won't be surprised if I'm interested in the history of this place; I've dragged him around enough sites back home, but my theories are mine, not yours to share. Fair enough?"

"Yes, Master. I will obey."

"Is there any chance I could get a team of helpers."

"Easy. It'll be harder keeping back a few boys for camp duties."

"Right now, I could do with a slave who can find me something to sit on, find me some water and then wait quietly while I take it all in."

The fort commander willingly gave up his room to an important wizard while Malcolm fetched water. He was then left alone until Gene arrived.

"Your father has discovered something that has disturbed him." Malcolm said, "He told me not to discuss it with you, and I hope I'm not disobeying him, but you may know something to put his mind at rest. It's do with the merchant you traded with."

Gene nodded. "I'll speak to him."

"Hi Dad." Gene said as he entered the room, "Malcolm said you're worried about something, and I should tell about my trip to the 2090s.

"When? When did you say? Did he tell you anything else?"

"No. You asked him not to, but he thought my trip might help."

"I think this might be a railway tunnel, but I'm not sure yet. If it is, can you see what it means?" Tom said.

"I think so. The torch says I shouldn't assume we're in the past. I get what it means now. You think it could be the future."

"I'm wondering. I was worried about your mother but if you've visited 2090 then we're all right."

"I think I know the exact date it happened. I've got a written receipt for my stuff, and I couldn't go back the next day. Craig and I could only travel because that fight between Craig and me meant a major disruption to our lives, so why couldn't I go back to the shop?"

"I understand, and you could be right." Tom agreed.

"I think the pay-off for the shopkeeper was, he was with his family the next day instead of at work."

"Can't you ask your portal or whatever it is?"

"I try, but it says I have to follow my destiny, and this is scaring me. Supposing I could change our world's future. What would happen to this one and Malcolm?"

"That's deep. You have been thinking about it, haven't you?"

"Not this but I thought I was in the past. This civilisation would have to fade without a trace or how would I be affecting our present. I don't even know how to say it right."

"I understand. You've been thinking about time travel, and it's a real problem for you, not a chat over a sci-fi story." Tom said.

Gene nodded. "I'm supposed to be meeting Craig, and I thought I was nearly done here — on this world, I mean. Now I don't know."

"Let me try my hand at archaeology." Tom said, "It could be a Roman tunnel with spikes embedded in the roof."

"Do you believe that?"

"No, but it's the first alternative I could think of. There may be another. Let's face it, you're building forts at both ends, someone else may have thought about defending it."

Gene was still thoughtful as he walked through the tunnel to find Craig. Gradually his mind shifted to immediate problems and then to his relief, he found Craig at the other fort. Soldiers were shocked to see a slave hugging his master and kissing him on the cheek instead of kneeling and bowing respectfully, but they were wizards, who was going to argue?

"I still find their attitudes weird." Gene said as they settled down to talk, "You'd think the locals would object to soldiers taking slaves, but they don't. They don't mind you taking supplies to feed yourselves so how are we better than the pirates?"

"You don't know?" Craig asked, "By their standards, we're kind, gentle, we help in the fields, and we're repairing buildings. Ivgee is having a great time training an army. There's not much difference between free girls and slaves. Once they've had a child, they're more valuable as wives. Where it gets weird for me is, soldiers were expected to take the starving orphans in first and look after them, even if it meant making them slaves."

"Yeah, it is weird, but what about the rebellion you've started?"

"OK! Villagers of fighting age are sent to Ivgee who trains them, and makes them a unit. They then go back to defend their village. There have been a few fights, and the pirates were massacred each time. We've got scouts in villages we haven't taken, a ring of outer villages that get the attacks and inner villages which send troops to the outer ones while their men train."

"Doesn't it take time to train soldiers?" Gene asked.

"Oh, they know how to fight. The pirates expected them to learn, but didn't let them keep weapons until they were needed. What we do is organise them. Each village has a sergeant who arranges lookouts, can sound the alarm and send runners to nearby villages. The pirates can't cope with organised resistance, so it's working. I've been here for what, a month, and I reckon we take a new village a day."

"So you're not ready to go home."

"I am. I'd like a break on our old world. I'm treated like a general, but there's something in the background. I must never forget I'm a slave, and it's wearing. I'm supposed to ask and suggest, but they're treated like orders. If it sounds like an order, I get some angry looks."

"I shouldn't have collared you, but I didn't expect you to do so much."

"You were thinking if I was your equal, we'd be back to how it was at school. Right?"

"Yeah, and here it could have got us both killed."

"I know. We would both have seemed weak. I'm not complaining though. If I took Milo home, he'd end up in care getting counselling, and you know what I'd be called as I was carted off to gaol."

Gene nodded. "Is there anyone you miss back home?"

"I don't think so. My old man said he was trying to toughen me up, so I could get on top. My brother's been arrested for beating guys up. OK, I had a drunk enslaved here, but I didn't see a way out of it."

"Tell me about it."

Craig paused as he marshalled his thoughts and began, "It was in the second village we took. Do you remember Duran? He's the big guy with blond hair. Anyway a villager picked a fight with him, and Duran killed him. Nobody knew what to do, so they turned to the wise old wizard: me. I'd been in court once for nicking stuff, but it hardly helped me to be a judge in a murder trial, so I asked around, and it turned out the village was glad he was dead. He didn't treat his family well, and he was a bully. Duran's pretty easygoing, but this guy saw him as an easy target. Anyway, Duran took it for a while before he snapped, but then he drew his sword and killed the villager. It was against orders to harm the locals and like I said, they partly sided with the soldier and partly saw us being like pirates. Do you know what really bothered them? There was no son to look after the parents when they got old, but they didn't expect this guy to do it anyway. I was only joking when I suggested Duran be enslaved to them, but everyone thought I was a genius. Duran lost status, but he accepted it, and our men thought he got off lightly. The family got a kindly hard-working son, and the village saw a soldier punished for hurting them. Ivgee started off saying Duran should be crucified for disobeying my orders, and I was too soft. What brought him round was how the villagers stopped being scared of us, and he found himself welcome in every villager's hut and every villager's bed."

"How about Duran?"

"His new family is going to buy him a fertile wife, so he'll have sons to look after him in his old age. He's happy."

"I thought he liked big hunky men."

"He does, and there are plenty in the village, but he still wants sons."

"Some of their ideas seem so cruel." Gene said, "You know: buying a wife, slavery, and General Blyne killed wounded men because it was kinder than letting them die in agony. Wouldn't you rather go home?"

"We have homeless kids on the streets. We've got food banks and a massive drug problem. Or rather, I should say they have. This is my home now."

"But no-one back there?"

"What's bugging you?" Craig asked.

Gene recounted the conversation with his father.

"So, the end of the world is coming, and you're wondering who to save." Craig said, "Is that it?"

Gene nodded so Craig added, "Try a different question. How many of your friends and family will you enslave to make sure they don't take over and make themselves gods?"

"I wasn't thinking that." Gene said quickly.

"Why not? Dad said, if you've got an edge then exploit it to get on top. You're too nice to do that, but you're sharp. You made sure I couldn't, didn't you? I don't get why you did bring me, though."

"I don't know, but I think it was the small things. You picked up Jamie Robert's pencil once. He was waiting for you to break it or just chuck it but you just handed it back. I was the only one who noticed, and you didn't see me. Later you roughed him up when your mates were watching. I think it's called mixed signals, but I was curious. You didn't dare be friends with a gay boy, but I thought you wanted to though. I don't even know why I thought you did."

"Like I said, you're pretty sharp." Craig said, "Would you invite Jamie. He'd make a good little slave."

"No. I don't think he would. I think he's my mother's dream son: growing up to work in a little office, getting married and having the right number of kids who'll be in their forties and fifties when the disaster happens."

"If he came here, his kids wouldn't be born, and a load others would die. Hang on, he hasn't had kids yet, but he could have them here."

"I'm going to find Malcolm." Gene said, "I'm sorry Craig, I should be congratulating you on what you've achieved."

"Yeah, it is a bit of a shocker, isn't it? Let's hope your old man finds a different answer, or the disaster is an asteroid too big to stop. You know, something we can't stop."

"Not even wizards have a problem like this very often, or do they, Master?" Malcolm asked a little later as they strolled between the rocks in the mountains.

"I think I'm the first." Gene smiled, "I've got this picture of great cities burning if I do nothing, and I'm thinking of that shopkeeper and his family. I've met the guy, so it's personal. If I can do something, what happens to you? Would you live in a better world or a worse one?"

"I wouldn't know you, but I could be living like a wizard. I'd rather know you."

"And everyone else?"

Malcolm was quiet for a moment.

"Could they be worse off?"

"I don't know. There's more going on than the torch tells me. I came here to save Droyskova, so that's what I'm going to do, but I still see burning cities."

"Master, you think too much. It's a warm day, there's a patch of grass over there, and you have an eager slave. Why not take care of today, and worry about the rest when you need to."

"I also see a decent sized stick by that bush. Maybe it's time I beat a disobedient, rude slave."

"Maybe Master Yousif will lend you Arlan. He'd enjoy it, but I wouldn't."

"Come here."

Most soldiers wandered around naked when off duty, and Gene had discovered that if he did the same, when he put on his sarong, everyone became alert and listened carefully. While Gene was accepted as a free man without collars or chains, Malcolm refused to have his cuffs and ring removed. He was a wizard's slave, and a stranger could think Malcolm had more status than Gene if they were standing together. Whatever a stranger might think, it was Malcolm who willingly dropped to his knees to service his master.

However bizarre Gene and Craig's life would seem to their old schoolmates, the next week was routine. Craig had little to do even though more and more villages were coming over to them. The pirates tried sending an army against them, but soldiers simply surrendered, preferring slavery to defending the captains. News of Craig's gentle approach was spreading and who would fight when surrender meant a full belly and a kind master.

General Blyne was less gentle but had heard of Craig's success so even he appeared kind compared to the Starislav authorities.

Yousif and Gene had little to do. The pirates were too busy watching their territory slipping away and wondering how to stop it.

Yousif's father, Geog Af Builnia, the City Father, could scarcely believe how successful they all were. He summoned his generals for a conference. Before Gene's arrival, it would have meant days of preparation. Sending out messengers, waiting for the replies and days of travel for the generals. Radio and Gene's car reduced it to a day. Gene, Yousif and Craig were driven by Malcolm to the city, then Malcolm fetched General Blyne. When the conference started in the afternoon, all were ready, alert and not tired from travelling. General Blyne spoke first and to the City Father's surprise and even if he was wearing a general's sarong, a mere slave spoke second. Gene was next followed by Yousif.

"And how many men have we lost to camp fever?" the Geog Af Builnia asked when he understood the situation.

"None, Father. Yousif replied, "Our casualties amount to two broken arms, and a soldier enslaved for murder."

"We have a bigger army, but our losses are far less than I could have hoped." General Blyne added, "I've seen some remarkable recoveries among the wounded prisoners, as well. Young men from captured villages are flocking to join us so if anything, we're stronger than before."

"What about tributes and captured treasures?"

"We haven't had any yet." Craig replied, "Any treasure is in the city. Our real gain is security. We've crossed them once, and those mountains seem more like hills with steep cliffs and deep valleys. Now we're in them, we're finding all sorts of possible routes. We're lucky we're finding out before the pirates."

"So you say, slave. Maybe you should let us decide what is lucky."

"Father, Craig is a wizard like Gene." Yousif interjected to Gene's surprise, "He is making our border more secure, and he stands a good chance of eradicating the pirate threat for good. We cannot have two wizards vying with each other, so he has become Wizard's Gene slave. Wizard Gene's other slave is also becoming something of a wizard and deserving of respect."

Yousif watched his father's flash of anger fade.

"I've heard many tales of this other slave, Malcolm. He is too disrespectful and seeks to control his master's power."

"Father, you're insulting Wizard Gene now." Yousif exclaimed, "You're right though. With any other master, Malcolm would have been crucified by now. Any other slave would have been crushed by Wizard Gene's power. One pissed himself, because he had to take water to their tent."

"And why isn't such a powerful group seeking to take control of our city?"

"I can answer that." Craig said, "I've had a gutful of running things on the pirate side. Master Gene wouldn't enjoy it either because there's too much to do and to explore. Our home is linked to here, and we need to find out how."

"Wizard Gene, maybe you are destined to rule in my place. I cannot argue, because I should be dying at the hands of the Starislav army by now. Yousif, you have seen the wizard's ways. Can you follow them?"

"I think so.

"Only think so?"

"It's still easier to beat a slave than listening to what he expects, but I'm trying. It's surprising though. I found a slave who likes a severe master."

"I'd like you to take control of the south. I'm sure Wizard Gene or Slave Wizard Craig will help if you ask but wizards are advisors not rulers. Fetch Malcolm."

When Malcolm arrived, the City Father asked, "You mentioned Merchant Wilhelm's villa."

"Yes Master."

"I thought wizards could see the future because it's not Wilhelm's villa; it's Wizard Gene's. Is it big enough to accommodate Wizard Gene, Wizard Craig and you?"

Malcolm grinned. "Yes Master. May I ask? What of Merchant Wilhelm?"

"He decided Starislav was a better place to live. The only place he'll have here is a coffin where he can regret his treachery as he suffocates. Bring them."

A servant stepped forwards carrying a cushion on which were gold armbands. Geog Af Builnia took two and taking Gene's arms slipped them on.

"These show you have completed honourable service to Droyskova. Two bands of gold are our highest award. More usefully, you may demand whatever you need for your quest. Now, with your permission, may I recognise Slave Craig's achievements."

"Yes, of course, but may I ask? What about Yousif?"

"What about him? He was brave in battle as all generals should be, but he would not have saved Droyskova without you. You would have done with someone else, but don't worry. Craig is right, we need administrators now, so his honourable service is completing what you started. As Governor Yousif, he will command plenty of respect. Step forward, Craig."

Geog Af Builnia contented himself with handing the armbands to a mere slave, but when Craig put them on, Gene shook his hand then hugged him. They turned back to Geog Af Builnia who smiled approvingly.

"I now wish to discuss matters with General Blyne and Yousif."

It was a clear dismissal so Malcolm led them to their new home as Geog Af Builnia turned to Yousif.

"You've spent time with the strangers. Are they as trustworthy as they try to appear?"

"They are wizards, Father. They could have been tricking me, but I don't think they were. Wizard Gene is far too familiar with slaves, but he gets away with it, and I don't think it's because of magic. Take his order to boil water before drinking it. The men grumble about the extra work, the water not tasting as good, and a few don't bother. Here's the thing, the men all see there's no camp fever, so while they grumble about boiling water, they really lay into the lazy ones for not giving it a fair go."

Geog Af Builnia nodded. "They have given us back our city, and given us more than we could have ever hoped for, but I fear they may be too good to be true. General Blyne, what do you say?"

"My men react the same. They also see prisoners who should have died, recovering. Some want to build large boilers to boil water more efficiently while others say they're just lucky. It's normal camp reactions to something new."

"This link to their world. Do you know anything about it?"

"It troubles them. They see something bad, but it's bad for their world, not ours." Yousif paused, "At least if they stay, it's not bad for ours."

"Be honest, Yousif. Do want them to stay?"

"Yes, Father. I think I do. They're not a threat."

"We'll see, but for now, I shall see they're welcome. Now, why was Wizard Craig enslaved?"

"They were enemies on their world, and I would have ordered Craig killed, but it's not Wizard Gene's way. Instead, he offered friendship on his terms, and Craig accepted."

Geog Af Builnia nodded, "Do you resent me placing a complete stranger over you?"

"No, Father. Maybe you didn't understand this when you appointed him, but we only saw victory in battle and waiting for them to gain strength before the next attack. Wizard Gene saw far more. He saw a weakness and exploited it. Our soldiers have something to lose so fight. Their soldiers fought out of fear, and they don't have to be scared of us."

"Most would say, soldiers should terrify their enemies, so they run."

"If they run, they can regroup and fight again. If they surrender, they're amazed at how well they're treated and don't want to fight us."

"You agree with Wizard Gene."

"I agree with what I see. If we tried to take their cities, it might not work."

"You see flaws in the strangers which is good. I'd be more suspicious of them if they seemed perfect. I suppose it's a good sign I'm allowed to be suspicious, and yes, it's also a good sign I'm thinking of the future again. They're welcome here."

While Geog Af Builnia and Yousif were talking, Malcolm was becoming steadily more unhappy. Gene and Craig were excitedly exploring the villa, becoming more animated and behaving more like friends while Malcolm seemed to be relegated to supervising slaves preparing their rooms. He had watched the relationship between Gene and Craig grow and Craig was a wizard. Why would Gene want a simple slave from a humble farm? He seemed even more unhappy when Gene seemed to be in no hurry to go to bed or send Craig away, while they talked about home, friends, and things Malcolm could not even begin to understand.

It was only when Malcolm waited uncertainly, unsure whether his master wanted him, Gene realised something was wrong and asked.

"You're getting tired of me, and want another wizard in your bed, Master. I'm just sad I'm going to be sent away." Malcolm replied.

"No, it's not true." Gene exclaimed, but paused, "Maybe it's partly true. I think there could have been something between us at school, but Craig could never admit it, so we ended up hating each other. I wonder what it could have been like, so maybe I would like to spend time with him. I love you and I'm up for some fun with him. Do you see the difference?"

"I think so, but you were talking about your life in your world. You want to go back to it, don't you?"

"Are slaves allowed to be homesick?"

Malcolm grinned as he nodded, so Gene continued, "I am sometimes, and I think Craig is too. I've got friends who I'd like to see again, and I'd like to say goodbye to my mother properly. Do you want to see your parents?"

Malcolm nodded again, so Gene added, "We'll go and see them, and you can tell them what a cruel and nasty master, you have. Is anything else worrying you?"

"It's the slaves, Master. They don't like me telling them what to do. They're all adults and don't think I can do anything. It took four of them to do this room, and it's still a mess. I'm sorry, Master."

"I see. Go and find yourself a nice heavy cane then get them all lined up in the yard. Craig as well. Tell them, anyone not in the line by the time I arrive will be sold to the mines."

"Would you do that, Master?" Malcolm asked.

"Suggest they don't find out."

Malcolm grinned and hurried off, while Gene listened to the bustle as the slaves hurried to obey. When it was all quiet, Gene unhurriedly sauntered to the courtyard to find a line of some twenty slaves, including Craig and Malcolm. Still in no rush, Gene strolled down the line, inspecting the slaves before moving away to face them.

"Malcolm, come here."

As Malcolm obeyed and moved to stand beside him, Gene grabbed his balls pulling them forward.

"You see that cock ring? Malcolm has earned it, because he looks after me, and it also means he is in charge. Some of you might not like it, but I'll give you a chance. Anyone who asks can take his chances in the market. If you don't ask and make his life difficult, I'll sell you direct to the mines. Just remember, he'll be upset if I'm not looked after, and if he's upset then I will be . Craig, come here and stand beside Malcolm."

Craig obeyed, "Craig is not a household slave. He does not do household duties, but Malcolm will still give him his orders. If you like, Malcolm is head slave, but Craig is my chief advisor. We are all out here because some of you upset Malcolm tonight. I'm going to ask each one of you in turn who the biggest offender was. You can refuse to answer, but that'll make life more difficult, and the mines pay good money."

Gene held up the pad and pencil, he carried and walked over to the first man in the line.

"Who upset Malcolm, and why do you say it?"

"Baydon, Master. He just doesn't want to work."

"Baydon, Master. He's a big man and thinks he can make us do his work."

Nearly three quarters of the slaves named Baydon while a slave, a big powerfully built man stood glaring at Gene who was not surprised to discover was Baydon.

Gene called out a young slave, barely thirteen, saying, "Don't worry, I have a job for you. Just wait a moment by Malcolm." He approached Baydon, "I don't like bullies especially when they stop others doing their job properly."

"I didn't stop them. I made sure the others worked and Master Wilhelm was pleased I kept order."

"So why isn't Malcolm with me in my quarters?"

"Tell me what you want, and I'll see it's done. He shouldn't have ordered me to unload your carriage."

"I'm new to owning slaves, but I get one thing. I don't do things your way; you do things mine. Do you want to be sold?"

"You wouldn't. You need me."

"I asked you a question. The reply sounded like yes, but I want to be sure, so do you want to be sold."

Master Wilhelm was as much of a bully as Baydon was but Gene was different. He was quiet and assumed he was in charge and so far, he had not even raised his voice yet Baydon was now nervous. Being sold as a troublemaker meant he was only good for hard labour in shackles.

"No, Master. I want to serve you."

"Good answer, but I'm going to punish you for being so defiant. You wanted to be on top, so you're going to be at the bottom. I want a medium sized chain fitted between his ankles, and another between his wrists." Gene beckoned the boy over, "My orders to you are: you're to be the laziest slave ever. Any job you're given, you'll order Baydon to do it. You may order slaves to punish him, you will decide whether he's earned food and water and if he keeps causing trouble, you may have heavier chains fitted. If he cooperates, you may ask me to fit lighter ones. The rest of you. Give this boy the dirtiest and hardest jobs you have. Baydon, your future depends on this boy, you would be unwise to let anything happen to him."

Gene paused before turning to Craig and Malcolm, "I want both of you in my bed ready for me. Go. We should all be in our beds, but I'll sleep late tomorrow. You will be up as usual and if you're tired and irritable, remember it was because I had to deal with Baydon. Ask his handler to pass on your thanks."

As he walked back to his bedroom, Gene realised he had changed, surprised at how confidently he handled slaves. It was all part of his new life, and his only fear was that he would turn into some sort of bully. Once in the bedroom he peeled off his sarong and crashed down on the bed between Craig and Malcolm.

"OK, Craig. I don't know if I handled Baydon right, but I'm in charge. I could have ordered him whipped or even crucified, but I thought I'd try Mr. Tomlin's idea. You know when anyone was late for class, he'd give a detention. Late work meant extra work and so on. He always said he liked the punishment fitting the crime."

"Yeah, I get it. What do you think, Malcolm? Craig asked.

"I think Master is right. Everyone was waiting for Baydon to be whipped so that Master could enjoy seeing Baydon struggle under the lash but then, it would be business as usual. Baydon would boast about how he had taken it. You've given him a punishment that will hurt him more than a whipping."

"The thing is, Craig, I've also made it clear you're a slave as well and if you did anything wrong, I'd have to punish you as well. I won't sell you but I could send you home, if you ask. Dad's got to know you, so he'd look after you."

Craig was quiet for a time before replying, "It's weird, but I like it here. I liked my time on the raid, but I preferred to be a slave while Ivgee ran things. You've got all the problems, and I don't want them. Back home I'd have decked you if you'd tried telling me to do something, but you've ordered me here, and I guess we're going to have sex whether I want to or not."

"That's right." Gene smiled, "I'm in charge. Malcolm is second, and you're just here as a slave to please us. Oh, and Malcolm has orders to behave like a boyfriend not a slave. Do you understand, slave?"

"Yes, Master." Craig replied.

"Do you understand what I'm saying, Malcolm?"

"Yes, Gene. Thank you. I was foolish earlier."

"No! You had doubts and told me. Your usual question is: are we going to talk all night or are we going to have some fun?"

The following morning, Craig dozed contentedly. Like Gene, he constantly compared his new life with his old, and it was all wrong he should be so happy. He had been the token wizard on the raid, at first everyone turned to Ivgee for confirmation of his requests. True, they had volunteered more willingly because he was going with them and grudgingly agreed to treat enemy villagers as their equals. The result had been staggering, and they had started a revolution. Craig's reputation as a wizard shot up, but he still preferred to talk quietly as a slave should. He had not gained any riches, and his father would be pushing him to grab what he could before figuring out how to get home. Back at the camp, Milo had seen him more as a fellow slave and was less scared of him than of Gene or even Malcolm. HMilo was also sexually demanding and, to everyone's amusement, Craig struggled to keep up. Again, back home it would have been scorn that he had such a young lover, and a gay relationship as well. His father would have beaten him half to death for being so weak in the head.

Now, he was laying with his master after a night of being used. Except, although he just did as he was told, he had as much fun as they did, was just as drained and was content to be with two people who looked after him. Something his father would never understand, he was happy doing as he was told. He could not hold back worrying whether it was all right or if he was doing it right. He could just relax, do it, and it was so liberating. Even though they were on either side of him, Gene and Malcolm slept holding hands. They rested on his manhood, so he was included, and Craig thought about how the women his father brought home were out the door and away as soon as he was drained. Passively accepting orders had its advantages, in that his father's influence and low expectations were rapidly fading, and he adapted to a future with more possibilities than he could have possibly imagined. His father saw bullying as discipline while school discipline was directed to educational excellence which did not suit him. Now discipline was directed to physical tasks; a definite improvement.

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[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead