Gene and Yousif had moved their army to the mountains. The fight in the North had gone well. The invading Starislav found themselves facing an opposing army almost as soon as they crossed the border. Worse for the invaders, General Blyne had put a force at the head of a gentle valley, a river meandered through. Had the Starislav army managed to pass through the valley and over the hills, Droyskova's richest farmland would have been theirs for the taking. Droyskova would also have been cut off from essential mines.
The Starislav commander knew he was at risk of an ambush but from his point of view, it was negligible. General Blyne would scarcely have time to mobilise his forces even if he had kept a small force back from the south. The Starislav general fully expected the battles to be on the open plains of the farmlands and even then, it would be a series of skirmishes to delay them while General Blyne assembled his army. Marching his army across muddy water meadows was a slog, but his army could rest before taking the plains.
It's difficult to imagine his shock when a substantial force appeared on the hill at the head of the valley. He must have been relieved to see how small it was, but his first battle was going to be far more than a skirmish. However, he had managed to track him, General Blyne must have rounded up every soldier still in the North, and he was still outnumbered by five-to-one.
"Tell the men, they'll have a week's rest once we're in the plains. Remind them there'll be food for the taking and enough girls to go around. Boys too, if they like. They'll be our slaves, and I intend to have fun even if no-one else does."
His speech worked and the army picked up the pace as they headed up the valley, though it may have been demoralising to see the enemy sitting or laying on the ground. Of course, they must have made forced marches and were exhausted. They were getting close to arrow range as the Starislav general ordered his troops into battle formation ready to charge but from either side of the valley, huge swarms of insects rose up. They were not insects though for the general could see the archers now standing up to fire, and the first volley hitting his troops.
Arrows from the second volley struck him in the back and thigh and it was the second one that was fatal for it cut an artery. He watched blood pumping from his leg as he collapsed to the ground, and his last emotion was despair, understanding how completely he had been defeated.
General Blyne could see enemy soldiers throwing down their weapons, and some trying to run back down the valley, but he allowed his archers to keep firing. He turned to the surgeon Gene had sent.
"You may save a handful of the wounded to demonstrate your methods, but the rest are to be killed. It's more merciful than letting them suffer, and your medicines are limited. On second thoughts, if you can prevent infections with boiling water then you may treat them as well. I know, you've taken to General Gene's ways, so you disapprove. We're marching to the Tollin river, and we're taking the lands south of it. The next battles won't be so easy and I want you to save our men, not theirs. CEASE FIRE."
Of an army of 5,000 men only a few hundred had escaped any injury and even then General Blyne was going to have problems dealing with so many prisoners yet the battle was not over. The general was testing some of Gene's ideas and so far he was impressed by radio. He tried speaking to the last force who had yet to see action.
"Take the supply train." He commanded.
"Yes sir." Came the reply, rapped out as if the commander was standing next to him.
It was amazing. Troops he could not even see burst out of hiding and charged. The few soldiers with the supply train were there to guard the slaves rather than to defend the train. They took one look at the charging horde and ran. Slaves and horses hauling wagons were too weighed down to run. Struggling through the mud made it worse, so they just stood awaiting their fate.
General Blyne might want to keep military prisoners to manageable levels, but slaves were another matter, and they were needed. They simply started taking orders from a different army.
"Very well." General Blyne said to his subordinates as they relaxed that night. "Wizard Gene's tricks seem to work. These radio boxes give us an army ten times bigger than what we have. We should at least respect his other ideas and treat the prisoners well. Kill any that even hint at trouble, put the rest to work and give the surgeons as many as they need. I've said the surgeon can treat a handful of the wounded as an experiment, but I've no objections to him saving as many as he can. We can open up more of the wastelands, and that'll give us more farming. Our biggest problem is getting enough collars. We'll send the boys to Gene as a gift in recognition of his part in today's victory. By all accounts, he'll appreciate them."
"That's not what I hear." A junior officer said, "He's only got eyes for that body slave of his."
"Gorshin just arrived with our new supplies. He's heard it's the slave who runs things."
"No. Wizard Gene is very much in command. He's taking the war into the pirate lands and doing it his way. I know that from talking to Yousif on those magic boxes. Even I thought I might be madthe City Father was a fool to even think about giving a stranger command of any force, but he was right, our victory today is because of him. Wizard Gene has an eye for boys, but I gather the slave, Malcolm, will make sure they're up to his master's standards. Between them, it would take our entire army to hurt Wizard Gene."
The general's subordinates duly laughed at such an idea, but they were impressed, and it made them think. If Wizard Gene wanted prisoners well-treated, they would be.
With Ivgee handling the military side, Craig had initially managed to look as if he was in charge without any real responsibility, and would only be needed when they contacted Gene's force. When he went to his tent, giving orders he was not to be disturbed, many assumed he was planning the campaign, not spending time with Milo. Unlike Malcolm, Milo was easily intimidated by other adults but was shocked if Craig appeared in public without his sarong, so Craig increasingly looked like a commander with an obedient slave, while Craig missed staying in the background. However, their raid was working better than they could have ever expected.
As they passed through villages, the locals were delighted they only took a portion of their supplies. Since the pirates wanted it all except for near starvation rations, Craig's men were far more popular than they possibly could have expected, and word was spreading. On the third night Ivgee insisted on camping on top of a hill with a long gentle slope to the south.
"They're led by Commander Garrick." Ivgee explained, "He's a butcher even by pirate standards. We've passed through two villages and each time he's reached one, the occupants have run to us with their supplies. A lot of the young men are ready to fight, but we haven't got enough weapons. It doesn't matter because they'll fight with pitchforks or clubs if they have to. I've put anyone who can fire an arrow in the centre and the rest on the flanks. Two soldiers will act as your bodyguard to get you to safety if it goes badly tomorrow, and you will stay in the rear."
"I feel happier, but it's wrong, isn't it? I should be at the front."
"Yes you should, but you're no soldier. I mean you're not well enough trained. The men know boys younger than Milo can handle a sword better than you, but they will look to you to get them to safety."
"No! You'll still be field commander, but I'll stand with you. You won't understand, but I need to know I can do it."
"Yes I do understand, but your bodyguards will carry you off the field if they have to."
"I'd rather they got Milo to safety."
"Milo will be with you. I'd not dare to separate you two. This will be your first battle and Milo is more experienced, so don't try to be a general. Just stand your ground. At least, until I run." Ivgee chuckled.
Ivgee had used the head-start they had to choose the ideal spot. They could see Commander Garrick's army approach and form up at the foot of the hill. On a command from Commander Garrick they fired a volley of arrows. Craig tensed, but they fell short. Ivgee ordered a volley in reply and while most fell short, Craig heard screams and saw men fall.
"We'll let them advance a few paces then open fire for real." Ivgee said, "They'll have to charge uphill, and we can open fire immediately. A good army would advance until they could return fire, but we'd still have the advantage."
"I'm glad you can work out the distances so well." Craig said.
"Experience. I know I've got a good commander to support me. There's a good few hundred of paces of open ground behind us. We could fire a volley, fall back and fire again. They'd struggle to reply."
"Supposing they charge?"
"Then we'd cut them down with arrows, and the survivors would be exhausted."
"Did you hear that. It sounded like, 'Charge'. You just said that was a mistake, didn't you?" Craig asked.
"And typical of Garrick. His reckons his soldiers will be too terrified to disobey, and we're just a disorganised rabble, but look."
A few men had obeyed and set off at a run, but most had stood. The runners faltered then stepped back. Commander Garrick was at the rear and raised his sword to slash a reluctant soldier. No-one saw who fired, but suddenly there was an arrow in his chest, and he was staggering. Craig's last view of him was of soldiers turning towards him, swords raised, and a confused view of them hacking away.
The rest of the army sheathed their swords and slung their bows over their heads to stand, waiting.
"It seems we need you here after all. I've never known an army surrender before."
"Milo and I will go down to them." Craig said, unbuckling his sword.
"Is that wise? You saw what they do to their commanders."
"Do have a better idea?" Craig asked, and Ivgee shook his head.
"You can stay if you like, Milo, but I'd like your help."
"I'm with you, Master." Milo said firmly.
As they walked, Craig said, "I'd like to stop halfway, and you carry on down. Ask for a spokesman to come up to talk to me. You're just an unimportant slave boy, so you're not a threat."
"I'm important to you, aren't I?" Milo asked.
"Yes, you are. I'm lucky to have found you. Gene has Malcolm and I have you."
Milo grinned broadly. Gene and Malcolm's relationship was the stuff of legends, as well as juicy gossip. Some complained they were too equal in their sex lives while at the same time, they were envious of Malcolm's efforts to look after his master. To be compared to Malcolm was a true compliment.
When Craig paused at the mid-point, Milo hurried on to complete his task. He soon returned with a nervous looking soldier.
"You're surrendering." Craig said, "Why?"
"Milo said he was captured, but look at him. Garrick would have fucked him until he bled, then had him skinned alive. We've been hearing stories about you all along and now we've seen it with the villages you passed through. Will you lead us against the captains?"
"Me? I'm not a soldier. I've even got a slave collar on. This was going to be my first battle."
"I'm not blind. You came to us as the leader of your men, not a slave. If they can follow you, then so can we."
"Tell your men to make camp. Milo, take a message to Ivgee. Tell him to send out messengers to all the headmen of villages who aligned with us. I need a meeting, so I can talk to them."
"Yes Master." Milo replied as he ran off.
"How are you off for supplies?" Craig asked the spokesman.
"We've got the commanders supplies. We can share with you."
"Ok! Make sure your men have good rations, but we might return the rest."
"Yes, General. That's why we're aligning to you."
"Will you fight for us?"
"Most will. We have families, and we all want you to protect them. It'll be difficult for you to protect distant villages; we understand, but we want the captains gone."
"Ok! One last question. How come you're all so sensible about this. Why don't you see a chance to pillage and get rich?"
The soldier grinned, "Wait until we take the city. You've seen the rest. Who's got anything worth stealing? For now, help our families."
When Craig returned, Ivgee snapped out, "Your order is being carried out, General."
"Ivgee, I'm a slave, not a general."
"You're also a wizard. I've never known a war where the enemy refuses to fight. You're bringing us a great victory, and we'll all be better off because of it. You were a general when you went down to talk to them."
"Yes, but I don't know what to do now. Our plan was to raid a few villages and then disappear into the mountains. I don't know how to plan a rebellion."
"Yes, you do. You're asking the villages to help. Think about it. We're only succeeding because these people are ready to rebel. They now have a leader who rules a small group of villages. I suggest we garrison the outlying villages keep a reserve force to meet a serious threat and send scouts, maybe boys to make contact with more villages."
"I know boys Milo's age fight in your armies, but I don't like it." Craig said.
"It's how you got Milo as your mate so don't knock it. Besides, they can scout a village and if they see a pirate army, they can come back and report."
Craig nodded, "We'll meet an army sometime though. I only want grown men to face it."
"You have funny ideas. Nice in their way but the lads need to train, so I'll put them into a reserve force. Will that do?" As Craig nodded, "In that case, General, you and Milo are confined to your tent. You look after everyone else, so we'll look after you. Rest until we need a wizard again."
Others were also grappling with strange new ways. Yousif courteously called out before entering Gene's tent to find Malcolm hurrying to serve refreshments, leaving Yousif vaguely disappointed. He left the young slave he had brought with him standing as he accepted Gene's invitation to sit.
"I'm curious how you are so close to Malcolm, but he remains obedient." Yousif said, "I see something in this one, but he remains a slave."
"Malcolm, you can relax, and we'll all have a drink."
"Yes Master." Malcolm replied as he added goblets to the tray. For Yousif, Malcolm's attitude changed when he offered a goblet to the slave before taking one for himself and settling down between Gene's legs.
"Does your slave ever relax?" Gene asked, "You look annoyed by Malcolm's behaviour."
"I suppose I am." Yousif admitted, "Does he always wait for permission?"
"Your world says slaves should be loyal and obedient. My world would say they are human beings trying to make a go of things, just like you and me. Malcolm is always relaxed with me, but he has duties, and sometimes it means being a dutiful servant."
"I've watched you and Craig with your slaves and I'd like something like it."
"OK!" Gene said turning to the boy, "If we were just four slaves taking a break, what would you be doing? Before you answer, I think the correct answer is waiting for your master to send for you. Try a wrong answer."
The boy grinned, "Kneeling in front of Yousif and swallowing his cock."
"Then do it." Gene said, "I wouldn't forget to call him, Master, too often, but use a little initiative. If your Master doesn't like what you're doing, he'll try to explain instead of getting angry."
"It's not a polite way for a guest to behave," Yousif smiled, "But I do understand your point. Maybe we should leave and Arlan can practice some free speaking. I'm curious though. What does Malcolm get out of it if he can't escape his duties?"
"Malcolm, you answer."
"I'm a slave to a powerful wizard. It makes me important, and I'm learning to run Master's home. If I was sold, I'd be valuable and maybe end up running a rich merchant's home."
Yousif frowned so Gene interjected, "I come as a package, a soft master, prospects and a decent body. It's all part of me, and he can't only love the right parts."
Yousif nodded, "I understand. So Arlan, what do you see in me?"
Arlan looked at Malcolm then, taking a deep breath, replied, "I see someone who is lonely, but you are too used to giving orders. You're a fair master, I'm slave to the City Father's son which has to be good, and you're hotter than Master Gene. I think I like you being a little harsh but only for sex."
He waited nervously for a response, and there was an awkward silence, until Malcolm said, "You're thinking about what I said too much, but it's a good start. Master Yousif is right, and there is something about you. Master Gene would let me say more, but a slave does not anger their master's guest."
Even Yousif grinned, "I did ask, and I am learning because I valued your comment. I didn't think it was insolent to interrupt. What else would you suggest."
"I don't want to give my master ideas but Arlon might respond to a light whipping on his arse." Malcolm paused, "No, judging by his reaction, he will respond.
Yousif frowned, "I'm looking for something like your relationship."
"Then you must think about Arlan's likes and dislikes." Malcolm said, "Maybe you chose him because he fits in with you more than you realise."
Now Yousif was angry, and it was a real effort to calm down.
"Yes, I understand. I don't like a slave telling me what I must do, but you're right. Your master cares about what you want. Maybe Arlon deserves a whipping for dragging me into this conversation with a slave."
Yousif smiled, speaking lightly and as Arlon's manhood became more turgid, Yousif eagerly took his leave.
"Are you sure about that?" Gene asked.
"Some people seem to like that sort of thing, Master. It's not your way but maybe that Internet thing could suggest games they could play."
"You can look it up and tell Arlan all about it. I don't want to know. Yousif's into BDSM. Craig's into kids, and I used to think I was a freak for being gay."
"But that's what you're teaching us, Master. Even slaves have likes and dislikes, and it's all right."
"Slave, shut up, get your arse in the air and get ready."
Later, Gene was fast asleep wrapped in Malcolm's arms when Trey nervously entered the tent. He coughed, uncertain what to do, but Malcolm was instantly awake.
"We've found Wizard Craig." Trey whispered, He seems well but er …"
As Trey trailed off, Malcolm nudged Gene who stirred but lay still though his eyes opened.
"Go on with your report about Wizard Craig. You say he seems well." Malcolm said quietly so as not to scare Trey.
"Yes, but it's weird. There's a pirate army camped not far away. Wizard Craig seems to have so many men but no-one seems to care about the enemy army."
"Any ideas?" Gene asked.
"No Master. I'm sorry, but I don't understand it."
"Neither do I." Gene said, "It's a mystery isn't it? How do you feel about firing a magical arrow at Craig?"
"Master? Forgive me, I don't understand; I'm so sorry for my ignorance."
"Trey, you've done your job and done it well. I was teasing you a bit, and I'm sorry. I'm going to write a note on the paper I brought, and you're going to wrap it around an arrow hooked to the drone. You'll then fly it to Craig and release the arrow. Let everyone see your magic so when Craig disappears into mountains, it'll all be about wizards and not secret paths."
"Now, I understand, Master." Trey suddenly grinned, "I'll try not to drop it on his head."
"Stay above arrow range until you see Craig then come down slowly. You could aim for his foot, but maybe it would be better if he could unhook it himself. Now if Malcolm stops lazing around and gets on with his morning duties, we can all get on."
As Malcolm cheerfully slid down to Gene's groin, Trey still grinning happily, left to prepare the drone. Messages tied to arrows was something out of Robin Hood. Drones were definitely 21st century. Between them it should be a good display of magic. It was a complication Gene's father would be making his weekly visit because he was not happy Gene, and for matter, Craig were involved in a real shooting war. He accepted nudity being the norm but contented himself with a garish Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts. Iron slave collars bothered him, but he brought supplies of chocolates, seemed happy to chat, and the younger slaves adored him. Even Trey and Milo became animated around him.
With the note written Gene had time to greet his father, and to catch up on news and gossip.
"I have the feeling the police are more interested in Craig's father than Craig." Tom, Gene's father said, "He's gone very quiet and seems to have lost interest in Craig. He's not looking for Craig, or asking after him. Any thoughts?"
Gene shook his head. "Craig's never said anything. What about me. Do they think I've kidnapped Craig or anything?"
"I'm to phone them if I hear from you, but that's all. There's no great manhunt, if that's what you mean. Now, your mother is missing you more than you could possibly realise. She still thinks you've joined some hippy commune which just about tolerates my visits. Is there any possibility, you, Craig and Malcolm could visit?"
"What about the police?"
"OK! Yes, it would help if we could tidy up the loose ends. What I'm thinking is, it's a couple of years sooner than we expected but once you went to university, we'd at least see you during holidays. To quote your mother, 'I suppose we must accept this boy Malcolm into the family now'. Do you realise what a big step she's taken?"
Gene nodded. "I guess so. What about Craig's boyfriend. How will she cope with Milo? This isn't some weird plot to get me home, is it? Could you imagine me settling back into school next term?"
"Your mother will try, but I won't, except for this. Is there any way you could commute? Keep your options open until you've got some qualifications."
"Possibly but I don't know if I want to. You see, that school is not openly anti-gay, but it doesn't actively do anything. The first thing I'd do, is start legal action for damages. You see, that interview was rigged and Craig and I were wrongfully excluded." Gene paused before quoting, "'I'll let them have their say and that's them out. Two less queers in our school and a warning to others'. The headmaster's got no idea about email security."
"I should be annoyed with you for computer hacking and invading the headmaster's privacy, but it'll sound a bit hollow on the wrong side of a wormhole or whatever it is. We're sitting in a tent, in an unknown mountain range and you're in the middle of fighting a war. School even sounds trivial to me at the moment, so I'm going to find Malcolm and let my new son, foster son, son-in-law or whatever the hell he is tell all me about it."
Gene understood his father's exasperation. He had spent most of his adult life working in an office, trying to provide for his family. It was what he wanted, but it was ordinary. Suddenly his world had expanded into a science fiction tale, or so it seemed, and he was adapting to so many new realities. Where or when he was fantastic, his son's new confidence was impressive, and a world where gay relationships were normal was bizarre. To make matters worse, soldiers often discussed their wives and families back home with their lovers, which was confusing while boys in the camp vied with each other to be his bed slave. It was not something he intended taking up, but he was getting used to being surrounded by naked boys, eager for an ice cream, chocolate or some other treat he had brought with him. He had never seen the point in cos-play games where 'nerds met to dress in weird clothes', but he was beginning to enjoy his role as kindly uncle visiting his nephews.
To the soldier's irritation, he made no distinction between free boy and slave, barred any of them from wearing weapons near him, and generally allowed discipline to break down. Secretly, the soldiers made bets on which boy would break through his defences and bed him, but since he brought medicines and other useful items, he was generally welcomed.
Malcolm took Tom to see the mine they were using to cross the mountains.
"I like coming here, but I like sci-fi and fantasy stories, so I can pretend it's some sort of convention." Tom said, "Gene's mother would never understand. She might like discussing his diet with you, and the best way of looking after him, so she might accept you as his slave, but you'd have to be dressed like a waiter. God alone knows what she'd make of your cock ring."
Malcolm grinned. "Wizard … I'm sorry, you don't like me being respectful, do you. Gene has explained your customs. There, I'd look like the cheapest sort of prostitute. Here, I'm someone to be respected. The ring binds me to Gene, and I would never take it off."
"Yes, I know, and I don't want to have that discussion again. Supposing Gene was wounded and only a hospital back home could save his life. He might be there for months and get used to life there again. How would you feel about that."
"I'd hate it because I love him. I'd do anything to stay with him."
"That's what I thought. Back home, you're not quite adults, and you're not quite children. I think I'd either have to adopt you, Gene would have to marry you or a combination of the two, to get you home, but it could be a long, complicated process. This is just in case Gene comes home, but should I make enquiries?"
"Yes please, Master Tom. Slave or wife, it would be my duty to follow him and that's what I want. Is there much difference in being a wife on your world?"
"In your case, no. I take it wives here have much less influence. You and my wife could compare notes on how to run a man's life."
Malcolm giggled happily as they entered the gate guarding the mine.
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