The Wizard and the Torch

by Flaulus

Chapter 12

Gene was fully awake first that morning, already thinking about the day ahead. He nudged Malcolm and then Craig, so they were all fully awake.

"Malcolm, I need you to see how the staff is doing. Spend the day getting them used to our ways. Oh, and see Baydon has plenty of work. Craig, I want you to report to Yousif and act as his driver. Bring Milo and our stuff at the camp back. If he visits again, I want you to be Dad's personal slave. You know both worlds, and you'll be a sort of buffer between attitudes."

"Yes, Master." Craig replied, "What are you doing today?"

"Slaves don't ask that." Malcolm snapped.

"Mine do if it helps them plan their work better." Gene said, "I'm going to start with a list of everything that needs doing and figure how to get it done, so I need somewhere quiet. We've started things in medicine, communications and other stuff. Dad, wants to be an archaeologist here, and we don't know where that's going to lead. That tunnel, I've seen the fortifications we've built, but I can't remember anything about them. I was too busy with other things. I'd like someone to look at the track to it. Could it be cleared and opened up? This afternoon, Malcolm and I are going to visit his parents."

Gene paused, then added, "Do you know what I miss most? Getting a ball and having a kick-around. Slaves tend to get out of master's way, so it's not fun with them. Sorry Malcolm, you need to get up and organise my breakfast."

"Craig, help Master with his morning needs. He's far less grumpy if he's drained." Malcolm said as he leapt out of bed.

Craig sighed. It was definitely a different world. He slid down the bed to take Gene's pole into his mouth, and he was still happy.

It was Malcolm who was unhappy that day, worried about visiting his parents. If he had visited them alone, he would have proudly displayed the shiny metal restraints he was wearing as a demonstration of his status. The problem was, Gene did not fully understand his world. He was a great and powerful wizard go ing to speak to humble slaves, though his father could be outspoken and forthright when dealing with farm matters, but he was the expert. This was going to be a social visit where Malcolm could show off status even more, but he feared the visit would not go well.

As they neared the farm, they saw a couple of toddlers playing. The girl, about five years old, glanced up, yelled, 'Malcolm', and rushed towards him. The boy, about four, looked up and ran towards them. Malcolm scooped the girl up to hold her leaving the boy to stand waiting hopefully. Gene held out his hands, and the boy cheerfully allowed himself to be lifted up.

"I'm sorry, Master. We should be more respectful. Should I put Mira down?"

"No. We've come to see your family. Let's just relax."

Gene had met the parents of his friends before and however discreetly it was done, it was him being appraised, and it had done nothing to prepare him for a naked woman seeing him and falling to her knees ready to bow.

"Please stand." Gene said just in time, "I'm here as Malcolm's friend, not his master."

Now it was Gene who uncomfortable. He had chosen to wear shorts and was bare-chested, as most men were, and he was holding a naked child whose legs were wrapped round him. It was perfectly innocent here, but he was conscious of skin to skin contact with the boy's more intimate regions. He was talking to a still beautiful woman who was naked except for an iron collar. Innocent it might be, but he was a teenager from a different world and teenagers were easily embarrassed.

He hesitated suddenly unsure of himself, but he was lucky, because Malcolm was emotional enough to see his mother and hurried forward to hug her, forgetting he was trying to be a dutiful slave. As Malcolm separated from his mother's hug, he looked at Gene and grinned.

"I think she was trying to suckle me again." He said.

"Malcolm, don't be so rude. Wait for your master to speak to you."

For Gene, this was more familiar territory: a parent telling off a son.

"I've never succeeded in shutting him up." Gene chuckled.

"You should beat him more. His skin's still smooth, so you're too easy on him." She hesitated before nervously adding, "I'm sorry Master, I went too far. I shouldn't tell you what to do."

"You're probably right though, but he does look after me."

"So he should. It's what we trained him for, but I'm still forgetting my manners. Allow me to bring you a drink. We have a bottle of wine. It's probably not what you're used to, but we were keeping it for a special occasion."

"Malcolm's told me about his father's beer. Maybe I could try that, please?"

"Yes, of course, Master. Anything you command."

"Mother, you're doing it all wrong. Master Gene does not always want to be a great wizard. He's not commanding, he's asking."

"You'll be telling me next, I should just send him to the barn. There's firewood that needs chopping. Maybe he should help you with that first. I wish you weren't so disrespectful, Malcolm. Your master may be a kind boy, but he'll only put up with so much."

"Let's go and chop firewood, Malcolm. I need some exercise."

Putting the toddlers down, they headed for the wood pile.

"Sorry about Mum." Malcolm said.

"I like her and I guess she was as confused as me. You know what my world thinks about nudity, and I know what your world thinks about treating masters right. The odd thing is, I can see how much she has in common with my Mum. Attitudes as in; what would the neighbours think?"

Gene enjoyed the afternoon, able to forget the big issues while trying to keep up with Malcolm in first, chopping firewood, then digging the vegetable patch ready for planting while Malcolm's mother watched nervously from a distance. Desperate to show some respect to an honoured visitor she set up a small table with a flagon of beer and a wooden tankard, uncertain whether Gene expected Malcolm to drink with him, but Malcolm hurried to find another tankard and helped himself. Gene was still enough of a child to enjoy teasing adults so slipped off his shorts and accepted Malcolm's instructions.

As the sun began to set, Malcolm's father arrived after a day in the fields with a gang of a half dozen or so teenagers and young men in their twenties. All were naked, wearing collars and at first, he assumed Gene was a new arrival until his wife called him over, and explained. He came over to Malcolm and Gene.

"I don't like my wife being so upset. Perhaps you'd care to explain."

"Hello Dad. It's simple. Wizard Gene spends too much time sitting on his arse doing wizard things, and you always say, growing boys need plenty of exercise."

"Hi, Son. I am glad to see you, and you look so well. I'm expecting a buyer in the next day or so, and I'd hate to see a great wizard viewed as stock. Please be a little careful."

"Darvid's going, is he?" Malcolm asked, "Is he ready at last?"

"He might make overseer, but I can't do anything more. The farmer I'm expecting is a good man though. Darvid will have to work hard, but he seems to like it, and he knows enough to be useful."

Malcolm nodded, "Do you know anything about crop rotation, Dad?"

"I've never heard of it."

"Master?" Malcolm asked, waiting for Gene to take over, but Gene simply said, "You explain."

"According to Wizard Gene, crops take different things out of the soil and put different things back. If you plant one crop that takes one thing out. You plant a crop next that puts it back. It saves land having to be fallow for a year."

"And how do we know what crops do what? I've heard of it; it was the word rotation I've never heard of, but I can't afford to experiment."

"Master Gene knows of people who have." Malcolm turned to Gene, "You've said I should ask if I want something, and I'd like to help my family. Could we rent a field and try some experiments, please? If he doesn't get sold soon, could we rent Darvid to look after it? I know it's a lot, Master, and you wanted a break this afternoon, but I only started thinking about it while we were digging."

"As long as it's your project. You do all the research, find the field and take on the hands. You'll also explain how I can pay for it, but not now. I want everything planned out before you pitch it to me."

"Yes Master. Thank you." Malcolm replied, "I'm sorry. I've pushed things again, haven't I?"

"Did you really only think about it this afternoon?"

"No, Master. I'm a farmer's son, so I'd used your thinking machines to look for ways to help. You asked about the fallow land on the other side of the track, and it suddenly seemed like a good idea."

"You haven't got a nice docile slave who doesn't think so much?" Gene asked Malcolm's father, "I'd swap."

"What makes you think I could handle him? I'd never find a master who wouldn't crucify him within a day. He's your problem now, but I'm itching to take a strap to his back."

"The trouble is, it is a good idea." Gene said.

"If you approve, then yes it is. I mean it is a good idea, but it needs your approval. If you'd care for some more beer, you can choose one of my boys to relax with. The least I can do is offer you a break from Malcolm."

"Thanks, but I should be getting back. I'd like to come back sometime, if that's all right."

"Master, you forget I'm just a slave. It's your right to return. If you meant would I be pleased to see you again then yes, it would be a pleasurable duty to greet you."

As they strolled back to the city, Gene said, "It's weird how our parents seem so alike. I wonder if it makes us alike, and it's why we get on most of the time. I don't like being used though."

"Master? I'm not using you."

"Putting me on the spot in front of your father isn't using me?"

Malcolm dropped to his knees then bowed, his forehead almost touching Gene's feet.

They were nearing the city so there were other travellers who watched curiously until they saw Gene looking at them. Then they hurried on.

"Stand up, Malcolm." Gene said, "My mother would say something like, 'We're having a few friends over, why don't you stay in and meet them?' What she meant was, 'They've a daughter, you need a girlfriend, and it's my sort of family'. So how about the truth."

Malcolm was truly upset Gene was annoyed with him, and he did not know how to answer, but slaves don't keep secrets from their masters, so he had to try.

"Master, I'm sorry. You need lands to suit your importance, and there's plenty you can claim in the wastelands. I was going to discuss it with you, but you're already busy. Then when we were talking about crop rotation it seemed like a way to make you more important. I know I was wrong to speak in front of another, even if he was only a slave but all these thoughts were too big to stay in me."

"OK! Never say your father is only a slave again. I think I get what you mean, you got carried away. Craig knows about presentations, so he can help you prepare one to show me what you plan. I still think you're manipulating me, though."

"I don't want you to go, so I suppose I'm finding reasons for you to stay."

"You want me to be an even greater and more powerful wizard, so I have a good life here."

"Yes Master."

Gene took Malcolm's hand and started to walk towards the city gate with Malcolm trailing behind, but Gene pulled him forward.

"Walk beside me like a boyfriend." Gene commanded, "This is my afternoon off from being a great and powerful wizard, so I don't need an obedient slave, even if I had one."

At first, Malcolm was embarrassed as people stared. It was not a gay couple that offended, but a slave being treated like a free man. The guards nearly refused to let them through the city gate.

"Do you know who I am?" Gene asked.

"Yes, Wizard Gene. You saved the city, but slaves should be respectful."

"Malcolm wants me to stay and help the city some more. I need more than obedient slaves to persuade me." Gene grabbed Malcolm's cock ring, "This says he belongs to me in more ways than as a slave."

The guard nodded, not fully understanding, but seeing something different, and driving the protecting wizard away would go badly for him.

"I understand. I didn't realise the ring was more than decoration."

"I didn't know it meant anything other than overseer, either." Malcolm giggled as they walked on, still hand in hand.

"Neither did I." Gene replied, "A free boy wouldn't have let me publicly handle him there, so I showed you were a slave, and I liked showing I own you. Now I like having a boyfriend."

"Yes, Master, but I'm your slave lover."

"That'll do. I don't want to piss your people off, so we'll have to figure it out. With luck, we've given them something to think about, and it'll give us a bit of time."

For the rest of the walk, people glared at the slave brazenly walking as an equal to a free man, but no-one dared say anything. That night, Craig stayed in his room with Milo while Gene and Malcolm slept holding each other tightly.

Gene was nervous the next day when he and Malcolm set off to greet Gene's father. They walked hand in hand again and, not realising word about the cock ring had spread, Gene was amazed at how they were greeted so cordially.

Collars had to be a genuine restraint, and many had examined Malcolm's collar when he had been alone. They had been impressed at its strength, so it complied with one of the few rules regarding slaves while the rule made gold and silver too soft to use. Gene had first fitted the ring as a joke, expecting Malcolm to object. Iron rings would rust too easily and could irritate sensitive areas enough to cause infections, so Malcolm's ring was unique. Gene was a powerful wizard with ways ordinary folk did not understand, so he was entitled to give Malcolm special status.

Gene chose to wear shorts and like Malcolm's ring, they were unique, so no-one doubted who he was. Malcolm had insisted he wear the armbands so even free men stepped out of his way, even if it also meant stepping out of Malcolm's way. The same guard as yesterday was on duty at the gate and straightened nervously as Gene approached. Gene smiled a greeting.

"I'm sorry I was rude, yesterday, sir." The guard said.

"You weren't rude. Actually you helped me. People don't understand I have to learn about this place. I don't mean the big things, but the little ones. I've used this before but back home, there're places where a host is insulted by a guest not clearing his plate because it means he didn't like the meal. Other places see an empty plate as an insult because the guest is still hungry. I think this place needs to know Malcolm is still a slave even if he is special to me. I didn't realise until I explained it to you."

"Thank you, sir. I didn't realise a wizard's journey could be so complicated."

"I'm meeting my father. He's used to different ways, and he's too old to change, so make some allowances please."

As always, a crowd had gathered, and Gene had got the idea. Even if he had been talking to the guard, word would spread; everyone anxious to gossip about the wizard world and their strange ways. Not sure whether his slaves were ready for people to appear out of thin air, Gene had decided that his father should arrive in a small clump of trees a little distance from the city gate. Tom emerging with a couple of boys suggested another reason for being in the wood if any by-passer happened to be that interested, and it gave Gene a chance to show his father the city.

It might have worked but there happened to be a couple of youngsters begging who hurried over. Gene's father understood enough to know, the beggars were offering their own trip into the woods, and it was acceptable here, but he had his own way of dealing with it. He offered them chocolate. As in the camp, he quickly became the youngsters friend and by the time they entered the city, they were surrounded by a group. Gene looked at the guard and shrugged.

The guard grinned. "Wizard's ways are strange. At least they're not pestering the merchants."

"It's your life here." Gene's father said later, "But you could at least feed those kids."

"Malcolm?" Gene asked.

"Taverns and eating places might object. Our neighbours definitely would if you brought thieves here. Beggars are known to be burglars by night, so they say."

"You don't believe it?" Gene's father asked.

"Girls too young to bear children and boys can sell themselves. They're not naturally thieves. It's as they get older, and they get desperate."

"Do you really approve of all this, Gene?" His father asked.

"No, but sex is just a part of life like eating. A prostitute is the same as a waiter, serving the public. I was talking to a barber who wanted to open a shop. It wouldn't work if it didn't have a few sex workers available as well. I could buy a barn outside the city and fit it out as sleeping quarters for youngsters. You'd probably think of them growing vegetables to earn some money, and there's a few who would do it, but we all know how we could make it self-sustaining. Older ones put themselves in the slave market and Malcolm will tell you about that life."

"Yes, Master. It's a lottery. If they're mature enough and can be fed up, they'll end up in the mines. Others will just be field hands. Only if they sell themselves young enough to be servants do have a chance, so I'm lucky because my father saw that I learned as many skills as possible to make me valuable. Thanks to Master Gene, I'm now so valuable even rich merchants respect me."

"That's what I don't understand." Tom, Gene's father said, "I didn't think slaves ever got recognition."

"I think I get it." Gene said, "There's a feudal system with slaves at the bottom and the City Father at the top, but there's another system where a slave who knows his job is above an idiot of a trader who keeps losing money. Malcolm's father is well respected and spoke his mind, but he was careful not to go to far. Malcolm, do you have any idea how we can help the beggars?"

"I do, but you'll think I'm manipulating you again, Master. Do you mind upsetting the mine owners if the supply of slaves dries up?"

"What do they mine?"

"Iron ore mainly, Master. There's copper and tin as well as a few other things, but we also trade for them. We're mostly farmers."

"OK, now manipulate me."

"It's the wastelands, Master. They start just on the other side of the river but people say they're haunted. There are lines of shrubs and trees, and people swear they're laid out like fields but who did it? There are gaps between fields which could be paths, but they're so full rock and rubble they're impossible to walk on, but there're also big clumps of rock. It's all loose but there's a layer of soil and even small trees grow there. They say they're the ruins of towns and cities that were cursed and destroyed. Ghosts protect them and will curse us if we disturb them. I was thinking wizards could claim the fields and not be cursed. I've heard you talk of the past and future and I wonder if you'll understand what's happened to you more."

Tom nodded. "Your description makes sense. I'm becoming more certain this is our future, and if it is, I don't think you should come home, Gene. I'm already looking at toddlers and wondering what's going to happen to them, so I don't think you could make any sort of life knowing it's going to end. Your mum and I will be all right assuming we don't live to a 100.

Tom paused, "I'll help you for as long as I can, but it would help me if you could tie up a few loose ends because I still get follow-up calls from the police. I'm not sure if they think one of you has murdered the other, Craig is running from his father or some crime he's committed, or he knows something his dad would kill him to keep him quiet. Whatever it is, you're not just written off as a couple of runaways. I don't think I've been followed, but I'm no expert, and I don't want to explain what I'm up to. Your mother doesn't like me keeping your secret,so that's another problem for me."

Tom paused again, "How would you feel about visiting for a weekend, and we'll have a barbecue or something. We'll give it a Hawaiian theme, and you can dress as you do here. Malcolm would have to wear a grass skirt or something, but I've already spoken to your mum. Would you believe it, she's actually talking about putting a double bed in your room for you and Malcolm. That's how much she misses you."

"I miss her." Gene said, "If the torch says it's OK, we'll do it. We'll stay for the day and Craig can invite his old friends as well. There're a few I'd like to invite. I guess you could ask a policeman to drop by. I'm losing track, what month is it back home?"

"June. We could make it mid July before the schools finish and everyone goes away on holiday."

Gene nodded.

"Any chance of being taken out to the tunnel?" Tom asked, "I'd like to see how they're doing there. Maybe we can visit these wastelands you're on about. Let's find out what's going on."

"Master, you assigned Craig to Master Tom. He could drive him to the tunnel while I arrange for a ferry and a guide." Malcolm said.

The plans might have continued, but a messenger arrived from the City Father. Tom, Gene and Craig were invited to see him.

"I take it, it's not an invitation we can refuse." Tom chuckled.

"We can, but there's no point." Gene replied, "According to Yousif, visitors who think they're important demand to see him, but he only invites those he truly respects, so I guess it's a friendly invitation and an honour."

When they arrived, Geog Af Builnia, left a merchant explaining how the war would increase demand for iron to hold out his hand to Tom.

"I believe this is your people's greeting. Welcome, but could you explain the purpose of your visit? Too many wizards could be worrying."

As they shook, Tom replied, "I'm just making sure my son is all right and not making a nuisance of himself. I'm still not sure how he talked himself into becoming a general."

"He was to be a scapegoat and the reason for our defeat. We have many who claim to be wizards, but few who truly are. Your son is the exception and brings us both magic and knowledge. He is also honest which is another rarity among our wizards for he warns his magic will fade. He is no nuisance, and I think he has a knowledge, and intelligence that will sustain him here for years."

"That's good to know, and you don't have to worry about me. I would like to study your world's history and how it's connected to mine. If Gene is settled then my wife, and I can think about our future, and it'll be back home. June would never understand your ways."

"And your womenfolk see themselves as the equals of men. I would not like her to spread those ideas here."

"This might surprise Gene, but his mother now accepts she helped drive him away. She's sorry but accepts he has a new life. Dare I say it, she's a nicer person because she sees how she got carried away. Somehow I think if Gene returned, she'd go back to her old ways to push Gene into her ideas of a good life."

"My own son is also finding his role. He'd like to be arrogant, claiming all was his by right. He is also far away, but I do hear of his efforts. I'd pity a slave who endured his temper and frustration, but he is trying to follow the ways of Wizard Gene and, er Slave Wizard Craig, so he may become a wise leader."

"It's all we can do: hope our children do well."

"Indeed. You are welcome, and I wish you good luck in your search. I now have to speak with an emissary from Starislav who will assure me my son is as great and wise as his father. While he is flattering me, the slimy little weasel will hope I won't notice just what it is, he's offering."

Geog Af Builnia called a servant over.

"Begin assembling a guard detail and find some slaves. They're to be under Wizard Tom's command while he continues his studies. When he is ready, see that sufficient boats are ready to ferry them across the river."

"That went well." Gene said as they strolled through the city.

"I still don't like slavery." Tom said, "It's wrong."

"We keep having these discussions." Gene said, "I've got a villa staffed by slaves, so I guess I'm starting to see advantages in it. Talk to Craig about it. Back home he's a free boy, but with no qualifications he's got no hope of a decent job, no money, so unless you help, he can't even find somewhere to live except in a hostel. What happens when he turns eighteen? Here, he's a slave with no choices, but he is a wizard and a hero, which carries a lot of weight. What do you say, Craig?"

"I'm an exception, but you don't see slaves going hungry. Beggars are free, and they do starve. Back home, kids die on the streets, they become prostitutes or rent boys and end up on drugs. Other kids go to private schools, go on skiing holidays in the Alps and drive posh cars. Maybe it's less different here than you think."

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