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Sardi & Toron

By Geraldle

Copyright © 2002

ONE

The two little boys were as happy as possible, since both they and their parents were outcasts in their own village. Their mother was the village seamstress, and their father was a traveling peddler, who was seldom home. That was just as well since he tended to favor the rod, for even the slightest misbehavior, and while their mother didn't spare the rod either, she only used if when they got in what she considered serious trouble.

The first problem was that though they were not twins, they looked like they were. Sardi, usually called Dee, was small for his age and Toron, usually called Tor, was average sized, so they were almost exactly the same size.

To those who didn't know them well, and none of the villagers dared to know them well, they were as identical as two boys could be, only their mother could tell them apart. That two brothers born ten months apart should look as much alike as identical twins frightened the villagers, and they weren't sure if the younger wasn't a possible demon doppelganger of the other. Also they acted strange, or at least they had done so when they were toddlers and small boys. Tor the younger seemed to know things he couldn't possibly know and Dee was able to move things without touching them, and when very young they hadn't realized that they should keep what they could do to themselves.

They had learned to keep silent, oh yes, the beatings from the other children had taught them that. But it was much too late, people already knew they were strange, and there was talk that they might be the result of a demonic union, and that was reinforced by their looks. Only the product of a demon could have blond hair and green eyes, when everyone knew that a proper person had brown or black hair, and brown or black eyes.

They were probably lucky that when their mother died suddenly, their father was at home on one of his infrequent visits, or the two boys might simply have disappeared. The villagers had been somewhat frightened of the boys' mother, thinking that she might be a witch. They weren't frightened of their father, who was just a simple peddler.

Numb with grief Toron and Sardi weren't aware of the talks the villagers had with their father. That if he wanted to return he had better get rid of them. Their grief didn't even lessen, when for the first time their father took them with him. The first two days were fairly ordinary, and their father took many different paths, though the two boys, still sunk in their grief weren't aware of it, but the third day was different.

Much more used to walking than the boys, suddenly on the third day he stepped up the pace, to the point where the boys could hardly keep up, and had to do a lot of running to do so. It wasn't that surprising that as soon as supper was over, the two exhausted boys, huddled together under their blanket as they had for the first two nights, but this night they were in a far sounder sleep. They weren't aware when their father got up, and stood over them for a moment looking down at them uneasily. He hadn't been immune to the villager's fear of his sons, but he like them, had been afraid of his wife.

Picking up his pack, and without a backward look, he walked down the moonlit path and out of their lives. When the boys woke up late, after an exhausted sleep, they looked around for their father, but saw no sign of him. On the previous two mornings he had been sitting up and preparing breakfast. They were jolted out of their grief, as with sinking hearts, they realized that he was gone.

They were hurt, but they were not puzzled, they had sensed the same fear of them, coming from their father, as had come from the villagers. Toron spoke first, though in a hushed tone, "Da, went and left us here alone. What are we going to do Dee?"

"We'll just follow the path back to the village," said Sardi, reasonably, though also in a hushed tone.

Toron said, "Which path, Dee? We've been on dozens of different ones, and I was lost the first day." They looked at each other, appalled, the full realization of their situation hitting them fully only now, when they knew they were completely lost somewhere in the Dark Forest.

Sardi said, "We'll have to follow the path Tor, and find where it leads. At least it's still summer, we should be able to find berries to eat. If we'd been like the other younger village boys, the older ones would have taken us into the forest and taught us what was safe to eat and what wasn't, and how to set snares so we could catch animals to eat."

"I don't know about trapping animals, even if we knew how, Dee. Remember our village was on the fringe of the Dark Forest, we're far into it here, and if the rumors are true, doing any trapping could be dangerous." Toron said. "We're probably safer as we are, at least here, we're pretty harmless, we don't even carry belt knives, and the helpless tend to live longer here. We might starve to death, but we probably won't end up as something's prey."

"Not much of a consolation," muttered Sardi. He took Toron's hand, both boys needing physical contact right now.

*****

It took several days, but eventually the boys managed to make it to the fringe of the dark forest, and find a village. They had started off dirty, but with fairly decent clothes, but by the time they got to the edge of the forest, their clothing was already starting to get ragged. Knowing that they dared not show themselves, or they would be treated as strangers were generally treated in such a village, roughly. With feelings of shame and fear, they used their abilities to steal food.

Shame because they hated what they had to do, and fear because what they were doing was considered a very serious crime, and therefore was very dangerous. Someone catching them could do just about anything they wanted with them, with no interference from others. A terrible beating was the minimum they could expect, death wasn't beyond the bounds of possibility.

TWO

The two boys had a very perilous time over the next three months, becoming increasingly ragged and dirty. They attempted to try and stay clean, but it was impossible with just the cold water that was available, and no soap. All they did was rearrange the dirt to some extent. A few villages had ponds, but all were too close to the village to chance soaking for the time that would be necessary to get them clean.

Besides, neither Toron nor Sardi could swim. Another one of those things that the older boys taught the younger ones, and there had only been the one pond, in plain sight of the village, and none of the other boys would have let the outcast brothers trespass in their swimming pool, even when they weren't in it. There had been a couple of cottages within ten yards of the pond, and the splashing that someone learning to swim would have made would been clearly audible, in either hut, so the boys couldn't even learn to swim by themselves.

Right now they were far deeper into the Dark Forest than they wished to be. Looking like identical twins, identically dirty and ragged, huddled together in the Dark Forest, out of fear and to keep warm. They were very thin, they had not been able to steal more than just enough to keep themselves alive, and Sardi had an infected cut on his leg, that they would have to do something about, before it became any worse.

*****

They slept despite the increased cold that showed that winter was on its way, and woke shivering their lips, hands and bare arms and bare legs blue with the cold. It took them ten minutes of vigorous stamping and moving their arms too partially warm up.

Then they sat with legs crossed, their knees touching and they looking at each other soberly, their bottoms cold, but as least partially protected by the cloth of their breeches. Tor said, "It's not going to be much longer is it, Dee?"

Dee knew he was talking about their deaths, "No. As cold as it's been, in another couple of weeks, we won't be able to survive without shelter."

Dee looked at Tor's dirt matted hair, and the dirt encrusted on the large patches of skin visible through the rents in his knee length breeches and short sleeved shirt, knowing that he looked as bad. He said wistfully, "It would be nice to die clean, but I don't suppose even that's possible."

He put his hands palm up towards Tor, and the other boy put his palms against his. "We will live as long as we can, Dee, and then we will rejoin Momma, unless the Gods think that what we have had to do to stay alive is wrong, and then we will have to suffer a time of punishment, before we see her."

THREE

The boys got up, and looked around. One of the paths led to the village that they had been in the night before last, the other even deeper into the Dark Forest. Tor looked one way and then the other. He said, "I guess it doesn't make much difference which way we go, we can't go back to the village, and if there is something on the other path that wants to eat us it's going to get a pretty small meal out of us."

He laughed with genuine humor, and that seemed to lighten the mood, which had permeated the boys' minds, and they started off, cold hungry but jaunty. The jauntiness didn't last long however, within twenty minutes, they were just trudging wearily along.

Dee was the one who first noticed the smoke drifting above the trees, a couple of hundred yards ahead of them, and pointed it out to Tor. A few months ago they would have rushed toward it, after three months of hiding and stealing, they were more apprehensive then joyful. They didn't really have any choice, except to go back, so they approached it, with caution.

When they reached the clearing where the smoke was, they found to their relief that it was empty. They even found a few crusts of bread, which they fell on eagerly, though the food, did little to fill perpetually empty stomachs.

Tor looked at the smoking fire, speculatively and Dee looked at him with suspicion. "What are you planning to do. Oh, no you're not! You're not going to burn my leg with a flaming stick!"

Tor ignored him and knelt down by the fire and stirred it up to see if there were any embers still burning. He looked with glee when he found several, "Get some leaves, and some wood and don't be a baby, I know it'll hurt, and while we may freeze to death, or die of starvation, neither of us is going to die of something we can prevent."

Realizing that he was right, Dee collected a lot of dried leaves and while his brother was carefully stirring up the fire, blowing carefully on the burning embers, he gathered some small pieces of wood, to keep it going after the leaves got it started, and then some larger pieces.

It was a chilly day, and especially since they were dressed for summer weather, the heat from the fire felt good, but both of them looked at the fire with apprehension, knowing what they would have to do. Not knowing what ashes might do to a festering wound, Tor took a stick and pounded the end of it until the last two inches were splintered, and would catch on fire easily.

He took a piece of wood about an inch and a half in diameter and handed it to Dee, who put it in his mouth. He had Dee sit beside the fire with his left leg stretched out. The wound was just above the ankle. Putting the wood in the fire, it quickly caught, and once he was sure it was burning he took it out of the fire and with some trepidation, placed the open flame on the wound.

Without the stick in his mouth Dee would have screamed with pain, as the flame burned out the wound, cauterizing it. As it was he felt sick with the intense pain, and Tor looking at his older brother could barely manage to make sure he got it all. Finally he pushed the flaming stick back into the fire and Dee spat out the piece of wood and fainted into his brother's arms.

*****

Dee was only unconscious for about fifteen minutes, but when he came to they were both trembling, Dee from the pain and Tor from his sympathy. They stayed by the warm fire for two hours, but then despite Sardi's pain they had to move on, the older boy limping heavily.

They were moving more and more slowly, when three hours later Tor saw more smoke climbing into the sky. Hiding the exhausted Dee as well as he could beside the path, he headed toward the smoke, determined to get something for them to eat.

But not when he saw the cottage. He wasn't willing to beard this lion in its den. Dwarves preferred underground dwellings, but occasionally one lived above ground and there were few more dangerous beings alive. He swung around, and stopped suddenly with a gulp, the razor sharp edge of a large axe close to his throat. He hadn't even been aware of the Dwarf as he approached. But then the axe was lowered, and the Dwarf rumbled, "Good, smart. Not think to steal from Minair. What can do for you?"

Faintly Tor said, "My brother and I could use some food and water, and we need something to put on a burn on his leg."

Looking at the boy, shivering in his ragged summer clothes, "You die soon. Why me feed? Waste food."

Tor shrugged, "My brother and I know we're going to die, but we'll stay alive as long as we can." his large green eyes meeting dark brown ones with squint lines all around them.

The Dwarf grunted, "Food tonight. Get brother. Fix leg. Leave tomorrow."

FOUR

The door lintel, brushed the top of their heads as Tor and Dee entered the cottage. The small size of the door and the cottage, and the brightly decorated walls, had told Tor that it was a Dwarf's hut. The side of a gnome's cottage would have been plain, and goblins lived exclusively in caves, and brownies lived in tents.

The dwarf looked at the two tired boys, "Put on bed. Got cream." Holding up a small bottle. "From Wizard. Magic."

Tor helped Dee lie down on the bed, and putting his legs up they stuck out over the end of the bed, which in fact made it very convenient for the Dwarf to put the cream on his leg. He opened the bottle and poured a small amount on his fingers and then rubbed the cream into the burn. The gasp of relief came immediately from Dee as the pain left his legl.

"Have food. Sleep. Eat, then leave," said the Dwarf. "Supplies for one, not three. Me survive to me, more important than you survive. Sorry." and he sighed with regret. "Would give clothes. What have, nothing fit."

Tor and Dee did not resent the fact that he would have to turn them out. They knew that it was unlikely they would have gotten even such meager kindness from any of the villages they had been in, though the villages could easily get additional supplies. Here in the Dark Forest, a Dwarf would have to go to his own people to get the supplies he needed, the fringe villages did not look on non-humans very kindly, but then again they didn't look on anyone who wasn't from their own village, kindly.

But the Dwarf didn't have to worry much about his supplies. Sardi and Toron's stomachs had shrunken so much that it only took a little to fill them, and they wouldn't overindulge, they had done that once when a seeming incredible bounty had come their way, only to lose it by getting sick. Since then, they were aware that overindulging would have a penalty attached. But for the first time, in over three months when, they lay on the floor to sleep, huddled together they had full stomachs, and warm surroundings.

*****

When they left in the morning the burn was only a dark area on Sardi's leg. Also, it was a little warmer than it had been for the last couple of days. After a good breakfast ,the Dwarf provided them with enough bread for dinner, and he did them another good turn. There were two paths leading away from the Dwarf's cottage, one of which was quite plain, but the other was partially hidden, and they wouldn't even have noticed it if the Dwarf hadn't pointed it out to him.

The second path led to the Wizard's cottage, and he hadn't had an apprentice in a long time, and the Dwarf thought it was time that he had a couple new ones. If he wouldn't take them as Apprentices, he could at least take them in for the winter. He could more easily get supplies.

It would take them most of the day to get there, and if they were slowed for any reason, they wouldn't make it until tomorrow.

FIVE

The boys were foot weary when suddenly a clearing with a cottage in it came into view. Much larger than the Dwarf's cottage, the doorway was normal sized. The sides of the cottage were whitewashed, and unlike the Dwarf's cottage, which had a roof of slate, this one was of thatch. There was no smoke coming from the chimney.

They didn't expect to get lucky two days in a row, and the food had lifted their spirits and their determination to stay alive had been rekindled. They looked at each other with resolution, and just nodded at each other.

They might die, but from now on, if they died it would not be from lack of determination. Dee went to touch the latch, and a spark jumped into his fingers. He stared at them, and they were a little red. They stung a little a little at first, but it quickly disappeared. He shrugged, he'd experienced static electricity before. It was no big deal. Though unbeknownst to him, it was magic not electricity, not high class magic, but magic none the less.

He pushed the door open, and he and Tor entered. They needed food and some warmer clothing, if at all possible, but they didn't intend to take anything else. It was only a one room cottage, though there was a loft, and the food was easy to find and plentiful, but still they only took enough to last for a couple of days. However, they were unable to find any clothing, at all, which was strange, but they were more concerned with the fact that it drastically limited their chance to stay alive.

Suddenly they spun around to face the door when it opened somewhat noisily to reveal a shadow in the doorway. Terrified they tried to run, and somehow make their escape. But the man made a gesture and murmured under his breath, and suddenly they were unable to move.

He moved further into the room, and they almost fainted when an old mage with a sky blue robe covered with stars and a pointed hat came into their sight. He was mage, a Wizard or a Sorcerer. If the latter the boys were in a great deal of danger. His blue eyes were piercing, seeming to see all of the twins' secrets. "What have we here, Dikon, a pair of thieves to be punished." he said in a very cold voice.

Toron and Sardi tried desperately to move, terror rising even higher as they felt a light touch riffle through their minds. When the man, spoke again, it was much softer. "No, Dikon, they have been punished enough. What they need right now is a bath, food and clothing, and then bed."

He made a second gesture and they could hear the words he spoke this time.

'Rook takes pawn,

Boys clothes be gone.'

Suddenly Tor and Dee were naked, and very embarrassed. Being outcasts, unlike the other boys of their home village, they were unaccustomed to being naked in front of others, besides each other and their mother and on the rare occasion their father.

The man made another gesture and the boys' could move again, and instinctively their hands snapped down to cover their groins. The man laughed with gentle amusement, "What is this, modest peasant boys. Very very strange." The boys couldn't help but smile nervously back at the mage.

"You don't have to take your hands away, but please introduce yourselves. As much alike as you look it might take me a while to tell you apart, but I will do so eventually. I am Tomos, Wizard extraordinary at your service, and this is Dikon," and a large ginger colored tom cat stepped into view from behind the Wizard where he had been hiding.

The two boys looked at each other, and they giggled when they realized how ridiculous they looked with their hands covering their groins. After all he was male as well, so they put their hands at their sides, blushing as they did so.

Tor, always the bolder of the two, "I'm Toronandri, and this is my brother Sardinari. Our Momma when she was mad at as us called us Toron and Sardi, though most of the time it was Tor and Dee."

"Well Tor and Dee, I will feed you and clothe you, in garb somewhat more appropriate to the time of the year, but first I will bathe you, and then cut your hair, and since I intended to do that, you had to take off your clothing anyway. I could see that nothing you were wearing could be saved so I just made it disappear. The spell only banished your clothes. If you had something valuable in that pile of rags, it would have stayed."

SIX

Taking a small box from the table, he set it down on the floor. Making a small gesture with his hand as if lifting something, he said,

'Little box now rise,

Return to your normal size.'

The children's eyes went wide, as suddenly sitting on the floor was a large chest. Tomos smiled with amusement. "What use is magic, if it can't be used for practical purposes. This spell is built into these boxes," and he motioned to the dozen similar ones on the table, "and it only takes a little magic to invoke the growing or shrinking spell on them."

He opened the chest and they could see the clothes they had been looking for and some loose cloth. Taking out a cloth, he tore it in two.

'Soft cloths to clean,

Leaving no dirt to be seen.'

He intoned, pinching his thumb and forefinger together. "Now this is not minor magic, since it is a spell I do not use very often, it takes much more magic to invoke it. It is wasteful magic. Normally you will carry water in from the well and fill the metal tub standing outside the back door, and heat it with a minor spell. You haven't bathed in months, and using normal washcloths and soap, you would have to rub your skin raw to get all of the dirt off.

The two boys looked at each other, being bathed appealed to both of them, since they hadn't been touched except by each other since their mother died. The Wizard moved a stool from a corner of the room, sitting on it and saying, "I will start with Dee." And once the boy was standing in front of him, he took the cloth and ran it over Dee's face, ears and neck, and the boy's complexion was suddenly several shades lighter. As the cloth removed the dirt, Dee found his skin tingled pleasantly.

As he cleaned Dee, he began asking questions, "You look like identical twins but I sense a much greater difference in age for that to be possible." Then taking his arms one at a time he worked down from the shoulders, down to his hands and then under his arms. He began on his front, down over his chest, his nipples and ribs, stomach and groin. When he started on Dee's small genitals, matter of factly he retracted his foreskin, "Whenever you bathe yourself in future, make sure you pull back your foreskin, as far as it will go, and wash everything under it. If you let it get dirty it could cause an infection, and as you are aware by now it's one of the most sensitive areas of your body."

Dee said as he was being washed, the cloth leaving his skin tingling in its wake, "I'm ten and a half, and I'm ten months older than Tor, but I'm small for my age, so since I was about four we've always been the same size, and we look so much alike that people in the village were suspicious of us, thinking magic must have had something to do with it."

Leaving the penis, Tomos rubbed his scrotum carefully. Through with the boy's genitals he worked his way down the front of the boy's legs. He snorted, "I bet if people had bothered looking at their own children they would have found they looked much alike, some looking enough alike to be twins, except for size."

"That wasn't the only thing," said Dee. "Since I've been little I've been able to move things with my mind, small stones and light things, and of course like any dumb little kid I wanted to show off what I was able to do." Since Dee had been barefoot since the spring and hadn't had a bath in over three months, his feet were filthy and the dirt was ground into the skin, but even that dirt disappeared instantly.

He turned Dee so that he could reach his back, and with one hand on his left shoulder, he began to wash his back. The cloth moved over the boy's back and down to his buttocks and between his legs, then between the tops of his thighs and over the backs and sides of his legs down to the back of his ankles.

"Also Tor can see and hear things at a distance, so he knew things that he shouldn't have, and he was just as eager to show off as I was." As Tomos began on his hair, the cloth changed what had been a very dirty matted blond mess, into light silky clean hair. "I don't think the other kids would have thought anything about it, but of course they told their parents who were afraid of what we could do. They wouldn't let their children play with us, and some of the older kids who were bullies would beat us up and encouraged their younger brothers and sisters to do the same."

Tomos was finished with Dee, and the boy tingling with cleanliness twirled several times in sheer joy, gleefully clean for the first time in months.

Tomos crooked his finger at Tor and the boy eager to be clean like his brother came at once. Tomos began on Tor as Dee continued their story. "Momma died suddenly just after our father came back from his last peddling trip. It was a good thing he was there. Tor and I think the villagers were planning to kill us. Father took us with him for the first time, but on the third day he suddenly stepped up the pace, and we were exhausted when we went to sleep. When we woke up he was gone."

Tor's eyes were closed in bliss as he felt the tingling of clean skin left behind by the cloth. "There was no one to teach us how to find food, in the forest. None of the older boys would, and father was gone for months at a time, and then he'd be back for a couple of days and then he would be gone again. We managed to get to the fringes of the forest, living on berries."

Dee closed his eyes and blushed in shame, "We had to use our abilities to steal food. At first it was very dangerous because we had to get within a quarter of a mile of the villages, and of course there were always dogs, but we've always been good with animals and we managed somehow to convey to them that we needed them not to bark. We would touch each other and I could see and hear what he saw and could hear and he could help me move things, so we were able to steal enough at each place to last two or three days."

"It was lucky there are so many fringe villages, because of course we couldn't go back to a village again. Of course all villagers have charms and amulets which are made to discourage exactly what we were doing, but for the first time at a village they seemed to ignore us, but if we stayed more than a day, they began to home in on us."

"In the last month or so we've been able to stay much further away from the villages, so there hasn't been as much danger.

*****

The two boys felt delightfully clean for the first time in months. Tomos reached out one long arm and picked up the pair of scissors and again starting with Dee he cut the boys hair. Dee was puzzled as he watched him cut Tor's hair. When the Wizard was finished and was putting the scissors back on the table, he asked, "Why did you leave our hair so long. We're only peasants so it should be much shorter."

"You are no longer peasants." said Tomos, "As a Mages Apprentices you are now considered minor nobility."

The boys looked at each other realizing they had a home again and with glee, they hurled themselves at the Wizard. Sitting on a low backless stool Tomos ended up on the floor with the boys on top of him. He found it pleasant to be hugging someone again. It had been a long time since he had someone to hug.

Dikon approached the three lying on the floor, and said aloofly, *Silly humans.* Dee giggled and reaching out with his hand he began caressing Dikon's head. The cat began to purr, pushing his head hard into the small hand, but he commented, *Still silly.*

SEVEN

"All right, up with you." Tomos said, and the boys got off of him. "Dee get the broom from the corner and sweep the hair into the fire."

Dee looked worried, "Isn't that dangerous, aren't you supposed to bury it?"

Tomos said reassuringly, "Whatever you've heard neither hair nor skin, nor fingernail parings can cause any danger. Blood on the other hand," he said reflectively, "can be very dangerous. A few drops and someone can trail you for a day or so. A bit more and they can trail you forever. A little more and they can control you, and blood sacrifice can be used to summon a demon."

When Dee had finished sweeping the hair into the fireplace, he asked, "All right, to the next item, clothes or food first?" Thomas asked.

Tor and Dee looked at each other, and giggled, they had forgotten completely that were naked. Twenty minutes of being cleaned up had removed any embarrassment they had felt. They answered together, "Food!" and giggled again.

Their supper consisted of bread, cheese and milk. Tomos said, "I generally also have a stew of some kind, but I've been away most of the day, and I don't like to leave a fire going to cook something when I'm not there to take it off. Magic can't always be relied to tell when something is cooked."

*****

When it came to the clothes, they each ended up with three loincloths, three long sleeved mid-thigh length tunics, three pairs of breeches, one cloak, and three pairs of socks and a pair of boots and a belt. The breeches were for winter wear only, nobles wore sleeveless tunics during spring, summer and fall, mid-thigh length or slightly shorter for boys and knee length for men, and a cloak when they traveled. On the right breast of the tunics was a green sigil, surrounded by a black circle. The sigil looked like a question mark without the dot and joined to the bottom of the question mark, the tail of a check mark. As they were to learn that meant they were mage Apprentices, of an Adept mage, and the sigil was Tomos personal mark.

Once the boys were dressed Tomos gave each of them a small empty chest, enlarged from those on the table, and they put what they weren't wearing inside of them and set them on the floor. Tomos then sat down crosslegged on the floor motioning the boys to join him, which they did.

"I don't imagine that either of you can read." He made it a statement. They would be very unusual peasant boys if they were able to do so. They confirmed his supposition by shaking their heads. "Well, the first thing you will need to do is learn."

Dee looked delighted, but Tor just looked doubtful. Tomos said, "Don't worry, it's not really that hard, and I'll use a spell so that it will go faster." He held up a thick book. "This is the most important book that a mage owns. And no." Looking at Tor, who was about to ask a question. "It's not a spell book. It's a dictionary. It's a book that has a list of words and their meanings, and once you can read, you'll learn as much from it as you can."

"You have magic and except for your in-born abilities, the only way to release that magic is through spells. Spells must always rhyme, and the words used must have some meaning towards what you are trying to do, and your mind must be thinking of what you want to do. For instance, the spell I used earlier to get rid of your clothes. Rook takes pawn, Boys clothes be gone'. The first line is nonsense, the second line was the actual spell, in this case. If possible, both lines should be part of the actual spell because that makes it stronger. It doesn't matter if it's good poetry, it just has to rhyme and have the proper meaning."

He said dryly, "I saw you looking at your clothes, when I said the spell. The words mean nothing without the mind giving the spell direction. Also you can use such a simple spell for several things." He picked up a piece of wood, which had fallen out of the wood box and said the spell again, making a little gesture.

'Rook takes pawn,

Wood chip be gone.'

And the piece of wood just disappeared. "As you see my mind intended for the wood to disappear and it did so. The gesture in this case was not needed, but it's always wise to use it so it becomes a habit. Most spells of this kind will not affect living things unless you put an enormous amount of power behind it. Another spell which has always come in handy, when I've had Apprentices." h said, gesturing like delivering a spank.

'To you pain I bring,

Let your bottoms slightly sting."

Both boys jumped a bit, as they both felt what seemed like a light swat on the bottom. Tomos smiled at them, "Take warning, if I had said smartly instead of slightly, it would have felt like a hard spank or a stroke from a switch, and I could have used a number and it would have felt like that number of strokes.

Both boys shrugged philosophically, and Tor said earnestly, "We're kids, we do dumb things at times, and since you're in charge of us now you have the right to punish us, especially me."

"Why, especially you?" asked Tomos.

"We look the same age, but we're not and I've always felt that Dee seems much more than ten months older than me. When I get angry I blow my top, but when he gets angry he gets quieter and quieter, and his eyes get colder and colder. Once about a year and a half ago, I got angry with Letten and I pushed her to the ground and she got up and ran away crying. Letten was the only one of the village children who would have anything to do with us, though she had to be careful. I knew I was in the wrong and should have told Momma and she would have whipped me. Dee didn't say anything but I could see him getting angrier and angrier all morning and early in the afternoon."

"But suddenly later in the afternoon he was no longer angry with me, and he beckoned me to go with him, and headed for the woods, and I knew he was going to punish me, but like an adult would, not like a child. We were the same size, but I didn't even think of resisting. I knew then that like Momma, he was in charge of me. He broke off a switch, and I lowered my breeches, and he gave me a dozen on my bare bottom, and it was much harder than Momma would have done, though nothing like father."

"When Momma gave us our bath that night, when she saw the switch marks, she just raised her eyebrows at Dee and he just nodded. She put her hand under my chin and stared into my eyes, then she smiled slightly, 'So you finally found out who the boss was.' And I just nodded. He's never whipped me again, but I've always felt that he has that right."

Tomos looked at Dee and saw him looking back calmly, accepting what his brother was saying. That he was in charge of Tor and he knew it was the truth. He spoke equally calmly, "The funny thing was, the reason that I angry was that I thought he had ruined our only village friendship. When I started to think it through I realized that she had five older brothers, and being pushed to the ground was hardly the worst they would have done to her. I realized that it wouldn't affect our friendship at all, and as it turned out, I was right, and I was no longer angry. But Tor had to be punished for what he did."

"We never went to Momma about the things we did, usually it was the village parents, and I knew Letten wouldn't complain. I decided then that I was going to punish him for what he had done. For some reason I had no doubt that he would accept it, and when he did I knew I'd do the same anytime in the future that I had to, rather than go to Momma, even though I knew she wouldn't whip him as hard as I would." He paused thoughtfully. "I just wish Letten knew that we were all right."

Tomos put his hand on Dee's forehead, "Think of a rhyme and say it and I'll boost your power so it will get to her, and she'll know it's from you."

Dee thought hard, and then said, not forgetting the gesture, which was the closing of his hand.

'Letten, from Dee and Tor, we are safe and well

Where we now dwell.'

And in a little village on the fringe of the forest, a nine-year-old girl smiled for the first time in three months.

EIGHT

The next few months were busy ones for the boys as they first learned how to read and then memorized words and their meanings some spells helping them along, and their bottoms stung a few times, and as Tor had predicted it was usually his. Dee was such a solemn boy that to look at him you would never think he could be silly, but usually about once every four to six weeks, he would become completely silly, for a few hours. Tomos found on those occasions that Dee even found being disciplined funny, so instead he would make sure the boys were dressed warmly and just kick them out of the cabin until it wore off. Actually, he was quite glad it happened. It proved that Dee was still a little boy despite his normal seriousness.

*****

It was the middle of May and the boys were down to sleeveless tunics and sandals and well along in making up spells, and were building up their magic power. By then Tomos figured they were high Apprentices and very close to Journeymen, and while ten and eleven year old Journeymen weren't that rare an event, it was the first time it had ever happened to Tomos with two Apprentices at the same time. When it came to their natural abilities, he figured they were very close to Master class.

That's when the raiders came. There was of course no way that anyone could sneak up on Tomos, and they knew it so they didn't try. They were following his magic and he could tell that they were warded against it. They had a few extra horses and a wagon. He smiled wryly at that. They didn't expect to capture him moving.

He could have fled, transported himself many miles away, but even an Adept couldn't transport more than himself and a few belongings,. The shrink spell he used to store his belongings wouldn't work on living things larger than a mouse, and even with those, it would kill them in the process. To flee would have left the boys in danger, because as their master part of his magic was blended with theirs and the two boys would be even more of a prize than Tomos himself, and far more vulnerable.

"Dee, Tor!" he said sharply, and they looked up instantly from the table where they were doing lessons. "There are raiders coming, they are still several miles away, but they are coming for me. I didn't know I had any living enemies powerful enough to provide wards which I couldn't breach, but obviously I do." More calmly, he continued, fingering the jewel around his neck. "I have been preparing for such a possibility for over a century. This jewel has enough energy stored, so that no one but a God can breach the spell I have prepared. It will suspend time, until someday you can come to rescue me. I will put the unlocking spell in your mind, and you will only remember it when you need it."

"By the time they get here you must be as far from here as you can get. No arguing." as Tor started to open his mouth. "If they get you, you have enough power, so that your blood sacrifice could summon a demon powerful enough to rule the world, or destroy it."

Dee didn't question him, he could sense the urgency in his master's voice. He jumped up from the table and ran to the ladder and raced up it to the loft where they slept and kept their belongings. "Tor catch these chests." He swept everything he could see into the chests, then folding their blankets shoved them in as well, then closed the lids. He dropped the chests one at a time to Tor. "Use the shrink spell on them."

'For all those wise,

Shrink to your former size.'

Tor said, once for each chest, using the appropriate gesture. Then picking them up he took a bag and put them into it and swept all of the other boxes into it as well, including the food box.

Dee called from the top of the ladder, "Master Tomos, how much will they search? Do we have to clean up things so it looks like you're living here alone."

"They're Dwarns. Almost human, but not very bright. They follow instructions to the letter, so unless my enemy knows you exist they will take me, and ignore everything else unless they actually see you or detect your magic. Once I've used my spell there will be so much of my magic around here they won't be able to detect the little that you two have, as long as you're a couple of miles away."

Dee nodded and climbed down the ladder. He said to Tor, "Boots on the back step, they'll be better for traveling than sandals. How far away are they?"

Tomos said calmly, "About four or five miles away, they're in no rush. They're coming from the east so you'll have to go west." Dee nodded as he accepted his boots from Tor and the two boys sat on the floor to take off their sandals and pull on the boots.

The two boys stood up after putting their travel cloaks around their shoulders and fastening them they looked at Tomos. Dee's face was grim, but there was determination on his face. Tor was acting more like the little boy he was, tears threatening to overflow, bottom lip trembling. Tomos opened his arm and they came into them for a hug.

After the hug Tomos put one hand on each of the boy's foreheads and saying a spell, so low that not even the boy's could hear it, he placed the unlocking spell in their minds. One last hug and then the boys headed for the door, Tor carrying the bag, and Dee scooping up Dikon from the floor

NINE

Tor followed Dee, silently for several hundred yards before he said, "Are we really going to leave him?"

Dee turned to look at him and his green eyes were cold, "For a while. He was telling us about magic and he talked about Apprentices. As usual you probably weren't listening." Tor didn't deny it, unless it had practical use he had no intention, of filling his mind with useless facts.

"Tomos said that when a master was teaching an Apprentice, it was inevitable that his magic would seep into the Apprentice, or Apprentice's mind. That's partly what he was worried about the Dwarns detecting. When the Apprentice is no longer in contact with his teacher over about two or three weeks the external magic of the master leaches out. So in about three weeks we're going to return and follow him. Since they're on horseback and we'll be on foot, we'll never be able to catch up, until they reach their destination. But while we're traveling, we'll try to learn as much as we can."

"What about our hair and eyes. We're going to be awfully conspicuous, no matter where we go." Tor said.

"Then we'll have to use a spell to change the color of our hair and eyes. We're close enough to Journeymen that such a spell should last." Dee said, matter of factly. "And one last thing, Tomos was worried about them getting us alive. We can't let them do that, no matter what. We'll have to come up with a spell and hang it so that we only need one word to trip it, so we can't be caught alive."

Tor's eyes were wide with fear, but he nodded in agreement. Dee nodded in satisfaction, "Okay, let's get moving again, we want to be as far from the cottage when the Dwarns get there as we can."

He hitched Dikon into a more comfortable position. Dikon was tense in his arm and said unhappily, *Should have stayed.* as they continued on their way.

Dee told him, "You couldn't have helped Tomos today. When we go looking for him, we'll need your help. Your support will be vital if we're going to free him."

He felt Dikon, relax in his arms. *Truth!* said Dikon, *Walk now!*

Dee put him on the ground and Dikon took over his usual job when he was traveling with them, scouting ahead of them. They didn't stop until they were more than ten miles away from the cottage. They enlarged the food box long enough to get enough for a cold supper, and after eating Dee took the gem stone which was hanging around his neck on a chain. It was a ward stone that, Tomos had prepared for him. Tor had a similar one around his neck. He said,

'Stone on cord,

Set your ward.'

And pointing with his finger, he made a full circle. With satisfaction, he felt the snap in his head, which told him the ward, had been invoked properly. Now, nothing would be able to get closer than fifteen yards to them and they wouldn't have to mount a guard. It would stop physical and magical attacks. If it, was something that was able to get through an Adept's ward it wouldn't matter if they were awake or not.

The nights were still a little chilly, but wrapped in their traveling cloaks and huddled close together they were warm enough that they didn't have to use their bedding from the cottage, though Dikon inserted himself firmly between them.

TEN

Tired, they went right to sleep, and then they began to dream. They were in the same clearing, but it was daylight, though they couldn't see beyond the clearing edges, which were covered with fog. They were sitting legs crossed, with Dikon on his haunches between them.

Two figures came out of the fog and entered the clearing. They looked about the same age as Tomos did, and with a start, they realized that it was them a couple of hundred years in the future.

The older Dee said, "No, little ones. We are not really you, though in a sense we are. There are many universes, like the pages of a book, right next to each other. Only in this book, all the pages have the same thing written on them. Or almost the same thing. Each page is slightly different, and the further away from your page, the more differences there are. We are from the future as you surmised, and in our world, our duplicates reached into our world from the future and helped us free Tomos, adding their power to ours at just the right moment."

"As they did, so we are doing, to try to help you. We succeeded in our world, but we have no way of knowing whether you will succeed in your world." He lifted up a gemstone, a large circular ruby, his companion had an identical ruby around his neck.

The older Tor spoke for the first time. "These stones are the eyes of the statue of the Goddess Dwen in the capital of Sendar. In our world, it was right on our way when we began following Tomos. Do not make the mistake of assuming that it will be on your path. Those you will follow in your world may take a different route. If they do you must make a detour to Vence, the capital of Sendar, because these are the vital link between us. In order to lend you our power, you must acquire these gems."

"As you travel, learn to trust your feelings about people, that is an ability we didn't know we had. The ability to know who to trust." He hesitated for a moment. "Usually. On a couple of occasions, it betrayed us, but despite that you must trust your instinct, because it will usually be right. On the two occasions that it was wrong, we were able to get out of trouble and obviously did not have to use the death spell."

The older Dee began speaking again, "We cannot guarantee, that the page your universe is on is similar enough to ours, that you will succeed, all we can say is that the possibility is there. Goodbye, little ones, and the Gods be with you."

The almost dream faded from their minds and they slept, their sleep undisturbed until morning.

ELEVEN

When the boys woke up they did not have a chance to discuss their dream. They found that they were surrounded by fifteen brownies. Completely human looking except that they were, much smaller, generally between two and half and three feet tall and there were arrows on their bowstrings, their faces tense.

Dee and Tor rolled to their feet looking at them warily. One of them, who had the tattoo of a minor shaman on his forehead, asked in their language. "Who be you childer?" a frown on his face.

Dee said,

'Identify me,

For all to see.'

And, he traced Tomos sigil in the air, leaving a line of green in the air, as he did so.

The shaman's face relaxed and he said to his people in their language, "They're the Wizard's Apprentices."

Like the shaman their faces relaxed, and they slipped their arrows back in the quiver. The Shaman said, "We go to Wizard, need help!"

The boys frowned, "Some beings came yesterday and stole him." Dee said, and the Shaman's face fell.

Dee removed the ward, saying,

'Stone on cord,

Remove your ward.'

Again, pointing and making a full circle. The brownies moved in closer. They had seen the Shaman frown, and they were worried but he was reluctant to tell them that the Wizard was gone.

Dee asked, "Why did you have your arrows out, you know there was a ward up."

"Wizard spelled some arrows, so go through ward." the Shaman said.

Dee and Tor smiled a little, Tor saying, "They wouldn't have worked against our ward. It's a ward the Wizard created, so the ward would cancel out the spelled arrows."

The Shaman smiled briefly, "Know now."

Dee said thoughtfully, "Sit, tell us your story."

Dee and Tor sank into a crosslegged sitting position as did the Shaman, and the warriors sat in a circle behind him. The Shaman began, "Mage come to giant village, with ten giant warriors. Make slaves, demand us be slaves as well. Giant warriors warded, and mage make magic nothing so us Shamans not able to make arrows reach warriors. Where live, sacred us, no leave. No slaves either. Will die instead."

Dee asked, "How far away do the warriors and the mage stay."

The Shaman said, "Warriors half-mile, mage hundred yards further."

Dee and Tor began to smile gleefully, as they pushed themselves to their feet. Tor pulled out his belt knife, which was perfectly balanced for throwing. Taking it by the point he threw it, and the brownies watched as it started on its journey and then it disappeared and then a thud of a knife hitting home was heard behind Tor and Dee. The brownies, heads swiveled and they looked with astonishment at the knife, which was sticking into a tree in the opposite direction from which Tor had thrown it.

Dee bent and picked up a stone. He held his hand out palm up and the stone began to rise, after lifting it about eighteen inches he let it drop and caught it in his open hand. He smiled with a feral look on his face. "In-born abilities need special magic spells to control them. A general spell to make magic nothing won't work. My range is about a mile and my brother's ability is to see and hear at a distance. With our in-born abilities, we are able to join them to increase our range, and we can share those abilities so I can also see and hear at a distance. I can make an arrow hit a one inch spot at up to two miles when we combine our abilities, and we're quite willing to help. Oh, yes," he said softly, "we'll be glad to take our anger out on your giants and mage."

The young Shaman smiled happily. It looked like their mission was a success after all.

TWELVE

Tor and Dee had spent the last two days in the brownies' village, and they had been practicing with the warriors to show exactly what they could do. It was noon of the second day, and the time limit the enemy mage had given was over. They heard one of the warriors on watch call from the bank that surrounded the top of the hill where the brownies had their camp.

They joined the twenty warriors with spelled arrows and the Shaman and his two assistants. The hill on which the brownies lived was in the middle of one of the rare very large meadows in the forest and was surrounded on the front and sides by about a mile of grassy meadow and about a half a mile at the rear.

Obviously the mage didn't intend to repeat his demands, for the ten giants stopped half a half mile away, and began to string their enormous bows, laughing and joking, not being in any hurry. They knew they were well beyond the range of the brownies arrows, and the mage had already worked his spell to negate magic. The Shamans and the two boys had all felt it when the spell was worked. The two boys joined hands and invoked their magic. While they no longer actually had to touch to share, they felt better doing so.

Dee nodded and the first bowman released his arrow. He shot it much higher than he normally would, and Dee took hold of it gently, not trying to impart any additional momentum. From where he seized control of it, the arrow took a straight line and went exactly where he intended it, straight for the mage's throat. Just in case the mage had hung a spell which only needed one word to invoke, Dee wanted to make sure he couldn't say that word.

After the first bowman fired, each of warriors chosen began to shoot their arrows at five second intervals, which they had determined over the last day and a half was the ideal spacing. The giants couldn't have chosen a more ideal position for Dee and the bowman, a semi-circle with the top of the circle closest to the hill. They didn't even notice the mage's demise nor the death of the first two giants at the end of the semi-circle with arrows through their eyes. Confusion reigned supreme when they did and another four died before the last four turned to run. Mercilessly, Dee caught the last four in the back of the neck, severing their spines.

*****

Later that afternoon night Tor and the village Shaman found Dee, brooding over the pit where the giants had been buried. Tor asked, "Are you sorry we killed them?"

Dee looked at them and slowly shook his head, "I don't feel anything for them except satisfaction that they're dead, and that's why I'm worried. When you kill someone, shouldn't you feel regret?"

The Shaman looked at the boy shrewdly and asked, "Tell me young one, you have been around my people for a couple of days. If it had been some of them that you had killed, would you have felt anything then?"

Dee felt a wrench in his gut at the very thought, and tears appeared at the corners of his eyes. "Yes, I would have felt tremendous sorrow." he said.

The Shaman motioned at the pit with his hand. "As Shamans, my assistants and I also can see and hear at a distance, though our range is much less than yours, but we could see and hear them laughing at what they were about to do. You did not fight honorable warriors, whose death you should regret, you executed criminals and you have every right to feel satisfaction at their deaths, because you made the world a better place by killing them."

Dee nodded, his face clearing somewhat, "Thank you for your words, Shaman. They feel right, but I'm still going to need to think about it for a while longer."

The Shaman nodded, "Take all the time you need youngling, but before you start, can you suggest what we should do with the mage's body? We did not dare just bury him with the giants. We have no idea what type of magical devices he might have on him, and we don't want his body buried so close to our camp."

Dee nodded in agreement with that. "If someone started looking for him, he would be too easy to find. I think I have a spell which will do the job, but Tor and I are just Apprentices, we would need to borrow some of your power in order to carry it out.

*****

Dee and Tor each held one of the Shaman's hands and they said the spell Dee had devised together, pushing down with their free hands.

'Evil mage we do not need you or your possessions around,

To the molten rock far below let your body sink into the ground.'

They could see and feel the mages body begin to sink into the earth, and they held hands for almost a half hour, feeling it continue to sink, though moving faster and faster, only stopping when they felt the body enter the molten layer below the world's crust.

Dee said, "Tomos says that layer of the earth flows and moves almost like the ocean, so what is not burned up will be carried far from here, and even it's not I doubt if anyone would think of looking so far under the surface of the ground."

*****

The boys spent the next three weeks doing physical and mental exercises, to prepare themselves to start following Tomos. Unfortunately their magic and Shamanistic magic was so different that they could learn little from it that would be useful to them in their search.

END PART ONE

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