A Small Red Truck
Love, plus parcels, cards, letters, and love: all are delivered by the Royal Mail.
Further adventures in the Kingdom of Ellendale - and the State of Iowa, too.
There are wizards and familiars, Elves and Tommy Knockers, a young man from Iowa and a trove of Nazi loot.
Many of these characters first appear in the story "An Owl on My Sceptre" which it could not hurt to read first, but isn't a necessity.
There are young people in this story and some of them are in love and (gasp) even have sex. The exact nature of the sex is left to your imagination; so, if the implication of sex is a problem you should close the story.
There are those who suspect that the young are incapable of great deeds. Well, they should perhaps remember: Alexander the Great was a General of Cavalry at sixteen; Prince Eugene of Savoy was twenty when he led soldiers into battle for the first time. A remarkable commander, Prince Eugene was Marlborough's invaluable ally, but most of his campaigns were in the East and he's not too well known in the English speaking world. Interestingly, four different nations have named major warships after him. Austria – a dreadnought; Germany – a heavy cruiser; Italy – a light cruiser; and Britain – a monitor. And Mozart! He began composing at, what was it? Five.
This story has been reviewed by other authors and I very much appreciate their assistance. However, the original lunacy is all mine. All the characters in this story, save for known historical figures, are the products of my imagination and should not be confused with actual people you know or might encounter.
I retain all copyrights etc, etc.
His Serene Highness, the Prince Ashmore, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Golden Dragon, Personal Councilor and Aide de Camp to the King, Premier Magister of the Earth, known as 'Gary' to his many friends, was idling in his bath. It was a lovely late summer morning and he had no serious obligations for the day. Then his lover, Sir James Wolsey, Knight of the Order of the Golden Dragon, Personal Councilor to the King, Household Medal with Swords, came into the bathroom. He was cheerful and sparkly nude and climbed into the large bath with Gary. They were teenagers. Teenagers in love. So they were busy for the rest of the morning.
Just over two years had elapsed since the end of the Trollian War. Jamie was in high school and Gary would have started high school, but the war intervened. Their world was never the same again. Both Gary and Jamie had distinguished themselves in the war and the events just preceding the war. They had been rewarded for their services with a handsome grant appropriate to the honours bestowed upon them by a grateful King Justin III. However, as an Earth Magister, capable of communing with the earth itself, Gary had no problem supplementing their fortune. He located several deposits of rock crystal which provided large pieces of this flawless quartz which could be turned into luxury crystal products as well as magical paraphernalia. He had located a valuable cinnabar mine which he had given to the King. And he had also found a gold and silver mine which produced capital for he and Jamie, but he was far more interested in gemstones and other rare items found in the earth.
Jamie was a liegeman to the King. He had been in a group foster home in San Diego and was going nowhere fast; he and two friends had decided to start preying on other students at school. They had fixed upon a likely victim, only to discover that their intended victim was a royal prince and was protected by a formidable familiar who had adopted the persona of a Great Grey Owl. Jamie had entered the Prince's service and remained there to this day, though his Prince had become his King.
"Let's do lunch," Jamie observed, and they headed toward the kitchen without bothering to dress. There, they began assembling sandwiches.
"You know," Gary commented. "I'm getting tired of chips and dips and sandwiches and hot dogs and cereal. We've got this great kitchen and we never use anything but the sink and the fridge."
"I've been meaning to talk to you lot," Donnie said as he entered the kitchen, also in search of lunch; but he was wearing neatly pressed cargo shorts and a gray t-shirt with his regiment's crest on the chest. Donnie had been a private in the 8th Regiment of Foot. They'd been attempting to dig a well when Gary arrived at the army's camp and pointed out the problem of their site selection. The problem was no water. A major problem when you're trying to dig a well. The ensuing drama had been informative and Donnie, with an eye to the main chance, had suggested that Gary should have a batman and that he would be an excellent choice for the assignment.
"You 'ave this chateau, a townhouse in the capital, a suite in the Summer Palace, and then you wuz thinking yer might purchase a home on Earth, too. It's time, my friends, that yer 'as a 'ousehold. The three of us been just a band of ruddy gypsies movin' all about, but niver proper at all."
Jamie and Gary looked at him transfixed. They'd never been lectured on propriety. He had caught them in his headlights. He put his hands on his hips, thrust up his chin, and continued.
"Lookit this kitchen! Wot's missin'? Wot's missin' is a bloody cook is wot's missin'. An while I'm at it. We got no pots. No pans. We got no skillets. We got no proper china an' no proper silverware. An' the two of yer runnin' around naked as the day yer wuz born: in the kitchen fer crissake! Well, once we gets a cook, we'll be eatin' proper an' you'll no be running around naked in the kitchen. Not wi' a grand Missus Cook wavin' spoons an knives aboot, that's a sure.
"We've a ruddy great limousine that I drives and that's bloody well all.
"We got any housemaids to keep this bloody barn fit for King's Men? No! As yer knows well, we got no maids at all.
"An well yer knows the rules: footmen is footmen, maids is maids, chauffeurs is chauffeurs. No swappin' an switchin' an that's a sure!
"I'm yer man and I loves yer, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna clean yon fookin' chandelier." Donnie paused for breath. He was grinning which somewhat dulled the effect of his tirade.
An immaculate young man in black tie, with several miniature medals twinkling on his chest, approached the maître d'hôtel to advise him that the two young aristocrats who had reservations would be at the dining room in moments. A handsome gratuity seemed to appear in the palm of the maître d'hôtel. It had never been done more subtly and seldom more generously.
The two young men were in white tie. The maître d' did not recognize the decorations they were wearing, but he had a discriminating eye and he recognized the gleam of gold, authentic gemstones, and beautifully tailored formal wear. The two young men were very pleasant and exuded charm and sincerity. He marked them carefully in his memory as authentic gentlemen, real aristocrats, and wealthy.
Gary and Jamie enjoyed the bustle and attention of the waiters. Gary then won the undying respect of their waiter as he ordered a meal for delivery to "my man" in "my car just outside." So Donnie ordered and enjoyed a lavish roast beef dinner while sitting in the back seat of their limousine. Complete: from soup to dessert. No wine of course.
Back in the dining room, after some discussion, it was decided to begin with oysters on the half shell. A dozen for each. This was to be followed by the cream of barley soup that the waiter highly recommended.
The sommelier was both pleased and disappointed. He was pleased in a rather distant and academic sort of way in that the boys had declined any alcohol. They might be slightly underage, to be sure, but that new minimum age law was of no consequence in a restaurant of this calibre with diners of such evident rank. Still, he was disappointed. The young men had ordered Italian mineral water, rather than the French, and he would have no opportunity to display his knowledge and his art at what was going to obviously be a very nice dinner.
Having determined that the salmon, in the fish entrée was fresh and not farmed, they agreed on the poached salmon in mousseline sauce.
"You know," Gary observed. "Donnie is right. We need to get organized."
The oysters had arrived, and half way through his, Jamie commented, "You know, Copey mentioned the other day that the GSM was considering retirement. If we could convince him to be our estate manager, I bet everything would run smooth as an oyster on its way down the tube." He smirked swallowing dramatically.
Gary looked beseechingly to the ceiling.
The soup arrived. The hot sauce Jamie wanted came in a cut crystal shaker with a sterling top. No small common bottles with jarring labels were permitted to obtrude. The soup, as promised, was very good. Gary did not use any hot sauce.
"Do ya think he'd really be interested," Gary wondered.
"Well I don't see him in a rocker on his front porch. Where is Copey anyway?"
"He's run down to see Teddy and the Old Guy," Gary smiled.
"My. What a thing of beauty," Jamie stated as the filets mignons Lili arrived.
The waiters and their assistants moved quietly and efficiently about the table as the young diners concentrated on their filets.
Over dessert, the boys decided that after the art show at Versailles, and the two galleries with new shows they wished to visit here in Paris, that they'd drop by the palace in Kingstown, pay their respects to their pal the King, and see if GSM Aberhonddu might be interested in a retirement position.
Caleb Knox was not a happy sorcerer. In fact, he wasn't even a particularly successful sorcerer. Just now he was a very worried sorcerer. This was because he was an amateur; he was a self-taught sorcerer. He had managed to get himself into the middle of a spell, and now he had to figure out how to finish it up. He had often wished that letters from Hogwarts had arrived in his real mail box in his real world.
He had always been fascinated by magic and the potential for magic. As a young boy he had clipped cereal box tops, advertisements in the back pages of comic books, and had sent for kits or books teaching him the basics of card tricks and other feats to amaze and astonish 'your friends'. That was part of the fascination. He had hoped to be able to 'amaze' some of the boys in the neighborhood in the hope that they might become friends. Perhaps - most secret and treasured thought of all - more than just friends.
Caleb wasn't the most popular of kids. His shirt was always neatly tucked-in, every hair was meticulously in place; he was never scuffed or rumpled; he always seemed to exude an air of self-satisfaction which infuriated the other boys he hoped to befriend; no one would call his glasses fashionable. So the other boys strove diligently to un-tuck Caleb, to scuff and rumple him, to impress upon him the fact that he had no reason to be satisfied about anything. It was, in fact, on just such an occasion that Caleb began to suspect that there was far more to magic than card tricks and sleight of hand.
He was running from several of the boys he knew and wished to know better. There was no reason for their anger. He had smiled benignly and told them that their hair was mussed. He would be pleased to lend them his comb, if they would like; if they would like, he would let them come into his house where they could freshen up in his bathroom and use some of his hair tonic, if they would like.
And now he was being hotly pursued by what seemed like half the neighborhood for reasons unknown to him. He wasn't really much of a runner, if the truth were known, and there were actually only three boys in pursuit, and they were chasing him because his overture of friendship had been that of a pompous ass. His pursuers thought he was just a nerd; they had no violent intent. But as he ran, he looked a block ahead, saw a mail box, wished he was there and, to his amazement he ran past that mail box. He did it twice more before he realized that there was no longer any pursuit. He collapsed against a fence, gasping for breath. He tried to do it again later, but nothing happened.
Caleb now set out to attempt to learn real magic. He didn't really know quite how to do this, but thought that he should learn Latin; he had read a story on the internet where a young wizard cast spells in Latin and those spells had the effect of serving dinner. i So he browbeat his parents into sending him to the local Catholic high school. His parents were cradle Catholics and Caleb had been baptized; but their attendance at Catholic services was now essentially limited to marriages and funerals. There were no great theological issues at play. Over time they had come to believe that the church was ponderous and ineffective. The reaction of the hierarchy to the complaints of sexual abuse had tended to confirm them in this belief. They were not, however, atheists.
When Caleb first broached the subject of attending the local Catholic high school to his parents, their reaction was to suspect that he had been the victim, or the point of interest, for an errant priest. He was a very handsome young man though it would never have occurred to him to think that.
Having satisfied themselves that this was not the case, Caleb's parents were worried that perhaps Caleb was thinking of a vocation in the priesthood, the very apparatus that had caused them to lose confidence in their Church.
Of course Caleb couldn't just tell his parents that his real desire was to learn Latin in order to learn magic. So he skirted the subject of Latin by talking about superior academic performance, larger curriculum and a more orderly campus. He hinted broadly that he hoped to make "friends" there and might want to "play baseball" there. These, probably, were his two most potent arguments and they carried the day. Caleb began not only to learn Latin, but to excel in it. His other arguments in support of Catholic high school also proved to be correct, and his academic performance improved dramatically. He even rumpled his shirt and started playing baseball. Being rumpled in the school uniform, by the standards of his peers, was no big deal; but it was a complete transformation for Caleb.
It was in Latin class that he learned of the Roman Senator and author Publius Cornelius Tacitus. So, when he saw this name on a well-used book in a pile on the fifty cent table outside one of his favorite bookstores, he was immediately attracted. Opening the book, he discovered that it was in English on the left with the Latin text to the right. Deciding this was worth every bit of fifty cents, he purchased the book. He had been reading this book with interest and diligence; it had already scored him several points with Brother James, the Latin teacher.
One day, he turned a page and the subject was no longer Nero and his times, it was the recipe for a spell to summon a familiar. There was a warning to the effect that the spell would not work in English, but had to be in Latin or Babylonian. Caleb was thankful he was studying Latin as he could neither read, nor pronounce the Babylonian text. He started leafing forward: there was a spell to animate a tool with a warning to be exact in the instructions as the tool would take its orders very literally; here, was a spell to move small items from place to place; and there, a spell to ask for small animals to cooperate with you or give you information; here, was a spell to transport yourself from place to place; there, instruction on the use of a crystal ball. He put the book down and took several breaths to recover his senses. He was elated and terrified in equal measure. He put the book under his pillow. He'd only looked at a few pages: he went to the kitchen for an ice cold grape soda.
"Look you 'ere," Donnie handed Gary a slip of paper. "I think 'e should be 'ired toot sweet." Donnie was not at all retiring when they were home alone. "We needs people an' this is a good guy. 'Es a waiter at the Ritz an' 'e brought me my dinner when we wuz there last. We talked. 'Ave Copey check 'im out."
"Okay," Gary hazarded. "You seem pretty sure."
Donnie regarded Gary quietly, and then an eyebrow rose questioningly: it was the have-I-ever-steered-you-wrong eyebrow.
"Okay," Gary concurred.
"And guess what else?" Jamie joined the discussion. "The GSM is getting married and his wife is a cook and she's been at the summer palace for years so we've been eating her food all along."
"Donnie, I was wondering," Gary smiled. "You've been with us since the war. You're a great friend and will always be welcome here; but is there some specific job that you'd like to consider your own? You know. Something to satisfy the outside world."
"I'm thinkin' I'd like to be yer First Chauffeur officially but the two of you'll need some considerable tending besides just being drove about. An I wuz the first one to take pity on the two of you. So when you gets a butler you can just remind him of that."
"Yes!" Jamie agreed.
"An I needs a proper uniform fer when I'm drivin'."
"Well, that's all settled. Let's go to town. We can browse a little in the stalls there are some nice things in the artists stalls every once in a while. The antique shops are always fun; we can have a nice espresso, and then dine al fresco somewhere." Gary sparkled with inspiration.
"I'll get the 'Isso ii ," Donnie said heading for the door.
The three rumbled off in the smooth elegance of Donnie's Pride, the engine purring with the authority that had powered French fighter planes over the Western Front, and elsewhere around the world in eighteen other air forces from Argentina to Thailand.
Arriving in the little city center, they found a parking place easily as that is how it works for limousines. Two young teenagers appeared as if by magic to guard the car. As the three walked off to shop and sip espresso, Donnie commented, "I aim to 'ire them two as me assistants next week. Copey already checked 'em out."
"Sure," Gary said as he headed toward a sidewalk artists display. Jamie was equally agreeable as he'd spotted a small bronze statue of Antinous iii in the window of his favorite antique shop in their little town.
After dinner, as the three were strolling in the general direction of their car, Gary seemed to stiffen to attention. "My, my," he muttered and started moving purposefully toward a sidewalk art vendor. "Would you look at that," he pointed.
Resting against the wrought iron railing that lined the residential side of the sidewalk was a small painting of a young man seated in a long out of date style. He had beautiful long hair with a sort of beret at a rakish angle and his clothes were flowing with an abundance of material. Gary was awestruck. Jamie was pleased with his little statue of Antinous. Donnie regarded 'his' men with fondness.
"Isn't it great?" Gary asked of no one in particular.
But the vendor took it as his cue and immediately began a discourse on the mastery of light and shadow the work possessed. The deft brushwork. The serenity and poise of the subject. A mere £10. And cheap at twice that price "yer honer".
"Looks a roight stotter iv to me," Donnie commented with approval.
"What is it?" Jamie wondered casually.
"Whaddaya mean £10," Gary was focused on the dealer. "Look, it ain't even on canvas, just some old plywood. Where'd ya get it anyway? £3 and that's bloody robbery if you ask me."
"Well, but sir, this is a very nice piece of work. Why I'd be proud if it were me own. But I've no claim. Bought it on the street for more than yer offerin' I'll be bound. £7 and that's a steal as well yer knows."
And so the denigration and exaltation of the painting continued for fifteen minutes or so, much to the evident enjoyment of buyer and seller. A price of £5 was agreed upon and Donnie paid the vendor.
At home, the picture was placed across the arms of a chair in the dining room and was thoroughly lighted.
"Look, Donnie, despite your refusal to dust the chandelier, this is quite a remarkable copy, it may even be old." Gary adjudged critically.
"Copy of what," Donnie commented absently as he settled a tray with a pitcher of grapefruit juice and glasses on the sideboard. "And I seems to remember that Copey laughed when yer asked 'im to clean yer fookin' chandelier."
"Well. I think it's a self-portrait by Raphael. Not actually by Raphael himself; but it might be an original work in the style of Raphael, but I see no name on the front or the back. It might just be a first class copy. I want to check a catalog of his work first. He was prolific."
"Yeah and the back ain't plywood neither," Donnie commented. "You said it was to the dealer."
"Just talk, Donnie, just bartering talk.
"But look here; see how the paint is cracking a bit. And see the back; this wood is not freshly cut. This picture is fairish old I think."
"Yeah," Jamie contributed. "We can get it framed and hang it in a guest room; or maybe in the garage." He made kind of a ducking motion as if Gary was going to throw something; but Gary merely glared at him. Jamie laughed his musical laugh which, in the normal way, turned Gary's glower to a smile.
"Well I'm gonna take it to town and have the King's Dad look at it. I'll bet he can date it for me."
"You mean the King's Dad-o," with more twinkling laughter.
No indeed, Caleb Knox was not a happy sorcerer. He had very carefully tried several of the spells in the Tacitus. He had spent an entire morning considering his instructions to a broom. He had thought to instruct it to sweep the front porch for five minutes; but then he wondered if the broom would know what a minute was. So he told the broom to take one brush from left to right. The broom did as instructed. He continued to give short and concise orders to the broom and ultimately got the front porch swept. He invested a great deal more time and effort in having the broom do this job, than if he had simply swept the porch himself. But that really wasn't the point.
Then he had very carefully tried the transport spell. He had envisioned a spot he knew just out of town, and then carefully spoke the spell. And it worked. Except that he wasn't where he had wanted to be. He was out on a vast prairie that seemed to stretch forever. There were some scattered clouds that would have been beautiful were he not on the verge of panic. There was a roadway running in an arrow straight line a few feet behind him, and then a little ways further, and parallel to the road, was a railroad track. He made himself laugh. It was a tiny laugh and it was insincere; but it was better than crying.
'Okay,' he said to himself. He closed his eyes, imagined he was back in his bedroom where he had first cast the spell, concentrated on where he wanted to go, and repeated the spell. Nothing happened. He tried again. And again there was no result.
Had he miscast the spell? No, that didn't seem right, he had definitely moved somewhere. Was the spell incomplete? Had he been dropped in the middle of the trip? But that didn't seem right either; he had planned on going just outside of town. If he were in the middle of the trip he'd be able to see his town. Had he somehow mispronounced the words in the spell and that had misdirected him? He wished he had never heard of Tacitus, or of magic. He heard a distant buzzing and turning, looked up and down the road. At one end, almost invisible, there was a tiny red dot that was slowly growing. There was a vehicle on the road. Now what to do? Should he try and get a ride? Should he hide? If so, where? Would they even stop for him? Well, he was going to hope the vehicle would stop. He needed help he was sure of that.
He stepped up on the shoulder of the road in an effort to be conspicuous. He was not dressed for traveling so he might be even more conspicuous than he thought. He was hopeful that he might at least find out where he was. He had a few dollars in his pocket plus the emergency American Express card that his mother insisted that he carry at all times. There was a limit on it and he was only to use it in case of emergency. This was an emergency. He might have a hard time explaining to his mother how he got into this emergency, but he'd worry about that later.
The red dot had resolved itself into a small truck. He breathed a trifle easier when the engine noise diminished and the little truck appeared to be slowing.
The small truck continued to slow and came to a stop close to him. He noted that it was driving on the left side of the road; he did not recognize the make of the truck. The truck had "Royal Mail" written on the front. On the side was a logo that read "J III R" beneath a crown. 'Ohmigod' he said to himself. He grappled mentally with himself: he had definitely traveled – but where the fuck was he? The mail certainly wasn't 'Royal' at home.
The driver's side window was being rolled down, and a strikingly handsome young man was looking at him questioningly. He had radiant blue eyes, a curling mop of coal black hair, and a splash of freckles. He also had serious ears that came well out from the side of his head with dramatic points. Still, he looked comfortable and he looked safe.
"Lost, are you then?" He asked with a musical accent that again proclaimed that, wherever Caleb was, home wasn't it. Not even close.
"Yeah. Yes. I am. Really lost."
"Well come on. I kin run you on into town. It's just a few miles down the road."
Caleb ran around and clambered into the truck and sat on a jump seat next to the driver. Clearly, the truck wasn't meant to have passengers riding in it for any length of time.
The driver got the truck moving again and then he did a curious thing. He double clutched: he pushed in the clutch, let the clutch out, then pushed it back in, blipped the gas, then he shifted gears waited a second and then engaged the clutch for the second time and the truck accelerated smoothly on. He repeated this operation twice more before he had the truck up to cruising speed. He looked over at Caleb, "Hi, I'm Charlie." He smiled.
It was a smashing smile, a sparkling heavenly smile, a world altering smile.
Caleb felt a lurching in his soul: it was rather like an earthquake, only the earth was not in motion; it was not at all caused by the lumbering truck in which he rode.
Charlie had turned back and had his eyes on the road as a conscientious driver would. He turned back and smiled quickly through his lashes at Caleb.
"Yeah. Uh. Yeah, my name's Caleb. Great to meetcha. Uh, thanks for stoppin'."
This was a totally inadequate speech as Caleb began to suspect he was in love.
Charlie turned and smiled beautifully, then turned back to the road, attentive to his driving. Charlie was definitely the cause of the lurching.
Caleb admired Charlie's profile. He'd not rolled his window back up so the wind tousled and riffled his hair. It was beautiful to watch. He thought about it for a moment. He was just sixteen and had never thought much about love. But here he was, wherever here might be, and he'd known in what seemed a mere instant that he was in love with a young man he'd just met. In thinking about it, he remembered that he'd spent a lot of his time trying to make friends with other boys, but had paid scant attention to the girls in the neighborhood. Now he understood why. He knew little about the mechanics of love. Only what he'd seen in the movies and on TV, he thought achingly of the kiss in The Fosters. This wasn't much help; but he was ready to learn.
"So yer a wizard, then? Lost yer way?" Charlie smiled.
Caleb panicked for an instant. Was there wizard law? Wizard police? Was he in trouble? Then he recovered. After all, he was in love now and Charlie obviously knew some things that he did not. He felt that Charlie could be trusted with his life.
"Dunno. Tryin' to learn. What makes you think so?"
"Weel," Charlie returned his attention to the road. "I bin on this route now, fer almost two years. You're the fourth person I picked-up in pretty-much the exact same spot. The other three all said they were trying to go someplace else and got dumped here."
Caleb had to begin somewhere. "Uh. Where are we?"
"We're on the highway from Augusta to Tirones. I drive from Vesontio to Augusta three times a week.
"Look you there! It's the Prince's Own! Greatest express of them all; she runs clear to Kingstown, she does. Sleeping cars. Special ferry an' all." He looked wistful, "I'd love to drive her."
Caleb looked-up and saw a steam locomotive coming up the track at speed. He had never seen a steam locomotive before. At least he had never seen one in the steel, as it were, with smoke and steam, flashing drivers and linkages, not to mention a sonorous whistle as she passed the truck.
"She's a high steppin' beauty, she is," Charlie commented. He sounded his horn in reply but it was faint and flat.
Caleb went into complete sensory overload. He might have fainted were it not for Charlie's presence and his aura of calm assurance. Of course that was part of the sensory overload, in the last few minutes: he had got himself hopelessly lost while attempting transportation magic; he had found himself alone in the emptiness of the country; he did not know where he was, but his rescuer had ears just like Walt Disney's Peter Pan; the Peter Pan who had so enchanted him at the movies, unlike Peter Pan however, he drove an antique truck. He had just seen a steam locomotive go roaring up the railroad track and learned it was called the "Prince's Own". Plus, he had fallen in love at first sight which is what had probably preserved his sanity.
"Yeah," was all that he could bring himself to say.
"So, where would ya like me to drop ya off?"
"Dunno. Still lost ya know."
Charlie looked at him with real concern. "You been to town before, a 'course. Do you know someone there?"
"No. No one, Charlie. I'm from Des Moines. I don't know anyone 'cept you."
"Des Moines. Ya know, Iowa. In the US."
"Sorry. Never heard of it."
Dazed, Caleb watched the landscape pass without registering it. Farms started to appear; they slowed to pass several horse drawn wagons bearing produce; these were serious big wagons with four horse teams, not little Amish buggies; they slowed to a walking pace to pass through a flock of sheep without hitting one of them. There were several orchards and one vineyard. It was a long pause.
"You never heard of the United States of America?"
If Charlie had never heard of the US, where could he possibly be; Charlie worked for the post office. Mail came from around the world. Surely you could not work for the post office and not have heard of the US.
"Where am I, then?"
"We're in the Kingdom of Ellendale. Close to the Great Range. Them are some serious mountains, ya know. You really don't know where we are? You got amnesiac, or whatever they calls it, ya know – no memory?"
"No! My memory works just fine. I think."
"Well," Charlie decided after a long pause. "You'd better come home with me 'til we kin figure this out. If ya wanna, I mean." Charlie seemed uncertain. A trifle nervous of his offer.
"Thanks, Charlie." Caleb was certain of his acceptance.
Caleb waited the few minutes for Charlie to finish his workday at the post office. Then they walked a short two blocks to an old stone building, and went up two floors to Charlie's "flat".
"Here, Cal, this'll help steady ya," and he handed Caleb a glass of wine. It was the first time Caleb had ever had strong drink. He was steadied more by Charlie calling him 'Cal' than by any drink ever drank: anywhere by anyone.
Much calmed, they discussed the situation. Charlie suggested that what he should do is use his magic to get back to where he first cast the spell; if he could do that, perhaps he could re-cast the spell and then try and come back. So he concentrated on his bedroom at home, went through the language of the spell in his head. He spoke the Latin out loud in Charlie's sitting room and he was standing in his bedroom.
The door opened and his Mother looked in, "Did you hear that?" Caleb looked at her with an expression his Mother would believe: it was the absolute truth expression for he had heard nothing at all. "Sounded like something breaking, oh well," and she left.
"No," he said to the closing door. "I didn't." He went to the bathroom and gargled with Listerine lest his Mother smell the wine. "Mom, I wanna' go down to the park. Maybe there's some baseball, okay?"
"Sure, be home for dinner."
Caleb thought of Charlie's eyes. He went around to the back of their garage; he concentrated on Charlie's room, said the Latin, and was back with Charlie. They looked at each other for a long moment. Charlie smiled. They kissed.
"That was wonderful," Charlie said. So they kissed some more.
Alain, who had been a waiter at the Ritz and was now a sort of butler/footman/major domo to the Prince Ashmore and Liegeman Sir James, hand delivered the telegram in its envelope to Gary. He should have had a sterling salver to present it on, but that, along with the rest of their silver service, was on order. Gary had insisted on providing the silversmith with silver from his own mine. He'd read somewhere that old time miners used to do that if they struck it rich.
But that was only one of many delays. The china service had not been delivered as yet and they were still using a cheap set of hotel grade crockery that was devoid of charm or style. They had no serving dishes and he had to make do with platters and bowls. It was taxing, but also kind of fun.
Despite these hardships, Alain had taken the delivery boy, a very handsome young Bwca v , into the kitchen where he was provided with ice cold apple cider and the makings for a sandwich.
GARY STOP MUST SEE YOU RE PAINTING STOP PLEASE ADVISE TIME DATE STOP DADO
Gary scribbled a short note to the effect that they could meet at his convenience and wherever he wished. They would send Copey to work out the details. This was returned to the post office lad who was on his second sandwich.
Two days later, The Count Alisson of Diego KGCGD, a noted expert on antiquities and the authenticity and the dating of same, arrived with Copenhagen and a leather carrying case that was the acme of restrained elegance. In the other world, he had been one of the Kings' foster fathers before anyone knew that Justin was a Prince who would be the King, that was where he earned the endearment 'Dad-o'. He placed the case on the table and carefully opened it. He put white cotton gloves on and carefully removed the painting and placed it on an easel that folded out of the carrying case.
"This appears to be a copy of Raphael's painting, 'Portrait of a Young Man'. That work would have been painted, probably, in the early 16th Century, Raphael – sadly - did not live long, but he presided over one of the largest Renaissance studios in Italy, so he was quite prolific.
"One of the first things I do, with an antiquity, is to carefully smell it." He looked sternly at his audience as though daring them to laugh. They did not.
"Something that is new, particularly if it has the chemicals that oil paint and varnish have, then it will have a distinctive smell. This painting is old. It passed the smell test with flying colors. It positively reeks of decrepitude.
"Next I like to look at the craquelure. That's what we call the cracking of the paint that so many old paintings have. Forgers have to give their modern copies the appearance of craquelure, and they must do it in a way that passes the smell test, among others. The craquelure of this work is what we would expect of an old work.
"So far, I've done all this work in my studio at the Palace. I've examined every inch with magnification. But now our work becomes more technical and so does the equipment. So at this point I must go to see my friends at the Museo d'Arte e Scienza in Milano.
"Now we get scientific. We remove tiny samples of paint and wood from the panel so that we can test for the ingredients of the paint as well as their age, and the age of the wood panel. We don't want any modern pigment in this 16th Century paint; no fresh cut poplar in the panel.
"We also do an infrared reflectography test on the work to see if there is another work beneath the surface and if any restoration work has been done on the painting. The only underwork is consistent with the outlining one might expect of any artist and the usual base coats of the period.
"While all this has been going on, the painting has been subjected to what might be called a stylistic review. Is it in the style of Raphael? Is the brushwork similar, the composition, all of those rather subtle clues that are indicative of a particular artist's work? Has he done this before? Is this his style?"
He paused and looked solemnly at Gary and Jamie, at Donnie and Alain, at Copenhagen and Cameron.
"In my opinion, stylistically, this is the work of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino popularly known as Raphael who lived from 1483 to 1520 and whose work in art and architecture is well known. Visible today in the Vatican and other museums and buildings around the world; he is an icon of the High Renaissance.
"The latest chemical tests, and tests for age, give us an approximate date of this work as 1510 +/- 10%. This is the result from the test of the wood. The other tests give us the same approximate age, but with a much smaller margin of error; so I give you the largest margin of error for discussion purposes. This age is appropriate to a work by Rafael, or his studio.
"I had begun to suspect this was an authentic work rather early on, so I had to go to considerable lengths to keep its appearance secret. I was able to do the infrared work by myself as I'm an esteemed customer of the Museo and have given them several lucrative referrals. And of course, I'm known to have influential and wealthy connections.
"But if this work is what I think it is, we have a marvelous and possibly dangerous mystery on our hands. This painting was stolen from the Polish people by the narzis during World War II." Dad-o smiled, "I've always admired Churchill's deliberate mispronunciation. You can almost hear him not capitalizing the name. In any event, how this masterpiece could possibly come to be in the small town of Vesontio in Ellendale has got to be an epic tale.
"And how do we return it? It's beyond value; it's priceless. I'm going to place it in the palace vault when I return, if that's agreeable to you."
Cal (as he now liked to think of himself) had returned to Charlie's for the afternoon where they made love in an inexpert, fumbling, but affectionate manner. He went home for dinner as expected. As soon as he could reasonably escape to bed, he went to his room and went straight back to Charlie's arms. More experienced, their technique and stamina was much improved that night.
Next morning, Charlie had to go to work. Cal returned home to go through the usual morning evolutions with his family. He then excused himself and went out to "play" thankful that it was summer vacation.
For all of his interest in magic, which had proved worthwhile after all, Cal was an Iowa boy with a certain practicality elemental to his very nature. He and Charlie had a problem. They had no money. Cal had savings, here in Des Moines, but they would do very little good in Vesontio, he would have to convert his savings into something of intrinsic value that would be saleable in Vesontio. And then he remembered the store room over on the next block. There was a bunch of old junk in the back room; the owner had just died, and the talk in the neighborhood was that there were no heirs.
He banged through the kitchen screen door asking for lemonade. He went upstairs and reclaimed his Tacitus just in case he wasn't able to get back quickly and he 'bye-momed' into the sunshine banging the screen door on his way out and over to the next block. He entered the yard from the alley and was quickly into the store room. They'd already explored this small building and found it boring; they'd never entered the main house as that would have been a crime. He saw a large brass candlestick, and gathered up an armload of prints and paintings that were racked against one wall, grabbed the candlestick, and a short Latin phrase later, he was back in Charlie's room.
He carefully stacked the paintings against the far wall out of the way, gave the candlestick pride of place on the kitchen table, took one painting and went out hoping to make some money.
He sold the first painting, of a long haired boy who must have been a hippy, quickly and easily for £1. This didn't seem like much; but when told, Charlie was pleased, and it turned out that £1 went a lot further than Cal had thought.
After the first sale, Cal had given some considerable thought as to how to turn some of this stuff into cash; he did not think it would be wise to take the candlestick out at night; it would be wiser to wait until regular business hours and try the antique shops. It was a rather distinctive candlestick that would hold quite a few candles. It ought to be worth some serious change. Also, he wanted to put some time between each sale so he didn't seem too obvious or suspicious.
Cal had taken the second item from his stack, the really horrible Nazi poster on a wooden frame. He had read that there were people who would pay good money for Nazi junk so he thought that would be a very saleable item. He took it directly to the man who had bought his first painting and was alarmed when the man dismissed the poster as of "no interest" and sent him on down the street, to a dealer who dealt in posters, signs, and other, well, junk.
That dealer was unimpressed with the poster, insisted he knew nothing about "nasties" and it took all of Cal's considerable charm and wit to convince the dealer to give him "five bob" for the poster. Cal knew that this amounted to about one-quarter of a pound and was not very much. Nothing like what he hoped to obtain on the Nazi market; dejected he went home to wait for Charlie.
Cal agreed, however, with the dealer. The poster was absolutely ghastly as art. Cal was no great judge of feminine beauty, and made no pretense about it; nevertheless, he was solidly of the opinion that the girl on the poster was about as homely as it was possible to be.
When Charlie got home they kissed gloriously and then Cal grumbled about the sale of the poster. Cal knew about the origins of the poster but neither Charlie nor the dealer had professed to know anything about the Nazis. Cal was having a tough time with the notion that there was anyone on earth that had not heard about the Nazis. How could that be possible?
Charlie did comment that he thought the poster was hideous and he'd never let the thing hang on a wall in his flat.
They laid low in Charlie's flat the next day making various plans. Among other diversions, Cal and Charlie had a wonderful time in the bath.
Since tomorrow would be Charlie's payday, they decided to spend some of Cal's art money on dinner. They went down to their neighborhood trattoria where they had an antipasto salad with anchovies, pasta con vongola, bread and Chianti, with spumoni and espresso for dessert.
They spent Charlies' days off making love, or casually wandering around town when they needed a break. Cal rode along with Charlie as he drove his mail route. They dined out and drank a bit too much prosecco. Eventually, Cal began to feel like Charlie was carrying him, so they went home and grabbed another painting. This was more like the first one he had sold to the dealer. The paint on it was daubed on very thick; it portrayed a man walking on a path. It looked as if there were agricultural fields behind the walking man; but it was difficult to be sure as there was a certain vagueness to the picture. They were off to their first dealer.
The Hispano moved magisterially down the street. Donnie, naturally, was driving but Ian, one of his new assistants, was beside him as a footman. Their uniforms were identical, save for Donnie's campaign ribbon bar. Dad-o and Gary rode in state. Gary was fidgety.
They stopped in front of the sidewalk dealer who had sold them the Raphael; Ian dismounted and opened the door, Gary and Dad-o, dressed casually but expensively, descended upon the dealer.
"Hi," Gary began. "You may not remember me, but I bought a painting from you the other night, an oil on panel of a young man."
The dealer was a bit flustered. He remembered the transaction and the bargaining that had been involved. He wouldn't have thought that someone with uniformed employees and so handsome a limousine would have been such a spirited bargainer. His usual policy: 'All Sales Final', went on indefinite hold with this customer. Future sales, not to mention other opportunities, could be lucrative indeed.
"Yessir. I remember you and the painting. I hope it satisfies."
"One wonders," the older gentleman inquired. "How long did you have the picture in stock before the Prince here, bought it."
'Ah hah' the dealer thought to himself, 'a prince is it?' "It was 'bout a week ago. But the lad I bought it from is still around. He was by day before yesterday with this really horrible poster." He thought the best potential for profit might be in cooperation.
"I sent him on down the block to see Alphonse who deals in posters and signs. Stuff like that."
"What does he look like?"
"Well. 'Es young. Not one of the folk. Slender. Brown hair and eyes. Strange accent. Nice looking lad. Clean and neat."
"What was he wearin'?" Gary wondered.
"Nothin' fancy. Just typical kids clothes."
Gary and Dad-o waited expectantly.
"I'm sorry. If you ask me in two weeks about the two of you, I'll be able to say. Yer summat unusual don't ch'er know? But this kid? He wuz just a pleasant kid on the street. I see dozens of 'em every day."
Gary smiled and handed the dealer his card. "You can leave word for me at the hillside villa. Please do so if you see him again. If you can buy something else from him, drive a hard bargain for as long as you can, but make the purchase. It'll be worth your while."
Gary and Dad-o turned to enter the Hispano and Donnie, in response to a signal from Gary that only he had seen, stepped forward and gave the dealer a £5 note. They proceeded down the street looking for Alphonse who dealt in posters. They did not have far to go.
While they were doing that, a pigeon was settling into a position where she had an excellent view of the dealer's stall.
The afternoon rolled into early evening and the pigeon had not even had time to become hungry, when she observed the approach of two young men carrying a painting.
The two young men approached the dealer and presented the painting for his consideration.
While the three of them were concentrating on the painting; Cal was trying to start the preliminary bickering that would lead to a price: but the dealer was hemming and hawing very effectively and it only took ten minutes before the Hispano swung smoothly to a stop just beside the dealer's stall, Ian stepped down and opened the door, and a lovely German shepherd hopped down from the back.
All right boys. They heard him without needing their ears. Bring the painting and get in the car. Mind the painting.
Cal and Charlie's first thought was to run; then they wondered what would happen if the other was caught. Then they found themselves turning toward the car even though they had not decided to do that.
"He's a familiar," Charlie said.
You're exactly right. Your friend's magic won't work so don't try it. You can't run and you're really not in any danger. Get in the car. Mind the painting.
They got in the car. An older gentleman dressed for dinner, got in behind them and took the painting from Cal. "My God," he said.
Donnie stepped down and gave the dealer £10.
Ian closed the door and resumed his seat after Donnie had reclaimed the wheel. They moved smoothly away.
The pigeon followed, but her passage was not noticed on the street and she did not long remain a pigeon.
It took a few hours to assemble all the appropriate dignitaries.
The Viscount Sir Lawrence of Coronado, Physician Royal, was present with his lover, Humphrey, the Principal Royal Wizard. Humphrey was resplendent in his ceremonial robes with a most elegant diamond and ruby brooch. The brooch was one of those marvelous pieces that while, with its deep color and rich sparkle, implied elegant restraint; nevertheless let it be known that it was a very consequential piece. They were accompanied by Wilde, their familiar who was in his usual guise as a suave young fox.
Sir Christian Sanford, Principal Private Secretary to HM the King was present in his accustomed morning suit with a yellow rose boutonniere.
His Serene Highness the Prince Ashmore, Principal Magister, who had first discovered the Raphael was, of course, present; accompanied, in the normal way, by his other half, Sir James Wolsey, Liegeman to HM the King.
Copenhagen, the distinguished familiar of HSH and Sir James Wolsey was present in his contemporary guise as a German Shepherd.
Cameron, the distinguished familiar of HM the King was present in his contemporary guise as a Great Grey Owl.
The Count Alisson of Diego, Foster Father of HM the King, antiquarian, was present in casual work clothes.
Alain and Donnie were present along with Donnie's two new assistants, all of them in black tie, to attend to any requests or needs.
Sitting next to each other on a burgundy velvet sofa, Cal and Charlie, dressed for dinner at the trattoria, were holding hands in something like wonder.
Arranged around the wall and on a sideboard, were all of the paintings and the poster that Cal had obtained as well as the large brass candlestick.
"Mr Knox," Gary began somewhat pompously. "Are these all of the items that you took from the shed near your home in Iowa?"
"But there are other items still in that shed. Is that correct?"
Babieca, Hermione, and Minerva are on-scene. There appear to be a number of artifacts of one kind or another in the house, as well as a number of weapons. The site is under complete control at this time. He reported in the usual manner.
"Excellent. One of our decisions tonight will be: do we use the Earth authorities to recover any treasures there, or do we bring them back here?
"Cal, do you know what this is," and Gary pointed to the candlestick.
"It's a brass candlestick, sir."
"Well. Actually it's solid gold, and it's what's called a menorah. I think we can fairly safely assume it was looted from a posh synagogue somewhere in Europe by the narzis." He smiled and nodded at Dad-o.
"You're sure that we have everything that you took from that shed in Des Moines here. Correct?"
"Okay gents," Gary began, "as you know, we've one Van Gogh, Portrait of the Artist on the Road to Tarascon, this was last seen in the closing weeks of the war and was believed to be in a vault in Magdeburg under the care of the narzis.
"We have one Raphael, seized by the narzis shortly after the conquest of Poland; one Memling, also a Portrait of a Young Man similar in theme at least to the Raphael. This was last seen being loaded into a German Army truck in 1944; it belongs to the Uffizi in Florence. Then there is one Klimt, Portrait of Trude Steiner , extorted from the family in Vienna after the takeover of Austria. One Bellini, a Madonna and Child , this actually belongs to a Berlin museum but it disappeared in the chaos of the collapse of Germany. And, of course, a solid gold menorah; at this time, we have no knowledge as to the origin of the menorah. It is hallmarked, however, so it should be traceable. But the others, of different subjects, from different ages, in different schools, have one thing in common; all of them came into narzi custody just before or during World War II. They were mis-handled by the narzis and they are all very valuable.
"I would like to have Dad-o, protected by familiars, examine the entire premises where these items came from and make a determination: should we bring them here and arrange restitution, trust the local authorities to handle the situation if tipped-off, or bring some of them here for restitution, leaving some of them in place for the sheriff. Is that agreeable to you Dad-o?"
"Certainly, I could ask for nothing more."
"Right, Cameron will you arrange travel and protection."
At once, and with a golden snap flash Cameron and Dad-o were gone.
"So," and he looked at Cal and Charlie and, despite the pomp and circumstance of the situation, his smile was a merry one. "That leaves the two of you."
Humphrey stepped forward pointing. "Well Knox, here, is a problem. He's a self-taught Earth wizard and is a disaster looking for a place to happen. Several major Earth cities, many years apart to be sure, were almost leveled by fire: London and Chicago, and both of these fires were caused by amateur sorcerers. Additionally, a massive earthquake struck Tokyo in the 1920's which also led to tremendous fire. But the earthquake itself was caused by an amateur sorcerer, now the esteemed Master Abe no Seimei, but then just feeling his power in his fourth incarnation. Puberty, you know.
"Knox, here, thought he was using the simple transportation spell, when in fact he was using the inter-dimensional transit spell; another such mistake could be fatal. What if he'd been thinking of the moon?
"You know, Knox, the first spell in the Tacitus is to summon a familiar. It's first for a reason and you should have used it!
"Young people these days, you just wonder. However do we get along?
"Anyway, the Wizards Guild is grateful that we have recovered another one of the Tacitus texts, we will grant young Knox here a finder's fee of £1000, but there are still several out there; nevertheless, young Knox here must be trained or his talent nullified so that he can return to Earth without being an ambulatory catastrophe looking for a site." Humphrey smiled with evident satisfaction. He had enjoyed his speech.
"Oh sir," gasped Cal. "Please," both he and Charlie were spectre white.
"Don't worry," continued Humphrey. "We'll just neutralize your wizardly ability and return you to Duluth, and you can carry on with life. No problemo." Humphrey smiled widely, pleased with his mastery of street slang.
"Oh, for crissake!" Lawrence interjected, "Surely, sweetheart, you can see that they're in love!"
"Er," Humphrey looked around absently. "Love?"
"Okay, we're not going to try and manage that," Gary decided. "Neither are we going to interfere with that. I think we need to assign a familiar to young Master Knox. We need to let him and our valiant postman here work out their own affairs. However, Knox is a danger to himself, and others, and he's going to have to have training as required by the Guild. He can't just go back to Idaho and be left to his own devices."
"Iowa," a small voice interjected.
Gary smiled, "Iowa. Copenhagen let's keep this simple. Have a familiar take Knox here, home to Iowa and keep an eye on him. He'll have to decide if he wants to be trained to his gift, or neutralized. I suspect that he and Charles will want to discuss this.
"Donnie, drop young Charles here, off at his home.
"The two of you are to behave normally for the next few days while we get everything sorted out. I don't want your parents panicked. But I do want you to talk to each other. Be discreet. But talk. What do you want and where do you want it?"
There was another snap flash and for a second a large stallion stood in the room. There was a second flash and Cal and Babieca were gone.
"Come along then," Donnie escorted Charlie away. "The mail must go through."
Douglas Knox was reading the newspaper and enjoying his pre-dinner vodka martini; it had two olives. Becky Knox, his wife, was also enjoying her vodka martini. They both thought that two olives were a delicious extravagance. They were extra-large and stuffed with pimento. However, they never had more than one martini.
Caleb was sprawled on the floor reading Cicero in Latin. The Tacitus had been a wonderful learning tool. But some wizard had inserted the magical text into the original thus, apparently, hiding the magic text in a history book on the bookshelf in plain sight. He looked up with interest when his father started talking about the Nazi war criminal that had been their neighbor for years. "Who'd a thought it," he rattled his paper. "There were guns, and bullion, and all kinds of documents. What a thing. Says here he was something called a 'sturmbannfuhrer' in the 'waffen SS'.
"Does that make sense to you Caleb?"
"Well, the waffen SS were combat soldiers, but one could move around in the SS. It was a big organization with lots of branches."
"Was he one of those war criminals," Becky wondered. "You know, like that auto worker in Detroit who ran a death camp?"
"I must think so. He was certainly lying low and inconspicuous all these years.
"Probably not a big shot like Eichmann, but not just a soldier, neither."
There was a golden snap flash and a small animal and a neatly dressed young man with the most remarkable ears were standing in the center of the living room.
Hello. I'm Richard Tickey-Tavey, Esq, at your service. You can call me Rikki. I'm your familiar. You don't need to worry about any venomous serpents. I'll not have 'em about. But I won't bother the other ones. They're good for the ground, like. Lizards too. Keep the bugs down.
This is Charles. He's an Elve and is Cal's best friend. He flashed a mongoose smile to emphasize his discretion in front of Cal's parents.
I imagine you're surprised, then; I would be were I you. Lots more surprises to come. Didn't know Cal was a wizard did you? He'll be off to school. Nothing like Hogwarts. Way better. Not to worry about no tuition, neither. He'll be on a full wizardship.
Why don't you fix another martini. I'll have one too.
We, have a great deal to talk about. So let's start.
i Jay Gordon Stories, 'A Light in the Darkness' book 1 chapter 15.
ii The Hispano-Suiza limousine that Donnie had arranged to purchase from a destitute French Royalist.
iii A young man who grew up in the province of Bithynia; he came to the attention of the Emperor Hadrian who fell in love with him. They remained together until Antinous drowned in the Nile while on an Imperial progression. The exact nature of this death remains a mystery. Hadrian pronounced him divine.
iv A "beauty". Donnie learned the word from the Dodger who got it from Sorcha.
v The Bwca are commonly referred to as Tommy Knockers. They tend to be of Welsh or Cornish extraction; they once principally inhabited mines where it was their job to warn the miners of the shifting earth by knocking loudly on the mine timbers telling the miners to get out. If the earth was quiet, they might find some humour in moving a miner's tool behind their back, or perhaps snacking a bit from a miner's lunch. But as the mines closed, or were opened into great pits, there were fewer opportunities. Many of them moved into suburban garages where there were many opportunities to move tools about and enjoy lunches. They developed a taste for bologna and salami. Many joined the army. They tend to be a little smaller than an elve or a human, but not dramatically so. They can move swiftly and are almost invisible if they do not want to be noticed.
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