Meanwhile Craig was talking to Milo. They had found a small hillock and Craig was sitting looking at the distant hills. He had patted the ground beside him for Milo to sit, but the boy chose to kneel between his legs. Once again the change in Craig was obvious. He had not cared about the age of the boys he had bullied, but now, he was aware of the three-year age gap, and the extra power it gave him.
"Don't you think of anything else?" Craig asked as Milo's hands slid up his thighs."
Milo grinned, "It's what I'm good at, and I got well-fed in the barracks."
"What barracks? Tell me about yourself."
"Not much to tell. Mum sold me as soon as I was old enough, and I became a soldier. I got food by serving older soldiers while I learnt to fight, and I was sent on the raid. If it had worked, I would start to get my own food when I got home. I got fed on the ship too. Now I get better food looking after you."
"You're a bit young to fight in a battle, aren't you?"
Milo shrugged, "Maybe, I was going to guard the boats with the others. We could have stopped someone sneaking up to nick 'em. Besides, I wasn't going to fight. I was going to surrender and be a slave here. I can still please a guy, so I'd do all right. It was the untrained kids who were going to act as decoy who would have died."
"I get why you'd rather be here, but I'd hate it."
"No you wouldn't. I heard. I don't know what that reading stuff is but teaching it would be a nice soft job."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't have a choice."
"You'd have cushions to sleep on, good food and a soft time. You wouldn't choose that?"
"Where I come from, slaves got beaten and were trash."
"That's everyone who wasn't a captain where I come from. I wish Master would beat Slago though. He's a lazy sod and could spoil it for everyone."
"Masters say slaves are all the same, so if you've got one lazy one then they all are."
"OK, but do you really want to sell yourself for sex?"
"Why not? I like doing it and I sell myself for food. What's wrong with that?"
"OK, but I'm not going to force you to do anything with me."
"You don't have to, Come on, how do you untie that thing."
Craig thought of Malcolm and how he stood up to Gene. Despite his youth, Milo was just as forthright, and something else was different. Craig was obligingly sliding his boxers down and not beating up a cheeky kid. He lay back, allowing Milo to straddle him, but despite Milo's efforts, Craig stayed soft.
"What's wrong?" Milo asked, "Are you just stuck with girls?"
"No! It's all too much. It's all so crazy. I'm going to talk to Gene."
"You're just going to walk up to the Master? He's busy planning that raid. You'll get a good beating."
"That's it. I'm going home …" Craig trailed off. If he did go home, he'd still get a beating from his Dad, then what? What would a slave do?
He leapt up and hurried to Gene's tent, paused before entering and as meekly as he could, said, "May I have a word, please?"
Gene looked up from the map, "Sure, what's wrong? Is your shoulder OK?"
"No! It's not about that. It's about staying."
"Excuse me, Masters." Malcolm interjected, "Why doesn't Craig wear one of those leather collars. It seems he's all right about being naked, so why not do it like Trey. If he cuts it off, he goes home. If he wears it, he's a slave."
Craig had simply grabbed his shorts when he stood up, and Malcolm was right. He was getting used to the idea being naked was no big deal.
"Malcolm is my overseer and will be in charge." Gene said, "Your job will be to set up a school, teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Any thoughts on communications?"
"Semaphore?" Craig replied, "I have been thinking about it, but I don't know anything about it. Do they have homing pigeons?"
"Good question. Do you want a collar and get started?"
"Why do I need a collar to get started?"
Gene paused uncertainly, so Malcolm cut in again.
"To show you belong. Soldiers joke about you and an invasion of wizards. If you tried to be Master's equal, it would stop being jokes. They understand the magic Master Gene is bringing here, so could you bring better magic or would you just be a rival?"
"Give me a fucking collar then." Craig said unhappily.
"And when it's fitted, I'm taking you to Ivgee." Malcolm said sharply, "You need lessons in how to behave."
Craig swallowed but nodded while Gene watched. Part of him felt as if he was simply grinding his old enemy down, and letting Malcolm take too much upon himself. Another part said, he was giving Craig choices, and it was the right option for this place. Yet another part worried he was getting to like owning slaves, and it was wrong. He watched as Malcolm attached the collar then turned to wait for his orders.
"I want this tent cleared except for Malcolm." Gene commanded.
When they were alone, he said, "You're taking over, and it bothers me. I should have handled Craig, but you took over. No. Stay standing."
Malcolm was horrified and had tried to kneel but Gene was ready and grabbed his elbow.
"What makes you think Craig needs training? He's no worse than you."
"I would never tell you to do anything, Master. You say you want me to speak out, and you'll expect Craig to, but to demand you give him a fucking collar? If he spoke like that to any other free man, he'd be dead. You'd lose respect because you'd seem weak."
"OK, I'll go with that. I guess I'm changing, and I don't understand how."
"You speak more like a master. That's a good thing. I know it's not your way, but you must be willing to punish us."
"Like Slago. He never seems to be around."
"Yes Master. You've noticed. He should be whipped."
"No. Find a nice heavy rock. He either works or stands, holding it above his head. If he complains about standing, make him run around the camp until he's ready to work. Make sure any jobs are where you can see him, and if he does disappear, he can stand with the rock until you're ready to ask him about it."
"And then he can finish his work. A wizardly plan, Master."
"Your first punishment will be to be gagged all day."
"Yes, Master. I'll try not to earn it."
"Go easy on Craig. I need him. It's a crazy situation for both of us, and only you understand any of it, so we need you too."
"I'll do what I can, Master. You're both wizards, and you're rivals. That I do know. If you agree, I'll see that he has his own tent and has Milo to look after him. I'll also see that he calls you 'Master', and kneels before you. He'll feel bad about that, but he'll feel better when free men obey him as he carries out your orders."
"It's something I do get now. Your people value knowledge and skill."
"Yes Master. It's your duty to protect his wisdom. We're alone, and your orders are that I speak like a friend. I hope I obeyed you when I said that."
"No, I won't have you gagged because it is helpful. Go and get Craig sorted."
Craig was puzzled, soldiers looked at his collar and seemed relieved. What was odd, they smiled and encouraged him: 'Wizard Gene looks after everyone. You'll do well', 'Two wizards in our city. We're invincible', 'Good! You're not going to fight him again'. There'll always be a seat by my fire for you' and more. Soldiers even seemed to make way for him and Malcolm.
Ivgee seemed just as friendly as he asked after Craig's arm.
"It's still sore and stiff. The doctors said I should rest it for a few days. Only light exercise."
Ivgee drove his fist into Craig's midriff, and he collapsed to his knees.
"Stay there!" Ivgee snapped, "Freemen may forget you're a slave. You may never forget. You are a wizard, so you'll call me 'sir' not 'master. Forehead to the ground to show me you understand. You'd better learn to tense your stomach if you don't. Malcolm, show him."
Malcolm immediately knelt as Ivgee commanded then there was a pause, as Ivgee waited. Craig got the idea and bent forwards.
"Good, stand up. Craig, how is your shoulder?"
"Sir, it's still sore and stiff."
"And what did these doctors of yours say?"
"I should rest it, sir. I could do light exercise though, sir."
"And why didn't you mention it the second time?"
"I didn't think you'd be interested, sir."
This time, Ivgee administered a noisy slap which stung.
"If you have information, you offer it. You do not decide what is interesting."
"Yes sir." Craig replied.
"Do you want a knife to cut that collar off?"
Craig detected the challenge in Ivgee's voice so replied, "No, sir."
"So Wizard Gene is right. You have got spunk. Good! If I can give Malcolm weapons training, then I can give you some. You will always remember you are a slave around me, and the next time you see Wizard Gene, you will kneel and bow to him. If I'm around, you will never forget to call him 'Master'. Now let's see how your arm is doing."
For the next hour or so, Craig found himself in an exhausting physical training session. Muscles he did not know he had ached, but his injured arm felt better. It had exercised but Ivgee had made sure his other arm had done most of the work.
"You did well, boy." Ivgee said, while they rested, "You're not one to complain, are you?"
"I've never thought about it, sir." Craig replied, then frowned thoughtfully, "I think Gene, I mean Wizard Gene, is the first one who would have listened."
"Greatness surrounds that one, and it's your world's loss for not seeing it. I see now why he thinks he needs you, because you got something about you too. Not greatness, but strength. If you were a soldier and in a battle, you'd be the last to run."
"Oh! I always thought I was a deadbeat loser."
"Again it's your world's loss for letting you think it. Now, repeat what you said and this time, remember your manners."
"I always thought I was a deadbeat loser, sir."
"You see that hill?" Ivgee asked, pointing, "Start running and don't take too long to get to the top. You can hate me, but you will call me, sir, and if you forget to bow to me when you get back, you'll go again."
That evening, a group was gathered in Gene's tent. Yousif was vaguely shocked to find Malcolm and Craig sitting on chairs as his equal, but Milo knelt between Craig's legs, terrified while Trey knelt just as nervously.
"So, how's your first day as a slave going, Craig?" Gene asked.
"Ivgee's the coach from hell, Master. He made sure I didn't forget to kneel or to call you 'Master', but the rest was OK."
"Malcolm saves the bowing for something special, so you can do the same. Yousif, you've been speaking to your father and General Blyne about this raid, and they're not happy."
"If one of our soldiers was captured, he'd be tortured and tell everything, and we'd lose much of our advantage. However, they raid us, we raid in retaliation, they raid again in retaliation and so it goes on. We need something different to change things."
"I think I agree, so I reckon we should go for a full-blown invasion."
"What?" Yousif gasped, "That's impossible. We'd need the whole army."
"We'll create our own. What surprised you most about the landing?"
"How easily they surrendered. They didn't want to fight."
"They're not cowards, but what would they have been fighting for. Supposing they were asked to fight to give their children the same chances as ours? Supposing they were fighting, so their women were well-fed?"
"Are you suggesting we stir up a rebellion? Would it work?"
"Malcolm, the wounded captain, how's he doing?"
"He's recovering and talking about being sent home. He's the best sailor they've got, so he expects to be ransomed, Master."
"What about the rest of the prisoners?"
"They earn their rations by collecting firewood, Master. They're getting twice the amount the pirates gave them. The wounded ones are recovering and only two have died so far. The other prisoners know the pirates would simply have abandoned them or thrown them overboard."
"If they had to fight, who would they fight for?"
Malcolm grinned, "They would fight for us, Master."
Yousif also smiled, "You're convincing me. Go on!"
"Craig, get to know the prisoners about our age. Get Ivgee to step up your training, and he can train all of you in fighting. It's not as stupid as it seems, because their main training was in archery. Swords were for captains, so Ivgee can keep the training down to Craig's level. Craig, let them know what we're planning, and we'll need them to help. We did bring our own slaves, so they can join in as well. If they start talking about their lives, and their family's lives, all well and good. Let's see what happens."
"Then what?" Yousif asked.
"We send the captain back but as their prisoner. He navigates for them and in return, he'll be freed. The rest go home to their villages and start organising people. Malcolm, I need you to keep our guide on good terms. I need more who'll take groups through the mountains. If a rebellion does start, they'll need arms and supplies. A secret supply dump would be useful. Any thoughts, Yousif?"
"If we succeed the tunnel won't be a threat because we'll be on both sides."
"Neither will any other hidden route." Gene said.
"You think if there's one, there could be more. You could be right. I have a couple of soldiers waiting for me in my tent, so I'll take my leave."
"Milo, Trey, wait outside for a minute."
Once Gene was alone with Malcolm and Craig, he said, "Craig, I know you preferred sport to class in school, but …"
"Master, Malcolm has warned me. I'll tell you if I want to take this collar off. You don't have to keep asking. I've got a choice, take my chances with Milo or take my chances with my Dad. What would you choose?"
"Then start teaching him how to read and write. You can figure what writing materials we can make."
"Malcolm's arse is waiting, and my cock is getting impatient. I'll see you all tomorrow."
The others left leaving Malcolm and Gene alone.
As they settled down, Gene said, "It's strange. Craig always wanted to be the top guy. Now he seems happy at the bottom."
"Milo likes being on top. He looks at you like a scared rabbit, but he can tell Craig what to do. You say, he had to hide liking boys. Maybe he hid other things as well."
"OK, slave. Please your master."
"At last! I thought you'd you'd never stop talking."
The following morning, Gene woke happier than he could have believed possible. Malcolm was still asleep, nestled into his side, and he could not think of anything better. Malcolm stirred moving just enough to give Gene a good-morning kiss.
"Slaves oversleeping should join Slago on his punishment duty." Gene murmured.
"Not when Masters keep them awake half the night then hold them in their arms."
"How long can we stay here before we get disturbed?"
"For a long time, Master. They think you're so bad-tempered in the morning you'd cut their balls off if you're disturbed."
"Where did that idea come from?"
"I may have been telling tales, Master."
"Then you'd better tell everyone I'm ready to be disturbed. Go and fetch Craig, then keep guard outside. I've got strictly wizard business to discuss."
When Craig arrived, Gene was sitting cross-legged on the sleeping bag. He patted it for Craig to join him.
"We've got unfinished business at home. The police want to interview us, and our parents are looking for us." Gene said as he fingered the torch, "I also want to find a place we can rent. It can be a garden shed for all I care, but I want a base there."
Craig nodded, "I'm still not sure how we all travel, Master, but it makes sense. What do you suggest?"
"There's a place I know, a swimming hole, waterfall, a real beauty spot. It's somewhere we could take some decent porn type pictures. Now supposing they appeared on everyone's phone with a message saying we've tried to hide our love, but it started to get out of hand?"
"I get it. The business with the knife was a put up job, and we want to shack up together."
"You're expelled, and Mum wants to pack me off to boarding school, so what about your parents?"
"Mum's dead and Dad hates queers. You'll lose more. If you say we staged that fight won't it get you expelled instead of suspended?"
"I'm not going back. I'm not leaving Malcolm and I think I can help. There's going to be a big battle up north and even if I only work with the surgeons I can do some good. We should win, this place looks after people, and I can help.
"Then I'm staying too. You know what you're doing, and I feel kinda good about this slave thing, now. It's kinda safe."
"Yeah, and it's kinda where I can kinda kill you without anyone one kinda stopping me."
Craig frowned, "I was only saying I liked it. I don't know, it felt weird saying it though."
"Yeah, I know. I shouldn't have laughed at you. Sorry. Go and find Malcolm please. He won't be far away, and he'll be desperate to know what we were talking about. Then go and fetch Ivgee."
When Ivgee arrived, Craig stood outside beside Malcolm.
"What sort of soldier is Craig?" Gene asked.
"He's the makings of a good one. You fight with your brains, and he fights with his body. You can plan, but I'd prefer Craig beside me in battle."
"Could he lead a small band of, er, robbers. Back home they'd be black ops or special services, part of the army hiding in enemy territory."
"If I went with him and saw an enemy I'd help him prepare for battle, but you would want us to disappear into the woods. Is that what you mean?"
"Yes, it's something he'd have to volunteer for because it would be dangerous but could he do it?"
"With the right help, yes. I might be able to find someone with more experience, but he understands drones and radios."
"Fetch him and Malcolm in."
Gene quickly outlined his plans finishing with, "I'm not ordering anyone to do it, so you've got to think about it, but am I right, Craig? You'd like to be a soldier?"
"I tried back home, but I'm sixteen and Dad wouldn't sign the papers. I'm a little deaf in one ear, so they might not have taken me anyway. How did you know?"
"I picked up on bits and pieces. Ivgee, it'll be a time before Craig has to commit himself, but step up his training. Weird things stick in my mind. In ancient Sparta, boys were expected steal food. If they got away with it, they didn't go hungry. If they were caught, they got whipped. Make it extra training instead of a whipping but see what you can work out."
"It's a strange order, Wizard Gene." Ivgee said.
"I don't know much about living behind enemy lines." Gene replied, "If you can come up with something better, go ahead."
"I meant no disrespect, sir. I do understand the logic, but the method seems strange."
"It doesn't apply to Craig, but the others must also learn they only take what they're ordered to take, not any stuff they fancy. I need Craig today so use the time to figure out your training."
"It seems weird to me as well, Master." Craig said, "It's not what I expected."
"OK, I'm not a general, so I'm probably doing it all wrong, and I don't like owning slaves, but I don't see another way of looking after people. I'm thinking a successful soldier will do OK on his own. Malcolm, how will it work?"
"Master, you arrived owning a slave and with something to offer. You were definitely not a slave, but Craig arrived with nothing. You keep talking as if being a slave is something bad. It can be, but you can give Craig a home here. Even if he becomes a great soldier, it'll be you who welcomes him home."
"It's all up to Craig, but I want him to understand." Gene said.
"I'm OK." Craig said, "Malcolm will tell you. Everyone is polite to the wizard's slaves. I'm gay, everyone knows it, and a lot want a piece of me. It's still a bit strange being naked, but no-one else takes any notice. I didn't think slaves got trained to steal though."
"If this comes off, you could try being Robin Hood. I spent a lot of time on my own watching films. I read too but just picked up stuff at random because I didn't expect to use it."
"And this raid is volunteers only." Craig said, "I want a steel collar, not an iron one. OK? How about fitting it before we do anything else."
"Master should beat you for that. You've forgotten to call him 'Master' twice, and you don't make demands."
"It's OK." Gene said, "If I can make the travel arrangements, we're going for a swim, and do some porn. You can both forget your manners because I want some fun."
"In that case, I'll forget my manners and say we can still have fun even if we remember our manners."
Gene's idea had been to take the car and drive far enough away to disappear without being seen. Instead, they vanished as they walked to the car with astonished soldiers watching.
You are a wizard. Let them see it, the torch replied when Gene queried it.
"I wonder what it's like to own proper slaves and be in command." he murmured as he led the way to the swimming hole.
Three teenage boys, a swimming hole and no adults. Whatever the bigger issues might be, they were forgotten as they played, enjoying other's company. They took photos, most with enough with rocks and bushes hiding their assets but with enough bare flesh to make it obvious they were naked.
Malcolm was fascinated by the pictures.
"Master, would it be possible to take some for my parents?" he asked, "They'd like to know I'm well."
Gene was happy to oblige expecting some holiday snaps of a happy group, but Malcolm had other ideas. Where Gene's pictures had to pass social media censorship, Malcolm's were pornographic; some full-frontal with him fully erect. Others were where he was kneeling in front of Gene, or he and Craig, a fellow slave, were sixty-nining. Gene got the idea. The one taboo seemed to be anything where Malcolm was dominant over Gene. There was one group shot as Gene tried the timer. Gene sat on a rock while Malcolm and Craig knelt either side of him.
"They show us having fun." Gene said, "But do they need to be so porno?"
"Wizards are shy about their manhood, but I don't see why. You've got plenty to be proud of. My parents will want to know I'm a good slave and have a good master who looks after me. They will also want to know I'm fit and well. It's harder to enjoy sex if you're terrified, downtrodden or starved."
"Yep, you certainly look as if you're enjoying sex." Craig chuckled, "In your terms, Gene's parents will see us as distracting Gene from becoming a powerful wizard like them. The thing is, I think he is a powerful wizard, and does a lot more with his powers than most."
"I understand, now. They're like the monks who avoid all worldly pleasures."
"I didn't know there were any monks or priests." Gene said, "I've never seen any."
"They live further north in the foothills. They say their temple is underground and can only be reached by a hole in a strange round rock. I've never seen it so it's probably just a cave. Their magic is to do with plants that heal and plants that kill."
The pictures taken, they still wanted fun. For once, the slaves could take their master's arse without fear of being caught, and Gene was more than willing to oblige. Later, startled soldiers watched them reappear, laughing and chattering away like three friends. Having seen their wizards power, no-one was willing to complain to Gene about his slaves forgetting their place.
"Sorry, Malcolm, but us wizards have some chanting to do." Gene said, "If it works, then I'm not going home."
"You want to phone your parents." Malcolm said quietly so only Gene and Craig could hear.
"So much for being a great wizard." Craig chuckled.
"I'm also a great general who needs to instil discipline so watch it."
"Yes, Master." Craig replied, but he was still smiling.
Booking a call was a throwback to the early days of telephones but making a call through time was not a standard call. He arranged for the call to be placed a few days on from when the pictures were put on social media, and he chose to phone his father at his office.
"Hi son. It's good to hear from you." His father said in return to Gene's greeting, "Are you as well as you look in those pictures?"
"You've seen them?" Gene asked nervously.
"The police want to interview you about the knife incident, I'm worried about you, of course but your mother is having a nervous breakdown. She doesn't know whether to disown you or hide in the bedroom. I think everyone has seen them."
"She doesn't miss me then."
"Of course she misses you. Never, ever suggest she doesn't love you. You've just upset her nice little idea of the world. The school is just as confused. It doesn't know whether to see you as a champion of gay rights with a flair for the dramatic only a gay can have or whether you're a villain having knife fights to get what you want."
"That crack about dramatics is a bit of stereotyping isn't it?"
"Or a way of justifying your actions. You've stirred up a real hornets nest. Are you coming home soon?"
"Dad, I don't think I am coming home. I'm getting a new life, and can you imagine how Mum would cope with Malcolm?"
"He's the young man with the chain fetish. I take it, he does wear clothes when he's out and about, How come Craig, was wearing a collar as well?"
"I don't think I can explain everything, but I might be able to show you. Can you help me though. I need some supplies."
"Don't tell me, cases of beer."
"Not quite, I'd rather have disinfectant and bleach to start with."
Gene's father became steadily more baffled as Gene read out his list.
"Why do you need such large quantities?" he asked.
"My army is about to send out a raiding party, and there may be wounded. Do you want me to keep explaining or would you rather wait and see?"
"OK! I'll do what I can. I take it you expect me to pay for it?"
"Please, Dad. When you understand, I'll mention a bank account I've got."
"All right. I'll trust you. What about Craig?"
"What's his dad doing?" Gene asked.
"Is Craig listening in?"
"I am, and I can guess what my dad is doing." Craig interjected.
"If you're all right there, I suggest you stay there. I've talked to some of Gene's football friends, and they seem more impressed he's looking out for you than all the gay stuff. It seems a few suspected anyway. Allow for some exaggeration and, I still don't think it would be a friendly greeting from your father."
"Understand Gene, whatever went on between you and Craig has turned into a big political row between gay rights, school discipline, and I don't know what else, and you're both pawns in it all. I've even seen posts saying you threatening to kill Craig was proof of the anti-gay bigotry that riddles the school system. Don't ask me how it's got that muddled but people are fixing on issues rather than facts. If you're safe where you are, and this stuff helps you, stay there at least until school starts next term. I'll help you, but I want to see for myself."
"Hang on a sec." Gene replied, glancing at the torch, "OK! I'll call and give you directions when you're ready."
"Saturday. I'm going to hold back on some of the list. Convince me, you really need it and I'll order the rest through work and get better discounts. They know the background to you coming out, and are being very supportive. A lot of this could be for disaster relief or something, so as long as I don't ask for donations, they won't ask questions."
"I get it, Dad, and thanks."
"I'll see you Saturday, then."
As they hung up, Gene said, "I'm sorry about your dad, Craig."
Craig shrugged, "I let a poofter beat me in a fight, he'd knock some spunk into me for that. I'm glad to be out of it."
"I'll bring my Dad here. The camp's getting used to wizards appearing and disappearing, so it's no big deal."
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